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By Sarah Hapgood

“I’ll give these a scrub here”, said Joby, washing earth off potatoes at the sink in the galley “Then I’ll take ‘em up on deck to peel ‘em, and that’ll free the sink up so that Kieran can wash up the breakfast things”.

“He hasn’t reported for duty yet”, said Adam.

“I’ll go and find him in a minute”, said Joby “That’s the trouble with him and work. One minute he’s keen, the next he won’t go anywhere near it!”

“You don’t have to work so hard if you don’t feel like it”, said Adam.

“Stop mothering me, Ad!” Joby exclaimed.

“O.K, alright”, said Adam, holding up his hands as though in surrender “I’ll be hard and brutal instead shall I? Julian will definitely approve of that!”

Joby hugged him, and Adam stroked his back. Bengo stepped nervously down into the galley, carrying a tray of used cutlery. Adam and Joby watched him as he studiously navigated the steps and then the floor across to the table. He deposited the tray without mishap, and then dropped a curtsey in recognition of the applause.

Kieran was located in the main cabin, sneakily smoking the butt of one of Julian’s stray cigars. Joby yelled when he saw him.

“I knew he’d catch you one day”, said Finia, who was manicuring his nails on the bed “It was only a matter of time”.

Sensing a row in the offing Finia fled to the heads, taking his nail-file with him.

“Calm down”, said Kieran “I’m not gonna die through smoking the odd cigar-butt now and again”.

“You think ‘cos you’re the Vanquisher of Evil you can get away with anything”, said Joby.

“Fat chance!” said Kieran “I’m not allowed to get away with anything!”

Joby seized him and beat him on the behind.

“You emaciated stick-insect”, said Joby “It makes me feel quite queasy touching your bony-arse sometimes”.

“You miserable old sod”, said Kieran “You rarely smile and when you do you look like a fucking gargoyle!”

“Have you two been fighting again?” Adam sighed, when they both got to the galley.

“I caught him smoking”, said Joby “Has Bengo taken the spuds up on deck?”

“Yes, he’s waiting for you most anxiously”, said Adam.

“God knows why!” said Kieran.

Joby thumped up the galley-steps.

“Addy, have I got an ugly arse?” said Kieran, donning a spare pinny.

“No”, said Adam “I’m sure if you had one at all it would be lovely!”

“You think you’re as witty as he does!” said Kieran.

“Listen to the engines”, said Adam “It’s such a reassuring sound. We’re moving again, Patsy”.

“I feel a bit bad about leaving Madame de Sade behind”, said Bengo, as he and Joby sat round the bucket of potatoes up on the forward deck “She’s a nice woman really”.

“Yeah, but she must be a tough old bird”, said Joby “And whatever his nibs’s faults are he won’t abandon her to herself”.

“I know”, said Bengo “Hoowie said earlier I was stupid for worrying about her, that I should be more concerned about our own safety as we’re going into extreme danger again”.

“Hoowie should be impaled on a wrought-iron fence!” said Joby.

“Look what’s going on up there”, Bengo nudged Joby. Up on the poop-deck Mieps was steering the boat. Ransey was standing close to him, stroking Mieps’s neck.

“Blimey, that’s hot stuff for Ransey!” said Joby “Good job Finia’s down below”.

“Oh he won’t surface until lunchtime”, said Bengo “He likes to play the great lady like that”.

“Ransey never gave me private tuition quite like that when I was learning to drive!” said Joby “Mind you, I haven’t got tits I spose, that might have had summat to do with it!”

Bardin emerged from the focsle and went up the poop-deck steps. Ransey immediately took a step away from Mieps and assumed a very professional posture.

“Mieps is shameless”, Bengo giggled “And on is first wedding anniversary too!”

“I know”, said Joby “Right little raver on the quiet ent he!”

As if to cover up his own embarrassment Ransey went around afterwards telling everyone that the weather was about to change and they should make the most of their Christmas dinner outside. Adam noticed how jumpy he was.

“What’s that noise?” Ransey asked, when he was down in the galley.

“It’s Hillyard”, said Adam “He’s in the hold, filing down the donkey’s hooves. Really old love, you won’t be much use if you’re this jumpy already!”

When dinner was served (and they had anchored) Adam was glad Ransey was posted at the other end of the table near Julian. He, Adam that is, was eating with Lonts, Bengo and Bardin.

The clowns were keeping him regaled with tales from their endless stash of showbusiness gossip. Adam found it endearing when they became suffused with clowns’ pride. On this occasion Bardin was talking about a slapstick film they had gone to see at the local cinema during their childhood. He was withering in his criticism of mainstream actors attempting to do slapstick.

“They were far too delicate about it”, he said “Slapstick has to be ballsy, full-on. You can’t have people getting hit delicately or only side-on. There’s nothing in that. The audience will only feel let-down”.

“Audiences are all sadists”, said Bengo “The more humiliation we get the better as far as they’re concerned”.

“I once heard someone say”, said Adam “That clowns can do great serious acting, but great, serious actors can’t necessarily do clowning”.

Bengo and Bardin were immensely satisfied with this remark.

“They’re too squeamish you see”, said Bardin “Too afraid of getting their hair messed up usually!”

Further down the table Lonts was wanting to know what the deepest part of the ocean in all the world was.

“The Mariana Trench in the Pacific, or at least it was anyway”, said Joby.

“All those years spent vegetating in front of quiz shows has obviously paid off!” said Kieran.

“I used to read the Guinness Book of Records a lot when I was a kid actually”, said Joby.

“How deep is the Trench?” said Lonts.

“Very deep”, said Joby “11,000 miles, or thereabouts. If you turned the highest mountain in the world upside down and put it in the sea, that’s how deep it’d be”.

“So you could fall and fall into it and perhaps never come to the bottom”, said Lonts “Just keep falling and falling, like Bengo did when he fell into the harbour”.

“Lonts!” said Joby “You’ll give yourself nightmares tonight, stop it”.

Mieps, who was sitting opposite Kieran, finished stripping the meat off a bone and dropped it with a loud clatter onto his plate.

After lunch they enjoyed a mellow couple of hours on the forward deck, before they were due to weigh anchor again at five o’clock, and aim to complete another couple of hours of sailing before nightfall.

“I still feel worried about leaving Madame de Sade behind”, said Bengo, who was sitting with Bardin on a pile of hemp.

“She wouldn’t have come with us”, said Bardin “She wouldn’t have left the old bugger behind. If you’re really worried we can turn back”.

“The others wouldn’t like that”, said Bengo.

“Never mind them”, said Bardin “They’ll grumble a lot, but they’ll do that anyway!”

“No, we must go on now we’ve begun”, said Bengo “Oh Bardy, I don’t deserve you!”

“I know”, said Bardin “Remember when we were little and you pinched all our pocket-money?”

Bardin had kept their pocket-money in a purse which he normally kept a strict hold on. One afternoon they had had a terrible dust-up after a matinee performance. Bardin had stormed along to Ully’s room at the theatre and said he couldn’t work with Bengo anymore. That Bengo was a brat. A podgy, selfish little brat. Ully had gently but firmly ordered him to go and make it up with Bengo. Bardin had reluctantly gone along to their dressing-room, where he found his bag upended on the dressing-table and the purse missing.

“He’s gone to spend it all on ice-cream soda’s”, Bardin had said to Rumble “I know he has”.

The longsuffering Rumble had taken him in search of Bengo, whom they soon found by peering through the window of a café.

“The little scumbag!” said Bardin, watching Bengo sitting on a high stool, his plump little legs swinging, waiting for his ice-cream soda to be prepared.

Rumble had abducted Bengo from the café, careful to protect himself from Bengo’s teeth, feet and fists. They got him back to their lodgings, and Rumble dumped Bengo into his theatrical basket. Bardin had promptly slammed the lid down on him, and sat on it. When Rumble had gone, Bardin finally let him out.

“You jumped up like a jack-in-the-box”, said Bardin, back in the present day “All red in the face with temper too, it was so funny. Amazing what a violent little bastard you could be!”

“Well I’d just ordered two lots of chocolate sauce, you rotten bastards!” said Bengo.

“It doesn’t count”, said Mieps, down in the cabin “It doesn’t count with Ransey, he’s one of us”.

“It counts to me”, said Julian, putting his hand round Mieps’s neck.

Mieps struggled, but Julian strengthened his grip.

“Mieps, Mieps”, he said “You react like a woman!”

“I’m not Adam”, Mieps spat “I don’t enjoy being cowed by you”.

“I don’t care whether you do or not”, said Julian, kissing him forcefully.

“It’s gone dark and yet we’re still moving”, said Mieps, when he came up onto the forward deck a while later.

“The Moon is very bright tonight”, said Adam, who was now setting up the table for a buffet-style supper “Bardin thought we’d take advantage of it to do a couple of extra hours”.

“You sound snotty”, said Mieps, who noticed that Adam’s manner was rather stiff.

“I don’t take too kindly to you implying that I’m a wimp!” said Adam.

“I don’t, I think you’re very strong”, said Mieps.

“’I’m not Adam, I don’t enjoy being cowed by you’, weren’t those your exact words?” said Adam.

“He had no right to tell you I said that”, said Mieps.

“You should know Julian by now”, said Adam “You should have realised he’d take great pleasure in quoting it to me!”

“But you do enjoy being bullied by him”, Mieps pointed out.

“Sometimes”, said Adam “Not all the time by any means!”

“Girls, girls, what’s going on here?” said Julian, forcing himself into the midst of them “It’s Christmas night. I trust you two aren’t gearing up for a cat-fight?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jules”, said Adam “We were just clearing the air between us, that’s all”.

“Get on with setting up the table”, said Julian “We want to eat supper up here before the storm arrives. There’s no time for fighting”.

Adam was reasonable enough to see the logic of this, and carried on setting out the plates.

“You’ll cop it with those two one day the way you carry on”, said Hillyard to Julian.

“Rubbish”, said Julian “They love it”.

Supper was eaten up on deck, accompanied alternately by the gramophone and Rumble strumming on his banjo. Bardin was restless and kept getting up to look at the storm clouds which were gathering on the horizon.

The rains came in the middle of the night. They were woken up by that plus one of the horses stamping nervously in the hold.

“I’d better go and see what’s what”, said Bardin, pulling on his bath-robe.

“I’ll come with you”, said Hillyard “I have a golden touch with the horses”.

“Take this”, said Julian, holding out a revolver to Bardin.

“Not just for going to the hold!” Bardin protested.

“Take it”, said Julian, lightly boxing Bardin’s ear.

Bengo made as if to follow Bardin and Hillyard out of the room.

“You’re staying here”, said Julian, pulling him back “The sight of you with no clothes on will make the horse even more excitable!”

Bengo put on a shirt and sat on a chair by the door, waiting anxiously for them to return.

The excitable horse was a small white pony whom they’d originally wanted to call Snowy, until Lonts had protested and said that it would get very confusing with two Snowys around. They had there compromised and called him Snowflake.

“He’s always a bit jumpy this one”, said Bardin, patting his neck “Reminds me of Bengo!”

Snowflake was snorting and pawing at the floor of his stall.

“He never likes rough weather”, said Hillyard “I’ll stay in here for the rest of the night with him. Stop him knocking the walls of his stall down”.

“I’ll stay with you”, said Rumble, who was holding a lamp “Keep you company”.

“You might as well go back to bed”, said Hillyard to Bardin “We don’t want the Captain in here, cramping our style”.

“Bengo’ll be whimpering and scratching at the door if you stay away for much longer!” said Rumble.

After Bardin had gone and Snowflake was calmer, they tried to make themselves comfortable in the hay. Rumble remarked that he couldn’t hear the screaming of the wind without being reminded of the unearthly screams up at the Big House. Hillyard felt that his wasn’t a very comforting turn in the conversation and diverted it.

“It doesn’t matter how many you experience”, he said “You never get used to storms at sea”.

The door creaked open and Bengo appeared in a dim pool of light shouting “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

“I wasn’t going to”, said Hillyard, who had now been given care of the revolver by Bardin.

“I heard of that happening once”, said Bengo “A bloke fired at someone he thought was an intruder and it wasn’t”.

“Did you want something?” said Rumble.

“We’re making some cocoa”, said Bengo “You’d like some I expect?”

“Alright then”, said Hillyard “And fetch us our pillows and a couple of blankets as well”. Joby brought them in a few minutes later.

“Do you have to come in here in that dressing-gown?” said Hillyard “You’ll upset Snowflake again”.

“That joke must be on its last legs by now surely”, said Joby.

“No, it’s got plenty of mileage left in it yet”, said Hillyard “You can go now, my good man”.

The storm was still raging at daybreak, but that didn’t prevent them from resuming their course south.

“Hillyard said that Lo-Lo was the only one to think of taking some mints in for Snowflake last night”, said Adam, as they prepared breakfast in the galley.

“That doesn’t mean he invented the Theory of Relativity, Ad!” said Joby, who was getting tired of these snippets of praise about Lonts being endlessly repeated.

“Alright, there’s no need to get so grumpy”, said Adam.

“Well this fucking storm gets on your nerves”, said Joby “It’s like being sealed up in a tin can”.

“Would you rather be up aloft in it then?!” said Adam “At least you’re warm and dry down here”.

“I’m beginning to feel like Noah in his bloody ark!” said Joby.

Lonts came in from the hold, where he and Kieran had been attending to the animals, having seen Hillyard and Rumble off to bed to get some proper sleep.

“Kieran says he’s like a cup of tea”, said Lonts.

“Kieran can take a running jump”, said Joby.

“Kieran says if you say that he’ll give you a thick ear!” said Lonts.

Bengo, who was studiously cracking eggs into a bowl to make up a giant omelette, giggled. Joby gave him a swipe with one of the tea-towels.

“It’ll be in in a minute”, said Lonts, returning to the hold, where Kieran was sorting out buckets of water for the horses.

“I bet he complained and all”, said Kieran, heaving a full bucket into Matilda’s pen.

“You’re quite strong for such a small person”, said Lonts.

“Anybody would be small next to a great oak-tree like you!” Kieran laughed “And as I’ve always said I’m tougher than I look”.

He gave a sudden alarming squeal of pain and fell against the wooden partition. Lonts lifted him out of the pen.

“Kieran, what is it?” he asked.

“Codlik’s generating such hate at me”, Kieran winced, clutching his head “He hates me so, he’s putting me under psychic attack”.

“Then we must keep travelling”, said Lonts “The further you get away from him the safer you’ll be. Remember how Father Gabriel’s power waned the further away from him we got”.

“You remember all that?” said Kieran, who couldn’t think of a polite way of saying ‘but you were completely off your head in those days’!

“I never forget anything”, said Lonts, firmly.

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