Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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Half-way across the Park Bowen turned in the direction of Kingston Gate and, a minute later, drew up just off the roadway. Having stopped the engine he turned to her.

"Now, Patricia," he said with a smile, "I am at your mercy. There is no one within hail."

Bowen's voice recalled her from dreamland. She was thinking how different everything might have been, but for that unfortunate unconvention. With an effort she came down to earth to find Bowen smiling into her eyes.

It was an effort for her to assume the indignation she had previously felt. Bowen's presence seemed to dissipate her anger. Why had she not written to him instead of endeavouring to express verbally what she knew she would fail to convey?

"Please don't be too hard on me, Patricia," pleaded Bowen.

Patricia looked at him. She wished he would not smile at her in that way and assume an air of penitence. It was so disarming. It was unfair. He was taking a mean advantage. He was always taking a mean advantage of her, always putting her in the wrong.

By keeping her face carefully averted from his, she was able to tinge her voice with indignation as she demanded:

"Why did you not tell me who you were?"

"But I did," he protested.

"You said that you were Colonel Bowen, and you are not." Patricia was pleased to find her sense of outraged indignation increasing. "You have made me ridiculous in the eyes of everyone at Galvin House."

"But," protested Bowen.

"It's no good saying 'but,'" replied Patricia unreasonably, "you know I'm right."

"But I told you my name was Bowen," he said, "and later I told you that my rank was that of a lieutenant-colonel, both of which are quite correct."

"You are Lord Peter Bowen, and you've made me ridiculous," then conscious of the absurdity of her words, Patricia laughed; but there was no mirth in her laughter.

"Made you ridiculous," said Bowen, concern in his voice. "But how?"

"Oh, I am not referring to your boy-messengers and telegrams, florists' shops, confectioners' stocks," said Patricia, "but all the tabbies in Galvin House set themselves to work to find out who you were and – and – look what an absurd figure I cut! Then of course Aunt Adelaide must butt in."

"Aunt Adelaide!" repeated Bowen, knitting his brows. "Tabbies at Galvin House!"

"If you repeat my words like that I shall scream," said Patricia. "I wish you would try and be intelligent. Miss Wangle told Aunt Adelaide that I'm engaged to Lord Peter Bowen. Aunt Adelaide then asked me about my engagement, and I had to make up some sort of story about Colonel Bowen. She then enquired if it were true that I was engaged to Lord Peter Bowen. Of course I said 'No,' and that is where we are at present, and you've got to help me out. You got me into the mess."

"Might I enquire who Aunt Adelaide is, please, Patricia?"

Bowen's humility made him very difficult to talk to.

"Aunt Adelaide is my sole surviving relative, vide her own statement," said Patricia.

"If I had my way she would be neither surviving nor a relative; but as it happens she is both, and to-morrow afternoon at half-past five she is coming to Galvin House to receive a full explanation of my conduct."

Bowen compressed his lips and wrinkled his forehead; but there was laughter in his eyes.

"It's difficult, isn't it, Patricia?" he said.

"It's absurd, and please don't call me Patricia."

"But we're engaged and – "

"We're nothing of the sort," she said.

"But we are," protested Bowen. "I can – "

"Never mind what you can do," she retorted. "What am I to tell Aunt Adelaide at half-past five to-morrow evening?"

"Why not tell her the truth?" said Bowen.

"Isn't that just like a man?" Patricia addressed the query to a deer that was eyeing the car curiously from some fifty yards distance. "Tell the truth," she repeated scornfully. "But how much will that help us?"

"Well! let's tell a lie," protested Bowen, smiling.

And then Patricia did a weak and foolish thing, she laughed, and Bowen laughed. Finally they sat and looked at each other helplessly.

"However you got those," she nodded at the ribbons on his breast, "I don't know. It was certainly not for being intelligent."

For a minute Bowen did not reply. He was apparently lost in thought. Presently he turned to Patricia.

"Look here," he said, "by half-past five to-morrow afternoon I'll have found a solution. Now can't we talk about something pleasant?"

"There is nothing pleasant to talk about when Aunt Adelaide is looming on the horizon. She's about the most unpleasant thing next to chilblains that I know."

"I suppose," said Bowen tentatively, "you couldn't solve the difficulty by marrying me by special licence."

"Marry you by special licence!" cried Patricia in amazement.

"Yes, it would put everything right."

"I think you must be mad," said Patricia with decision; but conscious that her cheeks were very hot.

"I think I must be in love," was Bowen's quiet retort. "Will you?"

"Not even to escape Aunt Adelaide's interrogation would I marry you by special, or any other licence," said Patricia with decision.

Bowen turned away, a shadow falling across his face. Then a moment after, drawing his cigarette-case from his pocket, he enquired, "Shall we smoke?"

Patricia accepted the cigarette he offered her. She watched him as he lighted first hers, then his own. She saw the frown that had settled upon his usually happy face, and noted the staccatoed manner in which he smoked. Then she became conscious that she had been lacking in not only graciousness but common civility. Instinctively she put out her hand and touched his coat-sleeve.

"Please forgive me, I was rather a beast, wasn't I?" she said.

He looked round and smiled; but the smile did not reach his eyes.

"Please try and understand," she said, "and now will you drive me home?"

Bowen looked at her for a moment, then, getting out of the car, started the engine, and without a word climbed back to his seat.

The journey back was performed in silence. At Galvin House Gustave, who was on the look-out, threw open the door with a flourish.

In saying good night neither referred to the subject of their conversation.

As Patricia entered, the lounge seemed suddenly to empty its contents into the hall.

"I hope you enjoyed your ride," said Mr. Bolton.

"I hate motoring," said Patricia. Then she walked upstairs with a curt "Good night," leaving a group of surprised people speculating as to the cause of her mood, and deeply commiserating with Bowen.

CHAPTER VIII
LORD PETER'S S.O.S

"The bath is ready, my lord."

Lord Peter Bowen opened his eyes as if reluctant to acknowledge that another day had dawned. He stretched his limbs and yawned luxuriously. For the next few moments he lay watching his man, Peel, as he moved noiselessly about the room, idly speculating as to whether such precision and self-repression were natural or acquired.

To Bowen Peel was a source of never-ending interest. No matter at what hour Bowen had seen him, Peel always appeared as if he had just shaved. In his every action there was purpose, and every purpose was governed by one law – order. He was noiseless, wordless, selfless. Bowen was convinced that were he to die suddenly and someone chance to call, Peel would merely say: "His Lordship is not at home, sir."

Thin of face, small of stature, precise of movement, Peel possessed the individuality of negation. He looked nothing in particular, seemed nothing in particular, did everything to perfection. His face was a barrier to intimacy, his demeanour a gulf to the curious: he betrayed neither emotion nor confidence. In short he was the most perfect gentleman's servant in existence.

"What's the time, Peel?" enquired Bowen.

"Seven forty-three, my lord," replied the meticulous Peel, glancing at the clock on the mantel-piece.

"Have I any engagements to-day?" queried his master.

"No, my lord. You have refused to make any since last Thursday morning."

Then Bowen remembered. He had pleaded pressure at the War Office as an excuse for declining all invitations. He was determined that nothing should interfere with his seeing Patricia should she unbend. With the thought of Patricia returned the memory of the previous night's events. Bowen cursed himself for the mess he had made of things. Every act of his had seemed to result only in one thing, the angering of Patricia. Even then things might have gone well if it had not been for his wretched bad luck in being the son of a peer.

As he lay watching Peel, Bowen felt in a mood to condole with himself. Confound it! Surely it could not be urged against him as his fault that he had a wretched title. He had been given no say in the matter. As for telling Patricia, could he immediately on meeting her blurt out, "I'm a lord?" Supposing he had introduced himself as "Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Peter Bowen." How ridiculous it would have sounded. He had come to hate the very sound of the word "lord."

"It's ten minutes to eight, my lord."

It was Peel's voice that broke in upon his reflections.

"Oh, damn!" cried Bowen as he threw his legs out of bed and sat looking at Peel.

"I beg pardon, my lord?"

"I said damn!" replied Bowen.

"Yes, my lord."

Bowen regarded Peel narrowly. He was confoundedly irritating this morning. He seemed to be my-lording his master specially to annoy him. There was, however, no sign upon Peel's features or in his watery blue eyes indicating that he was other than in his normal frame of mind.

Why couldn't Patricia be sensible? Why must she take up this absurd attitude, contorting every action of his into a covert insult? Why above all things couldn't women be reasonable? Bowen rose, stretched himself and walked across to the bath-room. As he was about to enter he looked over his shoulder.

"If," he said, "you can arrange to remind me of my infernal title as little as possible during the next few days, Peel, I shall feel infinitely obliged."

"Yes, my lord," was the response.

Bowen banged the door savagely, and Peel rang to order breakfast.

During the meal Bowen pondered over the events of the previous evening, and in particular over Patricia's unreasonableness. His one source of comfort was that she had appealed to him to put things right about her aunt. That would involve his seeing her again. He did not, or would not, see that he was the only one to whom she could appeal.

Bowen always breakfasted in his own sitting-room; he disliked his fellow-men in the early morning. Looking up suddenly from the table he caught Peel's expressionless eye upon him.

"Peel."

"Yes, my lord."

"Why is it that we Englishmen dislike each other so at breakfast?"

Peel paused for a moment. "I've heard it said, my lord, that we're half an inch taller in the morning, perhaps our perceptions are more acute also."

Bowen looked at Peel curiously.

"You're a philosopher," he said, "and I'm afraid a bit of a cynic."

"I hope not, my lord," responded Peel.

Bowen pushed back his chair and rose, receiving from Peel his cap, cane, and gloves.

"By the way," he said, "I want you to ring up Lady Tanagra and ask her to lunch with me at half-past one. Tell her it's very important, and ask her not to fail me."

"Yes, my lord: it shall be attended to."

Bowen went out. Lady Tanagra was Bowen's only sister. As children they had been inseparable, forced into an alliance by the overbearing nature of their elder brother, the heir, Viscount Bowen, who would succeed to the title as the eighth Marquess of Meyfield. Bowen was five years older than his sister, who had just passed her twenty-third birthday and, as a frail sensitive child, she had instinctively looked to him for protection against her elder brother.

Their comradeship was that of mutual understanding. For one to say to the other, "Don't fail me," meant that any engagement, however pressing, would be put off. There was a tacit acknowledgment that their comradeship stood before all else. Each to the other was unique. Thus when Bowen sent the message to Lady Tanagra through Peel asking her not to fail him, he knew that she would keep the appointment. He knew equally well that it would involve her in the breaking of some other engagement, for there were few girls in London so popular as Lady Tanagra Bowen.

Whenever there was an important social function, Lady Tanagra Bowen was sure to be there, and it was equally certain that the photographers of the illustrated and society papers would so manoeuvre that she came into the particular group, or groups, they were taking.

The seventh Marquess of Meyfield was an enthusiastic collector of Tanagra figurines and, overruling his lady's protestations, he had determined to call his first and only daughter Tanagra. Lady Meyfield had begged for a second name; but the Marquess had been resolute. "Tanagra I will have her christened and Tanagra I will have her called," he had said with a smile that, if it mitigated the sternness of his expression, did not in my way undermine his determination. Lady Meyfield knew her lord, and also that her only chance of ruling him was by showing unfailing tact. She therefore bowed to his decision.

"Poor child!" she had remarked as she looked down at the frail little mite in the hollow of her arm, "you're certainly going to be made ridiculous; but I've done my best," and Lord Meyfield had come across the room and kissed his wife with the remark, "There you're wrong, my dear, it's going to help to make her a great success. Imagine, the Lady Tanagra Bowen; why it would make a celebrity of the most commonplace female," whereat they had both smiled.

As a child Lady Tanagra had been teased unmercifully about her name, so much so that she had almost hated it; but later when she had come to love the figurines that were so much part of her father's life, she had learned, not only to respect, but to be proud of the name.

To her friends and intimates she was always Tan, to the less intimate Lady Tan, and to the world at large Lady Tanagra Bowen.

She had once found the name extremely useful, when in process of being proposed to by an undesirable of the name of Black.

"It's no good," she had said, "I could never marry you, no matter what the state of my feelings. Think how ridiculous we should both be, everybody would call us Black and Tan. Ugh! it sounds like a whisky as well as a dog." Whereat Mr. Black had laughed and they remained friends, which was a great tribute to Lady Tanagra.

Exquisitely pretty, sympathetic, witty, human! Lady Tanagra Bowen was a favourite wherever she went. She seemed incapable of making enemies even amongst her own sex. Her taste in dress was as unerring as in literature and art. Everything she did or said was without effort. She had been proposed to by "half the eligibles and all the ineligibles in London," as Bowen phrased it; but she declared she would never marry until Peter married, and had thus got somebody else to mother him.

At a quarter-past one when Bowen left the War Office, he found Lady Tanagra waiting in her car outside.

"Hullo, Tan!" he cried, "what a brainy idea, picking up the poor, tired warrior."

"It'll save you a taxi, Peter. I'll tell you what to do with the shilling as we go along."

Lady Tanagra smiled up into her brother's face. She was always happy with Peter.

As she swung the car across Whitehall to get into the north-bound stream of traffic, Bowen looked down at his sister. She handled her big car with dexterity and ease. She was a dainty creature with regular features, violet-blue eyes and golden hair that seemed to defy all constraint. There was a tilt about her chin that showed determination, and that about her eyebrows which suggested something more than good judgment.

"I hope you weren't doing anything to-day, Tan," said Bowen as they came to a standstill at the top of Whitehall, waiting for the removal of a blue arm that barred their progress.

"I was lunching with the Bolsovers; but I'm not well enough, I'm afraid, to see them. It's measles, you know."

"Good heavens, Tan! what do you mean?"

"Well, I had to say something that would be regarded as a sufficient excuse for breaking a luncheon engagement of three weeks' standing. Quite a lot of people were invited to meet me."

"I'm awfully sorry," began Bowen apologetically.

"Oh, it's all right!" was the reply as the car jumped forward. "I shall be deluged with fruit and flowers now from all sorts of people, because the Bolsovers are sure to spread it round that I'm in extremis. To-morrow, however, I shall announce that it was a wrong diagnosis."

Lady Tanagra drew the car up to the curb outside Dent's. "I think," she said, indicating an old woman selling matches, "we'll give her the shilling for the taxi, Peter, shall we?"

Peter beckoned the old woman and handed her a shilling with a smile.

"Does it make you feel particularly virtuous to be charitable with another's money?" he enquired.

Lady Tanagra made a grimace.

Over lunch they talked upon general topics and about common friends. Lady Tanagra made no reference to the important matter that had caused her to be summoned to lunch, even at the expense of having measles as an excuse. That was characteristic of her. She had nothing of a woman's curiosity, at least she never showed it, particularly with Peter.

After lunch they went to the lounge for coffee. When they had been served and both were smoking, Bowen remarked casually, "Got any engagement for this afternoon, Tan?"

"Tea at the Carlton at half-past four, then I promised to run in to see the Grahams before dinner. I'm afraid it will mean more flowers and fruit. Oh!" she replied, "I suppose I must stick to measles. I shall have to buy some thanks for kind enquiries cards as I go home."

During lunch Bowen had been wondering how he could approach the subject of Patricia. He could not tell even Tanagra how he had met her – that was Patricia's secret. If she chose to tell, that was another matter; but he could not. As a rule he found it easy to talk to Tanagra and explain things; but this was a little unusual. Lady Tanagra watched him shrewdly for a minute or two.

"I think I should just say it as it comes, Peter," she remarked in a casual, matter-of-fact tone.

Bowen started and then laughed.

"What I want is a sponsor for an acquaintanceship between myself and a girl. I cannot tell you everything, Tan, she may decide to; but of course you know it's all right."

"Why, of course," broke in Lady Tanagra with an air of conviction which contained something of a reproach that he should have thought it necessary to mention such a thing.

"Well, you've got to do a bit of lying, too, I'm afraid."

"Oh! that will be all right. The natural consequence of a high temperature through measles." Lady Tanagra saw that Bowen was ill at ease, and sought by her lightness to simplify things for him.

"How long have I known her?" she proceeded.

"Oh! that you had better settle with her. All that is necessary is for you to have met her somewhere, or somehow, and to have introduced me to her."

"And who is to receive these explanations?" enquired Lady Tanagra.

"Her aunt, a gorgon."

"Does the girl know that you are – that I am to throw myself into the breach?"

"No," said Peter, "I didn't think to tell her. I said that I would arrange things. Her name's Patricia Brent. She's private secretary to Arthur Bonsor of 426 Eaton Square, and she lives at Galvin House Residential Hotel, to give it its full title, 8 Galvin Street, Bayswater. Her aunt is to be at Galvin House at half-past five this afternoon, when I have to be explained to her. Oh! it's most devilish awkward, Tan, because I can't tell you the facts of the case. I wish she were here."

"That's all right, Peter. I'll put things right. What time does she leave Eaton Square?"

"Five o'clock, I think."

"Good! leave it to me. By the way, where shall you be if I want to get at you?"

"When?"

"Say six o'clock."

"I'll be back here at six and wait until seven."

"That will do. Now I really must be going. I've got to telephone to these people about the measles. Shall I run you down to Whitehall?"

"No, thanks, I think I'll walk," and with that he saw her into her car and turned to walk back to Whitehall, thanking his stars for being possessed of such a sister and marvelling at her wisdom. He had not the most remote idea of how she would achieve her purpose; but achieve it he was convinced she would. It was notorious that Lady Tanagra never failed in anything she undertook.

While Bowen and his sister were lunching at the Quadrant, Patricia was endeavouring to concentrate her mind upon her work. "The egregious Arthur," as she called him to herself in her more impatient moments, had been very trying that morning. He had been in a particularly indeterminate mood, which involved the altering and changing of almost every sentence he dictated. In the usual way he was content to tell Patricia what he wanted to say, and let her clothe it in fitting words; but this morning he had insisted on dictating every letter, with the result that her notes had become hopelessly involved and she was experiencing great difficulty in reading them. Added to this was the fact that she could not keep her thoughts from straying to Aunt Adelaide. What would happen that afternoon? What was Bowen going to do to save the situation? He had promised to see her through; but how was he going to do it?



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