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When Patty Went to College

X

"Per l'Italia"



OLLEGE is a more or less selfish place. Everybody is so busy with her own affairs that she has no time to give to her neighbor, unless her neighbor has something to give in return. Olivia Copeland apparently had nothing to give in return. She was quiet and inconspicuous, and it took a second glance to realize that her face was striking and that there was a look in her eyes that other freshmen did not have. By an unfelicitous chance she was placed in the same study with Lady Clara Vere de Vere and Emily Washburn. They thought her foreign and queer, and she thought them crude and boisterous, and after the first week or two of politely trying to get acquainted the effort was dropped on both sides.

The year wore on, and nobody knew, or at least no one paid any attention to the fact, that Olivia Copeland was homesick and unhappy. Her room-mates thought that they had done their duty when they occasionally asked her to play golf or go skating with them (an invitation they were very safe in giving, as she knew how to do neither). Her instructors thought that they had done their duty when they called her up to the desk after class and warned her that her work was not as good as it had been, and that if she wished to pass she must improve in it.

The English class was the only one in which she was not warned; but she had no means of knowing that her themes were handed about among the different instructors and that she was referred to in the department as "that remarkable Miss Copeland." The department had a theory that if they let a girl know she was doing good work she would immediately stop and rest upon her reputation; and Olivia, in consequence, did not discover that she was remarkable. She merely discovered that she was miserable and out of place, and she continued to drip tears of homesickness before a sketch of an Italian villa that hung above her desk.

It was Patty Wyatt who first discovered her. Patty had dropped into the freshmen's room one afternoon on some errand or other (probably to borrow alcohol), and had idly picked up a pile of English themes that were lying on the study table.

"Whose are these? Do you care if I look at them?" she asked.

"No; you can read them if you want to," said Lady Clara. "They're Olivia's, but she won't mind."

Patty carelessly turned the pages, and then, as a title caught her eye, she suddenly looked up with a show of interest. "'The Coral-fishers of Capri'! What on earth does Olivia Copeland know about the coral-fishers of Capri?"

"Oh, she lives somewhere near there—at Sorrento," said Lady Clara, indifferently.

"Olivia Copeland lives at Sorrento!" Patty stared. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I supposed you knew it. Her father's an artist or something of the sort. She's lived in Italy all her life; that's what makes her so queer."

Patty had once spent a sunshiny week in Sorrento herself, and the very memory of it was intoxicating. "Where is she?" she asked excitedly. "I want to talk to her."

"I don't know where she is. Out walking, probably. She goes off walking all by herself, and never speaks to any one, and then when we ask her to do something rational, like golf or basket-ball, she pokes in the house and reads Dante in Italian. Imagine!"

"Why, she must be interesting!" said Patty, in surprise, and she turned back to the themes.

"I think these are splendid!" she exclaimed.

"Sort of queer, I think," said Lady Clara. "But there's one that's rather funny. It was read in class—about a peasant that lost his donkey. I'll find it"; and she rummaged through the pile.

Patty read it soberly, and Lady Clara watched her with a shade of disappointment.

"Don't you think it's pretty good?" she asked.

"Yes; I think it's one of the best things I ever read."

"You never even smiled!"

"My dear child, it isn't funny."

"Isn't funny! Why, the class simply roared over it."

Patty shrugged. "Your appreciation must have gratified Olivia. And here it's February, and I've barely spoken to her."

The next afternoon Patty was strolling home from a recitation, when she spied Olivia Copeland across the campus, headed for Pine Bluff and evidently out for a solitary walk.

"Olivia Copeland, wait a moment," Patty called. "Are you going for a walk? May I come too?" she asked, as she panted up behind.

Olivia assented with evident surprise, and Patty fell into step beside her. "I just found out yesterday that you live in Sorrento, and I wanted to talk to you. I was there myself once, and I think it's the most glorious spot on earth."

Olivia's eyes shone. "Really?" she gasped. "Oh, I'm so glad!" And before she knew it she was telling Patty the story of how she had come to college to please her father, and how she loved Italy and hated America; and what she did not tell about her loneliness and homesickness Patty divined.

She realized that the girl was remarkable, and she determined in the future to take an interest in her and make her like college. But a senior's life is busy and taken up with its own affairs, and for the next week or two Patty saw little of the freshman beyond an occasional chat in the corridors.

One evening she and Priscilla had returned late from a dinner in town, to be confronted by a dark room and an empty match-safe.

"Wait a moment and I'll get some matches," said Patty; and she knocked on a door across the corridor where a freshman lived with whom they had a borrowing acquaintance. She found within her own freshman friends, Lady Clara Vere de Vere and Emily Washburn. It was evident by the three heads close together, and the hush that fell on the group as she entered, that some momentous piece of gossip had been interrupted. Patty forgot her room-mate waiting in the dark, and dropped into a chair with the evident purpose of staying out the evening.

"Tell me all about it, children," she said cordially.

The freshmen looked at one another and hesitated.

"A new president?" Patty suggested, "or just a class mutiny?"

"It's about Olivia Copeland," Lady Clara returned dubiously; "but I don't know that I ought to say anything."

"Olivia Copeland?" Patty straightened up with a new interest in her eyes. "What's Olivia Copeland been doing?"

"She's been flunking and—"

"Flunking!" Patty's face was blank. "But I thought she was so bright!"

"Oh, she is bright; only, you know, she hasn't a way of making people find it out; and, besides," Lady Clara added with meaning emphasis, "she was scared over examinations."

Patty cast a quick look at her. "What do you mean?" she asked.

Lady Clara was fond of Patty, but she was only human, and she had been frightened herself. "Well," she explained, "she had heard a lot of stories from—er—upper-classmen about how hard the examinations are, and the awful things they do to you if you don't pass, and being a stranger, she believed them. Of course Emily and I knew better; but she was just scared to death, and she went all to pieces, and—"

"Nonsense!" said Patty, impatiently. "You can't make me believe that."

"If it had been a sophomore that had tried to frighten us," pursued Lady Clara, "we shouldn't have minded so much: but a senior!"

"Now, Patty, aren't you sorry that you told us all those things?" asked Emily.

Patty laughed. "For the matter of that, I never say anything I'm not sorry for half an hour later. I'm going to get out a book some day entitled 'Things I Wish I Hadn't Said: A Collection of Faux Pas,' by Patty Wyatt."

"I think it's more than a faux pas when you frighten a girl so she—"

"I suppose you think you're rubbing it in," said Patty, imperturbably; "but girls don't flunk because they're frightened: they flunk because they don't know."

"Olivia knew five times as much geometry as I did, and I got through and she didn't."

Patty examined the carpet in silence.

"She thinks she's going to be dropped, and she's just crying terribly," pursued Emily, with a certain relish in the details.

"Crying!" said Patty, sharply. "What's she crying for?"

"Because she feels bad, I suppose. She'd been out walking, and got caught in the rain, and she didn't get back in time for dinner, and then found those notes waiting for her. She's up there lying on the bed, and she's got hysterics or Roman fever or something like that. She told us to go away and let her alone. She's awfully cross all of a sudden."

Patty rose. "I think I'll go and cheer her up."

"Let her alone, Patty," said Emily. "I know the way you cheer people up. If you hadn't cheered her up before examinations she wouldn't have flunked."

"I didn't know anything about her then," said Patty, a trifle sulkily; "and, anyway," she added as she opened the door, "I didn't say anything that affected her passing, one way or the other." She turned toward Olivia's room, however, with a conscience that was not quite comfortable. She could not remember just what she had told those freshmen about examinations, but she had an uneasy feeling that it might not have been of a reassuring nature.

"I wish I could ever learn when it is time for joking and when it is not," she said to herself as she knocked on the study door.

No one answered, and she turned the knob and entered. A stifled sob came from one of the bedrooms, and Patty hesitated.

She was not in the habit of crying herself, and she always felt uncomfortable when other people did it. Something must be done, however, and she advanced to the threshold and silently regarded Olivia, who was stretched face downward on the bed. At the sound of Patty's step she raised her head and cast a startled glance at the intruder, and then buried her face in the pillows again. Patty scribbled an "engaged" sign and pinned it on the study door, and drawing up a chair beside the bed, she sat down with the air of a physician about to make a diagnosis.

"Well, Olivia," she began in a business-like tone, "what is the trouble?"

Olivia opened her hands and disclosed some crumpled papers. Patty spread them out and hastily ran her eyes over the official printed slips:

Miss Copeland is hereby informed that she has been found deficient in German (three hours).

Miss Copeland is hereby informed that she has been found deficient in Latin prose (one hour).

Miss Copeland is hereby informed that she has been found deficient in geometry (four hours).

Patty performed a rapid calculation,—"three and one are four and four are eight,"—and knit her brows.

"Will they send me home, Patty?"

"Mercy, no, child; I hope not. A person who's done as good work as you in English ought to have the right to flunk every other blessed thing, if she wants to."

"But you're dropped if you flunk eight hours; you told me so yourself."

"Don't believe anything I told you," said Patty, reassuringly. "I don't know what I'm talking about more than half the time."

"I'd hate to be sent back, and have my father know I'd failed, when he spent so much time preparing me; but"—Olivia began to cry again—"I want to go back so much that I don't believe I care."

"You don't know what you're talking about," said Patty. She put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Mercy, child, you're sopping wet, and you're shivering! Sit up and take those shoes off."

Olivia sat up and pulled at the laces with ineffectual fingers, and Patty jerked them open and dumped the shoes in a squashy heap on the floor.

"Do you know what's the matter with you?" she asked. "You're not crying because you've flunked. You're crying because you've caught cold, and you're tired and wet and hungry. You take those wet clothes off this minute and get into a warm bath-robe, and I'll get you some dinner."

"I don't want any dinner," wailed Olivia, and she showed signs of turning back to the pillows again.

"Don't act like a baby, Olivia," said Patty, sharply; "sit up and be a—a man."

Ten minutes later Patty returned from a successful looting expedition, and deposited her spoils on the bedroom table. Olivia sat on the edge of the bed and watched her apathetically, a picture of shivering despondency.

"Drink this," commanded Patty, as she extended a steaming glass.

Olivia obediently raised it to her lips, and drew back. "What's in it?" she asked faintly.

"Everything I could find that's hot—quinine and whisky and Jamaica ginger and cough syrup and a dash of red pepper, and—one or two other things. It's my own idea. You can't take cold after that."

"I—I don't believe I want any."

"Drink it—every drop," said Patty, grimly; and Olivia shut her eyes and gulped it down.

"Now," said Patty, cheerfully bustling about, "I'll get dinner. Have you a can-opener? And any alcohol, by chance? That's nice. We'll have three courses,—canned soup, canned baked beans, and preserved ginger,—all of them hot. It's mighty lucky Georgie Merriles was in New York or she'd never have lent them to me."

Olivia, to her own astonishment, presently found herself laughing (she had thought that she would never smile again) as she sipped mulligatawny soup from a tooth-mug and balanced a pin-trayful of steaming baked beans on her knee.

"And now," said Patty, as, the three courses disposed of, she tucked the freshman into bed, "we'll map out a campaign. While eight hours are pretty serious, they are not of necessity deadly. What made you flunk Latin prose?"

"I never had any before I came, and when I told Miss—"

"Certainly; she thought it her duty to flunk you. You shouldn't have mentioned the subject. But never mind. It's only one hour, and it won't take you a minute to work it off. How about German?"

"German's a little hard because it's so different from Italian and French, you know; and I'm sort of frightened when she calls on me, and—"

"Pretty stupid, on the whole?" Patty suggested.

"I'm afraid I am," she confessed.

"Well, I dare say you deserved to flunk in that. You can tutor it up and pass it off in the spring. How about geometry?"

"I thought I knew that, only she didn't ask what I expected and—"

"An unfortunate circumstance, but it will happen. Could you review it up a little and take a reëxamination right away?"

"Yes; I'm sure I could, only they won't give me another chance. They'll send me home first."

"Who's your instructor?"

"Miss Prescott."

Patty frowned, and then she laughed. "I thought if it were Miss Hawley I could go to her and explain the matter and ask her to give you a reëxamination. Miss Hawley's occasionally human. But Miss Prescott! No wonder you flunked. I'm afraid of her myself. She's the only woman that ever got a degree at some German university, and she simply hasn't a thought in the world beyond mathematics. I don't believe the woman has any soul. If one of those mediums should come here and dematerialize her, all that would be left would be an equilateral triangle."

Patty shook her head. "I'm afraid there's not much use in arguing with a person like that. If she once sees a truth, you know, she sees it for all time. But never mind; I'll do the best I can. I'll tell her you're an undiscovered mathematical genius; that it's latent, but if she'll examine you again she'll find it. That ought to appeal to her. Good-night. Go to sleep and don't worry; I'll manage her."

"Good night; and thank you, Patty," called a tolerably cheerful voice from under the covers.

Patty closed the door, and stood a moment in the hall, pondering the situation. Olivia Copeland was too valuable to throw away. The college must be made to realize her worth. But that was difficult. Patty had tried to make the college realize things before. Miss Prescott was the only means of salvation that she could think of, and Miss Prescott was a doubtful means. She did not at all relish the prospect of calling on her, but there seemed to be nothing else to do. She made a little grimace and laughed. "I'm acting like a freshman myself," she thought. "Walk up, Patty, and face the guns"; and without giving herself time to hesitate she marched up-stairs and knocked on Miss Prescott's door. She reflected after she had knocked that perhaps it would have been more politic to have postponed her business until the morrow. But the door opened before she had time to run away, and she found herself rather confusedly bowing to Miss Prescott, who held in her hand, not a book on calculus, but a common, every-day magazine.

"Good evening, Miss Wyatt. Won't you come in and sit down?" said Miss Prescott, in a very cordially human tone.

As she sank into a deep rush chair Patty had a blurred vision of low bookcases, pictures, rugs, and polished brass thrown into soft relief by a shaded lamp which stood on the table. Before she had time to mentally shake herself and reconstruct her ideas she was gaily chatting to Miss Prescott about the probable outcome of a serial story in the magazine.

Miss Prescott did not seem to wonder in the least at this unusual visit, but talked along easily on various subjects, and laughed and told stories like the humanest of human beings. Patty watched her, fascinated. "She's pretty," she thought to herself and she began to wonder how old she was. Never before had she associated any age whatever with Miss Prescott. She had regarded her much in the same light as a scientific truth, which exists, but is quite irrespective of time or place. She tried to recall some story that had been handed about among the girls her freshman year. She remembered vaguely that it had in it the suggestion that Miss Prescott had once been in love. At the time Patty had scoffingly repudiated the idea, but now she was half willing to believe it.

Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, the ten-o'clock bell rang, and Patty recalled her errand with a start.

"I suppose," she said, "you are wondering why I came."

"I was hoping," said Miss Prescott, with a smile, "that it was just to see me, without any ulterior motive."

"It will be the next time—if you will let me come again; but to-night I had another reason, which I'm afraid you'll think impertinent—and," she added frankly, "I don't know just what's the best way to tell it so that you won't think it impertinent."

"Tell it to me any way you please, and I will try not to think so," said Miss Prescott, kindly.

"Don't you think sometimes the girls can tell more of one another's ability than the instructors?" Patty asked. "I know a girl," she continued, "a freshman, who is, in some ways, the most remarkable person I have ever met. Of course I can't be sure, but I should say that she is going to be very good in English some day—so good, you know, that the college will be proud of her. Well, this girl has flunked such a lot that I am afraid she is in danger of being sent home, and the college simply can't afford to lose her. I don't know anything about your rules, of course, but what seems to me the easiest way is for you to give her another examination in geometry immediately,—she really knows it,—and then tell the faculty about her and urge them to give her another trial."

Patty brought out this astounding request in the most matter-of-fact way possible, and the corners of Miss Prescott's mouth twitched as she asked: "Of whom are you speaking?"

"Olivia Copeland."

Miss Prescott's mouth grew firm, and she looked like the instructor in mathematics again.

"Miss Copeland did absolutely nothing on her examination, Miss Wyatt, and what little she has recited during the year does not betoken any unusual ability. I am sorry, but it would be impossible."

"But, Miss Prescott," Patty expostulated, "the girl has worked under such peculiar disadvantages. She's an American, but she lives abroad, and all our ways are new to her. She has never been to school a day in her life. Her father prepared her for college, and, of course, not in the same way that the other girls have been prepared. She is shy, and not being used to reciting in a class, she doesn't know how to show off. I am sure, Miss Prescott, that if you would take her and examine her yourself, you would find that she understands the work—that is, if you would let her get over being afraid of you first. I know you're busy, and it's asking a good deal," Patty finished apologetically.

"It is not that, Miss Wyatt, for of course I do not wish to mark any student unjustly; but I cannot help feeling that you have overestimated Miss Copeland's ability. She has really had a chance to show what is in her, and if she has failed in as many courses as you say—The college, you know, must keep up the standard of its work, and in questions like this it is not always possible to consider the individual."

Patty felt that she was being dismissed, and she groped about wildly for a new plea. Her eye caught a framed picture of the old monastery of Amalfi hanging over the bookcase.

"Perhaps you've lived in Italy?" she asked.

Miss Prescott started slightly. "No," she said; "but I've spent some time there."

Olivia Copeland

"That picture of Amalfi, up there, made me think of it. Olivia Copeland, you know, lives near there, at Sorrento."

A gleam of interest flashed into Miss Prescott's eye.

"That's how I first came to notice her," continued Patty; "but she didn't interest me so much until I talked to her. It seems that her father is an artist, and she was born in Italy, and has only visited America once when she was a little girl. Her mother is dead, and she and her father live in an old villa on that road along the coast leading to Sorrento. She has never had any girl friends; just her father's friends—artists and diplomats and people like that. She speaks Italian, and she knows all about Italian art and politics and the church and the agrarian laws and how the people are taxed; and all the peasants around Sorrento are her friends. She is so homesick that she nearly dies, and the only person here that she can talk to about the things she is interested in is the peanut man down-town.

"The girls she rooms with are just nice exuberant American girls, and are interested in golf and basket-ball and Welsh rabbit and Richard Harding Davis stories and Gibson pictures—and she never even heard of any of them until four months ago. She has a water-color sketch of the villa, that her father did. It's white stucco, you know, with terraces and marble balustrades and broken statues, and a grove of ilex-trees with a fountain in the center. Just think of belonging to a place like that, Miss Prescott, and then being suddenly plunged into a place like this without any friends or any one who even knows about the things you know—think how lonely you would be!"

Patty leaned forward with flushed cheeks, carried away by her own eloquence. "You know what Italy's like. It's a sort of disease. If you once get fond of it you'll never forget it, and you just can't be happy till you get back. And with Olivia it's her home, besides. She's never known anything else. And it's hard at first to keep your mind on mathematics when you're dreaming all the time of ilex groves and fountains and nightingales and—and things like that."

She finished lamely, for Miss Prescott suddenly leaned back in the shadow, and it seemed to Patty that her face had grown pale and the hand that held the magazine trembled.

Patty flushed uncomfortably and tried to think what she had said. She was always saying things that hurt people's feelings without meaning to. Suddenly that old story from her freshman year flashed into her mind. He had been an artist and had lived in Italy and had died of Roman fever; and Miss Prescott had gone to Germany to study mathematics, and had never cared for anything else since. It sounded rather made up, but it might be true. Had she stumbled on a forbidden subject? she wondered miserably. She had, of course; it was just her way.

The silence was becoming unbearable; she struggled to think of something to say, but nothing came, and she rose abruptly.

"I'm sorry to have taken so much of your time, Miss Prescott. I hope I haven't bored you. Good night."

Miss Prescott rose and took Patty's hand. "Good night, my dear, and thank you for coming to me. I am glad to know of Olivia Copeland. I will see what can be done about her geometry, and I shall be glad, besides, to know her as—as a friend; for I, too, once cared for Italy."

Patty closed the door softly and tiptoed home through the dim corridors.

"Did you bring the matches?" called a sleepy voice from Priscilla's bedroom.

Patty started. "Oh, the matches!" she laughed. "No; I forgot them."

"I never knew you to accomplish anything yet that you started out to do, Patty Wyatt."

"I've accomplished something to-night, just the same," Patty retorted, with a little note of triumph in her voice; "but I haven't an idea how I happened to do it," she added frankly to herself.

And she went to bed and fell asleep, quite unaware of how much she had accomplished; for unconsciously she had laid the foundation of a friendship which was to make happy the future of a lonely freshman and an equally lonely instructor.
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