"It would be a pity not to gratify her when I can do it so easily," Patty told herself; and she added out loud, "I am sure we have time for a little row, Miss Henderson. You walk on, and I will run back and get my watch; it won't take a minute."
"I wouldn't have you do that; it is too much trouble," remonstrated Miss Henderson.
"It's no trouble whatever," Patty protested kindly. "I can take a cross cut, and meet you at the little summer-house where the boats are moored. It's straight down this path; you can't miss it. Just follow that girl over there"; and she darted away.
The lecturer gazed dubiously after her a moment, and then started on after the girl, who cast a look over her shoulder and quickened her pace. It was growing quite dusky under the trees, and the lecturer hurried on, trying to keep the girl in sight; but she unexpectedly turned a corner and disappeared, and at the same moment two strange girls suddenly dropped into the path, apparently from the tree-tops.
"Good evening," they said pleasantly. "Are you taking a walk?"
The lecturer started back with an exclamation of surprise; but as soon as she could regain her composure, she replied politely that she was strolling about and looking at the campus.
"Perhaps you would like to stroll with us?" they inquired.
"Thank you, you are very kind; but I have an engagement to row with one of the students."
Priscilla and Bonnie exchanged delighted glances. They had evidently caught a resourceful young person.
"Oh, no; it's too late for a row. You might get malaria," Priscilla remonstrated. "Come and sit on the fence with us and admire the stars; it's a lovely night."
The lecturer cast an alarmed glance toward the fence, which appeared to have an unusually narrow top rail. "You are very kind," she stammered, "but I really can't stop. The girl will be waiting."
"Who is the girl?" they inquired.
"I don't know that I remember her name."
"Mildred Connaught?" Bonnie suggested.
"No; I don't think that is it, but I really can't say. I have only just met her."
Miss Henderson was growing more and more puzzled. In her day the students had not been in the habit of way-laying strangers with invitations to go walking and sit on fences.
"Ah, do stay with us," Bonnie begged, laying a hand on her arm. "We're lonely and want some one to talk to—we'll tell you a secret if you do."
"I am sorry," Miss Henderson murmured confusedly, "but—"
"We'll tell you the secret anyway," said Bonnie, generously, "and I'm sure you'll be interested. The sophomores are going to have their tree ceremonies to-night!"
"And you know," Priscilla broke in, "that the freshmen really ought to attend them too—it doesn't matter if they aren't invited. But where do you suppose the freshmen are to-night? They're attending a foolish little lecture on the Roman Forum."
"And though we don't wish to seem insistent," Bonnie added, "we should really like to have your company until the lecture is over."
"Until the lecture is over! But I am the lecturer," gasped Miss Henderson.
Bonnie grinned delightedly. "I am happy to meet you," she said, with a bow. "And perhaps you do not recognize us. I am Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and this is my friend Dr. Watson."
Dr. Watson bowed, and remarked that it was an unexpected pleasure. He had often heard of the famous lecturer, but had never hoped to meet her.
Miss Henderson, who was not very conversant with recent literature, looked more dazed than ever. It flashed across her mind that there was an insane asylum in the neighborhood, and the thought was not reassuring.
"We'll not handcuff you," said Bonnie, magnanimously, "if you'll come with us quietly."
The lecturer, in spite of fervid protestations that she was a lecturer, presently found herself sitting on the fence, with a girl on either side grasping an elbow. A light was beginning to break upon her, together with a poignant realization of the fact that she was seeing more of the real college life than she cared for.
"What time is it?" she asked anxiously.
"Ten minutes past eight by my watch, but I think it's a little slow," said Bonnie.
"I am afraid you're going to be late for your lecture," said Priscilla. "It seems a pity to waste it. Suppose you tell it to us instead."
"Yes, do," urged Bonnie. "I just dote on the Roman Forum."
The lecturer preserved a dignified silence, which was broken only by the croaking of the frogs and the occasional remarks of the two detectives. She had relinquished all hope of ever seeing the Archaeological Society, and had philosophically resigned herself to the prospect of sitting on the fence all night, when suddenly there burst out from across the campus a song of victory, mingled with cheers and inarticulate yells.
At the first sound, Bonnie and Priscilla tumbled down from the fence, bringing the lecturer with them, and, each grasping her by a hand, they started to run. "Come on and see the fun," they laughed. "You're perfectly welcome; it's no secret any more." And, in spite of breathless protestations that she much preferred to walk, Miss Henderson found herself dashing across the campus in the direction of the sounds.
Heads suddenly appeared in the dormitory windows, doors banged, and girls came running from every quarter with excited exclamations: "The sophomores are having their tree ceremonies!" "Where are the freshmen?" "Why didn't they get there?"
A crowd quickly gathered in the shadow of the trees and watched the scene with laughing interest. A wide circle of colored lanterns swayed in the breeze, and, within, a line of white-robed figures wound and unwound about a tiny tree to the music of a solemn chant.
"Isn't it pretty? Aren't you glad we brought you?" Bonnie demanded as they pushed through the crowd.
The lecturer did not answer, for she caught sight of the Latin professor hurrying toward them.
"Miss Henderson! I was afraid you were lost. It is nearly half-past eight. The audience has been waiting, and we have been filling in the time with reports."
For a moment the lecturer was silent, being occupied with an amused scrutiny of the faces of her captors; and then she rose to the occasion like a lady and a scholar, and delivered a masterly apology, with never a reference to her sojourn on the fence.
Bonnie and Priscilla stared at each other without a word, and as Miss Henderson was led away to the remnants of her audience Patty suddenly appeared.
"Good evening, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Did you solve your mystery?" she asked sweetly.
Priscilla turned her to the light and scrutinized her face.
Patty smiled back with wide-open, innocent eyes.
Priscilla knew the expression, and she shook her. "You little wretch!" she exclaimed.
Patty squirmed out from under her grasp. "If you remember," she murmured, "I once said that the Lick Observatory was in Dublin, Ireland. It was a very funny mistake, of course, but I know of others that are funnier."
"What do you mean?" Bonnie demanded.
"I mean," said Patty, "that I wish you never to mention the Lick Observatory again."
Patty and the Bishop
The dressing-bell rang for Sunday morning service, and Patty laid down her book with a sigh and went and stood by the open window. The outside world was a shimmering green and yellow, the trees showed a feathery fringe against the sky, and the breeze was redolent of violets and fresh earth.
"Patty," called Priscilla, from her bedroom, "you'll have to hurry if you want me to fasten your dress. I have to go to choir rehearsal."
Patty turned back with another sigh, and began slowly unhooking her collar. Then she sat down on the edge of the couch and stared absently out of the window.
A vigorous banging of bureau drawers in Priscilla's room was presently followed by Priscilla herself in the doorway. She surveyed her room-mate suspiciously. "Why aren't you dressing?" she demanded.
"I'll fasten my own dress; you needn't wait," said Patty, without removing her eyes from the window.
"Bishop Copeley's going to preach to-day, and he's such an old dear; you mustn't be late."
Patty elevated her chin a trifle and shrugged her shoulders.
"Aren't you going to chapel?"
Patty brought her gaze back from the window and looked up at Priscilla beseechingly. "It's such a lovely day," she pleaded, "and I'd so much rather spend the time out of doors; I'm sure it would be a lot better for my spiritual welfare."
"It's not a question of spiritual welfare; it's a question of cuts. You've already over-cut twice. What excuse do you intend to give when the Self-Government Committee asks for an explanation?"
"'Sufficient unto the day,'" laughed Patty. "When the time comes I'll think of a beautiful new excuse that will charm the committee."
"You ought to be ashamed to evade the rules the way you do."
"Where is the fun of living if you are going to make yourself a slave to all sorts of petty rules?" asked Patty, wearily.
"I don't know why you have a right to live outside of rules any more than the rest of us."
Patty shrugged. "I take the right, and every one else can do the same."
"Every one else can't," returned Priscilla, hotly, "for there wouldn't be any law left in college if they did. I should a good deal rather play out of doors myself than go to chapel, but I've used up all my cuts and I can't. You couldn't either if you had a shred of proper feeling left. The only way you can get out of it is by lying."
"Priscilla dear," Patty murmured, "people in polite society don't put things quite so baldly. If you would be respected in the best circles, you must practise the art of equivocation."
Priscilla frowned impatiently. "Are you coming, or are you not?" she demanded.
"I am not."
Priscilla closed the door—not quite as softly as a door should be closed—and Patty was left alone. She sat thinking a few minutes with slightly flushed cheeks, and then as the chapel bell rang she shook herself and laughed. Even had she wished to go it was too late now, and all feeling of responsibility vanished. As soon as the decorous swish of Sunday silks had ceased in the corridor outside, she caught up a book and a cushion, and, creeping down by the side stairs, set gaily out across the sunlit lawn, with the deliciously guilty thrill of a truant little boy who has run away from school.
From the open windows of the chapel she could hear the college chanting: "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law." She laughed happily to herself; she was not keeping laws to-day. They might stay in there in the gloom, if they wanted to, with their commandments and their litanies. She was worshiping under the blue sky, to the jubilant chanting of the birds.
She was the only person alive and out that morning, and the spring was in her blood, and she felt as though she owned the world. The campus had never seemed so radiant. She paused on the little rustic bridge to watch the excited swirling of the brook, and she nearly lost her balance while trying to launch a tiny boat made of a piece of bark. She dropped pebbles into the pool in order to watch the startled frogs splash back into the water, and she threw her cushion at a squirrel, and laughed aloud at its angry chattering. She raced up the side of Pine Bluff, and dropped down panting on the fragrant needles in the shadow of a tall pine.
Below her the ivy-covered buildings of the college lay clustered among the trees; and in the Sunday quiet, with the sunlight shining on the towers, it looked like some medieval village sleeping in the valley. Patty gazed down dreamily with half-shut eyes, and imagined that presently a band of troubadours and ladies would come riding out on milk-white mules. But the sight of Peters, strolling to the gateway in his Sunday clothes, spoiled the illusion, and she turned to her book with a smile. Presently she closed it, however. This was not the time for reading. One could read in winter and when it rained, and even in the college library with every one else turning pages; but out here in the open, with the real things of life happening all about, it was a waste of opportunity.
Her eyes wandered back to the campus again, and she suddenly grew sober as the thought swept over her that in a few weeks more it would be hers no longer. This happy, irresponsible community life, which had come to be the only natural way of living, was suddenly at an end. She remembered the first day of being a freshman, when everything but herself had looked so big, and she had thought desperately, "Four years of this!" It had seemed like an eternity; and now that it was over it seemed like a minute. She wanted to clutch the present and hold it fast. It was a terrible thing—this growing old.
And there were the girls. She would have to say good-by, with no opening day in the fall—and Priscilla lived in California and Georgie in South Dakota and Bonnie in Kentucky and she in New England, and they were the only people in the world she particularly cared to talk to. She would have to get acquainted with her mother's friends—with chronically grown-up people, who talked about husbands and children and servants. And there would be men. She had never had time to know many men; but some day she would probably be marrying one of them, and then all would be over; and before she had time to think, she would be an old lady, telling her grandchildren stories about when she was a girl.
Patty gazed mournfully down on the campus, almost on the verge of tears over her lost youth, when a step suddenly sounded on the gravel path, and she looked up with a startled glance to see a churchly figure rounding the hill. Involuntarily she prepared for flight; but the bishop had spied her, together with a little rustic seat under a tree, and he smiled upon the one and dropped down upon the other with a sigh of content.
"A beautiful view," he gasped; "but a very steep hill."
"It is steep," Patty agreed politely; and as there seemed to be no chance of escape, she resumed her seat and added, with a laugh: "I have just run away from you, Bishop Copeley, and here you come following along behind like an accusing conscience."
The bishop chuckled. "I've run away myself," he returned; "I knew I should have to be introduced to a hundred or so of you after service, so I just slipped out the back way for a quiet stroll."
Patty eyed him appreciatively, with a new sense of fellow-feeling.
"I should like to have run away from church as well," he confessed, with a twinkle in his eye. "Out of doors is the best church on a day like this."
"That's what I think," said Patty, cordially; "but I had no idea that bishops were so sensible."
They chatted along in a friendly manner on various subjects, and exchanged lay opinions on the college and the clergy.
"It's a funny thing about this place," said Patty, ruminatingly, "that, though we have a different preacher every Sunday, we always have the same sermon."
"The same sermon?" inquired the bishop, somewhat aghast.
"Practically the same," said Patty. "I've heard it for four years, and I think I could almost preach it myself. They all seem to think, you know, that because we come to college we must be monsters of reason, and they urge us to remember that reason and science are not the only things that count in the world—that feeling is, after all, the main factor; and they quote a little poem about the flower being beautiful, I know not why. That wasn't what yours was about?" she asked anxiously.
"Not this time," said the bishop; "I preached an old one."
"It's the best way," said Patty. "We're human beings, if we do come to college. I remember once we had a man from Yale or Harvard or some such place, and he preached an old sermon: he urged us to become more manly. It was very refreshing."
The bishop smiled. "Do you run away from church very often?" he inquired mildly.
"No; I don't have a chance when I room with Priscilla. But obligatory chapel makes you want to run away," she added. "It's not the chapel I object to; it's the obligatoriness."
"But you have a system of—er—cuts," he suggested.
"Three a month," said Patty, sadly. "Evening chapel counts as one, but Sunday morning church as two."
"So you expended two cuts to escape me?" he asked with a smile.
"Oh, it wasn't you," Patty remonstrated hastily. "It was just—the obligatoriness. And besides," she added frankly, "my legitimate cuts were used up days ago, and when I once begin over-cutting, I am reckless."
"And may I ask what happens when you over-cut?" the bishop inquired.
"Well," said Patty, "there are proctors, you know, that mark you when you are absent; and then, if they find that you've over-cut, the Self-Government Committee calls you up and asks the reason. If you can't produce a good excuse you are deprived of your privileges for a month, and you can't be on committees or in plays or get leave of absence to go out of town."
"I see," said the bishop; "and will you have to suffer all of those penalties?"
"Oh, no," said Patty, comfortably; "I shall produce a good excuse."
"What will you say?" he inquired.
"I don't know, exactly; I shall have to depend on the inspiration of the moment."
The bishop regarded her quizzically. "Do you mean," he asked, "that, having broken the rule, you intend to evade the penalty by—to put it flatly—a falsehood?"
"Oh, no, bishop," said Patty, in a shocked tone. "Of course I shall tell the truth, only"—she looked up in the bishop's face with an irresistible smile—"the committee probably won't understand it."
For an instant the bishop's face relaxed, and then he grew grave again. "By a subterfuge?" he asked.
"Y-yes," acknowledged Patty; "I suppose you might call it a subterfuge. I dare say I am pretty bad," she added, "but you have to have a reputation for something in a place like this or you get overlooked. I can't compete in goodness or in athletics or in anything like that, so there's nothing left for me but to surpass in badness—I have quite a gift for it."
The corners of the bishop's mouth twitched. "You don't look like one with a criminal record."
"I'm young yet," said Patty. "It hasn't commenced to show."
"My dear little girl," said the bishop, "I have already preached one sermon to-day, which you didn't come to hear, and I can't undertake to preach another for your benefit,"—Patty looked relieved,—"but there is one question I should like to ask you. In after years, when you are through college and the question is asked of some of your class-mates, 'Did you know—' You have not told me your name."
"'Did you know Patty Wyatt, and what sort of a girl was she?' will the answer be what you would wish?"
Patty considered. "Ye-yes; I think, on the whole, they'd stand by me."
"This morning," the bishop continued placidly, "I asked a professor in an entirely casual way about a young woman—a class-mate of your own—who is the daughter of an old friend of mine. The answer was immediate and unhesitating, and you can imagine how much it gratified me. 'There is not a finer girl in college,' he replied. 'She is honest in work and honest in play, and thoroughly conscientious in everything she does.'"
"Um-m," said Patty; "that must have been Priscilla."
"No," smiled the bishop, "it was not Priscilla. The young woman of whom I am speaking is the president of your Student Association, Catherine Fair."
"Yes, it's true," said Patty, critically. "Cathy Fair hits straight from the shoulder."
"And wouldn't you like to go out with that reputation?"
"I'm really not very bad," pleaded Patty, "that is, as badness goes. But I couldn't be as good as Cathy; it would be going against nature."
"I am afraid," suggested the bishop, "that you do not try very hard. You may not think that it matters what people think now that you are young, but how will it be when you grow older? And it will not be long," he added. "Age slips upon you before you realize it."
Patty looked sober.
"You will soon be thirty, and then forty, and then fifty."
"And do you think that a woman of that age is attractive if she deals in subterfuges and evasions?"
Patty squirmed a trifle, and dug a little hole in the pine-needles with her toe.
"You must remember that you cannot form your character in a moment, my dear. Character is a plant of slow growth, and the seeds must be planted early."
The bishop rose, and Patty scrambled to her feet with a look of relief. He took the pillow and the book under his arm, and they started down the hill. "I have preached you a sermon, after all," he said apologetically; "but preaching is my trade, and you must forgive an old man for being prosy."
Patty held out her hand with a smile as they stopped before the door of Phillips Hall. "Good-by, bishop," she said, "and thank you for the sermon; I guess I needed it—I am getting old."
She climbed the stairs slowly, and, hesitating a moment outside her own room, where the sound of laughing voices through the transom betokened that the clan was gathered, she kept on to the door of a single at the end of the corridor.
"Come in," a voice called in response to her knock.
Patty turned the knob and stuck her head in. "Hello, Cathy! Are you busy?"
"Of course not. Come in and talk to me."
Patty shut the door and leaned with her back against it. "This isn't a social call," she announced impressively. "I've come to see you officially."
"You're president of students, I believe?"
"I believe I am," sighed Cathy; "and if the President of the United States has half as much trouble with his subjects as I have with mine, he has my sincerest sympathy."
"I suppose we are a great deal of trouble," said Patty, contritely.
"Trouble! My dear," said Cathy, solemnly. "I've spent the entire week running around to the different cottages making speeches to those blessed freshmen. They won't hand in chapel excuses, and they will run off with library books, and, altogether, they're an immoral lot."
"They can afford to be; they're young," sighed Patty, enviously. "But I," she added, "am getting old, and it's time I was getting good. I've called to tell you that I've over-cut four times, and I haven't any excuse."
"What are you talking about?" asked Cathy, in amazement.
"Chapel excuses. I've over-cut four times,—I think it's four, though I've rather lost count,—and I haven't any excuse."
"But, Patty, don't tell me that. You must have some excuse, some reason for—"
"Not the shadow of one. Just stayed away because I didn't feel like going."
"But you must give me some reason," remonstrated Cathy, in distress, "or I'll have to report it to the committee and you'll be deprived of your privileges. You can't afford that, you know, for you're chairman of the Senior Prom."
"But I didn't have any excuse, and I can't make one up," said Patty. "I will soon be thirty, and then forty, and then fifty. Do you think a woman of that age is attractive if she deals in subterfuges and evasions? Character," she added solemnly, "is a plant of slow growth, and the seeds must be planted early."
Cathy looked puzzled. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said, "but I suppose you do. Anyway," she added, "I'm sorry about the chairmanship; but I'm—well, I'm sort of glad, too." She laid a hand on Patty's shoulder. "Of course I've always liked you, Patty,—everybody does,—but I don't believe I've ever appreciated you, and I'm glad to find it out before we leave college."
Patty's face flushed a trifle and she drew away half sheepishly. "You'd best postpone your felicitations until to-morrow," she laughed, "for I may think of some good excuse in the night. Good-by."
She was greeted in the study with a cry of welcome.
"Well, Patty," said Priscilla, "I hear you've been taking a walk with the bishop. Did you tell him you'd cut chapel?"
"I did; and he said he wished he might have cut, too."
"She's incorrigible," sighed Georgie; "she's even been corrupting the bishop."
"You'd better be careful, Patty Wyatt," warned Bonnie Connaught. "Self-Government will get you if you don't watch out, and then you'll be sorry when they take you off the Senior Prom."
Patty sobered for a moment, but she hastily assumed a nonchalant air. "They have got me," she laughed, "and I'm already off—or, at least, I shall be as soon as they have a meeting."
"Patty!" cried the room, in a horrified chorus. "What do you mean?"
Patty shrugged. "Just what I say: deprived of my privileges for cutting chapel."
"It's a shame!" said Georgie, indignantly. "That Self-Government Committee is going a little too far when it takes a senior's privileges away without even hearing her case." She grasped Patty by the arm and started toward the door. "Come on and tell Cathy Fair about it. She will fix it all right."
Patty hung back and disengaged her wrist from Georgie's grasp. "Let me alone," she said sulkily. "There's nothing to be done. I told her myself I hadn't any excuse."
"You told her?" Georgie stared her incredulity, and Bonnie Connaught laughed.
"Patty reminds me of the burglar who crawled out the back window with the silver, and then rang the front door-bell and handed it back."
"What's the matter, Patty?" Priscilla asked solicitously. "Don't you feel well?"
Patty sighed. "I'm getting old," she said.
"You're getting what?"
"Old. Soon I'll be thirty, and then forty, and then fifty; and do you think any one will love me then if I deal in subterfuges and evasions? Character, my dear girls, is a plant of slow growth, and the seeds must be planted early."
"You went and told the committee voluntarily,—of your own accord,—without even waiting to be called up?" Georgie persisted, determined to get at the facts of the case.
"I'm getting old," repeated Patty. "It's time I was getting good. As I said before, character is a plant—"
Georgie looked at the others and shook her head in bewilderment, and Bonnie Connaught laughed and murmured to the room in general: "When Patty gets to heaven I'm afraid the Recording Angel will have some trouble in balancing his books."
* * * * *
Obvious punctuation errors repaired.
The original text had each Chapter number and title twice. The first of these was deleted to aid in ease of reading.
Page 198, the text that begins "Ireland's eminent astronomer spending" ends without punctuation to indicate that the reader broke off suddenly. This was retained.