The Girl in the White Dress is one of the short stories out of which my semi auto- biographical novel Tales From The Sea evolved. The novel follows my adventures while I was a ships officer in the British Merchant Marine. In its pages the reader will meet the characters I sailed with, days and nights in port, the weather and over all the sea in all its moods.
I used to entertain my students when it was obvious that my lectures had become boring with stories of my time at sea. They told me that I ought to get them written down and published.
The girl in the white dress
The San Fortunato arrived in Balak Papan, Borneo, late one evening as the big red ball of the sun was setting into the dark green of the jungle. As soon as the ship docked, the agent boarded and informed the Chief Officer that the cargo would not be ready to load for two days.
The next morning while sitting my cabin entering safety information in the official log, the phone rang.
“ Good morning Third Mate,” It was the Captain sounding amused and unusually cheerful. “ Mr. Bolton, the Managing Director of Eastern Operations, is visiting the ship for lunch. He will be accompanied by his aide and his daughter. She has requested to be shown round the ship. As you are the youngest officer, you will be the ideal man for that job.”
“ Do I have to?” I asked. “ She will be impossible. Educated at some private boarding school. We will have nothing in common. Why not ask the second mate? He mixes with people like her all the time.”
The Captain laughed. “ This is an order, Third Mate, not a request. I have asked the chief officer to look after the ship while you are entertaining Mr. Bolton's daughter. Try not to upset her with too much of your social comment!”
As I put the phone down, I had a mental picture of the Captain chuckling to himself about how I would be uncomfortable showing this teenager round the ship. I sighed, anticipating the morning was not going to be much fun for me.
Later, a sailor opened my cabin door after knocking loudly. “ Third Mate. There are couple of official looking cars approaching the ship along the jetty. I think it would be a good idea if you were on deck to greet whoever is in those cars when they arrive.”
Standing at the top of the gangway a few minutes later, I watched curiously as two Mercedes cars approached the ship. They stopped at the bottom of the gangway. Three white shirted, dark trousered Indonesian men got out of the second car and adjusted their sun glasses. They spread out along the jetty facing away from the ship and the cars. Like the bosun who was standing by my side, I laughed out loud. It was straight out of one of those B gangster movie.
Once the bodyguards were in place, the doors of the lead black car opened and a man got out. He was tall with slicked back grey hair and glasses, dressed in an immaculately cut tropical suit and shiny shoes. As soon as he alighted from of the car, he placed a panama hat on his head. Trailing him, a younger man carrying a brief case and dressed in a short sleeved white shirt and white trousers. Finally, a girl followed.
From where I stood she looked about fourteen and my heart sank. Her brown hair glistened in the sunlight and like her father, she donned a hat as soon as she was out of the car. She wore a short white dress and white sandals. This was the girl I was going to have to show round the ship.
Mr. Bolton ignored the duty seaman and climbed onto the gangway unaided. The girl and the man with the briefcase followed. When they reached the deck where I was standing, Mr. Bolton nodded to me.
“ Show me the way to the Captain's cabin, Third Mate,” he ordered without so much as a good day. His accent was clipped.
The girl looked at me with large brown eyes. Close up, she was pretty with a good figure and was older than the fourteen I had first estimated. Her expression was that adopted by the local Lady of the Manor for one of the local peasants she happened to meet. The next few hours were not going to be pleasant, I concluded
“ This way, Sir,” I answered indicating the ladder leading to the accommodation deck. As he followed me, he was looking round the ship as though checking that all was in order. The girl looked straight ahead. The man with the briefcase trailed in their wake mopping his forehead with a white handkerchief.
After showing them to the Captain's cabin, I returned to the deck and walked round the ship. As everything was in order, I returned to my cabin and the safety log. I had not been there for long when the phone rang.
“ Come to my cabin and collect Mr. Bolton's daughter, Third mate.” It was the Captain and he still sounded amused.
I grunted into the phone but dutifully climb the ladder to his cabin. Deep within myself I was cursing the Captain. How was I going to show this apparently bored, spoiled girl around the ship without saying something out of place or upsetting her? I imagined the rest of the crew laughing behind my back at their egalitarian Third Mate looking after a girl from a very privileged background.
Mr. Bolton smiled when I entered the Captain's cabin. “ Lydia is ready to be shown round the ship. I will leave her in your capable hands.”
Lydia climbed to her feet, smoothed down her white, short dress and placed her sun glasses on her small nose. She was almost as tall as me.
I led the way out onto the boat deck and waited for her. The sun was high in the sky and the jungle looked particularly green across the river from the berth. Heat haze distorted the trees and the boats drifting with the current further down the river.
“ Well Miss Bolton,” I said smiling,” What would you like to see?”
She looked at me, though I could not read her expression with her eyes hidden by dark glasses.
“ If we are to spend the next hour in each others company, you had better call me Lydia,” she said without a flicker of emotion.
“ Eddie,” I replied.
She shrugged. “ Daddy said you would show me all over the ship. Lead on McDuff.”
Taking her instructions literally, I led on. Viciously ignoring her white dress and sandals, I started with the engine room. Well not exactly ignored the white dress but took a certain pleasure in the thought that she might learn what dirt was all about. She listened politely as the engineer told her about the boilers and the turbines. Followed me down to the propeller shaft and the steering engine room. Going back up on deck I climbed the ladder behind her. The dress was so short I had a good view of her sturdy legs and floral panties. Stop these lewd thoughts, I seemed to hear my mother saying.
Then to the galley to glimpse lunch being prepared and the dining room. Down the corridor to the games room. I followed this by walking along the deck to the focastle, the anchors and the chain locker. What amazed me was that despite my best efforts, when we emerged back on deck again, she appeared as clean as when we started.
Novel can be purchased from Amazon and www.createspace.com as a paperback. From Kindle and www.smashwords.com for downloading.