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Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER XII

by Eleanor H. Porter

SISTER KATE
At the station Mrs. Hartwell’s train was found
to be gratifyingly on time; and in due course
Billy was extending a cordial welcome to a tall,
handsome woman who carried herself with an
unmistakable air of assured competence.  Accompanying
her was a little girl with big blue eyes
and yellow curls.

“I am very glad to see you both,” smiled Billy,
holding out a friendly hand to Mrs. Hartwell,
and stooping to kiss the round cheek of the little
girl.

“Thank you, you are very kind,” murmured
the lady; “but–are you alone, Billy?  Where
are the boys?”

“Uncle William is out of town, and Cyril is
rushed to death and sent his excuses.  Bertram
did mean to come, but he telephoned this morning
that he couldn’t, after all.  I’m sorry, but I’m
afraid you’ll have to make the best of just me,”
condoled Billy.  “They’ll be out to the house this
evening, of course–all but Uncle William.  He
doesn’t return until to-morrow.”

“Oh, doesn’t he?” murmured the lady, reaching
for her daughter’s hand.

Billy looked down with a smile.

“And this is little Kate, I suppose,” she said,
“whom I haven’t seen for such a long, long time.
Let me see, you are how old now?”

“I’m eight.  I’ve been eight six weeks.”

Billy’s eyes twinkled.

“And you don’t remember me, I suppose.”

The little girl shook her head.

“No; but I know who you are,” she added,
with shy eagerness.  “You’re going to be my
Aunt Billy, and you’re going to marry my Uncle
William–I mean, my Uncle Bertram.”

Billy’s face changed color.  Mrs. Hartwell
gave a despairing gesture.

“Kate, my dear, I told you to be sure and
remember that it was your Uncle Bertram now.
You see,” she added in a discouraged aside to
Billy, “she can’t seem to forget the first one.
But then, what can you expect?” laughed Mrs.
Hartwell, a little disagreeably.  “Such abrupt
changes from one brother to another are somewhat
disconcerting, you know.”

Billy bit her lip.  For a moment she said nothing,
then, a little constrainedly, she rejoined:

“Perhaps.  Still–let us hope we have the
right one, now.”

Mrs. Hartwell raised her eyebrows.

“Well, my dear, I’m not so confident of that.
_My_ choice has been and always will be–William.”

Billy bit her lip again.  This time her brown
eyes flashed a little.

“Is that so?  But you see, after all, _you_ aren’t
making the–the choice.”  Billy spoke lightly,
gayly; and she ended with a bright little laugh, as
if to hide any intended impertinence.

It was Mrs. Hartwell’s turn to bite her lip–
and she did it.

“So it seems,” she rejoined frigidly, after the
briefest of pauses.

It was not until they were on their way to
Corey Hill some time later that Mrs. Hartwell
turned with the question:

“Cyril is to be married in church, I suppose?”

“No.  They both preferred a home wedding.”

“Oh, what a pity!  Church weddings are so
attractive!”

“To those who like them,” amended Billy in
spite of herself.

“To every one, I think,” corrected Mrs.
Hartwell, positively.

Billy laughed.  She was beginning to discern
that it did not do much harm–nor much good
–to disagree with her guest.

“It’s in the evening, then, of course?”
pursued Mrs. Hartwell.

“No; at noon.”

“Oh, how could you let them?”

“But they preferred it, Mrs. Hartwell.”

“What if they did?” retorted the lady, sharply.
“Can’t you do as you please in your own home?
Evening weddings are so much prettier!  We
can’t change now, of course, with the guests all
invited.  That is, I suppose you do have guests!”

Mrs. Hartwell’s voice was aggrievedly despairing.

“Oh, yes,” smiled Billy, demurely.  “We have
guests invited–and I’m afraid we can’t change
the time.”

“No, of course not; but it’s too bad.  I
conclude there are announcements only, as I got no
cards.

“Announcements only,” bowed Billy.

“I wish Cyril had consulted _me_, a little, about
this affair.”

Billy did not answer.  She could not trust herself
to speak just then.  Cyril’s words of two
days before were in her ears:  “Yes, and it will
give Big Kate time to try to make your breakfast
supper, and your roses pinks–or sunflowers.”

In a moment Mrs. Hartwell spoke again.

“Of course a noon wedding is quite pretty
if you darken the rooms and have lights–you’re
going to do that, I suppose?”

Billy shook her head slowly.

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Hartwell.  That isn’t
the plan, now.”

“Not darken the rooms!” exclaimed Mrs.
Hartwell.  “Why, it won’t–”  She stopped
suddenly, and fell back in her seat.  The look of
annoyed disappointment gave way to one of
confident relief.  “But then, _that can_ be changed,”
she finished serenely.

Billy opened her lips, but she shut them without
speaking.  After a minute she opened them again.

“You might consult–Cyril–about that,”
she said in a quiet voice.

“Yes, I will,” nodded Mrs. Hartwell, brightly.
She was looking pleased and happy again.  “I
love weddings.  Don’t you?  You can _do_ so much
with them!”

“Can you?” laughed Billy, irrepressibly.

“Yes.  Cyril is happy, of course.  Still, I
can’t imagine _him_ in love with any woman.”

“I think Marie can.”

“I suppose so.  I don’t seem to remember her
much; still, I think I saw her once or twice when
I was on last June.  Music teacher, wasn’t she?”

“Yes.  She is a very sweet girl.”

“Hm-m; I suppose so.  Still, I think ‘twould
have been better if Cyril could have selected some
one that _wasn’t_ musical–say a more domestic
wife.  He’s so terribly unpractical himself about
household matters.”

Billy gave a ringing laugh and stood up.  The
car had come to a stop before her own door.

“Do you?  Just you wait till you see Marie’s
trousseau of–egg-beaters and cake tins,” she
chuckled.

Mrs. Hartwell looked blank.

“Whatever in the world do you mean, Billy?”
she demanded fretfully, as she followed her hostess
from the car.  “I declare! aren’t you ever going
to grow beyond making those absurd remarks
of yours?”

“Maybe–sometime,” laughed Billy, as she
took little Kate’s hand and led the way up the
steps.

Luncheon in the cozy dining-room at Hillside
that day was not entirely a success.  At least
there were not present exactly the harmony and
tranquillity that are conceded to be the best
sauce for one’s food.  The wedding, of course,
was the all-absorbing topic of conversation; and
Billy, between Aunt Hannah’s attempts to be
polite, Marie’s to be sweet-tempered, Mrs. Hartwell’s
to be dictatorial, and her own to be pacifying
as well as firm, had a hard time of it.  If it had
not been for two or three diversions created by
little Kate, the meal would have been, indeed, a
dismal failure.

But little Kate–most of the time the
personification of proper little-girlhood–had a
disconcerting faculty of occasionally dropping a
word here, or a question there, with startling
effect.  As, for instance, when she asked Billy
“Who’s going to boss your wedding?” and again
when she calmly informed her mother that when _she_
was married she was not going to have any wedding
at all to bother with, anyhow.  She was going to
elope, and she should choose somebody’s chauffeur,
because he’d know how to go the farthest and fastest
so her mother couldn’t catch up with her and
tell her how she ought to have done it.

After luncheon Aunt Hannah went up-stairs
for rest and recuperation.  Marie took little Kate
and went for a brisk walk–for the same
purpose.  This left Billy alone with her guest.

“Perhaps you would like a nap, too, Mrs.
Hartwell,” suggested Billy, as they passed into
the living-room.  There was a curious note of almost
hopefulness in her voice.

Mrs. Hartwell scorned naps, and she said so
very emphatically.  She said something else, too.

“Billy, why do you always call me `Mrs. Hartwell’
in that stiff, formal fashion?  You used to
call me `Aunt Kate.’ ”

“But I was very young then.”  Billy’s voice
was troubled.  Billy had been trying so hard for
the last two hours to be the graciously cordial
hostess to this woman–Bertram’s sister.

“Very true.  Then why not `Kate’ now?”

Billy hesitated.  She was wondering why it
seemed so hard to call Mrs. Hartwell “Kate.”

“Of course,” resumed the lady, “when you’re
Bertram’s wife and my sister–”

“Why, of course,” cried Billy, in a sudden
flood of understanding.  Curiously enough, she
had never before thought of Mrs. Hartwell as _her_
sister.  “I shall be glad to call you `Kate’–if
you like.”

“Thank you.  I shall like it very much, Billy,”
nodded the other cordially.  “Indeed, my dear,
I’m very fond of you, and I was delighted to hear
you were to be my sister.  If only–it could have
stayed William instead of Bertram.”

“But it couldn’t,” smiled Billy.  “It wasn’t
William–that I loved.”

“But _Bertram!_–it’s so absurd.”

“Absurd!”  The smile was gone now.

“Yes.  Forgive me, Billy, but I was about as
much surprised to hear of Bertram’s engagement
as I was of Cyril’s.”

Billy grew a little white.

“But Bertram was never an avowed–woman-
hater, like Cyril, was he?”

“ `Woman-hater’–dear me, no!  He was
a woman-lover, always.  As if his eternal `Face
of a Girl’ didn’t prove that!  Bertram has always
loved women–to paint.  But as for his ever
taking them seriously–why, Billy, what’s the
matter?”

Billy had risen suddenly.

“If you’ll excuse me, please, just a few
minutes,” Billy said very quietly.  “I want to
speak to Rosa in the kitchen.  I’ll be back–soon.”

In the kitchen Billy spoke to Rosa–she
wondered afterwards what she said.  Certainly she did
not stay in the kitchen long enough to say much.
In her own room a minute later, with the door
fast closed, she took from her table the photograph
of Bertram and held it in her two hands,
talking to it softly, but a little wildly.

“I didn’t listen!  I didn’t stay!  Do you hear?
I came to you.  She shall not say anything that
will make trouble between you and me.  I’ve
suffered enough through her already!  And she
doesn’t know–she didn’t know before, and she
doesn’t now.  She’s only imagining.  I will not
not–not believe that you love me–just to
paint.  No matter what they say–all of them!
I will not!”

Billy put the photograph back on the table
then, and went down-stairs to her guest.  She
smiled brightly, though her face was a little pale.

“I wondered if perhaps you wouldn’t like some
music,” she said pleasantly, going straight to
the piano.

“Indeed I would!” agreed Mrs. Hartwell.

Billy sat down then and played–played as
Mrs. Hartwell had never heard her play before.

“Why, Billy, you amaze me,” she cried, when
the pianist stopped and whirled about.  “I had
no idea you could play like that!”

Billy smiled enigmatically.  Billy was thinking
that Mrs. Hartwell would, indeed, have been
surprised if she had known that in that playing
were herself, the ride home, the luncheon, Bertram,
and the girl–whom Bertram did not love only
to paint!

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