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"You went to a lot of trouble", said Joby, sitting on the edge of the four-poster bed in the underground room "Did you seriously think you'd be able to keep him down here long?"
"Just until he fell for me and put you out of his mind", said Mieps.
"You've got a bloody nerve", said Joby "Yesterday I wanted to black your eye, but now I can't be bothered. You've got a choice. You can either leave and try and forget about Tamaz, or you can stay with us and put up with things as they are".
"You know the answer to that", Mieps hissed "I know I can't go back to things as they were. I'd die without him!"
"I thought you lot weren't spose to feel the cold as much as us", said Joby "Yet you're shivering like mad".
"Because I've got very few warm clothes", said Mieps, thrusting his hands into his armpits for warmth "I had no need of them where I was before. Can we not come to a deal? I won't cause anymore trouble, I will live with things as they are, if you would just let me have Tamaz to myself for a few days".
"A few days?!" said Joby "Your rates keep going up! One night, now a few days, next you'll be wanting him as a time-share, for so many weeks of the year, all inclusive!"
"That's not such a bad idea", said Mieps, seriously "You know I'd take care of him. I'll keep him on the end of a rope if necessary. I'd keep hiim so tamed you would have no trouble with him at all when I handed him back".
"I like him the way he is", said Joby "Not as some cowed, gibbering wreck".
"Joby!" said Kieran, coming into the room, carrying an oil-lamp "the others have found an outside door we didn't know about. We're going to unbar it and see where it comes out. Come on out of here. Everything about this room is foul".
"Can you sense something then?" said Joby.
"Too much", Kieran mumbled "Come out now. Both of you".
Out in the corridor Ransey and Hillyard were unbarring a door made of wooden slats. It opened out onto a small flight of snow-encrusted steps which led up to the outside world. At the top they found themselves in a neglected back courtyard, bordered on 3 sides by the house. Hillyard recalled coming across this place a couple of months ago whilst walking outside. Then he had been struck by the green gloominess of the place, the walls choked with ivy, practically obscuring the tiny, leaded windows of the empty rooms which stared down at them.
"This is the fag end of the East Wing", said Hillyard, walking around the dilapidated stone bird-bath in the middle of the courtyard "The bit we haven't decorated yet".
"And for good reason", said Ransey "I went as far as the main staircase once, but the structure of the place doesn't look too safe to me, and one of the hot-water pipes has come away from the ceiling".
"Still, I'd like to go back via the main corridor", said Kieran "I don't want to go back through the other way again".
"Can we decide on something, please?" said Mieps, who was now practically turning blue.
"We'll go back through the East Wing", said Ransey "We should be o.k if we take it carefully".
"Dolores, enchanted to see you again", said Julian, crossing the Great Hall towards her "I'm glad you got here safely".
"Yes, it's becoming quite a blizzard out there", said Dolores "Our pilot wanted to go back tonight, but I don't think it's very likely now. Your housekeeper has taken him down to her domain for some food".
"We're the only ones to greet you I'm afraid", said Adam "The others have all gone off on various explorations around the house. Ah here's Glynis. I don't think you two have met. But Glynis became quite friendly with Lady Red during her stay in Toondor Lanpin".
"Were you one of the ladies who helped prepare her for her funeral?" said Dolores, shaking hands with Glynis, who looked as though she was trying to bob a curtsey.
"Myself and Persephone", said Glynis.
"I'm glad we've met", said Dolores "I always wanted to thank you in person".
"We became very fond of Lady Red in the short time we knew her", said Glynis.
"She was an extraordinary person", said Dolores.
"Perhaps you ladies would like to talk in the morning-room?" said Julian.
"I'll show her the way", said Dolores, and the women moved off, followed by the ever-silent Helene, still with the same impassive smile on her face.
That left Adam and Julian with just the brothers to deal with. Simeon was sitting in the hooded porter's chair by the door, with his case on his knees, as though it was a bag of gold bars. Thierry was surveying the upper gallery through a ridiculous lorgnette, which gave him an absurdly affected air, as though he was a dandy at the court of 18th-century Versailles.
"The library for you two I think", said Julian, abandoning the charm he had used on the women "There's a billiard table in there. Do you play?"
"W-we have a table at home", said Simeon, nervously.
"It's through the big double doors to the right", said Julian, curtly pointing the way.
"Why have you segregated the sexes already, Jules?" Adam hissed, as they followed on slowly.
"They wanted to talk about Red", said Julian "And I thought they'd prefer to do that without us unsavoury great brutes thumping around, and the morning-room is more of a ladies' room than the libary, and I don't care if that does sound sexist! Report me to Codlik if that's how you feel!"
"I didn't mean anything, Jules", Adam protested.
"No, you were just twittering and whining as usual", said Julian.
"Jules, that's not fair", Adam began, but Julian gave him such a sharp slap on the rump that it seemed to ring out around the hall. He followed Julian into the library, seething with indignation.
"Quite a place you guys have got here", said Thierry "Do you allow red-blooded heterosexual males in?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Adam, his pride smarting almost as much as his right buttock "You sound like that ghastly Fradie".
"I've often felt I would like to be gay for a year", said Thierry, twirling his lorgnette around his fingers "Just to see what it was like".
"We always thought you were!" said Julian, in complete astonishment.
Thierry looked extremely miffed.
"Easy mistake to make, old love", said Adam "You do sound extremely camp at times".
"Good job neither of you propositioned me then wasn't it?" Thierry squawked, near hysteria.
"Rest easy", said Julian, dryly "You were quite safe".
Finia came out from behind the bookcase leading to the Yellow Salon. His little spectacles were perched on his nose, and he was clutching his sewing-basket to his chest.
"I heard you in here", he said "So I thought I'd come through".
"Bertha's arranging for some hot chocolate to be sent through soon", said Adam "Sit down by the fire".
"Yes, you should hopefully be safe from Simeon with his cue there", said Julian.
Finia sat down, and to Thierry's amusement, pulled out a pair of Tamaz's white linen drawers, on which he was sewing a border of lace.
"I thought you weren't going to let him have that", said Julian.
"I'll do anything for a quiet life", Finia growled "I'm hoping they'll scratch him!"
Toppy came in, bearing a large tray on which stood a pot of hot chocolate and several cups. He was closely followed by Lonts and Tamaz. Simeon stopped his game to gaze open-mouthed at Tamaz, drinking in every aspect of him, from the fact that his hair had grown, to the way his nipples poked at the front of his old jumper. Tamaz though was completely oblivious to the presence of either visitor.
"There's no rush on these", he said, flicking the drawers Finia was sewing "Since it's turned so cold I've been wearing my bloomers again".
"What a right shag-able little bitch he is", said Thierry.
Tamaz didn't appreciate Thierry's admiring tone though, and contemptuously turfed him off his chair.
"Tamaz!" Adam cried.
"Yes, Tamaz!" said Julian, facetiously "At least wait until he's standing at the top of the stairs!"
The explorers from the East Wing came in, chucking torches and thermal jackets over every bit of furniture.
"Ah you've arrived", said Hillyard "I'll go and offer my felicitations to Dolores".
"She's in the morning-room with Glynis", said Adam.
"We should stick a fingerpost up in that hall", said Julian, after Hillyard had left again "With directions on it as to where everyone is at any given time".
"Mieps", said Adam "You look absolutely terrible".
"Not much new there", Joby muttered.
"Are you going down with something?" Adam asked, solicitously.
"Nothing trivial I hope", said Joby.
"Joby!" Adam exclaimed "I can't think what's got into you today".
"Nothing, that's just the trouble", said Kieran, dryly.
"He's not a hypocrite", said Julian "Stop going on, Ada".
"Even so, we must all try and get on", said Adam.
"Why?" said Ransey "We never have before!"
"Perhaps Mieps needs to be hospitalised", said Tamaz "One of those places where they put you in a straitjacket might be an idea".
Finia jabbed his needle into Tamaz's rear, and Tamaz yelped. Simeon went to run around the billiard-table to rescue him, but misjudged the distance and cannoned into the corner, bruising himself in the process.
"Tamaz is quite alright", said Ransey, impatiently "You've probably hurt yourself more!"
"I-I don't care", said Simeon, emotionally "I am at his service".
Thierry groaned and rolled his eyes. For the first and last time the others were all in agreement with him.
"This is ... well I can't say, it's so wonderful!" said Dolores, standing on the roof with Hillyard.
He had taken her up to the "leads", a flat, narrow strip of roof which bordered the wide raised part in the middle, in order that she could get the best view of the snow-covered mountains.
"Had you really not seen snow before you came here last Christmas?" said Hillyard.
"Only in pictures", said Dolores, her breath icy and visible "I didn't see as much of it as I would have liked last year, it always seemed to be so dark all the time".
"It will be again in a month's time", said Hillyard "If you stay here you'll end up feeling like a mole!"
"How does it feel to be lord of all you survey?" said Dolores, as they slowly strolled along the leads "To have all this to yourself".
"Well I wouldn't say I had it to myself!" Hillyard chuckled "In fact I've lost track of how many are here at the moment".
He paused and leaned on the rampart.
"I don't know", he said "It doesn't really feel like mine, I don't think it ever will. I feel more like the caretaker than anything else!"
"Are you planning to stay here?" said Dolores.
"No", said Hillyard, candidly "It's a decent billet for a while, but it's not us. I once heard someone say, a long time ago, that when a man's got everything he might as well die, because he's got nothing else to strive for. I don't want to get in that hole. I think that's what happened to Woll. He was slowly dying for years, and I don't just mean of the syphilis".
"But he didn't have everything", said Dolores "He was very lonely".
"Yeah, he had no one to share all this with", said Hillyard "And when he died the only person he had in the world to leave it to was me. A middle-aged rent boy, who he originally paid for company".
"I think you were a bit more to him than that", said Dolores "You must have been, or he could have simply stipulated that this place be sold at his death and the proceeds given to charity. Perhaps he knew this was his only way of turning it into a family home".
"It can't be that, it's too big", said Hillyard "Someone with a bit of imagination could turn it into several family homes, but I'd really rather that wasn't my toy".
"You're all going back to the Indigo eventually aren't you?" said Dolores.
"That's the plan", said Hillyard.
"What's that deep pit in the ground?" said Dolores, pointing down to a large cell cut into the ground at the back of the house, with iron bars roofing it.
"That was a lion pit in years gone by", said Hillyard "Eons ago this place used to get attacked and raided regularly by outlaws from the mountains, so the original owners had some lions brought up here to help defend the place, and they kept them in there. They had bears here too, but keep that to yourself".
"Why?" said Dolores.
"Well from what I've found out they used to have bear-baiting competitions", said Hillyard "And if we told Lonts about that he'd be upset for weeks!"
"Oh dear", said Dolores.
"We'd better go back in", said Hillyard "It's too cold to hang around up here for long".
Ransey opened his bedroom door to find Adam standing outside.
"Don't hang around out there, it's too cold", he said, pulling him in by his sleeve.
"Ransey, you look rather sexy tonight, old love", said Adam.
"It's the bath-robe", said Ransey, closing the door behind him "It slays 'em everytime!"
"Am I interrupting you from working?" said Adam, looking at the desk which was strewn with keys of all different sizes.
"Oh I'm just trying to get the keys to this old mausoleum all sorted out and inventoried", said Ransey "It's a thankless task trying to figure out which ones fit where. Sit down".
"I just really popped in to tell you that Patsy's been down to warn all the staff that strange things might be occurring here from time to time, because of the Thing", said Adam, sitting down on the sofa by the window "Which was rather difficult as we're not sure what it is or what's going to happen, and he didn't want to cause them unnecessary alarm. So far though only one has decided to quit on us. The cook".
"She's the one we didn't want to lose!" said Ransey.
"Yes, but she's a rather superstitious old soul", said Adam "Says she'll come back to us when we're absolutely sure all is well, but in the meantime she's going to stay with her sister on the estate. I can't really blame her, but it means Muggins here has got to resume galley duties".
"How are you going to cope, feeding everyone here?" said Ransey.
"Well I'll have a kitchen-maid to help me", said Adam "And Joby will be my galley assistant, even if I have to drag him in there by his hair! And Glynis has said she'd like to help with the baking, so it won't be too bad".
"You haven't come in here just to tell me about the cook leaving though have you?" said Ransey "You're upset about something".
"Oh it's nothing", said Adam "I just wanted to talk to someone calm and sensible for a while. Lo-Lo was playing billiards, I didn't want to drag him away".
"It's Julian isn't it?" said Ransey "He's been getting at you all day".
"He's having a bad day that's all", Adam sighed "He likes to have someone to goad when he's upset".
"And it's usually you", said Ransey.
"Old habits die hard", Adam gave a sad giggle "I can cope with most of his taunts, but I really can't bear it when he treats me like a whining old pansey. I know I can be, but ..."
"I've never thought of you that way", said Ransey.
"Ransey, I ..."
"I want to kiss you", said Ransey, and he did.
"H-has Finia been giving you lessons?" Adam asked, eventually.
"He's improved me a bit", said Ransey, putting his spectacles back on "Do you remember that embarrassing conversation I forced you to have with me in the larder at Wolf Castle? You were rather candid from what I recall".
"Oh dear, was I awful?" said Adam.
"No, you were entirely accurate", said Ransey.
"For that time, not now though", said Adam "That was very pleasent indeed, but it mustn't happen again. I couldn't bear it if Finia were to walk in and catch us. The look on his little face would be simply too much".
"It's never going to happen between you and me is it?" said Ransey.
"Never say never", said Adam "But at the moment there are too many other people involved to make it comfortable".
"I suppose so", Ransey sighed.
Finia was restlessly fiddling with the little brass knob on the oil-lamp, turning it up and down, until Joby pulled it away from him in exasperation.
"Will you pack it in!" he snapped "I feel like I'm sitting by a fucking lighthouse!"
"Hello Joby", said Lonts, throwing his cue onto the billiard table and crossing over to him "Are you reading?"
"Yeah, trying to", said Joby "Must be because I'm in a library! Funny that".
"Everybody's really grumpy at the moment", said Lonts, sitting down heavily in the chair opposite him.
"Lack of food is what does it", said Joby.
"I don't understand what's holding Adam up", said Lonts.
"I hope he's not this late when he starts cook's duties tomorrow", said Hillyard.
"Have they still not appeared?" Julian thundered, from the doorway.
"Why don't we just go in and they can join us when they come down?" said Hillyard "It's what we normally do".
"Firstly, because we can't face our gruesome guests, except en-masse", said Julian "And secondly, because I would dearly like to know what's keeping Adam and Four-Eyes".
"If you're that bothered, go up yourself and find out", said Hillyard.
"Right, I will", said Julian "Toppy, go into the dining-room and tell the free-loaders to start without us. With any luck they'll have finished by the time we go in there!"
Toppy went across the hall, intending to tell the guests who had already gathered in the dining-room to go ahead without them, but was unnerved to find Tamaz following him.
"I was the one entrusted to do this", said Toppy "You just want to cause mischief".
"Oh out of the way, Drippy-Tops", said Tamaz, pushing Toppy to one side. By the time Toppy had regained his composure Tamaz was already at the doorway of the dining-room.
"You'll have to start without us", said Tamaz, enjoying himself immensely at being able to give orders to the likes of Codlik and Thierry "We have a family crisis you see. Adam is screwing my Daddy, so heaven knows when it'll get resolved!"
"Tamaz!" Toppy squawked, his eyes like saucers "I shouldn't think that's what's happening at all!"
"No, but it was worth it just to see the looks on their faces", said Tamaz, walking back across the hall "They needn't think we're going to be on our best behaviour just because they're here. What's the point of having boring guests if you can't wind them up?!"
Julian went upstairs fully expecting to burst in on Ransey and Adam writhing about naked in a fit of passion. Instead he found them with Zeph in one of the bathrooms, industriously engaged in mopping up water from the floor.
"Someone left the bath-taps running", said Zeph, looking like a disgruntled spaniel, with the ends of her kerchief hanging down on either side of her face "Completely flooded the floor. Good job no one has the room below, or they'd have a wet bed by now!"
"Was it you who did that?" said Julian to Adam, still feeling vindictive after his suspicions "During one of your mindless spells?"
"No it wasn't me", said Adam, feeling as though he was about to cry.
"I reckon it were one of Governor Dolores' weird lot", said Zeph "That sister in particular looks as though she's on another planet to me!"
"O.K Zeph, we'll finish up in here", Adam sniffed.
"Right", said Zeph "This used to be a quiet house you know. Now we've got demons and loonies and who knows what elese in it!"
"Don't worry, once we're gone you can go back to playing dead", Ransey muttered, after Zeph had left the room.
"I came up to tell you that you're both late for dinner", said Julian "In fact I didn't know what I should expect when I came up here!"
"Try this", said Ransey, hitting him in the mouth with a wet floor-cloth.
"Sexual frustration!" said Julian, triumphantly "I recognise the signs!"
Dinner passed off relatively peacefully. Everyone admired Dolores' gown, which was wine-coloured and had Tudor-style sleeves which dusted the floor when she walked. Apart from a lot of attention by the visitors being focussed on Adam and Ransey, (as though in gleeful anticipation that they would start fornicating over the mints and candied fruits), nothing else happened. Afterwards everyone adjourned to the hall for a spot of dancing, with music supplied by the wind-up gramophone. Adam noticed Mieps going into the dining-room only after everyone else had left it, and followed him in there. Mieps looked infinitely better than he had earlier, thanks to a wash and a clean shirt.
"I got some sleep and felt better", said Mieps, forking the last lamb-chop onto his plate.
"I thought you weren't up to coming into dinner", said Adam "I was going to ask one of the staff to take some supper down to you".
"I'm o.k", said Mieps, sitting down and unfurling a napkin "I hear Tamaz has been creating mischief".
"Yes, the little minx", said Adam, pouting out coffee for the both of them "I can't get offended though, I found it rather amusing when I heard. Even so, I think Finia took it seriously, and that I regret".
As if on cue Tamaz came into the room and ran round the table to face Mieps.
"I thought you disappeared you vile old snake!" he exclaimed.
"No, I'm staying around to annoy you", said Mieps.
He pulled Tamaz over his knee and dealt him several very hard smacks on the behind. Tamaz shrieked enough "Ows!" to raise the roof.
"Oh that's nothing", said Mieps "Next time I shall pull your drawers down and use a paddle!"
Tamaz stamped to the door, hissing indignantly. When he went out he slammed the door, causing the plates and dishes on the sideboard to rattle.
"What a delightful creature he is", said Mieps, with genuine affection.
"I'm relieved to hear you say it", said Adam "Sometimes I fear he seems to make you dreadfully unhappy".
"NO!" said Mieps, enthusiastically "He makes me feel alive, even when I'm miserable I know I'm alive, FEELING! He is the most divine creature I've ever met. I know it must sound like sheer insanity to you".
"Not at all", said Adam "I understand perfectly".
"I don't see what you can find to smile about", said Tamaz, sulkily.
"It means Mieps really is one of us now", said Lonts, sitting with him on the sidelines of the Great Hall.
"Oh I see!" Tamaz exclaimed "So anyone who beats me is immediately made a member of the family! What is it, some kind of bizarre initiation rite?!"
"Tamaz", Lonts giggled, fondly "You are so funny sometimes".
"That's why he's our star", said Bardin, coming over to join them, accompanied by Bengo.
"Some star", Tamaz sneered "All I ever do is get beaten, tortured and have my clothes torn off me! I'm surprised you don't go the whole hog and hit me in the face with a pie!"
"No, that's my privilege", said Bengo, miserably "That's what's lined up for me in the Christmas show".
"I would've thought you'd be used to that by now", said Tamaz.
"I never get used to it", said Bengo, sounding very despondent "It's embarrassing and humiliating everytime it happens. I suffer agonies, and all for the sake of a quick laugh that the punters forget about the instant they leave!"
"Oh stop going on", said Bardin, impatiently "It's a bit late to be complaining about it now, you've been doing it since you were six!"
"Well why does it always have to be me?" Bengo wailed.
"Because it's funnier with you", said Bardin.
"Why?" Bengo barked.
"Yes why, Bardin?" said Lonts, curiously.
"Because he's the pin-up, the hunk", said Bardin "So all of the guys in the audience feel a lot of satisfaction when his pretty face is plastered with a custard pie".
"Not half as much satisfaction as you get out of it!" said Bengo.
"I bet a lot get upset too", said Lonts "And then they'd like to see Bardin hit with one for being a bully".
"I hadn't thought of that", said Bengo "Anyway, you're talking about satisfaction, not comedy. It's a different thing entirely".
"That's the whole point of pie-throwing", said Bardin, tirelessly "It satisfies the audience. It signifies pompous authority getting deflated, or vain people getting brought down a peg or two. That's what clowning is all about, the little ordinary person at the end of the day, in spite of being shat on by fate, getting satisfaction!"
Kieran found Mieps standing halfway down one of the upstairs corridors late that night, looking apprehensively at the small flight of steps and the doorway which led into the gloomy part of the building which contained his bedroom. He jumped nervously when Kieran approached him out of the shadow-laden half-light.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you", said Kieran, holding an oil-lamp "Are you o.k? I saw you standing here and I wondered ..."
"Listen to them", said Mieps, as a wolf uttered its doleful cry out in the icy darkness "I heard them whilst I was talking to Adam in the dining-room earlier".
"You can't sleep down here tonight", said Kieran "I think your room's haunted anyway. You'd better come with me. You can bunk down on the sofa in our room".
"I don't think Joby will like that very much", said Mieps.
"Joby will do as he's told", said Kieran "I'm the boss, not him".
As Mieps had predicted, Joby was less than thrilled to hear the good news.
"Jaysus, I knew you'd be pleased!" Kieran exclaimed, pulling out some spare bedding from the linen chest "It can't be helped, so you'll have to put up with it. He can't stay on his own, there are strange and dark forces at large in this house".
"Yeah, and he's one of 'em!" said Joby "We know bugger all about him. He could be a fucking werewolf for all we know!"
"We'll be quite safe then", said Kieran "There isn't a full moon tonight! Lighten up, Joby. Mieps can't be that bad. He lived with us on the Indigo for a while with no trouble, and by no trouble I mean he didn't harm us in any way".
"But what about MY feelings?" Tamaz yelped "Nobody cares about me. I am treated like a worm!"
He hissed violently and went over to the bed, where he sat down and rubbed his eyes. Joby helped him to get undressed, after casting a withering glance in Kieran's direction. Kieran went round to his side of the bed and stripped down to his shirt. He let down the hangings on his side and climbed in. Joby climbed silently into his own side, next to Tamaz, who was in the middle as usual.
"Aren't you going to let down the hangings on your side then?" said Kieran.
"No", said Joby, tersely "I wanna keep an eye on Godzilla over there!"
Mieps waved gaily from the sofa. Joby gave him the finger and rolled over to face Tamaz.
"What are you doing here?" Ransey snapped, standing at the top of a flight of service steps, holding an oil-lamp.
"What are you doing here actually?" said Julian, who had come up behind him, wearing an overcoat over his nightshirt.
"I heard a noise down below", said Ransey, self-righteously "A sort of growling noise. I wondered if one of the beasts from outside had got in. It wouldn't surprise me if someone had left a door open, the security in this place is abysmal. Now it's your turn, what are you doing here?"
"Well I ... I wondered what you were doing", said Julian "Saw you skulking about out here, I thought you might be up to something".
"By up to something you mean heading off to Adam's room I suppose?" said Ransey, tartly.
"I never said that, but you did", said Julian.
"Well I suppose I could have been going there", Ransey sighed, pushing his spectacles back up his nose "With Lonts and Toppy there too we could have had a nice civilised game of bridge!"
"There you are!" Hillyard boomed, bustling up in his fur-lined robe "What are you doing out here? You'll catch your death".
"Stop talking to me as though I was your patient!" said Julian, waspishly "Sometimes I feel as though I'm in a geriatrics' home, with you as Matron!"
"In my idea of Heaven you would be in a geriatrics' home", said Ransey "Except you'd probably get yourself kicked out of it!"
"I think you'd better go back to your room", said Julian "I don't like the idea of you leaving Finia on his own, but then you seem to have very little regard for his feelings these days".
"You sanctimonious old sod!" said Ransey.
"Oh that's enough, you two!" said Hillyard "What kind of example do you think you're setting the younger generation with your constant squabbling and feuding all the time?!"
"That's it, I'm going to bed", said Ransey "I'm not going to stand here and be lectured on good behaviour by you, you of all bloody people!"
Ransey pattered off in high dudgeon.
"That was good work, Hillyard", said Julian "He had it coming to him. But then, men who wear white socks with their bath-robes always seem like latent poseurs to me".
"I suppose it's got nothing to do with the fact that he wanted to keep his feet warm", said Hillyard, escorting him back into his room.
He firmly helped Julian off with his coat, and then pulled back the bedclothes.
"Stop mithering me!" Julian snapped "Just because you've got money and power these days, you think you can mollycoddle me".
"I thought you wanted me to look after you", said Hillyard "Someone to look after you in your old age, you said".
"I haven't got there quite yet!" said Julian, climbing into bed nonetheless.
"You'd better say something nice to me soon", Hillyard chortled, turning down the lamp "Or I won't play with your dick!"
"I have never had to resort to charity hand-jobs, thank you very much", said Julian, grandly.
"Well there's no one else in here", said Hillyard, amiably "And you'd have to fight through a crowd to get to Adam".
"There's Bengo", said Julian "He would come to me like a shot".
"Not if Bardin's around he won't", said Hillyard, slipping off his robe and climbing into bed "He's a possessive one on the quiet, Bardin is. Got narked the other day because Bengo was chatting to Lilli, and that was all perfectly innocent! It's your own fault, you ordered them to get together".
"Yes, alright", said Julian, irritably.
Hillyard moved close to him and began to gently tug up his nightshirt.
Adam woke up in the icy still watches of the night. On one side of him Toppy was sleeping peacefully, looking irresistably demure in his white vest, and on the other side Lonts was lying awake, sucking his thumb and playing thoughtfully with Snowy's nose.
"Can't you sleep, Lo-Lo?" Adam asked, propping himself up on his elbow.
"I'm trying to stay awake", said Lonts.
"But why?" said Adam "You need your rest".
"I have to stay awake to keep an eye on you and Toppy", said Lonts "I'm the strongest of us three you see, so it has to be me".
"Oh Lo-Lo you are wonderful", said Adam "But as long as we're all in here together like this we'll be quite o.k".
"And I have to watch Snowy", said Lonts "I think Helene wants to kidnap him. I overheard her saying to Dolores that she'd love to have him".
"I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean she's going to kidnap him", Adam laughed, gently "She strikes me as far too nice a woman to go around kidnapping polar bears!"
"I couldn't be sure", said Lonts "Some people will do anything".
Adam put Snowy at the top of Lonts's pillow and coaxed him to lie down.
"I keep hearing strange noises in the distance", said Lonts "From inside the house".
"Oh that's the way it is in these old houses I'm afraid", said Adam "Strange thumps in the night. It usually turns out to be the plumbing!"
"No I think it was someone moving about", said Lonts "Out in the corridor and on the stairs".
"That could have been absolutely anyone", said Adam "Another fact about these large old houses is that an awful lot of bed-hopping goes on in the middle of the night!"
"There it is again", Lonts hissed "Listen!"
There was a scrabbling noise directly outside their door, on the short flight of stairs that led down past Kieran's room and connected there with the main first floor corridor. It sounded like someone trying to find the doorway in the dark. Suddenly the most hideous, demonic cackle broke out, so loud and so piercing that Toppy woke up. Adam held onto his arm as though to stop him leaping out of bed, even though Toppy had no intention of doing any such thing! The cackle was followed immediately after by the sound of blows, as though this dreadful creature, whatever it was, was raining slaps and punches down on a much weaker person. Followed immediately after that by the sound of a heavy body rolling down the stairs. The cackling vanished gradually into the distance. And then silence.
Only when he heard more familiar voices out in the corridor did Adam get out of bed, followed by Lonts and Toppy, and head to the door. By now the corridor was a comforting mass of light, as the others emerged from their rooms and gathered in obvious consternation.
Julian came running up the short flight of stairs towards Adam, and grabbed him arms in concern.
"Are you o.k?" he asked.
"I am now", Adam smiled with relief "Did everyone hear it?"
"It seems that way", said Julian "So none of us have to worry we're going mad".
"I suppose it's pointless to ask what it was", said Adam.
"Oh our old friend An Invisible Force", said Kieran, wryly "I'll get the monks to bless this area tomorrow. It might not do any good, but you never know".
"But what was the point of it?" said Ransey, impatiently.
"I think mainly to intimidate us", said Kieran.
"It succeeded", said Hillyard.
"I'm going to bed", said Ransey "Finia's in a bad way because of all that".
"That's the only thing we can do at this time of night", Adam sighed "Everyone must make sure their doors are locked, and nobody must wander off alone".
"They're bloody crazy if they do", said Joby "G'night".
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