The Results of Miss Knight's Temper


THE RESULT OF MISS KNIGHT'S TEMPER.

By W. PETT RIDGE.


THE Hall was filled with a talking, noisy audience; some of the men were smoking a pungent kind of tobacco that induced the ladies on the platform, who had come from west to south-east, to cough and to pat their eyes with lace handkerchiefs. Miss Wareborough, the good-looking young woman in the chair, tapped at the desk with her ivory hammer more than once to appeal for attention to the speech of Mr. James Flanders; and Miss Wareborough, as she did this, looked like a young woman who was in the habit of being obeyed. Added to this was a thoughtful look, because she remembered that the last time she had come to the Hall someone had looked after her; someone who was now away in West Africa. The Hall watched her closely.

"Come in her broom, she did. She 's a toff, mind ye."

"Don't she do her 'air up nicely too! I wish mind 'd behive itself like that. Why——"

The girls who were talking received each a tap on the shoulder.

"Can't you keep quiet when anyone 's makin' a speech," inquired Miss Emma Knight, "or won't you?"

The girls ceased their conversation, but they told each other in a whisper that Emma Knight thought she was everybody because she had saved a few pounds and was engaged to this young man now speaking; but that Emma Knight was not everybody, and, what was more, Emma Knight never would be everybody. The loud, strident voice of the young man on the platform moderated itself slightly as, approaching the end of his speech, he turned, with an awkward attempt at courtliness, to the young woman in the chair.

"One word, friends, in conclusion. Before we finish this meeting of the Social League, there 's one duty we 'ave to perform. We 'ave to offer our 'earty thanks to the—well, charming ladies who 've sung to you this evening; they 'aving taken the trouble to come from their comfortable mansions, and what not, to give you an entertainment that's good enough—though I say it—for the 'ighest of the 'igh. {Cheers.) It don't do to pick out names; but to you, Miss Wareborough, for occupying the chair (Loud cheers), we tender our 'earty thanks, and we 'ope to see you again. By your grace of manner, by your charm of disposition, by your attractive——"

Mr. James Flanders, looking round the crowded seats for a word, encountered suddenly the large eyes of Miss Emma Knight. Miss Knight's breath was coming quickly; there was a look in her eyes that made young Mr. Flanders falter.

"What I meant to say, friends, was that we 're under a debt to all these ladies, and I, therefore, ask you to 'old up both 'ands to signify your acknowledgment. All in fiver of a vote of thanks to——? All! Carried unanimous."

Miss Emma Knight, waiting for Mr. James Flanders in the Hall, nodded rather curtly to her friends, and seemed to have no desire to exchange conversation. This was odd, because Miss Knight was, in an ordinary way, adroit of repartee, and it is notorious that those gifted in this way are seldom reticent. She crossed over and looked through the thick diamond-shaped windows of the Hall. Outside she saw the figure, rather blurred to sight, of Mr. Flanders, in no hat, seeing the ladies into their carriages; saw Miss Wreborough turn to speak to him, and caught enough of the words to tell that it was an invitation to Eaton Square.

"Thought as much," said Miss Emma Knight under her breath. "I 'll Honourable Miss Wareborough her, if she ain't careful. Let her stick to her own spear of life, and not come interferin'." She turned as someone approached. "Oh, you 'ere? Thought you 'd forgot me."

"Course I 'aven't forgot you," said Mr. Flanders, fanning his heated face with his soft hat. He was flushed with the strain of observing etiquette. "Not likely to."

"I 'm not so sure," snapped Miss Knight. "Seem to be paying everybody else a lot of attention."

"How you do talk," complained the young man. "You see how busy I was."

"Just what I did notice."

"I 've got a lot to look after a evening like this, and if I don't see to it all no one else will. When ladies come down 'ere from the West-End——"

"Pity they don't stop at home," said Miss Knight bitterly. "Be more to their credit. Asked you to her place for one evening, didn't she?"

"She did so."

"Ah," said Miss Knight mysteriously, "I 'eard! I don't miss much. I 'm not quite blind. I wasn't born the day before yesterday. Old enough to begin to take notice, anyway. I may be a fool in many things, but——"

"You 're 'aving a rare old recitation all to yourself," said Mr. Flanders good-humouredly. "Shall I see you 'ome?"

Miss Knight affected a kind of icy surprise.

"Me?"

"Yes, you, Emma."

"But I don't live in Eating Square!"

For answer Mr. Flanders, the Hall being now nearly deserted, snatched a kiss, an adventure that oftentime he had found an effective peacemaker. On this occasion it so far failed that Miss Knight rubbed her cheek laboriously and then walked out of the Hall alone.

"'Pon me word," said poor Mr. Flanders, "girls do take some managing."

He made hurriedly some arrangements for closing the Hall and ran after her. Just by East Street he managed to check her hastening footsteps.

"You ain't going like that," said Mr. Flanders appealingly.

"How am I going then, clever?"

"Look here, Emma. You know as well as I do that I don't care for anybody else but you. What 's the sense in being so jealous about nothing at all?"

"I beg your pardon," said Miss Knight coldly. "I 'm not in the least jealous. Quite the reverse!"

"And as regards Miss Wareborough; why, she 's engaged to a young Lieutenant out in West Africa."

"Be more to the purpose if you knew his name."

"But I do! Their coachman told me the last time he was down. Lieutenant Wyndham is his name, and the town he 's at is Benaro." Miss Knight, with less acerbity, requested that the name of the town should be spelled to her, and her command was obeyed. "And rough times they 're going to 'ave by all accounts. Sooner him be out there than me. Why, those blacks——"

"Never mind about the blacks," said Miss Knight, allowing the young man to take her arm. "We needn't trouble about them. All we 've got to do is to look out for ourselves. If everybody minded their own business we should be a lump better off."

"Can't say I agree with those principles, Emm'a," he said submissively; "my tenets are rather different to that. I 'm what's called an altruist."

"I don't call myself names."

"An altruist is seeposed to be a chap——"

"'Scuse me interrupting," said Miss Knight. "The next is my turning. And so you 'll give up all idea of going, James, to see this Miss whatever-her-silly-name-is?"

"She 'asn't fixed a date yet," he said evasively.

"But when she does?"

"Well," urged Mr. Flanders apologetically, "it 'll give me a insight into high class life, you see, Emma. There 'll be a lot of swells there, and her mother, and——"

"I wish you a very good evening," said Miss Knight icily. And turned sharply away.

It was a source of great perturbation to Mr. Flanders (who was really a very good fellow, with a habit, perhaps, of taking himself rather too seriously) to find that for some days Miss Knight studiously avoided him. One showery morning he passed by her in the turbulent crowd that attacks trams and 'buses near the Elephant and Castle; and she nodded, and remarked cheerfully, "More weather!" and went on her way Citywards. Mr. Flanders was astonished at this behaviour, and he stood still and watched her green hat as she gradually disappeared with the crowd in the London Road. He was, indeed, so dazed by the incident that he found himself whirled in a strong stream of people upon a Tooting tram—his desired destination being Cambervell—and went some distance before he realised the error. Usually he was an expert and a careful facia writer; but that morning, over a shop facing Camberwell Green, he outlined the words "Emma Knight" instead of "Robert Henry Batten," the name of the shop's proprietor, and found himself the object of much badinage in consequence.

He walked home in the evening, surveying South London with a gloomy air, and was not even cheered, as was commonly the case, by the sight of his name as hon. sec. on a small printed bill in a confectioner's shop. On the mantelpiece of his room he found a square envelope, addressed in a definite handwriting that he had seen once before.

"I wish I 'd never run across any of these swells," said Mr. Flanders gloomily, as he looked down the letter. "It 's all very well to talk about mingling of classes, but it don't seem to be a dazzling success so far as I 'm personally concerned. And, furthermore——"

Mr. Flanders stopped, and his countenance brightened as he read the postscript—

"I think I heard that you were engaged. If this is so, will you consider this invitation to apply also to the lady? My mother and I will be pleased to make her acquaintance."

In three minutes Mr. Flanders was at the door of Miss Knight's house. In another minute Miss Knight's mother and Miss Knight herself were in possession of the astounding information that that young woman had been formally invited to Eaton Square.

"Seems to me, Emma," said her mother, bewildered, "more like a bit what you read of in novelettes than anything real. It 'll take your cousin Jane Emily down a peg or two, at any rate."

"I don't know as we won't go in a cab," said James reflectively. "It 'll look better than a 'bus."

"Budford Street 'll stare," said Mrs. Knight, with relish. "It 'll give the neighbours something to talk about for monce. If I was you, Emma, I should simply borrow those yellow slippers from that girl in your ware'ouse; my brown cape you 're welcome to, as you know. And as regards your 'at——"

"I see by the papers," said James, "that there's more trouble a-brewin' out where her young gentleman is. I expect it 's a rare anxious time for her. That part of Africa, mind ye——"

"We ain't talking about Africa," said Mrs. Knight impatiently; "we 're talking about 'ats. And considerin' that you take your 'at off the moment you're in the 'ouse, what I suggest is that we should ignore the question of your 'at and throw all our thoughts on to the question of your blouse. Now I see some in Box's in the Camberwell Road only yesterday; a kind of an electric blue that ought to look very classy be gaslight, and they were only priced at one-and—— Goo' gracious! Why, what's the matter with the girl?"

"Yes, what 's wrong, Emma? Ain't sorry she invited you, are you?"

"I ain't—ain't sorry she's invited me," sobbed Miss Knight; "I 'm sor—sorry for what I 've been and done."

"Why, what have you——"

"Oh, nothing!" Miss Knight rubbed her eyes and rubbed her nose and went to the mirror over the fireplace to look dolefully at her reflection. "Nothing special. Only—— Oh it isn't worth talking about now. I didn't think she was so nice as she turns out to be. Were those blouses you speak of full in the sleeves, mother?"

It there was a prouder woman in Walworth on the evening of the visit to Eaton Square than Mrs. Knight, that prouder woman would have required a good deal of tracing. Every window within sight was occupied by a bunch of heads; a semicircle stood expectantly near the hansom and the horse as though waiting for the performance of tricks. Mrs. Knight's moments were fully occupied in answering her daughter's repeated inquiry as to whether she looked all right at the back; in giving Mr. Flanders in the sitting-room—sitting-room thrown open to use, bless you, just for all the world as though the day were Sunday—hints in regard to the care of her daughter and the necessity for being home not a minute later than eleven. Mrs. Knight personally conducted the young people into the cab, and with a pride that could not be measured, gave the address to the driver. She slapped an impertinent boy who attempted to interfere with her prerogatives by closing the splashboards, and reopened and closed them carefully herself; and then she leaned over to give a last message to her daughter.

"Mind you take notice of everything, Emma."

At Eaton Square a servant was accepting a telegram from a uniformed lad, and this, as she received with correct formality the young people from Walworth, she handed at once to a young maid in the hall, and the young maid flew with the telegram up the stairs, seeming not to touch them as she went.

"Miss Knight, I think," said the servant courteously, "and Mr. Flanders."

"That 's quite right," said Mr. Flanders. "You go first, Emma."

There were a few people in the large room, and some of them were in a group scanning anxiously the evening papers. A tearful, white-haired, elderly lady came forward and received the confused young people.

"You are my daughter's friends from Walworth," said the white-haired old lady. "She will be down directly. We are all going to have a long talk about arranging bright evenings for your people, and one or two members of Parliament will come in, and we want you both to lead us." The old lady patted her eyes with her handkerchief. "I wished Lilian to put off the engagement, but she would not hear of it."

"Nothing wrong, I 'ope, me lady?" said Mr. Flanders.

"You haven't seen the evening papers? My dear Bertie!" She called to a tall lad in evening dress. "Will you bring me the St. Jameses?"

"Certainly, mother. Here it is." The old lady tried to find her pince-nez, but her son read it for her. "'Terrible massacre at Benaro. A British mission annihilated. English officers murdered. No survivors.'" The young fellow turned with a concerned manner to the Walworth couple. "You see, the reason this affects us so much is that Lieutenant Wyndham is stationed there."

"I 'eard that," said Mr. Flanders.

"And I 'm afraid—I 'm very much afraid—there's positively no hope. It 's a most fearful shock for my sister, and, indeed, for all of us."

"How 'd it be," said Mr. Flanders nervously, "if me and my young lady friend was to retire and look in again some other evening?"

"By no means," said the silver-haired old lady energetically. "Bertie dear! show this young lady some pictures of Benaro."

Miss Emma Knight trembled very much as she sat down and, the youth acting as guide, inspected the photographs. There was one in the book of a square-shouldered, good-looking man in Lieutenant's uniform.

"Is that him?" asked Miss Knight.

"That is Wyndham."

"He's a fine-built young man."

"Shocking thing, don't you know, to think that those beastly blacks have done for him. He was an awfully good sort, and my sister was very fond of him. We all were.

"Was he fond of her, Sir?"

"Why, yes. They were to have been married this autumn."

"Been engaged long, if it isn't a rude question?"

"Known each other all their lives."

"When might this affair 'ave 'appened at the place that begins with a B?" asked Miss Knight in a low voice.

"About a week ago, I think."

A broad, important Member of Parliament was announced, and he came in rather as though he were a hurricane. It was then that Miss Emma Knight made an astonishing remark. She delivered the pronouncement with the seriousness of one making a formal declaration on oath.

"I don't believe," said Miss Emma Knight recklessly, "that he 's been and gone and got killed at all."

Miss Knight's remark sounded more distinctly than she had intended, because just then a hush had come over the room. Miss Wareborough, very pale but very decided, had entered at the doorway. She gave to her mother a telegram from the Colonial Office confirming the news that had appeared in the evening papers; then she turned to greet, gravely but courteously to her guests. For young Englishwomen are still brave, and their hearts, in moments of pain, are for themselves alone.

"We 're sorry. Miss," said Mr. James Flanders awkwardly, "to hear about all this painful bother, or whatever you like to call it, that's resulted in the——"

"Thank you, Mr. Flanders."

"In the sudden, painful, and 'orrible death of——"

"Don't let us talk about it please. How do you do?" (to Miss Knight) "I remember your face at Walworth quite well."

"I remember yourn," said Miss Knight doggedly.

"It is good of you to come to see me."

"It passes an evening away," said Miss Knight.

"We want to do something for the children," went on Miss Wareborough quickly. "I hope you will be able to give us some suggestions. I—I must do something difficult to distract my mind. Anything that will shut out from my thoughts the picture of——"

"I know how you must feel," said Miss Knight sympathetically; "but if I was you, Miss, I shouldn't 'arp on it. I never believe what I read in the papers."

"I wish there was room for hope. The report says very clearly that not a single member of the mission has been saved."

" 'Ope on, 'ope ever!" urged Miss Knight.

"Indeed, I wish that I could feel sanguine." She sighed, for the tears were close to her eyes.

"The Government," remarked her brother, "will send out a punitive expedition at once."

"But that will not bring him back," she said wistfully.

"If I might go so far as to express an opinion," said Miss Knight nervously, "which I 'm perfectly aware is a bit forward on my part——"

"Fact matter is," said the Member of Parliament, bustling into the conversation importantly, "these niggers want managing properly. Now my idea is——"

It is all very well for the Member of Parliament to make important suggestions. The Member of Parliament may think he knows the last word about most subjects, but, as a matter of fact, the things in regard to one subject that he does not know would fill a house. For instance, he does not know that up the stairs is flying again the young maid with a letter arrived by hand; he does not know that this letter is from the Great Western Hotel at Paddington. Such is the ignorance of the M.P. on this particular subject that he is unaware that this is from Lieutenant Wyndham, reporting his arrival in England on leave of absence; leave obtained—the note explains—instantly on receipt of an unsigned telegram three weeks since at Benaro informing him in brief terms that Miss Wareborough was in serious danger, and that his presence was required in London at once. The note adds, that as soon as he has changed into the habits of civilisation he will be with them. What the M.P. does presently understand from the confused, delighted drawing-room is that everybody is very happy, and that the conference is to be postponed until the arrival of Lieutenant Wyndham. This information being conveyed by the flying maid downstairs, the cook there is so exuberantly pleased that, albeit a stout lady, she dances round the kitchen and says hysterically, as she sinks into a chair—

"Three cheers for everybody."

Mr. James Flanders and Miss Emma Knight walked home that night because it was a fine night, and, as the young woman acutely pointed out, by walking they would be in each other's company the longer, and, moreover, two 'bus fares would be saved. It had been a most gratifying evening, and the young people from Walworth were content. At Budford Street Miss Knight kissed Mr. Flanders when she said good-night, careless of the fact that neighbours, were watching and that her mother, impatient for report in regard to the evening, was peeping through the Venetian blinds, one of the laths being disarranged for that purpose.

"By-the-bye!" said Mr. Flanders. "Wonder what it cost the party, whoever it was, to send that extr'ordinary telegram."

"Thirty-three-and-six," replied Miss Knight promptly.

"Lot of money!" said Mr. Flanders.

"I don't seepose," declared Miss Emma Knight emphatically, "the party begrudges a single penny of it."


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.


The author died in 1930, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.