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   Chapter 21 No.21

Three Men and a Maid By P. G. Wodehouse Characters: 8727

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Put me down," said Billie.

"You'd get hurt if I did, travelling at this pace."

"What are you going to do?"

"Drive about till you promise to marry me."

"You'll have to drive a long time."

"Right ho!" said Sam.

The car took a corner and purred down a lane. Billie reached out a hand and grabbed at the steering wheel. "Of course, if you want to smash up in a ditch!" said Sam, righting the car with a wrench.

"You're a brute!" said Billie.

"Cave-man stuff," explained Sam, "I ought to have tried it before."

"I don't know what you expect to gain by this."

"That's all right," said Sam, "I know what I'm about."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"I thought you would be."

"I'm not going to talk to you."

"All right. Lean back and doze off. We've the whole night before us."

"What do you mean?" cried Billie, sitting up with a jerk.

"Have you ever been to Scotland?"

"What do you mean?"

"I thought we might push up there. We've got to go somewhere and, oddly enough, I've never been to Scotland."

Billie regarded him blankly.

"Are you crazy?"

"I'm crazy about you. If you knew what I've gone through to-night for your sake you'd be more sympathetic. I love you," said Sam swerving to avoid a rabbit. "And what's more, you know it."

"I don't care."

"You will!" said Sam confidently. "How about North Wales? I've heard people speak well of North Wales. Shall we head for North Wales?"

"I'm engaged to Bream Mortimer."

"Oh no, that's all off," Sam assured her.

"It's not!"

"Right off!" said Sam firmly. "You could never bring yourself to marry a man who dashed away like that and deserted you in your hour of need. Why, for all he knew, I might have tried to murder you. And he ran away! No, no, we eliminate Bream Mortimer once and for all. He won't do!"

This was so exactly what Billie was feeling herself that she could not bring herself to dispute it.

"Anyway, I hate you!" she said, giving the conversation another turn.

"Why? In the name of goodness, why?"

"How dared you make a fool of me in your father's office that morning?"

"It was a sudden inspiration. I had to do something to make you think well of me, and I thought it might meet the case if I saved you from a lunatic with a pistol. It wasn't my fault that you found out."

"I shall never forgive you!"

"Why not Cornwall?" said Sam. "The Riviera of England! Let's go to

Cornwall. I beg your pardon. What were you saying?"

"I said I should never forgive you and I won't."

"Well, I hope you're fond of motoring," said Sam, "because we're going on till you do."

"Very well! Go on, then!"

"I intend to. Of course, it's all right now while it's dark. But have you considered what is going to happen when the sun gets up? We shall have a sort of triumphal procession. How the small boys will laugh when they see a man in a helmet go by in a car! I shan't notice them myself because it's a little difficult to notice anything from inside this thing, but I'm afraid it will be rather unpleasant for you … I know what we'll do. We'll go to London and drive up and down Piccadilly! That will be fun!"

There was a long silence.

"Is my helmet on straight?" said Sam.

Billie made no reply. She was looking before her down the hedge-bordered road. Always a girl of sudden impulse, she had just made a curious discovery, to wit, that she was enjoying herself. There was something so novel and exhilarating about this midnight ride that imperceptibly her dismay and resentment had ebbed away. She found herself struggling with a desire to laugh.

"Lochinvar!" said Sam suddenly. "That's the name of the chap I've been trying to think of! Did you ever read about Lochinvar? 'Young Lochinvar' the poet calls him rather familiarly. He did just what I'm doing now, and everybody thought very highly of him. I suppose in those days a helmet was just an ordinary part of what the well-dressed man should wear. Odd how fashions change!"

Till now dignity and wrath combined had kept Billie from making any enquiries into a matter which had excited in her a quite painful curiosity. In her new mood she resisted the impulse no longer.

"Why are you wearing that thing?"

"I told you. Purely and simply because I can't get it off. You don't suppose I'm trying to set a new style in gents' headwear, do you?"

"But why did you ever put it on?"

"Well, it was this way. After I came out of the cupboard in the drawing-room…."

"What!"

"Didn't I tell you about that? Oh yes, I was sitting in the cupboard in the drawing-room from dinner-time onwards. After that I came out and started cannoning about among Aunt Adeline's china, so I thought I'd better switch the light on. Unfortunately I switched on some sort of musical instrument instead. And then somebody started shooting. So, what with one thing and another, I thought it would be best to hide somewhere. I hid in one of the suits of armour in the hall."

"Were you inside there all the time we were…?"

"Yes. I say, that was funny about Bream, wasn't it? Getting under the bed, I mean."

"Don't let's talk about Bream."

"That's the right spirit! I like to see it! All right, we won't. Let's get back to the main issue. Will you marry me?"

"But why did you come to the house at all?"

"To see you."

"To see me! At that time of night?"

"Well, perhaps not actually to see you." Sam was a little perplexed for a moment. Something told him that it would be injudicious to reveal his true motive and thereby risk disturbing the harmony which he felt had begun to exist between them. "To be near you! To be in the same house with you!" he went on vehemently feeling that he had struck the right note. "You don't know the anguish I went through after I read that letter of yours. I was mad! I was … well, to return to the point, will you marry me?"

Billie sat looking straight before her. The car, now on the main road, moved smoothly on.

"Will you marry me?"

Billie rested her hand on her chin and searched the darkness with thoughtful eyes.

"Will you marry me?"

The car raced on.

"Will you marry me?" said Sam. "Will you marry me? Will you marry me?"

"Oh, don't talk like a parrot," cried Billie. "It reminds me of Bream."

"But will you?"

"Yes," said Billie.

Sam brought the car to a standstill with a jerk, probably very bad for the tires.

"Did you say 'yes'?"

"Yes!"

"Darling!" said Sam, leaning towards her, "Oh, curse this helmet!"

"Why?"

"Well, I rather wanted to kiss you and it hampers me."

"Let me try and get it off. Bend down!"

"Ouch!" said Sam.

"It's coming. There! How helpless men are!"

"We need a woman's tender care," said Sam depositing the helmet on the floor of the car, and rubbing his smarting ears. "Billie!"

"Sam!"

"You angel!"

"You're rather a darling after all," said Billie. "But you want keeping in order," she added severely.

"You will do that when we're married. When we're married!" he repeated luxuriously. "How splendid it sounds!"

"The only trouble is," said Billie, "father won't hear of it."

"No, he won't. Not till it is all over," said Sam.

He started the car again.

"What are you going to do?" said Billie. "Where are you going?"

"To London," said Sam. "It may be news to you but the old lawyer like myself knows that, by going to Doctors' Commons or the Court of Arches or somewhere or by routing the Archbishop of Canterbury out of bed or something, you can get a special license and be married almost before you know where you are. My scheme-roughly-is to dig this special license out of whoever keeps such things, have a bit of breakfast, and then get married at our leisure before lunch at a registrar's."

"Oh, not a registrar's!" said Billie.

"No?"

"I should hate a registrar's."

"Very well, angel. Just as you say. We'll go to a church. There are millions of churches in London. I've seen them all over the place." He mused for a moment. "Yes, you're quite right," he said. "A church is the thing. It'll please Webster."

"Webster?"

"Yes, he's rather keen on the church bells never having rung out so blithe a peal before. And we must consider Webster's feelings. After all, he brought us together."

"Webster? How?"

"Oh, I'll tell you all about that some other time," said Sam. "Just for the moment I want to sit quite still and think. Are you comfortable? Fine! Then off we go."

The birds in the trees fringing the road stirred and twittered grumpily as the noise of the engine disturbed their slumbers. But, if they had known it, they were in luck. At any rate, the worst had not befallen them, for Sam was too happy to sing.

THE END

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