"Oh, pshaw! of course it's safe, barring accidents; but you're always liable to those, even in an automobile. Hello! here comes Hepworth. Glad to see you, old chap."
Mr. Hepworth received a general storm of glad greetings, was presented to the strangers, and announced himself as ready to carry baskets, boxes, rugs, wraps, or whatever was to be transported.
Mr. Fairfield, as general manager, portioned out the luggage, and then, each picking up his individual charge, they started off. On the way they met the Elliott family similarly equipped and equally enthusiastic, and the whole crowd proceeded down to the wharf. There they found about thirty young people awaiting them. All the girls of the Tea Club were there; and all the boys, who insisted on calling themselves honorary members of the club.
"It's a beautiful day," said Guy Morris, "but no good at all for sailing. The breeze has died down entirely, and I don't believe it will come up again all day."
"That's real cheerful, isn't it?" said Frank Elliott. "I should be inclined to doubt it myself, but Guy is such a weatherwise genius, and he almost never makes a mistake in his prognostications."
"Well, it remains to be seen what the day will bring forth," said Uncle Charley; "but in the meantime we'll get aboard."
The laughing crowd piled themselves on board the big schooner, stowed away all the baskets and bundles, and settled themselves comfortably in various parts of the boat; some sat in the stern, others climbed to the top of the cabin, while others preferred the bow, and one or two adventurous spirits clambered out to the end of the long bowsprit and sat with their feet dangling above the water. Ethelyn gave some affected little cries of horror at this, but Frank Elliott reassured her by telling her that it was always a part of the performance.
"Why, I have seen your dignified cousin Patty do it; in fact, she generally festoons herself along the edge of the boat in some precarious position."
"Don't do it to-day, will you, Patty?" besought Ethelyn, with a ridiculous air of solicitude.
"No, I won't," said Patty; "I'll be real good and do just as you want me to."
"Noble girl!" said Kenneth Harper. "I know how hard it is for you to be good."
"It is, indeed," said Patty, laughing; "and I insist upon having due credit."
As a rule the Vernondale parties were exciting affairs. The route was down the river to the sound; from the sound to the bay; and, if the day were very favourable, out into the ocean, and perhaps around Staten Island.
Patty had hoped for this most extended trip today, in order that Ethelyn and Reginald might see a sailing party at its very best.
But after they had been on board an hour they had covered only the few miles of river, and found themselves well out into the sound, but with no seeming prospect of going any farther. The breeze had died away entirely, and as the sun rose higher the heat was becoming decidedly uncomfortable.
Ethelyn began to fidget. Her pretty white serge frock had come in contact with some muddy ropes and some oily screws, and several unsightly spots were the result. This made her cross, for she hated to have her costume spoiled so early in the day; and besides she was unpleasantly conscious that her fair complexion was rapidly taking on a deep shade of red. She knew this was unbecoming, but when Reginald, with brotherly frankness, informed her that her nose looked like a poppy bud, she lost her temper and relapsed into a sulky fit.
"I don't see any fun in a sailing party, if this is one," she said.
"Oh, this isn't one," said Guy Morris good-humoredly; "this is just a first-class fizzle. We often have them, and though they're not as much fun as a real good sailing party, yet we manage to get a good time out of them some way."
"I don't see how," said Ethelyn, who was growing very ill-tempered.
"We'll show you," said Frank Elliott kindly; "there are lots of things to do on board a boat besides sail."
There did seem to be, and notwithstanding the heat and the sunburn—yes, even the mosquitoes—those happy-go-lucky young people found ways to have a real good time. They sang songs and told stories and jokes, and showed each other clever little games and tricks. One of the boys had a camera and he took pictures of the whole crowd, both singly and in groups. Mr. Hepworth drew caricature portraits, and Kenneth Harper gave some of his funny impersonations.
Except for the responsibility of her cousin's entertainment, Patty enjoyed herself exceedingly; but then she was always a happy little girl, and never allowed herself to be discomfited by trifles.
Everybody was surprised when Aunt Alice announced that it was time for luncheon, and though all were disappointed at the failure of the sail, everybody seemed to take it philosophically and even merrily.
"What is the matter?" said Ethelyn. "Why don't we go?"
"The matter is," said Mr. Fairfield, "we are becalmed. There is no breeze and consequently nothing to make our bonny ship move, so she stands still."
"And are we going to stay right here all day?" asked Ethelyn.
"It looks very much like it, unless an ocean steamer comes along and gives us a tow."
Aunt Alice and the girls of the party soon had the luncheon ready, and the merry feast was made. As Frank remarked, it was a very different thing to sit there in the broiling sun and eat sandwiches and devilled eggs, or to consume the same viands with the yacht madly flying along in rolling waves and dashing spray.
The afternoon palled a little. Youthful enthusiasm and determined good temper could make light of several hours of discomfort, but toward three o'clock the sun's rays grew unbearably hot, the glare from the water was very trying, and the mosquitoes were something awful.
Guy Morris, who probably spent more of his time in a boat than any of the others, declared that he had never seen such a day.
Mr. Fairfield felt sorry for Ethelyn, who had never had such an experience before, and so he exerted himself to entertain her, but she resisted all his attempts, and even though Patty came to her father's assistance, they found it impossible to make their guest happy.
Reginald was no better. He growled and fretted about the heat and other discomforts and he was so pompous and overbearing in his manner that it is not surprising that the boys of Vernondale cordially disliked him.
"As long as we can't go sailing," said Ethelyn, "I should think we would go home."
"We can't get home," said Patty patiently. She had already explained this several times to her cousin. "There is no breeze to take us anywhere."
"Well, what will happen to us, then? Shall we stay here forever?"
"There ought to be a breeze in two or three days," said Kenneth Harper, who could not resist the temptation to chaff this ill-tempered young person. "Say by Tuesday or Wednesday, I should think a capful of wind might puff up in some direction."
"It is coming now," said Frank Elliott suddenly; "I certainly feel a draught."
"Put something around you, my boy," said his mother, "I don't want you to take cold."
"Let me get you a wrap," said Frank, smiling back at his mother, who was fanning herself with a folded newspaper.
"The wind is coming," said Guy Morris, and his serious face was a sharp contrast to the merry ones about him, "and it's no joke this time. Within ten minutes there'll be a stiff breeze, and within twenty a howling gale, or I'm no sailor."
As he spoke he was busily preparing to reef the mainsail, and he consulted hurriedly with the sailors.
At first no one could believe Guy's prophecies would come true, but in a few moments the cool breeze was distinctly felt, the sun went under a cloud, and the boat began to move. It was a sudden squall, and the clouds thickened and massed themselves into great hills of blackness; the water turned dark and began to rise in little threatening billows, the wind grew stronger and stronger, and then without warning the rain came. Thunder and lightning added to the excitement of the occasion, and in less than fifteen minutes the smooth sunny glare of water was at the mercy of a fearful storm.
The occupants of the boat seemed to know exactly how to behave in these circumstances. Mrs. Elliott and the girls of the party went down into the little cabin, which held them all, but which was very crowded.
Guy Morris took command, and the other boys, and men, too, for that matter, did exactly as he told them.
Ethelyn began to cry. This was really not surprising, as the girl had never before had such an experience and was exceedingly nervous as well as very much frightened.
Mrs. Elliott appreciated this, and putting her arm around the sobbing child, comforted her with great tact and patience.
The storm passed as quickly as it came. There had been danger, both real and plentiful, but no bad results attended, except that everybody was more or less wet with the rain.
The boys were more and the girls less, but to Ethelyn's surprise, they all seemed to view the whole performance quite as a matter of course, and accepted the situation with the same merry philosophy that they had shown in the morning.
The thermometer had fallen many degrees, and the cold wind against damp clothing caused a most unpleasant sensation.
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good," said Guy. "This breeze will take us home, spinning."
"I'm glad of it," said Ethelyn snappishly; "I've had quite enough of the sailing party."
Frank confided to Patty afterward that he felt like responding that the sailing party had had quite enough of her, but instead he said politely:
"Oh, don't be so easily discouraged! Better luck next time."
To which Ethelyn replied, still crossly, "There'll be no next time for me."
Patty was not sorry when her Elmbridge cousins concluded their visit, and the evening after their departure she sat on the veranda with her father, talking about them.
"It's a pity," she said, "that Ethelyn is so ill-tempered; for she's so pretty and graceful, and she's really very bright and entertaining when she is pleased. But so much of the time she is displeased, and then there's no doing anything with her."
"She's selfish, Patty," said her father; "and selfishness is just about the worst fault in the catalogue. A selfish person cannot be happy. You probably learned something to that effect from your early copybooks, but it is none the less true."
"I know it, papa, and I do think that selfish ness is the worst fault there is; and though I fight against it, do you know I sometimes think that living here alone with you, and having my own way in everything, is making me rather a selfish individual myself."
"I don't think you need worry about that," said a hearty voice, and Kenneth Harper appeared at the veranda steps. "Pardon me, I wasn't eavesdropping, but I couldn't help overhearing your last remark, and I think it my duty to set your mind at rest on that score. Selfishness is not your besetting sin, Miss Patty Fairfield, and I can't allow you to libel yourself."
"I quite agree with you, Ken," said Mr. Fairfield. "My small daughter may not be absolutely perfect, but selfishness is not one of her faults. At least, that's the conclusion I've come to, after observing her pretty carefully through her long and checkered career."
"Well, if I'm not selfish, I will certainly become vain if so many compliments are heaped upon me," said Patty, laughing; "and I'm sure I value very highly the opinions of two such wise men."
"Oh, say a man and a boy," said young Harper modestly.
"All right, I will," said Patty, "but I'm not sure which is which. Sometimes I think papa more of a boy than you are, Ken."
"Now you've succeeded in complimenting us both at once," said Mr. Fairfield, "which proves you clever as well as unselfish."
"Well, never mind me for the present," said Patty; "I want to talk about some other people, and they are some more of my cousins."
"A commodity with which you seem to be well supplied," said Kenneth.
"Indeed I am; I have a large stock yet in reserve, and I think, papa, that I'll ask Bob and Bumble to visit me for a few weeks."
"Do," said Mr. Fairfield, "if you would enjoy having them, but not otherwise. You've just been through a siege of entertaining cousins, and I think you deserve a vacation."
"Oh, but these are so different," said Patty. "Bob and Bumble are nothing like the St. Clairs. They enjoy everything, and they're always happy."
"I like their name," said Kenneth. "Bumble isn't exactly romantic, but it sounds awfully jolly."
"She is jolly," said Patty, "and so is Bob. They're twins, about sixteen, and they're just brimming over with fun and mischief. Bumble's real name is Helen, but I guess no one ever called her that. Helen seems to mean a fair, tall girl, slender and graceful, and rather willowy; and Bumble is just the opposite of that: she's round and solid, and always tumbling down; at least she used to be, but she may have outgrown that habit now. Anyway, she's a dear."
"And what is Bob like?" asked her father. "I haven't seen him since he was a baby."
"Bob? Oh, he's just plain boy; awfully nice and obliging and good-hearted and unselfish, but I don't believe he'll ever be President."
"I think I shall like your two cousins," said Kenneth, with an air of conviction. "When are they coming?"
"I shall ask them right away, and I hope they'll soon come. How much longer shall you be in Vernondale?"
"Oh, I think I'm a fixture for the summer. Aunt Locky wants me to spend my whole vacation here, and I don't know of any good reason why I shouldn't."
"I'm very glad; it will be awfully nice to have you here when the twins are, and perhaps somebody else will be here, too. I'm going to ask Nan Allen."
"Who is she?" inquired Mr. Fairfield.
"Oh, papa, don't you remember about her? She is a friend of the Barlows, and lives near them in Philadelphia, and she was visiting them down at Long Island when I was there last summer. She's perfectly lovely. She's a grown-up young lady, compared to Bumble and me—she's about twenty-two, I think—and I know Kenneth will lose his heart to her. He'll have no more use for schoolgirls."
"Probably not," said Kenneth; "but I'm afraid the adorable young lady will have no use for me. She won't if Hepworth's around, and he usually is. He's always cutting me out."
"Nothing of the sort," said Patty staunchly. "Mr. Hepworth is very nice, but he's papa's friend,"
"And whose friend am I?" said young Harper.
"You're everybody's friend," said Patty, smiling at him. "You're just 'Our Ken.'"
Miss Nan Allen was delighted to accept an invitation to Boxley Hall, and it was arranged that she and the Barlow twins should spend August there.
"A month is quite a long visit, Pattikins," said her father.
"Yes, but you see, papa, I stayed there three months. Now, if three of them stay here one month, it will be the same proportion. And, besides, I like them, and I want them to stay a good while. I shan't get tired of them."
"I don't believe you will, but you may get tired of the care of housekeeping, with guests for so long a time. But if you do, I shall pick up the whole tribe of you and bundle off for a trip of some sort."
"Oh, papa, I wish you would do that. I'd be perfectly delighted. I'll do my best to get tired, just so you'll take us."
"But if I remember your reports of your Barlow cousins, it seems to me they would not make the most desirable travelling companions. Aren't they the ones who were so helter-skelter, never were ready on time, never knew where things were, and, in fact, had never learned the meaning of the phrase 'Law and order'?"
"Yes, they're the ones, and truly they are something dreadful. Don't you remember they had a party and forgot to send out the invitations? And the first night I reached there, when I went to visit them, they forgot to have any bed in my room."
"Yes, I thought I remembered your writing to me about some such doings; and do you think you can enjoy a month with such visitors as that?"
"Oh, yes, papa, because they won't upset my house; and, really, they're the dearest people. Oh, I'm awfully fond of Bob and Bumble I And Nan Allen is lovely. Nobody can help liking her. She's not so helter-skelter as the others, but down at the Hurly-Burly nobody could help losing their things. Why, I even grew careless myself."
"Well, have your company, child, and I'll do all I can to make it pleasant for you and for them."
"I know you will, you dear old pearl of a father. Sometimes I think you enjoy my company as much as I do myself, but I suppose you don't really. I suppose you entertain the young people and pretend to enjoy it just to make me happy."
"I am happy, dear, in anything that makes you happy; though sixteen is not exactly an age contemporary with my own. But I enjoy having Hepworth down, and I like young Harper a great deal. Then, of course, I have my little friends, Mr. and Mrs. Elliott, to play with—so I am not entirely dependent on the kindergarten."
The Barlow twins and Nan Allen were expected to arrive on Thursday afternoon at four o'clock, and everything at Boxley Hall was in readiness for the arrival of the guests.
"Not that it's worth while to have everything in such spick-and-span order," said Patty to herself, "for the Barlows won't appreciate it, and what's more they'll turn everything inside out and upside down before they've been in the house an hour."
But, notwithstanding her conviction, she made her preparations as carefully as if for the most fastidious visitors and viewed the result with great satisfaction after it was finished.
She went down in the carriage to meet the train, delighted at the thought of seeing again her Barlow cousins, of whom she was really very fond.
"I wish Aunt Grace and Uncle Ted were coming, too," she said to herself; "but I suppose I couldn't take care of so many people at once. It would be like running a hotel."
The train had not arrived when they reached the station, so, telling the coachman to wait, Patty left the carriage and walked up and down the station platform.
"Hello, Patty, haven't your cousins come yet?"
"Why, Kenneth, is that you? No, they haven't come; I think the train must be late."
"Yes, it is a little, but there it is now, just coming into sight around the curve. May I stay and meet them? Or would you rather fall on their necks alone?"
"Oh, stay, I'd be glad to have you; but you'll have to walk back, there's no room in the carriage for you."
"Oh, that's all right. I have my wheel, thank you."
The train stopped, and a number of passengers alighted. But as the train went on and the small crowd dispersed, Patty remarked in a most exasperated tone:
"Well, they didn't come on that train. I just knew they wouldn't. They are the most aggravating people! Now, nobody knows whether they were on that train and didn't know enough to get off, or whether they missed it at the New York end. What time is the next train?"
"I'm not sure," said Kenneth; "let's go in the station and find out."
The next train was due at 4.30, but the expected guests did not arrive on that either.
"There's no use in getting annoyed," said Patty, laughing, "for it's really nothing more nor less than I expected. The Barlows never catch the train they intend to take."
"And Miss Allen? Is she the same kind of an 'Old Reliable'?"
"No, Nan is different; and I believe that, left to herself, she'd be on time, though probably not ahead of time. But I've never seen her except with the Barlows, and when she was down at the Hurly-Burly she was just about as uncertain as the rest of them."
"Is the Hurly-Burly the Barlow homestead?"
"Well, it's their summer home, and it's really a lovely place. But its name just expresses it. I spent three months there last summer, and I had an awfully good time, but no one ever knew what was going to happen next or when it would come off. But everybody was so good-natured that they didn't mind a bit. Well, I suppose we may as well drive back home. There's no telling when these people will come. Very likely not until to-morrow."
Just then a small messenger boy came up to Patty and handed her a telegram.
"Just as I thought!" exclaimed Patty. "They've done some crazy thing."
Opening the yellow envelope, she read:
"Took wrong train. Carried through to Philadelphia. Back this evening. BOB."
"Well, then, they can't get here until that nine-o'clock train comes in," said Kenneth, "so there's no use in your waiting any longer now."
"No, I suppose not," said Patty; "I'm awfully disappointed. I wish they had come."
An east-bound train had just come into the station, and Patty and Kenneth stood idly watching it, when suddenly Patty exclaimed:
"There they are now! Did you ever know such ridiculous people?"
A FAIR EXCHANGE
"We didn't have to go to Philadelphia after all," explained Bob, after greetings had been exchanged. "We found we could get off at New Brunswick and come back from there."
"Why didn't you find out that before telegraphing?" laughed Patty.
"Never once thought of it," said Bob, "You know the Barlows are not noted for ingenuity."
"Well, they're noted for better things than that," said Patty, as she affectionately squeezed Bumble's plump arm.
"We wouldn't have thought of it at all," said honest Bob, "if it hadn't been for Nan. She suggested it."
"Well, I was sent along with instructions to look after you two rattle-pated youngsters," said Nan, "and so I had to do something to live up to my privileges; and now, Bob, you look after the luggage, will you?"
"Let me help," said Kenneth. "Where are your checks, Miss Allen?"
"Here are the checks for the trunks, and there are three suit-cases; the one that hasn't any name on is mine, and you tell it by the fact that it has an extra handle on the end. I'm very proud of that handle; I had it put on by special order, and it's so convenient, and it is identification besides. I didn't want my name painted on. I think it spoils a brand-new suit-case to have letters all over it."
"We'll find them all right; come on, Barlow," said Kenneth, and the two young men started off.
They returned in a few moments with the three suit-cases, Bob bringing his own and his sister's, while Kenneth Harper carefully carried the immaculate leather case with the handle on the end. These were deposited in the Fairfield carriage. Patty and her guests were also tucked in, and they started for the house, while Kenneth followed on his wheel.
"Come over to-night," Patty called back to him, as they left him behind; and though his answer was lost in the distance, she had little doubt as to its tenor.
"What a nice young fellow!" said Nan. "Who is he?"
"He's the nephew of our next-door neighbour," said Patty; "and he's spending his vacation with his aunt."
"He's a jolly all-round chap," said Bob.
"Yes, he's just that," said Patty. "I thought you'd like him. You'll like all the young people here. They're an awfully nice crowd."
"I'm so glad to see you again," said Bumble, "I don't care whether I like the other young people or not. And I want to see Uncle Fred, too. I haven't seen him for years and years."
"Oh, he's one of the young people," said Patty, laughing; "he goes 'most everywhere with us. I tell him he's more of a boy than Ken."
As they drove up to the house, Bumble exclaimed with delight at the beautiful flowers and the well-kept appearance of the whole place.
"What a lovely home!" she cried. "I don't see how you ever put up with our tumble-down old place, Patty."
"Nonsense!" said Patty. "I had the time of my life down at the Hurly-Burly last summer."
"Well, we're going to have the time of our life at Boxley Hall this summer, I feel sure of that," said Bob, as he sprang out of the carriage and then helped the others out.
"I hope you will," said Patty. "You are very welcome to Boxley Hall, and I want you just to look upon it as your home and conduct yourselves accordingly."
"Nan can do that," said Bumble, "but I'm afraid, if Bob and I did it, your beautiful home would soon lose its present spick-and-span effect."
"All right, let it lose," said Patty. "We'll have a good time anyhow. And now," she went on, as she took the guests to their rooms, "there'll be just about an hour before dinner time but if you get ready before that come down. You'll probably find me on the front veranda, if I'm not in the kitchen."
Bob was the first one to reappear, and he found Patty and her father chatting on the front veranda.
"How do you do, Uncle Fred?" he said. "You may know my name, but I doubt if you remember my features."
"Hello, Bob, my boy," said Mr. Fairfield, cordially grasping the hand held out to him. "As I last saw you with features of infantile vacancy, I am glad to start fresh and make your acquaintance all over again."
"Thank you, sir," said Bob, as he seated himself on the veranda railing. "I didn't know you as an infant, but I dare say you were a very attractive one."
"I think I was," said Mr. Fairfield; "at least I remember hearing my mother say so, and surely she ought to know."
Just then Bumble came out on the porch with her hair-ribbon in her hand.
"Please tie this for me, Patty," she said. "I cannot manage it myself, and get it on quick before Uncle Fred sees me."
"But I am so glad to see you, my dear Bumble," said Mr. Fairfield, "that even that piece of pretty blue ribbon can't make me any gladder."
Bumble smiled back at him in her winning way, and Patty tied her cousin's hair-ribbon with a decided feeling of relief that in all other respects Bumble's costume was tidy and complete.
"Where's Nan?" she inquired; "isn't she ready yet?"
"Why, it's the funniest thing," said Bumble, "I tapped at her door as I came by, but she told me to go on and not wait for her, she would come down in a few minutes."
Just as Pansy appeared to announce dinner, Nan did come down, and Patty stared at her in amazement. Bob whistled, and Bumble exclaimed:
"Well, for goodness gracious sakes! What are you up to now?"
For Nan, instead of wearing the pretty gown which Bumble knew she had brought in her suitcase, was garbed in the complete costume of a trained nurse. A white pique skirt and linen shirt-waist of immaculate and starched whiteness, an apron with regulation shoulder-straps, and a cap that betokened a graduate of St. Luke's Hospital, formed her surprising, but not at all unbecoming, outfit.
Nan's roguish face looked very demure under the white cap, and she smiled pleasantly when Patty at last recovered her wits sufficiently to introduce her father.
"Nan," she said, "if this is really you, let me present my father; and, papa, this is supposed to be Miss Nan Allen, but I never saw her look like this before."
"I am very glad to meet you, Miss Allen," said Mr. Fairfield, "and though we are all apparently very well at present, one can never tell how soon there may be need of your professional services."
"I hope not very soon," said Nan, laughing; "for my professional knowledge is scarcely sufficient to enable me to adjust this costume properly."
"It seems to be on all right," said Patty, looking at it critically; "but where in the world did you get it? And what have you got it on for? We're not going to a masquerade."
"I put it on," said Nan, "because I couldn't help myself. I wanted to change my travelling gown, and when I opened my suit-case this is all there was in it, except some combs and brushes and bottles."
"Whew!" said Bob. "When I picked up that suit-case I wasn't quite sure I had the right one. You know I went back for it after we left the train at New Brunswick, and you said it was the only one in the world with a handle on the end."
"I thought it was," said Nan, "but it seems somebody else was clever enough to have an end-handle too, and she was a trained nurse, apparently."
"Many of the new suit-cases have handles on the end," said Mr. Fairfield, "though not common as yet I have seen a number of them. But just imagine how the nurse feels who is obliged to wear your dinner gown instead of her uniform."
"I hope she won't spoil it," exclaimed Bumble. "It was that lovely light blue thing, one of the prettiest frocks you own."
"I can imagine her now," said Bob: "she is probably bathing the brow of a sleepless patient, and the lace ruffles and turquoise bugles are helping along a lot. In fact, I think she's looking rather nice going around a sick-room in that blue bombazine."
"It isn't bombazine, Bob," said his sister; "it's beautiful, lovely light-blue chiffon."
"Well, beautiful, lovely light-blue chiffon, then; but anyway, I'm sure the nurse is glad of a chance to wear it instead of her own plain clothes."
"But her own plain clothes are not at all unpicturesque, and are very becoming to Miss Allen," said Mr. Fairfield. "But haven't your trunks come?" he added, as they all went out to dinner.
"No," said Bob; "Mr. Harper and I investigated the baggage-room, but they weren't there."
"Oh, call him Kenneth," said Patty. "You boys are too young for such formality."
"I may be," said Bob, "but he isn't. He's a college man."
"He's a college boy," said Patty; "he's only nineteen, and you're sixteen yourself."
"Going on seventeen," said Bob proudly, "and so is Bumble."
"Twins often are the same age," observed Mr. Fairfield, "and after a few years, Bob, you'll have to be careful how you announce your own age, because it will reveal your sister's."
"Pooh! I don't care," said Bumble. "I'd just as lieve people would know how old I am. Nan is twenty-two, and she doesn't care who knows it."
"You look about fifty in those ridiculous clothes," said Patty.
"Do I?" said Nan, quite unconcernedly. "I don't mind that a bit, but I don't think I can keep them at this stage of whiteness for many days. Can anything be done to coax our trunks this way?"
"We might do some telephoning after dinner," said Mr. Fairfield. "What is the situation up to the present time?"
"Why, you see it was this way," said Bumble. "When the carriage came to take us to the station, the trunks weren't quite ready, and mamma said for us to go on and she'd finish packing them and send them down in time to get that train or the next."
"And did they come for that train?"
"No, they didn't, and so, of course, they must have been sent on the next one; but even so, they ought to be here now, because, you know, we went on through and came back."
"But how did you get your checks if your trunks weren't put on the train?"
"Oh, the baggageman knows us," explained Bob, "and he gave us our checks and kept the duplicates to put on our trunks when they came down to the station. He often does that."
"Yes," said Bumble, "we've never had our trunks ready yet when the man came for them."
"Nan's was ready," put in Bob, who was a great stickler for justice, "but, of course, hers couldn't go till ours did. Oh, I guess they'll turn up all right."
They did turn up all right twenty-four hours later, but the exchange of suit-cases was not so easily effected.
However, after more or less correspondence between Nan and the nurse who owned the uniform, the transfer was finally made, and Nan recovered her pretty blue gown, which certainly bore no evidence of having been worn in a sickroom.
"But I bet she wore it, all the same," said Bob. "She probably neglected her patient and went to a party that night just because she had the frock."
A GOOD SUGGESTION
August at Boxley Hall proved to be a month of fun and frolic. The Barlow cousins were much easier to entertain than the St. Clairs. In fact, they entertained themselves, and as for Nan Allen, she entertained everybody with whom she came in contact. Mr. Fairfield expressed himself as being delighted to have Patty under the influence of such a gracious and charming young woman, and Aunt Alice quite agreed with him. Marian adored Nan, and though she liked Bumble very much indeed, she took more real pleasure in the society of the older girl.
But they were a congenial crowd of merry young people, and when Mr. Hepworth came down from the city, as he often did, and Kenneth Harper drifted in from next-door, as he very often did, the house party at Boxley Hall waxed exceeding merry.
And there was no lack of social entertainment. The Vernondale young people were quite ready to provide pleasures for Patty's guests, and the appreciation shown by Nan and the Barlows was a decided and very pleasant contrast to the attitude of Ethelyn and Reginald.
Sailing parties occurred often, and these Nan enjoyed especially, for she was passionately fond of the water, and dearly loved sailing or rowing.
The Tea Club girls all liked Nan, and though she was older than most of them, she enjoyed their meetings quite as much as Bumble, Marian, or Patty herself.
Bob soon made friends with the "Tea Club Annex," as the boys of Patty's set chose to call themselves. Though not a club of any sort, they were always invited when the Tea Club had anything special going on, and many times when it hadn't.
One afternoon the Tea Club was holding its weekly meeting at Marian's.
"Do you know," Elsie Morris was saying, "that the Babies' Hospital is in need of funds again? Those infants are perfect gormandisers. I don't see how they can eat so much or wear so many clothes."
"Babies always wear lots of clothes," said Lillian Desmond, with an air of great wisdom. "I've seen them; they just bundle them up in everything they can find, and then wrap more things around them."
"Well, they've used up all their wrappings," said Elsie Morris, "and they want more. I met Mrs. Greenleaf this morning in the street, and she stopped me to ask if we girls wouldn't raise some more money for them somehow."
"Oh, dear!" said Florence Douglass. "They just want us to work all the time for the old hospital; I'm tired of it."
"Why, Florence!" said Patty. "We haven't done a thing since we had that play last winter. I think it would be very nice to have some entertainment or something and make some money for them again. We could have some summery outdoorsy kind of a thing like a lawn party, you know."
"Yes," said Laura Russell, "and have it rain and spoil everything; and soak all the Chinese lanterns, and drench all the people's clothes, and everybody would run into the house and track mud all over. Oh, it would be lovely!"
"What a cheerful view you do take of things, Laura," said Elsie Morris. "Now, you know it's just as likely not to rain as to rain."
"More likely," said Nan. "It doesn't rain twice as often as it rains. Now I believe it would be a beautiful bright day, or moonlight night, whichever you have the party, and nobody will get their clothes spoiled, and the lanterns will burn lovely, and you will have a big crowd, and it would be a howling success, and you'd make an awful lot of money."
"That picture sounds very attractive," said Polly Stevens, "and I say let's do it. But somehow I don't like a lawn party—it's so tame. Let's have something real novel and original. Nan, you must know of something."
"I don't," said Nan. "I'm stupid as an owl about such things. But if you can decide on something to have, I'll help all I can with it."
"And Nan's awful good help!" put in Bumble. "She works and works and works, and never gets tired. I'll help, too; I'd love to, only I'm not much good."
"We'll take all the help that's offered," said Elsie Morris, "of any quality whatsoever. But what can the show be?"
No amount of thinking or discussion seemed to suggest any novel enterprise by which a fortune could be made at short notice, and at last Nan said: "I should think, Patty, that Mr. Hepworth could help. He's always having queer sorts of performances in his studio. Don't you know the Mock Art exhibition he told us about?"
"Oh, yes," said Patty; "he'd be sure to know of something for us to do; and I think he's coming out with papa to-night. I'll ask him."
"Do," said Elsie; "and tell him it must be something that's heaps of fun, and that we'll all like, and that's never been done here before."
"All right," said Patty. "Anything else?"
"Yes; it must be something to appeal to the popular taste and draw a big crowd, so we can make a lot of money for the babies."
"Very well," said Patty; "I'll tell him all that, and I'm sure he'll suggest just the right thing."
Mr. Hepworth did come down that night, and when the girls asked him for suggestions he very willingly began to think up plans for them.
"I should think you might make a success," he said, "of an entertainment like one I attended up in the mountains last summer. It was called a 'County Fair,' and was a sort of burlesque on the county fairs or state fairs that used to be held annually, and are still, I believe, in some sections of the country."
"It sounds all right so far," said Patty. "Tell us more about it."
"Well, you know you get everybody interested, and you have a committee for all the different parts of it."
"What are the different parts of it?"
"Oh, they're the domestic department, where you exhibit pies and bed-quilts and spatter-work done by the ladies in charge."
"Of course, these exhibits aren't real, you know, Patty," said her father; "and you girls would probably be tempted to put up gay jokes on each other. For instance, that rockery arrangement of Pansy's might be exhibited as your idea of art work."
"I wouldn't mind the joke on myself, papa," said Patty, "but it might not please Pansy. But we can get plenty of things to exhibit in the domestic department. That will be easy enough. I'll borrow Miss Daggett's pumpkin bed-quilt to exhibit as my latest achievement in the line of applied art, and I'll make a pie and label it Laura Russell's, which will take the first prize; but what other departments are there, Mr. Hepworth?"
"Well, the horticulture department can be made very humourous, as well as lucrative. At this fair I went to, the ladies had a beautiful table full of pin-cushions and other gimcracks, in the shape of fruits and vegetables."
"Oh, yes," said Bumble, "I know how to make those. I can make bananas and potatoes and Nan can make lovely strawberries."
"And I can make paper flowers," said Bob, "honest, I can! Great big sunflowers and tiger lilies, and you can use them for lampshades if you like."
"Yes, the horticulture booth will be easy enough," said Nan. "I'll help a lot with that. Now, what else?"
"Then you can have an art gallery, if you like. Burlesque, of course, with ridiculous pictures and statues. I know where I can borrow a lot for you in New York."
"Gorgeous!" cried Patty, clapping her hands. "What a trump you are! What else?"
"A loan exhibition is of real interest," said Mr. Hepworth. "If you've never had one of those here, I think one or two of your members could arrange a very effective little exhibit by borrowing objects of interest from their friends about town."
"I'm sure of it," said Patty. "Miss Daggett has lovely things, and so has Mrs. Greenleaf, and Aunt Alice, and lots of people. We'll let Florence Douglass and Lillian Desmond look after that. It's just in their line."
"And then you must have side shows, you know; funny performances, like 'Punch and Judy,' and a fortune-telling gipsy. And then all the people who take part in it must wear fancy or grotesque costumes. And the great feature of the whole show is a parade of these people in their eccentric garb. Some walk, while others ride on decorated steeds, or in queer vehicles. Of course, there's lots of detail and lots of work about it, but if you go into the thing with any sort of enthusiasm, I'm sure you can make a big success of it."
They did go into the thing with all sorts of enthusiasm, and they did make a big success of it.
The Tea Club girls declared the scheme a fine one, and the Boys' Annex announced themselves as ready to help in any and every possible way. Committees were appointed to attend to the different departments, and as these committees were carefully selected with a view to giving each what he or she liked best to do, the whole work went on harmoniously.
The site chosen for the county fair was the old Warner place. As this was still unoccupied, it made a most appropriate setting for the projected entertainment. When Mr. Hepworth saw it he declared it was ideal for the purpose, and immediately began to make plans for utilising the different rooms of the old house.
A loan exhibition was to be held in one; and, as Patty had foreseen, many old relics and heirlooms of great interest were borrowed from willing lenders around town. In another room was the domestic exhibition, and in another the horticultural show was held.
One room was devoted to amusing the children, and contained a Punch and Judy show, fish pond, and various games.
There was a candy kitchen, where white-capped cooks could make candy and sell it to immediate purchasers.
It had been decided to hold the fair during the afternoon and evening of two consecutive days. As Nan had prophesied, these days showed weather beyond all criticism. Not too warm to be pleasant, but with bright sunshine and a gentle breeze.
At three o'clock the grand parade began, and the spectators watched with glee the grotesque figures that passed them in line.
Patty, whose special department was the candy kitchen, was dressed as the Queen of Hearts who made the renowned tarts. Mr. Hepworth had designed her dress, and though it was of simple white cheese-cloth, trimmed with red-and-gold hearts, it was very effective and becoming. She wore a gilt crown, and carried a gilt sceptre, and rode in her own little pony cart, which had been so gaily decorated for the occasion that it was quite unrecognisable. Kenneth Harper, as the Knave of Hearts, who wickedly stole the tarts, sat by her side and drove the little chariot.
Nan was dressed as a gipsy. She had a marvellous tent in which to tell fortunes, and in the parade she rode on a much-bedecked donkey.
Marian was a dame of olden time, and Bumble was a Japanese lady of high degree.
There were quaint and curious costumes of all sorts, each of which provoked much mirth or admiration from the enthusiastic audience.
After the parade, the fair was announced open, and the patrons were requested to spend their money freely for the benefit of the hospital.
So well did they respond that, as a result of their efforts, the Tea Club girls were able to present Mrs. Greenleaf with the sum of five hundred dollars toward her good work.
AT THE SEASHORE
Toward the end of August the Barlows' visit drew toward its close. Although Patty was sorry to have her cousins go, yet she looked forward with a certain sense of relief to being once more alone with her father.
"It's lovely to have company," she confided to her Aunt Alice one day, "and I do enjoy it ever so much, only somehow I get tired of ordering and looking after things day after day."
"All housekeepers have that experience, Patty, dear," said Aunt Alice, "but they're usually older than you before they begin. It is a great deal of care for a girl of sixteen, and though you get along beautifully, I'm sure it has been rather a hard summer for you."
So impressed was Mrs. Elliott with these facts that she talked to Mr. Fairfield about the matter, and advised him to take Patty away somewhere for a little rest and change before beginning her school year again.
Mr. Fairfield agreed heartily to this plan, expressed himself as willing to take Patty anywhere, and suggested that some of the Elliotts go, too.
When Patty's opinion was asked, she said she would be delighted to go away for a vacation, and that she had the place all picked out.
"Well, you are an expeditious young woman," said her father. "And where is it that you want to go?"
"Why, you see, papa, the 1st of September, when Bob and Bumble go home from here, Nan isn't going back with them; she's going down to Spring Lake. That's a place down on the New Jersey coast, and I've never been there, and she says it's lovely, and so I want to go there."
"Well, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't," said Mr. Fairfield. "It would suit me well enough, if Nan is willing we should follow in her footsteps."
"I'm delighted to have you," said Nan, who was in a hammock at the other end of the veranda when this conclave was taking place.
"I wish we could go with the crowd," said Bob, who was perched on the veranda railing.
"I wish so, too," said Bumble; "but wishing doesn't do any good. After that letter father wrote yesterday, I think the best thing for us to do is to scurry home as fast as we can."
So the plans were made according to Patty's wish, and a few days after the Barlow twins returned to their home, a merry party left Vernondale for Spring Lake.
This party consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Elliott and Marian, Mr. Fairfield, Patty, and Nan.
They had all arranged for rooms in the same hotel to which Nan was going, and where her parents were awaiting her.
Marlborough House was its name, and very attractive and comfortable it looked to the Vernondale people as they arrived about four o'clock one afternoon in early September.
Mr. and Mrs. Allen proved to be charming people who were more than ready to show any courtesies in their power to the Fairfields, who had so kindly entertained Nan.
Although an older couple than the Elliotts, they proved to be congenial companions, and after a day or two the whole party felt as if they had known each other all their lives. Acquaintances ripen easily at the seashore, and Patty soon came to the conclusion that she was beginning what was to be one of the pleasantest experiences of her life.
And so it proved; although Mr. Fairfield announced that Patty had come down for a rest, and that there was to be very little, if any, gaiety allowed, yet somehow there was always something pleasant going on.
Every day there was salt-water bathing, and this was a great delight to Patty. The summer before, at her uncle's home on Long Island, she had learned to swim, and though it was more difficult to swim in the surf, yet it was also more fun. Nan was an expert swimmer, and Marian knew nothing of the art, but the three girls enjoyed splashing about in the water, and were never quite ready to come out when Aunt Alice or Mrs. Allen called to them from the beach.
In the afternoons there were long walks or drives along the shore, and the exercise and salt air soon restored to Patty the robust health and strength which her father feared she had lost during the summer.
In the evening there was dancing—sometimes hops, but more often informal dancing among the young people staying at the hotel. All three of our girls were fond of dancing, and excelled in the art, but Patty was especially graceful and skillful.
The first Saturday night after their arrival at Marlborough House, a large dance was to be held, and this was really Patty's first experience at what might be termed a ball.
She was delighted with the prospect, and her father had ordered her a beautiful new frock from New York, which proved to be rather longer than any she had as yet worn.
"I feel so grown up in it," she exclaimed, as she tried it on to show her father. "I think I'll have to do up my hair when I wear this grand costume; It doesn't seem just right to have it tied up with a little girl hair-ribbon."
"Patty, my child, I do believe you're growing up!" said her father.
"I do believe I am, papa; I'm almost seventeen, and I'm taller than Aunt Alice now, and a lot taller than Marian."
"It isn't only your height, child, you always were a big girl. But you seem to be growing up in other ways, and I don't believe I like it I was glad when you were no longer a child, but I like to have you a little girl, and I don't believe I'll care for you a bit when you're a young woman."
"Now, isn't that too bad!" said Patty, pinching her father's cheek. "I suppose I'll have to suit myself with another father—I'm sure I couldn't live with anybody who didn't like me a bit. Well, perhaps Uncle Charley will adopt me; he seems to like me at any age."
"Oh, I'll try and put up with you," said her father, kissing her. "And meantime, what's this talk about piling up your hair on top of your head. Is it really absolutely necessary to do so, if you wear this frippery confection of dry-goods?"
"Oh, not necessary, perhaps, but I think it would look better. At any rate, I'll just try it."
"Well, you don't seem to be standing with very reluctant feet," said her father. "I believe you're rather anxious to grow up, after all; but run along, chicken, and dress your hair any way you please. I want you to have a good time at your first ball."
As Frank Elliott and Kenneth Harper and Mr. Hepworth came down to Spring Lake to stay over Sunday, the party of friends at Marlborough House was considerably augmented. When the young men arrived the girls were lazily basking on the sand, and Nan was pretending to read a book to the other two. Only pretending, however, for Patty kept interrupting her with nonsensical remarks, and Marian teased her by slowly sifting sand through her fingers onto the pages of the book.
"I might as well try to read to a tribe of wild Indians as to you two girls," said Nan at last. "Don't you want your minds improved?"
"Do you think our superior minds can be improved by that trash you're reading?" said Patty. "I really think some of your instructive conversation would benefit us more greatly."
"You're an ungrateful pair," said Nan, "and you don't deserve that I should waste my valuable conversation upon you. And you don't deserve, either, that I should tell you to turn your heads around to see who's coming—but I will."
Her hearers looked round quickly, and saw three familiar figures coming along the board walk.
"Goody!" cried Patty, and scrambling to her feet, she ran with outstretched hands to meet them.
She didn't look very grown up then, in her blue-serge beach dress and her hair in a long thick braid down her back, and curling round her temples in windblown locks; but to Mr. Hepworth's artist eye she looked more beautiful than he had ever seen her.
Kenneth Harper, too, looked admiringly at the graceful figure flying toward them across the sand, but Frank shouted:
"Hello, Patty, don't break your neck! we're coming down there. Where's Marian?"
"She's right here," answered Patty; "we're all right here. Your mother's up on the veranda. Oh, I'm so glad to see you! This is the loveliest place, and we're having the beautifullest time; and now that you boys have come, it will be better than ever. And there's going to be a hop tonight! Isn't that gay? Oh, how do you do, Mr. Hepworth?"
Though Patty's manner took on a shade more of dignity in addressing the older man, it lost nothing in cordiality, and he responded with words of glad greeting.
Hearing the laughter and excitement, Aunt Alice and Mrs. Allen came down from the veranda to sit on the sand by the young people. Soon Mr. Fairfield and Mr. Allen and Mr. Elliott, returning from a stroll, joined the party.
The newcomers produced divers and sundry parcels, which they turned over to the ladies, and which proved to contain various new books and magazines and delicious candies and fruits.
"It's just like Christmas!" exclaimed Patty. "I do love to have things brought to me."
"You're certainly in your element now, then," said Mr. Fairfield, looking at his daughter, who sat with a fig in one hand and a chocolate in the other, trying to open a book with her elbows.
"I certainly am," she responded. "The only flaw is that I suppose it's about time to go in to dinner. I wish we could all sit here on the sand forever."
"You'd change your mind when you reached my age," said Mrs. Allen. "I'm quite ready to go in now and find a more comfortable chair."
Later that evening Patty, completely arrayed for the dance, came to her father for inspection.
"You look very sweet, my child," he said after gazing at her long and earnestly; "and with your hair dressed that way you look very much like your mother. I'm sorry you're growing up, my baby, I certainly am; but I suppose it can't be helped unless the world stops turning around. And if it's any satisfaction to you, I'd like to have you know that your father thinks you the prettiest and sweetest girl in all the country round."
"And aren't you going to tell me that if I only behave as well as I look, I'll do very nicely?"
"You seem to know that already, so I hardly think it's necessary."
"Well, I'll tell it to you, then; for you do look so beautiful in evening clothes that I don't believe you can behave as well as you look. Nobody could."
"I see your growing up has taught you flattery," said her father, "a habit you must try to overcome."
But Patty was already dancing down the long hall to Aunt Alice's room, and a few moments later they all went down to the parlours.
When Kenneth first saw Patty that evening, he stood looking at her with a funny, stupefied expression on his face.
"What's the matter?" said Patty, laughing. "Just because I'm wearing a few extra hairpins you needn't look as if you'd lost your last friend."
"I—I feel as if I ought to call you Miss Fairfield."
"Well, call me that if you like, I don't mind. Call me Miss Smith or Miss Brown, if you want to—I don't care what you call me, if you'll only ask me to dance."
"Come on, then," said Kenneth; and in a moment they were whirling in the waltz, and the boy's momentary embarrassment was entirely forgotten.
"There!" said Kenneth, after the dance was over, "you look more like your old self now."
"I haven't lost any hairpins, have I?" said Patty, putting up her hands to her fluffy topknot.
"No, but you've lost that absurd dressed-up look."
"I'm getting used to my new frock. Don't you like it?"
"Yes, of course I do. I like everything you wear, because I like you. In fact, I think I like you better than any girl I ever saw."
Kenneth said this in such a frank, boyish way that he seemed to be announcing a mere casual preference for some matter-of-fact thing.
At least it seemed so to Patty, and she answered carelessly:
"You think you do! I'd like you to be sure of it, sir."
"I am sure of it," said Ken, and then, a little more diffidently: "Do you like me best?"
"Why, yes, of course I do," said Patty, smiling, "that is, after papa and Aunt Alice and Marian and Uncle Charley and Frank and Mancy and Pansy—and Mr. Hepworth."
Patty might not have added the last name if she had not just then seen that gentleman coming toward her.
He looked at Patty with an especial kindliness in his eyes, and said gently:
"Miss Fairfield, may I see your card?"
Patty flushed a little and her eyes fell.
"Please don't talk like that," she said. "I'm not grown up, if I am dressed up. I'm only Patty, and if you call me anything else I'll run away."
"Don't run away," said Mr. Hepworth, still looking at her with that grave kindliness that seemed to have about it a touch of sadness. "I will call you Patty as long as you will stay with me."
Then Patty smiled again, quite her own merry little self, and gave him her card, saying:
"Put your name down a lot of times, please; you are a beautiful dancer, and I like best to dance with the people I know best."
"I wish I had a rubber stamp," said Mr. Hepworth; "it's very fatiguing to write one's name on every line."
"Oh, good gracious!" cried Patty, "don't take them all. I want to save a lot for Frank and Ken—"
"And your father," said Mr. Hepworth.
"Papa? He doesn't dance—at least, I never saw him."
"But he did dance that last waltz, with Miss Allen."
"With Nan? Well, then, I rather think he can dance with his own daughter. Don't take any more; I want all the rest for him, and please take me to him."
"Here he comes now. Mr. Fairfield, your daughter wishes a word with you."
"Papa Fairfield!" exclaimed Patty, "you never told me you could dance!"
"You never asked me; you took it for granted that I was too old to frisk around the ballroom."
"And aren't you?" asked Patty teasingly.
"Try me and see," said her father, as he took her card.
The trial proved very satisfactory, and Patty declared that she must have inherited her own taste for dancing from her father.
The evening passed all too swiftly. Pretty Patty, with her merry ways and graceful manners, was a real belle, and Aunt Alice was besieged by requests for introductions to her niece and daughter. But Marian, though a sweet and charming girl, had a certain shyness which always kept her from becoming an immediate favourite. Patty's absolute lack of self-consciousness and her ready friendliness made her popular at once.
Mr. Fairfield and Nan Allen were speaking of this, as they stood out on the veranda and looked at Patty through the window.
"She's the most perfect combination," Miss Allen was saying, "of the child and the girl. She has none of the silly affectations of young-ladyhood, and yet she has in her nature all the elements that go to make a wise and sensible woman."
"I think you're right," said Mr. Fairfield, as he looked fondly at his daughter. "She is growing up just as I want her to, and developing the traits I most want her to possess. A frank simplicity of manner, a happy, fun-loving disposition, and a gentle, unselfish soul."
Meantime Patty and Mr. Hepworth were sitting on the stairs.
"Now my cup of happiness is full," remarked Patty. "I have always thought it must be perfect bliss to sit on the stairs at a party. I don't know why, I'm sure, but all the information I have gathered from art and literature have led me to consider it the height of earthly joy."
"And is it proving all your fancy painted it?" asked Mr. Hepworth, who was sitting a step below.
"Yes—that is, it's almost perfect."
"And what is the lacking element?"
"Oh, I wouldn't like to tell you," said Patty, and Mr. Hepworth was not quite certain whether her confusion were real or simulated.
"May I guess?" he asked.
"Yes, if you'll promise not to guess true," said Patty. "If you did, I should be overcome with blushing embarrassment."
"But I am going to guess, and if I guess true I will promise to go and bring you the element that will complete your happiness."
"That sounds so tempting," said Patty, "that now I hope you will guess true. What is the missing joy?"
"Kenneth Harper," said Mr. Hepworth, looking at Patty curiously.
Without a trace of a blush Patty broke into gay laughter.
"Oh, you are ridiculous!" she said. "I have you here, why should I want him?"
"Then what is it you do want?" and Mr. Hepworth looked away as he evaded her question.
"Since you make me confess my very prosaic desires, I'll own up that I'd like a strawberry ice."
"Well, that's just what I'm dying for myself," said Mr. Hepworth gaily; "and if you'll reserve this orchestra chair for me, I'll go and forage for it. It looks almost impossible to get through that crowd, but I'll return either with my shield or on it. Unless you'd rather I'd send Harper back with the ice?"
"Do just as you please," said Patty, with a sudden touch of coquetry in her smiling eyes; "it doesn't matter a bit to me."
But though a willing messenger, Mr. Hepworth found it impossible to accomplish his errand with any degree of rapidity, and when he returned, successful but tardy, he found young Harper waiting where he had left Patty.
"She's gone off to dance with Frank Elliott," explained the boy cheerfully, "and she said you and I could divide the ices between us."
"All right," said the artist; "here's your share."
The next morning Patty, Nan, and Marian went down to the beach for a quiet chat.
"Let's shake everybody," said Patty, "and just go off by ourselves. I'm tired of a lot of people."
"You're becoming such a belle, Patty," said Nan, "that I'm afraid you'll be bothered with a lot of people the rest of your life."
"No, I won't," said Patty. "Lots of people are all very well when you want them, but I'm going to cultivate a talent for getting rid of them when you don't want them."
"Can you cultivate a talent, if you have only a taste to start with?" said Marian, with more seriousness than Patty's careless remark seemed to call for.
"If you have the least little scrap of a mustard-seed of taste, and plenty of will-power, you can cultivate all the talents you want," said Patty, with the air of an oracle, "Why, what do you want to do now, Marian?"
Marian's ambitions were a good deal of a joke in the Elliott family. At one time she had determined to become a musician, and had spent, unsuccessfully, many hours and much money in her endeavours, but at last she was obliged to admit that her talents did not lie in that direction. Later on she had tried painting, and notwithstanding discouraging results, she had felt sure of her artistic ability for a long time, until at last she had proved to her own satisfaction that she was not meant to make pictures; and now, when she asked the above question in a serious tone, Patty felt sure that some new scheme was fermenting in her cousin's brain.
"What's up, Marian?" she said. "Out with it, and we'll promise to help you, if it's only by wise discouragement."
"I think," said Marian, unmoved by her cousin's attitude, "I think I should like to be an author."
"Do," said Patty; "that's the best line you've struck yet, because it's the cheapest. You see, Nan, when Marian goes in for painting and sculpture and music, her whims cost Uncle Charley fabulous sums of money. But this new scheme is great! The outlay for a fountain pen and a few sheets of stamps can't be so very much, and the scheme will keep you out of other mischief all winter."
"It does sound attractive," said Nan. "Tell us more about it. Are you going to write books or stories?"
"Books," said Marian calmly.
"Lovely!" cried Patty. "Do two at once, won't you? So you can dedicate one to Nan and one to me at the same time; I won't share my dedication with anybody."
"You can laugh all you like," said Marian; "I don't mind a speck, for I'm sure I can do it; I've been talking to Miss Fischer, she's written lots of books, you know, and stories, too, and she says it's awfully easy if you have a taste for it."
"Of course it is," said Patty; "that's just what I told you. If you have a taste—good taste, you know—and plenty of will-power and stamps, you can write anything you want to; and I believe you'll do it. Go in and win, Marian! You can put me in your book, if you want to."
"Willpower isn't everything, Patty," said Nan, whose face had assumed a curious and somewhat wistful look; "at least, it may be in literature, but it won't do all I want it to."
"What do you want, girlie?" said Patty. "I never knew you had an ungratified ambition gnawing at your heart-strings."
"Well, I have; I want to be a singer."
"You do sing beautifully," said Marian. "I've heard you."
"Yes, but I mean a great singer."
"On the stage?" inquired Patty.
"Yes, or in concerts; I don't care where, but I mean to sing wonderfully; to sing as I feel I could sing, if I had the opportunity."
"You mean a musical education and foreign study and all those things?" said Patty.
"Yes," said Nan.
"But after all that you might fail," said Marian, remembering her own experiences.
"Yes, I might, and probably I should. It's only a dream, you know, but we were talking about ambitions, and that's mine."
"And can't you accomplish it?"
"I don't see how I can; my parents are very much opposed to it. They hate anything like a public career, and they think I sing quite well enough now without further instructions."
"I think so, too," said Patty. "I'd rather hear you sing those quaint little songs of yours than to hear the most elaborate trills and frills that any prima donna ever accomplished."
"Your opinion is worth a great deal to me, Patty, as a friend, but technically, I can't value it so highly."
"Of course, I don't know much about music," said Patty, quite unabashed; "but papa thinks so too. He said your voice is the sweetest voice he ever heard."
"Did he?" said Nan.
"What is your ambition, Patty?" said Marian, after a moment's pause. "Nan and I have expressed ourselves so frankly you might tell us yours."
"My ambition?" said Patty. "Why, I never thought of it before, but I don't believe I have any. I feel rather ashamed, for I suppose every properly equipped young woman ought to have at least one ambition, and I don't seem to have a shadow of one. Really great ones, I mean. Of course, I can sing a little; not much, but it seems to be enough for me. And I can play a little on the piano and on the banjo, and I suppose it's shocking; but really I don't care to play any better than I do. I can't paint, and I can't write stories, but I don't want to do either."
"You can keep house," said Marian.
Patty's eyes lighted up.
"Yes," she said; "isn't it ridiculous? But I do really believe that's my ambition. To keep house just perfectly, you know, and have everything go not only smoothly but happily."
"You ought to have been a chatelaine of the fourteenth century," said Nan.
"Yes," said Patty eagerly; "that's just my ambition. What a pity it's looking backward instead of forward. But I would love to live in a great stone castle, all my own, with a moat and drawbridge and outriders, and go around in a damask gown with a pointed bodice and big puffy sleeves and a ruff and a little cap with pearls on it, and a bunch of keys jingling at my side."
"They usually carry the keys in a basket," observed Marian; "and you forgot to mention the falcon on your wrist."
"So I did," said Patty, "but I think the falcon would be a regular nuisance while I was housekeeping, so I'd put him in the basket, and set it up on the mantelpiece, and keep my keys jingling from my belt."
"Well, it seems," said Nan, "that Patty has more hopes of realising her ambition than either of us."
"Speak for yourself," said Marian.
"I think I have," said Patty. "I have all the keys I want, and I'm quite sure papa would buy me a falcon if I asked him to."
AN AFTERNOON DRIVE
The next Saturday Mr. Fairfield proposed that they all go for a drive to Allaire.
"What's Allaire?" said Patty.
"It's a deserted village," replied her father. "The houses are empty, the old mill is silent, the streets are overgrown; in fact, it's nothing but a picturesque ruin of a once busy hamlet."
"They say it's a lovely drive," said Nan. "I've always wanted to go there."
"The boys will be down by noon," said Mr. Elliott, "and we can get off soon after luncheon. Do you suppose, Fred, we can get conveyances enough for our large and flourishing family?"
"We can try," said Mr. Fairfield. "I'll go over to the stables now and see what I can secure."
On his return he found that Hepworth, Kenneth, and Frank had arrived.
"Well, Saturday's children," he said, "I'm glad to see you. I always know it's the last day of the week when this illustrious trio bursts upon my vision."
"We're awfully glad to burst," said Frank; "and we hope your vision can stand it."
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Fairfield; "the sight of you is good for the eyes. And now I'll tell you the plans for the afternoon."
"What luck did you have with the carriages, papa?" asked impatient Patty.
"That's what I'm about to tell you, my child, if you'll give me half a chance. I secured four safe, and more or less commodious, vehicles."
"Four!" exclaimed Marian. "We'll be a regular parade."
"Shall we have a band?" asked Nan.
"Of course," said Kenneth; "and a fife-and-drum corps besides."
"You won't need that," said Patty, "for there'll be no 'Girl I Left Behind Me.' We're all going."
"Of course we're all going," said Mr. Fair-field; "and as we shall have one extra seat, you can invite some girl who otherwise would be left behind."
"If Frank doesn't mind," said Patty, with a mischievous glance at her cousin, "I'd like to ask Miss Kitty Nelson."
They all laughed, for Frank's admiration for the charming Kitty was an open secret.
Frank blushed a little, but he held his own and said:
"Are they all double carriages, Uncle Fred?"
"No, my boy; there are two traps and two victorias."
"All right, then, I'll take one of the traps and drive Miss Nelson."
"Bravo, boy! if you don't see what you want, ask for it. Miss Allen, will you trust yourself to me in the other trap?"
"With great pleasure, Mr. Fairfield," replied Nan; "and please appreciate my amiability, for I think they're most jolty and uncomfortable things to ride in."
"I speak for a seat in one of the victorias," said Aunt Alice; "and I think it wise to get my claim in quickly, as the bids are being made so rapidly."
"I don't care how I go," said Patty, "or what I go in. I'm so amiable, a child can play with me to-day. I'll go in a wheelbarrow, if necessary."
"I had hoped to drive you over myself," said Mr. Hepworth, who sat next to her, speaking in a low tone; "but I'll push you in a wheelbarrow, if you prefer."
"You go with me, Patty, in one of the traps, won't you?" said Kenneth, who sat on the veranda railing at her other side.
Patty's face took on a comical smile of amusement at these two requests, but she answered both at once by merrily saying:
"Then it all adjusts itself. Mr. and Mrs. Allen and Mr. and Mrs. Elliott shall have the most comfortable carriage, and Marian and Mr. Hepworth and Ken and I will go in the other."
That seemed to be the, best possible arrangement, and about three o'clock the procession started.
Patty and Marian took the back seat of the open carriage, Mr. Hepworth and Kenneth Harper sat facing them.
As Marian had already become very much interested in her new fad of authorship, and as under Miss Fischer's tuition she was rapidly developing into a real little blue-stocking, it is not strange that the conversation turned in that direction.
"I looked in all the bookshops in the city for your latest works, Miss Marian," said Mr. Hepworth, "but they must have been all sold out, for I couldn't find any."
"Too bad," said Marian. "I'm afraid you'll have to wait until a new edition is printed."
"You're not to tease Marian," said Patty reprovingly. "She's been as patient as an angel under a perfect storm of chaff, and I'm not going to allow any more of it."
"I don't mind," said Marian. "I think, if one is really in earnest, one oughtn't to be annoyed by good-natured fun."
"Quite right," said Kenneth; "and ambition, if it's worth anything, ought to rise above comment of any sort."
"It ought to be strengthened by comment of any sort," said Mr. Hepworth.
"Of any sort?" asked Marian thoughtfully.
"Yes, for comment always implies recognition, and that in itself means progress."
"Have you an ambition, Mr. Hepworth?" said Patty suddenly. "But you have already achieved yours. You are a successful artist."
"A man may have more than one ambition," said Mr. Hepworth slowly, "and I have not achieved my dearest one."
"I suppose you want to paint even better than you do," said Patty.
"Yes," said the artist, smiling a little, "I hope I shall always want to paint better than I do. What's your ambition, Harper?"
"To build bridges," said Kenneth. "I'm going to be a civil engineer, but my ambition is to be a bridge-builder. And I'll get there yet," he added, with a determined nod of his head.
"I think you will," said Mr. Hepworth, "and I'm sure I hope so."
Then the talk turned to lighter themes than ambition, and merry laughter and jest filled up the miles to Allaire.
All were delighted with the place. Aside from the picturesque ruined buildings and the eerie mysterious-looking old mill, there was a novel interest in the strange silent air of desertion that seemed to invest the place with an almost palpable loneliness.
"I don't like it," said Patty. "Come on, let's go home."
But to Marian's more romantic imagination it all seemed most attractive, so different was her temperament from that of her sunshiny, merry-hearted cousin.
At last they did go home, and Patty chattered gaily all the way in order, as she said, to drive away the musty recollections of that forlorn old place.
"How did you like it, Nan?" she asked, when they were all back at the hotel.
"I thought it beautiful," said Nan, smiling.
That evening there was a small informal dance in the parlours. Not a large hop, like the one given the week before, but Patty declared the small affair was just as much fun as the other.
"I always have all the fun I can possibly hold, anyway," she said; "and what more can anybody have?"
Toward the close of the evening Mr. Fairfield came up to Patty, who was sitting, with a crowd of merry young people, in a cosey corner of the veranda.
"Patty," he said, "don't you want to come for a little stroll on the board walk?"
"Yes, of course I do," said Patty, wondering a little, but always ready to go with her father. "Is Nan going?"
"No, I just want you," said Mr. Fairfield.
"All right," said Patty, "I'm glad to go."
They joined the crowd of promenaders on the board walk, and as they passed Patty's favourite bit of beach she said:
"That's where we girls sit and talk about our ambitions."
"Yes, so I've heard," said Mr. Fairfield. "And what are your ambitions, baby?"
"Oh, mine aren't half so grand and gorgeous as the other girls'. They want to do great things, like singing in grand opera and writing immortal books and things like that."
"And your modest ambition is to be a good housekeeper, isn't it?"
"Well, yes, papa; but not only that. I was thinking about it afterward by myself, and I think that the housekeeping is the practical part of it—and that's a good big part too—but what I really want to be is a lovely, good, womanly woman, like Aunt Alice, you know. I don't believe she ever wanted to write books or paint pictures."
"No she never did," said Mr. Fairfield, "and I quite agree with you that her ambitions are just as high and noble as those others you mentioned."
"Well, I'm glad you think so, papa, for I was afraid I might seem to you very small and petty to have all my ambitions bounded by the four walls of my own home."
"No, Patty, girl, I think those are far better than unbounded ambitions, far more easily realised, and will bring you greater and better happiness. But don't you see, my child, that the very fact of your having a talent—which you certainly have—for housekeeping and home-making, implies that some day, in the far future, I hope, you will go away from me and make a home of your own?"
"Very likely I shall, papa; but that's so far in the future that it's not worth while bothering about it now."
"But I'm going to bother about it now to a certain extent. Do you realise that when this does come to pass, be it ever so far hence, that you're going to leave your poor old father all alone, and that, too, after I have so carefully brought you up for the express purpose of making a home for me?"
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" said Patty, who was by no means taking her father's remarks seriously.
"Do? Why, I'm going to do just this. I'm going to get somebody else to keep my house for me, and I'm going to get her now, so that I'll have her ready against the time you leave me."
Patty turned, and by the light of an electric lamp which they were passing, saw the smile on her father's face, and with a sudden intuition she exclaimed:
"Yes," replied her father, "Nan. How do you like it?"
"Like it?" exclaimed Patty. "I love it! I think it's perfectly gorgeous! I'm just as delighted as I can be! How does Nan like it?"
"She seems delighted too," said Mr. Fairfield, smiling.