Romance Ashore is worth recording. It was published by Modern Fiction Ltd., measures about 5×7 inches, side-stapled twice, registered by Whitaker’s as appearing July 1945, and runs from pages 1 and just barely trips over into concluding on page 32. The cover art is clearly the work of H. W. Perl, and signed as such lower left, but not signed in Perl’s usual block-letter fashion. The author is given as Eugene Glen, one of many aliases used by Frank Dubrez Fawcett, the man behind the numerous gangster novels under the popular alias: Ben Sarto.
There are no ads, no copyright notices, no blurb. The interior front and rear covers are blank; the rear is blank. In fact, that is a lot of wasted space. The publisher could have listed all the books they had published to date. But they didn’t.
One further title would appear under the Eugene Glen alias: Passion Adrift (likewise appearing July 1945). As the British Library has noted, when the war ended, they finally began to record hundreds of stock-piled wartime publications, often months, even years, after they had initially debuted. There is a good chance that this was published 1943-1944, especially based on the artist’s signature. I own an original Perl, and it signed and dated 1943. Romance Ashore takes place a short while after the conclusion of the North African campaign, which was May 1943, which is another reason I’m sure this item appeared prior.
The opening lines of the novelette is depicted on the front cover. A young man climbing the stairwell of a tenement building notices a door ajar; and, inside that room?
The vision was one of a young girl seated on a chair, elbows on the ledge, gazing out of the window to where the tall masts and funnels of the newly berthed liner dwarfed the houses in between. Never had Victor Brunt seen such dazzling, youthful beauty. Her delicate profile disclosed an attractively retroussé nose, shapely lips parted, revealing a dazzle of small, white teeth, rounded pink cheeks of rosebud bloom and naturally wavy hair creaming back from her temples like waves from the bows of a ship. Her attitude, leaning forward as she was, displayed a lovely full bosom. Her short frock, crumpled over the thighs, showed adorable plump knees. Altogether, though quite evidently in her teens, this girl displayed all the charms of mature womanhood, yet cast in the most delicate mould.
Victor, given shore-leave, is there to visit his shipmate’s sister, and perhaps, his future wife. But the vision within that room has captured his imagination. Who is she? Why is the photo on the floor? Why does she gaze upon the berthed ships? Is she spoken for?
Dragging himself away from making a fool of himself, he ascends to the next landing and while interacting with his friend’s sister, she confides to him she deplores the women that sell themselves to the seamen, and that one lives directly below her. What, the teen-aged beauty?!?!? Victor can hardly believe his ears.
Attending the local dance, he is distracted when the young lady crosses his path and appears to meet his eyes; a mute communication is loudly spoken between each other. Or so he wishes to believe. Surely she is neither a siren of the sea, nor a whore upon the seashore!
They finally dance together and the event is pure intoxication for Victor. His infatuation becomes love and he finds himself face-to-face with one of her recent male conquests, a seafaring brute by the name of Peter. The two fight outside in the torchlight (flashlights) when about 50 are obtained to form a circle. But when air raid sirens sound, the fight is aborted and everyone seeks the bomb shelters.
Nazis begin bombing the seaport town. Victor escorts the young lady, whose name is given as Adora, to a shelter. After the surrounding buildings are bombed and the planes depart, Victor assists in digging out the wounded and dying. Later, meeting one another again, his clothes are a wreck and his face darkly smudged. The following description proves modernly to be a low point in the story’s arc, but is in keeping with the times:
She looked at him, at first with overwhelming relief at his safety, then with her characteristic teasing look. “You look exactly like a nigger, with the whites of your eyes showing like that.” Then she broke into a silvery laugh. “What a mess your uniform is, Vicky. Will you be called over the coals by the old man?”
She invites him up to her flat to clean off the mess, and he stretched himself luxuriously in the pink enamelled (sic) bath, fragrant with scented crystals.
After some casual chit-chat, Victor professes his love for her, but is jealous of the men who have come before him, and may yet come after him, when he must leave the port and perhaps not return for months or more. Who else will she see? What of all the photographed men upon her wall, with inscriptions of their love for her? And the numerous love letters? Unable to restrain himself, he forces himself free and makes to escape, but Adora has other ideas.
He heard the soft swish of her silken dressing-gown…he spun on his heel and saw her standing before him, the discarded dressing-gown lying in a colourful heap on the carpet. The vision that met his eyes made him draw in his breath sharply. The full perfection of her form stood revealed in all its irresistible allure. Her dimpled shoulders, shapely arms and beautifully moulded legs would have inspired any artist to attempt their portrayal. Her skin reminded Victor of pink-and-white rose petals, so exquisite was its colouring and texture. Her firm, high breasts, rose-tipped, showed distractingly beneath a wispy brassiere of peach silk. Her rounded thighs merged their fullness in close-fitting panties, also in peach silk. As she stood there, with the silken folds of the dressing-gown at her feet, like symbolic waves, she might have posed for Psyche leaving her bath, Venus emerging from the sea, or a youthful Aurora springing like dawn from a rising sun.
It’s hard to believe that this could have come from Frank Dubrez Fawcett, author of countless gangster-crime novels. And yet, the cleanly presented sexual prose almost leaves me wondering why I haven’t ever revisited a Ben Sarto novel. Did I miss something?
The next chapter has Victor waking up, briefly confused, in a single bed, with a very cute Adora snuggling next to him. He wastes little time in reassessing his position, his seaward departure, and again, all those damnable photos upon the walls. How can he compete? Will his departure from port avail her of an open revolving door for other lonely men? He speaks his bitter thoughts and she assumes a strong position, speaking her mind firmly and ousting him from her life for his thoughts and jealousy.
Staggering out the door, he is shamefacedly met by his mate’s sister and future wife. She’s mortified to see him come out of the harlot’s room; he’s mortified to be seen, and one further revelation:
“By George!” he said to himself, though the very thought made him go hot and cold by turns. “I never left any money on Adora’s mantelpiece!”
This is the first clear reference to the fact that Adora may be a paid-woman, but Duprez adroitly dances around UK censors by avoiding such terminology, glorified sex, and other censor hot-buttons.
Back aboard ship, Victor overhears another seaman discussing the peach-ashore by name of Adora. He’s overwrought by emotions, kicks himself for a fool. She clearly has plenty of men in her web. He entreats his shipmate friend to write a letter to his own sister to pave the way for him to re-enter her life and clarify that nothing actually happened between he and Adora. The letter concisely notes that after the air raid he was invited to her quarters to clean up and no extracurricular activity occurred. Victor is convinced this white lie will put him in the clear.
Returning ashore, he sneaks up past Adora’s floor and knocking at his old flame’s door (Violet) she opens up and permits him to explain himself. Victor professes his undying love and affection only for Violet, proposes marriage, she gets all hot and excited and makes out with him in a way that bothers him inwardly. Sure, she feels all the wonderful, heated emotions for him now, but what about later? Will it fizzle? Or will he always see Adora before his eyes and his love for her ruin his future relations with Violet?
Taking her out to the local dance, he’s shaken to see Adora dancing with another man, and she coolly does not appear to notice him. Victor and Violet sit out the next dance, and while drinking at the table, Victor overhears an older couple mention Adora by name and her wondrous virtues.
The older man states: “…I fear most of her pen-friends will fall in love with her when they meet her face to face. A bit risky for her, I mean.”
Oblivious of the table-talk, Violet comments: “I do hope the North African business will make the Nazis surrender. The war can’t last so very long now. But, Victor, you’re not listening!”
He’s not, and she soon learns he is eavesdropping on the elderly couple, so she now takes notice of the conversation, and the elder lady replies: “…She told me that she could always tell by the way the boys wrote to her whether they were likely to become uncomfortably amorous. Then she uses a big-sister technique that freezes them cold and, certainly, the offenders never get a chance of taking her out after that…” and in regard to money-raisers, she “sings, arranges dances, suggests games and competitions…[Adora] collected more than twice as much money as any of the others. It swelled…the Fund enormously!”
Violet has heard enough and pulls one of her I’ve-got-a-headache routines to excuse them from the affair. Demanding she be taken home, Victor does. Violet not only knows she is beat, but she has also entirely misjudged Adora.
Having brought Violet home, she releases Victor from his marital proposal and any future obligations. To add insult to her injured feelings, they overhear a violent cry for help downstairs. Peter is mauling Adora for playing with him.
Victor charges down the steps and delivers two crushing blows. Peter collapses, but, remarkably, instead of running into his arms, Adora is more concerned for Peter’s well-being. She insists he is really a good man, just drunk, and insists Victor assist him. Playing the gentlemanly role, Victor drags Peter from semi-consciousness to full cognition and Peter is now a cool gentleman himself, even going so far as to thank Victor for knocking sense into him! Peter departs and Victor is drawn into Adora’s room…
…and Violet, on the floor above, having watched the whole tableau unfold, tragically sobs: “Good-bye, romance. Good-bye Victor. Why did God allow us to meet?”
Now I have to locate a copy of Passion Adrift, to see if it holds a candle to this little romantic jewel.