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Chapter 2 LOUISE

  • “The tea will be quite cold, you’d better ring for some more,” said th_owager Lady Beanford.
  • Susan Lady Beanford was a vigorous old woman who had coquetted with imaginar_ll-health for the greater part of a lifetime; Clovis Sangrail irreverentl_eclared that she had caught a chill at the Coronation of Queen Victoria an_ad never let it go again.  Her sister, Jane Thropplestance, who was som_ears her junior, was chiefly remarkable for being the most absent-minde_oman in Middlesex.
  • “I’ve really been unusually clever this afternoon,” she remarked gaily, as sh_ang for the tea.  “I’ve called on all the people I meant to call on; and I’v_one all the shopping that I set out to do.  I even remembered to try an_atch that silk for you at Harrod’s, but I’d forgotten to bring the patter_ith me, so it was no use.  I really think that was the only important thing _orgot during the whole afternoon.  Quite wonderful for me, isn’t it?”
  • “What have you done with Louise?” asked her sister.  “Didn’t you take her ou_ith you?  You said you were going to.”
  • “Good gracious,” exclaimed Jane, “what have I done with Louise?  I must hav_eft her somewhere.”
  • “But where?”
  • “That’s just it.  Where have I left her?  I can’t remember if the Carrywood_ere at home or if I just left cards.  If there were at home I may have lef_ouise there to play bridge.  I’ll go and telephone to Lord Carrywood and fin_ut.”
  • “Is that you, Lord Carrywood?” she queried over the telephone; “it’s me, Jan_hropplestance.  I want to know, have you seen Louise?”
  • “‘Louise,’” came the answer, “it’s been my fate to see it three times.  A_irst, I must admit, I wasn’t impressed by it, but the music grows on on_fter a bit.  Still, I don’t think I want to see it again just at present.
  • Were you going to offer me a seat in your box?”
  • “Not the opera ‘Louise’—my niece, Louise Thropplestance.  I thought I migh_ave left her at your house.”
  • “You left cards on us this afternoon, I understand, but I don’t think you lef_ niece.  The footman would have been sure to have mentioned it if you had.
  • Is it going to be a fashion to leave nieces on people as well as cards?  _ope not; some of these houses in Berkeley-square have practically n_ccommodation for that sort of thing.”
  • “She’s not at the Carrywoods’,” announced Jane, returning to her tea; “now _ome to think of it, perhaps I left her at the silk counter at Selfridge’s.  _ay have told her to wait there a moment while I went to look at the silks i_ better light, and I may easily have forgotten about her when I found _adn’t your pattern with me.  In that case she’s still sitting there.  Sh_ouldn’t move unless she was told to; Louise has no initiative.”
  • “You said you tried to match the silk at Harrod’s,” interjected the dowager.
  • “Did I?  Perhaps it was Harrod’s.  I really don’t remember.  It was one o_hose places where every one is so kind and sympathetic and devoted that on_lmost hates to take even a reel of cotton away from such pleasan_urroundings.”
  • “I think you might have taken Louise away.  I don’t like the idea of her bein_here among a lot of strangers.  Supposing some unprincipled person was to ge_nto conversation with her.”
  • “Impossible.  Louise has no conversation.  I’ve never discovered a singl_opic on which she’d anything to say beyond ‘Do you think so?  I dare sa_ou’re right.’  I really thought her reticence about the fall of the Ribo_inistry was ridiculous, considering how much her dear mother used to visi_aris.  This bread and butter is cut far too thin; it crumbles away lon_efore you can get it to your mouth.  One feels so absurd, snapping at one’_ood in mid-air, like a trout leaping at may-fly.”
  • “I am rather surprised,” said the dowager, “that you can sit there making _earty tea when you’ve just lost a favourite niece.”
  • “You talk as if I’d lost her in a churchyard sense, instead of havin_emporarily mislaid her.  I’m sure to remember presently where I left her.”
  • “You didn’t visit any place of devotion, did you?  If you’ve left her moonin_bout Westminster Abbey or St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, without being able t_ive any satisfactory reason why she’s there, she’ll be seized under the Ca_nd Mouse Act and sent to Reginald McKenna.”
  • “That would be extremely awkward,” said Jane, meeting an irresolute piece o_read and butter halfway; “we hardly know the McKennas, and it would be ver_iresome having to telephone to some unsympathetic private secretary,
  • describing Louise to him and asking to have her sent back in time for dinner.
  • Fortunately, I didn’t go to any place of devotion, though I did get mixed u_ith a Salvation Army procession.  It was quite interesting to be at clos_uarters with them, they’re so absolutely different to what they used to b_hen I first remember them in the ’eighties.  They used to go about the_nkempt and dishevelled, in a sort of smiling rage with the world, and no_hey’re spruce and jaunty and flamboyantly decorative, like a geranium be_ith religious convictions.  Laura Kettleway was going on about them in th_ift of the Dover Street Tube the other day, saying what a lot of good wor_hey did, and what a loss it would have been if they’d never existed.  ‘I_hey had never existed,’ I said, ‘Granville Barker would have been certain t_ave invented something that looked exactly like them.’  If you say thing_ike that, quite loud, in a Tube lift, they always sound like epigrams.”
  • “I think you ought to do something about Louise,” said the dowager.
  • “I’m trying to think whether she was with me when I called on Ada Spelvexit.
  • I rather enjoyed myself there.  Ada was trying, as usual, to ram that odiou_oriatoffski woman down my throat, knowing perfectly well that I detest her,
  • and in an unguarded moment she said: ‘She’s leaving her present house an_oing to Lower Seymour Street.’  ‘I dare say she will, if she stays there lon_nough,’ I said.  Ada didn’t see it for about three minutes, and then she wa_ositively uncivil.  No, I am certain I didn’t leave Louise there.”
  • “If you could manage to remember where you  _did_  leave her, it would be mor_o the point than these negative assurances,” said Lady Beanford; “so far, al_e know is that she is not at the Carrywoods’, or Ada Spelvexit’s, o_estminster Abbey.”
  • “That narrows the search down a bit,” said Jane hopefully; “I rather fancy sh_ust have been with me when I went to Mornay’s.  I know I went to Mornay’s,
  • because I remember meeting that delightful Malcolm What’s-his-name there—yo_now whom I mean.  That’s the great advantage of people having unusual firs_ames, you needn’t try and remember what their other name is.  Of course _now one or two other Malcolms, but none that could possibly be described a_elightful.  He gave me two tickets for the Happy Sunday Evenings in Sloan_quare.  I’ve probably left them at Mornay’s, but still it was awfully kind o_im to give them to me.”
  • “Do you think you left Louise there?”
  • “I might telephone and ask.  Oh, Robert, before you clear the tea-things awa_ wish you’d ring up Mornay’s, in Regent Street, and ask if I left two theatr_ickets and one niece in their shop this afternoon.”
  • “A niece, ma’am?” asked the footman.
  • “Yes, Miss Louise didn’t come home with me, and I’m not sure where I lef_er.”
  • “Miss Louise has been upstairs all the afternoon, ma’am, reading to the secon_itchenmaid, who has the neuralgia.  I took up tea to Miss Louise at a quarte_o five o’clock, ma’am.”
  • “Of course, how silly of me.  I remember now, I asked her to read the  _Faeri_ueene_  to poor Emma, to try to send her to sleep.  I always get some one t_ead the  _Faerie Queene_  to me when I have neuralgia, and it usually send_e to sleep.  Louise doesn’t seem to have been successful, but one can’t sa_he hasn’t tried.  I expect after the first hour or so the kitchenmaid woul_ather have been left alone with her neuralgia, but of course Louise wouldn’_eave off till some one told her to.  Anyhow, you can ring up Mornay’s,
  • Robert, and ask whether I left two theatre tickets there.  Except for you_ilk, Susan, those seem to be the only things I’ve forgotten this afternoon.
  • Quite wonderful for me.”