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By Sarah Hapgood

“You don’t have to tell me, I know what a mess my hair is”, said Cloris.

“I would never say anything so ungallant!” said Adam, who had been studying her, with his hand close to this mouth, for what seemed like an age.

Cloris stood before him in the galley, wearing an old long white nightdress, which was now doing service as a day dress. It reached to her ankles, and underneath she wore a pair of black leggings. Around her neck was hung a stopwatch and a compass on a long ribbon. Her hair hung to her waist, and was clearly in need of trimming. She looked underfed, and as if she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in quite some while.

“You’ve been analysing me for several minutes”, said Cloris.

“Yes, but I wasn’t analysing your hair”, said Adam “I was more thinking you look as if you could do with a decent kip”.

“Funny, that’s what Joby said when he first clapped eyes on me”, said Cloris, sitting on the chair which Adam pulled out for her “Thank you. I guess I can’t measure up to Bardin’s crisp, starchy captaincy”.

“Oh don’t worry”, said Bengo, pouring out mugs of strong tea “There are plenty of times when he can look like a right old fleabag … Oh I don’t mean you look like a …”

“Bengo, why don’t you take some tea through to the dining-room”, said Adam.

“Yes I think I should”, said Bengo.

“We made faster progress over from the mainland than I expected”, said Cloris, once they were alone “I was so damn focussed on this little speck on the horizon that I barely paused for breath. I didn’t really stop to freshen myself up”.

“And quite right too”, said Adam “I would hope you didn’t feel you had to put your ballgown and diamonds on just to call in on me!”

“You’ve no idea what it feels like to finally be here”, said Cloris “I feel as if I never want to travel anywhere ever again”.

“Dare I ask how Lord Robert is?”

“He’s OK, that’s the best I can say. He spends most of his time sitting in his chair in the dining-room. He doesn’t say very much these days. He’s nothing like the man you first met on Fire Island”.

“Sometimes it happens that way. The dynamic, testosterone-fuelled lot can suddenly fall like a mighty oak tree”.

He sat down opposite Cloris, and took her hands in his. She felt very cold to the touch.

“Now listen to me”, he said “I think you should go and have a nap in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. It’s alright, we’ll make sure they stay out of it. There will be plenty of time to catch up with everything later”.

Cloris began to cry softly. It was as if the touch of his hands had released an emotional spring in her.

“I swear that poor little girl is suffering from PTSD”, said Adam, in Julian’s cabin, several minutes later.

“After everything that’s happened that’s scarcely surprising”, said Julian “And Lord Muck Robert has hardly been much help to anyone”.

“Oh don’t get me started on him”, Adam sighed, falling into a chair.

“Cloris will be alright”, said Julian “I have every confidence in that. All she needs is some decent rest, and a good scrub will make her feel better. I’ll get Toppy to take the hip-bath into the cabin when she’s ready for it”.

From the dining-room next door could be heard sounds of loud chattering, plus raucous laughter coming from Jane.

“Did she always laugh as loudly as that?” asked Julian “I can’t remember”.

“Jane was always a jolly girl”, said Adam “But I think it’s sounding rather more forced these days. Perhaps she’s felt she’s had to cheer Cloris along, a bit like how Bengo is with Bardin sometimes. I shall give Cloris a couple of hours, and then I’ll take some tea into her. I have a feeling, much as she needs it, that she won’t appreciate me leaving her to sleep for too long. She’s like Bardin in that way too”.

“She probably won’t appreciate you referring to her as a ‘poor little girl’ either”, Julian smirked.

“Well I’m relying on you not to tell her that I said that!” said Adam.

Cloris slept for nearly 12 hours straight. She was out for so long that Bardin joked that if she was comatose for much longer they’d all have to grab a candle and solemnly file past her. This earned him a thump from Bengo. When she awoke the following afternoon she went up to the main deck, where Kieran had set up a couple of deckchairs. He ensconced her in one of them, and tucked a blanket around her.

“I feel like I’m being swaddled”, said Cloris “You would have made a good nursemaid”.

“Well I heard it said once that Pisceans make good nurses”, Kieran replied.

“Oh you’re a Fishy one”, said Cloris “I’m a Sagittarian, a December-born”.

“That would explain why you sometimes remind us of Bardin. He’s a Saggy too”.

“Am I like him?” Kieran had to laugh at the note of dismay in her voice.

“If it’s any comfort Bengo’s a Sagittarian too”, he said “And he’s much easier to get on with. I think it’s because you and Bardin both like to get your own way, and that’s not a bad thing in a leader”.

“I suppose not, but I hope I’m not too controlling”, said Cloris “It’s not that I didn’t appreciate Bardin’s offer of help, it’s just that I didn’t want him thinking I was some pathetic milksop who couldn’t navigate a ship across the ocean. Lord Robert hasn’t exactly made us look great on the yacht”.

“But you and the other ladies, Jane and Glynis, have made up for him”.

“Jane’s a Leo. It explains why she’s got such a generous spirit, and is usually more diplomatic than me. It’s not been easy for her either. She hasn’t said much about it, but I know she’s been very disappointed in Robert’s behaviour. Glynis just ignores him as much as possible”.

Cloris gave a chuckle.

“Bengo and Bardin, two Sagittarians together”, she said “Now that’s not a combination I thought would be possible! Now wonder they’re always sparring with one another. I don’t know how you put up with them”.

“We’ve got used to them over the years”, said Kieran “And it’s not as if the rest of us don’t do our share of bickering too, although Joby and I have calmed down a lot more from what we used to be like”.

“Is it really necessary for you all to up-sticks now that we’ve arrived here? I understand the plan is that you will all leave once we’re settled onto the island. Are you still going to Snow Lake, I can’t remember what was decided”.

“No, a return to the mainland is out of the question for the time being”, said Kieran “For the quite forseeable future in fact. The world needs to calm down a heck of a lot, and I can’t see that happening any time soon. The plan was that we would sort of sail off into the sunset, perhaps head to the New Continent”.

“Why on earth do you want to go to the New Continent? I’ve heard it’s even worse than back there”, said Cloris, indicating back in the direction of the mainland “It’s a cursed land”.

“I know, but all that was a long time ago, and who knows what has happened there in the intervening time. It would be somewhere new to explore. Get us out of your hair anyway”.

“But we don’t want you out of our hair!” Cloris exclaimed “I know it’s probably not practical for us all to stay on the one little island together. You lot like your own space. But what about one of the neighbouring islands?”

“We’re pretty certain the one to the immediate south-east of here is uninhabited”, said Kieran “But we’re not at all sure about the larger one to the north-east. We have a feeling that there’s SOMETHING there, but I suppose we’ve all been too damn lazy and haven’t gone to explore it. We must be losing our touch. We’d have been over there like a shot years ago. We did take the skiff on a recce once, and nearly got attacked by some kind of sea-monster. It gave us the distinct impression that whoever is there doesn’t want to be disturbed”.

“There’s a lot of mystery in this part of the world if you ask me”, said Cloris “Bengo was telling me earlier that the inside of this island could be a warren of caves and tunnels”.

“And we haven’t explored those either! You could be forgiven for wondering just what the blazes we have been doing since we got here! I think it’s that after fighting our way through the Enchanted Forest for so long, we just wanted to live from day-to-day for a while”.

“I can understand that. The moment we arrived here I felt as if I just wanted to sleep for a hundred years”.

“Your face reminds me of tapioca pudding, Cloris!” Bardin’s voice rang out nearby. He had done his usual trick of seeming to magically appear out of nowhere.

“Bardin!” shouted Kieran “That wasn’t a very gentlemanly thing to say now was it!”

“I was actually trying to be helpful”, said Bardin.

“HOW?!” said Kieran.

“By pointing out to her how ill she looks”, said Bardin.

“Thanks”, said Cloris, grimly “I wouldn’t mind so much, but I hate tapioca pudding”.

“Bardin, I strongly advise you never to take up hospital visiting”, said Kieran “Your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired”.

“Do you blow that whistle a lot?” said Cloris, pointing to the whistle which habitually hung around Bardin’s neck.

“Far too much”, said Kieran “The only good thing about the whistle is that when he’s blowing it, he can’t actually speak! Did you come up here for a reason, Bardin?”

“Yes, Julian sent me up”, said Bardin “Because, as usual, I seem to be the glorified messenger boy around here. He says that Toppy says that the hip-bath is ready in our cabin if Cloris wants to use it. And I strongly advise she does”.

“Oh gee, so now I smell as well as look like a tapioca pudding?” said Cloris.

“I MEANT, that you might like to relax in it”, said Bardin “Good God, you try to help people …”

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