13. THE SEA VOYAGE
The week that followed, Adrian decided, was the worst he had ever spent in his life. Travelling by night and hiding by day were bad enough, but the difficulties of hitching and unhitching Rosy from the trap were tremendous. Also, he missed Samantha terribly, and approximately once every ten minutes bitterly regretted that he had ever left the Unicorn and Harp.
At length he could stand his plaster cast no longer and so, leaving Rosy carefully shackled in a wood with a large supply of food all ready in front of her, he made his way to the nearest town. Here he was directed to a doctor who examined his arm.
“It’s nearly four weeks,” said Adrian, “and the doctor who put it on said I could take it off in four weeks.”
“Well,” said the doctor, “it’s up to you. I can take it off if you want me to, but you will have to be very careful how you use it.”
So he stripped the cast away from Adrian’s arm and Adrian felt that he had been relieved of an intolerable burden. His arm was stiff, but when he moved it it caused him no pain and it was obvious the break had healed. He hurried back to the wood where he had left Rosy and that evening they continued on their way into a sunset as flamboyant as a peacock’s tail.
Dawn found them following a rough track over a great headland covered with big green busbies of thrift, each one a mass of pink flowers. Then, suddenly, as they reached the peak of the headland, they came to the edge of a steep cliff and there below them was the sea, trembling and glinting in the morning light and whispering busily to itself on the shingle beach. It was not a very good place for concealing Rosy, for there was not a tree for miles, but Adrian was beginning to feel happier now; he felt he had put enough distance between himself, Fenneltree Hall and the Unicorn and Harp. Surely here they would be safe. As he lay dozing on the soft piles of thrift he wondered what his next move should be. Presumably, if he made his way along the cliff far enough, he would come to a seaside town and that was where he felt certain he would find a circus or some similar institution which would accept Rosy and her legacy. He was just drifting off into a deep relaxed sleep when a shrill voice shouted “Ahoy!” and Adrian leapt to his feet as though he had been shot and wheeled around wildly. Trotting towards him through the thrift, panting and waving her hands in greeting, came Black Nell.
“Ahoy!” she crowed, beaming at him. “Well met.”
“Hello,” said Adrian in astonishment. “What are you doing up here?”
“A minute,” panted Black Nell, “while I catch me breath.”
She sat down and fanned herself vigorously for a moment or two.
“You aren’t hiding Rosy very well,” she said accusingly. “My caravan’s right over there, and I could see her standing up against the sky. Thought she was a great rock until she moved.”
“Well, I think I’m safe enough here,” said Adrian glancing round anxiously.
“Where are you going to?” enquired Black Nell.
“Well, I don’t really know,” said Adrian. “I was going to follow the cliffs along until I came to a town, and then see if there was a circus or something that would take Rosy off me.”
“Umm,” said Black Nell, pulling her pipe out of her pocket and lighting it. “Do you know these parts?”
“No,” said Adrian, “I don’t.”
“Well,” said Black Nell, pointing with the stem of her pipe, “if you take my advice, you’ll go that way. That leads you to Sploshport-on-Solent. Quite a pleasant little place in its way, but from there you can catch the ferry across to the Island of Scallop.”
“But what on earth do I want to go to an island for?” said Adrian. “Besides, will they take Rosy on the ferry?”
“Hush up and listen to me,” said Black Nell. “The island’s a favourite place for holiday-maker; see. They’ve got all sorts of things there, fun fairs and the like, and if there’s any circus in the area, it’ll be there. That’s your only chance of getting shot of Rosy in this area. As for taking her on the ferry, well, how do you think the circuses get across?”
“Yes,” said Adrian humbly, “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Now,” said Black Nell, “if you put on a steady turn of speed, you should be down at Sploshport in time to catch the evening ferry. Then, when you are across, go and see a friend of mine, Ethelbert Cleep.”
“Ethelbert Cleep, Ethelbert Cleep?” said Adrian incredulously.
“He can’t help his name,” said Black Nell sharply. “After all, Rookwhistle might seem curious to some.”
“True,” Adrian admitted. “Well, when I see your friend what do I do?”
“Tell him your story, tell him I sent you, and act on his advice,” said Black Nell.
“It is extremely kind of you,” said Adrian.
“By the way, how did you get on at the Unicorn and Harp?” enquired Black Nell glancing at him shrewdly.
“They were wonderful to me,” said Adrian, blushing slightly. “Absolutely marvellous people.”
“Particularly Samantha, eh?” said Black Nell. “Or did you think she was just another of those flibbertigibbet girls?”
“Flibbertigibbet,” said Adrian incensed. “flibbertigibbet, Samantha, why she’s, I think . . . she was . . . she is . . .”
“That’s all right,” said Black Nell comfortably puffing a large cloud of smoke. “I know what you mean, but if you’re to make that ferry you had best get a move on.”
She got to her feet, patted Rosy’s trunk affectionately and grinned at Adrian.
“See you again some time. Give my love to Ethelbert,” the said, and stumped back over the downs like a small indomitable black mole in a great sea of green.
Hastily Adrian hitched Rosy up to the trap, then continued along the rough track over the downs until it dipped and swung down to join a proper road with houses on it. Soon more and more houses appeared and eventually Adrian and Rosy reached the middle of Sploshport-on-Solent. He immediately noticed one great difference between Sploshport and the city. Here, after many years of experience, the horses and the people had grown inured to strange processions of weird beasts passing through their midst. Nobody turned his head to look at Adrian and Rosy as they plodded through the streets, and the horses pulling the carts and carriages clopped past them as though they did not exist.
After stopping to enquire the way several times, Adrian and Rosy finally found themselves down at the docks and saw the Sploshport Queen wallowing at her moorings like a gigantic beetle, the spades of her paddle-wheels slapping the water as she rolled slowly and majestically in the evening sun. A great plume of black smoke from her gold and green funnel implied that she was in imminent danger of departure and people were hurrying to and fro, up the gang-plank and milling about on the decks. Adrian shackled Rosy to a lamp post and made his way through the crowd until he came upon what he assumed to be a sailor who was sitting on a bollard chewing tobacco with the vacant-eyed, dispirited enthusiasm of a very ancient cow,
“Can you help me?” asked Adrian. “I want to go across on the ferry and I have got an elephant and trap. Who do I see about going?”
The sailor’s jaws stopped revolving and he thought about the question for a long time.
“Not me,” he said at length.
“No,” said Adrian, “I didn’t think it would be you. thought you might know whom I had to see.”
The sailor chewed on for a short time and then stopped once more.
“Elephants,” he explained hoarsely, “is cargo.”
“Yes?” said Adrian.
“Cargo is the Captain or Chief Officer,” said the sailor, and apparently overcome by this brief communication with the outside world fell into another chewing trance.
Adrian fought his way up the gang-plank and on to the deck of the Sploshport Queen. Pushed and buffeted by enormous families of excited children, each of whom appeared to be armed with extremely sharp buckets and spades, he eventually found a ladder leading up to the bridge. He ran up this quickly and as he got to the top collided with another figure on its way down. It was perhaps unfortunate that when he had apologised and helped the figure to its feet, it turned out to be the Captain of the Sploshport Queen. He was a tiny, egg-shaped little man, so covered with gold braid that his uniform could be only dimly discerned beneath it. He had a spade-shaped grey beard and vibrated energy like a hive of particularly malevolent bees. He brushed himself down and surveyed Adrian from head to foot slowly and with what appeared to be cannibalistic interest.
“If this is attempted mutiny,” he said in a soft reasonable voice, “then I suppose you have some slight excuse, but I would like to point out to you, young man, that to be knocked down and trampled under foot is hardly the sort of action that forms a firm basis for warm and prolonged friendship.”
“I am terribly sorry,” said Adrian, “but I thought you were just leaving and I was in a hurry. You see, I’ve got an elephant and trap that I want to carry on your ship, if I may.”
The Captain flicked a tiny scrap of dust from his uniform and surveyed Adrian again.
“I suppose,” he said with a small sigh, “that I should be thankful you did not send the elephant up to see me. Where is the animal?”
“It’s down there on the dock,” said Adrian.
“It will cost five guineas,” said the Captain.
“That’s all right,” said Adrian. “As long as we can go.”