"Is it very old?"
"Yes, older than the house. You know the Cromartys have lived on this estate for several hundred years. But the original house was destroyed by fire, or nearly so, and the present house was built on the old foundations about the middle of the seventeenth century. If you're interested in these things, there are lots of books in the library, telling all about the history of the place."
"Indeed I am interested, and I shall look up the books, if you'll tell me what they are. Is there any legend or tradition connected with the place?"
"No. We have no ghosts at Cromarty Manor. We've always been a peaceful sort, except that my great uncle quarrelled with my grandfather."
"Mrs. Cromarty's husband?"
"Yes. He was Roger Cromarty—grandfather was, I mean—and he had a brother Marmaduke. They were both high-tempered, and Marmaduke after an unusually fierce quarrel left home and went to India. But have you never heard the story of the Cromarty Fortune?"
"No, I never have. Is it a sad story? Would you rather not tell me?"
"Why, no; it isn't a sad story, except that the conditions are rather sad for us. But there's no reason in the world why you shouldn't hear it, if you care to. Indeed, I supposed Mabel had already told it you."
"No, she never did. Will you?"
"Yes. But not here. Let us go in, and get the family all together, and we'll give you a dramatic recital of the Great Cromarty Mystery."
"Oh, is it a mystery story? How delightful. I love a mystery."
"I'm glad you do, but I assure you I wish it wasn't a mystery."
"Will it never be solved?"
"I fear not, now. But let us go back to the house, and tell the tale as it should be told."
They found that the others had already gone into the house, and were gathered round the big table that stood in the middle of the living room. As they joined the group, Sinclair said:
"Before we play games this evening, we are going to tell Patty the story of Uncle Marmaduke's money."
Patty was surprised to note the different expressions on her friends' faces. Mabel seemed to shrink into herself, as if in embarrassment or sensitiveness. Mrs. Cromarty looked calmly proud, and Mrs. Hartley smiled a little.
But Bob laughed outright, and said:
"Good! I'll help; we'll all help, and we'll touch up the tale until it has all the dramatic effect of a three-volume novel."
"It won't need touching up," said Sinclair. "Just the plain truth is story enough of itself."
"You begin it, Grandy," said Bob, "and then, when your imagination gives out, I'll take a hand at it."
The old lady smiled.
"It needs no imagination, Robert," she said; "if Patty cares to hear of our family misfortune, I'm quite willing to relate the tale."
"Oh, I didn't know it was a misfortune," cried Patty. "I thought it was a mystery story."
"It's both," said Mrs. Cromarty, "but if the mystery could be solved, it would be no misfortune."
"That sounds like an enigma," observed Patty.
"It's all an enigma," said Bob. "Go ahead, Grandy."
"The story begins," said Mrs. Cromarty, "with my marriage to Roger Cromarty. I was wed in the year 1855. My husband and I were happy during the first few years of our married life. He was the owner of this beautiful place, which had been in his family for many generations. My daughter, Emmeline, was born here, and when she was a child she filled the old house with her happy laughter and chatter. My husband had a brother, Marmaduke, with whom he was not on good terms. Before my marriage, this brother had left home, and gone to India. My husband held no communication with him, but we sometimes heard indirectly from him, and reports always said that he was amassing great wealth in some Indian commerce."
"Is that his portrait?" asked Patty, indicating a painting of a fine-looking man in the prime of life.
"Yes," said Mrs. Cromarty. "But the picture represents him as looking amiable, whereas he was always cross, grumpy, and irritable."
"Like me," commented Bob.
"No," said his mother, "I'm thankful to say that none of you children show the slightest signs of Uncle Marmaduke's disposition. I was only fifteen years old when he died, but I shall never forget his scowling face and angry tones."
"Was he always cross?" asked Patty, amazed that any one could be invariably ill-tempered.
"Always," said Mrs. Cromarty. "At least, whenever he was here. I never saw him elsewhere."
"Go back, Grandy; you're getting ahead of your story."
"Well, I tried my best to bring about a reconciliation between the two brothers, but both were proud and a bit stubborn. I could not persuade my husband to write to Marmaduke, and though I wrote to him myself, my letters were torn up, and the scraps returned to me."
"Lovely old gentleman!" commented Bob. "I'm glad my manners are at least better than that!"
"At last, my husband, Mr. Roger Cromarty, became very ill. I knew he could not recover, and wrote Marmaduke to that effect. To my surprise, I received a grim, but fairly polite letter, saying that he would leave India at once, and hoped to reach his brother's bedside in time for a reconciliation."
"And did he?" asked Patty, breathlessly.
"Yes, but that was all. My husband was dying when his brother came. They made peace, however, and arranged some business matters."
"Oh," cried Patty, "how glad you must have been that he did not come too late. What a comfort all these years, to know that they did make up their quarrel."
"Yes, indeed," assented Mrs. Cromarty. "But I have talked all I can. Emmeline, you may take up the narrative."
"I'll tell a little," said Mrs. Hartley, smiling; "but I shall soon let Sinclair continue. We all know this tale by heart, but only Sinclair can do full justice to the mysterious part of it. I was only ten years old when my father died, and Uncle Marmaduke came here to live. It changed the whole world for me. Where before all had been happiness and love, now all was unkindness and fear. None of us dared cross Uncle Marmaduke, for his fiery anger was something not to be endured. And beside being bad-tempered, he was erratic. He did most peculiar things, without any reason in them whatever. Altogether, he was a most difficult man to live with. But at my father's death he owned this estate, and we had to live with him or go homeless. He had plenty of money, and he repaired and restored much about the place. But even in this he was erratic. He would have masons in to renew the crumbling plaster and brickwork in the cellars, while the drawing-room furniture could go ragged and forlorn. He spent his money freely for anything he wanted himself, but was niggardly toward mother and myself. However, he always told us that at his death we should inherit his wealth. The estate, also, he willed to mother. He lived with us for about five years, and then was killed by a fall from his horse. I was a girl of fifteen then, and when he was brought in, mangled and almost dead, he called for me. I went to his bedside, trembling, for even then I feared he was going to scold me. But he could only speak in hesitating, disjointed sentences. It was with difficulty I gathered that he was trying to give me some information about his fortune. I wish now I had tried to help him tell me; but at that time it seemed heartless to think of such things when the poor man was dying, and I soothed him, and begged him not to try to talk, when it was such an exertion."
"Oh, Mother," wailed Bob, "if you'd only listened, instead of talking yourself!"
Mrs. Hartley smiled, as if she were used to such comments at this part of the story.
"Well," she said, "I think Sinclair may take up the recital here. That is, if you're interested, Patty?"
"If I'm interested! Indeed I am! It's very exciting, and I want it all now; no 'continued in our next.'"
"We don't know the end, ourselves," said Mabel, with such a wistful look in her eyes that Patty went over and sat by her, and with her arm round her listened to the rest of the story.
"Well, then," said Sinclair, in his grave, kindly voice, "Uncle Marmaduke tried very hard to communicate to mother and Grandy something about his fortune. But his accident had somehow paralysed his throat, and he could scarcely articulate. But for an hour or more, as he lay dying, he would look at them with piercing glances, and say what sounded like dickens! gold!"
"Did he mean gold money?" asked Patty, impulsively.
"They didn't know, then. But they thought at the time that dickens! was one of his angry expletives, as he was given to such language. The gold, they felt sure, referred to his fortune, which he had always declared he would leave to Grandmother. Then he died, without being able to say any other except those two words, gold and dickens."
"He might have meant Charles Dickens," suggested Patty, who dearly loved to guess at a puzzle.
"As it turned out, he did," said Sinclair, serenely; "but that's ahead of the story."
"And, too," said Mrs. Hartley, "the way in which he finally articulated the word, by a great effort, and after many attempts, was so—so explosive, that it sounded like an ejaculation far more than like a noted author."
"Years went by," continued Sinclair, "and Grandy and mother were left with the old Cromarty estate, and nothing to keep it up with."
"We had a small income, my boy," said his grandmother.
"Yes, but not enough to keep the place as it should be kept. However, no trace could be found of Uncle Marmaduke's money. He was generally supposed to have brought a large fortune home from India, but it seemed to have vanished into thin air. His private papers and belongings showed no records of stocks or bonds, no bank books, and save for a small amount of ready money he had by him, he seemed to be penniless. Of course, he wasn't; the way he had lived, and the money he had spent indicated that he had a fortune somewhere; and, too, there was his promise to leave it to Grandy. Of course, the conclusion was that he had hidden this fortune."
"A hidden fortune!" exclaimed Patty, blissfully. "Oh, what a lovely mystery! Why, you couldn't have a better one!"
"I think a discovered fortune would be far better," said Mabel, and Patty clasped her friend's hand in sympathy.
"At last," said Sinclair, "a very bright lawyer had a glimmering of an idea that Uncle Marmaduke's last words had some meaning to them. He inquired of the ladies of the house, and learned that the late Mr. Marmaduke had been exceedingly fond of reading Dickens, and that he was greatly attached to his own well-worn set of the great author's works. 'Ah, ha!' said the very bright lawyer. 'Between those well-thumbed pages, we will find many Bank of England notes, or certificates of valuable stocks!' They flew to the library, and thoroughly searched all the volumes of the set. And what do you think they found?"
"Nothing," said Patty, wagging her head solemnly.
"Exactly that! Save for a book-marker here and there, the volumes held nothing but their own immortal stories. 'Foiled again!' hissed the very bright lawyer. But he kept right on being foiled, and still no hoard of securities was found."
"But what about the gold?" said Patty. "They didn't expect to find gold coins in Dickens' books?"
"No, but they fondly hoped they'd find a mysterious paper in cryptogram, like the 'Gold Bug,' you know, telling them to go out in the dark of the moon, and dig north by northwest under the old apple tree."
"Don't try to be funny, Clair," put in Bob; "go on with the yarn. You're telling it well to-night."
"And then," said Sinclair, looking from one to another of his interested hearers, "and then the years rolled by until the fair maiden, Emmeline Cromarty, was of sufficient age to have suitors for her lily-white hand. As we can well believe, after a mere glance in her direction, she was the belle of the whole countryside. Brave gallants from far and near came galloping into the courtyard, and dismounting in feverish, haste, cried, 'What ho! is the radiant Emmeline within?' Then the old warden with his clanking keys admitted them, and they stood in rows, that the coquettish damsel might make a selection."
"How ridiculous you are, Sinclair!" said his mother, smiling. "Can't you omit that part?"
"Nay, nay, fair lady. And so, it came to pass, that among the shoals of suitors was one who was far more brave and strong and noble than all the rest. Edgar Hartley——"
Sinclair's voice broke a little as he spoke the name of his revered father. But hiding his emotion, he went on.
"Edgar Hartley wooed and won Emmeline Cromarty, and in the beautiful June of 1880 they were wed and merrily rang the bells. Now while Edgar Hartley was by no means wealthy, he had a fair income, and the fortunes of Cromarty Manor improved. The young couple took up their abode here, and the Dowager Duchess of Cromarty lived with them."
"I'm not a Duchess," interposed Mrs. Cromarty, in her calm way.
"You ought to have been, Grandy," declared Bob. "You look the part, and I'm sure there's a missing title somewhere that belongs to you. Perhaps Uncle Marmaduke concealed it with the rest of his fortune."
"No, dear boy; we are not titled people. But the Cromartys are an old family, and much beloved and respected by all the country round."
"We are so!" declared Bob, with great enthusiasm.
"As I was saying," continued Sinclair, "Mr. and Mrs. Hartley lived happily at Cromarty Manor. Three beautiful children were born to them, who have since grown to be the superior specimens of humanity you see before you. I am the oldest, and, as I may modestly remark, the flower of the family."
"Oh, I don't know," commented Patty, looking affectionately at Mabel.
"Well, anyway, as was only natural, the search for that hidden fortune went on at times. Perhaps a visitor would stir up the interest afresh, and attempts would be made to discover new meaning in Uncle Marmaduke's last words. And it was my father who succeeded in doing this. He sat in the library one day, looking over the old set of Dickens' works, which always had a fascinating air of holding the secret. He had not lived here long then, and was not very familiar with the books on the library shelves, but looking about he discovered another set of Dickens, a much newer set, and the volumes were bound in cloth, but almost entirely covered by a gilded decoration. Wait, I'll show you one."
Sinclair rose, and going into the library, returned in a moment with a copy of "Barnaby Rudge." It was bound in green cloth, but so ornate was the gold tooling that little green could be seen.
"Dickens—gold——" murmured Patty, her eyes shining as she realised the new meaning in the words.
"Yes; and, sure enough that was what Uncle Marmaduke meant. Just think! For fifteen years that set of books had stood untouched on the shelves, while people nearly wore out the older set, hunting for a clue to the fortune!"
"It's great!" declared Patty; "go on!"
"Well, this set of Dickens proved extremely interesting. Between the leaves of the books were papers of all sorts. Bills, deeds, banknotes, memoranda, and even a will."
"Then you had the fortune, at last?"
"No such luck. The banknotes and the few securities in the books amounted to a fair sum, which was gratefully appreciated by my parents, but as to the bulk of the fortune, it only made matters more tantalising than ever."
"Why?" asked Patty.
"One of the papers was a will, properly executed and witnessed, leaving all the fortune of which Uncle Marmaduke died possessed, to my mother. Then, instead of a definite statement of where this money was deposited, were some foolish jingles hinting where to find it. These rhymes would be interesting as an old legend, or in a story book, but to find them instead of a heap of money, was, to say the least, disappointing."
"And did you never find the money?"
"Never. And, of course, now we never will. Remember all this happened twenty years ago. I mean the discovery of the papers. Of course, the money was hidden more than thirty-five years ago."
"And do you mean to say that you people are living here, in your own house, and your own money is hidden here somewhere, and you can't find it?"
"Exactly as you state it."
"Well! I'd find it, if I had to tear the whole house down."
"Wait a minute, Miss Impetuosity. We don't think it's in the house."
"Oh, out of doors?"
"You're good at puzzles, I know, but just wait until you hear the directions that came with the package, and I think you'll admit it's a hopeless problem."
"May she see them, Mother?" said Mabel. "Will you get them out for us?"
"Not to-night, dear. I'll show the old papers to Patty, some other time; but now Sinclair can tell her the lines just as well."
"Of all the papers in the books," Sinclair went on, "only two seemed to be directions for finding the money, although others vaguely hinted that the fortune was concealed. And still others gave the impression that Uncle Marmaduke meant to tell mother all about it; but as his death came upon him so suddenly, of course he could not do this. On these two papers are rhymes, which we children have known by heart all our lives. One is:
"'Great treasure lieth in the poke Between the fir trees and the oak.'
"You see uncle was a true poet."
"What does the poke mean?" asked Patty.
"Oh, a poke is a pocket; or a hiding-place of any sort. Of course, this information sent father to digging around every fir tree and oak tree on the place. As you know, there are hundreds of both kinds of trees, so the directions can't be called explicit."
"But," said Patty, wrinkling her brow, "it says 'between the fir trees and the oak,' as if it meant a clump of firs and only one big oak."
"Yes; that's what has been surmised. And many a separate oak tree that stands near a group of firs has been thoroughly investigated. But wait; there's another clue. On a separate paper these words are written:
"'Above the stair, across the hall, Between the bedhead and the wall, A careful searching will reveal The noble fortune I conceal.'
"There, could anything be plainer than that?"
"Then the money is in the house!" exclaimed Patty.
"Take your choice. There are the two declarations. It may be he concealed the money in one place, and then transferred it to another. Or it may be he put part in the ground, and part in the house."
"But, 'between the bedhead and the wall,' is so definite. There are not so very many bedrooms, you know."
"True enough. And of course, when my father found that paper, he went directly upstairs, crossed the hall, and so reached Uncle Marmaduke's own bedroom. The furniture had been moved about, but Grandy remembered where the head of the bed stood in Uncle's time. They searched thoroughly, took up flooring, took down wainscoting, and all that, to no avail."
"Of course, they tried other 'bedheads'?"
"Yes, tell her about it, Grandy."
"Yes," said Mrs. Cromarty, placidly. "All the bedrooms in the house, even the servants' rooms, were subjected to most careful scrutiny. Although so many years had elapsed, I could remember where the various beds stood when Marmaduke was with us. Behind each, we had the walls sounded, and in some cases, broken into. We even looked for pockets or receptacles of some sort on the backs of the headboards themselves, but never a trace of anything could we find."
"It's very exciting!" said Patty; "how can you all be so calm about it? I should think you'd be searching every minute!"
"You must remember, dear," said Mrs. Hartley, "it's an old story to us. At first, we were indeed excited. For several years we searched almost continuously. Then hope began to fail, and our investigations became intermittent. Every now and then we would make a fresh attempt, but invariably repeated failures dampened our enthusiasm."
"It's so interesting," sighed Patty. "Can't we get up a little of the old enthusiasm, and do some searching while I'm here?"
"Indeed, we can," cried Bob. "Would you prefer an excavating party, with picks and spades, or an indoor performance in the old bedrooms?"
"Both," declared Patty. "Of course I know how absurd it is to go over the ground that has already been worn threadbare, but—but, oh! if we could find it!"
Grandma Cromarty smiled.
"Forgive me, dearie," she said, "but I've heard those sentiments from all my guests to whom we have told the story, for the past thirty-five years; and though I don't want to seem ungrateful for your interest, I feel it my duty to warn you there is no hope."
"Oh, yes there is hope, Grandy," said Sinclair, "but there is nothing else. There's no probability, scarcely a possibility, but we'll never give up hope."
"Never!" agreed Bob; but Mabel's expression plainly showed that she hadn't the faintest glimmering of a hope.
"It does seem so strange," said Patty, thoughtfully, "to have the two directions, and both so explicit. No, not explicit, they're not that, but both so definite."
"Hardly definite, either," said Bob, "except that they seem to reveal the fact that there is a fortune concealed about the place. Oh! it makes me frantic! I feel so helpless."
"There's no use storming about it, Bob, my boy," said his mother. "And, Patty, you mustn't set us down as too mercenary in this matter. But I think you know that we, as a family, long for the means which would enable us to keep up this dear old place as it should be, and not let its beautiful parks and gardens go uncared for and neglected."
"I do know!" cried Patty; "and it makes me furious to think that the money—your own money—is perhaps within your reach, and yet—you can't get it! Oh, why didn't Mr. Marmaduke say just where he put it!"
"He did," said Bob, smiling.
"Yes, so he did. Well, I'd tear up every square foot of ground on the whole estate, then."
"Remember, Patty," said Sinclair, in his quiet way, "there are nearly ten thousand acres in all; and except for meadowlands and water, there are oaks and firs on nearly every acre. The fortune itself would scarcely pay for all that labour."
"Well, then, I'd tear the house to pieces."
"Oh, no you wouldn't," said Mrs. Hartley; "and beside, that has almost been done. My husband had so much of the woodwork and plaster removed, that I almost feared he would bring the house down about our ears. And it is such a big, rambling old place, it is hopeless to think of examining it really thoroughly."
Patty glanced around at the great hall she was in. The groined ceiling, with its intricate carvings at the intersections; the cornice carved in deep relief, with heraldic bosses, and massive patterns; the tall columns and pilasters; all seemed part of an old monument which it would be desecration to break into.
"I wonder where it is," she said; "indoors or out."
"I think it's out of doors," said Sinclair. "I think uncle hid it in the house first, and then wrote his exquisite poem about the poke. Perhaps it was merely a pocket of leather or canvas, that hung behind the headboard of his own bed. In that case all prying into the walls would mean nothing. Then, I think, as that was only a temporary hiding-place, he later buried it in the ground between some special oak tree and fir tree, or trees. I think, too, he left, or meant to leave some more of his poetry to tell which trees, but owing to his sudden taking off, he didn't do this."
"Sinclair," said Bob, "as our American friend, Mr. Dooley, says, 'Yer opinions is inthrestin', but not convincin'.' As opinions, they're fine; but I wish I had some facts. If uncle had only left a cryptogram or a cipher, I'd like it better than all that rhymed foolishness."
"Perhaps it isn't foolishness," said Patty; "I think, with Sinclair, it's likely Mr. Marmaduke wrote the indoor one first, and then changed the hiding-place and wrote the other. But how could he do all this hiding and rehiding without being seen?"
"I went up to London every season," said Mrs. Cromarty; "and, of course, took Emmeline with me. Marmaduke always stayed here, and thus had ample opportunity to do what he would. Indeed, he usually had great goings-on while we were away. One year, he had the Italian garden laid out. Another year, he had a new porter's lodge built. This was done the last year of his life, and as he had masons around so much at that time, repairing the cellars and all that, we thought later, that he might have had a hiding-place arranged in the wall behind the head of his bed. But, if so, we never could find it."
"And have you dug under the trees much?" persisted Patty, who could not accept the hopelessness of the others.
"Dug!" exclaimed Bob, "I've blistered my hands by the hour. I've viewed fir trees and oaks, until I know every one on the place by heart. I've trudged a line from oaks to firs, and starting in the middle, I've dug both ways. But I'm nearly ready to give up. Not quite, though. I'm making a thorough search of all the books in the library, on the chance of finding some other message. But there are such a lot of books! I've been at it for three years now, off and on, and I'm only three-quarters way round. And not a paper yet, except a few old letters and bills."
"I'll help you, Bob," said Patty; "oh, I'd love to do something toward the search, even if I don't find a thing. I'll begin to-morrow. You tell me what books you've done."
"I will, indeed. I'll be jolly glad to have help. And you can do as much as you like, before your young enthusiasm wears off."
"I'll do it, gladly," said Patty, and then they discovered that the evening had flown away, and it was bedtime.
As they went upstairs, Mabel followed Patty to her room and sat down for a little good-night chat.
Patty's eyes were shining with excitement, and as she took off her hair ribbon, and folded it round her hand, she said:
"Even if we don't find anything, you'll be no worse off, and it's such fun to hunt."
"They didn't tell you all, Patty," said Mabel, in a pathetic tone, and Patty turned quickly to her friend.
"Why, what do you mean?"
"I mean this. Of course, we've never been rich, and we've never been able to do for the place what ought to be done for it; but we have been able to live here. And now—now, if we can't get any more money, we—we can't stay here! Oh, Patty!"
Patty's arms went round Mabel, as the poor child burst into tears.
"Yes," she said, sobbing, "some of mother's business interests have failed—it's all come on lately, I don't entirely understand it—but, anyway, we may soon have to leave Cromarty, and oh, Patty, how could we live anywhere else? and what's worse, how could we have any one else living here?"
"Leave Cromarty Manor! Where you've all lived so long—I mean your ancestors and all! Why, Mabel, you can't do that!"
"But we'll have to. We haven't money enough to pay the servants—or, at least, we won't have, soon."
"Are you sure of all this, dear? Does Mrs. Cromarty expect to go away?"
"It's all uncertain. We don't know. But mother's lawyer thinks we'd better sell or let the place. Of course we won't sell it, but it would be almost as bad to let it. Think of strangers here!"
"I can't think of such a thing! It seems impossible. But perhaps matters may turn out better than you think. Perhaps you won't have to go."
"That's what Sinclair says—and mother. But I'm sure the worst will happen."
"Now, Mabel, stop that! I won't let you look on the dark side. And, anyway, you're not to think any more about it to-night. You won't sleep a wink if you get nervous and worried. Now put it out of your mind, and let's talk about the croquet party to-morrow at Grace Meredith's. How are we going over?"
"You and I are to drive in the pony cart, and the others will go in the carriage."
"That will be lovely. Now, what shall we wear?"
Thus, tactfully, Patty led Mabel's thoughts away from her troubles, for the time, at least, and when the two friends parted for the night, they both went healthily and happily to sleep.
THE CROQUET PARTY
The next afternoon the two girls started in the pony cart for the Merediths.
Patty loved to play croquet, and though it greatly amused her to hear the English people pronounce the word as if it were spelled croky, yet not to appear peculiar, she spoke it that way too.
The party was a large one, and the games were arranged somewhat after the fashion of a tournament.
Patty's partner was Tom Meredith, and as he played a fairly good game they easily beat their first opponents.
But later on they found themselves matched against Mabel Hartley and a young man named Jack Stanton. Mr. Stanton was an expert, and Mabel played the best game Patty had ever seen a girl play.
"It's no use," said Patty, good-naturedly, as they began the game, "Tom and I never can win against you two."
"Don't despair," said Tom, encouragingly, "There's many a slip, you know."
The game progressed until, when Tom and Patty were about three-quarters of the way around, Mabel was passing through her last wicket and Mr. Stanton was a "rover."
"Be careful, now," said Mr. Stanton, as Mabel aimed to send her ball through the arch. "It's a straight shot, and a long shot, and you're liable to touch the post."
And that's just what happened. As Mabel's swift, clear stroke sent the ball straight through the wicket, it went spinning on and hit squarely the home stake.
"Jupiter! that's bad luck!" exclaimed Jack Stanton. "They'll jolly well beat us now. But never mind, perhaps I can slip through yet."
But he couldn't. The fact that they had two plays to his one, gave Patty and Tom a great advantage.
Tom was a clever manager, and Patty followed his directions implicitly. So they played a defensive game, and spent much time keeping Stanton's ball away from the positions he desired. The result was that Tom and Patty won, but their success was really owing to Mabel's mistake in going out.
The test was to win two games out of three, so with one game in favor of Patty's side they began the next.
Patty was considered a good croquet player in America, but in England the rules of the game, as well as the implements, were so different that it seriously impeded her progress.
The wickets were so narrow that the ball could barely squeeze through if aimed straight, and a side shot through one was impossible.
But all this added to the zest, and it was four very eager young people who strove for the victory.
The second game went easily to Mabel and Jack Stanton, and then the third, the decisive one, was begun. According to the laws of the tournament, this was the final game. The opponents had already vanquished all the other contestants, and now, pitted against each other, were playing for the prize.
Patty knew in her heart she would be glad to have Mabel win it, and yet, so strong was her love of games, and so enthusiastic her natural desire to succeed, that she tried her best to beat the third game.
All played conservatively. The partners kept together, and progressed evenly. Toward the last Jack and Mabel began to creep ahead. Tom saw this, and said to Patty: "This is our last chance; if we plod on like this, they'll calmly walk out and leave us. Unless we can make a brilliant dash of some sort, we are beaten."
"I don't believe I can," said Patty, looking doubtfully at her ball. "It's my turn, and unless I can hit Mabel's ball, clear across the grounds, I can't do anything."
"That's just it. You must hit Mabel's ball."
So Patty aimed carefully, and sent her ball spinning over the ground toward Mabel's, and missed it by a hair's breadth!
"Goody!" cried Mabel, and hitting Patty's ball, she roqueted it back where it had come from.
"Now here's our very lastest chance," said Tom, with a groan of despair. "And I'm sure, Patty, I won't do any better than you did."
Nor did he. Although not far from Jack's ball, at which he aimed, there was a wicket in the way, which sent his own ball glancing off at an angle, and he did not hit his opponent.
A minute more, and Jack skilfully sent Mabel's ball and then his own against the home stake, and the game was over.
The onlookers crowded up and congratulated the winners, and offered condolence to Patty and Tom. Patty smiled, and responded merrily. She did not try to lay the blame on the unusual shaped wickets, or short, heavy mallets. She declared that the best players had won, and that she was satisfied. And indeed she was.
When she saw the lovely prize that was given to Mabel, she was deeply thankful that she hadn't won it. It was a white parasol, of silk and chiffon, with a pearl handle. A really exquisite, dainty affair, and just the very thing Mabel had wanted, but couldn't afford to buy. As for Patty herself, she had several parasols, and so was delighted that Mabel had won.
But though she truly preferred that Mabel should have the prize, she felt a little chagrined at losing the contest, for like all people who are fond of games and sports, Patty loved to win.
These feelings, though, she successfully concealed, and gave Mabel very sincere and loving congratulations. Mr. Stanton's prize was a pretty scarf pin, and Tom Meredith loudly bewailed his own misfortune in losing this. Though, really, as the tournament was at his own home, he would not have taken the prize had he won it, but would have passed it on to the one with the next highest record.
The victors were cheered and applauded, and were then led in triumph to the pretty tent where tea was being served.
If Patty had had a shadow of regret that she had not been the honoured one, it was lost sight of in her gladness that it fell to Mabel's lot.
"You're a plucky one," said Tom Meredith, who was observing her closely. "You're a good loser, aren't you?"
"I don't know," said Patty, thoughtfully. "I want to be, but do you know, I just love to win contests or games. And when I lose—I'm ashamed to say it—but I do feel put out."
"Of course you do! That's only natural. And that's why I say you're a good loser. If you didn't care tuppence whether you won or not, it wouldn't be much to your credit to look smiling and pleasant when you lose. But since you do care, a whole lot, you're a jolly plucky girl to take it so well. Now, what can I get for you? An ice?"
"Yes, please," said Patty, really gratified at Tom's appreciative words.
"How long are you staying with the Hartleys?" Tom asked, as, returning with ices, he found cosy seats at a small table for himself and Patty.
"Two or three weeks longer, I think. But I shall hate to go away, for I've become so interested in their 'mystery,' that I can't stop trying to solve it."
"Oh, you mean that old affair of the hidden fortune. I don't believe there's any at all. I think the old man who pretended to hide it was merely guying them."
"Oh, no! That can't be. Why, it all sounds so real and natural. The story of the hiding, I mean."
"Yes, but why should he want to hide it? Why not bank it decently, like other people?"
"Oh, because he was eccentric. People who are naturally queer or freakish are always hiding things. And I know it's silly of me, but I'm going to try to find that money."
"I've lots of faith in your energy and perseverance, but I can't think you'll succeed in that job. Better try something easier."
"I don't think I can say I expect to succeed. But I'm going to try—and—who can tell what might happen?"
"Who, indeed? But you know, of course, that the Cromarty people have been hunting it for nearly forty years."
"Yes," said Patty, and her eyes fairly blazed with determination, "yes—but I am an American!"
Tom Meredith shouted with laughter.
"Good for you, little Stars and Stripes!" he cried. "I've always heard of the cleverness of the Yankees, but if you can trace the Cromarty fortune, I'll believe you a witch, for sure. Aren't there witches in that New England of yours?"
"I believe there used to be. And my ancestors, some of them, were Salem people. That may be where I get my taste for divination and solving problems. I just love puzzles of all sorts, and if the old Cromarty gentleman had only left a cipher message, it would have been fun to puzzle it out."
"He did leave messages of some sort, didn't he? Maybe they are more subtle than you think."
"I've been wondering about that. They might mean something entirely different from what they sound like; but I can't see any light that way. 'The headboard of a bed against a wall,' is pretty practical, and doesn't seem to mean anything else. And the oak trees and fir trees are there in abundance. But that's the trouble with them, there are so many."
"Go on, and do all you can, my child. You'll get over it the sooner, if you work hard on it at first. We've all been through it. Nearly everybody in this part of the country has tried at one time or another to guess the Cromarty riddle."
"But I'm the first American to try," insisted Patty, with a twinkle in her eye.
"Quite so, Miss Yankee Doodle Doo; and I wish you success where my own countrymen have failed."
Tom said this with such a nice, kindly air that Patty felt a little ashamed of her own vaunting attitude. But sometimes Patty showed a decided tendency to over-assuredness in her own powers, and though she tried to correct it, it would spring up now and again. Then the Hartley boys joined them, and all discussion of the missing fortune was dropped.
It was soon time to take leave, and as it was already twilight, Sinclair proposed that he should drive Patty home in the pony cart, and Mabel should return in the carriage.
Mabel quite agreed to this, saying that after her croquet, she did not care to drive. The road lay through a lovely bit of country, and Patty enjoyed the drive home with Sinclair. She always liked to talk with him, he was so gentle and kindly. While not so merry as Bob or as Tom Meredith, Sinclair was an interesting talker, and Patty always felt that she was benefited by his conversation.
He told her much about the country as they drove along, described the life and work of the villagers, and pointed out buildings or other objects of interest.
They passed several fine estates, whose towering mansions could be seen half hidden by trees, or boldly placed on a summit.
"But no place is as beautiful as Cromarty," said Sinclair, and Patty entirely agreed with them.
"Is it true that you may have to leave it?" she asked, thinking it wiser to refer to it casually.
"Who's been talking to you?" he said; "Mabel, I suppose. Well, yes, there is a chance that we'll have to let it for a term of years. I hope not, but I can't tell yet. But even if so, it will be only temporary. As soon as I get fairly established in my career, I hope to make money enough to take care of it all. A few years hence, when I'm on my feet, and Bob's through college, it will be easier all round. But if some business troubles that are now impending don't blow over, there'll be no income to keep things going, and we'll have to—to——But that shan't happen!"
Sinclair spoke almost desperately, and Patty saw his fingers clench around the reins he was holding.
"I wonder," said Patty slowly, for she was not quite sure how what she was about to say would be received. "I wonder, Sinclair, if we're not good friends enough, you and I, for me to speak plainly to you."
The young man gave her a quick, earnest glance.
"Go on," he said, briefly.
"It's only this," said Patty, still hesitating, "my father has lots of money—couldn't you—couldn't he lend you some?"
Sinclair looked at her squarely now, and spoke in low, stern tones.
"Never suggest such a thing again. The Cromartys do not borrow."
"Not even from a friend?" said Patty, softly.
"Not even from a friend," repeated Sinclair, but his voice was more gentle. "You don't understand, I suppose," he went on, "but we would leave Cromarty for ever before we would stay on such terms."
"No," said Patty, "I don't understand. I should think you'd be as glad to accept a friend's help as he would be to offer it."
"If you'd do me a real kindness, Patty, you'll never even mention such an idea again. I know you mean well and I thank you, but it's absolutely impossible."
"Then there's only one other way out of the difficulty," said Patty, with an effort at lightness; "and that's to find your buried fortune."
"Ah, that would be a help," cried Sinclair, also assuming a gayer tone. "If you'll help us to do that, I'll set up a memorial tablet to your cleverness."
"Where will you set it? Between the fir trees and the oak?"
"Yes, if you find the fortune there."
"But if I find it behind the headboard, that's no sort of a place for a tablet!"
"You can choose your own spot for your Roll of Fame, and I'll see to it that the memorial is a worthy one."
"And will you put fresh flowers on it every day?"
"Yes, indeed; for if—I mean when, you find the fortune for us, the gardens will have immediate attention."
"Then I must set to work at once," said Patty, with pretended gravity, but in her heart she registered a mental vow to try in earnest to fulfil the promise given in jest.
THE GRIFFIN AND THE ROSE
Although the Hartleys had practically given up all hope of ever finding the hidden money, they couldn't help being imbued with Patty's enthusiasm.
Indeed, it took little to rouse the sleeping fires of interest that never were entirely extinguished.
But though they talked it over by the hour there seemed to be nothing to do but talk.
One day, Patty went out all by herself, determined to see if she couldn't find some combination of an oak tree and a group of firs that would somehow seem especially prominent.
But after looking at a score or more of such combinations, she realised that task was futile.
She looked at the ground under some of them, but who could expect a mark of any kind on the ground after nearly forty years? No. Unless Mr. Marmaduke Cromarty had marked his hiding-place with a stone or iron plate, it would probably never be found by his heirs. Search in the house was equally unsatisfactory. What availed it to scan a wall or a bedstead that had been scrutinised for years by eager, anxious eyes? And then Patty set her wits to work. She tried to think where an erratic old gentleman would secrete his wealth. And she was forced to admit that the most natural place was in the ground on his estate, the location to be designated by some obscure message. And surely, the message was obscure enough!
She kept her promise to help Bob in his self-appointed task of going through all the books in the library. This was no small piece of work, for it was not enough to shake each book, and let loose papers, if any, drop out. Some of the old papers had been found pinned to leaves, and so each book must be run through in such a way that every page could be glanced at.
Nor was this a particularly pleasant task. For Mrs. Hartley had made it a rule that when her own children went over the old books, they were to dust them as they went along. Thus, she said, at least some good would be accomplished, though no hidden documents might be found.
Of course, she did not request Patty to do this, but learning of the custom, Patty insisted on doing it, and many an hour she spent in the old library, clad in apron and dust-cap. Her progress was rather slow, for book-loving Patty often became absorbed in the old volumes, and dropping down on the window-seat, or the old steps to the gallery, would read away, oblivious to all else till some one came to hunt for her.
At last, one day, her patient search met a reward. In an old book she found several of what were beyond all doubt Mr. Marmaduke Comarty's papers.
Without looking at them closely, Patty took the book straight to Mrs. Cromarty.
"Dear me!" said the old lady, putting on her glasses. "Have we really found something? I declare I'm quite nervous over it. Emmeline, you read them."
Mrs. Hartley was a bit excited, too, and as for Patty and Mabel, they nearly went frantic at their elders' slowness in opening the old and yellow papers.
There were several letters, a few bills, and some hastily-scribbled memoranda. The letters and bills were of no special interest, but on one of the small bits of paper was another rhymed couplet that seemed to indicate a direction.
"Where the angry griffin shows, Ruthless, tear away the rose."
"Oh," exclaimed Patty, "it's another direction how to get the fortune! Oh, Mabel, it will be all right yet! Oh, where is the angry griffin? Is it over a rosebush? You're only to pull up the rosebush, and there you are!"
Mabel looked bewildered. So did the older ladies.
"Speak, somebody!" cried Patty, dancing about in excitement. "Isn't there any angry griffin? There must be!"
"That's the trouble," said Mrs. Hartley; "there are so many of them. Why, there are angry griffins on the gates, over the lodge doors, on the marbles in the gardens, and all over the house."
"Of course there are," said Mabel. "You must have noticed them, Patty. There's one now," and she pointed to a bit of wood carving over the door frame of the room they were in.
"I don't care! It means something, I know it does," declared Patty. "We'll work it out yet. I wish the boys were home."
"They'll soon be here," said Mrs. Cromarty. "I can't help thinking that it does mean something—Marmaduke was very fond of roses, and it would be just like him to plant a rosebush over his buried treasure."
"That's it," cried Patty. "Now, where is there a rosebush growing, and one of the angry griffins near it?"
"There probably are some in the rose garden," said Mrs. Cromarty. "I don't remember any, though."
"Come on, Mabel," said Patty, "let's go and look. I can't wait another minute!"
Away flew the two girls, and for the next hour they hovered about the rosebushes with more energy than is often shown by the busiest of bees.
"I wish old Uncle Marmaduke had been less of a poet," said Mabel, as they sat down a moment to rest, "and more of a—a——"
"More straightforward," suggested Patty. "If he'd only written a few words of plain prose, and left it with his lawyer, all this trouble needn't have been."
"Well, I suppose he did intend to make it plain before he died, but he went off so suddenly. Oh, here are the boys."
Sinclair and Bob came bounding down toward the rose garden, followed more sedately by their mother and grandmother.
"Not a sign of a griffin a-sniffin' of a rose," said Patty, disconsolately.
"Oh, you haven't looked all round yet," said Bob. "It's such fun to have something to look for besides fir trees and beds, I'm going to make a close search."
"Of course," said Sinclair, "the same rose bush wouldn't be here now that was here thirty or forty years ago."
"But it would have been renewed," said Mrs. Cromarty. "We've always tried to keep the flowers as nearly as possible the same."
"Then here goes to interview every griffin on the place," declared Bob. "Jolly of old uncle to mark the spot with a rosebush and a griffin. That's what I call decent of him. And you're a wonder, Patty, to find the old paper."
"Oh, that's nothing," said Patty. "I just followed your orders about the books. If you'd kept at it yourself, you'd have found the same book."
"I s'pose so. But I'm glad you helped the good work along. Oh, dear! no rosebush seems to be near a griffin; and the griffins seem positively afraid of the rosebushes." And try as they would, no angry griffin could they find, with a rosebush near it. Griffins there were in plenty; both angry and grinning. Also were there plenty of roses, but they were arranged in well-laid-out beds, and in no case were guarded or menaced by angry griffins.
"Never mind," said Sinclair, as they returned to the house for dinner, "it's something to work on. I shall stay at home to-morrow and try to find that particular rosebush, or the place where it used to be."
"Maybe it's a stone rose," said Patty, as she touched a rose carved in stone that was part of an ornamental urn whose handles were the heads of angry griffins. Sinclair stared at her.
"You're right," he said, slowly, as if grasping a great thought. "It's much more likely to be a rose of stone or marble, and when that's ruthlessly torn away the secret will be revealed. Oh, mother, there is hope!"
Patty had never seen the placid Sinclair so excited, and they all went to their rooms to get ready for dinner, with a feeling that something was going to happen. Conversation at dinner was all on the engrossing subject.
Everybody made suggestions, and everybody recalled various partly-forgotten griffins in odd nooks and corners, each being sure that was "just the place uncle would choose!"
After dinner, the young people were anxious to go out and search more, but it had begun to rain, so they all went into the library and again scrutinised the old papers Patty had found.
They looked through more books, too, but found nothing further of interest.
At last, wearied with the hunt, Patty threw herself into a big armchair and declared she would do no more that night.
"I should say not," said Bob. "You've done quite enough in giving us this new start."
Although, as Patty had said, the looking through all the old books was Bob's plan, he generously gave her the credit of this new find. Sinclair threw himself on a long leather couch, and began to sing softly some of their nonsense songs, as he often did when tired out. The others joined, and for a time the fortune was left to take care of itself.
Very pleasant were the four fresh young voices, and the elders listened gladly to their music.
In the middle of a song, Patty stopped, and sat bolt upright, her eyes staring at a door opposite her as if she had never seen it before.
"Gracious, goodness! Patty," said Mabel, "what is the matter?"
"What is it, little one?" said Sinclair, still humming the refrain of the interrupted song.
Patty pointed to the door, or rather to the elaborately carved door frame, and said slowly, "I've been reading a lot in the old architecture books—and they often used to have secret hiding places in the walls. And look at that door frame! There's an angry griffin on one jamb, and a smiling griffin on the other, and under each is a rose. That is it's a five-leafed blossom, a sort of conventional flower that they always call a rose in architecture."
"Though I suppose," said Sinclair, "by any other name it would look as sweet. Patty, my child, you're dreaming. That old carving is as solid as Gibraltar and that old griffin isn't very angry anyway. He just looks rather purse proud and haughty."
"But it's the only griffin that's near a rose," persisted Patty. "And he is angry, compared to the happy-looking griffin opposite to him."
"I believe the girl is right," said Bob, who was already examining the carvings in question. "The rose doesn't look movable, exactly, but it is not quite like this other rose. It's more deeply cut."
By this time all had clustered about the door frame, and one after another poked and pushed at the wooden rose.
"There's something in it," persisted Bob. "In the idea, I mean. If there's a secret hiding-place in that upright carved beam, that rose is the key to it. See how deeply it's cut in, compared to the other; and I can almost see a crack all round it, as if it could be removed. May I try to get it out, Grandy?"
"Certainly, my boy. We mustn't leave a stone unturned."
"A rose unturned, you mean. Clair, what shall we ruthlessly tear it away with? I hate to take a chisel to this beautiful old door."
"Try a corkscrew," said Mabel.
"You mean a gimlet," said Bob. "That's a good idea."
Fetching a gimlet, he bored a hole right in the centre of the carved blossom, but though it turned and creaked a little it wouldn't come out.
"It must come," said Sinclair. "It turns, so that proves it's meant to be movable. It probably has some hinge or spring that is rusted, and so it doesn't work as it ought to. We'll have to take hammer and chisel; shall we, Grandy?"
The boys were deferential to Mrs. Cromarty, for they well knew that she was tired of having the old house torn up to no avail. But surely this was an important development.
"Yes, indeed, boys. If your uncle's words mean anything, they mean that it must be ruthlessly torn away, if removed at all."
For quite ten minutes the two boys worked away with their tools, endeavouring to mar the carving as little as might be, but resolved to succeed in their undertaking. At last the wooden rose fell out in their hands, leaving a round opening.
Peering in, Sinclair saw a small iron knob, which seemed to be part of a rusty spring.
Greatly excited, he tried to push or turn it, but couldn't move it.
"Anyway, we're getting warm," he cried, and his glowing face corroborated his words.
The boys took turns in working at the stubborn spring, trying with forceps and pincers to move it, until at last something seemed to give way, and the whole front of the door jamb fell out as one panel.
Behind it was a series of small pigeon holes one above the other, all filled with neatly piled papers.
Though yellow with age, the papers were carefully folded, labelled, and dated.
"Patty!" cried Mabel, as she embraced her friend, "you've found our fortune for us!"
"Don't be too sure," said Patty, laughing, and almost crying at the same time, so excited was she. "Your Uncle Marmaduke was of such uncertain ways I shouldn't wonder if these were merely more files of his immortal verse."
"They're bills," declared Sinclair, as he ran over a packet he took from a shelf.
"Let's look them all over systematically," said Bob. "Let's all sit round the table, and one of us read out what the paper is about. Then if we come to anything important, we'll all know it at once."
This plan was adopted, and Sinclair, as the oldest, was chosen to read. He sat at the head of the long library table, and the others were at either side.
But the packets of bills, though interesting in a general way, had no bearing on the great question of the fortune. The papers were all bills.
"Not even a bit of poetry," sighed Patty, as Sinclair laid aside one after another of the receipted bills for merchandise, household goods, clothing, and labour.
"These might interest a historian," said Sinclair, "as they throw some light on the prices of goods at that time. But we'll keep on, we may come to something of interest yet."
"I hope so," said Bob. "I'm so anxious, that nothing less than a straight direction to the fortune would satisfy me."
"Well, here's something," said Sinclair, "whatever it may mean."
The paper he had just unfolded was a mason's bill, containing only one item. The bill was made out in due form, by one Martin Campbell, and was properly receipted as paid. And its single item read:
"To constructing one secret pocket.... Three Guineas."
"Oh!" cried Patty, breathless with excitement. "Then there is a secret pocket, or poke as your exasperating uncle calls it."
"There must be," said Sinclair; "and now that we know that, we're going to find it. Of course, we assumed there was one, but we had only that foolish doggerel to prove it. Now this regular bill establishes it as a fact beyond all doubt. Do you know this Martin Campbell, Grandy?"
"I know there was a mason by that name, who worked here several times for your uncle. He came down from Leicester, but of course I know nothing more of him."
"We'll find him!" declared Bob. "We'll make him give up the secret of the pocket."
"Maybe he's dead by this time," said Sinclair. "Was he an old man, Grandy?"
"I don't know, my dear. I never saw him. He worked here when I was away in London. I fear, however, he is not alive now."
"Oh, perhaps he is. It was only about thirty-five years ago, or forty, that he built this 'secret pocket.' Thirty-eight, to be exact. The date on the bill proves that."
"Well, to-morrow you must go to see him," said Mrs. Hartley, rising. "But now, my children, you must go to bed. You can't learn any more to-night, and to-morrow we will pick up the broken thread. Patty, my dear child, you are doing a great deal for us."
"It isn't anything yet," said Patty, "but oh, if it only leads to something, I shall be so glad!"
THE OLD CHIMNEY-PIECE
But Sinclair's search for the old mason in Leicester was absolutely unsuccessful. He learned that Martin Campbell had died many years ago, and had left no direct descendants. A cousin of the old mason told Sinclair all this, and said, too, that there were no books or papers or accounts of the dead man left in existence.
So Sinclair returned home, disappointed but not entirely discouraged.
"We'll find it yet," he said to Patty. "We have proof of a hiding-place, now we must discover it."
"We will!" declared Patty. "But it's so exasperating not to know whether the old mason built that 'pocket' indoors or out."
"Out, I think," said Sinclair. "It's probably a sunken bin or vault of brick, made water-tight, and carefully concealed."
"Yes, it's certainly carefully concealed," Patty agreed.
Sinclair was entitled to a fortnight's vacation from his law studies, and he arranged to take it at this time. For now that the interest was revived, all were eager to make search all the time.
"Let's be systematic about it," said Bob, "and divide the estate up into sections. Then let's examine each section in turn."
This sounded well, but it was weary work. In the wooded land, especially, it was hopeless to look for any indicatory mark beneath the undergrowth of forty years. But each morning the four young people started out with renewed determination to keep at it, at any rate.
On rainy days they searched about the house. Having found one secret panel, they hoped for more, and the boys went about tapping the walls or carved woodwork here and there, listening for a hollow sound.
Bob and Patty went on searching the books. But though a number of old papers were found they were of no value. Incidentally, Patty was acquiring a store of information of various sorts. Though too eager in her work to sit down and read any book through, she scanned many pages here and there, and learned much that was interesting and useful. Especially did she like books that described the old castles and abbeys of England. There were many of these books, both architectural and historical, and Patty lingered over the illustrations, and let her eyes run hastily over the pages of description.
One afternoon she sat cross-legged, in Turk fashion, on the library floor, absorbed in an account of the beautiful old mansion known as "Audley End." The description so interested her that she read on and on, and in her perusal she came to this sentence:
"There are other curious relics, among them the chair of Alexander Pope, and the carved oak head of Cromwell's bed, converted into a chimney-piece."
Anything in reference to the headboard of a bedstead caught Patty's attention, and she read the paragraph over again.
"Sinclair," she called, but he had gone elsewhere, and did not hear her.
Patty looked around at the mantel or chimney-piece in the library, but it was so evidently a part of the plan of wall decoration, that it could not possibly have been anything else.
Patty sighed. "It would have been so lovely," she thought to herself, "if it only had been a bedhead, made into a mantel, for then that bothering old man could easily have tucked his money between it and the wall."
And then, though Patty's thoughts came slowly, they came surely, and she remembered that in the great hall, or living-room, the mantel was a massive affair of carved oak.
Half bewildered, Patty dropped the book, jumped up, and went to the door of the hall. No one was there, and the girl was glad of it, for if she really was on the eve of a great discovery she wanted to be alone at first.
As she entered the room, the lines came to her mind:
"Above the stair, across the hall, Between the bedhead and the wall,"
and she noticed that the chimney-piece stood on a sort of wide platform, which extended across that whole end of the hall. Could it be that Mr. Marmaduke had meant above this platform, calling it a stair, which ran across the great hall? For years they had taken the direction to mean "up the staircase," and "across the corridor," or hall which led to the bedrooms.
Slowly, almost as if afraid, Patty crossed the hall, stepped up on the platform, and examined the old chimney-piece. She couldn't tell, positively, but surely, surely it looked as if it might once have been the headboard of an ancient bed. It certainly was different in its workmanship from the wood carving that decorated the apartment.
The top of it was well above her head, but might it not be that the old rhyme meant between this bedhead and the wall?
Here they had never looked. It must be that it was not generally known that this mantel was, or had been, a bedhead.
Still, as if in a daze, Patty went and sat in a chair facing the old chimney-piece, and wondered. She intended to call the others in a moment, but first she wanted to enjoy alone the marvel of her own discovery.
As she sat there, scrutinising every detail of the room, the lines kept repeating themselves in her brain:
"Above the stair, across the hall, Between the bedhead and the wall."
If the secret pocket was between that bedhead and the wall, it was certainly above the stair across the hall! Why had that stair or platform been built across the hall? It was a peculiar arrangement.
This question Patty gave up, but she thought it might well have been done when the bedhead was set up there, in order to make the chimney-piece higher and so more effective.
Patty had learned something of architecture in her library browsings.
Above the high mantel was a large painting. It was a landscape and showed a beautiful bit of scenery without buildings or people. In the foreground were several distinct trees of noble proportions.
"They're firs," said Patty to herself, for she had become thoroughly familiar with fir trees.
And then, like a flash, through her brain came the words:
"Great treasure lieth in the poke Between the fir trees and the oak."
The secret was revealed! Patty knew it!
Beside the bedhead evidence, it was clear to her mind that "Between the fir trees and the oak," meant between these painted fir trees and the old carved oak mantel. Grasping the arms of her chair, she sat still a minute trying to take it all in, and then looked about for something to stand on that she might examine the top of the old mantel-shelf.
But her next quick thought was, that that was not her right. Those to whom the fortune belonged must make the investigation themselves.
"Sinclair," called Patty, again; "Mabel, Mrs. Hartley, where are you all?"
Bob responded first, and seeing by Patty's excited face that she had discovered something important, he went in search of the others.
At last they were all gathered in the great hall, and Patty's sense of the dramatic proved too strong to allow her to make her announcement simply.
"People," she said, "I have made a discovery. That is, I think I have. If I am right, the Cromarty fortune is within your grasp. If I am wrong—well, in that case, we'll begin all over again."
"Tell us about your new find," said Sinclair, selecting a comfortable chair, and sitting down as if for a long session. "Is it another mason's bill?"
Nobody minded being chaffed about searching or finding, for the subject was treated jocosely as well as seriously.
Patty stood on the platform in front of the carved oak chimney-piece, and addressed her audience, who listened, half laughing, half eager.
"What is this on which I stand?" she demanded.
"A rug," replied Mabel, promptly.
"I mean beneath the rug?"
"No, it isn't! What is this—this construction across the room?"
"A platform," put in Bob, willing to help her along.
"Yes. But what else could it be called? I'm in earnest."
"A step," suggested Sinclair.
"Yes, a step; but couldn't it be called a stair?"
"It could be," said Bob, "but I don't believe it is one."
"But suppose your erratic uncle chose to call it that."
"Oh," laughed Bob, "you mean the stair in the poem."
"I do. I mean the stair across the hall."
"What! Oh, I say, Patty, now you're jumbling up the sense."
"No, I'm not. I'm straightening out the sense. Suppose Mr. Marmaduke meant 'above the stair across the hall,' and meant this stair and this hall."
"Yes, but go on," said Sinclair; "next comes the bedhead."
"That's my discovery!" announced Patty, with what was truly forgivable triumph.
"This carved oak chimney-piece is, I have reason to believe, the headboard of some magnificent, ancient bed."
"Patty Fairfield!" cried Sinclair, jumping up, and reaching her side with two bounds. "You've struck it! What a girl you are!"
"Wait a minute," said Patty, pushing him back; "I'm entitled to a hearing. Take your seat again, sir, until I unfold the rest of the tale."
Patty was fairly quivering with excitement. Her cheeks glowed, and her eyes shone, and her voice trembled as she went on.
Mabel, with clasped hands, just sat and looked at her. The elder ladies were plainly bewildered, and Bob was trying hard to sit still.
"I read in an old book," Patty went on, "how somebody else used a carved headboard for a chimney-piece, and I wondered if this mightn't be one. And it surely looks like it. And then I wondered if 'above the stair across the hall' mightn't mean this platform across this hall. And I think it does. But that's not all. My really important discovery is this."
Patty's voice had sunk to a thrilling whisper, and she addressed herself to Mrs. Cromarty, as she continued.
"I think the other rhyme, the one that says the fortune is concealed 'between the fir trees and the oak,' refers to this same place, and means between the painting of fir trees, which hangs over the mantel, and—the oak mantel itself!"
With a smiling bow, Patty stepped down from the platform, and taking a seat by old Mrs. Cromarty, nestled in that lady's loving arms. The two boys made a spring for the mantel, but paused simultaneously to grasp both Patty's hands in theirs and nearly shake her arms off. Then they left the heroine of the hour to Mabel and Mrs. Hartley and began to investigate the chimney piece.
"'Between the fir trees and the oak'!" exclaimed Bob. "Great, isn't it! And here for thirty-five years we Cromarty dubs have thought that meant real trees! To think it took a Yankee to tell us! Oh, Patty, Patty, we'll take down that historic painting and put up a tablet to the honour of Saint Patricia. For you surely deserve canonisation!"
"'Between the bedhead and the wall,'" ruminated Sinclair. "Well, here goes for finding an opening."
Clambering up on stools, both boys examined the place where the mantel shelf touched the wall. The ornate carvings of the mantel left many interstices where coins or notes might be dropped through, yet they were by no means conspicuous enough to attract the attention of any one not looking for them.
"Crickets!" cried Bob. "There's a jolly place for the precious poke to be located. I'm going down cellar to see if I can find traces of that mason's work. Come on, Clair."
The two boys flew off, and the ladies remained discussing the wonderful discovery, and examining the old chimney-piece.
"I can see it was a bedhead now," said Mabel; "but I never suspected it before. What a splendid mantel it makes. Didn't you ever hear its history, Grandy?"
"No, dear. It must have been put there when the house was built, I think. Though, of course, it may have been added later. But it was all before my time. I married your grandfather Cromarty and came here to live in 1855. The building and decorations then were all just as they are now, except for such additions as Marmaduke made. He may have had that mantel set up in earlier years—I don't know. He was very fond of antique carvings."
Back came the boys from the cellar.
"The whole chimney is bricked up," Sinclair explained. "We couldn't get into it without tearing it all down. And do you know what I think, Grandy? I think it would be wiser to take away the chimney-piece up here, and do our investigating from this end. Then, if we find anything, it will all be in this room, and not in the cellar, where the servants can pry about."
"I quite agree with you," said Mrs. Cromarty, "and I put the whole matter in your hands. You and Robert are the sons of the house, and it is your right to manage its affairs."
"Then I say, tear it down at once," cried Bob. "We needn't damage the carving itself, and all that we break away of plaster or inner woodwork can easily be repaired, whatever our success may be."
"Shall we begin now?" asked Sinclair, doubtfully. He was not so impetuous as Bob, and would have been quite willing to study over the matter first.
"Yes, indeed!" cried his impatient brother. "I'm not going to waste a minute. I'm glad I'm a bit of a carpenter. Though not an expert, I can tear down if I can't build up."
"But we must take it down carefully," said Sinclair. "These screws must come out first." But Bob had already gone for tools, and soon returned with screw-drivers, chisels, gimlets, and all the paraphernalia of a carpenter's well-appointed tool-chest.
"Here goes!" he cried, as he put the big screw-driver in the first screw. "Good luck to the Cromartys and three cheers for Uncle Marmaduke and Patty Fairfield!"
The removal of the old chimney-piece was not an easy task. If the Hartley boys hadn't been big and strongly-built, they could scarcely have succeeded in tearing away the woodwork from the wall. But they did do it, and their labours were rewarded by the discovery of the long-lost fortune!
Sure enough the historic "poke" was a pocket or recess between the old bedhead and the main wall. It was really built in the chimney itself, though not in the flue. But this chimney-place, with its wonderfully carved mantel, was never used for fires, and the fortune had remained undisturbed in its hiding-place.
As the boys lifted away the portion of the heavy oak that covered the secret pocket, a rough wall of plaster was seen, and by tapping on it, Sinclair learned that it was hollow.
"Shall we break through?" he said. "I feel sure the money is there."
"Break through, of course," cried Bob; "but wait a moment till I lock the doors. This is no time for intruders."
Bob fastened the doors, and then with a hatchet they broke through the plaster.
And even as the old mortar crumbled beneath their blows, out fell a shower of glittering gold coins and tightly folded banknotes!
The sight was too much for the strained nerves of the watchers. Mabel burst into tears, and Mrs. Cromarty trembled like a leaf.
The boys broke into shouts of joy, and Patty scarcely knew whether to laugh or cry. But in a moment they were all congratulating each other and showering praises on Patty for her cleverness in the matter.
"It's ours! It's ours!" cried Bob. "It's Grandy's, to be sure, but it belongs to old Cromarty Manor, and we're all Cromartys. Patty, you're hereby adopted and made one of us."
"What shall we do with it?" asked the more practical Sinclair. "I mean, just at present. We must take care of it, at once, you know. We can't leave it long like this."
"There's the old Spanish chest," said Mrs. Hartley, indicating a good-sized affair that stood nearby. "Put it in that."
"Just the thing," said Bob. "Lend a hand, Clair."
It was a strange proceeding. The old coins, many of them still bright, though of far back dates; represented a great deal of money. How much, they could not guess as yet, but it was surely a large sum. Also there were Bank of England notes, folded small that they might be pushed through the openings in the carved oak, and well-preserved, as the pocket had been carefully made damp-proof.
The boys took the money out in double handfuls and deposited it in the old Spanish chest.
"It will be quite safe there until to-morrow," said Mrs. Hartley, "and then we must get it to the bank. But as no one yet knows of our discovery, there can be no danger of its being stolen to-night."
"What ever made Uncle Marmaduke choose this way of concealing his fortune?" asked Bob, as he kept on transferring the money from its hiding-place to the chest.
"He had a fear of banks or investments," said Mrs. Cromarty. "I've often heard him say he wouldn't trust any of them. He said he'd rather be sure of his principal, and go without his interest."
"Crickets!" said Bob, "if all this had been out at interest for forty years, think how it would have increased!"
"Yes," said his mother, "but in that case it would not have been hidden, and before now, it might have all been spent."
"Then I'm glad the old gentleman chose this way of banking. And I suppose he meant to leave full instructions where to find it."
"Well," said Sinclair, "we found it without his instructions, thanks to our Patty."
And then they all began again to bless and praise Patty, until she was really embarrassed at their overwhelming gratitude.
"We'd offer you a share," said Bob, gaily, "but you already have more than you know what to do with."
"Perhaps not quite that," said Patty, smiling, "but I have enough. And, oh! I am so glad that you have your own at last."
"How much do you suppose there is?" asked Mabel, awestruck, as she watched the boys still carrying their precious handfuls across the room.
"Enough to buy you some new frocks, sister," said Sinclair, "and enough to fix up dear old Cromarty as it should be fixed up."
"There must be thousands of pounds," said Grandma Cromarty. "To think of Marmaduke exchanging all his securities and bonds for gold and notes! I suppose he did it while I was away in London. He was a most erratic man."
"Well, you see," said Sinclair, thoughtfully, "once he had the place built, he could drop his money through whenever he received any. I can imagine the old chap, after every one else in the house was in bed, standing here and dropping in his coins one by one, and listening to them clink. Why, it's like a child's toy savings-bank, on a large scale."
"It's a large scale!" said Bob. "Whew! I'm tired out. But it's nearly all in the chest now, and see, Grandy, the chest is nearly full! When shall we count it? And how shall we get this mess cleared away? If the servants come in here, they'll know it all, at once. And I think we ought to keep the matter quiet until we can cart the gold away to the bank."
"I think so too," said his mother. "Suppose we leave this room exactly as it is, and lock it all up until to-morrow. Then we can talk it over this evening, and decide what is best to do. I think we should consult with Lawyer Ashton, and let him advise us."
So, after carefully securing the windows, and locking all the doors of the room, it was a merry-hearted family who went away to dress for dinner.
"Let's put on our prettiest frocks, and make the dinner a sort of celebration feast," said Patty, who dearly loved an "occasion."
"We will," said Mabel, "and Grandy must wear her black velvet."
Mrs. Cromarty was easily persuaded, and the happy old lady looked almost regal as, in her trailing gown, she led the way to the dining-room. The dinner conversation was on the all-absorbing topic, and Patty realised afresh how dearly these people loved their old home, and how anxious they were to devote their newly-found fortune to restoring the glories of the place.
"And now we can have the garden party!" exclaimed Mabel. "You know, Patty, we've had one every summer for years and years, and this summer we thought we couldn't afford it. What fun to have you here to it!"
"Let's have it soon," said Sinclair. "Can you get ready in a week, mother?"
"Give me a little longer than that, son. And we want to send out the invitations about ten days before the party."
"We'll make the lists to-night. Let's invite everybody. I suppose, after we put the money safely away, there's no necessity for secrecy about it."
"No, I think not. All our friends will rejoice with us, that we've found it at last."
Later on, they all sat round the library table, and made plans for the garden party. Patty discovered that it would be a much larger and more important affair than she had imagined. The invitation list soon rose to about four hundred, and seemed literally to include everybody in all the country round.
"I really ought to have a new frock for the party," said Mabel; "but we've so much going on that I won't have time to get one made."
This gave Patty an idea, and she determined to give Mabel a little surprise. While they were making the plans for the fete, she was planning to write to Lady Hamilton and ask her to send down from London two new frocks for herself and Mabel to wear at the garden party. She felt sure she could secretly procure one of Mabel's old dresses to send for a pattern, and she meant that Mabel should not know of it until the new frock arrived.
The evening was a merry one, indeed. The boys were so exuberant that they laughed and sang snatches of songs, and exclaimed over and over how much they appreciated the good turn Patty had done them.
The two elder ladies were more quietly glad, and it did Patty's heart good to see that the sad, anxious expression was gone from Mabel's face.
The days before the garden party flew by quickly, for there was much to be done. Extra servants had to be secured, some repairing done in house and gardens, and the caterer's orders attended to. The day before the party the dresses arrived from London. Lady Hamilton had chosen them, though Patty had given her a general idea of what she wanted.
Though they were called white muslin frocks, they were made almost entirely of fine embroidery and lace. Mabel's was worn over a pink silk slip, and Patty's over blue. Frenchy knots of ribbon were placed here and there, and when the boxes were opened and the tissue papers torn away, Mabel gave a shriek of delight at the beautiful things.
Patty had wanted to give Mabel a pretty frock, but had hesitated to do so, lest she wound her pride.
But this seemed different, and Patty offered the gift so prettily, as a souvenir of the garden party, that Mabel accepted it in the spirit it was given.
The day of the party was perfect. Just the right temperature, and not a cloud in the blue sky, except some fleecy little white ones that were as innocent as kittens.
The party was from three till six, and promptly at three o'clock the guests began to arrive. There was a continuous stream of carriages and motor cars, and soon Patty was almost bewildered by the crowds of people. Although introduced to them as they arrived, she couldn't remember them all. But many of them she had met before, and after a time she and Mabel were excused from the receiving party, and were sent to mingle with the guests.
The old place was looking its best. Though there had not been time for much work on the gardens, yet a deal of tidying up had been done. New flowers had been set out in the formal flower beds, the fountains had been repaired and put in working order, and the shrubs and hedges had been trimmed. Patty, looking very sweet in her lovely white dress, wandered around indoors and out, greeting old friends and making new ones.
The house was thrown open, and of course the old chimney-piece, which had been replaced, was scrutinised with great interest. Patty was lionised until she became almost embarrassed at being made so prominent. But everybody was thoroughly glad that the Cromartys had come into their fortune at last. On the lawn was a band of musicians in gay scarlet and gold uniforms, who played popular music at intervals during the afternoon. The terraces and gardens were filled with groups of people pleasantly chatting, and the ladies' pretty summer costumes added to the brilliancy of the scene.
At four o'clock tea was served in a great round tent, which had been put up for the purpose. Although called tea, the repast was a substantial supper of various and elaborate viands. Patty thought she had never seen so many sorts of salads and carefully constructed cold dishes. She sat at a small table with the Merediths and some other young people.
"You're going to stay here all summer, aren't you?" asked Tom, who sincerely hoped she was.
"I don't know," replied Patty. "I'd love to stay, for I'm happy every minute here. But my own people are writing me very urgently to join them in Switzerland. They're in such delightful quarters there, that they think I'd like it too."
"Oh, don't go. Stay here with us. We're going to get up a croquet club, and we want you to be a member."
"I'll be glad to, if I stay. But where are the people going now?"
The guests had all risen, and were being led to a part of the grounds where a platform had been erected. On this were a troupe of entertainers called The Pierrots. They all wore funny white suits, with little black pompons bobbing all over them. They sang amusing songs, played on cymbals and other instruments, did some clever acrobatic work, and for a half-hour entertained the guests who stood about on the grass, or sat on camp chairs to watch them.
At six o'clock the guests all took leave, and the great procession of vehicles again appeared on the driveway. Mrs. Cromarty and Mrs. Hartley received their good-byes, and Patty and Mabel invited a number of the young people to remain to dine and spend the evening.
"Though I'm sure we can't eat any dinner, after that very satisfying tea," said Grace Meredith, as she accepted the invitation.
In the evening they all went out on the lake for a moonlight row. Several new boats had been bought, and the young men rowed the girls about. The boats were hung with Chinese lanterns, which gave the lake the appearance of a regatta or a water festival.
Then back to the house for a dance in the great hall. The musicians had remained, and to their inspiriting strains the young people glided about in merry measures.
"Do give me another waltz," Tom Meredith begged of Patty.
"I'd be glad to, Tom," said Patty, frankly; "but I can't do it without offending somebody else. I love to dance with you, but you've had three already, and I've promised all the rest."
But Tom wheedled Mrs. Hartley into allowing one more extra, after the last dance, and he claimed Patty for that.
"You're the best dancer I ever saw," said Tom, as they floated away.
"You're the best English dancer I ever saw," laughed Patty, for she well knew English people do not dance like Americans. Good-natured Tom didn't mind her implication, and after the waltz was ended he led her out on the terrace to sit down for a bit and rest. There were several others there, the Hartley boys among them, and soon they began to sing songs.
Others came and joined them, and the young voices rose in merry choruses and glees.
"You have splendid songs in England," said Patty, after the men's voices had come out strong in "Hearts of Oak" and "Rule Britannia."
"Yes, we have," agreed Tom. "But, Patty, won't you sing something alone?"
"Do," chorused the rest, and Mabel said: "Sing that newest song that you and Sinclair made."
"'The Moon's Song?'" asked Patty.
"Yes; this is just the night for it."
The moon was nearing the western horizon, and its soft light fell across the lake in silver ripples. Truly it was just the time and place to sing the pretty song of which Patty had composed the words, and Sinclair had set them to music. It was a simple air, but full of soft, lingering cadences, and without accompaniment Patty's really sweet voice sounded exquisite as it thrilled through the summer evening air.
The song was called "The Minstrel Moon," and the words were these:
"I wonder if the moon could sing, On a marvellous, mystical night in spring, I wonder what the song would be That the minstrel moon would sing to me. And as I think, I seem to know How the music of the moon would go. It would be a mystic, murmuring strain Like the falling of far-away fairy rain. Just a soft and silvery song That would swing and swirl along; Not a word Could be heard But a lingering ding-a-dong. Just a melody low and sweet, Just a harmony faint and fleet, Just a croon Of a tune Is the Music of the Moon."
One beautiful morning, about a week after the garden party, Patty lay in her favourite hammock out under the trees. She liked this hammock especially, for from it she could see both terraces, the formal gardens, and the lake beyond.
As she looked around this morning she could see the workmen busily engaged in restoring the gardens to their original symmetry and beauty. The Hartleys were by no means purse proud or ostentatious, and their sudden acquisition of a great fortune in no way changed their simple, pleasant attitude toward life. But they were now enabled to live in their dear old home, without financial anxieties, and moreover, were able to repair and restore its appointments.
But though Patty loved to let her idle gaze roam over the attractive landscape, her thoughts just now were far away. She had in her hand a letter from her father, and its message was strongly in favour of her leaving Cromarty Manor and joining her parents in Switzerland.
It was for Patty to make choice, but both Nan and Mr. Fairfield urged the plan they proposed. So Patty was thinking it over. She was very happy at Cromarty, and the life was quiet and pleasant, and interspersed with many little gaieties. But she thought, herself, it was a pity not to travel about and see sights and places when opportunity presented itself.
As she lay, thinking, she saw a large motorcar coming along the drive through the park. She jumped out of the hammock and started toward the house, in order to greet the guests whoever they might be. As the car came nearer, she saw a lady and gentleman in the tonneau, but so concealed were they by their motor-clothes she could not recognise them.
As they drew nearer, the lady waved her hand, and seeing the familiar gesture, Patty at once realised that it was Lady Hamilton.
Her father was with her, and Patty ran to meet them, and reached the steps of the great entrance of Cromarty just as the car swung round the last curve of the road.
"Oh, Kitty!" cried Patty; "I'm so glad to see you! Where did you come from? Why didn't you tell me you were coming? How do you do, Sir Otho. This is indeed a surprise."
"How are you, my dear child?" said Sir Otho Markleham, after Patty had released Lady Kitty from her enthusiastic embrace, and turned to shake hands with her father.
"Come in," said Patty, dancing about in her excited glee. "Come right in. You are welcome to Cromarty Manor, and in a moment the family will also tell you so."
"What a delightful house!" said Lady Hamilton, pausing to admire the stately old portal.
"Yes, isn't it? You know the Hartleys, don't you?"
"Slightly. I'll be glad to see them again. But, of course, we came to see you."
"And it's a lovely surprise. Are you staying near here?"
"Only for a day or two," said Sir Otho. "We're taking a little jaunt about, and as Kitty wanted to see you especially, we came in this direction."
The chauffeur and the big touring car were put in charge of the Cromarty coachman, and Patty ushered her guests into the house.
The ladies soon appeared and with hospitable welcome insisted that Sir Otho and his daughter should remain for a few days. This they were unable to do, but it was finally decided that they should stay the night, and resume their trip the next day.
"And," said Sir Otho, "it may seem a rather sudden proceeding, but we want to take Patty with us."
"Take Patty!" exclaimed Mabel, aghast; "for how long?"
"You tell her," said Sir Otho, smiling at his daughter. "I haven't the courage."
"I'll explain later," said Lady Hamilton. "But now, I want to enjoy the beauties of this grand old place. Is this the celebrated apartment where the fortune was hidden?"
"Yes," said Patty, who had written to Lady Kitty about the matter. "And here is the old chimney-piece."
"You can imagine, Lady Hamilton," said Mrs. Hartley, "the deep debt of gratitude we are under to our dear Patty."
"You must be, indeed. But I know Patty is quite as glad that she made the discovery as you are yourselves."
The rest of the morning was devoted to showing the visitors about the place. Sir Otho was greatly interested in the plans for the restoration of the gardens, and both he and Lady Kitty were enraptured with the historic treasures of the old house. After luncheon, Lady Hamilton unfolded her plans to Patty.
"I have been in correspondence with Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield," she said, "and we've concluded that we must have Patty back with us again. She has been very happy here, I know, but she has made you a long visit, and I've really been sent down here to kidnap her."
Patty smiled, but the others didn't. Mrs. Cromarty and Mrs. Hartley looked truly sorry, and Mabel had to struggle to keep her tears back.
"You are right," said Mrs. Cromarty, at last. "We have enjoyed having Patty here more than I can tell you. But we must not be selfish. I know her parents have been writing for her to go to them, and it is wrong for us to urge her to stay here."
"But I don't want Patty to go away," said Mabel, and now she was really crying.
"I know you don't, dearie," said her mother. "But I see it as Grandma does, and I think we must let her go. Perhaps some time she'll come again."
"Oh, I hope so," said Patty, smiling through the tears that had gathered in her own eyes. "You've all been so good to me, and I've had such lovely times."
The question once settled, Lady Hamilton went on to say that she proposed to take Patty away the next day. Of course this redoubled Mabel's woe, but Lady Kitty was firm.
"It would be just as hard to spare her a week hence," she said. "And then, who would take her to London? If she goes with us to-morrow, we will keep her with us for the rest of our motor tour—about a week—and then reach London about the first of July. After that Patty and I will join Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield in Switzerland, and go on to do some further travelling."
Although Patty was sorry to leave Cromarty, this plan did sound delightful, and she was glad that it was all settled for her, and she had no further responsibility in the matter.
Lady Hamilton had a genius for despatch, and she superintended the packing of Patty's clothes and belongings that same afternoon. Except for the luggage needed on the motor-tour, everything was to be sent to Lady Kitty's home in London, and Patty had to smile, as she realised that her present temporary home was the great house where she had so daringly braved the irascible Sir Otho.
There was a daintily furnished room in the Markleham house that had been set aside for Patty's very own, and whenever she cared to she was invited to occupy it.
When the boys came home that afternoon and heard the news, they set up a wail of woe that was both genuine and very noisy.
No one could help admiring Lady Kitty, but Sinclair and Bob felt as if she were robbing their household, and it required all their good manners to hide their feeling of resentment.
But they rose nobly to the occasion, and Bob said: "Well, since Patty must go, we'll have to send her off in a blaze of glory. Let's make a party, mother, a few people to dinner, and some more for the evening."
Mrs. Hartley quickly realised that this would be the best way to tide over a sad occasion, and she agreed. The Merediths and a few others were sent for to come to dinner, and a dozen or more young people asked for a little dance in the evening. Notwithstanding her unwelcome errand, Lady Kitty fitted right into the house party, and both she and her father were so affable and pleasant that the Hartleys forgave them for stealing Patty away.
The tourists had luggage with them, so were able to don attire suitable to the party. Lady Hamilton wore one of her beautiful trailing lace gowns, which had won for her Patty's name of "The White Lady."
Patty, too, wore a white frock, of ruffled organdie, with touches of pale green velvet. In her pretty hair was a single pink rose, and as she arranged it, she felt a pang as she thought that might be the last flower she would ever wear from the dear old Cromarty rose garden. The dinner was a beautiful feast, indeed. The table sparkled with the old silver and glass that had belonged to the Cromarty ancestors. Flowers were everywhere, and the table and dining-room were lighted entirely by wax candles, with the intent of abiding by the old traditions of the manor.
At Patty's plate was a multitude of gifts. How they managed it on such short notice, she never knew, but every one of the family and most of the guests gave her a parting souvenir.
Grandma Cromarty gave her a valuable old miniature that had long been in her historic collection. Mrs. Hartley gave her an exquisite fan, painted by a celebrated artist. Mabel gave her a ring set with a beautiful pearl, and the boys together gave her a splendid set of Dickens' works in elaborately gilded binding. Grace Meredith brought her a bangle, and Tom a quaint old-fashioned candlestick; and many other guests brought pretty or curious trifles.