A shout of applause greeted this gay banter, and then as Adele played a lively strain, the Lord of Misrule gave a clever clog dance on the staircase landing.
Then he sprang down the steps, and clasping the Christmas Spirit, the two tripped away into a gay impromptu dance.
"Everybody dance!" shouted the Lord of Misrule, brandishing his sceptre aloft, and obedient to his orders, the others caught the gay spirit, and soon they were all dancing.
Later they had the country dances—Virginia reel, Sir Roger, and others which Patty had never heard of before, but which she had no difficulty in learning.
It was not long, however, before she laid aside her somewhat uncomfortable wings, and also the illusion draperies, which did not well survive the intricacies of the figure dances.
So, once again in her pretty pink frock, she entered into the dances with the zest she always felt for that amusement.
"I think it's my turn," said Roger, coming up to her at last.
"And I'm glad to be with a friend again, after all these strangers," she said, as they danced away. "Though they're awfully nice men, and some of them are very good dancers. You and Mona are all right, aren't you, Roger?"
Patty said this so suddenly that he was caught off his guard.
"Not all right," he said, "and never will be until she'll consent to cut the acquaintance of that Lansing!"
"She'll never do that!" and Patty wagged her head positively.
"Then she can get along without my friendship."
"Now, Roger, what's the use of acting like that? Mona has a right to choose her friends."
"Patty, I believe you like that man yourself!"
"I don't dislike him; at least, not as much as you do. But I don't see any reason for you to take the matter so seriously. At any rate, while you're up here, forget it, won't you, and be good to Mona."
"Oh, I'll be good to her fast enough, if she'll be good to me. I think a heap of that girl, Patty, and I don't want to see her in the clutches of a bad man like Lansing."
"You don't know that he's a bad man."
"Well, he's a fortune-hunter,—that's bad enough."
"Pooh, every man that looks at a girl doesn't want to marry her for her money."
"But that man does."
"Then cut him out! Why, Roger, you're worth a dozen Lansings, and if you want to marry Mona, why don't you tell her so?"
"Oh, Patty, do you think I'd have the ghost of a chance?"
"I certainly do. That is, if Mona has a grain of sense in that pretty head of hers."
"Well,—say, Patty,—this sounds queer, I know,—but you and I are such pals,—couldn't you just say a good word for——"
"Roger Farrington! the idea! I never supposed you were bashful!"
"I never was before,—but I'm a little afraid of Mona. She's so,—so decided, you know."
"Very well. Make her decide in your favour. But, mark my words, young man, you'll never win her by getting grumpy and sour just because she smiles on another man. In fact, you'd better praise Mr. Lansing. That would be the best way to make her lose interest in him."
"Patty Fairfield! I'm ashamed of you. I always knew you were a flirt, but anything like that would be downright deception."
"Oh, fiddle-de-dee! All's fair in love and war. You're too matter-of-fact, Roger,—too staid and practical. Brace up and tease Mona. Get her guessing—and the game will be all in your own hands."
"How do you know these things, Patty? You're too young for such worldly wisdom."
"Oh, women are born with a spirit of contrariness. And, anyway, it's human nature. Now, you jolly Mona up, and stop looking as if you'd lost your last friend,—and then see how the cat jumps. Why, what is Hal Ferris doing?"
The Lord of Misrule had jumped up on a table, and was flourishing his sceptre, and announcing that he would now issue a few decrees, and they must immediately be obeyed.
He said the audience wished to see some well-acted plays, and he would ask some of the guests present to favour them.
"As these dramas are necessarily impromptu," he said, "you will please come forward and do your parts as soon as your names are called. Any delay, hesitation, or tardiness will be punished to the full extent of the Law of Misrule. The first play, ladies and gentlemen, will be a realistic representation of the great tragedy of 'Jack and Jill.' It will be acted by Mr. Van Reypen and Miss Fairfield. Ready! Time!"
Philip and Patty went forward at once, for though they had had no intimation of this act, they were quite ready to take their part in the merriment.
Philip caught up one of the glass baskets which he had brought up for gifts, and declared that represented their pail.
"It isn't mine!" cried Daisy. "I don't want mine smashed!"
"No matter what happens," returned Philip, "we must be realistic."
"Here, take this instead," said Jim Kenerley, offering an antique copper bucket, which was one of his pet pieces.
"All right, it is better. Now, the play begins. This is an illustrated ballad, you know. Will somebody with a sweet voice kindly recite the words?"
"I will," volunteered Hal, himself. "My voice is as sweet as taffy."
He began intoning the nursery rhyme, and Patty and Philip strolled through the hall, swinging the bucket between them, and acting like two country children going for water. They climbed the stairs, laboriously, as if clambering up a steep hill, and as they went up, Philip hastily whispered to Patty how they were to come down.
She understood quickly, and as the second line was drawled out they stood at the top of the stairs. Then when Hal said, "Jack fell down——" there was a terrific plunge and Philip tumbled, head over heels, all the way downstairs, with the big copper bucket rolling bumpety-bump down beside him. He was a trained athlete, and knew how to fall without hurting himself, but his mad pitching made it seem entirely an accidental fall. In the screams of laughter, the last line could scarcely be heard, but when Hal said, "And Jill came tumbling after," Patty poised on the top step, leaning over so far that it seemed as if in a moment she must pitch headlong. Her fancy dance training enabled her to hold this precarious position, and as she stood, motionless, a beautiful tableau, everybody applauded.
"All over!" cried the Lord of Misrule, after a moment. "Curtain's down!"
There was only an imaginary curtain, so considering herself dismissed, Patty came tripping downstairs, and the broken-crowned Jack stood waiting to receive her.
"Good work!" he commented. "How could you stand in that breakneck position?"
"How could you take that breakneck fall?" she queried back, and then they sought a nearby seat to witness the next "play."
"Now," said the Lord of Misrule, "we will have a thrilling drama by Miss Dow and—well, she may select her own company."
"I choose Jim Kenerley," said Daisy, suddenly remembering a little trick they used to do in school. A whispered word was enough to recall it to Jim's mind, and in a twinkling he had snatched a gay silk lamp-shade from an electrolier and clapped it on his head, and draped around him a Bagdad couch cover. Then he caught up a big bronze dagger from a writing-table, and he and Daisy went to the staircase landing, which was almost like a stage. Seemingly, Jim was a fearful bandit, dragging a lady, who hung back with moans and cries.
On the landing, he brandished the dagger fearsomely, and Daisy knelt before him, begging for mercy. At least, her attitude denoted that, but all she said was: "A B C D," in a low, pleading voice. "E F G!" shouted Jim, dancing about in a fierce fury.
Daisy threw out her arms and fairly grovelled at his feet, begging, "H I J K." "L M!" shouted Jim; "N O!"
Then Daisy's pretty hair became loosened from its pins, and fell, a shining mass, down her back.
Jim clutched it. "P Q R!" he yelled, as he waved the dagger aloft.
"S T!" moaned Daisy, swaying from side to side, as if in an agony of fear.
"U! V! W!" and the blade of the dagger rested against the fair neck, as the dreadful brigand, with a fierce shout, attacked his victim.
"X Y!" Daisy shrieked, and then toppled over, as if killed, while Jim, with a frenzied yell of "Z!" towered, triumphant, above his slain captive.
How they all laughed; for it was good acting, though of course greatly burlesqued. But both had a touch of dramatic genius, and they had often given this little exhibition in their old school days.
"Fine!" said Adele, who was shaking with laughter. "You never did it better, Daisy. You ought to go on the stage."
Daisy smiled and bowed at the applause, and began to twist up her hair.
"My beloved subjects," said the Lord of Misrule, "you are sure some actors! I didn't know I had so much talent concealed about my kingdom. I shall now aim for a higher touch of histrionic art. Let us stop at nothing! Let us give the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. I will command Miss Galbraith to play the part of Juliet, and if no one volunteers as Romeo, I'll modestly remark that I'm a ripping good actor myself."
"Too late," said Roger, calmly; "I've already signed for the part," and taking Mona's hand, he led her toward the staircase.
"I can't!" protested Mona. "I don't know a word of it!"
"Can't! Won't!" cried the Lord of Misrule, in stentorian tones. "Those words are not allowed in this my Court. Ha, maiden, dost desire the dungeon for thine? Dost hanker after prison fare? Fie! Get to thy place and take thy cue."
Mona flung her lace handkerchief on her head for a little Juliet cap, and accepting a large lace scarf which a lady offered her as she passed, and an enormous bunch of roses, which Jim hastily took from a vase and gave her, they all agreed she was perfectly costumed for Juliet.
Upstairs she went, and drawing a chair to the railing, looked over at Roger below. He had hastily opened a small cupboard, and caught up a broad black hat of Adele's, with a long, willowed ostrich plume. He put it on, so that the feather hung straight down his face, and he kept blowing it out of his eyes. Daisy had offered him a gay, flowered chiffon scarf as he passed her, and he tied it round his waist like a sash.
"'Oh, Romeo! Romeo! Romeo!'" began Mona.
"'Wherefore,'" prompted Roger in a stage whisper.
"'Wherefore,'" said Mona, obediently, "whence, whither, why——"
"Never mind," said Roger, calmly. "I'll say the lines you forget. 'Wherefore art thou Romeo?' Now for the second act. I wish to goodness I could be a glove upon that paw of yours."
"Why?" queried Mona.
"So you wouldn't give me the mitten. Pardon, good friends, merely an interpolation. Back to work now. It was the nightingale and not a poll parrot that hit you in the ear."
"Oh, Romeo, Romeo," Mona broke in. "I'd like to cut you up into little bits of stars, and decorate the sky with you."
"Call me but Star, and I'll be baptised all over again. Friends, as we're a little shy on lines, the rest of this will be pantomime."
Roger then sneaked cautiously upstairs, motioned to Mona to make no sound, picked up various impedimenta, including books, vases, a statuette, and such things as he could find on the hall tables, added a good-sized rug, and then, also picking Mona up in his arms, he stealthily made his way downstairs again, and the elopement was successful.
"Roger, you strong giant!" cried Patty. "How could you carry all those things downstairs?"
"My warriors are all strong men!" said the Lord of Misrule. "They can carry off anything, and carry on like everything."
And then, as Christmas Eve was well past, and Christmas Day had begun, the merry guests went away, and the house party congratulated itself all round, wished everybody Merry Christmas, and went away to rest.
Christmas morning was as white as the most picturesque imagination could desire. A heavy snow had fallen in the night and lay, sparkling, all over the fields and hills, so that now, in the sunshine, the whole earth seemed powdered with diamonds.
Patty came dancing downstairs, in a dainty little white morning frock.
"Merry Christmas, everybody!" she cried, as she found the group gathered round the fireplace in the hall. "Did you ever see such a beautiful day? Not for skating," and she smiled at Hal, "but for snow-balling or coasting or any old kind of fun with snow."
"All right," cried Roger. "Who's for a snow frolic? We can build a fort——"
"And make a snow-man," put in Daisy, "with a pipe in his mouth and an old hat on his head. Why do snow-men always have to have those two things?"
"They don't," said Jim Kenerley. "That's an exploded theory. Let's make one this morning of a modern type, and let him have anything he wants except a pipe and a battered stove-pipe hat."
"We'll give him a cigarette and a Derby," said Patty. "Oh, here comes the mail! Let's have that before we go after our snow-man."
The chauffeur came in from a trip to the post-office, with his hands and arms full of mail,—parcels, papers, and letters,—which he deposited on a table, and Jim Kenerley sorted them over.
"Heaps of things for everybody," he said. "Belated gifts, magazines, letters, and post cards. Patty, this big parcel is for you; Daisy, here are two for you."
"May take letters! Let baby May be postman!" cried the infant Kenerley.
"Let her, Jim,—she loves to be postman," and Adele put the baby down from her arms, and she toddled to her father.
"Great scheme!" said Hal. "Wait a minute, midget; I'll make you a cap."
With a few folds, a newspaper was transformed into a three-cornered cap and placed on the baby's head.
"Now you're a postman," said her uncle. "Go and get the letters from the post-office."
"Letters, p'ease," said the baby, holding out her fat little hands to her father.
"All right, kiddums; these parcels are too big for you; you're no parcel-post carrier. But here's a bunch of letters; pass them around and let every one pick out his own."
Obediently, the baby postman started off, and passing Daisy first, dumped the whole lot in her lap.
"Wait a minute, Toddles," said Daisy. "I'll pick out mine, then you take the rest on."
Daisy selected half a dozen or more, and gave the rest of the lot back to the little one, who went on round the circle, letting each pick out his own letters.
Patty had about a dozen letters, and cards and greetings of various sorts. Some she tore open and read aloud, some she read to herself, and some she kept to open when she might be alone.
"Have you opened all your letters, Patty?" asked Jim, looking at her, quizzically.
"No; I saved father's and Nan's to read by myself, you people are so distracting."
"Oho! Father's and Nan's! Oho! aha! And are those the only ones you saved to read by yourself, young lady?"
"I saved Elise's, also," said Patty, looking at him, a little surprised. "Aren't you the inquisitive gentleman, anyway!"
"Elise's! Oh, yes, Elise's! And how about that big blue one,—what have you done with that?"
"I don't see any big blue one," said Patty, innocently. "What do you mean, Jim?"
"Oho! what do I mean? What, indeed!"
"Now, stop, Jim," said his wife. "I don't know what you're teasing Patty about, but she shan't be teased. If she wants to keep her big blue letter to herself, she's going to keep it, that's all."
"Of course I shall," said Patty, saucily. "That is, I should, if I had any big blue letter, but I haven't."
"Never mind big blue letters," said Roger, "let's all go out and play in the snow."
So everybody put on wraps and caps and furs and out they went like a parcel of children to frolic in the snow. Snow-balling was a matter of course, but nobody minded a lump of soft snow, and soon they began to build the snow-man.
He turned out to be a marvel of art and architecture, and as his heroic proportions were far too great for anybody's hat or coat, they draped an Indian blanket around him and stuck a Japanese parasol on the top of his head to protect him from the sun.
Roger insisted on the cigarette, and as the snow gentleman had been provided with a fine set of orange-peel teeth, he held his cigarette jauntily and firmly.
"I want to go coasting," said Patty.
"And so you shall," said Jim. "I sent for a lot of sleds from the village, and I think they've arrived."
Sure enough, there were half a dozen new sleds ready for them, and snatching the ropes, with glee, they dragged them to a nearby hill.
It was a long, easy slope, just right for coasting.
"Want to be pioneer?" asked Roger of Patty. And ever-ready Patty tucked herself on to a sled, grasped the rope, Roger gave her a push, and she was half-way down the hill before any one knew she had started. The rest followed, and soon the whole party stood laughing at the bottom of the long hill.
"The worst is walking up again," said Patty, looking back up the hill.
"Do you say that because it's what everybody says,—or because you're lazy?" asked Philip.
"Because I'm lazy," returned Patty, promptly.
"Then get on your sled, and I'll pull you up."
"No, I'm not lazy enough for that, I hope! But I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll race you up."
"Huh! as if I couldn't beat you up, and not half try!"
"Oh, I don't know! Come on, now, do your best! One, two, three, go!"
Each pulling a sled, they started to run uphill; at least, Philip started to run, and at a good rate; but Patty walked,—briskly and evenly, knowing full well that Philip could not keep up his gait.
And she was right. Half-way up the hill, Philip was forced to slow down, and panting and puffing,—for he was a big man,—he turned to look for Patty. She came along, and swung past him with an easy stride, flinging back over her shoulder, "Take another sprint, and you may catch me yet!"
"I'll catch you, no matter how much I have to sprint," Philip called after her, but he walked slowly for a few paces. Then, having regained his breath, he strode after her, and rapidly gained upon her progress. Patty looked over her shoulder, saw him coming, and began to run. But running uphill is not an easy task, and Patty's strength began to give out. Philip saw this, and fell back a bit on purpose to give her an advantage. Then as they were very near the top, Patty broke into a desperate run. Philip ran swiftly, overtook her, picked her up in his arms as he passed, and plumped her down into a soft snowbank at the very top of the hill.
"There!" he cried; "that's the goal, and you reached it first!"
"With your help," and Patty pouted a little.
"My help is always at your disposal, when you can't get up a hill."
"That would be a fine help, if I ever had hills to climb. But I never do. This is a great exception."
"But there are other hills than snow hills."
"Oh, I suppose now you're talking in allegories. I never could understand those."
"Some day, when I get a real good chance, I'll explain them to you. May I?"
Philip's face was laughing, but there was a touch of seriousness in his tone that made Patty look up quickly. She found his dark eyes looking straight into her own. She jumped up from her snowbank, saying: "I want to go down again. Where's a sled?"
"Come on this one with me," said Hal, who had a long, toboggan sort of an affair.
"This is great!" said Patty. "Where did you get this double-rigged thing?"
"It's been here all the time, but you've been so wrapped up in that Van Reypen chap that you had no eyes for anybody else, or anybody else's sled! I'm downright jealous of that man, and I'll be glad when he goes home."
"Ah, now, Chub," said Patty, coaxingly, "don't talk to me scoldy! Don't now; will you, Chubsy?"
"Yes, I will, if you like him better than you do me."
"Why, goodness, gracious, sakes alive! I've known him for years, and I've only known you a few days!"
"That doesn't matter. I've only known you a few days, and I'm head over heels in love with you!"
"Wow!" exclaimed Patty, "but this is sudden! Do you know, it's so awful swift, I don't believe it can be the real thing!"
"Do you know what the Real Thing is?"
"Haven't a notion."
"Mayn't I tell you?"
"No, sir-ee. You see, I don't want to know for years yet! Why can't people let me alone?"
"Who else has been bothering you?" demanded Hal, jealously.
"I don't call it a bother! I supposed it was part of the game. Don't all girls have nice compliments, and flattery kind of speeches from the young men they know?"
"I don't know whether they do or not," growled Hal.
"Well, I know; they do, and they don't mean a thing; it's part of the game, you know. Now, I'll tell you something. I've known Philip Van Reypen ever so much longer than I have you, and yet I like you both exactly the same! And Roger just the same,—and Jim just the same!"
"And Martin, the chauffeur, just the same, I suppose; and Mike, the gardener, just the same!"
"Yep," agreed Patty. "Everybody just the same! I think that's the way to do in this world, love your neighbour as yourself, and look upon all men as free and equal."
"Well, I don't think all girls are equal,—not by a long shot. To my mind they're divided into two classes."
"What two?" said Patty, with some curiosity.
"One class is Patty Fairfield, and the other class is everybody else."
They had reached the bottom of the hill before this, and were sitting on the sled, talking. Patty jumped up and clapped her hands. "That's about the prettiest speech I ever had made to me! It's a beautiful speech! I'm going right straight up the hill and tell it to everybody!"
"Patty, don't!" cried Hal, his honest, boyish face turning crimson.
"Oh, then you didn't mean it!" and Patty was the picture of disappointment.
"I did! Of course I did! But girls don't run and tell everything everybody says to them!"
"Don't they? Well, then, I won't. You see, I haven't had as much experience in these matters as you have! Mustn't I ever tell anything nice that anybody says to me?"
"Not what I say to you, anyhow! You see, they're confidences."
"Well, I don't want any more of them just now. I came out here for coasting, not for confidences."
"I fear, my dear little girl, you're destined all through life to get confidences, whatever you may go for."
"Oh, what a horrible outlook! Well, then, let me gather my coasting while I may! Come on, Chubsy, let's go up the hill." And putting her hand in Hal's, Patty started the upward journey.
At the top she declared she was going for one more ride downhill, and this time with Jim. "For," she said to herself, "I would like one ride without 'confidences.'"
"Off we go!" said Jim, as he arranged her snugly on the toboggan sled, and took his place in front of her. They had a fine ride down, and Jim insisted on pulling Patty up again. She rode part way, and then decided it was too hard work for him, and jumped off.
"I guess I'm good for some walk," she said, as she tucked her arm through his, and they climbed the hill slowly.
"I guess you are, Patty. You're strong enough, only you're not as hardy as Daisy and Adele. I believe our Western girls are heartier than you New Yorkers. By the way, Patty, speaking of the West at large, what made you tell a naughty story this morning?"
"I didn't!" and Patty looked at him with wide-open eyes. "I have a few faults, Jim, a very few, and very small ones! but truly, storytelling isn't among them."
"But you said you didn't get a big blue letter," pursued Jim.
"And neither I did," protested Patty. "What do you mean, Jim, by that big blue letter? I didn't see any."
"Patty, it's none of my business, but you seem to be in earnest in what you say, so I'll tell you that there certainly was in the mail a big blue letter for you, addressed in Bill Farnsworth's handwriting. I wasn't curious, but I couldn't help seeing it; and I know the dear old boy's fist so well, that I was moved to tease you about it."
"It didn't tease me, Jim, for I didn't get any such letter."
"Well, then, where is it?"
"I don't know, I'm sure. Perhaps baby May kept it."
"Perhaps some of the boys got it and kept it to tease you."
"I don't believe they'd do that. Perhaps Adele saved it for me. Well, we'll look around when we get home, but don't say anything about it."
But when they reached the house, neither Jim nor Patty could find the blue letter. Adele said she had not seen it, and Patty insisted that no one else should be questioned. Privately, she thought that Hal Ferris had received it by mistake from baby May, and had kept it, because he, too, knew Bill's handwriting, and because,—well, of course, it was foolish, she knew,—but Hal had said he was jealous of any other man, and he might have suppressed or destroyed Bill's card for that reason. She felt sure it was not a letter, but merely a Christmas card. However, she wanted it, but she wanted to ask Hal for it herself, instead of letting the Kenerleys ask him.
* * * * *
"Dinner will be at two o'clock," Adele made announcement. "It's considered the proper thing to eat in the middle of the day on a holiday, though why, I never could quite understand."
"Why, of course, the reason is, so the children can eat once in a while," suggested her brother.
"Baby can't come to the table. She's too little, and her table manners are informal, to say the least. However, the tradition still holds, so dinner's at two o'clock, and you may as well all go and get dressed, for it's after one, now. There'll be a few extra guests, so you girls will have somebody to dress up for."
"I like that," said Roger; "as if we boys weren't enough for any girls to dress up for!"
"But you've seen all our pretty frocks," laughed Patty. "It's only strangers we can hope to impress with them now. I shall wear my most captivating gown, if Mr. Collins is coming. Is he, Adele?"
"Yes, and Mr. Hoyt, too; and two more girls. Skip along, now, and don't dawdle."
But Patty dawdled on the staircase till Ferris came along, and then she spoke to him in a low tone. "Chub, you didn't see a stray letter of mine this morning, did you?"
"'M—what kind of a letter?"
"Oh, a blue envelope, with probably a card inside. I hadn't opened it, so I don't know what was in it."
"Who was it from?"
"Why, how could I tell, when I hadn't opened it! In fact, that's just what I want to know."
"What makes you think I know anything about it?"
"Oh, Chub, don't tease me! I haven't time, now; and truly, I want that letter! Do you know anything about it?"
"No, Patty, I don't. I didn't see any letters addressed to you, except the bunch you had in your hand. Have you really lost one?"
"Yes," said Patty, seeing that Hal was serious. "Jim told me there was one for me from Mr. Farnsworth, and I want it."
"Bill Farnsworth! What's he writing to you for? I didn't know you knew him."
"I don't know him very well; I only met him last summer. And I don't know that he did write to me; it was probably just a card. But I want it."
"Yes, you seem to. Why, Patty, you're blushing."
"I am not any such thing!"
"You are, too! You're as pink as a peach."
"Well, I only blushed to make you call me a peach,—and now that I've succeeded, I'll run away."
So blushing and laughing both, Patty ran upstairs to her own room. Hal had been so frank that she was convinced he knew nothing about the letter, and she began to fear it must have been tossed into the fire, with the many waste papers that were scattered about.
HIDE AND SEEK
All the time Patty was dressing she wondered about that letter; and when Mona, ready for dinner, stopped at her door, Patty drew her into the room.
"Mona," she said, "did you get a Christmas card from Mr. Farnsworth?"
"Yes," said Mona, "in a big blue envelope. Daisy had one, too. Didn't you get one?"
"No; Jim said there was one for me, but it got lost somehow. Thrown in the fire, I shouldn't wonder."
"Well, don't mind," said Mona, cheerfully. "You can have mine. It isn't very pretty, and Daisy's isn't either, but I suppose they're the best Bill could find out there in Arizona. Do you want it now, Patty?"
"I don't want it at all, Mona. What would I want with your card, or Daisy's either? But if Little Billee sent one to me, I'd like to have it, that's all."
"Of course you would; but truly, they don't amount to much."
"Jim must have been mistaken about there being one for me," said Patty, and then the two girls went downstairs.
The Christmas dinner was practically a repetition of the feast of the night before; but as Adele said, how could that be helped if people would have two Christmas celebrations on successive days?
There were four extra guests, who proved to be merry and jolly young people, and after dinner Hal declared that his reign as Lord of Misrule was not yet over.
"Don't let's do any more stunts like we had last night," said Mona. "They wear me out. Let's play easy games, like blindman's buff, or something."
"Or Copenhagen," said Hal, but Patty frowned at him.
"We're too grown-up for such things," she declared, with dignity. "What do you say to a nice, dignified game of hide and seek?"
"All over the house!" cried Roger. "May we, Mrs. Kenerley?"
"The house is yours," said Adele. "I reserve no portion of it. From cellar to attic, from drawing-room to kitchen, hide where you will and seek where you like,—if you'll only promise not to wake the baby. She's taking her afternoon nap."
"She doesn't seem to mind noise," said Roger. "We do make an awful racket, you know."
"Oh, no, I don't mean that," said Adele. "I've trained her not to mind noise. But I mean if your hiding and seeking takes you into the nursery quarters, do go softly."
"Of course we will," said Philip. "I'm specially devoted to that baby, and I'll see that her nap isn't disturbed, even if I have to stand sentry at her door. But what larks to have the whole house! I've never played it before but what they wouldn't let you hide in this room or that room. Who'll be It?"
"Oh, that's an old-fashioned way to play," said Hal. "Here's a better way. Either all the men hide and the girls find them, or else the other way around; and, anyway, don't you know, whoever finds who, has to be her partner or something."
"For life?" asked Jim, looking horrified.
"Mercy, no!" said his brother-in-law. "This is a civilised land, and we don't select life partners that way!"
"You mean just partners for a dance," said Patty, trying to help him out.
"Well, you see," said Hal, "it ought to be more than just a dance; I mean more like a partner for a,—for a junketing of some kind."
"I'll tell you," said Adele. "There's to be a masquerade ball at the Country Club on New Year's Eve, and we're all going."
"Just the thing!" cried Hal. "Now, whichever seeker finds whichever hider, they'll go in pairs to the ball, don't you see? Romeo and Juliet, or anything they like, for costumes."
"But we won't be here," and Philip Van Reypen looked ruefully at Roger. "We go back to town to-morrow."
"But you can come up again," said Adele, hospitably. "I hereby invite you both to come back the day before New Year's, and stay as long as you will."
"Well, you are some hostess!" declared Roger, looking grateful. "I accept with pleasure, but I doubt if my friend Van Reypen can get away."
"Can he!" cried Philip. "Well, I rather guess he can! Mrs. Kenerley, you're all sorts of a darling, and you'll see me back here on the first train after your invitation takes effect."
"Then hurrah for our game of hide and seek," Hal exclaimed. "Jim and Adele, you must be in it, too. You needn't think you can go as Darby and Joan,—you must take your chances with the rest. If you find each other, all right, but if you find anybody else, that's your fate,—see?"
"I'm willing," said Adele, laughing. "I'm sure I'd be glad to go with any of you beautiful young men."
"Now, will you listen to that!" cried her husband. "Well, I won't be outdone in generosity. I'll be proud to escort any one of this galaxy of beauty," and he looked at the group of pretty girls.
"Now, we must do it all up proper," said Hal. "In the first place, we must draw lots to see whether the girls shall hide or we shall. We must have it all very fair."
He tore two strips of paper, one longer than the other, and holding them behind him, bade Adele choose.
"Right!" she said, and Hal put forth his right hand and gave her a paper on which was written "Girls."
"All right," went on the master of ceremonies. "Now you girls must hide. We'll give you fifteen minutes to tuck yourselves away, and then we're all coming to look for you. As soon as any man finds any girl, he brings her back here to the hall to wait for the others. Now, there's no stipulation, except that you must not go out of the house. Scoot! and remember, in fifteen minutes we'll be after you!"
The six girls ran away and made for various parts of the house. The two Misses Crosby, who had come as dinner guests, looked a little surprised at this unusual game, and Patty said to them, kindly: "You don't mind, do you? You know, you needn't really go with the man who finds you, if you don't want to."
"Oh, we don't mind," said the elder Miss Crosby. "I think it's fun,—only if I should draw that dignified Mr. Van Reypen I'd be scared to death!"
"Oh, he isn't so awfully dignified," laughed Patty. "That's just his manner at first. When you know him better, he's as jolly as anything. But hurry up, girls, the minutes are flying."
The girls scampered away, some running to the attic, others going into wardrobes or behind sofas, and Patty ran to her own room.
Then she bethought herself that that was one of the most likely places they would look for her, and she was seized with an ambition to baffle the seekers. With a half-formed plan in her mind, she slipped out of a side door of her own room that opened on a small passage leading to the nursery. In the nursery, she found the baby asleep in her crib, and the Fraeulein lying down on a couch with a slumber-robe thrown over her, though she was not asleep.
Like a flash, Patty's plan formed itself. She whispered to the Fraeulein, and with a quick understanding the good-natured German girl took off her rather voluminous frilled cap, with its long muslin streamers, and put it on Patty's head. Then Patty lay down on the couch, with her face toward the wall, and deep buried in the pillows. Fraeulein tucked the slumber-robe over her, and then herself disappeared down into the kitchen quarters.
The search was rather a long one, for the house was large, and the girls had chosen difficult hiding-places.
The two Crosby girls were found first, because not knowing the house well, they had simply gone into hall closets, and stood behind some hanging dresses. They were discovered by Jim Kenerley and Hal; and if the latter was disappointed in his quarry, he gave no sign of it.
The four returned to the hall, and after a while they were joined by Roger and Mona.
"Oho," said Jim, who loved to tease, "what a coincidence that you two should find each other!"
"Easy enough," said Roger. "I knew Mona would choose the very hardest place to find; so I went straight to the attic to the very farthest, darkest corner, and there she was, waiting for me!"
"There I was," said Mona, "but I wasn't waiting for you!"
"No, you were waiting for me, I know," said Jim, ironically. "But never mind, Mona, we'll be partners next time. Hello, Adele, is that your terrible fate?" and they all laughed as Adele and Mr. Hoyt came in together, with cobwebs on their hair and smudges of black on their faces.
"I thought I'd be so smart, Jim, and I hid in the coal-bin; but Mr. Hoyt found me! By the way, we must have that place cleaned; it's a disgrace to the house!"
"But you know, my dear, we don't often use it to receive our guests in."
"Well, I don't care, it must be cleaned. There's no excuse for cobwebs. Now I must go and tidy up. I hope they haven't wakened the baby. Oh, here's Daisy."
Daisy and Mr. Collins came in, laughing, and Mr. Collins declared he had found Miss Dow hanging out the third-story window by her finger-tips.
"Nothing of the sort," said Daisy. "I was out on a kind of little balcony place, that's on top of a bay-window or something,—but I put my hands over the sill inside, so that I could say I was still in the house. Wasn't that fair?"
"Well, it's fair enough, as long as I found you," said Mr. Collins. "But when I saw your hands, I really thought you were hanging from the sill!"
"Where's Patty?" asked Daisy, "and Mr. Van Reypen? Are they still finding each other?"
"I saw Phil," said Roger, "standing guard at the nursery door, as he said he would. He let us each go in and look around, on condition that we wouldn't wake the baby. And the baby's nurse was also asleep on the sofa, so I looked around and sneaked out as fast as I could."
Just then Van Reypen came downstairs. "I've been delayed," he said, "because I held the fort for the baby, until every man-jack of you had been in the nursery. Now I'm going to begin my search. Who is there left to find?"
"Oh, who, indeed?" said Jim, looking wise. "Oh, nobody in particular! Nobody but that little Fairfield girl, and of course you wouldn't want to find her!"
"Patty!" exclaimed Philip, as he looked around at the group. "Why, she isn't here, is she? Where can that little rascal be? You fellows have been all over the house, I suppose?"
"Every nook and cranny," declared Mr. Hoyt. "It was as a very last resort that I went to the coal-bin and captured Mrs. Kenerley."
"Been through the kitchens?" asked Philip, looking puzzled.
"I have," said Mr. Collins. "They're full of startled-looking servants who seemed to think I was a lunatic, or a gentleman burglar,—I don't know which."
"Well, of course she's got to be found," said Philip. "There's no use looking in the obvious places, for Patty's just cute enough to pick out a most unexpected hiding-place. Come on, Roger; you found your girl,—help me with mine."
"Oh, it isn't fair to have help," said Hal. "Alone upon your quest you go!"
"Here I go, then." And Philip ran upstairs three at a time. He went first to the attics, and made a systematic search of every hall, room, and closet. He even peeped into the great tank, as if Patty might have been transformed into a mermaid. Then followed a thorough search of the second story, with all its rambling ells and side corridors; he tiptoed through the nursery, smiling at the sleeping baby and casting a casual glance at the still figure on the couch with the long, white cap-strings falling to the floor.
On he went, through the various rooms, and at last, with slow step, came down into the hall again.
"I think she had one of those contraptions like the Peter Pan fairies," he said, "and flew right out through the roof and up into the sky! But I haven't searched this floor yet. May I go into the dining-room and kitchens, Mrs. Kenerley?"
"Everywhere," said Adele. "You know I made no reservations."
Philip strode through the rooms, looked under the dining-room table and into the sideboard cupboards; on through the butler's pantry, and into the kitchens. Needless to say, he found no Patty, and returned, looking more puzzled than ever.
"I'm not going down cellar," he said. "Something tells me that Patty couldn't possibly stay down there all this time! It's more than an hour since she hid."
"What are you going to do about it?" inquired Jim. "Give it up? I'll ring the Chinese gong for her to come back to us. That was to be a signal in case of an emergency."
"No," said Philip. "I'm going to reason this thing out. Give me a few minutes to think, and I believe I can find her."
"Don't anybody disturb him, let him think!" said Mona, gaily, and going to the piano, she began to play "Alice, where art thou?" in wailing strains that made them all laugh.
All at once Philip jumped up. "I know where she is!" he exclaimed. "Sit still all of you, and I'll bring her back with me!"
"Wait a minute," said Adele, curiously. "How did you find it out?"
"Do you know where she is?" and Philip looked at her intently.
"No, I haven't the slightest idea," said Adele, honestly. "But I wondered how you could know, just from thinking about it."
"It's clairvoyance," said Philip, with a mock air of mystery. "You see, I know all the places where she isn't, so the one place I have in mind must be where she is. By the way, Mrs. Kenerley; baby always takes an afternoon nap, doesn't she?"
"And does the Fraeulein, her nurse, always take a nap at the same time?"
"Oh, no! She never naps in the daytime."
"She did to-day," began Roger, but Philip was already flying upstairs again.
He went softly into the nursery. The baby was still asleep, the figure on the couch still lay quietly beneath the knitted afghan.
Philip went over and stood beside the couch. The face was buried in the pillow, but beneath the edge of the cap he saw some stray golden curls.
"H'm!" he mused, in a low voice, but entirely audible to Patty. "I thought baby May's nurse had dark hair. She must have bleached it!"
Patty gave no sign that she heard, but cuddled her head more deeply in the soft pillows.
"Why, it isn't the Fraeulein at all!" said Philip, in tones of great surprise. "It's the Sleeping Beauty!"
Still Patty gave no intimation of being awake, though, of course, she was.
Then Philip leaned down over her and murmured: "And I'm the Prince; and when the Prince finds the Sleeping Beauty, there's only one course for him to pursue."
At this, Patty opened her eyes and prepared to spring up, but she was not quite quick enough, and Philip lightly kissed the top of her little pink ear, before she could elude him.
"How dare you!" she cried, and her eyes flashed with indignation.
But Philip stood calmly smiling at her.
"It's entirely permissible," he said, "when any Prince finds a Sleeping Beauty, to kiss her awake."
"But I wasn't asleep!" stormed Patty, "and you knew it!"
"You gave such a successful imitation of it, that I consider myself justified," he returned. "And, anyway, it was only a little bit of a butterfly kiss, and it doesn't really count."
"No," agreed Patty, rather relieved, "it doesn't count."
"But it counts that I have found you," went on Philip. "You know the rest of the story, after the Prince kissed the Sleeping Beauty?"
"She had to go to the Country Club ball with him," said Patty, laughing, as she danced away from him. "Be careful, Philip; we'll wake baby May. Come on downstairs."
"I found her," announced Philip, somewhat unnecessarily; "and I was a blooming idiot not to know she was there all the time!"
"You sure were!" said Roger, when he heard the story. "Did you get a good rest, Patty?"
"Yes; only it was interrupted so soon," and Patty returned Philip's meaning glance with a saucy smile.
"Well," Roger went on, "now you two will have to go to the masquerade together. I suppose you'll go as Jack and Jill?"
"No," said Philip, "I think fairy tales are much prettier than Mother Goose rhymes. We're going as the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, and the Fairy Prince. Only, of course, the Sleeping Beauty will be awake for the occasion. Shall I bring up your costume when I return next week, Patty?"
"I might like to have a voice in deciding on the part I shall take," said Patty, with a show of spirit.
"But you did decide it! I never should have thought of appearing as 'Prince Charming,' if you hadn't——"
"That will do, Philip!" said Patty, turning very pink.
"Go on, Phil!" cried Roger. "If she hadn't what?"
"If she hadn't said I'd look so sweet in a light blue satin coat," replied Philip, pretending to look confused.
"Oh, pshaw! She didn't say that," declared Roger. "And beside, you won't!"
"Oh, yes, he will," said Patty. "Those court suits are lovely,—all silver lace and cocked hats! Oh, Philip, do wear one of those! And I'll write to Nan, to get me a costume. What are you going to wear, Mona?"
"But we mustn't tell!" said Adele, in dismay. "This is a masquerade, not merely a fancy dress ball."
"Oh!" said Patty. "Then we'll have to change our plans, Philip. The Sleeping Beauty game is all off!"
"Only for the moment!" And Philip threw her a challenging glance.
It was after midnight when the Christmas guests went away, and Patty declared her intention of going to bed at once.
"I coasted and danced and played hide and seek till I'm utterly worn out," she said, "and I think I shall sleep for a week!"
"But I'm going away to-morrow," said Philip, detaining her a moment.
"But you're coming back next week. I'll promise to be awake by then. But now I'm going to hibernate, like a bear! Good-night, everybody!" and Patty ran upstairs without further ceremony.
But as, in her pretty blue negligee, she sat before the mirror brushing her long hair, Mona, Daisy, and Adele all came into her room, quite evidently with a determination to chat.
"You're an old sleepy-head, Patty," declared Adele. "You may sleep as late as you like in the morning, but we want to have a little confab now, about lots of things."
"Nicht, nein, non, no!" cried Patty, jumping up and brandishing her hair-brush. "I know perfectly well what your confabs mean,—an hour or more of chattering and giggling! Come in the morning,—I'm going to have my chocolate upstairs to-morrow,—and I'll give you all the information you want. But as for to-night, skip, scoot, scamper, and vamoose, every dear, sweet, pretty little one of you!"
Laughingly, Patty pushed the three out of her room, and closing the door after them, turned its key, unheeding their protests, and returned to her hair-brushing.
"It's no use, Patricia," she said, talking to herself in the mirror, as she often did, "letting those girls keep you up till all hours! You need your beauty sleep, to preserve what small pretence to good looks you have left."
Patty was not really vain of her pretty face, but she well knew that her delicate type of beauty could not stand continuous late hours without showing it, and Patty was not mistaken when she claimed for herself a good share of common sense.
But as she brushed away at the golden tangle of curls, she heard a light tap at her door, which sounded insistent, rather than mischievous.
"Who is it?" she asked, as she rose and went toward the door.
"It's Daisy," said a low voice. "Let me in, Patty, just for a minute."
So Patty opened the door, and Daisy Dow came in.
"I want to tell you something," she said, as Patty stood waiting, brush in hand. "I don't really want to tell you a bit,—but Jim says I must," and Daisy looked decidedly cross and ill-tempered.
Patty realised that it was a bother of some kind, and she said, gently, "Leave it till morning, Daisy; we'll both feel brighter then."
"No; Jim said I must tell you to-night. Oh, pshaw, it's nothing, anyway! Only there was a letter for you from Bill Farnsworth, and I took it from May, and kept it for a while, just to tease you. I was going to give it to you to-morrow, anyway; but Jim came and asked me about it, and made such a fuss! Men are so silly!"
"Why, no, Daisy, it isn't anything much; only you know people do like to have letters that belong to them! But, as you say, it's nothing to make a fuss about. Incidentally, I believe it's a State's prison offence,—or would be if you opened it. You didn't, did you?"
"Of course not!" said Daisy; "but I knew it was only a card, like ours, and I just kept it back for fun."
"It doesn't seem to me an awfully good joke,—but never mind that. Give me the letter, and we'll call it square, and I won't have you arrested or anything."
Patty spoke lightly, but really she was deeply annoyed at this foolish trick of Daisy's. However, since Jim had found out the truth and made Daisy own up, there was no great harm done.
"I haven't got the letter," said Daisy. "I left it downstairs, but we can get it in the morning. I'm sure it's only a card; it is just the same size and shape as ours."
"Daisy, what did you do it for?" And Patty looked the girl in the eyes, in a real curiosity to know why she should descend to this petty meanness.
"Because you're such a favourite," said Daisy, truthfully. "Everybody likes you best, and everybody does everything for you, and you get everything, and I wanted to tease you!"
Patty grasped the girl by her shoulders, and shook her good-naturedly, while she laughed aloud. "Daisy, you do beat the dickens! You know that foolish little temper of yours is too silly for anything, and if you'd conquer it you'd be a whole lot nicer girl! You're just as pretty as anybody else, and just as jolly and attractive, but you get a notion that you're slighted when you're not; and that makes you ill-tempered and you lose half your charm. Don't you know that if you want people to love you and admire you, you must be sunshiny and pleasant?"
"Huh, that isn't my nature, I s'pose. I can't help my quick temper. But, anyway, Patty, you're a dear not to get mad,—and I'll give you the letter the first thing in the morning."
"Where is it, Daisy?"
"Oh, I just stuck it between two volumes of a cyclopaedia, on a shelf in the library. So, you see, we can't get it till morning; but it will be safe there, don't worry."
"I'm not worrying," and Patty smiled, as Daisy said a somewhat abrupt good-night, and went away.
There were still a few embers of a wood fire glowing on the hearth, and Patty sat down before it in a big arm-chair.
"I don't know why I'm so glad," she said to herself, her weariness all gone now. "But I did feel neglected to have Little Billee send the other girls cards, and leave me out. I'd like to see it; I hardly glanced at theirs,—though I remember, they weren't very pretty. I'd like to see Little Billee again, but I don't suppose I ever shall. Well, there are plenty of other nice boys in the world, so it doesn't matter much. All the same, I'd like to see that card. I believe I'll go down and get it. There's always a low light in the hall, and I can feel it between the books."
Patty hesitated for some time, but finally her impatience or curiosity got the better of her, and she softly opened her door and peeped out. There were low lights in the halls, and as she listened over the banister and heard no sounds, Patty began to creep softly down the stairs. Her trailing robe of light blue crepe de chine was edged with swansdown, and she drew it about her, as she noiselessly tiptoed along in her slippered feet.
The hall light shone dimly into the library, through which Patty could see a brighter light in the smoking-room beyond. She listened a moment, but hearing no voices, concluded she could creep into the library, capture her card, and return undiscovered.
"And, anyway," she thought to herself, "there can't be anybody in the smoking-room, or I would hear them talking."
It was easy to proceed without a sound by stepping softly along the thick rugs, and as Patty knew exactly where the cyclopaedias were shelved, she made straight for that bookcase. It was next to the smoking-room doorway, and as Patty reached it, she peeped around the portiere to make sure that the next room was unoccupied.
But to her surprise, she saw Philip Van Reypen stretched out in a big arm-chair in front of the fire. His eyes were closed, but Patty saw he was not asleep, as he was slowly smoking a cigar. Patty saw him sidewise, and she stood for a second contemplating the handsome profile and the fine physique of the man, who looked especially graceful in his careless and unconscious position.
Almost holding her breath, lest he should hear her, Patty moved noiselessly to the shelves, being then out of sight behind a portiere.
By slow, careful movements, it was easy enough to move the books silently, and at last she discovered the blue envelope, tucked between two of them. She drew it out without a sound,—careful lest the paper should crackle,—and started to retrace her stealthy steps upstairs again, when she saw the hem of the portiere move the veriest trifle.
"A mouse!" she thought to herself, with a terrified spasm of fear, for Patty was foolishly afraid of mice.
Unable to control herself, she sprang up into a soft easy-chair and perched on the back of it.
The springs of the chair gave a tiny squeak, scarcely as loud as a mouse might make, yet sufficient to arouse Van Reypen from his reverie.
He sprang up, and pushing aside the portiere, switched on the light, to see Patty sitting on the low, tufted back of the chair, her hair streaming about her shoulders, and her face expressing the utmost fear and horror.
"Well!" he observed, looking at her with a smile,—"well!"
"Oh, Philip," whispered Patty, in a quaking voice, "it's a mouse! an awful mouse!"
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" and Philip folded his arms, and stood gazing at the pretty, frightened figure on the chair back.
His amused calm quieted Patty's nerves, which had really been put on edge by her uncontrollable aversion to mice, and she returned, cheerfully, "I suppose I shall have to stay up here the rest of my life, unless you can attack and vanquish the fearsome brute."
"I shall not even try," said Philip, coolly, as he turned to throw away his cigar, "because I like to see you sitting up there. However, as there may be danger of another attack from the enemy, and as this chair is almost entirely unoccupied, I shall camp out here at your feet, and keep guard over your safety."
He seated himself on the arm of the same chair, while Patty sat on its low, cushioned back. She drew her blue gown more closely about her, and cast wary glances toward the corner, where the enemy was presumably encamped.
"I think perhaps the danger is over," she said. "And if you'll go back to the smoking-room, I will make a brave effort to get away unharmed."
"Watch me go," said Philip, showing no signs of moving. "However, if it will set your mind at rest, I'll tell you that it wasn't a mouse. I don't believe they have such things in this well-regulated household."
"But I saw it!" declared Patty, positively.
"Saw a mouse?"
"Well, not exactly that, but I saw that little tassel on the portiere wiggle, so it must have been a mouse."
"Patty, you are the most ridiculous little goose on the face of this earth! Your imagination is something marvellous! Now I'll inform you that the reason that tassel moved, was because I threw a match at it. I aimed for a waste-basket and hit the curtain, but I had no idea that I should find myself so surprised at the result!"
Patty dimpled and giggled. "It is surprising, isn't it?" she said, feeling much more light-hearted since her fears were relieved regarding the mouse. "And I'm not sure it's altogether correct, that you and I should be down here alone after midnight."
"Fiddlestrings!" exclaimed Philip. "Don't be a silly! And besides, Jim is about somewhere, and Adele has been bobbing in and out."
"There was no one in the halls when I came down. And I think, Philip, I'd better go back."
"What did you come down for, anyhow?"
For some unexplained reason, Patty suddenly felt unwilling to tell what she had come for. Bill's letter was hidden in the folds of her voluminous blue gown, and she couldn't quite bring herself to tell Philip that she came down for that.
"Oh, I was wakeful," she said, "and I came down to get a—a book."
"H'm; and you thought you'd take a volume of the Britannica back with you, to read yourself to sleep?"
Patty had to laugh at this, for in the corner where they were, the shelves contained nothing but cyclopaedias and dictionaries.
"But they're really very interesting reading," she declared.
"And this is the little girl who was so sleepy she had to run off to bed as soon as the party was over! Patty, Patty, I'm afraid you're not telling me the truth! Try again."
"Well, then,—well, then, I came down because,—because I was hungry!"
"Ah, that's better. Anybody has a right to be hungry, or even afraid of mice,—but no one has a right to lug a whole cyclopaedia upstairs to read oneself to sleep."
"I wasn't going to take all the volumes," said Patty, demurely, and then she jumped down from her perch. "I'll just see which one I do want," and pretending to read the labels, she deftly slipped her letter back between the volumes, unseen by Van Reypen.
"You little goose, you," said Philip, laughing. "Stop your nonsense, and let's go and forage in the dining-room for something to eat. We might as well have some good food while we're about it."
"But I'm not exactly in proper dinner garb," said Patty, shaking out her blue folds, and trailing her long robe behind her.
"Nonsense! I don't know much about millinery, but you never wore anything more becoming than all that fiddly-faddly conglomeration of blue silk and white fur."
"It isn't fur,—it's down."
"Well, I said you were a goose,—so it's most appropriate."
"But it's swansdown."
"Well, be a swan, then! Be anything you like. But come on, let's make for the dining-room. We'll probably find Jim there, but don't make any noise, or everybody upstairs will think we're burglars and shoot us."
Philip switched off the library light, and taking Patty's hand, led her through the dim hall and into the dining-room. At the end of this room was a wide bay window, which let in a perfect flood of moonlight.
"Oh," exclaimed Patty, "what a picture! From my room you couldn't tell it was moonlight at all."
The picture from the window was a far sweep of hills, white with snow, and glistening in the moonlight. In the foreground, evergreen trees, laden with snow, stood about like sentinels,—and a big, yellow three-quarter moon was nearing the western horizon.
"Isn't it wonderful, Philip?" whispered Patty, almost awed at the sight.
"Yes, dear," he said, still holding her hand in both his own. "Patty, you have a wonderful appreciation of the beautiful."
"Nobody could help loving such a sight as that."
"And nobody could help loving such a girl as you!" exclaimed Philip, drawing her into his arms. "Patty, darling, you know I love you! Patty, do care for me a little bit, won't you?"
"Don't, Philip," and Patty drew gently away from him. "Please don't talk to me like that! Oh, I oughtn't to be here! Let me go, Philip,—I know this isn't right."
"It is right, Patty, darling; because I love you, and I want you for all my own. Say you love me, and that will make everything all right!"
"But I don't, Philip." And Patty's voice carried a hint of tears.
"But you will, dear; you must, because I love you so. Patty, I have always loved you, I think, since I first saw you on the stairs at Aunty Van's that evening. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I remember; but please, Philip, let me go now, and don't talk to me this way. I don't want you to!"
"You're frightened, Patty, that's all; and perhaps I ought not to have spoken just now; but you looked so sweet, in the moonlight, with that wonderful hair of yours curling about your shoulders, that I just couldn't help it."
"I'll forgive you, Philip, if you'll forget this whole occurrence."
"Forget it? Why, Patty, what do you mean? I never forget it for a single moment! I was sitting there to-night, dreaming of you. I wasn't asleep, you know, I was just thinking about you, and wondering how soon I might tell you my thoughts. You're so young, dear,—I'm half a dozen years older than you are,—but I want you, my little Patty. Mayn't I hope?"
"You're quite right, Philip. I am too young to think of such things. So cut it out for a couple of years, and then I'll see about it!"
"Patty, you rogue, how can you speak like that? Don't you love me a least little bit?"
"Not a teenty weenty speck! And if you don't give me something to eat, I won't even like you."
"Well, here's a bargain, then,—if I find something nice for you to eat, will you like me a whole lot?"
"I do like you a whole lot, anyway; but I don't love you and I'm not going to love anybody, ever! I do think being grown-up is a regular nuisance, and I wish I was a little girl again, with my hair down my back!"
"Incidentally, your hair is down your back."
"Well, I don't care," and Patty shook her curly mane. "I wear it that way in tableaux and things, so what's the difference?"
"There isn't any difference. We'll pretend you're a tableau."
"All right, I'll be Patience on a Monument, waiting for some supper."
"That was Little Tommy Tucker."
"No; he sang for his supper. I'm not going to sing."
"For Heaven's sake, don't! Your top notes would bring the whole crowd down here! Patty, if you'll promise to love me some time, I'll stop teasing you now."
"Oh, Philip, I'd do 'most anything to have you stop teasing me now! But how can I tell who I'm going to love when I get old enough to love anybody?"
"Well, you don't love anybody yet, do you?"
"I do not!" and Patty shook her head with great emphasis.
"Then I have a fair show, anyway." And Philip drew the curtain that shut out the moonlight, and switched on the electric light.
"Exit Romance!" he said, "and enter Comedy! Now, Patty, you're my little playmate; we're just two kiddies in the pantry, stealing jam,—that is, if we can find any jam."
"The pantry's the place," said Patty; "there's nothing in the sideboard but biscuit and raisins."
"They don't sound very good to me. To the pantry!"
Into the pantries they went, and there, in cupboards and iceboxes, found all sorts of good things.
Cold turkey, game pate, jellies, custards, cakes, and all varieties of food.
"This is ever so much more fun than moonlight," said Patty, as she perched herself on a table, there being no chair, and held a partridge wing in one hand and a macaroon in the other. "Could you find me a glass of milk, Philip?"
"Yes, indeed; anything you want, my Princess."
"I thought you said Jim was about," Patty remarked.
"He was," returned Philip, calmly. "I saw him go upstairs as we came in the dining-room."
"Did he see us?"
"Sure! He grinned at me and I grinned at him. I didn't invite him to come with us,—so being a polite gentleman, he didn't come. He doesn't mind our eating up his food. He's awful hospitable, Jim is."
"Well, I've had enough of his food, and now I'm going back to my downy couch. If I don't see you to-morrow before you leave,—good-bye, Philip."
"That's a nice, casual way to say good-bye to a man who has just proposed to you!"
"Good gracious! Was that a proposal?"
"Well, rather! What did you think it was? A sermon, or just a bit of oratory?"
"Do you know, Philip, truly I didn't realise it at the time," and Patty's smile was very provoking, as she looked up into his face.
"Would your answer have been different if you had?" he asked, eagerly.
"Oh, no, not that! But I just want you to understand that I don't consider it a real proposal," and Patty laughed and ran away, leaving Philip to "clear up" the pantry.
She stopped a moment in the library, long enough to get her blue letter, and then scuttled up the stairs and into her own room.
A CHRISTMAS CARD
Once safely behind her locked door, Patty tore open her blue envelope. It was only a card,—but not an ordinary printed Christmas card.
In the upper corner was a spray of apple blossoms, exquisitely painted; and on the card were some verses, written in a hand that was small and fine, but unmistakably the same as the address on the outside of the envelope.
With a little sigh of pleasure, Patty cuddled up in her arm-chair to read the Christmas message.
But it proved to be not very Christmassy, after all; for this is what she read:
"MY LADY OF DELIGHT
"My Lady of Delight's a dainty, winsome thing; She's Queen of Summertime, and Princess of the Spring. Her lovely, smiling lips are roses set to rhyme, She has a merry, lilting laugh, like Bluebells all a-chime. The radiance of her smile, the sunshine in her eyes, Is like the Dawn of breaking Day upon the summer skies.
"With roguish glances bright, all on a Summer Day, My Lady of Delight she stole my heart away; And though I humbly beg and plead with her, alack! My Lady of Delight, she will not give it back. I seem to see her now, with tangled golden curl, With dancing eyes, and smiling lips,—My Apple Blossom Girl!
"Oh, Lady of Delight, I pray you, smile on me; Oh, Lady of Delight, your Knight I fain would be; Oh, Lady of Delight, you set my heart aglow. I only know I love you so, Dear Lady of Delight!"
Patty read the verses over twice, with shining eyes.
"I wonder if he wrote them himself," she mused. "I don't believe he did; he must have copied them. He knows an awful lot of pretty poetry like that. And yet it doesn't sound like a real poet's poetry, either. And he used to call me Apple Blossom,—such a pretty name. Philip would never think of such a thing as that. I wonder if I like Little Billee better than I do Philip. I wonder if he likes me better. But of course he can't, or he would have written to me in all this time. I haven't seen him since August, and he never wrote a word, except the stiffest kind of a line with those flowers he sent me. I thought he'd forgotten all about me! But I can't think so now,—unless he just came across this poem, and it recalled me to his mind. Well, I came awfully near not getting it! I don't see how Daisy could have been so mean; I don't like that kind of a joke a bit. But of course she thought it was just a printed card, like hers and Mona's. Well, she'll never know it isn't,—that's one thing sure!"
And then Patty tucked her card of verses under her pillow and went to sleep.
The next morning, as Patty had prophesied, she slept late. Daisy peeped into her room two or three times before she finally found Patty's blue eyes open.
"At last!" she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "I thought you'd never wake up! Patty, what do you think? I've been down in the library, and I can't find that card! I'm awfully sorry, truly I am; I'll give you mine if you want it."
"Thank you, Daisy," and Patty smiled at the recollection of Mona's similar offer. "Bill's cards seem to be a drug in the market! But you may keep yours, and also set your mind at rest about mine; for I sneaked downstairs last night in the dark, and fished it out for myself."
"You did! Oh, Patty, weren't you frightened to prowl around like that, late at night?"
Patty shook with laughter. "I was frightened," she said, "when I thought I saw a mouse,—but it wasn't a mouse, after all."
"Oh, I wouldn't be afraid of a mouse! But you might have met a,—a burglar or something?"
"No," and Patty still grinned. "I didn't meet any burglar. But I got the card, Daisy, so that's all right."
"Was it like mine? Let me see it."
"It wasn't exactly like yours, and I won't let you see it. You kept it away from me, and now it's my turn to keep it away from you. And by the way, Daisy, that was a mean thing to do, and I don't want you to do anything like that to me again!" Patty's sweet face showed an unusually stern expression, and her blue eyes looked straight into Daisy's as she spoke.
"I won't, Patty; truly, I won't. I'm awfully sorry, but I did it on a sudden impulse."
"I know it; and, Daisy, I want you to try not to give way to those 'sudden impulses' when they're mean ones. You have enough good, generous impulses to keep you busy. Now, you mustn't mind if your Aunt Patty lectures you a little bit, because as the teachers always say, 'it's for your own good.' And if you'll please take a chair, instead of sitting all over my feet, I'd like to have my breakfast; for I hear my pretty little Swedish Hedwig bringing it in."
The smiling maid appeared with Patty's breakfast tray, followed by Mona and Adele.
"Company already!" exclaimed Patty, sitting up in bed. "Hedwig, quick, my breakfast cap,—the pink one,—and the nightingale to match."
The maid threw the silken wrap around Patty's shoulders, and tucked her hair into the lace-frilled cap, which was of a Dutch shape, and made Patty look like the pictures of Holland's pretty queen.
"You don't seem hungry," said Mona, as Patty toyed with her chocolate. "Now, I ate a most astonishing breakfast, because I forgot to eat my supper last night."
"Well, you see," returned Patty, dropping her lashes to hide her twinkling eyes, "I didn't forget to eat my supper."
The recollection of that supper in the pantry was too much for her, and she burst into laughter.
"What is the matter with you, Patty?" said Adele. "You're acting like a harmless lunatic! However, I'm sent to tell you to hop up and get dressed, for one of your admirers below stairs wants you to go for a sleighride with him."
"Jim?" asked Patty, looking up with a smile.
"No; Mr. Van Reypen."
"Oh, good gracious! I don't care about going riding with Philip; I can see him in New York. I hoped it was Hal,—that's why I said Jim."
"Patty," said her hostess, "you're a born coquette, and always will be! But your wiles are wasted on me. Save them for your suitors. But, truly, Mr. Van Reypen is going on an errand for me, and he said that he wanted to show you some little attention while he was here, and he guessed he'd let you go along with him in the cutter."
"Oh, a cutter ride," and Patty began to scramble out of bed. "That sounds rather good fun. But I'd rather go with Hal."
"Well, you're candid, at any rate," said Daisy. "But as it happens, Hal and I are going to practise some music this morning."
"Oh, in that case, I've nothing more to say." And Patty smiled good-naturedly at Daisy. "And I suppose Mona and Roger are going somewhere to play by themselves."
"Nothing of the sort," said Mona. "Roger's going back to the city this morning, and I'm going to write letters."
"But I thought Philip was going back to the city," said Patty, looking at Adele.
"He's going on the afternoon train. Go on and get dressed, Patty, and don't waste any more time."
"All right," and Patty made an expeditious toilette and in little more than half an hour went downstairs equipped for her ride.
She was enveloped from head to foot in a raccoon fur coat, with a jaunty hat of the same, trimmed only with a bright quill feather.
"Why do we go?" she demanded, presenting herself before Philip, who was waiting in the hall.
"To get butter and eggs," he returned, gravely. "The Kenerley larder is entirely empty of those two very necessary ingredients."
"But why do we go for them? Are there no servants to send?"
"Little girls shouldn't ask questions," and without further ceremony Philip tucked her into the waiting sleigh, sprang in beside her, and took up the lines.
"My, this is great!" exclaimed Patty, as the pair of fine horses went dashing down the drive, and the clear, keen winter air blew against her face.
"Yes; I thought the sleighride would brace you up. And, really, there seemed to be nobody to send on this errand, so I said we'd go."
"Is it far?"
"No; only about five miles; we'll be back for luncheon. How did you sleep, after your late supper?"
"All right," and Patty smiled back into Philip's face. "But I wasn't hungry for my breakfast."
"I should say not! You ate enough last night for two little girls like you!"
"There aren't two little girls like me!" said Patty, with twinkling eyes, and Philip exclaimed: "Indeed, there aren't! I say, Patty, my Princess Patty, do be engaged to me, won't you?"
"No, you ridiculous boy, I won't! And if you say another word on the subject, I'll be real downright mad at you!"
"Very well, I won't. Now, see here, Princess, do you mean to go to this masquerade ball with me? For, if not, I'm not coming back here for New Year's."
"Why, of course, I'm going with you. Who else?"
"I don't know, I'm sure. But there would be plenty glad to take you."
"Pooh! I know that. But I want to go with you. What shall we wear?"
"I was thinking of some foolish thing, like Little Bo-Peep, you know."
"Oh, I'd love to be that! A shepherdess costume, and a crook with ribbons on. But I want you to wear a satin coat and knee-breeches."
"Well, I'll be Old King Cole."
"No, I don't like that. I'll tell you! You be Little Boy Blue."
"The Gainsborough picture?"
"No, that won't do either. Oh, you be Bobby Shafto! He wears 'silver buckles on his knee,' don't you know?"
"Yes, I do know! And what's the next line?"
"Never mind," said Patty, turning pink. "I want you to wear a real Bobby Shafto costume. So you will, won't you?"
"Of course, if my Princess commands. I'll have it made at once. Can I help about yours?"
"Well, you might go to see Nan, and tell her what I want, and she'll get it and send it up here. A shepherdess rig is easy enough, and there's nothing prettier."
"It will be lovely. I say, which way do we turn here?"
"To go to Hatton's Corners? Oh, to the right."
"I think it's the left."
"No, it isn't. I remember distinctly, Jim said, be sure to take the right road."
"He meant right, not wrong."
"Nonsense! he didn't. He meant right, not left. Turn right, Philip."
They turned right, into a wide, straight road. The sleighing was fine, though not yet sufficiently packed. But, with the light cutter, and two good horses, they spun along in great shape.
"There's something about sleighing that's different from anything else," remarked Patty, with the air of one expounding a great truth.
"It's the exhilaration. Spinning along like this, with the snow crunching under us, beats motoring, I think."
"Yes; for an occasional ride. But for all the year round, motoring is best."
"That's so. Sleighing isn't much fun in July or August."
"Huh! don't be silly. But, I say, Philip, where are we? Jim said we'd pass Little Falls, and then we must follow the trolley line all the way to the butter and egg house. I don't see any trolley."
"Neither do I, yet. But we'll soon strike it. Ah, here we are!"
"No; this is a railroad,—a steam railroad, I mean. Philip, we're off the road."
"I think we are. I'm sorry I insisted on turning to the right at that corner."
"You didn't insist. I did! But I thought it was right."
"It is right, dear. Anything is right, where you are."
"You'd better stop talking foolishness, and find the right road."
"Oh, if you call that foolishness!"
"Well, I do! I'd rather you'd get to the egg house and back before it begins to storm. And by the looks of the sky, I'm sure it is going to storm."
"Oh, no! nothing like that. But I say! Princess! it's after one o'clock! Now, who would have thought it? And they expect us back to luncheon!"
"After one! Oh, Philip, it can't be!"
"Yes, it is! Well, Patty Pink, the best thing to do, I think, is to go to that house I see in the dim distance, and ask our way. The last two or three signposts have shown names I never heard of."
"I either," said Patty, in a meek voice. "I noticed them, but I didn't say anything, because it's my fault we went astray."
"Well, never mind. We're in for a lark, that's all. 'Afar in the desert I love to ride'—what comes next, Patty?"
"'With the silent Bushboy alone by my side——'"
"Yes, that's it; but thank goodness, you're not silent——"
"Nor a Bushboy, either. But I don't like this, Philip. We're——"
"We're far frae our hame, and all that. But don't you worry, my Princess. You're with me, and so you're not lost. You know, it's better to be loved than lost."
"Now, Philip, stop talking about love! It's bad enough to be lost,—and we are lost,—without having somebody harping about love all the time."
"Well, this isn't much of a time or place, is it? So, suppose we invade this peaceful dwelling, and inquire our latitude and longitude."
They drove up a winding road to a large, old-fashioned house, and Philip jumped out at the front door.
His summons on the big, brass knocker was answered by a prim little lady, with grey hair and bright, dark eyes.
"Pardon me, madame," said Philip, in his best manner. "We have lost our way. Will you tell me how to reach Hatton's Corners?"
"Hatton's Corners! Why, that's a good ten miles from here. Where'd you come from?"
"From Fern Falls."
"Then you took the wrong road at the Big Tree Fork. You'd oughter 'a' gone to the left."
"H'm; you may be right. But must we go back there, or is there a shorter cut?"
"No; there ain't no shorter cut. But your young lady looks cold. Won't you two come in and take a bite o' dinner, and get warm before you go on?"
"Why, this is true hospitality, madame. What do you say, Patty?"
Patty looked uncertain. "I don't know what to say," she replied, hesitatingly. "I am cold; but I'm afraid it would delay us so long that Adele will worry about us. I think we'd better jog along."
But then another old lady appeared. She was rounder, rosier, plumper, and jollier than the first, and she cried out, heartily: "Jog along? Well, I reckon not! I jest waited to slip into my shoes,—my feet's awful tender,—and then I come right out here to see what's goin' on. Now, you two young folks come right in, and set a spell. 'Tain't often we get a chance to have comp'ny,—and on chicken pie day, too!"
"Whew, chicken pie!" exclaimed Philip. "How about it, Patty?"
"Have you a telephone?" asked Patty, with a sudden inspiration.
"Yes, miss. Now you jest come along. 'Kiah, the hired man, he'll look after your horses, and I'm free to confess they need a rest and a feed, even if you don't."
"That's so," said Philip. "We must have come twelve or fifteen miles."
"It's all o' that from Fern Falls. My, I'm right down glad to look after you two. You do seem to need it."
The speaker's twinkling dark eyes looked at her two visitors with such comprehension that Patty blushed and Philip smiled.
"We're from Mr. Kenerley's house," he explained,—"guests there, you know. And we started for Hatton's Corners to get some butter and eggs—and somehow, we took the wrong turn——"
"It was all my fault," confessed Patty. "I insisted on coming this way, though Mr. Van Reypen thought the other was right."
"Well, well, never mind! It'll jest be a nice, smart trip back after dinner. I'm Mrs. Fay, and this is my sister, Miss Wilhelmina Winthrop. She's got a longer name than I have, but I've got a longer head."
They were ushered into the old-fashioned sitting-room, with its Brussels carpet showing huge baskets of flowers; its heterogeneous furniture, some chairs haircloth and black walnut, and others cane-seated, with rep cushions tied on; marble tables, of course; and an old sofa, with well-worn pillows and rugs.
But the place had a hospitable air, and the two hostesses were fairly beaming with delight at this opportunity for entertainment. Miss Winthrop carried Patty off to her own bedroom.
"You're jest all tuckered out, I can see," she said, hovering around her like a clucking hen; "but a wash-up and a good dish o' chicken pie will put you all to rights again."
"But I must telephone before we eat dinner," said Patty.
"So you shall,—so you shall. Now, don't you worry the leastest mite about anything."
"How kind you are!" exclaimed Patty, smiling on the happy little old lady. "I suppose you belong to the real old New England Winthrops?"
"Yes, and we're mighty proud of our name. I was so much so that I never would change it,"—and she chuckled. "Sister, though, she thought Fay was prettier."
"Fay is pretty," said Patty, cordially, "and now, if I may, I'll telephone, for I know our people will be wondering where we are."
"All right, Miss Fairfield; come right along." But in returning to the sitting-room, Patty found Philip was already at the telephone.
"Yep," he was saying, "lost our way; took wrong turning at Big Tree Fork. Brought up, somehow, at Mrs. Fay's. Accepted invitation to dinner,—chicken pie!—Start back immediately after the E in Pie! See? Expect us when we get there. Will accumulate a butter and a egg or two, on our way home. Love to all. Philip." He concluded his harangue, and turned to Patty.
"All serene on the Potomac, Patty Pink! I told them all it was necessary for them to know; and if they desire further information, they can call us up. They know where we are. Me for the chicken pie!"
The two old ladies were not of the quaint type, nor was their home picturesque. The place and the people were merely old-fashioned, and they were almost primitive in their ways. They were kind-hearted and hospitable, but they were of the rugged New England class that has lost the charm of its Colonial ancestry.
The dinner was wholesome and plentiful, but with no variety, and served in the plainest fashion. The chicken pie was delicious, but it had no accompaniments except home-made hot biscuit and coffee with thick, rich, country cream.
"I always say," said Miss Winthrop, as she settled herself at the table, "that chicken pie is a whole meal in itself, without any bothersome side-dishes. I say it's meat and drink both; but sister says she just can't enjoy it 'thout she has a cup of coffee alongside of it. Well, I've no objections to the coffee, I'm sure, but I'm free to admit it does seem superfluous. Still, with company so, it ain't so much out of place."
"I'm sorry if we've made you any extra trouble," said Patty, giving Miss Winthrop one of her best smiles; "but I'm free to confess that this is the most wonderful coffee that I've ever tasted, and I think it goes specially well with the pie. And as for these light biscuit, they're just puffs of lusciousness! Aren't they, Philip?"
"They are, indeed! All you say is true, but both coffee and biscuit pale beside the glory of this chicken pie! There never was such another!"
Mrs. Fay beamed with delight at these generous compliments, and said, complacently, "Yes, they ain't many can make chicken pie like mine, if I do say it. My, ain't it lucky you young people happened along, to-day of all days! And land knows, I don't want you to go away right off. I'd like you to set a spell after dinner. But I feel it my bounden duty to tell you that 'Kiah says there's a storm a-brewin'. But I don't think you need start off before, say, three o'clock, anyway."
"Three o'clock will do nicely," returned Philip, gaily. "That will give us time to stop at Hatton's Corners and get home before dark. Personally, I'm not in a bit of a hurry."
"No?" And Mrs. Fay looked quizzically at her guests. "I just reckon, young man, that you ain't one mite sorry that you lost your way and had this little outing with your young lady?"
"Indeed I'm not sorry, Mrs. Fay; and beside our little outing, we're having a pleasant visit with you, and we're enjoying every minute of it."
"Indeed we are," said Patty, glancing out of the window as she spoke. "But it's beginning to snow already, and I don't think we'd better wait until three o'clock."
"Land's sake!" and Miss Winthrop turned to look out of the window behind her. "So it is snowing! And when it begins that way, with fine flakes, slanting crossways, it means business! I dunno as you can hardly dare venture on a twelve-mile ride in the face of this. 'Pears to me it's going to be a blizzard."
"Nonsense, Mina; you do always look on the dark side," expostulated her sister. "Now I think 'tain't nothing but a flurry, and by then dinner is over, it'll be bright sunshine again. Now, have your plates filled up, friends, and try and make out a meal."
Mrs. Fay fairly beamed with hospitality as she urged more viands upon her guests. The table appointments were of the plainest, being thick white china and coarse table napery, with plated silverware. Patty had expected thin little old teaspoons of hall-marked silver, and old blue or perhaps copper-lustre teacups, but this household was not of that sort. Everything seemed to date from the early seventies, and Patty wondered why there were no old Winthrop heirlooms in the family.
She brought the conversation round to antiques, and Mrs. Fay remarked, decidedly: "I just can't bear old-fashioned things. I come into quite a lot of old mahogany furniture and pewter and dishes and things when my grandfather died. But when I got married, I had an auction and sold everything. Then I took the money and bought a whole new outfit. I believe in going right along with the times. 'Course those old things were all right for grandfather, but when I married, I'm free to confess, I wanted things that were in style then. So I bought a real tasty outfit, and I've kept it careful, and it's pretty near as good as new now."
She looked around with pride at her dining-room furnishings, which seemed to Patty about the worst she had ever seen.
But she smiled at her hostess, and said, cordially: "I do think it's nice to have just what you want; and I think we do get attached to our own things. Have you lived here long?"
"Land, yes! Nearly all my life. Mr. Fay, he's been dead twenty-five years; so sister and me we live here together, as contented as you please. We have a telephone and a rural delivery, so you see it's just the same as if we were right in town. Now, if you really won't eat any more pie, let's go into the sittin'-room a spell."
From the sitting-room windows the view of the storm seemed more serious. The sky was black, the wind was blowing a gale, and the snow-flurry had grown thicker. In fact, it was a hard snowstorm, and Miss Winthrop's fear of a blizzard did not seem entirely unfounded.
The young people took it lightly, however. "There's no use worrying," said Patty. "We ought to be thankful, Philip, that we're under shelter, and with such kind friends. You'll keep us till the storm is over, won't you, Mrs. Fay?"
"Yes, and glad to. You just can't think of starting now, so you might as well settle down and make the best of it. Want to telephone to your people again?"
"We will after a while; but there's no use calling them up now. Let's wait and see whether the storm grows worse or better. Why, if it's a blizzard, we may have to stay here all night!"