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Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER II

by Eleanor H. Porter
AUNT HANNAH GETS A LETTER
In the cozy living-room at Hillside, Billy Neilson’s
pretty home on Corey Hill, Billy herself sat
writing at the desk.  Her pen had just traced the
date, “October twenty-fifth,” when Mrs. Stetson
entered with a letter in her hand.

“Writing, my dear?  Then don’t let me disturb
you.”  She turned as if to go.

Billy dropped her pen, sprang to her feet, flew
to the little woman’s side and whirled her half
across the room.

“There!” she exclaimed, as she plumped the
breathless and scandalized Aunt Hannah into the
biggest easy chair.  “I feel better.  I just had to
let off steam some way.  It’s so lovely you came
in just when you did!”

“Indeed! I–I’m not so sure of that,” stammered
the lady, dropping the letter into her lap,
and patting with agitated fingers her cap, her
curls, the two shawls about her shoulders, and the
lace at her throat.  “My grief and conscience,
Billy!  Wors’t you _ever_ grow up?”

“Hope not,” purred Billy cheerfully, dropping
herself on to a low hassock at Aunt Hannah’s feet.

“But, my dear, you–you’re engaged!”

Billy bubbled into a chuckling laugh.

“As if I didn’t know that, when I’ve just written
a dozen notes to announce it!  And, oh, Aunt
Hannah, such a time as I’ve had, telling what a
dear Bertram is, and how I love, love, _love_ him,
and what beautiful eyes he has, and _such_ a nose,
and–”

“Billy!”  Aunt Hannah was sitting erect in
pale horror.

“Eh?” Billy’s eyes were roguish.

“You didn’t write that in those notes!”

“Write it?  Oh, no!  That’s only what I _wanted_
to write,” chuckled Billy.  “What I really did
write was as staid and proper as–here, let me
show you,” she broke off, springing to her feet and
running over to her desk.  “There! this is about
what I wrote to them all,” she finished, whipping
a note out of one of the unsealed envelopes on the
desk and spreading it open before Aunt Hannah’s
suspicious eyes.

“Hm-m; that is very good–for you,” admitted
the lady.

“Well, I like that!–after all my stern self-
control and self-sacrifice to keep out all those
things I _wanted_ to write,” bridled Billy.  “Besides,
they’d have been ever so much more interesting
reading than these will be,” she pouted, as
she took the note from her companion’s hand.

“I don’t doubt it,” observed Aunt Hannah,
dryly.

Billy laughed, and tossed the note back on the
desk.

“I’m writing to Belle Calderwell, now,” she
announced musingly, dropping herself again on
the hassock.  “I suppose she’ll tell Hugh.”

“Poor boy!  He’ll be disappointed.”

Billy sighed, but she uptilted her chin a little.

“He ought not to be.  I told him long, long ago,
the very first time, that–that I couldn’t.”

“I know, dear; but–they don’t always
understand.”  Aunt Hannah sighed in sympathy
with the far-away Hugh Calderwell, as she looked
down at the bright young face near her.

There was a moment’s silence; then Billy gave
a little laugh.

“He _will_ be surprised,” she said.  “He told
me once that Bertram wouldn’t ever care for any
girl except to paint.  To paint, indeed!  As if Bertram
didn’t love me–just _me!_–if he never saw
another tube of paint!”

“I think he does, my dear.”

Again there was silence; then, from Billy’s lips
there came softly:

“Just think; we’ve been engaged almost four
weeks–and to-morrow it’ll be announced.  I’m
so glad I didn’t ever announce the other
two!”

“The other _two!_” cried Aunt Hannah.

Billy laughed.

“Oh, I forgot.  You didn’t know about Cyril.”

“Cyril!”

“Oh, there didn’t anybody know it, either
not even Cyril himself,” dimpled Billy, mischievously.
“I just engaged myself to him in imagination,
you know, to see how I’d like it.  I didn’t
like it.  But it didn’t last, anyhow, very long–
just three weeks, I believe.  Then I broke it off,”
she finished, with unsmiling mouth, but dancing
eyes.

“Billy!” protested Aunt Hannah, feebly.

“But I _am_ glad only the family knew about
my engagement to Uncle William–oh, Aunt
Hannah, you don’t know how good it does seem
to call him `Uncle’ again.  It was always slipping
out, anyhow, all the time we were engaged; and
of course it was awful then.”

“That only goes to prove, my dear, how
entirely unsuitable it was, from the start.”

A bright color flooded Billy’s face.

“I know; but if a girl _will_ think a man is asking
for a wife when all he wants is a daughter, and if
she blandly says `Yes, thank you, I’ll marry you,’
I don’t know what you can expect!”

“You can expect just what you got–misery,
and almost a tragedy,” retorted Aunt Hannah,
severely.

A tender light came into Billy’s eyes.

“Dear Uncle William!  What a jewel he was,
all the way through!  And he’d have marched
straight to the altar, too, with never a flicker of
an eyelid, I know–self-sacrificing martyr that
he was!”

“Martyr!” bristled Aunt Hannah, with
extraordinary violence for her.  “I’m thinking that
term belonged somewhere else.  A month ago,
Billy Neilson, you did not look as if you’d live
out half your days.  But I suppose _you’d_ have
gone to the altar, too, with never a flicker of an
eyelid!”

“But I thought I had to,” protested Billy.
“I couldn’t grieve Uncle William so, after Mrs.
Hartwell had said how he–he wanted me.”

Aunt Hannah’s lips grew stern at the corners.

“There are times when–when I think it
would be wiser if Mrs. Kate Hartwell would attend
to her own affairs!” Aunt Hannah’s voice
fairly shook with wrath.

“Why-Aunt Hannah!” reproved Billy in
mischievous horror.  “I’m shocked at you!”

Aunt Hannah flushed miserably.

“There, there, child, forget I said it.  I ought
not to have said it, of course,” she murmured agitatedly.

Billy laughed.

“You should have heard what Uncle William
said!  But never mind.  We all found out the mistake
before it was too late, and everything is
lovely now, even to Cyril and Marie.  Did you
ever see anything so beatifically happy as that
couple are?  Bertram says he hasn’t heard a dirge
from Cyril’s rooms for three weeks; and that if
anybody else played the kind of music he’s been
playing, it would be just common garden ragtime!”

“Music!  Oh, my grief and conscience!  That
makes me think, Billy.  If I’m not actually
forgetting what I came in here for,” cried Aunt
Hannah, fumbling in the folds of her dress for the
letter that had slipped from her lap.  “I’ve had
word from a young niece.  She’s going to study
music in Boston.”

“A niece?”

“Well, not really, you know.  She calls me
`Aunt,’ just as you and the Henshaw boys do.
But I really am related to _her_, for her mother and
I are third cousins, while it was my husband who
was distantly related to the Henshaw family.”

“What’s her name?”

“ `Mary Jane Arkwright.’  Where is that
letter?”

“Here it is, on the floor,” reported Billy.
“Were you going to read it to me?” she asked,
as she picked it up.

“Yes–if you don’t mind.”

“I’d love to hear it.”

“Then I’ll read it.  It–it rather annoys me
in some ways.  I thought the whole family understood
that I wasn’t living by myself any longer
–that I was living with you.  I’m sure I thought
I wrote them that, long ago.  But this sounds
almost as if they didn’t understand it–at least,
as if this girl didn’t.”

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know; but she must be some old, to
be coming here to Boston to study music, alone
–singing, I think she said.”

“You don’t remember her, then?”

Aunt Hannah frowned and paused, the letter
half withdrawn from its envelope.

“No–but that isn’t strange.  They live West.
I haven’t seen any of them for years.  I know there
are several children–and I suppose I’ve been
told their names.  I know there’s a boy–the
eldest, I think–who is quite a singer, and there’s
a girl who paints, I believe; but I don’t seem to
remember a `Mary Jane.’ ”

“Never mind!  Suppose we let Mary Jane speak
for herself,” suggested Billy, dropping her chin
into the small pink cup of her hand, and settling
herself to listen.

“Very well,” sighed Aunt Hannah; and she
opened the letter and began to read.
“DEAR AUNT HANNAH:–This is to tell you
that I’m coming to Boston to study singing in
the school for Grand Opera, and I’m planning to
look you up.  Do you object?  I said to a friend
the other day that I’d half a mind to write to Aunt
Hannah and beg a home with her; and my friend
retorted:  `Why don’t you, Mary Jane?’  But
that, of course, I should not think of doing.

“But I know I shall be lonesome, Aunt Hannah,
and I hope you’ll let me see you once in a
while, anyway.  I plan now to come next week
–I’ve already got as far as New York, as you see
by the address–and I shall hope to see you
soon.

“All the family would send love, I know.
                         “M. J. ARKWRIGHT.”
“Grand Opera!  Oh, how perfectly lovely,”
cried Billy.

“Yes, but Billy, do you think she is expecting
me to invite her to make her home with me?  I
shall have to write and explain that I can’t–
if she does, of course.”

Billy frowned and hesitated.

“Why, it sounded–a little–that way;
but–”  Suddenly her face cleared.  “Aunt
Hannah, I’ve thought of the very thing.  We _will_
take her!”

“Oh, Billy, I couldn’t think of letting you do
that,” demurred Aunt Hannah.  “You’re very
kind–but, oh, no; not that!”

“Why not?  I think it would be lovely; and
we can just as well as not.  After Marie is married
in December, she can have that room.  Until
then she can have the little blue room next to me.”

“But–but–we don’t know anything about
her.”

“We know she’s your niece, and she’s lonesome;
and we know she’s musical.  I shall love her for
every one of those things.  Of course we’ll take
her!”

“But–I don’t know anything about her age.”

“All the more reason why she should be looked
out for, then,” retorted Billy, promptly.  “Why,
Aunt Hannah, just as if you didn’t want to give
this lonesome, unprotected young girl a home!”

“Oh, I do, of course; but–”

“Then it’s all settled,” interposed Billy,
springing to her feet.

“But what if we–we shouldn’t like her?”

“Nonsense!  What if she shouldn’t like us?”
laughed Billy.  “However, if you’d feel better,
just ask her to come and stay with us a month.
We shall keep her all right, afterwards.  See if we
don’t!”

Slowly Aunt Hannah got to her feet.

“Very well, dear.  I’ll write, of course, as you
tell me to; and it’s lovely of you to do it.  Now
I’ll leave you to your letters.  I’ve hindered you
far too long, as it is.”

“You’ve rested me,” declared Billy, flinging
wide her arms.

Aunt Hannah, fearing a second dizzying whirl
impelled by those same young arms, drew her
shawls about her shoulders and backed hastily
toward the hall door.

Billy laughed.

“Oh, I won’t again–to-day,” she promised
merrily.  Then, as the lady reached the arched
doorway:  “Tell Mary Jane to let us know the
day and train and we’ll meet her.  Oh, and Aunt
Hannah, tell her to wear a pink–a white pink;
and tell her we will, too,” she finished gayly.

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