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Joby was woken out of his slumbers by the sound of the hand-bell ringing from out in the corridor.
“Oh for fuck’s sake”, he said “What the hell’s going on now?”
The moonlight was shining across his bunk. He groped under his pillow for his fob-watch.
“It’s quarter-past-one in the morning!” he wailed “I’ve been asleep for less than 2 hours!”
“Who’s ringing that bell?” said Kieran.
“I dunno”, said Joby, clambering out of the bunk “I’ll go and find out”.
He pulled on his dressing-gown and went out into the long corridor, where he was immensely irritated to find Hoowie running up and down ringing the bell, and looking like some zany figure from an illustration in an old children’s book.
“What the hell are you doing?” said Joby “Why aren’t you in your cabin? And stop ringing that bloody bell, or I’ll stuff it down your throat!”
“We was up on deck”, said Hoowie, breathlessly “Me and Julian. Looking at the moon and the stars”.
“How bleeedin’ romantic”, said Joby.
“What’s going on?” said Bardin, appearing from the other end of the corridor, closely followed by Bengo.
“And we saw a light in the distance”, said Hoowie “On the shore. A stationary light. We think it’s some kind of building up on the cliff”.
“So what?” said Joby “We’re bound to …”
“We weren’t expecting to see anything up here”, said Hoowie “We thought you’d all like to know, that’s all”.
“I’m really sleepy”, Bengo grumbled, in a child-like way.
“Then go back to bed”, said Bardin.
“You know I don’t like being in there alone, Bardy”, said Bengo ”Not since we had all that trouble with the invisible demon”.
“OK”, Bardin sighed “Then let’s get our duffle-coats and go up on deck”.
“See it there, on the shoreline”, said Julian, handing Bardin the small hand telescope.
“It appears to be a house or large building of some sort”, said Bardin “With a tower shaped object at the base of the cliff”.
“A lighthouse?” said Kieran.
“No, there’s no light coming from it”, said Bardin lowering the telescope again “Well even so, I don’t see what we can do about it at this time of the night. We’ll sail up there in the morning”.
“Here, let’s do it now”, said Hillyard “We don’t do nearly enough night-time sailing in my opinion”.
“There’s a good reason for that”, said Bardin “I like to be able to see where I’m going!”
“Oh come on Bardin”, said Hillyard “Live dangerously for a change”.
“What do you mean, for a change?!” said Bardin “Oh go on then. We might as well now we’re all up”.
“Anyone coming to join me down in the engine-room?” said Hillyard.
“Don’t look at me”, said Joby.
“I’ll join you“, said Ransey.
The structure at the foot of the cliff was a large round tower situated on what appeared to be a man-made island. It was possible to get the galleon right up to it, without having to resort to the skiff and the rickety plank of wood on legs which was their portable jetty. There was a very large building directly overhead, on the edge of the cliff, from which a couple of lights were showing.
“I think this is how they get their supplies up”, said Kieran.
He was with Joby, Bardin, Bengo, Ransey and Hillyard. They were now all standing inside the tower, which was completely empty, apart from a door situated high up in the wall.
“I suspect they lower some kind of pulley system down through the door up there”, Kieran continued “And the supplies are locked onto it and pulled up through the door again”.
“Clever”, said Joby.
Suddenly the door high up in the wall opened and a rectangle of light appeared in its place.
“Who’s there?” what sounded like the voice of a querulous old man shouted down to them “State your business”.
“We’re travellers”, said Bardin, loudly and clearly “We apologise for intruding on you. We’re strangers here, we didn’t know anyone was here. We mean no harm”.
A figure appeared in the doorway and held up a lantern to scrutinise them.
“Wait a moment”, he said.
He put down the lantern, and proceeded to lower a long wooden ladder down through the doorway. The ladder was fixed in place at the top by a couple of slats. Whilst this operation was going on, Kieran pulled up the hood of his jacket to cover his hair, and partially obscured his face.
Once the ladder was secure, the old man came nimbly down a few rungs, in spite of being hindered by an ankle-length nightshirt. Joby said afterwards to Adam that all he needed was a night-cap with a bobble on the end to complete the Rip Van Winkle look.
“We’re sorry for intruding on you so late”, said Bardin.
“Time is of no importance in an isolated place like this”, said the old man.
He paused on a rung and swung the lantern round to scrutinise them more carefully.
“Is this all of you?” he asked.
“No, there are more on the ship”, said Bardin “There are around 2 dozen of us in total”.
“Hm”, said the old man “Well I think you 6 had best come up to start with, and we’ll get better acquainted”.
In single-file they followed the old man up the ladder. At the top a sharply sloping corridor with a low ceiling, hewn out of the rock of the cliff, led up into the house they had seen at the top. They came up through a trapdoor set in the floor of the main hallway, which had a distinctly baronial feel to it. The walls and the floor were bare slabs of stone. There was a very large fireplace with burning logs crackling away in it. The other lighting came from burning wall sconces.
“Come into my study”, said the old man.
The study was almost as large as the hallway, and came complete with another mammoth log-fire. His desk was equally huge, and littered with stacks of paper and an ornate brass inkwell.
Here, the old man scrutinised them again. On entering the house, Kieran had decided that he was probably drawing even more attention to himself with his hood up, and had taken it down again. The old man though was more fascinated by Joby’s facial scar.
“How did you get that?” he asked.
Joby , feeling that honesty was the best policy, replied “A demon attacked me with a knife once”.
“Hm”, said the old man ”I too have had troubles with demons in my time. Make yourselves at home. I’ll pour you some drinks”.
Whilst he was pouring red wine into elegant small goblets, he kept muttering the words “a demon, hm” to himself.
“Actually it was a female vampire”, said Joby, who liked to be accurate whenever possible.
“Aha!” said the old man, looking up briefly from his pouring “They were never all wiped out you see, in spite of what we were officially told. Demons, vampires, reptile men, gorgons, they are all still with us. Some simply fled to remote areas like this. That is why what you tell me doesn’t surprise me, it doesn’t surprise me at all in the least”.
“What is this place?” said Bardin, accepting a cup of red wine.
“A hospital”, said the old man.
“A hospital?” Bardin exclaimed “Right out here, in the middle of nowhere?!”
“I suppose you could say it is more of a sanatorium, a hospice, if you like”, said the old man “We try to make people comfortable who can’t be cured”.
“Patients come all this way?” said Bardin.
“The isolation is best for them”, said the old man “They need privacy, poor things. Away from the hurly-burly maelstrom of civilisation”.
He paused and looked at them all quietly sipping their wine.
“You trust me?” he said, in surprise “I could have doped your wine you know”.
“Why should we worry?” said Bardin “There are several more of us over on the galleon”.
“And they would come and look for you if you didn’t reappear?” said the old man.
“Does that surprise you?” said Bardin “Anyway, it’s very late. I think we should be leaving. We’ve intruded on you long enough. Do you mind if we sit out at anchor for a few hours?”
The old man spread his hands in a sort of helpless gesture.
“I do not own the oceans of the world”, he said.
The others were all assembled, waiting in the dining-room, when they got back to the galleon.
“There sounds something odd about the old man”, said Hoowie.
“Nah”, said Joby “I think he’s just been living out here in the back of beyond for too long. Bound to make a man a bit eccentric is that”.
“And you think he’s running a loony-bin?” said Julian.
“Oh Jules“, said Adam “You don’t have to put it quite like that you know!”
“Well if he is”, said Hillyard “We’ll have Julian committed there!”
“Add a bit of class to the place you mean?” said Julian.
“Look I know I’M gonna be a friggin’ basket-case if I don’t get some sleep soon”, said Joby “And if anyone wakes me up in the next 7 hours I’ll have MESELF committed! I might get a bit of peace and quiet then!”
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