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By Sarah Hapgood

Bengo insisted on swearing Bardin to secrecy over his emotional outburst on-land, and Bardin reluctantly agreed, even though it would have been easier to let everyone in on why he was keeping the boat moving for the next few days. The truth was that everyone was sick of travelling by now, particularly in cold weather. The galleon too seemed to be voicing its protest, by emitting sharp creaks and squeaks where previously none had been detected. Bardin dismissed it all as “wear and tear”.

“A bit like this bloody knee of mine!” said Joby, leading Hillyard into his cabin “It’s gone all rheumatic on me. Driving me mad it is”.

“You’ve still got your paper-chains up in here then?” said Hillyard, looking around him.

“They’ll be up for the duration”, said Joby “Or as Kieran puts it ‘until the spring breaks through’”.

“C’mon then”, said Hillyard “Let the dog see the rabbit“.

Joby sat down gingerly on a hard-backed chair and rolled up his trouser-leg. Hillyard knelt down and examined Joby’s boney knee.

“It keeps clicking on me”, said Joby “I keep thinking it’s gonna suddenly lock on me, particularly when I’m using the stairs”.

“Have you been putting too much exertion on it?” said Hillyard “Too much of Kieran’s colossal weight bending over it?”

Joby gave a bark of laughter.

“Do me a favour”, he said “I’ve seen more fat on a pair of scissors than on him!”

“I heard that”, said Kieran, coming in “Are you inspecting Joby’s dodgy leg, Hillyard?”

“Yeah”, said Hillyard “Certainly seems like rheumatics. He needs to keep it warm”.

“I can in the galley”, said Joby “It’s usually like a furnace in there”.

“The cold’ll get into your bones in here though”, said Hillyard “It’s bloody perishing in here. You’ll have to move into our room until the weather gets milder”.

“Leave our little room?” said Joby, in dismay.

“Joby, will you listen to yourself!” said Kieran, sternly “You’ve done nothing but moan about this place since we moved in here!”

“Yeah but it’s ours”, said Joby “Our little private den”.

“You’ve got a choice”, said Hillyard “I’m speaking to you as your doctor. You either move into the big saloon with us, or I’ll ask Julian to invite you into his cabin”.

“Be in a confined space with Julian?” said Joby “With me in my delicate condition?!”

“Then listen to what the man here’s saying”, said Kieran “And stop being an eejit. I’ll pack up our hot-water bottles for the move”.

At dusk Joby was propped up on cushions on the communal bed, looking like a disgruntled Emperor Nero, whilst Hillyard applied a hot compress to his knee, watched by Finia and Kieran, who were perched nearby. Adam was standing watching Ransey pacing round the big saloon. “God, you’ve got some ugly feet, mate”, said Hillyard.

“Thanks Hillyard”, said Joby.

“Well you have”, said Hillyar, remorselessly “They look like some old joint of meat that’s gone off”.

“I guess we don’t keep Joby around for his beautiful feet”, said Adam.

“No”, said Hillyard “Nor his charming personality. I swear this guy’s the worst patient in the world. Even Julian’d be better!”

“Surely not?” said Adam “Julian would be absolutely insufferable. He’d have everyone dancing attendance on him even more than he does when he’s well!”

“Well all I know is the longer I live with you English the harder you get to understand”, said Kieran.

“What brought that on?” said Joby.

“You going on about moving out of our cabin”, said Kieran “You’ve done nothing but complain about that place since the day we moved in. How it’s all my fault we got loaded with such a dump, and now when we move out temporarily, suddenly it’s the dear old homestead. You English are all crazy”.

“Huh!” said Joby “Says the man who’s as mad as a box of snakes!”

“Joby is a Cancerian …” Finia began.

“Oh don’t start all that”, said Joby “You only end up going on about how I’ve probably got a secret mother-fixation. It’s embarrassing”.

“It means you’re attached to your little nest”, said Finia.

“I keep hearing a distant buzzing noise”, said Ransey, pausing in his pacing.

“Probably that bloody power-station starting up again”, said Joby.

“I do wish you wouldn’t brood on it, old love”, Adam said to Ransey “You’re inclined to let your imagination run wild”.

“Me?!” Ransey exclaimed “I am the very least imaginative person here!”

“Oh I’m no sure about that”, said Adam “You are inclined to dwell too much on dark undercurrents”.

“Dark Undercurrent”, Joby laughed “That could be his new nickname!”

“Aha!” said Julian, appearing dramatically in the doorway “I thought I heard you all in here, clustered around Joby’s deathbed”.

“Here”, said Joby “Stop exaggerating my condition! I’ve only got a rheumy leg you know”.

“Well the way everybody’s carrying on, anyone would think you weren’t long for this world”, said Julian “The whole ship is going to pot because you’re laid-up. Who’s cooking the supper?”

“Julian, that’s an outrageous thing to say”, said Adam “Bengo is making a start on it”.

“Bengo?” said Julian “You’ve left Bengo alone in the galley?”

“We often do!” Joby protested.

“And he’s got Farnol helping him”, said Adam “Just whilst Joby’s incapacitated”.

“Two clowns in the galley”, said Julian “Unsupervised?”

“Oh that does it”, said Adam “I’m going to see how they’re getting on. But not because I think they need supervising, but because if I stay here I may just well punch your lights out!”

“What did I say?” said Julian, when Adam had gone.

“I can’t imagine”, said Hillyard, facetiously “You were only your usual charming, innocent self”.

Julian moved closer to Joby, who reacted by pulling cushions over his leg protectively. He wouldn’t have put it past Julian to suddenly slap it. Julian’s imposing personality could be a bit hard to take when not in the best of health.

“Of course lying around all the time won’t do it any good”, said Julian.

“Oh God, Doctor Julian!” groaned Hillyard.

“A bit of exercise will help it”, said Julian.

“I should get back to work you mean?” said Joby “You know, Julian, you don’t half revert to type! No slacking from the peasants, not good for ‘em, don’t you know!”

By the following day Joby was fed up with resting though. He lay propped up on the communal bed whilst Finia worked on a pile of mending by the fire. Kieran had gone below to help Hillyard attend to the horses, and the others were scattered at various places all over the ship, also doing necessary chores. Joby felt like a spare part. He decided that perhaps his leg would benefit from some exercise after all, and grabbed the walking-stick Hillyard had dug out for him.

“Ah, taking my advice I see, good”, said Julian, who seemed to be lying in wait, standing in the doorway of his cabin.

“You come out with some right irritating things sometimes you do”, said Joby.

“Don’t knock it, it’ll keep your wits sharpened and your mind stimulated”, said Julian “I shall continue the treatment. Do you want me to chastise Kieran whilst you’re laid out?”

“No I don’t!” said Joby “I’m not planning on being like this for long you know”.

“That doesn’t matter”, said Julian “He’s hardcore, he needs a good sound thrashing several times a day”.

“I’ll take care of Kieran”, said Joby “Ropey leg or no ropey leg. You get back in your cage!”

Joby hobbled on down to the galley, where he found Adam, Bengo and Farnol in a whirl of heat, steam and saucepans.

“A bit of exercise won’t do it any harm”, said Joby, when Adam protested at him being there.

“I’m not so sure about that, old love”, said Adam “You look rather tense with it”.

“Julian winding me up”, said Joby.

“That man is a bloody public menace”, said Adam “He needs shooting”.

A cacophony of noise broke out on the deck overhead.

“Oh lor”, said Adam “I don’t like the sound of that. Something’s happened”.

He went to the quarterdeck steps and shouted up them. Because of the heat in the galley he was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt under his pinny, and Joby was concerned about the blast of icy air coming through the open hatchway at the top.

“I just want to know what’s going on up there”, said Adam, and he shouted up again.

Rumble’s face appeared briefly, and shouted something bout dead fish, before disappearing again.

“Watch out, you’re getting cold”, said Joby, swiping Adam on the behind with his stick.

“Let’s try the dining-room windows”, said Adam, galloping into the said room.

Joby followed him at a more stately pace.

“Shit”, he said, when he reached Adam’s side.

Through the port-holes they could see mounds of bloated dead fish piled on the lakeside. It was as if there had been a mass suicide of fishes all leaping to their doom on the shore.

“Looks like the fish course will be cut for a while”, said Adam, trying to make light of it.

“Mm”, said Joby “I don’t like the look of that at all. I’d better go down and warn Kieran”.

“I don’t think you should go hobbling up and down steps with that knee of yours”, said Adam “Anyway, Patsy’s been far worse than that in his time. Why don’t you have a lie down on Umbert’s camp-bed over there? You won’t feel quite so out-of-it then”.

“Looks like it could collapse at any moment”, said Joby, dubiously.

“If it can take Umbert’s weight I’m pretty certain it can take yours”, said Adam “He’s getting quite a belly on him these days”.

“God knows how”, said Joby, as Adam helped him over to the camp-bed “We scarcely serve up gourmet banquets on a regular basis!”

“Oh Umbert’s always liked his food”, said Adam “Remember when we first me him? He was tucking into a pig’s trotter!”

After lunch Adam went back into the dining-room to collect some of the debris. He found Joby gone from the camp-bed, and Julian standing leaning on the mantlepiece, gazing down pensively into the fire.

“Has Joby gone back to the saloon?” Adam asked.

“I’ve loaned him and Kieran the use of my cabin for a couple of hours”, said Julian “It’s got a fire in it. Don’t look at me like that. You always react with shock when I do anything even vaguely human!”

“Sorry, old love”, said Adam.

“I mean, it’s not as if I’m going to need it this afternoon”, Julian went on “Bardin’s organised a sort of chain-gang of clowns to tidy up the hold. Hoowie’s on it, so I doubt I’ll be seeing much of him until darkness falls”.

Adam private blessed Bardin for keeping Hoowie and the other clowns so occupied whilst they were travelling through this desolate area.

“Will you come and visit me when I kick Joby and Tinkerbell out later on?” said Julian “I haven’t groped you in ages”.

“Jules, I do find something very relaxing about your honest lechery at times”, said Adam.

“You always did”, said Julian “Just you didn’t used to like admitting it!”

Kieran was enveloped in Julian’s dressing-gown, which swamped him, reclining on the padded window-seat. Joby handed him a skinny glass containing a brown liquid.

“All I could find was this disgusting old sherry”, said Joby, hobbling back to join him on the window-seat “Julian must’ve locked his good stuff away”.

“Perhaps he’s run out”, said Kieran.

“Not him!” said Joby “Even stuck out in the middle of nowhere for ages he makes sure he does alright”.

He took a wincing sip of the reviled sherry and looked around him with an appraising eye.

“They do ‘emselves alright in here don’t they?” he said “We should get ourselves a few home-comforts like this in our cabin, Kiel. Drinks tray …”

“We’ve got our secret stache of whisky”, Kieran pouted out, but Joby was on a roll.

“Samovar”, he went on “Decent-sized bed, rug …”

“The fireplace might be a bit of a problem”, said Kieran “Unless we get Hillyard to knock a hole in the wall!”

“Oh very funny …” said Joby.

“Come on, time’s up!” shouted Julian, hammering on the doors “Unlock the door!”

Kieran ambled over to the door. When he unlocked it Julian scanned him with a critical eye, noting the dressing-gown, glass of sherry, and Kieran’s sticky hair.

“A lecherous time was clearly had by all”, Julian drawled.

“In the true spirit of your cabin, Julian”, said Kieran.

“You’ll probably do that knee in all over again”, said Julian, handing Joby his walking-stick.

“It was worth it”, said Joby.

“No doubt”, said Julian.

“Where’s your decent booze then, Julian?” said Joby “This stuff tastes like sweetened engine oil!”

“I don’t leave it where you two can find it!” said Julian “And I didn’t want to give you time to start looking for it! Kieran, get your clothes on”.

“Hah, you just want to have a look at my arse”, said Kieran.

“Seeing as that’s the closes Joby will let me get to it”, said Julian “Yes!”

Once Kieran was dressed again (in his own clothes this time), he and Joby ambled along the corridor in the direction of the saloon. The area outside their cabin and the heads was in turmoil, as Bardin was standing and directing an old sofa being brought up from the hold. Rumble and Hoowie were manhandling it through the hatchway.

“What’s going on?” said Joby.

“We found this buried under a load of tarpaulin and other rubbish”, said Bardin.

“Yeah”, said Joby “So why have you dragged it up again?”

“It used to be up on deck”, said Kieran “When we were still in hot climes”.

“I thought it could go in your cabin”, said Bardin “It’s low-down, be easier for your knee, and you’re always complaining your cabin isn’t luxurious enough”.

“I’d hardly call adding a flea-bitten old sofa making it more luxurious!” said Joby.

“It’s not flea-bitten”, said Rumble, leaning on it for breath “We’ve given it a good check over”.

“And you can get Toppy to give it a good clean-up”, said Hoowie “Give it a good airing, and the musty smell will be gone by the time you move back in”.

“I feel like I’m being given the hard-sell over a dodgy motor!” said Joby.

Bardin clicked his fingers, and Rumble and Hoowie began to heave it into Joby’s cabin.

“Here!” Joby protested “I haven’t said I want it!”

“Joby, c’mon now”, said Kieran “It’s a great idea. You won’t have to keep cocking your leg up to get into bed”.

“This rheumatic-y knee is just a temporary thing”, said Joby “I’m not planning on being stuck with it forever!”

“You don’t know that” said Bardin.

“Oh thanks a lot”, said Joby “Get me measured up for a wheelchair whilst you’re at it!”

The sofa was shoehorned into place in the cabin. Bardin imperiously gestured for Rumble and Hoowie to step out so that Joby and Kieran could inspect it.

“So, what do you think?” said Bardin.

“It looks like I’m stuck with it now don’t it!” said Joby.

“Joby, don’t be churlish”, said Kieran “Bardin’s gone to a lot of trouble”.

Having spoken Kieran, who was standing behind him, suddenly whipped Bardin’s trousers down with one deft movement.

“Oh that’s gratitude is it!” said Bardin.

“Sorry Bardin”, Kieran laughed “It was all that finger-clicking, I couldn’t resist”.

“Hmph”, said Bardin “I always said you should’ve been made an honorary clown!”

Yet more shouting broke out overhead.

“Oh what now?” Joby groaned.

“More dead fish I expect”, said Bardin, pulling up his trousers.

He politely indicated for Kieran to go ahead of him as they left the room. Kieran did so, and Bardin kicked him up the behind.

“I’m really surprised you fell for that one”, said Bardin “It’s one of the oldest ones in the book!”

“Learnt that on your first day at Clowns’ School did you?” said Kieran, who had fallen against the door of the heads.

They clustered around the bottom of the steps which led up to the main deck. Bardin scooted halfway up them.

“Something about a building on the horizon”, he said, passing the information down to the others at the bottom “Looks like a house, up on the skyline”.

“Derelict or in one piece?” said Rumble.

“It’s too soon to tell”, said Bardin “OK it looks like I’ll be organising a shore-party very soon”.

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