Authors: Marjorie Moore
h a certain trepidation Patricia Dare mounted the steps of the rather formidable-looking house in Kensington. Taking a slip of paper from her bag to reassure herself that the number was correct, she rang the front doorbell. Ever since she had heard her letter drop into the impregnable depths of the letterbox she had lived in a state of exaltation, alternating with moods of despondency. She had told herself over and over again that it was useless to speculate, and that in any case she was unlikely to get a reply. When, after a day’s interval, an appointment for an interview had arrived, she hadn
t known whether to laugh or cry. Even now, she argued with rising agitation, as she waited for her ring to be answered, she had only committed herself to an interview; she hadn’t actually been accepted for the job.
“I want to see Miss Hanny. I have an appointment,” Patricia blurted out.
“Certainly. This way, madam.” The maid, entirely unaware of the visitor’s discomfort, ushered Patricia across the thickly carpeted entrance hall to what appeared to be a drawing room. “I’ll tell Miss Hanny you’re here. What name shall I say?”
“Miss Dare.” Patricia waited for the maid to leave the room, then allowed her gaze to wander. She’d always believed that rooms
betrayed in some unaccountable way the temperament of their owners; in this case she decided, the predominant note of the room, and probably also of the owner, was one of old-fashioned propriety. There was a stifling atmosphere about the over-pictured walls, the handsome yet uncomfortable-looking armchairs, the mantel and tables littered with ornaments. What sort of person would this Miss Hanny be, and what relation to her could the “young lady” be for whom she was so desirous of obtaining chaperonage that she was actually willing to pay two fares? Girls travelled almost everywhere alone these days. Of course, Patricia’s thoughts wandered on, the
irl might be very young
she hadn’t considered the possibility
efore, but supposing she herself were considered too young for the job! Patricia suffered a pang of apprehension, and at the same time realized that, despite the doubts of the last few days, she hadn’t the slightest intention of refusing this heaven-sent opportunity, if she were given the chance of accepting it.
“Good day. Miss Dare, I believe?”
Patricia rose to her feet and took the extended hand of the tall, angular woman who had just entered the room. For a second she felt her hand held in a limp grasp, then the older woman sat down. Patricia glanced surreptitiously at her companion; there was a hard, unyielding expression about the older woman’s face that was in no way softened by the strands of her silvered hair drawn tightly back from her forehead and fastened into a small bun at the nape of her neck. Miss Hanny’s clothes, Patricia decided, were probably of a most expensive nature, but she had evidently so controlled the ability of her dressmaker that the result, although thoroughly practical, was anything but smart. This interview was not going to
e easy. Miss Hanny didn’t appear to be the type of woman who would be easily lulled into believing that the applicant for the post of chaperon was either more mature than her appearance suggested, or a hardened traveller.
Harriet Hanny adjusted her spectacles and studied a letter she held in her hand that Patricia recognized as her own. “I see you are journeying East early in the New Year?” The statement was in the form of a query.
“Yes,” Patricia replied shortly while assuring herself that her answer in no way constituted an untruth. After all, if Miss Hanny was willing to pay her fare, she certainly would be journeying East.
advertised on behalf of my niece. I have looked after her since her mother, my poor
sister-in-law, died some years ago.” She shook her head a trifle mournfully. “
m afraid my dear sister-in-law was inclined to be somewhat flighty, and, despite all the influence I have been able to exert, it pains me to admit that my niece also refuses to realize the responsibilities of life.”
Patricia found it difficult to repress a smile. She could appreciate the worthiness of the woman before her, but could also readily imagine how disapproving she might be of the modern tendencies of the day. She wondered what sort of girl the niece really was, and could not refrain from pitying her the life she must have led under the guardianship of her aunt
There was such a Victorian atmosphere about everything—the way her companion spoke, the way she dressed, the old-fashioned luxury of her home.
Apparently unaware of her companion’s silence, Miss Hanny continued speaking. “At Harrogate last summer my niece made what appeared to be a most undesirable attachment.” She spread her hands in an expression of helplessness. “I did what I could to dissuade her, but my advice was quite unavailing.” She pursed her lips severely. “She is twenty-one now, and I have no further control; my late brother very foolishly left her independent when she reached her twenty-first birthday. Maimie became engaged to this young man—a planter or something living near Singapore. Now she has come into her own money she insists on joining him there, and in spite of my disapproval, she leaves early in January to contract this ridiculous marriage.”
“But why rid—” Patricia bit her lips. What on earth was the use of expressing her opinion? After all, she knew nothing about either the niece or this intended husband, and it wasn’t going to help her cause to show the older woman which way her sympathy lay. To cover her mistake, she spoke again hastily. “I quite understand. Naturally you are upset.”
“Upset! Miss Hanny echoed the word. “That only mildly expresses my feeling. Since Maimie was ten I have been a mother to her; more than a mother; she has been my first consideration. Now she is independent, this is what I get—defiance, and entire disregard of my feelings and wishes! I’ve done my duty, and I’ll do it to the end.” Miss Hanny squared her shoulders. “No one shall say otherwise. That is why. I want a companion for her.
must feel she is adequately protected until the day of her marriage.” She sighed. “I cannot conduct her to that outlandish place myself; my health would not stand the journey or the heat; but, in spite of the way
have been treated, I won’t show any bitterness.” Her expression became one of resigned martyrdom. “She shall be properly looked after until my responsibilities cease.”
“I shall be only too glad to be of service,” Patricia murmured.
“I want someone used to travelling—someone reliable.” Miss Hanny frowned as her eyes searched Patricia. “You look rather young,” she added doubtfully, after her glance had taken in every line of her companion’s youthful charm.
“Really I’m not—very,” Patricia protested, “and—and I’m quite capable. I’ve been living on my own for some time now, and I’ve had to look after myself.”
suppose you could supply some kind of reference?” Miss Hanny broke in in a tone rather suggesting that she hoped her applicant couldn’t.
‘Of course.” There was relief in Patricia’s voice. Thank goodness the subject of travel hadn’t been pursued. It would have been awkward if she’d had to admit that Torquay was the farthest journey she had ever undertaken. “My father is a clergyman. He married again, that’s why I decided to live on my own. I’ve been in business too; a solicitor’s firm. I can easily get a reference from them.”
“Your father a clergyman?” Miss Hanny repeated with a satisfaction which she found hard to disguise. Entirely discarding the idea of any other reference, she continued: “That would be quite enough. I have the greatest respect for the Church. Your dear father has no objection to you travelling so far? Dear me, how times have changed!” She heaved a sigh, and Patricia was glad to notice that she did not await an answer, but continued speaking. “I hope your father will drop me a line; just a mere formality, you know,
she added hastily.
“That will be quite all right,” Patricia assured her companion, with an inward hope that her parents wouldn’t raise any objection. After all, there shouldn’t be any difficulty. Her father had seen little enough of her during the past few years; it couldn’t make much difference to him if s
e remained in England or journeyed to Timbuktu.
Miss Hanny rose briskly to her feet. “Of course, I can’t decide anything in a hurry, but I’ll let you know. Should I decide to entrust Maimie to your care, there will naturally be a number of details to discuss.” Her searching eyes sought Patricia’s. “You understand I shall want you to carry out my wishes absolutely.” Without awaiting Patricia’s reaction to her somewhat threatening tone, she added,
Now I suggest you meet my niece.”
Patricia watched the older woman as she crossed the room to ring the bell, and, on the arrival of a maid, commanded her niece’s presence.
Whatever picture Patricia’s mind had conjured up as to the outward appearance of Maimie Hanny, the reality was something more than delightful. As the girl stood in the doorway for a brief second before entering the room, she seemed to Patricia like a perfect water color framed by the door. She scarcely looked her twenty-one years, but more like a child dressed with sophistication far beyond her age. A deep blue frock of some lightly woven material clung closely to her figure, revealing the immature lines of her body and limbs. The dark material accentuated the bright gold of her hair, which clung in soft curls to her head making a halo for the childish face of a Dresden china type of beauty.
you wanted me?”
Patricia felt surprise when the picture spoke, and was immediately charmed by the clear tones of the girl’s voice.
want to introduce you to Miss Dare. She is travelling to Singapore early in the year. I am considering her application to chaperon you.”
Maimie Hanny’s face broke into smiles as she advanced toward Patricia with extended hand. “So you’re one of the answers to Auntie’s advertisement?” A frown momentarily clouded the smooth surface of her forehead. “I’ve told Auntie over and over again I can quite well look after myself, but she’s determined to deliver me safely to my future husband. I do hope you won’t find looking after me a bother,” she ended a trifle naively.
“I’ve told you nothing is decided. I am only
Miss Dare’s offer,” Miss Hanny broke in sharply.
Quite regardless of her aunt’s interruption, Maimie Hanny continued addressing herself to Patricia.
I suppose you’ve been East before? I’ll love living there, won’t I?”
“I haven’t asked Miss Dare anything about her experience of travelling or her knowledge of the East,” Miss Hanny broke in primly. “I propose to do that now.”
Before Patricia could articulate the words, Maimie had broken in.
“Of course you know all about the East. I
heard about you at the Academy. The Academy of Music, you know. I work there.” Before Patricia could recover from her surprise, Maimie rattled on: “One of the girls there knew your name at once. I happened to mention that a Miss Dare had replied to Auntie’s advert, and she told me all about you.” Maimie laughed, while a flush of excitement crept into her cheeks. “She said you were often travelling backwards and forwards, and that you would be the very person to look after me,” she ended breathlessly.
Just in time Patricia caught the agonized appeal in the younger girl’s eyes. What did it all mean? There was only one thing of which she was absolutely certain, and that was that Maimie was urging her to silence, begging her not to deny the story. With relief she heard Miss Hanny
s voice, and realized that for a few moments, she was spared the necessity of speaking.
“You didn’t tell me you’d heard anything of Miss Dare.” There was a note of reproach in Miss Hanny’s tone. “It’s a great advantage that you know the country,
she added somewhat grudgingly, turning to Patricia. “Then perhaps we can leave the rest until I am quite sure whether I shall entrust you with the responsibility.” She rose from her chair as if dismissing the subject, an
, turning to her niece, concluded, “See Miss Dare to the door, Maimie dear.” She held out her hand to Patricia. “Give me a few days to think over the matter.” She smiled. “Although I must say,
haven’t much doubt in my mind.”
Patricia bade Miss Hanny goodbye, then followed Maimie to the door. It was not until they were in the hall, and well out of earshot, that Maimie spoke, and then her voice was a hushed undertone. “I never heard a word about you really. You twigged that, didn’t you?” Without awaiting a reply, she added, “Directly I saw you I realized that you were the only one of the people who have called that I could bear to go with.”
“But your aunt
... I’ll have to tell her,” Patricia insisted.
do nothing of the kind. I’ll make sure that she fixes on you, and I’ll take jolly good care she doesn’t see you again.” She leaned confidently toward her companion. “Send on the wretched reference she wants, then tell her you’ll be away until the day we sail. All the necessary arrangements can be done by letter,” Maimie insisted with assurance. “We’ll have a heavenly trip, I know we will.” She took Patricia’s hand and squeezed it impulsively. “Be a sport.”
There was a pleading quality in her tone that Patricia found hard to resist. After all, Maimie was right; whether she was an experienced traveller or not, in these enlightened times she felt quite capable of escorting Maimie safely to Singapore.
you going out to be married too?” Maimie questioned eagerly.
“Good heavens, no!” Patricia laughed and with an impulse she couldn’t quite understand, confessed to her companion, “I’m going out to take a chance. I saw the advertisement. I hate my present job; I’ve always longed for an opportunity to travel; the temptation was more than I could resist. I’m just praying that when I get there, something will turn up.”
“You’re a sport!” Maimie turned a pair of admiring eyes on her companion. “I would never have had the courage to do a thing like that.” She sighed enviously. “But, then, you’re free; independent I suppose. I’ve been under Auntie’s thumb for so long I’ve never had a chance to do anything really worthwhile. Thank goodness I’ll soon be married. Seymour Warinder is an angel.” She spread her arms above her head in an attitude of abandon. “Thank goodness I’m really going to live at last.”