The Captain of the Kansas.
by Louis Tracy.
ITEMS NOT IN THE MANIFEST
"I think I shall enjoy this trip," purred Isobel Baring, nestling comfortably among the cushions of her deck chair. A steward was arranging tea for two at a small table. The _Kansas_, with placid hum of engines, was speeding evenly through an azure sea.
"I agree with that opinion most heartily, though, to be sure, so much depends on the weather," replied her friend, Elsie Maxwell, rising to pour out the tea. Already the brisk sea-breeze had kissed the Chilean pallor from Elsie's face, which had regained its English peach-bloom.
Isobel Baring's complexion was tinged with the warmth of a pomegranate.
At sea, even in the blue Pacific, she carried with her the suggestion of a tropical garden.
"I never gave a thought to the weather," purred Isobel again, as she subsided more deeply into the cushions.
"Let us hope such a blissful state of mind may be justified. But you know, dear, we may run into a dreadful gale before we reach the Straits."
"All the better!" she cried. "People tell me I am a most fascinating invalid. I look like a creamy orchid. And what luck to have a chum so disinterested as you where a lot of nice men are concerned! What have I done to deserve it? Because you are really charming, you know."
"Does that mean that you have already discovered a lot of nice men on board?"
Elsie handed her friend a cup of tea and a plate of toast.
"Naturally. While you were mooning over the lights and tints of the Andes, I kept an eye, both eyes in fact, on our compulsory acquaintances of the next three weeks. To begin with, there's the captain."
"He is good-looking, certainly. Somewhat reserved, I fancied."
"Reserved!" Isobel showed all her fine teeth in a smile.
Incidentally, she took a satisfactory bite out of a square of toast.
"I 'll soon shake the reserve out of him. He is mine. You will see him play pet dog long before we meet that terrible gale of yours."
"Isobel, you promised your father--"
"To look after my health during the voyage. Do you think that I intend only to sleep, eat, and read novels all the way to London? Then, indeed, I should be ill. But there is a French Comte on the ship. He is mine, too."
"You mean to find safety in numbers?"
"Oh, there are others. Of course, I am sure of my little Count. He twisted his mustache with such an air when I skidded past him in the companionway."
Elsie bent forward to give the chatterer another cup of tea.
"And you promised to read Moliere at least two hours daily!" she sighed good-humoredly. Even the most sensible people, and Elsie was very sensible, begin a long voyage with idiotic programs of work to be done.
"I mean to subst.i.tute a live Frenchman for a dead one--that is all.
And I am sure Monsieur le Comte Edouard de Poincilit will do our French far more good than 'Les Fourberies de Scapin.'"
"Am I to be included in the lessons? And you actually know the man's name already?"
"Read it on his luggage, dear girl. He has such a lot. See if he doesn't wear three different colored shirts for breakfast, lunch, and tea. And, if _you_ refuse to help, who is to take care of le p't.i.t Edouard while I give the captain a trot round. Don't look cross, there's a darling, though you _do_ remind me, when you open your eyes that way, of a delightful little American schoolma'am I met in Lima.
She had drifted that far on her holidays, and I believe she was horrified with me."
"Perhaps she thought you were really the dreadful person you made yourself out to be. Now, Isobel, that does not matter a bit in Valparaiso, where you are known, but in Paris and London--"
"Where I mean to be equally well known, it is a pa.s.sport to smart society to be _un peu risque_. Steward! Give my compliments to Captain Courtenay, and say that Miss Maxwell and Miss Baring hope he will favor them with his company to tea."
Elsie's bright, eager face flushed slightly. She leaned forward, with a certain squaring of the shoulders, being a determined young person in some respects.
"For once, I shall let you off," she said in a low voice. "So I give you fair warning, Isobel, I must not be included in impromptu invitations of that kind. Next time I shall correct your statement most emphatically."
"Good gracious! I only meant to be polite. Tut, tut! as dad says when he can't swear before ladies, I shan't make the running for you any more."
Elsie drummed an impatient foot on the deck. There was a little pause.
Isobel closed her eyes lazily, but she opened them again when she heard her friend say:
"I am sorry if I seem crotchety, dear. Indeed, it is no pretense on my part. You cannot imagine how that man Ventana persecuted me. The mere suggestion of any one's paying me compliments and trying to be fascinating is so repellent that I cringe at the thought. And even our sailor-like captain will think it necessary to play the society clown, I suppose, seeing that we are young and pa.s.sably good-looking."
Isobel Baring raised her head from the cushions.
"Ventana was a determined wooer, then? What did he do?" she asked.
"He--he pestered me with his attentions. Oh, I should have liked to flog him with a whip!"
"He was always that sort of person--too serious," and the head dropped again.
The steward returned. He was a half-caste; his English was to the point.
"De captin say he busy, he no come," was his message.
Elsie's display of irritation vanished in a merry laugh. Isobel bounced up from the depths of the chair; her dark eyes blazed wrathfully.
"Tell him--" she began.
Then she mastered her annoyance sufficiently to ascertain what it was that Captain Courtenay had actually said, and she received a courteous explanation in Spanish that the commander could not leave the chart-house until the _Kansas_ had rounded the low-lying, red-hued Cape Caraumilla, which still barred the ship's path to the south--the first stage of the long voyage from Valparaiso to London.
But pertinacity was a marked trait of the Baring family; otherwise, Isobel's father, a bluff, church-warden type of man, would not have won his way to the chief place in the firm of Baring, Thompson, Miguel & Co., Mining and Export Agents, the leading house in Chile's princ.i.p.al port. Notwithstanding Elsie's previous outburst, the steward was sent back to ask if the ladies might visit the bridge later. Meanwhile, would Captain Courtenay like a cup of tea? All things considered, there was only one possible answer; Captain Courtenay would be charmed if they favored him with both the tea and their company.
"I thought so," cried Isobel, triumphantly. "Come on, Elsie! Let us climb the ladder of conquest. The steward will bring the tea-things.
The chart-house is just splendid. It will provide a refuge when the Count becomes too pressing."
There was a tightening of Elsie's lips to which Isobel paid no heed.
The imminent protest was left unspoken, for Courtenay's voice came to them:
"Please hold on by the rail. If a foot were to slip on one of those bra.s.s treads the remainder of the day would be a compound of tears and sticking-plaster."
"I think you said 'reserved,'" whispered Isobel to her companion with a wicked little laugh. To Courtenay, peering through a hatch in the hurricane deck, she cried:
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