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Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER XI

by Eleanor H. Porter

A CLOCK AND AUNT HANNAH
Mrs. Kate Hartwell, the Henshaw brothers’
sister from the West, was expected on the tenth.
Her husband could not come, she had written,
but she would bring with her, little Kate, the
youngest child.  The boys, Paul and Egbert,
would stay with their father.

Billy received the news of little Kate’s coming
with outspoken delight.

“The very thing!” she cried.  “We’ll have
her for a flower girl.  She was a dear little creature,
as I remember her.”

Aunt Hannah gave a sudden low laugh.

“Yes, I remember,” she observed.  “Kate
told me, after you spent the first day with her,
that you graciously informed her that little Kate
was almost as nice as Spunk.  Kate did not fully
appreciate the compliment, I fear.”

Billy made a wry face.

“Did I say that?  Dear me!  I _was_ a terror
in those days, wasn’t I?  But then,” and she
laughed softly, “really, Aunt Hannah, that was
the prettiest thing I knew how to say, for I
considered Spunk the top-notch of desirability.”

“I think I should have liked to know Spunk,”
smiled Marie from the other side of the sewing
table.

“He was a dear,” declared Billy.  “I had
another ‘most as good when I first came to Hillside,
but he got lost.  For a time it seemed as if I never
wanted another, but I’ve about come to the conclusion
now that I do, and I’ve told Bertram to find
one for me if he can.  You see I shall be lonesome
after you’re gone, Marie, and I’ll have to have
_something_,” she finished mischievously.

“Oh, I don’t mind the inference–as long as
I know your admiration of cats,” laughed Marie.

“Let me see; Kate writes she is coming the
tenth,” murmured Aunt Hannah, going back
to the letter in her hand.

“Good!” nodded Billy.  “That will give time
to put little Kate through her paces as flower
girl.”

“Yes, and it will give Big Kate time to _try_ to
make your breakfast a supper, and your roses
pinks–or sunflowers,” cut in a new voice, dryly.

“Cyril!” chorussed the three ladies in horror,
adoration, and amusement–according to whether
the voice belonged to Aunt Hannah, Marie, or
Billy.

Cyril shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“I beg your pardon,” he apologized; “but
Rosa said you were in here sewing, and I told
her not to bother.  I’d announce myself.  Just
as I got to the door I chanced to hear Billy’s
speech, and I couldn’t resist making the amendment.
Maybe you’ve forgotten Kate’s love of
managing–but I haven’t,” he finished, as he
sauntered over to the chair nearest Marie.

“No, I haven’t–forgotten,” observed Billy,
meaningly.

“Nor I–nor anybody else,” declared a
severe voice–both the words and the severity
being most extraordinary as coming from the
usually gentle Aunt Hannah.

“Oh, well, never mind,” spoke up Billy, quickly.
“Everything’s all right now, so let’s forget it.
She always meant it for kindness, I’m sure.”

“Even when she told you in the first place
what a–er–torment you were to us?” quizzed
Cyril.

“Yes,” flashed Billy.  “She was being kind to
_you_, then.”

“Humph!” vouchsafed Cyril.

For a moment no one spoke.  Cyril’s eyes were
on Marie, who was nervously trying to smooth
back a few fluffy wisps of hair that had escaped
from restraining combs and pins.

“What’s the matter with the hair, little girl?”
asked Cyril in a voice that was caressingly irritable.
“You’ve been fussing with that long-
suffering curl for the last five minutes!”

Marie’s delicate face flushed painfully.

“It’s got loose–my hair,” she stammered,
“and it looks so dowdy that way!”

Billy dropped her thread suddenly.  She sprang
for it at once, before Cyril could make a move to
get it.  She had to dive far under a chair to capture
it–which may explain why her face was so
very red when she finally reached her seat again.
On the morning of the tenth, Billy, Marie, and
Aunt Hannah were once more sewing together,
this time in the little sitting-room at the end of
the hall up-stairs.

Billy’s fingers, in particular, were flying very
fast.

“I told John to have Peggy at the door at
eleven,” she said, after a time; “but I think I
can finish running in this ribbon before then.  I
haven’t much to do to get ready to go.”

“I hope Kate’s train won’t be late,” worried
Aunt Hannah.

“I hope not,” replied Billy; “but I told Rosa
to delay luncheon, anyway, till we get here.  I–”
She stopped abruptly and turned a listening ear
toward the door of Aunt Hannah’s room, which
was open.  A clock was striking.  “Mercy!
that can’t be eleven now,” she cried.  “But it
must be–it was ten before I came up-stairs.”
She got to her feet hurriedly.

Aunt Hannah put out a restraining hand.

“No, no, dear, that’s half-past ten.”

“But it struck eleven.”

“Yes, I know.  It does–at half-past ten.”

“Why, the little wretch,” laughed Billy,
dropping back into her chair and picking up her work
again.  “The idea of its telling fibs like that and
frightening people half out of their lives!  I’ll
have it fixed right away.  Maybe John can do it
–he’s always so handy about such things.”

“But I don’t want it fixed,” demurred Aunt
Hannah.

Billy stared a little.

“You don’t want it fixed!  Maybe you like
to have it strike eleven when it’s half-past ten!”
Billy’s voice was merrily sarcastic.

“Y-yes, I do,” stammered the lady,
apologetically.  “You see, I–I worked very hard to
fix it so it would strike that way.”

“_Aunt Hannah!_”

“Well, I did,” retorted the lady, with
unexpected spirit.  “I wanted to know what time it
was in the night–I’m awake such a lot.”

“But I don’t see.”  Billy’s eyes were perplexed.
“Why must you make it tell fibs in order to–to
find out the truth?” she laughed.

Aunt Hannah elevated her chin a little.

“Because that clock was always striking one.”

“One!”

“Yes–half-past, you know; and I never
knew which half-past it was.”

“But it must strike half-past now, just the
same!”

“It does.”  There was the triumphant ring of
the conqueror in Aunt Hannah’s voice.  “But
now it strikes half-past _on the hour_, and the clock
in the hall tells me _then_ what time it is, so I don’t
care.”

For one more brief minute Billy stared, before
a sudden light of understanding illumined her
face.  Then her laugh rang out gleefully.

“Oh, Aunt Hannah, Aunt Hannah,” she
gurgled.  “If Bertram wouldn’t call you the limit
–making a clock strike eleven so you’ll know it’s
half-past ten!”

Aunt Hannah colored a little, but she stood
her ground.

“Well, there’s only half an hour, anyway, now,
that I don’t know what time it is,” she maintained,
“for one or the other of those clocks strikes the
hour every thirty minutes.  Even during those
never-ending three ones that strike one after
the other in the middle of the night, I can tell
now, for the hall clock has a different sound for
the half-hours, you know, so I can tell whether
it’s one or a half-past.”

“Of course,” chuckled Billy.

“I’m sure I think it’s a splendid idea,” chimed
in Marie, valiantly; “and I’m going to write it
to mother’s Cousin Jane right away.  She’s an
invalid, and she’s always lying awake nights
wondering what time it is.  The doctor says
actually he believes she’d get well if he could find
some way of letting her know the time at night,
so she’d get some sleep; for she simply can’t
go to sleep till she knows.  She can’t bear a light
in the room, and it wakes her all up to turn an
electric switch, or anything of that kind.”

“Why doesn’t she have one of those phosphorous
things?” questioned Billy.

Marie laughed quietly.

“She did.  I sent her one,–and she stood it
just one night.”

“Stood it!”

“Yes.  She declared it gave her the creeps,
and that she wouldn’t have the spooky thing
staring at her all night like that.  So it’s got to
be something she can hear, and I’m going to
tell her Mrs. Stetson’s plan right away.”

“Well, I’m sure I wish you would,” cried that
lady, with prompt interest; “and she’ll like it,
I’m sure.  And tell her if she can hear a _town_
clock strike, it’s just the same, and even better;
for there aren’t any half-hours at all to think of
there.”

“I will–and I think it’s lovely,” declared
Marie.

“Of course it’s lovely,” smiled Billy, rising;
“but I fancy I’d better go and get ready to meet
Mrs. Hartwell, or the `lovely’ thing will be telling
me that it’s half-past eleven!”  And she
tripped laughingly from the room.

Promptly at the appointed time John with
Peggy drew up before the door, and Billy, muffled
in furs, stepped into the car, which, with its
protecting top and sides and glass wind-shield, was
in its winter dress.

“Yes’m, ’tis a little chilly, Miss,” said John,
in answer to her greeting, as he tucked the heavy
robes about her.

“Oh, well, I shall be very comfortable, I’m
sure,” smiled Billy.  “Just don’t drive too rapidly,
specially coming home.  I shall have to get a
limousine, I think, when my ship comes in, John.”

John’s grizzled old face twitched.  So evident
were the words that were not spoken that Billy
asked laughingly:

“Well, John, what is it?”

John reddened furiously.

“Nothing, Miss.  I was only thinkin’ that if
you didn’t ‘tend ter haulin’ in so many other
folks’s ships, yours might get in sooner.”

“Why, John!  Nonsense!  I–I love to haul
in other folks’s ships,” laughed the girl, embarrassedly.

“Yes, Miss; I know you do,” grunted John.

Billy colored.

“No, no–that is, I mean–I don’t do it–
very much,” she stammered.

John did not answer apparently; but Billy
was sure she caught a low-muttered, indignant
“much!” as he snapped the door shut and took
his place at the wheel.

To herself she laughed softly.  She thought she
possessed the secret now of some of John’s
disapproving glances toward her humble guests of
the summer before.

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