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The day after Boxing Day the Indigo-ites Baker's Dozen set off overland for Toondor Lanpin, in order for Hillyard to make a rare appearance as Governor, and to arrange for the boat-yard to collect the Indigo come the thaw and give her an overhaul, and to get away from their endless wall-to-wall guests and servants.
For the journey they had kitted out a large four-wheeled carriage pulled by four horses. Hillyard had resolutely refused to fly, and the intermittent blizzards made such a practice hazardous in any case. Needless to say the overland journey wasn't very comfortable either.
"This is a nightmare", said Joby, sitting up on the driver's box with Hillyard, his face muffled against the snow "You and your brilliant ideas!"
"I take you out for a nice little drive in the country and all you can do is complain!" said Hillyard "Anyway cheer up, it won't be long before we get to the Watering-Hole".
"If we're not dead of hypothermia by then", said Joby.
Ahead of them on the road the clowns, Lonts, Mieps and Tamaz skated along on snow-shoes, carrying lanterns on sticks to forge a path for the carriage and light the way. Inside the carriage Adam couldn't conceal his agitation.
"For God's sake Ada, if you stand up once more I won't be responsible for my actions!" said Julian "Your little darling is quite safe, I assure you".
"How can you assure me?" Adam spat "You're sitting in here, wrapped up in furs. Whereas they're all out there, with wolves nearby".
"They have their horns if there's any cause for alarm", said Julian "Do you really think I'd go risking people's lives unnecessarily?"
"I wouldn't put anything past you!" said Adam.
"That is an outrageous thing to say!" said Julian "Absolutely outrageous!"
"Pack it in, both of you", said Ransey "You're carrying on like a couple of pampered old women! Some of us are trying to sleep, seeing as I doubt we're going to get much tonight, on a bar-room floor!"
Up on the box Hillyard sighted the lights of the Watering-Hole a short distance away. He handed the reins to Joby.
"Right, here goes", he said, picking up the long coaching-horn which resembled a yard-of-ale measure. After a couple of false starts Hillyard managed to get the required noise out of it.
At the Watering-Hole a young man in a broad-brimmed hat staggered out through the snow to light their way round to the stables at the back.
"You've just got here before the worst of it", he said, when Hillyard had dismounted from the box "You go into the bar and I'll see to the nags. You're our only guests tonight".
"I think you'll find us more than enough to be going on with", said Adam, pushing open the carriage door.
Hillyard went into the bar and was met by a buxom fair-haired woman of his own age, who giggled and told him he looked like a bear in his ankle-length fur coat.
"Where are the two girls who were here last year?" said Hillyard.
"They don't stay here in the depths of winter", said Martha, helping him off with his coat "Too bleak and remote. We sometimes don't see a single punter for days on end. That's not much of a life for young girls, not much for us older ones either!"
She then proceeded to give him a mouthwatering blow-by-blow account of what she could knock them up for supper, ending with the sadistic news that this might not be ready for some time. Hillyard had to curb an insane impulse to tell her to stop talking and go and get on with it. Instead he contented himself with the thought of what Codlik's face might have looked like if he had!
The young ostler came in, after helping to unharness the horses and stable them. Hillyard noted with approval that he was extremely good-looking when he removed his hat, being tall, slender and fair-haired.
"You guys had quite some journey here", he said.
"Yeah, all bloody Hillyard's fault", said Joby, undoing the front of his coat and removing two hot-water bottles which were hanging from the belt of his trousers "All because he doesn't like flying!"
"If we'd flown we'd probably have crashed by now", said Hillyard, removing his boots and socks with much relief "Oh it's so nice to get some air to my feet!"
The others had gradually divested themselves of their clothes and thrown them in a heap in the middle of the floor. Lonts had stood impassively like an oak-tree, whilst Adam undressed him.
"See! He's all there in one piece!" said Julian "You'd need a wolf with a helluvan appetite to take him on!"
"If you make one more sarcastic remark this evening, Jules", said Adam "I swear I shall spank you!"
"I'm so glad you find your customers amusing", said Julian, as the ostler laughed himself sick.
"You'll have to forgive me, sir", said the young man "We don't get much cause to laugh out here at this time of year, so we take full advantage of it when we can. Would you like to sit closer to the fire?"
Julian grudgingly mumbled his assent, mollified by being addressed as 'sir'.
"That kind of respect is in woefully short supply these days", he said, as Toppy fetched a footstool for him as well as a blanket for his knees.
"What's your name then?" said Hillyard to the ostler.
"Joe-Lee", said the young man.
"Jolene? That's a girl's name isn't it?" said Joby, who took a grim dislike to very handsome men when he first met them.
"Joe-Lee", the young man repeated, with amiable patience.
"You're not a time-crosser are you?" said Kieran "I thought you might be with a name like that".
"No, I was born in Toondor Lanpin 25 years ago come next spring", said Joe-Lee.
"You haven't moved very far then have you?" said Joby, witheringly.
"Joe-Lee, perhaps you'd like to ask your mother if she could let us have something to eat to be going on with?" said Julian.
"Aw, she isn't my mother, sir", said Joe-Lee "She's my wife".
"Oh ... er ... sorry", said Julian, embarrassed.
"It's a mistake a lot of people make", said Joe-Lee, unabashed "I'll go and have a word with her for you".
"At least that means he's not Norman Bates!" said Kieran, sharing some mints with Adam.
"There's probably some poignant, romantic story there", said Adam "Young man marries much older woman against fierce opposition. And they have to move out here to escape public censure".
"I can't imagine there was much public censure in Toondor Lanpin!" said Kieran, laughing "You're an incurable romantic, Addy".
"I know", Adam sighed "But I have to have some comfort in life. Seeing as I expect Jules will letch after him all night!"
"Not now he knows he's married, surely?" said Kieran.
"Oh Patsy, you trail the innocence of Killarney with you wherever you go", said Adam "It's so sweet".
"There wasn't much that was innocent about Killarney!" said Kieran "Particularly when it came to making a fast buck out of people! I need to visit the little boys' room. It means crossing that back yard, can't say I'm looking forward to it much".
"I'll come with you", said Adam, picking up his coat.
"I was hoping you'd say that!" said Kieran.
Kieran pulled him into one of the stalls.
"Oh Pats", said Adam "I want better for you than this. It feel like you're some bit of rough-trade I've just picked up on the street!"
"I know, exciting isn't it?" said Kieran, unbuttoning his own flies "I've always felt I'd make a terrific rent-boy! You excite me that way, you always did. Made me feel just entirely all sex and nothing else".
"Now is this really how a well brought-up Catholic boy should behave?" said Adam, with mock-severity "I shall have to punish you when I get you back to Toondor Lanpin".
"You promise?" said Kieran, breathlessly "I'll have had plenty of time to work up some shame by then!"
"Oh Patsy, you magnificent creature!" Adam cooed.
"The others have been gone a long time", said Hillyard, as Martha brought out the soup.
"I wonder why that could be!" said Julian.
"You leave Adam alone, Julian", said Lonts, fiercely "It was really good of him to go outside with Kieran like that".
"Oh yes, very thoughtful!" Julian snarled.
There was the sound of rifle-shots from outside.
"What the hell was that?" Julian exclaimed.
Ransey was pulling his gun out of his holster and cursing Kieran for not being in the room.
"It's o.k", said Martha, who had changed into a posher, more colourful dress "That's my boy, Joe-Lee. He goes outside occasionally and fires off a few shots, to keep the wolves from getting too close to the building".
"Wouldn't it be easier to get yourselves a guard-dog?" said Ransey, impatiently.
"I need to go to the loo", said Bengo.
"Well you know where it is", said Julian "And you've been potty-trained!"
"O.K", said Bengo, in dismay.
He was even more dismayed when Kieran and Adam returned just as he was leaving.
"You'll be safe out there", said Martha "My Joe-Lee'll keep an eye on you. He's quite a guy!"
Bengo ran across the yard and peed as quickly as he reasonably could. As he neared the bar again afterwards he met Joe-Lee, who was sauntering along with his gun cocked over his arm.
"I remember seeing you on stage back in town", said Joe-Lee "You were poncing around the stage with hardly any clothes on".
"Yes, that sounds like my act", said Bengo, inching towards the door.
"Do you like kissing?" Joe-Lee asked, abruptly.
"Y-yes", said Bengo, nervously.
Joe-Lee suddenly pulled him towards him by curling one arm round his neck. Bengo was fit, but Joe-Lee was even fitter, and even though he was still carrying a heavy rifle, he had managed to effectively get Bengo in an arm-lock.
"And to think I worried about you being alone out here!" came Bardin's indignant shriek from the doorway of the bar.
"He took me by surprise", Bengo spluttered.
Joe-Lee, that super-macho quite-a-guy, scooted off round the side of the building. Bardin took a swipe at Bengo and nearly knocked him off his feet. Bengo recovered himself quickly and swiped Bardin back, punching him in the eye with great deftness.
"That's enough!" Julian roared, standing in the doorway with the horse-whip in his hand "Get inside, both of you!"
The clowns trailed miserably into the back of the bar. On the far side of the room they could hear the enticing sound of cutlery being clinked against bowls and plates.
"What's the cause of all this?" said Julian, after re-shutting the big, heavy outside door "Answer me!"
"Bengo was kissing Joe-Lee", Bardin mumbled, the area around his right eye smarting painfully.
"He took me by surprise", Bengo repeated "Oh this is awful, I wish I was dead!"
"I can grant that wish if you're not very careful!" Julian rasped "Bardin, go and see Finia. He'll put something on that eye for you".
After Bardin had gone, Julian grabbed Bengo by the elbow and pulled him into a corner. Bengo gave a whimper of fear.
"I went to a lot of time and trouble to get you two together", said Julian.
"No you didn't", said Bengo "You just ordered Bardin to make love to me, that's all!"
"I would not have pushed you both together if I didn't think you two were exceptionally well-matched", said Julian "If you louse this up, Bengo, I will make the rest of your existence in this world a template for pure misery!"
"It's Bardin, he's always so hard on me", Bengo sniffed "I'm a nice person, I don't mean anyone any harm, so it's not fair he's so hard on me".
"You are also completely brainless!" said Julian "You don't need a lover, but a nanny, and that is why I think Bardin is good for you. If he leaves our happy little band because of you I will be extremely upset! And he could, you know. He could go back to the Little Theatre once we're in Toondor Lanpin again. I expect Hawkefish would be only too keen to put him back on the pay-roll".
Bengo gave a genuine cry of distress.
"You will make it up to him", said Julian, jabbing him in the chest "If you have to go crawling on your hands and knees to do it, understand?"
Bengo nodded, downcast. Back at the table Bardin was whispering the cause of his black eye to Adam, in order that Martha wouldn't overhear.
"Of course I blame you for this, Adam", said Julian, returning to the table.
"No, I'm not having that!" said Adam "How can it possibly be my fault this time?"
"I don't know, but I'll think of something", said Julian.
"Yes, anything to get at me for going outside with Patsy", said Adam.
"What happened to your eye?" said Martha, coming out with a plate of sliced mutton.
"I-I walked into the door, just now", said Bardin.
"Did he walk into it too?" said Martha, pointing at Bengo's swollen lip.
"Big door", said Joby.
When it came to bedding down on the bar-room floor, Bengo found himself sandwiched between Bardin and Toppy. He rolled over and tried to put his arm round Bardin.
"Bardy", he whispered, softly.
"Leave me alone, I'm trying to sleep", said Bardin.
"It wasn't my fault", said Bengo "He took me by surprise. He asked me if I liked kissing, and I said yes ..."
"You are completely stupid!" Bardin hissed, rolling over to face him "If you had a brain you'd be dangerous! As it is you're only good for a spot of acrobatics, and when you start getting old and your figure goes, you won't even be good for that!"
"You're being unreasonable", said Bengo.
"I'M unreasonable?" Bardin squawked, pointing at his black eye "I've got this, and you call ME unreasonable?!"
"Can't you two go to sleep?" said Toppy, plaintively "Everytime you move you pull the blanket off me".
Fortunately the exhaustion of a long day travelling in the open air had its effect, and the clowns fell asleep soon after. As did nearly everyone else. It was only Mieps who heard the distant rumbling sound far beneath them. He spent a large part of the night with his ear pressed against the floorboards, but after 3:00 AM the rumbling sound ceased and didn't reoccur.
"Why have you brought me out here?" said Tamaz, as daylight struggled to appear over the bleak and grimly-depressing back-yard "Is this all to do with that noise you thought you heard last night?"
"I did hear it", said Mieps.
"No one else did", said Tamaz "I expect you're going mad".
"I'm surprised you didn't notice it, with Ghoomer hearing", said Mieps.
"Even if I'd been awake, it's hard to hear anything above Joby's snoring!" said Tamaz.
The cellar doors were open and Joe-Lee was moving about down below. Mieps and Tamaz went down the wooden steps towards him. When Joe-Lee saw them he flattened himself back against a barrel, as though he was being menaced by a plague of zombies.
"Is there any other entrance to this cellar?" said Mieps, tersely.
"N-no", said Joe-Lee "Why?"
"Do you know anything about underground trains?" said Mieps.
"I don't get what you're talking about ... s-sir", said Joe-Lee, with understandable uncertainty.
"He's lying", Tamaz muttered.
"Help! Help!" Joe-Lee yelled, hearing voices in the yard above "There are Ghoomers down here, down here!"
"What's going on?" said Joby, appearing in the doorway overhead.
"Ghoomers", Joe-Lee bleated "Threatening me!"
Joby came down into the cellar and glared at Mieps and Tamaz.
"What are you up to?" he asked.
"Nothing", said Tamaz, fiddling nonchalently with the top of a barrel.
"I heard a rumbling noise last night", said Mieps "Coming from below here, like that underground train at the textile place. There is another entrance to this place and he knows about it".
"Alright", said Joe-Lee, aggressively unbolting a cupboard door "You want to see the mouth to Hell do you? Or rather one of the mouths to Hell. It's in here, the cold store".
He pulled aside a heavy tea-chest which stood over a trapdoor.
"Have you ever been down there?" said Joby.
"No", said Joe-Lee "I unbolted it once and had a look. All it was was darkness. You wouldn't get me down there for anything. You wanna know the whole story, you ask my woman. She knows all the details".
"O.K, lock this place up again", said Joby, and he signalled Mieps and Tamaz to follow him back into the cellar "I don't want a word of this to Kieran", he said "You understand?"
"Why not?" said Tamaz.
"Because he might insist on going down there and having a look", said Joby "And one trip to Hell in a lifetime is enough for me, thanks! Tamaz, you promise me?"
"I don't know what all the fuss is about", said Tamaz "It's only the underworld".
"And if you're a Ghoomer you get used to the whole idea of Hell", said Mieps "We spend our lives in it".
"Maybe, but you're not there now", said Joby "And unless you wanna go back there you keep shtum about this. I'm gonna go and have a word with Martha whilst the others are occupied".
Up in the yard the others were either in the gents' loo, or in the stables getting the horses and the carriage ready. Lonts though was doing an energetic dance around the yard, singing to himself as he did so. Joby smiled at the sight of him and then headed to the kitchen to see Martha.
"Joe-Lee and myself took over this place two summers back", said Martha, deftly slicing bread in the kitchen "The previous owner went mad. He's in the loony ward at Toondor Lanpin Hospital now. I'd suggest you go and talk to him, but I don't expect you'd get much sense out of him".
"I take it that the trapdoor was summat to do with him going mad?" said Joby.
"The cold store used to be in the ice-house in the grounds", said Martha "We moved it down to the cellar when we took over here and put it over the trapdoor, because I've heard it said demons don't like the cold, and we've not had any trouble since we've been here. Not that we give the little varmints much chance!"
"What exactly happened to the previous owner?" said Joby.
"Two autumns back", said Martha "Travellers reported not being able to get in here. The place was boarded-up and no one'd answer the door. The Constable in Toondor Lanpin came out with a posse of men to see what had happened. They broke the door down and found the old guy in a corner of the kitchen here, gibbering crazily. He said he'd had to block up all the entrances, including the chimney, to stop the demons getting in. He said he was tormented by 'em. They ran around outside at night, screaming to be let in. He said he saw all sorts. Reptile Men, Ghoomers, and demons that looked like black pigs with little snouts and fiery eyes. He said there were hundreds of 'em, well we all know how they can breed! The old guy said he was hanging on til the worst of the winter, when the cold would stop them coming out. Course he got taken back into town. I hope he feels a bit safer there".
"Do you know anything about the trains?" said Joby "Our whole journey we've been haunted by trains".
"Can't help you there", said Martha "All I know is the rumbling noise I sometimes hear at night".
"Doesn't it scare you?" said Joby.
"No", Martha smiled, in a very satisfied way "I've no reason to be afraid. You see, I've got my man to take care of me".
"Y-e-e-s", said Joby.
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