The Homeward Bounders

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones Read Free Book Online

Book: The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones Read Free Book Online
Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
uncomfortable time I hope never to spend. Everything about that ship was rotten. It was half waterlogged. Water squeezed out of the boards when you trod on them and mold grew on everything. And nobody cared. That was what got me so annoyed. True, I could see they’d been at this game for ages, a hundred times longer than I had, and they had a right to be miserable. But they took it to such lengths!
    â€œCan’t you wear a few more clothes?” I said to a monkey every so often. “Where’s your self-respect?”
    He would just look at me and jabber. None of them spoke much English. After a bit, I began to ask it in another sort of way, because it got colder. Fog hung in the air and made the damp ship even wetter. I shivered. But the monkeys just shrugged. They were past caring.
    I thought it was another piece of the same when I looked over the side of the ship on about the fourth foggy day. By then, anything would have been interesting. I noticed there were two big iron holes there, in the front, each with a length of rusty chain dangling out of them. I had seen pictures of ships. I knew what should have been there.
    â€œDon’t you even carry anchors?” I asked the Dutchman. “How do you stop?”
    â€œNo,” he said. “We threw them away long ago.”
    I was so hungry that it made me snappish. “What a stupid thing to do!” I said. “That’s you lot all over, with your stupid negative attitude! Can’t you think positive for once? You wouldn’t be in half this mess if you did. Fancy throwing anchors away!”
    He just stood there, looking at me sadly and, I thought, sort of meaningly. And suddenly I remembered the crowned anchor on the front of the Old Fort. I knew better than to mention Them to him by then. He never would come straight out like I did and call them Them . He always put it impersonally: It is not permitted. But of course he knew that anchors had something to do with Them —probably better than I did. “Oh, I see,” I said. “Sorry.”
    â€œWe took them off,” he said, “to show that we are without hope. Hope is an anchor, you know.”
    A bit of good came of this, though. He got worried about me, I think. He thought I was young and ignorant and hot-headed. He asked me what kind of Boundary I had come in by. “I am afraid,” he said, “that you may have got on a circuit that is sea only, and next time I will not be by. I shall put you on land, because I think it is not permitted for us to stay in company, but you may still end up in the water all the same.”
    Oh he was a cheery fellow. But kind. I told him about the stone Boundary and the strange sign.
    â€œThat is all right,” he said. “That is RANDOM. Look for the same again and you will unlikely be drowned.”
    It turned out that he knew no end more signs than I did. I suspect that he’d been Homeward Bound so long that he may even have invented some of them. He wrote them all out for me with a rusty nail on his cabin door. They were mostly general ones like UNFRIENDLY and GOOD CLIMATE. I gave him a few particular ones I knew in return, including one I thought would be really useful: YOU CAN NICK FOOD HERE.
    â€œI thank you,” he said solemnly.
    A day later, thank goodness, we came to some land. It was not my idea of heaven. I could hardly see it in the fog, for a start, and what I could see was wet rocks and spouts of wave breaking over them. It made me feel the ship was not so bad after all.
    â€œMaybe we should go on a bit,” I said nervously to the Dutchman. “This looks rough. It could break your ship up.”
    He stood somberly beside me, with his navy coat and his beard and his hair all dewed with fog, watching the spouting waves come nearer through the whiteness. “The ship does not break,” he said. “It does not matter. There are seven holes in the underside and still we float. We

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