Infomotions, Inc.Patricia / Elliott, Emilia [pseud.], 1872-1909



Author: Elliott, Emilia [pseud.], 1872-1909
Title: Patricia
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): patricia; miss p'tricia; miss kirby; kirby; custard; sarah; aunt julia; patricia went; patricia answered; miss; gingham apron; miss julia; miss susan; miss jane
Contributor(s): Hapgood, Isabel Florence, 1850-1928 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 20,084 words (really short) Grade range: 7-10 (grade school) Readability score: 64 (easy)
Identifier: etext13895
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Title: Patricia

Author: Emilia Elliott

Release Date: October 30, 2004  [eBook #13895]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PATRICIA***


E-text prepared by David Garcia and the Project Gutenberg Online
Distributed Proofreading Team



PATRICIA

by

EMILIA ELLIOTT

1910







It is a deep regret to the publishers that Miss Emilia Elliott, the
creator of the charming character of Patricia, did not live to see this
book in print, nor to enjoy the welcome that they are confident it will
be accorded.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

  I. PATRICIA'S FATIGUING DAY.

 II. THE GINGHAM APRON PARTY

III. THE WAY OF A GRANDMOTHER

 IV. PATRICIA'S CHRISTMAS FAMILY




CHAPTER I

PATRICIA'S FATIGUING DAY


Patricia sat on the back fence, almost hidden by the low-spreading
branches of an old apple-tree. Below her, on the grass, lay a small,
curly, black dog, his brown, trustful eyes fixed confidently on
Patricia.

"Really, you know," the child said, gravely, "it's a very perplexing
situation. Aunt Julia needn't have been so inhospitable. Why didn't
I wait until Daddy got home! Daddy's so much more--convincible. But
it's no use now; Daddy never goes back on Aunt Julia."

Patricia slipped from the fence. "I rather think you and I'd better go
down to the back meadow to talk things over; it's getting pretty near
sewing-time."

Out in the meadow, flat on her back in the long grass, Patricia set
herself to the task of solving this perplexing situation.

Half an hour earlier she had appeared back from one of her desultory
rambles, accompanied by this most forlorn of all forlorn dogs,
explaining that she had met him on the road, and he had followed
her home.

It was no unusual occurrence, but when Patricia added that he didn't
seem to belong to anybody, and she thought she would keep him, Miss
Kirby promptly and firmly protested.

To Patricia's pleading, that he was poor and lame and homeless, that
Caesar, the pointer, was the only dog they had now, and he was too old
to play much, Miss Kirby had proved adamant. Patricia might give her
foundling a good meal, but keep him she _could not_.

Whereupon, Patricia, having given the wanderer what was in reality
several meals condensed into one, had retired with him to think things
over.

"It really seems as if you'd been meant for me," she told him now;
"I found you. I can't see why Aunt Julia won't look at things in a
proper light. I'm afraid she hurt your feelings. Aunt Julia generally
means pretty well, but she's apt to speak out sort of quick. We Kirbys
mostly do. I wonder what your name is?"

The dog stretched comfortably out in the warm grass, quite as happy and
contented as if he had been everything he wasn't, sat up suddenly, with
a short little bark, as if trying to give the desired information.

Rolling over, Patricia, her chin in her hands, surveyed him carefully.
"You aren't very handsome just now; but then, I know lots of people who
aren't very good looking. I don't see why that saying Aunt Julia is so
fond of--about 'Handsome is as handsome does'--shouldn't apply to dogs
as well as people. All the same, you are a very mixed numbery sort of
a dog: you've got one and three-quarters ears, three and one-half
legs,--at least you don't use that front paw very much,--and half a
tail; and your hair is rather--patchy. But inside, I'm sure you're all
right. And you have _beautiful_ eyes; _they're_ all there, too."

The dog blinked back at her soberly, wagging his abbreviated tail in
apologetic fashion.

"You've simply got to have a home," Patricia went on; "and it's up to me
to find you one. But I think you'll have to have a bath first, and your
paw bandaged."

Jumping up, Patricia darted back to the house, and around to the side
door, leading to her father's office. Presently, she reappeared with a
cake of antiseptic soap, a box of salve, a roll of bandage, a pair of
scissors, and a bath-towel; with these gathered up in the skirt of her
frock she led the way down to the brook, followed by a most unsuspecting
small dog.

Ten minutes later that same small dog--decidedly sadder and wetter, if
not wiser--lay shivering on the sunny bank, while Patricia rubbed him
vigorously with one of her aunt's largest bath-towels.

Then the cut paw was salved and bandaged, and the most hopelessly
tangled knots of curls cut away. After which, Patricia, sitting back on
heels, studied her charge approvingly.

"If Aunt Julia could see you _now_! Why didn't I do all this first?
But--well, Aunt Julia's made up her mind; and she isn't exactly the
changey kind. I wonder if you'd like it at the Millers'? They've got a
lot of children, but they're ever so nice children! They've three dogs
now, so one more oughtn't to count--and you'd have plenty of company."

The dog, whose only present anxiety was to feel dry once more, merely
rolled over on his back by way of answer.

"Oh, but you mustn't!" Patricia protested. "You'll get all dirty again.
I know it's horrid to feel too clean, but, you see, it's so necessary to
make a good first impression! I reckon it was the first impression that
made all the trouble with Aunt Julia this morning. Come on, we'll start
right off; it's a pretty long walk to the Millers'."

They went 'cross-lots, stopping for more than one romp by the way, one
quite as light-hearted and irresponsible as the other; though behind
Patricia lay more than one neglected task, and before her companion
stretched a possibly homeless future.

It was a nearly perfect June day, the blue sky overhead just flecked
with soft, fleecy white clouds, and with enough breeze stirring to lift
Patricia's short brown curls and fan her sunburned cheeks.

Out on the highroad the wild roses were in bloom, and the air was full
of soft summer sounds; the very birds hopping lightly about from fence
to fence had a holiday air--and to Patricia there was something very
friendly in the inquisitive cock of their pert little heads, as they
stopped now and then to inspect her.

"Oh!" she cried, joyously, reaching up on tiptoe to gather a spray of
wild roses just above her head, "aren't we having the loveliest time,
Dog?"

Her companion wagged agreeingly; he was, at any rate. The hot sun on his
back felt exceedingly good; he began to entertain hopes of actually
feeling really and thoroughly dry again--some time.

"That's the Millers' house--the brown one, beyond the curve," Patricia
told him. And as it was the only house in sight, he had no trouble in
locating it.

"I'm sure you'll be happy there," Patricia added. "It's funny there
aren't any children, or dogs, about. There's Mrs. Miller."

Mrs. Miller was hanging out a wash. "Patricia Kirby!" She pushed back
her sunbonnet, the better to survey the child. "Where is your hat?
You're redder'n one of my big pinies!"

Patricia put her hand up to her head. "Maybe I left it in the meadow;
I'm not sure I've had it on at all this morning."

"Well!" Mrs. Miller's tone was emphatic. "The children and the dogs've
all gone off picnicking," she added. "I suppose you've come to see
them?"

"N-no," Patricia answered. "I came to bring you a--present, Mrs. Miller.
The nicest--"

She stopped abruptly, as Mrs. Miller rushed by her, with a shriek,
waving her apron frantically.

On the grass spread out to bleach, lay one of Mrs. Miller's best
tablecloths; and in the middle of the cloth Mrs. Miller's present was
rolling and twisting his damp, dusty little self, uttering all the while
short, sharp little barks of satisfaction.

But he was on his feet before any one could reach him, and with one
corner of the cloth caught in his mouth, had run gayly away.

"Head that dog off, Patricia!" Mrs. Miller screamed. "What dog is it,
anyway--mischievous, good-for-nothing little scamp? He doesn't belong
about here! Ten to one, he followed you in. I never knew such a child
for taking up with stray dogs!"

After several strenuous moments the cloth was rescued. "Is it hurt very
much?" Patricia asked, anxiously.

Mrs. Miller held it up; one of the corners was torn and frayed rather
badly, and the whole cloth was covered with grass-stains and dirt.
"You can see for yourself," she said wrathfully; "and it a _new_
cloth--never used yet!"

"But it'll wash, won't it?" Patricia suggested. "And the torn part won't
show when it's on the table; and it won't show when it's folded up in
the drawer." She stooped to lay a restraining hand on the wrongdoer, who
already had an eye on various other articles scattered about the grass.
"I wouldn't have thought he could run so, with a lame paw, would you,
Mrs. Miller?"

"The sooner he runs out of my sight, the better for him," Mrs Miller
declared, warmly. "If he don't get started mighty quick I'll help him
along a bit with a broom handle."

Patricia drew herself up. "I--I think I'll be going."

"But, Patricia," Mrs. Miller called after her, "what was that about a
present? Something your aunt sent?"

"No, Aunt Julia didn't send him. I brought you a--a dog, Mrs. Miller."

"_That_ little nuisance! Well, well, of all--"

Patricia waited to hear no more; not until she was some distance up the
road did she turn to her charge, limping ostentatiously in the rear.

"That was another bad first impression, Dog! It wasn't my fault this
time. Really, I'm very much ashamed of you."

Dog sat down, holding up a bandaged paw. His whole dejected little body
expressed penitence of the deepest dye.

Patricia softened. "I'm not so sure whether, after all, you would have
liked it at the Millers'. I'm a good deal disappointed in Mrs. Miller,
myself."

She sat down on the grass beside the road to rearrange the loosened
bandage. "Puppies will be puppies, I suppose. Daddy says you must always
take the intention into consideration--and I don't suppose you
_intended_ to be bad. It's dreadfully easy to be bad, without
intending to. I certainly hope it won't be washing-day at the next
place. The idea of having Thursday for a wash-day, anyhow! Dear me,
where is the next place?"

The dog crawled into her lap, trying to lick her face. He was not
in the least anxious to decide upon any "next place." Sitting there in
Patricia's lap, in the shade of a wide-spreading maple, seemed a very
agreeable method of passing the time.

"I think," Patricia said, stroking the little black head, "we'll try
Miss Jane. You don't know Miss Jane. She's awfully nice. She and her
sister haven't any dog but they've got a cat; you wouldn't mind
that--she's a very intelligent cat; Miss Jane says so."

To reach Miss Jane's it was necessary to leave the highroad for a
narrow, winding lane. A quarter of a mile further on they came to the
little white house. Patricia thought it very lonely looking, but perhaps
her companion might think otherwise. "And I do think," she said,
gravely, "that it's very good of me to bring them such a nice dog--to
keep the tramps off."

A large gray cat, sunning herself on one of the gate-posts, was the only
sign of life about the house.

But not for long. The next moment an exceedingly astonished, irate cat
was taking an unusual amount of exercise in the prim little garden,
urged cheerily on by a small, curly dog, whose three legs seemed quite
as effective as most dogs' four. While down the path from the house
came Miss Jane and Miss Susan, also stout, elderly, and unaddicted to
overmuch exercise, anxious for their cat, anxious for their garden,
most of all anxious to get this strange intruder off the premises.

"Go away, little girl, and take that horrid dog with you," Miss Jane
commanded, shaking a stick she had picked up.

Patricia's eyes flashed. "I'm not '_little girl_.' I'm _Patricia Kirby_!"

"Pa-tri-cia Kir-by! Upon my word!"

Patricia's bare curls were blown and tangled; her face, hot and dusty;
her blue gingham frock, fresh that morning, between water and dust was a
sight to behold. She bore very little resemblance to the Patricia Kirby
Miss Jane was accustomed to see in church on Sunday, or sometimes
driving about with Dr. Kirby.

"Whatever are you doing alone so far from home, Patricia?" Miss Susan
asked, coming up. The cat had retired to the shelter of a tall tree,
from a branch of which she glared down on her pursuer, who lay hot and
panting on the ground below.

Patricia pointed to the dog. "Why, I came on purpose to bring you
him--for a present, you know."

Miss Jane gasped.

"He's a very nice dog," Patricia went on. "I'd love to keep him for
myself; only Aunt Julia--Aunt Julia seemed to think one dog was enough.
I don't think Aunt Julia is particularly--enthusiastic, about dogs. You
would like him, wouldn't you?"

Not dust, heat, nor weariness could hide the persuasive charm of
Patricia's quick upward smile.

Before that smile Miss Jane, who was very soft-hearted, wavered; but
Miss Susan shook her head resolutely. "Augusta would never hear of it
for one moment!"

"Is Augusta your cook?" Patricia asked. Cooks were that way sometimes;
even Sarah had her moments of revolt--so far as Patricia was concerned.

"Augusta is our cat," Miss Jane explained. She felt grateful to Susan,
and sorry for Patricia.

Patricia sighed; she had recognized the finality in Miss Susan's tone.
"Do you know of any one who would like a dog," she asked, "a very nice
dog?"

"You might try the Millers'," Miss Jane suggested.

"I--I don't believe Mrs. Miller would care for him," Patricia answered,
hurriedly. She turned to go. "Why, where is he?"

"Perhaps he's waiting outside in the road for you." Miss Susan was not
ordinarily so inhospitable, but the minister was coming to supper that
evening; and, like Martha of old, Miss Susan was burdened with many
cares.

Patricia sighed again; the road outside the low white fence seemed
suddenly very long and sunny. She was tired and discouraged; above all,
she was hungry.

"Before you go, Patricia," Miss Jane said, kindly, "come round to the
kitchen and have a glass of cool milk and a cookie."

The kitchen door had been left open in the excited rush of a few moments
before. As the three neared it now, Miss Susan darted forward, with very
much the same shriek of horrified dismay as Mrs. Miller had uttered not
long since.

Mounted on a chair, his feet firmly planted on the kitchen-table was
a small black dog, just finishing the contents of a large glass dish
standing at the edge of the table.

"It's my custard," Miss Susan wailed, "and the minister coming to
supper!"

The "very nice dog" turned round, licking his chops contentedly. It
almost seemed as if he winked at Patricia.

The next instant, skilfully dodging Miss Susan, he had retired to the
side yard, to finish licking his chops. Truly, it was a red-letter day
for him. He wagged affably at the eloquent Miss Susan; surely he had
paid her the highest compliment in his power.

"Oh, I am so sorry," Patricia declared. "He must have been very
hungry--I couldn't have given him nearly enough breakfast." Then she
brightened. "After all, Miss Susan, I don't suppose he's ever had
custard before; and I know Dr. Vail has--lots of times."

Which view of the case did not in the least appeal to the indignant
maker of the custard.

Seeing which, Patricia concluded that the best thing to do was to take
her charge away as quickly as possible. And in the confusion milk and
cookies were quite forgotten.

"Really, you know," Patricia admonished, once they were outside the
gate, "you're not behaving at all well! Tearing table-cloths, chasing
cats, and eating up custards aren't at all good dog manners."

The culprit, quick to detect the disapproval in Patricia's voice,
thought it time to limp again.

"Is your paw very bad?" Patricia asked.

The dog assured her that it was.

"I don't know what we're going to do next," Patricia told him. And
once back on the main road, she came to a standstill. She couldn't take
her protege home; even less could she desert him. She sat down by the
roadside to consider the matter--to consider various other matters, as
well. Even with Patricias there comes the moment of reckoning.

Aunt Julia had said that the next time she evaded sewing-lesson she must
go to bed at five o'clock. Patricia stretched out her tired little legs;
at the present moment that particular form of punishment did not appear
very unendurable. Just now, however, it seemed doubtful if she would be
at home by five o'clock.

Also, Daddy had said that the next time she broke bounds in this way
he should be obliged to punish her. Patricia fanned herself with a
decidedly dingy pocket-handkerchief; she wished Daddy had
said--_how_.

"I'm not saying you're not a very nice dog," Patricia patted her
companion, curled up on the folds of her short skirts; "still, if
I hadn't met you this morning--"

The dog blinked sleepily, licking her hand. Perhaps he was thinking of
a poor, forlorn little animal who had until that morning been hunted and
driven, half starved, never caressed.

"I wonder," Patricia said, anxiously, "if Mr. Carr wouldn't like you?
We'll go see, at any rate."

Up the hill they trudged, to where, in his little cabin, lived old Carr,
the cobbler.

He was at his bench as usual, and he paused, needle in air, at sight of
his visitors.

Patricia was growing desperate; she went straight to the heart of her
errand.

She and Carr were great friends, and the latter was immensely
interested. Over his spectacles he surveyed the pair. Patricia's gray
eyes had lost their confidence; they were almost as unconsciously
pathetic as the dog's brown ones.

"Well," Carr said, slowly, "there's no denying a dog's company; and
since old Sampson died--"

Patricia beamed. "Then you will take him? And you won't mind if he's
rather--lively? You see, he's so very young. Maybe, I'd better tell you
everything." And sitting down on one end of the workbench, Patricia made
full confession of her charge's misdoings. "But I think he's sorry," she
ended, hopefully.

"Sure, Miss," Carr assented; "especially as to the custard--that there
wasn't more. What's his name, Miss?"

"I don't know. I've called him just Dog."

"I reckon he won't care what he's called, so long as you don't call him
too late for dinner," Carr remarked. "How about Custard? It'd keep his
sin afore him." He took a piece of rope from the floor. "I'd best tie
him for a bit at first."

It was half-past four when Patricia reached home. Sarah was upstairs and
Aunt Julia busy with callers.

Making a hasty raid on the pantry, Patricia slipped quietly up the back
way to her own room. Aunt Julia had said it must be bed; and there was
no particular use in waiting to be sent.

She was just getting into bed, after a hurried bath, when Miss Kirby,
having learned from certain unmistakable evidence that Patricia had
returned, came upstairs.

"Patricia!" she exclaimed, her voice expressing almost as much relief as
displeasure, "where have you been?"

Patricia moved restlessly. "I've been--everywhere!"

"Sarah has ransacked the entire neighborhood." Displeasure was fast
becoming the dominant note in Miss Kirby's voice now that Patricia was
safe in bed before her. "Of course you understand," she began.

Patricia raised a small, flushed face. "Please, Aunt Julia, I'm in
bed--and you didn't have to send me. I've had a most _fatiguing_
day; and I'm dreadfully afraid that if you start in to talk to me the
'Kirby temper''ll make me say something back."

Miss Kirby sat down, surveying her niece in silence for a moment.
Patricia had frankly stated a quite undeniable fact; and she had no
desire to put the matter to the test. "Very well," she said, presently,
"we will wait until to-morrow morning."

"But that would be ever so much worse," Patricia pleaded. "I do so hate
waiting for things. I thought--maybe--if I went straight to bed--you'd
skip the--talk part, this time. I'm very tired; finding a home for a dog
takes it out of you a lot. People 'round here don't seem very anxious to
have dogs. And--I went considerably beyond bounds--so I've got Daddy to
settle with yet. All the same, I did find him a home, Aunt Julia--I
haven't got that on my mind."

Miss Kirby rose, and going over to the bed bent and kissed the tired,
wistful face. Patricia had a fashion of exciting sympathy at the wrong
time, in a way that was perilous to discipline. "For this time, then,
Patricia," she said. "Now I must go downstairs."

Left to herself, Patricia suddenly remembered that there was to be
strawberry shortcake for supper. Oh, dear, if only Custard had chosen
any other day to drift across her path! A sent-to-bed bed-supper meant
simply bread and milk. Patricia wondered if Dr. Vail would mind about
not having custard as much as she did about not having strawberry
shortcake. She decided that when she was grown up and had little girls
of her own she'd never send them to bed early on strawberry shortcake
night.

She heard her father drive into the yard, heralded by Caesar's deep bark.
Caesar had gone with the doctor on his day's round. Patricia knew how he
was running about now, looking for her. She hoped Sarah would forget and
leave the screen door open. Caesar would be sure to come upstairs then.
She rather thought Daddy would delay his coming until after supper.

Sarah was taking in supper now; she could hear the dishes rattling.
She was very hungry; that hasty raid on the pantry had not been very
satisfactory. If Custard had felt that way she didn't much blame him for
eating up Miss Susan's custard. Probably no one had ever taught him that
it was wrong to take what didn't belong to him.

There! Sarah was bringing up her supper now!

Patricia sat up in bed; even bread and milk appeared highly desirable at
that moment.

But there was more than bread and milk on the tray Sarah carried.
Patricia stared at the generous square of strawberry shortcake,
plentifully supplied with cream, in wondering silence.

Sarah brought a small table to the side of the bed. "Miss Julia, she
done send some message 'bout this 'ere cake, Miss P'tricia; but, law
o' mercy, I'se clean forgot the most 'portant word. Hit were something
'bout you-uns having had a fat-fat-"

"Fatiguing day?" Patricia suggested, taking little anticipatory pickings
at the corners of the shortcake.

Sarah nodded her turbaned head. "Where's you-un been all day, Miss
P'tricia?" she enquired, severely.

"If you don't mind, Sarah--I'm very hungry and tired--I won't go into
that at present. I had something very important to see to."

"Humph!" Sarah grunted. "Nice doings, worrying your pore aunt near to
'straction--the doctor, he ain't come home to dinner--to hear 'bout your
carryings-on. What you think he's goin' say--when Miss Julia tells him?"

Patricia was absorbed in eating bread and milk. "It must be dreadful to
be really starved, Sarah," she observed.

"Where you get your dinner, Miss P'tricia?"

"I didn't have any," Patricia answered.

"My sakes!" Further speech failed Sarah. She turned away.

Patricia's next visitor was old Caesar. Standing by the bed, he asked as
plainly as dog may what in the world she was doing there at that time
of day? He accepted solemnly his share of the good things going, then
stretched himself out on the floor beside the bed, to mount guard--but
not until he had told her as forcibly as he could that the summer
evening was unusually fine, and that there were several little affairs
in the garden requiring their joint supervision.

"But I can't go, Caesar," Patricia told him. She was always sure that her
dumb friends understood quite well all she said to them. "There comes
Daddy now."

"It doesn't seem to be solitary confinement, Patricia," Dr. Kirby said,
as he came in and seated himself on the side of the bed.

Patricia stretched out a welcoming hand. "It's hours and hours since
I've seen you, Daddy."

Dr. Kirby took the outstretched hand gravely. "From your aunt's account,
there would appear to have been hours and hours in which she did not see
you, Patricia?"

"I'm afraid I was gone a long while, Daddy; but I came home just as soon
as I got things straightened out.

"Suppose you give me the particulars, Patricia."

And moving so as to rest her head on her father's knee, Patricia told
in detail the story of her day's experiences. She had the comforting
conviction that when Daddy knew all he would not be very displeased
with her.

More than once, during that recital, the doctor's mouth twitched under
his mustache, and he turned rather suddenly to look out of the window.

"But, Pat," he exclaimed, as she finished, "what made it so imperative
for you to find that tramp dog a home?"

Patricia's gray eyes were very earnest. "Some one had to do it, Daddy."

The doctor smoothed back the soft, thick curls. "But, Pat, I cannot have
you burdening yourself with the responsibility of finding homes for all
the stray animals that cross your path."

"He was so miserable, Daddy--outside; and so really nice--inside.
I don't believe he liked being a tramp dog."

The doctor stooped and kissed her; it was not easy to be severe with
Patricia. "Still, dear, it must not happen again; you run too great
a risk; stray dogs are not always very dependable as to temper."

"It's going to be mighty hard not to, Daddy."

"And Patricia, where are my scissors, and salve, and soap?"

"I'm afraid--down by the brook; so's the towel. I was glad I'd watched
you bandage Caesar's paw that time."

"That is all very well; but, Patricia, you are not to meddle with any of
the office things again without permission. And now, about this matter
of breaking bounds to-day?"

Patricia looked up quickly. "You--you'll 'take the intention into
consideration,' Daddy?"

The doctor smiled. "Yes, but," his face grew grave again, "I must also
take into consideration the fact that this is by no means the first time
you have gone wandering off, causing your aunt a great deal of anxiety."

"I can't think why she will worry so. I always come back all right."

"That is not the point. It must be only the yard for the rest of the
week, Patricia."

Patricia drew a long breath. "Well," she said, slowly, "I _am_ glad
it's Thursday night 'stead of Monday morning."

       *       *       *       *       *

Patricia sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes. What had wakened her?

A second series of short, sharp little barks sent her hurrying to the
window. On the path below, a bit of frayed rope dangling from his neck,
stood Custard.

When the doctor came downstairs, twenty minutes later, he found Patricia
on the back steps, with Custard in her lap, busily placing a fresh
bandage on the hurt paw. "Daddy," she cried, lifting her face for his
morning greeting, "wasn't it too lovely of him to hunt me up. Isn't he
the most grateful dog ever was?"

The doctor patted the dog's rough head, then stooped to examine
Patricia's work. "Not a bad job for an eleven-year-old, Pat."

"I could do it better, only I had to make a strip from a piece I found
in Aunt Julia's scrap-bag," Patricia explained.

"Patricia!" Miss Kirby exclaimed from the doorway, "your dress is only
half buttoned, and your hair is--_Patricia Kirby_, have you gone
and hunted up another dog!"

"It's the same one, Aunt Julia. He has improved a lot, hasn't he? If
you'd seen how glad he was to see me! I suppose he'll have to be sent
back. Caesar likes him pretty well; he didn't growl at him once when I
introduced them to each other."

"It's a question whether _sending_ back will do any good," the
doctor said. He was watching the two on the steps.

Patricia stroked the bandaged paw gently. "I can't take him--I can't go
out of the yard, can I, Daddy?"

"Decidedly not."

"Couldn't you take him in the gig with you, Patrick?" Miss Kirby felt
that she was playing a losing game.

"Going quite in the opposite direction."

"And Jim?"

"Goes with me." The doctor was still studying the two on the steps.

"If he stays one day we are doomed!" Miss Kirby declared.

"That only leaves you and Sarah, doesn't it, Aunt Julia?" Patricia
asked, cheerfully.

Miss Kirby was not without a sense of humor. "I am afraid Sarah is out
of the question," she said; "and if he waits for me to take him he will
stay here--altogether."

Patricia was quick to catch the longed-for concession in her aunt's
voice. Dropping Custard, she ran to hug Miss Kirby. "Oh, you darling!
But, Daddy," she turned anxiously, "oh, do you suppose Mr. Carr will
mind _very_ much?"

"I rather think he will be able to bear the disappointment," the doctor
answered.




CHAPTER II

THE GINGHAM APRON PARTY


Fortunately, the ground under the big apple tree was soft and springy,
and Patricia was used to both low and lofty tumbling; so when she
landed, a little surprised heap, in the tangled grass, she lay still
just long enough for the small black dog, nosing anxiously about her, to
get in one or two licks of her sunburnt, bewildered face; then she sat
up.

"My, Custard, that was a stunner! I reckon if Daddy was here he'd say,
'what a fall was there, my countrymen!'" Custard wagged agreeingly, and
sniffed inquiringly at the strip of pink leg showing through the long
jagged tear in one of his small mistress's tan stockings.

Patricia scrambled to her feet and began taking stock. There was another
tear in the short skirt of her blue gingham frock, and one in one of the
sleeves.

"Goodness! What will Aunt Julia say!" Patricia said ruefully; then
remembered suddenly what Aunt Julia had said, no longer ago than
yesterday morning, after a similar catastrophe.

"And if Aunt Julia isn't a 'Mede 'n' Persian,' she might almost as well
be one--when it comes to unsaying things," Patricia told herself, as she
started for the house.

Half-way up the back garden path, she came to an abrupt halt. "Custard,"
she gasped, "it's party day!"

As if Custard did not know that! He had never been to a party, but he
was mighty glad to have been invited to this one. The pantry, always an
enchanted spot to him, smelled even more delicious than usual. He had
quite lost count of the number of times that Sarah had run him out of it
this morning, with more haste than dignity.

Patricia sat down in an empty wheelbarrow to consider matters, not
noticing that Jim had been using it that morning to bring fresh mold
for Miss Kirby's flower beds.

"I didn't want to give a party anyhow." Patricia stared gravely out
across the sunny drying-ground. Privately, she considered the average
party a great waste of valuable time. Least of all had she wanted to
give an "honor party" for Susy Vail. Susy was the rector's grandchild,
and was on a visit here.

Patricia hadn't much use for Susy Vail. She was a city girl, she was
quiet and shy, and she would be sure to come to the party in a stiff
white dress and blue ribbons. Patricia was positive as to the blue
ribbons.

"I've a good mind to run off to the woods and stay all day, Custard,"
Patricia said, getting up; "they can have the party without us."

Custard barked a prompt disapproval of this scheme. Maybe the party
could do without him, but he was quite sure he could not do without
the party.

"Come on," Patricia told him, starting back down the path.

She had got as far as the gate leading into the meadow, when a new idea
came to her. Swinging slowly back and forth on the gate, she considered
this idea; her gray eyes dancing, as its possibilities opened up before
her mental vision.

"And if Susy Vail hasn't a gingham apron, I'll lend her one; she seems
the sort of girl not to have one," Patricia confided to Custard, as they
once more made their way towards the house.

If only the coast were clear!

Sarah was on the back piazza, pitting cherries, but Sarah was easily
managed.

"My sakes, Miss P'tricia!" Sarah lifted her plump hands in horror,
"whatever is you-un been up to now?"

"Where's Aunt Julia, Sarah?"

"Done left for Gar's Hollow just five minutes ago, your pa sent Jim back
for her in the gig. What you say, Miss P'tricia?"

For under her breath, Patrica was saying jubilantly:
"It's--providential!"

"N-nothing--that is, I was only thinking out loud," she told Sarah.

"Don't you go worrying 'bout dat ere party, honey; hit'll come off all
right."

"I think it will--now," Patricia answered; her tone so full of some
hidden enjoyment that Sarah glanced at her suspiciously.

"Miss Julia, she done left word for you-un to do everything like you
know she'd want you to, Miss P'tricia."

Patricia selected a pair of earrings from the finest of Sarah's bowl of
cherries. "Don't you worry, Sarah."

"You ain't 'xplained yet how you come to be in such a disrepec'ble
condition, Miss P'tricia. If the rag man was to see you, he'd just up
and toss you into his cart--he shore would."

"Have I got a clean gingham apron, Sarah?" Patricia was a past-mistress
in the art of ignoring what she considered inconvenient, or personal,
remarks.

"Looks to me like you's got more clean gingham aprons than you's got
manners," Sarah said severely.

Patricia went indoors to the telephone, shutting the door behind her
as she went. Sarah was too fat and too heavy on her feet to get out of
a chair, once comfortably settled in it, unless the call were really
urgent.

Patricia first called up Mrs. Hardy. Quite unconsciously--being on her
dignity and feeling, besides, very important--she spoke more slowly than
was usual, and with more than a trace of her aunt's formality.

Back over the line came a prompt: "Why, good morning, Miss Kirby!"

Patricia's eyes sparkled and the demon of mischief, always lurking in
her neighborhood, immediately put idea number two into her head. Her
imitation of her aunt's voice and manner this time was perfect. "Good
morning, Mrs. Hardy, I just called you up to let you know that the
little party we are giving this afternoon is to be a gingham apron
party."

"A w-what?" Mrs. Hardy questioned.

"Miss Kirby" gave herself vigorous mental treatment for a moment or
so--one giggle and the game was up. As if Aunt Julia ever giggled!

"A gingham apron party," she repeated; "it is Patricia's suggestion, so
that the children may have a nice jolly time."

"That sounds exactly like Patricia," Mrs. Hardy commented, laughing.
"I'll tell Nell; I'm sure she will approve."

"Miss Kirby" said thank you, then she hung up the receiver; after which,
seizing Custard, she hugged him ecstatically. "I really am 'Miss Kirby,'
you know," she explained. "Daddy's only got me--and I didn't say a word
that wasn't perfectly true. And Mr. Baker, out at Long Farm, always
calls me that. Now, I'll have to finish 'phoning."

Mrs. Lane and Mrs. Blake were next informed as to the kind of party
under way for that afternoon; then came Mrs. Vail, with her Patricia
made a break. "And if Susy hasn't any gingham--" she began.

"If Susy hasn't what?" Mrs. Vail interrupted. "Why, of course--"

"I only thought--I mean," Patricia felt herself floundering--and Aunt
Julia never floundered. "Then we may look for Susy," she said hastily.

"Why, certainly," Mrs. Vail answered.

"That is well. Good-by."

"Miss Kirby" hung up the receiver hastily.

"I think she almost suspected--something, Custard; I reckon she's the
suspiciony kind--Susy Vail looks the kind of girl to have a suspiciony
mother. But the rest didn't." Patricia danced the interested Custard
down the hall.

As she reappeared on the back piazza, Sarah asked sternly: "What you
been up to now, Miss P'tricia? You've been doing a heap of talking at
dat ere 'phone."

"I had some very important business to transact," Patricia answered
loftily, the mantle of her aunt's manner still enveloping her. "I guess
I'll go put my apron on now."

Sarah sniffed indignantly, "You needn't tell me dere ain't some
foolishness afoot," she declared.

"What time was you-un 'spectin' the comin' cer'mony to commence?" she
asked, when Patricia came in to her solitary dinner. Neither Miss Kirby
nor the doctor would be back before late afternoon.

"Aunt Julia said half-past three to seven; I suppose they'll begin
coming 'long about three."

That note of hidden jubilation in her voice worried Sarah. She had not
known Patricia for all of her eleven years for nothing. "Honey, what you
cog'tating?" she coaxed; as she brought Patricia a generous slice of
fresh cherry pie.

"I'm thinking about--my party. It's going to be a--a--corker, Sarah!
You'll see!"

Sarah groaned, both in spirit and outwardly. "Honey," she pleaded,
leaning on the back of a chair and studying her charge anxiously;
"Honey, dat Miss Susy's a stranger in dis yere part--why, she's come
clare from Phil'delphy. I'm told the chillerns down in Phil'delphy has
beau-ti-ful manners."

"I dare say," Patricia did not appear greatly interested.

"And Miss Julia, she done plan dis yere party jest for her."

"I know--I didn't ask her to--I--"

"Honey, you wouldn't--you shore wouldn't do anything to--to disbobulate
your aunt's plans?"

"May I have another piece of pie, Sarah, please?"

Sarah cast a pair of imploring eyes ceilingwards. "Of all the
ignoringest young uns! I isn't discoursing 'bout pie, Miss P'tricia."

"But it's mighty good pie, Sarah! Will there be cherry pie among the
refreshments this afternoon?"

"Miss P'tricia! And the cherry juice all a dripping down, like's not,
on you-uns clean white dresses," Sarah protested. However, she brought
Patricia a second piece, which was the important thing at the moment;
the future might very well be allowed to take care of itself.

Later, as she did up her dinner work, Sarah cast more than one anxious
glance out of the window to where Patricia lay on the back lawn, under
the shade of the big cherry tree. Patricia's very quietness was
alarming.

Was it too much cherry pie? Or was she plotting something.

"Honey," Sarah came out on the piazza, "it's getting time for you to get
dressed for the festiv'ties."

Patricia, tickling one of Custard's long ears with a blade of grass,
smiled serenely. "But I am dressed, Sarah."

Sarah sat down heavily on the piazza bench; "I knowed it! I jest
'spicioned you-un was shore up to something!"

Patricia rolled over on her back, stretching her wiry little frame out
lazily.

"You come right 'long into dis yere house, Miss P'tricia!" Sarah rose
commandingly.

"But what for?" Patricia questioned.

"What for? If you wasn't a white child, Miss P'tricia, I'd shore say you
was onery. I's going be 'bliged to disport you to your pa, if you
continues such disbehavior."

Patricia scrambled to her feet, and came slowly over to the edge of the
lawn. Then, lifting her apron, she asked quietly: "Is my frock torn,
Sarah, or isn't it?"

"You knows it is, Miss P'tricia!"

Patricia stretched out one slender leg. "Is my stocking torn, or isn't
it?"

Sarah groaned.

Wheeling suddenly round, and still holding up her apron, Patricia
demanded: "Is my frock dirty, or isn't it?"

"Miss P'tricia, you's shore possessed to-day!"

"Aunt Julia said yesterday morning, that the very next time I got myself
torn or dirty, needlessly, I must put a clean gingham apron on and go
that way for the rest of the day."

"But, honey--you know Miss Julia never 'tended you to come to your own
party in any such fixings! A gingham apron at a party! You come 'long
upstairs with me, Miss P'tricia; I'll resume all the 'sponsibility."

"Aunt Julia said 'the very next time'; this is the very next time."

"She done lay out your dress 'fore she went, honey--so crisp and nice
and all the pretty pink ribbons," Sarah spoke coaxingly.

"Aunt Julia didn't know--I hadn't tumbled out of the apple tree then."

"I'se going phonegraph your aunt right off!" Sarah declared.

Patricia caught her breath. Then she remembered. "But they haven't any
'phone at Gar's Hollow!"

Sarah wrung her hands. "And all them little ladies in white dresses, and
the hostess o' the 'casion looking like 'straction!"

"I always _feel_ like distraction when I'm all stiff and starchy
and uncomfortable," Patricia said; "I'd rather look it than feel it."

"Oh, I ain't overlooking that you're powerful reconciled to going to
your own party dressed like you is now, Miss P'tricia! Anyhow, you're
going to have a good wash-up and your hair combed; Miss Julia ain't laid
down no commands against that."

"W-well," Patricia slowly conceded, "only I'll see to it myself, Sarah."

Patricia's thick mop of brown curls was of the tangly order; and when
things had gone wrong, Sarah's touch was not always of the gentlest.

An hour later, Sarah, from her post of vantage on the side porch, saw
six little girls coming up the path. There were no boys invited. Miss
Kirby thought it so much nicer for little girls to play quietly by
themselves.

A moment, Sarah stared at them in amazement; then her fat sides shook
with laughter. "I shore might've knowed it! So that's what she was so
busy phonegraphing 'bout! That chile shore weren't born yesterday.
Gingham aprons, every last one o' them!"

Some of the six wore sunbonnets, the rest plain garden hats; and all
wore stout serviceable shoes and stockings. Never had those six little
girls gone to a party before in such unparty-like costumes.

Patricia came dancing to meet them, bareheaded as usual. "Let's go down
to the barn right off," she proposed. "Goodness, how funny you do look!"
she giggled.

"So do you," Nell Hardy retorted; then the seven stood still a moment to
survey one another.

"Oh!" Mable Lane cried, "whatever put such an idea into your head, Pat?"

"I--I happened to think of it, that was all," Patricia answered vaguely.
"Come on--we'll play hide and seek, and no going out of the barn."

"Are--are there any horses there?" Susy asked.

Patricia shook her head. "Not today; Daddy's got Sam and Dick's gone to
pasture."

They played hide and seek all over the delightful big dusty old barn;
until Patricia, trying to reach goal by a short cut down from the loft,
came to an abrupt halt in her descent, caught on a projecting beam.

"Go back!" Ruth Martin advised; but Patricia, wriggling herself free,
dropped in a laughing heap on the barn floor.

"But you've torn your apron, Pat!" Nell exclaimed.

Patricia glanced up at the bit of blue gingham hanging from a nail in
the beam.

"Look's like this was my busy day," she observed; "I'll go put another
on."

"I put it on over the first," she explained, on her return. "You see,
Aunt Julia said--I mean, I thought it would be--fun; and, anyhow, it
saved time, it takes a lot of time to unbutton these aprons. Let's go
down to the brook and wade." She glanced at Susy, who was looking rather
doubtful. "Aren't you allowed to wade in brooks?"

"I--don't know," Susy began, then her mild little face took on a look of
sudden resolution, "but I'm going to."

Patricia smiled in prompt friendliness. "Mostly, when I'm not sure
I just take the chance," she encouraged.

Sitting on the edge of the brook, the seven took off shoes and
stockings. "It's the queerest, nicest party," Bessy Martin declared.

It was a gay little brook, running between a broad, sunny meadow and the
old Kirby apple orchard, broad enough in places to make the crossing of
it on stepping stones delightfully uncertain, and again narrowing to a
mere thread. To Patricia, it was like some live thing, one of the
dearest and most intimate of playmates.

"Let's play Follow my Leader," Nell suggested, and they drew lots to see
who should be first leader.

It fell to Kitty Hall, next to Susy the quietest of the seven; the lead
she set them was a very mild affair, limited to the shallowest and
narrowest parts of the brook.

But with Patricia's turn, matters took a change for the better, or
worse, according to the point of view. Patricia hopped and skipped, and
did everything except walk demurely on two feet, out of the safe,
pleasant shallows straight for the "pool," which was quite knee deep at
this time of year.

Once there, she turned to view her followers, and it wouldn't have been
Patricia, if she hadn't slipped and, with a little shriek of surprise,
sat right down in the pool.

There was a moment's hesitation, then Nell boldly followed suit; one by
one, ending with Susy, the other five dropped down in the cool rippling
water, which seemed to laugh, as if it saw the joke.

"Oh!" Patricia cried, "I never meant--" She was on her feet as quickly
as possible. Susy was just the kind to go and catch cold, why she had
begun to shiver and shake already.

The next few moments were strenuous ones for Patricia's followers. Never
had she led them such a chase, through all the hottest, sunniest parts
of the big meadow.

"We've got to run, so as not to catch cold," she panted; and run
they did, their wet skirts flapping against their bare legs, hats and
sunbonnets sent scattering in every direction. While Custard, regarding
it as a game gotten up for his especial benefit, urged them on, barking
and leaping about them, taking little pretend nips at the seven sets of
bare toes, choosing Susy's the oftenest, because she always squealed
the loudest.

At last the seven dropped down breathless in the middle of the meadow.
Patricia felt of Susy's skirts anxiously. "They're 'most dry; let's--"
She turned over on her face, and the six followed suit once more.

"The sun feels good, doesn't it," Susy said, she was on one side of
Patricia. "I'm having a be-au-ti-ful time!"

Patricia raised herself on her elbows, and, chin in hand, surveyed Susy
closely. "Truly true?"

"Truly true," Susy insisted.

Patricia smiled approvingly; and, when she liked, Patricia's smile could
be very approving indeed. "I guess maybe I'm going to like knowing you,"
she said.

Susy's little pink and white face had lost its look of peaceful
placidity, her yellow curls their smoothness. Wet, bedraggled, but
happier than ever before in her life, and joyfully conscious that she
had for once boldly strayed from the narrow path of harmless routine,
she smiled back at Patricia.

"I guess we're all dry now," Patricia said presently. "It seems to me as
if it must be pretty near supper time."

Nell spread out her limp skirts. "Pretty looking set, we are, to go to
supper!"

But Patricia was thinking. "A gingham apron party supper ought to be
different," she said slowly; "Nell, let's you and me go get the
refreshments and bring them out here."

It was a glorious suggestion. Six pairs of eyes opened wide with
delight.

"B-but Sarah--" Mabel asked. Mabel had a knack of asking such questions.

"Oh, I reckon Sarah'll ask a heap of questions--Sarah's mighty
inquisitive at times," Patricia answered. "I rather think the best way
will be just to go ahead and not bother her about it."

"But how?" Mabel insisted.

"You leave that to Nell and me--we'll manage. The rest of you must wait
here; keep Custard with you. Oh, dear! I thought you were beautifully
dry, Susy Vail; what did you go sneeze for? Well, you'll just have to
keep moving, that's all. You see that she does, Mabel."

Patricia's commands seldom fell on deaf ears and Mabel promptly insisted
on a game of tag; while Patricia herself, accompanied by Nell Hardy,
started on a brisk run across the meadow.

At the garden gate, Patricia called a halt. "Duck," she ordered,
dropping on the grass. From half-way up the path, came Sarah's voice:
"Oh, Miss P'tricia! Miss P'tricia!"

"She'll go back presently, if she doesn't hear us," Patricia whispered
with elaborate caution; "then we must get to the house as quickly and as
quietly as possible and secure the re--the booty. Oh, go away!" she
added sternly, as Custard came sniffing about them.

But Custard only wriggled and danced about and over them, urging them as
eloquently as he could to get up and continue their way indoors. Wasn't
the pantry indoors? Custard could have told his mistress long ago that
it was quite supper time.

At half-past six, the doctor and Miss Kirby drove into the yard.
As the gig drew up before the side door, Sarah, voluble and indignant,
appeared. From the mass of information she hurled upon them, one fact
only was quite clear--Patricia was missing.

She was so often missing, that the announcement failed to excite any
great apprehension in the mind of either her father or her aunt.

"But the party--" Miss Kirby began.

"She done take the party with her!" Sarah wailed.

Miss Kirby looked more indignant than surprised; to have come home and
found that nothing untowards had happened would have been the surprising
thing.

"I ain't laid my eyes on her since them six gingham aprons came
gavorting up the walk!" Sarah proclaimed dramatically. "That young-un's
a limb, for shore!"

Miss Kirby sat down on the piazza bench. "Gingham aprons, Sarah," she
repeated. "Patrick, what can she mean?"

The doctor shook his head, smiling, "That remains to be discovered."

"For the love o' goodness, Miss Julia!" Sarah implored; "the nexest time
you sets out to give a party for that there young-un, I hopes and prays
you stays home to sup'intend the obsequies youself!"

The doctor turned to send Sam on to the barn.

"Gingham aprons," Miss Kirby murmured.

"Ain't Miss P'tricia done 'tire herself in one for the 'casion!" Sarah
exclaimed; "and ain't she done tell all the others over that 'phone
to do the very same--I ain't never held with thet there 'phone,
nohow--'tain't nothin' better'n devilment, anyhow. My sakes, such
doings, Marse Doctor! You and Miss Julia just come cast your glance
over this supper table!"

They followed her into the dining-room.

"It certainly looks very pretty," the doctor said, glancing at the
table.

Sarah groaned. "Where's them plates o' sandwiches gone? I ask you that!
Where's them plates o' biscuits gone? I ask you that! Where's the little
cakes, what I iced so pretty, gone? I ask you that! Ain't I done fix
them all in place and then I goes out to call them--ginham aprons--to
come in,--and I done galivant all over the place and all up and down the
street and I ain't seen the least speck o' one o' them--but when I comes
indoors--the party done vanish! And that ain't all--the cherry pie I
done make for you's and Miss Julia's supper done vanish too. But they
ain't got the ice cream--I reckon the freezer was too heavy."

"That at least is something to be thankful for," the doctor said, "there
would probably have been--consequences--had they secured both the cherry
pie and the ice cream."

"And the table looking so stylish," Sarah mourned, "with the flowers and
all the fixings. Where's that plate o' chicken gone? I ask you that!"

"Patrick," Miss Kirby said, "you really must go look that child up! such
behavior is--"

"I'm going," the doctor assured her, and as he went Miss Kirby saw him
put his handkerchief to his eyes more than once.

Through the garden he went, through the orchard. Half-way across the
meadow beyond the orchard he came upon Custard dining at second table,
and too busy to do more than wag a welcome.

A few yards further on stood an old apple tree, and from the top-most
branch came, in Patricia's clear notes:

  "'If I could find a higher tree
  Farther and farther I should see,
  To where the grown-up river slips
  Into the sea among the ships.'"


The doctor stood still, making a trumpet of his hands. "Ship ahoy!" he
called.

The next instant seven girls came wriggling and scrambling down from the
various branches. "Oh! Daddy," Patricia cried joyously, "we're having
the jolliest time--we're pirates! I'm captain--

  "'My name is Captain Kidd,
  And most wickedly I did,
  As I sailed, as I sailed!'"


"And, according to report, before you sailed, young lady. Suppose you
make explanation regarding certain late extremely piratical
proceedings."

"You mean about the supper, Daddy? You see, we didn't feel very
partified--at least, we thought we didn't look exactly--"

As she hesitated, the doctor, glancing from one to another of the seven,
nodded comprehendingly. "I quite agree with you, Pat; you do not look
very--partified."

They were so dusty, so disheveled; all but Patricia had shoes
on--Custard had made off with both of Susy's, and Patricia had most
willingly offered hers--the opportunity to go barefoot was too good to
be lost; Nell had only one stocking, Kitty none at all, Ruth was wearing
Patricia's, Custard had certainly made the most of his chance to carry
off things that afternoon.

"But we've had a be-au-ti-ful time," Susy said, slipping a hand into
the doctor's. She quite forgot that he was a comparative stranger,
remembering only that he was Patricia's father--Patricia, who had
invited her to this most wonderful of parties, where one had been so
busy having fun that there had been no time for feeling shy and strange.

Dr. Kirby smiled down at the little guest of honor. "Upon my word, I
believe you have," he said.

"Aunt Julia says," Patricia possessed herself of his other hand, "that
to feel sure that one's guests have honestly enjoyed themselves is to
know that one's party has been a success. So I reckon mine's been a
perfectly tremendous success."

"Suppose you come up to the house--all of you--and see if you can
reassure Aunt Julia and--Sarah," the doctor suggested.

Patricia sighed. "I--I sort of wish Aunt Julia--looked at things the way
we do, Daddy."

They went on up to the house. On the back steps, Miss Kirby was waiting;
in the kitchen doorway stood Sarah.

"Patricia Kirby!" Aunt Julia exclaimed. "Well of all the--"

"Miss P'tricia," Sarah broke in wrathfully, "where's that cherry pie I
done made for Marse Doctor's supper?"

Patricia slowly drew up her uppermost apron. "It's here--most of it;
Custard got the rest. I--I stumbled and fell--into it. You see, we were
playing pirate--and we were smuggling."

The doctor, much to his sister's indignation, sat down suddenly on one
of the garden benches. "Oh, Pat, Pat!" he gasped.

"Patricia Kirby, how many gingham aprons have you on?" Miss Kirby
demanded.

"Three, Aunt Julia; you said I must wear the first one all the
afternoon--and I tore it--and then the pie sort of stained the second;
I got kind of interested to see how many it would take to get me through
the afternoon. I had to make it a gingham apron party, Aunt Julia, on
account of what you said yesterday. You see, I got pretty well torn and
dirty this morning--and, of course, I needn't have climbed that tree."

"Casabianca," the doctor murmured; Miss Kirby was past murmuring
anything; all her efforts were directed towards at least a semblance
of self-control.

"I shore told you, that young-un was a limb," Sarah muttered.

"Sarah was very anxious to fix me all up properly, Aunt Julia," Patricia
went on, "but of course, after you had said--and I thought you'd feel
better if the rest wore gingham aprons too. Sarah was very kind about it
though," with a smile in her direction.

"You go 'long, Miss P'tricia," Sarah protested.

Miss Kirby bit her lip. "That is all very well, Patricia, but--"

"We've had such fun, haven't we, girls?" Captain Kidd appealed to her
fellow pirates.

"Oh, we have," they chorused back.

"And having supper out in the meadow when we hadn't expected it was the
best part," Nell added.

"What would you suggest?" Miss Kirby turned to her brother.

His smile told her that he knew quite well that she was shifting upon
him the responsibility of deciding. As a strict disciplinarian--in
theory--it would never do for her to countenance such unlawful
proceedings. He rose to the occasion promptly. "Soap and water for these
highly reprehensible young folks, after that--the ice cream--seeing that
the cherry pie came to a timely end. And for us--supper."

"Isn't Daddy the dearest?" Patricia demanded, as she led her guests
upstairs. "Daddy's always so understandified."




CHAPTER III

THE WAY OF A GRANDMOTHER


Patricia sat on the back steps carefully arranging purple and white
asters in an old blue and white punchbowl, the pride of her Aunt Julia's
heart.

"It's the 'Washington bowl,' Custard," she explained to the small curly
black dog, watching her intently. "Daddy says it's called that because
it is just as easy to prove that Washington never did have punch from it
as that he did." Patricia paused to rearrange one particularly wobbly
aster, too short as to stem and too big as to head. "Anyhow, it's one
of the very nicest things we've got."

Custard sighed restlessly; to spend this breezy October afternoon in
fussing over flowers, when just beyond the gate a whole world waited to
be explored, seemed to him a most un-Patricia-like wasting of time.

Then as Patricia rose slowly to her feet, the bowl of flowers in her
hands, he sprang up at her with a sharp little bark of delight.

"Down!" she warned sharply. "Custard Kirby, if you make me drop this
punchbowl I don't know what Aunt Julia _will_ say!"

It seemed to Patricia as if that journey upstairs to the spare bedroom
never would be made in safety; but it was accomplished at last, and her
burden placed right in the center of the low reading-table, standing at
one side of the south window.

With a long breath of relief, Patricia sat down on the edge of the bed,
looking about the big pleasant room with approving eyes. It was exactly
the sort of room she should like to have when she got be a grandmother.
There were fresh muslin curtains at the windows, the fine old-fashioned
mahogany furniture shone from its recent polishing; on the broad hearth
a light fire was laid ready for the lighting, and at one corner of the
fireplace stood a big chintz-covered armchair. Of course there was a
footstool beside it. Patricia had seen to the footstool herself, hunting
it out up garret that morning. She had wondered why Daddy's eyes
twinkled at sight of it--Daddy would tell her nothing about grandmother,
she must wait and see. And Patricia so hated waiting for anything, from
surprises to scoldings.

"Yes, it certainly does look grandmothery, Custard," she said; "and
the flowers help a lot. I know she'll love asters; they're such an
old-ladyish flower. Mind, sir, you're not to go rushing at her! And the
very first time you run off with any of her things you're going to get
your ears boxed."

Custard wagged tentatively; boxing his ears appeared to him to belong to
Miss Kirby's special department.

"Miss P'tricia!" Sarah stood in the doorway, indignation in the very
points of her knotted turban--"Miss P'tricia, ain't yo' never be'n tole
not to sit on beds? 'Tic'larly beds all ready fo' comp'ny!"

Patricia slipped hurriedly to her feet; but by this time Sarah had
caught sight of something else. "Land sakes, Miss P'tricia! Ef yo' isn't
gone an' tuk Miss Julia's punchbowl--what she don't 'low no one but
herse'f to tech!"

Patricia put an arm around Sarah's waist, or rather, around as much of
it as she could encompass. "Aunt Julia wasn't in--and I wanted the very
nicest bowl I could think of. It is so perfectly lovely to have a
grandmother coming!"

There was a world of unconscious longing in Patricia's voice; no one,
not even Daddy, knew quite what the coming of her grandmother meant to
the little motherless girl. And a grandmother she had not seen since
babyhood. The coming weeks seemed to Patricia full of untold
possibilities.

"It do look pretty," Sarah admitted, as she went to smooth out the bed
covers. "'Pears like it was time yo' was gettin' your dress changed,
honey. Yo' best let me giv yo' hair a brush; seems like yo' never did
get the kinks out."

Patricia submitted with most unaccustomed patience to the finishing
touches Sarah insisted on giving her toilet. "I reckon yo'll do now,
honey," Sarah said at last.

"Only half an hour more and she'll be here, Custard," Patricia said to
the dog, sniffing inquiringly at the tips of her best shoes; "Daddy's
to meet the five-thirty train."

Patricia settled herself circumspectly in the hammock, smoothing out
her crisp white skirts. "Oh, I do wonder what she'll be like, really
I haven't even a photograph--grandmother doesn't like being
photographed--and I haven't seen her since I was three years old.
Custard, do you suppose she'll have an ear trumpet, like the Barkers'
grandmother? It's very embarrassing talking into an ear trumpet.
I rather hope she's short and--stoutish. I've been thinking over all
the people I know, and it seems to me that the short, stout ones are
mostly more good-natured than the other kinds."

Custard wagged agreeingly; he was short, and not his worst enemy could
accuse him of being thin. So far this coming of a grandmother did not
appeal to Custard; never before had he been refused a share of the
hammock; and those one or two preliminary nips he had taken at the toes
of Patricia's shiny shoes had been promptly squelched. To be talked to
and confided in was all very well, but a game of tag in the meadow
behind the house would have been a great deal more fun. Nor was Custard
quite sure what a grandmother was; he hoped it was something good to
eat.

Patricia had never known such a long half hour; she made one or two
trips down to the gate, walking carefully on the edge of the grass, so
as not to get her shoes dusty. It was very odd that Aunt Julia didn't
come home--Good, she was coming now.

"Isn't the train late?" Patricia demanded, the moment her aunt was
within earshot.

Miss Kirby smiled. "It isn't due yet, Patricia, for five minutes." She
didn't look in the least excited, going calmly up the garden path to the
house.

But then it wasn't _her_ grandmother who was coming; besides,
Patricia's gray eyes danced mischievously, she didn't know about the
punchbowl.

Patricia decided to wait down by the gate--explanations were such
tiresome things.

Then, in a few moments, far down the quiet village street she caught
sight of a familiar gig, duly attended by old Caesar, the pointer.

The gig was quite close now. Patricia's heart gave a great jump, then
seemed to stand quite still.

She hadn't come!

There was a lady in the gig with Daddy; but--

Patricia turned sharply, and regardless of her shoes ran swiftly back up
the driveway and through the garden to the meadow beyond; never stopping
until she dropped, a little breathless heap, beside the brook.

Custard barked excitedly, thinking it some new move in this grandmother
game; then suddenly he poked his cold black nose in under the tossed
thatch of Patricia's brown curls. For Patricia was crying--and doing it
quite as earnestly and as thoroughly as she did most things.

At last she sat up, dabbing her eyes.

"She didn't come! And we were all ready--and now it can't be just the
same--when she does come. Custard, do you suppose it's a--a judgment
on me, for taking the punchbowl?"

Custard looked sober.

"I'll go put it right back. Oh, dear, I do hope that other person hasn't
stayed to supper!"

Patricia went back to the house, forlorn, bedraggled; very different
from the Patricia whom Sarah had sent downstairs not an hour before,
imploring her to "try and keep smarted up for once."

On the back porch she met her father.

"Patricia," he asked, "what does this mean? Why did you run away when
you saw your grandmother coming?"

Patricia gasped. "But, Daddy, she didn't come! I didn't see her! Oh, do
you mean, was that--I expected she'd have on a bonnet tied under her
chin--and a shawl--and glasses." Patricia was half crying again, her
head on her father's shoulder.

It was hard to relinquish the picture of the grandmother she had been
carrying in her mind for the past fortnight; a sort of composite picture
of all the grandmothers she knew in Belham.

And the doctor, understanding, comforted her, sending her to freshen
herself up again for supper, with the promise that it would all come
right--she would see.

On the upper landing Patricia came face to face with grandmother; a
grandmother who was tall and slender and dressed in some delicate gray
material that rustled softly when she walked, and gave forth a faint
scent of violets. There was very little gray in the dark wavy hair,
that framed a face altogether different from the placid wrinkled one
of Patricia's imaginings; but when Mrs. Cory said, "O Patricia!" and
held out her arms, Patricia went to her at once.

They sat down on the broad window seat to get acquainted; Patricia hoped
grandmother would not see she had been crying and how tumbled her clean
dress was. Though Mrs. Cory saw, she said nothing, she had the gift of
knowing what questions not to ask; only asking instead, "Patricia dear,
who put that delightful bowl of flowers in my room?"

Patricia's color deepened. "I did--grandmother; I thought you would
like them--they were," Patricia caught herself up, doubting now the
appropriateness of those "old-ladyish" flowers.

Fortunately Custard appeared at that moment, wagging ingratiatingly; and
grandmother at once responded to his overtures with a friendliness that
warmed not only the heart of Custard but of Custard's small mistress.

Patricia went to bed that night with her thoughts rather in a whirl.
"I suppose," she decided finally, "that she is one of those 'up-to-date
grandmothers' one reads about; anyhow, she's a dear and I love her, and
oh, Aunt Julia did behave beautifully about the punchbowl--she seemed to
appreciate what a delicate situation it was--and I'll never, never take
it again without asking."

On the whole, this "up-to-date grandmother" proved a most charming
possession; a grandmother who took long walks with one, who played
croquet with one, who planned delightful trips in town to shops and even
to matinees. And how delightful to know that one was the object of both
envy and interest to the other girls; to be able to show the tiniest of
enameled watches, straight from Paris; to have a grandmother who had
actually been in Egypt, and had seen the king and queen of England.
Patricia held her head very high in these days.

Yet at times there was an odd, barely defined feeling of something like
regret at the bottom of Patricia's heart.

This new grandmother was the best of chums and companions, but somehow
it was hard to realize that she was really a _grandmother_. And
before Patricia's inward gaze would pass the picture of a little
white-capped old lady, quietly knitting at one corner of the fireplace;
an old lady whose big Dutch pocket held an unfailing supply of ginger
nuts and peppermint drops, whose stories were all of those far-off days
when "I was a little girl."

But only at times; as a rule these days were too full for Patricia to
find time for inner visions.

"You're the luckiest girl, Patricia Kirby," Patricia's particular chum,
Nell Hardy, declared one morning on the way to school. "I think Mrs.
Cory's perfectly lovely; she always acts as if she was ever so glad to
see you."

Patricia swung her strap of books thoughtfully. "Daddy says she has a
beautiful manner. I'm going to be just like her."

Nell's quick glance was hardly flattering. "When?"

"Anyhow, she's _my_ grandmother!" Patricia retorted; she shook out
her short skirts, if only she could have silk linings. Clothes were
beginning to take on new meanings for Patricia.

"We'd better hurry," Nell said, "or we'll be late."

"Grandmother never really hurries."

"Maybe she did when she was going to school; there's the bell now!"

"Bet I'll be there first," Patricia said, darting ahead.

But she wasn't; it seemed as if all the babies and dogs in town chose
that particular moment to get right in her path, avoiding with equal
skill Nell's eager rush. What with picking up a baby here and stopping
to speak to one there--Patricia never could get by babies--Patricia
reached the schoolhouse just too late to join her line and had to wait
outside until the opening exercises were over.

It was by no means the first time; and Miss Carrol looked very grave as
Patricia slipped into her place a little later, trying to ignore Nell's
bob of triumph.

It was after supper that evening that the doctor called Patricia into
the office. "Patricia," he said, as she came to stand before him, "I met
Miss Carrol this afternoon."

"Yes, Daddy." Patricia's thoughts flew rapidly backward; had she been
doing anything very dreadful?

"She tells me that you have been tardy very frequently of late,
Patricia."

"Y-yes, Daddy."

"And yet you usually appear to start in good season?"

"Yes, Daddy; it--it doesn't seem to be the _starting_ early.
It's--such a lot of things always do seem to happen on the way."

"What kind of things, Patricia?"

"Well, you see, Daddy, there are such a lot of babies all along, they
just expect to be noticed; and sometimes I go for some of the girls and
they've something to do and I wait to help; and sometimes I go an errand
for old Mrs. Daly--you know she hasn't any one to go at home. If you
were with me you'd understand, Daddy."

The doctor smiled. "Oh, I understand all right, Patricia; still, this
being late for school has got to stop. Suppose every one in the room
came just a little late?"

"They don't," Patricia said; "most of the girls hate it."

"And you must learn to hate it too; as a means to that end, if it
happens again this week it must be only the yard on Saturday, Patricia."

"Daddy!" Patricia made swift calculation on the tips of her fingers; it
was Monday night--twice four made eight--eight pitfalls to be avoided or
else--Not once since her coming had grandmother failed to take Patricia
somewhere on Saturday afternoon.

All of this was in Patricia's gray eyes, as she lifted them appealingly
to her father. "Daddy, if you _could_ make it something else?"

"Are you going to give up the fight beforehand, Pat?"

"But you see, Daddy," Patricia quoted gravely, "I 'know my limitations.'
And besides, it isn't just me--grandmother'll be so disappointed; you
know we always go somewhere together Saturday afternoon."

"Which means a double reason for coming up to the mark, Patricia," the
doctor answered; and Patricia, with a little sigh, turned away.

She and Custard were alone in the sitting-room a little later, when Mrs.
Cory came in. Grandmother glanced at the sober face. "Is anything wrong,
dear?" she asked.

"I'm positive I can't make it," Patricia said forlornly.

"Make what?"

And Patricia explained.

"Of course you can, dear," grandmother said cheerily; "and indeed you
must; I've got a very special reason for wanting you to--I'm not going
to tell you what it is, however, until Saturday morning at breakfast."

"Over four days to wait! Grandmother, mayn't I have just the first
letter?"

Grandmother shook her head.

The next morning at breakfast she announced that she felt the need of
more regular exercise, and she thought she should take a short walk
every morning.

"Ah!" Dr. Kirby said, "about what time?"

"I should think--about half past eight," Mrs. Cory answered.

"A short walk _before_ breakfast is considered more beneficial by some."

Miss Kirby looked interested. "There are a good many pretty walks about
Belham," she said.

When Patricia came down the path, her strap of books over her shoulder,
and a get-there-early-or-die expression on her face, Mrs. Cory was just
turning out of the gate.

"Are you going in my direction, grandmother?" Patricia asked; and
grandmother replied that she was.

Later, sauntering slowly homewards, Mrs. Cory met the doctor. He drew
rein. "Well?" he asked.

She laughed softly. "Patrick, if you'd been with us! It was like making
a royal progress. There were exactly six babies, and I quite lost count
of the dogs, not to mention several old ladies, all waiting to pass the
time of day with Patricia. My only wonder is that she ever gets to
school at all. Patrick, I don't believe you realize what a dear child
she is."

"Don't I!"

Mrs. Cory stood a moment looking down the pleasant tree-bordered street.
She had not been in Belham before since the death of Patricia's mother,
more than eight years ago, having been abroad most of the time. Now she
found herself regretting this long absence. She had been missing a good
deal--she would like to have had some share in Patricia's life all these
years.

"I was beautifully early this morning," Patricia announced proudly at
the table that noon.

"And you will be this afternoon?" grandmother asked.

"I'm not so apt to be late afternoons," Patricia answered; "I suppose
it's just happened that way."

The next morning after breakfast, Patricia lingered. "Are you going my
way _this_ morning, grandmother?"

"Yes, dear," Mrs. Cory answered.

Patricia caught the smile in her father's eyes and wondered.

Half-way to school she suddenly stopped. "Grandmother, you're doing it
on purpose--to _make_ me get there early!"

Mrs. Cory smiled. "You see I didn't want to lose my treat, Patricia."

When Friday noon came Patricia had not one tardy mark for those four
days; and on that same Friday noon she met her Waterloo.

It was the Dixon baby who caused her downfall.

He was one of Patricia's most ardent admirers; and when he saw
her coming that noon he made as straight for her as his very shaky
two-year-old legs would allow. Of course he tumbled down and scratched
his snubby little nose; and of course Patricia stopped to pet and
comfort him, carrying him back to the house. "Mrs. Dixon," she called
from the gate, "oh, Mrs. Dixon!"

But Mrs. Dixon had just stepped over to a neighbor's. Patricia tried to
put her charge down, but he stoutly refused to be put.

"You'll be late, Patricia," Nell warned, coming up.

"Danny won't let me leave him; and I don't know where his mother is,"
Patricia almost wailed.

"Mercy, put him down and come on!" Nell advised. "He's a little
nuisance."

"You don't know Danny's powers for hanging on," Patricia said; "besides,
he did hurt himself."

Five minutes after school had opened Patricia made her appearance.

"Patricia," Miss Carrol said, "I had begun to hope that you were not
going to end the week as you began it."

Patricia took her place without answering.

Miss Kirby and Mrs. Cory had gone in town that afternoon, not to return
until the late train, and it so happened that the doctor did not come
home to supper; so there was no one but Sarah to notice the depths into
which Patricia was plunged. For Patricia never did anything by halves.

"Is yo' sick, honey?" Sarah asked anxiously, when Patricia refused a
second piece of chocolate cake.

Patricia shook her head. "I'm just disgusted with life."

"Land sakes!" Sarah exclaimed; "and only this noon looked like yo' was
walkin' on air!"

Patricia went to bed early that night; even Custard's powers to comfort
had proved inadequate. To-morrow stretched ahead a long, blank, dreary
waste.

She was a little late to breakfast the next morning; as she slipped into
place, after kissing him good-morning, the doctor glanced at her rather
closely. She was a most subdued Patricia.

And then grandmother came in, also a little late. "Patricia," she said,
almost at once, "after breakfast I want you to run over and ask Mrs.
Hardy if Nell may go in town with you and me to-day--to the circus."

Patricia caught her breath--so that was the "special reason!"

Then she pushed her chair back. "I--can't go!" she cried; and was
halfway upstairs before any of the others could speak.

Mrs. Cory turned to Miss Kirby. "What can be the matter?"

Miss Kirby shook her head. "Do you know what it means, Patrick?"

The doctor looked guilty. "I am afraid it means--that Patricia has been
late to school again."

"But I thought," grandmother began, then stopped; as soon as she had
finished her breakfast she went up to Patricia's room.

Coming down a few moments after, she went straight to the office.

"Patrick," she said, "I have been finding out how Patricia came to be
late; and remember, please, that Patricia herself has given me only the
barest facts, with no thought of making out a case for herself, but
reading between the lines--" and then the doctor was given the
opportunity to also read between the lines.

He listened gravely. "I know," he said at last, "it was a very
Patricia-like action; still I am afraid I must stand by my word."

"Patrick, I think I shall claim my prerogative."

"Your what?"

"Prerogative--as a grandmother. From time immemorial it has been the
right of the grandmother to come to the rescue of the grandchildren."

"But Patricia knows--"

"It is my chance, you see,"--Mrs. Cory had been told why Patricia had
run away that first night,--"my chance to prove to Patricia that even
if I don't wear a cap and spectacles and all the paraphernalia of the
good old-fashioned grandmother, at heart I really am one--just as
soft-hearted and unreasonable as any one of them."

"But--"

"Patrick, didn't _your_ grandmother ever get _you_ out of a
tight place?"

The doctor looked thoughtfully out at the leaf-covered lawn; it was
going to be a perfect fall day. "Yes," he said, "she did, more than
once--bless her--in the most reprehensible way."

"The way of a grandmother the world over," Mrs. Cory commented softly.

"And upon my word I don't believe it did me any harm!" the doctor went
through to the foot of the stairs. "O Pat!" he called.

Patricia came promptly, bravely blinking back the tears.

"You mustn't lay it up against _me_, Pat," the doctor said; "it's
all your grandmother's doing. She simply insists on taking you to that
circus today."

"Daddy!" Patricia's arms were about his neck instantly; "Daddy, I
_will_ try--ever 'n' ever so hard! You'll see!"

The doctor laughed. "Wish I were going too, Pat. In my young days it was
_after_ the circus that one appreciated most the advantages of
owning a grandmother."

"Where is grandmother, Daddy?"

"In the office."

Patricia flew to the office. "Oh," she cried, her arms around her
grandmother's neck this time, "you're the very grandmotheriest
grandmother that ever could be!"

And then and there vanished forever from Patricia's heart that picture
of a placid, wrinkled little old lady, knitting quietly at one corner of
the fireplace.




CHAPTER IV

PATRICIA'S CHRISTMAS FAMILY


"There!" Patricia stepped back, with a sigh of satisfaction. "It's all
ready for the presents. Custard Kirby," she bent to pat the small curly
black dog, stretched lazily out on the hearth-rug, "on your honor, have
you ever seen a prettier Christmas-tree? Good! There's Daddy!"

Patricia ran to open the front door. "Come and admire, Daddy," she
urged.

Dr. Kirby went with her to the library; in the center of the broad
square room stood the tree, its slender tip just escaping the ceiling.

"And I trimmed it nearly all myself!" Patricia explained, proudly. "Aunt
Julia had to go out. Maybe you don't think I've been busy to-day, Daddy!
I don't know but what it is a good thing that Christmas doesn't come
more than once a year."

"I should be bankrupt if it did," the doctor said, pulling one of
Custard's long ears. "An only daughter is rather an expensive luxury."

"As if I were anything more than a plain every-day necessity! And not
such an incapable after all, am I, Daddy?"

"Not when it comes to Christmas-trees."

"Daddy, see, it's beginning to snow!"

"We're going to have a white Christmas, all right," the doctor said;
then, as the telephone rang sharply, he went to answer it.

Patricia heard him give a sudden exclamation, ask one or two rapid
questions; then he hung up the receiver and came back to the library
door.

"Patricia," he said, "there has been a bad accident down at the
curve--the eastern express--they are bringing the injured up here to the
hotel. 'Phone your aunt for me; and remember, _you_ are not to
leave the house."

"O Daddy!" Patricia followed him into the office; but all he could tell
her was that it seemed to be a pretty bad affair, and that he was likely
to be away from home some hours.

"A sad Christmas eve for a good many, dear," he said, kissing her
good-by.

Patricia watched him, as he drove off a few moments later, through the
fast falling snow. Christmas eve--and down there at the curve! Patricia
choked back a sudden sob, as she went to telephone to her aunt, who was
down at the church, helping with the Christmas decorations.

Miss Kirby decided instantly to go right down to the hotel, where help
would be needed. And _she_ also warned Patricia that she was not to
leave home.

"But oh, I want to go, Custard!" the girl protested; "I know I could
help." She closed the library door; the sight of the Christmas-tree,
its gay ornaments glittering in the firelight, hurt her.

Patricia went to curl herself up on one of the sitting-room
window-seats. Jim had gone with her father; Sarah was down at the gate
talking over the accident with the maid from next door. Presently,
across the street, a familiar figure came into view, through the
gathering twilight. Patricia hurried to the door. "O Nell!" she called.

Nell Hardy came running over. "Patricia, you've heard?"

"Yes; they sent for Daddy. Aunt Julia's gone down to the hotel."

"So's Mama; she wouldn't let me go with her. O Patricia! If it had been
the local!"

"Don't, Nell! Come on in and stay; I'm under orders not to leave the
house."

They went into the sitting-room, where Patricia brightened up the fire
and lit the big lamp, with its crimson shade. Then she came to sit
beside Nell on the broad old lounge. "Nell, aren't you wild to help too?
If only Daddy hadn't--Oh, I know--" The next moment Patricia was out in
the hall at the telephone.

Nell waited wonderingly.

"Come on, Nell!" Patricia stood in the open doorway, her eyes dancing.
"Five of them coming!"

"What are you talking about, Pat?"

"Children." Patricia was leading the way upstairs. "I got Mrs. Brown,
down at the hotel, on the 'phone. I wish you could have heard her!"

"Children! I should say so, Miss Patricia! Five of them crying in my own
sitting-room at this minute. No, not hurt; frightened out of their wits,
and their own people too hurt to look after them. And when I asked if
I might have them up here, Nell, I wish you could have heard her. She's
sending them right up in one of the hotel rigs."

"But, Patricia--"

"There aren't any buts in this affair. We'll take Aunt Julia's room and
mine. It won't do to turn Daddy out of his, and I must have
communicating ones."

"But your aunt--" Nell began again.

"Oh, Aunt Julia'll understand." Patricia was kneeling before the deep
fireplace in her aunt's room, piling it generously with wood from the
box in the corner.

"Miss P'tricia, what yo' up ter?" Sarah demanded, unexpectedly, from the
doorway. "Yo' know Miss Julia don' like a fire in her room nights--an'
de house like summer now, wid de furnuss!"

"Aunt Julia isn't sleeping here tonight," Patricia answered, calmly;
"and I particularly want the room cheerful; you know, there's nothing
like an open fire for making things cheerful."

"Miss P'tricia, what yo' be'n doin'?"

And Patricia explained.

Sarah rolled her black eyes ceiling-wards. "Who ever heerd tell o' sich
doin's! I'd jus' like ter know who done gib yo' commission ter do this,
Miss P'tricia! An' whatever is yo' goin' do wid five strange young uns?"

"Make them happy and comfortable, I hope," Patricia laughed. "There they
are now. Start a fire in my room, please, Sarah, and make up a bed on my
lounge. Come on, Nell," and Patricia was out of the room and downstairs
in a flash.

Before the steps stood the carriage from the hotel, and from within it
five white, frightened little faces looked anxiously out.

Patricia made straight for the youngest one, a two-year-old girl. "You
poor baby!" she cried, softly.

Heedless, impulsive, Patricia had at least the gift of winning her way
right to a child's heart; and without a moment's hesitation the child
put a pair of clinging little arms about her neck.

She and Nell took the five into the warm, bright sitting-room, where
they took off hats and coats and gently rubbed the cold little hands.
"Why, you're not much more than babies, any of you!" Patricia glanced
pityingly from one to another of her proteges.

"I'm seven," the oldest answered. "I'm Norma Howard; she's my little
sister Totty." She pointed to the baby on Patricia's lap. "She keeps
crying for Mama--Mama was hurt," Norma hid her face against Patricia.

Patricia slipped an arm about her. "I shouldn't wonder if my Daddy were
looking after her right now. He's the best doctor in the whole world!"
She turned to the two little boys, staring up at her from the depths of
the doctor's big chair: "And are you brothers?"

"No'm," the larger one responded; "we've only just 'come 'quainted. He's
only five; I'm five 'an half. I'm Archibald Sears; his name's Tommy--I
want my mother!"

Tommy's blue eyes filled. "So do I," he cried.

Totty took up the wail; and the little four-year-old girl on Nell's lap
promptly followed suit.

"What shall we do?" Nell asked, imploringly.

But at that moment Sarah appeared. She took Tommy up in her strong,
motherly arms, soothing him in practised fashion. "There, there, honey!
Yo's goin' have yo' mother pretty soon. What yo' wants now's yo' supper,
ain't it, honey? I reckon ain't no one had de sense ter gib yo' chillens
a mite ter eat."

Tommy tucked his head down on Sarah's broad shoulder with a pathetic
little sigh of comfort. In the home which at this moment seemed very far
away to Tommy was an old colored mammy. He refused to let Sarah put him
down, so she took him with her while she got ready the five bowls of
warm bread and milk, which she declared the best possible supper for all
the children under the circumstances.

"But whatever put such a notion in yo' head, Miss P'tricia, is more'n
I kin figger out," she declared a few moments later, guiding the sleepy
Tommy's spoon in its journey from bowl to mouth. "What yo' reckon yo'
pa's goin' say?"

"I think," Patricia glanced about the table, "that just at present Daddy
would say--bed."

"H'm," Sarah grunted, "yo' knows what I means. Well, it's sure got ter
be a bath for them all 'fore it kin be bed; so we'd best get started."

She headed the little procession upstairs, Tommy in her arms, Patricia
bringing up the rear with Totty.

"If it hadn't come about in such a dreadful way, wouldn't it be
perfectly lovely?" Patricia said. "Think of it, Nell--_five_
children to spend Christmas with one!"

Nell laughed. "Your Christmas isn't over yet, Pat; it won't be all
smooth running."

"You can't scare me. Nell, we'll hang up their stockings for them. They
must have their Christmas."

"What yo' goin' do fo' night things fo' dem, Miss P'tricia?" Sarah
asked, suddenly; "'pears like ain't none o' 'em come much laden down wid
luggage."

"N-no," Patricia answered; "probably their things weren't very
get-atable. We'll have to take some of my gowns, Sarah."

Whereupon Archibald lifted up his voice in swift protestation; he didn't
want to wear a girl's things; he wanted to go home; he wanted to sleep
in his own bed; he wanted his mother!

At that all-compelling word four other voices rose in instantaneous
lamentation, even Norma catching the general infection.

"Sarah, can't you do something?" Patricia implored. "Nell, what does
your mother do when your brothers cry like this?"

"They--don't cry like this," Nell answered, trying desperately to quiet
Lydia.

"Mebbe next time, Miss P'tricia," Sarah's tone was strictly of the
"I-told-you-so" order, "yo' won't go 'vitin' a whole tribe o' young uns,
widout resultin' any one."

Patricia, walking the room with the screaming Totty, came to a sudden
halt before Archibald, lying face down on the floor. "If you'll stop
crying I'll let Custard come up," she said.

"Who's Custard?" Archibald rolled over on his back to consider the
matter.

"My dog."

"Where is he?"

"Downstairs--in the kitchen."

"Does he like boys?"

"Not when they cry."

Archibald rubbed his eyes. "I'm not crying now."

But at that moment, Custard, who considered that he had been kept in the
background quite long enough, came upstairs on his own account. As Sarah
said, he seemed "ter sense the situation," for he trotted about making
friends, lapping the tears from Tommy's face, and standing up on his
hind legs to let Totty pat his head.

Sarah promptly took advantage of the lull to whisk the boys off to the
bath-room; half an hour later, all five children, well wrapped in shawls
and blankets, were gathered about the fire in Patricia's room for the
hanging of the Christmas stockings.

That ceremony over, Sarah pounced on Tommy and Archibald, carrying them
off to bed in Miss Kirby's room. "An' mercy knows what Miss Julia done
say when she find yo' here," she muttered, tucking them in snugly.

Archibald sat up in bed. "I want--Custard!"

"Yo' go 'long ter sleep, young sir," Sarah expostulated. "What yo' think
Marse Santa Clause goin' say ter such goin's-on?"

"I want Custard!"

"Let him have him, Sarah!" Patricia exclaimed.

"Miss P'tricia! 'Low that onery dog on yo' aunt's bed!"

Patricia let the insult to her pet pass.

"_On_ it, _in_ it, _under_ it, if it'll keep him quiet!"

Sarah lifted Custard in far from respectful fashion, dropping him, an
astonished, but entirely acquiescent heap, between Archibald and Tommy.

Lydia, already asleep, was disposed of in Patricia's bed, and Norma and
Totty settled comfortably on the wide lounge.

"An' now, honey," Sarah said, "I's goin' get you and Miss Nell yo'
supper."

They went downstairs, where Sarah made Patricia and Nell comfortable at
a small table drawn up before the sitting-room fire.

"But what are you going to fill those stockings with, Pat?" Nell asked,
after Sarah had left them alone.

"I can manage all right for the girls; I've loads of toys stowed away up
garret. I've always had heaps of things given me, but if I could get
out-of-doors, and had something alive to play with, I'd let the other
things go every time. I am a bit puzzled about Archibald's and Tommy's."

"I'll run home and get some of the little boys' toys," Nell offered.
When supper was over, while Patricia went, as she called it, "shopping
up garret," Nell made a hurried trip home and back.

"There," she exclaimed, coming in breathless, her head and shoulders
white with snow, "will these do?" She laid a toy engine, a trumpet, a
tin sword, and a small box of lead soldiers on the table.

"Beautifully!" Patricia was placing a small jointed doll in the top of
Norma's stocking. "This is going to be about the realest Christmas I've
ever had."

"It's going to be a mighty sad one for a lot of people."

All the fun and laughter vanished from Patricia's gray eyes. She looked
about the pleasant, homelike room, with its trimmings of evergreen and
holly, and a swift, sharp, realizing sense of what was going on down at
the hotel came to her. For a moment the girl's lips quivered and the
hand that held Tommy's empty stocking trembled. "But, Nell," she said
slowly, "I am sure--oh, I know they would want their children to have
their Christmas. It would be too dreadful, afterwards--if they could
remember nothing but--sadness and--sorrow. O Nell, I wonder if there
were any children hurt?"

"I don't know," Nell answered. "Let's--not talk about it, Patricia.
Shall I put the trumpet in Archibald's stocking?"

"I suppose so, he's larger than Tommy. I don't know what Aunt Julia will
do if he wakes up early and starts to blowing it. Poor Aunt Julia! She's
got a lot of surprises coming her way." Patricia stuffed out the toe of
Lydia's stocking with the regulation nuts and raisins. "There," she
said, a moment later, "I reckon these are ready to hang up again."

They tiptoed upstairs softly; the children were all sleeping quietly,
and even Custard barely opened the corner of one eye at Patricia's
coming.

Custard was having the time of his life. Hitherto, beds had been
strictly forbidden ground with Custard; and just what could have brought
about this most delightful state of affairs was quite beyond his powers
of imagination, but he was wisely wasting no time in idle speculation.

Patricia stroked him a bit dubiously. "I am afraid Aunt Julia will rebel
at this, old fellow; but Archibald's got fast hold of you, and I simply
can't risk waking him up."

"I must go now, Pat," Nell said, as they went downstairs again; "I told
Papa I'd be back soon."

"Somehow," she added, as she and Patricia stood a moment on the front
steps, "I can't make it seem like Christmas eve--not even with your five
stockings, Pat."

Patricia looked out at the white whirl of snow; the street seemed
deserted, but here and there, where a blind had been left undrawn,
a light shone out.

Then, from the house next door, came the sound of a Christmas carol:

  "Hark! the herald angels sing
  Glory to the new-born King."


Clearly, joyously, through the still, snow-laden air, sounded the
words--

  "Risen with healing in His wings,
  Light and life to all He brings.
  Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
  Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!"


Patricia drew a long breath. "But it _is_ Christmas eve, Nell. And,
O Nell, at least _we_ didn't have any one there--on the express."

"N-no," Nell said gravely, "still--"

"Maybe it won't be exactly a 'merry Christmas'," Patricia began--"Nell,
listen!"

From upstairs came a prolonged wail.

"Totty!" Patricia cried.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was more than an hour later when the doctor and Miss Kirby drove
slowly up the snow-covered drive. "I am afraid Patricia has had rather
a lonely Christmas eve," Miss Kirby said.

"It looks as if she had gone to bed," her brother answered; "the door
would have been open by this time, if she were on hand."

Miss Kirby went directly upstairs to take off her things; in the upper
hall she caught the flicker of firelight through her own and Patricia's
half-opened doors; and although ordinarily she did not care for a fire
in her room at night, the knowledge that there was one awaiting her now
brought a sense of comfort. Probably Patricia had thought she would be
cold and tired--Patricia was really very considerate at times.

Three minutes later Miss Kirby was standing in the middle of her room,
staring with wide, amazed eyes at her very much occupied bed.

Two children and a _dog_!

Involuntary, she lowered the light, so as not to awaken the sleepers.
Two children and a _dog_! Could it be the effect of over-wrought
nerves? Then she recognized Custard.

Custard was blinking sleepily up at her, but he did not move. He may
have realized the desirability of not disturbing his companions, or he
may have concluded that possession was nine-tenths of the law; with a
little audacious sigh of comfort, he tucked his head down and dropped
off to sleep again.

Miss Kirby turned towards Patricia's room. A moment after, the doctor
heard her calling to him softly from the landing.

"Anything wrong?" he asked.

"Come and see!" Miss Kirby was almost hysterical.

"Patricia isn't--?"

"Come and see!" Miss Kirby led the way to her room, pointing
dramatically to the bed.

The doctor surveyed the trio within it. "Upon my--" his lips twitched.
"No one from around here! Evidently, Patricia has--"

"Suppose you look in Patricia's room," Miss Kirby suggested.

Going to the door, the doctor gave one brief, comprehensive glance; then
he turned: "And how many in my room?"

Miss Kirby gasped. "I'll go see."

"None," she reported, "and none in the spare-room. Patrick, these must
be children from--the hotel. Oh dear, was there ever such a girl!"

The doctor looked about him, more slowly this time, seeing Lydia in the
bed, Norma on the lounge; seeing the little, flushed contented faces;
seeing the stockings hanging ready for the morning from the mantelpiece;
seeing, and here his glance rested longest, Patricia in a low chair
before the fire, Totty in her arms, both fast asleep; noting the tired
droop of the dark head against the baby's yellow one.

He might have known Patricia would never be content to sit idle, when
just at hand was so much of pain and suffering to be relieved.

"Isn't it exactly like Patricia?" Miss Kirby sighed, wearily.

"Yes," the doctor's voice was very gentle, "I think it is--exactly like
Patricia." Crossing the room, he carefully loosened Patricia's grasp,
taking Totty from her.

Patricia stirred and opened her eyes. "Daddy! Oh, I am glad you're back!
But, please, please, be very careful not to wake Totty; I'm so afraid
she'll get to crying again."

The doctor laid Totty beside Norma. "Suppose you come downstairs, Pat,
and explain this invasion of the premises to your aunt and me," he said,
holding out his hand to her.

Sitting on the arm of her father's chair, Patricia told her story.

"Have--you been in your room, Aunt Julia?" she asked.

"I have, Patricia."

"I am sorry about Custard, Aunt Julia; but Archibald wouldn't be
comforted without him; he wanted his--mother."

Miss Kirby thought of the long dining-room down at the hotel, turned
into a hospital ward; where on this Christmas eve more than one mother
was lying very near the borders of the undiscovered country.

"And I had to take your room, Aunt Julia," Patricia went on, "so as to
have two communicating ones. I hope you don't mind much?"

And Miss Kirby had not the heart to admit how much, in her present
weariness of mind and body, she did care.

The doctor patted Patricia's cheek. "I thought Mrs. Brown was keeping
those children wonderfully out of the way. I wish their poor mothers
could have known how well they were being cared for."

Patricia drew a quick breath of pleasure. "And we'll keep them over
Christmas, Daddy?"

"That depends--upon various things. By the way, where do you sleep
to-night, Pat?"

"Oh, I'll go into the spare-room, with Aunt Julia," Patricia responded,
cheerfully.

Miss Kirby stifled a sigh; and hoped that Patricia's activities would
not recommence too early the next morning.

It was not Patricia who woke Miss Kirby the next morning.

Custard, waking early, and finding himself in such unaccustomed
surroundings, decided to look for his young mistress. Having been
permitted on one bed seemed to Custard sufficient warrant for getting on
another. Miss Kirby woke with a start to find a little wriggling object
standing between herself and Patricia, while a small moist tongue did
active and alternate service on both their faces.

Her shriek of dismay awoke Patricia.

"Aunt Julia!" Patricia was shaking with laughter, "I'll tell Daddy--how
you woke me up, playing with Custard!"

"He's the most--" Miss Kirby dived beneath the bed-clothes. "Take him
away, Patricia!"

From across the hall came the shrill blast of a trumpet. Custard,
his forefeet firmly planted on Miss Kirby's chest, his head cocked
enquiringly, promptly barked a defiant response.

The next moment the spare-room seemed full of children, all, like
Custard, in search of Patricia, and making, at sight of her, as swift an
onslaught in her direction as the extreme length of their nightgowns
would permit.

So, after all, Christmas morning began merrily for them, at least.

The doctor, coming home later from an early visit to the hotel, stopped
outside Patricia's open door. "Merry Christmas, Pat! Got your hands
full?"

Patricia was kneeling on the floor, buttoning Tommy's shoes. "Merry
Christmas, Daddy," she answered, gaily; "I certainly have."

Norma came slowly up to the doctor; she remembered him from last night;
for in all the hurry and confusion of the moment he had found time for a
few comforting words to the frightened, bewildered children. "Have--have
you made Mama better?" she asked, wistfully.

The doctor sat down, taking her on his knee. "What is your mother's
name, dear?"

"Mrs. Howard."

The doctor brushed the child's soft curls; and Patricia, seeing the
gravity of his eyes, caught her breath. "Your mother was resting very
quietly when I left her just now, dear," he said, gently; then he turned
to Archibald. "Did you find that trumpet in your stocking, young man?"

Archibald nodded. "I want my--"

"I found this!" Lydia held up one of Patricia's many dolls. They all
crowded about him, claiming his attention, Totty demanding to be taken
up.

"Got your hands full, Daddy?" Patricia laughed.

       *       *       *       *       *

About the candle-lighted tree Patricia's small guests circled
admiringly. It _had_ been a merry Christmas for the little
travel-wrecked strangers; and now, with the tree, had come the
culminating point of this long happy day.

"Isn't it pretty?" Norma came to lean against Patricia. "I wish Mama
could see it."

"You must remember to tell her all about it," Patricia answered.

"Will I see her to-morrow?" Norma asked longingly.

"Perhaps," Patricia said; and when presently her father had to leave
them, to go down to the hotel, she went with him to the door. "Daddy,
you'll be back soon?"

"As soon as possible, dear."

"And--you think--with good news for them--all?"

"I hope so, dear."

Patricia went back to the library with sober face. "But at least," she
thought, taking Totty on her lap, "they'll have had their Christmas."

It was far from soon before the doctor returned. Patricia's charges were
in bed and asleep. Custard, who had been looking forward to bedtime all
day, had retired to his basket--a disillusioned dog. To-night Archibald
was finding all the solace needed in a gaily painted Noah's Ark. Miss
Kirby was lying down in the sitting-room,--she had not found it a day
of unbroken calm,--so that Patricia was alone in the library when her
father returned.

He drew her down beside him on the lounge. "It _is_ good news for
them all, Patricia, I think Norma and Totty may see their mother
to-morrow. I have brought you a great deal of love, Patricia, from more
than one mother; love and gratitude."

"Oh, I am glad they're all better!" Patricia said. "Daddy, I've been
thinking; I don't see how we're ever going to get along after this
without a Christmas family."

The doctor bent to kiss her. "What I've been thinking is what your
'family' would have done for their Christmas without you. I'm proud
of you, Pat."

"O Daddy!" Patricia's eyes were shining.



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