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Verbal Expression » Blog Archive » Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER IV
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Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER IV

by Eleanor H. Porter

FOR MARY JANE
“I have a letter here from Mary Jane, my
dear,” announced Aunt Hannah at the luncheon
table one day.

“Have you?” Billy raised interested eyes
from her own letters.  “What does she say?”

“She will be here Thursday.  Her train is
due at the South Station at four-thirty.  She
seems to be very grateful to you for your offer to
let her come right here for a month; but she says
she’s afraid you don’t realize, perhaps, just what
you are doing–to take her in like that, with her
singing, and all.”

“Nonsense!  She doesn’t refuse, does she?”

“Oh, no; she doesn’t refuse–but she doesn’t
accept either, exactly, as I can see.  I’ve read the
letter over twice, too.  I’ll let you judge for yourself
by and by, when you have time to read it.”

Billy laughed.

“Never mind.  I don’t want to read it.  She’s
just a little shy about coming, that’s all.  She’ll
stay all right, when we come to meet her.  What
time did you say it was, Thursday?”

“Half past four, South Station.”

“Thursday, at half past four.  Let me see–
that’s the day of the Carletons’ `At Home,’
isn’t it?”

“Oh, my grief and conscience, yes!  But I had
forgotten it.  What shall we do?”

“Oh, that will be easy.  We’ll just go to the
Carletons’ early and have John wait, then take
us from there to the South Station.  Meanwhile
we’ll make sure that the little blue room is all ready
for her.  I put in my white enamel work-basket
yesterday, and that pretty little blue case for
hairpins and curling tongs that I bought at the
fair.  I want the room to look homey to her, you
know.”

“As if it could look any other way, if _you_ had
anything to do with it,” sighed Aunt Hannah,
admiringly.

Billy laughed.

“If we get stranded we might ask the Henshaw
boys to help us out, Aunt Hannah.  They’d
probably suggest guns and swords.  That’s the
way they fixed up _my_ room.”

Aunt Hannah raised shocked hands of protest.

“As if we would!  Mercy, what a time that
was!”

Billy laughed again.

“I never shall forget, _never_, my first glimpse of
that room when Mrs. Hartwell switched on the
lights.  Oh, Aunt Hannah, I wish you could have
seen it before they took out those guns and
spiders!”

“As if I didn’t see quite enough when I saw
William’s face that morning he came for me!”
retorted Aunt Hannah, spiritedly.

“Dear Uncle William!  What an old saint he
has been all the way through,” mused Billy aloud.
“And Cyril–who would ever have believed that
the day would come when Cyril would say to
me, as he did last night, that he felt as if Marie
had been gone a month.  It’s been just seven days,
you know.”

“I know.  She comes to-morrow, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, and I’m glad.  I shall tell Marie she
needn’t leave Cyril on _my_ hands again.  Bertram
says that at home Cyril hasn’t played a dirge
since his engagement; but I notice that up here
–where Marie might be, but isn’t–his tunes
would never be mistaken for ragtime.  By the
way,” she added, as she rose from the table,
“that’s another surprise in store for Hugh
Calderwell.  He always declared that Cyril wasn’t a
marrying man, either, any more than Bertram.
You know he said Bertram only cared for girls
to paint; but–”  She stopped and looked
inquiringly at Rosa, who had appeared at that
moment in the hall doorway.

“It’s the telephone, Miss Neilson.  Mr.
Bertram Henshaw wants you.”

A few minutes later Aunt Hannah heard Billy
at the piano.  For fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes
the brilliant scales and arpeggios rippled through
the rooms and up the stairs to Aunt Hannah, who
knew, by the very sound of them, that some
unusual nervousness was being worked off at the
finger tips that played them.  At the end of forty-
five minutes Aunt Hannah went down-stairs.

“Billy, my dear, excuse me, but have you
forgotten what time it is?  Weren’t you going out
with Bertram?”

Billy stopped playing at once, but she did not
turn her head.  Her fingers busied themselves
with some music on the piano.

“We aren’t going, Aunt Hannah,” she said.

“Bertram can’t.”

“_Can’t!_”

“Well, he didn’t want to–so of course I
said not to.  He’s been painting this morning on
a new portrait, and she said he might stay to
luncheon and keep right on for a while this
afternoon, if he liked.  And–he did like, so he
stayed.”

“Why, how–how–”  Aunt Hannah stopped
helplessly.

“Oh, no, not at all,” interposed Billy, lightly.
“He told me all about it the other night.  It’s
going to be a very wonderful portrait; and, of
course, I wouldn’t want to interfere with–his
work!”  And again a brilliant scale rippled from
Billy’s fingers after a crashing chord in the bass.

Slowly Aunt Hannah turned and went up-stairs.
Her eyes were troubled.  Not since Billy’s engagement
had she heard Billy play like that.

Bertram did not find a pensive Billy awaiting
him that evening.  He found a bright-eyed,
flushed-cheeked Billy, who let herself be kissed
–once–but who did not kiss back; a blithe,
elusive Billy, who played tripping little melodies,
and sang jolly little songs, instead of sitting
before the fire and talking; a Billy who at last
turned, and asked tranquilly:

“Well, how did the picture go?”

Bertram rose then, crossed the room, and took
Billy very gently into his arms.

“Sweetheart, you were a dear this noon to
let me off like that,” he began in a voice shaken
with emotion.  “You don’t know, perhaps,
exactly what you did.  You see, I was nearly
wild between wanting to be with you, and wanting
to go on with my work.  And I was just at that
point where one little word from you, one hint
that you wanted me to come anyway–and I
should have come.  But you didn’t say it, nor hint
it.  Like the brave little bit of inspiration that you
are, you bade me stay and go on with my work.”

The “inspiration’s” head drooped a little
lower, but this only brought a wealth of soft
bronze hair to just where Bertram could lay his
cheek against it–and Bertram promptly took
advantage of his opportunity.  “And so I stayed,
Billy, and I did good work; I know I did good
work.  Why, Billy,”–Bertram stepped back
now, and held Billy by the shoulders at arms’
length–“Billy, that’s going to be the best
work I’ve ever done.  I can see it coming even
now, under my fingers.”

Billy lifted her head and looked into her lover’s
face.  His eyes were glowing.  His cheeks were
flushed.  His whole countenance was aflame with
the soul of the artist who sees his vision taking
shape before him.  And Billy, looking at him, felt
suddenly–ashamed.

“Oh, Bertram, I’m proud, proud, _proud_ of
you!” she breathed.  “Come, let’s go over to
the fire-and talk!”

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