The Kirrins and the Mystery
of the Sandy-haired Dwarf
by Robin Gordon
© Copyright Robin Gordon 2001
The conversation drifted off into other topics. Timmy VI snoozed contentedly by George's feet, dreaming of rabbits on the moors and walks down Cuckoo Lane. Suddenly his ears twitched and he gave a low bark. Then he got to his feet and barked loudly.
The door flew open and in came two teenaged youths in t-shirts, shorts and sandals. Timmy bounced over to them and they greeted him boisterously, then flung themselves onto the arms of Julian's chair.
"Hi, Timmy, Hi Aunt George, Wotcher Pops," cried the elder. "We're back!"
"De retour," called the other, "Hi Daddy-oh, hello Uncle Georgina."
"Scamps and scallywags!" bellowed George. "What about a cuddle for your Auntie George."
"Where's Laurie?" Julian asked.
"Paying off the taxi," said the taller boy. "Gavin and I brought in the luggage and Stubby's taking it upstairs."
"I wish you wouldn't call him Stubby," murmured Julian. "He doesn't really like it you know."
"Why not?" the boy asked.
"I don't know, Andrew," Julian answered, just one of the mysteries of life. Excuse me, I'll just go and ..." He disappeared through the door.
"After all these years together, they're still devoted," said George, enveloping first one then the other of the boys in a bear-like embrace.
"Sickening, isn't it," replied Dick. "Now what about a great big cuddle for your poor old Uncle Dick, who hasn't seen you for ever so long."
Andrew held out his hand. "Good to see you again, Sir," he said, as Dick took it.
Gavin stood as far as possible from Dick and stretched to shake hands.
"Hey! I don't bite," said Dick, "not even a luscious morsel like you, Gavin. Grr-woof!"
The boy flushed angrily.
"Grr-woof!" thought Timmy. Dick was barking as if he'd just seen a bitch on heat, or at least a human female, but he was looking at Gavin. Timmy couldn't understand it. Perhaps it was a choke, but when humans had a choke they made funny gurgling noises in their throat to show they were choking, or they used a special sort of bark, but nobody seemed to be barking or gurgling. Dick couldn't think Gavin was a female, could he -- unless ... Mistress George had talked about the snip yesterday, and that seemed to be a sort of choke, but he'd met a couple of dogs who'd really had it. Gavin and Andrew had been away, perhaps at the vet's? Perhaps Boss Julian didn't want rivals in his pack ... but that couldn't be right. Boss Julian wasn't interested in females any more. They came to him from the village, and even Timmy could tell by the way the young girls looked at him that he was still top dog, but he treated them with gentle casualness as if they were just little puppies. Perhaps he didn't want his boys fighting for positions in his pack, so he'd had one snipped, or perhaps Andrew had won the fight and eliminated his rival. Boss Julian wouldn't do such a thing -- or would he? There were things Timmy found puzzling. He moved over to Gavin and thrust his nose between the boy's thighs.
"Good old Tim!" the boy murmured and patted him. Timmy sniffed. As male as ever. A choke then, or something queer about Dick's eyesight or sense of smell.
Julian returned with Laurence.
"Georges!" said Laurence. "How lovely to see you! And Deeck. Such a long time."
"Not long enough, I bet you think, Laurence my sweet," said Dick. "How about a kiss, then, eh? Yum-yum! Lucky old Ju!"
Laurence looked at the boys, Gavin fiery red, Andrew taut and white.
"What 'ave you been saying to the boys? Offering to kiss zem too, I bet!"
"Laurence, sweetheart, darling, I ..."
"Sweet'eart, darleeng! Perhaps I weel keess you. Come 'ere my precious Dicky-darleeng. Oh, yes and you would run a mile if I made approaches to you! And not just because I am your brother's wife! You have no love for nobody, you 'ave only ze sex, and not even zat is genuine. You hear, André, Gauvain? C'est un charlatan que votre oncle, un hypocrite qui fait semblant d'être plus mauvais qu'il ne l'est, mais pourquoi? Pour cacher la pourriture de son âme!"
"Laurence," murmured Julian, "You must be tired after your journey. We didn't expect you till tomorrow.
"I come as soon as I get your letter," she replied. "I do not trust this bruzzer of yours one inch!"
"I think I'll go to my room, if you don't mind Ju, old boy," said Dick.
"And Timmy needs a walk," said George. "Come on Tim!"
"Walk!" thought Timmy. "At last something I can understand! "It's not a choke! They're fighting, or at least bark-fighting. I don't suppose they'll go for each other like we dogs do. It's all Dick's fault. Boss Julian doesn't know what to do. Mrs Laurence is furious. Her bark always goes peculiar when she's cross and this time she's really cross. The moors, I hope. I don't really feel in the mood for bitches. Just too many complications!"
Dick was in his room, scowling savagely, when there came a tap at the door.
"Yes!" he snapped.
"I've brought you a whisky, Sir," said Stubbs.
"Stubbs, you're a life-saver. I love you Stubby -- like a brother. You're a brick. Leave the bottle."
"I thought it best not to bring the bottle, Sir," said Stubbs.
"Dastardly hound!" growled Dick.
"I was out in the village earlier today," said Stubbs.
"Damn!" said Dick. "I was thinking I ought to move on, what with Anne and now Laurence, but I'd better stick around and see what Old Shitpants is up to -- don't look so shocked, Stubbs. It's what the Hadbury kids call him. Sure you haven't got the bottle?
"Best not, sir. Not if Old Shitpants is here."
"You're right, of course, Stubbsy," said Dick. "One's enough, then a beauty sleep and be ready to face the morrow. Ready to face Laurence."
"She'll have calmed down by tomorrow, Sir."
"She will, indeed. As ever, Stubbs, you have sussed her to the core. Rem acu tetegisti, Stubbs, as the poet Burns probably didn't remark, him not being much of a Latin scholar."
"You have hit the nail on the head. Well, good night, Sweet Stubbs."
"Good night, Sir."
George in the meantime was striding across the moor with Timmy at her side. Why did Dick always have to go too far? Why couldn't he just leave well alone? He knew that Andrew and Gavin thought he was some sort of pervert, but he could never resist playing up to his image. It was no wonder that Laurence couldn't stand him. There she went, flying off ze 'andle again, wiz 'er accent all over ze place, as if she'd just hopped off the boat from France for the first time instead of having been married to old Julian for twenty years.
She strode into Kirrin cottage. Anne was in the kitchen, of course, making scones, washing up and generally making herself useful.
"Laurence and the boys are back," said George.
"Oh, good," said Anne. "Be nice for my lot to see their cousins again."
"Laurence was absolutely furious with Dick," said George, "but she'll have calmed down by tomorrow. Accent all over the place and then began speaking in French. I think perhaps we'd better have Dick to lunch here tomorrow."
"Well I'll take the children out," said Anne.
"Oh come on, Anne," said George impatiently. "The kids say it wasn't Dick's fault they got into a mess. You can't go on blaming him forever."
"It's not just that. I don't want to talk about it. If he comes here I'm taking my children out to lunch!" said Anne, and that was all George could get out of her.
Once Anne had been the sort of little girl who was apt to blurt out secrets without thinking. When she and her brothers had first met George, George had had to keep Timmy secret from Uncle Quentin who had forbidden her to have a dog. Poor little Anne had several times almost revealed all. "We do so love Ti..." she had started to say, then squealed when George had kicked her under the table.Note 5 But she had grown up since then, and now, with children of her own, she could keep a secret. She couldn't have told this one even if she had wanted to. Where could she find the words for such things?
Dick had been out, so, after making the boys' beds -- luckily little Fran always looked after her own and Harry's -- she had gone in to make Dick's bed, tidy his room and pick up any dirty socks, pants and shirts, for she was quite sure he would just have left his washing lying about on the floor instead of putting it in the washing basket. Her foot bumped against Dick's big cabin trunk, and a secret drawer slid open. She probably wouldn't have looked any further, but on top there was a photograph of a little girl who had disappeared from one of the villages near Hadbury a few months earlier. She recognised her from the pictures she had seen in the newspapers. Whey should Dick have a photo of little Susie Birkett? Anne picked it up. Underneath were more pictures of the same little girl, pictures that had not appeared in any newspaper, pictures that could not ever have appeared in a newspaper: the little girl's naked body was marked with burns and cuts showing in horrific detail the tortures she had suffered before she died -- and there were other little girls too, some dead, some alive and showing pain and terror in their faces. The pictures of the boys were if anything worse: singly and in pairs they were shown, naked or partly so, practising what newspaper reports would call "gross indecency", or suffering sexual or physical abuse from older men. One sequence in particular revolted her: in it a teenage boy who looked rather like Nick, bright-eyed and full of life, was degraded, terrified and tortured until he expired -- and she was sure that in the final photograph he really was dead.
Why had Dick collected such material? Where had he obtained it? Was he involved in the torture and murder of innocent boys and girls? Whom could she tell? Not George, who would probably misunderstand and laugh. Not Julian, for she couldn't bring herself to speak of such beastliness to her brother. And she couldn't go to the police ... though if any more children disappeared she might have to. In the meantime Anne clamped her misery inside herself, tried to avoid Dick, and tried to keep her own children away from him.
Andrew phoned Kirrin Cottage that evening and talked to Jonathan. The six cousins agreed to meet the following morning in the main street of Kirrin village, wander about for a while looking at this and that and talking, and then decide later how to spend the rest of the day.
Jonathan, Nick, Harry and Fran were up early the next morning.
"Isn't it glorious waking up and knowing you're on holiday with nothing to do but enjoy yourselves for the rest of the day," said little Fran.
They hurried down to the village soon after breakfast and were there before their cousins. Andrew and Gavin rose a little later, breakfasted heartily -- their mother might be French but their breakfasts were always English -- and strolled out of the Rectory and down Church Street towards the quay and the shops.
"There they are," said Gavin, and pointed along to the far end of the street. The two boys began to walk towards their cousins when suddenly something very odd happened. Jonathan and Nick turned into the doorway of the newsagents, probably to buy some postcards, and bumped into a short man coming out. To the surprise of Andrew and Gavin, Jonathan turned and bolted for his life. Nick let out a terrified squeal, and the squat little man grabbed the terrified boy and began shaking him and shouting in an Irish accent.
"What d'you mean by it, ye hooligan? Oi'll thrash yez wit'in an inch of your life, Oi will!"
""No! Please!" Nick howled.
Jonathan stopped and turned.
"We didn't know you were here, Sir, honestly we didn't!" he called. "Our mother brought us! We would have begged her not to if we'd known. Please don't publish! We'll keep well out of your way.!"
The dwarfish-looking fellow threw Nick aside and aimed a kick at him.
"Is dhat de way of it? Well, moind you keep roight away from me! If you come wit'in a hundred yards of me, you know what Oi'll do!"
"We promise," snivelled Nick, sprawling in the gutter. The dwarf kicked him hard on the leg and stomped of round the corner.
Harry and Fran ran over and helped Nick to his feet. Jonathan stood helpless, wringing his hands and trembling.
"What's up with those two?" muttered Gavin.
"Why didn't they fight back?" Andrew puzzled.
"There not cowards, are they?" asked Gavin.
They hurried over. Jonathan was still trembling and urging the others to hurry way out of the village. Nick was on his feet now, rubbing his sore leg, and still snivelling. Andrew and Gavin, who had had much worse knocks than that on the rugger field, thought he must be an appalling little sissy.
"Let's go for a walk on the moor!" said Andrew. He certainly didn't want any of his friends to see him with cousins who were such babies.
The others agreed, and he and Gavin led them along Church Street, past the church and out along towards Kirrin Cottage. A couple of hundred yards outside the village they climbed over a gate, crossed a field, hopped over a dry-stone wall, and came out onto the open moorland. Mycock, who had trailed along behind them, whining miserably, now cheered up. He had been in a shop with Harry when the shouting started. Harry had to pay for her purchases, so they came out to see the dwarf's parting kick. Mycock had barked, but he felt it really didn't match up to Timmy's heroism. Timmy had already told him -- more than once in fact -- how he had saved his mistress from a mad smuggler in an underground tunnel. Mycock knew that he had not distinguished himself, and that Timmy would jeer. He knew and his mistress and her brothers and sister were upset, and these other boys, who smelled almost as if they came from the same litter, were cross, and no-one was talking. But on the moor there was space to run, and there were rabbits. Mycock set off after them like an express train.
Andrew and Gavin looked at their cousins. Only Harry seemed like the sort of boy they liked, and she was a girl. Jonathan was still trembling. So was Fran, but everyone knew that she was just like her mother, happiest when doing housework, and apt to get scared when an adventure became too adventurous. As for Nick, he was still blubbering. Real tears were rolling down his cheeks, at his age too! Andrew and Gavin looked at each other and knew they were thinking the same thing: cry-baby coward, let's debag him!
Jonathan had wandered off and thrown himself down on the moor. Harry and Fran had run after Mycock. Andrew hurled himself at Nick in a flying tackle and brought him down. Before Nick knew what was happening they had him flat on his back. Andrew was on his chest, and Gavin was kneeling on his legs pulling his belt open. Nick fought back gamely. His cousins had expected him to whimper and cry, "Oh please, no!" but instead he gave a roar of rage and tried to throw them off. Jonathan heard him and came rushing to the rescue, knocking Gavin head over heels in the heather. Now the two pairs of boys rolled over and over, panting and struggling. Andrew managed to keep hold of Nick and ended up on top of him again, but Gavin proved no match for Jonathan, and, after a few minutes struggling, the he realised he could not break free.
"Give in!" said Andrew to Nick.
"Give in!" said Jonathan to Gavin.
"Never!" replied the underdogs.
"Give in if you want to keep your trousers!" said Andrew.
"You just try it, that's all!" snarled Nick.
"Get his trousers, Gavin!" yelled Andrew.
"Try it Gavin, and I'll have yours," said Jonathan.
"What?" said Andrew.
Stalemate. The fight seemed to be at an end.
"Pax?" said Andrew.
"Pax," replied Nick
"Pax?" suggested Jonathan.
"Yeah, OK, pax," answered Gavin.
The victors rolled off the vanquished and all four stood up.
"Great fight," said Andrew, and shook hands with Nick and Jonathan.
"You two can really stick up for yourselves," said Gavin. "So why did you let that nasty little dwarf kick you about?"
"It's a long story," said Jonathan, "and very embarrassing.
"You boys look a mess," said Fran, coming back to join them. "Hold still and let me brush you down. You look as if you've been fighting."
"We have," said Nick cheerfully.
Fran looked shocked.
"Who won?" said Harry eagerly.
"A draw," replied Andrew. "Let's find some shade, then you can tell us all about that dwarf."
The tale was long, as Jonathan had said, and the children did not tell it with all the artistry of their Uncle Dick. They forgot things and had to go back, or they found some things just too embarrassing to admit and tried to skip them, but then someone else would take up the story, so in the end Andrew and Gavin knew pretty much all that had happened. They knew by now, of course, that Jonathan and Nick weren't cowards and could stick up for themselves in a fight, and they had to admit that being detrousered on a crowded railway station would unnerve the stoutest heart. The dwarf's threat to publish partial versions of the story every day for a week, with names and photographs, explained all. Naturally Jonathan and Nick were shocked to bump into him again and terrified that he would carry out his threat.
Andrew and Gavin agreed that their cousins should keep away from Kirrin village as much as possible. They would spend the rest of that day on the moors, calling in to Kirrin Cottage for lunch, and perhaps collecting Timmy for the afternoon -- and they would ask Aunt George if they could take her boat out next day and visit Kirrin Island, her own private property.
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In Five on a treasure Island, published 1942. Anne was ten, Dick and George eleven and Julian thirteen. [Back to text]
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