SUITE NUMBER 403
So this was to be her home—and for three long months! Patricia Meade dropped her suitcase on a convenient chair and gazed curiously about her. A hotel bedroom, with stiff-looking twin brass beds, two willow rockers, one straight chair, an imposing mahogany bureau and one small table—absolutely all the furniture, if one excepted the stiff draperies at the windows and one or two not particularly artistic pastel pictures adorning the wall. Through a door and across the intervening sitting-room she could see another bedroom similarly equipped.
In the sitting-room, her father, Captain 4Meade, was tipping the grinning bell-boy who had brought up their luggage,—a snub-nosed, blue-eyed, curly-haired young chap whose gaze was rivetted adoringly on the captain’s khaki uniform. When the boy was gone, the captain turned to the door of Patricia’s bedroom.
“Well, honey! Not much like home, eh? Do you think you can stand it for three months? Jove!—if she hasn’t got her suitcase and is unpacking it already!”
Patricia was indeed frantically flinging her belongings about.
“Oh, it’s jolly!” she replied, over her shoulder. “But you’re right about it’s not being much like home. I felt as if I’d just expire if I couldn’t see things strewn around in a sort of careless and cosy way, as if people really lived here!” She rose suddenly from her kneeling posture before the suitcase, ran across the room and thumped both stiff pillows on the beds, knocking them a trifle awry. “There! Now they look more like real beds that you 5sleep in and less like advertisements in the back of a magazine!” she laughed. “The sitting-room’s a little better, with that big table and the pretty reading-lamp and the comfortable chairs. But do let’s get a lot of papers and magazines and books at once, and have them lying all around as we do at home. Mother would be scandalized—she’s always picking them up after us,” she went rattling on, and then stopped abruptly, lips quivering, eyes bright with sudden tears.
“If mother could only be with us!” she sobbed.
“Now, honey, don’t—” the captain soothed her, laying his arm lovingly around her shoulder. “Remember you’re a soldier’s daughter; and,—well, brace up! Mother’s going to be beautifully taken care of in that Sanatorium, and Aunt Harriet is with her, to keep her company and incidentally to indulge in some little pet cures of her own, on the side.”
“But why, oh! why did it have to happen just 6now?” wailed Patricia, refusing to be comforted.
“Is it any wonder that she broke down completely and had a bad case of nervous prostration, after waiting over a year for me to come back from France? And feeling sure, too, for the last six months that she’d never see me alive again after she heard I’d been taken a prisoner to Germany? It’s enough to have broken down the nerve of a cave-woman. And your mother was always delicate.”
“Oh, Daddy! It was like getting you back from the dead,” sighed Patricia, hiding her head in his shoulder and shuddering at the memory. “And in three months, you’re going back again!”
“But not to the dangers and horrors, this time,” he reminded her, and added half under his breath, “Worse luck! Fortunately or unfortunately, my constitution will never stand the strain of trench-life again, after a few months of German prison-diet, etc. But I’m 7only too thankful that the Government has found use for me in some other capacity.”
Patricia, who had been perched on his knee, snuggling her head in his coat collar, suddenly sat up straight and looked him in the eyes. “Daddy, can’t you tell me what it is you’re doing?” she begged. “I don’t ask just from idle curiosity. I want to understand. I want to help you if I can. I love America, and I am a soldier’s daughter, and I want to act intelligently about things and be of some use. That’s one reason I’m so glad you’ve allowed me to be with you in this strange, big city and in this great hotel, for three months,—besides the joy of not being separated from you before you go back to Europe again for goodness knows how long! I want to do something for my country, too!”
The Captain stroked his short mustache for several silent moments before answering. “I quite understand how you feel,” he said at length. “And I appreciate it. You’re 8seventeen, Patricia,—almost a woman grown. I know I could trust you utterly with the whole thing, but it isn’t wise,—in fact, it isn’t even allowable. A government secret is a government secret, and cannot be revealed even to one’s nearest and dearest. This much only, I can tell you. While I was a prisoner, I stumbled upon a very valuable secret, something new possessed by the enemy which, however, they have not had the gumption to make use of properly. But I saw that it could be vastly improved upon and made a hundred times more effective. The Government has charged me with this task, and I’m to take it back with me when I go. It’s a very vital and important thing, Patricia, and may turn the tide for us. More I cannot tell you. It would not be wise nor even safe for you to know. And you can help me most by appearing to know nothing whatever about my affairs. Remember that,—to know nothing, whatever 9happens,—” He was interrupted by a loud knocking at the door and went to open it.
“Telegram for you, sir!” grinned the bell-boy of the snub-nose and twinkling eyes. Captain Meade tore it open hastily.
“Here’s a pretty pickle!” he exclaimed, handing the yellow slip to Patricia. “Your Aunt Evelyn fell yesterday, just before she was to take the train from Chicago to meet us here, and will be laid up for the next six or eight weeks with a broken leg. Just like Evelyn!” he added impatiently. “She was always the worst youngster for falling down and getting damaged at critical moments. And she’s kept it up consistently all the rest of her life. I’m sorry for her, of course, but what on earth are we to do?”
They stared blankly at each other. “Poor Aunt Evelyn!” sighed Patricia, sympathetically. “She was looking forward so to this three-months’ holiday. She wrote that she 10hadn’t been away from home even a week, for the last ten years, and was going to enjoy the rest so much. I’m awfully sorry for her. She’ll be so disappointed!”
“Yes, but that doesn’t solve the problem of what we’re going to do,” argued the captain. “She was to be your companion here. I can’t be around all the time. I may even have to be away several days at a time. A young girl like you can’t stay alone in a big hotel. What in sancho are we going to do?” He ran his hands through his hair despairingly. “It was only on the basis of her being able to join us that your mother and I consented to this arrangement at all. I guess now you’ll have to go out to Chicago and stay with her, after all. There’s no where else for you to go.”
“Oh, Daddy, Daddy, don’t!” implored Patricia, hurling herself at him in a panic. “I couldn’t, I simply couldn’t stand being parted from you now. And I’d have the most miserable time there. Aunt Evelyn would be in 11bed and a trained nurse puttering around her all the time, (I know her!) and there’d be nothing to do and I’d be simply wretched and unhappy all the while. We can have such a cosy time here, just you and I, and I’ll promise to be very good and quiet and read a lot, and stay here in our own suite all by myself when you are away. I’ve brought a lot of fancy-work, too, and I’m going to do Red Cross knitting and make all my Christmas presents during these three summer months, so I’ll be very, very busy. Do say yes, Daddy!”
Captain Meade looked only half convinced. “I don’t like it at all, Patricia. It will not only be lonely, for you, it may possibly even be dangerous. There are spies about us all the time. If they should happen to nose out my mission, they’d no doubt try to make it hot for me—and for you too. Your Aunt Evelyn was to be your safeguard. But now—”
Patricia suddenly interrupted him. “Do you have to go away for any length of time 12very soon? I mean, to go for several days?”
“Well, no,” he admitted. “I’m supposed to be giving lectures at the churches and Y. M. C. A.’s of this city and hereabout on my experiences as a prisoner. That, however, is hardly more than a ‘blind,’ to cover my real work. It will take me away some afternoons and evenings, but I shall not stay away overnight for a few weeks yet, in all likelihood.”
“Then, Daddy,” urged the wily Patricia, grasping eagerly at this straw, “until you find you have really to be absent for any length of time, let me stay with you. If later on you should find you must go, then we can see what to do. Meantime let’s be happy together for a while and see what’s going to turn up. I’ll even go to Chicago then, if you insist, if you’ll only let me stay here with you for a while.”
And then Captain Meade relinquished the argument, glad to settle the vexed question, at least temporarily. “Very well,” he said, a trifle reluctantly. “Stay you shall, since you 13wish it so, at least for a while. But, Patricia, attend to what I am going to say, and never forget it under any circumstances. It’s an old saying that ‘walls have ears,’ but it was never truer than it is in these days and in a big hotel. Trust no one. Hear everything, see everything—and say nothing. My very life, and even yours too, may depend upon your obeying in this, implicitly.”
Patricia nodded gravely. “I understand, Father!” was all she replied. But her brain was a-whirl with feverish, delicious excitement. “Spies,” “danger,” “secret mission”—the magic words gave her an indescribable thrill! And yet, with it all, she realized too the gravity of the affair; and the realization served to give her a mental balance beyond her years.
“But now let’s go down to dinner!” cried the Captain gaily, glad to change to a subject less tense. “I’ve an appetite worthy of an ex-prisoner in a German camp!”
As they passed out into the corridor, Patricia 14glanced up at the number over their door. “Suite number 403!” she murmured, squeezing her father’s arm. “Now I wonder just what’s going to happen to us while this is our home number?”
Categories: English Literature