Three Men and a Maid (Chapter 5, page 1 of 5)


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Chapter 5

"Good God!" cried Eustace Hignett.

He stared at the figure which loomed above him in the fading light which came through the porthole of the stateroom. The hour was seven-thirty and he had just woken from a troubled doze, full of strange nightmares, and for the moment he thought that he must still be dreaming, for the figure before him could have walked straight into any nightmare and no questions asked. Then suddenly he became aware that it was his cousin, Samuel Marlowe. As in the historic case of father in the pigstye, he could tell him by his hat. But why was he looking like that? Was it simply some trick of the uncertain light, or was his face really black and had his mouth suddenly grown to six times its normal size and become a vivid crimson?

Sam turned. He had been looking at himself in the mirror with a satisfaction which, to the casual observer, his appearance would not have seemed to justify. Hignett had not been suffering from a delusion. His cousin's face was black; and, even as he turned, he gave it a dab with a piece of burnt cork and made it blacker.

"Hullo! You awake?" he said and switched on the light.

Eustace Hignett shied like a startled horse. His friend's profile, seen dimly, had been disconcerting enough. Full face, he was a revolting object. Nothing that Eustace Hignett had encountered in his recent dreams--and they had included such unusual fauna as elephants in top hats and running shorts--had affected him so profoundly. Sam's appearance smote him like a blow. It seemed to take him straight into a different and dreadful world.

"What ... what ... what...?" he gurgled.

Sam squinted at himself in the glass and added a touch of black to his nose.

"How do I look?"

Eustace Hignett began to fear that his cousin's reason must have become unseated. He could not conceive of any really sane man, looking like that, being anxious to be told how he looked.

"Are my lips red enough? It's for the ship's concert, you know. It starts in half an hour, though I believe I'm not on till the second part. Speaking as a friend, would you put a touch more black round the ears, or are they all right?"

Curiosity replaced apprehension in Hignett's mind.

"What on earth are you doing performing at the ship's concert?"

"Oh, they roped me in. It got about somehow that I was a valuable man and they wouldn't take no." Sam deepened the colour of his ears. "As a matter of fact," he said casually, "my fiancee made rather a point of my doing something."

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