Patricia Brent, Spinsterскачать книгу бесплатно
"Sam," she had said, "you want a woman to look after you; you're nothing but a great, big baby."
"And she was right, me dear," said Mr. Triggs huskily, "she was right as she always was, only she didn't know that there couldn't ever be anyone after 'er."
Slowly and tactfully Patricia guided the old man's thoughts away from the sad subject of his wife's death, and soon had him laughing gaily at some stories she had heard the night previously from the Bowens. Mr. Triggs was as easily diverted from sadness to laughter as a child.
It was half-past seven when they left the Park gates, and Patricia, looking suddenly at her wristlet watch, cried out, "Oh! I shall be late for dinner, I must fly!"
"You're going to dine with me, me dear," announced Mr. Triggs.
"Oh, but I can't," said Patricia; "I – I – "
"Why can't you?"
"Well, I haven't told Mrs. Craske-Morton."
"Who's she?" enquired Mr. Triggs.
"Of course it doesn't matter, how stupid of me," said Patricia; "I should love to dine with you, Mr. Triggs, if you will let me."
"That's all right," said Mr. Triggs, heaving a sigh of relief.
They walked down Portland Place and Regent Street until they reached the Quadrant.
"We'll 'ave dinner in the Grill-room at the Quadrant," announced Mr. Triggs, with the air of a man who knows his way about town.
"Oh, no, not there, please!" cried Patricia, in a panic.
"Not there!" Mr. Triggs looked at her, surprise and disappointment in his voice. "Why not?"
"Oh! I'd sooner not go there if you don't mind. Couldn't we go somewhere else?"
For a moment Mr. Triggs did not reply.
"There's someone there I don't want to meet," said Patricia, then a moment afterwards she realised her mistake. Mr. Triggs looked down at his clothes.
"I suppose they are a bit out of it for the evening," he remarked in a hurt voice.
"Oh, Mr. Triggs, how could you?" said Patricia. "Now I shall insist on dining in the Quadrant Grill-room. If you won't come with me I'll go alone."
"Not if you don't want to go, me dear, it doesn't matter. Though I do like to 'ear the band. We can go anywhere."
"No, Quadrant or nothing," said Patricia, hoping that Bowen would be dining out.
"Are you sure, me dear?" said Mr. Triggs, hesitating on the threshold.
"Nothing will change me," announced Patricia, with decision. "Now you can see about getting a table while I go and powder my nose."
When Patricia rejoined Mr. Triggs in the vestibule of the Grill-room he was looking very unhappy and downcast.
"There ain't a table nowhere," he said.
"Oh, what a shame!" cried Patricia. "Whatever shall we do?"
"I don't know," said Mr. Triggs helplessly.
"Are you sure?" persisted Patricia.
"That red-'eaded fellow over there said there wasn't nothing to be 'ad."
"I am sorry," said Patricia, seeing Triggs's disappointment. "I suppose we shall have to go somewhere else after all."
"Won't you and your friend share my table, Patricia?"
Patricia turned round as if someone had hit her, her face flaming.
"Oh!" she cried. "You?"
"I have a table booked, and if you will dine with me you will be conferring a real favour upon a lonely fellow-creature."
Bowen smiled from Patricia to Mr. Triggs, who was looking at him in surprise.
"Oh! where are my manners?" cried Patricia as she introduced the two men.
Mr. Triggs's eyes bulged at the mention of Bowen's title.
"Now, Mr. Triggs," said Bowen, "won't you add the weight of your persuasion to mine, and persuade Miss Brent that the only thing to do is for you both to dine with me and save me from boredom?"
"Well, it was to 'ave been my treat," said Mr. Triggs, not quite sure of his ground.
"But you can afford to be generous. Can't you share her with me, just for this evening?"
Mr. Triggs beamed and turned questioningly to Patricia, who, seeing that if she declined it would be a real disappointment to him, said:
"Well, I suppose we must under the circumstances."
"You're not very gracious, Patricia, are you?" said Bowen comically.
Patricia laughed. "Well, come along, I'm starving," she said.
Many heads were turned to look at the curious trio, headed by the obsequious ma?tre d'h?tel, as they made their way towards Bowen's table.
"I wonder what 'Ettie would say," whispered Mr. Triggs to Patricia, "me dining with a lord, and 'im being a pal of yours, too."
Patricia smiled. She was wondering what trick Fate would play her next.
The meal was a gay one. Bowen and Mr. Triggs immediately became friends and pledged each other in champagne.
Mr. Triggs told of their visit to the Zoo and of the anniversary it celebrated.
"Then you are a believer in marriage, Mr. Triggs," said Bowen.
"A believer in it! I should just think I am," said Mr. Triggs. "I wish she'd get married," he added, nodding his head in the direction of Patricia.
"She's going to," said Bowen quietly.
Mr. Triggs sat up as if someone had hit him in the small of the back.
"Going to," he cried. "Who's the man?"
"You have just pledged him in Moet and Chandon," replied Bowen quietly.
"You going to marry 'er?" Unconsciously Mr. Triggs raised his voice in his surprise, and several people at adjacent tables turned and looked at the trio.
"Hush! Mr. Triggs," said Patricia, feeling her cheeks burn. Bowen merely smiled.
"Well I am glad," said Mr. Triggs heartily, and seizing Bowen's hand he shook it cordially. "God bless my soul!" he added, "and you never told me." He turned reproachful eyes upon Patricia.
"It – it – " she began.
"You see, it's only just been arranged," said Bowen.
Patricia flashed him a grateful look, he seemed always to be coming to her rescue.
"God bless my soul!" repeated Mr. Triggs. "But you'll be 'appy, both of you, I'll answer for that."
"Then I may take it that you're on my side, Mr. Triggs," said Bowen.
"On your side?" queried Mr. Triggs, not understanding.
"Yes," said Bowen, "you see Patricia believes in long engagements, whereas I believe in short ones. I want her to marry me at once; but she will not. She wants to wait until we are both too old to enjoy each other's society, and she is too deaf to hear me say how charming she is."
"If you love each other you'll never be too old to enjoy each other's company," said Mr. Triggs seriously. "Still, I'm with you," he added, "and I'll do all I can to persuade 'er to hurry on the day."
"Oh, Mr. Triggs!" cried Patricia reproachfully, "you have gone over to the enemy."
"I think he has merely placed himself on the side of the angels," said Bowen.
"And now," said Mr. Triggs, "you must both of you dine with me one night to celebrate the event. Oh Lor'!" he exclaimed. "What will 'Ettie say?" Then turning to Bowen he added oy way of explanation, "'Ettie's my daughter, rather stiff, she is. She looks down on Miss Brent because she's only A. B.'s secretary. 'Ettie's got to learn a lot about the world," he added oracularly. "My, this'll be a shock to 'er."
"I'm afraid I can't – " began Patricia.
"You're not going to say you can't both dine with me?" said Mr. Triggs, blankly disappointed.
"I think Patricia will reconsider her decision," said Bowen quietly. "She wouldn't be so selfish as to deny two men an evening's happiness."
"She's one of the best," said Mr. Triggs, with decision.
"Mr. Triggs, I think you and I have at least one thing in common," said Bowen.
"Good morning, Miss Brent."
Patricia was surprised at the graciousness of Mrs. Bonsor's salutation, particularly after the episode of the Zoo on the previous afternoon.
"Good morning," she responded, and made to go upstairs to take off her hat and coat.
"I congratulate you," proceeded Mrs. Bonsor in honeyed tones; "but I'm just a little hurt that you did not confide in me." Mrs. Bonsor's tone was that of a trusted friend of many years' standing.
"Confide!" repeated Patricia in a matter-of-fact tone. "Confide what, Mrs. Bonsor?"
"Your engagement to Lord Peter Bowen. Such a surprise. You're a very lucky girl. I hope you'll bring Lord Peter to call."
Patricia listened mechanically to Mrs. Bonsor's inanities. Suddenly she realised their import. What had happened? How did she know? Had Mr. Triggs told her?
"How did you know?" Patricia enquired.
"Haven't you seen The Morning Post?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor.
"The Morning Post!" repeated Patricia, in consternation; "but – but I don't understand."
"Then isn't it true?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor, scenting a mystery.
"I – I – " began Patricia, then with inspiration added, "I must be getting on, I've got a lot to do to make up for yesterday."
"But isn't it true, Miss Brent?" persisted Mrs. Bonsor.
Then from half-way up the stairs Patricia turned and, in a spurt of mischief, cried, "If you see it in The Morning Post it is so, Mrs. Bonsor."
When Patricia entered the library Mr. Bonsor was fussing about with letters and papers, a habit he had when nervous.
"I'm so sorry about yesterday afternoon, Mr. Bonsor," said Patricia; "but Mrs. Bonsor seemed to wish me to – "
"Not at all, not at all, Miss Brent," said Mr. Bonsor nervously. "I – I – " then he paused.
"I know what you're going to say, Mr. Bonsor, but please don't say it."
Mr. Bonsor looked at her in surprise. "Not say it?" he said.
"Oh! everybody's congratulating me, and I'm tired. Shall we get on with the letters?"
Mr. Bonsor was disappointed. He had prepared a dainty little speech of congratulation, which he had intended to deliver as Patricia entered the room. Mr. Bonsor was always preparing speeches which he never delivered. There was not an important matter that had been before the House since he had represented Little Dollington upon which he had not prepared a speech. He had criticised every member of the Government and Opposition. He had prepared party speeches and anti-party speeches, patriotic speeches and speeches of protest. He had called upon the House of Commons to save the country, and upon the country to save the House of Commons. He had woven speeches of splendid optimism and speeches of gloomy foreboding. He had attacked ministers and defended ministers, seen himself attacked and had routed his enemies. He had prepared speeches to be delivered to his servants for domestic misdemeanour, speeches for Mr. Triggs, even for Mrs. Bonsor.
He had conceived speeches on pigs, speeches on potatoes, speeches on oil-cake, and speeches on officers' wives; in short, there was nothing in the world of his thoughts about which he had not prepared a speech. The one thing he did not do was to deliver these speeches. They were wonderful things of his imagination, which seemed to defy crystallization into words. So it was with the speech of congratulation that he had prepared for Patricia.
That morning Patricia was distraite. Her thoughts continued to wander to The Morning Post announcement, and she was anxious to get out to lunch in order to purchase a copy and see what was actually said. Then her thoughts ran on to who was responsible for such an outrage; for Patricia regarded it as an outrage. It was obviously Bowen who had done it in order to make her position still more ridiculous. It was mean, she was not sure that it was not contemptible.
Patricia was in the act of transcribing some particulars about infant mortality in England and Wales compared with that of Scotland, when the parlourmaid entered with a note. Mr. Bonsor stretched out his hand for it.
"It is for Miss Brent, sir," said the maid.
Patricia looked up in surprise. It was unusual for her to receive a note at the Bonsors'. She opened the envelope mechanically and read: —
"I have just seen The Morning Post. It is sweet of you to relent. You have made me very happy. Will you dine with me to-night and when may I take you to Grosvenor Square? My mother will want to see her new daughter-in-law.
"I so enjoyed last night. Surely the gods are on my side.
Patricia read and re-read the note. For a moment she felt ridiculously happy, then, with a swift change of mood she saw the humiliation of her situation. Bowen thought it was she who had inserted the notice of the engagement. What must he think of her? It looked as if she had done it to burn his boats behind him. Then suddenly she seized a pen and wrote: —
"DEAR LORD PETER,
"I know nothing whatever about the announcement in The Morning Post, and I only heard of it when I arrived here. I cannot dine with you to-night, and I am very angry and upset that anyone should have had the impertinence to interfere in my affairs. I shall take up the matter with The Morning Post people and insist on a contradiction immediately.
With quick, decisive movements Patricia folded the note, addressed the envelope and handed it to the maid, then she turned to Mr. Bonsor.
"I am sorry to interrupt work, Mr. Bonsor; but that was rather an important note that I had to answer."
Mr. Bonsor smiled sympathetically.
At lunch-time Patricia purchased a copy of The Morning Post, and there saw in all its unblushing mendacity the announcement.
"A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place between Lord Peter Bowen, D.S.O., M.C., attached to the General Staff, son of the 7th Marquess of Meyfield, and Patricia Brent, daughter of the late John Brent, of Little Milstead."
"Why on earth must the ridiculous people put it at the top of the column?" she muttered aloud. A man occupying an adjoining table at the place where she was lunching turned and looked at her.
"And now I must go back to potatoes, pigs, and babies," said Patricia to herself as she paid her bill and rose. "Ugh!"
She had scarcely settled down to her afternoon's work when the maid entered and announced, "Lord Peter Bowen to see you, miss."
"Oh bother!" exclaimed Patricia. "Tell him I'm busy, will you please?"
The maid's jaw dropped; she was excellently trained, but no maid-servant could be expected to rise superior to such an extraordinary attitude on the part of a newly-engaged girl. Nothing short of a butler who had lived in the best families could have risen to such an occasion.
"But, Miss Brent – " began Mr. Bonsor.
Patricia turned and froze him with a look.
"Will you give him my message, please, Fellers?" she said, and Fellers walked out a disillusioned young woman.
Two minutes later Mrs. Bonsor entered the room, flushed and excited.
"Oh, Miss Brent, that silly girl has muddled up things somehow! Lord Peter Bowen is waiting for you in the morning-room. I have just been talking to him and saying that I hope you will both dine with us one day next week."
"The message was quite correct, Mrs. Bonsor. I am very busy with pigs, and babies, and potatoes. I really cannot add Lord Peter to my responsibilities at the moment."
Mrs. Bonsor looked at Patricia as if she had suddenly gone mad.
"But Miss Brent – " began Mrs. Bonsor, scandalised.
"I suppose I shall have to see him," said Patricia, rising with the air of one who has to perform an unpleasant task. "I wish he'd stay at the War Office and leave me to do my work. I suppose I shall have to write to Lord Derby about it."
Mrs. Bonsor glanced at Mr. Bonsor, who, however, was busily engaged in preparing an appropriate speech upon War Office methods, suggested by Patricia's remark about Lord Derby.
As Patricia entered the morning-room, Bowen came forward.
"Oh, Patricia! why will you persist in being a cold douche? Why this morning I absolutely scandalised Peel by singing at the top of my voice whilst in my bath, and now. Look at me now!"
Patricia looked at him, then she was forced to laugh. He presented such a woebegone appearance.
"But what on earth have I to do with your singing in your bath?" she enquired.
"It was The Morning Post paragraph. I thought everything was going to be all right after last night, and now I'm a door-mat again."
"Who inserted that paragraph?" enquired Patricia.
"I rang up The Morning Post office and they told me that it was handed in by Miss Brent, who is staying at the Mayfair Hotel."
"Aunt Adelaide!" There was a depth of meaning in Patricia's tone as she uttered the two words, then turning to Bowen she enquired, "Did you tell them to contradict it?"
"They asked me whether it were correct," he said, refusing to meet Patricia's eyes.
"What did you say?"
"I said it was." He looked at her quizzically, like a boy who is expecting a severe scolding. Patricia had to bite her lips to prevent herself from laughing.
"You told The Morning Post people that it was correct when you knew that it was wrong?"
Bowen hung his head. "But it isn't wrong," he muttered.
"You know very well that it is wrong and that I am not engaged to you, and that no marriage has been arranged or ever will be arranged. Now I shall have to write to the editor and insist upon the statement being contradicted."
"Good Lord! Don't do that, Patricia," broke in Bowen. "They'll think we've all gone mad."
"And for once a newspaper editor will be right," was Patricia's comment.
"And will you dine to-night, Pat?"
Patricia looked up. This was the first time Bowen had used the diminutive of her name. Somehow it sounded very intimate.
"I am afraid I have an – an – "
The hesitation was her undoing.
"No; don't tell me fibs, please. You will dine with me and then, afterwards, we will go on and see the mater. She is dying to know you."
How boyish and lover-like Bowen was in spite of his twenty-eight years, and – and – how different everything might have been if – Patricia was awakened from her thoughts by hearing Bowen say:
"Shall I pick you up here in the car?"
"No, I – I've just told you I am engaged," she said.
"And I've just told you that I won't allow you to be engaged to anyone but me," was Bowen's answer. "If you won't come and dine with me I'll come and play my hooter outside Galvin House until they send you out to get rid of me. You know, Patricia, I'm an awful fellow when I've set my mind on anything, and I'm simply determined to marry you whether you like it or not."
"Very well, I will dine with you to-night at half-past seven."
"I'll pick you up at Galvin House at a quarter-past seven with the car."
"Very well," said Patricia wearily. It seemed ridiculous to try and fight against her fate, and at the back of her mind she had a plan of action, which she meant to put into operation.
"Now I must get back to my work. Good-bye."
Bowen opened the door of the morning-room. Mrs. Bonsor was in the hall. Patricia walked over to the library, leaving Bowen in Mrs. Bonsor's clutches.
"Oh, Lord Peter!" Mrs. Bonsor gushed. "I hope you and Miss Brent will dine with us – "
Patricia shut the library door without waiting to hear Bowen's reply.
At five o'clock she gave up the unequal struggle with infant mortality statistics and walked listlessly across the Park to Galvin House. She was tired and dispirited. It was the weather, she told herself, London in June could be very trying, then there had been all that fuss over The Morning Post announcement. At Galvin House she knew the same ordeal was awaiting her that she had passed through at Eaton Square. Mrs. Craske-Morton would be effusive, Miss Wangle would unbend, Miss Sikkum would simper, Mr. Bolton would be facetious, and all the others would be exactly what they had been all their lives, only a little more so as a result of The Morning Post paragraph.
Only the fact of Miss Wangle taking breakfast in bed had saved Patricia from the ordeal at breakfast. Miss Wangle was the only resident at Galvin House who regularly took The Morning Post, it being "the dear bishop's favourite paper."
Arrived at Galvin House Patricia went straight to her room. Dashing past Gustave, who greeted her with "Oh, mees!" struggling at the same time to extract from his pocket a newspaper. Patricia felt that she should scream. Had everyone in Galvin House bought a copy of that day's Morning Post, and would they all bring it out of their pockets and point out the passage to her? She sighed wearily.
Suddenly she jumped up from the bed where she had thrown herself, seized her writing-case and proceeded to write feverishly. At the end of half an hour she read and addressed three letters, stamping two of them. The first was to the editor of The Morning Post, and ran: —
"In your issue of to-day's date you make an announcement regarding a marriage having been arranged between Lord Peter Bowen and myself, which is entirely inaccurate.
"I am given to understand that this announcement was inserted on the authority of my aunt, Miss Adelaide Brent, and I must leave you to take what action you choose in relation to her. As for myself, I will ask you to be so kind as to insert a contradiction of the statement in your next issue.
Patricia always prided herself on the business-like quality of her letters.
The second letter was to Miss Brent. It ran: —
"DEAR AUNT ADELAIDE,
"I have written to the editor of The Morning Post informing him that he must take such action as he sees fit against you for inserting your unauthorised statement that a marriage has been arranged between Lord Peter Bowen and me. It may interest you to know that the engagement has been broken off as a result of your impulsive and ill-advised action. Personally I think you have rather presumed on being my 'sole surviving relative.'скачать книгу бесплатно
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