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Back at the Town House that very same morning there had been A Scene. A tramp had come to the door asking if they had any food, money or old clothing to spare. Adam had given him some cash, but noting that the tramp only seemed to possess one set of clothes, and these were practically falling to pieces, had asked Lonts to go up to the laundry chest on the first-floor landing and make up a bundle of their garments that they wouldn't miss. Lonts had bounded upstairs with enthusiasm to perform this task, and had handed over a sizeable bundle to the tramp.
Unfortunately one of these garments had been Joby's dressing-gown, and to say he wasn't best pleased would be putting it mildly! The Scene went on well into the afternoon.
"I think you're being really mean, Joby", said Lonts "The tramp was really happy with what we gave him. You should've seen his face".
"Of course he was happy!" said Joby "He's walked off with my dressing-gown that's why!"
"For heaven's sake!" said Adam "It's not as if we can't buy you a new one!"
"I don't want a new one", said Joby, sulkily "I want that one".
"Now you're just being childish", said Adam.
"That dressing-gown has been with me for the past 20 years", said Joby "From Husgalonghi onwards. When we left Wolf Castle that was all I possessed in the entire world. It was like a photograph album of my life. It was irreplaceable. How would you like it Lonts if I gave Snowy away to the next person who came to the door?!"
"Don't say such things!" said Adam, sternly "Lo-Lo was just being charitable that's all. I think you should apologise to him for being so awful about it".
"I have to apologise to HIM?" Joby exclaimed "He gives away my things behind my back, and I have to apologise to HIM?! That's bloody rich that is! This is all your fault, Kieran".
"My fault?" said Kieran "I wasn't even in the house at the time. How can it be my fault?"
"Because you keep going on about sharing and helping those lesser off", said Joby "Lonts listens to every word of it you know!"
"But that's the whole idea!" Kieran protested.
"I'm going up to my room", said Lonts, dignified.
"Good! Don't come back down again!" said Joby.
Lonts thumped out of the living-room and up the stairs. Hillyard came in and looked around at the remaining 3 of them.
"What's the matter with you lot?" he said, throwing himself into the nearest armchair.
"Oh big things!" said Kieran "Lonts gave Joby's dressing-gown away to the poor and needy".
"It's finally gone has it?" said Hillyard "The place won't seem the same without it! Cheer up Ugly Git, I'll buy you a new one".
"Oh he doesen't want a new one", said Adam, facetiously "He wants an ancient threadbare one covered in every stain under the sun!"
"You're priceless, Joby!" Hillyard chuckled.
"No, dirt cheap actually", said Kieran "Nobody could accuse Joby of having expensive tastes. A disgusting old dressing-gown and a few gardening catalogues and he's anybody's!"
Lonts thumped back down the stairs again and burst back into the living-room, looking feverish with excitement.
"Tamaz and the others are returning!" he said, breathlessly "I was standing at our window, overcome with sadness, and I saw them walking up the street towards us, carrying the canoe between them".
"Are the yard-doors open, Hillyard?" said Adam "So that they can get the boat through?"
"Yeah, I opened 'em this morning", said Hillyard.
The BBTT's dumped their canoe by the back door and then came running round to the front, which Lonts was holding open for them. The hallway was engulfed in noisy reunions.
"You've all got brown socks on", said Adam, looking at the dried mud which was flaking off everywhere.
"We stopped off at a bar over the river for a drink", said Bardin "We had to wade through the mud-flats to get to it".
"Jules will be so pleased you're back", said Adam "He and Finia are out shopping at the moment. Mieps has gone out for a walk, but he said he wouldn't be long".
Tamaz leapt onto Joby, who carried him through into the living-room. Everyone else followed them, and general news of the trip was given out, except the Tall Figure incident, which Bardin had decided could wait until the euphoria of homecoming was over. Julian and Finia also came home soon after.
"I mght have known you were back, looking at the swamp that is now our hall", said Julian "Couldn't you little varmints have hosed yourselves down in the yard first?"
They flung themselves at him, not deceived at all by his tone. Julian ordered cases of red wine to be brought up from the cellar, and Joby took them out onto the patio to uncork them.
"Hello Joby", said Lonts, appearing beside him "Adam asked me to come and give you a hand. I also want to say sorry about your dressing-gown".
"He asked you to apologise as well did he?" said Joby.
"No that was my idea!" said Lonts.
"O.K", said Joby "Apology accepted".
"Good!" said Lonts, joyfully "Then I can kiss you!"
He crushed Joby in a hearty embrace.
"I know just the new dressing-gown for you", Lonts went on "I saw it in a shop down town. It's all multi-coloured like a rainbow, and it has a hood, which might be useful, you never know. You could wear it in the garden".
"Yeah I could", said Joby, glumly "Like a mobile bird-scarer!"
Mieps approached across the back lawn, having come in via the yard-doors. To anyone who didn't know him, he would have looked extremely formidable and unnerving, like an eclipse slowly blocking out the sun. As he got nearer he looked at Joby questioningly, as if to say "Has he returned yet?" Joby nodded in reply.
At that moment Tamaz came out onto the patio, and Mieps kissed him with a blinding ferocity.
"Is everyone home now?" Tamaz asked, when he came up for air.
"I think so", said Joby "I haven't seen Ransey for a while though".
"He's upstairs", said Lonts.
Tamaz nodded with satisfaction and went back inside, closely followed by Mieps.
"Why did he ask that, Joby?" said Lonts.
"I don't know", said Joby, equally perplexed.
He watched Tamaz for the rest of the evening, but was still none the wiser. Tamaz was quieter than normal. He didn't run around the room and yodel, instead he spent most of the time sitting on Julian's lap, drinking red wine and listening to all the various conversations going on around him.
At the end of the evening Tamaz insisted on personally checking that the front and back doors were bolted. As he went to go upstairs he noticed Toppy in the living-room, making up his bed on the sofa. His bedding was kept in the sideboard during the day.
Tamaz drew all the curtains shut, and then said gruffly that he would only be upstairs, in the room directly above, if Toppy needed him. Toppy was thrilled with this rough tenderness and insisted on kissing Tamaz goodnight, rather nervously though like an Edwardian swain.
In the dining-room across the hall Bardin spent much of the night in acute wakefulness, often startled and then reassured by the occasional cough and snore that he heard coming from other parts of the house. At one point he leaned over to put his arm round Bengo for reassurance.
"Not tonight, Bardy", said Bengo, nudging him away drowsily "I'm knackered out!"
The following morning Julian invited Bardin to have breakfast with him 'a deux' on the patio. Over scrambled eggs and more of the ubiquitous red wine, Julian praised him for his first proper foray into captaincy.
"You haven't heard all of it yet", said Bardin, morosely.
"Now if there's one thing I can't stand it's excessive modesty", said Julian "You managed to be in control of Freaky for 24 hours without raising your hand once, now that takes some doing! Have you thought about a longer trip? Taking the boat beyond the windmills and exploring the area to the south? Of course I daresay it's all hot wasteland, so it might get a bit dull. There's probably nothing there to see".
"I think there is", said Bardin, gravely, and he explained about the Tall Thing "I've been lying awake all night trying to figure out what it could have been, but I'm no nearer a solution".
"You say it definitely moved?" said Julian.
"Yes!" Bardin cried "It was a living thing, I swear it. It wasn't a construction or anything like that. If it was you think we might have noticed it when we camped there!"
"Alright, I'm not doubting you", said Julian "Eat your breakfast. I've seen enough weird and frightening things in my life to know that nothing's worth losing your appetite over".
"I obviously don't have your constitution", said Bardin.
"Rubbish, you're one of the fittest people I know", said Julian "Whatever that Thing was has certainly shaken you up though".
"Like most people, I don't like things I can't understand", said Bardin "And I can't even begin to understand that, not any of it. Where it comes from, what it was, what it could do. I feel ashamed that it scared me so much".
"It's a very natural reaction to be afraid of something so much bigger than oneself", said Julian "At heart we're all still cave-dwellers. And that part of the world we know nothing about. None of it's on any maps for a start. When we were travelling over the Uncharted Area up to Stokva some yeas back, we saw many peculiar creatures, ones that defied all logic, headless beings for example".
"Yeah, but you were safely up in a hot-air balloon", said Bardin "Not all vulnerable in a canoe".
"Then I have an idea", said Julian "We'll charter an air-buggy and fly out over that area, see if we can find it or figure out where it's come from. Ransey can fly us, he's not so senile yet he can't manage that!"
Unbeknown to them Kieran had been eavesdropping on this conversation from behind the dining-room curtain. He crept out of the room and went upstairs, where Joby was in the process of being vigorously rogered by Hillyard. They had barely finished when Kieran ran in.
"Hillyard!" he roared "Get out of me focking bedroom!"
Hillyard nervously and guiltily grabbed his bath-robe and stumbled out of the room.
"There goes a man with a guilty conscience if ever I saw one!" Kieran shouted after him.
Joby lay groaning weakly face-down on the bed.
"I can't leave you alone for 5 minutes can I?!" said Kieran, dealing him a ringing slap on the backside.
"Oh don't get rough with me, Kiel, please", he moaned "I'm feeling fragile. I don't think I'll ever be able to walk again".
"Serves you damn well right", said Kieran, climbing onto the bed "Move over, you debauched, good-for-nothing Limey".
"I'm gonna really regret this, I know it", Joby groaned into his pillow.
"Oh you will, I'll make sure of it!" said Kieran, lying down next to him "Anyway, at the moment I've got something more important to say. Something's come up. We're all going on a trip".
"Count me out, I wanna stay here", said Joby "I've had enough of travelling, and with spring coming on I wanna do something with the garden".
"Ach it's not goign to be a long trip", said Kieran "Only a day I expect".
"Eh?" Joby looked up at him.
"Bardin and the others saw something peculiar up by the old windmills", said Kieran "I can't quite make out what, but some tall figure. Whatever it was it's scared the bejaysus out of 'em".
"That accounts for why Tamaz has been so quiet since he got back", said Joby.
"Well we're going to fly down there and have a look round", said Kieran "See if we can spot anything out of the ordinary".
"Great", said Joby, unenthusiastically.
He swung his legs to the side of the bed, obviously in preparation to getting up.
"You're avoiding me", said Kieran, suddenly "You have been ever since Tamaz's operation. You try everything you can think of to get out of talking to me alone".
"No I don't", said Joby "You're getting paranoid".
Joby clung to the foot of the bed and limped round it.
"Then why didn't you tell me what you were up to?" said Kieran, emotionally "I was hurt by that, Joby. Sometimes I think you only see me as a Catholic, not as Kieran anymore".
"Well you have made a right song-and-dance about it at times!" said Joby "And we all know how you lot feel about breeding like rabbits".
"But I've never been like that meself", Kieran protested "There's nothing I feel more guilty about than what I put Tamaz through when I made him conceive".
"Then don't!" said Joby "Don't feel guilty about it. That was a different world then. Anyway, he'd put us through enough in Thetislog, he was gonna have us all executed, the little sod!"
Joby got down laboriously on his hands and knees and looked under the bed.
"Christ, it's filthy under here", he said "Have you seen my socks?"
"No I haven't", said Kieran, who was now sobbing.
Joby sat up and looked at him in exasperation.
"I won't have you feel guilty about that, Kiel", he said "You made it up to him when you gave him his life, when you stopped those Ministry wankers from executing him".
"I hadn't looked at it that way", said Kieran.
"No of course you hadn't", said Joby "'Cos you were too busy thrashing yourself with that cat-o-nine tails of yours. And you needn't think I don't know you've been doing it again either. If there's one thing and one thing only I'm angry with you about at the moment it's that! The night before last you shut yourself up in the bathroom and had a right old session of 'kiss my whip' didn't you?!"
"Because I felt I'd let you and Tamaz down", said Kieran "And there's nothing kinky about it, I'm communing with the Almighty".
"Oh would this be the much-vaunted God of Love of yours?" said Joby.
"Joby!" said Kieran.
"No I won't shut up", said Joby, stubbornly "I've never understood it, and whenever you do it it upsets me, becaue you don't deserve it. I can understand Adam and Julian's antics better than that! At least they enjoy it, they're doing it for it for their own amusement, they're getting summat out of it. But you're beating yourself up for crimes you haven't committed, and that upsets me!"
Joby suddenly leaned across Kieran and tugged his shirt down over one shoulder, exposing a pinkish glow on his flesh.
"See!" said Joby "You're still marked! You tell me what good that is supposed to do, eh?"
"I was to blame", said Kieran, pathetically "Because you had to go behind my back. I'd let you down".
"No one was to blame for that!" said Joby "Tamaz was desperate to have it done, and he didn't want it delayed any longer, that's all. Now let's put it behind us shall we? And stop whipping yourself over it, it's daft. Now give us a kiss and we'll call it quits".
They were just doing so when someone hammered on their bedroom door.
"Whoever you are, sod off!" said Joby.
"It's me", said Lonts "I've got a surprise for you, Joby".
"I don't want it!" said Joby.
"You've got to have it", Kieran whispered "Or Adam'll on at us until the cows come home!"
"Can I come in?" Lonts shouted.
"Do I have any say in the matter?!" Joby shouted back.
Lonts bounded into the room, clutching a large squashy parcel wrapped in brown paper, which he proceeded to tear off with great gusto. The surprise was the new dressing-gown he had promised Joby.
"Joby and the Amazing Technicolour Bath-Robe!" Kieran laughed, after Lonts had hustled Joby into it.
"It's a bit bright, Lonts", said Joby "Coundn't I have had a plain white one, like Ransey's?"
"Adam says it'll do you good to have something bright to wear", said Lonts "Adam says all your clothes are too drab".
"Oh he does does he?!" said Joby "Well at least mine aren't covered in paint-stains! There can't be a single item of his clothing he hasn't wiped his brushes on!"
"Now put the hood up", said Lonts.
"Good grief, the Grim Reaper in Acidland!" said Kieran.
"You won't be happy until you've made me look a complete Charlie will you?!" said Joby.
"Look at yourself in the mirror", said Lonts.
The only mirror in the room was a small shaving-mirror so Joby had to look at himself in segments.
"It's very ... um ... psychedelic", said Joby.
"You will wear it won't you?" said Lonts, earnestly.
"It's Kieran who enjoys the penances!" said Joby.
"Joby!" Lonts implored.
"Alright", Joby sighed "I'll wear it".
The proposed trip out over the barren wastes to the south, to look for evidence of the Tall Thing, took place the very next day. They all set out with a mood of exhilaration, as though they were going on holiday.
They saw nothing.
Ransey piloted the buggy, and reminisced about how he had flown them off the desert island all those years ago. He reminisced about it at such length in fact that Adam was starting to believe that Julian was right, and Ransey was going senile! Apart from that Hillyard grumbled about what a precarious business flying was, and the under-30s got as excited as small children because they had spotted the remains of their camp-fire by the windmills.
Ransey took the buggy further south, but the arid wastes seemed to stretch on forever, ad infinitum. They didn't see a single living thing, no even so much as a cactus plant, and there were no traces or marks on the ground to signify that anything extraordinarily large had walked across it recently.
Bardin was even more dejected than ever. The whole problem was now beginning to annoy him intensely, as though someone had played an elaborate practical joke on him personally. He was the only one of them not returning as euphoric as he'd gone out.
"SIT DOWN!" Julian roared at Bengo, Lonts and Tamaz who were all clowning around at the back of the buggy.
"Stop rocking us!" Ransey shouted.
Julian retrieved his whip from under his chair and advanced on them.
"Lonts", he said "Take your monstrous great body and go and sit with your Auntie Ada".
"I'm not a monstrosity", said Lonts.
"That's a matter of opinion", said Joby.
"Freaky, come and sit with me", said Julian.
Tamaz was wearing his stage petticoat, and as he went to follow Julian, Bengo grabbed the skirt of it and tore it away. The others erupted into cheers.
"You shouldn't cover up your best assets", said Bengo, caressing Tamaz's legs.
Tamaz boxed his ears and grabbed his skirt back.
Back at the tin shed and strip of levelled ground which passed for Toondor Lanpin's airport, another air-buggy was decanting a handful of passengers.
"It's getting busier than Heathrow, this place", said Julian.
"Oh they look dreary", said Adam, glancing over at the one man, one woman, one boy, one girl, which comprised the other party.
"Rich and dreary", said Julian.
"They're from the Marsh Village", said the tubby man who worked as the airport's pack-horse "They've bought a house here. He wants to do up some property here and make us something special".
"Toondor Lanpin isn't the place it was", said Adam, as they all got into the hay-cart "It used to be populated by fishermen, and artists, and writers, and actors ..."
"And clowns", said Bardin.
"And retired Vanquishers of Evil", said Kieran.
"Now we're getting property-developers", said Adam "Soon it'll be stockbrokers, ghastly little men in red braces. What on earth are we going to do if Toondor Lanpin gets too respectable?"
"Need each other even more", said Julian.
"Bardin is a dreadful brooder isn't he?" said Adam, when he and Joby were alone in the kitchen preparing supper, later that evening "He's one of those people who wants life all shipshape and clear as crystal".
"Yeah, but to be fair you and me didn't see that ... Thing, well whatever it was", said Joby "It's hard to come to terms with summat you can't even begin to describe".
"Mm, I suppose so", said Adam.
"It shook the others up too", said Joby "Tamaz has been a bit preoocupied with it since he got back as well".
A yodelling sound and loud raucous laughter broke out from the hallway.
"He doesn't seem terribly preoccupied at the moment!" said Adam.
"It's the clowns' fault", said Joby "They get him too frisky".
"Oh don't knock it", said Adam "Jules was right with what he said earlier, we do need each other so much. I was out shopping the other day and I was watching a young couple ahead of me in the queue. Boy and a girl, they can't have been any older than 19. Goodness, they were so morose with one another! Both arguing about how hard each other worked and how the other one didn't appreciate that fact. He kept sucking his teeth like an old man, and she was dressed from head to foot in black. It was awful. And don't tell me it's all to do with shortage of money, because I can't remember us being like that when we were poor".
"It was no bloody fun being poor, that's all I can remember", said Joby.
"I know, I remember many sleepless nights over it", said Adam "Utterly soul-destroying. But even so, I can't remember being like them".
"Depends what your standards are I spose", said Joby "It helped us that we didn't have any!"
"What I'm trying to say is I don't think the couple were particularly poor", said Adam "Not like we were anyway. But they had made themselves slaves to hard work and respectability. Codlik would undoubtedly approve of such Utopian misery!"
"People make rods for their own backs", said Joby "When we started out in this world we thought ourselves lucky if we ran into enough food to tide us over for a couple of days, but now more goodies means more things to want and to worry about. Everything has its downside".
"It makes the desert island seem even more perfect doesn't it?" said Adam.
Joby looked at him across the kitchen table, both aware that a significant decision had been made which, sooner or later, would be acted upon.
"That is going to happen isn't it?" said Joby.
"Yes", Adam smiled "It rather increasingly seems as though we're not going to have a choice".
The significant moment was broken by Bengo walking into the room wearing an outsize blue romper-suit.
"What the hell do you look like?!" Joby exclaimed.
"Finia's doing a dressmaking job for Madame Simone", said Bengo "Making up clothes for Adult Babies. This is one of them".
"Take it off at once", said Adam "If Jules sees you in that get-up he's liable to horsewhip you!"
"But I thought it'd give you a laugh!" said Bengo.
"Hilarious", said Joby.
Bengo took off the romper-suit and then sat down on a kitchen chair, looking the perfect imagine of dejection.
"Bengo, round up the others and tell them the scoff's nearly ready", said Adam.
"He's worse than Lonts for being so sensitive", said Joby, after Bengo had left the room.
"Oh he's rather sweet", said Adam.
"You've always been nuts about him", said Joby, dismissively.
"It's hard not to be", said Adam "I'd have to have eyesight worse than yours to not appreciate his charms".
"Yeah, but he's so daft with it!" said Joby.
"That's all part of his appeal", said Adam.
Bengo's charms weren't helping to ease Bardin's torment though. Late that night, Bardin sat on the mattress in the dining-room, hugging his knees and doing more of his endless brooding. He seemed to be taking it as a personal affront that weird creatures were at large in the world, something which to Bengo's simple, frank mind was absurd.
"You shouldn't think about it so much, Bardy", he said, climbing onto the mattress next to him "You can go mad brooding on things. Anyway I'm beginning to think it was an optical illusion, a trick of the light. You know, like when you get two suns in the sky".
"You're a complete dork, Bengo!" said Bardin, savagely "That was no fucking trick of the light, only someone with a brain as mashed as yours could possibly think so!"
"I was trying to help!" Bengo cried, jumping to his feet again "But if you're gonna be spiteful I'm not staying in here".
"Oh here we go!" said Bardin "You're going to run off round the house looking for someone else to take you in. We've had all this before. You'll be back in 5 minutes with your tail between your legs!"
Bengo was stung by this remark, and thought that nothing on earth would induce him to return to the dining-room that night, even if he was reduced to sleeping in the stables! He slammed out of the room and went upstairs. When he reached the first-floor landing he saw that Adam's door was slightly ajar and decided to seek sanctuary in there first. He had reckoned without Lonts. Adam had been asleep when he went in, but Lonts was awake, lying on his back like a human booby-trap. He wasn't at all taken with Bengo's plans to get in with them, and he physically ejected him from the room as though he was putting a cat out for the night.
"Lo-Lo, that was a bit fierce", said Adam, waking up in time to witness Bengo's eviction.
"Be quiet, Adam", said Lonts "He's not staying in here and that's final".
Bengo went up the next floor, apprehensive of what greeting he would get there, even though both Hillyard and Julian had been lovers of his when they lived on the waterfront.
"Don't tell me, you and Bardin have had a row!" Julian snapped, when Bengo appeared round his side of the bed.
"He said some terrible things to me", Bengo sobbed, pathetically.
"And all of them soundly justified, no doubt!" said Julian, impervious to Bengo's whimpering "You are not staying up here!"
"What's up?" said Hillyard, rolling over drowsily "He can stay here can't he? It'd be quite fun to have him in the middle of us".
"And can you imagine what Bardin would feel if Bengo spent the night up here with us?" said Julian "He's already got a hang-up about you as it is!"
"Me?" said Hillyard, in genuine surprise "Why?"
"Oh go back to sleep", said Julian "Bengo, clear off!"
Bengo left the room, but then sat halfway down the stairs, snivelling.
"You are to go below and make it up with Bardin!" Julian yelled, fiercely, from his doorway.
"No I won't", Bengo snivelled "I don't want to".
"We'll soon see about that!" said Julian.
He pushed down past Bengo and went into one of the bathrooms, where he retrieved the razor-strop. Bengo gave an exaggerated cry of alarm.
"Oh Jules, is that really necessary?" said Adam, looking out of his doorway.
"Do you have any idea what the fucking time is?!" Ransey yelled, followed by Finia who was trying frantically to calm him down.
"What's going on?" said Kieran, looking tousled.
"We're going to have a public flogging!" Tamaz shouted with delight, whilst leaping around the landing.
Mieps was standing in his bedroom doorway, clutching onto the doorframe, his flat breasts fully exposed. As Tamaz neared him, he reached out and hooked him into his bedroom like a Venus Fly-Trap, shutting the door after them.
Adam gave a despondent sigh at the thought of having to spend the rest of the night listening to Mieps and Tamaz rutting.
"What's happening?" said Bardin, appearing sheepishly at the top of the stairs.
"You might well ask!" said Julian.
Bengo sped past Bardin and on down the stairs. Bardin followed him, looking perplexed.
"Everybody now go to bed!" Julian roared at the top of his voice.
As he passed Adam on his way up to his own room, Julian muttered "Remind me to put those two clowns out for the bin-men in the morning!"
Bengo and Bardin didn't say much to each other for the rest of the night, instead they spent the hours in surprisingly companionable silence. At around dawn Bardin sat up with a cry of alarm, disturbed by a loud clanking noise coming from the street outside.
"Bardy", said Bengo, softly, tugging him back down to the mattress "It's only the milk-cart".
"Of course", said Bardin, nervously "Silly of me".
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