Patricia Brent, Spinster/Chapter 11



" 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 schoolroom.

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 Moêt 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 of 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.