About the Story ...
A young woman seeking to marry her sweetheart, recently returned from the front, finds him reluctant to marry after receiving serious war injuries. The title is derived from the odds that a man would return wounded.
In 'Three Chances to One', Mara Parks is subject to the gossip of the town after Vivien Briggs, whose proposal she refused before he enlisted, returns missing a leg and a hand. The story lays out her justification for refusing him and her attempts to rekindle their relationship.
Locke does not seek to ameliorate the severity of Vivien's injuries, highlighting her heroine's physical fitness against his acquired disabilities, and reinforcing the fact that marriage will mean 'a life of luxurious ease and careful nursing' for the husband rather than the wife. Superficially a woman's magazine romance, the story also begins to tease out some of the upheavals that the war brings into the domestic sphere.
A woman sat staring up into the stars that pricked through a sky as blue as her own deep sapphire eyes. Her feet were crossed in front of her, and steaded into the iron balustrade of the balcony she sat on.
Behind her chair, the sounds of revelry did not disturb her; the continual cheering of the “Returned” and the punctuated remarks about the young lieutenant who was perpetually esteemed in hearty tones as “a jolly good fellow” did nothing to turn her eyes from the outward appearance of things.
In the house Lieutenant Vivien Briggs was receiving from his friends the justice of a real home welcome, after nearly a year in the slaughter-fields of warfare. He was minus one leg and without his right hand.
Through the open French doors voices reached the woman; jocular remarks about herself made her turn ever so little, and then disgustedly assume her former indifference.
“She will be glad now that she refused to marry Vivien Briggs,” came through the glass doors.
Mara drew in her lips.
“He went out to the front broken-hearted, they said; but I suppose she thought something of the kind was likely to happen. She doesn’t look the kind of girl to be tied to a man with one leg and —”
The rest trailed away as the speakers left the room.
Mara laughed outright, and before finishing her outburst, saw the young subaltern himself step through the window and look for a chair.
With that quick action of fore-thought which is so apparent in any one desirous of offering a service to one at a disadvantage, Mara rose to push a chair forward; but Vivien Briggs had calmly taken the edge of the one she sat upon. She resumed her former position. Her deep eyes set again to the stars.
“I wanted to tell you, Mara,” said the young lieutenant, “that I’m cured. Perfectly and splendidly cured.”
“You mean, as regards your wounds?”
“I mean as regards you.”
Mara moved her feet a trifle, and smiled ever so faintly.
“Thank you,” she said lightly; “I suppose I deserved that.”
“Nothing of the sort, dear,” his tone brought her eyes round. “What I meant was that, under the condition of my present —” he paused, and indicated the crutch held in his left hand.
“I’m so thankful, Mara, that you refused absolutely to marry me before I went out, that I believe I’ve developed into a kind of jellyfish that has no sentiment in it whatever! If you had been tied to me now — a man who is only half a man —”
The girl kept her eyes steady.
“I think I would have got back somehow into those trenches to be completely finished off. I don’t think a man has any right to come back and expect a woman to be faithful to the — remnants of his proper person. However, I just wanted to tell you that we can fully enjoy friendship without fear of my overdoing it. If I had returned as I went, it might — have been different. As it is, you refused to marry me before, and my present inability to be anything but an obstacle in the path of your welfare has completely — cured me.”
“Still you are frank enough, I think.” She twisted in the chair, and their shoulders touched with the close proximity of the position. “It is a pity you don’t care, Viv,” she went on quickly, “because I had, and still have, every intention of marrying you. When you went out I refused purely on account of other things. I had meant all along to marry you if you asked me again — still —”
“For God’s sake, Mara” …
All the brightness fled from his face. He seemed ten years older in three seconds.
“What are you worrying over?” Mara asked, still with her face set to his.
“Over you, of course. I hoped that you didn’t care.”
“And I hoped that you did.”
There was an interval in which the young lieutenant grew flushed where white had bleached his face of all healthy appearance. Mara was conscious of being entirely free from any discomforture.
Vivien Briggs took up her hand with his only one.
“Girlie — in Heaven’s name don’t say that! What are we to do — if — if that were true?”
“Do! Why, just do,” she said.
“Don’t be frivolous, Mara! God help us both.”
“I don’t see why we need be so serious, Vivien. If you don’t really care — well — I suppose I’ll have to live through it; but if you do —”
He gripped her fingers harder. “If I do — what then?”
Her clear eyes held him.
“If you do, Viv, I intend to marry you right away!”
The young subaltern dropped her fingers, grabbed his crutch, and stood up.
“Not on your life, Mara!”
When he had said this he seemed more flushed of face than ever.
“I mean, of course,” he went on, “that I would — would — not care about it.”
“You mean about me, Viv?”
“No!” It was deliberate and raspy, his one word. Then again he tried to explain.
“You are to me, Mara, the dearest thing in life — but I prefer — that is — I told you — I’m cured.”
In the flickering lights of the garden and under a dome of golden stars Mara rose and went right up to him.
“I noticed that when you returned, Viv. You never kissed me. Tell me truly, are you really cured? See — I’m holding up my face, and we are alone … Prove to me that you are cured!”
With a terrific strain on his higher manhood — the manhood that does not lie to itself — Vivien just stood staring down into her face.
“Don’t,” he said. “Of course, I’m cured. Or — or — I ought to be. I — I — don’t want to kiss you, Mara — before God — I don’t want to kiss you.”
“Then, before God, Vivien, I want to kiss you,” said the girl, tremulously and lightly touching him on the shoulder, reverently kissed him on the lips.
With a spasm of absolute grief the young subaltern pulled away.
“I — I — meant what I said. Mara —”
His voice was strained, and he had that uncertain restlessness that tells of nervous anxiety.
“I — I — have no wish to do that! Good night.”
* * *
The sun had beat down on the girl’s silk Japanese sunshade as she stood, early one afternoon, beneath the high verandah of the “Bachelors’ Club House.” The young subaltern, a guest among the fellows of the association, walked with his wooden supports up and down the balcony, resting only at odd moments to look across the flowering grounds.
He thought that here he had found rest from the jarring enquiring community who so often put the question as to his hopeless condition. It seemed to him so inevitable that neither his lost limb nor land were likely to assume their proper proportions.
Glancing down from the high verandah, he saw Mara, smiling at him from her scarlet and be-storked sunshade.
Quickly and nervously he called out.
“Mara — please go away. This is entirely a bachelor’s dominion! I can’t have you scarifying yourself in this way. Twice I have been told by the servants that you called. Please go quickly!”
Mara adjusted the sunshade so that he could see all her face.
“I have something to declare,” she said.
“Then declare quickly, and please hurry away. It was partly on account — of you that I have taken seclusion in this way.”
“I wish to declare — hearts,” she called; “and I don’t care if all the world sees me here. Vivien, I’ve come to the point in which I am going to forego your love as you no longer care for me, and I intend marrying you, whether you like it or no!”
Vivien went a trifle pale, but decided to banish her by an indifferent kind of humor.
“I'm ever so sorry,” he called out, “but I am not a marrying man. You have only got to look — at me to see that.”
The easy manner in which he regarded his crippled condition did not lessen the girl’s high spirits.
“You used to be — then! Why, I remember how you said once — ”
“Mara — for both our sakes go! Can’t you see how — how much I don’t want to marry you?”
The girl spun the sunshade round her shoulders, and went just a little white under the eyes.
“I must admit, Viv, that I never knew a man was so hard to woo before — still I’d like to put the question face to face; so please invite me up there to — ”
“Not for a thousand pounds,” said Vivien. “Ladies are not permitted into the abode of the domestic bachelor. Will you, please, go home, or must I come down and take you?”
But, Mara the strong-minded had no intention of going home without first of all reclaiming all her apparently lost ground with her former admirer.
She planted one small foot firmly in the meshes of the Tecoma vines that grew on the face of a trellis just beneath the high verandah, and in two minutes her head came nearly level with the railing where he stood.
Below, on the green bordered garden, her sunshade glimmered openly to the whole world.
Vivien Briggs was thoroughly upset.
“How could you, Mara! With me in such helplessness, standing here not able to prevent you. You might fall — be careful. I feel very much like slapping you as I might have done once when you were a little girl. As it is —”
Mara jumped over the rail, landed neatly on the soles of her immaculate little enamel boots, and faced him squarely.
“ … As it is, Lieutenant Vivien Briggs, you can neither slap me nor defy my presence. I am here to force my suit upon you — it is true I refused you once before, but I had a reason … since then I have only waited for this and if you can honestly and truly tell me that you do not require my services as a wife … as a really loving and adoring wife — I will not hesitate to — to fall over the balcony, or even to break my neck over it in absolute disgust at your refusal —”
The young Lieutenant stopped her with a shake of his head.
“Mara — this is nonsense! You are only doing it out of pity … I can’t bear it — ”
She caught him by the arm, from which his hand had been severed!
“Do you mean that, Viv?”
Almost choking she was, and he could not answer her. In part he believed himself to be lying, just to stay the pressure of things on his mind
“Dear girl … if only all the women were like you. You would give up your life to me — a man half buried … Can’t you see that when you refused me before going to the front you did the only possible thing that would be sane regarding your future. Do you think I could let you live the life I’ve got to live … on small pension and no job … God! Mara, I said my prayers in thankfulness that you had not married me as I wanted so much before — before — this calamity occurred. I have never ceased to thank God …”
Mara put out a hand to stop him.
“And I,” she said, “have never ceased to regret my refusal — seeing you are so adamant in … in …”
There were tears now where laughter had been.
“Admit something to me, Viv,” she said. “And I’ll go — content. If you had returned — otherwise — would you not have ——?”
Her eyes said the rest. The young subaltern was about to reply. Then he quickly pulled up and hesitated.
“I don't know that I should … that is, if you mean my asking you a second time.”
“I don’t believe you,” came smartly from Mara, who prepared her skirts to descend the trellis.
Vivien was amazed. He did not know whether to stop her or to call the man-servant in the inside of the house.
Meantime, the girl had climbed over the rail, and was clinging there staring at him.
“You can prove to me how much you really care and how much I am to you tomorrow at the little tea party I am giving in your honor, Viv. Come early and stay late is the word for you. Bye bye. This is only my second time of asking, remember.”
Lieut. Vivien Briggs did not arrive at Miss Mara Parks' rooms, in her uncle's house, until quite 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
An unusual stir seemed to commence as he was ushered in by the servant. Something of a superfluous amount of undisguised anticipation was distinctly prevalent.
In coming forward on his wooden supports he felt distinctly as if he was the centre of some gusty cyclone, about to burst around him.
Feminine eyes smiled on him, and male guests quickly rose to receive him almost as if he had been the entire British Army instead of a very minute portion of one unit.
In the hum of subdued talk, some of which, was driven against him, he caught odd remarks such as “lucky beggar.”
He scarcely saw the meaning as he thumped quietly over the Persian rugs, and took up his stand next to Mara, who seemed responsible for this and more, that he felt certain would follow.
One remark of an old acquaintance, whispered into his off side ear, was absolutely incoherent to him. It was said in a kind of muffled, confidential tone by an old gentleman whom he knew was devoted to Mara.
Just this one word made him wonder if his part in battle had not really removed some of his proper mental apparatus.
“Congratulations,” said the veteran guest. Lieutenant Briggs took it — presently as part of the personal courtesy of a man who was beyond the years of “active service.”
Still, the side glances of pretty women and Mara’s high flushed face did not explain itself. The young subaltern began to feel dizzy about things, and before shaking another hand or receiving another compliment, begged Mara to secret him one corner to recover the effects of such sudden and misdirected glory.
“I feel as if I had won a V.C. or something,” he said, “put me out of sight for goodness sake, Mara.”
The girl shut her teeth on a little laugh.
“One minute,” she said, “have you seen this?”
From a basket near she handed him a card.
It was dainty and printed in gold lettering. It had words upon it that not only staggered him on his crutches but sent the blood reeling into his head as if it was going to burst. Mara was laughing and trying to assist him into the next room where seclusion was evident.
“You had no right,” began the young officer, but failed hopelessly to keep himself master of the situation. He knew that she had won, and that a life of luxurious ease and careful nursing was his from the moment he read the card.
It invited certain people to assemble at the house of the Rev. William Parks (who was Mara’s uncle) to participate in the marriage of Lieutenant Vivien Briggs, A.F.A., and Miss Mara Parks on this very afternoon, all arrangements having been previously attended to by the reverend uncle himself.
Mara was standing waiting near him, and for the first time he discovered that she had on a shimmering white gown, and that her face carried a wonderful glow of pride and certainty.
“Why did you do this, Mara?”
It was all the young Lieutenant could say as he put his arm round her neck.
“Because,” said Mara, almost crying, “because I knew that in this war it is pretty nearly always three chances to one of a wound — and I felt that I wanted to wait — to wait, and if you came home wounded or disabled that I could then show you how much I cared by marrying you — as you were.”