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By Sarah Hapgood

Hillyard woke Bardin up very early the next morning.

“I’m wondering if we should head off now”, he said.

“Bad vibes?” said Bardin.

“Yeah I think so”, said Hillyard “What Tudde said has unsettled me, and the locals guessing about us. I know they were bound to do that, and I know I’m probably over-reacting …”

“No I agree”, said Bardin “Anyway, it’s not like you to over-react so perhaps there’s something in it. We were planning to move on later today anyway. Best start up the engines”.

“Gotcha”, said Hillyard.

“Oh and put somebody on watch up on the poop”, said Bardin “Just in case we’re followed. It might sound like paranoia, but after what happened to us up at The Causeway, perhaps we need to be a bit more paranoid!”

Bardin was standing at the port-hole again when Rumble found him there later that morning.

“I’ve drawn up some watch-rota’s for you”, said Rumble, holding out the clipboard which he had borrowed “and cleaning ones too”.

“I’m sure they’re fine”, said Bardin, vaguely, not even looking at them.

Rumble was astonished. Bardin normally went through them with a fine-tooth comb.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Just thinking about something Tudde said”, said Bardin “About how he couldn’t make us out. If we’re to try and be a bit more unobtrusive in future, perhaps we need to have more of an image when we reach civilisation”.

“You’ve lost me”, said Rumble.

“Well what are we exactly?”

“A bunch of people who travel around and who enjoy being together”.

“Yes but that’s not good enough”, said Bardin “For other people I mean”.

“That’s their problem”, said Rumble.

“No it’s ours. We can’t ignore what they think of us, Rumble, much as we want to. We can’t afford any more situations like the one that happened up at The Causeway. Or keep getting scared when people start guessing on us, like they did back in port. We have to present a public image when we’re in civilisation. So, what are we first and foremost? And don’t say a ship’s crew, because they’ll just wonder what kind of a ship’s crew”.

“We’re a family”, Rumble shrugged.

“Yes, but they’ll wonder where all our female members are”, said Bardin “We’ve got Mieps and Tamaz and that’s it. No, when we’re in civilisation, we have to be a religious order”.

“We haven’t got to dig those old monks’ habits out of the hold and start wearing them again have we?”

“No, not very practical on a boat”.

“You can say that again”, said Rumble “End up falling arse over tit going up and down the steps”.

“Best stick to trousers I think”, said Bardin.

“Shame”, said Julian, when the news reached him at the other end of the boat “I used to cut quite a dash in a habit. Especially when I left my underpants off”.

“Oh for God’s sake, Julian!” said Adam.

“Something very erotic about it”, Julian went on.

“Much wiser to keep YOUR tackle stowed away”, said Adam, slamming down the cup of tea he had bought in for him, and walked out of the room.

“Particularly as there’s so much of it!” Julian shouted after him.

Adam nearly fell over Mutton Broth in the corridor, who was sweeping the floor.

“I do wish you’d make yourself a bit more conspicuous when you’re working, old love”, said Adam.

“I don’t know how”, said Mutton, who had spent most of his life trying to look inconspicuous in case Bardin noticed him.

“Well try whistling or something”, said Adam.

“I don’t know how”, Mutton repeated.

Adam patted his shoulder sympathetically, and went back to the galley.

Further and further into the icy waters of the deep southern ocean they sailed. The sky grew greyer and the air colder. A brisk wind rose up and whistled and blustered around the ship relentlessly. The noise from it offered no respite, night or day.

Late one night, after supper, Umbert was fiddling with the wireless set in the dining-room.

“I think we’re losing it”, he said to Bardin “We’ll soon be able to get nothing worthwhile”.

“Keep the frequencies open anyway”, said Bardin “You never know, something might get through on the white noise. Although switch if off when you want to sleep”.

“Something spooky and too terrifying to listen to will come through I expect”, said Hoowie, who had had too much port.

“Isn’t it time you were in bed?” said Bardin.

He went into his cabin, where he found Bengo lying back on the sofa, nursing a tumbler of whisky against his chest.

“I thought you were never coming in”, said Bengo.

“Just telling Umbert about the wireless”, said Bardin “And trying to put up with the wit and wisdom of that fool Hoowie. How the hell I manage to live on a boat with him without going insane I’ll never know!”

“You should ignore him more”, said Bengo.

“I’ve tried that”, said Bardin, kicking off his shoes and then curling up next to him “He then just keeps pulling on my chain until I notice him again. Like some bloody demonic puppet-master”.

“I’ve been having really nice dreams”, said Bengo “About the island we’re gonna find one day”.

“I wish I had madly optimistic dreams like that”.

“Oh I normally forget my dreams five minutes after I’ve woken up, but these have stuck with me. Ooh they’ve been magical”.

“Has it got nice weather, this dream island?” said Bardin “No bloody wind and rain?”

“Lots of warm sunshine”, said Bengo, stroking Bardin’s hair.

“And we wont’ have to spend all our time freezing cold and soaking wet every time we go topside?” said Bardin.

“Nope”, said Bengo.

“Sounds too good to be true”, said Bardin “No wonder we’re having trouble finding it!”

The constant trudging through heavy weather continued for some time to come, and the gale force winds didn’t let up at all. Bardin arranged for some tarpaulin wind-breaks to be erected up on deck, so that those who had to work up there could get some minimal respite at least.

Down in the galley Joby watched as a kettle danced across the draining-board, rocked on its way by the constant buffeting of the boat.

“It’s that sort of thing that scares me more than any other”, he said “We could shatter like matchwood at any moment”.

“I know I can always count on you to be a reassuring presence at a difficult time, Joby”, said Adam, sarcastically.

“You can’t expect me to say cheerful things”, said Joby “Not when I can’t remember the last time I wore a clean pair of trousers!”

“This conversation goes from bad to worse”, said Adam “You can’t expect Toppy to do much laundry at the moment. There’s nowhere to dry anything”.

“I think he’s just using that as an excuse to be lazy”, said Bengo.

“That’s an accusation you can never fire at Toppy, old love”, said Adam “He’s never lazy”.

“It can’t be healthy can it? Never taking your clothes off?” said Joby, who wasn’t going to drop his current favourite grievance in a hurry “God knows what we’ll see when we finally get a chance to take ‘em off”.

“The mind does indeed boggle”, said Adam.

“Trench foot all over”, said Joby.

“When we reach calmer seas”, said Bengo “We should all go up on deck and throw our clothes off, all at once!”

Unfortunately this dazzling spectacle didn’t look as though it was going to take place anytime soon. Eventually the wind and rain eased, but it was replaced by thick freezing fog. Visibility was so poor it was virtually non-existent.

“Join the galleon and see the world!” said Rumble, somewhat sardonically.

The makeshift wind-breaks were taken down and replaced by lanterns placed at strategic intervals around the main and poop decks, giving them all a strange surreal sensation akin to gliding through deep space.

Below deck the changed weather conditions seemed to induce an atmosphere of eerie calm. People became less talkative, and more inclined to having vivid dreams. If Bengo dreamt about an elusive tropical island, then Joby found himself dreaming about a shed and an allotment. In it he, Ransey and Hillyard would set up another still. Kieran meanwhile would be either dozing in the long grass nearby, or being given menial jobs to do. But Kieran wouldn’t mind that, as he enjoyed being humbled.

“I can see it all so vividly”, said Joby, as he lay in his bunk talking to Kieran early one bitterly cold morning “The long grass, everything”.

“Your body’s aching for warm sunshine”, said Kieran.

“It’s aching for a place like that”, said Joby “But not an allotment, for that suggests it’s near a town. No, it’s that damn mystery island again. The one Bengo dreams about as well”.

Adam came into the room. The ship was stirring into life all around them.

“I thought I’d come and get you up this morning”, he said “Seeing as you seem to be getting later and later every day”.

“It’s too bloody cold to get out of bed that’s why!” said Joby.

“I manage it”, said Adam “I want you down in the galley in the next 10 minutes …”

“Do me a favour!” said Joby “I won’t even be able to get into the karsey in the next 10 minutes let alone …”

“Within the next 10 minutes”, said Adam, relentlessly “Washed and looking vaguely presentable. If you’re not I shall punish you very severely. I don’t exert enough discipline over you and Patsy these days”.

He pulled the bedclothes off them.

“You’re a wicked old fairy!” said Joby “I dunno what I ever did to end up working for you!”

“Sheer good fortune”, said Adam.

The fog slowly cleared and a vista of forbidding ocean dotted with floating ice-packs greeted them. In the distance would be heard a noise similar to far-off gunfire. It was the ice-packs breaking up. Bardin urged the ship onwards in a north-easterly direction.

“I’m terrified of us getting wedged in the ice”, he confessed to Julian “If that should happen it could destroy the ship”.

“Calm yourself”, said Julian “We once did this route in a leaky old tug-boat, in the opposite direction, and lived to tell the tale”.

“You were the one who was Captain then”, said Bardin.

“Now is not the time to have a crisis of confidence”, said Julian “You’ve captained this ship in some atrociously difficult situations, so let’s not have any shows of mock humility now”.

“Julian”, said Bardin “Could you keep Hoowie in here until we’re past the worst of the crisis. He keeps winding me up. I know he only does it to get attention from me, but I can’t hack it at the moment. He can come out for meals … as long as he’s silent”.

“Hoowie is a court-jester at heart”, said Julian “And part of the court-jester’s duties were to distract the king, and stop him brooding too much on problems. But if you wish it, I’ll keep him firmly to heel until we’re in calmer waters”.

“I would appreciate that”, said Bardin.

Umbert ran breathlessly into the room.

“I’ve been looking for you”, he said to Bardin “We’ve sighted land, on the far horizon. Ransey thinks it must be Brimstone Point”.

“If it is”, said Julian “Once we’ve got past that we’re in open ocean, and the Horn will be behind us at last”.

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