And who can say? there are some would blame God, others Satan, and behind them a chorus all shouting different deities, even Mother Nature, Man himself, and Darth Vader! but when he next opened his eyes, Sir Parlane MacFarlane could scarcely believe them: above, a clear blue sky, he moved his hands and found that he was lying on what felt like grass, he turned his head to confirm it, and tried to take his bearings from the view, but could make nothing from it – a wide expanse of rolling hills, rising to mountains, not fields as he knew them, they seemed to have rows of little trees with what looked like grapes or olives hanging from them, but there were no dykes so far as he could see, just small hedgerows and occasional stands of trees and way far over to his right, a wood, maybe even the start of a forest, rising up one hillside and over the top, which was when he heard a slight clink, as of a stone dislodged, and turned to his left: "oh, good, you're awake, Boss, did you enjoy your nap?" and while resenting some of the colloquialisms his servant had picked up in America, he asked: "how long was I asleep?" and Dominic Doubleday replied, "oh, half an hour, so, probably twenty minutes, not long, are you ready for a cuppa? or a snifter?" and Doubleday offered a steel mug with the aroma of steaming coffee floating out of it, and in his other hand, MacFarlane's hip flask, which he knew contained Cask Strength Bowmore, his current malt of preference: "so, Dominic, where are we up to," hoping that covered up for his complete lack of knowledge of where they were and why they were here, the only things he knew for certain were his and his Man's identities and the whisky in the flask; Doubleday took a swig of the coffee, while MacFarlane a shot of the whisky which brought a burst of something ferocious in his chest and belly, then replied: "well, I reckon it's just up that track and then we should see the village, or town, from A to B maybe two miles? five tops?" which might have been a reasonable answer to the question but didn't tell MacFarlane very much so he said: "right, pretend I know nothing, I just want to see if you've got it right, so what's it called?" and Doubleday answered, "La Coste, and the geezer lives in the Chateau, right at the top," and MacFarlane asked: "and what's our story and the plan?" at which Doubleday chuckled: "he's a Marquis, I don't rightly know what that's like when it's at home, but I do know that when he wrote you, he said he was interested in The Ring of Gold and wanted to join, but it has to be whatsitcalled? yeah, Clandestine, cos he's been in trouble with the law for gettin a bit carried away and some of the girls and women runnin off and blabbin to the Peelers, or wotever they callem here in Frogland, seems he's a bit naughty has a penchant for various games that indicate he's a detritivore – bit of a Bummer and not our particular cup of tea, if you ask me, which you didn't – and does more than they've agreed to, including using various bibelots he's got lying about and insertin them where the sun don't shine; ye ken, this de Sade geezer, he's not got your delicacy about him, needs a good Spin Doctor, maybe that's what he hopes you can help him with," and MacFarlane asked: "where's the letter, now?" and Doubleday pointed at the saddle-bag which his Master was resting against: "all, safe inside Guv'nor, safe as houses, wrapped in oilcloth so it don't get damp, I saw you fold it very carefully and stuff it in yesterday," and MacFarlane's last question was: "and this is the date we agreed, is it?" which caused Doubleday to guffaw, "oh aye, Boss, spot on, 1st April 1776, All Fools Day, after he wrote you on his way back from Italy, where he's been living under an assumed name, since he vamoosed with the local cops on his tail, but he promised he'd be here and ready for us today, said he's innocent of the heinous charges brought against him, claims to be as white as the driven snow which, to me, sounds like an antinome ha ha! got that in one of your books and I thought it wiz an Auntie Gnome, and that image kind of excited me in some way, but I found out wot it really means and I think I've used it right this time, cos in the next sentence he sez he's got some fresh, young chickens, ready for plucking, yeah that was his exact words: Ready for Plucking, but writ in Frenchy, 'Des jeunes poulets frais, prêts à être plumés' have I said it right?" and MacFarlane laughed, "like a true Scotsman, Dominic, like a true Scotsman!" though his mind was reeling - 1776 in France, how the fuck had he got here, and what did it all mean? he recalled his time in the whatever it was and the voice that had entered his head, and knew that he would have to be very careful with the Marquis de Sade, whose writings he had first encountered in Ranulph Ochan'toshan's house in Bowden, and then became more fully conversant with in Duck Trumpet-Trousers' White House, whatever he wants, when he's at home! and then a thought struck him: "Dom, where did you get the Thermos and the coffee?" and the servant simply winked and tapped the side of his nose with a meaty forefinger! and MacFarlane had no energy to indulge in a game of whataboutery with his Manservant and Partner in Crime.