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COME HOME, PATRICIA

WALTER A. DYER

WOULD be exceedingly difficult for me, even if it were anybody's business, to attempt to explain the nature of the emotions which warm this unyouthful heart of mine as I sit here on the sunny dunes with the old dog Meg beside me, gazing out to sea and waiting, waiting for the return of the fair Patricia. I I am, I suppose, an incurable romantic, and I think most people would misunderstand. For I am turned fifty and not unaware of hollow cheeks, a tendency to stoop a little, increasing absent-mindedness, and a widening spot of nudity in the midst of graying hair, while Patricia is young and slender and lovely with liquid eyes that can still see mystery; and life, though she has felt its ruder buffetings all too soon, still lies before her. If once I allowed myself to fall under the spell of a sweet illusion, if once I permitted a foolish dream partially to possess me, I never wholly lost my grip on the realities, and I settled all that with myself out here on these very dunes one moonlight night long ago. No, I am quite sane, quite reconciled. And yet my feeling for Patricia is not quite that of father, uncle, or elder brother.

It amuses me to hope sometimes that the seagulls understand as they flash and wheel out there above the dancing waters, so free, so unencumbered by human inhibitions and

preconceptions. Surely they have watched me often enough walking here with Patricia and, since she went away, sitting here watching the horizon. Doubtless they have heard me talking to old Meg about her. Meg, I know, understands something of it all, only Meg is a dog and a female dog at that, whose grand passion is loyalty and not romance. Meg is true; within certain limits she is sagacious; but she lacks imagination.

Meg, I realize, is no sort of dog to be writing a story about. She is not of the heroic type, and it is the hero dogs that tale-writers love. Meg has been timid all her life, and only great love could ever make her brave because it made her self-forgetful. Meg is man-shy. She carries her tail low and slinks a bit. That is a trait that I detest in a dog, fond as I am of the race as a whole. It makes me impatient. And yet I do not despise Meg for it. It is inalienably a part of a dog I love both for herself and because of the mistress she

adores. Even the frailties of a loved one may become objects of our affectionate regard.

Meg, I say, is not imaginative, and yet I think there is something of the mystic in her. Sometimes as we sit here on the dune, in the midst of this gold and blue world, or when the clouds have made land and sea all

gray and mysterious, I find her gazing off toward the horizon with a rapt expression that has something unearthly in it. I speak her name softly, but she does not look up. What does she see? My anxious heart begs in vain for an answer.

Meg is an old dog now, older even than I, as dogs' lives are reckoned. It is my prayer that she may live to experience one more day of joy, when Patricia comes back.

It was fourteen years ago that Patricia first came to me here among the dunes. I think she had escaped from a mother who has never been quite competent to look after her. Spying me, she came running eagerly along the sands as though she had made a wonderful discovery. Then she stopped in sudden shyness.

"Hello," said I.

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"Good-by," said Patricia abruptly and disappeared around the dune.

It is unnecessary for me to relate in detail the progress of our growing intimacy. We became great friends. I think Patricia liked my kind of conversation, though perhaps she did not always understand it. Big words fascinated her, and she had a keen though undeveloped sense of humor. There were few children for her to play with, and her parents were always so busy. I think a common loneliness drew us together.

"Is Mrs. Burroughs your mother?" she asked me one day.

"Oh, no," said I. "I have no mother living. Mrs. Burroughs comes over to look after me, to see that I don't starve or get lost in my rubbish."

"Haven't you any family?"
"Not any."

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"Aren't you married?"
"No."

She was silent a moment, and then she looked up at me with a sidewise smile of the most seductive coquetry. "I'm glad of that," said she. "Why?"

"Because I may want to marry you myself some day," said she.

"Very well," said I, "I will wait, though I fear by that time I shall be too old to be eligible."

I could not help being flattered, and I did my best to enhance the favorable impression I had made. I was guileful. I have never yet met a woman too young to be appealed to by an admiring interest in her ap

parel. I used that method and others to win her regard, and as the days passed I persuaded myself that I was succeeding. Besides, that was years ago when I was not so very old. It became a tacit and secret understanding between us that we were betrothed.

It was a year or so after that first meeting that Meg first came into our lives. There had been a storm in the night, and I was standing on the gleaming shore watching the windharried clouds scurrying away toward the horizon. Sunshine flashed on dancing whitecaps in the bay and on the wings of soaring gulls. It was one of those moments when I wished with all my soul that I had been born with the gifts of a painter. I was awakened from my reverie by a familiar treble voice.

"Uncle Pymm!"

I turned to see Patricia running toward me across the wet sand. In her arms she bore with some difficulty a burden.

is obviously very young. Perhaps she will acquire distinctive characteristics as time goes on."

It would have pleased Patricia if I could have been more enthusiastic, but to tell the truth this puppy seemed one of the poorest specimens of the canine species I had ever seen. She stood where Patricia had placed her, with drooping tail and ears and with a general look of hopelessness about her. I could find nothing in her eyes but a suggestion of idiocy. There was a gaunt look about her which suggested worms. I have a weakness for all animals, but it seemed to me that it would have been far better, from every point of view, if this pitiful pup had lost her life in the storm.

But to Patricia she seemed beautiful She took a little awkward step, and Patricia laughed gleefully. Who was I to set my judgment against Patricia's?

"When she grows up," said I, “I think she will resemble an Airedale "What in the world have you pointer. What do you propose to do there?" I asked.

"It's a dog!" she cried exultantly. "I found him down by the inlet. I asked the men down there whose dog it was, and they said it wasn't anybody's dog because it didn't have any collar on. So he can be my dog, can't he?"

She set the forlorn creature on the ground.

"In the first place, Patricia," said I, “I think I would apply the feminine pronoun if I were you. It's a she. And I think you are right in assuming it to be a dog and not a kitten or a monkey. A very rare kind of a dog, I should say. I have never seen one just like it. But she

with her?"

Patricia knelt down on the wet sand and fondled the bemused puppy, which seemed, strangely, to become thereby lovable.

"Why," said Patricia, "I'll take her home of course and have her for my dog forever."

"Did you ever have a dog before?" I asked.

"No."

"Or a cat?"

"I had a kitten once, but papa took it away."

"Aren't you afraid your father and mother will want to send this puppy away?"

All the joy went out of Patricia's

face, and a look of pain and terror came into her eyes. She caught the puppy to her breast.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said I. "We'll take her up to my house, and Mrs. Burroughs and I will take care of her until we're sure she will be welcome in your house. She can be your dog just the same. Just now she's half starved, I expect, and I think the first thing to do will be to get her some milk."

In taking Meg to my hearth and home, I had undertaken a responsibility not without its difficulties. Mrs. Burroughs disapproved. Meg had to be house-broken and also to be cured of a tendency to sudden nausea. The problem of her diet had to be solved by experimentation, and she needed vermifuge. She repaid my efforts by sleeping in my easy-chair during the day and crying broken-heartedly at night. But her residence with me was the cause of frequent visits from Patricia, and that was compensation more than sufficient.

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occasional signs of a wayward, rebellious, and passionate spirit. They enhanced her charm for me, but whither might this spirit, uncontrolled, one day lead her? My own efforts in the way of admonition were futile. She would not take seriously the parental rôle in me, and I was not fitted for it. Besides, Patricia was pretty. I believed she was going to be beautiful. There was a brief period of awkward long-leggedness, of a paradoxical hoydenish shyness; but it quickly passed, and almost suddenly, it seemed, a roundness appeared in limbs and bosom, the color came and went in her cheeks, and eyes and lips spoke of coming womanhood. What would become of my Patricia? It was very disconcerting.

Meg meanwhile grew up, but not beautifully. She lost her puppy awkwardness and stupidity, to be sure, but she always seemed to me a poor-spirited beast. Most of the admirable qualities that one esteems in a dog were not outstanding in her. She seemed normally intelligent but not brilliant. She slunk from strangers. She lacked talent. Beauty she did not possess. Yet there was something appealing about her too. Her very dependence made demands on me. And I loved her because Patricia did, and because she loved Patricia. Her devotion to her mistress, indeed, was her one great virtue.

Meg, being a harmless and selfeffacing dog, was at last admitted to the Barrington household (did I say that Patricia's last name was Barrington?), but she was brought back to me when they sent Patricia away to school. That was a troubled time

for me, not merely because Patricia had grown very dear to me and I knew I should miss her sorely; I could not help feeling that they were sending her away chiefly because she was becoming a problem with which Mrs. Barrington had no courage or capacity to cope. The sand-dunes and I had for some time been unable to hold Patricia. She had made friends at the village school. She had learned things from them that neither I nor her mother had taught her. At the age of sixteen she lighted a cigarette boldly in the dining-room, which sent her mother promptly to bed with a sick headache. When I expostulated with her, she only laughed, patted my cheek, and called me an old-fashioned dear. I had an uneasy conviction that at boarding-school she would learn other things besides Latin and algebra.

It was in May that Mr. Barrington came home to die and Patricia was sent for. I could see that some change had come upon her already. She had what I suppose the ladies would call style. Her skirts were very short, and her lips wore a redness which was not natural and which, it seemed to me, they in no way required. Yet her eyes looked into mine so honestly that I could not believe anything bad of Patricia. No doubt it was simply that I was old-fashioned and had never quite outgrown my Victorian prejudices.

I doubt if Patricia had ever loved her father very deeply, but her emotions were quickly stirred, and at this time she was conscious of grief and loss. I found her, after it was all over, sitting in the moonlight, among the dunes, alone save for the

faithful Meg, weeping quietly. I did what I could to comfort her, but she was deep in the gloom of selfreproach.

"I was never good enough to papa," she kept saying.

"Come," said I, "let's walk a little on the beach. You'll feel better."

We walked up and down, Meg plodding stolidly at our heels, while I tried to lead her thoughts into other channels, being inept at consolation. My heart went out to her with a sort of fierce tenderness.

Suddenly she stopped and looked into my face.

"But I'm so alone in the world," she cried tremulously. "Papa is gone, and mama is so helpless. I don't know where to turn, and there are so many things-" A sob choked her.

"I'm sure you have many friends. You have me, for one," I said, humbly enough.

She threw her arms impulsively around my neck.

"Oh, I know, Uncle Pymm, I know. I don't mean to be ungrateful. Please don't think I am. I love you, Uncle Pymm. You know I do."

Well, a man hasn't lost all his youth at forty-eight, and I do not pretend to be a Galahad. I had always loved Patricia. In that moment I loved her passionately. Her tear-washed eyes looked straight into mine. Her red lips were parted as though in eagerness. Her arms were about my neck, and I was keenly aware of her warm body pressed close to mine. For the moment I was scarcely sane. My arms leaped about her as though without my volition. My lips sought hers ruthlessly.

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