Pan Magazine, August 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, and Billie becomes engaged to Bream Mortimer.
  Billie’s father, Mr. Rufus Bennett, secures the lease of the old-world country house of Mrs. Hignett, Eustace’s mother. 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, and, later on, when Billie looks in, he sends her to London to obtain legal advice from Sir Mallaby Marlowe—the eminent lawyer. Sir Mallaby is away and Sam interviews Billie. While they are talking, the office clerk, Jno. Peters, who is preparing to visit America—combining business with pleasure—calls to say good-bye.
  Sam has a brain-wave. He tells Billie that the clerk is a maniac where red-haired girls are concerned and that he has been discharged for shooting at and wounding Miss Milliken, the typist. Then he hurries outside and informs the clerk that his visitor is Miss Milliken’s sister, and that she is most interested in his revolver, which, fortunately for Sam, the clerk has in his pocket. Peters goes into the room to show the weapon to Billie. Sam enters at the critical moment, advises Peters to go, and Billie, almost hysterical, thinks he has saved her life. She is in his arms when Mr. Bennett bursts in.



Mr. Bennett advanced shakily into the room, and supported himself with one hand on the desk, while with the other he still plied the handkerchief on his over-heated face. Much had occurred to disturb him this morning. On top of a broken night he had had an affecting reconciliation scene with Mr. Mortimer, at the conclusion of which he had decided to take the first train to London in the hope of intercepting Billie before she reached Sir Mallaby’s office on her mission of war. The local train service kept such indecently early hours that he had been compelled to bolt his breakfast, and, in the absence of Billie, the only member of the household who knew how to drive the car, to walk to the station, a distance of nearly two miles.

Arrived at the station, he had had a trying wait, followed by a slow journey to Waterloo. The cab which he had taken at Waterloo had kept him in a lively state of apprehension all the way to the Savoy, owing to an apparent desire to climb over motor-omnibuses when it could not get round them. At the Savoy he found that Billie had already left, which had involved another voyage through the London traffic under the auspices of a driver who appeared to be either blind or desirous of committing suicide. He had had three flights of stairs to negotiate. And, finally, arriving at the office, he had found his daughter in the circumstances already described.

“Why, father!” said Billie, “I didn’t expect you.”

As an explanation of her behaviour this might, no doubt, have been considered sufficient, but as an excuse for it Mr. Bennett thought it inadequate, and would have said so had he had enough breath. This physical limitation caused him to remain speechless and to do the best he could in the way of stern fatherly reproof by puffing like a seal after a long dive in search of fish.

Having done this, he became aware that Sam Marlowe was moving towards him with outstretched hand. It took a lot to disconcert Sam. He gave evidence of this in a neat speech.

“I am delighted to see you, Mr. Bennett,” said Sam. “You could not have come at a more fortunate moment. You see for yourself how things are. There is no need for a long explanation. You came to find a daughter, Mr. Bennett, and you have found a son! I will be the prop of your declining years.”

“What the devil do you mean, my declining years?” demanded Mr. Bennett.

“He means when they do decline, father dear,” said Billie.

“Of course, of course,” said Sam. “When they do decline. Not till then, of course! I wouldn’t dream of it. But, once they do decline, count on me! And I should like to say for my part,” he went on handsomely, “what an honour I think it to become the son-in-law of a man like Mr. Bennett. Bennett of New York!” he added spaciously, not so much because he knew what he meant, for he would have been the first to admit that he did not, but because it sounded well.

“Oh!” said Mr. Bennett. “You do, do you?”


Mr. Bennett sat down. He put away his handkerchief, which had certainly earned a rest. Then he fastened a baleful stare upon his newly discovered son. It was not the sort of look a proud and happy father-in-law-to-be ought to have directed at a prospective relative. It was not, as a matter of fact, the sort of look which anyone ought to have directed at anybody, except possibly an exceptionally prudish judge at a criminal in the dock, convicted of a more than usually atrocious murder. Billie, not being in the actual line of fire, only caught the tail end of it, but it was enough to create a misgiving.

“Oh, father! You aren’t angry!”


“You can’t be angry!”

“Why can’t I be angry?” demanded Mr. Bennett, with that sense of injury which comes to self-willed men when their whims are thwarted. “Why the devil shouldn’t I be angry? I am angry! I come here and find you like—like this, and you seem to expect me to throw my hat in the air and give three rousing cheers! Of course I’m angry! You are engaged to be married to an excellent young man of the highest character.”

“Oh, well!” said Sam, straightening his tie modestly. “It’s awfully good of you . . .”

“But that’s all over, father.”

“What’s all over?”

“You told me yourself that you had broken off my engagement to Bream.”

“Well—er—yes, I did,” said Mr. Bennett, a little taken aback. “That is—to a certain extent—so. But,” he added, with restored firmness, “it’s on again!”

“But I don’t want to marry Bream!”

“Naturally!” said Sam. “Naturally! Quite out of the question. In a few days we’ll all be roaring with laughter at the very idea.”

“It doesn’t matter what you want! A girl who gets engaged to a dozen men in three weeks . . .”

“It wasn’t a dozen!”

“Well, four—five—six—you can’t expect me not to lose count. . . . I say, a girl who does that does not know what she wants, and older and more prudent heads must decide for her. You are going to marry Bream Mortimer!”

“All wrong! All wrong!” said Sam, with a reproving shake of his head. “All wrong! She’s going to marry me.”

Mr. Bennett scorched him with a look compared with which his earlier effort had been a loving glance.

“Wilhelmina,” he said, “go into the outer office.”

“But, father, Sam saved my life!”

“Go into the outer office and wait for me.”

“There was a lunatic in here. . . .”

“There will be another if you don’t go.”

“He had a pistol.”

“Go into the outer office!”

“I shall always love you, Sam!” said Billie, pausing mutinously at the door.

“I shall always love you!” said Sam cordially.

“Nobody can keep us apart!”

“They’re wasting their time trying,” said Sam. “Simply wasting their time! They would be much better employed collecting stamps or on some other hobby.”

“You’re the most wonderful man in the world!”

“There never was another girl like you!”


“Get out!” bellowed Mr. Bennett, on whose equanimity this love-scene, which I think beautiful, was jarring profoundly. “Now, sir!” he said to Sam, as the door closed.

“Yes, let’s talk it over calmly,” said Sam.

“I will not talk it over calmly!”

“Oh, come! You can do it if you try. In the first place, whatever put this silly idea into your head about that sweet girl marrying Bream Mortimer?

“Bream Mortimer is the son of Henry Mortimer.”

“I know,” said Sam. “And while it is no doubt unfair to hold that against him, it’s a point you can’t afford to ignore. Henry Mortimer! You and I have Henry Mortimer’s number. We know what Henry Mortimer is like! A man who spends his time thinking up ways of annoying you. You can’t seriously want to have the Mortimer family linked to you by marriage.”

“Henry Mortimer is my oldest friend.”

“That makes it all the worse. Fancy a man who calls himself your friend treating you like that!”

“The misunderstanding to which you allude has been completely smoothed over. My relations with Mr. Mortimer are thoroughly cordial.”

“Well, have it your own way. Personally, I wouldn’t trust a man like that. And, as for letting my daughter marry his son . . . !”

“I have decided once and for all.”

“If you’ll take my advice, you will break the thing off.”

“I will not take your advice.”

“I wouldn’t expect to charge you for it,” explained Sam reassuringly. “I give it to you as a friend, not as a lawyer. Six-and-eightpence to others, free to you.”

“Will you understand that my daughter is going to marry Bream Mortimer?”

Mr. Bennett glowered at his young companion as he continued. “I don’t know why I’m wasting my time talking to you. The position is clear to the meanest intelligence. You cannot have any difficulty in understanding it. I have no objection to you personally . . .”

“Come, this is better!” said Sam.

“I don’t know you well enough to have any objection to you or any opinion of you at all. This is only the second time I have ever met you in my life.”

“Mark you,” said Sam, “I think I am one of those fellows who grow on people . . .”

“As far as I am concerned, you simply do not exist. You may be the noblest character in London or you may be wanted by the police. I don’t know. And I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. You mean nothing in my life. I don’t know you.”

“You must persevere,” said Sam. “You must buckle to and get to know me. Don’t give the thing up in this half-hearted way. Everything has to have a beginning. Stick to it, and in a week or two you will find yourself knowing me quite well.”

“I don’t want to know you!”

“You say that now, but wait!”

“And thank goodness I have not got to!” exploded Mr. Bennett, ceasing to be calm and reasonable with a suddenness which affected Sam much as though half a pound of gunpowder had been touched off under his chair. “For the little I have seen of you has been quite enough! Kindly understand that my daughter is engaged to be married to another man, and that I do not wish to see or hear anything of you again! I shall try to forget your very existence, and I shall see to it that Wilhelmina does the same! You’re an impudent scoundrel, sir! An impudent scoundrel! I don’t like you! I don’t wish to see you again. If that is quite clear, I will wish you good morning!”

Mr. Bennett thundered out of the room, and Sam, temporarily stunned by the outburst, remained where he was, gaping. A few minutes later life began to return to his palsied limbs. It occurred to him that Mr. Bennett had forgotten to kiss him good-bye, and he went into the outer office to tell him so—but the outer office was empty. Sam stood for a moment in thought, then he returned to the inner office, and, picking up a time-table, began to look out trains to the village of Windlehurst in Hampshire, the nearest station to his aunt Adeline’s charming old-world house, Windles.


The morning sunlight fell pleasantly on the garden of Windles, as Mr. Bennett crossed the lawn and sat down beside his daughter. Smith, the bulldog, raising a sleepy head, breathed heavily; but Mr. Bennett did not quail. Since their last unfortunate meeting, relations of distant, but solid friendship had come to exist between pursuer and pursued. Sceptical at first, Mr. Bennett had at length allowed himself to be persuaded of the mildness of the animal’s nature and the essential purity of his motives; and now it was only when they encountered each other unexpectedly round sharp corners that he ever betrayed the slightest alarm.

“Sketching?” said Mr. Bennett.

“Yes,” said Billie, for there were no secrets between this girl and her father. At least, not many. She occasionally omitted to tell him some such trifle as that she had met Samuel Marlowe on the previous morning in a leafy lane, and intended to meet him again this afternoon, but apart from that her mind was an open book.

“It’s a great morning,” said Mr. Bennett.

“So peaceful,” said Billie.


Silence fell, broken only by the snoring of Smith. Billie was thinking of Sam and of what Sam had said to her in the lane yesterday; of his clean-cut face, and the look in his eyes—so vastly superior to any look that ever came into the eyes of Bream Mortimer. She was telling herself that her relations with Sam were an idyll; for, being young and romantic, she enjoyed this freshet of surreptitious meetings which had come to enliven the stream of her life. It was pleasant to go warily into deep lanes where forbidden love lurked. She cast a swift side-glance at her father—the unconscious ogre in her fairy-story. What would he say if he knew? But Mr. Bennett did not know, and consequently continued to meditate peacefully.

They had sat like this for perhaps a minute—two happy mortals lulled by the gentle beauty of the day—when from the window of the drawing-room there stepped out a white-capped maid. And one may just as well say at once—and have done with it—that this is the point where the quiet, peaceful scene in domestic life terminates with a jerk, and pity and terror resume work at the old stand.

The maid—her name, not that it matters, was Susan, and she was engaged to be married, though the point is of no importance, to the second assistant at Green’s Grocery Stores in Windlehurst—approached Mr. Bennett.

“Please, sir, a gentleman to see you.”

“Eh?” said Mr. Bennett, torn from a dream of large pink slices of breakfast ham edged with bread-crumbed fat. “Eh?”

“A gentleman to see you, sir. In the drawing-room. He says you are expecting him.”

“Of course, yes. To be sure.”

Mr. Bennett heaved himself out of the deck-chair. Beyond the French windows he could see an indistinct form in a grey suit, and remembered that this was the morning on which Sir Mallaby Marlowe’s clerk—who was taking these Schultz and Bowen papers for him to America—had written that he would call. To-day was Friday; no doubt the man was sailing from Southampton to-morrow.

He crossed the lawn, entered the drawing-room, and found Mr. Jno. Peters with an expression on his ill-favoured face which looked like one of consternation, of uneasiness, even of alarm.

“Morning, Mr. Peters,” said Mr. Bennett. “Very good of you to run down. Take a seat, and I’ll just go through the few notes I have made about that matter.”

“Mr. Bennett,” exclaimed Jno. Peters. “May—may I speak?”

“What do you mean? Eh? What? Something to say! What is it?”

Mr. Peters cleared his throat awkwardly. He was feeling embarrassed at the unpleasantness of the duty which he had to perform, but it was a duty, and he did not intend to shrink from performing it. Ever since, gazing appreciatively through the drawing-room windows at the charming scene outside, he had caught sight of the unforgettable form of Billie, seated in her chair with the sketching-block on her knee, he had realised that he could not go away in silence, leaving Mr. Bennett ignorant of what he was up against.


One almost inclines to fancy that there must have been a curse of some kind on this house of Windles. Certainly everybody who entered it seemed to leave his peace of mind behind him. Jno. Peters had been feeling notably happy during his journey in the train from London and the subsequent walk from the station. The splendour of the morning had soothed his nerves, and the faint wind that blew inshore from the sea spoke to him hearteningly of adventure and romance. There was a jar of pot-pourri on the drawing-room table, and he had derived considerable pleasure from sniffing at it. In short, Jno. Peters was in the pink without a care in the world, until he had looked out of the window and seen Billie.

“Mr. Bennett,” he said, “I don’t want to do anybody any harm, and, if you know all about it, and she suits you, well and good; but I think it is my duty to inform you that your stenographer is not quite right in her head. I don’t say she’s dangerous, but she is not compos, Mr. Bennett!”

Mr. Bennett stared at his well-wisher dumbly, for a moment. The thought crossed his mind that, if ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this was it. His opinion of Jno. Peters’ sanity went down to zero.

“What are you talking about? My stenographer? What stenographer?”

It occurred to Mr. Peters that a man of the other’s wealth and business connections might well have a troupe of these useful females. He particularised.

“I mean the young lady out in the garden there, to whom you were dictating just now. The young lady with the writing-pad on her knee.”

“What! What!” Mr. Bennett spluttered. “Do you know who that is?” he exclaimed.

“Oh, yes, indeed!” said Jno. Peters. “I have only met her once, when she came into our office to see Mr. Samuel, but her personality and appearance stamped themselves so forcibly on my mind that I know I am not mistaken. I am sure it is my duty to tell you exactly what happened when I was left alone with her in the office. We had hardly exchanged a dozen words, Mr. Bennett, when——”—here Jno. Peters, modest to the core, turned vividly pink, “when she told me, she told me that I was the only man she loved!”

Mr. Bennett uttered a loud cry.

“Sweet spirits of nitre! What?”

“Those were her exact words.”

“Five!” ejaculated Mr. Bennett, in a strangled voice. “By the great horn spoon, number five!”

Mr. Peters could make nothing of this exclamation, and he was deterred from seeking light by the sudden action of his host, who, bounding from his seat with a vivacity of which one would not have believed him capable, charged to the French window and emitted a bellow.


Billie looked up from her sketching-block with a start. It seemed to her that there was a note of anguish, of panic, in that voice. What her father could have found in the drawing-room to be frightened at she did not know; but she dropped her block and hurried to his assistance.

“What is it, father?”

Mr. Bennett had retired within the room when she arrived; and, going in after him, she perceived at once what had caused his alarm. There before her, looking more sinister than ever, stood the lunatic Peters; and there was an ominous bulge in his right-hand coat-pocket which betrayed the presence of the revolver. What Jno. Peters was, as a matter of fact, carrying in his right-hand coat-pocket was a bag of chocolates which he had purchased in Windlehurst. But Billie’s eyes, though bright, had no X-ray quality. Her simple creed was that, if Jno. Peters bulged at any point, that bulge must be caused by a pistol. She screamed, and backed against the wall. Her whole acquaintance with Jno. Peters had been one constant backing against walls.

“Don’t shoot!” she cried, as Mr. Peters absent-mindedly dipped his hand into the pocket of his coat. “Oh, please don’t shoot!”

“What the deuce do you mean?” said Mr. Bennett irritably. He hated to have people gibbering around him in the morning. “Wilhelmina, this man says that you told him you loved him.”

“Yes, I did, and I do. Really, really, Mr. Peters, I do!” gasped Billie.

“Suffering cats!”

Mr. Bennett clutched at the back of a chair.

“But you’ve only met him once!” he added almost pleadingly.

“You don’t understand, father dear,” said Billie, desperately. “I’ll explain the whole thing later, when——

“Father!” ejaculated Jno. Peters feebly. “Did you say ‘father’?”

“Of course I said ‘father’!”

“This is my daughter, Mr. Peters.”

“My daughter! I mean, your daughter! Are—are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. Do you think I don’t know my own daughter?”

“But she called me ‘Mr. Peters’!”

“Well, it’s your name, isn’t it?”

“But, if she—if this young lady is your daughter, how did she know my name?”

The point seemed to strike Mr. Bennett. He turned to Billie.

“That’s true. Tell me, Wilhelmina, when did you and Mr. Peters meet?”

“Why, in—in Sir Mallaby Marlowe’s office, the morning you came there and found me when I waswas talking to Sam.”

Mr. Peters uttered a subdued gargling sound. He was finding this scene oppressive to a not very robust intellect.

“He—Mr. Samuel—told me your name was Miss Milliken,” he said dully.

Billie stared at him.

“Mr. Marlowe told you my name was Miss Milliken!” she repeated.

“He told me that you were the sister of the Miss Milliken who acts as stenographer for the guv’—for Sir Mallaby, and sent me in to show you my revolver, because he said you were interested and wanted to see it.”

A cold gleam had come into Billie’s eyes. Her face was pale and hard. If Sam Marlowe—at that moment carolling blithely in his bedroom at the Blue Boar in Windlehurst, washing his hands preparatory to descending to the coffee-room for a bit of cold lunch—could have seen her, the song would have frozen on his lips.

Billie knew all. And, terrible though the fact is as an indictment of the male sex, when a woman knows all, there is invariably trouble ahead for some man. There was trouble ahead for Samuel Marlowe. Billie, now in possession of the facts, had examined them and come to the conclusion that Sam had played a practical joke on her, and she was a girl who strongly disapproved of practical humour at her expense.

“That morning I met you at Sir Mallaby’s office, Mr. Peters,” she said in a frosty voice, “Mr. Marlowe had just finished telling me a long and convincing story to the effect that you were madly in love with a Miss Milliken, who had jilted you, and that this had driven you off your head, and that you spent your time going about with a pistol, trying to shoot every red-haired woman you saw, because you thought they were Miss Milliken. Naturally, when you came in and called me Miss Milliken, and brandished a revolver, I was very frightened. I thought it would be useless to tell you that I wasn’t Miss Milliken, so I tried to persuade you that I was, and hadn’t jilted you after all.”

“Good gracious!” said Mr. Peters, vastly relieved; and yet—for always there is bitter mixed with the sweet—a shade disappointed. “Then—er—you don’t love me after all?”

“No!” said Billie. “I am engaged to Bream Mortimer, and I love him and nobody else in the world!”

The last portion of her observation was intended for the consumption of Mr. Bennett, rather than that of Mr. Peters, and he consumed it joyfully. He folded Billie in his ample embrace.

“I always thought you had a grain of sense hidden away somewhere,” he said, paying her a striking tribute. “I hope now that we’ve heard the last of all this foolishness about that young hound, Marlowe.”

“You certainly have! I don’t want ever to see him again! I hate him!”

“You couldn’t do better, my dear,” said Mr. Bennett approvingly. “And now run away. Mr. Peters and I have some business to discuss.”

A quarter of an hour later, Webster, the valet, sunning himself in the stable-yard, was aware of the daughter of his employer approaching him.

“Webster,” said Billie. She was still pale. Her face was still hard, and her eyes still gleamed coldly.

“Miss?’ said Webster politely, throwing away the cigarette with which he had been refreshing himself. Always the gentleman, Webster.

“Will you do something for me?”


“I should be more than delighted, Miss.”

Billie whisked into view an envelope which had been concealed in the recesses of her dress.

“Do you know the country about here well, Webster?”

“Within a certain radius, not unintimately, Miss. I have been for several enjoyable rambles since the fine weather set in.”

“Do you know the place where there is a road leading to Havant, and another to Cosham? It’s about a mile down.”

“I know the spot well, Miss.”

“Well, straight in front of you, when you get to the signpost, there is a little lane.”

“I know it, Miss,” said Webster, with a faint smile. Twice had he escorted Miss Trimblett thither. “A delightfully romantic spot. What with the overhanging trees, the wealth of blackberry bushes, the varied wild-flowers——

“Yes, never mind about the wild-flowers now. I want you, after lunch, to take this note to a gentleman you will find sitting on the gate at the bottom of the lane.”

“Sitting on the gate, Miss. Yes, Miss.”

“Or leaning against it. You can’t mistake him. He is rather tall, and—oh, well, there isn’t likely to be anybody else there, so you can’t make a mistake. Give him this, will you?”

“Certainly, Miss. Er—any message?”

“Any what?”

“Any verbal message, Miss?”

“No, certainly not! You won’t forget, will you, Webster?”

“On no account whatever, Miss. Shall I wait for an answer?”

“There won’t be any answer,” said Billie, setting her teeth for an instant. “Oh, Webster.”


“I can rely on you to say nothing to anybody?”

“Most undoubtedly, Miss. Most undoubtedly!”



At half-past two that afternoon, full of optimism and cold beef, gaily unconscious that Webster, with measured strides was approaching ever nearer with the note that was to give it him in the neck, proper, Samuel Marlowe dangled his feet from the top bar of the gate at the end of the lane and smoked contentedly as he waited for Billie to make her appearance. He had had an excellent lunch; his pipe was drawing well, and all Nature smiled. The breeze from the sea across the meadows tickled pleasantly the back of his head, and sang a soothing song in the long grass and ragged-robins at his feet. He was looking forward with a roseate glow of anticipation to the moment when the white flutter of Billie’s dress would break the green of the foreground. How eagerly he would jump from the gate! How lovingly he would——.

The elegant figure of Webster interrupted his reverie. Sam had never seen Webster before, and it was with no pleasure that he saw him now. He had come to regard this lane as his own private property, and he resented trespassers. He tucked his legs under him, and scowled at Webster under the brim of his hat.


The valet advanced towards him with the air of an affable executioner stepping daintily to the block.

“Mr. Marlowe, sir?” he enquired.

Sam was startled. He could make nothing of this.

“Eh? What?”

“Have I the pleasure of addressing S. Marlowe?”

“Yes, that’s my name.”

“Mine is Webster, sir, I am Mr. Bennett’s personal gentleman’s gentleman. Miss Bennett entrusted me with this note to deliver to you, sir.”

Sam began to grasp the position. For some reason or other the dear girl had been prevented from coming this afternoon, and she had written to explain and relieve his anxiety. It was like her. It was just the sweet, thoughtful thing he would have expected her to do.

“Fine day,” he said, as he took the note.

“Extremely, sir,” said Webster, outwardly unemotional, inwardly full of a grave pity.

It was plain to him that there had been no previous little rift to prepare the young man for the cervical operation which awaited him, and he edged a little nearer, in order to be handy to catch Sam if the shock knocked him off the gate.

As it happened, it did not. Having read the opening words of the note, Sam rocked violently; but his feet were twined about the lower bars, and this saved him from overbalancing. Webster stepped back, relieved.

The note fluttered to the ground. Webster, picking it up and handing it back, was enabled to get a glimpse of the first two sentences. They confirmed his suspicions. The note was hot stuff. Assuming that it continued as it began, it was about the warmest thing of its kind that pen had ever written. Webster had received one or two heated epistles from the sex in his time—your man of gallantry can hardly hope to escape these unpleasantnesses—but none had got off the mark quite so swiftly, and with quite so much frigid violence as this.

“Thanks,” said Sam mechanically.

“Not at all, sir. You are very welcome.”

Sam resumed his reading. A cold perspiration broke out on his forehead. His toes curled, and something seemed to be crawling down the small of his back. His heart had moved up from its proper place and was now beating in his throat. He swallowed once or twice to remove the obstruction, but without success. A kind of pall had descended on the landscape, blotting out the sun.

Of all the rotten sensations in this world, the worst is the realisation that a thousand-to-one chance has come off, and caused our wrong-doing to be detected. There had seemed no possibility of that little ruse of his being discovered, and yet here was Billie in full possession of the facts. It almost made the thing worse that she did not say how she had come into possession of them. This gave Sam that feeling of self-pity, that sense of having been ill-used by Fate, which makes the bringing home of crime so particularly poignant.

“Fine day!” he muttered. He had a sort of subconscious feeling that it was imperative to keep engaging Webster in conversation.

“Yes, sir. Weather still keeps up,” agreed the valet suavely.

Sam frowned over the note. He felt injured. Sending a fellow notes didn’t give him a chance. If she had come in person and denounced him it would not have been an agreeable experience, but at least it would have been possible then to have pleaded and cajoled and—and all that sort of thing. But what could he do now? It seemed to him that his only possible course was to write a note in reply, begging her to see him. He explored his pockets and found a pencil and a scrap of paper. For some moments he scribbled desperately. Then he folded the note.

“Will you take this to Miss Bennett?” he said, holding it out.

Webster took the missive, because he wanted to read it later at his leisure; but he shook his head.

“Useless, I fear, sir,” he said gravely.

“What do you mean?”

“I am afraid it would effect little or nothing, sir, sending our Miss B. notes. She is not in the proper frame of mind to appreciate them. I saw her face when she handed me the letter you have just read. She is not in a malleable mood, sir.”

“You seem to know a lot about it!”

“I have studied the sex, sir,” said Webster modestly. “If you will permit me to say so, sir, you have my respectful sympathy.”

Sam’s dignity, on its death-bed, made an effort to assert itself.

“I don’t know what it’s got to do with you, any way!”

“Precisely, sir!” said Webster, with dignity. “Just as you say! Good afternoon, sir!”

He swayed gracefully, conveying a suggestion of departure without moving his feet. The action was enough for Sam. Dignity gave an expiring gurgle, and passed away, regretted by all.

“Don’t go!” he cried.

The idea of being left alone in this infernal lane, without human support, overpowered him.


Webster coughed gently, to show his appreciation of the delicate nature of the conversation. He was consumed with curiosity, and his threatened departure had been but a pretence. A team of horses could not have moved Webster at that moment. His perseverance was rewarded.

It was a complicated story to tell, and Sam, a prey to conflicting emotions, told it badly; but such was the almost superhuman intelligence of Webster that he succeeded in grasping the salient points. Sam then suggested several schemes whereby he could regain Billie’s affection. However, as the active support of Webster was required in each case and the valet had visions of Sam as the hero of the hour whilst he languished in hospital, he discreetly turned them down.

“Well, I don’t see what there is to be done,” said Sam gloomily. “It’s no good making suggestions if you have some frivolous objection to all of them.”

“My idea,” said Webster, “would be something which did not involve my own personal and active co-operation, sir. If it is all the same to you, I should prefer to limit my assistance to advice. I am anxious to help, but I am a man of regular habits, which I do not wish to disturb. Did you ever read ‘Footpaths of Fate’ in the Nosegay series, sir? I’ve only just remembered it, and it contains the most helpful suggestion of the lot. There had been a misunderstanding between the heroine and the hero—their names have slipped my mind, though I fancy his was Cyril—and she had told him to hop it.”

“To what?”

“To leave her for ever, sir. And what do you think he did?”

“How the deuce do I know?”

“He kidnapped her little brother, sir, to whom she was devoted, kept him hidden for a bit, and then returned him, and in her gratitude all was forgotten and forgiven and never——

“I know. Never had the bells of the old village church——

“Rung out a blither peal. Exactly, sir. Well, there, if you will allow me to say so, you are, sir! You need seek no further for a plan of action.”

“Miss Bennett hasn’t got a little brother.”

“No, sir; but she has a dog, and is greatly attached to it.”

Sam stared. From the expression on his face it was evident that Webster imagined himself to have made a suggestion of exceptional intelligence. It struck Sam as the silliest he had ever heard.

“You mean I ought to steal her dog?”

“Precisely, sir.”

“But, good heavens! Have you seen that dog?”

“The one to which I allude is a small brown animal with a fluffy tail. It sleeps in a little basket in the hall.

“Yes, and barks like a steam-siren, and, in addition to that, has about eighty-five teeth, all sharper than razors. I couldn’t get within ten feet of that dog without its lifting the roof off.”

“I had anticipated that difficulty, sir. In ‘Footpaths of Fate,’ there was a nurse who assisted the hero by drugging the child.”

“By jove!” said Sam impressed.


“He rewarded her,” said Webster, allowing his gaze to stray nonchalantly over the countryside, “liberally, very liberally.”

“If you mean that you expect me to reward you if you drug the dog,” said Sam, “don’t worry. Let me bring this thing off, and you can have all I’ve got, and my cuff-links as well. Come now, this is really beginning to look like something. Speak to me more of this matter. Where do we go from here? You haven’t explained how I am to get into the house yet.”

“Quite easily, sir. I can admit you through the drawing-room window while dinner is in progress.”


“You can then secrete yourself in the cupboard in the drawing-room. They retire quite early, sir, as a rule. By half-past ten the coast is generally clear. At that time I would suggest that I came down and knocked on the cupboard door to notify you that all was well.”

Sam was glowing with frank approval.

“You know, you’re a master-mind!” he said enthusiastically.

“You’re very kind, sir!”

“One of the lads, by Jove!” said Sam. “And not the worst of them! I don’t want to flatter you, but there’s a future for you in crime, if you cared to go in for it.”

“I am glad that you appreciate my poor efforts, sir. Then we will regard the scheme as approved and passed?”

“I should say we would! It’s a bird!”

“Very good, sir.”

“I’ll be round at about a quarter to eight. Will that be right?”

“Admirable, sir.”

“And, I say, about that soporific. Don’t overdo it. Don’t go killing the little beast.”

“Oh, no, sir.”

“Well,” said Sam, “you can’t say it’s not a temptation. And you know what you Napoleons of the Underworld are!”


If there is one thing more than another which weighs upon the mind of a storyteller as he chronicles the events which he has set out to describe, it is the thought that the reader may be growing impatient with him for straying from the main channel of his tale and devoting himself to what are, after all, minor developments. This story, for instance, opened with Mrs. Horace Hignett, the world-famous writer on Theosophy, going over to America to begin a lecturing-tour; and no one realises more keenly than I do that I have left Mrs. Hignett flat.

I have thrust that great thinker completely into the background and concentrated my attention on the affairs of one who is both her mental and her moral inferior, Samuel Marlowe. I seem at this point to see the reader—a great brute of a fellow with beetling eyebrows and jaw like the ram of a battleship, the sort of fellow who is full of determination and will stand no nonsense—rising to remark that he doesn’t care what happened to Samuel Marlowe and that what he wants to know is, how Mrs. Hignett made out on her lecturing-tour. Did she go big in Buffalo? Did she have ’em tearing up the seats in Schenectady? Was she a riot in Chicago, and a cyclone in St. Louis?

Those are the points on which he desires information, or give him his money back.

I cannot supply the information. And, before you condemn me, let me hastily add that the fault is not mine but that of Mrs. Hignett herself. The fact is, she never went to Buffalo. Schenectady saw nothing of her. She did not get within a thousand miles of Chicago, nor did she penetrate to St. Louis. For the very morning after her son Eustace sailed for England in the liner Atlantic, she happened to read in the paper one of those abridged passenger-lists which the journals of New York are in the habit of printing, and got a nasty knock when she saw that among those whose society Eustace would enjoy during the voyage was “Miss Wilhelmina Bennett, daughter of J. Rufus Bennett, of Bennett, Mandelbaum and Co.” And within five minutes of digesting this information, she was at her desk writing out telegrams cancelling all her engagements. Iron-souled as this woman was, her fingers trembled as she wrote. She had a vision of Eustace and the daughter of J. Rufus Bennett stolling together on moonlit decks, leaning over rails damp with sea-spray and, in short, generally starting the whole trouble all over again.

She wound up her affairs in New York and, on the following Wednesday, boarded the Nuronia, bound for Southampton. At almost the exact moment when Sam, sidling through the windows of the drawing-room, slid into the cupboard behind the piano, Mrs. Hignett was standing at the Customs barrier telling the officials that she had nothing to declare. An hour later and she back at Windles.

Her heart leaped joyfully as she turned in at the drive gates of her home and felt the well-remembered gravel crunching under her feet. The silhouette of the ruined castle against the summer sky gave her the feeling which all returning wanderers know. And, when she stepped on to the lawn and looked at the black bulk of the house, indistinct and shadowy with its backing of trees, tears came into her eyes. She experienced a rush of emotion which made her feel quite faint, and which lasted until, on tip-toeing nearer to the house in order to gloat more adequately upon it, she perceived that the French windows of the drawing-room were standing ajar. Sam had left them like this in order to facilitate departure, if necessary.


All the proprietor in Mrs. Hignett was roused. This, she felt indignantly, was the sort of thing she had been afraid would happen the moment her back was turned. She stepped into the drawing-room with the single-minded purpose of routing Eustace out of his sleep and giving him a good talking-to for having failed to maintain her own standard of efficiency among the domestic staff. If there was one thing on which Mrs. Horace Hignett had always insisted it was that every window in the house must be closed at lights-out.

She pushed the curtains apart with a rattle and, at the same moment, from the direction of the door there came a low but distinct gasp which made her resolute heart jump and flutter. It was too dark to see anything distinctly, but, in the instant before it turned and fled, she caught sight of a shadowy male figure, and knew that her worst fears had been realised. The figure was too tall to be Eustace, and Eustace, she knew, was the only man in the house. Male figures, therefore, that went flitting about Windles, must be the figures of burglars.

Mrs. Hignett, bold woman though she was, stood for an instant spellbound, and for one moment of not unpardonable panic tried to tell herself that she had been mistaken. Almost immediately, however, there came from the direction of the hall a dull chunky sound as though something soft had been kicked, followed by a low gurgle and the noise of staggering feet. Unless he were dancing a pas seul out of sheer lightness of heart, the nocturnal visitor must have tripped over something.

The latter theory was the correct one. Montague Webster was a man who, at many a subscription ball, had shaken a wicked dancing-pump, and nothing in the proper circumstances pleased him better than to exercise the skill which had become his as the result of twelve private lessons at half-a-crown a visit; but he recognised the truth of the scriptural adage that there is a time for dancing, and that this was not it. His only desire when, stealing into the drawing-room he had been confronted through the curtains by a female figure, was to get back to his bedroom undetected.


He supposed that one of the feminine members of the house-party must have been taking a stroll in the grounds, and he did not wish to stay and be compelled to make laborious explanations of his presence there in the dark. He decided to postpone the knocking on the cupboard door, which had been the signal arranged between himself and Sam, until a more suitable occasion. In the meantime he bounded silently out into the hall, and instantaneously tripped over the portly form of Smith, the bulldog, who, being a dog who liked to be in the centre of the maelstrom of events, waddled out to investigate.

By the time Mrs. Hignett had pulled herself together sufficiently to feel brave enough to venture into the hall, Webster’s presence of mind and Smith’s gregariousness had combined to restore that part of the house to its normal nocturnal condition of emptiness. Webster’s stagger had carried him almost up to the green baize door leading to the servants’ staircase, and he proceeded to pass through it without checking his momentum, closely followed by Smith who, now convinced that interesting events were in progress which might possibly culminate in cake, had abandoned the idea of sleep and meant to see the thing through. He gambolled in Webster’s wake up the stairs and along the passage leading to the latter’s room, and only paused when the door was brusquely shut in his face. Upon which he sat down to think the thing over. He was in no hurry. The night was before him, promising, as far as he could judge from the way it had opened, excellent entertainment.

(To be concluded.)



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 closing quotation mark of “He had a pistol.”
Magazine had "freshest"; corrected to "freshet" (the overflowing of a stream)
Magazine had "bread-crumb fat"; corrected to "bread-crumbed fat" as in other sources.
Magazine had extraneous opening quotation mark on 'Mr. Bennett uttered a loud cry.'
Magazine had "steppnig daintily" for "stepping daintily".
Magazine had "disovered" for "discovered".
The 'f' of "proper frame of mind" dropped one line lower, resulting in "proper  rame of mind" and "sawfher face".
Magazine omitted closing quotation mark on "lifting the roof off."
Magazine had "may by growing impatient"; corrected to "may be".
Magazine had "vogage" for "voyage" and "stolling" for "strolling".