Death Under Sail

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Only Avice could pour out drinks as though it were a task of great importance and charm, to be done with an air of melancholy gaiety, which made me admire all the more her discontented mouth and her thin white hands.

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She was lovely, from the brown hair smoothed from her high forehead to her long and slender legs; but I felt, as I took the cocktail from her and saw her smile, that, with everything taken away except her eyes, she would still be a charming creature. After all, I was forty years older than she was, and age gives one the liberty to pay compliments — even if it takes away the reward for which compliments are paid.

Avice blushed quickly and laughed happily at him.

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I remembered that there was a rumour that at last they were likely to be married. For two years he had been in love with her and, like many of her friends, he had often been driven to despair. At least so I imagined from what I had seen, and I decided that he deserved her if he had captured her at last. I liked him; he was a young man with a vigorous mind and a strong personality. Even his many merits, however, did not altogether allay a twinge of jealousy which I ought to have outgrown at my age.

I looked at Avice as she laughed at him, and I wished that I too, as well as Christopher, were young and sunburnt and twenty-six. However, they were a pleasant pair, and I told myself it was far better that Avice should marry him than Roger — and I knew that Roger not long ago had pursued her with the same rough, optimistic energy that he brought to every occupation of his life.

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She had refused him, and he had been bitter at the time. He was not used to being refused anything. I was glad, though; as I was thinking of that affair, I studied Roger as he sat by the cabin door. He was becoming red-faced and noisy; and there would have seemed something sacrilegious about a marriage between him and Avice.

I knew of his growing fame. He had planted a foot successfully in Harley Street, and was spoken of among doctors as the best man in his own line of his generation.

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But that was not enough. They were utterly different in every way; curiously enough, they were cousins, a fact I found it almost impossible to believe. In my case, all that business about their marriage was fortunately over; Avice, so far as I could judge, was fond of Christopher, and Roger had recovered and was his old jovial self. I had a suspicion that this yachting party had been arranged as a signal that everything was well again.

The voice of Roger himself broke upon my thoughts. It was very different from my idea of the voice of a man suffering from a broken heart. Have you ever met a girl called Tonia? I had been so busy watching Avice that I had scarcely noticed the exact constitution of the rest of the party. Philip had grinned cheerfully at me as I came in, but I had not paid much attention to the girl reclining on the bunk by his side. I invited him as a sort of concession to Edwardian gentility. Very high eyebrows under masses of hair, which shone red as it caught the lamplight, made a setting for long narrow eyes, one of which, I observed with almost a start, was brown and the other grey; her mouth was painted deep red on a darkish skin.

Her slim body was covered by a dress of bright green, and a black belt wound round a narrow waist. Bare sunburned legs were drawn up on the bunk and Philip was playing with her ankles. He had never done anything in his life but be charming to his friends; he had idled his way through Oxford, writing a little poetry, acting a little, talking a great deal; and now, at twenty-five, he sauntered over Europe, still doing nothing but be charming.

His father could afford to let him, and it was difficult not to forgive Philip whatever he did or wanted to do. Taste, Ian, you old scoundrel! This was utterly new to me. I looked lost.

There was a general chuckle. She was reading a book. And he said: The railway timetable. She said: What for? Ian said: So that we can go away together! She had an absolutely flat face and a twisted nose. Roger led a chorus of laughter in which I joined, after a protest which was drowned in the merriment. I can only conclude it must have happened to Philip himself. Philip grinned unashamedly, and Tonia gently pulled his ear.

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