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By Sarah Hapgood

“He’s a free person, Bardin”, said Bengo, from the sofa in their cabin “He’s not our prisoner. If he wants to go back up there when we hit landfall, there’s nothing we can do about it”.

“Perhaps if we got lost at sea?” said Bardin, who had been pacing about, chewing on the nail of his little finger.

“What AGAIN?!” said Bengo.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” said Bardin, now standing with one hand on his hip.

“That’s a very good impression of a teapot you’re doing there!” said Bengo.

“What a sour-faced little sod you’re being at the moment”, said Bardin “I thought you were supposed to be the happy clown!”

“I can hardly be happy when you’re coming up with daft ideas all the time!” said Bengo “Hillyard says we should get the boat looked over professionally, and we can hardly do that if we’re too busy wet-nursing that great cry-baby in a headscarf!”

Oceanfield was a small settlement which had appeared in the past 60 years, some way to the north of Port West. It was a fishing community consisting of a handful of white clapboard cottages, an unostentatious chapel, and a store-cum-tavern. They put in there briefly to get the boat overhauled at the shipyard, and to pick up some fresh supplies at the store.

Joby had been hoping that now they were on land, Tudde would, in his own inimitable words “bleedin’ well leggit”. Unfortunately, Tudde was still hanging around, and very much getting in the way when Joby was supervising the deliveries of rice, apples and potatoes below deck.

“What’s the point of getting fresh potatoes?” said Tudde “They go off quickly”.

“Not if they’re store properly they don’t”, said Joby “They can last a fair old while. Same with apples”.

Bengo appeared in the galley.

“Ransey’s just told me off for falling out with Bardy”, he said “He sounded so stern I thought I was gonna poop my pants!”

“Not in here”, said Joby “It’s not hygienic”.

He motioned Tudde to leave the room.

“We’ve got a lot of unpacking to do”, Joby explained “We need all the space we can get”.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he closed the door.

“Ooh”, said Bengo “We can make our apple sponges again. I can’t remember the last time we did that. We’ve all lost so much weight on this trip. My breeches are gaping at the waist”.

“They’ll start falling down if you’re not careful”, said Joby.

Hillyard came into the room, carrying a rolled-up rug.

“I bought this from an old dear who makes them”, he said “As soon as I saw it on display outside her cottage I thought that’ll go in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. I couldn’t help noticing the other day how threadbare yours is getting”.

“Probably from Bardy keep pacing up and down on it!” said Bengo “It’s lovely, Hillyard”.

“Thought you’d like it”, said Hillyard, beaming like a schoolboy “I’ll go and put it in there for you”.

“If I was you”, said Joby, after Hillyard had gone again “I’d stress to our dear captain that that was a gift to BOTH of you. We don’t want him having one of his periodic fits of jealousy do we?”

“I’ll roll him up in it if he does!” said Bengo.

“This is jolly good brandy, I must say”, said Adam, sipping from a balloon-glass outside the village bar, which was situated halfway up the bleak, steep hillside on which the village was situated. It was their 4th day in Oceanfield.

“I bet you weren’t expecting that here”, said Hillyard.

“I have never been a snob, Hillyard”, said Adam “I leave such undesirable characteristics to Julian”.

“Yeah, what’s the matter with that old sod this morning?” said Joby, who was the 3rd and final member of the party “Like a bear with a sore head“.

“The village store don’t sell cigars”, said Hillyard.

“And the disappointment is intense”, said Adam, sounding gleeful “Serves him right. He smokes far too much”. “Oh come on, Ad”, said Hillyard “You have one occasionally”.

“Exactly, I have one occasionally”, said Adam “I don’t spurt filthy great fog banks wherever I go, like some disgusting old dragon!”

They sat for a few minutes, staring out at the tinny sunshine sparkling on the deep, forbidding waters of the ocean.

“I do wish you’d asked Patsy to join us, Joby”, said Adam “I can’t believe anybody’s going to recognise him here”. “I did ask him!” said Joby “He refused. He’s in a funny mood today, seems to be brewing on summat. I never like it when that happens. Unsettling”.

“It’s Tudde”, said Adam “He’s unsettling everybody”.

“I know what you mean”, said Hillyard “If he’s going to leave us and go off, I wish he’d get on with it. Here, lets have another round”.

“I’ll get these”, said Joby, which was a pretty poleaxing statement.

“You?” said Hilyard “Blimey, I never thought I’d see the day!”

“But you haven’t got any money, Joby”, said Adam.

“Who says?” said Joby.

He pulled a wad of screwed-up banknotes out of his pocket, and smoothed them out lovingly on the table-top.

“Are these still legal tender?” said Hillyard, holding one up.

“Well they’re the same as the ones you’ve been flashing all over the town since we got here”, said Joby “So they must be”.

“Where did you get them?” said Adam, suspiciously.

“Can’t remember”, said Joby “Village of Stairs I think. I keep ’em in an old sock at the bottom of our wardrobe”.

“And Patsy hasn’t found them?” said Adam.

“Since when has Kieran ever shown any interest in money?” said Joby “I cold walk around with it falling out of me trouser-pockets all the time, and he wouldn’t notice! I just thought the rate we was going down the Starhanger jewels, we’d best have a little summat put by”.

“I still want to know how you got it”, said Adam.

“All perfectly legit I promise you”, said Joby “So you needn’t think you’re gonna have to give me a good hiding. I played a couple of rounds of draughts with an old man on the waterfront”.

“And he paid you for that?” said Hillyard.

“You make it sound like a hand-job!” said Joby “I won, so he paid me. I didn’t get all of it by winning at draughts. Some of it I’ve had for years”.

“And what would you have had to give him if you’d lost?” said Adam.

“Probably a hand-job!” Hillyard laughed.

They eventually returned to the galleon, armed with a case of the good brandy. Only to be told when they got there though by Ransey that Tudde had finally absconded.

“His outdoor gear,, his gun and his bag’s gone”, he said “So I think he’s finally done it”.

“And nobody noticed?” said Hillyard.

“It’s all a bit chaotic here at the moment”, said Ransey, referring to the maintenance work “I suppose he took his opportunity to slip away without having to give us any final speeches”. “Oh fuck! Kieran!” Joby gasped, suddenly having the idea that Kieran might have gone with him “I knew I should have kept an eye on him!”

“Kieran’s been in his cabin all morning”, said Ransey, but Joby was already haring down the long corridor.

Kieran was indeed in his cabin. He had gone back to bed with a bottle of whisky.

“How much of this have you had?” said Joby, wresting it from his embrace “I spose I should just be grateful you’re still here!”

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Kieran slurred.

“Tudde’s run off”, said Joby, putting the bottle on the wash-stand “I had a horrible fear you might have gone with him”.

“You think I’d run away?” said Kieran.

“Not a thought”, said Joby “More an irrational fear that you might fancy yourself as a vigilante too. What’s this mad solitary boozing all about anyway?”

“You won’t let me give you Absolution, Joby”, said Kieran, emotionally.

“I haven’t got round to it yet that’s all!”

“I’m so worried about your soul. Such things can eat away at it”.

“Kieran, I feel fine!” said Joby “Well apart from being bloody mad at you! OK, you can give me Absolution if it’ll make you happy. But I think you should sober up first. Do all us shootists get Absolution then?”

“Umbert’s already agreed”, said Kieran “I’ve got to work on the others”.

“I can’t wait to see you trying to get Julian to do penances!” said Joby “Meanwhile, we’d better make sure he doesn’t get wind of all this”.

He began to undo Kieran’s trousers.

“What you doing?” said Kieran.

“Making you comfortable”, said Joby “I think you should have a little kip and get sobered up. Julian’s in a filthy mood with the cigar shortage. If he finds out about this he’ll have your hide”.

“Umbert’s said he’ll scrub the heads out as part of his penance”, said Kieran “He’s a monk, he understands these things”.

“I hope you’re not planning on summat like that for me”, said Joby.

“No I’ll have to whip you”, said Kieran “That’ll make a change won’t it? Bit of role-reversal”.

“Huh, it’s gonna be touch-and-go as to which of us grabs it first” said Joby “You needn’t think you’re gonna get away with this escapade unpunished!”

Kieran was unfit to report for lunch, and Joby had to put it about that he was “a little under the weather”. Fortunately, Julian didn’t appear either at first.

“Any idea where he is?” said Adam.

“Perhaps he’s run away as well”, said Hillyard, with pardonable cheerfulness at the thought.

“Oh please, don’t raise my hopes”, said Ransey “It would be too cruel”.

“Course he hasn’t run away”, said Joby “He’s hardly gonna leave his pet behind is he!”

“Hoowie”, said Adam “Do you know where Julian is?”

“One of the guys working on the boat told him that there’s an old man in the village who has a supply of tobacco shipped in for him once a month”, said Hoowie “So he’s gone to see if he can cadge some off him”.

“Really, that man is quite without shame”, said Adam.

Julian turned up a few minutes later, waving an unopened box of cigars in the air.

“And what did you give him for that?” said Adam “I mean, I hope you did give him something”.

“A dusty old bottle of cream sherry I found knocking about in the hold”, said Julian, taking his place at the table “And don’t try and tell me it’ll be much missed, as nobody’s ever been near it. You haven’t even put it in a trifle!”

“Any news of our escapee?” said Ransey.

“What?” said Julian.

“Oh of course you haven’t heard”, said Adam “Big news afoot. Tudde’s ran off“.

“I hardly call that big news”, Julian drawled “More like pretty under whelming news”.

Joby took some dry bread and a glass of milk along to Kieran, and ordered him to get it down him in order to settle his stomach. Soon afterwards Toppy ran to tell Joby that Julian wanted to see him in his cabin.

“I noticed Tinkerbell was absent at lunch”, said Julian “I have been informed he’s not well. What’s the matter with him?”

“Nothing serious”, said Joby “He’s just got a bit of a bug that’s all. He’ll be alright in a few hours time”.

Mentally he kicked himself. He couldn’t have made it sound more like a hangover if he’d tried.

“Has he been drinking?” said Julian “Oh don’t waste my time by trying to deny it, Joby. Lying is not your strong point, and you’re looking extremely shifty at the moment”.

“You know how sensitive he is”, said Joby “He’s worried about us after the shoot-out. He wants to give us Absolution”.

“And to do that he has to get pissed first?” said Julian “Well nobody can say Kieran doesn’t have a completely unique way of approaching things!”

“He didn’t think we’d let him”, said Joby “Got himself in a bit of a state about it”.

“He’s hardly given us time to turn round has he!” said Julian “Well regardless of his fine, delicate feelings I will not have him getting drunk in the mornings. I shall want to see him later”.

“There’s no need”, said Joby “I’ve already spanked him, and I did it ruddy hard as well. It must have hurt ’cos he cried”.

“He’ll still have enjoyed it though!” said Julian.

“He’ll enjoy it if you do it as well!” Joby retorted “You leave well alone. Have another cigar!”

Joby was so thrilled by getting the last word over Julian, that he did a little jig along the corridor. Bardin would have been quite impressed if he had seen it. Mutton Broth, who was dusting the quarterdeck steps, paused to watch in wonderment. He had only ever seen Joby do a stately shuffle to the gramophone before.

“Yeah alright, get on with your work!” said Joby.

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