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Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER I

by Eleanor H. Porter

CALDERWELL DOES SOME TALKING
Calderwell had met Mr. M. J. Arkwright in
London through a common friend; since then
they had tramped half over Europe together in a
comradeship that was as delightful as it was unusual.
As Calderwell put it in a letter to his sister, Belle:

“We smoke the same cigar and drink the same
tea (he’s just as much of an old woman on that
subject as I am!), and we agree beautifully on
all necessary points of living, from tipping to late
sleeping in the morning; while as for politics and
religion–we disagree in those just enough to
lend spice to an otherwise tame existence.”

Farther along in this same letter Calderwell
touched upon his new friend again.

“I admit, however, I would like to know his
name.  To find out what that mysterious `M. J.’
stands for has got to be pretty nearly an obsession
with me.  I am about ready to pick his pocket or
rifle his trunk in search of some lurking `Martin’
or `John’ that will set me at peace.  As it is, I
confess that I have ogled his incoming mail and
his outgoing baggage shamelessly, only to be
slapped in the face always and everlastingly by
that bland `M. J.’  I’ve got my revenge, now,
though.  To myself I call him `Mary Jane’–
and his broad-shouldered, brown-bearded six feet
of muscular manhood would so like to be called
`Mary Jane’!  By the way, Belle, if you ever
hear of murder and sudden death in my direction,
better set the sleuths on the trail of Arkwright.
Six to one you’ll find I called him `Mary Jane’
to his face!”

Calderwell was thinking of that letter now, as
he sat at a small table in a Paris caf<e’>.  Opposite
him was the six feet of muscular manhood, broad
shoulders, pointed brown beard, and all–and he
had just addressed it, inadvertently, as “Mary
Jane.”

During the brief, sickening moment of silence
after the name had left his lips, Calderwell was
conscious of a whimsical realization of the lights,
music, and laughter all about him.

“Well, I chose as safe a place as I could!” he
was thinking.  Then Arkwright spoke.

“How long since you’ve been in correspondence
with members of my family?”

“Eh?”

Arkwright laughed grimly.

“Perhaps you thought of it yourself, then–
I’ll admit you’re capable of it,” he nodded, reaching
for a cigar.  “But it so happens you hit upon
my family’s favorite name for me.”

“_Mary Jane!_  You mean they actually _call_
you that?”

“Yes,” bowed the big fellow, calmly, as he
struck a light.  “Appropriate!–don’t you
think?”

Calderwell did not answer.  He thought he
could not.

“Well, silence gives consent, they say,” laughed
the other.  “Anyhow, you must have had _some_
reason for calling me that.”

“Arkwright, what _does_ `M. J.’ stand for?”
demanded Calderwell.

“Oh, is that it?” smiled the man opposite.
“Well, I’ll own those initials have been something
of a puzzle to people.  One man declares they’re
`Merely Jokes’; but another, not so friendly, says
they stand for `Mostly Jealousy’ of more fortunate
chaps who have real names for a handle.  My
small brothers and sisters, discovering, with the
usual perspicacity of one’s family on such matters,
that I never signed, or called myself anything but
`M. J.,’ dubbed me `Mary Jane.’  And there you
have it.”

“Mary Jane!  You!”

Arkwright smiled oddly.

“Oh, well, what’s the difference?  Would you
deprive them of their innocent amusement?  And
they do so love that `Mary Jane’!  Besides,
what’s in a name, anyway?” he went on, eyeing
the glowing tip of the cigar between his fingers.
“ `A rose by any other name–’–you’ve heard
that, probably.  Names don’t always signify, my
dear fellow.  For instance, I know a `Billy’–but
he’s a girl.”

Calderwell gave a sudden start.

“You don’t mean Billy–Neilson?”

The other turned sharply.

“Do _you_ know Billy Neilson?”

Calderwell gave his friend a glance from
scornful eyes.

“Do I know Billy Neilson?” he cried.  “Does
a fellow usually know the girl he’s proposed to
regularly once in three months?  Oh, I know I’m
telling tales out of school, of course,” he went on,
in response to the look that had come into the
brown eyes opposite.  “But what’s the use?
Everybody knows it–that knows us.  Billy herself
got so she took it as a matter of course–and
refused as a matter of course, too; just as she
would refuse a serving of apple pie at dinner, if
she hadn’t wanted it.”

“Apple pie!” scouted Arkwright.

Calderwell shrugged his shoulders.

“My dear fellow, you don’t seem to realize it,
but for the last six months you have been assisting
at the obsequies of a dead romance.”

“Indeed!  And is it–buried, yet?”

“Oh, no,” sighed Calderwell, cheerfully.  “I
shall go back one of these days, I’ll warrant, and
begin the same old game again; though I will
acknowledge that the last refusal was so very
decided that it’s been a year, almost, since I received
it.  I think I was really convinced, for a while,
that–that she didn’t want that apple pie,” he
finished with a whimsical lightness that did not
quite coincide with the stern lines that had come
to his mouth.

For a moment there was silence, then Calderwell
spoke again.

“Where did you know–Miss Billy?”

“Oh, I don’t know her at all.  I know of her–
through Aunt Hannah.”

Calderwell sat suddenly erect.

“Aunt Hannah!  Is she your aunt, too?
Jove!  This _is_ a little old world, after all; isn’t
it?”

“She isn’t my aunt.  She’s my mother’s third
cousin.  None of us have seen her for years, but
she writes to mother occasionally; and, of course,
for some time now, her letters have been running
over full of Billy.  She lives with her, I believe;
doesn’t she?”

“She does,” rejoined Calderwell, with an
unexpected chuckle.  “I wonder if you know how she
happened to live with her, at first.”

“Why, no, I reckon not.  What do you mean?”

Calderwell chuckled again.

“Well, I’ll tell you.  You, being a `Mary Jane,’
ought to appreciate it.  You see, Billy was named
for one William Henshaw, her father’s chum,
who promptly forgot all about her.  At eighteen,
Billy, being left quite alone in the world, wrote to
`Uncle William’ and asked to come and live with
him.”

“Well?”

“But it wasn’t well.  William was a forty-year-
old widower who lived with two younger brothers,
an old butler, and a Chinese cook in one of those
funny old Beacon Street houses in Boston.  `The
Strata,’ Bertram called it.  Bright boy–Bertram!”

“The Strata!”

“Yes.  I wish you could see that house,
Arkwright.  It’s a regular layer cake.  Cyril–he’s
the second brother; must be thirty-four or five
now–lives on the top floor in a rugless, curtainless,
music-mad existence–just a plain crank.
Below him comes William.  William collects things
–everything from tenpenny nails to teapots, I
should say, and they’re all there in his rooms.
Farther down somewhere comes Bertram.  He’s
_the_ Bertram Henshaw, you understand; the artist.”

“Not the `Face-of-a-Girl’ Henshaw?”

“The same; only of course four years ago he
wasn’t quite so well known as he is now.  Well, to
resume and go on.  It was into this house, this
masculine paradise ruled over by Pete and Dong
Ling in the kitchen, that Billy’s na<i:>ve request for
a home came.”

“Great Scott!” breathed Arkwright, appreciatively.

“Yes.  Well, the letter was signed `Billy.’
They took her for a boy, naturally, and after something
of a struggle they agreed to let `him’ come.
For his particular delectation they fixed up a room
next to Bertram with guns and fishing rods, and
such ladylike specialties; and William went to the
station to meet the boy.”

“With never a suspicion?”

“With never a suspicion.”

“Gorry!”

“Well, `he’ came, and `she’ conquered.  I
guess things were lively for a while, though.  Oh,
there was a kitten, too, I believe, `Spunk,’ who
added to the gayety of nations.”

“But what did the Henshaws do?”

“Well, I wasn’t there, of course; but Bertram
says they spun around like tops gone mad for a
time, but finally quieted down enough to summon
a married sister for immediate propriety, and to
establish Aunt Hannah for permanency the next
day.”

“So that’s how it happened!  Well, by
George!” cried Arkwright.

“Yes,” nodded the other.  “So you see there
are untold possibilities just in a name.  Remember
that.  Just suppose _you_, as Mary Jane, should
beg a home in a feminine household–say in
Miss Billy’s, for instance!”

“I’d like to,” retorted Arkwright, with
sudden warmth.

Calderwell stared a little.

The other laughed shamefacedly.

“Oh, it’s only that I happen to have a
devouring curiosity to meet that special young lady.
I sing her songs (you know she’s written some
dandies!), I’ve heard a lot about her, and I’ve
seen her picture.”  (He did not add that he had
also purloined that same picture from his mother’s
bureau–the picture being a gift from Aunt
Hannah.)  “So you see I would, indeed, like to
occupy a corner in the fair Miss Billy’s household.
I could write to Aunt Hannah and beg a home
with her, you know; eh?”

“Of course!  Why don’t you–`Mary Jane’?”
laughed Calderwell.  “Billy’d take you all right.
She’s had a little Miss Hawthorn, a music teacher,
there for months.  She’s always doing stunts of
that sort.  Belle writes me that she’s had a dozen
forlornites there all this last summer, two or three
at a time-tired widows, lonesome old maids,
and crippled kids–just to give them a royal
good time.  So you see she’d take you, without a
doubt.  Jove! what a pair you’d make:  Miss
Billy and Mr. Mary Jane!  You’d drive the
suffragettes into conniption fits–just by the sound
of you!”

Arkwright laughed quietly; then he frowned.

“But how about it?” he asked.  “I thought
she was keeping house with Aunt Hannah.  Didn’t
she stay at all with the Henshaws?”

“Oh, yes, a few months.  I never knew just
why she did leave, but I fancied, from something
Billy herself said once, that she discovered she
was creating rather too much of an upheaval in
the Strata.  So she took herself off.  She went to
school, and travelled considerably.  She was over
here when I met her first.  After that she was with
us all one summer on the yacht.  A couple of
years ago, or so, she went back to Boston, bought
a house and settled down with Aunt Hannah.”

“And she’s not married–or even engaged?”

“Wasn’t the last I heard.  I haven’t seen her
since December, and I’ve heard from her only
indirectly.  She corresponds with my sister, and
so do I–intermittently.  I heard a month ago
from Belle, and _she_ had a letter from Billy in
August.  But I heard nothing of any engagement.”

“How about the Henshaws?  I should think
there might be a chance there for a romance– a
charming girl, and three unattached men.”

Calderwell gave a slow shake of the head.

“I don’t think so.  William is–let me see–
nearly forty-five, I guess, by this time; and he
isn’t a marrying man.  He buried his heart with
his wife and baby years ago.  Cyril, according to
Bertram, `hates women and all other confusion,’
so that ought to let him out.  As for Bertram
himself–Bertram is `only Bertram.’  He’s always
been that.  Bertram loves girls–to paint; but
I can’t imagine him making serious love to any
one.  It would always be the tilt of a chin or the
turn of a cheek that he was admiring–to paint.

No, there’s no chance for a romance there, I’ll
warrant.”

“But there’s–yourself.”

Calderwell’s eyebrows rose the fraction of an
inch.

“Oh, of course.  I presume January or February
will find me back there,” he admitted with a
sigh and a shrug.  Then, a little bitterly, he added:
“No, Arkwright.  I shall keep away if I can.  I
_know_ there’s no chance for me–now.”

“Then you’ll leave me a clear field?” bantered
the other.

“Of course–`Mary Jane,’ ” retorted Calderwell,
with equal lightness.

“Thank you.”

“Oh, you needn’t,” laughed Calderwell.  “My
giving you the right of way doesn’t insure you a
thoroughfare for yourself–there are others, you
know.  Billy Neilson has had sighing swains about I
her, I imagine, since she could walk and talk.  She
is a wonderfully fascinating little bit of femininity,
and she has a heart of pure gold.  All is, I envy
the man who wins it–for the man who wins
that, wins her.”

There was no answer.  Arkwright sat with his
eyes on the moving throng outside the window
near them.  Perhaps he had not heard.  At all
events, when he spoke some time later, it was of a
matter far removed from Miss Billy Neilson, or
the way to her heart.  Nor was the young lady
mentioned between them again that day.

Long hours later, just before parting for the
night, Arkwright said:

“Calderwell, I’m sorry, but I believe, after all,
I can’t take that trip to the lakes with you.  I–
I’m going home next week.”

“Home!  Hang it, Arkwright!  I’d counted on
you.  Isn’t this rather sudden?”

“Yes, and no.  I’ll own I’ve been drifting about
with you contentedly enough for the last six
months to make you think mountain-climbing and
boat-paddling were the end and aim of my existence.
But they aren’t, you know, really.”

“Nonsense!  At heart you’re as much of a
vagabond as I am; and you know it.”

“Perhaps.  But unfortunately I don’t happen
to carry your pocketbook.”

“You may, if you like.  I’ll hand it over any
time,” grinned Calderwell.

“Thanks.  You know well enough what I
mean,” shrugged the other.

There was a moment’s silence; then Calderwell
queried:

“Arkwright, how old are you?”

“Twenty-four.”

“Good!  Then you’re merely travelling to
supplement your education, see?”

“Oh, yes, I see.  But something besides my
education has got to be supplemented now, I reckon.”

“What are you going to do?”

There was an almost imperceptible hesitation;
then, a little shortly, came the answer:

“Hit the trail for Grand Opera, and bring up,
probably–in vaudeville.”

Calderwell smiled appreciatively.

“You _can_ sing like the devil,” he admitted.

“Thanks,” returned his friend, with uplifted
eyebrows.  “Do you mind calling it `an angel’
–just for this occasion?”

“Oh, the matin<e’>e-girls will do that fast enough.
But, I say, Arkwright, what are you going to do
with those initials then?”

“Let ‘em alone.”

“Oh, no, you won’t.  And you won’t be `Mary
Jane,’ either.  Imagine a Mary Jane in Grand
Opera!  I know what you’ll be.  You’ll be `Se<n?>or
Martini Johnini Arkwrightino’!  By the way,
you didn’t say what that `M. J.’ really did stand
for,” hinted Calderwell, shamelessly

“ `Merely Jokes’–in your estimation,
evidently,” shrugged the other.  “But my going
isn’t a joke, Calderwell.  I’m really going.  And
I’m going to work.”

“But–how shall you manage?”

“Time will tell.”

Calderwell frowned and stirred restlessly in his
chair.

“But, honestly, now, to–to follow that trail
of yours will take money.  And–er–” a faint
red stole to his forehead–“don’t they have–
er–patrons for these young and budding geniuses?
Why can’t I have a hand in this trail, too
–or maybe you’d call it a foot, eh?  I’d be no
end glad to, Arkwright.”

“Thanks, old man.”  The red was duplicated
this time above the brown silky beard.  “That
was mighty kind of you, and I appreciate it; but
it won’t be necessary.  A generous, but perhaps
misguided bachelor uncle left me a few thousands
a year or so ago; and I’m going to put them all
down my throat–or rather, _into_ it–before I
give up.”

“Where you going to study?  New York?”

Again there was an almost imperceptible
hesitation before the answer came.

“I’m not quite prepared to say.”

“Why not try it here?”

Arkwright shook his head.

“I did plan to, when I came over but I’ve
changed my mind.  I believe I’d rather work
while longer in America.”

“Hm-m,” murmured Calderwell.

There was a brief silence, followed by other
questions and other answers; after which the
friends said good night.

In his own room, as he was dropping off to
sleep, Calderwell muttered drowsily:

“By George!  I haven’t found out yet what
that blamed `M. J.’ stands for!”

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