Pan Magazine, July 1921

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



  The three men are Sam Marlowe, a lad of brawn rather than brain, Eustace Hignett, a sad-eyed poet, and Bream Mortimer, a parrot-faced youth. The maid is Wilhelmina Bennett, a charming red-haired girl known as Billie.
  Eustace Hignett and Sam Marlowe fail to attain the lofty standard of what a lover should be as ordained by Billie with the result that each in turn finds his engagement with her broken off. All four travel from New York to England on board the “Atlantic.” Eustace finds solace to his broken spirit in his friendship with Jane Hubbard, a big-game huntress, whom he meets on the boat.
  Sam hopes never to meet Billie again, but she unexpectedly turns up at a dinner party given by his father, Sir Mallaby Marlowe. She informs Sam that she is engaged to Bream Mortimer.
  Billie’s father, Mr. Rufus Bennett, secures the lease of the old-world country house of Mrs. Hignett, Eustace Hignett’s aunt. Mr. Bennett gathers together a house party consisting of Billie, Bream, Bream’s father, Eustace Hignett and Jane Hubbard. A quarrel between Mr. Bennett and Mr. Mortimer, senior, results in Bream’s engagement being broken off by the irate Mr. Bennett. Mr. Bennett retires to bed to avoid Mr. Mortimer’s society. After lunch Billie looks in and confides to him the details of her unfortunate love-affairs.



Mr. Bennett sat bolt upright in bed and stared incredulously at his surprising daughter. His head was beginning to swim.

“Of course I’ve misunderstood you,” he said. “There’s a catch somewhere, and I haven’t seen it. But for a moment you gave me the impression that you had promised to marry some man on the boat!’”

“I did!”

“But . . . !” Mr. Bennett held his head in his hands. He felt dizzy.

“It doesn’t matter, father. I broke it off—worse luck! I shall never see him again, so what’s the use of worrying? Still, it’s not nice to realise that one has made a fool of oneself.”

Mr. Bennett was doing sums on his fingers.

“Do you mean to tell me,” he demanded, having brought out the answer to his satisfaction, “do you mean to tell me that you have been engaged to three men in three weeks?”

“Yes,” said Billie in a small voice.

“Great Godfrey! Er——?”

“No, only three.”

Mr. Bennett sank back on to his pillow with a snort.

“The trouble is,” continued Billie, “one does things and doesn’t know how one is going to feel about it afterwards. You can do an awful lot of thinking afterwards, father.”

“I’m doing a lot of thinking now,” said Mr. Bennett with austerity. “You oughtn’t to be allowed to go around loose!”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. I shall never get engaged again. I shall never love anyone again.”

“Don’t tell me you are still in love with this boat man? Who is he?”

“Oh, what does it matter, father? I shall never see him again.”

“I don’t believe he ever existed!” said Mr. Bennett suddenly. “I believe you’re still hankering after that half-baked young Hignett, and are trying to pull the wool over my eyes.”

“How absurd!”

“H’m!” Mr. Bennett was silent for a moment. Then he started up with an exclamation. The mention of Eustace Hignett had stirred his memory. “What’s young Hignett got wrong with him? Has the doctor been?


“Mumps! Good God! Not mumps!” Mr. Bennett quailed. “I’ve never had mumps! One of the most infectious . . . this is awful! . . . Oh, heavens! Why did I ever come to this lazar-house!” cried Mr. Bennett, shaken to his depths.

“There isn’t the slightest danger, father, dear. Don’t be silly.”

“I shall not stir from my bed!”

Well, there’s nothing much to stir for. It’s still raining, and Mr. Mortimer and Bream are wandering about through the house like leopards. Everybody seems restless and miserable. I think I shall go to bed myself.” She got up. “If I were you, father, I should try to get a good sleep. You must be tired after this morning.”

“Did you hear about what happened this morning?”

“Yes, Mr. Mortimer was talking about it at lunch.”

A hunted look came into Mr. Bennett’s eyes. “I can’t cope with that man!” he said. “He’s too subtle and snakey for me! Lawyers are the devil!”

“Well, go to sleep and forget about him.”

“Sleep! If only I could!” said Mr. Bennett, and did so five minutes after the door had closed behind Billie. It is tiring work sitting on ruined towers in the rain, and Mr. Bennett dropped off like a little child.

He awoke half an hour later with a confused sense that something was wrong. He had been dreaming that he was walking down Fifth Avenue at the head of a military brass band, clad only in a two-piece bathing suit; and even in his dream this costume had struck him as so inadequate and unsuited to the dignity of the main thoroughfare of a great city that he had frequently paused to apologise to the dense throng of spectators. But every time he tried to make his excuses, the band played louder and drowned him. As he sat up in bed, blinking in the dazed fashion of the half-awakened, it seemed to be playing still. The tune had changed from a lively march to something so wailingly pathetic that it set his teeth on edge; but there was undeniably music in the air. The room was full of it. It seemed to be coming up through the floor and rolling about in chunks all round his bed.

Mr. Bennett blinked the last fragments of sleep out of his system, and became filled with irritability. He knew what had happened. There was only one instrument in the house—or, for that matter, in any house—which could create this infernal din—the orchestrion in the drawing-room, immediately above which, he recalled, his room was situated. And so alert had sleep, the restorer, rendered his brain that he perceived almost in the same moment that there could only be one person in the house who could have started the thing. Eustace Hignett was in bed. Jane Hubbard was probably sitting with him. Bream was too dispirited to have done such a deed. Billie knew his hatred of the louder forms of canned music. The culprit must undoubtedly be Henry Mortimer, and he was doing it of set purpose to annoy him.

He rang the bell for Webster, and his diagnosis was confirmed.

“Is that Mr. Mortimer?” he barked, as the door opened.

“No, sir. It is I—Webster.” Not even the annoyance of being summoned like this from an absorbing game of halfpenny nap in the kitchen had the power to make the valet careless of his grammar. “I fancied that I heard your bell ring, sir.”

I wonder you could hear anything with that infernal noise going on. Is Mr. Mortimer playing that—that damned gas-engine in the drawing-room?”

“Yes, sir. Tosti’s ‘Good-bye.’ A charming air, sir.”

“Charming air be . . . ! Go and tell him to stop it!”

“Very good, sir.”

Mr. Bennett lay in bed and fumed. Presently the valet returned. The music still continued to roll about the room.

“I am sorry to have to inform you, sir,” said Webster, “that Mr. Mortimer declines to accede to your request.”

“Oh, he said that, did he?”

“That is the gist of his remarks, sir.”

“Did you tell him I was trying to get to sleep?”

“Yes, sir. I understood him to reply that he should worry and get a pain in the neck.”

“Go down again and say that I insist on his stopping the thing. It’s an outrage.”

“Very good, sir.”

In a few minutes Webster, like the dove despatched from the Ark, was back again.

“I fear my mission has been fruitless, sir. Mr. Mortimer appears adamant on the point at issue.”

“You gave him my message?”

“Verbatim, sir. In reply, Mr. Mortimer desired me to tell you that if you did not like it you could do the other thing. I quote the exact words, sir.”

“He did, did he?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good! Then give me my dressing-gown!”

Webster swathed his employer in the garment indicated and returned to the kitchen, where he informed the cook that, in his opinion, the Guv’nor was not a Force, and that if he were a betting man he would put his money in the forthcoming struggle on Consul, the Almost-Human—by which affectionate nickname Mr. Mortimer, senior, was generally alluded to in the servants’ hall.

Mr. Bennett, meanwhile, had reached the drawing-room and found his former friend lying at full length on a sofa, smoking a cigar, a full dozen feet away from the orchestrion, which continued to thunder out its dirge on the passing of Summer.

“Hullo,” said Mr. Mortimer placidly, “come down to listen? Just as you like. But I believe you get the effect better at a distance.”

“Will you turn that infernal thing off?”

“No!” said Mr. Mortimer. “I won’t.”

Psychologists have rather neglected the study of the effects of weather on the human temperament; and what researches they have made have been almost entirely in the wrong direction. They have written on the subject of what happens in the case of too strong and constant a supply of sunshine and have shown that it produces the furor Africanus which turns men into savages; but they have omitted to probe into the disastrous results of too much rain. Four days of rain at Windles had taken forty years off Mr. Mortimer’s age and turned him into a child, with all a child’s simple, unspoiled tastes—chief among them the desire to soothe himself for the boredom he was experiencing by annoying someone else. The skirmish before lunch had turned his juvenile attention to Mr. Bennett.

“I should have thought you would have appreciated ‘Good-bye Summer,’ ” he said. “You’ve been complaining enough about the weather.”

“Turn it off!”

“I can’t. I don’t know how to.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you turn it on by that button near the door, but they seem to have forgotten to fit on the button that stops it. You can hunt about, if you like,” said Mr. Mortimer generously.

Mr. Bennett collapsed in a chair, appalled. “Do you mean to say it’s going on for ever?” he demanded, blenching.

“I suppose so.”

Mr. Bennett was adjusting his mind to the horror of the situation, when the door opened.

“Now, now, now!”

Jane Hubbard, that masterly young woman, was standing in the doorway with a look of calm reproof on her face. She had the air of a nurse intervening between two fractious children.

“We can’t have this, you know!” said Jane Hubbard.

It was a tribute to the commanding character of this girl that neither Mr. Bennett nor Mr. Mortimer, each of whom, in addition to being her host, was old enough to be her father, made the slightest attempt at any criticism of her authoritative manner. Mr. Mortimer rolled off the sofa in a shamefaced way and dropped his cigar in a flower-pot; Mr. Bennett got up from his chair and draped the dressing-gown more closely about him.

“You’re disturbing my patient,” continued Jane. “I want him to get a bit of sleep. Afraid you’ll have to postpone the concert.”

She strode to the instrument, explored its ribs with a firm finger, pushed something, and the orchestrion broke off in the middle of a bar, as if it, too, recognised the presence of a force with which it was hopeless to take liberties. Then, walking serenely to the door, she passed out and closed it behind her.

Mr. Bennett, recovering from his stupor, began to perceive that, little as he had had to do with the victory, he had at least been on the winning side; and the baser side of his nature urged him to triumph over the vanquished.

“Now, what about it!” he said, ungenerously.

“Interfering girl!” mumbled Mr. Mortimer, chafing beneath defeat. “I’ve a good mind to start it again!”

“I dare you!” whooped Mr. Bennett, reverting to the phraseology of his vanished childhood. “Go on! I double dare you!”

“I’ve a perfect legal right. . .”

“Do it!” cried Mr. Bennett. “Do it! I’ll bet you five pounds you haven’t the nerve!”

The baffled Mr. Mortimer groped in the flower-pot for his cigar. Having retrieved and relighted it, he cast upon Mr. Bennett a look of malignant cunning.

“Oh, well,” he said, “there are lots of other things I can do.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Mr. Bennett, alarmed.

“Never mind!” said Mr. Mortimer taking up a book.

Mr. Bennett went back to bed in an uneasy frame of mind. Those last words had had a sinister ring. He brooded for half an hour, and, at the expiration of that period rang for Webster and requested that Billie should be sent to him.

Somewhat consoled by the thought that he was taking definite action, Mr. Bennett lay back and waited for Billie.

“I want you to go to London,” he said, when she appeared.

“To London? Why?”

“I’ll tell you why,” said Mr. Bennett vehemently. “That pest Mortimer intends to start something. I know it! He has as good as told me so! It’s no good me trying to cope with the man. I must have legal advice. I want you to go and tell Sir Mallaby Marlowe. Tell him the whole story. Ask Sir Mallaby to come round here. And, if he can’t come himself, tell him to send someone who can inform me. His son would do if he knows anything about the business.”

“Oh, I’m sure he does!”

“Eh? How do you know?”

“Well, I mean, he looks as if he does!” said Billie, hastily. “He looks so clever!”

“I didn’t notice it myself. Well, he’ll do if Sir Mallaby’s too busy to come himself. I want you to go up to-night, so that you can see him first thing to-morrow morning. You can stop the night at the Savoy. I’ll tell Webster to look you out a train.”



The fragment of a lobster-shell which had entered Mr. Bennett’s tongue at twenty minutes to two in the afternoon was still in occupation at half-past eleven that night, when that persecuted gentleman blew out his candle and endeavoured to compose himself for a night’s slumber. The discomfort it caused was not sufficient to keep him awake, and presently, soothed by the thought that Billie must by now be in London, encamped at the Savoy in readiness for her visit to Sir Mallaby Marlowe on the morrow, he turned on his side and began snoring.

How pleasant if one could leave him so—the good man taking his rest. Facts, however, are facts; and, having crept softly from Mr. Bennett’s side with the feeling that at least everything is all right with him, we are compelled to return three hours later to discover that everything is all wrong. It is so dark in the room that our eyes can at first discern nothing; then, as we grow accustomed to the blackness, we perceive him sitting bolt upright in bed, staring glassily before him, while with the first finger of his right hand he touches apprehensively the tip of his protruding tongue.

At this point Mr. Bennett lights his candle—one of the charms of Windles was the old-world simplicity of its lighting system—and we are enabled to get a better view of him.

Mr. Bennett sat in the candle-light with his tongue out and the first beads of a chilly perspiration bedewing his forehead. His heart seemed to stop beating. A man whose favourite reading was medicinal encyclopædias, he needed no doctor to tell him that this was the end. He was not absolutely sure whether it was cancer or myxoma, but he knew he was for it. Fate had dealt him a knock-out blow; his number was up; and in a very short while now people would be speaking of him in the past tense.

Whatever are the emotions of a man in such a position, Mr. Bennett had them. He had them all. Some of them twice. He went right through the list from soup to nuts, until finally he reached remorse. And, having reached remorse, he allowed that to monopolise him.

Only that morning he had spoken harsh words to his faithful valet, had a row with Mr. Mortimer, senior, and broken off his daughter’s latest engagement. The more Mr. Bennett examined his conduct, the deeper the iron entered into his soul.

Fortunately, none of his acts were irreparable. He could undo them. He could make amends. The small hours of the morning are not perhaps the most suitable time for making amends, but Mr. Bennett was too remorseful to think of that. He rang the bell for Webster, congratulating himself on his prudence in having arranged at the outset of his visit for such a method of communication between their respective rooms.

Webster swore richly as he groped for his slippers. He whispered strange oaths as he donned his trousers. And on the way downstairs he cleansed his stuffed bosom of so much perilous stuff that by the time he entered his employer’s room he was his own calm self again.

“Webster,” said Mr. Bennett, “I’m a dying man!”

“Indeed, sir?”

“A dying man!” repeated Mr. Bennett.

“Very good, sir. Which of your suits would you wish me to lay out?”

Mr. Bennett had the feeling that something was going wrong with the scene.

“Webster,” he said, “this morning we had an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Pray don’t mention it, sir.”

“I was to blame. Webster, you have been a faithful servant! You have stuck to me, Webster, through thick and thin!” said Mr. Bennett, who had half-persuaded himself by this time that the other had been in the family for years instead of having been engaged at a registry-office a little less than a month ago. “Through thick and thin!” repeated Mr. Bennett.

“I have endeavoured to give satisfaction, sir.”

“I want to reward you, Webster.”

“Thank you very much, sir.”

“Take my trousers!”

Webster raised a deprecating hand.

“No, no, sir, thanking you exceedingly, I couldn’t, really! You will need them, sir, and I assure you I have an ample supply.”

“Take my trousers,” repeated Mr. Bennett, “and feel in the right-hand pocket. There is some money there. Two or three five-pound notes.

“I’m sure I’m very much obliged, sir,” said Webster, beginning for the first time to feel that there was a bright side. He embarked upon the treasure-hunt. “The sum is sixteen pounds eleven shillings and threepence, sir.”

“Keep it!”

“Thank you very much, sir. Would there be anything further, sir?”

“Why, no,” said Mr. Bennett, feeling dissatisfied nevertheless. There had been a lack of the deepest kind of emotion in the interview, and his yearning soul resented it. “Why, no.”

“Good night, sir.”

“Stop a moment. Which is Mr. Mortimer’s room?”

“Mr. Mortimer, senior, sir? It is at the further end of this passage, on the left facing the main staircase. Good night, sir. I am extremely obliged. I will bring you your shaving-water when you ring.”

Mr. Bennett, left alone, mused for awhile, then, rising from his bed, put on his dressing-gown, took his candle, and went down the passage to Mortimer’s room.

The soft carpet gave out no sound as Mr. Bennett approached the bed. The light of the candle fell on the back of a semi-bald head. Mr. Mortimer was sleeping with his face buried in the pillow. It cannot have been good for him, but that was what he was doing. From the portion of the pillow in which his face was buried strange gurgles proceeded, like the distant rumble of an approaching train on the subway.

“Mortimer,” said Mr. Bennett.

The train stopped at a station to pick up passengers, and rumbled on again.

“Henry!” said Mr. Bennett, and nudged his sleeping friend in the small of the back.

“Leave it on the mat,” mumbled Mr. Mortimer, stirring slightly and uncovering one corner of his mouth.

Mr. Bennett began to forget his remorse in a sense of injury. He felt like a man with a good story to tell who can get nobody to listen to him. He nudged the other again, more vehemently this time. Mr. Mortimer made a noise like a gramophone when the needle slips, moved restlessly for a moment, then sat up, staring at the candle.

“Rabbits! Rabbits! Rabbits all over the place!” said Mr. Mortimer, and sank back again. He had begun to rumble before he touched the pillow.

“What do you mean, rabbits?” said Mr. Bennett sharply.

The not unreasonable query fell on deaf ears. Mr. Mortimer was already entering a tunnel.

“Much too pink!” he murmured as the pillow engulfed him.

What steps Mr. Bennett would have taken at this juncture, one cannot say. Probably he would have given the thing up in despair and retired, for it is weary work forgiving a sleeping man. But, as he bent above his slumbering friend, a drop of warm grease detached itself from the candle and fell into Mr. Mortimer’s exposed ear. The sleeper wakened.

“What? What? What?” he exclaimed bounding up. “Who’s that?”

“It’s me—Rufus,” said Mr. Bennett, less careful of grammar than Webster, the valet. “Henry, I’m dying!”



Mr. Mortimer yawned cavernously. The mists of sleep were engulfing him again.

“Eight rabbits sitting on the lawn,” he muttered. “But too pink! Much too pink!”

And, as if considering he had borne his full share in the conversation and that no more could be expected of him, he snuggled down into the pillow again.

Mr. Bennett’s sense of injury became more acute. For a moment he was strongly tempted to try the restorative effects of candle-grease once more, but, just as he was on the point of succumbing, a shooting pain as if somebody had run a red-hot needle into his tongue reminded him of his situation. A dying man cannot pass his last hours dropping candle-grease into people’s ears. He regarded with a wistful eye the portion of his friend’s head which was visible, gave a sigh, and moved to the door. After all, it was perhaps a little late, and there would be plenty of time to become reconciled to Mr. Mortimer to-morrow. His task now was to seek out Bream and bring him the glad news of his renewed engagement.

He closed the door quietly, ignoring a final complaint from the bed regarding the excessive pinkness of rabbits in the land of dreams, and proceeded upstairs. Bream’s bedroom, he knew, was the one just off the next landing. He turned the handle quietly, and went in. Having done this, he coughed.

“Drop that pistol!” said the voice of Jane Hubbard immediately, with quiet severity. “I’ve got you covered!”

Mr. Bennett had no pistol, but he dropped the candle. It would have been a nice point to say whether he was more perturbed by the discovery that he had got into the wrong room, and that room a lady’s, or by the fact that the lady whose wrong room it was had pointed what appeared to be a small cannon at him over the foot of the bed. It was not, as a matter of fact, a cannon but the elephant gun, which Miss Hubbard carried with her everywhere—a girl’s best friend.

“My dear young lady!” he gasped.

On the five occasions during recent years on which men had entered her tent with the object of murdering her, Jane Hubbard had shot without making inquiries. What strange feminine weakness it was that had caused her to utter a challenge on this occasion she could not have said.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know how to apologise!”

“That’s all right! Let’s have a light.” A match flared in the darkness. Miss Hubbard lit her candle, and gazed at Mr. Bennett with quiet curiosity.

“What on earth do you think you are doing, rambling about the house at this hour,” she asked.

“I want to see Bream Mortimer.”

“He’s two doors along the passage.”

“I will wish you good night, then,” said Mr. Bennett courteously.

“What do you want to see him about?”

“I wish to inform him that he may still consider himself engaged to my daughter.”

“Oh, well, I don’t suppose he’ll mind being woken up to hear that. But what’s the idea?”

“It’s a long story.”

“That’s all right. Let’s make a night of it.”

“I am a dying man. I awoke an hour ago with a feeling of acute pain. . . .”

Miss Hubbard listened to the story of his symptoms with interest but without excitement.

“What nonsense!” she said at the conclusion.

“My dear young lady,” said Mr. Bennett, piqued. “I have devoted a considerable part of my life to medical study. . . .”

“I know. That’s the trouble. People oughtn’t to be allowed to read medical books.”

“Well, we need not discuss it,” said Mr. Bennett, stiffly. He resented being dragged out of the valley of the shadow of death by the scruff of his neck like this. “Good night!”

His expectation of getting more satisfactory results from Bream was fulfilled. It took some time to rouse that young man from a slumber almost as deep as his father’s; but, once roused, he showed a gratifying appreciation of the gravity of affairs. Joy at one half of his visitor’s news competed with consternation and sympathy at the other half. He thanked Mr. Bennett profusely, showed a fitting concern on learning of his terrible situation, and evinced a practical desire to help by offering him a bottle of liniment which he had found useful for gnat-stings. Declining this, though not ungratefully, Mr. Bennett withdrew, and made his way down the passage again with something approaching a glow in his heart. The glow lasted until he had almost reached the landing, when it was dissipated by a soft but compelling voice from the doorway of Miss Hubbard’s room.

“Come here!” said Miss Hubbard. She had put on a blue bath-robe, and looked like a pugilist about to enter the ring. “It’s my opinion that you’re making a lot of fuss over nothing.”

Mr. Bennett drew himself up as haughtily as a man in a dressing-gown can, but the effect was wasted on his companion, who had turned and gone into her room.

“Come in here,” she said.

Tougher men than Mr. Bennett had found it impossible to resist the note of calm command in that voice, but for all that he reproached himself for his weakness in obeying.

“Sit down!” said Jane Hubbard, producing a wicked looking needle.

She indicated a low stool beside the dressing-table.

“Put your tongue out!” she said, as Mr. Bennett, still under her strange influence, lowered himself on to the stool. “Further out! That’s right. Keep it like that and keep quite still.”

Mr. Bennett did—for perhaps the space of two seconds. Then he leaped from his seat with a squeal. It was a tribute to the forceful personality of the fair surgeon, if one were needed, that the squeal he uttered was a subdued one. He was just about to speak—he had framed the opening words of a strong protest—when suddenly he became aware of something in his mouth, something small and hard. He removed it and examined it as it lay on his finger. It was a minute fragment of lobster-shell. And at the same time he became conscious of a marked improvement in the state of his tongue. The swelling had gone.

“I told you so!” said Jane Hubbard placidly. “What is it?”

“It—it appears to be a piece of . . .”

“Lobster-shell. And we had lobster for lunch.”

Half-way down the stairs it suddenly occurred to Mr. Bennett that he wanted to sing. He wanted to sing very loudly and for quite some time. He restrained the impulse and returned to bed.



Since they had last met, at Sir Mallaby’s dinner-table, Sam had told himself perhaps a hundred times that he cared nothing about Billie, that she had gone out of his life and was dead to him; but unfortunately he did not believe it. A man takes a deal of convincing on a point like this, and Sam had never succeeded in convincing himself for more than two minutes at a time. It was useless to pretend that he did not still love Billie more than ever, because he knew he did.

So engrossed was he in his meditation that he did not hear the light footstep in the outer office, and it was only when it was followed by a tap on the door of the inner office that he awoke with a start to the fact that clients were in his midst.

Probably this was some bore who wanted to make his infernal will or something, and Sam had neither the ability nor the inclination to assist him.

Was it too late to escape? Perhaps if he did not answer the knock, the blighter might think there was nobody at home. But suppose he opened the door and peeped in? A spasm of Napoleonic strategy seized Sam. He dropped silently to the floor and concealed himself under the desk. Napoleon was always doing that sort of thing; only Napoleon would have seen to it that his boots and about eighteen inches of trousered legs were not sticking out, plainly visible to all who entered.

“Good morning,” said a voice.

Sam thrilled from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. It was the voice which had been ringing in his ears through all his waking hours.

“Are you busy, Mr. Marlowe?” Billie asked, addressing the boots.

Sam wriggled out from under the desk like a disconcerted tortoise.

“Dropped my pen,” he mumbled, as he rose to the surface.

He pulled himself together with an effort that was like a physical exercise. He stared at Billie dumbly. Then, recovering speech, he invited her to sit down, and seated himself at the desk.

The old fighting spirit of the Marlowes now began to assert itself to some extent. He must make an effort to appear as little of a fool as possible in this girl’s eyes. And what eyes they were!

“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.

“Well, I really wanted to see Sir Mallaby.”

“My father has been called away on important business to Walton Heath. Cannot I act as his substitute?”

“Well, Mr. Mortimer and my father have taken a house together in the country . . .”

“I knew that.”

What a memory you have!” said Billie kindly. “Well, for some reason or other they have quarrelled, and now Mr. Mortimer is doing everything he can to make father uncomfortable. Yesterday afternoon father wanted to sleep, and Mr. Mortimer started the orchestrion just to annoy him.”

“I think—I’m not quite sure—I think that’s a tort,” said Sam.

“A what?”

“Either a tort or a malfeasance.”

“Why, you do know something about it after all!” cried Billie, startled into a sort of friendliness in spite of herself. And at the words and the sight of her quick smile Sam’s professional composure reeled on its foundations. He had half risen, with the purpose of springing up and babbling of the passion that consumed him, when the chill reflection came to him that this girl had once said that she considered him ridiculous. If he let himself go, would she not continue to think him ridiculous? He sagged back into his seat: and at that moment there came another tap on the door which, opening, revealed the sinister face of the holiday-making Peters.

“Good morning, Mr. Samuel,” said Jno Peters. “Good morning, Miss Milliken. Oh!”

He vanished as abruptly as he had appeared. He perceived that what he had taken at first glance for the stenographer was a client, and that the junior partner was engaged on a business conference. He left behind him a momentary silence.

“What a horrible-looking man!” said Billie, breaking it with a little gasp. “He quite frightened me!”

For some moments Sam sat without speaking. If this had not been one of his Napoleonic mornings, no doubt the sudden arrival of his old friend, Mr. Peters, whom he had imagined at his home in Putney packing for his trip to America, would have suggested nothing to him. As it was, it suggested a great deal. He had had a brain-wave, and for fully a minute he sat tingling under its impact. He was not a young man who often had brain-waves, and when they came they made him rather dizzy.

“Who is he?” asked Billie. “He seemed to know you? And who,” she demanded after a slight pause, “is Miss Milliken?”

Sam drew a deep breath.

“It’s rather a sad story,” he said. “His name is John Peters. He used to be clerk here. We had to get rid of him.”

“I don’t wonder. A man looking like that . . .”

“It wasn’t that so much,” said Sam. “The thing that annoyed father was that he tried to shoot Miss Milliken.”

Billie uttered a cry of horror!

“He tried to shoot Miss Milliken?”

“He did shoot her—the third time,” said Sam, warming to his work. “Only in the arm, fortunately,” he added. “But my father is rather a stern disciplinarian and he had to go. I mean, we couldn’t keep him after that.”

“Good gracious!”

“She used to be my father’s stenographer, and she was thrown a good deal with Peters. It was quite natural that he should fall in love with her. She was a beautiful girl with rather your own shade of hair. Peters is a man of volcanic passions, and, when, after she had given him to understand that his love was returned, she informed him one day that she was engaged to a fellow at Ealing West, he went right off his onion—I mean, he became completely distraught.”

“My hair is red!” whispered Billie pallidly.

“Yes, I noticed it myself. I told you it was much the same shade as Miss Milliken’s. It’s rather fortunate that I happened to be here with you when he came.”

“But he may be lurking out there still!”

“I expect he is,” said Sam carelessly. “Yes, I suppose he is. Would you like me to go and send him away? All right.”

“But—but is it safe?”

Sam uttered a light laugh.

“I don’t mind taking a risk or two for your sake,” he said, and sauntered from the room, closing the door behind him. Billie followed him with worshipping eyes.

“Hallo, Peters,” said Sam. “Want anything?”

“Very sorry to have disturbed you, Mr. Samuel. I just looked in to say good-bye. I sail on Saturday, and my time will be pretty fully taken up all the week. I have to go down to the country to get some final instructions from the client whose important papers I am taking over. I’m sorry to have missed your father, Mr. Samuel.”

“Yes, this is his golf day at Walton Heath. I’ll tell him you looked in.”

“Is there anything I can do before I go?”


“Well”—Jno. Peters coughed tactfully—“I see that you are engaged with a client, Mr. Samuel, and I was wondering if any little point of law had arisen with which you did not feel yourself quite capable of coping, in which case I might perhaps be of assistance.”

“Oh, that lady,” said Sam. “That was Miss Milliken’s sister.”

“Indeed? I didn’t know Miss Milliken had a sister.”

“No,” said Sam.

“She is not very like her in appearance.”

“No. This one is the beauty of the family, I believe. A very bright, intelligent girl. I was telling her about your revolver just before you came in, and she was most interested. It’s a pity you haven’t got it with you now, to show to her.”

“Oh, but I have! I have, Mr. Samuel!” said Peters, opening a small hand-bag and taking out a hymn-book, half a pound of mixed chocolates, a tongue sandwich, and the pistol, in the order named. “I was on my way to the Rupert Street range for a little practice. I should be glad to show it to her.”

“Well, wait here a minute or two,” said Sam. “I’ll have finished talking business in a moment.”

He returned to the inner office.

“Well?” cried Billie.

“Eh? Oh, he’s gone,” said Sam. “I persuaded him to go away. He was a little excited, poor fellow. And now let us return to what we were talking about. You say . . .” He broke off with an exclamation, and glanced at his watch. “Good Heavens! I had no idea of the time. I promised to run up and see a man in one of the offices in the next court. He wants to consult me on some difficulty which has arisen with one of his clients. Rightly or wrongly he values my advice. Can you spare me for a short while? I shan’t be more than ten minutes.”


Billie was surprised to hear the door open at her back. She had not expected Sam to return so instantaneously.

Nor had he done so. It was not Sam who entered. It was a man of repellent aspect whom she recognised instantly, for Jno. Peters was one of those men who, once seen, are not easily forgotten. He was smiling a cruel, cunning smile—at least, she thought he was. Mr. Peters himself was under the impression that his face was wreathed in a benevolent simper; and in his hand he bore the largest pistol ever seen outside a motion picture studio.

“How do you do, Miss Milliken?” he said.



Mr. Peters nursed the weapon affectionately in his hand. He was rather a shy man with women as a rule, but what Sam had told him about her being interested in his revolver had made his heart warm to this girl.

“I was just on my way to have a little practice at the range,” he said. “Then I thought I might as well look in here.”

“I suppose—I suppose you’re a good shot?” quavered Billie.

“I seldom miss,” said Jno. Peters.

Billie shuddered. Then, reflecting that the longer she engaged this maniac in conversation, the more hope there was of Sam coming back in time to save her, she essayed further small-talk.

“It’s—it’s very ugly!”

“Oh, no!” said Mr. Peters, hurt.

Billie perceived that she had said the wrong thing.

“Very deadly-looking, I meant,” she corrected herself hastily.

“It may have deadly work to do, Miss Milliken,” said Mr. Peters.

Conversation languished again. Billie had no further remarks to make of immediate interest, and Mr. Peters was struggling with a return of the deplorable shyness which so handicapped him in his dealings with the other sex. After a few moments he pulled himself together again, and, as his first act was to replace the pistol in the pocket of his coat, Billie became conscious of a faint stirring of relief.

“The great thing,” said Jno. Peters, “is to learn to draw quickly. Like this!” he added, producing the revolver with something of the smoothness and rapidity with which Billie, in happier moments, had seen Bream Mortimer take a bowl of goldfish out of a tall hat. “Everything depends on getting the first shot! The first shot, Miss Milliken, is vital.”

Suddenly Billie had an inspiration. It was hopeless, she knew, to try to convince this poor demented creature, obsessed with his idee fixe, that she was not Miss Milliken. Denial would be a waste of time, and might even infuriate him into precipitating the tragedy. It was imperative that she should humour him. And, while she was humouring him, it suddenly occurred to her, why not do it thoroughly?

She flung out her hands in a gesture of passionate appeal.

“I love you!” she cried.

“My goodness gracious!” ejaculated Mr. Peters, and nearly fell over backwards. To a naturally shy man this sudden and wholly unexpected declaration was disconcerting; and the clerk was, moreover, engaged. He blushed violently. And yet, even in that moment of consternation, he could not check a certain thrill. He must be a bit of a devil after all.

Calmer thoughts succeeded this little flicker of complacency. The girl was mad. That was the fact of the matter. He got up and began to edge towards the door. At that moment Sam entered.

The atmosphere of the room seemed to him, as he entered, a little strained. Billie looked pale and agitated. Mr. Peters looked rather agitated, too. Sam caught Billie’s eye. It had an unspoken appeal in it. He gave an imperceptible nod, a reassuring nod, the nod of a man who understood all and was prepared to handle the situation.

“Come, Peters,” he said in a deep, firm, quiet voice, laying a hand on the clerk’s arm. “It’s time that you went.”

“Yes, indeed, Mr. Samuel! Yes, yes, indeed!”

“I’ll see you out,” said Sam soothingly, and led him through the outer office and on to the landing outside. “Well, good luck, Peters,” he said, as they stood at the head of the stairs. “I hope you have a pleasant trip. Why, what’s the matter?”

“That girl, Mr. Samuel! I really think—really, she cannot be quite right in her head.”

“Nonsense, nonsense!” said Sam firmly. “She’s all right! Well, good-bye.”

“Good-bye, Mr. Samuel.”

Sam watched him out of sight down the stairs, then turned and made his way back to the inner office. Billie was sitting limply on the chair which Jno. Peters had occupied. She sprang to her feet.

“Has he really gone?”

“Yes, he’s gone this time.”

“Was he—was he violent?”

“A little,” said Sam. “A little. But I calmed him down.” He looked at her gravely. “Thank God I was in time!”

“Oh, you are the bravest man in the world!” cried Billie, and, burying her face in her hands, burst into tears.

“There, there!” said Sam. “There, there! Come, come! It’s all right now!”

He knelt down beside her. He slipped one arm round her waist. He patted her hands.

“There, there, there!” he said.

His face was very close to Billie’s, who had cheered up wonderfully by this time, and he was whispering his degraded words of endearment into her ear, when there was a sort of explosion in the doorway.

“Great Godfrey!” exclaimed Mr. Rufus Bennett, gazing on the scene from this point of vantage and mopping with a large handkerchief a scarlet face, which, as the result of climbing three flights of stairs, had become slightly soluble. “Great Heavens above! Number four!

(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.
The first large illustration with the caption “I believe you’re still hankering” was printed in the previous episode in the June issue; it is moved here to be adjacent to the corresponding text.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine dropped out the 'l' in "an hour later"
Magazine had a 'y' instead of closing quotation mark in "does!” said Billie."
Magazine had "Billie, asked addressing"; comma moved to "Billie asked, addressing"
Magazine omitted opening quotation mark in "little gasp. “He"
Magazine erroneously started a new paragraph after "said Sam firmly."