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Authors: Celine Conway

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Quite fiercely, she pressed out the cigarette. “So would any man be, who was promised the male lead without any of the donkey-work and strain which normally go to the making of an actor. In a roundabout way, Astra’s making
a
fool of him
!

“I can assure you she has no such intention,” he said coolly. “Ca
rne
was a playboy and something of
a
fool before he met Astra—before he met you
!

His manner brought Lisa up sharp. Apparently men
tion
of Astra had to be respectful. The woman was
a
friend of Captain Kennard and therefore her motives must be absolutely sound. For
a
long moment Lisa was silently furious, wishing she had not allowed him to bring her here.
But, too soon, her whole being began gradually to relent, so that resentment melted into a kind of pain.

“I shouldn’t have put it so bluntly,” she said quietly.
“Jeremy’s old enough, and probably experienced enough, too, to weigh up his own future, but he brought me into it because I knew how he was placed and he had to t
a
lk it over with someone. He pretends not to care about his
parents, but I’m sure he feels badly about letting them down.”

“Of course he does, and he yearns to shift the resp
o
nsibility to your
shoulders. You’re an idiot!”

She nodded and gave a short sigh. “I know. But if I have any influence with him at all I shall use it on his parents’ behalf.”

“So?” Mark’s tone was expressionless but his jaw had tightened. “I don’t get you at all. You agree that the man is spineless and not worth helping
...”

“I didn’t say anything like that! There’s plenty of good in Jeremy even if he does happen to be charming and easy-going. His type of man is the most in need of help.”

“What will you get out of it?” he demanded. “Feeble gratitude to start with and recriminations later, when he begins to mope over what he’s missed. Let him go ahead and make a hash or a success of it.” Almost unpleasantly he added, “I predict that’s what he will do—go ahead, in spite of your sweet and charitable intervention.”

Lisa got up, ostensibly to move the glass from the arm of her chair to the top of the cabinet, but really to avoid his penetrating gaze. She remained standing, as though ready to leave;

“Well,” she said flatly, “I’d rather have no connection with it, but if he persists in using me as a confidante I shall continue to dissuade him. It’s the leas
t
I can do.”

Mark also was standing, head and shoulders above her as he remarked curtly, “You’re pig-headed. No woman can mould a man unless she’s in love with him, and even then she’d have a tough job with a jackanapes like Carne. You’ll try but you’ll fail.”

It was a challenge, the words like flints. His eyes were like stones, too, and Lisa had the sensation of being out in a keen wind. It was all she could do not to shiver.

“Yes, I’ll try,” she murmured. She moved to the door and pushed down the handle.

“It’s locked,” he said. “It locks automatically. That’s why I brought you to this cabin.” He gave a short, hard laugh. "Don’t worry, I’ll let you out. By the way,” the keys jingled
between his fingers as he looked down at her,
“you’re the first woman to see this sanctum since I’ve been master of the
Wentworth
.”

“It’s a doubtful privilege,” she said. “I feel like a
stewardess on the mat.”

“You needn’t
. I
don’t deal with the stewardesses.

He paused to select the key and said deliberately
, “
You’re
g
an u
n
usual person, Lisa Maxwell. For some reason—I can’t fathom it yet—I trust you.”

“Thank you, sir.” She inclined her head graciously. “If you’re subtly intimating that no one must know that I’ve had a private session with the Captain—you may go on trusting me. But I’d like to go now.”

“You take offence quickly, don’t you?”

“On the contrary, I’m rather forbearing. You’ve called me incompetent and an idiot and I’ve managed not to lose
my temper. I consider that good going.”

“I suppose it is, for a woman. As a matter of fact,
I’m
not used to han
dlin
g women. I daresay I’ve overdone it
a b
it.”

She smiled. “More than bit. You’ve made me feel about as big as sixpence.”

The hard lines of his face relaxed. “That wasn’t my intention at all. We started off on the wrong foot, didn

t we—when Nancy fell down the stairs at the hotel. I owe you an apology for the way I spoke to you that day. I know almost nothing about children, but I ought to have remembered some of the nursery episodes abroad, and made allowances.”

“It’s sweet of you to apologize,” she said gratefully, hoping he wouldn’t spoil everything by harking back to Jeremy.

He didn’t. “Some time,” he said, “you must tell me
how you came to be Nancy’s keeper. I won’t detain you
any
longer now”

A minute later they were outside in the moonshot darkness and moving towards the companion. A junior officer appeared and saluted.

“Sir, the officer of the watch
...

Mark cut him short. “All right, I’ll see him. Escort Miss Maxwell to the promenade deck.”

He behaved as if it mattered not a scrap that she was there with him in a part of the ship sacred to officers and men, thought Lisa, who had been thrown into a temporary panic. But as she went on her way with
the young man she reflected, more calmly, that Mark would never allow himself to be disturbed by so trivial an incident. His men knew him. They would, know that the Old Man—yes, even Mark was given the affectionate appellation by his subordinates—really had no time for women. He always put in the duty hour in the lounge after dinner, but he preferred a game of poker, or to read, or simply to stare over the vast expanse of ocean, thinking.

A little later she lay in bed, recalling details of the short interlude in the comfortable little sanctum. Chiefly, it was Mark that she saw; his angular face and the mouth that could harden or soften his whole expression. She remembered his fingers holding his glass, strong and brown and well-tended; his wrist below the navy serge and gold braid, his hair, dark and very slightly wavy above the short hair at the temples. And she remembered his touch when they had both stood at the door while he unlocked it; the impersonal pressure of cool fingers on her arm which, for an agonizing second, she had wished would intensify, even bruise her. During those last minutes he hadn’t behaved like a ship’s master at all. She had glimpsed a gentler, more human personality.

It dawned on her, suffocatingly, that many women must, at different tunes, have fancied themselves in love with the aloof and commanding Mark Kennard.

The next day was comparatively tranquil. Madei
r
a was sighted, a green mound with shadowed valleys in the sunshine. Through binoculars Lisa saw the tiny white mass which was Funchal, and, much nearer, the long boats crammed with laughing, gesticulating Portuguese. There were a few flying fish, the vanguard of the swarms which inhabit tropic waters, but these Lisa found
disappointing. They
w
ere so small, like a lot of aerial herrings, flashing silver in the sun but without the color she had somehow expected.

Someone sighted an albatross which was written off by skeptics as an oversize seagull, and someone else embarked on a lecture about the geographical importance of the islands, and about the men who had discovered them.

The deck sports got under way, but as Lisa found out from the notice board that she had been paired with Jeremy—who presumably was again closeted with Astra—she only played a practice game here and there, and spent much time teaching the finer points of table tennis to
Nancy.

Wi
th
the ship ploughing steadily ahead with scarcely any detectable movement, the swimming pool was crowded, and all the space about it, covered now by a white canvas awning, was packed with deck chairs. The swift change from grey biting weather in England to the semi-tropical heat off the shores of North Africa had reduced many to slumbering heaps.

It really was hot. The rail burned, and so did the deck beneath bare feet. Even the wind was heat-laden and
lazy.
T
he officers came out in dazzling whites; crisp shorts,
short-sleeved shirts, stockings to the knee and white shoes, and a snowy cover to the peaked cap. The plainest of them looked young and dashing. The Captain, of course, wore full uniform in white drill—at least, he did in public.

Lisa lunched that day at Laura Basson’s table. The rich widow had taken to Nancy, but she knew too much about children to press attention upon a child who obviously did not want it. Not that Nancy was rude, Or even stand-offish. The girl listened when the older woman spoke to her and gently indicated that she understood, but she made no attempt to prolong the conversation by putting a question or offering comment, and invariably escaped as quickly as she decently could.

“Mrs. Basso
n
’s all right,” was Nancy’s answer to Lisa’s private remonstrance, “but she looks broody. I’d rather be with happy people.”

“That’s all very well, but the unhappy ones are more in need of friendship. I believe Mrs. Basson was once a merry person, but things went wrong for her.”

“She has two of her own children,” protested Nancy.


The trouble is, they can get along without her, and she feels unwanted, which is a nasty thing to feel.” Nancy could understand that. Her whole existence had altered with the knowledge that her Daddy wanted her with him. But she was not yet prepared to welcome Mrs. Basson into her very limited circle of friends.

“Well, I like her jewellery,” she conceded dismissively. To Lisa, Mrs. Basson
w
as something of
a puzzle. She never sewed or knitted, as other women did, and the
same book had remained open on her lap at more or less the same page since they had first spoken together.

Now that the voyage was well under way and the passengers were learning each other’s history, a certain amount of gossip filtered through the ship, but Mrs. Basson would have no part in it. She gave out the bare facts about herself and her purpose in visiting the Cape, and was uninterested in everybody save Lisa and Nancy. Which, in the light of her statement that she was dependent upon friendships, was strange.

After lunch they visited the shop. Lisa’s predicament in the matter of evening wear had begun to rasp a little, and she had decided that one extra change could be effected by wearing a bolero with the white and adding a detachable touch of the same color to the frock itself. At the back of the shop two rolls of stiff watered silk were pushed away on the top shelf of a glass case. One was cream and the other a deep ruby red. Lisa chose the latter.

“That floss-like hair of yours is a foil for any color,” said Mrs. Basson, as they came from the shop. “If I were a man I should long to bury my face in it.”

“I’m glad you’re not, then,” laughed Lisa. “I wouldn’t have the smallest potion of how to deal with a man who did that.”

“You would if it
happened.” Her tone deepened. “You’re young, but you know what you’re after—or rather you know what you
don’t
want. At your age I was a ninny. I loved my husband, but he was wealthy and he never did believe that I hadn’t married him for his money. I used to protest and joke about it—we were always frank with each other—but under the jesting the belief was there
like a steel core, that his money had been the attraction, not his personality.”

“What a pity,” said Lisa softly.

“No. In a way he was right. When we married
I
was guileless and showed a wild delight whenever he
b
ought me
a ring or a bracelet. I came to regard him as the provider and he unconsciously fostered my attitude by giving me more and more. I was fairly satisfied because the children were young and needed me, but when he died and they went off, uncaring, to boarding school, I found myself alone, with a great deal of money and memories which were tinged with bitterness because I’d failed him.”

“You mean that he loved you more than you loved him?”

Laura Basson nodded.

He always used to say that if he died I must marry again. But now I’m in his position.
I’d never be sure that a man who was anxious to marry me might not also have an eye to the bank book. However,” she shrugged
,
“there must be something useful I can do somewhere. Perhaps when I settle back in, England I’ll take up social work.”

That was the most Lisa ever got out of Mrs. Basson during the voyage, but it did help her to a slight understanding of the
woman. It was odd the way the two of them had gravitated together, and stuck. There
were several other girls around Lisa’s age, but she did not feel drawn to them, and they seemed more inclined to dally with the male passengers, or with the purser or the
“Sparks,” than to deepen acquaintance with other women
.
After dinner that night there was dancing, and Lisa glided round with various young men who weren’t so
different from Jeremy except that he was decidedly better
looking. Tonight, the Captain stayed away from the lounge and promenade deck, and Lisa, in the arms of a perspiring business man, thought yearningly of the comfortable den in which Mark was no doubt taking his ease with a book and a pipe after his day’s work.

BOOK: Full Tide
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