Patty's Motor Car
Patty was curled up in her favourite big easy-chair in her own study.
Though called a study, because it had been used as such during her schooldays, the pretty room was really more like a boudoir. Her desk was still there, but was now filled with programmes, friendly letters, and social correspondence instead of school themes or problems. The general colouring of the room was green, but the sash curtains of thin yellow silk, and the heap of yellow sofa cushions, did much to lighten the effect, and gave the room a sunshiny air, even on a dull day. The couch, and the two big, soft, cuddly chairs were upholstered in yellow-flowered chintz, and on the pale green walls hung Patty’s favourite pictures, and many curios or souvenirs of her year spent abroad.
It was the first of March, so the room was brightened both by a big bowlful of yellow daffodils and a blazing wood fire. The two things Patty liked best in life were warmth and colour, and so to-day she was sitting near the fire, with the splendid yellow glory of the daffodils in full view.
But she was not looking at them, for she was poring over a book. When Patty read she usually pored, for she was eager and enthusiastic over any story in which she was interested.
But to-day, she was not reading a story. She pored intently, and then, throwing back her head, she would stare blankly at the ceiling, thinking hard.
Then, perhaps, she would fly to her bookcase, tumble out two or three books, swiftly turn their pages, and then back to her big chair and the original book.
It was a very small book, with a paper cover, but it seemed to be most engrossing.
Two or three hours passed, and still Patty pored over the little book, rarely turning a page. Absent-mindedly, she rubbed her head until the hairpins fell out, and her golden hair fell around her shoulders, as bright a glory as the daffodils. Vacantly she stared into the fire or out of the window, and at last she flung her little book across the room and exclaimed aloud:
“It’s no use! I can’t do it!”
And then Nan, her pretty stepmother, appeared at the open door.
“Patty!” she cried; “in a kimono! And it’s nearly four o’clock! Don’t you know it’s my day?”
“Nan,” said Patty, with an anxious look in her eyes, “what is it, of which the poor have two and the rich have none?”
“Gracious, Patty! What a question! I don’t know, I’m sure. Are you going in for more philanthropy? Because, if so, do wait for a more convenient season.”
“No; it isn’t philanthropy. It’s – I say, Nan, how could a headless man write a letter?”
“And does a bookworm eat straight through a book, or zigzag?”
“I don’t know. I’ve heard the Bookworm is only a fabled animal, like a griffin. Or, no; I think it’s an extinct species, like the Dodo.”
“Oh, Nan! You are so deliciously ignorant.”
“No more so than you, or why do you ask me these things? Now, Patty, stop this nonsense, and get dressed. What are you doing, anyway?”
“Oh, Nan, the loveliest scheme ever! Let me tell you about it.”
“No, not now. I must go down to the drawing-room. And you must follow just as soon as you can. Do you hear?”
“Yes, I hear, you old Loveliness. But just tell me when London – ”
But Nan had run away from the fire of questions, and Patty drew herself up out of her chair, stretched and yawned like a sleepy kitten, and then proceeded to make her toilette with expedition and despatch.
But as she sat in front of her dressing table, piling her gold hair into a soft crown above her pretty face, she frowned at her own reflection.
“You’re a stupid idiot,” she informed herself. “You don’t know anything! And you haven’t an ounce of brains! Now, what is it of which the poor have two, the rich have none, schoolboys have several, and you have one. Well, I can’t think of a thing but mumps or measles; and, of course, they’re not the answer, and you couldn’t have one measle, anyhow.”
As she dressed, Patty took hasty glances in the little book, and finally she left her room and walked slowly downstairs, murmuring, “Divide nine into two equal parts, which, added together, make ten.”
But when she reached the drawing-room door, all the puzzling problems flew out of her mind, and she went in gracefully to greet Nan’s guests.
As Patty was not yet out in society, she did not have her name on the card with her stepmother’s, but she always assisted Nan in receiving, and informally asked a number of her own friends to call, too.
This was Nan’s last reception day for the season, so it was a little more elaborate than others had been.
Patty wore an embroidered white chiffon, which delicate material clouded bows and bands of pale-blue satin. It was a lovely frock, and just suited Patty’s blonde fairness. She went around among her mother’s friends, greeting them with pretty courtesy, and chatting easily with them. But, after a time, her own young friends came, and, with the two Farringtons and Kenneth Harper, Patty went to the library, where they could be by themselves.
Soon, Mr. Hepworth came, bringing Christine Farley.
Christine had been in New York only a few weeks, but already she had lost much of her painful shyness, and, though still easily embarrassed by the presence of strangers, she usually managed to preserve her poise and self-control.
She greeted Patty with shining eyes, for the Southern girl was warmly affectionate, and adored Patty.
“And are you all settled, now, Christine, and ready to receive callers?” Patty asked.
“Yes, I am. I have a lovely room; not large, but sunny and pleasant, and I will gladly welcome you there at any time. And Mr. and Mrs. Bosworth are such kind people. Oh, I shall be very happy there.”
“And the work?” asked Mr. Hepworth. “How does that come on?”
“It’s all right,” said Christine, soberly, but nodding her head with satisfaction.
Though shy in society, she was most practical and unembarrassed about her art study. Not over-conceited, but perfectly aware of the extent of her own talent, and also of her own ignorance. And she had a calm determination to improve the one and conquer the other.
Christine was pretty, in her soft Southern way. She was small, and dainty in all her effects. Her oval face was serious, almost sad in its expression, but, if she were interested in a subject, it would light up into sudden beauty.
Her clothes betokened her artistic tastes, and she never wore dresses of the fashionable type, but soft, clinging gowns in dull, pastel colours. A bit of old embroidery or unusual jewelry added an effective touch, and Christine always looked well dressed, though her clothes cost far less than Patty’s. The two girls were absolutely unlike, and yet they were fast becoming great friends. But Christine possessed almost no sense of humour, and Patty feared she could never be really chummy with any one who lacked that.
Elise was not very fond of Christine, for she didn’t understand her at all, and secretly thought her rather stupid. But the boys, Roger and Kenneth, liked the Southern maiden, with her soft, pretty accent, and, of course, Mr. Hepworth was her friend.
So the whole group was fairly congenial, and they formed a pleasant little circle in the library, to drink their tea.
“Sorry I’m late,” said a cheery voice, and Philip Van Reypen joined them.
“Oh! how do you do?” cried Patty, jumping up to greet him. “Miss Farley, may I present Mr. Van Reypen? I think the rest are all acquainted.”
There were general greetings all round, and then Philip took his place with the rest.
“My aunt is here,” he said, to Patty. “A little later, perhaps, she wants to meet Miss Farley.”
“So she shall,” said Patty, remembering Miss Van Reypen’s offer to help Christine in some way. “Will you have tea?”
“Will I have tea?” echoed Philip. “That’s exactly what I’m here for. Please, yes.”
“Then here you are,” said Patty, handing him a cup; “and, incidentally, do you know how a bookworm goes through a book?”
“Ugh! what an unpleasant subject,” said Elise, with a shrug of her shoulders. “Patty, do talk of something else.”
“I can’t,” said Patty, solemnly; “I must know about the manners and customs of a well-conducted bookworm.”
“Do you mean a real bookworm, or a studious person?” asked Mr. Hepworth, who often took Patty’s questions very seriously.
“I mean the – the entomological sort,” said Patty, “and I’m in dead earnest. Who knows anything about the bookworms that really destroy books?”
“I do,” announced Kenneth, “but nothing would induce me to tell. Theirs is a secret history, and not to be made known to a curious world.”
“Pooh!” said Roger, “that’s all bluff. Patty, he doesn’t really know anything about the beasts. Now, I do. A bookworm is a grub.”
“No,” said Philip, “the book is the bookworm’s grub. And pretty dry fodder he must often find it.”
“I know what you’re going to do, Patty,” said Kenneth, in an aggrieved voice; “you’re going to set up a pair of pet bookworms in place of Darby and Juliet. Please understand that I am distinctly offended, and I prophesy that your new pets won’t be half as interesting as the goldfish.”
“Wrong again, Ken,” returned Patty; “no new pets could ever be so dear to my heart as those sweet, lovely goldfish. But, if you people don’t tell me about bookworms, I’ll have to look in the Encyclopædia; and, if there’s anything I do hate, it’s that. Christine, aren’t you up on bookworms?”
“No,” said Christine, in a shy whisper. She couldn’t yet become accustomed to the quick repartee and merry nonsense of these Northern young people.
“I used to have a pet bookworm,” began Roger, “but he got into a cook-book and died of dyspepsia.”
“Tell us what it’s all about, Patty?” said Mr. Hepworth, seeing she was really serious in her questioning.
“Why, it’s a puzzle, – a sort of conundrum. This is it. Suppose a history in three volumes is placed upon a bookshelf. Suppose each volume contains just one hundred pages. And suppose a bookworm, starting at page one of volume one, bores right straight through the books, covers and all, to the last page of volume three. How many leaves does he go through, not counting fly-leaves, or covers?”
“Patty, I’m surprised at you,” said Roger. “That’s too easy. He goes through the three hundred pages, of course.”
“It does seem so,” said Patty, with a perplexed look, “but, as you say, that’s too easy. There must be a catch or a quibble somewhere.”
“Well,” said Elise, “I never could do a puzzle. I don’t know why a hen goes across the road, or when is a door not a door. But you’re a born puzzlist, Patty, and, if you can’t guess it, nobody can.”
“Elise, you’re a sweet thing, and most complimentary. But I know you have no talent for puzzles, so, my dear child, I’m not asking you. But, you men of brains and intellect, can’t you help me out? I’m sure there’s another answer, but I can’t think what it would be.”
“Why, Patty,” said Mr. Hepworth, thoughtfully, “I think Roger is right. If the bookworm goes through all three volumes, he must go through three hundred pages, mustn’t he?”
“No, indeed!” cried Christine, her shyness forgotten, and her eyes shining as she constructed the picture of the books in her mind’s eye. “Wait a minute; yes, I’m sure I’m right! He only goes through one hundred pages. He goes only through the second volume, you see!”
Elise looked at Christine a little disdainfully.
“You don’t seem to have heard the conditions,” she said. “The bookworm begins at the first page of the first volume and goes through to the end of the last one.”
“Yes, I heard that,” said Christine, flushing at Elise’s tone, which was distinctly supercilious. “But, don’t you see, when the books are set up on a shelf, in the usual manner, the first page of the first volume is on the right, just up against the last page of the second volume.”
“Nonsense!” cried Elise.
“But it is so, Miss Farley!” exclaimed Philip Van Reypen. “You’ve struck it! Look, people!”
He turned to a bookcase, and indicated three volumes of a set of books.
“Now, see, the first page of volume one is right against the last page of volume two. So the first page of volume two is up against the last page of volume three. Now, what does Mr. Bookworm do? He starts here, at the first page of volume one. He doesn’t go backward, so he doesn’t go through volume one at all! He goes through volume two, and, as soon as he strikes volume three, he strikes it at the last page, and his task is done, his journey is over. He has fulfilled the conditions of the original question. See?”
They did see, after awhile, but it was only the ocular demonstration that proved it, for the facts were hard to describe in words.
Elise flatly refused to see it, saying it made her head ache to try to understand it.
“But it was very clever of Miss Farley to reason it out so soon,” said Philip.
“Yes, wasn’t it?” agreed Patty. “I didn’t know you had a bent for puzzles, Christine.”
“I haven’t. But that doesn’t seem to me like a puzzle. I can’t do arithmetical problems, or guess charades at all. But this seems to me a picture of still life. I can see the insides of the books in my mind, and they are wrong end to, – that is, compared to the way we read them. You see, they really stand in the bookcase with the pages numbered backward.”
“Bravo, Christine; so they do!” said Mr. Hepworth. “Patty, that’s the answer, but, I confess, I was ’way off myself.”
“So say we all of us,” chimed in Roger. “I can only see through it, part of the time, even now.”
“I think it a most clever catch question,” said Philip Van Reypen. “Where did you find it, Miss Fairfield?”
“In a little book of puzzles; I’m trying to guess them all.”
“Let me help you, won’t you? I’m a shark on puzzles. I slipped up on this one, I admit; but I can do the ‘transposed, I am a fish’ kind, just lovely.”
“Ah, but my bookful isn’t that kind. They’re all of a catchy or difficult sort.”
“Well, let me try to help, mayn’t I?” Mr. Van Reypen’s voice was gay and wheedlesome, and Patty responded by saying, “Perhaps; some time. But now I must take Miss Farley in to see Mrs. Van Reypen.”
These two were mutually pleased with each other, as Patty felt sure they would be.
Mrs. Van Reypen assumed her kindest demeanour, for she saw Christine was excessively shy. She talked pleasantly to her, drawing her out concerning her life work and her life plans, and ended by asking the girl to call on her some afternoon, soon.
Then she went away, and Patty drew Christine into a corner to congratulate her.
“It’s fine!” she declared. “If Mrs. Van Reypen takes you up, she’ll do lovely things for you. She’ll have you at her house, and you’ll meet lovely people, and she’ll take you to the opera! Oh, Christine, do be nice to her.”
“Of course I shall. I liked her at once. She isn’t a bit patronising. But, Patty, your friend Elise is. I don’t know why, but she doesn’t like me.”
“Nonsense, Christine, don’t you go around with thinks like that under your pompadour! Elise is all right. She isn’t such a sunny bunny as I am, but she’s a lot wiser and better in many ways.”
“No, she isn’t! She’s selfish and jealous. But I’m going to be nice to her, and, perhaps, I can make her like me, after all.”
“I should say you could! Everybody likes you, and anybody who doesn’t soon will!”