Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

The brass candle-holder was skidding across the side-table as though it was some kind stop-start animation. Bardin propped himself up on his elbow and watched it in bewilderment. It took him a little while to realise that it was all due to an earth tremor.

Gradually it subsided and he pulled himself out of bed, after first ascertaining that Bengo wasn’t beside him. He was feeling hung-over. The night before they had had a Gemini birthday party, to celebrate the joint birthdays of everyone born in June, which meant that Julian, Hoowie, Hillyard and Mieps had been the ones in whose honour the party had been for. The amber nectar had flowed … and flowed. And an earth tremor wasn’t exactly the best accompaniment to a bad case of the-morning-after-the-night-before. He dragged his dressing-gown over one shoulder, but didn’t have the strength to do the same with the other one. When he stepped outside his cabin door he ran into Hillyard who, unexpectedly, wasn’t showing any sign of a hangover.

“That was a big ’un wasn’t it?” said Hillyard, referring to the earth tremor.

“What time is it?” asked Bardin.

“Getting on for half-eleven”, said Hillyard.

Bardin groaned. Someone started playing ’The Moonlight Sonata’ (badly) on the piano in the dining-room. Bardin went into the galley, where Joby and Bengo were sitting with their pinnies on, over mugs of strong tea, as though neither earth tremors or a birthday party had ever happened.

“Bardy!” said Bengo, joyfully “Would you like some breakfast?”

“Even though it is nearly lunchtime”, said Joby.

“No”, said Bardin “No I don’t. Am I the only one who’s ill this morning?”

“Well Hoowie hasn’t woken up yet”, said Bengo “And Adam says he feels sick in his stomach, so he’s having the morning off”.

Bardin felt mildly cheered by the news that he wasn’t the only one who was suffering.

When he had managed to force a cup of black coffee down himself, and then hauled some proper clothes on, Bardin went out into the sunlight to do a survey of their estate. They hadn’t taken to living in the monastery as much as they had originally expected. Much of it was too structurally unsound, and Kieran summed it up best when he said they should leave it to the ghosts. The ruins were for wandering about in, and grazing the animals in the long grass. They had come here mainly for privacy, and since they had arrived here several months ago that was what they had had.

But there were troubled signs on the horizon. The Governor of the island, normally a nervous man, seemed to be getting even more so. He tales of the violence and unrest he occasionally heard coming out of Lebicca were getting even more worrying. He not only lived in daily terror of being recalled there, he also had a terror anyone from Lebicca unexpectedly turning up at the island. He was a kind-hearted man, and he had grown quickly fond of Kieran and the others. He didn’t want trouble for them. He knew that he should really have warned them to move on elsewhere, but he thought they would rejuvenate the island, and so far, indeed, their presence had been an unqualified success here.

Brother Umbert and Kieran were sitting on a small broken-down wall at the edge of the monks’ old cemetery. Bardin loitered out of sight in order to eavesdrop on them.

“So I guess what’s happened is very simple”, Umbert was saying “Under the old regime the people of Lebicca had had religion forced on them, and now under this one they’ve had atheism forced on them. And if the new regime finds out that the Governor is harbouring a religious community here, then it’s bad news for everybody”.

“Then it seems that we have no choice but to leave”, said Kieran, sadly “I think we should just be grateful that we’ve had the few months we’ve had so far”.

The two men rose to their feet and began to walk back to the galleon. Bardin ducked out of sight behind a hedge just in time. When Bengo came in search of him a short while later he found him lying on a wooden bench that Hillyard had made for the grounds of the monastery.

“Bardy, it’s lunchtime”, he said “You should come and try and eat something. You haven’t eaten yet today at all”.

“There are more important things in life than food”, Bardin snapped.

“No there aren’t”, said Bengo.

“Oh God”, said Bardin “Why do people have to go around forcing their will on everyone?”

“That’s a bit rich coming from you”, Bengo giggled “You’ve spent your entire life doing it”.

“That’s because I was asked to!” said Bardin “Ully told me all those years ago that I had to keep a close eye on you”.

“Well you’ve certainly done that”, said Bengo “What’s the matter, Bardy?”

“We might have to get away from here”, said Bardin “We can’t risk those morons in Lebicca finding out about Kieran and Umbert”.

Bengo sat down with a disappointed groan.

“B-but if we stay quiet we’ll be alright”, he said “The Governor’s on our side. Umbert’s getting some peace of mind at long last, so he won’t want to go around causing trouble, and Joby will keep Kieran in order. Julian’s made him swear to that. Kieran isn’t allowed to get away with ANYTHING at the moment. He’s never looked more beautiful”.

“I wish it was as simple as that”, said Bardin “But we can’t guarantee that they won’t hear about us in Lebicca. It wouldn’t exactly take much for the Fat Controller to spill the beans now would it! And if they do find out, it’s not just dangerous for us, but for the Governor and Lady Pegotty and anyone on this island”.

“Can’t we do something about that awful regime?” said Bengo.

“What did you have in mind?” said Bardin, sarcastically.

“Send Ransey in to take them out?” said Bengo “He’s done that before. That vile governor in Krindei …”

“That was just one man”, said Bardin “One sick man. This is a whole regime”.

“But if you take out the one at the top”, said Bengo “Then the rest might crumble like a house of cards”.

“And then again they might regroup into something even more terrible”, said Bardin “I don’t think you have any idea what’s going on there, Bengo. I’ve heard they actually tear people limb from limb on the streets!”

“Oh don’t”, said Bengo, in despair “Ignore what I said. I’m just a stupid fat clown, like you’ve always said”.

Bardin squeezed his hand, comfortingly.

“Let’s go and have some lunch”, he said.

Once a week Ransey would go to the Governor’s House and have a game of chess with him. Both men looked forward to these little evenings very much. The Governor, because it meant he could forget his anxieties for a short while, and Ransey, because it gave him a peaceful interlude away from the hedonistic bustle of the galleon. Hillyard would often accompany him, but would usually stay in the living-room and chat to Lady Pegotty.

The chess-board was already set up in the library, and the Governor was eager to get started.

“There’s something I should tell you before we begin”, said Ransey “We may have to move on”.

“Oh but why?” exclaimed the Governor.

“I feel, with the situation in Lebicca as it is”, said Ransey “That things may get too vulnerable here. If they were to find out that you had been harbouring a religious colony here, it would be bad news not just for us, but for you, Pegotty, and probably a great many of the islanders too”.

“I see”, said the Governor, gravely “It is true that I have lived in daily fear of them coming out here for some time now. But both Pegotty and I have enjoyed having you here so much. It has been a welcome distraction for us from the horrors of … That Place. I suppose we’ve been living in a bit of a fool’s paradise. There are places around the island in which you could hide”.

“Difficult”, said Ransey “And even more difficult to hide the galleon”.

“No there are places”, the Governor suddenly brightened up “There’s a cave to the extreme west of the island. It’s in that barren part of the island where nobody goes much. I have a suspicion the monks used to hide fugitives from justice there long ago”.

“How apt”, said Ransey.

“There are all sorts of little nooks and crannies around here like that”, the Governor began to perspire with enthusiasm “And there’s also the wooded island. Parts of that are so dense that anyone could disappear into it and not be found easily”.

“Oh ‘The Spooky Isle’”, said Ransey “That’s what Kieran calls it. It sounds better when he says it. It’s strange that we’ve never been out to explore that. I think we all found it a bit forbidding when we sailed past it that time”.

“But that could work to your advantage”, said the Governor “Nobody goes there if they can help it. The islanders are quite superstitious about it. They believe nobody should spend a night there, that sort of thing”.

“Of course this could only work if we had any warning at all that they were coming”, said Ransey “If they were to suddenly appear out here …”.

“It would be very hard for them to surprise us completely”, said the Governor “We can generally see anyone approach from quite some way away. I’ll institute a watch-system. The islanders could take it in turns to watch from the top of this house”.

“Would they do that?” said Ransey.

“Yes”, said the Governor “They detest Lebicca, and all its foul regimes. For years now, no matter who is in charge over there, they’ve imposed crippling taxes on us solely to fund yet more of their diabolical insanity. The islanders would like nothing more than to feel they were pulling the wool over their eyes. You need have no fear on that score”.

“I think you would quite enjoy it too”, said Ransey.

“Yes”, said the Governor “I’ve known too many people who have either been imprisoned or died at their hands. It’s one of my biggest regrets that we simply haven’t the ability here to declare open rebellion on them. The price of being a small community, but we can do it … clandestinely”.

Kieran had been feeling restless all morning, the day after Ransey’s chat with the Governor. He was a courageous man, but even a courageous man would be filled with trepidation by some of the stories coming out of Lebicca. He was also no fool. He saw the danger they would be in if anyone in that hell-hole got wind of their presence here.

He had spent part of the morning pacing in his cabin, until he got so fed up with that that he decided to go and wander round the ruins instead. When he got there he was surprised to find Bardin sitting in one of the pews in the dilapidated old chapel. Bardin was an intensely practical man. He saw life simply as a large and very complicated show that he had to direct and choreograph. So to suddenly come across him in this spiritual pose was surprising.

“I just came here to think”, said Bardin, when Kieran apologised for interrupting him “It’s not always easy to do that on the galleon”.

Kieran sat down next to him. Bardin let out a heavy sigh.

“I just don’t know what to do for the best, Kieran”, he said “Should we stay or should we go?”

“There used to be a song along those lines”, said Kieran “Seriously though, it seems to me that the islanders are hungering for rebellion”.

“Yes, but they’re not big enough for rebellion”, said Bardin, in exasperation.

“Size doesn’t come into it when people feel like this”, said Kieran “All they see is the unfairness of it all”.

“But we’re travellers”, said Bardin “Religious nomads if you like. We’re not here to go getting caught up in revolutions!”

He suddenly looked at Kieran sharply.

“You haven’t been whipping up revolution in the village have you?” he asked.

“I think that’s putting it too strongly”, Kieran hedged “I just said I sympathised with their cause”.

Bardin was furious at this. He stood up and stormed out of the old chapel. Kieran chased after him, demanding to know what it was he had done wrong.

Nearby, Bengo and Hoowie had been dozing in the long grass. Hoowie sat up with a start.

“I heard something”, he said.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Hoowie”, said Bengo “You’re always hearing something these days. It’s probably another of your bloody phantom air-buggies”.

“It could be”, said Hoowie “Nobody seems to be listening out for one of them , except me”.

They heard Kieran calling after Bardin.

“Oh no”, said Bengo “Sounds like Kieran might have upset Bardy”.

“More likely Bardin’s upset Kieran!” said Hoowie.

Great consternation on the galleon. Bardin shouted a string of incomprehensible words at Kieran before shutting himself in his cabin. Joby demanded to know what Kieran had been saying. Kieran replied that he didn’t know what he had been saying, that Bardin had suddenly started acting like a loon. Ransey went along to see Bardin, who was now being fussed over by Bengo. Ransey was wearing a recent gift from Lady Pegotty, which had been a thank you for his chess evenings with the Governor. It was a black silk dressing-gown, and it looked totally incongruous on Ransey, like seeing your bank manager all dressed up for seduction.

“Are you appearing in panto this year?” said Bardin, momentarily forgetting his annoyance at Kieran.

“Never mind all that”, said Ransey “What’s going on?”

“I think Kieran’s been acting subversive”, said Bardin.

“He always was”, said Ransey “He sees things too simplistically, that’s the trouble. Doesn’t always see all the pitfalls”.

“I gather he’s been whipping the islanders up into a state of rebellion”, said Bardin.

“Oh that’s over-egging it a bit, Bardy”, said Bengo “He’s just been chatting a bit with some of them, showing empathy”.

“Empathy?” said Bardin, astonished more than anything that Bengo knew such a word “Look, Ransey’s right, Kieran doesn’t always see the dangers of his simple thinking”.

“Try not to worry about it too much”, said Ransey “I doubt after this that Kieran will be allowed to leave the galleon for a while, let alone go into the village! Joby will see to that”.

“What if the damage has already been done?” said Bardin, gloomily “Of all the crass irresponsible behaviour …”

“Let us do something practical and useful … for a change”, said Ransey.

“Drown Kieran?” said Bardin, causing Bengo to tut in annoyance.

“I mean, go and suss out some of these hidey-holes the Governor has told me about”, said Ransey, leaving the room to go and get properly dressed “Something we should have been doing hours ago!”

“So why didn’t you them!” Bardin grumbled.

Adam and Kieran were having a row.

“So what am I supposed to do then?” Kieran shouted “Be some kind of shop window dummy? Just standing there? Never allowed to speak?!”

“Of course not”, said Adam “You are wilfully twisting my words. I understand you want the islanders to be free, but your wild Irish romanticism could end up doing more harm than good,, Patsy. They aren’t ready to take on Lebicca. The time isn’t yet right. You have a good deal of charisma, and you could end up talking them into a situation they simply are not yet ready for!”

“Hey, hey, what’s this?” said Joby, strolling into the cabin “I can’t leave you two alone for 5 minutes can I! I’ve just come along to say we’re about to sail round to have a look at the caves. That’s if you’re interested”.

“Of course we are”, said Adam, briskly “If you can try and talk some sense into Patsy, then you are a better man than I!”

“What’s rattling his cage?” said Joby, when Adam had gone.

“Oh Joby”, Kieran leaned on their bunk and buried his face in his hands “I’ve made a terrible mistake”.

“Nothing that can’t be put right I’m sure”, said Joby.

“He’s right”, said Kieran “I do get carried away. This is a situation that calls for sensitive handling, and instead I’ve acted as though I’ve been striking matches near a powder-keg”.

“Yeah look, don’t overdo the Catholic guilt-thingy, Kiel”, said Joby “What’s done is done and all that”.

“I just see these nice, decent people being put upon by a corrupt, distant regime”, said Kieran “And it bugs the hell out of me”.

“That’s been the way of it since the world began”, said Joby “And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to change it, it’s just that you have to pick the right time if you don’t wanna make the situation even worse! As I see it, this lot in Lebicca seem to be going into some kind of tailspin. You know as well as I do that corrupt regimes ALWAYS end up destroying ’emselves in the end, and it’s when that end game begins, if you know what I mean, that’s when the time is right to strike”.

“And isn’t that now then?” said Kieran.

“We don’t know do we!” said Joby, in exasperation “We don’t have enough information at our disposal. Knowledge is power, and we haven’t got enough of it yet, not to do anything worthwhile anyway!”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site