7. Scandal at sea. It’s a miracle – I’ve made a friend.

Good news, Maud! I have made a friend on-board. I know you always fret about me meeting new people, and whether I’d come up to scratch and all that. And of course, what do I do? I turn round and find someone right in the middle of the ocean!


Velma was playing shuffleboard on the upper deck, and was making quite the scene. It’s your pick whether it was her scandalously short skirt, her mechanically bobbed hair, the fact she had her cabin door thrown wide and had dragged the radio to the bulkhead and was blasting jazz to the whole of B Deck (and most of the Atlantic Ocean, for that matter), or the fact those pretty lips were mouthing off the most spectacular invective – which would hardly be respectable on a coal miner, let alone a young woman in her twenties – each time she missed a puck. There was plenty of her bending up and down like a man, and lots of her extravagant laughter at the tut-tuts from those gathered to see her trounce the Ship’s Boy (who no doubt had his own tasks to be getting on with).

When old Mrs. Vincent finally hoisted her bosom, patted her battleship curls into place, and told this ‘young lady’ this was hardly acceptable, Velma slopped a measure of Scotch over the side of her glass – ice spinning, as she gestured – and told the ‘sour old plum’ to go take a long walk off a short plank (I’m paraphrasing, of course, as I simply couldn’t write what she really said. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe it). I’m afraid I laughed out loud and clapped my hands in sheer surprise (I’m such a child) and dear Mrs. Vincent stalked off, having made plain of her enmity for the both of us, and that she would go speak to Captain Drayton and have Velma ejected, forthwith – though to where is somewhat unclear.

Velma gave me a wink, and that was it. She handed her shuffle stick to Captain Mainwaring (the letch who’d been watching all that bending with a great deal of interest), and grabbed my arm and demanded I told her all about myself as we headed for the bar. ‘You can tell a Harlem Sweetie anything,’ she said – ‘we’re like a confessional cloister that way.’ You should have seen the looks she was getting. Scandal at sea!

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