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By Sarah Hapgood

“This is ridiculous, bloody ridiculous”, Bardin grumbled, in a sore, croaky voice “We got through all that cold weather, and as soon as we get into warm, sunny climes, I get bloody flu!”

Bengo had been listening to this tirade, on and off for several days now. Secretly he doubted that it was flu (an opinion shared by some of the others) as, so far, Bardin had been the only one to be so afflicted. The consensus was that Bardin had made himself ill through stress and worry, but it would take a brave (foolish) man to tell Bardin that in his current condition.

“I’ve made you some tea and put some honey in it”, said Bengo, putting the cup down on a convenient table “To try and help soothe your throat”.

“It’s not fair, Bengo”, said Bardin, pitifully “I hear everybody else up aloft, having fun in the sunshine, and I’m stuck down here”.

“It won’t be forever, Bardy”, said Bengo “And you’ll get better much quicker if you stop fretting”.

“Has anybody worked out where we are yet?” said Bardin.

“No”, said Bengo “All the instruments are still out. It’s really weird. So is the wireless. Ransey reckons we must have drifted quite far east, but he says he’s just guessing on that one. He says we might be closer to the ’New Continent’ than where we should be”.

“You will tell me if anything happens won’t you?” Bardin beseeched him “Anything at all?”

“Of course I will”, said Bengo, brightly, feeling that wild horses wouldn’t drag it out of him at that moment that the heads had overflowed, and that some of them had found (to their dismay) that they had fleas. He reasoned with himself that Toppy had embarked on a vigorous schedule of laundry duty, and that everyone was going to take it in turns to have a dip in the hip-bath, plus all the animals were to scrubbed down, and that by the time all that was over, the fleas would be no more, and Bardin need not ever know about it.

“I need to use the loo”, said Bardin, trying now to swing out of their bunk.

“No!” Bengo panicked, appalled at the thought of Bardin seeing the current state of the heads “I’ll find the piss-pot for you”.

“I can walk to the heads you know”, said Bardin “I’m not completely incapacitated”.

“But you might end up having to wait around”, said Bengo, pushing him back onto the bunk “Do as you’re told, Bardy, or I’ll get Julian to come along and sort you out!”

The spectacular change in the weather had made everybody euphoric. They careered about from the main deck, where washing was festooned everywhere, to the big saloon, where the hip-bath was set up. Bottles of wine were dug out of the hold, and much merriment ensued.

“I’ve spent hours and hours trying to unblock that loo”, said Hillyard “So I’m entitled to get pissed!”

“Well do try and bear in mind”, said Adam “That we have no idea when we’re going to be able to get fresh supplies”.

“That thought”, said Hillyard “Is never far from my mind”.

Mud Island wasn’t a solitary island, as its name would suggest, it was in fact an archipelago of islands scattered over a wide area several miles off the west coast of The New Continent. It got its name from being the largest island, situated in the north of the archipelago, and because it often resembled a massive hump of mud rising out of the ocean. It was almost completely deforested. This was partly due to storms, but largely due to the lack of foresight of the islanders in recklessly using up all the trees and not bothering to replace them. The island had few buildings either, mainly a clump of cottages down by the quayside, and a large, sprawling, ancient stone citadel located at the very highest peak of the island.

Once, very long ago, the island had been a strategic military base, a useful guard-dog against anyone trying to sail to the west coast of The New Continent. Those days were now long gone, wiped out by the devastating Sweating Sickness which had almost completely depopulated the entire continent.

Mud Island had escaped the carnage, as it had been self-contained and so could put itself into quarantine. In the years since though its population had shrunk to a fraction of what it had once been, exacerbated by the lack of any new blood coming in. The island had also lost its reason for being. Its previous role as an important military base had given it its energy and impetus. Robbed of that it had imploded, sunk in upon itself. Now it was just a bleak hump of land in the middle of a vast ocean, with a small, strange and sadly inbred population. Its existence was unknown on The Old Continent, but this didn’t mean that the islanders didn’t occasionally have unexpected visitors. In fact, in their extreme isolation, and detachment from the rest of the world, visitors were what they yearned for.

When the galleon docked there one brittle bright afternoon it was decided that Ransey and Hillyard should be the ones to go ashore and dip their toes in the atmosphere there. Whilst they were gone the others tried to stifle their collective restlessness, with varying degrees of success. When Adam walked into the galley he found that Joby had chucked a paperback novel he had been reading into the corner of the room.

“It’s alright”, said Joby “It missed the stove”.

“Well thank heavens for that”, said Adam, tenderly recovering the book “This is no way to treat books, Joby, particularly as we haven’t got that many”.

“It’s the way to treat that one”, Joby growled “I think the writer needs to read a dictionary, learn a few new words. I lost count of the amount of times she used the words ’grin’ ’grinned’ and ’grinning’. I tried counting ’em up in one chapter and lost track! Is there a more gormless word than ’grin’? I’d like to see it abolished!”

“I understand”, said Adam, completely puzzled by Joby’s somewhat obsessive train of thought.

“I keep thinking of a load of people walking around grinning like halfwits”, Joby went on (and on) “God what a thought! Are Ransey and Hillyard gonna be back soon?”

“Well I hope so, if only for your sake, old love”, said Adam.

Bengo came into the room. He was carrying an empty coffee-pot and scowling.

“Good job you’re not grinning”, said Adam.

“I’m not likely to be grinning at the moment!” said Bengo, crossly.

“How is our dear invalid?” asked Adam.

“Even more annoying than when he’s up and around”, said Bengo “Even taking his whistle away hasn’t improved matters! When he’s not complaining, he keeps on asking where Ransey and Hillyard have got to. As if I’m supposed to know! I don’t have telescopic eyesight do I!”

“You poor thing”, said Adam “I expect Bardin’s aggrieved because he wasn’t well enough to go ashore with them”.

“Huh”, said Bengo “Good job in my opinion. We don’t wanna make ourselves unpopular with the natives as soon as we’ve arrived!”

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