Pan Magazine, April 1921

Three Men and a Maid, by P. G. Wodehouse


Synopsis of Preceding Instalments

Wilhelmina Bennett, a charming red-haired girl otherwise known as “Billie,” had no fewer than three strings to her bow. First came Eustace Hignett, a sad-eyed poet, who, however, very quickly dropped out of the running, leaving Sam Marlowe, a lad of brawn and sinew, and Bream Mortimer, a parrot-faced youth, to cut out the pace in a neck-to-neck race for the prize of the fair Billie’s hand.
  By the accident of being pushed off the rail of the steamer in which the four were journeying from America to England, Sam Marlowe appeared in the rôle of hero. Billie was under the impression he had dived to the rescue of a boatman who happened to be struggling in the water at the time. On his subsequent rescue and return to the ship, Sam made use of the incident to press home his suit. From the jilted Eustace, who is suffering from mal-de-mer, and quite unconscious of the fact that Billie is travelling on the same ship, he elicits the fact that Billie is fond of dogs, golf and poetry, particularly Tennyson. By judicious flattery to these whims, Sam succeeds in cornering the market of Billie’s affections, while Bream Mortimer is relegated to the function of looking after Billie’s little dog, Pinky Boodles, carrying Billie’s travelling rug, and general factotum.


Chapter IV

It was the fourth morning of the voyage. Of course, when this story is done in the movies they won’t be satisfied with a bald statement like that; they will have a Spoken Title or a Cut-Back Sub-Caption or whatever they call the thing in the low dens where motion-picture scenario-lizards do their dark work, which will run:—


And the males in the audience will shift their chewing-gum to the other cheek and take a firmer grip of their companion’s hands, and the man at the piano will play “Everybody wants a key to my cellar,” or something equally appropriate, very soulfully and slowly, with a wistful eye on the half-smoked cigarette which he has parked on the lowest octave and intends finishing as soon as the picture is over. But I prefer the plain, frank statement that it was the fourth day of the voyage. That is my story, and I mean to stick to it.

Samuel Marlowe, muffled in a bath-robe, came back to the state-room from his tub. His manner had the offensive jauntiness of the man who has had a cold bath when he might just as easily have had a hot one. He looked out of the porthole at the shimmering sea. He felt strong and happy and exuberant.

It was not merely the spiritual pride, induced by a cold bath that was uplifting this young man. The fact was that, as he towelled his glowing back, he had suddenly come to the decision that this very day he would propose to Wilhelmina Bennett. Yes, he would put his fortune to the test to win or lose it all. True, he had only known her for four days, but what of that?

It was, as he had said, a glorious morning. The sample which he had had through the porthole had not prepared him for the magic of it. The ship swam in a vast bowl of the purest blue on an azure carpet flecked with silver. It was a morning which impelled a man to great deeds, a morning which shouted to him to chuck his chest out and be romantic. The sight of Billie Bennett, trim and gleaming in a pale green sweater and a white skirt, had the effect of causing Marlowe to alter the programme which he had sketched out. Proposing to this girl was not a thing to be put off till after lunch. It was a thing to be done now and at once. The finest efforts of the finest cooks in the world could not put him in better form than he felt at present.

“Good morning, Miss Bennett.”

“Good morning, Mr. Marlowe.”

“Isn’t it a perfect day?”


“It makes all the difference on board ship if the weather is fine.”

“Yes, doesn’t it?”

How strange it is that the great emotional scenes of history, one of which is coming along almost immediately, always begin in this prosaic way. Shakespeare tries to conceal the fact, but there can be little doubt that Romeo and Juliet edged into their balcony scene with a few remarks on the pleasantness of the morning.

“Shall we walk round?” said Billie.

Sam glanced about him. It was the time of day when the promenade deck was always full. Passengers in cocoons of rugs lay on chairs, waiting in a dull trance till the steward should arrive with the eleven o’clock soup. Others more energetic strode up and down. From the point of view of a man who wished to reveal his most sacred feelings to a beautiful girl, the place was practically Fifth Avenue and Forty Second Street.

“It’s so crowded,” he said. “Let’s go on to the upper deck.”

“All right.”

They threaded their way through a maze of boats, ropes, and curious-shaped steel structures which the architect of the ship seemed to have tacked on at the last moment in a spirit of sheer exuberance. Above them towered one of the funnels, before them a long, slender mast.

“This is jolly,” he said sitting down beside the girl and drawing a deep breath of satisfaction.

“Yes, I love this deck. It’s so peaceful.”

“It’s the only part of the ship where you can be reasonably sure of not meeting stout men in flannels and nautical caps. An ocean voyage always makes me wish that I had a private yacht.”

“It would be nice.”

“A private yacht,” repeated Sam, sliding a trifle closer. “We would sail about, visiting desert islands which lie like jewels in the heart of tropic seas.”


“Most certainly we. It wouldn’t be any fun if you were not there.”

“That’s very complimentary.”

“Well, it wouldn’t. I’m not fond of girls as a rule. . . .”

“Oh, aren’t you?”

“No!” said Sam decidedly. It was a point which he wished to make clear at the outset. “Not at all fond. My friends have often remarked upon it. A palmist once told me that I had one of those rare spiritual natures which cannot be satisfied with substitutes but must seek and seek till they find their soul-mate. When other men all round me were frittering away their emotions in idle flirtations which did not touch their deeper natures, I was . . . I was . . . well, I wasn’t, if you see what I mean.”

“Oh, you wasn’t . . weren’t——?”

“No. Some day I knew I should meet the only girl I could possibly love, and then I would pour out upon her the stored-up devotion of a lifetime, lay an unblemished heart at her feet, fold her in my arms and say, ‘At last!’ ”

“How jolly for her. Like having a circus all to oneself.”

“Well, yes,” said Sam after a momentary pause.

“When I was a child I always thought that that would be the most wonderful thing in the world.”

“The most wonderful thing in the world is love, a pure and consuming love, a love which . . . .”

“Oh, hello!” said a voice.

All through this scene, right from the very beginning of it, Sam had not been able to rid himself of a feeling that there was something missing. The time and the place and the girl—they were all present and correct; nevertheless there was something missing, some familiar object which seemed to leave a gap. He now perceived that what had caused the feeling was the complete absence of Bream Mortimer. He was absent no longer. He was standing in front of them on one leg, his head lowered as if he were waiting for someone to scratch it. Sam’s primary impulse was to offer him a nut.

“Oh, hello, Bream!” said Billie.

“Hullo!” said Sam.

“Hello!” said Bream Mortimer. “Here you are!”

There was a pause.

“I thought you might be here,” said Bream.

“Yes, here we are,” said Billie.

“Yes, we’re here,” said Sam.

There was another pause.

“Mind if I join you?” said Bream.

“N-no,” said Billie.

“N-no,” said Sam.

“No,” said Billie again. “No . . . that is to say . . . oh, no, not at all.”

There was a third pause.

“On second thoughts,” said Bream, “I believe I’ll take a stroll on the promenade deck if you don’t mind.”

They said they did not mind. Bream Mortimer, having bumped his head twice against overhanging steel ropes, melted away.

“Who is that fellow?” demanded Sam wrathfully.

“He’s the son of father’s best friend.”

Sam started. Somehow this girl had always been so individual to him that he had never thought of her having a father.

“We have known each other all our lives,” continued Billie. “Father thinks a tremendous lot of Bream.”

“I think of him as little as I can.”

“I suppose it was because Bream was sailing by her that father insisted on my coming over on this boat. I’m in disgrace, you know. I was cabled for and had to sail at a few days’ notice. I——

“Oh, hello!”

“Why, Bream!” said Billie, looking at him as he stood on the old spot in the same familiar attitude with rather less affection than the son of her father’s best friend might have expected. “I thought you said you were going down to the promenade deck.”

“I did go down to the promenade deck. And I’d hardly got there when a fellow who’s getting up the ships’ concert to-morrow night nobbled me to do something for it. I said I could only do conjuring tricks and juggling and so on, and he said all right, do conjuring tricks and juggling, then. He wanted to know if I knew anyone else who would help. I came up to ask you,” he said to Sam, “if you would do something.”

“No,” said Sam. “I won’t.”

“He’s got a man who’s going to lecture on deep-sea fish, and a couple of women who both want to sing ‘The Rosary’; but he’s still an act or two short. Sure you won’t rally round?”

“Quite sure.”

“Oh, all right.” Bream Mortimer hovered wistfully above them. “It’s a great morning, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Sam.

“Oh, Bream!” said Billie.


“Do be a pet and go and talk to Jane Hubbard. I’m sure she must be feeling lonely. I left her all by herself down on the next deck.”

A look of alarm spread itself over Bream’s face.

“Jane Hubbard? Oh, say, have a heart!”

“She’s a very nice girl.”

“She’s so darned dynamic. She looks at you as if you were a giraffe or something, and she would like to take a pot at you with a rifle.”

“Nonsense! Run along. Get her to tell you some of her big-game hunting experiences. They are most interesting.”

Bream drifted sadly away.

“I don’t blame Miss Hubbard,” said Sam.

“What do you mean?”

“Looking at him as if she wanted to pot at him with a rifle. I should like to do it myself. What were you saying when he came up?”

“Oh, don’t let’s talk about me. Read me some Tennyson.”

Sam opened the book very willingly. Infernal Bream Mortimer had absolutely shot to pieces the spell which had begun to fall on them at the beginning of their conversation. Only by reading poetry, it seemed to him, could it be recovered. And when he saw the passage at which the volume had opened he realised that his luck was in. Good old Tennyson! He was all right. He had the stuff. You could send him to hit in a pinch every time with the comfortable knowledge that he would not strike out. He cleared his throat.

“Oh let the solid ground
 Not fail beneath my feet
Before my life has found
 What some have found so sweet.
Then let come what come may,
 What matter if I go mad,
I shall have had my day.
Let the sweet heavens endure,
 Not close and darken above me
Before I am quite, quite sure
 That there is one to love me.

This was absolutely topping. It was like diving off a spring-board. He could see the girl sitting with a soft smile on her face, her eyes, big and dreamy, gazing out over the sun-lit sea. He laid down the book and took her hand.

“There is something,” he began in a low voice, “which I have been trying to say ever since we met, something which I think you must have read in my eyes.”

Her head was bent. She did not withdraw her hand.

“Until this voyage began,” he went on, “I did not know what life meant. And then I saw you! It was like the gate of heaven opening. You’re the dearest girl I ever met, and you can bet I’ll never forget . . .” He stopped. “I’m not trying to make it rhyme,” he said apologetically. “Billie, don’t think me silly . . . I mean . . . if you had the merest notion, dearest . . . I don’t know what’s the matter with me. . . Billie, darling, you are the only girl in the world! I have been looking for you for years and years, and I have found you at last, my soul-mate. Surely this does not come as a surprise to you? That is, I mean, you must have seen that I’ve been keen. . . . There’s that damned Walt Mason stuff again!” His eyes fell on the volume beside him; and he uttered an exclamation of enlightenment. “It’s those poems!” he cried. “I’ve been boning them up to such an extent that they’ve got me doing it, too. What I’m trying to say is: Will you marry me?”

She was drooping towards him. Her face was very sweet and tender, her eyes misty. He slid an arm about her waist. She raised her lips to his.

Suddenly she drew herself away, a cloud on her face.

“Darling,” she said, “I’ve a confession to make.”

“A confession? You? Nonsense!”

“I can’t get rid of a horrible thought. I was wondering if this will last.”

“Our love? Don’t be afraid that it will fade . . . I mean . . . why, it’s so vast, it’s bound to last . . . that is to say, of course it will.”

She traced a pattern on the deck with her shoe.

“I’m afraid of myself. You see, once before—and it was not so very long ago—I thought I had met my ideal, but . . .”

Sam laughed heartily.

“Are you worrying about that absurd business of poor old Eustace Hignett?”

She started violently.

“You know!”

“Of course! He told me himself.”

“Do you know him? Where did you meet him?”

“I’ve known him all my life. He’s my cousin. As a matter of fact we are sharing a state-room on board now.”

“Eustace is on board! Oh, this is awful! What shall I do when I meet him?”

“Oh, pass it off with a light laugh and a genial quip. Just say: ‘Oh, here you are!’ or something. You know the sort of thing.”

“I see what you mean. He really wasn’t my ideal.”

“Not by a mile!”

She mused, her chin in her hand.

“Of course, he was quite a dear in a lot of ways.”

“Oh, a splendid chap,” said Sam tolerantly.

“Have you ever heard him sing? I think what first attracted me to him was his beautiful voice. He really sings extraordinarily well.”

A slight but definite spasm of jealousy afflicted Sam. He had no objection to praising poor old Eustace within decent limits, but the conversation seemed to him to be confining itself too exclusively to one subject.

“Yes!” he said. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard him sing. Not lately. He does drawing-room ballads and all that sort of thing still, I suppose?”

“Have you ever heard him sing ‘My love is like a glowing tulip that in an old-world garden grows’?”

“I have not had that advantage,” replied Sam stiffly. “But anyone can sing a drawing-room ballad. Now something funny, something that will make people laugh, something that really needs putting across . . . that’s a different thing altogether.”

“Do you sing that sort of thing?”

“People have been good enough to say——

“Then,” said Billie decidedly, “you must certainly do something at the ship’s concert to-morrow! The idea of your trying to hide your light under a bushel! I will tell Bream to count on you. He is an excellent accompanist. He can accompany you.”

“Yes, but . . . well, I don’t know,” said Sam doubtfully. He could not help remembering that the last time he had sung in public had been at a house-supper at school, seven years before, and that on that occasion somebody whom it was a lasting grief to him that he had been unable to identify had thrown a pat of butter at him.

“Of course you must sing,” said Billie. “I’ll tell Bream when I go down to lunch. What will you sing?”


“Well, I’m sure it will be wonderful, whatever it is. You are so wonderful in every way. You remind me of one of the heroes of old!”

Sam’s discomposure vanished. In the first place, this was much more the sort of conversation which he felt the situation indicated. In the second place, he had remembered that there was no need for him to sing at all. He could do that imitation of Frank Tinney which had been such a hit at the Trinity smoker. He was on safe ground there. He knew he was good. He clasped the girl to him and kissed her sixteen times.

Suddenly, as he released her, the cloud came back into her face.

“My angel,” he asked solicitously, “what’s the matter?”

“I was thinking of father,” she said.

The glowing splendour of the morning took on a touch of chill for Sam.

“Father!” he said thoughtfully. “Yes, I see what you mean! He will think that we have been a little precipitate, eh? He will require a little time in order to learn to love me, you think?”

“He is sure to be pretty angry at first,” agreed Billie. “You see, I know he has always hoped that I would marry Bream.”

“Bream! Bream Mortimer! What a silly thing to hope!”

“Well, you see, I told you that Mr. Mortimer was father’s best friend. They are both over in England now, and are trying to get a house in the country for the summer which we can all share. I rather think that the idea is to bring me and Bream closer together.”

“How the deuce could that fellow be brought any closer to you? He’s like a burr as it is.”

“Well, that was the idea, I’m sure. Of course, I could never look at Bream now.”

“I hate looking at him myself,” said Sam feelingly.

A group of afflicted persons, bent upon playing with long sticks and bits of wood, now invaded the upper deck. Their weak-minded cries filled the air. Sam and the girl rose.

“Touching on your father once more,” he said as they made their way below, “is he a very formidable sort of man?”

“He can be a dear. But he’s rather quick-tempered. You must be very ingratiating.”

“I will practise it in front of the glass every morning for the rest of the voyage,” said Sam.

He went down to the state-room in a mixed mood of elation and apprehension. He was engaged to the most wonderful girl in the world, but over the horizon loomed the menacing figure of Father. He wished he could induce Billie to allow him to waive the formality of thawing Father. Eustace Hignett had apparently been able to do so. But that experience had presumably engendered a certain caution in her. The Hignett fiasco had spoiled her for runaway marriages. Well, if it had to be done, it must be done, and that was all there was to it.

Billie Bennett stood in front of the mirror in her state-room dreamily brushing the glorious red hair that fell in a tumbled mass about her shoulders. On the lounge beside her, swathed in a businesslike grey kimono, Jane Hubbard watched her, smoking a cigarette.

Jane Hubbard was a splendid specimen of bronzed, strapping womanhood. Her whole appearance spoke of the open air and the great wide spaces and all that sort of thing. She was a thoroughly wholesome, manly girl, about the same age as Billie, with a strong chin and had an eye that looked leopards squarely in the face and caused them to withdraw abashed into the undergrowth, or wherever it is that leopards withdraw when abashed. One could not picture Jane Hubbard flirting lightly at garden parties, but one could picture her very readily arguing with a mutinous native bearer, or with a firm touch putting sweetness and light into the soul of a refractory mule. Boadicea in her girlhood must have been rather like Jane Hubbard.

She smoked contentedly. She had rolled her cigarette herself with one hand, a feat beyond the powers of all but the very greatest. She was pleasantly tired after walking eighty-five times round the promenade deck. Soon she would go to bed and fall asleep the moment her head touched the pillow. But meanwhile she lingered here, for she felt that Billie had something to confide in her.

“Jane,” said Billie, “have you ever been in love?”

Jane Hubbard knocked the ash off her cigarette.

“Not since I was eleven,” she said in her deep musical voice. “He was my music-master. He was forty-seven and completely bald, but there was an appealing weakness in him which won my heart. He was afraid of cats, I remember.”

Billie gathered her hair into a molten bundle and let it run through her fingers.

“Oh, Jane!” she exclaimed. “Surely you don’t like weak men.”

“It depends what you mean by weak. I should not like a man with a feeble character, but physical fragility appeals to me. I hate strong men; they’re so conceited.”

Oh, I like a man who is strong and brave and wonderful.”

“I can’t stand brave men; it makes them so independent. I could only love a man who would depend on me in everything. Sometimes, when I have been roughing it out in the jungle,” she went on rather wistfully, “without a man within a thousand miles except native bearers, who, after all, are only a higher order of ape, I have had my dreams of some gentle, clinging man who would put his hand in mine and tell me all his poor little troubles and let me pet and comfort him and bring the smiles back to his face.”

“How horrid!”

“Not to me. I’ve spent all my life with the sort of men you admire, all of them so strong and brave that they gave me a pain in the neck. I want some timid little man whom I could protect from the rough world. I’m beginning to want to settle down. After all, there are other things for a woman to do in this life besides travelling and big game hunting. I should like to go into Parliament. And, if I did that, I should practically have to marry. I mean, I should have to have a man to look after the social end of life and arrange parties and receptions and so on, and sit ornamentally at the head of my table. I can’t imagine anything jollier than marriage in circumstances like that. I would nurse him when he was tired or sick, and, when I came back a bit done up after a long sitting at the House, he would mix me a whisky-and-soda, and read poetry to me or prattle about all the things he had been doing during the day. . . Why, it would be ideal!”

Jane Hubbard gave a little sigh. Her fine eyes gazed dreamily at a smoke ring which she had sent floating towards the ceiling.

“Oh, Jane! See, I’m in love.”

“I had an idea you were,” said her friend, looking at her critically. “You’ve been refusing your oats the last few days, and that’s a sure sign. Is he that fellow that’s always around with you who looks like a parrot?”

“Bream Mortimer? Good gracious no!” cried Billie indignantly. “As if I should fall in love with Bream!”

“When I was out in British East Africa,” said Miss Hubbard, “I had a bird that was the living image of Bream Mortimer. I taught him to whistle ‘Annie Laurie’ and to ask for his supper in three native dialects. Eventually he died of the pip, poor fellow. Well, if it isn’t Bream Mortimer, who is it?”

“His name is Marlowe. He’s tall and handsome and very strong-looking. He reminds me of a Greek god.”

“Ugh!” said Miss Hubbard.

“Well, he does.”

“I had a bearer in Somaliland who looked like a Greek god. He stole my second-best gun.”

“Jane, we’re engaged.”

“No!” said the huntress really interested. “When can I meet him?”

“I’ll introduce you to-morrow. I’m so happy. He’s wonderful, Jane. He reminds me of a knight of the Round Table. You ought to see his eyes flash.”

Miss Hubbard got up and stretched herself with a yawn.

“Well, I’ll be on the promenade deck after breakfast to-morrow. If you can arrange to have him flash his eyes then—say between nine-thirty and ten—I shall be delighted to watch them.”


Chapter V

“Good God!” cried Eustace Hignett.

He stared at the figure which loomed above him in the fading light which came through the porthole of the state-room. The hour was seven-thirty and he had just woken from a troubled doze, full of strange nightmares, and for the moment he thought that he must still be dreaming, for the figure before him could have walked straight into any nightmare and no questions asked. Then suddenly he became aware that it was his cousin, Samuel Marlowe. As in the historic case of father in the pigstye, he could tell him by his hat. But why was he looking like that? Was it simply some trick of the uncertain light, or was his face really black and had his mouth suddenly grown to six times its normal size and become a vivid crimson?

Sam turned. He had been looking at himself in the mirror with a satisfaction which, to the casual observer, his appearance would not have seemed to justify. Hignett had not been suffering from a delusion. His cousin’s face was black; and, even as he turned, he gave it a dab with a piece of burnt cork and made it blacker.

“Hullo! You awake?” he said and switched on the light.

Eustace Hignett shied like a startled horse. His friend’s profile, seen dimly, had been disconcerting enough. Full face, he was a revolting object. Nothing that Eustace Hignett had encountered in his recent dreams—and they had included such unusual fauna as elephants in top hats and running shorts—had affected him so profoundly. Sam’s appearance smote him like a blow. It seemed to take him straight into a different and dreadful world.

“What . . . what . . . what . . . ?” he gurgled.

Sam squinted at himself in the glass and added a touch of black to his nose.

“How do I look?”

Eustace Hignett began to fear that his cousin’s reason must have become unseated. He could not conceive of any really sane man, looking like that, being anxious to be told how he looked.

“Are my lips red enough? It’s for the ship’s concert, you know. It starts in half an hour, though I believe I’m not on till the second part. Speaking as a friend, would you put a touch more black round the ears, or are they all right?”

Curiosity replaced apprehension in Hignett’s mind.

“What on earth are you doing performing at the ship’s concert?”

“Oh, they roped me in. It got about somehow that I was a valuable man and they wouldn’t take no.” Sam deepened the colour of his ears. “As a matter of fact,” he said casually, “my fiancée made rather a point of my doing something.”

A sharp yelp from the lower berth proclaimed the fact that the significance of the remark had not been lost on Eustace.

“Your fiancée?”

“The girl I’m engaged to. Didn’t I tell you about that? Yes, I’m engaged.”

Eustace sighed heavily.

“I feared the worst. Tell me, who is she?”

“Didn’t I tell you her name?”


“Curious! I must have forgotten.” He hummed an airy strain as he blackened the tip of his nose. “It’s rather a curious coincidence, really. Her name is Bennett.”

“She may be a relation.”

“That’s true. Of course, girls do have relations.”

“What is her first name?”

“That is another rather remarkable thing. It’s Wilhelmina.”


“Of course, there must be hundreds of girls in the world called Wilhelmina Bennett, but still it is a coincidence.”

“What colour is her hair?” demanded Eustace Hignett in a hollow voice. “Her hair! What colour is it?”

“Her hair? Now, let me see. You ask me what colour is her hair. Well, you might call it auburn . . . or russet . . . or you might call it Titian . . .”

“Never mind what I might call it. Is it red?”

“Red? Why, yes. That is a very good description of it. Now that you put it to me like that, it is red.”

“Has she a trick of grabbing at you suddenly, when she gets excited, like a kitten with a ball of wool?”

“Yes. Yes, she has.”

Eustace Hignett uttered a sharp cry.

“Sam,” he said, “can you bear a shock?”

“I’ll have a dash at it.”

“Brace up!”

“I’m ready.”

“The girl you are engaged to is the same girl who promised to marry me.”

“Well, well!” said Sam.

There was a silence.

“Awfully sorry, of course, and all that,” said Sam.

“Don’t apologise to me!” said Eustace. “My poor old chap, my only feeling towards you is one of the purest and profoundest pity.” He reached out and pressed Sam’s hand. “I regard you as a toad beneath the harrow!”

“Well, I suppose that’s one way of offering congratulations and cheery good wishes.”

“And on top of that,” went on Eustace, deeply moved, “you have got to sing at the ship’s concert.”

“Why shouldn’t I sing at the ship’s concert?”

“My dear old man you have many worthy qualities, but you must know that you can’t sing. You can’t sing for nuts!”

“I’m not going to sing. I’m going to do that imitation of Frank Tinney which I did at the Trinity Smoker. You haven’t forgotten that? You were at the piano taking the part of the conductor of the orchestra. What a riot I was—we were! I say, old man, I suppose you don’t feel well enough to take your old part?”

“The only piano I will ever sit at will be one firmly fixed on a floor that does not heave and wobble under me.”

“Nonsense! The boat’s as steady as a rock. The sea’s like a mill-pond.”

“Nevertheless, thanking you for your suggestion, no!”

“Oh, well, then I shall have to get on as best I can with that fellow Mortimer. We’ve been rehearsing all the afternoon and he seems to have the hang of the thing. But he won’t be really right. He has no pep, no vim. Still, if you won’t—well, I think I’ll be getting along to his state-room. I told him I would look in for a last rehearsal.”

The door closed behind Sam, and Eustace Hignett, lying on his back, gave himself up to melancholy meditation. He was deeply disturbed by his cousin’s sad story. He knew what it meant being engaged to Wilhelmina Bennett. It was like being taken aloft in a balloon and dropped with a thud on the rocks.

His reflections were broken by the abrupt opening of the door. Marlowe rushed in. Eustace peered anxiously out of his berth. There was too much cork on his cousin’s face to allow of any real registering of emotion, but he could tell from his manner that all was not well.

“What’s the matter?”

Sam sank down on the lounge.

“The bounder has quit!”

“The bounder? What bounder?”

“There is only one! Bream Mortimer, curse him! There may be others whom thoughtless critics rank as bounders, but he is the only man really deserving of the title. He refuses to appear! He has walked out of the act! He has left me flat! I went into his state-room just now, as arranged, and the man was lying on his bunk, groaning.”

“I thought you said the sea was like a mill-pond.”

“It wasn’t that! He’s perfectly fit. But it seems that the silly ass took it into his head to propose to Billie just before dinner—apparently he’s loved her for years in a silent, self-effacing way—and, of course, she told him that she was engaged to me, and the thing upset him to such an extent that he says the idea of sitting down at a piano and helping me give an imitation of Frank Tinney revolts him. He says he intends to spend the evening in bed, reading Schopenhauer. I hope it chokes him.”

“But this is splendid! This lets you out!”

“What do you mean? Lets me out?”

“Why, now you won’t be able to appear. Oh, you will be thankful for this in years to come.”

“Won’t I appear! Won’t I dashed well appear! Do you think I’m going to disappoint that dear girl when she is relying on me? I would rather die!”

“But you can’t appear without a pianist.”

“I’ve got a pianist.”

“You have?”

“Yes. A little undersized shrimp of a fellow with a green face and ears like water-wings.”

“I don’t think I know him.”

“Yes, you do. He’s you!”


“Yes, you. You are going to sit at the piano to-night.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it’s impossible.”

“You must!”

“I won’t.”

“Well, you soon will, and I’ll tell you why. If you don’t get up out of that damned berth you’ve been roosting in all your life, I’m going to ring for J. B. Midgeley, and I’m going to tell him to bring me a bit of dinner in here, and I’m going to eat it before your eyes.”

“But you’ve had dinner.”

“Well, I’ll have another. I feel just ready for a nice fat pork chop——

“Stop! Stop!”

“A nice fat pork chop with potatoes and lots of cabbage,” repeated Sam firmly. “And I shall eat it here on this very lounge. Now how do we go?”

“You wouldn’t do that!” said Eustace piteously.

“I would and will.”

“But I shouldn’t be any good at the piano. I’ve forgotten how the thing used to go.”

“You haven’t done anything of the kind. I come in and say ‘Hullo, Ernest!’ and you say ‘Hullo, Frank!’ and then you help me tell the story about the Pullman car. A child could do your part of it.”

“Perhaps there is some child on board . . .”

“No! I want you. I shall feel safe with you. We’ve done it together before.”

“But honestly. I really don’t think—it isn’t as if——

Sam rose and extended a finger towards the bell.

“Stop! Stop!” cried Eustace Hignett. “I’ll do it!” Sam withdrew his finger.

“Good!” he said. “We’ve just got time for a rehearsal while you’re dressing. ‘Hullo, Ernest!’ ”

“Hullo, Frank,” said Eustace Hignett brokenly as he searched for his unfamiliar trousers.


Chapter VI

Ships’ concerts are given in aid of the Seamen’s Orphans and Widows, and, after one has been present at a few of them, one seems to feel that any right-thinking orphan or widow would rather jog along and take a chance of starvation than be the innocent cause of such things. They open with a long speech from the master of the ceremonies—so long, as a rule, that it is only the thought of what is going to happen afterwards that enables the audience to bear it with fortitude. This done, the amateur talent is unleashed, and the grim work begins.

It was not till after the all too brief intermission for rest and recuperation that the newly formed team of Marlowe and Hignett was scheduled to appear. Previous to this there had been dark deeds done in the quiet saloon. The lecturer on deep-sea fish had fulfilled his threat and spoken at great length on a subject which, treated by a master of oratory, would have palled on the audience after ten or fifteen minutes; and at the end of fifteen minutes this speaker had only just got past the haddocks and was feeling his way tentatively through the shrimps. “The Rosary” had been sung and there was an uneasy doubt as to whether it was not going to be sung again after the interval—the latest rumour being that the second of the rival lady singers had proved adamant to all appeals and intended to fight the thing out on the lines she had originally chosen if they put her in irons.

A young man had recited “Gunga Din” and, wilfully misinterpreting the gratitude of the audience that it was over for a desire for more, had followed it with “Fuzzy-Wuzzy.” His sister—these things run in families—had sung “My Little Grey Home in the West”—rather sombrely, for she had wanted to sing “The Rosary,” and, with the same obtuseness which characterised her brother, had come back and rendered two plantation songs.

The audience was now examining its programmes in the interval of silence in order to ascertain the duration of the sentence still remaining unexpired.

It was shocked to read the following:—

  7. A little Imitation. S. Marlowe.

All over the saloon you could see fair women and brave men wilting in their seats. Imitation . . . ! The word, as Keats would have said, was like a knell! Many of these people were old travellers and their minds went back wincingly, as one recalls forgotten wounds, to occasions when performers at ships’ concerts had imitated whole strings of Dickens’ characters or, with the assistance of a few hats and a little false hair, had endeavoured to portray Napoleon, Bismarck, Shakespeare, and other of the famous dead.

There was a sinking of hearts as Eustace Hignett moved down the room and took his place at the piano. A pianist! They stared at Hignett apprehensively. There seemed to them something ominous in the man’s very aspect. His face was very pale and set, the face of one approaching a task at which his humanity shudders. They could not know that the pallor of Eustace Hignett was due entirely to the slight tremor which, even on the calmest nights, the engines of an ocean liner produce in the flooring of a dining-saloon and to that faint, yet well-defined, smell of cooked meats which clings to a room where a great many people have recently been eating a great many meals. A few beads of cold perspiration were clinging to Eustace Hignett’s brow. He looked straight before him with unseeing eyes. He was thinking hard of the Sahara.

So tense was Eustace’s concentration, that he did not see Billie Bennett seated in the front row. Billie had watched him enter with a little thrill of embarrassment. She wished that she had been content with one of the seats at the back. But Jane Hubbard had insisted on the front row. She always had a front-row seat at witch dances in Africa, and the thing had become a habit.

In order to avoid recognition for as long as possible, Billie now put up her fan and turned to Jane. She was surprised to see that her friend was staring eagerly before her with a fixity almost equal to that of Eustace. Under her breath she muttered an exclamation of surprise in one of the lesser-known dialects of Northern Nigeria.

“Billie!” she whispered sharply.

“What is the matter, Jane?”

“Who is that man at the piano? Do you know him?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” said Billie. “His name is Hignett. Why?”

“It’s a man I met on the subway once.” She breathed a sigh. “Poor little fellow, how miserable he looks!”

At this moment their conversation was interrupted. Eustace Hignett, pulling himself together with a painful effort, raised his hands and struck a crashing chord, and, as he did so, there appeared through the door at the far end of the saloon a figure at the sight of which the entire audience started convulsively with the feeling that a worse thing had befallen them than even they had looked for.

The figure was richly clad in some scarlet material. Its face was a grisly black, and below the nose appeared what seemed a horrible gash. It advanced towards them, smoking a cigar.

“Hullo, Ernest,” it said.

And then it seemed to pause expectantly as though desiring some reply. Dead silence reigned in the saloon.

“Hullo, Ernest!”

Those nearest the piano—and nobody more quickly than Jane Hubbard—now observed that the white face of the man on the stool had grown whiter still. His eyes gazed out glassily from under his damp brow. He looked like a man who was seeing some ghastly sight. The audience sympathised with him. They felt like that, too.

In all human plans there is ever some slight hitch, some little miscalculation which just makes all the difference. A moment’s thought should have told Eustace Hignett that a half-smoked cigar was one of the essential properties to any imitation of the eminent Mr. Tinney; but he had completely overlooked the fact. The cigar came as an absolute surprise to him, and it could not have affected him more powerfully if it had been a voice from the tomb. He stared at it pallidly, like Macbeth at the ghost of Banquo. It was a strong, lively young cigar, and its curling smoke played lightly about his nostrils. His jaw fell. His eyes protruded. He looked for a long moment like one of those deep-sea fishes concerning which the recent lecturer had spoken so searchingly. Then, with the cry of a stricken animal, he bounded from his seat and fled for the deck.

There was a rustle of millinery at Billie’s side as Jane Hubbard rose and followed him. Jane was deeply stirred. Even as he sat, looking so pale and piteous, at the piano, her big heart had gone out to him, and now, in his moment of anguish, he seemed to bring to the surface everything that was best and manliest in her nature. Thrusting aside with one sweep of her powerful arm a steward who happened to be between her and the door, she raced in pursuit.

Sam Marlowe had watched his cousin’s dash for the open with a consternation so complete that his senses seemed to have left him. A general, deserted by his men on some stricken field, might have felt something akin to his emotion. Of all the learned professions, the imitation of Mr. Frank Tinney is the one which can least easily be carried through single-handed. The man at the piano, the leader of the orchestra, is essential. He is the life-blood of the entertainment. Without him nothing can be done.

For an instant Sam stood there, gaping blankly. Then the open door of the saloon seemed to beckon an invitation. He made for it, reached it, passed through it. That concluded his efforts in aid of the Seamen’s Orphans and Widows.

The spell which had lain on the audience broke. This imitation seemed to them to possess in an extraordinary measure the one quality which renders amateur imitations tolerable, that of brevity. They had seen many amateur imitations, but never one as short as this. The saloon echoed with their applause.

It brought no balm to Samuel Marlowe. He did not hear it. He had fled for refuge to his state-room and was lying in the lower berth, chewing the pillow, a soul in torment.


Chapter VII

There was a tap at the door. Sam sat up dizzily. He had lost all count of time.

“Who’s that?”

“I have a note for you, sir.”

It was the level voice of J. B. Midgeley, the steward. The stewards of the White Star Line, besides being the civillest and most obliging body of men in the world, all have soft and pleasant voices. A White Star steward waking you up at six-thirty to tell you that your bath is ready, when you wanted to sleep on till twelve, is the nearest human approach to the nightingale.

“A what?”

“A note, sir.”

Sam jumped up and switched on the light. He went to the door and took the note from J. B. Midgeley, who, his mission accomplished, retired in an orderly manner down the passage. Sam looked at the letter with a thrill. He had never seen the handwriting before, but, with the eye of love, he recognised it. It was just the sort of hand he would have expected Billie to write, round and smooth and flowing, the writing of a warm-hearted girl. He tore open the envelope.

“Please come up to the top deck. I want to speak to you.”

(To be continued)



Text printed in green above is also present in US editions, but is missing from the UK version The Girl on the Boat.
Text printed in purple above is also present in UK editions, but is missing from the US version Three Men and a Maid.
Text printed in blue above is only present in this Pan serialization.
In general, only phrases of a few words or more are thus marked; simple word substitutions are not usually shown by colors here, and there is no attempt to present text that appears in one or both book versions which does not appear in this serial.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine omitted period after "He cleared his throat."
Magazine had "I hate strong men they’re so conceited."; semicolon inserted for grammar
Magazine had “reminds me of a Greek-god.”; semicolon removed as in book edition
Magazine had "perfectle fit"; corrected to "perfectly fit"
Magazine had "to Billiy just"; corrected to "to Billie just"
Magazine had "Nothern Nigeria"; corrected to "Northern Nigeria"
Magazine had "be bounded"; corrected to "he bounded"