Pan Magazine, September 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 Hignett’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. As a result of a brain wave he bluffs Billie into a reunion and, as Mr. Bennett is furious, pays a surreptitious visit to the neighbourhood of “Windles.” Unfortunately for Sam, Billie learns the full details of the ruse. She sends him a note by the butler, Webster, telling him that everything is at an end.
  Sam enlists the butler’s sympathies, and together they hatch another plot. Acting on Webster’s instructions, Sam steals into “Windles” late one night and secretes himself in a cupboard. When Webster goes to warn him that the coast is clear, he is startled by an apparition at the French windows. Mrs. Hignett has returned suddenly from America.



At about the moment when Mrs. Hignett was crunching the gravel of the drive, Eustace was lying in bed, listening to Jane Hubbard as she told the story of how an alligator had once got into her tent while she was camping on the banks of the Issawassi River in Central Africa. Ever since he had become ill, it had been the large-hearted girl’s kindly practice to soothe him to rest with some such narrative from her energetic past.

“And what happened then?” asked Eustace breathlessly.

He had raised himself on one elbow in his bed. His eyes shone excitedly from a face which was almost the exact shape of an Association football; for he had reached the stage of mumps when the patient begins to swell as though somebody were inflating him with a bicycle-pump.

“Oh, I jabbed him in the eye with a pair of nail-scissors, and he went away!” said Jane Hubbard.

“You know, you’re wonderful!” cried Eustace. “Simply wonderful!”

He lay back in bed and gave himself up to meditation. He had admired Jane Hubbard before, but the enforced intimacy of the sick-room and the stories which she had told him to relieve the tedium of his invalid state had set the seal on his devotion. In fact, one would have said that it was all over except buying the licence.

But even those whom Nature has destined to be mates may misunderstand each other: and Jane, who was as modest as she was brave, had come recently to place a strange interpretation on his silence. She was not blind to the fact that Billie Bennett was distinctly prettier than herself and far more the type to which the ordinary man is attracted.

True, Billie was officially engaged to Bream Mortimer, but she had had experience of the brittleness of Miss Bennett’s engagements, and she could by no means regard Eustace as immune.

“Do you suppose they will be happy?” she asked.

“Eh? Why?” said Eustace, excusably puzzled, for they had only just finished talking about alligators. But there had been a pause since his last remark, and Jane’s thoughts had flitted back to the subject that usually occupied them.

“Billie and Bream Mortimer.”

“Oh!” said Eustace. “Yes, I suppose so.”

“She’s a delightful girl.”

“Yes,” said Eustace without much animation.

“And, of course, it’s nice their fathers being so keen on the match. It doesn’t often happen that way.”

“No. People’s people generally want people to marry people people don’t want to marry,” said Eustace, clothing in words a profound truth which from the earliest days of civilisation has deeply affected the youth of every country.

“I suppose your mother has got somebody picked out for you to marry?” said Jane casually.


“Mother doesn’t want me to marry anybody,” said Eustace with gloom. It was another obstacle to his romance.

“As far as I can make out, if I marry, I get this house and mother has to clear out. Silly business!”

“Well, you wouldn’t let your mother stand in the way if you ever fell really in love?” said Jane. “What could she do?”

Eustace eyed her with honest amazement.

“What could she do! Why, there isn’t anything she wouldn’t do. Why, once . . .” Eustace broke off. The anecdote which he had been about to tell contained information which, on reflection, he did not wish to reveal.

“Once . . . ?” said Jane.

“Oh, well, I was just going to show you what mother is like. I—I was going out to lunch with a man, and—and—” Eustace was not a ready improvisator—“and she didn’t want me to go, so she stole all my trousers!”

Jane Hubbard started, as if, wandering through one of her favourite jungles, she had perceived a snake in her path. She was thinking hard. That story which Billie had told her on the boat about the man to whom she had been engaged, whose mother had stolen his trousers on the wedding morning . . . it all came back to her with a topical significance which it had never had before.

Jane Hubbard moved to the foot of the bed, and her forceful gaze, shooting across the intervening counterpane, pinned Eustace to the pillow. She was in the mood which had caused spines in Somaliland to curl like withered leaves.

“Were you ever engaged to Billie Bennett?” she demanded.

Eustace Hignett licked dry lips. His face looked like a hunted melon. The flannel bandage, draped around it by loving hands, hardly supported his sagging jaw.


Were you?” cried Jane, stamping an imperious foot. There was that in her eye before which warriors of the Lower Congo had become as chewed blotting-paper. Eustace Hignett shrivelled in the blaze.

“Well—er—yes,” he mumbled weakly.

Jane Hubbard buried her face in her hands and burst into tears. She might know what to do when alligators started exploring her tent, but she was a woman.

This sudden solution of steely strength into liquid weakness had on Eustace Hignett the stunning effects which the absence of the last stair has on the returning reveller creeping up to bed in the dark. It was as though his spiritual foot had come down hard on empty space and caused him to bite his tongue. Jane Hubbard had always been to him a rock of support. And now the rock had melted away and left him wallowing in a deep pool.

He wallowed gratefully. It had only needed this to brace him to the point of declaring his love. His awe of this girl had momentarily vanished. He felt strong and dashing. He scrambled down the bed and peered over the foot of it at her huddled form.

“Go away!” sobbed Jane Hubbard.

The unreasonableness of this struck Eustace.

“I can’t. I’m in bed. Where could I go?”

“I hate you!”

“Oh, don’t say that!”

“You’re still in love with her!”

“I’m not! I love you!

“You don’t!”

“Pardon me!” said Eustace firmly. “I’ve loved you ever since you gave me that extraordinary drink with Worcester sauce in it on the boat.”


“Then why didn’t you say so before?”

“I hadn’t the nerve. You always seemed so—I don’t know how to put it—I always seemed such a worm. I was just trying to get the courage to propose when I caught the mumps, and that seemed to me to finish it. No girl could love a man with three times the proper amount of face.”

“As if that could make any difference!”

Eustace fondled her back hair.

“Jane! Queen of my soul! Do you really love me?”

“I’ve loved you ever since we met on the subway.” She raised a tear-stained face. “If only I could be sure that you really love me!”

“I can prove it!” said Eustace proudly. “You know how scared I am of my mother. Well, for your sake I overcame my fear, and did something which, if she ever found out about it, would make her sorer than a sunburned neck! This house. She absolutely refused to let it to old Bennett and old Mortimer. They kept after her about it, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Well, you told me on the boat that Wilhelmina Bennett had invited you to spend the summer with her, and I knew that, if they didn’t come to Windles, they would take some other place and that meant I wouldn’t see you. So I hunted up old Bennett and let it to him on the quiet, without telling my mother anything about it!”

“Why, you darling angel child,” cried Jane Hubbard joyfully, “did you really do that for my sake? Now I know you love me!”

“That’s good,” said Eustace cordially. “But it’s going to be an awful jar for mother!”


“Don’t you worry about that. I’ll break the news to your mother. I’m sure she will be quite reasonable about it.”

Eustace opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again.

“Lie back quite comfortably, and don’t worry,” said Jane Hubbard. “I’m going to my room to get a book to read you to sleep. I shan’t be five minutes. And forget about your mother. I’ll look after her.”

Eustace closed his eyes. After all, this girl had fought lions, tigers, pumas, cannibals, and alligators in her time with resolution and success. There might be a sporting chance of victory for her when she moved a step up in the animal kingdom and tackled his mother. He was not unduly optimistic for he thought she was going out of her class, but he felt faintly hopeful. He allowed himself to drift into pleasant meditation.

There was a scrambling sound outside the door. The handle turned.

“Hullo! Back already?” said Eustace, opening his eyes.

The next moment he opened them wider. His mouth gaped slowly like a hole in a sliding cliff. Mrs. Horace Hignett was standing at his bedside.

In the moment which elapsed before either of the two could calm their agitated brains to speech, Eustace became aware, as never before, of the truth of that well-known line—“Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away.” There was certainly little hope of peace with loved ones in his bedroom. Dully, he realised that in a few minutes Jane Hubbard would be returning with her book, but his imagination refused to envisage the scene which would occur.


Mrs. Hignett gasped, hand on heart.

“Mother! I thought you were in America!”

“Eustace!” For the first time Mrs. Hignett seemed to become aware that it was a changed face that confronted hers. “Good gracious! How stout you’ve grown!”

“It’s mumps.”


“Yes, I’ve got mumps.”

Mrs. Hignett’s mind was too fully occupied with other matters to allow her to dwell on this subject.

“Eustace, there are men in the house!”

This fact was just what Eustace had been wondering how to break to her.

“I know,” he said uneasily.

“You know!” Mrs. Hignett stared. “Did you hear them?”

“Hear them?” said Eustace puzzled.

“The drawing-room window was left open, and there are two burglars in the hall!”

“Oh, I say, no! That’s rather rotten!”

“I saw them and heard them! I—oh!” Mrs. Hignett’s sentence trailed off into a suppressed shriek, as the door opened and Jane Hubbard came in.

Jane Hubbard was a girl who by nature and training was well adapted to bear shocks. She had only been out of the room a few minutes, and in that brief period a middle-aged lady of commanding aspect had apparently come up through a trap. It would have been enough to upset most girls, but Jane Hubbard bore it calmly.

“Good evening,” she said placidly.


Mrs. Hignett, having rallied from her moment of weakness, glared at the new arrival dumbly. She could not place Jane. Besides she wore no nurse’s uniform.

“Who are you?” she asked stiffly.

“Who are you?” asked Jane, passing the buck.

“I,” said Mrs. Hignett portentously, “am the owner of this house, and I should be glad to know what you are doing in it. I am Mrs. Horace Hignett.”

Eustace subsided into the bed and softly pulled the sheets over his head, following the excellent tactics of the great Duke of Wellington in his Peninsular campaign. “When in doubt,” the Duke used to say, “retire and dig yourself in.”

“I’m nursing dear Eustace,” said Jane. “We’re engaged you know.”

“Engaged! Eustace, is this true?”

“Yes,” said a muffled voice from the interior of the bed.

“And poor Eustace is so worried,” continued Jane, “about the house.” She went on quickly. “He doesn’t want to deprive you of it, because he knows what it means to you. So he is hoping—we are both hoping—that you will accept it as a present when we are married. We are going to live in London. So you will take it, won’t you—to please us?”

We all of us, even the greatest of us, have our moments of weakness. Only a short while back, in this very room, we have seen Jane Hubbard, that indomitable girl, sobbing brokenly on the carpet. Let us then not express any surprise at the sudden collapse of one of the world’s greatest female thinkers. As the meaning of this speech smote on Mrs. Horace Hignett’s understanding, she sank weeping into a chair. The ever-present fear that had haunted her had been exorcised. Windles was hers in perpetuity. The relief was too great. She sat in her chair and gulped; and Eustace, greatly encouraged, emerged slowly from the bed-clothes like a worm after a thunderstorm.



Of all the leisured pursuits, there are few less attractive to the thinking man than sitting in a dark cupboard waiting for a house-party to go to bed; and Sam, who had established himself in the one behind the piano at a quarter to eight, soon began to feel as if he had been there for an eternity. He could dimly remember a previous existence in which he had not been sitting in a cramped up position.

Not once or twice, but many hundred times he wished that the ingenious Webster had thought of something simpler.

As time went on he became more and more impatient, but he remembered that Webster had promised to come and knock an all-clear signal on the door. It would be safer to wait for that.

Time seemed to stretch out interminably. Once he thought he heard footsteps, but that led to nothing. Eventually, having strained his ears and finding everything still, he decided to take a chance. He fished in his pocket for the key, cautiously unlocked the door, opened it by slow inches, and peered out.


The room was in blackness. The house was still. All was well. With the feeling of a life-prisoner emerging from the Bastille, he began to crawl stiffly forward. And it was just then that the first of the disturbing events occurred which were to make this night memorable to him.

Something heavy and solid struck him squarely in the chest, rolling him over. Something gurgled asthmatically in the darkness. Something began to lick his eyes, ears, and chin in a sort of ecstasy; and, clutching out, he found his arms full of totally unexpected bull-dog.

“Get out!” whispered Sam tensely, recovering his faculties with a jerk. “Go away!”

He scrambled stiffly to his feet and tried to pierce the darkness that hemmed him in. He ignored Smith, who snuffled sportively about his ankles, and made for the slightly less black oblong which he took to be the door leading into the hall.

It was nearly ten years since he had last been inside Windles, and it never occurred to him that in this progressive age even a woman like his Aunt Adeline, of whom he could believe almost anything, would still be using candles and oil-lamps as a means of illumination. His only doubt was whether the switch was where it was in most houses, near the door.

It is odd to reflect that, as his searching fingers touched the knob, a delicious feeling of relief came to Samuel Marlowe. This misguided young man actually felt at that moment that his troubles were over. He placed a thumb on the knob and shoved.


He shoved strongly and sharply, and instantaneously there leaped at him out of the darkness a blare of music which appeared to his disordered mind quite solid. It seemed to wrap itself round him. It was all over the place. In a single instant the world had become one vast bellow of Tosti’s “Good-bye.”

How long he stood there, frozen, he did not know; nor can one say how long he would have stood there had nothing further come to invite his notice elsewhere. But, suddenly, drowning even the impromptu concert, there came from somewhere upstairs the roar of a gun; and, when he heard that, Sam’s rigid limbs relaxed and a violent activity descended upon him. He bounded out into the hall, looking to right and to left for a hiding-place. One of the suits of armour which had been familiar to him in his boyhood loomed up in front of him, and with the sight came the recollection of how, when a mere child on his first visit to Windles, playing hide-and-seek with his cousin Eustace, he had concealed himself inside this very suit and had not only baffled Eustace through a long summer evening, but had wound up by almost scaring him into a decline by booing at him through the vizor of the helmet. Happy days, happy days! He leaped at the suit of armour. The helmet was a tight fit, but he managed to get his head into it at last, and the body of the thing was quite roomy.

“Thank heaven!” said Sam.

Smith, the bull-dog, well satisfied with the way things had happened, sat down, wheezing slightly, to await developments.

He had not long to wait. In a few minutes the hall had filled up nicely. There was Mr. Mortimer in his shirt-sleeves, Mr. Bennett in blue pyjamas and a dressing-gown, Mrs. Hignett in a travelling costume, Jane Hubbard with her elephant-gun, and Billie in a dinner dress. Smith welcomed them all impartially.

Somebody lit a lamp, and Mrs. Hignett stared speechlessly at the mob.

“Mr. Bennett! Mr. Mortimer!”

“Mrs. Hignett! What are you doing here?”

Mrs. Hignett drew herself up stiffly.

“What an odd question, Mr. Mortimer! I am in my own house!”

“But you rented it to us for the summer. At least, your son did.”

“Eustace let you Windles for the summer!” said Mrs. Hignett incredulously.

Jane Hubbard returned from the drawing-room, where she had been switching off the orchestrion.

“Let us talk all that over cosily tomorrow,” she said. “The point now is that there are burglars in the house.”

“Burglars!” cried Mr. Bennett aghast. “We must summon the police!”

“We don’t really need them, you know,” said Jane. “If you’ll all go to bed and just leave me to potter round with my gun. . . .”

“And blow the whole house to pieces!” said Mrs. Hignett tartly. She had begun to revise her original estimate of this girl. To her, Windles was sacred, and anyone who went about shooting holes in it forfeited her esteem.

“Shall I go for the police?” said Billie. “I could bring them back in ten minutes in the car.”

“Certainly not!” said Mr. Bennett. “My daughter gadding about all over the countryside in an automobile at this time of night!”

“If you think I ought not to go alone, I could take Bream. Where is he?”

Jane Hubbard laughed the wholesome, indulgent laugh of one who is broad-minded enough to see the humour of the situation even when the joke is at her expense.

“What a silly girl I am!’ she said. “I do believe that it was Bream I shot at upstairs. How foolish of me making a mistake like that!”

“You shot my only son!” cried Mr. Mortimer.

“I shot at him,” said Jane. “My belief is that I missed him. The visibility wasn’t good, and I fired from the hip, but it’s no use saying I oughtn’t at least to have winged him, because I ought.” She spoke regretfully.

“The poor boy must be in his room,” said Mr. Mortimer.


“I’ll go and look, if you like,” said Jane agreeably. “You amuse yourselves somehow till I come back.”

She ran easily up the stairs, three at a time, and returned a few minutes later, shepherding before her a pale and glassy-eyed Bream.

“Right under the bed,” she announced cheerfully, “making a noise like a piece of fluff in order to deceive burglars.”

Billie cast a scornful look at her fiancé. He was in a sort of trance.

“Bream,” said Billie. “I want you to come in the car with me to fetch the police.”

“All right,” said Bream.

“Get your coat and cap.”

“All right,” said Bream.

He followed Billie in a docile manner out through the front door, and they made their way to the garage, both silent.

In the hall they had left, Jane Hubbard once more took command of affairs.

“Well, that’s something done,” she said, scratching Smith’s broad back with the muzzle of her weapon. “Something accomplished, something done, has earned a night’s repose. Not that we’re going to get it yet. I think those fellows are hiding somewhere and we ought to search the house and rout them out. It’s a pity Smith isn’t a bloodhound. I like you personally, Smithy, but you’re about as much practical use in a situation like this as a cold in the head.


Smith, charmed at the compliment, frisked about her feet like a young elephant.

“The first thing to do,” continued Jane, “is to go through the ground-floor rooms.” She paused to strike a match against the suit of armour nearest to her, a proceeding which elicited a sharp cry of protest from Mrs. Hignett, and lit a cigarette. “I’ll go first, as I’ve got a gun . . .” She blew a cloud of smoke. “I shall want somebody with me to carry a light, and . . .”


“Do you feel a draught, Mr. Bennett?” cried Jane sharply, wheeling round on him.

“I didn’t sneeze!”

“Somebody sneezed.”

“It seemed to come from just behind you,” said Mrs. Hignett nervously.

“It couldn’t have come from just behind me,” said Jane, “because there isn’t anything behind me from which it could have . . .”

She stopped suddenly, in her eyes the light of understanding, on her face the set expression which was wont to come to it on the eve of action. “Oh!” she said in a different voice, a voice which was cold and tense and sinister. “Oh, I see!” She raised her gun, and placed a muscular forefinger on the trigger. “Come out of that!” she said. “Come out of that suit of armour and let’s have a look at you!”

“I can explain everything,” said a muffled voice through the vizor of the helmet. “I can—achoo!” The smoke of the cigarette tickled Sam’s nostrils again, and he suspended his remarks.

“I shall count three,” said Jane Hubbard. “One—two——

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” said Sam petulantly.

“You’d better!” said Jane.

“I can’t get this dashed helmet off.”

“If you don’t come quick, I’ll blow it off.”

Sam stepped out into the hall, a picturesque figure which combined the costumes of two widely separated centuries, and before the astonished group in the hall could grasp the situation he slipped out of the front door and was lost in the night.



Billie, meanwhile, with Bream trotting docilely at her heels, had reached the garage and started the car. She was feeling thoroughly upset as she switched on the head-lights and turned the car down the dark drive. Her idealistic nature had received a painful shock on the discovery of the yellow streak in Bream. To call it a yellow streak was to understate the facts. It was a great belt of saffron encircling his whole soul. That she, Wilhelmina Bennett, who had gone through the world seeking a Galahad, should finish her career as the wife of a man who hid under beds simply because people shot at him with elephant guns was abhorrent to her. Why, Samuel Marlowe would have perished rather than do such a thing. You might say what you liked about Samuel Marlowe—and, of course, his habit of playing practical jokes put him beyond the pale—but nobody could question his courage. Look at the way he had dived overboard that time in the harbour at New York! Billie found herself thinking hard about Samuel Marlowe.

There are only a few makes of car in which you can think hard about anything except the actual driving without stalling the engines, and Mr. Bennett’s Twin-Six Complex was not one of them. It stopped as if it had been waiting for the signal. Right from the start it had been unable to see the sense in this midnight expedition. It seemed now to have the idea that if it just lay low and did nothing, presently it would be taken back to its cosy garage.

Billie trod on the self-starter. Nothing happened.

“You’ll have to get down and crank her,” she said curtly.

“All right,” said Bream.

“Well, go on,” said Billie impatiently.


“Get out and crank her.”

Bream emerged for an instant from his trance.

“All right,” he said.


The art of cranking a car is one that is not given to all men. Some of our greatest and wisest stand helpless before the task. It is a job towards the consummation of which a noble soul and a fine brain help not at all. A man may have all the other gifts and yet be unable to accomplish a task which the fellow at the garage does with one quiet flick of the wrist without even bothering to remove his chewing gum. This being so, it was not only unkind, but foolish of Billie to grow impatient as Bream’s repeated efforts failed of their object. It was wrong of her to click her tongue, and certainly she ought not to have told Bream that he was not fit to churn butter. But women are an emotional sex and must be forgiven much in moments of mental stress.

“Give it a good sharp twist,” she said.

“All right,” said Bream.

“Here, let me do it,” cried Billie.

She jumped down and snatched the thingummy from his hand. With bent brows and set teeth she wrenched it round. The engine gave a faint protesting mutter, like a dog that has been disturbed in its sleep, and was still once more.

“May I help?”

Into the glare of the headlights there stepped a strange figure—strange, that is to say, in these tame modern times. In the Middle Ages he would have excited no comment at all.


But in the present age it is always somewhat startling to see a helmeted head pop up in front of your automobile. At any rate, it startled Bream. I will go further. It gave Bream the shock of a lifetime. He had had shocks already that night, but none to be compared with this. He did not pause to make comments or ask questions. With a single cat-like screech which took years off the lives of the abruptly wakened birds roosting in the neighbouring trees, he dashed away towards the house and, reaching his room, locked the door and pushed the bed, the chest of drawers, two chairs, the towel stand, and three pairs of boots against it. Only then did he feel comparatively safe.

Out on the drive, Billie was staring at the man in armour who had now, with a masterful wrench which informed the car right away that he would stand no nonsense, set the engine going again.

“Why—why,” she stammered—“why are you wearing that thing on your head?”

“Because I can’t get it off.”

Hollow as the voice was, Billie recognised it.

“S—Mr. Marlowe!’ she exclaimed.

“Get in,” said Sam. He had seated himself at the steering-wheel.

“Go away!” said Billie.

“Get in!”

“I don’t want to talk to you.”

“I want to talk to you! Get in!”

“I won’t.”

Sam bent over the side of the car, put his hands under her arms, lifted her like a kitten and deposited her on the seat beside him. Then throwing in the clutch, he drove at an ever-increasing speed down the drive and out into the silent road. Strange creatures of the night came and went in the golden glow of the head-lights.



“Put me down,” said Billie.

“You’d get hurt if I did, travelling at this pace.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Drive about till you promise to marry me.”

“You’ll have to drive a long time.”

“Right-oh!” said Sam. “Lean back and doze off. We’ve the whole night before us. Have you ever been to Scotland?”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought we might push up there. We’ve got to go somewhere, and, oddly enough, I’ve never been to Scotland.”

Bille regarded him blankly.

“Are you crazy?”

“I’m crazy about you. If you knew what I’ve gone through to-night for your sake you’d be more sympathetic. I love you,” said Sam, swerving to avoid a rabbit. “And what’s more, you know it.”

“I don’t care.”

“You will!” said Sam confidently. “How about North Wales? I’ve heard people speak well of North Wales. Shall we head for North Wales?”

“I’m engaged to Bream Mortimer.”

“Oh, no, that’s all off,” Sam assured her.

“It’s not!”

“Right off!” said Sam firmly. “You could never bring yourself to marry a man who dashed away like that and deserted you in your hour of need. Why, for all he knew, I might have tried to murder you. And he ran away! No, no, we eliminate Bream Mortimer once and for all. He won’t do!”

This was so exactly what Billie was feeling herself that she could not bring herself to dispute it.

“Anyway, I hate you!” she said, giving the conversation another turn.

“Why? In the name of goodness, why?”

“How dared you make a fool of me in your father’s office that morning?”

“It was a sudden inspiration. I had to do something to make you think well of me, and I thought it might meet the case if I saved you from a lunatic with a pistol. It wasn’t my fault that you found out.”

“I shall never forgive you!”

“Why not Cornwall?” said Sam. “The Riviera of England! Let’s go to Cornwall. I beg your pardon. What were you saying?”

“I said I should never forgive you.”

“Well, I hope you’re fond of motoring,” said Sam, “because we’re going on till you do.”

“Very well! Go on, then!”

“I intend to. Of course, it’s all right now while it’s dark. But have you considered what is going to happen when the sun gets up? We shall have a sort of triumphal procession. How the small boys will laugh when they see a man in a helmet go by in a car! I shan’t notice them myself because it’s a little difficult to notice anything from inside this thing, but I’m afraid it will be rather unpleasant for you . . . I know what we’ll do. We’ll go to London and drive up and down Piccadilly! That will be fun!”

There was a long silence.

“Is my helmet on straight?” said Sam.

Billie made no reply. She was looking before her down the hedge-bordered road. Always a girl of sudden impulses, she had just made a curious discovery, to wit, that she was enjoying herself. There was something so novel and exhilarating about this midnight ride that imperceptibly her dismay and resentment had ebbed away.

Why are you wearing that thing?”

“I told you. Purely and simply because I can’t get it off. You don’t suppose I’m trying to set a new style in gent’s headwear.”

“But why did you ever put it on?”

“Well, it was this way. After I came out of the cupboard in the drawing-room . . .”



“Didn’t I tell you about that? Oh, yes, I was sitting in the cupboard in the drawing-room from dinner-time onwards. After that I came out and started cannoning about among Aunt Adeline’s china, so I thought I’d better switch the light on. Unfortunately I switched on some sort of musical instrument instead. And then somebody started shooting. So, what with one thing and another, I thought it would be best to hide somewhere. I hid in one of the suits of armour in the hall.”

“Were you inside there all the time we were . . . ?”

“Yes. I say, that was funny about Bream, wasn’t it? Getting under the bed, I mean.”

“Don’t let’s talk about Bream.”

“That’s the right spirit! I like to see it! All right, we won’t. Let’s get back to the main issue. Will you marry me?”

“But why did you come to the house?”

“To see you.”

“To see me! At that time of night?”

“Well, perhaps not actually to see you.” Something told Sam that it would be injudicious to reveal his true motive and thereby risk disturbing the harmony which he felt had begun to exist between them. “To be near you! To be in the same house with you!” he went on vehemently feeling that he had struck the right note.

Billie sat looking straight before her. The car, now on the main road, moved smoothly on.

“Will you marry me?”

Billie rested her hand on her chin and searched the darkness with thoughtful eyes.

“Will you marry me?”

The car raced on.

“Will you marry me?” said Sam. “Will you marry me? Will you marry me?”

“Oh, don’t talk like a parrot,” cried Billie. “It reminds me of Bream.”

“But will you?”

“Yes,” said Billie.

Sam brought the car to a standstill with a jerk, probably very bad for the tyres.

“Did you say ‘yes’?”


“Darling!” said Sam, leaning towards her. “Oh, curse this helmet!”


“Well, I rather wanted to kiss you.”

“Let me try and get it off. Bend down!”

“Ouch!” said Sam.

“It’s coming. There! How helpless men are!”

“We need a woman’s tender care,” said Sam depositing the helmet on the floor and rubbing his smarting ears. “Billie!”


“You angel!”

“You’re rather a darling after all,” said Billie. “But you want keeping in order,” she added severely.

“You will do that when we’re married. How splendid it sounds!”

“The only trouble is,” said Billie, “father won’t hear of it.”

“No, he won’t. Not till it is all over,” said Sam.

He started the car again.

“Where are you going?” said Billie.


“To London,” said Sam. “It may be news to you but the old lawyer like myself knows that, by going to Doctors’ Commons or the Court of Arches or somewhere or by routing the Archbishop of Canterbury out of bed or something, you can get a special licence and be married almost before you know where you are. My scheme—roughly—is to dig this special licence out of whoever keeps such things, have a bit of breakfast, and then get married at our leisure before lunch at a registrar’s.”

“Oh, not a registrar’s!” said Billie.

“Very well, angel. Just as you like. We’ll go to a church.” He mused for a moment. “Yes, you’re quite right,” he said. “A church is the thing. It’ll please Webster.”


“Yes, he’s rather keen on the church bells never having rung out so blithe a peal before. And we must consider Webster’s feelings. After all, he brought us together.”

“Webster? How?”

“Oh, I’ll tell you all about that some other time,” said Sam. “Are you comfortable? Fine! Then off we go.”

The birds in the trees fringing the road stirred and twittered grumpily as the noise of the engine disturbed their slumbers. But, if they had only known it, they were in luck. At any rate, the worst had not befallen them, for Sam was too happy to sing.

The End.



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 had "tropical" for "topical".
Magazine had only two dots of an ellipsis in “cupboard in the drawing-room . . .”
Magazine had extraneous opening quotation mark after 'when we’re married.' before 'How splendid'.
Magazine omitted closing quotation mark after 'go to a church.' before 'He mused'.