Aunt Jane's Nieces/Chapter 26

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CHAPTER XXVI
A BUNCH OF KEYS

Uncle John did not sleep well. Perhaps he had a guilty conscience. Anyway, he tossed about a good deal on the sofa-bed in the living-room, and wore himself out to such an extent that when Patsy got up at eight o'clock her uncle had fallen into his first sound sleep.

She never disturbed him until she had made the fire and cooked the coffee and boiled the three white eggs. By this time the Major was dressed and shaved, and he aroused Uncle John and bade him hurry into the closet and make his toilet, "so that Patsy could put the house to rights."

Uncle John obeyed eagerly, and was ready as soon as the Major had brought the smoking rolls from the bakery. Ah, but it was a merry breakfast; and a delicious one into the bargain. Uncle John seemed hungry, and looked at the empty egg-shells regretfully.

"Next time, Patsy," he said, "you must buy six eggs."

"Look at his recklessness!" cried Patsy, laughing. "You're just as bad as the Major, every bit. If you men hadn't me for a guardian you'd be in the poorhouse in a month."

"But we have you, my dear," said Uncle John, smiling into her dancing eyes; "so we won't complain at one egg instead of two."

Just then someone pounded on the door, and the girl ran to open it. There was a messenger boy outside, looking smart and neat in his blue-and-gold uniform, and he touched his cap politely to the girl.

"Miss Patricia Doyle?"

"That's me."

"A parcel for you. Sign here, please."

Patsy signed, bothering her head the while to know what the little package contained and who could have sent it. Then the boy was gone, and she came back slowly to the breakfast table, with the thing in her hand.

"What is it, Patsy?" asked the Major, curiously.

"I'm dying to know, myself," said the girl.

Uncle John finished his coffee, looking unconcerned.

"A good way is to open it," remarked the Major.

It was a very neat package, wrapped in fine paper and sealed with red wax. Patsy turned it over once or twice, and then broke the wax and untied the cord.

A bunch of keys fell out first—seven of them, strung on a purple ribbon—and then a flat, impressive looking letter was discovered.

The Major stared open-mouthed. Uncle John leaned back in his chair and watched the girl's face.

"There's a mistake," said Patsy, quite bewildered. Then she read her name upon the wrapper, quite plainly written, and shook her head. "It's for me, all right. But what does it mean?"

"Why not read the letter?" suggested the Major.

So she opened the big envelope and unfolded the stiff paper and read as follows:

"Miss Patricia Doyle, Becker's Flats, Duggan Street, New York. Dear Miss Doyle: An esteemed client of our house, who desires to remain unknown, has placed at your disposal the furnished apartments 'D,' at 3708 Willing Square, for the period of three years, or as long thereafter as you may care to retain them. Our client begs you to consider everything the apartments contain as your own, and to use it freely as it may please you. All rentals and rates are paid in advance, and you are expected to take possession at once. Moreover, our firm is commanded to serve you in any and every way you may require, and it will be our greatest pleasure to be of use to you. The keys to the apartments are enclosed herewith.

"Most respectfully,
"Isham, Marvin & Co."


Having read this to the end, in a weak voice and with many pauses, Miss Patricia Doyle sat down in her chair with strange abruptness and stared blankly at her father. The Major stared back. So did Uncle John, when her eyes roved toward his face.

Patricia turned the keys over, and jingled them. Then she referred to the letter again.

"Apartments D, at 3708 Willing Square. Where's that?"

The Major shook his head. So did Uncle John.

"Might look in a directory" suggested the latter, uncertainly.

"Of course," added the Major.

"But what does it all mean?" demanded Patsy, with sudden fierceness. "Is it a joke? Isham, Marvin & Co., the great bankers! What do I know of them, or they of me?"

"That isn't the point," observed the Major, reflectively. "Who's their unknown and mysterious client? That's the question."

"To be sure," said Uncle John. "They're only the agents. You must have a fairy godmother, Patsy."

She laughed at the idea, and shook her head.

"They don't exist in these days, Uncle John. But the whole thing must be a joke, and nothing more."

"We'll discover that," asserted the Major, shrewdly scrutinizing the letter, which he had taken from Patsy's hands. "It surely looks genuine enough, on the face of it. I've seen the bank letter-head before, and this is no forgery, you can take my word. Get your things on, Patsy. Instead of walking in the park we'll hunt up Willing Square, and we'll take the keys with us."

"A very good idea," said Uncle John. "I'd like to go with you, if I may."

"Of course you may," answered the girl. "You're one of the family now, Uncle John, and you must help us to unravel the mystery."

The Major took off his carpet slippers and pulled on his boots, while Patricia was getting ready for the walk. Uncle John wandered around the room aimlessly for a time, and then took off his black tie and put on the white one.

Patsy noticed this, when she came out of her closet, and laughed merrily.

"You mustn't be getting excited, Uncle John, until we see how this wonderful adventure turns out." she said. "But I really must wash and iron that necktie for you, if you're going to wear it on Sundays."

"Not a bad idea," said the Major. "But come, are we all ready?"

They walked down the rickety steps very gravely and sedately, Patsy jingling the keys as they went, and made their way to the corner drug store, where the Major searched in the directory for Willing Square.

To his surprise it proved to be only a few blocks away.

"But it's in the dead swell neighborhood," he explained, "where I have no occasion to visit. We can walk it in five minutes."

Patsy hesitated.

"Really, it's no use going, Dad," she protested. "It isn't in reason that I'd have a place presented me in a dead swell neighborhood. Now, is it?"

"We'll have to go, just the same," said Uncle John. "I couldn't sleep a wink tonight if we didn't find out what this all means."

"True enough," agreed the Major. "Come along, Patsy; it's this way."

Willing Square was not very big, but it was beautiful with flowers and well tended and 3708 proved to be a handsome building with a white marble front, situated directly on a corner. The Major examined it critically from the sidewalk, and decided it contained six suites of apartments, three on each side.

"D must be the second floor to the right." he said, "and that's a fine location, sure enough."

A porter appeared at the front door, which stood open, and examined the group upon the sidewalk with evident curiosity.

Patsy walked up to him, and ignoring the big gold figures over the entrance she enquired:

"Is this 3708 Willing Square?"

"Yes, Miss," answered the porter; "are you Miss Doyle?"

"I am," she answered, surprised.

"One flight up, Miss, and turn to the right," he continued, promptly; and then he winked over the girl's head at Uncle John, who frowned so terribly that the man drew aside and disappeared abruptly. The Major and Patsy were staring at one another, however, and did not see this by-play.

"Let's go up," said the Major, in a husky voice, and proceeded to mount the stairs.

Patsy followed close behind, and then came Uncle John. One flight up they paused at a door marked "D", upon the panel of which was a rack bearing a card printed with the word "Doyle."

"Well, well!" gasped the Major. "Who'd have thought it, at all at all!"

Patsy, with trembling fingers, put a key in the lock, and after one or two efforts opened the door.

The sun was shining brilliantly into a tiny reception hall, furnished most luxuriously.

The Major placed his hat on the rack, and Uncle John followed suit.

No one spoke a word as they marched in humble procession into the living-room, their feet pressing without sound into the thick rugs. Everything here was fresh and new, but selected with excellent taste and careful attention to detail. Not a thing was lacking, from the pretty upright piano to the enameled clock ticking upon the mantel. The dining-room was a picture, indeed, with stained-glass windows casting their soft lights through the draperies and the side-board shining with silver and glass. There was a cellarette in one corner, the Major noticed, and it was well stocked.

Beyond was a pantry with well filled shelves and then the kitchen—this last filled with every article that could possibly be needed. In a store-room were enough provisions to stock a grocery-store and Patsy noted with amazement that there was ice in the refrigerator, with cream and milk and butter cooling beside it.

They felt now as if they were intruding in some fairy domain. It was all exquisite, though rather tiny; but such luxury was as far removed from the dingy rooms they had occupied as could well be imagined. The Major coughed and ahemmed continually; Patsy ah'd and oh'd and seemed half frightened; Uncle John walked after them silently, but with a pleased smile that was almost childish upon his round and rugged face.

Across the hall were three chambers, each with a separate bath, while one had a pretty dressing-room added.

"This will be Patsy's room," said the Major, with a vast amount of dignity.

"Of course," said Uncle John. "The pins on the cushion spell 'Patricia,' don't they?"

"So they do!" cried Patsy, greatly delighted.

"And this room," continued the Major, passing into the next, "will be mine. There are fine battle-scenes on the wall; and I declare, there's just the place for the colonel's photograph over the dresser!"

"Cigars, too," said Patsy, opening a little cabinet; "but 'twill be a shame to smoke in this palace."

"Then I won't live here!" declared the Major, stoutly, but no one heeded him.

"Here is Uncle John's room," exclaimed the girl, entering the third chamber.

"Mine?" enquired Uncle John in mild surprise.

"Sure, sir; you're one of the family, and I'm glad it's as good as the Major's, every bit."

Uncle John's eyes twinkled.

"I hope the bed is soft," he remarked, pressing it critically.

"It's as good as the old sofa, any day," said Patsy, indignantly.

Just then a bell tinkled, and after looking at one another in silent consternation for a moment, the Major tiptoed stealthily to the front door, followed by the others.

"What'll we do?" asked Patsy, in distress.

"Better open it," suggested Uncle John, calmly.

The Major did so, and there was a little maid bowing and smiling outside. She entered at once, closing the door behind her, and bowed again.

"This is my new mistress, I suppose," she said, looking at Patsy. "I am your servant, Miss Patricia."

Patsy gasped and stared at her. The maid was not much older than she was, but she looked pleasant and intelligent and in keeping with the rooms. She wore a gray dress with white collar and white apron and cap, and seemed so dainty and sweet that the Major and Uncle John approved her at once.

Patsy sat down, from sheer lack of strength to stand up.

"Who hired you, then?" she asked.

"A gentleman from the bank," was the reply. "I'm Mary, if you please, Miss. And my wages are all arranged for in advance, so there will be nothing for you to pay," said the little maid.

"Can you cook?" asked Patsy, curiously.

"Yes, Miss," with a smile. "The dinner will be ready at one o'clock."

"Oh; you've been here before, then?"

"Two days, Miss, getting ready for you."

"And where will you sleep?"

"I've a little room beyond the kitchen. Didn't you see it, Miss Patricia?"

"No, Mary."

"Anything more at present, Miss Patricia?"

"No, Mary."

The maid bowed again, and disappeared toward the kitchen, leaving an awe-struck group behind her.

The Major whistled softly. Uncle John seemed quite unconcerned. Patsy took out her handkerchief. The tears would come in spite of her efforts.

"I—I—I'm going to have a good cry," she sobbed, and rushed into the living-room to throw herself flat upon the divan.

"It's all right," said the Major, answering Uncle John's startled look; "the cry will do her good. I've half a mind to join her myself."

But he didn't. He followed Uncle John into the tatter's room and smoked one of the newly-discovered cigars while the elder man lay back in an easy chair and silently puffed his pipe.

By and bye Patsy joined them, no longer crying but radiant with glee.

"Tell me, Daddy," said she, perching on the arm of the Major's chair, "who gave me all this, do you think?"

"Not me," answered the Major, positively. "I couldn't do it on twelve a week, anyhow at all."

"And you robbed me of all my money when I came to town," said Uncle John.

"Stop joking," said the girl. "There's no doubt this place is intended for us, is there?"

"None at all," declared the Major. "It's ours for three years, and not a penny to pay."

"Well, then, do you think it's Kenneth?"

The Major shook his head.

"I don't know the lad." he said, "and he might be equal to it, although I doubt it. But he can't touch his money till he comes of age, and it isn't likely his lawyer guardian would allow such extravagances."

"Then who can it be?"

"I can't imagine."

"It doesn't seem to matter," remarked Uncle John, lighting a fresh pipe. "You're not supposed to ask questions, I take it, but to enjoy your new home as much as you can."

"Ex—actly!" agreed the Major.

"I've been thinking," continued Uncle John, "that I'm not exactly fit for all this style, Patsy. I'll have to get a new suit of clothes to match my new quarters. Will you give me back ten dollars of that money to buy 'em with?"

"I suppose I'll have to," she answered, thoughtfully.

"We'll have to go back to Becker's flats to pack up our traps," said the Major, "so we might as well go now."

"I hate to leave here for a single moment," replied the girl.

"Why?"

"I'm afraid it will all disappear again."

"Nonsense!" said Uncle John. "For my part, I haven't any traps, so I'll stay here and guard the treasure till you return."

"Dinner is served, Miss Patricia," said the small maid, appearing in the doorway.

"Then let's dine!" cried Patsy, clapping her hands gleefully; "and afterward the Major and I will make our last visit to Becker's flats."