Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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"Your affectionate niece,

"PATRICIA."

The third letter was to Bowen.

"DEAR LORD PETER,

"I have written to the editor of The Morning Post, asking him to contradict the inaccurate statement published in to-day's issue. I am consumed with humiliation that such a thing should have been sent to him by a relative of mine, more particularly by a 'sole surviving relative.' My aunt unfortunately epitomises in her personality all the least desirable characteristics to be found in relatives.

"I cannot tell you how sorry I am about – oh, everything! If you really want to save me from feeling thoroughly ashamed of myself you will not only forget me, but also a certain incident.

"You have done me a great honour, I know, and you will add to it a great service if you will do as I ask and forget all about a folly that I have had cause bitterly to regret.

"Please forgive me for not dining with you to-night and for breaking my word; but I am feeling very unwell and tired and I have gone to bed.

"Yours sincerely,

"PATRICIA BRENT."

Patricia's plan was to post the letters to Aunt Adelaide and The Morning Post, and leave the other with Gustave to be given to Bowen when he called, she would then shut herself in her room and plead a headache as an excuse for not being disturbed. Thus she would escape Miss Wangle and her waves of interrogation.

As Patricia descended the stairs, Gustave was in the act of throwing open the door to Lady Tanagra. It was too late to retreat.

"Ah! there you are," exclaimed Lady Tanagra as she passed the respectful Gustave in the hall.

Patricia descended the remaining stairs slowly and with dragging steps. Lady Tanagra looked at her sharply.

"Aren't we a nuisance?" cried she. "There's nothing more persistent in nature than a Bowen. Bruce's spider is quite a parochial affair in comparison," and she laughed lightly.

Patricia smiled as she welcomed Lady Tanagra. For a moment she hesitated at the door of the lounge, then with a sudden movement she turned towards the stairs.

"Come up to my room," she said, "we can talk there."

There was no cordiality in her voice. Lady Tanagra noticed that she looked worn-out and ill. Once the bedroom door was closed she turned to Patricia.

"My poor Patricia! whatever is the matter? You look thoroughly done up. Now lie down on the bed like a good girl, and I will assume my best bedside manner."

Patricia shook her head wearily, and indicating a chair by the window, seated herself upon the bed.

"I'm afraid I am rather tired," she said. "I was just going to lock myself up for the night."

"Now I'm going to cheer you up," cried Lady Tanagra. "Was there ever a more tactless way of beginning, but I've got something to tell you that is so exquisitely funny that it would cheer up an oyster, or even a radical."

"First," said Patricia, "I think I should like you to read these letters." Slowly and wearily she ripped open the three letters and handed them to Lady Tanagra, who read them through slowly and deliberately.

This done, she folded each carefully, returned it to its envelope and handed them to Patricia.

"Well!" said Patricia.

Lady Tanagra smiled. Reaching across to the dressing-table she took a cigarette from Patricia's box and proceeded to light it. Patricia watched her curiously.

"I think you must have been meant for a man, Tanagra," she said after a pause. "You have the gift of silence, and nothing is more provoking to a woman."

"What do you want me to say?" enquired Lady Tanagra. "I like these cigarettes," she added.

"If you are not careful, you'll make me scream in a minute," said Patricia, with a smile. "I showed you those letters and now you don't even so much as say 'thank you.'"

"Thank you very much indeed, Patricia," said Lady Tanagra meekly.

"You don't approve of them?" There was undisguised challenge in Patricia's voice.

"I think the one to Miss Brent is admirable, specially if you will add a postscript after what I tell you."

"But the other two," persisted Patricia.

"I do not think I am qualified to express an opinion, am I?" said Lady Tanagra calmly.

"Why not?"

"Well, you see, I am an interested party."

"You!" cried Patricia, then with a sudden change, "Oh, if you are not careful I shall come over and shake you!"

"I think that would be very good for both of us," was Lady Tanagra's reply.

"Tell me what you mean," persisted Patricia.

"Well, in the first place, the one to the editor of The Morning Post will make poor Peter ridiculous, and the other will hurt his feelings, and as I am very fond of Peter you cannot expect me to be enthusiastic with either of them, can you?"

Lady Tanagra rose and going over to Patricia put her arm round her and kissed her on the cheek, then Patricia did a very foolish thing. Without a word of warning she threw her arms around Lady Tanagra's neck and burst into tears.

"Oh, I'm so wretched, Tanagra! I know I'm a beast and I want to hurt everybody and every thing. I think I should like to hurt you even," she cried, her mood of crying passing as quickly as it had come.

"Don't you think we had better just talk the thing out? Now since you have asked my view," continued Lady Tanagra, "I will give it. Your letter to The Morning Post people will make poor Peter the laughing-stock of London. He has many enemies among ambitious mamas. Never have I known him to be attracted towards a girl until you came along. He's really paying you a very great compliment."

Patricia sniffed ominously.

"Then the letter to Peter would hurt him because – you must forgive me – it is rather brutal, isn't it?"

Patricia nodded her head vigorously.

"Well," continued Lady Tanagra, "what do you say if we destroy them both?"

"But – but – that would leave The Morning Post announcement and P-Peter – "

"Don't you think they might both be left, just for the moment? Later you can wipe the floor with them."

"But – but – you don't understand, Tanagra," began Patricia.

"Don't you think that half the troubles of the world are due to people wanting to understand?" said Lady Tanagra calmly. "I never want to understand. There are certain things I know and these are sufficient for me. In this case I know that I have a very good brother and he wants to marry a very good girl; but for some reason she won't have anything to do either with him or with me." She looked up into Patricia's face with a smile so wholly disarming that Patricia was forced to laugh.

"If you knew Patricia's opinion of herself," she said to Lady Tanagra, "you would be almost shocked."

"Well, now, will you do something just to please me?" insinuated Lady Tanagra. "You see this big brother of mine has always been more or less my adopted child, and you have it in your power to hurt him more than I want to see him hurt." There was an unusually serious note in Lady Tanagra's voice. "Why not let things go on as they are for the present, then later the engagement can be broken off if you wish it. I'll speak to Peter and see that he is not tiresome."

"Oh, but he's never been that!" protested Patricia, then she stopped suddenly in confusion.

Lady Tanagra smiled to herself.

"Well, if he's never been tiresome I'm sure you wouldn't like to hurt him, would you?" She was speaking as if to a child.

"The only person I want to hurt is Aunt Adelaide," said Patricia with a laugh.

Lady Tanagra noticed with pleasure that the mood seemed to be dropping from her.

"Well, may I be the physician for to-day?" continued Lady Tanagra.

Patricia nodded her head.

"Very well, then, I prescribe a dinner this evening with one Tanagra Bowen, Peter Bowen and Godfrey Elton, on the principle of 'Eat thou and drink, to-morrow thou shalt die.'"

"Who is Godfrey Elton?" asked Patricia with interest.

"My dear Patricia, if I were to start endeavouring to describe Godfrey we should be at it for hours. You can't describe Godfrey, you can only absorb him. He is a sort of wise youth rapidly approaching childhood."

"What on earth do you mean?" cried Patricia, laughing.

"You will discover for yourself later. We are all dining at the Quadrant to-night at eight."

"Dining at the Quadrant?" repeated Patricia in amazement.

"Yes, and I have to get home to dress and you have to dress and I will pick you up in a taxi at a quarter to eight."

"But – but – Peter – your brother said that he was coming – "

"Peter has greater faith in his sister than in himself, he therefore took me into his confidence and I am his emissary."

"Oh, you Bowens, you Bowens!" moaned Patricia in mock despair.

"There is no avoiding us, I confess," said Lady Tanagra gaily. "Now I must tell you about your charming aunt. She called upon mother yesterday."

"What!" gasped Patricia.

"She called at Grosvenor Square and announced to poor, un-understanding mother that she thought the families ought to know one another. But she got rather badly shocked by Godfrey and one of the soldier boys, whom we call 'Uncle,' and left with the firm conviction that our circle is a pernicious one."

"It's – it's – perfectly scandalous!" cried Patricia.

"No, it's not as bad as that," said Lady Tanagra calmly.

"What?" began Patricia. "Oh! I mean Aunt Adelaide's conduct, it's humiliating, it's – "

"Wait until you hear," said Lady Tanagra with a smile. "When Peter ran in to see mother, she said that she had had a call from a Miss Brent and could he place her. So poor old Peter blurts out that he's going to marry Miss Brent. Poor mother nearly had a fit on the spot. She was too tactful to express her disapproval; but she showed it in her amazement. The result was that Peter was deeply hurt and left the room and the house. I am the only one who saw the exquisite humour of the joke. My poor darling mother had the impression that Peter has gone clean off his head and wanted to marry your most excellent Aunt Adelaide," and Lady Tanagra laughed gaily.

For a moment Patricia gazed at her blankly, then as she visualised Aunt Adelaide and Bowen side by side at the altar she laughed hysterically.

"I kept mother in suspense for quite a long time. Then I told her, and I also rang up Peter and told him. And now I must fly," cried Lady Tanagra. "I will be here at a quarter to eight, and if you are not ready I shall be angry; but if you have locked yourself in your room I shall batter down the door. We are going to have a very happy evening and you will enjoy yourself immensely. I think it quite likely that Godfrey will fall in love with you as well as Peter, which will still further increase your embarrassments." Then with a sudden change of mood she said, "Please cheer up, Patricia, happiness is not a thing to be taken lightly. You have been a little overwrought of late, and now, good-bye."

"One moment, please," said Patricia. "Don't you understand that nothing can possibly be built up on such a foundation as – as – ?"

"Your picking up Peter in the Grill-room of the Quadrant," said Lady Tanagra calmly.

Patricia gasped. "Oh!" she cried.

"Let's call things by their right names," said Lady Tanagra. "At the present moment you're putting up rather a big fight against your own inclination, and you are causing yourself a lot of unnecessary unhappiness. Is it worth it?" she asked.

"One's self-respect is always worth any sacrifice," said Patricia.

"Except when you are in love, and then you take pride in trampling it under foot."

With this oracular utterance Lady Tanagra departed with a bright nod, a smile and an insistence that Patricia should not come downstairs.

CHAPTER XIII
A TACTICAL BLUNDER

"I often think," remarked Lady Tanagra as she helped herself a second time to hors d'oeuvres, "that if Godfrey could only be condensed or desiccated he would save the world from ennui."

Elton looked up from a sardine he was filleting with great interest and care; concentration was the foundation of Godfrey Elton's character.

"Does that mean that he is a food or a stimulant?" enquired Patricia, Elton having returned to his sardine.

Lady Tanagra regarded Elton with thoughtful brow.

"I think," she said deliberately, "I should call him a habit."

"Does that imply that he is a drug upon the market?" retorted Patricia.

Bowen laughed. Elton continued to fillet his sardine.

"You see," continued Lady Tanagra, "Godfrey has two qualities that to a woman are maddening. The first is the gift of silence, and the second is a perfect genius for making everyone else feel that they are in the wrong. Some day he'll fall in love, and then something will snap and – well, he will give up dissecting sardines as if they were the one thing in life worthy of a man's attention."

Elton looked up again straight into Lady Tanagra's eyes and smiled.

"Look at him now!" continued Lady Tanagra, "that very smile makes me feel like a naughty child."

The four were dining in Bowen's sitting-room at the Quadrant, Lady Tanagra having decided that this would be more pleasant than in the public dining-room.

"Can you," continued Lady Tanagra, who was in a wilful mood, "can you imagine Godfrey in love? I don't think any man ought to be allowed to fall in love until he has undergone an examination as to whether or no he can say the right thing the right way. No, it takes an Irishman to make love."

"But an Irishman says what he cannot possibly mean," said Patricia, with the air of one of vast experience in such matters.

"And many Englishmen mean what they cannot possibly say," said Elton, looking at Lady Tanagra.

"Oh," cried Lady Tanagra, clapping her hands. "You have drawn him, Patricia. Now he will talk to us instead of concentrating himself upon his food. Ah!" she exclaimed suddenly, turning to Elton. "I promised that you should fall in love with Patricia, Godfrey."

"Now that Tanagra has come down to probabilities the atmosphere should lighten," Elton remarked.

"Isn't that Godfrey all over?" demanded Lady Tanagra of Bowen. "He will snub one woman and compliment another in a breath. Patricia," she continued, "I warn you against Godfrey. He is highly dangerous. He should always be preceded by a man with a red flag."

"But why?" asked Bowen.

"Because of his reticence. A man has no right t to be reticent; it piques a woman's curiosity, and with us curiosity is the first step to surrender."

"Why hesitate at the first step?" asked Elton.

"Think of it, Patricia," continued Lady Tanagra, ignoring Elton's remark. "Although Godfrey has seen The Morning Post he has not yet congratulated Peter."

"I did not know then that I had cause to congratulate him," said Elton quietly.

"What mental balance!" cried Lady Tanagra. "I'm sure he reads the deaths immediately after the births, and the divorces just after the marriages so as to preserve his sense of proportion."

Elton looked first at Lady Tanagra and then on to Patricia, and smiled.

"Can you not see Godfrey choosing a wife?" demanded Lady Tanagra, laughing. "Weighing the shape of her head with the size of her ankles, he's very fussy about ankles. He would dissect her as he would a sardine, demanding perfection, mental, moral, and physical, and in return he could give himself." Lady Tanagra emphasized the last word.

"Most men take less time to choose a wife than they would a trousering," said Elton quietly.

"I think Mr. Elton is right," said Patricia.

"Then you don't believe in love at first sight," said Bowen to Patricia.

"Miss Brent did not say that," interposed Elton. "She merely implied that a man who falls in love at first sight should choose trouserings at first sight. Is that not so?" He looked across at Patricia.

Patricia nodded.

"An impetuous man will be impetuous in all things," said Bowen.

"He who hesitates may lose a wife," said Lady Tanagra, "and – "

"And by analogy, go without trousers," said Elton quietly.

"That might explain a Greek; but scarcely a Scotsman," said Patricia.

"No one has ever been able to explain a Scotsman," said Elton. "We content ourselves with misunderstanding him."

"We were talking about love," broke in Lady Tanagra, "and I will not have the conversation diverted." Turning to Patricia she demanded, "Can you imagine Godfrey in love?"

"I think so," said Patricia quietly, looking across at Elton. "Only – "

"Only what?" cried Lady Tanagra with excited interest. "Oh, please, Patricia, explain Godfrey to me! No one has ever done so."

"Don't you think he is a little like the Scotsman we were talking about just now?" said Patricia. "Difficult to explain; but easy to misunderstand."

"Oh, Peter, Peter!" wailed Lady Tanagra, looking across at Bowen. "She's caught it."

"Caught what?" asked Bowen in surprise.

"The vagueness of generalities that is Godfrey," replied Lady Tanagra. "Now, Patricia, you must explain that 'only' at which you broke off. You say you can imagine Godfrey in love, only – "

"I think he would place it on the same plane as honour and sportsmanship, probably a little above both."

Elton looked up from the bread he was crumbling, and gave Patricia a quick penetrating glance, beneath which her eyes fell.

Lady Tanagra looked at Patricia in surprise, but said nothing.

"Can you imagine Tan in love, Patricia?" enquired Bowen. "We Bowens are notoriously backward in matters of the heart," he added.

"I shall fall in love when the man comes along who – who – " Lady Tanagra paused.

"Will compel you," said Patricia, concluding the sentence.

Again Elton looked quickly across at her.

"What do you mean?" demanded Lady Tanagra.

"I think," said Patricia deliberately, "that you are too primitive to fall in love. You would have to be stormed, carried away by force, and wooed afterwards."

"It doesn't sound very respectable, does it?" said Lady Tanagra thoughtfully, then turning to Bowen she demanded, "Peter, would you allow me to be carried away by force, stormed, and wooed afterwards?"

"I think, Tanagra, you sometimes forget that your atmosphere is too exotic for most men," said Elton.

"Godfrey," said Lady Tanagra reproachfully, "I have had quite a lot of proposals, and I won't be denied my successes."

"We were talking about love, not offers of marriage," said Elton with a smile.

"Cynic," cried Lady Tanagra. "You imply that the men who have proposed to me wanted my money and not myself."

"Suppose, Tanagra, there were a right man," said Patricia, "and he was poor and honourable. What then?"

"I suppose I should have to ask him to marry me," said Lady Tanagra dubiously.

"But, Tan, we've just decided," said Bowen, "that you have to be carried away by force, and cannot love until force has been applied."

"I think I've had enough of this conversation," said Lady Tanagra. "You're trying to prove that I'm either going to lose my reputation, or die an old maid, and I'm not so sure that you're wrong, about the old maid, I mean," she added. "I shall depend upon you, Godfrey, then," she said, turning to Elton, "and we will hobble about the Park together on Sunday mornings, comparing notes upon rheumatism and gout. Ugh!" She looked deliberately round the table, from one to the other. "Has it ever struck you what we shall look like when we grow very old?" she asked.

"No one need ever grow old," said Patricia.

"How can you prevent it?" asked Bowen.

"There is morphia and the fountain of eternal youth," suggested Elton.

"Please don't let's be clever any more," said Lady Tanagra. "It's affecting my brain. Now we will play bridge for a little while and then all go home and get to bed early."

In spite of her protests Bowen insisted on seeing Patricia to Galvin House. For some time they did not speak. As the taxi turned into Oxford Street Bowen broke the silence.

"Patricia, my mother wants to know you," he said simply.

Patricia shivered. The words came as a shock. They recalled the incident of her meeting with Bowen. She seemed to see a grey-haired lady with Bowen's eyes and quiet manner, too well-bred to show the disapproval she felt on hearing the story of her son's first meeting with his fianc?. She shuddered again.

"Are you cold?" Bowen enquired solicitously, leaning forward to close the window nearest to him.

"No, I was thinking what Lady Meyfield will think when she hears how you made the acquaintance of – of – me," she finished lamely.

"There is no reason why she should know," said Bowen.

"Do you think I would marry – ?" Patricia broke off suddenly in confusion.

"But why – ?" began Bowen.

"If ever I meet Lady Meyfield I shall tell her exactly how I – I – met you," said Patricia with ecision.

"Well, tell her then," said Bowen good-humouredly. "She has a real sense of humour."

The moment Bowen had uttered the words he saw his mistake. Patricia drew herself up coldly.

"It was rather funny, wasn't it?" she said evenly; "but mothers do not encourage their sons to develop such acquaintances. Now shall we talk about something else?"

"But my mother wants to meet you," protested Bowen. "She – "

"Tell her the story of our acquaintance," replied Patricia coldly. "I think that will effectually overcome her wish to know me. Ah! here we are," she concluded as the taxi drew up at Galvin House. With a short "good night!" Patricia walked up the steps, leaving Bowen conscious that he had once more said the wrong thing.



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