Bardin stepped out from the top of the quarterdeck steps, and was immediately buffeted by squally winds and near-horizontal snow. Ransey loomed up at him out of the strange, dim light.
“It’s going to be dangerous to travel much further”, he said “Visibility is near-impossible”.
“OK”, said Bardin, reluctantly “But if we stop we run the risk of becoming becalmed in the ice”.
“That risk is better than running into something and causing serious damage to the boat”, said Ransey.
“Agreed”, said Bardin “Run a small distance further, and find somewhere suitable to pull over. We’ll then batten down until the weather improves”.
They continued a short way along the river, until the visibility became so bad that they were in a virtual white-out. At the bottom of the quarterdeck steps he bumped into Kitty, who was standing there bundled up in several layers of clothing.
“Well I suppose it makes a change that it’s not Hoowie who’s in the way”, said Bardin, testily “He usually manages it”.
“Is Ransey alright?” Kitty asked.
“What?” said Bardin “Yes of course he is, why shouldn’t he be?”
He went into his cabin and firmly closed the door on her. Bengo was in there, washing his feet.
“That wretched woman gets more and more bizarre”, said Bardin, shedding his coat, gloves and hat into a pile on the floor.
“Who? said Bengo, stuffing a flannel between his toes.
“Kitty”, said Bardin “Now she’s asking me if Ransey’s alright!”
“Oh she’s got a bit of a crush on him”, Bengo giggled.
“What?” Bardin barked.
“Yes, according to Adam”, said Bengo “Kitty’s going a bit silly over Ransey”.
“Why?” said Bardin “He doesn’t strike me as the sort of man women go nuts over, particularly women like her. He’s not even Sagittarian for a start”.
(Kitty, being Sagittarian herself, believed Sagittarians were the best people around, and would immediately latch onto anyone who was. She had tried doing so with Bardin, only to be constantly rebuffed. Where Bengo was concerned, she flatly refused to believe he was Sagittarian, even though his birthday was the day before Bardin’s).
“According to Adam”, said Bengo “It’s because Ransey’s all sensible and dependable, and he’s skilled with a gun”.
“What the hell’s the gun got to do with it?” said Bardin.
“She seems to like it”, Bengo shrugged.
“Huh”, said Bardin “So much for all her Peace and Love philosophy then!”
“Hey!” Hoowie burst into the room “We’ve stopped!”
“Yes. I gave the order to do so”, said Bardin.
“Does that mean we’re not going any further then?” said Hoowie.
“Not for the moment, no”, said Bardin.
“Well, what will we do here then?” said Hoowie “In the middle of nowhere”.
“Looking at the visibility out there”, said Bengo, drying his feet by the porthole “Not very much”.
“Could you have a word with Toppy about doing some laundry?” said Hoowie.
“It’s not exactly brilliant conditions for him to do a big wash now is it!” said Bardin.
“Well can’t he do it in the galley?” said Hoowie.
“No I’m not having him under my feet in there”, said Bengo.
“You were worrying about having things to do just now”, said Bardin “You could do your own washing in your own cabin”.
“And where do I dry everything?” said Hoowie.
“Dunno, don’t care”, said Bardin.
“Oh Bardin!” Hoowie wailed.
“Oh Bardin!” Bardin mimicked him “Look, if you’re running out of clean knickers you can wash your own”.
“I bet yours get washed”, said Hoowie.
“Bardin’s knickers are the ship’s treasures”, said Bengo “So he gets special privileges”.
Hoowie opened the door, looked out, and closed it again.
“SHE’S out there”, he said, in a stage whisper “Cat Woman”.
“So?” said Bardin.
“She wanted to shave my face”, Hoowie hissed, indignantly “Said I’d look better without all my facial hair. Fucking cheek! I can’t go without facial hair, I’d look like a big girl!”
“Instead of a big loon”, said Bengo.
“She isn’t going to shave your face”, said Bardin “Stop being hysterical. What do you think she’s going to do? Sneak up on you in your sleep with a razor?!”
“No, ‘cos we keep our cabin door bolted”, said Hoowie.
“Well there you are then”, said Bardin “So you can calm down”.
“She’s bonkers if you ask me”, was Hoowie’s parting-shot as he left.
“Comes to something when Hoowie thinks you’re bonkers!” Bengo laughed.
“Cat Woman haunts this ship like a bloody ghost”, said Bardin “I wish I could see a way sometime soon of being shot of that lot”.
The period where they were snowed in felt like the most difficult time they had had in quite a while. They were caged below deck. It was impossible to move anywhere outside in these white-out conditions. It even became difficult to keep track of time, as the light barely seemed to change. The fact that they had their four visitors living with them, cheek-by-jowl, added to the pain. There was no Letting It All Hang Out, as there would have been if they’d been alone.
“Cabin fever’s going to get beyond a joke if this keeps up”, Bardin confided to Bengo.
“What can we do?” said Bengo.
“Pray for a thaw”, said Bardin.
“Ad! What the fuck are you playing at?” Joby exclaimed, aware of only two things, that he had been rudely woken up, and that it was far too early.
“Time to get started on the porridge for breakfast”, said Adam.
“Have you gone raving mad?” said Joby “It’s the middle of the fucking night!”
“Not quite”, said Adam “It just feels like it. Morale is already low enough without us being laggardly in serving up meals”.
“They can wait”, said Joby “It’s not as if any of ‘em are going anywhere in a hurry!”
“Just gt a move on”, said Adam, whipping back the covers on the sofa that Joby and Kieran were using as a bed.
“Do you want me to come as well, Adam?” said Bengo, from his bunk.
“Creep”, said Joby.
The ship gradually stirred into life. Joby and Bengo were in the galley, attending to the porridge, whilst Adam was setting up the table in the dining-room. Beatrix paused in the doorway of the galley, peered in at them and then moved on, presumably having ascertained that Adam wasn’t in there.
“She is getting on my wick”, said Joby.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if Adam fell in love with her?” said Bengo.
“Hilarious”, said Joby.
“No I mean it would be so weird wouldn’t it, Adam in love with a woman?” said Bengo.
“Not very likely”, said Joby “Anyway, you must be getting bored if you’re reduced to speculating about things like that!”
“Things like what?” said Adam, coming into the room.
Bengo and Joby jumped guiltily.
“N-nothing”, said Bengo.
“Was it about Beatrix by any chance?” said Adam.
“That obvious eh?” said Bengo.
“I can rather read you like a book, old love”, said Adam.
“So can Bardy”, said Bengo “I don’t have a hope of having a shadow life!”
“Beatrix is getting me down”, said Adam “I couldn’t sleep last night because of her”.
“Oh so that was why you got us up in the middle of the night?” said Joby “Another thing I can blame her for!”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed”, said Adam “But she’s refusing to speak to me at the moment. That of course doesn’t prevent her from hanging around to haunt me. She appears in doorways, and stands there with her head averted. It really is all rather depressing”.
“Anton’s not much better”, said Joby “He’s depressing the shit out of me. Taking to listing everything that’s wrong with the world. Like a bleedin’ inventory of doom. If things carry on like this, we’re all gonna end up killing each other!”
It was to get worse. A virus broke out on board the ship, which laid nearly everybody low, suffering with copious amounts of coughing and vomiting. Adam decided that he couldn’t cope with Beatrix as well as that, and asked Lonts to stand guard outside the galley door.
“That’ll keep everybody out”, said Joby.
“Good”, said Adam “This whole situation is intolerable, it feels like we’re walking through treacle”.
“‘Cept we’re not moving anywhere”, said Joby “We’re stagnant”.
“We’re making it too damn cushy for our guests that’s the trouble”, Bardin said to Bengo in the privacy of their cabin “They get everything done for them. They don’t have to do any chores. They’ll never want to leave us at this rate”.
“What do you suggest then?” said Bengo.
“Nothing, I haven’t got any suggestions”, said Bardin “The only thing I’m certain of is that the very moment we are anywhere that a home can be made, we’re putting them ashore pronto, and then scarpering, as fast as we can. I don’t have any other ideas than that. This wretched bug seems to be making my brain seize up!”
Shortly after this they did have a slight upturn in luck, although it was blessings in disguise. Gale force winds developed, which effectively banished the thick freezing fog. It meant they now had visibility, it meant they could now move the ship. Constantly buffeted by the icy gusts, they resumed their steady course along the river.
Returning from the deck one morning, Bardin went into the dining-room and told Beatrix in no uncertain terms that she and her family would be going ashore at the earliest possible opportunity.
“Obviously we won’t dump you just anywhere”, he said “We wouldn’t plunge you into a nest of Ghoomers for instance”.
“But you’ll be dumping us all the same”, Beatrix mumbled.
“If you want to see it that way that’s up to you”, Bardin shrugged.
It was all ending in the most dismal way any acquaintanceship could end … in morose non-communication.
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