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´╗┐Title: Miss Billy
Author: Porter, Eleanor H. (Eleanor Hodgman), 1868-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Miss Billy" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



MISS BILLY


by Eleanor H. Porter



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I.      BILLY WRITES A LETTER

II.     "THE STRATA"

III.    THE STRATA--WHEN THE LETTER COMES

IV.     BILLY SENDS A TELEGRAM

V.      GETTING READY FOR BILLY

VI.     THE COMING OF BILLY

VII.    INTRODUCING SPUNK

VIII.   THE ROOM--AND BILLY

IX.     A FAMILY CONCLAVE

X.      AUNT HANNAH

XI.     BERTRAM HAS VISITORS

XII.    CYRIL TAKES HIS TURN

XIII.   A SURPRISE ALL AROUND

XIV.    AUNT HANNAH SPEAKS HER MIND

XV.     WHAT BERTRAM CALLS "THE LIMIT"

XVI.    KATE TAKES A HAND

XVII.   A PINK-RIBBON TRAIL

XVIII.  BILLY WRITES ANOTHER LETTER

XIX.    SEEING BILLY OFF

XX.     BILLY, THE MYTH

XXI.    BILLY, THE REALITY

XXII.   HUGH CALDERWELL

XXIII.  BERTRAM DOES SOME QUESTIONING

XXIV.   CYRIL, THE ENIGMA

XXV.    THE OLD ROOM--AND BILLY

XXVI.   "MUSIC HATH CHARMS"

XXVII.  MARIE, WHO LONGS TO MAKE PUDDINGS

XXVIII. "I'M GOING TO WIN"

XXIX.   "I'M NOT GOING TO MARRY"

XXX.    MARIE FINDS A FRIEND

XXXI.   THE ENGAGEMENT OF ONE

XXXII.  CYRIL HAS SOMETHING TO SAY

XXXIII. WILLIAM IS WORRIED

XXXIV.  CLASS DAY

XXXV.   SISTER KATE AGAIN

XXXVI.  WILLIAM MEETS WITH A SURPRISE

XXXVII. "WILLIAM'S BROTHER"

XXXVIII. THE ENGAGEMENT OF TWO

XXXIX.  A LITTLE PIECE OF PAPER

XL.     WILLIAM PAYS A VISIT

XLI.    THE CROOKED MADE STRAIGHT

XLII.   THE "END OF THE STORY"



MISS BILLY



CHAPTER I

BILLY WRITES A LETTER



Billy Neilson was eighteen years old when the aunt, who had brought her
up from babyhood, died. Miss Benton's death left Billy quite alone
in the world--alone, and peculiarly forlorn. To Mr. James Harding,
of Harding & Harding, who had charge of Billy's not inconsiderable
property, the girl poured out her heart in all its loneliness two days
after the funeral.

"You see, Mr. Harding, there isn't any one--not any one who--cares," she
choked.

"Tut, tut, my child, it's not so bad as that, surely," remonstrated the
old man, gently. "Why, I--I care."

Billy smiled through tear-wet eyes.

"But I can't LIVE with you," she said.

"I'm not so sure of that, either," retorted the man. "I'm thinking that
Letty and Ann would LIKE to have you with us."

The girl laughed now outright. She was thinking of Miss Letty, who had
"nerves," and of Miss Ann, who had a "heart"; and she pictured her own
young, breezy, healthy self attempting to conform to the hushed and
shaded thing that life was, within Lawyer Harding's home.

"Thank you, but I'm sure they wouldn't," she objected. "You don't know
how noisy I am."

The lawyer stirred restlessly and pondered.

"But, surely, my dear, isn't there some relative, somewhere?" he
demanded. "How about your mother's people?"

Billy shook her head. Her eyes filled again with tears.

"There was only Aunt Ella, ever, that I knew anything about. She and
mother were the only children there were, and mother died when I was a
year old, you know."

"But your father's people?"

"It's even worse there. He was an only child and an orphan when mother
married him. He died when I was but six months old. After that there was
only mother and Aunt Ella, then Aunt Ella alone; and now--no one."

"And you know nothing of your father's people?"

"Nothing; that is--almost nothing."

"Then there is some one?"

Billy smiled. A deeper pink showed in her cheeks.

"Why, there's one--a man but he isn't really father's people, anyway.
But I--I have been tempted to write to him."

"Who is he?"

"The one I'm named for. He was father's boyhood chum. You see that's why
I'm 'Billy' instead of being a proper 'Susie,' or 'Bessie,' or 'Sally
Jane.' Father had made up his mind to name his baby 'William' after his
chum, and when I came, Aunt Ella said, he was quite broken-hearted until
somebody hit upon the idea of naming me Billy.' Then he was content, for
it seems that he always called his chum 'Billy' anyhow. And so--'Billy'
I am to-day."

"Do you know this man?"

"No. You see father died, and mother and Aunt Ella knew him only very
slightly. Mother knew his wife, though, Aunt Ella said, and SHE was
lovely."

"Hm--; well, we might look them up, perhaps. You know his address?"

"Oh, yes unless he's moved. We've always kept that. Aunt Ella used to
say sometimes that she was going to write to him some day about me, you
know."

"What's his name?"

"William Henshaw. He lives in Boston."

Lawyer Harding snatched off his glasses, and leaned forward in his
chair.

"William Henshaw! Not the Beacon Street Henshaws!" he cried.

It was Billy's turn to be excited. She, too, leaned forward eagerly.

"Oh, do you know him? That's lovely! And his address IS Beacon Street! I
know because I saw it only to-day. You see, I HAVE been tempted to write
him."

"Write him? Of course you'll write him," cried the lawyer. "And we don't
need to do much 'looking up' there, child. I've known the family for
years, and this William was a college mate of my boy's. Nice fellow,
too. I've heard Ned speak of him. There were three sons, William, and
two others much younger than he. I've forgotten their names."

"Then you do know him! I'm so glad," exclaimed Billy. "You see, he never
seemed to me quite real."

"I know about him," corrected the lawyer, smilingly, "though I'll
confess I've rather lost track of him lately. Ned will know. I'll ask
Ned. Now go home, my dear, and dry those pretty eyes of yours. Or,
better still, come home with me to tea. I--I'll telephone up to the
house." And he rose stiffly and went into the inner office.

Some minutes passed before he came back, red of face, and plainly
distressed.

"My dear child, I--I'm sorry, but--but I'll have to take back that
invitation," he blurted out miserably. "My sisters are--are not well
this afternoon. Ann has been having a turn with her heart--you know
Ann's heart is--is bad; and Letty--Letty is always nervous at such
times--very nervous. Er--I'm so sorry! But you'll--excuse it?"

"Indeed I will," smiled Billy, "and thank you just the same; only"--her
eyes twinkled mischievously--"you don't mind if I do say that it IS
lucky that we hadn't gone on planning to have me live with them, Mr.
Harding!"

"Eh? Well--er, I think your plan about the Henshaws is very good,"
he interposed hurriedly. "I'll speak to Ned--I'll speak to Ned," he
finished, as he ceremoniously bowed the girl from the office.

James Harding kept his word, and spoke to his son that night; but there
was little, after all, that Ned could tell him. Yes, he remembered Billy
Henshaw well, but he had not heard of him for years, since Henshaw's
marriage, in fact. He must be forty years old, Ned said; but he was a
fine fellow, an exceptionally fine fellow, and would be sure to deal
kindly and wisely by his little orphan namesake; of that Ned was very
sure.

"That's good. I'll write him," declared Mr. James Harding. "I'll write
him tomorrow."

He did write--but not so soon as Billy wrote; for even as he spoke,
Billy, in her lonely little room at the other end of the town, was
laying bare all her homesickness in four long pages to "Dear Uncle
William."



CHAPTER II

"THE STRATA"


Bertram Henshaw called the Beacon Street home "The Strata." This annoyed
Cyril, and even William, not a little; though they reflected that, after
all, it was "only Bertram." For the whole of Bertram's twenty-four years
of life it had been like this--"It's only Bertram," had been at once the
curse and the salvation of his existence.

In this particular case, however, Bertram's vagary of fancy had some
excuse. The Beacon Street house, the home of the three brothers, was a
"Strata."

"You see, it's like this," Bertram would explain airily to some new
acquaintance who expressed surprise at the name; "if I could slice off
the front of the house like a loaf of cake, you'd understand it better.
But just suppose that old Bunker Hill should suddenly spout fire and
brimstone and bury us under tons of ashes--only fancy the condition of
mind of those future archaeologists when they struck our house after
their months of digging!

"What would they find? Listen. First: stratum number one, the top floor;
that's Cyril's, you know. They'd note the bare floors, the sparse but
heavy furniture, the piano, the violin, the flute, the book-lined walls,
and the absence of every sort of curtain, cushion, or knickknack. 'Here
lived a plain man,' they'd say; 'a scholar, a musician, stern, unloved
and unloving; a monk.'

"And what next? They'd strike William's stratum next, the third floor.
Imagine it! You know William as a State Street broker, well-off,
a widower, tall, angular, slow of speech, a little bald, very much
nearsighted, and the owner of the kindest heart in the world. But really
to know William, you must know his rooms. William collects things. He
has always collected things--and he's saved every one of them. There's a
tradition that at the age of one year he crept into the house with four
small round white stones. Anyhow, if he did, he's got them now. Rest
assured of that--and he's forty this year. Miniatures, carved ivories,
bugs, moths, porcelains, jades, stamps, postcards, spoons, baggage tags,
theatre programs, playing-cards--there isn't anything that he doesn't
collect. He's on teapots, now. Imagine it--William and teapots! And
they're all there in his rooms--one glorious mass of confusion. Just
fancy those archaeologists trying to make their 'monk' live there!

"But when they reach me, my stratum, they'll have a worse time yet. You
see, _I_ like cushions and comfort, and I have them everywhere. And I
like--well, I like lots of things. My rooms don't belong to that monk,
not a little bit. And so you see," Bertram would finish merrily, "that's
why I call it all 'The Strata.'"

And "The Strata" it was to all the Henshaws' friends, and even to
William and Cyril themselves, in spite of their objection to the term.

From babyhood the Henshaw boys had lived in the handsome, roomy house,
facing the Public Garden. It had been their father's boyhood home, as
well, and he and his wife had died there, soon after Kate, the only
daughter, had married. At the age of twenty-two, William Henshaw, the
eldest son, had brought his bride to the house, and together they had
striven to make a home for the two younger orphan boys, Cyril, twelve,
and Bertram, six. But Mrs. William, after a short five years of married
life, had died; and since then, the house had known almost nothing of a
woman's touch or care.

Little by little as the years passed, the house and its inmates had
fallen into what had given Bertram his excuse for the name. Cyril,
thirty years old now, dignified, reserved, averse to cats, dogs, women,
and confusion, had early taken himself and his music to the peace
and exclusiveness of the fourth floor. Below him, William had long
discouraged any meddling with his precious chaos of possessions, and had
finally come to spend nearly all his spare time among them. This left
Bertram to undisputed ownership of the second floor, and right royally
did he hold sway there with his paints and brushes and easels, his
old armor, rich hangings, rugs, and cushions, and everywhere his
specialty--his "Face of a Girl." From canvas, plaque, and panel they
looked out--those girlish faces: winsome, wilful, pert, demure, merry,
sad, beautiful, even almost ugly--they were all there; and they were
growing famous, too. The world of art was beginning to take notice, and
to adjust its spectacles for a more critical glance. This "Face of a
Girl" by Henshaw bade fair to be worth while.

Below Bertram's cheery second floor were the dim old library and
drawing-rooms, silent, stately, and almost never used; and below them
were the dining-room and the kitchen. Here ruled Dong Ling, the Chinese
cook, and Pete.

Pete was--indeed, it is hard telling what Pete was. He said he was the
butler; and he looked the part when he answered the bell at the great
front door. But at other times, when he swept a room, or dusted Master
William's curios, he looked--like nothing so much as what he was: a
fussy, faithful old man, who expected to die in the service he had
entered fifty years before as a lad.

Thus in all the Beacon Street house, there had not for years been the
touch of a woman's hand. Even Kate, the married sister, had long since
given up trying to instruct Dong Ling or to chide Pete, though she still
walked across the Garden from her Commonwealth Avenue home and tripped
up the stairs to call in turn upon her brothers, Bertram, William, and
Cyril.



CHAPTER III

THE STRATA--WHEN THE LETTER COMES


It was on the six o'clock delivery that William Henshaw received the
letter from his namesake, Billy. To say the least, the letter was a
great shock to him. He had not quite forgotten Billy's father, who had
died so long ago, it is true, but he had forgotten Billy, entirely. Even
as he looked at the disconcerting epistle with its round, neatly formed
letters, he had great difficulty in ferreting out the particular niche
in his memory which contained the fact that Walter Neilson had had a
child, and had named it for him.

And this child, this "Billy," this unknown progeny of an all but
forgotten boyhood friend, was asking a home, and with him! Impossible!
And William Henshaw peered at the letter as if, at this second reading,
its message could not be so monstrous.

"Well, old man, what's up?" It was Bertram's amazed voice from the hall
doorway; and indeed, William Henshaw, red-faced and plainly trembling,
seated on the lowest step of the stairway, and gazing, wild-eyed, at the
letter in his hand, was somewhat of an amazing sight. "What IS up?"

"What's up!" groaned William, starting to his feet, and waving the
letter frantically in the air. "What's up! Young man, do you want us to
take in a child to board?--a CHILD?" he repeated in slow horror.

"Well, hardly," laughed the other. "Er, perhaps Cyril might like it,
though; eh?"

"Come, come, Bertram, be sensible for once," pleaded his brother,
nervously. "This is serious, really serious, I tell you!"

"What is serious?" demanded Cyril, coming down the stairway. "Can't it
wait? Pete has already sounded the gong twice for dinner."

William made a despairing gesture.

"Well, come," he groaned. "I'll tell you at the table.... It seems I've
got a namesake," he resumed in a shaking voice, a few moments later;
"Walter Neilson's child."

"And who's Walter Neilson?" asked Bertram.

"A boyhood friend. You wouldn't remember him. This letter is from his
child."

"Well, let's hear it. Go ahead. I fancy we can stand the--LETTER; eh,
Cyril?"

Cyril frowned. Cyril did not know, perhaps, how often he frowned at
Bertram.

The eldest brother wet his lips. His hand shook as he picked up the
letter.

"It--it's so absurd," he muttered. Then he cleared his throat and read
the letter aloud.


"DEAR UNCLE WILLIAM: Do you mind my calling you that? You see I want
SOME one, and there isn't any one now. You are the nearest I've got.
Maybe you've forgotten, but I'm named for you. Walter Neilson was my
father, you know. My Aunt Ella has just died.

"Would you mind very much if I came to live with you? That is, between
times--I'm going to college, of course, and after that I'm going to
be--well, I haven't decided that part yet. I think I'll consult you. You
may have some preference, you know. You can be thinking it up until I
come.

"There! Maybe I ought not to have said that, for perhaps you won't want
me to come. I AM noisy, I'll own, but not so I think you'll mind it much
unless some of you have 'nerves' or a 'heart.' You see, Miss Letty and
Miss Ann--they're Mr. Harding's sisters, and Mr. Harding is our lawyer,
and he will write to you. Well, where was I? Oh, I know--on Miss Letty's
nerves. And, say, do you know, that is where I do get--on Miss Letty's
nerves. I do, truly. You see, Mr. Harding very kindly suggested that
I live with them, but, mercy! Miss Letty's nerves won't let you walk
except on tiptoe, and Miss Ann's heart won't let you speak except in
whispers. All the chairs and tables have worn little sockets in the
carpets, and it's a crime to move them. There isn't a window-shade in
the house that isn't pulled down EXACTLY to the middle sash, except
where the sun shines, and those are pulled way down. Imagine me and
Spunk living there! Oh, by the way, you don't mind my bringing Spunk,
do you? I hope you don't, for I couldn't live without Spunk, and he
couldn't live with out me.

"Please let me hear from you very soon. I don't mind if you telegraph;
and just 'come' would be all you'd have to say. Then I'd get ready right
away and let you know what train to meet me on. And, oh, say--if you'll
wear a pink in your buttonhole I will, too. Then we'll know each other.
My address is just 'Hampden Falls.'

"Your awfully homesick namesake,

"BILLY HENSHAW NEILSON"


For one long minute there was a blank silence about the Henshaw
dinner-table; then the eldest brother, looking anxiously from one man to
the other, stammered:

"W-well?"

"Great Scott!" breathed Bertram.

Cyril said nothing, but his lips were white with their tense pressure
against each other.

There was another pause, and again William broke it anxiously.

"Boys, this isn't helping me out any! What's to be done?"

"'Done'!" flamed Cyril. "Surely, you aren't thinking for a moment of
LETTING that child come here, William!"

Bertram chuckled.

"He WOULD liven things up, Cyril; wouldn't he? Such nice smooth floors
you've got up-stairs to trundle little tin carts across!"

"Tin nonsense!" retorted Cyril. "Don't be silly, Bertram. That letter
wasn't written by a baby. He'd be much more likely to make himself at
home with your paint box, or with some of William's junk."

"Oh, I say," expostulated William, "we'll HAVE to keep him out of those
things, you know."

Cyril pushed back his chair from the table.

"'We'll have to keep him out'! William, you can't be in earnest! You
aren't going to let that boy come here," he cried.

"But what can I do?" faltered the man.

"Do? Say 'no,' of course. As if we wanted a boy to bring up!"

"But I must do something. I--I'm all he's got. He says so."

"Good heavens! Well, send him to boarding-school, then, or to the
penitentiary; anywhere but here!"

"Shucks! Let the kid come," laughed Bertram. "Poor little homesick
devil! What's the use? I'll take him in. How old is he, anyhow?"

William frowned, and mused aloud slowly.

"Why, I don't know. He must be--er--why, boys, he's no child," broke off
the man suddenly. "Walter himself died seventeen or eighteen years ago,
not more than a year or two after he was married. That child must be
somewhere around eighteen years old!"

"And only think how Cyril WAS worrying about those tin carts," laughed
Bertram. "Never mind--eight or eighteen--let him come. If he's that age,
he won't bother much."

"And this--er--'Spunk'; do you take him, too? But probably he doesn't
bother, either," murmured Cyril, with smooth sarcasm.

"Gorry! I forgot Spunk," acknowledged Bertram. "Say, what in time is
Spunk, do you suppose?"

"Dog, maybe," suggested William.

"Well, whatever he is, you will kindly keep Spunk down-stairs," said
Cyril with decision. "The boy, I suppose I shall have to endure; but the
dog--!"

"Hm-m; well, judging by his name," murmured Bertram, apologetically, "it
may be just possible that Spunk won't be easily controlled. But maybe he
isn't a dog, anyhow. He--er--sounds something like a parrot to me."

Cyril rose to his feet abruptly. He had eaten almost no dinner.

"Very well," he said coldly. "But please remember that I hold you
responsible, Bertram. Whether it's a dog, or a parrot, or--or a monkey,
I shall expect you to keep Spunk down-stairs. This adopting into the
family an unknown boy seems to me very absurd from beginning to end.
But if you and William will have it so, of course I've nothing to say.
Fortunately my rooms are at the TOP of the house," he finished, as he
turned and left the dining-room.

For a moment there was silence. The brows of the younger man were
uplifted quizzically.

"I'm afraid Cyril is bothered," murmured William then, in a troubled
voice.

Bertram's face changed. Stern lines came to his boyish mouth.

"He is always bothered--with anything, lately."

The elder man sighed.

"I know, but with his talent--"

"'Talent'! Great Scott!" cut in Bertram. "Half the world has talent of
one sort or another; but that doesn't necessarily make them unable
to live with any one else! Really, Will, it's becoming serious--about
Cyril. He's getting to be, for all the world, like those finicky old
maids that that young namesake of yours wrote about. He'll make us
whisper and walk on tiptoe yet!"

The other smiled.

"Don't you worry. You aren't in any danger of being kept too quiet,
young man."

"No thanks to Cyril, then," retorted Bertram. "Anyhow, that's one
reason why I was for taking the kid--to mellow up Cyril. He needs it all
right."

"But I had to take him, Bert," argued the elder brother, his face
growing anxious again. "But Heaven only knows what I'm going to do with
him when I get him. What shall I say to him, anyway? How shall I write?
I don't know how to get up a letter of that sort!"

"Why not take him at his word and telegraph? I fancy you won't have to
say 'come' but once before you see him. He doesn't seem to be a bashful
youth."

"Hm-m; I might do that," acquiesced William, slowly. "But wasn't there
somebody--a lawyer--going to write to me?" he finished, consulting the
letter by his plate. "Yes," he added, after a moment, "a Mr. Harding.
Wonder if he's any relation to Ned Harding. I used to know Ned at
Harvard, and seems as if he came from Hampden Falls. We'll soon see, at
all events. Maybe I'll hear to-morrow."

"I shouldn't wonder," nodded Bertram, as he rose from the table.
"Anyhow, I wouldn't do anything till I did hear."



CHAPTER IV

BILLY SENDS A TELEGRAM


James Harding's letter very promptly followed Billy's, though it was
not like Billy's at all. It told something of Billy's property, and
mentioned that, according to Mrs. Neilson's will, Billy would not
come into control of her fortune until the age of twenty-one years was
reached. It dwelt at some length upon the fact of Billy's loneliness in
the world, and expressed the hope that her father's friend could find it
in his heart to welcome the orphan into his home. It mentioned Ned, and
the old college friendship, and it closed by saying that the writer,
James Harding, was glad to renew his acquaintance with the good old
Henshaw family that he had known long years ago; and that he hoped soon
to hear from William Henshaw himself.

It was a good letter--but it was not well written. James Harding's
handwriting was not distinguished for its legibility, and his
correspondents rejoiced that the most of his letters were dictated to
his stenographer. In this case, however, he had elected to use the more
personal pen; and it was because of this that William Henshaw, even
after reading the letter, was still unaware of his mistake in supposing
his namesake, Billy, to be a boy.

In the main the lawyer had referred to Billy by name, or as "the
orphan," or as that "poor, lonely child." And whenever the more
distinctive feminine "her" or "herself" had occurred, the carelessly
formed letters had made them so much like "his" and "himself" that they
carried no hint of the truth to a man who had not the slightest reason
for thinking himself in the wrong. It was therefore still for the "boy,"
Billy, that William Henshaw at once set about making a place in the
home.

First he telegraphed the single word "Come" to Billy.

"I'll set the poor lad's heart at rest," he said to Bertram. "I shall
answer Harding's letter more at length, of course. Naturally he wants to
know something about me now before he sends Billy along; but there is no
need for the boy to wait before he knows that I'll take him. Of course
he won't come yet, till Harding hears from me."

It was just here, however, that William Henshaw met with a surprise, for
within twenty-four hours came Billy's answer, and by telegraph.


"I'm coming to-morrow. Train due at five P. M.

"BILLY."


William Henshaw did not know that in Hampden Falls Billy's trunk had
been packed for days. Billy was desperate. The house, even with the
maid, and with the obliging neighbor and his wife who stayed there
nights, was to Billy nothing but a dismal tomb. Lawyer Harding had
fallen suddenly ill; she could not even tell him that the blessed
telegram "Come" had arrived. Hence Billy, lonely, impulsive, and always
used to pleasing herself, had taken matters in hand with a confident
grasp, and had determined to wait no longer.

That it was a fearsomely unknown future to which she was so jauntily
pledging herself did not trouble the girl in the least. Billy was
romantic. To sally gaily forth with a pink in the buttonhole of her
coat to find her father's friend who was a "Billy" too, seemed to Billy
Neilson not only delightful, but eminently sensible, and an excellent
way out of her present homesick loneliness. So she bought the pink and
her ticket, and impatiently awaited the time to start.

To the Beacon Street house, Billy's cheerful telegram brought the direst
consternation. Even Kate was hastily summoned to the family conclave
that immediately resulted.

"There's nothing--simply nothing that I can do," she declared irritably,
when she had heard the story. "Surely, you don't expect ME to take the
boy!"

"No, no, of course not," sighed William. "But you see, I supposed I'd
have time to--to get used to things, and to make arrangements; and this
is so--so sudden! I hadn't even answered Harding's letter until to-day;
and he hasn't got that--much less replied to it."

"But what could you expect after sending that idiotic telegram?"
demanded the lady. "'Come,' indeed!"

"But that's what Billy told me to do."

"What if it was? Just because a foolish eighteen-year-old boy tells
you to do something, must you, a supposedly sensible forty-year-old man
obey?"

"I think it tickled Will's romantic streak," laughed Bertram. "It seemed
so sort of alluring to send that one word 'Come' out into space, and
watch what happened."

"Well, he's found out, certainly," observed Cyril, with grim
satisfaction.

"Oh, no; it hasn't happened yet," corrected Bertram, cheerfully. "It's
just going to happen. William's got to put on the pink first, you know.
That's the talisman."

William reddened.

"Bertram, don't be foolish. I sha'n't wear any pink. You must know
that."

"How'll you find him, then?"

"Why, he'll have one on; that's enough," settled William.

"Hm-m; maybe. Then he'll have Spunk, too," murmured Bertram,
mischievously.

"Spunk!" cried Kate.

"Yes. He wrote that he hoped we wouldn't mind his bringing Spunk with
him."

"Who's Spunk?

"We don't know." Bertram's lips twitched.

"You don't know! What do you mean?"

"Well, Will thinks it's a dog, and I believe Cyril is anticipating a
monkey. I myself am backing it for a parrot."

"Boys, what have you done!" groaned Kate, falling back in her chair.
"What have you done!"

To William her words were like an electric shock stirring him to instant
action. He sprang abruptly to his feet.

"Well, whatever we've done, we've done it," he declared sternly;
"and now we must do the rest--and do it well, too. He's the son of my
boyhood's dearest friend, and he shall be made welcome. Now to business!
Bertram, you said you'd take him in. Did you mean it?"

Bertram sobered instantly, and came erect in his chair. William did not
often speak like this; but when he did--

"Yes, Will. He shall have the little bedroom at the end of the hall. I
never used the room much, anyhow, and what few duds I have there shall
be cleared out to-morrow."

"Good! Now there are some other little details to arrange, then I'll
go down-stairs and tell Pete and Dong Ling. And, please to understand,
we're going to make this lad welcome--welcome, I say!"

"Yes, sir," said Bertram. Neither Kate nor Cyril spoke.



CHAPTER V

GETTING READY FOR BILLY


The Henshaw household was early astir on the day of Billy's expected
arrival, and preparations for the guest's comfort were well under way
before breakfast. The center of activity was in the little room at the
end of the hall on the second floor; though, as Bertram said, the whole
Strata felt the "upheaval."

By breakfast time Bertram with the avowed intention of giving "the
little chap half a show," had the room cleared for action; and after
that the whole house was called upon for contributions toward the room's
adornment. And most generously did most of the house respond. Even Dong
Ling slippered up-stairs and presented a weird Chinese banner which
he said he was "velly much glad" to give. As to Pete--Pete was in his
element. Pete loved boys. Had he not served them nearly all his life?
Incidentally it may be mentioned that he did not care for girls.

Only Cyril held himself aloof. But that he was not oblivious of the
proceedings below him was evidenced by the somber bass that floated down
from his piano strings. Cyril always played according to the mood that
was on him; and when Bertram heard this morning the rhythmic beats of
mournfulness, he chuckled and said to William:

"That's Chopin's Funeral March. Evidently Cy thinks this is the death
knell to all his hopes of future peace and happiness."

"Dear me! I wish Cyril would take some interest," grieved William.

"Oh, he takes interest all right," laughed Bertram, meaningly. "He takes
INTEREST!"

"I know, but--Bertram," broke off the elder man, anxiously, from his
perch on the stepladder, "would you put the rifle over this window, or
the fishing-rod?"

"Why, I don't think it makes much difference, so long as they're
somewhere," answered Bertram. "And there are these Indian clubs and the
swords to be disposed of, you know."

"Yes; and it's going to look fine; don't you think?" exulted William.
"And you know for the wall-space between the windows I'm going to bring
down that case of mine, of spiders."

Bertram raised his hands in mock surprise.

"Here--down here! You're going to trust any of those precious treasures
of yours down here!"

William frowned.

"Nonsense, Bertram, don't be silly! They'll be safe enough. Besides,
they're old, anyhow. I was on spiders years ago--when I was Billy's age,
in fact. I thought he'd like them here. You know boys always like such
things."

"Oh, 'twasn't Billy I was worrying about," retorted Bertram. "It was
you--and the spiders."

"Not much you worry about me--or anything else," replied William,
good-humoredly. "There! how does that look?" he finished, as he
carefully picked his way down the stepladder.

"Fine!--er--only rather warlike, maybe, with the guns and that riotous
confusion of knives and scimitars over the chiffonier. But then, maybe
you're intending Billy for a soldier; eh?"

"Do you know? I AM getting interested in that boy," beamed William, with
some excitement. "What kind of things do you suppose he does like?"

"There's no telling. Maybe he's a sissy chap, and will howl at your guns
and spiders. Perhaps he'll prefer autumn leaves and worsted mottoes for
decoration."

"Not much he will," contested the other. "No son of Walter Neilson's
could be a sissy. Neilson was the best half-back in ten years at
Harvard, and he was always in for everything going that was worth while.
'Autumn leaves and worsted mottoes' indeed! Bah!"

"All right; but there's still a dark horse in the case, you know. We
mustn't forget--Spunk."

The elder man stirred uneasily.

"Bert, what do you suppose that creature is? You don't think Cyril can
be right, and that it's a--monkey?"

"'You never can tell,'" quoted Bertram, merrily. "Of course there ARE
other things. If it were you, now, we'd only have to hunt up the special
thing you happened to be collecting at the time, and that would be it: a
snake, a lizard, a toad, or maybe a butterfly. You know you were always
lugging those things home when you were his age."

"Yes, I know," sighed William. "But I can't think it's anything like
that," he finished, as he turned away.

There was very little done in the Beacon Street house that day but to
"get ready for Billy." In the kitchen Dong Ling cooked. Everywhere else,
except in Cyril's domain, Pete dusted and swept and "puttered" to his
heart's content. William did not go to the office at all that day, and
Bertram did not touch his brushes. Only Cyril attended to his usual
work: practising for a coming concert, and correcting the proofs of his
new book, "Music in Russia."

At ten minutes before five William, anxious-eyed and nervous, found
himself at the North Station. Then, and not till then, did he draw a
long breath of relief.

"There! I think everything's ready," he sighed to himself. "At last!"

He wore no pink in his buttonhole. There was no need that he should
accede to that silly request, he told himself. He had only to look for
a youth of perhaps eighteen years, who would be alone, a little
frightened, possibly, and who would have a pink in his buttonhole, and
probably a dog on a leash.

As he waited, the man was conscious of a curious warmth at his heart.
It was his namesake, Walter Neilson's boy, that he had come to meet; a
homesick, lonely orphan who had appealed to him--to him, out of all the
world. Long years ago in his own arms there had been laid a tiny bundle
of flannel holding a precious little red, puckered face. But in a
month's time the little face had turned cold and waxen, and the hopes
that the white flannel bundle had carried had died with the baby
boy;--and that baby would have been a lad grown by this time, if he had
lived--a lad not far from the age of this Billy who was coming to-day,
reflected the man. And the warmth in his heart deepened and glowed the
more as he stood waiting at the gate for Billy to arrive.

The train from Hampden Falls was late. Not until quite fifteen minutes
past five did it roll into the train-shed. Then at once its long line of
passengers began to sweep toward the iron gate.

William was just inside the gate now, anxiously scanning every face and
form that passed. There were many half-grown lads, but there was not one
with a pink in his buttonhole until very near the end. Then William saw
him--a pleasant-faced, blue-eyed boy in a neat gray suit. With a low cry
William started forward; but he saw at once that the gray-clad youth was
unmistakably one of a merry family party. He looked to be anything but a
lad that was lonely and forlorn.

William hesitated and fell back. This debonair, self-reliant fellow
could not be Billy! But as a hasty glance down the line revealed only
half a dozen straggling women, and beyond them, no one, William decided
that it must be Billy; and taking brave hold of his courage, he hurried
after the blue-eyed youth and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Er--aren't you Billy?" he stammered.

The lad stopped and stared. He shook his head slowly.

"No, sir," he said.

"But you must be! Are you sure?"

The boy laughed this time.

"Sorry, sir, but my name is 'Frank'; isn't it, mother?" he added
merrily, turning to the lady at his side, who was regarding William very
unfavorably through a pair of gold-bowed spectacles.

William did not wait for more. With a stammered apology and a flustered
lifting of his hat he backed away.

But where was Billy?

William looked about him in helpless dismay. All around was a wide,
empty space. The long aisle to the Hampden Falls train was deserted
save for the baggage-men loading the trunks and bags on to their trucks.
Nowhere was there any one who seemed forlorn or ill at ease except a
pretty girl with a suit-case, and with a covered basket on her arm, who
stood just outside the gate, gazing a little nervously about her.

William looked twice at this girl. First, because the splash of color
against her brown coat had called his attention to the fact that she was
wearing a pink; and secondly because she was very pretty, and her dark
eyes carried a peculiarly wistful appeal.

"Too bad Bertram isn't here," thought William. "He'd be sketching that
face in no time on his cuff."

The pink had given William almost a pang. He had been so longing to see
a pink--though in a different place. He wondered sympathetically if she,
too, had come to meet some one who had not appeared. He noticed that she
walked away from the gate once or twice, toward the waiting-room, and
peered anxiously through the glass doors; but always she came back to
the gate as if fearful to be long away from that place. He forgot all
about her very soon, for her movements had given him a sudden idea:
perhaps Billy was in the waiting-room. How stupid of him not to think of
it before! Doubtless they had missed each other in the crowd, and Billy
had gone straight to the waiting-room to look for him. And with this
thought William hurried away at once, leaving the girl still standing by
the gate alone.

He looked everywhere. Systematically he paced up and down between the
long rows of seats, looking for a boy with a pink. He even went out upon
the street, and gazed anxiously in all directions. It occurred to him
after a time that possibly Billy, like himself, had changed his mind at
the last moment, and not worn the pink. Perhaps he had forgotten it, or
lost it, or even not been able to get it at all. Very bitterly William
blamed himself then for disregarding his own part of the suggested
plan. If only he had worn the pink himself!--but he had not; and it
was useless to repine. In the meantime, where was Billy, he wondered
frantically.



CHAPTER VI

THE COMING OF BILLY


After another long search William came back to the train-shed, vaguely
hoping that Billy might even then be there. The girl was still standing
alone by the gate. There was another train on the track now, and
the rush of many feet had swept her a little to one side. She looked
frightened now, and almost ready to cry. Still, William noticed that
her chin was lifted bravely, and that she was making a stern effort at
self-control. He hesitated a moment, then went straight toward her.

"I beg your pardon," he said kindly, lifting his hat, "but I notice that
you have been waiting here some time. Perhaps there is something I can
do for you."

A rosy color swept to the girl's face. Her eyes lost their frightened
appeal, and smiled frankly into his.

"Oh, thank you, sir! There IS something you can do for me, if you will
be so kind. You see, I can't leave this place, I'm so afraid he'll
come and I'll miss him. But--I think there's some mistake. Could you
telephone for me?" Billy Neilson was country-bred, and in Hampden Falls
all men served all other men and women, whether they were strangers or
not; so to Billy this was not an extraordinary request to make, in the
least.

William Henshaw smiled.

"Certainly; I shall be very glad to telephone for you. Just tell me whom
you want, and what you want to say."

"Thank you. If you'll call up Mr. William Henshaw, then, of Beacon
Street, please, and tell him Billy's come. I'll wait here."

"Oh, then Billy did come!" cried the man in glad surprise, his face
alight. "But where is he? Do YOU know Billy?"

"I should say I did," laughed Billy, with the lightness of a long-lost
child who has found a friend. "Why, I am Billy, myself!"

To William Henshaw the world swam dizzily, and went suddenly mad.
The floor rose, and the roof fell, while cars and people performed
impossible acrobatic feats above, below, and around him. Then, from afar
off, he heard his own voice stammer:

"You--are--B-Billy!"

"Yes; and I'll wait here, if you'll just tell him, please. He's
expecting me, you know, so it's all right, only perhaps he made a
mistake in the time. Maybe you know him, anyhow."

With one mighty effort William Henshaw pulled himself sharply together.
He even laughed, and tossed his head in a valiant imitation of Billy
herself; but his voice shook.

"Know him!--I should say I did!" he cried. "Why, I am William Henshaw,
myself."

"You!--Uncle William! Why, where's your pink?"

The man's face was already so red it could not get any redder--but it
tried to do so.

"Why, er--I--it--er--if you'll just come into the waiting-room a minute,
my dear," he stuttered miserably, "I--I'll explain--about that. I shall
have to leave you--for a minute," he plunged on frenziedly, as he led
the way to a seat; "A--matter of business that I must attend to. I'll
be--right back. Wait here, please!" And he almost pushed the girl into a
seat and hurried away.

At a safe distance William Henshaw turned and looked back. His knees
were shaking, and his fingers had grown cold at their tips. He could see
her plainly, as she bent over the basket in her lap. He could see even
the pretty curve of her cheek, and of her slender throat when she lifted
her head.

And that was Billy--a GIRL!

People near him at that moment saw a flushed-faced, nervous-appearing
man throw up his hands with a despairing gesture, roll his eyes
heavenward, and then plunge into the nearest telephone booth.

In due time William Henshaw had his brother Bertram at the other end of
the wire.

"Bertram!" he called shakily.

"Hullo, Will; that you? What's the matter? You're late! Didn't he come?"

"Come!" groaned William. "Good Lord! Bertram--Billy's a GIRL!"

"A wh-what?"

"A girl."

"A GIRL!"

"Yes, yes! Don't stand there repeating what I say in that idiotic
fashion, Bertram. Do something--do something!"

"'Do something'!" gasped Bertram. "Great Scott, Will! If you want me to
do something, don't knock me silly with a blow like that. Now what did
you say?"

"I said that Billy is--a--girl. Can't you get that?" demanded William,
despairingly.

"Well, by Jove!" breathed Bertram.

"Come, come, think! What shall we do?"

"Why, bring her home, of course."

"Home--home!" chattered William. "Do you think we five men can bring up
a distractingly pretty eighteen-year-old girl with curly cheeks and pink
hair?"

"With wha-at?"

"No, no. I mean curly hair and pink cheeks. Bertram, do be sensible,"
begged the man. "This is serious!"

"Serious! I should say it was! Only fancy what Cy will say! A girl! Holy
smoke! Tote her along--I want to see her!"

"But I say we can't keep her there with us, Bertram. Don't you see we
can't?"

"Then take her to Kate's, or to--to one of those Young Women's Christian
Union things."

"No, no, I can't do that. That's impossible. Don't you understand? She's
expecting to go home with me--HOME! I'm her Uncle William."

"Lucky Uncle William!"

"Be still, Bertram!"

"Well, doesn't she know your--mistake?--that you thought she was a boy?"

"Heaven forbid!--I hope not," cried the man, fervently. "I 'most let it
out once, but I think she didn't notice it. You see, we--we were both
surprised."

"Well, I should say!"

"And, Bertram, I can't turn her out--I can't, I tell you. Only fancy my
going to her now and saying: 'If you please, Billy, you can't live at
my house, after all. I thought you were a boy, you know!' Great Scott!
Bert, if she'd once turned those big brown eyes of hers on you as she
has on me, you'd see!"

"I'd be delighted, I'm sure," sung a merry voice across the wires.
"Sounds real interesting!"

"Bertram, can't you be serious and help me out?"

"But what CAN we do?"

"I don't know. We'll have to think; but for now, get Kate. Telephone
her. Tell her to come right straight over, and that she's got to stay
all night."

"All night!"

"Of course! Billy's got to have a chaperon; hasn't she? Now hurry. We
shall be up right away."

"Kate's got company."

"Never mind--leave 'em. Tell her she's got to leave 'em. And tell Cyril,
of course, what to expect. And, look a-here, you two behave, now. None
of your nonsense! Now mind. I'm not going to have this child tormented."

"I won't bat an eyelid--on my word, I won't," chuckled Bertram. "But,
oh, I say,--Will!"

"Yes."

"What's Spunk?"

"Eh?--oh--Great Scott! I forgot Spunk. I don't know. She's got a basket.
He's in that, I suppose. Anyhow, he can't be any more of a bombshell
than his mistress was. Now be quick, and none of your fooling, Bertram.
Tell them all--Pete and Dong Ling. Don't forget. I wouldn't have Billy
find out for the world! Fix it up with Kate. You'll have to fix it up
with her; that's all!" And there came the sharp click of the receiver
against the hook.



CHAPTER VII

INTRODUCING SPUNK


In the soft April twilight Cyril was playing a dreamy waltz when Bertram
knocked, and pushed open the door.

"Say, old chap, you'll have to quit your mooning this time and sit up
and take notice."

"What do you mean?" Cyril stopped playing and turned abruptly.

"I mean that Will has gone crazy, and I think the rest of us are going
to follow suit."

Cyril shrugged his shoulders and whirled about on the piano stool. In a
moment his fingers had slid once more into the dreamy waltz.

"When you get ready to talk sense, I'll listen," he said coldly.

"Oh, very well; if you really want it broken gently, it's this: Will has
met Billy, and Billy is a girl. They're due here now 'most any time."

The music stopped with a crash.

"A--GIRL!"

"Yes, a girl. Oh, I've been all through that, and I know how you feel.
But as near as I can make out, it's really so. I've had instructions to
tell everybody, and I've told. I got Kate on the telephone, and she's
coming over. You KNOW what SHE'LL be. Dong Ling is having what I suppose
are Chinese hysterics in the kitchen; and Pete is swinging back and
forth like a pendulum in the dining-room, moaning 'Good Lord, deliver
us!' at every breath. I would suggest that you follow me down-stairs so
that we may be decently ready for--whatever comes." And he turned about
and stalked out of the room, followed by Cyril, who was too stunned to
open his lips.

Kate came first. She was not stunned. She had a great deal to say.

"Really, this is a little the most absurd thing I ever heard of," she
fumed. "What in the world does your brother mean?"

That she quite ignored her own relationship to the culprit was not lost
on Bertram. He made instant response.

"As near as I can make out," he replied smoothly, "YOUR brother has
fallen under the sway of a pair of great dark eyes, two pink cheeks, and
an unknown quantity of curly hair, all of which in its entirety is his
namesake, is lonesome, and is in need of a home."

"But she can't live--here!"

"Will says she shall."

"But that is utter nonsense," cut in Cyril.

"For once I agree with you, Cyril," laughed Bertram; "but William
doesn't."

"But how can she do it?" demanded Kate.

"Don't know," answered Bertram. "He's established a petticoat propriety
in you for a few hours, at least. Meanwhile, he's going to think. At
least, he says he is, and that we've got to help him."

"Humph!" snapped Kate. "Well, I can prophesy we sha'n't think alike--so
you'd notice it!"

"I know that," nodded Bertram; "and I'm with you and Cyril on this. The
whole thing is absurd. The idea of thrusting a silly, eighteen-year-old
girl here into our lives in this fashion! But you know what Will is when
he's really roused. You might as well try to move a nice good-natured
mountain by saying 'please,' as to try to stir him under certain
circumstances. Most of the time, I'll own, we can twist him around our
little fingers. But not now. You'll see. In the first place, she's the
daughter of his dead friend, and she DID write a pathetic little letter.
It got to the inside of me, anyhow, when I thought she was a boy."

"A boy! Who wouldn't think she was a boy?" interposed Cyril. "'Billy,'
indeed! Can you tell me what for any sane man should have named a girl
'Billy'?"

"For William, your brother, evidently," retorted Bertram, dryly.
"Anyhow, he did it, and of course our mistake was a very natural one.
The dickens of it is now that we've got to keep it from her, so Will
says; and how--hush! here they are," he broke off, as there came the
sound of wheels stopping before the house.

There followed the click of a key in the lock and the opening of a heavy
door; then, full in the glare of the electric lights stood a plainly
nervous man, and a girl with startled, appealing eyes.

"My dear," stammered William, "this is my sister, Kate, Mrs. Hartwell;
and here are Cyril and Bertram, whom I've told you of. And of course I
don't need to say to them that you are Billy."

It was over. William drew a long breath, and gave an agonized look into
his brothers' eyes. Then Billy turned from Mrs. Hartwell and held out a
cordial hand to each of the men in turn.

"Oh, you don't know how lovely this is--to me," she cried softly. "And
to think that you were willing I should come!" The two younger men
caught their breath sharply, and tried not to see each other's eyes.
"You look so good--all of you; and I don't believe there's one of you
that's got nerves or a heart," she laughed.

Bertram rallied his wits to respond to the challenge.

"No heart, Miss Billy? Now isn't that just a bit hard on us--right at
first?"

"Not a mite, if you take it the way I mean it," dimpled Billy. "Hearts
that are all right just keep on pumping, and you never know they are
there. They aren't worth mentioning. It's the other kind--the kind that
flutters at the least noise and jumps at the least bang! And I don't
believe any of you mind noises and bangs," she finished merrily, as she
handed her hat and coat to Mrs. Hartwell, who was waiting to receive
them.

Bertram laughed. Cyril scowled, and occupied himself in finding a chair.
William had already dropped himself wearily on to the sofa near his
sister. Billy still continued to talk.

"Now when Spunk and I get to training--oh, and you haven't seen Spunk!"
she interrupted herself suddenly. "Why, the introductions aren't half
over. Where is he, Uncle William--the basket?"

"I--I put it in--in the hall," mumbled William, starting to rise.

"No, no; I'll get him," cried Billy, hurrying from the room. She
returned in a moment, the green covered basket in her hand. "He's been
asleep, I guess. He's slept 'most all the way down, anyhow. He's so used
to being toted 'round in this basket that he doesn't mind it a bit. I
take him everywhere in it at the Falls."

There was an electric pause. Four pairs of startled, questioning,
fearful eyes were on the basket while Billy fumbled at the knot of the
string. The next moment, with a triumphant flourish, Billy lifted from
the basket and placed on the floor a very small gray kitten with a very
large pink bow.

"There, ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, Spunk."

The tiny creature winked and blinked, and balanced for a moment on
sleepy legs; then at the uncontrollable shout that burst from Bertram's
throat, he faced the man, humped his tiny back, bristled his diminutive
tail to almost unbelievable fluffiness, and spit wrathfully.

"And so that is Spunk!" choked Bertram.

"Yes," said Billy. "This is Spunk."



CHAPTER VIII

THE ROOM--AND BILLY


For the first fifteen minutes after Billy's arrival conversation was a
fitful thing made up mostly of a merry monologue on the part of Billy
herself, interspersed with somewhat dazed replies from one after another
of her auditors as she talked to them in turn. No one thought to ask if
she cared to go up to her room, and during the entire fifteen minutes
Billy sat on the floor with Spunk in her lap. She was still there when
the funereal face of Pete appeared in the doorway. Pete's jaw dropped.
It was plain that only the sternest self-control enabled him to announce
dinner, with anything like dignity. But he managed to stammer out the
words, and then turn loftily away. Bertram, who sat near the door,
however, saw him raise his hands in horror as he plunged through the
hall and down the stairway.

With a motion to Bertram to lead the way with Billy, William frenziedly
gripped his sister's arm, and hissed in her ear for all the world like a
villain in melodrama:

"Listen! You'll sleep in Bert's room to-night, and Bert will come
up-stairs with me. Get Billy to bed as soon as you can after dinner,
and then come back down to us. We've got to plan what's got to be done.
Sh-h!" And he dragged his sister downstairs.

In the dining-room there was a slight commotion. Billy stood at her
chair with Spunk in her arms. Before her Pete was standing, dumbly
staring into her eyes. At last he stammered:

"Ma'am?"

"A chair, please, I said, for Spunk, you know. Spunk always sits at the
table right next to me."

It was too much for Bertram. He fled chokingly to the hall. William
dropped weakly into his own place. Cyril stared as had Pete; but Mrs.
Hartwell spoke.

"You don't mean--that that cat--has a chair--at the table!" she gasped.

"Yes; and isn't it cute of him?" beamed Billy, entirely misconstruing
the surprise in the lady's voice. "His mother always sat at table with
us, and behaved beautifully, too. Of course Spunk is little, and makes
mistakes sometimes. But he'll learn. Oh, there's a chair right here,"
she added, as she spied Bertram's childhood's high-chair, which for long
years had stood unused in the corner. "I'll just squeeze it right in
here," she finished gleefully, making room for the chair at her side.

When Bertram, a little red of face, but very grave, entered, the
dining-room a moment later, he found the family seated with Spunk snugly
placed between Billy and a plainly disgusted and dismayed brother,
Cyril. The kitten was alert and interested; but he had settled back in
his chair, and was looking as absurdly dignified as the flaring pink bow
would let him.

"Isn't he a dear?" Billy was saying. But Bertram noticed that there was
no reply to this question.

It was a peculiar dinner-party. Only Billy did not feel the strain. Even
Spunk was not entirely happy--his efforts to investigate the table
and its contents were too frequently curbed by his mistress for his
unalloyed satisfaction. William, it is true, made a valiant attempt to
cause the conversation to be general; but he failed dismally. Kate
was sternly silent, while Cyril was openly repellent. Bertram talked,
indeed--but Bertram always talked; and very soon he and Billy had things
pretty much to themselves--that is, with occasional interruptions caused
by Spunk. Spunk had an inquisitive nose or paw for each new dish placed
before his mistress; and Billy spent much time admonishing him. Billy
said she was training him; that it was wonderful what training would do,
and, of course, Spunk WAS little, now.

Dinner was half over when there was a slight diversion created by
Spunk's conclusion to get acquainted with the silent man at his left.
Cyril, however, did not respond to Spunk's advances. So very evident,
indeed, was the man's aversion that Billy turned in amazement.

"Why, Mr. Cyril, don't you see? Spunk is trying to say 'How do you do'?"

"Very likely; but I'm not fond of cats, Miss Billy."

"You're not fond--of--cats!" repeated the girl, as if she could not have
heard aright. "Why not?"

Cyril changed his position.

"Why, just because I--I'm not," he retorted lamely. "Isn't there
anything that--that you don't like?"

Billy considered.

"Why, not that I know of," she began, after a moment, "only rainy days
and--tripe. And Spunk isn't a bit like those."

Bertram chuckled, and even Cyril smiled--though unwillingly.

"All the same," he reiterated, "I don't like cats."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," lamented Billy; and at the grieved hurt in her dark
eyes Bertram came promptly to the rescue.

"Never mind, Miss Billy. Cyril is only ONE of us, and there is all the
rest of the Strata besides."

"The--what?"

"The Strata. You don't know, of course, but listen, and I'll tell you."
And he launched gaily forth into his favorite story.

Billy was duly amused and interested. She laughed and clapped her hands,
and when the story was done she clapped them again.

"Oh, what a funny house! And how perfectly lovely that I'm going to
live in it," she cried. Then straight at Mrs. Hartwell she hurled a
bombshell. "But where is your stratum?" she demanded. "Mr. Bertram
didn't mention a thing about you!"

Cyril said a sharp word under his breath. Bertram choked over a cough.
Kate threw into William's eyes a look that was at once angry, accusing,
and despairing. Then William spoke.

"Er--she--it isn't anywhere, my dear," he stammered; "or rather, it
isn't here. Kate lives up on the Avenue, you see, and is only here
for--for a day or two--just now."

"Oh!" murmured Billy. And there was not one in the room at that moment
who did not bless Spunk--for Spunk suddenly leaped to the table before
him; and in the ensuing confusion his mistress quite forgot to question
further concerning Mrs. Hartwell's stratum.

Dinner over, the three men, with their sister and Billy, trailed
up-stairs to the drawing-rooms. Billy told them, then, of her life at
Hampden Falls. She cried a little at the mention of Aunt Ella; and she
portrayed very vividly the lonely life from which she herself had so
gladly escaped. She soon had every one laughing, even Cyril, over her
stories of the lawyer's home that might have been hers, with its gloom
and its hush and its socketed chairs.

As soon as possible, however, Mrs. Hartwell, with a murmured "I know you
must be tired, Billy," suggested that the girl go up-stairs to her room.
"Come," she added, "I will show you the way."

There was some delay, even then, for Spunk had to be provided with
sleeping quarters; and it was not without some hesitation that Billy
finally placed the kitten in the reluctant hands of Pete, who had been
hastily summoned. Then she turned and followed Mrs. Hartwell up-stairs.

It seemed to the three men in the drawing-room that almost immediately
came the piercing shriek, and the excited voice of their sister in
expostulation. Without waiting for more they leaped to the stairway and
hurried up, two steps at a time.

"For heaven's sake, Kate, what is it?" panted William, who had been
outdistanced by his more agile brothers.

Kate was on her feet, her face the picture of distressed amazement. In
the low chair by the window Billy sat where she had flung herself, her
hands over her face. Her shoulders were shaking, and from her throat
came choking little cries.

"I don't know," quavered Kate. "I haven't the least idea. She was all
right till she got up-stairs here, and I turned on the lights. Then she
gave one shriek and--you know all I know."

William advanced hurriedly.

"Billy, what is the matter? What are you crying for?" he demanded.

Billy dropped her hands then, and they saw her face. She was not crying.
She was laughing. She was laughing so she could scarcely speak.

"Oh, you did, you did!" she gurgled. "I thought you did, and now I
know!"

"Did what? What do you mean?" William's usually gentle voice was sharp.
Even William's nerves were beginning to feel the strain of the last few
hours.

"Thought I was a--b-boy!" choked Billy. "You called me 'he' once in the
station--I thought you did; but I wasn't sure--not till I saw this room.
But now I know--I know!" And off she went into another hysterical gale
of laughter--Billy's nerves, too, were beginning to respond to the
excitement of the last few hours.

As to the three men and the woman, they stood silent, helpless, looking
into each other's faces with despairing eyes.

In a moment Billy was on her feet, fluttering about the room, touching
this thing, looking at that. Nothing escaped her.

"I'm to fish--and shoot--and fence!" she crowed. "And, oh!--look at
those knives! U-ugh!... And, my! what are these?" she cried, pouncing
on the Indian clubs. "And look at the spiders! Dear, dear, I AM glad
they're dead, anyhow," she shuddered with a nervous laugh that was
almost a sob.

Something in Billy's voice stirred Mrs. Hartwell to sudden action.

"Come, come, this will never do," she protested authoritatively,
motioning her brothers to leave the room. "Billy is quite tired out, and
needs rest. She mustn't talk another bit to-night."

"Of c-course not," stammered William. And only too glad of an excuse to
withdraw from a very embarrassing situation, the three men called back a
faltering good-night, and precipitately fled down-stairs.



CHAPTER IX

A FAMILY CONCLAVE


"Well, William," greeted Kate, grimly, when she came into the
drawing-room, after putting her charge to bed, "have you had enough,
now?"

"'Enough'! What do you mean?"

Kate raised her eyebrows.

"Why, surely, you're not thinking NOW that you can keep this girl here;
are you?"

"I don't know why not."

"William!"

"Well, where shall she go? Will you take her?"

"I? Certainly not," declared Kate, with decision. "I'm sure I see no
reason why I should."

"No more do I see why William should, either," cut in Cyril.

"Oh, come, what's the use," interposed Bertram. "Let her stay. She's a
nice little thing, I'm sure."

Cyril and Kate turned sharply.

"Bertram!" The cry was a duet of angry amazement. Then Kate added: "It
seems that you, too, have come under the sway of dark eyes, pink cheeks,
and an unknown quantity of curly hair!"

Bertram laughed.

"Oh, well, she would be nice to--er--paint," he murmured.

"See here, children," demurred William, a little sternly, "all this is
wasting time. There is no way out of it. I wouldn't be seen turning that
homeless child away now. We must keep her; that's settled. The question
is, how shall it be done? We must have some woman friend here to be her
companion, of course; but whom shall we get?"

Kate sighed, and looked her dismay. Bertram threw a glance into Cyril's
eyes, and made an expressive gesture.

"You see," it seemed to say. "I told you how it would be!"

"Now whom shall we get?" questioned William again. "We must think."

Unattached gentlewomen of suitable age and desirable temper did not
prove to be so numerous among the Henshaws' acquaintances, however, as
to make the selection of a chaperon very easy. Several were thought of
and suggested; but in each case the candidate was found to possess
one or more characteristics that made the idea of her presence utterly
abhorrent to some one of the brothers. At last William expostulated:

"See here, boys, we aren't any nearer a settlement than we were in the
first place. There isn't any woman, of course, who would exactly suit
all of us; and so we shall just have to be willing to take some one who
doesn't."

"The trouble is," explained Bertram, airily, "we want some one who will
be invisible to every one except the world and Billy, and who will be
inaudible always."

"I don't know but you are right," sighed William. "But suppose we settle
on Aunt Hannah. She seems to be the least objectionable of the lot,
and I think she'd come. She's alone in the world, and I believe the
comfortable roominess of this house would be very grateful to her after
the inconvenience of her stuffy little room over at the Back Bay."

"You bet it would!" murmured Bertram, feelingly; but William did not
appear to hear him.

"She's amiable, fairly sensible, and always a lady," he went on; "and
to-morrow morning I believe I'll run over and see if she can't come
right away."

"And may I ask which--er--stratum she--they--will occupy?" smiled
Bertram.

"You may ask, but I'm afraid you won't find out very soon," retorted
William, dryly, "if we take as long to decide that matter as we have the
rest of it."

"Er--Cyril has the most--UNOCCUPIED space," volunteered Bertram,
cheerfully.

"Indeed!" retaliated Cyril. "Suppose you let me speak for myself! Of
course, so far as truck is concerned, I'm not in it with you and Will.
But as for the USE I put my rooms to--! Besides, I already have Pete
there, and would have Dong Ling probably, if he slept here. However,
if you want any of my rooms, don't let my petty wants and wishes
interfere--"

"No, no," interrupted William, in quick conciliation. "We don't want
your rooms, Cyril. Aunt Hannah abhors stairs. Of course I might move, I
suppose. My rooms are one flight less; but if I only didn't have so many
things!"

"Oh, you men!" shrugged Kate, wearily. "Why don't you ask my opinion
sometimes? It seems to me that in this case a woman's wit might be of
some help!"

"All right, go ahead!" nodded William.

Kate leaned forward eagerly--Kate loved to "manage."

"Go easy, now," cautioned Bertram, warily. "You know a strata, even one
as solid as ours, won't stand too much of an earthquake!"

"It isn't an earthquake at all," sniffed Kate. "It's a very sensible
move all around. Here are these two great drawing-rooms, the library,
and the little reception-room across the hall, and not one of them is
ever used but this. Of course the women wouldn't like to sleep down
here, but why don't you, Bertram, take the back drawing-room, the
library, and the little reception-room for yours, and leave the whole of
the second floor for Billy and Aunt Hannah?"

"Good for you, Kate," cried Bertram, appreciatively. "You've hit it
square on the head, and we'll do it. I'll move to-morrow. The light down
here is just as good as it is up-stairs--if you let it in!"

"Thank you, Bertram, and you, too, Kate," breathed William, fervently.
"Now, if you don't mind, I believe I'll go to bed. I am tired!"



CHAPTER X

AUNT HANNAH


As soon as possible after breakfast William went to see Aunt Hannah.

Hannah Stetson was not really William's aunt, though she had been called
Aunt Hannah for years. She was the widow of a distant cousin, and she
lived in a snug little room in a Back Bay boarding-house. She was a
slender, white-haired woman with kind blue eyes, and a lovable smile.
Her cheeks were still faintly pink, and her fine silver-white hair broke
into little kinks and curls about her ears. According to Bertram she
always made one think of "lavender and old lace."

She welcomed William cordially this morning, though with faint surprise
in her eyes.

"Yes, I know I'm an early caller, and an unexpected one," began William,
hurriedly. "And I shall have to plunge straight into the matter, too,
for there isn't time to preamble. I've taken an eighteen-year-old girl
to bring up, Aunt Hannah, and I want you to come down and live with us
to chaperon her."

"My grief and conscience, WILLIAM!" gasped the little woman, agitatedly.

"Yes, yes, I know, Aunt Hannah, everything you would say if you could.
But please skip the hysterics. We've all had them, and Kate has already
used every possible adjective that you could think up. Now it's just
this." And he hurriedly gave Mrs. Stetson a full account of the case,
and told her plainly what he hoped and expected that she would do for
him.

"Why, yes, of course--I'll come," acquiesced the lady, a little
breathlessly, "if--if you are sure you're going to--keep her."

"Good! And remember I said 'now,' please--that I wanted you to come
right away, to-day. Of course Kate can't stay. Just get in half a dozen
women to help you pack, and come."

"Half a dozen women in that little room, William--impossible!"

"Well, I only meant to get enough so you could come right off this
morning."

"But I don't need them, William. There are only my clothes and books,
and such things. You know it is a FURNISHED room."

"All right, all right, Aunt Hannah. I wanted to make sure you hurried,
that's all. You see, I don't want Billy to suspect just how much she's
upsetting us. I've asked Kate to take her over to her house for the
day, while Bertram is moving down-stairs, and while we're getting you
settled. I--I think you'll like it there, Aunt Hannah," added William,
anxiously. "Of course Billy's got Spunk, but--" he hesitated, and smiled
a little.

"Got what?" faltered the other.

"Spunk. Oh, I don't mean THAT kind," laughed William, in answer to the
dismayed expression on his aunt's face. "Spunk is a cat."

"A cat!--but such a name, William! I--I think we'll change that."

"Eh? Oh, you do," murmured William, with a curious smile. "Very well; be
that as it may. Anyhow, you're coming, and we shall want you all settled
by dinner time," he finished, as he picked up his hat to go.

With Kate, Billy spent the long day very contentedly in Kate's beautiful
Commonwealth Avenue home. The two boys, Paul, twelve years old, and
Egbert, eight, were a little shy, it is true, and not really of much use
as companions; but there was a little Kate, four years old, who proved
to be wonderfully entertaining.

Billy was not much used to children, and she found this four-year-old
atom of humanity to be a great source of interest and amusement. She
even told Mrs. Hartwell at parting that little Kate was almost as nice
as Spunk--which remark, oddly enough, did not appear to please Mrs.
Hartwell to the extent that Billy thought that it would.

At the Beacon Street house Billy was presented at once to Mrs. Stetson.

"And you are to call me 'Aunt Hannah,' my dear," said the little woman,
graciously, "just as the boys do."

"Thank you," dimpled Billy, "and you don't know, Aunt Hannah, how good
it seems to me to come into so many relatives, all at once!"

Upon going up-stairs Billy found her room somewhat changed. It was far
less warlike, and the case of spiders had been taken away.

"And this will be your stratum, you know," announced Bertram from the
stairway, "yours and Aunt Hannah's. You're to have this whole floor.
Will and Cyril are above, and I'm down-stairs."

"You are? Why, I thought you--were--here." Billy's face was puzzled.

"Here? Oh, well, I did have--some things here," he retorted airily; "but
I took them all away to-day. You see, my stratum is down-stairs, and
it doesn't do to mix the layers. By the way, you haven't been up-stairs
yet; have you? Come on, and I'll show you--and you, too, Aunt Hannah."

Billy clapped her hands; but Aunt Hannah shook her head.

"I'll leave that for younger feet than mine," she said; adding
whimsically: "It's best sometimes that one doesn't try to step too far
off one's own level, you know."

"All right," laughed the man. "Come on, Miss Billy."

On the door at the head of the stairs he tapped twice, lightly.

"Well, Pete," called Cyril's voice, none too cordially.

"Pete, indeed!" scoffed Bertram. "You've got company, young man. Open
the door. Miss Billy is viewing the Strata."

The bare floor echoed to a quick tread, then the door opened and Cyril
faced them with a forced smile on his lips.

"Come in--though I fear there will be little--to see," he said.

Bertram assumed a pompous attitude.

"Ladies and gentlemen; you behold here the lion in his lair."

"Be still, Bertram," ordered Cyril.

"He is a lion, really," confided Bertram, in a lower voice; "but as he
prefers it, we'll just call him 'the Musical Man.'"

"I should think I was some sort of music-box that turned with a crank,"
bristled Cyril.

Bertram grinned.

"A--CRANK, did you say? Well, even I wouldn't have quite dared to say
that, you know!"

With an impatient gesture Cyril turned on his heel. Bertram fell once
more into his pompous attitude.

"Before you is the Man's workshop," he orated. "At your right you see
his instruments of tor--I mean, his instruments: a piano, flute, etc.
At your left is the desk with its pens, paper, erasers, ink and postage
stamps. I mention these because there are--er--so few things to mention
here. Beyond, through the open door, one may catch glimpses of still
other rooms; but they hold even less than this one holds. Tradition
doth assert, however, that in one is a couch-bed, and in another, two
chairs."

Billy listened silently. Her eyes were questioning. She was not
quite sure how to take Bertram's words; and the bare rooms and their
stern-faced master filled her with a vague pity. But the pause that
followed Bertram's nonsense seemed to be waiting for her to fill it.

"Oh, I should like to hear you--play, Mr. Cyril," she stammered. Then,
gathering courage. "CAN you play 'The Maiden's Prayer'?"

Bertram gave a cough, a spasmodic cough that sent him, red-faced, out
into the hall. From there he called:

"Can't stop for the animals to perform, Miss Billy. It's 'most dinner
time, and we've got lots to see yet."

"All right; but--sometime," nodded Billy over her shoulder to Cyril as
she turned away. "I just love that 'Maiden's Prayer'!"

"Now this is William's stratum," announced Bertram at the foot of the
stairs. "You will perceive that there is no knocking here; William's
doors are always open."

"By all means! Come in--come in," called William's cheery voice.

"Oh, my, what a lot of things!" exclaimed Billy. "My--my--what a lot of
things! How Spunk will like this room!"

Bertram chuckled; then he made a great display of drawing a long breath.

"In the short time at our disposal," he began loftily, "it will be
impossible to point out each particular article and give its history
from the beginning; but somewhere you will find four round white stones,
which--"

"Er--yes, we know all about those white stones," interrupted William,
"and you'll please let me talk about my own things myself!" And he
beamed benevolently on the wondering-eyed girl at Bertram's side.

"But there are so many!" breathed Billy.

"All the more chance then," smiled William, "that somewhere among them
you'll find something to interest you. Now these Chinese ceramics,
and these bronzes--maybe you'd like those," he suggested. And with a
resigned sigh and an exaggerated air of submission, Bertram stepped back
and gave way to his brother.

"And there are these miniatures, and these Japanese porcelains. Or
perhaps you'd like stamps, or theatre programs better," William finished
anxiously.

Billy did not reply. She was turning round and round, her eyes wide and
amazed. Suddenly she pounced on a beautifully decorated teapot, and held
it up in admiring hands.

"Oh, what a pretty teapot! And what a cute little plate it sets in!" she
cried.

The collector fairly bubbled over with joy.

"That's a Lowestoft--a real Lowestoft!" he crowed. "Not that
hard-paste stuff from the Orient that's CALLED Lowestoft, but the real
thing--English, you know. And that's the tray that goes with it,
too. Wonderful--how I got them both! You know they 'most always get
separated. I paid a cool hundred for them, anyhow."

"A hundred dollars for a teapot!" gasped Billy.

"Yes; and here's a nice little piece of lustre-ware. Pretty--isn't it?
And there's a fine bit of black basalt. And--"

"Er--Will," interposed Bertram, meekly.

"Oh, and here's a Castleford," cried William, paying no attention to
the interruption. "Marked, too; see? 'D. D. & Co., Castleford.' You know
there isn't much of that ware marked. This is a beauty, too, I think.
You see this pitted surface--they made that with tiny little points set
into the inner side of the mold. The design stands out fine on this.
It's one of the best I ever saw. And, oh--"

"Er--William," interposed Bertram again, a little louder this time. "May
I just say--"

"And did you notice this 'Old Blue'?" hurried on William, eagerly. "Lid
sets down in, you see--that's older than the kind where it sets over the
top. Now here's one--"

"William," almost shouted Bertram, "DINNER IS READY! Pete has sounded
the gong twice already!"

"Eh? Oh, sure enough--sure enough," acknowledged William, with a
regretful glance at his treasures. "Well, we must go, we must go."

"But I haven't seen your stratum at all," demurred Billy to her guide,
as they went down the stairway.

"Then there's something left for to-morrow," promised Bertram; "but
you must remember, I haven't got any beautiful 'Old Blues' and 'black
basalts,' to say nothing of stamps and baggage tags. But I'll make you
some tea--some real tea--and that's more than William has done, with all
his hundred and one teapots!"



CHAPTER XI

BERTRAM HAS VISITORS


Spunk did not change his name; but that was perhaps the only thing that
did not meet with some sort of change during the weeks that immediately
followed Billy's arrival. Given a house, five men, and an ironbound
routine of life, and it is scarcely necessary to say that the advent
of a somewhat fussy elderly woman, an impulsive young girl, and a
very-much-alive small cat will make some difference. As to Spunk's
name--it was not Mrs. Stetson's fault that even that was left
undisturbed.

Mrs. Stetson early became acquainted with Spunk. She was introduced
to him, indeed, on the night of her arrival--though fortunately not
at table: William had seen to it that Spunk did not appear at dinner,
though to accomplish this the man had been obliged to face the amazed
and grieved indignation of the kitten's mistress.

"But I don't see how any one CAN object to a nice clean little cat at
the table," Billy had remonstrated tearfully.

"I know; but--er--they do, sometimes," William had stammered; "and this
is one of the times. Aunt Hannah would never stand for it--never!"

"Oh, but she doesn't know Spunk," Billy had observed then, hopefully.
"You just wait until she knows him."

Mrs. Stetson began to "know" Spunk the next day. The immediate source of
her knowledge was the discovery that Spunk had found her ball of black
knitting yarn, and had delightedly captured it. Not that he was content
to let it remain where it was--indeed, no. He rolled it down the stairs,
batted it through the hall to the drawing-room, and then proceeded to
'chasse' with it in and out among the legs of various chairs and tables,
ending in one grand whirl that wound the yarn round and round his small
body, and keeled him over half upon his back. There he blissfully went
to sleep.

Billy found him after a gleeful following of the slender woollen trail.
Mrs. Stetson was with her--but she was not gleeful.

"Oh, Aunt Hannah, Aunt Hannah," gurgled Billy, "isn't he just too cute
for anything?"

Aunt Hannah shook her head.

"I must confess I don't see it," she declared. "My dear, just look at
that hopeless snarl!"

"Oh, but it isn't hopeless at all," laughed Billy. "It's like one of
those strings they unwind at parties with a present at the end of it.
And Spunk is the present," she added, when she had extricated the small
gray cat. "And you shall hold him," she finished, graciously entrusting
the sleepy kitten to Mrs. Stetson's unwilling arms.

"But, I--it--I can't--Billy! I don't like that name," blurted out the
indignant little lady with as much warmth as she ever allowed herself to
show. "It must be changed to--to 'Thomas.'"

"Changed? Spunk's name changed?" demanded Billy, in a horrified voice.
"Why, Aunt Hannah, it can't be changed; it's HIS, you know." Then she
laughed merrily. "'Thomas,' indeed! Why, you old dear!--just suppose I
should ask YOU to change your name! Now _I_ like 'Helen Clarabella' lots
better than 'Hannah,' but I'm not going to ask you to change that--and
I'm going to love you just as well, even if you are 'Hannah'--see if I
don't! And you'll love Spunk, too, I'm sure you will. Now watch me find
the end of this snarl!" And she danced over to the dumbfounded little
lady in the big chair, gave her an affectionate kiss, and then attacked
the tangled mass of black with skilful fingers.

"But, I--you--oh, my grief and conscience!" finished the little woman
whose name was not Helen Clarabella.--"Oh, my grief and conscience,"
according to Bertram, was Aunt Hannah's deadliest swear-word.

In Aunt Hannah's black silk lap Spunk stretched luxuriously, and blinked
sleepy eyes; then with a long purr of content he curled himself for
another nap--still Spunk.

It was some time after luncheon that day that Bertram heard a knock at
his studio door. Bertram was busy. His particular pet "Face of a Girl"
was to be submitted soon to the judges of a forthcoming Art Exhibition,
and it was not yet finished. He was trying to make up now for the many
hours lost during the last few days; and even Bertram, at times, did not
like interruptions. His model had gone, but he was still working rapidly
when the knock came. His tone was not quite cordial when he answered.

"Well?"

"It's I--Spunk and I. May we come in?" called a confident voice.

Bertram said a sharp word behind his teeth--but he opened the door.

"Of course! I was--painting," he announced.

"How lovely! And I'll watch you. Oh, my--what a pretty room!"

"I'm glad you like it."

"Indeed I do; I like it ever so much. I shall stay here lots, I know."

"Oh, you--will!" For once even Bertram's ready tongue failed to find
fitting response.

"Yes. Now paint. I want to see you. Aunt Hannah has gone out anyway, and
I'm lonesome. I think I'll stay."

"But I can't--that is, I'm not used to spectators."

"Of course you aren't, you poor old lonesomeness! But it isn't going to
be that way, any more, you know, now that I've come. I sha'n't let you
be lonesome."

"I could swear to that," declared the man, with sudden fervor; and for
Billy's peace of mind it was just as well, perhaps, that she did not
know the exact source of that fervency.

"Now paint," commanded Billy again.

Because he did not know what else to do, Bertram picked up a brush; but
he did not paint. The first stroke of his brush against the canvas was
to Spunk a challenge; and Spunk never refused a challenge. With a bound
he was on Bertram's knee, gleeful paw outstretched, batting at the end
of the brush.

"Tut, tut--no, no--naughty Spunk! Say, but wasn't that cute?" chuckled
Billy. "Do it again!"

The artist gave an exasperated sigh.

"My dear girl," he protested, "cruel as it may seem to you, this picture
is not a kindergarten game for the edification of small cats. I must
politely ask Spunk to desist."

"But he won't!" laughed Billy. "Never mind; we will take it some day
when he's asleep. Let's not paint any more, anyhow. I've come to see
your rooms." And she sprang blithely to her feet. "Dear, dear, what a
lot of faces!--and all girls, too! How funny! Why don't you paint other
things? Still, they are rather nice."

"Thank you," accepted Bertram; dryly.

Bertram did not paint any more that afternoon. Billy found much to
interest her, and she asked numberless questions. She was greatly
excited when she understood the full significance of the omnipresent
"Face of a Girl"; and she graciously offered to pose herself for the
artist. She spent, indeed, quite half an hour turning her head from side
to side, and demanding "Now how's that?--and that?" Tiring at last of
this, she suggested Spunk as a substitute, remarking that, after all,
cats--pretty cats like Spunk--were even nicer to paint than girls.

She rescued Spunk then from the paint-box where he had been holding high
carnival with Bertram's tubes of paint, and demanded if Bertram ever saw
a more delightful, more entrancing, more altogether-to-be-desired
model. She was so artless, so merry, so frankly charmed with it all that
Bertram could not find it in his heart to be angry, notwithstanding
his annoyance. But when at four o'clock, she took herself and her cat
cheerily up-stairs, he lifted his hands in despair.

"Great Scott!" he groaned. "If this is a sample of what's coming--I'm
GOING, that's all!"



CHAPTER XII

CYRIL TAKES HIS TURN


Billy had been a member of the Beacon Street household a week before she
repeated her visit to Cyril at the top of the house. This time Bertram
was not with her. She went alone. Even Spunk was left behind--Billy
remembered her prospective host's aversion to cats.

Billy did not feel that she knew Cyril very well. She had tried several
times to chat with him; but she had made so little headway, that she
finally came to the conclusion--privately expressed to Bertram--that Mr.
Cyril was bashful. Bertram had only laughed. He had laughed the harder
because at that moment he could hear Cyril pounding out his angry
annoyance on the piano upstairs--Cyril had just escaped from one of
Billy's most determined "attempts," and Bertram knew it. Bertram's laugh
had puzzled Billy--and it had not quite pleased her. Hence to-day she
did not tell him of her plan to go up-stairs and see what she could do
herself, alone, to combat this "foolish bashfulness" on the part of Mr.
Cyril Henshaw.

In spite of her bravery, Billy waited quite one whole minute at the top
of the stairs before she had the courage to knock at Cyril's door.

The door was opened at once.

"Why--Billy!" cried the man in surprise.

"Yes, it's Billy. I--I came up to--to get acquainted," she smiled
winningly.

"Why, er--you are very kind. Will you--come in?"

"Thank you; yes. You see, I didn't bring Spunk. I--remembered."

Cyril bowed gravely.

"You are very kind--again," he said.

Billy fidgeted in her chair. To her mind she was not "getting on" at
all. She determined on a bold stroke.

"You see, I thought if--if I should come up here, where there wouldn't
be so many around, we might get acquainted," she confided; "then I would
get to like you just as well as I do the others."

At the odd look that came into the man's face, the girl realized
suddenly what she had said. Her cheeks flushed a confused red.

"Oh, dear! That is, I mean--I like you, of course," she floundered
miserably; then she broke off with a frank laugh. "There! you see I
never could get out of anything. I might as well own right up. I DON'T
like you as well as I do Uncle William and Mr. Bertram. So there!"

Cyril laughed. For the first time since he had seen Billy, something
that was very like interest came into his eyes.

"Oh, you don't," he retorted. "Now that is--er--very UNkind of you."

Billy shook her head.

"You don't say that as if you meant it," she accused him, her eyes
gravely studying his face. "Now I'M in earnest. _I_ really want to like
YOU!"

"Thank you. Then perhaps you won't mind telling me why you don't like
me," he suggested.

Again Billy flushed.

"Why, I--I just don't; that's all," she faltered. Then she cried
aggrievedly: "There, now! you've made me be impolite; and I didn't mean
to be, truly."

"Of course not," assented the man; "and it wasn't impolite, because I
asked you for the information, you know. I may conclude then," he went
on with an odd twinkle in his eyes, "that I am merely classed with tripe
and rainy days."

"With--wha-at?"

"Tripe and rainy days. Those are the only things, if I remember rightly,
that you don't like."

The girl stared; then she chuckled.

"There! I knew I'd like you better if you'd only SAY something," she
beamed. "But let's not talk any more about that. Play to me; won't you?
You know you promised me 'The Maiden's Prayer.'"

Cyril stiffened.

"Pardon me, but you must be mistaken," he replied coldly. "I do not play
'The Maiden's Prayer.'"

"Oh, what a shame! And I do so love it! But you play other things;
I've heard you a little, and Mr. Bertram says you do--in concerts and
things."

"Does he?" murmured Cyril, with a slight lifting of his eyebrows.

"There! Now off you go again all silent and horrid!" chaffed Billy.
"What have I said now? Mr. Cyril--do you know what I think? I believe
you've got NERVES!" Billy's voice was so tragic that the man could but
laugh.

"Perhaps I have, Miss Billy."

"Like Miss Letty's?"

"I'm not acquainted with the lady."

"Gee! wouldn't you two make a pair!" chuckled Billy unexpectedly. "No;
but, really, I mean--do you want people to walk on tiptoe and speak in
whispers?"

"Sometimes, perhaps."

The girl sprang to her feet--but she sighed.

"Then I'm going. This might be one of the times, you know." She
hesitated, then walked to the piano. "My, wouldn't I like to play on
that!" she breathed.

Cyril shuddered. Cyril could imagine what Billy would play--and Cyril
did not like "rag-time," nor "The Storm."

"Oh, do you play?" he asked constrainedly.

Billy shook her head.

"Not much. Only little bits of things, you know," she said wistfully, as
she turned toward the door.

For some minutes after she had gone, Cyril stood where she had left him,
his eyes moody and troubled.

"I suppose I might have played--something," he muttered at last;
"but--'The Maiden's Prayer'!--good heavens!"

Billy was a little shy with Cyril when he came down to dinner that
night. For the next few days, indeed, she held herself very obviously
aloof from him. Cyril caught himself wondering once if she were afraid
of his "nerves." He did not try to find out, however; he was too
emphatically content that of her own accord she seemed to be leaving him
in peace.

It must have been a week after Billy's visit to the top of the house
that Cyril stopped his playing very abruptly one day, and opened his
door to go down-stairs. At the first step he started back in amazement.

"Why, Billy!" he ejaculated.

The girl was sitting very near the top of the stairway. At his
appearance she got to her feet shamefacedly.

"Why, Billy, what in the world are you doing there?"

"Listening."

"Listening!"

"Yes. Do you mind?"

The man did not answer. He was too surprised to find words at once, and
he was trying to recollect what he had been playing.

"You see, listening to music this way isn't like listening to--to
talking," hurried on Billy, feverishly. "It isn't sneaking like that; is
it?"

"Why--no."

"And you don't mind?"

"Why, surely, I ought not to mind--that," he admitted.

"Then I can keep right on as I have done. Thank you," sighed Billy, in
relief.

"Keep right on! Have you been here before?"

"Why, yes, lots of days. And, say, Mr. Cyril, what is that--that thing
that's all chords with big bass notes that keep saying something so fine
and splendid that it marches on and on, getting bigger and grander, just
as if there couldn't anything stop it, until it all ends in one great
burst of triumph? Mr. Cyril, what is that?"

"Why, Billy!"--the interest this time in the man's face was not
faint--"I wish I might make others catch my meaning as I have evidently
made you do it! That's something of my own--that I'm writing, you
understand; and I've tried to say--just what you say you heard."

"And I did hear it--I did! Oh, won't you play it, please, with the door
open?"

"I can't, Billy. I'm sorry, indeed I am. But I've an appointment, and
I'm late now. You shall hear it, though, I promise you, and with the
door wide open," continued the man, as, with a murmured apology, he
passed the girl and hurried down the stairs.

Billy waited until she heard the outer hall door shut; then very softly
she crept through Cyril's open doorway, and crossed the room to the
piano.



CHAPTER XIII

A SURPRISE ALL AROUND


May came, and with it warm sunny days. There was a little balcony at the
rear of the second floor, and on this Mrs. Stetson and Billy sat many a
morning and sewed. There were occupations that Billy liked better than
sewing; but she was dutiful, and she was really fond of Aunt Hannah; so
she accepted as gracefully as possible that good lady's dictum that a
woman who could not sew, and sew well, was no lady at all.

One of the things that Billy liked to do so much better than to sew was
to play on Cyril's piano. She was very careful, however, that Mr. Cyril
himself did not find this out. Cyril was frequently gone from the house,
and almost as frequently Aunt Hannah took naps. At such times it was
very easy to slip up-stairs to Cyril's rooms, and once at the piano,
Billy forgot everything else.

One day, however, the inevitable happened: Cyril came home unexpectedly.
The man heard the piano from William's floor, and with a surprised
ejaculation he hurried upstairs two steps at a time. At the door he
stopped in amazement.

Billy was at the piano, but she was not playing "rag-time," "The Storm,"
nor yet "The Maiden's Prayer." There was no music before her, but under
her fingers "big bass notes" very much like Cyril's own, were marching
on and on to victory. Billy's face was rapturously intent and happy.

"By Jove--Billy!" gasped the man.

Billy leaped to her feet and whirled around guiltily.

"Oh, Mr. Cyril--I'm so sorry!"

"Sorry!--and you play like that!"

"No, no; I'm not sorry I played. It's because you--found me."

Billy's cheeks were a shamed red, but her eyes were defiantly brilliant,
and her chin was at a rebellious tilt. "I wasn't doing any--harm; not if
you weren't here--with your NERVES!"

The man laughed and came slowly into the room.

"Billy, who taught you to play?"

"No one. I can't play. I can only pick out little bits of things in C."

"But you do play. I just heard you."

Billy shrugged her shoulders.

"That was nothing. It was only what I had heard. I was trying to make it
sound like--yours."

"And, by George! you succeeded," muttered Cyril under his breath; then
aloud he asked: "Didn't you ever study music?"

Billy's eyes dimmed.

"No. That was the only thing Aunt Ella and I didn't think alike about.
She had an old square piano, all tin-panny and thin, you know. I played
some on it, and wanted to take lessons; but I didn't want to practise
on that. I wanted a new one. That's what she wouldn't do--get me a new
piano, or let me do it. She said SHE practised on that piano, and that
it was quite good enough for me, especially to learn on. I--I'm afraid
I got stuffy. I hated that piano so! But I was almost ready to give in
when--when Aunt Ella died."

"And all you play then is just by ear?"

"By--ear? I suppose so--if you mean what I hear. Easy things I can play
quick, but--but those chords ARE hard; they skip around so!"

Cyril smiled oddly.

"I should say so," he agreed. "But perhaps there is something else that
I play--that you like. Is there?"

"Oh, yes. Now there's that little thing that swings and sways like
this," cried Billy, dropping herself on to the piano stool and whisking
about. Billy was not afraid now, nor defiant. She was only eager and
happy again. In a moment a dreamy waltz fell upon Cyril's ears--a waltz
that he often played himself. It was not played correctly, it is true.
There were notes, and sometimes whole measures, that were very different
from the printed music. But the tune, the rhythm, and the spirit were
there.

"And there's this," said Billy; "and this," she went on, sliding into
one little strain after another--all of which were recognized by the
amazed man at her side.

"Billy," he cried, when she had finished and whirled upon him again,
"Billy, would you like to learn to play--really play from notes?"

"Oh, wouldn't I!"

"Then you shall! We'll have a piano tomorrow in your rooms for you to
practise on. And--I'll teach you myself."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Cyril--you don't know how I thank you!" exulted
Billy, as she danced from the room to tell Aunt Hannah of this great and
good thing that had come into her life.

To Billy, this promise of Cyril's to be her teacher was very kind, very
delightful; but it was not in the least a thing at which to marvel. To
Bertram, however, it most certainly was.

"Well, guess what's happened," he said to William that night, after he
had heard the news. "I'll believe anything now--anything: that you'll
raffle off your collection of teapots at the next church fair, or that
I shall go to Egypt as a 'Cooky' guide. Listen; Cyril is going to give
piano lessons to Billy!--CYRIL!"



CHAPTER XIV

AUNT HANNAH SPEAKS HER MIND


Bertram said that the Strata was not a strata any longer. He declared
that between them, Billy and Spunk had caused such an upheaval that
there was no telling where one stratum left off and another began. What
Billy had not attended to, Spunk had, he said.

"You see, it's like this," he explained to an amused friend one day.
"Billy is taking piano lessons of Cyril, and she is posing for one of my
heads. Naturally, then, such feminine belongings as fancy-work, thread,
thimbles, and hairpins are due to show up at any time either in Cyril's
apartments or mine--to say nothing of William's; and she's in William's
lots--to look for Spunk, if for no other purpose.

"You must know that Spunk likes William's floor the best of the bunch,
there are so many delightful things to play with. Not that Spunk stays
there--dear me, no. He's a sociable little chap, and his usual course is
to pounce on a shelf, knock off some object that tickles his fancy,
then lug it in his mouth to--well, anywhere that he happens to feel like
going. Cyril has found him up-stairs with a small miniature, battered
and chewed almost beyond recognition. And Aunt Hannah nearly had a fit
one day when he appeared in her room with an enormous hard-shelled black
bug--dead, of course--that he had fished from a case that Pete had left
open. As for me, I can swear that the little round white stone he was
playing with in my part of the house was one of William's Collection
Number One.

"And that isn't all," Bertram continued. "Billy brings her music down to
show to me, and lugs my heads all over the rest of the house to show
to other folks. And there is always everywhere a knit shawl, for Aunt
Hannah is sure to feel a draught, and Billy keeps shawls handy. So there
you are! We certainly aren't a strata any longer," he finished.

Billy was, indeed, very much at home in the Beacon Street house--too
much so, Aunt Hannah thought. Aunt Hannah was, in fact, seriously
disturbed. To William one evening, late in May, she spoke her mind.

"William, what are you going to do with Billy?" she asked abruptly.

"Do with her? What do you mean?" returned William with the contented
smile that was so often on his lips these days. "This is Billy's home."

"That's the worst of it," sighed the woman, with a shake of her head.

"The worst of it! Aunt Hannah, what do you mean? Don't you like Billy?"

"Yes, yes, William, of course I like Billy. I love her! Who could help
it? That's not what I mean. It's of Billy I'm thinking, and of the rest
of you. She can't stay here like this. She must go away, to school,
or--or somewhere."

"And she's going in September," replied the man. "She'll go to
preparatory school first, and to college, probably."

"Yes, but now--right away. She ought to go--somewhere."

"Why, yes, for the summer, of course. But those plans aren't completed
yet. Billy and I were talking of it last evening. You know the boys are
always away more or less, but I seldom go until August, and we let Pete
and Dong Ling off then for a month and close the house. I told Billy I'd
send you and her anywhere she liked for the whole summer, but she says
no. She prefers to stay here with me. But I don't quite fancy that
idea--through all the hot June and July--so I don't know but I'll get a
cottage somewhere near at one of the beaches, where I can run back and
forth night and morning. Of course, in that case, we take Pete and Dong
Ling with us and close the house right away. I fear Cyril would not
fancy it much; but, after all, he and Bertram would be off more or less.
They always are in the summer."

"But, William, you haven't yet got my idea at all," demurred Aunt
Hannah, with a discouraged shake of her head. "It's away!--away from all
this--from you--that I want to get Billy."

"Away! Away from me," cried the man, with an odd intonation of terror,
as he started forward in his chair. "Why, Aunt Hannah, what are you
talking about?"

"About Billy. This is no place in which to bring up a young girl--a
young girl who has not one shred of relationship to excuse it."

"But she is my namesake, and quite alone in the world, Aunt Hannah;
quite alone--poor child!"

"My dear William, that is exactly it--she is a child, and yet she is
not. That's where the trouble lies."

"What do you mean?"

"William, Billy has been brought up in a little country town with a
spinster aunt and a whole good-natured, tolerant village for company.
Well, she has accepted you and your entire household, even down to Dong
Ling, on the same basis."

"Well, I'm sure I'm glad," asserted the man with genial warmth. "It's
good for us to have her here. It's good for the boys. She's already
livened Cyril up and toned Bertram down. I may as well confess, Aunt
Hannah, that I've been more than a little disturbed about Bertram of
late. I don't like that Bob Seaver that he is so fond of; and some other
fellows, too, that have been coming here altogether too much during
the last year. Bertram says they're only a little 'Bohemian' in their
tastes. And to me that's the worst of it, for Bertram himself is quite
too much inclined that way."

"Exactly, William. And that only goes to prove what I said before.
Bertram is not a spinster aunt, and neither are any of the rest of you.
But Billy takes you that way."

"Takes us that way--as spinster aunts!"

"Yes. She makes herself as free in this house as she was in her Aunt
Ella's at Hampden Falls. She flies up to Cyril's rooms half a dozen
times a day with some question about her lessons; and I don't know how
long she'd sit at his feet and adoringly listen to his playing if he
didn't sometimes get out of patience and tell her to go and practise
herself. She makes nothing of tripping into Bertram's studio at all
hours of the day; and he's sketched her head at every conceivable
angle--which certainly doesn't tend to make Billy modest or retiring.
As to you--you know how much she's in your rooms, spending evening after
evening fussing over your collections."

"I know; but we're--we're sorting them and making a catalogue," defended
the man, anxiously. "Besides, I--I like to have her there. She doesn't
bother me a bit."

"No; I know she doesn't," replied Aunt Hannah, with a curious
inflection. "But don't you see, William, that all this isn't going to
quite do? Billy's too young--and too old."

"Come, come, Aunt Hannah, is that exactly logical?"

"It's true, at least."

"But, after all, where's the harm? Don't you think that you are just a
little bit too--fastidious? Billy's nothing but a care-free child."

"It's the 'free' part that I object to, William. She has taken every one
of you into intimate companionship--even Pete and Dong Ling."

"Pete and Dong Ling!"

"Yes." Mrs. Stetson's chin came up, and her nostrils dilated a little.
"Billy went to Pete the other day to have him button her shirt-waist
up in the back; and yesterday I found her down-stairs in the kitchen
instructing Dong Ling how to make chocolate fudge!"

William fell back in his chair.

"Well, well," he muttered, "well, well! She is a child, and no mistake!"
He paused, his brows drawn into a troubled frown. "But, Aunt Hannah,
what CAN I do? Of course you could talk to her, but--I don't seem to
quite like that idea."

"My grief and conscience--no, no! That isn't what is needed at all.
It would only serve to make her self-conscious; and that's her one
salvation now--that she isn't self-conscious. You see, it's only the
fault of her environment and training, after all. It isn't her heart
that's wrong."

"Indeed it isn't!"

"It will be different when she is older--when she has seen a little more
of the world outside Hampden Falls. She'll go to school, of course, and
I think she ought to travel a little. Meanwhile, she mustn't live--just
like this, though; certainly not for a time, at least."

"No, no, I'm afraid not," agreed William, perplexedly, rising to his
feet. "But we must think--what can be done." His step was even slower
than usual as he left the room, and his eyes were troubled.



CHAPTER XV

WHAT BERTRAM CALLS "THE LIMIT"


At half past ten o'clock on the evening following Mrs. Stetson's very
plain talk with William, the telephone bell at the Beacon Street house
rang sharply. Pete answered it.

"Well?"--Pete never said "hello."

"Hello. Is that you, Pete?" called Billy's voice agitatedly. "Is Uncle
William there?"

"No, Miss Billy."

"Oh dear! Well, Mr. Cyril, then?"

"He's out, too, Miss Billy. And Mr. Bertram--they're all out."

"Yes, yes, I know HE'S out," almost sobbed Billy. "Dear, dear, what
shall I do! Pete, you'll have to come. There isn't any other way!"

"Yes, Miss; where?" Pete's voice was dubious, but respectful.

"To the Boylston Street subway--on the Common, you know--North-bound
side. I'll wait for you--but HURRY! You see, I'm all alone here."

"Alone! Miss Billy--in the subway at this time of night! But, Miss
Billy, you shouldn't--you can't--you mustn't--" stuttered the old man in
helpless horror.

"Yes, yes, Pete, but never mind; I am here! And I should think if 'twas
such a dreadful thing you would hurry FAST to get here, so I wouldn't be
alone," appealed Billy.

With an inarticulate cry Pete jerked the receiver on to the hook, and
stumbled away from the telephone. Five minutes later he had left the
house and was hurrying through the Common to the Boylston Street subway
station.

Billy, a long cloak thrown over her white dress, was waiting for him.
Her white slippers tapped the platform nervously, and her hair, under
the light scarf of lace, fluffed into little broken curls as if it had
been blown by the wind.

"Miss Billy, Miss Billy, what can this mean?" gasped the man. "Where is
Mrs. Stetson?"

"At Mrs. Hartwell's--you know she is giving a reception to-night. But
come, we must hurry! I'm after Mr. Bertram."

"After Mr. Bertram!"

"Yes, yes."

"Alone?--like this?"

"But I'm not alone now; I have you. Don't you see?"

At the blank stupefaction in the man's face, the girl sighed
impatiently.

"Dear me! I suppose I'll have to explain; but we're losing time--and we
mustn't--we mustn't!" she cried feverishly. "Listen then, quick. It was
at Mrs. Hartwell's tonight. I'd been watching Mr. Bertram. He was
with that horrid Mr. Seaver, and I never liked him, never! I overheard
something they said, about some place they were going to, and I didn't
like what Mr. Seaver said. I tried to speak to Mr. Bertram, but I didn't
get a chance; and the next thing I knew he'd gone with that Seaver man!
I saw them just in time to snatch my cloak and follow them."

"FOLLOW them! MISS BILLY!"

"I had to, Pete; don't you see? There was no one else. Mr. Cyril and
Uncle William had gone--home, I supposed. I sent back word by the maid
to Aunt Hannah that I'd gone ahead; you know the carriage was ordered
for eleven; but I'm afraid she won't have sense to tell Aunt Hannah, she
looked so dazed and frightened when I told her. But I COULDN'T wait to
say more. Well, I hurried out and caught up with Mr. Bertram just as
they were crossing Arlington Street to the Garden. I'd heard them say
they were going to walk, so I knew I could do it. But, Pete, after I got
there, I didn't dare to speak--I didn't DARE to! So I just--followed.
They went straight through the Garden and across the Common to Tremont
Street, and on and on until they stopped and went down some stairs, all
marble and lights and mirrors. 'Twas a restaurant, I think. I saw just
where it was, then I flew back here to telephone for Uncle William. I
knew HE could do something. But--well, you know the rest. I had to take
you. Now come, quick; I'll show you."

"But, Miss Billy, I can't! You mustn't; it's impossible," chattered old
Pete. "Come, let me take ye home, Miss Billy, do!"

"Home--and leave Mr. Bertram with that Seaver man? No, no!"

"What CAN ye do?"

"Do? I can get him to come home with me, of course."

The old man made a despairing gesture and looked about him as if for
help. He saw then the curious, questioning eyes on all sides; and with a
quick change of manner, he touched Miss Billy's arm.

"Yes; we'll go. Come," he apparently agreed. But once outside on the
broad expanse before the Subway entrance he stopped again. "Miss Billy,
please come home," he implored. "Ye don't know--ye can't know what yer
a-doin'!"

The girl tossed her head. She was angry now.

"Pete, if you will not go with me I shall go alone. I am not afraid."

"But the hour--the place--you, a young girl! Miss Billy!" remonstrated
the old man agitatedly.

"It isn't so very late. I've been out lots of times later than this
at home. And as for the place, it's all light and bright, and lots of
people were going in--ladies and gentlemen. Nothing could hurt me, Pete,
and I shall go; but I'd rather you were with me. Why, Pete, we mustn't
leave him. He isn't--he isn't HIMSELF, Pete. He--he's been DRINKING!"
Billy's voice broke, and her face flushed scarlet. She was almost
crying. "Come, you won't refuse now!" she finished, resolutely turning
toward the street.

And because old Pete could not pick her up bodily and carry her home,
he followed close at her heels. At the head of the marble stairs "all
lights and mirrors," however, he made one last plea.

"Miss Billy, once more I beg of ye, won't ye come home? Ye don't know
what yer a-doin', Miss Billy, ye don't--ye don't!"

"I can't go home," persisted Billy. "I must get Mr. Bertram away from
that man. Now come; we'll just stand at the door and look in until we
see him. Then I'll go straight to him and speak to him." And with that
she turned and ran down the steps.

Billy blinked a little at the lights which, reflected in the great
plate-glass mirrors, were a million dazzling points that found
themselves again repeated in the sparkling crystal and glittering silver
on the flower-decked tables. All about her Billy saw flushed-faced men,
and bright-eyed women, laughing, chatting, and clinking together their
slender-stemmed wine glasses. But nowhere, as she looked about her,
could Billy descry the man she sought.

The head waiter came forward with uplifted hand, but Billy did not see
him. A girl at her left laughed disagreeably, and several men stared
with boldly admiring eyes; but to them, too, Billy paid no heed. Then,
halfway across the room she spied Bertram and Seaver sitting together at
a small table alone.

Simultaneously her own and Bertram's eyes met.

With a sharp word under his breath Bertram sprang to his feet. His
befogged brain had cleared suddenly under the shock of Billy's presence.

"Billy, for Heaven's sake what are you doing here?" he demanded in a low
voice, as he reached her side.

"I came for you. I want you to go home with me, please, Mr. Bertram,"
whispered Billy, pleadingly.

The man had not waited for an answer to his question. With a deft
touch he had turned Billy toward the door; and even as she finished
her sentence she found herself in the marble hallway confronting Pete,
pallid-faced, and shaking.

"And you, too, Pete! Great Scott! what does this mean?" he exploded
angrily.

Pete could only shake his head and glance imploringly at Billy. His dry
lips and tongue refused to articulate even one word.

"We came--for--you," choked Billy. "You see, I don't like that Seaver
man."

"Well, by Jove! this is the limit!" breathed Bertram.



CHAPTER XVI

KATE TAKES A HAND


Undeniably Billy was in disgrace, and none knew it better than Billy
herself. The whole family had contributed to this knowledge. Aunt Hannah
was inexpressibly shocked; she had not breath even to ejaculate "My
grief and conscience!" Kate was disgusted; Cyril was coldly reserved;
Bertram was frankly angry; even William was vexed, and showed it. Spunk,
too, as if in league with the rest, took this opportunity to display one
of his occasional fits of independence; and when Billy, longing for some
sort of comfort, called him to her, he settled back on his tiny haunches
and imperturbably winked and blinked his indifference.

Nearly all the family had had something to say to Billy on the matter,
with not entirely satisfactory results, when Kate determined to see what
she could do. She chose a time when she could have the girl quite to
herself with small likelihood of interruption.

"But, Billy, how could you do such an absurd thing?" she demanded. "The
idea of leaving my house alone, at half-past ten at night, to follow a
couple of men through the streets of Boston, and then with my brothers'
butler make a scene like that in a--a public dining-room!"

Billy sighed in a discouraged way.

"Aunt Kate, can't I make you and the rest of them understand that I
didn't start out to do all that? I meant just to speak to Mr. Bertram,
and get him away from that man."

"But, my dear child, even that was bad enough!"

Billy lifted her chin.

"You don't seem to think, Aunt Kate; Mr. Bertram was--was not sober."

"All the more reason then why you should NOT have done what you did!"

"Why, Aunt Kate, you wouldn't leave him alone in that condition with
that man!"

It was Mrs. Hartwell's turn to sigh.

"But, Billy," she contested, wearily, "can't you understand that it
wasn't YOUR place to interfere--you, a young girl?"

"I'm sure I don't see what difference that makes. I was the only one
that could do it! Besides, afterward, I did try to get some one else,
Uncle William and Mr. Cyril. But when I found I couldn't get them, I
just had to do it alone--that is, with Pete."

"Pete!" scoffed Mrs. Hartwell. "Pete, indeed!"

Billy's head came up with a jerk. Billy was very angry now.

"Aunt Kate, it seems I've done a very terrible thing, but I'm sure I
don't see it that way. I wasn't afraid, and I wasn't in the least bit of
danger anywhere. I knew my way perfectly, and I did NOT make any 'scene'
in that restaurant. I just asked Mr. Bertram to come home with me. One
would think you WANTED Mr. Bertram to go off with that man and--and
drink too much. But Uncle William hasn't liked him before, not one bit!
I've heard him talk about him--that Mr. Seaver."

Mrs. Hartwell raised both her hands, palms outward.

"Billy, it is useless to talk with you. You are quite impossible. It is
even worse than I expected!" she cried, with wrathful impatience.

"Worse than you--expected? What do you mean, please?"

"Worse than I thought it would be--before you came. The idea of those
five men taking a girl to bring up!"

Billy sat very still. She was even holding her breath, though Mrs.
Hartwell did not know that.

"You mean--that they did not--want me?" she asked quietly, so quietly
that Mrs. Hartwell did not realize the sudden tension behind the words.
For that matter, Mrs. Hartwell was too angry now to realize anything
outside of herself.

"Want you! Billy, it is high time that you understand just how things
are, and have been, at the house; then perhaps you will conduct yourself
with an eye a little more to other people's comfort. Can you imagine
three young men like my brothers WANTING to take a strange young woman
into their home to upset everything?"

"To--upset--everything!" echoed Billy, faintly. "And have I done--that?"

"Of course you have! How could you help it? To begin with, they thought
you were a boy, and that was bad enough; but William was so anxious
to do right by his dead friend that he insisted upon taking you, much
against the will of all the rest of us. Oh, I know this isn't pleasant
for you to hear," admitted Mrs. Hartwell, in response to the dismayed
expression in Billy's eyes; "but I think it's high time you realize
something of what those men have sacrificed for you. Now, to resume.
When they found you were a girl, what did they do? Did they turn you
over to some school or such place, as they should have done? Certainly
not! William would not hear of it. He turned Bertram out of his rooms,
put you into them, and established Aunt Hannah as chaperon and me as
substitute until she arrived. But because, through it all, he smiled
blandly, you have been blind to the whole thing.

"And what is the result? His entire household routine is shattered to
atoms. You have accepted the whole house as if it were your own.
You take Cyril's time to teach you music, and Bertram's to teach you
painting, without a thought of what it means to them. There! I suppose
I ought not to have said all this, but I couldn't help it, Billy. And
surely now, NOW you appreciate a little more what your coming to this
house has meant, and what my brothers have done for you."

"I do, certainly," said Billy, still in that voice that was so oddly
smooth and emotionless.

"And you'll try to be more tractable, less headstrong, less assertive of
your presence?"

The girl sprang to her feet now.

"More tractable! Less assertive of my presence!" she cried. "Mrs.
Hartwell, do you mean to say you think I'd STAY after what you've told
me?"

"Stay? Why, of course you'll stay! Don't be silly, child. I didn't tell
you this to make you go. I only wanted you to understand how things
were--and are."

"And I do understand--and I'm going."

Mrs. Hartwell frowned. Her face changed color.

"Come, come, Billy, this is nonsense. William wants you here. He would
never forgive me if anything I said should send you away. You must not
be angry with, him."

Billy turned now like an enraged little tigress.

"Angry with him! Why, I love him--I love them all! They are the dearest
men ever, and they've been so good to me!" The girl's voice broke a
little, then went on with a more determined ring. "Do you think I'd have
them know why I'm going?--that I'd hurt them like that? Never!"

"But, Billy, what are you going to do?"

"I don't know. I've got to plan it out. I only know now that I'm going,
sure!" And with a choking little cry Billy ran from the room.

In her own chamber a minute later the tears fell unrestrained.

"It's home--all the home there is--anywhere!" she sobbed. "But it's got
to go--it's got to go!"



CHAPTER XVII

A PINK-RIBBON TRAIL


Mrs. Stetson wore an air of unmistakable relief as she stepped into
William's sitting-room. Even her knock at the half-open door had sounded
almost triumphant.

"William, it does seem as if Fate itself had intervened to help us
out," she began delightedly. "Billy, of her own accord, came to me this
morning, and said that she wanted to go away with me for a little trip.
So you see that will make it easier for us."

"Good! That is fortunate, indeed," cried William; but his voice did not
carry quite the joy that his words expressed. "I have been disturbed
ever since your remarks the other day," he continued wearily; "and of
course her extraordinary escapade the next evening did not help matters
any. It is better, I know, that she shouldn't be here--for a time.
Though I shall miss her terribly. But, tell me, what is it--what does
she want to do?"

"She says she guesses she is homesick for Hampden Falls; that she'd
like to go back there for a few weeks this summer if I'll go with her.
The--the dear child seems suddenly to have taken a great fancy to me,"
explained Aunt Hannah, unsteadily. "I never saw her so affectionate."

"She is a dear girl--a very dear girl; and she has a warm heart."
William cleared his throat sonorously, but even that did not clear
his voice. "It was her heart that led her wrong the other night," he
declared. "Hers was a brave and fearless act--but a very unwise one.
Much as I deplore Bertram's intimacy with Seaver, I should hesitate to
take the course marked out by Billy. Bertram is not a child. But tell me
more of this trip of yours. How did Billy happen to suggest it?"

"I don't know. I noticed yesterday that she seemed strangely
silent--unhappy, in fact. She sat alone in her room the greater part of
the day, and I could not get her out of it. But this morning she came to
my door as bright as the sun itself and made me the proposition I told
you of. She says her aunt's house is closed, awaiting its sale; but that
she would like to open it for awhile this summer, if I'd like to go.
Naturally, you can understand that I'd very quickly fall in with a plan
like that--one which promised so easily to settle our difficulties."

"Yes, of course, of course," muttered William. "It is very fine, very
fine indeed," he concluded. And again his voice failed quite to match
his words in enthusiasm.

"Then I'll go and begin to see to my things," murmured Mrs. Stetson,
rising to her feet. "Billy seems anxious to get away."

Billy did, indeed, seem anxious to get away. She announced her intended
departure at once to the family. She called it a visit to her old home,
and she seemed very glad in her preparations. If there was anything
forced in this gayety, no one noticed it, or at least, no one spoke of
it. The family saw very little of Billy, indeed, these days. She said
that she was busy; that she had packing to do. She stopped taking
lessons of Cyril, and visited Bertram's studio only once during the
whole three days before she went away, and then merely to get some
things that belonged to her. On the fourth day, almost before the family
realized what was happening, she was gone; and with her had gone Mrs.
Stetson and Spunk.

The family said they liked it--the quiet, the freedom. They said they
liked to be alone--all but William. He said nothing.

And yet--

When Bertram went to his studio that morning he did not pick up his
brushes until he had sat for long minutes before the sketch of a
red-cheeked, curly-headed young girl whose eyes held a peculiarly
wistful appeal; and Cyril, at his piano up-stairs, sat with idle fingers
until they finally drifted into a simple little melody--the last thing
Billy had been learning.

It was Pete who brought in the kitten; and Billy had been gone a whole
week then.

"The poor little beast was cryin' at the alleyway door, sir," he
explained. "I--I made so bold as to bring him in."

"Of course," said William. "Did you feed it?"

"Yes, sir; Ling did."

There was a pause, then Pete spoke, diffidently.

"I thought, sir, if ye didn't mind, I'd keep it. I'll try to see that it
stays down-stairs, sir, out of yer way."

"That's all right, Pete; keep it, by all means, by all means," approved
William.

"Thank ye, sir. Ye see, it's a stray. It hasn't got any home. And, did
ye notice, sir? it looks like Spunk."

"Yes, I noticed," said William, stirring with sudden restlessness. "I
noticed."

"Yes, sir," said Pete. And he turned and carried the small gray cat
away.

The new kitten did not stay down-stairs. Pete tried, it is true, to keep
his promise to watch it; but after he had seen the little animal
carried surreptitiously up-stairs in Mr. William's arms, he relaxed
his vigilance. Some days later the kitten appeared with a huge pink bow
behind its ears, somewhat awkwardly tied, if it must be confessed.
Where it came from, or who put it there was not known--until one day the
kitten was found in the hall delightedly chewing at the end of what had
been a roll of pink ribbon. Up the stairs led a trail of pink ribbon and
curling white paper--and the end of the trail was in William's room.



CHAPTER XVIII

BILLY WRITES ANOTHER LETTER


By the middle of June only William and the gray kitten were left with
Pete and Dong Ling in the Beacon Street house. Cyril had sailed for
England, and Bertram had gone on a sketching trip with a friend.

To William the house this summer was unusually lonely; indeed, he found
the silent, deserted rooms almost unbearable. Even the presence of the
little gray cat served only to accentuate the loneliness--it reminded
him of Billy.

William missed Billy. He owned that now even to Pete. He said that he
would be glad when she came back. To himself he said that he wished he
had not fallen in quite so readily with Aunt Hannah's notion of getting
the child away. It was all nonsense, he declared. All she needed was a
little curbing and directing, both of which could just as well have been
done there at home. But she had gone, and it could not be helped now.
The only thing left for him to do was to see that it did not occur
again. When Billy came back she should stay, except for necessary
absences for school, of course. All this William settled in his own mind
quite to his own satisfaction, entirely forgetting, strange to say, that
it had been Billy's own suggestion that she go away.

Very promptly William wrote to Billy. He told her how he missed her, and
said that he had stopped trying to sort and catalogue his collections
until she should be there to help him. He told her, too, after a time,
of the gray kitten, "Spunkie," that looked so much like Spunk.

In reply he received plump white envelopes directed in the round,
schoolboy hand that he remembered so well. In the envelopes were
letters, cheery and entertaining, like Billy herself. They thanked him
for all his many kindnesses, and they told him something of what Billy
was doing. They showed unbounded interest in the new kitten, and in all
else that William wrote about; but they hinted very plainly that he had
better not wait for her to help him out on the catalogue, for it would
soon be autumn, and she would be in school.

William frowned at this, and shook his head; yet he knew that it was
true.

In August William closed the Beacon street house and went to the
Rangeley Lakes on a camping trip. He told himself that he would not
go had it not been for a promise given to an old college friend months
before. True, he had been anticipating this trip all winter; but it
occurred to him now that it would be much more interesting to go to
Hampden Falls and see Billy. He had been to the Rangeley Lakes, and he
had not been to Hampden Falls; besides, there would be Ned Harding and
those queer old maids with their shaded house and socketed chairs to
see. In short, to William, at the moment, there seemed no place quite
so absorbingly interesting as was Hampden Falls. But he went to the
Rangeley Lakes.

In September Cyril came back from Europe, and Bertram from the
Adirondacks where he had been spending the month of August. William
already had arrived, and with Pete and Dong Ling had opened the house.

"Where's Billy? Isn't Billy here?" demanded Bertram.

"No. She isn't back yet," replied William.

"You don't mean to say she's stayed up there all summer!" exclaimed
Cyril.

"Why, yes, I--I suppose so," hesitated William. "You see, I haven't
heard but once for a month. I've been down in Maine, you know."

William wrote to Billy that night.

"My dear:--" he said in part. "I hope you'll come home right away. We
want to see SOMETHING of you before you go away again, and you know the
schools will be opening soon.

"By the way, it has just occurred to me as I write that perhaps, after
all, you won't have to go quite away. There are plenty of good schools
for young ladies right in and near Boston, which I am sure you could
attend, and still live at home. Suppose you come back then as soon as
you can, and we'll talk it up. And that reminds me, I wonder how Spunk
will get along with Spunkie. Spunkie has been boarding out all August at
a cat home, but he seems glad to get back to us. I am anxious to see the
two little chaps together, just to find out how much alike they really
do look."

Very promptly came Billy's answer; but William's face, after he had read
the letter, was almost as blank as it had been on that April day when
Billy's first letter came--though this time for a far different reason.

"Why, boys, she--isn't--coming," he announced in dismay.

"Isn't coming!" ejaculated two astonished Voices.

"No."

"Not--at--ALL?"

"Why, of course, later," retorted William, with unwonted sharpness. "But
not now. This is what she says." And he read aloud:


"DEAR UNCLE WILLIAM:--You poor dear man! Did you think I'd really let
you spend your time and your thought over hunting up a school for me,
after all the rest you have done for me? Not a bit of it! Why, Aunt
Hannah and I have been buried under school catalogues all summer, and
I have studied them all until I know just which has turkey dinners
on Sundays, and which ice cream at least twice a week. And it's all
settled, too, long ago. I'm going to a girls' school up the Hudson a
little way--a lovely place, I'm sure, from the pictures of it.

"Oh, and another thing; I shall go right from here. Two girls at Hampden
Falls are going, and I shall go with them. Isn't that a fine chance
for me? You see it would never do, anyway, for me to go alone--me, a
'Billy'--unless I sent a special courier ahead to announce that 'Billy'
was a girl.

"Aunt Hannah has decided to stay here this winter in the old house. She
likes it ever so much, and I don't think I shall sell the place just
yet, anyway. She will go back, of course, to Boston (after I've gone)
to get some things at the house that she'll want, and also to do some
shopping. But she'll let you know when she'll be there.

"I'll write more later, but just now I'm in a terrible rush. I only
write this note to set your poor heart at rest about having to hunt up a
school for me.

"With love to all,

"BILLY."


As had happened once before after a letter from Billy had been read,
there was a long pause.

"Well, by Jove!" breathed Bertram.

"It's very sensible, I'm sure," declared Cyril. "Still, I must confess,
I would have liked to pick out her piano teacher for her."

William said nothing--perhaps because he was reading Billy's letter
again.

At eight o'clock that night Bertram tapped on Cyril's door.

"What's the trouble?" demanded Cyril in answer to the look on the
other's face.

Bertram lifted his eyebrows oddly.

"I'm not sure whether you'll call it 'trouble' or not," he replied; "but
I think it's safe to say that Billy is gone--for good."

"For good! What do you mean?--that she's not coming back--ever?"

"Exactly that."

"Nonsense! What's put that notion into your head?"

"Billy's letter first; after that, Pete."

"Pete!"

"Yes. He came to me a few minutes ago, looking as if he had seen a
ghost. It seems he swept Billy's rooms this morning and put them in
order against her coming; and tonight William told him that she wouldn't
be here at present. Pete came straight to me. He said he didn't dare
tell Mr. William, but he'd got to tell some one: there wasn't one
single thing of Miss Billy's left in her rooms nor anywhere else in the
house--not so much as a handkerchief or a hairpin."

"Hm-m; that does look--suspicious," murmured Cyril. "What's up, do you
think?"

"Don't know; but something, sure. Still, of course we may be wrong.
We won't say anything to Will about it, anyhow. Poor old chap, 'twould
worry him, specially if he thought Billy's feelings had been hurt."

"Hurt?--nonsense! Why, we did everything for her--everything!"

"Yes, I know--and she tried to do EVERYTHING for us, too," retorted
Bertram, quizzically, as he turned away.



CHAPTER XIX

SEEING BILLY OFF


Early in October Mrs. Stetson arrived at the Beacon Street house, but
she did not stay long.

"I've come for just a few things I want, and to do some shopping," she
explained.

"But Aunt Hannah," remonstrated William, "what is the meaning of this?
Why are you staying up there at Hampden Falls?"

"I like it there, William; and why shouldn't I stay? Surely there's no
need for me to be here now, with Billy away!"

"But Billy's coming back!"

"Of course she's coming back," laughed Aunt Hannah, "but not this
winter, certainly. Why, William, what's the matter? I'm sure, I think
it's a beautiful arrangement. Why, don't you remember? It's just what we
said we wanted--to keep Billy away for awhile. And the best part of it
is, it's her own idea from the start."

"Yes, I know, I know," frowned William: "but I'm not sure, after all,
that that idea of ours wasn't a mistake,--a mistake that she needed to
get away."

"Never! We were just right about it," declared Aunt Hannah, with
conviction.

"And is Billy--happy?"

"She seems to be."

"Hm-m; well, THAT'S good," said William, as he turned to go up to his
room. But as he climbed the stairs he sighed; and to hear him, one would
have thought it anything but good to him--that Billy was happy.

One by one the weeks passed. Mrs. Stetson had long since gone back to
Hampden Falls; and Bertram said that the Strata was beginning to look
natural again. There remained now, indeed, only Spunkie, the small gray
cat, to remind any one of the days that were gone--though, to be sure,
there were Billy's letters, if they might be called a reminder.

Billy did not write often. She said that she was "too busy to breathe."
Such letters as did come from her were addressed to William, though they
soon came to be claimed by the entire family. Bertram and Cyril frankly
demanded that William read them aloud; and even Pete always contrived to
have some dusting or "puttering" within earshot--a subterfuge quite well
understood, but never reproved by any of the brothers.

When the Christmas vacation drew near, William wrote that he hoped
Billy and Aunt Hannah would spend it with them; but Billy answered that
although she appreciated their kindness and thanked them for it, yet she
must decline their invitation, as she had already invited several of the
girls to go home with her to Hampden Falls for a country Christmas.

For the Easter vacation William was even more insistent--but so was
Billy: she had already accepted an invitation to go home with one of
the girls, and she did not think it would be at all polite to change her
plans now.

William fretted not a little. Even Cyril and Bertram said that it was
"too bad"; that they themselves would like to see the girl--so they
would!

It was in the spring, at the close of school, however, that the heaviest
blow fell: Billy was not coming to Boston even then. She wrote that she
and Aunt Hannah were going to "run across the water for a little trip
through the British Isles"; and that their passage was already engaged.

"And so you see," she explained, "I shall not have a minute to spare.
There'll be only time to skip home for Aunt Hannah, and to pack the
trunks before it'll be time to start."

Bertram looked at Cyril significantly when this letter was read aloud;
and afterward he muttered in Cyril's ear:

"You see! It's Hampden Falls she calls 'home' now--not the Strata."

"Yes, I see," frowned Cyril. "It does look suspicious."

Two days before the date of Billy's expected sailing, William announced
at the breakfast table that he was going away on business; might be gone
until the end of the week.

"You don't say," commented Bertram. "I'M going to-morrow, but I'm coming
back in a couple of days."

"Hm-m;" murmured William, abstractedly. "Oh, well, I may be back before
the end of the week."

Only one meal did Cyril eat alone after his brothers had gone; then he
told Pete that he had decided to take the night boat for New York. There
was a little matter that called him there, he said, and he believed the
trip by water would be a pleasure, the night was so fine and warm.

In New York Cyril had little trouble in finding Billy, as he knew the
steamship she was to take.

"I thought as long as I was in New York to-day I'd just come and say
good-by to you and Aunt Hannah," he informed her, with an evident aim
toward making his presence appear to be casual.

"That was good of you!" exclaimed Billy. "And how are Uncle William and
Mr. Bertram?"

"Very well, I fancy, though they weren't there when I left," replied the
man.

"Oh!--gone away?"

"Yes. A little matter of business they said; but--well, by Jove!" he
broke off, his gaze on a familiar figure hurrying at that moment toward
them. "There's William now!"

William, with no eyes but for Billy, came rapidly forward.

"Well, well, Billy! I thought as long as I happened to be in New York
to-day I'd just run down to the boat and see you and Aunt Hannah off,
and wish--CYRIL! Where did YOU come from?"

Billy laughed.

"He just happened to be in town, too, Uncle William, like you," she
explained. "And I'm sure I think it's lovely of you to be so kind. Aunt
Hannah'll be up right away. She went down to the stateroom to--" This
time it was Billy who stopped abruptly. The two men facing her could not
see what she saw, and not until their brother Bertram's merry greeting
fell on their ears did they understand her sudden silence.

"And is this the way you meant to run away from us, young lady?" cried
Bertram. "Not so fast! You see, I happened to be in New York this
morning, and so I--" Something in Billy's face sent a pause to his words
just as his eyes spied the two men at the girl's side. For a moment he
stared dumbly; then he gave a merry gesture of defeat.

"It's all up! I might as well confess. I'VE been planning this thing for
three weeks, Billy, ever since your letter came, in fact. As for my two
fellow-sinners here, I'll wager they weren't two days behind me in their
planning. So now, own up, boys!"

William and Cyril, however, did not have to "own up." Mrs. Stetson
appeared at the moment and created, for them, a very welcome diversion.

Long minutes later, when the good-byes had become nothing but a flutter
of white handkerchiefs from deck to shore, and shore to deck, William
drew a long sigh.

"That's a nice little girl, boys, a nice little girl!" he exclaimed. "I
declare! I didn't suppose I'd mind so much her going so far away."



CHAPTER XX

BILLY, THE MYTH


To all appearances it came about very naturally that Billy did
not return to America for some time. During the summer she wrote
occasionally to William, and gave glowing accounts of their travels.
Then in September came the letter telling him that they had concluded to
stay through the winter in Paris. Billy wrote that she had decided not
to go to college. She would take up some studies there in Paris, she
said, but she would devote herself more particularly to her music.

When the next summer came there was still something other than America
to claim her attention: the Calderwells had invited her to cruise with
them for three months. Their yacht was a little floating palace of
delight, Billy declared, not to mention the charm of the unknown lands
and waters that she and Aunt Hannah would see.

Of all this Billy wrote to William--at occasional intervals--but she did
not come home. Even when the next autumn came, there was still Paris to
detain her for another long winter of study.

In the Henshaw house on Beacon Street, William mourned not a little as
each recurring season brought no Billy.

"The idea! It's just as if one didn't have a namesake!" he fumed.

"Well, did you have one?" Bertram demanded one day. "Really, Will, I'm
beginning to think she's a myth. Long years ago, from the first of
April till June we did have two frolicsome sprites here that announced
themselves as 'Billy' and 'Spunk,' I'll own. And a year later, by ways
devious and secret, we three managed to see the one called 'Billy' off
on a great steamship. Since then, what? A word--a message--a scrap of
paper. Billy's a myth, I say!"

William sighed.

"Sometimes I don't know but you are right," he admitted. "Why, it'll
be three years next June since Billy was here. She must be nearly
twenty-one--and we know almost nothing about her."

"That's so. I wonder--" Bertram paused, and laughed a little, "I wonder
if NOW she'd play guardian angel to me through the streets of Boston."

William threw a keen glance into his brother's face.

"I don't believe it would be quite necessary, NOW, Bert," he said
quietly.

The other flushed a little, but his eyes softened.

"Maybe not, Will; still--one can always find some use for--a guardian
angel, you know," he finished, almost under his breath.

To Cyril Bertram had occasionally spoken, during the last two years,
of their first suspicions concerning Billy's absence. They speculated
vaguely, too, as to why she had gone, and if she would ever come back;
and they wondered if anything could have wounded her and sent her away.
To William they said nothing of all this, however; though they agreed
that they would have asked Kate for her opinion, had she been there.
But Kate was not there. As it chanced, a good business opportunity had
called Kate's husband to a Western town very soon after Billy herself
had gone to Hampden Falls; and since the family's removal to the West,
Mrs. Hartwell had not once returned to Boston.

It was in April, three years since Billy's first appearance in the
Beacon Street house, that Bertram met his friend, Hugh Calderwell, on
the street one afternoon, and brought him home to dinner.

Hugh Calderwell was a youth who, Bertram said, had been born with a
whole dozen silver spoons in his mouth. And, indeed, it would seem so,
if present prosperity were any indication. He was a good-looking young
fellow with a frank manliness that appealed to men, and a deferential
chivalry that appealed to women; a combination that brought him many
friends--and some enemies. With plenty of money to indulge a passion
for traveling, young Calderwell had spent the most of his time since
graduation in daring trips into the heart of almost impenetrable
forests, or to the top of almost inaccessible mountains, with an
occasional more ordinary trip to give variety. He had now come to the
point, however, where he was determined to "settle down to something
that meant something," he told the Henshaws, as the four men smoked in
Bertram's den after dinner.

"Yes, sir, I have," he iterated. "And, by the way, the little girl
that has set me to thinking in such good earnest is a friend of yours,
too,--Miss Neilson. I met her in Paris. She was on our yacht all last
summer."

Three men sat suddenly erect in their chairs.

"Billy?" cried three voices. "Do you know Billy?"

"To be sure! And you do, too, she says."

"Oh, no, we don't," disputed Bertram, emphatically. "But we WISH we
did!"

His guest laughed.

"Well, I fancy you DO know her, or you wouldn't have answered like
that," he retorted. "For you just begin to know Miss Billy when you find
out that you DON'T know her. She is a charming girl--a very charming
girl."

"She is my namesake," announced William, in what Bertram called his
"finest ever" voice that he used only for the choicest bits in his
collections.

"Yes, she told me," smiled Calderwell. "'Billy' for 'William.' Odd
idea, too, but clever. It helps to distinguish her even more--though she
doesn't need it, for that matter."

"'Doesn't need it,'" echoed William in a puzzled voice.

"No. Perhaps you don't know, Mr. Henshaw, but Miss Billy is a very
popular young woman. You have reason to be proud of your namesake."

"I have always been that," declared William, with just a touch of
hauteur.

"Tell us about her," begged Bertram. "You remember I said that we wished
we did know her."

Calderwell smiled.

"I don't believe, after all, that you do know much about her," he began
musingly. "Billy is not one who talks much of herself, I fancy, in her
letters."

William frowned. This time there was more than a touch of hauteur in his
voice.

"MISS NEILSON is not one to show vanity anywhere," he said, with
suggestive emphasis on the name.

"Indeed she isn't," agreed Calderwell, heartily. "She is a fine
girl--quite one of the finest I know, in fact."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Over in the corner Cyril puffed at
his cigar with an air almost of boredom. He had not spoken since his
first surprised questioning with the others, "Do you know Billy?"
William was still frowning. Even Bertram wore a look that was not quite
satisfied.

"Miss Neilson has spent two winters in Paris now, you know," resumed
Calderwell, after a moment; "and she is very popular both with
the American colony, and with the other students. As for her 'Aunt
Hannah'--they all make a pet of her; but that is, perhaps, because Billy
herself is so devoted."

Again William frowned at the familiar "Billy"; but Calderwell talked on
unheeding.

"After all, I'm not sure but some of us regard 'Aunt Hannah' with scant
favor, occasionally," he laughed; "something as if she were the dragon
that guarded the princess, you know. Miss Billy IS popular with the men,
and she has suitors enough to turn any girl's head--but her own."

"Suitors!" cried William, plainly aghast. "Why, Billy's nothing but a
child!"

Calderwell gave an odd smile.

"How long is it since you've seen--Miss Neilson?" he asked.

"Two years."

"And then only for a few minutes just before she sailed," amended
Bertram. "We haven't really seen much of her since three years ago."

"Hm-m; well, you'll see for yourself soon. You know she's coming home
next month."

Not one of the brothers did know it--but not one of them intended that
Calderwell should find out that they did not.

"Yes, she's coming home," said William, lifting his chin a little.

"Oh, yes, next month," added Bertram, nonchalantly.

Even Cyril across the room was not to be outdone.

"Yes. Miss Neilson comes home next month," he said.



CHAPTER XXI

BILLY, THE REALITY


Very early in May came the cheery letter from Billy herself announcing
the news of her intended return.

"And I shall be so glad to see you all," she wrote in closing. "It seems
so long since I left America." Then she signed her name with "kindest
regards to all"--Billy did not send "love to all" any more.

William at once began to make plans for his namesake's comfort.

"But, Will, she didn't say she was coming here," Bertram reminded him.

"She didn't need to," smiled William, confidently. "She just took it for
granted, of course. This is her home."

"But it hasn't been--for years. She's called Hampden Falls 'home.'"

"I know, but that was before," demurred William, his eyes a little
anxious. "Besides, they've sold the house now, you know. There's nowhere
for her to go but here, Bertram."

"All right," acquiesced the younger man, still doubtingly. "Maybe that's
so; maybe! But--" he did not finish his sentence, and his eyes were
troubled as he watched his brother begin to rearrange Billy's rooms.
In time, however, so sure was William of Billy's return to the Beacon
Street house, that Bertram ceased to question; and, with almost as much
confidence as William himself displayed, he devoted his energies to the
preparations for Billy's arrival.

And what preparations they were! Even Cyril helped this time to the
extent of placing on Billy's piano a copy of his latest book, and a pile
of new music. Nor were the melodies that floated down from the upper
floor akin to funeral marches; they were perilously near to being allied
to "ragtime."

At last everything was ready. There was not one more bit of dust to
catch Pete's eye, nor one more adornment that demanded William's careful
hand to adjust. In Billy's rooms new curtains graced the windows and new
rugs the floors. In Mrs. Stetson's, too, similar changes had been made.
The latest and best "Face of a Girl" smiled at one from above
Billy's piano, and the very rarest of William's treasures adorned the
mantelpiece. No guns nor knives nor fishing-rods met the eyes now.
Instead, at every turn, there was a hint of feminine tastes: a mirror, a
workbasket, a low sewing-chair, a stand with a tea tray. And everywhere
were roses, up-stairs and down-stairs, until the air was heavy with
their perfume. In the dining-room Pete was again "swinging back and
forth like a pendulum," it is true; but it was a cheerful pendulum
to-day, anxious only that no time should be lost. In the kitchen alone
was there unhappiness, and there because Dong Ling had already spoiled
a whole cake of chocolate in a vain attempt to make Billy's favorite
fudge. Even Spunkie, grown now to be sleek, lazy, and majestically
indifferent, was in holiday attire, for a brand-new pink bow of huge
dimensions adorned his fat neck--for the first time in many months.

"You see," William had explained to Bertram, "I put on that ribbon again
because I thought it would make Spunkie seem more homelike, and more
like Spunk. You know there wasn't anything Billy missed so much as that
kitten when she went abroad. Aunt Hannah said so."

"Yes, I know," Bertram had laughed; "but still, Spunkie isn't Spunk, you
understand!" he had finished, with a vision in his eyes of Billy as she
had looked that first night when she had triumphantly lifted from the
green basket the little gray kitten with its enormous pink bow. This
time there was no circuitous journeying, no secrecy in the trip to New
York. Quite as a matter of course the three brother made their plans to
meet Billy, and quite as a matter of course they met her. Perhaps
the only cloud in the horizon of their happiness was the presence
of Calderwell. He, too, had come to meet Billy--and all the Henshaw
brothers were vaguely conscious of a growing feeling of dislike toward
Calderwell.

Billy was unmistakably glad to see them--and to see Calderwell. It was
while she was talking to Calderwell, indeed, that William and Cyril and
Bertram had an opportunity really to see the girl, and to note what time
had done for her. They knew then, at once, that time had been very kind.

It was a slim Billy that they saw, with a head royally poised, and a
chin that was round and soft, and yet knew well its own mind. The eyes
were still appealing, in a way, yet behind the appeal lay unsounded
depths of--not one of the brothers could quite make up his mind just
what, yet all the brothers determined to find out. The hair still curled
distractingly behind the pretty ears, and fluffed into burnished bronze
where the wind had loosened it. The cheeks were paler now, though the
rose-flush still glowed warmly through the clear, smooth skin. The
mouth--Billy's mouth had always been fascinating, Bertram suddenly
decided, as he watched it now. He wanted to paint it--again. It was not
too large for beauty nor too small for strength. It curved delightfully,
and the lower lip had just the fullness and the color that he liked--to
paint, he said to himself.

William, too, was watching Billy's mouth; in fact--though he did not
know it--one never was long near Billy without noticing her mouth, if
she talked. William thought it pretty, merry, and charmingly kissable;
but just now he wished that it would talk to him, and not to Calderwell
any longer. Cyril--indeed, Cyril was paying little attention to Billy.
He had turned to Aunt Hannah. To tell the truth, it seemed to Cyril
that, after all, Billy was very much like other merry, thoughtless,
rather noisy young women, of whom he knew--and disliked--scores. It had
occurred to him suddenly that perhaps it would not be unalloyed bliss to
take this young namesake of William's home with them.

It was not until an hour later, when Billy, Aunt Hannah, and the
Henshaws had reached the hotel where they were to spend the night, that
the Henshaw brothers began really to get acquainted with Billy. She
seemed then more like their own Billy--the Billy that they had known.

"And I'm so glad to be here," she cried; "and to see you all. America IS
the best place, after all!"

"And of America, Boston is the Hub, you know," Bertram reminded her.

"It is," nodded Billy.

"And it hasn't changed a mite, except to grow better. You'll see
to-morrow."

"As if I hadn't been counting the days!" she exulted. "And now what have
you been doing--all of you?"

"Just wait till you see," laughed Bertram. "They're all spread out for
your inspection."

"A new 'Face of a Girl'?"

"Of course--yards of them!"

"And heaps of 'Old Blues' and 'black basalts'?" she questioned, turning
to William.

"Well, a--few," hesitated William, modestly.

"And--the music; what of that?" Billy looked now at Cyril.

"You'll see," he shrugged. "There's very little, after all--of
anything."

Billy gave a wise shake of her head.

"I know better; and I want to see it all so much. We've talked and
talked of it; haven't we, Aunt Hannah?--of what we would do when we got
to Boston?"

"Yes, my dear; YOU have."

The girl laughed.

"I accept the amendment," she retorted with mock submission. "I suppose
it is always I who talk."

"It was--when I painted you," teased Bertram. "By the way, I'll LET you
talk if you'll pose again for me," he finished eagerly.

Billy uptilted her nose.

"Do you think, sir, you deserve it, after that speech?" she demanded.

"But how about YOUR art--your music?" entreated William. "You have said
so little of that in your letters."

Billy hesitated. For a brief moment she glanced at Cyril. He did not
appear to have heard his brother's question. He was talking with Aunt
Hannah.

"Oh, I play--some," murmured the girl, almost evasively. "But tell me of
yourself, Uncle William, and of what you are doing." And William needed
no second bidding.

It was some time later that Billy turned to him with an amazed
exclamation in response to something he had said.

"Home with you! Why, Uncle William, what do you mean? You didn't really
think you'd got to be troubled with ME any longer!" she cried merrily.

William's face paled, then flushed.

"I did not call it 'trouble,' Billy," he said quietly. His grieved eyes
looked straight into hers and drove the merriment quite away.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said gently. "And I appreciate your kindness,
indeed I do; but I couldn't--really I couldn't think of such a thing!"

"And you don't have to think of it," cut in Bertram, who considered that
the situation was becoming much too serious. "All you have to do is to
come."

Billy shook her head.

"You are so good, all of you! But you didn't--you really didn't think I
WAS--coming!" she protested.

"Indeed we did," asserted Bertram, promptly; "and we have done
everything to get ready for you, too, even to rigging up Spunkie to
masquerade as Spunk. I'll warrant that Pete's nose is already flattened
against the window-pane, lest we should HAPPEN to come to-night; and
there's no telling how many cakes of chocolate Dong Ling has spoiled by
this time. We left him trying to make fudge, you know."

Billy laughed--but she cried, too; at least, her eyes grew suddenly
moist. Bertram tried to decide afterward whether she laughed till she
cried, or cried till she laughed.

"No, no," she demurred tremulously. "I couldn't. I really have never
intended that."

"But why not? What are you going to do?" questioned William in a voice
that was dazed and hurt.

The first question Billy ignored. The second she answered with a
promptness and a gayety that was meant to turn the thoughts away from
the first.

"We are going to Boston, Aunt Hannah and I. We've got rooms engaged
for just now, but later we're going to take a house and live together.
That's what we're going to do."



CHAPTER XXII

HUGH CALDERWELL


In the Beacon Street house William mournfully removed the huge pink bow
from Spunkie's neck, and Bertram threw away the roses. Cyril marched
up-stairs with his pile of new music and his book; and Pete, in
obedience to orders, hid the workbasket, the tea table, and the low
sewing-chair. With a great display of a "getting back home" air, Bertram
moved many of his belongings upstairs--but inside of a week he had moved
them down again, saying that, after all, he believed he liked the first
floor better. Billy's rooms were closed then, and remained as they had
for years--silent and deserted.

Billy with Aunt Hannah had gone directly to their Back Bay hotel. "This
is for just while I'm house-hunting," the girl had said. But very soon
she had decided to go to Hampden Falls for the summer and postpone her
house-buying until the autumn. Billy was twenty-one now, and there were
many matters of business to arrange with Lawyer Harding, concerning her
inheritance. It was not until September, therefore, when Billy once more
returned to Boston, that the Henshaw brothers had the opportunity of
renewing their acquaintance with William's namesake.

"I want a home," Billy said to Bertram and William on the night of
her arrival. (As before, Mrs. Stetson and Billy had gone directly to a
hotel.) "I want a real home with a furnace to shake--if I want to--and
some dirt to dig in."

"Well, I'm sure that ought to be easy to find," smiled Bertram.

"Oh, but that isn't all," supplemented Billy. "It must be mostly closets
and piazza. At least, those are the important things."

"Well, you might run across a snag there. Why don't you build?"

Billy gave a gesture of dissent.

"Too slow. I want it now."

Bertram laughed. His eyes narrowed quizzically.

"From what Calderwell says," he bantered, "I should judge that there are
plenty of sighing swains who are only too ready to give you a home--and
now."

The pink deepened in Billy's cheeks.

"I said closets and a piazza, dirt to dig, and a furnace to shake," she
retorted merrily. "I didn't say I wanted a husband."

"And you don't, of course," interposed William, decidedly. "You are much
too young for that."

"Yes, sir," agreed Billy demurely; but Bertram was sure he saw a twinkle
under the downcast lashes.

"And where is Cyril?" asked Mrs. Stetson, coming into the room at that
moment.

William stirred restlessly.

"Well, Cyril couldn't--couldn't come," stammered William with an uneasy
glance at his brother.

Billy laughed unexpectedly.

"It's too bad--about Mr. Cyril's not coming," she murmured. And again
Bertram caught the twinkle in the downcast eyes.

To Bertram the twinkle looked interesting, and worth pursuit; but at
the very beginning of the chase Calderwell's card came up, and that
ended--everything, so Bertram declared crossly to himself.

Billy found her dirt to dig in, and her furnace to shake, in Brookline.
There were closets, too, and a generous expanse of veranda. They all
belonged to a quaint little house perched on the side of Corey Hill.
From the veranda in the rear, and from many of the windows, one looked
out upon a delightful view of many-hued, many-shaped roofs nestling
among towering trees, with the wide sweep of the sky above, and the haze
of faraway hills at the horizon.

"In fact, it's as nearly perfect as it can be--and not take angel-wings
and fly away," declared Billy. "I have named it 'Hillside.'"

Very early in her career as house-owner, Billy decided that however
delightful it might be to have a furnace to shake, it would not be at
all delightful to shake it; besides, there was the new motor car to run.
Billy therefore sought and found a good, strong man who had not only the
muscle and the willingness to shake the furnace, but the skill to turn
chauffeur at a moment's notice. Best of all, this man had also a wife
who, with a maid to assist her, would take full charge of the house, and
thus leave Billy and Mrs. Stetson free from care. All these, together
with a canary, and a kitten as near like Spunk as could be obtained,
made Billy's household.

"And now I'm ready to see my friends," she announced.

"And I think your friends will be ready to see you," Bertram assured
her.

And they were--at least, so it appeared. For at once the little house
perched on the hillside became the Mecca for many of the Henshaws'
friends who had known Billy as William's merry, eighteen-year-old
namesake. There were others, too, whom Billy had met abroad; and
there were soft-stepping, sweet-faced old women and an occasional
white-whiskered old man--Aunt Hannah's friends--who found that the young
mistress of Hillside was a charming hostess. There were also the Henshaw
"boys," and there was always Calderwell--at least, so Bertram declared
to himself sometimes.

Bertram came frequently to the little house on the hill, even more
frequently than William; but Cyril was not seen there so often. He came
once at first, it is true, and followed Billy from room to room as she
proudly displayed her new home. He showed polite interest in her view,
and a perfunctory enjoyment of the tea she prepared for him. But he
did not come again for some time, and when he did come, he sat stiffly
silent, while his brothers did most of the talking.

As to Calderwell--Calderwell seemed suddenly to have lost his interest
in impenetrable forests and unclimbable mountains. Nothing more
intricate than the long Beacon Street boulevard, or more inaccessible
than Corey Hill seemed worth exploring, apparently. According to
Calderwell's own version of it, he had "settled down"; he was going
to "be something that was something." And he did spend sundry of his
morning hours in a Boston law office with ponderous, calf-bound volumes
spread in imposing array on the desk before him. Other hours--many
hours--he spent with Billy.

One day, very soon, in fact, after she arrived in Boston, Billy asked
Calderwell about the Henshaws.

"Tell me about them," she said. "Tell me what they have been doing all
these years."

"Tell you about them! Why, don't you know?"

She shook her head.

"No. Cyril says nothing. William little more--about themselves; and you
know what Bertram is. One can hardly separate sense from nonsense with
him."

"You don't know, then, how splendidly Bertram has done with his art?"

"No; only from the most casual hearsay. Has he done well then?"

"Finely! The public has been his for years, and now the critics
are tumbling over each other to do him honor. They rave about his
'sensitive, brilliant, nervous touch,'--whatever that may be; his
'marvelous color sense'; his 'beauty of line and pose.' And they quarrel
over whether it's realism or idealism that constitutes his charm."

"I'm so glad! And is it still the 'Face of a Girl'?"

"Yes; only he's doing straight portraiture now as well. It's got to be
quite the thing to be 'done' by Henshaw; and there's many a fair lady
that has graciously commissioned him to paint her portrait. He's a fine
fellow, too--a mighty fine fellow. You may not know, perhaps, but three
or four years ago he was--well, not wild, but 'frolicsome,' he would
probably have called it. He got in with a lot of fellows that--well,
that weren't good for a chap of Bertram's temperament."

"Like--Mr. Seaver?"

Calderwell turned sharply.

"Did YOU know Seaver?" he demanded in obvious surprise.

"I used to SEE him--with Bertram."

"Oh! Well, he WAS one of them, unfortunately. But Bertram shipped him
years ago."

Billy gave a sudden radiant smile--but she changed the subject at once.

"And Mr. William still collects, I suppose," she observed.

"Jove! I should say he did! I've forgotten the latest; but he's a fine
fellow, too, like Bertram."

"And--Mr. Cyril?"

Calderwell frowned.

"That chap's a poser for me, Billy, and no mistake. I can't make him
out!"

"What's the matter?"

"I don't know. Probably I'm not 'tuned to his pitch.' Bertram told me
once that Cyril was very sensitively strung, and never responded until
a certain note was struck. Well, I haven't ever found that note, I
reckon."

Billy laughed.

"I never heard Bertram say that, but I think I know what he means; and
he's right, too. I begin to realize now what a jangling discord I must
have created when I tried to harmonize with him three years ago! But
what is he doing in his music?"

The other shrugged his shoulders.

"Same thing. Plays occasionally, and plays well, too; but he's so
erratic it's difficult to get him to do it. Everything must be just so,
you know--air, light, piano, and audience. He's got another book out,
I'm told--a profound treatise on somebody's something or other--musical,
of course."

"And he used to write music; doesn't he do that any more?"

"I believe so. I hear of it occasionally through musical friends of
mine. They even play it to me sometimes. But I can't stand for much of
it--his stuff--really, Billy."

"'Stuff' indeed! And why not?" An odd hostility showed in Billy's eyes.

Again Calderwell shrugged his shoulders.

"Don't ask me. I don't know. But they're always dead slow, somber
things, with the wail of a lost spirit shrieking through them."

"But I just love lost spirits that wail," avowed Billy, with more than a
shade of reproach in her voice.

Calderwell stared; then he shook his head.

"Not in mine, thank you;" he retorted whimsically. "I prefer my spirits
of a more sane and cheerful sort."

The girl laughed, but almost instantly she fell silent.

"I've been wondering," she began musingly, after a time, "why some one
of those three men does not--marry."

"You wouldn't wonder--if you knew them better," declared Calderwell.
"Now think. Let's begin at the top of the Strata--by the way, Bertram's
name for that establishment is mighty clever! First, Cyril: according
to Bertram Cyril hates 'all kinds of women and other confusion'; and I
fancy Bertram hits it about right. So that settles Cyril. Then there's
William--you know William. Any girl would say William was a dear; but
William isn't a MARRYING man. Dad says,"--Calderwell's voice softened a
little--"dad says that William and his young wife were the most devoted
couple that he ever saw; and that when she died she seemed to take with
her the whole of William's heart--that is, what hadn't gone with the
baby a few years before. There was a boy, you know, that died."

"Yes, I know," nodded Billy, quick tears in her eyes. "Aunt Hannah told
me."

"Well, that counts out William, then," said Calderwell, with an air of
finality.

"But how about Bertram? You haven't settled Bertram," laughed Billy,
archly.

"Bertram!" Calderwell's eyes widened. "Billy, can you imagine Bertram's
making love in real earnest to a girl?"

"Why, I--don't--know; maybe!" Billy tipped her head from side to side as
if she were viewing a picture set up for her inspection.

"Well, I can't. In the first place, no girl would think he was serious;
or if by any chance she did, she'd soon discover that it was the turn
of her head or the tilt of her chin that he admired--TO PAINT. Now isn't
that so?"

Billy laughed, but she did not answer.

"It is, and you know it," declared Calderwell. "And that settles him.
Now you can see, perhaps, why none of these men--will marry."

It was a long minute before Billy spoke.

"Not a bit of it. I don't see it at all," she declared with roguish
merriment. "Moreover, I think that some day, some one of them--will
marry, Sir Doubtful!"

Calderwell threw a quick glance into her eyes. Evidently something he
saw there sent a swift shadow to his own. He waited a moment, then asked
abruptly:

"Billy, WON'T you marry me?"

Billy frowned, though her eyes still laughed.

"Hugh, I told you not to ask me that again," she demurred.

"And I told you not to ask impossibilities of me," he retorted
imperturbably. "Billy, won't you, now--seriously?"

"Seriously, no, Hugh. Please don't let us go all over that again when
we've done it so many times."

"No, let's don't," agreed the man, cheerfully. "And we don't have to,
either, if you'll only say 'yes,' now right away, without any more
fuss."

Billy sighed impatiently.

"Hugh, won't you understand that I'm serious?" she cried; then she
turned suddenly, with a peculiar flash in her eyes.

"Hugh, I don't believe Bertram himself could make love any more
nonsensically than you can!"

Calderwell laughed, but he frowned, too; and again he threw into
Billy's face that keenly questioning glance. He said something--a light
something--that brought the laugh to Billy's lips in spite of herself;
but he was still frowning when he left the house some minutes later, and
the shadow was not gone from his eyes.



CHAPTER XXIII

BERTRAM DOES SOME QUESTIONING


Billy's time was well occupied. There were so many, many things she
wished to do, and so few, few hours in which to do them. First there was
her music. She made arrangements at once to study with one of Boston's
best piano teachers, and she also made plans to continue her French and
German. She joined a musical club, a literary club, and a more strictly
social club; and to numerous church charities and philanthropic
enterprises she lent more than her name, giving freely of both time and
money.

Friday afternoons, of course, were to be held sacred to the Symphony
concerts; and on certain Wednesday mornings there was to be a series of
recitals, in which she was greatly interested.

For Society with a capital S, Billy cared little; but for sociability
with a small s, she cared much; and very wide she opened her doors to
her friends, lavishing upon them a wealth of hospitality. Nor did
they all come in carriages or automobiles--these friends. A certain
pale-faced little widow over at the South End knew just how good Miss
Neilson's tea tasted on a crisp October afternoon and Marie Hawthorn, a
frail young woman who gave music lessons, knew just how restful was Miss
Neilson's couch after a weary day of long walks and fretful pupils.

"But how in the world do you discover them all--these forlorn specimens
of humanity?" queried Bertram one evening, when he had found Billy
entertaining a freckled-faced messenger-boy with a plate of ice cream
and a big square of cake.

"Anywhere--everywhere," smiled Billy.

"Well, this last candidate for your favor, who has just gone--who's he?"

"I don't know, beyond that his name is 'Tom,' and that he likes ice
cream."

"And you never saw him before?"

"Never."

"Humph! One wouldn't think it, to see his charming air of nonchalant
accustomedness."

"Oh, but it doesn't take much to make a little fellow like that feel at
home," laughed Billy.

"And are you in the habit of feeding every one who comes to your house,
on ice cream and chocolate cake? I thought that stone doorstep of yours
was looking a little worn."

"Not a bit of it," retorted Billy. "This little chap came with a message
just as I was finishing dinner. The ice cream was particularly good
to-night, and it occurred to me that he might like a taste; so I gave it
to him."

Bertram raised his eyebrows quizzically.

"Very kind, of course; but--why ice cream?" he questioned. "I thought it
was roast beef and boiled potatoes that was supposed to be handed out to
gaunt-eyed hunger."

"It is," nodded Billy, "and that's why I think sometimes they'd like ice
cream and chocolate frosting. Besides, to give sugar plums one doesn't
have to unwind yards of red tape, or worry about 'pauperizing the poor.'
To give red flannels and a ton of coal, one must be properly circumspect
and consult records and city missionaries, of course; and that's why
it's such a relief sometimes just to hand over a simple little sugar
plum and see them smile."

For a minute Bertram was silent, then he asked abruptly:

"Billy, why did you leave the Strata?"

Billy was taken quite by surprise. A pink flush spread to her forehead,
and her tongue stumbled at first over her reply.

"Why, I--it seemed--you--why, I left to go to Hampden Falls, to be sure.
Don't you remember?" she finished gaily.

"Oh, yes, I remember THAT," conceded Bertram with disdainful emphasis.
"But why did you go to Hampden Falls?"

"Why, it--it was the only place to go--that is, I WANTED to go there,"
she corrected hastily. "Didn't Aunt Hannah tell you that I--I was
homesick to get back there?"

"Oh, yes, Aunt Hannah SAID that," observed the man; "but wasn't that
homesickness a little--sudden?"

Billy blushed pink again.

"Why, maybe; but--well, homesickness is always more or less sudden;
isn't it?" she parried.

Bertram laughed, but his eyes grew suddenly almost tender.

"See here, Billy, you can't bluff worth a cent," he declared. "You are
much too refreshingly frank for that. Something was the trouble. Now
what was it? Won't you tell me, please?"

Billy pouted. She hesitated and gazed anywhere but into the challenging
eyes before her. Then very suddenly she looked straight into them.

"Very well, there WAS a reason for my leaving," she confessed a little
breathlessly. "I--didn't want to--bother you any more--all of you."

"Bother us!"

"No. I found out. You couldn't paint; Mr. Cyril couldn't play or write;
and--and everything was different because I was there. But I didn't
blame you--no, no!" she assured him hastily. "It was only that I--found
out."

"And may I ask HOW you obtained this most extraordinary information?"
demanded Bertram, savagely.

Billy shook her head. Her round little chin looked suddenly square and
determined.

"You may ask, but I shall not tell," she declared firmly.

If Bertram had known Billy just a little better he would have let the
matter drop there; but he did not know Billy, so he asked:

"Was it anything I did--or said?"

The girl did not answer.

"Billy, was it?" Bertram's voice showed terror now.

Billy laughed unexpectedly.

"Do you think I'm going to say 'no' to a series of questions, and then
give the whole thing away by my silence when you come to the right one?"
she demanded merrily. "No, sir!"

"Well, anyhow, it wasn't I, then," sighed the man in relief; "for
you just observed that you were not going to say 'no to a series of
questions'--and that was the first one. So I've found out that much,
anyhow," he concluded triumphantly.

The girl eyed him for a moment in silence; then she shook her head.

"I'm not going to be caught that way, either," she smiled. "You
know--just what you did in the first place about it: nothing."

The man stirred restlessly and pondered. After a long pause he adopted
new tactics. With a searching study of her face to note the slightest
change, he enumerated:

"Was it Cyril, then? Will? Aunt Hannah? Kate? It couldn't have been
Pete, or Dong Ling!"

Billy still smiled inscrutably. At no name had Bertram detected so
much as the flicker of an eyelid; and with a glance half-admiring,
half-chagrined, he fell back into his chair.

"I'll give it up. You've won," he acknowledged. "But, Billy,"--his
manner changed suddenly--"I wonder if you know just what a hole you left
in the Strata when you went away."

"But I couldn't have--in the whole Strata," objected Billy. "I occupied
only one stratum, and a stratum doesn't go up and down, you know, only
across; and mine was the second floor."

Bertram gave a slow shake of his head.

"I know; but yours was a freak formation," he maintained gravely. "It
DID go up and down. Honestly, Billy, we did care--lots. Will and I were
inconsolable, and even Cyril played dirges for a week."

"Did he?" gurgled Billy, with sudden joyousness. "I'm so glad!"

"Thank you," murmured Bertram, disapprovingly. "We hadn't considered it
a subject for exultation."

"What? Oh, I didn't mean that! That is--" she stopped helplessly.

"Oh, never mind about trying to explain," interposed Bertram. "I fancy
the remedy would be worse than the disease, in this case."

"Nonsense! I only meant that I like to be missed--sometimes," retorted
Billy, a little nettled.

"And you rejoice then to have me mope, Cyril play dirges, and Will
wander mournfully about the house with Spunkie in his arms! You should
have seen William. If his forlornness did not bring tears to your eyes,
the grace of the pink bow that lopped behind Spunkie's left ear would
surely have brought a copious flow."

Billy laughed, but her eyes grew tender.

"Did Uncle William do--that?" she asked.

"He did--and he did more. Pete told me after a time that you had
not left one thing in the house, anywhere; but one day, over behind
William's most treasured Lowestoft, I found a small shell hairpin, and
a flat brown silk button that I recognized as coming from one of your
dresses."

"Oh!" said Billy, softly. "Dear Uncle William--and how good he was to
me!"



CHAPTER XXIV

CYRIL, THE ENIGMA


Perhaps it was because Billy saw so little of Cyril that it was Cyril
whom she wished particularly to see. William, Bertram, Calderwell--all
her other friends came frequently to the little house on the hill, Billy
told herself; only Cyril held aloof--and it was Cyril that she wanted.

Billy said that it was his music; that she wanted to hear him play, and
that she wanted him to hear her. She felt grieved and chagrined. Not
once since she had come had he seemed interested--really interested in
her music. He had asked her, it is true, in a perfunctory way what
she had done, and who her teachers had been. But all the while she was
answering she had felt that he was not listening; that he did not care.
And she cared so much! She knew now that all her practising through
the long hard months of study, had been for Cyril. Every scale had been
smoothed for his ears, and every phrase had been interpreted with his
approbation in view. Across the wide waste of waters his face had shone
like a star of promise, beckoning her on and on to heights unknown...
And now she was here in Boston, but she could not even play the
scale, nor interpret the phrase for the ear to which they had been so
laboriously attuned; and Cyril's face, in the flesh, was no beckoning
star of promise, but was a thing as cold and relentless as was the waste
of waters across which it had shone in the past.

Billy did not understand it. She knew, it is true, of Cyril's reputed
aversion to women in general and to noise; but she was neither women in
general nor noise, she told herself indignantly. She was only the little
maid, grown three years older, who had sat at his feet and adoringly
listened to all that he had been pleased to say in the old days at the
top of the Strata. And he had been kind then--very kind, Billy declared
stoutly. He had been patient and interested, too, and he had seemed not
only willing, but glad to teach her, while now--

Sometimes Billy thought she would ask him candidly what was the matter.
But it was always the old, frank Billy that thought this; the impulsive
Billy, that had gone up to Cyril's rooms years before and cheerfully
announced that she had come to get acquainted. It was never the
sensible, circumspect Billy that Aunt Hannah had for three years
been shaping and coaxing into being. But even this Billy frowned
rebelliously, and declared that sometime something should be said that
would at least give him a chance to explain.

In all the weeks since Billy's purchase of Hillside, Cyril had been
there only twice, and it was nearly Thanksgiving now. Billy had seen
him once or twice, also, at the Beacon Street house, when she and Aunt
Hannah had dined there; but on all these occasions he had been either
the coldly reserved guest or the painfully punctilious host. Never had
he been in the least approachable.

"He treats me exactly as he treated poor little Spunk that first night,"
Billy declared hotly to herself.

Only once since she came had Billy heard Cyril play, and that was
when she had shared the privilege with hundreds of others at a public
concert. She had sat then entranced, with her eyes on the clean-cut
handsome profile of the man who played with so sure a skill and power,
yet without a note before him. Afterward she had met him face to face,
and had tried to tell him how moved she was; but in her agitation, and
because of a strange shyness that had suddenly come to her, she had
ended only in stammering out some flippant banality that had brought to
his face merely a bored smile of acknowledgment.

Twice she had asked him to play for her; but each time he had begged to
be excused, courteously, but decidedly.

"It's no use to tease," Bertram had interposed once, with an airy wave
of his hands. "This lion always did refuse to roar to order. If you
really must hear him, you'll have to slip up-stairs and camp outside his
door, waiting patiently for such crumbs as may fall from his table."

"Aren't your metaphors a little mixed?" questioned Cyril irritably.

"Yes, sir," acknowledged Bertram with unruffled temper, "but I don't
mind if Billy doesn't. I only meant her to understand that she'd have to
do as she used to do--listen outside your door."

Billy's cheeks reddened.

"But that is what I sha'n't do," she retorted with spirit. "And,
moreover, I still have hopes that some day he'll play to me."

"Maybe," conceded Bertram, doubtfully; "if the stool and the piano and
the pedals and the weather and his fingers and your ears and my watch
are all just right--then he'll play."

"Nonsense!" scowled Cyril. "I'll play, of course, some day. But I'd
rather not today." And there the matter had ended. Since then Billy had
not asked him to play.



CHAPTER XXV

THE OLD ROOM--AND BILLY


Thanksgiving was to be a great day in the Henshaw family. The Henshaw
brothers were to entertain. Billy and Aunt Hannah had been invited to
dinner; and so joyously hospitable was William's invitation that it
would have included the new kitten and the canary if Billy would have
consented to bring them.

Once more Pete swept and garnished the house, and once more Dong Ling
spoiled uncounted squares of chocolate trying to make the baffling
fudge. Bertram said that the entire Strata was a-quiver. Not but that
Billy and Aunt Hannah had visited there before, but that this was
different. They were to come at noon this time. This visit was not to be
a tantalizing little piece of stiffness an hour and a half long. It was
to be a satisfying, whole-souled matter of half a day's comradeship,
almost like old times. So once more the roses graced the rooms, and
a flaring pink bow adorned Spunkie's fat neck; and once more Bertram
placed his latest "Face of a Girl" in the best possible light. There was
still a difference, however, for this time Cyril did not bring any music
down to the piano, nor display anywhere a copy of his newest book.

The dinner was to be at three o'clock, but by special invitation the
guests were to arrive at twelve; and promptly at the appointed hour they
came.

"There, this is something like," exulted Bertram, when the ladies,
divested of their wraps, toasted their feet before the open fire in his
den.

"Indeed it is, for now I've time to see everything--everything you've
done since I've been gone," cried Billy, gazing eagerly about her.

"Hm-m; well, THAT wasn't what I meant," shrugged Bertram.

"Of course not; but it's what I meant," retorted Billy. "And there are
other things, too. I expect there are half a dozen new 'Old Blues' and
black basalts that I want to see; eh, Uncle William?" she finished,
smiling into the eyes of the man who had been gazing at her with doting
pride for the last five minutes.

"Ho! Will isn't on teapots now," quoth Bertram, before his brother had
a chance to reply. "You might dangle the oldest 'Old Blue' that ever was
before him now, and he'd pay scant attention if he happened at the same
time to get his eyes on some old pewter chain with a green stone in it."

Billy laughed; but at the look of genuine distress that came into
William's face, she sobered at once.

"Don't you let him tease you, Uncle William," she said quickly.
"I'm sure pewter chains with green stones in them sound just awfully
interesting, and I want to see them right away now. Come," she finished,
springing to her feet, "take me up-stairs, please, and show them to me."

William shook his head and said, "No, no!" protesting that what he had
were scarcely worth her attention; but even while he talked he rose to
his feet and advanced half eagerly, half reluctantly, toward the door.

"Nonsense," said Billy, fondly, as she laid her hand on his arm. "I know
they are very much worth seeing. Come!" And she led the way from the
room. "Oh, oh!" she exclaimed a few moments later, as she stood before a
small cabinet in one of William's rooms. "Oh, oh, how pretty!"

"Do you like them? I thought you would," triumphed William, quick joy
driving away the anxious fear in his eyes. "You see, I--I thought of
you when I got them--every one of them. I thought you'd like them. But
I haven't very many, yet, of course. This is the latest one." And he
tenderly lifted from its black velvet mat a curious silver necklace made
of small, flat, chain-linked disks, heavily chased, and set at regular
intervals with a strange, blue-green stone.

Billy hung above it enraptured.

"Oh, what a beauty! And this, I suppose, is Bertram's 'pewter chain'!
'Pewter,' indeed!" she scoffed. "Tell me, Uncle William, where did you
get it?"

And uncle William told, happily, thirstily, drinking in Billy's evident
interest with delight. There were, too, a quaintly-set ring and a
cat's-eye brooch; and to each belonged a story which William was
equally glad to tell. There were other treasures, also: buckles, rings,
brooches, and necklaces, some of dull gold, some of equally dull silver;
but all of odd design and curious workmanship, studded here and there
with bits of red, green, yellow, blue, and flame-colored stones. Very
learnedly then from William's lips fell the new vocabulary that had come
to him with his latest treasures: chrysoprase, carnelian, girasol, onyx,
plasma, sardonyx, lapis lazuli, tourmaline, chrysolite, hyacinth, and
carbuncle.

"They are lovely, perfectly lovely!" breathed Billy, when the last chain
had slipped through her fingers into William's hand. "I think they are
the very nicest things you ever collected."

"So do I," agreed the man, emphatically. "And they are--different, too."

"They are," said Billy, "very--different." But she was not looking at
the jewelry: her eyes were on a small shell hairpin and a brown silk
button half hidden behind a Lowestoft teapot.

On the way down-stairs William stopped a moment at Billy's old rooms.

"I wish you were here now," he said wistfully. "They're all ready for
you--these rooms."

"Oh, but why don't you use them?--such pretty rooms!" cried Billy,
quickly.

William gave a gesture of dissent.

"We have no use for them; besides, they belong to you and Aunt Hannah.
You left your imprint long ago, my dear--we should not feel at home in
them."

"Oh, but you should! You mustn't feel like that!" objected Billy,
hurriedly crossing the room to the window to hide a sudden nervousness
that had assailed her. "And here's my piano, too, and open!" she
finished gaily, dropping herself upon the piano stool and dashing into a
brilliant mazourka.

Billy, like Cyril, had a way of working off her moods at her finger
tips; and to-day the tripping notes and crashing chords told of a
nervous excitement that was not all joy. From the doorway William
watched her flying fingers with fond pride, and it was very reluctantly
that he acceded to Pete's request to go down-stairs for a moment to
settle a vexed question concerning the table decorations.

Billy, left alone, still played, but with a difference. The tripping
notes slowed into a weird melody that rose and fell and lost itself in
the exquisite harmony that had been born of the crashing chords. Billy
was improvising now, and into her music had crept something of her
old-time longing when she had come to that house a lonely, orphan girl,
in search of a home. On and on she played; then with a discordant
note, she suddenly rose from the piano. She was thinking of Kate, and
wondering if, had Kate not "managed" the little room would still be
home.

So swiftly did Billy cross to the door that the man on the stairs
outside had not time to get quite out of sight. Billy did not see his
face, however; she saw only a pair of gray-trousered legs disappearing
around the curve of the landing above. She thought nothing of it until
later when dinner was announced, and Cyril came down-stairs; then
she saw that he, and he only, that afternoon wore trousers of that
particular shade of gray.

The dinner was a great success. Even the chocolate fudge in the little
cut glass bonbon dishes was perfect; and it was a question whether Pete
or Dong Ling tried the harder to please.

After dinner the family gathered in the drawing-room and chatted
pleasantly. Bertram displayed his prettiest and newest pictures, and
Billy played and sung--bright, tuneful little things that she knew Aunt
Hannah and Uncle William liked. If Cyril was pleased or displeased, he
did not show it--but Billy had ceased to play for Cyril's ears. She told
herself that she did not care; but she did wonder: was that Cyril on the
stairs, and if so--what was he doing there?



CHAPTER XXVI

"MUSIC HATH CHARMS"


Two days after Thanksgiving Cyril called at Hillside.

"I've come to hear you play," he announced abruptly.

Billy's heart sung within her--but her temper rose. Did he think then
that he had but to beckon and she would come--and at this late day, she
asked herself. Aloud she said:

"Play? But this is 'so sudden'! Besides, you have heard me."

The man made a disdainful gesture.

"Not that. I mean play--really play. Billy, why haven't you played to me
before?"

Billy's chin rose perceptibly.

"Why haven't you asked me?" she parried.

To Billy's surprise the man answered this with calm directness.

"Because Calderwell said that you were a dandy player, and I don't care
for dandy players."

Billy laughed now.

"And how do you know I'm not a dandy player, Sir Impertinent?" she
demanded.

"Because I've heard you--when you weren't."

"Thank you," murmured Billy.

Cyril shrugged his shoulders.

"Oh, you know very well what I mean," he defended. "I've heard you;
that's all."

"When?"

"That doesn't signify."

Billy was silent for a moment, her eyes gravely studying his face. Then
she asked:

"Were you long--on that stairway?"

"Eh? What? Oh!" Cyril's forehead grew suddenly pink. "Well?" he finished
a little aggressively.

"Oh, nothing," smiled the girl. "Of course people who live in glass
houses must not throw stones."

"Very well then, I did listen," acknowledged the man, testily. "I liked
what you were playing. I hoped, down-stairs later, that you'd play it
again; but you didn't. I came to-day to hear it."

Again Billy's heart sung within her--but again her temper rose, too.

"I don't think I feel like it," she said sweetly, with a shake of her
head. "Not to-day."

For a brief moment Cyril stared frowningly; then his face lighted with
his rare smile.

"I'm fairly checkmated," he said, rising to his feet and going straight
to the piano.

For long minutes he played, modulating from one enchanting composition
to another, and finishing with the one "all chords with big bass notes"
that marched on and on--the one Billy had sat long ago on the stairs to
hear.

"There! Now will you play for me?" he asked, rising to his feet, and
turning reproachful eyes upon her.

Billy, too, rose to her feet. Her face was flushed and her eyes were
shining. Her lips quivered with emotion. As was always the case, Cyril's
music had carried her quite out of herself.

"Oh, thank you, thank you," she sighed. "You don't know--you can't know
how beautiful it all is--to me!"

"Thank you. Then surely now you'll play to me," he returned.

A look of real distress came to Billy's face.

"But I can't--not what you heard the other day," she cried remorsefully.
"You see, I was--only improvising."

Cyril turned quickly.

"Only improvising! Billy, did you ever write it down--any of your
improvising?"

An embarrassed red flew to Billy's face.

"Not--not that amounted to--well, that is, some--a little," she
stammered.

"Let me see it."

"No, no, I couldn't--not YOU!"

Again the rare smile lighted Cyril's eyes.

"Billy, let me see that paper--please."

Very slowly the girl turned toward the music cabinet. She hesitated,
glanced once more appealingly into Cyril's face, then with nervous haste
opened the little mahogany door and took from one of the shelves a sheet
of manuscript music. But, like a shy child with her first copy book, she
held it half behind her back as she came toward the piano.

"Thank you," said Cyril as he reached far out for the music. The next
moment he seated himself again at the piano.

Twice he played the little song through carefully, slowly.

"Now, sing it," he directed.

Falteringly, in a very faint voice, and with very many breaths taken
where they should not have been taken, Billy obeyed.

"When we want to show off your song, Billy, we won't ask you to sing
it," observed the man, dryly, when she had finished.

Billy laughed and dimpled into a blush.

"When I want to show off my song I sha'n't be singing it to you for the
first time," she pouted.

Cyril did not answer. He was playing over and over certain harmonies in
the music before him.

"Hm-m; I see you've studied your counterpoint to some purpose," he
vouchsafed, finally; then: "Where did you get the words?"

The girl hesitated. The flush had deepened on her face.

"Well, I--" she stopped and gave an embarrassed laugh. "I'm like the
small boy who made the toys. 'I got them all out of my own head, and
there's wood enough to make another.'"

"Hm-m; indeed!" grunted the man. "Well, have you made any others?"

"One--or two, maybe."

"Let me see them, please."

"I think--we've had enough--for today," she faltered.

"I haven't. Besides, if I could have a couple more to go with this, it
would make a very pretty little group of songs."

"'To go with this'! What do you mean?"

"To the publishers, of course."

"The PUBLISHERS!"

"Certainly. Did you think you were going to keep these songs to
yourself?"

"But they aren't worth it! They can't be--good enough!" Unbelieving joy
was in Billy's voice.

"No? Well, we'll let others decide that," observed Cyril, with a shrug.
"All is, if you've got any more wood--like this--I advise you to make it
up right away."

"But I have already!" cried the girl, excitedly. "There are lots of
little things that I've--that is, there are--some," she corrected
hastily, at the look that sprang into Cyril's eyes.

"Oh, there are," laughed Cyril. "Well, we'll see what--" But he did
not see. He did not even finish his sentence; for Billy's maid, Rosa,
appeared just then with a card.

"Show Mr. Calderwell in here," said Billy. Cyril said nothing--aloud;
which was well. His thoughts, just then, were better left unspoken.



CHAPTER XXVII

MARIE, WHO LONGS TO MAKE PUDDINGS


Wonderful days came then to Billy. Four songs, it seemed, had been
pronounced by competent critics decidedly "worth it"--unmistakably "good
enough"; and they were to be brought out as soon as possible.

"Of course you understand," explained Cyril, "that there's no 'hit'
expected. Thank heaven they aren't that sort! And there's no great money
in it, either. You'd have to write a masterpiece like 'She's my Ju-Ju
Baby' or some such gem to get the 'hit' and the money. But the songs are
fine, and they'll take with cultured hearers. We'll get them introduced
by good singers, of course, and they'll be favorites soon for the
concert stage, and for parlors."

Billy saw a good deal of Cyril now. Already she was at work rewriting
and polishing some of her half-completed melodies, and Cyril was helping
her, by his interest as well as by his criticism. He was, in fact,
at the house very frequently--too frequently, indeed, to suit either
Bertram or Calderwell. Even William frowned sometimes when his cozy
chats with Billy were interrupted by Cyril's appearing with a roll of
new music for her to "try"; though William told himself that he ought
to be thankful if there was anything that could make Cyril more
companionable, less reserved and morose. And Cyril WAS different--there
was no disputing that. Calderwell said that he had come "out of his
shell"; and Bertram told Billy that she must have "found his note and
struck it good and hard."

Billy was very happy. To the little music teacher, Marie Hawthorn, she
talked more freely, perhaps, than she did to any one else.

"It's so wonderful, Marie--so wonderfully wonderful," she said one
day, "to sit here in my own room and sing a little song that comes from
somewhere, anywhere, out of the sky itself. Then by and by, that little
song will fly away, away, over land and sea; and some day it will touch
somebody's heart just as it has touched mine. Oh, Marie, is it not
wonderful?"

"It is, dear--and it is not. Your songs could not help reaching
somebody's heart. There's nothing wonderful in that."

"Sweet flatterer!"

"But I mean it. They are beautiful; and so is--Mr. Henshaw's music."

"Yes, it is," murmured Billy, abstractedly.

There was a long pause, then Marie asked with shy hesitation:

"Do you think, Miss Billy--that he would care? I listened yesterday when
he was playing to you. I was up here in your room, but when I heard the
music I--I went out, on the stairs and sat down. Was it very--bad of
me?"

Billy laughed happily.

"If it was, he can't say anything," she reassured her. "He's done the
same thing himself--and so have I."

"HE has done it!"

"Yes. It was at his home last Thanksgiving. It was then that he found
out--about my improvising."

"Oh-h!" Marie's eyes were wistful. "And he cares so much now for your
music!"

"Does he? Do you think he does?" demanded Billy.

"I know he does--and for the one who makes it, too."

"Nonsense!" laughed Billy, with pinker cheeks. "It's the music, not the
musician, that pleases him. Mr. Cyril doesn't like women."

"He doesn't like women!"

"No. But don't look so shocked, my dear. Every one who knows Mr. Cyril
knows that."

"But I don't think--I believe it," demurred Marie, gazing straight into
Billy's eyes. "I'm sure I don't believe it."

Under the little music teacher's steady gaze Billy flushed again. The
laugh she gave was an embarrassed one, but through it vibrated a pleased
ring.

"Nonsense!" she exclaimed, springing to her feet and moving restlessly
about the room. With the next breath she had changed the subject to one
far removed from Mr. Cyril and his likes and dislikes.

Some time later Billy played, and it was then that Marie drew a long
sigh.

"How beautiful it must be to play--like that," she breathed.

"As if you, a music teacher, could not play!" laughed Billy.

"Not like that, dear. You know it is not like that."

Billy frowned.

"But you are so accurate, Marie, and you can read at sight so rapidly!"

"Oh, yes, like a little machine, I know!" scorned the usually gentle
Marie, bitterly. "Don't they have a thing of metal that adds figures
like magic? Well, I'm like that. I see g and I play g; I see d and I
play d; I see f and I play f; and after I've seen enough g's and d's and
f's and played them all, the thing is done. I've played."

"Why, Marie! Marie, my dear!" The second exclamation was very tender,
for Marie was crying.

"There! I knew I should some day have it out--all out," sobbed Marie. "I
felt it coming."

"Then perhaps you'll--you'll feel better now," stammered Billy. She
tried to say more--other words that would have been a real comfort; but
her tongue refused to speak them. She knew so well, so woefully well,
how very wooden and mechanical the little music teacher's playing
always had been. But that Marie should realize it herself like this--the
tragedy of it made Billy's heart ache. At Marie's next words, however,
Billy caught her breath in surprise.

"But you see it wasn't music--it wasn't ever music that I wanted--to
do," she confessed.

"It wasn't music! But what--I don't understand," murmured Billy.

"No, I suppose not," sighed the other. "You play so beautifully
yourself."

"But I thought you loved music."

"I do. I love it dearly--in others. But I can't--I don't want to make it
myself."

"But what do you want to do?"

Marie laughed suddenly.

"Do you know, my dear, I have half a mind to tell you what I do like to
do--just to make you stare."

"Well?" Billy's eyes were wide with interest.

"I like best of anything to--darn stockings and make puddings."

"Marie!"

"Rank heresy, isn't it?" smiled Marie, tearfully. "But I do, truly. I
love to weave the threads evenly in and out, and see a big hole close.
As for the puddings I don't mean the common bread-and-butter kind, but
the ones that have whites of eggs and fruit, and pretty quivery jellies
all ruby and amber lights, you know."

"You dear little piece of domesticity," laughed Billy. "Then why in the
world don't you do these things?"

"I can't, in my own kitchen; I can't afford a kitchen to do them in. And
I just couldn't do them--right along--in other people's kitchens."

"But why do you--play?"

"I was brought up to it. You know we had money once, lots of it," sighed
Marie, as if she were deploring a misfortune. "And mother was determined
to have me musical. Even then, as a little tot, I liked pudding-making,
and after my mud-pie days I was always begging mother to let me go down
into the kitchen, to cook. But she wouldn't allow it, ever. She engaged
the most expensive masters and set me practising, always practising.
I simply had to learn music; and I learned it like the adding machine.
Then afterward, when father died, and then mother, and the money flew
away, why, of course I had to do something, so naturally I turned to
the music. It was all I could do. But--well, you know how it is, dear. I
teach, and teach well, perhaps, so far as the mechanical part goes; but
as for the rest--I am always longing for a cozy corner with a basket of
stockings to mend, or a kitchen where there is a pudding waiting to be
made."

"You poor dear!" cried Billy. "I've a pair of stockings now that needs
attention, and I've been just longing for one of your 'quivery jellies
all ruby and amber lights' ever since you mentioned them. But--well, is
there anything I could do to help?"

"Nothing, thank you," sighed Marie, rising wearily to her feet, and
covering her eyes with her hand for a moment. "My head aches shockingly,
but I've got to go this minute and instruct little Jennie Knowls how to
play the wonderful scale of G with a black key in it. Besides, you do
help me, you have helped me, you are always helping me, dear," she added
remorsefully; "and it's wicked of me to make that shadow come to your
eyes. Please don't think of it, or of me, any more." And with a
choking little sob she hurried from the room, followed by the amazed,
questioning, sorrowful eyes of Billy.



CHAPTER XXVIII

"I'M GOING TO WIN"


Nearly all of Billy's friends knew that Bertram Henshaw was in love with
Billy Neilson before Billy herself knew it. Not that they regarded it
as anything serious--"it's only Bertram" was still said of him on almost
all occasions. But to Bertram himself it was very serious.

The world to Bertram, indeed, had come to assume a vastly different
aspect from what it had displayed in times past. Heretofore it had been
a plaything which like a juggler's tinsel ball might be tossed from hand
to hand at will. Now it was no plaything--no glittering bauble. It
was something big and serious and splendid--because Billy lived in it;
something that demanded all his powers to do, and be--because Billy was
watching; something that might be a Hades of torment or an Elysium of
bliss--according to whether Billy said "no" or "yes."

Since Thanksgiving Bertram had known that it was love--this consuming
fire within him; and since Thanksgiving he had known, too, that it
was jealousy--this fierce hatred of Calderwell. He was ashamed of the
hatred. He told himself that it was unmanly, unkind, and unreasonable;
and he vowed that he would overcome it. At times he even fancied that
he had overcome it; but always the sight of Calderwell in Billy's little
drawing-room or of even the man's card on Billy's silver tray was enough
to show him that he had not.

There were others, too, who annoyed Bertram not a little, foremost of
these being his own brothers. Still he was not really worried about
William and Cyril, he told himself. William he did not consider to be a
marrying man; and Cyril--every one knew that Cyril was a woman-hater.
He was doubtless attracted now only by Billy's music. There was no
real rivalry to be feared from William and Cyril. But there was always
Calderwell, and Calderwell was serious. Bertram decided, therefore,
after some weeks of feverish unrest, that the only road to peace lay
through a frank avowal of his feelings, and a direct appeal to Billy to
give him the great boon of her love.

Just here, however, Bertram met with an unexpected difficulty. He could
not find words with which to make his avowal or to present his appeal.
He was surprised and annoyed. Never before had he been at a loss for
words--mere words. And it was not that he lacked opportunity. He
walked, drove, and talked with Billy, and always she was companionable,
attentive to what he had to say. Never was she cold or reserved. Never
did she fail to greet him with a cheery smile.

Bertram concluded, indeed, after a time, that she was too companionable,
too cheery. He wished she would hesitate, stammer, blush; be a
little shy. He wished that she would display surprise, annoyance,
even--anything but that eternal air of comradeship. And then, one
afternoon in the early twilight of a January day, he freed his mind,
quite unexpectedly.

"Billy, I wish you WOULDN'T be so--so friendly!" he exclaimed in a voice
that was almost sharp.

Billy laughed at first, but the next moment a shamed distress drove the
merriment quite out of her face.

"You mean that I presume on--on our friendship?" she stammered. "That
you fear that I will again--shadow your footsteps?" It was the first
time since the memorable night itself that Billy had ever in Bertram's
presence referred to her young guardianship of his welfare. She realized
now, suddenly, that she had just been giving the man before her some
very "sisterly advice," and the thought sent a confused red to her
cheeks.

Bertram turned quickly.

"Billy, that was the dearest and loveliest thing a girl ever did--only
I was too great a chump to appreciate it!" finished Bertram in a voice
that was not quite steady.

"Thank you," smiled the girl, with a slow shake of her head and a
relieved look in her eyes; "but I'm afraid I can't quite agree to that."
The next moment she had demanded mischievously: "Why, then, pray, this
unflattering objection to my--friendliness now?"

"Because I don't want you for a friend, or a sister, or anything else
that's related," stormed Bertram, with sudden vehemence. "I don't want
you for anything but--a wife! Billy, WON'T you marry me?"

Again Billy laughed--laughed until she saw the pained anger leap to the
gray eyes before her; then she became grave at once.

"Bertram, forgive me. I didn't think you could--you can't be--serious!"

"But I am."

Billy shook her head.

"But you don't love me--not ME, Bertram. It's only the turn of my head
or--or the tilt of my chin that you love--to paint," she protested,
unconsciously echoing the words Calderwell had said to her weeks before.
"I'm only another 'Face of a Girl.'"

"You're the only 'Face of a girl' to me now, Billy," declared the man,
with disarming tenderness.

"No, no, not that," demurred Billy, in distress. "You don't mean it. You
only think you do. It couldn't be that. It can't be!"

"But it is, dear. I think I have loved you ever since that night long
ago when I saw your dear, startled face appealing to me from beyond
Seaver's hateful smile. And, Billy, I never went once with Seaver
again--anywhere. Did you know that?"

"No; but--I'm glad--so glad!"

"And I'm glad, too. So you see, I must have loved you then, though
unconsciously, perhaps; and I love you now."

"No, no, please don't say that. It can't be--it really can't be. I--I
don't love you--that way, Bertram."

The man paled a little.

"Billy--forgive me for asking, but it's so much to me--is it that there
is--some one else?" His voice shook.

"No, no, indeed! There is no one."

"It's not--Calderwell?"

Billy's forehead grew pink. She laughed nervously.

"No, no, never!"

"But there are others, so many others!"

"Nonsense, Bertram; there's no one--no one, I assure you!"

"It's not William, of course, nor Cyril. Cyril hates women."

A deeper flush came to Billy's face. Her chin rose a little; and an odd
defiance flashed from her eyes. But almost instantly it was gone, and a
slow smile had come to her lips.

"Yes, I know. Every one--says that Cyril hates women," she observed
demurely.

"Then, Billy, I sha'n't give up!" vowed Bertram, softly. "Sometime you
WILL love me!"

"No, no, I couldn't. That is, I'm not going to--to marry," stammered
Billy.

"Not going to marry!"

"No. There's my music--you know how I love that, and how much it is to
me. I don't think there'll ever be a man--that I'll love better."

Bertram lifted his head. Very slowly he rose till his splendid six feet
of clean-limbed strength and manly beauty towered away above the low
chair in which Billy sat. His mouth showed new lines about the corners,
and his eyes looked down very tenderly at the girl beside him; but
his voice, when he spoke, had a light whimsicality that deceived even
Billy's ears.

"And so it's music--a cold, senseless thing of spidery marks on clean
white paper--that is my only rival," he cried. "Then I'll warn you,
Billy, I'll warn you. I'm going to win!" And with that he was gone.



CHAPTER XXIX

"I'M NOT GOING TO MARRY"


Billy did not know whether to be more amazed or amused at Bertram's
proposal of marriage. She was vexed; she was very sure of that. To marry
Bertram? Absurd!... Then she reflected that, after all, it was only
Bertram, so she calmed herself.

Still, it was annoying. She liked Bertram, she had always liked him. He
was a nice boy, and a most congenial companion. He never bored her, as
did some others; and he was always thoughtful of cushions and footstools
and cups of tea when one was tired. He was, in fact, an ideal friend,
just the sort she wanted; and it was such a pity that he must spoil it
all now with this silly sentimentality! And of course he had spoiled it
all. There was no going back now to their old friendliness. He would be
morose or silly by turns, according to whether she frowned or smiled;
or else he would take himself off in a tragic sort of way that was very
disturbing. He had said, to be sure, that he would "win." Win, indeed!
As if she could marry Bertram! When she married, her choice would fall
upon a man, not a boy; a big, grave, earnest man to whom the world meant
something; a man who loved music, of course; a man who would single her
out from all the world, and show to her, and to her only, the depth
and tenderness of his love; a man who--but she was not going to marry,
anyway, remembered Billy, suddenly. And with that she began to cry. The
whole thing was so "tiresome," she declared, and so "absurd."

Billy rather dreaded her next meeting with Bertram. She feared--she knew
not what. But, as it turned out, she need not have feared anything, for
he met her tranquilly, cheerfully, as usual; and he did nothing and said
nothing that he might not have done and said before that twilight chat
took place.

Billy was relieved. She concluded that, after all, Bertram was going
to be sensible. She decided that she, too, would be sensible. She would
accept him on this, his chosen plane, and she would think no more of his
"nonsense."

Billy threw herself then even more enthusiastically into her beloved
work. She told Marie that after all was said and done, there could not
be any man that would tip the scales one inch with music on the other
side. She was a little hurt, it is true, when Marie only laughed and
answered:

"But what if the man and the music both happen to be on the same side,
my dear; what then?"

Marie's voice was wistful, in spite of the laugh--so wistful that it
reminded Billy of their conversation a few weeks before.

"But it is you, Marie, who want the stockings to darn and the puddings
to make," she retorted playfully. "Not I! And, do you know? I believe I
shall turn matchmaker yet, and find you a man; and the chiefest of his
qualifications shall be that he's wretchedly hard on his hose, and that
he adores puddings."

"No, no, Miss Billy, don't, please!" begged the other, in quick terror.
"Forget all I said the other day; please do! Don't tell--anybody!"

She was so obviously distressed and frightened that Billy was puzzled.

"There, there, 'twas only a jest, of course," she soothed her. "But,
really Marie, it is the dear, domestic little mouse like yourself that
ought to be somebody's wife--and that's the kind men are looking for,
too."

Marie gave a slow shake of her head.

"Not the kind of man that is somebody, that does something," she
objected; "and that's the only kind I could--love. HE wants a wife that
is beautiful and clever, that can do things like himself--LIKE HIMSELF!"
she iterated feverishly.

Billy opened wide her eyes.

"Why, Marie, one would think--you already knew--such a man," she cried.

The little music teacher changed her position, and turned her eyes away.

"I do, of course," she retorted in a merry voice, "lots of them. Don't
you? Come, we've discussed my matrimonial prospects quite long enough,"
she went on lightly. "You know we started with yours. Suppose we go back
to those."

"But I haven't any," demurred Billy, as she turned with a smile to greet
Aunt Hannah, who had just entered the room. "I'm not going to marry; am
I, Aunt Hannah?"

"Er--what? Marry? My grief and conscience, what a question, Billy!
Of course you're going to marry--when the time comes!" exclaimed Aunt
Hannah.

Billy laughed and shook her head vigorously. But even as she opened
her lips to reply, Rosa appeared and announced that Mr. Calderwell was
waiting down-stairs. Billy was angry then, for after the maid was gone,
the merriment in Aunt Hannah's laugh only matched that in Marie's--and
the intonation was unmistakable.

"Well, I'm not!" declared Billy with pink cheeks and much indignation,
as she left the room. And as if to convince herself, Marie, Aunt Hannah,
and all the world that such was the case, she refused Calderwell so
decidedly that night when he, for the half-dozenth time, laid his hand
and heart at her feet, that even Calderwell himself was convinced--so
far as his own case was concerned--and left town the next day.

Bertram told Aunt Hannah afterward that he understood Mr. Calderwell
had gone to parts unknown. To himself Bertram shamelessly owned that the
more "unknown" they were, the better he himself would be pleased.



CHAPTER XXX

MARIE FINDS A FRIEND


It was on a very cold January afternoon, and Cyril was hurrying up the
hill toward Billy's house, when he was startled to see a slender young
woman sitting on a curbstone with her head against an electric-light
post. He stopped abruptly.

"I beg your pardon, but--why, Miss Hawthorn! It is Miss Hawthorn; isn't
it?"

Under his questioning eyes the girl's pale face became so painfully
scarlet that in sheer pity the man turned his eyes away. He thought he
had seen women blush before, but he decided now that he had not.

"I'm sure--haven't I met you at Miss Neilson's? Are you ill? Can't I do
something for you?" he begged.

"Yes--no--that is, I AM Miss Hawthorn, and I've met you at Miss
Neilson's," stammered the girl, faintly. "But there isn't anything,
thank you, that you can do--Mr. Henshaw. I stopped to--rest."

The man frowned.

"But, surely--pardon me, Miss Hawthorn, but I can't think it your
usual custom to choose an icy curbstone for a resting place, with the
thermometer down to zero. You must be ill. Let me take you to Miss
Neilson's."

"No, no, thank you," cried the girl, struggling to her feet, the vivid
red again flooding her face. "I have a lesson--to give."

"Nonsense! You're not fit to give a lesson. Besides, they are all
folderol, anyway, half of them. A dozen lessons, more or less, won't
make any difference; they'll play just as well--and just as atrociously.
Come, I insist upon taking you to Miss Neilson's."

"No, no, thank you! I really mustn't. I--" She could say no more. A
strong, yet very gentle hand had taken firm hold of her arm in such
a way as half to support her. A force quite outside of herself was
carrying her forward step by step--and Miss Hawthorn was not used to
strong, gentle hands, nor yet to a force quite outside of herself.
Neither was she accustomed to walk arm in arm with Mr. Cyril Henshaw to
Miss Billy's door. When she reached there her cheeks were like red roses
for color, and her eyes were like the stars for brightness. Yet a minute
later, confronted by Miss Billy's astonished eyes, the stars and the
roses fled, and a very white-faced girl fell over in a deathlike faint
in Cyril Henshaw's arms.

Marie was put to bed in the little room next to Billy's, and was
peremptorily hushed when faint remonstrance was made. The next morning,
white-faced and wide-eyed, she resolutely pulled herself half upright,
and announced that she was all well and must go home--home to Marie was
a six-by-nine hall bed-room in a South End lodging house.

Very gently Billy pushed her back on the pillow and laid a detaining
hand on her arm.

"No, dear. Now, please be sensible and listen to reason. You are my
guest. You did not know it, perhaps, for I'm afraid the invitation got a
little delayed. But you're to stay--oh, lots of weeks."

"I--stay here? Why, I can't--indeed, I can't," protested Marie.

"But that isn't a bit of a nice way to accept an invitation,"
disapproved Billy. "You should say, 'Thank you, I'd be delighted, I'm
sure, and I'll stay.'"

In spite of herself the little music teacher laughed, and in the laugh
her tense muscles relaxed.

"Miss Billy, Miss Billy, what is one to do with you? Surely you
know--you must know that I can't do what you ask!"

"I'm sure I don't see why not," argued Billy. "I'm merely giving you an
invitation and all you have to do is to accept it."

"But the invitation is only the kind way your heart has of covering
another of your many charities," objected Marie; "besides, I have to
teach. I have my living to earn."

"But you can't," demurred the other. "That's just the trouble. Don't
you see? The doctor said last night that you must not teach again this
winter."

"Not teach--again--this winter! No, no, he could not be so cruel as
that!"

"It wasn't cruel, dear; it was kind. You would be ill if you attempted
it. Now you'll get better. He says all you need is rest and care--and
that's exactly what I mean my guest shall have."

Quick tears came to the sick girl's eyes.

"There couldn't be a kinder heart than yours, Miss Billy," she murmured,
"but I couldn't--I really couldn't be a burden to you like this. I shall
go to some hospital."

"But you aren't going to be a burden. You are going to be my friend and
companion."

"A companion--and in bed like this?"

"Well, THAT wouldn't be impossible," smiled Billy; "but, as it happens
you won't have to put that to the test, for you'll soon be up and
dressed. The doctor says so. Now surely you will stay."

There was a long pause. The little music teacher's eyes had left Billy's
face and were circling the room, wistfully lingering on the hangings of
filmy lace, the dainty wall covering, and the exquisite water colors in
their white-and-gold frames. At last she drew a deep sigh.

"Yes, I'll stay," she breathed rapturously; "but--you must let me help."

"Help? Help what?"

"Help you; your letters, your music-copying, your accounts--anything,
everything. And if you don't let me help,"--the music teacher's
voice was very stern now--"if you don't let me help, I shall go home
just--as--soon--as--I--can--walk!"

"Dear me!" dimpled Billy. "And is that all? Well, you shall help, and to
your heart's content, too. In fact, I'm not at all sure that I sha'n't
keep you darning stockings and making puddings all the time," she added
mischievously, as she left the room.

Miss Hawthorn sat up the next day. The day following, in one of Billy's
"fluttery wrappers," as she called them, she walked all about the room.
Very soon she was able to go down-stairs, and in an astonishingly short
time she fitted into the daily life as if she had always been there. She
was, moreover, of such assistance to Billy that even she herself could
see the value of her work; and so she stayed, content.

The little music teacher saw a good deal of Billy's friends then,
particularly of the Henshaw brothers; and very glad was Billy to see the
comradeship growing between them. She had known that William would
be kind to the orphan girl, but she had feared that Marie would not
understand Bertram's nonsense or Cyril's reserve. But very soon Bertram
had begged, and obtained, permission to try to reproduce on canvas the
sheen of the fine, fair hair, and the veiled bloom of the rose-leaf skin
that were Marie's greatest charms; and already Cyril had unbent from his
usual stiffness enough to play to her twice. So Billy's fears on that
score were at an end.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE ENGAGEMENT OF ONE


Many times during those winter days Billy thought of Marie's words: "But
what if the man and the music both happen to be on the same side?" They
worried her, to some extent, and, curiously, they pleased and displeased
her at the same time.

She told herself that she knew very well, of course, what Marie meant:
it was Cyril; he was the man, and the music. But was Cyril beginning
to care for her; and did she want him to? Very seriously one day Billy
asked herself these questions; very calmly she argued the matter in her
mind--as was Billy's way.

She was proud, certainly, of what her influence had apparently done for
Cyril. She was gratified that to her he was showing the real depth and
beauty of his nature. It WAS flattering to feel that she, and only she,
had thus won the regard of a professional woman-hater. Then, besides
all this, there was his music--his glorious music. Think of the bliss
of living ever with that! Imagine life with a man whose soul would be so
perfectly attuned to hers that existence would be one grand harmony!
Ah, that, truly, would be the ideal marriage! But she had planned not to
marry. Billy frowned now, and tapped her foot nervously. It was, indeed,
most puzzling--this question, and she did not want to make a mistake.
Then, too, she did not wish to wound Cyril. If the dear man HAD come
out of his icy prison, and were reaching out timid hands to her for
her help, her interest, her love--the tragedy of it, if he met with
no response!.... This vision of Cyril with outstretched hands, and of
herself with cold, averted eyes was the last straw in the balance with
Billy. She decided suddenly that she did care for Cyril--a little; and
that she probably could care for him a great deal. With this thought,
Billy blushed--already in her own mind she was as good as pledged to
Cyril.

It was a great change for Billy--this sudden leap from girlhood and
irresponsibility to womanhood and care; but she took it fearlessly,
resolutely. If she was to be Cyril's wife she must make herself fit
for it--and in pursuance of this high ideal she followed Marie into the
kitchen the very next time the little music teacher went out to make one
of her dainty desserts that the family liked so well.

"I'll just watch, if you don't mind," announced Billy.

"Why, of course not," smiled Marie, "but I thought you didn't like to
make puddings."

"I don't," owned Billy, cheerfully.

"Then why this--watchfulness?"

"Nothing, only I thought it might be just as well if I knew how to make
them. You know how Cyril--that is, ALL the Henshaw boys like every kind
you make."

The egg in Marie's hand slipped from her fingers and crashed untidily
on the shelf. With a gleeful laugh Billy welcomed the diversion. She had
not meant to speak so plainly. It was one thing to try to fit herself
to be Cyril's wife, and quite another to display those efforts so openly
before the world.

The pudding was made at last, but Marie proved to be a nervous teacher.
Her hand shook, and her memory almost failed her at one or two critical
points. Billy laughingly said that it must be stage fright, owing to
the presence of herself as spectator; and with this Marie promptly, and
somewhat effusively, agreed.

So very busy was Billy during the next few days, acquiring her new
domesticity, that she did not notice how little she was seeing of Cyril.
Then she suddenly realized it, and asked herself the reason for it.
Cyril was at the house certainly, just as frequently as he had been; but
she saw that a new shyness in herself had developed which was causing
her to be restless in his presence, and was leading her to like better
to have Marie or Aunt Hannah in the room when he called. She discovered,
too, that she welcomed William, and even Bertram, with peculiar
enthusiasm--if they happened to interrupt a tete-a-tete with Cyril.

Billy was disturbed at this. She told herself that this shyness was not
strange, perhaps, inasmuch as her ideas in regard to love and marriage
had undergone so abrupt a change; but it must be overcome. If she was to
be Cyril's wife, she must like to be with him--and of course she really
did like to be with him, for she had enjoyed his companionship very
much during all these past weeks. She set herself therefore, now,
determinedly to cultivating Cyril.

It was then that Billy made a strange and fearsome discovery: there were
some things about Cyril that she did--not--like!

Billy was inexpressibly shocked. Heretofore he had been so high, so
irreproachable, so god-like!--but heretofore he had been a friend.
Now he was appearing in a new role--though unconsciously, she knew.
Heretofore she had looked at him with eyes that saw only the delightful
and marvelous unfolding of a coldly reserved nature under the warmth of
her own encouraging smile. Now she looked at him with eyes that saw only
the possibilities of that same nature when it should have been unfolded
in a lifelong companionship. And what she saw frightened her. There was
still the music--she acknowledged that; but it had come to Billy with
overwhelming force that music, after all, was not everything. The man
counted, as well. Very frankly then Billy stated the case to herself.

"What passes for 'fascinating mystery' in him now will be plain
moroseness--sometime. He is 'taciturn' now; he'll be--cross, then. It is
'erratic' when he won't play the piano to-day; but a few years from now,
when he refuses some simple request of mine, it will be--stubbornness.
All this it will be--if I don't love him; and I don't. I know I don't.
Besides, we aren't really congenial. I like people around; he doesn't.
I like to go to plays; he doesn't. He likes rainy days; I abhor them.
There is no doubt of it--life with him would not be one grand harmony;
it would be one jangling discord. I simply cannot marry him. I shall
have to break the engagement!"

Billy spoke with regretful sorrow. It was evident that she grieved to
bring pain to Cyril. Then suddenly the gloom left her face: she had
remembered that the "engagement" was just three weeks old--and was a
profound secret, not only to the bridegroom elect, but to all the world
as well--save herself!

Billy was very happy after that. She sang about the house all day, and
she danced sometimes from room to room, so light were her feet and her
heart. She made no more puddings with Marie's supervision, but she was
particularly careful to have the little music teacher or Aunt Hannah
with her when Cyril called. She made up her mind, it is true, that she
had been mistaken, and that Cyril did not love her; still she wished to
be on the safe side, and she became more and more averse to being left
alone with him for any length of time.



CHAPTER XXXII

CYRIL HAS SOMETHING TO SAY


Long before spring Billy was forced to own to herself that her fancied
security from lovemaking on the part of Cyril no longer existed. She
began to suspect that there was reason for her fears. Cyril certainly
was "different." He was more approachable, less reserved, even with
Marie and Aunt Hannah. He was not nearly so taciturn, either, and he
was much more gracious about his playing. Even Marie dared to ask him
frequently for music, and he never refused her request. Three times he
had taken Billy to some play that she wanted to see, and he had invited
Marie, too, besides Aunt Hannah, which had pleased Billy very much.
He had been at the same time so genial and so gallant that Billy had
declared to Marie afterward that he did not seem like himself at all,
but like some one else.

Marie had disagreed with her, it is true, and had said stiffly:

"I'm sure I thought he seemed very much like himself." But that had not
changed Billy's opinion at all.

To Billy's mind, nothing but love could so have softened the stern Cyril
she had known. She was, therefore, all the more careful these days to
avoid a tete-a-tete with him, though she was not always successful,
particularly owing to Marie's unaccountable perverseness in so often
having letters to write or work to do, just when Billy most wanted
her to make a safe third with herself and Cyril. It was upon such an
occasion, after Marie had abruptly left them alone together, that Cyril
had observed, a little sharply:

"Billy, I wish you wouldn't say again what you said ten minutes ago when
Miss Marie was here."

"What was that?"

"A very silly reference to that old notion that you and every one else
seem to have that I am a 'woman-hater.'"

Billy's heart skipped a beat. One thought, pounded through her brain and
dinned itself into her ears--at all costs Cyril must not be allowed to
say that which she so feared; he must be saved from himself.

"Woman-hater? Why, of course you're a woman-hater," she cried merrily.
"I'm sure, I--I think it's lovely to be a woman-hater."

The man opened wide his eyes; then he frowned angrily.

"Nonsense, Billy, I know better. Besides, I'm in earnest, and I'm not a
woman-hater."

"Oh, but every one says you are," chattered Billy. "And, after all, you
know it IS distinguishing!"

With a disdainful exclamation the man sprang to his feet. For a time he
paced the room in silence, watched by Billy's fearful eyes; then he came
back and dropped into the low chair at Billy's side. His whole manner
had undergone a complete change. He was almost shamefaced as he said:

"Billy, I suppose I might as well own up. I don't think I did think much
of women until I saw--you."

Billy swallowed and wet her lips. She tried to speak; but before she
could form the words the man went on with his remarks; and Billy did not
know whether to be the more relieved or frightened thereat.

"But you see now it's different. That's why I don't like to sail any
longer under false colors. There's been a change--a great and wonderful
change that I hardly understand myself."

"That's it! You don't understand it, I'm sure," interposed Billy,
feverishly. "It may not be such a change, after all. You may be
deceiving yourself," she finished hopefully.

The man sighed.

"I can't wonder you think so, of course," he almost groaned. "I was
afraid it would be like that. When one's been painted black all one's
life, it's not easy to change one's color, of course."

"Oh, but I didn't say that black wasn't a very nice color," stammered
Billy, a little wildly.

"Thank you." Cyril's heavy brows rose and fell the fraction of an inch.
"Still, I must confess that just now I should prefer another shade."

He paused, and Billy cast distractedly about in her mind for a simple,
natural change of subject. She had just decided to ask him what he
thought of the condition of the Brittany peasants, when he questioned
abruptly, and in a voice that was not quite steady:

"Billy, what should you say if I should tell you that the avowed
woman-hater had strayed so far from the prescribed path as to--to like
one woman well enough as to want to--marry her?"

The word was like a match to the gunpowder of Billy's fears. Her
self-control was shattered instantly into bits.

"Marry? No, no, you wouldn't--you couldn't really be thinking of that,"
she babbled, growing red and white by turns. "Only think how a wife
would--would b-bother you!"

"Bother me? When I loved her?"

"But just think--remember! She'd want cushions and rugs and curtains,
and you don't like them; and she'd always be talking and laughing when
you wanted quiet; and she--she'd want to drag you out to plays and
parties and--and everywhere. Indeed, Cyril, I'm sure you'd never like a
wife--long!" Billy stopped only because she had no breath with which to
continue.

Cyril laughed a little grimly.

"You don't draw a very attractive picture, Billy. Still, I'm not afraid.
I don't think this particular--wife would do any of those things--to
trouble me."

"Oh, but you don't know, you can't tell," argued the girl. "Besides, you
have had so little experience with women that you'd just be sure to
make a mistake at first. You want to look around very carefully--very
carefully, before you decide."

"I have looked around, and very carefully, Billy. I know that in all the
world there is just one woman for me."

Billy struggled to her feet. Mingled pain and terror looked from her
eyes. She began to speak wildly, incoherently. She wondered afterward
just what she would have said if Aunt Hannah had not come into the room
at that moment and announced that Bertram was at the door to take her
for a sleigh-ride if she cared to go.

"Of course she'll go," declared Cyril, promptly, answering for her.
"It is time I was off anyhow." To Billy, he said in a low voice: "You
haven't been very encouraging, little girl--in fact, you've been mighty
discouraging. But some day--some other day, I'll try to make clear to
you--many things."

Billy greeted Bertram very cordially. It was such a relief--his cheery,
genial companionship! The air, too, was bracing, and all the world
lay under a snow-white blanket of sparkling purity. Everything was so
beautiful, so restful!

It was not surprising, perhaps, that the very frankness of Billy's joy
misled Bertram a little. His blood tingled at her nearness, and his eyes
grew deep and tender as he looked down at her happy face. But of all the
eager words that were so near his lips, not one reached the girl's ears
until the good-byes were said; then wistfully Bertram hazarded:

"Billy, don't you think, sometimes, that I'm gaining--just a little on
that rival of mine--that music?"

Billy's face clouded. She shook her head gently.

"Bertram, please don't--when we've had such a beautiful hour together,"
she begged. "It troubles me. If you do, I can't go--again."

"But you shall go again," cried Bertram, bravely smiling straight into
her eyes. "And there sha'n't ever anything in the world trouble you,
either--that I can help!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

WILLIAM IS WORRIED


Billy's sleigh-ride had been due to the kindness of a belated winter
storm that had surprised every one the last of March. After that, March,
as if ashamed of her untoward behavior, donned her sweetest smiles and
"went out" like the proverbial lamb. With the coming of April, and the
stirring of life in the trees, Billy, too, began to be restless; and at
the earliest possible moment she made her plans for her long anticipated
"digging in the dirt."

Just here, much to her surprise, she met with wonderful assistance from
Bertram. He seemed to know just when and where and how to dig, and he
displayed suddenly a remarkable knowledge of landscape gardening. (That
this knowledge was as recent in its acquirement as it was sudden in its
display, Billy did not know.) Very learnedly he talked of perennials and
annuals; and without hesitation he made out a list of flowering shrubs
and plants that would give her a "succession of bloom throughout
the season." His words and phrases smacked loudly of the very newest
florists' catalogues, but Billy did not notice that. She only wondered
at the seemingly exhaustless source of his wisdom.

"I suspect 'twould have been better if we'd begun things last fall," he
told her frowningly one day. "But there's plenty we can do now anyway;
and we'll put in some quick-growing things, just for this season, until
we can get the more permanent things established."

And so they worked together, studying, scheming, ordering plants
and seeds, their two heads close together above the gaily colored
catalogues. Later there was the work itself to be done, and though
strong men did the heavier part, there was yet plenty left for Billy's
eager fingers--and for Bertram's. And if sometimes in the intimacy of
seed-sowing and plant-setting, the touch of the slenderer fingers sent
a thrill through the browner ones, Bertram made no sign. He was careful
always to be the cheerful, helpful assistant--and that was all.

Billy, it is true, was a little disturbed at being quite so much with
Bertram. She dreaded a repetition of some such words as had been uttered
at the end of the sleigh-ride. She told herself that she had no right
to grieve Bertram, to make it hard for him by being with him; but at
the very next breath, she could but question; did she grieve him? Was
it hard for him to have her with him? Then she would glance at his eager
face and meet his buoyant smile--and answer "no." After that, for a
time, at least, her fears would be less.

Systematically Billy avoided Cyril these days. She could not forget his
promise to make many things clear to her some day. She thought she knew
what he meant--that he would try to convince her (as she had tried to
convince herself) that she would make a good wife for him.

Billy was very sure that if Cyril could be prevented from speaking his
mind just now, his mind would change in time; hence her determination to
give his mind that opportunity.

Billy's avoidance of Cyril was the more easily accomplished because she
was for a time taking a complete rest from her music. The new songs
had been finished and sent to the publishers. There was no excuse,
therefore, for Cyril's coming to the house on that score; and, indeed,
he seemed of his own accord to be making only infrequent visits now.
Billy was pleased, particularly as Marie was not there to play third
party. Marie had taken up her teaching again, much to Billy's distress.

"But I can't stay here always, like this," Marie had protested.

"But I should like to keep you!" Billy had responded, with no less
decision.

Marie had been firm, however, and had gone, leaving the little house
lonely without her.

Aside from her work in the garden Billy as resolutely avoided Bertram as
she did Cyril. It was natural, therefore, that at this crisis she should
turn to William with a peculiar feeling of restfulness. He, at least,
would be safe, she told herself. So she frankly welcomed his every
appearance, sung to him, played to him, and took long walks with him
to see some wonderful bracelet or necklace that he had discovered in a
dingy little curio-shop.

William was delighted. He was very fond of his namesake, and he had
secretly chafed a little at the way his younger brothers had monopolized
her attention. He was rejoiced now that she seemed to be turning to him
for companionship; and very eagerly he accepted all the time she could
give him.

William had, in truth, been growing more and more lonely ever since
Billy's brief stay beneath his roof years before. Those few short weeks
of her merry presence had shown him how very forlorn the house was
without it. More and more sorrowfully during past years, his thoughts
had gone back to the little white flannel bundle and to the dear hopes
it had carried so long ago. If the boy had only lived, thought William,
mournfully, there would not now have been that dreary silence in his
home, and that sore ache in his heart.

Very soon after William had first seen Billy, he began to lay wonderful
plans, and in every plan was Billy. She was not his child by flesh and
blood, he acknowledged, but she was his by right of love and needed
care. In fancy he looked straight down the years ahead, and everywhere
he saw Billy, a loving, much-loved daughter, the joy of his life, the
solace of his declining years.

To no one had William talked of this--and to no one did he show the
bitterness of his grief when he saw his vision fade into nothingness
through Billy's unchanging refusal to live in his home. Only he himself
knew the heartache, the loneliness, the almost unbearable longing of
the past winter months while Billy had lived at Hillside; and only he
himself knew now the almost overwhelming joy that was his because of
what he thought he saw in Billy's changed attitude toward himself.

Great as was William's joy, however, his caution was greater. He said
nothing to Billy of his new hopes, though he did try to pave the way by
dropping an occasional word about the loneliness of the Beacon Street
house since she went away. There was something else, too, that caused
William to be silent--what he thought he saw between Billy and Bertram.
That Bertram was in love with Billy, he guessed; but that Billy was not
in love with Bertram he very much feared. He hesitated almost to speak
or move lest something he should say or do should, just at the critical
moment, turn matters the wrong way. To William this marriage of Bertram
and Billy was an ideal method of solving the problem, as of course Billy
would come there to the house to live, and he would have his "daughter"
after all. But as the days passed, and he could see no progress
on Bertram's part, no change in Billy, he began to be seriously
worried--and to show it.



CHAPTER XXXIV

CLASS DAY


Early in June Billy announced her intention of not going away at all
that summer.

"I don't need it," she declared. "I have this cool, beautiful house,
this air, this sunshine, this adorable view. Besides, I've got a scheme
I mean to carry out."

There was some consternation among Billy's friends when they found out
what this "scheme" was: sundry of Billy's humbler acquaintances were to
share the house, the air, the sunshine, and the adorable view with her.

"But, my dear Billy," Bertram cried, aghast, "you don't mean to say that
you are going to turn your beautiful little house into a fresh-air place
for Boston's slum children!"

"Not a bit of it," smiled the girl, "though I'd like to, really, if I
could," she added, perversely. "But this is quite another thing. It's no
slum work, no charity. In the first place my guests aren't quite so poor
as that, and they're much too proud to be reached by the avowed charity
worker. But they need it just the same."

"But you haven't much spare room; have you?" questioned Bertram.

"No, unfortunately; so I shall have to take only two or three at a time,
and keep them maybe a week or ten days. It's just a sugar plum, Bertram.
Truly it is," she added whimsically, but with a tender light in her
eyes.

"But who are these people?" Bertram's face had lost its look of shocked
surprise, and his voice expressed genuine interest.

"Well, to begin with, there's Marie. She'll stay all summer and help me
entertain my guests; at the same time her duties won't be arduous,
and she'll get a little playtime herself. One week I'm going to have a
little old maid who keeps a lodging house in the West End. For uncounted
years she's been practically tied to a doorbell, with never a whole day
to breathe free. I've made arrangements there for a sister to keep house
a whole week, and I'm going to show this little old maid things she
hasn't seen for years: the ocean, the green fields, and a summer play or
two, perhaps.

"Then there's a little couple that live in a third-story flat in South
Boston. They're young and like good times; but the man is on a small
salary, and they have had lots of sickness. He's been out so much he
can't take any vacation, and they wouldn't have any money to go anywhere
if he could. Well, I'm going to have them a week. She'll be here all the
time, and he'll come out at night, of course.

"Another one is a widow with six children. The children are already
provided for by a fresh-air society, but the woman I'm going to take,
and--and give her a whole week of food that she didn't have to cook
herself. Another one is a woman who is not so very poor, but who has
lost her baby, and is blue and discouraged. There are some children,
too, one crippled, and a boy who says he's 'just lonesome.' And there
are--really, Bertram, there is no end to them."

"I can well believe that," declared Bertram, with emphasis, "so far as
your generous heart is concerned."

Billy colored and looked distressed.

"But it isn't generosity or charity at all, Bertram," she protested.
"You are mistaken when you think it is--really! Why, I shall enjoy every
bit of it just as well as they do--and better, perhaps."

"But you stay here--in the city--all summer for their sakes."

"What if I do? Besides, this isn't the real city," argued Billy, "with
all these trees and lawns about one. And another thing," she added,
leaning forward confidentially, "I might as well confess, Bertram, you
couldn't hire me to leave the place this summer--not while all these
things I planted are coming up!"

Bertram laughed; but for some reason he looked wonderfully happy as he
turned away.

On the fifteenth of June Kate and her husband arrived from the West. A
young brother of Mr. Hartwell's was to be graduated from Harvard, and
Kate said they had come on to represent the family, as the elder Mr. and
Mrs. Hartwell were not strong enough to undertake the journey. Kate was
looking well and happy. She greeted Billy with effusive cordiality, and
openly expressed her admiration of Hillside. She looked very keenly into
her brothers' face, and seemed well pleased with the appearance of Cyril
and Bertram, but not so much so with William's countenance.

"William does NOT look well," she declared one day when she and Billy
were alone together.

"Sick? Uncle William sick? Oh, I hope not!" cried the girl.

"I don't know whether it's 'sick' or not," returned Mrs. Hartwell. "But
it's something. He's troubled. I'm going to speak to him. He's worried
over something; and he's grown terribly thin."

"But he's always thin," reasoned Billy.

"I know, but not like this--ever. You don't notice it, perhaps, or
realize it, seeing him every day as you do. But I know something
troubles him."

"Oh, I hope not," murmured Billy, with anxious eyes. "We don't want
Uncle William troubled: we all love him too well."

Mrs. Hartwell did not at once reply; but for a long minute she
thoughtfully studied Billy's face as it was bent above the sewing in
Billy's hand. When she did speak she had changed the subject.

Young Hartwell was to deliver the Ivy Oration in the Stadium on Class
Day, and all the Henshaws were looking eagerly forward to the occasion.

"You have seen the Stadium, of course," said Bertram to Billy, a few
days before the anticipated Friday.

"Only from across the river."

"Is that so? And you've never been here Class Day, either. Good! Then
you've got a treat in store. Just wait and see!"

And Billy waited--and she saw. Billy began to see, in fact, before Class
Day. Young Hartwell was a popular fellow, and he was eager to have his
friends meet Billy and the Henshaws. He was a member of the Institute
of 1770, D. K. E., Stylus, Signet, Round Table, and Hasty Pudding Clubs,
and nearly every one of these had some sort of function planned for
Class-Day week. By the time the day itself arrived Billy was almost as
excited as was young Hartwell himself.

It rained Class-Day morning, but at nine o'clock the sun came out and
drove the clouds away, much to every one's delight. Billy's day began
at noon with the spread given by the Hasty Pudding Club. Billy wondered
afterward how many times that day remarks like these were made to her:

"You've been here Class Day before, of course. You've seen the
confetti-throwing!... No? Well, you just wait!"

At ten minutes of four Billy and Mrs. Hartwell, with Mr. Hartwell and
Bertram as escorts, entered the cool, echoing shadows under the Stadium,
and then out in the sunlight they began to climb the broad steps to
their seats.

"I wanted them high up, you see," explained Bertram, "because you can
get the effect so much better. There, here we are!"

For the first time Billy turned and looked about her. She gave a low cry
of delight.

"Oh, oh, how beautiful--how wonderfully beautiful!"

"You just wait!" crowed Bertram. "If you think this is beautiful, you
just wait!"

Billy did not seem to hear him. Her eyes were sweeping the wonderful
scene before her, and her face was aglow with delight.

First there was the great amphitheater itself. Only the wide curve of
the horseshoe was roped off for to-day's audience. Beyond lay the two
sides with their tier above tier of empty seats, almost dazzling in
the sunshine. Within the roped-off curve the scene was of kaleidoscopic
beauty. Charmingly gowned young women and carefully groomed young men
were everywhere, stirring, chatting, laughing. Gay-colored parasols and
flower-garden hats made here and there brilliant splashes of rainbow
tints. Above was an almost cloudless canopy of blue, and at the far
horizon, earth and sky met and made a picture that was like a wondrous
painted curtain hung from heaven itself.

At the first sound of the distant band that told of the graduates'
coming, Bertram said almost wistfully:

"Class Day is the only time when I feel 'out of it.' You see I'm the
first male Henshaw for ages that hasn't been through Harvard; and
to-day, you know, is the time when the old grads come back and do stunts
like the kids--if they can (and some of them can all right!). They march
in by classes ahead of the seniors, and vie with each other in giving
their yells. You'll see Cyril and William, if your eyes are sharp
enough--and you'll see them as you never saw them before."

Far down the green field Billy spied now the long black line of moving
figures with a band in the lead. Nearer and nearer it came until,
greeted by a mighty roar from thousands of throats, the leaders swept
into the great bowl of the horseshoe curve.

And how they yelled and cheered--those men whose first Class Day lay
five, ten, fifteen, even twenty or more years behind them, as told by
the banners which they so proudly carried. How they got their heads
together and gave the "Rah! Rah! Rah!" with unswerving eyes on their
leader! How they beat the air with their hats in time to their lusty
shouts! And how the throngs above cheered and clapped in answer, until
they almost split their throats--and did split their gloves--especially
when the black-gowned seniors swept into view.

And when the curving line of black had become one solid mass of
humanity that filled the bowl from side to side, the vast throng seated
themselves, and a great hush fell while the Glee Club sang.

Young Hartwell proved to be a good speaker, and his ringing voice
reached even the topmost tier of seats. Billy was charmed and
interested. Everything she saw and heard was but a new source of
enjoyment, and she had quite forgotten the thing for which she was to
"wait," when she saw the ushers passing through the aisles with their
baskets of many-hued packages of confetti and countless rolls of paper
ribbon.

It began then, the merry war between the students below and the throng
above. In a trice the air was filled with shimmering bits of red, blue,
white, green, purple, pink, and yellow. From all directions fluttering
streamers that showed every color of the rainbow, were flung to the
breeze until, upheld by the supporting wires, they made a fairy lace
work of marvelous beauty.

"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Billy, her eyes misty with emotion. "I think I never
saw anything in my life so lovely!

"I thought you'd like it," gloried Bertram. "You know I said to wait!"

But even with this, Class Day for Billy was not finished. There was
still Hartwell's own spread from six to eight, and after that there were
the President's reception, and dancing in the Memorial Hall and in the
Gymnasium. There was the Fairyland of the yard, too, softly aglow
with moving throngs of beautiful women and gallant men. But what Billy
remembered best of all was the exquisite harmony that came to her
through the hushed night air when the Glee Club sang Fair Harvard on the
steps of Holworthy Hall.



CHAPTER XXXV

SISTER KATE AGAIN


It was on the Sunday following Class Day that Mrs. Hartwell carried out
her determination to "speak to William." The West had not taken from
Kate her love of managing, and she thought she saw now a matter that
sorely needed her guiding hand.

William's thin face, anxious looks, and nervous manner had troubled
her ever since she came. Then one day, very suddenly, had come
enlightenment: William was in love--and with Billy.

Mrs. Hartwell watched William very closely after that. She saw his eyes
follow Billy fondly, yet anxiously. She saw his open joy at being with
her, and at any little attention, word, or look that the girl gave him.
She remembered, too, something that Bertram had said about William's
grief because Billy would not live at the Strata. She thought she saw
something else, also: that Billy was fond of William, but that William
did not know it; hence his frequent troubled scrutiny of her face.
Why these two should play at cross purposes Sister Kate could not
understand. She smiled, however, confidently: they should not play at
cross purposes much longer, she declared.

On Sunday afternoon Kate asked her eldest brother to take her driving.

"Not a motor car; I want a horse--that will let me talk," she said.

"Certainly," agreed William, with a smile; but Bertram, who chanced to
hear her, put in the sly comment: "As if ANY horse could prevent--that!"

On the drive Kate began to talk at once, but she did not plunge into
the subject nearest her heart until she had adroitly led William into a
glowing enumeration of Billy's many charming characteristics; then she
said:

"William, why don't you take Billy home with you?"

William stirred uneasily as he always did when anything annoyed him.

"My dear Kate, there is nothing I should like better to do," he replied.

"Then why don't you do it?"

"I--hope to, sometime."

"But why not now?"

"I'm afraid Billy is not quite--ready."

"Nonsense! A young girl like that does not know her own mind lots
of times. Just press the matter a little. Love will work
wonders--sometimes."

William blushed like a girl. To him her words had but one
meaning--Bertram's love for Billy. William had never spoken of this
suspected love affair to any one. He had even thought that he was the
only one that had discovered it. To hear his sister refer thus lightly
to it came therefore in the nature of a shock to him.

"Then you have--seen it--too?" he stammered

"'Seen it, too,'" laughed Kate, with her confident eyes on William's
flushed face, "I should say I had seen it! Any one could see it."

William blushed again. Love to him had always been something sacred;
something that called for hushed voices and twilight. This merry
discussion in the sunlight of even another's love was disconcerting.

"Now come, William," resumed Kate, after a moment; "speak to Billy, and
have the matter settled once for all. It's worrying you. I can see it
is."

Again William stirred uneasily.

"But, Kate, I can't do anything. I told you before; I don't believe
Billy is--ready."

"Nonsense! Ask her."

"But Kate, a girl won't marry against her will!"

"I don't believe it is against her will."

"Kate! Honestly?"

"Honestly! I've watched her."

"Then I WILL speak," cried the man, his face alight, "if--if you think
anything I can say would--help. There is nothing--nothing in all this
world that I so desire, Kate, as to have that little girl back home. And
of course that would do it. She'd live there, you know."

"Why, of--course," murmured Kate, with a puzzled frown. There was
something in this last remark of William's that she did not quite
understand. Surely he could not suppose that she had any idea that after
he had married Billy they would go to live anywhere else;--she thought.
For a moment she considered the matter vaguely; then she turned her
attention to something else. She was the more ready to do this because
she believed that she had said enough for the present: it was well to
sow seeds, but it was also well to let them have a chance to grow, she
told herself.

Mrs. Hartwell's next move was to speak to Billy, and she was careful to
do this at once, so that she might pave the way for William.

She began her conversation with an ingratiating smile and the words:

"Well, Billy, I've been doing a little detective work on my own
account."

"Detective work?"

"Yes; about William. You know I told you the other day how troubled and
anxious he looked to me. Well, I've found out what's the matter."

"What is it?"

"Yourself."

"Myself! Why, Mrs. Hartwell, what can you mean?"

The elder lady smiled significantly.

"Oh, it's merely another case, my dear, of 'faint heart never won fair
lady.' I've been helping on the faint heart; that's all."

"But I don't understand."

"No? I can't believe you quite mean that, my dear. Surely you must know
how earnestly my brother William is longing for you to go back and live
with him."

Like William, Billy flushed scarlet.

"Mrs. Hartwell, certainly no one could know better than YOURSELF why
that is quite impossible," she frowned.

The other colored confusedly.

"I understand, of course, what you mean. And, Billy, I'll confess that
I've been sorry lots of times, since, that I spoke as I did to you,
particularly when I saw how it grieved my brother William to have you go
away. If I blundered then, I'm sorry; and perhaps I did blunder. At all
events, that is only the more reason now why I am so anxious to do what
I can to rectify that old mistake, and plead William's suit."

To Mrs. Hartwell's blank amazement, Billy laughed outright.

"'William's suit'!" she quoted merrily. "Why, Mrs. Hartwell, there isn't
any 'suit' to it. Uncle William doesn't want me to marry him!"

"Indeed he does."

Billy stopped laughing, and sat suddenly erect.

"MRS. HARTWELL!"

"Billy, is it possible that you did not know this?"

"Indeed I don't know it, and--excuse me, but I don't think you do,
either."

"But I do. I've talked with him, and he's very much in earnest," urged
Mrs. Hartwell, speaking very rapidly. "He says there's nothing in all
the world that he so desires. And, Billy, you do care for him--I know
you do!"

"Why, of course I care for him--but not--that way."

"But, Billy, think!" Mrs. Hartwell was very earnest now, and a little
frightened. She felt that she must bring Billy to terms in some way
now that William had been encouraged to put his fate to the test. "Just
remember how good William has always been to you, and think what you
have been, and may BE--if you only will--in his lonely life. Think of
his great sorrow years ago. Think of this dreary waste of years between.
Think how now his heart has turned to you for love and comfort and rest.
Billy, you can't turn away!--you can't find it in your heart to turn
away from that dear, good man who loves you so!" Mrs. Hartwell's voice
shook effectively, and even her eyes looked through tears. Mentally
she was congratulating herself: she had not supposed she could make so
touching an appeal.

In the chair opposite the girl sat very still. She was pale, and her
eyes showed a frightened questioning in their depths. For a long minute
she said nothing, then she rose dazedly to her feet.

"Mrs. Hartwell, please do not speak of this to any one," she begged in
a low voice. "I--I am taken quite by surprise. I shall have to think it
out--alone."

Billy did not sleep well that night. Always before her eyes was the
vision of William's face; and always in her ears was the echo of Mrs.
Hartwell's words: "Remember how good William has always been to you.
Think of his great sorrow years ago. Think of this dreary waste of years
between. Think how now his heart has turned to you for love and comfort
and rest."

For a time Billy tossed about on her bed trying to close her eyes to
the vision and her ears to the echo. Then, finding that neither was
possible, she set herself earnestly to thinking the matter out.

William loved her. Extraordinary as it seemed, such was the fact; Mrs.
Hartwell said so. And now--what must she do; what could she do? She
loved no one--of that she was very sure. She was even beginning to
think that she would never love any one. There were Calderwell, Cyril,
Bertram, to say nothing of sundry others, who had loved her, apparently,
but whom she could not love. Such being the case, if she were, indeed,
incapable of love herself, why should she not make the sacrifice of
giving up her career, her independence, and in that way bring this great
joy to Uncle William's heart?... Even as she said the "Uncle William"
to herself, Billy bit her lip and realized that she must no longer say
"Uncle" William--if she married him.

"If she married him." The words startled her. "If she married him."...
Well, what of it? She would go to live at the Strata, of course; and
there would be Cyril and Bertram. It might be awkward, and yet--she did
not believe Cyril was in love with anything but his music; and as to
Bertram--it was the same with Bertram and his painting, and he would
soon forget that he had ever fancied he loved her. After that he would
be simply a congenial friend and companion--a good comrade. As Billy
thought of it, indeed, one of the pleasantest features of this marriage
with William would be the delightful comradeship of her "brother,"
Bertram.

Billy dwelt then at some length on William's love for her, his longing
for her presence, and his dreary years of loneliness.... And he was so
good to her, she recollected; he had always been good to her. He was
older, to be sure--much older than she; but, after all, it would not be
so difficult, so very difficult, to learn to love him. At all events,
whatever happened, she would have the supreme satisfaction of knowing
that at least she had brought into dear Uncle--that is, into William's
life the great peace and joy that only she could give.

It was almost dawn when Billy arrived at this not uncheerful state of
prospective martyrdom. She turned over then with a sigh, and settled
herself to sleep. She was relieved that she had decided the question.
She was glad that she knew just what to say when William should speak.
He was a dear, dear man, and she would not make it hard for him, she
promised herself. She would be William's wife.



CHAPTER XXXVI

WILLIAM MEETS WITH A SURPRISE


In spite of his sister's confident assurance that the time was ripe for
him to speak to Billy, William delayed some days before broaching the
matter to her. His courage was not so good as it had been when he was
talking with Kate. It seemed now, as it always had, a fearsome thing to
try to hasten on this love affair between Billy and Bertram. He could
not see, in spite of Kate's words, that Billy showed unmistakable
evidence at all of being in love with his brother. The more he thought
of it, in fact, the more he dreaded the carrying out of his promise to
speak to his namesake.

What should he say, he asked himself. How could he word it? He could not
very well accost her with: "Oh, Billy, I wish you'd please hurry up and
marry Bertram, because then you'd come and live with me." Neither could
he plead Bertram's cause directly. Quite probably Bertram would prefer
to plead his own. Then, too, if Billy really was not in love with
Bertram--what then? Might not his own untimely haste in the matter
forever put an end to the chance of her caring for him?

It was, indeed, a delicate matter, and as William pondered it he wished
himself well out of it, and that Kate had not spoken. But even as
he formed the wish, William remembered with a thrill Kate's positive
assertion that a word from him would do wonders, and that now was the
time to utter it. He decided then that he would speak; that he must
speak; but that at the same time he would proceed with a caution that
would permit a hasty retreat if he saw that his words were not having
the desired effect. He would begin with a frank confession of his
grief at her leaving him, and of his longing for her return; then very
gradually, if wisdom counseled it, he would go on to speak of Bertram's
love for her, and of his own hope that she would make Bertram and all
the Strata glad by loving him in return.

Mrs. Hartwell had returned to her Western home before William found just
the opportunity for his talk with Billy. True to his belief that only
hushed voices and twilight were fitting for such a subject, he waited
until he found the girl early one evening alone on her vine-shaded
veranda. He noticed that as he seated himself at her side she flushed a
little and half started to rise, with a nervous fluttering of her hands,
and a murmured "I'll call Aunt Hannah." It was then that with sudden
courage, he resolved to speak.

"Billy, don't go," he said gently, with a touch of his hand on her arm.
"There is something I want to say to you. I--I have wanted to say it for
some time."

"Why, of--of course," stammered the girl, falling back in her seat. And
again William noticed that odd fluttering of the slim little hands.

For a time no one spoke, then William began softly, his eyes on the
distant sky-line still faintly aglow with the sunset's reflection.

"Billy, I want to tell you a story. Long years ago there was a man who
had a happy home with a young wife and a tiny baby boy in it. I could
not begin to tell you all the plans that man made for that baby boy.
Such a great and good and wonderful being that tiny baby was one day to
become. But the baby--went away, after a time, and carried with him all
the plans--and he never came back. Behind him he left empty hearts that
ached, and great bare rooms that seemed always to be echoing sighs and
sobs. And then, one day, such a few years after, the young wife went to
find her baby, and left the man all alone with the heart that ached and
the great bare rooms that echoed sighs and sobs.

"Perhaps it was this--the bareness of the rooms--that made the man turn
to his boyish passion for collecting things. He wanted to fill those
rooms full, full!--so that the sighs and sobs could not be heard; and he
wanted to fill his heart, too, with something that would still the ache.
And he tried. Already he had his boyish treasures, and these he lined up
in brave array, but his rooms still echoed, and his heart still ached;
so he built more shelves and bought more cabinets, and set himself to
filling them, hoping at the same time that he might fill all that dreary
waste of hours outside of business--hours which once had been all too
short to devote to the young wife and the baby boy.

"One by one the years passed, and one by one the shelves and the
cabinets were filled. The man fancied, sometimes, that he had succeeded;
but in his heart of hearts he knew that the ache was merely dulled, and
that darkness had only to come to set the rooms once more to echoing
the sighs and sobs. And then--but perhaps you are tired of the story,
Billy." William turned with questioning eyes.

"No, oh, no," faltered Billy. "It is beautiful, but so--sad!"

"But the saddest part is done--I hope," said William, softly. "Let me
tell you. A wonderful thing happened then. Suddenly, right out of a dull
gray sky of hopelessness, dropped a little brown-eyed girl and a little
gray cat. All over the house they frolicked, filling every nook and
cranny with laughter and light and happiness. And then, like magic, the
man lost the ache in his heart, and the rooms lost their echoing sighs
and sobs. The man knew, then, that never again could he hope to fill his
heart and life with senseless things of clay and metal. He knew that the
one thing he wanted always near him was the little brown-eyed girl; and
he hoped that he could keep her. But just as he was beginning to bask
in this new light--it went out. As suddenly as they had come, the little
brown-eyed girl and the gray cat went away. Why, the man did not know.
He knew only that the ache had come back, doubly intense, and that the
rooms were more gloomy than ever. And now, Billy,"--William's voice
shook a little--"it is for you to finish the story. It is for you to say
whether that man's heart shall ache on and on down to a lonely old age,
and whether those rooms shall always echo the sighs and sobs of the
past."

"And I will finish it," choked Billy, holding out both her hands. "It
sha'n't ache--they sha'n't echo!"

The man leaned forward eagerly, unbelievingly, and caught the hands in
his own.

"Billy, do you mean it? Then you will--come?"

"Yes, yes! I didn't know--I didn't think. I never supposed it was like
that! Of course I'll come!" And in a moment she was sobbing in his arms.

"Billy!" breathed William rapturously, as he touched his lips to her
forehead. "My own little Billy!"

It was a few minutes later, when Billy was more calm, that William
started to speak of Bertram. For a moment he had been tempted not to
mention his brother, now that his own point had been won so surprisingly
quick; but the new softness in Billy's face had encouraged him, and he
did not like to let the occasion pass when a word from him might do so
much for Bertram. His lips parted, but no words came--Billy herself had
begun to speak.

"I'm sure I don't know why I'm crying," she stammered, dabbing her eyes
with her round moist ball of a handerchief. "I hope when I'm your wife
I'll learn to be more self-controlled. But you know I am young, and
you'll have to be patient."

As once before at something Billy said, the world to William went
suddenly mad. His head swam dizzily, and his throat tightened so that
he could scarcely breathe. By sheer force of will he kept his arm about
Billy's shoulder, and he prayed that she might not know how numb and
cold it had grown. Even then he thought he could not have heard aright.

"Er--you said--" he questioned faintly.

"I say when I'm your wife I hope I'll learn to be more self-controlled,"
laughed Billy, nervously. "You see I just thought I ought to remind you
that I am young, and that you'll have to be patient."

William stammered something--a hurried something; he wondered afterward
what it was. That it must have been satisfactory to Billy was evident,
for she began laughingly to talk again. What she said, William scarcely
knew, though he was conscious of making an occasional vague reply. He
was still floundering in a hopeless sea of confusion and dismay. His own
desire was to get up and say good night at once. He wanted to be alone
to think. He realized, however, with sickening force, that men do not
propose and run away--if they are accepted. And he was accepted; he
realized that, too, overwhelmingly. Then he tried to think how it had
happened, what he had said; how she could so have misunderstood his
meaning. This line of thought he abandoned quickly, however; it could do
no good. But what could do good, he asked himself. What could he do?

With blinding force came the answer: he could do nothing. Billy cared
for him. Billy had said "yes." Billy expected to be his wife. As if he
could say to her now: "I beg your pardon, but 'twas all a mistake. _I_
did not ask you to marry me."

Very valiantly then William summoned his wits and tried to act his part.
He told himself, too, that it would not be a hard one; that he loved
Billy dearly, and that he would try to make her happy. He winced a
little at this thought, for he remembered suddenly how old he was--as if
he, at his age, were a fit match for a girl of twenty-one!

And then he looked at Billy. The girl was plainly nervous. There was a
deep flush on her cheeks and a brilliant sparkle in her eyes. She
was talking rapidly--almost incoherently at times--and her voice was
tremulous. Frequent little embarrassed laughs punctuated her sentences,
and her fingers toyed with everything that came within reach. Some time
before she had sprung to her feet and had turned on the electric lights;
and when she came back she had not taken her old position at William's
side, but had seated herself in a chair near by. All of which, according
to William's eyes, meant the maidenly shyness of a girl who has just
said "yes" to the man she loves.

William went home that night in a daze. To himself he said that he had
gone out in search of a daughter, and had come back with a wife.



CHAPTER XXXVII

"WILLIAM'S BROTHER"


It was decided that for the present, the engagement should not be
known outside the family. The wedding would not take place immediately,
William said, and it was just as well to keep the matter to themselves
until plans were a little more definite.

The members of the family were told at once. Aunt Hannah said "Oh, my
grief and conscience!" three times, and made matters scarcely better by
adding apologetically: "Oh, of course it's all right, it's all right,
only--" She did not finish her sentence, and William, who had told her
the news, did not know whether he would have been more or less pleased
if she had finished it.

Cyril received the information moodily, and lapsed at once into a fit
of abstraction from which he roused himself hardly enough to offer
perfunctory congratulations and best wishes.

Billy was a little puzzled at Cyril's behavior. She had been sure for
some time that Cyril had ceased to care specially for her, even if
he ever did fancy that he loved her. She had hoped to keep him for
a friend, but of late she had been forced to question even his
friendliness. He had, in fact, gone back almost to his old reserve and
taciturn aloofness.

From the West, in response to William's news of the engagement, came a
cordially pleased note in Kate's scrawling handwriting. Kate, indeed,
seemed to be the only member of the family who was genuinely delighted
with the coming marriage. As to Bertram--Bertram appeared to have aged
years in a single night, so drawn and white was his face the morning
after William had told him his plans.

William had dreaded most of all to tell Bertram. He was very sure that
Bertram himself cared for Billy; and it was doubly hard because in
William's own mind was a strong conviction that the younger man was
decidedly the one for her. Realizing, however, that Bertram must be
told, William chose a time for the telling when Bertram was smoking in
his den in the twilight, with his face half hidden from sight.

Bertram said little--very little, that night; but in the morning he went
straight to Billy.

Billy was shocked. She had never seen the smiling, self-reliant,
debonair Bertram like this.

"Billy, is this true?" he demanded. The dull misery in his voice told
Billy that he knew the answer before he asked the question.

"Yes, yes; but, Bertram, please--please don't take it like this!" she
implored.

"How would you have me take it?"

"Why, just--just sensibly. You know I told you that--that the other
never could be--never."

"I know YOU said so; but I--believed otherwise."

"But I told you--I did not love you--that way."

Bertram winced. He rose to his feet abruptly.

"I know you did, Billy. I'm a fool, of course, to think that I could
ever--change it. I shouldn't have come here, either, this morning. But
I--had to. Good-by!" His face, as he held out his hand, was tragic with
renunciation.

"Why, Bertram, you aren't going--now--like this!" cried the girl.
"You've just come!"

The man turned almost impatiently.

"And do you think I can stay--like this? Billy, won't you say good-by?"
he asked in a softer voice, again with outstretched hand.

Billy shook her head. She ignored the hand, and resolutely backed away.

"No, not like that. You are angry with me," she grieved. "Besides, you
make it sound as if--if you were going away."

"I am going away."

"Bertram!" There was terror as well as dismay in Billy's voice.

Again the man turned sharply.

"Billy, why are you making this thing so hard for me?" he asked in
despair. "Can't you see that I must go?"

"Indeed, I can't. And you mustn't go, either. There isn't any reason
why you should," urged Billy, talking very fast, and working her fingers
nervously. "Things are just the same as they were before--for you. I'm
just going to marry William, but I wasn't ever going to marry you, so
that doesn't change things any for you. Don't you see? Why, Bertram, you
mustn't go away! There won't be anybody left. Cyril's going next week,
you know; and if you go there won't be anybody left but William and
me. Bertram, you mustn't go; don't you see? I should feel lost
without--you!" Billy was almost crying now.

Bertram looked up quickly. An odd change had come to his face. For a
moment he gazed silently into Billy's agitated countenance; then he
asked in a low voice:

"Billy, did you think that after you and William were married I should
still continue to live at--the Strata?"

"Why, of course you will!" cried the girl, indignantly. "Why, Bertram,
you'll be my brother then--my real brother; and one of the very chiefest
things I'm anticipating when I go there to live is the good times you
and I will have together when I'm William's wife!"

Bertram drew in his breath audibly, and caught his lower lip between
his teeth. With an abrupt movement he turned his back and walked to
the window. For a full minute he stayed there, watched by the amazed,
displeased eyes of the girl. When he came back he sat down quietly in
the chair facing Billy. His countenance was grave and his eyes were a
little troubled; but the haggard look of misery was quite gone.

"Billy," he began gently, "you must forgive my saying this, but--are you
quite sure you--love William?"

Billy flushed with anger.

"You have no right to ask such a question. Of course I love William."

"Of course you do--we all love William. William is, in fact, a most
lovable man. But William's wife should, perhaps, love him a little
differently from--all of us."

"And she will, certainly," retorted the girl, with a quick lifting of
her chin. "Bertram, I don't think you have any right to--to make such
insinuations."

"And I won't make them any more," replied Bertram, gravely. "I just
wanted you to make sure that you--knew."

"I shall make sure, and I shall know," said Billy, firmly--so firmly
that it sounded almost as if she were trying to convince herself as well
as others.

There was a long pause, then the man asked diffidently:

"And so you are very sure that--that you want me to--stay?"

"Indeed I do! Besides,--don't you remember?--there are all my people to
be entertained. They must be taken to places, and given motor rides
and picnics. You told me last week that you'd love to help me; but, of
course, if you don't want to--"

"But I do want to," cried Bertram, heartily, a gleam of the old
cheerfulness springing to his eyes. "I'm dying to!"

The girl looked up with quick distrust. For a moment she eyed him
with bent brows. To her mind he had gone back to his old airy, hopeful
light-heartedness. He was once more "only Bertram." She hesitated, then
said with stern decision:

"Bertram, you know I want you, and you must know that I'm delighted to
have you drop this silly notion of going away. But if this quick change
means that you are staying with any idea that--that _I_ shall change,
then--then you must go. But if you will stay as WILLIAM'S BROTHER
then--I'll be more than glad to have you."

"I'll stay--as William's brother," agreed Bertram; and Billy did not
notice the quick indrawing of his breath nor the close shutting of his
lips after the words were spoken.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE ENGAGEMENT OF TWO


By the middle of July the routine of Billy's days was well established.
Marie had been for a week a welcome addition to the family, and she
was proving to be of invaluable aid in entertaining Billy's guests. The
overworked widow and the little lodging-house keeper from the West End
were enjoying Billy's hospitality now; and just to look at their beaming
countenances was an inspiration, Billy said.

Cyril had gone abroad. Aunt Hannah was spending a week at the North
Shore with friends. Bertram, true to his promise, was playing the
gallant to Billy's guests; and so assiduous was he in his attentions
that Billy at last remonstrated with him.

"But I didn't mean them to take ALL your time," she protested.

"Don't they like it? Do they see too much of me?" he demanded.

"No, no! They love it, of course. You must know that. Nobody else could
give such beautiful times as you've given us. But it's yourself I'm
thinking of. You're giving up all your time. Besides, I didn't mean to
keep you here all summer, of course. You always go away some, you know,
for a vacation."

"But I'm having a vacation here, doing this," laughed Bertram. "I'm sure
I'm getting sea air down to the beaches and mountain air out to the
Blue Hills. And as for excitement--if you can find anything more wildly
exciting than it was yesterday when Miss Marie and I took the widow
and the spinster lady on the Roller-coaster--just show it to me; that's
all!"

Billy laughed.

"They told me about it--Marie in particular. She said you were lovely to
them, and let them do every single thing they wanted to; and that half
an hour after they got there they were like two children let out of
school. Dear me, I wish I'd gone. I never stay at home that I don't miss
something," she finished regretfully.

Bertram shrugged his shoulders.

"If it's Roller-coasters and Chute-the-chutes that you want, I fancy
you'll get enough before the week is out," he sighed laughingly. "They
said they'd like to go there to-morrow, please, when I asked them what
we should do next. What surprises me is that they like such things--such
hair-raising things. When I first saw them, black-gowned and
stiff-backed, sitting in your little room here, I thought I should never
dare offer them anything more wildly exciting than a church service or
a lecture on psychology, with perhaps a band concert hinted at, provided
the band could be properly instructed beforehand as to tempo and
selections. But now--really, Billy, why do you suppose they have taken
such a fancy to these kiddish stunts--those two staid women?"

Billy laughed, but her eyes softened.

"I don't know unless it's because all their lives they've been tied
to such dead monotony that just the exhilaration of motion is bliss to
them. But you won't always have to risk your neck and your temper in
this fashion, Bertram. Next week my little couple from South Boston
comes. She adores pictures and stuffed animals. You'll have to do the
museums with her. Then there's little crippled Tommy--he'll be perfectly
contented if you'll put him down where he can hear the band play. And
all you'll have to do when that one stops is to pilot him to the next
one. This IS good of you, Bertram, and I do thank you for it," finished
Billy, fervently, just as Marie, the widow, and the "spinster lady"
entered the room.

Billy told herself these days that she was very happy--very happy
indeed. Was she not engaged to a good man, and did she not also have it
in her power to make the long summer days a pleasure to many people?
The fact that she had to tell herself that she was happy in order to
convince herself that she was so, did not occur to Billy--yet.

Not long after Marie arrived, Billy told her of the engagement. William
was at the house very frequently, and owing to the intimacy of Marie's
relationship with the family Billy decided to tell her how matters
stood. Marie's reception of the news was somewhat surprising. First she
looked frightened.

"To William?--you are engaged to William?"

"Why--yes."

"But I thought--surely it was--don't you mean--Mr. Cyril?"

"No, I don't," laughed Billy. "And certainly I ought to know."

"And you don't--care for him?"

"I hope not--if I'm going to marry William."

So light was Billy's voice and manner that Marie dared one more
question.

"And he--doesn't care--for you?"

"I hope not--if William is going to marry me," laughed Billy again.

"Oh-h!" breathed Marie, with an odd intonation of relief. "Then I'm
glad--so glad! And I hope you'll be very, very happy, dear."

Billy looked into Marie's glowing face and was pleased: there seemed to
be so few, so very few faces into which she had looked and found entire
approbation of her engagement to William.

Billy saw a great deal of William now. He was always kind and
considerate, and he tried to help her entertain her guests; but Billy,
grateful as she was to him for his efforts, was relieved when he
resigned his place to Bertram. Bertram did, indeed, know so much better
how to do it. William tried to help her, too, about training her vines
and rosebushes; but of course, even in this, he could not be expected to
show quite the interest that Bertram manifested in every green shoot and
opening bud, for he had not helped her plant them, as Bertram had.

Billy was a little troubled sometimes, that she did not feel more at
ease with William. She thought it natural that she should feel a little
diffident with him, in the face of his sudden change from an "uncle"
to an accepted lover; but she did not see why she should be afraid of
him--yet she was. She owned that to herself unhappily. And he was so
good!--she owned that, too. He seemed not to have a thought in the world
but for her comfort and happiness; and there was no end to the tactful
little things he was always doing for her pleasure. He seemed, also, to
have divined that she did not like to be kissed and caressed; and only
occasionally did he kiss her, and then it was merely a sort of fatherly
salute on her forehead--for which consideration Billy was grateful:
Billy decided that she would not like to be kissed on the lips.

After some days of puzzling over the matter Billy concluded that it was
self-consciousness that caused all the trouble. With William she was
self-conscious. If she could only forget that she was some day to be
William's wife, the old delightful comradeship would return, and
she would be at ease again with him. In time, after she had become
accustomed to the idea of marriage, it would not so confuse her, of
course. She loved him dearly, and she wanted to make him happy; but for
the present--just while she was "getting used to things"--she would try
to forget, sometimes, that she was going to be William's wife.

Billy was happier now. She was always happier after she had thought
things out to her own satisfaction. She turned with new zest to
the entertainment of her guests; and with Bertram she planned many
delightful trips for their pleasure. Bertram was a great comfort to her
these days. Never, in word or look, could she see that he overstepped
the role which he had promised to play--William's brother.

Billy went back to her music, too. A new melody was running through her
head, and she longed to put it on paper. Already her first little "Group
of Songs" had found friends, and Billy, to a very modest extent, was
beginning to taste the sweets of fame.

Thus, by all these interests, did Billy try "to get used to things."



CHAPTER XXXIX

A LITTLE PIECE OF PAPER


Of all Billy's guests, Marie was very plainly the happiest. She was a
permanent guest, it is true, while the others came for only a week or
two at a time; but it was not this, Billy decided, that had brought so
brilliant a sparkle to Marie's eyes, so joyous a laugh to her lips. The
joyousness was all the more noticeable, because heretofore Marie, while
very sweet, had been also sad. Her big blue eyes had always carried a
haunting shadow, and her step had lacked the spring belonging to youth
and happiness. Certainly, Billy had never seen her like this before.

"Verily, Marie," she teased one day, "have you found an exhaustless
supply of stockings to mend, or a never-done pudding to make--which?"

"Why? What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing. I was only wondering just what had brought that new light
to your eyes."

"Is there a new light?"

"There certainly is."

"It must be because I'm so happy, then," sighed Marie; "because you're
so good to me."

"Is that all?"

"Isn't that enough?" Marie's tone was evasive.

"No." Billy shook her head mischievously. "Marie, what is it?"

"It's nothing--really, it's nothing," protested Marie, hurrying out of
the room with a nervous laugh.

Billy frowned. She was suspicious before; she was sure now. In less than
twelve hours' time came her opportunity. She was alone again with Marie.

"Marie, who is he?" she asked abruptly.

"He? Who?"

"The man who is to wear the stockings and eat the pudding."

The little music teacher flushed very red, but she managed to display
something that might pass for surprise.

"BILLY!"

"Come, dear," coaxed Billy, winningly. "Tell me about it. I'm so
interested!"

"But there isn't anything to tell--really there isn't."

"Who is he?"

"He isn't anybody--that is, he doesn't know he's anybody," amended
Marie.

Billy laughed softly.

"Oh, doesn't he! Hasn't he ever shown--that he cared?"

"No; that is--perhaps he has, only I thought then--that it was--another
girl."

"Another girl! So there's another girl in the case?"

"Yes. I mean, no," corrected Marie, suddenly beginning to realize what
she was saying. "Really, it wasn't anything--it isn't anything!" she
protested.

"Hm-m," murmured Billy, archly. "Oh, I'm getting on some! He did show,
once, that he cared; but you thought it was another girl, and you
coldly looked the other way. Now, there ISN'T any other girl, you find,
and--Marie, tell me the rest!"

Marie shook her head emphatically, and pulled herself gently away from
Billy's grasp.

"No, no, please!" she begged. "It really isn't anything. I'm sure I'm
imagining it all!" she cried, as she ran away.

During the days that followed, Billy speculated not a little on Marie's
half-told story, and wondered interestedly who the man might be. She
questioned Marie once again, but the girl would tell nothing more; and,
indeed, Billy was so occupied with her own perplexities that she had
little time for those of other people.

To herself Billy was forced to own that she was not "getting used to
things." She was still self-conscious with William; she could not forget
that she was one day to be his wife. She could not bring back the dear
old freedom of comradeship with him.

Billy was alarmed now. She had begun to ask herself searching questions.
What should she do if never, never should she get used to the idea
of marrying William? How could she marry him if he was still "Uncle
William," and never her dear lover in her eyes? Why had she not been
wise enough and brave enough to tell him in the first place that she
was not at all sure that she loved him, but that she would try to do so?
Then when she had tried--as she had now--and failed, she could have told
him honestly the truth, and it would not have been so great a shock to
him as it must be now, if she should tell him.

Billy had remorsefully come to the conclusion that she could never love
any man well enough to marry him, when one day so small a thing as a
piece of paper fluttered into her vision, and showed her the fallacy of
that idea.

It was a half-sheet of note paper, and it blew from Marie's balcony to
the lawn below. Billy found it there later, and as she picked it up her
eyes fell on a single name in Marie's handwriting inscribed half a dozen
times as if the writer had musingly accompanied her thoughts with her
pen; and the name was, "Marie Henshaw."

For a moment Billy stared at the name perplexedly--then in a flash came
the remembrance of Marie's words; and Billy breathed: "Henshaw!--the
man--BERTRAM!"

Billy dropped the paper then and fled. In her own room, behind locked
doors, she sat down to think.

Bertram! It was he for whom Marie cared--HER Bertram! And then it came
to Billy with staggering force that he was not HER Bertram at all. He
never could be her Bertram now. He was--Marie's.

Billy was frightened then, so fierce was this strange new something that
rose within her--this overpowering something that seemed to blot out all
the world, and leave only--Bertram. She knew then, that it had always
been Bertram to whom she had turned, though she had been blind to the
cause of that turning. Always her plans had included him. Always she had
been the happiest in his presence; never had she pictured him anywhere
else but at her side. Certainly never had she pictured him as the
devoted lover of another woman!... And she had not known what it all
meant--poor blind child that she was!

Very resolutely now Billy set herself to looking matters squarely in
the face. She understood it quite well. All summer Marie and Bertram had
been thrown together. No wonder Marie had fallen in love with Bertram,
and that he--Billy thought she comprehended now why Bertram had found it
so easy for the last few weeks to be William's brother. She, of course,
had been the "other girl" whom Marie had once feared that the man loved.
It was all so clear--so woefully clear!

With an aching heart Billy asked herself what now was to be done.
For herself, turn whichever way she could, she could see nothing but
unhappiness. She determined, therefore, with Spartan fortitude, that
to no one else would she bring equal unhappiness. She would be silent.
Bertram and Marie loved each other. That matter was settled. As to
William--Billy thought of the story William had told her of his lonely
life,--of the plea he had made to her; and her heart ached. Whatever
happened, William must be made happy. William must not be told. Her
promise to William must be kept.



CHAPTER XL

WILLIAM PAYS A VISIT


Before September passed all Billy's friends said that her summer's
self-appointed task had been too hard for her. In no other way could
they account for the sad change that had come to her.

Undeniably Billy looked really ill. Always slender, she was shadow-like
now. Her eyes had found again the wistful appeal of her girlhood, only
now they carried something that was almost fear, as well. The rose-flush
had gone from her cheeks, and pathetic little hollows had appeared,
making the round young chin below look almost pointed. Certainly Billy
did seem to be ill.

Late in September William went West on business. Incidentally he called
to see his sister, Kate.

"Well, and how is everybody?" asked Kate, cheerily, after the greetings
were over.

William sighed.

"Well, 'everybody,' to me, Kate, is pretty badly off. We're worried
about Billy."

"Billy! You don't mean she's sick? Why, she's always been the picture of
health!"

"I know she has; but she isn't now."

"What's the trouble?"

"That's what we don't know."

"You've had the doctor?"

"Of course; two or three of them--though much against Billy's will.
But--they didn't help us."

"What did they say?"

"They could find nothing except perhaps a little temporary stomach
trouble, or something of that kind, which they all agreed was no just
cause for her present condition."

"But what did they say it was?"

"Why, they said it seemed like nervousness, or as if something was
troubling her. They asked if she weren't under some sort of strain."

"Well, is she? Does anything trouble her?"

"Not that I know of. Anyhow, if there is anything, none of us can find
out what it is."

Kate frowned. She threw a quick look into her brother's face.

"William," she began hesitatingly, "forgive me, but--Billy is quite
happy in--her engagement, I suppose."

The man flushed painfully, and sighed.

"I've thought of that, of course. In fact, it was the first thing I
did think of. I even began to watch her rather closely, and once
I--questioned her a little."

"What did she say?"

"She seemed so frightened and distressed that I didn't say much myself.
I couldn't. I had but just begun when her eyes filled with tears, and
she asked me in a frightened little voice if she had done anything to
displease me, anything to make me unhappy; and she seemed so anxious
and grieved and dismayed that I should even question her, that I had to
stop."

"What has she done this summer? Where has she been?"

"She hasn't been anywhere. Didn't I write you? She's kept open house for
a lot of her less fortunate friends--a sort of vacation home, you know;
and--and I must say she's given them a world of happiness, too."

"But wasn't that hard for her?"

"It didn't seem to be. She appeared to enjoy it immensely, particularly
at first. Of course she had plenty of help, and that wonderful little
Miss Hawthorn has been a host in herself. They're all gone now, anyway,
except Miss Hawthorn."

"But Billy must have had the care and the excitement."

"Perhaps--to a certain extent. Though not much, after all. You see
Bertram, too, has given up his summer to them, and has been playing the
devoted escort to the whole bunch. Indeed, for the last few weeks of it,
since Billy began to seem so ill, he and Miss Hawthorn have schemed
to take all the care from Billy, and they have done the whole thing
together."

"But what HAS Billy done to make her like this?"

"I don't know. She's done lots for me, in all sorts of ways--cataloguing
my curios, you know, and going with me to hunt up things. In fact, she
seems the happiest when she IS doing something for me. It's come to be
a sort of mania with her, I'm afraid--to do something for me. Kate, I'm
really worried. What do you suppose is the matter?"

Kate shook her head. The puzzled frown had come back to her face.

"I can't imagine," she began slowly. "Of course, when I told her you
loved her and--"

"When you told her wha-at?" exploded the usually low-voiced William,
with sudden sharpness.

"When I told her that you loved her, William. You see, I--"

William sprang to his feet.

"Told her that I loved her!" he cried, aghast. "Good heavens, Kate, do
you mean to say that YOU told her THAT."

"Why, y-yes."

"And may I ask where you got your information?"

"Why, William Henshaw, what a question! I got it from yourself, of
course," defended Kate.

"From ME!" William's face expressed sheer amazement.

"Certainly; on that drive when I was East in June," returned Kate, with
dignity. "YOU evidently have forgotten it, but I have not. You told me
very frankly how much you thought of her, and how you longed to have her
back there with you, but that she didn't seem to be ready to come. I was
sorry for you, and I wanted to do something to help, particularly as
it might have been my fault, partly, that she went away, in the first
place."

William lifted his head.

"What do you mean?"

"Why, nothing, only that I--I told her a little of how--how upsetting
her arrival had been to everything, and of how much you had done for
her, and put yourself out. I said it so she'd appreciate things, of
course, but she took it quite differently from what I had intended she
should take it, and seemed quite cut up about it. Then she went away in
that wily, impulsive fashion."

William bit his lip, but he did not speak. Kate was plunging on
feverishly, and in the face of the greater revelation he let the lesser
one drop.

"And so that's why I was particularly anxious to bring things around
right again," continued Kate. "And that's why I spoke. I thought I'd
seen how things were, and on the drive I said so. Then is when I advised
you to speak to Billy; but you declared that Billy wasn't ready, and
that you couldn't make a girl marry against her will. NOW don't you
recollect it?"

A great light of understanding broke over William's face. He started
to speak, but something evidently stayed the words on his lips. With
controlled deliberation he turned and sat down. Then he said:

"Kate, will you kindly tell me just what you DID do?"

"Why, I didn't do so very much. I just tried to help, that's all. After
I talked with you, and advised you to ask Billy right away to marry you,
I went to her. I thought she cared for you already, anyway; but I just
wanted to tell her how very much it was to you, and so sort of pave the
way. And now comes the part that I started to tell you a little while
ago when you caught me up so sharply. I was going to say that when I
told Billy this, she appeared to be surprised, and almost frightened.
You see, she hadn't known you cared for her, after all, and so I had a
chance to help and make it plain to her how you did love her, so that
when you spoke everything would be all right. There, that's all. You see
I didn't do so very much."

"'So very much'!" groaned William, starting to his feet. "Great Scott!"

"Why, William, what do you mean? Where are you going?"

"I'm going--to--Billy," retorted William with slow distinctness.
"And I'm going to try to get there--before--you--CAN!" And with this
extraordinary shot--for William--he left the house.

William went to Billy as fast as steam could carry him. He found her in
her little drawing-room listlessly watching with Aunt Hannah the game of
chess that Bertram and Marie were playing.

"Billy, you poor, dear child, come here," he said abruptly, as soon as
the excitement of his unexpected arrival had passed. "I want to talk to
you." And he led the way to the veranda which he knew would be silent
and deserted.

"To talk to--me?" murmured Billy, as she wonderingly came to his side, a
startled questioning in her wide dark eyes.



CHAPTER XLI

THE CROOKED MADE STRAIGHT


William did not re-enter the house after his talk with Billy on the
veranda.

"I will go down the steps and around by the rose garden to the street,
dear," he said. "I'd rather not go in now. Just make my adieus, please,
and say that I couldn't stay any longer. And now--good-by." His eyes as
they looked down at her, were moist and very tender. His lips trembled a
little, but they smiled, and there was a look of new-born peace and joy
on his face.

Billy, too, was smiling, though wistfully. The frightened questioning
had gone from her eyes, leaving only infinite tenderness.

"You are sure it--it is all right--now?" she stammered.

"Very sure, little girl; and it's the first time it has been right for
weeks. Billy, that was very dear of you, and I love you for it; but
think how near--how perilously near you came to lifelong misery!"

"But I thought--you wanted me--so much," she smiled shyly.

"And I did, and I do--for a daughter. You don't doubt that NOW?"

"No, oh, no," laughed Billy, softly; and to her face came a happy look
of relief as she finished: "And I'll be so glad to be--the daughter!"

For some minutes after the man had gone, Billy stood by the steps where
he had left her. She was still there when Bertram came to the veranda
door and spoke to her.

"Billy, I saw William go by the window, so I knew you were alone. May I
speak to you?"

The girl turned with a start.

"Why, of course! What is it?--but I thought you were playing. Where is
Marie?"

"The game is finished; besides--Billy, why are you always asking
me lately where Marie is, as if I were her keeper, or she mine?" he
demanded, with a touch of nervous irritation.

"Why, nothing, Bertram," smiled Billy, a little wearily; "only that you
were playing together a few minutes ago, and I wondered where she had
gone."

"'A few minutes ago'!" echoed Bertram with sudden bitterness. "Evidently
the time passed swiftly with you, Billy. William was out here MORE than
an hour."

"Why--Bertram!"

"Yes, I know. I've no business to say that, of course," sighed the man;
"but, Billy, that's why I came out--because I must speak to you this
once. Won't you come and sit down, please?" he implored despairingly.

"Why, Bertram," murmured Billy again, faintly, as she turned toward the
vine-shaded corner and sat down. Her eyes were startled. A swift color
had come to her cheeks.

"Billy," began the man, in a sternly controlled voice, "please let me
speak this once, and don't try to stop me. You may think, for a moment,
that it's disloyal to William if you listen; but it isn't. There's this
much due to me--that you let me speak now. Billy, I can't stand it.
I've tried, but it's no use. I've got to go away, and it's right that I
should. I'm not the only one that thinks so, either. Marie does, too."

"MARIE!"

"Yes. I talked it all over with her. She's known for a long time how
it's been with me; how I cared--for you."

"Marie! You've told Marie that?" gasped Billy.

"Yes. Surely you don't mind Marie's knowing," went on Bertram,
dejectedly. "And she's been so good to me, and tried to--help me."

Bertram was not looking at Billy now. If he had been he would have seen
the incredulous joy come into her face. His eyes were moodily fixed on
the floor.

"And so, Billy, I've come to tell you. I'm going away," he continued,
after a moment. "I've got to go. I thought once, when I first talked
with you of William, that you didn't know your own heart; that you
didn't really care for him. I was even fool enough to think that--that
it would be I to whom you'd turn--some day. And so I stayed. But I
stayed honorably, Billy! YOU know that! You know that I haven't once
forgotten--not once, that I was only William's brother. I promised you
I'd be that--and I have been; haven't I?"

Billy nodded silently. Her face was turned away.

"But, Billy, I can't do it any longer. I've got to ask for my promise
back, and then, of course, I can't stay."

"But you--you don't have to go--away," murmured the girl, faintly.

Bertram sprang to his feet. His face was white.

"Billy," he cried, standing tall and straight before her, "Billy, I
love every touch of your hand, every glance of your eye, every word that
falls from your lips. Do you think I can stay--now? I want my promise
back! When I'm no longer William's brother--then I'll go!"

"But you don't have to have it back--that is, you don't have to have it
at all," stammered Billy, flushing adorably. She, too, was on her feet
now.

"Billy, what do you mean?"

"Don't you see? I--I HAVE turned," she faltered breathlessly, holding
out both her hands.

Even then, in spite of the great light that leaped to his eyes, Bertram
advanced only a single step.

"But--William?" he questioned, unbelievingly.

"It WAS a mistake, just as you thought. We know now--both of us. We
don't either of us care for the other--that way. And--Bertram, I think
it HAS been you--all the time, only I didn't know!"

"Billy, Billy!" choked Bertram in a voice shaken with emotion. He opened
his arms then, wide--and Billy walked straight into them.



CHAPTER XLII

THE "END OF THE STORY"


It was two days after Billy's new happiness had come to her that Cyril
came home. He went very soon to see Billy.

The girl was surprised at the change in his appearance. He had grown
thin and haggard looking, and his eyes were somber. He moved restlessly
about the room for a time, finally seating himself at the piano and
letting his fingers slip from one mournful little melody to another.
Then, with a discordant crash, he turned.

"Billy, do you think any girl would marry--me?" he demanded.

"Why, Cyril!"

"There, now, please don't begin that," he begged fretfully. "I realize,
of course, that I'm a very unlikely subject for matrimony. You made me
understand that clearly enough last winter!"

"Last--winter?"

Cyril raised his eyebrows.

"Oh, I came to you for a little encouragement, and to make a
confession," he said. "I made the confession--but I didn't get the
encouragement."

Billy changed color. She thought she knew what he meant, but at the
same time she couldn't understand why he should wish to refer to that
conversation now.

"A--confession?" she repeated, hesitatingly.

"Yes. I told you that I'd begun to doubt my being such a woman-hater,
after all. I intimated that YOU'D begun the softening process, and that
then I'd found a certain other young woman who had--well, who had kept
up the good work."

"Oh!" cried Billy suddenly, with a peculiar intonation. "Oh-h!" Then she
laughed softly.

"Well, that was the confession," resumed Cyril. "Then I came out
flat-footed and said that I wanted to marry her--but there is where I
didn't get the encouragement!"

"Indeed! I'm afraid I wasn't very considerate," stammered Billy.

"No, you weren't," agreed Cyril, moodily. "I didn't know but now--" his
voice softened a little--"with this new happiness of yours and Bertram's
that--you might find a little encouragement for me."

"And I will," cried Billy, promptly. "Tell me about her."

"I did--last winter," reproached the man, "and you were sure I was
deceiving myself. You drew the gloomiest sort of picture of the misery I
would take with a wife."

"I did?" Billy was laughing very merrily now.

"Yes. You said she'd always be talking and laughing when I wanted to be
quiet, and that she'd want to drag me out to parties and plays when
I wanted to stay at home; and--oh, lots of things. I tried to make
it clear to you that--that this little woman wasn't that sort. But I
couldn't," finished Cyril, gloomily.

"But of course she isn't," declared Billy, with quick sympathy. "I--I
didn't know--WHAT--I was--talking about," she added with emphatic
distinctness. Then she smiled to think how little Cyril knew how very
true those words were. "Tell me about her," she begged again. "I
know she must be very lovely and brilliant, and of course a wonderful
musician. YOU couldn't choose any one else!"

To her surprise Cyril turned abruptly and began to play again. A nervous
little staccato scherzo fell from his fingers, but it dropped almost at
once into a quieter melody, and ended with something that sounded very
much like the last strain of "Home, Sweet Home." Then he wheeled about
on the piano stool.

"Billy, that's exactly where you're wrong--I DON'T want that kind of
wife. I don't want a brilliant one, and--now, Billy, this sounds like
horrible heresy, I know, but it's true--I don't care whether she can
play, or not; but I should prefer that she shouldn't play--much!"

"Why, Cyril Henshaw!--and you, with your music! As if you could be
contented with a woman like that!"

"Oh, I want her to like music, of course," modified Cyril; "but I don't
care to have her MAKE it. Billy, do you know? You'll laugh, of course,
but my picture of a wife is always one thing: a room with a table and
a shaded lamp, and a little woman beside it with the light on her hair,
and a great, basket of sewing beside her. You see I AM domestic!" he
finished a little defiantly.

"I should say you were," laughed Billy. "And have you found her?--this
little woman who is to do nothing but sit and sew in the circle of the
shaded lamp?"

"Yes, I've found her, but I'm not at all sure she's found me. That's
where I want your help. Oh, I don't mean, of course," he added, "that
she's got to sit under that lamp all the time. It's only that--that I
hope she likes that sort of thing."

"And--does she?"

"Yes; that is, I think she does," smiled Cyril. "Anyhow, she told me
once that--that the things she liked best to do in all the world were to
mend stockings and to make puddings."

Billy sprang to her feet with a little cry. Now, indeed, had Cyril kept
his promise and made "many things clear" to her.

"Cyril, come here," she cried tremulously, leading the way to the open
veranda door. The next moment Cyril was looking across the lawn to the
little summerhouse in the midst of Billy's rose garden. In full view
within the summerhouse sat Marie--sewing.

"Go, Cyril; she's waiting for you," smiled Billy, mistily. "The light's
only the sun, to be sure, and maybe there isn't a whole basket of sewing
there. But--SHE'S there!"

"You've--guessed, then!" breathed Cyril.

"I've not guessed--I know. And--it's all right."

"You mean--?" Only Cyril's pleading eyes finished the question.

"Yes, I'm sure she does," nodded Billy. And then she added under her
breath as the man passed swiftly down the steps: "'Marie Henshaw'
indeed! So 'twas Cyril all the time--and never Bertram--who was the
inspiration of that bit of paper give-away!"

When she turned back into the room she came face to face with Bertram.

"I spoke, dear, but you didn't hear," he said, as he hurried forward
with outstretched hands.

"Bertram," greeted Billy, with surprising irrelevance, "'and they all
lived happily ever after'--they DID! Isn't that always the ending to the
story--a love story?"

"Of course," said Bertram with emphasis;--"OUR love story!"

"And theirs," supplemented Billy, softly; but Bertram did not hear that.





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