He removed his plate with a flourish, and dove into the dark room.
It was Patty's and Conny's turn to be taken alone, but St. Ursula and her Eleven Thousand Virgins were clamoring for precedence on the ground of superior numbers, and they made such a turmoil that the two Gypsies politely stood aside.
Keren Hersey, as St. Ursula, and eleven little Junior A's—each playing the manifold part of a Thousand Virgins—made up the group. It was to be a symbolical picture, Keren explained.
When the Gypsies' turn came a second time, Patty had the misfortune to catch her dress on a nail and tear a three-cornered rent in the front. It was too large a hole for even a Gypsy to carry off with propriety; she retired to the dressing-room and fastened the edges together with white basting thread.
Finally, last of all, they presented themselves in their dirt and tatters. The photographer was an artist, and he received them with appreciative delight. The others had been patently masqueraders, but these were the real thing. He photographed them dancing, and wandering on a lonely moor with threatening canvas clouds behind them. He was about to take them in a forest, with a camp fire, and a boiling kettle slung from three sticks—when Conny suddenly became aware of a brooding quiet that had settled on the place.
"Where is everybody?"
She returned from a hasty excursion into the waiting-room, divided between consternation and laughter.
"Patty! The hearse has gone!—And the street-car people are waiting on the corner by Marsh and Elkins's."
"Oh, the beasts! They knew we were in here." Patty dropped her three sticks and rose precipitately. "Sorry!" she called to the photographer, who was busily dusting off the kettle. "We've got to run for it."
"And we haven't any coats!" wailed Conny. "Miss Wadsworth won't take us in the car in these clothes."
"She'll have to," said Patty simply. "She can't leave us on the corner."
They clattered downstairs, but wavered an instant in the friendly darkness of the doorway; there was no time, however, for maidenly hesitations, and taking their courage in both hands, they plunged into the Saturday afternoon crowd that thronged Main Street.
"Oh, Mama! Quick! Look at the Gypsies," a little boy squealed as the two pushed past.
"Heavens!" Conny whispered. "I feel like a circus parade."
"Hurry!" Patty panted, taking her by the hand and beginning to run. "The car's stopped and they're getting in—Wait! Wait!" She frenziedly waved the tambourine above her head.
An express wagon at the crossing blocked their progress. The last of the Eleven Thousand Virgins climbed aboard, without once glancing over her shoulder; and the car, unheeding, clanged away, and became a yellow spot in the distance. The two Gypsies stood on the corner and stared at one another in blank interrogation.
"I haven't a cent—have you?"
"How are we going to get home?"
"I haven't an idea."
Patty felt her elbow jostled. She turned to find young John Drew Dominick Murphy, a protege of the school, and an intimate acquaintance of her own, regarding her with impish delight.
"Hey, youse! Give us a song and dance."
"At least our friends don't recognize us," said Conny, drawing what comfort she could from her incognito.
Quite a crowd had gathered by now, and it was rapidly growing larger. Pedestrians had to make a detour into the street in order to get past.
"It wouldn't take us long," said Patty, a spark of mischief breaking through the blankness of her face, "to earn money enough for a carriage—you thump the tambourine and I'll dance the sailor's hornpipe."
"Patty! Behave yourself." Conny for once brought a dampening supply of common sense to bear on her companion. "We're going to graduate in another week. For goodness' sake, don't let's get expelled first."
She grasped her by the elbow and shoved her insistently down a side street. John Drew Murphy and his friends followed for several blocks, but having gazed their fill, and perceiving that the Gypsies had no entertainment to offer, they gradually dropped away.
"Well, what shall we do?" asked Conny when they had finally shaken off the last of the small boys.
"I s'pose we could walk."
"Walk!" Conny exhibited her flapping sole. "You don't expect me to walk three miles in that shoe?"
"Very well," said Patty. "What shall we do?"
"We might go back to the photographer's and borrow some car-fare."
"No! I'm not going to parade myself the length of Main Street again with that hole in my stocking."
"Very well," Conny shrugged. "Think of something."
"I suppose we could go to the livery stable and—"
"It's on the other side of town—I can't flap all that distance. Every time I take a step, I have to lift my foot ten inches high."
"Very well." It was Patty's turn to shrug. "Perhaps you can think of something better?"
"I think the simplest way would be to take a car, and ask the conductor to charge it to us."
"Yes—and explain for the benefit of all the passengers that we belong at St. Ursula's School? It would be all over town by night, and the Dowager would be furious."
"Very well—what shall we do?"
They were standing at the moment before a comfortable frame house with three children romping on the veranda. The children left off their play to come to the top of the steps and stare.
"Come on!" Patty urged. "We'll sing the 'Gypsy Trail.'" (This was the latest song that had swept the school.) "I'll play an accompaniment on the tambourine, and you can flap your sole. Maybe they'll give us ten cents. It would be a beautiful lark to earn our car-fare home—I'm sure it's worth ten cents to hear me sing."
Conny glanced up and down the deserted street. No policeman was in sight. She grudgingly allowed herself to be drawn up the walk, and the music began. The children applauded loudly; and the two were just congratulating themselves on a very credible performance, when the door opened and a woman appeared—a first cousin to Miss Lord.
"Stop that noise immediately! There's somebody sick inside."
The tone also was reminiscent of Latin. They turned and ran as fast as Conny's flapping sole would take her. When they had put three good blocks between themselves and the Latin woman, they dropped down on a friendly stepping-stone, and leaned against each other's shoulders and laughed.
A man rounded the corner of the house before them, pushing a mowing machine.
"Here, you!" he ordered. "Move on."
They got up, meekly, and moved on several blocks further. They were going in exactly the opposite direction from St. Ursula's school, but they couldn't seem to hit on anything else to do, so they kept on moving mechanically. They had arrived in the outskirts of the village by now, and they presently found themselves face to face with a tall chimney and a group of low buildings set in a wide enclosure—the water-works and electric plant.
A light of hope dawned in Patty's eyes.
"I'll tell you! We'll go and ask Mr. Gilroy to take us home in his automobile."
"Do you know him?" Conny asked dubiously. She had received so many affronts that she was growing timid.
"Yes! I know him intimately. He was under foot every minute during the Christmas vacation. We had a snow fight one day. Come on! He'll love to run us out. It will give him an excuse to make up with Jelly."
They passed up a narrow tarred walk toward the brick building labeled "Office." Four clerks and a typewriter girl in the outer office interrupted their work to laugh as the two apparitions appeared in the door. The young man nearest them whirled his chair around in order to get a better view.
"Hello, girls!" he said with cheerful familiarity. "Where'd you spring from?"
The typewriter, meanwhile, was making audible comments upon the discrepancies in Patty's hosiery.
Patty's face flushed darkly under the coffee.
"We have called to see Mr. Gilroy," she said with dignity.
"This is Mr. Gilroy's busy day," the young man grinned. "Wouldn't you rather talk to me?"
Patty drew herself up haughtily.
"Please tell Mr. Gilroy—at once—that we are waiting to speak to him."
"Certainly! I beg your pardon." The young man sprang to his feet with an air of elaborate politeness. "Will you kindly give me your cards?"
"I don't happen to have a card with me to-day. Just say that two ladies wish to speak with him."
"Ah, yes. One moment, please—Won't you be seated?"
He offered his own chair to Patty, and bringing forward another, presented it to Conny with a Chesterfieldian bow. The clerks tittered delightedly at this bit of comedy acting, but the Gypsies did not condescend to think it funny. They accepted the chairs with a frigid, "Thank you," and sat stiffly upright staring at the wastebasket in their most distant society manner. While the deferential young man was conveying the message to the private office of his chief, public comment advanced from Patty's stockings to Conny's shoes. He returned presently, and with unruffled politeness invited them please to step this way. He ushered them in with a bow.
Mr. Gilroy was writing, and it was a second before he glanced up. His eyes widened with astonishment—the clerk had delivered the message verbatim. He leaned back in his chair and studied the ladies from head to foot, then emitted a curt:
There was not a trace of recognition in his glance.
Patty's only intention had been to announce their identity, and invite him to deliver them at St. Ursula's door, but Patty was incapable of approaching any matter by the direct route when a labyrinth was also available. She drew a deep breath, and to Conny's consternation, plunged into the labyrinth.
"You Mr. Laurence K. Gilroy?" she dropped a curtsy. "I come find-a you."
"So I see," said Mr. Laurence K. Gilroy, dryly. "And now that you've found me, what do you want?"
"I want tell-a your fortune," Patty glibly dropped into the lingo she and Conny had practised on the school the night before. "You cross-a my hand with silver—I tell-a your fortune."
This was no situation of Conny's choosing, but she was always staunchly game.
"Nice-a fortune," she backed Patty up. "Tall young lady. Ver' beautiful."
"Well, of all the nerve!"
Mr. Gilroy leaned back in his chair and regarded them severely, but with a gleam of amusement flickering through.
"Where did you get my name?" he demanded.
Patty waved her hand airily toward the open window and the distant horizon—as it showed between the coal sheds and the dynamo building.
"Gypsy peoples, dey learn signs," she explained lucidly. "Sky, wind, clouds—all talk—but you no understand. I get message for you—Mr. Laurence K. Gilroy—and we come from long-a way off to tell-a your fortune." With a pathetic little gesture, she indicated their damaged foot gear. "Ver' tired. We travel far."
Mr. Gilroy put his hand in his pocket and produced two silver half dollars.
"Here's your money. Now be honest! What sort of a bunco game is this? And where in thunder did you get my name?"
They pocketed the money, dropped two more curtsies, and evaded inconvenient questions.
"We tell-a your fortune," said Conny, with business-like directness. She brought out the pack of cards, plumped herself cross-legged on the floor, and dealt them out in a wide circle. Patty seized the gentleman's hand in her two coffee-stained little paws, and turned it palm up for inspection. He made an embarrassed effort to draw away, but she clung with the tenacious grip of a monkey.
"I see a lady!" she announced with promptitude.
"Tall young lady—brown eyes, yellow hair, ver' beautiful," Conny echoed from the floor, as she leaned forward and intently studied the queen of hearts.
"But she make-a you lot of trouble," Patty added, frowning over a blister on his hand. "I see li'l' quarrel."
Mr. Gilroy's eyes narrowed. In spite of himself, he commenced to be interested.
"You like-a her very much," pronounced Conny from below.
"But you never see her any more," chimed in Patty. "One—two—three—four months, you no see her, no spik with her." She looked up into his startled eyes. "But you think about her every day!"
He made a quick movement of withdrawal, and Patty hastily added a further detail.
"Dat tall young lady, she ver' unhappy too. She no laugh no more like she used."
He arrested the movement and waited with a touch of anxious curiosity to hear what was coming next.
"She feel ver' bad—ver' cross, ver' unhappy. She thinks always 'bout that li'l' quarrel. Four months she sit and wait—but you never come back."
Mr. Gilroy rose abruptly and strode to the window.
His unexpected visitors had dropped from the sky at the psychological moment. For two straight hours that afternoon he had been sitting at his desk grappling with the problem, which they, in their broken English, were so ably handling. Should he swallow a great deal of pride, and make another plea for justice? St. Ursula's vacation was at hand; in a few days more she would be gone—and very possibly she would never come back. The world at large was full of men, and Miss Jellings had a taking way.
Conny continued serenely to study her cards.
"One—More—Chance!" She spoke with the authority of a Grecian sibyl. "You try again, you win. No try, you lose."
Patty leaned over Conny's shoulder, eager to supply a salutary bit of advice.
"Dat tall young lady too much—" she hesitated a moment for fitting expression—"too much head in air. Too bossy. You make-a her mind? Understand?"
Conny, gazing at the round-faced, chubby Jack of Diamonds, had received a new idea.
"I see 'nother man," she murmured. "Red hair and—and—fat. Not too good-looking but—"
"Very dangerous!" interpolated Patty. "You have no time to waste. He comes soon."
Now, they had fabricated this detail out of nothing in the world but pure fancy and the Jack of Diamonds, but as it happened, they had touched an open wound. It was an exact description of a certain rich young man in the neighboring city, who loaded Miss Jellings with favors, and whom Mr. Gilroy detested from the bottom of his soul. All that afternoon, mixed in with his promptings and hesitations and travail of spirit, had loomed large, the fair, plump features of his fancied rival. Mr. Gilroy was a common-sense young business man, as free as most from superstition; but when a man's in love he is open to omens.
He stared fixedly about the familiar office and out at the coal sheds and dynamo, to make sure that he was still on solid earth. His gaze came back to his visitors from the sky in absolute, anxious, pleading bewilderment.
They were studying the cards again in a frowning endeavor to wrest a few further items from their overtaxed imaginations. Patty felt that she had already given him fifty cents' worth, and was wondering how to bring the interview to a graceful end. She realized that they had carried the farce too impertinently far, ever to be able to announce their identity and suggest a ride home. The only course now, was to preserve their incognito, make good their escape, and get back as best they could—at least they had a dollar to aid in the journey!
She glanced up, mentally framing a peroration.
"I see good-a fortune," she commenced, "if—"
Her glance passed him to the open window, and her heart missed a beat. Mrs. Trent and Miss Sarah Trent, come to complain about the new electric lights, were serenely descending from their carriage, not twenty feet away.
Patty's hand clutched Conny's shoulder in a spasmodic grasp.
"Sallie and the Dowager!" she hissed in her ear. "Follow me!"
With a sweep of her hand, Patty scrambled the cards together and rose. There would be no chance to escape by the door; the Dowager's voice was already audible in the outer office.
"Goo' by!" said Patty, springing to the window. "Gypsies call. We must go."
She scrambled over the sill and dropped eight feet to the ground. Conny followed. They were both able pupils of Miss Jellings.
Mr. Laurence K. Gilroy, open-mouthed, stood staring at the spot where they had been. The next instant, he was bowing courteously to the principals of St. Ursula's, and striving hard to concentrate a dazed mind upon the short-circuit in the West Wing.
Patty and Conny left the car—and a number of interested passengers—at the corner before they reached the school. Circumnavigating the wall, until they were opposite the stables, they approached the house modestly by the back way. They had the good fortune to encounter no one more dangerous than the cook (who gave them some gingerbread) and they ultimately reached their home in Paradise Alley none the worse for the adventure—and ninety cents to the good.
* * * * *
When the long, light evenings came, St. Ursula's no longer filled in the interim between dinner and evening study with indoor dancing, but romped about on the lawn outside. To-night, being Saturday, there was no evening study to call them in, and everybody was abroad. The school year was almost over, the long vacation was at hand—the girls were as full of bubbling spirits as sixty-four young lambs. Games of blindman's-buff, and pussy-wants-a-corner, and cross-tag were all in progress at once. A band of singers on the gymnasium steps was drowning out a smaller band on the porte-cochere; half-a-dozen hoop-rollers were trotting around the oval, and scattered groups of strollers, meeting in the narrow paths, were hailing each other with cheerful calls.
Patty and Conny and Priscilla, washed and dressed and chastened, were wandering arm in arm through the summer twilight, talking—a trifle soberly—of the long-looked-forward-to future that was now so oppressively close upon them.
"You know," Patty spoke with a sort of frightened gulp—"in another week we'll be grown-up!"
They stopped and silently looked back toward the gay crowd romping on the lawn, toward the big brooding house, that through four tempestuous, hilarious, care-free years had sheltered them so kindly. Grown-upness seemed a barren state. They longed to stretch out their hands and clutch the childhood that they had squandered with so little thought.
"Oh, it's horrible!" Conny breathed with sudden fierceness. "I want to stay young!"
In this unsocial mood, they refused an offered game of hare-and-hounds, and evading the singers on the gymnasium steps—the song was the "Gypsy Trail"—they sauntered on down the pergola to the lane, sprinkled with fallen apple blossoms. At the end of the lane, they came suddenly upon two other solitary strollers, and stopped short with a gasp of unbelieving wonder.
"It's Jelly!" Conny whispered.
"And Mr. Gilroy," Patty echoed.
"Shall we run?" asked Conny, in a panic.
"No," said Patty, "pretend not to notice him at all."
The three advanced with eyes discreetly bent upon the ground, but Miss Jellings greeted them gaily as she passed. There was an intangible, excited, happy thrill about her manner—something electric, Patty said.
"Hello, you bad little Gypsies!"
It was a peculiarly infelicitous salutation, but she was smilingly unconscious of any slip.
Mr. Gilroy repeated the word, and his benumbed faculties began to work. He stopped and scanned the trio closely. They were clothed in dainty muslin, three as sweet young girls as one would ever meet. But Patty and Conny, even in the failing light, were still noticeably brunette—it takes boiling water to get out coffee stain.
He drew a deep breath of enlightenment, while many emotions struggled for supremacy in his face. Conny dropped her gaze embarrassedly to the ground; Patty threw back her head and faced him. He and she eyed each other for a silent instant. In that glance, each asked the other not to tell—and each mutely promised.
The breeze brought the chorus of the "Gypsy Trail"; and as they sauntered on, Miss Jellings fell softly to humming the words in tune with the distant singers:
"And the Gypsy blood to the Gypsy blood Ever the wide world over. Ever the wide world over, lass, Ever the trail held true Over the world and under the world And back at the last to you. Follow the Romany patteran—"
The words died away in the shadows.
Conny and Patty and Priscilla stood hand in hand and looked after them.
"The school has lost Jelly!" Patty said, "and I'm afraid that we're to blame, Con, dear."
"I'm glad of it!" Conny spoke with feeling. "She's much too nice to spend her whole life telling Irene McCullough to stand up straight and keep her stomach held in."
"Anyway," Patty added, "he has no right to be angry, because—without us—he never would have dared."
They kept on across the meadow till they came to the pasture bars, where they leaned in a row with their heads tipped back, scanning the darkening sky. Miss Jellings's mood was somehow catching; the little contretemps had stirred them strangely. They felt the thrill of the untried future, with Romance waiting around the corner.
"You know," Conny broke silence after a long pause—"I think, after all, maybe it will be sort of interesting."
"What?" asked Priscilla.
She stretched out her arm in a wide gesture that comprised the night.
Priscilla nodded understandingly, and presently added with an air of challenge:
"I've changed my mind. I don't believe I'll go to college."
"Not go to college!" Patty echoed blankly. "Why not?"
"I think—I'll get married instead."
"Oh!" Patty laughed softly. "I am going to do both!"
* * * * *
Obvious punctuation errors repaired.
Page 21, "chose" changed to "choose" (endeavor to choose)
Page 35, "Cony" changed to "Conny" (Conny Wilder in dramatics)
Page 36, "Rosaile" changed to "Rosalie" (When Rosalie chanced)
Page 76, "or" changed to "of" (majority of the)
Page 85, "exhanced" changed to "enhanced" (are enhanced by)
Page 86, "skurried" changed to "scurried" (she scurried off)
Page 92, "Sally" changed to "Sallie" ( Miss Sallie affably)
Page 107, "Connie" changed to "Conny" (Conny murmured fervently)
Page 109, "wail" changed to "wait" (Just wait till)
Page 152, "esthetic" changed to "aesthetic" (rather than aesthetic)
Page 206, "same" changed to "some" (There was some)
Page 230, "or" changed to "of" (quiet confines of)
Page 247, "cheery" changed to "cherry" (of the cherry tree)
Page 320, "freindly" changed to "friendly" (the friendly darkness)
Page 329, "airly" changed to "airily" (her hand airily)
Page 330, "sings" changed to "signs" (dey learn signs)
Page 338, "tempestous" changed to "tempestuous" (through four tempestuous)