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Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER VI

by Eleanor H. Porter

AT THE SIGN OF THE PINK
After a week of beautiful autumn weather,
Thursday dawned raw and cold.  By noon an
east wind had made the temperature still more
uncomfortable.

At two o’clock Aunt Hannah tapped at Billy’s
chamber door.  She showed a troubled face to
the girl who answered her knock.

“Billy, _would_ you mind very much if I asked
you to go alone to the Carletons’ and to meet
Mary Jane?” she inquired anxiously.

“Why, no–that is, of course I should _mind_,
dear, because I always like to have you go to
places with me.  But it isn’t necessary.  You
aren’t sick; are you?”

“N-no, not exactly; but I have been sneezing
all the morning, and taking camphor and sugar
to break it up–if it is a cold.  But it is so raw
and Novemberish out, that–”

“Why, of course you sha’n't go, you poor
dear!  Mercy! don’t get one of those dreadful
colds on to you before the wedding!  Have you felt
a draft?  Where’s another shawl?”  Billy turned
and cast searching eyes about the room–Billy
always kept shawls everywhere for Aunt Hannah’s
shoulders and feet.  Bertram had been known
to say, indeed, that a room, according to Aunt
Hannah, was not fully furnished unless it contained
from one to four shawls, assorted as to size
and warmth.  Shawls, certainly, did seem to be
a necessity with Aunt Hannah, as she usually
wore from one to three at the same time–which
again caused Bertram to declare that he always
counted Aunt Hannah’s shawls when he wished
to know what the thermometer was.

“No, I’m not cold, and I haven’t felt a draft,”
said Aunt Hannah now.  “I put on my thickest
gray shawl this morning with the little pink one
for down-stairs, and the blue one for breakfast;
so you see I’ve been very careful.  But I _have_
sneezed six times, so I think ‘twould be safer not
to go out in this east wind.  You were going to
stop for Mrs. Granger, anyway, weren’t you?
So you’ll have her with you for the tea.”

“Yes, dear, don’t worry.  I’ll take your cards
and explain to Mrs. Carleton and her daughters.”

“And, of course, as far as Mary Jane is
concerned, I don’t know her any more than you do;
so I couldn’t be any help there,” sighed Aunt
Hannah.

“Not a bit,” smiled Billy, cheerily.  “Don’t
give it another thought, my dear.  I sha’n't
have a bit of trouble.  All I’ll have to do is to
look for a girl alone with a pink.  Of course I’ll
have mine on, too, and she’ll be watching for me.
So just run along and take your nap, dear, and be
all rested and ready to welcome her when she
comes,” finished Billy, stooping to give the soft,
faintly pink cheek a warm kiss.

“Well, thank you, my dear; perhaps I will,”
sighed Aunt Hannah, drawing the gray shawl
about her as she turned away contentedly.

Mrs. Carleton’s tea that afternoon was, for
Billy, not an occasion of unalloyed joy.  It was the
first time she had appeared at a gathering of
any size since the announcement of her engagement;
and, as she dolefully told Bertram afterwards,
she had very much the feeling of the picture
hung on the wall.

“And they _did_ put up their lorgnettes and say,
`Is _that_ the one?’ ” she declared; “and I know
some of them finished with `Did you ever?’ too,”
she sighed.

But Billy did not stay long in Mrs. Carleton’s
softly-lighted, flower-perfumed rooms.  At ten
minutes past four she was saying good-by to a
group of friends who were vainly urging her to
remain longer.

“I can’t–I really can’t,” she declared.  “I’m
due at the South Station at half past four to
meet a Miss Arkwright, a young cousin of Aunt
Hannah’s, whom I’ve never seen before.  We’re
to meet at the sign of the pink,” she explained
smilingly, just touching the single flower she
wore.

Her hostess gave a sudden laugh.

“Let me see, my dear; if I remember rightly,
you’ve had experience before, meeting at this
sign of the pink.  At least, I have a very vivid
recollection of Mr. William Henshaw’s going once
to meet a _boy_ with a pink, who turned out to be
a girl.  Now, to even things up, your girl should
turn out to be a boy!”

Billy smiled and reddened.

“Perhaps–but I don’t think to-day will
strike the balance,” she retorted, backing toward
the door.  “This young lady’s name is `Mary
Jane’; and I’ll leave it to you to find anything
very masculine in that!”

It was a short drive from Mrs. Carleton’s
Commonwealth Avenue home to the South Station,
and Peggy made as quick work of it as the
narrow, congested cross streets would allow.
In ample time Billy found herself in the great
waiting-room, with John saying respectfully in
her ear:

“The man says the train comes in on Track
Fourteen, Miss, an’ it’s on time.”

At twenty-nine minutes past four Billy left
her seat and walked down the train-shed platform
to Track Number Fourteen.  She had pinned
the pink now to the outside of her long coat, and
it made an attractive dash of white against the
dark-blue velvet.  Billy was looking particularly
lovely to-day.  Framing her face was the big
dark-blue velvet picture hat with its becoming
white plumes.

During the brief minutes’ wait before the clanging
locomotive puffed into view far down the long
track, Billy’s thoughts involuntarily went back
to that other watcher beside a train gate not
quite five years before.

“Dear Uncle William!” she murmured
tenderly.  Then suddenly she laughed–so nearly
aloud that a man behind her gave her a covert
glance from curious eyes.  “My! but what a
jolt I must have been to Uncle William!” Billy
was thinking.

The next minute she drew nearer the gate and
regarded with absorbed attention the long line
of passengers already sweeping up the narrow
aisle between the cars.

Hurrying men came first, with long strides,
and eyes that looked straight ahead.  These
Billy let pass with a mere glance.  The next group
showed a sprinkling of women–women whose
trig hats and linen collars spelled promptness as
well as certainty of aim and accomplishment.
To these, also, Billy paid scant attention.  Couples
came next–the men anxious-eyed, and usually
walking two steps ahead of their companions;
the women plainly flustered and hurried, and
invariably buttoning gloves or gathering up trailing
ends of scarfs or boas.

The crowd was thickening fast, now, and Billy’s
eyes were alert.  Children were appearing, and
young women walking alone.  One of these wore
a bunch of violets.  Billy gave her a second glance.
Then she saw a pink–but it was on the coat lapel
of a tall young fellow with a brown beard; so with
a slight frown she looked beyond down the line.

Old men came now, and old women; fleshy
women, and women with small children and babies.
Couples came, too–dawdling couples, plainly
newly married: the men were not two steps
ahead, and the women’s gloves were buttoned and
their furs in place.

Gradually the line thinned, and soon there were
left only an old man with a cane, and a young
woman with three children.  Yet nowhere had
Billy seen a girl wearing a white carnation, and
walking alone.

With a deeper frown on her face Billy turned
and looked about her.  She thought that somewhere
in the crowd she had missed Mary Jane,
and that she would find her now, standing near.
But there was no one standing near except the
good-looking young fellow with the little pointed
brown beard, who, as Billy noticed a second
time, was wearing a white carnation.

As she glanced toward him, their eyes met.
Then, to Billy’s unbounded amazement, the man
advanced with uplifted hat.

“I beg your pardon, but is not this–Miss
Neilson?”

Billy drew back with just a touch of hauteur.

“Y-yes,” she murmured.

“I thought so–yet I was expecting to see
you with Aunt Hannah.  I am M. J. Arkwright,
Miss Neilson.”

For a brief instant Billy stared dazedly.

“You don’t mean–Mary Jane?” she gasped.

“I’m afraid I do.”  His lips twitched.

“But I thought–we were expecting–”
She stopped helplessly.  For one more brief
instant she stared; then, suddenly, a swift
change came to her face.  Her eyes danced.

“Oh–oh!” she chuckled.  “How perfectly
funny!  You _have_ evened things up, after
all.  To think that Mary Jane should be a–”
She paused and flashed almost angrily suspicious
eyes into his face.  “But mine _was_ `Billy,’ ”
she cried.  “Your name isn’t really–Mary
Jane’?”

“I am often called that.”  His brown eyes
twinkled, but they did not swerve from their
direct gaze into her own.

“But–” Billy hesitated, and turned her
eyes away.  She saw then that many curious
glances were already being flung in her direction.
The color in her cheeks deepened.  With an odd
little gesture she seemed to toss something aside.
“Never mind,” she laughed a little hysterically.
“If you’ll pick up your bag, please, Mr.
Mary Jane, and come with me.  John and Peggy
are waiting.  Or–I forgot–you have a trunk,
of course?”

The man raised a protesting hand.

“Thank you; but, Miss Neilson, really–I
couldn’t think of trespassing on your hospitality
–now, you know.”

“But we–we invited you,” stammered Billy.

He shook his head.

“You invited _Miss_ Mary Jane.”

Billy bubbled into low laughter.

“I beg your pardon, but it _is_ funny,” she sighed.
“You see _I_ came once just the same way, and
now to have the tables turned like this!  What
will Aunt Hannah say–what will everybody
say?  Come, I want them to begin–to say it,”
she chuckled irrepressibly.

“Thank you, but I shall go to a hotel, of course.
Later, if you’ll be so good as to let me call, and
explain–!”

“But I’m afraid Aunt Hannah will think–”
Billy stopped abruptly.  Some distance away
she saw John coming toward them.  She turned
hurriedly to the man at her side.  Her eyes still
danced, but her voice was mockingly serious.
“Really, Mr. Mary Jane, I’m afraid you’ll have
to come to dinner; then you can settle the rest
with Aunt Hannah.  John is almost upon us–
and _I_ don’t want to make explanations.  Do you?”

“John,” she said airily to the somewhat dazed
chauffeur (who had been told he was to meet a
young woman), “take Mr. Arkwright’s bag,
please, and show him where Peggy is waiting.
It will be five minutes, perhaps, before I can come
–if you’ll kindly excuse me,” she added to
Arkwright, with a flashing glance from merry
eyes.  “I have some–telephoning to do.”

All the way to the telephone booth Billy was
trying to bring order out of the chaos of her mind;
but all the way, too, she was chuckling.

“To think that this thing should have happened
to _me!_” she said, almost aloud.  “And here I
am telephoning just like Uncle William–Bertram
said Uncle William _did_ telephone about _me!_”

In due course Billy had Aunt Hannah at the
other end of the wire.

“Aunt Hannah, listen.  I’d never have
believed it, but it’s happened.  Mary Jane is–a
man.”

Billy heard a dismayed gasp and a muttered
“Oh, my grief and conscience!” then a shaking
“Wha-at?”

“I say, Mary Jane is a man.”  Billy was
enjoying herself hugely.

“A _ma-an!_”

“Yes; a great big man with a brown beard.
He’s waiting now with John and I must go.”

“But, Billy, I don’t understand,” chattered
an agitated voice over the line.  “He–he called
himself `Mary Jane.’  He hasn’t any business
to be a big man with a brown beard!  What shall
we do?  We don’t want a big man with a brown
beard–here!”

Billy laughed roguishly.

“I don’t know.  _You_ asked him!  How he
will like that little blue room–Aunt Hannah!”
Billy’s voice turned suddenly tragic.  “For pity’s
sake take out those curling tongs and hairpins,
and the work-basket.  I’d _never_ hear the last of
it if he saw those, I know.  He’s just that kind!”

A half stifled groan came over the wire.

“Billy, he can’t stay here.”

Billy laughed again.

“No, no, dear; he won’t, I know.  He says
he’s going to a hotel.  But I had to bring him home
to dinner; there was no other way, under the
circumstances.  He won’t stay.  Don’t you worry.
But good-by.  I must go.  _Remember those curling
tongs!_” And the receiver clicked sharply against
the hook.

In the automobile some minutes later, Billy
and Mr. M. J. Arkwright were speeding toward
Corey Hill.  It was during a slight pause in the
conversation that Billy turned to her companion
with a demure:

“I telephoned Aunt Hannah, Mr. Arkwright.
I thought she ought to be–warned.”

“You are very kind.  What did she say?–if
I may ask.”

There was a brief moment of hesitation before
Billy answered.

“She said you called yourself `Mary Jane,’
and that you hadn’t any business to be a big man
with a brown beard.”

Arkwright laughed.

“I’m afraid I owe Aunt Hannah an apology,”
he said.  He hesitated, glanced admiringly at the
glowing, half-averted face near him, then went
on decisively.  He wore the air of a man who has
set the match to his bridges.  “I signed both
letters `M. J. Arkwright,’ but in the first one
I quoted a remark of a friend, and in that remark
I was addressed as `Mary Jane.’  I did not know
but Aunt Hannah knew of the nickname.”
(Arkwright was speaking a little slowly now, as if
weighing his words.)  “But when she answered,
I saw that she did not; for, from something she
said, I realized that she thought I was a real
Mary Jane.  For the joke of the thing I let it pass.
But–if she noticed my letter carefully, she saw
that I did not accept your kind invitation to give

`Mary Jane’ a home.”

“Yes, we noticed that,” nodded Billy, merrily.
“But we didn’t think you meant it.  You see
we pictured you as a shy young thing.  But,
really,” she went on with a low laugh, “you see
your coming as a masculine `Mary Jane’ was
particularly funny–for me; for, though perhaps
you didn’t know it, I came once to this very same
city, wearing a pink, and was expected to be Billy,
a boy.  And only to-day a lady warned me that
your coming might even things up.  But I didn’t
believe it would–a Mary Jane!”

Arkwright laughed.  Again he hesitated, and
seemed to be weighing his words.

“Yes, I heard about that coming of yours.
I might almost say–that’s why I–let the
mistake pass in Aunt Hannah’s letter,” he said.

Billy turned with reproachful eyes.

“Oh, how could–you?  But then–it was a
temptation!”  She laughed suddenly.  “What
sinful joy you must have had watching me hunt
for `Mary Jane.’ ”

“I didn’t,” acknowledged the other, with
unexpected candor.  “I felt–ashamed.  And when
I saw you were there alone without Aunt Hannah,
I came very near not speaking at all–until I
realized that that would be even worse, under the
circumstances.”

“Of course it would,” smiled Billy, brightly;
“so I don’t see but I shall have to forgive you,
after all.  And here we are at home, Mr. Mary
Jane.  By the way, what did you say that `M. J.’
did stand for?” she asked, as the car came to a
stop.

The man did not seem to hear; at least he did
not answer.  He was helping his hostess to alight.
A moment later a plainly agitated Aunt Hannah
–her gray shawl topped with a huge black one
–opened the door of the house.

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