"In which case," said Priscilla, "I suppose you would get out of calling on Mrs. Millard altogether."
"Exactly," said Patty.
Mrs. Millard—more familiarly referred to as Mrs. Prexy—annually invited the seniors to dinner in parties of ten. Patty, whose turn had come a short time before, owing to an untoward misfortune, had been in the infirmary at the time; but, though she had missed the fun, she now found it necessary to pay the call.
"Of course," she resumed, "I can see why you should be expected to call if you attend the function and partake of the food; but what I can't understand is why a peaceable citizen who desires only to gang his ain gait should, upon the reception of an entirely unsolicited invitation, suddenly find it incumbent upon him to put on his best dress and his best hat and gloves in order to call upon people he barely knows."
"Your genders," said Priscilla, "are a trifle mixed."
"That," said Patty, "is the fault of the language. The logic, I think, you will find correct. You can see what would happen," she pursued, "if you carry it out to its logical conclusion. Suppose, for instance, that every woman I have ever met in this town should suddenly take it into her head to invite me to a dinner. Here I—perfectly unsuspicious and innocent of any evil, because of a purely arbitrary law which I did not help to make—would not only have to sit down and write a hundred regrets, but would have to pay a hundred calls within the next two weeks. It makes me shudder to think of it!"
"I don't believe you need worry about it, Patty; of course we know you're popular, but you're not as popular as that."
"No," said Patty; "I didn't mean that I thought I really should get that many invitations. It's only that one is open to the constant danger."
During the progress of this conversation Georgie Merriles had been lounging on the couch by the window, reading the "Merchant of Venice" in a critically unimpassioned way that the instructor in Dramatic Theory could not have praised too much. The room finally having become too dark for reading, she threw down the book with something like a yawn. "It would have been a joke on Portia," she remarked, "if Bassanio had chosen the wrong casket"; and she turned her attention to the campus outside. Groups of girls were coming along the path from the lake, and the sound of their voices, mingled with laughter and the jingling of skates, floated up through the gathering dusk. Across the stretches of snow and bare trees lights were beginning to twinkle in the other dormitories, while nearer at hand, and more clearly visible, rose the irregular outline of the president's house.
"Patty," said Georgie, with her nose against the pane, "if you really want to get that call out of the way, now's your chance. Mrs. Millard has just gone out."
Patty dashed into her bedroom and began jerking out bureau drawers. "Priscilla," she called in an agonized tone, "do you remember where I keep my cards?"
"It's ten minutes of six, Patty; you can't go now."
"Yes, I can. It doesn't matter what time it is, so long as she's out. I'll go just as I am."
"Not in a golf-cape!"
Patty hesitated an instant. "Well," she admitted, "I suppose the butler might tell her. I'll put on a hat"—this with the air of one who is making a really great concession. Some more banging of bureau drawers, and she appeared in a black velvet hat trimmed with lace, with the brown jacket of her suit over her red blouse, and a blue golf-skirt and very muddy boots showing below.
"Patty, you're a disgrace to the room!" cried Priscilla. "Do you mean to tell me that you are going to Mrs. Millard's in a short skirt and those awful skating-shoes?"
"The butler won't look at my feet; I'm so beautiful above"; and Patty banged the door behind her.
Georgie and Priscilla flattened themselves against the window to watch the progress of the call.
"Look," gasped Priscilla. "There's Mrs. Millard going in at the back door."
"And there's Patty. My, but she looks funny!"
"Call her back," cried Priscilla, wildly trying to open the window.
"Let her alone," laughed Georgie; "it will be such fun to gloat over her."
The window came up with a jerk. "Patty! Patty!" shrieked Priscilla.
Patty turned and waved her hand airily. "Can't stop now—will be back in a moment"; and she sped on around the corner.
The two stood watching the house for several minutes, vaguely expecting an explosion of some sort to occur. But nothing happened. Patty was swallowed as if by the grave, and the house gave no sign. They accordingly shrugged their shoulders and dressed for dinner with the philosophy which a life fraught with alarms and surprises gives.
Dinner was half over, and the table had finished discussing Patty's demise, when that young lady trailed placidly in, smiled on the expectant faces, and inquired what kind of soup they had had.
"Bean soup; it wasn't any good," said Georgie, impatiently. "What happened? Did you have a nice call?"
"No, Maggie, I don't care for any soup to-night. Just bring me some steak, please."
"Patty!" in a pleading chorus, "what happened?"
"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Patty, sweetly. "Yes, thank you, I had a very pleasant call. May I trouble you for the bread, Lucille?"
"Patty, I think you're obnoxious," said Georgie. "Tell us what happened."
"Well," began Patty, in a leisurely manner, "I said to the butler, 'Is Mrs. Millard in?' and he said to me (without even a smile), 'I am not sure, miss; will you please step into the drawing-room and I'll see.' I was going to tell him that he needn't bother, as I knew she was out; but I thought that perhaps it would look a little better if I waited and let him find out for himself. So I walked in and sat down in a pink-and-white embroidered Louis-Quatorze chair. There was a big mirror in front of me, and I had plenty of time to study the effect, which, I will acknowledge, was a trifle mixed."
"A trifle," Georgie assented.
"I was beginning," pursued Patty, "to feel nervous for fear some of the family might drop in, when the man came back and said, 'Mrs. Millard will be down in a minute.'
"If I had seen you at that moment, Georgie Merriles, there would have been battle, murder, and sudden death. My first thought was of flight; but the man was guarding the door, and Mrs. Prexy had my card. While I was frenziedly trying to think of a valid excuse for my costume the lady came in, and I rose and greeted her graciously, one might almost say gushingly. I talked very fast and tried to hypnotize her, so that she would keep her eyes on my face; but it was no use: I saw them traveling downward, and pretty soon I knew by the amused expression that they had arrived at my shoes.
"Concealment was no longer possible," pursued Patty, warming to her subject. "I threw myself upon her mercy and confessed the whole damning truth. What kind of ice-cream is that?" she demanded, leaning forward and gazing anxiously after a passing maid. "Don't tell me they're giving us raspberry again!"
"No; it's vanilla. Go on, Patty."
"Well, where was I?"
"You'd just told her the truth."
"Oh, yes. She said she'd always wanted to meet the college girls informally and know them just as they are, and she was very glad of this opportunity. And there I sat, looking like a kaleidoscope and feeling like a fool, and she taking it for granted that I was being perfectly natural. Complimentary, wasn't it? At this point dinner was announced, and she invited me to stay—quite insisted, in fact, to make up, she said, for the one I had missed when I was ill in the infirmary." Patty looked around the table with a reminiscent smile.
"What did you say? Did you refuse?" asked Lucille.
"No; I accepted, and am over there at present, eating pâté de foie gras."
"No, really, Patty; what did you say?"
"Well," said Patty, "I told her that this was ice-cream night at the college, and that I sort of hated to miss it; but that to-morrow would be mutton night, which I didn't mind missing in the least; so if she would just as leave transfer her invitation, I would accept for to-morrow with pleasure."
"Patty," exclaimed Lucille, in a horrified tone, "you didn't say that!"
"Just a little local color, Lucille," laughed Priscilla.
"But," objected Lucille, "we'd promised not to play local color any more."
"Have you not learned," said Priscilla, "that Patty can no more live without local color than she can live without food? It's ingrained in her nature."
"Never mind," said Patty, good-naturedly; "you may not believe me now,
but to-morrow night, when I'm all dressed up in beautiful clothes,
swapping stories with Prexy and eating lobster salad, while you are over
here having mutton, then maybe you'll be sorry."