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Walking back to the house was an enlightening experience. Kieran was made acutely aware of the mystery of the place. Because of its vastness and diversity of age it was impossible to pinpout where it began and where it ended. Like the Loud House, it gave the impression that it could change its shape, and begin and end at will. "It can either enfold us or spit us out", thought Kieran "I've a feeling it's going to enfold us. For the time being anyway".
When he got back to his room though he found that life had a rather more mundane aspect. Joby and Tamaz were in the middle of what could only be called a "marital row".
"Tell him, Kieran", said Tamaz, insistently "Tell him. I've been good all day, and he's having a go at me. I haven't said or done anything wrong".
"I know", said Joby "It's a miracle ... I mean it's great, all I'm saying is ..."
"He's accusing me of going with Mieps when I haven't been anywhere near him", said Tamaz.
"Joby, you seem a wee bit stressed", said Kieran, putting more coal on the fire.
"Do you have to do that?" Joby snapped "You bank that fire so high I'm surprised the chimney doesn't set alight!"
"Now sit down", said Kieran, gently but firmly "You're overwrought".
"Hardly surprising is it!" said Joby "I'm fed up with you two! Neither of you give a stuff about me or how upset I am. You go and disappear all day for a start".
"Joby, I had to", said Kieran "The priest was in a bad way".
"I'M in a bad way!" said Joby.
"Yes, but I thought he might do something stupid", said Kieran "Whereas I know you've got more sense than that. I'm not putting anyone else before you. I'd do anything for you, I hope you know that. Now tell me why you're upset with Tamaz".
"I can't cope with it anymore", said Joby "Him and Mieps. I thought I could, but I can't. I don't like it. I haven't got your tolerance, and it's no use pretending I have. He's gotta decide what he wants, once and for all. I haven't been through everything that I have with him just to settle for this half-hearted attempt at a home-life".
"There's nothing half-hearted about anything me or Tamaz do", said Kieran "Particularly where you're concerned".
Tamaz dropped to the floor and clasped Joby's knees.
"Joby, don't send me away!" he cried.
"Sometimes I think you two are part of a conspiracy", said Joby.
"A conspiracy to try and make you happy", said Kieran.
"Don't give me that!" said Joby.
"Come the spring, we'll leave here", said Kieran "All of us will, and when we find our island, as I'm sure we will, us three'll get our own place".
"And Mieps won't be allowed in", said Tamaz.
"Oh yeah?" said Joby, looking at Kieran cynically "And what are you gonna do with yourself, with no one to go crusading for?"
"I'll keep an eye on you two", said Kieran "And commune with God. I should think by then it's what I'm going to need. I'm tired, and I don't want death to be me only form of retirement!"
"It won't be", said Joby "Not if I have anything to do with it. I'm sorry, to both of you. I really am. But Tamaz can't deny he hasn't thought about going off with Mieps. And I feel such a pillock then, as though I'm being made a fool of".
"I've never wanted to make a fool of you", said Tamaz, quietly "Not even when I took you hostage".
"Can't you see he adores you?" said Kieran "And surely you can understand what it's like to be weak, sexually?"
"You've got me pinned-down there haven't you!" said Joby.
"Think how much easier it's all going to be when we're in a world of our own", said Kieran "Whether Mieps is with us or not".
"I can't argue with that", said Joby "It's gonna be heaven, what we've wanted ever since we crossed over, excpet now ..."
"We're complete", Kieran finished for him.
And Joby smiled.
Ransey had spent the day embarking on his grand scheme to catalogue the contents of the library, assisted by Finia, who was still loathe to let him out of his sight for too long. Towards dusk Julian had come into the room, and fiddled around restlessly. Up until now he had always considered that he had rather played at being Captain of the Indigo, but now with the Indigo frozen in the river until the spring, he realised how lost he was without her. These days he felt he had no niche, he didn't occupy the central point of the community, he was merely Hillyard's cossetted older lover. Before he only had to spend a couple of minutes walking around, and he would know exactly where everyone was, now he had no idea where they were or when they would appear. He didn't like it.
"Woll must have been into astrology at one time", said Finia "He's got a whole row of books here on the subject".
"What's the one that looks as though you'd need a JCB to lift it?" said Julian, indicating a hefty tome lying open on the table.
"Oh that's all about relationships", said Finia "And how we all relate to each other. It's a shame, being 12 of us, that we're not of all different signs. We'd make a great field-study for an astrologer".
"You sound as though you've got the bit between your teeth", said Julian "We'll have to put you in a headscarf come the summer fete, and make you earn your keep telling fortunes".
"No, listen", said Finia, insistently "It's a nuisance because there are 2 Gemini's you see, you and Hillyard, and 2 Sagittarians".
"Who they?" said Julian.
"Bengo and Bardin", said Finia.
"I would've thought that made a mockery of the whole thing", said Ransey, bent over his cataloguing ledger "You can't get two people less alike. Bardin's so sane and sensible, and Bengo's an hysterical air-head".
"All that means is that Bardin has an Earth sign in his ascendant", said Finia, patiently.
"The words 'cop out' spring to mind", said Ransey.
"For once I agree with Ransey", said Julian, flopping into an easy chair "Can't you find a more worthwhile occupation Finia, like sewing some buttons onto my shirts?!"
"You're hopeless", said Finia.
"Must be something about Gemini's", said Ransey "Hillyard's been pretty hopeless at times too. All this is his, but he takes no interest in it. When I've tried talking to him about it, all he says is he feels like the keeper of Woll's shrine".
"Did he really say that?" said Julian, with concern.
"Yes, not good", said Ransey "You need to have a word with him. At the end of the day this is his place. Most people, when they come into a lot of money, you have to worry it'll go to their heads and make them act demented, well with Hillyard you've got the exact opposite problem. He doesn't seem to want to accept that it's his".
One of the bookcases swung open, and Bengo and Bardin emerged from the concealed entrance that led through into the Yellow Salon.
"We've got clowns in our wainscotting", said Julian "Ransey, call pest control!"
"Codlik's not in here, is he?" said Bardin.
"Would I be looking so tranquil and genial if he was!" said Julian.
"What's he up to now?" Ransey muttered.
"Telling us how to do the Christmas show", said Bengo.
"Wants it to emphasise family values", said Bardin "He's come up with one of those plots everyone hates. Loathsome child unites two warring parents".
"Who's going to play the loathsome child?" said Julian.
"I suppose we could borrow one from the estate", said Ransey.
"Good evening, Joby", said Julian, as the said man came in from the hall "You're looking a bit more serene. Has Mieps been run over with a steam-roller?!"
"Trouble with Tamaz, I take it?" said Finia, turning over a few pages in the big astrology book "Inevitable. You're not compatible. I've worked out from the rough date of Ransey meeting the Gorgon, that Tamaz was born at the beginning of August. That makes him a Leo, and a typical Leo at that".
"I find it hard to believe that Freaky is a typical anything!" said Julian.
"That means he is Fire", Finia continued, regardless "And Joby is Water".
"Oh good", said Joby "So next time he misbehaves, I can put him out!"
Bengo was idly scattering billiard balls across the table.
"When are we going back to the Indigo?" he asked, suddenly.
"When it's defrosted", said Ransey.
"If you're looking for something to do", said Julian "You can take the coal-scuttle and get it filled up".
Bengo picked up the empty scuttle and proceeded to make the long journey into the Service Wing. To get to the coal-hole he had to go through the scullery, and as he got nearer he could hear two women having a fierce argument inside. His heart sank. One of the biggest drawbacks to the living in this house was that you often found yourself at the mercy of the moods of people you barely knew.
When he got into the cheerless little room, he found the scullery-maid, a skinny scrap of a thing, standing at the sink, shrieking at the maid known by Tamaz as Fatty. She was on overweight red-head, who had unfortunately acquired a hard face at a young age. Just as Bengo appeared in the doorway Nina (the overweight red-head) delivered a massive punch to the shoulder of the scullery-maid, who buckled under the impact and fell against the draining-board.
"Hey!" Bengo cried out, dropping the coal-scuttle on the floor with an ugly clang.
"See!" yelled the scullery-maid, pointing at Bengo "I have a witness, he saw what you did, you old cow! He'll get you fired for that!"
To Bengo's horror Nina promptly burst into tears. He knew that bullies generally crumbled when confronted, but he wasn't expecting it to happen quite so dramatically! And Nina didn't just sob either. She was the sort of woman who when she gets tearful delivers the entire repertoire. She gulped, she snorted, her little eyes screwed up in a most unflattering fashion (thereby belying the myth that women look helpless and alluring when in tears), and her throat seemed to be working itself up into a prolonged orgy of wailing.
"You can't fire me!" she cried "I've got a child to support! My Mum relies on the food I send her from here. You can't fire me! Think of my little boy!"
"Now then!" said Bardin, authoritatively.
Bengo could have burst into tears himself at the sight of him, but out of gratitude, not despair. Bardin would sort the situation out, he felt sure. Bardin had the useful knack of treating all women like potentially troublesome chorus-girls.
"I wasn't gonna fire anyone, Bardy!" said Bengo, desperately "I just thought she shouldn't have hit her that's all. She's bigger than her".
"I'll say!" said the scullery-maid "The fat cow!"
"That's enough!" said Bardin.
Nina had now crammed the hem of her apron into her mouth and was sucking on it like a child with a comfort-blanket. She looked a truly pitiable sight, whereas the scullery-maid was now yapping triumphantly like a vicious terrier.
"What's all this about?" said Bardin "All you women ever seem to do is fight each other".
"She keeps giving me more and more washing-up to do", said the scullery-maid, standing arms akimbo "It's sheer spite that's what is. Sheer blinking spite".
"I thought that was your job", said Bardin "It's not exactly a difficult one!"
"Where do you get off saying that?" said the scullery-maid, indignantly "I'm stood for hours at this sink. Me feet hurt, and me hands are red raw".
"You liar!" said Nina "You only work when you hear one of us coming. Most of the time you sit on the table with your skirt up, showing your legs to all the men that pass by!"
"Shut up a minute", said Bardin, who had been distracted by the sight outside the window, in the deep twilight.
A figure in a black cowled garment was leaning over the gate that led towards the dairy. Its face was completely obscured, and its hands were folded in front of it, hanging over the gate. It was hard to tell if it was looking at the ground or at them.
"Who the bloody is it?" said the scullery-maid.
Bardin could tell at once from the expressions on the girls' faces that this incident could be in danger of sparking a panic-wave amongst the entire overly-superstitious staff.
"It's o.k", he said, sounding firmer than he felt "It must be one of the monks. They're always wandering around all over the place".
"You never know where they're gonna turn up next", said Bengo.
"It's gone now", said Nina, who at least had been startled out of her crying orgy "He went quick".
"Huh, they give me the creeps sometimes", said the scullery-maid "They move like ghosts".
Jake was the oldest steward in the house, and there were many times these days when it showed. He wheezed into the library, half-dragging the coal-scuttle with him.
"What are you playing at?" said Hillyard, taking it off him "Sit down, you sound like you're about to peg out. I thought I'd told you about carrying heavy things before".
"It was Bengo I sent to get it actually", said Julian.
"He and the other one left it in the scullery", said Jake, collapsing onto a chair "They've gone upstairs. Probably overcome with lust".
"The little bastards could at least have brought the coal in first!" said Julian.
"That's you lot all over", Jake wheezed "Always up to something like that".
"Ah well, boys will be boys", said Julian.
"And you're the worst of the lot!" said Jake "You'd think you'd be past it at your age!"
"I beg your pardon!" said Julian "I'll have you know I've got years, if not decades, left in me".
"God help us", said Joby.
"I am many years off my Biblical 3 score years and 10", said Julian.
"Well a few anyway", said Adam, who was leaning against the mantelpiece.
"I never could understand what all the fuss was about, myself", said Jake "Sex never seemed up to much to me".
"But you were married", said Adam "I hope your wife never got wind of how you felt".
"Oh you can't hide anything from women", said Jake, heaving himself up out of the chair "But she seemed to be alright all the same. Her last words to me were 'I am happy and at peace, I have had a good, contented life'".
The others all felt a bit depressed after this, and were glad when he had left the room.
"I have had a good contented life!" said Julian "What a dreadful state to end up in, and it's all down to him! I hope I never have that effect!"
"Somehow Jules, I don't think that will be very likely", said Adam.
"Yes", said Julian, unabashed "It should make you very glad you've got me, and not someone who embalms you before you're even in your tomb!"
"Glynis was on again earlier about Hawkefish", said Bengo "How he'd probably welcome us back with open arms at the Little Theatre, particularly in time for the Yuletide Revue".
"He'll welcome you back you mean", said Bardin, resting his wine glass on his bare chest "Clowns are easy to get hold of, but not clowns with your looks".
"But that's all there is isn't there?" said Bengo, lying next to him "What happens when I'm old? I'll be trotted out like some knackered old circus pony! No thanks. I only mentioned the Little Theatre because, well what I'm saying is if you want to go back there, I won't stop you".
"I don't believe in going backwards", said Bardin "And you're not going back either, not if I don't want you to".
"But you do realise that, the way things are gonna go in the future, we might not perform on stage again", said Bengo "The others are talking about going into permanent retirement".
"Then we'll just have to entertain them on their own", said Bardin "I think I've gone as far as I can in my career anyway. I don't want to end up like Ully, a sad old drunk knocking out second-rate revues, relying on shock tactics to keep the punters coming in".
"It wouldn't be much fun would it?" said Bengo.
"If you already know that, why bring the whole subject up?!" said Bardin.
"I had to make sure you realised the way things were going amongst us lot", said Bengo "You were so ambitious when we were kids".
"When I was a kid I had dreams of being the first clown who'd end up governor of somewhere", said Bardin, wryly "I don't think that's going to happen either! The most wonderful thing about ambition is it's so great when you finally give it all up!"
He put down his glass, and then sat up in bed, rubbing his face wearily, then he looked down at Bengo.
"You're gorgeous", he said "And I don't regret a thing".
Bengo pushed him onto his back, and then rolled over on top of him, and held him close.
"You're getting a bit ahead of yourself aren't you?" said Joby "Christmas is still over a month away".
"I'm just practising at the moment", said Lonts, putting the finishing touches to his homemade Christmas card "But I think this is a really good idea, don't you?"
"Oh yeah", said Joby, unenthusiastically "It'll save us some money!"
Joby glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece and didn't like what he saw. It was still over an hour until suppertime, and both Kieran and Tamaz seemed to have disappeared since he saw them upstairs. The afternoon had felt unbearably long, as though it had dragged on for about 3 weeks, a feeling not helped by the fact that it had already been dark for several hours.
"You haven't said what you think of it", said Lonts.
Joby sighed and looked at Lonts's drawing of Father Christmas, a character who had become something of a hero for Lonts ever since Adam had told him about him.
"Why's he got his arms in the air like that?" said Joby "He looks like he's being held at gunpoint!"
"He's just showing he's really happy", said Lonts.
"Why?" said Joby, as though such an emotion was beyond that of any sane person.
"Because he's been given a surprise", said Lonts.
"Lucky old Santa!" said Adam.
"One of the reindeer has given him a present", said Lonts "I thought it'd make a nice change. I was going to draw the reindeer as well but I ran out of space, so you'll just have to imagine it".
Joby sat slumped gloomily in an armchair. Through the doorway into the Yellow Salon he could hear two of the maids giggling hysterically over something, a sound particularly irritating to someone suffering from acute boredom and despondency.
Suddenly there was the sound of many footsteps in the Great Hall, and a steady murmur of men's voices. Julian led the exodus from the library to find out what was going on. The monks had all appeared from the East Wing and were kneeling on the floor in a prayer posture. Sister Amalia was sprinkling holy water about, and Kieran was swinging an incense burner.
"What on earth do you think you're doing?" Julian barked "What's this pantomime in aid of? This lot are supposed to be kept in the East Wing out of sight!"
"We're blessing the house", said Sister Amalia, chirpily.
"Patsy, is this absolutely necessary?" Adam sighed.
"I feel it may do some good, to bond the house to us", said Kieran "Put it this way, it can't do any harm".
"Yes it can!" Julian roared "I object to finding myself living in a religious commune! And tell this woman to stop sprinkling water over me!"
"I'm protecting you", said Sister Amalia.
"If it's to warn off evil spirits, it hasn't worked", said Julian "Freaky is still here for a start!"
Tamaz was yodelling and skipping in out of the monks.
"This is really exciting isn't it, Joby?" said Lonts.
"Yeah", Joby grunted, feeling uncomfortable.
Kieran noticed his discomfort and came over to him.
"There's nothing to be afraid of", he said, softly "They're just saying a few quiet prayers that's all. They're not going to start jumping up and down and chanting".
It was all rather painless. The monks knelt on the floor and said their prayers either silently or in very low voices, whilst Sister Amalia flikced holy water over the door-frames. When the prayers were finished the monks got to their feet and then stood around chatting amiably. It had been, just as Kieran had said, a simple blessing ceremony. Adam though, at the end of it, found Tamaz hiding by the grand piano at the foot of the stairs, looking nervous.
"You have nothing to fear", said Adam, drawing him close "I thought you didn't mind the monks. You certainly got on with them very well at the monastery".
"It's not them", said Tamaz "It's him".
He indicated the local priest, Levka, who had been casting some very dubious looks in Tamaz's direction.
"He hates me", said Tamaz "I know he does".
"He's a disturbed young man", said Adam "Try not to place too much importance on what he says or does. Patsy's right about him, he needs a period of healing".
Tamaz though couldn't be coaxed out of his corner, and Adam went over to Lonts, to ask him to sit with Tamaz until supper was announced. Whilst he was occupied though Mieps shot out of a doorway that was set in the wall directly underneath the stairs. Before anyone could see what was happening, he had grabbed Tamaz round the waist and half-carried him back through the doorway with him. No one in the Great Hall had had a chance to see where they had gone.
"What are you up to, you vile old snake?" Tamaz shrieked, on finding himself in a dark corridor that sloped gently downwards.
"You're coming with me", said Mieps, hauling him along "I've got a place all sorted out for us, so don't argue".
"I'm not going anywhere with you", said Tamaz, struggling in his grasp.
"Calm down, or I'll give you a whipping!" said Mieps.
Together they reached a doorway at the bottom of the corridor. Tamaz was disturbed to see that the door was a reinforced iron effort with a peephole, like a cell door in a prison. Once inside, Mieps slammed it shut behind them and pushed the bolt across. The underground room was small and brightly lit by two oil-lamps turned up full. There were garden chairs and blankets scattered about, as well as a couple of boxes containing food supplies.
"What's the big idea?" said Tamaz, releasing himself from Mieps's grasp "Do you seriously think in your wildest dreams that you can keep me down here for any length of time? Because if so, you're crazy!"
"There are two rooms here", said Mieps, calmly "I think Woll must have set them aside as some kind of shelter for himself. I don't know what from, but men who live alone, particularly rich men, often end up paranoid about anything and everything. The other room's more comfortable, it's got a bed in it".
Two rooms. One with a bed in. Both seedy and spartan. Like the ones in which Tamaz had imprisoned Joby.
"Oh so this is it!" he shrieked "This is my punishment is it?!"
Mieps looked completely taken aback.
"Not punishment, Tamaz", he said "I just want to be with you".
"The others will find me", said Tamaz "They will! Eventually".
"The only way I can seem to have you these days is by taking the law into my own hands", said Mieps "Because you won't give up your precious Joby".
"You silly bastard", said Tamaz "If only you'd played it right you could've had it all!"
"No I couldn't", said Mieps, turning down one of the lamps "Because he wouldn't allow it. All this is his fault, because his human jealousy got in the way and made me take decisive action. All this is definitely his fault".
"You idiot!" said Tamaz "Exactly how is this supposed to help? He will find us, you can be sure of that, even if he has to tear the house apart!"
"But in the meantime ..." Mieps took his arm and guided him into the next room.
This contained a four-poster bed with ruby-red hangings on it. They made love immediately, without any hesitation on either side, with that same intensity and urgency that both felt towards each other, and which afterwards left both of them feeling angry and bad-tempered. Mieps, because he wanted it all the time and knew he couldn't have it. And Tamaz, because there were now too many people constantly on his mind who wouldn't let him know peace if he devoted himself to just one of them.
"You're too late", said Tamaz, lying next to him afterwards "And nothing can change that, however much you may want it to".
"If you could forget him", said Mieps "Think what it could be like".
"NO!" Tamaz jumped off the bed and ran naked into the next room.
He got to the iron door but was stalled by an eye bearing down on the peephole from the other side, an eye set in a wrinkled, emaciated face. An eye of piercing intensity.
"Mieps!" Tamaz hollered "That Thing's inside the house! I must tell the others!"
Mieps went to stop him but Tamaz pulled back the bolt and flung open the door. There was no one in the corridor, but Tamaz ran headlong into the gloom, scudding along through the dark, chill gloom, relying on his extra-strong eyesight to lead him to safety. Not before time he burst out into the Great Hall, and in his naked glory caused a maid nearby to give a startled scream.
"Tamaz", said Lonts "Everyone's looking for you, even the monks!"
"Why didn't they look in there?" said Tamaz, gesturing behind him, his teeth chattering with the cold.
"We thought it was a cupboard", said Lonts "We thought you'd gone upstairs. Kieran was worried, because he didn't want you wandering off alone in the house".
"I should say not!" Tamaz shuddered "That Thing's at large in here".
Lonts was more concerned with Tamaz being cold. He pulled a felt cover off a nearby table, sending several dirty glasses smashing to the floor, and wrapped Tamaz in it. When Mieps appeared, Lonts grasped immediately what had happened.
"You should be ASHAMED!" he thundered, in his deep bass voice.
"I had to do something!" said Mieps, helplessly.
"Lonts is taking care of Tamaz in the Yellow Salon", said Hillyard, coming back into the library, where Mieps was sitting huddled over the fire "I've also sent one of the stewards to call of the search. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when Joby gets back down here!"
"I can't accept that I have to concede Tamaz to him", said Mieps "By doing that I'm condemning myself to a life of sterile loneliness and celibacy, whereas he's still got Kieran, and you. Where's the fairness in that? Tamaz was meant for me, I'm only claiming what's mine by right".
"You forget that Tamaz has a say in all this", said Hillyard "And a will of his own. If he prefers Joby, then Joby it'll be".
"I wish I could kill Joby, but somehow I can't", said Mieps, as though baffled by his own weakness in that direction.
"I'm very glad you can't!" said Hillyard, moving the drinks table nearer to them "The good thing about this house is that there's a brandy decanter in nearly every room! Would you like a drink?"
"Yes please", said Mieps, shakily "And then I'll leave. It's best that way".
"You can't leave", said Hillyard "Not in this weather. You'll be dead in no time at all, even with your Ghoomer survival instincts. We can find a way round this, I'm sure of it".
He noticed that Joby's slender silhouette had appeared in the doorway, and he braced himself for trouble, ready to restrain Joby if necessary. There was a tense moment as Joby crossed the room towards them and then paused and looked down at Mieps.
"Jobe", said Hillyard, quietly "Stay calm now, remember he's half-woman".
"Where's Tamaz?" said Joby, a nerve going in his cheek.
"Yellow Salon", said Hillyard "Go in and see him".
To his relief, Joby did so. Joby found Tamaz lying on the sofa close to the fire, half-comatose from the copious amounts of brandy which Lonts had poured into him.
"Great emergency service you'd make!" said Joby "You'd finish all your clients off!"
"You be kind to Tamaz, Joby", said Lonts, and he sat down in a nearby chair, as though to keep an eye on him.
Tamaz blearily rolled over to face Joby, who had knelt down beside him.
"I've blown it haven't I?" he croaked "It's exactly as everyone warned me it would happen. I've pushed you too far".
"What are you on about?" said Joby, softly.
"Both Julian and Kieran have warned me that if I pushed you too far you'd freeze me out for good", said Tamaz "And I'm sure I must have done it by now. Kieran's always said you're like that".
"Oh has he?!" said Joby "Great opinion everyone's got of me haven't they! Look at how much I've been through with both you and him. Do you think I'm gona give all that up now? That'd be like putting all my life savings on one horse and then cheering 'cos it fell at the last fence! I'd go through anything for both of you. Don't listen to Kieran. It's not me he's referring to when he goes on about every man having his breaking-point. It's not me, but his Dad".
"I thought of you when Mieps took me into that room", said Tamaz "About when I kidnapped you, and it's not just that you still love me, but so does Kieran, after all I've put him through too. But with Mieps I was willing!"
"Ssh", said Joby.
He suddenly realised he could be a bigger man than his father could have even begun to imagine. He could forgive and yet still love, and still keep his dignity and self-respect. He didn't feel like a cuckold, simply because Tamaz wasn't doing any of it in order to hurt him or make a fool of him. Tamaz wasn't slandering him to Mieps, wasn't making a fool of him behind his back, it was all down to animal passion and nothing else.
Tamaz's lips were soft and juicy and inviting, and Joby kissed him.
Lonts watched them with approval, and when he saw Toppy slide into the room from the Service Wing, he ran to forestall him.
"I expect you're hungry, Toppy", he said, once they were out in the stone corridor "Let's go into the dining-room".
He took him into the small servery which adjoined it, and where several kettles were all coming to the boil at once. Lonts roughly hacked off a couple of slices of bread from a loaf, and then wrapped one round a hunk of cheese before passing it to Toppy.
"Is Tamaz o.k now?" said Toppy.
Lonts nodded, and then electrified Toppy by saying "I thought it was really brave of him to come running to tell us about seeing the Thing inside the house. He just ran straight out into the corridor, after seeing it, he didn't even put any clothes on first".
"He saw the Thing inside the house?!" said Toppy, going extremely pale.
"Don't worry, Toppy, you'll be safe", said Lonts "I'll look after you".
"B-but you can't", Toppy protested "What about at night, when I'm alone in my room? I never wanted to be put on my own, but you lot all decided that because I'm the only celibate, and it's not fair! There's a ghostly old man who grabs my feet when I'm in bed at night!"
"Why haven't you ever said?" Lonts exclaimed.
"Because at first I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or not", said Toppy, forlornly.
"You should've still said!" said Lonts "That settles it. You're moving in with us. Adam won't mind, in fact he'll insist on it when he hears. I didn't like leaving you on your own, but the others kept saying I pester you too much".
"You don't", said Toppy "I've hated being on my own. I miss the Indigo, I really do".
"Oh Toppy, so do I!" and Lonts clasped Toppy to his great chest. Thus the two boys enjoyed one of those highly emotional bursts of reconciliation they were occasionally prone to.
Drusica came in to retrieve one of the boiling kettles, and gave them a suspicious look.
"What are you two doing in here?" she asked.
"Hugging each other", said Lonts "Would you like to join in?"
"I've got work to do", said Drusica, sounding embarrassed, and she fled the servery with the steaming kettle.
Hillyard was summoned across the hall to where Adam and Julian had just finished hauling the grand piano in front of the understairs door.
"That won't work", said Hillyard "This place is a rabbit-warren, there's probably a dozen entrances into that corridor. I'll go round them with Ransey in daylight. Mieps can help us, and one of the monks can bless all the doorways".
"Every little helps, to quote Irish Gandhi", Julian panted, breathlessly, leaning against the back of a nearby sofa "And you can go round with all our lot and tell them I want to see them in my room at about midnight".
"Sure", said Hillyard, and he went off to do the telling.
Adam and Julian both collapsed onto the sofa, and watched Glynis, who was dancing with Bardin to a cha-cha-cha record on the wind-up gramophone. This charming sight was soured somewhat by Levka, who insisted on sitting to one side, scowling at everyone who came into his field of view.
"What's the matter with him now, Pats?" Adam asked Kieran.
"You'd think he'd be happy wouldn't you?" said Kieran "With a demonic entity at large in the building!"
"Alright, cut the facetious wisecracks", said Adam "It was a perfectly reasonable question".
"He doesn't understand how we can all go on living in a place that's so blatantly haunted", Kieran explained "Even though it's home to most here, and none of us can very well go anywhere else at this time of year. We just have to make the best of it, particularly as I'm, in all honesty, still in the dark as to exactly what it is we're up against".
"Join the club, old fruit", said Julian.
"It's bugging him mainly because he heard from the monks about their religious artefacts getting damaged or stolen at the monastery", said Kieran "And then Lonts's little crucifix going missing here. I've told everyone to keep their most precious bits and pieces on them at all times, like I wear me rosary all the time these days", he parted his shirt to reveal the beads nestling underneath against his hairless chest "I never take them off now, not even in the bath. Ach, but that's not good enough for him!"
"What on earth does he expect you to do?" said Adam.
"He expects us all, all of us that is, to move out and let the Evil have the place", said Kieran.
"What?!" said Adam.
"He's an extreme pacifist", said Kieran "With the emphasis on the word extreme. He doesn't believe force or resistance is acceptable under any circumstances, no matter what you're up against. That's why I get the impression he's not too hot on me, because I'm known as the VANQUISHER of Evil".
"That is absolutely crazy", said Adam "The idea that we all let Evil destroy us, like the vampires would have done, like Father Gabriel would have done ..."
"His argument is that they would have all destroyed themselves eventually anyway", said Kieran.
"Yes, after destroying us first!" said Julian, dryly "And sometimes Evil needs a bit of a helping push towards its own destruction".
"I strongly believe that if you hadn't walked into the Evil that Father Gabriel had generated, Patsy", said Adam "It would have eventually burst out and consumed everyone".
"And that may be what we're up against here", said Kieran "It takes on a human form, like it did when it took over Angel's body, but when we were out on the marshes Tamaz sensed it in its natural state", he looked around him to check that no one was near and then leaned towards them "And that is what we're up against again. But I don't believe we're up against one entity, it may even be several. It's as if a lid's been ripped off Pandora's Box, and all the horrors are beginning to seep out in different places and in different forms. This is going to be a mighty tough one to sort out!"
When Julian got up to his room he fell exhausted into the chair by the fire, and was only very briefly disturbed when Tamaz padded into the room climbed onto his lap. There he lay against him like a little spider monkey. Julian would have been quite happy to stay like that all night, if it wasn't for interruptions. First Hillyard came in and changed into a long fur-lined robe that had belonged to Woll. He said nothing to the slumbering twosome and would have been quite content to throw a blanket over them, but almost at the stroke of midnight all the other Indigo-ites sauntered in.
"You asked to see us now", said Joby.
Julian was embarrassed and annoyed to find that he'd completely forgotten all about his earlier instructions. Tamaz slid off his lap and stood facing Mieps, who looked tired and haggard, his snake-eyes dominating his face. Like the two children at the end of 'The Water Babies', they stared at each other for what felt like 7 years.
"Yes well", Julian coughed awkwardly and paced the room. The others, anxious not to get in his way, threw themselves onto the bed and various chairs. He paused by Mieps and said "I want you to help investigate under the house tomorrow, as you already know so much about it!"
"I've already been asked about that", said Mieps "And I agreed".
"As from tomorrow", Julian continued, to the room at large "I want a steward posted as a guard on each of the outside doors".
"Have we got enough stewards?!" said Ransey.
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Julian.
"What he means is that there are a lot of outside doors", said Hillyard "In fact we don't know exactly how many".
"Then you should know!" Julian exploded "Damnit Hillyard, this is your house!"
"Yeah, but I didn't build it!" Hillyard protested "And it's not my fault if it's too big!"
Hillyard looked as though he was about to cry.
"And what's the point of guarding the doors anyway?" said Joby "When the Thing's already inside the house!"
Julian suddenly felt like a general being made cruelly aware that his battle strategies and acute insight were on the wane.
"Out of here, all of you!" he cried "Go to bed and bolt your doors, and Toppy, you sleep in with Adam and Lonts".
Adam could see this wasn't a good time to point out that this had in fact already been arranged.
Mercifully a peaceful night ensued, and first thing in the morning Adam left Lonts and Toppy in bed, and returned to Julian's room, concerned that his proud old friend might be taking his tiredness too much to heart. He was surprised when he got there to find Julian alone. He was standing on the hearth-rug fumbling with his cufflinks, whilst his shirt sleeves flapped open around his wrists.
"Unusual to find you alone at this hours, Jules", said Adam, hastening over to help him "You've usually got Hillyard or Finia buzzing around you".
"I expect Finia's giving this senile old fool a wide-berth", said Julian "And Hillyard left the room as soon as he woke up. Not so much as a 'good morning' if you please".
"It's not like him to fume", said Adam, attending to the cuff-links.
"Oh he wasn't fuming", said Julian "I think he was terrified I'd start having another go at him. You know how he hates confrontations, he's like me in that respect".
"You haven't rinsed your hair this morning", said Adam.
"I haven't had a bath either", said Julian "Too bloody cold!"
Adam sat him down in the chair by the fire, and proceeded to brush his hair for him.
"I thought I was the one losing his mind", he laughed, gently.
"Perhaps it's catching", said Julian "I bet they're all down there now, all sitting round the breakfast-table, debating how best to depose me! I can't blame them really. It's probably time the reign of Queen Julian came to an end, otherwise it'll just drag on and on ad nauseum".
"Don't be silly", said Adam "Who would replace you? I can't, as I'm going mad, and Ransey's always insisted he's a back-room boy, so the next one after that is Hillyard. Give him a few more years and he'll be able to take care of us all beautifully, but I think at the moment he wouldn't thank you for lumbering him with that on top of everything else".
"He can be the chief when we get to the island", Julian stretched "The worn-out old lion should make way for the one still in his prime".
"I was thinking last night in bed", said Adam "How Lo-Lo and Toppy will have to look after everyone else when us oldies start dying off".
"Does Toppy realise the fate awaiting him?" said Julian.
"Oh I think he's worked it out", said Adam "He's a bright boy. He's the youngest, and likely to be in better health than Bengo and Bardin as they get older. Clowns don't seem to age terribly well. They punish their bodies too much for that".
"Poor little scrap", said Julian "I'll have to leave him the horse-whip in my will, to keep control of Freaky".
"Come on", said Adam, fetching his shoes for him "Let's go and see what they're all doing".
Down in the Great Hall Bengo and Bardin were playing an echoey game of football, whilst Finia was unravelling a length of gold-coloured curtain material on the trestle-table, hampered by Tamaz, who kept prodding it approvingly.
In the dining-room Hillyard, Ransey, Joby and Kieran were sitting huddled in a suspiciously conspiratorial fashion. They all sprang apart guiltily when Adam and Julian walked in.
"What on earth's going on?" Adam sighed "Isn't it bad enough we've got snow banked up against the windows, without you all plotting to have Jules and I incarcerated in the attic?!"
"No one's suggested that", said Hillyard, still clad in the fur-lined robe, and looking like a Medieval king relaxing in his tent between battles.
"Not a bad idea though", Ransey muttered "You could both sit up there bitching over your tapestry frame!"
"And when we leave here we'll build you a wee granny flat at the bottom of our garden", said Kieran.
"There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!" Joby quipped.
"But until that day comes we are still in control", said Julian, imposingly "After a night's sleep I have been re-born, as a god!"
"Oh", said Joby, glumly "Great".
Adam and Julian had barely sat down, when Ransey and Hillyard gave each other a significant look and left the room.
"What are Elsie and Doris up to?" said Julian "All this nudge-nudge wink-wink behaviour that's going on round here is quite unnerving!"
"Dunno", said Joby "They haven't told us anything".
"So what were you talking about when we came in?" said Adam.
"Dolores is on her way here", said Kieran "We had a telegraph message early this morning. She's flying in by air-buggy. She says she's concerned about all our troubles, and wants to come and see if she can help us at all. We didn't like to tell you straight out in case you hit the roof".
"Why should I hit the roof?" said Julian "One more person in this human menagerie won't make the slightest bit of difference, and I've no objection to Dolores. She's a calm, sane individual, unlike her lunatic family".
"Well that's just it you see", said Kieran, uneasily "They're coming too".
"What, all of them?!" said Julian, in dismay.
"Including Thierry?" said Adam, faintly.
"I'm afraid so", said Kieran "Now you can see why we wanted to break it to you gently".
"We are not in control anymore, Ada", said Julian.
"You are as far as we're concerned", Joby sighed.
"And it's not forever", said Kieran "This winter has to end sometime. I hope".
"Well at least Thierry and Simeon will give our resident demonic entity a run for its money!" said Julian "The poor sap won't stand a chance!"
"Right that's the wording I've drafted", said Ransey, placing a sheet of paper in front of Hillyard "If you approve it, I'll do you three posh copies for you to sign".
"Looks all in order", said Hillyard, sitting at the desk in the library, which had a good view out of the front of the house over the snow-covered landscape. The barn-like library felt quite snug this morning, with a log fire burning in the grate, and the house dogs all asleep or milling around, brushing their tails against the furniture.
"Can you I trust you not to let it out?" said Hillyard.
"Discretion is my watchword", said Ransey "Exactly how long are you planning to keep it from the others though?"
"Until we leave here", said Hillyard "At the moment I just think the less people who know about it, the better. Once we're back on the Indigo we can gossip about it as much as we like, but until then I don't want there to be any chance of it reaching you-know-who. Does Finia ever go through your papers?"
"Never", said Ransey "He just thinks they're a load of boring figures".
"Good, 'cos if he found out he'd tell Julian, and you know what a spiteful old gasbag he can be!" said Hillyard.
"He's going to complain enough that you kept all this a secret from him", said Ransey.
"Only in the short-term", said Hillyard "This time next year we'll hopefully be a long way from here, and none of this will matter to us anymore. We'll be on the other side of the world, drinking from coconuts!"
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