On the Beach

Nevil Shute

CHAPTER ONE

A New Appointment

Lieutenant-Commander Peter Holmes, of the Royal Australian Navy, woke early. He lay half-asleep for a time and watched the first light of the Australian sun on the window. The position of the sun showed that it was nearly five o'clock. Very soon, the light would wake his baby daughter, Jennifer. There was no need to get up until that happened.

He woke happy, and he was not sure why. Then he remembered the date. This was Thursday, 27th December. Today he had to go to the Navy Department in Melbourne. He had to be there at eleven o'clock and he was hoping to receive a new appointment. If he got it, it would be his first work for five months. He hoped that he would be sent to sea again. He liked the sea better than a job on land.

He was happy because he would have work to do. He had not had any work since the Navy made him a Lieutenant Commander. That was in August, and he had almost lost hope of working again. But the Navy Office had paid him during these months, and he was grateful for that.

His wife Mary woke and asked him the time. He kissed her and left the room to make some tea.

'It's a beautiful morning again,' he said when he came back.

'You're going to Melbourne today, aren't you?' she said. 'I think I'll stay at home. I can sit under the trees. It's going to be a hot day. Shall we meet this afternoon at the club? About four o'clock? We could have a swim there.'

They had a small car in the garage. Since the short war had ended, they had never used it. It had been in the garage for a year now. But Peter Holmes was a clever man with his hands. He had built a cart with two wheels that he pulled behind the car. Both

Mary and he had bicycles. He had fixed metal ties to the bicycles so that either he or she could use their bicycle to pull the cart. It could carry their daughter Jennifer or the shopping. Their main difficulty was the long hill up from Falmouth.

'A swim at the club isn't a bad idea,' he agreed. 'I'll take my bicycle and leave it at the station.'

'Yes. Take your bicycle. What train have you got to catch?'

'The five past nine.' He drank some tea and looked at his watch. 'I'll go and get the milk as soon as I've drunk this.'