Eleanor H. Porter
Part 4 out of 4
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.
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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"My dear Kate, there is nothing I should like better to do," he
"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--
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
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
"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."
"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
"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
She began her conversation with an ingratiating smile and the
"Well, Billy, I've been doing a little detective work on my own
"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
"What is it?"
"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
"Indeed he does."
Billy stopped laughing, and sat suddenly erect.
"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,
"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,"
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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!"
"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
"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
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
"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.
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,
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!"
"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
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?"
"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
"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--
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."
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--
"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.
"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.
"Come, dear," coaxed Billy, winningly. "Tell me about it. I'm so
"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
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! 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
For a moment Billy stared at the name perplexedly--then in a flash
came the remembrance of Marie's words; and Billy breathed:
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
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
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.
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"'So very much'!" groaned William, starting to his feet. "Great
"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.
THE CROOKED MADE STRAIGHT
William did not re-enter the house after his talk with Billy on the
"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
"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
"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
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."
"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
"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."
"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;
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
"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.
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.
"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!"
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
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
"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."
"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
"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
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