Miss Billy's Decision
Eleanor H. Porter
Part 6 out of 7
a little stiffly.
Billy began to talk then very brightly of Aunt
Hannah and her shawls, and of a visit she had
made to Cyril and Marie that morning.
``And, do you know? Aunt Hannah's clock
_has_ done a good turn, at last, and justified its
existence. Listen,'' she cried gayly. ``Marie
had a letter from her mother's Cousin Jane.
Cousin Jane couldn't sleep nights, because she
was always lying awake to find out just what time
it was; so Marie had written her about Aunt
Hannah's clock. And now this Cousin Jane has
fixed _her_ clock, and she sleeps like a top, just
because she knows there'll never be but half an hour
that she doesn't know what time it is!''
Bertram smiled, and murmured a polite ``Well,
I'm sure that's fine!''; but the words were
plainly abstracted, and the frown had not left
his brow. Nor did it quite leave till some time
later, when Billy, in answer to a question of his
about another operetta, cried, with a shudder:
``Mercy, I hope not, dear! I don't want to
_hear_ the word `operetta' again for a year!''
Bertram smiled, then, broadly. He, too,
would be quite satisfied not to hear the word
``operetta'' for a year. Operetta, to Bertram,
meant interruptions, interferences, and the
constant presence of Arkwright, the Greggorys,
and innumerable creatures who wished to rehearse
or to change wigs--all of which Bertram
abhorred. No wonder, therefore, that he smiled,
and that the frown disappeared from his brow.
He thought he saw, ahead, serene, blissful days
for Billy and himself.
As the days, however, began to pass, one by
one, Bertram Henshaw found them to be anything
but serene and blissful. The operetta, with its
rehearsals and its interruptions, was gone,
certainly; but he was becoming seriously troubled
Billy did not act natural. Sometimes she
seemed like her old self; and he breathed more
freely, telling himself that his fears were
groundless. Then would come the haunting shadow to
her eyes, the droop to her mouth, and the nervousness
to her manner that he so dreaded. Worse
yet, all this seemed to be connected in some strange
way with Arkwright. He found this out by accident
one day. She had been talking and laughing
brightly about something, when he chanced
to introduce Arkwright's name.
``By the way, where is Mary Jane these days?''
he asked then.
``I don't know, I'm sure. He hasn't been here
lately,'' murmured Billy, reaching for a book on
At a peculiar something in her voice, he had
looked up quickly, only to find, to his great
surprise, that her face showed a painful flush as she
bent over the book in her hand.
He had said nothing more at the time, but he
had not forgotten. Several times, after that, he
had introduced the man's name, and never had
it failed to bring a rush of color, a biting of the
lip, or a quick change of position followed always by
the troubled eyes and nervous manner that he had
learned to dread. He noticed then that never, of
her own free will, did she herself mention the man;
never did she speak of him with the old frank
lightness as ``Mary Jane.''
By casual questions asked from time to time,
Bertram had learned that Arkwright never came
there now, and that the song-writing together
had been given up. Curiously enough, this
discovery, which would once have filled Bertram
with joy, served now only to deepen his distress.
That there was anything inconsistent in the fact
that he was more frightened now at the man's
absence than he had been before at his presence,
did not occur to him. He knew only that he was
frightened, and badly frightened.
Bertram had not forgotten the evening after
the operetta, and Billy's tear-stained face on
that occasion. He dated the whole thing, in fact,
from that evening. He fell to wondering one day
if that, too, had anything to do with Arkwright.
He determined then to find out. Shamelessly--
for the good of the cause--he set a trap for
Billy's unwary feet.
Very adroitly one day he led the talk straight
to Arkwright; then he asked abruptly:
``Where is the chap, I wonder! Why, he hasn't
shown up once since the operetta, has he?''
Billy, always truthful,--and just now always
embarrassed when Arkwright's name was mentioned,--
walked straight into the trap.
``Oh, yes; well, he was here once--the day
after the operetta. I haven't seen him since.''
Bertram answered a light something, but his
face grew a little white. Now that the trap had
been sprung and the victim caught, he almost
wished that he had not set any trap at all.
He knew now it was true. Arkwright had been
with Billy the day after the operetta, and her
tears and her distress that evening had been caused
by something Arkwright had said. It was Arkwright's
secret that she could not tell. It was
Arkwright to whom she must be fair. It was
Arkwright's sorrow that she ``could not help--now.''
Naturally, with these tools in his hands, and
aided by days of brooding and nights of sleeplessness,
it did not take Bertram long to fashion The
Thing that finally loomed before him as The Truth.
He understood it all now. Music had conquered.
Billy and Arkwright had found that they loved
each other. On the day after the operetta, they
had met, and had had some sort of scene together
--doubtless Arkwright had declared his love.
That was the ``secret'' that Billy could not tell
and be ``fair.'' Billy, of course,--loyal little
soul that she was,--had sent him away at once.
Was her hand not already pledged? That was
why she could not ``help it-now.'' (Bertram
writhed in agony at the thought.) Since that
meeting Arkwright had not been near the house.
Billy had found, however, that her heart had gone
with Arkwright; hence the shadow in her eyes,
the nervousness in her manner, and the embarrassment
that she always showed at the mention of
That Billy was still outwardly loyal to himself,
and that she still kept to her engagement, did
not surprise Bertram in the least. That was like
Billy. Bertram had not forgotten how, less than
a year before, this same Billy had held herself
loyal and true to an engagement with William,
because a wretched mistake all around had caused
her to give her promise to be William's wife under
the impression that she was carrying out William's
dearest wish. Bertram remembered her face as
it had looked all those long summer days while
her heart was being slowly broken; and he thought
he could see that same look in her eyes now. All
of which only goes to prove with what woeful
skill Bertram had fashioned this Thing that was
looming before him as The Truth.
The exhibition of ``The Bohemian Ten'' was
to open with a private view on the evening of
the twentieth of March. Bertram Henshaw's
one contribution was to be his portrait of Miss
Marguerite Winthrop--the piece of work that
had come to mean so much to him; the piece
of work upon which already he felt the focus of
multitudes of eyes.
Miss Winthrop was in Boston now, and it was
during these early March days that Bertram was
supposed to be putting in his best work on the
portrait; but, unfortunately, it was during these
same early March days that he was engaged, also,
in fashioning The Thing--and the two did not
The Thing, indeed, was a jealous creature,
and would brook no rival. She filled his eyes
with horrid visions, and his brain with sickening
thoughts. Between him and his model she flung
a veil of fear; and she set his hand to trembling,
and his brush to making blunders with the paints
on his palette.
Bertram saw The Thing, and saw, too, the
grievous result of her presence. Despairingly
he fought against her and her work; but The
Thing had become full grown now, and was The
Truth. Hence she was not to be banished. She
even, in a taunting way, seemed sometimes to
be justifying her presence, for she reminded him:
``After all, what's the difference? What do
you care for this, or anything again if Billy
is lost to you?''
But the artist told himself fiercely that he did
care--that he must care--for his work; and
he struggled--how he struggled!--to ignore
the horrid visions and the sickening thoughts,
and to pierce the veil of fear so that his hand
might be steady and his brush regain its skill.
And so he worked. Sometimes he let his work
remain. Sometimes one hour saw only the erasing
of what the hour before had wrought. Sometimes
the elusive something in Marguerite Winthrop's
face seemed right at the tip of his brush--on the
canvas, even. He saw success then so plainly
that for a moment it almost--but not quite--
blotted out The Thing. At other times that
elusive something on the high-bred face of his
model was a veritable will-o'-the-wisp, refusing to
be caught and held, even in his eye. The artist
knew then that his picture would be hung with
Anderson's and Fullam's.
But the portrait was, irrefutably, nearing
completion, and it was to be exhibited the
twentieth of the month. Bertram knew these for
BILLY TAKES HER TURN
If for Billy those first twenty days of March
did not carry quite the tragedy they contained
for Bertram, they were, nevertheless, not really
happy ones. She was vaguely troubled by a
curious something in Bertram's behavior that
she could not name; she was grieved over Arkwright's
sorrow, and she was constantly probing
her own past conduct to see if anywhere she could
find that she was to blame for that sorrow. She
missed, too, undeniably, Arkwright's cheery presence,
and the charm and inspiration of his music.
Nor was she finding it easy to give satisfactory
answers to the questions Aunt Hannah, William,
and Bertram so often asked her as to where Mary
Even her music was little comfort to her these
days. She was not writing anything. There
was no song in her heart to tempt her to write.
Arkwright's new words that he had brought her
were out of the question, of course. They had
been put away with the manuscript of the
completed song, which had not, fortunately, gone to
the publishers. Billy had waited, intending to
send them together. She was so glad, now, that
she had waited. Just once, since Arkwright's
last call, she had tried to sing that song. But
she had stopped at the end of the first two lines.
The full meaning of those words, as coming from
Arkwright, had swept over her then, and she
had snatched up the manuscript and hidden it
under the bottom pile of music in her cabinet
. . . And she had presumed to sing that love song
Arkwright had written Billy once--a kind,
courteous, manly note that had made her cry. He
had begged her again not to blame herself, and he
had said that he hoped he should be strong
enough sometime to wish to call occasionally--
if she were willing--and renew their pleasant
hours with their music; but, for the present, he
knew there was nothing for him to do but to stay
away. He had signed himself ``Michael Jeremiah
Arkwright''; and to Billy that was the most
pathetic thing in the letter--it sounded so hopeless
and dreary to one who knew the jaunty
Alice Greggory, Billy saw frequently. Billy
and Aunt Hannah were great friends with the
Greggorys now, and had been ever since the
Greggorys' ten-days' visit at Hillside. The cheery
little cripple, with the gentle tap, tap, tap of her
crutches, had won everybody's heart the very
first day; and Alice was scarcely less of a favorite,
after the sunny friendliness of Hillside had thawed
her stiff reserve into naturalness.
Billy had little to say to Alice Greggory of
Arkwright. Billy was no longer trying to play
Cupid's assistant. The Cause, for which she
had so valiantly worked, had been felled by
Arkwright's own hand--but that there were still
some faint stirrings of life in it was evidenced by
Billy's secret delight when one day Alice Greggory
chanced to mention that Arkwright had called
the night before upon her and her mother.
``He brought us news of our old home,'' she
explained a little hurriedly, to Billy. ``He had
heard from his mother, and he thought some
things she said would be interesting to us.''
``Of course,'' murmured Billy, carefully
excluding from her voice any hint of the delight she
felt, but hoping, all the while, that Alice would
continue the subject.
Alice, however, had nothing more to say; and
Billy was left in entire ignorance of what the news
was that Arkwright had brought. She suspected,
though, that it had something to do with Alice's
father--certainly she hoped that it had; for
if Arkwright had called to tell it, it must be good.
Billy had found a new home for the Greggorys;
although at first they had drawn sensitively back,
and had said that they preferred to remain where
they were, they had later gratefully accepted it.
A little couple from South Boston, to whom Billy
had given a two weeks' outing the summer before,
had moved into town and taken a flat in the South
End. They had two extra rooms which they had
told Billy they would like to let for light house-
keeping, if only they knew just the right people
to take into such close quarters with themselves.
Billy at once thought of the Greggorys, and spoke
of them. The little couple were delighted, and
the Greggorys were scarcely less so when they
at last became convinced that only a very little
more money than they were already paying
would give themselves a much pleasanter home,
and would at the same time be a real boon to two
young people who were trying to meet expenses.
So the change was made, and general happiness
all round had resulted--so much so, that Bertram
had said to Billy, when he heard of it:
``It looks as if this was a case where your cake
is frosted on both sides.''
``Nonsense! This isn't frosting--it's business,''
Billy had laughed.
``And the new pupils you have found for Miss
Alice--they're business, too, I suppose?''
``Certainly,'' retorted Billy, with decision.
Then she had given a low laugh and said: ``Mercy!
If Alice Greggory thought it was anything _but_
business, I verily believe she would refuse every
one of the new pupils, and begin to-night to carry
back the tables and chairs herself to those wretched
rooms she left last month!''
Bertram had smiled, but the smile had been
a fleeting one, and the brooding look of gloom that
Billy had noticed so frequently, of late, had come
back to his eyes.
Billy was not a little disturbed over Bertram
these days. He did not seem to be his natural,
cheery self at all. He talked little, and what he
did say seldom showed a trace of his usually
whimsical way of putting things. He was kindness
itself to her, and seemed particularly anxious
to please her in every way; but she frequently
found his eyes fixed on her with a sombre questioning
that almost frightened her. The more she
thought of it, the more she wondered what the
question was, that he did not dare to ask; and
whether it was of herself or himself that he would
ask it--if he did dare. Then, with benumbing
force, one day, a possible solution of the mystery
came to her, he had found out that it was true
(what all his friends had declared of him)--he
did not really love any girl, except to paint!
The minute this thought came to her, Billy
thrust it indignantly away. It was disloyal to
Bertram and unworthy of herself, even to think
such a thing. She told herself then that it was
only the portrait of Miss Winthrop that was
troubling him. She knew that he was worried
over that. He had confessed to her that actually
sometimes he was beginning to fear his hand had
lost its cunning. As if that were not enough to
bring the gloom to any man's face--to any
No sooner, however, had Billy arrived at this
point in her mental argument, than a new element
entered--her old lurking jealousy, of which she
was heartily ashamed, but which she had never
yet been able quite to subdue; her jealousy of
the beautiful girl with the beautiful name (not
Billy), whose portrait had needed so much time
and so many sittings to finish. What if Bertram
had found that he loved _her?_ What if that were
why his hand had lost its cunning--because,
though loving her, he realized that he was bound
to another, Billy herself?
This thought, too, Billy cast from her at once as
again disloyal and unworthy. But both thoughts,
having once entered her brain, had made for themselves
roads over which the second passing was
much easier than the first--as Billy found to
her sorrow. Certainly, as the days went by,
and as Bertram's face and manner became more
and more a tragedy of suffering, Billy found it
increasingly difficult to keep those thoughts
from wearing their roads of suspicion into horrid
deep ruts of certainty.
Only with William and Marie, now, could Billy
escape from it all. With William she sought
new curios and catalogued the old. With Marie
she beat eggs and whipped cream in the shining
kitchen, and tried to think that nothing in the
world mattered except that the cake in the oven
should not fall.
KATE WRITES A LETTER
Bertram feared that he knew, before the portrait
was hung, that it was a failure. He was sure
that he knew it on the evening of the twentieth
when he encountered the swiftly averted eyes
of some of his artist friends, and saw the perplexed
frown on the faces of others. But he knew,
afterwards, that he did not really know it--till
he read the newspapers during the next few days.
There was praise--oh, yes; the faint praise
that kills. There was some adverse criticism,
too; but it was of the light, insincere variety that
is given to mediocre work by unimportant artists.
Then, here and there, appeared the signed
critiques of the men whose opinion counted--
and Bertram knew that he had failed. Neither
as a work of art, nor as a likeness, was the portrait
the success that Henshaw's former work would
seem to indicate that it should have been. Indeed,
as one caustic pen put it, if this were to be taken
as a sample of what was to follow--then the
famous originator of ``The Face of a Girl'' had
``a most distinguished future behind him.''
Seldom, if ever before, had an exhibited
portrait attracted so much attention. As Bertram
had said, uncounted eyes were watching for it
before it was hung, because it was a portrait of
the noted beauty, Marguerite Winthrop, and
because two other well-known artists had failed
where he, Bertram Henshaw, was hoping to succeed.
After it was hung, and the uncounted eyes
had seen it--either literally, or through the eyes
of the critics--interest seemed rather to grow
than to lessen, for other uncounted eyes wanted
to see what all the fuss was about, anyway. And
when these eyes had seen, their owners talked.
Nor did they, by any means, all talk against the
portrait. Some were as loud in its praise as were
others in its condemnation; all of which, of
course, but helped to attract more eyes to the
cause of it all.
For Bertram and his friends these days were,
naturally, trying ones. William finally dreaded
to open his newspaper. (It had become the fashion,
when murders and divorces were scarce, occasionally
to ``feature'' somebody's opinion of the
Henshaw portrait, on the first page--something
that had almost never been known to happen before.)
Cyril, according to Marie, played ``perfectly
awful things on his piano every day, now.'' Aunt
Hannah had said ``Oh, my grief and conscience!''
so many times that it melted now into a wordless
groan whenever a new unfriendly criticism of the
portrait met her indignant eyes.
Of all Bertram's friends, Billy, perhaps not
unnaturally, was the angriest. Not only did she,
after a time, refuse to read the papers, but she
refused even to allow certain ones to be brought
into the house, foolish and unreasonable as she
knew this to be.
As to the artist himself, Bertram's face showed
drawn lines and his eyes sombre shadows, but his
words and manner carried a stolid indifference
that to Billy was at once heartbreaking and maddening.
``But, Bertram, why don't you do something?
Why don't you say something? Why don't you
act something?'' she burst out one day.
The artist shrugged his shoulders.
``But, my dear, what can I say, or do, or act?''
``I don't know, of course,'' sighed Billy. ``But
I know what I'd like to do. I should like to go
out and--fight somebody!''
So fierce were words and manner, coupled as
they were with a pair of gentle eyes ablaze and
two soft little hands doubled into menacing fists,
that Bertram laughed.
``What a fiery little champion it is, to be sure,''
he said tenderly. ``But as if fighting could do any
good--in this case!''
Billy's tense muscles relaxed. Her eyes filled
``No, I don't suppose it would,'' she choked,
beginning to cry, so that Bertram had to turn
``Come, come, dear,'' he begged; ``don't take
it so to heart. It's not so bad, after all. I've
still my good right hand left, and we'll hope
there's something in it yet--that'll be worth
``But _this_ one isn't bad,'' stormed Billy. ``It's
splendid! I'm sure, I think it's a b-beautiful
portrait, and I don't see _what_ people mean by
talking so about it!''
Bertram shook his head. His eyes grew sombre
``Thank you, dear. But I know--and you
know, really--that it isn't a splendid portrait.
I've done lots better work than that.''
``Then why don't they look at those, and let
this alone?'' wailed Billy, with indignation.
``Because I deliberately put up this for them to
see,'' smiled the artist, wearily.
Billy sighed, and twisted in her chair.
``What does--Mr. Winthrop say?'' she asked
at last, in a faint voice.
Bertram lifted his head.
``Mr. Winthrop's been a trump all through,
dear. He's already insisted on paying for this--
and he's ordered another.''
``Yes. The old fellow never minces his words,
as you may know. He came to me one day, put
his hand on my shoulder, and said tersely: `Will
you give me another, same terms? Go in, boy,
and win. Show 'em! I lost the first ten thousand
I made. I didn't the next!' That's all he said.
Before I could even choke out an answer he was
gone. Gorry! talk about his having a `heart
of stone'! I don't believe another man in the
country would have done that--and done it in
the way he did--in the face of all this talk,''
finished Bertram, his eyes luminous with feeling.
``Perhaps--his daughter--influenced him--some.''
``Perhaps,'' nodded Bertram. ``She, too, has
been very kind, all the way through.''
Billy hesitated again.
``But I thought--it was going so splendidly,''
she faltered, in a half-stifled voice.
``So it was--at the first.''
``Then what--ailed it, at the last, do you
suppose?'' Billy was holding her breath till he
The man got to his feet.
``Billy, don't--don't ask me,'' he begged.
``Please don't let's talk of it any more. It can't
do any good! I just flunked--that's all. My
hand failed me. Maybe I tried too hard. Maybe
I was tired. Maybe something--troubled me.
Never mind, dear, what it was. It can do no
good even to think of that--now. So just let's
--drop it, please, dear,'' he finished, his face
working with emotion.
And Billy dropped it--so far as words were
concerned; but she could not drop it from her
thoughts--specially after Kate's letter came.
Kate's letter was addressed to Billy, and it said,
after speaking of various other matters:
``And now about poor Bertram's failure.''
(Billy frowned. In Billy's presence no one was
allowed to say ``Bertram's failure''; but a letter
has a most annoying privilege of saying what it
pleases without let or hindrance, unless one tears
it up--and a letter destroyed unread remains always
such a tantalizing mystery of possibilities!
So Billy let the letter talk.) ``Of course we have
heard of it away out here. I do wish if Bertram
_must_ paint such famous people, he would manage
to flatter them up--in the painting, I mean, of
course--enough so that it might pass for a success!
``The technical part of all this criticism I don't
pretend to understand in the least; but from what
I hear and read, he must, indeed, have made a
terrible mess of it, and of course I'm very sorry
--and some surprised, too, for usually he paints
such pretty pictures!
``Still, on the other hand, Billy, I'm not
surprised. William says that Bertram has been
completely out of fix over something, and as gloomy
as an owl, for weeks past; and of course, under
those circumstances, the poor boy could not be
expected to do good work. Now William, being a
man, is not supposed to understand what the
trouble is. But I, being a woman, can see through
a pane of glass when it's held right up before me;
and I can guess, of course, that a woman is at the
bottom of it--she always is!--and that you,
being his special fancy at the moment'' (Billy
almost did tear the letter now--but not quite),
``are that woman.
``Now, Billy, you don't like such frank talk, of
course; but, on the other hand, I know you do not
want to ruin the dear boy's career. So, for heaven's
sake, if you two have been having one of those
quarrels that lovers so delight in--do, please, for
the good of the cause, make up quick, or else quarrel
harder and break it off entirely--which, honestly,
would be the better way, I think, all around.
``There, there, my dear child, don't bristle up!
I am very fond of you, and would dearly love to
have you for a sister--if you'd only take William,
as you should! But, as you very well know, I never
did approve of this last match at all, for either of
``He can't make you happy, my dear, and you
can't make him happy. Bertram never was--
and never will be--a marrying man. He's too
temperamental--too thoroughly wrapped up in
his Art. Girls have never meant anything to him
but a beautiful picture to paint. And they never
will. They can't. He's made that way. Listen!
I can prove it to you. Up to this winter he's
always been a care-free, happy, jolly fellow, and you
_know_ what beautiful work he has done. Never
before has he tied himself to any one girl till last
fall. Then you two entered into this absurd engagement.
``Now what has it been since? William wrote
me himself not a fortnight ago that he'd been
worried to death over Bertram for weeks past, he's
been so moody, so irritable, so fretted over his
work, so unlike himself. And his picture has
_failed_ dismally. Of course William doesn't
understand; but I do. I know you've probably quarrelled,
or something. You know how flighty and
unreliable you can be sometimes, Billy, and I don't
say that to mean anything against you, either--
that's _your_ way. You're just as temperamental in
your art, music, as Bertram is in his. You're
utterly unsuited to him. If Bertram is to marry
_anybody_, it should be some quiet, staid, sensible
girl who would be a _help_ to him. But when I think
of you two flyaway flutterbudgets marrying--!
``Now, for heaven's sake, Billy, _do_ make up or
something--and do it now. Don't, for pity's
sake, let Bertram ever put out another such a piece
of work to shame us all like this. Do you want to
ruin his career?
``P. S. _I_ think William's the one for you.
He's devoted to you, and his quiet, sensible affection
is just what your temperament needs. I _always_
thought William was the one for you. Think
``P. S. No. 2. You can see by the above that it
isn't you I'm objecting to, my dear. It's just _you-
``I'VE HINDERED HIM''
Billy was shaking with anger and terror by the
time she had finished reading Kate's letter. Anger
was uppermost at the moment, and with one
sweeping wrench of her trembling fingers she tore
the closely written sheets straight through the
middle, and flung them into the little wicker basket
by her desk. Then she went down-stairs and
played her noisiest, merriest Tarantella, and tried
to see how fast she could make her fingers fly.
But Billy could not, of course, play tarantellas
all day; and even while she did play them she
could not forget that waste-basket up-stairs,
and the horror it contained. The anger was still
uppermost, but the terror was prodding her at
every turn, and demanding to know just what it
was that Kate had written in that letter, anyway.
It is not strange then, perhaps, that before two
hours passed, Billy went up-stairs, took the letter
from the basket, matched together the torn
half-sheets and forced her shrinking eyes to read
every word again-just to satisfy that terror
which would not be silenced.
At the end of the second reading, Billy reminded
herself with stern calmness that it was only Kate,
after all; that nobody ought to mind what Kate
said; that certainly _she_, Billy, ought not--after
the experience she had already had with her
unpleasant interference! Kate did not know what
she was talking about, anyway. This was only
another case of her trying ``to manage.'' She
did so love to manage--everything!
At this point Billy got out her pen and paper
and wrote to Kate.
It was a formal, cold little letter, not at all the
sort that Billy's friends usually received. It
thanked Kate for her advice, and for her ``kind
willingness'' to have Billy for a sister; but it
hinted that perhaps Kate did not realize that as
long as Billy was the one who would have to _live_
with the chosen man, it would be pleasanter to
take the one Billy loved, which happened in
this case to be Bertram--not William. As for
any ``quarrel'' being the cause of whatever
fancied trouble there was with the new picture--
the letter scouted that idea in no uncertain terms.
There had been no suggestion of a quarrel even
once since the engagement.
Then Billy signed her name and took the letter
out to post immediately.
For the first few minutes after the letter had
been dropped into the green box at the corner,
Billy held her head high, and told herself that
the matter was now closed. She had sent Kate
a courteous, dignified, conclusive, effectual answer,
and she thought with much satisfaction of the
things she had said.
Very soon, however, she began to think--not
so much of what _she_ had said--but of what Kate
had said. Many of Kate's sentences were
unpleasantly vivid in her mind. They seemed,
indeed, to stand out in letters of flame, and they
began to burn, and burn, and burn. These were
some of them:
``William says that Bertram has been
completely out of fix over something, and as gloomy
as an owl for weeks past.''
``A woman is at the bottom of it--. . . you
are that woman.''
``You can't make him happy.''
``Bertram never was--and never will be--a
``Girls have never meant anything to him but
a beautiful picture to paint. And they never
``Up to this winter he's always been a
carefree, happy, jolly fellow, and you _know_ what
beautiful work he has done. Never before has
he tied himself to any one girl until last
``Now what has it been since?''
``He's been so moody, so irritable, so fretted
over his work, so unlike himself; and his picture
has failed, dismally.''
``Do you want to ruin his career?''
Billy began to see now that she had not really
answered Kate's letter at all. The matter was not
closed. Her reply had been, perhaps, courteous
and dignified--but it had not been conclusive
Billy had reached home now, and she was
crying. Bertram _had_ acted strangely, of late.
Bertram _had_ seemed troubled over something.
His picture _had_-- With a little shudder Billy
tossed aside these thoughts, and dug at her teary
eyes with a determined hand. Fiercely she told
herself that the matter _was_ settled. Very scornfully
she declared that it was ``only Kate,''
after all, and that she _would not_ let Kate make
her unhappy again! Forthwith she picked up a
current magazine and began to read.
As it chanced, however, even here Billy found
no peace; for the first article she opened to was
headed in huge black type:
``MARRIAGE AND THE ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT.''
With a little cry Billy flung the magazine far
from her, and picked up another. But even ``The
Elusiveness of Chopin,'' which she found here,
could not keep her thoughts nor her eyes from
wandering to the discarded thing in the corner,
lying ignominiously face down with crumpled,
Billy knew that in the end she should go over
and pick that magazine up, and read that article
from beginning to end. She was not surprised,
therefore, when she did it--but she was not any
the happier for having done it.
The writer of the article did not approve of
marriage and the artistic temperament. He said
the artist belonged to his Art, and to posterity
through his Art. The essay fairly bristled with
many-lettered words and high-sounding phrases,
few of which Billy really understood. She did
understand enough, however, to feel, guiltily,
when the thing was finished, that already she had
married Bertram, and by so doing had committed
a Crime. She had slain Art, stifled Ambition,
destroyed Inspiration, and been a nuisance generally.
In consequence of which Bertram would henceforth
and forevermore be doomed to Littleness.
Naturally, in this state of mind, and with this
vision before her, Billy was anything but her
bright, easy self when she met Bertram an hour
or two later. Naturally, too, Bertram, still the
tormented victim of the bugaboo his jealous fears
had fashioned, was just in the mood to place the
worst possible construction on his sweetheart's
very evident unhappiness. With sighs, unspoken
questions, and frequently averted eyes, therefore,
the wretched evening passed, a pitiful misery to
During the days that followed, Billy thought
that the world itself must be in league with Kate,
so often did she encounter Kate's letter
masquerading under some thin disguise. She did
not stop to realize that because she was so afraid
she _would_ find it, she _did_ find it. In the books
she read, in the plays she saw, in the chance
words she heard spoken by friend or stranger--
always there was something to feed her fears in
one way or another. Even in a yellowed newspaper
that had covered the top shelf in her closet
she found one day a symposium on whether or
not an artist's wife should be an artist; and she
shuddered--but she read every opinion given.
Some writers said no, and some, yes; and some
said it all depended--on the artist and his wife.
Billy found much food for thought, some for
amusement, and a little that made for peace of
mind. On the whole it opened up a new phase
of the matter, perhaps. At all events, upon
finishing it she almost sobbed:
``One would think that just because I write a
song now and then, I was going to let Bertram
starve, and go with holes in his socks and no
buttons on his clothes!''
It was that afternoon that Billy went to see
Marie; but even there she did not escape, for
the gentle Marie all unknowingly added her mite
to the woeful whole.
Billy found Marie in tears.
``Why, Marie!'' she cried in dismay.
``Sh-h!'' warned Marie, turning agonized eyes
toward the closed door of Cyril's den.
``But, dear, what is it?'' begged Billy, with no
less dismay, but with greater caution.
``Sh-h!'' admonished Marie again.
On tiptoe, then, she led the way to a room at
the other end of the tiny apartment. Once there;
she explained in a more natural tone of voice:
``Cyril's at work on a new piece for the piano.''
``Well, what if he is?'' demanded Billy. ``That
needn't make you cry, need it?''
``Oh, no--no, indeed,'' demurred Marie, in
a shocked voice.
``Well, then, what is it?''
Marie hesitated; then, with the abandon of a
hurt child that longs for sympathy, she sobbed:
``It--it's just that I'm afraid, after all, that
I'm not good enough for Cyril.''
Billy stared frankly.
``Not _good_ enough, Marie Henshaw! Whatever
in the world do you mean?''
``Well, not good _for_ him, then. Listen! To-day,
I know, in lots of ways I must have disappointed
him. First, he put on some socks that I'd darned.
They were the first since our marriage that I'd
found to darn, and I'd been so proud and--and
happy while I _was_ darning them. But--but
he took 'em off right after breakfast and threw
'em in a corner. Then he put on a new pair, and
said that I--I needn't darn any more; that it
made--bunches. Billy, _my darns--bunches!_''
Marie's face and voice were tragic.
``Nonsense, dear! Don't let that fret you,''
comforted Billy, promptly, trying not to laugh
too hard. ``It wasn't _your_ darns; it was just
darns--anybody's darns. Cyril won't wear
darned socks. Aunt Hannah told me so long ago,
and I said then there'd be a tragedy when _you_
found it out. So don't worry over that.''
``Oh, but that isn't all,'' moaned Marie.
``Listen! You know how quiet he must have everything
when he's composing--and he ought to
have it, too! But I forgot, this morning, and put
on some old shoes that didn't have any rubber
heels, and I ran the carpet sweeper, and I rattled
tins in the kitchen. But I never thought a thing
until he opened his door and asked me _please_ to
change my shoes and let the--the confounded
dirt go, and didn't I have any dishes in the house
but what were made of that abominable tin
s-stuff,'' she finished in a wail of misery.
Billy burst into a ringing laugh, but Marie's
aghast face and upraised hand speedily reduced it
to a convulsive giggle.
``You dear child! Cyril's always like that when
he's composing,'' soothed Billy. ``I supposed you
knew it, dear. Don't you fret! Run along and
make him his favorite pudding, and by night both
of you will have forgotten there ever were such
things in the world as tins and shoes and carpet
sweepers that clatter.''
Marie shook her head. Her dismal face did not
``You don't understand,'' she moaned. ``It's
myself. I've _hindered_ him!'' She brought out the
word with an agony of slow horror. ``And only
to-day I read-here, look!'' she faltered, going
to the table and picking up with shaking hands a
Billy recognized it by the cover at once--another
like it had been flung not so long ago by her
own hand into the corner. She was not surprised,
therefore, to see very soon at the end of Marie's
``Marriage and the Artistic Temperament.''
Billy did not give a ringing laugh this time.
She gave an involuntary little shudder, though she
tried valiantly to turn it all off with a light word
of scorn, and a cheery pat on Marie's heaving
shoulders. But she went home very soon; and it
was plain to be seen that her visit to Marie had
not brought her peace.
Billy knew Kate's letter, by heart, now, both in
the original, and in its different versions, and she
knew that, despite her struggles, she was being
forced straight toward Kate's own verdict: that
she, Billy, _was_ the cause, in some way, of the
deplorable change in Bertram's appearance, manner,
and work. Before she would quite surrender to
this heart-sickening belief, however, she determined
to ask Bertram himself. Falteringly, but
resolutely, therefore, one day, she questioned him.
``Bertram, once you hinted that the picture did
not go right because you were troubled over something;
and I've been wondering--was it about--
me, in any way, that you were troubled?''
Billy had her answer before the man spoke. She
had it in the quick terror that sprang to his eyes,
and the dull red that swept from his neck to his
forehead. His reply, so far as words went did not
count, for it evaded everything and told nothing.
But Billy knew without words. She knew, too,
what she must do. For the time being she took
Bertram's evasive answer as he so evidently wished
it to be taken; but that evening, after he had
gone, she wrote him a little note and broke the
engagement. So heartbroken was she--and so
fearful was she that he should suspect this--that
her note, when completed, was a cold little thing of
few words, which carried no hint that its very
coldness was but the heart-break in the disguise of
This was like Billy in all ways. Billy, had she
lived in the days of the Christian martyrs, would
have been the first to walk with head erect into the
Arena of Sacrifice. The arena now was just everyday
living, the lions were her own devouring misery,
and the cause was Bertram's best good.
From Bertram's own self she had it now--that
she had been the cause of his being troubled; so
she could doubt no longer. The only part that was
uncertain was the reason why he had been
troubled. Whether his bond to her had become
irksome because of his love for another, or because
of his love for no girl--except to paint, Billy did
not know. But that it was irksome she did not
doubt now. Besides, as if she were going to slay
his Art, stifle his Ambition, destroy his Inspiration,
and be a nuisance generally just so that _she_
might be happy! Indeed, no! Hence she broke
This was the letter:
``DEAR BERTRAM:--You won't make the
move, so I must. I knew, from the way you spoke
to-day, that it _was_ about me that you were
troubled, even though you generously tried to
make me think it was not. And so the picture did
not go well.
``Now, dear, we have not been happy together
lately. You have seen it; so have I. I fear our
engagement was a mistake, so I'm going to send
back your ring to-morrow, and I'm writing this
letter to-night. Please don't try to see me just
yet. You _know_ what I am doing is best--all
``Always your friend,
Billy feared if she did not mail the letter at once
she would not have the courage to mail it at all. So
she slipped down-stairs very quietly and went herself
to the post box a little way down the street;
then she came back and sobbed herself to sleep--
though not until after she had sobbed awake for
long hours of wretchedness.
When she awoke in the morning, heavy-eyed
and unrested, there came to her first the vague
horror of some shadow hanging over her, then the
sickening consciousness of what that shadow was.
For one wild minute Billy felt that she must run
to the telephone, summon Bertram, and beseech
him to return unread the letter he would receive
from her that day. Then there came to her the
memory of Bertram's face as it had looked the
night before when she had asked him if she were
the cause of his being troubled. There came, too,
the memory of Kate's scathing ``Do you want to
ruin his career?'' Even the hated magazine article
and Marie's tragic ``I've _hindered_ him!'' added
their mite; and Billy knew that she should not go
to the telephone, nor summon Bertram.
The one fatal mistake now would be to let Bertram
see her own distress. If once he should suspect
how she suffered in doing this thing, there
would be a scene that Billy felt she had not the
courage to face. She must, therefore, manage in
some way not to see Bertram--not to let him see
her until she felt more sure of her self-control no
matter what he said. The easiest way to do this
was, of course, to go away. But where? How?
She must think. Meanwhile, for these first few
hours, she would not tell any one, even Aunt
Hannah, what had happened. There must _no one_
speak to her of it, yet. That she could not endure.
Aunt Hannah would, of course, shiver, groan ``Oh,
my grief and conscience!'' and call for another
shawl; and Billy just now felt as if she should
scream if she heard Aunt Hannah say ``Oh, my
grief and conscience!''--over that. Billy went
down to breakfast, therefore, with a determination
to act exactly as usual, so that Aunt Hannah
should not know--yet.
When people try to ``act exactly as usual,'' they
generally end in acting quite the opposite; and
Billy was no exception to the rule. Hence her
attempted cheerfulness became flippantness, and
her laughter giggles that rang too frequently to be
quite sincere--though from Aunt Hannah it all
elicited only an affectionate smile at ``the dear
child's high spirits.''
A little later, when Aunt Hannah was glancing
over the morning paper--now no longer barred
from the door--she gave a sudden cry.
``Billy, just listen to this!'' she exclaimed,
reading from the paper in her hand. `` `A new tenor in
``The Girl of the Golden West.'' Appearance of
Mr. M. J. Arkwright at the Boston Opera House
to-night. Owing to the sudden illness of Dubassi,
who was to have taken the part of Johnson tonight,
an exceptional opportunity has come to a
young tenor singer, one of the most promising pupils
at the Conservatory school. Arkwright is said
to have a fine voice, a particularly good stage
presence, and a purity of tone and smoothness of execution
that few of his age and experience can show.
Only a short time ago he appeared as the duke at
one of the popular-priced Saturday night performances
of ``Rigoletto''; and his extraordinary success
on that occasion, coupled with his familiarity
with, and fitness for the part of Johnson in ``The
Girl of the Golden West,'' led to his being chosen
to take Dubassi's place to-night. His performance
is awaited with the greatest of interest.' Now
isn't that splendid for Mary Jane? I'm so glad!''
beamed Aunt Hannah.
``Of course we're glad!'' cried Billy. ``And
didn't it come just in time? This is the last week
of opera, anyway, you know.''
``But it says he sang before--on a Saturday
night,'' declared Aunt Hannah, going back to the
paper in her hand. ``Now wouldn't you have
thought we'd have heard of it, or read of it? And
wouldn't you have thought he'd have told us?''
``Oh, well, maybe he didn't happen to see us
so he could tell us,'' returned Billy with elaborate
``I know it; but it's so funny he _hasn't_ seen us,''
contended Aunt Hannah, frowning. ``You know
how much he used to be here.''
Billy colored, and hurried into the fray.
``Oh, but he must have been so busy, with all
this, you know. And of course we didn't see it in
the paper--because we didn't have any paper at
that time, probably. Oh, yes, that's my fault, I
know,'' she laughed; ``and I was silly, I'll own.
But we'll make up for it now. We'll go, of course,
I wish it had been on our regular season-ticket
night, but I fancy we can get seats somewhere;
and I'm going to ask Alice Greggory and her
mother, too. I'll go down there this morning to
tell them, and to get the tickets. I've got it all
Billy had, indeed, ``got it all planned.'' She
had been longing for something that would take
her away from the house--and if possible away
from herself. This would do the one easily, and
might help on the other. She rose at once.
``I'll go right away,'' she said.
``But, my dear,'' frowned Aunt Hannah,
anxiously, ``I don't believe I can go to-night--though
I'd love to, dearly.''
``But why not?''
``I'm tired and half sick with a headache this
morning. I didn't sleep, and I've taken cold somewhere,''
sighed the lady, pulling the top shawl a
little higher about her throat.
``Why, you poor dear, what a shame!''
``Won't Bertram go?'' asked Aunt Hannah.
Billy shook her head--but she did not meet
Aunt Hannah's eyes.
``Oh, no. I sha'n't even ask him. He said last
night he had a banquet on for to-night--one of
his art clubs, I believe.'' Billy's voice was
``But you'll have the Greggorys--that is, Mrs.
Greggory _can_ go, can't she?'' inquired Aunt Hannah.
``Oh, yes; I'm sure she can,'' nodded Billy.
``You know she went to the operetta, and this is
just the same--only bigger.''
``Yes, yes, I know,'' murmured Aunt Hannah.
``Dear me! How can she get about so on those
two wretched little sticks? She's a perfect marvel
``She is to me, too,'' sighed Billy, as she hurried
from the room.
Billy was, indeed, in a hurry. To herself she
said she wanted to get away--away! And she
got away as soon as she could.
She had her plans all made. She would go first
to the Greggorys' and invite them to attend the
opera with her that evening. Then she would get
the tickets. Just what she would do with the rest
of the day she did not know. She knew only that
she would not go home until time to dress for
dinner and the opera. She did not tell Aunt
Hannah this, however, when she left the house. She
planned to telephone it from somewhere down
town, later. She told herself that she _could not_
stay all day under the sharp eyes of Aunt Hannah
--but she managed, nevertheless, to bid that lady
a particularly blithe and bright-faced good-by.
Billy had not been long gone when the telephone
bell rang. Aunt Hannah answered it.
``Why, Bertram, is that you?'' she called, in
answer to the words that came to her across the
wire. ``Why, I hardly knew your voice!''
``Didn't you? Well, is--is Billy there?''
``No, she isn't. She's gone down to see Alice
``Oh!'' So evident was the disappointment in
the voice that Aunt Hannah added hastily:
``I'm so sorry! She hasn't been gone ten
minutes. But--is there any message?''
``No, thank you. There's no--message.'' The
voice hesitated, then went on a little constrainedly.
``How--how is Billy this morning? She--she's
all right, isn't she?''
Aunt Hannah laughed in obvious amusement.
``Bless your dear heart, yes, my boy! Has it
been such a _long_ time since last evening--when
you saw her yourself? Yes, she's all right. In
fact, I was thinking at the breakfast table how
pretty she looked with her pink cheeks and her
bright eyes. She seemed to be in such high spirits.''
An inarticulate something that Aunt Hannah
could not quite catch came across the line; then
a somewhat hurried ``All right. Thank you.
The next time Aunt Hannah was called to the
telephone, Billy spoke to her.
``Aunt Hannah, don't wait luncheon for me,
please. I shall get it in town. And don't expect me
till five o'clock. I have some shopping to do.''
``All right, dear,'' replied Aunt Hannah. ``Did
you get the tickets?''
``Yes, and the Greggorys will go. Oh, and
``Please tell John to bring Peggy around early
enough to-night so we can go down and get the
Greggorys. I told them we'd call for them.''
``Very well, dear. I'll tell him.''
``Thank you. How's the poor head?''
``Better, a little, I think.''
``That's good. Won't you repent and go, too?''
``No--oh, no, indeed!''
``All right, then; good-by. I'm sorry!''
``So'm I. Good-by,'' sighed Aunt Hannah, as
she hung up the receiver and turned away.
It was after five o'clock when Billy got home,
and so hurried were the dressing and the dinner
that Aunt Hannah forgot to mention Bertram's
telephone call till just as Billy was ready to start
for the Greggorys'.
``There! and I forgot,'' she confessed.
``Bertram called you up just after you left this morning,
``Did he?'' Billy's face was turned away, but
Aunt Hannah did not notice that.
``Yes. Oh, he didn't want anything special,''
smiled the lady, ``only--well, he did ask if you
were all right this morning,'' she finished with
``Did he?'' murmured Billy again. This time
there was a little sound after the words, which
Aunt Hannah would have taken for a sob if she
had not known that it must have been a laugh.
Then Billy was gone.
At eight o'clock the doorbell rang, and a minute
later Rosa came up to say that Mr. Bertram Henshaw
was down-stairs and wished to see Mrs.
Mrs. Stetson went down at once.
``Why, my dear boy,'' she exclaimed, as she
entered the room; ``Billy said you had a banquet
on for to-night!''
``Yes, I know; but--I didn't go.'' Bertram's
face was pale and drawn. His voice did not sound
``Why, Bertram, you look ill! _Are_ you ill?''
The man made an impatient gesture.
``No, no, I'm not ill--I'm not ill at all. Rosa
says--Billy's not here.''
``No; she's gone to the opera with the Greggorys.''
``The _opera!_'' There was a grieved hurt in
Bertram's voice that Aunt Hannah quite misunderstood.
She hastened to give an apologetic
``Yes. She would have told you--she would
have asked you to join them, I'm sure, but she
said you were going to a banquet. I'm _sure_ she
``Yes, I did tell her so--last night,'' nodded
Aunt Hannah frowned a little. Still more
anxiously she endeavored to explain to this
disappointed lover why his sweetheart was not at home
to greet him.
``Well, then, of course, my boy, she'd never
think of your coming here to-night; and when she
found Mr. Arkwright was going to sing--''
``Arkwright!'' There was no listlessness in
Bertram's voice or manner now.
``Yes. Didn't you see it in the paper? Such a
splendid chance for him! His picture was there,
``No. I didn't see it.''
``Then you don't know about it, of course,''
smiled Aunt Hannah. ``But he's to take the part
of Johnson in `The Girl of the Golden West.'
Isn't that splendid? I'm so glad! And Billy was,
too. She hurried right off this morning to get the
tickets and to ask the Greggorys.''
``Oh!'' Bertram got to his feet a little abruptly,
and held out his hand. ``Well, then, I might as well
say good-by then, I suppose,'' he suggested with a
laugh that Aunt Hannah thought was a bit forced.
Before she could remind him again, though, that
Billy was really not to blame for not being there to
welcome him, he was gone. And Aunt Hannah
could only go up-stairs and meditate on the
unreasonableness of lovers in general, and of Bertram
Aunt Hannah had gone to bed, but she was still
awake, when Billy came home, so she heard the
automobile come to a stop before the door, and
she called to Billy when the girl came upstairs.
``Billy, dear, come in here. I'm awake! I want
to hear about it. Was it good?''
Billy stopped in the doorway. The light from
the hall struck her face. There was no brightness
in her eyes now, no pink in her cheeks.
``Oh, yes, it was good--very good,'' she replied
``Why, Billy, how queer you answer! What
was the matter? Wasn't Mary Jane--all right?''
``Mary Jane? Oh!--oh, yes; he was very
good, Aunt Hannah.''
`` `Very good,' indeed!'' echoed the lady,
indignantly. ``He must have been!--when you speak
as if you'd actually forgotten that he sang at all,
Billy had forgotten--almost. Billy had found
that, in spite of her getting away from the house,
she had not got away from herself once, all day.
She tried now, however, to summon her acting
powers of the morning.
``But it was splendid, really, Aunt Hannah,''
she cried, with some show of animation. ``And
they clapped and cheered and gave him any number
of curtain calls. We were so proud of him!
But you see, I _am_ tired,'' she broke off wearily.
``You poor child, of course you are, and you
look like a ghost! I won't keep you another
minute. Run along to bed. Oh--Bertram didn't go
to that banquet, after all. He came here,'' she
added, as Billy turned to go.
``Bertram!'' The girl wheeled sharply.
``Yes. He wanted you, of course. I found I
didn't do, at all,'' chuckled Aunt Hannah. ``Did
you suppose I would?''
There was no answer. Billy had gone.
In the long night watches Billy fought it out
with herself. (Billy had always fought things out
with herself.) She must go away. She knew that.
Already Bertram had telephoned, and called. He
evidently meant to see her--and she could not
see him. She dared not. If she did--Billy knew
now how pitifully little it would take to make her
actually _willing_ to slay Bertram's Art, stifle his
Ambition, destroy his Inspiration, and be a nuisance
generally--if only she could have Bertram
while she was doing it all. Sternly then she asked
herself if she had no pride; if she had forgotten
that it was because of her that the Winthrop
portrait had not been a success--because of her,
either for the reason that he loved now Miss Winthrop,
or else that he loved no girl--except to
Very early in the morning a white-faced, red-
eyed Billy appeared at Aunt Hannah's bedside.
``Billy!'' exclaimed Aunt Hannah, plainly appalled.
Billy sat down on the edge of the bed.
``Aunt Hannah,'' she began in a monotonous
voice as if she were reciting a lesson she had learned
by heart, ``please listen, and please try not to be
too surprised. You were saying the other day that
you would like to visit your old home town. Well,
I think that's a very nice idea. If you don't mind
we'll go to-day.''
Aunt Hannah pulled herself half erect in bed.
``Yes,'' nodded Billy, unsmilingly. ``We shall
have to go somewhere to-day, and I thought you
would like that place best.''
``But--Billy !--what does this mean?''
Billy sighed heavily.
``Yes, I understand. You'll have to know the
rest, of course. I've broken my engagement. I
don't want to see Bertram. That's why I'm going
Aunt Hannah fell nervelessly back on the pillow.
Her teeth fairly chattered.
``Oh, my grief and conscience--_Billy!_ Won't
you please pull up that blanket,'' she moaned.
``Billy, what do you mean?''
Billy shook her head and got to her feet.
``I can't tell any more now, really, Aunt
Hannah. Please don't ask me; and don't--talk.
You _will_--go with me, won't you?'' And Aunt
Hannah, with her terrified eyes on Billy's piteously
agitated face, nodded her head and choked:
``Why, of course I'll go--anywhere--with
you, Billy; but--why did you do it, why did you
A little later, Billy, in her own room, wrote this
note to Bertram:
``DEAR BERTRAM:--I'm going away to-day.
That'll be best all around. You'll agree to that,
I'm sure. Please don't try to see me, and please
don't write. It wouldn't make either one of us
any happier. You must know that.
``As ever your friend,
Bertram, when he read it, grew only a shade
more white, a degree more sick at heart. Then he
kissed the letter gently and put it away with the
To Bertram, the thing was very clear. Billy had
come now to the conclusion that it would be wrong
to give herself where she could not give her heart.
And in this he agreed with her--bitter as it was
for him. Certainly he did not want Billy, if Billy
did not want him, he told himself. He would now,
of course, accede to her request. He would not
write to her--and make her suffer more. But to
Bertram, at that moment, it seemed that the very
sun in the heavens had gone out.
PETE TO THE RESCUE
One by one the weeks passed and became a
month. Then other weeks became other months.
It was July when Billy, homesick and weary, came
back to Hillside with Aunt Hannah.
Home looked wonderfully good to Billy, in spite
of the fact that she had so dreaded to see it. Billy
had made up her mind, however, that, come sometime
she must. She could not, of course, stay always
away. Perhaps, too, it would be just as easy
at home as it was away. Certainly it could not be
any harder. She was convinced of that. Besides,
she did not want Bertram to think--
Billy had received only meagre news from Boston
since she went away. Bertram had not written
at all. William had written twice--hurt, grieved,
puzzled, questioning letters that were very hard
to answer. From Marie, too, had come letters of
much the same sort. By far the cheeriest epistles
had come from Alice Greggory. They contained,
indeed, about the only comfort Billy had known
for weeks, for they showed very plainly to Billy
that Arkwright's heart had been caught on the
rebound; and that in Alice Greggory he was finding
the sweetest sort of balm for his wounded feelings.
From these letters Billy learned, too, that
Judge Greggory's honor had been wholly vindicated;
and, as Billy told Aunt Hannah, ``anybody
could put two and two together and make
It was eight o'clock on a rainy July evening that
Billy and Aunt Hannah arrived at Hillside; and
it was only a little past eight that Aunt Hannah
was summoned to the telephone. When she came
back to Billy she was crying and wringing her
Billy sprang to her feet.
``Why, Aunt Hannah, what is it? What's the
matter?'' she demanded.
Aunt Hannah sank into a chair, still wringing
``Oh, Billy, Billy, how can I tell you, how can I
tell you?'' she moaned.
``You must tell me! Aunt Hannah, what is it?''
``Oh--oh--oh! Billy, I can't--I can't!''
``But you'll have to! What is it, Aunt Hannah?''
``Bertram!'' Billy's face grew ashen. ``Quick,
quick--what do you mean?''
For answer, Aunt Hannah covered her face with
her hands and began to sob aloud. Billy, almost
beside herself now with terror and anxiety, dropped
on her knees and tried to pull away the shaking
``Aunt Hannah, you must tell me! You must
``I can't, Billy. It's Bertram. He's--_hurt!_''
choked Aunt Hannah, hysterically.
``I don't know. Pete told me.''
``Yes. Rosa had told him we were coming, and
he called me up. He said maybe I could do something.
So he told me.''
``Yes, yes! But told you what?''
``That he was hurt.''
``I couldn't hear all, but I think 'twas an
accident--automobile. And, Billy, Billy--Pete says
it's his arm--his right arm--and that maybe he
can't ever p-paint again!''
``Oh-h!'' Billy fell back as if the words had
been a blow. ``Not that, Aunt Hannah--not that!''
``That's what Pete said. I couldn't get all of it,
but I got that. And, Billy, he's been out of his
head--though he isn't now, Pete says--and--
and--and he's been calling for you.''
``For--_me?_'' A swift change came to Billy's
``Yes. Over and over again he called for you--
while he was crazy, you know. That's why Pete
told me. He said he didn't rightly understand
what the trouble was, but he didn't believe there
was any trouble, _really_, between you two; anyway,
that you wouldn't think there was, if you
could hear him, and know how he wanted you,
Billy was on her feet now. Her fingers were on
the electric push-button that would summon Rosa.
Her face was illumined. The next moment Rosa
``Tell John to bring Peggy to the door at once,
please,'' directed her mistress.
``Billy!'' gasped Aunt Hannah again, as the
maid disappeared. Billy was tremblingly putting
on the hat she had but just taken off. ``Billy,
what are you going to do?''
Billy turned in obvious surprise.
``Why, I'm going to Bertram, of course.''
``To Bertram! But it's nearly half-past eight,
child, and it rains, and everything!''
``But Bertram _wants_ me!'' exclaimed Billy.
``As if I'd mind rain, or time, or anything else,
``But--but--oh, my grief and conscience!''
groaned Aunt Hannah, beginning to wring her
Billy reached for her coat. Aunt Hannah stirred
into sudden action.
``But, Billy, if you'd only wait till to-morrow,''
she quavered, putting out a feebly restraining
``To-morrow!'' The young voice rang with
supreme scorn. ``Do you think I'd wait till to-
morrow--after all this? I say Bertram _wants_
me.'' Billy picked up her gloves.
``But you broke it off, dear--you said you did;
and to go down there to-night--like this--''
Billy lifted her head. Her eyes shone. Her
whole face was a glory of love and pride.
``That was before. I didn't know. He _wants_
me, Aunt Hannah. Did you hear? He _wants_ me!
And now I won't even--hinder him, if he can't
--p-paint again!'' Billy's voice broke. The glory
left her face. Her eyes brimmed with tears, but
her head was still bravely uplifted. ``I'm going
Blindly Aunt Hannah got to her feet. Still more
blindly she reached for her bonnet and cloak on
the chair near her.
``Oh, will you go, too?'' asked Billy, abstractedly,
hurrying to the window to look for the motor
``Will I go, too!'' burst out Aunt Hannah's
indignant voice. ``Do you think I'd let you go
alone, and at this time of night, on such a wild-
goose chase as this?''
``I don't know, I'm sure,'' murmured Billy, still
abstractedly, peering out into the rain.
``Don't know, indeed! Oh, my grief and
conscience!'' groaned Aunt Hannah, setting her bonnet
hopelessly askew on top of her agitated head.
But Billy did not even answer now. Her face
was pressed hard against the window-pane.
BERTRAM TAKES THE REINS
With stiffly pompous dignity Pete opened the
door. The next moment he fell back in amazement
before the impetuous rush of a starry-eyed,
flushed-cheeked young woman who demanded:
``Where is he, Pete?''
``Miss Billy!'' gasped the old man. Then he
saw Aunt Hannah--Aunt Hannah with her bonnet
askew, her neck-bow awry, one hand bare,
and the other half covered with a glove wrong side
out. Aunt Hannah's cheeks, too, were flushed,
and her eyes starry, but with dismay and anger--
the last because she did not like the way Pete had
said Miss Billy's name. It was one matter for her
to object to this thing Billy was doing--but quite
another for Pete to do it.
``Of course it's she!'' retorted Aunt Hannah,
testily. ``As if you yourself didn't bring her here
with your crazy messages at this time of night!''
``Pete, where is he?'' interposed Billy. ``Tell
Mr. Bertram I am here--or, wait! I'll go right
in and surprise him.''
``_Billy!_'' This time it was Aunt Hannah who
gasped her name.
Pete had recovered himself by now, but he did
not even glance toward Aunt Hannah. His face
was beaming, and his old eyes were shining.
``Miss Billy, Miss Billy, you're an angel straight
from heaven, you are--you are! Oh, I'm so glad
you came! It'll be all right now--all right! He's
in the den, Miss Billy.''
Billy turned eagerly, but before she could take
so much as one step toward the door at the end of
the hall, Aunt Hannah's indignant voice arrested
``Billy-stop! You're not an angel; you're a
young woman--and a crazy one, at that! Whatever
angels do, young women don't go unannounced
and unchaperoned into young men's
rooms! Pete, go tell your master that _we_ are
here, and ask if he will receive _us_.''
Pete's lips twitched. The emphatic ``we'' and
``us'' were not lost on him. But his face was
preternaturally grave when he spoke.
``Mr. Bertram is up and dressed, ma'am. He's
in the den. I'll speak to him.''
Pete, once again the punctilious butler, stalked
to the door of Bertram's den and threw it wide
Opposite the door, on a low couch, lay Bertram,
his head bandaged, and his right arm in a sling.
His face was turned toward the door, but his eyes
were closed. He looked very white, and his
features were pitifully drawn with suffering.
``Mr. Bertram,'' began Pete--but he got no
further. A flying figure brushed by him and fell
on its knees by the couch, with a low cry.
Bertram's eyes flew open. Across his face swept
such a radiant look of unearthly joy that Pete
sobbed audibly and fled to the kitchen. Dong Ling
found him there a minute later polishing a silver
teaspoon with a fringed napkin that had been
spread over Bertram's tray. In the hall above
Aunt Hannah was crying into William's gray linen
duster that hung on the hall-rack--Aunt Hannah's
handkerchief was on the floor back at Hillside.
In the den neither Billy nor Bertram knew or
cared what had become of Aunt Hannah and Pete.
There were just two people in their world--two
people, and unutterable, incredible, overwhelming
rapture and peace. Then, very gradually it
dawned over them that there was, after all,
something strange and unexplained in it all.
``But, dearest, what does it mean--you here
like this?'' asked Bertram then. As if to make
sure that she was ``here, like this,'' he drew her
even closer--Bertram was so thankful that he
did have one arm that was usable.
Billy, on her knees by the couch, snuggled into
the curve of the one arm with a contented little
``Well, you see, just as soon as I found out to-
night that you wanted me, I came,'' she said.
``You darling! That was--'' Bertram
stopped suddenly. A puzzled frown showed
below the fantastic bandage about his head. `` `As
soon as,' '' he quoted then scornfully. ``Were
you ever by any possible chance thinking I _didn't_
Billy's eyes widened a little.
``Why, Bertram, dear, don't you see? When
you were so troubled that the picture didn't go
well, and I found out it was about me you were
``Well?'' Bertram's voice was a little strained.
``Why, of--of course,'' stammered Billy, ``I
couldn't help thinking that maybe you had found
out you _didn't_ want me.''
``_Didn't want you!_'' groaned Bertram, his tense
muscles relaxing. ``May I ask why?''
``I wasn't quite sure why,'' she faltered; ``only,
of course, I thought of--of Miss Winthrop, you
know, or that maybe it was because you didn't
care for _any_ girl, only to paint--oh, oh, Bertram!
Pete told us,'' she broke off wildly, beginning to sob.
``Pete told you that I didn't care for any girl,
only to paint?'' demanded Bertram, angry and
``No, no,'' sobbed Billy, ``not that. It was all
the others that told me that! Pete told Aunt Hannah
about the accident, you know, and he said--
he said-- Oh, Bertram, I _can't_ say it! But that's
one of the things that made me know I _could_ come
now, you see, because I--I wouldn't hinder you,
nor slay your Art, nor any other of those dreadful
things if--if you couldn't ever--p-paint again,''
finished Billy in an uncontrollable burst of
``There, there, dear,'' comforted Bertram,
patting the bronze-gold head on his breast. ``I
haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about
--except the last; but I know there _can't_ be anything
that ought to make you cry like that. As
for my not painting again--you didn't understand
Pete, dearie. That was what they were
afraid of at first--that I'd lose my arm; but that
danger is all past now. I'm loads better. Of
course I'm going to paint again--and better than
Billy lifted her head. A look that was almost
terror came to her eyes. She pulled herself half
away from Bertram's encircling arm.
``Why, Billy,'' cried the man, in pained
surprise. ``You don't mean to say you're _sorry_ I'm
going to paint again!''
``No, no! Oh, no, Bertram--never that!'' she
faltered, still regarding him with fearful eyes.
``It's only--for _me_, you know. I _can't_ go back
now, and not have you--after this!--even if I
do hinder you, and--''
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