Three Men and a Maid (Chapter 6, page 1 of 4)


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Chapter 6

Ship's concerts are given in aid of the seamen's orphans and widows, and, after one has been present at a few of them, one seems to feel that any right-thinking orphan or widow would rather jog along and take a chance of starvation than be the innocent cause of such things. They open with a long speech from the master of the ceremonies--so long, as a rule, that it is only the thought of what is going to happen afterwards that enables the audience to bear it with fortitude. This done, the amateur talent is unleashed, and the grim work begins.

It was not till after the all too brief intermission for rest and recuperation that the newly formed team of Marlowe and Hignett was scheduled to appear. Previous to this there had been dark deeds done in the quiet saloon. The lecturer on deep-sea fish had fulfilled his threat and spoken at great length on a subject which, treated by a master of oratory, would have palled on the audience after ten or fifteen minutes; and at the end of fifteen minutes this speaker had only just got past the haddocks and was feeling his way tentatively through the shrimps. 'The Rosary' had been sung and there was an uneasy doubt as to whether it was not going to be sung again after the interval--the latest rumour being that the second of the rival lady singers had proved adamant to all appeals and intended to fight the thing out on the lines she had originally chosen if they put her in irons.

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.

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