Herbert Jenkins.

Patricia Brent, Spinster



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Miss Brent looked up interrogatingly.

"She had some difficulty at first," continued Elton; "but eventually she got her own way as she always does. Now the official hospitals send her their most puzzling cases and she cures them."

"How?" enquired Miss Brent with interest.

"Imagination," said Elton, bowing to a pretty brunette at the other side of the room. "She is too wise to try and fatten a canary on a dog biscuit."

"Does she keep canaries then?" enquired Miss Brent.

"I'm afraid that was only my clumsy effort at metaphor," responded Elton with a disarming smile. "She adopts human methods. They are generally successful."

Elton went on to describe something of the success that had attended Lady Meyfield's hostels, as she called them. They were famous throughout the Service. When war broke out someone had suggested that she should use her tact and knowledge of human nature in treating cases that defied the army M.O.'s. "A tyrant is the first victim of tact," Godfrey Elton had said of Lord Meyfield, and in his ready acquiescence in his lady's plans Lord Meyfield had tacitly concurred.

Lady Meyfield had conferred with her lord in respect to all her plans and arrangements, until he had come to regard the hostels as the children of his own brain, admirably controlled and conducted by his wife. He seldom appeared, keeping to the one place free from the flood of red, white, and blue – his library. Here with his books and terra-cottas he "grew old with a grace worthy of his rank," as Elton phrased it.

Lady Meyfield's "cases" were mostly those of shell-shock, or nervous troubles. She studied each patient's needs, and decided whether he required diversion or quiet: if diversion, he was sent to her town house; if quiet, he went to one of her country houses.

At first it had been thought that a woman could not discipline a number of men; but Lady Meyfield had settled this by allowing them to discipline themselves. All misdemeanours were reported to and judged by a committee of five elected by ballot from among the patients. Their decisions were referred to Lady Meyfield for ratification. The result was that in no military hospital, or convalescent home, in the country was the discipline so good.

Miss Brent listened perfunctorily to Elton's description of Lady Meyfield's success. She had not come to Grosvenor Square to hear about hostels, or the curing of shell-shocked soldiers, and her eyes roved restlessly about the room.

"You know Lord Peter?" she enquired at length.

"Intimately," Elton replied as he took her cup from her.

"Do you like him?" Miss Brent was always direct.

"Unquestionably." Elton's tone was that of a man who found nothing unusual either in the matter or method of interrogation.

"Is he steady?" was the next question.

"As a rock," responded Elton, beginning to enjoy a novel experience.

"Why doesn't he live here?" demanded Miss Brent.

"Who, Peter?"

Miss Brent nodded.

"No room.

The soldiers, you know," he added.

"No room for her own son?" Miss Brent's tone was in itself an accusation against Lady Meyfield of unnaturalness.

"Oh! Peter understands," was Elton's explanation.

"Oh!" Miss Brent looked sharply at him. For a minute there was silence.

"You have been wounded?" Miss Brent indicated the blue band upon his arm. Her question arose, not from any interest she felt; but she required time in which to reorganise her attack.

"I am only waiting for my final medical board, as I hope," Elton replied.

"You know Lady Tanagra?" Miss Brent was feeling some annoyance with this extremely self-possessed young man.

"Yes," was Elton's reply. He wondered if the next question would deal with her steadiness.

"I suppose you are a friend of the family?" was Miss Brent's next question.

Elton bowed.

"Good afternoon, sir." The speaker was a soldier in hospital blue, a rugged little man known among his fellows as "Uncle."

"Hullo! Uncle, how are you?" said Elton, shaking hands.

Miss Brent noticed a warmth in Elton's tone that was in marked contrast to the even tone of courtesy with which he had answered her questions.

"Oh, just 'oppin' on to 'eaven, sir," replied Uncle. "Sort of sittin' up an' takin' notice."

Elton introduced Uncle to Miss Brent, an act that seemed to her quite unnecessary.

"And where were you wounded?" asked Miss Brent conventionally.

"Clean through the buttocks, mum," replied Uncle simply.

Miss Brent flushed and cast a swift glance at Elton, whose face showed no sign. She turned to Uncle and regarded him severely; but he was blissfully unaware of having offended.

"Can't sit down now, mum, without it 'urtin'," added Uncle, interpreting Miss Brent's steady gaze as betokening interest.

"Oh, Goddy! I've been trying to fight my way across to you for hours." The pretty brunette to whom Elton had bowed joined the group. "I've been giving you the glad eye all the afternoon and you merely bow. Well, Uncle, how's the wound?"

Miss Brent gasped. She was unaware that Uncle's wound was the standing joke among all Lady Meyfield's guests.

"Oh! I'm gettin' on, thank you," said Uncle cheerfully. "Mustn't complain."

"Isn't he a darling?" The girl addressed herself to Miss Brent, who merely stared.

"Do you refer to Uncle or to me?" enquired Elton.

"Why both, of course; but – " she paused and, screwing up her piquante little face in thought she added, "but I think Uncle's the darlinger though, don't you?"

Again she challenged Miss Brent.

"Good job my missis can't 'ear 'er," was Uncle's comment to Elton.

"There, you see!" cried the girl gaily, "Uncle talks about his wife when I make love to him, and as for Goddy," she turned and regarded Elton with a quizzical expression, "he treats my passion with a look that clearly says prunes and prisms."

Miss Brent's head was beginning to whirl. Somewhere at the back of her mind was the unuttered thought, What would Little Milstead think of such conversation? She was brought back to Lady Meyfield's drawing-room by hearing the brunette once more addressing her.

"They're the two most interesting men in the room. I call them the Dove and the Serpent. Uncle has the guilelessness of the dove, whilst Godfrey has all the wisdom of the serpent. The three of us together would make a most perfect Garden of Eden. Wouldn't we, Goddy?"

"You are getting a little confused, Peggy," said Elton. "This is not a fancy dress – "

"Stop him, someone!" cried the brunette, "he's going to say something naughty."

Elton smiled, Miss Brent continued to stare, whilst Uncle with a grin of admiration cried:

"Lor', don't she run on!"

"Now come along, Uncle!" cried the girl. "I've found some topping chocolates, a new kind. They're priceless," and she dragged Uncle off to the end of the table.

"Who was that?" demanded Miss Brent of Elton, disapproval in her look and tone.

"Lady Peggy Bristowe," replied Elton.

Miss Brent was impressed. The Bristowes traced their ancestry so far back as to make William the Norman's satellites look almost upstarts.

"She is a little overpowering at first, isn't she?" remarked Elton, smiling in spite of himself at the conflicting emotions depicted upon Miss Brent's face; but Lady Peggy gave her no time to reply. She was back again like a shaft of April sunshine.

"Here, open your mouth, Goddy," she cried, "they're delicious."

Elton did as he was bid, and Lady Peggy popped a chocolate in, then wiping her finger and thumb daintily upon a ridiculously small piece of cambric, she stood in front of Elton awaiting his verdict.

"Like it?" she demanded, her head on one side like a bird, and her whole attention concentrated upon Elton.

"Apart from a suggestion of furniture polish," began Elton, "it is – "

"Hun!" cried Lady Peggy as she whisked over to where she had left Uncle.

"Lady Peggy is rather spoiled," said Elton to Miss Brent. "I fear she trades upon having the prettiest ankles in London."

Miss Brent turned upon Elton one glance, then with head in air and lips tightly compressed, she stalked away. Elton watched her in surprise, unconscious that his casual reference to the ankles of the daughter of a peer had been to Miss Brent the last straw.

"Hate at the prow and virtue at the helm," he murmured as she disappeared.

Miss Brent was now convinced beyond all power of argument to the contrary that her call had landed her in the very midst of an ultra-fast set. She was unaware that Godfrey Elton was notorious among his friends for saying the wrong thing to the right people.

"You never know what Godfrey will say," his Aunt Caroline had remarked on one occasion when he had just confided to the vicar that all introspective women have thick ankles, "and the dear vicar is so sensitive."

It seemed that whenever Elton elected to emerge from the mantle of silence with which he habitually clothed himself, it was in the presence of either a sensitive vicar or someone who was sensitive without being a vicar.

Once when Lady Gilcray had rebuked him for openly admiring Jenny Adam's legs, which were displayed each night to an appreciative public at the Futility Theatre, Elton had replied, "A woman's legs are to me what they are to God," which had silenced her Ladyship, who was not quite sure whether it was rank blasphemy or a classical quotation; but she never forgave him.

Miss Brent made several efforts to approach Lady Meyfield to have a few minutes' talk with her about the subject of her call; but without success. She was always surrounded either by arriving or departing guests, and soldiers seemed perpetually hovering about ready to pounce upon her at the first opportunity.

At last Miss Brent succeeded in attracting her hostess' attention, and before she knew exactly what had happened, Lady Meyfield had shaken hands, thanked her for coming, hoped she would come again soon, and Miss Brent was walking downstairs her mission unaccomplished. Her only consolation was the knowledge that within the next day or two The Morning Post would put matters upon a correct footing.

A mile away Patricia was tapping out upon her typewriter that "pigs are the potential saviours of the Empire."

CHAPTER XI
THE DEFECTION OF MR. TRIGGS

"Well, me dear, how goes it?"

Patricia looked up from a Blue Book, from which she was laboriously extracting statistics. Mr. Triggs stood before her, florid and happy. He was wearing a new black and white check suit, a white waistcoat and a red tie, whilst in his hand he carried a white felt top-hat with a black band.

"It doesn't go at all well," said Patricia, smiling.

"What's the matter, me dear?" he enquired anxiously. "You look fagged out."

"Oh! I'm endeavouring to extract information about potatoes from stupid Blue Books," said Patricia, leaning back in her chair. "Why can't they let potatoes grow without writing about them?" she asked plaintively, screwing up her eyebrows.

"'E ain't much good, is 'e?" enquired Mr. Triggs.

"Who?" asked Patricia in surprise.

"A. B.," said Mr. Triggs, lowering his voice and looking round furtively, "Dull, 'e strikes me."

"Well, you see, Mr. Triggs, he's rising, and you can't rise and be risen at the same time, can you?"

Mr. Triggs shook his head doubtfully. "'E'll no more rise than your salary, me dear," he said.

"Oh! what a gloomy person you are to-day, Mr. Triggs, and you look like a ray of sunshine."

"D'you like it?" enquired Mr. Triggs, smiling happily as he stood back that Patricia might obtain a good view of his new clothes. She now saw that over his black boots he wore a pair of immaculate white spats.

"You look just like a duke. But where are you going, and why all this splendour?" asked Patricia.

Mr. Triggs beamed upon her. "I'm glad you like it, me dear. I was thinking about you when I ordered it."

Patricia looked up and smiled. There was something to her strangely lovable in this old man's simplicity.

"I come to take you to the Zoo," he announced.

"To the Zoo?" cried Patricia in unfeigned surprise.

Mr. Triggs nodded, hugely enjoying the effect of the announcement.

"Now run away and get your hat on."

"But I couldn't possibly go, I've got heaps of things to do," protested Patricia. "Why Mrs. Bonsor would be – "

"Never you mind about 'Ettie; I'll manage 'er. She'll – "

"I thought I heard your voice, father."

Both Patricia and Mr. Triggs started guiltily; they had not heard Mrs. Bonsor enter the room.

"'Ullo, 'Ettie!" said Mr. Triggs, recovering himself. "I just come to take this young lady to the Zoo."

"Do I look as bad as all that?" asked Patricia, conscious that her effort was a feeble one.

"Don't you worry about your looks, me dear," said Mr. Triggs, "I'll answer for them. Now go and get your 'at on."

"But I really couldn't, Mr. Triggs," protested Patricia.

"I'm afraid it's impossible for Miss Brent to go to-day, father," said Mrs. Bonsor evenly; but flashing a vindictive look at Patricia.

"Why?" enquired Mr. Triggs.

"I happen to know," continued Mrs. Bonsor, "that Arthur is very anxious for some work that Miss Brent is doing for him."

"What work?" enquired Mr. Triggs.

"Oh – er – something about – " Mrs. Bonsor looked appealingly at Patricia; but Patricia had no intention of helping her out.

"Well! if you can't remember what it is, it can't matter much, and I've set my mind on going to the Zoo this afternoon."

"Very well, father. If you will wait a few minutes I will go with you myself."

"You!" exclaimed Mr. Triggs in consternation. "You and me at the Zoo! Why you said once the smell made you sick."

"Father! how can you suggest such a thing?"

"But you did," persisted Mr. Triggs.

"I once remarked that I found the atmosphere a little trying."

"Won't you come into the morning-room, father, there's something I want to speak to you about."

"No, I won't," snapped Mr. Triggs like a spoilt child, "I'm going to take Miss Brent to the Zoo."

"But Arthur's work, father – " began Mrs. Bonsor.

"Very well then, 'Ettie," said Mr. Triggs, "you better tell A. B. that I'd like to 'ave a little talk with 'im to-morrow afternoon at Streatham, at three o'clock sharp. See? Don't forget!"

Mr. Triggs was angry, and Mrs. Bonsor realised that she had gone too far. Turning to Patricia she said:

"Do you think it would matter if you put off what you are doing until to-morrow, Miss Brent?" she enquired.

"I think I ought to do it now, Mrs. Bonsor," replied Patricia demurely, determined to land Mrs. Bonsor more deeply into the mire if possible.

"Well, if you'll run away and get your hat on, I will explain to Mr. Bonsor when he comes in."

Patricia looked up, Mrs. Bonsor smiled at her, a frosty movement of her lips, from which her eyes seemed to dissociate themselves.

During Patricia's absence Mr. Triggs made it abundantly clear to his daughter that he was displeased with her.

"Look 'ere, 'Ettie, if I 'ear any more of this nonsense," he said, "I'll take on Miss Brent as my own secretary, then I can take her to the Zoo every afternoon if I want to."

A look of fear came into Mrs. Bonsor's eyes. One of the terrors of her life was that some designing woman would get hold of her father and marry him. It did not require a very great effort of the imagination to foresee that the next step would be the cutting off of the allowance Mr. Triggs made his daughter. Suppose Patricia were to marry her father? What a scandal and what a humiliation to be the stepdaughter of her husband's ex-secretary. Mrs. Bonsor determined to capitulate.

"I'm very sorry, father; but if you had let us know we could have arranged differently. However, everything is all right now."

"No, it isn't," said Mr. Triggs peevishly. "You've tried to spoil my afternoon. Fancy you a-coming to the Zoo with me. You with your 'igh and mighty ways. The truth is you're ashamed of your old father, although you ain't ashamed of 'is money."

It was with a feeling of gratitude that Mrs. Bonsor heard Patricia enter the room.

"I'm ready, Mr. Triggs," she announced, smiling.

Mr. Triggs followed her out of the room without a word.

"You'll explain to Mr. Bonsor that I've been kidnapped, will you not?" said Patricia to Mrs. Bonsor, rather from the feeling that something should be said than from any particular desire that Mr. Bonsor should be placated.

"Certainly, Miss Brent," replied Mrs. Bonsor, with another unconvincing smile. "I hope you'll have a pleasant afternoon."

"Tried to spoil my afternoon, she did," mumbled Mr. Triggs in the tone of a child who has discovered that a playmate has endeavoured to rob him of his marbles.

Patricia laughed and, slipping her hand through his arm, said:

"Now, you mustn't be cross, or else you'll spoil my afternoon, and we're going to have such a jolly time together."

Instantly the shadow fell from Mr. Triggs's face and he turned upon Patricia and beamed, pressing her hand against his side. Then with another sudden change he said, "'Ettie annoys me when she's like that; but I've given 'er something to think about," he added, pleased at the recollection of his parting shot.

Patricia smiled at him, she never made any endeavour to probe into the domestic difficulties of the Triggs-Bonsor menage.

"Do you know what I told 'er?" enquired Mr. Triggs.

Patricia shook her head.

"I said that if she wasn't careful I'd engage you as my own secretary. That made 'er sit up." He chuckled at the thought of his master-stroke.

"But you've got nothing for me to secretary, Mr. Triggs," said Patricia, not quite understanding where the joke came.

"Ah! 'Ettie understands. 'Ettie knows that every man that ain't married marries 'is secretary, and she's dead afraid of me marrying."

"Am I to take that as a proposal, Mr. Triggs?" asked Patricia demurely.

Mr. Triggs chuckled.

"Now we'll forget about everything except that we are truants," cried Patricia. "I've earned a holiday, I think. On Sunday and Monday there was Aunt Adelaide, yesterday it was national importance of pigs and – "

"Hi! Hi! Taxi! Taxi!" Mr. Triggs yelled, dashing forward and dragging Patricia after him. A taxi was crossing a street about twenty yards distance. Mr. Triggs was impulsive in all things.

Having secured the taxi and handed Patricia in, he told the man to drive to the Zoo, and sank back with a sigh of pleasure.

"Now we're going to 'ave a very 'appy afternoon, me dear," he said. "Don't you worry about pigs."

Arrived at the Zoo, Mr. Triggs made direct for the monkey-house. Patricia, a little puzzled at his choice, followed obediently. Arrived there he walked round the cages, looking keenly at the animals. Finally selecting a little monkey with a blue face, he pointed it out to Patricia.

"They was just like that little chap," he said eagerly. "That one over there, see 'im eating a nut?"

"Yes, I see him," said Patricia; "but who was just like him?"

"I'll tell you when we get outside. Now come along."

Patricia followed Mr. Triggs, puzzled to account for his strange manner and sudden lack of interest in the monkey-house. They walked along for some minutes in silence, then, when they came to a quiet spot, Mr. Triggs turned to Patricia.

"You see, me dear," he said, "it was there that I asked her."

"That you asked who what?" enquired Patricia, utterly at a loss.

"You see we'd been walking out for nearly a year; I was a foreman then. I 'ad tickets given me for the Zoo one Sunday, so I took 'er. When we was in the monkey-house there was a couple of little chaps just like that blue-faced little beggar we saw just now." There was a note of affection in Mr. Triggs's voice as he spoke of the little blue-faced monkey. "And one of 'em 'ad 'is arm round the other and was a-making love to 'er as 'ard as ever 'e could go," continued Mr. Triggs. "And I says to Emily, just to see 'ow she'd take it, 'That might be you an' me, Emily,' and she blushed and looked down, and then of course I knew, and I asked 'er to marry me. I don't think either of us 'ad cause to regret it," added the old man huskily. "God knows I 'adn't."

Patricia felt that she wanted both to laugh and to cry. She could say nothing, words seemed so hopelessly inadequate.

"You see this is our wedding-day, that's why I wanted to come," continued Mr. Triggs, blinking his eyes, in which there was a suspicious moisture.

"Oh! thank you so much for bringing me," said Patricia, and she knew as she saw the bright smile with which Mr. Triggs looked at her that she had said the right thing.

"Thirty years and never a cross word," he murmured. "She'd 'ave liked you, me dear," he added; "she 'ad wonderful instinct, and everybody loved her. 'Ere, but look at me," he suddenly broke off, "spoilin' your afternoon, and you lookin' so tired. Come along," and Mr. Triggs trotted off in the direction of the seals, who were intimating clearly that they thought that something must be wrong with the official clock. They were quite ready for their meal.

For two hours Patricia and Mr. Triggs wandered about the Zoo, roving from one group of animals to another, behaving rather like two children who had at last escaped from the bondage of the school-room.

After tea they strolled through Regent's Park, watching the squirrels and talking about the thousand and one things that good comrades have to talk about. Mr. Triggs told something of his early struggles, how his wife had always believed in him and been his helpmate and loyal comrade, how he missed her, and how, when she had died, she had urged him to marry again.



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