Priscilla and Conny turned upstairs lugging the suit-case between them, while Patty approached the principal's study. Ten minutes later she joined her companions in Seven, Paradise Alley. They were sitting on the bed, their chins in their hands, studying the suit-case propped on a chair before them.
"Well?" they inquired in a breath.
"She says she's glad to see me back, and hopes I didn't eat too much wedding cake. If my lessons show any falling off—"
"Who owns it?"
"The man with the black eyebrows and the dimple in his chin who sang the funny songs third from the end on the right hand side."
"Jermyn Hilliard, Junior?" Priscilla asked breathlessly.
"Not really?" Conny laid her hand on her heart with an exaggerated sigh.
"Truly and honest!" Patty turned it over and pointed to the initials on the end. "J. H., Jr."
"It is his!" cried Priscilla.
"Where on earth did you get it, Patty?"
"Is it locked?"
"Yes," Patty nodded, "but my key will open it."
"What's in it?"
"Oh, a dress suit, and collars, and—and things."
"Where'd you get it?"
"Well," said Patty languidly, "it's a long story. I don't know that I have time before study hour—"
"Oh, tell us, please. I think you're beastly!"
"Well—the glee club was last Thursday night."
They nodded impatiently at this useless piece of information.
"And it was Friday morning that I left. As I was listening to the Dowager's parting remarks about being inconspicuous and reflecting credit on the school by my nice manners, Martin sent in word that Princess was lame and couldn't be driven. So instead of going to the station in the hearse, I went with Mam'selle in the trolley car. When we got in, it was cram full of men. The entire Yale Glee Club was going to the station! There were so many of them that they were sitting in each other's laps. The whole top layer rose, and said perfectly gravely and politely: 'Madame, take my seat.'
"Mam'selle was outraged. She said in French, which of course they all understood, that she thought American college boys had disgraceful manners; but I smiled a little—I couldn't help it, they were so funny. And then two of the bottom ones offered their seats, and we sat down. And you'll never believe it, but the third man from the end was sitting right next to me!"
"Is he as good-looking near to, as he was on the stage?"
"Are those his real eyebrows or were they blacked?"
"They looked real but I couldn't examine them closely."
"Of course they're real!" said Conny indignantly.
"And what do you think?" Patty demanded. "They were going on my train. Did you ever hear of such a coincidence?"
"What did Mam'selle think of that?"
"She was as flustered as an old hen with one chicken. She put me in charge of the conductor with so many instructions, that I know he felt like a newly engaged nursemaid. The Glee Club men rode in the smoking-car, except Jermyn Hilliard, Junior, and he followed me right into the parlor car and sat down in the chair exactly opposite."
"Patty!" they cried in shocked chorus. "You surely didn't speak to him?"
"Of course not. I looked out of the window and pretended he wasn't there."
"Oh!" Conny murmured disappointedly.
"Then what happened?" Priscilla asked.
"Nothing at all. I got out at Coomsdale, and Uncle Tom met me with the automobile. The chauffeur took my suit-case from the porter and I didn't see it near to at all. We reached the house just at tea time, and I went straight in to tea without going upstairs. The butler took up my suit-case and the maid came and asked for the key so she could unpack. That house is simply running over with servants; I'm always scared to death for fear I'll do something that they won't think is proper.
"All the ushers and bridesmaids were there, and everything was very jolly, only I couldn't make out what they were talking about half the time, because they all knew each other and had a lot of jokes I couldn't understand."
Conny nodded feelingly.
"That's the way they acted at the seaside last summer. I think grown people have horrid manners."
"I did feel sort of young," Patty acknowledged. "One of the men brought me some tea and asked what I was studying in school. He was trying to obey Louise and amuse little cousin, but he was thinking all the time, what an awful bore it was talking to a girl with her hair braided."
"I told you to put it up," said Priscilla.
"Just wait!" said Patty portentously. "When I went upstairs to dress for dinner, the maid met me in the hall with her eyes popping out of her head.
"'Beg pardon, Miss Patty,' she said. 'But is that your suit-case?'
"'Yes,' I said, 'of course it's my suit-case. What's the matter with it?'
"She just waved her hand toward the table and didn't say a word. And there it was, wide open!"
Patty took a key from her pocket, unlocked the suit-case, and threw back the lid. A man's dress suit was neatly folded on the top, with a pipe, a box of cigarettes, some collars, and various other masculine trifles filling in the interstices.
"Oh!" they gasped in breathless chorus.
"They belong to him," Conny murmured fervently.
"And when I showed Uncle Tom that suit-case, he nearly died laughing. He telephoned to the station, but they didn't know anything about it, and I didn't know where the glee club was going to perform, so we couldn't telegraph Mr. Hilliard. Uncle Tom lives five miles from town, and there simply wasn't anything we could do that night."
"And just imagine his feelings when he started to dress for the concert, and found Patty's new pink evening gown spread out on top!" suggested Priscilla.
"Oh, Patty! Do you s'pose he opened it?" asked Conny.
"I'm afraid he did. The cases are exact twins, and the keys both seem to fit."
"I hope it looked all right?"
"Oh, yes, it looked beautiful. Everything was trimmed with pink ribbon. I always pack with an eye to the maid, when I visit Uncle Tom."
"But the dinner and the wedding? What did you do without your clothes?" asked Priscilla, in rueful remembrance of many trips to the dressmaker's.
"That was the best part of it!" Patty affirmed. "Miss Lord simply wouldn't let me get a respectable evening gown. She went with me herself, and told Miss Pringle how to make it—just like all my dancing dresses, nine inches off the floor, with elbow sleeves and a silly sash. I hated it anyway."
"You must remember you are a school girl," Conny quoted, "and until—"
"Just wait till I tell you!" Patty triumphed. "Louise brought me one of her dresses—one of her very best ball gowns, only she wasn't going to wear it any more, because she had all new clothes in her trousseau. It was white crepe embroidered in gold spangles, and it had a train. It was long in front, too. I had to walk without lifting my feet. The maid came and dressed me; she did my hair up on top of my head with a gold fillet, and Aunt Emma loaned me a pearl necklace and some long gloves and I looked perfectly beautiful—I did, honestly—you wouldn't have known me. I looked at least twenty!
"The man who took me in to dinner never dreamed that I hadn't been out for years. And you know, he tried to flirt with me, he did, really. And he was getting awfully old. He must have been almost forty. I felt as though I were flirting with my grandfather. You know," Patty added, "it isn't so bad, being grown up. I believe you really do have sort of a good time—if you're pretty."
Six eyes sought the mirror for a reflective moment, before Patty resumed her chronicle.
"And Uncle Tom made me tell about the suit-case at the dinner table. Everybody laughed. It made a very exciting story. I told them about the whole school going to the Glee Club, and falling in love in a body with the third man from the end, and how we all cut his picture out of the program and pasted it in our watches. And then about my sitting across from him in the train and changing suit-cases. Mr. Harper—the man next to me—said it was the most romantic thing he'd ever heard in his life; that Louise's marriage was nothing to it."
"But about the suit-case," they prompted. "Didn't you do anything more?"
"Uncle Tom telephoned again in the morning, and the station agent said he'd got the party on the wire as had the young lady's case. And he was coming back here in two days, and I was to leave his suit-case with the baggage man at the station, and he would leave mine."
"But you didn't leave it."
"I came on the other road. I'm going to send it down."
"And what did you wear at the wedding?"
"Louise's clothes. It didn't matter a bit, my not matching the other bridesmaids, because I was maid of honor, and ought to dress differently anyway. I've been grown up for three days—and I just wish Miss Lord could have seen me with my hair on the top of my head talking to men!"
"Did you tell the Dowager?"
"Yes, I told her about getting the wrong suit-case; I didn't mention the fact that it belonged to the third man from the end."
"What did she say?"
"She said it was very careless of me to run off with a strange man's luggage; and she hoped he was a gentleman and would take it nicely. She telephoned to the baggage man that it was here, but she couldn't send Martin with it this afternoon because he had to go to the farm for some eggs."
Recreation was over, and the girls came trooping in to gather books and pads and pencils for the approaching study hour. Everyone who passed number Seven dropped in to hear the news. Each in turn received the story of the suit-case, and each in turn gasped anew at sight of the contents.
"Doesn't it smell tobaccoey and bay rummish?" said Rosalie Patton, sniffing.
"Oh, there's a button loose!" cried Florence Hissop, the careful housewife. "Where's some black silk, Patty?"
She threaded a needle and secured the button. Then she daringly tried on the coat. Eight others followed her example and thrilled at the touch. It was calculated to fit a far larger person than any present. Even Irene McCullough found it baggy.
"He had awfully broad shoulders," said Rosalie, stroking the satin lining.
They peered daintily at the other garments.
"Oh!" squealed Mae Mertelle. "He wears blue silk suspenders."
"And something else blue," chirped Edna Hartwell, peering over her shoulder. "They're pajamas!"
"And to think of such a thing happening to Patty!" sighed Mae Mertelle.
"Why not?" bristled Patty.
"You're so young and so—er—"
"Young!—Wait till you see me with my hair done up."
"I wonder what the end will be?" asked Rosalie.
"The end," said Mae unkindly, "will be that the baggage man will deliver the suit-case, and Jermyn Hilliard, Junior, will never know—"
A maid appeared at the door.
"If you please," she murmured, her amazed eyes on Irene who was still wearing the coat, "Mrs. Trent would like to have Miss Patty Wyatt come to the drawing-room, and I am to take the suit-case down. The gentleman is waiting."
"Oh, Patty!" a gasp went around the room.
"Do your hair up—quick!"
Priscilla caught Patty's twin braids and wound them around her head, while the others in a flutter of excitement, thrust in the coat and relocked the suit-case.
They crowded after her in a body and hung over the banisters at a perilous angle, straining their ears in the direction of the drawing-room. Nothing but a murmur of voices floated up, punctuated by an occasional deep bass laugh. When they heard the front door close, with one accord they invaded Harriet Gladden's room, which commanded the walk, and pressed their noses against the pane. A short, thick-set man of German build was waddling toward the gate and the trolley car. They gazed with wide, horrified eyes, and turned without a word to meet Patty as she trudged upstairs lugging her errant suit-case. A glance told her that they had seen, and dropping on the top step, she leaned her head against the railing and laughed.
"His name," she choked, "is John Hochstetter, Jr. He's a wholesale grocer, and was on his way to a grocers' convention, where he was to make a speech comparing American cheese with imported cheese. He didn't mind at all not having his dress-suit—never feels comfortable in it anyway, he says. He explained to the convention why he didn't have it on, and it made the funniest speech of the evening. There's the study bell."
Patty rose and turned toward Paradise Alley, but paused to throw back a further detail:
"He has a dear little daughter of his own just my age!"
The Flannigan Honeymoon
The Murphy family, with a judicious eye to the buttered side of the bread, had adopted Saint Ursula as their patron saint. The family—consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Murphy, eleven little Murphys and "Gramma" Flannigan—occupied a five-room cottage close to the gates of St. Ursula's school. They subsisted on the vicarious charity of sixty-four girls, and the intermittent labor of Murphy pere, who, in his sober intervals, was a sufficiently efficient stone-cutter and mason.
He had built the big entrance gates, and the long stone wall that enclosed the ten acres of "bounds." He had laid the foundation of the new west wing—known as Paradise Alley—and had constructed all the chimneys and driveways and tennis courts on the place. The school was a monument to his long and leisurely career.
Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, with an unusual display of foresight, had christened their first baby after the school. Ursula Murphy may not be a euphuistic combination, but the child was amply repaid for carrying such a name, by receiving the cast-off clothes of generations of St. Ursula girls. There was danger, for a time, that the poor little thing would be buried beneath a mountain of wearing apparel; but her parents providentially discovered a second-hand clothes man, who relieved her of a part of the burden.
After Ursula, had come other little Murphys in regular succession; and it had grown to be one of the legendary privileges of the school to furnish the babies with names and baptismal presents. Mrs. Murphy was not entirely mercenary in her yearly request. She appreciated the artistic quality of the names that the girls provided. They had a distinction, that she herself, with her lack of literary training, would never have been able to give. The choosing of the names had come to be a matter involving politics almost as complicated as the election of the senior president. Different factions proposed different names; half-a-dozen tickets would be in the field, and the balloting was conducted with rousing speeches.
There was one hampering restriction. Every baby must have a patron saint. Upon this point, the Murphys stood firm. However, by a careful study of early Christian martyrs, the girls had managed to unearth a list of recondite saints with fairly unusual and picturesque names.
So far, the roll of the Murphy offspring read:
Ursula Marie, Geraldine Sabina, Muriel Veronica and Lionel Ambrose (twins), Aileen Clotilda, John Drew Dominick, Delphine Olivia, Patrick (he had been born in the summer vacation, and the long-suffering priest had insisted that the boy be named for his father), Sidney Orlando Boniface, Richard Harding Gabriel, Yolanda Genevieve. This completed the list, until one morning early in December, Patrick Senior presented himself at the kitchen door, with the news that another name—a boy's—would be seasonable.
The school immediately went into a committee of the whole. Several names had been put up, and the discussion was growing heated, when Patty Wyatt jumped to her feet with the proposal of "Cuthbert St. John." The suggestion was met with cheers; and Mae Van Arsdale indignantly left the room. The name was carried by unanimous vote.
Cuthbert St. John Murphy was christened the following Sunday, and received a gold-lined porridge spoon in a green plush box.
So delighted was the school at Patty's felicitous suggestion, that, by way of reward, they elected her chairman of the Christmas Carnival Committee. The Christmas Carnival was a charitable institution contemporaneous with the founding of the school. St. Ursula's scheme of education was broad; it involved growth in a wide variety of womanly virtues, and the greatest of these was charity. Not the modern, scientific, machine-made charity, but the comfortable, old-fashioned kind that leaves a pleasant glow of generosity in the heart of the giver. Every year at Christmastide a tree was decked, a supper laid, and the poor children of the neighborhood bidden to partake. The poor children were collected by the school girls, who drove about from house to house, in bob-sleighs or hay-wagons, according to the snow. The girls regarded it as the most diverting festival of the school year; and even the poor children, when they had overcome their first embarrassment, found it fairly diverting.
The original scheme had been for each girl to have an individual protege, that she might call upon the family and come into personal relations with a humbler class. She was to learn the special needs of her child, and give something really useful, such as stockings or trousers or flannel petticoats.
It was an admirable scheme on paper, but in actual practice it fell down. St. Ursula's was situated in an affluent district given over to the estates of the idle rich, and the proletarian who clung to the skirts of these estates was amply provided with an opportunity to work. In the early days, when the school was small, there had been sufficient poor children to go round; but as St. Ursula's had grown, the poor seemed to have diminished, until now the school was confronted by an actual scarcity. But the Murphys, at least, they had always with them. They yearly offered thanks for this.
Patty accepted her chairmanship and appointed sub-committees to do the actual work. For herself and Conny and Priscilla she reserved the privilege of choosing the recipients of St. Ursula's bounty. This entailed several exhilarating afternoons out of bounds. A walk abroad is as inspiring to the inmates of a prison as a trip through Europe to those at large. They spent the better part of a week canvassing the neighborhood, only to reveal the embarrassing fact that there were nine possible children, aside from the Murphy brood, and that none of these nine were from homes that one could conscientiously term poor. The children's sober industrious parents could well supply their temperate Christmas demands.
"And there are only six Murphys the right age," Conny grumbled, as they turned homewards in the cold twilight of a wintry day, after an unprofitable two hours' tramp.
"That makes about one child to every five girls," Priscilla nodded dismally.
"Oh, this charity business makes me tired!" Patty burst out. "It's fun for the girls, and nothing else. The way we dole out stuff to perfectly nice people, is just plain insulting. If anybody poked a pink tarlatan stocking full of candy at me, and said it was because I'd been a good little girl, I'd throw it in their face."
In moments of intensity, Patty's English was not above reproach.
"Come on, Patty," Priscilla slipped a soothing hand through her arm, "we'll stop in at the Murphys' and count 'em over again. Maybe there's one we overlooked."
"The twins are only fifteen," said Conny hopefully. "I think they'll do."
"And Richard Harding's nearly four. He's old enough to enjoy a tree. The more Murphys we can get the better. They always love the things we give."
"I know they do!" Patty growled. "We're teaching the whole lot of them to be blooming beggars—I shall be sorry I ever used any slang, if we can't put the money to better use than this."
The funds for the carnival were yearly furnished by a tax on slang. St. Ursula demanded a fine of one cent for every instance of slang or bad grammar let fall in public. Of course, in the privacy of one's own room, in the bosom of one's chosen family, the rigor was relaxed. Your dearest friends did not report you—except in periods of estrangement. But your acquaintances and enemies and teachers did, and even, in moments of intense honorableness, you reported yourself. In any case, the slang fund grew. When the committee had opened the box this year, they found thirty-seven dollars and eighty-four cents.
Patty allowed herself, after some slight protest, to be drawn to the door of the Murphy domicile. She was not in an affable mood, and a call upon the Murphys required a great deal of conversation. They found the family hilariously assembled in an over-crowded kitchen. The entire dozen children babbled at once, shriller and shriller, in a vain endeavor to drown each other out. A cabbage stew, in progress on the stove, filled the room with an odorous steam. Shoved into a corner of the hearth, was poor old Gramma Flannigan, surrounded by noisy, pushing youngsters, who showed her gray hairs but scant consideration. The girls admired the new baby, while Yolanda and Richard Harding crawled over their laps with sticky hands. Mrs. Murphy, meanwhile, discanted in a rich brogue upon the merits of "Coothbert St. Jawn" as a name. She liked it, she declared, as well as any in the list. It sure ought to bring luck to a child to carry the name of two saints. She thanked the young ladies kindly.
Patty left Conny and Priscilla to carry off the social end of the call, while she squeezed herself onto the woodbox by Gramma Flannigan's chair. Mrs. Murphy's mother was a pathetic old body, with the winning speech and manners of Ireland a generation ago. Patty found her the most remunerative member of the household, so far as interest went. She always liked to get her started with stories of her girlhood, when she had been a lady's maid in Lord Stirling's castle in County Clare, and young Tammas Flannigan came and carried her off to America to help make his fortune. Tammas was now a bent old man with rheumatism, but in his keen blue eyes and Irish smile, Gramma still saw the lad who had courted her.
"How's your husband this winter?" Patty asked, knowing that she was taking the shortest road to the old woman's heart.
She shook her head with a tremulous smile.
"I'm not hearin' for four days. Tammas ain't livin' with us no more."
"It's a pity for you to be separated!" said Patty, with quick sympathy, not realizing on how sore a subject she was touching.
The flood gates of the old woman's garrulity broke down.
"With Ursuly an' Ger-r-aldine growin' oop an' havin' young min to wait on thim, 'twas needin' a parlor they was, an' they couldn't spare the room no longer for me'n Tammas. So they put me in the garret with the four gurrls, an' Tammas, he was sint oop the road to me son Tammas. Tammas's wife said as Tammas could sleep in the kitchen to pay for carryin' the wood an' watter, but she couldn't take us both because she takes boarders."
Patty cocked her head for a moment of silence, as she endeavored to pluck sense from this tangle of Tammases.
"It's too bad!" she comforted, laying a sympathetic hand on the old woman's knee.
Gramma Flannigan's eyes filled with the ready tears of old age.
"I'm not complainin', for it's the way o' the world. The owld must step off, an' make room for the young. But it's lonely I am without him! We've lived together for forty-seven years, an' we know each other's ways."
"But your son doesn't live very far away." Patty offered what solace she might. "You must see Thomas very often."
"That an' I don't! You might as well have a husband dead, as a mile an' a half away an' laid oop with rheumatism."
The clock pointed to a quarter of six, and the visitors rose. They had still to walk half a mile and dress before dinner.
The old woman clung to Patty's hand at parting. She seemed to find more comfort in the little stray sympathy that Patty had offered, than in all her exuberant brood of grandchildren.
"Isn't it dreadful to be old, and just sit around waiting to die?" Patty shuddered, as they faced the cold darkness outside.
"Dreadful!" Conny cordially agreed. "Hurry up! Or we'll be late for dinner, and this is chicken night."
They turned homeward at a jog trot that left little breath for speech; but Patty's mind was working as fast as her legs.
"I've got a perfectly splendid idea," she panted as she turned in at the gate and trotted up the driveway toward the big lighted house that spread wide wings to receive them.
"What?" they asked.
The quick insistent clang of the gong floated out to meet them, and on the instant, hurrying figures flitted past the windows—the summons to meals brought a readier response than the summons to study.
"I'll tell you after dinner. No time now," Patty returned as she peeled off her coat.
They were unlacing their blouses as they clattered up the back stairs, and pulling them over their heads in the upper hall.
"Go slow—please!" they implored of the down-going procession whose track they crossed. Dinner was the only meal which might be approached by the front stairs, which were carpeted instead of tinned.
Their evening frocks were fortunately in one piece, and they dove into them with little ceremony. The three presented themselves flushed of cheek and somewhat rumpled as to hair, but properly gowned and apologetic, just as grace was ended. To be late for grace only meant one demerit; the first course came higher, and the second higher still. Punishment increased by geometrical progression.
During the half hour's intermission before evening study, the three separated themselves from the dancers in the hall, and withdrew to a corner of the deserted schoolroom.
Patty perched herself on a desk, and loudly stated her feelings.
"I'm tired of having the Dowager get up at prayers, and make a speech about the beautiful Christmas spirit, and how sweet it is to make so many little children happy, when she knows perfectly well that it's just a lark for us. I'm chairman this year and I can do as I please. I've had enough of this fake charity; and I'm not going to have any Christmas tree!"
"No Christmas tree?" Conny echoed blankly.
"But what are you going to do with the thirty-seven dollars and eight-four cents?" asked Priscilla, the practical.
"Listen!" Patty settled to her argument. "There aren't any children around here who need a blessed thing, but Gramma and Granpa Flannigan do. That poor old woman, who is just as nice as she can be, is crowded in with all those horrid, yelling, sticky little Murphys; and Granpa Flannigan is poked into Tammas Junior's kitchen, running errands for Tammas Junior's wife, who is a per-fect-ly terrible woman. She throws kettles when she gets mad. Gramma worries all the time for fear he has rheumatism, and nobody to rub on liniment, or make him wear the right underclothes. They're exactly as fond of each other as any other husband and wife, and just because Ursula wants to have callers, I say it's a mean shame for them to be separated!"
"It is too bad," Conny agreed impartially. "But I don't see that we can help it."
"Why, yes! Instead of having a Christmas tree, we'll rent that empty little cottage down by the laurel walk, and mend the chimney—Patrick can do that for nothing—and put in new windows, and furnish it, and set them up in housekeeping."
"Do you think we can do it for thirty-seven dollars and eighty-four cents?" Priscilla asked.
"That's where the charity comes in! Every girl in school will go without her allowance for two weeks. Then we'll have more than a hundred dollars, and you can furnish a house perfectly beautifully for that. And it would be real charity to give up our allowances, because they are particularly useful at Christmas time."
"But will the girls want to give their allowances?"
"We'll fix it so they'll have to," said Patty. "We'll call a mass meeting and make a speech. Then everybody will file past and sign a paper. No one will dare refuse with the school looking on."
Patty's fire kindled an answering flame in the other two.
"It is a good idea!" Conny declared.
"And it would be a lark, fixing the house," said Priscilla. "Almost as much fun as getting married ourselves."
"Exactly," Patty nodded. "Those poor old things haven't had a chance to see each other alone for years. We'll give 'em a honeymoon all over again."
Patty was outwardly occupied with geometry the next hour, but her mind was busy hemming sheets and towels and tablecloths. It being Thursday evening, the hour between eight and nine was occupied with "manners." The girls took turns in coming gracefully downstairs, entering the drawing-room, announced by Claire du Bois in the role of footman, and shaking hands with their hostesses—Conny Wilder, as dowager mama, and towering above her, as debutante daughter, Irene McCullough, the biggest girl in the school. The gymnasium teacher who assigned the roles, had a sense of humor. An appropriate remark was expected from each guest, the weather being barred.
"Mrs. Wilder!" Priscilla gushed, advancing with outstretched hand, "and dear little Irene! It doesn't seem possible that the child is actually grown. It was only yesterday that she was a mite of a thing toddling about—"
Priscilla was shoved on by Patty.
"Me dear Mrs. Wilder," she inquired in a brogue that would have put the Murphys to shame, "have ye heard the news that's goin' round? Mr. and Mrs. Tammas Flannigan have taken the Laurel Cottage for the season. They are thinkin' of startin' a salon. They will be at home ivery afternoon during recreation hour—and will serve limonade and gingerbread in summer, and soup and sandwiches in winter. Ye must take Irene to call on thim."
The moment "manners" was over, the three withdrew to the seclusion of Patty's and Conny's room in Paradise Alley, and closed the door against callers. Between nine and nine-thirty was the fashionable calling hour at St. Ursula's. The time was supposed to be occupied in getting ready for bed, but if one were clever about undressing in the dark, one might devote the thirty minutes to social purposes.
"Gone to sleep! Don't disturb us!" the placard read that they impaled upon the door, but the clatter of tongues inside belied the words.
"Isn't my idea fine about the lemonade and soup?" Patty demanded.
"The great thing about charity is not to make it charity. You must keep people self-supporting," Priscilla quoted from their last lesson in sociology.
"We'll fix little tables under the apple tree in summer and in the parlor in winter," Patty planned, "and all the school girls and automobiles will stop for lemonade. We'll charge the girls five cents a glass and the automobiles ten."
"And I say, let's make Patrick and Tammas each contribute a dollar a week toward their support," Conny proposed. "They must eat up a dollar's worth of potatoes as they are living now."
They continued planning in whispers until long after "lights-out" had rung; and Priscilla, in a laudable desire to be inconspicuous, was obliged to crawl on hands and knees past Mademoiselle's open door, before she gained her own room at the end of the corridor.
The moment recreation sounded the next afternoon, they obtained permission to be out of bounds, and set off at a brisk trot. It was their business-like intention to have all the statistics complete, before submitting the matter to the assembled school.
"We'll first call on Patrick and Tammas and make 'em promise the dollar," said Patty.
Patrick readily promised his dollar—Patrick was always strong in promises—and the girls proceeded gaily to Tammas Junior's. They found Granpa on the back doorstep anxiously wiping his feet; he was a tremulous reed that bowed before every blast of the daughter-in-law's tongue. Tammas Junior, after being taken aside and told the project, thought he could manage two dollars a week. An expression of relief momentarily took the hunted look from his eyes. He was clearly glad to rescue his father from the despotic rule of his wife.
The girls turned away with their minds made up. It only remained to secure the cottage, coerce the school, and hem the sheets.
"You go and price furniture and wall paper," Patty issued her orders, "while I see about the rent. We'll meet at the soda-water fountain."
She found the real-estate man who owned the cottage established in an office over the bank; and by what she considered rare business ability, beat him down from nine dollars a month to seven. This stroke accomplished, she intimated her readiness for the lease.
"A lease will not be necessary," he said. "A month to month verbal agreement will do for me."
"I can't consider it without a lease," said Patty, firmly. "You might sell or something, and then we'd have to move out."
The gentleman amusedly filled in the form, and signed as party of the first part. He passed the pen to Patty and indicated the space reserved for the signature of the party of the second part.
"I must first consult my partners," she explained.
"Oh, I see! Have them sign here, and then bring the lease back."
"All of them?" she asked, dubiously scanning the somewhat cramped quarters. "I'm afraid there won't be room."
"How many partners have you?"
He stared momentarily, then as his eye fell on the embroidered "St. U." on Patty's coat sleeve, he threw back his head and laughed.
"I beg your pardon!" he apologized, "but I was a bit staggered for a moment. I am not used to doing business on such a large scale. In order to be legal," he gravely explained, "the paper will have to be signed by all the parties to the contract. If there is not enough room, you might paste on an er—"
"Annex?" suggested Patty.
"Exactly," he agreed and with grave politeness bowed her out.
As the bell rang that indicated the end of study that evening, Patty and Conny and Priscilla jumped to their feet, and called a mass meeting of the school. The door was closed after the retreating Miss Jellings, and for half an hour the three made speeches separately and in unison. They were persuasive talkers and they carried the day. The allowance was voted with scarcely a dissenting voice, and the school filed past and signed the lease.
For two weeks St. Ursula's was a busy place—and also Laurel Cottage. Bounds were practically enlarged to include it. The girls worked in gangs during every recreation hour. The cellar was whitewashed by a committee of four, who went in blue, and came out speckled like a plover's egg. Tammas Junior had volunteered for this job, but it was one the girls could not relinquish. They did allow him to kalsomine the ceilings and hang the wall paper; but they painted the floors and lower reaches of woodwork themselves. The evening's hour of recreation no longer found them dancing, but sitting in a solid phalanx on the stairs hemming sheets and tablecloths. The house was to be furnished with a completeness that poor Mrs. Flannigan, in all her married life, had never known before.
When everything was finished, the day before the holidays, the school in a body wiped its feet on the door-mat and tiptoed through on a last visit of inspection. The cottage contained three rooms, with a cellar and woodshed besides. The wall paper and chintz hangings of the parlor were flaming pink peonies with a wealth of foliage—a touch of flamboyant for some tastes, but Granpa's and Gramma's eyes were failing, and they liked strong colors. Also, crafty questioning had elicited the fact that "pinies" were Gramma's favorite flower. The kitchen had turkey-red curtains with a cheerful strip of rag carpet and two comfortable easy chairs before the hearth. The cellar was generously stocked from the school farm—Miss Sallie's contribution—with potatoes and cabbages and carrots and onions, enough to make Irish stew for three months to come. The woodbin was filled, and even a five-gallon can of kerosene. Sixty-four pairs of eyes had scanned the rooms minutely to make sure that no essential was omitted.
Both the Murphy and Flannigan households had been agog for days over the proposed flitting of the pair. Even Mrs. Tammas had volunteered to wash the windows of the new cottage, and for a week she had scarcely been cross. The old man was already wondering at life. When the time arrived, Mrs. Murphy secretly packed Gramma's belongings and dressed her in her best, under the pretext that she was to be taken in a carriage to a Christmas party to have supper with her husband. The old woman was in a happy flutter at the prospect. Granpa was prepared for the journey by the same simple strategy.
Patty and Conny and Priscilla, as originators of the enterprise, had been appointed to install the old couple; but with tactful forbearance, they delegated the right to the son and daughter. They saw that the fires were burning, the lamps lighted, and the cat—there was even a cat—asleep on the hearth rug; then when the sound of carriage wheels in front told them that Martin had arrived with his passengers, they quietly slipped out the back way and jogged home to dinner through the snowy dusk.
They were met by a babel of questions.
"Was Gramma pleased with the parlor clock?"
"Did she know what to do with the chaffing-dish?"
"Were they disappointed at not having a feather bed?"
"Did they like the cat, or would they rather have had a parrot?" (The school had been torn asunder on this important point.)
At the dinner table that night—such of the school as was left—chattered only of Laurel Cottage. They were as excited over Gramma and Granpa's happiness, as over their own approaching holiday. All sixty-four were planning to drink tea, on the first day of their return, from Gramma's six cups.
Toward nine o'clock, Patty and Priscilla, by a special dispensation that allowed late hours in vacation, received permission to accompany Conny and ten other dear friends to the station for the western express. Driving back alone in the "hearse," still bubbling with the hilarity of Christmas farewells, they passed the Laurel Cottage.
"I believe they're still up!" said Priscilla. "Let's stop and wish 'em a Merry Christmas, just to make sure they like it."
Martin was readily induced to halt; his discipline also was relaxed in vacation. They approached the door, but hesitated at sight of the picture revealed by the lighted window. To interrupt with the boisterous greetings of the season, seemed like rudely breaking in upon the seclusion of lovers. Only a glance was needed to tell them that the house-warming was successful. Gramma and Granpa were sitting before the fire in their comfortable red-cushioned rocking-chairs; the lamp shed a glow on their radiant faces, as they held each other's hands and smiled into the future.
Patty and Priscilla tiptoed away and climbed back into the hearse, a touch sobered and thoughtful.
"You know," Patty pondered, "they are just as contented as if they lived in a palace with a million dollars and an automobile! It's funny, isn't it, what a little thing makes some people happy?"
The Silver Buckles
"To be cooped up for three weeks with the two stupidest girls in the school—"
"Kid McCoy isn't so bad," said Conny consolingly.
"She's a horrid little tomboy."
"But you know she's entertaining, Patty."
"She never says a word that isn't slang, and I think she's the limit!"
"Well, anyway, Harriet Gladden—"
"Is perfectly dreadful and you know it. I would just as soon spend Christmas with a weeping angel on a tombstone."
"She is pretty mournful," Priscilla agreed. "I've spent three Christmases with her. But anyway, you'll have fun. You can be late for meals whenever you want, and Nora lets you make candy on the kitchen stove."
Patty sniffed disdainfully as she commenced the work of resettling her room, after the joyous upheaval of a Christmas packing. The other two assisted in silent sympathy. There was after all not much comfort to be offered. School in holiday time was a lonely substitute for home. Priscilla, whose father was a naval officer, and whose home was a peripatetic affair, had become inured to the experience; but this particular year, she was gaily setting out to visit cousins in New York—with three new dresses and two new hats! And Patty, whose home was a mere matter of two hours in a Pullman car, was to be left behind; for six-year old Thomas Wyatt had chosen this inopportune time to come down with scarlet fever. The case was of the lightest; Master Tommy was sitting up in bed and occupying himself with a box of lead soldiers. But the rest of the family were not so comfortable. Some were quarantined in, and the others out. Judge Wyatt had installed himself in a hotel and telegraphed the Dowager to keep Patty at St. Ursula's during the holidays. Poor Patty had been happily packing her trunk when the news arrived; and as she unpacked it, she distributed a few excusable tears through the bureau drawers.
Ordinarily, a number remained for the holidays,—girls whose homes were in the West or South, or whose parents were traveling abroad or getting divorces—but this year the assortment was unusually meager. Patty was left alone in "Paradise Alley." Margarite McCoy, of Texas, was stranded at the end of the South Corridor, and Harriet Gladden of Nowhere, had a suite of eighteen rooms at her disposal in "Lark Lane." These and four teachers made up the household.
Harriet Gladden had been five years straight at St. Ursula's—term time and vacations without a break. She came a lanky little girl of twelve, all legs and arms, and she was now a lanky big girl of seventeen, still all legs and arms. An invisible father, at intervals mentioned in the catalogue, mailed checks to Mrs. Trent; and beyond this made no sign. Poor Harriet was a mournful, silent, neglected child; entirely out of place in the effervescing life that went on around her.
She never had any birthday boxes from home, never any Christmas presents, except those that came from the school. While the other girls were clamoring for mail, Harriet stood in the background silent and unexpectant. Miss Sallie picked out her clothes, and Miss Sallie's standards were utilitarian rather than aesthetic. Harriet, with no exception, was the worst dressed girl in the school. Even her school uniform, which was an exact twin of sixty-three other uniforms, hung upon her with the grace of a meal-bag. Miss Sallie, with provident foresight, always ordered them a size too large in order to allow her to grow and Harriet invariably wore them out, before she had established a fit.
"What on earth becomes of Harriet Gladden during vacation?" Priscilla once wondered on the opening day.
"They keep her on ice through the summer," was Patty's opinion, "and she never gets entirely thawed out."
As a matter of fact this was, as nearly as possible, what they did do with her. Miss Sallie picked out a quiet, comfortable, healthy farmhouse, and installed Harriet in charge of the farmer's wife. By the end of three months she was so desperately lonely, that she looked forward with pleasurable excitement to the larger isolation of term time.
Patty, one day, had overheard two of the teachers discussing Harriet, and her reported version had been picturesque.
"Her father hasn't seen her for years and years. He just chucks her in here and pays the bills."
"I don't wonder he doesn't want her at home!" said Priscilla.
"There isn't any home. Her mother is divorced, and married again, and living in Paris. That was the reason Harriet couldn't go abroad with the school party last year. Her father was afraid that when she got to Paris, her mother would grab her—not that either of them really wants her, but they like to spite each other."
Priscilla and Conny sat up interestedly. Here was a tragic intrigue, such as you expect to meet only in novels, going on under their very noses.
"You girls who have had a happy home life, cannot imagine the loneliness of a childhood such as Harriet's," said Patty impressively.
"It's dreadful!" Conny cried. "Her father must be a perfect Beast not to take any notice of her."
"Harriet has her mother's eyes," Patty explained. "Her father can't bear to look at her, because she reminds him of the happy past that is dead forever."
"Did Miss Wadsworth say that?" they demanded in an interested chorus.
"Not in exactly those words," Patty confessed. "I just gathered the outline."
This story, with picturesque additions, lost no time in making the rounds of the school. Had Harriet chosen to play up to the romantic and melancholy role she was cast for, she might have attained popularity of a sort; but Harriet did not have the slightest trace of the histrionic in her make-up. She merely moped about, and continued to be heavy and uninteresting. Other more exciting matters demanded public attention; and Harriet and her blasted childhood were forgotten.
Patty stood on the veranda waving good-by to the last hearseful of Christmas travelers, then turned indoors to face an empty three weeks. As she was listlessly preparing to mount the stairs, Maggie waylaid her with the message:
"Mrs. Trent would like to speak to you in her private study, Miss Patty."
Patty turned back, wondering for just which of her latest activities she was to be called to account. A visit to the Dowager's private study usually meant that a storm was brewing. She found the four left-behind teachers cosily gathered about the tea table, and to her surprise, was received with four affable smiles.
"Sit down, Patty, and have some tea."
The Dowager motioned her to a chair, while she mingled an inch of tea with three inches of hot water. Miss Sallie furnished a fringed napkin, Miss Jellings presented buttered toast, and Miss Wadsworth, salted almonds. Patty blinked dazedly and accepted the offerings. To be waited on by four teachers was an entirely new experience. Her spirits rose considerably as she mentally framed the story for Priscilla's and Conny's delectation. When she had ceased to wonder why she was being thus honored, the reason appeared.
"I am sorry, Patty," said the Dowager, "that none of your special friends are to be here this year; but I am sure that you and Margarite and Harriet will get on very happily. Breakfast will be half an hour later than usual, and the rules about bounds will be somewhat relaxed—only of course we must always know where to find you. I shall try to plan a matinee party in the city, and Miss Sallie will take you to spend a day at the farm. The ice is strong enough now for you to skate, and Martin will get out the sleds for you to coast. You must be in the open air as much as possible; and I shall be very pleased if you and Margarite can interest Harriet in out-of-door sports. Speaking of Harriet—"
The Dowager hesitated momentarily, and Patty's acute understanding realized that at last they were getting at the kernel of the interview. The tea and toast had been merely wrapping. She listened with a touch of suspicion, while the Dowager lowered her voice with an air of confidence.
"Speaking of Harriet, I should like to enlist your sympathy, Patty. She is very sweet and genuine. A girl that anyone might be proud to have for a friend. But through an accident, such as sometimes happens in a crowded, busy, selfish community, she has been overlooked and left behind. Harriet has never seemed to adjust herself so readily as most girls; and I fear that the poor child is often very lonely. It would be highly gratifying to me if you would make an effort to be friendly with her. I am sure that she will meet your advances half way."
Patty murmured a few polite phrases and retired to dress for dinner, stubbornly resolved to be as distant with Harriet as possible. Her friendship was not a commodity to be bought with tea and buttered toast.
The three girls had dinner alone at a little candle-lit table set in a corner of the dining-room, while the four teachers occupied a conveniently distant table in the opposite corner.
Patty commenced the meal by being as monosyllabic as possible; but it was not her natural attitude toward the world, and by the time the veal had arrived (it was Wednesday night) she was laughing whole-heartedly at Kid's ingenuous conversation. Miss McCoy's vocabulary was rich in the vernacular of the plains, and in vacation she let herself go. During term time she was forced to curb her discourse, owing to the penny tax on slang. Otherwise, her entire allowance would have gone to swell the public coffers.
It was a relief to let dinner-table conversation flow where it listed; usually, with a teacher in attendance and the route marked out, there was a cramped formality about the meal. French conversation was supposed to occupy the first three courses five nights in the week, and every girl must contribute at least two remarks. It cannot be said that on French nights the dining-room was garrulous. Saturday night was devoted to a discussion (in English) of current events, gleaned from a study of the editorials in the morning paper. Nobody at St. Ursula's had much time for editorials, and even on an English Saturday conversation languished. But the school made up for it on Sunday. This day, being festa, they could talk about anything they chose; and sixty-four magpies chattering their utmost, would have been silence in comparison to St. Ursula's at dinner time on Sunday.
* * * * *
The four days preceding Christmas passed with unexpected swiftness. A snow-storm marked the first, followed by three days of glistening sunshine. Martin got out the bobs, and the girls piled in and rode to the wood-lot for evergreens. There were many errands in the village, and the novelty of not always having a teacher at one's heels, proved in itself diverting.
Patty found the two companions which circumstances had forced upon her unexpectedly companionable. They skated and coasted and had snow fights; and Harriet, to Patty's wide-eyed astonishment, assumed a very appreciable animation. On Christmas Eve they had been out with Martin delivering Christmas baskets to old time proteges of the school; and on the way home, through pure overflowing animal spirits, for a mile or more they had "caught on" the back of the bob, and then tumbled out and run and caught on again, until they finally dove head foremost into the big piled-up drift by the porte-cochere. They shook the snow from their clothes, like puppies from a pond, and laughing and excited trooped indoors. Harriet's cheeks were red from contact with the snow, her usually prim hair was a tangled mass about her face, her big dark eyes had lost their mournful look. They were merry, mischievous, girlish eyes. She was not merely pretty, but beautiful, in a wild, unusual gypsyish way that compelled attention.
"I say," Patty whispered to Kid McCoy as they divested themselves of rubbers and leggins in the lower hall. "Look at Harriet! Isn't she pretty?"
"Golly!" murmured the Kid. "If she knew enough to play up to her looks, she'd be the ravingest beauty in all the school."
"Let's make her!" said Patty.
At the top of the stairs they met Osaki with a hammer and chisel.
"I open two box," he observed. "One Mees Margarite McCoy. One Mees Patty Wyatt."
"Hooray!" cried the Kid, starting at a gallop for her room in the South Wing.
A Christmas box to Kid McCoy meant a lavish wealth of new possessions out of all proportion to her desserts. She owned a bachelor guardian who was subject to fits of such erratic generosity that the Dowager had regularly to remind him that Margarite was but a school girl with simple tastes. Fortunately he always forgot this warning before the next Christmas—or else he knew Kid too well to believe it—and the boxes continued to come.
Patty had also started without ceremony for Paradise Alley, when she became aware of deserted Harriet, slowly trailing down the dim length of Lark Lane. She ran back and grasped her by an elbow.
"Come on, Harry! And help me open my box."
Harriet's face flushed with sudden pleasure; it was the first time, in the five and a half years of her school career, that she had ever achieved the dignity of a nickname. She accompanied Patty with some degree of eagerness. The next best thing to receiving a Christmas box of your own, is to be present at the reception of a friend's.
It was a big square wooden box, packed to the brim with smaller boxes and parcels tied with ribbon and holly, and tucked into every crevice funny surprises. You could picture, just from looking at it, the kind of home that it came from, filled with jokes and nonsense and love.
"It's the first Christmas I've ever spent away from home," said Patty, with the suggestion of a quiver in her voice.
But her momentary soberness did not last; the business of exploration was too absorbing to allow any divided emotion. Harriet sat on the edge of the bed and watched in silence, while Patty gaily strewed the floor with tissue paper and scarlet ribbon. She unpacked a wide assortment of gloves and books and trinkets, each with a message of love. Even the cook had baked a Christmas cake with a fancy top. And little Tommy, in wobbly uphill printing, had labeled an elephant filled with candy, "FOR DERE CISTER FROM TOM."
Patty laughed happily as she plumped a chocolate into her mouth, and dropped the elephant into Harriet's lap.
"Aren't they dears to go to such a lot of trouble? I tell you, it pays to stay away sometimes, they think such a lot more of you! This is from Mother," she added, as she pried off the cover of a big dressmaker's box, and lifted out a filmy dancing frock of pink crepe.
"Isn't it perfectly sweet?" she demanded, "and I didn't need it a bit! Don't you love to get things you don't need?"
"I never do," said Harriet.
Patty was already deep in another parcel.
"From Daddy, with all the love in the world," she read. "Dear old Dad! What on earth do you s'pose it is? I hope Mother suggested something. He's a perfect idiot about choosing presents, unless—Oh!" she squealed. "Pink silk stockings and slippers to match; and look at those perfectly lovely buckles!"
She offered for Harriet's inspection a pink satin slipper adorned with the daintiest of silver buckles, and with heels dizzily suggestive of France.
"Isn't my father a lamb?" Patty gaily kissed her hand toward a dignified, judicial-looking portrait on the bureau. "Mother suggested the slippers, of course, but the buckles and French heels were his own idea. She likes me sensible, and he likes me frivolous."
She was deep in the absorbing business of holding the pink frock before the glass to make sure that the color was becoming, when she was suddenly arrested by the sound of a sob, and she turned to see Harriet throw herself across the bed and clutch the pillow in a storm of weeping. Patty stared with wide-open eyes; she herself did not indulge in such emotional demonstrations, and she could not imagine any possible cause. She moved the pink satin slippers out of reach of Harriet's thrashing feet, gathered up the fallen elephant and scattered chocolates, and sat down to wait until the cataclysm should pass.
"What's the matter?" she mildly inquired, when Harriet's sobs gave place to choking gasps.
"My father never sent me any s-silver b-buckles."
"He's way off in Mexico," said Patty, awkwardly groping for consolation.
"He never sends me anything! He doesn't even know me. He wouldn't recognize me if he met me on the street."
"Oh, yes, he would," Patty assured her with doubtful comfort. "You haven't changed a bit in four years."
"And he wouldn't like me if he did know me. I'm not pretty, and my clothes are never nice, and—" Harriet was off again.
Patty regarded her for a moment of thoughtful silence, then she decided on a new tack. She stretched out a hand and shook her vigorously.
"For goodness' sake, stop crying! That's what's the matter with your father. No man can stand having tears dripped down his neck all the time."
Harriet arrested her sobs to stare.
"If you could see the way you look when you cry! Sort of streaked. Come here!" She took her by the shoulder and faced her before the mirror. "Did you ever see such a fright? And I was just thinking, before you began, about how pretty you looked. I was, honestly. You could be as pretty as any of the rest of us, if you'd only make up your mind—"
"No, I couldn't! I'm just as ugly as I can be. Nobody likes me and—"
"It's your own fault!" said Patty sharply. "If you were fat, like Irene McCullough, or if you didn't have any chin like Evalina Smith, there might be some reason, but there isn't anything on earth the matter with you, except that you're so damp! You cry all the time, and it gets tiresome to be forever sympathizing. I'm telling you the truth because I'm beginning to like you. There's never any use bothering to tell people the truth when you don't like them. The reason Conny and Pris and I get on so well together, is because we always tell each other the exact truth about our faults. Then we have a chance to correct them—that's what makes us so nice," she added modestly.
Harriet sat with her mouth open, too surprised to cry.
"And your clothes are awful," pursued Patty interestedly. "You ought not to let Miss Sallie pick 'em out. Miss Sallie's nice; I like her a lot, but she doesn't know any more than a rabbit about clothes; you can tell that by the way she dresses herself. And then, too, you'd be a lot nicer if you wouldn't be so stiff. If you'd just laugh the way the rest of us do—"
"How can I laugh when I don't think things are funny? The jokes the girls make are awfully silly—"
Speech was no longer possible, for Kid McCoy came stampeding down the corridor with as much racket as a cavalcade of horses. She was decked in a fur scarf and a necklace set with pearls, she wore a muff on her head, drum-major fashion; a lace handkerchief and a carved ivory fan protruded from the pocket of her blouse and a pink chiffon scarf floated from her shoulders; her wrist was adorned with an Oriental bracelet and she was lugging in her arms a silver-mounted Mexican saddle, of a type that might be suited to the plains of Texas, but never to the respectable country lanes adjacent to St. Ursula's.
"Bully for Guardie!" she shouted as she descended upon them. "He's a daisy; he's a ducky; he's a lamb. Did you ever see such a perfectly corking saddle?"
She plumped it over a chair, transformed the pink chiffon scarf into a bridle, and proceeded to mount and canter off.
"Get up! Whoa! Hi, there! Clear the road."
Harriet jumped aside to avoid being bumped, while Patty snatched her pink frock from the path of the runaway. They were shrieking with laughter, even Harriet, the tearful.
"Now you see!" said Patty, suddenly interrupting her mirth. "It's perfectly easy to laugh if you just let yourself go. Kid isn't really funny. She's just as silly as she can be."
Kid brought her horse to a stand.
"Well I like that!"
"Excuse me for telling the truth," said Patty politely, "I'm just using you for an illustration—Heavens! There's the bell!"
She commenced unlacing her blouse with one hand, while she pushed her guests to the door with the other.
"Hurry and dress, and come back to button me up. It would be a very delicate attention for us to be on time to-night. We've been late for every meal since vacation began."
* * * * *
The girls spent Christmas morning coasting. They were on time for luncheon—and with appetites!
The meal was half over when Osaki appeared with a telegram, which he handed to the Dowager. She read it with agitated surprise and passed it to Miss Sallie, who raised her eyebrows and handed it to Miss Wadsworth, who was thrown into a very visible flutter.
"What on earth can it be?" Kid wondered.
"Lordy's eloped, and they've got to hunt for a new Latin teacher," was Patty's interpretation.
As the three girls left the table, the Dowager waylaid Harriet.
"Step into my study a moment. A telegram has just come—"
Patty and Kid climbed the stairs in wide-eyed wonder.
"It can't be bad news, for Miss Sallie was smiling—" meditated Patty. "And I can't think of any good news that can be happening to Harriet."
Ten minutes later there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and Harriet burst into Patty's room wild with excitement.
"Right now—this afternoon—He's been in New York on business, and is coming to see me for Christmas."
"I'm so glad!" said Patty heartily. "Now, you see the reason he hasn't come before is because he has been away off in Mexico."
Harriet shook her head, with a sudden drop in her animation.
"I suppose he thinks he ought."
"It's so. He doesn't care for me—really. He likes girls to be jolly and pretty and clever like you."
"Well, then—be jolly and pretty and clever like me."
Harriet's eyes sought the mirror, and filled with tears.
"You're a perfect idiot!" said Patty, despairingly.
"I'm an awful fright in my green dress," said Harriet.
"Yes," Patty grudgingly conceded. "You are."
"The skirt is too short, and the waist is too long."
"And the sleeves are sort of queer," said Patty.
Faced by these dispiriting facts, she felt her enthusiasm ebbing.
"What time is he coming?" she asked.
"That gives us two hours," Patty rallied her forces. "One can do an awful lot in two hours. If you were only nearer my size, you could wear my new pink dress—but I'm afraid—" She regarded Harriet's long legs dubiously. "I'll tell you!" she added, in a rush of generosity. "We'll take out the tucks and let down the hem."
"Oh, Patty!" Harriet was tearfully afraid of spoiling the gown. But when Patty's zeal in any cause was roused, all other considerations were swept aside. The new frock was fetched from the closet, and the ripping began.
"And you can wear Kid's new pearl necklace and pink scarf, and my silk stockings and slippers—if you can get 'em on—and I think Conny left a lace petticoat that came back from the laundry too late to pack—and—Here's Kid now!"
Miss McCoy's sympathies were enlisted and in fifteen minutes the task of transforming a remonstrating, excited, and occasionally tearful Harriet into the school beauty, was going gaily forward. Kid McCoy was supposed to be an irreclaimable tomboy, but in this crucial moment the eternal feminine came triumphantly to the fore. She sat herself down, with Patty's manicure scissors, and for three-quarters of an hour painstakingly ripped out tucks.
Patty meanwhile addressed her attention to Harriet's hair.
"Don't strain it back so tight," she ordered. "It looks as though you'd done it with a monkey-wrench. Here! Give me the comb."
She pushed Harriet into a chair, tied a towel about her neck, and accomplished the coifing by force.
"How's that?" she demanded of Kid.
"Bully!" Kid mumbled, her mouth full of pins.
Harriet's hair was rippled loosely about her face, and tied with a pink ribbon bow. The ribbon belonged to Conny Wilder, and had heretofore figured as a belt; but individual property rights were forced to bow before the cause.
The slippers and stockings did prove too small, and Patty frenziedly ransacked the bureaus of a dozen of her absent friends in the vain hope of unearthing pink footwear. In the end, she had reluctantly to permit Harriet's appearing in her own simple cotton hose and patent leather pumps.
"But after all," Patty reassured her, "it's better for you to wear black. Your feet would be sort of conspicuous in pink." She was still in her truthful mood. "I'll tell you!" she cried, "you can wear my silver buckles." And she commenced cruelly wrenching them from their pink chiffon setting.
"Patty! Don't!" Harriet gasped at the sacrilege.
"They're just the last touch that your costume needs." Patty ruthlessly carried on the work of destruction. "When your father sees those buckles, he'll think you're beautiful!"
For a feverish hour they worked. They clothed her triumphantly in all the grandeur that they could command. The entire corridor had contributed its quota, even to the lace-edged handkerchief with a hand-embroidered "H" that had been left behind in Hester Pringle's top drawer. The two turned her critically before the mirror, the pride of creation in their eyes. As Kid had truly presaged, she was the ravingest beauty in all the school.
Irish Maggie appeared in the door.
"Mr. Gladden is in the drawin'-room, Miss Harriet." She stopped and stared. "Sure, ye're that beautiful I didn't know ye!"
Harriet went with a laugh—and a fighting light in her eyes.
Patty and Kid restlessly set themselves to reducing the chaos that this sudden butterfly flight had caused in Paradise Alley—it is always dreary work setting things to rights, after the climax of an event has been reached.
It was an hour later that the sudden quick patter of feet sounded in the hall, and Harriet ran in—danced in—her eyes were shining; she was a picture of youth and happiness and bubbling spirits.
"Well?" cried Patty and Kid in a breath.
She stretched out her wrist and displayed a gold-linked bracelet set with a tiny watch.
"Look!" she cried, "he brought me that for Christmas. And I'm going to have all the dresses I want, and Miss Sallie isn't going to pick them out ever again. And he's going to stay for dinner to-night, and eat at the little table with us. And he's going to take us into town next Saturday for luncheon and the matinee, and the Dowager says we may go!"
"Gee!" observed the Kid. "It paid for all the trouble we took."
"And what do you think?" Harriet caught her breath in a little gasp. "He likes me!"
"I knew those silver buckles would fetch him!" said Patty.
While St. Ursula's was still dallying with a belated morning-after-Christmas breakfast, the mail arrived, bringing among other matters, a letter for Patty from her mother. It contained cheering news as to Tommy's scarlet fever, and the expressed hope that school was not too lonely during the holidays; it ended with the statement that Mr. Robert Pendleton was going to be in the city on business, and had promised to run out to St. Ursula's to see her little daughter.
The last item Patty read aloud to Harriet Gladden and Kid McCoy (christened Margarite). The three "left-behinds" were occupying a table together in a secluded corner of the dining-room.
"Who's Mr. Robert Pendleton?" inquired Kid, looking up from her own letter.
"He used to be my father's private secretary when I was a little girl. I always called him 'Uncle Bobby.'"
Kid returned to her mail. She took no interest in the race of uncles, either real or fictitious. But Patty, being in a reminiscent mood, continued the conversation with Harriet, who had no mail to deflect her.
"Then he went away and commenced practising for himself. It's been ages since I've seen him; but he was really awfully nice. He used to spend his entire time—when he wasn't writing Father's speeches—in getting me out of scrapes. I had a goat named Billy-Boy—"
"Is he married?" asked Harriet.
"N-no, I don't think so. I believe he had a disappointment in his youth, that broke his heart."
"What fun!" cried Kid, reemerging. "Is it still broken?"
"I suppose so," said Patty.
"How old is he?"
"I don't know, I'm sure. He must be quite old by now." (Her tone suggested that he was tottering on the brink of the grave.) "It has been seven years since I've seen him, and he was through college then."
Kid dismissed the subject. Old men, even with broken hearts, contained no interest for her.
That afternoon, as the three girls were gathered in Patty's room enjoying an indigestible four o'clock tea of milk and bread and butter (furnished by the school) and fruit cake and candy and olives and stuffed prunes, the expressman arrived with a belated consignment of Christmas gifts, among them a long narrow parcel addressed to Patty. She tore off the wrapping, to find a note and a white pasteboard box. She read the note aloud while the others looked over her shoulder. Patty always generously shared experiences with anyone who might be near.
"My Dear Patty,—
"Have you forgotten 'Uncle Bobby' who used to stand between you and many well-deserved spankings? I trust that you have grown into a VERY GOOD GIRL now that you are old enough to go away to school!
"I am coming to see for myself on Thursday afternoon. In the meantime, please accept the accompanying Christmas remembrance, with the hope that you are having a happy holiday, in spite of having to spend it away from home.
"Your old playfellow, "ROBERT PENDLETON."
"What do you s'pose it is?" asked Patty, as she addressed herself to unknotting the gold cord on the box.
"I hope it's either flowers or candy," Harriet returned. "Miss Sallie says it isn't proper to—"
"Looks to me like American Beauty roses," suggested Kid McCoy.
"Isn't it a lark to be getting flowers from a man? I feel awfully grown up!"
She lifted the cover, removed a mass of tissue paper, and revealed a blue-eyed, smiling doll.
The three girls stared for a bewildered moment, then Patty slid to the floor, and buried her head in her arms against the bed and laughed.
"It's got real hair!" said Harriet, gently lifting the doll from its bed of tissue paper, and entering upon a detailed inspection. "Its clothes come off, and it opens and shuts its eyes."
"Whoop!" shouted Kid McCoy, as she snatched a shoe-horn from the bureau and commenced an Indian war dance.
Patty checked her hysterics sufficiently to rescue her new treasure from the danger of being scalped. As she squeezed the doll in her arms, safe from harm's way, it opened its lips and emitted a grateful, "Ma-ma!"
They laughed afresh. They laid on the floor and rolled in an ecstasy of mirth until they were weak and gasping. Could Uncle Bobby have witnessed the joy his gift brought to three marooned St. Ursulites, he would have indeed been gratified. They continued to laugh all that day and the following morning. By afternoon Patty had just recovered her self-control sufficiently to carry off with decent gravity Uncle Bobby's promised visit.
As a usual thing, callers were discouraged at St. Ursula's. They must come from away, accredited with letters from the parents, and then must pass an alarming assemblage of chaperones. Miss Sallie remained in the drawing-room during the first half of the call (which could last an hour), but was then supposed to withdraw. But Miss Sallie was a social soul, and she frequently neglected to withdraw. The poor girl would sit silent in the corner, a smile upon her lips, mutiny in her heart, while Miss Sallie entertained the caller.
But rules were somewhat relaxed in the holidays. On the day of Uncle Bobby's visit, by a fortuitous circumstance, Miss Sallie was five miles away, superintending a new incubator house at the school farm. The Dowager and Miss Wadsworth and Miss Jellings were scheduled for a reception in the village, and the other teachers were all away for the holidays. Patty was told to receive him herself, and to remember her manners, and let him do a little of the talking.
This left her beautifully free to carry out the outrageous scheme that she had concocted over night. Harriet and Kid lent their delighted assistance, and the three spent the morning planning for her entrance in character. They successfully looted the "Baby Ward" where the fifteen little girls of the school occupied fifteen little white cots set in fifteen alcoves. A white, stiffly starched sailor suit was discovered, with a flaring blue linen collar, and a kilted skirt, that was shockingly short. Kid McCoy gleefully unearthed a pair of blue and white socks that exactly matched the dress, but they proved very much too small.
"They wouldn't look well anyway," said Patty, philosophically, "I've got an awful scratch on one knee."
Gymnasium slippers with spring heels reduced her five feet by an inch. She spent the early afternoon persuading her hair to hang in a row of curls, with a spanking blue bow over her left ear. When she was finished, she made as sweet a little girl as one would ever find romping in the park on a sunny morning.
"What will you do if he kisses you?" inquired Kid McCoy.
"I'll try not to laugh," said Patty.
She occupied the fifteen minutes of waiting in a dress rehearsal. By the time Maggie arrived with the tidings that the visitor was below, she had her part letter-perfect. Kid and Harriet followed as far as the first landing, where they remained dangling over the banisters, while Patty shouldered her doll and descended to the drawing-room.
She sidled bashfully into the door, dropped a courtesy, and extended a timid hand to the tall young gentleman who rose and advanced to meet her.
"How do you do, Uncle Wobert?" she lisped.
"Well, well! Is this little Patty?"
He took her by the chin and turned up her face for a closer inspection—Mr. Pendleton was, mercifully, somewhat near-sighted. She smiled back sweetly, with wide, innocent, baby eyes.
"You're getting to be a great big girl!" he pronounced with fatherly approval. "You reach almost to my shoulder."
She settled herself far back in a deep leather chair, and sat primly upright, her feet sticking straight out in front, while she clasped the doll in her arms.
"Sank you very much, Uncle Bobby, for my perfectly beautiful doll!" Patty imprinted a kiss upon the smiling bisque lips.
Uncle Bobby watched with gratified approval. He liked this early manifestation of the motherly instinct.
"And what are you going to name her?" he inquired.
"I can't make up my mind." She raised anxious eyes to his.
"How would Patty Junior do?"
She repudiated the suggestion; and they finally determined upon Alice, after "Alice in Wonderland." This point happily disposed of, they settled themselves for conversation. He told her about a Christmas pantomime he had seen in London, with little girls and boys for actors.
Patty listened, deeply interested.
"I'll send you the fairy book that has the story of the play," he promised, "with colored pictures; and then you can read it for yourself. You know how to read, of course?" he added.
"Oh, yes!" said Patty, reproachfully. "I've known how to read a long time. I can read anyfing—if it has big print."
"Well! You are coming on!" said Uncle Bobby.
They fell to reminiscing, and the conversation turned to Billy-Boy.
"Do you remember the time he chewed up his rope and came to church?" Patty dimpled at the recollection.
"Jove! I'll never forget it!"
"And usually Faver found an excuse for not going, but that Sunday Mover made him, and when he saw Billy-Boy marching up the aisle, with a sort of dignified smile on his face—"
Uncle Bobby threw back his head and laughed.
"I thought the Judge would have a stroke of apoplexy!" he declared.
"But the funniest thing," said Patty, "was to see you and Father trying to get him out! You pushed and Father pulled, and first Billy balked and then he butted."
She suddenly realized that she had neglected to lisp, but Uncle Bobby was too taken up with the story to be conscious of any lapse. Patty inconspicuously reassumed her character.
"And Faver scolded me because the rope broke—and it wasn't my fault at all!" she added with a pathetic quiver of the lips. "And the next day he had Billy-Boy shot."
At the remembrance Patty drooped her head over the doll in her arms. Uncle Bobby hastily offered comfort.
"Never mind, Patty! Maybe you'll have another goat some day."
She shook her head, with the suggestion of a sob.
"No, I never will! They don't let us keep goats here. And I loved Billy-Boy. I'm awfully lonely without him."
"There, there, Patty! You're too big a girl to cry." Uncle Bobby patted her curls, with kindly solicitude. "How would you like to go to the circus with me some day next week, and see all the animals?"
Patty cheered up.
"Will there be ele-phunts?" she asked.
"There'll be several," he promised. "And lions and tigers and camels."
"Oh, goody!" she clapped her hands and smiled through her tears. "I'd love to go. Sank you very, very much."
Half an hour later Patty rejoined her friends in Paradise Alley. She executed a few steps of the sailor's hornpipe with the doll as partner, then plumped herself onto the middle of the bed and laughingly regarded her two companions through over-hanging curls.
"Tell us what he said," Kid implored. "We nearly pulled our necks out by the roots stretching over the banisters, but we couldn't hear a word."
"Did he kiss you?" asked Harriet.
"N-no." There was a touch of regret in her tone. "But he patted me on the head. He has a very sweet way with children. You'd think he'd had a course in kindergarten training."
"What did you talk about?" insisted Kid, eagerly.
Patty outlined the conversation.
"And he's going to take me to the circus next Wednesday," she ended, "to see the elephunts!"
"The Dowager will never let you go," objected Harriet.
"Oh, yes, she will!" said Patty. "It's perfectly proper to go to the circus with your uncle—'specially in vacation. We've got it all planned. I'm to go into town with Waddy. I heard her say she had an appointment at the dentist's—and he'll be at the station with a hansom—"
"More likely a baby carriage," Kid put in quickly.
"Miss Wadsworth will never take you into town in those clothes," Harriet objected.
Patty hugged her knees and rocked back and forth, while her dimples came and went.
"I think," she said, "that the next time I'll give him an entirely different kind of a sensation."
And she did.
Anticipatory of the coming event, she sent her suit to the tailor's and had him lengthen the hem of the skirt two inches. She spent an entire morning retrimming her hat along more mature lines, and she purchased a veil—with spots! She also spent twenty-five cents for hairpins, and did up her hair on the top of her head. She wore Kid McCoy's Christmas furs and Harriet's bracelet watch; and, as she set off with a somewhat bewildered Miss Wadsworth, they assured her that she looked old.
They reached the city a trifle late for Miss Wadsworth's appointment. Patty spied Mr. Pendleton across the waiting-room.
"There's Uncle Robert!" she said; and to her intense satisfaction, Miss Wadsworth left her to accost him alone.
She sauntered over in a very blase fashion and held out her hand. The spots in the veil seemed to dazzle him; for a moment he did not recognize her.
"Mr. Pendleton! How do you do?" Patty smiled cordially. "It's really awfully good of you to devote so much time to my entertainment. And so original of you to think of a circus! I haven't attended a circus for years. It's really refreshing after such a dose of Shakespeare and Ibsen as the theaters have been offering this winter."
Mr. Pendleton offered a limp hand and hailed a hansom without comment. He leaned back in the corner and continued to stare for three silent minutes; then he threw back his head and laughed.
"Good Lord, Patty! Do you mean to tell me that you've grown up?"
Patty laughed too.
"Well, Uncle Bobby, what do you think about it?"
* * * * *
Dinner was half over that night before the two travelers returned. Patty dropped into her seat and unfolded her napkin, with the weary air of a society woman of many engagements.
"What happened?" the other two clamored. "Tell us about it! Was the circus nice?"
"The circus was charming—and so were the elephants—and so was Uncle Bobby. We had tea afterwards; and he gave me a bunch of violets and a box of candy, instead of the fairy book. He said he wouldn't be called 'Uncle Bobby' by anyone as old as me—that I'd got to drop the 'Uncle'—It's funny, you know, but he really seems younger than he did seven years ago."
Patty dimpled and cast a wary eye toward the faculty table across the room.
"He says he has business quite often in this neighborhood."
The Society of Associated Sirens
Conny had gone home to recuperate from a severe attack of pink-eye. Priscilla had gone to Porto Rico to spend two weeks with her father and the Atlantic Fleet. Patty, lonely and abandoned, was thrown upon the school for society; and Patty at large, was very likely to get into trouble.
On the Saturday following the double departure, she, with Rosalie Patton and Mae Van Arsdale, made a trip into the city in charge of Miss Wadsworth, to accomplish some spring shopping. Patty and Rosalie each needed new hats—besides such minor matters as gloves and shoes and petticoats—and Mae was to have a fitting for her new tailor suit. These duties performed, the afternoon was to be given over to relaxation; at least to such relaxation as a Shakespearean tragedy affords.
But when they presented themselves at the theater, they were faced by the announcement that the star had met with an automobile accident on his way to the performance, and that he was too damaged to appear; money would be refunded at the box office. The girls still clamored for their matinee, and Miss Wadsworth hurriedly cast about for a fitting substitute for Hamlet.
Miss Wadsworth was middle-aged and vacillating and easily-led and ladylike and shockable. She herself knew that she had no strength of character; and she conscientiously strove to overcome this cardinal defect in a chaperon, by stubbornly opposing whatever her charges elected to do.
To-day they voted for a French farce with John Drew as hero. Miss Wadsworth said "no" with all the firmness she could assume, and herself picked out a drama entitled "The Wizard of the Nile," under the impression that it would assist their knowledge of ancient Egypt.
But the Wizard turned out to be a recent and spurious imitation of the original historical wizard. She was ultra-modern English, with a French flavor. The time was to-morrow, and the scene the terrace of Shepherd's Hotel. She wore long, clinging robes of chiffon and gold cut in the style of Cleopatra along Parisian lines. Her rose-tinted ears were enhanced by drooping earrings, and her eyes were cunningly lengthened at the corners, in a fetching Egyptian slant. She was very beautiful and very merciless; she broke every masculine heart in Cairo. As a climax to her shocking career of wickedness, she smoked cigarettes!
Poor bewildered Miss Wadsworth sat through the four acts, worried, breathless, horrified—fascinated; but the three girls were simply fascinated. They thrilled over the scenery and music and costumes all the way back in the train. Cairo, to their dazzled eyes, opened up realms of adventure, undreamed of in the proper bounds of St. Ursula's. The Mecca of all travel had become Shepherd's Hotel.
That night, long after "Lights-out" had rung, when Patty's mind was becoming an agreeable jumble of sphinxes and pyramids and English officers, she was suddenly startled wide awake by feeling two hands rise from the darkness and clutch her shoulders on the right and left. She sat upright with a very audible gasp, and demanded in unguardedly loud tones, "Who's that?"
The two hands instantly covered her mouth.
"Sh-h! Keep quiet! Haven't you any sense?"
"Mademoiselle's door is wide open, and Lordy's visiting her."
Rosalie perched on the right of the bed, and Mae Mertelle on the left.
"What do you want?" asked Patty, crossly.
"We've got a perfectly splendid idea," whispered Rosalie.
"A secret society," echoed Mae Mertelle.
"Let me alone!" growled Patty. "I want to go to sleep."
She laid down again in the narrow space left by her visitors. They paid no attention to her inhospitality, but drawing their bath robes closer about them, settled down to talk. Patty, being comfortably inside and warm, while they shivered outside, was finally induced to lend a drowsy ear.
"I've thought of a new society," said Mae Mertelle. She did not propose to share the honor of creation with Rosalie. "And it's going to be really secret this time. I'm not going to let in the whole school. Only us three. And this society hasn't just a few silly secrets; it has an aim."
"We're going to call it the Society of Associated Sirens," Rosalie eagerly broke in.
"That what?" demanded Patty.
Rosalie rolled off the sonorous syllables a second time.
"The Sho-shiety of Ash-sho-she-ated Shi-rens," Patty mumbled sleepily. "It's too hard to say."
"Oh, but we won't call it that in public. The name's a secret. We'll call it the S. A. S."
"What's it for?"
"You'll promise not to tell?" Mae asked guardedly.
"No, of course I won't tell."
"Not even Pris and Conny when they get back?"
"We'll make them members," said Patty.
"Well—perhaps—but this is the kind of society that's better small. And we three are the only ones who really ought to be members, because we saw the play. But anyhow; you must promise not to tell unless Rosalie and I give you permission. Do you promise that?"
"Oh, yes! I promise. What's it for?"
"We're going to become sirens," Mae whispered impressively. "We're going to be beautiful and fascinating and ruthless—"
"Like Cleopatra," said Rosalie.
"And avenge ourselves on Man," added Mae.
"Avenge ourselves—what for?" inquired Patty, somewhat dazed.
"Why—for—for breaking our hearts and destroying our faith in—"
"My heart hasn't been broken."
"Not yet," said Mae with a touch of impatience, "because you don't know any men, but you will know them some day, and then your heart will be broken. You ought to have your weapons ready."
"In time of peace prepare for war," quoted Rosalie.
"Do—you think it's quite ladylike to be a siren?" asked Patty dubiously.
"It's perfectly ladylike!" said Mae. "Nobody but a lady could possibly be one. Did you ever hear of a washerwoman who was a siren?"
"N-no," Patty confessed. "I don't believe I have."
"And look at Cleopatra," put in Rosalie. "I'm sure she was a lady."
"All right!" Patty agreed. "What are we going to do?"
"We're going to become beautiful and fascinating, with a fatal charm that ensnares every man who approaches."
"Do you think we can?" There was some doubt in Patty's tone.
"Mae's got a book," put in Rosalie eagerly, "about 'Beauty and Grace.' You soak your face in oatmeal and almond-oil and honey, and let your hair hang in the sun, and whiten your nose with lemon juice, and wear gloves at night, and—"
"You really ought to have a bath of asses' milk," interrupted Mae. "Cleopatra had; but I'm afraid it will be impossible to get."
"And you ought to learn to sing," added Rosalie, "and have some one song like the 'Lorelei!' that you always hum when you're about to ensnare a victim."
The project was foreign to Patty's ordinary train of thought, but it did have an element of novelty and allurement. Neither Mae nor Rosalie were the partners she would naturally have chosen in any enterprise, but circumstances had thrown them together that day, and Patty was an obliging soul. Also, her natural common sense was wandering; she was still under the spell of the Egyptian sorceress.
They discussed the new society for several minutes more, until they heard the murmur of Miss Lord's voice, bidding Mademoiselle goodnight.
"There's Lordy!" Patty whispered warily. "I think you'd better to go to bed. We can plan the rest in the morning."
"Yes, let's," said Rosalie, with a shiver. "I'm freezing!"
"But we must first take the vow," insisted Mae Mertelle. "We ought really to do it at midnight—but maybe half-past ten will do as well. I've got it all planned. You two say it after me."
They joined hands and whispered in turn:
"I most solemnly promise to keep secret the name and object of this society; and if I break this oath, may I become freckled and bald and squint-eyed and pigeon-toed, now and forever more."
The three members of the S. A. S. devoted their leisure during the next few days to a careful study of the work on Beauty; and painstakingly set about putting its precepts into practice. Some of these seemed perplexingly at variance. The hair, for example, was to be exposed to air and sunlight, but the face was not. They cleverly circumvented this difficulty however. The week's allowance went for chamois-skin. During every recreation hour, they retired to an airy knoll in the lower pasture, and sat in a patient row, with hair streaming in the wind, and faces protected by homemade masks.
One afternoon, a little Junior A, wandering far afield in a game of hide-and-seek, came upon them unawares; and returned to the safe confines of the playground with frightened shrieks. Dark rumors began to float about the school as to the aim and scope of the new society. Suggestions ranged all the way from Indian squaws to Druid priestesses.
They almost met with disaster while acquiring the ingredients of the oatmeal poultice. The oatmeal and lemon were comparatively easy; the cook supplied them without much fuss. But she stuck at the honey. There were jars and jars of strained honey in the storeroom; but the windows were barred, and the key was in the bottom of Nora's pocket. Confronted by the immediate necessity of becoming beautiful, they could not placidly sit down for five days, and wait for the weekly shopping trip to the village. Besides, with a teacher in attendance, there would be no possible chance of making the purchase. Honey was a contraband article, in the same class with candy and jam and pickles.
They discussed the feasibility of filing through the iron gratings, or of chloroforming Nora and stealing the key, but in the end Patty accomplished the matter by the use of a little simple blarney. She dropped into the kitchen one afternoon with the plaintive admission that she was hungry. Nora hastened to supply a glass of milk and a piece of bread and butter, while Patty perched on a corner of the carving-table and settled herself for conversation. The girls were not supposed to visit the kitchen, but the law was never rigidly enforced. Nora was a social soul and she welcomed callers. Patty praised the apple dumplings of last night's dessert; progressed from that to a discussion of the engaging young plumber who at the moment claimed all of Nora's thoughts; then, by a natural transition, she passed to honey. Before she left, she had obtained Nora's promise to substitute it for marmalade the next morning at breakfast.
The members of the S. A. S. brought pin-trays to the meal, and unobtrusively transferred a supply from their plates to their laps.
But even so, disaster still threatened. Patty had the misfortune to collide with Evalina Smith in the upper hall, and she dropped her pin-tray, honey-side down, in the middle of the rug. At the same instant, Miss Lord bore down upon her from the end of the corridor. Patty was a young person of resource; the emergency of the moment rarely found her napping. She plumped down on her knees in the midst of the puddle, and with widespread skirts, commenced frantically searching for an imaginary stick-pin.
"Is it necessary for you to block up the entire hall?" was Miss Lord's only comment as she passed.
The rug was happily reversible, and by the simple process of turning it over, Patty satisfactorily cleaned up the mess. The other two girls were generous, and shared their supply: so in the end she obtained her honey.
For three wakeful nights they stuck to the poultice—though perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the poultice stuck to them. In spite of many washings in hot water, their faces became noticeably scaly.
Miss Sallie, who represented St. Ursula's board of health, met Patty Wyatt in the hall one morning. She took her by the chin and turned her to the light. Patty squirmed embarrassedly.
"My dear child! What is the matter with your face?"
"I—I don't know—exactly. It seems sort of—of—dandruffy."
"I should think it did! What have you been eating?"
"Only what I get at meals," said Patty, relievedly telling the truth.
"There's something the matter with your blood," diagnosed Miss Sallie. "What you need is a tonic. I shall prescribe boneset tea for you."
"Oh, Miss Sallie!" Patty earnestly remonstrated. "I don't need it, really. I'm sure I'll be all right." She had tried boneset tea before; it was the bitterest brew that was ever concocted.
When Miss Sallie met Mae Van Arsdale suffering from the same complaint, and later still, Rosalie Patton, she commenced to be perturbed. The apple trees under her care at the farm had been afflicted that spring with San Jose scale, but she had hardly expected the disease to spread to the school girls. That afternoon she superintended an infusion of boneset, of gigantic proportions, and at bedtime a reluctant school formed in line and filed past Miss Sallie, who, ladle in hand, presided over the punch bowl. Each received a flowing cupful and drank it with what grace she might, until Patty's turn came. She disposed of hers in a blue china umbrella holder which stood in the hall behind Miss Sallie's back. The remainder of the line successfully followed her lead.
Miss Sallie watched her little charges closely for the next few days; and sure enough, the scales disappeared. (The Associated Sirens had discarded poultices.) She was more than ever convinced of the efficacy of boneset.
Shortly after the founding of the society, Mae Mertelle returned from a week-end visit to her home. (Her mother was ill and she had been sent for. Someone in Mae's family was conveniently ill a great deal of the time.) She brought with her three bracelets of linked scales representing a serpent swallowing his tail. S. A. S. in tiny letters was engraved between the emerald eyes.
"They are perfectly sweet!" said Patty, with grateful appreciation. "But why a snake?"
"It isn't a snake; it's a serpent," Mae explained. "To represent Cleopatra. She was the Serpent of the Nile. We'll be Serpents of the Hudson."
With the appearance of the bracelets, curiosity in the S. A. S. increased, but unlike the other secret societies which had appeared from time to time, its raison d'etre remained a mystery. The school really commenced to believe that the society had a secret. Miss Lord, who had the reputation of being curious, stopped Patty one day as she was leaving the Virgil class, and admired the new bracelet.
"And what may be the meaning of S. A. S.?" she inquired.
"It's a secret society," said Patty.
"Ah, a secret society!" Miss Lord smiled. "Then I suppose the name is a DEEP MYSTERY." She lowered her voice, as she said it, to sepulchral depths.
There was something peculiarly irritating about Miss Lord's manner; it always suggested that she was amused by the vagaries of her little pupils. She did not possess Miss Sallie's happy faculty of meeting them on a level. Miss Lord peered down from above (through lorgnettes).
"Of course the name is a secret," said Patty. "If that got out, it would give the whole thing away."
"And what is the object of this famous society? Or is that too a secret?"
"Why, yes, that is, I mustn't tell you exactly."
Patty smiled up at Miss Lord with the innocent, seraphic gaze that always warned those who knew her best that is was wisest to let her alone.
"It's a sort of branch of the Sunshine Society," she added confidentially. "We're to—well—to smile on people, you know, and make them like us."
"I see!" said Miss Lord, with an air of friendly understanding. "Then S. A. S. stands for 'Sunshine and Smiles?'"
"Oh, please! You mustn't say it out loud," Patty lowered her voice and threw an anxious glance over her shoulder.
"I wouldn't tell anybody for worlds," Miss Lord promised solemnly.
"Thank you," said Patty. "It would be dreadful if it got out."
"It is a very sweet, womanly society," Miss Lord added approvingly. "But you ought not to keep it all to yourselves. Can't you let me be an honorary member of the S. A. S.?"
"Certainly, Miss Lord!" said Patty sweetly. "If you care to belong, we should love to have you."
"Lordy wants to be a Siren!" she announced to her two fellow members when she met them shortly in the gymnasium. The account of the interview was received with hilarity. Miss Lord was anything but the accepted type of siren.
"I thought a few smiles might relieve the gloom of Latin class," Patty explained. "It amuses Lordy to think she's helping the children in their play; and it doesn't hurt the children."