Chase Josephine.

Patsy Carroll Under Southern Skies





I think its a nice letter, praised Mabel. Go ahead and send it, Patsy.

I am sure shell like it, approved Bee. Its thoughtful in your father to offer her the collection of portraits.

It seems funny to me that she didnt reserve them. Maybe she didnt want them. She might have grown tired of seeing them every day for so many years, speculated Mabel. They arent a particularly cheerful-looking lot of ladies and gentlemen. They all look so cold and stern and tragic.

Auntie says they gave her the horrors, chuckled Patsy. When I told her that Dad said I could write to Eulalie and ask her if she wanted the collection, Auntie said: A very sensible idea. She is welcome to them. If she doesnt want them I shall have the gallery cleared out before we come down here next season.

If Eulalie doesnt want them, what will become of them? Bee asked thoughtfully. Would your father sell them? Suppose you were to find that some of them had been painted by famous artists? Then theyd be very valuable.

I dont know what Dad would do in that case. He spoke of having an art collector come down here and look them over, you know. Of course, if Eulalie sends for them, thats the end of it. If she doesnt, Auntie will have them taken down. I know one thing. She hates the sight of them. Now I must write another letter. I hope I shant be disturbed while Im writing it.

Patsy beamed on her chums with owlish significance.

Isnt she snippy? sniffed Mabel. Come on, Bee, weve got to find that secret drawer. I hope we shant be disturbed while were hunting for it.

Patsy merely grinned amiably at this thrust and settled herself to the writing of her letter. A little smile curved her red lips as the pen fled over the paper.

For ten minutes she continued to write, then called out:

Come here, children, and sign this letter.

Never put your signature to a paper until you know what its all about, Bee warned Mabel.

Oh, you neednt be so cautious. I was going to let you see what I wrote. Here!

Patsy handed the letter to Bee.

Heads together, Mabel and Bee proceeded to read that which made them smile.

Dear Wood Nymph, the letter said. Why wont you come and play with us, instead of hiding away in the thickets? We are just four young girls like yourself, so you need not be afraid of us. We found the red book in the patio, so we know that you must have paid us a call yesterday while we were away from Las Golondrinas.

Why dont you come and see us when we are at home? Wed love to have you. The next time you see us at the bathing-beach please come out of the woods and show us that you are not a tricksy sprite but a real live girl like ourselves.

We are placing this note in a book which we are sure you will like to read. We are going to leave the book on the sands just where you found the red book. After you have read it, wont you bring it straight to us and get acquainted?

Your friends,
The Wayfarers.

Below The Wayfarers Patsy had signed her own name, allowing sufficient space on the page for the names of her friends.

Thats sweet in you, Patsy, lauded Mabel.

Give me your pen. Ill sign my name in a hurry.

Mabel promptly affixed her name to the letter, Beatrice following suit.

We must get Nellie to sign it, too. You and Bee take it to her, Mab, Patsy requested. Im going to ask Auntie if we cant walk down to the beach, for once, without an escort. Its not as if we were going bathing. Well just leave the book and come straight back. We wont be in any danger.

Wheres the book? inquired Bee.

In my room. Im going to put the letter in that book we read on the train when we were coming down here. You remember. It was The Oriole. Its such a pretty story and not too grown-up for our wood nymph. Ill meet you girls in the patio.

While Bee and Mabel went to inform Eleanor of the proposed expedition and obtain her signature to the letter, Patsy took upon herself the delicate task of interviewing her aunt.

She found Miss Martha on one of the balconies which overlooked the patio, a bit of embroidery in her hands, a book open on one knee. Miss Carroll had triumphantly mastered the difficult art of reading and embroidering at the same time.

Having come to the belief that it was really the girls wood nymph who had taken and subsequently returned her book, Miss Martha was now inclined to lay less stress on the incident. Her theory of tramps having been shaken, she demurred a little, then gave a somewhat reluctant consent to Patsys plea.

You may go this once, but be sure you keep together and dont loiter down there at the beach. I cant say I specially approve of your trying to make friends with this young heathen. Once you come to know her you may find her very troublesome. However, you may be able to help her in some way. Your motive is good. Thats really the only reason I can give for allowing you to carry out your plan. Be sure you come back in time for luncheon.

Youre as good as gold, Auntie, dear. Patsy tumultuously embraced Miss Martha.

Really, Patsy, you fairly pull one to pieces, grumbled Miss Carroll, grabbing ineffectually for embroidery and book as she emerged from that bear-like embrace.

You like it, though. Patsy deftly garnered book and embroidery from the balcony floor and restored them to Miss Carrolls lap. Dropping a kiss on her aunts snowy hair she light-heartedly left the balcony to go to her own room for the book which was to play an important part in her kindly little plan.

Hastily securing the book, Patsy set her broad-brimmed Panama on her auburn head at a rakish angle and dashed from the room in her usual whirlwind fashion, banging the door behind her.

A few steps and she had entered the picture gallery through which she intended to pass on her way to the stairs. As she entered it a faint sound assailed her ears. She could not place in her own mind the nature of the sound, yet it startled her, simply because it had proceeded from the very center of the gallery.

An unbidden impulse caused her to direct her eyes toward the portrait cavalier. She caught her breath sharply. A curious chill crept up and down her spine. Was she dreaming, or had the man in the picture actually moved? With a little gasp of terror Patsy fled for the stairs and clattered down them, feeling as though the sinister cavalier was directly at her heels.

CHAPTER XIV
A REAL ADVENTURE

What on earth is the matter?

Seated on a bench beside Mabel and Eleanor, Bee sprang up in alarm as Patsy fairly tore into the patio and dropped limply upon another seat.

Oh, girls, the picture! she exclaimed. That cavalier! He moved! Im sure he did! It gave me the creeps! I was hustling through the gallery and I heard a faint, queer noise. I cant describe it. It seemed to come right from the middle of the gallery. I looked toward that picture and it moved, or else the cavalier moved. I dont know which.

You just thought you saw something move, soothed Bee, sitting down beside her chum and patting her hand. It was probably the way the light happened to strike on the picture that made it seem so. As for a queer sound! Every sound echoes and re-echoes in these old corridors. We heard you bang your door clear down here. You must have heard an echo of that bang in the gallery.

Im a goose, I guess. Patsy sheepishly ducked her head. I never thought of the light falling like that on the picture. Thats what I saw, I suppose.

What has happened, Patsy? called a dignified but anxious voice from the balcony. Miss Martha stood leaning over the rail looking down concernedly at her niece.

Nothing, Auntie, dear. I heard a queer noise in the gallery and it startled me. Bee says it was only the echo from the bang I gave my door. Im all right, Patsy sturdily insisted, rising from the seat and blowing a gay little kiss to her aunt.

I heard you bang your door, was the significant response. When you come back from your walk you must take one of those capsules that Dr. Hilliard prescribed for my nerves.

All right, Patsy dutifully agreed. Good-bye, Auntie. Were going now.

Good-bye. Remember to be back by one oclock.

The three other girls calling a blithe good-bye to Miss Carroll, the quartette left the patio with an alacrity that betokened their eagerness for the proposed walk.

I didnt care to tell her about thinking I saw the picture move, confessed Patsy. As it is Im in for swallowing one of those fat nerve capsules that Auntie always keeps on hand. I need it about as much as a bird needs a hat. Well have to walk fairly fast to get to the beach and back by luncheon time, girls. Well lay the book on the sand, then watch from the bath house windows to see what happens.

I hope our wood nymph comes along and finds it to-day, commented Mabel. Still she might not go near the beach for several days. After all, theres only a chance that shell see it and pick it up.

I have an idea she goes to the beach every day, said Beatrice. She may be as curious about us as we are about her. She may be so shy, though, that she wont come near us, even if she does read our note.

Thus discussing the object of their little scheme, the Wayfarers forged ahead at a swinging pace. Soon they had left the highway and were on the narrow, white, palm-lined road to the beach, talking busily as they went. Once in the jungle four pairs of eyes kept up an alert watch on both sides of the road in the hope of spying the elusive wood nymph.

They came at last to the beach, however, without having seen any signs of their quarry. After they had gone through the little ceremony of placing the book on the spot on the sands from which the other book had disappeared, they went over to the bath house and, entering, eagerly watched from one of its windows.

After lingering there for half an hour, during which period the fateful book remained exactly where it had been laid, they gave up the vigil for that day and reluctantly started on the homeward hike.

Of course we couldnt really expect anything would happen just because we wanted it to, declared Eleanor.

Of course not, her chums concurred. In her heart, however, each girl had been secretly hoping that something would happen.

The following morning saw the Wayfarers again on the sands. This time, however, they had come down to the beach for a swim, Miss Martha dutifully accompanying them.

Almost the first object which met their gaze when they reached the sands was the book. It still lay exactly where Patsy had deposited it, the white edge of the letter showing above the books blue binding.

She hasnt been here! Patsy cried out disappointedly. I guess our plan isnt going to amount to much after all.

Oh, dont be discouraged, smiled Eleanor. Give her time.

Lets forget all about it, suggested Bee. Nothing ever happens when ones awfully anxious for it to happen. It generally happens after one has stopped thinking about it and gone on to something else. Its a glorious morning for a swim. Lets hurry into our bathing suits and take advantage of it.

This wise view of the matter appealing to the disappointed authors of the little plot, the four girls betook themselves to the bath house to get ready for their morning dip in the ocean.

Having now become mildly interested in Patsys scheme to catch a wood nymph, Miss Martha took pains to further it by establishing herself on the sands at a point on the far side of the bath house. From there she could neither see the spot where the book lay, nor could anyone who might chance to approach it see her. This maneuver was not lost on her charges, who agreed with Patsys gleeful assertion that Auntie was just as anxious for something to happen as they were.

Soon engrossed in the fun of splashing and swimming about in the sun-warmed salt water, the Wayfarers forgot everything that did not pertain to the enjoyment of the moment.

True, on first entering the surf Patsy cast an occasional glance beachward. Bees merry challenge, Ill race you again to-day as far as the bend and back, was the last touch needed to drive all thought of the mysterious wood nymph from Patsys mind.

Sturdy Bee proved herself no mean antagonist. When Patsy finally arrived at the starting point only a yard ahead of her chum, she was ready to throw herself down on the sands and rest after her strenuous swim. Bee, however, showed no sign of fatigue.

You beat me, but only by a yard. To-morrow Ill beat you. Bee stood over Patsy, flushed and laughing.

I dont doubt it. Patsy glanced admiringly up at her chum. Youre a stronger swimmer than I, Bee. With a little more practice youll be a wonder. Here I am resting. You look ready to start out all over again.

Im not a bit tired, Bee said with a little air of pride. Ill prove it by swimming out there where Mabel and Nellie are.

Stretched full length in the sand, Patsy lazily sat up and watched her chum as Bee waded out in the surf, reached swimming depth and struck out for a point not far ahead where Mabel and Eleanor were placidly swimming about.

Indolently content to remain inactive, Patsy continued to watch her three friends for a little, then lay down again, one arm thrown across her eyes to shut out the sun.

While she lay there, enjoying the luxury of thinking about nothing in particular, tardy recollection of the blue book suddenly crossed her brain. It impelled her to sit up again with a jerk and cast a quick glance toward the object of her thoughts.

Next instant a bare-footed figure in a white bathing suit flashed across the sands toward the jungle on a wild run. In that one glance Patsy had seen more than the blue book. She had seen a slim young girl, her small, beautiful face framed in masses of midnight black hair, flit suddenly out of the jungle, eagerly snatch up the book and dart off with it.

First sight of the strange girl and Patsys original intention to await developments flew to the winds. Obeying a mad impulse to pursue the vanishing wood nymph, Patsy plunged into the jungle after her, crying out loudly: Wait a minute! I want to talk to you.

At sound of the clear, high voice the black-haired girl ahead halted briefly. Through the open screen of green, Patsy could see her quite plainly. She was looking over her shoulder at her pursuer as though undetermined whether to stand her ground or continue her flight.

Dont be afraid, Patsy called out encouragingly. Please dont run away.

As she spoke she started quickly forward. Her eyes fixed on the girl, her runaway feet plunged themselves into a mass of tangled green vines. With a sharp, Oh! she pitched headlong into a thicket of low-growing bushes.

As she scrambled to her feet she became aware of a loud, metallic buzzing in her ears. Then she felt herself being jerked out of the thicket by a pair of strong arms and hauled to a bit of dear space beyond.

Stay where you are, se?orita, commanded a warning, imperative voice. Move not, I entreat you!

Bewildered by the suddenness with which things had happened, Patsy stood perfectly still, her eyes following the movements of a lithe figure, darting this way and that, as though in search of something.

Still in a daze she heard the voice that had addressed her utter a low murmur of satisfaction, as its owner stooped and picked up a dead branch from under a huge live oak. Two little brown hands played like lightning over the thick branch, ripping off the clinging dead twigs. Next the denuded branch was thwacked vigorously against the parent oak.

It is strong enough, announced a calm voice. Now we shall see.

Fascinated, Patsy watched breathlessly. She now understood the situation. Her headlong crash into the thicket had stirred up a drowsy rattler. The prompt action of her little wood nymph had saved her from being bitten by the snake. Now the girl intended to hunt it down and kill it. She looked so small and slender. It seemed too dangerous a task for her to undertake.

Oh, please let it alone! It might bite you! Patsy found herself faltering out. A rattle-snakes bite is deadly.

I have killed many. I am not afraid. Always one must kill the snake. It is the sign of the enemy. One kills; so one conquers. Comprende?

The girl shook back her black hair, her red lips parting in a smile that lighted her somber face into sunshine. Patsy thought it quite the prettiest thing she had ever seen.

Very cautiously the intrepid little hunter began to circle the thicket, poking her impromptu weapon into it with every step she took.

Ah!

She uttered a shout of triumph as the sinister, buzzing sound Patsy had so lately heard began again.

Having located her quarry, the girl proceeded to dispatch it with the fearlessness of those long used to the wilds. Her weapon firmly grasped in determined hands she rained a fury of strong, steady blows upon the rattler. Finally they ceased. Giving his snakeship a final contemptuous prod with the branch, she called across the thicket to Patsy:

Come. You wish to see. He is a very large one. Of a length of eight feet, quisas. Wait; I will lay him straight on the earth.

Approaching, Patsy shuddered as her rescuer obligingly poked the dead reptile from the spot where it had made its last stand. She shuddered again as a small brown hand grasped the still twitching tail and straightened the snake out.

It is the diamond back, the girl calmly informed. See. She pointed with the branch, which she still held, to the diamond-shaped markings on the snakes back. He carried the death in his sting. So we shall bury the head, for the sting of a dead snake such as this is safer covered.

Its horrible! shivered Patsy. It was coiled up in the thicket. I must have disturbed it when I fell. I dont see how I escaped being bitten.

He was resting at the edge of the thicket, se?orita, corrected the girl. Always such as he keep near the edge so that it becomes for them thus easy to strike the small creatures they hunt. So you missed him and he sang the song of death. I heard that song and came. He had eaten not long ago, I believe, and was lazy. So he did not try to go away. Now he is dead. So if the enemy comes to me, I must conquer. This is a true saying.

CHAPTER XV
DOLORES

A sudden silence fell upon the two girls as the picturesque little stranger made this solemn announcement. Now that the excitement was over the wood nymph began to show signs of returning shyness.

Fearing that she might turn and run away, Patsy stretched forth a slim white hand and said winningly:

I cant begin to tell you how grateful I am for what you did. You were very brave, I think. Im ever so glad to know you. Cant we be friends?

The girl hesitated, a wistful look in her large dark eyes. Very slowly she put her small brown hand into Patsys extended one.

I will give you the hand because already I like you, she said. I cannot be your friend because I am too poor. Always I must wear the old ugly dress. Always I must go with the feet bare.

That has nothing to do with our being friends, was Patsys gentle assurance. Im bare-footed, too. She laughed and thrust forward one pink, bare foot. Just look at my bathing suit. It was wet when I started after you. Falling down didnt improve it.

Ah, but your feet are bare because you wish it, reminded the girl sadly. Never I wish the bare feet, but always it must be. I have seen you the other day in the automobile. You and your friends I saw. Mi madre you were most wonderful! You were linda; hermosa!

The girl clasped her brown hands in a fervent gesture as she relapsed into Spanish by way of emphasizing her ardent admiration.

I was behind the hedge and saw you go, she continued apologetically. With me was the red book, I would to bring it back. Was it wrong to take it for one day? I desired it much.

You were very welcome to it, smiled Patsy. We found it in the patio with your thank you. Did you read it?

Si; but not all. It was long, with such hard words. No comprendia all. It told of the amor. That is the love, you know. Yet amor is the more sweet word. It is the Spanish. You must know that I am Spanish, but I speak the English quite well, though for a long time I have spoken it little.

I should say you did speak it well! emphasized Patsy.

As it happened, Patsy was already decidedly amazed at this fact. Though the girls phraseology was a trifle clumsy at times, in the main her English was grammatical. To Patsy she was a bewildering combination of childish frankness, sturdy independence, shy humility and quaint charm. Above all, there hung over her that curious air of mystery which wholly fascinated Patsy.

You have said you desire to be to me the friend. So I shall tell you why I speak the English, pursued the wood nymph in a sudden burst of confidence. First, we must bury the head of this, she pointed to the dead snake, then I will show you the place under the tree where we may sit for a little.

Id love to, eagerly responded Patsy.





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