By Sarah Hapgood

Kieran sat on the swing-seat on the veranda and watched as Joby walked across from the galleon, which was moored at the jetty. The repairs to the jetty had been the first job on the (extensive) To Do list when they had first arrived here in the middle of nowhere. The planks had had to be replaced before the horses could be taken safely ashore.

Joby, being of a naturally distrustful nature, still fully expected the boards to collapse underneath him every time he set foot on them. Once had had safely negotiated the jetty, he looked towards Kieran, who squinted back at him in the sunshine. Kieran was wearing a padded smoking-jacket, which had been one of the random articles they had found inside the abandoned cottage. It was so big on him that he wore it like a dressing-gown.

“You’re taking your life in your hands sitting here”, said Joby, when he reached him on the veranda. He put his hands on Kieran’s shoulders and gently hissed him on the cheek.

“It seems safe enough”, said Kieran, signalling for him to sit down next to him on the swing-seat “In spite of the rotting wood”.

Behind them there were sundry noises coming from the inside of the cottage, where some of the others were carrying out an inventory.

“What else have they found?” said Joby “Anything worth nicking?”

“Not much”, Kieran laughed “The owners took most of their clothes and personal documents with them when they left, so it must have been a planned departure”.

“Same with all the padlocks everywhere”, said Joby “Left their smoking-jacket behind though!”

“And a blue ball-gown we found hanging in one of the closets”, said Kieran “Which was a bit incongruous”.

“Bardin’ll love that!” said Joby.

“Ah he’s found a music-box he’s very taken with”.

“He would. Does it have a little ballerina in a tutu standing on one leg, that turns round and round when you wind up the key?!”

Hillyard came out of the house and, to Joby’s consternation, slung his comfortable bulk onto the veranda railings.

“Relax”, he said, when Joby looked around him in alarm “This place is built solid”.

“Not for taking your weight it’s not!” said Joby.

“Built to last this was”, said Hillyard, slapping the railings with a meaty hand “Fine craftsmanship all the way through”.

Bardin came out of the front door carrying the music-box under one arm and a brace of brass candle-holders under the other.

“Oh help yourself why don’t yer!” said Joby.

“If the owners suddenly return”, said Bardin “Which is very doubtful after all this time, we’ll return it all to them”.

“We’ll just ask them to hold on whilst we bring it all back over!” said Joby “I thought we was sposed to be a religious order these days, not a bunch of pillaging Vikings”.

“Pillocking Vikings was that?!” said Hillyard.

“We haven’t wrecked the place”, said Bardin, going down the veranda steps “It’s all in one piece”.

“Now Joby”, said Kieran, mock-sternly “You shouldn’t wind him up like that2.

“I can if I want to”, said Joby “I cook all his meals”.

The three of them followed Bardin back over to the ship at a leisurely pace.

“You might want to make yourself scarce this afternoon above deck, Kieran”, said Hillyard.

“You’re gong hunting at a rough guess”, said Kieran.

“Mieps reckons we should be able to bag a couple of wild pigs in the forest”, said Hillyard.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby “I ent looking forward to prepping them”.

“I’ll do it for you”, said Hillyard “I’m kind that way”.

“Oh Bardy, I just don’t believe it, not more junk!” said Bengo, in dismay, when he walked into his cabin.

“This is the last bit, I promise you”, said Bardin.

“You said that before!”

“Bengo, you don’t understand, this is an investment”.

“No it’s not”, said Bengo “It’s a heap of old junk!”

“Some of it could be valuable”, Bardin insisted.

“And so what if it is? We’re hardly gonna be able to flog it stuck out here in the middle of nowhere!”

“Well …” said Bardin, but even he was uncharacteristically stuck for an answer to this one.

“Promise me”, said Bengo “I mean, REALLY promise me you won’t bring anymore of it over”.

Bardin thought longingly of the blue ball gown still hanging in the closet over at the cottage. He thought that in time he would be able to bring Bengo round to it, so he gave a silent nod of acquiescence.

“Good”, said Bengo “You don’t seem to understand that Toppy’ll be in here all the time dusting and polishing all this junk, given half a chance. We’ll never be able to get rid of him!”

“There is that angle to it I suppose”, said Bardin.

“Good, I’m glad you’ve seen sense at last”, said Bengo, and he turned to go back to work, passing Farnol in the doorway.

“Bardin, man”, said Farnol “It’s about these night-watches still carrying on. I thought that once we had come to a stopping-place that we wouldn’t have to do them anymore”.

“Of course we have to do them”, said Bardin “For the foreseeable future anyway. The forest is packed full of unknowns. Until we’ve got much more of an idea what’s lurking in this area we have to keep them going”.

“I spose you’re right”, said Farnol.

“I suspect by the time the worst of the winter weather comes on we’ll be able to relax them a bit”, said Bardin “But at the moment we’re still the newbies around here, and have to be on our guard”.

Bardin went back up on deck, where he found Ransey leaning on the bulwark, staring at nothing in particular.

“Are you alright?” Ransey asked, when he saw Bardin approaching “You look a bit tense”.

“Just Farnol whingeing on about the night-watches”, said Bardin “Made me feel like Bossy Bardin again, spoiling everybody’s fun”.

“Some of them seem to think that now we’ve come to a halt everything’s going to be hunky-dory from now on”, said Ransey.

“Is everybody alright do you think?” said Bardin “I mean perhaps I should go round and check up on how everyone is”.

“Only if you want to be bored to death by all their problems”, said Ransey “We’d soon hear if it was anything serious up with anyone. Hillyard keeps me well-prized with gossip”.

“Yes, but sometimes it’s easy to lose people in the noise round here”, said Bardin.

A yelp went up from the poop-deck, where Hoowie had been swabbing it down. Suddenly he ran down the short flight of steps which led to the main deck, holding the mop aloft. Small flames were coming from it. Toppy charged forward with a bucket and the mop was successfully doused.

“It just suddenly caught fire”, Hoowie panted.

“How?” said Bardin.

“I dunno!” said Hoowie, impatiently “It just did!”

“That’s really quite inexplicable isn’t it, Captain?” said Toppy.

Bardin didn’t have much time for inexplicable things in his ordered universe, and merely gave a grunt.

He sent Hoowie below-deck to calm down, and Hoowie gravitated towards the galley.

“Why didn’t you chuck the mop overboard?” said Bengo “Why run across the deck with it?”

“Chuck it overboard?” said Joby “And lose a perfectly good mop?!”

“No one’s taking this serious”, Hoowie complained.

“I think you’re getting far too worked up, dear”, said Adam “I think you should sit down and take some deep breaths”.

“Leave it out”, said Joby “He’s only doing it to con some cooking-brandy out of us!”

“Oh let’s all have some cooking-brandy”, said Adam, recklessly.

“We won’t have any left at this rate”, Joby grumbled.

“Well Hillyard’s said he’s going to get his still going at some point”, said Adam “I think the cottage would be a good place to set it up”.

“Yeah”, said Joby “So if it blows up it won’t harm the ship! It’s scary enough as it is if we’re gonna be having fires breaking out at random all over the place”.

“Could it be witchcraft?” said Bengo “Do you remember when Aleister Crowley did things like that to us once? That plague of black cats?”

“Hey, it could be the Cyanide Sisters”, said Hoowie.

“Now let’s not start jumping to any hasty conclusions”, said Adam “For a start, we don’t know what is in this area yet. And then again it might have just been some sort of freak accident”.

Hoowie couldn’t accept that though and, to Joby’s intense annoyance, went and asked Kieran if he could carry out a full blessing of the ship, which Kieran was only too delighted to oblige with. Joby moaned so much about the irritation this had caused him that Adam decided to send him and Bengo to look for mushrooms in the forest. This harmless-seeming expedition was to turn out to have disturbing consequences.

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