Get Verbal Expression delivered to you!
Powered by MaxBlogPress  

Miss Billy’s Decision, CHAPTER XIV

by Eleanor H. Porter

M. J. MAKES ANOTHER MOVE
Billy came down-stairs on the thirteenth of
December to find everywhere the peculiar flatness
that always follows a day which for weeks has
been the focus of one’s aims and thoughts and
labor.

“It’s just as if everything had stopped at Marie’s
wedding, and there wasn’t anything more to do,”
she complained to Aunt Hannah at the breakfast
table.  “Everything seems so–queer!”

“It won’t–long, dear,” smiled Aunt Hannah,
tranquilly, as she buttered her roll, “specially
after Bertram comes back.  How long does he
stay in New York?”

“Only three days; but I’m just sure it’s going
to seem three weeks, now,” sighed Billy.  “But
he simply had to go–else he wouldn’t have
gone.”

“I’ve no doubt of it,” observed Aunt Hannah.
And at the meaning emphasis of her words,
Billy laughed a little.  After a minute she said
aggrievedly:

“I had supposed that I could at least have a sort
of `after the ball’ celebration this morning picking
up and straightening things around.  But John
and Rosa have done it all.  There isn’t so much
as a rose leaf anywhere on the floor.  Of course
most of the flowers went to the hospital last night,
anyway.  As for Marie’s room–it looks as
spick-and-span as if it had never seen a scrap
of ribbon or an inch of tulle.”

“But–the wedding presents?”

“All carried down to the kitchen and half
packed now, ready to go over to the new home.
John says he’ll take them over in Peggy this
afternoon, after he takes Mrs. Hartwell’s trunk to
Uncle William’s.”

“Well, you can at least go over to the
apartment and work,” suggested Aunt Hannah, hopefully.

“Humph!  Can I?” scoffed Billy.  “As if I
could–when Marie left strict orders that not
one thing was to be touched till she got here.
They arranged everything but the presents before
the wedding, anyway; and Marie wants to fix
those herself after she gets back.  Mercy!  Aunt
Hannah, if I should so much as move a plate one
inch in the china closet, Marie would know it–
and change it when she got home,” laughed Billy,
as she rose from the table.  “No, I can’t go to
work over there.”

“But there’s your music, my dear.  You said
you were going to write some new songs after the
wedding.”

“I was,” sighed Billy, walking to the window,
and looking listlessly at the bare, brown world
outside; “but I can’t write songs–when there
aren’t any songs in my head to write.”

“No, of course not; but they’ll come, dear, in
time.  You’re tired, now,” soothed Aunt Hannah,
as she turned to leave the room.

“It’s the reaction, of course,” murmured Aunt
Hannah to herself, on the way up-stairs.  “She’s
had the whole thing on her hands–dear child!”

A few minutes later, from the living-room,
came a plaintive little minor melody.  Billy was
at the piano.

Kate and little Kate had, the night before, gone
home with William.  It had been a sudden
decision, brought about by the realization that
Bertram’s trip to New York would leave William
alone.  Her trunk was to be carried there to-day,
and she would leave for home from there, at the
end of a two or three days’ visit.

It began to snow at twelve o’clock.  All the
morning the sky had been gray and threatening;
and the threats took visible shape at noon in
myriads of white snow feathers that filled the
air to the blinding point, and turned the brown,
bare world into a thing of fairylike beauty.  Billy,
however, with a rare frown upon her face, looked
out upon it with disapproving eyes.

“I _was_ going in town–and I believe I’ll go
now,” she cried.

“Don’t, dear, please don’t,” begged Aunt
Hannah.  “See, the flakes are smaller now, and
the wind is coming up.  We’re in for a blizzard–
I’m sure we are.  And you know you have some
cold, already.”

“All right,” sighed Billy.  “Then it’s me for the
knitting work and the fire, I suppose,” she finished,
with a whimsicality that did not hide the wistful
disappointment of her voice.

She was not knitting, however, she was sewing
with Aunt Hannah when at four o’clock Rosa
brought in the card.

Billy glanced at the name, then sprang to her
feet with a glad little cry.

“It’s Mary Jane!” she exclaimed, as Rosa
disappeared.  “Now wasn’t he a dear to think
to come to-day?  You’ll be down, won’t you?”

Aunt Hannah smiled even while she frowned.

“Oh, Billy!” she remonstrated.  “Yes, I’ll
come down, of course, a little later, and I’m glad
_Mr. Arkwright_ came,” she said with reproving
emphasis.

Billy laughed and threw a mischievous glance
over her shoulder.

“All right,” she nodded.  “I’ll go and tell
_Mr. Arkwright_ you’ll be down directly.”

In the living-room Billy greeted her visitor
with a frankly cordial hand.

“How did you know, Mr. Arkwright, that I
was feeling specially restless and lonesome to-
day?” she demanded.

A glad light sprang to the man’s dark eyes.

“I didn’t know it,” he rejoined.  “I only
knew that I was specially restless and lonesome
myself.”

Arkwright’s voice was not quite steady.  The
unmistakable friendliness in the girl’s words and
manner had sent a quick throb of joy to his
heart.  Her evident delight in his coming had
filled him with rapture.  He could not know that
it was only the chill of the snowstorm that had
given warmth to her handclasp, the dreariness
of the day that had made her greeting so cordial,
the loneliness of a maiden whose lover is away
that had made his presence so welcome.

“Well, I’m glad you came, anyway,” sighed
Billy, contentedly; “though I suppose I ought
to be sorry that you were lonesome–but I’m
afraid I’m not, for now you’ll know just how I
felt, so you won’t mind if I’m a little wild and
erratic.  You see, the tension has snapped,” she
added laughingly, as she seated herself.

“Tension?”

“The wedding, you know.  For so many weeks
we’ve been seeing just December twelfth, that
we’d apparently forgotten all about the thirteenth
that came after it; so when I got up this morning
I felt just as you do when the clock has
stopped ticking.  But it was a lovely wedding,
Mr. Arkwright.  I’m sorry you could not be
here.”

“Thank you; so am I–though usually, I
will confess, I’m not much good at attending
`functions’ and meeting strangers.  As perhaps
you’ve guessed, Miss Neilson, I’m not particularly
a society chap.”

“Of course you aren’t!  People who are doing
things–real things–seldom are.  But we aren’t
the society kind ourselves, you know–not
the capital S kind.  We like sociability, which is
vastly different from liking Society.  Oh, we have
friends, to be sure, who dote on `pink teas and
purple pageants,’ as Cyril calls them; and we even
go ourselves sometimes.  But if you had been here
yesterday, Mr. Arkwright, you’d have met lots
like yourself, men and women who are doing
things: singing, playing, painting, illustrating,
writing.  Why, we even had a poet, sir–only
he didn’t have long hair, so he didn’t look the
part a bit,” she finished laughingly.

“Is long hair–necessary–for poets?”
Arkwright’s smile was quizzical.

“Dear me, no; not now.  But it used to be,
didn’t it?  And for painters, too.  But now they
look just like–folks.”

Arkwright laughed.

“It isn’t possible that you are sighing for the
velvet coats and flowing ties of the past, is it,
Miss Neilson?”

“I’m afraid it is,” dimpled Billy.  “I _love_
velvet coats and flowing ties!”

“May singers wear them?  I shall don them at
once, anyhow, at a venture,” declared the man,
promptly.

Billy smiled and shook her head.

“I don’t think you will.  You all like your
horrid fuzzy tweeds and worsteds too well!”

“You speak with feeling.  One would almost
suspect that you already had tried to bring about
a reform–and failed.  Perhaps Mr. Cyril, now,
or Mr. Bertram–”  Arkwright stopped with
a whimsical smile.

Billy flushed a little.  As it happened, she had,
indeed, had a merry tilt with Bertram on that
very subject, and he had laughingly promised
that his wedding present to her would be a velvet
house coat for himself.  It was on the point of
Billy’s tongue now to say this to Arkwright;
but another glance at the provoking smile on
his lips drove the words back in angry confusion.
For the second time, in the presence of this man,
Billy found herself unable to refer to her engagement
to Bertram Henshaw–though this time
she did not in the least doubt that Arkwright
already knew of it.

With a little gesture of playful scorn she rose
and went to the piano.

“Come, let us try some duets,” she suggested.
“That’s lots nicer than quarrelling over velvet
coats; and Aunt Hannah will be down presently
to hear us sing.”

Before she had ceased speaking, Arkwright was
at her side with an exclamation of eager acquiescence.

It was after the second duet that Arkwright
asked, a little diffidently.

“Have you written any new songs lately?”

“No.”

“You’re going to?”

“Perhaps–if I find one to write.”

“You mean–you have no words?”

“Yes–and no.  I have some words, both of
my own and other people’s; but I haven’t found
in any one of them, yet–a melody.”

Arkwright hesitated.  His right hand went
almost to his inner coat pocket–then fell back
at his side.  The next moment he picked up a
sheet of music.

“Are you too tired to try this?” he
asked.

A puzzled frown appeared on Billy’s face.

“Why, no, but–”

“Well, children, I’ve come down to hear the
music,” announced Aunt Hannah, smilingly,
from the doorway; “only–Billy, _will_ you run
up and get my pink shawl, too?  This room _is_
colder than I thought, and there’s only the white
one down here.”

“Of course,” cried Billy, rising at once.  “You
shall have a dozen shawls, if you like,” she laughed,
as she left the room.

What a cozy time it was–the hour that
followed, after Billy returned with the pink shawl!
Outside, the wind howled at the windows and
flung the snow against the glass in sleety crashes.
Inside, the man and the girl sang duets until they
were tired; then, with Aunt Hannah, they feasted
royally on the buttered toast, tea, and frosted
cakes that Rosa served on a little table before the
roaring fire.  It was then that Arkwright talked
of himself, telling them something of his studies,
and of the life he was living.

“After all, you see there’s just this difference
between my friends and yours,” he said, at last.
“Your friends _are_ doing things.  They’ve succeeded.
Mine haven’t, yet–they’re only _trying_.”

“But they will succeed,” cried Billy.

“Some of them,” amended the man.

“Not–all of them?” Billy looked a little
troubled.

Arkwright shook his head slowly.

“No.  They couldn’t–all of them, you know.
Some haven’t the talent, some haven’t the
perseverance, and some haven’t the money.”

“But all that seems such a pity-when they’ve
tried,” grieved Billy.

“It is a pity, Miss Neilson.  Disappointed
hopes are always a pity, aren’t they?”

“Y-yes,” sighed the girl.  “But–if there
were only something one could do to–help!”

Arkwright’s eyes grew deep with feeling, but
his voice, when he spoke, was purposely light.

“I’m afraid that would be quite too big a
contract for even your generosity, Miss Neilson–
to mend all the broken hopes in the world,” he
prophesied.

“I have known great good to come from great
disappointments, “remarked Aunt Hannah, a
bit didactically.

“So have I,” laughed Arkwright, still
determined to drive the troubled shadow from the
face he was watching so intently.  “For instance:
a fellow I know was feeling all cut up last Friday
because he was just too late to get into Symphony
Hall on the twenty-five-cent admission.  Half
an hour afterwards his disappointment was turned
to joy–a friend who had an orchestra chair
couldn’t use his ticket that day, and so handed
it over to him.”

Billy turned interestedly.

“What are those twenty-five-cent tickets to
the Symphony?”

“Then–you don’t know?”

“Not exactly.  I’ve heard of them, in a vague
fashion.”

“Then you’ve missed one of the sights of Boston
if you haven’t ever seen that long line of patient
waiters at the door of Symphony Hall of a Friday
morning.”

“Morning!  But the concert isn’t till afternoon!”

“No, but the waiting is,” retorted Arkwright.
“You see, those admissions are limited–five
hundred and five, I believe–and they’re rush
seats, at that.  First come, first served; and if
you’re too late you aren’t served at all.  So the
first arrival comes bright and early.  I’ve heard
that he has been known to come at peep of day
when there’s a Paderewski or a Melba for a
drawing card.  But I’ve got my doubts of that.
Anyhow, I never saw them there much before
half-past eight.  But many’s the cold, stormy
day I’ve seen those steps in front of the Hall
packed for hours, and a long line reaching away
up the avenue.”

Billy’s eyes widened.

“And they’ll stand all that time and wait?”

“To be sure they will.  You see, each pays
twenty-five cents at the door, until the limit is
reached, then the rest are turned away.  Naturally
they don’t want to be turned away, so they try
to get there early enough to be among the fortunate
five hundred and five.  Besides, the earlier
you are, the better seat you are likely to get.”

“But only think of _standing_ all that time!”

“Oh, they bring camp chairs, sometimes, I’ve
heard, and then there are the steps.  You don’t
know what a really fine seat a stone step is–if
you have a _big_ enough bundle of newspapers to
cushion it with!  They bring their luncheons, too,
with books, papers, and knitting work for fine
days, I’ve been told–some of them.  All the
comforts of home, you see,” smiled Arkwright.

“Why, how–how dreadful!” stammered
Billy.

“Oh, but they don’t think it’s dreadful at
all,” corrected Arkwright, quickly.  “For twenty-
five cents they can hear all that you hear down
in your orchestra chair, for which you’ve paid so
high a premium.”

“But who–who are they?  Where do they
come from?  Who _would_ go and stand hours like
that to get a twenty-five-cent seat?” questioned
Billy.

“Who are they?  Anybody, everybody, from
anywhere? everywhere; people who have the
music hunger but not the money to satisfy it,”
he rejoined.  “Students, teachers, a little milliner
from South Boston, a little dressmaker from Chelsea,
a housewife from Cambridge, a stranger from
the uttermost parts of the earth; maybe a widow
who used to sit down-stairs, or a professor who has
seen better days.  Really to know that line, you
should see it for yourself, Miss Neilson,” smiled
Arkwright, as he reluctantly rose to go.  “Some
Friday, however, before you take your seat, just
glance up at that packed top balcony and judge
by the faces you see there whether their owners
think they’re getting their twenty-five-cents’
worth, or not.”

“I will,” nodded Billy, with a smile; but the
smile came from her lips only, not her eyes:
Billy was wishing, at that moment, that she
owned the whole of Symphony Hall–to give
away.  But that was like Billy.  When she was
seven years old she had proposed to her Aunt Ella
that they take all the thirty-five orphans from the
Hampden Falls Orphan Asylum to live with them,
so that little Sallie Cook and the other orphans
might have ice cream every day, if they wanted
it.  Since then Billy had always been trying–in
a way–to give ice cream to some one who
wanted it.

Arkwright was almost at the door when he
turned abruptly.  His face was an abashed red.
From his pocket he had taken a small folded
paper.

“Do you suppose–in this–you might find
–that melody?” he stammered in a low voice.
The next moment he was gone, having left in
Billy’s fingers a paper upon which was written
in a clear-cut, masculine hand six four-line stanzas.

Billy read them at once, hurriedly, then more
carefully.

“Why, they’re beautiful,” she breathed, “just
beautiful!  Where did he get them, I wonder?
It’s a love song–and such a pretty one!  I
believe there _is_ a melody in it,” she exulted, pausing
to hum a line or two.  “There is–I know there
is; and I’ll write it–for Bertram,” she finished,
crossing joyously to the piano.

Half-way down Corey Hill at that moment,
Arkwright was buffeting the wind and snow.
He, too, was thinking joyously of those stanzas–
joyously, yet at the same time fearfully.
Arkwright himself had written those lines–though
not for Bertram.

Post a Comment

UA-3029591-5