by Eleanor H. Porter
“MR. BILLY” AND “MISS MARY JANE”
On the fourteenth of December Billy came
down-stairs alert, interested, and happy. She
had received a dear letter from Bertram (mailed
on the way to New York), the sun was shining,
and her fingers were fairly tingling to put on paper
the little melody that was now surging riotously
through her brain. Emphatically, the restlessness
of the day before was gone now. Once more
Billy’s “clock” had “begun to tick.”
After breakfast Billy went straight to the
telephone and called up Arkwright. Even one
side of the conversation Aunt Hannah did not
hear very clearly; but in five minutes a radiant-
faced Billy danced into the room.
“Aunt Hannah, just listen! Only think–
Mary Jane wrote the words himself, so of course
I can use them!”
“Billy, dear, _can’t_ you say `Mr. Arkwright’?”
pleaded Aunt Hannah.
Billy laughed and gave the anxious-eyed little
old lady an impulsive hug.
“Of course! I’ll say `His Majesty’ if you like,
dear,” she chuckled. “But did you hear–did
you realize? They’re his own words, so there’s
no question of rights or permission, or anything.
And he’s coming up this afternoon to hear my
melody, and to make a few little changes in the
words, maybe. Oh, Aunt Hannah, you don’t
know how good it seems to get into my music
“Yes, yes, dear, of course; but–” Aunt
Hannah’s sentence ended in a vaguely troubled
Billy turned in surprise.
“Why, Aunt Hannah, aren’t you glad? You
_said_ you’d be glad!”
“Yes, dear; and I am–very glad. It’s only
–if it doesn’t take too much time–and if
Bertram doesn’t mind.”
Billy flushed. She laughed a little bitterly.
“No, it won’t take too much time, I fancy,
and–so far as Bertram is concerned–if what
Sister Kate says is true, Aunt Hannah, he’ll
be glad to have me occupy a little of my time with
something besides himself.”
“Fiddlededee!” bristled Aunt Hannah.
“What did she mean by that?”
Billy smiled ruefully.
“Well, probably I did need it. She said it
night before last just before she went home with
Uncle William. She declared that I seemed to
forget entirely that Bertram belonged to his Art
first, before he belonged to me; and that it was
exactly as she had supposed it would be–a
perfect absurdity for Bertram to think of marrying
“Fiddlededee!” ejaculated the irate Aunt
Hannah, even more sharply. “I hope you have
too much good sense to mind what Kate says,
“Yes, I know,” sighed the girl; “but of course
I can see some things for myself, and I suppose
I did make–a little fuss about his going to
New York the other night. And I will own that
I’ve had a real struggle with myself sometimes,
lately, not to mind–his giving so much time
to his portrait painting. And of course both of
those are very reprehensible–in an artist’s wife,”
she finished, a little tremulously.
“Humph! Well, I don’t think I should worry
about that,” observed Aunt Hannah with grim
“No, I don’t mean to,” smiled Billy, wistfully.
“I only told you so you’d understand that it
was just as well if I did have something to take
up my mind–besides Bertram. And of course
music would be the most natural thing.”
“Yes, of course,” agreed Aunt Hannah.
“And it seems actually almost providential
that Mary–I mean Mr. Arkwright is here to
help me, now that Cyril is gone,” went on Billy,
still a little wistfully.
“Yes, of course. He isn’t like–a stranger,”
murmured Aunt Hannah. Aunt Hannah’s voice
sounded as if she were trying to convince herself
“No, indeed! He seems just like one of the
family to me, almost as if he were really–your
niece, Mary Jane,” laughed Billy.
Aunt Hannah moved restlessly.
“Billy,” she hazarded, “he knows, of course,
of your engagement?”
“Why, of course he does, Aunt Hannah
everybody does!” Billy’s eyes were plainly surprised.
“Yes, yes, of course–he must,” subsided
Aunt Hannah, confusedly, hoping that Billy
would not divine the hidden reason behind her
question. She was relieved when Billy’s next
words showed that she had not divined it.
“I told you, didn’t I? He’s coming up this
afternoon. He can’t get here till five, though;
but he’s so interested! He’s about as crazy over
the thing as I am. And it’s going to be fine, Aunt
Hannah, when it’s done. You just wait and see!”
she finished gayly, as she tripped from the
Left to herself, Aunt Hannah drew a long
“I’m glad she didn’t suspect,” she was
thinking. “I believe she’d consider even the _question_
disloyal to Bertram–dear child! And of course
Mary”–Aunt Hannah corrected herself with
cheeks aflame–“I mean Mr. Arkwright does
It was just here, however, that Aunt Hannah
was mistaken. Mr. Arkwright did not–know.
He had not reached Boston when the engagement
was announced. He knew none of Billy’s friends
in town save the Henshaw brothers. He had
not heard from Calderwell since he came to Boston.
The very evident intimacy of Billy with the
Henshaw brothers he accepted as a matter of
course, knowing the history of their acquaintance,
and the fact that Billy was Mr. William Henshaw’s
namesake. As to Bertram being Billy’s lover–
that idea had long ago been killed at birth by
Calderwell’s emphatic assertion that the artist
would never care for any girl–except to paint.
Since coming to Boston, Arkwright had seen
little of the two together. His work, his friends,
and his general mode of life precluded that.
Because of all this, therefore, Arkwright did not–
know; which was a pity–for Arkwright, and
for some others.
Promptly at five o’clock that afternoon,
Arkwright rang Billy’s doorbell, and was admitted
by Rosa to the living-room, where Billy was at
Billy sprang to her feet with a joyous word of
“I’m so glad you’ve come,” she sighed happily.
“I want you to hear the melody your pretty
words have sung to me. Though, maybe, after
all, you won’t like it, you know,” she finished
with arch wistfulness.
“As if I could help liking it,” smiled the man,
trying to keep from his voice the ecstatic delight
that the touch of her hand had brought
Billy shook her head and seated herself again
at the piano.
“The words are lovely,” she declared, sorting
out two or three sheets of manuscript music from
the quantity on the rack before her. “But there’s
one place–the rhythm, you know–if you could
change it. There!–but listen. First I’m going
to play it straight through to you.” And she
dropped her fingers to the keyboard. The next
moment a tenderly sweet melody–with only a
chord now and then for accompaniment–filled
Arkwright’s soul with rapture. Then Billy began
to sing, very softly, the words!
No wonder Arkwright’s soul was filled with
rapture. They were his words, wrung straight
from his heart; and they were being sung by
the girl for whom they were written. They
were being sung with feeling, too–so evident
a feeling that the man’s pulse quickened, and his
eyes flashed a sudden fire. Arkwright could not
know, of course, that Billy, in her own mind, was
singing that song–to Bertram Henshaw.
The fire was still in Arkwright’s eyes when the
song was ended; but Billy very plainly did not
see it. With a frowning sigh and a murmured
“There!” she began to talk of “rhythm” and
“accent” and “cadence”; and to point out
with anxious care why three syllables instead of
two were needed at the end of a certain line.
From this she passed eagerly to the accompaniment,
and Arkwright at once found himself lost
in a maze of “minor thirds” and “diminished
sevenths,” until he was forced to turn from the
singer to the song. Still, watching her a little
later, he noticed her absorbed face and eager
enthusiasm, her earnest pursuance of an elusive
harmony, and he wondered: did she, or did she
not sing that song with feeling a little while before?
Arkwright had not settled this question to his
own satisfaction when Aunt Hannah came in
at half-past five, and he was conscious of a vague
disappointment as he rose to greet her. Billy,
however, turned an untroubled face to the newcomer.
“We’re doing finely, Aunt Hannah,” she cried.
Then, suddenly, she flung a laughing question
to the man. “How about it, sir? Are we going
to put on the title-page: `Words by Mary Jane
Arkwright’–or will you unveil the mystery
for us now?”
“Have you guessed it?” he bantered.
“No–unless it’s `Methuselah John.’ We
did think of that the other day.”
“Wrong again!” he laughed.
“Then it’ll have to be `Mary Jane,’ ” retorted
Billy, with calm naughtiness, refusing to meet
Aunt Hannah’s beseechingly reproving eyes.
Then suddenly she chuckled. “It would be a
combination, wouldn’t it? `Words by Mary
Jane Arkwright. Music by Billy Neilson’!
We’d have sighing swains writing to `Dear Miss
Arkwright,’ telling how touching were _her_ words;
and lovelorn damsels thanking Mr. Neilson for
his soul-inspiring music!”
“Billy, my dear!” remonstrated Aunt Hannah, faintly.
“Yes, yes, I know; that was bad–and I
won’t again, truly,” promised Billy. But her
eyes danced, and the next moment she had whirled
about on the piano stool and dashed into a Chopin
waltz. The room itself, then, seemed to be full
of the twinkling feet of elves.