Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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At last Miss Wangle enquired, "No bad news I hope, Miss Brent."

Patricia looked up and fixed Miss Wangle with a deliberate stare, which she meant to be rude.

"None, Miss Wangle, thank you," she replied coldly.

The dinner proceeded until the sweet was being served, when Gustave approached her once more.

"You are wanted, mees, on the telephone, please," he said.

Patricia was conscious once more of crimsoning as she turned to Gustave. "Please say that I'm engaged," she said.

Gustave left the dining-room. Everybody watched the door in a fever of expectancy.

Two minutes later Gustave reappeared and, walking softly up to Patricia's chair, whispered in a voice that could be clearly heard by everyone, "It ees Colonel Baun, mees. He wish to speak to you."

"Tell him I'm at dinner," replied Patricia calmly. She could literally hear the gasp that went round the table.

"But, Miss Brent," began Mrs. Craske-Morton.

Patricia turned and looked straight into Mrs. Craske-Morton's eyes interrogatingly. Gustave hesitated. Mrs. Craske-Morton collapsed. Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe exchanged meaning glances. Little Mrs. Hamilton looked concerned, almost a little sad. Patricia turned to Gustave.

"You heard, Gustave?"

"Yes, mees," replied Gustave and, turning reluctantly towards the door, he disappeared.

There was something in Patricia's demeanour that made it clear she would resent any comment on her action, and the meal continued in silence. Mr. Bolton made some feeble endeavours to lighten the atmosphere; but he was not successful.

In the lounge a quarter of an hour later, Gustave once more approached Patricia, this time with a note.

"The boy ees waiting, mees," he announced.

Patricia tore open the envelope and read:

"DEAR PATRICIA,

"Won't you let me see you? Please remember that even the under-dog has his rights.

"Yours ever, "PETER."

"There is no answer, Gustave," said Patricia, and Gustave left the room disconsolately.

Half an hour later Gustave returned once more.

On his tray were three telegrams. Patricia looked about her wildly. "Had the man suddenly gone mad?" she asked herself. "Tell the boy not to wait, Gustave," she said.

"There ees three boys, mees."

The atmosphere was electrical. Mr. Bolton laughed, then stopped suddenly. Miss Sikkum simpered.

Patricia turned to Gustave with a calmness that was not reflected in her cheeks.

"Tell the three boys not to wait, Gustave."

"Yes, mees!" Gustave slowly walked to the door. It was clear that he could not reconcile with his standard of ethics the allowing of three telegrams to remain unopened, and to dismiss three boys without knowing whether or no there really were replies. The same feeling was reflected in the faces of Patricia's fellow-boarders.

"Miss Brent must be losing a lot of relatives, or coming into a lot of fortunes," remarked Mr.

Bolton to Mrs. Hamilton.

Patricia preserved an outward calm she was far from feeling. She rose and went up to her room to discover from the three orange envelopes what was the latest phase of Colonel Bowen's madness. Seated on her bed she opened the telegrams.

The first read:

"Will you go motoring with me on Sunday peter."

No, she would do nothing of the kind.

The second said:

"If I have done anything to offend you please tell me and forgive me peter."

Of course he had done nothing, and it was all very absurd. Why was he behaving like a schoolboy?

The third was longer. It ran:

"I so enjoyed last night it was the most delightful evening I have spent for many a day please do not be too hard upon me peter."

This was a tactical error. It brought back to Patricia the whole incident. It was utter folly to have placed herself in such an impossible position. Obviously Bowen knew nothing of women, or he would not have made such a blunder as to remind her of what took place on the previous night, unless – unless – She hardly dare breathe the thought to herself. What if he thought her different from what she actually was? Could he confuse her with those – It was impossible!

She was angry; angry with him, angry with herself, angry with the Quadrant Grill-room; but angriest of all with Galvin House, which had precipitated her into this adventure.

Why did silly women expect every girl to marry? Why was it assumed because a woman did not marry that no one wanted to marry her? Patricia regarded herself in the looking-glass. Was she really the sort of girl who might be taken for an inveterate old maid? Her hands and feet were small. Her ankles well-shaped. Her figure had been praised, even by women. Her hair was a natural red-auburn. Her features regular, her mouth mobile, well-shaped with very red lips. Her eyes a violet-blue with long dark lashes and eyebrows.

"You're not so bad, Patricia Brent," she remarked as she turned from the glass. "But you will probably be a secretary to the end of your days, drink cold weak tea, keep a cat and get hard and angular, skinny most likely. You're just the sort that runs to skin and bone."

She was interrupted in her meditations by a knock at the door.

"Come in," she called.

The door was softly opened and Mrs. Hamilton entered.

"May I come in, dear?" she enquired in an apologetic voice, as she stood on the threshold.

"Come in!" cried Patricia, "why of course you may, you dear. You can do anything you like with me."

Mrs. Hamilton was small and white and fragile, with a ray of sunlight in her soul. She invariably dressed in grey, or blue-grey. Everything she wore seemed to be as soft as her own expression.

"I – I came up – I – I – hope it is not bad news. I don't want to meddle in your affairs, my dear; but I am concerned. If there is anything I can do, you will tell me, won't you? You won't think me inquisitive, will you?"

"Why you dear, silly little thing, of course I don't. Still it's just like your sweet self to come up and enquire. It is only that ridiculous Colonel Bowen who is showering telegrams on me in this way, in order, I suppose, to benefit the revenue. I think he has gone mad. Perhaps it's shell-shock, poor thing. There will most likely be another shower before we go to bed. Now we will go downstairs and stop those old pussies talking."

"My dear!" expostulated Mrs. Hamilton.

Patricia laughed. "Yes, aren't I getting acid and spinsterish?"

As they walked downstairs Mrs. Hamilton said:

"I'm so anxious to see him, my dear. Miss Wangle says he is so distinguished-looking."

"Who?" enquired Patricia, with mock innocence.

"Colonel Bowen, dear."

"Oh! Yes, he's quite a decent-looking old thing, and he's given Galvin House something to talk about, hasn't he?"

In the lounge Patricia soon became the centre of a group anxious for information; but no one was daring enough to put direct questions to her. Mrs. Craske-Morton ventured a suggestion that Colonel Bowen might be coming to dine with Patricia, and that she hoped Miss Brent would let her know in good time, so that she might make special preparations.

Patricia replied without enthusiasm. None was better aware than she that had her fianc? turned out to be a private, Mrs. Craske-Morton would have been the last even to suggest that he should dine at Galvin House. There would have been no question of special preparations.

About ten o'clock Gustave entered and approached Patricia. She groaned in spirit.

"You are wanted on the telephone, mees."

Patricia thought she detected a note of reproach in his voice, as if he were conscious that a fellow-male was being badly treated.

"Will you say that I'm engaged?" replied Patricia.

"It's Colonel Baun, mees."

For a moment Patricia hesitated. She was conscious that Galvin House was against her to a woman. After all there were limits beyond which it would be unwise to go. Galvin House had its standards, which had already been sorely tried. Patricia felt rather than heard the whispered criticism passing between Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe. Rising slowly with an air of reconciled martyrdom, Patricia went to the telephone at the end of the hall, followed by the smiling Gustave, who, like the rest of Galvin House, had found his sense of decorum sorely outraged by Patricia's conduct.

"Hullo!" cried Patricia into the mouthpiece of the telephone, her heart thumping ridiculously.

Gustave walked tactfully away.

"That you, Patricia?" came the reply.

Patricia was conscious that all her anger had vanished.

"Yes, who is speaking?"

"Peter."

"Yes."

"How are you?"

"Did you ring me up to ask after my health?"

There was a laugh at the other end.

"Well!" enquired Patricia, who knew she was behaving like a schoolgirl.

"Did you get my message?"

"I'm very angry."

"Why?"

"Because you've made me ridiculous with your telegrams, messenger-boys, and telephoning."

"May I call?"

"No."

"I'm coming to-morrow night."

"I shall be out."

"Then I'll wait until you return."

"Are you playing the game, do you think?"

"I must see you. Expect me about nine."

"I shall do nothing of the sort."

"Please don't be angry, Patricia."

"Well! you mustn't come, then. Thank you for the chocolates and flowers."

"That's all right. Don't forget to-morrow at nine."

"I tell you I shall be out."

"Right-oh!"

"Good-bye!"

Without waiting for a reply, Patricia hung up the receiver.

When she returned to the lounge her cheeks were flushed, and she was feeling absurdly happy. Then a moment after she asked herself what it was to her whether he remembered or forgot her. He was an entire stranger – or at least he ought to be.

Just as she was going up to her room for the night, another telegram arrived. It contained three words: "Good night peter."

"Of all the ridiculous creatures!" she murmured, laughing in spite of herself.

CHAPTER V
PATRICIA'S REVENGE

Galvin House dined at seven-thirty. Miss Wangle had used all her arts in an endeavour to have the hour altered to eight-fifteen, or eight-thirty. "It would add tone to the establishment," she had explained to Mrs. Craske-Morton. "It is dreadfully suburban to dine at half-past seven." Conscious of the views of the other guests, Mrs. Craske-Morton had held out, necessitating the bringing up of Miss Wangle's heavy artillery, the bishop, whose actual views Miss Wangle shrouded in a mist of words. As far as could be gathered, the illustrious prelate held out very little hope of salvation for anyone who dined earlier than eight-thirty.

Just as Mrs. Craske-Morton was wavering, Mr. Bolton had floored Miss Wangle and her ecclesiastical relic with the simple question, "And who'll pay for the biscuits I shall have to eat to keep going until half-past eight?"

That had clinched the matter. Galvin House continued to dine at the unfashionable hour of seven-thirty. Miss Wangle had resigned herself to the inevitable, conscious that she had done her utmost for the social salvation of her fellow-guests, and mentally reproaching Providence for casting her lot with the Cordals and the Boltons, rather than with the De Veres and the Montmorencies.

Mr. Bolton confided to his fellow-boarders what he conceived to be the real cause of Mrs. Craske-Morton's decision.

"She's afraid of what Miss Wangle would eat if left unfed for an extra hour," he had said.

Miss Wangle's appetite was like Dominie Sampson's favourite adjective, "prodigious."

So it came about that on the Friday evening on which Colonel Peter Bowen had announced his intention of calling on Patricia, Galvin House, all unconscious of the event, sat down to its evening meal at its usual time, in its usual coats and blouses, with its usual vacuous smiles and small talk, and above all with its usual appetite – an appetite that had caused Mrs. Craske-Morton to bless the inauguration of food-control, and to pray devoutly to Providence for food-tickets.

Had anyone suggested to Patricia that she had dressed with more than usual care that evening, she would have denied it, she might even have been annoyed. Her simple evening frock of black voile, unrelieved by any colour save a ribbon of St. Patrick's green that bound her hair, showed up the paleness of her skin and the redness of her lips. At the last moment, as if under protest, she had pinned some of Bowen's carnations in her belt.

As she entered the dining-room, Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe exchanged significant glances. Woman-like they sensed something unusual. Galvin House did not usually dress for dinner.

"Going out?" enquired Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe sweetly.

"Probably," was Patricia's laconic reply.

Soup had not been disposed of (it was soup on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; fish on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and neither on Sundays at Galvin House) before Gustave entered with an enormous bouquet of crimson carnations. It might almost be said that the carnations entered propelled by Gustave, as there was very little but Gustave's smiling face above and the ends of his legs below the screen of flowers. Instinctively everybody looked at Patricia.

"For you, mees, with Colonel Baun's compliments."

Gustave stood irresolute, the crimson blooms cascading before him.

"You've forgotten the conservatory, Gustave," laughed Mr. Bolton. It was always easy to identify the facetious from the serious Mr. Bolton; his jokes were always heralded by a laugh.

"Sir?" interrogated the literal-minded Gustave.

"Never mind, Gustave. Mr. Bolton was joking," said Mrs. Craske-Morton.

"Yes, madame." Gustave smiled a mechanical smile: he overflowed with tact.

"Where will you have the flowers, Miss Brent?" enquired Mrs. Craske-Morton. "They are exquisite."

"Try the bath," suggested Mr. Bolton.

"Sir?" from Gustave.

It was Alice, Gustave's assistant in the dining-room during meals, who created the diversion for which Patricia had been devoutly praying. An affected little laugh from Miss Sikkum called attention to Alice, standing just inside the door, with an enormous white and gold box tied with bright green ribbon.

Patricia regarded the girl in dismay.

"Put them in the lounge, please," she said.

"You are lucky, Miss Brent," giggled Miss Sikkum enviously. "I wonder what's in the box."

"A chest protector," Mr. Bolton's laugh rang out.

"Really, Mr. Bolton!" from Mrs. Craske-Morton.

Patricia wondered was she lucky? Why should she be made ridiculous in this fashion?

"I should say chocolates." The suggestion came from Mr. Cordal through a mouthful of roast beef and Brussels sprouts. Everyone turned to the speaker, whose gastronomic silence was one of the most cherished traditions of Galvin House.

"He must have plenty of money," remarked Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe to Miss Wangle in a whisper, audible to all. "Those flowers and chocolates must have cost a lot."

"Ten pounds." The remark met a large Brussels sprout that Mr. Cordal was conveying to his mouth and summarily ejected it.

As Mr. Cordal was something on the Stock Exchange (Mr. Bolton had once said he must be a "bear") he was, at Galvin House, the recognised authority upon all matters of finance.

"Really, Mr. Cordal!" expostulated Mrs. Craske-Morton, rather outraged at this open discussion of Patricia's affairs.

"Sure of it," was all Mr. Cordal vouchsafed as he shovelled in another mouthful.

"You've been a goer in your time, Mr. Cordal," said Mr. Bolton.

Mr. Cordal grunted, which may have meant anything, but in all probability meant nothing.

For a quarter of an hour the inane conversation so characteristic of meal-times at Galvin House continued without interruption. How Patricia hated it. Was this all that life held for her? Was she always to be a drudge to the Bonsors, a victim of the Wangles and a target for the Boltons of life? It was to escape such drab existences that girls went on the stage, or worse; and why not? She had only one life, so far as she knew, and here she was sacrificing it to the jungle people, as she called them. Was there no escape? What St. George would rescue her from this dragon of – ?

"Colonel Baun, mees."

Patricia looked up with a start from the apple tart with which she was trifling. Gustave stood beside her, his face glowing in a way that hinted at a handsome tip. He was all-unconscious that he had answered a very difficult question in a manner entirely unsatisfactory to Patricia.

"I haf show him in the looaunge, mees. He will wait."

Patricia believed him. Was ever man so persistent? She saw through the move. He had come an hour earlier to be sure of catching her before she went out. Patricia was once more conscious of the ridiculous behaviour of her heart. It thumped and pounded against her ribs as if determined to compromise her with the rest of the boarders.

"Very well, Gustave, say we are at dinner."

"Yes, mees," and Gustave proceeded with his duties.

"He's clever," was Patricia's inward comment. "He's bought Gustave, and in an hour he'll have the whole blessed place against me."

If the effect upon Patricia of Gustave's announcement had been startling, that upon the rest of the company was galvanic. Each felt aggrieved that proper notice had not been given of so auspicious an event. There was a general feeling of resentment against Patricia for not having told them that she expected Bowen to call.

There were covert glances at their garments by the ladies, and among the men a consciousness that the clothes they were wearing were not those they had upstairs.

Miss Sikkum's playful fancy was with the Brixton "Paris model," which only that day she had taken to the cleaners; Miss Wangle was conscious that she had not hung herself with her full equipment of chains and accoutrements; Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe thought regretfully of the pale blue evening-gown upstairs, a garment that had followed the course of fashion for nearly a quarter of a century. Mr. Bolton had doubts about his collar and his boots, whilst Mr. Cordal, with the aid of his napkin and some water from a drinking glass, strove to remove from his waistcoat reminiscences of bygone repasts.

The other members of the company all had something to regret. Mr. Archibald Sefton, whose occupation was a secret between himself and Providence, was dubious about the creases in his trousers; Mrs. Barnes wondered if the gallant colonel would discover the ink she had that day applied to the seams of her dress. Everyone was constrained and anxious to get to his or to her room for repairs.

"Did you know Colonel Bowen was coming?" enquired Mrs. Craske-Morton, quite at her ease in the knowledge that "something had told her" to put on her best black silk and the large cameo pendant that made her look like a wine-steward at a fashionable restaurant.

"He said he might drop in; but he's so casual that I didn't think it worth mentioning," said Patricia, conscious that the reply was unanimously regarded as unconvincing.

Having finished her coffee Patricia rose in a leisurely manner. She was no sooner out of the door than a veritable stampede ensued. Every one intended "just to slip upstairs for a moment," and each glared at the other on discovering that all seemed inspired by the same idea.

Mrs. Craske-Morton went to her "boudoir" out of tactful consideration for the young lovers; Mrs. Hamilton went up to the drawing-room for the same reason.

Patricia paused for a moment outside the door of the lounge. She put her cool hands to her hot cheeks, wondering why her heart should show so little regard for her feelings. She felt an impulse to run away and lock herself in her own room and cry "Go away!" to anyone who might knock. She strove to work herself into a state of anger with Bowen for daring to come an hour before the time appointed.

As she entered the lounge, Bowen sprang up and came towards her. There was a spirit of boyish mischief lurking in his eyes.

"I suppose," said Patricia as they shook hands, "you think this is very clever."

"Please, Patricia, don't bully me."

Patricia laughed in spite of herself at the humility and appeal in his voice. She was conscious that she was not behaving as she ought, or had intended to behave.

"It seems an age since I saw you," he continued.

"Forty-eight hours, to be exact," commented Patricia, forgetful of all the reproachful things she had intended to say.

"You got the flowers?" as his eye fell on the carnations which Gustave had placed in a large bowl.

"Yes, thank you very much indeed, they're exquisite. They made Miss Sikkum quite envious."

"Who's Miss Sikkum?"

"Time, in all probability, will show," replied Patricia, seating herself on a settee. Bowen drew up a chair and sat opposite to her. She liked him for that. Had he sat beside her, she told herself, she would have hated him.

"You're not angry with me, Patricia, are you?" There was an anxious note in his voice.

"Do you appreciate that you've made me extremely ridiculous with your telegrams, messenger-boys, conservatories, and confectioner's-shops? Why did you do it?"

"I don't know," he confessed with unconscious gaucherie, "I simply couldn't get you out of my thoughts."

"Which shows that you tried," commented Patricia, the lightness of her words contradicted by the blush that accompanied them.

"The King's Regulations do not provide for Patricias," he replied, "and I had to try. That is how I knew."



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