out of shoes and into slippers. I doubted that most of the assembled would remember to give and to take with both hands, and I could not imagine any of them would replace their handkerchiefs with slips of Japanese tissue; however, the salon was packed to the windows with the eagerly attentive on the days given over to those two all-important questions the young men had first requested: communal bathing, and what a geisha was for.
But all that came later.
Colombo marked the beginning of the greater voyage. The temporary residents of the Thomas Carlyle disembarked, with new passengers bound for Manila, Hong Kong, Kobe, and beyond. Seating at dinner and on thedecks was re-shuffled, groups re-formed, conversations were repeated, new friendships begun. And old friendships re-kindled.
In the salon that night before dinner, amidst a mixture of evening wear (the continuing passengers) and not (the freshly boarded and therefore un-ironed), all eyes surveyed the room for the new and interesting. Having lost the professor of botany, our table was so sparsely populated that we risked being assigned random passengers by the purser. Rather than face that danger, Holmes and I were watching for one or two likely replacements. I had proposed an old lady with a wicked gleam to her eyes, a tall man with weathered skin and the scar of frostbite on one ear, and a duo of lesbians. Holmes had countered with a nervous-looking scientific woman with acid stains on her fingers, a too-smooth man with the manners of a gigolo, and two stocky individuals who could only be a criminal and his bodyguard.
Our debate over these options was interrupted by a loud drawl coming from the scrum behind me.
“By God, is that Pike-Elton? Monty, old man, what are you doing in these parts?”
Everyone there who was not completely deaf turned to watch Thomas Darley make his way to the entrance and exchange handshakes with a slim young fellow with sharp-looking teeth and sleek black hair.
“Tommy, my good chap, I could ask the same of you!”
The talk rose around us again as people turned back to their interrupted conversations. Holmes and I kept one eye on the pair now making their way towards the cluster of the viscount’s particular friends, which included, unlikely as that seemed, Haruki Sato.
(Our table picks, by the way, were Holmes’ nervous lady scientist and my mountain-climber. As it turned out, his was by far the more interesting choice—but there is a story for another time.)
After dinner Holmes and I divided forces: he to the smoking room where the men gathered over cards, and me to the cocktail lounge with the Young Things. I settled with my lurid drink into a seat between two middle-aged owners of Ceylonese tea plantations. They looked at me insurprise, but I gave them a bright and slightly tipsy smile and asked them how things were in Ceylon. That took care of conversation for the next half hour. I pretended to sip and feigned interest, but my ears and brain were entirely taken up with the conversation going on behind my shoulders.
“Sorry to see your time among the Babus has ruined your palate, old man.” Thomas Darley’s drawl, answered by Monty Pike-Elton’s nasal honk.
“What’s wrong with gin, you snob?”
“It does the job. But speaking of mothers, that new one you’ve picked up—good work, man!”
“What, the Pater’s wife? Not bad.”
“A toasty crumpet, my man. How’d the old codger—”
“Monty, for God’s sake, can’t you at least pretend at civilised manners?”
“Touchy, eh? When’d they get hitched?”
“Last summer. They’ve known each other for yonks—she was married to some bloke the Pater knew in the War. After Mamá died, he said the house felt empty, and when they came across each other at some tedious party, she was at something of a loose end as well. They hit it off.”
“So, what, this is their honeymoon?”
“More like a world tour. They both have old friends,