Julian lay prostrate on the sun lounger watching the spiders mating. The male was much smaller than the female and stood in front of her, holding her vicious looking pincers away from him with his front legs while he tried to manoeuvre his body underneath her to deliver the sperm that would fertilise the eggs she would lay in a few days time. Next to him on the ground the movie camera whirred and clicked, as it recorded the act. Now and then he leaned across to be sure that it was still catching the action and that it was in focus. Satisfied on both counts he would return to his prone position on the lounger and continue to watch. The pair had stayed on the same patch of earth now for several minutes as they conducted their ritual. The apparatus wouldn’t need to be adjusted again unless they moved position considerably, which for the moment at least seemed very unlikely.
Julian needed to be on the lounger because the scent from the female, now that she was ready to mate, would be very strong and attract males from far and wide to try to be the one to impregnate her. Even though the males were so small they carried enough venom to kill him. Not quite instantly, it would paralyse him first within a few seconds of it being delivered, then he would die rather more slowly as he could no longer breathe. Being on the lounger kept him out of the way as they approached. A few yards away was one of the native bearers that had brought him to this desolate spot in the heart of the game reserve he was in, on the borders of Kenya and Uganda. He clutched an antidote to the spiders’ poison and was ready to inject it into Julian if it was needed. No point in taking unnecessary risks.
The sequence was the last part he needed to complete the short film he had made of the spider’s life-cycle. He already had footage of a female laying her eggs, eggs hatching out and delivering hundreds of miniature versions of their parents into the Serengeti’s vast plain, and of both the males and females catching prey and wrapping it in a cocoon ready for the liquids to be sucked out once their meal was ready.
He edited the day’s footage each night, to be sure he had successfully captured what he had been trying to, and watched each segment imagining it set to music or with a voice-over describing the purpose of the activity on screen. Here it was done in a tent, a generator outside providing the power he needed, its steady thump drowning out the other natural sounds that would otherwise have filled the night air. He would have preferred to be in a hotel room but they were too far away from one to make the journey each day to find the spiders he was filming.
This venture was his own and speculative rather than commissioned. He hoped to sell the piece once it was finished to one of his many contacts in the industry. It wouldn’t be long enough to make a whole documentary on its own, nor was the subject one which would keep today’s TV audience glued to it for very long, but there were some fine shots in it that would make ideal inserts for a longer and more general programme. As far as he knew, this particular species of spider hadn’t been filmed before, so his own short documentary of its life cycle was unique. The pairing he was watching broke up. The male held the females pincers as long as he could, stretching out his limbs to their full extent as he backed away from her. When he could hold on no longer, he let go as he continued to back away still facing her. Now that he had fulfilled his role as a mate and as a father, he didn’t also want to become the female’s next meal too. Julian leaned back to the camera and kept the male’s progress in shot as it left the small patch of clear space they had been on, eventually turning about and disappearing into a clump of sun browned grass which provided the safety it was seeking. He turned the lens back to the female who was still stood on the same spot she had been in when the male first took hold of her. She stayed motionless for several seconds before scurrying off into a different patch of grass.
Julian was satisfied that this time he had managed to capture the footage he had needed. It had taken several days to get. The spiders weren’t on any endangered species list but were hard enough to find out here in the bush. He had tried recreating the right environment in tanks back in his tent, capturing both males and females and building what he thought was a good replica of their natural home in the glass walled cases he released them into. He had got some good footage for his efforts, including a segment showing a female catching and eating a male. It had either approached wrongly, or at a bad time, when she was feeling more hungry than sexy. He had tried for many days but just could not get her to mate, or at least not that he had seen and not in front of his camera. He would have liked a second camera which he could have left set up and filming a tank while he was off pursuing their wild cousins, but the apparatus was complicated, cutting edge and therefore expensive. Each unit cost many thousands of pounds. If he had been working on a commissioned piece he might have borrowed one. If time had been a big factor he might have hired the extra equipment needed, but it wasn’t. The cost of his own time and of maintaining the campsite with its three native bearers would easily be outweighed by what he would have had to pay to bring the extra camera, lighting and rigs to hold it all on this expedition. Besides, there was always the chance that the additional days spent out in the bush would bring other shots he had not planned on getting. He had once stumbled on some fine images of a tiger at a water hole quenching its thirst for just such a reason. The income he got from selling that footage had paid for the whole expedition and for much of his next one too.
Julian rose from the lounger and began to rewind the tape in the camera so that he could review everything he had taken. He indicated, by pointing, for the watching bearer to pack away the two light units which had been illuminating the spot he was filming. The bearer’s English was good when he wanted to be, becoming poorer the more he didn’t like what he was being told, usually to carry out some task or another. The camera had it’s own lamp of course, which could be operated independently or set to come on whenever the button was pressed to begin filming. The extra units ensured that this didn’t cast a shadow, or rather that any shadow it did cast was greatly reduced.
Once he had stood up it would have been apparent to anyone who knew both brothers that he was virtually identical to his twin, James except that he maintained a neat moustache which ran all the way along his upper lip. He carefully trimmed it each day, so that it always looked the same. He wore rimless glasses too, which he preferred to contact lenses. He could push them up onto his forehead when filming, and take them off to chew on the end of one of the arms when he was thinking, so that the process was less likely to be interrupted by anyone wanting his attention. Contact lenses would have been hard to obtain in many of the more out of the way spots his filming took him to anyway. He could have taken a sufficient supply with him, or switch to glasses if he ran out, but such matters involved a degree of forward planning that he couldn’t be bothered with. If he had to think ahead, he would prefer that it was about the reason for the journey he was about to start on, rather than for such mundane matters. He was a few pounds lighter than his brother too, though not many. He didn’t dislike exercise but avoided it as much as possible. He always ensured that the vehicle he was in — a Land Rover or Jeep usually — got as close as possible to his desired destination before he got out and walked the last leg. He always let others carry the equipment, too, whenever he could. There was no point hauling it himself if there were other people around to do so.
He didn’t extend this to his camera though. That he always bore himself. It was designed to be lightweight anyway so the few extra pounds this brought didn’t really matter that much.
He even carried it as a hand luggage on the frequent flights his chosen career put him on. When, occasionally, he was challenged to be told that only one piece of hand luggage was allowed, he always chose the camera over the small leather bag he travelled with. He would hand that over reluctantly, glowering at any other passenger who might be travelling with a laptop computer, which was usually allowed to be taken on board in addition to the one piece of hand luggage. Luckily he wasn’t challenged very often, and if he was, his pleas to take both were usually acquiesced to.
His constant traipsing over the various terrains that he found himself in, and diet of fairly fugal meals when he was out and about though was enough to keep him reasonably fit and to escape some of the weight that his brother carried around. If he lost the glasses and moustache though and put on a few pounds more, or better if James lost some, the pair would be indistinguishable from each other, even to those that knew them well.
This was to be Julian’s last filming expedition, or at least his last that he would undertake speculatively. He would still accept commissioned work, if asked to do so and if the subject interested him. It was unlikely he would be asked though. His work was recognised in the trade as being of good quality and he had pieces in films and documentaries that had won awards, but there were younger people for his contacts to give commissions to, people that wouldn’t find all the trekking and simple living quite so arduous as he did now.
His work had not brought him a lot of success financially. The income from commissioned pieces was used to fund his speculative ones. Sometimes he managed to sell these and that revenue would pay for another speculative venture but more often than not the work wouldn’t have an audience beyond the professionals he showed it to. He was lucky that he had the manor house back in the UK to retire to. He had not put enough aside to fund buying his own property there. He did have enough to buy somewhere in one of the less expensive countries his travels had taken him to, if he avoided the cities and chose somewhere in a more remote region, but he had spent so much of his life alone or with people to whom English wasn’t their first language. He missed the UK now and wanted to be back home, regaling others with the adventures that his life had brought over a pint in a local pub or over a fine meal at a fancy restaurant or in someone’s home.
He didn’t, when he was younger, envy his brother or feel cheated that James had got the title and estate because of less than one hours difference in their ages. He had relished the freedom that being a second son had brought and far preferred to be out adding to his mental store of experience and physical store of film that his position had allowed him. When his father had been alive he had occasionally supplemented Julian’s income when a particularly dry patch had made this necessary, and the small inheritance he had received on his father’s death had been used up the same way.
James was pleased to see him on his infrequent trips back to their home, but never offered to help Julian financially, though Julian knew that he could easily have afforded to do so if he wished. As he got older and ever closer to retirement Julian found a niggling resentment at his brother’s good fortune was growing ever larger inside him. Now that he planned to go home and settle in the UK he would have liked the respect that the title ‘Lord Allenby’ would have brought. He would have liked the security of owning the estate too. The extra income that it brought in could have funded a couple of the pieces he would have liked to have filmed but couldn’t afford. James didn’t need the money it brought, receiving more than enough from his invention, and didn’t seem to care much for the estate he had been entrusted with. Of course, with James being childless it might all still come to Julian, if James were to die first. He too had no offspring to pass it on to when it was time, so one way or another it would all end up with some distant relative. Paul, probably, as things currently stood. It was lucky that each lord’s will prevented it, or the estate would probably be split up and sold off piecemeal once Paul got hold of it.
He spent several minutes reviewing what he had shot. He might find that the footage he had recorded needed more close-ups, or a prospective buyer might want to include a behaviour that he had not yet filmed. Eventually, he was satisfied that he had everything he wanted and wouldn’t need to return here. Just in case, he would take two of the glass aquariums, each containing a female and several males, back with him so that if he did need more shots he could get them in comfort.
It would be too late by the time they arrived back at the camp for it to be dismantled and packed away in the Land Rover and the trailer and for them to make the long journey back to civilisation. He would spend another night in the game reserve and start preparations to leave early in the morning.
He had finished this assignment just in time to join James for the week’s shooting he had been invited to. It wasn’t the first such break that James had splashed out on, though it didn’t happen very often and always came at a price to Julian. This was usually some favour or another that James wanted, normally cover for a weekend or longer away with his mistress, whoever that happened to be at the time. From there they would return separately in time for the party James was planning to throw for himself to celebrate his 60th birthday and for the much smaller affair Julian would enjoy the following day. He had not made any arrangements for this yet, and wasn’t sure if it would involve going out to a restaurant for a meal or simply dining at home. The latter probably. Funds would be tight if he didn’t sell the piece he had just finished or until payment came through for the commissioned work he had completed before starting out on this one.
At least they had not had to range far from the Land Rover today to find the spiders he had been searching for. As he walked back to the vehicle he was careful to avoid the many holes he came across. He was always careful to do so. Even if they didn’t contain something nasty to bite or sting him, they could be quite deep and easily capable of causing serious injury to the unwary. He climbed into his usual place in the passenger seat, camera beside him ready to capture any images he felt worth recording on their way back to the camp.
Taking a taxi all the way from the venue he had been at with James had been expensive but saved him having to lug the many cases he had with him on and off trains. Besides, he had been assured by the production’s accountant that the money he was owed for the commissioned piece he had finished before embarking on his last venture had been deposited in his account, when he had telephoned after arriving back in the UK. He had given the driver a good tip and left him and Jeeves to get the cases out of the car’s boot and into the Manor. Hazel had greeted him warmly, not even giving him time to set out his camera before embracing him in a ‘welcome home’ hug. He had taken coffee with her before going up to his room to put away his equipment and unpack his suitcase. The one he had brought back for James, containing the various items of clothing James had taken for their weekend together, he had taken unopened to James’s bedroom and deposited in the wardrobe. He would mention it to Polly when he saw her. No doubt she would unpack and hang up the items that needed it, and sort out the dirty laundry ready for James’s return.
He spent a lazy week, wandering around the grounds to reacquaint himself with them and once taking a trip over to John Giles’s place to drop off the small presents he had brought back for their children from his trip. They were really getting rather too old to appreciate these small gifts, which weren’t of great value, simply locally made handicrafts he had picked up for them. John certainly didn’t seem too upset when he explained that he would probably not be taking any more overseas trips and that in future his visits would most likely be empty-handed. He had declined John’s wife’s invitation to come to dinner, saying that now he was back pretty much permanently there would be plenty of other opportunities in the future, and that as James was away at the moment he rather felt obliged to eat with the family back at the Manor.
On the Thursday, he had taken a stroll down to the village pub where he had lunch while enjoying a couple of pints of their guest ale. He had stopped off afterwards at the local shop which was packed full of ‘last-minute’ items as well as day-to-day necessities and also served as the only post office for several miles around. He had not really needed to buy anything, though he had ended up making a few small purchases, but really only went in to show his face to let the proprietor know that he was back. Telling her was as good as taking out an advert in the local paper, and no doubt everyone for miles around would soon know that he was back as she shared this small piece of information with all of her customers.
When he returned to the Manor that afternoon he was attracted to the kitchen by the smell of baking. He sat at the kitchen’s table and talked with Polly, as she busied herself with the individual cakes they would offer to guests at the following day’s party.
“Which ones are James’s and mine?” he asked.
Polly pointed at two cakes, each made from pink sponge and covered in a thick layer of pink icing. Adorning each was half a strawberry. Julian leaned over to one and carefully put in the ‘6’ and the ‘0’ candles that he had found in the shop earlier that day. They were nearly as big as the cake itself.
“There you go,” he told her, “it’s a proper birthday cake now. Probably best not light them though. If they drip wax it will probably spoil the whole cake. You can reuse them on mine if you like.” He had spied the much larger fruitcake he had seen Polly put into one of the kitchen cupboards when he had first arrived, and guessed that this was for his own party. He had decided that it should be at the Manor to keep costs down. With luck, there might be enough food left over from the party to use up, instead of cooking a meal. That would save Polly a job.
Sunday was a strange day. He spent all of it feeling that he should get ready for the party but it would only take him less than an hour to shower and change. He spent the morning reviewing the film he had shot in Africa. He added a few sections and took one out but he was really just fiddling. The film was perfectly fine just as it was, at least until a prospective purchaser was interested enough to suggest changes.
When James arrived back Julian caught him before he could go to his room to rest prior to the party.
“John Giles has sent you over a little gift,” said Julian. “I know we’re not supposed to open them before the actual times of our birth, tradition and all that, but it’s a very fine bottle of vintage Chablis. Thought you might like to make your toast with it.”
“That’s extraordinarily kind of him,” replied James. “Sounds like a splendid idea. Could you give it to Jeeves for me to do the honours when it’s time?”
Julian said that he would. The gift bag that it was in was still in his room so he would bring it down later.
He killed a little time in the kitchen with Polly that afternoon, sneaking one or two morsels from the tray she had prepared for James and himself for that evening when she wasn’t looking. He could see that she was busy though, so didn’t stay long. He left the kitchen to stroll around the grounds and spent a few minutes talking to Fred Davis, the gardener, while Fred was tidying the borders of the lawn where it was overlooked by the patio. He had seen Fred working constantly in the area since he had returned at the beginning of the week and it certainly looked smart and well groomed for the party. He complimented Fred on having done a terrific job, before leaving him to his labours and continuing his walk.
Eventually it was time to get ready the party. He had showered and changed into his dinner jacket and was just finishing trimming his moustache when he saw the gift bag reflected in the hand mirror he was using. He picked it up and took it downstairs to find Jeeves.
He found him in the ballroom and handed over the parcel, along with instructions on when he was to use it. He went into the dining room to await the first of the guests. He didn’t have anything that needed to be done there but just felt that he should be out of the way. Everyone seemed very busy. When the doorbell announced the arrival of the first guest he didn’t get up. It was James’s and Hazel’s responsibility to be there to greet them after all. He would wait until a few more had arrived before making an entrance.
He relaxed into the sofa he had sat down on, and let the doorbell ring a few more times before standing and making his way to the ballroom.