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Patty's Friends
by Carolyn Wells
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Patty was overwhelmed at this unexpected kindness, and opened parcel after parcel in a bewilderment of delight.

Everybody was gay and merry, yet there was an undercurrent of sadness, as one after another remembered this was the last time they would see pretty Patty.

After dinner they all assembled on the terrace, and the other guests, arriving later, joined them there.

But the soft beauty of the summer evening seemed to intensify the spirit of sadness, and all were glad to hear the strains of a violin coming from the great hall.

Bob had sent for two or three musicians, and soon the young people were spinning around in the dance, and merriment once more reigned.

Always a popular partner, Patty was fairly besieged that night.

"I can't," she said laughingly, as the young men gathered around to beg her favours; "I've halved every dance already; I can't do more than that."

"Don't halve this one," said Tom Meredith, as he led her away for a waltz. "I must have all of it. Unless you'll sit it out with me on the terrace."

"No, thank you," said Patty. "I'd rather dance. I don't suppose I'll find another dancer as good as you all summer."

"I hate to think of your going away," said Tom. "You almost promised me you'd stay here all summer."

"I know. But I'm not mistress of my own plans. They're made for me."

"And you're glad of it," said Tom, almost angrily. "You're glad you're going away from here—to go motoring in Switzerland, and all sorts of things."

"Don't be so savage. It isn't surprising that I'm glad to go away from any one as cross as you are."

Tom had to smile in return for Patty's laughing tones, and he said more gently:

"I don't mean to be bearish, but I wish you weren't going. I—I like you an awful lot, Patty. Truly I do."

"I'm glad of it," said Patty, heartily, "and I like you too. After Sinclair and Bob, you're the nicest boy in England."

"There's luck in odd numbers," said Tom, a little ruefully, "so I'm glad I'm number three. But I'd like to be number one."

"Well, you're a number one dancer," said Patty, as the music ceased, and with that Tom had to be content.

And now the hour was getting late and the young people began to go home.

It was really an ordeal for Patty to say good-bye, for she had many friends among them, and they all seemed truly regretful to part with her.

But after they had gone, and only those staying in the house remained, another surprise was in waiting for Patty. They were gathered in the great hall, talking over for the last time the mystery of the hidden fortune, and Patty's clever solution of it.

"And now," said Sinclair, "I've a little speech to make."

He went and stood on the "stair across the hall," in front of the old chimney-piece, and so, just beneath the picture of the fir trees. The painting was a fine one, and represented a landscape with firs in the foreground. It had hung there since the days of the earlier Cromartys, and was a valuable work of art.

Patty had always loved the picture, even before the added interest of learning the truth about the fir trees, and they all knew it was one of her favourites among the many art treasures of the old house.

"I was going to make this speech when the party was here," proceeded Sinclair, "but I didn't, partly because I feared it might embarrass Patty, and partly because I like it better to have only our own people here. But the speech itself is this: We, the Cromartys of Cromarty Manor, realising that we can never liquidate the great debt of gratitude we owe to our beautiful and beloved friend, Miss Patty Fairfield, wish, at least, to give her a token of our affection and a memento of her noble deed. We, therefore, one and all of the household of Cromarty, offer her this picture of fir trees, this painting by Hobbema, and we trust that she will accept it in the spirit it is tendered."

Sinclair bowed and sat down, and Patty sat for a moment in awestruck silence.

Then, "The Hobbema!" she cried, "I won't take it! The idea of giving me that painting! Why, it's one of the gems of the house!"

"That's why we want you to have it, Patty dear," said Grandma Cromarty, gently. "It is one of our treasures, and for that very reason it is worthy to be presented as a souvenir to one who so gloriously deserves it."

"Hear! Hear!" cried Bob. "Grandy makes a better speech than you, Clair."

Patty's scruples were lovingly overcome, and she was made to realise that she was the owner of a real masterpiece of art, that would be to her a lifelong delight.

"But what will take its place?" she said. "It has hung there so many years."

"It hung there," said Mrs. Hartley, "until its mission was fulfilled. Now that there is nothing to be searched for 'between the fir trees and the oak,' it need hang there no longer. It is fitting that we retain the 'oak' and you possess the 'fir trees,' thus assuring an everlasting bond of union between the fir trees and the oak."

"Bravo, Mater!" cried Bob. "You're coming out strong on speechifying, too. Mabel, we must look out for our laurels."

But Mabel was too near the verge of tears to trust her voice, so she slipped her hand in Patty's, knowing that she would understand all that could not be said.

"Well," went on Bob, "I'm not much of an orator, but I'll take it for my part to see that the Fir Trees are properly packed and sent to your home, Patty. Where shall I send the box?"

"I hate to have it go to New York now," said Patty, "for I want it with me while I'm over here."

So it was arranged to send the picture to Sir Otho's house in London, there to remain until the Fairfields returned to America.

The departure from Cromarty was made next morning directly after breakfast. It was fortunate that the last details of luggage preparations, and the packing of luncheon and so forth, made a bustle and hurry that left little time for actual farewells. And, too, they were all too sensible to mar Patty's last memory of Cromarty with futile regrets.

So after good-byes were said, and the party stowed away in the big car, Sinclair started one of their favourite nonsense songs.

The others joined in, and Patty sang too, and handkerchiefs were waved, and as the car slid out of sight among the trees, those who were left could still hear Patty's high, sweet soprano ringing back to them.

THE END

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