فصل 09

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Anne’s Story

It is not dignified to be sea-sick. I am sorry to say that as soon as the Kilmorden began to move up and down on the sea, I turned pale and went downstairs to my cabin. I remained there for three days, feeling ill. I was a totally different Anne to the one who had rushed back with great excitement from the shipping office a few days earlier.

Mrs Flemming had spoken to me as soon as I entered the drawing-room.

‘Anne, my dear, Miss Emery is leaving me.’ Miss Emery was the children’s tutor. ‘It would be so nice if you took her place.’

I was so pleased. I knew she didn’t want me. It was kindness that made her offer. I put my arms around her. ‘You are very kind,’ I said. ‘Thank you but I’m going to South Africa on Saturday.’

As I left that morning, she gave me an envelope. Inside I found five new five-pound notes and the words: ‘I hope you will not be offended and will accept this with my love.’ She was a very good, kind woman.

So here I was, with twenty-five pounds in my pocket, chasing my adventure. But it was only on the fourth day that the stewardess finally persuaded me to go up on deck. Wrapped in blankets, and feeling weak and tired, I was helped up and put in a deck-chair. People passed me: couples exercising, children running, young people laughing. A few other people, suffering like me, lay pale-faced in deck-chairs. The air was cold and fresh and the sun was shining brightly. I felt a little happier.

I began to watch the people. One woman in particular attracted me. She was about thirty, of medium height and very fair, with a round, happy face and blue eyes. In a pleasant but confident way, she seemed to own the ship! Deck stewards ran about obeying her commands. She appeared to be one of those rare people who know what they want, make sure that they get it, and manage to do so without being offensive. I decided that if ever I recovered, it would amuse me to talk to her.

We reached Madeira about midday and the local people came on board to see what they could sell to the passengers. I picked up a large bunch of flowers and smelt it. I felt much better after that. When my stewardess brought chicken soup, I enjoyed eating it.

The attractive woman I had seen earlier had been off to look around the town. She came back accompanied by a tall, soldierly-looking man with dark hair and a suntanned face. I had noticed him earlier in the day. A strong, silent man, I thought. He was about forty, with slightly greying hair, and was easily the best-looking man on board. I asked my stewardess if she knew who the attractive woman was.

‘That’s Mrs Blair. You must have read about her in the papers.’

I nodded. Mrs Blair was very well known as one of the most fashionable women of the day.

The following morning, to my surprise, after walking a few times round the deck with her companion, Mrs Blair stopped by my chair.

‘Feeling better this morning?’

I thanked her, and said I felt slightly more like a human being.

‘You did look ill yesterday. Colonel Race and I decided that we would have the excitement of a funeral at sea - but you’ve disappointed us.’

I laughed. ‘Being in the air has done me good.’

‘Nothing like fresh air,’ said Colonel Race, smiling.

‘Being shut in those hot cabins would kill anyone,’ declared Mrs Blair. Sitting by my side she dismissed her friend with a nod. ‘You’ve got an outside cabin with a sea view, I hope?’

I shook my head.

‘My dear girl! Why don’t you change? There’s plenty of room. A lot of people left the ship at Madeira. Talk to the ship’s purser about it at lunch time, he’s responsible for that kind of thing.’

At the thought of lunch I shuddered. ‘I couldn’t move.’

‘Don’t be silly. Come and walk with me.’

I felt very weak on my legs at first, but as we walked I began to feel brighter and better. Colonel Race joined us again. ‘You can see the Mountain of Tenerife from the other side of the deck,’ he told us.

‘Can I get a photograph of it, do you think?’ asked Mrs Blair.

‘No - but that won’t stop you trying.’

Mrs Blair laughed.

We went round to the other side of the deck. There, white and snowy in a rose-coloured mist, was the beautiful mountain peak. Mrs Blair ran for her camera and began energetically taking photographs.

‘There, that’s the film finished. But I’ve got another.’

She produced it in triumph from her bag. A sudden roll of the boat upset her balance and, as she reached for the rail, the film went over the side.

‘Oh!’ cried Mrs Blair, laughing. She leaned over. ‘Do you think it has gone overboard?’

‘No,’ said Colonel Race, ‘but you may have hit an unlucky steward on the deck below.’

The bell for lunch was rung.

‘Lunch, Miss Beddingfeld,’ declared Mrs Blair.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘I do feel rather hungry.’

‘Splendid! You’re sitting at the purser’s table. Ask him about the cabin.’

I began with a little food and finished by eating an enormous meal. The purser congratulated me on my recovery. Everyone was changing cabins today, he told me, and promised that my things would be moved without delay.

There were only four at our table. Myself, a couple of elderly ladies, and a person working in Christian churches abroad - the Reverend Edward Chichester. I looked round at the other tables. Mrs Blair was sitting at the Captain’s table. Colonel Race next to her. On the other side of the captain was a successful looking, grey-haired man. And there was a man I had not seen before. He was tall and dark - and looked so cruel that I was startled. I asked the purser who he was.

‘Oh, that’s one of Sir Eustace Pedler’s secretaries. He’s been very sea-sick. Sir Eustace has two secretaries with him, and the sea has made them both ill. This man’s name is Pagett.’

So, Sir Eustace Pedler, the owner of the Mill House, was on board.

‘That’s Sir Eustace,’ the purser continued, ‘sitting next to the captain.’ The more I studied Pagett’s smooth, bloodless face, the less I liked it. With those secretive eyes and that strangely flat head - it all gave me an unpleasant and alarming feeling.

Later on, when I went down to my cabin to see if my removal was in progress, I found my steward busy working at it.

‘Very nice cabin, miss. On D deck. Number 13.’

‘Oh, no!’ I cried. ‘Not Number 13.’

Number 13 is my one superstition. Almost in tears I asked the steward, ‘Is there any other cabin I can have?’

‘Well, there is Number 17. It was given to someone - but his bags are not in yet so I am sure he won’t mind.’

He left to speak to the purser and returned smiling. ‘That’s all right, miss.’

Number 17 was not quite as large as Number 13, but I was very satisfied. At that moment the man with the cruel face appeared.

‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘but this is Sir Eustace Pedler’s cabin.’

‘We have given Sir Eustace Number 13.’ explained the steward.

‘No, he is to have Number 17.’

‘Number 13 is a better cabin, sir - larger.’

‘I must tell you that Sir Eustace has chosen Number 17 as being suitable for his needs. And the purser said I could have it.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said coldly, ‘but Number 17 has been given to me.’

‘I cannot agree to that,’ Mr Pagett replied.

‘Steward, put my things in here,’ demanded a new voice. ‘This is my cabin.’

It was my neighbour at lunch, the Reverend Edward Chichester.

‘This is my cabin,’ I said.

‘It is Sir Eustace Pedler’s cabin,’ said Mr Pagett.

We were all getting rather angry.

‘I am sorry to have to argue,’ said Chichester with a smile that did not hide his determination to get what he wanted.

‘You are going to have Number 28,’ said the steward. ‘A very good cabin, sir.’

‘I insist, Number 17 was promised to me.’

I was not giving in. I disliked Chichester. He had false teeth that made a noise when he ate. Many men have been hated for less. We all said the same things again and again. And none of us would give in. However, there are no people in the world who are as nice to women as sailors. My friend the purser marched in and told everyone that Number 17 was my cabin. What a hero!

This victory made me feel much better. The sea was smooth, the weather was getting warmer. My sea-sickness was gone! I went up and enjoyed the deck sports with some pleasant young men who were extremely nice to me. Tea was served and I ate hungrily. Life was delightful.

Dinner was announced and as I hurried to Cabin 17, I wondered what made so many people anxious to get it. And suddenly I thought of that number on the piece of paper I had found - 17 . 1 22. I had thought it was the date the Kilmorden Castle sailed from Southampton. What if I was wrong? Perhaps ‘17’ meant Cabin 17? and ‘1’? The time - one o’clock. Then ‘22’ must be the date. Tomorrow was the 22nd!

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