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The coastline for miles around the forbidding Brimstone Point, on the very south-eastern tip of the Land Mass, was almost entirely featureless. Nothing but bare rocks, like the surface of a cold, uninhabited distant planet. Bardin decided that it scarcely merited all the trouble of getting the skiff unloaded and organising a shore-party in order to go and explore it. Besides, he had other things on his mind.
“We’re very low on money”, he said to Bengo, when Bengo had gone to seek him out in their cabin “We’ve got barely a scraping of the Starhanger jewels left, and we certainly have nothing else of any value”.
“Why are you worrying about that now?” said Bengo, in genuine bewilderment “It’s not as if there’s anything around here to spend it on even if we did have it!”
“But that’s not always going to be the case”, said Bardin, impatiently “At some point we will reach civilisation …”
“Oh for god’s sake, Bardy”, said Bengo “Look, if things get that dire then we can always do a bit of street busking. That should claw in a few coins”.
“Huh”, said Bardin “Rumble playing his banjo? Farnol making balloon dogs?! We’re scarcely going to get rich on that!”
“Oh we’ve got to get rich now have we?” Bengo exclaimed “And there was me thinking we were now supposed to be a religious order! Oh what a silly old Bengo I am!”
“It was just a turn of phrase”, said Bardin “There are bound to be some things in the future that we will need a hefty slice of money for”.
“I don’t know, say the ships need to be completely refitted, or we decide we need to live on land for a while. All these things cost money”.
“You don’t say”, said Bengo “God, money’s so boring to talk about!”
“That has always been your attitude”, said Bardin “Well all I can say is it’s a good job one of us has a practical bone in his body. Left to you …”
“I’m going to go and finish the supper”, said Bengo, in a dignified manner “Some of us have important things to do. And you’d better not start burbling on about money at the dinner-table, ’cos if you do Julian’ll find it really vulgar, and then I’ll have to give you what-for”.
Bardin chucked a cushion at him as he left the room.
“He won’t think it so vulgar if he’s got nothing to buy any cigars with!” he shouted, and then collapsed into a sulk on the sofa.
Fortunately Bardin had mellowed by the time dinner was over, helped by the copious amounts of wine which Adam served to him. By the time meal was over Bardin hadn’t quite got to the “who needs money anyway?” stage, but at least he wasn’t obsessing over it anymore.
The other advantage to all this was that the following day he was too hungover to charge around the ship blowing his whistle and bellowing orders, as he usually did. When Adam caught up with him after breakfast and found him sitting surprisingly demurely with Bengo on the sofa in their cabin. They looked so “sweet” (Adam’s words) that he immediately wanted to sketch them in charcoal. Bengo was always delighted to have his portrait done, but he was baffled as to what the appeal of this one would be.
“We’re just sitting on a sofa”, he said.
“But you still look so like clowns”, said Adam, who had retrieved his sketch-pad from the big saloon “Even without costumes and make-up, you still look like clowns”.
“I know”, Bengo sighed.
“I’m hungover”, Bardin barked.
“And whose bloody fault is that?” said Bengo “I have no sympathy whatsoever”.
“So I’m not fit to have my picture done”, Bardin complained.
“Shut up Bardin!” said Bengo, firmly “And let Adam sketch us if he wants to”.
“Am I the only one doing any work round here?” said Joby, from the doorway.
“I’ll be along in a little while, old love”, said Adam.
Joby flounced back to the galley, where Kieran was pouring out tea into mugs.
“He decides to pick now to do a bit of sketching!” said Joby “He couldn’t become much more of an upper-class pansy if he tried!”
“Ach stop complaining”, said Kieran “I can help you til he gets back. I’ve just made some tea so you see I’m not completely useless”.
“But I was hoping you could tend my plants down in the hold for me today”, Joby wailed, who seemed to be losing the plot a bit.
“I can do that as well”, said Kieran “And at some point I’ll even make the bed”.
Joby slumped down on a stool.
“Have you been dreaming about your shed again?” asked Kieran.
“It’s so vivid too”, he said “I can see everything, smell it too, which I didn’t think happened in dreams. Everything’s so bright, so peaceful, and then I wake up and we’re here, in this turbulent nothingness”.
“We’re gradually making progress”, said Kieran.
“Towards what though?” said Joby, darkly, which made Kieran groan with exasperation.
One afternoon Bardin found himself once more pacing restlessly about in his cabin. He paused to watch a tassel on the edge of a blanket hang motionless and erect, due to the static in the air caused by the extreme coldness.
“Alright if I have a word with you, my dear chap?” said Julian, from the doorway.
Bardin was quite surprised by this unexpected visitation. Whenever Julian usually wanted a word with someone, he would summon them imperiously to his cabin. He didn’t tend to go in search of them.
Julian came into the room and kicked the door shut behind him.
“Don’t look so alarmed”, he said “I only want to ask you a favour. Can I take Hoowie up on deck to join me in night-watch duty this evening? Only the poor chap’s practically chewing the furniture. You know how he finds it hard to keep still at the best of times. He’s got such a bad dose of cabin-fever”.
For a moment Bardin couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. Then he remembered that he had asked Julian to chain Hoowie up in the cellar (figuratively speaking) some time before.
“I’ll give him firm instructions”, Julian continued “Not to speak to you unless you speak to him first, and then only to say what is required”.
“Yes yes alright”, Bardin snapped “I get the point. He can help in the first shift of the night-watch”.
“Good show”, said Julian “He was starting to look rather waxen around the gills”.
Suddenly he grabbed one of Bardin’s hands and examined the nails.
“You’ll bite them down to the quick if you’re not careful”, he said.
“I’ve got a lot on my mind that’s all”, said Bardin, snatching his hand back “Sorry, but I don’t want you thinking I’m some kind of neurotic nutcase. I’m - I’m just worried what will happen if we get a repeat of Zilligot Bay when we next pull into port”.
“Don’t you think you should just concentrate on the here and now for the time being?” said Julian.
“I’m not sure about this Weather Rock plan now”, said Bardin “I know the others really want to go there …”
“But Buskin’s like us”, said Julian “He’s an immortal, and he’s known Kieran from the dawn of time, or so it seems. I can’t believe drop us in it”.
“But what if he’s not alone there?” said Bardin “Just because he was a solitary all those years ago may not mean he still is! There might be hordes of people there!”
“Bardin”, said Julian, firmly “I do think you should just concentrate on the here and now. We’ve still got a long way to go before we get anywhere near the Weather Rock. At some point the wireless communications will kick in again, and who knows what information we may pick up then? I think you need to take things a little easier”.
At supper someone sent up the cry of “it’s started snowing!” which made the night-watches even more important. Bardin came down below from supervising the start of the first shift, and nearly got scared out of his wits by Bengo, who was silently returning from the heads along the main corridor, a guttering candle in hand.
“Oh for God’s sake, Bardy”, he said “I think you should go to bed with a horse tranquilliser inside you!”
“Don’t go telling the others that”, said Bardin, following him into their cabin “They think me enough of a neurotic old sod already!”
“Well just get some rest”, said Bengo, placing the candle on a side table.
“What’s that?” said Bardin, catching a distant man’s cry in the background.
“One of the others I expect”, said Bengo.
“No it sounds too far away”, said Bardin.
They both paused to listen.
“I’m going back upstairs”, said Bardin “That didn’t sound like it was on the ship. Stay here”.
Up on deck he found Julian waving a lantern from left to right.
“There’s someone out there”, said Hoowie, in disbelief.
Bardin went up to the bulwark. Visibility was extremely poor, but he could just make out a small rowing-boat rocking about on the choppy ocean. In it appeared to be two people, both only visible by a couple of blurry faces staring up at the galleon.
“Do you need help?” Julian shouted, in his best parade-ground voice.
“Chuck the ladder over the side”, Bardin instructed Hoowie and Farnol.
One of the people in the boat gesticulated and pointed ahead of them.
“Come aboard!” Julian shouted “We’ve lowered a ladder for you!”
The people in the boat clearly weren’t going to take up the offer though. The first one continued to point ahead.
“They shouldn’t be damn well out in the ocean in that piddly little thing”, said Julian to Bardin.
“They obviously feel differently”, said Rumble, as the pair in the boat began to row frantically away from them.
“Why did they hail us then?” said Bardin.
“I think”, said Julian “They might have been warning us”.
Bardin ordered that the big lamp on the prow be turned in their direction, but it picked up nothing. All they could hear was the distant plashing of the oars as the little boat moved away from them.
At the end of the shift Julian, Hoowie, Rumble and Bardin went below to the dining-room to snack on bread, cheese and cocoa. Umbert, Mieps and Ransey took their places on deck.
“So who could they have been then?” said Bengo, who was in charge of slicing the bread.
“Perhaps they were ghosts”, Bardin shrugged “Stranger things have happened at sea. We know that”.
“In some ways I’m hoping they were”, said Farnol “That’d be easier to accept than somebody bone-headedly playing around the southern ocean in a flimsy little boat like that”.
“Alive or dead”, said Julian “They were clearly intent on heading out to somewhere”.
“And possibly warning us of something at the same time”, said Bardin, and he gave a heavy sigh “The sea is a strange place. All normal laws of nature are suspended here”.
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