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Authors: Celine Conway

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At once Lisa’s gaze turned to follow his. A faint dew came to her temples, but there was nothing else to show that the brightness she had conjured had now disintegrated like mist in a gale. It was too bad that of all the hotels in Cape Town, Mark and Astra should have chosen this one for a
tete-a-tete
lunch.

The two came across just as the lift clanged to a halt. Jeremy smiled disarmingly at no one in particular, and spoke to his aunt.

“This is Miss Carmichael
...
my aunt, Mrs. Redding. Captain Kennard is the master of the
Wentworth
.”

“Really?” Auntie Bess beamed at Mark with eager eyes which obviously regretted that he was not in uniform. “I always have the utmost respect for men who navigate big ships. I think I shall always have a fondness for the
Wentworth,
too. It brought Lisa and my nephew together.”

Mark bowed suavely. “It was an honor, but I’m afraid shipboard friendships have a habit of fading out.”

“Most of them.” The grey head nodded. “Perhaps not this one, though. They haven’t divulged anything but I suspect a secret engagement.”

“How interesting,” said Mark, his expression unchanged.

In an attempt to hasten through the awkward moments, Jeremy again cast a
b
out him an ingenuous smile.
Then he gave Lisa’s arm a gentle shake. “Don’t go white, darling. It’s the usual thing to blush.”

“Possibly Miss Maxwell's fortitude is somewhat strained,” suggested Mark clearly but casually. Will you excuse us? I’ve spent a long time upon business in town and we’re rather late for lunch.”

His tone was baffling, intended, thought Lisa, to put if distance between himself and two chance-met passengers. But the meeting was too fraught with a mixture of agonies for Lisa to analyze meanings and inflexions. Astra had not said a word; her eyes were cold above her smiling mouth
,
as she turned to accompany Mark to the hotel
dining room.
The lift whirred the uncle and aunt to the upper regions, and Jeremy ostentatiously mopped his brow.

“Phew! I was scared stiff that one of them would refer to this acting business. I’ll be relieved to get out of here.”

“When your aunt mentioned an engagement you might have denied it,” said Lisa warmly.

“Sorry, my sweet, but my chief anxiety was to end the session. Neither Kennard nor Astra will believe we’re engaged—not that I’d mind if they did. You’re almost too easy to fall in love with.”

Lisa felt hot and cold and uncertain
in
the head, as if she were sickening for something. She
was u
ne
qual to an argument with Jeremy.

I
t was
s
ome time later, when four of them were seated in a tea garden overlooking an expanse of beach washed by the white combers of the incredibly blue Indian' Ocean, that she at last permitted her thoughts to dwell upon Mark’s dinner invitation.

After the words they had had last night, and today’s, encounter, he could hardly be expecting her at the Monarch Hotel. In any case, she did not w
a
nt
to
be
one
of
his
party.
Astra would inevitably be there, and
Lisa was hollowly certain that Miss Carmichael had guessed that her offer of a secretaryship was going to be turned down. Mark alone had become difficult enough to bear, but with Astra acting hostess the dinner party would be beyond endurance
.
Ungoverned, her thoughts went back to the picture those two had made in the dark-panelled vestibule of the hotel. Mark, tall and insolently handsome in the light
suit; and Astra, tall, too, for a woman, wearing a tan silk outfit with cream ruffles at the throat, and a tan silk beret ornamented with a diamond-encrusted silver feather. The tan had given rich auburn tints to the burnt-brown hair and made emeralds of her eyes.

So Astra was in on the business deal. At least, it was to her Mark had turned as soon as the all-important board meeting was over, and it was safe to assume that he would tell her a little, if not all, of what had transpired. As an actress-producer Astra was something of a business woman herself. She and Mark had very much in common.

Upon which thought Lisa began to long, quite desperately, for the end of the voyage.

 

CHAPTER
NINE

The Wentworth was at sea again, but no longer travelling south. Twelve hundred miles ahead round the tip of Africa and a short distance up the east coast lay Durban, where the ship would rest an
d
stock up for two days before returning to England over the same route.

For three days Lisa had not seen Mark alone. She had contrived to send a message
to him excusing herself from the dinner at the Monarch Hotel, but what his reaction had been she was unable to gauge.

T
heir first night out from Cape Town he had behaved in a fashion which was typically Mark. Lisa and Jeremy were no sooner seated at table than a steward brought champagne in a bucket of ice

with the Captain’s compliments.” Involuntarily
,
Lisa had twisted and caught Mark’s sardonic, thin-lipped smile. His head slightly inclined, he raised his own glass and said something which from the economical movements of his mouth she took to be the word “Congratulations
.”

Her first impulse, mercifully controlled, was to take the bottle by the neck and smash it against the pillar. Her second was to tell the steward to return the thing to the Captain “without compliments.”

But Jeremy gave a light laugh. “He’s getting at us for
pretending to be engaged. Free champagne
!
Let’s drink some, Lee.”

So, after all, they had perhaps done the wisest thing. Jeremy had filled the two glasses, they had touched rims and sipped, smiling at each other. And deep inside Lisa had ached and smarted as if the sparkling wine were salt rubbed into a heart’s wound.

Jeremy was still spending the mornings in Astra’s cabin, and he reported that the actress would be demanding no decision from either of them till the last moment.

“I wish I knew what to say to her,” he groused to Lisa
.
“If ever a man was torn two ways, it’s me. Honestly, Lee,
I don’t see how it’s possible to wade into a job at an engineering works on the first of next month, knowing I
could be having a high time in the theatre at Johannesburg
.

Lisa answered only the first part of his speech. “You’ve only to be candid with her, Jeremy. She’ll just have to accept it.”


But the work she’s put in on me! I hate like the deuce to let her down.”

She didn’t repeat her opinion that his parents had first claim to his loyalty. “Don’t worry about the training she’s given you. It’s saved her days and days of boredom and probably helped her to see the task in front of her much more clearly. You can be sure she’s had all she can get out of you.”

“But I’ve the bleak conviction she thinks she’s won. This morning she spoke as if you were in the bag, too. I got the impression that she has a card up her sleeve.”

“If she has it won’t affect me,” said
L
isa positively, “and you mustn’t let it make any difference to you.” Jeremy would make no promises. Perhaps his vanity was touched by Lisa’s dislike of the “engagement” jest, or maybe his conscience was growing weary of the struggle; it had never before had to work so hard and continuously. He was very glad they could get ashore a couple of times during the week.

As it happened,
L
isa was unable to leave the ship at East London. While tucking Nancy into her bunk the night before, she had slipped from one of the rungs of the metal ladder and in an attempt to save herself, had strained her arm. After a night of tossing with pain, she paid an early morning visit to the surgery and was advised to rest for the day.

Nancy had no objection to staying on board. As is the way with most children, she had come to regard the ship as her home and she was always thankful to re-embark after a few hours on land. Today, she gave what she could see of East London a completely uninterested stare, and retired to the floor in a corner of the cabin, first with an exercise book in which Lisa had set an arithmetic test, and afterwards with the book which was the favorite of the moment.

Jeremy had a telegram to send and a distant relative to call on, so Lisa and Nancy sat in the quietness of the cabin with the wind pouring off the sea into the porthole.

The steward brought them
a
salad for lunch, and Nancy ate her portion where she sat.

“It’s glorious,” she said. “
L
ike picnicking but not half the trouble. Are you longing to reach Durban, Lee?

“I don’t know. Are you?”

“I don’t know, either. Aren't we silly?”

L
isa looked at the child thoughtfully. From now on, for a week or two, Nancy would need gentler handling.
L
ife in her father’s house was going to be a complete change from anything she had known. It was unlikely he would understand the intricacies of her mind as Lisa did, nor would a housekeeper who had probably never before had contact with an English child be able to
enter at once into an amicable relationship with her.

Lisa knew she ought to be preparing Nancy, yet just how to set about it was obscure. She was such
a
highly individual young person, and really very independent.

Breaking
a roll, she said, “I expect you’ll love living
with your Daddy.”

“Oh, yes.” This was said eagerly, but a frown straight
a
way pleated her brow. “I don’t fancy a new school, though
.
They’ll think I’m prissy because I’m no good at games.”

“You’ll do well in the classroom,” said Lisa, in the unemphatic tones she reserved specifically for this mood in Nancy. “You won’t go to school till after the next holiday, and by that time you’ll have had some of the outdoors, too.
At least, you can swim.”

There came a pause, while Nancy attacked
a
dish of jellied fruit. Her appetite was healthier than it had been in England and Lisa thought, hopefully, that she was
a
little rounder, too. No doubt at all that her color was good, and when she was happy her features had
an elfin expressiveness.

“How long will you stay with us, Lee?” she asked, not
f
or the first time.

L
isa replied evasively, “It
depends on your father.”

“Couldn’t you get a job in a Durban hospital instead of going home to work?”

Lisa shook her head. "Officially, you’re an immigrant, but I’m only a visitor.”

The answer, thin though it was, satisfied Nancy, and doubtless diverted her thoughts from her own immediate future. She finished the jelly and drank her milk, washed her hands and helped to load the tray.

The two of them took a walk around the
deck, but the fierce south-easter, common to this coast, drove them back to the cabin. In any case, they were surfeited with views of masts and cranes and African dock-workers in shapeless headgear and ragged trousers.

They had not long been seated in their former comfortable positions before a knock came at the door. Remembering the steward and stewardess were
off
duty for two hours, Lisa took it t
o
be Jeremy, and called, “Come in.”

It was Mark who entered, however, straightway filling the small cabin with his height and that indefinable something which was inseparable from him.

Nancy spoke first. “Hello,” she said companionably, “haven’t you been ashore, either?”

He gave her a smile. “I’ve been ashore and come back again. I had lunch in a bungalow perched on a rock that’s washed by the sea.”

“Like a lighthouse?” she asked interestedly. “I bet it was nice, but I’d rather have a garden. Lee and I used to do a lot of gardening when we
lived at Richmond.”

“Did you?” Mark’s glance rested momentarily upon Lisa’s small, clear face, then lowered to her stiff elbow. “How does that feel?”

“Not too bad, thank you.”

“The doc told me about it a few minutes ago. Did it give you gyp in
the night?”

“A
bit. Why?”

“You’re pale and heavy-eyed. You should have gone to him before bed.”

“It’s not so serious as that.” Oddly confused, she closed her book with a snap and said rather hurriedly, “It’s strange how long the day seems when you spend it on board in port. How soon shall we be sailing?”

“At sunset.” Still non-committal, he added, “From here to Durban will be the last lap. You don’t look so gay about it as you ought. What’s wrong? Are you in a flutter about the impression you may make on Jeremy’s people?”

Lisa cast a swift look at Nancy and said hastily, “Dr.
Veness is my employer; I shall be staying with him. It isn’t very likely that I shall meet the Carnes.”

“Oh, but surely,” he said in a soft, tantalizing voice which at that moment had nothing in common with the hard, blue, narrowed eyes, “you’ll find time for a quick run up to the Carne homestead before Jeremy goes north to Johannesburg? Astra tells me the contract is practically signed and sealed.”

“Astra’s wrong,” said Lisa with an effort.

Before she could continue, Mark went over to Nancy and held out both hands to heave her to her feet. “You wanted a walk on the bridge, didn’t you, Nancy?
Go there , now and tell the officer on duty that I sent you. Ask him all the questions you like. He’ll answer them.

“I don't think she ought to go alone,” said Lisa swiftly
.

“Of course I can go alone,” Nancy told her scornfully.
“I know more about the ship than
you do.”

Quite serenely she buttoned on a jacket against the wind and stepped into the corridor. The door cl
o
sed
behind her, and with her going Mark’s manner altered.

He barely looked at Lisa as he asked, “Well, how is Astra wrong?”

“Jeremy won’t go with her to Johannesburg. I’m sure
of it.”

“Has he told you,” he demanded deliberately, “that she has doubled the original figure she offered?

Startled and bewildered, she stared up at him. Part of her wrestled with what he said while the rest shrank from the chill of his expression. “When did that happen?”

“This morning, before, we docked.” He leaned back against the door, hands in his pockets, one corner
o
f his mouth sarcastically drawn in. “Shakes you, doesn’t
it— because he didn’t rush to you with the news
!
Thoughtless of him to leave his
fiancé
e out in the cold.

She sprang up, clenching her teeth rather than wince at the sudden jar to her arm. “That j
o
ke is stale. He’ll tell me when he comes back.”

“So it’s a joke. You’re not yet engaged to Jeremy. Never mind; it can still happen.” His lips twitched unpleasantly. “You’ve used most of a woman

s weapons to persuade that young man where his duty lies, but I daresay you’ve a last one in reserve.”

She stood back, against the dressing-chest, nerves quivering. “Why should it matter to you? Is it because you’re anxious that Astra Carmichael shall have whatever she sets her heart on, even if it does cost her twice the price? Jeremy told me she had an ace up her sleeve, and I suppose this is it. Money!” Her breath caught. “She hasn’t any other yardstick.”


That’s not true,” he said, unsmiling but unperturbed. “In this case it merely means that she has the measure of her man. You’ve almost failed, Lisa, unless you’re willing to go farther than a mere kiss with friend Carne.”

“A
...
kiss?” she echoed, heat rising from her neck. “I haven’t kissed Jeremy.”

His teeth went together. “You’ve let him kiss you
...
haven’t you?”

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