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When Patty Went to College

IX

Patty the Comforter



T was on the eve of the mid-year examinations, and a gloom had fallen over the college. The conscientious ones who had worked all the year were working harder than ever, and the frivolous ones who had played all the year were working with a desperate frenzy calculated to render their minds a blank when the crucial hour should have arrived. But Patty was not working. It was a canon of her college philosophy, gained by three and a half years' of personal experience, that the day before examinations is not the time to begin to study. One has impressed the instructor with one's intelligent interest in the subject, or one has not, and the result is as sure as if the marks were already down in black and white in the college archives. And so Patty, who at least lived up to her lights, was, with the exception of a few points which she intended to learn for this period only, conscientiously neglecting the "judicious review" recommended by the faculty.

Her friends, however, who, though perhaps equally philosophic, were less consistent, were subjecting themselves to what was known as a "regular freshman cram"; and as no one had any time to talk to Patty, or to make anything to eat, she found it an unprofitable period. Her own room-mate even drove her from the study because she laughed out loud over the book she was reading; and, an exile, she wandered around to the studies of her friends, and was confronted by an "engaged" on every door. She was sitting on a window-sill in the corridor, pondering on the general barrenness of things, when she suddenly remembered her friends the freshmen in study 321. She had not visited them for some time, and freshmen are usually interesting at this period. She accordingly turned down the corridor that led to 321, and found a "positively engaged to every one!!" in letters three inches high, across the door. This promised a richness of entertainment within, and Patty heaved a disappointed sigh loud enough to carry through the transom.

The turning of leaves and rustling of paper ceased; evidently they were listening, but they gave no sign. Patty wrote a note on the door-block with reverberating punctuation-points, and then retired noisily, and tiptoed back a moment later, and leaned against the wall. Curiosity prevailed; the door opened, and a face wearing a hunted look peered out.

"Oh, Patty Wyatt, was that you?" she asked. "We thought it was Frances Stoddard coming down to have geometry explained, and so we kept still. Come in."

"Goodness, no; I wouldn't come in over an 'engaged' like that for anything. I'm afraid you're busy."

The freshman grasped her by the arm. "Patty, if you love us come in and cheer us up. We're so scared we don't know what to do."

Patty consented to be drawn across the threshold. "I don't want to interrupt you," she remonstrated, "if you have anything to do." The study was occupied by three girls. Patty smiled benignly at the two haggard faces before her. "Where's Lady Clara Vere de Vere?" she asked. "She surely isn't wasting these precious last moments in anything frivolous."

"She's in her bedroom, with a geometry in one hand and a Greek grammar in the other, trying to learn them both at once."

"Tell her to come out here; I want to give her some good advice"; and Patty sat down on the divan and surveyed the dictionary-bestrewn room with an appreciative smile.

"Oh, Patty, I'm so glad to see you!" Lady Clara exclaimed, appearing in the doorway. "The sophomores have been telling us the most dreadful stories about examinations. They aren't true, are they?"

"Mercy, no! Don't believe a word those sophomores tell you. They were freshmen themselves last year, and if the examinations were as bad as they say, they wouldn't have passed them, either."

A relieved expression stole over the three faces.

"You're such a comfort, Patty. Upper-classmen take things easily, don't they?"

"One gets inured to almost anything in time," said Patty. "Examinations are even entertaining, if you know the right answers."

"But we won't know the right answers!" one of the freshmen wailed, her terror returning. "We simply don't know anything, and Latin comes to-morrow, and geometry the next day."

"Oh, well, in that case you can't get through anyway, so don't worry. You must take it philosophically, you know." Patty settled herself among the cushions and smiled upon her frightened auditors with easy nonchalance. "As an example of the uselessness of studying at the eleventh hour when you haven't done anything through the term, I will tell you my experience with freshman Greek. I was badly prepared when I came, I didn't study through the term, and, without exaggeration, I didn't know anything. Three days before examinations I suddenly comprehended the situation, and I began swallowing that grammar in chunks. I drank black coffee to keep awake, and worked till two in the morning, and scarcely stopped cramming irregular verbs for meals. I simply thought in Greek and dreamed in Greek. And, if you will believe it, after all that work I flunked in Greek! It shook my faith in studying for examinations. I've never done it since, and I've never flunked since. I believe that it's just a matter of fate whether you get through or not, so I never bother any more."

The freshmen looked at one another disconsolately. "If it's all decided beforehand, we're lost."

Patty smiled reassuringly.

"A little flunking now and then
Will happen to the best of men."

"But I've heard they send people home, drop them, you know, if they flunk more than a certain amount. Is that so?" Lady Clara inquired in hushed tones.

"Oh, yes," said Patty; "they have to. I've known some of the brightest girls in college to be dropped."

Lady Clara groaned. "I'm awfully shaky in geometry, Patty. Do they flunk many girls in that?"

"Many!" said Patty. "The mere clerical labor of writing out the notes occupies the department two days."

"Is the examination terribly hard?"

"I don't remember much about it. It's been such a long time since I was a freshman, you see. They picked out the hardest theorems, I know—things you couldn't even draw, let alone demonstrate: the pyramid that's cut in slices, for one,—I don't remember its name,—and that sprawling one that looks like a snail crawling out of its shell: the devil's coffin, I believe it's called technically. And—oh, yes! they give you originals—frightful originals, like nothing you've ever had before; and they put a little note at the top of the page telling you to do them first, and you get so muddled trying to think fast that you can't think at all. I know a girl who spent all the two hours trying to think out an original, and just as she got ready to write it down the bell rang and she had to hand in her paper."

"And what happened?"

"Oh, she flunked. You couldn't really blame the instructor, you know, for not reading between the lines, for there weren't any lines to read between; but it was sort of a pity, for the girl really knew an awful lot—but she couldn't express it."

"That's just like me."

"Ah, it's like a good many people." A silence ensued, and the freshmen looked at one another dejectedly. "But you can live, even if you should flunk math," Patty continued reassuringly. "Other people have done it before you."

"If it were only geometry—but we're scared over Latin."

"Oh, Latin! There's no use studying for that, for you can't possibly read it all over, and if you just pick out a part, it's sure not to be the same part they pick out. The best way is to say incantations over the book, and open it with your eyes blindfolded, and study the page it opens to; then, in case you don't pass,—and you probably won't,—you can throw the blame on fate. My freshman year, if I remember right, they gave us for prose composition one of Emerson's essays to translate into Latin, and we couldn't even tell what it meant in English."

The three looked at one another again.

"I couldn't do anything like that."

"Nor I."

"Nor I."

"Nor any one else," said Patty.

"We can flunk Latin and math; but if we flunk any more we're gone."

"I believe so," said Patty.

"And I'm awfully shaky in German."

"And I in French."

"And I in Greek."

"I don't know anything about German," said Patty. "Never had it myself. But I remember hearing Priscilla say that the printed examination papers didn't come but in time, and Fräulein Scherin, who writes a frightful hand, wrote the questions on the board in German script, and they couldn't even read them. In French I believe the first question was to write out the 'Marseillaise'; there are seven verses, and no one had learned them, and the 'Marseillaise,' you know, is a thing that you simply can't make up on the spur of the moment. As for Greek, I told you my own experience; I am sure nothing could be worse than that."

The freshmen looked at one another hopelessly. "There's only English and hygiene and Bible history left."

"English is something you can't tell anything about," said Patty. "They're as likely as not to ask you to write a heroic poem in iambic pentameters, if you know what they are. You have to depend on inspiration; you can't study for it."

"I hope," sighed Lady Clara, "to get through hygiene and Bible history, though, as they only count one hour apiece, I suppose it isn't much."

"You mustn't be too sanguine," said Patty. "It all depends on chance. The class in hygiene is so big that the professor hasn't time to read the papers; he just goes down the list and flunks every thirteenth girl. I'm not sure about Bible history, but I think he does the same, because I know, freshman year, that I made a mistake and handed in my map of the Holy Lands done in colored chalk to the hygiene professor, and my chart of the digestive system to the Bible professor, and neither of them noticed it. They did look a good deal alike, but not so much but what you could tell them apart. All I have to say is that I hope none of you will be number thirteen."

The freshmen stared at one another in speechless horror, and Patty rose. "Well, good-by, my children, and, above all things, don't worry. I'm glad if I've been able to cheer you up a little, for so much depends on not being nervous. Don't believe any of the silly stories the sophomores tell," she called back over her shoulder; "they're just trying to frighten you."
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