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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 31. Chapter 31

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!

 

 

December 28, 1800

Ursula

Arensburg, Courland

 

“We must get a man to von Beckendorf,” Granger told Schein quietly. They were in a small cabin they’d commandeered from the second mate. The guard was above them on the quarterdeck and had shown no inclination to wander through the ship, so Granger felt safe for the moment. That could change in an instant if, when they relieved this guard, they left a new guard who was a martinet in his place.

“I am not sure how to do that,” Schein said. Granger was impressed more and more with Schein. He seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the situation he was in. In this case, he dropped the formal ‘my lord’ when talking to Granger, knowing that if the guard heard him, it would give them away. Yet Granger was not offended by the omission, first because he thought it showed intelligence; and secondly, because Schein had always treated him most respectfully, he was not concerned at all that this was a veiled act to undermine Granger. He took his mind off ruminating about Schein, and focused back on the problem, but his daydreaming had given him an inspiration.

“We don’t have to send a man, we have to send a message,” Granger said. “Write out a note to von Beckendorf, telling him that you acquired the items he requested in Visby. Ask him to come out to Ursula to inspect them.”

Schein nodded, then smiled. “I can ask the guard to take the message for me.”

“Indeed,” Granger said, “and if you give him a few coins, it may induce him to make it a priority.” Granger handed Schein the money from his purse.

“I will attend to that at once,” Schein said, and went up on deck where he had a conversation with the guard. Granger heard them yammering in German, then heard the footsteps as Schein made his way aft to his cabin. Winkler and Jacobs came in, curious to know what their plan was, so Granger enlightened them.

The seaman who had interpreted earlier for Granger was a young man named Schneidhorn. He had all but attached himself to Granger, which probably had more to do with the guinea Granger had given him for his earlier efforts. Granger wondered if his experiences with the Guild had scarred him such that now he was convinced most people were that greedy. Still, Schneidhorn was very polite and accommodating, and being able to understand what was being communicated was incredibly important. “My lord, will you need me anymore?”

“Actually, I believe Captain Schein is going to speak to the guard shortly, and I’d appreciate it if you would tell me what they are saying.”

“Of course, my lord,” he said, grinning widely. A look from Granger to Winkler was all it took for him to get them all something to drink.

Winkler, Jacobs, and Schneidhorn were chatting softly while Granger drank his wine and thought about this mission, such as it was. He hadn’t really worried about being able to communicate with people on this trek to St. Petersburg, primarily because it seemed that anyone in Russia who was of significant importance spoke French. He hadn’t pondered that if those people opted to speak to each other in German or Russian, he would be completely unable to understand what they were saying. He probably should attempt to learn even some rudimentary aspects of either language, then cringed at the effort it would take, especially with Russian and its Cyrillic alphabet.

Granger’s ruminations were cut short when they heard Schein’s door open. Schneidhorn got up and put his ear next to the deck, but both Schein and the guard spoke relatively loudly, so he was able to come back and sit across from Granger. “The captain is asking the guard to carry a message for him, and that is making the guard suspicious. Captain Schein offered to let the guard read the message. I think he is reading it. The guard is saying that he is too busy to go that far out of his way to deliver the message.” Schneidhorn paused. “He has suddenly changed his mind, and he has pledged to deliver it as soon as he is relieved.” The others looked at Granger, confused by the guard’s change of heart.

“I think that his sudden agreement was linked to Captain Schein’s deposit of some coins into his hand,” Granger said quietly, making the others giggle.

Granger gave Schneidhorn some more money, then opted to indulge himself and take a nap. Granger had learned from his years at sea that it was wise to sleep when one could. He was awakened by commotion on the deck, and by the arrival of Winkler and Jacobs. Schneidhorn was not with them, but it made no difference, as Granger soon heard von Beckendorf’s voice. Granger smiled, as just hearing his voice reminded Granger of how much he’d missed the handsome young baron.

There was a clatter on the ladder, and then the door opened to reveal von Beckendorf looking as handsome as ever in his uniform. “We’ll leave you alone, my lord,” Winkler said, and led Jacobs from the cabin, deftly closing the door behind him.

“I have missed you more than I can say,” von Beckendorf said, then they embraced, gripping each other tightly.

“I missed you so much I risked time in a Russian prison to return,” Granger joked.

“Why did you come back?” he asked. “It is very dangerous here.”

“To do as you said, to go to St. Petersburg and beg the Tsar to forgive me for following orders,” Granger said, rolling his eyes at this eccentric autocrat he must try to appease.

“We will perhaps not phrase it that way,” he said with a smirk. “First we must get you out of Arensburg.”

“I am assuming you will go with me to the capital,” Granger said. Granger had just presumed that von Beckendorf would escort him to the capital, but his change in expression made Granger realize that had been a bold guess on his part, one that may prove inaccurate.

“I will try,” he said nervously. “General Rostkoswski is here with a battalion of the Semyenovsky Guards, and he is quite focused on doing his duty.” The Semyenovsky Guards were one of the Tsar’s lifeguard regiments, so their dispatch here meant that the Tsar was personally involved in their deployment.

“And what is his duty in this case?” Granger asked.

“He is charged with securing Arensburg from further incursions by your ships and men, and he is charged with ensuring that you and your men are not allowed transit through here,” von Beckendorf said. The Tsar or his advisors must have been worried that Valiant would use Arensburg as a base, which opened up a whole new range of things to worry about, not the least of which was von Beckendorf’s esteem in the eyes of the Tsar. Did they already suspect him of treason?

“I would assume you are smart enough to get us both out of Arensburg and safely on our way,” Granger said.

“I can make that happen for you, but for me to go it would mean I must defy his orders,” von Beckendorf said. “I am the governor of this place, so that means I am to be here and assist him.”

“Is there not some reason for you to return to St. Petersburg?” Granger asked. “I thought you were under the orders of Count von der Pahlen?”

“I said much the same thing to Rostkoswski, and he told me that he was giving me an order, and I would be unwise to question him in the future,” von Beckendorf said. Granger could well imagine this Russian general, furious that von Beckendorf would suggest that he defer to another absent general.

“So how do we escape?” Granger asked. “I have not come all this way to stop now. And more than that, I have information and documents that are vital to Lord Daventry.”

“What kind of documents?” he asked, then stared boldly at Granger as Granger balked at revealing his secrets.

“Bills of exchange, I believe,” Granger said. He saw von Beckendorf’s eyes fly open in excitement.

“It is vital that we get those to Daventry,” he said, with a new resolve.

“Why?” Granger asked. He saw von Beckendorf struggle in much the same he had, but now Granger’s guard was up because the young man had been unwilling to risk a trip to St. Petersburg until he found out there was money on the line. “Is our trust to be only one way?”

“The plan to make changes to the government is advancing, but it has stalled due to lack of funds. We cannot make it happen if we do not have the money to put in the right hands,” he said.

“In addition to the bills of exchange, there are also some gemstones,” Granger added. “I suspect we will be keeping several jewelers busy.”

“That is good,” he said, and seemed to be mentally flailing about as he tried to come up with a plan.

“So how are you going to get us to St. Petersburg?” Granger asked, to help focus him.

“I will go ashore and meet with the general, and tell him that this ship brought word that I must return. I will think of a reason later,” he said. “If he says I cannot, then I will have to sneak away, and that will make it dangerous for me, especially if he sends men after me.”

“I had hoped to make this trip with you, but you do not have to go. As long as you can provide me with a knowledgeable guide and can help me get off this ship, I will make my way on my own,” Granger said. He was worried his words would sound insincere, since he heard the apprehension in his own voice. The idea of floundering around in the Russian countryside as a man ordered to be arrested by the Tsar, with a guide he did not know and thus could not trust, was horrifying.

“Let us see how things evolve,” von Beckendorf said. “I will see how the general reacts.”

“How are we to keep in contact?” Granger asked.

“By tomorrow night at the latest, I will come out and talk to you or if that is not possible, I will send a man out here with a message,” he said. “The captain of the harbor is in need of my support and will help me with this task.”

“I understand,” Granger said, wondering at the myriad of feudal connections in this country. “What am I to do if I have not heard from you?” Granger asked. That clearly confused von Beckendorf, as such a contingency had not occurred to him. Granger was beginning to notice that when he was upset or alarmed, von Beckendorf had problems focusing on the future beyond the immediate crisis.

“You must sail on board Ursula,” he said. “I will make sure she is allowed to go.”

“That will help me escape from here, but it will not help me complete my mission. I must get to Daventry,” Granger insisted.

Von Beckendorf pondered that for a minute, realizing that Granger only had one option. “Then you must stay here until you have heard from me.”

“I will do as you ask, but I would remind you that I am not known for being a patient man,” Granger said with a smile.

“I have personally enjoyed your patience very much,” von Beckendorf flirted back. “But now I must go and prepare to outfox the general. I would ask that you are able to depart on very short notice.”

“We can do that,” Granger said. He called Winkler and Jacobs back in and shared the gist of his conversation with von Beckendorf, and told Winkler to pack up their things such that they could disembark within five minutes.

 

December 30, 1800

Ursula

Arensburg, Courland

 

It had been two days and Granger had still not heard from von Beckendorf. He felt like a rat in a cage, tormented by the bars that confined him not only to Ursula, but to this small cabin. The harbor master had allowed Ursula to offload her cargo, and Granger was hoping that they’d remove the guard, but the sentinels had remained. They rotated the same four men aboard for duty in six-hour shifts. Offloading the cargo created a lot of noise and dust, and that made being below deck even more unpleasant. And finally, the fact that they had to keep their bags packed also made living conditions difficult.

“My lord, what’s to prevent us from just going up on the deck, and maybe tending to the rigging?” Jacobs asked quietly. Of the three of them, confinement was probably the toughest on him, although he had an advantage that Granger did not. Granger had graciously allowed Winkler and Jacobs a small cabin next to his, and from the muffled moaning he heard, it sounded like they were having sex, while Granger was not.

“If we are on deck, we will be easily visible to those in town with glasses, and we will be even more recognizable to those who are unloading this cargo,” Granger said.

“I understand, my lord,” Jacobs said resignedly.

“It is quite possible this is the most pleasant part of our journey,” Granger said, both as a comedic relief and as a warning that worse was probably ahead.

“I would think Your Lordship would be better advised to keep a positive attitude,” Winkler grumbled, as he shivered a bit. While confinement was Jacobs’ Achilles’ heel, for Winkler that demon was either cold weather, or spiders and snakes.

“My Lordship will try,” Granger joked back, getting a chuckle from them. And so, as he had for the past few days, Granger opted to take a nap. He was finding he was almost completely lethargic at this point, and began to criticize himself for being so lazy, when it occurred to him that perhaps his body was inducing him to sleep so he could endure this period of captivity. With that as a rationale, he dozed off to sleep.

“We must go!” Granger heard von Beckendorf say urgently. Granger blinked his eyes open and looked up to see the young man peering down at him, and was awake that instant. “I have already told your men to get your things ready.”

“What is happening?” Granger asked, anxious to know the plan, even as he stood up and gathered his things together.

“I will tell you all about it when we are safely away, but for now, we must get into the lugger. I have bribed the guard to go below and drink with the other men,” he said. Von Beckendorf was clearly panicked, and was acting emotional and erratic. Granger froze and stared at von Beckendorf.

“It is important for you to remain calm in a crisis,” Granger said sternly, his eyes boring into von Beckendorf’s. That had the effect Granger wanted.

“Of course,” von Beckendorf said, pulling himself together. Granger cautiously walked up the ladder to the deck, where only Schein, Winkler, and Jacobs were present.

“Our trunks are loaded, my lord,” Winkler said. “But I thought you’d want your coat.” He helped Granger with the garment, which was still warm from being below deck. The metal boxes made wearing the coat not as comfortable as his normal overcoat, but the padding sewn into them made them less annoying than he would have guessed.

“Thank you,” Granger said. “Captain Schein, I appreciate all you have done to assist me, and I wish you luck in our venture.”

“No, my lord, it is I who must thank you,” he said. That was the extent of their parting words, as anything more was unnecessary. Granger shook hands with him, then followed the others into the lugger von Beckendorf had been referring to.

They said nothing as they cast off and remained silent as the lugger worked her way out of Arensburg harbor. It was as if they were all holding their breaths, as if any words may jeopardize their escape. They were fortunate in that there was only a slight mist, enough to shield them from prying eyes from the shore, yet it was a cloudless night, enabling them to use the light from the moon and the stars to spot major geographic features. Once they were clear of the harbor, von Beckendorf spoke to the captain in German and then led Granger and the others below to a stuffy yet thankfully warm cabin.

“I am sorry to have induced you to make such a hurried departure,” von Beckendorf said pleasantly. Evidently having escaped from Arensburg had removed much of the stress von Beckendorf had been exhibiting. He was speaking French, which Winkler understood, so he furtively translated to Jacobs.

“It was a relief to be off that ship,” Granger said honestly. He saw Jacobs nod firmly in agreement as that was interpreted for him. “Why were you so worried about our escape?”

“As we had discussed, I spoke to General Rostkoswski about my need to return to St. Petersburg due to the deteriorating health of my mother, and as I feared, he was most unhappy about my request,” von Beckendorf said. An ailing relative, especially a mother, was usually a compelling reason to summon home a son. “He told me that if I could produce some evidence of my mother’s condition, he would let me go.”

“And you were able to acquire such a document?” Granger asked, hoping that von Beckendorf had at least come up with a convincing forgery.

“Conveniently enough, this lugger arrived in Arensburg bearing just such a message,” von Beckendorf said with a sly grin. “I was able to convince the captain to turn about and sail again immediately.” That probably required more bribes.

“I don’t understand why you were so anxious to depart?” Granger asked.

“Because I could not get the general’s direct approval, since he had retired with a companion for the night,” von Beckendorf said with a raised eyebrow. The general was probably preoccupied with his mistress. “Rather, I was able to explain things to his Brigadier, who was little concerned with my reasons for leaving, and truly seemed more than happy to have me go.”

“You were worried that between the time that you left the town and the time we were out of the harbor, the general could have become aware of the situation and sent for your recall?” Granger asked.

“That is correct,” von Beckendorf said. “But now that we have left, with each passing minute we are deeper and deeper into Livonia, of which my father is the intendant. It will not be so easy to have me marched back to Arensburg.”

“I am glad of this for many reasons, not the least of which is that I will have the joy of your charming company on our trek to St. Petersburg,” Granger said with a smile.

“I think it will end up being a pleasurable trip, although a bit cold,” he said.

“Winkler doesn’t like the cold,” Granger said, getting a horrified look from his chief steward.

“Then I would think he would have tried to get a posting to the tropics,” von Beckendorf said, actually joking with Winkler.

“Alas, Your Excellency, I am tied to Lord Granger as surely as the serfs are tied to the land,” Winkler lamented, making all of them chuckle.

“When he complains of the cold, I merely remind him of the travails we experienced traveling through the Egyptian desert,” Granger said. “We were both disguised as women and had wine-based paint on our skin to make us look darker.”

“That paint drew the flies to us in a terrible way,” Winkler said, almost a stream of consciousness.

“Winkler gets disgruntled about that part of the trip because I was a more attractive woman than he was,” Granger joked.

“That was certainly not something I felt bad about at all, my lord,” Winkler said, making them laugh.

“So what is our plan now?” Granger asked, getting them back on topic.

“The lugger will get us as close to Riga as it can, then we must go ashore and hire transportation for the rest of the way. This part of the trip will definitely be cold and unpleasant,” he said. They all cringed at the thought of it, but no one dared complain.

Winkler and Jacobs left them to have the cabin to themselves, and then all of their pent-up drives and emotions vented themselves in a sexual extravaganza. After his first orgasm, with Granger’s lusts temporarily sated, he instinctively made to go up on deck, but then reminded himself that he had no obligation or right to intervene in the direction of their passage. Once he had come to that conclusion, he allowed his lust to resurge again, and again.

 

December 31, 1800

Off Engure, Courland

 

A knock on the door heralded the arrival of the captain of the lugger. Granger and von Beckendorf were just beginning to break their fast, so they invited the captain to join them. He spoke only German, so Granger opted to gorge himself with food until the conversation was translated for him.

“The captain has explained to me that he has gotten us as far as he can,” von Beckendorf said. “The ice is too dangerous beyond this.”

“Where are we?” Granger asked. Von Beckendorf opened his satchel bag and took out a map of the area, which delighted Granger. “I am so glad you have this, so I can visualize our progress.”

“I thought you would appreciate it, and while I am quite familiar with this part of the world, it is never bad to have a handy reference,” von Beckendorf said. “We are here, at Engure, which is some sixty miles from Riga,” he said.

The town did not look significant on the map. “Will we be able to find transportation here?” Granger asked.

“Certainly,” von Beckendorf said, but seemed a little nervous about that. He had mentioned the discomforts of this trip ahead several times now. “We will probably have to make do with horses for us to ride, and a cart for our possessions, but it will suffice.”

“Of course,” Granger said, even as he shivered at the thought of being on horseback all day in these sub-zero temperatures. As long as the wind did not become too fierce, it would be tenable.

The captain began chattering and pointing at the map, so once again Granger was left to eat until his words were translated. “The captain apologizes for not getting us any closer,” von Beckendorf said. “The ice freezes the eastern part of the bay first, and one must avoid it or one can get ice bound.”

These were the ice floes and the gales Granger had already planned to avoid with Valiant. It was quite thoughtful for the captain to explain himself, which probably meant Granger would need to give him some coins to show his gratitude. “I understand,” Granger said.

The captain smiled after that was translated, then made his way back up to the deck. “He is preparing to enter the harbor, and then we will disembark and begin our journey.”

Granger took out his purse and handed von Beckendorf 10 guineas, making the young man’s eyes bulge. “I do not want you to pay for our expenses on this trip. You will need to spend money to arrange our transport, and that should help us get the best vehicles we can.”

“Indeed it will,” von Beckendorf said. “With money, our trip to St. Petersburg will be much more pleasant than I had thought.”

“I would like you to make sure it is as pleasant as possible, both for us and for my men,” Granger said, referring to Winkler and Jacobs. “I am willing to pay the cost to make that happen.” And with that, it was as if a weight was lifted off von Beckendorf. Granger suddenly realized that von Beckendorf had assumed that as a native of these parts, he should be a good host and provide for them on their journey. Money was clearly very tight for him, and such a strain on his finances had obviously stressed him greatly. It would not have been easy for him to imagine funding Granger’s trip to the capital in a style consistent with his and Granger’s status.

“Then let us go see if Engure has changed since I was last here,” von Beckendorf said, and led them up to the deck. They stared at the bleak little town, which Granger suspected contained less than 100 souls. “It has not.”

“I will be impressed if you find so much as a horse here,” Granger said dubiously.

“Then prepare to be impressed,” he replied.

The lugger was small enough that it could sail into the small port and tie up at the single pier. There was a small group of men frowning in a menacing way, waiting to see who had arrived. As soon as von Beckendorf disembarked and they saw his uniform, that attitude was replace with one of complete servitude. Granger was quite stunned to see the transformation from hostility to compliance, and wondered if that would happen to him if he suddenly landed in Essex. He decided that it would, but these men seemed to have more fear than disgruntled bystanders close to London would have.

They were accommodated at the only substantial house in the town and provided with more food and drink. “How long will we be here?” Granger asked von Beckendorf in French. Granger had lamented that he would not understand what the locals were saying, but on the other hand, in situations like this, they would not understand his conversations.

“They have sent for a sled, and it should arrive within an hour,” von Beckendorf said. “We will travel to Schlockenbeck Castle and spend the night there, then the next morning we will travel the rest of the way to Riga.”

Just as von Beckendorf promised, a large sled appeared, with a seat for the driver to share with Winkler and Jacobs, and one directly behind it for Granger and von Beckendorf. There were large bearskin rugs to try to keep out the cold, but even with those odorous things draped over them, it was still very cold.

They arrived at the castle and received a warm welcome from the servants even though the lord of the manor was not present. They had a nice supper, which made up for a perfunctory dinner on the run in the sled, and retired for the night, grateful for the warm fires in their rooms.

 

January 1, 1801

Riga, Livonia

 

Granger had discovered that travelling by sled was significantly faster than in a carriage. He spent much of his time trying to figure out why, using that to distract himself from the miserably cold weather, and had finally decided that it must be due to less friction. That speed was the reason that they were able to make it from Schlockenbeck Castle to Riga in just one day, and a shortened day at that. Being so near the winter solstice had shortened the daylight to seven hours. It was yet another challenge to face.

The sled entered the city which was much larger than Granger had expected. He decided there must be some 50- to 100-thousand people living here, but then again, it was getting dark so it was difficult to be certain. The sled stopped in front of a grand townhouse, in a place that seemed analogous to Belgravia in London. “This is my parents’ home when they are in Riga,” von Beckendorf explained. He alit from the sled, even as footmen hurried down the stairs to welcome them. They entered the building which was ornate and impressive as would expect at the abode of one of the province’s leading families. “We will have supper, then we will enjoy the sauna.”

“Excellent,” Granger said, as both of those things sounded fabulous. He had hoped to visit the sauna in Arensburg, both to warm and wash his body, but that hadn’t been possible. He had not been able to do either one of those things since he’d left Visby.

Von Beckendorf led them upstairs and showed Granger to his room, and then showed him which room was his. “I will leave you to recover from our journey, then meet you downstairs when you are ready.”

“Thank you,” Granger said. He scanned the room and noted that the entire house seemed as if it were some twenty to thirty years out of fashion, and while well kept, there was no hiding the slightly worn nature of the furnishings. The overall impression Granger got was that of a family who did not have the resources to do more than maintain the place.

“Here, my lord, let’s get you out of those clothes,” Winkler said, and immediately began clucking around him as a mother hen would, or at least that’s how Granger felt. Once he was in more comfortable garb, he descended the staircase to find von Beckendorf waiting to lead him into the dining room. A nice meal and a visit to the sauna was the prelude to a night of rest and recreation, with the recreation being amply filled by his sexual interludes with von Beckendorf.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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Thanks for the chapter Mark. So the travels in the Russian empire beging, will all the unpleasantness of the cold winter. Hopefully George will be able to meet with Daventry before being found by the Czar.

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Thanks for another chapter. Awe the calm before the storm. Can’t wait for the next chapter. 
 

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Thanks for this new chapter . Granger is on his way to St Petersburg with the help of a friend and sexual partner. Granger has escaped capture so far. He has learned that the Tsar is after him with more seriousness. My time in Wisconsin gave me an appreciation of the challenges of very cold winters. I don't envy the trip in the snow. You left me with the feeling the path will be scary and not easy. I bet it will be a great read, as always.

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2 hours ago, Canuk said:

Amazing tension thoughout this chapter. 

While I have not travelled in Russia in winter I have travelled in northern Canada. The thought of being in an open sleigh on the shortest day, no matter how many bear skins (malodorous or otherwise) makes me shiver. As for the daylight hours, i am surprised they are as long as 7 hours. Somehow I imagined it to be like Canada, 5-6 hours. Riga must be further south, in comparison.

Great story. Very tense. Glad Grainger is travelling with a tension-reliever!😉😚

You are implying that I did not check the average number of daylight hours in Riga in January?😃

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The reference I checked said 6 hours and 53 minutes.....close enough!

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A wonderful gift to us all.  I truly enjoyed this chapter; the tension just leapt off the page, I can't wait for this next part of the journey.  Traveling on snow via sled is actually quite nice; provided the weather is not too bad.  I have to wonder if Granger won't try and help their guide to restore some of his families holding and monetary situation.  

Can't wait to see how you integrate Granger into this palace coup.  Bravo...

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12 hours ago, Mark Arbour said:

You are implying that I did not check the average number of daylight hours in Riga in January?😃

As if i would even think that you did not do research! I'll bet you know the speed of sleighs on ice!

I just imagined Riga as darker and further north than that...but you are right (!) It is some 7 degrees further south than Winnipeg, and probably 12+ degrees further south than where I was!

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Snow, not here in Adelaide ( Well, once every 20 years or so on Mt Lofty which lasts as long at the news people can gather to film it). My first taste of it was in Boston in early 1990's. Terrible stuff. The group has a long way to travel in "brass monkey" conditions. Thanks for the chapter Mark. 

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