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“Really this isn’t like you at all, Hilly”, said Adam.
He and Hillyard were seated at a corner of the dining-table. It was after supper and Bengo, Hoowie and Farnol were clearing away the used dishes.
“I can’t help it”, said Hillyard “What if it’s her, the old lady? And how come she’s followed us to the other side of the world?”
“Well she once appeared when we were in the southern ocean”, said Adam “Ghosts exist in a different dimension. And anyway, we’ve faced far bigger foes in our time than ghostly little old ladies, however evil-minded they may be”.
“I can’t help it”, Hillyard said again, who seemed to be getting himself locked into a downward cycle.
“I think this wind is unsettling you”, said Adam “It does tend to make the old tub creak a bit. I think you need to get some sleep”.
He coaxed Hillyard from the room like a nurse trying to get an obstreperous patient back into bed. As soon as they were gone, Bengo, Hoowie and Farnol broke off what they were doing and went into a huddle.
“It’s not like him at all”, said Bengo “He’s usually more level-headed than that”
“No it’s usually thicko’s like us that lose it”, said Farnol.
“Speak for yourself!” said Hoowie.
“Oh c’mon”, said Farnol “Even you’ve got to admit we three aren’t exactly possessed of awesome intelligence!”
“I have untapped potential actually”, said Hoowie, haughtily.
“Julian’s been telling you that has he?” said Farnol.
“Look, we’re getting off the subject here”, said Bengo “What about Hillyard? Do you think we should persuade him to have a little chat with Kieran tomorrow?”
“And just what good Is that gonna do?” said Joby, coming into the room “And can’t you 3 even manage to do one decent job between you?! Blimey, how many clowns does it take to clear a table!”
Hillyard’s pensive mood hadn’t improved much the next day. The high winds through part of the night gave way the next day to eerily still, misty weather. In fact, for a while, the sea-fog got so dense that they were rendered virtually immobile. This didn’t improve Hillyard’s mood.
“I suppose he’s now blaming the old lady for the weather as well!” said Julian “I can see I’m going to have to have a word with him at this rate”.
“I rather think that’s Ransey’s job, old love”, said Adam.
“What damn good is he going to be at sorting out human emotion?” said Julian.
“Well if it comes to that”, said Adam “What damn use are you? Going by your recent efforts I think it’s probably best if you stay well out of it!”
“Oh there you are”, said Joby, when he found Kieran standing in their cabin, early that evening I’ve been looking for you all over the place. Are you alright?”
“The air’s so electricky”, said Kieran “Can you feel it?”
“You haven’t seen the half of it yet”, said Joby “That’s what I came to find you for. Come and have a look up on deck”.
He gently took Kieran’s wrist and led him to the quarterdeck steps. When they got up onto the main deck Kieran caught his breath in surprise. The fog had got so dense that it was impossible to see beyond more than a foot or so, and it came with a strange green tinge to it, a colour rather like the inside of an avocado.
“We’re not going anywhere fast in this”, said Bardin, looming out of the gloom nearby.
“We’re not going anywhere slowly either”, said Joby “Not by the looks of things!”
“Let’s go below and bolt the hatches”, said Bardin “I don’t want anyone up on deck in this”.
They found Bengo waiting for them near the top of the galley steps.
“I told you to wait on your cue-spot below”, said Bardin.
“What was the point of me standing there?!” said Bengo.
Bardin repeated what he said about no one going above deck, and led the way down the steps. Adam and Hillyard were waiting at the bottom. Adam was holding a jug of water, and clutching a bottle of gin under one arm.
“I dug the gin out of the nether reaches of the galley”, he said “Thought we could do with it”.
“You do realise gin’s a depressant?” Kieran teased “It didn’t use to be called Mother’s Ruin for nothing”.
“We don’t need any depressants round here”, said Joby “Not with Hillyard going around putting the wind up everybody!”
“You can bloody talk”, said Hillyard “You’re the one who goes around moping in corners!”
“Alright, that’s enough, boys”, said Adam.
“Somebody should be doing supper”, said Bardin “We don’t want Julian complaining that everything’s going to pot”.
“Well we’re only having bread and cheese”, said Adam “Even you could do that”.
“Yes c’mon Bardy”, said Bengo, who rather liked the thought of having Bardin under his command.
“OK”, said Adam “But I warn you, if any of our precious food goes on heads, in faces or down trousers, I’ll take the strap to the pair of you!”
“Somebody bolt up the other trapdoor whilst we’re about it”, said Bardin.
“I’ll do it”, said Hillyard.
“What are these?” said Bardin, holding up a jar “They look like big bogeys”.
“They’re stuffed olives, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“Oh”, said Bardin “I didn’t recognise them in a jar. Do you want me to slice the ham?”
“No, we’ll take it in as it is”, said Bengo “Adam or Hillyard will want to do it”.
“If they get stuck into too much of that gin they’ll make a hash of it!”
“They’ll still do a better job than you!” said Bengo.
Bardin paused by the window and looked out at the greenish gloom.
“It’s like being a ship in a bottle”, he said.
“I wonder how they did that“, said Bengo “Put ships in bottles I mean”.
“With a bit of string”, said Bardin “Pull a collapsed model in on a string, and then when it was in the bottle, yank on the string and the model would stand up”.
“How do you know that?” said Bengo, who always found it unsettling when Bardin came out with obscure bits of knowledge.
“There was a guy selling them outside the theatre one day”, said Bardin “And he showed me”.
“You never told me!” said Bengo.
“I didn’t want to evaporate the precious few brain cells you had!” said Bardin.
“Bardy”, said Bengo, after a couple of minutes “What are we gonna do? About this weird fog I mean?”
“Sit it out”, said Bardin.
“How long for?”
“We’ll give it a couple of days, and if it hasn’t lifted or thinned in any way, then a small party of us will go out in the skiff and see how far it spreads to. If it’s not far, we can guide the galleon out”.
“And if it is far?” said Bengo.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”, said Bardin.
The ’ship in a bottle’ feeling was discussed by everyone over supper, and Bardin was surprised by how little panic it was causing. It would be fair to say that there was even an air of optimism around.
“We might be crossing into another dimension”, said Rumble.
“Hopefully one where no one’s ever heard of Kieran!” said Joby.
“I must admit I am rather taken with the idea”, said Adam.
“I think there must be something in this damn fog”, said Bardin “It’s making you all high!”
“Nonsense”, said Adam.
“Don’t you start going all uptight on us again”, said Joby “We’ve had enough of that lately with Hillyard!”
“I can’t see any nits“, said Bengo, as he finished rifling through Hoowie’s hair after supper “You’ve imagined them”.
“I tell yer”, said Hoowie “I woke up in the night to feel something crawling through my hair, and it wasn’t Julian!”
“I don’t believe it“, said Bardin, flinging open the cabin door “You’re in here AGAIN!”
“Well you were in my cabin, so I thought I’d come to yours”, said Hoowie “They say fair exchange is no robbery”.
“Hoowie thinks he’s got nits”, said Bengo.
“Then we’d better cut all his hair off”, said Bardin.
Hoowie gave yelp of alarm, and bolted out of the room.
“What a fantastic result!” said Bardin “I’d better try that again! Has he got nits? Mind you, how could we tell? He could have a whole family of mice nesting in that mess and we’d never know!”
“No, of course he hasn’t”, said Bengo “If he had Julian would have dunked his head in a bucket of disinfectant by now. What did he want to see you for? Julian, I mean”.
“He wanted to read the Riot Act to me”, said Bardin “He thought I was being too negative at dinner. I said, surely, as Captain, I should be the level-headed one who doesn’t get carried away on flights of whimsy. And then he walloped me”.
“Oh poor Bardy”, said Bengo “Do you want me to rub some cream into your stripey bottom?”
“It wasn’t too bad”, said Bardin “I got a spanking that’s all”.
Bengo couldn’t help noticing he had relished saying those words!
“Though he did say”, Bardin continued “That if I was the same tomorrow I’d be caned or slippered as well”.
“Oh you’ll have to make up your mind tonight what you’d like!” said Bengo.
“It’s all a bit weird though isn’t it?” said Bardin, sitting down defiantly on his smacked buttocks “I can say that to you, because you were speculating about it before dinner”.
“You have a good plan though”, said Bengo “Leave it a couple of days, and then do a scouting-party in the skiff. And in the meantime, whilst we’re in limbo, we’ll have fun”.
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