Aunt Jane's Nieces/Chapter 3
"Now, Major, stand up straight and behave yourself! How do you expect me to sponge your vest when you're wriggling around in that way?"
"Patsy, dear, you're so sweet this evening, I just had to kiss your lips."
"Don't do it again, sir," replied Patricia, severely, as she scrubbed the big man's waistcoat with a damp cloth. "And tell me, Major, how you ever happened to get into such a disgraceful condition."
"The soup just shpilled," said the Major, meekly.
Patricia laughed merrily. She was a tiny thing, appearing to be no more than twelve years old, although in reality she was sixteen. Her hair was a decided red—not a beautiful "auburn," but really red—and her round face was badly freckled. Her nose was too small and her mouth too wide to be beautiful, but the girl's wonderful blue eyes fully redeemed these faults and led the observer to forget all else but their fascinations. They could really dance, these eyes, and send out magnetic, scintillating sparks of joy and laughter that were potent to draw a smile from the sourest visage they smiled upon. Patricia was a favorite with all who knew her, but the big, white-moustached Major Doyle, her father, positively worshipped her, and let the girl rule him as her fancy dictated.
"Now, sir, you're fairly decent again," she said, after a few vigorous scrubs. "So put on your hat and we'll go out to dinner."
They occupied two small rooms at the top of a respectable but middle-class tenement building, and had to descend innumerable flights of bare wooden stairs before they emerged upon a narrow street thronged with people of all sorts and descriptions except those who were too far removed from the atmosphere of Duggan street to know that it existed.
The big major walked stiffly and pompously along, swinging his silver-trimmed cane in one hand while Patricia clung to his other arm. The child wore a plain grey cloak, for the evening was chill. She had a knack of making her own clothes, all of simple material and fashion, but fitting neatly and giving her an air of quiet refinement that made more than one passer-by turn to look back at her curiously.
After threading their way for several blocks they turned in at the open door of an unobtrusive restaurant where many of the round white tables were occupied by busy and silent patrons.
The proprietor nodded to the major and gave Patricia a smile. There was no need to seat them, for they found the little table in the corner where they were accustomed to eat, and sat down.
"Did you get paid tonight?" asked the girl.
"To be sure, my Patsy."
"Then hand over the coin," she commanded.
The major obeyed. She counted it carefully and placed it in her pocketbook, afterwards passing a half-dollar back to her father.
"Remember, Major, no riotous living! Make that go as far as you can, and take care not to invite anyone to drink with you."
"And now I'll order the dinner."
The waiter was bowing and smiling beside her. Everyone smiled at Patsy, it seemed.
They gave the usual order, and then, after a moment's hesitation, she added:
"And a bottle of claret for the Major."
Her father fairly gasped with amazement.
People at the near-by tables looked up as her gay laugh rang out, and beamed upon her in sympathy.
"I'm not crazy a bit. Major," said she, patting the hand he had stretched toward her, partly in delight and partly in protest. "I've just had a raise, that's all, and we'll celebrate the occasion."
Her father tucked the napkin under his chin then looked at her questioningly.
"Tell me, Patsy."
"Madam Borne sent me to a swell house on Madison Avenue this morning, because all her women were engaged. I dressed the lady's hair in my best style, Major, and she said it was much more becoming than Juliette ever made it. Indeed, she wrote a note to Madam, asking her to send me, hereafter, instead of Juliette, and Madam patted my head and said I would be a credit to her, and my wages would be ten dollars a week, from now on. Ten dollars. Major! As much as you earn yourself at that miserable bookkeeping!"
"Sufferin' Moses!" ejaculated the astonished major, staring back into her twinkling eyes, "if this kapes on, we'll be millionaires, Patsy."
"We're millionaires, now." responded Patsy, promptly, "because we've health, and love, and contentment—and enough money to keep us from worrying. Do you know what I've decided, Major, dear? You shall go to make that visit to your colonel that you've so long wanted to have. The vacation will do you good, and you can get away all during July, because you haven't rested for five years. I went to see Mr. Conover this noon, and he said he'd give you the month willingly, and keep the position for you when you returned."
"What! You spoke to old Conover about me?"
"This noon. It's all arranged, daddy, and you'll just have a glorious time with the old colonel. Bless his dear heart, he'll be overjoyed to have you with him, at last."
The major pulled out his handkerchief, blew his nose vigorously, and then surreptitiously wiped his eyes.
"Ah, Patsy, Patsy; it's an angel you are, and nothing less at all, at all."
"Rubbish, Major. Try your claret, and see if it's right. And eat your fish before it gets cold. I'll not treat you again, sir, unless you try to look happy. Why, you seem as glum as old Conover himself!"
The major was positively beaming.
"Would it look bad for me to kiss you, Patsy?"
"Now and right here in this very room!"
"Of course it would. Try and behave, like the gentleman you are, and pay attention to your dinner!"
It was a glorious meal. The cost was twenty-five cents a plate, but the gods never feasted more grandly in Olympus than these two simple, loving souls in that grimy Duggan street restaurant.
Over his coffee the major gave a sudden start and looked guiltily into Patricia's eyes.
"Now, then," she said, quickly catching the expression, "out with it."
"It's a letter," said the major. "It came yesterday, or mayhap the day before. I don't just remember."
"A letter! And who from?" she cried, surprised.
"An ould vixen."
"And who may that be?"
"Your mother's sister Jane. I can tell by the emblem on the flap of the envelope," said he, drawing a crumpled paper from his breast pocket.
"Oh, that person," said Patsy, with scorn. "Whatever induced her to write to me?"
"You might read it and find out," suggested the major.
Patricia tore open the envelope and scanned the letter. Her eyes blazed.
"What is it, Mavoureen?"
"An insult!" she answered, crushing the paper in her hand and then stuffing it into the pocket of her dress. "Light your pipe, daddy, dear. Here—I'll strike the match."