Three Men and a Maid (Chapter 6, page 2 of 6)


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Chapter 6

A young man recited 'Gunga Din' and, wilfully misinterpreting the gratitude of the audience that it was over for a desire for more, had followed it with 'Fuzzy-Wuzzy.' His sister--these things run in families--had sung 'My Little Gray Home in the West'--rather sombrely, for she had wanted to sing the 'Rosary,' and, with the same obtuseness which characterised her brother, had come back and rendered two plantation songs. The audience was now examining its programmes in the interval of silence in order to ascertain the duration of the sentence still remaining unexpired.

It was shocked to read the following: 7. A Little Imitation......S. Marlowe All over the saloon you could see fair women and brave men wilting in their seats. Imitation...! The word, as Keats would have said, was like a knell! Many of these people were old travellers, and their minds went back wincingly, as one recalls forgotten wounds, to occasions when performers at ships' concerts had imitated whole strings of Dickens' characters or, with the assistance of a few hats and a little false hair, had endeavored to portray Napoleon, Bismarck, Shakespeare and others of the famous dead. In this printed line on the programme there was nothing to indicate the nature or scope of the imitation which this S. Marlowe proposed to inflict upon them. They could only sit and wait and hope that it would be short.

There was a sinking of hearts as Eustace Hignett moved down the room and took his place at the piano. A pianist! This argued more singing. The more pessimistic began to fear that the imitation was going to be one of those imitations of well-known opera artistes which, though rare, do occasionally add to the horrors of ships' concerts. They stared at Hignett apprehensively. There seemed to them something ominous in the man's very aspect. His face was very pale and set, the face of one approaching a task at which his humanity shudders. They could not know that the pallor of Eustace Hignett was due entirely to the slight tremor which, even on the calmest nights, the engines of an ocean liner produce in the flooring of a dining saloon and to that faint, yet well-defined, smell of cooked meats which clings to a room where a great many people have recently been eating a great many meals. A few beads of cold perspiration were clinging to Eustace Hignett's brow. He looked straight before him with unseeing eyes. He was thinking hard of the Sahara.

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