When Captain Lionel March, a young rising British officer, boards the ship which is to bring him to both his new post in India and to Isabel, a British girl whose status regarding Lionel is not explicitly clarified, he is shocked to find himself having to share his cabin with the half-caste Moraes - because of the shape of his head, called Cocoanut - whom he had known as a child, and who had helped him at Tilbury to get a cabin aboard the ship, which is full to capacity. Since “his colour-prejudices [...are] tribal rather than personal, and only work[...] when an observer [...is] present”, Lionel does not protest, and the first half hour together goes most pleasantly. They exchange reminiscences of their childhood travel, on the other boat, from India to Europe more than ten years ago, but when Lionel springs up to his berth, sits on its edge and starts swinging his legs, a hand touched them and moves along them towards their junction. Bewildered, Lionel flees the scene but calms down after a while, and both men re-establish propriety by restraint and mutual tact. When the ship enters the Mediterranean, resistance weakens under the “balmier sky” and Lionel permits slight familiarity with his person.
That night champagne appeared in the cabin, and he was seduced. He never could resist champagne. Curse, oh curse! How on earth had it happened? Never again. More happened off the coast of Sicily, more, much more at Port Said, and here in the Red Sea they slept together as a matter of course.
The night of their most intense experience so far, Cocoanut believes that he can win Lionel entirely. They talk about Lionel's desert war experience; his mother, who was abandoned by his father back in India; about his sister Olive and about his baby brother, who had died of influenza two weeks after they had arrived in England from their journey on the other boat, and whose death his mother suppressed by blaming Cocoanut. When they are about to sleep, Lionel realizes that all the time they were loving each other, the door was not locked. Thinking about what could have happened to him and his career he is completely unhinged, and the romantic atmosphere is ruined, Cocoa's calculated wish does not come true. Lionel goes to the deck to smoke. There he talks to Colonel Arbuthnot, one of the British passengers who sleep on deck, to be reminded of his social status. He returns to his cabin to inform Cocoanut that he will no longer share accommodation with him.
If only it wasn't so difficult to be kind! But his talk with the Colonel and his communion with the Mater prevented it. He must keep with his own people, or he would perish. He added, “Sorry to have to say all this.”
The words fell quietly after his brassiness and vulgarity and he could not answer them. The face was close to his now, the body curved away seductively into darkness.
“Noah? No? Then I kiss you.” And he lowered his mouth on to the muscular forearm and bit it.
Lionel yelped with the pain.
“Bloody bitch, wait till I ...” Blood oozed between the gold-bright hairs. “You wait ...” And the scar in his groin reopened. The cabin vanished. He was back in the desert fighting savages. One of them asked for mercy, stumbled, and found none.
The sweet act of vengeance followed, sweeter than ever for both of them, and as ecstasy hardened into agony his hands twisted the throat. Neither of them knew when the end came, and he when he realized it felt no sadness, no remorse. It was part of a curve that had long been declining, and had nothing to do with death. He covered again with his warmth and kissed the closed eyelids tenderly and spread the bright-coloured scarf. Then he burst out of the stupid cabin on to the deck, and naked and with the seeds of love on him he dived into the sea.
There is an appalling scandal aboard about that British officer committing suicide after having murdered a half-caste. Mrs. March, Lionel's mother, is informed and receives, furthermore, a letter which Lionel had not wanted to be posted, in which he declares to have met Cocoanut. After that, his mother will never mention his name again. (h.z.)