A black dot in the blue Pacific vastness. Horizon far, tiny. Insignificant against the wave-tossing line which divided azure sky from ultramarine sea. Easily overlooked by eyes made unexpectant by long days of sameness and monotony, of empty ocean and uneventful passage.
That it was seen at all by a keen-eyed seaman against all the odds can be put down to pure chance, to a quirk of fate, to the kindly intervention of a benign God, or to the fiendish machinations of the Devil, according to one's own personal inclination. In view of what was subsequently to happen due to the sighting, perhaps the last of these choices is the most appropriate. T
he big motor yacht swept in a graceful curve from her previous ruler-straight course and, turbines keening, hurled herself like a white and gold arrow towards the distant object. As the intervening space rapidly diminished it became clear even to those watching with the naked eye that their target was a boat, a ship's lifeboat. Alone and abandoned in this timeless waste of dancing waters. Mute testimony to what consuming tragedy? Captain Harry Little lowered the telescope and picked up the golden telephone by his elbow.
'Sir?' he said, 'it seems empty, but we should make sure He listened for a moment then went on: 'No sir.' he said, 'five days ago, the last storm in roughly this area. Remember we got the tail end of it? And that was nasty enough ... one ship reported missing ... the, ah, Krakatoa ... yes sir, but that was a hundred miles north of here ... Vary good, sir ... Of course, sir.'
He replaced the receiver and took up the glass once more. The crew members crowding the rail of the yacht fell silent as, screws churning the water in a boil of aquamarine and white lace, the engines went into reverse and slowed the hurtling Moonglow.
Krakatoa. They could all see the name in black letters on the scarred stern of the lifeboat now and they felt chilled in the hot sun, presented starkly with the tangible manifestation of the nameless fear which lurks deep in the subconscious of all seafarers.
'There's someone! There, in the bottom! No, look! Two! Two of them!' The Moonglow eased alongside, towering over the battered boat.
'Girls! They're two girls!' T
They looked like discarded shop mannequins, lying there in the bottom of the lifeboat, huddled together in the bilge water which washed around them in the gentle rocking motion. Their bare limbs ravaged by sunburn, salt encrusted hair tangled in a common mass of blonde and red-gold. Ominously still.
A boat hook drew the derelict alongside the lowered ship's ladder. Eager hands grasped the gunwale and held her close and bodies stood aside to let the yacht's doctor step down. Breaths held as he bent, touched one, then the other.
'Both alive!' His glance upward to his Captain showed relief struggling through professional competence 'You men, take them up. Careful now!' Calloused hands, gentle as a mother's, grasped tender young limbs and lifted, eased the sagging dead weight of young bodies upward.
The girls were, or had been, dressed only in nighties which, with the ravages of wind and water, were reduced to mere rags. One young seaman, passing the first girl upward, found himself with his nose almost touching the salt- streaked red-gold hairs of a glorious little pubic bush. Gallantly and most uncharacteristically, he drew the tattered rags of a white nightie over the wonderful sight before passing the girl on.
In the owner's suite, the man who had been watching silently through the drawn curtains of an open porthole stepped away from the window and picked up a gold telephone.
'Captain,' he said. 'Sink it. That's right, 1 said sink it.' By the time the Moonglow was under way again the life- boat, the last mute evidence of the ill-fated Krakatoa had already vanished beneath the bright swirling water and was sinking down, down, down to the inky, bone-crushing depths inhabited only by sightless sea-slugs and the wraiths of drowned seafarers.
It was two days before the first of the two girls appeared on deck. Shy, unsteady on her feet, shepherded solicitously by the dapper little doctor, she was helped to a deck chair on the awning-shaded deck. And there she sat for half an hour, grateful as a little puppy for any attention she received, nodding and smiling at any member of the crew who happened to come past (and somehow or other most of them seemed to find some excuse to do so). Murmuring 'Thank you, oh thank you ever so much' to each, many times over. She was the redhead. Startlingly beautiful even with her face burned raw by the sun, young, not more than eighteen. The young seaman who had so gallantly covered her nakedness before eyed her blanket-shrouded figure and began to regret his pity-inspired courtliness.
In the afternoon she came on deck again and was joined by her fellow survivor. The blonde girl was even shakier and still seemed dazed by her ordeal, but she too made pathetic attempt to show her gratitude to her rescuers. When the girls vanished below again the deck seemed less bright somehow.
The night before the yacht was due to make landfall the doctor, Grant Oakley, pronounced the resilient young things fit enough to have dinner in the saloon with the owner, the Captain and one or two others. The girls were delighted. Already their young bodies were almost recovered from their ordeal and they were consumed with curiosity as to the mysterious owner, whom so far, alone of all on board, they had not yet met and thanked. They prepared themselves as best they could and presented themselves al the table at the prescribed hour, attended as always by Dr. Oakley.
Unfortunately, they were the only females on board at this time, so they were rather strangely garbed. The sea-chest of the young seaman had been rather extensively raided and he was at this moment having lascivious thoughts about just what gorgeous pieces of anatomy were making intimate contact with various items of his clothing. Like his powder blue or red underpants, for instance. The young man became quite tumescent actually, and before the evening was out had to make use of his sea-wife several times, despite the fact that his Mum had warned him often that it would make hair grow on his palms and people would laugh at him.
The redhead was wearing a dark blue chunky knit sweater, dark blue canvas trousers held up by a broad leather belt in which an extra hole had been punched and blue flip-flops on her pretty little bare feet. Her dark red hair, gleaming richly in the bright saloon lights, hung in thick swathes around her beautiful young face. She was entrancing, despite the peeling skin, the aftermath of excessive sunburn in the open boat. Her huge, candid eyes were a deep blue, almost violet in colour, fringed with long, thick lashes. Her nose: perfection. Her tender young lips full, mobile, with a hint of unawakened sensuality.
The blonde was, if anything, younger, perhaps only just eighteen. She wore a thin scarlet sweatshirt which bulged alarmingly where it had never bulged before. That she was without benefit of bra was gloriously evident in the tremble of firm, full flesh under the thin material and the peaked eruptions where rigid, cloth-teased nipples thrust saucily outward. A pair of white shorts strained to contain a mouthwateringly mobile bottom which jostled busily to her pert walk. Her long blonde hair was tied back in a pony-tail with a scarlet ribbon which she had obtained from somewhere. Her face too was beautiful, high cheek-boned, with remarkable slanted green eyes.
The men, already seated around the dinner table when they entered, stood to attention immediately, scrambling awkwardly to their feet as the doctor escorted the girls to their waiting seats.
'Good, good,' said Grant Oakley. 'You know everyone here, I think. Mr. Kingdon will be in directly.'
The girls greeted their fellow diners, then sat themselves down in the seats held solicitously by helpful men. They were on either side of a vacant chair which awaited their host at the head of the table, with Captain Little at the other end and the other places occupied by the doctor, the Chief Engineer, First Mate and Radio Operator.
Hardly had everyone seated themselves when they rose 10 again to greet the arrival of the owner. The girls rose also and turned to see for the first time their chief benefactor.
Charles Kingdon was a cripple. He hobbled into the room with the aid of two thick sticks dragging a monstrously twisted right foot behind him. His legs, even the good one, were short and thin, hardly more than useless appendages, and as a result he was barely on an eye level with the redhead, who was a fraction over 5-ft. 6-in. in height. His upper body though was long and powerful, broad shouldered and deep chested and his arms were tremendously developed. He didn't glance at the assembled company, concentrating instead on propelling himself doggedly towards his seat. Only when he was safely installed, with the canes resting against the arms of his chair, did he look up.
'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,' he said in a deep cultured voice. 'Please be seated, if you will.'
The others returned his greeting respectfully and the men began to resume their places. The girls however remained standing and he glanced at them enquiringly.
'Ladies?' he said politely.
'Mr ... Mr. Kingdon,' said the redhead, 'I ... we ... that is Wanda and I ... we want to thank you for saving our lives. We can't begin to tell you how grateful we are for your goodness and kindness to us, but we do so want you to know we ... we're awfully thankful. But for you and your wonderful men we wouldn't be alive today, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Isn't that so, Wanda?'
'Oh yes,' breathed the blonde girl. 'We ... we love you, Mr. Kingdon, and ... and ... oh!'
Impulsively she threw her arms round the surprised man's neck and planted a big kiss on his cheek. "Thank you,' she said breathlessly. "You're lovely!'
When she released him the redhead stepped forward and kissed him also, shyly but sincerely. Charles Kingdon leaned back in his seat and beamed.
Well, now, ladies,' he said, 'you may say that you can't begin to tell how grateful you are, but you couldn't have done it more beautifully. Away now, my dears. Sit yourselves down. You've thanked me more than adequately!' He waved them to their seats and unfolded his napkin. 'I appreciate your thanks, my dears,' he said kindly, 'and I accept it wholeheartedly both for myself and the whole of my crew. But I thank God that we were in a position to help and that we saw you in time. The fact that you are both alive and, doctor tells me, recovering splendidly from your ordeal, that alone is reward enough for the little we did.' He beamed at them and they could have sworn that there was a moistness to his eyes. Their hearts swelled anew with gratitude. He was a lovely man, so kindly. Not handsome, his face was too rugged for that, but genuinely good. Middle-aged, with a lined, long-jawed face and deeply tanned. A shock of thick, iron-grey hair. Deep-set, twinkling brown eyes. A really good man, they thought again.
'Now then, he said, as the stewards hovered with menus, perhaps you may feel up to telling us something more about yourselves than we know already? If it won't distress you too much, that is?'
'No, of course not,' said the redhead. 'Well, as you know, I'm Sherry Winslow and my friend is Wanda Adams
The girls' fathers were in the Diplomatic Corps and had met when both had been appointed to the same embassy some years before. They had struck up a friendship which had lasted through several separate postings and eventually they had found themselves Consuls in adjoining island territories. Both were widowers and their respective daughters had undergone a varied educational life as they moved from one part of the world to another. For the past two years, though, they had gone to the same school in Australia, returning at vacation time to share joint holidays with one or the other parent. They had been with Wanda's father first on this occasion, then spent the remaining weeks with Mr. Winslow before embarking on the Krakatoa on her last fatal voyage, en route to Australia.
When Sherry began to tell of the storm and the final moments of the liner her distress was so obvious that the doctor intervened. The events were too recent, too horrifying to relate at this stage, he said. 'Yes, of course, Grant,' said Kingdon, 'I don't wish to upset the ladies, but there is one thing I must know. For my report, you understand. How did you come to be the only two people in the lifeboat?"
It was painful to tell, but Sherry forced herself. The Captain had delayed too long in giving the order to abandon ship and when he finally did so there was panic. Passengers and crew fought each other to grab places, with the inevitable result. One after the other the boats, unsupervised and ill handled, plunged from their derricks and cap- sized, or stove themselves in against the steel hull. Sherry and Wanda, unable to compete in the melee, huddled together on the sloping deck until the very last moment, then when all seemed lost, a chance wave had brought an empty lifeboat, damaged but miraculously still afloat, sweeping past the spot where they clung. The deck rail was then only feet above the water and they hurled themselves into the speeding boat. Luckily the wave swirled them away from the ship and moments later, while they baled frantically, they saw the Krakatoa roll over and sink.
'There were no other survivors,' sobbed Wanda. 'I'm sure of that. The storm died away by morning and we looked all round, but there was nothing. Only crates and wreckage and ... and bodies!'
'And we round that we'd lost most of our stores when the boat had been damaged. We had nothing to eat for three days and wed used the last of the water the night before you found us,' finished Sherry.
'You are very lucky young girls,' said Kingdon. 'Thank you for telling me. Now to more pleasant matters. Tomorrow evening we arrive at Malevola, my own private island. I look forward to having you as guests until such time as arrangements can be made to return you to your parents.'
'Oh, lovely,' said Wanda, perking up. 'What's it like, your island? You must be very rich. Are you?'
'Wanda!' said Sherry, shocked.
'I don't mind,' laughed Kingdon. 'Yes, I suppose I am. I never really thought much about it. Now let's see if I can describe my island to you ...
Much later when the girls were safely tucked up in bed, Kingdon and Doctor Oakley sat talking.
'Yes, it's perfect,' said Kingdon, swirling brandy in the balloon glass. 'Couldn't be better.'
Oakley smiled across at him. 'Could be,' he said softly, 'could be ... and is!'
'What do you mean, Grant?' queried the owner with a quick frown.
'There's something I haven't told you till now,' said the doctor. 'I wanted to surprise you.' He sipped his brandy, drawing the moment out, until his employer's impatience showed in a deepening frown. 'The little one, the blonde, Wanda,' he said. 'She's a virgin.'
'What! Really? I find that hard to believe. She's what?'
'Eighteen And she's still a virgin.'
'Incredible. Still, you know your business. If you say she's a virgin I believe you. Pity the other one isn't, though. What a catch that would be!'
'She is,' murmured Oakley.
'Eighteen years one month and two days old and she's virgo intacta,' stated the doctor.
'Glory be,' exulted Kingdon. 'The Lord be praised. Here, do you think they're lesbians?'
'Who cares?' shrugged Oakley, 'as long as it doesn't show in the market place!'