Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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Mr. Triggs looked at Elton for a moment, then nodded his head violently.

"That's it, Mr. Elton, that's it. It's a feeling, not a thing that you can put into words."

Lady Tanagra looked at Patricia, who was apparently engrossed in the waving tops of the trees.

"I shall always remember your definition of love, Mr. Triggs," said Lady Tanagra with a far away look in her eyes. "I think you and Mrs. Triggs must have been very happy together."

"'Appy, me dear, that wasn't the word for it," said Mr. Triggs. "And when she was taken, I – I – " he broke off huskily and blew his nose vigorously.

"Suppose you were very poor, Mr. Triggs," began Patricia.

"I was when I married," interrupted Mr. Triggs.

"Suppose you were very poor," continued Patricia, "and you loved someone very rich. What would you do?"

"God bless my soul! I never thought of that. You see Emily 'adn't anything. She only got sixteen pounds a year."

Lady Tanagra turned her head aside and blinked her eyes furiously.

"But suppose, Mr. Triggs," persisted Patricia, "suppose you loved someone who was very rich and you were very poor. What would you do? Would you tell them?"

For a moment Patricia allowed her eyes to glance in the direction of Elton, and saw that his gaze was fixed upon Mr. Triggs.

"But what 'as money got to do with it?" demanded Mr. Triggs, a puzzled expression on his face.

"Exactly!" said Patricia. "That's what I wanted to know."

"Money sometimes has quite a lot to do with life," remarked Elton to no one in particular.

"With life, Mr. Elton," said Mr. Triggs; "but not with love."

"You are an idealist," said Lady Tanagra.

"Am I?" said Mr. Triggs, with a smile.

"And he is also a dear," said Patricia.

Mr. Triggs looked at her and smiled.

Lady Tanagra and Elton drove off, Patricia saying that she wanted a walk. Mr. Triggs also declined Lady Tanagra's offer of a lift.

"She wanted me to bring 'er with me," announced Mr. Triggs as they strolled along by the Serpentine.

"Who did?"' enquired Patricia.

"'Ettie. Ran up to change 'er things and sent out for a taxi."

"And what did you say?" enquired Patricia.

"I didn't say anything; but when the taxi come I just slipped in and came along 'ere. Fancy 'Ettie and Lady Tanagra!" said Mr. Triggs. "No," he added a moment later. "It's no good trying to be what you ain't. If 'Ettie was to remember she's a builder's daughter, and not think she's a great lady, she'd be much 'appier," said Mr. Triggs with unconscious wisdom.

"Suppose I was to try and be like Mr. Elton," continued Mr. Triggs, "I'd look like a fool."

"We all love to have you just as you are, Mr. Triggs, and we won't allow you to change," said Patricia.

Mr. Triggs smiled happily. He was as susceptible to flattery as a young girl.

"Well, it ain't much good trying to be what you're not. I've been a working-man, and I'm not ashamed of it, and you and Lady Tanagra and Mr.

Elton ain't ashamed of being seen with me. But 'Ettie, she'd no more be seen with 'er old father in Hyde Park than she'd be seen with 'im in a Turkish bath."

"We all have our weaknesses, don't you think?" said Patricia.

And Mr. Triggs agreed.

"You, for instance, have a weakness for High Society," continued Patricia.

"Me, me dear!" exclaimed Mr. Triggs in surprise.

"Yes," said Patricia, "it's no good denying it. Don't you like knowing Lord Peter and Lady Tanagra, Mr. Elton and all the rest of them?"

"It's not because they're in Society," began Mr. Triggs.

"Oh, yes it is! You imagine that you are now a very great personage. Soon you will be moving from Streatham into Park Lane, and then you will not know me."

"Oh, me dear!" said Mr. Triggs in distress.

"It's no good denying it," continued Patricia. "Look at the way you made friends with Lord Peter." Patricia was priding herself on the way in which she had led the conversation round to Bowen; but Mr. Triggs was not to be drawn.

"God bless my soul!" he cried, stopping still and removing his hat, mopping his brow vigorously. "I don't mind whether anyone has a title or not. It's just them I like. Now look at Lady Tanagra. No one would think she was a lady."

"Really, Mr. Triggs! I shall tell her if you take her character away in this manner. She's one of the most exquisitely bred people I have ever met."

Mr. Triggs looked reproachfully at Patricia.

"It's a bit 'ard on a young gal when she finds 'er father drops 'is aitches," he remarked, reverting to his daughter. "I often wonder whether I was right in giving 'Ettie such an education. She went to an 'Igh School at Eastmouth," he added. "It only made 'er dissatisfied. It was 'ard luck 'er 'aving me for a father," he concluded more to himself than to Patricia.

"I am perfectly willing to adopt you as a father, Mr. Triggs, if you are in want of adoption," said Patricia.

Mr. Triggs turned to her with a sunny smile.

"Ah! you're different, me dear. You see you're a lady born, same as Lady Tanagra; but 'Ettie ain't. That's what makes 'er sensitive like. It's a funny world," Mr. Triggs continued; "if you go about with one boot, and you 'appen to be a duke, people make a fuss of you because you're a character; but if you 'appen to be a builder and go about in the same way they call you mad."

That evening Patricia was particularly unresponsive to Mr. Bolton's attempts to engage her in conversation.

CHAPTER XVI
PATRICIA'S INCONSTANCY

Patricia's engagement and approaching marriage were the sole topics of conversation at Galvin House, at meal-times in particular. Bowen was discussed and admired from every angle and aspect. Questions rained upon Patricia. When was she likely to get married? Where was the wedding to take place? Would she go abroad for her honeymoon? Who was to provide the wedding-cake? Where did she propose to get her trousseau? Would the King and Queen be present at the wedding?

At first Patricia had endeavoured to answer coherently; but finding this useless, she soon drifted into the habit of replying at random, with the result that Galvin House received much curious information.

Miss Wangle's olive-branch was an announcement of how pleased the dear bishop would have been to marry Miss Brent and Lord Peter had he been alive.

Mr. Bolton joked as feebly as ever. Mr. Cordal masticated with his wonted vigour. Mr. Sefton became absorbed in the prospect of the raising of the military age limit, and strove to hearten himself by constant references to the time when he would be in khaki. Miss Sikkum continued to surround herself with an atmosphere of romance, and invariably returned in the evening breathless from her chaste endeavours to escape from some "awful man" who had pursued her. The reek of cooking seemed to become more obvious, and the dreariness of Sundays more pronounced. Some times Patricia thought of leaving Galvin House for a place where she would be less notorious; but something seemed to bind her to the old associations.

As she returned each evening, her eyes instinctively wandered towards the table and the letter-rack. If there were a parcel, her heart would bound suddenly, only to resume its normal pace when she discovered that it was for someone else.

Of Lady Tanagra she saw little, news of Bowen she received none. Her most dexterous endeavours to cross-examine Mr. Triggs ended in failure. He seemed to have lost all interest in Bowen. Lady Tanagra never even mentioned his name.

Whatever the shortcomings of Lady Tanagra and Mr. Triggs in this direction, however, they were more than compensated for by Mrs. Bonsor. Her effusive friendliness Patricia found overwhelming, and her insistent hospitality, which took the form of a flood of invitations to Patricia and Bowen to lunch, dine or to do anything they chose in her house or elsewhere, was bewildering.

At last in self-defence Patricia had to tell Mrs. Bonsor that Bowen was too much occupied with his duties even to see her; but this seemed to increase rather than diminish Mrs. Bonsor's hospitable instincts, which included Lady Tanagra as well as her brother. Would not Miss Brent bring Lady Tanagra to tea or to luncheon one day? Perhaps they would take tea with Mrs. Bonsor at the Ritz one afternoon? Could they lunch at the Carlton? To all of these invitations Patricia replied with cold civility.

In her heart Mrs. Bonsor was raging against the "airs" of her husband's secretary; but she saw that Lady Tanagra and Lord Peter might be extremely useful to her and to her husband in his career. Consequently she did not by any overt sign show her pique.

One day when Patricia was taking down letters for Mr. Bonsor, Mr. Triggs burst into the library in a state of obvious excitement.

"Where's 'Ettie?" he demanded, after having saluted Patricia and Mr. Bonsor.

Mr. Bonsor looked at him reproachfully.

"'Ere, ring for 'Ettie, A. B., I've got something to show you all."

Mr. Bonsor pressed the bell. As he did so Mrs. Bonsor entered the room, having heard her father's voice.

With great empressement Mr. Triggs produced from the tail pocket of his coat a folded copy of the "Illustrated Universe". Flattening it out upon the table he moistened his thumb and finger and, with great deliberation, turned over several leaves, then indicating a page he demanded:

"What do you think of that?"

"That," was a full-page picture of Lady Tanagra walking in the Park with Mr. Triggs. The portrait of Lady Tanagra was a little indistinct; but that of Mr. Triggs was as clear as daylight, and a remarkable likeness. Underneath was printed "Lady Tanagra Bowen and a friend walking in the Park."

Mrs. Bonsor devoured the picture and then looked up at her father, a new respect in her eyes.

"What do you think of it, 'Ettie?" enquired Mr. Triggs again.

"It's a very good likeness, father," said Mrs. Bonsor weakly.

It was Patricia, however, who expressed what Mr. Triggs had anticipated.

"You're becoming a great personage, Mr. Triggs," she cried. "If you are not careful you will compromise Lady Tanagra."

Mr. Triggs chuckled with glee as he mopped his forehead with his handkerchief.

"I rang 'er up this morning," he said.

"Rang who up, father?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor.

"Lady Tan," said Mr. Triggs, watching his daughter to see the effect of the diminutive upon her.

"Was she annoyed?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor.

"Annoyed!" echoed Mr. Triggs. "Annoyed! She was that pleased she's asked me to lunch to-morrow. Why, she introduced me to a duchess last week, an' I'm goin' to 'er place to tea."

"I wish you would bring Lady Tanagra here one day, father," said Mrs. Bonsor. "Why not ask her to lunch here to-morrow?"

"Not me, 'Ettie," said Mr. Triggs wisely. "If you want the big fish, you've got to go out and catch 'em yourself."

There was a pause. Patricia hid a smile in her handkerchief. Mr. Bonsor was deep in a speech upon the question of rationing fish.

"Well, A. B., what 'ave you got to say?"

"Dear fish may mean revolution," murmured Mr. Bonsor.

Mr. Triggs looked at his son-in-law in amazement.

"What's that you say?" he demanded.

"I – I beg your pardon. I – I was thinking," apologised Mr. Bonsor.

"Now, father," said Mrs. Bonsor, "will you come into the morning-room? I want to talk to you, and I'm sure Arthur wants to get on with his work."

Mr. Triggs was reluctantly led away, leaving Patricia to continue the day's work.

Patricia now saw little of Mr. Triggs, in fact since Lady Tanagra had announced that Bowen would no longer trouble her, she found life had become singularly grey. Things that before had amused and interested her now seemed dull and tedious. Mr. Bolton's jokes were more obvious than ever, and Mr. Cordal's manners more detestable.

The constant interrogations levelled at her as to where Bowen was, and why he had not called to see her, she found difficult to answer. Several times she had gone alone to the theatre, or to a cinema, in order that it might be thought she was with Bowen. At last the strain became so intolerable that she spoke to Mrs. Craske-Morton, hinting that unless Galvin House took a little less interest in her affairs, she would have to leave.

The effect of her words was instantly manifest. Wherever she moved she seemed to interrupt whispering groups. When she entered the dining-room there would be a sudden cessation of conversation, and everyone would look up with an innocence that was too obvious to deceive even themselves. If she went into the lounge on her return from Eaton Square, the same effect was noticeable. When she was present the conversation was forced and artificial. Sentences would be begun and left unfinished, as if the speaker had suddenly remembered that the subject was taboo.

Patricia found herself wishing that they would speak out what was in their minds. Anything would be preferable to the air of mystery that seemed to pervade the whole place. She could not be unaware of the significant glances that were exchanged when it was thought she was not looking. Several times she had been asked if she were not feeling well, and her looking-glass reflected a face that was pale and drawn, with dark lines under the eyes.

One evening, when she had gone to her room directly after dinner, there was a gentle knock at her door. She opened it to find Mrs. Hamilton, looking as if it would take only a word to send her creeping away again.

"Come in, you dear little Grey Lady," cried Patricia, putting her arm affectionately round Mrs. Hamilton's small shoulders, and leading her over to a basket-chair by the window.

For some time they talked of nothing in particular. At last Mrs. Hamilton said:

"I – I hope you won't think me impertinent, my dear; but – but – "

"I should never think anything you said or did impertinent," said Patricia, smiling.

"You know – " began Mrs. Hamilton, and then broke off.

"Anyone would think you were thoroughly afraid of me," said Patricia with a smile.

"I don't like interfering," said Mrs. Hamilton, "but I am very worried."

She looked so pathetic in her anxiety that Patricia bent down and kissed her on the cheek.

"You dear little thing," she cried, "tell me what is on your mind, and I will do the best I can to help you."

"I am very – er – worried about you, my dear," began Mrs. Hamilton hesitatingly. "You are looking so pale and tired and worn. I – I fear you have something on your mind and – and – " she broke off, words failing her.

"It's the summer," replied Patricia, smiling. "I always find the hot weather trying, more trying even than Mr. Bolton's jokes," she smiled.

"Are you – are you sure it's nothing else?" said Mrs. Hamilton.

"Quite sure," said Patricia. "What else should it be?" She was conscious of her reddening cheeks.

"You ought to go out more," said Mrs. Hamilton gently. "After sitting indoors all day you want fresh air and exercise."

And with that Mrs. Hamilton had to rest content.

Patricia could not explain the absurd feeling she experienced that she might miss something if she left the house. It was all so vague, so intangible. All she was conscious of was some hidden force that seemed to bind her to the house, or, when by an effort of will she broke from its influence, seemed to draw her back again. She could not analyse the feeling, she was only conscious of its existence.

From Miss Brent she had received a characteristic reply to her letter.

"DEAR PATRICIA," she wrote,

"I have read with pain and surprise your letter. What your poor dear father would have thought I cannot conceive.

"What I did was done from the best motives, as I felt you were compromising yourself by a secret engagement.

"I am sorry to find that you have become exceedingly self-willed of late, and I fear London has done you no good.

"As your sole surviving relative, it is my duty to look after your welfare. This I promised your dear father on his death-bed.

"Gratitude I do not ask, nor do I expect it; but I am determined to do my duty by my brother's child. I cannot but deplore the tone in which you last wrote to me, and also the rather foolish threat that your letter contained.

"Your affectionate aunt,

"ADELAIDE BRENT.

"P.S. – I shall make a point of coming up to London soon. Even your rudeness will not prevent me from doing my duty by my brother's child. – A. B."

As she tore up the letter, Patricia remembered her father once saying, "Your aunt's sense of duty is the most offensive sense I have ever encountered."

One day as Patricia was endeavouring to sort out into some sort of coherence a sheaf of notes that Mr. Bonsor had made upon Botulism, Mr. Triggs entered the library. After his cheery "How goes it, me dear?" he stood for some moments gazing down at her solicitously.

"You ain't lookin' well, me dear," he said with conviction.

"That's a sure way to a woman's heart," replied Patricia gaily.

"'Ow's that, me dear?" he questioned.

"Why, telling her that she's looking plain," retorted Patricia.

Mr. Triggs protested.

"All I want is a holiday," went on Patricia. "There are only three weeks to wait and then – "

There was, however, no joy of anticipation in her voice.

"You're frettin'!"

Patricia turned angrily upon Mr. Triggs.

"Fretting! What on earth do you mean, Mr. Triggs?" she demanded.

Mr. Triggs sat down suddenly, overwhelmed by Patricia's indignation.

"Don't be cross with me, me dear." Mr. Triggs looked so like a child fearing rebuke that she was forced to smile.

"You must not say absurd things then," she retorted. "What have I got to fret about?"

Mr. Triggs quailed beneath her challenging glance. "I – I'm sorry, me dear," he said contritely.

"Don't be sorry, Mr. Triggs," said Patricia severely; "be accurate."

"I'm sorry, me dear," repeated Mr. Triggs.

"But that doesn't answer my question," Patricia persisted. "What have I to fret about?"

Mr. Triggs mopped his brow vigorously. He invariably expressed his emotions with his handkerchief. He used it strategically, tactically, defensively, continuously. It was to him what the lines of Torres Vedras were to Wellington. He retired behind its sheltering folds, to emerge a moment later, his forces reorganised and re-arrayed. When at a loss what to say or do, it was his handkerchief upon which he fell back; if he required time in which to think, he did it behind its ample and protecting folds.

"You see, me dear," said Mr. Triggs at length, avoiding Patricia's relentless gaze, as he proceeded to stuff away the handkerchief in his tail pocket. "You see, me dear – " Again he paused. "You see, me dear," he began for a third time, "I thought you was frettin' over your work or something, when you ought to be enjoyin' yourself," he lied.

Patricia looked at him, her conscience smiting her. She smiled involuntarily.

"I never fret about anything except when you don't come to see me," she said gaily.

Mr. Triggs beamed with good-humour, his fears now quite dispelled.

"You're run down, me dear," he said with decision. "You want an 'oliday. I must speak to A. B. about it."

"If you do I shall be very angry," said Patricia; "Mr. Bonsor is always very kind and considerate."

"It – it isn't – " began Mr. Triggs, then paused.

"It isn't what?" Patricia smiled at his look of concern.

"If – if it is," began Mr. Triggs. Again he paused, then added with a gulp, "Couldn't I lend you some?"

For a moment Patricia failed to follow the drift of his remark, then when she appreciated that he was offering to lend her money she flushed. For a moment she did not reply, then seeing the anxiety stamped upon his kindly face, she said with great deliberation:

"I think you must be quite the nicest man in all the world. If ever I decide to borrow money I'll come to you first."

Mr. Triggs blushed like a schoolboy. He had fully anticipated being snubbed. He had found from experience that Patricia had of late become very uncertain in her moods.

They were interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Bonsor.

"'Ere, A. B.!" cried Mr. Triggs. "What do you mean by it?"

"Mean by what?" enquired Mr. Bonsor, busy with an imaginary speech upon street noises, suggested by a barrel-piano in the distance.

"You're working 'er too 'ard, A. B.," said Mr. Triggs with conviction.

"Working who too hard?" Mr. Bonsor looked helplessly at Patricia. He was always at a disadvantage with his father-in-law, whose bluntness of speech seemed to demoralise him.

"Mr. Triggs thinks that you are slowly killing me," laughed Patricia.

Mr. Bonsor looked uncertainly at Patricia, and Mr. Triggs gazed at Mr. Bonsor. He had no very high opinion of his daughter's husband.

"Well, mind you don't overwork 'er," said Mr. Triggs as he rose to go. A few minutes later Patricia was deep in the absorbing subject of the life history of the potato-beetle.

"Ugh!" she cried as the clock in the hall chimed five. "I hate beetles, and," she paused a moment to tuck away a stray strand of hair, "I never want to see a potato as long as I live."

That evening when she reached Galvin House she went to her room, and there subjected herself to a searching examination in the looking-glass, she was forced to confess to the paleness of her face and dark marks beneath her eyes. She explained them by summer in London, coupled with the dreariness of Arthur Bonsor, M.P., and his mania for statistics.



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