“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.”
“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.