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By Sarah Hapgood

"You look a right poseur in this photo, Bengo", said Joby, a week later.

They were standing in the saloon, looking at a picture of Bengo which was to grace the outside of the Little Theatre during the run-up to the Christmas show.

"I'm supposed to", said Bengo "I have to look as though I really believe I'm sexy".

"Well it'll get the women in", said Joby "And a lot of the men too I expect! Are you giving a signed one to Julian?"

"He doesn't need it", Bengo laughed "He's got the real thing".

Toppy walked into the saloon carrying a spindly wooden chair.

"Is that new?" said Joby.

"Yes I've just got it from the flea-market", Toppy put it down in the corner, wedged between the sofa and an armchair "I thought it was quite elegant".

"It don't look none too safe", said Joby "If you leaned back in that the back would probably fall off!"

"It's not meant for lounging in", said Toppy, indignantly "Not for lolling in whilst you sip your cocoa!"

"What's the bloody point of it then?" said Joby.

"It's for perching on", said Toppy, sitting down on the edge of it and crossing his legs in an elegant fashion "For having gentle polite chit-chat on".

"We don't get much of that round here", said Joby "You'd better warn Lonts about it when he comes home. Knowing him he'll hurl himself on it and shatter it like matchwood!"

"The bill from the boatyard's arrived", said Ransey, walking into Julian's cabin.

"We're not paying it", said Julian, bluntly.

"Oh don't be stupid, we have to!" said Ransey "I was just off to the bank to draw out the right money, but I thought you'd like to see it first".

"Why should we pay for them messing up our home?" said Julian.

"Look, that bloke the other day had a point", said Ransey "We have no proof that half the damage wouldn't have happened anyway. It's no good going to court about this, because without any proof we haven't got a leg to stand on. Anyway, the new engine works o.k, and she's been well-scraped, and all the rot on the deck's been fixed, and the flues have been cleaned, so we can't grumble too much".

"Since when have you been so damn Christian?" said Julian "Has somebody given you some money?!"

"No, I just can't be bothered to get worked up about it", said Ransey "I don't like these games the Ministry are playing at the moment. I'm more concerned about that than having a hole in my bedroom wall".

Over the past week there hadn't been a single word from the Ministry, and this was more worrying than if they'd openly declared war. Ransey didn't believe for one minute that they'd dropped their plans to "pay a visit", and from his own knowledge of their tactics he found this eerie silence disturbing. There was a feeling in the air that something was about to happen, it was just a question of exactly when.

"Oh pay the bill", said Julian, irritably, as he reached for his battered panama "I'm going to pop out and see how van Gogh's getting on".

Adam had had his studio for a week now and was deliriously happy in it, like a child with a man-sized doll's house. Over the course of a few days he had made full use of the daylight hours, and had produced a phenomenal amount of work.

Lonts meantime was the perfect assistant. He swept up after Adam, cleaned his brushes, was shown by him how to mix paints, made endless pots of coffee, and was happy to model for him at any time, even managing to nap whilst sitting in pose. Sometimes when tiredness crept over Adam, Lonts would undress him and put him on the divan. There they often lay together, caressing each other and discussing old times.

Adam often prompted Lonts to talk about his childhood. The days were long gone when Lonts got hysterical at the mere mention of Kiskev, and now he was happy to tell tales of life in that bleak, forbidding place. At times Adam got upset to think what an unloved childhood Lonts had had, thinking of the little boy apprenticed to a sad old sledge-maker, whose only pleasures were moonshine and ancient postcards of nude women.

"He was kind really", said Lonts "Not very kind like you are, but he wasn't nasty to me, like some of the boys in the village were".

But it still distressed Adam to think that this lovely, simple-minded boy had not known a single hug or kiss throughout his childhood. Adam's childhood had left a lot to be desired, but at least occasionally his mother had been affectionate with him, and there were the fun occasions when the two of them had got together to laugh at his brutal father behind his back. Sadly, these occasions had got increasingly rare as her drinking became more and more endemic. Julian had once repeatedly scolded Adam for being too soft with Lonts, for spoiling him and pampering him. But Adam had always felt that all the kisses and caresses in the world wouldn't be enough for Lonts, to make up for the atrocious years of his childhood and early teens.

After leaving the Indigo Julian had got to the house on stilts to find the door locked. He knew they wouldn't be gone for long though and sat down on the wooden steps to wait for them. Within a few minutes Lonts appeared, wearing only a long paint-stained shirt, and carrying a bag of coffee beans.

"Adam won't be long, Julian", he said, fishing out the key which hung on a string round his neck "He's just having a walk round to do some thinking. He's been hoping you'd turn up everyday".

"Well I didn't want to disturb the genius at work", said Julian, following him into the room.

He went straight over to the easel by the window, on which rested a half-finished painting of Lonts.

"Does he ever paint anything but you?" he asked.

"Of course I do", said Adam, coming in "I would like to do one of you for a start. Sitting in that chair by the window perhaps, with your cigar. A thoughtful, reflective pose, looking back on your life".

"I see, and what are you going to call it?" said Julian, sarcastically "'Dribbling Geriatric In The Last Stages Of Senility'? You could do a series based on Shakespeares's Seven Stages of Man. I could be the last stage. Sans teeth, sans hair, sans marbles ..."

"Sure!" Adam laughed "I want to do one of Pats and Joby too. Lying on the divan together".

"Doing erotica now, eh?"

"To show their enduring partnership", said Adam, waxing poetical.

"Yes, you could have Tamaz serving the tea", said Julian.

"Tamaz would not be in it", said Adam, firmly.

He asked Lonts to make some coffee and then stood with Julian at the window overlooking the river. The autumn twilight was coming on fast, and lights were appearing on the boats around them, and on the shore opposite. A one-man fishing smack came in to moor, draped in a large lobster net.

"When I was a boy", said Julian "I remember my grandfather once saying that England was God's own country. And I thought oh come on now, anyone could say taht about anywhere they had a deep fondness and affection for. But now I think I know what he really meant, because it's how I feel about here. We can't let those bastards from the City ruin it".

There was a moment of melancholy silence, and then Julian rallied himself.

"Did you know Bengo's going to do a Christmas puppet show for the children?" he said, breezily "Bardin unearthed some old puppets at the flea market and bought them as a job-lot. They're going to have them done up".

"Goodness, where's he going to find the time?" said Adam "He's going to be so busy with plans for the pantomime".

"He wants us all to take part in that", Lonts shouted, from by the gas-ring.

They discussed the show, and Lonts was about to serve the coffee when they heard the ominous drone of an air-buggy approaching the town from a north-westerly direction.

"Adam", Lonts gasped, looking terrified "It's not Them is it?"

"I rather think it could be", said Julian, quietly "You two had better come home at once".

"Yes", said Adam, sadly "The party's over. The grown-ups have arrived".


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