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By Sarah Hapgood

Adam walked into the dining-room and found Farnol and Rumble standing by, watching Toppy ironing tablecloths (dug out of an obscure cupboard in the saloon), which were already on the table.

“Leave him be, you two”, said Adam.

“We’re just watching him, man”, said Farnol.

“In rapt admiration”, said Rumble.

“Go and find something else to do”, said Adam “Or I’m sure Bardin will find it for you!”

He returned to the galley.

“Why are you fretting over Toppy?” said Joby “A bit of ribbing won’t do him any harm”.

“He’s a very refined man”, said Adam “And he doesn’t normally get a chance to be. Let’s indulge him just once a year, without the clowns being their usual charming selves”.

“If they didn’t tease him he’d go round the twist”, said Joby “Start getting the ruler and making us sit at precise places around the table”.

“A little bit of civilisation won’t do us any harm”, said Adam “Not this once”.

Lonts burst into the galley, clutching an armful of kindling, which he dumped by the stove.

“That’s for your fire, Adam”, he boomed.

“Thank you, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “Well done”.

Joby groaned.

“Now I’m going up on deck to have my pipe”, said Lonts.

“Good”, said Joby “That should help to keep Crowley away!”

As Lonts departed, Bengo came in, holding an array of tinned vegetables against his chest. His eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Hillyard’s just coming with the meat”, he said “The dead ducks“.

“Oh goody”, said Joby, unenthusiastically.

“We’d better clear a space on the table”, said Adam “Bengo, put the tins on the draining-board”.

“I hate duck”, said Joby.

“Joby, do be quiet, old love”, said Adam, in a lowered voice “Hillyard’s gone to a lot of trouble”.

“I hope Kieran’s out of sight”, said Joby.

Hillyard chucked the dead birds on the table, beaming with satisfaction.

“Those should cook up a treat”, he said “Do you want me to chop the heads off for you?”

“I wouldn’t mind”, said Adam, faintly “I’ve never found that an easy thing to do”.

“I don’t know how you’ve survived so long living out in the wilds”, said Hillyard “Not with your effete ways”.

“Neither do I”, said Adam, handing him the meat-cleaver “Without you around I’m sure we would have all starved”.

“Or become vegetarian, like Kieran”, Bengo laughed.

“Would you care to leave the room whilst I do this?” said Hillyard.

Bengo and Joby both headed for the door at top-speed.

“Well I shan’t forget that little desertion in a hurry”, said Adam.

Bengo and Joby flopped, laughing, onto the sofa in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin.

“Oh dear”, said Bengo “Kieran would call us hypocrites for that”.

“Yeah, never mind what he’d say”, said Joby “Anyway, I could point out that all that peace and love he’s preached goes out the window when it comes to him decapitating demons or setting fire to vampires!”

“What’s up with you two?” said Bardin, coming into the room.

“We’re escaping the ducks having their heads chopped off”, said Bengo.

“Just before you then go and cook and eat them”, said Bardin.

“Oh don’t you start!” said Joby.

Bengo pulled Bardin onto them. The three of them were now a tangled heap on the sofa.

“Look, this is no good”, said Bardin “I’ve got things to do”.

“No you haven’t”, said Bengo.

“Christmas needs a lot of organising”, said Bardin. “No it don’t”, said Joby.

“We’re doing the cooking”, said Bengo “Ransey’s doling out the booze”.

“In thimbles if we’re not careful!” said Joby.

“Toppy’s laying the table”, said Bengo “So there is nothing you need to do. Nothing at all”.

“Perhaps appear in your shorts as often as possible”, said Joby “To give us all a treat”.

Adam appeared in the doorway.

“Back you come now”, he said “We’ve got a lot to do”.

“Back on the bleedin’ treadmill”, said Joby.

“Bardin, don’t distract them”, was Adam’s parting-shot.

“Distract?” Bardin exclaimed “I was pulled in here you know!”

“Stop bragging”, said Joby.

“It’s a shame they still look like tinned carrots”, said Adam, pouring them into a serving-dish.

“They just look like carrots to me”, said Joby “Orange. They’re only there to add colour to the plates”.

“One day I am going to have to properly educate you on fine cuisine”, said Adam.

“Fine cuisine?” Joby exclaimed “And just how are you gonna manage that? Living the way we do?”

“I will have to ponder on that one”, said Adam “Toppy, take these dishes through, please”.

“Would it be alright if you shouted ‘service’ when you wanted me to do something?” said Toppy.

“Oh alright, as it’s Christmas”, said Adam “Service!”

“I told you he’d go even more loopy if we started indulging him”, said Joby.

“It’s all perfectly harmless, Joby”, said Adam.

Bengo came into the room.

“I saw Bardin just now, old love”, Adam said to him “He’s still got that damn whistle on. Surely he doesn’t need to wear it on Christmas Day?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll wrestle it off him before we sit down”, said Bengo.

“I’m terrified he’ll give a blast on it and make one of us drop something”, said Adam.

“I’ll go and get it then”, said Bengo “We can hide it in here for the rest of the day”.

“Wonderful thing about the clowns”, said Adam, when Bengo had departed on his mission “One never has to worry about being rough with them. They are so remarkably resilient”.

“Rougher the better in fact”, said Joby.

Bengo got Bardin to agree to dispense with the whistle by decreeing that it was either the whistle which went, or he lost his trousers instead. Bardin knew better than to challenge a fellow clown in the de-bagging stakes, so they all (mercifully) sat down to a whistle-free dinner.

“This is really good”, said Kieran, who had been served the vegetarian option of goats cheese tart “I bet you’re wishing you were eating this instead”.

“Don’t be absurd!” said Julian “If you start trying to make us feel guilty for being carnivores you shall be banished from the table. There is no place for it at Christmastide”.

“I’m just praising our cooks here”, said Kieran.

“No you weren’t, be quiet”, said Joby “Here, where’s he going with the wine?”

Toppy had poured out some drinks and was now removing the bottles to a side table.

“It’s the appropriate thing to do, Joby”, said Toppy.

“Never mind the appropriate thing to do”, said Joby “Put ‘em back on the table, where we can see them. I knew this would happen if you weren’t watched carefully. You get some bloody odd ideas”.

“Sit down, Toppy”, ordered Lonts.

“Yes, eat your dinner whilst it’s hot, old love”, said Adam.

“Do you know”, said Ransey “I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a decent aurora”.

“How could we see it?” said Hillyard “In these conditions?”

“When the weather calms down a bit, I was about to add”, said Ransey.

“That would be wonderful”, said Adam.

“How about we have a bit of a musical session after dinner?” said Umbert “I’ll play the piano for you”.

“I’ll get me ukelele out”, said Rumble “Bardin can give us a song or two”.

“Ooh yes”, said Bengo “You haven’t sung in ages, Bardy”.

“Well the situation never seems to come up”, said Bardin.

“We must obviously rectify that”, said Adam.

“He really does have a wonderful voice”, said Adam, as he and his helpers carried the used dishes back to the galley after the meal was over “I can’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to be a professional singer instead of a clown”.

“His mouth”, said Bengo, bluntly.

“Don’t singers need a mouth then?” said Joby.

“You know what I mean”, Bengo laughed “He was always told nobody would want to look at a singer with a harelip”.

“I would’ve thought it was more important what a singer sounded like than what they looked like”, said Adam “But show business has always been a very cruel profession I suppose”.

“Here”, said Joby “I hope we’re not washing all this up as well as having cooked it”.

“Farnol and Toppy have offered to do it”, said Adam “We’re just dumping things on the table”.

“Good”, said Joby “Here, Hillyard was threatening to go and dig out the tepee later”.

“Yes, he thought it might be useful for aurora spotting”, said Adam.

“He can think again if he thinks I’m camping out o the shore in this weather”, said Joby “Too cold and too damn spooky”.

“Only so that you could watch the aurora, old love”, said Adam.

“We’ll be able to watch it just as well from up on deck”, said Joby “And it’ll be a lot safer too!”

The storm accelerated as the evening wore on. The wind groaned around the ship, and hatches and doorways were constantly blowing open. Anyone passing underneath one would scurry past in a hunched fashion, expecting the hatch to unlatch itself and fall on them at any moment.

“I’m still amazed you aren’t fed up with us being in here with you”, said Joby, when he drifted into Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. The dogs padded in after him.

“Ooh no”, said Bengo “I told you, it’s cosy. Particularly on a night like this. Sometimes me and Bardy can feel isolated, stuck down this end of the ship on our own. It’s alright during the day, with the galley and the dining-room right nearby. But it can get spooky at night”.

“Particularly as something’s haunting us”, said Kieran.

“Be quiet”, said Joby “We don’t need you talking anything up”.

“No chance of any aurora watching tonight at any rate”, said Kieran.

“Thank God”, said Joby “I can hear the lumps of ice hitting the window”.

“Is that sofa comfortable enough?” said Bardin “It’s never narrow”.

“S’right”, said Joby “Kieran don’t exactly take up much room, and it’s not much narrower than our bunk”.

“Good”, said Bardin “Let’s have some sherry before turning in”.

“Very civilised”, said Joby, approvingly.

There was a distinct groan and a thud from out in the corridor.

“Fuck me”, said Joby “What was that?”

“I expect it’s the hatch blowing open again”, said Bardin “It’s been doing it all evening”.

He went out into the corridor. The hatch at the top of the quarterdeck was hanging down, swinging in the draught. Swirls of snowflakes were landing on the wooden steps. Bardin clambered up and refastened it.

“That keeps happening”, said Hoowie, coming out of his cabin from further along the corridor.

“Then I have an idea”, said Bardin “You sit at the bottom of the steps all night, just to close it whenever it opens!”

Hoowie scuttled back into his cabin.

“I thought that might shut him up somehow”, said Bardin.

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