FICTION

Three Day Cruise

It threw together three couples who never would have met on land—with curious results

MARGARET E. SANGSTER October 15 1935
FICTION

Three Day Cruise

It threw together three couples who never would have met on land—with curious results

MARGARET E. SANGSTER October 15 1935

Three Day Cruise

It threw together three couples who never would have met on land—with curious results

MARGARET E. SANGSTER

THE OLDER man was the first to speak. His voice matched the dignity of his frosted hair. He said: “It seems as if we ought to introduce ourselves, so long as we’re going to share a table. My name is Kent—Thomas Kent. This is my wife.”

The woman who sat next to him smiled and bowed. Her smile was wistfully sweet, and so were her wide grey eyes, and the grey curls that kissed each temple.

The plump man, sitting opposite, extended a hand. The hand was carefully manicured, and on the small finger of it twinkled a mammoth diamond set in green gold.

.“Pleased t’ meet cha,” he said. “I’m Steve Corrigan.” He chuckled. “The Steve Corrigan. This is my wife.”

The platinum blonde on his left said:

“Mrs. Steve Corrigan—that sounds funny! I’m used to being called by my own name. You see I’m in the profession.

I dance. I’m in Sam Carr’s Frolics.” .

The thin girl in the obviously homemade pink taffeta, asked eagerly:

“Oh, are you a bride, too ”

The equally thin young man nudged her, not too covertly, and everyone laughed and the ice was broken.

“Three Day Cruise”—that’s what the advertising circulars had labelled it. Painting the glories of an ocean liner, gone a little gay, in magic words. “A cruise to nowhere,” the ship’s literature had read. “A voyage to the horizon place. Pack up your troubles in an overnight bag and find forgetfulness. What if the market has gone crazy, and you’ve wrecked your car, and the world tastes bitter in your mouth? Take a short cruise and come back with an altered point of view. And if you’re newly married—and haven’t time for a regular honeymoon—crowd the romance of a lifetime into three days ...”

So the advertising had read. And people—a number wearied of cities, a few wearied of themselves, and many of them fresh from the altar—had flocked to book staterooms. The boat sailed with the usual transatlantic preparations— flags waving, confetti fluttering, bands playing. But there was something furtive, something very nearly kittenish in the ship’s air as it went swiftly through the harbor and past the light-spangled city skyline.

THE BUGLE sounded for the dinner hour when land was just around the corner. Nobody (well, hardly anybody) dresses for dinner on the first night. That’s why it was easy to spot the brides and grooms—catch a bride who doesn’t want to display her trousseau ! The table for six, to which the three so oddly assorted couples had been assigned, was typical of almost every other table. The older gentleman wore smoky Harris tweeds, and his wife was dressed in metal-threaded sheer wool with dull gold at throat and wrist. The Corrigans were splendid, respectively, in plush-

lapelled tuxedo and backless sequins. The thin couplenamed Smiley (Harold and Mrs. Harold)—appeared in the homemade taffeta and a dark, nearly correct flannel suit. Under ordinary circumstances the six would never have shared a table; their paths lay far apart. But—well, a ship’s a ship ! People are jumbled together on a ship and become intimate and pledge everlasting friendship in the space of a few hours. And when they meet a week after landing—meet for “that” reunion—they are aliens, speaking strange tongues. And they eye one another queerly, and try to recapture a gala mood, and go home tired and swept by boredom.

When the laughter had died away, the platinum blonde said:

“Sure, I was married yesterday. We sneaked down to City Hall between shows—”

Her husband interposed: “I got a friend at City Hall. He has me to thank for his job; he knows where his bread’s buttered. He shot us to the head of the line.”

The girl in pink said:

“Harry and I were married this morning. Then we went to the Plaza for lunch, and to the movies after to see Gary Cooper. We barely made the boat.”

The thin young man spoke to Thomas Kent.

“I hope we’re not a pain in the neck to you and your wife,” he apologized, "We must seem awful silly with this honeymoon stuff.”

Mrs. Kent murmured: “But you’re not silly. We love listening to you.”

Steve Corrigan said: “Well, I’m here to say I’m glad we done it. Me and the girl friend have been thinking it over ever since we met at a party in the village. How long ago was that, honey?”

The platinum blonde replied: “Five weeks, more or less.” The girl in pink hurried on. “Harry and I have been engaged for two years,” she told her audience. “We’ve been saving for our furniture and a nice apartment and this trip. Of course,” virtuously, “I’ll keep my job. I’ve got a swell •job.”

The platinum blonde said: “And will I keep my job!” She winked. “Unless Steve gets jealous.”

Her husband answered: “Why’d I get jealous? You may be Dolly Devine on the stage, but don’t forget I’m Steve Corrigan. If there’s any stepping out to be done, it goes double, see!”

The greyrhaired woman interposed hastily :

“Oh, are you Dolly Devine, Mrs. Corrigan? My husband and I have seen you dance in the Frolics—you were charming. I’d nevef.have recognized you.’’

The platinum blonde asked sharply: “Why not?”

There wasn’tthe slightest shade of hesitation in the other woman’s voice as she answered:

“You’re so very much prettier, off stage.”

THE DINNER was a typical ship’s dinner. A bewilderment of riches, and a sample menu printed in the centre of an embossed card. The Smileys gulped and ordered the menu, as is. “It saves time,” said Mr. Smiley. The Corrigans went in for caviar and turtle soup, and breast of pheasant under glass, and Baked Alaska. The Thomas Kents had bouillon ánd roast beef, and crackers and cheese.

“I suppose you two have travelled a lot,” said Steve Corrigan.

“We’ve come a long way,” answered Thomas Kent. He paused, and then: “I wonder if I may buy a bottle of wine for the brides and grooms? Shall it be champagne or sparkling burgundy? They’re both festive.”

The platinum blonde cried shrilly: “Champagne !’’

Harold Smiley said: “My wife doesn’t drink.”

“But I will, tonight,” gurgled Mrs. Harry.

Thomas Kent beckoned the wine steward.

“Champagne,” he ordered. Fie mentioned a brand. He mentioned a date, and said something about a sun year.

The champagne came in a frosty bottle. The Corrigans beamed, and Flarold Smiley beamed and his wife clasped and unclasped her fingers while the red crept into her thin ' cheeks. The cork popped and the slender-stemmed glasses were filled.

Thomas Kent, a distinguished figure even in tweeds, rose to his feet.

“May I propose a toast?” he asked. “To the brides. May their lives hold the wonder and the happiness of which they’ve dreamed.”

The boat gave a sickening lurch. Some of her champagne splashed over into the lap of Mrs. Smiley’s pink taffeta. She said, “Oh,” and set down her glass and got up, holding fast to her chair. The boat gave another lurch and she turned and wove her way blindly between the forest of tables. Young Harold followed her.

Mrs. Steve Corrigan sipped her wine appreciatively. “Flold happiness?” she murmured. “That one?”

THE SECOND day dawned mistily. The sky was covered with a dingy grey blanket; the air was filled with a fine grey drizzle.

The three men met at the breakfast table. The table showed wide gaps; it was like the mouth of a small boy who has been fighting. Flarold Smiley looked worried and white; Steve Corrigan looked cross; Thomas Kent—eating buttered

whole-wheat toast and back bacon and black currant jam— looked benign.

“My wife,” he said, “is having her coffee and orange juice in bed. Coffee and orange juice!

Oh, these women who go without breakfast.”

Harold Smiley muttered: “My wife’s sick. She was sick all night. She cried, about three, and told me she wished she was dead. At four she said that she wanted to die on land.”

“Try water wings,” advised the Corrigan glumly. “My wife,” he volunteered, “never leaves her downy until noon. I told her, ‘Dolly, we only got three days, and one’s gone. Get dressed and come on deck like a sport an’ play shuffleboard.’ But she turned over and yelled, ‘Scram !’ ” Fie sighed, and ordered an omelet with chicken livers and oatmeal and melon and corn muffins.

Harold Smiley said nothing. He ate ham and eggs doggedly, and stared through the port hole toward the place where the grey sky met the grey sea. After a while he spoke.

“Life’s funny, isn’t it?” he asked.

Thomas Kentanswered : “Yes, it is. But it’s surprisingly nice, at times.”

Young Smiley explained. “I mean,” he said, “how this trip is turning out. Fielen and I counted so on a honeymoon on a boat. Shut away from everybody; away from jobs, and the city, and her folks— and my folks. Every time we saw a picture of a couple sailing on a honeymoon we’d pretend we was them. We”—he gulped—“we were crazy, I guess. Why, the last month I even went without lunches. And now she’s sick, shut in a dark little cubby hole—we couldn’t afford an

outside room ...”

Steve Corrigan said: “Buck up, kid; bad beginnings make good endings. You’ll never get to Reno, at this rate.”

But Flarold Smiley mumbled vaguely and pushed back his half-eaten dish of ham and eggs, and wandered off toward the rear of the boat.

Steve Corrigan gulped some coffee, thick with cream, and said:

“Sea sickness sure must take the honey out of honeymoon.”

But Thomas Kent’s eyes were drenched with sympathy as he said: “The poor youngsters.”

It was during that lull in mid-afternoon that the Kents walked arm in arm through the smoking room. They were having a gala time, the Kents. Thomas was laughing

delightedly from around the stem of an expensive pipe, and Mrs. Kent’s middle-aged face was as if a candle had been lighted behind it; she was fairly luminous. As they strolled toward a secluded spot, a voice hailed them.

“Well,” said the voice, “I’m glad somebody’s enjoyin’ theirselves.”

The Thomas Kents became aware of Steve Corrigan, sitting alone on a corner divan. There was a certain pathos about Steve; with his bluster gone lie was a hurt child despite the adult lines that framed his mouth. It was his pathetic air that made Mrs. Kent’s tone so cordial.

“You seem lonesome, shipmate,” she said. “Is your wife feeling—”

Steve interposed. “The only way she’s feeling is fed up

with me. She’s over there”—his thumb indicated a discreetly sheltered nook—“at that table, just outta sight. Playing bridge with three of th’ phoniest guys on th’ boat. She knew one of them. I”—he tried to laugh—“don’t play bridge.”

Tlromas Kent said: “Not playing bridge will save you a heap of agony. My wife and I are about to have a nip of sherry; won’t you drown your sorrows with us?”

Steve Corrigan answered :

“I’ll have Scotch, straight.” He said, after the order had been taken and delivered: “Maybe I been spoiled. But I’ve gone a heck of a distance from newsboy to district leader. Any time you get in trouble, a summons or a ticket”—a slight return of the bluster here—“give th cop my name. I thought”—the bluster vanished—“that any girl would appreciate bein’ my wife. Why, I may be mayor before I’m through. But Dolly, she’s got Park Avenue ideas. She just knows enough about things—things like bridge—to feel her

oats. Darned if I’ll let any woman educate”—he pronounced

it “eddicate”—"me!”

There was a burst of laughter from the table beyond the bar. A man’s voice ejaculated: “That’s another fifty for you, Miss Devine; to say nothing of the cocktails!” A woman’s voice, a trifle too shrill, replied reprovingly: “Dolly to you, Mr. Uh-huh !”

Mrs. Thomas Kent asked brightly : “Do you play rummy, Mr. Corrigan? Yes? Then suppose we have a game, we three. Tom and I are rummy fiends.”

Steve Corrigan said: “That’ll be swell.” But his voice lacked lustre and his eyes kept straying toward the table that he couldn’t quite see.

TNINNER again. Second day out, and the tuming-around ' place. Everybody was dressed tonight; everybody, except the ones who were cloistered in their berths, glittered. The band played riotous music, and the wine steward was so busy he should have been twins.

Thomas Kent wore his dinner jacket after the fashion of Noyes’s highwayman—“It fitted with never a wrinkle.” His wife was a Dresden shepherdess in hyacinth blue and silver. Her hair didn’t seem grey; it looked as if it had been powdered on purpose. The trip, in her case, had come up to specifications. In the space of twenty-four—no, thirty-six —hours, the years had slipped from her face, leaving revealed a frail, phantom youth.

Steve Corrigan was tumbled and sulky. His suit needed pressing and his tie was careless, and the mammoth diamond ring on his right hand was dull and cheap. But his wife— in flame-colored lamé-—atoned for his lack of finish. She scintillated, while her gaze went darting from place to place and her nervous fingers crumbled bread.

“I’m not hungry,” she said. “We had sandwiches in the smoking room with our old-fashioneds. I made a killing this aft. Aft—that’s something to do with a boat, isn’t it? I took four hundred berries. Tell me I can’t play bridge!”

“Did you bring your own cards?” asked Steve. His tone was nasty. “An’ did you take lessons from Houdini?” Dolly’s red mouth became a thin, pencilled line. Pier eyes narrowed. She said to her husband:

“For two cents, big boy, I’d smack you down, even though you are a near politician. If it wasn’t I had such a nice disposition I’d give you a piece of my mind. How do you get that way? Houdini died when I was a baby in arms.” “Whose arms?” Steve wanted to know with increasing nastiness, but Dolly decided to laugh.

“Quite a little bidder, isn’t he?” she told the Kents. “Well, husbands have got to be broke to the house. Or to the boat. Or to the houseboat ...”

Steve said : “You’re tight as a button. I’d like—”

What he’d like was never told. For Harold Smiley, utterly belying his name, had slid into his place. He wore the dark flannel suit of yesterday.

“Helen’s.still sick,” he said. “If anything, she’s sicker’n she was. I wish we were home. She said I was to come to dinner and leave her be, and have a nice time.” Pie had to wink to keep back the tears.

The platinum blonde said:

“It’s worse when th’ groom’s sick. A girl in our comp’ny got married and she and her hubby went to Bermuda, and he like to died. And she was so off him when they reached port that she never left the boat. She went right home—return trip—and got annulled. The judge said he didn’t blame her. She had red hair.”

Steve said: “Hush your noise. You’re a great help.”

'TYPE THIRD day. What was it the advertising copy had said? “Find forgetfulness . . . What if the world tastes bitter in your mouth . . . Crowd the romance of a lifetime into three days ...”

The sky was greyer than ever, and the sea sported deep ruffles of grey, lace-trimmed foam. The ship danced naughtily. It was as if the ship were saying with every wiggle, “I’m a liner and you’ve made me into an excursion boat. Well, I’ll act like one.”

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kent walked the deck with the sting of the salt wind in their faces. Mrs. Kent was humming a waltz and Mr. Kent was beating time against her arm with his fingers.

“Pretty hot, eh, Nan?” he said finally, and she broke off the waltz to answer.

“It was an inspiration, dear—this trip. It’s like some lovely stolen thing. Something so lovely that you’d have to steal it.”

Thomas Kent whispered: “You’re pretty

lovely, with the spray on your hair.”

“On my white hair,” Mrs. Kent whispered back.

“On your beautiful hair!” amended her husband. “Oh, my dear, do you see what I see?” It was Mrs. Steve Corrigan. She still wore her flamecolored lamé, but it hung wet and sleezy against her knees. She wore a man’s raincoat (too big to be her husband’s) and a man’s cap. She had a man on each side and one who trailed in the rear. When she caught sight of the Kents she chuckled. The chuckle ended in a sob.

“Plere come th’ four horsemen,” she cried. “Make way for th’ four horsemen !”

The Kents tried to pass. They said: “We’ll make way.” But Mrs. Steve Corrigan, née Dolly Devine, blocked their path.

“I’m deserted,” she told them hysterically, “I’m neither maid, wife nor widow—believe it or not. Steve padlocked our stateroom last night, so I stayed in the library and played bridge. I won eight hundred dollars. I had a wunnerful time and a boy friend loaned me a coat—”

All at once Mrs. Kent’s arms were outstretched.

“You poor, tired child,” she exclaimed. “Come here and cry it out, then I’ll take you to your Steve. Men are such idiots. You three”—her tone was not so gentle as she addressed the hilarious horsemen—“can go away. Go away, I said. You”-—her gaze was fixed upon her husband—“you can go, too, Tom.”

There was something very maternal in every line of her body as she led the platinum blonde below. The platinum blonde was weeping noisily now; was saying: “Pie’ll never believe we only played bridge . . . But, honest, Mrs. Kent, I’m telling you ...”

I ATE IN the afternoon the sun appeared and smiled J sweetly over a débutante of an ocean. The ocean dimpled at the sun, and the bite went from the spray, and people began to sigh and think that a cruise had its moments, at that—which was a pity, for the cruise was practically over! The ship would anchor, not long after the dinner hour, within sight—almost within sound and smell— of the city.

The six who shared a table met at that table at the appointed time. Harold Smiley led a pallid but recovering bride by her wedding-ringed hand. She wore a baby-blue satin frock, obviously new and as obviously homemade. The Corrigans appeared arm in arm and composed, after their own fashion. Steve’s dinner suit had been pressed and his tie had been knotted by careful fingers. Plis bride was

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arrayed in starched ivory lace, so high in front that it might have been a uniform, so low in back that it might have been nothing. Mrs. Steve Corrigan had a slight redness of the eyelids that even the most careful make-up couldn’t hide. But it didn’t injure her appearance; it gave her a girlish, fragile look that was oddly appealing.

Nan Kent was in straight black velvet; a matronly frock, but it wasn’t matronly on her. It was dark magic.

Steve Corrigan said: “Back in the bull ring tomorrow. Well, I won’t be sorry, take it by and large. I know where I am in the city. When my feet are on the ground, I can get places and do things.”

Dolly Corrigan said suddenly: “I’m glad we came.”

The girl who had married Harold Smiley burst out swiftly in aching negatives.

“I’m not,” she cried. “I’ve hated every bit of the cruise. Think of the fun we planned—and the sacrifices we made—gone to nothing. It was horrid waste—at least that’s how I feel. And I ruined my pink dress, and my negligee is limp from the dampness, and I’ve never been so miserable in my life. I’d rather’ve stayed in town and seen some stage shows—we never get to see shows. And we’d have had enough left for a floor lamp and a nice set of dishes.”

Dolly said: “I’ll send you a couple of passes to th’ Frolics, and you can come back after the show and call on me in my dressing room.”

The heavy curtain of gloom lifted momentarily from Harold Smiley’s face.

“Say, that’d be slick,” he exclaimed; but Mrs. Smiley said, “Thank you,” in the primmest of voices. After all, they were nearing land. And a dancer in a show . . .

rT'HE KENTS hadn’t been saying anything. They’d been listening with tiny smiles touching mouth corners and lids. Now Thomas Kent spoke.

“My wife and I,” he said, “have had a perfectly grand time, even if the rest of you haven’t. We’ve liked every minute of it and we’ve liked knowing you.”

“That,” said Steve Corrigan, and he spoke from the depths, “goes double. Your wife —I owe her lots. Any time you get a notice to serve on jury, you give me a call—see? I can fix things fine.”

Mrs. Kent went on from her husband’s stopping place.

“When you get back,” she said, “you’ll forget about the ugly parts of this trip. The illness and the spats and the tossing of the boat. You’ll only remember the nice things. How the band played when we left the pier, and how the mist made a rainbow right at the water line, and how the sunset gleamed this afternoon, after two days of storm. You’ll remember how the city leans forward and beckons as we creep close to it, and you’ll remember the excitement and hurry of getting ashore . . . Ocean travel is like having a baby. You forget the pain and trouble as soon as the pain and trouble are past.”

Thomas Kent’s fine bronzed hand went out openly across the table to touch his wife’s slender fingers. The gesture was quite involuntary—and very, very tender.

Steve Corrigan said with sincerity, if not tact:

“It’s swell for married people to go right on having fun when they’re old. S’pose we’ll be like that, hon?” His eyes, with a puppydog appeal in them, were on Dolly, but she didn’t answer him—not directly. Her eyes, in turn, were on tliree men who were passing the table.

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“Bridge?” asked the leader of the three brazenly.

“Not on your life!” answered Steve Corrigan’s wife.

Helen Smiley said eagerly to Mrs. Kent: “You got any children?”

Nan Kent answered, ever so softly: “I’m sorry—no. I was talking—theoretically.”

Thomas Kent broke in on a slight pause.

“I’m in the mood to buy more champagne,” he said. He beckoned to the wine steward and gave an order, mentioned a brand and a date. When the tall, frosted bottle had arrived, when six glasses had been filled—“This once !” apologized Mrs. Smiley —he rose quite solemnly in his place.

“To the brides,” he said. “May they be as happy, for ever and ever, as they are now !”

Steve Corrigan patted his wife roughly between her white shoulders. The diamond on his hand sparkled. She said, “Ouch!”

Harold Smiley glanced at his wife sheepishly, and she said: “I’m not blaming you. You didn’t know.”

Thomas Kent and his wife stared deep into each other’s eyes, and drank the toast.

TT WAS much later. The moon was a gracious crescent and the boat rode easily at anchor. Everybody was in the main salon, dancing to the tune oi something popular. Everybody except the Kents. They stood at the rail and watched the skyline of the city; the city that loomed, starspangled, in the distance.

Thomas Kent said: “Well, we’re home

again.”

His wife said: “But it will be home for the first time, really. Because well be together. Because we’ve found each other after so many years of loneliness.”

Thomas Kent said a shade bitterly:

“It’s not fair! Why didn’t we ever meet before? We must have dined in the same restaurants, and seen the same plays, and travelled on the same subways. And yet our paths never crossed until a few months ago. Oh, we’re together now. We’re going home to our own apartment. But you heard what that Corrigan chap said. We’re not kids any more. We’re old.”

A tenor, back in the salon, was singing a song. Something with a waltz rhythm, something about moonlight and roses.

Mrs. Thomas Kent stood on tiptoe to kiss the very edge of her husband’s chin. Her kiss was ardent and, paradoxically, almost shy.

“Oh, we are—are we?” she asked.