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For the next few weeks they were icebound. Winter came in with a vengeance, and immobilised them in the lake. Icicles began to grow everywhere. They occasionally still used the house. It was useful every so often to get the kitchen stove going and to use the bath-tub. It was also somewhere to let the dogs run freely. On the whole though the house was too cold and too forbidding to use for anything else. For the rest of the time they were on the galleon. It was like being marooned in the icy depths of space. At the beginning of February the wind escalated to gale force, and for quite some time it was the only outside sound they could hear, as it hummed and moaned relentlessly around the ship. The dogs careered down the quarterdeck steps, exuberant after a trip up to the house. They jumped excitedly around Joby, who was standing just outside the galley door.
“It’s good for the dogs to get out, Joby”, said Lonts, following the dogs down the steps “If they were to stay indoors all the time, they’d go mad”.
“What? Like you, you mean?” said Joby.
“That’s enough of that, Joby”, said Adam, who was also returning from the house.
The dogs bust into Bengo and Bardin’s cabin, and went even more berserk, jumping over the sofa. Adam followed Joby into the galley.
“Did you complete that list of chores I left you?” said Adam, pulling off his outdoor clothing.
“Do me a favour!” said Joby “You’d have to have been gone about 6 months for me to get through that lot!”
“Nonsense”, said Adam, looking approvingly at the two large jam tarts on the table. He then gravitated to the chair next to the stove and feel gratefully into it “Where’s Bengo?”
“Bleedin’ good question”, said Joby “He buggered off to the heads about half-an-hour ago, and I haven’t seen him since”.
“I expect he’s got talking to Hoowie”, said Adam.
“I dunno what those two find to natter about all the time”, said Joby, putting a pan of water on the stove to heat “Like a pair of old women when they get together”.
“Oh no doubt having a good bitch about Bardin”, said Adam “They’re never exactly short of material where he’s concerned”.
“How was Doom Castle today anyway?” said Joby.
“Oh pretty cheerless as ever”, said Adam “I’ll be curious to see what it looks like on a warm, sunny day. See if that enhances it at all”.
“Adam, you’re back”, said Bengo, entering the room.
“Yeah, he got back before you did”, said Joby, pointedly.
“Ooh sorry”, said Bengo “I got talking to Hoowie”.
“Now there’s a surprise!” said Joby “I need some kind of gadget that gives you an electric shock if you’re not back in 5 minutes”.
Bardin drifted in, undoing his duffel-coat, and looking tired and dazed.
“Bengo, could you come into our cabin and have a word for a moment”, he said.
“Oh no, have I done something else wrong?” said Bengo.
“No, I just want to talk to you”, said Bardin, impatiently.
“Run along, Bengo”, said Adam.
“He’s only just got back!” exclaimed Joby, after the clowns had left.
“Be quiet”, said Adam “Bardin clearly needs to let off steam about something. Best to get it out. We won’t want him sulking all through dinner”.
“It’s that bloody house isn’t it?” said Bengo, when he and Bardin were alone in their cabin “You’ve been getting more and more like this lately whenever you’ve come back from that place, I wish you wouldn’t go up there so much”.
“I have to”, said Bardin “I’ve got to supervise things”.
“Oh here we go again”, said Bengo “No you don’t! The others aren’t helpless, they can look out for themselves”.
“Well some of them can”, said Bardin, grudgingly “It’s that other house that bothers me too”.
“What other house?” said Bengo “There’s nothing else around here. Even the Cyanide Sisters don’t seem to have come this far!”
“The one we can see from the back of the house”, said Bardin.
“But that’s miles and miles away!” Bengo exclaimed “It’s so far away it’s tiny! And it’s probably empty as well. I mean we’ve never seen any lights from it. Most likely it’s just yet another abandoned building”.
“But if we could stay up there one evening”, said Bardin, pathetically “After it’s gone completely dark and see if there any lights …”
Bengo shook Bardin by the shoulders.
“That’s enough, Bardin!” he said, firmly “Enough!”
“You didn’t?” said Joby, a few minutes later “What did he say?”
“Didn’t give him the chance to say anything”, said Bengo “I exited the room, and I managed to do it without crashing into the furniture or tripping over the carpet! Not often I get a chance to do an impressive exit like that. Mind you, he’ll probably get me back for it. I can’t imagine for one minute I’m gonna be allowed to get away with it!”
“You might, you never know”, said Joby “Not the first time you’ve put him in his place”.
“Yeah, but the effect wears off pretty quick”, said Bengo “You’re much luckier with Kieran. He goes docile”.
“For about 5 minutes, if I’m lucky!” said Joby.
“If you told Kieran he wasn’t allowed to go up to the house”, said Bengo “Not without your express permission, he would obey you”.
“Yeah I guess so”, said Joby.
“Well Bardy wouldn’t, that’s for sure!” said Bengo “Even if he can’t get away with being bombastic, he’ll go all sulky and snivelling until I came in under the strain of it all”.
“It’s a problem with him being head honcho”, said Joby “Ultimately he gets the last say, unless Julian sticks his oar in, of course”.
“Are you two going to help me serve up or not?” said Adam, coming back in from the dining-room “Come along now, customers are waiting!”
The problem for Bengo over the next couple of days was that some of the others were warming to Bardin’s idea of doing an evening vigil up at the house. They also wanted to see if lights would appear at the remote tower-like building.
“I knew this would happen”, said Bengo, in despair “He always gets his own way in the end”.
“So do you”, said Joby.
“Me?” Bengo exclaimed “I never get my own way!”
“Oh cheer up, it’ll be a bit of a laugh”, said Joby.
“Not you too?” said Bengo “I thought you’d hate it every bit as much as me”.
“I weren’t keen I admit”, said Joby “But then Ransey suggested us 6 do it. You, me, him, Hillyard, Kieran, and the lovely Bardin. And we come back down here before midnight, just in case we all turn into pumpkins I spose”.
Bengo had to stop being cross with Bardin long enough to listen to reason (which wasn’t easy), but in the end he succumbed to the idea.
Early one afternoon Bardin and Kieran stood in the middle of the library up at the house. It was slowly going dark, and the air was icy.
“This is no good as a base room”, Ransey barked from the doorway “It’s facing completely the wrong way”.
“I know that”, Bardin snapped “We were just pausing for a moment”.
He went out to the main staircase and began to thump up it.
“We make our base area in the right-hand corner room at the back”, he ordered.
Kieran had been put to work building a small peat fire in the grate in the allotted base room. The darkness had come on too quickly for comfort, and Bengo and Bardin were already stationed at the window overlooking the rolling bleak landscape beyond.
The tower, a minute speck in the far distance, was situated at the end of a long valley which had turned completely to ice, like a long glass road.
“How long will it take to get there I wonder?” said Bardin, speculating aloud.
“Oh Bardy, you’re not serious?” Bengo groaned.
“Well it can’t be THAT far”, said Bardin “Not once we get going”.
Ransey didn’t like the way this conversation was going. Once Bardin got at an idea he was like a terrier with a bone. Their presence here tonight was proof of that. Bardin would be quite capable of deciding to set off down the ice road to investigate the tower next.
“Bengo”, said Ransey, abruptly “Come and get the camp-fire going, and make some tea. Bardin, you keep watch at the window. Just in case any lights appear”.
This last bit was said in such a facetious way that the others laughed.
“And I’m not the only one doing some work whilst you 3 watch”, said Kieran, who realised Ransey, Joby and Hillyard were all just standing around him, watching him attend to the fire.
“This is a bleedin’ cheerless hole”, said Joby, looking around at the miserable, dark little room.
“Don’t blame us”, said Ransey “Blame our gallant Captain”.
“Can’t you lot just think of it as a change of scene?” said Bardin, in exasperation.
“I was quite happy with the old one!” said Hillyard.
“We could get cabin-fever holed up on the ship all the time”, said Bardin.
“We never have yet”, said Hillyard.
“I need to use the bathroom”. said Kieran, rising creakily to his feet “Can someone come with me and hold me hand in the eerie dark?”
“I’ll hold anything you like”, said Hillyard, cheerfully.
“I’ll come with you”, said Joby, firmly edging past Hillyard.
“Take a torch!” Ransey ordered.
“God, he gets worse than Bardin sometimes”, said Joby, when he and Kieran braved the icy tomb of the bathroom “Sort of relentless barrage of orders. Seems to think we can’t work things out for ourselves”.
“Ransey prides himself on being the most efficient one of us”, said Kieran.
“I guess most of the time he hasn’t got much competition in that department!” said Joby “God help us if we had two like him around!”
He gestured at the unwelcoming-looking lavatory.
“Hadn’t you better do your stuff then?” he said.
“I don’t need it”, said Kieran.
“Then what the fuck did you bring me in here for?” Joby exclaimed “I can think of nicer places for an assignation, Kiel!”
“I wanted to talk to you alone”, said Kieran “You see, the thing is, I don’t think we should even linger here until midnight. An hour at the most. Just give Bardin long enough to see his lights, if there are any”.
“He’ll see lights alright, if I have my way!” said Joby “Is the place THAT bad then? Not that I’m surprised really”.
“It’s not good”, said Kieran “Let’s just say that at the moment. I don’t want to stoke that dark, rich imagination of yours any further”.
“It doesn’t need any further help, I can tell you that!” said Joby “What if old Captain Buggerlugs refuses to leave though? I mean he might if he doesn’t get any precious lights in the next hour”.
“Then we shall forcibly evacuate him”, said Kieran “He’s only a squirt, we can manage that between us”.
They left the bathroom and went out into the upstairs passageway. As they turned to go back to the base-room, Joby paused in front of a stone archway set low-down in the wall. From it a flight of steep narrow steps led downwards. It looked more like a stairway that would be found in some Medieval stone castle. It didn’t look like anything else that they had found in the house.
“I might be going barmy, Kiel”, said Joby “In fact in this house it’s very likely! But I don’t remember that being there before. Mind you, I spose I might have just missed it, not noticed it”.
“There is some strange stuff going on around here“, said Kieran “And I think it intensifies after dark2.
“Great”, Joby grunted.
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