Pan Magazine, June 1921

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


Synopsis of Preceding Instalments

  Wilhelmina Bennett, a charming red-haired girl known as “Billie,” played havoc with the affections of three men, Eustace Hignett, a sad-eyed poet, Sam Marlowe, a lad of brawn and sinew, and Bream Mortimer, a parrot-faced youth.
  Billie had a romantic nature which required the man she loved constantly to fulfil the rôle of dashing hero. Eustace Hignett was the first to fail in her standard of attainments. He had been engaged to be married to her, but made himself so ridiculous on the eve of the wedding that she broke off the engagement.
  All four happened to be travelling on the same steamer from New York to England. Sam and Bream alternately win Billie’s admiration, but Sam succeeds in ousting Bream and becomes engaged to her. Billie makes Sam promise to perform at the ship’s concert. He gets Eustace to accompany him in an imitation of Frank Tinney. Eustace most inopportunely is smitten with mal-de-mer and deserts Sam just as he is about to begin his performance. He makes a ridiculous disappearance after Eustace. Eustace wins the sympathy of Jane Hubbard, a big game huntress and a friend of Billie. Billie, however, is so annoyed at the incident that she breaks off her engagement to Sam.
  Sam Marlowe hopes never to see her again after the voyage, but unexpectedly she appears in his father’s house with her father, Mr. Bennett, Bream, and Mr. Mortimer, who is a lawyer and lifelong friend of Mr. Bennett.
  Sam sits next to her at dinner and adopts an air of studied politeness, while his father, Sir Mallaby Marlowe, is the life and soul of the party. Billie confides in Sam that she is engaged to be married to Bream Mortimer.


Sam didn’t care, of course. We, who have had the privilege of a glimpse into his iron soul, know that. He was not in the least upset by the news—just surprised. He happened to be raising his glass at the moment, and he registered a certain amount of restrained emotion by snapping the stem in half and shooting the contents over the table-cloth; but that was all.

“Good heavens, Sam!” ejaculated Sir Mallaby aghast. His wine-glasses were an old and valued set.

Sam blushed as red as the stain on the cloth.

“Awfully sorry, father! Don’t know how that happened.”

“Something must have given you a shock,” suggested Billie kindly.

“Not at all!” replied Sam, eyeing her stonily. “I was as happy as a . . .” He broke off, finding it hard to think of an apt comparison. So few things were really happy in this world.

The old retainer rallied round with napkins, and Sir Mallaby, who was just about to dismiss the affair with the polished ease of a good host, suddenly became aware of the activities of Bream. That young man, on whose dreamy calm the accident had made no impression whatever, had successfully established the equilibrium of a glass and a fork, and was now cautiously inserting beneath the latter a section of a roll, the whole forming a charming picture in still life.

“If that glass is in your way . . .” said Sir Mallaby as soon as he had hitched up his drooping jaw sufficiently to enable him to speak. He was beginning to feel that he would be lucky if he came out of this dinner-party with a mere remnant of his precious set.

“Oh, Sir Mallaby,” said Billie, casting an adoring glance at the juggler, “you needn’t be afraid that Bream will drop it. He isn’t clumsy! He is wonderful at that sort of thing, simply wonderful!”

His head swimming with this unaccustomed praise, Bream nearly belied her words. “Oh, I don’t know,” he murmured blushfully.

“A man wants to have a very steady hand to do that sort of thing,” said Mr. Bennett.

Sir Mallaby thought a man also wanted a rather less valuable wine-glass.

“And a steady hand,” went on Mr. Bennett oracularly, “means perfect health. I could never be a juggler. If I extend my hand—so—I experience a curious muscular twitching, due, I believe, to a weak heart. Doctors . . .”

“I think it’s so splendid,” said Billie, “when men can do things like that. I’m always trying to get Bream to do some of his tricks for people, but he’s so modest, he won’t.”

“Refreshingly different,” Sir Mallaby considered, “from the average drawing-room entertainer.”

“Yes,” said Billie emphatically, “I think the most terrible thing in the world is a man who tries to entertain when he can’t. Did I tell you about the man on board ship, father, at the ship’s concert? Oh, it was the most awful thing you ever saw. Everybody was talking about it!” She beamed round the table, and there was a note of fresh girlish gaiety in her voice. “This man got up to do an imitation of somebody—nobody knows to this day who it was meant to be—and he came into the saloon and directly he saw the audience he got stage fright. He just stood there gurgling and not saying a word, and then suddenly his nerve failed him altogether and he turned and tore out of the room like a rabbit. He absolutely ran! And he hadn’t said a word! It was the most ridiculous exhibition I’ve ever seen!”

The anecdote went well. Of course, there will always be a small minority in any audience which does not appreciate a funny story, and there was one in the present case. But the bulk of the company roared with laughter.

“Do you mean,” cried Sir Mallaby choking, “the poor idiot just stood there dumb?”

“Well, he made a sort of yammering noise,” said Billie, “but that only made him look sillier.”

Sam leaned across the table with a stern, set face. He meant to change the conversation if he had to do it with a crowbar.

“I hear you have taken a house in the country, Mr. Mortimer,” he said.

He could have chosen no better topic for his purpose. A mother will, if encouraged, say a few words on the subject of her first-born; and it is not hard to draw out a young poet concerning his latest work; but no mother and no poet could have responded more eagerly to invitation than did the Messrs. Bennett and Mortimer at this remark. For a few minutes there was a confused babble, as Mr. Mortimer, speaking of gabled roofs, competed for a hearing with Mr. Bennett, eloquent on the subject of velvety lawns: then the latter dropped out of the contest owing to a sudden choking fit induced by the endeavour to talk and drink burgundy at the same time. In the ensuing silence, Mr. Mortimer addressed Sir Marlowe.

“We have at last succeeded in persuading your sister, Mrs. Hignett, to let us rent her house for the summer.”

Sir Mallaby gasped.

“Windles! You don’t mean to tell me that my sister has let you have Windles!”

“I do,” admitted Mr. Mortimer. “I had completely resigned myself to the prospect of spending the summer in some other house, when yesterday I happened to run into your nephew, young Eustace Hignett, on the street, and he said he was just coming round to see me about that very thing. To cut a long story short, he said that it would be all right and that we could have the house. I was never so delighted in my life. I gave him a cheque then and there. Wrote it out in the middle of the sidewalk with my fountain pen! I was so scared of having the place slip through my fingers that I wouldn’t wait to mail it to him.” Mr. Mortimer took a sip of burgundy. “He’s a curious boy, young Hignett. Very nervous in his manner. He had quite a hunted look as he pocketed the cheque.”

Sir Mallaby breathed a long breath. “A miracle!” he pronounced. “Nothing more nor less than a miracle. I’ve known my sister a good many years, but I’ve never known her change her infernal obstinate mind before. That woman is a mule! I can’t understand the thing at all.”

“Is Windles a very lovely place, Sir Mallaby?” asked Billie.

“Charming. Quite charming. Not large, of course, as country houses go. Not a castle, I mean, with hundreds of acres of park land. But nice and compact and comfortable and very picturesque.”

“We do not require a large place,” said Mr. Mortimer. “We shall be quite a small party. Bennett and myself, Wilhelmina, Bream——

“Don’t forget,” said Billie, “that you have promised to invite Jane Hubbard down there.”

“Ah, yes. Wilhelmina’s friend, Miss Hubbard. She is coming. That will be all, except young Hignett himself.”

“Hignett!” cried Mr. Bennett.

“Mr. Hignett!” exclaimed Billie.

There was an almost imperceptible pause before Mr. Mortimer spoke again, and for an instant the demon of embarrassment hovered, unseen but present, above the dinner table. Mr. Bennett looked sternly at Billie: Billie turned a shade pinker and gazed at the table-cloth: Bream started nervously. Even Mr. Mortimer seemed robbed for a moment of his legal calm.

“I forgot to tell you that,” he said. “Yes, one of the stipulations—to which I personally was perfectly willing to agree—was that Eustace Hignett was to remain on the premises during our tenancy. Such a clause in the agreement was, I am quite aware, unusual, and, had the circumstances been other than they were, I would have had a good deal to say about it. But we wanted the place, and we couldn’t get it except by agreeing, so I agreed. I’m sure you will think that I acted rightly, Bennett, considering the peculiar circumstances.”

“Well,” said Mr. Bennett reluctantly, “I certainly did want that house——

“And we couldn’t have had it otherwise,” said Mr. Mortimer, “so that is all there is to it.”

“Well, it need make no difference to you,” said Sir Mallaby. “I am sure you will find my nephew Eustace most unobtrusive. He may even be an entertaining companion. I believe he has a nice singing voice. With that and the juggling of our friend here and my sister’s late husband’s orchestrion, you will have no difficulty in amusing yourselves during the evenings.”

“I hope you will come down there again, Sir Mallaby,” said Mr. Mortimer, “during our occupancy of the house. And you, too,” he said, addressing Sam.

“I am afraid,” said Sam frigidly, “that my time will be very much occupied for the next few months. Thank you very much,” he added, after a moment’s pause.

“Sam’s going to work,” said Sir Mallaby.

“Yes,” said Sam with dark determination. “Work is the only thing in life that matters!”

“Oh, come, Sam!” said Sir Mallaby. “At your age I used to think love was fairly important, too!”

“Love!” said Sam. He jabbed at his soufflé with a spoon. You could see by the scornful way he did it that he did not think much of love.

Sir Mallaby, the last cigar of the night between his lips, broke a silence which had lasted a quarter of an hour. The guests had gone, and he and Sam were alone together.

“Sam,” he said, “do you know what I think?”

“No,” said Sam.

Sir Mallaby removed his cigar and spoke impressively. “I’ve been turning the whole thing over in my mind, and the conclusion I have come to is that there is more in this Windles business than meets the eye. I’ve known your aunt Adeline all my life, and I tell you it isn’t in that woman to change her infernal pig-headed mind especially about letting her house. She is a monomaniac on that subject. It isn’t within the bounds of possibility that she has changed her mind. If you want to know my opinion, I am quite certain that your cousin Eustace has let the place to these people without her knowledge, and intends to pocket the cheque and not say a word about it. What do you think?”

“Eh?” said Sam absently.

“I said, what do you think?”

“What do I think about what?”

“About Eustace Hignett and Windles.”

“What about them?”

Sir Mallaby regarded him disapprovingly. “I’m hanged if I know what’s the matter with you to-night, Sam. You seem to have unhitched your brain and left it in the umbrella stand. You hadn’t a word to say for yourself all through dinner. You might have been a Trappist monk. And with that delightful girl, Miss Bennett, there, too. She must have thought you infernally dull.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s no good being sorry now. The mischief’s done. She has gone away thinking you an idiot. Do you realise,” said Sir Mallaby warmly, “that when she told that extremely funny story about that man who made such a fool of himself on board the ship—one of the most humorous stories I have ever heard—you were the only person at the table who was not amused? You did not even smile! I was watching you. She must have thought you had no sense of humour!”

Sam rose. “I think I’ll be going,” he said. “Good-night!”

A man can bear just so much.


Chapter X

Mr. Rufus Bennett stood at the window of the drawing-room of Mrs. Horace Hignett’s charming old-world mansion in the county of Hampshire, looking out, his large red face almost touching the glass. It was a position in which he had often pictured himself in the days when his dearest wish in the world had been to rent the place for the summer. Yet he was not happy. Indeed, a profound gloom had settled upon Mr. Bennett. He felt like a man who has achieved his life’s ambition, only to find it dust and ashes.

Mr. Bennett was looking at the fifth heavy shower that had fallen since breakfast. This was the third afternoon of his tenancy. The first day it had rained all the time. The second day it had rained from eight till twelve-fifteen, from twelve-thirty till four, and from five till eleven. And on this, the third day, there had been no intermission longer than ten minutes. It was a trying summer. Even the writers in the daily papers seemed mildly surprised, and claimed that England had seen finer Julys. Mr. Bennett, who had lived his life in a country of warmth and sunshine, the thing affected in much the same way as the early days of the Flood must have affected Noah. A first startled resentment had given place to a despair too militant to be called resignation. And with the despair had come a strong distaste for his fellow human beings, notably and in particular his old friend Mr. Mortimer, who at this moment broke impatiently in on his meditations.

“Come along, Bennett. It’s your deal. It’s no good looking at the rain. Looking at it won’t stop it.”

Mr. Mortimer’s nerves also had become a little frayed by the weather.

Mr. Bennett returned heavily to the table, where, with his old friend as partner, he was playing one more interminable rubber of bridge, a game at which he was a very indifferent performer and one where the criticisms of Mr. Mortimer on his play were hard to bear. Mr. Bennett resented Mr. Mortimer’s criticisms. He resented a good many things about Mr. Mortimer these days. In fact, now that he came to think of it, he could not imagine what had ever caused him to suppose Mr. Mortimer a good fellow.

And a week ago these men had loved one another as brothers.

Much has been written of great friendships between man and man, friendships which neither woman can mar nor death destroy. Rufus Bennett had always believed that his friendship for Mr. Mortimer was of this order. They had been boys together in the same small town: they had gone through college together, rooming in one room; they had kept together in after years. They had been Damon and Pythias, David and Jonathan; but never till now had they been cooped up together in an English country house in the middle of a bad patch of English summer weather.

The rain had begun at bedtime on the first night. Mr. Bennett recalled bitterly that he had actually welcomed it. It would, he had stated, make everything smell so fresh next day. Next day, instead of smelling fresh, everything had smelt dank and clammy, and word had come up from the kitchen that the scullery roof was leaking. Since then, the downpour had continued with the steady determination of a shower bath. Mr. Bennett thought of the white flannel trousers and the straw hat which he had purchased in London with something of the wistfulness with which one thinks of dear friends who are no more.

He seated himself gloomily at the bridge table, sighed, took up the cards, and misdealt.

“Well, really!” snapped Mr. Mortimer.

Mr. Bennett subsided with a grunt, and began to deal once more. Halfway through the operation the sound of rather stertorous breathing began to proceed from beneath the table. Mr. Bennett glanced agitatedly down and curled his legs round his chair.

“I have fourteen cards again,” said Mr. Mortimer with an insufferable sweet calm. “Never mind! Have another try. You’ll get the knack of it soon!”

“I don’t care how many cards you’ve got!” said Mr. Bennett with heat. “That damned dog of yours is sniffing at my ankles!”

He looked malignantly at a fine bulldog which now emerged from its cover and, sitting down, beamed at the company. He was a sweet-tempered dog, handicapped by the outward appearance of a canine plug-ugly. Murder seemed the mildest of the desires that lay behind that rugged countenance. As a matter of fact, what he wanted was cake. His name was Smith, and Mr. Mortimer had bought him just before leaving London to serve the establishment as a watch-dog.

“He won’t hurt you,” said Mr. Mortimer carelessly.

“You keep saying that!” replied Mr. Bennett pettishly. “How do you know? He’s a dangerous beast, and if I had had any notion that you were buying him, I would have had something to say about it!”

“Whatever you might have said would have made no difference. I believe I am within my legal rights in purchasing a dog. You have a dog. At least, Wilhelmina has.”

“Yes, and Pinky-Boodles gets on splendidly with Smith,” said Billie. “I’ve seen them playing together.”

“Bulldogs are always good-tempered,” said Bream helpfully.

Mr. Bennett subsided again, and dealt the cards for the third time. That he was successful in doing so at this last attempt brought no sunshine into his mood. He was feeling thoroughly misanthropic. He disliked everybody, with perhaps the exception of Billie, for whom a faint paternal fondness still lingered. Towards the bulldog Smith his emotion was stronger than dislike. It was a blend of fear and loathing. Three days of incessant rain had brought the certainty that Mr. Mortimer only kept the brute to annoy and terrify him.

He disliked Mr. Mortimer. He disliked Bream and regretted that Billie had become engaged to him, though for years such an engagement had been his dearest desire. He disliked Jane Hubbard, now out walking in the rain with Eustace Hignett. And he disliked Eustace. The only things he liked were his meals, of which he ate largely.

Eustace, he told himself, he disliked rather more than any of the others. He resented the young man’s presence in the house; and he resented the fact that, being in the house, he should go about, pale and haggard, as though he were sickening for something. Mr. Bennett had the most violent objection to associating with people who looked as though they were sickening for something.

“Having no hearts, partner?” enquired Mr. Mortimer.

Mr. Bennett came out of his reverie with a start. “Eh, what? Yes, Certainly. Why not?”

Billie kissed him affectionately on the top of his head. “You’ve revoked, darling. I thought you would if we went on long enough.”

“I like cards,” said Mr. Mortimer in a strained voice. “But when it comes to somnambulistic trances I know enough to quit. I’m going to smoke a cigar in the conservatory!”

Mr. Bennett sat staring dully at the green cloth. He felt gloomier than ever. Also he felt ill and was convinced that he had caught something from Eustace Hignett. Possibly he was not long for this world. Not that it mattered, for it is not much fun going on living in a world full of Mortimers and Hignetts and homicidal bulldogs.

He got up and went to the window. The rain leaped at the glass like a frollicking puppy. It seemed to want to get inside and play with Mr. Bennett.


Chapter XI

Black care having kept him awake into the small hours, Mr. Bennett slept late on the following morning. He looked at his watch on the dressing-table, and found that it was nearly ten. Taking a second look to assure himself that he had really slumbered to this unusual hour, he suddenly became aware of something bright and yellow resting beside the watch, and paused, transfixed; it seemed incredible to him that the sun could really be shining. It was not till he had pulled up the shades and was looking out on a garden full of brightness and warmth and singing birds that he definitely permitted himself to accept the situation.

Mr. Bennett rang the bell, and presently there entered a grave, thin, intellectual looking man who looked like a duke, only more respectable. This was Webster, Mr. Bennett’s English valet. He carried in one hand a small mug of hot water, reverently, as if it were a present of jewellery.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Morning, Webster,” said Mr. Bennett heartily. “Rather late, eh?”

“It is,” replied Webster precisely, “a little late, sir. I would have awakened you at the customary hour, but Miss Bennett expressed a desire that I should permit you to sleep on. It was Miss Bennett’s opinion that the rest would do you good.”

Mr. Bennett’s sense of well-being deepened. What more could a man want in this world than fine weather and a dutiful daughter?

“She did, eh?”

“Yes, sir. She intercepted me as I was approaching your door. She desired me to give you her love and to inform you that having already breakfasted, she proposed to drive Mr. Mortimer and Mr. Bream Mortimer into Southampton in the car, as the weather was so favourable and Mr. Mortimer senior had expressed a wish to buy a panama hat.”

“A panama hat!”

“A panama hat, sir.”

Mr. Bennett’s feeling of satisfaction grew still greater. It was a fine day; he had a dutiful daughter; and he was going to see Henry Mortimer in a panama hat. Providence was spoiling him.

It was really capital. Billie and the Mortimers had gone off in the car: Eustace Hignett and Jane Hubbard would be sure to be out on one of their walks: he would have the house to himself all the morning. A pleasant solitude after the cramped and crowded conditions of the last three days. He pictured himself enjoying a leisurely breakfast with all the morning papers to himself and nobody present to annoy him with conversation.

“If you please, sir.”


“Would you be requiring my services during the remainder of the morning, previous to luncheon, sir?”

“I don’t believe so. Why?”

“Miss Trimlett, Miss Hubbard’s personal maid, has expressed a hope that I may be able to accompany her for a ramble through the woods. She wishes, I understand, to gather ferns or primroses or what not. It would be a convenience if you could dispense temporarily with my services and enable me to gratify her.”

“Why, certainly.”

“Thank you, sir.” The valet withdrew like a duke and Mr. Bennett, having decanted the mug of water into the basin, began to shave himself.

Having finished shaving, he opened the drawer in the bureau where lay those white flannel trousers to which his thoughts had turned so often and so longingly. Here at last was a day worthy of them. He drew them out, and as he did so something gleamed pinkly up at him from a corner of the drawer. It was his salmon-coloured bathing-suit.

Mr. Bennett started. He had not contemplated such a thing, but, after all, why not? There was the lake, shining through the trees, a mere fifty yards away, equipped, as he remembered from his first visit to the house, not only with a diving-board but with wooden steps for the unadventurous. He would have a swim before breakfast. What could be more refreshing? It gave you an appetite and doctors recommended it. He shed his pyjamas, and climbed into the bathing-suit. And presently, looking like the sun on a foggy day, he emerged from the house and picked his way with gingerly steps across the smooth surface of the lawn.

“This,” thought Mr. Bennett, wriggling his toes luxuriously, “is the life!”

At this moment, from behind a bush where he had been thriftily burying a yesterday’s bone, Smith the bulldog waddled out on to the lawn. He drank in the exhilarating air through an upturned nose which his recent excavations had rendered somewhat muddy. Then he observed Mr. Bennett and moved gladly towards him. At first he had mistaken Mr. Bennett for some bright coloured shrub, for he was an astigmatic dog, and the discovery that he was human was a welcome one. Smith was never happy for long away from human society, and this morning an apparent conspiracy on the part of the men and women of his little world to leave him to himself had made him lonely. Here at last was a man. Smith did not recognise him, for a salmon-coloured bathing-suit is a disguise which might well baffle any dog; but that was all right. Smith remembered his friends principally by their respective bouquets. Obviously the first move was to go up and smell him. He cantered silently across the turf with this end in view. He was half-way across the lawn when some of the mud which he had inhaled when burying the bone tickled his lungs and he paused to cough.

Mr. Bennett whirled round; and just then Smith coughed again. It was a deep, rumbling cough, and to Mr. Bennett’s horrified ears it sounded like a hymn before action. He did not hesitate. With a sharp exclamation, he picked up his pink feet from the velvet turf and began to run. Smith, after a momentary pause of surprise, lumbered after him, wheezing contentedly. This man, he felt, was evidently one of the right sort, a merry playfellow.

Mr. Bennett continued to run; but, even after the first few strides, it was borne in upon him that this could not continue indefinitely. Already he had begun to pant and falter, when he perceived looming up on his left the ruins of that ancient castle which had so attracted him on his first visit. On that occasion it had made merely an æsthetic appeal to Mr. Bennett; now he saw in a flash that its practical merits also were of a sterling order. The hopelessness, for a man of his build, of trying to climb a tree had weighed upon him from the first; but this ruined castle was another matter. Mr. Bennett swerved sharply to the left, took the base of the edifice in his stride, clutched at a jutting stone, flung his foot at another, and, just as his pursuer arrived and sat panting below, pulled himself on to a ledge, where he sat with his feet hanging down well out of reach. The bulldog, Smith, gazed up at him expectantly. The game was a new one to Smith, but it seemed to have possibilities. Moreover, he was a dog who was always perfectly willing to try anything once.

“Go away, you brute!” shouted Mr. Bennett, peering down nervously from his eyrie.

Smith knew little English, and the meaning of the words escaped him. Experience, however, had taught him that, if he uttered a short, sharp bark, people frequently gave him cake; so, though the surroundings seemed somewhat unfavourable to cake, he barked shortly and sharply. He was not greatly surprised when nothing fell from the skies. He had not really expected it. Heaving a philosophical sigh, he caved in like a collapsing mountain, and lay flat on his chest, his little red-rimmed eyes still peering up at Mr. Bennett.

Mr. Bennett, who, at the sound of that dreadful bark, had curled himself up convulsively into a ball, now began to address himself in earnest to the task of calling for assistance. A cold despair had seized him. His physical discomfort, also, was acute. All ruined castles are hard and nobbly, but it seemed to him that this particular ruined castle must be the hardest and nobbliest in the United Kingdom. However often he shifted his position, his sensitive person encountered something sharp and jagged. Insects, moreover, some large, some small, some winged, some without wings but—through Nature’s wonderful law of compensation—equipped with a number of extra pairs of legs, began to fit out exploring expeditions over his body. Mr. Bennett wriggled and swatted and roared for help, but no help came. Windles might have been a Palace of Sleep.

And then something happened which even Mr. Bennett, confirmed pessimist though he had now become, had not anticipated. The sun, which for some time had been shining in a fitful and half-hearted way, now retired permanently behind a black bank of clouds. A chill wind played about Mr Bennett’s bare ankles; and finally, first dropping like the gentle dew upon the place beneath, then swishing down in a steady flood, the rain began to fall.

Smith, the bulldog, who, like most short-necked dogs, had been feeling the heat, spread himself out gratefully and luxuriated in the wet. He had had half a mind, as things seemed to be a bit quiet out here, to retire to some shady spot and snatch an hour’s sleep; but the rain decided him to remain where he was.

It was at this point that Mr. Bennett’s manly spirit broke and time ceased to exist for him. He leaned back against the mouldering wall and let the centuries slip by him.

Æons later, a voice spoke from below.

“Hullo!” said the voice. “Having a game with the dog?”

Mr. Bennett looked down. The stalwart form of Jane Hubbard was standing beneath him, gazing up from under a tam-o’-shanter cap. The rain glistened on her upturned face, and she was plainly soaked to the skin; but she appeared as calm and unmoved as if she were chatting with cannibals on a fine afternoon beside the Congo. Smith, the bulldog, gambolled about her shapely feet.

“Hit him!” urged Mr. Bennett.

“Hit who?”

“That beast of a dog. Hit him over the head with your stick!”

“The idea!” cried Jane Hubbard indignantly. She was as humane and gentle-spirited a girl as ever throttled a tiger cub with her bare hands. “I’ll do nothing of the kind.”

“Then lure him away! Lure him away! Can’t you see I want to come down?”

Miss Hubbard burst into hearty, wholesome laughter. “You aren’t afraid of poor old Smith! Why, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. I say, do you know if the car has come back?”

“What in heaven’s name . . ! No, it has not!”

“I’ve got to go to the doctor’s,” said Jane. “Poor little Mr. Hignett is ill. Oh, well, I’ll have to walk. Come along, Smith!” She turned towards the drive, Smith caracoling at her side.

Mr. Bennett, though free to move, remained where he was, transfixed. That sinister word “ill” held him like a spell. Eustace Hignett was ill! He had thought all along that the fellow was sickening for something, confound him! What right had he to be ill! What right had he in the house at all when he had let it to other people?

“What’s the matter with him?” bellowed Mr. Bennett after Jane Hubbard’s retreating back.

“Eh?” queried Jane, stopping.

“What’s the matter with Hignett?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it infectious?”

“I expect so.”

“Great heavens!” cried Mr. Bennett, and sat palsied while Jane, accompanied by the bulldog, passed out of sight round the bend of the drive, the rain sluicing from her well-knit shoulder. Meantime Mr. Bennett lowered himself cautiously to the ground and squelched across the dripping grass.

In the hall, Webster, the valet, dry and dignified, was tapping the barometer with the wrist action of an ambassador knocking on the door of a friendly monarch. A lesser man would have shown surprise at the spectacle of his employer in what appeared to be some species of exotic fancy dress; but Webster’s code of behaviour ruled out all the obvious emotions.

“A sharp downpour, sir,” he remarked. “Miss Trimlett and I were compelled to postpone our ramble in the woods.”

What! Have you been in the house all the time?” demanded Mr. Bennett.

Fortunately, yes, sir. It would have been unpleasant to have been caught in this sharp downpour.

“Well, I’m . . . didn’t you hear me shouting?”

“We did fancy we heard something, sir.”

“Then why the devil didn’t you come to me?”

“We supposed it to be the owls, sir, a bird very frequent in this locality, Miss Trimlett informs me. They make a sort of harsh, hooting howl, sir. I have sometimes wondered,” said Webster, pursuing a not uninteresting train of thought, “whether that might be the reason of the name.”

Before Mr. Bennett could join him in the region of speculation into which he had penetrated, there was a grinding of brakes on the gravel outside, and the wettest automobile in England drew up at the front door.

Chapter XII

From Windles to Southampton is a distance of about twenty miles; and the rain had started to fall when the car, an open one lacking even the poor protection of a cape hood, had accomplished half the homeward journey. Thereafter, the emotions of Mr. Mortimer had oscillated between a dumb misery and violent terror. Each time that the penetrating chill of the storm had convinced him that he no longer wished to live, the car, with a sudden playful slide in the direction of the ditch, would remind him that he did. For the last ten miles he had been nursing a sullen hatred for all created things: and, when entering the house, he came upon Mr. Bennett hopping about in the hall, endeavouring to detain him and tell him some long and uninteresting story, his venom concentrated itself upon his erstwhile friend. He told himself that he disliked everything else in the world but that he hated Mr. Bennett.

“Oh, get out of the way!” he snapped, shaking off the other’s hand. “Can’t you see I’m wet?”

“Wet! Wet!” Mr. Bennett’s voice quivered with self-pity. “So am I wet!”

“Father, dear,” said Billie reprovingly, “you really oughtn’t to have come into the house after bathing without drying yourself. You’ll spoil the carpet.”

“I’ve not been bathing! I’m trying to tell you . . .”

“Hullo!” said Bream, with amiable innocence, coming in at the tail-end of the party. “Been having a jolly bathe?”

Mr. Bennett danced with silent irritation, and, striking a bare toe against the leg of a chair, seized his left foot and staggered into the arms of Webster, who had been preparing to drift off to the servants’ hall. Linked together, the two proceeded across the carpet in a movement which suggested in equal parts the careless vigour of the cake-walk and the grace of the old-fashioned mazurka.

“What the devil are you doing, you fool?” cried Mr. Bennett.

“Nothing, sir. And I should be glad if you would accept my week’s notice,” replied Webster calmly.

“What’s that?”

“My notice, sir, to take effect at the expiration of the current week. I cannot acquiesce in being cursed and sworn at.”

“Oh, go to blazes!”

“Very good, sir.” Webster withdrew like a plenipotentiary who has been handed his papers on the declaration of war; and Mr. Bennett sprang to intercept Mr. Mortimer, who had slipped by and was making for the stairs.


“Oh, what is it?”

“That infernal dog of yours. I insist on your destroying it.”

“What’s it been doing?”

“The savage brute chased me all over the garden and kept me sitting up on that damned castle the whole morning!”


“I tell you he chased me from one end of the garden to the other! I had to run like a hare!”

The unfortunate Bream, whose sense of the humorous was simple and childlike, was not proof against the picture thus conjured up.

“C’k!” giggled Bream helplessly. “C’k, c’k, c’k!”

Mr. Bennett turned on him like a salmon-coloured fury. “Oh, it strikes you as funny, does it! It—it amuses you! Well, let me tell you that you’re altogether too light-hearted, young man, for my taste. If you think you can laugh at me with—with—er—with one hand and—and—marry my daughter with the other, you’re wrong! You can now consider your engagement at an end. Do you understand?

“Oh, I say!” ejaculated Bream, abruptly sobered.

I mean it! Insolent young hound. Mortimer!” bawled Mr. Bennett, once more arresting the other as he was about to mount the stairs.

“Well, well, well?

“Don’t shout at me!”

“Don’t shout at me!

“I insist on your destroying the animal! He is a menace.”

“He is nothing of the kind. A perfectly peaceable, good-tempered dog. He didn’t even bite you once.

“Simply because I was too quick for him.”

“And every dog is allowed one bite by law. The case of Wilberforce v. Bayliss covers that point thoroughly.”

“I don’t care about the case of Wilberforce and Bayliss . . .”

“You will find that you have to. It is a legal precedent.”

“Very well!” said Mr. Bennett grimly. “You compel me to take the matter into my own hands!”

“What do you mean?” asked Mr. Mortimer, stopping and poking his head over the banisters.

“Never mind!”

“If you are intending to do that dog the slightest injury let me warn you that an action for malfeasance will lie! The judge’s decision in the case of Bayliss v. Wilberforce makes that quite clear.”

There is something about a legal precedent which gives pause to the angriest man. Mr. Bennett felt, as every layman feels when arguing with a lawyer, as if he were in the coil of a python.

“Oh, it does, does it!” was all he could find to say: and it is to be doubted whether anyone ever thought of anything feebler in the shape of repartee.

“Say, Mr. Bennett . . .” began Bream at his elbow. Bream, having about as much natural intelligence as a clam, had chosen this moment to plead for a revision of sentence.

“Get out!” snarled Mr. Bennett.

“Yes, but, say . . . !”

“Wilberforce got six months,” said Mr. Mortimer over the banisters, and vanished.

“Yes, but say . . . !” began the indomitable Bream once more.

“Go away! Go away! I wish to have nothing to do with you!”

“Yes, but, say—”

“It broke his wife’s heart,” said Mr. Mortimer, reappearing up above like the Cheshire cat.

The green baize door at the end of the hall opened and Webster appeared, looking if possible even more respectable than when he had departed. His finely chiselled-face gave no indication of the fact that he had been listening for the last ten minutes with one ear to the keyhole in company with Miss Trimlett, whose ecstasy had just brought on a severe attack of hiccoughs. The cook had put the cellar key down Miss Trimlett’s back, and the scullery maid was now fanning her with a dish-cloth.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Webster, “but cook desired me to inform you that luncheon would be served within the next few minutes. It occurred to me that you might possibly wish to make some change of costume.”

The word luncheon was one which never failed to touch a chord in Mr. Bennett’s being. Despite himself it brought a certain balm. On the other hand, he revolted at the thought of sitting down to table with a gang of thugs like the Mortimer family. The food would choke him. His digestion would not stand it.

“Bring me my lunch on a tray in my room,” he said. “I am going to bed.”

“Very good, sir.”

“But, say, Mr. Bennett . . .” resumed Bream.

“Grrh!” replied his ex-prospective father-in-law, and bounded up the stairs like a portion of the sunset which had become detached from the main body.


Chapter XIII

Even into the blackest days there generally creeps an occasional ray of sunshine, and there are few crises of human gloom which are not lightened by a bit of luck. It was so with Mr. Bennett in his hour of travail. There were lobsters for lunch, and his passion for lobsters had made him the talk of three New York Clubs. He ate all that had been brought to him, and sent down for more. Then, feeling for the first time since his encounter with Smith in the garden, almost happy, he lay back on his pillow and meditated on a plan of action.

“Hullo, father!” said Billie coming in to see how he was getting on. “Had a nice lunch?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Bennett, cheering up a little at the recollection. “There was nothing wrong with the lunch.”

How little we fallible mortals know! Even as he spoke a tiny fragment of lobster shell, which had been working its way silently into the tip of his tongue, was settling down under the skin and getting ready to cause him the most acute mental distress which he had ever known.

“The lunch,” said Mr. Bennett, “was excellent. Lobsters!” He licked his lips appreciatively. “And, talking of lobsters,” he went on, “I suppose that boy Bream has told you that I have broken off your engagement?”


“You don’t seem very upset,” said Mr. Bennett, who was in the mood for a dramatic scene and felt a little disappointed.

“Oh, I’ve become a fatalist on the subject of my engagements.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Well, I mean, they never seem to come to anything.” Billie gazed wistfully at the counterpane. “Do you know, father, I’m beginning to think that I’m rather impulsive. I wish I didn’t do silly things in such a hurry.”

“I don’t see where the hurry comes in as regards that Mortimer boy. You took ten years to make up your mind.”

“I was not thinking of Bream. Another man.”

“Great heavens! Are you still imagining yourself in love with young Hignett?”

“Oh, no! I can see now that I was never in love with poor Eustace. I was thinking of a man I got engaged to on the boat!”

(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.
Miss Trimlett is Jane Hubbard’s maid in this version, and her name is given as Trimblett in the next serial episode. In the UK book edition, she is mentioned only as Billie’s maid, Miss Trimblett, in the next episode; in US editions she is not mentioned at all. The passages in the current episode referring to Miss Trimlett do not appear in other versions of the text.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had "bulk fo the"; changed to "bulk of the".
Magazine had extraneous opening quotation mark before 'Sir Mallaby breathed'.
Magazine had "he rememberd"; corrected to "he remembered".
Magazine omitted the ‘I’ in “Oh, I say!”.
Magazine had "said Billy coming in"; corrected to "Billie".