|Preliminary cover design.|
Constance 'Dusty' Miller
A young Englishman was seated beside her at the dining table. She’d seen him before, at the far end of the breakfast table. He must have somehow arranged to switch places with the elderly, wheezing, fat lady who had previously occupied the seat. He was nicely dressed, and smelled strongly of after-shave. He’d taken to asking her questions about herself, which she always felt shy about answering.
He kept complimenting her on her English, which became tiresome after a time. She wasn’t quite ready to share her life story or her plans with him.
Studying English was the smartest thing she’d ever done, and of course he would agree. So why say it?
“I was wondering, Mademoiselle, if you would care to take in a film this evening? It’s a comedy.”
“Oh, ah—” She stopped, as Yusuf had stuck his head in the archway at the end of the vast room.
He was obviously looking for someone and at that exact moment, he spotted her. An arm came up and waved. The look on his face was that of a little lost boy, finding his mother after scaring himself. William Blake, not the poet but the other one as he had introduced himself, was waiting, half a moment had passed. She waved quickly to Yusuf, and William sort of noted it awkwardly.
“I’m terribly sorry—”
She laughed, as Yusuf was making his way to their table, against the current as the thong of diners was rapidly thinning out now. She was beginning to have a good time, which was a relief.
“What? Oh, no. In fact…” This might be a good way to put some little space between her and Yusuf.
“A film, Yes, That sounds interesting. I would love to go.”
William’s face lit up, eying the fellow approaching. So that was all right, then. The fellow was quite the dago blighter and of course he understood perfectly. It was a jolly good thing he was there.
“Well, that’s simply smashing, then. I think you’ll like it, it’s What’s New Pussycat. They say it’s quite funny, but then the reviewers always do.”
Yusuf had just yards to go as William sought to settle the details.
They would meet on Deck C, by a small café there near the ballroom, at about ten to eight. He was just rising.
“Maria, oh, there you are my dear.” Yusuf took in the tall Englishman, looking all the more dark and foreign by way of contrast. “Oh, hello.”
He looked at Maria.
“Yusuf, this is William.” Maria thought she’d better be a little assertive with the situation. “He’s taking me to the cinema tonight. William, this is Yusuf.”
“Er, hello, old chap.” There was a dubious tone in William’s voice, and Maria felt a little sorry for Yusuf, who had no doubt seen the attitude before.
The men shook hands and exchanged greetings in a quick and half-hearted manner and then William, with a last wink and a smile at Maria, departed.
“Ah. There we are.”
It was a warm, breezy evening. The ship was pointed into the setting sun as the pair walked towards the sheer bow and its awe-inspiring view of the empty seas ahead.
Maria felt unaccountably guilty about going to the film with William. And yet Yusuf had no real claim or hold on her. Far from it, although the fact that other men, or at least one other man was showing an interest, put Yusuf’s attentions in a slightly different perspective.
She’d heard much of shipboard romance, but the truth was that it was about the farthest thing from her mind. It was becoming a bit of a bother.
When they reached the furthest forward they could get, he turned and grabbed both her hands.
“Look, I don’t know how you feel about this Mister Blake…” His voice was doubtful, disapproving. "But—”
“Oh, you’re worried about me. How sweet.” Maria was shocked at her own tone, but the whole thing was beginning to take on the air of the ridiculous.
Yusuf had the grace to blush. They’d known each other less than twenty-four hours. She’d known Mister Blake for about five minutes and Yusuf was already jealous.
“…well…” And the thought hung on the air for a time.
“It’s just a film, Yusuf.” And he seemed like a nice enough man—like you, Yusuf, but of course one couldn’t come right out and say that. “Anyway, I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.”
He recovered quickly enough.
“Oh, yes, thank you.” He patted himself on the abdomen. “Travel. What can I say?”
It was a ship at sea, they were all cooped up together in an artificial environment. It would be over soon enough, and they would never see each other again.
She was sophisticated enough to know that; but it was rather charming to see that he didn’t. For he was clearly smitten with her for whatever reason. Maria could accept it at face value, or look for deeper, for perhaps more unsavoury motivations. She preferred to keep a good opinion of other people and their motives, for to do otherwise was to judge them too harshly sometimes.
A single woman traveling alone was bound to attract attention.
An elderly gentleman with a ferocious beard and mustaches, clad in an elegant grey suit and carrying a long walking stick, clearly placing himself in a bygone age, reluctantly tore his eyes away from her after raking her from stem to stern. He took a moment to study another feminine posterior, and then tottered away in the general direction of the salon.
Good lord, would it never end?
The thing about men was that they were all like that, once you got them away from home.
It was a comforting thought. It might even come in handy someday...
The trouble with Yusuf, was that they genuinely liked each other, and there was no real future in it as far as she could see.
She was a little late, having stopped into her tiny cabin to freshen up after the walk around the deck with Yusuf.
“Hello.” William eyed her approvingly. “I must say, you look simply ravishing.”
“Er…thank you.” Maria wasn’t used to compliments, and had little doubt that she was blushing furiously.
It was nothing special, just a little flip of the long, straight blonde hair over the one ear. A patterned skirt, a white blouse and a brocade gypsy vest set off by white stockings and black Sunday-school shoes was the best she could do under the circumstances.
In her previous employment at Dubois Brothers Stationers, no one had ever given anyone a compliment for anything. At least that was her impression. And rightly so, for in such a conservative business environment, propriety was everything. Back home, in the village of course, everything was all disapproval and stern condemnation. You didn’t have to do much to cross that line.
“I love that tune.” They were passing a watering hole, and the tinkle of a piano dominated the wide promenade that ran down the middle of the ship, with everything from hair salons to shoe-shine to a small pharmacy and the usual glitzy tourist traps lined up on both sides.
Even onboard a ship, in the middle of the Atlantic, a person had to have somewhere to spend their money. She wondered at how much money two thousand or so people could spend in a week. Some of them were relentless.
“Ah…I’m not familiar with that one.” He wasn’t even listening.
It was Take Five, she thought. Dave Brubeck. No, not the sort of music a fellow like William would ever approve of, or listen to, or even admit the existence of.
Maria loved the saxophone. It was pure emotion, raw and dreamy and sexy and romantic, all at the same time.
She’d never met anyone who could actually play one.
Maria found herself wondering what sort of music a man like Monsieur Blake would actually like. It couldn’t all be Colonel Bogey and Gustave Mahler…surely not.
She was already laughing at him and that would hardly do. It was so much better to laugh with a man.
If only Violet could see me now, she thought. Her sister was still stuck at home, where interested young men might call around at the house on a Sunday afternoon. These were as often as not the dullest of the dull, for the more exciting males so rarely attended church—and of course Mama knew all of their names. She had a little list or something…
She looked up at Monsieur Blake, wondering if he was in any way exciting. He was most definitely not, she decided, and yet he would have squeezed through that cookie-cutter template with ease, being tall, handsome, cultured and no doubt well-enough off that he could afford a ticket on the S.S. France. They did not come cheap exactly. He was also a businessman, representing heavy machinery for a well-known continental manufacturer. She wondered where he had ever gotten the expertise, but then in the English world-view a gentleman could do anything.
If only, she thought.
Poor man, but it was no fault of his own.
They were at the back of a short line at the box office and the fellow seemed completely unable to speak. This hesitance was not a good sign, in her estimation, and then there was the question of whether or not he might try to kiss her in the darkness of the theatre. There was also the question of what she might do about it.
It struck her that he really was trying to pick her up.
Clearly the gentleman had some designs upon her.
She would have bet he had a mousy and adoring little wife stashed away somewhere, and yet the attention was nothing if not flattering.
Dusty is still working on the story, but we hope to have that ready in another day or two.
In the meantime, her romantic thriller The Spy I Loved is still free from Long Cool One Books and Barnes & Noble.
Update: Pre-order The Immigrants from Smashwords and other retailers.
Update: Pre-order The Immigrants from Smashwords and other retailers.
Thank you for reading.