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It was October before the long-awaited Indian Summer arrived, and by then, after a month of being trapped inside the house by the monsoon conditions, everyone was ready for it. In the meantime life inside the house had become completely self-absorbed, as though the rest of the world had ceased to exist, and this was a good thing. Firstly, because it helped to the Indigo-ites to establish their presence there once and for all, and so the staff could no longer regard them as temporary intruders, and secondly, because it helped to keep the rest of the world at bay. It even enabled Kieran to go for substantially long periods without giving the Barlazzi Demon a thought. Instead he concentrated on the day-to-day domestic entertainments around him.
Julian had begun early morning guerilla warfare with Ransey over what he regarded as HIS bath-tub. He even took this so far as to borrow an alarm clock and set it for, what he would previously have regarded as an unearthly hour, in order to run down the stairs, terrorising any maids he met on the way, and be sitting in the bath-tub very smugly, when Ransey walked in with his cup of tea. If he managed to achieve this he would be in a state of intoxication for the rest of the day.
On a darker note Mieps was giving cause for concern. Adam had found him a perfectly reasonable bedroom in the main part of the house, on the ground floor. Mieps didn't seem in any rush to move into it though, in spite of the fact that he plainly wasn't happy where he was. The remoteness got him down, even though he prided himself on having steady nerves after all his years of living alone in the middle of nowhere.
Tamaz no longer went to see him, and when they did meet he seemed ill-at-east in Mieps's company, flinching quite noticeably if Mieps moved near him. Mieps teased him about this, but worryingly, Tamaz refused to rise to it with his usual magnificent sneers and taunts.
Around the middle of the month came the warm, dry weather - their temporary respite before the long cold winter set in - and everyone made the most of it. Adam took Lonts cycling around the estate, and Lonts got thoroughly petted and spoilt by many of the local people they met. So much so that Adam often had to calm him down again when they got home. It felt like the heady days of Baby Lonts at the Ministry H.Q all over again.
Codlik occasionally sent nagging missives to Hillyard about returning to Toondor Lanpin, but Hillyard simply refused to go back "in the forseeable future". He believed Kieran was right, in that they were all bracing themselves for some imminent conflict, and that the best thing they could do in the meantime was to stay exactly where they were.
A picnic in the mountains was arranged for one of the days, with Hillyard to drive the other Indigo-ites up there in one of the hay-carts. He got up early that day and went downstairs himself to open the main front doors, helped by Lilli, whose job it was to sweep out the Great Hall before breakfast.
"It makes such a difference when we can have the doors standing open all day like this", she said.
"We'd better make the most of it before the snows come", said Hillyard.
"Widow Bertha was saying yesterday that it won't be long before the wolves start coming down from the mountains at night", said Lilli "That's always the first sign of winter in these parts".
Hillyard recalled plenty of times when he and the others had heard wolves whilst sleeping rough, and gave a mental shudder.
"It's those times that makes you glad to be in here", said Lilli, echoing his thoughts exactly.
Joby woke up after a very unpleasent dream, in which he'd been standing in a vigil beside Kieran's open coffin. The disturbing sensation this had aroused in him was exacerbated by listening to Kieran's laboured, asthmatic breathing as he slept.
He heard one of the maids bring the tea in, but couldn't see her as they slept with the curtains pulled shut round the bed. When she left the room, he got out of bed, closely followed as usual by Tamaz. Working silently, Joby pushed the windows open further, then sat Tamaz down on the windowseat and curled his fingers round a cup of tea. He then turned his attention to Kieran's trouser pockets, which he systematically emptied of every cigarette packet and dog-end he could find. He was then at a loss as to what to do with them.
"Chuck them out of the window", Tamaz suggested.
"Nah, that's no good", said Joby "He'd only run down and pick 'em up off the ground".
"You should have decided to do this when we still had the fire lit", said Tamaz.
"I know!" said Joby.
In haste he stowed them in the back of the giant wireless, and had just managed to get it back in position, with its rear against the wall, when Kieran emerged from behind the bed-curtains. He greeted them both with kisses, and then began to rummage in his trouser-pockets. Finding nothing in them he turned to Joby, looking perplexed.
"Have you see me fags, Jobe?" he asked.
"I've confiscated 'em", said Joby, impatiently "Whether you like it or not you're gonna give up smoking".
"Just like that?" Kieran exclaimed "Now c'mon be fair, darlin', I have been cutting down lately. You can't say fairer than that".
"Yes I can", said Joby "Cutting down's not good enough, you're gonna give up completely".
"I can't!" Kieran cried, in terror "Not just like that, with no damn warning at all!"
"It's much the best way", said Joby "My Gran always used to say the first day was the worst, and then you're alright".
"Joby please, I can't", said Kieran "I'll cut it down to single figures. I'll even let you dish 'em out to me on ration, but please, not completely".
"No, you're gonna stop completely", said Joby, firmly "You're too old for it for one thing. Little babies have normally grown out of sucking dummies by the time they get to adulthood, and that's all fags are, an extension of that. I should've made you give up when I did all those years ago. I don't know what I've been thinking of, standing by and letting you kill yourself".
"Now you're exaggerating", said Kieran.
"No I'm not", said Joby "You should hear yourself when you're asleep, you sound like a rusty door scraping open! I'm taking you in hand. It's bad enough that I've had to stand by and watch you trying to starve yourself to death for years. Do you know you're a prime target for a heart-attack? All those fags and starving yourself at the same time. Means your blood pressure must be sky-high".
"What's brought all this on now?" said Kieran, irritably.
"The thought of what it'd be like if you died", said Joby "Some Vanquisher of Evil you are if you can't even sort yourself out! You like doing penances, but I notice you've never picked the hardest one for yourself, not even for Lent have you?! Well I'm doing it for you".
"There's someone at the door", said Tamaz, insistently, having been trying unsuccessfully for 2 or 3 minutes to tell them.
"Well answer it then!" said Joby "And put a top on first".
Tamaz pulled on a t-shirt and went across the room, leaving the others to continue their arguing. He lifted the heavy iron latch, and found Mieps standing on the steps outside.
"You look awful", said Tamaz, bluntly "Are your looks going again?"
Mieps looked waxy and sickly in the morning sunshine which poured through the long window at the top of the steps. His hair was lifeless, his eyes dulled, and altogether he looked like someone who hadn't slept for several nights.
"Why don't you come and see me anymore?" he said "I'm desperate for you. I've had to come and seek you out. I need you at night, Tamaz. We are mates, you and I. It isn't right that you should desert me".
"I haven't", said Tamaz, surprising Mieps by bursting into tears "You've had your fun out of me, now leave me alone".
"Tamaz, Tamaz", said Mieps, biffing his face against his like a cat rubbing himself against a door "Only you can save me from my despair. Only you can do that".
"Get back inside, Tamaz", said Joby, appearing in the doorway.
Tamaz didn't need telling twice. He bolted past Joby into the room.
"Why can't you leave him alone?" said Joby "He's only a kid. He doesn't wanna get stuck with a dessicated old tart like you".
"I'm the same age as you are", said Mieps, indignantly "A couple of years younger in fact!"
"Yeah, but the difference is I'm not forcing him to stay with me with emotional blackmail", said Joby "I wouldn't want anyone to stay with me if they were forced to. Haven't you got any pride?"
"Pride isn't going to win him over to me", said Mieps "How can you be so greedy? I need him. I NEED HIM!"
"So do I!" said Joby "And that's all there is to it!"
The hay-cart was brought round to the front of the house at 11 o'clock, and Julian sat perched on a shooting-stick greeting the others as they appeared.
"I'm astonished you can spare the time to waste on such frivolous pursuits as a picnic", he said to Ransey.
"I'm here to stop you getting above yourself", said Ransey "And to keep an eye on Kieran".
"He's given up smoking apparently", said Julian "So you may need to shoot him later in the day, to put him out of his misery!"
"What's Mieps doing here?" Tamaz squawked, on finding the said person already in the hay-cart "You bastards! Inviting him along! I've been looking forward to this day, and now it's ruined!"
"Stop carrying on, Freaky", said Julian "Or you can stay behind. You didn't find his presence that repugnant a short time ago".
"Get on the cart, Tamaz", said Adam, gently "It wouldn't be the same without you along".
Slightly mollified by this, Tamaz allowed Lonts to lift him onto the hay-cart.
They moved off soon after, and took a well-worn track through the forest to the foot of the mountains. After a while Julian ordered the younger ones to get out and walk, so that he could have more room in which to stretch out his long legs.
"Anyone under 30 can walk", he decreed "You count as an honorary under-30, Lonts. We can't have a hulking great thing like you lying around in the cart".
"Meet us up by the burnt-out barn", said Hillyard, from the driver's box "I'm going to park up there".
Lonts, Tamaz, the clowns and Toppy ran through the waist-high ferns, laughing and whooping. They collapsed into a pile and lay looking up at the sky through the trees.
"I suggest we tear all Toppy's clothes off and take turns rogering him", said Bardin, teasingly.
"No, there'd be no point", said Lonts, sombrely "Toppy wouldn't enjoy that at all".
"What would you enjoy, Toppy?" said Bardin, kindly "What would you really like to do for a kick?"
"I'd like to stencil the ceiling of the dining-room", said Toppy.
"If that's what you want why don't you just do it?" said Lonts, wearily.
"I didn't think anyone would like it", said Toppy.
"Don't see why not", said Bardin "If we don't like it we just won't look up whilst we're eating!"
Bengo suddenly pounced on Tamaz and rolled him around, tickling him and grabbing at the buttons on his shirt.
"Come on, Tamaz", he said, jokingly "Get your tits out for the boys!"
Tamaz spat like an angry cat and used his hands and the heel of his foot to propel himself out of Bengo's grasp. Bengo looked shocked by his reaction.
"I didn't mean any harm", Bengo stammered.
"Bengo wouldn't hurt you, Tamaz", said Lonts "He wouldn't hurt a fly".
"S'o.k", Tamaz mumbled, on noticing how stunned they all looked "You startled me that's all".
"No sweat", said Bengo, still sounding shaken "Just a bit of horsing around between friends".
"You don't horse around with each other like that", said Tamaz.
"Well I suppose we could try to get our tits out for you", said Bardin "But you'd probably be disappointed!"
Tamaz was disarmed by his general tone and smiled.
"That's better", said Bardin "We can't have our star upset".
"He's probably just having one of his boyish days", Toppy sighed.
"I can be whatever I wish", said Tamaz, haughtily. He sounded so like his old self that the party resumed its festive air.
"What's he sniggering about?" said Joby, glancing across at Julian "Sat over there like Little Miss Muffet, tittering over an old newspaper".
"He's reading the lonely hearts column", said Adam, as he and Joby set out the picnic on the grass.
"Aren't they all a bit out of day by now?" said Hillyard, returning from turning the horse loose to graze "That paper was one of the stack we found in the old dining-room".
"Little things amuse little minds", Adam whispered, removing a pork pie from a tin "He always did like to entertain himself this way. Laughing cruelly at other men's loneliness".
"Listen to this one", Julian chortled "'GAY SLIM MAN, 22, SEEKS BIG BROTHER FIGURE. MUST BE WELL-BUILT UP TO MID-30s' ... I'd say that was bloody well-built wouldn't you?!"
"Don't want much does he!" said Joby.
"Should put him in touch with the Wang Man obviously", said Hillyard.
"Oh Hilly!" Adam cried, sympathetically.
"It's alright, I'm o.k about it", Hillyard smiled.
"You're very brave", said Adam.
"Stop mollycoddling him, Ada", said Julian "He got over it years ago".
"I was referring to him being brave for putting up with you actually!" said Adam, crossly.
"We should put in an ad for Julian", said Joby "'SADISTIC AGEING ARTISTOCRAT, 60-MUMBLE, ...'"
"'SEEKS STUPID PARTNER'", said Adam "'FOR GENERAL ALL-ROUND MISERY AND BRUTALITY'".
"I have never had to resort to such sad and drastic measures", said Julian.
"Proof if any were needed that there's no justice in the world", said Joby "The likes of you never have trouble attracting people. I spose there's just a lot of masochists about".
"Piers always used to say it was a merciful relief that Julian wasn't into women", said Adam "As he dreaded to think what he might have got up to".
"Do you think we could have at least one day go past without the wit and wisdom of Piers being trotted out for our delectation?" said Julian, waspishly.
"Oh for pity's sake Jules, it's only the second time I've mentioned him in 40 years!" said Adam.
"I wish we'd heard a bit more about him", said Finia "He sounds like a nice guy. The way Julian's talked about his family he made them all sound like monsters, and that he had a terrible childhood. Well he can't have done if he'd had a nice brother. I'd have loved a nice brother to take care of me".
"So would I", said Joby "Not the psychopath I had anyway!"
"I would have quite liked a sibling", said Adam "Someone who could join forces with Mother and me against the old bastard".
"I was lucky", said Kieran, sitting with his hands tucked under his armpits, scrunching on mints "I never minded being an only child".
"I'd have quite enjoyed it too!" Joby grunted.
"Look before you get carried away with the My Childhood Was Far Worse Than Anyone Else's routine", said Julian "Don't let Adam give you all a totally erroneous view of Piers. Piers was a moron, pure and simple".
"No he wasn't", said Adam, firmly.
"When he was a child", said Julian, heatedly "Piers used to burst into tears whenever he heard ice-cream van chimes. He did it once in Kensington Gardens when we were quite small. You never heard such a dreadful racket as he made. It was extremely embarrassing".
"Why did he cry if he heard ice-cream van chimes?" said Joby, perplexed.
"God knows", said Julian "He probably thought the aliens were coming for him! For all we know he probably still does it. I can just picture him sitting in a restaurant, and everyone saying 'oh look there's old Lord Buggerlugs sitting over there', and then him bursting into tears because an ice-cream van goes down the street outside! The flower of the English aristocracy! He made Lonts look like the epitome of rational behaviour!"
"At least he sounds harmless", said Joby "Unlike you".
"Oh Piers was very sweet", said Adam "He would have been liked whichever walk of society he was in".
"Most people would have felt sorry for the poor sad demented old twit that's why", said Julian, contemptuously.
The younger ones emerged from the forest and came towards them.
"We're not eating here are we?" said Lonts, in dismay "It's nowhere near far enough up the mountain!"
"Who do you think you are, Sherpa Tensing?!" said Joby "We came out for a gentle picnic, not scaling the north face without oxygen!"
"I still think we could have gone a bit further up than this", said Lonts, throwing himself onto the grass "There's a barn here, that means it's easy for people to get to here. It's just the same as being below".
"I wonder what happened to it", said Hillyard, looking at the blackened ruins of the barn "How the fire started I mean".
"It got hit by a thunderbolt", said Ransey "Seriously. Summer before last. There was a bad storm one night, and it got struck. It's all recorded in one of your household ledgers. The entire local populace turned up to put it out".
"Why didn't they rebuild it though?" said Hillyard.
"One of those silly superstitions country people are prone to", said Ransey "As far as they were concerned it was an act of vengeance from God. Exactly for what I couldn't work out, but now they regard this as cursed ground and ... oh well you can work out the rest".
"There seems to be a lot of that round here", said Kieran "Like the abandoned chapel down below".
"I wish you hadn't told us that now, Ransey", Adam shivered "This area's taken on a whole new eerie perspective. Like 'Picnic At Hanging Rock'".
"Not like you to get spooked, Ad", said Hillyard "Think what it was like years ago when we were travelling up north. Lilli mentioning the wolves this morning brought it all back to me. Tomce's cottage and the forest beyond Kiskev".
"Or Julian's house in the jungle", said Kieran "Not that there were wolves there, but it was still bloody eerie".
"All thanks to Gabriel and his damn zombies", said Finia "Once they started roaming about I never really felt safe, not even in daylight hours".
"I remember once hearing some tale, in our time that is", said Adam "Of a man who went walking in some mountains in California. He came across a hotel that was all done up like some mock Alpine schloss, but with an 1930s art deco interior. He spoke to a maid who was cleaning the foyer, and she said they were just getting ready to open for the season, and if he came back in a week they would be in business. He was quite fascinated by the place and so he did go back, only to find a blackened ruin. He questioned some local people as to what had happened, thinking the fire had happened in the past week, and it turned out it had happened back in the 1930s, and the building had been a ruin ever since. No one had wanted to rebuild it because there had been quite a substantial loss of life".
"So how come he saw it as it used to be?" said Bengo, confused.
"No one can say for certain", said Adam "He either experienced a brief time-slip or he saw a phantom building. I personally prefer the time-slip theory, because he actually spoke to the maid".
"So in that case did people return to their own times after having experienced a time-slip?" said Bardin.
"Oh yes, quite a few had claimed to do that in our time", said Adam "As far as I know they had all gone into the past though, not the future. I hadn't heard of anyone coming from a future time-slip. Why that should be I don't know".
"You might have gone back otherwise", said Lonts, emotionally.
"I'm very glad I didn't", said Adam, with feeling "I can't imagine anything more ghastly. I have everything I need in this time".
"The sort of thing that sends shivers down your spine", said Joby.
"Perhaps time's stood still in our time", said Kieran "Like in the old Narnia children's books. It didn't matter how much time had passed in Narnia, it'd only be a few seconds in their own world".
"Imagine having gone through all this", said Joby "And going back to find Amy meeting you off the train as though only a few days had passed!"
"Yes, just imagine", said Julian, dryly "You'd have some explaining to do, Tinker Belle!"
"I don't think I'd even want to try!" Kieran laughed "'Amy darlin', I've been having an affair with Adam and Joby, oh and by the way I'd like you to meet Tamaz!'"
"It seems like a different world now, doesn't it?" said Adam.
"Ada, it was a different world!" said Julian, with forced patience "We have absolutely nothing in common anymore with the people we left behind".
"If you could bring someone forward from your own time, just one person each", said Mieps "Who would it be?"
"My Mother", said Adam "To get her safely away from my Father, and because I think she'd be a lot happier and freer in this world. She would be allowed to be herself".
"I don't suppose Joby would bring his mother though, from what he's told us about her!" said Hillyard.
"No way!" said Joby "I'd bring me Gran. She'd love it round here. Loads of people to boss around".
"And you, Kieran", said Mieps, with a distinct sly note to his voice "Would you bring your wife?"
"There wouldn't be much point after all these years", said Kieran "I hope by now she's got her own life to lead. No, I'm like Adam, I'd bring me Mam over".
"There's absolutely no one I'd care to fetch over", said Julian "Certainly not my Mother, the old trout".
"You could bring Piers over", said Kieran, mischievously.
"Piers and Lonts under the same roof is a deeply daunting thought", said Julian "And not one to be entertained with a completely sober mind. Open the wine, Hillyard".
Whilst Hillyard was busy doing so, Bengo and Bardin gave them a comic song, about the tasks and ritual humiliations set a hapless man by his rival in love. They were gratified that the others quite enjoyed it, and even Julian laughed loudly at the verse about wearing pink slippers in a bar full of sailors.
The whole afternoon passed peacefully. They ate and drank, talked and sang. Reading through the old newspapers Julian came across a letter from one of Kieran's detractors, making snide remarks about his sexuality. "'People like to present him as an upholder of family values'", said the critic "'All I can say to that is exactly what kind of family life is that meant to be? Oh for the days when we had red-blooded heroes!'"
"You nasty little shit", thought Julian.
He was annoyed to find himself becoming rattled by this, and strode further up the mountain to work off his spleen. He found Kieran sitting on a tree-stump, as though lying in wait for him.
"You don't want to take notice of newspapers", said Kieran "Most of 'em in the City got hit by the quake anyway".
"We should put you back on the stage, as a vaudeville mind-reader", said Julian.
"You should see what some of 'em have said about me over the years!" said Kieran, wryly.
"Ungrateful twats", said Julian "When I think how some would have abused the power you've had, and you've remained unsullied".
"If I really am a good man, as you and Adam have so kindly said", Kieran remarked "Then I can't expect to get unanimous praise. Good people aren't always appreciated in their own lifetime. Twas always the way. Besides, I have plenty of faults. I'm lazy for one thing. If I could spend the rest of me life in a big bed with those I love then I would, and forget everything else".
"Good God Kieran, there are far worse ambitions to have!" Julian exclaimed.
Kieran stood up and they faced each other from a very near distance.
"You are the most beautiful creature I have ever met", said Julian, softly.
"That's pretty good praise from an expert of 'horseflesh'", Kieran whispered.
"If you were at a public auction I'd pay everything I had for you", said Julian.
"It wouldn't work", said Kieran, candidly "You're too big for me, and most of the time I prefer being passive".
"One of life's little ironies", Julian sighed.
He noticed Ransey had moved to within a few feet of them and was sitting on the grass.
"He's keeping an eye on me", said Kieran.
"Getting his kicks listening in more like", said Julian.
"It's what is known in the bodyguard's handbook", said Ransey "As Keeping A Discreet Distance".
"Sometimes I feel like a condemned man on his exercise hour", said Kieran.
"It's strange", said Julian, quietly "I always thought Adam had all the romantic notions, but even Ransey's presence can't dispel the way I feel at the moment".
"You always did have a way with words, Julian", said Kieran "There's nothing you can teach an Irishman about blarney!"
"I mean every word I say", said Julian, grabbing his arm.
"Yes I believe you do", said Kieran "But both you and me are quite busy enough in that department at the moment!"
They reloaded the cart late afternoon and drove back down through the forest. This time Kieran was the only one to see the spectre of the old man. It was walking along the forest track, dressed in a long black robe and swinging its arms vigorously. Kieran stared and stared at it, determined to be sure whether he was really seeing it or imagining it. He had to be doubly sure this time as no one else had seen it. The spectre gave no impression at all that it had seen them. Kieran closed his eyes and repeated to himself the relevant details of its appearance: bald head, wrinkled face, black robe.
He loathed being singled out in this way, to be the sole witness to it, but he stayed silent, not wishing to destroy the mellow mood of the day by acknowledging its presence to the others.
Once they got back to the house though he took himself off for a bath, cadging a cigarette off one of the stewards on the way. He chose a bathroom on the ground floor of the East Wing, as the tub was round and shallow, which meant there was no likelihood of Julian bursting in and demanding to use it. He undressed and sat down on the edge of the tub and gave way to an orgy of crying, the like of which he hadn't indulged in since the days of his emotional crisis at Wolf Castle.
"The rest of your smokes are in the back of the wireless in our room", said Joby, appearing behind him "That's where I hid 'em".
Kieran realised the cigarette he'd borrowed from the steward was still in his hand, unlit. He snapped it in half and flung the pieces onto the floor.
"I saw him too", said Joby "But I don't think any of the others did".
"Oh thank God", said Kieran, brushing away his tears with the palm of his hand "You must think I'm such an eejit, carrying on like this. Where's Tamaz?"
"Playing draughts with Lonts", said Joby.
"I just wish all this would come to a head", Kieran sobbed.
Joby selected the largest towel and wrapped it around Kieran's bare shoulders.
"When all this is over", Kieran began "Oh God, how many times have we said that?! When all this is over we're going to have to get right away. I don't care what anyone says, it's the only way. Don't you think so?"
"Yes I do", said Joby "But don't think of it now, Kiel. Just try to live day-to-day, that's all you can do. Come on now, I love you".
"It's a nice room this isn't it?" said Kieran, sniffing violently "Gets the evening sun. Would make a good living-room, if it wasn't a bathroom".
"Yeah it is a good spot", said Joby "Nice view of the mountains. Too remote though. You shouldn't have come down here alone in your state".
"You were laughing with the others", said Kieran "I didn't want to break the mood".
"I'll run you a bath", said Joby "And scrub your back".
When they had finished they located the others in the Yellow Salon. They had all gone in there so that they could have the windows open onto the lawn, and the room was large enough to accommodate them and any of the staff who wanted to join them. As such, Widow Bertha was sat knitting by the window, and Lilli was working at stencil designs with Toppy.
"Isn't it sweet they're companions again?" Adam was purring, when Kieran and Joby walked in "Toppy needs a gentler friend than any of us can provide".
Lonts and Tamaz were still engrossed in the draughts board. Tamaz had rested his chin on his hand, and Lonts was looking very serious, as though pondering affairs of state. It was an intriguing fact that these two people, who were normally such exceptional live-wires, often had a calming influence on each other, and this was the case now.
"Lonts doesn't have the screaming ab-dabs when he loses against Tamaz", said Joby, pouring out coffee for himself and Kieran "Unlike when he's playing with me!"
"Must be Tamaz's feminine influence", said Adam.
"Have you two heard about Our Youngest threatening to stencil the dining-room ceiling?" said Julian, who was sunk deep in an armchair "Adam thinks it's a good idea".
"I'm going to cut out some templates for him", said Adam "Jules is being difficult about it, as one has come to expect really!"
"Toppy can paint naked dicks all over the ceiling as far as I'm concerned", said Joby.
"At least that would have a bit of class", said Julian "Stencils, I ask you! It's so bloody common".
"Oh Jules, you do let yourself down when you talk like that", said Adam.
"But it's true!" said Julian "He'll be wanting those ghastly ruched window-blinds next, the ones that always look so revolting when seen from the outside. Like something out of a semi-detached in Basildon".
"Basildon doesn't exist anymore", said Adam, tersely.
"Life is sweet after all", said Joby, which made Kieran laugh.
"Are you upsetting everyone again?" said Hillyard, coming over and perching on the arm of Julian's chair "It's obviously time you went up to bed and had your hot milk and digestive biscuits!"
"Oh Hilly, what a divine thought!" Adam hooted.
There came the distant jangling sound of the brass bell by the front door being wrung.
"Who the hell is that at this hour?" Julian snapped.
"It's not late, it's only twenty past nine!" said Joby.
Bertha was putting down her needles in preparatory to answering it, but Hillyard stopped her.
"I'll go and see who it is", he said.
The front door had been left open in the warm evening air, and as Hillyard came into the hall he immediately saw Codlik and Glynis standing on the threshold. Codlik looked even more smug and self-important than ever. Glynis was svelte and elegant in a tailored suit, but she had lost a horrifying amount of weight since they had last seen her in the spring, and her new-found sophistication had been bought at the loss of her voluptuous wholesome beauty. The sparkle seemed to have gone from her too, and she looked overly-taut and tense around the face, like a whippet anxious to get out of the stalls at the beginning of a race.
"We had no idea you were coming", said Hillyard, after having embraced Glynis. He passed on embracing Codlik.
"Glynis wanted it to be a surprise", said Codlik "I felt as you weren't going to come to us, we had better come to you".
"How did you get here?" said Hillyard.
"Carriage", said Codlik "We spent last night at the Watering-Hole".
"You must both be worn out", said Hillyard "Come on in. I'll ask one of the maids to sort out a couple of rooms for you".
From the back of the hall came the unfortunately loud cry from Julian of "Oh hell!"
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