Authors: Celine Conway
Lisa determinedly put Na
cy from her mind for half an hour. Earlier she had learned from the stewardess that tonight evening dress was optional, but from tomorrow onwards it would be essential. Her heart had plunged at this latter information, for she possessed only two evening gowns, and visualized an endless vista of alternate evenings in white and aquamarine. What she could do about it was obscure at the moment, but tonight, at any rate, she could wear the black frock with a nipped-in waist and three-quarter sleeves. Dinner, she believed, was something of an affair on board ship.
She bathed and came back to dress, to find Nancy curled in the top bunk with her book. Neither mentioned the supper, but Nancy did emerge twenty minutes later to observe, “I asked a steward if he knew of Mr. Kennard and he nearly strangled with laughter and said there was no Mr. Kennard on the ship.”
“That’s a blessing,” said Lisa absently, as she pressed
he silver-pale curls into a becoming halo. “A
e you sleepy?
“Not yet. Can I have my bath in the morning?”
“If you like. Be very careful when you get down,
to put on your pyjamas. I’ll come back as soon as dinner is over.”
She braced herself and went from the cabin. Others were wandering along the corridors and pausing in a sort of railed-in balcony to stare do
n at the brilliant picture of the dining saloon. Lisa paused there, too, and saw the white napery, the cutlery and glassware, and a sprinkling of well-dressed men and women already being served.
Some of the tables bore baskets of jonquils and hothouse flowers which had been sent to passengers to wish them Godspeed. She knew a pang of envy, yet she would not have changed places with any other woman.
She felt a faint pressure behind her shoulder and heard Jeremy
say, “Hello, there. I’ve
been hoping you’d show up soon. Is one permitted to comment upon your exceeding loveliness? You’re perfect
Her grey eyes shone round at him. He wore a lounge suit and the wheaten hair was slickly subdued without looking oily. His eyes, as she was now aware, were a sherry brown, and they added to his attractiveness; as if an addition were necessary! She was so pleased she had already made his acquaintance, not because he was handsome and admiring but because he was a man, and being escorted by him would help her over the stage fright. Glad
y she took the arm he offered.
Seemingly, Jeremy had already had dealings with the chief steward, for they were at once led to a table for two which half sheltered behind one of the massive white pillars. Flowers adorned the table, a profusion of pastel-tinted sweet peas which, Jeremy said, were not nearly good enough but were the only blossoms left in the ship’s emporium.
An excitement ran in Lisa’s veins. Just faintly she could feel the swaying of the ship, and from the orchestra, across the saloon in their palm-enclosed dais, came the strains of
Chatter and laughter, the clinking of cutlery and glass, the appetizing smells of food, the fragrance of the flowers, the taste of a good French wine and the undeniably interested glance of the airy Jeremy were a heady combination to a girl accustomed to the drab monotony of the Veness household.
As Jeremy touched his glass to hers, Lisa’s eyes were diamond-bright. The finely-tucked pink georgette which made a tiny foam at the neckline of the black frock quivered about her creamy throat. Her lips were sweetly curved and smiling.
are wonderful,” Jeremy said. “I wouldn’t swop you for any other woman on the boat—not even for one of the elegant ladies at the Captain’s table.”
“Where is it—the Captain’s table?”
He gestured to the right and slightly behind her. “Not far away. Didn’t it hit you in the eye as we came in? It’s the only round table in the place and has more space about
t and more flowers to the square
nch than any other.
One of those sitting at it is a lord, and another a famous actress.”
Unwilling to miss
turned just enough to glimpse one or two glitteringly-gowned figures at the important table. She had intended her look to be a fleeting one and impersonal, but then she hadn’t expected to meet a pair of cool blue eyes.
Shock rendered her nerveless. There was no mistaking, those wide, uniformed shoulders, the thick dark hair, the firm mouth which, even smiling, was formidable.
The head inclined as if he were politely acknowledging her presence aboard his domain, and the mouth drew in, mockingly, as though he had spoken across the dozen or so feet between them. Lisa knew he was taunting her with having so soon succumbed to a “shipboard Romeo.”
She turned back, said quite evenly, “He’s young for a
Jeremy nodded. "But I’ll bet he’s as to
gh as the older ones and even more impregnable.
I’d desert rather than serve under him!”
Somehow, the scintillating scene had lost some of its lustre for Lisa. Captain Kennard. Yes, the title suited him. One could imagine the seamen and ship’s officers straightening up at the mere mention of his name. Respect tinctured with fear.
She took up her glass and sipped. The soup arrived,
marvellous cream of chicken, and it was followed by delicious sole, tender meats and a selection of vegetables and sweets. By the end of the meal Lisa was still trying to convince herself that there was nothing remarkable about Mark Kennard being the master of the
It was just what the arrogant creature would tu
out to be
ploughed through heavy weather. The waves were mountainous, washing over the lower decks and sending spray well up and over the promenade deck. Cups and glasses slid to the floor, chairs slithered abo
t the saloon and passengers were warned to keep away from the companion-ways and not even to walk in the alleys unless it was necessary.
Mrs. Herst, the plump, middle-aged stewardess, poked her blatantly
red head into
sa’s cabin and wanted to know how they were getting along.
“Not queasy, dear? How’s the child?”
“We’re not sick,” Nancy announced with dignity. “My Aunt Anthea gave us special tablets. We’ve only a dozen because they’re rare, but we’ll spare you one if you like.”
The woman chuckled. “Bless you. I’ve done this trip more times than I can remember, and in leaky old tubs, too—not floating palaces like the
My other women passengers are just giving up without a struggle. They’ll keep me busy, I can tell you.”
“Can I help?” offered Lisa. “I’ve worked in a hospital.
“Have you, now! Not a nurse, I’ll bet.”
“No, but I’m not afraid of sickness. I was in the offices and on the rota of spare-time nursing assistants, I’ve had Y.A.D. training and I’ve got Nancy through several childish ailments. Do give me a call if you need help.”
“Thanks, Miss Maxwell. I noticed how good you were at boat-drill this morning. It’s not many passengers who can
get into a life jacket so quickly and without fuss.” When she had gone
isa, her chair firmly wedged between the lower bunk and the dressing chest, tried to read. Nancy, in her top bunk, managed admirably, and half an hour passed in comparative quiet. Then the steward brought a cup of tea.
“This is one of those alleys you have nightmares about when you’re on shore leave,” he said cheerfully. “Mrs.
Herst has seven women ready to sign their wills, and one of them is Astra Carmichael. Ever heard of her, miss?”
Who hadn’t heard of Astra Carmichael! The sparkling actress-producer who had made her name all over again in
Vale of Tears.
Lisa remembered that the play had closed a few nights ago, after a two-year run.
“Is she holiday-making?”
“Only during the trip—that’s why she’s travelling by sea. It said in the paper that she has six months’ contract in South Africa. At the moment she’s sure
r see land again.”
“What a pity.”
Lisa thought of the tiny yellow tablets which Anthea. had insisted were only for her own and Nancy’s use. She
wished she dared take one to each of the women who were
laid out, but Anthea
had always made a point of preventing sickness in Nancy, and with her wide medical experience she knew more about the child’s constitution than Lisa
However, as Nancy had said, they could spare just one and Lisa felt that that one should go to the actress who had worked tirelessly to entertain the public and must now be suffering from a degree of strain as well as the wretched sea-sickness.
“Which cabin is Miss Carmichael’s?” she asked.
“The end one. It’s as big as a stateroom and has a private bath. There are only four like it on the ship. Not thinking of paying her a social call, are you, miss? She’s one of the awkward kind.”
“If she’s awkward with me I’ll back
out,” said Lisa.
“I’ll take the plunge, anyway.”
With the minute phial of precious tablets enclosed in her palm she went out and along the corridor, conscious
that the steward watched her lurching progress with detached interest. She knocked smartly at the polished teak door, caught a feeble moan which
might have indicated an invitation to enter or a request to stay out and pulled down the handle.
Lisa had seen pictures of Miss Carmichael and had formed an impression of intellectual good looks allied with a wonderful vitality. Had she searched now for the vivid personality lauded by public and critics she would have been disappointed. But Lisa was a normal, considerate soul, and she was willing to believe that even famous actresses are homely off the stage.
Astra lay in bed, her burnt-brown hair spread over the pillow, her longish features haggard and colorless. She stared up at Lisa from lustreless green eyes.
“Who are you? I rang for Mrs. Herat.”
She’ll come, but she’s run off her feet. I’m Lisa Maxwell—just a
. I heard you weren’t well and thought you might like to take one of these tablets. They’re exceptionally good.
“Tablets!” The voice which had thrilled thousands cracked. “I’ve swallowed so many pills that I rattle with each roll of the damned ship. Even those the doctor sent were no good, and he hasn’t been near me himself.” According to Mrs. Herst the doctor had no time for seasickness. “Give ’em lemon tea and get ’em on deck,” was his advice to the stewardesses, and he was capable of sending aspirin or bismuth to beguile the victim into believing she bad taken a cure. In his many years at sea he had dealt with so many temperamental women, many of them well known, that he was apt to discount their sufferings.
Lisa explained how the small yellow tablets had come into her possession. “Ordinarily, they’re not obtainable without a prescription, and you positively mustn’t have more than one a day, but the correct dose is harmless. I had one at mid-morning and Nancy had a half-tablet. We both feel fine.”
“You do?” Life endeavored to seep back into Astra’s pale face. “If they’re so marvellous why doesn’t the ship’s doctor prescribe them?”
“Supplies are very short—these came from a London hospital. I suppose there’s some ingredient they can’t get. Will you take one?”
Astra struggled into a sitting position and closed her eyes as the cabin swayed. “Great God,” she wailed softly. “Three weeks of this!”
Lisa had gone to the bathroom, drawn water in a glass and returned to the bedside. “It’s not all Bay of Biscay. The steward says we’ll be through the worst by tonight.”
“Don’t be so darned bright,” came the irritable answer.
“I couldn’t feel more grim so I might as well try your pill.
I particularly want to be fit for this evening.”
She got the tablet down, and managed to lean forward while Lisa rearranged the pillows. Mrs. Herst came in then, tired, smiling and business like.
“So you’re sitting up, Miss Carmichael, and
much the better for it, I’ll be bound. What
bout that lemon tea, now?”
” exclaimed Astra fretfully.
“Can’t you think of anything else?”
“It’s surprisingly refreshing,” Lisa slipped in, “and soothing to the nerves.” She moved to the door. “I hope you’ll soon be feeling right.”
There was no reply from Miss Carmichael, but Lisa didn’t blame her in the least; she was too grateful for her own immunity to the distressing malady to wish to judge anyone in its toils.
Once Astra was herself again she would doubtless be an exciting person to have aboard. Lisa recalled having read that she was thirty-two and possessed of a remarkable supply of French clothes. She had a flat
an old cottage near Hailsham; a chauffeur drove her about in a large, expensive car. To produce as well as act a leading part in a successful play such as
Vale of Tears
she must be a phenomenally clever woman.
Lisa stepped into her own cabin to find Jeremy there, standing astride to keep his balance and indulging in a one-sided discussion with Nancy.
He grinned round at Lisa. “This charge of yours refuses to unbend. All I’ve wriggled out of her so far are two noes and one yes.”
“I expect she feels at a disadvantage up there,
said Lisa, with a warning glance at the child.
“Sorry I didn
t meet you on deck as we arranged, but it became altogether too rough, and I decided it would be safer to heed the broadcast instructions and keep below.”
“But it’s grand up there, and I promise that you won
t collect a single bruise.” He looked up at Nancy.
You don’t want to come, do you?”
No,” was the unequivocal reply.
“Right. Where’s your raincoat, Lisa?”
allowed herself to be persuaded. The coat was buttoned to the throat and belted, the hood drawn up and fastened under the chin. A silky tress slipped out, and when they had traversed the corridor and he was preparing to open the after-door against the wind, he tucked it back under her hood with light, sure fingers.