Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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The lack of sympathy between aunt and niece had driven Patricia more and more to seek her father's companionship. He was a silent man, little given to emotion or demonstration of affection. He loved Patricia, but lacked the faculty of conveying to her the knowledge of his love.

As she walked across the Park Patricia came to the conclusion that, for some reason or other, love, or the outward visible signs of love, had been denied her. Warm-hearted, impetuous, spontaneous, she had been chilled by the self-repression of her father, and the lack of affection of her aunt. She had been schooled to regard God as the God of punishment rather than the God of love. One of her most terrifying recollections was that of the Sundays spent under the paternal roof. To her father, religion counted for nothing; but to her aunt it counted for everything in the world; the hereafter was to be the compensation for renunciation in this world. Miss Brent's attitude towards prayer was that of one who regards it as a means by which she is able to convey to the Almighty what she expects of Him in the next world as a reward for what she has done, or rather not done, in this.

Patricia had once asked, in a childish moment of speculation, "But, Aunt Adelaide, suppose God doesn't make us happy in the next world, what shall we do then?"

"Oh! yes He will," was her aunt's reply, uttered with such grimness that Patricia, though only six years of age, had been satisfied that not even God would dare to disappoint Aunt Adelaide.

Patricia had been a lonely child. She had come to distrust spontaneity and, in consequence, became shy and self-conscious, with the inevitable result that other children, the few who were in Aunt Adelaide's opinion fit for her to associate with, made it obvious that she was one by herself. Patricia had fallen back on her father's library, where she had read many books that would have caused her aunt agonies of stormy anguish, had she known.

Patricia early learnt the necessity for dissimulation. She always carefully selected two books, one that she could ostensibly be reading if her aunt happened to come into the library, and the other that she herself wanted to read, and of which she knew her aunt would strongly disapprove.

Miss Brent regarded boarding-schools as "hotbeds of vice," and in consequence Patricia was educated at home, educated in a way that she would never have been at any school; for Miss Brent was thorough in everything she undertook. The one thing for which Patricia had to be grateful to her aunt was her general knowledge, and the sane methods adopted with her education. But for this she would not have been in the position to accept a secretaryship to a politician.

When Patricia was twenty-one her father had died, and she inherited from her mother an annuity of a hundred pounds a year. Her aunt had suggested that they should live together; but Patricia had announced her intention of working, and with the money that she realised from the sale of her father's effects, particularly his library, she came to London and underwent a course of training in shorthand, typewriting, and general secretarial work.

This was in March, 1914. Before she was ready to undertake a post, the war broke out upon Europe like a cataclysm, and a few months later Patricia had obtained a post as private secretary to Mr. Arthur Bonsor, M.P.

Mr. Bonsor was the victim of marriage. Destiny had ordained that he should spend his life in golf and gardening, or in breeding earless rabbits and stingless bees. He was bucolic and passive. Mrs. Bonsor, however, after a slight altercation with Destiny, had decided that Mr. Bonsor was to become a rising politician. Thus it came about that, pushed on from behind by Mrs. Bonsor and led by Patricia, whose general knowledge was of the greatest possible assistance to him, Mr. Bonsor was in the elaborate process of rising at the time when Patricia determined to have a fianc?.

Mr. Bonsor was a small, fair-haired man, prematurely bald, an indifferent speaker; but excellent in committee. Instinctively he was gentle and kind. Mrs. Bonsor disliked Patricia and Patricia was indifferent to Mrs. Bonsor. Mrs. Bonsor, however, recognised that in Patricia her husband had a remarkably good secretary, one whom it would be difficult to replace.

Mrs. Bonsor's attitude to everyone who was not in a superior position to herself was one of patronage. Patricia she looked upon as an upper servant, although she never dare show it. Patricia, on the other hand, showed very clearly that she had no intention of being treated other than as an equal by Mrs. Bonsor, and the result was a sort of armed neutrality. They seldom met; when by chance they encountered each other in the house Mrs. Bonsor would say, "Good morning, Miss Brent; I hope you walked across the Park." Patricia would reply, "Yes, most enjoyable; I invariably walk across the Park when I have time"; and with a forced smile Mrs. Bonsor would say, "That is very wise of you."

Never did Mrs. Bonsor speak to Patricia without enquiring if she had walked across the Park. One day Patricia anticipated Mrs. Bonsor's inevitable question by announcing, "I walked across the Park this morning, Mrs. Bonsor, it was most delightful," and Mrs. Bonsor had glared at her, but, remembering Patricia's value to her husband, had made a non-committal reply and passed on. Henceforth, Mrs. Bonsor dropped all reference to the Park.

On the first day of Patricia's entry into the Bonsor household, Mrs. Bonsor had remarked, "Of course you will stay to lunch," and Patricia had thanked her and said she would. But when she found that her luncheon was served on a tray in the library, where Mr. Bonsor did his work, she had decided that henceforth exercise in the middle of the day was necessary for her, and she lunched out.

Mr. Bonsor had married beneath him. His father, a land-poor squire in the north of England, had impressed upon all his sons that money was essential as a matrimonial asset, and Mr. Bonsor, not having sufficient individuality to starve for love, had determined to follow the parental decree. How he met Miss Triggs, the daughter of the prosperous Streatham builder and contractor, Samuel Triggs, nobody knew, but his father had congratulated him very cordially about having contrived to marry her. Miss Triggs's friends to a woman were of the firm conviction that it was Miss Triggs who had married Mr. Bonsor. "'Ettie's so ambitious." remarked her father soon after the wedding, "that it's almost a relief to get 'er married."

Mr. Bonsor was scarcely back from his honeymoon before he was in full possession of the fact that Mrs. Bonsor had determined that he should become famous. She had read how helpful many great men's wives had been in their career, and she determined to be the power behind the indeterminate Arthur Bonsor. Poor Mr. Bonsor, who desired nothing better than a peaceable life and had looked forward to a future of ease and prosperity when he married Miss Triggs, discovered when too late that he had married not so much Miss Triggs, as an abstract sense of ambition. Domestic peace was to be purchased only by an attitude of entire submission to Mrs. Bonsor's schemes. He was not without brains, but he lacked that impetus necessary to "getting on." Mrs. Bonsor, who was not lacking in shrewdness, observed this and determined that she herself would be the impetus.

Mr. Bonsor came to dread meal-times, that is meal-times t?te-?-t?te. During these symposiums he was subjected to an elaborate cross-examination as to what he was doing to achieve greatness. Mrs. Bonsor insisted upon his being present at every important function to which he could gain admittance, particularly the funerals of the illustrious great. Egged on by her he became an inveterate writer of letters to the newspapers, particularly The Times. Sometimes his letters appeared, which caused Mrs. Bonsor intense gratification: but editors soon became shy of a man who bombarded them with letters upon every conceivable subject, from the submarine menace to the question of "should women wear last year's frocks?"

Mr. Triggs had once described his daughter very happily: "'Ettie's one of them that ain't content with pressing a bell, but she must keep 'er thumb on the bell-push." That was Mrs. Bonsor all over; she lacked restraint, both physical and artistic, and she conceived that if you only make noise enough people will, sooner or later, begin to take notice.

Within three years of his marriage, Mr. Bonsor entered the House of Commons. He had first of all fought in a Radical constituency and been badly beaten; but the second time he had, by some curious juggling of chance, been successful in an almost equally strong Radical division, much to the delight of Mrs. Bonsor. The success had been largely due to her idea of flooding the constituency with pretty girl-canvassers; but she had been very careful to keep a watchful eye on Mr. Bonsor.

One of her reasons for engaging Patricia, for really Mrs. Bonsor was responsible for the engagement, had been that she had decided that Patricia was indifferent to men, and she decided that Mr. Bonsor might safely be trusted with Patricia Brent for long periods of secretarial communion.

Mr. Bonsor, although not lacking in susceptibility, was entirely devoid of that courage which subjugates the feminine heart. Once he had permitted his hand to rest upon Patricia's; but he never forgot the look she gave him and, for weeks after, he felt a most awful dog, and wondered if Patricia would tell Mrs. Bonsor.

When she married, Mrs. Bonsor saw that it would be necessary to drop her family, that is as far as practicable. It could not be done entirely, because her father was responsible for the allowance which made it possible for the Bonsors to live in Eaton Square. The old man was not lacking in shrewdness, and he had no intention of being thrown overboard by his ambitious daughter. It occasionally happened that Mr. Triggs would descend upon the Bonsor household and, although Mrs. Bonsor did her best to suppress him, that is without in any way showing she was ashamed of her parent, he managed to make Patricia's acquaintance and, from that time, made a practice of enquiring for and having a chat with her.

Mrs. Bonsor was grateful to providence for having removed her mother previous to her marriage. Mrs. Triggs had been a homely soul, with a marked inclination to be "friendly." She overflowed with good-humour, and was a woman who would always talk in an omnibus, or join a wedding crowd and compare notes with those about her. She addressed Mr. Triggs as "Pa," which caused her daughter a mental anguish of which Mrs. Triggs was entirely unaware. It was not until Miss Triggs was almost out of her teens that her mother was persuaded to cease calling her "Girlie."

In Mrs. Bonsor the reforming spirit was deeply ingrained; but she had long since despaired of being able to influence her father's taste in dress. She groaned in spirit each time she saw him, for his sartorial ideas were not those of Mayfair. He leaned towards checks, rather loud checks, trousers that were tight about the calf, and a coat that was a sporting conception of the morning coat, with a large flapped pocket on either side. He invariably wore a red tie and an enormous watch-chain across his prosperous-looking figure. His hat was a high felt, an affair that seemed to have set out in life with the ambition of being a top hat, but losing heart had compromised.

If Mrs. Bonsor dreaded her father's visits, Patricia welcomed them. She was genuinely fond of the old man. Mr. Triggs radiated happiness from the top of his shiny bald head, with its fringe of sandy-grey hair, to his square-toed boots that invariably emitted little squeaks of joy. He wore a fringe of whiskers round his chubby face, otherwise he was clean-shaven, holding that beards were "messy" things. He had what Patricia called "crinkly" eyes, that is to say each time he smiled there seemed to radiate from them hundreds of little lines.

He always addressed Patricia as "me dear," and not infrequently brought her a box of chocolates, to the scandal of Mrs. Bonsor, who had once expostulated with him that that was not the way to treat her husband's secretary.

"Tut, tut, 'Ettie," had been Mr. Triggs's response. "She's a fine gal. If I was a bit younger I shouldn't be surprised if there was a second Mrs. Triggs."

"Father!" Mrs. Bonsor had expostulated in horror. "Remember that she is Arthur's secretary."

Mr. Triggs had almost choked with laughter; mirth invariably seemed to interfere with his respiration and ended in violent and wheezy coughings and gaspings. Had Mrs. Bonsor known that he repeated the conversation to Patricia, she would have been mortified almost to the point of discharging her husband's secretary.

"You see, me dear," Mr. Triggs had once said to Patricia, "'Ettie's so busy bothering about aitches that she's got time for nothing else. She ain't exactly proud of her old father," he had added shrewdly, "but she finds 'is brass a bit useful." Mr. Triggs was under no delusion as to his daughter's attitude towards him.

One day he had asked Patricia rather suddenly, "Why don't you get married, me dear?"

Patricia had started and looked up at him quickly. "Married, me, Mr. Triggs? Oh! I suppose for one thing nobody wants me, and for another I'm not in love."

Mr. Triggs had pondered a little over this.

"That's right, me dear!" he said at length. "Never you marry except you feel you can't 'elp it, then you'll know it's the right one. Don't you marry a chap because he's got a lot of brass. You marry for the same reason that me and my missis married, because we felt we couldn't do without each other," and the old man's voice grew husky. "You wouldn't believe it, me dear, 'ow I miss 'er, though she's been dead eight years next May."

Patricia had been deeply touched and, not knowing what to say, had stretched out her hand to the old man, who took and held it for a moment in his. As she drew her hand away she felt a tear splash upon it, and it was not her own.

"Ever hear that song 'My Old Dutch'?" he asked after a lengthy silence.

Patricia nodded.

"I used to sing it to 'er – God bless my soul! what an old fool I'm gettin', talkin' to you in this way. Now I must be gettin' off. Lor! what would 'Ettie say if she knew?"

But Mrs. Bonsor did not know.

CHAPTER III
THE ADVENTURE AT THE QUADRANT GRILL-ROOM

That evening as Patricia looked in at the lounge on the way to her room, she found it unusually crowded. On a normal day her appearance would scarcely have been noticed; but this evening it was the signal for a sudden cessation in the buzz of conversation, and all eyes were upon her. For a moment she stood in the doorway and then, with a nod and a smile, she turned and proceeded upstairs, conscious of the whispering that broke out as soon as her back was turned.

As she stood before the mirror, wondering what she should wear for the night's adventure, she recalled a remark of Miss Wangle's that no really nice-minded woman ever dressed in black and white unless she had some ulterior motive. Upon the subject of sex-attraction Miss Wangle posed as an authority, and hinted darkly at things that thrilled Miss Sikkum to ecstatic giggles, and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe to pianissimo moans of anguish that such things could be.

With great deliberation Patricia selected a black charmeuse costume that Miss Wangle had already confided to the whole of Galvin House was at least two and a half inches too short; but as Patricia had explained to Mrs. Hamilton, if you possess exquisitely fitting patent boots that come high up the leg, it's a sin for the skirt to be too long. She selected a black velvet hat with a large white water-lily on the upper brim.

"You look bad enough for a vicar's daughter," she said, surveying herself in the glass as she fastened a bunch of red carnations in her belt. "White at the wrists and on the hat, yes, it looks most improper. I wonder what the major-man will think?"

Swift movements, deft touches, earnest scrutiny followed one another. Patricia was an artist in dress. Finally, when her gold wristlet watch had been fastened over a white glove she subjected herself to a final and exhaustive examination.

"Now, Patricia!" – it had become with her a habit to address her reflection in the mirror – "shall we carry an umbrella, or shall we not?" For a few moments she regarded herself quizzically, then finally announced, "No: we will not. An umbrella suggests a bus, or the tube, and when a girl goes out with a major in the British Army, she goes in a taxi. No, we will not carry an umbrella."

She still lingered in front of the mirror, looking at herself with obvious approval.

"Yes, Patricia! you are looking quite nice. Your eyes are violeter, your hair more sunsetty and your lips redder than usual, and, yes, your face generally looks happier."

When she entered the lounge it was twenty minutes to eight and, although dinner was at seven-thirty, the room was full. Everybody stared at her as with flushed cheeks she walked to the centre of the room. Then suddenly turning to Miss Wangle, she said, "Do you think I shall do, Miss Wangle, or do I look too wicked for a major?"

Miss Wangle merely stared. Mrs. Hamilton smiled and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe looked sympathetically at Miss Wangle. Mr. Bolton laughed.

"I wish I was a major, Miss Brent," he remarked, at which Patricia turned to him and made an elaborate curtsy.

"That girl will come to a bad end," remarked Miss Wangle with conviction to Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, as with a smile over her shoulder Patricia made a dramatic exit. She had noticed, however, that Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe were in hats and jackets. They, too, were apparently going out, although she had not heard them tell Mrs. Craske-Morton so. Mr. Bolton also had his hat in his hand. During the day Patricia had thought out very carefully the part she had set herself to play. If she were going to meet her fianc? back from the Front, she must appear radiantly happy, vide conventional opinion. But she had admonished her reflection in the mirror, "You mustn't overdo it. Women, especially tabbies, are very acute."

It had been Patricia's intention to go by bus but at the entrance of the lounge she saw Gustave who ingratiatingly enquired, "Taxi, mees?"

With a smile she nodded her head, and Gustave disappeared. "There goes another two shillings. Oh, bother Major Brown! Soldiers are costly luxuries," she muttered under her breath.

A moment after Gustave reappeared with the intimation that the taxi was at the door. A group of her fellow-guests gathered in the hall to see her off. Patricia thought their attitude more appropriate to a wedding than the fact that one of their fellow-boarders was going out to dinner. "It is clear," she thought, "that Patricia Brent, man-catcher, is a much more important person than is Patricia Brent, inveterate spinster."

She noticed that there was a second taxi at the door, and while her own driver was "winding-up" his machine, which took some little time, the other taxi got off in front. She had seen get into it Miss Wangle, Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, and Mr. Bolton.

As the taxi sped eastward, Patricia began to speculate as to what she really intended doing. She had no appointment, she was in a taxi which would cost her two shillings at least, and she had given the address of the Quadrant Grill-room.

She was still considering what she should do when the taxi drew up. Fate and the taxi driver had decided the matter between them, and Patricia determined to go through with it and disappoint neither. Having paid the man and tipped him handsomely, she descended the stairs to the Grill-room. She had no idea of what it cost to dine at the Quadrant; but remembered with a comfortable feeling that she had some two pounds upon her. With moderation, she decided, it might be possible to get a meal for that sum without attracting the adverse criticism of the staff. It had not struck her that it might appear strange for a girl to dine alone at such a restaurant as the Quadrant, and that she was laying herself open to criticism. She was too excited at this new adventure into which she had been precipitated for careful reasoning.

As she descended the stairs she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror. She started. Surely that could not be Patricia Brent, secretary to a rising politician, that stylish-looking girl in black, with a large bunch of carnations. That red-haired creature with sparkling eyes and a colour that seemed to have caught the reflection of the carnations in her belt!

She entered the lounge at the foot of the stairs with increased confidence, and she was conscious that several men turned to look at her with interest. Then suddenly the bottom fell out of her world. There, standing in the vestibule, were Miss Wangle, Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, and Mr. Bolton. In a flash she saw it all. They had come to spy upon her. They would find her out, and the whole humiliating story would probably have to be told. Thoughts seemed to spurt through her mind. What was she to do? It was too late to retreat. Miss Wangle had already fixed her with a stony stare through her lorgnettes, which she carried only on special occasions.



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