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Authors: Celine Conway

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BOOK: Full Tide
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“Doesn’t it ring true—that I’m in lo
v
e with you?” Before she could even look up he went on roughly, “Your attitude is comprehensible, I suppose. I couldn’t get near, you on the ship and you continually misunderstood my
intentions. If I’d been certain of this new shipping service coming into being I’d have made you give me a promise that last morning—a promise that you’d travel back to England by air as soon as you were through with Veness. Everything was so difficult; there was the money end of it—forgive my saying this, but I couldn’t help knowing you weren’t by any means rich, and I knew that unless we understood each other completely I’d stand no chance of forcing an air ticket on you. It was hell, Lisa.

“I do see that,” she said shakily.

“Well, the next best thing was to fix you up with Astra, so that I could be sure I’d find you here the minute I was finished with all the negotiations, but you wouldn’t have it—and I wasn’t in a position to demand it!”

She was standing as well, and gripping the back of her chair for support. Her breathing was so uneven that she ' spoke in jerks. “So all depended ... on this
...
shipping business? What if it had fallen through?”

“I was due to take three months’ leave. I’d have come here, and after we’d understood each other we’d have arranged something.” He stopped for a moment. “Well, there it is,” he said, with a curious lack of emotion. “I’m in love with you. I’m not going to ask the impossible of you, Lisa, but I do insist that you get to know me in orthodox surroundings. Tomorrow or the next day we’ll go to Cape Town. We’ll spend every day together, we’ll talk and explore each other, and at the end of a month—no, two weeks—I’m going to ask you to be my wife.” Unnerved, she stared at him, saw his drawn brows and dark set face. To be his wife! Did he know what he was saying? She gave a short, sobbing laugh and moved round the chair.

“Isn’t it,” she enquired unsteadily, “a joyous thing to be in love with me?”

“It will be, when you love me. I warn you, though, I’m going to be ruthless. No subterfuge, no velvety lies—only perfect truth between us.”

“Oh, Mark!”

Her voice creaked, and the rough lump was still there at the base of her throat, as painful as if she had swallowed a peach stone. He took the long pace which divided them, held her face and gazed down at
he
r with eyes which were leaping blue flames.


You understand?” he said indistinctly
.
“I love you.”

“I’m
...
so glad,” she managed inadequately.

She was in his arms then, and being kissed as she had never dreamed, in her most fantastic flights of fancy, of being kissed by Mark. When the kiss ended he did not let her go, but lowered his cheek to hers.

“No comments?”

“Plenty,” she whispered, “but first a request. Please don’t wait too long before asking me to marry you.”

He held her away from him, searching her features. “Are you beginning to love me?”

“I began weeks ago—in fact, we probably began together, without quite knowing when. I remember feeling horrid when you said we could never meet on the same plane.”

“That was a pitiful attempt at self-defence. We’d known each other such a short time, yet I found myself thinking of you while I was about my work. N
o
woman had ever come between me and my ship before, and it made me uneasy. Then there was Carne.” He gave her a little shake and released her. “It beat me how you could take so much to heart the affairs of a man who meant nothing to you. I realize now that it was the essential goodness in you, a real need to save his parents disillusionment, but he was ever-present, and candidly I hated his hide.”

“Then why were you so
keen that he should go to Johannesburg with Astra—and
for me to work with her too? That way we’d have been together.”

He let out an impatient sigh. “I’m afraid I underestimated him, just as Astra did. I encouraged Astra to see him every day because I felt sure he’d become infatuated with her—and that you wouldn’t get a look i
n
. That was how it would have happened with any other man of his age and type. I imagined the same situation in Johannesburg— just couldn’t credit him with enough discrimination
to pick
you out as the genuine article.”

Cautiously, wonderingly,
s
he queried, “Don’t you
regard Astra as genuine?”

“She’s pure gold—as an actress.” He stood above her
,
almost morose, then reached for one of the candlesticks. “Now we’re beginning to see where we stand let’s have
s
ome comfort. Lead me to the lounge.”

She took the other candle and went into the corridor. Halfway along it she pointed to the glow from the open doorway. “The lights have come on again. That’s the reading lamp.”

“Thank the stars,” he said. “Now I can get a
r
eally good look at you. God, how I need it!”

In the brightness of the lamplight a shyness descended upon Lisa. She had been in Mark’s arms by candlelight, yet now there was constraint between them.

She said, “Please have a drink. There’s quite a selection in the cabinet.”

“Are you permitted to give drinks to strange men?”

“You’re not a stranger here. Nancy often talks about you and Dr. Veness has said more than once that he hoped to thank you in person for the rescue at Las Palmas.”

He pulled open one of the heavy doors of the cabinet,
chose a bottle and two glasses and placed them on a table. But instead of pouring he gave Lisa a gentle push into a corner of the chesterfield, hitched his trousers and sat beside her, leaving a f
o
o
t
of space between them. A slanting glance showed him intent upon some problem
,
and unsmiling.

“Have you had any contact with Astra?” he questioned.

“I spoke to her last Saturday, in Johannesburg.”

“You did? So you’ve heard about the house in Cape Town?”

She nodded, but made no reference to the conclusion to which she had leapt. Better to shelve that till she could regard it more objectively. “She didn’t give any details.”

“The place was built by a director of the shipping company, but for some domestic reason he was unable to move there. When I saw it, it wasn’t quite completed but there was everything one could wish for in a home, and it was suggested I send a cable as soon as I was certain of coming out to settle for a while. I didn’t send the cable, though. I wired Astra instead, as soon as I’d booked my air passage; I knew nothing could be signed and sealed till I got here. A ten-roomed villa hasn’t much appeal for a bachelor.”

“Hadn’t you already considered that aspect when you looked over the property?”

“I’d hardly had time. You and I had been acquainted just two weeks, and only an hour or two earlier I’d heard Ca
rn
e’s aunt twittering about an engagement. I pinned a hope or two to the dinner at the Monarch that evening, but you’d decided to enjoy yourself elsewhere.”

“Mark, I’m terribly sorry. You see
...

“Don’t apologize, Lisa.” At last a small smile came to his lips. “You were right that last night before Durban when you said I expected too much of you.
I seemed to
feel that you should know everything about me without being told—every important thing, anyway—perhaps by instinct. If I’d had an inkling that you cared only a little I’d have got rid of the doubts; we’d have talked together more intimately and known where we stood when we parted. Instead, I went through such a filthy patch while I was hung up in England that I’m not quite right yet.
I
t’s all very puzzling to you, isn’t it—this extraordinary confession from a man?”

“Heart-breaking, not puzzling,” she said. “If only you’d posted on
e
of those letters
!
Darling
...”

Her wrist was imprisoned. “Say that again!”

She did, looking at him with a soft light in her eyes. “You don’t believe yet that I love you, do you, Mark? I’ve been horribly wretched as well because Astra once told me that you were the only man she’d marry, and last Saturday she talked of your house and in the same breath went all ecstatic about connubial bliss.”

He laughed outright, and a burden lifted from
L
isa’s heart.

“You dear little idiot! Astra’s an actress, she’s never off the stage. She’s also a dramatist who tries out lines and-emotional scenes as they enter her head. Thank heaven you’ve been jealous though. That evens things up a little.”

“So
...
everything’s all right?”

“So right,” he said, “that we’re going out to celebrate.”

“In this rain? How did you get here?”

“By taxi. I’ll use your phone and call one!

“Will they come out in such a downpour?”

“Of course—and charge treble.”


But I can’t leave Nancy! The housekeeper is dow
n
the road, playing cribbage.”

“It’s time that all good housekeepers were homeland m in bed. We’ll send the cab for her first.”

“Everyone will think we’re mad.”

“So we are, my dearest girl, and it’s a delicious madness. Tonight we’ve found each other and we’re engaged. We are engaged, aren’t we, darling? I don’t have to go through all this again?”

“We’re engaged,” she agreed breathlessly.

“And
I’
m practically free for a whole month, and it seems to me we ought to get married very early in that month.”

“Oh, but Mark
...

“Oh, but Lisa
...”
he said, and silenced her mouth
with his own.

Much later they stood on an hotel balcony overlooking the sea. The rain had stopped and a pale patch in the clouds indicated a hidden, struggling moon. Water still dripped from the big-leaved hibiscus, but the feathery casuarinas had waved their branches free and gave of
f
a perfume both elusive and refreshing.

Mark and Lisa had danced, had eaten savouries and drunk coffee. They had walked to the sea’s edge and seen the phosphorescent darting of small fish in the calm black waves. And all the time they had talked, made little discoveries and laughed ab
o
ut them.

Now, Mark leaned back upon the balcony wall and looked at her teasingly. “What are you thinking, Grey Eyes?”

“That this is a wee bit like the ship—the rail and the sea down there. But I’m so thankful it isn’t.”

“So am I. If this were the ship I’d be saying, ‘It’s time you turned in, Miss Maxwell. Goodnight,’ ”

“All crisp and official,” she said. “Mark, are you sure you’re not going to miss the sea?”

“Miss it? If we take the house in Cape Town we’ll go to sleep with the sound of the sea in our ears and awaken to see it through the window.”

“I mean your ship. Won’t you be sorry?”

“It’ll be good to be anchored. With the ocean on our doorstep, so to speak, we’ll be able to take a trip now and then.” He went on reminiscently, “I used to think that giving up the command of a ship would be an appalling wrench, but it came at a time when other things were a sight more important.”

“What other things?” she murmured, knowing the answer yet anxious to hear it once more.

He waved vaguely. “A funny, straight little nose, two large eyes, two very sweet lips and hair as fine and pale as
sea mist. I love your hair, Lisa, I love your eyes, lips, nose and the pretty background they’re attached to. And I want you so much,” he ended a little thickly, “that I don’t altogether trust myself. Satisfied?”

It couldn’t be described a
s
satisfaction, this happiness which wrapped her like a warm, silk cloak. In those farfetched moments when she had imagined Mark as a
fiancé
he had appeared still remote and cynical, a terribly difficult man to manage. But he wasn’t difficult at all.

There were no words to describe the wonder and beauty of being loved by Mark.

The clouds were moving fast, and presently
a
si
ngle
white point of brilliance peeped from the folds of a heavy scarf of cumulus. A solitary star. Perhaps, looking upward, she made some sound, for Mark turned
and his gaze
followed hers.

He gave a tender, mocking laugh and slipped an arm about her shoulder. “I love your sentimentality, t
o
o,” he said. “I love everything about you, for ever.”

 

THE END

BOOK: Full Tide
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