Go back to previous chapter
The weather over the next few days was simply atrocious. Freezing fog, snow showers, and at times a biting easterly wind all conspired to make them drift even further out into the ocean, until they lost sight of the coastline completely. The wireless was still out, and now the navigational equipment was playing up.
“It seems to be another magnetic storm”, said Ransey, and the thought went round them all that they may have strayed into another time-slip.
“At the moment it’s irrelevant what time we’re in”, said Bardin, assuming his best no-nonsense manner “It makes bugger all difference to anything! That should only concern us when we reach civilisation”.
“Oh really?” said Bengo “A bit like having no money you mean?!”
“Stop trying to be so smart!” said Bardin.
“Blimey Bengo”, said Joby “I bet you didn’t think anyone’s ever say that to you!”
“Particularly not him!” said Bengo.
Bardin went looking for Kieran and finally ran him to earth in a remote part of the hold, where he was tending some of Joby’s plants.
“I’ve been looking for you all over the ship”, said Bardin.
“Joby’s always complaining he doesn’t get to spend enough time on his plants”, said Kieran “So I offered to do a bit”.
Bardin perched against the bench on which some of the plants were situated.
“Kieran”, he said, in a very serious tone “Is there anything you know that you haven’t told us?”
Kieran was genuinely taken aback by this question.
“I really have no idea what you mean, Bardin”, he said.
“I’m not sure either”, said Bardin “It’s just with all this talk going on, comparing now with the time-slip up north. I perhaps wondered if you knew if anything like that had happened again, and weren’t telling us”.
“Believe me, if I had any inkling of anything like that I’d tell you”, said Kieran “The only twinges I get sometimes are when I get the vague feeling that somebody is following us. But it’s so vague I didn’t think it was worth giving voice to”.
“I’ve had a feeling like that ever since we left Zilligot Bay”, said Bardin “I thought perhaps I was being paranoid”.
“No you’ve got psychic sensitivity as well”, said Kieran “You theatricals often have”.
“I’m not sure what to do”, said Bardin “It’s a bit hard to turn round and confront someone you can’t see, and who you don’t even know is really there!”
“Then I would suggest”, said Kieran “In the meantime that we do nothing, except try and survive this terrible cold weather as best we can”.
Joby was returning from the heads when he saw Bengo’s booted feet disappearing up the quarterdeck steps.
“I don’t believe it!” Joby stormed into the galley “You’ve let him take the teas upstairs AGAIN! He did it last time. At this rate I’m gonna forget what being outside is like!”
“And if I had asked you to do it”, said Adam “You would have probably complained about the cold! You can do the next round. I’m sure the others aren’t likely to complain about having too much tea”.
Joby stood silently by the galley table. He had the humiliating feeling he was about to start shaking and crying. Adam went over to him and gripped him firmly by the shoulders.
“You’re getting a bad dose of cabin fever”, he said “You must fight it, old love”.
“I’m trying to”, Joby mumbled.
Adam groped in Joby’s trouser pockets and fished out an extremely disreputable-looking handkerchief.
“I dread to think what you’ve been doing with this!” he said.
“Not what you think”, said Joby “Anyway, Toppy’s hardly been doing any laundry lately”.
“You don’t need Toppy to do your hankies, or your undies either”, said Adam “I rinse mine through every day in my shaving-water. I hope you and Patsy have been changing your underpants”.
“Yes we have!” said Joby, indignantly “One night a week we give ‘em all a good wash, and have a couple of glasses of whisky at the same time”.
Adam had to repress a smile at the rather sweet domestic scene this presented in his mind. “You’ll be wanting to ask if we wash our privates next!” said Joby “Or you’ll be coming in to inspect ‘em! Is that what used to happen at that fancy public-school you went to? Did you do that when you was a school-prefect?!”
“I was never a school-prefect”, said Adam “I was always far too rebellious and anarchic for that. And I’ll only come and inspect your privates if you want me to! I know I nag a lot, but I have been valiantly trying - sometimes against impossible odds - to keep you and Patsy on the straight and narrow ever since we crossed over into this world. I’m not going to stop now”.
“I know I know”, Joby sighed “You’re my surrogate mum, far better ‘en the real one ever was!”
“Well considering the relationship we have”, said Adam “That must make you Oedipus. Or as Finia might say, with his mania for astrology, very Cancerian male. All obsessed with the mother figure”.
“Cheers”, said Joby “Now you make me sound like Norman Bates!”
As dinner was being served up that evening Farnol and Rumble decided to take off all their clothes and run round the table. “Is there any point to this?” said Bardin.
“We’ve been wanting to do it up on deck”, said Farnol.
“But it’s too damn cold”, said Rumble.
“So we’re doing it down here instead”, said Farnol “Don’t you go all disapproving on us, Bardin. You know how keen you usually are on keeping up morale”.
“I don’t see how the sight of your nuts at mealtimes can possibly be a morale-booster!” said Bardin.
“He should have been a critic”, said Rumble “He gets all the best lines”.
“Delightful though all this is”, said Adam “I think you should put some clothes on before we eat, or Joby will be complaining about how unhygienic it all is”.
Rumble and Farnol departed to a far corner of the room to collect their discarded clothes. Julian watched Rumble far too approvingly for Hoowie’s liking.
“I could do a streak as well”, he said.
“Oh no you can’t, we’ve had enough torture for one evening already”, said Bardin “Let’s eat the food before it gets cold shall we?”
This wise suggestion was eagerly seized upon, and the dining-table took on its more usual supper-time atmosphere, with several different conversations all going on at once. At one point though Bardin noticed that Mieps was leaning back in her chair, as though struggling to hear something outside.
“What is it?” Bardin asked.
“Sounds like an engine”, said Mieps “In the distance”.
Bardin signalled for everyone to be quiet. Far away was a low humming noise. It was extremely hard to decipher if it was another ship or an air-buggy. Bardin got up and went to listen at the outside wall.
“It’s quite some way away”, he said.
“Everyone up on deck”, said Hillyard, getting to his feet “See if we can see anything”.
There was a whirl of activity as coats, boots and gloves were all seized from various temporary resting places, and then a massive stampede up to the main deck.
“Whatever it is, it’s a very long way away”, said Ransey.
Nonetheless, Bardin ordered some big lamps to be turned on, facing in the north-easterly direction the sound was coming from.
“We’ll never see anything in this visibility”, said Hillyard. And he was right.
Umbert wasn’t asked to, but he left the wireless on that night. He found the white noise curiously soothing, but he didn’t expect to hear anything else. At around 3 in the morning though he was startled awake by the sound of distant voices over the airwaves. At first they seemed to be having a conversation in a different language. The frustration at trying to comprehend it was compounded by the way the voices occasionally disappeared and then reappeared again at random.
He woke Digby. His old monkish comrade wasn’t the most brilliant witness to have, as most of the time Digby seemed to live in a different universe entirely to everybody else, but he could at least reassure Umbert that he wasn’t hearing things.
“Perhaps you could twiddle with it a bit?” said Digby, sitting up in his camp-bed.
“I don’t like to do that”, said Umbert, lighting a candle from the embers of the dining-room fire “We might lose it altogether”.
Suddenly a woman’s voice came through very clearly. “It’s the end of the world!” she cried out “The end of the world!”
Both the men moved close to the radio. Umbert longed to do as Digby had suggested and fiddle with the machine to try and get a better frequency, but he was afraid of losing the voices completely. A few minutes passed of nothing, not even white noise (which was curious enough in itself), until a man’s voice appeared. There were a few brief snatches from him. The comments were (as far as Umbert could make out) “westerly”, “oddness”, and “don’t come after me”.
The voice stopped, but the white noise resumed.
“We’d better go and tell Bardin”, said Umbert, straightening up “I don’t know what the hell it all means, but we’d better tell him anyway”.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site