Read Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John Page 2



  Two hours later Uncle John, who had been dozing in his big chair bythe fire while Patsy drummed on the piano, sat up abruptly and lookedaround him with a suddenly acquired air of decision.

  "I have an idea," he announced.

  "Did you find it in your dreams, then?" asked the Major, sharply.

  "Why, Daddy, how cross you are!" cried Patsy. "Can't Uncle John havean idea if he wants to?"

  "I'm afraid of his ideas," admitted the Major, suspiciously. "Everytime he goes to sleep and catches a thought, it means trouble."

  Patsy laughed, looking at her uncle curiously, and the little mansmiled at her genially in return.

  "It takes me a long time to figure a thing out," he said; "and whenI've a problem to solve a bit of a snooze helps wonderfully. Patsy,dear, it occurs to me we're lonely."

  "We surely are, Uncle!" she exclaimed.

  "And in the dumps."

  "Our spirits are at the bottom of the bottomless pit."

  "So what we need is--a change."

  "There it goes!" said the Major ruefully. "I knew very well any ideaof John Merrick's would cause us misery. But understand this, youmiserable home-wrecker, sir, my daughter Patsy steps not one foot outof New York this winter."

  "Why not?" mildly inquired Uncle John.

  "Because you've spirited her away from me times enough, and deprivedher only parent of her society. First you gallivanted off to Europe,and then to Millville, and next to Elmhurst; so now, egad, I'm goingto keep the girl with me if I have to throttle every idea in yourwicked old head!"

  "But I'm planning to take you along, this time. Major," observed UncleJohn reflectively.

  "Oh. Hum! Well, I can't go. There's too much business to be attendedto--looking after your horrible money."

  "Take a vacation. You know I don't care anything about the business.It can't go very wrong, anyhow. What does it matter if my income isn'tinvested properly, or the bond coupons cut when they're due? Drat themoney!"

  "That's what I say," added Patsy eagerly. "Be a man, Major Doyle, andput the business out of your mind. Let's go somewhere and have a goodromp. It will cheer us up."

  The Major stared first at one and then at the other.

  "What's the programme, John?" he asked stiffly.

  "It's going to be a cold winter," remarked the little man, bobbing hishead up and down slowly.

  "It is!" cried Patsy, clasping her hands fervently. "I can feel it inmy bones."

  "So we're going," said Uncle John, impressively, "to California--wherethey grow sunshine and roses to offset our blizzards and icicles."

  "Hurray!" shouted Patsy. "I've always wanted to go to California."

  "California!" said the Major, amazed; "why, it's farther away thanEurope. It takes a month to get there."

  "Nonsense." retorted Uncle John. "It's only four days from coast tocoast. I have a time-table, somewhere," and he began searching in hispockets.

  There was a silence, oppressive on the Major's part, ecstatic as faras Patsy was concerned. Uncle John found the railway folder, put onhis spectacles, and began to examine it.

  "At my time of life," remarked Major Doyle, who was hale and hearty asa boy, "such a trip is a great undertaking."

  "Twenty-four hours to Chicago," muttered Uncle John; "and then threedays to Los Angeles or San Francisco. That's all there is to it."

  "Four days and four nights of dreary riding. We'd be dead by thattime," prophesied the Major.

  Uncle John looked thoughtful. Then he lay back in his chair and spreadhis handkerchief over his face again.

  "No, no!" cried the Major, in alarm. "For mercy's sake, John, don'tgo to sleep and catch any more of those terrible ideas. No one knowswhere the next one might carry us--to Timbuktu or Yucatan, probably.Let's stick to California and settle the question before your hothousebrain grows any more weeds."

  "Yucatan," remarked Mr. Merrick, composedly, his voice muffled by thehandkerchief, "isn't a bad suggestion."

  "I knew it!" wailed the Major. "How would Ethiopia or Hindustan strikeyou?"

  Patsy laughed at him. She knew something good was in store for herand like all girls was enraptured at the thought of visiting new andinteresting scenes.

  "Don't bother Uncle John, Daddy," she said. "You know very well hewill carry out any whim that seizes him; especially if you oppose theplan, which you usually do."

  "He's the most erratic and irresponsible man that ever lived,"announced her father, staring moodily at the spread handkerchief whichcovered Uncle John's cherub-like features. "New York is good enoughfor anybody, even in winter; and now that you're in society, Patsy--"

  "Oh, bother society! I hate it."

  "True," he agreed; "it's a regular treadmill when it has enslaved one,and keeps you going on and on without progressing a bit. The object ofsociety is to tire you out and keep you from indulging in any otheroccupation."

  "You know nothing about it," observed Patsy, demurely, "and that iswhy you love to rail at society. The things you know, Daddy dear, arethe things you never remark upon."

  "Huh!" grunted the Major, and relapsed into silence.

  Mumbles had finished his after-dinner nap and was now awakening toactivity. This dog's size, according to the Major, was "about 4x6; butyou can't tell which is the 4 and which the 6." He was distressinglyshaggy. Patsy could find the stump of his tail only by careful search.Seldom were both eyes uncovered by hair at the same time. But, as hisnew mistress had said, he was a wise little dog for one who had onlyknown the world for a few months, and his brain was exceedingly alert.After yawning at the fire he rubbed his back against the Major's legs,sat up beside Patsy and looked at her from one eye pleadingly. Next hetrotted over to Uncle John. The big white handkerchief attracted himand one corner hung down from the edge of the reclining chair. Mumblessat up and reached for it, but could not quite get it in his teeth.So he sat down and thought it over, and presently made a leap sounexpectedly agile that Patsy roared with merriment and even the Majorgrinned. Uncle John, aroused, sat up and found the puppy rolling onthe floor and fighting the handkerchief as if it had been some deadlyfoe.

  "Thank goodness," sighed the Major. "The little black rascal hasprovidently prevented you from evolving another idea."

  "Not so," responded Mr. Merrick amiably. "I've thought the thing allout, and completed our programme."

  "Is it still to be California?" anxiously inquired Patsy.

  "Of course. I can't give up the sunshine and roses, you know. But wewon't bore the Major by four solid days of railway travel. We'll breakthe journey, and take two or three weeks to it--perhaps a month."

  "Conquering Caesar! A month!" ejaculated the old soldier, a desperatelook on his face.

  "Yes. Listen, both of you. We'll get to Chicago in a night and a day.We will stop off there and visit the stockyards, and collect a fewsqueals for souvenirs."

  "No, we won't!" declared Patsy, positively.

  "We might sell Mumbles to some Chicago sausage factory," remarked theMajor, "but not for two whole dollars. He wouldn't make more than halfa pound at twenty cents the pound."

  "There are other sights to be seen in Chicago," continued Uncle John."Anyhow, we'll stop off long enough to get rested. Then on to Denverand Pike's Peak."

  "That sounds good," said Patsy.

  "At Denver," said Uncle John, "we will take a touring car and crossthe mountains in it. There are good roads all the way from there toCalifornia."

  "Who told you so?" demanded the Major.

  "No one. It's a logical conclusion, for I've lived in the West andknow the prairie roads are smoother than boulevards. However, Haggertytold me the other day that he has made the trip from Denver to LosAngeles by automobile, and what others can do, we can do."

  "It will be glorious!" prophesied Patsy, delightedly.

  The Major looked grave, but could find no plausible objection tooffer. He really knew nothing about the West and had never hadoccasion to consi
der such a proposition before.

  "We'll talk to Haggerty," he said. "But you must remember he's adesperate liar, John, and can't be trusted as a guidepost. When do youintend to start?"

  "Why not to-morrow?" asked Uncle John mildly.

  Even Patsy demurred at this.

  "Why, we've got to get ready, Uncle," she said. "And who's going? Justwe three?"

  "We will take Beth along, of course." Beth was Elizabeth De Graf,another niece. "But Beth is fortunately the sort of girl who can pullup stakes and move on at an hour's notice."

  "Beth is always ready for anything," agreed Patsy. "But if we aregoing to a warm climate we will need summer clothes."

  "You can't lug many clothes in a motor car," observed the Major.

  "No; but we can ship them on ahead."

  "Haggerty says," remarked Uncle John, "that you won't need thinclothes until you get out to California. In fact, the mountain trip israther cool. But it's perpetual sunshine, you know, even there, withbrisk, keen air; and the whole journey, Haggerty says, is one ofabsolute delight."

  "Who is Haggerty?" asked Patsy.

  "A liar," answered the Major, positively.

  "He's a very good fellow whom we sometimes meet in the city," saidUncle John. "Haggerty is on the Board, and director in a bank or two,and quite respectable. But the Major--"

  "The Major's going to California just to prove that Haggerty can'tspeak the truth," observed that gentleman, tersely heading off anythreatened criticism. "I see there is no opposing your preposterousscheme, John, so we will go with you and make the best of it. But I'msure it's all a sad mistake. What else did Haggerty tell you?"

  "He says it's best to pick up a motor car and a chauffeur in Denver,rather than ship them on from here. There are plenty of cars to behad, and men who know every inch of the road."

  "That seems sensible," declared Patsy, "and we won't lose time waitingfor our own car to follow by freight. I think, Uncle John, I can beready by next Tuesday."

  "Why, to-morrow's Saturday!" gasped the Major. "The business--"

  "Cut the business off short," suggested his brother-in-law. "You've tocut it somewhere, you know, or you'll never get away; and, as it's mybusiness, I hereby authorize you to neglect it from this moment untilthe day of our return. When we get back you can pick up the detailsagain and worry over it as much as you please."

  "Will we ever get back?" asked the Major, doubtingly.

  "If we don't, the business won't matter."

  "That's the idea," cried Patsy, approvingly. "Daddy has worked hardall summer, Uncle John, looking after that annoying money of yours,and a vacation will do him oodles of good."

  Major Doyle sighed.

  "I misdoubt the wisdom of the trip," said he, "but I'll go, of course,if you all insist. Over the Rocky Mountains and across the GreatAmerican Desert in an automobile doesn't sound very enticing, but--"

  "Haggerty says--"

  "Never mind Haggerty. We'll find out for ourselves."

  "And, after all," said Patsy, "there are the sunshine and roses at theend of the journey, and they ought to make up for any amount of botherin getting there."

  "Girl, you're attempting to deceive me--to deceive your old Daddy,"said the Major, shaking his head at her. "You wouldn't have any funriding to California in a palace car; even the sunshine and rosescouldn't excite you under such circumstances; but if there's a chancefor adventure--a chance to slide into trouble and make a mightystruggle to get out again--both you and that wicked old uncle of yourswill jump at it. I know ye both. And that's the real reason we'regoing to travel in an automobile instead of progressing comfortably asall respectable people do."

  "You're a humbug," retorted Mr. Merrick. "You wouldn't go by train ifI'd let you."

  "No," admitted the Major; "I must be on hand to rescue you when youand Patsy go fighting windmills."