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Chapter Sixty

New London, 1880

"Make ready," said Crawford as they waited in the dark before dawn. "Our transport is coming."

Out of the morning gloom came at last the shape of an approaching canal boat, slow and stately. Crawford leant out over the edge of the canal, calling and waving at the sailors. The barge drew up beside the little group of friends, the Martians staring at them with frank curiosity. Schuldig concentrated but could detect no ill will on the part of the natives as Crawford conducted a discussion with them in his careful and, Schuldig saw, well-received speech in the Martian tongue. At last Crawford turned back, signalling the others up.

"Pack only the chests," he said. The Martians willingly helped, laughing at the weight of the chests that contained, under an initial layer of non-precious artefacts and clothing, the artefacts and coins of gold.

Nagi hesitated upon the canal bank, watching the Martians who had been, Crawford said, deputed to bring in their payment for the journey over land. He clung tight to the great neck of his dov, pressing kisses upon its massive and scaly snout, then with many a mournful glance back went to the barge where Schuldig held out a hand to help him down. Nagi stood upon the deck, regarding his shoes in deep misery.

"Good lad," said Schuldig, holding him close. "A man must learn to make sacrifices. The dov will be well cared for, don't fear. Now, you go and sit with Crawford. Practice treating him as your father." He gave the lad a gentle push and went himself to the other end of the vessel, sitting upon a coil of rope. He had no wish to speak with either his friends or the natives, and spent the time until it was fully light engaged in staring morosely out in the direction in which they travelled. His head felt queerly light, and the wind on his bare neck annoyed him beyond all reason. When he looked down at himself he found himself expecting, once or twice, to see the old-fashioned uniform in which the boys of Schloß Rosenkreuz were clad, and shuddered at the thought. "Make yourself better company, you do neither yourself nor the others any good like this," he thought, and schooled himself to smile politely when one of the native crew offered him food and drink. When he felt he could be pleasant in truth he rejoined his friends, sprawling with them under an awning the natives erected, and dozing at last with Crawford's hand clasped loosely within his own. Thus the little band of friends passed much of the day, waking when the worst of the heat was over and gratefully accepting the meal prepared for them by the native crew.

"This is good," said Schuldig, keeping to his resolution to be pleasant company. "How fine it is to have something worth eating after the last weeks!" He silently cursed himself then, thinking they had eaten well enough when Micah was alive. "I should not allow myself to speak after waking before I have had my coffee!" he thought, glad Crawford said nothing but merely nodded and continued eating his meal. He allowed himself to be at ease, watching the others as they ate with good appetites.

"Will we be all right when we enter New London?" asked Nagi, looking with longing at the piece of fruit Farfarello was eating until the young Irishman sighed and handed it to him.

"We shall be perfectly all right," said Crawford firmly. "You and I shall take rooms in some respectable hotel that fits our apparent status, Schuldig and Farfarello shall do likewise. We'll live quietly and unobtrusively until the ship departs. The ships run on a schedule - we shall have almost two weeks in the city before we leave. Don't worry, Nagi, we know what we are doing."

"Won't we see you at all when we're there?" asked Nagi in an uncouth way, his mouth full. He looked at Farfarello and Schuldig in some alarm, causing Farfarello to grin in a way that twisted his scars horribly. He reached out and tousled the lad's hair roughly.

"What?" he said, "Do you think we'll be at each other's throats if you aren't there to tell us to mind our manners? We will be sensible -- or at least I will! I cannot vouch for Schuldig."

"Please, feel free to call me Mr Chitul," said Schuldig, waving his new passport at Farfarello.

"As you wish, Valeriu," cried Farfarello. "Pray endeavour to make your German more accented!"

"Will they really be all right?" whispered Nagi to Crawford as their friends bickered cheerfully.

"Don't pay them any attention," smiled Crawford. "They are teasing you." He patted the deck beside him, and Nagi quickly wriggled to his side. "Remember," said Crawford, "you must act as if you are younger than you are. Try not to be so solemn with people you do not know -- it is quite all right to be quiet, that will be taken as you being well-mannered, but if you are spoken to you should smile and answer questions put to you. Don't worry, no one will ask you anything important if they consider you a child, it will all be 'Do you work hard in school?' and other such matters of burning import!" He nodded approvingly at the smile Nagi gave him then. "Yes, good lad -- but do try not to let people see you despise them!" He looked at Nagi, his eyes narrowed as he thought. "Yes," he said at last. "You'll be all right. I must buy you some more clothes, however, you can hardly survive as a respectable boy with just one set."

"Oh, Crawford!," cried Nagi in disgust, for he despised shopping for clothing and shoes almost as much as Schuldig enjoyed it. "Must we?"

"Now now," said Crawford. "How should you have answered me?"

Nagi dropped his eyes to the deck, thinking how horrid it would be to be measured and have to endure a tailor extolling the virtues of his materials. "Yes, Father," he said sulkily.

"He has the tone down perfectly!" hooted Schuldig. "Nagi, you are a natural dissimulator!"

"Don't tease him," said Crawford with a little smile. "Nagi, ignore our friend Mr Chitul." He drew the lad close to him, murmuring, "Remember, you are a nicely brought-up boy. You'll remember to be polite, won't you, Peter?"

"Yes, Father," said Nagi in a more respectful tone. Then, worried, he continued, "But Crawford, I can't remember anything about when to kneel or to stand, and I never really learned the prayers properly in Latin."

"It's all right," said Crawford. "We'll be Protestants, and low church at that." He allowed himself a wicked grin at Nagi's confusion. "Farfarello can explain it to you."

"What species of stupidity and lies am I to explain?" asked Farfarello, his attention attracted by the merest mention of things spiritual.

"Oh," said Nagi in sadness, before he was summarily given over to Farfarello's instruction, and Schuldig seated himself, grinning, in his place beside Crawford.

"You are an evil man," he said, sniggering at Nagi's expression as Farfarello warmed to his subject.

"It's why you love me," said Crawford. "I know you shall be sensible," he went on, "but don't forget to keep a close eye on Farfarello. He mustn't become too excited by being surrounded by so many other people once more."

"I'll knock him out the moment he gets too murderous," smiled Schuldig. "I myself shall try to be sensible, Crawford, but I am looking forward to other minds -- it shall be quite intoxicating at first!"

"Don't become too drunk," said Crawford, putting an arm about his friend. "Don't let Farfarello draw attention to you. Don't get caught."

"As if I should!" scoffed Schuldig, leaning against him. "Don't you get caught, either," he said softly. "It would make Nagi sad if you were hanged."

"I shan't," said Crawford, tightening his embrace. "Can you make us less memorable in the crew's eyes?" he continued.

"Don't worry," said Schuldig dismissively. "By the time we disembark they won't think us anything to gossip about. We shall just vanish from their lives and their memories." Putting such concerns behind him then, he resolved simply to enjoy the company of his friend for as long as he should have it, and to plan a celebration for the coming time when they should have rejoined each other once again.

* * *

Farfarello leapt lightly from the boat as it drew up to the quay. Although it was yet very early, many of the natives were hard at work on the docks, moving crates and barrels and loading and unloading the vessels that plied the canal. The others followed more slowly, Nagi and Schuldig rubbing at their eyes and yawning widely. Crawford thanked the native crew as they unloaded the last of the friends' baggage, and then turned to the others.

"Let's divide this up," he said. "Nagi, you and I are claiming to be travelling home with all the worldly possessions we brought to Mars, we can take the majority."

Nagi nodded, prodding at the baggage with one foot and hoping he would not be required to carry it, as he could not think of a way to do so unobtrusively.

"Are you stealing the gold?" said Farfarello in a low voice, laughing to show he was not serious. "For shame, Crawford!"

They quickly divided the chests between them, contracting with different native carters to take the bags and themselves to hotels, and then stood, smiling at each other. Nagi felt all at once that he had not realised how much he did not want them to separate until he saw Crawford shaking hands with first Farfarello and then Schuldig. What, Nagi thought, if something went wrong? What if Farfarello were arrested? He could not bear the thought that this might be the last he would see his friends. His heart sank as he considered how sad Crawford would be if something happened to Schuldig while they were apart.

"Cheer up," said Farfarello, ruffling his hair. "You look like you're going to a funeral."

Schuldig embraced him quickly. "We'll all be all right," he said. "We'll be together on the ship. You'll take care of Crawford for me until then, won't you?" Nagi nodded against his chest, clinging on to delay his friends' departure for a moment more. Then Schuldig pressed him back into Crawford's grasp and stepped away. "Auf Wiedersehen, Crawford," he said.

"Auf Wiedersehen," replied Crawford and turned away, taking Nagi's hand in his. He led him to the cart on which their share of the baggage rested and climbed up beside the driver. "Come on, Peter," he said. "Let's find a hotel."

"Yes, Father," Nagi obediently replied and climbed up beside him. He leaned against Crawford, glad to feel an arm laid across his shoulders. Although he felt it hard to resist, he did not look to see in which direction Schuldig and Farfarello had gone and stayed quiet until they had quite left the area of the docks. The cart moved slowly along, stopping at last at a small, clean establishment.

"This looks respectable enough," said Crawford. "Yes, it will do." To Nagi he went on in quiet Japanese, "It will do for tonight. We can move in the morning. There is no point in staying somewhere where some simple questions would easily track us down." He paid the carter and took Nagi inside, quickly arranging for a room for the night. Claiming then to be tired from his travels, Crawford asked for a tray of food to be sent to the room and whisked Nagi away. "Help the porter and me with the luggage," he said, and Nagi made it as light as if they contained only clothing and the necessities of life, storing it in a downstairs room as they would move again in the morning.

Once they were safely in their room, Crawford waved Nagi to one of the narrow beds that stood against each of the side walls and sat upon the other. "We'll let the others settle themselves in today," he said. "Tomorrow we'll purchase new clothes for both of us and see about moving somewhere else. A little more comfort than this, I think, with a room for each of us."

"Isn't that wasting money?" asked Nagi, for he had not thought about sleeping by himself and rather thought he would prefer not to.

"Perhaps so," said Crawford. "We are respectable persons of the middle class, however, and should live like that." He smiled, continuing, "You'll be glad not to endure my snores, no doubt!" Before Nagi could loyally say he did not snore, Crawford looked up. The next moment a knock came on the door and their breakfast was delivered to them. "Eat up!" said Crawford, looking at the fresh, buttered toast as could only a man who had subsisted on porridge made from the bland native grain for too long. Nagi felt he did not want anything, but the very first mouthful overcame him and between them they devoured all the food in a very short space of time. "We should rest," said Crawford at last, when the tray had been taken away and offers of further refreshment refused. He undressed and climbed into bed, sighing and prodding at the pillows in discontent. For his part, Nagi lay on his bed, listening to the noises in the street and worrying that at any moment the soldiers would arrive to arrest them both. Looking over he saw that Crawford was clearly still awake and, slipping from the bed quickly so that there should be no time to reprimand him, Nagi crossed the room and snuggled in beside him.

"Schuldig said I was to take care of you," he said.

Crawford laughed quietly and put his arms about him. "So he did," he said. "I know you won't let me come to any harm." So saying he closed his eyes and relaxed. After another moment Nagi did likewise, and they slept, the luxury of a bed no longer unsettling, but comforting and pleasurable.

* * *

"We should arrange to make you look like a proper blind man," thought Schuldig, looking about him at the streets. "When the shops are open I'll buy things you'll need."

"As long as I am not expected to be pushed in a bath chair I'm content," answered Farfarello in like manner.

"You've lost your eyes, not your legs!" thought Schuldig, grinning sidelong at him. "Ah, look, we are here," he went on aloud in his native tongue. "Is this the hotel?" he asked the carter in heavily accented English, receiving a nod as the only answer. "Ja," he said in German once again, "this is our hotel, Herr Dorfmann. Please, allow me to assist you down."

"Thank you," said Farfarello in that same tongue, climbing down very clumsily and seeming in danger of falling in the street. He clung to Schuldig's arm, murmuring, "I never expected to hear you use such formal speech to me!"

"Try not to become accustomed to it, my dear Herr Dorfmann," said Schuldig. "I should hate for you to be disappointed when we are alone!" He tucked Farfarello's hand through his arm and escorted him into the hotel. "Good morning!" he said in English thick with the accent he remembered the instructors' servants in Schloß Rosenkreuz as possessing. He could not say with any conviction that he knew what a Romanian accent might sound like, but he was certain that the clerk behind the desk in the hotel could not distinguish a Romanian accent from that used by maidservants who had spoken German all their lives. "My name is Chitul, and this is my employer, Mr Dorfmann. We wish to take rooms." Quickly and easily he arranged for two rooms in their names, and expressed a wish that all meals should be taken in their rooms rather than in the public dining rooms. "Mr Dorfmann, being blind, does not wish to attract the pity of the other guests," explained Schuldig politely, feeling gleeful at the solicitous expression with which this information was greeted. He supervised the moving of the luggage to their rooms, carefully removing from the footmen's minds the fact that it was so very heavy. At last they were alone in their adjoining rooms, a breakfast laid out for them. Schuldig made a start on buttering toast and cutting up the sausages for Farfarello before the maid had quite closed the door, then slumped down once she had gone, stuffing half a sausage into his mouth and washing it down with a cup of strong tea. "Oh, this is heavenly!" he cried. "Women are useful for something, Farfarello!"

Farfarello could only nod, being himself occupied in eating as fast as ever he could. When they were finished their meal - a task completed in far less time than civilised behaviour would allow - he looked over at Schuldig. "What shall we do now?" he asked.

"Now," said Schuldig, "I shall sally forth and buy such items as will make you look more convincingly blind, while you shall stay here and rest. Meditate on your sins, for all I care, just don't go out and draw attention to yourself." With no further ado he rose, washed his face at the washstand, smoothed his hair down with the tiniest of frowns, picked up his hat and left. Farfarello sighed, and lay down to sleep.

Schuldig strolled through the streets, trying not to catch glimpses of himself in the shop windows as he went by. He adjusted his hat and walked on till he found a shop offering, amongst many other wares, spectacles. Going in, he perused the merchandise until thee shopkeeper finally noticed him.

"Good morning, sir!" said the shopkeeper. "How may I help you?"

"Good morning," said Schuldig, modulating his voice so that his accent in English was as light as he could make it. "I am looking for spectacles of plain, darkened glass. Do you have such a thing? It is so fearfully bright here, and I cannot properly read outdoors."

"Many people find they have that very problem, sir," said the shopkeeper, producing a tray of darkened glass spectacles. "Would any of these be of use to you?"

Schuldig examined them, going so far as to try on some pairs to further his story that they were for his own use rather than that of another person. At length he selected a pair that were both very dark and that had lenses somewhat larger than the others he had examined, thinking that they would cover more of Farfarello's face and thus render his scars less of a talking point. This purchase effected, he strolled on, entering another shop where he bought a plain, yet high quality cane, so that Farfarello could practice tapping his way around their rooms. Then, fearing what might happen if the young Irishman was left to his own devices for too long, he strolled back to the hotel. Finding his friend asleep, Schuldig took himself to his own bed, content in the knowledge that he had made a good start on keeping them safe and unremarkable for their stay in the city.

* * *

Crawford looked in approval at the rooms he had taken in the second hotel to which he and Nagi had travelled. The rooms, while not over large, were exactly as he thought a returning missionary and his young son would require. Nagi had been downcast at the sight of his smaller room and voiced a wish that they could at least have interconnecting accommodation. Crawford was pleased that after the original complaint the boy had not attempted to argue and had meekly arranged the few personal possessions he had brought to the city in his own room, acknowledging the need to look as conventional as they might. Now he sat on the edge of Crawford's bed, waiting for them to go into the city and purchase clothing and other necessities of civilised life.

"Are you ready?" said Crawford, picking up his hat.

"Yes," said Nagi, standing quickly. "Are you sure we need to go shopping?" he continued. "What if the soldiers --"

"I haven't seen any such difficulty," said Crawford calmly. "Come along."

Nagi looked reluctantly about the room, as if wondering how he could keep them safely indoors, but came to Crawford's side obediently. "What if you can't sleep properly tonight?" he asked suddenly. "Or what if I have a nightmare?"

Crawford settled Nagi's hat upon his head. "If you have a nightmare," he said, "You can come in with me. We don't want you scaring other people or accidentally breaking something." He smiled at Nagi's face. "If you have a nightmare. Although you are pretending to be younger than you really are you'll still be seen as too old to need to sleep with another person for comfort!"

"All right," said Nagi, accompanying him from the room. They journeyed out into the streets, and soon were being measured for new clothes. The tailor, a Martian who was by no means as tall as most men of his race, was quiet and quick in his work, writing down a series of numbers and letters in a mixture of English and his own tongue, and promising that the work should be finished as quickly as possible. Crawford nodded in approval, and took Nagi next to a shoemaker's, where the lad patiently endured yet more measuring. He felt glad he had taken Nagi with him, for he well knew that if the lad had been with Schuldig he would have complained loudly and constantly at such boredom, and Schuldig, giving in to youthful impulse, would no doubt have come up with some silly scheme to amuse them both and would not have cared too much for the attention it would draw. Crawford kept the polite smile on his face as his feet were measured in turn, although in truth he felt melancholic at the thought of a fortnight without sight of his friend, for in all the years they had been together they had never been parted for so long. Putting such thoughts from his mind with the stern injunction to himself to be a man and not dwell on things he could not change, Crawford took Nagi to a final shop where they purchased luggage in which they would put their new clothing, and ordered it delivered to the hotel. Then they repaired to a restaurant, as both of them felt the need for luncheon.

At the establishment chosen, a modest restaurant suited to their assumed status, the waiter looked with some concern at Nagi, saying, "This young gentleman --"

"My son," said Crawford firmly, placing a protective hand upon Nagi's shoulder.

"Of course, sir," said the waiter, leading them to a table without further ado.

"He is scandalised at the thought of you having an Oriental boy," said Nagi in low and angry Japanese, glaring at the tablecloth. "We have been seated at this far table so that we do not offend other patrons!"

"Yes, but don't make a fuss," said Crawford quietly in that same tongue. "We do not wish to draw attention to ourselves." Seeing the annoyance that remained in Nagi's eyes and remembering the unhappiness and anger that Micah had felt, he leaned forwards, resting his hand on Nagi's smaller one. "They are stupid," he said fervently. "Men of sense do not distinguish between people on the basis of their race. I would never --"

"Of course not!" said Nagi fiercely. The annoyance died from his expression and he went on, more sadly, "I just wish more people were like you and Schuldig and Farfarello, that's all."

"I can't give you that," said Crawford. "I can only tell you that we shall never be so stupid. I promise you, Nagi." He pushed the menu gently over to the lad. "Come on, don't be sad. They're all fools, but we are not. I know you find it hard at times, but you can learn to turn it to your advantage. Let's have our lunch, and then we'll do whatever you like."

Nagi nodded, and thereafter took pleasure in calling the waiter over more than once with requests for more lemonade and a second helping of dessert, smiling at the man's politeness.

* * *

"If," said Farfarello, "you leave me in this room for one more day I shall not be held responsible for anything I might do." He smiled at Schuldig's expression sweetly. "I want to go out, Schuldig," he said. "Why do you think you can leave me here to rot?"

"You're meant to be blind," said Schuldig. "A blind man has little reason to wander round the city, exclaiming at the sights! We went walking in the hotel garden just yesterday."

"Oh," said Farfarello. "A stroll arm-in-arm and then me sitting with a blanket across my knees while you read the paper! You didn't even read out anything interesting." He scowled, thinking hard about all the churches he would have to visit if he became any more bored. Schuldig threw his eyes up to heaven and Farfarello grinned, triumphant.

"Very well," said Schuldig. "I must arrange our tickets. If you really must come along, I suppose it will be all right."

Farfarello whistled tunelessly, pulling on his jacket at once and catching up his hat. "Let us be off, my dear Chitul!" he cried.

"At once, Herr Dorfmann," said Schuldig, offering him his arm. "Don't forget your cane, you idiot! Ow!" he added, being hit across the shins with that very item.

Farfarello leant heavily on Schuldig's arm as they descended the stairs, taking care to never seem to have his gaze focused on anything. The darkened glasses still felt most queer to him, though he could not deny they helped to change his appearance. Once they stood outside the hotel he felt glad of them, the brightness of the day being dulled somewhat to his gaze. Schuldig summoned a cab, drawn on the streets on New London not by a horse but by one of the native beasts, and soon they had been whisked off to the offices of the Cunard shipping line.

"Good morning!" said Schuldig gaily in his affected accent. "My employer and I seek passage back to Earth. The next departure will be at the end of this month, I believe? A fast ship, I hope!"

"Yes, sir," said the young man behind the desk. "There is a scheduled departure in two weeks time -- or if you wished to wait for another seven weeks you might take passage aboard the Servia, which is the very fastest ship of the line."

Farfarello held his breath, pretending he did not speak English. Schuldig had been very enamoured of the luxury of the Servia on the journey outwards, and might think it more inconspicuous if their little group did not travel on the same vessel. Then he thought how ridiculous it was to consider Schuldig wishing to be parted from Crawford for so long, even as Schuldig shook his head and inquired after the cost of passage on the first available ship. Farfarello smiled politely when he heard his assumed name mentioned and repeated by the young man, saying in his mildest tones and in the German tongue, "I'm afraid I do not speak English." Thereafter he was ignored, though he could tell that what could be seen of his scars had excited some curiosity. Schuldig produced both of the false passports and soon he had received tickets for the trip. After a few moments more in which Schuldig engaged the man in what seemed to Farfarello like pointless conversation, they went back outside.

"Bah," said Schuldig. "Eighty pounds apiece? That is more expensive than a second-class passage to Mars, surely?"

"People desperate for a return to civilisation will pay anything," said Farfarello. "Let's not go back to the hotel just yet," he continued, "I like being out in the breeze."

"All right," said Schuldig, taking his arm and walking slowly down the street. "Crawford was there yesterday, reserving a cabin with his tickets."

"Ah, so that is why you spent time talking to him," said Farfarello. "He noticed nothing untoward about Crawford, I should hope?"

"No," said Schuldig simply, leading him on quietly.

Feeling that his friend needed cheering, Farfarello insisted they sit in the sun, and that Schuldig tell him the ridiculous things passers-by were thinking. They passed a pleasant hour in this way, made more entertaining by Schuldig whispering suggestions of inappropriate behaviour into the minds of those that walked past. Then, thoroughly cheered and feeling they had achieved an important goal with the purchase of the tickets, they climbed into a cab and returned to the hotel for luncheon.

* * *

Nagi sat in the sitting room of the hotel, quietly reading the novel Crawford had purchased for him while Crawford read through the newspaper beside him. The book was not as engrossing to him as those others of Mr Collins' work he had read, but he persevered, thinking it would at least please Crawford to see such attention paid to his gift. He ruthlessly quashed down the thought that Schuldig, as an avid reader of novels himself, would have found a more exciting tome. He read on, half his attention on the page, half on Crawford, hoping that some other activity might be proposed.

"Good Heavens! Is that really suitable for a child?"

Doing his best not to scowl, Nagi looked up at the lady who had insisted on interrupting Crawford and his pleasant, quiet times together more than once. He did not know why she insisted on such a course of action, as he did his very best to speak no more than a few words at a time to her, while Crawford would quickly find some reason for both of them to leave her company.

"Good afternoon, Mrs Prendergast," said Crawford politely. "He enjoyed other books by Mr Collins - didn't you, Peter?"

"Yes," said Nagi, holding his book protectively to himself.

"But The New Magdalen!" said Mrs Prendergast. "Surely no child should read such a thing!" She smiled hesitantly, saying, "You cannot think it proper, surely, Mr Crawford?"

Crawford held out his hand, waiting until Nagi unwillingly put the book in it. He leafed through it, pausing now and then. "Perhaps not," he said, closing the book. "It seems rather unlike the stories of Mr Collins you enjoyed before, Peter."

Nagi tried not to glare at Mrs Prendergast, feeling it quite unfair that - though he had indeed not been enjoying the novel as much as he had hoped - she should thus rob him of his amusements. "It's all right, Father," he said politely. "I still have Lady Audley's Secret in my room, I haven't even started it." Mrs Prendergast blanched and Nagi decided he should start this second novel as soon as ever he could.

"Oh!" she cried, "Mr Crawford, you mustn't let him read such wicked things! They're not good for boys!"

Nagi fixed his eyes upon the floor, feeling his annoyance ready to overflow. Mrs Prendergast was too friendly, in his estimation, and too given to exclaiming over his prettiness and the colour of his eyes and far too given to gently remonstrating with him when he, as she phrased it, slipped into a charming yet incorrect Oriental pronunciation. He wished Crawford would kill her.

"Peter," said Crawford. "Why don't you go outside and play?"

Nagi realised he was clenching his fists and that he must look very angry. "Yes," he said, "thank you, Father." He walked away politely, listening to Crawford explaining that since his dear wife had passed away poor Peter had been very sad. "Oh," thought Nagi, "at least she will not expect me to smile at her from now on." He went outside and hid himself in an out of the way corner where he might without discovery disconsolately make pebbles heap themselves up into diverting shapes. After what seemed to him an age a shadow fell across him.

"There you are," said Crawford. "Let's go for a walk before we must get ready for dinner. Don't worry, I have your book quite safe!"

"What a fool that woman is!" said Nagi in his native tongue. "I don't know why she comes to annoy us so often!"

"Don't you?" answered Crawford in that same language. "When she speaks so often of how she supposes her late husband to have been the same age as me, how she is unhappy on Mars without him and how she would have liked a nice boy like you for her very own -- and," he continued, grinning suddenly so that his beard could not disguise his youth, "how it is her delicately understated opinion - even to herself! - that a widower with a young son must surely see that any boy needs another mother?" He laughed as Nagi's expression turned from incomprehension to horror.

"Oh!" cried Nagi, thinking of how Mrs Prendergast had told him how nice he looked in his new clothes, how she tried almost every time she saw him to neaten his hair and how she had, that very morning, wiped a spot of jam from his cheek with her handkerchief. "Crawford, you cannot mean to --"

"Shh," said Crawford laughing. "You know you must call me 'Father'. No, of course not, but there is no need to make her an enemy by rudeness. She no doubt would gossip of my nastiness to friends, who could spread the news of our stay here further. Be quiet if you cannot be polite for the last few days, Nagi. She'll decide soon enough that loneliness and a desire to leave Mars are not strong enough reasons to wish for anything further - and if we are kind she will remember us happily and willingly confuse any questioners with her faith in us."

Nagi blew his cheeks out in a sigh of relief. "I'm glad, she is such a fool!"

Crawford nodded cheerfully. "Well, as long as society insists on making half the human race fools, we can use them to our advantage," he said. A wide smile crossed his face again as he turned away as if to hide his amusement from Nagi.

"What is it?" said Nagi suspiciously. "Are you laughing at me?"

"A little," admitted Crawford. "You still look so very shocked! In the main, however, I am imagining Schuldig's face if we should turn up with her in tow." He gently touched his fingers to Nagi's cheek, saying, "You needn't worry, you are all my family. I don't need anyone else."

Nagi blinked hard, feeling sudden sadness from his older friend. "I'm sorry about Micah," he whispered, and Crawford nodded solemnly.

"So am I."

"Oh," said Nagi, thinking he would be overcome if Crawford should weep, and hoping he might spare his friend that embarrassment. "Will we be able to talk to Schuldig and Farfarello when we are on the ship?"

"We will make the acquaintance of Messers Dorfmann and Chitul once we are underway, and will talk to them as often as we wish," promised Crawford. "Did you think we would ignore each other all the way back to Earth?"

"It's just --" said Nagi. "It's just that I think I'll probably be sick again, and you won't be able to ask Schuldig to take care of me, will you?"

"I will take care of you," said Crawford. "I have few of the pills you took before left, it's true, but I've bought laudanum and other medications. It will be all right, you needn't worry." He cast an arm about Nagi's shoulders as they strolled along. "We will have as pleasant a voyage as we might, you will be able to show Schuldig the progress you have made in your reading, and I will plan out our next course of action. Don't worry about anything, Nagi. We will all work together and we will prevail."

Nagi smiled to himself, feeling that if Crawford made assurances nothing could possibly go wrong. He leant against Crawford's side, feeling cheered and safe, as they continued their walk in friendly silence.

* * *

"If I look at you for one second longer I shall fall into madness and kill everyone in the hotel," said Schuldig in polite and mild-seeming German as he walked, arm in arm, around the garden's of that establishment with Farfarello.

"You've had more opportunity for amusement than I," said Farfarello with utter truthfulness. "I have been cooped up in our rooms for day after day - I wish you hadn't said we wouldn't eat in the dining room." He sighed, going on, "I know it helps to maintain the dissimulation, but it is very boring. You could at least bring in some books I would find interesting!"

"I bought two novels last week!" said Schuldig.

"When one has nothing to do but read, that is not enough," said Farfarello. "And your taste is execrable. I should prefer works of philosophy."

"To excite and infuriate you?" said Schuldig. "I think not, Herr Dorfmann. You will have to make do with heiresses and ghosts for a while yet!" He guided Farfarello over to a large and fragrant rosebush. "Here, pretend to enjoy the fragrance. How wasteful these people are! It must take so much water to keep these flowers as they are."

"You would not have cared about that when we first arrived," said Farfarello, leaning forward at Schuldig's direction and awkwardly touching the soft petals.

"I have come to appreciate water in a whole new way since we have been on Mars," said Schuldig. "See here, I really must get out into the city for some diversion. If I must endure the charitable thoughts the guests and staff of this hotel entertain every time they see us together I really will murder them."

"Oh, very well," grumbled Farfarello. "Bring me back a nice treat from your day in the city, just one priest will do." He tried not to laugh at the images Schuldig slid into his mind.

"Let's get you back to your room, it's time for your nap," said Schuldig solicitously, and hurried them back indoors. Soon he was trotting down the stairs once more, his mood much lifted. He raised his hat to a young lady as he left, enjoying her admiration of his hair. Then he was free from his supposed duties and out among fresh minds, and people unfamiliar to his eyes. At first he simply wandered up and down, letting himself listen to the intimate hopes and fears of those he passed, then he decided to patronise a restaurant and to have a late lunch that was, as he fervently hoped, more interesting than the food served in the hotel. "How Crawford would laugh, to see me eat two luncheons in one day!" he thought. "I can afford it, we have all grown so damnedly thin over the last weeks." He frowned into his glass of water, thinking it did not suit Crawford to be so gaunt, and wishing he had his friend's company at that very moment. "Don't be such a child!" he inwardly mocked himself. "You will survive his absence perfectly well." The food, when it came, diverted him from such thoughts and he enjoyed it to the very last mouthful, complimenting the chef's skill to the waiter, saying he had not tasted lamb as fine in all his stay on Mars. Feeling satisfied and sleepy, he strolled to one of the fine parks and sat upon a bench regarding the world with benevolence. At last he roused himself, thinking he should go back before it was Farfarello's thought to feel the urge to murder.

Stopping suddenly to enjoy the sight of some youthful and idiotic men blatantly stealing fruit from a native vendor and laughing at her outrage, Schuldig nearly caused the person behind him to run into him.

"I do apologise," he said with gay insincerity as the man stepped into the road to make his way around him.

The man, a short fellow in military attire, froze and turned. "Mr Schuldig!" he said in astonishment, and opened his mouth to draw breath to call out. "Mr Br--"

With an oath, Schuldig clapped his hand across the young soldier's mouth and dragged him into the mouth of a laneway, all the time hissing, "Silence! You shall not speak, do you hear me?" He cursed as the soldier, whom he now recognised as one of the two that had come to question him after Farfarello's murderous spree, showed he did not consider himself bound to gentlemanly ways of fighting, and kicked him hard before landing a solid blow to the side of Schuldig's head. Schuldig, having no pretensions to gentlemanly behaviour in any way, slammed the man's head back against the wall and brought a knee up sharply, leaving him pale and gasping. "Listen to me, you damned little fool," he said, forcing the young soldier to look him in the face. "You did not see me. You gave up all hope of us when we fled into the desert. We died there, that is the only sensible thing to think." The soldier struggled and wanted to call out, to alert his companion - Schuldig cursed; more to deal with - and fixed in his mind the fact that he had seen a wanted man. Schuldig snarled at his misfortune and the chance that others would find him here and overwhelmed his captive, taking his mind by force. All sense left the young man's face and he slumped against Schuldig. "Better," said Schuldig in horrible satisfaction, supporting him, his hand curled gently about the soldier's neck. "Much better. You did not see me. You last saw us in the desert. You had nothing on your mind this day other than wishing to have free time with your friends." Sensing last attempts to be free of him, he whispered in the soldier's ear, "You are making me do this to you, you should not have fought. Submit. Submit or I'll leave you as an idiot." The approach of another mind, one bent on finding where his captive had suddenly gone, alerted Schuldig to the fact that he could not waste time in tormenting his prisoner. "Lucky boy," he said softly. "I have not had anyone to play with for some time -- you are getting away lightly. Wake up!" He snapped his fingers under the soldier's nose and shoved him roughly towards the street. Then he snatched up his hat and walked quickly in the opposite direction, hearing behind him someone call out the soldier's name. Gedge. Yes, thought Schuldig, that had been the name of the little fool who came to his rooms all that time before. He walked as fast as he could without exciting attention, and sat at last in a public house, scarce noticing the beer he had ordered.

"Oh," he thought in agitation, "I must tell Crawford --" He stopped, cursing himself for a fool. He did not know where Crawford and Nagi were staying and could not find even such familiar minds in the great press of the city upon his thoughts. "No," he thought, glaring fearsomely at the table top. "Leave them be, do not seek them out and give people cause to remember you. You fool, all you want is your friend's comfort! How weak you are!" He forced himself to calm, telling himself that he had had enough time with Gedge, that the young soldier would not remember their encounter. "I should have killed him," he muttered in German, then shook his head in disgust at his own foolishness, for such an action would have certainly caused an investigation to begin. At last, he rose and walked away, back to his hotel, carefully observing the persons whom he passed, and telling himself that they would face no difficulties in boarding the ship, and that he was not in any way to blame for a mere accident of fate.

* * *

"Is everything going to be all right?" asked Nagi as Crawford finished tying his tie and looked around the room a final time to ensure nothing had been left behind.

"Yes," said Crawford patiently. "I've seen no complications as yet. Are you ready?"

"Yes," said Nagi, whose bags had been packed securely since the previous morning. "Do you think Schuldig and Farfarello are all right?"

"Stop worrying," said Crawford with a little smile. "Now, let's get downstairs and make our adieus." He ushered Nagi out and watched approvingly as the lad quickly gathered up his belongings and followed him down the stairs. Nagi stood quietly, watching Crawford settle their accounts with the desk clerk, glad he had arranged for their chests of luggage to be taken to the ship on the previous day, for the lad felt they would be all too conspicuous if accompanied through the streets by chests of treasure. "Oh," he thought, "I hope they have not been stolen!"

"You're leaving today, Peter?" came a voice from behind him.

Nagi fixed a polite smile upon his face that he thought Crawford could only approve and turned about. "Yes, Mrs Prendergast," he said. "My father is just finishing with our preparations."

"It's a long journey," said Mrs Prendergast quietly. "I hope you will be a good boy for your father." She looked briefly over to where Crawford stood, then smiled with warmth at Nagi. "I'm glad to see he and you feel able now to return home. Running from sadness does nothing but to prolong one's unhappiness. I know you must miss your dear Mama very much."

Nagi felt, to his shame, tears rise from nowhere. He dashed at his eyes and stared down at his shoes. "Yes," he said unhappily.

She patted his head gently. "You are a good boy," she said. Then, as Crawford came over added, "Mr Crawford, allow me to wish you a safe and comfortable journey home."

"Thank you," said Crawford politely. "Have you decided if you will return to Earth?"

"I shall stay here," she replied with determination. "I have taken a position in a school for native girls and girls of the working classes. Perhaps I may do some good there. I do not think I would do anyone any good by fleeing from where we --" she paused, "from where I have decided to make a new life."

Crawford smiled, as if he did not consider her as weak as he thought most people. "Good," he said. "Goodbye, Mrs Prendergast. I'm sure you will do very well here. Peter, it's time to go." He steered Nagi away, squeezing his shoulder companionably. "Are you all right?" he asked when they were seated in the cab.

"Yes," said Nagi, leaning against him, glad to have such a constant in his life. "Yes, I'm all right." He was quiet for the rest of the time it took to reach the ship, then he huddled back against Crawford. "Crawford!" he said, "There are soldiers!"

Crawford's arm tightened about him. "You're going to be all right," he said. "Perhaps they always have soldiers stationed here, perhaps there is some other reason. Don't worry."

"Shall you be all right?" asked Nagi wildly. "If they touch you, I'll kill them!"

"Shh," said Crawford. "Don't attract attention. We're going to get out of the cab and make our way on-board. I haven't seen trouble."

Nagi clutched his hand tightly. What if Crawford's visions had led him astray? What if he put Nagi aboard and was taken away? He stared into his friend's face as if to memorise it. Crawford gently disengaged his grip and climbed out, handing the fare to the cab driver. With a feeling of facing his own execution, Nagi crept out to stand at Crawford's side, the handle of his small case clenched tight in his fist.

"Why are you afraid? You're just a missionary's little son," said Crawford. "Nobody is looking for us." He picked up his suitcase, took Nagi's hand in his other hand and strode towards the offices to present their tickets and passports to the pursers.

"Thank you, Mr Crawford," said the purser, handing the papers back. He winked at Nagi. "Your lad's afraid of flying, is he?"

"He felt a little queer on the journey out," said Crawford easily. "He'll be fine."

"Don't you worry, lad," said the purser kindly. "You get used to it in time. Everything's in order, Mr Crawford. Please proceed to board as soon as you can."

Crawford nodded politely and walked in the direction he had indicated, still keeping hold of Nagi's hand. They walked upstairs quickly, and still unmolested, entered into a roped-off area from which they exited the building, up the gangplank and on to the etherflyer. Nagi kept a tight hold on Crawford's hand as he was led along in search of a steward who might show them to their cabin. Only when the man had left them in a cabin far less luxurious than the accommodation which Crawford and Schuldig had shared on the outbound journey could Nagi relax enough to let go and to take what seemed to him his first proper breath since he had stepped from the cab.

"You're doing well," said Crawford, pleased. "Now, put the case away, nice and safely. Good lad." He grinned cheerfully and swung Nagi around, much to the boy's surprise. "You see? I told you!" Laughing, he continued, "Let's find a place at the rails, to watch the ground recede."

They made their way back through the corridors, seeking a good place at the rails that should, after the etherflyer had ascended far enough, be forbidden to all passengers until journey's end. As they reached their goal a young man guiding a gentleman who seemed older and more frail passed them in the opposite direction.

"Excuse me," he said politely, and Nagi started, for Schuldig and Farfarello had both changed even their gait, and he had not until that moment recognised them.

"I do beg your pardon," said Crawford, drawing Nagi aside to let them pass, and then ushering him on. Nagi looked up at Crawford and saw a soft smile upon his face as if he were now relieved of a strain he had not admitted even to himself. At the same time he felt, as it were, a caress within his mind and hugged the happy feeling to himself with glee. By the time he and Crawford had gained a place at the rails overlook the crowd gathered to wave the ship off, he was smiling from ear to ear, wholly consumed in happy victory.

* * *

Private Gedge walked about ruminatively amidst the crowds that always gathered when a ship was due to leave for Earth, some of the people present wishing to bid farewell to friends and family leaving on the long voyage, others simply wishing to observe the spectacle of the great vessels taking flight. He wondered yet again what had drawn him here, wasting his off-duty time and that of his friends, whom he felt it might be difficult to recompense, should he fail to give a good reason for them all to give up a rare afternoon together. All he knew was that he had felt very queer indeed for the last two days, as if he were missing some important and vital piece of information, though try as he might to think what it could be, he gained no results save the most horrible of headaches. Lieutenant Bracy had told him he must have grown faint due to heat and exertion, but this, Gedge thought with some worry, could not be the case. Had he not grown used to the great heat of Mars? And now, here he was, off-duty, feeling that he should observe the etherflyer and the persons taking passage aboard her. "Oh," he thought in some annoyance, "if only the others had listened to me! We should have been down here all day, and there should have been more of us! We can't cover the area proper, not with only a handful of men!" He sighed as the gangplank was raised and the sirens sounded before the ship should raise itself from its moorings. Whatever had drawn him here was but a fancy, and now his friends should rib him for silliness and acting on mere feelings like a girl. He turned away, disgusted with himself.

"Auf Wiedersehen, Private Gedge," whispered a voice, quite clear despite the great sound of the crowd, who cheered and waved. Gedge looked about, but no one seemed to have spoken to him, and the voice was, moreover, quiet and insinuating, and should have been quite inaudible in the noise of the throng. "Nein, nein, up here," said the voice, maddeningly familiar, and Gedge found himself turning, not it seemed, of his own volition, to gaze up at the etherflyer as the great sirens sounded again and it lifted away from the ground. He looked at it in incomprehension, hearing all the while soft laughter that seemed to him to be almost inside his head. "No, here," whispered the voice, and Gedge found his gaze drawn to a spot on one of the rails where the passengers stood and waved. A gentleman standing there drew off his hat and waved it, revealing bright red hair. As Gedge frowned, the man replaced his hat and bowed , clearly bringing his heels together in a military fashion. The gentleman beside him laughed and slowly and mockingly crossed himself in the manner of the Catholic soldiers with whom Gedge was friends. Gedge's eyes widened as the laughter in his head grew more mocking, his eyes now unerringly finding, situated at a rail on a lower deck, a tall bespectacled man who touched the brim of his hat courteously, and a thin, Oriental boy who looked up at the man as if for reassurance, and then laughed, clinging on to his companion's side.

Gedge spun about, yelling, "It's them! Wilson! Fred! It's them! It's them murderers!" The noise of the crowd was too great, however, and no one could hear him. He fought his way through till he could grasp the sleeve of one of his friends, crying, "Fred! Stop messin' with yer cigarette and help me find an orficer! We've got to stop the etherflyer! They're gettin' away!"

"Stop the etherflyer?" said his friend in astonishment. "How?" He pointed upwards. "It's goin', Bill. We'd have ter get the Colonel to stop it, and I don't know 'ow he could."

"Them murderers are on it!" shouted Gedge, but Fred just shook his head, cupping a hand by his ear to indicate he could hardly hear this impassioned cry.

Gedge turned about again, despairing, and looked up as the great ship rose higher and higher, out of reach of all messages, bearing with it both the innocents aboard and the guilty, away from justice, away from vengeance, away from Mars. The sunlight glinted from its sides, and it gained speed, becoming no more than a child's toy in the far distance, while below it the red, dry soil of Mars lay forsaken and abandoned for the bright green promise of Earth and all its glories.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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