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“It’s been a funny old trip this one”, said Hillyard, who was talking to Ransey down in the boiler room the following day “Apart from that brief stopover in Peridot we’ve not seen a soul since we left Zilligot Bay. You can’t count Pabbio and that dismal lot on Mud Island”.
“And yet we haven’t actually missed seeing anyone”, said Ransey “I mean, we’re not desperate for civilisation, except perhaps from the fresh supplies point of view”.
“It’s going to be harder and harder to find anyone who’ll accept us I suppose”, said Hillyard “This is the way it is now. But we’re nothing if not adaptable”.
“Hey!” Joby shouted down through the hatchway “Listen up, ’cos I don’t wanna have to repeat meself”.
“Can’t you come down here?” said Ransey.
“He probably can’t manage the steps in his delicate condition”, said Hillyard “He’s all fragile after what Adam did to him yesterday”.
“I said listen up”, said Joby “Bardin wants to stop the engines. We’ve found an area we can rest at for a bit”.
“Did he say anything else?” said Hillyard.
“I was just told to pass that bit on”, said Joby, waspishly “Anyone would think I was the bleedin’ messenger boy round here. Go and tell Hillyard to stop the engines, he said in a really high-handed way”.
“Well it serves you right for slapping his arse!” said Hillyard.
“Do we have to put our monks’ costumes on now, Bardy?” said Bengo.
“There is scarcely much point when there is no one here!” said Bardin.
They were standing with most of the others up on the main deck, scanning the beautiful sweep of the bay. The isolated beach was offset by a range of rolling peat hills. The only sign that there had once been any human habitation here at all were the ruins of an old fishermen’s cottage, minus its roof. It was all bleakly, austerely beautiful.
“We won’t be able to get much here”, Bardin went on, now addressing everyone “Except fish, and peat for the fires, but we can pause for a little while, and exercise the animals”.
Bardin marshalled the other clowns into collecting buckets and spades from below deck.
“We’ll collect enough peat”, he said “And then we won’t have to worry about kindling for the fires for a while”.
“Nobody else was worrying about it, Bardy”, said Bengo, who - as kitchen staff - was considered to be sacrosanct and exempt from peat-digging duty “Except you!”
“I do wish Bardin wouldn’t be quite so stern with the other clowns”, Adam was saying when Bengo returned to the galley “It must hurt their feelings sometimes”.
“Don’t worry about them”, said Bengo “They haven’t got any!”
“Oh now Bengo really!” said Adam.
“It’s payback time”, said Bengo “For all the awful things they did to us in the past”.
“Which you no doubt richly deserved”, said Joby.
“I had a terrible shock just now”, said Adam “I saw Hoowie”.
“Yeah well admittedly that’s not for the faint-hearted”, said Joby “But you should be used to the sight of him by now!”
“No I mean he looks so thin in the face”, said Adam.
“He’s a bean-pole, Ad”, said Joby “He always has been. You’ll be suddenly noticing Kieran’s thin next!”
“What I am saying is that he seems to have got even thinner”, said Adam.
“I hope you’re not casting any aspersions there”, said Joby “We give ‘em, 3 square meals a day, plus an endless supply of those ruddy oatcakes. If they don’t fill ‘em up, nothing will! I sometimes think if we get attacked by anybody again, we could use ‘em as lethal missiles!”
“It’s just that, in spite of that, everybody’s still losing weight”, Adam insisted.
“Hillyard isn’t”, said Joby.
“His stomach might be a bit smaller”, said Bengo.
“Well that’s gotta be a good thing surely!” said Joby, in exasperation “Anyway, I haven’t exactly noticed you suddenly becoming all size double zero”.
“No”, Bengo giggled “Julian still calls me Juicy Bottom. Don’t tell Bardy that though”.
“Better not tell Hoowie either”, said Joby.
The peat-digging expedition was cut short by the strange atmosphere they encountered when they went ashore. A storm seemed to be brewing up out of nowhere, causing the clouds to scuttle overhead anxiously, and a strong, cold breeze blew up. They also sensed the prickly, electrical atmosphere which Hal and the other clowns had noticed ashore just prior to the Loud House.
They filled a few buckets with peat, and Lonts gave the dogs a brief frolic in the surf just before they headed sharp-ish back to the galleon. Bardin now decided that they would move on as early as the following day.
It was a tense atmosphere that night, not at all the laid-back one they had been hoping for. In the galley Joby carped so much about Adam’s insinuation that they had been starving their customers, that Adam said he would give him another hiding if he wasn’t feeling so damn tired.
“It’ll have to wait until tomorrow”, said Adam “You can spend all night in a state of abject terror”.
“If I do it won’t be because of you”, said Joby “It’ll be because of this damn place!”
The night passed slowly, and everyone was up very early, eager to be gone from the area as soon as possible. In their cabin Kieran was helping Joby to tie his unruly locks back into some kind of order.
“I’m gonna be wearing hair-pins or an old Ena Sharples hairnet at this rate!” said Joby “I dunno how you cope with hair as long as yours”.
“It’s straighter”, said Kieran “Makes it easier to manage somehow. Adam’s is getting pretty wild too”.
“I know”, said Joby “I keep wanting to run my fingers through it. I’m just waiting for some awkward bastard to complain they’ve found hair in their food!”
“There”, said Kieran, stepping back to admire his handiwork “Would you like a mirror see yourself, sir?”
“Not particularly”, said Joby.
“Oh c’mon Bardin!” Hillyard shouted, banging on the door of the heads just across the corridor “How much longer are you going to be in there? Have you got a blockage or something?”
“Tell him I’ll force-feed him eggs for breakfast”, Joby shouted “That should shift it!”
“Right”, said Hillyard, popping into the galley after breakfast “I’ll take the bucket of scraps down to the goats, and then I’m going to have another poke around down there, like Julian did, to see if I can find any nice surprises as well”.
“Be careful”, said Adam “You never know what you may uncover”.
“Don’t worry”, said Hillyard “I won’t disturb your secret stache of ’Hot Boyz’ magazines!”
“I don’t have a secret stache of anything”, said Adam “And the very last thing I need around here is pornography I can assure you!”
“Yeah, who needs porn, when you’ve got old Jobe to get the red corpuscles racing eh?” said Hillyard.
He took the bucket off Adam, and then suddenly stopped.
“Listen up”, he said “What’s going on?”
“What are you talking about, Hilly?” said Adam.
“We’ve changed direction”, said Joby.
“What’s he playing at?” said Hillyard, referring to Bardin.
He put the bucket down, and the others followed him up the quarterdeck steps to the main deck. Hillyard whistled at Bardin like a shepherd summoning a sheepdog. Bardin looked him up and down, but came over nonetheless.
“Where are we going?” said Hillyard.
“We’ve found a side river”, said Bardin “I thought it would be worth exploring it. All I’ve heard lately is how everybody’s dreading going through the Sea of Torment again, so I thought it might be nice to find away of avoiding it if we could”.
“That isn’t ALL we’ve been talking about,
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