For Your Eyes Only Page 13


He said carefully: “This man - I'll call him Masters, Philip Masters - was almost a contemporary of mine in the Service. I was a year ahead of him. He went to Fettes and took a scholarship for Oxford - the name of the college doesn't matter - and then he applied for the Colonial Service. He wasn't a particularly clever chap, but he was hard working and capable and the sort of man who makes a good solid impression on interview boards. They took him into the Service. His first post was Nigeria. He did well in it. He liked the natives and he got on well with them. He was a man of liberal ideas and while he didn't actually fraternize, which,” the Governor smiled sourly, “would have got him into trouble with his superiors in those days, he was lenient and humane towards the Nigerians. It came as quite a surprise to them.” The Governor paused and took a pull at his cigar. The ash was about to fall and he bent carefully over towards the drink tray and let the ash hiss into his coffee cup. He sat back and for the first time looked across at Bond. He said: “I daresay the affection this young man had for the natives took the place of the affection young men of that age in other walks of life have for the opposite sex. Unfortunately Philip Masters was a shy and rather uncouth young man who had never had any kind of success in that direction. When he hadn't been working to pass his various exams he had played hockey for his college and rowed in the third eight. In the holidays he had stayed with an aunt in Wales and climbed with the local mountaineering club. His parents, by the way, had separated when he was at his public school and, though he was an only child, had not bothered with him once he was safe at Oxford with his scholarship and a small allowance to see him through. So he had very little time for girls and very little to recommend him to those he did come across. His emotional life ran along the frustrated and unhealthy lines that were part of our inheritance from our Victorian grandfathers. Knowing how it was with him, I am therefore suggesting that his friendly relations with the coloured people of Nigeria were what is known as a compensation seized on by a basically warm and full-blooded nature that had been starved of affection and now found it in their simple kindly natures.”

Bond interrupted the rather solemn narrative “The only trouble with beautiful Negresses is that they don't know anything about birth control. I hope he managed to stay out of that sort of trouble.”

The Governor held up his hand. His voice held an undertone of distaste for Bond's earthiness “No, no. You misunderstand me. I am not talking about sex. It would never have occurred to this young man to have relations with a coloured girl. In fact he was sadly ignorant of sexual matters. Not a rare thing even today among young people in England, but very common in those days, and the cause, as I expect you will agree, of many - very many - disastrous marriages and other tragedies.” Bond nodded. “No. I am only explaining this young man at some length to show you that what was to come fell upon a frustrated young innocent with a warm but unawakened heart and body, and a social clumsiness which made him seek companionship and affection amongst the Negroes instead of in his own world. He was, in short, a sensitive misfit, physically uninteresting, but in all other respects healthy and able and a perfectly adequate citizen.”

Bond took a sip of his brandy and stretched out his legs. He was enjoying the story. The Governor was telling it in a rather elderly narrative style which gave it a ring of truth.

The Governor continued: “Young Master's service in Nigeria coincided with the first Labour Government. If you remember, one of the first things they got down to was a reform of the foreign services. Nigeria got a new Governor with advanced views on the native problem who was surprised and pleased to find that he had a junior member of his staff who was already, in his modest sphere, putting something like the Governor's own views into practice. He encouraged Philip Masters, gave him duties which were above his rank, and in due course, when Masters was due for a move, he wrote such a glowing report that Masters jumped a grade and was transferred to Bermuda as Assistant Secretary to Government.”

The Governor looked through his cigar smoke at Bond. He said apologetically: “I hope you aren't being too bored by all this. I shan't be long in coming to the point.”

“I'm very interested indeed. I think I've got a picture of the man. You must have known him well.”

The Governor hesitated. He said: “I got to know him still better in Bermuda. I was just his senior and he worked directly under me. However, we haven't quite got to Bermuda yet. It was the early days of the air services to Africa and, for one reason or another, Philip Masters decided to fly home to London and so have a longer home leave than if he had taken ship from Freetown. He went by train to Nairobi and caught the weekly service of Imperial Airways - the forerunner of BOAC. He had never flown before and he was interested but slightly nervous when they took off, after the air hostess, whom he noticed was very pretty, had given him a sweet to suck and shown him how to fasten his seat-belt. When the plane had levelled out and he found that flying seemed a more peaceful business than he had expected, the hostess came back down the almost empty plane. She smiled at him. 'You can undo the belt now.' When Masters fumbled with the buckle she leant down and undid it for him. It was an intimate little gesture. Masters had never been so close to a woman of about his own age in his life. He blushed and felt an extraordinary confusion. He thanked her. She smiled rather saucily at his embarrassment and sat on the arm of the empty seat across the aisle and asked him where he had come from and where he was going. He told her. In his turn, he asked her about the plane and how fast they were flying and where they would stop, and so forth. He found her very easy to talk to and almost dazzlingly pretty to look at. He was surprised at her easy way with him and her apparent interest in what he had to say about Africa. She seemed to think he led a far more exciting and glamorous life than, to his mind, he did. She made him feel important. When she went away to help the two stewards prepare lunch, he sat and thought about her and thrilled to his thoughts. When he tried to read he could not focus on the page. He had to be looking up the plane to catch a glimpse of her. Once she caught his gaze and gave him what seemed to him a secret smile. We are the only young people on the plane, it seemed to say. We understand each other. We're interested in the same sort of things.”

“Philip Masters gazed out of the window, seeing her in the sea of white clouds below. In his mind's eye he examined her minutely, marvelling at her perfection. She was small and trim with a milk-and-roses complexion and fair hair tied in a neat bun. (He particularly liked the bun. It suggested that she wasn't 'fast'.) She had cherry red smiling lips and blue eyes that sparkled with mischievous fun. Knowing Wales, he guessed that she had Welsh blood in her, and this was confirmed by her name, Rhoda Llewellyn, which, when he went to wash his hands before luncheon, he found printed at the bottom of the crew list above the magazine rack beside the lavatory door. He speculated deeply about her. She would be near him now for nearly two days, but how could he get to see her again? She must have hundreds of admirers. She might even be married. Did she fly all the time? How many days off did she get between trips? Would she laugh at him if he asked her out to dinner and a theatre? Might she even complain to the captain of the aircraft that one of the passengers was getting fresh? A sudden vision came to Masters of being turned off the plane at Aden, a complaint to the Colonial Office, his career ruined.”

“Luncheon came, and reassurance. When she fitted the little tray across his knees, her hair brushed his cheek. Masters felt that he had been touched by a live electric wire. She showed him how to deal with the complicated little cellophane packages, how to get the plastic lid off the salad dressing. She told him that the sweet was particularly good - a rich layer cake. In short she made a fuss of him, and Masters couldn't remember when it had ever happened before, even when his mother had looked after him as a child.”

“At the end of the trip, when the sweating Masters had screwed up his courage to ask her out to dinner, it was almost an anticlimax when she readily agreed. A month later she resigned from Imperial Airways and they were married. A month after that, Master's leave was up and they took ship for Bermuda.”

Bond said: “I fear the worst. She married him because his life sounded exciting and 'grand'. She liked the idea of being the belle of the tea parties at Government House. I suppose Masters had to murder her in the end?”

“No,” said the Governor mildly. “But I daresay you're right about why she married him, that and being tired of the grind and danger of flying. Perhaps she really meant to make a go of it, and certainly when the young couple arrived and settled into their bungalow on the outskirts of Hamilton we were all favourably impressed by her vivacity and her pretty face and by the way she made herself pleasant to everyone. And, of course, Masters was a changed man. Life had become a fairytale for him. Looking back, it was almost pitiful to watch him try to spruce himself up so that he could live up to her. He took trouble about his clothes, put some dreadful brilliantine on his hair and even grew a military-type moustache, presumably because she thought it looked distinguished. At the end of the day, he would hurry back to the bungalow, and it was always Rhoda this and Rhoda that and when do you think Lady Burford - who was the Governor's wife - is going to ask Rhoda to lunch?”

“But he worked hard and everyone liked the young couple, and things went along like a marriage bell for six months or so. Then, and now I'm only guessing, the occasional word began to drop like acid in the happy little bungalow. You can imagine the sort of thing: 'Why doesn't the Colonial Secretary's wife ever take me out shopping with her? How long must we wait before we can give another cocktail party? You know we can't afford to have a baby. When are you due for promotion? It's awfully dull here all day with nothing to do. You'll have to get the dinner tonight. I simply can't be bothered. You have such an interesting time. It's all right for you . . .' and so on and so forth. And of course, the cosseting quickly went by the board. Now it was Masters, and of course he was delighted to do it, who brought the air hostess breakfast in bed before he went off to work. It was Masters who tidied up the house when he came back in the evening and found cigarette ash and chocolate papers all over the place. It was Masters who had to give up smoking and his occasional drink to buy her new clothes so that she could live up to the other wives. Some of this showed, at any rate to me who knew Masters well in the Secretariat. The preoccupied frown, the occasional enigmatic, over-solicitous telephone call in office hours, the ten minutes stolen at the end of the day so that he could take Rhoda to the cinema, and, of course, the occasional half joking questions about marriage in general: What do other wives do all day long? Do most women find it a bit hot out here? I suppose women (he almost added 'God bless 'em') are much more easily upset than men. And so forth. The trouble, or at least most of it, was that Masters was besotted. She was his sun and his moon and if she was unhappy or restless it was all his fault. He cast about desperately for something that would occupy her and make her happy, and finally, of all things, he settled - or rather they settled together - on golf. Golf is very much the thing in Bermuda. There are several fine links - including the famous Mid-Ocean Club where all the quality play and get together at the club afterwards for gossip and drinks. It was just what she wanted - a smart occupation and high society. God knows how Masters saved up enough to join and buy her the clubs and the lessons and all the rest, but somehow he did it and it was a roaring success. She took to spending all day at the Mid-Ocean. She worked hard at her lessons and got a handicap and met people through the little competitions and the monthly medals, and in six months she was not only playing a respectable game but had become quite the darling of the men members. I wasn't surprised. I remember seeing her there from time to time, a delicious, sunburned little figure in the shortest of shorts with a white eyeshade with a green lining, and a trim compact swing that flattered her figure, and I can tell you,” the Governor twinkled briefly, “she was the prettiest thing I've ever seen on a golf course. Of course the next step didn't take long. There was a mixed-foursome competition. She was partnered with the oldest Tattersall boy - they're the leading Hamilton merchants and more or less the ruling clique in Bermudan society. He was a young hellion - handsome as be damned, a beautiful swimmer and a scratch golfer, with an open MG and a speedboat and all the trimmings. You know the type. Got all the girls he wanted, and, if they didn't sleep with him pretty quickly, they didn't get the rides in the MG or the Chriscraft or the evenings in the local night clubs. The couple won the competition after a hard fight in the final and Philip Masters was in the fashionable crowd round the eighteenth green to cheer them home. That was the last time he cheered for many a long day, perhaps for all his life. Almost at once she started 'going' with young Tattersall, and once started she went like the wind. And believe me, Mr Bond” - the Governor closed a fist and brought it softly down on the edge of the drinks table - “it was ghastly to see. She didn't make the smallest attempt to soften the blow or hide the affair in any way. She just took young Tattersall and hit Masters in the face with him, and went on hitting. She would come home at any hour of the night - she had insisted that Masters should move into the spare room, some pretext about it being too hot to sleep together - and if she ever tidied the house or cooked him a meal it was only makeshift and to keep up some kind of appearance. Of course, in a month, the whole thing was public property and poor Masters was wearing the biggest pair of horns that had ever been seen in the Colony. Lady Burford finally stepped m and gave Rhoda Masters a talking to - said she was ruining her husband's career and so forth But the trouble was that Lady Burford found Masters a pretty dull dog, and having perhaps had one or two escapades in her own youth - she was still a handsome woman with a twinkle in her eye - she was probably a bit too lenient with the girl. Of course Masters himself, as he was to tell me later, went through the usual dreary sequence - remonstrance, bitter quarrel, furious rage, violence (he told me he damned nearly throttled her one night) and, finally, icy withdrawal and sullen misery.” The Governor paused. “I don't know if you've ever seen a heart being broken, Mr Bond, broken slowly and deliberately. Well, that's what I saw happening to Philip Masters, and it was a dreadful thing to watch. There he had been, a man with Paradise in his face, and, within a year of his arrival in Bermuda, Hell was written all over it. Of course I did my best, we all did in one way or another, but once it had happened, on that eighteenth green at the Mid-Ocean, there was really nothing to do but try and pick up the bits. But Masters was like a wounded dog. He just drew away from us into a corner and snarled when anyone tried to come near him. I even went to the length of writing him one or two letters. He later told me he had torn them up without reading them. One day, several of us got together and asked him to a stag party in my bungalow. We tried to get him drunk. We got him drunk all right. The next thing that happened was a crash from the bathroom. Masters had tried to cut his wrists with my razor. That broke our nerve and I was deputed to go and see the Governor about the whole business. The Governor knew about it, of course, but had hoped he wouldn't have to interfere. Now the question was whether Masters could even stay on in the Service. His work had gone to pieces. His wife was a public scandal. He was a broken man. Could we stick the bits together again? The Governor was a fine man. Once action had been forced on him, he was determined to make a last effort to stave off the almost inevitable report to Whitehall which would finally smash what remained of Masters. And Providence stepped in to lend a hand. The very next day after my interview with the Governor, there was a dispatch from the Colonial Office saying there was to be a meeting in Washington to delineate off-shore fishing rights, and that Bermuda and the Bahamas had been invited to send representatives of their Governments. The Governor sent for Masters, spoke to him like a Dutch uncle, told him that he was being sent to Washington, and that he had better have his domestic affairs settled one way or the other in the next six months, and packed him off. Masters left in a week and sat in Washington talking fish for five months, and we all heaved a sigh of relief and cut Rhoda Masters whenever we could find an opportunity to do it.”

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