5. A rose by any other name.

RoseOh how darling! I feel I must have inadvertently attracted the eye of dear Mr. Pelham. This morning I discovered a rose lying in front of my cabin door, delivered with a little card and a solitary kiss. It’s out of season and out at sea, so I can forgive the fact that this little gem is but a bud, closed tight. The thorns are wild-vicious, though. I pricked my finger, so I hope the princess in this adventure doesn’t fall asleep for a hundred years! I’ve popped it in a vase with a little water, and I look forward to seeing how it blooms, what colour it is, etc.

But oh dear, I’ll have to think how best to let down my old, gentleman admirer. Really, what is he thinking? – he’s old enough to be my father, though I do wonder if he’s rich. Tee, hee. Don’t worry, Maud, I’m sure I’ll retain my modesty in the face of his fristily whiskers!

4. Aft deck promenade, Pelham, and War and Peace.

BirdsToday, I decided to take in the sea air, and took a promenade on every available deck, gang, and walkway.

I’m so glad I did: the light was hazy and shimmery, the waves strangely mesmeric. There was even a slight mist on the horizon. I lost my book, but found a friend: a fine old gentleman with the most extravagant whiskers – a Mr. Pelham. He said we passed Gibraltar a few days ago, though I did have to confess I’d missed the big, old rock, as my attention had been entirely taken with life on-board.

Everything is so impossibly sophisticated – you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a cocktail party around every corner. And the glamour: all the men in their blue, wool, cassimere suits, with their tapered waists and peak lapels, the women in their beautiful slip-on frocks, and crepe shifts or satin dresses.

And listen to this: Mr. Pelham said that last year they had a royal on-board – King George V, himself! I feel like a Hollywood star. Surely Charlie Chaplin has walked these very decks along with the irrepressible Kid?

3. Maud, I bought you a postcard, you lucky girl!

Cotopaxi Postcard

I bought a postcard for you today, Maud. It’s a painting on-board the Cotopaxi – an advert really, but you get the idea.

The finish on this ship is so beautiful. I know you love the art of things, as I do – so many geometric and angular forms, chrome, glass, shiny fabrics, mirrors. Doors in polished wood and green, enamelled glass. Sumptuous carpets. Modern bathrooms.

There’s even a pool with a viewing gallery!

And wherever I look, there is the odd exotic touch from the Orient, Africa or Egypt.

Oh, but this is useless, how can I describe all these wonderful things in just a few scribbled words?

Perhaps I should take inspiration from this picture card, and make better use of my sable and Indian ink (in fact, I’ve already been caught in some clumsy doodling – the way Mrs. Parsons went on, you’d think she’d never seen a blithering picture before, much to my embarrassment!)


2. Heads! I’m in luxury!

What a wonder the Cotopaxi is – so modern, so elegant. I’m such an embarrassment, gawping at everything like a gap-toothed yokel with straw in her hair.

Cotopaxi Sketch 1

Northern Star Lines hasn’t scrimped on anything. You can tell the same architect has designed or picked out everything on-board, and done so as a statement, from the shocking coffee sets, down to the decadent lamp shades, and if this is Modernism and Art Deco, then bully for you, Paris! I feel positively dowdy in comparison, like poor old Mole in Wind in the Willows.

Even these diary pages feel off-white against the crisp linens beneath my derriere (mayhap I will have to get a more luxurious diary. Maybe one with a tortoiseshell cover?). The bed is so tightly made, I have determined to bounce a silver dollar off the valance.

CoinHold on…

There. The trajectory was a great success!

Oh, phooey! I just got ink on the pillow.

1. My cabin, SS Cotopaxi (1hr from dock).

SS Cotopaxi

I’m on-board! I told myself I’d do it and I’ve done it! So long dirty-old Southampton, hello the SS Cotopaxi! It feels so exotic: an American ship. And I have dollars, now – though they feel like play money; like something only a child would spend. I’m deliberately not looking at the ship’s itinerary, but I believe we’re destined for Gibraltar, Havana, and then ports unknown!

This morning, everything was so different. I was weathering the storm of my own impulsiveness: a few moments to clean, a lot of last minute running round to collect some ‘necessaries’.

XI have a pitiful lack of clothes, but did find enough to fill a tatty, old leather suitcase. I obviously brought a couple of books (maybe I’ll get a chance to finally finish War and Peace, though in truth I’ve never felt drawn to its endless sabre-rattling, and it’s so cruel to the poor horses!) but the last thing I packed was that fat envelope on the mantle. It contained maps and a poster – and some adverts, of course, for exotic ship-board boutiques – and the tickets with the theatrical mask printed on them (quite strange, but so expensive and elegant), and a chocolate-box label with an X etched on it. X marks the spot? Ha, ha.

Now that I think of it, that little golden card was lying on the carpet where it had no right to be, but I industriously brought it anyway…

Was it only a few hours ago I was back in our dainty little house? Already, it feels like a lifetime ago. It was time for me to go, Maud, just as you wanted for me. So I left with that friendly touch to your hand, and the thought: don’t look back – adventure this way! Just like the Popular Book for Girls.

I didn’t run, but I moved swiftly – a right-old clatter of hard shoes on cobbles and then onto paving (and phew that case was heavy). The tram, and then a long walk, because I couldn’t afford a further fare [or rather, break such large notes. Tsk, tsk, remember, Lucy, you silly goose – you have money now]. And there it was, the quay growing and growing into cranes and warehouses, smoke and steel.

As a woman travelling alone, I had a little awkwardness around the gates and gangways, and the signs of where to go and do the ‘such-and-such’ of Southampton quay. Everywhere, it was couples or families or men! I must have looked quite the odd-bod, I know. But I decided, there and then, that I was going to become an entirely different person on board: the real me – a new woman. (Perhaps I’ll become a Flapper, too, Maud, just like you – though I can see your outraged face at the smallest thought of it!).

Through in the ticket office there were scores of people dragging trunks or suitcases, colliding with my own brown, battered one, with its M.E. initials in peeling, gold paint. And there I am in my dowdy coat and floppy hat, with a few paper flowers and a twist of tissue-berries on it. Everyone else was so crushingly elegant. (I shall buy myself some new clothes with my new inheritance, first thing tomorrow – see if I don’t!).

Then there was the hoot of the steam horn and the rumbling drive of the propellers as the ship came to, the sailors catcalling and shouting, dropping and looping off ropes as thick as my arm, the ends stitched into huge hangman’s nooses, hooked over the chins of black-iron flat-heads.

The ship towered over me, the gulls crying, the scent of the sea – salty and stale and electric, all at once. A sailor hooked me aboard off the gang, his hand beneath my elbow as my case caught in the door. His grin had all the swarthy impertinence of an Eastern bazaar – though he did grip a bruise I didn’t know I had. (In the mirror, it’s a whopper – I swear it’s the same shape as Stevenson’s Treasure Island).

Now, I have a plate of cucumber sandwiches in my cabin, and Darjeeling tea, and a darling view out of the porthole. I’m sure I shall be compelled to socialise, later. It’s so exciting – the Cotopaxi is so huge, so luxurious. Whom shall I meet? This cruise will be such an adventure! I’m so glad you gave it to me, Maud. You know me best, and I needed to get away.