Go back to previous chapter



By Sarah Hapgood

The night passed without further incident, and Joby woke up at dawn, relieved at the prospect that they would start the homeward journey that day. He was hoping that the Ministry men would let them leave without any fuss, but wasn't terribly reasssured when he went outside the tent a little while later. Julian was naked, washing himself vigorously in a bucket of cold water, and singing 'If I Ruled The World'!

"Towel", he suddenly barked, imperiously.

Hillyard, who was standing near him in his robe, lobbed the towel at him like a custard pie.

"Julian", Toppy came running over, looking like a street urchin in his grubby vest "That Jonner person's coming towards us!"

"That's all we need", Joby grunted "Tell him he's missed the show".

Jonner paused to exchange a few words with Glynis, who was standing outside her tent sponging down her show dress, which had got covered in the body make-up Lonts wore when he danced with her at the end of their act.

"Finally caught up with us then?" said Hillyard, when Jonner reached them "I thought you weren't coming".

"I wasn't going to bother", said Jonner "But then Fradie decided at the last minute he'd like to do a magazine article on the show, and I hopped along for the ride. We arrived last night, but you didn't see us".

Truth to tell, Jonner was feeling a bit put out by the Indigo-ites, as they hadn't thought to invite him along in the hay-cart. He got his own back by gleefully telling Adam how well his work was going at the moment, and how the commissions were simply flooding in.

"I can just imagine what sort of commissions too", Julian muttered, after Jonner had gone back to his own tent "Shopkeepers wanting to pose as Napoleon, and plain women wanting to be immortalised as Helen of Troy!"

"Jules", Adam laughed, touched that his old friend was trying to boost his morale.

"Well it's true", Julian rasped "I expect he even gets to do kittens in washbaskets! Still, I know what you're thinking, dear heart. At least he's painting. Whereas you, who had all those ideas of being the next van Gogh when you were young, are reduced to being Hilda Ogden instead".

"Nonsense, I'm very happy", said Adam "I've got what Jonner hasn't. Plenty of love. I wouldn't swap that. Really I wouldn't. I won't deny I would like more time for painting. Particularly as I can afford to buy new equipment these days".

"It's your birthday next week", said Julain "How about I give you a little treat, and I don't mean the obvious!"

"But we don't buy each other birthday presents anymore", said Adam. They hadn't done so for some time on the Indigo, for the simple reason that there were too many of them and it hadn't been economically viable.

"Well I think we can make an exception this once", said Julian "One of those rooms on stilts near us is going empty at the moment. How about I rent it for you as a studio? It'd be perfect. Windows in three walls, plenty of light ..."

"I couldn't move out", said Adam, aghast.

"I wouldn't want you to", said Julian "Take it as a day-time refuge for when you need it. You can take Lonts there too. Use him as a model and general artist's assistant. It'd give him something to do. I get concerned when I see him mooning about the quayside all day. He was bred for honest toil, not contemplation".

"He would be perfect", said Adam "Oh Jules, you'd do that for me?"

"Well you poor old stick, you haven't had much of a life", said Julian "Being tormented by me for the first part, and then stumbling into a bizarre new world and having to babysit Tinkerbell and Goofy. One of whom just happens to be the next Christ! This is your chance to go for immortality. And if you can't get it with Lonts's inscrutable beauty as your muse then you never will!"

Fradie strolled over soon after and immediately began to pontificate on how he felt the show could be improved, particularly 'Murder At Nightmare Hall'.

"The only racy scene you have is between Hawkefish and that dumb chorus-girl who plays his kitchen-maid", he said "Well it aint erotic! Really what you should have is two cunts getting into the sack together, or a guy and two cunts".

"Fradie, this is supposed to be a family show", Adam protested "There's a limit to just how racy Hawkefish can make it!"

"If he ever decides to stage '120 Days In Sodom' by the Marquis de Sade", said Julian "We'll recommend you as scriptwriter!"

"This is the limit!" Bengo cried "Everyone thinks they know better than us how to put on a show ..."

"Shut up, Bengo", said Julian, sternly "I am exhausted by your tantrums at the moment. I want you to remain as silent as possible on the journey home".

"Fine", said Bengo, emotionally "I shall travel with Bardin if that's how you feel!"

Which he did, sulking on a grand scale. When they all reached the Watering Hole late that afternoon, he lingered on the sidelines like a hooded spectre as the others erected their tepee.

"I hope he doesn't stay away for long", said Adam "He might decide to move in with Bardin permanently".

"No chance", said Julian, stoutly "I give that cosy little set-up about half-an-hour at the most!"

"It was a strange stay at Woll's wasn't it?" said Adam "We didn't see him once".

"Rumour has it, from what I heard from one of his staff, that he watched the show from his bedroom balcony with a pair of binoculars", said Julian.

"Money does seem to make people eccentric", Adam sighed "Look at most of our families for a start".

"And to some it just comes naturally", said Julian, watching Lonts walk over to Bengo.

The little clown quailed at the sight of Lonts thumping towards him with a grimly determined look on his face, and decided to run off. Only to have Lonts pursuing him, yelling "BENGO, COME HERE!" at the top of his voice. Bengo had no intention of doing any such thing and he steamed into the bar, which was packed out. He spotted Kieran and Joby sitting in the corner, and he pushed his way through the crowd towards them.

"Help me!" he cried "Lonts is after me!"

"Why, what have you done?" said Joby.

"Nothing", Bengo yelled, in terror "I think he wants to talk to me".

"Well that's no reason to get so scared", said Kieran.

"Oh I dunno", said Joby "Having a conversation with Lonts is a short-route to a nervous breakdown sometimes!"

"Bengo!" Lonts bellowed from the doorway. The crowd parted like the Red Sea to allow him through.

Bengo immediately climbed up onto the table and wriggled out of the small window above Kieran and Joby.

"See the effect you have on people", said Joby, when Lonts got near them.

"I only wanted to tell him to come home", said Lonts.

"You frightened him a wee bit", said Kieran.

"But why? I didn't mean to", said Lonts.

"Must have been the way you went after him as though you were about to harpoon him", said Joby.

"Sit down and have a glass of cider", said Kieran.

Ransey was helping Adam to prepare supper, and was proving to be more of a hindrance. Drinking the local scrumpy is like childbirth. You forget afterwards the torments it drove you to, and wander into the next session with the memory of all the agonies erased. The sight of the distinctive jars didn't prompt any remembrance of the hangover they had induced last time, only the rampent joy of how it was caused. And this time its aphrodisiac qualities were certainly working on him. He kept grabbing Adam's bottom, until Adam was constantly hopping about like a hen on a hotplate.

"Ransey, for pity's sake calm down", Adam cried "This isn't like you".

"I haven't been aroused like this since Finia and I got together", said Ransey, with magnificent intent.

Hillyard was staring at him with his mouth open.

"Hilly, do something useful", said Adam "Go and find Finia".

"He was going over some new costume designs with the dancers", said Hillyard "I don't know where he is now".

"I don't care, go and get him", said Adam "This is an emergency!"

"What on earth's wrong?" said Glynis.

"Ransey's turned on", said Hillyard.

"So?" said Glynis "What's the big deal?"

"This is only the third time it's happened in 20 years!" said Hillyard.

"Shouldn't we do something with it then?" said Glynis.

"You must be joking!" said Hillyard, in horror "The thought makes shivers run down my spine!"

"All I'm saying is if the Ministry takes us on in a feud, I may have to go to the City as a peace-keeping envoy", said Kieran, drunkenly.

"Over my dead body", said Joby, peering round the other side of Lonts "You're not going anywhere near that place. If Codlik wants to talk peace he can come down here. If you go up there I shall take Tamaz off to a safe place and I won't come back, but not before I've beaten some sense into you first!"

"It isn't a good idea, Kieran", said Lonts, sombrely "Joby's right. And if you go to the City Codlik might have you locked up".

"They don't have the Nobel Peace Prize anymore", said Joby, waspishly "So you wouldn't gain anything out of it".

"Ah a piano!" said Julian, appearing in the bar with Finia at his side. He approached the battered upright near where the others sat "Stop brawling, you loathsome creatures, and gather round. I'm going to entertain you".

"Oh God, that's all I need", Joby groaned.

Julian opened the lid and launched into the opening bars of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto, which due to the general age and decay of the instrument, was played in the style of Les Dawson. After a short while of this he switched to a honky-tonk piece.

"'Jumpin' Punkins'", he said "Duke Ellington".

"Play that piece you used to do back at our house at Husgalonghi", said Finia "What was it called, the Lost Chord?"

"Cripes Julian", said Joby "I didn't think even you were that old!"

"Great party piece in our family when I was a child", said Julian "Poor Finia used to get untold joy from it when we lived alone together. You understand we had to make our own amusements in those days!"

"Finia!" Hillyard cried, running into the bar "Come home quick! It's Ransey!"

"What's wrong?" said Finia.

"He's drunk", said Hillyard, breathlessly.

"So's the whole village, dear heart", said Julian.

"But he's aroused!" Hillyard cried.

"Then the time for merriment has ceased", said Julian, closing the lid solemnly "All we can do is go home and pray".

"Appropriate music was played", said Kieran.

Back at the tent Adam had managed to get Ransey sufficiently calmed down to lead him inside. And when the others go there they found Toppy stirring the soup over the camp-fire, and Tamaz sitting nearby with his hands clamped on his head, screaming.

"He said he was going to cut all my hair off", he yelled "Turn me into a boy!"

"God save us", said Julian, going into the tent "I feel as though I'm running a lunatic asylum".

"You are, old love", said Adam "You are.

"He said Julian was a bottle-blonde", Tamaz squawked, as he came in "I never realised that. Is that true?"

"It most certainly isn't", Julian rasped "I've never dyed my hair in my life".

"Well I don't see how you can still be blonde at your age", said Tamaz, sulkily.

"Living with you lot, neither do I!" Julian exclaimed "It must be little short of a miracle!"

Ransey was half-asleep, and Adam was placing wet face-towels all over his body.

"That should keep him cooled down", he said.

"For about another five years", said Finia, with just a hint of regret in his voice.

Outside, Bengo watched as the others all filed into the tent.

"They're all drunk", said Toppy, gathering up the enamel cups "I'd better go and see if they want any supper".

"I'll carry the cauldron over", said Bengo.

"I-I suppose you don't want any soup now?" said Toppy, standing at the entrance to the tent.

"We most certainly do", Julian boomed "We have several hours of travelling tomorrow, and an army marches on its stomach".

"Which seems a strange way of doing it", said Kieran.

"Can Bengo come in?" said Toppy.

"He doesn't need permission to enter his own home", said Julian.

"And it is my home too", said Bengo, stumbling over a forest of legs "And don't anyone forget it!"

Julian slapped his rump as he passed, which caused Bengo to give a small yelp.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site