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- Patty's Suitors - 30/45 -


but more than that, he looked so bewildered and utterly taken back, that Patty burst into laughter.

CHAPTER XIV

KENNETH

Mrs. Homer and Marie were greeting the newcomers, and as yet had hardly realised the whole situation, but quick-witted Beatrice took it all in.

"You Patty!" she cried, "oh, you Patty Fairfield!"

Patty's beaming face left no doubts as to who it was that had circumvented their plan and carried off the honours of the day.

"I'm so sorry you can't stay to luncheon," she said, turning to Kit; "must you really go now?"

"You little rascal!" he cried, "but I'll get even with you for this!"

"Please don't," and Patty spoke seriously. "Truly, Kit, I don't like these things. I'm awfully glad I could save Mrs. Homer and Marie the mortification and annoyance you and Bee had planned for them. But I haven't any right to talk to you like a Dutch aunt. If this is your notion of fun, I've no right even to criticise it; but I will tell you that if you 'get even with me,' as you call it, by playing one of your jokes on me, we'll not be friends any more."

"Patty!" and Kit took both her hands with a mock tragic gesture, "ANYTHING but that! To lose your friendship, Poppycheek, would be to lose all that makes life worth living! Now, if I promise to get even with you, by never trying to get even with you,--how's that?"

"That's just right!" and Patty, as the victorious party, could afford to be generous. "Now run away, Kit. You promised your aunt you'd scoot when her guests arrived."

"Yes, I did, Princess, so off I go! I haven't told you yet what I think of your cleverness in this matter,--by the way, how did you get on to it?"

"I'll tell you some other time; run away, now."

So Kit went away, and Patty turned back to the laughing group who were merrily discussing the joke.

Mrs. Homer and Marie were so horrified when they learned of their narrow escape from trouble, and so gratified that through Patty it had been an escape, that their feelings were decidedly mixed.

Beatrice was by nature what is called a good loser, and she took her defeat gaily.

"I had thought," she said, "that Kit and I were the best practical jokers in the world; but we've been beaten by Patty Fairfield! Now, that you're all here, I'm really glad of it, but I did think it would be fun to see mother and Marie hopping around, waiting for you!"

Then they all went out to luncheon, and among the pretty table decorations and merry first of April jests, Patty managed to smuggle in at Bee's place a funny little figure. It was a bauble doll dressed like a Jester or Court Fool. And he bore a tiny flag in his hand, bearing the legend, April first.

"I AM an April Fool!" Beatrice admitted, as she took her seat, "but I forgive Patty for making me one, if all of the rest of you will forgive me."

Bee made this apology so prettily, and her roguish dark eyes flashed so brightly, that forgiveness was freely bestowed, and indeed, as one of the guests remarked, there was nothing to forgive.

But the story was told over and over again, and Patty was beset with questions as to how she chanced to discover the fraud.

"Why, I just happened to," she said, smiling; "I think I'm a detective by instinct; but there's not much credit due to me, for I knew Beatrice and Mr. Cameron were always planning jokes, and I couldn't believe they'd let the first of April pass by without some special demonstration. So I kept my eyes open,--and I couldn't help seeing what I did see."

"You're a Seer from Seeville," declared Bee, "and I promise I shall never try to trick you again."

"Which means," said Patty, calmly, "that you'll never cease trying until you accomplish it, and you say that to put me off my guard."

The baffled look on Bee's face proved that this was true, and everybody laughed.

It was that very same evening that Kenneth came to call, and Patty merrily told him the whole story.

She was not much surprised that he disapproved heartily of the joke.

"It isn't nice, Patty," he declared; "I may be dull and serious- minded, but I can't stand for jokes of that sort."

"I either, Ken," Patty returned; "but we must remember that people in this world have different ideas and tastes. And especially, they have differing notions of what constitutes humour. So, just because WE don't like practical jokes, we oughtn't to condemn those who do. We may like some things that THEY don't approve."

"What a just little person you are, Patty," and Harper looked at her approvingly. "For all your gaiety and frivolity you have a sound, sweet nature. And more than that, you have real brains in that curly-pate of yours."

"Goodness, Ken, you overwhelm me with these sudden compliments! You'll quite turn my head; I never COULD stand flattery!"

"It isn't flattery," and Kenneth spoke very earnestly; "it's the solemn truth. You are as wise and sensible as you are beautiful."

"Heavens and earth! Ken, WHY these kind words? What do you want?"

Harper looked at her a moment, and then said, steadily: "I want YOU, Patty; I want you more than I can tell you. I didn't mean to blurt this out so soon, but I can't keep it back. Patty, PATTY, can't you care for me a little?"

Patty was about to reply flippantly, but the look in Harper's eyes forbade it, and she said, gently, "Kenneth, dear, PLEASE don't!"

"I know what that means; it means you DON'T care."

"But I DO, Ken----"

"Oh, Patty, DO you? Do you MEAN it?"

Kenneth took her hands in his and his big grey eyes expressed so much love and hope, that Patty was frightened.

"No, I DON'T mean it! I don't mean anything! Oh, Ken, please DON'T!"

"Don't say that, Patty, because I MUST. Listen, dear; I went to see your father to-day. And I asked him if I might tell you all this."

Patty looked at him, not quite comprehending.

"You went to see daddy?" she said, wonderingly; "he never told me."

"Why should he? Don't you understand, dear? I went to him to ask his permission to tell you that I love you, and I want you for my wife. And your father said that I might tell you. And now,--darling----"

"And now it's up to me?" Patty tried to speak lightly.

"Exactly that, Patty," and Kenneth's face was grave and tender. "It's up to you, dear. The happiness of my whole life is up to you,- -here and now. What's the answer?"

Patty sat still a moment, and fairly blinked her eyes in her endeavour to realise the situation.

"Ken," she said at last, in a small, far-away voice, "are you--are you--are you proposing to me?"

"I sure am!" and Kenneth's head nodded a firm assent; "the sooner you get that fact into your head, the better. Patty, DEAR little Patty, tell me,--don't keep me waiting----"

"But, Ken, I don't WANT to be proposed to,--and least of all, by YOU!"

"Patty, do you mean that?" and Harper's strained, anxious face took on a look of despair.

"Oh, no, NO, I don't mean THAT! At least, not in the way you think! I only mean we've been such good friends for so long, you're the last one I should think of marrying!"

"And who is the first one you think of marrying?"

Patty burst into laughter. "Oh, Ken, you're so funny when you're sarcastic! Don't be THAT, whatever you are!"

"I won't; Patty, darling, tell me you love me a little bit,--or just that you'll let me love you,--and I'll NEVER be sarcastic! I'll only be tender, and gentle, and loving,--and anything and everything you want me to be!"

"Can you?"

The eager light faded from Kenneth's eyes, as he answered: "No, I'm afraid I can't, dear. I know as well as you do, that I haven't the kind of gaiety you like in a man. I've told you this before. But, Patty,--you've so much of that,--don't you think you've enough for two?"

Patty smiled. "It isn't only that, Ken. Don't think that I care more


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