Free Magazines!
Powered by MaxBlogPress  

Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER VII

by Eleanor H. Porter

At ten minutes before six on the afternoon of
Arkwright’s arrival, Billy came into the living-
room to welcome the three Henshaw brothers,
who, as was frequently the case, were dining at

Bertram thought Billy had never looked prettier
than she did this afternoon with the bronze sheen
of her pretty house gown bringing out the bronze
lights in her dark eyes and in the soft waves of
her beautiful hair.  Her countenance, too, carried
a peculiar something that the artist’s eye was quick
to detect, and that the artist’s fingers tingled to
put on canvas.

“Jove! Billy,” he said low in her ear, as he
greeted her, “I wish I had a brush in my hand
this minute.  I’d have a `Face of a Girl’ that
would be worth while!”

Billy laughed and dimpled her appreciation;
but down in her heart she was conscious of a
vague unrest.  Billy wished, sometimes, that she
did not so often seem to Bertram–a picture.

She turned to Cyril with outstretched hand.

“Oh, yes, Marie’s coming,” she smiled in
answer to the quick shifting of Cyril’s eyes to the
hall doorway.  “And Aunt Hannah, too.  They’re

“And Mary Jane?” demanded William, a
little anxiously

“Will’s getting nervous,” volunteered Bertram,
airily.  “He wants to see Mary Jane.  You see
we’ve told him that we shall expect him to see
that she doesn’t bother us four too much, you
know.  He’s expected always to remove her quietly
but effectually, whenever he sees that she is
likely to interrupt a t<e^>te-<a!>-t<e^>te.  Naturally, then,
Will wants to see Mary Jane.”

Billy began to laugh hysterically.  She dropped
into a chair and raised both her hands, palms

“Don’t, don’t–please don’t!” she choked,
“or I shall die.  I’ve had all I can stand, already.”

“All you can stand?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is she so–impossible?”  This last was from
Bertram, spoken softly, and with a hurried glance
toward the hall.

Billy dropped her hands and lifted her head.
By heroic effort she pulled her face into sobriety
–all but her eyes–and announced:

“Mary Jane is–a man.”


“A _man!_”


Three masculine forms sat suddenly erect.

“Yes.  Oh, Uncle William, I know now just
how you felt–I know, I know,” gurgled Billy,
incoherently.  “There he stood with his pink
just as I did–only he had a brown beard, and
he didn’t have Spunk–and I had to telephone
to prepare folks, just as you did.  And the room
–the room!  I fixed the room, too,” she babbled
breathlessly, “only I had curling tongs and hair
pins in it instead of guns and spiders!”

“Child, child! what _are_ you talking about?”
William’s face was red.

“A _man!_–_Mary Jane!_” Cyril was merely

“Billy, what does this mean?” Bertram had
grown a little white.

Billy began to laugh again, yet she was plainly
trying to control herself.

“I’ll tell you.  I must tell you.  Aunt Hannah
is keeping him up-stairs so I can tell you,” she
panted.  “But it was so funny, when I expected
a girl, you know, to see him with his brown
beard, and he was so tall and big!  And, of course,
it made me think how _I_ came, and was a girl
when you expected a boy; and Mrs. Carleton
had just said to-day that maybe this girl would
even things up.  Oh, it was so funny!”

“Billy, my-my dear,” remonstrated Uncle
William, mildly.

“But what _is_ his name?” demanded Cyril.

“Did the creature sign himself `Mary Jane’?”
exploded Bertram.

“I don’t know his name, except that it’s `M.
J.’–and that’s how he signed the letters.  But
he _is_ called `Mary Jane’ sometimes, and in the
letter he quoted somebody’s speech–I’ve
forgotten just how–but in it he was called `Mary
Jane,’ and, of course, Aunt Hannah took him
for a girl,” explained Billy, grown a little more
coherent now.

“Didn’t he write again?” asked William.


“Well, why didn’t he correct the mistake,
then?” demanded Bertram.

Billy chuckled.

“He didn’t want to, I guess.  He thought it
was too good a joke.”

“Joke!” scoffed Cyril.

“But, see here, Billy, he isn’t going to live here
–now?” Bertram’s voice was almost savage.

“Oh, no, he isn’t going to live here–now,”
interposed smooth tones from the doorway.

“Mr.–Arkwright!” breathed Billy, confusedly.

Three crimson-faced men sprang to their feet.
The situation, for a moment, threatened embarrassed
misery for all concerned; but Arkwright,
with a cheery smile, advanced straight toward
Bertram, and held out a friendly hand.

“The proverbial fate of listeners,” he said
easily; “but I don’t blame you at all.  No,
`he’ isn’t going to live here,” he went on,
grasping each brother’s hand in turn, as Billy
murmured faint introductions; “and what is more,
he hereby asks everybody’s pardon for the annoyance
his little joke has caused.  He might add
that he’s heartily-ashamed of himself, as well;
but if any of you–”  Arkwright turned to the
three tall men still standing by their chairs–
“if any of you had suffered what he has at the
hands of a swarm of youngsters for that name’s
sake, you wouldn’t blame him for being tempted
to get what fun he could out of Mary Jane–if
there ever came a chance!”

Naturally, after this, there could be nothing
stiff or embarrassing.  Billy laughed in relief,
and motioned Mr. Arkwright to a seat near her.
William said “Of course, of course!” and shook
hands again.  Bertram and Cyril laughed
shamefacedly and sat down.  Somebody said:  “But
what does the `M. J.’ stand for, anyhow?”
Nobody answered this, however; perhaps
because Aunt Hannah and Marie appeared just
then in the doorway.

Dinner proved to be a lively meal.  In the
newcomer, Bertram met his match for wit and satire;
and “Mr. Mary Jane,” as he was promptly called
by every one but Aunt Hannah, was found to
be a most entertaining guest.

After dinner somebody suggested music.

Cyril frowned, and got up abruptly.  Still
frowning, he turned to a bookcase near him and
began to take down and examine some of the

Bertram twinkled and glanced at Billy.

“Which is it, Cyril?” he called with cheerful
impertinence; “stool, piano, or audience that is
the matter to-night?”

Only a shrug from Cyril answered.

“You see,” explained Bertram, jauntily, to
Arkwright, whose eyes were slightly puzzled,
“Cyril never plays unless the piano and the pedals
and the weather and your ears and my watch
and his fingers are just right!”

“Nonsense!” scorned Cyril, dropping his book
and walking back to his chair.  “I don’t feel
like playing to-night; that’s all.”

“You see,” nodded Bertram again.

“I see,” bowed Arkwright with quiet amusement.

“I believe–Mr. Mary Jane–sings,” observed
Billy, at this point, demurely.

“Why, yes, of course, ‘ chimed in Aunt Hannah
with some nervousness.  “That’s what she–I
mean he–was coming to Boston for–to study

Everybody laughed.

“Won’t you sing, please?” asked Billy.  “Can
you–without your notes?  I have lots of songs
if you want them.”

For a moment–but only a moment–Arkwright
hesitated; then he rose and went to the

With the easy sureness of the trained musician
his fingers dropped to the keys and slid into
preliminary chords and arpeggios to test the touch of
the piano; then, with a sweetness and purity that
made every listener turn in amazed delight, a
well-trained tenor began the “Thro’ the leaves
the night winds moving,” of Schubert’s Serenade.

Cyril’s chin had lifted at the first tone.  He was
listening now with very obvious pleasure.  Bertram,
too, was showing by his attitude the keenest
appreciation.  William and Aunt Hannah, resting
back in their chairs, were contentedly nodding their
approval to each other.  Marie in her corner was
motionless with rapture.  As to Billy–Billy
was plainly oblivious of everything but the song
and the singer.  She seemed scarcely to move or
to breathe till the song’s completion; then there
came a low “Oh, how beautiful!” through her
parted lips.

Bertram, looking at her, was conscious of a
vague irritation.

“Arkwright, you’re a lucky dog,” he declared
almost crossly.  “I wish I could sing like that!”

“I wish I could paint a `Face of a Girl,’ ”
smiled the tenor as he turned from the piano.

“Oh, but, Mr. Arkwright, don’t stop,” objected
Billy, springing to her feet and going to her music
cabinet by the piano.  “There’s a little song
of Nevin’s I want you to sing.  There, here it is.
Just let me play it for you.”  And she slipped into
the place the singer had just left.

It was the beginning of the end.  After Nevin
came De Koven, and after De Koven, Gounod.
Then came Nevin again, Billy still playing the
accompaniment.  Next followed a duet.  Billy
did not consider herself much of a singer, but her
voice was sweet and true, and not without training.
It blended very prettily with the clear, pure

William and Aunt Hannah still smiled contentedly
in their chairs, though Aunt Hannah had
reached for the pink shawl near her–the music
had sent little shivers down her spine.  Cyril,
with Marie, had slipped into the little reception-
room across the hall, ostensibly to look at some
plans for a house, although–as everybody
knew–they were not intending to build for a

Bertram, still sitting stiffly erect in his chair,
was not conscious of a vague irritation now.
He was conscious of a very real, and a very
decided one–an irritation that was directed against
himself, against Billy, and against this man,
Arkwright; but chiefly against music, _#per se_.  He
hated music.  He wished he could sing.  He
wondered how long it took to teach a man to sing,
anyhow; and he wondered if a man could sing–
who never had sung.

At this point the duet came to an end, and Billy
and her guest left the piano.  Almost at once,
after this, Arkwright made his very graceful
adieus, and went off with his suit-case to the hotel
where, as he had informed Aunt Hannah, his room
was already engaged.

William went home then, and Aunt Hannah
went up-stairs.  Cyril and Marie withdrew into
a still more secluded corner to look at their plans,
and Bertram found himself at last alone with
Billy.  He forgot, then, in the blissful hour he
spent with her before the open fire, how he hated
music; though he did say, just before he went
home that night:

“Billy, how long does it take–to learn to

“Why, I don’t know, I’m sure,” replied Billy,
abstractedly; then, with sudden fervor:  “Oh,
Bertram, hasn’t Mr. Mary Jane a beautiful

Bertram wished then he had not asked the
question; but all he said was:

“ `Mr. Mary Jane,’ indeed!  What an absurd

“But doesn’t he sing beautifully?”

“Eh?  Oh, yes, he sings all right,” said
Bertram’s tongue.  Bertram’s manner said:  “Oh,
yes, anybody can sing.”

Post a Comment