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Title: Patricia Brent, Spinster
Author: Jenkins, Herbert George, 1876-1923
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Patricia Brent, Spinster" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



PATRICIA BRENT, SPINSTER



BY

HERBERT JENKINS



HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED

3 YORK STREET, LONDON S.W.1

1918



  A
  HERBERT
  JENKINS'
  BOOK


_Fifteenth printing completing 153,658 copies_


MADE AND PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY

PURNELL AND SONS, PAULTON (SOMERSET) AND LONDON



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I.  PATRICIA'S INDISCRETION
    II.  THE BONSOR-TRIGGS' MENAGE
   III.  THE ADVENTURE AT THE QUADRANT GRILL-ROOM
    IV.  THE MADNESS OF LORD PETER BOWEN
     V.  PATRICIA'S REVENGE
    VI.  THE INTERVENTION OF AUNT ADELAIDE
   VII.  LORD PETER PROMISES A SOLUTION
  VIII.  LORD PETER'S S.O.S.
    IX.  LADY TANAGRA TAKES A HAND
     X.  MISS BRENT'S STRATEGY
    XI.  THE DEFECTION OF MR. TRIGGS
   XII.  A BOMBSHELL
  XIII.  A TACTICAL BLUNDER
   XIV.  GALVIN HOUSE MEETS A LORD
    XV.  MR. TRIGGS TAKES TEA IN KENSINGTON GARDENS
   XVI.  PATRICIA'S INCONSTANCY
  XVII.  LADY PEGGY MAKES A FRIEND
 XVIII.  THE AIR RAID
   XIX.  GALVIN HOUSE AFTER THE RAID
    XX.  A RACE WITH SPINSTERHOOD
   XXI.  THE GREATEST INDISCRETION



WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT

Patricia Brent is a "paying guest" at the Galvin House Residential
Hotel.  One day she overhears two of her fellow "guests" pitying her
because she "never has a nice young man to take her out."

In a thoughtless moment of anger she announced that on the following
night she is dining at the Quadrant with her fiancé.  When in due
course she enters the grill-room, she finds some of Galvin Houseites
there to watch her.  Rendered reckless by the thought of the
humiliation of being found out, she goes up to a young staff-officer,
and asks him to help her by "playing up."

This is how she meets Lt.-Col. Lord Peter Bowen, D.S.O.  The story is a
comedy concerned with the complications that ensue from Patricia's
thoughtless act.



PATRICIA BRENT, SPINSTER


CHAPTER I

PATRICIA'S INDISCRETION

"She never has anyone to take her out, and goes nowhere, and yet she
can't be more than twenty-seven, and really she's not bad-looking."

"It's not looks that attract men," there was a note of finality in the
voice; "it's something else."  The speaker snapped off her words in a
tone that marked extreme disapproval.

"What else?" enquired the other voice.

"Oh, it's--well, it's something not quite nice," replied the other
voice darkly, "the French call it being _très femme_.  However, she
hasn't got it."

"Well, I feel very sorry for her and her loneliness.  I am sure she
would be much happier if she had a nice young man of her own class to
take her about."

Patricia Brent listened with flaming cheeks.  She felt as if someone
had struck her.  She recognised herself as the object of the speakers'
comments.  She could not laugh at the words, because they were true.
She _was_ lonely, she had no men friends to take her about, and yet,
and yet----

"Twenty-seven," she muttered indignantly, "and I was only twenty-four
last November."

She identified the two speakers as Miss Elizabeth Wangle and Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe.

Miss Wangle was the great-niece of a bishop, and to have a bishop in
heaven is a great social asset on earth.  This ecclesiastical
distinction seemed to give her the right of leadership at the Galvin
House Residential Hotel.  Whenever a new boarder arrived, the
unfortunate bishop was disinterred and brandished before his eyes.

One facetious young man in the "commercial line" had dubbed her "the
body-snatcher," and, being inordinately proud of his _jeu d'esprit_, he
had worn it threadbare, and Miss Wangle had got to know of it.  The
result was the sudden departure of the wit.  Miss Wangle had intimated
to Mrs. Craske-Morton, the proprietress, that if he remained she would
go.  Mrs. Craske-Morton considered that Miss Wangle gave tone to Galvin
House.

Miss Wangle was acid of speech and barren of pity.  Scandal and "the
dear bishop" were her chief preoccupations.  She regularly read _The
Morning Post_, which she bought, and _The Times_, which she borrowed.
In her attitude towards royalty she was a Jacobite, and of the
aristocracy she knew no wrong.

Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe was Miss Wangle's toady; but she wrapped her venom
in Christian charity, thus making herself the more dangerous of the two.

At Galvin House none dare gainsay these two in their pronouncements.
They were disliked; but more feared than hated.  During the Zeppelin
scare Mr. Bolton, who was the humorist of Galvin House, had fixed a
notice to the drawing-room door, which read: "Zeppelin commanders are
requested to confine their attentions to rooms 8 and 18."  Rooms 8 and
18 were those occupied by Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe.  There
had been a great fuss about this harmless and rather feeble joke; but
fortunately for Mr. Bolton, he had taken care to pin his jest on the
door when no one was looking, and he took the additional precaution of
being foremost in his denunciation of the bad taste shown by the person
responsible for the jest.

Patricia Brent was coming downstairs in response to the dinner-gong,
when, through the partly open door of the lounge, she overheard the
amiable remarks concerning herself.  She passed quietly into the
dining-room and took her seat at the table in silence, mechanically
acknowledging the greetings of her fellow-guests.

At Galvin House the word "guest" was insisted upon.  Mrs.
Craske-Morton, in announcing the advent of a new arrival, reached the
pinnacle of refinement.  "We have another guest coming," she would say,
"a most interesting man," or "a very cultured woman," as the case might
be.  When the man arrived without his interest, or the woman without
her culture, no one was disappointed; for no one had expected anything.
The conventions had been observed and that was all that mattered.

Dinner at Galvin House was rather a dismal affair.  The separate tables
heresy, advocated by a progressive-minded guest, had been once and for
all discouraged by Miss Wangle, who announced that if separate tables
were introduced she, for one, would not stay.

"I remember the dear bishop once saying to me," she remarked, "'My
dear, if people can't say what they have to say at a large table and in
the hearing of others, then let it for ever remain unsaid.'"

"But if someone's dress is awry, or their hair is not on straight,
would you announce the fact to the whole table?" Patricia had
questioned with an innocence that was a little overdone.

Miss Wangle had glared; for she wore the most obvious auburn wig, which
failed to convince anyone, and served only to enhance the pallor of her
sharp features.

In consequence of the table arrangements, conversation during
meal-times was general--and dull.  Mr. Bolton joked, Miss Wangle poured
vinegar on oily waters, Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe "dripped with the oil of
forbearance."  Mr. Cordal ate noisily, Miss Sikkum simpered and Mrs.
Craske-Morton strove to appear a real hostess entertaining real guests
without the damning prefix "paying."

The remaining guests, there were usually round about twenty-five,
looked as they felt they ought to look, and never failed to show a
befitting reverence for Miss Wangle's ecclesiastical relic; for it was
Miss Wangle who issued the social birth certificates at Galvin House.

That evening Patricia was silent.  Mr. Bolton endeavoured to draw her
out, but failed.  As a rule she was the first to laugh at his jokes in
order "to encourage the poor little man," as she expressed it; "for a
man who is fat and bald and a bachelor and thinks he's a humorist wants
all the pity that the world can lavish upon him."

Patricia glanced round the table, from Miss Wangle, lean as a winter
wolf, to Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, fair, chubby and faded, and on to Mr.
Cordal, lantern-jawed and ravenous.  "Were they not all lonely--the
left of God?" Patricia asked herself; and yet two of these solitary
souls had dared to pity her, Patricia Brent.  At least she had
something they did not possess--youth.

The more she thought of the words that had drifted to her through the
half-closed door of the lounge, the more humiliating they appeared.
Her day had been particularly trying and she was tired.  She was in a
mood to see a cyclone in a zephyr, and in a ripple a gigantic wave.
She looked about her once more.  What a fate to be cast among such
people!

The table appointments seemed more than usually irritating that
evening.  The base metal that peeped slyly through the silver of the
forks and spoons, the tapering knives, victims of much cleaning, with
their yellow handles, the salt-cellars, the mustard, browning with
three days' age (mustard was replenished on Sundays only), the anæmic
ferns in "artistic" pots, every defect seemed emphasized.

How she hated it; but most of all the many-shaped and multi-coloured
napkin-rings, at Galvin House known as "serviette-rings."  Variety was
necessary to ensure each guest's personal interest in one particular
napkin.  Did they ever get mixed?  Patricia shuddered at the thought.
At the end of the week, a "serviette" had become a sort of gastronomic
diary.  By Saturday evening (new "serviettes" were served out on Sunday
at luncheon) the square of grey-white fabric had many things recorded
upon it; but above all, like a monarch dominating his subjects, was the
ineradicable aroma of Monday's kipper.

On this particular evening Galvin House seemed more than ever grey and
depressing.  Patricia found herself wondering if God had really made
all these people in His own image.  They seemed so petty, so ungodlike.
The way they regarded their food, as it was handed to them, suggested
that they were for ever engaged in a comparison of what they paid with
what they received.  Did God make people in His own image and then
leave the rest to them?  Was that where free will came in?

"----lonely!"

The word seemed to crash in upon her thoughts with explosive force.
Someone had used it--whom she did not know, or in what relation.  It
brought her back to earth and Galvin House.  "Lonely," that was at the
root of her depression.  She was an object of pity among her
fellow-boarders.  It was intolerable!  She understood why girls "did
things" to escape from such surroundings and such fox-pity.

Had she been a domestic servant she could have hired a soldier, that is
before the war.  Had she been a typist or a shop-girl--well, there were
the park and tubes and things where gallant youth approached fair
maiden.  No, she was just a girl who could not do these things, and in
consequence became the pitied of the Miss Wangles and the Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythes of Bayswater.

She was quite content to be manless, she did not like men, at least not
the sort she had encountered.  There were Boltons and Cordals in
plenty.  There were the "Haven't-we-met-before?" kind too, the hunters
who seemed cheerfully to get out at the wrong station, or pay twopence
on a bus for a penny fare in order to pursue some face that had
attracted their roving eye.

She sighed involuntarily at the ugliness of it all, this cheapening of
the things worthy of reverence and respect.  She looked across at Miss
Sikkum, whose short skirts and floppy hats had involved her in many
unconventional adventures that one glance at her face had corrected as
if by magic.  A back view of Miss Sikkum was deceptive.

Suddenly Patricia made a resolve.  Had she paused to think she would
have seen the danger; but she was by nature impulsive, and the
conversation she had overheard had angered and humiliated her.

Her resolve synchronised with the arrival of the sweet stage.  Turning
to Mrs. Craske-Morton she remarked casually, "I shall not be in to
dinner to-morrow night, Mrs. Morton."

Mrs. Craske-Morton always liked her guests to tell her when they were
not likely to be in to dinner.  "It saves the servants laying an extra
cover," she would explain.  As a matter of fact it saved Mrs.
Craske-Morton preparing for an extra mouth.

If Patricia had hurled a bomb into the middle of the dining-table, she
could not have attracted to herself more attention than by her simple
remark that she was not dining at Galvin House on the morrow.

Everybody stopped eating to stare at her.  Miss Sikkum missed her aim
with a trifle of apple charlotte, and spent the rest of the evening in
endeavouring to remove the stain from a pale blue satin blouse, which
in Brixton is known as "a Paris model."  It was Miss Wangle who broke
the silence.

"How interesting," she said.  "We shall quite miss you, Miss Brent.  I
suppose you are working late."

The whole table waited for Patricia's response with breathless
expectancy.

"No!" she replied nonchalantly.

"I know," said Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, in her even tones, and wagging an
admonitory finger at her.  "You're going to a revue, or a music-hall."

"Or to sow her wild oats," added Mr. Bolton.

Then some devil took possession of Patricia.  She would give them
something to talk about for the next month.  They should have a shock.

"No," she replied indifferently, attracting to herself the attention of
the whole table by her deliberation.  "No, I'm not going to a revue, a
music-hall, or to sow my wild oats.  As a matter of fact," she paused.
They literally hung upon her words.  "As a matter of fact I am dining
with my fiancé."

The effect was electrical.  Miss Sikkum stopped dabbing the front of
her Brixton "Paris model."  Miss Wangle dropped her pince-nez on the
edge of her plate and broke the right-hand glass.  Mr. Cordal, a heavy
man who seldom spoke, but enjoyed his food with noisy gusto, actually
exclaimed, "What?"  Almost without exception the others repeated his
exclamation.

"Your fiancé?" stuttered Miss Wangle.

"But, dear Miss Brent," said Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, "you never told us
that you were engaged."

"Didn't I?" enquired Patricia indifferently.

"And you don't wear a ring," interposed Miss Sikkum eagerly.

"I hate badges of servitude," remarked Patricia with a laugh.

"But an engagement ring," insinuated Miss Sikkum with a self-conscious
giggle.

"One is freer without a ring," replied Patricia.

Miss Wangle's jaw dropped.

"Marriages are----" she began.

"Made in heaven.  I know," broke in Patricia, "but you try wearing
Turkish slippers in London, Miss Wangle, and you'll soon want to go
back to the English boots.  It's silly to make things in one place to
be worn in another; they never fit."

Mrs. Craske-Morton coughed portentously.

"Really, Miss Brent," she exclaimed.

Whenever conversation seemed likely to take an undesirable turn, or she
foresaw a storm threatening, Mrs. Craske-Morton's "Really, Mr.
So-and-so" invariably guided it back into a safe channel.

"But do they?" persisted Patricia.  "Can you, Mrs. Morton, seriously
regard marriage in this country as a success?  It's all because
marriages are made in heaven without taking into consideration our
climatic conditions."

Miss Wangle had lost the power of speech.  Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe was
staring at Patricia as if she had been something strange and unclean
upon which her eyes had never hitherto lighted.  In the eyes of little
Mrs. Hamilton, a delightfully French type of old lady, there was a
gleam of amusement.  Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe was the first to recover the
power of speech.

"Is your fiancé in the army?"

"Yes," replied Patricia desperately.  She had long since thrown over
all caution.

"Oh, tell us his name," giggled Miss Sikkum.

"Brown," said Patricia.

"Is his knapsack number 99?" enquired Mr. Bolton.

"He doesn't wear one," said Patricia, now thoroughly enjoying herself.

"Oh, he's an officer, then," this from Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe.

"Is he a first or a second lieutenant?" enquired Mrs. Craske-Morton.

"Major," responded Patricia laconically.

"What's he in?" was the next question.

"West Loamshires."

"What battalion?" enquired Miss Wangle, who had now regained the power
of speech.  "I have a cousin in the Fifth."

"I am sure I can't remember," said Patricia, "I never could remember
numbers."

"Not remember the number of the battalion in which your fiancé is?"
There was incredulous disapproval in Miss Wangle's voice.

"No!  I'm awfully sorry," replied Patricia, "I suppose it's very horrid
of me; but I'll go upstairs and look it up if you like."

"Oh please don't trouble," said Miss Wangle icily.  "I remember the
dear bishop once saying----"

"And I suppose after dinner you'll go to a theatre," interrupted Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe, for the first time in the memory of the oldest guest
indifferent to the bishop and what he had said, thought, or done.

"Oh, no, it's war time," said Patricia, "we shall just dine quietly at
the Quadrant Grill-room."

A meaning glance passed between Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe and Miss Wangle.
Why she had fixed upon the Quadrant Grill-room Patricia could not have
said.

"And now," said Patricia, "I must run upstairs and see that my best bib
and tucker are in proper condition to be worn before my fiancé.  I'll
tell him what you say about the ring.  Good night, everybody, if we
don't meet again."


"Patricia Brent," admonished Patricia to her reflection in the
looking-glass, as she brushed her hair that night, "you're a most
unmitigated little liar.  You've told those people the wickedest of
wicked lies.  You've engaged yourself to an unknown major in the
British Army.  You're going to dine with him to-morrow night, and
heaven knows what will be the result of it all.  A single lie leads to
so many.  Oh, Patricia, Patricia!" she nodded her head admonishingly at
the reflection in the glass.  "You're really a very wicked young
woman."  Then she burst out laughing.  "At least, I have given them
something to talk about, any old how.  By now they've probably come to
the conclusion that I'm a most awful rip."

Patricia never confessed it to herself, but she was extremely lonely.
Instinctively shy of strangers, she endeavoured to cover up her
self-consciousness by assuming an attitude of nonchalance, and the
result was that people saw only the artificiality.  She had been
brought up in the school of "men are beasts," and she took no trouble
to disguise her indifference to them.  With women she was more popular.
If anyone were ill at Galvin House, it was always Patricia Brent who
ministered to them, sat and read to them, and cheered them through
convalescence back to health.

Her acquaintance with men had been almost entirely limited to those she
had found in the various boarding-houses, glorified in the name of
residential hotels, at which she had stayed.  Five years previously, on
the death of her father, a lawyer in a small country town, she had come
to London and obtained a post as secretary to a blossoming politician.
There she had made herself invaluable, and there she had stayed,
performing the same tasks day after day, seldom going out, since the
war never at all, and living a life calculated to make an acid spinster
of a Venus or a Juno.

"Oh, bother to-morrow!" said Patricia as she got into bed that night;
"it's a long way off and perhaps something will happen before then,"
and with that she switched off the light.



CHAPTER II

THE BONSOR-TRIGGS' MENAGE

The next morning Patricia awakened with a feeling that something had
occurred in her life.  For a time she lay pondering as to what it could
be.  Suddenly memory came with a flash, and she smiled.  That night she
was dining out!  As suddenly as it had come the smile faded from her
lips and eyes, and she mentally apostrophised herself as a little idiot
for what she had done.  Then, remembering Miss Wangle's remark and the
expression on Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe's face, the lines of her mouth
hardened, and there was a determined air about the tilt of her chin.
She smiled again.

"Patricia Brent!  No, that won't do," she broke off.  Then springing
out of bed she went over to the mirror, adjusted the dainty boudoir cap
upon her head and, bowing elaborately to her reflection, said,
"Patricia Brent, I invite you to dine with me this evening at the
Quadrant Grill-room.  I hope you'll be able to come.  How delightful.
We shall have a most charming time."  Then she sat on the edge of the
bed and pondered.

Of course she would have to come back radiantly happy, girls who have
been out with their fiancé's always return radiantly happy.  "That will
mean two _crèmes de menthes_ instead of one, that's another shilling,
perhaps two," she murmured.  Then she must have a good dinner or else
the _crème de menthe_ would get into her head, that would mean about
seven shillings more.  "Oh!  Patricia, Patricia," she wailed, "you have
let yourself in for an expense of at least ten shillings, the point
being is a major in the British Army worth an expenditure of ten
shillings?  We shall----"

She was interrupted by the maid knocking at the door to inform her that
it was her turn for the bath-room.

As Patricia walked across the Park that morning on her way to Eaton
Square, where the politician lived who employed her as private
secretary whilst he was in the process of rising, she pondered over her
last night's announcement.  She was convinced that she had acted
foolishly, and in a way that would probably involve her in not only
expense, but some trouble and inconvenience.

At the breakfast-table the conversation had been entirely devoted to
herself, her fiancé, and the coming dinner together.  Miss Wangle, Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe, and Miss Sikkum, supported by Mrs. Craske-Morton, had
returned to the charge time after time.  Patricia had taken refuge in
her habitual breakfast silence and, finding that they could draw
nothing from her her fellow-guests had proceeded to discuss the matter
among themselves.  It was with a feeling of relief that Patricia rose
from the table.

There was an east wind blowing, and Patricia had always felt that an
east wind made her a materialist.  This morning she was depressed;
there was in her heart a feeling that fate had not been altogether kind
to her.  Her childhood had been spent in a small town on the East Coast
under the care of her father's sister who, when Mrs. Brent died, had
come to keep house for Mr. John Brent and take care of his
five-year-old daughter.  In her aunt Patricia found a woman soured by
life.  What it was that had soured her Patricia could never gather; but
Aunt Adelaide was for ever emphasizing the fact that men were beasts.

Later Patricia saw in her aunt a disappointed woman.  She could
remember as a child examining with great care her aunt's hard features
and angular body, and wondering if she had ever been pretty, and if
anyone had kissed her because they wanted to and not because it was
expected of them.

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 fiancé.

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 _tête-à-tête_.
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 fiancé 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.

Patricia was conscious of bowing and smiling sweetly.  Some
sub-conscious power seemed to take possession of her.  Still wondering
what she should do, she found herself walking head in the air and
perfectly composed, in the direction of the Grill-room.  She was
conscious of being followed by Miss Wangle and her party.  As Patricia
rounded the glass screen a superintendent came up and enquired if she
had a table.  She heard a voice that seemed like and yet unlike her own
answer, "Yes, thank you," and she passed on looking from right to left
as if in search of someone, unconscious of the many glances cast in her
direction.

When about half-way up the long room, just past the bandstand, the
terrible thought came to her of a possible humiliating retreat.  What
was she to do?  Why was she there?  What were her plans?  She looked
about her, hoping that she did not appear so frightened as she felt.
She was conscious of the gaze of a man seated at a table a few yards
off.  He was fair and in khaki.  That was all she knew.  Yes, he was
looking at her intently.

"No, that table won't do!  It is too near to the band."  It was Miss
Wangle's voice behind her.  Without a moment's hesitation her
sub-conscious self once more took possession of Patricia, and she
marched straight up to the fair-haired man in khaki and in a voice loud
enough for Miss Wangle and her party to hear cried:

"Hullo! so here you are, I thought I should never find you."  Then as
he rose she murmured under her breath, "Please play up to me, I'm in an
awful hole.  I'll explain presently."

Without a moment's hesitation the man replied, "You're very late.  I
waited for you a long time outside, then I gave you up."

With a look of gratitude and a sigh of content, Patricia sank down into
the chair a waiter had placed for her.  If there had been no chair, she
would have fallen to the floor, her legs refusing further to support
her body.  She was trembling all over.  Miss Wangle had selected the
next table.  Patricia was conscious of hoping that somewhere in the
next world Miss Wangle's sufferings would transcend those of Dives as a
hundred to one.

As she was pulling off her gloves her companion held a low-toned
colloquy with the waiter.  She stole a glance at him.  What must he be
thinking?  How had he classified her?  Her heart was pounding against
her ribs as if determined to burst through.

Suddenly she remembered that the others were watching and, leaning upon
the table, she said:

"Please pretend to be very pleased to see me.  We must talk a lot.  You
know--you know--" then she turned aside in confusion; but with an
effort she said, "You--you are supposed to be my fiancé, and you've
just come back from France, and--and----  Oh! what are you thinking of
me?  Please--please----" she broke off.

Very gravely and with smiling eyes he replied, "I quite understand.
Please don't worry.  Something has happened, and if I can do anything
to help, you have only to tell me.  My name is Bowen, and I'm just back
from France."

"Are you a major?" enquired Patricia, to whom stars and crowns meant
nothing.

"I'm afraid I'm a lieutenant-colonel," he replied, "on the Staff."

"Oh! what a pity," said Patricia, "I said you were a major."

"Couldn't you say I've been promoted?"

Patricia clapped her hands.  "Oh! how splendid!  Of course!  You see I
said that you were Major Brown, I can easily tell them that they
misunderstood and that it was Major Bowen.  They are such awful cats,
and if they found out I should have to leave.  You see that's some of
them at the next table there.  That's Miss Wangle with the lorgnettes
and the other woman is Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, who is her echo, and the
man is Mr. Bolton.  He's nothing in particular."

"I see," said Bowen.

"And--and--of course you've got to pretend to be most awfully glad to
see me.  You see we haven't met for a long time and--and--we're
engaged."

"I quite understand," was the reply.

Then suddenly Patricia caught his eye and saw the smile in it.

"Oh, how dreadful!" she cried.  "Of course you don't know anything
about it.  I'm talking like a schoolgirl.  You see my name's Patricia,
Patricia Brent," and then she plunged into the whole story, telling him
frankly of her escapade.  He was strangely easy to talk to.

"And--and--" she concluded, "what do you think of me?"

"I think I'd sooner not tell you just now," he smiled.

"Is it as bad as that," she enquired.

Then suddenly the smile faded from his face and he leaned across to
her, saying:

"Miss Brent----"

"I'm afraid you must call me Patricia," she interrupted with a comical
look, "in case they overhear.  It seems rather sudden, doesn't it, and
I shall have to call you----"

"Peter," he said.  He had nice eyes Patricia decided.

"Er--er--Peter," she made a dash at the name.

Bowen sat back in his chair and laughed.  Miss Wangle fixed upon him a
stare through her lorgnettes, not an unfavourable stare, she was
greatly impressed by his rank and red tabs.

After that the ice seemed broken and Patricia and her "fiancé" chatted
merrily together, greatly impressing Patricia's fellow-boarders.

Bowen was a good talker and a sympathetic listener and, above all, his
attitude had in it that deference which put Patricia entirely at her
ease.  She told him all there was to tell about herself and he, in
return, explained that he came of an army family, and had been sent out
to France soon after Mons.  He was then a captain in the Yeomanry.  He
was wounded, promoted, and later received the D.S.O. and M.C.  He had
now been brought back to England and attached to the General Staff.

"Now I think you know all that is necessary to know about your fiancé,"
he had concluded.

Patricia laughed.  "Oh, by the way," she said, "you have never given me
an engagement ring.  Please don't forget that.  They asked me where my
ring was, and I told them I didn't care about rings, as they were
badges of servitude.  You see it is quite possible that Miss Wangle
will come over to us presently.  She's just that sort, and she might
ask awkward questions, that is why I am telling you all about myself."

"I'll remember," said Bowen.

"I'm glad you're a D.S.O., though," she went on, half to herself,
"that's sure to interest them, and it's nice to think you're more than
a major.  Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe are most worldly-minded.
Of course it would have been nicer had you been a field-marshal; but I
suppose you couldn't be promoted from a major to a field-marshal in the
course of a few days, could you?"

"Well, it's not usual," he confessed.

When the meal was over Bowen looked at his watch.

"I'm afraid it's too late for a show, it's a quarter to ten."

"A quarter to ten!" cried Patricia.  "How the time has flown.  I shall
have to be going home."

He noticed preparations for a move at the Wangle table.

"Oh, please, don't hurry!  Let's go upstairs and sit and smoke for a
little time."

"Do you think I ought," enquired Patricia critically, her head on one
side.

"Well," replied Bowen, "I think that you might safely do so as we are
engaged," and that settled it.

They went upstairs, and it was a quarter to eleven before Patricia
finally decided that she must make a move.

"Do you know," she said as she rose, "I am afraid I have enjoyed this
most awfully; but oh! to-morrow morning."

"Shall you be tired?" he enquired.

"Tired!" she queried, "I shall be hot with shame.  I shall not dare to
look at myself in the glass.  I--I shall give myself a most awful time.
For days I shall live in torture.  You see I'm excited now
and--and--you seem so nice, and you've been so awfully kind; but when I
get alone, then I shall start wondering what was in your mind, what you
have been thinking of me, and--and--oh! it will be awful.  No; I'll
come with you while you get your hat.  I daren't be left alone.  It
might come on then and--and I should probably bolt.  Of course I shall
have to ask you to see me home, if you will, because--because----"

"I'm your fiancé," he smiled.

"Ummm," she nodded.

Both were silent as they sped along westward in the taxi, neither
seeming to wish to break the spell.

"Thinking?" enquired Bowen at length, as they passed the Marble Arch.

"I was thinking how perfectly sweet you've been," replied Patricia
gravely.  "You have understood everything and--and--you see I was so
much at your mercy.  Shall I tell you what I was thinking?"

"Please do."

"It sounds horribly sentimental."

"Never mind," he replied.

"Well, I was thinking that your mother would like to know that you had
done what you have done to-night.  And now, please, tell me how much my
dinner was."

"Your dinner!"

"Yes, _ple-e-e-e-ase_," she emphasised the "please."

"You insist?"

And then Patricia did a strange thing.  She placed her hand upon
Bowen's and pressed it.

"Please go on understanding," she said, and he told her how much the
dinner was and took the money from her.

"May I pay for the taxi?" he enquired comically.

For a moment she paused and then replied, "Yes, I think you may do
that, and now here we are," as the taxi drew up, "and thank you very
much indeed, and good-bye."  They were standing on the pavement outside
Galvin House.

"Good-bye," he enquired.  "Do you really mean it?"

"Yes, _ple-e-e-ase_," again she emphasised the "please."

"Patricia," he said in a serious tone, as the door flew open and
Gustave appeared silhouetted against the light, "don't you think that
sometimes we ought to think of the other fellow?"

"I shall always think of the other fellow," and with a pressure of the
hand, Patricia ran up the steps and disappeared into the hall, the door
closing behind her.  Bowen turned slowly and re-entered the taxi.

"Where to, sir?" enquired the man.

"Oh, to hell!" burst out Bowen savagely.

"Yes, sir; but wot about my petrol?"

"Your petrol?  Oh!  I see," Bowen laughed.  "Well! the Quadrant then."

In the hall Patricia hesitated.  Should she go into the lounge, where
she was sure Galvin House would be gathered in full force, or should
she go straight to bed?  Miss Wangle decided the matter by appearing at
the door of the lounge.

"Oh! here you are, Miss Brent; we thought you had eloped."

"Wasn't it strange we should see you to-night?" lisped Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe, who had followed Miss Wangle.

Patricia surveyed Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe with calculating calmness.

"If two people go to the same Grill-room at the same time on the same
evening, it would be strange if they did not see each other.  Don't you
think so, Miss Wangle?"

"Did you say you were going there?" lisped Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, coming
to Miss Wangle's assistance.  "We forgot."

"Oh, do come in, Miss Brent!"  It was Mrs. Craske-Morton who spoke.

Patricia entered the lounge and found, as she had anticipated, the
whole establishment collected.  Not one was missing.  Even Gustave
fluttered about from place to place, showing an unwonted desire to tidy
up.  Patricia was conscious that her advent had interrupted a
conversation of absorbing interest, furthermore that she herself had
been the subject of that conversation.

"Miss Wangle has been telling us all about your fiancé."  It was Miss
Sikkum who spoke.  "Fancy your saying he was a major when he's a Staff
lieutenant-colonel."

"Oh!" replied Patricia nonchalantly, as she pulled off her gloves,
"they've been altering him.  They always do that in the Army.  You get
engaged to a captain and you find you have to marry a general.  It's so
stupid.  It's like buying a kitten and getting a kangaroo-pup sent
home."

"But aren't you pleased?" enquired Mrs. Craske-Morton, at a loss to
understand Patricia's mood.

"No!" snapped Patricia, who was already feeling the reaction.  "It's
like being engaged to a chameleon, or a quick-change artist.  They've
made him a 'R.S.O.' as well."  Under her lashes Patricia saw, with keen
appreciation, the quick glances that were exchanged.

"You mean a D.S.O., Distinguished Service Order," explained Mr. Bolton.
"An R.S.O. is er--er--something you put on letters."

"Is it?" enquired Patricia innocently, "I'm so stupid at remembering
such things."

"He was wearing the ribbon of the Military Cross, too," bubbled Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe.

"Was he?"  Patricia was afraid of overdoing the pose of innocence she
had adopted.  "What a nuisance."

"A nuisance!"  There was surprised impatience in Miss Wangle's voice.

Patricia turned to her sweetly.  "Yes, Miss Wangle.  It gives me such a
lot to remember.  Now let me see."  She proceeded to tick off each word
upon her fingers.  "He's a Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Bowen, D.S.O., M.C.
Is that right?"

"Bowen," almost shrieked Miss Wangle.  "You said Brown."

"Did I?  I'm awfully sorry.  My memory's getting worse than ever."
Then a wave of mischief took possession of her.  "Do you know when I
went up to him to-night I hadn't the remotest idea of what his
Christian name was."

"Then what on earth do you call him then?" cried Mrs. Craske-Morton.

"Call him?" queried Patricia, as she rose and gathered up her gloves.
"Oh!" indifferently, "I generally call him 'Old Thing,'" and with that
she left the lounge, conscious that she had scored a tactical victory.



CHAPTER IV

THE MADNESS OF LORD PETER BOWEN

When Patricia awakened the next morning, it was with the feeling that
she had suffered some terrible disappointment.  As a child she
remembered experiencing the same sensation on the morning after some
tragedy that had resulted in her crying herself to sleep.  She opened
her eyes and was conscious that her lashes were wet with tears.
Suddenly the memory of the previous night's adventure came back to her
with a rush and, with an angry dab of the bedclothes, she wiped her
eyes, just as the maid entered with the cup of early-morning tea she
had specially ordered.

With inspiration she decided to breakfast in bed.  She could not face a
whole table of wide-eyed interrogation.  "Oh, the cats!" she muttered
under her breath.  "I hate women!"  Later she slipped out of the house
unobserved, with what she described to herself as a "morning after the
party" feeling.  She was puzzled to account for the tears.  What had
she been dreaming of to make her cry?

Every time the thought of her adventure presented itself, she put it
resolutely aside.  She was angry with herself, angry with the world,
angry with one Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Bowen.  Why, she could not have
explained.

"Oh, bother!" she exclaimed, as she made a fourth correction in the
same letter.  "Going out is evidently not good for you, Patricia."

She spent the day alternately in wondering what Bowen was thinking of
her, and deciding that he was not thinking of her at all.  Finally,
with a feeling of hot shame, she remembered to what thoughts she had
laid herself open.  Her one consolation was that she would never see
him again.  Then, woman-like, she wondered whether he would make an
effort to see her.  Would he be content with his dismissal?

For the first time during their association, the rising politician was
conscious that his secretary was anxious to get off sharp to time.  At
five minutes to five she resolutely put aside her notebook, and banged
the cover on to her typewriter.  Mr. Bonsor looked up at this unwonted
energy and punctuality on Patricia's part, and with a tactful interest
in the affairs of others that he was endeavouring to cultivate for
political purposes, he enquired:

"Going out?"

"No," snapped Patricia, "I'm going home."

Mr. Bonsor raised his eyebrows in astonishment.  He was a mild-mannered
man who had learned the value of silence when faced by certain phases
of feminine psychological phenomena.  He therefore made no comment; but
he watched his secretary curiously as she swiftly left the room.

Jabbing the pins into her hat and throwing herself into her coat,
Patricia was walking down the steps of the rising politician's house in
Eaton Square as the clock struck five.  She walked quickly in the
direction of Sloane Square Railway Station.  Suddenly she slackened her
speed.  Why was she hurrying home?  She felt herself blushing hotly,
and became furiously angry as if discovered in some humiliating act.
Then with one of those odd emotional changes characteristic of her, she
smiled.

"Patricia Brent," she murmured, "I think a little walk won't do you any
harm," and she strolled slowly up Sloane Street and across the Park to
Bayswater.

Her hand trembled as she put the key in the door and opened it.  She
looked swiftly in the direction of the letter-rack; but her eyes were
arrested by two boxes, one very large and obviously from a florist.  A
strange excitement seized her.  "Were they----?"

At that moment Miss Sikkum came out of the lounge simpering.

"Oh, Miss Brent! have you seen your beautiful presents?"

Then Patricia knew, and she became angry with herself on finding how
extremely happy she was.  Glancing almost indifferently at the labels
she proceeded to walk upstairs.  Miss Sikkum looked at her in amazement.

"But aren't you going to open them?" she blurted out.

"Oh! presently," said Patricia in an off-hand way, "I had no idea it
was so late," and she ran upstairs, leaving Miss Sikkum gazing after
her in petrified astonishment.

That evening Patricia took more than usual pains with her toilette.
Had she paused to ask herself why, she would have been angry.

When she came downstairs, the other boarders were seated at the table,
all expectantly awaiting her entrance.  On the table, in the front of
her chair, were the two boxes.

"I had your presents brought in here, Miss Brent," explained Mrs.
Craske-Morton.

"Oh!  I had forgotten all about them," said Patricia indifferently, "I
suppose I had better open them," which she proceeded to do.

The smaller box contained chocolates, as Mr. Bolton put it, "evidently
bought by the hundred-weight."  The larger of the boxes was filled with
an enormous spray-bunch of white and red carnations, tied with green
silk ribbon, and on the top of each box was a card, "With love from
Peter."

Patricia's cheeks burned.  She was angry, she told herself, yet there
was a singing in her heart and a light in her eyes that oddly belied
her.  He had not forgotten!  He had dared to disobey her injunction;
for, she told herself, "good-bye" clearly forbade the sending of
flowers and chocolates.  She was unconscious that every eye was upon
her, and the smile with which she regarded now the flowers, now the
chocolates, was self-revelatory.

Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe glanced significantly at Miss Wangle, who,
however, was too occupied in watching Patricia with hawk-like
intentness to be conscious of anything but the quarry.

Suddenly Patricia remembered, and her face changed.  The flowers faded,
the chocolates lost their sweetness and the smile vanished.  The parted
lips set in a firm but mobile line.  What had before been a tribute now
became in her eyes an insult.  Men sent chocolates and flowers to--to
"those women"!  If he respected her he would have done as she commanded
him, instead of which he had sent her presents.  Oh! it was intolerable.

"If I sent flowers and chocolates to a lady friend," said Mr. Bolton,
"I should expect her to look happier than you do, Miss Brent."

With an effort Patricia gathered herself together and with a forced
smile replied, "Ah!  Mr. Bolton, but you are different," which seemed
to please Mr. Bolton mightily.

She was conscious that everyone was looking at her in surprise not
unmixed with disapproval.  She was aware that her attitude was not the
conventional pose of the happily-engaged girl.  The situation was
strange.  Even Mr. Cordal was bestowing upon her a portion of his
attention.  It is true that he was eating curry with a spoon, which
required less accuracy than something necessitating a knife and fork;
still at meal times it was unusual of him to be conscious even of the
existence of his fellow-boarders.

It was Gustave who relieved the situation by handing to Patricia a
telegram on the little tray where the silver had long since given up
the unequal struggle with the base metal beneath.  Patricia with
assumed indifference laid it beside her plate.

"The boy ees waiting, mees," insinuated Gustave.

Patricia tore open the envelope and read: "May I come and see you this
evening dont say no peter."

Patricia was conscious of her flushed face and she felt irritated at
her own weakness.  With a murmured apology to Mrs. Morton she rose from
the table and went into the lounge where she wrote the reply: "Regret
impossible remember your promise," then she paused.  She did not want
to sign her full name, she could not sign her Christian name she
decided, so she compromised by using initials only, "P.B."  She took
the telegram to the door herself, knowing that otherwise poor Gustave's
life would be a misery at the hands of Miss Wangle, Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe and the others.

"Why had she given the boy sixpence?" she asked herself as she slowly
returned to the dining-room.  Telegraph boys were paid.  It was
ridiculous to tip them, especially when they brought undesirable
messages.  "Was the message undesirable?" someone within seemed to
question.  Of course it was, and she was very angry with Bowen for not
doing as she had commanded him.

When Patricia returned to the table and proceeded with the meal, she
was conscious of the atmosphere of expectancy around her.  Everybody
wanted to know what was in the telegram.

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 fiancé 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."

"Do you think I'm a cormorant, as well as an abandoned person?" she
demanded.

"A cormorant?" queried Bowen, ignoring the second question.  "I don't
understand."

"Within twenty-four hours you have sent me enough chocolates to last
for a couple of months."

"Poor Patricia!" he laughed.

"You mustn't call me Patricia, Colonel Bowen," she said primly.  "What
will people think?"

"What would they think if they heard the man you're engaged to call you
Miss Brent?"

"We are not engaged," said Patricia hotly.

"We are," his eyes smiled into hers.  "I can bring all these people
here to prove it on your own statement."

She bit her Up.  "Are you going to be mean?  Are you going to play the
game?"  She awaited his reply with an anxiety she strove to disguise.

Bowen looked straight into her eyes until they fell beneath his gaze.

"I'm afraid I've got to be mean, Patricia," he said quietly.  "May we
smoke?"

As she took a cigarette from his case and he lighted it for her,
Patricia found herself experiencing a new sensation.  Without apparent
effort he had assumed control of the situation, and then with a
masterfulness that she felt rather than acknowledged, had put the
subject aside as if requiring no further comment.  This was a side of
Bowen's character that she had not yet seen.  As she was debating with
herself whether or no she liked it, the door opened, giving access to a
stream of Galvin Houseites.

"Oh!" gasped Patricia hysterically, "they're all dressed up, and it's
in your honour."

"What's that?" enquired Bowen, less mentally agile than Patricia, as he
turned round to gaze at the string of paying guests that oozed into the
room.

"They've put on their best bibs and tuckers for you," she cried.  "Oh!
please don't even smile, _ple-e-e-ase_!"

The first to enter was Miss Wangle.  Although she had not changed her
dress, it was obvious that she had taken considerable pains with her
personal appearance.  On her fingers were more than the usual weight of
rings; round her neck were flung a few additional chains; on her arms
hung an extra bracelet or two and, as a final touch, she had added a
fan to her equipment.  To Patricia's keen eyes it was clear that she
had re-done her hair, and she carried her lorgnettes, things that in
themselves betokened a ceremonial occasion.

Following Miss Wangle like an echo came Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe.  She had
evidently taken her courage in both hands and donned the blue evening
frock, to which she had added a pair of white gloves which reached
barely to the elbow, although the frock ended just below her shoulders.

Miss Wangle bowed graciously to Patricia, Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe followed
suit.  They moved over to the extreme end of the room.  Mr. Cordal was
the next arrival, closely followed by Mr. Bolton.  At the sight of Mr.
Cordal Patricia started and bit her lower lip.  He had assumed a vivid
blue tie, and had obviously changed his collar.  From the darker spots
on his waistcoat and coat it was evident that he had subjected his
clothes to a vigorous process of cleaning.

Mr. Bolton, on the other hand, had followed Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe's
lead, and made a clean sweep.  He had assumed a black frock-coat; but
had apparently not thought it worth while to change his brown tweed
trousers, which hung about his boots in shapeless folds, as if
conscious that they had no right there.  He, too, had donned a clean
collar and, by way of adding to his splendour, had assumed a white
satin necktie threaded through a "diamond" ring.  His thin dark hair
was generously oiled and, as he passed over to the side of the room
occupied by Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, he left behind him a
strong odour of verbena.

Mrs. Barnes came next and, one by one, the other guests drifted in.
All had assumed something in the nature of a wedding garment in honour
of Patricia's fiancé.  Miss Sikkum had selected a pea-green satin
blouse, which caused Bowen to screw his eyeglass vigorously into his
eye and gaze at her in wonder.

"Do you like them?" It was Patricia who broke the silence.

With a start Bowen turned to her.  "Er--er--they seem an er--awfully
decent crowd."

Patricia laughed.  "Yes, aren't they?  Dreadfully decent.  How would
you like to live among them all?  Why they haven't the pluck to break a
commandment among them."

Bowen looked at Patricia in surprise.  "Really!" was the only remark he
could think of.

"And now I've shocked you!" cried Patricia.  "You must not think that I
like people who break commandments.  I don't know exactly what I do
mean.  Oh, here you are!" and she ran across as Mrs. Hamilton entered
and drew her towards Bowen.  "Now I know what I meant.  This dear
little creature has never broken a commandment, I wouldn't mind betting
everything I have, and she has never been uncharitable to anyone who
has.  Isn't that so?"  She turned to Mrs. Hamilton, who was regarding
her in astonishment.  "Oh, I'm so sorry!  I'm quite mad to-night, you
mustn't mind.  You see Colonel Bowen's mad and he makes me mad."

Turning to Bowen she introduced him to Mrs. Hamilton.  "This is my
friend, Mrs. Hamilton." Then to Mrs. Hamilton.  "You know all about
Colonel Bowen, don't you, dear?  He's the man who sends me
conservatories and telegrams and boy-messengers and things."

Mrs. Hamilton smiled up sweetly at Bowen, and held out her hand.

Patricia glanced across at the group at the other end of the lounge.
The scene reminded her of Napoleon on the _Bellerophon_.

Suddenly she had an idea.  It synchronised with the entry of Gustave,
who stood just inside the door smiling inanely.

"Call a taxi for Colonel Bowen, please, Gustave," she said coolly.

Gustave looked surprised, the group looked disappointed, Bowen looked
at Patricia with a puzzled expression.

"I'm sorry you're in a hurry," said Patricia, holding out her hand to
Bowen.  "I'm busy also."

"But----" began Bowen.

"Oh! don't trouble."  Patricia advanced, and he had perforce to retreat
towards the door.  "See you again sometime.  Good-bye," and Bowen found
himself in the hall.

"Damn!" he muttered.

"Sir?" interrogated Gustave anxiously.

As Bowen was replying to Gustave in coin, Mrs. Craske-Morton appeared
at the head of the stairs on her way down to the lounge after her
tactful absence.  For a moment she hesitated in obvious surprise, then,
with the air of a would-be traveller who hears the guard's whistle, she
threw dignity aside and made for Bowen.

"Colonel Bowen?" she interrogated anxiously.

Bowen turned and bowed.

"I am Mrs. Craske-Morton.  Miss Brent did not tell me that you were
making so short a call, or I would----"  Mrs. Craske-Morton's pause
implied that nothing would have prevented her from hurrying down.

"You are very kind," murmured Bowen absently, not yet recovered from
his unceremonious dismissal.  He was brought back to realities by Mrs.
Craske-Morton expressing a hope that he would give her the pleasure of
dining at Galvin House one evening.  "Shall we say Friday?" she
continued without allowing Bowen time to reply, "and we will keep it as
a delightful surprise for Miss Brent."  Mrs. Craske-Morton exposed her
teeth and felt romantic.

When Bowen left Galvin House that evening he was pledged to give
Patricia "a delightful surprise" on the following Friday.


"That will teach them to pity me!" murmured Patricia that night as she
brushed her hair with what seemed entirely unnecessary vigour.  She was
conscious that she was the best-hated girl in Bayswater, as she
recalled the angry and reproachful looks directed towards her by her
fellow-guests after Bowen's departure.

In an adjoining room Miss Wangle, a black cap upon her head, was also
engaged in brushing her hair with a gentleness foreign to most of her
actions.

"The cat!" she murmured as she lay it in its drawer, and then as she
locked the drawer she repeated, "The cat!"



CHAPTER VI

THE INTERVENTION OF AUNT ADELAIDE

Sunday at Galvin House was a day of bodily rest but acute mental
activity.  The day of God seemed to draw out the worst in everybody;
all were in their best clothes and on their worst behaviour.  Mr.
Cordal descended to breakfast in carpet slippers with fur tops.  Miss
Wangle regarded this as a mark of disrespect towards the grand-niece of
a bishop.  She would glare at Mr. Cordal's slippers as if convinced
that the cloven hoof were inside.

Mr. Bolton sported a velvet smoking-jacket, white at the elbows, light
grey trousers and a manner that seemed to say, "Ha! here's Sunday
again, good!"  After breakfast he added a fez and a British cigar to
his equipment, and retired to the lounge to read _Lloyd's News_.  Both
the cigar and the newspaper lasted him throughout the day.  Somewhere
at the back of his mind was the conviction that in smoking a cigar,
which he disliked, he was making a fitting distinction between the
Sabbath and week-days.  He went even further, for whereas on secular
days he lit his inexpensive cigarettes with matches, on the Sabbath he
used only fusees.

"I love the smell of fusees," Miss Sikkum would simper, regardless of
the fact that a hundred times before she had taken Galvin House into
her confidence on the subject.  "I think they're so romantic."

Patricia wondered if Mr. Bolton's fusee were an offering to heaven or
to Miss Sikkum.

On Sunday mornings Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe went to divine
service at Westminster Abbey, and Mr. Cordal went to sleep in the
lounge.

Mrs. Barnes wandered aimlessly about, making anxious enquiry of
everyone she encountered.  If it were cloudy, did they think it would
rain?  If it rained, did they think it would clear up?  If it were
fine, did they think it would last?  Mrs. Barnes was always going to do
something that was contingent upon the weather.  Every Sunday she was
going for a walk in the Park, or to church; but her constitutional
indecision of character intervened.

Mr. Archibald Sefton, who showed the qualities of a landscape gardener
in the way in which he arranged his thin fair hair to disguise the
desert of baldness beneath, was always vigorous on Sundays.  He
descended to the dining-room rubbing his hands in a manner suggestive
of a Dickens Christmas.  After breakfast he walked in the Park, "to
give the girls a treat," as Mr. Bolton had once expressed it, which had
earned for him a stern rebuke from Miss Wangle.  In the afternoon Mr.
Sefton returned to the Park, and in the evening yet again.

Mr. Sefton had a secret that was slowly producing in him misanthropy.
His nature was tropical and his courage arctic, which, coupled with his
forty-five years, was a great obstacle to his happiness.  In dress he
was a dandy, at heart he was a craven and, never daring, he was
consumed with his own fire.

The other guests at Galvin House drifted in and out, said the same
things, wore the same clothes, with occasional additions, had the same
thoughts; whilst over all, as if to compose the picture, brooded the
reek of cooking.

The atmosphere of Galvin House was English, the cooking was English,
and the lack of culinary imagination also was English.  There were two
and a half menus for the one o'clock Sunday dinner.  Roast mutton,
onion sauce, cabbage, potatoes, fruit pie, and custard; alternated for
four weeks with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower, roast
potatoes, and lemon pudding.  Then came roast pork, apple sauce,
potatoes, greens with stewed fruit and cheese afterwards.

The cuisine was in itself a calendar.  If your first Sunday were a
roast-pork Sunday, you knew without mental effort on every roast-pork
Sunday exactly how many months you had been there.  If for a moment you
had forgotten the day, and found yourself toying with a herring at
dinner, you knew it was a Tuesday, just as you knew it was Friday from
the Scotch broth placed before you.

Nobody seemed to mind the dreary reiteration, because everybody was so
occupied in keeping up appearances.  Sunday was the day of reckoning
and retrospection.  "Were they getting full value for their money?" was
the unuttered question.  There were whisperings and grumblings,
sometimes complaints.  Then there was another aspect.  Each guest had
to enquire if the expenditure were justified by income.  All these
things, like the weekly mending, were kept for Sundays.

By tea-time the atmosphere was one of unrest.  Mr. Sefton returned from
the Park disappointed, Miss Sikkum from Sunday-school, breathless from
her flight before some alleged admirer, Patricia from her walk,
conscious of a dissatisfaction she could not define.  Mr. Cordal awoke
unrefreshed, Mrs. Craske-Morton emerged from her "boudoir," where she
balanced the week's accounts, convinced that ruin stared her in the
face owing to the tonic qualities of Bayswater air, and Mr. Bolton
emerged from _Lloyd's News_ facetious.  Miss Wangle was acid, Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe ultra-forbearing, whilst Mrs. Barnes found it
impossible to decide between a heart-cake and a rusk.  Only Mrs.
Hamilton, at work upon her inevitable knitting, seemed human and
content.

On returning to Galvin House Patricia had formed a habit of
instinctively casting her eyes in the direction of the letter-rack,
beneath which was the table on which parcels were placed that they
might be picked up as the various guests entered on their way to their
rooms.  She took herself severely to task for this weakness, but in
spite of her best efforts, her eyes would wander towards the table and
letter-rack.  At last she had to take stern measures with herself and
deliberately walk along the hall with her face turned to the left, that
is to the side opposite from that of the letter-rack table.

On the Sunday afternoon following her adventure at the Quadrant
Grill-room, Patricia entered Galvin House, her head resolutely turned
to the left, and ran into Gustave.

"Oh, mees!" he exclaimed, his gentle, cow-like face expressing pained
surprise, rather than indignation.

Gustave was a Swiss, a French-Swiss, he was emphatic on this point.
Patricia said he was Swiss wherever he wasn't French, and German
wherever he wasn't Swiss and French.

"I am so sorry, Gustave," apologised Patricia.  "I wasn't looking where
I was going."

Gustave smiled amiably, Patricia was a great favourite of his.  "There
is a lady in the looaunge, Mees Brent, the same as you."  Gustave
smiled broadly as if he had discovered some subtle joke in the
duplication of Patricia's name.

"Oh, bother!" muttered Patricia to herself.  "Aunt Adelaide, imagine
Aunt Adelaide on an afternoon like this."

She entered the lounge wearily, to find Miss Brent the centre of a
group, the foremost in which were Mrs. Craske-Morton, Miss Wangle, and
Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe.  Patricia groaned in spirit; she knew exactly
what had been taking place, and now she would have to explain
everything.  Could she explain?  Had she for one moment paused to think
of Aunt Adelaide, no amount of frenzy or excitement would have prompted
her to such an adventure.  Miss Brent would probe the mystery out of a
ghost.  Material, practical, levelheaded, victorious, she would strip
romance from a legend, or glamour from a myth.

As she entered the lounge, Patricia saw by the movement of Miss
Wangle's lips that she was saying "Ah! here she is."  Miss Brent turned
and regarded her niece with a long, non-committal stare.  Patricia
walked over to her.

"Hullo, Aunt Adelaide!  Who would have thought of seeing you here."

Miss Brent looked up at her, received the frigid kiss upon one cheek
and returned it upon the other.

"A peck for a peck," muttered Patricia to herself under her breath.

"We've been talking about you," said Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe
ingratiatingly.

"How strange," announced Patricia indifferently.  "Well, Aunt
Adelaide," she continued, turning to Miss Brent, "this is an unexpected
pleasure.  How is it you are dissipating in town?"

"I want to speak to you, Patricia.  Is there a quiet corner where we
shall not be overheard?"

Miss Wangle started, Mrs. Craske-Morton rose hurriedly and made for the
door.  Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe looked uncomfortable.  Miss Brent's
directness was a thing dreaded by all who knew her.

"You had better come up to my room, Aunt Adelaide," said Patricia.

As she reached the door, Mrs. Craske-Morton turned.  "Oh!  Miss Brent,"
she said, addressing Patricia, "would you not like to take your aunt
into my boudoir?  It is entirely at your disposal."

Mrs. Craske-Morton's "boudoir" was a small cupboard-like apartment in
which she made up her accounts.  It was as much like a boudoir as a
starveling mongrel is like an aristocratic chow.  Patricia smiled her
thanks.  One of Patricia's great points was that she could smile an
acknowledgment in a way that was little less than inspiration.

When they reached the "boudoir," Miss Brent sat down with a suddenness
and an air of aggression that left Patricia in no doubt as to the
nature of the talk she desired to have with her.

Miss Brent was a tall, angular woman, with spinster shouting from every
angle of her uncomely person.  No matter what the fashion, she seemed
to wear her clothes all bunched up about her hips.  Her hair was
dragged to the back of her head, and crowned by a hat known in the dim
recesses of the Victorian past as a "boater."  A veil clawed what
remained of the hair and hat towards the rear, and accentuated the
sharpness of her nose and the fleshlessness of her cheeks.  Miss Brent
looked like nothing so much as an aged hawk in whom the lust to prey
still lingered, without the power of making the physical effort to
capture it.

"Patricia," she demanded, "what is all this I hear?"

"If you've been talking to Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe, Aunt
Adelaide, heaven only knows what you've heard," replied Patricia calmly.

"Patricia."  Miss Brent invariably began her remarks by uttering the
name of the person whom she addressed.  "Patricia, you know perfectly
well what I mean."

"I should know better, if you would tell me," murmured Patricia with a
patient sigh as she seated herself in the easiest of the uneasy chairs,
and proceeded to pull off her gloves.

"Patricia, I refer to these stories about your being engaged."

"Yes, Aunt Adelaide?"

"Have you nothing to say?"

"Nothing in particular.  People get engaged, you know.  I suppose it is
because they've got nothing else to do."

"Patricia, don't be frivolous."

"Frivolous!  Me frivolous!  Aunt Adelaide!  If you were a secretary to
a brainless politician, who is supposed to rise, but who won't rise,
can't rise, and never will rise, from ten until five each day, for the
magnificent salary of two and a half guineas a week, even you wouldn't
be able to be frivolous."

"Patricia!"  There was surprised disapproval in Miss Brent's voice.
"Are you mad?"

"No, Aunt Adelaide, just bored, just bored stiff."  Patricia emphasised
the word "stiff" in a way that brought Miss Brent into an even more
upright position.

"Patricia, I wish you would change your idiom.  Your flagrant vulgarity
would have deeply pained your poor, dear father."

Patricia made no response; she simply looked as she felt, unutterably
bored.  She was incapable even of invention.  Supposing she told her
aunt the whole story, at least she would have the joy of seeing the
look of horror that would overspread her features.

"Patricia," continued Miss Brent, "I repeat, what is this I hear about
your being engaged?"

"Oh!" replied Patricia indifferently, "I suppose you've heard the
truth; I've got engaged."

"Without telling me a word about it."

"Oh, well! those are nasty things, you know, that one doesn't
advertise."

"Patricia!"

"Well, aunt, you say that all men are beasts, and if you associate with
beasts, you don't like the world to know about it."

"Patricia!" repeated Miss Brent.

"Aunt Adelaide!" cried Patricia, "you make me feel that I absolutely
hate my name.  I wish I'd been numbered.  If you say 'Patricia' again I
shall scream."

"Is it true that you are engaged to Lord Peter Bowen?"

"Good Lord, no."  Patricia sat up in astonishment.

"Then that woman in the lounge is a liar."

There was uncompromising conviction in Miss Brent's tone.

Patricia leaned forward and smiled.  "Aunt Adelaide, you are singularly
discriminating to-day.  She is a liar, and she also happens to be a
cat."

Miss Brent appeared not to hear Patricia's remark.  She was occupied
with her own thoughts.  She possessed a masculine habit of thinking
before she spoke, and in consequence she was as devoid of impulse and
spontaneity as a snail.

Patricia watched her aunt covertly, her mind working furiously.  What
could it mean?  Lord Peter Bowen!  Miss Wangle was not given to making
mistakes in which the aristocracy were concerned.  At Galvin House she
was the recognised authority upon anything and everything concerned
with royalty and the titled and landed gentry.  County families were
her hobbies and the peerage her obsession.  It would be just like
Peter, thought Patricia, to turn out a lord, just the ridiculous,
inconsequent sort of thing he would delight in.  She was unconscious of
any incongruity in thinking of him as Peter.  It seemed the natural
thing to do.

She saw by the signs on her aunt's face that she was nearing a
decision.  Conscious that she must not burn her boats, Patricia burst
in upon Miss Brent's thoughts with a suddenness that startled her.

"If Miss Wangle desires to discuss my friends with you in future, Aunt
Adelaide, I think she should adopt the names by which they prefer to be
known."

Patricia watched the surprised look upon her aunt's face, and with
dignity met the keen hawk-like glance that flashed from her eyes.

"If, for reasons of his own," continued Patricia, "a man chooses to
drop his title in favour of his rank in the army, that I think is a
matter for him to decide, and not one that requires discussion at Miss
Wangle's hands."

Miss Brent's stare convinced Patricia that she was carrying things off
rather well.

"Patricia, where did you meet this Colonel Peter Bowen?"

The question came like a thunder-clap to Patricia's unprepared ears.
All her self-complacency of a moment before now deserted her.

She felt her face crimsoning.  How she envied girls who did not blush.
What on earth could she tell her aunt?  Why had an undiscriminating
Providence given her an Aunt Adelaide at all?  Why had it not bestowed
this inestimable treasure upon someone more deserving?  What could she
say?  As well think of lying to Rhadamanthus as to Miss Brent.  Then
Patricia had an inspiration.  She would tell her aunt the truth,
trusting to her not to believe it.

"Where did I meet him, Aunt Adelaide?" she remarked indifferently.
"Oh!  I picked him up in a restaurant; he looked nice."

"Patricia, how dare you say such a thing before me."  A slight flush
mantled Miss Brent's sallow cheeks.  All the proprieties, all the
chastities and all the moralities banked up behind her in moral support.

"You ought to feel ashamed of yourself, Patricia.  London has done you
no good.  What would your poor dear father have said?"

"I'm sorry, Aunt Adelaide; but please remember I've had a very tiring
week, trying to leaven an unleavenable politician.  Shall we drop the
subject of Colonel Bowen for the time being?"

"Certainly not," snapped Miss Brent.  "It is my duty as your sole
surviving relative," how Patricia deplored that word "surviving," why
had her Aunt Adelaide survived?  "As your sole surviving relative,"
repeated Miss Brent, "it is my duty to look after your welfare."

"But," protested Patricia, "I'm nearly twenty-five, and I am quite able
to look after myself."

"Patricia, it is my duty to look after you."  Miss Brent spoke as if
she were about to walk over heated ploughshares rather than to satisfy
a natural curiosity.

"I repeat," proceeded Miss Brent, "where did you meet Colonel Bowen?"

"I have told you, Aunt Adelaide, but you won't believe me."

"I want to know the truth, Patricia.  Is he really Lord Peter?"
persisted Miss Brent.

"To be quite candid, I've never asked him," replied Patricia.

Miss Brent stared at her niece.  The obviously feminine thing was to
express surprise; but Miss Brent never did the obvious thing.  Instead
of repeating, "Never asked him!" she remained silent for some moments
while Patricia, with great intentness, proceeded to jerk her gloves
into shape.

"Patricia, you are mad!"  Miss Brent spoke with conviction.

Patricia glanced up from her occupation and smiled at her aunt as if
entirely sharing her conviction.

"It's the price of spinsterhood with some women," was all she said.

Miss Brent glared at her; but there was more than a spice of curiosity
in her look.

"Then you decline to tell me?" she enquired.  There was in her voice a
note that told of a mind made up.

Patricia knew from past experience that her aunt had made up her mind
as to her course of action.

"Tell you what?" she enquired innocently.

"Whether or no the Colonel Bowen you are engaged to is Lord Peter
Bowen."

Patricia determined to temporise in order to gain time.  She knew Aunt
Adelaide to be capable of anything, even to calling upon Lord Peter
Bowen's family and enquiring if it were he to whom her niece was
engaged.  She was too bewildered to know how to act.  It would be so
like this absurd person to turn out to be a lord and make her still
more ridiculous.  If he were Lord Peter, why on earth had he not told
her?  Had he thought she would be dazzled?

Suddenly there flashed into Patricia's mind an explanation which caused
her cheeks to flame and her eyes to flash.  She strove to put the idea
aside as unworthy of him; but it refused to leave her.  She had heard
of men giving false names to girls they met--in the way she and Bowen
had met.  He had, then, in spite of his protestations, mistaken her.
In all probability he was not staying at the Quadrant at all.  What a
fool she had been.  She had told all about herself, whereas he had told
her nothing beyond the fact that his name was Peter Bowen.  Oh, it was
intolerable, humiliating!

The worst of it was that she seemed unable to extricate herself from
the ever-increasing tangle arising out of her folly.  Miss Wangle and
Galvin House had been sufficiently serious factors, requiring all her
watchfulness to circumvent them; but now Aunt Adelaide had thrown
herself precipitately into the mêlée, and heaven alone knew what would
be the outcome!

Had her aunt been a man or merely a woman, Patricia argued, she would
not have been so dangerous; but she possessed the deliberate logic of
the one and the quickness of perception of the other.  With her
feminine eye she could see, and with her man-like brain she could judge.

Patricia felt that the one thing to do was to get rid of her aunt for
the day and then think things over quietly and decide as to her plan of
campaign.

"Please, Aunt Adelaide," she said, "don't let's discuss it any more
to-day, I've had such a worrying time at the Bonsors', and my head is
so stupid.  Come to tea to-morrow afternoon at half-past five and I
will tell you all, as they say in the novelettes; but for heaven's sake
don't get talking to those dreadful old tabbies.  They have no affairs
of their own, and at the present moment they simply live upon mine."

"Very well, Patricia," replied Miss Brent as she rose to go, "I will
wait until to-morrow; but, understand me, I am your sole surviving
relative and I have a duty to perform by you.  That duty I shall
perform whatever it costs me."

As Patricia looked into the hard, cold eyes of her aunt, she believed
her.  At that moment Miss Brent looked as if she represented all the
aggressive virtues in Christendom.

"It's very sweet of you, Aunt Adelaide, and I very much appreciate your
interest.  I am all nervy to-day; but I shall be all right to-morrow.
Don't forget, half-past five here.  That will give me time to get back
from the Bonsors'."

Miss Brent pecked Patricia's right cheek and moved towards the door.
"Remember, Patricia," she said, as a final shot, "to-morrow I shall
expect a full explanation.  I am deeply concerned about you.  I cannot
conceive what your poor dear father would have said had he been alive."

With this parting shot Miss Brent moved down the staircase and left
Galvin House.  As she stalked to the temperance hotel in Bloomsbury,
where she was staying, she was fully satisfied that she had done her
duty as a woman and a Christian.

"Sole surviving relative," muttered Patricia as she turned back after
seeing her aunt out.  And then she remembered with a smile that her
father had once said that "relatives were the very devil."  A softness
came into her eyes at the thought of her father, and she remembered
another saying of his, "When you lose your sense of humour and your
courage at the same time, you have lost the game."

For a moment Patricia paused, deliberating what she would do.  Finally,
she walked to the telephone at the end of the hall.  There was a
grimness about her look indicative of a set purpose, taking down the
receiver she called "Gerrard 60000."

There was a pause.

"That the Quadrant Hotel?" she enquired.  "Is Lord Peter Bowen in?"

The clerk would enquire.

Patricia waited what seemed an age.

At last a voice cried, "Hullo!"

"Is that Lord Peter Bowen?"

"Is that you, Patricia?" came the reply from the other end of the wire.

"Oh, so it is true then!" said Patricia.

"What's true?" queried Bowen at the other end.

"What I've just said."

"What do you mean?  I don't understand."

"I must see you this evening," said Patricia in an even voice.

"That's most awfully good of you."

"It's nothing of the sort."

Bowen laughed.  "Shall I come round?"

"No."

"Will you dine with me?"

"No."

"Well, where shall I see you?"

Patricia thought for a moment.  "I will meet you at Lancaster Gate tube
at twenty minutes to nine."

"All right, I'll be there.  Shall I bring the car?"

For a moment Patricia hesitated.  She did not want to go to a
restaurant with him, she wanted merely to talk and see how she was to
get out of the difficulty with Aunt Adelaide.  The car seemed to offer
a solution.  They could drive out to some quiet place and then talk
without a chance of being overheard.

"Yes, please, I think that will do admirably."

"Mind you bring a thick coat.  Won't you let me pick you up?  Please
do, then you can bring a fur coat and all that sort of thing, you know."

Again Patricia hesitated for a moment.  "Perhaps that would be the
better way," she conceded grudgingly.

"Right-oh!  Will half-past eight do?"

"Yes, I'll be ready."

"It's awfully kind of you; I'm frightfully bucked."

"You had better wait and see, I think," was Patricia's grim retort.
"Good-bye."

"Au revoir."

Patricia put the receiver up with a jerk.

She returned to her room conscious that she was never able to do
herself justice with Bowen.  Her most righteous anger was always in
danger of being dissipated when she spoke to him.  His personality
seemed to radiate good nature, and he always appeared so genuinely glad
to see her, or hear her voice that it placed her at a disadvantage.
She ought to be stronger and more tenacious of purpose, she told
herself.  It was weak to be so easily influenced by someone else,
especially a man who had treated her in the way that Bowen had treated
her; for Patricia had now come to regard herself as extremely ill-used.

Nothing, she told herself, would have persuaded her to ring up Bowen in
the way she had done, had it not been for Aunt Adelaide.  In her heart
she had to confess that she was very much afraid of Aunt Adelaide and
what she might do.

Patricia dreaded dinner that evening.  She knew instinctively that
everybody would be full of Miss Wangle's discovery.  She might have
known that Miss Wangle would not be satisfied until she had discovered
everything there was to be discovered about Bowen.

As Patricia walked along the hall to the staircase, Mrs. Hamilton came
out of the lounge.  Patricia put her arm round the fragile waist of the
old lady and they walked upstairs together.

"Well," said Patricia gaily, "what are the old tabbies doing this
afternoon?"

"My dear!" expostulated Mrs. Hamilton gently, "you mustn't call them
that, they have so very little to interest them that--that----"

"Oh, you dear, funny little thing!" said Patricia, giving Mrs. Hamilton
a squeeze which almost lifted her off her feet.  "I think you would
find an excuse for anyone, no matter how wicked.  When I get very, very
bad I shall come and ask you to explain me to myself.  I think if you
had your way you would prove every wolf a sheep underneath.  Come into
my room and have a pow-wow."

Inside her room Patricia lifted Mrs. Hamilton bodily on to the bed.
"Now lie there, you dear little thing, and have a rest.  Dad used to
say that every woman ought to lie on her back for two hours each day.
I don't know why.  I suppose it was to keep her quiet and get her out
of the way.  In any case you have got to lie down there."

"But your bed, my dear," protested Mrs. Hamilton.

"Never mind my bed, you just do as you're told.  Now what are the old
cats--I beg your pardon, what have the--lambs been saying?"

Mrs. Hamilton smiled in spite of herself.  "Well, of course, dear,
we're all very interested to hear that you are engaged to--Lord Peter
Bowen."

"How did they find out?" interrupted Patricia.

"Well, it appears that Miss Wangle has a friend who has a cousin in the
War Office."

"Oh, dear!" groaned Patricia.  "I believe Miss Wangle has a friend who
has a cousin in every known place in the world, and a good many unknown
places," she added.  "She has got a bishop in heaven, innumerable
connections in Mayfair, acquaintances at Court, cousins of friends at
the War Office; the only place where she seems to have nobody who has
anybody else is hell."

"My dear!" said Mrs. Hamilton in horror, "you mustn't talk like that."

"But isn't it true?" persisted Patricia.  "Well, I'm sorry if I've
shocked you.  Tell me all about it."

"Well," began Mrs. Hamilton, "soon after you had gone out Miss Wangle's
friend telephoned in reply to her letter of enquiry.  She told her all
about Lord Peter Bowen, how he had distinguished himself in France, won
the Military Cross, the D.S.O., how he had been promoted to the rank of
lieutenant-colonel, and brought back to the War Office and given a
position on the General Staff.  He's a very clever young man, my dear."

Patricia laughed outright at Mrs. Hamilton's earnestness.  "Why of
course he's clever, otherwise he wouldn't have taken up with such a
clever young woman."

"Well, my dear, I hope you'll be happy," said Mrs. Hamilton earnestly.

"I doubt it," said Patricia.

"Doubt it!"  There was horror in Mrs. Hamilton's voice.  She half
raised herself on the bed.  Patricia pushed her back again.

"Never mind, your remark reminds me of a story about a
great-great-grandmother of mine.  A granddaughter of hers had become
engaged and there was a great family meeting to introduce the poor
victim to his future "in-laws."  The old lady was very deaf and had
formed the habit of speaking aloud quite unconscious that others could
hear her.  The wretched young man was brought up and presented, and
everybody was agog to hear the grandmotherly pronouncement, for the old
lady was as shrewd as she was frank.  She looked at the young man
keenly and deliberately, whilst he stood the picture of discomfort, and
turning to her granddaughter, said, "Well, my dear, I hope you'll be
happy, I hope you'll be very happy," then to herself in an equally loud
voice she added, "But he wouldn't have been my choice, he wouldn't have
been my choice."

"Oh! the poor dear," said Mrs. Hamilton, seeing only the tragic side of
the situation.

Patricia laughed.  "How like you, you dear little grey lady," and she
bent down and kissed the pale cheeks, bringing a slight rose flush to
them.

It was half-past seven before Mrs. Hamilton left Patricia's room.

"Heigh-ho!" sighed Patricia as she undid her hair, "I suppose I shall
have to run the gauntlet during dinner."



CHAPTER VII

LORD PETER PROMISES A SOLUTION

Sunday supper at Galvin House was a cold meal timed for eight o'clock;
but allowed to remain upon the table until half-past nine for the
convenience of church-goers.

Patricia had dawdled over her toilette, realising, however, to admit
that she dreaded the ordeal before her in the dining-room.  When at
last she could find no excuse for remaining longer in her room, she
descended the stairs slowly, conscious of a strange feeling of
hesitancy about her knees.

Outside the dining-room door she paused.  Her instinct was to bolt; but
the pad-pad of Gustave's approaching footsteps cutting off her retreat
decided her.  As she entered the dining-room the hum of excited
conversation ceased abruptly and, amidst a dead silence, Patricia
walked to her seat conscious of a heightened colour and a hatred of her
own species.

Looking round the table, and seeing how acutely self-conscious everyone
seemed, her self-possession returned.  She noticed a new deference in
Gustave's manner as he placed before her a plate of cold shoulder of
mutton and held the salad-bowl at her side.  Having helped herself
Patricia turned to Miss Wangle, and for a moment regarded her with an
enigmatical smile that made her fidget.

"How clever of you, Miss Wangle," she said sweetly.  "In future no one
will ever dare to have a secret at Galvin House."

Miss Wangle reddened.  Mr. Bolton's laugh rang out.

"Miss Wangle, Private Enquiry Agent," he cried, "I----"

"Really, Mr. Bolton!" protested Mrs. Craske-Morton, looking anxiously
at Miss Wangle's indrawn lips and angry eyes.

Mr. Bolton subsided.

"We're so excited, dear Miss Brent," simpered Miss Sikkum.  "You'll be
Lady Bowen----"

"Lady Peter Bowen," corrected Mrs. Craske-Morton with superior
knowledge.

"Lady Peter," gushed Miss Sikkum.  "Oh how romantic, and I shall see
your portrait in _The Mirror_.  Oh!  Miss Brent, aren't you happy?"

Patricia smiled across at Miss Sikkum, whose enthusiasm was too genuine
to cause offence.

"And you'll have cars and all sorts of things," remarked Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe, thinking of he solitary blue evening frock, "he's very
rich."

"Worth ten thousand a year," almost shouted Mr. Cordal, striving to
regain control over a piece of lettuce-leaf that fluttered from his
lips, and having eventually to use his fingers.

"You'll forget all about us," said Miss Pilkington, who in her capacity
as a post-office supervisor daily showed her contempt for the public
whose servant she was.

"If you're nice to her," said Mr. Bolton, "she may buy her stamps at
your place."

Again Mrs. Craske-Morton's "Really, Mr. Bolton!" eased the situation.

Patricia was for the most part silent.  She was thinking of the coming
talk with Bowen.  In spite of herself she was excited at the prospect
of seeing him again.  Miss Wangle also said little.  From time to time
she glanced in Patricia's direction.

"The Wangle's off her feed," whispered Mr. Bolton to Miss Sikkum,
producing from her a giggle and an "Oh!  Mr. Bolton, you _are_
dreadful."

Mrs. Barnes was worrying as to whether a lord should be addressed as
"my lord" or "sir," and if you curtsied to him, and if so how you did
it with rheumatism in the knee.

Patricia noticed with amusement the new deference with which everyone
treated her.  Mrs. Craske-Morton, in particular, was most solicitous
that she should make a good meal.  Miss Wangle's silence was in itself
a tribute.  Patricia nervously waited the moment when Bowen's presence
should be announced.

When the time came Gustave rose to the occasion magnificently.
Throwing open the dining-room door impressively and speaking with great
distinctness he cried:

"Ees Lordship is 'ere, mees," and then after a moment's pause he added,
"'E 'as brought 'is car, mees.  It is at the door."

Patricia smiled in spite of herself at Gustave's earnestness.

"Very well, Gustave, say I will not be a moment," she replied and, with
a muttered apology to Mrs. Craske-Morton, she left the table and the
dining-room, conscious of the dramatic tension of the situation.

Patricia ran down the passage leading to the lounge, then, suddenly
remembering that haste and happiness were not in keeping with anger and
reproach, entered the lounge with a sedateness that even Aunt Adelaide
could not have found lacking in maidenly decorum.

Bowen came across from the window and took both her hands.

"Why was she allowing him to do this?" she asked herself.  "Why did she
not reproach him, why did she thrill at his touch, why----?"

She withdrew her hands sharply, looked up at him and then for no reason
at all laughed.

How absurd it all was.  It was easy to be angry with him when he was at
the Quadrant and she at Galvin House; but with him before her, looking
down at her with eyes that were smilingly confident and gravely
deferential by turn, she found her anger and good resolutions disappear.

"I know you are going to bully me, Patricia."  Bowen's eyes smiled; but
there was in his voice a note of enquiry.

"Oh! please let us escape before the others come in sight," said
Patricia, looking over her shoulder anxiously.  "They'll all be out in
a moment.  I left them straining at their leashes and swallowing
scalding coffee so as to get a glimpse of a real, live lord at close
quarters."

As she spoke Patricia stabbed on a toque.

"Shall I want anything warmer than this?" she enquired as Bowen helped
her into a long fur-trimmed coat.

"I brought a big fur coat for you in case it gets cold," he replied,
and he held open the door for her to pass.

"Quick," she whispered, "they're coming."

As she ran down the steps she nodded brightly to Gustave, who stood
almost bowed down with the burden of his respect for an English lord.

As Bowen swung the car round, Patricia was conscious that at the
drawing-room and lounge windows Galvin House was heavily massed.
Unable to find a space, Miss Sikkum and Mr. Bolton had come out on to
the doorstep and, as the car jerked forward, Miss Sikkum waved her
pocket handkerchief.

Patricia shuddered.

For some time they were silent.  Patricia was content to enjoy the
unaccustomed sense of swift movement coupled with the feeling of the
luxury of a Rolls Royce.  From time to time Bowen glanced at her and
smiled, and she was conscious of returning the smile, although in the
light of what she intended to say she felt that smiles were not
appropriate.

The car sped along the Bayswater Road, threaded its way through
Hammersmith Broadway and passed over the bridge, across Barnes Common
into Priory Lane, and finally into Richmond Park.  Bowen had not
mentioned where he intended to take her, and Patricia was glad.  She
was essentially feminine, and liked having things decided for her, the
more so as she invariably had to decide for herself.

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?



CHAPTER IX

LADY TANAGRA TAKES A HAND

At a quarter to five Patricia left the library to go upstairs to put on
her hat and coat.  In the hall she encountered Mrs. Bonsor.

"Finished?" interrogated that lady in a tone of voice that implied she
was perfectly well aware of the fact that it wanted still a quarter of
an hour to the time at which Patricia was supposed to be free.

"No; there is still some left; but I'm going home," said Patricia.
There was something in her voice and appearance that prompted Mrs.
Bonsor to smile her artificial smile and remark that she thought
Patricia was quite right, the weather being very trying.

When she left the Bonsors' house, Patricia was too occupied with her
own thoughts to notice the large grey car standing a few yards up the
square with a girl at the steering-wheel.  Patricia turned in the
opposite direction from that in which the car stood, making her way
towards Sloane Street to get her bus.  She had not gone many steps when
the big car slid silently up beside her, and she heard a voice say,
"Can't I give you a lift to Galvin House?"

She turned round and saw a fair-haired girl smiling at her from the car.

"I--I----"

"Jump in, won't you?" said the girl.

"But--but I think you've made a mistake."

"You're Patricia Brent, aren't you?"

"Yes," said Patricia, smiling, "that's my name."

"Well then, jump in and I'll run you up to Galvin House.  Don't delay
or you'll be too late for your aunt."

Patricia looked at the girl in mute astonishment, but proceeded to get
into the car, there seemed nothing else to be done.  As she did so, the
fair-haired girl laughed brightly.  "It's awfully mean of me to take
such an advantage, but I couldn't resist it.  I'm Peter's sister,
Tanagra."

"Oh!" said Patricia, light dawning upon her and turning to Tanagra with
a smile, "Then you're the solution?"

"Yes," said Lady Tanagra, "I'm going to see you two out of the mess
you've somehow or other got into."

Suddenly Patricia stiffened.  "Did he--did he--er--tell you?"

"Not he," said Lady Tanagra, shoving on the brake suddenly to avoid a
crawling taxi that had swung round without any warning.  "Peter doesn't
talk."

"But then, how do you----?"

"Well," said Lady Tanagra, "he told me that I was to be the one who had
introduced him to you and explain him to your aunt.  It's all over
London that I've got measles, and there will be simply piles of flowers
and fruit arriving at Grosvenor Square by every possible conveyance."

"Measles!" cried Patricia uncomprehendingly.

"Yes, you see when Peter wants me I always have to throw up any sort of
engagement, and he does the same for me.  When he asked me to lunch
with him to-day and said it was important, I had to give some
reasonable excuse to three lots of people to whom I had pledged myself,
and I thought measles would do quite nicely."

Patricia laughed in spite of herself.

"So you don't know anything except that you have got to----"

"Sponsor you," interrupted Lady Tanagra.

For some time Patricia was silent.  She felt she could tell her story
to this girl who was so trustful that everything was all right, and who
was willing to do anything to help her brother.

"Can't we go slowly whilst I talk to you," said Patricia, as they
turned into the Park.

"We'll do better than that," said Lady Tanagra, "we'll stop and sit
down for five minutes."  She pulled up the car near the Stanhope Gate
and they found a quiet spot under a tree.

"I cannot allow you to enter into this affair," said Patricia, "without
telling you the whole story.  What you will think of me afterwards I
don't know; but I've got myself into a most horrible mess."

She then proceeded to explain the whole situation, how it came about
that she had come to know Bowen and the upshot of the meeting.  Lady
Tanagra listened without interruption and without betraying by her
expression what were her thoughts.

"And now what do you think of me?" demanded Patricia when she had
concluded.

For a moment Lady Tanagra rested her hand upon Patricia's.  "I think,
you goose, that had you known Peter better there would not have been so
much need for you to worry; but there isn't much time and we've got to
prepare.  Now listen carefully.  First of all you must call me Tan or
Tanagra, and I must call you Patricia or Pat, or whatever you like.
Secondly, as it would take too long to find out if we've got any
friends in common, you went to the V.A.D. Depot in St. George's
Crescent to see if you could do anything to help.  There you met me.
I'm quite a shining light there, by the way, and we palled up.  This
led to my introducing Peter and--well all the rest is quite easy."

"But--but there isn't any rest," said Patricia.  "Don't you see how
horribly awkward it is?  I'm supposed to be engaged to him."

"Oh!" said Lady Tanagra quietly, "that's a matter for you and Peter to
settle between you.  I'm afraid I can't interfere there.  All I can do
is to explain how you and he came to know each other; and now we had
better be getting on as your aunt will not be pleased if you keep her
waiting.  What I propose to do is to pick her up and take her up to the
Quadrant where we shall find Peter."

"But," protested Patricia, "that's simply getting us more involved than
ever."

"Well, I'm afraid it's got to be," said Lady Tanagra, smiling
mischievously; "it's much better that they should meet at the Quadrant
than at Galvin House, where you say everybody is so catty."

Patricia saw the force of Lady Tanagra's argument, and they were soon
whirling on their way towards Galvin House.  She wanted to pinch
herself to be quite sure that she was not dreaming.  Everything seemed
to be happening with such rapidity that her brain refused to keep pace
with events.  Why had she not met these people in a conventional way so
that she might preserve their friendship?  It was hard luck, she told
herself.

"Would you mind telling me what you propose doing?" enquired Patricia.

"I promised Peter to gather up the pieces," was the response.  "All
you've got to do is to remain quiet."

Lady Tanagra brought the car up in front of Galvin House with a
magnificent sweep.  Gustave, who had been on the watch, swung open the
door in his most impressive manner.

As Patricia and Lady Tanagra entered the lounge, Miss Wangle and Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe were addressing pleasantries to a particularly grim
Miss Brent.

"Oh, here you are!"  Miss Brent's exclamation was uttered in such a
voice as to pierce even the thick skin of Miss Wangle, who having
instantly recognised Lady Tanagra, retired with Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe a
few yards, where they carried on a whispered conversation, casting
significant glances at Lady Tanagra, Miss Brent and Patricia.

"I told Patricia that it was time the families met," said Lady Tanagra,
"and so I insisted on coming when I heard you were to be here."

"I think you are quite right."

Patricia was surprised at the change in her aunt.  Much of her usual
uncompromising downrightness had been shed, and she appeared almost
gracious.  For one thing she was greatly impressed at the thought that
Patricia was to become Lady Peter Bowen.  As the aunt of Lady Peter
Bowen, Miss Brent saw that her own social position would be
considerably improved.  She saw herself taking precedence at Little
Milstead and issuing its social life and death warrants.  Apart from
these considerations Miss Brent was not indifferent to Lady Tanagra's
personal charm.

"Tan's parlour tricks," as Godfrey Elton called them, were notorious.
Everyone was aware of their existence; yet everyone fell an instant
victim.  A compound of earnestness, deference, pleading, irresistible
impertinence and dignity, they formed a dangerous weapon.

Lady Tanagra's position among her friends and acquaintance was unique.
When difficulties and contentions arose, the parties' instinctive
impulse was to endeavour to invest her interest.  "Tanagra is so
sensible," outraged parenthood would exclaim; "Tan's such a sport.
She'll understand," cried rebellious youth.  People not only asked Lady
Tanagra's advice, but took it.  The secret of her success, unknown to
herself, was her knowledge of human nature.  Even those against whom
she gave her decisions bore her no ill-will.

Her manner towards Miss Brent was a mixture of laughter and
seriousness, with deft little touches of deference.

"I've come to apologize for everybody and everything, Miss Brent," she
cried; "but in particular for myself."  Lady Tanagra chatted on gaily,
"sparring for an opening," Elton called it.

"You mustn't blame Patricia," she bubbled in her soft musical voice,
"it's all Peter's fault, and where it's not his fault it's mine," she
proceeded illogically.  "You won't be hard on us, will you?"  She
looked up at Miss Brent with the demureness of a child expecting severe
rebuke for some naughtiness.

Miss Brent's eyes narrowed and the firm line of her lips widened.
Patricia recognised this as the outward evidences of a smile.

"I confess, I am greatly puzzled," began Miss Brent.

"Of course you must be," continued Lady Tanagra, "and if you were not
so kind you would be very cross, especially with me.  Now," she
continued, without giving Miss Brent a chance of replying, "I want you
to do me a very great favour."

Lady Tanagra paused impressively, and gave Miss Brent her most pleading
look.

Miss Brent looked at Lady Tanagra with just a tinge of suspicion in her
pea-soup coloured eyes.

"May I ask what it is?" she enquired guardedly.

"I want you to let me carry you off to a quiet place where we can talk."

Miss Brent rose at once.  She disliked Calvin House and the inquisitive
glances of its inmates.

"I told Peter to be at the Quadrant until seven.  He is very anxious to
meet you," continued Lady Tanagra as they moved towards the door.  "I
would not let him come here as I thought, from that Patricia has told
me, that you would not care--to----" She paused.

"You are quite right, Lady Tanagra," said Miss Brent with decision.  "I
do not like boarding-houses.  They are not the places for the
discussion of family affairs."

Patricia descended the steps of Galvin House, not quite sure whether
this were reality or a dream.  She watched Miss Brent seat herself
beside Lady Tanagra, whilst she herself entered the tonneau of the car.
As the door clicked and the car sprang forward, she caught a glimpse of
eager faces at the windows of Galvin House.

As they swung into the Park and hummed along the even road, Patricia
endeavoured to bring herself to earth.  She pinched herself until it
hurt.  What had happened?  She felt like someone present at her own
funeral.  Her fate was being decided without anyone seeming to think it
necessary to consult her.

"By half-past five to-morrow afternoon I shall have found a solution."
Bowen's words came back to her.  He was right.  Lady Tanagra was indeed
a solution.  Patricia and Miss Brent were merely lay-figures.  It must
be wonderful to be able to make people do what you wished, she mused.
She wondered what would have happened had Bowen possessed his sister's
powers.

At the Quadrant Peel was waiting in the vestibule.  With a bow that
impressed Miss Brent, he conducted them to Bowen's suite.  As they
entered Bowen sprang up from a writing-table.  Patricia noticed that
there was no smell of tobacco smoke.  The Bowens were a wonderful
family, she decided, remembering her aunt's prejudices.

"I have only just heard you were in town," she heard Bowen explaining
to Miss Brent.  "I rang up Patricia this morning, but she could not
remember your address."

Patricia gasped; but, seeing the effect of the "grey lie" (it was not
quite innocent enough to be called a white lie, she told herself) she
forgave it.

During tea Lady Tanagra and Bowen set to to "play themselves in," as
Lady Tanagra afterwards expressed it.

"Poor Aunt Adelaide," Patricia murmured to herself, "they'll turn her
giddy young head."

"And now," Lady Tanagra began when Bowen had taken Miss Brent's cup
from her.  "I must explain all about this little romance and how it
came about."

Patricia caught Bowen's eye, and saw in it a look of eager interest.

"Patricia wanted to do war work in her spare time," continued Lady
Tanagra, "so she applied to the V.A.D. at St. George's Crescent.  I am
on the committee and, by a happy chance," Lady Tanagra smiled across to
Patricia, "she was sent to me.  I saw she was not strong and dissuaded
her."

Miss Brent nodded approval.

"I explained," continued Lady Tanagra, "that the work was very hard,
and that it was not necessarily patriotic to overwork so as to get ill.
Doctors have quite enough to do."

Again Miss Brent nodded agreement.

"I think we liked each other from the first," again Lady Tanagra smiled
across at Patricia, "and I asked her to come and have tea with me, and
we became friends.  Finally, one day when we were enjoying a quiet talk
here in the lounge, this big brother of mine comes along and spoils
everything."  Lady Tanagra regarded Bowen with reproachful eyes.

"Spoiled everything?" enquired Miss Brent.

"Yes; by falling in love with my friend, and in a most treacherous
manner she must do the same."  Lady Tanagra's tone was matter-of-fact
enough to deceive a misanthropist.

Patricia's cheeks burned and her eyes fell beneath the gaze of the
others.  She felt as a man might who reads his own obituary notices.

"And why was I not told, her sole surviving relative?"  Miss Brent
rapped out the question with the air of a counsel for the prosecution.

"That was my fault," broke in Bowen.

Three pairs of eyes were instantly turned upon him.  Miss Brent
suspicious, Lady Tanagra admiring, Patricia wondering.

"And why, may I ask?" enquired Miss Brent.

"I wanted it to be a secret between Patricia and me," explained Bowen
easily.

"But, Lady Tanagra----"  There was a note in Miss Brent's voice that
Patricia recognised as a soldier does the gas-gong.

"Oh!" replied Bowen, "she finds out everything; but I only told her at
lunch to-day."

"And he told me as if I had not already discovered the fact for
myself," laughed Lady Tanagra.

"Patricia wanted to tell you," continued Bowen.  "She has often talked
of you (Patricia felt sure Aunt Adelaide must hear her start of
surprise); but I wanted to wait until we could go to you together and
confess."  Bowen smiled straight into his listener's eyes, a quiet,
friendly smile that would have disarmed a gorgon.

For a few moments there was silence.  Miss Brent was thinking, thinking
as a judge thinks who is about to deliver sentence.

"And Lady Meyfield, does she know?" she enquired.

Without giving Bowen a chance to reply Lady Tanagra rushed in as if
fearful that he might make a false move.

"That is another of Peter's follies, keeping it from mother.  He argued
that if the engagement were officially announced, the family would take
up all Patricia's time, and he would see nothing of her.  Oh! Peter's
very selfish sometimes, I am to say; but," she added with inspiration,
"every thing will have to come out now."

"Of course!"  Patricia started at the decision in Miss Brent's tone.
She looked across at Bowen, who was regarding Lady Tanagra with an
admiration that amounted almost to reverence.  As he looked up
Patricia's eyes fell.  What was happening to her?  She was getting
further into the net woven by her own folly.  Lady Tanagra was getting
them out of the tangle into which they had got themselves; but was she
not involving them in a worse?  Patricia knew her aunt, Lady Tanagra
did not.  Therein lay the key to the whole situation.

Miss Brent rose to go.  Patricia saw that judgment was to be deferred.
She shook hands with Lady Tanagra and Bowen and, finally, turning to
Patricia said:

"I think, Patricia, that you have been very indiscreet in not taking me
into your confidence, your sole surviving relative," and with that she
went, having refused Lady Tanagra's offer to drive her to her hotel,
pleading that she had another call to make.

When Bowen returned from seeing Miss Brent into a taxi, the three
culprits regarded each other.  All felt that they had come under the
ban of Miss Brent's displeasure.  It was Lady Tanagra who broke the
silence.

"Well, we're all in it now up to the neck," she laughed.

Bowen smiled happily; but Patricia looked alarmed.  Lady Tanagra went
over to her and bending down kissed her lightly on the cheek.  Patricia
looked up, and Bowen saw that her eyes were suspiciously moist.  With a
murmured apology about a note he was expecting he left the room.

That night the three dined at the Quadrant, "to get to know each
other," as Lady Tanagra said.  When Patricia reached Galvin House,
having refused to allow Bowen to see her home, she was conscious of
having spent another happy evening.

"Up to the neck in it," she murmured as she tossed back her hair and
began to brush it for the night, "over the top of our heads, I should
say."



CHAPTER X

MISS BRENT'S STRATEGY

Having become reconciled to what she regarded as Patricia's matrimonial
plans, although strongly disapproving of her deplorable flippancy, Miss
Brent decided that her niece's position must be established in the eyes
of her prospective relatives-in-law.

Miss Brent was proud of her family, but still prouder of the fact that
the founder had come over with that extremely dubious collection of
notables introduced into England by William of Normandy.  To Miss
Brent, William the Conqueror was what _The Mayflower_ is to all
ambitious Americans--a social jumping-off point.  There were no army
lists in 1066, or passengers' lists in 1620.

No one could say with any degree of certainty what it was that Geoffrey
Brent did for, or knew about, his ducal master; but it was sufficiently
important to gain for him a grant of lands, which he had no more right
to occupy than the Norman had to bestow.

After careful thought Miss Brent had decided upon her line of
operations.  Geoffrey Brent was to be used as a corrective to
Patricia's occupation.  No family, Miss Brent argued, could be expected
to welcome with open arms a girl who earned her living as the secretary
of an unknown member of parliament.  She foresaw complications, fierce
opposition, possibly an attempt to break off the engagement.  To defeat
this Geoffrey Brent was to be disinterred and flung into the conflict,
and Patricia was to owe to her aunt the happiness that was to be hers.
Incidentally Miss Brent saw in this circumstance a very useful
foundation upon which to build for herself a position in the future.

Miss Brent had made up her mind upon two points.  One that she would
call upon Lady Meyfield, the other that Patricia's engagement must be
announced.  Debrett told her all she wanted to know about the Bowens,
and she strongly disapproved of what she termed "hole-in-the-corner
engagements."  The marriage of a Brent to a Bowen was to her an
alliance, carrying with it certain social responsibilities,
consequently Society must be advised of what was impending.  Romance
was a by-product that did not concern either Miss Brent or Society.

Purpose and decision were to Miss Brent what wings and tail are to the
swallow: they propelled and directed her.  Her mind once made up, to
change it would have appeared to Miss Brent an unpardonable sign of
weakness.  Circumstances might alter, thrones totter, but Miss Brent's
decisions would remain unshaken.

On the day following her meeting with Lady Tanagra and Bowen, Miss
Brent did three things.  She transferred to "The Mayfair Hotel" for one
night, she prepared an announcement of the engagement for _The Morning
Post_, and she set out to call upon Lady Meyfield in Grosvenor Square.

The transference to "The Mayfair Hotel" served a double purpose.  It
would impress the people at the newspaper office, and it would also
show that Patricia's kinswoman was of some importance.

As Patricia was tapping out upon a typewriter the halting eloquence of
Mr. Arthur Bonsor, Miss Brent was being whirled in a taxi first to the
office of _The Morning Post_ and then on to Grosvenor Square.

"I fully appreciate," tapped Patricia with wandering attention, "the
national importance of pigs."


"Miss Brent!" announced Lady Meyfield's butler.

Miss Brent found herself gazing into a pair of violet eyes that were
smiling a greeting out of a gentle face framed in white hair.

"How do you do!"  Lady Meyfield was endeavouring to recall where she
could have met her caller.

"I felt it was time the families met," announced Miss Brent.

Lady Meyfield smiled, that gentle reluctant smile so characteristic of
her.  She was puzzled; but too well-bred to show it.

"Won't you have some tea?"  She looked about her, then fixing her eyes
upon a dark man in khaki, with smouldering eyes, called to him,
introduced him, and had just time to say:

"Godfrey, see that Miss Brent has some tea," when a rush of callers
swept Miss Brent and Captain Godfrey Elton further into the room.

Miss Brent looked about her with interest.  She had read of how Lady
Meyfield had turned her houses, both town and country, into
convalescent homes for soldiers; but she was surprised to see men in
hospital garb mixing freely with the other guests.  Elton saw her
surprise.

"Lady Meyfield has her own ideas of what is best," he remarked as he
handed her a cup of tea.

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.

"Sam," she had said, "you want a woman to look after you; you're
nothing but a great, big baby."

"And she was right, me dear," said Mr. Triggs huskily, "she was right
as she always was, only she didn't know that there couldn't ever be
anyone after 'er."

Slowly and tactfully Patricia guided the old man's thoughts away from
the sad subject of his wife's death, and soon had him laughing gaily at
some stories she had heard the night previously from the Bowens.  Mr.
Triggs was as easily diverted from sadness to laughter as a child.

It was half-past seven when they left the Park gates, and Patricia,
looking suddenly at her wristlet watch, cried out, "Oh!  I shall be
late for dinner, I must fly!"

"You're going to dine with me, me dear," announced Mr. Triggs.

"Oh, but I can't," said Patricia; "I--I----"

"Why can't you?"

"Well, I haven't told Mrs. Craske-Morton."

"Who's she?" enquired Mr. Triggs.

"Of course it doesn't matter, how stupid of me," said Patricia; "I
should love to dine with you, Mr. Triggs, if you will let me."

"That's all right," said Mr. Triggs, heaving a sigh of relief.

They walked down Portland Place and Regent Street until they reached
the Quadrant.

"We'll 'ave dinner in the Grill-room at the Quadrant," announced Mr.
Triggs, with the air of a man who knows his way about town.

"Oh, no, not there, please!" cried Patricia, in a panic.

"Not there!" Mr. Triggs looked at her, surprise and disappointment in
his voice.  "Why not?"

"Oh!  I'd sooner not go there if you don't mind.  Couldn't we go
somewhere else?"

For a moment Mr. Triggs did not reply.

"There's someone there I don't want to meet," said Patricia, then a
moment afterwards she realised her mistake.  Mr. Triggs looked down at
his clothes.

"I suppose they are a bit out of it for the evening," he remarked in a
hurt voice.

"Oh, Mr. Triggs, how could you?" said Patricia.  "Now I shall insist on
dining in the Quadrant Grill-room.  If you won't come with me I'll go
alone."

"Not if you don't want to go, me dear, it doesn't matter.  Though I do
like to 'ear the band.  We can go anywhere."

"No, Quadrant or nothing," said Patricia, hoping that Bowen would be
dining out.

"Are you sure, me dear?" said Mr. Triggs, hesitating on the threshold.

"Nothing will change me," announced Patricia, with decision.  "Now you
can see about getting a table while I go and powder my nose."

When Patricia rejoined Mr. Triggs in the vestibule of the Grill-room he
was looking very unhappy and downcast.

"There ain't a table nowhere," he said.

"Oh, what a shame!" cried Patricia.  "Whatever shall we do?"

"I don't know," said Mr. Triggs helplessly.

"Are you sure?" persisted Patricia.

"That red-'eaded fellow over there said there wasn't nothing to be 'ad."

"I am sorry," said Patricia, seeing Triggs's disappointment.  "I
suppose we shall have to go somewhere else after all."

"Won't you and your friend share my table, Patricia?"

Patricia turned round as if someone had hit her, her face flaming.
"Oh!" she cried.  "You?"

"I have a table booked, and if you will dine with me you will be
conferring a real favour upon a lonely fellow-creature."

Bowen smiled from Patricia to Mr. Triggs, who was looking at him in
surprise.

"Oh! where are my manners?" cried Patricia as she introduced the two
men.

Mr. Triggs's eyes bulged at the mention of Bowen's title.

"Now, Mr. Triggs," said Bowen, "won't you add the weight of your
persuasion to mine, and persuade Miss Brent that the only thing to do
is for you both to dine with me and save me from boredom?"

"Well, it was to 'ave been my treat," said Mr. Triggs, not quite sure
of his ground.

"But you can afford to be generous.  Can't you share her with me, just
for this evening?"

Mr. Triggs beamed and turned questioningly to Patricia, who, seeing
that if she declined it would be a real disappointment to him, said:

"Well, I suppose we must under the circumstances."

"You're not very gracious, Patricia, are you?" said Bowen comically.

Patricia laughed.  "Well, come along, I'm starving," she said.

Many heads were turned to look at the curious trio, headed by the
obsequious maître d'hôtel, as they made their way towards Bowen's table.

"I wonder what 'Ettie would say," whispered Mr. Triggs to Patricia, "me
dining with a lord, and 'im being a pal of yours, too."

Patricia smiled.  She was wondering what trick Fate would play her next.

The meal was a gay one.  Bowen and Mr. Triggs immediately became
friends and pledged each other in champagne.

Mr. Triggs told of their visit to the Zoo and of the anniversary it
celebrated.

"Then you are a believer in marriage, Mr. Triggs," said Bowen.

"A believer in it!  I should just think I am," said Mr. Triggs.  "I
wish she'd get married," he added, nodding his head in the direction of
Patricia.

"She's going to," said Bowen quietly.

Mr. Triggs sat up as if someone had hit him in the small of the back.

"Going to," he cried.  "Who's the man?"

"You have just pledged him in Moet and Chandon," replied Bowen quietly.

"You going to marry 'er?"  Unconsciously Mr. Triggs raised his voice in
his surprise, and several people at adjacent tables turned and looked
at the trio.

"Hush!  Mr. Triggs," said Patricia, feeling her cheeks burn.  Bowen
merely smiled.

"Well I _am_ glad," said Mr. Triggs heartily, and seizing Bowen's hand
he shook it cordially.  "God bless my soul!" he added, "and you never
told me."  He turned reproachful eyes upon Patricia.

"It--it----" she began.

"You see, it's only just been arranged," said Bowen.

Patricia flashed him a grateful look, he seemed always to be coming to
her rescue.

"God bless my soul!" repeated Mr. Triggs.  "But you'll be 'appy, both
of you, I'll answer for that."

"Then I may take it that you're on my side, Mr. Triggs," said Bowen.

"On your side?" queried Mr. Triggs, not understanding.

"Yes," said Bowen, "you see Patricia believes in long engagements,
whereas I believe in short ones.  I want her to marry me at once; but
she will not.  She wants to wait until we are both too old to enjoy
each other's society, and she is too deaf to hear me say how charming
she is."

"If you love each other you'll never be too old to enjoy each other's
company," said Mr. Triggs seriously.  "Still, I'm with you," he added,
"and I'll do all I can to persuade 'er to hurry on the day."

"Oh, Mr. Triggs!" cried Patricia reproachfully, "you have gone over to
the enemy."

"I think he has merely placed himself on the side of the angels," said
Bowen.

"And now," said Mr. Triggs, "you must both of you dine with me one
night to celebrate the event.  Oh Lor'!" he exclaimed.  "What will
'Ettie say?"  Then turning to Bowen he added oy way of explanation,
"'Ettie's my daughter, rather stiff, she is.  She looks down on Miss
Brent because she's only A. B.'s secretary.  'Ettie's got to learn a
lot about the world," he added oracularly.  "My, this'll be a shock to
'er."

"I'm afraid I can't----" began Patricia.

"You're not going to say you can't both dine with me?" said Mr. Triggs,
blankly disappointed.

"I think Patricia will reconsider her decision," said Bowen quietly.
"She wouldn't be so selfish as to deny two men an evening's happiness."

"She's one of the best," said Mr. Triggs, with decision.

"Mr. Triggs, I think you and I have at least one thing in common," said
Bowen.



CHAPTER XII

A BOMBSHELL

"Good morning, Miss Brent."

Patricia was surprised at the graciousness of Mrs. Bonsor's salutation,
particularly after the episode of the Zoo on the previous afternoon.

"Good morning," she responded, and made to go upstairs to take off her
hat and coat.

"I congratulate you," proceeded Mrs. Bonsor in honeyed tones; "but I'm
just a little hurt that you did not confide in me."  Mrs. Bonsor's tone
was that of a trusted friend of many years' standing.

"Confide!" repeated Patricia in a matter-of-fact tone.  "Confide what,
Mrs. Bonsor?"

"Your engagement to Lord Peter Bowen.  Such a surprise.  You're a very
lucky girl.  I hope you'll bring Lord Peter to call."

Patricia listened mechanically to Mrs. Bonsor's inanities.  Suddenly
she realised their import.  What had happened?  How did she know?  Had
Mr. Triggs told her?

"How did you know?" Patricia enquired.

"Haven't you seen _The Morning Post_?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor.

"_The Morning Post_!" repeated Patricia, in consternation; "but--but I
don't understand."

"Then isn't it true?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor, scenting a mystery.

"I--I----" began Patricia, then with inspiration added, "I must be
getting on, I've got a lot to do to make up for yesterday."

"But isn't it true, Miss Brent?" persisted Mrs. Bonsor.

Then from half-way up the stairs Patricia turned and, in a spurt of
mischief, cried, "If you see it in _The Morning Post_ it is so, Mrs.
Bonsor."

When Patricia entered the library Mr. Bonsor was fussing about with
letters and papers, a habit he had when nervous.

"I'm so sorry about yesterday afternoon, Mr. Bonsor," said Patricia;
"but Mrs. Bonsor seemed to wish me to----"

"Not at all, not at all, Miss Brent," said Mr. Bonsor nervously.
"I--I----" then he paused.

"I know what you're going to say, Mr. Bonsor, but please don't say it."

Mr. Bonsor looked at her in surprise.  "Not say it?" he said.

"Oh! everybody's congratulating me, and I'm tired.  Shall we get on
with the letters?"

Mr. Bonsor was disappointed.  He had prepared a dainty little speech of
congratulation, which he had intended to deliver as Patricia entered
the room.  Mr. Bonsor was always preparing speeches which he never
delivered.  There was not an important matter that had been before the
House since he had represented Little Dollington upon which he had not
prepared a speech.  He had criticised every member of the Government
and Opposition.  He had prepared party speeches and anti-party
speeches, patriotic speeches and speeches of protest.  He had called
upon the House of Commons to save the country, and upon the country to
save the House of Commons.  He had woven speeches of splendid optimism
and speeches of gloomy foreboding.  He had attacked ministers and
defended ministers, seen himself attacked and had routed his enemies.
He had prepared speeches to be delivered to his servants for domestic
misdemeanour, speeches for Mr. Triggs, even for Mrs. Bonsor.

He had conceived speeches on pigs, speeches on potatoes, speeches on
oil-cake, and speeches on officers' wives; in short, there was nothing
in the world of his thoughts about which he had not prepared a speech.
The one thing he did not do was to deliver these speeches.  They were
wonderful things of his imagination, which seemed to defy
crystallization into words.  So it was with the speech of
congratulation that he had prepared for Patricia.

That morning Patricia was distraite.  Her thoughts continued to wander
to _The Morning Post_ announcement, and she was anxious to get out to
lunch in order to purchase a copy and see what was actually said.  Then
her thoughts ran on to who was responsible for such an outrage; for
Patricia regarded it as an outrage.  It was obviously Bowen who had
done it in order to make her position still more ridiculous.  It was
mean, she was not sure that it was not contemptible.

Patricia was in the act of transcribing some particulars about infant
mortality in England and Wales compared with that of Scotland, when the
parlourmaid entered with a note.  Mr. Bonsor stretched out his hand for
it.

"It is for Miss Brent, sir," said the maid.

Patricia looked up in surprise.  It was unusual for her to receive a
note at the Bonsors'.  She opened the envelope mechanically and read:--


"DEAREST,

"I have just seen _The Morning Post_.  It is sweet of you to relent.
You have made me very happy.  Will you dine with me to-night and when
may I take you to Grosvenor Square?  My mother will want to see her new
daughter-in-law.

"I so enjoyed last night.  Surely the gods are on my side.

"PETER."


Patricia read and re-read the note.  For a moment she felt ridiculously
happy, then, with a swift change of mood she saw the humiliation of her
situation.  Bowen thought it was she who had inserted the notice of the
engagement.  What must he think of her?  It looked as if she had done
it to burn his boats behind him.  Then suddenly she seized a pen and
wrote:--


"DEAR LORD PETER,

"I know nothing whatever about the announcement in _The Morning Post_,
and I only heard of it when I arrived here.  I cannot dine with you
to-night, and I am very angry and upset that anyone should have had the
impertinence to interfere in my affairs.  I shall take up the matter
with _The Morning Post_ people and insist on a contradiction
immediately.

"Yours sincerely,
  "PATRICIA BRENT."


With quick, decisive movements Patricia folded the note, addressed the
envelope and handed it to the maid, then she turned to Mr. Bonsor.

"I am sorry to interrupt work, Mr. Bonsor; but that was rather an
important note that I had to answer."

Mr. Bonsor smiled sympathetically.

At lunch-time Patricia purchased a copy of _The Morning Post_, and
there saw in all its unblushing mendacity the announcement.


"A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place between Lord
Peter Bowen, D.S.O., M.C., attached to the General Staff, son of the
7th Marquess of Meyfield, and Patricia Brent, daughter of the late John
Brent, of Little Milstead."


"Why on earth must the ridiculous people put it at the top of the
column?" she muttered aloud.  A man occupying an adjoining table at the
place where she was lunching turned and looked at her.

"And now I must go back to potatoes, pigs, and babies," said Patricia
to herself as she paid her bill and rose.  "Ugh!"

She had scarcely settled down to her afternoon's work when the maid
entered and announced, "Lord Peter Bowen to see you, miss."

"Oh bother!" exclaimed Patricia.  "Tell him I'm busy, will you please?"

The maid's jaw dropped; she was excellently trained, but no
maid-servant could be expected to rise superior to such an
extraordinary attitude on the part of a newly-engaged girl.  Nothing
short of a butler who had lived in the best families could have risen
to such an occasion.

"But, Miss Brent----" began Mr. Bonsor.

Patricia turned and froze him with a look.

"Will you give him my message, please, Fellers?" she said, and Fellers
walked out a disillusioned young woman.

Two minutes later Mrs. Bonsor entered the room, flushed and excited.

"Oh, Miss Brent, that silly girl has muddled up things somehow!  Lord
Peter Bowen is waiting for you in the morning-room.  I have just been
talking to him and saying that I hope you will both dine with us one
day next week."

"The message was quite correct, Mrs. Bonsor.  I am very busy with pigs,
and babies, and potatoes.  I really cannot add Lord Peter to my
responsibilities at the moment."

Mrs. Bonsor looked at Patricia as if she had suddenly gone mad.

"But Miss Brent-----" began Mrs. Bonsor, scandalised.

"I suppose I shall have to see him," said Patricia, rising with the air
of one who has to perform an unpleasant task.  "I wish he'd stay at the
War Office and leave me to do my work.  I suppose I shall have to write
to Lord Derby about it."

Mrs. Bonsor glanced at Mr. Bonsor, who, however, was busily engaged in
preparing an appropriate speech upon War Office methods, suggested by
Patricia's remark about Lord Derby.

As Patricia entered the morning-room, Bowen came forward.

"Oh, Patricia! why will you persist in being a cold douche?  Why this
morning I absolutely scandalised Peel by singing at the top of my voice
whilst in my bath, and now.  Look at me now!"

Patricia looked at him, then she was forced to laugh.  He presented
such a woebegone appearance.

"But what on earth have I to do with your singing in your bath?" she
enquired.

"It was _The Morning Post_ paragraph.  I thought everything was going
to be all right after last night, and now I'm a door-mat again."

"Who inserted that paragraph?" enquired Patricia.

"I rang up _The Morning Post_ office and they told me that it was
handed in by Miss Brent, who is staying at the Mayfair Hotel."

"Aunt Adelaide!"  There was a depth of meaning in Patricia's tone as
she uttered the two words, then turning to Bowen she enquired, "Did you
tell them to contradict it?"

"They asked me whether it were correct," he said, refusing to meet
Patricia's eyes.

"What did you say?"

"I said it was."  He looked at her quizzically, like a boy who is
expecting a severe scolding.  Patricia had to bite her lips to prevent
herself from laughing.

"You told _The Morning Post_ people that it was correct when you knew
that it was wrong?"

Bowen hung his head.  "But it isn't wrong," he muttered.

"You know very well that it is wrong and that I am not engaged to you,
and that no marriage has been arranged or ever will be arranged.  Now I
shall have to write to the editor and insist upon the statement being
contradicted."

"Good Lord!  Don't do that, Patricia," broke in Bowen.  "They'll think
we've all gone mad."

"And for once a newspaper editor will be right," was Patricia's comment.

"And will you dine to-night, Pat?"

Patricia looked up.  This was the first time Bowen had used the
diminutive of her name.  Somehow it sounded very intimate.

"I am afraid I have an--an----"

The hesitation was her undoing.

"No; don't tell me fibs, please.  You will dine with me and then,
afterwards, we will go on and see the mater.  She is dying to know you."

How boyish and lover-like Bowen was in spite of his twenty-eight years,
and--and--how different everything might have been if----  Patricia was
awakened from her thoughts by hearing Bowen say:

"Shall I pick you up here in the car?"

"No, I--I've just told you I am engaged," she said.

"And I've just told you that I won't allow you to be engaged to anyone
but me," was Bowen's answer.  "If you won't come and dine with me I'll
come and play my hooter outside Galvin House until they send you out to
get rid of me.  You know, Patricia, I'm an awful fellow when I've set
my mind on anything, and I'm simply determined to marry you whether you
like it or not."

"Very well, I will dine with you to-night at half-past seven."

"I'll pick you up at Galvin House at a quarter-past seven with the car."

"Very well," said Patricia wearily.  It seemed ridiculous to try and
fight against her fate, and at the back of her mind she had a plan of
action, which she meant to put into operation.

"Now I must get back to my work.  Good-bye."

Bowen opened the door of the morning-room.  Mrs. Bonsor was in the
hall.  Patricia walked over to the library, leaving Bowen in Mrs.
Bonsor's clutches.

"Oh, Lord Peter!" Mrs. Bonsor gushed.  "I hope you and Miss Brent will
dine with us----"

Patricia shut the library door without waiting to hear Bowen's reply.

At five o'clock she gave up the unequal struggle with infant mortality
statistics and walked listlessly across the Park to Galvin House.  She
was tired and dispirited.  It was the weather, she told herself, London
in June could be very trying, then there had been all that fuss over
_The Morning Post_ announcement.  At Galvin House she knew the same
ordeal was awaiting her that she had passed through at Eaton Square.
Mrs. Craske-Morton would be effusive, Miss Wangle would unbend, Miss
Sikkum would simper, Mr. Bolton would be facetious, and all the others
would be exactly what they had been all their lives, only a little more
so as a result of _The Morning Post_ paragraph.

Only the fact of Miss Wangle taking breakfast in bed had saved Patricia
from the ordeal at breakfast.  Miss Wangle was the only resident at
Galvin House who regularly took _The Morning Post_, it being "the dear
bishop's favourite paper."

Arrived at Galvin House Patricia went straight to her room.  Dashing
past Gustave, who greeted her with "Oh, mees!" struggling at the same
time to extract from his pocket a newspaper.  Patricia felt that she
should scream.  Had everyone in Galvin House bought a copy of that
day's _Morning Post_, and would they all bring it out of their pockets
and point out the passage to her?  She sighed wearily.

Suddenly she jumped up from the bed where she had thrown herself,
seized her writing-case and proceeded to write feverishly.  At the end
of half an hour she read and addressed three letters, stamping two of
them.  The first was to the editor of _The Morning Post_, and ran:--


"DEAR SIR,

"In your issue of to-day's date you make an announcement regarding a
marriage having been arranged between Lord Peter Bowen and myself,
which is entirely inaccurate.

"I am given to understand that this announcement was inserted on the
authority of my aunt, Miss Adelaide Brent, and I must leave you to take
what action you choose in relation to her.  As for myself, I will ask
you to be so kind as to insert a contradiction of the statement in your
next issue.

"I am,
  "Yours faithfully,
    "PATRICIA BRENT."


Patricia always prided herself on the business-like quality of her
letters.

The second letter was to Miss Brent.  It ran:--


"DEAR AUNT ADELAIDE,

"I have written to the editor of _The Morning Post_ informing him that
he must take such action as he sees fit against you for inserting your
unauthorised statement that a marriage has been arranged between Lord
Peter Bowen and me.  It may interest you to know that the engagement
has been broken off as a result of your impulsive and ill-advised
action.  Personally I think you have rather presumed on being my 'sole
surviving relative.'

"Your affectionate niece,
  "PATRICIA."


The third letter was to Bowen.


"DEAR LORD PETER,

"I have written to the editor of _The Morning Post_, asking him to
contradict the inaccurate statement published in to-day's issue.  I am
consumed with humiliation that such a thing should have been sent to
him by a relative of mine, more particularly by a 'sole surviving
relative.'  My aunt unfortunately epitomises in her personality all the
least desirable characteristics to be found in relatives.

"I cannot tell you how sorry I am about--oh, everything!  If you really
want to save me from feeling thoroughly ashamed of myself you will not
only forget me, but also a certain incident.

"You have done me a great honour, I know, and you will add to it a
great service if you will do as I ask and forget all about a folly that
I have had cause bitterly to regret.

"Please forgive me for not dining with you to-night and for breaking my
word; but I am feeling very unwell and tired and I have gone to bed.

"Yours sincerely,
  "PATRICIA BRENT."


Patricia's plan was to post the letters to Aunt Adelaide and _The
Morning Post_, and leave the other with Gustave to be given to Bowen
when he called, she would then shut herself in her room and plead a
headache as an excuse for not being disturbed.  Thus she would escape
Miss Wangle and her waves of interrogation.

As Patricia descended the stairs, Gustave was in the act of throwing
open the door to Lady Tanagra.  It was too late to retreat.

"Ah! there you are," exclaimed Lady Tanagra as she passed the
respectful Gustave in the hall.

Patricia descended the remaining stairs slowly and with dragging steps.
Lady Tanagra looked at her sharply.

"Aren't we a nuisance?" cried she.  "There's nothing more persistent in
nature than a Bowen.  Bruce's spider is quite a parochial affair in
comparison," and she laughed lightly.

Patricia smiled as she welcomed Lady Tanagra.  For a moment she
hesitated at the door of the lounge, then with a sudden movement she
turned towards the stairs.

"Come up to my room," she said, "we can talk there."

There was no cordiality in her voice.  Lady Tanagra noticed that she
looked worn-out and ill.  Once the bedroom door was closed she turned
to Patricia.

"My poor Patricia! whatever is the matter?  You look thoroughly done
up.  Now lie down on the bed like a good girl, and I will assume my
best bedside manner."

Patricia shook her head wearily, and indicating a chair by the window,
seated herself upon the bed.

"I'm afraid I am rather tired," she said.  "I was just going to lock
myself up for the night."

"Now I'm going to cheer you up," cried Lady Tanagra.  "Was there ever a
more tactless way of beginning, but I've got something to tell you that
is so exquisitely funny that it would cheer up an oyster, or even a
radical."

"First," said Patricia, "I think I should like you to read these
letters."  Slowly and wearily she ripped open the three letters and
handed them to Lady Tanagra, who read them through slowly and
deliberately.  This done, she folded each carefully, returned it to its
envelope and handed them to Patricia.

"Well!" said Patricia.

Lady Tanagra smiled.  Reaching across to the dressing-table she took a
cigarette from Patricia's box and proceeded to light it.  Patricia
watched her curiously.

"I think you must have been meant for a man, Tanagra," she said after a
pause.  "You have the gift of silence, and nothing is more provoking to
a woman."

"What do you want me to say?" enquired Lady Tanagra.  "I like these
cigarettes," she added.

"If you are not careful, you'll make me scream in a minute," said
Patricia, with a smile.  "I showed you those letters and now you don't
even so much as say 'thank you.'"

"Thank you very much indeed, Patricia," said Lady Tanagra meekly.

"You don't approve of them?"  There was undisguised challenge in
Patricia's voice.

"I think the one to Miss Brent is admirable, specially if you will add
a postscript after what I tell you."

"But the other two," persisted Patricia.

"I do not think I am qualified to express an opinion, am I?" said Lady
Tanagra calmly.

"Why not?"

"Well, you see, I am an interested party."

"You!" cried Patricia, then with a sudden change, "Oh, if you are not
careful I shall come over and shake you!"

"I think that would be very good for both of us," was Lady Tanagra's
reply.

"Tell me what you mean," persisted Patricia.

"Well, in the first place, the one to the editor of _The Morning Post_
will make poor Peter ridiculous, and the other will hurt his feelings,
and as I am very fond of Peter you cannot expect me to be enthusiastic
with either of them, can you?"

Lady Tanagra rose and going over to Patricia put her arm round her and
kissed her on the cheek, then Patricia did a very foolish thing.
Without a word of warning she threw her arms around Lady Tanagra's neck
and burst into tears.

"Oh, I'm so wretched, Tanagra!  I know I'm a beast and I want to hurt
everybody and every thing.  I think I should like to hurt you even,"
she cried, her mood of crying passing as quickly as it had come.

"Don't you think we had better just talk the thing out?  Now since you
have asked my view," continued Lady Tanagra, "I will give it.  Your
letter to _The Morning Post_ people will make poor Peter the
laughing-stock of London.  He has many enemies among ambitious mamas.
Never have I known him to be attracted towards a girl until you came
along.  He's really paying you a very great compliment."

Patricia sniffed ominously.

"Then the letter to Peter would hurt him because--you must forgive
me--it is rather brutal, isn't it?"

Patricia nodded her head vigorously.

"Well," continued Lady Tanagra, "what do you say if we destroy them
both?"

"But--but--that would leave _The Morning Post_ announcement and
P-Peter----"

"Don't you think they might both be left, just for the moment?  Later
you can wipe the floor with them."

"But--but--you don't understand, Tanagra," began Patricia.

"Don't you think that half the troubles of the world are due to people
wanting to understand?" said Lady Tanagra calmly.  "I never want to
understand.  There are certain things I know and these are sufficient
for me.  In this case I know that I have a very good brother and he
wants to marry a very good girl; but for some reason she won't have
anything to do either with him or with me."  She looked up into
Patricia's face with a smile so wholly disarming that Patricia was
forced to laugh.

"If you knew Patricia's opinion of herself," she said to Lady Tanagra,
"you would be almost shocked."

"Well, now, will you do something just to please me?" insinuated Lady
Tanagra.  "You see this big brother of mine has always been more or
less my adopted child, and you have it in your power to hurt him more
than I want to see him hurt."  There was an unusually serious note in
Lady Tanagra's voice.  "Why not let things go on as they are for the
present, then later the engagement can be broken off if you wish it.
I'll speak to Peter and see that he is not tiresome."

"Oh, but he's never been that!" protested Patricia, then she stopped
suddenly in confusion.

Lady Tanagra smiled to herself.

"Well, if he's never been tiresome I'm sure you wouldn't like to hurt
him, would you?"  She was speaking as if to a child.

"The only person I want to hurt is Aunt Adelaide," said Patricia with a
laugh.

Lady Tanagra noticed with pleasure that the mood seemed to be dropping
from her.

"Well, may I be the physician for to-day?" continued Lady Tanagra.

Patricia nodded her head.

"Very well, then, I prescribe a dinner this evening with one Tanagra
Bowen, Peter Bowen and Godfrey Elton, on the principle of 'Eat thou and
drink, to-morrow thou shalt die.'"

"Who is Godfrey Elton?" asked Patricia with interest.

"My dear Patricia, if I were to start endeavouring to describe Godfrey
we should be at it for hours.  You can't describe Godfrey, you can only
absorb him.  He is a sort of wise youth rapidly approaching childhood."

"What on earth do you mean?" cried Patricia, laughing.

"You will discover for yourself later.  We are all dining at the
Quadrant to-night at eight."

"Dining at the Quadrant?" repeated Patricia in amazement.

"Yes, and I have to get home to dress and you have to dress and I will
pick you up in a taxi at a quarter to eight."

"But--but--Peter--your brother said that he was coming----"

"Peter has greater faith in his sister than in himself, he therefore
took me into his confidence and I am his emissary."

"Oh, you Bowens, you Bowens!" moaned Patricia in mock despair.

"There is no avoiding us, I confess," said Lady Tanagra gaily.  "Now I
must tell you about your charming aunt.  She called upon mother
yesterday."

"What!" gasped Patricia.

"She called at Grosvenor Square and announced to poor, un-understanding
mother that she thought the families ought to know one another.  But
she got rather badly shocked by Godfrey and one of the soldier boys,
whom we call 'Uncle,' and left with the firm conviction that our circle
is a pernicious one."

"It's--it's--perfectly scandalous!" cried Patricia.

"No, it's not as bad as that," said Lady Tanagra calmly.

"What?" began Patricia.  "Oh!  I mean Aunt Adelaide's conduct, it's
humiliating, it's----"

"Wait until you hear," said Lady Tanagra with a smile.  "When Peter ran
in to see mother, she said that she had had a call from a Miss Brent
and could he place her.  So poor old Peter blurts out that he's going
to marry Miss Brent.  Poor mother nearly had a fit on the spot.  She
was too tactful to express her disapproval; but she showed it in her
amazement.  The result was that Peter was deeply hurt and left the room
and the house.  I am the only one who saw the exquisite humour of the
joke.  My poor darling mother had the impression that Peter has gone
clean off his head and wanted to marry your most excellent Aunt
Adelaide," and Lady Tanagra laughed gaily.

For a moment Patricia gazed at her blankly, then as she visualised Aunt
Adelaide and Bowen side by side at the altar she laughed hysterically.

"I kept mother in suspense for quite a long time.  Then I told her, and
I also rang up Peter and told him.  And now I must fly," cried Lady
Tanagra.  "I will be here at a quarter to eight, and if you are not
ready I shall be angry; but if you have locked yourself in your room I
shall batter down the door.  We are going to have a very happy evening
and you will enjoy yourself immensely.  I think it quite likely that
Godfrey will fall in love with you as well as Peter, which will still
further increase your embarrassments." Then with a sudden change of
mood she said, "Please cheer up, Patricia, happiness is not a thing to
be taken lightly.  You have been a little overwrought of late, and now,
good-bye."

"One moment, please," said Patricia.  "Don't you understand that
nothing can possibly be built up on such a foundation as--as----?"

"Your picking up Peter in the Grill-room of the Quadrant," said Lady
Tanagra calmly.

Patricia gasped.  "Oh!" she cried.

"Let's call things by their right names," said Lady Tanagra.  "At the
present moment you're putting up rather a big fight against your own
inclination, and you are causing yourself a lot of unnecessary
unhappiness.  Is it worth it?" she asked.

"One's self-respect is always worth any sacrifice," said Patricia.

"Except when you are in love, and then you take pride in trampling it
under foot."

With this oracular utterance Lady Tanagra departed with a bright nod, a
smile and an insistence that Patricia should not come downstairs.



CHAPTER XIII

A TACTICAL BLUNDER

"I often think," remarked Lady Tanagra as she helped herself a second
time to hors d'oeuvres, "that if Godfrey could only be condensed or
desiccated he would save the world from ennui."

Elton looked up from a sardine he was filleting with great interest and
care; concentration was the foundation of Godfrey Elton's character.

"Does that mean that he is a food or a stimulant?" enquired Patricia,
Elton having returned to his sardine.

Lady Tanagra regarded Elton with thoughtful brow.

"I think," she said deliberately, "I should call him a habit."

"Does that imply that he is a drug upon the market?" retorted Patricia.

Bowen laughed.  Elton continued to fillet his sardine.

"You see," continued Lady Tanagra, "Godfrey has two qualities that to a
woman are maddening.  The first is the gift of silence, and the second
is a perfect genius for making everyone else feel that they are in the
wrong.  Some day he'll fall in love, and then something will snap
and--well, he will give up dissecting sardines as if they were the one
thing in life worthy of a man's attention."

Elton looked up again straight into Lady Tanagra's eyes and smiled.

"Look at him now!" continued Lady Tanagra, "that very smile makes me
feel like a naughty child."

The four were dining in Bowen's sitting-room at the Quadrant, Lady
Tanagra having decided that this would be more pleasant than in the
public dining-room.

"Can you," continued Lady Tanagra, who was in a wilful mood, "can you
imagine Godfrey in love?  I don't think any man ought to be allowed to
fall in love until he has undergone an examination as to whether or no
he can say the right thing the right way.  No, it takes an Irishman to
make love."

"But an Irishman says what he cannot possibly mean," said Patricia,
with the air of one of vast experience in such matters.

"And many Englishmen mean what they cannot possibly say," said Elton,
looking at Lady Tanagra.

"Oh," cried Lady Tanagra, clapping her hands.  "You have drawn him,
Patricia.  Now he will talk to us instead of concentrating himself upon
his food.  Ah!" she exclaimed suddenly, turning to Elton.  "I promised
that you should fall in love with Patricia, Godfrey."

"Now that Tanagra has come down to probabilities the atmosphere should
lighten," Elton remarked.

"Isn't that Godfrey all over?" demanded Lady Tanagra of Bowen.  "He
will snub one woman and compliment another in a breath.  Patricia," she
continued, "I warn you against Godfrey.  He is highly dangerous.  He
should always be preceded by a man with a red flag."

"But why?" asked Bowen.

"Because of his reticence.  A man has no right t to be reticent; it
piques a woman's curiosity, and with us curiosity is the first step to
surrender."

"Why hesitate at the first step?" asked Elton.

"Think of it, Patricia," continued Lady Tanagra, ignoring Elton's
remark.  "Although Godfrey has seen _The Morning Post_ he has not yet
congratulated Peter."

"I did not know then that I had cause to congratulate him," said Elton
quietly.

"What mental balance!" cried Lady Tanagra.  "I'm sure he reads the
deaths immediately after the births, and the divorces just after the
marriages so as to preserve his sense of proportion."

Elton looked first at Lady Tanagra and then on to Patricia, and smiled.

"Can you not see Godfrey choosing a wife?" demanded Lady Tanagra,
laughing.  "Weighing the shape of her head with the size of her ankles,
he's very fussy about ankles.  He would dissect her as he would a
sardine, demanding perfection, mental, moral, and physical, and in
return he could give _himself_."  Lady Tanagra emphasized the last word.

"Most men take less time to choose a wife than they would a
trousering," said Elton quietly.

"I think Mr. Elton is right," said Patricia.

"Then you don't believe in love at first sight," said Bowen to Patricia.

"Miss Brent did not say that," interposed Elton.  "She merely implied
that a man who falls in love at first sight should choose trouserings
at first sight.  Is that not so?"  He looked across at Patricia.

Patricia nodded.

"An impetuous man will be impetuous in all things," said Bowen.

"He who hesitates may lose a wife," said Lady Tanagra, "and----"

"And by analogy, go without trousers," said Elton quietly.

"That might explain a Greek; but scarcely a Scotsman," said Patricia.

"No one has ever been able to explain a Scotsman," said Elton.  "We
content ourselves with misunderstanding him."

"We were talking about love," broke in Lady Tanagra, "and I will not
have the conversation diverted."  Turning to Patricia she demanded,
"Can you imagine Godfrey in love?"

"I think so," said Patricia quietly, looking across at Elton.
"Only----"

"Only what?" cried Lady Tanagra with excited interest.  "Oh, please,
Patricia, explain Godfrey to me!  No one has ever done so."

"Don't you think he is a little like the Scotsman we were talking about
just now?" said Patricia.  "Difficult to explain; but easy to
misunderstand."

"Oh, Peter, Peter!" wailed Lady Tanagra, looking across at Bowen.
"She's caught it."

"Caught what?" asked Bowen in surprise.

"The vagueness of generalities that is Godfrey," replied Lady Tanagra.
"Now, Patricia, you must explain that 'only' at which you broke off.
You say you can imagine Godfrey in love, only----"

"I think he would place it on the same plane as honour and
sportsmanship, probably a little above both."

Elton looked up from the bread he was crumbling, and gave Patricia a
quick penetrating glance, beneath which her eyes fell.

Lady Tanagra looked at Patricia in surprise, but said nothing.

"Can you imagine Tan in love, Patricia?" enquired Bowen.  "We Bowens
are notoriously backward in matters of the heart," he added.

"I shall fall in love when the man comes along who--who----"  Lady
Tanagra paused.

"Will compel you," said Patricia, concluding the sentence.

Again Elton looked quickly across at her.

"What do you mean?" demanded Lady Tanagra.

"I think," said Patricia deliberately, "that you are too primitive to
fall in love.  You would have to be stormed, carried away by force, and
wooed afterwards."

"It doesn't sound very respectable, does it?" said Lady Tanagra
thoughtfully, then turning to Bowen she demanded, "Peter, would you
allow me to be carried away by force, stormed, and wooed afterwards?"

"I think, Tanagra, you sometimes forget that your atmosphere is too
exotic for most men," said Elton.

"Godfrey," said Lady Tanagra reproachfully, "I have had quite a lot of
proposals, and I won't be denied my successes."

"We were talking about love, not offers of marriage," said Elton with a
smile.

"Cynic," cried Lady Tanagra.  "You imply that the men who have proposed
to me wanted my money and not myself."

"Suppose, Tanagra, there were a right man," said Patricia, "and he was
poor and honourable.  What then?"

"I suppose I should have to ask him to marry me," said Lady Tanagra
dubiously.

"But, Tan, we've just decided," said Bowen, "that you have to be
carried away by force, and cannot love until force has been applied."

"I think I've had enough of this conversation," said Lady Tanagra.
"You're trying to prove that I'm either going to lose my reputation, or
die an old maid, and I'm not so sure that you're wrong, about the old
maid, I mean," she added.  "I shall depend upon you, Godfrey, then,"
she said, turning to Elton, "and we will hobble about the Park together
on Sunday mornings, comparing notes upon rheumatism and gout.  Ugh!"
She looked deliberately round the table, from one to the other.  "Has
it ever struck you what we shall look like when we grow very old?" she
asked.

"No one need ever grow old," said Patricia.

"How can you prevent it?" asked Bowen.

"There is morphia and the fountain of eternal youth," suggested Elton.

"Please don't let's be clever any more," said Lady Tanagra.  "It's
affecting my brain.  Now we will play bridge for a little while and
then all go home and get to bed early."

In spite of her protests Bowen insisted on seeing Patricia to Galvin
House.  For some time they did not speak.  As the taxi turned into
Oxford Street Bowen broke the silence.

"Patricia, my mother wants to know you," he said simply.

Patricia shivered.  The words came as a shock.  They recalled the
incident of her meeting with Bowen.  She seemed to see a grey-haired
lady with Bowen's eyes and quiet manner, too well-bred to show the
disapproval she felt on hearing the story of her son's first meeting
with his fiancé.  She shuddered again.

"Are you cold?" Bowen enquired solicitously, leaning forward to close
the window nearest to him.

"No, I was thinking what Lady Meyfield will think when she hears how
you made the acquaintance of--of--me," she finished lamely.

"There is no reason why she should know," said Bowen.

"Do you think I would marry----?"  Patricia broke off suddenly in
confusion.

"But why----?" began Bowen.

"If ever I meet Lady Meyfield I shall tell her exactly how I--I--met
you," said Patricia with
 decision.

"Well, tell her then," said Bowen good-humouredly.  "She has a real
sense of humour."

The moment Bowen had uttered the words he saw his mistake.  Patricia
drew herself up coldly.

"It was rather funny, wasn't it?" she said evenly; "but mothers do not
encourage their sons to develop such acquaintances.  Now shall we talk
about something else?"

"But my mother wants to meet you," protested Bowen.  "She----"

"Tell her the story of our acquaintance," replied Patricia coldly.  "I
think that will effectually overcome her wish to know me.  Ah! here we
are," she concluded as the taxi drew up at Galvin House.  With a short
"good night!" Patricia walked up the steps, leaving Bowen conscious
that he had once more said the wrong thing.

That night, as Patricia prepared for bed, she mentally contrasted the
Bowens' social sphere with that of Galvin House and she shuddered for
the third time that evening.

"Patricia Brent," she apostrophised her reflection in the mirror.
"You're a fool! and you have not even the saving grace of being an old
fool.  High Society has turned your giddy young head," and with a laugh
that sounded hard even to her own ears, she got into bed and switched
off the light.



CHAPTER XIV

GALVIN HOUSE MEETS A LORD

The effect of _The Morning Post_ announcement upon Galvin House had
been little short of sensational.  Although all were aware of the
engagement, to see the announcement in print seemed to arouse them to a
point of enthusiasm.  Everyone from the servants upwards possessed a
copy of _The Morning Post_, with the single exception of Mrs. Barnes,
who had mislaid hers and made everybody's life a misery by insisting on
examining their copy to make quite sure that they had not taken hers by
mistake.

Had not Patricia been so preoccupied, she could not have failed to
notice the atmosphere of suppressed excitement at Galvin House.  Many
glances were directed at her, glances of superior knowledge, of which
she was entirely unconscious.  Woman-like she never paused to ask
herself what she really felt or what she really meant.  Her thoughts
ran in a circle, coming back inevitably to the maddening question,
"What does he really think of me?"  Why had Fate been so unkind as to
undermine a possible friendship with that damning introduction?  After
all, she would ask herself indifferently, what did it matter?  Bowen
was nothing to her.  Then back again her thoughts would rush to the
inevitable question, what did he really think?

Since the night of her adventure, Patricia had formed the habit of
dressing for dinner.  She made neither excuse nor explanation to
herself as to why she did so.  Miss Wangle and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe,
however, had covertly remarked upon the fact; but Patricia had ignored
them.  She had reached that state in her psychological development when
she neither explained nor denied things.

With delicacy and insight Providence has withheld from woman the
uncomfortable quality of introspection.  Had Patricia subjected her
actions to the rigid test of reason, she would have found them
strangely at variance with her determination.  With a perversity
characteristic of her sex, she forbade Bowen to see her, and then spent
hours in speculating as to when and how he would disobey her.  A parcel
in the hall at Galvin House sent the colour flooding to her cheeks,
whilst Gustave, entering the lounge, bearing his flamboyant
nickle-plated apology for the conventional silver salver, set her heart
thumping with expectation.

As the day on which Bowen was to dine at Galvin House drew near, the
excitement became intense, developing into a panic when the day itself
dawned.  All were wondering how this or that garment would turn out
when actually worn, and those who were not in difficulties with their
clothes were troubled about their manners.  At Galvin House manners
were things that were worn, like a gardenia or a patent hook-and-eye.
Patricia had once explained to an uncomprehending Aunt Adelaide that
Galvin House had more manners than breeding.

On the Friday evening when Patricia returned to Galvin House, Gustave
was in the hall.

"Oh, mees!" he involuntarily exclaimed.

Patricia waited for more; but after a moment of hesitation, Gustave
disappeared along the hall as if there were nothing strange in his
conduct, leaving Patricia staring after him in surprise.

At that moment Mrs. Craske-Morton bustled out of the lounge, full of an
unwonted importance.

"Oh, Miss Brent!" she exclaimed.  "I am so glad you've come.  I have a
few friends coming to dinner this evening and we are dressing."
Without waiting for a reply Mrs. Craske-Morton turned and disappeared
along the passage leading to the servants' regions.

At that moment Mr. Bolton appeared at the top of the stairs in his
shirt sleeves; but at the sight of Patricia he turned and bolted
precipitately out of sight.

Patricia walked slowly upstairs and along the corridor to her room,
unconscious that each door she passed was closed upon a tragedy.

In one room Mrs. Barnes sat on her bed in an agony of indecision and a
camisole, wondering how the seams of her only evening frock could be
made black with the blue-black ink that had been given her at the
stationer's shop in error.

Mr. James Harris, a little bearded man with long legs and a short body,
stood in front of his glass, frankly baffled by the problem of how to
keep the top of his trousers from showing above the opening of his
low-cut evening waistcoat, an abandoned garment that seemed determined
to show all that it was supposed to hide.

Miss Sikkum was engaged in a losing game with delicacy.  On her lap lay
the Brixton "Paris model blouse," which she had adorned with narrow
black velvet ribbon.  Should she or should she not enlarge the surface
of exposure?  If she did Miss Wangle might think her fast; if she did
not Lord Peter might think her suburban.

Mr. Sefton was at work upon his back hair, striving to remove from his
reflection in the glass a likeness to a sandy cockatoo.

Mr. Cordal was vainly struggling with a voluminous starched shirt,
which as he bent seemed determined to give him the appearance of a
pouter pigeon.

To each his tragedy and to all their anguish.  Even Miss Wangle had her
problem.  Should she or should she not remove the lace from the modest
V in her black silk evening gown.  The thought of the bishop, however,
proved too much for her, and her collar-bones continued to remain a
mystery to Galvin House.

The dinner-gong found everyone anxious and unprepared.  All had a
vision of Bowen sitting in judgment upon them and mentally comparing
Galvin House with Park Lane; for in Bayswater Park Lane is the pinnacle
of culture and social splendour.

A few minutes after the last strain of the gong, sounded by Gustave in
a manner worthy of the occasion, had subsided, Miss Sikkum crept out
from her room feeling very "undressed."  The sight of Mr. Sefton nearly
drove her back precipitately to the maiden fastness of her chamber.
"Was she really too undressed?" she asked herself.

Slowly the guests descended, each anxious to cede to others the pride
of place, all absorbed with his or her particular tragedy.  By the aid
of pins Mr. Cordal had overcome his likeness to a pigeon, but he had
not allowed for movement, which tore the pins from their hold, allowing
his shirt-front to balloon out joyfully before him, for the rest of the
evening obscuring his boots.

Miss Wangle looked at Miss Sikkum and mentally thanked Heaven and the
bishop that she had restrained her abandoned impulse to remove the
black lace from her own neck.

Mr. Bolton's attention was concentrated upon the centre stud of his
shirt.  The button-hole was too large, and the head of the stud
insisted on disappearing in a most coquettish and embarrassing manner.
Mr. Bolton was not sure that Bowen would approve of blue underwear, and
consequently kept a finger and thumb upon his stud for the greater part
of the evening.

As each entered the lounge, it was with a hurried glance round to see
if the guest of the evening had arrived, followed by a sigh of relief
on discovering that he had not.  Mrs. Craske-Morton had taken the
precaution of deferring the dinner until eight o'clock.  She wished
Bowen's entry to be dramatic.

Mrs. Craske-Morton had asked a few friends of her own to meet her
distinguished guest; a Miss Plimsoll, who was composed in claret colour
and royal blue trimming, and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Ragbone.  Mrs. Ragbone
was a stout, jolly woman with a pronounced cockney accent.  Mr. Ragbone
was a man whose eyebrows seemed to rise higher with each year, and
whose manner of patient suffering became more pathetically unreal with
the passage of each season.  Mrs. Craske-Morton always explained him as
a solicitor.  Morton, Gofrim and Bowett, of Lincoln's Inn, knew him as
their chief clerk.

The atmosphere of the lounge was one of nervous tension.  All were
listening for the bell which would announce the arrival of Bowen.  When
at last he came, everybody was taken by surprise, Mr. Bolton's stud
eluded his grasp, Mr. Sefton felt his back hair, whilst Miss Sikkum
blushed rosily at her own daring.

A dead silence spread over the company, broken by Gustave, who,
throwing open the door with a flourish, announced "Lieutenant-Colonel
Lord Peter Bowen, D.S.O."  Bowen gave him a quick glance with widened
eyes, then coming forward, shook hands with Mrs. Craske-Morton.

Miss Sikkum was disappointed to find that he was in khaki.  She had a
vague idea that the nobility adopted different evening clothes from the
ordinary rank and file.  It would have pleased her to see Bowen with
velvet stripes down his trousers, a velvet collar and velvet cuffs.  A
coloured silk waistcoat would have convinced her.

Mrs. Craske-Morton was determined to do her work thoroughly.  She had
taken the precaution of telling Patricia that dinner would not be
served until a few minutes after eight, that would give her time to
introduce Bowen to all the guests.  She proceeded to conduct him round
to everyone in turn.  In her flurry she quite forgot the careful
schooling to which she had subjected herself for a week past, and she
introduced Miss Wangle to Bowen.

"Lord Peter, allow me to introduce Miss Wangle.  Miss Wangle, Lord
Peter Bowen," and this was the form adopted with the rest of the
company.

Bowen's sixth bow had just been interrupted by Mr. Cordal grasping him
warmly by the hand, when Patricia entered.  For a moment she looked
about her regarding the strange toilettes, then she saw Bowen.  She
felt herself crimsoning as he slipped away from Mr. Cordal's grasp and
came across to her.  All the guests hung back as if this were the
meeting between Wellington and Blücher.

"I've done six, there are about twenty more to do.  If you save me,
Patricia, I'll forgive you anything after we're married."

Patricia shook hands sedately.

Mrs. Craske-Morton bustled up to re-claim Bowen.  "A little surprise,
Miss Brent; I hope you will forgive me."

Patricia smiled at her in anything but a forgiving spirit.

"And now, Lord Peter, I want to introduce you to----"

"Deenair is served, madame."  Gustave was certainly doing the thing in
style.

At a sign from Mrs. Craske-Morton, Miss Wangle secured Mr. Samuel
Ragbone and they started for the dining-room.  The remainder of the
guests paired off in accordance with Mrs. Craske-Morton's instructions,
written and verbal, she left nothing to chance, and the procession was
brought up by Mrs. Craske-Morton herself and Bowen.  Patricia fell to
the lot of Mr. Sefton.

As soon as the guests were seated a death-like stillness reigned.
Bowen was looking round with interest as he unfolded his napkin into
which had been deftly inserted a roll.  Miss Sikkum, Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe and Mr. Bolton each lost their rolls, which were
retrieved from underneath the table by Gustave and Alice.

Mr. Sefton, also unconscious of the secreted roll, opened his napkin
with a debonair jerk to show that he was quite at his ease.  The bread
rose in the air.  He made an unsuccessful clutch, touched but could not
hold it, and watched with horror the errant roll hit Miss Wangle
playfully on the side of the nose, just as she was beginning to tell
Bowen about "the dear bishop."

Patricia bit her lip, Bowen bent solicitously over the angry Miss
Wangle, whilst Mr. Bolton threatened to report Mr. Sefton to the Food
Controller.  Gustave created a diversion by arriving with the soup.
His white cotton gloves, several sizes too large even for his hands,
caused him great anxiety.  Every spare moment during the evening he
spent in clutching them at the wrists, just as they were on the point
of slipping off.  Nothing, however, could daunt his courage or mitigate
his good-humour.  For the first time in his life he was waiting upon a
real lord, and from the circumstance he was extracting every ounce of
satisfaction it possessed.

In serving Bowen his attitude was that of one self-convicted of
unworthiness.  Accustomed to the complaints and bickerings of a
Bayswater boarding-house, Bowen's matter-of-fact motions of acceptance
or refusal impressed him profoundly.  So this was how lords behaved.
Nothing so impressed him as the little incident of the champagne.

At Galvin House it was the custom for the guests to have their own
drinks.  Mr. Cordal, for instance, drank what the label on the bottle
announced to be "Gumton's Superior Light Dinner Ale."  Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe favoured Guinness's Stout, Miss Sikkum took hot water,
whilst Miss Wangle satisfied herself with a claret bottle.  There is
refinement in claret, the dear bishop always drank it, with water: but
as claret costs money Miss Wangle made a bottle last for months.

The thought of the usual heterogeneous collection of bottles on the
occasion of Lord Peter's visit had filled Mrs. Craske-Morton with
horror, and she had decided to "spring" wine, as Mr. Bolton put it.  In
other words, she supplied for the whole company four bottles of
one-and-eightpenny claret, the bottles rendered beautifully old by
applied dust and cobwebs.  To this she had added a bottle of grocer's
champagne for Bowen.  Gustave had been elaborately instructed that this
was for the principal guest and the principal guest only, and Mrs.
Craske-Morton had managed to convey to him in some subtle way that if
he poured so much as a drop of the precious fluid into any other
person's glass, the consequences would be too terrifying even to
contemplate.

Whilst Galvin House was murmuring softly over its soup, Gustave
approached Bowen with the champagne bottle swathed in a white napkin,
and looking suspiciously like an infant in long clothes.  Holding the
end of the bottle's robes with the left hand so that it should not
tickle Bowen's ear, Gustave bent anxiously to his task.

Bowen, however, threw a bomb-shell at the earnest servitor.  He
motioned that he did not desire champagne.  Gustave hesitated and
looked enquiringly at his mistress.  Here was an unlooked-for
development.

"You'll take champagne?" enquired Mrs. Craske-Morton ingratiatingly.

Gustave breathed again, and whilst Bowen's attention was distracted in
explaining to Mrs. Craske-Morton that he preferred water, he had a
delicate taste in wine, Gustave filled the glass happily.  Of course,
it was all right, he told himself, the lord merely wanted to be
pressed.  If he had really meant "no," he would have put his hand over
his glass, as Miss Sikkum always did when she refused some of Mr.
Cordal's "Light Dinner Ale."

Gustave retired victorious with the champagne bottle, which he placed
upon the sideboard.  At every interval in his manifold duties, Gustave
returned with the white-clothed bottle, and strove to squeeze a few
more drops into Bowen's untouched glass.

The terrifying constraint with which the meal had opened gradually wore
off as the wine circulated.  Following the path of least resistance, it
mounted to Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe's head; but with Miss Sikkum it seemed
to stop short at her nose.  Mr. Cordal's shirt-front announced that he
had temporarily given up Gumton in favour of the red, red wine of the
smoking-concert baritone.  Mrs. Barnes seemed on the point of tears,
whilst Mr. Sefton's attentions to Patricia were a direct challenge to
Bowen.

Conversation at Galvin House was usually general; but it now became
particular.  Every remark was directed either to or at Bowen, and each
guest strove to hear what he said.  Those who were fortunate enough to
catch his replies told those who were not.  A smile or a laugh from
anyone who might be in conversation with Bowen rippled down the table.
Mr. Cordal was less intent upon his food, and his inaccuracy of aim
became more than ever noticeable.

"Oh, Lord Bowen!" simpered Miss Sikkum, "do tell us where you got the
D.S.O."

Bowen screwed his glass into his eye and looked across at Miss Sikkum,
at the redness of her nose and the artificial rose in her hair.
Everyone was waiting anxiously for Bowen's reply.  Mr. Cordal grunted
approval.

"At Buckingham Palace," said Bowen, "from the King.  They give you
special leave, you know."

Patricia looked across at him and smiled.  What was he thinking of
Galvin House refinement?  What did he think of her for being there?
Well, he had brought it on himself and he deserved his punishment.  At
first Patricia had been amused: but as the meal dragged wearily on,
amusement developed into torture.  Would it never end?  She glanced
from Miss Wangle, all graciousness and smiles, to Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe,
in her faded blue evening-frock, on to Miss Sikkum bare and abandoned.
She heard Mr. Sefton's chatter, Mr. Bolton's laugh, Mr. Cordal's jaws
and lips.  She shuddered.  Why did not she accept the opening of escape
that now presented itself and marry Bowen?  He could rescue her from
all this and what it meant.

"And shall we all be asked to the wedding, Lord Bowen?"

It was again Miss Sikkum's thin voice that broke through the curtain of
Patricia's thoughts.

"I hope all Miss Brent's friends will be there," replied Bowen
diplomatically.

"And now we shall all have to fetch and carry for Miss Brent," laughed
Mr. Bolton.  "Am I your friend, Miss Brent?" he enquired.

"She always laughs at your jokes when nobody else can," snapped Miss
Pilkington.

Everybody turned to the speaker, who during the whole meal had silently
nursed her resentment at having been placed at the bottom of the table.
Mr. Bolton looked crestfallen.  Bowen looked across at Patricia and saw
her smile sympathetically at Mr. Bolton.

"I think from what I have heard, Mr. Bolton," he said, "that you may
regard yourself as one of the elect."

Patricia flashed Bowen a grateful look.  Mr. Bolton beamed and, turning
to Miss Pilkington, said with his usual introductory laugh:

"Then I shall return good for evil, Miss Pilkington, and persuade Lady
Peter to buy her stamps at your place."

Miss Pilkington flushed at this reference to her calling, a
particularly threadbare joke of Mr. Bolton's.

"When is it to be, Lord Peter?" enquired Mrs. Craske-Morton.

Miss Sikkum looked down modestly at her plate, not quite certain
whether or no this were a delicate question.

"That rests with Miss Brent," replied Bowen, smiling.  "If you, her
friends, can persuade her to make it soon, I shall be very grateful."

Miss Sikkum simpered and murmured under her breath, "How romantic."

"Now, Miss Brent," said Mr. Bolton, "it's up to you to name the happy
day."

Patricia smiled, conscious that all eyes were upon her; but
particularly conscious of Bowen's gaze.

"I believe in long engagements," she said, stealing a glance at Bowen
and thrilling at the look of disappointment on his face.  "Didn't Jacob
serve seven years for Rachel?"

"Yes, and got the wrong girl then," broke in Mr. Bolton.  "You'll have
to be careful, Miss Brent, or Miss Sikkum will get ahead of you."

"Really, Mr. Bolton!" said Mrs. Craske-Morton, looking anxiously at
Bowen.

Miss Sikkum's cheeks had assumed the same tint as her nose, and her
eyes were riveted upon her plate.  Miss Pilkington muttered something
under her breath about Mr. Bolton's remark being outrageous.

"I think we'll take coffee in the lounge," said Mrs. Craske-Morton,
rising.  Turning to Bowen, she added, "We follow the American custom,
Lord Peter, the gentlemen always leave the dining-room with the ladies."

There was a pushing back of chairs and a shuffling of feet and Galvin
House rose from its repast.

"Coffee will not be served for half an hour, and if you and Miss Brent
would like to--to----"

Mrs. Craske-Morton paused significantly.  "My boudoir is at your
service."

Bowen looked at her and then at Patricia.  He saw the flush on her
cheeks and the humiliation in her eyes.

"I think we should much prefer not to interrupt our pleasant
conversation.  What do you say, Patricia?" he enquired, turning to
Patricia, who smiled her acquiescence.

They all trooped into the lounge, where everybody except Patricia,
Bowen and Mrs. Craske-Morton stood about in awkward poses.  The arrival
of Gustave with coffee relieved the tension.

For the next hour each guest endeavoured to attract to himself or
herself Bowen's attention, and each was disappointed when at length he
rose to go and shook hands only with Mrs. Craske-Morton, including the
others in a comprehensive bow.  Still more were they disappointed and
surprised when Patricia did not go out into the hall to see him off.

"Oh, Miss Brent!" simpered Miss Sikkum, "aren't you going to say good
night to him?"

"Good night!" interrogated Patricia, "but I did."

"Yes; but I mean----" began Miss Sikkum.

"Oh, you know," she said with a simper, but Patricia had passed over to
a chair, where she seated herself and began to read a newspaper upside
down.

Miss Sikkum's romantic soul had received a shock.



CHAPTER XV

MR. TRIGGS TAKES TEA IN KENSINGTON GARDENS


I

"Well, me dear, 'ow goes it?"

Mr. Triggs flooded the room with his genial person, mopping his brow
with a large bandana handkerchief, and blowing a cheerful protest
against the excessive heat.

Patricia looked up from her work and greeted him with a tired smile, as
he collapsed heavily upon a chair, which creaked ominously beneath his
weight.

"When you're sixty-two in the shade it ain't like being twenty-five in
the sun," he said, laughing happily at his joke.

"Now you must sit quiet and be good," admonished Patricia.  "I'm busy
with beetles."

"Busy with what?" demanded Mr. Triggs arresting the process of fanning
himself with his handkerchief.

"The potato-beetle," explained Patricia.  "There is no lack of variety
in the life of an M.P.'s secretary: babies and beetles, pigs and
potatoes, meat and margarine, they all have their allotted place."

"Arthur works you too 'ard, me dear, I'm afraid," said Mr. Triggs.  "I
must speak to 'im about it."

"Oh, Mr. Triggs!  You mustn't do anything of the sort.  He's most kind
and considerate, and if I am here I must do what he wants."

"But beetles and babies and potatoes, me dear," said Mr. Triggs.
"That's more than a joke."

"Oh! you don't know what a joke a beetle can be," said Patricia,
looking up and laughing in spite of herself at the expression of
anxiety on Mr. Triggs's face.

Mr. Triggs mumbled something to himself.

"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed a moment after.  "'Ere am I,
forgetting what I come about.  I've seen _The Morning Post_, me dear."

Patricia pushed back her chair from the table and turned and faced Mr.
Triggs.

"Mr. Triggs," she said, "if you mention the words _Morning Post_ to me
again I think I shall kill you."

Mr. Triggs's hands dropped to his side as he gazed at her in blank
astonishment.  "But, me dear----" he began.

"The engagement has been broken off," announced Patricia.

Mr. Triggs's jaw dropped, and he gazed at Patricia in amazement.
"Broken off," he repeated.  "Engagement broken off.  Why, damn 'im,
I'll punch 'is 'ead," and he made an effort to rise.

Patricia laughed, a little hysterically.

"You mustn't blame Lord Peter," she said.  "It is I who have broken it
off."

Mr. Triggs collapsed into the chair again.  "You broke it off," he
exclaimed.  "You broke off the engagement with a nice young chap like
'im?"

Patricia nodded.

"Well, I'm blowed!"  Mr. Triggs sat staring at Patricia as if she had
suddenly become transformed into a dodo.  After nearly a minute's
contemplation of Patricia, a smile slowly spread itself over his
features, like the sun breaking through a heavy cloud-laden sky.

"You been 'avin' a quarrel, that's what's the matter," he announced
with a profound air of wisdom.

Patricia shook her head with an air of finality; but Mr. Triggs
continued to nod his head wisely.

"That's what's the matter," he muttered.  "Why," he added, "you'll
never get another young chap like 'im.  Took a great fancy to 'im, I
did.  Now all you've got to do is just to kiss and make it up.  Then
you'll feel 'appier than ever afterwards."

Patricia realised the impossibility of conveying to Mr. Triggs that her
decision was irrevocable.  Furthermore she was anxious that he should
go, as she had promised to get out certain statistics for Mr. Bonsor.

"Now you really must go, Mr. Triggs.  You won't think me horrid, will
you, but I had a half-holiday the other day, and now I must work and
make up for it.  That's only fair, isn't it?"

"Very well, me dear, I can't stay.  I'll be off and get out of your
way.  Now don't forget.  Make it up, kiss and be friends.  That's my
motto."

"It isn't a quarrel, Mr. Triggs; but it's no use trying to explain to
anyone so sweet and nice as you.  Anyhow, I have broken off the
engagement, and Lord Peter is in no way to blame."

"Well, good-bye, me dear.  I'll see you again soon," said Mr. Triggs,
still nodding his head with genial conviction as to the rightness of
his diagnosis.  "And now I'll be trottin'.  Don't forget," and with a
final look over his shoulder and another nod of wisdom he floated out
of the room, seeming to leave it cold and bare behind him.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he muttered as he walked away from Eaton Square.
Arrived at the corner of Eaton Place, he stood still as if uncertain
what direction to take.  Seeing a crawling taxi he suddenly seemed
inspired with an idea.

"Hi!  Hi!  Taxi!" he shouted, waving his umbrella.  Having secured the
taxi and given the man instructions to drive to the Quadrant, he hauled
himself in and sat down with a sigh of satisfaction.

It was a few minutes to one as he asked for Lord Peter Bowen at the
enquiry-office of the Quadrant.  Two minutes later Peel descended in
the lift to inform him that his Lordship had not yet returned to lunch.
Was Mr. Triggs expected?

"Well, no," confessed Mr. Triggs, looking at Peel a little uncertainly.
"'E wasn't expecting me; but 'e asked me the other night if I'd call in
when I was passing, and as I was passing I called in, see?"

For a moment Peel seemed to hesitate.

"His Lordship has a luncheon engagement, sir," he said; "but he could
no doubt see you for two or three minutes if he asked you to call.
Perhaps you will step this way."

Before Mr. Triggs had a chance of doing as was suggested, Peel had
turned aside.

"No, my lady, his Lordship is not in yet; but he will not be more than
a minute or two.  This gentleman," he looked at the card, "Mr. Triggs,
is----"

"Oh, Mr. Triggs, how do you do?" cried Lady Tanagra, extending her hand.

Mr. Triggs looked at the exquisite little vision before him in surprise
and admiration.  He took the proffered hand as if it had been a piece
of priceless porcelain.

"I'm Lord Peter's sister, you know.  I've heard all about you from
Patricia.  Do come up and let us have a chat before my brother comes."

Mr. Triggs followed Lady Tanagra into the lift, too surprised and
bewildered to make any response to her greeting.  As the lift slid
upwards he mopped his brow vigorously with his handkerchief.

When they were seated in Bowen's sitting-room he at last found voice.

"I just been to see 'er," he said.

"Who, Patricia?" asked Lady Tanagra.

Mr. Triggs nodded, and there was a look in his eyes which implied that
he was not at all satisfied with what he had seen.

"Quarrelled, 'aven't they?"' he asked.

"Well," began Lady Tanagra, not quite knowing how much Mr. Triggs
actually knew of the circumstances of the case.

"Said she'd broken it off.  I gave her a talking to, I did.  She'll
never get another young chap like 'im."

"Did you tell her so?" asked Lady Tanagra.

"Tell her so, I should think I did!" said Mr. Triggs, "and more than
once too."

"Oh, you foolish, foolish man!" cried Lady Tanagra, wringing her hands
in mock despair.  A moment afterwards she burst out laughing at the
comical look of dismay on Mr. Triggs's face.

"What 'ave I done?" he cried in genuine alarm.

"Why, don't you see that you have implied that all the luck is on her
side, and that will make her simply furious?"

"But--but----" began Mr. Triggs helplessly, looking very much like a
scolded child.

"Now sit down," ordered Lady Tanagra with an irresistible smile, "and
I'll tell you.  My brother wants to marry Patricia, and Patricia, for
some reason best known to herself, says that it can't be done.  Now I'm
sure that she is fond of Peter; but he has been so impetuous that he
has rather taken her breath away.  I've never known him like it
before," said Lady Tanagra plaintively.

"But 'e's an awfully lucky fellow if 'e gets 'er," broke in Mr. Triggs,
as if feeling that something were required of him.

"Why, of course he is," said Lady Tanagra.  "Now will you help us, Mr.
Triggs?"

Lady Tanagra looked at him with an expression that would have extracted
a promise of help from St. Anthony himself.

"Of course I will, me dear.  I--I beg your pardon," stuttered Mr.
Triggs.

"Never mind, let it stand at that," said Lady Tanagra gaily.  "I'm sure
we're going to be friends, Mr. Triggs."

"Knew it the moment I set eyes on you," said Mr. Triggs with conviction.

"Well, we've got to arrange this affair for these young people," said
Lady Tanagra with a wise air.  "First of all we've got to prove to
Patricia that she is really in love with Peter.  If she's not in love
with him, then we've got to make her in love with him.  Do you
understand?"

Mr. Triggs nodded his head with an air that clearly said he was far
from understanding.

"Well, now," said Lady Tanagra.  "Patricia knows only three people that
know Peter.  There is you, Godfrey Elton, and myself.  Now if she's in
love with him she will want to hear about him, and----"

"But ain't she going to see 'im?" demanded Mr. Triggs incredulously.

"No, she says that she doesn't want Peter ever to see her, write to
her, telephone to her, or, as far as I can see, exist on the same
planet with her."

"But--but----" began Mr. Triggs.

"It's no good reasoning with a woman, Mr. Triggs, we women are all as
unreasonable as the Income Tax.  Now if you'll do as you are told we
will prove that Patricia is wrong."

"Very well, me dear," began Mr. Triggs.

"Now this is my plan," interrupted Lady Tanagra.  "If Patricia really
cares for Peter she will want to hear about him from friends.  She
will, very cleverly, as she thinks, lead up the conversation to him
when she meets you, or when she meets Godfrey Elton, or when she meets
me.  Now what we have to do is just as carefully to avoid talking about
him.  Turn the conversation on to some other topic.  Now we've all got
to plot and scheme and plan like--like----"

"Germans," interrupted Mr. Triggs.

"Splendid!" cried Lady Tanagra, clapping her hands.

"But why has she changed her mind?" asked Mr. Triggs.

"You must never ask a woman why she changes her frock, or why she
changes her mind, because she never really knows," said Lady Tanagra.
"Probably she does it because she hasn't got anything else particular
to do at the moment.  Ah! here's Peter," she cried.

Bowen came forward and shook hands cordially with Mr. Triggs.

"This is splendid of you!" he said.  "You'll lunch with us, of course."

"Oh no, no," said Mr. Triggs.  "I just ran in to--to----"

"To get to know me," said Lady Tanagra with a smile.

"Of course!  That's it," cried Mr. Triggs, beaming.  "I can't stop to
lunch though, I'm afraid.  I must be going to----"

"Have you got a luncheon engagement?" asked Lady Tanagra.

"Er--well, yes."

"Please don't tell fibs, Mr. Triggs.  You're not engaged to lunch with
anybody, and you're going to lunch with us, so that's settled."

"Why, bless my soul!" blew Mr. Triggs helplessly as he mopped his head
with his handkerchief.  "Why, bless my soul!"

"It's no good, Mr. Triggs.  When Tanagra wants anything she has it,"
said Bowen with a laugh.  "It doesn't matter whether it's the largest
pear or the nicest man!"

Lady Tanagra laughed.  "Now we'll go down into the dining-room."

For an hour and a half they talked of Patricia, and at the end of the
meal both Lady Tanagra and Bowen knew that they had a firm ally in Mr.
Triggs.

"Don't forget, Mr. Triggs," cried Lady Tanagra as she bade him good-bye
in the vestibule.  "You're a match-maker now, and you must be very
careful."

And Mr. Triggs lifted his hat and waved his umbrella as, wreathed in
smiles, he trotted towards the revolving doors and out into the street.

After he had gone Lady Tanagra extracted from Bowen a grudging promise
of implicit obedience.  He must not see, telephone, write or telegraph
to Patricia.  He was to eliminate himself altogether.

"But for how long, Tan?" he enquired moodily.

"It may be for years and it may be for ever," cried Lady Tanagra gaily
as she buttoned her gloves.  "Anyhow, it's your only chance."

"Damn!" muttered Bowen under his breath as he watched her disappear;
"but I'll give it a trial."


II

The next afternoon as Patricia walked down the steps of Number 426
Eaton Square and turned to the left, she was conscious that in spite of
the summer sunshine the world was very grey about her.  She had not
gone a hundred yards before Lady Tanagra's grey car slid up beside her.

"Will you take pity on me, Patricia?  I'm at a loose end," cried Lady
Tanagra.

Patricia turned with a little cry of pleasure.

"Jump in," cried Lady Tanagra.  "It's no good refusing a Bowen.  Our
epidermises are too thick, or should it be epidermi?"

Patricia shook her head and laughed as she seated herself beside Lady
Tanagra.

The car crooned its way up Sloane Street and across into Knightsbridge,
Lady Tanagra intent upon her driving.

"Is it indiscreet to ask where you are taking me?" enquired Patricia
with elaborate humility.

Lady Tanagra laughed as she jammed on the brake to avoid running into
the stern of a motor-omnibus.

"I feel like a pirate to-day.  I want to run away with someone, or do
something desperate.  Have you ever felt like that?"

"A politician's secretary must not encourage such unrespectable
instincts," she replied.

Lady Tanagra looked at her quickly, noting the flatness of her voice.

"A wise hen should never brood upon being a hen," she remarked
oracularly.

Patricia laughed.  "It is all very well for Dives to tell Lazarus that
it is noble to withstand the pangs of hunger," she replied.

"Now let us go and get tea," said Lady Tanagra, as she turned the car
into the road running between Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

"Tea!" cried Patricia, "why it's past five."

"Tea is a panacea for all ills and a liquid for all hours.  You have
only to visit a Government Department for proof of that," said Lady
Tanagra, as she descended from the car and walked towards the
umbrella-sheltered tea-tables dotted about beneath the trees.  "And now
I want to have a talk with you for a few minutes," she said as they
seated themselves at an empty table.

"I feel in the mood for listening," said Patricia, "provided it is not
to be good advice," she added.

"I've been having a serious talk with Peter," said Lady Tanagra.

Patricia looked up at her.  Overhead white, fleecy clouds played a game
of hide-and-seek with the sunshine.  The trees rustled languidly in the
breeze, and in the distance a peacock screamed ominously.

"I have told him," continued Lady Tanagra, "that I will not have you
worried, and he has promised me not to see you, write to you, telephone
to you, send you messenger-boys, chocolates, flowers or anything else
in the world, in fact he's out of your way for ever and ever."

Patricia looked across at Lady Tanagra in surprise, but said nothing.

"I told him," continued Lady Tanagra evenly, "that I would not have my
friendship with you spoiled through his impetuous blundering.  I think
I told him he was suburban.  In fact I quite bullied the poor boy.  So
now," she added with the air of one who has earned a lifelong debt of
gratitude, "you will be able to go your way without fear of the
ubiquitous Peter."

Still Patricia said nothing as she sat looking down upon the empty
plate before her.

"Now we will forget all about Peter and talk and think of other things.
Ah! here he is," she cried suddenly.

Patricia looked round quickly; but at the sight of Godfrey Elton she
was conscious of a feeling of disappointment that she would not,
however, admit.  Her greeting of Elton was a trifle forced.

Patricia was never frank with herself.  If it had been suggested that
for a moment she hoped that Lady Tanagra's remark referred to Bowen,
she would instantly have denied it.

"No, Godfrey, don't look at me like that," cried Lady Tanagra.  "I am
not so gauche as to arrange a parti-à-trois.  I've got someone very
nice coming for Patricia."

Again Patricia felt herself thrill expectantly.  Five minutes later Mr.
Triggs was seen sailing along among the tables as if in search of
someone.  Again Patricia felt that sense of disappointment she had
experienced on the arrival of Godfrey Elton.

Suddenly Mr. Triggs saw the party and streamed towards them, waving his
red silk handkerchief in one hand and his umbrella in the other.

"He has found something better than the fountain of eternal youth,"
said Elton to Patricia.

"Whatever it is he is unconscious of possessing it," replied Patricia
as she turned to greet Mr. Triggs.

"I'm late, I know," explained Mr. Triggs as he shook hands.  "I 'ad to
run in and see 'Ettie and tell 'er I was coming.  It surprised 'er,"
and Mr. Triggs chuckled as if at some joke he could not share with the
others.

"Now let us have tea," said Lady Tanagra.  "I'm simply dying for it."

Mr. Triggs sank down heavily into a basket chair.  He looked about
anxiously, as it creaked beneath his weight, as if in doubt whether or
no it would bear him.

"All we want now is----"  Mr. Triggs stopped suddenly and looked
apprehensively at Lady Tanagra.

"What is it you want, Mr. Triggs?" enquired Patricia quickly.

"Er--er--I--I forget, I--I forget," floundered Mr. Triggs, still
looking anxiously at Lady Tanagra.

"When you're in the company of women, Mr. Triggs, you should never
appear to want anything else.  It makes an unfavourable impression upon
us."

"God bless my soul, I don't!" cried Mr. Triggs earnestly.  "I've been
looking forward to this ever since I got your wire yesterday afternoon."

"Now he has given me away," cried Lady Tanagra.  "How like a man!"

"Given you away, me dear!" cried Mr. Triggs anxiously.  "What 'ave I
done?"

"Why, you have told these two people here that made an assignation with
you by telegram."

"Made a what, me dear?" enquired Mr. Triggs, his forehead corrugated
with anxiety.

"Lady Tanagra is taking a mean advantage of the heat, Mr. Triggs," said
Elton.

"Anyway, I'll forgive you anything, Mr. Triggs, as you have come," said
Lady Tanagra.

Mr. Triggs's brow cleared and he smiled.

"Come!  I should think I would come," he said.

Lady Tanagra then explained her meeting with Mr. Triggs and how he had
striven to avoid her company at luncheon on the previous day.  Mr.
Triggs protested vigorously.

During the tea the conversation was entirely in the hands of Lady
Tanagra, Elton and Mr. Triggs.  Patricia sat silently listening to the
others.  Several times Lady Tanagra and Mr. Triggs exchanged meaning
glances.

"Why ain't you talking, me dear?" Mr. Triggs once asked.

"I like to hear you all," said Patricia, smiling across at him.
"You're all too clever for me," she added.

"Me clever!" cried Mr. Triggs, and then as if the humour of the thing
had suddenly struck him he went off into gurgles of laughter.  "You
ought to tell 'Ettie that," he spluttered.  "She thinks 'er old
father's a fool.  Me clever!" he repeated, and again he went off into
ripples of mirth.

"What are your views on love, Mr. Triggs?" demanded Lady Tanagra
suddenly.

Mr. Triggs gazed at her in surprise.

Then he looked from Patricia to Elton, as if not quite sure whether or
no he were expected to be serious.

"If I were you I should decline to reply.  Lady Tanagra treats serious
subjects flippantly," said Elton.  "Her attitude towards life is to
prepare a pancake as if it were a soufflé."

"That proves the Celt in me," cried Lady Tanagra.  "If I were English I
should make a soufflé as if it were a pancake."

Mr. Triggs looked from one to the other in obvious bewilderment.

"I am perfectly serious in my question," said Lady Tanagra, without the
vestige of a smile.  "Mr. Triggs is elemental."

"To be elemental is to be either indelicate or overbearing," murmured
Elton, "and Mr. Triggs is neither."

"Love, me dear?" said Mr. Triggs, not in the least understanding the
trend of the conversation.  "I don't think I've got any ideas about it."

"Surely you are not a cynic. Mr. Triggs," demanded Lady Tanagra.

"A what?" enquired Mr. Triggs.

"Surely you believe in love," said Lady Tanagra.

"Me and Mrs. Triggs lived together 'appily for over thirty years," he
replied gravely, "and when a man an' woman 'ave lived together for all
that time they get to believe in love.  It's never been the same since
she died."  His voice became a little husky, and Elton looked at Lady
Tanagra, who lowered her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Triggs.  Will you tell us about--about----?" she broke
off.

"Well, you see, me dear," said Mr. Triggs in an uncertain voice, "I was
a foreman when I met 'er, and she was a servant; but--somehow or other
it seemed that we were just made for each other.  Once I knew 'er, I
didn't seem to be able to see things without her.  When I was at
work--I was in the building trade, foreman-carpenter," he explained, "I
used to be thinking of 'er all the time.  If I went anywhere without
'er--she only had one night off a week and one day a month--I would
always keep thinking of how she would like what I was seeing, or
eating.  It was a funny feeling," he added reminiscently as if entirely
unable to explain it.  "Somehow or other I always wanted to 'ave 'er
with me, so that she might share what I was 'aving.  It was a funny
feeling," he repeated, and he looked from one to another with moist
eyes.  "Of course," he added, "I can't explain things like that.  I'm
not clever."

"I think, Mr. Triggs, that you've explained love in--in----"  Lady
Tanagra broke off and looked at Elton, who was unusually grave.

"Mr. Triggs has explained it," he replied, "in the only way in which it
can be explained, and that is by being defined as unexplainable."

Mr. Triggs looked at Elton for a moment, then nodded his head violently.

"That's it, Mr. Elton, that's it.  It's a feeling, not a thing that you
can put into words."

Lady Tanagra looked at Patricia, who was apparently engrossed in the
waving tops of the trees.

"I shall always remember your definition of love, Mr. Triggs," said
Lady Tanagra with a far away look in her eyes.  "I think you and Mrs.
Triggs must have been very happy together."

"'Appy, me dear, that wasn't the word for it," said Mr. Triggs.  "And
when she was taken, I--I----" he broke off huskily and blew his nose
vigorously.

"Suppose you were very poor, Mr. Triggs," began Patricia.

"I was when I married," interrupted Mr. Triggs.

"Suppose you were very poor," continued Patricia, "and you loved
someone very rich.  What would you do?"

"God bless my soul!  I never thought of that.  You see Emily 'adn't
anything.  She only got sixteen pounds a year."

Lady Tanagra turned her head aside and blinked her eyes furiously.

"But suppose, Mr. Triggs," persisted Patricia, "suppose you loved
someone who was very rich and you were very poor.  What would you do?
Would you tell them?"

For a moment Patricia allowed her eyes to glance in the direction of
Elton, and saw that his gaze was fixed upon Mr. Triggs.

"But what 'as money got to do with it?" demanded Mr. Triggs, a puzzled
expression on his face.

"Exactly!" said Patricia.  "That's what I wanted to know."

"Money sometimes has quite a lot to do with life," remarked Elton to no
one in particular.

"With life, Mr. Elton," said Mr. Triggs; "but not with love."

"You are an idealist," said Lady Tanagra.

"Am I?" said Mr. Triggs, with a smile.

"And he is also a dear," said Patricia.

Mr. Triggs looked at her and smiled.


Lady Tanagra and Elton drove off, Patricia saying that she wanted a
walk.  Mr. Triggs also declined Lady Tanagra's offer of a lift.

"She wanted me to bring 'er with me," announced Mr. Triggs as they
strolled along by the Serpentine.

"Who did?"' enquired Patricia.

"'Ettie.  Ran up to change 'er things and sent out for a taxi."

"And what did you say?" enquired Patricia.

"I didn't say anything; but when the taxi come I just slipped in and
came along 'ere.  Fancy 'Ettie and Lady Tanagra!" said Mr. Triggs.
"No," he added a moment later.  "It's no good trying to be what you
ain't.  If 'Ettie was to remember she's a builder's daughter, and not
think she's a great lady, she'd be much 'appier," said Mr. Triggs with
unconscious wisdom.

"Suppose I was to try and be like Mr. Elton," continued Mr. Triggs,
"I'd look like a fool."

"We all love to have you just as you are, Mr. Triggs, and we won't
allow you to change," said Patricia.

Mr. Triggs smiled happily.  He was as susceptible to flattery as a
young girl.

"Well, it ain't much good trying to be what you're not.  I've been a
working-man, and I'm not ashamed of it, and you and Lady Tanagra and
Mr. Elton ain't ashamed of being seen with me.  But 'Ettie, she'd no
more be seen with 'er old father in Hyde Park than she'd be seen with
'im in a Turkish bath."

"We all have our weaknesses, don't you think?" said Patricia.

And Mr. Triggs agreed.

"You, for instance, have a weakness for High Society," continued
Patricia.

"Me, me dear!" exclaimed Mr. Triggs in surprise.

"Yes," said Patricia, "it's no good denying it.  Don't you like knowing
Lord Peter and Lady Tanagra, Mr. Elton and all the rest of them?"

"It's not because they're in Society," began Mr. Triggs.

"Oh, yes it is!  You imagine that you are now a very great personage.
Soon you will be moving from Streatham into Park Lane, and then you
will not know me."

"Oh, me dear!" said Mr. Triggs in distress.

"It's no good denying it," continued Patricia.  "Look at the way you
made friends with Lord Peter."  Patricia was priding herself on the way
in which she had led the conversation round to Bowen; but Mr. Triggs
was not to be drawn.

"God bless my soul!" he cried, stopping still and removing his hat,
mopping his brow vigorously.  "I don't mind whether anyone has a title
or not.  It's just them I like.  Now look at Lady Tanagra.  No one
would think she was a lady."

"Really, Mr. Triggs!  I shall tell her if you take her character away
in this manner.  She's one of the most exquisitely bred people I have
ever met."

Mr. Triggs looked reproachfully at Patricia.

"It's a bit 'ard on a young gal when she finds 'er father drops 'is
aitches," he remarked, reverting to his daughter.  "I often wonder
whether I was right in giving 'Ettie such an education.  She went to an
'Igh School at Eastmouth," he added.  "It only made 'er dissatisfied.
It was 'ard luck 'er 'aving me for a father," he concluded more to
himself than to Patricia.

"I am perfectly willing to adopt you as a father, Mr. Triggs, if you
are in want of adoption," said Patricia.

Mr. Triggs turned to her with a sunny smile.

"Ah! you're different, me dear.  You see you're a lady born, same as
Lady Tanagra; but 'Ettie ain't.  That's what makes 'er sensitive like.
It's a funny world," Mr. Triggs continued; "if you go about with one
boot, and you 'appen to be a duke, people make a fuss of you because
you're a character; but if you 'appen to be a builder and go about in
the same way they call you mad."

That evening Patricia was particularly unresponsive to Mr. Bolton's
attempts to engage her in conversation.



CHAPTER XVI

PATRICIA'S INCONSTANCY

Patricia's engagement and approaching marriage were the sole topics of
conversation at Galvin House, at meal-times in particular.  Bowen was
discussed and admired from every angle and aspect.  Questions rained
upon Patricia.  When was she likely to get married?  Where was the
wedding to take place?  Would she go abroad for her honeymoon?  Who was
to provide the wedding-cake?  Where did she propose to get her
trousseau?  Would the King and Queen be present at the wedding?

At first Patricia had endeavoured to answer coherently; but finding
this useless, she soon drifted into the habit of replying at random,
with the result that Galvin House received much curious information.

Miss Wangle's olive-branch was an announcement of how pleased the dear
bishop would have been to marry Miss Brent and Lord Peter had he been
alive.

Mr. Bolton joked as feebly as ever.  Mr. Cordal masticated with his
wonted vigour.  Mr. Sefton became absorbed in the prospect of the
raising of the military age limit, and strove to hearten himself by
constant references to the time when he would be in khaki.  Miss Sikkum
continued to surround herself with an atmosphere of romance, and
invariably returned in the evening breathless from her chaste
endeavours to escape from some "awful man" who had pursued her.  The
reek of cooking seemed to become more obvious, and the dreariness of
Sundays more pronounced.  Some times Patricia thought of leaving Galvin
House for a place where she would be less notorious; but something
seemed to bind her to the old associations.

As she returned each evening, her eyes instinctively wandered towards
the table and the letter-rack.  If there were a parcel, her heart would
bound suddenly, only to resume its normal pace when she discovered that
it was for someone else.

Of Lady Tanagra she saw little, news of Bowen she received none.  Her
most dexterous endeavours to cross-examine Mr. Triggs ended in failure.
He seemed to have lost all interest in Bowen.  Lady Tanagra never even
mentioned his name.

Whatever the shortcomings of Lady Tanagra and Mr. Triggs in this
direction, however, they were more than compensated for by Mrs. Bonsor.
Her effusive friendliness Patricia found overwhelming, and her
insistent hospitality, which took the form of a flood of invitations to
Patricia and Bowen to lunch, dine or to do anything they chose in her
house or elsewhere, was bewildering.

At last in self-defence Patricia had to tell Mrs. Bonsor that Bowen was
too much occupied with his duties even to see her; but this seemed to
increase rather than diminish Mrs. Bonsor's hospitable instincts, which
included Lady Tanagra as well as her brother.  Would not Miss Brent
bring Lady Tanagra to tea or to luncheon one day?  Perhaps they would
take tea with Mrs. Bonsor at the Ritz one afternoon?  Could they lunch
at the Carlton?  To all of these invitations Patricia replied with cold
civility.

In her heart Mrs. Bonsor was raging against the "airs" of her husband's
secretary; but she saw that Lady Tanagra and Lord Peter might be
extremely useful to her and to her husband in his career.  Consequently
she did not by any overt sign show her pique.

One day when Patricia was taking down letters for Mr. Bonsor, Mr.
Triggs burst into the library in a state of obvious excitement.

"Where's 'Ettie?" he demanded, after having saluted Patricia and Mr.
Bonsor.

Mr. Bonsor looked at him reproachfully.

"'Ere, ring for 'Ettie, A. B., I've got something to show you all."

Mr. Bonsor pressed the bell.  As he did so Mrs. Bonsor entered the
room, having heard her father's voice.

With great empressement Mr. Triggs produced from the tail pocket of his
coat a folded copy of the "Illustrated Universe".  Flattening it out
upon the table he moistened his thumb and finger and, with great
deliberation, turned over several leaves, then indicating a page he
demanded:

"What do you think of that?"

"That," was a full-page picture of Lady Tanagra walking in the Park
with Mr. Triggs.  The portrait of Lady Tanagra was a little indistinct;
but that of Mr. Triggs was as clear as daylight, and a remarkable
likeness.  Underneath was printed "Lady Tanagra Bowen and a friend
walking in the Park."

Mrs. Bonsor devoured the picture and then looked up at her father, a
new respect in her eyes.

"What do you think of it, 'Ettie?" enquired Mr. Triggs again.

"It's a very good likeness, father," said Mrs. Bonsor weakly.

It was Patricia, however, who expressed what Mr. Triggs had anticipated.

"You're becoming a great personage, Mr. Triggs," she cried.  "If you
are not careful you will compromise Lady Tanagra."

Mr. Triggs chuckled with glee as he mopped his forehead with his
handkerchief.

"I rang 'er up this morning," he said.

"Rang who up, father?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor.

"Lady Tan," said Mr. Triggs, watching his daughter to see the effect of
the diminutive upon her.

"Was she annoyed?" enquired Mrs. Bonsor.

"Annoyed!" echoed Mr. Triggs.  "Annoyed!  She was that pleased she's
asked me to lunch to-morrow.  Why, she introduced me to a duchess last
week, an' I'm goin' to 'er place to tea."

"I wish you would bring Lady Tanagra here one day, father," said Mrs.
Bonsor.  "Why not ask her to lunch here to-morrow?"

"Not me, 'Ettie," said Mr. Triggs wisely.  "If you want the big fish,
you've got to go out and catch 'em yourself."

There was a pause.  Patricia hid a smile in her handkerchief.  Mr.
Bonsor was deep in a speech upon the question of rationing fish.

"Well, A. B., what 'ave you got to say?"

"Dear fish may mean revolution," murmured Mr. Bonsor.

Mr. Triggs looked at his son-in-law in amazement.

"What's that you say?" he demanded.

"I--I beg your pardon.  I--I was thinking," apologised Mr. Bonsor.

"Now, father," said Mrs. Bonsor, "will you come into the morning-room?
I want to talk to you, and I'm sure Arthur wants to get on with his
work."

Mr. Triggs was reluctantly led away, leaving Patricia to continue the
day's work.

Patricia now saw little of Mr. Triggs, in fact since Lady Tanagra had
announced that Bowen would no longer trouble her, she found life had
become singularly grey.  Things that before had amused and interested
her now seemed dull and tedious.  Mr. Bolton's jokes were more obvious
than ever, and Mr. Cordal's manners more detestable.

The constant interrogations levelled at her as to where Bowen was, and
why he had not called to see her, she found difficult to answer.
Several times she had gone alone to the theatre, or to a cinema, in
order that it might be thought she was with Bowen.  At last the strain
became so intolerable that she spoke to Mrs. Craske-Morton, hinting
that unless Galvin House took a little less interest in her affairs,
she would have to leave.

The effect of her words was instantly manifest.  Wherever she moved she
seemed to interrupt whispering groups.  When she entered the
dining-room there would be a sudden cessation of conversation, and
everyone would look up with an innocence that was too obvious to
deceive even themselves.  If she went into the lounge on her return
from Eaton Square, the same effect was noticeable.  When she was
present the conversation was forced and artificial.  Sentences would be
begun and left unfinished, as if the speaker had suddenly remembered
that the subject was taboo.

Patricia found herself wishing that they would speak out what was in
their minds.  Anything would be preferable to the air of mystery that
seemed to pervade the whole place.  She could not be unaware of the
significant glances that were exchanged when it was thought she was not
looking.  Several times she had been asked if she were not feeling
well, and her looking-glass reflected a face that was pale and drawn,
with dark lines under the eyes.

One evening, when she had gone to her room directly after dinner, there
was a gentle knock at her door.  She opened it to find Mrs. Hamilton,
looking as if it would take only a word to send her creeping away again.

"Come in, you dear little Grey Lady," cried Patricia, putting her arm
affectionately round Mrs. Hamilton's small shoulders, and leading her
over to a basket-chair by the window.

For some time they talked of nothing in particular.  At last Mrs.
Hamilton said:

"I--I hope you won't think me impertinent, my dear; but--but----"

"I should never think anything you said or did impertinent," said
Patricia, smiling.

"You know----" began Mrs. Hamilton, and then broke off.

"Anyone would think you were thoroughly afraid of me," said Patricia
with a smile.

"I don't like interfering," said Mrs. Hamilton, "but I am very worried."

She looked so pathetic in her anxiety that Patricia bent down and
kissed her on the cheek.

"You dear little thing," she cried, "tell me what is on your mind, and
I will do the best I can to help you."

"I am very--er--worried about you, my dear," began Mrs. Hamilton
hesitatingly.  "You are looking so pale and tired and worn.  I--I fear
you have something on your mind and--and----" she broke off, words
failing her.

"It's the summer," replied Patricia, smiling.  "I always find the hot
weather trying, more trying even than Mr. Bolton's jokes," she smiled.

"Are you--are you sure it's nothing else?" said Mrs. Hamilton.

"Quite sure," said Patricia.  "What else should it be?"  She was
conscious of her reddening cheeks.

"You ought to go out more," said Mrs. Hamilton gently.  "After sitting
indoors all day you want fresh air and exercise."

And with that Mrs. Hamilton had to rest content.

Patricia could not explain the absurd feeling she experienced that she
might miss something if she left the house.  It was all so vague, so
intangible.  All she was conscious of was some hidden force that seemed
to bind her to the house, or, when by an effort of will she broke from
its influence, seemed to draw her back again.  She could not analyse
the feeling, she was only conscious of its existence.

From Miss Brent she had received a characteristic reply to her letter.


"DEAR PATRICIA," she wrote,

"I have read with pain and surprise your letter.  What your poor dear
father would have thought I cannot conceive.

"What I did was done from the best motives, as I felt you were
compromising yourself by a secret engagement.

"I am sorry to find that you have become exceedingly self-willed of
late, and I fear London has done you no good.

"As your sole surviving relative, it is my duty to look after your
welfare.  This I promised your dear father on his death-bed.

"Gratitude I do not ask, nor do I expect it; but I am determined to do
my duty by my brother's child.  I cannot but deplore the tone in which
you last wrote to me, and also the rather foolish threat that your
letter contained.

"Your affectionate aunt,
  "ADELAIDE BRENT.

"P.S.--I shall make a point of coming up to London soon.  Even your
rudeness will not prevent me from doing my duty by my brother's
child.--A. B."


As she tore up the letter, Patricia remembered her father once saying,
"Your aunt's sense of duty is the most offensive sense I have ever
encountered."

One day as Patricia was endeavouring to sort out into some sort of
coherence a sheaf of notes that Mr. Bonsor had made upon Botulism, Mr.
Triggs entered the library.  After his cheery "How goes it, me dear?"
he stood for some moments gazing down at her solicitously.

"You ain't lookin' well, me dear," he said with conviction.

"That's a sure way to a woman's heart," replied Patricia gaily.

"'Ow's that, me dear?" he questioned.

"Why, telling her that she's looking plain," retorted Patricia.

Mr. Triggs protested.

"All I want is a holiday," went on Patricia.  "There are only three
weeks to wait and then----"

There was, however, no joy of anticipation in her voice.

"You're frettin'!"

Patricia turned angrily upon Mr. Triggs.

"Fretting!  What on earth do you mean, Mr. Triggs?" she demanded.

Mr. Triggs sat down suddenly, overwhelmed by Patricia's indignation.

"Don't be cross with me, me dear."  Mr. Triggs looked so like a child
fearing rebuke that she was forced to smile.

"You must not say absurd things then," she retorted.  "What have I got
to fret about?"

Mr. Triggs quailed beneath her challenging glance.  "I--I'm sorry, me
dear," he said contritely.

"Don't be sorry, Mr. Triggs," said Patricia severely; "be accurate."

"I'm sorry, me dear," repeated Mr. Triggs.

"But that doesn't answer my question," Patricia persisted.  "What have
I to fret about?"

Mr. Triggs mopped his brow vigorously.  He invariably expressed his
emotions with his handkerchief.  He used it strategically, tactically,
defensively, continuously.  It was to him what the lines of Torres
Vedras were to Wellington.  He retired behind its sheltering folds, to
emerge a moment later, his forces reorganised and re-arrayed.  When at
a loss what to say or do, it was his handkerchief upon which he fell
back; if he required time in which to think, he did it behind its ample
and protecting folds.

"You see, me dear," said Mr. Triggs at length, avoiding Patricia's
relentless gaze, as he proceeded to stuff away the handkerchief in his
tail pocket.  "You see, me dear----"  Again he paused.  "You see, me
dear," he began for a third time, "I thought you was frettin' over your
work or something, when you ought to be enjoyin' yourself," he lied.

Patricia looked at him, her conscience smiting her.  She smiled
involuntarily.

"I never fret about anything except when you don't come to see me," she
said gaily.

Mr. Triggs beamed with good-humour, his fears now quite dispelled.

"You're run down, me dear," he said with decision.  "You want an
'oliday.  I must speak to A. B. about it."

"If you do I shall be very angry," said Patricia; "Mr. Bonsor is always
very kind and considerate."

"It--it isn't----" began Mr. Triggs, then paused.

"It isn't what?" Patricia smiled at his look of concern.

"If--if it is," began Mr. Triggs.  Again he paused, then added with a
gulp, "Couldn't I lend you some?"

For a moment Patricia failed to follow the drift of his remark, then
when she appreciated that he was offering to lend her money she
flushed.  For a moment she did not reply, then seeing the anxiety
stamped upon his kindly face, she said with great deliberation:

"I think you must be quite the nicest man in all the world.  If ever I
decide to borrow money I'll come to you first."

Mr. Triggs blushed like a schoolboy.  He had fully anticipated being
snubbed.  He had found from experience that Patricia had of late become
very uncertain in her moods.

They were interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Bonsor.

"'Ere, A. B.!" cried Mr. Triggs.  "What do you mean by it?"

"Mean by what?" enquired Mr. Bonsor, busy with an imaginary speech upon
street noises, suggested by a barrel-piano in the distance.

"You're working 'er too 'ard, A. B.," said Mr. Triggs with conviction.

"Working who too hard?"  Mr. Bonsor looked helplessly at Patricia.  He
was always at a disadvantage with his father-in-law, whose bluntness of
speech seemed to demoralise him.

"Mr. Triggs thinks that you are slowly killing me," laughed Patricia.

Mr. Bonsor looked uncertainly at Patricia, and Mr. Triggs gazed at Mr.
Bonsor.  He had no very high opinion of his daughter's husband.

"Well, mind you don't overwork 'er," said Mr. Triggs as he rose to go.
A few minutes later Patricia was deep in the absorbing subject of the
life history of the potato-beetle.

"Ugh!" she cried as the clock in the hall chimed five.  "I hate
beetles, and," she paused a moment to tuck away a stray strand of hair,
"I never want to see a potato as long as I live."

That evening when she reached Galvin House she went to her room, and
there subjected herself to a searching examination in the
looking-glass, she was forced to confess to the paleness of her face
and dark marks beneath her eyes.  She explained them by summer in
London, coupled with the dreariness of Arthur Bonsor, M.P., and his
mania for statistics.

"You're human yeast, Patricia!" she murmured to her reflection; "at
least you're paid two-and-a-half guineas a week to try to leaven the
unleavenable, and you mustn't complain if sometimes you get a little
tired.  Fretting!"  There was indignation in her voice.  "What have you
got to fret about?"

With the passage of each day, however, she grew more listless and
weary.  She came to dread meal-times, with their irritating chatter and
uninspiring array of faces that she had come almost to dislike.  She
was conscious of whisperings and significant looks among her
fellow-boarders.  She resented even Gustave's cow-like gaze of
sympathetic anxiety as she declined the food he offered her.

Lady Tanagra and Mr. Triggs never asked her out.  Everybody seemed
suddenly to have deserted her.  Sometimes she would catch a glimpse of
them in the Park on Sunday morning Once she saw Bowen; but he did not
see her.  "The daily round and common task" took on a new and sinister
meaning for her.  Sometimes her thoughts would travel on a few years
into the future.  What did it hold for her?  Instinctively she
shuddered at the loneliness of it all.

One afternoon on her return to Galvin House, Gustave opened the door.
He had evidently been on the watch.  His kindly face was beaming with
goodwill.

"Oh, mees!" he cried.  "Mees Brent is here."

"Aunt Adelaide!" cried Patricia, her heart sinking.  Then seeing the
comical lock of indecision upon Gustave's face caused by her despairing
exclamation she laughed.

When she entered the lounge, it was to find Miss Brent sitting upright
upon the stiffest chair in the middle of the room.  Miss Wangle and
Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe were seated together in the extreme corner, Mrs.
Barnes and two or three others were grouped by the window.  The
atmosphere was tense.  Something had apparently happened.  Patricia
learned that from the grim set of Miss Brent's mouth.

"I want to talk to you, Patricia," Miss Brent announced after the
customary greeting.

"Yes, Aunt Adelaide," said Patricia, sinking into a chair with a sigh
of resignation.

"Somewhere private," said Miss Brent.

"There is no privacy at Galvin House," murmured Patricia, "except in
the bathroom."

"Patricia, don't be indelicate," snapped Miss Brent.

"I'm not indelicate, Aunt Adelaide, I'm merely being accurate," said
Patricia wearily.

"Cannot we go to your room?" enquired Miss Brent.

"Impossible!" announced Patricia.  "It's like an oven by now.  The sun
is on it all the afternoon.  Besides," continued Patricia, "my affairs
are public property here.  We are quite a commune.  We have everything
in common--except our toothbrushes," she added as an afterthought.

"Well!  Let us get over there."

Miss Brent rose and made for the corner farthest from Miss Wangle and
Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe.  Patricia followed her wearily.

"I've just snubbed those two women," announced Miss Brent, as she
seated herself in a basket-chair that squeaked protestingly.

"There were indications of electricity in the air," remarked Patricia
calmly.

"I want to have a serious talk with you, Patricia," said Miss Brent in
her best it's-my-duty-cost-it-what-it-may manner.

"How can anyone be serious in this heat?" protested Patricia.

"I owe it to your poor dear father to----"

"This debtor and creditor business is killing romance," murmured
Patricia.

"I have your welfare to consider," proceeded Miss Brent.  "I----"

"Don't you think you've done enough mischief already, Aunt Adelaide?"
enquired Patricia coolly.

"Mischief!  I?" exclaimed Miss Brent in astonishment.

Patricia nodded.

"As your sole surviving relative it is my duty----"

"Don't you think," interrupted Patricia, "that just for once you could
neglect your duty?  Sin is wonderfully exhilarating."

"Patricia!" almost shrieked Miss Brent, horror in her eyes.  "Are you
mad?"

"No," replied Patricia, "only a little weary."

"You must have a tonic," announced Miss Brent.

Patricia shuddered.  She still remembered her childish sufferings
resulting from Miss Brent's interpretation and application of The
Doctor at Home.  She was convinced that she had swallowed every remedy
the book contained, and been rubbed with every liniment its pages
revealed.

"No, Aunt Adelaide," she said evenly.  "All I require is that you
should cease interfering in my affairs."

"How dare you!  How----"  Miss Brent paused wordless.

"I am prepared to accept you as an aunt," continued Patricia, outwardly
calm; but almost stifled by the pounding of her heart.  "It is God's
will; but if you persist in assuming the mantle of Mrs. Grundy,
combined with the Infallibility of the Pope, then I must protest."

"Protest!" repeated Miss Brent, repeating the word as if not fully
comprehending its meaning.

"If I am able to earn my own living, then I am able to conduct my own
love affairs."

"But----" began Miss Brent.

"I am sorry to appear rude, Aunt Adelaide, but it is much better to be
frank.  I am sure you mean well; but the fact of your being my sole
surviving relative places me at a disadvantage.  If there were two of
you or three, you could quarrel about me, and thus preserve the
balance.  Now let us talk about something else."

For once in her life Miss Brent was nonplussed.  She regarded her niece
as if she had been a two-tailed giraffe, or a double-headed mastodon.
Had she been American she would have known it to be brain-storm; as it
was she decided that Patricia was sickening for some serious illness
that had produced a temperature.

In all her experience of "the Family" never once had Miss Brent been
openly defied in this way, and she had no reserves upon which to fall
back.  She held personal opinion and inclination must always take
secondary place to "the Family."  The individual must be sacrificed to
the group, provided the individual were not herself.  Births, deaths,
marriages, christenings, funerals, weddings, were solemn functions that
must be regarded as involving not the principals themselves so much as
their relatives.  Her doctrine was, although she would not have
expressed it so philosophically, that the individual is mortal; but the
family is immortal.

That anyone lived for himself or herself never seemed to occur to Miss
Brent.  If their actions were acceptable to the family and at the same
time pleased the principals, then so much the better for the
principals; if, on the other hand, the family disapproved, then the
duty of the principals was clear.

This open flouting of her prides and her prejudices was to Miss Brent a
great blow.  It seemed to stun her.  She was at a loss how to proceed;
all she realised was that she must save "the Family" at any cost.

"Now tell me what happened when you came in," said Patricia sweetly.

"I must be going," said Miss Brent solemnly.

"Must you?" enquired Patricia politely; but rising lest her aunt should
change her mind.

"Now remember," said Patricia as they walked along the hall, "you've
lost me one matrimonial fish.  If I get another nibble you must keep
out of----"

But Miss Brent had fled.

"Well, that's that!" sighed Patricia as she walked slowly upstairs.



CHAPTER XVII

LADY PEGGY MAKES A FRIEND

One Sunday morning as Patricia was sitting in the Park watching the
promenaders and feeling very lonely, she saw coming across the grass
towards her Godfrey Elton accompanied by a pretty dark girl in an amber
costume and a black hat.  She bowed her acknowledgment of Elton's
salute, and watched the pair as they passed on in the direction of
Marble Arch.

Suddenly the girl stopped and turned.  For a moment Elton stood
irresolute, then he also turned and they both walked in Patricia's
direction.

"Lady Peggy insisted that we should break in upon your solitude," said
Elton, having introduced the two girls.

"You will forgive me, won't you?" said Lady Peggy, "but I so wanted to
know you.  You see Peter has the reputation of being invulnerable.
We're all quite breathless from our fruitless endeavours to entangle
him, and I wanted to see what you were like."

"I'm afraid you'll find I'm quite common-place," said Patricia,
smiling.  It was impossible to be annoyed with Lady Peggy.  Her
frankness was disarming, and her curiosity that of a child.

"I always say," bubbled Lady Peggy, "that there are only two men in
London worth marrying, and they neither of them will have me, although
I've worked most terribly hard."

"Who are they?" enquired Patricia.

"Oh!  Goddy's one," she said, indicating Elton with a nod, "and Peter's
the other.  They are both prepared to be brothers to me; but they're
not sufficiently generous to save me from dying an old maid."

"I must apologise for inflicting Peggy upon you, Miss Brent," said
Elton; "but when you get to know her you may even like her."

"I'm not going to wait until I know her," said Patricia.

"Bravo!" cried Lady Peggy, clapping her hands.  "That's a snub for you,
Goddy," she said, then turning again to Patricia, "I know we're going
to be friends, and you can afford to be generous to a defeated rival."

"I must warn you against Lady Peggy," said Elton quietly.  "She's a
most dangerous young woman."

"And now, Patricia," said Lady Peggy, "I'm going to call you Patricia,
and you must call me Peggy.  I want you to do me a very great favour."

Patricia looked at the girl, rather bewildered and breathless by the
precipitancy with which she made friends.  "I'm sure I will if I
possibly can," she replied.

"I want you to come and lunch with us," said Lady Peggy.

"It's very kind of you, I shall be delighted some day," replied
Patricia conventionally.

"No, now!" said Lady Peggy.  "This very day that ever is.  I want you
to meet Daddy.  He's such a dear.  Goddy will come, so you won't be
lonely," she added.

"I'm afraid I've got----" began Patricia.

"Please don't be afraid you've got anything," pleaded Lady Peggy.  "If
you've got an engagement throw it over.  Everybody throws over
engagements for me."

"But----" began Patricia.

"Oh, please don't be tiresome," said Lady Peggy, screwing up her
eyebrows.  "I shall have all I can do to persuade Goddy to come, and
it's so exhausting."

"I will come with pleasure," said Elton, "if only to protect Miss Brent
from your overwhelming friendliness."

"Oh, you odious creature!" cried Lady Peggy, then turning to Patricia
she added with mock tragedy in her voice, "Oh! the love I've languished
on that man, the gladness of the eyes I have turned upon him, the
pressures of the hand I've been willing to bestow on him, and this is
how he treats me."  Then with a sudden change she added, "But you will
come, won't you?  I do so want you to meet Daddy."

"If the truth must be told," said Elton, "Peggy merely wants to be able
to exploit you, as everybody is wanting to know about you and what you
are like.  Now she will be a celebrity, and able to describe you in
detail to all her many men friends and to her women enemies."

Lady Peggy deliberately turned her back upon Elton.

"Now we are going to have another little walk and then we'll go and get
our nosebags on," she announced.  "No, you're not going to walk between
us"--this to Elton--"I want to be next to Patricia," she announced.

Patricia felt bewildered by the suddenness with which Lady Peggy had
descended upon her.  She scarcely listened to the flow of small talk
she kept up.  She was conscious that Elton's hand was constantly at the
salute, and that Lady Peggy seemed to be indulging in a series of
continuous bows.

"Oh! do let's get away somewhere," cried Lady Peggy at length.  "My
neck aches, and I feel my mouth will set in a silly grin.  Why on earth
do we know so many people, Goddy?  Do you know," she added
mischievously, "I'd love to have a big megaphone and stand on a chair
and cry out who you are.  Then everybody would flock round, because
they all want to know who it is that has captured Peter the Hermit, as
we call him."  She looked at Patricia appraisingly.  "I think I can
understand now," she said.

"Understand what?" said Patricia.

"What it is in you that attracts Peter."

Patricia gasped.  "Really," she began.

"Yes, we girls have all been trying to make love to Peter and fuss over
him, whereas you would rather snub him, and that's very good for Peter.
It's just the sort of thing that would attract him."  Then with another
sudden change she turned to Elton and said, "Goddy, in future I'm going
to snub you, then perhaps you'll love me."

Patricia laughed outright.  She felt strongly drawn to this
inconsequent child-girl.  She found herself wondering what would be the
impression she would create upon the Galvin House coterie, who would
find all their social and moral virtues inverted by such directness of
speech.  She could see Miss Wangle's internal struggle, disapproval of
Lady Peggy's personality mingling with respect for her rank.

"Oh, there's Tan!" Lady Peggy broke in upon Patricia's thoughts "Goddy,
call to her, shout, wave your hat.  Haven't you got a whistle?"

But Lady Tanagra had seen the party, and was coming towards them
accompanied by Mr. Triggs.

Lady Peggy danced towards Lady Tanagra.  "Oh, Tan, I've found her!" she
cried, nodding to Mr. Triggs, whom she appeared to know.

"Found whom?" enquired Lady Tanagra.

"Patricia.  The captor of St. Anthony, and we're going to be friends,
and she's coming to lunch with me to meet Daddy, and Goddy's coming
too, so don't you dare to carry him off.  Oh, Mr. Triggs! isn't it a
lovely day," she cried, turning to Mr. Triggs, who, hat in hand, was
mopping his brow.

"Beautiful, me dear, beautiful," he exclaimed, beaming upon her and
turning to shake hands with Patricia.  "Well, me dear, how goes it?" he
enquired.  Then looking at her keenly he added, "Why, you're looking
much better."

Patricia smiled, conscious that the improvement in her looks was not a
little due to Lady Peggy and her bright chatter.

"You've become such a gad-about, Mr. Triggs, that you forget poor me,"
she said.

"Oh no, he doesn't!" broke in Lady Peggy, "he's always talking about
you.  Whenever I try to make love to him he always drags you in.  I've
really come to hate you, Patricia, because you seem to come between me
and all my love affairs.  Oh!  I wish we could find Peter," cried Lady
Peggy suddenly, "that would complete the party."

Patricia hoped fervently that they would not come across Bowen.  She
saw that it would make the situation extremely awkward.

"And now we must dash off for lunch," cried Lady Peggy, "or we shall be
late and Daddy will be cross."  She shook hands with Mr. Triggs, blew a
kiss at Lady Tanagra and, before Patricia knew it, she was walking with
Lady Peggy and Elton in the direction of Curzon Street.

Patricia was in some awe of meeting the Duke of Gayton.  Hitherto she
had encountered only the smaller political fry, friends and
acquaintances of Mr. Bonsor, who had always treated her as a secretary.
The Duke had been in the first Coalition Ministry, but had been forced
to retire on account of a serious illness.

"Look whom I've caught!" cried Lady Peggy as she bubbled into the
dining-room, where some twelve or fourteen guests were in process of
seating themselves at the table.  "Look whom I've caught!  Daddy," she
addressed herself to a small clean-shaven man, with beetling eyebrows
and a broad, intellectual head.  "It's the captor of Peter the Hermit."

The Duke smiled and shook hands with Patricia.

"You must come and sit by me," he said in particularly sweet and
well-modulated voice, which seemed to give the lie to the somewhat
stern and searching appearance of his eyes.  "Peter is a great friend
of mine."

Patricia was conscious of flushed cheeks as she took her seat next to
the Duke.  Later she discovered that these Sunday luncheons were always
strictly informal, no order of precedence being observed.  Young and
old were invited, grave and gay.  The talk was sometimes frivolous,
sometimes serious.  Sunday was, in the Duke's eyes, a day of rest, and
conversation must follow the path of least resistance.

Whilst the other guests were seating themselves, Patricia looked round
the table with interest.  She recognised a well-known Cabinet Minister
and a bishop.  Next to her on the other side was a man with hungry,
searching eyes, whose fair hair was cropped so closely to his head as
to be almost invisible.  Later she learned that he was a Serbian
patriot, who had prepared a wonderful map of New Serbia, which he
always carried with him.  Elton had described it as "the map that
passeth all understanding."

It embraced Bulgaria, Roumania, Transylvania, Montenegro, Greece,
Albania, Bessarabia, and portions of other countries.

"It's a sort of game," Lady Peggy explained later.  "If you can escape
without his having produced his map, then you've won," she added.

At first the Duke devoted himself to Patricia, obviously with the
object of placing her at her ease.  She was fascinated by his voice.
He had the reputation of being a brilliant talker; but Patricia decided
that even if he had possessed the most commonplace ideas, he would have
invested them with a peculiar interest on account of the whimsical
tones in which he expressed them.  He was a man of remarkable dignity
of bearing, and Patricia decided that she would be able to feel very
much afraid of him.

In answer to a question Patricia explained that she had only met Lady
Peggy that morning.

"And what do you think of Peggy's whirlwind methods?" asked the Duke
with a smile.

"I think they are quite irresistible," replied Patricia.

"She makes friends quicker than anyone I ever met and keeps them
longer," said the Duke.

Presently the conversation turned on the question of the
re-afforestation of Great Britain, springing out of a remark made by
the Cabinet Minister to the Duke.  Soon the two, aided by a number of
other guests, were deep in the intricacies of politics.  During a lull
in the conversation the Duke turned to Patricia.

"I am afraid this is all very dull for you, Miss Brent," he remarked
pleasantly.

"On the contrary," said Patricia, "I am greatly interested."

"Interested in politics?" questioned the Duke with a tinge of surprise
in his voice.

Gradually Patricia found herself drawn into the conversation.  For the
first time in her life she found her study of Blue Books and her
knowledge of statistics of advantage and use.  The Cabinet Minister
leaned forward with interest.  The other guests had ceased their local
conversation to listen to what it was that was so clearly interesting
their host and the Cabinet Minister.  In Patricia's remarks there was
the freshness of unconvention.  The old political war-horses saw how
things appeared to an intelligent contemporary who was not trammelled
by tradition and parliamentary procedure.

Suddenly Patricia became aware that she had monopolised the
conversation and that everyone was listening to her.  She flushed and
stopped.

"Please go on," said the Cabinet Minister; "don't stop, it's most
interesting."

But Patricia had become self-conscious.  However, the Duke with great
tact picked up the thread, and soon the conversation became general.

As they rose from the table the Duke whispered to Patricia, "Don't
hurry away, please, I want to have a chat with you after the others
have gone."

As they went to the drawing-room, Lady Peggy came up to Patricia and
linking her arm in hers, said:

"I'm dreadfully afraid of you now, Patricia.  Why everybody was
positively drinking in your words.  Wherever did you learn so much?"

"You cannot be secretary to a rising politician," said Patricia with a
smile, "without learning a lot of statistics.  I have to read up all
sorts of things about pigs and babies and beet-root and street-noises
and all sorts of objectionable things."

"What do you think of her, Goddy?" cried Lady Peggy to Elton as he
joined them.

"I'm afraid she has made me feel very ignorant," replied Elton.  "Just
as you, Peggy, always make me feel very wise."

In the drawing-room the Serbian attached himself to Patricia and
produced his "map of obliteration," as the Duke had once called it,
explaining to her at great length how nearly all the towns and cities
in Europe were for the most part populated by Serbs.

It was obvious to her, from the respect with which she was treated,
that her remarks at luncheon had made a great impression.

When most of the other guests had departed, the Duke walked over to
her, and dismissing Peggy, entered into a long conversation on
political and parliamentary matters.  He was finally interrupted by
Lady Peggy.

"Look here, Daddy, if you steal my friends I shall----" she paused,
then turning to Elton she said, "What shall I do, Goddy?"

"Well, you might marry and leave him," suggested Elton helpfully.

"That's it.  I will marry and leave you all alone, Daddy."

"Cannot we agree to share Miss Brent?" suggested the Duke, smiling at
Patricia.

"Isn't he a dear?" enquired Lady Peggy of Patricia.  "When other men
propose to me, and quite a lot have," she added with almost childish
simplicity, "I always mentally compare them with Daddy, and then of
course I know I don't want them."

"That is my one reason, Peggy, for not proposing," said Elton.  "I
could never enter the lists with the Duke."

"You're a pair of ridiculous children," laughed the Duke.

In response to a murmur from Patricia that she must be going, Lady
Peggy insisted that she should first come upstairs and see her den.

The "den" was a room of orderly disorder, which seemed to possess the
freshness and charm of its owner.  Lady Peggy looked at Patricia, a new
respect in her eyes.

"You must be frightfully clever," she said with accustomed seriousness.
"I wish I were like that.  You see I should be more of a companion to
Daddy if I were."

"I think you are an ideal companion for him you are," said Patricia.

"Oh! he's so wonderful," said Lady Peggy dreamily.  "You know I'm not
always such a fool I appear," she added quite seriously, "and I do
sometimes think of other things than frills and flounces and
chocolates."  Then with a sudden change of mood she cried, "Wasn't it
clever of me capturing you to-day?  As soon as you're alone Daddy will
tell me what he thinks of you, and I shall feel so self-important."

As Patricia looked about the room, charmed with its dainty freshness,
her eyes lighted upon a large metal tea-tray.  Lady Peggy following her
gaze cried:

"Oh, the magic carpet!"

"The what?" enquired Patricia.

"That's the magic carpet.  Come, I'll show you," and seizing it she
preceded Patricia to the top of the stairs.  "Now sit on it," she
cried, "and toboggan down.  It's priceless."

"But I couldn't."

"Yes you could.  Everybody does," cried Lady Peggy.

Not quite knowing what she was doing Patricia found herself forced down
upon the tea-tray, and the next thing she knew was she was speeding
down the stairs at a terrific rate.

Just as she arrived in the hall with flushed cheeks and a flurry of
skirts, the door of the library opened and the Duke and Elton came out.

Patricia gathered herself together, and with flaming cheeks and
downcast eyes stood like a child expecting rebuke, instead of which the
Duke merely smiled.  Turning to Elton he remarked:

"So Miss Brent has received her birth certificate."

As he spoke the butler with sedate decorum picked up the tray and
carried it into his pantry as if it were the most ordinary thing in the
world for guests to toboggan down the front staircase.

"To ride on Peggy's 'magic carpet,' as she calls it," said the Duke,
"is to be admitted to the household as a friend.  Come again soon," he
added as he shook hands in parting.  "Any Sunday at lunch you are
always sure to catch us.  We never give special invitations to the
friends we want, do we, Peggy? and I want to have some more talks with
you."

As Patricia and Elton walked towards the Park he explained that Lady
Peggy's tea-tray had figured in many little comedies.  Bishops, Cabinet
Ministers, great generals and admirals had all descended the stairs in
the way Patricia had.

"In fact," he added, "when the Duke was in the Cabinet, it was the
youngest and brightest collection of Ministers in the history of the
country.  Every one of them was devoted to Peggy, and I think they
would have made war or peace at her command."

When Patricia arrived at Galvin House, she was conscious of the world
having changed since the morning.  All her gloom had been dispelled,
the drawn look had passed from her face, and she felt that a heavy
weight had been lifted from her shoulders.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE AIR RAID

"Miss Brent, please get up.  There's an air raid."

Mechanically Patricia sat up in bed and listened.  Outside a
police-whistle was droning its raucous warning; within there was the
sound of frightened whispers and the noise of the opening and shutting
of doors.  Suddenly there was a shriek, followed by a low murmur of
several voices.  The sound of the police-whistle continued, gradually
dying away in the distance, and the noises within the house ceased.

Patricia strained her ears to catch the first sound of the defensive
guns.  She had no intention of getting up for a false alarm.  For some
minutes there was silence, then came a slight murmur, half sob, half
sigh, as if London were breathing heavily in her sleep, another
followed, then half a dozen in quick succession growing louder with
every report.  Suddenly came the scream of a "whiz-bang" and the
thunder of a large gun.  Soon the orchestra was in full swing.

Still Patricia listened.  She was fascinated.  Why did guns sound
exactly as if large plank were being dropped?  Why did the report seem
as if something were bouncing?  Suddenly a terrific report, a sound as
if a giant plank had been dropped and had "bounced."  A neighbouring
gun had given tongue, another followed.

She jumped out of bed and proceeded to pull on her stockings.  There
was a gentle tapping at her door, not the peremptory summons that had
awakened her and which, by the voice that had accompanied it, she
recognised as that of Mrs. Craske-Morton.

"What is it?" she called out.

"It's me, mees."  Patricia could scarcely recognise in the terrified
accents the voice of Gustave.  "It's a raid.  Oh! mees, please come
down."

"All right, Gustave.  I shall be down in a minute," replied Patricia,
and she heard a flurry of retreating footsteps.  Gustave was descending
to safety.  There was about him nothing of the Roman sentry.

Patricia proceeded with her toilette, hastened, in spite of herself, by
a tremendous crash which she recognised as a bomb.

At Galvin House "Raid Instructions" had been posted in each room.
Guests were instructed to hasten with all possible speed downstairs to
the basement-kitchen, where tea and coffee would be served and, if
necessary, bandages and first-aid applied.  Miss Sikkum had made a
superficial study of Red Cross work from a shilling manual but as,
according to her own confession, she fainted at the sight of blood, no
very great reliance was placed in her ministrations.

As Patricia entered the kitchen her first inclination was to laugh at
the amazing variety, not only of toilettes, but of expressions that met
her eyes.  Self-confident in the knowledge that she was fully dressed,
she looked about her with interest.

"Oh, here you are, Miss Brent!" exclaimed Mrs. Craske-Morton, who was
busily engaged in preparing the tea and coffee of the "Raid
Instructions."  "Gustave would insist on going up to call you a second
time.  We were----"  Mrs. Craske-Morton broke off her sentence and
dashed for the gas-stove, where the milk was boiling over.

"Oh, mees!"  Patricia turned to Gustave.  She bit her lip fiercely to
restrain the laugh that bubbled up at the sight of the major-domo of
Galvin House.

Above a pair of black trousers, tucked in the tops of unlaced boots,
and from which the braces flapped aimlessly, was visible the upper part
of a red flannel night-shirt.  The remainder was bestowed beneath the
upper part of the trousers, giving to his figure a curiously knobbly
appearance.  His face was leaden-coloured and his upstanding hair more
erect than ever, whilst in his eyes was Fear.

He was trembling in every limb, and his jaw shook as he uttered his
expression of relief at the sight of Patricia.  She smiled at him, then
suddenly remembering that, in spite of his terror, he had voluntarily
gone up to the top of the house to call her, she felt something
strangely uncomfortable at the back of her throat.

"Come along, Gustave!" she cried brightly.  "Let us help get the tea.
I'm so thirsty."

From that moment Gustave appeared to take himself in hand, and save for
a violent start, at the more vigorous reports, seemed to have overcome
his terror.

As Patricia proceeded to assist Mrs. Craske-Morton, a veritable heroine
in a pink flannel wrapper, she took stock of her fellows.  Miss Wangle
was engaged in prayer and tears, her wig was awry, her face drawn and
yellow and her clothes the garb of advanced maidenhood.  On her feet
were bed-socks, half thrust into felt slippers.  From beneath a black
quilted dressing-gown peeped with virtuous pride the longcloth of a
nightdress of Victorian severity.

Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe was in curl-papers and a faded blue kimono that
allowed no suggestion to escape of the form beneath.  Miss Sikkum had
seized a grey raincoat, above which a forest of curl papers looked
strangely out of place.  Her fingers moved restlessly.  The two top
buttons of the raincoat were missing, displaying a wealth of blue
ribbon and openwork that none had suspected in her.  The lateness at
which the ribbon and openwork began gave an interesting demonstration
in feminine bone structure.

Mr. Sefton was splendid in a purple dressing-gown with orange cord and
tassels, and red and white striped pyjamas beneath.  Mr. Sefton had
chosen his raid-costume with elaborate care; but the suddenness of the
alarm had not allowed of the arrangement of his hair, most of which
hung down behind in a sandy cascade.  His manner was the forced heroic.
He was smoking a cigarette with a too obvious nonchalance to deceive.
The heroes of Mr. Sefton's imagination always lit cigarettes when
facing death.  They were of the type that seizes a revolver when the
ship is sinking and, with one foot placed negligently upon the capstan
(Mr. Sefton had not the most remote idea of what a capstan was like)
shouted, "Women and children first."

He walked about the kitchen with what he meant to be a smile upon his
pale lips.  The cigarette he found a nuisance.  If he held it between
his lips the smoke got in his eyes and made them stream with water; if,
on the other hand, he held it between his fingers, it emphasized the
shaking of his hand.  He compromised by letting it go out between his
lips, arguing that the effect was the same.

Mr. Bolton had donned his fez and velvet smoking-jacket above creased
white pyjama trousers that refused to meet the tops of his felt
slippers.  Mr. Bolton continued to make "jokes," for the same reason
that Mr. Sefton smoked a cigarette.

Mr. Cordal was negative in a big ulster with a hem of nightshirt
beneath, leaving about eight inches of fleshless shin before his carpet
slippers with the fur-tops were reached.  He sat gazing with unseeing
eyes at the cook huddled up opposite, moaning as she held her heart
with a fat, dirty hand.

Mrs. Barnes, the victim of indecision, had leapt straight out of bed,
gathered her clothes in her arms and had flown to safety.  She walked
about the kitchen aimlessly, dropping and retrieving various garments,
which she stuffed back again into the bundle she carried under her arm.

Mrs. Craske-Morton was practical and courageous.  Her one thought was
to prepare the promised refreshments.  Her staff, with the exception of
Gustave, was useless, and she was grateful to Patricia for her
assistance.

Outside pandemonium was raging, the noise of the barrage was
diabolical, the "bouncing" of the heavy guns, the screams of the
"whiz-bangs," the cackle of machine-guns from aeroplanes overhead; all
seemed to tell of death and chaos.

Suddenly the puny sound of guns was drowned in one gigantic uproar.
For a moment the place was plunged in darkness, then the electric light
shuddered into being again.  The glass flew from the windows, the house
rocked as if uncertain whether or no it should collapse.  Miss Wangle
slipped on to her knees, her wig slipped on to her left ear.

"Oh, my God!" screamed the cook, as if to ensure exclusive rights to
the Deity's attention.

Jenny, the housemaid, entirely unconscious that her nightdress was her
sole garment, threw herself flat on her face.  Mrs. Craske-Morton, who
was pouring out tea, let the teapot slip from her hand, smashing the
cup and pouring the contents on to the table.  Gustave's knees refused
their office and he sank down, grasping with both hands the edge of the
table.  Mrs. Barnes dropped her clothes without troubling to retrieve
them.

Suddenly there was a terrifying scream outside, then a motor-car drew
up and the sound of men's voices was heard.

Still the guns thundered.  Patricia felt herself trembling.  For a
moment a rush of blood seemed to suffocate her, then she found herself
gazing at Miss Wangle, wondering whether she were praying to God or to
the bishop.  She laughed in a voice unrecognisable to herself.  She
looked about the kitchen.  Mr. Sefton had sunk down upon a chair, the
cigarette still attached to his bloodless lower lip, his arms hanging
limply down beside him.  Mr. Cordal was looking about him as if dazed,
whilst Mr. Bolton was gazing at the glassless window-frames, as if
expecting some apparition to appear.

"It's a bomb next door," gasped Mrs. Craske-Morton, then remembering
her responsibilities, she caught Patricia's eye.  There was appeal in
her glance.

"Come along, Gustave," cried Patricia in a voice that she still found
it difficult to recognise as her own.

Gustave, still on his knees, looked round and up at her with the eyes
of a dumb animal that knows it is about to be tortured.

"Gustave, get up and help with the tea," said Patricia.

A look of wonder crept into Gustave's eyes at the unaccustomed tone of
Patricia's voice.  Slowly he dragged himself up, as if testing the
capacity of each knee to support the weight of his body.

"There's brandy there," said Mrs. Craske-Morton, pointing to a
spirit-case she had brought down with her.  "Here's the key."

Patricia took the key from her trembling hand, noting that her own was
shaking violently.

"Mrs. Morton," she whispered, "you are splendid."

Mrs. Morton smiled wanly, and Patricia felt that in that moment she had
got to know the woman beneath the boarding-house keeper.

"Shall we put it in their tea?" enquired Patricia, holding the decanter
of brandy.

Mrs. Craske-Morton nodded.

"Now, Gustave!" cried Patricia, "make everybody drink tea."

Gustave looked at his own hands, and then down at his knees as if in
doubt as to whether he possessed the power of making them obey his
wishes.

Miss Wangle was still on her knees, the cook was appealing to the
Almighty with tiresome reiteration.  Jenny had developed hysterics, and
was seated on the ground drumming with her heels upon the floor, Miss
Sikkum gazing at her as if she had been some phenomenon from another
world.  Mr. Bolton had valiantly pulled himself together and was
endeavouring to persuade Mrs. Barnes to accept the various garments
that he was picking up from the floor.  Her only acknowledgment of his
gallantry was to gaze at him with dull, unseeing eyes, and to wag her
head from side to side as if in repudiation of the ownership of what he
was striving to get her to take from him.

Mr. Sefton, valiant to the end, was with trembling fingers endeavouring
to extract a cigarette from his case, apparently unconscious that one
was still attached to his lip.  Mrs. Craske-Morton, Patricia and
Gustave set themselves to work to pour tea and brandy down the throats
of the others.  Mr. Sefton took his mechanically and put it to his
lips, oblivious of the cigarette that still dangled there.  Finding an
obstruction he put up his hand and pulled the cigarette away and with
it a portion of the skin of his lip.  For the rest of the evening he
was dabbing his mouth with his pocket-handkerchief.

Gustave had valiantly gone to the assistance of Jenny, and was
endeavouring to pour tea through her closed teeth, with the result that
it streamed down the neck of her nightdress.  The effect was the same,
however.  As she felt the hot fluid on her chest she screamed, stopped
drumming with her heels and looked about the kitchen.

"You've scalded me, you beast!" she cried, whereat Gustave, who was
sitting on his heels, started and fell backwards, bringing Miss Sikkum
down on top of him together with her cup of tea.

Mrs. Craske-Morton was ministering to Miss Wangle and Mrs.
Mosscrop-Smythe.  Mr. Bolton and Mr. Cordal were both drinking neat
brandy out of teacups.

Outside the guns still thundered and screamed.

Patricia went to the assistance of the cook; kneeling down she
persuaded her to drink a cup of tea and brandy, which had the effect of
silencing her appeals to the Almighty.

For an hour the "guests" of Galvin House waited, exactly what for no
one knew.  Then the noise of the firing began to die away in waves of
sound.  There would be a few minutes' silence but for the distant
rumble of guns, then suddenly a spurt of firing as if the guns were
reluctant to forget their former anger.  Another period of silence
would follow, then two or three isolated reports, like the snarl of
dogs that had been dragged from their prey.  Finally quiet.

For a further half-hour Galvin House waited, praying that the attack
would not be renewed.  There were little spurts of conversation.  Mr.
Sefton was slowly returning to the "foot on the Capstan" attitude, and
actually had a cigarette alight.  Mr. Bolton and Mr. Cordal were
speculating as to where the bomb had fallen.  Mrs. Craske-Morton was
wondering if the Government would pay promptly for the damage to her
glass.

Outside there were sounds of life and movement, cars were throbbing and
passing to and fro, and men's voices could be heard.  Suddenly there
was a loud peal of the street-door bell.  All looked at each other in
consternation.  Gustave looked about him as if he had lost a puppy.
Mrs. Craske-Morton looked at Gustave.

"Gustave!" said Patricia, surprised at her own calm.

Gustave looked at her for a moment then, remembering his duties, went
slowly to the door, listening the while as if expecting a further
bombardment to break out.  With the exception of Miss Wangle and the
cook, everybody was on the qui vive of expectation.

"It's the police," suggested Mrs. Craske-Morton, with conviction.

"Or the ambulance," ventured Miss Sikkum in a trembling voice.
"They're collecting the dead," she added optimistically.

All eyes were riveted upon the kitchen door.  Steps were heard
descending the stairs.  A moment later the door was thrown open and
Gustave in a voice strangely unlike his own announced:

"'Ees Lordship, madame."

Bowen entered the kitchen and cast a swift look about him.  A light of
relief passed over his face as he saw Patricia.  Some instinct that she
could neither explain nor control caused her to go over to him, and
before she knew what was taking place both her hands were in his.

"Thank God!" he breathed.  "I was afraid it was this house.  I heard a
bomb had dropped here.  Oh, my dear!  I've been in hell!"

There was something in his voice that thrilled her as she had never
been thrilled before.  She looked up at him smiling, then suddenly with
a great content she remembered that she had dressed herself with care.

Bowen looked about him, and seeing Mrs. Craske-Morton, went over and
shook hands.

"She's a regular heroine, Peter," said Patricia, unconscious that she
had used his name.  "She's been so splendid."

Mrs. Craske-Morton smiled at Patricia, again her human smile.

"Oh! go away, make him go away!"  It was Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe who
spoke.  Her words had an electrifying effect upon everyone.  Miss
Wangle sat up and made feverish endeavours to straighten her wig.
Jenny, the housemaid, looked round for cover that was nowhere
available.  The cook became aware of her lack of clothing.  Miss Sikkum
strove to minimise the exhibition of feminine bone-structure.  Mrs.
Barnes made a dive for Mr. Bolton, who was still holding various of her
garments that he had retrieved.  These she seized from him as if he had
been a pickpocket, and thrust them under her arm.

"Oh, please go away!" moaned the cook.

"Come upstairs," said Patricia as she led the way out of the kitchen,
to the relief of those whose reawakened modesty saw in Bowen's presence
an outrage to decorum.  Switching on the light in the lounge, Patricia
threw herself into a chair.  She was beginning to feel the reaction.

"Why did you come?" she asked.

"I heard that a bomb had fallen in this street and---well, I had to
come.  I was never in such a funk in all my life."

"How did you get round here; did you bring the car?"

"No, I couldn't get the car out, I walked it," said Bowen briefly.

"That was very sweet of you," said Patricia gratefully, looking up at
him in a way she had never looked at him before.  "And now I think you
must be going.  We must all go to bed again."

"Yes, the 'All Clear' will sound soon, I think," replied Bowen.

They moved out into the hall.  For a moment they stood looking at each
other, then Bowen took both her hands in his.  "I am so glad,
Patricia," he said, gazing into her eyes, then suddenly he bent down
and kissed her full on the lips.

Dropping her hands and without another word he picked up his cap and
let himself out, leaving Patricia standing gazing in front of her.  For
a moment she stood, then turning as one in a dream, walked slowly
upstairs to her room.

"I wonder why I let him do that?" she murmured as she stood in front of
the mirror unpinning her hair.



CHAPTER XIX

GALVIN HOUSE AFTER THE RAID

The next day and for many days Galvin House abandoned itself to the
raid.  The air was full of rumours of the appalling casualties
resulting from the bomb that had been dropped in the next street.  No
one knew anything, everyone had heard something.  The horrors confided
to each other by the residents at Galvin House would have kept the
Grand Guignol in realism for a generation.

Silent herself, Patricia watched with interest the ferment around her.
With the exception of Mrs. Craske-Morton, all seemed to desire most of
all to emphasize their own attitude of splendid intellectual calm
during the raid.  They spoke scornfully of acquaintances who had flown
from London because of the danger from bomb-dropping Gothas, they
derided the Thames Valley aliens, they talked heroically and
patriotically about "standing their bit of bombing."  In short Galvin
House had become a harbour of heroism.

Mrs. Craske-Morton, who had shown a calmness and courage that none of
the others seemed to recognise, had nothing to say except about her
broken glass; on this subject, however, she was eloquent.  Miss Wangle
managed to convey to those who would listen that her own safety, and in
fact that of Galvin House, was directly due to the intercession of the
bishop, who when alive was particularly noted for the power and
sustained eloquence of his prayers.

Mr. Bolton was frankly sceptical.  If the august prelate was out to
save Galvin House, he suggested, it wasn't quite cricket to let them
drop a bomb in the next street.

Everyone was extremely critical of everyone else.  Mr. Bolton said
things about Mrs. Barnes and her clothes that made Miss Sikkum blush,
particularly about the nose, where, with her, emotion always first
manifested itself.  Mr. Sefton had permanently returned to the "women
and children first" phase and, as two cigarettes were missing from his
case, he was convinced that he had acquitted himself with that air of
reckless bravado that endeared a man to women.  He talked pityingly and
tolerantly of Gustave's obvious terror.

Mr. Bolton saw in the adventure material for jokes for months to come.
He laboured at the subject with such misguided industry that Patricia
felt she almost hated him.  Some of his allusions, particularly to the
state of sartorial indecision in which the maids had sought cover, were
"not quite nice," as Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe expressed it to Mrs.
Hamilton, who returned from a visit the day following.

At breakfast everyone had talked, and in consequence everyone who
worked was late for work; the general opinion being, what was the use
of a raid unless you could be late for work?  Punctuality on such
occasions being regarded as the waste of an opportunity, and a direct
rebuke to Providence who had placed it there.

Patricia did not take part in the general babel, beyond pointing out,
when Gustave was coming under discussion, that it was he who had gone
to the top of the house to call her.  She looked meaningly at Mr.
Bolton and Mr. Sefton, who had the grace to appear a little ashamed of
themselves.

When Patricia returned in the evening, she found Lady Tanagra awaiting
her in the lounge, literally bombarded with different accounts of what
had happened--all narrated in the best "eye-witness" manner of the
alarmist press.  Following the precept of Charles Lamb, Galvin House
had apparently striven to correct the bad impression made through
lateness in beginning work by leaving early.

It was obvious that Lady Tanagra had made herself extremely popular.
Everyone was striving to gain her ear for his or her story of personal
experiences.

"Ah, here you are!" cried Lady Tanagra as Patricia entered.  "I hear
you behaved like a heroine last night."

Mrs. Craske-Morton nodded her head with conviction.

"Mrs. Morton was the real heroine," said Patricia.  "She was splendid!"

Mrs. Craske-Morton flushed.  To be praised before so distinguished a
caller was almost embarrassing, especially as no one had felt it
necessary to comment upon her share in the evening's excitement.

"Come up with me while I take off my things," said Patricia, as she
moved towards the door.  She saw that any private talk between herself
and Lady Tanagra would be impossible in the lounge with Galvin House in
its present state of ferment.

In Patricia's room Lady Tanagra subsided into a chair with a sigh.  "I
feel as if I were a celebrity arriving at New York," she laughed.

"They're rather excited," smiled Patricia, "but then we live such a
humdrum life here--the expression is Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe's--and much
should be forgiven them.  A book could be written on the boarding-house
mind, I think.  It moves in a vicious circle.  If someone would only
break out and give the poor dears something to talk about."

"Didn't you do that?" enquired Lady Tanagra slily.

Patricia smiled wearily.  "I take second place now to the raid.  Think
of living here for the next few weeks.  They will think raid, read
raid, talk raid and dream raid."  She shuddered.  "Thank heavens I'm
off to-morrow."

"Off to-morrow?" Lady Tanagra raised her eyes in interrogation.

"Yes, to Eastbourne for a fortnight's holiday as provided for in the
arrangement existing between one Patricia Brent and Arthur Bonsor,
Esquire, M.P.  It's part of the wages of the sin of secretaryship."
Patricia sighed.

"I hope you'll enjoy----"

"Please don't be conventional," interrupted Patricia.  "I shall not
enjoy it in the least.  Within twenty-four hours I shall long to be
back again.  I shall get up in the morning and I shall go to bed at
night.  In between I shall walk a bit, read a bit, get my nose red
(thank heavens it doesn't peel) and become bored to extinction.  One
thing I won't do, that is wear openwork frocks.  The sun shall not
print cheap insertion kisses upon Patricia Brent."

"You're quite sure that it is a holiday," Lady Tanagra looked up
quizzically at Patricia as she stood gazing out of the window.

"A holiday!" repeated Patricia, looking round.

"It sounded just a little depressing," said Lady Tanagra.

"It will be exactly what it sounds," Patricia retorted; "only
depressing is not quite the right word, it's too polite.  You don't
know what it is to be lonely, Tanagra, and live at Galvin House, and
try to haul or push a politician into a rising posture.  It reminds me
of Carlyle on the Dutch."  There was a note of fierce protest in her
voice.  "You have all the things that I want, and I wonder I don't
scratch your face and tear your hair out.  We are all primitive in our
instincts really."  Then she laughed.  "Well!  I had to cry out to
someone, and I shall feel better.  It's rather a beastly world for some
of us, you know; but I suppose I ought to be spanked for being
ungrateful."

"Do you know why I've come?" enquired Lady Tanagra, thinking it wise to
change the subject.

Patricia shook her head.  "A more conceited person might have suggested
that it was to see me," she said demurely.

"To apologise for Peter," said Lady Tanagra.  "He disobeyed orders and
I am very angry with him."

Patricia flushed at the memory of their good-night.  For a few seconds
she stood silent, looking out of the window.

"I think it was rather sweet of him," she said without looking round.

Lady Tanagra smiled slightly.  "Then I may forgive him, you think?" she
enquired.

Patricia turned and looked at her.  Lady Tanagra met the gaze
innocently.

"He wanted to write to you and send some flowers and chocolates; but I
absolutely forbade it.  We almost had our first quarrel," she added
mendaciously.

For the space of a second Patricia hated Lady Tanagra.  She would have
liked to turn and rend her for interfering in a matter that could not
possibly be regarded as any concern of hers.  The feeling, however, was
only momentary and, when Lady Tanagra rose to go, Patricia was as
cordial as ever.

From Galvin House Lady Tanagra drove to the Quadrant.

"Peter!" she cried as she entered the room and threw herself into an
easy chair, "if ever I again endeavour to divert true love from its
normal----"

"How is she?"' interrupted Bowen.

"Now you've spoiled it," cried Lady Tanagra, "and it was----"

"Spoiled what?" demanded Bowen.

"My beautiful phrase about true love and its normal channel, and I have
been saying it over to myself all the way from Galvin House."  She
looked reproachfully at her brother.

"How's Patricia?" demanded Bowen eagerly.

"Fair to moderately fair, rain later, I should describe her," replied
Lady Tanagra, helping herself to a cigarette which Bowen lighted.
"She's going away."

"Good heavens!  Where?" cried Bowen.

"Eastbourne."

"When?"

"To-morrow."

"Damn!"

"My dear Peter," remarked Lady Tanagra lazily, "this primitive
profanity ill becomes----"

"Please don't rot me, Tan," he pleaded.  "I've had a rotten time
lately."

There was helpless and hopeless pain in Bowen's voice that caused Lady
Tanagra to spring up from her chair and go over to him.

"Carry on, old boy," she cried softly, as she caressed his coat-sleeve.
"It's your only chance.  You're going to win."

"I must see her!" blurted out Bowen.

"If you do you'll spoil everything," announced Lady Tanagra with
conviction.

"But, last night," began Bowen and paused.

"Last night, I think," said Lady Tanagra, "was a master-stroke.  She is
touched; it's taken us forward at least a week."

"But look here, Tan," said Bowen gloomily, "you told me to leave it all
in your hands and you make me treat her rottenly, then you say----"

"That you know about as much of how to make a woman like Patricia fall
in love with you as an ostrich does of geology," said Lady Tanagra
calmly.

"But what will she think?" demanded Bowen.

"At present she is thinking that Eastbourne will be a nightmare of
loneliness."

"I'll run down and see her," announced Bowen.

"If you do, Peter!"  There was a note of warning in Lady Tanagra's
voice.

"All right," he conceded gloomily.  "I'll give you another week, and
then I'll go my own way."

"Peter, if you were smaller and I were bigger I think I should spank
you," laughed Lady Tanagra.  Then with great seriousness she said, "I
want you to marry her, and I'm going the only way to work to make her
let you.  Do try and trust me, Peter."

Bowen looked down at her with a smile, touched by the look in her eyes.
For a moment his arm rested across her shoulders.  Then he pushed her
towards the door.  "Clear out, Tan.  I'm not fit for a bear-pit
to-night."

The Bowens were never demonstrative with one another.

For half an hour Bowen sat smoking one cigarette after another until he
was interrupted by the entrance of Peel, who, after a comprehensive
glance round the room, proceeded to administer here and there those
deft touches that emphasize a patient and orderly mind.  Bowen watched
him as he moved about on the balls of his feet.

"Have you ever been to Eastbourne, Peel?" enquired Bowen presently.
Just why he asked the question he could not have said.

"Only once, my lord," replied Peel as he replaced the full ash-tray on
the table by Bowen with a clean one.  There was a note in his voice
implying that nothing would ever tempt him to go there again.

"You don't like it?" suggested Bowen.

"I dislike it intensely, my lord," replied Peel as he refolded a copy
of _The Times_.

"Why?"

"It has unpleasant associations, my lord," was the reply.

Bowen smiled.  After a moment's silence he continued:

"Been sowing wild oats there?"

"No, my lord, not exactly."

"Well, if it's not too private," said Bowen, "tell me what happened.
At the moment I'm particularly interested in the place."

Peel gazed reproachfully at a copy of _The Sphere_, which had managed
in some strange way to get its leaves dog-eared.  As he proceeded to
smooth them out he continued:

"It was when I was young, my lord.  I was engaged to be married.  I
thought her a most excellent young woman, in every way suitable.  She
went down to Eastbourne for a holiday."  He paused.

"Well, there doesn't seem much wrong in that," said Bowen.

"From Eastbourne she wrote, saying that she had changed her mind,"
proceeded Peel.

"The devil she did!" exclaimed Bowen.  "And what did you do?"

"I went down to reason with her, my lord," said Peel.

"Does one reason with a woman, Peel?" enquired Bowen with a smile.

"I was very young then, my lord, not more than thirty-two."  Peel's
tone was apologetic.  "I discovered that she had received an offer of
marriage from another."

"Hard luck!" murmured Bowen.

"Not at all, my lord, really," said Peel philosophically.  "I
discovered that she had re-engaged herself to a butcher, a most
offensive fellow.  His language when I expostulated with him was
incredibly coarse, and I am sure he used marrow for his hair."

"And what did you do?" enquired Bowen.

"I had taken a return ticket, my lord.  I came back to London."

Bowen laughed.  "I'm afraid you couldn't have been very badly hit,
Peel, or you would not have been able to take it quite so
philosophically."

"I have never allowed my private affairs to interfere with my
professional duties, my lord," replied Peel unctuously.

For five minutes Bowen smoked in silence.  "So you do not believe in
marriage," he said at length.

"I would not say that, my lord; but I do not think it suitable for a
man of temperament such as myself.  I have known marriages quite
successful where too much was not required of the contracting parties."

"But don't you believe in love?" enquired Bowen.

"Love, my lord, is like a disease.  If you are on the look out for it
you catch it, if you ignore it, it does not trouble you.  I was once
with a gentleman who was very nervous about microbes.  He would never
eat anything that had not been cooked, and he had everything about him
disinfected.  He even disinfected me," he added as if in proof of the
extreme eccentricity of his late employer.

"So I suppose you despise me for having fallen in love and
contemplating marriage," said Bowen with a smile.

"There are always exceptions, my lord," responded Peel tactfully.  "I
have prepared the bath."

"Peel," remarked Bowen as he rose and stretched himself, "disinfected
or not disinfected, you are safe from the microbe of romance."

"I hope so, my lord," responded Peel as he opened the door.

"I wonder if history will repeat itself," murmured Bowen as he walked
through his bedroom into the bathroom.  "I, too, hate Eastbourne."



CHAPTER XX

A RACE WITH SPINSTERHOOD

Before she had been at Eastbourne twenty-four hours Patricia was
convinced that she had made a mistake in going there.  With no claims
upon her time, the restlessness that had developed in London increased
until it became almost unbearable.  The hotel at which she was staying
was little more than a glorified boarding-house, full of "the most
jungly of jungle-people," as she expressed it to herself.  Their
well-meant and kindly efforts to engage her in their pursuits and
pleasures she received with apathetic negation.  At length her
fellow-guests, seeing that she was determined not to respond to their
overtures, left her severely alone.  The men were the last to desist.

She came to dislike the pleasure-seekers about her and grew critical of
everything she saw, the redness of the women's faces, the assumed
youthfulness of the elderly men, the shapelessness of matrons who
seemed to delight in bright open-work blouses and juvenile hats.  She
remembered Elton's remark that Fashion uncovers a multitude of shins.
The shins exposed at Eastbourne were she decided, sufficient to
undermine one's belief in the early chapters of Genesis.

At one time she would have been amused at the types around her, and
their various conceptions of "one crowded hour of glorious life."  As
it was, everything seemed sordid and trivial.  Why should people lose
all sense of dignity and proportion at a set period of the year?  It
was, she decided, almost as bad as being a hare.

All she wanted was to be alone, she told herself; yet as soon as she
had discovered some secluded spot and had settled herself down to read,
the old restlessness attacked her, and fight against it as she might,
she was forced back again to the haunts of men.

For the first few days she watched eagerly for letters.  None came.
She would return to the hotel several times a day, look at the
letter-rack, then, to hide her disappointment, make a pretence of
having returned for some other purpose.  "Why had not Bowen written?"
she asked herself, then a moment after she strove to convince herself
that he had forgotten, or at least that she was only an episode in his
life.

His sudden change from eagerness to indifference caused her to flush
with humiliation; yet he had gone to Galvin House during the raid to
assure himself of her safety.  Why had he not written after what had
occurred?  Perhaps Aunt Adelaide was right about men after all.

Patricia wrote to Lady Tanagra, Mrs. Hamilton, Lady Peggy, Mr. Triggs,
even to Miss Sikkum.  In due course answers arrived; but in only Miss
Sikkum's letter was there any reference to Bowen, a gush of sentiment
about "how happy you must be, dear Miss Brent, with Lord Bowen running
down to see you every other day.  I know!" she added with maidenly
prescience.  Patricia laughed.

Mr. Triggs committed himself to nothing more than two and three-quarter
pages, mainly about his daughter and "A. B.," Mr. Triggs was not at his
best as a correspondent.  Lady Tanagra ran to four pages; but as her
handwriting was large, five lines filling a page, her letter was
disappointing.

Lady Peggy was the most productive.  In the course of twelve pages of
spontaneity she told Patricia that the Duke and the Cabinet Minister
had almost quarrelled about her, Patricia.  "Peter has been to lunch
with us and Daddy has told him how lucky he is, and how wonderful you
are.  If Peter is not very careful, I shall have you presented to me as
a stepmother.  Wouldn't it be priceless!" she wrote.  "Oh!  What am I
writing?"  She ended with the Duke's love, and an insistence that
Patricia should lunch at Curzon Street the first Sunday after her
return.

Patricia found Lady Peggy's letter charming.  She was pleased to know
that she had made a good impression and was admired--by the right
people.  Twenty-four hours, however, found her once more thrown back
into the trough of her own despondency.  Instinctively she began to
count the days until this "dire compulsion of infertile days" should
end.  She could not very well return to London and say that she was
tired of holiday-making.  Galvin House would put its own construction
upon her action and words, and whatever that construction might be, it
was safe to assume that it would be an unpleasant one.

There were moments when a slight uplifting of the veil enabled her to
see herself as she must appear to others.

"Patricia!" she exclaimed one morning to her reflection in a rather
dubious mirror.  "You're a cumberer of the earth and, furthermore,
you've got a beastly temper," and she jabbed a pin through her hat and
partly into her head.

As the days passed she found herself wondering what was the earliest
day she could return.  If she made it the Friday night, would it arouse
suspicion?  She decided that it would, and settled to leave Eastbourne
on the Saturday afternoon.

As the train steamed out of the station she made a grimace in the
direction of the town, just as an inoffensive and prematurely bald
little man opposite looked up from his paper.  He gave Patricia one
startled look through his gold-rimmed spectacles and, for the rest of
the journey, buried himself behind his paper, fearful lest Patricia
should "make another face at him," as he explained to his mother that
evening.

"She's come home in a nice temper!" was Miss Wangle's diagnosis of the
mood in which Patricia reached Galvin House.

Gustave regarded her with anxious concern.

The first dinner drove her almost mad.  The raid, as a topic of
conversation, was on the wane, although Mr. Bolton worked at it nobly,
and Patricia found herself looked upon to supply the necessary material
for the evening's amusement.  What had she done?  Where had she been?
Had she bathed?  Were the dresses pretty?  How many times had Bowen
been down?  Had she met any nice people?  Was it true that the costumes
of the women were disgraceful?

At last, with a forced laugh, Patricia told them that she must have
"notice" of such questions, and everybody had looked at her in
surprise, until Mr. Bolton's laugh rang out, and he explained the
parliamentary allusion.

When at last, under pretence of being tired, she was able to escape to
her room, she felt that another five minutes would have turned her
brain.

Sunday dawned, and with it the old panorama of iterations unfolded
itself: Mr. Bolton's velvet coat and fez, Mr. Cordal's carpet slippers
with the fur tops, Mrs. Barnes' indecision, Mr. Sefton's genial and
romantic optimism, Miss Sikkum's sumptuary excesses; all presented
themselves in due sequence just as they had done for--"was it
centuries?" Patricia asked herself.  To crown all it was a roast-pork
Sunday, and the reek of onions preparing for the seasoning filled the
house.

Patricia felt that the fates were fighting against her.  In nerving
herself for the usual human Sunday ordeal, she had forgotten the
vegetable menace, in other words that it was "pork Sunday."  Mr. Bolton
was always more than usually trying on Sundays; but reinforced by
onions he was almost unbearable.  Patricia fled.

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 Cæsar 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.


II

"It is only the impecunious who are constrained to be modest," remarked
Elton as the four sat smoking in Bowen's room after dinner.

"Is that an apology, or merely a statement of fact?" asked Lady Tanagra.

"I think," remarked Patricia quietly, "that it is an apology."

Elton looked across at her with one of those quick movements of his
eyes that showed how alert his mind was, in spite of the languid ease
of his manner.

"And now," continued Patricia, "I have something very important to say
to you all."

"Oh!" groaned Lady Tanagra, "spare me from the self-importance of the
newly-engaged girl."

"It has come to my knowledge, Tanagra," proceeded Patricia, "that you
and Mr. Elton did deliberately and wittingly conspire together against
my peace of mind and happiness.  There!" she added, "that's almost
legal in its ambiguity, isn't it?"

Lady Tanagra and Elton exchanged glances.

"What do you mean?" demanded Lady Tanagra gaily.

Patricia explained that she had extracted from Bowen the whole story.
Lady Tanagra looked reproachfully at her brother.  Then turning to
Patricia she said with unwonted seriousness:

"I saw that was the only way to--to--well get you for a sister-in-law
and," she paused a moment uncertainly.  "I knew you were the only girl
for that silly old thing there, who was blundering up the whole
business."

"Your mania for interfering in other people's affairs will be your
ruin, Tanagra," said Patricia as she turned to Elton, her look clearly
enquiring if he had any excuse to offer.

"The old Garden of Eden answer," he said.  "A woman tempted me."

"Then we will apply the old Garden of Eden punishment," announced
Patricia.

Elton, who was the first to grasp her meaning, looked anxiously at Lady
Tanagra, who with knitted brows was endeavouring to penetrate to
Patricia's meaning.  Bowen was obviously at sea.  Suddenly Lady
Tanagra's face flamed and her eyes dropped.  Elton stroked the back of
his head, a habit he had when preoccupied--he was never nervous.

"You two," continued Patricia, now thoroughly enjoying herself, "have
precipitated yourselves into my most private affairs, and in return I
am going to take a hand in yours.  Peter has asked me when I will marry
him.  I said I would tell him after dinner this evening."

Bowen looked across at her eagerly, Elton lit another cigarette, Lady
Tanagra toyed nervously with her amber cigarette-holder.

"I will marry Peter," announced Patricia, "when you, Tanagra," she
paused slightly, "marry Godfrey Elton."

Lady Tanagra looked up with a startled cry.  Her eyes were wide with
something that seemed almost fear, then without warning she turned and
buried her head in a cushion and burst into uncontrollable sobbing.

Bowen started up.  With a swift movement Patricia went over to his side
and, before he knew what was happening, he was in the corridor
stuttering his astonishment to Patricia.

For an hour the two sat in the lounge below, talking and listening to
the band.  Patricia explained to Bowen how from the first she had known
that Elton and Tanagra were in love.

"But we've known him all our lives!" expostulated Bowen.

"The very thing that blinded you all to a most obvious fact."

"But why didn't he----?" began Bowen.

"Because of her money," explained Patricia.  "Anyhow," she continued
gaily, "I had lost my own tail, and I wasn't going to see Tanagra
wagging hers before my eyes.  Now let's go up and see what has
happened."

Just as Bowen's hand was on the handle of the sitting-room door,
Patricia cried out that she had dropped a ring.  When they entered the
room Elton and Lady Tanagra were standing facing the door.  One glance
at their faces, told Patricia all she wanted to know.  Without a word
Elton came forward and bending low, kissed her hand.  There was
something so touching in his act of deference that Patricia felt her
throat contract.

She went across to Lady Tanagra and put her arm round her.

"You darling!" whispered Lady Tanagra.  "How clever of you to know."

"I knew the first time I saw you together," whispered Patricia.

Lady Tanagra hugged her.

"And now we must all run round to Grosvenor Square.  Poor Mother--what
a surprise for her!"


III

Elton's medical board took a more serious view of his state of health
than was anticipated, and he was temporarily given an appointment in
the Intelligence Department.  Bowen's application to be allowed to
rejoin his regiment was refused, and thus the way was cleared for the
double wedding that took place at St. Margaret's, Westminster.

Patricia was given away by the Duke of Gayton.  Lady Peggy declared
that it would rank as the most heroic act he had ever performed.  Mr.
Triggs reached the highest sartorial pinnacle of his career in a light
grey, almost white frock-coated suit with a high hat to match, a white
waistcoat, and a white satin tie.  As Elton expressed it, he looked
like a musical-comedy conception of a bookmaker turned philanthropist.

Galvin House was there in force.  Even Gustave obtained an hour off
and, with a large white rose in his button-hole, beamed on everyone and
everything with the utmost impartiality.  Miss Brent, like Achilles,
sulked in her tent.

"The only two men I ever loved," wailed Lady Peggy to a friend, "and
both gone at one shot."

"She's a lucky girl," said an old dowager, "and only a secretary."

"Some girl.  What!" muttered an embryo field-marshal to a one-pip
strategist in the uniform of the Irish Guards, who concurred with an
emphatic, "Lucky devil!"

At Galvin House for the rest of the chapter they talked, dreamed and
lived the Bowen-Brent marriage.  It was the one ineffaceable sunspot in
the greyness of their lives.



HERBERT JENKINS'

SHILLING LIBRARY


  BINDLE                                 HERBERT JENKINS
  WITHOUT MERCY                          JOHN GOODWIN
  PICCADILLY JIM                         P. G. WODEHOUSE
  THE FRINGE OF THE DESERT               R. S. MACNAMARA
  THE CHARING CROSS MYSTERY              J. S. FLETCHER
  THE MAN WITH THE CLUBFOOT              VALENTINE WILLIAMS
  ALF'S BUTTON                           W. A. DARLINGTON
  HIDDEN FIRES                           MRS. PATRICK MACGILL
  THE LUCK OF THE VAILS                  E. F. BENSON
  THE WHISKERED FOOTMAN                  EDGAR JEPSON
  THE DIAMOND CROSS MYSTERY              CHESTER K. S. STEELE
  THE MYSTERY OF THE SCENTED DEATH       ROY VICKERS
  ANTHONY TRENT, MASTER CRIMINAL         WYNDHAM MARTYN
  THE MARKENMORE MYSTERY                 J. S. FLETCHER
  A DAUGHTER IN REVOLT                   JOHN GOODWIN
  THE BARTERED BRIDE                     MRS. PATRICK MACGILL
  A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS                   P. G. WODEHOUSE
  HIS OTHER WIFE                         ROY VICKERS
  THE COMPULSORY WIFE                    JOHN GLYDER
  THE WINNING CLUE                       JAMES HAY, Jun.
  PATRICIA BRENT, SPINSTER               HERBERT JENKINS
  THE SECRET OF THE SILVER CAR           WYNDHAM MARTYN
  ISAACS                                 JOSEPH GEE
  PLAYING WITH SOULS                     COUNTESS DE CHAMBRUN
  THE MYSTERIOUS CHINAMAN                J. S. FLETCHER
  THE FLAME OF LIFE                      MRS. PATRICK MACGILL
  BLACKMAIL                              JOHN GOODWIN
  THAT RED-HEADED GIRL                   LOUISE HEILGERS
  MOLESKIN JOE                           PATRICK MACGILL
  SALLY ON THE ROCKS                     WINIFRED BOGGS
  THE UNLIGHTED HOUSE                    JAMES HAY, Jun.
  THE EDGE OF THE WORLD                  EDITH BLINN



3 YORK STREET   ST. JAMES'S   LONDON S.W.1





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