Chapter 5

Rufus was true to his word and called me at 6am, though in truth, I was already awake and dressed by the time he knocked.  He came bearing a tray with a pot of coffee and some toast. “Just to sustain you for the moment,” he said, “I’m sure you can get a proper breakfast once you make landfall.”  I thanked him and broke my fast while he busied himself getting my belongings together and presumably loaded onto the jolly boat. By the time I emerged onto the deck, my belongings were already loaded. It was a somewhat misty morning, but the sort that promised a very pleasant day later.  If this was Serendipity Island, it was hard to tell.  Shadows in the mist held the promise of landscape, but that was it.  The boat, Euphemia by name, was a brightly bedecked little steamer that looked more suited to pleasure cruises around a lake than mere ferrying duties.  Today, however, she seemed to be doubling as cargo, since she was also carrying several crates of vegetables and a big bucket of lobsters.  As I later learned, almost everything and everyone on the island was multi-purpose. With one last wave to Rufus, I turned my back on the Bellerophon and gave my attention to my destination, and the ship was soon lost in the mist.  My pilot, somewhat surprisingly, was an older woman, the sort for whom the word spry was probably invented.  The grey hair put her on the far side of sixty, but otherwise, she had an ageless beauty and grace about her, with a weathered look that told of a life spent enjoying the outdoors.  She introduced herself as Mavis, and bade me make myself comfortable while she busied herself with the controls, which she seemed to handle with ease.  I apologised for the early hour, but she brushed it off with a laugh.

“Not at all, young man,” she said, “not at all. I’ve always been an early riser, up before the sun almost every day.  That’s probably why I do most of the pickups.”  I asked if that was her job, which puzzled her for a moment. “My job?  Not as such, no.  It’s just something that needs doing, and since I am usually awake at this hour, the task falls to me.  I’m not the only one, but I guess I do it more than most. I rather like it, as it happens.  Round here, most people tend to end up doing the things they like, and when it suits them.  We all pretty much stick to our own natural timetables.” For a moment, I felt like laughing at such an improbably scenario, but then I thought of the timetabled bells that had delineated my day, and the shrill sounds of the whistles at the factories and decided I liked the idea.

“It sounds a most civilised arrangement,” I told her, “Would that life could always be ordered so.” She smiled, then turned her attention to navigation for a moment, shifting us a touch to starboard.  For the life of me, I could not tell how she could see where she was going, but she seemed quite relaxed about her task.

“Well,” she continued, “there are times when things need to be done that require a number of people at once, in which case, we all have to adjust.  But, it all seems to work out in the end.  Why subject yourself to the tyranny of the alarm clock any more than necessary?”  This time I did laugh, but in agreement.

“Why, indeed?”  I agreed. “There have been many mornings when I have thought so myself, and threatened undeserved violence on the wretched thing.  I think I may like it here.” She laughed in turn, giving the tiller another nudge.

“Most people do,” she said.  At that moment, we seemed to break through the mist and I got my first glimpse of my destination. I must confess I gasped in appreciation.  “Puffin Point,” she said, proudly, “Pretty, isn’t it?”

“Very much so,” I averred, “very pretty indeed.”  And it was.  A cluster of houses clustered around a horseshoe-shaped cove at one end of a wider bay, with a stone jetty and a wooden landing-stage.  Further buildings were strung along the bay and many more tumbled down a road that wound up through a tree-lined valley into the hills that sheltered the bay.  I was put in mind of some of the fishing villages in Cornwall I had visited, except rather than darker stone, these buildings shone like jewels, with whitewashed stone and lightly-stained timber. The designs seemed odd to my eye, though for the moment, I could not say why, save that they seemed part of the landscape, as though the designs had been drawn from nature rather than classical or modern architecture.  She gestured at an odd-shaped promontory that defined the far end of the bay.

“Strictly speaking, that is Puffin Point,” she explained, “but the name also applies to the town.  Supposedly there was a colony of puffins there in the past, but I’ve not seen any in my lifetime.” She shaded her eye against the sun, peering towards the jetty.  Following her gaze, I could see a few men lounging there, apparently fishing.  She gave a quick blast on the whistle and waved. A couple of the men waved back, did something to their rods and started strolling back up the jetty towards the landing stage. “That’ll be Marcus & Garrick,” she said steering us past the end of the jetty. “They’ll give us a hand unloading.”  A few minutes later, we drew up to the landing stage. Mavis had me stand at the bow to toss a line to Marcus, who turned out to be a gangly youth of Scottish stock with a shock of red hair.  Pretty soon, we were safely tied up and I found myself helping pass the crates up to Garrick, an older gentleman of great dignity, whose accent and skin spoke of warmer climes, perhaps somewhere like Morocco.  “Everybody round here mucks in,” Mavis told me.  It seemed a little odd to ask a guest to help with such labour, but I did not wish to appear snobbish, so acquiesced as gracefully as I could.  To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the exercise, and also the simplicity and equality of it. Perhaps the lack of class distinction on the Bellerophon had sunk in further than I thought.  Between the three of us, it took only a few minutes to load the groceries, and my belongings onto a small hand-cart. When it was done, Garrick hopped on board the boat and started assisting Mavis with replacing some seats that had presumably been taken out to make room for the crates.  Meanwhile, Marcus beckoned me round to the business end of the hand-cart, where there was a T-bar for pulling it.  He told me that I would be staying at the Mariner’s Rest, gesturing towards a graceful building overlooking the harbour, which was fortunate because that was where the groceries were going too.  I shrugged and placed my hands on one side of the T-bar.

“Let’s to it then,” I said.  He joined me with a happy smile, and together, we began to tow the cart up the slight rise to our destination.


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