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By Sarah Hapgood

“Will that be enough?” said Adam, handing two thermos flasks of milk to Joby.

“Yeah, that should see us alright“, said Joby.

“So you’re staying to see if you see this little animal again?” said Adam.

“That’s the OFFICIAL reason”, said Joby “The reason BARDIN thinks we’re stopping over. Between you and me I think it’s so that we can finally get him to relax!”

“You anticipate being over there quite some time than?” said Adam.

“Oh ye of little faith”, said Joby “I admit it’s an uphill struggle, but it’s got to be done”.

“It most certainly has”, said Adam “Bardin has been a superb captain these past few years. He’s seen us through some immensely difficult times. But it’s starting to worry me that he’s forgotten how to switch off. And if he doesn’t he’ll make himself ill, and then …”

“And then we’ll have Julian back as Captain!” said Joby.

“That would never do”, Adam smiled “Surely, between you all, you can do something? It’s just a matter of standing up to him and getting him to mellow and do as he’s told”.

Joby looked understandably sceptical at this.

“Yes I know what you mean”, Adam sighed.

“How are you coping with me and Bengo out?” said Joby.

“Not too bad”, said Adam “Toppy’s been helping me”.

“Toppy?!” said Joby, who couldn’t have sounded more outraged if Adam had said one of the goats was helping him “Toppy?!”

“He’s a first-rate assistant”, said Adam.

“I’ll never be able to find anything again!” said Joby “When he tidies things away that’s it, never to be seen again!”

“Then you’d better make sure you’re not gone too long, old love”, said Adam.

When Joby and Hillyard got back to the beach, Ransey came over with the makeshift jetty so that they could moor the skiff.

“Did you get anything other than milk?” he asked.

“Yeah, bread and eggs”, said Joby.

“He means booze”, said Hillyard “Whisky and a few bottles of beer“.

“Good show”, said Ransey.

Joby climbed out of the skiff, and then stopped dead in the surf. He was looking at the new camp, set up just at the very outer edge of the forest.

“He’s amazing”, he shook his head in disbelief “He’s even got a washing-line put up! We’re only planning to be here 2 nights max!”

“Yes, Kieran’s not happy about it”, said Ransey “And he does have a point. He’s meant to be on holiday, and Bardin’s making him do the washing. I think we’re all going to pay the price of Bengo’s little rebellion last night”.

When they rejoined the others at the camp, Joby could see that Kieran was quietly seething. He was momentarily pacified by the sight of the goodies brought back from the ship, but he was angry all the same.

“Does nothing work on that man?” he said to Joby, when they walked away slightly from the others “Yesterday you rogered him, Bengo spanked him, and today he’s worse than ever!”

Joby couldn’t help but laugh at this.

“It’s alright for you to laugh”, said Kieran “You’ve had a couple of hours away from him!”

“Oh c’mon Kiel, it is funny really”, said Joby “Bardin, the unstoppable force of nature! Where’s your famous Irish sense of humour gone?”

“It’s finally abandoned me”, said Kieran “Must be over-exposure to a clown that’s done it!”

“Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day”, said Joby “This is an ongoing work in progress”.

“Joby!” Bardin called over “Are you going to make some coffee or not?”

Joby looked furious.

“Where’s your famous English sense of humour gone then?!” said Kieran.

Bengo had witnessed this little altercation with some concern. A minute later Bardin was telling Ransey how to chill the bottled beer by leaving it to stand in a bucket of water. Ransey was about as pleased with this as Joby had been a moment before with the coffee incident. The situation plainly couldn’t go on as it was.

“Bardin”, said Bengo, with as much firmness as he could muster “Come into the tent with me”.

Fortunately Bardin didn’t argue. When they were alone inside, Bengo took him by the shoulders and shook him.

“Stop it!” said Bardin, now alarmed What are you doing?”

“You’ve got to stop this, Bardy”, said Bengo “Stop treating everybody as if you’re organising a gala show. They don’t need to be given stage directions all the time!”

“I just want to make sure everything’s done properly so that everybody’s comfortable”, said Bardin.

“I know”, said Bengo, feeling desperately sorry for his old friend “But Joby, Ransey and Hillyard, well they’re all practical men, and they don’t take too kindly to being told how to do jobs they’ve all done a million times before, and Kieran … well God knows you’ve spent all Winter giving him one shitty job to do after another on the galleon, and NOW, when he’s got a couple of days holiday, you make him do the washing! I’d have wrapped that bloody line round your neck if I was him!”

Bardin was on the verge of tears.

“Tell me what to do”, he said, emotionally “You be the director for a while”.

“Oh Bardy”, Bengo sobbed, and he took him in his arms “I don’t wanna be director. I could never be as good at it as you”.

“You did a pretty good job last night”, said Bardin, tears rolling down his face “When you took me in hand”.

“I can do that alright”, said Bengo “And so will all the others I expect, if you carry on like you are! But you’re still the boss. We’ll always look to you for the final decisions. But you’ve got to mellow. When you were smacked last night you should have chilled straightaway, not got all uptight again”

“It’s force of habit”, Bardin sniffed “I seem to feel I’ve got to be constantly on the alert all the time. It’s the way things have gone for so long now. And I’ve given Kieran the shitty jobs to try and keep him out of mischief. I’ve got this irrational fear that … that Angel might claim his due and take him to The Cursed Isle”.

“Even if that were to happen”, said Bengo “And I don’t believe it will, as none of that awful crowd would want him there, we’d just go and rescue him”.

“And have you threatened with a knife again?” said Bardin “All those years ago Ully told me to look after you, well I didn’t do a very good job of it then did I!”

“Oh Bardy”, said Beno “I think it’s high time I looked after you instead”.

Bardin broke down completely, burying his face in Bengo’s shoulder.

“You poor old thing”, said Bengo “You think you have to worry about everybody, and those useless git other clowns don’t help. Bloody Rumble threatening to jump ship or whatever it was”.

“It’s not their fault really”, said Bardin “They’ve always leaned on us that’s the trouble, they don’t know any other way”.

Bengo reached into Bardin’s pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. He began to gently mop Bardin’s face.

“Remember what you said once?” said Bengo “How the definition of a great actor was one who didn’t just cry in a scene, they produced snot as well!”

“Did I say that?” said Bardin “I must have been having a dig at some luvvy thesp. I’m sorry I’ve been a bit of a cry-baby today”.

“It doesn’t matter”, said Bengo “It’s perfectly natural to feel emotional after a good hiding, and I expect your arse has been sore all day”.

“You little bastard!” said Bardin “Two can play at that game you know!”

“Oh I do know”, said Bengo “I’m up for it anytime. I’ve even got my red flannel knickers on in case anyone’s interested! But we’re all obsessed with you at the moment!”

Outside the tent, the others had moved a discreet distance away so that the clowns could have some privacy.

“Perhaps we should have taken them on the blessings trip with us”, said Hillyard “I can’t think why we didn’t now”.

“The air-buggy was too small”, said Ransey “It was only a 4-seater, not a 6”.

“Six weeks in the desert would have done Bardin good I think”, said Kieran.

“He’d have probably driven you up the wall”, said Joby “Organising everything whilst you wanted to be all spiritual”.

“Ach we’d have sorted him out”, said Kieran.

“We’re not doing a very good job on this trip”, said Ransey.

Bengo came out of the tent, and walked over to them in a sprightly fashion.

“Everything’s gonna be alright”, he said “I think we’ve turned a corner. He’s sorry he’s annoyed anyone, and he’s gonna try very hard to be more mellow”.

“He was close to the end of his tether wasn’t he?” said Kieran.

“It’s my fault”, said Bengo “I should have realised sooner. When Bardy starts obsessing over every little detail then something’s not right. I should have seen the signs before now”.

“Do you think we should go much easier on him?” Ransey “Cut out the joshing and the teasing for a while. Velvet glove treatment”.

“Oh no, not at all”, said Bengo, having images of everyone warily circling round Bardin as if he was a certified lunatic “Carry on as we are. Be kind to him, and when he doesn’t relax we’ll make him. He wants us to take him in hand, he virtually said as much”.

“Watch out”, Joby muttered, as Bardin came out of the tent.

Bardin went to the bucket where the bottles of beer were chilling, and selected one. The others walked over to join him, and before he knew it he was being folded up in a sort of group hug.

“You’re a diamond, mate”, said Joby “A jewel”.

“Seconded”, said Hillyard.

“I’m gong to be fine”, said Bardin, softly “Bengo’s told me to be more mellow, and I’ll try. I really will. I need to come down off the top of the bill and stop being the diva”.

“Relaxation’s the key”, said Hillyard “You need to get those trousers off for a start”.

“I can’t do that”, said Bardin “What if strangers turn up?”

“So what if they do?” said Kieran “We’re at the seaside. What’s so focking shocking about somebody wearing shorts at the seaside?”

“Even ones with starch in ’em!” said Joby.

“Bardy, you never used to be so modest”, said Bengo “At the Bay and the Old Lighthouse you often went around half-naked”.

“I seem to have lost the knack of that as well”, said Bardin, miserably.

“I’ve told you before about covering those gorgeous legs up”, said Hillyard.

He grabbed Bardin under the armpits, and ordered Joby to remove the offending trousers.

“That’s more the Bardin we know and love”, said Kieran, who had noticed (with interest) that Bardin had offered no resistance at all to this example of being “taken in hand”.

“Good”, said Ransey (it even met with his approval) “Now I’m going to get started on the dinner. It’s me who’s cooking tonight”.

“Strangers turning up indeed!” Bengo groaned “This from the man who often lost his trousers on stage!”

After dark and after dinner, they sat round the fire and talked. They talked about their very early days together, when Hillyard had first joined up with Adam, Kieran and Joby at Kiskev. They talked about the old railway station and their meeting with Fobbett.

“He was quite an amazing feller”, said Kieran “Before arriving there he had walked all over the place on his own, even in this area”.

“And that was a pretty dangerous thing to do”, said Joby “I mean, the world’s a dangerous place now, but it was even more so then”.

“And that weirdo Tomce”, said Hillyard “Remember him?”

“And his Hansel and Gretel cottage”, said Joby.

“We’ll forget about Tomce shall we?” said Kieran.

Tomce had been a child-molester, and he didn’t want all that raised again in front of Bardin, even though the clowns had heard about him before, and his grisly fate at Angel’s hands.

“You can talk about him in front of me”, Bardin sighed.

“Bardy, shut up”, said Bengo “They don’t want to talk about him.

Bardin wanted to protest, but he didn’t trust Bengo not to spank him again.

“Tomce is a pretty repulsive character to talk about in a beautiful place like this anyway ”, said Kieran.

Ransey had gone very quiet. He couldn’t help but remember that before he had met up with the others he had been busy being taught the different ways to kill a man.

“Sometimes it does no good to go raking over the past”, said Kieran, sensing what was going through Ransey’s head “Let’s have another whisky and then turn in”.

“I’d like to retrace your early travels with you one day”, said Ransey “I’ve seen The Loud House and Marlsblad, well I was there before, but not some of the rest”.

“Oh we’d like to do that too”, said Bengo “Wouldn’t we, Bardy?”

“Yes, but we couldn’t take the galleon there, that’s the trouble”, said Bardin.

“We could leave it at the Weather Rock and go trekking inland”, said Joby, which met with much approval.

Kieran and Bardin were the first ones to awake and leave the tent early the next morning. The night had passed uneventfully, and there had been no sign of the little creature.

“Come with me into the forest a bit”, said Kieran, taking Bardin by the hand.

He wanted to show Bardin the view of the morning sunshine bathing the trees and the ferns in a pearly-milky light. Baridn was mesmerised by it. Kieran stood behind him and folded his arms round him. Bardin had the feeling he was being pulled suddenly upwards towards the sky. It was a feeling of utter ecstasy. He said to Bengo afterwards that “I know this is going to sound crass, but it was like getting the best blow-job ever”.

“What did you do to me then?” Bardin asked Kieran.

“Just tuned into your sensitivity”, said Kieran.

They heard soft, murmuring voices coming from further into the forest. Kieran and Bardin darted through the trees to see where they were coming from. They found the track way that they had taken when going to the inn. Some way along it, walking away from them, were two women. They wore shapeless, but brightly-coloured dresses, and their hair was obscured by elaborate headscarves. One of the women was helping the other along, who - judging by the stick she was carrying - appeared to be blind.

“Who are they?” Bardin whispered, trying to pull his shirt down so that he could look more respectable “We saw no houses when we travelled here before, or a village”.

“I don’t know”, Kieran whispered back “I think there’s more to them than meets the eye”.

“Ghosts perhaps?” said Bardin, thinking that the whole scene did have a vaguely supernatural feel to it.

“I don’t think it’s as straightforward as that”, said Kieran “This area is certainly full of strange things that’s for sure!”

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