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That’s not to say that things became easy at all after leaving the island. In fact, they began to have a repeat of some previous supernatural problems they had had whilst sailing the ocean, most particularly in that dark shadows were seen ocean again in the corridor below deck. Kieran described one as being like a malevolent old lady dressed in long fluttery black clothes.
It was a brooding atmosphere on the galleon. It wasn’t simply a case of the odd things happening, but everyone was struggling to understand just who those people had been whom they had so recently encountered. And yet, at the same time, it was as if a startling, but bog-standard realisation had been brought home to them.
Kieran had announced themselves to Miss Annabel as merely being travellers, and they realised that that was exactly what they were. Of course, in many respects, that is what they had always been, right from the very beginning, but now they could come to terms with it. They were travellers, and if that meant (apart from essential supply-runs) if they were to sail the seas forever, like ’The Flying Dutchman’, then so be it. They didn’t belong anywhere but together.
All this led to an emotional supper aboard the galleon one evening. During it, Bardin had a sudden attack of democracy, (Bengo said that he had never known this to happen before, but he supposed they were living in strange times), and that it should be put to the vote whether everyone wanted to continue with him as Captain or not. He was overcome with emotion when the supporting votes for him turned out to be unanimous. Even Hoowie voted for him, (although the others suspected that it was with the realisation that there would be dire retribution from Julian if he hadn’t. Nobody expected democracy in a relationship like theirs!). By the end of the evening Bardin was very drunk and very tearful.
“I really do think you should go to bed now, old love”, said Adam, as himself, Bengo, Bardin and Joby were the only ones now left at the supper table.
“Yes”, said Bengo, who had been so anxious about Bardin’s drinking that he had barely touched any alcohol himself “Things are going to be a bit different from now on, Bardy. If you’re going to be Captain for the rest of eternity, then you need to calm down. I’m going to take you severely in hand”.
“Oh no you’re not!” said Bardin “I have been in charge since the very first day we met …”
“Time for a change then”, said Joby.
Bengo got up out of his chair and put his arms under Bardin’s armpits, hoisting him to his feet. Bardin stubbornly made his body go limp into a dead weight.
“Bardy if you don’t behave, I’ll give you a good hiding!” Bengo scolded, and he hauled Bardin from the room.
Adam gave a satisfied sigh.
“What an excellent idea!” he said.
“What, spanking Bardin?” said Joby “Not half!”
“No I mean us just accepting ourselves as travellers from now on”, said Adam “It’s such a romantic idea”.
“You wouldn’t think that if you was above right now”, said Hillyard, returning from a brief tour of inspection topside “It’s all dark and drizzly. It’s like a living death up there, a living death!”
“And on that cheery note”, said Joby “I think I’ll go to bed”.
“Do you want a hot water bottle?” asked Adam.
“Yeah”, said Joby “If Kieran’s got into bed without his socks on, his feet’ll be like blocks of ice. I’ll do it though”.
When he had gone into the galley, Adam looked at Hillyard.
“You seem very pensive, old love”, he said.
Hillyard pulled up a chair and sat down.
“When we left the island”, he said “Me and Mieps saw some things washed up on the volcanic rocks. They looked like little sacks of things, about the size of pillowcases. We think someone chucked them out to sea, but they got swept back up on the rocks”.
“What do you think they were?” said Adam.
“Don‘t know”, said Hillyard “And I don’t want to speculate either. Damn place! What was it about it? I can’t help thinking of that strange village we came across years and years ago, in the desert. Xuste? Was that what it was called?”
“Something like that”, said Adam “I honestly can’t remember. You cooked snake for us there, I remember that. But the problem with that place was that everyone in it was dead. I can’t believe that was the case on the island, I feel that was something else altogether different, although God knows what!”
“I thought you’d be asleep by now”, said Joby, when he walked into his cabin.
“I’ve been lying here, thinking”, said Kieran.
“Oh Christ!” said Joby, stuffing the hot water bottle into their bunk.
“What do you think was really in their cellar?“ said Kieran “Back on the island I mean”.
“Dunno and don’t care”, said Joby “And I don’t’ see any point wondering. For all you know it probably was just a boiler fed on animal shite! We’ve got enough to do just coping with the ocean at the moment, without taking any more on!”
Hangovers abounded the next morning, which was doubly unfortunate as the sea had got a lot rougher. Bengo had been sent to take some coffee along to Julian’s cabin, and had had to navigate the rolling corridor with it. He was annoyed therefore to find Hoowie alone in there when he finally reached his destination.
“Where’s Julian?” Bengo wailed, dismayed that he had struggled through the bucking ship with hot coffee, only to find just Hoowie there.
“Gone up on deck”, said Hoowie “Said the fresh air would clear his head. Here, I’ll have that if you like, you won’t wanna struggle upstairs with it”.
Reluctantly, Bengo put the coffee on the floor by the bed. Hoowie held out a stone-cold hot water bottle.
“You might as well take this back with you whilst you’re at it”, he said.
“I’ve a good mind to unscrew it and tip it over you!” said Bengo, crossly.
“You don’t wanna do that”, said Hoowie “Julian wouldn’t appreciate the sheets being soaking wet”.
“As if I haven’t got enough to do with doing breakfasts!” said Bengo.
“Oh nobody’s gonna want breakfast this morning”, said Hoowie, casually.
“They’re getting it, whether they want it or not!” Bengo retorted.
Julian came into the cabin, looking somewhat pink in the face from his exposure to the cold winds above. Bengo was delighted to see him, and poked his tongue out at Hoowie.
“It’s begun to snow”, said Julian “We’re in for a rough time of it”.
The strange island had been muggy, and not far off tropical, and now they were sailing into snow. Such is often the way of life at sea.
Bengo (who was persisting in his over-riding need to take care of Bardin and keep him on an even keel) helped his partner on with his duffel-coat and boots below deck. Once kitted out, Bardin went topside, and on finding blocks of ice floating in the water, immediately ordered that poles be used to keep them from touching the ship.
“There’s another thing”, said Hillyard, approaching him with a telescope “We’ve got company, look”.
This was certainly a startling turn-up for the books. They had had the oceans practically to themselves all this time. Bardin looked through the telescope at a ragged two-masted vessel in the far distance, which seemed to be lurching dangerously to one side.
“Shit, she looks half-derelict!” said Bardin “I suppose we’d better go and see if they need any help”.
“What’s going on then?” said Hoowie, who was now standing behind Bengo on the quarterdeck steps.
“There’s a ship some distance away”, said Bengo “I think we’re gonna go and look at it”.
“Why can’t we stop interfering and just leave things alone?” Hoowie grumbled.
Bengo went to back down the steps and found himself sitting on Hoowie’s head instead.
“And why can’t you stop getting in the way!” Bengo snapped.
“Well what about me?” said Hoowie “It felt like I had a boulder falling on me!”
“No that was just wishful thinking on my part”, said Bengo.
Hoowie went back to his cabin to have a sulk in peace. Julian, who had gone back up on deck on hearing the news of the other ship, now returned to fetch him.
“Come on, some fresh air will do you good”, he said, holding out Hoowie’s oilskin coat to him “What are you looking so dour about anyway?”
“Oh Bengo told me I was always in the way”, Hoowie mumbled.
“You theatricals never cease to amaze me”, said Julian “Here we are, out in the middle of a dangerous bloody ocean, with blocks of ice all around us, and you’re upset because Bengo told you that you were in the way!”
“Those two can be very hurtful sometimes”, Hoowie pouted.
“I’m sure you’ll find a way of getting your revenge”, said Julian “Anyway, come and have a look at the other ship”.
Unfortunately, when they got up on deck, the other ship had disappeared. Even allowing for the bad visibility conditions, it was still a surprise to see no trace of it. As the next few days went on, the two-master seemed to be playing some kind of cat-and-mouse game with them. Sometimes it appeared, as if it was tailing them at a discreet distance, and sometimes it vanished altogether. Mieps was instructed to try signalling to it, but they had no response.
Visibility became very poor indeed, and freezing fog came down. But through the fog they could hear the doleful ringing of a bell coming from the other ship. At times it felt as though they incarcerated inside a freezing tomb.
Kieran had demonstrated, during his brief reign as Captain, that morale on board ship was vitally important, and Bardin knew that at times like this it was more important than ever. He ordered Bengo and Hoowie to stop their silly sulking at each other. He sympathised with Bengo over Hoowie’s high-handed attitude, and much as he deplored the thought of Hoowie, as The King’s Favourite, getting too big for his boots, he also knew that Julian had a very short fuse where sulkers were concerned, and he deplored the thought of having to pick Hoowie emotionally up off the floor, (if Julian should ever dump him), even more.
Bardin was putting on his coat and hat in his cabin when Hoowie sheepishly sidled in.
“Don’t you ever put a brush through your hair?” Bardin snapped at him “It looks as if it should have birds nesting in it!”
“I brushed it first thing this morning”, said Hoowie, defensively “You off out somewhere?”
“Yeah, I thought I’d nip down the shops!” said Bardin, sarcastically “I’m popping up topside for a moment. Bengo, keep the fire stoked up, and get the samovar going”.
“Yes, Bardy”, said Bengo, meekly.
He and Hoowie visibly breathed a sigh of relief when The Great One had left the room. Hoowie sat down in one of the armchairs by the fire, and coiled his long legs up underneath him.
“These logs are a bit damp”, said Bengo, poking the fire “They’ve been down in the hold for ages”.
“There’s no knowing how long we’re going to be stuck out in this”, said Hoowie “It could be years even. What would happen then?”
“We’d have to go back to eating a lot of tinned corned beef!” said Bengo.
“Hark!” said Hoowie “Can you hear it again? That damn bell!”
“It’s very distant”, said Bengo “Perhaps it’s moving away”.
“More likely just the fog muffling the sound”, said Hoowie.
There were voices outside the door, and Bardin came back in, accompanied by Julian.
“Haven’t you got the samovar going yet?” said Bardin, crossly.
“Well you’ve only been gone about 2 seconds, Bardy!” said Bengo.
“Get on with it”, said Bardin, shrugging off his coat “It’s bloody cold up there, we need warming up”.
“Bengo, I thought you were going be firmer with Bardin”, said Julian.
“I do try”, Bengo sighed “But he’s been talking like that to me since I was 6, I don’t know any better”.
“Well make an effort”, said Julian.
Hoowie had been standing to one side like a spare part during this. He was pathetically grateful when Julian remembered to give him a hug. Bardin groaned and rolled his eyes.
“Sit down and shut up”, Julian said to him “Or you’ll get a spanking”.
“He wouldn’t be able to feel it through all that starch!” said Hoowie.
Just to show he wasn’t being partial, Julian decided to have a go at both Hoowie and Bardin.
“Bardin”, he began “You have recently been given a resounding vote of confidence from everyone, so surely you can relax a little?”
“But how can I?” said Bardin “When we’re stuck out in this icy gloom?”
“Easy”, said Julian “Just take it as it comes, and you [he said to Hoowie], stop trying to be crafty and Machiavellian. It doesn’t suit you”.
“No, you’re really rubbish at it, Hoowie”, said Bengo.
“You were put on this earth solely to give pleasure”, said Julian.
Bardin’s face was a picture at this. He glared at Hoowie with eyes like saucers. To him, the idea that Hoowie was put on this earth to give pleasure was downright bizarre. Eventually he rallied himself.
“Well he can stop sulking and moping at least”, he said “I don’t want the risk of you dumping him, Julian. It would be awful if you did, he wouldn’t be able to function”.
“What is this weird notion that I’m going to dump him?” said Julian, lighting a small cigar.
“Just a thought that keeps rattling round my head”, said Bardin “Because if you did, it would be me and Bengo who’d have to look after him. He’d be incapable of sorting himself out”.
“The other clowns might help a bit, Bardy”, said Bengo, trying to be fair.
“That lot?!” said Bardin “They can’t even look after themselves! They used to live in total squalor!”
“At least they had somewhere to live”, said Hoowie, glumly “With me it was often a case of any bit of spare floor that was going”. Julian hated being reminded of what they had been through all those years ago, as much as he hated being reminded of Finia’s time at the brothel in Husgalonghi.
“Yes alright, let’s not re-tread all that old ground again”, he said “None of you are living in Clowns’ Hell now, so you can move on from it”.
“As long as I never have to be hit with a pie again”, said Bengo “That’s all that matters to me!”
Ordinarily, Bardin would have been irritated at being drawn into yet another conversation where Hoowie had been part of the subject matter, but for once he didn’t mind. It helped to take his mind off their situation. The ice-packs were deeply worrying, and Bardin had ordered that they were to keep going, 24 hours a day, at a speed of dead slow, as he didn’t want to run the risk of them getting marooned in an ice field. Late that night he was dozing in bed when Rumble came down to see him.
“We’re running into even more of it”, said Rumble “I thought you’d like to know”.
“OK”, said Bardin “We’ll double the watch, extra alertness and all that. And double the lamps too, just in case that other ship’s still in the vicinity. We don’t want to risk it ramming us”.
“If you ask me”, said Rumble “I think it’s a ghost ship anyway”.
“So do I”, said Bardin “But we don’t know that for certain yet, so we have to treat it as if it’s solid”.
“Is there anything I can do?” said Bengo, after Rumble had returned topside.
Bardin knew there was no point telling him to go back to sleep, so he asked him to make several cups of extra strong tea for everyone. When Bengo took it up on deck a short while later, he was awed to see the vast expanses of ice stretching out eerily on all sides of them.
“Ohmigod!” he said, having the same sensation he had once had when he was little, and had peeked through the stage curtains just before a show was to start, and found the auditorium packed to bursting.
“Just pass the tea round, Bengo”, said Bardin.
“Here you go”, said Bengo, handing a mug to Mieps, who was up at the wheel “This’ll put hairs on your chest”.
“You’d better give some to Bardin then!” said Mieps “He could do with it!”
“Keep these coming, Bengo”, said Adam, when Bengo had got back down to the main deck “And when you get to the galley, lock away our salt. Patsy’s threatening to do a blessing in the main corridor, and he always uses far too much of it!”
“Righto”, said Bengo.
“Can’t you hear it?” Joby suddenly appeared at the top of the steps.
“Hear what?” said Hillyard.
“You bunch of cloth-eared nutters!” said Joby “Listen!”
They all paused for a moment. In the far distance there was the sound of something crying out. Whether it was a man or a wild beast it was impossible to say.
It was a very long night. Any sleep to be had was got in short snatches. Joby had gone back to bed at around 5 o’clock, and when he woke up 4 hours later it was to find a bright wintry sunshine coming through the porthole at him in a most welcome way. Pulling his dressing-gown on over his long, baggy vest, he went along to the galley, and helped himself to a portion of tinned beef stew which was sitting in a pot on top of the stove. Kieran drifted across from Bengo and Bardin’s cabin.
“I wondered where you had go to”, said Joby.
“I camped down on the clowns’ sofa”, said Kieran “Didn’t want to wake you up by climbing all over you. Jeez, I don’t know how you can eat that stuff, it looks like something one of the dogs has thrown up!”
“For Christ’s sake don’t let Adam hear you say that”, said Joby.
“It’s nice and comfy in their cabin”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, we could have had that one”, said Joby “If you didn’t have such a fascination for broom cupboards!”
There was a loud racket from the corridor outside.
“What the fock was that?” said Kieran.
“Bengo falling down the steps”, said Joby “It’s always happening”.
Bengo burst into the galley, looking flushes and excited.
“Land!” he cried.
“You certainly did”, said Joby.
“No, land in the distance!” said Bengo “Bardy thinks it’s The New Continent!”
“Well as long as it’s not The Chain Islands again I don’t mind”, said Kieran.
“Or the island with the inbred weirdo’s on it”, said Joby.
“Or ‘The Cursed Isle’”, said Kieran.
“Why should we end up in any of them again?” said Bengo.
“I’ve come to expect everything lately”, said Joby, lugubriously.
“It’s ’The New Continent’”, said Bardin, coming into the room “But we’re way off track, nowhere near our old house. Even so, we’re going to have to put in here for a while, until the weather improves anyway”.
With great excitement they headed for the horizon, and reached land late in the afternoon. Finally, they were back at ‘The New Continent’. Not that it looked much at the moment. They appeared to be in yet another of those places that had been inhabited once, but had long since been abandoned. There was a lengthy concrete jetty sticking out into the sea, and forming a kind of breakwater round a sheltered cove. There were the sad remains of a decaying sailboat washed up on the shingle, but otherwise there was no other sign that any had been here in recent memory.
There was little time to do any exploring before the night came on, but Bardin decided to do a quick scout round. Normally he would have taken the usual scouting party of himself, Bengo, Ransey, Hillyard, Kieran and Joby (plus sometimes and/or Mieps and Tamaz), but at the last minute he decided to substitute Julian and Hoowie for Joby and Kieran. Joby was furious. His disappointment was acute. He had been looking forward to setting foot on land again.
“It’s only for today”, said Kieran, as he and Adam followed Joby down the corridor of the ship “We can go ashore tomorrow”.
“You’re getting yourself all worked up unnecessarily”, said Adam.
“Why? That’s what I wanna know, why?” said Joby, turning to face them when he reached his cabin “Why do we get dumped for Hoowie? Hoowie of all people! Even his name sounds like someone throwing up!”
“I strongly suspect Julian invited himself along”, Adam sighed “And so of course with Julian naturally comes Hoowie”.
“Far too much is being made of him!” said Joby “He acts like a big kid most of the time, sounds like a big kid most of the time …”
“Well all the more reason to give him a little responsibility now and again”, said Adam “We have rather tended to treat Hoowie as an overgrown baby”.
“I’ll say we have!” said Joby “I’m surprised he doesn’t gurgle when he speaks!”
“Then you can’t argue with him being made to do something!” Adam protested, in exasperation.
“It’s the thin end of the wedge, you just wait and see”, said Joby, the perennial prophet of doom “One morning we’re gonna wake up and he’ll be running the ship! Then just remember that I warned you it would happen! That‘s how that sort operate. Everyone just dismisses ‘em as a sex object, and the next thing you know they‘re wielding all the power!”
“It’s not going to happen, you silly arse!” said Adam “I can’t imagine Bardin going along with that one, not in a million years! Now I strongly suggest you calm down. I’m going to get started on the supper. I shall expect you along, hopefully in a calm and peaceful frame of mind, very shortly!”
After he had gone Joby flopped onto his bunk.
“You’re not jealous of Hoowie are you?” said Kieran.
“I’m jealous of him going ashore!” said Joby.
“That’s not what I meant”, said Kieran.
Joby looked perplexed for a moment, and then said “Oh don’t be daft, Kiel”.
“Well things did get a little intense between you and Julian for a while”, said Kieran.
“That was mainly Julian who was getting intense”, said Joby “He has a way with him at times. For fuck’s sake Kieran, it’s always been you. You’re so beautiful, those blue eyes …”
He found himself getting quite emotional, and this annoyed him considerably.
“Don’t come out with daft stuff like that again!” he said, tearfully.
The trip ashore hadn’t been much of an adventure anyway. There really hadn’t been very much to see. The countryside facing them was bleak and featureless, a massive vista of what would normally be grey and brown hills and valleys, but which under the snow and ice now resembled a lunar landscape. Even at the prime of the year though it looked as though there wouldn’t be much here in the way of flora and fauna. But at least it was somewhere to drop anchor until the weather turned milder, and it would allow the animals to be un-cooped for a while. Bardin still decided though to keep the night-watch rota going for a while longer, at least until they had got more of a measure of the area.
This was just as well as several days into their stay at the frozen cove (as the Indigo-ites thought of it), some THING was spotted. Every day Bardin sent someone up into the crow’s nest, simply to scan the area and spot if there was anything unusual to be sighted. This day it was Farnol’s turn, and his shouts of excitement summoned practically everybody up onto the deck.
“Big thing”, he yelled down, and the rest of it was incoherent.
“Get down here”, Bardin ordered “I can’t hear a word you’re saying!”
“Way big thing, man”, said Farnol “It must have been about 10 ft tall!”
“Yeah alright, cut the fisherman’s tale”, said Bardin “What did you actually see?”
“I’m telling you!” said Farnol “Huge thing, about 10 ft tall, lumbering about in the far distance, like some enormous gorilla! I did see it, man, I really did!”
The jury was out as to what Farnol had actually seen. He wasn’t a liar, but he did have a tendency to exaggerate. Then again, as Kieran pointed out, larger than normal sized creatures had been seen before in and around The New Continent. A council of war between Julian, Bardin, Hillyard, Ransey and Adam was held in the dining-room that evening after supper, to try and decide whether they should stay at the cove or not. Hoowie sat in on it for a while, but then got bored with the seriousness of it and went to seek out Bengo in his cabin.
“I know I should try and contribute”, said Hoowie “But I can’t think of anything intelligent to say! I’d like to be able to think of something, if only to prove that Julian doesn’t just have me around for sex”.
“Nothing wrong with being a sex object you know”, said Bengo “Anyway, what would be the point of coming out with something intelligent just to have Bardy shoot it down in flames! I tend to just sit there at times like that and then wait for a chance to tell him what a stupid idea he’s had!”
“Perhaps I should try and read some books”, said Hoowie, miserably “You had a go once”.
“Yeah, and I was rubbish!” said Bengo.
“Then I could mention serious things to Julian”, said Hoowie “’Cept he’d just laugh, he does that whatever I say!”
Suddenly they were interrupted by a loud roar coming from the mainland, very similar to the one they had had heard whilst still out at sea. Instinctively, Hoowie leapt out of his chair and grabbed Bengo’s hands.
“I wonder if that was Farnol’s tall creature”, Bengo whispered.
“Whatever it was”, said Hoowie “It sounded fucking big!”
Voices of consternation were breaking out all around them. Bengo went out into the corridor, where Farnol, comically clad in his nightshirt, was yelling at Bardin.
“Now do you believe me?” he was shouting “It was that damn thing I saw I tell yer! Don’t you care about the galleon, is that it? Don’t you care that it could come and smash us up?!”
“How dare you say I don’t care about the galleon!” said Bardin, livid with rage.
“OK Bardin”, said Hillyard, thinking that this would be a good moment to interrupt “Shall I go below and start up the engines?”
“Hark at it”, said Joby, as he and Kieran lay in their bunk late that night. The strange creature could still be heard bellowing from the shore “I bleedin’ hope it can’t swim!”
“Unlikely”, said Kieran, who had the bedclothes muffled up to his nose against the cold “Being that size”.
“Whales are big and they can swim”, said Joby.
“Whales don’t tend to have two legs, Joby”, said Kieran.
“Hippo’s can swim”, said Joby “Oh alright, they’ve got four legs. I dunno what difference how many legs you’ve got makes … oh for fuck’s sake, let’s not get into a debate about it at this time of night”.
“I wasn’t”, said Kieran.
“How did I ever get mixed up with you lot?” Fabulous was grumbling, as he came down the steps from night-watch duty.
“We took you in, old love”, said Adam, who had been coming out of the heads “It was either that, or the people of your town would have torn you to pieces, coming from such a desirable family as you did!”
Kieran and Joby burst out laughing.
“Go to sleep, you two”, Adam banged on their door in passing.
“Yes mummy”, said Joby, sarcastically “God, we should have got him a knitting-bag for Christmas!”
Joby awoke in the dark still watches of the night to hear something swishing about in the corridor outside. A swishing noise like the ghostly old lady in black who had been seen there since they had left that strange island a short while before.
He reasoned with himself that it could simply be the night-watch crew changing over, but he had never heard any of the others make a swishing noise before. In the morning, as they were washing, Joby suggested to Kieran that they move into the communal bed in the big saloon for the time being. Kieran didn’t take this suggestion seriously, which annoyed Joby no end.
He was still in a grot about it when they both went up on deck to see what the situation was regarding the 10ft creature, which was standing at the end of the concrete jetty in the distance.
“It’s completely hairless”, said Adam, who had been looking through a small telescope at it “Now that surprises me somewhat. And it has a snout on its face, like a pig. Rather hideous-looking creature, to be honest with you”.
“It’s a Behemoth”, said Kieran, after having had a look through the telescope as well.
“Yer wot?” said Joby.
“It’s from the Bible”, said Kieran “From the Book of Job”.
“So you should know that one, Joby”, said Adam, mischievously “Seeing as it’s all about you!”
“The Leviathan was the giant beast of the sea”, said Kieran “And the Behemoth was the beast of the land. That’s what I was thinking of”.
“So it’s not really called a Behemoth then?” Joby grumped “That thing over there?” “Just an analogy that’s all”, said Kieran.
Joby was in no mood for analogies, and stumped below deck, still in a grot.
“What’s the matter with him this morning?” said Adam, not looking forward to a whole day of close confinement with Joby’s grumpiness in the galley.
“He’s spooked”, said Kieran “He said to me just now that he wants to move into the big cabin with you lot”.
“Well I’m sure we can squeeze you in”, said Adam “We’ve done it before. I’d promise him anything not to have to put up with him in one of those surly moods of his”.
“Failing that”, said Kieran “We’ll send him along to see Julian!”
“AND SO WE’RE ON THE MOVE AGAIN”, Julian wrote in his log-book later that day “NO ONE WANTS TO HANG AROUND HERE WITH THAT DAMN GREAT MONSTROSITY GAWPING AT US, NOT TO MENTION IT CONSTANTLY YELLING ITS HEAD OFF. THE VASTNESS OF THIS CONTINENT NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE US. WE DON’T RECOGNISE THIS COASTLINE FROM WHEN WE SAILED DOWN TO CATARINE’S LIGHTHOUSE (WHAT FEELS LIKE AN ABSOLUTE AGO NOW). OF COURSE THIS IS THE WINTRY WASTES NOW, WHICH IS WHAT MAKES IT LOOK DIFFERENT.
WE HAVE SEEN SOME CAVES BUROWED INTO THE LAND, BUT NO SIGN OF HUMAN HABITATION - AS OF YET ANYHOW. THE WHOLE PLACE NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE US”.
“I’m really disappointed that things didn’t work out there”, Bardin was sitting slumped at the galley table, late one night “That place would have been perfect for us to sit out the Winter, it even had a concrete jetty!”
(This last bit was said as though a concrete jetty was the very pinnacle of civilisation).
“Bardin, I really do think you should go to bed, old love”, said Adam “You’re looking terribly peaky. And it might be an idea if you stayed off the booze tomorrow. You’ve been drinking far too much lately”.
“I’m not the only one”, said Bardin “Everybody has. It’s to calm our nerves and help us to sleep”.
“That’s a very dangerous line of reasoning to go down”, said Adam “I should know!”
Bengo went to yank Bardin up from the stool, and they both fell over backwards, landing sprawled on the floor.
“I’m amazed they never hurt themselves”, said Adam, once the clowns had gone to bed.
“They’re made of rubber, they bounce”, said Joby.
“Do you want me to walk you to you cabin?” asked Adam.
“I can manage!” said Joby, haughtily.
“Well we don’t want the ghostly old lady to leap out and get you”, said Adam.
“Oh very funny!” said Joby “Kieran’s done another blessing out there today. You never know, this one might actually work!”
Hoowie came into the room, and dumped his bulls-eye lantern onto the table. He was well muffled up, but still looked almost mummified with cold.
“Hoowie, you look absolutely frozen, old love”, said Adam, pulling his gloves off him “Has your stint finished now?”
“Yes, thank God!” said Hoowie “That blackness up there is something else. It’s really dense night. You can’t make out the shapes of anything”.
“Perhaps you two can accompany each other along the corridor”, said Adam.
He was blithely oblivious to the indignant look which Joby gave him.
The following morning Julian decreed that Hoowie was to be served breakfast in his cabin, and Bardin (who no doubt would have seen this as the end of the world) could stick it up his jumper if he didn’t like it. Julian then took himself up on deck, and Joby was left to carry the tray along to Julian and Hoowie’s cabin. When he got there he found Hoowie, not pale and prostrate with cold and exhaustion in bed (milking it for all it was worth), but prancing and preening himself around the room.
“Hey, don’t come in here”, Hoowie yelped “I haven’t got any trousers on!”
“I’ve already seen what you’ve got”, said Joby “Too many times! What’s with the sudden attack of modesty anyway? And you’ve got your boots on!”
“Well the floor’s cold innit!” said Hoowie “Apart from that poxy bit of rug by the fire”.
“Me heart bleeds”, said Joby, who had neither rug nor fireplace in his cabin. He put the tray down on Julian’s desk “Come and eat these scrambled eggs before they get cold. I didn’t cook ’em just for the hell of it you know”.
“Do you think Kieran would give me advice on how to become more spiritual?” said Hoowie, pulling on a pair of pants..
“You can always ask him”, said Joby “Go and see him. Anything that helps to calm you down is fine by me!”
“Trouble is”, Hoowie gave a leer “When I’m alone with him I don’t get calmed down. I’m sure you know what I mean!”
Joby tried to get offended about this, but instead found it quite funny.
“You need spanking”, he said.
“I get spanked all the time”, said Hoowie “Really hard too. Morning, noon and night. You should come and watch sometime”. .
“Behave!” said Joby.
He briefly sought refuge in his own cabin, to draw breath for a moment.
At dusk Kieran got summoned to the big saloon as Mieps wanted to measure him up for a jumper she was knitting.
“I suppose the chopper was bound to fall on me sometime”, said Kieran.
“It won’t take much wool to get you kitted out will it!” said Hillyard “Here, what’s the matter with Joby today?”
“He’s going around muttering something about having been at sea too long”, said Mieps.
“Hoowie was getting a wee bit too frisky in his presence earlier”, said Kieran “Howie’s a handful at the best of times”.
“Good luck to him if he’s trying to seduce Joby”, said Hillyard “Look how long it took you, although nowhere near as long as it took me!”
“Everyone keeps on about how Julian keeps Hoowie under control”, said Ransey “If you ask me, all he does is get Hoowie even more excitable than ever! He keeps jumping all over all of us!”
“Julian’s got him sexed up all the time, that’s why”, said Kieran.
“A period of abstinence wouldn’t do either of them any harm”, said Ransey, who thoroughly approved of periods of abstinence.
“Can’t see it happening myself”, said Hillyard.
“I’m surprised Bardin doesn’t try and enforce it!” said Mieps.
At this moment in time Bardin was even having trouble enforcing his will on Bengo.
“Bardy, if you don’t try and rest”, said Bengo, in their cabin “I will have no choice but to take all your pairs of trousers away”.
“It seems like you’ve already done it!” Bardin squawked, searching the far corners of the room “What have you done with them? I’ve had a nap, as you directed, and then I wake up to find I’ve had my own belongings nicked! All this I must rest a bit was all the time just a ruse by you all to keep me out of the way!”
“Well you don’t need to be around sticking your beak in all the time”, said Bengo “Tell you what. We’ll wrestle each other, and if you win, you get your trousers back for the rest of the day”.
“Easy!” said Bardin.
“No it’s not”, said Bengo “I can soon beat a spindly little squirt like you”.
“My co-ordination is better”, said Bardin.
“We shall soon see”, said Bengo.
Toppy could be heard running down the quarterdeck steps, yelling for Bardin.
“Go away!” B&B yelled in unison.
“Lights up on the shore!” Toppy was hopping around, excitedly “There are lights up on the shore!”
“We’ll have to remember where we were”, said Bardin to Bengo.
“I’m sure you won’t have any trouble remembering!” said Bengo.
There was a mad scramble to get up on deck. In the fading light of day they could just make out in the distance a large building perched preciously on the cliff-top. As they got closer they could see it was a large tower, with some more buildings clustered around its base. There were lights at sporadic intervals all the way up the tower.
It was getting too late to go calling on anyone just yet, so they stayed anchored out at sea for the night, with plans to sail closer and go ashore in the morning. They had never forgotten the people of the City firing on them, and knew the importance of caution.
“I hope we can try and barter for some fresh goods with these”, said Adam, as he and Joby opened tins in the galley “It would be lovely to handle fresh fruit and vegetables for a change”.
“Thank God for tins though”, said Joby “Without these we’d have all gone down with scurvy by now!”
Normally, when Bardin summoned everybody for a group meeting, he would arrange for it to be around the dining-room table, being somewhere both comfortable and practical for all. To everyone’s unspeakable horror though, he called them all up on deck the next morning, to stand there in the cold, biting, winter air.
“What the hell is all this about, Bardin?” said Julian “You’ll be making us do lifeboat drill next!”
“Would that be such a bad idea?” said Bardin, who was patrolling up and down in front of them with a bulls-eye lantern in his hand.
“We seem to have done alright without it so far”, said Hillyard.
“That’s the kind of complacency that causes shipwrecks!” said Bardin “Now listen up, a party of us are going ashore to see what’s what. Whilst we are gone, a couple of you will do watch-duty up on deck, keeping a bulls-eye lantern with you. If any monstrosities should appear, you are to signal to us”.
“And what if you don’t see us?” said Adam.
“We will be very vigilant”, said Bardin, grandly.
The shore-party consisted of himself, Bengo, Hillyard, Joby, Ransey, Kieran, and Hoowie. The latter caused some surprise, but Bardin said that he was sick and tired of Julian and Hoowie morphing into one person, and this was one way of stopping that.
Once tentatively on shore, they had to get up the icy and steep cliff-path that led to the top.
“If it’s bad going up”, said Hoowie “Think what it’s gonna be like coming down”.
“We’ll have to slide down on our arses”, said Bengo.
“Great”, said Hoowie “That’s all I need!”
“It’s a chapel!” said Kieran, delightedly, when they had finally got to the top.
The others though were more fascinated by the never-ending expanse of snowy tundra which now faced them.
“There’s a main doorway over there”, said Hillyard “If anyone’s interested”.
There was a tower (the one they had seen from the sea) attached to the low chapel building. Above the main doors was a small window with a lamp burning in it. They trudged over to the door and yanked on the metal bell-pull hanging beside it. No one answered.
“Oh c’mon”, said Hillyard “There must be SOMEONE in!”
After what seemed like an age the door was answered, by a rather strange-looking individual with goggle eyes and a very pale skin. On seeing them his face split into a lascivious grin.
“Oh visitors”, he said, in a long drawn-out drawl.
“Is there anyone else here?” said Hillyard, with the fervent hope that this would prove to be the case.
“Who is it, Digby?” a male voice called out.
“Visitors”, said Digby.
Another man appeared on the twisting stone staircase behind him. A man with a shaved head and a friendly, open face. He was carrying a plate on which was heaped an astonishing amount of food, with a fork stuck in the middle of it all.
“We haven’t had visitors for some while”, he said “You’d better come on up, and get warm”.
This was an invitation which was hard to resist. At the top of the stairs was a functional, but comfortable room containing a table, benches and a roaring log fire.
“Sit down”, said the shaven-headed one “I’ll fetch you something to warm you up”.
He placed warming cups of brandy in front of them. In the meantime he had parked his dinner-plate on the table. To Kieran’s horror it contained a pig’s trotter. He had a hard job not retching at it.
“I’m Brother Umbert”, said the cheerful pig-trotter eater “He’s Brother Digby, but don’t worry about him. He’s harmless. Digby, go and stand over there”.
Digby went to stand by the window, where he continued to gurgle delightedly at them, whilst wrapping the curtain around him like a toga.
“We’re travellers”, said Bardin, using their approved mantra “We’ve been all around the world”.
“Circumnavigators?” said Umbert “Don’t think we’ve had any of them here before”.
“Are you monks?” said Ransey, who had nervously noted that both Umbert and Digby appeared to be wearing some sort of monks habit.
“We run a seafarers refuge here”, said Umbert “But we don’t get many visitors. The sea-ways aren’t very busy these days”.
“Where are you from, originally?” said Bardin.
“The City”, said Umbert.
“We tried going there once”, said Bardin “But they fired at us”.
“Did they?” said Umbert, not sounding very surprised “That’s sad to hear. It means The Sweats have broken out again”.
“The Sweats?” the Indigo-ites all seemed to query at once.
“Nasty disease”, said Umbert “Like really bad flu. Makes people feverish and hyperventilate, hence The Sweats. As contagious as flu too, with a high mortality rate, that’s why the would have fired at you to keep you away. Do you want some food?”
Kieran looked rather dismayed at the pig’s trotter.
“You all look a bit malnourished, you know“, said Umbert, bluntly.
“Do we?” said Bardin, awkwardly “Well we’ve been travelling a long time …”
Joby took this as a slight against his cooking, and sat there, stony-faced.
“We don’t want to take your food”, said Bengo to Umbert.
“We’ve got loads”, said Umbert, cheerfully “We get air-drops regularly, and in the Summertime we have our orchards and gardens. You can’t see them now, all under snow, but they keep us busy in the warm months. Anyhow, it’s our job to provide comfort for travellers”.
“What religion are you?” said Ransey, still sounding suspicious.
“New Religion”, said Umbert “Started by our ancestors when they fled the tyranny of The Old Continent, all those years ago, after it had been outlawed in the old world. We belong to The Poor Brethren branch. We provide succour to the lost and needy”.
The Indigo-ites were rather nonplussed at finding themselves in this category. But even so, there was a strong chance that Umbert wouldn’t have heard of Kieran, and they were grateful for this. Kieran had been longing to take off his woolly hat, which was making his head itch, and he suddenly did so. Umbert stared a bit at his long yellow hair, but made no comment.
“How many of you are there here?” said Ransey.
“Just me and him”, said Umbert, pointing at Digby “Grim I know, but it gets hard to get volunteers in an outpost like this”.
Even better, thought Ransey. Just Umbert (who, so far, had given no sign of recognising Kieran), and Digby, who gave every sign of being somebody’s lost village idiot.
Ransey’s optimism proved to be unfounded, and he wasn’t remotely surprised to discover this. The truth came out the following day when Adam went over to meet Brother Umbert himself. He came ashore bearing gifts, or rather a wheel of goats cheese which, even if he said so himself, was really rather good.
He and Umbert had an immediate rapport with one another. They left some of the others to explore the chapel and the rest of the site, whilst Umbert showed Adam the copious provisions with which the church in the City kept them well-supplied. Adam found out from him that the Tall Creature they had seen was simply another of the huge life-forms that had developed in The New Continent since the air-buggy that Catarine had told them about had returned from The Chain Islands.
“It sounds like some kind of poisonous toxin might have got into the atmosphere”, said Adam, when Umbert was showing him round the well-stocked walk-in larder “And has been sort of malforming things”.
“Yup”, said Umbert, who, Adam had noticed, had this rather matter-of-fact (and yet strangely comforting) way of speaking “I think that’s about the size of it myself. Do you like red pickled cabbage? Only we’ve got tonnes of the stuff”.
Adam gratefully accepted a few jars of this.
“I think you lot are more of a religious order than Our Church”, said Umbert “And all this travelling the world, not sitting on your backsides in one place”.
“I think we’d be quite happy to do that for quite some while”, said Adam “It’s a case of finding the right place though”.
“Adam”, Umbert turned to him and lowered his voice “I’ve got something to say. I recognised Kieran”.
Adam felt as though he had been punched in the stomach and slapped round the chops, both at the same time. He sat down disconsolately on a nearby stool.
“B-but I thought you had had no contact with The Old continent?” said Adam, in dismay.
“Most people haven’t”, said Umbert “There’s strict censorship in this land. I don’t know if you know that”.
“Well no”, said Adam “We haven’t really met enough people here to find that out”.
“But the Church”, said Umbert, knowingly “Makes a point of knowing everything”.
“Yes, it always did”, said Adam, with a heavy sigh.
“And we have a wireless set here”, said Umbert “I’ve occasionally picked up strange messages from across the world. But Adam … you don’t have to worry. I’m not going to tell anyone”.
“Why would you keep this a secret for us?” said Adam, suspiciously.
“Can you imagine the fuss it would cause at our HQ in the City if this news got out?” said Umbert “Kieran back from the dead? And looking not a day over 25?! They would all come here! I don’t want that. I like doing business here, believe it or not”.
Adam wasn’t sure he quite entirely believed this, but he knew he would have to accept it for the time being.
“And what about Brother Digby?” he said.
“Don’t worry about him”, said Umbert “He tries to be crafty sometimes, but he hasn’t got the brains or the courage to be really dangerous”.
Adam didn’t find this remotely reassuring. In his long and varied experience, dangerous men weren’t necessarily possessed of either brains or bravery. (In fact some had been remarkably deficient in the IQ department!). He wanted to get back to the galleon and absorb this latest development, talk it over with Julian. He asked Ransey to go and round up Bengo and Bardin, who had been delighted at finding real beds in this place, and were rolling all over Umbert’s, revelling in the size of it, after their boxed-in bunk on the galleon.
When he got back on board the galleon, Adam was relieved to find Julian in his cabin, pacing about spurs on his boots, even though he hadn’t been out horse-riding.
“Oh Julian thank goodness you’re here”, said Adam.
“Well of course I’m here”, said Julian “Where else am I likely to be! Did you bring anything back from the God Squad?”
Adam gave a momentary wince at Julian’s somewhat blatant avarice.
“Some jars of pickled red cabbage”, said Adam “Brother Umbert said we could have what we wanted from his stores”.
“And you chose pickled red cabbage?” said Julian, striking a match on the edge of his desk and lighting a cigarillo.
“Oh never mind all that now”, said Adam, irritably “Listen, there’s been a development. Brother Umbert recognises Patsy”.
“Shit!” said Julian “I knew it was a bad idea him going over with the shore-party yesterday. But then again, nobody ever listens to me”.
“We could hardly keep him locked up here”, said Adam “Especially if we do decide to stay here for the rest of the Winter”.
“I don’t see why not”, said Julian “The little sod only goes and takes his hat off whilst he’s there too! If you ask me, he can’t bear not being recognised”.
“Oh stop judging everybody by your own standards!” said Adam.
“This Umbert”, said Julian “The others seem to think he’s alright”.
“Yes I think he is”, said Adam “He’s a decent chap. But I think he has a weakness he’s keeping under wraps. One I know only too well myself”.
“He’s a boozer?” said Julian, bluntly “I suppose he’d have to be, living out here with only the village idiot for company!”
“I’m more inclined to speculate as to which came first”, said Adam “Whether he was moved out here, to be got directly out of the way, or whether he chose it himself, to be left in peace”.
“All the better for us if that’s the case”, said Julian “It means he won’t want to cause any fuss”.
“That’s more or less what he told me”, said Adam “I guess, for the time being anyway, we simply have to trust him”.
This strange little two-man monastery by the sea was an ideal place to live at for the rest of this cruel Winter. Brother Umbert was generous with his provisions, and to show gratitude, Bardin marshalled together some of the Indigo-ites to carry out some long overdue repairs to the building.
“One thing we’re not short of is man-power”, Adam said to Brother Umbert.
“I do not want any of this to descend into slapstick farce”, Bardin lectured the other clowns “We have to show them how professional we can be”.
“Professional at slapstick farce”, Rumble muttered.
Having had this lecture, the other clowns were delighted therefore when Bardin was told by Ransey again, this time for tango-ing with Bengo round the monks’ chapel. Bengo and Bardin had discovered that the chapel had a black marble floor, and the temptation to dance on it had been too great to resist. “He made a mountain out of a molehill if you ask me”, said Bardin, when he was making tea on the samovar in his cabin afterwards.
Farnol, Hoowie and Bengo were all sitting jammed together in a row on the sofa. Hoowie was scrutinising his face very carefully in a hand-mirror.
“I don’t know why you keep staring at yourself for”, said Bardin, waspishly “It won’t make you look any the less ugly!”
“Old Brother Umbert’s right you know”, said Howie “We do look malnourished. My face is so long and narrow I look like a horse!”
“You’ve always looked like a horse”, said Bardin.
“And it’s bullshit that you’re malnourished”, said Bengo “We work very hard in the galley to make sure that you all have a balanced diet”.
“You call endless rounds of spam and pickled onions a balanced diet?!” said Hoowie.
“You sounded like Julian then”, said Farnol.
“He’s learning fast, that’s why”, said Bardin, grimly.
“Don’t you all look sweet, sitting in a row like that”, Adam trilled, as he came into the room.
Bardin muttered something under his breath.
“Did you say something, Bardin dear?” said Adam.
“No”, said Bardin.
“That makes a change!” said Bengo.
“Hoowie’s been complaining about the food again”, said Bardin, triumphantly.
“Sounding just like Julian”, said Farnol.
“All the complainers will be grumbling on the other side of their faces soon”, said Adam “Whatever else happens I am certain that Brother Umbert is a man I can do business with”.
“And he’s not short of stuff over there”, said Farnol “That’s a fact”.
“He was very taken with our cheese”, said Adam.
“Let’s hope he doesn’t get sick of it in a hurry then!” said Hoowie.
“Oh ye of little faith”, said Adam.
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