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By Sarah Hapgood

They made good progress that day, heading southwards down the lake. Nobody wanted to voice the collective fear that they might reach a dead end and have to turn around again. Towards late afternoon though Bardin grew concerned. He had been up on the main deck, studying cloud formations through the binoculars, when he noticed an unhealthy-looking development towards the west.

“There’s a helluva storm brewing”, he said “We’d better pull in and batten down”.

He got halfway down the quarterdeck steps and shouted for Umbert, who appeared cheerfully out of the dining-room. Umbert seemed to have regained his normal, down-to-earth disposition. Bardin took this as a good sign that they were receding from Crowley’s reach.

“Get onto the wireless”, said Bardin “I think there’s a major storm brewing. See if you can pick up any weather reports”.

“Righto”, said Umbert, and he picked his way over the collection of boots now piled neatly in the corridor outside the wireless room door.

“Which side of the lake do you want us to pull into, Oh Mighty One?” said Hillyard.

“It’s nothing but dense forest on the west side”, said Bardin “Go to the east”.

“Crowley’s side?” said Hillyard.

“No it’s not Crowley’s side!” said Bardin “He doesn’t own it! Anyway, we should be miles away from him by now”.

“And we did hear demons on the west side, Hillyard”, Lonts pointed out, solemnly.

Hillyard didn’t see any point in arguing about that. The unearthly screams the night before had unsettled him pretty much as they had everyone else.

They anchored at a small beach area on the eastern side of the lake. It was backed by a small, de-wooded hill, which at least prevented anyone (or anything) from hiding there. Umbert had been able to pick up nothing at all on the wireless. This, to Bardin’s irritation, led to some speculation by some of the others that the impending storm really was Crowley’s doing.

“That kind of speculation isn’t helpful”, said Bardin “Until we know definitely otherwise we treat this as a STORM, a force of nature we have to cope with as best we can. Now stop talking absolute poppycock!”

Even in the midst of battening down all the hatches and making everything secure, there was still a feeling of loss at having to leave the old site. It had served them well all through the long, hot Summer, and they had been looking forward to spending the next Summer there as well.

“Now look”, said Bardin, at lunch “There’s no reason we can’t go back there, we haven’t exactly gone far! I believe this is only a temporary setback”.

“And if we could sort out Crowley it wouldn’t even be that”, said Hillyard.

“I’m surprised at you, Hillyard”, said Adam “Coming out with talk like that”.

“Has Kieran been talking to you?” said Joby.

“No, but it is a fact”, said Hillyard “We won’t know peace of mind until we’ve sorted him”.

“And what would this ‘sorted’ involve?” said Julian.

“I don’t know!” said Hillyard “Am I supposed to come up with everything at once?”

“Let’s see out this storm first”, said Bardin “There’s no point trying to ‘sort’ out anything whilst that’s on”.

For several days they were buffeted by hurricane-force winds, and cloaked in an almost impenetrable darkness. They were confined to the ship, and had to delay going ashore and getting their bearings. Eventually the winds dropped enough for them to go ashore and walk the dogs. It was still gloomy though, with a twilight level of brightness.

The shingle beach was backed by rocky dunes. When Bardin clambered to the top of them, he found himself looking out over a bare, deforested valley, which stretched for miles ahead. It was stark and forbidding, and yet strangely beautiful in its intense bleakness. Here, civilisation was kept firmly in its place, if it was even in evidence at all.

“Wow”, said Bardin “Awesome! Like a desert without sand”.

“Good visibility too”, said Ransey, ever the practical one “Even in this light. You can see anything coming from a long way off”.

“Like Crowley?” said Bardin “We’ve got break ourselves of this obsession with him”.

“Not so long ago you were pretty obsessed yourself”, said Ransey.

“Yes, but not now”, said Bardin, gesturing all around him “Not with all this. Providing nothing catastrophic happens, we Winter here. See how it goes. When Spring comes we go back and suss out the old place. And if by then, Crowley still insists on being a bloody menace … we’ll sort him”.

Back on the galleon Joby was telling Bengo about an old James Bond film he had seen a very long time ago, which involved a secret agent going undercover as a clown in a circus.

“But he got killed”, said Joby “Knife in the back, trying to run away”.

“Was he wearing the big shoes?” said Bengo “Oh I’m not surprised then. It’s very difficult to run in those, and they make loud, slapping noises when you do. He would have been heard all over the place. I’m not surprised he got done in. Why didn’t he take them off?”

“Dunno”, Joby shrugged “I’m not sure that was ever explained”.

“He can’t have been a very good secret agent”, said Bengo “I mean, you can’t imagine Ransey making a mistake like that”.

“I can’t imagine Ransey in clown’s shoes full-stop!” said Joby.

The dogs barked overhead and Bardin could be heard shouting.

“Bardy’s back”, Bengo sighed.

“Try to contain your excitement”, said Joby.

“Well I just hope he hasn’t found something we’ve got to rush off and explore immediately”, said Bengo “I’m not in the mood”.

“Oh we’ll give him a good hiding and lock him in his room if he tries all that”, said Joby.

Bardin came down the quarterdeck steps and barked “tea!” as he came into the galley.

“You might get it even faster if you say please”, said Joby.

“Learn some manners, Bardin!” said Bengo, swiping him with a tea-towel.

“It was polite request, not an order”, said Bardin.

“Didn’t sound like it”, said Joby, pouring some out anyway.

“I suppose you’ve gone and found loads of things on shore”, said Bengo.

“There’s nothing”, said Bardin “Just miles and miles of emptiness. Not even any trees, when you get over the ridge”.

“Good”, said Joby “I’ve had enough of creepy forests for the time being”.

“If all goes to plan”, said Bardin “We’ll Winter here, and go back to the other place in the Spring. I take it that idea has your approval?”

“Yeah, it’s alright”, said Joby, who was really quite pleased, but thought he’d wind him by not showing it.

“Oh good”, said Bardin, sarcastically.

“Do you want a slice of fruit-cake, Bardy?” said Bengo, who thought he deserved a reward for this outburst of sensibleness.

“Bring it into the cabin”, said Bardin, leaving the room “I’m going to poke the fire”.

“Whatever turns you on”, said Joby.

The following day, Bardin took Bengo up to the ridge so that he could see the empty landscape for himself.

“Wow”, said Bengo “It’ll be quite something to spend the Winter here”.

“That’s what I thought”, said Bardin.

“If only we could be sure we’d be left alone”, said Bengo.

“There’s no way we can guarantee that”, said Bardin “We’ve got to resign ourselves to the uncertainty. If we can do that it’ll be easier to cope with”.

Bengo sneezed and pulled grubby handkerchief out of his coat pocket, applying it liberally to his nose.

“You seem to be going down with a cold”, said Bardin “C’mon, let’s get back”.

He grabbed Bengo’s hand to pull him along, and promptly fell over, sliding part of the way back down to the beach. Bengo rolled after him.

“Are you alright?” Bengo laughed.

“Yes”, said Bardin “Lost my footing that’s all”.

He lay for a moment, looking up at the sky.

“I think it’s going to snow”, he said “Winter is here”.

Once they got back to the galleon, Bengo was put to bed.

“This is crazy”, said Bengo, when Adam brought him in some soup at lunchtime “I’ve only got a little cold”.

“We can’t have you coughing and sneezing all over the food”, said Adam “Not hygienic, as Joby would say”.

“But I feel like I’m letting you down”, Bengo wailed.

“Bengo, you’re not in the theatre now”.

“No, if I was there’d at least be an understudy to take my place!”

“There is”, said Adam “Toppy’s offered to step in”.

“Toppy?” Bengo exclaimed “I might have known! Couldn’t wait to step into a dead man’s shoes!”

“Oi!” said Joby, poking his head round the door “Stop complaining! I’d bleeding love to be sent to bed and have my lunch brought in to me!”

“Joby, do get back to your work, old love”, said Adam “Now if you be good Bengo, you can come into the galley later this afternoon and watch Bardin being given a good thrashing”.

“Ooh yes I’d like that”, said Bengo.

Bengo slammed the spoon back into the empty bowl, and then sat there, arms folded in bed, scowling around him at the cabin. All around him he could hear the everyday noises of the ship. Adam had told him to relax and just enjoy listening to them as they swirled around him, but for Bengo this was hard. He was a natural performer, he wanted to be in the thick of it. Not stuck back in his dressing-room, listening to the show from a short distance away.

“Bardy!” he cried with delight, when his old sparring-partner appeared in the room.

“I’m not stopping”, said Bardin “Just came in to take my boots off. I hope you’re resting”.

“Yeah, that’s all I’m bloody doing”, said Bengo, crossly.

“That’s all you’re meant to be doing!” Bardin retorted.

“I hope Toppy’s dying on his arse in the galley”, said Bengo “He might be alright at cleaning, but he can’t cook”.

“His pastry’s pretty good”, said Bardin.

“Oh thank you, Bardin!” said Bengo “That isn’t what I wanted to hear!”

“Stop being such a prima donna, brat”, said Bardin.

There was a brief knock at the door. Bardin opened it and admitted Hoowie, who came in looking almost sheepish. Bengo assumed this was all part of the subservient act, to try and impress Bardin.

“What are you doing in here?” Bengo barked.

“Hah”, Bardin laughed “That’s usually my line! I’ve asked him to come in and sit with you for a little while. Keep you amused”.

At this moment it didn’t look as if a three-ring circus would amuse Bengo. Undeterred Bardin pointed at a chair, and Hoowie sat down.

“I’ll be back in a little while”, said Bardin to Bengo “Be nice to him!”

“Am really missing you out and about round the ship, Benje”, said Hoowie, after an uncomfortable moment’s pause, a bit reminiscent of hospital-visiting “It’s not the same without you”.

“Good”, said Bengo, slightly gratified “I hate being stuck here, I’m missing all the gossip”.

“You’re not missing much”, said Hoowie “Everybody keeps on about the weather, because they think it’s gonna snow later. Anyone’d think we’d never had snow before!”

“I’d rather have snow than storms like the one we had recently”, said Bengo “I kept thinking the roof was gonna come off”.

“Ransey’s done another booze inventory”, said Hoowie “Julian says it’s because Ransey keeps thinking he’s nicking some. But he hasn’t”.

“And how is the booze situation?” said Bengo.

“Oh he thinks we’ve easily got enough to see us through the Winter”, said Hoowie “Even with the way we drink it!”

“Then we’re set up for anything really”, said Bengo.

There was a meeting of the Club that afternoon, the first to be held officially in the galley. Bengo was to be allowed out of bed to watch Bardin receive a good hiding.

“Though it should be him getting it really”, said Bardin, once the four of them were gathered together “He’s been a terrible patient today”.

“Oh now he can’t possibly be any worse than you, Bardin”, said Adam.

“That is highly debatable”, said Bardin.

Bengo may have been dressing-gowned and handkerchief-ed up to the hilt, but he was still able to relieve Bardin of his trousers with no trouble at all. The trousers were hung on a hook on the wall. To the delight of the Club members it was found that Bardin was wearing thermal shorts under his starched cotton ones.

“Such a treat for us”, said Adam “We haven’t had that pleasure yet”.

“I should wear them like this more often”, said Bardin “Keeps the cotton ones sheer”.

Adam bent him over his knee and spanked him with one of the wooden butter paddles. It was kept going for as long as possible, and for a while the only sounds that could be heard in the galley were the whack of the paddle, the crackle of the embers in the stove, and some heavy breathing from the spectators.

“We hope that’s gone some way towards us atoning for having neglected you of late, Bardin”, said Adam, finally putting the paddle down on the table “It has been for far too long”.

Bardin couldn’t answer, or more to the point didn’t want to answer. He looked up blankly at his trousers hanging on the wall. He remained lying across Adam’s knees, whilst Adam gently caressed his starched behind.

“When’s the next session going to be?” Joby finally croaked.

“Very soon”, said Adam “We must insist on that”.

Bengo helped Bardin to his feet, and then led him over to the chair by the stove. There came the intoxicating rustle of starch as Bardin’s legs rubbed together.

“I think a little port is in order”, said Adam.

“Let’s do this Christmas Day, whenever that is“, said Joby.

“Any day can be Christmas Day frankly”, said Adam, preparing the drinks “Any day we want”.

“An after lunch treat”, said Bengo “Whilst the others are all snoring”.

“Good”, said Bardin “For one awful minute I thought you were going to suggest I be given a public spanking in the dining-room, as a treat for everybody”.

“Oh good heavens no”, said Adam “You belong to us”.

There was some excited shouting from outside the galley door.

“Now what?” said Joby.

“Probably ‘cos it’s snowing”, said Bengo, glancing out of the port-hole.

Toppy pounded on the galley door. Adam opened it.

“The wireless has blown up”, said Toppy, flushed with excitement.

“Eh?” said Joby “Can’t have done. It’s right next door, we’d have heard it”.

“We were quite engrossed”, said Adam.

“What do you mean, it’s blown up?” said Bardin, peering round the edge of the chair.

“I went to give it a dusting”, said Top py “As nobody ever does, and suddenly sparks began flying out of it”.

It was difficult for Bardin to rush in his chastised condition, but he rustled briskly into the wireless room next door. He found there was a whiff of smoke in the air, and part of the wireless had black scorch-marks on it.

“I think it’s done for”, said Ransey, after giving it a quick examination “Whatever the hell it was that caused it”.

“Oh well”, said Bardin “It’s been more trouble than it’s worth lately anyway”.

“You’re not upset, Captain?” said Toppy, who had been expecting his dusting to get the blame.

“Nope”, said Bardin, who could only feel relief that the mini-explosion hadn’t interfered with his spanking at all “Make sure all’s safe and close the door”.

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