crumbles away long before you can get it to your mouth. One feels so absurd, snapping at one’s food in mid-air, like a trout leaping at may-fly.’

‘I am rather surprised,’ said the dowager, ‘that you can sit there making a hearty tea when you’ve just lost a favourite niece.’

‘You talk as if I’d lost her in a churchyard sense, instead of having temporarily 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 mooning about Westminster Abbey or St Peter’s, Eaton Square, without being able to give any satisfactory reason why she’s there, she’ll be seized under the Cat and Mouse Act and sent to Reginald McKenna.’

‘That would be extremely awkward,’ said Jane, meeting an irresolute piece of bread and butter halfway; ‘we hardly know the McKennas, and it would be very tiresome 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 up with a Salvation Army procession. It was quite interesting to be at close quarters with them, they’re so absolutely different to what they used to be when I first remember them in the ’eighties. They used to go about then unkempt and dishevelled, in a sort of smiling rage with the world, and now they’re spruce and jaunty and flamboyantly decorative, like a geranium bed with religious convictions. Laura Kettleway was going on about them in the lift of the Dover Street Tube the other day, saying what a lot of good work they did, and what a loss it would have been if they’d never existed. “If they had never existed,” I said, “Granville Barker would have been certain to have invented something that looked exactly like them.” If you say things like 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 odious Koriatoffski woman down my throat, knowing perfectly well that I detest her, and in an unguarded moment she said: “She’s leaving her present house and going to Lower Seymour Street.” “I dare say she will, if she stays there long enough,” I said. Ada didn’t see it for about three minutes, and then she was positively 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 more to the point than these negative assurances,’ said Lady Beanford; ‘so far, all that we know is that she is not at the Carrywoods’, or Ada Spelvexit’s, or Westminister Abbey.’

‘That narrows the search down a bit,’ said Jane hopefully; ‘I rather fancy she must 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—you know whom I mean. That’s the great advantage of people having unusual first names, you needn’t try and remember what their other name is. Of course I know one or two other Malcolms, but none that could possibly be described as delightful. He gave me two tickets for the Happy Sunday Evenings in Sloane Square. I’ve probably left them at Mornay’s, but still it was awfully kind of him to give them to me.’

‘Do you think you left Louise there?’

‘I might telephone and ask. Oh, Robert, before you clean the tea things away I wish you’d ring up Mornay’s, in Regent Street, and ask if I left two theatre tickets 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 left her.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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