Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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CHAPTER XV
MR. TRIGGS TAKES TEA IN KENSINGTON GARDENS

I

"Well, me dear, 'ow goes it?"

Mr. Triggs flooded the room with his genial person, mopping his brow with a large bandana handkerchief, and blowing a cheerful protest against the excessive heat.

Patricia looked up from her work and greeted him with a tired smile, as he collapsed heavily upon a chair, which creaked ominously beneath his weight.

"When you're sixty-two in the shade it ain't like being twenty-five in the sun," he said, laughing happily at his joke.

"Now you must sit quiet and be good," admonished Patricia. "I'm busy with beetles."

"Busy with what?" demanded Mr. Triggs arresting the process of fanning himself with his handkerchief.

"The potato-beetle," explained Patricia. "There is no lack of variety in the life of an M.P.'s secretary: babies and beetles, pigs and potatoes, meat and margarine, they all have their allotted place."

"Arthur works you too 'ard, me dear, I'm afraid," said Mr. Triggs. "I must speak to 'im about it."

"Oh, Mr. Triggs! You mustn't do anything of the sort. He's most kind and considerate, and if I am here I must do what he wants."

"But beetles and babies and potatoes, me dear," said Mr. Triggs. "That's more than a joke."

"Oh! you don't know what a joke a beetle can be," said Patricia, looking up and laughing in spite of herself at the expression of anxiety on Mr. Triggs's face.

Mr. Triggs mumbled something to himself.

"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed a moment after. "'Ere am I, forgetting what I come about. I've seen The Morning Post, me dear."

Patricia pushed back her chair from the table and turned and faced Mr. Triggs.

"Mr. Triggs," she said, "if you mention the words Morning Post to me again I think I shall kill you."

Mr. Triggs's hands dropped to his side as he gazed at her in blank astonishment. "But, me dear – " he began.

"The engagement has been broken off," announced Patricia.

Mr. Triggs's jaw dropped, and he gazed at Patricia in amazement. "Broken off," he repeated. "Engagement broken off. Why, damn 'im, I'll punch 'is 'ead," and he made an effort to rise.

Patricia laughed, a little hysterically.

"You mustn't blame Lord Peter," she said. "It is I who have broken it off."

Mr. Triggs collapsed into the chair again. "You broke it off," he exclaimed. "You broke off the engagement with a nice young chap like 'im?"

Patricia nodded.

"Well, I'm blowed!" Mr. Triggs sat staring at Patricia as if she had suddenly become transformed into a dodo. After nearly a minute's contemplation of Patricia, a smile slowly spread itself over his features, like the sun breaking through a heavy cloud-laden sky.

"You been 'avin' a quarrel, that's what's the matter," he announced with a profound air of wisdom.

Patricia shook her head with an air of finality; but Mr. Triggs continued to nod his head wisely.

"That's what's the matter," he muttered.

"Why," he added, "you'll never get another young chap like 'im. Took a great fancy to 'im, I did. Now all you've got to do is just to kiss and make it up. Then you'll feel 'appier than ever afterwards."

Patricia realised the impossibility of conveying to Mr. Triggs that her decision was irrevocable. Furthermore she was anxious that he should go, as she had promised to get out certain statistics for Mr. Bonsor.

"Now you really must go, Mr. Triggs. You won't think me horrid, will you, but I had a half-holiday the other day, and now I must work and make up for it. That's only fair, isn't it?"

"Very well, me dear, I can't stay. I'll be off and get out of your way. Now don't forget. Make it up, kiss and be friends. That's my motto."

"It isn't a quarrel, Mr. Triggs; but it's no use trying to explain to anyone so sweet and nice as you. Anyhow, I have broken off the engagement, and Lord Peter is in no way to blame."

"Well, good-bye, me dear. I'll see you again soon," said Mr. Triggs, still nodding his head with genial conviction as to the rightness of his diagnosis. "And now I'll be trottin'. Don't forget," and with a final look over his shoulder and another nod of wisdom he floated out of the room, seeming to leave it cold and bare behind him.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he muttered as he walked away from Eaton Square. Arrived at the corner of Eaton Place, he stood still as if uncertain what direction to take. Seeing a crawling taxi he suddenly seemed inspired with an idea.

"Hi! Hi! Taxi!" he shouted, waving his umbrella. Having secured the taxi and given the man instructions to drive to the Quadrant, he hauled himself in and sat down with a sigh of satisfaction.

It was a few minutes to one as he asked for Lord Peter Bowen at the enquiry-office of the Quadrant. Two minutes later Peel descended in the lift to inform him that his Lordship had not yet returned to lunch. Was Mr. Triggs expected?

"Well, no," confessed Mr. Triggs, looking at Peel a little uncertainly. "'E wasn't expecting me; but 'e asked me the other night if I'd call in when I was passing, and as I was passing I called in, see?"

For a moment Peel seemed to hesitate.

"His Lordship has a luncheon engagement, sir," he said; "but he could no doubt see you for two or three minutes if he asked you to call. Perhaps you will step this way."

Before Mr. Triggs had a chance of doing as was suggested, Peel had turned aside.

"No, my lady, his Lordship is not in yet; but he will not be more than a minute or two. This gentleman," he looked at the card, "Mr. Triggs, is – "

"Oh, Mr. Triggs, how do you do?" cried Lady Tanagra, extending her hand.

Mr. Triggs looked at the exquisite little vision before him in surprise and admiration. He took the proffered hand as if it had been a piece of priceless porcelain.

"I'm Lord Peter's sister, you know. I've heard all about you from Patricia. Do come up and let us have a chat before my brother comes."

Mr. Triggs followed Lady Tanagra into the lift, too surprised and bewildered to make any response to her greeting. As the lift slid upwards he mopped his brow vigorously with his handkerchief.

When they were seated in Bowen's sitting-room he at last found voice.

"I just been to see 'er," he said.

"Who, Patricia?" asked Lady Tanagra.

Mr. Triggs nodded, and there was a look in his eyes which implied that he was not at all satisfied with what he had seen.

"Quarrelled, 'aven't they?"' he asked.

"Well," began Lady Tanagra, not quite knowing how much Mr. Triggs actually knew of the circumstances of the case.

"Said she'd broken it off. I gave her a talking to, I did. She'll never get another young chap like 'im."

"Did you tell her so?" asked Lady Tanagra.

"Tell her so, I should think I did!" said Mr. Triggs, "and more than once too."

"Oh, you foolish, foolish man!" cried Lady Tanagra, wringing her hands in mock despair. A moment afterwards she burst out laughing at the comical look of dismay on Mr. Triggs's face.

"What 'ave I done?" he cried in genuine alarm.

"Why, don't you see that you have implied that all the luck is on her side, and that will make her simply furious?"

"But – but – " began Mr. Triggs helplessly, looking very much like a scolded child.

"Now sit down," ordered Lady Tanagra with an irresistible smile, "and I'll tell you. My brother wants to marry Patricia, and Patricia, for some reason best known to herself, says that it can't be done. Now I'm sure that she is fond of Peter; but he has been so impetuous that he has rather taken her breath away. I've never known him like it before," said Lady Tanagra plaintively.

"But 'e's an awfully lucky fellow if 'e gets 'er," broke in Mr. Triggs, as if feeling that something were required of him.

"Why, of course he is," said Lady Tanagra. "Now will you help us, Mr. Triggs?"

Lady Tanagra looked at him with an expression that would have extracted a promise of help from St. Anthony himself.

"Of course I will, me dear. I – I beg your pardon," stuttered Mr. Triggs.

"Never mind, let it stand at that," said Lady Tanagra gaily. "I'm sure we're going to be friends, Mr. Triggs."

"Knew it the moment I set eyes on you," said Mr. Triggs with conviction.

"Well, we've got to arrange this affair for these young people," said Lady Tanagra with a wise air. "First of all we've got to prove to Patricia that she is really in love with Peter. If she's not in love with him, then we've got to make her in love with him. Do you understand?"

Mr. Triggs nodded his head with an air that clearly said he was far from understanding.

"Well, now," said Lady Tanagra. "Patricia knows only three people that know Peter. There is you, Godfrey Elton, and myself. Now if she's in love with him she will want to hear about him, and – "

"But ain't she going to see 'im?" demanded Mr. Triggs incredulously.

"No, she says that she doesn't want Peter ever to see her, write to her, telephone to her, or, as far as I can see, exist on the same planet with her."

"But – but – " began Mr. Triggs.

"It's no good reasoning with a woman, Mr. Triggs, we women are all as unreasonable as the Income Tax. Now if you'll do as you are told we will prove that Patricia is wrong."

"Very well, me dear," began Mr. Triggs.

"Now this is my plan," interrupted Lady Tanagra. "If Patricia really cares for Peter she will want to hear about him from friends. She will, very cleverly, as she thinks, lead up the conversation to him when she meets you, or when she meets Godfrey Elton, or when she meets me. Now what we have to do is just as carefully to avoid talking about him. Turn the conversation on to some other topic. Now we've all got to plot and scheme and plan like – like – "

"Germans," interrupted Mr. Triggs.

"Splendid!" cried Lady Tanagra, clapping her hands.

"But why has she changed her mind?" asked Mr. Triggs.

"You must never ask a woman why she changes her frock, or why she changes her mind, because she never really knows," said Lady Tanagra. "Probably she does it because she hasn't got anything else particular to do at the moment. Ah! here's Peter," she cried.

Bowen came forward and shook hands cordially with Mr. Triggs.

"This is splendid of you!" he said. "You'll lunch with us, of course."

"Oh no, no," said Mr. Triggs. "I just ran in to – to – "

"To get to know me," said Lady Tanagra with a smile.

"Of course! That's it," cried Mr. Triggs, beaming. "I can't stop to lunch though, I'm afraid. I must be going to – "

"Have you got a luncheon engagement?" asked Lady Tanagra.

"Er – well, yes."

"Please don't tell fibs, Mr. Triggs. You're not engaged to lunch with anybody, and you're going to lunch with us, so that's settled."

"Why, bless my soul!" blew Mr. Triggs helplessly as he mopped his head with his handkerchief. "Why, bless my soul!"

"It's no good, Mr. Triggs. When Tanagra wants anything she has it," said Bowen with a laugh. "It doesn't matter whether it's the largest pear or the nicest man!"

Lady Tanagra laughed. "Now we'll go down into the dining-room."

For an hour and a half they talked of Patricia, and at the end of the meal both Lady Tanagra and Bowen knew that they had a firm ally in Mr. Triggs.

"Don't forget, Mr. Triggs," cried Lady Tanagra as she bade him good-bye in the vestibule. "You're a match-maker now, and you must be very careful."

And Mr. Triggs lifted his hat and waved his umbrella as, wreathed in smiles, he trotted towards the revolving doors and out into the street.

After he had gone Lady Tanagra extracted from Bowen a grudging promise of implicit obedience. He must not see, telephone, write or telegraph to Patricia. He was to eliminate himself altogether.

"But for how long, Tan?" he enquired moodily.

"It may be for years and it may be for ever," cried Lady Tanagra gaily as she buttoned her gloves. "Anyhow, it's your only chance."

"Damn!" muttered Bowen under his breath as he watched her disappear; "but I'll give it a trial."

II

The next afternoon as Patricia walked down the steps of Number 426 Eaton Square and turned to the left, she was conscious that in spite of the summer sunshine the world was very grey about her. She had not gone a hundred yards before Lady Tanagra's grey car slid up beside her.

"Will you take pity on me, Patricia? I'm at a loose end," cried Lady Tanagra.

Patricia turned with a little cry of pleasure.

"Jump in," cried Lady Tanagra. "It's no good refusing a Bowen. Our epidermises are too thick, or should it be epidermi?"

Patricia shook her head and laughed as she seated herself beside Lady Tanagra.

The car crooned its way up Sloane Street and across into Knightsbridge, Lady Tanagra intent upon her driving.

"Is it indiscreet to ask where you are taking me?" enquired Patricia with elaborate humility.

Lady Tanagra laughed as she jammed on the brake to avoid running into the stern of a motor-omnibus.

"I feel like a pirate to-day. I want to run away with someone, or do something desperate. Have you ever felt like that?"

"A politician's secretary must not encourage such unrespectable instincts," she replied.

Lady Tanagra looked at her quickly, noting the flatness of her voice.

"A wise hen should never brood upon being a hen," she remarked oracularly.

Patricia laughed. "It is all very well for Dives to tell Lazarus that it is noble to withstand the pangs of hunger," she replied.

"Now let us go and get tea," said Lady Tanagra, as she turned the car into the road running between Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

"Tea!" cried Patricia, "why it's past five."

"Tea is a panacea for all ills and a liquid for all hours. You have only to visit a Government Department for proof of that," said Lady Tanagra, as she descended from the car and walked towards the umbrella-sheltered tea-tables dotted about beneath the trees. "And now I want to have a talk with you for a few minutes," she said as they seated themselves at an empty table.

"I feel in the mood for listening," said Patricia, "provided it is not to be good advice," she added.

"I've been having a serious talk with Peter," said Lady Tanagra.

Patricia looked up at her. Overhead white, fleecy clouds played a game of hide-and-seek with the sunshine. The trees rustled languidly in the breeze, and in the distance a peacock screamed ominously.

"I have told him," continued Lady Tanagra, "that I will not have you worried, and he has promised me not to see you, write to you, telephone to you, send you messenger-boys, chocolates, flowers or anything else in the world, in fact he's out of your way for ever and ever."

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

"I told him," continued Lady Tanagra evenly, "that I would not have my friendship with you spoiled through his impetuous blundering. I think I told him he was suburban. In fact I quite bullied the poor boy. So now," she added with the air of one who has earned a lifelong debt of gratitude, "you will be able to go your way without fear of the ubiquitous Peter."

Still Patricia said nothing as she sat looking down upon the empty plate before her.

"Now we will forget all about Peter and talk and think of other things. Ah! here he is," she cried suddenly.

Patricia looked round quickly; but at the sight of Godfrey Elton she was conscious of a feeling of disappointment that she would not, however, admit. Her greeting of Elton was a trifle forced.

Patricia was never frank with herself. If it had been suggested that for a moment she hoped that Lady Tanagra's remark referred to Bowen, she would instantly have denied it.

"No, Godfrey, don't look at me like that," cried Lady Tanagra. "I am not so gauche as to arrange a parti-?-trois. I've got someone very nice coming for Patricia."

Again Patricia felt herself thrill expectantly. Five minutes later Mr. Triggs was seen sailing along among the tables as if in search of someone. Again Patricia felt that sense of disappointment she had experienced on the arrival of Godfrey Elton.

Suddenly Mr. Triggs saw the party and streamed towards them, waving his red silk handkerchief in one hand and his umbrella in the other.

"He has found something better than the fountain of eternal youth," said Elton to Patricia.

"Whatever it is he is unconscious of possessing it," replied Patricia as she turned to greet Mr. Triggs.

"I'm late, I know," explained Mr. Triggs as he shook hands. "I 'ad to run in and see 'Ettie and tell 'er I was coming. It surprised 'er," and Mr. Triggs chuckled as if at some joke he could not share with the others.

"Now let us have tea," said Lady Tanagra. "I'm simply dying for it."

Mr. Triggs sank down heavily into a basket chair. He looked about anxiously, as it creaked beneath his weight, as if in doubt whether or no it would bear him.

"All we want now is – " Mr. Triggs stopped suddenly and looked apprehensively at Lady Tanagra.

"What is it you want, Mr. Triggs?" enquired Patricia quickly.

"Er – er – I – I forget, I – I forget," floundered Mr. Triggs, still looking anxiously at Lady Tanagra.

"When you're in the company of women, Mr. Triggs, you should never appear to want anything else. It makes an unfavourable impression upon us."

"God bless my soul, I don't!" cried Mr. Triggs earnestly. "I've been looking forward to this ever since I got your wire yesterday afternoon."

"Now he has given me away," cried Lady Tanagra. "How like a man!"

"Given you away, me dear!" cried Mr. Triggs anxiously. "What 'ave I done?"

"Why, you have told these two people here that made an assignation with you by telegram."

"Made a what, me dear?" enquired Mr. Triggs, his forehead corrugated with anxiety.

"Lady Tanagra is taking a mean advantage of the heat, Mr. Triggs," said Elton.

"Anyway, I'll forgive you anything, Mr. Triggs, as you have come," said Lady Tanagra.

Mr. Triggs's brow cleared and he smiled.

"Come! I should think I would come," he said.

Lady Tanagra then explained her meeting with Mr. Triggs and how he had striven to avoid her company at luncheon on the previous day. Mr. Triggs protested vigorously.

During the tea the conversation was entirely in the hands of Lady Tanagra, Elton and Mr. Triggs. Patricia sat silently listening to the others. Several times Lady Tanagra and Mr. Triggs exchanged meaning glances.

"Why ain't you talking, me dear?" Mr. Triggs once asked.

"I like to hear you all," said Patricia, smiling across at him. "You're all too clever for me," she added.

"Me clever!" cried Mr. Triggs, and then as if the humour of the thing had suddenly struck him he went off into gurgles of laughter. "You ought to tell 'Ettie that," he spluttered. "She thinks 'er old father's a fool. Me clever!" he repeated, and again he went off into ripples of mirth.

"What are your views on love, Mr. Triggs?" demanded Lady Tanagra suddenly.

Mr. Triggs gazed at her in surprise.

Then he looked from Patricia to Elton, as if not quite sure whether or no he were expected to be serious.

"If I were you I should decline to reply. Lady Tanagra treats serious subjects flippantly," said Elton. "Her attitude towards life is to prepare a pancake as if it were a souffl?."

"That proves the Celt in me," cried Lady Tanagra. "If I were English I should make a souffl? as if it were a pancake."

Mr. Triggs looked from one to the other in obvious bewilderment.

"I am perfectly serious in my question," said Lady Tanagra, without the vestige of a smile. "Mr. Triggs is elemental."

"To be elemental is to be either indelicate or overbearing," murmured Elton, "and Mr. Triggs is neither."

"Love, me dear?" said Mr. Triggs, not in the least understanding the trend of the conversation. "I don't think I've got any ideas about it."

"Surely you are not a cynic. Mr. Triggs," demanded Lady Tanagra.

"A what?" enquired Mr. Triggs.

"Surely you believe in love," said Lady Tanagra.

"Me and Mrs. Triggs lived together 'appily for over thirty years," he replied gravely, "and when a man an' woman 'ave lived together for all that time they get to believe in love. It's never been the same since she died." His voice became a little husky, and Elton looked at Lady Tanagra, who lowered her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Triggs. Will you tell us about – about – ?" she broke off.

"Well, you see, me dear," said Mr. Triggs in an uncertain voice, "I was a foreman when I met 'er, and she was a servant; but – somehow or other it seemed that we were just made for each other. Once I knew 'er, I didn't seem to be able to see things without her. When I was at work – I was in the building trade, foreman-carpenter," he explained, "I used to be thinking of 'er all the time. If I went anywhere without 'er – she only had one night off a week and one day a month – I would always keep thinking of how she would like what I was seeing, or eating. It was a funny feeling," he added reminiscently as if entirely unable to explain it. "Somehow or other I always wanted to 'ave 'er with me, so that she might share what I was 'aving. It was a funny feeling," he repeated, and he looked from one to another with moist eyes. "Of course," he added, "I can't explain things like that. I'm not clever."

"I think, Mr. Triggs, that you've explained love in – in – " Lady Tanagra broke off and looked at Elton, who was unusually grave.

"Mr. Triggs has explained it," he replied, "in the only way in which it can be explained, and that is by being defined as unexplainable."



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