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Adam mobilised his forces straight after breakfast, consisting of the younger members of the family, plus Lilli, Drusica, and Zeph, an economy-sized local woman with a broad peasent's face and hips, who did a lot of the heavy-duty cleaning in the house. Things got held up though when Widow Bertha appeared and asked Adam to go and break up a fight between the two laundry-maids.
Bertha had developed a growing fondness for Adam in recent days, especially so now that the chief steward was no longer around to lecture her on etiquette and hierarchy. Like a lot of women Adam had met in the past few years, she admired Adam for the way he took care of Lonts. A tall heavyweight baby with a fierce temper would be most women's idea of hell, and so he usually won their affection on that basis alone, particularly as he washed all Lonts's nappies himself and didn't parcel them off onto them, as he could have done. That, plus his innate charm and graceful mature looks, ensured he had a high standing amongst the womenfolk.
Unfortunately he didn't feel at all confident at the prospect of breaking up two scrapping old boilers, but Bertha looked at him in a pleading fashion.
"I would have asked Mr Hillyard", she said "But he's busy in the telegraph office at the moment, and I didn't want to interrupt".
"Very well", Adam sighed, and walked with her into the Service Wing "What are the women fighting about?"
"The same thing they've been fighting about for years", said Bertha "They're both after the same man".
"And neither of them have caught him yet?" said Adam.
"He plays them off against each other", said Bertha "Stupid old fool. I wouldn't give him house-room, but I suppose there's no accounting for taste. It's not as if they both haven't been round the track a few times. They should know better at their age".
"Good grief, that's for sure", said Adam "They can't be much younger than me!"
The laundry-room was awash with steam when they got there, and in the middle of it, two powerful-sized old women were landing each other violent smacks across one another's faces. Adam had never seen women fight before in his entire life and was appalled. He had witnessed plenty of savage fights between men (had taken part in a fair few come to that!), but had never been as horrified as he was now.
"Ladies please!" he yelled, feeling that this description of them was entirely inappropriate.
The 'ladies' were now grunting like warthogs and hanging onto each other's hair like grim death. Adam reasoned with himself that this was no more daunting than trying to halt one of Lonts's tantrums, and waded between them, managing to forcibly push them apart, as though he was trying to stop two lift-doors from closing.
"She's a fucking cow!" one cried "She's just fucking jealous because I got the cream of his dick when we were younger!"
"Now that's quite enough!" said Adam, aware that alot of the other staff were peering in "Let's try and have a bit of decorum shall we? We're hardly giving the younger generation something to aspire to here!"
"Age has got sod all to do with it", said the other "I can screw as good now as I did when I were younger, and that's what really pisses her off".
"At your age you should at least have acquired a little bit of fatalism", said Adam.
"You what?" said the woman, as though her jaw had been frozen open.
"That you should not be getting as heated as a teenager about all this", said Adam, firmly "For God's sake, it's only sex! Haven't you learnt by now that there are more important things in life to get worked up about?! I have rarely seen a less edifying sight than the one you two have presented here today. Heavens above I know what it's like to get worked up about a lover but ..."
"Strewth, I don't love him, that sad old sack!" said the one who had previously been praising his creamy dick.
"Then in God's name what is all this about?" said Adam, in exasperation.
"Because I saw him first!" she said "And that old bitch isn't having him!"
Adam found himself being hailed as a hero by staff and family alike. In Bertha's eyes, he was now infallible and could do no wrong, and all because he had threatened to fire both of them if they didn't get on with their work in a more dignified manner. As the Indigo-ites now had a proven track-record of firing people, the laundry-maids knew it was no idle threat, and went back to their washing.
Feeling shell-shocked, Adam led his new, enlarged Household Cavalry into the East Wing. There he was soothed to discover what had once been the original dining-room (this wing was the oldest part of the house), a long room with a minstrels' gallery at one end. He put everyone to work in here.
Joby found himself cleaning the marble fireplace with Bardin, who was looking depressed and withdrawn. Joby hadn't failed to notice that things had gone from bad to worse between the clowns.
"I came close to throwing him out of our room last night", Bardin confessed "I'd even packed his bag for him. But he looked so miserable I relented, he had that wounded puppy-dog look on his face".
"I know the one you mean", Joby groaned "I don't understand what's wrong though. I mean, I know Bengo can be a pain in the neck, but he's not so bad really".
"I'm never going to make him happy", Bardin sighed.
"Of course you are", said Joby "I wouldn't be going on about it like this if I didn't believe that. You two are well-suited. You're the serious, sensible one, and he's the dimwit".
"He's the attractive one, I'm the ugly one", said Bardin.
"Now you're just being bloody daft!" said Joby "All Bengo's after is a bit of affection, that's all that any of us are after really".
"Well I can't supply that", said Bardin, scrubbing the marble even more vigorously "I'm not a very huggy-kissy type of person".
"Neither am I", said Joby "Not really".
"You do better at it than me", said Bardin.
"I've got a few years headstart on you", said Joby "Anyway, you shouldn't fret about your looks so much. People place too much importance on looks".
"That's the way of it", said Bardin "The way it has always been, and the way it always will be".
"Maybe", said Joby "But take it from an old fool that knows, don't let how you feel about your own looks affect your relationships. One thing I've learnt is that people never see us as we see ourselves. God knows, I've been through what you've been through loads of times. How do you think I've always felt being measured up against Kieran, and Adam, and Lonts, and old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all?!"
Julian walked into the room in an imposing manner, and stood there surveying everyone.
"What a truly humbling sight", he said, not sounding in the least bit humble "Like a little band of Quakers at work".
"Oh what are you doing in here, Jules?" Adam sighed.
"Well I like that!" said Julian "You've whined repeatedly that I haven't shown enough interest in your decorating, and when I do turn up I get that reaction!"
"I cannot believe in my wildest dreams that you are in here to work", said Adam "Why break the habits of a lifetime?!"
"You're all being traitors!" Lonts suddenly erupted "We shouldn't be doing up this house at all, because that means we've got to live in it. You've all gone back on your word!"
"Lo-Lo, I thought you understood the situation", said Adam.
"I don't want to understand the situation! You've betrayed me, Adam!" Lonts swept a stack of old newspapers off the table, nearly smacking Toppy in the face with his recoil as he did so.
"LONTS!" Adam cried "Go to your room! You've let yourself down very badly!"
"It's alright, I'll talk to him", said Julian, and he dragged Lonts into a quiet corner.
"This has got to stop and you know it", he hissed, once they were alone "Accept the fact now that we are going to be here for some time, until Christmas at least".
"Christmas?" said Lonts, in dismay.
"That is the way of things", said Julian "Now stop seeing this as some kind of penance. There are far worse places to spend the winter. It's hardly Cockroach Mansions is it!"
"I suppose not", said Lonts, sulkily.
"What do you mean, you suppose not?!" said Julian "You've got a huge place to racket around in, plenty to eat, servants to terrorise ... what more could you wish for? We all preferred travelling with the Indigo, and one day we'll go back to that, but in the meantime try and have a bit more consideration for Adam. He's working very hard to try and make this place homely for us".
Lonts's bottom lip trembled violently.
"You're not going to punish me are you?" he said.
"I would have done so by now if that was my intention", said Julian, gently stroking away Lonts's tears "I must be mellowing in my old age, or perhaps you're just more open to reason these days".
"I think I am", said Lonts, solemnly.
"Good, so try and be a bit more gentle with Toppy too", said Julian "He's half the size of you, which admittedly isn't hard!"
Adam came over and smiled at Lonts.
"Do I still have to go upstairs, Adam?" said Lonts.
"No, I'd miss you", said Adam.
Lonts collapsed sobbing remorsefully into his arms. Julian sighed wearily and went back into the centre of the room, where Hillyard was standing up a ladder removing the dust-cover off a chandelier, watched on the ground by Bengo and the maids.
"We could turn this whole room into our own theatre", said Bengo, looking beseechingly at Julian "Couldn't we?"
"Would that put you and Bardin on better terms?" said Julian.
"We're alright", said Bengo, miserably "I think".
Hillyard looked down at him with concern.
"Bardin needs time that's all", he said "Stick with it".
"Concentrate on this delicate operation, Hillyard", said Julian "We'll do the relationship counselling later".
He went over to Zeph, who was cleaning some fancy iron filigree with a toothbrush.
"It's nice to see this place getting a bit of life in it at last", said Zeph "Even if you lot do carry on something strange at times. Take that Tamaz creature. I'm always seeing her ... him, walking around half-naked. I don't know how you allow it. Our Pa would've given us a whipping if we'd done that".
"Freaky has been whipped", said Julian "And he's still the same as ever. He is completely beyond redemption".
He was too shaken by the daunting thought of Zeph thundering around half-naked to take offence at what she said.
"What are you going to use to clean the wooden surrounds on the chairs?" he asked, collecting himself.
"Vinegar and water", said Zeph.
"Yes, that's much the best thing", said Julian.
"Hey, look what was buried under all these stacked-up chairs", said Lilli, throwing a dust-sheet off a grand piano "I never knew this was here".
"Mr Woll never liked us doing much in this part of the house", said Zeph, as though Julian was about to start berating her for having mislaid a grand piano for so many years.
"I bet it needs tuning quite badly", said Julian, going over to it "We'll probably find there's a dead cat in the back of it!"
"Aye well the kitchen cat disappeared a while back", said Zeph, curving her lips in a macabre smile "We never saw the going of him".
Julian sat down and strummed a few keys, and was quite pleasently surprised to find it wasn't so bad after all. He launched into the Chopin Nocturne No.2, and everyone stopped what they were doing to listen.
Kieran walked over to the long windows which overlooked the garden at the side of the house. The rain and overcast skies made everything as dark as deep twilight, and made the house feel like a ship floating in space. He leaned his face against the glass and breathed on the pane. "Someone or something is out there watching us", he thought "And yet I don't feel afraid. I feel sorry for them, because they must never be allowed in".
After a scratch lunch of bread and cheese, the others went back to work. Hillyard though retraced his steps of the previous Boxing Day, and went upstairs to Woll's hidden rooms. They were every bit as gloomy and neglected as he remembered. Since living in the house though he had begun to understand a little more as to why Woll had derived so little pleasure from his vast wealth. Partly because of his deep-rooted shyness, partly because he had no one he loved to lavish it on, and it was also partly the fault of the house and its environs. This was a place that could crumple a man like a piece of paper if he let it. The house was a black hole where the human spirit was concerned. Large, cold, and hidebound by protocol and tradition, stifled by lack of imagination and over-indulgance on the part of the staff. There was no way that timid, lonely Woll could possibly have stood up to such a system.
Hillyard knew from things that Woll had told him that he (Woll) had once had grand hopes and ideas for life in the country, of making the house a social focal-point for the whole estate. Not just as a place on which most of the locals depended for their livelihood, but as a warm heart pulling them all together and in the same direction. It was obvious it hadn't worked out that way. No one was interested in warm hearts around here, only in seeing things were done properly, that dishes of jam appeared on the table at 3:30 in the afternoon, that tots of brandy got given out on Christmas Eve. All done properly and without soul.
"I hope I'm not intruding on your space", said Kieran "Tell me if I am and I'll vanish immediately".
"No, stay", said Hillyard, who had been looking out at the rain-lashed mountains "Do you remember when I took him back to Cockroach Mansions?"
"Yes, it must have been a real baptism of fire for him!" said Kieran.
"He enjoyed it", said Hillyard "He should've spent more time in Toondor Lanpin. This place wasn't good for him. He had so many good ideas about what to do for people here, but he could never get up the courage to do them".
"It's very difficult find that sort of courage when you're alone in the world", said Kieran "There's no one to be your comfort and support. It's wearying enough for us to challenge the system here sometimes, for him it was impossible. The farce of the high life has to be experienced to be believed sometimes. I remember when we first moved into the new H.Q when I became President, someone left a bottle of brandy by my bed just before I turned in one night. I thought it was just someone leaving me a present, but it continued every night, a new bottle each time, until things got ridiculous, we had bottles lined up on the edge of the carpet! So I challenged Hirrid one day and said 'look I'm touched, but even I can't get through this much brandy!' And then he told me it wasn't a gift, but a tradition. A previous president had once had a heavy cold and had asked for some brandy to be brought to him in bed. Well it turned out that that order had never been 'officially' cancelled, so the brandy had been kept coming ever since! I remember Joby laughed like a drain and called him a daft nerk. Poor old Hirrid got quite offended".
Hillyard laughed with gusto.
"I'd love to know if they kept it going through Gabriel's reign of terror", said Kieran, wryly "Although he shut himself off in the end from all human contact. I bet it grieved them that they couldn't get into his room to leave the brandy there!"
"Oh that's this place to a T", said Hillyard "I don't know why but you've just reminded me of one of Ransey's little quirks. Everytime he went to leave your room at the Ministry, he'd always adjust the big hand on the clock first".
"It was always a couple of minutes out that's why", said Kieran "It used to irritate the hell out of him".
"This rain can't last forever", said Hillyard "Let's have a picnic when it stops, go up into the mountains. Would you be alright with that?"
"Yes, I'm not some feeble wimp that's going to hide in the house just because the Barlazzi Demon's up to something", said Kieran "You lot have already had to sacrifice enough for me".
"It's what we want", said Hillyard "You're what brought us all together in the first place, and you're what's going to stop me ending up like Woll. You and Julian".
"Hillyard, one thing of certain of is you won't end up like Woll!" said Kieran.
"I know you miss the others, Lo-Lo", said Adam "But it is rather nice for us to be able to sleep next to each other for a change, isn't it?"
"Yes", said Lonts, smiling at him from his pillow.
It was late at night. Adam was moving around their room, tidying things away. Lonts was already in bed and very sleepy.
"I worry about Toppy though", he said, unexpectedly "He shouldn't be in a room by himself".
"I think Toppy rather enjoys it", said Adam "It's the first bit of privacy he's had since being with us".
"He's the only one who has to sleep on his own", said Lonts, who couldn't think of anything worse "He might start feeling unwanted and left out".
"I doubt it", said Adam "He has a very firm niche within this family".
He slipped off his robe and climbed over Lonts to his side of the bed, by the window. Lonts whispered that he really loved him.
"You make me feel so wanted", Adam replied.
Bengo wasn't having anywhere near such a cosy time in his room. In fact he was suffering acutely. Bardin was in the very worst kind of mood, as far as Bengo was concerned. He could have coped with it if Bardin had been storming around in a rage, but he couldn't cope with these icy silences. He was confused and upset by them. He constantly went over in his head what it was he could have done to merit such cruel treatment, but it was beyond him, and he simply wasn't used to it. Neither Julian nor Hillyard were prone to such glacial behaviour, so Bengo was bewildered as to what he was supposed to do put things right.
He had tried repeatedly asking what was wrong, but Bardin had become, if possible, even more moody and reserved. Bengo was in despair, and clung to his side of the bed, as though afraid to touch him. Wretched with misery, Bengo had begun to cry.
"Bengo", said Bardin, touching his back lightly "Get a grip now".
"You must really hate me", Bengo sobbed "You must do to enjoy making me suffer like this".
"I don't enjoy it", Bardin sighed.
Bengo got out of bed and reached for his clothes.
"Where are you going?" said Bardin.
"To see if Toppy'll put me up for the night", said Bengo "I can't stay in here with you, I'll never be able to get off to sleep".
All the time he was dressing, and when he went to leave the room he kept hoping Bardin would call him back, but Bardin didn't know how.
Toppy was confused to find a distraught Bengo in his room, but he was surprisingly sympathetic, if only because other people's love worries only confirmed in him his staunch belief that to be celibate was the one and only true way.
"I don't believe it!" Julian roared, storming back into his bedroom the following morning, closely followed by Hillyard "Who the hell does he think he is, sitting in MY bath-tub?!"
"He uses it every morning", said Hillyard "It's just you're not normally up at this hour to know or care. If you just wait a few minutes he'll be finished".
"I shouldn't have to wait!" Julian roared "Anyway it's going to be contaminated by his presence".
"Ransey always cleans it out after himself", said Hillyard "If you'd got out of bed at your normal late hour, you'd never have found out he uses it".
"Sitting in it drinking tea", Julian spat "I've never seen anything so absurd!"
"He always drinks tea in the bath because it saves time", said Hillyard "Kills two birds with one stone".
"Why?" Julian barked "Why is his time so damn precious?"
"He's been working hard lately, behind the scenes", said Hillyard, sitting Julian down in a chair by the fire and putthing his feet up for him on a footstool "Doing the household books for me, and doing a full inventory of everything in the house, which takes some doing! He also goes and checks on the Indigo regularly. Finia says he's hardly seen him lately".
"Lucky Finia!" said Julian.
"Look, just sit by the fire and be quiet for a few minutes", said Hillyard "We shouldn't be arguing over bath-tubs in this house!"
There was a knock at the door, and Bardin walked in, looking very doleful and carrying his rucksack.
"I hope you don't mind me coming in", he said.
"I don't mind at all", said Julian "You're not a four-eyed goofy serial-killer for a start!"
"He's having a bad day", Hillyard sighed "Why have you got your bag with you, Bardin?"
"I'm leaving", said Bardin "I have to".
"No you're not", said Julian "Hillyard, bar his exit!"
"I'm going to walk back to Toondor Lanpin", said Bardin "It should only take me 3 or 4 days".
"Don't be absurd", said Julian "Are we that awful you want to risk pneumonia by walking through that downpour, just to get away from us?"
"No it's not that at all", said Bardin "Things aren't working out between me and Bengo".
"Whyever not?" Julian snapped, indignant that his match-making plan seemed to be failing.
"I'm not proud of this", said Bardin "I've always thought of myself as a strong person, but it appears that when it comes to love I'm a coward. This is all going to sound so stupid but now I've had taste of it, I can't cope with it. I'm frightened of corpsing I suppose. Letting him down".
"Hillyard, sort this out", Julian sighed "We've all been round this track with you!"
"You can't leave in this weather, Bardin", said Hillyard "At least stay until it clears up. And try to chill out a bit. Bengo just wants a bit of affection that's all. For God's sake don't let him down, he had enough of that from me. He's a good kid".
"Yes he is", said Bardin "And if it wasn't for the fact that I feel so much for him ..."
"Goddamnit!" Julian roared "Why do people have to make their lives so bloody complicated! All you have to do is give Bengo a few hugs and kisses, he'll be quite happy with that. Now go to it and stop wasting my time!"
Feeling that he had successfully completed some marriage guidance counselling, Julian went down to breakfast soon after. He was lounging back in his chair with his feet on the dining-room table when Adam came in.
"I presume you got out of bed the wrong side!" Adam exclaimed, the polished wooden floorboards creaking under his brisk footsteps.
"Good morning, Ada darling", said Julian, raising his coffee-cup "How wonderfully soft and fragrant you are today".
"Don't get facetious with me", said Adam "Why did you threaten to take the riding-crop to Lo-Lo and Tamaz just now?"
"Because the little monsters kept careering around here as though it was a bloody race-track", said Julian "After they've already eaten their way through most of the food on the sideboard too!"
"Nonsense", said Adam, lifting up various dish-covers "There's enough left here to feed an army. One thing this house is never short of is food! Good grief, there's porridge here. Winter must be coming".
"No, Joby says the weather's on the turn again", said Julian "We should get an Indian Summer soon".
"Would you like some porridge?" said Adam.
"Yuk no, wallpaper paste!" said Julian.
"Am I to have the pleasure of your company in the East Wing this morning?" said Adam.
"Undoubtedly", said Julian "Someone has to keep a firm hand on the tiller".
At that moment Lonts was making a racket in the Great Hall, throwing his voice so that it bounced off the vaulted roof. On the other side of this vast area, Kieran and Joby were playing billiards in the library. Maisie (the housemaid known by Tamaz as Oldie) was flicking a duster across the bookshelves.
"Little scrote", said Joby, as Lonts let out another whoop "It's hardly surprising I can't concentrate".
"Don't get at him", said Maisie "He's not doing any harm".
"And don't you sound so Codlik-y", said Kieran "Joby's very fond of Lonts. They're like brothers".
"And I haven't heard of anything that says you have to be saintly towards brothers", said Joby "Anyway I've known Lonts since before you were born. I've earned the right to be rude about him".
Maisie hadn't expected to be reproved by Kieran and went quietly back to her dusting.
"Do you want me to chalk your cue for you?" said Kieran, suggestively.
"There's no point", said Joby "You're beating me hands down, you jammy sod".
"Advantages of a misspent youth", Kieran chuckled "You'll have to get your own back in the next game".
Lonts appeared in the doorway and announced grandly "We're going into the East Wing!"
"Abandon hope all ye who enter here", said Joby.
Bengo and Bardin carried a stack of dust-sheets over to the windowseat in the little ante-room which adjoined the old dining-room in the East Wing.
"We'll store them here for now", said Bardin "And then when we come to do up this room we'll move them into the next one and so on".
"We'll end up kicking them all round the house at this rate!" said Bengo.
Whilst they worked together they were acting grave and formal, and Bengo was plainly trying his best not to get emotional.
"Bengo", said Bardin, awkwardly "You're not sleeping in Toppy's room again tonight are you?"
"It depends what you want", said Bengo, not looking at him.
"I want us to talk", said Bardin, quietly "I'm sorry I've been a bastard to you. None of it's your fault. It's me. I never expected to fall in love with anyone. I always thought I'm a a workhorse, first, foremost and everything".
"I thought you'd gone back to despising me", said Bengo.
"I've never despised you!" Bardin protested "The worst I ever felt was jealous of you. I used to get fed up with being the ugly clown, the one nobody looked at, not whilst you were on the stage anyway".
"And what do you think it's been like for me at times?" Bengo exclaimed "Being thought of as just a pair of legs! Nil brainpower. I mean I know I'm not bright, but I still get fed up with being called a himbo, and you've done enough of that yourself over the years".
"I've been a real shit to you at times haven't I?" said Bardin "I don't know why. I mean it seems to me sometimes as though I've dedicated my whole life to looking after you, right from when we were kids and I even had to blow your nose for you! It was always 'put Bengo with Bardin, Bardin'll look after him'. Do you remember our very first Christmas show? It was the first time Ully gave us a big centrepiece to do. I was 8, you were 7. You got in such a state just before it!"
Bengo giggled as he remembered.
"One of the stage-hands had picked you up in the wings and was trying to calm you down, and you were kicking and screaming. There were these little fat legs waving about, and this red, angry face with a big mouth going 'waaaaagh!' You looked like something out of a cartoon!"
"What was I getting upset about?" said Bengo.
"Nothing, it was just nerves and the excitement, it had all got to you", said Bardin "Ully was shoving me towards you and going 'make way for Bardin! He needs Bardin!' The truth was, it was me who needed you. Everyone always thought I was the strong, bossy one, but I leaned on you so much. And then when you ran away to join Kieran, it ... it was the very worst thing that could've happened. I thought the selfish little git! He doesn't know what he's done to me! He doesn't realise! After all these years I don't even get a fucking note! For months I didn't even know where you were or even if you were still alive! And the other clowns were gloating like mad, saying this is what I deserved for being so fucking bossy with you all the time".
"Oh it's all in the past now, Bardy", said Bengo, like a small child who senses that forgiveness from the angry parent is near, and so now wants to forget all the previous unpleasentness.
Bardin had often found Bengo's mercurial mind exasperating before, but now he found it endearing. Through the open doorway which led into the old dining-room, Lonts could be heard exorting Julian to "play that nice tune on the piano you played yesterday". Julian obligingly launched into the Chopin.
"Here's to us", said Bardin, and he kissed Bengo very softly on the lips.
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