Read CHAPTER VII - A RESCUE of Patty's Summer Days , free online book, by Carolyn Wells, on ReadCentral.com.

Perhaps it was partly owing to Patty’s natural sense of humour, or perhaps her overwrought nerves made her feel a little hysterically inclined, but somehow the situation suddenly struck her as being very funny.  To think that she, Patty Fairfield, was about to be arrested because she couldn’t pay her cab fare, truly seemed like a joke.

But though it seemed like a joke, it wasn’t one.  As Patty hesitated, the cabman grew more impatient and less respectful.

Patty’s feeling of amusement passed as quickly as it came, and she realised that she must do something at once.  Nan was not at home, her father was too far away, and, curiously, the next person she thought of as one who could help her in her trouble was Mr. Hepworth.

This thought seemed like an inspiration.  Instantly assuming an air of authority and dignity, she turned to the angry cabman and said, “You will be the one to be arrested unless you behave yourself more properly.  Come with me to the nearest public telephone station.  I have sufficient money with me to pay for a telephone message, and I will then prove to your satisfaction that your fare will be immediately paid.”

Patty afterward wondered how she had the courage to make this speech, but the fear of what might happen had been such a shock to her that it had reacted upon her timidity.

And with good results, for the cabman at once became meek and even cringing.

“There’s a telephone across the street, Miss,” he said.

“Very well,” said Patty; “come with me.”

“There’s a telephone here, Miss,” said the Italian woman, “if you would like to use it.”

“That’s better yet,” said Patty; “where’s the book?”

Taking the telephone book, Patty quickly turned the leaves until she found Mr. Hepworth’s studio number.

She had an aversion to speaking her own name before her present hearers, so when Mr. Hepworth responded she merely said, “Do you know who I am?”

Of course the others listening could not hear when Mr. Hepworth responded that he did know her voice, and then called her by name.

“Very well,” said Patty, still speaking with dignity, “I have had the misfortune to lose my purse, and I am unable to pay my cab fare.  Will you be kind enough to answer the cabman over this telephone right now, and inform him that it will be paid if he will drive me to your address, which you will give him?”

“Certainly,” replied Mr. Hepworth politely, though he was really very much amazed at this message.

Patty turned to the cabman and said, somewhat sternly, “Take this receiver and speak to the gentleman at the other end of the wire.”

Sheepishly the man took the receiver and timidly remarked, “Hello.”

“What is your number?” asked Mr. Hepworth, and the cabman told him.

“Where are you?” was the next question, and the cabman gave the address of the costumer, which Patty had not remembered to do.

Mr. Hepworth’s studio was not very many blocks away, and he gave the cabman his name and address, saying, “Bring the young lady around here at once, as quickly as you can.  I will settle with you on your arrival.”

Mr. Hepworth hung up his own receiver, much puzzled.  His first impulse was to go to the address where Patty was, but as it would take some time for him to get around there by any means, he deemed it better that she should come to him.

As Patty felt safe, now that she was so soon to meet Mr. Hepworth, she gave her remaining change to the Italian woman, who had been kind, though stolidly disinterested, during the whole interview.

The cabman, having given his number to Mr. Hepworth, felt a responsibility for the safety of his passenger, and assisted her into the cab with humble politeness.

A few moments’ ride brought them to the large building in which was Mr. Hepworth’s studio, and that gentleman himself, hatted and gloved, stood on the curb awaiting them.

“What’s it all about?” he asked Patty, making no motion, however, to assist her from the cab.

But the reaction after her fright and embarrassment had made Patty so weak and nervous that she was on the verge of tears.

“I didn’t have any money,” she said; “I don’t know whether I lost it or not, and if you’ll please pay him, papa will pay you afterward.”

“Of course, child; that’s all right,” said Mr. Hepworth.  “Don’t get out,” he added, as Patty started to do so.  “Stay right where you are, and I’ll take you home.”  He gave Patty’s address to the driver, swung himself into the cab beside Patty, and off they started.

“I wasn’t frightened,” said Patty, though her quivering lip and trembling hands belied her words; “but when he said he’d arrest me, I ­I didn’t know what to do, and so I telephoned to you.”

“Quite right,” said Hepworth, in a casual tone, which gave no hint of the joy he felt in being Patty’s protector in such an emergency.  “But I say, child, you look regularly done up.  What have you been doing?  Have you had your luncheon?”

“No,” said Patty, faintly.

“And it’s after two o’clock,” said Hepworth, sympathetically.  “You poor infant, I’d like to take you somewhere for a bite, but I suppose that wouldn’t do.  Well, here’s the only thing we can do, and it will at least keep you from fainting away.”

He signalled the cabman to stop at a drug shop, where there was a large soda fountain.  Here he ordered for Patty a cup of hot bouillon.  He made her drink it slowly, and was rejoiced to see that it did her good.  She felt better at once, and when they returned to the cab she begged Mr. Hepworth to let her go on home alone, and not take any more of his valuable time.

“No, indeed,” said that gentleman; “it may not be according to the strictest rules of etiquette for me to be going around with you in a hansom cab, but it’s infinitely better than for you to be going around alone.  So I’ll just take charge of you until I can put you safely inside your father’s house.”

“And the girls are coming at two o’clock for a rehearsal!” said Patty.  “Oh, I shall be late.”

“The girls will wait,” said Mr. Hepworth, easily, and then during the rest of the ride he entertained Patty with light, merry conversation.

He watched her closely, however, and came to the conclusion that the girl was very nervous, and excitable to a degree that made him fear she was on the verge of a mental illness.

“When is this play of yours to come off?” he enquired.

“Next Thursday night,” said Patty, “if we can get ready for it, and we must; but oh, there is so much to do, and now I’ve wasted this whole morning and haven’t accomplished a thing, and I don’t know where Miss Sinclair is, and I didn’t see about the costumes, after all, and now I’ll be late for rehearsal.  Oh, what shall I do?”

Mr. Hepworth had sufficient intuition to know that if he sympathised with Patty in her troubles she was ready to break down in a fit of nervous crying.

So he said, as if the matter were of no moment, “Oh, pshaw, those costumes will get themselves attended to some way or another.  Why, I’ll go down there this afternoon and hunt them up, if you like.  Just tell me what ones you want.”

This was help, indeed.  Patty well knew that Mr. Hepworth’s artistic taste could select the costumes even better than her own, and she eagerly told him the necessary details.

Mr. Hepworth also promised to look after some other errands that were troubling Patty’s mind, so that when she finally reached home she was calm and self-possessed once more.

Mr. Hepworth quickly settled matters with the cabman, and then escorted Patty up the steps to her own front door, where, with a bow and a few last kindly words, he left her and walked rapidly away.

The girls who had gathered for rehearsal greeted her with a chorus of reproaches for being so late, but when Patty began to tell her exciting experiences, the rehearsal was forgotten in listening to the thrilling tale.

“Come on, now,” said Patty, a little later, “we must get to work.  Get your places and begin your lines, while I finish these.”

Patty had refused to go to luncheon, and the maid had brought a tray into the library for her.  So, with a sandwich in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, she directed the rehearsal, taking her own part therein when the time came.

So the days went on, each one becoming more and more busy as the fateful time drew near.

Also Patty became more and more nervous.  She had far more to do than any of the other girls, for they depended on her in every emergency, referred every decision to her, and seemed to expect her to do all the hardest of the work.

Moreover, the long strain of overstudy she had been through had left its effects on her system, and Patty, though she would not admit it, and no one else realised it, was in imminent danger of an attack of nervous prostration.

The last few days Nan had begun to suspect this, but as nothing could be done to check Patty’s mad career, or even to assist her in the many things she had to do, Nan devoted her efforts to keeping Patty strengthened and stimulated, and was constantly appearing to her with a cup of hot beef tea, or of strong coffee, or a dose of some highly recommended nerve tonic.

Although these produced good temporary effects, the continued use of these remedies really aggravated Patty’s condition, and when Thursday came she was almost a wreck, both physically and mentally, and Nan was at her wits’ end to know how to get the girl through the day.

At the summons of her alarm clock Patty rose early in the morning, for there was much to do by way of final preparation.  Before breakfast she had attended to many left-over odds and ends, and when she appeared at the table she said only an absent-minded “good-morning,” and then knit her brows as if in deep and anxious thought.

Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield looked at each other.  They knew that to say a word to Patty by way of warning would be likely to precipitate the breakdown that they feared, so they were careful to speak very casually and gently.

“Anything I can do for you to-day, Puss?” said her father, kindly.

“No,” said Patty, still frowning; “but I wish the flowers would come.  I have to make twenty-four garlands before I go over to the schoolroom, and I must be there by ten o’clock to look after the building of the platform.”

“Can’t I make the garlands for you?” asked Nan.

“No,” said Patty, “they have to be made a special way, and you’d only spoil them.”

“But if you showed me,” urged Nan, patiently.  “If you did two or three, perhaps I could copy them exactly; at any rate, let me try.”

“Very well,” said Patty, dully, “I wish you could do them, I’m sure.”

The flowers were delayed, as is not unusual in such cases, and it was nearly ten when they arrived.

Patty was almost frantic by that time, and Nan, as she afterward told her husband, had to “handle her with gloves on.”

But by dint of tact and patience, Nan succeeded in persuading Patty, after making two or three garlands, to leave the rest for her to do.  Although they were of complicated design, Nan was clever at such things, and could easily copy Patty’s work.  And had she been herself, Patty would have known this.  But so upset was she that even her common sense seemed warped.

When she reached the schoolroom there were a thousand and one things to see to, and nearly all of them were going wrong.

Patty flew from one thing to another, straightening them out and bringing order from confusion, and though she held herself well in hand, the tension was growing tighter, and there was danger of her losing control of herself at any minute.

Hilda Henderson was the only one who realised this, and, taking Patty aside, she said to her, quietly, “Look here, girl, I’ll attend to everything else; there’s not much left that needs special attention.  And I want you to go right straight home, take a hot bath, and then lie down and rest until time to dress for the afternoon programme.  Will you?”

Patty looked at Hilda with a queer, uncomprehending gaze.  She seemed scarcely to understand what was being said to her.

“Yes,” she said, but as she turned she half stumbled, and would have fallen to the floor if Hilda had not caught her strongly by the arm.

“Brace up,” she said, and her voice was stern because she was thoroughly frightened.  “Patty Fairfield, don’t you dare to collapse now!  If you do, I’ll ­I don’t know what I’ll do to you!  Come on, now, I’ll go home with you.”

Hilda was really afraid to let Patty go alone, so hastily donning her hat and coat she went with her to her very door.

“Take this girl,” she said to Nan, “and put her to bed, and don’t let her see anybody or say anything until the programme begins this afternoon.  I’ll look after everything that isn’t finished, if you’ll just keep her quiet.”

Nan was thoroughly alarmed, but she only said, “All right, Hilda, I’ll take care of her, and thank you very much for bringing her home.”

Patty sank down on a couch in a limp heap, but her eyes were big and bright as she looked at Hilda, saying, “See that the stars are put on the gilt wands, and the green bay leaves on the white ones.  Lorraine’s spangled skirt is in Miss Oliphant’s room, and please be sure, ­” Patty didn’t finish this sentence, but lay back among the cushions, exhausted.

“Run along, Hilda,” said Nan; “do the best you can with the stars and things, and I’ll see to it that Patty’s all right by afternoon.”