Three Men and a Maid (Chapter 8, page 1 of 5)

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Chapter 8

A week after the liner Atlantic had docked at Southampton, Sam Marlowe might have been observed--and was observed by various of the residents--sitting on a bench on the esplanade of that repellent watering-place, Bingley-on-the-Sea, in Sussex. All watering-places on the South Coast of England are blots on the landscape, but, though I am aware that by saying it I shall offend the civic pride of some of the others, none are so peculiarly foul as Bingley-on-the-Sea. The asphalt on the Bingley esplanade is several degrees more depressing than the asphalt on other esplanades. The Swiss waiters at the Hotel Magnificent, where Sam was stopping, are in a class of bungling incompetence by themselves, the envy and despair of all the other Swiss waiters at all the other Hotels Magnificent along the coast. For dreariness of aspect Bingley-on-the-Sea stands alone. The very waves that break on the shingle seem to creep up the beach reluctantly, as if it revolted them to come to such a place.

Why, then, was Sam Marlowe visiting this ozone-swept Gehenna? Why, with all the rest of England at his disposal, had he chosen to spend a week at breezy, blighted Bingley?

Simply because he had been disappointed in love. He had sought relief by slinking off alone to the most benighted spot he knew, in the same spirit as other men in similar circumstances had gone off to the Rockies to shoot grizzly-bears.

To a certain extent the experiment had proved successful. If the Hotel Magnificent had not cured his agony, the service and the cooking there had at least done much to take his mind off it. His heart still ached, but he felt equal to going to London and seeing his father, which, of course, he ought to have done immediately upon his arrival in England.

He rose from his bench, and, going back to the hotel to enquire about trains, observed a familiar figure in the lobby. Eustace Hignett was leaning over the counter, in conversation with the desk-clerk.

"Hullo, Eustace!" said Sam.

"Hullo, Sam!" said Eustace.

There was a brief silence. The conversational opening had been a little unfortunately chosen, for it reminded both men of a painful episode in their recent lives.

"What are you doing here?" asked Eustace.

"What are you doing here?" asked Sam.

"I came to see you," said Eustace, leading his cousin out of the lobby and onto the bleak esplanade. A fine rain had begun to fall, and Bingley looked, if possible, worse than ever. "I asked for you at your club, and they told me you had come down here."

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