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Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER X

by Eleanor H. Porter

A JOB FOR PETE–AND FOR BERTRAM
The early days in December were busy ones,
certainly, in the little house on Corey Hill.  Marie
was to be married the twelfth.  It was to be a home
wedding, and a very simple one–according to
Billy, and according to what Marie had said it
was to be.  Billy still serenely spoke of it as a
“simple affair,” but Marie was beginning to be
fearful.  As the days passed, bringing with them
more and more frequent evidences either tangible
or intangible of orders to stationers, caterers,
and florists, her fears found voice in a protest.

“But Billy, it was to be a _simple_ wedding,”
she cried.

“And so it is.”

“But what is this I hear about a breakfast?”

Billy’s chin assumed its most stubborn squareness.

“I don’t know, I’m sure, what you did hear,”
she retorted calmly.

“Billy!”

Billy laughed.  The chin was just as stubborn,
but the smiling lips above it graced it with an
air of charming concession.

“There, there, dear,” coaxed the mistress of
Hillside, “don’t fret.  Besides, I’m sure I should
think you, of all people, would want your guests
_fed!_”

“But this is so elaborate, from what I hear.”

“Nonsense!  Not a bit of it.”

“Rosa says there’ll be salads and cakes and
ices–and I don’t know what all.”

Billy looked concerned.

“Well, of course, Marie, if you’d _rather_ have
oatmeal and doughnuts,” she began with kind
solicitude; but she got no farther.

“Billy!” besought the bride elect.  “Won’t
you be serious?  And there’s the cake in wedding
boxes, too.”

“I know, but boxes are so much easier and
cleaner than–just fingers,” apologized an anxiously
serious voice.

Marie answered with an indignant, grieved
glance and hurried on.

“And the flowers–roses, dozens of them,
in December!  Billy, I can’t let you do all this
for me.”

“Nonsense, dear!” laughed Billy.  “Why, I
love to do it.  Besides, when you’re gone, just
think how lonesome I’ll be!  I shall have to adopt
somebody else then–now that Mary Jane has
proved to be nothing but a disappointing man
instead of a nice little girl like you,” she finished
whimsically.

Marie did not smile.  The frown still lay
between her delicate brows.

“And for my trousseau–there were so many
things that you simply would buy!”

“I didn’t get one of the egg-beaters,” Billy
reminded her anxiously.

Marie smiled now, but she shook her head, too.

“Billy, I cannot have you do all this for me.”

“Why not?”

At the unexpectedly direct question, Marie
fell back a little.

“Why, because I–I can’t,” she stammered.
“I can’t get them for myself, and–and–”

“Don’t you love me?”

A pink flush stole to Marie’s face.

“Indeed I do, dearly.”

“Don’t I love you?”

The flush deepened.

“I–I hope so.”

“Then why won’t you let me do what I want
to, and be happy in it?  Money, just money,
isn’t any good unless you can exchange it for
something you want.  And just now I want pink roses
and ice cream and lace flounces for you.  Marie,”
–Billy’s voice trembled a little–“I never had a
sister till I had you, and I have had such a good
time buying things that I thought you wanted!
But, of course, if you don’t want them–”  The
words ended in a choking sob, and down went
Billy’s head into her folded arms on the desk
before her.

Marie sprang to her feet and cuddled the bowed
head in a loving embrace.

“But I do want them, dear; I want them all–
every single one,” she urged.  “Now promise me
–promise me that you’ll do them all, just as
you’d planned!  You will, won’t you?”

There was the briefest of hesitations, then came
the muffled reply:

“Yes–if you really want them.”

“I do, dear–indeed I do.  I love pretty
weddings, and I–I always hoped that I could
have one–if I ever married.  So you must
know, dear, how I really do want all those things,”
declared Marie, fervently.  “And now I must go.
I promised to meet Cyril at Park Street at three
o’clock.”  And she hurried from the room–and
not until she was half-way to her destination did
it suddenly occur to her that she had been urging,
actually urging Miss Billy Neilson to buy for
her pink roses, ice cream, and lace flounces.

Her cheeks burned with shame then.  But
almost at once she smiled.

“Now wasn’t that just like Billy?” she was
saying to herself, with a tender glow in her eyes.
It was early in December that Pete came one
day with a package for Marie from Cyril.  Marie
was not at home, and Billy herself went downstairs
to take the package from the old man’s
hands.

“Mr. Cyril said to give it to Miss Hawthorn,”
stammered the old servant, his face lighting up
as Billy entered the room; “but I’m sure he
wouldn’t mind _your_ taking it.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to take it, Pete, unless
you want to carry it back with you,” she smiled.
“I’ll see that Miss Hawthorn has it the very first
moment she comes in.”

“Thank you, Miss.  It does my old eyes good
to see your bright face.”  He hesitated, then
turned slowly.  “Good day, Miss Billy.”

Billy laid the package on the table.  Her eyes
were thoughtful as she looked after the old man,
who was now almost to the door.  Something
in his bowed form appealed to her strangely.  She
took a quick step toward him.

“You’ll miss Mr. Cyril, Pete,” she said pleasantly.

The old man stopped at once and turned.  He
lifted his head a little proudly.

“Yes, Miss.  I–I was there when he was
born.  Mr. Cyril’s a fine man.”

“Indeed he is.  Perhaps it’s your good care
that’s helped, some–to make him so,” smiled
the girl, vaguely wishing that she could say
something that would drive the wistful look from the
dim old eyes before her.

For a moment Billy thought she had succeeded.
The old servant drew himself stiffly erect.  In
his eyes shone the loyal pride of more than fifty
years’ honest service.  Almost at once, however,
the pride died away, and the wistfulness returned.

“Thank ye, Miss; but I don’t lay no claim to
that, of course,” he said.  “Mr. Cyril’s a fine
man, and we shall miss him; but–I cal’late
changes must come–to all of us.”

Billy’s brown eyes grew a little misty.

“I suppose they must,” she admitted.

The old man hesitated; then, as if impelled
by some hidden force, he plunged on:

“Yes; and they’ll be comin’ to you one of
these days, Miss, and that’s what I was wantin’
to speak to ye about.  I understand, of course,
that when you get there you’ll be wantin’ younger
blood to serve ye.  My feet ain’t so spry as they
once was, and my old hands blunder sometimes,
in spite of what my head bids ‘em do.  So I wanted
to tell ye–that of course I shouldn’t expect to
stay.  I’d go.”

As he said the words, Pete stood with head and
shoulders erect, his eyes looking straight forward
but not at Billy.

“Don’t you _want_ to stay?” The girlish voice
was a little reproachful.

Pete’s head drooped.

“Not if–I’m not wanted,” came the husky
reply.

With an impulsive movement Billy came
straight to the old man’s side and held out her
hand.

“Pete!”

Amazement, incredulity, and a look that was
almost terror crossed the old man’s face; then a
flood of dull red blotted them all out and left only
worshipful rapture.  With a choking cry he took
the slim little hand in both his rough and twisted
ones much as if he were possessing himself of
a treasured bit of eggshell china.

“Miss Billy!”

“Pete, there aren’t a pair of feet in Boston,
nor a pair of hands, either, that I’d rather have
serve me than yours, no matter if they stumble
and blunder all day!  I shall love stumbles and
blunders–if you make them.  Now run home,
and don’t ever let me hear another syllable about
your leaving!”

They were not the words Billy had intended
to say.  She had meant to speak of his long,
faithful service, and of how much they appreciated
it; but, to her surprise, Billy found her
own eyes wet and her own voice trembling, and
the words that she would have said she found
fast shut in her throat.  So there was nothing
to do but to stammer out something–anything,
that would help to keep her from yielding to
that absurd and awful desire to fall on the old
servant’s neck and cry.

“Not another syllable!” she repeated sternly.

“Miss Billy!” choked Pete again.  Then he
turned and fled with anything but his usual
dignity.

Bertram called that evening.  When Billy
came to him in the living-room, her slender self
was almost hidden behind the swirls of damask
linen in her arms.

Bertram’s eyes grew mutinous.

“Do you expect me to hug all that?” he demanded.

Billy flashed him a mischievous glance.

“Of course not!  You don’t _have_ to hug
anything, you know.”

For answer he impetuously swept the offending
linen into the nearest chair and drew the girl
into his arms.

“Oh!  And see how you’ve crushed poor Marie’s
table-cloth!” she cried, with reproachful eyes.

Bertram sniffed imperturbably.

“I’m not sure but I’d like to crush Marie,”
he alleged.

“Bertram!”

“I can’t help it.  See here, Billy.”  He loosened
his clasp and held the girl off at arm’s length,
regarding her with stormy eyes.  “It’s Marie,
Marie, Marie–always.  If I telephone in the
morning, you’ve gone shopping with Marie.
If I want you in the afternoon for something,
you’re at the dressmaker’s with Marie.  If I call
in the evening–”

“I’m here,” interrupted Billy, with decision.

“Oh, yes, you’re here,” admitted Bertram,
aggrievedly, “and so are dozens of napkins,
miles of table-cloths, and yards upon yards of
lace and flummydiddles you call `doilies.’  They
all belong to Marie, and they fill your arms and
your thoughts full, until there isn’t an inch of
room for me.  Billy, when is this thing going to
end?”

Billy laughed softly.  Her eyes danced.

“The twelfth;–that is, there’ll be a–pause,
then.”

“Well, I’m thankful if–eh?” broke off the
man, with a sudden change of manner.  “What
do you mean by `a pause’?”

Billy cast down her eyes demurely.

“Well, of course _this_ ends the twelfth with
Marie’s wedding; but I’ve sort of regarded it as
an–understudy for one that’s coming next
October, you see.”

“Billy, you darling!” breathed a supremely
happy voice in a shell-like ear–Billy was not
at arm’s length now.

Billy smiled, but she drew away with gentle
firmness.

“And now I must go back to my sewing,”
she said.

Bertram’s arms did not loosen.  His eyes had
grown mutinous again.

“That is,” she amended, “I must be practising
my part of–the understudy, you know.”

“You darling!” breathed Bertram again; this
time, however, he let her go.

“But, honestly, is it all necessary?” he sighed
despairingly, as she seated herself and gathered
the table-cloth into her lap.  “Do you have to do
so much of it all?”

“I do,” smiled Billy, “unless you want your
brother to run the risk of leading his bride to
the altar and finding her robed in a kitchen
apron with an egg-beater in her hand for a
bouquet.”

Bertram laughed.

“Is it so bad as that?”

“No, of course not–quite.  But never have
I seen a bride so utterly oblivious to clothes as
Marie was till one day in despair I told her that
Cyril never could bear a dowdy woman.”

“As if Cyril, in the old days, ever could bear
any sort of woman!” scoffed Bertram, merrily.

“I know; but I didn’t mention that part,”
smiled Billy.  “I just singled out the dowdy
one.”

“Did it work?”

Billy made a gesture of despair.

“Did it work!  It worked too well.  Marie gave
me one horrified look, then at once and immediately
she became possessed with the idea that she
_was_ a dowdy woman.  And from that day to
this she has pursued every lurking wrinkle and
every fold awry, until her dressmaker’s life isn’t
worth the living; and I’m beginning to think
mine isn’t, either, for I have to assure her at
least four times every day now that she is _not_
a dowdy woman.”

“You poor dear,” laughed Bertram.  “No
wonder you don’t have time to give to me!”

A peculiar expression crossed Billy’s face.

“Oh, but I’m not the _only_ one who, at times,
is otherwise engaged, sir,” she reminded him.

“What do you mean?”

“There was yesterday, and last Monday, and
last week Wednesday, and–”

“Oh, but you _let_ me off, then,” argued
Bertram, anxiously.  “And you said–”

“That I didn’t wish to interfere with your
work–which was quite true,” interrupted Billy
in her turn, smoothly.  “By the way,”–Billy
was examining her stitches very closely now
–“how is Miss Winthrop’s portrait coming
on?”

“Splendidly!–that is, it _was_, until she began
to put off the sittings for her pink teas and
folderols.  She’s going to Washington next week, too,
to be gone nearly a fortnight,” finished Bertram, gloomily.

“Aren’t you putting more work than usual
into this one–and more sittings?”

“Well, yes,” laughed Bertram, a little shortly.
“You see, she’s changed the pose twice already.”

“Changed it!”

“Yes.  Wasn’t satisfied.  Fancied she wanted
it different.”

“But can’t you–don’t you have something to
say about it?”

“Oh, yes, of course; and she claims she’ll
yield to my judgment, anyhow.  But what’s the
use?  She’s been a spoiled darling all her life, and
in the habit of having her own way about everything.
Naturally, under those circumstances,
I can’t expect to get a satisfactory portrait,
if she’s out of tune with the pose.  Besides, I will
own, so far her suggestions have made for
improvement–probably because she’s been happy
in making them, so her expression has been good.”

Billy wet her lips.

“I saw her the other night,” she said lightly.
(If the lightness was a little artificial Bertram did
not seem to notice it.)  “She is certainly–very
beautiful.”

“Yes.”  Bertram got to his feet and began to
walk up and down the little room.  His eyes were
alight.  On his face the “painting look” was king.
“It’s going to mean a lot to me–this picture,
Billy.  In the first place I’m just at the point in
my career where a big success would mean a lot
–and where a big failure would mean more.
And this portrait is bound to be one or the other
from the very nature of the thing.”

“I-is it?” Billy’s voice was a little faint.

“Yes.  First, because of who the sitter is, and
secondly because of what she is.  She is, of course,
the most famous subject I’ve had, and half the
artistic world knows by this time that Marguerite
Winthrop is being done by Henshaw.  You can
see what it’ll be–if I fail.”

“But you won’t fail, Bertram!”

The artist lifted his chin and threw back his
shoulders.

“No, of course not; but–”  He hesitated,
frowned, and dropped himself into a chair.  His
eyes studied the fire moodily.  “You see,” he
resumed, after a moment, “there’s a peculiar,
elusive something about her expression–”
(Billy stirred restlessly and gave her thread so
savage a jerk that it broke)“–a something
that isn’t easily caught by the brush.  Anderson
and Fullam–big fellows, both of them–didn’t
catch it.  At least, I’ve understood that neither
her family nor her friends are satisfied with _their_
portraits.  And to succeed where Anderson and
Fullam failed–Jove!  Billy, a chance like that
doesn’t come to a fellow twice in a lifetime!”
Bertram was out of his chair, again, tramping
up and down the little room.

Billy tossed her work aside and sprang to her
feet.  Her eyes, too, were alight, now.

“But you aren’t going to fail, dear,” she cried,
holding out both her hands.  “You’re going to
succeed!”

Bertram caught the hands and kissed first one
then the other of their soft little palms.

“Of course I am,” he agreed passionately,
leading her to the sofa, and seating himself at her
side.

“Yes, but you must really _feel_ it,” she urged;
“feel the `_sure_’ in yourself.  You have to!–to
doing things.  That’s what I told Mary Jane yesterday,
when he was running on about what _he_
wanted to do–in his singing, you know.”

Bertram stiffened a little.  A quick frown came
to his face.

“Mary Jane, indeed!  Of all the absurd names
to give a full-grown, six-foot man!  Billy, do, for
pity’s sake, call him by his name–if he’s got
one.”

Billy broke into a rippling laugh.

“I wish I could, dear,” she sighed ingenuously.

“Honestly, it bothers me because I _can’t_ think
of him as anything but `Mary Jane.’  It seems
so silly!”

“It certainly does–when one remembers
his beard.”

“Oh, he’s shaved that off now.  He looks
rather better, too.”

Bertram turned a little sharply.

“Do you see the fellow–often?”

Billy laughed merrily.

“No.  He’s about as disgruntled as you are
over the way the wedding monopolizes everything.
He’s been up once or twice to see Aunt Hannah
and to get acquainted, as he expresses it, and once
he brought up some music and we sang; but he
declares the wedding hasn’t given him half a show.”

“Indeed!  Well, that’s a pity, I’m sure,”
rejoined Bertram, icily.

Billy turned in slight surprise.

“Why, Bertram, don’t you like Mary Jane?”

“Billy, for heaven’s sake!  _Hasn’t_ he got any
name but that?”

Billy clapped her hands together suddenly.

“There, that makes me think.  He told Aunt
Hannah and me to guess what his name was, and
we never hit it once.  What do you think it is?
The initials are M. J.”

“I couldn’t say, I’m sure.  What is it?”

“Oh, he didn’t tell us.  You see he left us to
guess it.”

“Did he?”

“Yes,” mused Billy, abstractedly, her eyes on
the dancing fire.  The next minute she stirred and
settled herself more comfortably in the curve
of her lover’s arm.  “But there! who cares
what his name is?  I’m sure I don’t.”

“Nor I,” echoed Bertram in a voice that he
tried to make not too fervent.  He had not
forgotten Billy’s surprised:  “Why, Bertram, don’t
you like Mary Jane?” and he did not like to call
forth a repetition of it.  Abruptly, therefore, he
changed the subject.  “By the way, what did
you do to Pete to-day?” he asked laughingly.
“He came home in a seventh heaven of happiness
babbling of what an angel straight from the sky
Miss Billy was.  Naturally I agreed with him
on that point.  But what did you do to him?”

Billy smiled.

“Nothing–only engaged him for our butler
–for life.”

“Oh, I see.  That was dear of you, Billy.”

“As if I’d do anything else!  And now for
Dong Ling, I suppose, some day.”

Bertram chuckled.

“Well, maybe I can help you there,” he hinted.
“You see, his Celestial Majesty came to me
himself the other day, and said, after sundry and
various preliminaries, that he should be `velly
much glad’ when the `Little Missee’ came to
live with me, for then he could go back to China
with a heart at rest, as he had money `velly
much plenty’ and didn’t wish to be `Melican
man’ any longer.”

“Dear me,” smiled Billy, “what a happy
state of affairs–for him.  But for you–do you
realize, young man, what that means for you?
A new wife and a new cook all at once?  And you
know I’m not Marie!”

“Ho! I’m not worrying,” retorted Bertram
with a contented smile; “besides, as perhaps
you noticed, it wasn’t Marie that I asked–to
marry me!”

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