Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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It was the Sunday before August Bank Holiday. Patricia shuddered at the remembrance. It meant that people were away. She did not pause to think that her world was at home, pursuing its various paths whereby to cultivate an appetite worthy of the pork that was even then sizzling in the Galvin House kitchen under the eagle eye of the cook, who prided herself on her "crackling," which Galvin House crunched with noisy gusto.

Patricia sank down upon a chair far back under the trees opposite the Stanhope Gate. Here she remained in a vague way watching the people, yet unconscious of their presence. From time to time some snatch of meaningless conversation would reach her. "You know Betty's such a sport?" one man said to another. Patricia found herself wondering what Betty was like and what, to the speaker's mind, constituted being a sport. Was Betty pretty? She must be, Patricia decided; no one cared whether or no a plain girl were a sport. She found herself wanting to know Betty. What were the lives of all these people, these shadows, that were moving to and fro in front of her, each intent upon something that seemed of vital importance? Were they – ?

"I doubt if Cassandra could have looked more gloomily prophetic."

She turned with a start and saw Geoffrey Elton smiling down upon her.

"Did I look as bad as that?" she enquired, as he took a seat beside her.

"You looked as if you were gratuitously settling the destinies of the world," he replied.

"In a way I suppose I was," she said musingly. "You see they all mean something," indicating the paraders with a nod of her head, "tragedy, comedy, farce, sometimes all three. If you only stop to think about life, it all seems so hopeless. I feel sometimes that I could run away from it all."

"That in the Middle Ages would have been diagnosed as the monastic spirit," said Elton. "It arose, and no doubt continues in most cases to arise from a sluggish liver."

"How dreadful!" laughed Patricia. "The inference is obvious."

"The world's greatest achievements and greatest tragedies could no doubt be traced directly to rebellious livers: Waterloo and 'Hamlet' are instances."

"Are you serious?" enquired Patricia. She was never quite certain of Elton.

"In a way I suppose I am," he replied. "If I were a pathologist I should write a book upon The Influence of Disease upon the Destinies of the World. The supreme monarch is the microbe. The Germans have shown that they recognise this."

"Ugh!" Patricia shuddered.

"Of course you have to make some personal sacrifice in the matter of self-respect first," continued Elton, "but after that the rest becomes easy."

"I suppose that is what a German victory would mean," said Patricia.

"Yes; we should give up lead and nickel and T.N.T., and invent germ distributors. Essen would become a great centre of germ-culture, and – "

"Oh! please let us talk about something else," cried Patricia.

"It's horrible!"

"Well!" said Elton with a smile, "shall we continue our talk over lunch, if you have no engagement?"

"Lady Peggy asked me – " began Patricia.

"They're away in Somerset," said Elton, "so now I claim you as my victim. It is your destiny to save me from my own thoughts."

"And yours to save me from roast pork and apple sauce," said Patricia, rising. As they walked towards Hyde Park Corner she explained the Galvin House cuisine.

They lunched at the Ritz and, to her surprise Patricia found herself eating with enjoyment, a thing she had not done for weeks past. She decided that it must be a revulsion of feeling after the menace of roast pork. Elton was a good talker, with a large experience of life and a considerable fund of general information.

"I should like to travel," said Patricia as she sipped her coffee in the lounge.

"Why?" Elton held a match to her cigarette.

"Oh! I suppose because it is enjoyable," replied Patricia; "besides, it educates," she added.

"That is too conventional to be worthy of you," said Elton.

"How?" queried Patricia.

"Most of the dull people I know ascribe their dullness to lack of opportunities for travel. They seem to think that a voyage round the world will make brilliant talkers of the toughest bores."

"Am I as tedious as that?" enquired Patricia, looking up with a smile.

"Your friend, Mr. Triggs, for instance," continued Elton, passing over Patricia's remark. "He has not travelled, and he is always interesting. Why?"

"I suppose because he is Mr. Triggs," said Patricia half to herself.

"Exactly," said Elton. "If you were really yourself you would not be – "

"So dull," broke in Patricia with a laugh.

"So lonely," continued Elton, ignoring the interruption.

"Why do you say that?" demanded Patricia. "It's not exactly a compliment."

"Intellectual loneliness may be the lot of the greatest social success."

"But why do you think I am lonely?" persisted Patricia.

"Let us take Mr. Triggs as an illustration. He is direct, unversed in diplomacy, golden-hearted, with a great capacity for friendship and sentiment. When he is hurt he shows it as plainly as a child, therefore we none of us hurt him."

"He's a dear!" murmured Patricia half to herself.

"If he were in love he would never permit pride to disguise it."

Patricia glanced up at Elton: but he was engaged in examining the end of his cigarette.

"He would credit the other person with the same sincerity as himself," continued Elton. "The biggest rogue respects an honest man, that is why we, who are always trying to disguise our emotions, admire Mr. Triggs, who would just as soon wear a red beard and false eyebrows as seek to convey a false impression."

Patricia found herself wondering why Elton had selected this topic. She was conscious that it was not due to chance.

"Is it worth it?" Elton's remark, half command, half question, seemed to stab through her thoughts.

She looked up at him, her eyes a little widened with surprise.

"Is what worth what?" she enquired.

"I was just wondering," said Elton, "if the Triggses are not very wise in eating onions and not bothering about what the world will think."

"Eating onions!" cried Patricia.

"My medical board is on Tuesday up North," said Elton, "and I shall hope to get back to France. You see things in a truer perspective when you're leaving town under such conditions."

Patricia was silent for some time. Elton's remarks sometimes wanted thinking out.

"You think we should take happiness where we can find it?" she asked.

"Well! I think we are too much inclined to render unto C?sar the things which are God's," he replied gravely.

"Do you appreciate that you are talking in parables?" said Patricia.

"That is because I do not possess Mr. Triggs's golden gift of directness."

Suddenly Patricia glanced at her watch. "Why, it's five minutes to three!" she cried. "I had no idea it was so late."

"I promised to run round to say good-bye to Peter at three," Elton remarked casually, as he passed through the lounge.

"Good-bye!" cried Patricia in surprise.

"He is throwing up his staff appointment, and has applied to rejoin his regiment in France."

For a moment Patricia stopped dead, then with a great effort she passed through the revolving door into the sunlight. Her knees seemed strangely shaky, and she felt thankful when she saw the porter hail a taxi. Elton handed her in and closed the door.

"Galvin House?" he interrogated.

"When does he go?" asked Patricia in a voice that she could not keep even in tone.

"As soon as the War Office approves," said Elton.

"Does Lady Tanagra know?" she asked.

"No, Peter will not tell her until everything is settled," he replied.

As the taxi sped westwards Patricia was conscious that some strange change had come over her. She had the feeling that follows a long bout of weeping. Peter was going away! Suddenly everything was changed! Everything was explained! She must see him! Prevent him from going back to France! He was going because of her! He would be killed and it would be her fault!

Arrived at Galvin House she went straight to her room. For two hours she lay on her bed, her mind in a turmoil, her head feeling as if it were being compressed into a mould too small for it. No matter how she strove to control them, her thoughts inevitably returned to the phrase, "Peter is going to France."

Unknown to herself, she was fighting a great fight with her pride. She must see him, but how? If she telephoned it would be an unconditional surrender. She could never respect herself again. "When you are in love you take pleasure in trampling your pride underfoot." The phrase persisted in obtruding itself. Where had she heard it? What was pride? she asked herself. One might be very lonely with pride as one's sole companion. What would Mr. Triggs say? She could see his forehead corrugated with trying to understand what pride had to do with love. Even Elton, self-restrained, almost self-sufficient, admitted that Mr. Triggs was right.

If she let Peter go? A year hence, a month perhaps, she might have lost him. Of what use would her pride be then? She had not known before; but now she knew how much Peter meant to her. Since he had come into her life everything had changed, and she had grown discontented with the things that, hitherto, she had tacitly accepted as her portion.

"You're fretting, me dear!" Mr. Triggs's remark came back to her. She recalled how indignant she had been. Why? Because it was true. She had been cross. She remembered the old man's anxiety lest he had offended her. She almost smiled as she recalled his clumsy effort to explain away his remark.

She had heard someone knock gently at her door, once, twice, three times. She made no response. Then Gustave's voice whispered, "Tea is served in the looaunge, mees." She heard him creep away with clumsy stealth. There was a sweet-natured creature. He could never disguise an emotion. He had come upstairs during the raid, though in obvious terror, in order to save her. Mr. Triggs, Gustave, Elton, all were against her. She knew that in some subtle way they were working to fight her pride.

For some time longer she lay, then suddenly she sprang up. First she bathed her face, then undid her hair, finally she changed her frock and powdered her nose.

"Hurry up, Patricia! or you may think better of it," she cried to her reflection in the glass. "This is a race with spinsterhood."

Going downstairs quietly she went to the telephone.

"Gerrard 60000," she called, conscious that both her voice and her knees were unsteady.

After what seemed an age there came the reply, "Quadrant Hotel."

"Is Lord Peter Bowen in?" she enquired. "Thank you," she added in response to the clerk's promise to enquire.

Her hand was shaking. She almost dropped the receiver. He must be out, she told herself, after what seemed to her an age of waiting. If he were in they would have found him. Perhaps he had already started for —

"Who is that?" It was Bowen's voice.

Patricia felt she could sing. So he had not gone! Would her knees play her false and cheat her?

"It's – it's me," she said, regardless of grammar.

"That's delightful; but who is me?" came the response.

No wonder woman liked him if he spoke like that to them, she decided.

Suddenly she realised that even she herself could not recognise as her own the voice with which she was speaking.

"Patricia," she said.

"Patricia!" There was astonishment, almost incredulity in his voice. So Elton had said nothing. "Where are you? Can I see you?"

Patricia felt her cheeks burn at the eagerness of his tone.

"I'm – I'm going out. I – I'll call for you if you like," she stammered.

"I say, how ripping of you. Come in a taxi or shall I come and fetch you?"

"No, I – I'm coming now, I'm – " then she put up the receiver. What was she going to do or say? For a moment she swayed. Was she going to faint? A momentary deadly sickness seemed to overcome her. She fought it back fiercely. She must get to the Quadrant. "I shall have to be a sort of reincarnation of Mrs. Triggs, I think," she murmured as she staggered past the astonished Gustave, who was just coming from the lounge, and out of the front door, where she secured a taxi.

.

CHAPTER XXI
THE GREATEST INDISCRETION

I

In the vestibule of the Quadrant stood Peel, looking a veritable colossus of negation. As Patricia approached he bowed and led the way to the lift. As it slid upwards Patricia wondered if Peel could hear the thumping of her heart, and if so, what he thought of it. She followed him along the carpeted corridor conscious of a mad desire to turn and fly. What would Peel do? she wondered. Possibly in the madness of the moment his mantle of discretion might fall from him, and he would dash after her. What a sensation for the Quadrant! A girl tearing along as if for her life pursued by a gentleman's servant. It would look just like the poster of "Charley's Aunt."

Peel opened the door of Bowen's sitting-room, and Patricia entered with the smile still on her lips that the thought of "Charley's Aunt" had aroused. Something seemed to spring towards her from inside the room, and she found herself caught in a pair of arms and kissed. She remembered wondering if Peel were behind, or if he had closed the door, then she abandoned herself to Bowen's embrace.

Everything seemed somehow changed. It was as if someone had suddenly shouldered her responsibilities, and she would never have to think again for herself. Her lips, her eyes, her hair, were kissed in turn. She was being crushed; yet she was conscious only of a feeling of complete content.

Suddenly the realisation of what was happening dawned upon her, and she strove to free herself. With all her force she pushed Bowen from her. He released her. She stood back looking at him with crimson cheeks and unseeing eyes. She was conscious that something unusual was happening to her, something in which she appeared to have no voice. Perhaps it was all a dream. She swayed a little. The same sensation she had fought back at the telephone was overcoming her. Was she going to faint? It would be ridiculous to faint in Bowen's rooms. Why did people faint? Was it really, as Aunt Adelaide had told her, because the heart missed a beat? One beat —

She felt Bowen's arm round her, she seemed to sway towards a chair. Was the chair really moving away from her? Then the mist seemed to clear. Someone was kneeling beside her.

Bowen gazed at her anxiously. Her face was now colourless, and her eyes closed wearily. She sighed as a tired child sighs before falling asleep.

"Patricia! what is the matter?" cried Bowen In alarm. "You haven't fainted, have you?"

She was conscious of the absurdity of the question. She opened her eyes with a curious fluttering movement of the lids, as if they were uncertain how long they could remain unclosed. A slow, tired smile played across her face, like a passing shaft of sunshine, then the lids closed again and the life seemed to go out of her body.

Bowen gently withdrew his arm and, rising, strode across to a table on which was a decanter of whisky and syphon of soda. With unsteady hands, he poured whisky and soda into a glass and, returning to Patricia, he passed his arm gently behind her head, placing the glass against her lips. She drank a little and then, with a shudder, turned her head aside. A moment later her eyes opened again. She looked round the room, then fixed her gaze on Bowen as if trying to explain to herself his presence. Gradually the colour returned to her cheeks and she sighed deeply. She shook her head as Bowen put the glass against her lips.

"I nearly fainted," she whispered, sighing again. "I've never done such a thing." Then after a pause she added, "I wonder what has happened. My head feels so funny."

"It's all my fault," said Bowen penitently. "I've waited so long, and I seemed to go mad. You will forgive me, dearest, won't you?" his voice was full of concern.

Patricia smiled. "Have I been here long?" she asked. "It seems ages since I came."

"No; only about five minutes. Oh, Patricia! you won't do it again, will you?" Bowen drew her nearer to him and upset the glass containing the remains of the whisky and soda that he had placed on the floor beside him.

"I didn't quite faint, really," she said earnestly, as if defending herself from a reproach.

"I mean throw me over," explained Bowen. "It's been hell!"

"Please go and sit down," she said, moving restlessly. "I'm all right now. I – I want to talk and I can't talk like this." Again she smiled, and Bowen lifted her hand and kissed it gently. Rising he drew a chair near her and sat down.

"You see all this comes of trying to be a Mrs. Triggs," she said regretfully.

"Mrs. Triggs!" Bowen looked at her anxiously.

Slowly and a little wearily Patricia explained her conversation with Elton. "Didn't he tell you he had seen me?"

"No," replied Bowen, relieved at the explanation; "Godfrey is a perfect dome of silence on occasion."

"Why did you suddenly leave me all alone, Peter?" Patricia enquired presently. "I couldn't understand. It hurt me terribly. I didn't realise" – she paused – "oh, everything, until I heard you were going away. Oh, my dear!" she cried in a low voice, "be gentle with me. I'm all bruises."

Bowen bent across to her. "I'm a brute," he said, "but – "

She shook her head. "Not that sort," she said. "It's my pride I've bruised. I seem to have turned everything upside down. You'll have to be very gentle with me at first, please." She looked up at him with a flicker of a smile.

"Not only at first, dear, but always," said Bowen gently as he rose and seated himself beside her. "Patricia, when did you – care?" he blurted out the last word hurriedly.

"I don't know," she replied dreamily. "You see," she continued after a pause, "I've not been like other girls. Do you know, Peter," she looked up at him shyly, "you're the first man who has ever kissed me, except my father. Isn't it absurd?"

"It's nothing of the sort," Bowen declared, tilting up her chin and gazing down into her eyes. "But you haven't answered my question."

"Well!" continued Patricia, speaking slowly, "when you sent me flowers and messengers and telegraph-boys and things I was angry, and then when you didn't I – " she paused.

"Wanted them," he suggested.

"U-m-m-m!" she nodded her head. "I suppose so," she conceded. "But," she added with a sudden change of mood, "I shall always be dreadfully afraid of Peel. He seems so perfect."

Bowen laughed. "I'll try and balance matters," he said.

"But you haven't told me," said Patricia, "why you left me alone all at once. Why did you?" She looked up enquiringly at him.

During the next half an hour Patricia slowly drew from Bowen the whole story of the plot engineered by Lady Tanagra.

"But why," questioned Patricia, "were you going away if you knew that – that everything would come all right?"

"I had given up hope, and I couldn't break my promise to Tan. I convinced myself that you didn't care."

Patricia held out her hand with a smile. Bowen bent and kissed it.

"I wonder what you are thinking of me?" She looked up at him anxiously. "I'm very much at your mercy now, Peter, aren't I? You won't let me ever regret it, will you?"

"Do you regret it?" he whispered, bending towards her, conscious of the fragrance of her hair.

"It's such an unconditional surrender," she complained. "All my pride is bruised and trampled underfoot. You have me at such a disadvantage."

"So long as I've got you I don't care," he laughed.

"Peter," said Patricia after a few minutes of silence, "I want you to ring up Tanagra and Godfrey Elton and ask them to dine here this evening. They must put off any other engagement. Tell them I say so."

"But can't we – ?" began Bowen.

"There, you are making me regret already," she said with a flash of her old vivacity.

Bowen flew to the telephone. By a lucky chance Elton was calling at Grosvenor Square, and Bowen was able to get them both with one call. He was a little disappointed, however, at not having Patricia to himself that evening.

"When shall we get married?" Bowen asked eagerly, as Patricia rose and announced that she must go and repair damages to her face and garments.

"I will tell you after dinner," she said as she walked towards the door.



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