Three Men and a Maid/Chapter 2
THE White Star liner Atlantic lay at her pier with steam up and gangway down ready for her trip to Southampton. The hour of departure was near and there was a good deal of mixed activity going on. Sailors fiddled about with ropes. Junior officers flitted to and fro. White-jacketed stewards wrestled with trunks. Probably the captain, though not visible, was also employed on some useful work of a nautical nature and not wasting his time. Men, women, boxes, rugs, dogs, flowers and baskets of fruit were flowing on board in a steady stream.
The usual drove of citizens had come to see the travellers off. There were men on the passenger-list who were being seen off by fathers, by mothers, by sisters, by cousins, and by aunts. In the steerage there was an elderly Jewish lady who was being seen off by exactly thirty-seven of her late neighbours in Rivington Street. And two men in the second cabin were being seen off by detectives, surely the crowning compliment a great nation can bestow. The cavernous customs shed was congested with friends and relatives, and Sam Marlowe, heading for the gang-plank, was only able to make progress by employing all the muscle and energy which Nature had bestowed upon him, and which during the twenty-five years of his life he had developed by athletic exercise. However, after some minutes of silent endeavour, now driving his shoulder into the midriff of some obstructing male, now courteously lifting some stout female off his feet, he had succeeded in struggling to within a few yards of his goal, when suddenly a sharp pain shot through his right arm and he spun round with a cry.
It seemed to Sam that he had been bitten, and this puzzled him, for New York crowds, though they may shove and jostle, rarely bite.
He found himself face to face with an extraordinarily pretty girl.
She was a red-haired girl with the beautiful ivory skin which goes with red hair. Her eyes, though they were under the shadow of her hat, and he could not be certain, he diagnosed as green, or maybe blue, or possibly grey. Not that it mattered, for he had a catholic taste in feminine eyes. So long as they were large and bright, as were the specimens under his immediate notice, he was not the man to quibble about a point of colour. Her nose was small, and on the very tip of it there was a tiny freckle. Her mouth was nice and wide, her chin soft and round. She was just about the height which every girl ought to be. Her figure was trim, her feet tiny, and she wore one of those dresses of which a man can say no more than that they look pretty well all right.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Samuel Marlowe was a susceptible young man, and for many a long month his heart had been lying empty, all swept and garnished, with “Welcome” on the mat. This girl seemed to rush in and fill it. She was not the prettiest girl he had ever seen. She was the third prettiest. He had an orderly mind, one capable of classifying and docketing girls. But there was a subtle something about her, a sort of how-shall-one-put-it, which he had never encountered before. He swallowed convulsively. His well-developed chest swelled beneath its covering of blue flannel and invisible stripe. At last, he told himself, he was in love, really in love, and at first sight, too, which made it all the more impressive. He doubted whether in the whole course of history anything like this had ever happened before to anybody. Oh, to clasp this girl to him and——
But she had bitten him in the arm. That was hardly the right spirit. That, he felt, constituted an obstacle.
“Oh, I'm so sorry!” she cried.
Well, of course, if she regretted her rash act ... After all, an impulsive girl might bite a man in the arm in the excitement of the moment and still have a sweet, womanly nature....
“The crowd seems to make Pinky-Boodles so nervous.”
Sam might have remained mystified, but at this juncture there proceeded from a bundle of rugs in the neighbourhood of the girl's lower ribs a sharp yapping sound, of such a calibre as to be plainly audible over the confused noise of Mamies who were telling Sadies to be sure and write, of Bills who were instructing Dicks to look up old Joe in Paris and give him their best, and of all the fruit-boys, candy-boys, magazine-boys, American-flag-boys, and telegraph boys who were honking their wares on every side.
“I hope he didn't hurt you much. You're the third person he's bitten to-day.” She kissed the animal in a loving and congratulatory way on the tip of his black nose. “Not counting bell-boys, of course,” she added. And then she was swept from him in the crowd and he was left thinking of all the things he might have said—all those graceful, witty, ingratiating things which just make a bit of difference on these occasions.
He had said nothing. Not a sound, exclusive of the first sharp yowl of pain, had proceeded from him. He had just goggled. A rotten exhibition! Perhaps he would never see this girl again. She looked the sort of girl who comes to see friends off and doesn't sail herself. And what memory of him would she retain? She would mix him up with the time when she went to visit the deaf-and-dumb hospital.
Sam reached the gang-plank, showed his ticket, and made his way through the crowd of passengers, passengers' friends, stewards, junior officers, and sailors who infested the deck. He proceeded down the main companion-way, through a rich smell of india-rubber and mixed pickles, as far as the dining-saloon: then turned down the narrow passage leading to his stateroom.
Staterooms on ocean liners are curious things. When you see them on the chart in the passenger-office, with the gentlemanly clerk drawing rings round them in pencil, they seem so vast that you get the impression that, after stowing away all your trunks, you will have room left over to do a bit of entertaining—possibly an informal dance or something. When you go on board you find that the place has shrunk to the dimensions of an undersized cupboard in which it would be impossible to swing a cat. And then, about the second day out, it suddenly expands again. For one reason or another the necessity for swinging cats does not arise and you find yourself quite comfortable.
Sam, balancing himself on the narrow, projecting ledge which the chart in the passenger-office had grandiloquently described as a lounge, began to feel the depression which marks the second phase. He almost wished now that he had not been so energetic in having his room changed in order to enjoy the company of his cousin Eustace. It was going to be a tight fit. Eustace's bag was already in the cabin, and it seemed to take up the entire fairway. Still, after all, Eustace was a good sort, and would be a cheerful companion. And Sam realised that if that girl with the red hair was not a passenger on the boat he was going to have need of diverting society.
A footstep sounded in the passage outside. The door opened.
“Hullo, Eustace!” said Sam.
Eustace Hignett nodded listlessly, sat down on his bag and emitted a deep sigh. He was a small, fragile-looking young man with a pale, intellectual face. Dark hair fell in a sweep over his forehead. He looked like a man who would write vers libre, as indeed he did. “Hullo!” he said, in a hollow voice.
Sam regarded him blankly. He had not seen him for some years, but, going by his recollections of him at the University, he had expected something cheerier than this. In fact, he had rather been relying on Eustace to be the life and soul of the party. The man sitting on the bag before him could hardly have filled that role at a gathering of Russian novelists.
“What on earth's the matter?” said Sam.
“The matter?” Eustace Hignett laughed mirthlessly. “Oh, nothing. Nothing much. Nothing to signify. Only my heart's broken.” He eyed with considerable malignity the bottle of water in the rack above his head, a harmless object provided by the White Star Company for clients who might desire to clean their teeth during the voyage.
“If you would care to hear the story?” he said.
“It is quite short.”
“Soon after I arrived in America I met a girl ...”
“Talking of girls,” said Marlowe with enthusiasm. “I've just seen the only one in the world that really amounts to anything. It was like this. I was shoving my way through the mob on the dock, when suddenly ...”
“Shall I tell you my story, or will you tell me yours?”
“Oh, sorry! Go ahead.”
Eustace Hignett scowled at the printed notice on the wall informing occupants of the stateroom that the name of their steward was J. B. Midgeley.
“She was an extraordinarily pretty girl ...”
“So was mine. I give you my honest word I never in all my life saw such ...”
“Of course, if you would prefer that I postponed my narrative?” said Eustace coldly.
“Oh, sorry! Carry on.”
“She was an extraordinarily pretty girl ...”
“What was her name?”
“Wilhelmina Bennett. She was an extraordinarily pretty girl and highly intelligent. I read her all my poems and she appreciated them immensely. She enjoyed my singing. My conversation appeared to interest her. She admired my ...”
“I see. You made a hit. Now get on with the rest of the story.”
“Don't bustle me,” said Eustace querulously.
“Well, you know, the voyage only takes eight days.”
“I've forgotten where I was.”
“You were saying what a devil of a chap she thought you. What happened? I suppose, when you actually came to propose, you found she was engaged to some other johnny?”
“Not at all. I asked her to be my wife, and she consented. We both agreed that a quiet wedding was what we wanted—she thought her father might stop the thing if he knew, and I was dashed sure my mother would—so we decided to get married without telling anybody. By now,” said Eustace, with a morose glance at the porthole, “I ought to have been on my honeymoon. Everything was settled. I had the license and the parson's fee. I had been breaking in a new tie for the wedding.”
“And then you quarrelled?”
“Nothing of the kind. I wish you would stop trying to tell me the story. I'm telling you. What happened was this: somehow—I can't make out how—mother found out. And then, of course, it was all over. She stopped the thing.”
Sam was indignant. He thoroughly disliked his Aunt Adeline, and his cousin's meek subservience to her revolted him.
“Stopped it? I suppose she said, 'Now, Eustace, you mustn't!' and you said, 'Very well, mother!' and scratched the fixture?”
“She didn't say a word. She never has said a word. As far as that goes she might never have heard anything about the marriage.”
“Then how do you mean she stopped it?”
“She pinched my trousers!”
“Pinched your trousers?”
Eustace groaned. “All of them! The whole bally lot! She gets up long before I do, and she must have come into my room and cleaned it out while I was asleep. When I woke up and started to dress I couldn't find a solitary pair of bags anywhere in the whole place. I looked everywhere. Finally, I went into the sitting-room where she was writing letters and asked if she had happened to see any anywhere. She said she had sent them all to be pressed. She said she knew I never went out in the mornings—I don't as a rule—and they would be back at lunch-time, A fat lot of use that was! I had to be at the church at eleven. Well, I told her I had a most important engagement with a man at eleven, and she wanted to know what it was and I tried to think of something, but it sounded pretty feeble and she said I had better telephone to the man and put it off. I did it, too. Rang up the first number in the book and told some fellow I had never seen in my life that I couldn't meet him! He was pretty peeved, judging from what he said about my being on the wrong line. And mother listening all the time, and I knowing that she knew—something told me that she knew—and she knowing that I knew she knew—I tell you it was awful!”
“And the girl?”
“She broke off the engagement. Apparently she waited at the church from eleven till one-thirty and then began to get impatient. She wouldn't see me when I called in the afternoon, but I got a letter from her saying that what had happened was all for the best as she had been thinking it over and had come to the conclusion that she had made a mistake. She said something about my not being as dynamic as she had thought I was. She said that what she wanted was something more like Lancelot or Sir Galahad, and would I look on the episode as closed.”
“Did you explain about the trousers?”
“Yes. It seemed to make things worse. She said that she could forgive a man anything except being ridiculous.”
“I think you're well out of it,” said Sam judicially. “She can't have been much of a girl.”
“I feel that now. But it doesn't alter the fact that my life is ruined. I have become a woman-hater. It's an infernal nuisance, because practically all the poetry I have ever written rather went out of its way to boost women, and now I'll have to start all over again and approach the subject from another angle. Women! When I think how mother behaved and how Wilhelmina treated me I wonder there isn't a law against them. 'What mighty ills have not been done by Woman! Who was it betrayed the Capitol!'”
“In Washington?” said Sam puzzled. He had heard nothing of this. But then he generally confined his reading of the papers to the sporting page.
“In Rome, you ass! Ancient Rome.”
“Oh, as long ago as that?”
“I was quoting from Thomas Otway's 'Orphan.' I wish I could write like Otway. He knew what he was talking about. 'Who was't betrayed the Capitol? A woman. Who lost Marc Antony the world? A woman. Who was the cause of a long ten years' war and laid at last old Troy in ashes? Woman! Destructive, damnable, deceitful woman!”
“Well, of course, he may be right in a way. As regards some women, I mean. But the girl I met on the dock——”
“Don't!” said Eustace Hignett “If you have anything bitter and derogatory to say about women, say it and I will listen eagerly. But if you merely wish to gibber about the ornamental exterior of some dashed girl you have been fool enough to get attracted by, go and tell it to the captain or the ship's cat or J. B. Midgeley. Do try to realise that I am a soul in torment! I am a ruin, a spent force, a man without a future! What does life hold for me? Love? I shall never love again. My work? I haven't any. I think I shall take to drink.”
“Talking of that,” said Sam, “I suppose they open the bar directly we pass the three-mile limit. How about a small one?”
Eustace shook his head gloomily.
“Do you suppose I pass my time on board ship in gadding about and feasting? Directly the vessel begins to move I go to bed and stay there. As a matter of fact I think it would be wisest to go to bed now. Don't let me keep you if you want to go on deck.”
“It looks to me,” said Sam, “as if I had been mistaken in thinking that you were going to be a ray of sunshine on the voyage.”
“Ray of sunshine!” said Eustace Hignett, pulling a pair of mauve pyjamas out of the kit-bag. “I'm going to be a volcano!”
Sam left the state-room and headed for the companion. He wanted to get on deck and ascertain if that girl was still on board. About now the sheep would be separating from the goats: the passengers would be on deck and their friends returning to the shore. A slight tremor on the boards on which he trod told him that this separation must have already taken place. The ship was moving. He ran lightly up the companion. Was she on board or was she not? The next few minutes would decide. He reached the top of the stairs and passed out on to the crowded deck. And, as he did so, a scream, followed by confused shouting, came from the rail nearest the shore. He perceived that the rail was black with people hanging over it. They were all looking into the water.
Samuel Marlowe was not one of those who pass aloofly by when there is excitement toward. If a horse fell down in the street, he was always among those present: and he was never too busy to stop and stare at a blank window on which were inscribed the words “Watch this space!” In short, he was one of Nature's rubbernecks, and to dash to the rail and shove a fat man in a tweed cap to one side was with him the work of a moment. He had thus an excellent view of what was going on—a view which he improved the next instant by climbing up and kneeling on the rail.
There was a man in the water, a man whose upper section, the only one visible, was clad in a blue jersey. He wore a Derby hat, and from time to time as he battled with the waves, he would put up a hand and adjust this more firmly on his head. A dressy swimmer.
Scarcely had he taken in this spectacle when Marlowe became aware of the girl he had met on the dock. She was standing a few feet away leaning out over the rail with wide eyes and parted lips. Like everybody else she was staring into the water.
As Sam looked at her the thought crossed his mind that here was a wonderful chance of making the most tremendous impression on this girl. What would she not think of a man who, reckless of his own safety, dived in and went boldly to the rescue? And there were men, no doubt, who would be chumps enough to do it, he thought, as he prepared to shift back to a position of greater safety.
At this moment, the fat man in the tweed cap, incensed at having been jostled out of the front row, made his charge. He had but been crouching, the better to spring. Now he sprang. His full weight took Sam squarely in the spine. There was an instant in which that young man hung, as it were, between sea and sky; then he shot down over the rail to join the man in the blue jersey, who had just discovered that his hat was not on straight and had paused to adjust it once more with a few skilful touches of the finger.
In the brief interval of time which Marlowe had spent in the state-room, chatting with Eustace about the latter's bruised soul, some rather curious things had been happening above. Not extraordinary, perhaps, but curious. These must now be related. A story, if it is to grip the reader, should, I am aware, go always forward. It should march. It should leap from crag to crag like the chamois of the Alps. If there is one thing I hate, it is a novel which gets you interested in the hero in chapter one and then cuts back in chapter two to tell you all about his grandfather. Nevertheless, at this point we must go back a space. We must return to the moment when, having deposited her Pekinese dog in her state-room, the girl with the red hair came out again on deck. This happened just about the time when Eustace Hignett was beginning his narrative.
By now the bustle which precedes the departure of an ocean liner was at its height. Hoarse voices were crying, “All for the shore!” The gangway was thronged with friends of passengers returning to land. The crowd on the pier waved flags and handkerchiefs and shouted unintelligibly. Members of the crew stood alertly by the gang-plank ready to draw it in as soon as the last seer-off had crossed it.
The girl went to the rail and gazed earnestly at the shore. There was an anxious expression on her face. She had the air of one who was waiting for someone to appear. Her demeanour was that of Mariana at the Moated Grange. “He cometh not!” she seemed to be saying. She glanced at her wrist-watch, then scanned the dock once more.
There was a rattle as the gang-plank moved inboard and was deposited on the deck. The girl uttered a little cry of dismay. Then suddenly her face brightened and she began to wave her arm to attract the attention of an elderly man with a red face made redder by exertion, who had just forced his way to the edge of the dock and was peering up at the passenger-lined rail.
The boat had now begun to move slowly out of its slip, backing into the river. Ropes had been cast off, and an ever widening strip of water appeared between the vessel and the shore. It was now that the man on the dock sighted the girl. She gesticulated at him. He gesticulated at her. She appeared helpless and baffled, but he showed himself a person of resource of the stuff of which great generals are made. Foch is just like that, a bird at changing pre-conceived plans to suit the exigencies of the moment.
The man on the dock took from his pocket a pleasantly rotund wad of currency bills. He produced a handkerchief, swiftly tied up the bills in it, backed to give himself room, and then, with all the strength of his arm, he hurled the bills in the direction of the deck. The action was greeted by cheers from a warm-hearted populace. Your New York crowd loves a liberal provider.
One says that the man hurled the bills in the direction of the deck, and that was exactly what he did. But the years had robbed his pitching-arm of the limber strength which, forty summers back, had made him the terror of opposing boys' baseball teams. He still retained a fair control but he lacked steam. The handkerchief with its precious contents shot in a graceful arc towards the deck, fell short by a good six feet and dropped into the water, where it unfolded like a lily, sending twenty-dollar bills, ten-dollar bills, five-dollar bills, and an assortment of ones floating over the wavelets. The cheers of the citizenry changed to cries of horror. The girl uttered a plaintive shriek. The boat moved on.
It was at this moment that Mr. Oscar Swenson, one of the thriftiest souls who ever came out of Sweden, perceived that the chance of a lifetime had arrived for adding substantially to his little savings. By profession he was one of those men who eke out a precarious livelihood by rowing dreamily about the waterfront in skiffs. He was doing so now: and, as he sat meditatively in his skiff, having done his best to give the liner a good send-off by paddling round her in circles, the pleading face of a twenty-dollar bill peered up at him. Mr. Swenson was not the man to resist the appeal. He uttered a sharp bark of ecstasy, pressed his Derby hat firmly upon his brow and dived in. A moment later he had risen to the surface and was gathering up money with both hands.
He was still busy with this congenial task when a tremendous splash at his side sent him under again; and, rising for a second time, he observed with not a little chagrin that he had been joined by a young man in a blue flannel suit with an invisible stripe.
“Svensk!” exclaimed Mr. Swenson, or whatever it is that natives of Sweden exclaim in moments of justifiable annoyance. He resented the advent of this newcomer. He had been getting along fine and had had the situation well in hand. To him Sam Marlowe represented Competition, and Mr. Swenson desired no competitors in his treasure-seeking enterprise. He travels, thought Mr. Swenson, the fastest who travels alone.
Sam Marlowe had a touch of the philosopher in him. He had the ability to adapt himself to circumstances. It had been no part of his plans to come whizzing down off the rail into this singularly soup-like water which tasted in equal parts of oil and dead rats; but, now that he was here he was prepared to make the best of the situation. Swimming, it happened, was one of the things he did best, and somewhere among his belongings at home was a tarnished pewter cup which he had won at school in the “Saving Life” competition. He knew exactly what to do. You get behind the victim and grab him firmly under his arms, and then you start swimming on your back. A moment later the astonished Mr. Swenson, who, being practically amphibious, had not anticipated that anyone would have the cool impertinence to try and save him from drowning, found himself seized from behind and towed vigorously away from a ten-dollar bill which he had almost succeeded in grasping. The spiritual agony caused by this assault rendered him mercifully dumb; though, even had he contrived to utter the rich Swedish oaths which occurred to him, his remarks could scarcely have been heard, for the crowd on the dock was cheering as one man. They had often paid good money to see far less gripping sights in the movies. They roared applause. The liner, meanwhile, continued to move stodgily out into mid-river.
The only drawback to these life-saving competitions at school, considered from the standpoint of fitting the competitors for the problems of after-life, is that the object saved on such occasions is a leather dummy, and of all things in this world a leather dummy is perhaps the most placid and phlegmatic. It differs in many respects from an emotional Swedish gentleman, six foot high and constructed throughout of steel and india rubber, who is being lugged away from cash which he has been regarding in the light of a legacy. Indeed, it would not be hard to find a respect in which it does not differ. So far from lying inert in Sam's arms and allowing himself to be saved in a quiet and orderly manner, Mr. Swenson betrayed all the symptoms of one who feels that he has fallen among murderers. Mr. Swenson, much as he disliked competition, was ready to put up with it, provided that it was fair competition. This pulling your rival away from the loot so that you could grab it yourself—thus shockingly had the man misinterpreted Sam's motives—was another thing altogether and his stout soul would have none of it. He began immediately to struggle with all the violence at his disposal. His large, hairy hands came out of the water and swung hopefully in the direction where he assumed his assailant's face to be.
Sam was not unprepared for this display. His researches in the art of life-saving had taught him that your drowning man frequently struggled against his best interests. In which case, cruel to be kind, one simply stunned the blighter. He decided to stun Mr. Swenson, though, if he had known that gentleman more intimately and had been aware that he had the reputation of possessing the thickest head on the water-front he would have realised the magnitude of the task. Friends of Mr. Swenson, in convivial moments, had frequently endeavoured to stun him with bottles, boots, and bits of lead piping, and had gone away depressed by failure. Sam, ignorant of this, attempted to do the job with clenched fist, which he brought down as smartly as possible on the crown of the other's Derby hat.
It was the worst thing he could have done. Mr. Swenson thought highly of his hat and this brutal attack upon it confirmed his gloomiest apprehensions. Now thoroughly convinced that the only thing to do was to sell his life dearly he wrenched himself round, seized his assailant by the neck, twined his arms about his middle, and accompanied him below the surface.
By the time he had swallowed his first pint and was beginning his second, Sam was reluctantly compelled to come to the conclusion that this was the end. The thought irritated him unspeakably. This, he felt, was just the silly, contrary way things always happened. Why should it be he who was perishing like this? Why not Eustace Hignett? Now there was a fellow whom this sort of thing would just have suited. Broken-hearted Eustace Hignett would have looked on all this as a merciful release.
He paused in his reflections to try to disentangle the more prominent of Mr. Swenson's limbs from about him. By this time he was sure that he had never met anyone he disliked so intensely as Mr. Swenson—not even his Aunt Adeline. The man was a human octopus. Sam could count seven distinct legs twined round him and at least as many arms. It seemed to him that he was being done to death in his prime by a solid platoon of Swedes. He put his whole soul into one last effort ... something seemed to give ... he was free. Pausing only to try to kick Mr. Swenson in the face Sam shot to the surface. Something hard and sharp prodded him in the head. Then something caught the collar of his coat; and, finally, spouting like a whale, he found himself dragged upwards and over the side of a boat.
The time which Sam had spent with Mr. Swenson below the surface had been brief, but it had been long enough to enable the whole floating population of the North River to converge on the scene in scows, skiffs, launches, tugs and other vessels. The fact that the water in that vicinity was crested with currency had not escaped the notice of these navigators and they had gone to it as one man. First in the race came the tug Reuben S. Watson, the skipper of which, following a famous precedent, had taken his little daughter to bear him company. It was to this fact that Marlowe really owed his rescue. Women have often a vein of sentiment in them where men can only see the hard business side of a situation; and it was the skipper's daughter who insisted that the family boat-hook, then in use as a harpoon for spearing dollar bills, should be devoted to the less profitable but humaner end of extricating the young man from a watery grave.
The skipper had grumbled a bit at first, but had given way—he always spoiled the girl—with the result that Sam found himself sitting on the deck of the tug engaged in the complicated process of restoring his faculties to the normal. In a sort of dream he perceived Mr. Swenson rise to the surface some feet away, adjust his Derby hat, and, after one long look of dislike in his direction, swim off rapidly to intercept a five which was floating under the stern of a near-by skiff.
Sam sat on the deck and panted. He played on the boards like a public fountain. At the back of his mind there was a flickering thought that he wanted to do something, a vague feeling that he had some sort of an appointment which he must keep; but he was unable to think what it was. Meanwhile, he conducted tentative experiments with his breath. It was so long since he had last breathed that he had lost the knack of it.
“Well, aincher wet?” said a voice.
The skipper's daughter was standing beside him, looking down commiseratingly. Of the rest of the family all he could see was the broad blue seats of their trousers as they leaned hopefully over the side in the quest for wealth.
“Yessir! You sure are wet! Gee! I never seen anyone so wet! I seen wet guys, but I never seen anyone so wet as you. Yessir, you're certainly wet!”
“I am wet,” admitted Sam.
“Yessir, you're wet! Wet's the word all right. Good and wet, that's what you are!”
“It's the water,” said Sam. His brain was still clouded; he wished he could remember what that appointment was. “That's what has made me wet.”
“It's sure made you wet all right,” agreed the girl. She looked at him interestedly. “Wotcha do it for?” she asked.
“Do it for?”
“Yes, wotcha do it for? How come? Wotcha do a Brodie for off'n that ship? I didn't see it myself, but pa says you come walloping down off'n the deck like a sack of potatoes.”
Sam uttered a sharp cry. He had remembered.
“Where is she?”
“She's off down the river, I guess. She was swinging round, the last I seen of her.”
“She's not gone?”
“Sure she's gone. Wotcha expect her to do? She's gotta to get over to the other side, ain't she? Cert'nly she's gone.” She looked at him interested. “Do you want to be on board her?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then, for the love of Pete, wotcha doin' walloping off'n her like a sack of potatoes?”
“I slipped. I was pushed or something.” Sam sprang to his feet and looked wildly about him. “I must get back. Isn't there any way of getting back?”
“Well, you could catch up with her at quarantine out in the bay. She'll stop to let the pilot off.”
“Can you take me to quarantine?”
The girl glanced doubtfully at the seat of the nearest pair of trousers.
“Well, we could,” she said. “But pa's kind of set in his ways, and right now he's fishing for dollar bills with the boat-hook. He's apt to get sorta mad if he's interrupted.”
“I'll give him fifty dollars if he'll put me on board.”
“Got it on you?” inquired the nymph coyly. She had her share of sentiment, but she was her father's daughter and inherited from him the business sense.
“Here it is.” He pulled out his pocket-book. The book was dripping, but the contents were only fairly moist.
“Pa!” said the girl.
The trouser-seat remained where it was—deaf to its child's cry.
“Pa! Commere! Wantcha!”
The trousers did not even quiver. But this girl was a girl of decision. There was some nautical implement resting in a rack convenient to her hand. It was long, solid, and constructed of one of the harder forms of wood. Deftly extracting this from its place she smote her inoffensive parent on the only visible portion of him. He turned sharply, exhibiting a red, bearded face.
“Pa, this gen'man wants to be took aboard the boat at quarantine. He'll give you fifty berries.”
The wrath died out of the skipper's face like the slow turning down of a lamp. The fishing had been poor, and so far he had only managed to secure a single two-dollar bill. In a crisis like the one which had so suddenly arisen you cannot do yourself justice with a boat-hook.
“Fifty seeds!” the girl assured him, “Are you on?”
“Queen,” said the skipper simply, “you said a mouthful!”
Twenty minutes later Sam was climbing up the side of the liner as it lay towering over the tug like a mountain. His clothes hung about him clammily. He squelched as he walked.
A kindly looking old gentleman who was smoking a cigar by the rail regarded him with open eyes.
“My dear sir, you're very wet,” he said.
Sam passed him with a cold face and hurried through the door leading to the companion-way.
“Mummie, why is that man wet?” cried the clear voice of a little child.
Sam whizzed by, leaping down the stairs.
“Good Lord, sir! You're very wet!” said a steward in the doorway of the dining-saloon.
“You are wet,” said a stewardess in the passage.
Sam raced for his state-room. He bolted in and sank on the lounge. In the lower berth Eustace Hignett was lying with closed eyes. He opened them languidly—then stared.
“Hullo!” he said. “I say! You're wet.”
Sam removed his clinging garments and hurried into a new suit. He was in no mood for conversation, and Eustace Hignett's frank curiosity jarred upon him. Happily, at this point, a sudden shivering of the floor and a creaking of woodwork proclaimed the fact that the vessel was under way again, and his cousin, turning pea-green, rolled over on his side with a hollow moan. Sam finished buttoning his waistcoat and went out.
He was passing the Enquiry Bureau on the C-Deck, striding along with bent head and scowling brow, when a sudden exclamation caused him to look up, and the scowl was wiped from his brow as with a sponge. For there stood the girl he had met on the dock. With her was a superfluous young man who looked like a parrot.
“Oh, how are you?” asked the girl breathlessly.
“Splendid, thanks,” said Sam.
“Didn't you get very wet?”
“I did get a little damp.”
“I thought you would,” said the young man who looked like a parrot. “Directly I saw you go over the side I said to myself: 'That fellow's going to get wet!'”
There was a pause.
“Oh!” said the girl, “may I—Mr.—?”
“Mr. Marlowe. Mr. Bream Mortimer.”
Sam smirked at the young man. The young man smirked at Sam.
“Nearly got left behind,” said Bream Mortimer.
“No joke getting left behind.”
“Have to take the next boat. Lose a lot of time,” said Mr. Mortimer, driving home his point.
The girl had listened to these intellectual exchanges with impatience. She now spoke again.
“Do be a dear and run down to the saloon and see if it's all right about our places for lunch.”
“It is all right. The table steward said so.”
“Yes, but go and make certain.”
He hopped away and the girl turned to Sam with shining eyes.
“Oh, Mr. Marlowe, you oughtn't to have done it! Really, you oughtn't! You might have been drowned! But I never saw anything so wonderful. It was like the stories of knights who used to jump into lions' dens after gloves!”
“Yes?” said Sam, a little vaguely. The resemblance had not struck him. It seemed a silly hobby and rough on the lions, too.
“It was the sort of thing Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad would have done! But you shouldn't have bothered, really! It's all right now.”
“Oh, it's all right now?”
“Yes. I'd quite forgotten that Mr. Mortimer was to be on board. He has given me all the money I shall need. You see it was this way. I had to sail on this boat in rather a hurry. Father's head clerk was to have gone to the bank and got some money and met me on board and given it to me, but the silly old man was late, and when he got to the dock they had just pulled in the gang-plank. So he tried to throw the money to me in a handkerchief and it fell into the water. But you shouldn't have dived in after it.”
“Oh, well!” said Sam, straightening his tie, with a quiet brave smile. He had never expected to feel grateful to that obese bounder who had shoved him off the rail, but now he would have liked to seek him out and offer him his bank-roll.
“You really are the bravest man I ever met!”
“How modest you are! But I suppose all brave men are modest!”
“I was only too delighted at what looked like a chance of doing you a service.”
“It was the extraordinary quickness of it that was so wonderful. I do admire presence of mind. You didn't hesitate for a second. You just shot over the side as though propelled by some irresistible force!”
“It was nothing, nothing really. One just happens to have the knack of keeping one's head and acting quickly on the spur of the moment. Some people have it, some haven't.”
“And just think! As Bream was saying ...”
“It is all right,” said Mr. Mortimer, re-appearing suddenly. “I saw a couple of stewards and they both said it was all right. So it's all right.”
“Splendid,” said the girl. “Oh, Bream!”
“Do be an angel and run along to my stateroom and see if Pinky-Boodles is quite comfortable,”
“Bound to be.”
“Yes. But do go. He may be feeling lonely. Chirrup to him a little.”
“Yes, to cheer him up.”
“Oh, all right.”
Mr. Mortimer ran along. He had the air of one who feels that he only needs a peaked cap and a uniform two sizes too small for him to be a properly equipped messenger boy.
“And, as Bream was saying,” resumed the girl, “you might have been left behind.”
“That,” said Sam, edging a step closer, “was the thought that tortured me, the thought that a friendship so delightfully begun ...”
“But it hadn't begun. We have never spoken to each other before now.”
“Have you forgotten? On the dock ...”
Sudden enlightenment came into her eyes.
“Oh, you are the man poor Pinky-Boodles bit!”
“The lucky man!”
Her face clouded.
“Poor Pinky is feeling the motion of the boat a little. It's his first voyage.”
“I shall always remember that it was Pinky who first brought us together. Would you care for a stroll on deck?”
“Not just now, thanks. I must be getting back to my room to finish unpacking. After lunch, perhaps.”
“I will be there. By the way, you know my name, but ...”
“Oh, mine?” She smiled brightly. “It's funny that a person's name is the last thing one thinks of asking. Mine is Bennett.”
“Wilhelmina Bennett. My friends,” she said softly as she turned away, “call me Billie!”