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CHAPTER XXIII
PATSY ADOPTS AN UNCLE

Uncle John and Mr. Watson did not appear at dinner, being closeted in the former's room. This meal, however, was no longer a state function, being served by the old servants as a mere matter of routine. Indeed, the arrangements of the household had been considerably changed by the death of its mistress, and without any real head to direct them the servants were patiently awaiting the advent of a new master or mistress. It did not seem clear to them yet whether Miss Patricia or Lawyer Watson was to take charge of Elmhurst: but there were few tears shed for Jane Merrick, and the new regime could not fail to be an improvement over the last.

At dinner the young folks chatted together in a friendly and eager manner concerning the events of the day. They knew of old James' unfortunate end, but being unaware of its import gave it but passing attention. The main subject of conversation was Aunt Jane's surprising act in annulling her last will and forcing Patricia to accept the inheritance when she did not want it. Kenneth, being at his ease when alone with the three cousins, protested that it would not be right for Patsy to give him all the estate. But, as she was so generous, he would accept enough of his Uncle Tom's money to educate him as an artist and provide for himself an humble home. Louise and Beth, having at last full knowledge of their cousin's desire to increase their bequests, were openly very grateful for her good will; although secretly they could not fail to resent Patsy's choice of the boy as the proper heir of his uncle's fortune. The balance of power seemed to be in Patricia's hands, however; so it would be folly at this juncture to offend her.

Altogether, they were all better provided for than they had feared would be the case; so the little party spent a pleasant evening and separated early, Beth and Louise to go to their rooms and canvass quietly the events of the day, and the boy to take a long stroll through the country lanes to cool his bewildered brain. Patsy wrote a long letter to the major, telling him she would be home in three days, and then she went to bed and slept peacefully.

After breakfast they were all again summoned to the drawing-room, to their great surprise. Lawyer Watson and Uncle John were there, looking as grave as the important occasion demanded, and the former at once proceeded to relate the scene in James' room, his story of the death of Thomas Bradley, and the subsequent finding of the will.

"This will, which has just been recovered," continued the lawyer, impressively, "was made subsequent to the one under which Jane Merrick inherited, and therefore supercedes it. Miss Jane had, as you perceive, a perfect right to the use of the estate during her lifetime, but no right whatever to will a penny of it to anyone. Mr. Bradley having provided for that most fully. For this reason the will I read to you yesterday is of no effect, and Kenneth Forbes inherits from his uncle, through his mother, all of the estate."

Blank looks followed Mr. Watson's statement.

"Good-by to my five thousand," said Uncle John, with his chuckling laugh. "But I'm much obliged to Jane, nevertheless."

"Don't we get anything at all?" asked Beth, with quivering lip.

"No, my dear," answered the lawyer, gently. "Your aunt owned nothing to give you."

Patsy laughed. She felt wonderfully relieved.

"Wasn't I the grand lady, though, with all the fortune I never had?" she cried merrily. "But 'twas really fine to be rich for a day, and toss the money around as if I didn't have to dress ten heads of hair in ten hours to earn my bread and butter."

Louise smiled.

"It was all a great farce," she said. "I shall take the afternoon train to the city. What an old fraud our dear Aunt Jane was! And how foolish of me to return her hundred dollar check."

"I used mine," said Beth, bitterly. "It's all I'll ever get, it seems." And then the thought of the Professor and his debts overcame her and she burst, into tears.

The boy sat doubled within his chair, so overcome by the extraordinary fortune that had overtaken him that he could not speak, nor think even clearly as yet.

Patsy tried to comfort Beth.

"Never mind, dear," said she. "We're no worse off than before we came, are we? And we've had a nice vacation. Let's forget all disappointments and be grateful to Aunt Jane's memory. As far as she knew, she tried to be good to us."

"I'm going home today," said Beth, angrily drying her eyes.

"We'll all go home," said Patsy, cheerfully.

"For my part," remarked Uncle John, in a grave voice, "I have no home."

Patsy ran up and put her arm around his neck.

"Poor Uncle John!" she cried. "Why, you're worse off than any of us. What's going to become of you, I wonder?"

"I'm wondering that myself," said the little man, meekly.

"Ah! You can stay here," said the boy, suddenly arousing from his apathy.

"No," replied Uncle John, "the Merricks are out of Elmhurst now, and it returns to its rightful owners. You owe me nothing, my lad."

"But I like you," said Kenneth, "and you're old and homeless. Stay at Elmhurst, and you shall always be welcome." Uncle John seemed greatly affected, and wrung the boy's hand earnestly. But he shook his head.

"I've wandered all my life," he said. "I can wander yet."

"See here," exclaimed Patsy. "We're all three your nieces, and we'll take care of you between us. Won't we, girls?"

Louise smiled rather scornfully, and Beth scowled.

"My mother and I live so simply in our little flat," said one, "that we really haven't extra room to keep a cat. But we shall be glad to assist Uncle John as far as we are able."

"Father can hardly support his own family," said the other; "but I will talk to my mother about Uncle John when I get home, and see what she says."

"Oh, you don't need to, indeed!" cried Patsy, in great indignation. "Uncle John is my dear mother's brother, and he's to come and live with the Major and me, as long as he cares to. There's room and to spare, Uncle," turning to him and clasping his hand, "and a joyful welcome into the bargain. No, no! say nothing at all, sir! Come you shall, if I have to drag you; and if you act naughty I'll send for the Major to punish you!"

Uncle John's eyes were moist. He looked on Patsy most affectionately and cast a wink at Lawyer Watson, who stood silently by.

"Thank you, my dear," said he; "but where's the money to come from?"

"Money? Bah!" she said. "Doesn't the Major earn a heap with his bookkeeping, and haven't I had a raise lately? Why, we'll be as snug and contented as pigs in clover. Can you get ready to come with me today, Uncle John?"

"Yes," he said slowly. "I'll be ready, Patsy."

So the exodus from Elmhurst took place that very day, and Beth travelled in one direction, while Louise, Patsy and Uncle John took the train for New York. Louise had a seat in the parlor car, but Patsy laughed at such extravagance.

"It's so much easier than walking," she said to Uncle John, "that the common car is good enough," and the old man readily agreed with her.

Kenneth and Mr. Watson came to the station to see them off, and they parted with many mutual expressions of friendship and good will. Louise, especially, pressed an urgent invitation upon the new master of Elmhurst to visit her mother in New York, and he said he hoped to see all the girls again. They were really like cousins to him, by this time. And after they were all gone he rode home on Nora's back quite disconsolate, in spite of his wonderful fortune.

The lawyer, who had consented to stay at the mansion for a time, that the boy might not be lonely, had already mapped put a plan for the young heir's advancement. As he rode beside Kenneth he said:

"You ought to travel, and visit the art centers of Europe, and I shall try to find a competent tutor to go with you."

"Can't you go yourself?" asked the boy.

The lawyer hesitated.

"I'm getting old, and my clients are few and unimportant, aside from the Elmhurst interests," he said. "Perhaps I can manage to go abroad with you."

"I'd like that," declared the boy. "And we'd stop in New York, wouldn't we, for a time?"

"Of course. Do you want to visit New York especially?"

"Yes."

"It's rather a stupid city," said the lawyer, doubtfully.

"That may be," answered the boy. "But Patsy will be there, you know."