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Miss Billy Married by Eleanor H. Porter

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My Cousin Maud



Miss Billy--Married




``I, Bertram, take thee, Billy,'' chanted the
white-robed clergyman.

`` `I, Bertram, take thee, Billy,' '' echoed the
tall young bridegroom, his eyes gravely tender.

``To my wedded wife.''

`` `To my wedded wife.' '' The bridegroom's
voice shook a little.

``To have and to hold from this day forward.''

`` `To have and to hold from this day
forward.' '' Now the young voice rang with
triumph. It had grown strong and steady.

``For better for worse.''

`` `For better for worse.' ''

``For richer for poorer,'' droned the clergyman,
with the weariness of uncounted repetitions.

`` `For richer for poorer,' '' avowed the
bridegroom, with the decisive emphasis of one to
whom the words are new and significant.

``In sickness and in health.''

`` `In sickness and in health.' ''

``To love and to cherish.''

`` `To love and to cherish.' '' The younger
voice carried infinite tenderness now.

``Till death us do part.''

`` `Till death us do part,' '' repeated the
bridegroom's lips; but everybody knew that what his
heart said was: ``Now, and through all eternity.''

``According to God's holy ordinance.''

`` `According to God's holy ordinance.' ''

``And thereto I plight thee my troth.''

`` `And thereto I plight thee my troth.' ''

There was a faint stir in the room. In one
corner a white-haired woman blinked tear-wet
eyes and pulled a fleecy white shawl more closely
about her shoulders. Then the minister's voice
sounded again.

``I, Billy, take thee, Bertram.''

`` `I, Billy, take thee, Bertram.' ''

This time the echoing voice was a feminine one,
low and sweet, but clearly distinct, and vibrant
with joyous confidence, on through one after another
of the ever familiar, but ever impressive
phrases of the service that gives into the hands
of one man and of one woman the future happiness,
each of the other.

The wedding was at noon. That evening Mrs.
Kate Hartwell, sister of the bridegroom, wrote
the following letter:

BOSTON, July 15th.

``MY DEAR HUSBAND:--Well, it's all over
with, and they're married. I couldn't do one
thing to prevent it. Much as ever as they would
even listen to what I had to say--and when
they knew how I had hurried East to say it, too,
with only two hours' notice!

``But then, what can you expect? From time
immemorial lovers never did have any sense;
and when those lovers are such irresponsible
flutterbudgets as Billy and Bertram--!

``And such a wedding! I couldn't do anything
with _that_, either, though I tried hard. They had
it in Billy's living-room at noon, with nothing
but the sun for light. There was no maid of honor,
no bridesmaids, no wedding cake, no wedding
veil, no presents (except from the family, and from
that ridiculous Chinese cook of brother William's,
Ding Dong, or whatever his name is. He tore in
just before the wedding ceremony, and insisted
upon seeing Billy to give her a wretched little
green stone idol, which he declared would bring
her `heap plenty velly good luckee' if she
received it before she `got married.' I wouldn't
have the hideous, grinning thing around, but
William says it's real jade, and very valuable, and
of course Billy was crazy over it--or pretended
to be). There was no trousseau, either, and no
reception. There was no anything but the bridegroom;
and when I tell you that Billy actually
declared that was all she wanted, you will understand
how absurdly in love she is--in spite of all
those weeks and weeks of broken engagement
when I, at least, supposed she had come to her
senses, until I got that crazy note from Bertram
a week ago saying they were to be married today.

``I can't say that I've got any really
satisfactory explanation of the matter. Everything has
been in such a hubbub, and those two ridiculous
children have been so afraid they wouldn't be
together every minute possible, that any really
rational conversation with either of them was out
of the question. When Billy broke the engagement
last spring none of us knew why she had done
it, as you know; and I fancy we shall be almost
as much in the dark as to why she has--er--mended
it now, as you might say. As near as I
can make out, however, she thought he didn't
want her, and he thought she didn't want him. I
believe matters were still further complicated by
a girl Bertram was painting, and a young fellow
that used to sing with Billy--a Mr. Arkwright.

``Anyhow, things came to a head last spring,
Billy broke the engagement and fled to parts unknown
with Aunt Hannah, leaving Bertram here
in Boston to alternate between stony despair and
reckless gayety, according to William; and it was
while he was in the latter mood that he had that
awful automobile accident and broke his arm--
and almost his neck. He was wildly delirious,
and called continually for Billy.

``Well, it seems Billy didn't know all this;
but a week ago she came home, and in some way
found out about it, I think through Pete--William's
old butler, you know. Just exactly what
happened I can't say, but I do know that she
dragged poor old Aunt Hannah down to Bertram's
at some unearthly hour, and in the rain;
and Aunt Hannah couldn't do a thing with her.
All Billy would say, was, `Bertram wants me.'
And Aunt Hannah told me that if I could have
seen Billy's face I'd have known that she'd have
gone to Bertram then if he'd been at the top of
the Himalaya Mountains, or at the bottom of the
China Sea. So perhaps it's just as well--for
Aunt Hannah's sake, at least--that he was in
no worse place than on his own couch at home.
Anyhow, she went, and in half an hour they
blandly informed Aunt Hannah that they were
going to be married to-day.

``Aunt Hannah said she tried to stop that, and
get them to put it off till October (the original
date, you know), but Bertram was obdurate.
And when he declared he'd marry her the next
day if it wasn't for the new license law, Aunt
Hannah said she gave up for fear he'd get a special
dispensation, or go to the Governor or the President,
or do some other dreadful thing. (What a
funny old soul Aunt Hannah is!) Bertram told
_me_ that he should never feel safe till Billy was
really his; that she'd read something, or hear
something, or think something, or get a letter
from me (as if anything _I_ could say would do
any good-or harm!), and so break the engagement

``Well, she's his now, so I suppose he's
satisfied; though, for my part, I haven't changed my
mind at all. I still say that they are not one bit
suited to each other, and that matrimony will
simply ruin his career. Bertram never has loved
and never will love any girl long--except to
paint. But if he simply _would_ get married, why
couldn't he have taken a nice, sensible domestic
girl that would have kept him fed and

``Not but that I'm very fond of Billy, as you
know, dear; but imagine Billy as a wife--worse
yet, a mother! Billy's a dear girl, but she knows
about as much of real life and its problems as--
as our little Kate. A more impulsive, irresponsible,
regardless-of-consequences young woman I
never saw. She can play divinely, and write
delightful songs, I'll acknowledge; but what is that
when a man is hungry, or has lost a button?

``Billy has had her own way, and had everything
she wanted for years now--a rather dangerous
preparation for marriage, especially marriage
to a fellow like Bertram who has had _his_
own way and everything _he's_ wanted for years.
Pray, what's going to happen when those ways
conflict, and neither one gets the thing wanted?

``And think of her ignorance of cooking--but,
there! What's the use? They're married now,
and it can't be helped.

``Mercy, what a letter I've written! But I,
had to talk to some one; besides, I'd promised I
to let you know how matters stood as soon as I
could. As you see, though, my trip East has been
practically useless. I saw the wedding, to be
sure, but I didn't prevent it, or even postpone
it--though I meant to do one or the other, else
I should never have made that tiresome journey
half across the continent at two hours' notice.

``However, we shall see what we shall see. As
for me, I'm dead tired. Good night.
``Affectionately yours,

Quite naturally, Mrs. Kate Hartwell was not
the only one who was thinking that evening of
the wedding. In the home of Bertram's brother
Cyril, Cyril himself was at the piano, but where
his thoughts were was plain to be seen--or
rather, heard; for from under his fingers there
came the Lohengrin wedding march until all the
room seemed filled with the scent of orange
blossoms, the mistiness of floating veils, and the
echoing peals of far-away organs heralding the
``Fair Bride and Groom.''

Over by the table in the glowing circle of the
shaded lamp, sat Marie, Cyril's wife, a dainty
sewing-basket by her side. Her hands, however,
lay idly across the stocking in her lap.

As the music ceased, she drew a long sigh.

What a perfectly beautiful wedding that
was! she breathed.

Cyril whirled about on the piano stool.

``It was a very sensible wedding,'' he said with

``They looked so happy--both of them,''
went on Marie, dreamily; ``so--so sort of above
and beyond everything about them, as if nothing
ever, ever could trouble them--_now_.''

Cyril lifted his eyebrows.

``Humph! Well, as I said before, it was a very
_sensible_ wedding,'' he declared.

This time Marie noticed the emphasis. She
laughed, though her eyes looked a little troubled.

``I know, dear, of course, what you mean. _I_
thought our wedding was beautiful; but I would
have made it simpler if I'd realized in time how

``How I abhorred pink teas and purple
pageants,'' he finished for her, with a frowning
smile. ``Oh, well, I stood it--for the sake of
what it brought me.'' His face showed now only
the smile; the frown had vanished. For a man
known for years to his friends as a ``hater of
women and all other confusion,'' Cyril Henshaw
was looking remarkably well-pleased with himself.

His wife of less than a year colored as she
met his gaze. Hurriedly she picked up her

The man laughed happily at her confusion.

``What are you doing? Is that my stocking?''
he demanded.

A look, half pain, half reproach, crossed her

``Why, Cyril, of course not! You--you told
me not to, long ago. You said my darns made--

``Ho! I meant I didn't want to _wear_ them,''
retorted the man, upon whom the tragic wretchedness
of that half-sobbed ``bunches'' had been
quite lost. ``I love to see you _mending_ them,''
he finished, with an approving glance at the
pretty little picture of domesticity before him.

A peculiar expression came to Marie's eyes.

Why, Cyril, you mean you _like_ to have me
mend them just for--for the sake of seeing me
do it, when you _know_ you won't ever wear

``Sure!'' nodded the man, imperturbably.
Then, with a sudden laugh, he asked: ``I wonder
now, does Billy love to mend socks?''

Marie smiled, but she sighed, too, and shook
her head.

``I'm afraid not, Cyril.''

``Nor cook?''

Marie laughed outright this time. The vaguely
troubled look had fled from her eyes

``Oh, Billy's helped me beat eggs and butter
sometimes, but I never knew her to cook a thing
or want to cook a thing, but once; then she
spent nearly two weeks trying to learn to make
puddings--for you.''

``For _me!_''

Marie puckered her lips queerly.

``Well, I supposed they were for you at the
time. At all events she was trying to make them
for some one of you boys; probably it was really
for Bertram, though.''

``Humph!'' grunted Cyril. Then, after a
minute, he observed: ``I judge Kate thinks
Billy'll never make them--for anybody. I'm
afraid Sister Kate isn't pleased.''

``Oh, but Mrs. Hartwell was--was disappointed
in the wedding,'' apologized Marie,
quickly. ``You know she wanted it put off
anyway, and she didn't like such a simple one.

``Hm-m; as usual Sister Kate forgot it wasn't
her funeral--I mean, her wedding,'' retorted
Cyril, dryly. ``Kate is never happy, you know,
unless she's managing things.''

``Yes, I know,'' nodded Marie, with a frowning
smile of recollection at certain features of her own

``She doesn't approve of Billy's taste in guests,
either,'' remarked Cyril, after a moment's silence.

``I thought her guests were lovely,'' spoke up
Marie, in quick defense. ``Of course, most of
her social friends are away--in July; but Billy
is never a society girl, you know, in spite of the
way Society is always trying to lionize her and

``Oh, of course Kate knows that; but she says
it seems as if Billy needn't have gone out and
gathered in the lame and the halt and the blind.''

``Nonsense!'' cried Marie, with unusual sharpness
for her. ``I suppose she said that just because
of Mrs. Greggory's and Tommy Dunn's

``Well, they didn't make a real festive-looking
wedding party, you must admit,'' laughed Cyril;
``what with the bridegroom's own arm in a sling,
too! But who were they all, anyway?''

``Why, you knew Mrs. Greggory and Alice, of
course--and Pete,'' smiled Marie. ``And wasn't
Pete happy? Billy says she'd have had Pete if
she had no one else; that there wouldn't have
been any wedding, anyway, if it hadn't been for
his telephoning Aunt Hannah that night.''

``Yes; Will told me.''

``As for Tommy and the others--most of
them were those people that Billy had at her
home last summer for a two weeks' vacation--
people, you know, too poor to give themselves
one, and too proud to accept one from ordinary
charity. Billy's been following them up and
doing little things for them ever since--sugarplums
and frosting on their cake, she calls it; and they
adore her, of course. I think it was lovely of her
to have them, and they did have such a good
time! You should have seen Tommy when you
played that wedding march for Billy to enter the
room. His poor little face was so transfigured
with joy that I almost cried, just to look at him.
Billy says he loves music--poor little fellow!''

``Well, I hope they'll be happy, in spite of
Kate's doleful prophecies. Certainly they looked
happy enough to-day,'' declared Cyril, patting a
yawn as he rose to his feet. ``I fancy Will and
Aunt Hannah are lonesome, though, about now,''
he added.

``Yes,'' smiled Marie, mistily, as she gathered
up her work. ``I know what Aunt Hannah's
doing. She's helping Rosa put the house to
rights, and she's stopping to cry over every slipper
and handkerchief of Billy's she finds. And she'll
do that until that funny clock of hers strikes
twelve, then she'll say `Oh, my grief and
conscience--midnight!' But the next minute she'll
remember that it's only half-past eleven, after
all, and she'll send Rosa to bed and sit patting
Billy's slipper in her lap till it really is midnight
by all the other clocks.''

Cyril laughed appreciatively.

``Well, I know what Will is doing,'' he declared.

``Will is in Bertram's den dozing before the
fireplace with Spunkie curled up in his lap.''

As it happened, both these surmises were not
far from right. In the Strata, the Henshaws' old
Beacon Street home, William was sitting before
the fireplace with the cat in his lap, but he was
not dozing. He was talking.

``Spunkie,'' he was saying, ``your master,
Bertram, got married to-day--and to Miss
Billy. He'll be bringing her home one of these
days--your new mistress. And such a mistress!
Never did cat or house have a better!

``Just think; for the first time in years this old
place is to know the touch of a woman's hand
--and that's what it hasn't known for almost
twenty years, except for those few short months
six years ago when a dark-eyed girl and a little
gray kitten (that was Spunk, your predecessor,
you know) blew in and blew out again before we
scarcely knew they were here. That girl was
Miss Billy, and she was a dear then, just as she is
now, only now she's coming here to stay. She's
coming home, Spunkie; and she'll make it a
home for you, for me, and for all of us. Up to
now, you know, it hasn't really been a home, for
years--just us men, so. It'll be very different,
Spunkie, as you'll soon find out. Now mind,
madam! We must show that we appreciate all
this: no tempers, no tantrums, no showing of
claws, no leaving our coats--either yours or
mine--on the drawing-room chairs, no tracking
in of mud on clean rugs and floors! For we're
going to have a home, Spunkie--a home!''

At Hillside, Aunt Hannah was, indeed, helping
Rosa to put the house to rights, as Marie had
said. She was crying, too, over a glove she had
found on Billy's piano; but she was crying over
something else, also. Not only had she lost Billy,
but she had lost her home.

To be sure, nothing had been said during that
nightmare of a week of hurry and confusion about
Aunt Hannah's future; but Aunt Hannah knew
very well how it must be. This dear little house
on the side of Corey Hill was Billy's home, and
Billy would not need it any longer. It would be
sold, of course; and she, Aunt Hannah, would go
back to a ``second-story front'' and loneliness in
some Back Bay boarding-house; and a second
story front and loneliness would not be easy now,
after these years of home--and Billy.

No wonder, indeed, that Aunt Hannah sat
crying and patting the little white glove in her
hand. No wonder, too, that--being Aunt Hannah--
she reached for the shawl near by and
put it on, shiveringly. Even July, to-night, was
cold--to Aunt Hannah.

In yet another home that evening was the
wedding of Billy Neilson and Bertram Henshaw
uppermost in thought and speech. In a certain
little South-End flat where, in two rented rooms,
lived Alice Greggory and her crippled mother,
Alice was talking to Mr. M. J. Arkwright,
commonly known to his friends as ``Mary Jane,''
owing to the mystery in which he had for so long
shrouded his name.

Arkwright to-night was plainly moody and ill
at ease.

``You're not listening. You're not listening at
all,'' complained Alice Greggory at last, reproachfully.

With a visible effort the man roused himself.

``Indeed I am,'' he maintained.

``I thought you'd be interested in the
wedding. You used to be friends--you and Billy.''
The girl's voice still vibrated with reproach.

There was a moment's silence; then, a little
harshly, the man said:

``Perhaps--because I wanted to be more
than--a friend--is why you're not satisfied with
my interest now.''

A look that was almost terror came to Alice
Greggory's eyes. She flushed painfully, then
grew very white.

``You mean--''

``Yes,'' he nodded dully, without looking up.
``I cared too much for her. I supposed Henshaw
was just a friend--till too late.''

There was a breathless hush before, a little
unsteadily, the girl stammered:

``Oh, I'm so sorry--so very sorry! I--I
didn't know.''

``No, of course you didn't. I've almost told
you, though, lots of times; you've been so good
to me all these weeks.'' He raised his head now,
and looked at her, frank comradeship in his

The girl stirred restlessly. Her eyes swerved
a little under his level gaze.

``Oh, but I've done nothing--n-nothing,'' she
stammered. Then, at the light tap of crutches
on a bare floor she turned in obvious relief.
``Oh, here's mother. She's been in visiting with
Mrs. Delano, our landlady. Mother, Mr. Arkwright
is here.''

Meanwhile, speeding north as fast as steam
could carry them, were the bride and groom.
The wondrousness of the first hour of their journey
side by side had become a joyous certitude
that always it was to be like this now.

``Bertram,'' began the bride, after a long
minute of eloquent silence.

``Yes, love.''

``You know our wedding was very different
from most weddings.''

``Of course it was!''

``Yes, but _really_ it was. Now listen.'' The
bride's voice grew tenderly earnest. ``I think
our marriage is going to be different, too.''


``Yes.'' Billy's tone was emphatic. ``There
are so many common, everyday marriages where
--where-- Why, Bertram, as if you could ever
be to me like--like Mr. Carleton is, for instance!''

``Like Mr. Carleton is--to you?'' Bertram's
voice was frankly puzzled.

``No, no! As Mr. Carleton is to Mrs. Carleton,
I mean.''

``Oh!'' Bertram subsided in relief.

``And the Grahams and Whartons, and the
Freddie Agnews, and--and a lot of others.
Why, Bertram, I've seen the Grahams and the
Whartons not even speak to each other a whole
evening, when they've been at a dinner, or
something; and I've seen Mrs. Carleton not even
seem to know her husband came into the room.
I don't mean quarrel, dear. Of course we'd never
_quarrel!_ But I mean I'm sure we shall never
get used to--to you being you, and I being I.''

``Indeed we sha'n't,'' agreed Bertram, rapturously.

``Ours is going to be such a beautiful marriage!''

``Of course it will be.''

``And we'll be so happy!''

``I shall be, and I shall try to make you so.''

``As if I could be anything else,'' sighed Billy,
blissfully. ``And now we _can't_ have any
misunderstandings, you see.''

``Of course not. Er--what's that?''

``Why, I mean that--that we can't ever repeat
hose miserable weeks of misunderstanding.
Everything is all explained up. I _know_, now,
that you don't love Miss Winthrop, or just girls
--any girl--to paint. You love me. Not the
tilt of my chin, nor the turn of my head; but

``I do--just you.'' Bertram's eyes gave the
caress his lips would have given had it not been
for the presence of the man in the seat across the
aisle of the sleeping-car.

``And you--you know now that I love you
--just you?''

``Not even Arkwright?''

``Not even Arkwright,'' smiled Billy.

There was the briefest of hesitations; then, a
little constrainedly, Bertram asked:

``And you said you--you never _had_ cared for
Arkwright, didn't you?''

For the second time in her life Billy was
thankful that Bertram's question had turned upon _her_
love for Arkwright, not Arkwright's love for her.
In Billy's opinion, a man's unrequited love for a
girl was his secret, not hers, and was certainly
one that the girl had no right to tell. Once
before Bertram had asked her if she had ever
cared for Arkwright, and then she had answered
emphatically, as she did now:

``Never, dear.''

``I thought you said so,'' murmured Bertram,
relaxing a little.

``I did; besides, didn't I tell you?'' she went
on airily, ``I think he'll marry Alice Greggory.
Alice wrote me all the time I was away, and--
oh, she didn't say anything definite, I'll admit,''
confessed Billy, with an arch smile; ``but she
spoke of his being there lots, and they used to
know each other years ago, you see. There was
almost a romance there, I think, before the
Greggorys lost their money and moved away from all
their friends.''

``Well, he may have her. She's a nice girl--
a mighty nice girl,'' answered Bertram, with the
unmistakably satisfied air of the man who knows
he himself possesses the nicest girl of them all.

Billy, reading unerringly the triumph in his
voice, grew suddenly grave. She regarded her
husband with a thoughtful frown; then she drew
a profound sigh.

``Whew!'' laughed Bertram, whimsically. ``So
soon as this?''

``Bertram!'' Billy's voice was tragic.

``Yes, my love.'' The bridegroom pulled his
face into sobriety; then Billy spoke, with solemn

``Bertram, I don't know a thing about--
cooking--except what I've been learning in
Rosa's cook-book this last week.''

Bertram laughed so loud that the man across
the aisle glanced over the top of his paper

``Rosa's cook-book! Is that what you were
doing all this week?''

``Yes; that is--I tried so hard to learn
something,'' stammered Billy. ``But I'm
afraid I didn't--much; there were so many
things for me to think of, you know, with
only a week. I believe I _could_ make peach
fritters, though. They were the last thing I

Bertram laughed again, uproariously; but, at
Billy's unchangingly tragic face, he grew
suddenly very grave and tender.

``Billy, dear, I didn't marry you to--to get a
cook,'' he said gently.

Billy shook her head.

``I know; but Aunt Hannah said that even if
I never expected to cook, myself, I ought to know
how it was done, so to properly oversee it. She
said that--that no woman, who didn't know how
to cook and keep house properly, had any business
to be a wife. And, Bertram, I did try, honestly,
all this week. I tried so hard to remember when
you sponged bread and when you kneaded it.''

``I don't ever need--_yours_,'' cut in Bertram,
shamelessly; but he got only a deservedly stern
glance in return.

``And I repeated over and over again how
many cupfuls of flour and pinches of salt and
spoonfuls of baking-powder went into things;
but, Bertram, I simply could not keep my mind
on it. Everything, everywhere was singing to
me. And how do you suppose I could remember
how many pinches of flour and spoonfuls of salt
and cupfuls of baking-powder went into a loaf
of cake when all the while the very teakettle on
the stove was singing: `It's all right--Bertram
loves me--I'm going to marry Bertram!'?''

``You darling!'' (In spite of the man across
the aisle Bertram did almost kiss her this time.)
``As if anybody cared how many cupfuls of
baking-powder went anywhere--with that in
your heart!''

``Aunt Hannah says you will--when you're
hungry. And Kate said--''

Bertram uttered a sharp word behind his teeth.

``Billy, for heaven's sake don't tell me what
Kate said, if you want me to stay sane, and not
attempt to fight somebody--broken arm, and
all. Kate _thinks_ she's kind, and I suppose she
means well; but--well, she's made trouble
enough between us already. I've got you now,
sweetheart. You're mine--all mine--'' his
voice shook, and dropped to a tender whisper--
`` `till death us do part.' ''

``Yes; `till death us do part,' '' breathed Billy.

And then, for a time, they fell silent.

`` `I, Bertram, take thee, Billy,' '' sang the
whirring wheels beneath them, to one.

`` `I, Billy, take thee, Bertram,' '' sang the
whirring wheels beneath them, to the other.
While straight ahead before them both, stretched
fair and beautiful in their eyes, the wondrous
path of life which they were to tread together.



On the first Sunday after the wedding Pete
came up-stairs to tell his master, William, that
Mrs. Stetson wanted to see him in the drawing-

William went down at once.

``Well, Aunt Hannah,'' he began, reaching out
a cordial hand. ``Why, what's the matter?'' he
broke off concernedly, as he caught a clearer view
of the little old lady's drawn face and troubled

``William, it's silly, of course,'' cried Aunt
Hannah, tremulously, ``but I simply had to go
to some one. I--I feel so nervous and
unsettled! Did--did Billy say anything to you--
what she was going to do?''

``What she was going to do? About what?
What do you mean?''

``About the house--selling it,'' faltered Aunt
Hannah, sinking wearily back into her chair.

William frowned thoughtfully.

``Why, no,'' he answered. ``It was all so
hurried at the last, you know. There was really
very little chance to make plans for anything--
except the wedding,'' he finished, with a smile.

``Yes, I know,'' sighed Aunt Hannah. ``Everything
was in such confusion! Still, I didn't know
but she might have said something--to you.''

``No, she didn't. But I imagine it won't be
hard to guess what she'll do. When they get
back from their trip I fancy she won't lose much
time in having what things she wants brought
down here. Then she'll sell the rest and put the
house on the market.''

``Yes, of--of course,'' stammered Aunt Hannah,
pulling herself hastily to a more erect position.
``That's what I thought, too. Then don't
you think we'd better dismiss Rosa and close the
house at once?''

``Why--yes, perhaps so. Why not? Then
you'd be all settled here when she comes home.
I'm sure, the sooner you come, the better I'll be
pleased,'' he smiled.

Aunt Hannah turned sharply.

``Here!'' she ejaculated. ``William Henshaw,
you didn't suppose I was coming _here_ to live,
did you?''

It was William's turn to look amazed.

``Why, of course you're coming here! Where
else should you go, pray?''

``Where I was before--before Billy came--to
you,'' returned Aunt Hannah a little tremulously,
but with a certain dignity. ``I shall take a room
in some quiet boarding-house, of course.''

``Nonsense, Aunt Hannah! As if Billy would
listen to that! You came before; why not come

Aunt Hannah lifted her chin the fraction of an

``You forget. I was needed before. Billy is a
married woman now. She needs no chaperon.''

``Nonsense!'' scowled William, again. ``Billy
will always need you.''

Aunt Hannah shook her head mournfully.

``I like to think--she wants me, William,
but I know, in my heart, it isn't best.''

``Why not?''

There was a moment's pause; then, decisively
came the answer.

``Because I think young married folks should
not have outsiders in the home.''

William laughed relievedly.

``Oh, so that's it! Well, Aunt Hannah, you're
no outsider. Come, run right along home and
pack your trunk.''

Aunt Hannah was plainly almost crying; but
she held her ground.

``William, I can't,'' she reiterated.

``But--Billy is such a child, and--''

For once in her circumspect life Aunt Hannah
was guilty of an interruption.

``Pardon me, William, she is not a child. She
is a woman now, and she has a woman's problems
to meet.''

``Well, then, why don't you help her meet
them?'' retorted William, still with a whimsical

But Aunt Hannah did not smile. For a minute
she did not speak; then, with her eyes studiously
averted, she said:

``William, the first four years of my married
life were--were spoiled by an outsider in our
home. I don't mean to spoil Billy's.''

William relaxed visibly. The smile fled from
his face.

``Why--Aunt--Hannah!'' he exclaimed.

The little old lady turned with a weary sigh.

``Yes, I know. You are shocked, of course.
I shouldn't have told you. Still, it is all past
long ago, and--I wanted to make you understand
why I can't come. He was my husband's
eldest brother--a bachelor. He was good and
kind, and meant well, I suppose; but--he
interfered with everything. I was young, and
probably headstrong. At all events, there was
constant friction. He went away once and
stayed two whole months. I shall never forget
the utter freedom and happiness of those months
for us, with the whole house to ourselves. No,
William, I can't come.'' She rose abruptly and
turned toward the door. Her eyes were wistful,
and her face was still drawn with suffering; but
her whole frail little self quivered plainly with
high resolve. ``John has Peggy outside. I must

``But--but, Aunt Hannah,'' began William,

She lifted a protesting hand.

``No, don't urge me, please. I can't come here.
But--I believe I won't close the house till Billy
gets home, after all,'' she declared. The next
moment she was gone, and William, dazedly,
from the doorway, was watching John help her
into Billy's automobile, called by Billy and half
her friends, ``Peggy,'' short for ``Pegasus.''

Still dazedly William turned back into the
house and dropped himself into the nearest chair.

What a curious call it had been! Aunt Hannah
had not acted like herself at all. Not once had
she said ``Oh, my grief and conscience!'' while
the things she _had_ said--! Someway, he had
never thought of Aunt Hannah as being young,
and a bride. Still, of course she must have been
--once. And the reason she gave for not coming
there to live--the pitiful story of that outsider
in her home! But she was no outsider! She was
no interfering brother of Billy's--

William caught his breath suddenly, and held
it suspended. Then he gave a low ejaculation
and half sprang from his chair.

Spunkie, disturbed from her doze by the fire,
uttered a purring ``me-o-ow,'' and looked up inquiringly.

For a long minute William gazed dumbly into
the cat's yellow, sleepily contented eyes; then he
said with tragic distinctness:

``Spunkie, it's true: Aunt Hannah isn't Billy's
husband's brother, but--I am! Do you hear?
I _am!_''

``Pur-r-me-ow!'' commented Spunkie; and
curled herself for another nap.

There was no peace for William after that. In
vain he told himself that he was no ``interfering''
brother, and that this was his home and
had been all his life; in vain did he declare
emphatically that he could not go, he would not go;
that Billy would not wish him to go: always before
his eyes was the vision of that little bride of
years long gone; always in his ears was the echo
of Aunt Hannah's ``I shall never forget the utter
freedom and happiness of those months for us,
with the whole house to ourselves.'' Nor, turn
which way he would, could he find anything to
comfort him. Simply because he was so fearfully
looking for it, he found it--the thing that had
for its theme the wretchedness that might be
expected from the presence of a third person in the
new home.

Poor William! Everywhere he met it--the
hint, the word, the story, the song, even; and
always it added its mite to the woeful whole.
Even the hoariest of mother-in-law jokes had its
sting for him; and, to make his cup quite full, he
chanced to remember one day what Marie had
said when he had suggested that she and Cyril
come to the Strata to live: ``No; I think young
folks should begin by themselves.''

Unhappy, indeed, were these days for William.
Like a lost spirit he wandered from room
to room, touching this, fingering that. For long
minutes he would stand before some picture, or
some treasured bit of old mahogany, as if to
stamp indelibly upon his mind a thing that was
soon to be no more. At other times, like a man
without a home, he would go out into the Common
or the Public Garden and sit for hours on
some bench--thinking.

All this could have but one ending, of course.
Before the middle of August William summoned
Pete to his rooms.

``Oh, Pete, I'm going to move next week,''
he began nonchalantly. His voice sounded as if
moving were a pleasurable circumstance that
occurred in his life regularly once a month. ``I'd
like you to begin to pack up these things, please,

The old servant's mouth fell open.

``You're goin' to--to what, sir?'' he stammered.

``Move--_move_, I said.'' William spoke with
unusual harshness.

Pete wet his lips.

``You mean you've sold the old place, sir?--
that we--we ain't goin' to live here no longer?''

``Sold? Of course not! _I'm_ going to move
away; not you.''

If Pete could have known what caused the
sharpness in his master's voice, he would not
have been so grieved--or, rather, he would have
been grieved for a different reason. As it was he
could only falter miserably:

``_You_ are goin' to move away from here!''

``Yes, yes, man! Why, Pete, what ails you?
One would think a body never moved before.''

``They didn't--not you, sir.''

William turned abruptly, so that his face could
not be seen. With stern deliberation he picked
up an elaborately decorated teapot; but the
valuable bit of Lowestoft shook so in his hand
that he set it down at once. It clicked sharply
against its neighbor, betraying his nervous hand.

Pete stirred.

``But, Mr. William,'' he stammered thickly;
``how are you--what'll you do without-- There
doesn't nobody but me know so well about your
tea, and the two lumps in your coffee; and
there's your flannels that you never put on till I
get 'em out, and the woolen socks that you'd
wear all summer if I didn't hide 'em. And--
and who's goin' to take care of these?'' he
finished, with a glance that encompassed the
overflowing cabinets and shelves of curios all about

His master smiled sadly. An affection that had
its inception in his boyhood days shone in his
eyes. The hand in which the Lowestoft had
shaken rested now heavily on an old man's bent
shoulder--a shoulder that straightened itself in
unconscious loyalty under the touch.

``Pete, you have spoiled me, and no mistake.
I don't expect to find another like you. But
maybe if I wear the woolen socks too late you'll
come and hunt up the others for me. Eh?''
And, with a smile that was meant to be quizzical,
William turned and began to shift the teapots
about again.

``But, Mr. William, why--that is, what will
Mr. Bertram and Miss Billy do--without you?''
ventured the old man.

There was a sudden tinkling crash. On the
floor lay the fragments of a silver-luster teapot.

The servant exclaimed aloud in dismay, but
his master did not even glance toward his once
treasured possession on the floor.

``Nonsense, Pete!'' he was saying in a
particularly cheery voice. ``Have you lived all these
years and not found out that newly-married
folks don't _need_ any one else around? Come,
do you suppose we could begin to pack these
teapots to-night?'' he added, a little feverishly.
``Aren't there some boxes down cellar?''

``I'll see, sir,'' said Pete, respectfully; but the
expression on his face as he turned away showed
that he was not thinking of teapots--nor of
boxes in which to pack them.



Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Henshaw were expected
home the first of September. By the thirty-first
of August the old Beacon Street homestead facing
the Public Garden was in spick-and-span order,
with Dong Ling in the basement hovering over a
well-stocked larder, and Pete searching the rest
of the house for a chair awry, or a bit of dust

Twice before had the Strata--as Bertram
long ago dubbed the home of his boyhood--
been prepared for the coming of Billy, William's
namesake: once, when it had been decorated
with guns and fishing-rods to welcome the ``boy''
who turned out to be a girl; and again when
with pink roses and sewing-baskets the three
brothers got joyously ready for a feminine Billy
who did not even come at all.

The house had been very different then. It
had been, indeed, a ``strata,'' with its distinctive
layers of fads and pursuits as represented by
Bertram and his painting on one floor, William
and his curios on another, and Cyril with his
music on a third. Cyril was gone now. Only
Pete and his humble belongings occupied the top
floor. The floor below, too, was silent now, and
almost empty save for a rug or two, and a few
pieces of heavy furniture that William had not
cared to take with him to his new quarters on
top of Beacon Hill. Below this, however, came
Billy's old rooms, and on these Pete had lavished
all his skill and devotion.

Freshly laundered curtains were at the windows,
dustless rugs were on the floor. The old
work-basket had been brought down from the
top-floor storeroom, and the long-closed piano
stood invitingly open. In a conspicuous place,
also, sat the little green god, upon whose
exquisitely carved shoulders was supposed to rest the
``heap plenty velly good luckee'' of Dong Ling's

On the first floor Bertram's old rooms and the
drawing-room came in for their share of the
general overhauling. Even Spunkie did not escape,
but had to submit to the ignominy of a
bath. And then dawned fair and clear the first
day of September, bringing at five o'clock the
bride and groom.

Respectfully lined up in the hall to meet them
were Pete and Dong Ling: Pete with his wrinkled
old face alight with joy and excitement; Dong
Ling grinning and kotowing, and chanting in a
high-pitched treble:

``Miss Billee, Miss Billee--plenty much welcome,
Miss Billee!''

``Yes, welcome home, Mrs. _Henshaw!_'' bowed
Bertram, turning at the door, with an elaborate
flourish that did not in the least hide his tender
pride in his new wife.

Billy laughed and colored a pretty pink.

``Thank you--all of you,'' she cried a little
unsteadily. ``And how good, good everything
does look to me! Why, where's Uncle William?''
she broke off, casting hurriedly anxious eyes
about her.

``Well, I should say so,'' echoed Bertram.
``Where is he, Pete? He isn't sick, is he?''

A quick change crossed the old servant's face.
He shook his head dumbly.

Billy gave a gleeful laugh.

``I know--he's asleep!'' she caroled, skipping
to the bottom of the stairway and looking up

``Ho, Uncle William! Better wake up, sir. The
folks have come!''

Pete cleared his throat.

``Mr. William isn't here, Miss--ma'am,'' he
corrected miserably.

Billy smiled, but she frowned, too.

``Not here! Well, I like that,'' she pouted;
``--and when I've brought him the most beautiful
pair of mirror knobs he ever saw, and all the
way in my bag, too, so I could give them to him
the very first thing,'' she added, darting over to
the small bag she had brought in with her. ``I'm
glad I did, too, for our trunks didn't come,'' she
continued laughingly. ``Still, if he isn't here to
receive them-- There, Pete, aren't they beautiful?''
she cried, carefully taking from their wrappings
two exquisitely decorated porcelain discs
mounted on two long spikes. ``They're Batterseas--
the real article. I know enough for
that; and they're finer than anything he's got.
Won't he be pleased?''

``Yes, Miss--ma'am, I mean,'' stammered
the old man.

``These new titles come hard, don't they,
Pete?'' laughed Bertram.

Pete smiled faintly.

``Never mind, Pete,'' soothed his new mistress.
``You shall call me `Miss Billy' all your life if
you want to. Bertram,'' she added, turning to
her husband, ``I'm going to just run up-stairs
and put these in Uncle William's rooms so they'll
be there when he comes in. We'll see how soon
he discovers them!''

Before Pete could stop her she was half-way
up the first flight of stairs. Even then he tried
to speak to his young master, to explain that
Mr. William was not living there; but the words
refused to come. He could only stand dumbly

In a minute it came--Billy's sharp, startled

``Bertram! Bertram!''

Bertram sprang for the stairway, but he had
not reached the top when he met his wife coming
down. She was white-faced and trembling.

``Bertram--those rooms--there's not so
much as a teapot there! Uncle William's--

``Gone!'' Bertram wheeled sharply. ``Pete,
what is the meaning of this? Where is my
brother?'' To hear him, one would think he
suspected the old servant of having hidden his

Pete lifted a shaking hand and fumbled with
his collar.

``He's moved, sir.''

``Moved! Oh, you mean to other rooms--to
Cyril's.'' Bertram relaxed visibly. ``He's
upstairs, maybe.''

Pete shook his head.

``No. sir. He's moved away--out of the
house, sir.''

For a brief moment Bertram stared as if he
could not believe what his ears had heard. Then,
step by step, he began to descend the stairs.

``Do you mean--to say--that my brother
--has moved-gone away--_left_--his _home?_''
he demanded.

``Yes, sir.''

Billy gave a low cry.

``But why--why?'' she choked, almost stumbling
headlong down the stairway in her effort
to reach the two men at the bottom. ``Pete,
why did he go?''

There was no answer.

``Pete,''--Bertram's voice was very sharp--
``what is the meaning of this? Do you know
why my brother left his home?''

The old man wet his lips and swallowed chokingly,
but he did not speak.

``I'm waiting, Pete.''

Billy laid one hand on the old servant's arm
--in the other hand she still tightly clutched the
mirror knobs.

``Pete, if you do know, won't you tell us,
please?'' she begged.

Pete looked down at the hand, then up at the
troubled young face with the beseeching eyes.
His own features worked convulsively. With a
visible effort he cleared his throat.

``I know--what he said,'' he stammered, his
eyes averted.

``What was it?''

There was no answer.

``Look here, Pete, you'll have to tell us, you
know,'' cut in Bertram, decisively, ``so you might
as well do it now as ever.''

Once more Pete cleared his throat. This time
the words came in a burst of desperation.

``Yes, sir. I understand, sir. It was only that
he said--he said as how young folks didn't _need_
any one else around. So he was goin'.''

``Didn't _need_ any one else!'' exclaimed Bertram,
plainly not comprehending.

``Yes, sir. You two bein' married so, now.''
Pete's eyes were still averted.

Billy gave a low cry.

``You mean--because _I_ came?'' she demanded.

``Why, yes, Miss--no--that is--'' Pete
stopped with an appealing glance at Bertram.

``Then it was--it _was_--on account of _me_,''
choked Billy.

Pete looked still more distressed

``No, no!'' he faltered. ``It was only that
he thought you wouldn't want him here now.''

``Want him here!'' ejaculated Bertram.

``Want him here!'' echoed Billy, with a sob.

``Pete, where is he?'' As she asked the question
she dropped the mirror knobs into her open bag,
and reached for her coat and gloves--she had
not removed her hat.

Pete gave the address.

``It's just down the street a bit and up the
hill,'' he added excitedly, divining her purpose.
``It's a sort of a boarding-house, I reckon.''

``A _boarding-house_--for Uncle William!''
scorned Billy, her eyes ablaze. ``Come, Bertram,
we'll see about that.''

Bertram reached out a detaining hand.

``But, dearest, you're so tired,'' he demurred.
``Hadn't we better wait till after dinner, or till

``After dinner! To-morrow!'' Billy's eyes
blazed anew. ``Why, Bertram Henshaw, do
you think I'd leave that dear man even one
minute longer, if I could help it, with a notion in
his blessed old head that we didn't _want_ him?''

``But you said a little while ago you had a
headache, dear,'' still objected Bertram. ``If
you'd just eat your dinner!''

``Dinner!'' choked Billy. ``I wonder if you
think I could eat any dinner with Uncle William
turned out of his home! I'm going to find Uncle
William.'' And she stumbled blindly toward the

Bertram reached for his hat. He threw a
despairing glance into Pete's eyes.

``We'll be back--when we can,'' he said, with
a frown.

``Yes, sir,'' answered Pete, respectfully. Then,
as if impelled by some hidden force, he touched
his master's arm. ``It was that way she looked,
sir, when she came to _you_--that night last
July--with her eyes all shining,'' he whispered.

A tender smile curved Bertram's lips. The
frown vanished from his face.

``Bless you, Pete--and bless her, too!'' he
whispered back. The next moment he had hurried
after his wife.

The house that bore the number Pete had
given proved to have a pretentious doorway, and
a landlady who, in response to the summons of
the neat maid, appeared with a most impressive
rustle of black silk and jet bugles.

No, Mr. William Henshaw was not in his
rooms. In fact, he was very seldom there. His
business, she believed, called him to State Street
through the day. Outside of that, she had been
told, he spent much time sitting on a bench in
the Common. Doubtless, if they cared to search,
they could find him there now.

``A bench in the Common, indeed!'' stormed
Billy, as she and Bertram hurried down the wide
stone steps. ``Uncle William--on a bench!''

``But surely now, dear,'' ventured her
husband, ``you'll come home and get your

Billy turned indignantly.

``And leave Uncle William on a bench in the
Common? Indeed, no! Why, Bertram, you
wouldn't, either,'' she cried, as she turned
resolutely toward one of the entrances to the Common.

And Bertram, with the ``eyes all shining''
still before him, could only murmur: ``No, of
course not, dear!'' and follow obediently where
she led.

Under ordinary circumstances it would have
been a delightful hour for a walk. The sun had
almost set, and the shadows lay long across the
grass. The air was cool and unusually bracing
for a day so early in September. But all this
was lost on Bertram. Bertram did not wish to
take a walk. He was hungry. He wanted his
dinner; and he wanted, too, his old home with
his new wife flitting about the rooms as he had
pictured this first evening together. He wanted
William, of course. Certainly he wanted William;
but if William would insist on running away
and sitting on park benches in this ridiculous
fashion, he ought to take the consequences--
until to-morrow.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed. Up one path
and down another trudged the anxious-eyed Billy
and her increasingly impatient husband. Then
when the fifteen weary minutes had become a
still more weary half-hour, the bonds Bertram
had set on his temper snapped.

``Billy,'' he remonstrated despairingly, ``do,
please, come home! Don't you see how highly
improbable it is that we should happen on William
if we walked like this all night? He might
move--change his seat--go home, even. He
probably has gone home. And surely never before
did a bride insist on spending the first evening
after her return tramping up and down a public
park for hour after hour like this, looking for any
man. _Won't_ you come home?''

But Billy had not even heard. With a glad little
cry she had darted to the side of the humped-up
figure of a man alone on a park bench just ahead
of them.

``Uncle William! Oh, Uncle William, how
could you?'' she cried, dropping herself on to
one end of the seat and catching the man's arm
in both her hands.

``Yes, how could you?'' demanded Bertram,
with just a touch of irritation, dropping himself
on to the other end of the seat, and catching
the man's other arm in his one usable

The bent shoulders and bowed head straightened
up with a jerk.

``Well, well, bless my soul! If it isn't our little
bride,'' cried Uncle William, fondly. ``And the
happy bridegroom, too. When did you get

``We haven't got home,'' retorted Bertram,
promptly, before his wife could speak. ``Oh, we
looked in at the door an hour or so back; but we
didn't stay. We've been hunting for you ever

``Nonsense, children!'' Uncle William spoke
with gay cheeriness; but he refused to meet
either Billy's or Bertram's eyes.

``Uncle William, how could you do it?''
reproached Billy, again.

``Do what?'' Uncle William was plainly
fencing for time.

``Leave the house like that?''

``Ho! I wanted a change.''

``As if we'd believe that!'' scoffed Billy.

``All right; let's call it you've had the change,
then,'' laughed Bertram, ``and we'll send over
for your things to-morrow. Come--now let's
go home to dinner.''

William shook his head. He essayed a gay

``Why, I've only just begun. I'm going to
stay--oh, I don't know how long I'm going to
stay,'' he finished blithely.

Billy lifted her chin a little.

``Uncle William, you aren't playing square.
Pete told us what you said when you left.''

``Eh? What?'' William looked up with
startled eyes.

``About--about our not _needing_ you. So we
know, now, why you left; and we _sha'n't stand_

``Pete? That? Oh, that--that's nonsense
I--I'll settle with Pete.''

Billy laughed softly.

``Poor Pete! Don't. We simply dragged it
out of him. And now we're here to tell you that
we _do_ want you, and that you _must_ come back.''

Again William shook his head. A swift shadow
crossed his face.

``Thank you, no, children,'' he said dully.

You're very kind, but you don't need me. I
should be just an interfering elder brother. I
should spoil your young married life.'' (William's
voice now sounded as if he were reciting a well-
learned lesson.)'' If I went away and stayed two
months, you'd never forget the utter freedom and
joy of those two whole months with the house all
to yourselves.''

``Uncle William,'' gasped Billy, ``what _are_
you talking about?''

``About--about my not going back, of course.''

``But you are coming back,'' cut in Bertram,
almost angrily. ``Oh, come, Will, this is utter
nonsense, and you know it! Come, let's go home
to dinner.''

A stern look came to the corners of William's
mouth--a look that Bertram understood well.

``All right, I'll go to dinner, of course; but
I sha'n't stay,'' said William, firmly. ``I've
thought it all out. I know I'm right. Come,
we'll go to dinner now, and say no more about
it,'' he finished with a cheery smile, as he rose to
his feet. Then, to the bride, he added: ``Did
you have a nice trip, little girl?''

Billy, too, had risen, now, but she did not
seem to have heard his question. In the fast
falling twilight her face looked a little white.

``Uncle William,'' she began very quietly, ``do
you think for a minute that just because I married
your brother I am going to live in that house
and turn you out of the home you've lived in all
your life?''

``Nonsense, dear! I'm not turned out. I just
go,'' corrected Uncle William, gayly.

With superb disdain Billy brushed this aside.

``Oh, no, you won't,'' she declared; ``but--
_I shall_.''

``Billy!'' gasped Bertram.

``My--my dear!'' expostulated William,

``Uncle William! Bertram! Listen,'' panted
Billy. ``I never told you much before, but I'm
going to, now. Long ago, when I went away with
Aunt Hannah, your sister Kate showed me how
dear the old home was to you--how much you
thought of it. And she said--she said that I had
upset everything.'' (Bertram interjected a sharp
word, but Billy paid no attention.) ``That's
why I went; and _I shall go again_--if you don't
come home to-morrow to stay, Uncle William.
Come, now let's go to dinner, please. Bertram's
hungry,'' she finished, with a bright smile.

There was a tense moment of silence. William
glanced at Bertram; Bertram returned the glance
--with interest.

``Er--ah--yes; well, we might go to dinner,''
stammered William, after a minute.

``Er--yes,'' agreed Bertram. And the three
fell into step together.



Billy did not leave the Strata this time.
Before twenty-four hours had passed, the last
cherished fragment of Mr. William Henshaw's
possessions had been carefully carried down the
imposing steps of the Beacon Hill boarding-house
under the disapproving eyes of its bugle-adorned
mistress, who found herself now with a month's
advance rent and two vacant ``parlors'' on her
hands. Before another twenty-four hours had
passed her quondam boarder, with a tired sigh,
sank into his favorite morris chair in his old
familiar rooms, and looked about him with contented
eyes. Every treasure was in place, from
the traditional four small stones of his babyhood
days to the Batterseas Billy had just brought him.
Pete, as of yore, was hovering near with a dust-
cloth. Bertram's gay whistle sounded from the
floor below. William Henshaw was at home again.

This much accomplished, Billy went to see
Aunt Hannah.

Aunt Hannah greeted her affectionately, though
with tearfully troubled eyes. She was wearing
a gray shawl to-day topped with a black one--
sure sign of unrest, either physical or mental, as
all her friends knew.

``I'd begun to think you'd forgotten--me,''
she faltered, with a poor attempt at gayety.

``You've been home three whole days.''

``I know, dearie,'' smiled Billy; ``and 'twas
a shame. But I have been so busy! My trunks
came at last, and I've been helping Uncle William
get settled, too.''

Aunt Hannah looked puzzled.

``Uncle William get settled? You mean--
he's changed his room?''

Billy laughed oddly, and threw a swift glance
into Aunt Hannah's face.

``Well, yes, he did change,'' she murmured;
``but he's moved back now into the old quarters.
Er--you haven't heard from Uncle William
then, lately, I take it.''

``No.'' Aunt Hannah shook her head
abstractedly. ``I did see him once, several weeks
ago; but I haven't, since. We had quite a talk,
then; and, Billy, I've been wanting to speak to
you,'' she hurried on, a little feverishly. ``I
didn't like to leave, of course, till you did come
home, as long as you'd said nothing about your
plans; but--''

``Leave!'' interposed Billy, dazedly. ``Leave
where? What do you mean?''

``Why, leave here, of course, dear. I mean.
I didn't like to get my room while you were
away; but I shall now, of course, at once.''

``Nonsense, Aunt Hannah! As if I'd let you
do that,'' laughed Billy.

Aunt Hannah stiffened perceptibly. Her lips
looked suddenly thin and determined. Even the
soft little curls above her ears seemed actually
to bristle with resolution.

``Billy,'' she began firmly, ``we might as well
understand each other at once. I know your
good heart, and I appreciate your kindness. But
I can not come to live with you. I shall not. It
wouldn't be best. I should be like an interfering
elder brother in your home. I should spoil your
young married life; and if I went away for two
months you'd never forget the utter joy and
freedom of those two months with the whole
house ali to yourselves.''

At the beginning of this speech Billy's eyes
had still carried their dancing smile, but as the
peroration progressed on to the end, a dawning
surprise, which soon became a puzzled questioning,
drove the smile away. Then Billy sat suddenly erect.

``Why, Aunt Hannah, that's exactly what
Uncle William--'' Billy stopped, and regarded
Aunt Hannah with quick suspicion. The next
moment she burst into gleeful laughter.

Aunt Hannah looked grieved, and not a little
surprised; but Billy did not seem to notice

``Oh, oh, Aunt Hannah--you, too! How
perfectly funny!'' she gurgled. ``To think you
two old blesseds should get your heads together
like this!''

Aunt Hannah stirred restively, and pulled the
black shawl more closely about her.

``Indeed, Billy, I don't know what you mean
by that,'' she sighed, with a visible effort at self-
control; ``but I do know that I can not go to live
with you.''

``Bless your heart, dear, I don't want you to,''
soothed Billy, with gay promptness.

``Oh! O-h-h,'' stammered Aunt Hannah, surprise,
mortification, dismay, and a grieved hurt
bringing a flood of color to her face. It is one
thing to refuse a home, and quite another to have
a home refused you.

``Oh! O-h-h, Aunt Hannah,'' cried Billy,
turning very red in her turn. ``Please, _please_ don't
look like that. I didn't mean it that way. I do
want you, dear, only--I want you somewhere
else more. I want you--here.''

``Here!'' Aunt Hannah looked relieved, but

``Yes. Don't you like it here?''

``Like it! Why, I love it, dear. You know I
do. But you don't need this house now, Billy.''

``Oh, yes, I do,'' retorted Billy, airily. ``I'm
going to keep it up, and I want you here.

``Fiddlededee, Billy! As if I'd let you keep up
this house just for me,'' scorned Aunt Hannah.

`` 'Tisn't just for you. It's for--for lots of

``My grief and conscience, Billy! What are
you talking about?''

Billy laughed, and settled herself more
comfortably on the hassock at Aunt Hannah's feet.

``Well, I'll tell you. Just now I want it for
Tommy Dunn, and the Greggorys if I can get
them, and maybe one or two others. There'll
always be somebody. You see, I had thought
I'd have them at the Strata.''

``Tommy Dunn--at the Strata!''

Billy laughed again ruefully.

``O dear! You sound just like Bertram,'' she
pouted. ``He didn't want Tommy, either, nor
any of the rest of them.''

``The rest of them!''

``Well, I could have had a lot more, you know,
the Strata is so big, especially now that Cyril
has gone, and left all those empty rooms. _I_ got
real enthusiastic, but Bertram didn't. He just
laughed and said `nonsense!' until he found I
was really in earnest; then he--well, he said
`nonsense,' then, too--only he didn't laugh,''
finished Billy, with a sigh.

Aunt Hannah regarded her with fond, though
slightly exasperated eyes.

``Billy, you are, indeed, a most extraordinary
young woman--at times. Surely, with you, a
body never knows what to expect--except the

``Why, Aunt Hannah!--and from you, too!''
reproached Billy, mischievously; but Aunt Hannah
had yet more to say.

``Of course Bertram thought it was nonsense.
The idea of you, a bride, filling up your house
with--with people like that! Tommy Dunn,

``Oh, Bertram said he liked Tommy all right,''
sighed Billy; ``but he said that that didn't mean
he wanted him for three meals a day. One would
think poor Tommy was a breakfast food! So
that is when I thought of keeping up this house,
you see, and that's why I want you here--to
take charge of it. And you'll do that--for me,
won't you?''

Aunt Hannah fell back in her chair.

Why, y-yes, Billy, of course, if--if you want
it. But what an extraordinary idea, child!''

Billy shook her head. A deeper color came to
her cheeks, and a softer glow to her eyes.

``I don't think so, Aunt Hannah. It's only
that I'm so happy that some of it has just got to
overflow somewhere, and this is going to be the
overflow house--a sort of safety valve for me,
you see. I'm going to call it the Annex--it will
be an annex to our home. And I want to keep it
full, always, of people who--who can make the
best use of all that extra happiness that I can't
possibly use myself,'' she finished a little
tremulously. ``Don't you see?''

``Oh, yes, I _see_,'' replied Aunt Hannah, with a
fond shake of the head.

``But, really, listen--it's sensible,'' urged
Billy. ``First, there's Tommy. His mother died
last month. He's at a neighbor's now, but they're
going to send him to a Home for Crippled Children;
and he's grieving his heart out over it.
I'm going to bring him here to a real home--
the kind that doesn't begin with a capital letter.
He adores music, and he's got real talent, I think.
Then there's the Greggorys.''

Aunt Hannah looked dubious.

``You can't get the Greggorys to--to use any
of that happiness, Billy. They're too proud.''

Billy smiled radiantly.

``I know I can't get them to _use_ it, Aunt
Hannah, but I believe I can get them to _give_ it,''
she declared triumphantly. ``I shall ask Alice
Greggory to teach Tommy music, and I shall
ask Mrs. Greggory to teach him books; and I
shall tell them both that I positively need them
to keep you company.''

``Oh, but Billy,'' bridled Aunt Hannah, with
prompt objection.

``Tut, tut!--I know you'll be willing to be
thrown as a little bit of a sop to the Greggorys'

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