"But, Mona, he isn't our sort at all. I don't see why you like him."
"He mayn't be your sort, but he's mine; and I like him because I like him! That's the only reason that anybody likes anybody. You think nobody's any good unless they have all sorts of aristocratic ancestry! Like that Van Reypen man who's always dangling after you."
"He isn't dangling now," said Patty. "I haven't seen him since my party."
"You haven't! Is he mad at you?"
"Yes; he and Roger are both mad at me; and all on account of your old Mr. Lansing!"
"Yes, Roger's mad at me, too, on account of that same poor, misunderstood young gentleman. But they'll get over it. Don't worry, Patty."
"Mona, I'd like to shake you! I might just as well reason with the Rock of Gibraltar as to try to influence you. Don't you know that your father asked me to try to persuade you to drop that Lansing man?"
Patty had not intended to divulge this confidence of Mr. Galbraith, but she was at her wit's end to find some argument that would carry any weight with her headstrong friend.
"Oh, daddy!" said Mona, carelessly. "He talks to me by the hour, and I just laugh at him and drum tunes on his dear old bald head. He hasn't anything, really, against Mr. Lansing, you know; it's nothing but prejudice."
"A very well-founded prejudice, then! Why, Mona, that man isn't fit to—to——"
"To worship the ground I walk on," suggested Mona, calmly. "Well, he does, Patty, so you may as well stop interfering."
"Oh, if you look upon it as interfering!"
"Well, I don't know what you call it, if not that. But I don't mind. Go ahead, if it amuses you. But I'm sorry if my affairs make trouble between you and your friends. However, I don't believe Mr. Van Reypen will stay angry at you very long. And as for Roger,—well, I wouldn't worry about him. Of course, you're going to Elise's dance on Tuesday night?"
"Yes, of course. And I've no doubt I'll make up with Roger, then; but I don't know about Philip. I doubt if he'll be there."
"I haven't the least doubt. Where you are, there will Mr. Van Reypen be, also,—if he can possibly get an invitation."
* * * * *
Mona was right in her opinion. At Elise's dance on Tuesday night, almost the first man Patty saw, as she entered the drawing-room, was Philip Van Reypen. He greeted her pleasantly, but with a certain reserve quite different from his usual eager cordiality.
"May I have a dance, Miss Fairfield?" he said, holding out his hand for her card.
Quick-witted Patty chose just the tone that she knew would irritate him. "Certainly, Mr. Van Reypen," she said, carelessly, and as she handed him her card, she turned to smile at another man who was just coming to speak to her. When Philip handed back her card, she took it without looking at it, or at him, and handed it to Mr. Drayton, seemingly greatly interested in what dances he might select.
Van Reypen looked at her a moment in amazement. He had intended to be cool toward her, but the tables were turned, and she was decidedly cool toward him.
However, his look of surprise was not lost upon Miss Patricia Fairfield, who saw him out of the corner of her eye, even though she was apparently engrossed with Mr. Drayton.
And then, as usual, Patty was besieged by several men at once, all begging for dances, and her card was quickly filled.
"What can I do with so many suitors?" she cried, raising her hands in pretty bewilderment, as her card was passed from one to another. "Don't take all the dances, please; I want to save some for my special favourites."
"Meaning me?" said Kenneth Harper, who had just joined the group in time to hear Patty's remark.
"You, for one," said Patty, smiling on him, "but there are seventeen others."
"I'm two or three of the seventeen," said Roger, gaining possession of the card. "May I have three, Patty?"
One look flashed from Roger's dark eyes to Patty's blue ones, and in that glance their foolish little quarrel was forgiven and forgotten.
Roger had a big, generous nature, and so had Patty, and with a smile they were good friends again.
Patty's mind worked quickly. She had no intention of giving Roger three dances, but she saw that he and Mona were not yet on speaking terms. So she nodded assent, as he scribbled his initials in three places, thinking to herself that before the evening was over, two of them should be transferred to Mona's card.
Patty was looking lovely in pale blue chiffon with tiny French rosebuds of pink satin adorning it here and there. Her golden hair was clustered in becoming puffs and curls, tucked into a little net of gold mesh, with coquettish bunches of rosebuds above each ear.
But, though Patty was pretty and wore lovely clothes, her chief charm was her happy, smiling face and her gay, good-natured friendliness. She smiled on everybody, not with a set smile of society, but in a frank, happy enjoyment of the good time she was having, and appreciation of the good time that everybody else helped her to have.
"You are all so kind to me," she was saying to Robert Kenton, who had just come in; "and I want to thank you, Mr. Kenton, for the beautiful flowers you sent. I do love valley lilies, they're so—so——"
"They're so sentimental," suggested Rob Kenton, smiling.
"Well, yes,—if you mean them to be," said Patty, dimpling at him. "Any flower is sentimental, if the sender means it so."
"Or if the receiver wants it to be. Did you?" and Kenton smiled back at her.
"Oh, yes, of course I do!" And Patty put on an exaggeratedly soulful look. "I'm that sentimental you wouldn't believe! But I forget the language of flowers. What do lilies of the valley mean,—especially with orchids in the middle of the bunch?"
"Undying affection," responded Kenton, promptly. "Do you accept it?"
"I'd be glad to, but I suppose that means it lasts for ever and ever,—so you needn't ever send me any more flowers!"
"Oh, it isn't as undying as all that! It needs to be revived sometimes with fresh flowers."
"It's a little too complicated for me to think it out now," and Patty smiled at him, roguishly. "Besides, here are more suitors approaching; so if you'll please give me back my card, Mr. Kenton,—though I don't believe there's room for another one."
"Not one?" said the man who took it, disappointedly; for sure enough, every space was filled. "But there'll be an extra or two. May I have one of those?"
"Oh, I never arrange those in advance," said Patty. "My partners take their chances on those. But I'll give you half of this dance," and she calmly cut in two the one dance against which Philip Van Reypen had set his aristocratic initials.
Then the dancing began, and what with the fine music, the perfect floor, and usually good partners, Patty enjoyed herself thoroughly. She loved dancing, and being accomplished in all sorts of fancy dances, could learn any new or intricate steps in a moment.
After a few dances she found herself whirling about the room with Roger, and she determined to carry out her plan of reconciling him and Mona. Mr. Lansing was not at the dance, for Elise had positively declined to invite him; and so, though Mona was there, she was rather cool to Elise, and favoured Roger only with a distant bow as a greeting.
"You and Mona are acting like two silly idiots," was Patty's somewhat definite manner of beginning her conversation.
"You think so?" said Roger, as he guided her skilfully round another couple who were madly dashing toward them.
"Yes, I do. And, Roger, I want you to take my advice and make up with her."
"I've nothing to make up."
"Yes, you have, too. You and Mona are good friends, or have been, and there's no reason why you should act as you do."
"There's a very good reason; and he has most objectionable manners," declared Roger, looking sulky.
"I don't like his manners, either; but I tell you honestly, Roger, you're going about it the wrong way. I know Mona awfully well,—better than you do. And she's proud-spirited, and even a little contrary, and if you act as you do toward her, you simply throw her into the arms of that objectionable-mannered man!"
"Good Heavens, Patty, what a speech!"
"Well, of course, I don't mean literally, but if you won't speak to her at all, on account of Mr. Lansing, why of course she's going to feel just piqued enough to smile on him all the more. Can't you understand that?"
"Let her!" growled Roger.
"No, we won't let her,—any such thing! I don't like that man a bit better than you do, but do you suppose I'm going to show it by being unkind and mean to Mona? That's not tactful."
"I don't want to be tactful. I want him to let her alone."
"Well, you can't make him do that, unless you shoot him; and that means a lot of bother all round."
"It might be worth the bother."
"Don't talk nonsense, I'm in earnest. You're seriously fond of Mona, aren't you, Roger?"
"Yes, I am; or rather, I was until that cad came between us."
"He isn't exactly a cad," said Patty, judicially. "I do believe in being fair, and while the man hasn't all the culture in the world, he is kind-hearted and——"
"And awfully good to his mother, let us hope," and Roger smiled, a little sourly. "Now, Patty girl, you'd better keep your pretty little fingers out of this pie. It isn't like you to interfere in other people's affairs, and I'd rather you wouldn't."
"Oh, fiddle-de-fudge, Roger! I'm not interfering, and it is my affair. Mona is my affair, and so are you; and now your Aunt Patty is going to bring about a reconciliation."
"Not on my part," declared Roger, stoutly;
MORE MAKING UP
After the sixth dance was over, Patty asked her partner to bring Mr. Everson to her, and then she awaited his coming on a little sofa in an alcove.
If Eugene Everson was surprised at the summons, he did not show it, but advanced courteously, and took a seat by Patty's side. He had a dance engaged with her much later in the evening, so Patty said, pleasantly:
"Mr. Everson, don't think my request strange, but won't you exchange our later dance for this number seven?"
"I would gladly, Miss Fairfield, but I'm engaged for this."
"Yes, I know," and Patty favoured him with one of her most bewitching smiles; "but the lady is Miss Galbraith, as I happen to know, and Miss Galbraith is a very dear friend of mine, and,—oh, well, it's a matter of 'first aid to the injured.' I don't want to tell you all about it, Mr. Everson, but the truth is, I want Miss Galbraith to dance this number with another man,—because,—because——"
It was not quite so easy as Patty had anticipated. She didn't want to go so far as to explain the real situation, and she became suddenly aware that she was somewhat embarrassed. Her face flushed rosy pink, and she cast an appealing glance from her violet-blue eyes into the amused face of the man beside her.
"I haven't an idea of what it is all about, Miss Fairfield, but please consider me entirely at the orders of yourself and Miss Galbraith. A man at a party is at best but a puppet to dance at the bidding of any fair lady. And what better fortune could I ask than to be allowed to obey your decree?"
Patty was greatly relieved when he took the matter thus lightly. In whimsical conversation she was on her own ground, and she responded gaily: "Let it remain a mystery, then; and obey as a noble knight a lady's decree. Dance with me, and trust it to me that Miss Galbraith is also obeying a decree of mine."
"For a small person, you seem to issue decrees of surprising number and rapidity," and Everson, who was a large man, looked down at Patty with an air of amusement.
"Yes, sir," said Patty, demurely, "I'm accustomed to it. Decrees are my strong point. I issue them 'most all the time."
"And are they always obeyed?"
"Alas, noble sir, not always. Though I'm not sure that your question is as flattering as the remarks most young men make to me."
"Perhaps not. But when you know me better, Miss Fairfield, you'll find out that I'm very different from the common herd."
"Really? How interesting! I hope I shall know you better very soon, for I adore unusual people."
"And do unusual people adore you?"
"I can't tell; I've never met one before," and after the briefest of saucy glances, Patty dropped her eyes demurely.
"Aren't you one yourself?"
"Oh, no!" And Patty looked up with an air of greatest surprise; "I'm just a plain little every-day girl."
"You're a plain little coquette, that's what you are!"
"You are indeed unusual, sir, to call me plain!" and Patty looked about as indignant as an angry kitten.
"Perhaps, when I know you better, I may change my opinion of your plainness. Will you dance now?"
The music had been playing for some moments, and signifying her assent, Patty rose, and they joined the dancers who were circling the floor. Mr. Everson was a fine dancer, but he was all unprepared for Patty's exquisite perfection in the art.
"Why, Miss Fairfield," he said, unable to suppress his admiration, "I didn't know anybody danced like you, except professionals."
"Oh, yes, I'm a good dancer," said Patty, carelessly; "and so are you, for that matter. Do you think they've made up?"
"Miss Galbraith and Mr. Farrington. See, we're just passing them. Oh, I'm afraid they haven't!"
It was difficult to judge by the glance they obtained in passing, but Patty declared that both Mona's and Roger's faces looked like thunder clouds.
"Give them a little longer," said Mr. Everson, who began to see how matters stood.
"Perhaps another round, and we will find them smiling into each other's eyes."
But when they next circled the long room, Mona and Roger were nowhere to be seen.
"Aha," said Everson, "the conservatory for theirs! It must be all right! Shall we trail 'em?"
"Yes," said Patty. "I don't care if they see us. Let's walk through the conservatory."
They did so, and spied Mona and Roger sitting under a group of palms, engaged in earnest conversation. They were not smiling, but they were talking very seriously, with no indication of quarrelling.
"I guess it's all right," said Patty, with a little sigh. "It's awfully nice to have friends, Mr. Everson, but sometimes they're a great care; aren't they?"
"If you'll let me be your friend, Miss Fairfield, I'll promise never to be a care, and I'll help you to care for your other cares."
"Goodness, what a complicated offer! If I could straighten all those cares you speak of, I might decide to take you as a friend. I think I will, anyway,—you were so nice about giving me this dance."
"I was only too delighted to do so, Miss Fairfield."
"Thank you. You know it is in place of our other one, number sixteen."
"Oh, we must have that also."
"No, it was a fair exchange. You can get another partner for sixteen."
"But I don't want to. If you throw me over, I shall sit in a corner and mope."
"Oh, don't do that! Well, I'll tell you what, I'll give you half of sixteen, and you can mope the other half."
And then Patty's next partner claimed her, and Mr. Everson went away.
Having done all she could in the matter of conciliating Mona and Roger, Patty bethought herself of her own little tiff with Philip Van Reypen. It did not bother her much, for she had little doubt that she could soon cajole him back to friendship, and she assured herself that if she couldn't, she didn't care.
And so, when he came to claim his dance, which was the last before supper, Patty met him with an air of cool politeness, which greatly irritated the Van Reypen pride.
He had thought, had even hoped, Patty would be humble and repentant, but she showed no such attitude, and the young man was slightly at a loss as to what manner to assume, himself.
But he followed her lead, and with punctilious courtesy asked her to dance, and they stepped out on to the floor.
For a few rounds they danced in silence, and then Philip said, in a perfunctory way: "You're enjoying this party?"
"I have been, up to this dance," and Patty smiled pleasantly, as she spoke.
"And you're not enjoying yourself now?" Philip said, suppressing his desire to shake her.
"Oh, no, sir!" and Patty looked at him with big, round eyes.
"I don't like to dance with a man who doesn't like me."
"I do like you, you silly child."
"Oh, no, you don't, either! and I'm not a silly child."
"And you're not enjoying this dance with me?"
"Not a bit!"
"Then there's no use going on with it," and releasing her, Philip tucked one of her hands through his arm, and calmly marched her into the conservatory. The seat under the palms was vacant, and as she took her place in one corner of it, he poked one or two cushions deftly behind her back and made her entirely comfortable. Then he sat down beside her.
"Now," he commanded, "say you're sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"That you carried on with that horrid man and spoiled our friendship."
"Didn't carry on, and he isn't a horrid man, and our friendship isn't spoiled, and I'm not sorry."
"Not sorry that our friendship isn't spoiled?"
"No; 'course I'm not! You don't s'pose I want it to be spoiled, do you?"
"Well, you certainly did all in your power to spoil it."
"Now, look here, Philip Van Reypen, I've already exhausted myself this evening patching up one spoiled friendship, and it's just about worn me out! Now if ours needs any patching up, you'll have to do it yourself. I shan't raise a finger toward it!"
Patty leaned back among her pillows, looking lovely and provoking. She tried to scowl at him, but her dimples broke through the scowl and turned it into a smile. Whereupon, she dropped her eyes, and tried to assume a look of bored indifference.
Van Reypen looked at her. "So she won't raise a finger, won't she? And I've got to do it myself, have I? Well, then, I suppose I'll have to raise her finger for her." Patty's hand was lying idly in her lap, and he picked up her slender pink forefinger slowly, and with an abstracted air. "I don't know how raising a finger helps to patch up a spoiled friendship," he went on, as if to himself, "but she seems to think it does, and so, of course, it does! Well, now, mademoiselle, your finger is raised,—is our quarrel all patched up?"
Philip held her finger in one hand, and clasped her whole hand with the other, as he smiled into her eyes, awaiting an answer to his question.
Patty looked up suddenly, and quickly drew her hand away.
"Unhand me, villain!" she laughed, "and don't bother about our friendship! I'm not worrying over it."
"You needn't, little girl," and Philip's voice rang true. "Nothing can ever shake it! And I apologise for my foolish anger. If you want to affect the society of men I don't like,—of course I've no right to say a word, and I won't. At any rate, not now, for I don't want to spoil this blessed making-up with even a thought of anything unpleasant."
"Now, that's real nice of you, Philip," and Patty fairly beamed at him. "It's so nice to be friends again, after being near-not-friends!"
"Yes, milady, and you made up just in time. Aunty Van is having an opera party to-morrow night, and she wants you to go."
"Are you going?" and Patty put her fingertip in her mouth, and looked babyishly at him.
"Oh, don't let that influence you. Decide for yourself."
"Well, since you don't care whether I go or not, I believe I won't go."
"Foolish child! Of course you'll go. And then, as you know very well, wild horses couldn't keep me away."
"How do wild horses keep people away? They must be trained to do it. And then, they're not wild horses any more."
"What foolishness you do talk! Well, will you go to the opera with us?"
"Yes, and thank you kindly, sir. Or, rather, I thank your august aunt for the invitation."
"No, thank me. As a matter of fact, I made up the party. So it's really mine, though I accept Aunty Van's box for the occasion."
"'Tis well, fair sir. I thank thee greatly. What may I do for thee in return?"
Patty clasped her hands and looked a pretty suppliant, begging a favour.
"Give me half a dozen more dances," replied Philip, taking her card to look at.
"Not one left," said Patty, calmly.
"And most of them halves!" exclaimed Philip. "What a belle you are, Patty!"
"All the girls are," she returned, carelessly, which, however, was not quite true. "But I'll tell you what I will do. I'll give you half of number sixteen. That's Mr. Everson's, but I'll divide it. I told him I should."
"You little witch! Did you save it for me?"
"M—m——," and Patty slowly wagged her head up and down.
"That was dear of you! But don't you think for a minute that's all I'm going to have! There'll be an extra or two, and I claim them all!"
"Hear the man talk!" exclaimed Patty. "Why, I do believe they're beginning an extra now! Mr. Van Reypen, won't you dance it with me?" Patty jumped up and stood before him, lightly swaying in time to the music.
Philip sat looking at her, entranced by the pretty vision; and even before he could rise, Kenneth Harper came to Patty, and obeying a sudden coquettish impulse, she put her hand lightly on Kenneth's shoulder and they danced away.
Philip Van Reypen sat looking after them, smiling.
"What a transparent child she is," he thought to himself. "Her pretty little coquetries are like the gambols of a kitten. Now, she thinks I'm going to be annoyed at losing this dance with her. Well,—I am,—but I don't propose to quarrel with her about it."
And then Patty and Kenneth came dancing back again; and Patty calmly told Mr. Van Reypen it was his turn now.
Philip took her hand and they started off, and when that dance was finished it was supper-time.
As usual, Patty and her most especial friends grouped in some pleasant corner for supper. But, looking about, she missed a familiar face.
"Where is Christine Farley?" she said. "She always has supper with us. Do you know where she is, Mr. Hepworth?"
Gilbert Hepworth drew near Patty, and spoke in a low voice: "I think she has gone to the dressing-room," he said. "I wish you'd go up and see her, Patty."
A little startled at his serious face, Patty ran upstairs, to Elise's room, where she had taken off her wraps.
There was Christine, who had thrown herself on a couch, and buried her face in the pillows.
"Why, Christine, what is the matter, dear?" and Patty laid her hand gently on Christine's hair.
"Oh, Patty, don't speak to me! I am not fit to have you touch me!"
"Good gracious, Christine, what do you mean?" and Patty began to think her friend had suddenly lost her mind.
"I'm a bad, wicked girl! You were my friend, and now I've done an awful, dreadful thing! But, truly, truly, Patty, I didn't mean to!"
"Christine Farley, stop this foolishness! Sit up here this minute, and tell me what you're talking about! I believe you're crazy."
Christine sat up, her pale hair falling from its bands, and her eyes full of tears.
"I've—I've—stolen——" she began.
"Oh, you goose! do go on! What have you stolen? A pin from Elise's pin cushion,—or some powder from her puff-box? Another dab on your nose would greatly improve your appearance,—if you ask me! It's as red as a beet!"
"Patty, don't giggle! I'm serious. Oh, Patty, Patty, do forgive me!"
"I'll forgive you anything, if you'll tell me what's the matter, and convince me that you haven't lost your mind. Now, Christine, don't you dare ask me to forgive you again, until you tell me what for!"
"Well, you see, you were away all summer."
"Yes, so I was," agreed Patty, in bewilderment.
"And you have been so busy socially this fall and winter, I haven't seen much of you."
"No," agreed Patty, still more deeply mystified.
"And—and—Gil—Mr. Hepworth hasn't either——"
"Oh!" cried Patty, a great light breaking in upon her; "oh,—oh!—OH!! Christine, do you mean it? Oh, how perfectly lovely! I'm so glad!"
"You're glad?" and Christine opened her eyes in amazement.
"Why, of course I'm glad, you silly! Did you think I wanted him? Oh, you Blessed Goose!"
"Oh, Patty, I'm so relieved. You see, I thought you looked upon him as your especial property. I know he cared a lot for you,—he still does. But——"
"But he and I are about as well suited as chalk and cheese! Whereas, he's just the one for you! Oh, Christine, darling, I'm delighted! May I tell? Can we announce it to-night?"
"Oh, no! You see, he just told me to-night. And I felt guilty at once. I knew I had stolen him from you."
"Oh, Christine, don't! Don't say such things! He wasn't mine to steal. We've always been friends, but I never cared for him that way."
"That's what he said; but I felt guilty all the same."
"Well, stop it, right now! Mr. Hepworth is lovely; he's one of the best friends I ever had, and if I have any claim on his interest or affection, I'm only too glad to hand it over to you. Now, brace up, powder your nose, and come down to supper. And you needn't think you can keep this thing secret! I won't tell,—but your two faces will give it away at once. Don't blame me if people guess it!"
"Don't let them, Patty; not to-night. Keep me by you, and right after supper I'll go home."
"All right, girlie; just as you like. But don't look at G. H. or you'll betray your own dear little heart."
However, they reckoned without the other interested party.
When the two girls came downstairs, smiling, and with their arms about each other, Mr. Hepworth went to meet them, and drew Christine's arm through his own with an unmistakable air of proprietorship. Christine's blushes, and Patty's smiles, confirmed Hepworth's attitude, and a shout of understanding went up from their group of intimates.
"Yes, it's so," said Patty; "but I promised Christine I wouldn't tell!"
And then there were congratulations and good wishes from everybody, and the pretty little Southern girl was quite overcome at being so suddenly the centre of attraction.
"It's perfectly lovely," said Patty, holding out her hand to Hepworth, "and I'm as glad for you as I can be,—and for Christine, too."
"Thank you, Patty," he returned, and for a moment he held her eyes with his own. Then he said, "Thank you," again, and turned away.
A DELIGHTFUL INVITATION
Patty was singing softly to herself, as she fluttered around her boudoir at a rather late hour the next morning. Robed in a soft blue silk negligee, with her golden curls tucked into a little lace breakfast cap, she now paused to take a sip of chocolate or a bit of a roll from her breakfast tray, then danced over to the window to look out, or back to her desk to look up her calendar of engagements for the day.
"What a flutter-budget you are, Patty," said Nan, appearing at the doorway, and pausing to watch Patty's erratic movements.
Patty flew across the room and greeted her stepmother with an affectionate squeeze, and then flew back and dropped comfortably on the couch, tucking one foot under her, and thereby dropping off a little blue silk boudoir slipper as she did so.
"Oh, Nan!" she began, "it was the most exciting party ever! What do you think? Christine and Mr. Hepworth are engaged!"
"Christine! and Gilbert Hepworth!" and Nan was quite as surprised at the news as Patty could desire.
"Yes, isn't it great! and oh, Nan, what do you think? Christine was all broken up,—crying in fact,—because,—did you ever know anything so ridiculous?—because she thought she was taking him away from me!"
Nan looked at Patty a little curiously. "Well; you must know, Patty, he certainly thought a great deal of you."
"Of course he did! And of course he does!—You speak as if he were dead!—and I think a great deal of him, and I think a heap of Christine, and I think they are perfectly suited to each other, and I think it's all just lovely! Don't you?"
"Yes," said Nan, slowly. "Then, you didn't care for him especially, Patty?"
"Good gracious, Nan, if you mean was I in love with him, I sure was not! Little girls like me don't fall in love with elderly gentlemen; and this particular little girl isn't falling in love anyway. Why, Nan, I'm only just out, and I do perfectly adore being out! I want three or four years of good, solid outness before I even think of falling in love with anybody. Of course I shall marry eventually, and be a beautiful, lovely housekeeper, just exactly like you. But, if you remember, my lady, you were some few years older than nineteen when you married my revered father."
"That's true enough, Patty, and I can tell you I'm glad I didn't accept any of the young men who asked me before Fred did."
"I'm jolly glad, too; and father was in luck when he got you. But you're not going to be rid of me yet for a long time, I can tell you that much. Well, more things happened last night. Philip and I made up our quarrel,—which wasn't much of a quarrel anyway,—and Roger and Mona are pretty much at peace again; though, if Mona keeps on with that Lansing idiot, Roger won't stand it much longer. And I'm going to the opera to-night in the Van Reypen box, and I'm going skating to-morrow,—oh, there's the mail!"
Patty jumped up and ran to take the letters from Jane, who brought in a trayful.
"Quite a bunch for you, Nansome," and Patty tossed a lot of letters in Nan's lap. "And a whole lot of beautiful, fat envelopes for me. 'Most all invitations, as you can see at a glance. Two or three requests for charity,—they show on the outside, too. A few bills, a few circulars and advertisements, and all the rest invitations. Isn't it gorgeous, Nan, to be invited to such heaps of things?"
"Don't wear yourself out, Patty," returned Nan, a little absent-mindedly, being absorbed in a letter from her mother.
Having weeded out the more interesting looking letters, Patty returned to her sofa, and curled up there with both feet under her, looking like a very pretty and very civilised little Turk. With a slender paper cutter she slashed all the envelopes, and then went through them one by one, making running comments of delight or indifference as she read the various contents.
But suddenly a more excited exclamation broke from her. "Oh, my goodness, gracious, sakes alive!" she cried. "Nan, will you listen to this!"
"Wait a minute, honey, till I finish this letter," and Nan went on reading to herself.
Patty dashed through eight pages of sprawly penmanship, and as soon as she finished she read it all over again.
"Now, Miss Fairfield, what's it all about?" and Nan folded her own letter and returned it to its envelope.
"Well, in a nutshell, it's a Christmas Country House Party! Could anything be more delightfuller?"
"Who, where, what, when?" And Nan patiently awaited further enlightenment.
"Oh, Nan, it's too gorgeous!" And Patty's eyes ran through the letter again. "You know Adele Kenerley, who was down at Mona's last summer,—well, she and Jim have bought a place at Fern Falls,—wherever that may be,—somewhere up in Connecticut,—in the Berkshires, you know. Heavenly in summer, dunno what it'll be in winter. But all the same that's where the house party is, Christmas,—stay two or three weeks,—all our crowd,—oh, Nan! isn't it beatific!"
Patty bounded to her feet, and gathering up the sides of her accordion-pleated gown, she executed a triumphant dance about the room, winding up by kicking her little blue silk slipper straight over Nan's head.
"Moderate your transports, my love," Nan said, calmly. "I don't want concussion of the brain, from being hit by a French heel."
"Not much of a compliment to my skilful ballet dancing," and Patty flung herself into the cushions again. "But, Nan, you don't understand; everybody's going! Elise and Mona and the boys, and oh, gracious, do show some enthusiasm!"
"Don't have to," said Nan, smiling, "when you show enough for a dozen."
"Well, I'll call up Mona, she'll have something to say."
Patty reached for the telephone, and in a few moments both girls were talking at once, and the conversation ran something like this:
"Yes, I did, and, Patty——"
"Of course I am! Oh, I don't know about that! If I——"
"But of course if Daisy is there——"
"Well, we can't help that, and anyway——"
"Tuesday, I suppose; but Adele said——"
"No, Monday, Mona, for us, and the boys——"
"I'm not sure that I'll go. You see——"
"Now, stop such nonsense! Of course he isn't invited, but I'll never speak to you again if——"
"Oh, of course I will, but I'll only stay——"
"Yes, all our best frocks, and lots of presents and, oh, Mona, come on over here, do. There's oceans of things to talk about!"
"All right, I will. Good-bye."
"Good-bye." And Patty hung up the receiver. "She's coming over here, Nan; there's so much to plan for, you know. Do help me, won't you? A regular Christmas tree, and all that, you know; and presents for everybody, and a dance at the country club, and I don't know what all."
"Yes, you will have a lovely time." And Nan smiled with sympathy at the excited girl, whose sparkling eyes and tumbled hair betokened her state of mind.
Mona came over and spent the rest of the day, and plans were made and unmade and remade with startling rapidity.
Mona began to voice regrets that Mr. Lansing was not invited to the house party, but Patty interrupted at once:
"Now, Mona Galbraith, you stop that! Adele has a lovely party made up, and you're not going to spoil it by even so much as a reference to that man! Roger will be there for Christmas, and if that isn't enough for you, you can stay home!"
"Isn't Elise going?"
"No, she can't. She's going South next week with her mother, and I doubt if Philip Van Reypen will go. His aunt won't want him to leave her at the holidays. Do you know, I'm a little sorry Daisy Dow is up there."
"You don't like her, do you, Patty?"
"I would, if she'd like me. But she's always snippy to me."
"'Cause she's jealous of you," observed Mona, sapiently.
"Nonsense! She has no reason to be. I never interfere with her."
"Well, never mind, don't let her bother you. Hal Ferris will be there. You don't know him, do you? He's Adele's brother."
"No, I never met him. She wrote that he'd be there."
"He's the dearest boy. Well, he's older than Adele, but he seems like a boy,—he's so full of capers. Adele says it's a beautiful big house, just right for a jolly, old-fashioned Christmas party."
* * * * *
The days simply flew by as Christmas drew nearer. There was so much to do socially, and then there were the Happy Saturday Afternoons to be planned and carried out, and the Christmas shopping to be done.
This last was greatly added to because of the house party, for Patty knew the generosity of her hosts, and she wanted to do her share in the presentation festivities.
She undertook to dress a huge doll for baby May. Nan helped her with this or she never could have finished the elaborate wardrobe. She selected a beautiful doll, of goodly size, but not big enough to be cumbersome to little two-year-old arms. With her knack for dressmaking and her taste for colour, she made half a dozen dainty and beautiful frocks, and also little coats and hats, and all the various accessories of a doll's outfit.
She bought a doll's trunk and suit-case to contain these things, and added parasol, furs, jewelry, and all the marvellous little trinkets that the toy shop afforded.
"I spent so much time and thought on this doll," said Patty, one day, "that I shall have to buy things for the others. I can't sew any more, Nan; my fingers are all like nutmeg graters now."
"Poor child," sympathised Nan. "You have worked hard, I know, but Adele will appreciate it more than if you had made something for herself. By all means buy the rest of your gifts."
So Patty bought a beautiful luncheon set of filet lace and embroidery for Mrs. Kenerley, and an Oriental antique paper cutter for her husband.
She bought a handsome opera bag for Mona and a similar one for Daisy Dow, that there might be no rivalry there. She bought a few handsome and worth-while books for the men who would be at the party, and attractive trinkets for the house servants.
Of course, in addition to these, she had to prepare a great many gifts for her New York friends, as well as for her own family and many of her relatives. But both Patty and Nan enjoyed shopping, and went about it with method and common sense.
"I can't see," said Patty, as they started off in the car one morning, "why people make such a bugbear of Christmas shopping. I think it's easy enough."
"Perhaps it's because you have plenty of money, Patty. You know, not every one has such a liberal father as you have."
Patty looked thoughtful. "I don't think it's that, Nan; at least, not entirely. I think it's more common sense, and not being fussy. Now, I give lots of presents that cost very little; and then, of course, I give a lot of expensive ones, too. But it's just as easy to buy the cheap ones, if not easier. You just make up your mind what you want to spend for a certain present, and then you buy the nicest thing you see for that amount. It's when people fuss and bother, and can't make up their minds among half a dozen different things, that they get worried and bothered about Christmas. I do believe most of their trouble comes from lack of decision, which is only another way of saying that they haven't common sense or even common gumption!"
"Well, Patty, whatever else you may lack, you certainly have common sense and gumption; I'll give you credit for them."
"Thank you, Nan; much obliged, I'm sure. I wish I could return the compliment, but sometimes I think you haven't much of those things yourself."
Nan flashed a smile at Patty, entirely unmoved by this criticism; for she knew that she was vacillating and sometimes undecided, as compared to Patty's quick-witted grasp of a subject and instantaneous decision.
"Have I told you," said Patty, "what we're going to do next Saturday afternoon? I do think it's going to be lovely. And I do hope it won't make the girls mad, but I don't think it will. You know, Nan, what an awful lot of things we all get every Christmas that we don't want and can't use, although they're awfully pretty and nice. We just lay them away in cupboards, and there they stay. Well, on Saturday, we're going to take a lot of these things and give them to people."
"For Christmas presents? Why, Christmas is two weeks off yet."
"That's just it! Not for presents to themselves, but presents for them to give to other people."
"Oh, I begin to see."
"Yes; it isn't the least bit charity, you see. Why, one of the people I'm going to give things to, is Christine. With her work, and being engaged and all, she hasn't any time to make things, or even to go shopping, and she can't afford to buy much, anyway. So I'm going to give her one or two beautiful silk bags that were given to me two or three years ago. They're perfectly fresh, never been out of their boxes. And I'm going to give her one or two beautiful, fine handkerchiefs in boxes, and two or three lovely books, and two or three pieces of bric-a-brac, and a Japanese ivory carving. Don't you see, Nan, she can give these to her friends for Christmas, and it will save her a lot of trouble and expense. And dear knows, I don't want them! My rooms are chock-a-block with just such things, now. And I know she won't feel offended, when I tell her about it straightforwardly."
"Of course she won't be offended with you, Patty; and I think the idea is lovely. I've a lot of things put away I'll give you. I never thought of such a thing before."
"The girls thought at first that maybe it might not work, but I talked them around and now they're all in for it. I'm going to take some things to Mrs. Greene. I've quite a lot for her, and I'll tell her she can give them all away, or keep some herself, just as she likes. And I've things for Rosy, that freckled-faced boy, you know. I have games and picture-puzzles and books that I used to have myself. Of course they're all perfectly new. I wouldn't give anything that had been used at all. And we're going Saturday afternoon to take these things around. Mona has lovely things, and so has Elise. You see, we get so many Christmas and birthday presents, and card party prizes, and such things, and I do think it's sensible to make use of them for somebody's pleasure instead of sticking them away in dark cupboards. And, Nan, what do you think?—with each lot of things we're going to give a dozen sheets of white tissue paper and a bolt of holly ribbon and some little tags so they can fix up real Christmassy presents to give away."
"Patty, you're a wonder," said Nan, looking affectionately at the girl beside her. "How do you think of all these things?"
"Common sense and general gumption," returned Patty. "Very useful traits, I find 'em. And here we are at our first shopping place."
Assisted by Patty's common sense and expeditious judgment, they accomplished a great deal that morning, and returned home with their lists considerably shortened.
"It does seem funny," said Patty, that same afternoon, "to be tying up these things almost two weeks ahead of time. But with all the newspapers and magazines urging you to do your shopping early, and send off your parcels early, you can't really do otherwise."
Patty was surrounded by presents of all sorts, boxes of all sizes, pieces of ribbon, and all sorts of cards and tags.
"I'm sick and tired of holly ribbon and red ribbon," she said, as she deftly tied up her parcels. "So, this year, I'm using white satin ribbon and gilt cord. It's an awfully pretty combination, and these little green and gilt tags are lovely, don't you think?"
Her audience, which consisted of Elise and Mona, were watching her work with admiration. They had offered to help, but after an ineffectual attempt to meet Patty's idea of how a box should be tied up, they abandoned the effort, and sat watching her nimble fingers fly.
"You ought to get a position in some shop where they advertise, 'only experienced parcel wrappers need apply,'" said Elise. "I never saw such neat parcels."
"You're evidently going to be an old maid," said Mona, "you're so fussy and tidy."
"I do like things tidy," admitted Patty, "and if that interferes with my having a husband, why, of course I'll have to give him up. For I can't stand not having things neat about me."
"Do you call this room neat?" asked Elise, smiling as she looked about at the scattered boxes and papers, cut strings, and little piles of shredded tissue.
"Yes, I do," declared Patty, stoutly. "This kind of stuff can be picked up in a jiffy, and then the room is all in order. This is temporary, you see. By untidiness, I mean dirt and dust, and bureau drawers in a mess, and desks in disorder."
"That's me," confessed Mona, cheerfully. "Not the dirt and dust, perhaps,—the maids look after that. But I just can't keep my belongings in their places."
"Neither can I," said Elise. "I don't see how you do it, Patty."
"Oh, pshaw! it's no credit to me, I just can't help it. I'd have a fit if they weren't all nice and in order. And if that means I'm going to be an old maid, I can't help it,—and I don't care!"
"Hoo-hoo!" said Elise.
Christmas would be on Wednesday, and it was arranged that Patty and Mona should go up to Fern Falls on Monday. Roger and Philip Van Reypen were to go up on Tuesday for the Christmas Eve celebration; and the rest of the house-party were already at the Kenerleys'.
The girls started off early in the afternoon, and a train ride of three hours brought them to the pretty little New England village of Fern Falls.
Jim Kenerley met them with a motor.
"We hoped for snow," he said, as he cordially greeted the befurred young women who stepped off the train at the little station. "So much more Christmassy, you know. But, at any rate, we have cold, clear weather, and that's something. Hop in, now. Adele didn't come to meet you,—sent all kinds of excuses, which I've forgotten, but she can tell you herself, when we reach the house. Here, I'll sit between you, and keep you from shaking around and perhaps spilling out."
Cheery Jim Kenerley bustled them into the tonneau, looked after their luggage, and then, taking his own place, drew up the fur robes snugly, and the chauffeur started off. It was a four-mile spin to the house, for the village itself was distant from the station, and the Kenerleys' house a mile or so beyond.
It was cold, but the girls were warmly wrapped up and didn't a bit mind the clear, frosty air, though in an open car. "Didn't bring the limousine," Mr. Kenerley rattled on. "Can't abide to be shut up in a stuffy glass house, and then, you know, people who ride in glass houses mustn't throw stones."
"But, you see, we girls couldn't hit anything if we did throw a stone," said Patty. "At least, women have that reputation."
"That's so," agreed Jim. "Can't even hit the side of a barn, so they say. But I expect you girls that grow up with athletics and basket ball, and such things, put the old proverbs to rout."
"How's Daisy?" asked Mona. "Same as ever?"
"Yep; same as ever. Daisy's all right, you know, if things go her way. But if not——"
"If not, she makes them go her way," said Mona, and Jim laughed and agreed, "She sure does!"
At last they reached the house, which Jim informed them they had dubbed the Kenerley Kennel, for no particular reason, except that it sounded well.
"But you have dogs?" asked Patty, as they rolled up the driveway.
"Yes, but we didn't exactly name it after them. Hello, here are the girls!"
Adele and Daisy appeared in the doorway, and greeted the visitors in truly feminine fashion, which included much laughter and exclamation.
"Where do I come in?" said a laughing voice, and a big, laughing man left his seat by the fireplace and came toward them.
"This is my brother," said Adele, "by name, Mr. Harold Ferris,—but commonly called Chub."
The name was not inapt, for Mr. Ferris showed a round, chubby face, with big, dancing black eyes and ringlets of dark hair clustered on his brow. Only his enormous size prevented his appearance being positively infantile, and his round, dimpled face was as good-natured as that of a laughing baby.
"And so you're the two girls who are to spend Christmas with us," he said, beaming down on them from his great height. "Well, you'll do!"
He looked approvingly from Patty's flower face to Mona's glowing beauty, and truly it would have been hard to find two more attractive looking girls. The sudden transition from the cold out-of-doors to the warmth of the blazing fire had flushed their cheeks and brightened their eyes, and the hearty welcome they received brought smiles of delight to their faces.
"Now, come away with me," said Adele, "and get off your furs and wraps, and make yourselves pretty for tea."
"Oh, I know what you'll do," said Chub, in an aggrieved tone. "You'll just go upstairs and hob-nob and talk and gossip and chatter and babble, and never get down here again! I know girls! Why, first thing I know, you'll be having your tea sent up there!"
"Great idea!" exclaimed Patty, twinkling her eyes at him. "Let's do that, Adele; kimono party, you know. We'll see you at dinner time, Mr. Ferris."
"Dinner time, nothing! If you're not back here in fifteen minutes, the whole crowd of you, I'll—I'll——"
"Well, what will you do?" laughed Mona.
"Never you mind,—you'll find out all too soon. Now, skip, and remember, tea will be served in just fifteen minutes."
The girls had really no intention of not returning, and it was not much more than the allotted time before Patty and Mona were arrayed in soft, pretty house-dresses and reappeared in the great hall, where tea was already being placed for them.
The big fireplace had cosy seats on either side, and the crackling logs and flickering blaze made all the light that was needed save for a pair of tall cathedral candles in their antique standards.
"What a duck of a house!" exclaimed Patty, as she came down the broad staircase, her soft, rose-coloured chiffon gown shimmering in the firelight. She cuddled up in a corner near the fire, and Hal Ferris brought a cushion to put behind her.
"It ought to be a rose-coloured one," he said, apologetically; "but I didn't see one handy to grab, and really this old blue isn't half bad for a background."
"Much obliged for your kind colour-scheme," said Patty, smiling at him, "and I'll have one lump, please, and a bit of lemon."
Big Mr. Ferris proved himself tactful as well as kind, for he divided his attentions impartially among the four ladies.
"A little shy of men; aren't we, Adele?" he said to his sister. "Even Jim seems to have disappeared. Not that I mind being the only pebble on the beach,—far from it,—but I'm afraid I can't prove entertaining enough for four."
"You're doing nobly so far," said Patty, cuddling into her cushion, for she loved luxurious warmth, like a kitten.
"Two more men are coming to dinner, girls," said their hostess; "and to-morrow, you know, we'll have two more house-party guests. Don't worry, Chub, you shan't be overworked, I promise you."
After a pleasant tea hour, the girls went again to their rooms, ostensibly to rest before dinner, but really to have what Patty called a kimono party.
All in their pretty negligees, they gathered in Adele's room and talked as rapidly and interruptingly as any four girls can.
"Do you hear from Bill Farnsworth often?" asked Daisy of Patty, apropos of nothing but her own curiosity.
"Not often, Daisy," returned Patty, of no mind to pursue the subject.
"But don't you ever hear from him?" persisted the other.
"Oh, sometimes," said Patty, carelessly. "He sent me flowers for my coming-out party."
"I hear from Bill sometimes," said Adele. "I asked him to come to this party, but he couldn't possibly leave just now. He's awfully busy."
"What's he doing?" asked Mona.
"I don't know exactly," answered Adele. "Jim can tell you, but it has something to do with prospecting of mines. Say, girls, do you want to see the baby before she's put to bed?"
Of course they did, and they all trooped into the nursery to admire the tiny mite of humanity, who looked a picture, with her tumbled curls and her laughing face, just ready for bed.
She remembered Patty and Mona, and greeted them without shyness, clinging to Patty's neck and begging her to stay and sing her to sleep.
This Patty would have done, but Adele wouldn't allow it, and ordered the girls back to their rooms to dress for dinner.
"Eight o'clock sharp," she warned them, "and don't put on your prettiest gowns; save those for to-morrow night."
Patty wandered around her room, singing softly, as she dressed. Looking over her dinner gowns, she decided upon her second best, a white marquisette with a garniture of pearl beads and knots of pale blue velvet. When the maid came to assist her she was nearly dressed, and ten minutes before the dinner hour she was quite ready to go downstairs. "I may as well go on down," she thought to herself. "I can explore the house a little."
She looked in at Mona's door as she passed, but as that young woman was just having her gown put over her head, she didn't see Patty, and so Patty went on downstairs.
There was no one about, so she strolled through the various rooms, admiring the big, pleasant living-room, the cosy library, and then drifted back to the great hall, which was very large, even for a modern country house. It was wainscoted in dark wood, and contained many antique bits of furniture and some fine specimens of old armour and other curios. Jim Kenerley's father had been rather a noted collector, and had left his treasures to his only son. They had chosen this house as being roomy and well-fitted for their belongings.
Patty came back to the great fireplace, and stood there, leaning her golden head against one of the massive uprights.
"Adele told me you were a peach," exclaimed a laughing voice, "but she didn't half tell me how much of a one you are!"
Patty turned her head slowly, and looked at Mr. Hal Ferris.
"And I thought you were a mannerly boy!" she said, in a tone of grave reproach.
"I beg your pardon," he exclaimed. "I do indeed! I'm almost a stranger to you, I know; I ought to have waited until I know you better to say anything of that sort to you! May I take it back, and then say it to you again after I do know you better?"
Patty couldn't help smiling at his mock dismay.
"And how well shall I have to know you," he went on, "before I can say it to you properly?"
"I can't answer that question at once," said Patty. "We'll have to let our acquaintance proceed, and see——"
"And see how the cat jumps," he suggested.
"Yes," agreed Patty. "And, by the way, what a jumper that cat must be."
"Small wonder, with everybody waiting to see how she jumps! Oh, pshaw! here comes a horde of people, and our pleasant tete-a-tete is spoiled!"
"Never mind; we'll have another some time," and Patty gave him a dimpled smile that quite completed the undoing of Mr. Harold Ferris.
The "horde" proved to be two young men from nearby country houses, Mr. Collins and Mr. Hoyt. And then the other members of the household appeared, and soon dinner was announced.
"We haven't any especial guest of honour," said Mrs. Kenerley, "for you're all so very honourable. So pair off just as you like."
Hal Ferris jumped a low chair and two footstools to reach Patty before any one else could. "Come in with me," he said. "I know the way to the dining-room."
"I'm glad to be shown," said Patty. "You see, I've never been here before."
"I know it; that's why I'm being so kind to you. To-morrow I'll take you up in the tower—it's great."
"Why, is this place a castle?"
"Not exactly, but it's modelled after an old chateau. Really, it's a most interesting house."
"All right. To-morrow we'll explore it thoroughly."
And then they took their seats at the table, and as the party was small, conversation became general.
Suddenly Patty became aware that Mr. Collins, who sat on the other side of her, was trying to attract her attention. He was a mild-mannered young man, and he looked at her reproachfully.
"I've asked you a question three times, Miss Fairfield," he said, "and you never even heard it."
"Then you certainly can't expect me to answer it, Mr. Collins," and Patty laughed gaily. "Won't you repeat it for me, please? I'll promise to hear it this time."
"I said, did you ever make a lemon pig?"
"A lemon pig! No, I never did. How do you make it?"
"Oh, they're the maddest fun! I say, Mrs. Kenerley, mayn't we have a lemon?"
"Certainly, Mr. Collins."
"And, oh, I say, Mrs. Kenerley, if it isn't too much trouble, mayn't we have a box of matches, and two black pins, and a bit of paper?"
"And a colander and a tack hammer and a bar of soap?" asked Ferris, but Mr. Collins said, gravely: "No, we don't want those."
The articles he had asked for were soon provided, and in the slow, grave way in which he did everything, Mr. Collins began to make the strange animal of which he had spoken. The lemon formed the whole pig, with four matches for his legs, two black pins for his eyes, and a narrow strip of paper, first curled round a match, for his tail. It was neither artistic nor realistic, but it was an exceedingly comical pig, and soon it began to squeak in an astonishingly pig-like voice. Then a tap at the window was heard, and a farmer's gruff voice shouted: "Have you my pig in there? My little Lemmy pig?"
"Yes," responded Mr. Collins, "we have; and we mean to keep him, too."
"I'll have the law of ye," shouted the farmer. "Me pig escaped from the sty, and I call upon ye to give him up!"
"We won't do it!" shouted several of the men in chorus.
"Then, kape him!" returned the voice of the farmer, and they heard his heavy tramp as he strode away.
Patty looked puzzled. She couldn't understand what it all meant, until Hal Ferris whispered, "It was only Collins; he's a ventriloquist."
"Oh," said Patty, turning to Mr. Collins, delightedly, "was it really you? Oh, how do you do it? I've always wanted to hear a ventriloquist, and I never did before."
"Oh, yes, you did!" said a voice from the other end of the table, and Patty looked up, saying earnestly, "No, I didn't!" when she realised that the accusation had really come from Mr. Collins.
"Oh, what fun!" she cried, clapping her hands. "Do some more!"
"I'd rather he wouldn't," said Adele, and Patty looked at her in surprise. "Why not, Adele?" she asked.
Everybody laughed, and Adele said: "You're too easily fooled, Patty. That was Mr. Collins speaking like me. He knows my voice so well he can imitate it."
"He'd better stop it!" came in a deep growl from Jim Kenerley's end of the table, and Patty was surprised at such a speech from her urbane host. Then she realised that that, too, was Mr. Collins speaking.
"I just love it!" she exclaimed. "I've always wanted to know how to do it. Won't you teach me?"
"You couldn't learn," said Mr. Collins, smiling at her.
And then Patty heard herself say: "I could so! I think you're real mean!"
Her bewildered look changed to admiration at his wonderful imitation of her voice, and the natural, petulant tone of the remark.
"It's too wonderful!" she said. "Some other time, Mr. Collins, after dinner, maybe, will you teach me just a little about it?"
"I'll try," he said, kindly; "but I warn you, Miss Fairfield, it isn't easy to learn, unless one has a natural gift for it, and a peculiar throat formation."
"Don't teach her," begged Daisy Dow. "She'll be keeping us awake all night with her practising."
It was like Daisy to say something unpleasant; but Patty only smiled at her, and said, "I'll practise being an angel, and sing you to sleep, Daisy."
"You sing like an angel without any practice," said Mona, who was always irritated when Daisy was what Patty called snippy.
"Oh, do you sing, Miss Fairfield?" said Mr. Hoyt, from across the table. "You must join our Christmas choir, then. We're going to have a glorious old carolling time to-morrow night."
"I'll be glad to," replied Patty, "if I know your music."
But after dinner, when they tried some of the music, they discovered that Patty could sing readily at sight, and she was gladly welcomed to the musical circle of Fern Falls.
"How long are you staying here?" asked Mr. Hoyt.
"A month, at least," Adele answered for Patty.
"Oh, no, not so long as that," Patty protested. "A fortnight, at most."
But Adele only smiled, and said, "We'll see about that, my dear."
After a time, Hal Ferris came to Patty, and tried to draw her away from the group around the piano.
"You're neglecting me shamefully," he said; "and I'm the brother of your hostess! Guests should always be especially kind to the Brother of a Hostess."
"What can I do for you?" asked Patty, smiling, as she walked out to the hall with him.
"Quit talking to the other people, and devote yourself to me," was the prompt response.
"Do all your sister's guests do that?"
"I don't want 'em all to; I only want you to."
"And what about my wants?"
"Yes; what about them? You want to talk to me, don't you?"
His tone and smile were so roguishly eager that Patty felt a strong liking for this big, boyish chap.
"I'll talk for ten minutes," she said, "and then we're going to dance, I believe."
"Oh, and then they'll all be after you! I say," and he drew her toward a window, from where the moonlight could be plainly seen, "Let's go out and skate. The ice is fine!"
"Skate! You must be crazy!"
"Yes; I supposed you'd say so! But to-morrow more people are coming, and I'll never see anything of you. Say, how about this? Are you game to get up and go for an early morning skate, just with me, and not let anybody else know?"
"I'd like that!" and Patty's eyes sparkled, for she dearly loved early morning fresh air. "Of course, we'll tell Adele."
"Yes; so she'll have some breakfast made for us. But nobody else. How about eight o'clock? Regular breakfast will be at nine-thirty."
"Good! I'll be ready at eight."
"Meet me in the breakfast-room at eight, then. Do you know where it is? Just off the big dining-room."
"What are you two hob-nobbing about?" asked Daisy, curiously, as she strolled over toward them.
"I'm just telling Miss Fairfield about the plan of the house," said Ferris, innocently. "It's well planned, isn't it?"
"Very," said Patty.
As Patty stepped out of her room into the hall the next morning, at eight o'clock, she found Hal Ferris already tiptoeing down the stairs. He put his finger to his lip with a great show of secrecy, which made Patty laugh.
"Why must we be so careful?" she whispered. "We're not doing anything wrong."
"No; but it's so much more fun to pretend we are. Let's pretend we're on a mysterious mission, and if we are discovered we're lost!"
So they crept downstairs silently, and reached the breakfast-room, without seeing any one except one or two of the maids, who were dusting about.
Patty had on a trim, short skirt of white cloth and a blouse of soft white silk. Over this she wore a scarlet coat, and her golden curls were tucked into a little scarlet skating cap with a saucy, wagging tassel.
But in the warm, cheery breakfast-room she threw off her coat and sat down at the table.
"I didn't intend to eat anything," she said; "but the coffee smells so good, I think I'll have a cup of it, with a roll." She smiled at the waitress, who stood ready to attend to her wishes, and Hal took a seat beside her, saying he would have some coffee also.
"We won't eat our breakfast now, you know," he went on; "but we'll come back with raging appetites and eat anything we can find. I say, this is jolly cosy, having coffee here together like this! I s'pose you won't come down every morning?"
"No, indeed," and Patty laughed. "I don't mind admitting I hate to get up early. I usually breakfast in my room and dawdle around until all hours."
"Just like a girl!" said Hal, sniffing a little.
"Well, I am a girl," retorted Patty.
"You sure are! Some girl, I should say! Well, now, Girl, if you're ready, let's start."
He held Patty's scarlet coat for her while she slipped in her arms.
Then he disappeared for a moment, and returned wearing a dark red sweater, which was very becoming to his athletic figure and broad shoulders.
"Come on, Girl," he said, gathering up their skates, and off they started.
"It's nearly half a mile to the lake. Are you good for that much walk?" Ferris asked, as they swung along at a brisk pace.
"Oh, yes, indeed, I like to walk; and I like to skate, but I like best of all to dance."
"I should think you would,—you're a ripping dancer. You know, to-night we'll have 'Sir Roger de Coverley' and old-fashioned dances like that. You like them?"
"Yes, for a change; but I like the new ones best. Are we going to have any dressing up to-night? I do love dressing up."
"Glad rags, do you mean?"
"No; I mean fancy costumes."
"Oh, that. Well, old Jim's going to be Santa Claus. I don't think anybody else will wear uncivilised clothes."
"But I want to. Can't you and I rig up in something, just for fun?"
"Oh, I say! that would be fun. What can we be? Romeo and Juliet, or Jack and Jill?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that. Something more like Christmas, you know. Well, I'll think it over through the day, and we'll fix it up."
Skating on the lake so early in the morning proved to be glorious exercise. The ice was perfect, and the crisp, clear air filled them with exhilaration.
Both were good skaters, and though they did not attempt fancy figures, they spent nearly an hour skating around the lake.
"That's the best skate I ever had!" declared Hal, when they concluded to return home.
"It certainly was fine," declared Patty, "and by the time we've walked back to the house, I shall be quite ready for some eggs and bacon."
"And toast and marmalade," supplemented Ferris.
"I wonder if Daisy will be down. Does she come down to breakfast usually?"
"Sometimes and sometimes not," answered Ferris, carelessly. "She's a law unto herself, is Daisy Dow."
"You've known her a long time, haven't you?"
"Just about all our lives. Used to go to school together, and we were always scrapping. Daisy's a nice girl, and a pretty girl, but she sure has got a temper."
"And a good thing to have sometimes. I often wish I had more."
"Nonsense! you're perfect just as you are."
"Oh, what a pretty speech! If you're going to talk like that, I shall take the longest way home."
"I'd willingly agree to that, but I don't believe you're in need of further exercise just now. Come, own up you're a little bit tired."
"Hardly enough to call it tired, but if there is a short cut home let's take it."
"And what about the pretty speeches I'm to make to you?"
"Leave those till after breakfast. Or leave them till this evening and give them to me for a Christmas gift."
"Under the mistletoe?" and Ferris looked mischievous.
"Certainly not," said Patty, with great dignity. "I'm too grown-up for such foolishness as that!"
"Oh, I don't know," said Ferris.
* * * * *
The appearance of the two runaways in the breakfast-room was greeted with shouts of surprise.
Adele knew they had gone skating, but no one else did, and it was supposed they hadn't yet come downstairs.
Patty's glowing cheeks were almost as scarlet as her coat and cap, while Ferris was grinning with boyish enthusiasm.
"Top o' the morning to you all," he cried. "Me and Miss Fairfield, we've been skating for an hour."
"On the lake?" cried Daisy, in surprise. "Why, you must have started before sunrise."
"Oh, no, not that," declared Patty, as, throwing off her wraps, she took a seat next to Adele; "but long enough to get up a ravenous appetite. I hope the Kenerley larder is well stocked."
"Why didn't you let us all in on this game?" asked the host. "I think a morning skating party would be just about right."
"All right," said Patty. "We'll have one any morning you say. I shall be here for a fortnight, and I'll go any morning you like."
"I won't go," declared Mona. "I hate skating, and I hate getting up early, so count me out."
"I doubt if any one goes very soon," said Adele, "for I think there's a storm coming. It looks bright out of doors, but it feels like snow in the air."
"It does," agreed her brother; "and I hope it will snow. I'd like a real good, old-fashioned snowstorm for Christmas."
"Well, I hope it won't begin before night," said Adele. "We've a lot to do to-day. I want you all to help me decorate the tree and fix the presents."
"Of course we will," said Patty. "But, if I may, I want to skip over to the village on an errand. Can some one take me over, Adele, or must I walk?"
"I'll go with you," said Daisy, who was of no mind to be left out of Patty's escapades, if she could help it.
"All right, Daisy, but you mustn't tell what I buy, because it's a secret."
"Everything's a secret at Christmas time," said Mr. Kenerley; "but, Patty, you can have the small motor, and go over to the village any time you like."
As there was room for them all, Daisy and Mona both accompanied Patty on her trip to the village, and Hal Ferris volunteered to drive the car. But when they reached the country shop, Patty laughingly refused to let any of the party go inside with her, saying that her purchases would be a Christmas secret.
She bought a great many yards of the material known as Turkey red, and also a whole piece of white illusion. Some gilt paper completed her list, and she ran back to the car, the shopkeeper following with her bundles. They attended to some errands for Adele, and then whizzed back to the house just in time to see the Christmas tree being put into place.
"We're going to have the tree at five o'clock," said Adele, "on account of baby May. It's really for her, you know, and so I have it before dinner."
"Fine!" declared Patty. "And where do we put our presents?"
"On these tables," and Adele pointed to several small stands already well heaped with tissue-papered parcels.
"Very well, I'll get mine," and Patty went flying up to her room. Mona followed, and the two girls returned laden with their bundles.
"What fascinating looking parcels," said Adele, as she helped to place them where they belonged. "Now, Patty, about the tree; would you have bayberry candles on it, or only the electric lights?"
"Oh, have the candles. They're so nice and traditional, you know. Unless you're afraid of fire."
"No; all the decorations are fireproof. Jim would have them so. See, we've lots of this Niagara Falls stuff."
Adele referred to a decoration of spun glass, which was thrown all over the tree in cascades, looking almost like the foam of a waterfall. This would not burn, even if the flame of a candle were held to it.
"It's perfectly beautiful!" exclaimed Patty. "I never saw anything like it before."
They scattered it all over the tree, the men going up on step-ladders to reach the top branches.
The tree was set in the great, high-vaulted hall, and was a noble specimen of an evergreen. Hundreds of electric lights were fastened to its branches; and the thick bayberry candles were placed by means of holders that clasped the tree trunk, and so were held firmly and safe.
Adele's prognostications had been correct. For, soon after luncheon, it began to snow. Fine flakes at first, but with a steadiness that betokened a real snowstorm.
"I'm so glad," exclaimed Patty, dancing about. "I do love a white Christmas. It won't interfere with your guests, will it, Adele?"
"No; if Mr. Van Reypen and Mr. Farrington get up from New York without having their trains blocked by snowdrifts, I imagine our Fern Falls people will be able to get here for the dinner and the dance."
The two men arrived during the afternoon, and came in laden with parcels and looking almost like Santa Claus himself.
"Had to bring all this stuff with us," explained Roger, "for fear of delays with expresses and things. Presents for everybody,—and then some. Where shall we put them?"
Adele superintended the placing of the parcels, and the men threw off their overcoats, and they all gathered round the blazing fire in the hall.
"This is right down jolly!" declared Philip Van Reypen. "I haven't had a real country Christmas since I was a boy. And this big fire and the tree and the snowstorm outside make it just perfect."
"I ordered the snowstorm," said Adele. "I like to have any little thing that will give my guests pleasure."
"Awfully good of you, Mrs. Kenerley," said Philip. "I wanted to flatter myself that I brought it with me, but it seems not. Have you a hill anywhere near? Perhaps we can go coasting to-morrow."
"Plenty of hills; but I don't believe there's a sled about the place—is there, Jim?"
"We'll find some, somehow, if there's any coasting. We may have to put one of the motor cars on runners and try that."
"They had sleds at the country store. I saw them this morning," said Patty. "And that reminds me I have a little work to do on a Christmas secret, so if you'll excuse me, I'll run away."
Patty ran away to the nursery, where Fraeulein, the baby's governess, was working away at the materials Patty had brought home that morning.
"Yes, that's right," said Patty, as she closed the door behind her. "You've caught my idea exactly, Fraeulein. Now, I'll try on mine, and then, afterward, we'll call up Mr. Ferris to try on his."
* * * * *
At five o'clock the sounding of a Chinese gong called everybody to come to the Christmas tree.
The grown people arrived first, as the principal part of the fun was to see the surprise and delight of baby May when she should see the tree.
"Let me sit by you, Patty," said Philip Van Reypen, as they found a place on one of the fireside benches. "I've missed you awfully since you left New York."
"Huh," said Patty, "I've only been gone twenty-four hours."
"Twenty-four hours seems like a lifetime when you're not in New York."
"Hush your foolishness; here comes the baby."
The tree had been illuminated; the electric lights were shining and the candles twinkling, when little May came toddling into the hall. She was a dear baby, and her pretty hair lay in soft ringlets all over the little head. Her dainty white frock was short, and she wore little white socks and slippers. She came forward a few steps, and then spied the tree and stood stock still.
"What a booful!" she exclaimed, "oh, what a booful!"
Then she went up near the tree, sat down on the floor in front of it, clasped her little fat hands in her lap, and just stared at it.
"I yike to yook at it!" she said, turning to smile at Patty, in a friendly way. "It's so booful!" she further explained.
"Don't you want something off it?" asked Patty, who was now sitting on the floor beside the baby.
"Zes; all of ze fings. Zey is all for me! all for baby May!"
As a matter of fact, there were no gifts on the tree, only decorations and lights, but Patty took one or two little trinkets from the branches, and put them in the baby's lap. "There," she said. "How do you like those, baby May?"
"Booful, booful," said the child, whose vocabulary seemed limited by reason of her excited delight.
And then a jingle, as of tiny sleighbells, was heard outside. The door flew open, and in came a personage whom May recognised at once.
"Santa Claus!" she cried. "Oh, Santa Claus!" And jumping up from the floor, she ran to meet him as fast as her little fat legs could carry her.
"Down on the floor!" she cried, tugging at his red coat. "Baby May's Santa Claus! Sit down on floor by baby May!"
Jim Kenerley, who was arrayed in the regulation garb of a St. Nicholas, sat down beside his little girl, and taking his pack from his back, placed it in front of her.
"All for baby May!" she said, appreciating the situation at once.
"Yes, all for baby May," returned her mother, for in the pack were only the child's presents.
One by one the little hands took the gifts from their wrappings, and soon the baby herself was almost lost sight of in a helter-skelter collection of dolls and teddy bears and woolly dogs and baa lambs and more dolls. To say nothing of kittens and candies, and balls, and every sort of a toy that was nice and soft and pleasant.
The doll Patty had brought, with its wonderful wardrobe, pleased the baby especially, and she declared at once that the doll's name should be Patty.
Having undone all her treasures, the baby elected to have a general romp with Santa Claus, whom she well knew to be her father. Jim had made no attempt to disguise lest it should frighten the child, and so his own gay young face looked out from a voluminous snow-white wig and long white beard. His costume was the conventional red, belted coat, edged with white fur, and a fur-trimmed red cap with a bobbing tassel.
Among the toys was a pair of horse lines with bells on it, and soon May had her good-natured father transformed into a riding-horse and galloping madly round the hall.
Then all present must needs play games suited to the calibre of the little one, and Ring around a Rosy and London Bridge proved to be her favourites.
After these unwonted exertions, everybody was ready for tea, which was then brought in. As a special dispensation, May was allowed to have her bread and milk at the same time, with the added indulgence of a few little cakes.
"Isn't she a perfect dear?" said Patty, as she stood with the baby in her arms, after tea was finished.
"She is," declared Philip, who stood near. "I'm not much up on kiddies, but she's about the best-natured little piece I ever saw. I thought they always cried after a big racket like this."
"She must say good-night now," said Adele. "It's quite time, and beside, I want her to go away while her reputation is good. Now, Maisie May, go to Fraeulein and go beddy."
"Patty take May beddy."
"No, dear, Patty must stay here with mother."
"Patty take May beddy! Zes!" The finality of this decision was unmistakable. The most casual observer could see that unless it were complied with the scene might lose something of its sunshine and merriment.
"I should say," judicially observed Philip, "that unless Miss May has her way this time, there will be one large and elegant ruction."
"But I must make her obey me," said Adele, a little uncertainly.
"Fiddlestrings, Adele," returned Patty; "this is no time for discipline. The poor baby is about worn out with fatigue and excitement. You know, it has been her busy day. Let's humour her this time. I'll take her away, and I'll return anon."
"Anon isn't a very long time, is it?" said Adele, laughing, and Hal remarked, "If it is, we'll all come after you, Miss Fairfield."
So Patty went away, carrying the now smiling baby, and Fraeulein went along with her, knowing the little thing would soon drop to sleep, anyway, from sheer fatigue.
THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
Patty soon returned, saying the country was saved, and now she was ready for her presents.
And then everybody began untying things, and soon the whole place was knee-deep in tissue papers and ribbons.
All exclaimed with delight at their own gifts, and then exclaimed with delight at the others' gifts.
Mr. and Mrs. Kenerley gave Patty one of those Oriental garments known as a Mandarin coat. It was of pale blue silk, heavy with elaborate embroidery and gold braiding, and Patty was enchanted with it.
"Just what I wanted!" she exclaimed, "and I don't care if that is what everybody always says, I mean it! I've wanted one a long time. They're so heavenly for party wraps or opera cloaks. Mona has a beauty, but this is handsomer still."
"Yes, it is," admitted Mona; "and now open that box, Patty. It's my gift to you, and I want to see if you like it."
"Oh, I know I shall like it, of course. Why, Mona Galbraith, if it isn't a lace scarf! Real Brussels point! You generous girl, it's too beautiful!"
"Isn't it lovely?" cried Daisy. "Now, this is mine to you, Patty. It isn't nearly as handsome; it's just a bag."
"But what a grand one!" exclaimed Patty, as she unwrapped the beautiful French confection. "I simply adore bags. I can't have too many of them. My goodness! I'm getting as many presents as baby May!"
Sure enough, Patty was surrounded with gifts and trinkets of all sorts. Philip's present was a small but exquisite water-color in a gilded frame. Roger gave her a glass and silver flower-basket.
"I gave each of you girls exactly the same thing," he said, "because I didn't want you scrapping over me. Mrs. Kenerley, I included you, too, if you will accept one of them."
They were beautiful ornaments, and the four together were so effective that Adele declared she should use them that night for a dinner table decoration at their Christmas feast.
Hal Ferris gave each of the girls a beautiful book, and everybody had so many presents of all sorts that it was almost impossible to remember who gave anything.
"What I need is a card catalogue," said Patty. "I never can remember which is which, I know."
"And I know another thing," said Adele. "If you girls don't scamper off and dress, you won't be ready for dinner at eight o'clock. And there are lots of guests coming. And more this evening for the country dance. Now, disperse, all of you, and put on your prettiest frocks for Christmas Eve."
Patty had a new gown for the occasion, of an exquisite shade of pink chiffon, which just matched her cheeks. She did up her hair simply, with a pink ribbon around it, and a pink rose tucked over one ear.
After she was all dressed, she flew to the nursery for a little confab with Fraeulein, who was working away on the Turkey red.
"Will it be done?" asked Patty, anxiously.
"Oh, yes, indeed, Miss Patty; in ample time. And the crowns, too."
"Everything all right?" inquired a voice in the doorway, and Hal Ferris stepped into the nursery.
"Yes," said Patty, her eyes sparkling. "Fraeulein will have them all ready by the time dinner's over. Oh, I do love to dress up!"
"You can't look any sweeter than you do this way," said Ferris, glancing approvingly at the little pink dancing frock.
"You are so nice and complimentary," said Patty, flashing a smile at him, and then they went downstairs together.
Dinner was a real Christmas feast. The table was properly decorated with red ribbons and red candles and holly, and everybody had souvenirs and Christmassy sort of trinkets, and everybody was very gay and festive, and an air of Christmas jollity pervaded the atmosphere.
After dinner they all returned to the great hall, where the Christmas tree was again lighted to add to the holiday effect.
Then Patty and Hal, who had let Adele into their secret, slipped away from the crowd, and ran up to the nursery, where Fraeulein was awaiting them.
The baby was asleep in the next room, so they must needs be careful not to awaken her, and they tiptoed about as Fraeulein helped them to don the robes she had made.
The Turkey red she had fashioned into a full-draped cloak, which she adjusted around Hal's broad shoulders. It was trimmed with white fur, and was caught up on one shoulder, toga fashion, with a spray of holly. A massive gilt pasteboard crown she put on his head, and gave him a long wand or sceptre covered with gilt paper and topped with a cap and bells.
"I wonder if they'll know I'm Lord of Misrule," whispered Hal, as he stalked up and down before the mirror, swishing his draperies about in regal fashion.
"If they don't, I'll tell 'em," said Patty. "I wonder if they'll know what I am."
"You look like an angel," said Hal, as he gazed at her.
The garment Fraeulein had made for Patty was simply straight, flowing breadths of the white illusion, which fell straight from her shoulders, her pink gown beneath giving it a faint rosy tinge. From her head the illusion rippled in a long veil, floating down behind, and there were long angel sleeves of the same material.
On her head was a small crown of gilt paper, with a large gilt star in front, and she carried a gilt wand with a star on the end.
But the masterpiece of the costume, and one that did great credit to the ingenuity of Fraeulein, was a pair of wings that were fastened to Patty's shoulders. They were made of fine net, covered with fringed tissue paper, which had the effect of soft white feathers.
Altogether Patty was a lovely vision, and it is doubtful if "The Christmas Spirit" was represented more beautifully anywhere on earth that Christmas Eve.
She floated about the room, delighted to be "dressed up."
Then, flying into the hall, she listened over the banister till she heard Adele's signal from the piano.
Still listening, she heard Adele begin to sing softly a carol called "The Christmas Spirit."
Slowly, in time to the music, Patty came down the great staircase. She paused on the landing, which was but a few steps from the bottom, and standing there, motionless as a picture, joined her voice to Adele's.
She sang the beautiful carol, Adele now singing alto, and the vision of the beautiful Christmas Spirit, and the tones of Patty's exquisite voice, gave the guests assembled in the hall a Christmas memory that they could never forget.
As the last notes died away, there was a significant pause, and then a storm of applause broke out.
They insisted on another song, but Patty shook her head laughingly, and the next moment Adele played a merry, rollicking march on the piano and the Lord of Misrule came bounding downstairs. He had a long trumpet in his hand, upon which he sounded a few notes, and then waved his sceptre majestically.
"I'm the Lord of Misrule," he announced, "and I have come to direct our Christmas revels. To-night my word is law; you are all my subjects, and must obey my decrees!"