Patricia Brent, Spinster
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"Your affectionate niece,
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.
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.
"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.