"Oh, Patty Wyatt, was that you?" she asked. "We thought it was Frances Stoddard coming down to have geometry explained, and so we kept still. Come in."
"Goodness, no; I wouldn't come in over an 'engaged' like that for anything. I'm afraid you're busy."
The freshman grasped her by the arm. "Patty, if you love us come in and cheer us up. We're so scared we don't know what to do."
Patty consented to be drawn across the threshold. "I don't want to interrupt you," she remonstrated, "if you have anything to do." The study was occupied by three girls. Patty smiled benignly at the two haggard faces before her. "Where's Lady Clara Vere de Vere?" she asked. "She surely isn't wasting these precious last moments in anything frivolous."
"She's in her bedroom, with a geometry in one hand and a Greek grammar in the other, trying to learn them both at once."
"Tell her to come out here; I want to give her some good advice"; and Patty sat down on the divan and surveyed the dictionary-bestrewn room with an appreciative smile.
"Oh, Patty, I'm so glad to see you!" Lady Clara exclaimed, appearing in the doorway. "The sophomores have been telling us the most dreadful stories about examinations. They aren't true, are they?"
"Mercy, no! Don't believe a word those sophomores tell you. They were freshmen themselves last year, and if the examinations were as bad as they say, they wouldn't have passed them, either."
A relieved expression stole over the three faces.
"You're such a comfort, Patty. Upper-classmen take things easily, don't they?"
"One gets inured to almost anything in time," said Patty. "Examinations are even entertaining, if you know the right answers."
"But we won't know the right answers!" one of the freshmen wailed, her terror returning. "We simply don't know anything, and Latin comes to-morrow, and geometry the next day."
"Oh, well, in that case you can't get through anyway, so don't worry. You must take it philosophically, you know." Patty settled herself among the cushions and smiled upon her frightened auditors with easy nonchalance. "As an example of the uselessness of studying at the eleventh hour when you haven't done anything through the term, I will tell you my experience with freshman Greek. I was badly prepared when I came, I didn't study through the term, and, without exaggeration, I didn't know anything. Three days before examinations I suddenly comprehended the situation, and I began swallowing that grammar in chunks. I drank black coffee to keep awake, and worked till two in the morning, and scarcely stopped cramming irregular verbs for meals. I simply thought in Greek and dreamed in Greek. And, if you will believe it, after all that work I flunked in Greek! It shook my faith in studying for examinations. I've never done it since, and I've never flunked since. I believe that it's just a matter of fate whether you get through or not, so I never bother any more."
The freshmen looked at one another disconsolately. "If it's all decided beforehand, we're lost."
Patty smiled reassuringly.
"A little flunking now and then Will happen to the best of men."
"But I've heard they send people home, drop them, you know, if they flunk more than a certain amount. Is that so?" Lady Clara inquired in hushed tones.
"Oh, yes," said Patty; "they have to. I've known some of the brightest girls in college to be dropped."
Lady Clara groaned. "I'm awfully shaky in geometry, Patty. Do they flunk many girls in that?"
"Many!" said Patty. "The mere clerical labor of writing out the notes occupies the department two days."
"Is the examination terribly hard?"
"I don't remember much about it. It's been such a long time since I was a freshman, you see. They picked out the hardest theorems, I know—things you couldn't even draw, let alone demonstrate: the pyramid that's cut in slices, for one,—I don't remember its name,—and that sprawling one that looks like a snail crawling out of its shell: the devil's coffin, I believe it's called technically. And—oh, yes! they give you originals—frightful originals, like nothing you've ever had before; and they put a little note at the top of the page telling you to do them first, and you get so muddled trying to think fast that you can't think at all. I know a girl who spent all the two hours trying to think out an original, and just as she got ready to write it down the bell rang and she had to hand in her paper."
"And what happened?"
"Oh, she flunked. You couldn't really blame the instructor, you know, for not reading between the lines, for there weren't any lines to read between; but it was sort of a pity, for the girl really knew an awful lot—but she couldn't express it."
"That's just like me."
"Ah, it's like a good many people." A silence ensued, and the freshmen looked at one another dejectedly. "But you can live, even if you should flunk math," Patty continued reassuringly. "Other people have done it before you."
"If it were only geometry—but we're scared over Latin."
"Oh, Latin! There's no use studying for that, for you can't possibly read it all over, and if you just pick out a part, it's sure not to be the same part they pick out. The best way is to say incantations over the book, and open it with your eyes blindfolded, and study the page it opens to; then, in case you don't pass,—and you probably won't,—you can throw the blame on fate. My freshman year, if I remember right, they gave us for prose composition one of Emerson's essays to translate into Latin, and we couldn't even tell what it meant in English."
The three looked at one another again.
"I couldn't do anything like that."
"Nor any one else," said Patty.
"We can flunk Latin and math; but if we flunk any more we're gone."
"I believe so," said Patty.
"And I'm awfully shaky in German."
"And I in French."
"And I in Greek."
"I don't know anything about German," said Patty. "Never had it myself. But I remember hearing Priscilla say that the printed examination papers didn't come but in time, and Fraeulein Scherin, who writes a frightful hand, wrote the questions on the board in German script, and they couldn't even read them. In French I believe the first question was to write out the 'Marseillaise'; there are seven verses, and no one had learned them, and the 'Marseillaise,' you know, is a thing that you simply can't make up on the spur of the moment. As for Greek, I told you my own experience; I am sure nothing could be worse than that."
The freshmen looked at one another hopelessly. "There's only English and hygiene and Bible history left."
"English is something you can't tell anything about," said Patty. "They're as likely as not to ask you to write a heroic poem in iambic pentameters, if you know what they are. You have to depend on inspiration; you can't study for it."
"I hope," sighed Lady Clara, "to get through hygiene and Bible history, though, as they only count one hour apiece, I suppose it isn't much."
"You mustn't be too sanguine," said Patty. "It all depends on chance. The class in hygiene is so big that the professor hasn't time to read the papers; he just goes down the list and flunks every thirteenth girl. I'm not sure about Bible history, but I think he does the same, because I know, freshman year, that I made a mistake and handed in my map of the Holy Lands done in colored chalk to the hygiene professor, and my chart of the digestive system to the Bible professor, and neither of them noticed it. They did look a good deal alike, but not so much but what you could tell them apart. All I have to say is that I hope none of you will be number thirteen."
The freshmen stared at one another in speechless horror, and Patty rose. "Well, good-by, my children, and, above all things, don't worry. I'm glad if I've been able to cheer you up a little, for so much depends on not being nervous. Don't believe any of the silly stories the sophomores tell," she called back over her shoulder; "they're just trying to frighten you."
College is a more or less selfish place. Everybody is so busy with her own affairs that she has no time to give to her neighbor, unless her neighbor has something to give in return. Olivia Copeland apparently had nothing to give in return. She was quiet and inconspicuous, and it took a second glance to realize that her face was striking and that there was a look in her eyes that other freshmen did not have. By an unfelicitous chance she was placed in the same study with Lady Clara Vere de Vere and Emily Washburn. They thought her foreign and queer, and she thought them crude and boisterous, and after the first week or two of politely trying to get acquainted the effort was dropped on both sides.
The year wore on, and nobody knew, or at least no one paid any attention to the fact, that Olivia Copeland was homesick and unhappy. Her room-mates thought that they had done their duty when they occasionally asked her to play golf or go skating with them (an invitation they were very safe in giving, as she knew how to do neither). Her instructors thought that they had done their duty when they called her up to the desk after class and warned her that her work was not as good as it had been, and that if she wished to pass she must improve in it.
The English class was the only one in which she was not warned; but she had no means of knowing that her themes were handed about among the different instructors and that she was referred to in the department as "that remarkable Miss Copeland." The department had a theory that if they let a girl know she was doing good work she would immediately stop and rest upon her reputation; and Olivia, in consequence, did not discover that she was remarkable. She merely discovered that she was miserable and out of place, and she continued to drip tears of homesickness before a sketch of an Italian villa that hung above her desk.
It was Patty Wyatt who first discovered her. Patty had dropped into the freshmen's room one afternoon on some errand or other (probably to borrow alcohol), and had idly picked up a pile of English themes that were lying on the study table.
"Whose are these? Do you care if I look at them?" she asked.
"No; you can read them if you want to," said Lady Clara. "They're Olivia's, but she won't mind."
Patty carelessly turned the pages, and then, as a title caught her eye, she suddenly looked up with a show of interest. "'The Coral-fishers of Capri'! What on earth does Olivia Copeland know about the coral-fishers of Capri?"
"Oh, she lives somewhere near there—at Sorrento," said Lady Clara, indifferently.
"Olivia Copeland lives at Sorrento!" Patty stared. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I supposed you knew it. Her father's an artist or something of the sort. She's lived in Italy all her life; that's what makes her so queer."
Patty had once spent a sunshiny week in Sorrento herself, and the very memory of it was intoxicating. "Where is she?" she asked excitedly. "I want to talk to her."
"I don't know where she is. Out walking, probably. She goes off walking all by herself, and never speaks to any one, and then when we ask her to do something rational, like golf or basket-ball, she pokes in the house and reads Dante in Italian. Imagine!"
"Why, she must be interesting!" said Patty, in surprise, and she turned back to the themes.
"I think these are splendid!" she exclaimed.
"Sort of queer, I think," said Lady Clara. "But there's one that's rather funny. It was read in class—about a peasant that lost his donkey. I'll find it"; and she rummaged through the pile.
Patty read it soberly, and Lady Clara watched her with a shade of disappointment.
"Don't you think it's pretty good?" she asked.
"Yes; I think it's one of the best things I ever read."
"You never even smiled!"
"My dear child, it isn't funny."
"Isn't funny! Why, the class simply roared over it."
Patty shrugged. "Your appreciation must have gratified Olivia. And here it's February, and I've barely spoken to her."
The next afternoon Patty was strolling home from a recitation, when she spied Olivia Copeland across the campus, headed for Pine Bluff and evidently out for a solitary walk.
"Olivia Copeland, wait a moment," Patty called. "Are you going for a walk? May I come too?" she asked, as she panted up behind.
Olivia assented with evident surprise, and Patty fell into step beside her. "I just found out yesterday that you live in Sorrento, and I wanted to talk to you. I was there myself once, and I think it's the most glorious spot on earth."
Olivia's eyes shone. "Really?" she gasped. "Oh, I'm so glad!" And before she knew it she was telling Patty the story of how she had come to college to please her father, and how she loved Italy and hated America; and what she did not tell about her loneliness and homesickness Patty divined.
She realized that the girl was remarkable, and she determined in the future to take an interest in her and make her like college. But a senior's life is busy and taken up with its own affairs, and for the next week or two Patty saw little of the freshman beyond an occasional chat in the corridors.
One evening she and Priscilla had returned late from a dinner in town, to be confronted by a dark room and an empty match-safe.
"Wait a moment and I'll get some matches," said Patty; and she knocked on a door across the corridor where a freshman lived with whom they had a borrowing acquaintance. She found within her own freshman friends, Lady Clara Vere de Vere and Emily Washburn. It was evident by the three heads close together, and the hush that fell on the group as she entered, that some momentous piece of gossip had been interrupted. Patty forgot her room-mate waiting in the dark, and dropped into a chair with the evident purpose of staying out the evening.
"Tell me all about it, children," she said cordially.
The freshmen looked at one another and hesitated.
"A new president?" Patty suggested, "or just a class mutiny?"
"It's about Olivia Copeland," Lady Clara returned dubiously; "but I don't know that I ought to say anything."
"Olivia Copeland?" Patty straightened up with a new interest in her eyes. "What's Olivia Copeland been doing?"
"She's been flunking and—"
"Flunking!" Patty's face was blank. "But I thought she was so bright!"
"Oh, she is bright; only, you know, she hasn't a way of making people find it out; and, besides," Lady Clara added with meaning emphasis, "she was scared over examinations."
Patty cast a quick look at her. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Lady Clara was fond of Patty, but she was only human, and she had been frightened herself. "Well," she explained, "she had heard a lot of stories from—er—upper-classmen about how hard the examinations are, and the awful things they do to you if you don't pass, and being a stranger, she believed them. Of course Emily and I knew better; but she was just scared to death, and she went all to pieces, and—"
"Nonsense!" said Patty, impatiently. "You can't make me believe that."
"If it had been a sophomore that had tried to frighten us," pursued Lady Clara, "we shouldn't have minded so much: but a senior!"
"Now, Patty, aren't you sorry that you told us all those things?" asked Emily.
Patty laughed. "For the matter of that, I never say anything I'm not sorry for half an hour later. I'm going to get out a book some day entitled 'Things I Wish I Hadn't Said: A Collection of Faux Pas,' by Patty Wyatt."
"I think it's more than a faux pas when you frighten a girl so she—"
"I suppose you think you're rubbing it in," said Patty, imperturbably; "but girls don't flunk because they're frightened: they flunk because they don't know."
"Olivia knew five times as much geometry as I did, and I got through and she didn't."
Patty examined the carpet in silence.
"She thinks she's going to be dropped, and she's just crying terribly," pursued Emily, with a certain relish in the details.
"Crying!" said Patty, sharply. "What's she crying for?"
"Because she feels bad, I suppose. She'd been out walking, and got caught in the rain, and she didn't get back in time for dinner, and then found those notes waiting for her. She's up there lying on the bed, and she's got hysterics or Roman fever or something like that. She told us to go away and let her alone. She's awfully cross all of a sudden."
Patty rose. "I think I'll go and cheer her up."
"Let her alone, Patty," said Emily. "I know the way you cheer people up. If you hadn't cheered her up before examinations she wouldn't have flunked."
"I didn't know anything about her then," said Patty, a trifle sulkily; "and, anyway," she added as she opened the door, "I didn't say anything that affected her passing, one way or the other." She turned toward Olivia's room, however, with a conscience that was not quite comfortable. She could not remember just what she had told those freshmen about examinations, but she had an uneasy feeling that it might not have been of a reassuring nature.
"I wish I could ever learn when it is time for joking and when it is not," she said to herself as she knocked on the study door.
No one answered, and she turned the knob and entered. A stifled sob came from one of the bedrooms, and Patty hesitated.
She was not in the habit of crying herself, and she always felt uncomfortable when other people did it. Something must be done, however, and she advanced to the threshold and silently regarded Olivia, who was stretched face downward on the bed. At the sound of Patty's step she raised her head and cast a startled glance at the intruder, and then buried her face in the pillows again. Patty scribbled an "engaged" sign and pinned it on the study door, and drawing up a chair beside the bed, she sat down with the air of a physician about to make a diagnosis.
"Well, Olivia," she began in a business-like tone, "what is the trouble?"
Olivia opened her hands and disclosed some crumpled papers. Patty spread them out and hastily ran her eyes over the official printed slips:
Miss Copeland is hereby informed that she has been found deficient in German (three hours).
Miss Copeland is hereby informed that she has been found deficient in Latin prose (one hour).
Miss Copeland is hereby informed that she has been found deficient in geometry (four hours).
Patty performed a rapid calculation,—"three and one are four and four are eight,"—and knit her brows.
"Will they send me home, Patty?"
"Mercy, no, child; I hope not. A person who's done as good work as you in English ought to have the right to flunk every other blessed thing, if she wants to."
"But you're dropped if you flunk eight hours; you told me so yourself."
"Don't believe anything I told you," said Patty, reassuringly. "I don't know what I'm talking about more than half the time."
"I'd hate to be sent back, and have my father know I'd failed, when he spent so much time preparing me; but"—Olivia began to cry again—"I want to go back so much that I don't believe I care."
"You don't know what you're talking about," said Patty. She put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Mercy, child, you're sopping wet, and you're shivering! Sit up and take those shoes off."
Olivia sat up and pulled at the laces with ineffectual fingers, and Patty jerked them open and dumped the shoes in a squashy heap on the floor.
"Do you know what's the matter with you?" she asked. "You're not crying because you've flunked. You're crying because you've caught cold, and you're tired and wet and hungry. You take those wet clothes off this minute and get into a warm bath-robe, and I'll get you some dinner."
"I don't want any dinner," wailed Olivia, and she showed signs of turning back to the pillows again.
"Don't act like a baby, Olivia," said Patty, sharply; "sit up and be a—a man."
Ten minutes later Patty returned from a successful looting expedition, and deposited her spoils on the bedroom table. Olivia sat on the edge of the bed and watched her apathetically, a picture of shivering despondency.
"Drink this," commanded Patty, as she extended a steaming glass.
Olivia obediently raised it to her lips, and drew back. "What's in it?" she asked faintly.
"Everything I could find that's hot—quinine and whisky and Jamaica ginger and cough syrup and a dash of red pepper, and—one or two other things. It's my own idea. You can't take cold after that."
"I—I don't believe I want any."
"Drink it—every drop," said Patty, grimly; and Olivia shut her eyes and gulped it down.
"Now," said Patty, cheerfully bustling about, "I'll get dinner. Have you a can-opener? And any alcohol, by chance? That's nice. We'll have three courses,—canned soup, canned baked beans, and preserved ginger,—all of them hot. It's mighty lucky Georgie Merriles was in New York or she'd never have lent them to me."
Olivia, to her own astonishment, presently found herself laughing (she had thought that she would never smile again) as she sipped mulligatawny soup from a tooth-mug and balanced a pin-trayful of steaming baked beans on her knee.
"And now," said Patty, as, the three courses disposed of, she tucked the freshman into bed, "we'll map out a campaign. While eight hours are pretty serious, they are not of necessity deadly. What made you flunk Latin prose?"
"I never had any before I came, and when I told Miss—"
"Certainly; she thought it her duty to flunk you. You shouldn't have mentioned the subject. But never mind. It's only one hour, and it won't take you a minute to work it off. How about German?"
"German's a little hard because it's so different from Italian and French, you know; and I'm sort of frightened when she calls on me, and—"
"Pretty stupid, on the whole?" Patty suggested.
"I'm afraid I am," she confessed.
"Well, I dare say you deserved to flunk in that. You can tutor it up and pass it off in the spring. How about geometry?"
"I thought I knew that, only she didn't ask what I expected and—"
"An unfortunate circumstance, but it will happen. Could you review it up a little and take a reexamination right away?"
"Yes; I'm sure I could, only they won't give me another chance. They'll send me home first."
"Who's your instructor?"
Patty frowned, and then she laughed. "I thought if it were Miss Hawley I could go to her and explain the matter and ask her to give you a reexamination. Miss Hawley's occasionally human. But Miss Prescott! No wonder you flunked. I'm afraid of her myself. She's the only woman that ever got a degree at some German university, and she simply hasn't a thought in the world beyond mathematics. I don't believe the woman has any soul. If one of those mediums should come here and dematerialize her, all that would be left would be an equilateral triangle."
Patty shook her head. "I'm afraid there's not much use in arguing with a person like that. If she once sees a truth, you know, she sees it for all time. But never mind; I'll do the best I can. I'll tell her you're an undiscovered mathematical genius; that it's latent, but if she'll examine you again she'll find it. That ought to appeal to her. Good-night. Go to sleep and don't worry; I'll manage her."
"Good night; and thank you, Patty," called a tolerably cheerful voice from under the covers.
Patty closed the door, and stood a moment in the hall, pondering the situation. Olivia Copeland was too valuable to throw away. The college must be made to realize her worth. But that was difficult. Patty had tried to make the college realize things before. Miss Prescott was the only means of salvation that she could think of, and Miss Prescott was a doubtful means. She did not at all relish the prospect of calling on her, but there seemed to be nothing else to do. She made a little grimace and laughed. "I'm acting like a freshman myself," she thought. "Walk up, Patty, and face the guns"; and without giving herself time to hesitate she marched up-stairs and knocked on Miss Prescott's door. She reflected after she had knocked that perhaps it would have been more politic to have postponed her business until the morrow. But the door opened before she had time to run away, and she found herself rather confusedly bowing to Miss Prescott, who held in her hand, not a book on calculus, but a common, every-day magazine.
"Good evening, Miss Wyatt. Won't you come in and sit down?" said Miss Prescott, in a very cordially human tone.
As she sank into a deep rush chair Patty had a blurred vision of low bookcases, pictures, rugs, and polished brass thrown into soft relief by a shaded lamp which stood on the table. Before she had time to mentally shake herself and reconstruct her ideas she was gaily chatting to Miss Prescott about the probable outcome of a serial story in the magazine.
Miss Prescott did not seem to wonder in the least at this unusual visit, but talked along easily on various subjects, and laughed and told stories like the humanest of human beings. Patty watched her, fascinated. "She's pretty," she thought to herself and she began to wonder how old she was. Never before had she associated any age whatever with Miss Prescott. She had regarded her much in the same light as a scientific truth, which exists, but is quite irrespective of time or place. She tried to recall some story that had been handed about among the girls her freshman year. She remembered vaguely that it had in it the suggestion that Miss Prescott had once been in love. At the time Patty had scoffingly repudiated the idea, but now she was half willing to believe it.
Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, the ten-o'clock bell rang, and Patty recalled her errand with a start.
"I suppose," she said, "you are wondering why I came."
"I was hoping," said Miss Prescott, with a smile, "that it was just to see me, without any ulterior motive."
"It will be the next time—if you will let me come again; but to-night I had another reason, which I'm afraid you'll think impertinent—and," she added frankly, "I don't know just what's the best way to tell it so that you won't think it impertinent."
"Tell it to me any way you please, and I will try not to think so," said Miss Prescott, kindly.
"Don't you think sometimes the girls can tell more of one another's ability than the instructors?" Patty asked. "I know a girl," she continued, "a freshman, who is, in some ways, the most remarkable person I have ever met. Of course I can't be sure, but I should say that she is going to be very good in English some day—so good, you know, that the college will be proud of her. Well, this girl has flunked such a lot that I am afraid she is in danger of being sent home, and the college simply can't afford to lose her. I don't know anything about your rules, of course, but what seems to me the easiest way is for you to give her another examination in geometry immediately,—she really knows it,—and then tell the faculty about her and urge them to give her another trial."
Patty brought out this astounding request in the most matter-of-fact way possible, and the corners of Miss Prescott's mouth twitched as she asked: "Of whom are you speaking?"
Miss Prescott's mouth grew firm, and she looked like the instructor in mathematics again.
"Miss Copeland did absolutely nothing on her examination, Miss Wyatt, and what little she has recited during the year does not betoken any unusual ability. I am sorry, but it would be impossible."
"But, Miss Prescott," Patty expostulated, "the girl has worked under such peculiar disadvantages. She's an American, but she lives abroad, and all our ways are new to her. She has never been to school a day in her life. Her father prepared her for college, and, of course, not in the same way that the other girls have been prepared. She is shy, and not being used to reciting in a class, she doesn't know how to show off. I am sure, Miss Prescott, that if you would take her and examine her yourself, you would find that she understands the work—that is, if you would let her get over being afraid of you first. I know you're busy, and it's asking a good deal," Patty finished apologetically.
"It is not that, Miss Wyatt, for of course I do not wish to mark any student unjustly; but I cannot help feeling that you have overestimated Miss Copeland's ability. She has really had a chance to show what is in her, and if she has failed in as many courses as you say—The college, you know, must keep up the standard of its work, and in questions like this it is not always possible to consider the individual."
Patty felt that she was being dismissed, and she groped about wildly for a new plea. Her eye caught a framed picture of the old monastery of Amalfi hanging over the bookcase.
"Perhaps you've lived in Italy?" she asked.
Miss Prescott started slightly. "No," she said; "but I've spent some time there."
"That picture of Amalfi, up there, made me think of it. Olivia Copeland, you know, lives near there, at Sorrento."
A gleam of interest flashed into Miss Prescott's eye.
"That's how I first came to notice her," continued Patty; "but she didn't interest me so much until I talked to her. It seems that her father is an artist, and she was born in Italy, and has only visited America once when she was a little girl. Her mother is dead, and she and her father live in an old villa on that road along the coast leading to Sorrento. She has never had any girl friends; just her father's friends—artists and diplomats and people like that. She speaks Italian, and she knows all about Italian art and politics and the church and the agrarian laws and how the people are taxed; and all the peasants around Sorrento are her friends. She is so homesick that she nearly dies, and the only person here that she can talk to about the things she is interested in is the peanut man down-town.
"The girls she rooms with are just nice exuberant American girls, and are interested in golf and basket-ball and Welsh rabbit and Richard Harding Davis stories and Gibson pictures—and she never even heard of any of them until four months ago. She has a water-color sketch of the villa, that her father did. It's white stucco, you know, with terraces and marble balustrades and broken statues, and a grove of ilex-trees with a fountain in the center. Just think of belonging to a place like that, Miss Prescott, and then being suddenly plunged into a place like this without any friends or any one who even knows about the things you know—think how lonely you would be!"
Patty leaned forward with flushed cheeks, carried away by her own eloquence. "You know what Italy's like. It's a sort of disease. If you once get fond of it you'll never forget it, and you just can't be happy till you get back. And with Olivia it's her home, besides. She's never known anything else. And it's hard at first to keep your mind on mathematics when you're dreaming all the time of ilex groves and fountains and nightingales and—and things like that."
She finished lamely, for Miss Prescott suddenly leaned back in the shadow, and it seemed to Patty that her face had grown pale and the hand that held the magazine trembled.
Patty flushed uncomfortably and tried to think what she had said. She was always saying things that hurt people's feelings without meaning to. Suddenly that old story from her freshman year flashed into her mind. He had been an artist and had lived in Italy and had died of Roman fever; and Miss Prescott had gone to Germany to study mathematics, and had never cared for anything else since. It sounded rather made up, but it might be true. Had she stumbled on a forbidden subject? she wondered miserably. She had, of course; it was just her way.
The silence was becoming unbearable; she struggled to think of something to say, but nothing came, and she rose abruptly.
"I'm sorry to have taken so much of your time, Miss Prescott. I hope I haven't bored you. Good night."
Miss Prescott rose and took Patty's hand. "Good night, my dear, and thank you for coming to me. I am glad to know of Olivia Copeland. I will see what can be done about her geometry, and I shall be glad, besides, to know her as—as a friend; for I, too, once cared for Italy."
Patty closed the door softly and tiptoed home through the dim corridors.
"Did you bring the matches?" called a sleepy voice from Priscilla's bedroom.
Patty started. "Oh, the matches!" she laughed. "No; I forgot them."
"I never knew you to accomplish anything yet that you started out to do, Patty Wyatt."
"I've accomplished something to-night, just the same," Patty retorted, with a little note of triumph in her voice; "but I haven't an idea how I happened to do it," she added frankly to herself.
And she went to bed and fell asleep, quite unaware of how much she had accomplished; for unconsciously she had laid the foundation of a friendship which was to make happy the future of a lonely freshman and an equally lonely instructor.
The third senior table had discovered a new amusement with which to enlighten the tedium of waiting while Maggie was in the kitchen foraging for food. The game was called "local color," in honor of Patty Wyatt's famous definition in English class, "Local color is that which makes a lie seem truthful." The object of the game was to see who could tell the biggest lie without being found out; and the one rule required that the victims be disillusionized before they left the table.
Patty was the instigator, the champion player, and the final victim of the game. Baron Muenchhausen himself would have blushed at some of her creations, and her stories were told with such an air of ingenuous honesty that the most outrageous among them obtained credence.
The game in its original conception may have been innocent enough, but the rule was not always as carefully observed as it should have been, and the most unaccountable scandals began to float about college. The president of "Christians" had been called up for cutting chapel. The shark of the class had flunked her ethics, and even failed to get through on the "re." Cathy Fair was an own cousin of Professor Hitchcock's, and called him "Tommy" to his face. These, and far worse, were becoming public property; and even personal fabrications in regard to the faculty, intended solely for undergraduate consumption, were reaching the ears of the faculty themselves.
One day Patty dropped into an under-classman's room on some committee work, and she found the children, in the manner of their elders, regaling themselves on dainty bits of college gossip.
"I heard the funniest thing about Professor Winters yesterday," piped up a sophomore.
"Tell it to us. What was it?" cried a chorus of voices.
"I'd like to hear something funny about Professor Winters; he's the solemnest-looking man I ever saw," remarked a freshman.
"Well," resumed the sophomore, "it seems he was going to get married last week, and the invitations were all out, and the presents all there, when the bride came down with the mumps."
"Really? How funny!" came in a chorus from the delighted auditors.
"Yes—on both sides; and the clergyman had never had it, so the ceremony had to be postponed."
Patty's blood froze. She recognized the tale. It was one of her own offspring, only shorn of its unessential adornments.
"Where in the world did you hear any such absurd thing as that?" she demanded severely.
"I heard Lucille Carter tell it at a fudge party up in Bonnie Connaught's room last night," answered the sophomore, stoutly, sure that the source was a reputable one.
Patty groaned. "And I suppose that every blessed one of that dozen girls has told it to another dozen by this time, and that it's only bounded by the boundaries of the campus. Well, there's not a word of truth in it. Lucille Carter doesn't know what she is talking about. That's a likely story, isn't it?" she added with fine scorn. "Does Professor Winters look like a man who'd ever dare propose to a girl, let alone marry her?" And she stalked out of the room and up to the single where Lucille lived.
"Lucille," said Patty, "what do you mean by spreading that story about Professor Winters's bride's mumps?"
"You told it to me yourself," answered Lucille, with some warmth. She was a believing creature with an essentially literal mind, and she had always been out of her element in the lofty imaginative realms of local color.
"I told it to you!" said Patty, indignantly. "You goose, you don't mean to tell me you believed it? I was just playing local color."
"How should I know that? You told it as if it were true."
"Of course," said Patty; "that's the game. You wouldn't have believed me if I hadn't."
"But you never said it wasn't true. You don't follow the rule."
"I didn't think it was necessary. I never supposed any one would believe any such absurd story as that."
"I don't see how it was my fault."
"Of course it was your fault. You shouldn't be spreading malicious tales about the faculty; it's irreverent. The story's all over college by this time, and Professor Winters has probably heard it himself. He'll flunk you on the finals to pay for it; see if he doesn't." And Patty went home, leaving a conscience-smitten and thoroughly indignant Lucille behind her.
* * * * *
ABOUT a month before the introduction of local color, Patty had entered upon a new activity, which she referred to impartially as "molding public opinion" and "elevating the press." The way of it was this:
The college, which was a modest and retiring institution craving only to be unmolested in its atmosphere of academic calm, had been recently exploited by a sensational newspaper. The fact that none of the stories was true did not mitigate the annoyance. The college was besieged by reporters who had heard rumors and wished to have them corroborated for exclusive publication in the "Censor" or "Advertiser" or "Star." And they would also like a photograph of Miss Bentley as she appeared in the character of Portia; and since she refused to give it to them, they stated their intention of "faking" one, which, they gallantly assured her, would be far homelier than the original.
The climax was reached when Bonnie Connaught was unfortunate enough to sprain her ankle in basket-ball. Something more than a life-size portrait of her, clothed in a masculine-looking sweater, with a basket-ball under her arm, appeared in a New York evening paper, and scare-heads three inches high announced in red ink that the champion athlete and most popular society girl in college was at death's door, owing to injuries received in basket-ball.
Bonnie's eminently respectable family descended upon the college in an indignant body for the purpose of taking her home, and were with difficulty soothed by an equally indignant faculty. The alumnae wrote that in their day such brutal games as basket-ball had not been countenanced, and that they feared the college had deteriorated. Parents wrote that they would remove their daughters from college if they were to be subjected to such publicity; and the poor president was, of course, quite helpless before the glorious American privilege of free speech.
Finally the college hit upon a partially protective measure—that of furnishing its own news; and a regularly organized newspaper corps was formed among the students, with a member of the faculty at the head. The more respectable of the papers were very glad to have a correspondent from the inside whose facts needed no investigation, and the less respectable in due time betook themselves to more fruitful fields of scandal and happily forgot the existence of the college.
Patty, having the reputation of being an "English shark," had been duly empaneled and presented with a local paper. At first she had been filled with a fit sense of the responsibility of the position, and had conscientiously neglected her college work for its sake; but in time the novelty wore off, and her weekly budgets became more and more perfunctory in character.
The choice of Patty for this particular paper perhaps had not been very far-sighted, for the editor wished a column a week of what he designated as "chatty news," whereas it would have been wiser to have given her a city paper which required only a brief statement of important facts. Patty's own tendencies, it must be confessed, had a slightly yellow tinge, and, with a delighted editor egging her on, it was hard for her to suppress her latent love for "local color." The paper, however, had a wide circulation among the faculty, which circumstance tended to have a chastening effect.
The day following Patty's bride-with-the-mumps contretemps with Lucille happened to be Friday, and she was painfully engaged in her weekly molding of public opinion. It had been a barren week, and there was nothing to write about.
She reviewed at length a set of French encyclopedias which had been given to the library, and spoke with enthusiasm of a remarkable collection of jaw-bones of the prehistoric cow which had been presented to the department of paleontology. She gave in full the list of the seventeen girls who had been honored with scholarships, laboriously writing out their full names, with "Miss" attached to each, and the name of the town and the State in its unabbreviated length. And still it only mounted up to ten pages, and it took eighteen of Patty's writing to make a column.
She strolled down to examine the bulletin-board again, and discovered a new notice which she had overlooked before:
Friday, January 17. Professor James Harkner Wallis of the Lick Observatory will lecture in the auditorium, at eight o'clock, upon "Theories of the Sidereal System."
Patty regarded the notice without emotion. It did not look capable of expansion, and she did not feel the remotest interest in the sidereal system. The brief account of the lecturer, however, which was appended to the notice, stated that Professor Wallis was one of the best known of living astronomers, and that he had conducted important original investigations.
"If I knew anything about astronomy," she thought desperately, "I might be able to spread him out over two pages."
An acquaintance of Patty's strolled up to the bulletin-board.
"Did you ever hear of that man?" asked Patty, pointing to the notice.
"Never; but I'm not an astronomer."
"I'm not, either," said Patty. "I wonder who he is?" she added wistfully. "It seems he's very famous, and I'd really like to know something about him."
The girl opened her eyes in some surprise at this thirst for gratuitous information; it did not accord with Patty's reputation: and ever after, when it was affirmed in her presence that Patty Wyatt was brilliant but superficial, she stoutly maintained that Patty was deeper than people thought. She pondered a moment, and then returned, "Lucille Carter takes astronomy; she could tell you about him."
"So she does. I'd forgotten it"; and Patty swung off toward Lucille's room.
She found a number of girls sitting around on the various pieces of furniture, eating fudge and discussing the tragedies of one Maeterlinck.
"What's this?" said Patty. "A party?"
"Oh, no," said Lucille; "just an extra session of the Dramatic Theory class. Don't be afraid; there's your room-mate up on the window-seat."
"Hello, Pris. What are you doing here?" said Patty, dipping out some fudge with a spoon. (There had been a disagreement as to how long it should boil.)
"Just paying a social call. What are you doing? I thought you were going to hurry up and get through so you could go down-town to dinner."
"I am," said Patty, vaguely; "but I got lonely."
The conversation drifting off to Maeterlinck again, she seized the opportunity to inquire of Lucille: "Who's this astronomy man that's going to lecture to-night? He's quite famous, isn't he?"
"Very," said Lucille. "Professor Phelps has been talking about him every day for the last week."
"Where's the Lick Observatory, anyway?" pursued Patty. "I can't remember, for the life of me, whether it's in California or on Pike's Peak."
Lucille considered a moment. "It's in Dublin, Ireland."
"Dublin, Ireland?" asked Patty, in some surprise. "I could have sworn that it was in California. Are you sure you know where it is, Lucille?"
"Of course I'm sure. Haven't we been having it for three days steady? California! You must be crazy, Patty. I think you'd better elect astronomy."
"I know it," said Patty, meekly. "I was going to, but I heard that it was terribly hard, and I thought senior year you have a right to take something a little easy. But, you know, that's the funniest thing about the Lick Observatory, for I really know a lot about it—read an article on it just a little while ago; and I don't know how I got the impression, but I was almost sure it was in the United States. It just shows that you can never be sure of anything."
"No," said Lucille; "it isn't safe."
"Is it connected with Dublin University?" asked Patty.
"I believe so," said Lucille.
"And this astronomy person," continued Patty, warming to her work—"I suppose he's an Irishman, then."
"Of course," said Lucille. "He's very noted."
"What's he done?" asked Patty. "It said on the bulletin-board he'd made some important discoveries. I suppose, though, they're frightful technicalities that no one ever heard of."
"Well," said Lucille, considering, "he discovered the rings of Saturn and the Milky Way."
"The rings of Saturn! Why, I thought those had been discovered ages ago. He must be a terribly old man. I remember reading about them when I was an infant in arms."
"It was a good while ago," said Lucille. "Eight or nine years, at least."
"And the Milky Way!" continued Patty, with a show of incredulity. "I don't see how people could have helped discovering that long ago. I could have done it myself, and I don't pretend to know anything about astronomy."
"Oh, of course," Lucille hastened to explain, "the phenomenon had been observed before, but had never been accounted for."
"I see," said Patty, surreptitiously taking notes. "He must really be an awfully important man. How did he happen to do all this?"
"He went up in a balloon," said Lucille, vaguely.
"A balloon! What fun!" exclaimed Patty, her reportorial instinct waking to the scent. "They use balloons a lot more in Europe than they do here."
"I believe he has his balloon with him here in America," said Lucille. "He never travels without it."
"What's the good of it?" inquired Patty. "I suppose," she continued, furnishing her own explanation, "it gets him such a lot nearer to the stars."
"That's without doubt the reason," said Lucille.
"I wish he'd send it up here," sighed Patty. "Do you know any more interesting details about him?"
"N—no," said Lucille; "I can't think of any more at present."
"He's certainly the most interesting professor I ever heard of," said Patty, "and it's strange I never heard of him before."
"There seem to be a good many things you have never heard of," observed Lucille.
"Yes," acknowledged Patty; "there are."
"Well, Patty," said Priscilla, emerging from the discussion on the other side of the room, "if you're going to dinner with me, you'd better stop fooling with Lucille, and go home and get your work done."
"Very well," said Patty, rising with obliging promptitude. "Good-by, girls. Come and see me and I'll give you some fudge that's done. Thank you for the information," she called back to Lucille.
* * * * *
THE Monday afternoon following, Patty and Priscilla, with two or three other girls, came strolling back from the lake, jingling their skates over their arms.
"Come in, girls, and have some hot tea," said Priscilla, as they reached the study door.
"Here's a note for Patty," said Bonnie Connaught, picking up an envelop from the table. "Terribly official-looking. Must have come in the college mail. Open it, Patty, and let's see what you've flunked."
"Dear me!" said Patty, "I thought that was a habit I'd outgrown freshman year."
They crowded around and read the note over her shoulder. Patty had no secrets.
THE OBSERVATORY, January 20. Miss Patty Wyatt.
DEAR MISS WYATT: I am informed that you are the correspondent for the "Saturday Evening Post-Despatch," and I take the liberty of calling your attention to a rather grave error which occurred in last week's issue. You stated that the Lick Observatory is in Dublin, Ireland, while, as is a matter of general information, it is situated near San Francisco, California. Professor James Harkner Wallis is not an Irishman; he is an American. Though he has carried on some very important investigations, he is the discoverer of neither the rings of Saturn nor the Milky Way.
Very truly yours, HOWARD D. PHELPS.
"It's from Professor Phelps—what can he mean?" said the Twin, in bewilderment.
"Oh, Patty," groaned Priscilla, "you don't mean to say that you actually believed all that stuff?"
"Of course I believed it. How could I know she was lying?"
"She wasn't lying. Don't use such reckless language."
"I'd like to know what you call it, then?" said Patty, angrily.
"Local color, my dear, just local color. The worm will turn, you know."
"Why didn't you tell me?" wailed Patty.
"Never supposed for a moment you believed her. Thought you were joking all the time."
"What's the matter, Patty? What have you done?" the others demanded, divided between a pardonable feeling of curiosity and a sense that they ought to retire before this domestic tragedy.
"Oh, tell them," said Patty, bitterly. "Tell every one you see. Shout it from the dome of the observatory. You might as well; it'll be all over college in a couple of hours."
Priscilla explained, and as she explained the funny side began to strike her. By the time she had finished they were all—except Patty—reduced to hysterics.
"The poor editor," gurgled Priscilla. "He's always after a scoop, and he's certainly got one this time."
"Where is it, Patty—the paper?" gasped Bonnie.
"I threw it away," said Patty, sulkily.
Priscilla rummaged it out of the waste-basket, and the four bent over it delightedly.
Ireland's eminent astronomer spending a few weeks in America lecturing at the principal colleges—His famous discovery of the rings of Saturn made during a balloon ascension three thousand feet in the air—Though this is his first visit to the States, he speaks with only a slight brogue—Loyal son of old Erin
"Patty, Patty! And you, of all people, to be so gullible!"
"Professor James Harkner Wallis's parents will be writing to Prexy next to say that their son can't lecture here any more if he is to be subjected to this sort of thing."
"It's disgusting!" said Bonnie Connaught, feelingly.
"When you've got through laughing, I wish you'd tell me what to do."
"Tell Professor Phelps it was a slip of the pen."
"A slip of the pen to the extent of half a column is good," said the Twin.
"I think you girls are beastly to laugh when I am probably being expelled this minute."
"Faculty meeting doesn't come till four," said Bonnie.
Patty sat down by the desk and buried her head in her arms.
"Patty," said Priscilla, "you aren't crying, are you?"
"No," said Patty, savagely; "I'm thinking."
"You will never think of anything that will explain that."
Patty looked up with the air of one who has received an inspiration. "I'm going to tell him the truth."
"Don't do anything so rash," pleaded the Twin.
"That is, of course, the only thing you can do," said Priscilla. "Sit down and write him a note, and I'll promise not to laugh till you get through."
Patty stood up. "I think," she said, "I'll go and see him."
"Oh, no. Write him a note. It's loads easier."
"No," said Patty, with dignity; "I think I owe him a personal explanation. Is my hair all right? If you girls reveal this to a single person before I come back, I'll not tell you a thing he says," she added as she closed the door.
Patty returned half an hour later, just as they were finally settling down to tea. She peered around the darkening room; finding only four expectant faces, she leisurely seated herself on a cushion on the floor and stretched out her hand for a steaming cup.
"What did he say? What kept you so long?"
"Oh, I stopped in the office to change my electives, and it delayed me."
"You don't mean to tell me that man made you elect astronomy?" Priscilla asked indignantly.
"Certainly not," said Patty. "I shouldn't have done it if he had."
"Oh, Patty, I know you like to tease, but I think it's odious. You know we're in suspense. Tell us what happened."
"Well," said Patty, placidly gathering her skirts about her, "I told him exactly how it was. I didn't hide anything—not even the bride with the mumps."
"Was he cross, or did he laugh?"
"He laughed," said Patty, "till I thought he was going to fall off his chair, and I looked anxiously around for some water and a call-bell. He really has a surprising sense of humor for a member of the faculty."
"Was he nice?"
"Yes," said Patty; "he was a dear. When he got through discussing Universal Truth, I asked him if I might elect astronomy, and he said I would find it pretty hard the second semester; but I told him I was willing to work, and he said I really showed a remarkable aptitude for explaining phenomena, and that if I were in earnest he would be glad to have me in the class."
"I think a man as forgiving as that ought to be elected," said Priscilla.
"You certainly have more courage than I gave you credit for," said Bonnie. "I never could have gone over and explained to that man in the wide world."
Patty smiled discreetly. "When you have to explain to a woman," she said in the tone of one who is stating a natural law, "it is better to write a note; but when it is a man, always explain in person."
The Exigencies of Etiquette
"If I had been the one to invent etiquette," said Patty, "I should have made party calls payable one year after date, and then should have allowed three days' grace at the end."
"In which case," said Priscilla, "I suppose you would get out of calling on Mrs. Millard altogether."
"Exactly," said Patty.
Mrs. Millard—more familiarly referred to as Mrs. Prexy—annually invited the seniors to dinner in parties of ten. Patty, whose turn had come a short time before, owing to an untoward misfortune, had been in the infirmary at the time; but, though she had missed the fun, she now found it necessary to pay the call.
"Of course," she resumed, "I can see why you should be expected to call if you attend the function and partake of the food; but what I can't understand is why a peaceable citizen who desires only to gang his ain gait should, upon the reception of an entirely unsolicited invitation, suddenly find it incumbent upon him to put on his best dress and his best hat and gloves in order to call upon people he barely knows."
"Your genders," said Priscilla, "are a trifle mixed."
"That," said Patty, "is the fault of the language. The logic, I think, you will find correct. You can see what would happen," she pursued, "if you carry it out to its logical conclusion. Suppose, for instance, that every woman I have ever met in this town should suddenly take it into her head to invite me to a dinner. Here I—perfectly unsuspicious and innocent of any evil, because of a purely arbitrary law which I did not help to make—would not only have to sit down and write a hundred regrets, but would have to pay a hundred calls within the next two weeks. It makes me shudder to think of it!"
"I don't believe you need worry about it, Patty; of course we know you're popular, but you're not as popular as that."
"No," said Patty; "I didn't mean that I thought I really should get that many invitations. It's only that one is open to the constant danger."
During the progress of this conversation Georgie Merriles had been lounging on the couch by the window, reading the "Merchant of Venice" in a critically unimpassioned way that the instructor in Dramatic Theory could not have praised too much. The room finally having become too dark for reading, she threw down the book with something like a yawn. "It would have been a joke on Portia," she remarked, "if Bassanio had chosen the wrong casket"; and she turned her attention to the campus outside. Groups of girls were coming along the path from the lake, and the sound of their voices, mingled with laughter and the jingling of skates, floated up through the gathering dusk. Across the stretches of snow and bare trees lights were beginning to twinkle in the other dormitories, while nearer at hand, and more clearly visible, rose the irregular outline of the president's house.
"Patty," said Georgie, with her nose against the pane, "if you really want to get that call out of the way, now's your chance. Mrs. Millard has just gone out."
Patty dashed into her bedroom and began jerking out bureau drawers. "Priscilla," she called in an agonized tone, "do you remember where I keep my cards?"
"It's ten minutes of six, Patty; you can't go now."
"Yes, I can. It doesn't matter what time it is, so long as she's out. I'll go just as I am."
"Not in a golf-cape!"
Patty hesitated an instant. "Well," she admitted, "I suppose the butler might tell her. I'll put on a hat"—this with the air of one who is making a really great concession. Some more banging of bureau drawers, and she appeared in a black velvet hat trimmed with lace, with the brown jacket of her suit over her red blouse, and a blue golf-skirt and very muddy boots showing below.
"Patty, you're a disgrace to the room!" cried Priscilla. "Do you mean to tell me that you are going to Mrs. Millard's in a short skirt and those awful skating-shoes?"
"The butler won't look at my feet; I'm so beautiful above"; and Patty banged the door behind her.
Georgie and Priscilla flattened themselves against the window to watch the progress of the call.
"Look," gasped Priscilla. "There's Mrs. Millard going in at the back door."
"And there's Patty. My, but she looks funny!"
"Call her back," cried Priscilla, wildly trying to open the window.
"Let her alone," laughed Georgie; "it will be such fun to gloat over her."
The window came up with a jerk. "Patty! Patty!" shrieked Priscilla.
Patty turned and waved her hand airily. "Can't stop now—will be back in a moment"; and she sped on around the corner.
The two stood watching the house for several minutes, vaguely expecting an explosion of some sort to occur. But nothing happened. Patty was swallowed as if by the grave, and the house gave no sign. They accordingly shrugged their shoulders and dressed for dinner with the philosophy which a life fraught with alarms and surprises gives.
* * * * *
DINNER was half over, and the table had finished discussing Patty's demise, when that young lady trailed placidly in, smiled on the expectant faces, and inquired what kind of soup they had had.
"Bean soup; it wasn't any good," said Georgie, impatiently. "What happened? Did you have a nice call?"
"No, Maggie, I don't care for any soup to-night. Just bring me some steak, please."
"Patty!" in a pleading chorus, "what happened?"
"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Patty, sweetly. "Yes, thank you, I had a very pleasant call. May I trouble you for the bread, Lucille?"
"Patty, I think you're obnoxious," said Georgie. "Tell us what happened."
"Well," began Patty, in a leisurely manner, "I said to the butler, 'Is Mrs. Millard in?' and he said to me (without even a smile), 'I am not sure, miss; will you please step into the drawing-room and I'll see.' I was going to tell him that he needn't bother, as I knew she was out; but I thought that perhaps it would look a little better if I waited and let him find out for himself. So I walked in and sat down in a pink-and-white embroidered Louis-Quatorze chair. There was a big mirror in front of me, and I had plenty of time to study the effect, which, I will acknowledge, was a trifle mixed."
"A trifle," Georgie assented.
"I was beginning," pursued Patty, "to feel nervous for fear some of the family might drop in, when the man came back and said, 'Mrs. Millard will be down in a minute.'
"If I had seen you at that moment, Georgie Merriles, there would have been battle, murder, and sudden death. My first thought was of flight; but the man was guarding the door, and Mrs. Prexy had my card. While I was frenziedly trying to think of a valid excuse for my costume the lady came in, and I rose and greeted her graciously, one might almost say gushingly. I talked very fast and tried to hypnotize her, so that she would keep her eyes on my face; but it was no use: I saw them traveling downward, and pretty soon I knew by the amused expression that they had arrived at my shoes.
"Concealment was no longer possible," pursued Patty, warming to her subject. "I threw myself upon her mercy and confessed the whole damning truth. What kind of ice-cream is that?" she demanded, leaning forward and gazing anxiously after a passing maid. "Don't tell me they're giving us raspberry again!"
"No; it's vanilla. Go on, Patty."
"Well, where was I?"
"You'd just told her the truth."
"Oh, yes. She said she'd always wanted to meet the college girls informally and know them just as they are, and she was very glad of this opportunity. And there I sat, looking like a kaleidoscope and feeling like a fool, and she taking it for granted that I was being perfectly natural. Complimentary, wasn't it? At this point dinner was announced, and she invited me to stay—quite insisted, in fact, to make up, she said, for the one I had missed when I was ill in the infirmary." Patty looked around the table with a reminiscent smile.
"What did you say? Did you refuse?" asked Lucille.
"No; I accepted, and am over there at present, eating pate de foie gras."
"No, really, Patty; what did you say?"
"Well," said Patty, "I told her that this was ice-cream night at the college, and that I sort of hated to miss it; but that to-morrow would be mutton night, which I didn't mind missing in the least; so if she would just as leave transfer her invitation, I would accept for to-morrow with pleasure."
"Patty," exclaimed Lucille, in a horrified tone, "you didn't say that!"
"Just a little local color, Lucille," laughed Priscilla.
"But," objected Lucille, "we'd promised not to play local color any more."
"Have you not learned," said Priscilla, "that Patty can no more live without local color than she can live without food? It's ingrained in her nature."
"Never mind," said Patty, good-naturedly; "you may not believe me now, but to-morrow night, when I'm all dressed up in beautiful clothes, swapping stories with Prexy and eating lobster salad, while you are over here having mutton, then maybe you'll be sorry."
A Crash Without
"I love the smell of powder," said Patty.
"Gunpowder or baking-powder?"
As Patty at the moment had her nose buried in a box of face-powder she thought it unnecessary to answer.
"It brings back my youth," she pursued. "The best times of my life have been mixed up with powder and rouge—Washington's Birthday nights, and minstrel shows, and masquerades, and plays at boarding-school, and even Mother Goose tableaux when I was a—"
Patty's reminiscences were interrupted by Georgie, who was anxiously pacing up and down the wings. "It's queer some of the cast don't come. I told them to be here early, so we could get them all made up and not have a rush at the end."
"Oh, there's time enough," said Patty, comfortably. "It isn't seven yet, and if they're going to dress in their rooms it won't take any time over here just to make them up and put on their wigs. It's a comparatively small cast, you see. Now, on the night of the Trig. ceremonies, when we had to make up three whole ballets and only had one box of make-up, we were rushed. I thought I'd never live to see the curtain go down. Do you remember the suit of chain-mail we made for Bonnie Connaught out of wire dish-cloths? It took sixty-three, and the ten-cent store was terribly dubious about renting them to us; and then, after working every spare second for three days over the thing, we found, the last minute, that we hadn't left a big enough hole for her to get into, and—"
"Oh, do keep still, Patty," said Georgie, nervously; "I can't remember what I have to do when you talk all the time."
A manager on the eve of producing a new play, with his reputation at stake, may be excused for being a trifle irritable. Patty merely shrugged her shoulders and descended through the stage-door to the half-lighted hall, where she found Cathy Fair strolling up and down the center aisle in an apparently aimless manner.
"Hello, Cathy," said Patty; "what are you doing over here?"
"I'm head usher, and I wanted to see if those foolish sophomores had mixed up the numbers again."
"It strikes me they're a trifle close together," said Patty, sitting down and squeezing in her knees.
"Yes, I know; but you can't get eight hundred people into this hall any other way. When we once get them packed they'll have to sit still, that's all. What are you doing over here yourself?" she continued. "I didn't know you were on the committee. Or are you just helping Georgie?"
"I'm in the cast," said Patty.
"Oh, are you? I saw the program to-day, but I'd forgotten it. I've often wondered why you haven't been in any of the class plays."
"Fortune and the faculty are against it," sighed Patty. "You see, they didn't discover my histrionic ability before examinations freshman year, and after examinations, when I was asked to be in the play, the faculty thought I could spend the time to better advantage studying Greek. At the time of the sophomore play I was on something else and couldn't serve, and this year I had just been deprived of my privileges for coming back late after Christmas."
"But I thought you said you were in it?"
"Oh," said Patty, "it's a minor part, and my name doesn't appear."
"What sort of a part is it?"
"I'm a crash."
"Yes, 'a crash without.' Lord Bromley says, 'Cynthia, I will brave all for your sake. I will follow you to the ends of the earth.' At this point a crash is heard without. I," said Patty, proudly, "am the crash. I sit behind a moonlit balcony in a space about two feet square, and drop a lamp-chimney into a box. It may not sound like a very important part, but it is the pivot upon which the whole plot turns."
"I hope you won't be taken with stage-fright," laughed Cathy.
"I'll try not," said Patty. "There comes the butler and Lord Bromley and Cynthia. I've got to go and make them up."
"Why are you making people up, if you are not on the committee?"
"Oh, once, during a period of mental weakness, I took china-painting lessons, and I'm supposed to know how. Good-by."
"Good-by. If you get any flowers I'll send them in by an usher."
"Do," said Patty. "I'm sure to get a lot."
Behind the scenes all was joyful confusion. Georgie, in a short skirt, with her shirt-waist sleeves rolled up and a note-book in her hand, was standing in the middle of the stage directing the scene-shifters and distracted committee. Patty, in the "green-room," was presiding over the cast, with a hare's foot in one hand and the other daubed with red and blue grease-paints.
"Oh, Patty," remonstrated Cynthia, with a horrified glance in the mirror, "I look more like a soubrette than a heroine."
"That's the way you ought to look," returned Patty. "Here, hold still till I put another dab on your chin."
Cynthia appealed to the faithful Lord Bromley, who was sitting in the background, politely letting the ladies go first. "Look, Bonnie, don't you think I'm too red? I know it'll all come off when you kiss me."
"If it comes off as easily as that, you'll be more fortunate than most of the people I make up"; and Patty smiled knowingly as she remembered how Priscilla had soaked half the night on the occasion of a previous play, and then had appeared at breakfast the next morning with lowering eyebrows and a hectic flush on each cheek. "You must remember that foot-lights take a lot of color," she explained condescendingly. "You'd look ghastly if I let you go the way you wanted to at first. Next!
"No," said Patty, as the butler presented himself; "you don't come till the second act. I'll take the Irate Parent first." The Irate Parent was dragged from a corner where he had been anxiously mumbling over his lines. "What's the matter?" asked Patty, as she began daubing in wrinkles with a liberal hand; "are you afraid?"
"N-no," said the Parent; "I'm not afraid, only I'm afraid that I will be afraid."
"You'd just better change your mind, then," said Patty, sternly. "We aren't going to allow any stage-fright to-night."
"Patty, you can manage Georgie Merriles; make her let me go on without any wig," cried Cynthia, returning and holding up to view a mass of yellow curls of a shade that was never produced in the course of nature.
Patty looked at the wig critically. "It is, perhaps, a trifle golden for the part."
"Golden!" said Cynthia. "It's positively orange. Wait till you see how it lights up. He calls me his dark-eyed beauty: and I'm sure no one with dark eyes, or any other kind of eyes, would have hair like that. My own looks a great deal better."
"Why don't you wear your own, then? Wrinkle up your forehead, Parent, and let me see which way they run."
"Georgie paid two dollars for renting it, and she's bound to get the money's worth of wear out of it, even if she makes me look like a fright and spoils the play."
"Nonsense," said Patty, pushing away the Parent and giving her undivided attention to the question. "Your own hair does look better. Just mislay the wig and keep out of Georgie's way till the curtain goes up. The audience are beginning to come," she announced to the room in general, "and you've got to keep still back there. You're making an awful racket, and they can hear you all over the house. Here, what are you making such a noise for?" she demanded of Lord Bromley, who came clumping up with footfalls which reverberated through the flies.
"I can't help it," he said crossly. "Look at these boots. They're so big that I can step out of them without unlacing them."
"It's not my fault. I haven't anything to do with the costumes."
"I know it; but what can I do?"
"Never mind," said Patty, soothingly; "they don't look so awfully bad. You'll have to try and walk without raising your feet."
She went out on the stage, where Georgie was giving her last directions to the scene-shifters. "The minute the curtain goes down on the first act change this forest to the drawing-room scene, and don't make any noise hammering. If you have to hammer, do it while the orchestra's playing. How does it look?" she asked anxiously, turning to Patty.
"Beautiful," said Patty. "I'd scarcely recognize it."
The "forest scene" had served in every outdoor capacity for the last four years, and it was usually hailed with a groan on the part of the audience.
"I was just coming in to see if the cast were ready," said Georgie.
"They're all made up, and are sitting in the green-room getting stage-fright. What shall I do now?"
"Let me see," said Georgie, consulting her book. "One of the committee is to prompt, one is to stay with the men and see that they manage the curtain and the lights in the right places, one is to give the cues, and two are to help change costumes. Cynthia has to change from a riding-habit to a ball-gown in four minutes. I think you'd better help her, too."
"Anything you please," said Patty, obligingly. "I'll stand on a stool with the ball-gown in the air ready to drop it over her head the moment she appears, like a harness on a fire-horse. Is everything out here done? What time is it?"
"Yes; everything's done, and it's five minutes of eight. We can begin as soon as the audience is ready."
They peered through the folds of the heavy velvet curtain at the sea of faces in front. Eight hundred girls in light evening-gowns were talking and laughing and singing. Snatches of song would start up in one corner and sweep gaily over the house, and sometimes two would meet and clash in the center, to the horror of those who preferred harmony to volume.
"Here come the old girls!" said Patty, as a procession of some fifty filed into reserved seats near the front. "There are loads of last year's class back. What are the juniors doing? Look; I believe they are going to serenade them."
The juniors rose in a body, and, turning to their departed sister class, sang a song notable for its sentiment rather than its meter.
"I do hope it will be a success," sighed Georgie. "If it doesn't come up to last year's senior play I shall die."
"Oh, it will," said Patty, reassuringly. "Anything would be better than that."
"Now the glee club's going to sing two songs," said Georgie. "Thank heaven, they're new!" she added fervently. "And the orchestra plays an overture, and then the curtain goes up. Run and tell them to come out here, ready for the first act."
Lord Bromley was standing in the wings disgustedly viewing the banquet-table. "See here, Patty," he called as she hurried past. "Look at this stuff Georgie Merriles has palmed off on us for wine. You can't expect me to drink any such dope as that."
Patty paused for an instant. "What's the matter with it?" she inquired, pouring out some in a glass and holding it up to the light.
"Matter? It's made of currant jelly and water, with cold tea mixed in."
"I made it myself," said Patty, with some dignity. "It's a beautiful color."
"But I have to drain my glass at a draught," expostulated the outraged lord.
"I'm sure there's nothing in currant jelly or tea to hurt you. You can be thankful it isn't poisonous." And Patty hurried on.
The glee club sang the two new songs, punctuated with the appreciative applause of a long-suffering audience, and the orchestra commenced the overture.
"Everybody clear the stage," said Georgie, in a low tone, "and you keep your eyes on the book," she added sternly to the prompter; "you lost your place twice at the dress rehearsal."
The overture died down; a bell tinkled, and the curtain parted in the middle, discovering Cynthia sitting on a garden-seat in the castle park (originally the Forest of Arden).
As the curtain fell at the end of the act, and the applause gave way to an excited buzz in the audience, Patty hugged Georgie gleefully. "It's fifty times better than last year!"
"Heaven send Theo Granby is out there!" piously ejaculated Georgie. (Theo Granby had been the chairman of last year's senior play.)
* * * * *
THE curtain had risen on the fourth act, and Patty squeezed herself into the somewhat close quarters behind the balcony. There was fortunately—or rather unfortunately—a window in the rear of the building at this point, and Patty opened it and perched herself at one end of the sill, with the lamp-chimney ready for use at the other end. The crash was not due for some time, and Patty, having lately elected astronomy, whiled away the interval by examining the stars.
On the stage matters were approaching a climax. Lord Bromley was making an excellent lover, as was proved by the fact that the audience was taking him seriously instead of laughing through the love scenes as usual.
"Cynthia," he implored, "say that you will be mine, and I will brave all for your sake. I will follow you to the ends of the earth." He gazed tenderly into her eyes, and waited for the crash. A silence as of the tomb prevailed, and he continued to gaze tenderly, while a grin rapidly spread over the audience.
"Hang Patty!" he murmured savagely. "Might have known she'd do something like this.—What was that? Did you hear a noise?" he asked aloud.
"No," said Cynthia, truthfully; "I did not hear anything."
"Pretend you did," he whispered, and they continued to improvise. After some five minutes of hopeless floundering, the prompter got them back on the track again, and the act proceeded, with the audience happily unaware that anything was missing.
Ten minutes later Lord Bromley was declaiming: "Cynthia, let us flee this place. Its dark rooms haunt me; its silence oppresses me—" And the crash came.
For the first moment the audience was too startled to notice that the actors were also taken by surprise. Then Lord Bromley, who was getting used to emergencies, pulled himself together and ejaculated, "Hark! What was that sound?"
"I think it was a crash," said Cynthia.
He grasped her hand and ran back toward the balcony. "Give us our lines," he said to the prompter, as he went past.
The prompter had dropped the book, and couldn't find the place.
"Make them up," came in a piercing whisper from behind the balcony.
A silence ensued while the two dashed back and forth, looking excitedly up and down the stage. Then the despairing Lord Bromley stretched out his arms in a gesture of supplication. "Cynthia," he burst out in tones of realistic longing, "I cannot bear this horrible suspense. Let us flee." And they fled, fully three pages too early, forgetting to leave the letter which should have apprised the Irate Parent of the circumstance.
Georgie was tramping up and down the wings, wringing her hands and lamenting the day that ever Patty had been born.
"Hurry up that Parent before they stop clapping," said Lord Bromley, "and they'll never know the difference."
The poor old man, with his wig over one ear, was unceremoniously hustled on to the stage, where he raved up and down and swore never to forgive his ungrateful daughter in so realistic a manner that the audience forgot to wonder how he found it out. In due time the runaways returned from the notary's, overcame the old man's harshness, received the parental blessing, and the curtain fell on a scene of domestic felicity that delighted the freshmen in the gallery.
Patty crawled out from under the balcony and fell on her knees at Georgie's feet.
Lord Bromley raised her up. "Never mind, Patty. The audience doesn't know the difference; and, anyway, it was all for the best. My mustache wouldn't have stayed on more than two minutes longer."
They could hear some one shouting in the front, "What's the matter with Georgie Merriles?" and a hundred voices replied, "She's all right!"
"Who's all right?"
"What's the matter with the cast?"
"They're all right!"
The stage-door burst open and a crowd of congratulatory friends burst in and gathered around the disheveled actors and committee. "It's the best senior play since we've been in college." "The freshmen are simply crazy over it." "Lord Bromley, your room will be full of flowers for a month." "Patty," called the head usher, over the heads of the others, "let me congratulate you. I was in the very back of the room, and never heard a thing but your crash. It sounded fine!"
"Patty," demanded Georgie, "what in the world were you doing?"
"I was counting the stars," said the contrite Patty, "and then I remembered too late, and I turned around suddenly, and it fell off. I am terribly sorry."
"Never mind," laughed Georgie; "since it turned out well, I'll forgive you. All the cast and committee," she said, raising her voice, "come up to my room for food. I'm sorry I can't invite you all," she added to the girls crowded in the doorway, "but I live in a single."
The Mystery of the Shadowed Sophomore
"Oh, I say, Bonnie—Bonnie Connaught! Priscilla! Wait a minute," called a girl from across the links, as the two were strolling homeward one afternoon, dragging their caddie-bags behind them. They turned and waited while Bonnie's sophomore cousin, Mildred Connaught, dashed up. She grasped them excitedly, and at the same time glanced over her shoulder with the air of a criminal who is being tracked.
"I want to tell you something," she panted. "Come in here where no one will see us"; and she dived into a clump of pine-trees growing by the path.
Priscilla and Bonnie followed more leisurely, and dropped down on the soft needles with an air of amused tolerance.
"Well, Mildred, what's the matter?" Bonnie inquired mildly.
The sophomore lowered her voice to an impressive whisper, although there was not a person within a hundred yards. "I am being followed," she said solemnly.
"Followed!" exclaimed Bonnie, in amazement. "Are you crazy, child? You act like a boy who's been reading dime novels."
"Listen, girls. You mustn't tell a soul, because it's a great secret. We're going to plant the class tree to-night, and I am chairman of the ceremonies. Everything is ready—the costumes are finished and the plans all arranged so that the class can get out to the place without being seen. The freshmen haven't a suspicion that it's going to be to-night. But they have found out that I'm chairman of the committee, and, if you please,"—Mildred's eyes grew wide with excitement,—"they've been tracking me for a week. They have relays of girls appointed to watch me, and I can't stir without a freshman tagging along behind. When I went down to order the ice-cream, there was one right at my elbow, and I had to pretend that I'd come for soda-water. I have simply had to let the rest of the committee do all of the work, because I was so afraid the freshmen would find out the time. It was funny at first, but I am getting nervous. It's horrible to think that you're being watched all the time. I feel as if I'd committed a murder, and keep looking over my shoulder like—like Macbeth."
"It's awful," Bonnie shuddered. "I'm thrilled to the bone to think of the peril a member of my family is braving for the sake of her class."
"You needn't laugh," said Mildred. "It's a serious matter. If those freshmen come to our tree ceremonies, we'll never hear the last of it. But they are not going to come," she added with a meaning smile. "They have another engagement. We chose to-night because there's a lecture before the Archaeological Society by some alumna person who's been digging up remains in Rome. The freshmen have been told to go and hear her on account of their Latin. Imagine their feelings when they are cooped up in the auditorium, trying to look intelligent about the Roman Forum, and listening to our yells outside!"
Priscilla and Bonnie smiled appreciatively. It was not so long, after all, since they themselves were sophomores, and they recalled their own tree ceremonies, when the freshmen had not been cooped up.
"But the trouble is," pursued Mildred, "that it's more important for me to get there than any one else, because I have to dig the hole,—Peters is really going to dig it, you know; I just take out the first shovelful,—but I can't get there on account of that beastly scout. As soon as she saw me acting suspicious, she'd run and warn the class."
"I see," said Bonnie; "but what have Priscilla and I to do with it?"
"Well," said Mildred, tentatively, "you're both pretty big, you know, and you're our sister class, and you ought to help us."
"Certainly," acquiesced Bonnie; "but in just what way?"
"Well, my idea was this. If you would just stroll down by the lake after chapel, and loiter sort of inconspicuously among the trees, you know, I would come that way a little later, and then, when the detective person came along after me, you could just nab her and—"
"Chuck her in the lake?" asked Bonnie.
"No, of course not. Don't use any force. Just politely detain her till you hear us yelling—take her for a walk. She'd feel honored."
Bonnie laughed. The program struck her as entertaining. "I don't see anything very immoral in delaying a freshman who is going where she has no business to go. What do you say, Pris?"
"It's not exactly a Sunday-school excursion," acknowledged Priscilla, "but I don't see why it isn't as legitimate for us to play detective as for them."
"By all means," said Bonnie. "Behold Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson about to solve the Mystery of the Shadowed Sophomore."
"You've saved my life," said Mildred, feelingly. "Don't forget. Right after chapel, by the lake." She peered warily out through the branches. "I've got to get the keys to the gymnasium, so the refreshments can be put in during chapel. Do you see anybody lurking about? I guess I can get off without being seen. Good-by"; and she sped away like a hunted animal.
Bonnie looked after her and laughed. "'Youth is a great time, but somewhat fussy,'" she quoted; and the two took their homeward way.
They found Patty, who was experiencing a periodical fit of studying, immersed in dictionaries and grammars. It was under protest that she allowed herself to be interrupted long enough to hear the story of their proposed adventure.
"You babies!" she exclaimed. "Haven't you grown up yet? Don't you think it's a little undignified for seniors—one might almost say alumnae—to be kidnapping freshmen?"
"We're not kidnapping freshmen," Bonnie remonstrated; "we're teaching them manners. It's my duty to protect my little cousin."
"You can come with us and help detect," said Priscilla, generously.
"Thank you," said Patty, loftily. "I haven't time to play with you children. Cathy Fair and I are going to do Old English to-night."
That evening, as Patty, keyed to the point of grappling with and throwing whole pages of "Beowulf," stood outside the chapel door waiting for Cathy to appear, the professor of Latin came out with a stranger.
"Oh, Miss Wyatt!" she exclaimed in a relieved tone, pouncing upon Patty. "I wish to present you to Miss Henderson, one of our alumnae who is to lecture to-night before the Archaeological Society. She has not been back for several years, and wishes to see the new buildings. Have you time to show her around the campus a little before the lecture begins?"
Patty bowed and murmured that she would be most happy, and cast an agonized glance back at Cathy as she led the lecturer off. As they strolled about, Patty poured out all the statistics she knew about the various buildings, and Miss Henderson received them with exclamations of delighted surprise. She was rather young and gushing for a Ph.D. and an archaeologist, Patty decided, and she wondered desperately how she could dispose of her and get back to "Beowulf" and Cathy.
They rounded the top of a little hill, and Miss Henderson exclaimed delightedly, "There is the lake, just as it used to be!"
Patty stifled a desire to remark that lakes had a habit of staying where they used to be, and asked politely if Miss Henderson would like to take a row.
Miss Henderson thought that it would be pleasant; but she had forgotten her watch, and was afraid there would not be time.
Patty glanced about vaguely for some further object of interest, and spied Mildred Connaught sauntering toward the lake. She had forgotten all about the Sherlock Holmes adventure, and she suddenly had an inspiration. Be it said to her credit that she hesitated a moment; but the lecturer's next remark led to her own undoing. She was murmuring something about feeling like a stranger, and wishing that she might know the students informally and see a little of the real college life.