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Miss Billy's Decision by Eleanor H. Porter

Part 5 out of 7

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Unconsciously Billy relaxed. She did not know
until that moment how she had worried for fear
she could not, conscientiously, recommend this
Alice Greggory.

``Of course,'' resumed the mother, ``Alice's
pupils are few, and they pay low prices; but she
is gaining. She goes to the houses, of course.
She herself practises two hours a day at a house
up on Pinckney Street. She gives lessons to a
little girl in return.''

``I see,'' nodded Billy, brightly; ``and I've
been thinking, Mrs. Greggory--maybe I know
of some pupils she could get. I have a friend who
has just given hers up, owing to her marriage.
Sometime, soon, I'm going to talk to your daughter,
if I may, and--''

``And here she is right now,'' interposed Mrs.
Greggory, as the door opened under a hurried

Billy flushed and bit her lip. She was disturbed
and disappointed. She did not particularly wish
to see Alice Greggory just then. She wished even
less to see her when she noted the swift change that
came to the girl's face at sight of herself.

``Oh! Why-good morning, Miss Neilson,''
murmured Miss Greggory with a smile so forced
that her mother hurriedly looked to the azalea
in search of a possible peacemaker.

``My dear, see,'' she stammered, ``what Miss
Neilson has brought me. And it's so full of
blossoms, too! And she says it'll remain so for
a long, long time--if we'll only keep it wet.''

Alice Greggory murmured a low something--
a something that she tried, evidently, very hard
to make politely appropriate and appreciative.
Yet her manner, as she took off her hat and coat
and sat down, so plainly said: ``You are very kind,
of course, but I wish you would keep yourself
and your plants at home!'' that Mrs. Greggory
began a hurried apology, much as if the words
had indeed been spoken.

``My daughter is really ill this morning. You
mustn't mind--that is, I'm afraid you'll think
--you see, she took cold last week; a bad cold--
and she isn't over it, yet,'' finished the little woman
in painful embarrassment.

``Of course she took cold--standing all
those hours in that horrid wind, Friday!'' cried
Billy, indignantly.

A quick red flew to Alice Greggory's face.
Billy saw it at once and fervently wished she had
spoken of anything but that Friday afternoon.
It looked almost as if she were _reminding_ them of
what she had done that day. In her confusion,
and in her anxiety to say something--anything
that would get their minds off that idea--she
uttered now the first words that came into her
head. As it happened, they were the last words
that sober second thought would have told her
to say.

``Never mind, Mrs. Greggory. We'll have her
all well and strong soon; never fear! Just wait
till I send Peggy and Mary Jane to take her out
for a drive one of these mild, sunny days. You
have no idea how much good it will do her!''

Alice Greggory got suddenly to her feet. Her
face was very white now. Her eyes had the
steely coldness that Billy knew so well. Her
voice, when she spoke, was low and sternly controlled.

``Miss Neilson, you will think me rude, of
course, especially after your great kindness to me
the other day; but I can't help it. It seems to me
best to speak now before it goes any further.''

``Alice, dear,'' remonstrated Mrs. Greggory,
extending a frightened hand.

The girl did not turn her head nor hesitate;
but she caught the extended hand and held it
warmly in both her own, with gentle little pats,
while she went on speaking.

``I'm sure mother agrees with me that it is
best, for the present, that we keep quite to
ourselves. I cannot question your kindness, of
course, after your somewhat unusual favor the
other day; but I am very sure that your friends,
Miss Peggy, and Miss Mary Jane, have no real
desire to make my acquaintance, nor--if you'll
pardon me--have I, under the circumstances,
any wish to make theirs.''

``Oh, Alice, Alice,'' began the little mother, in
dismay; but a rippling laugh from their visitor
brought an angry flush even to her gentle face.

Billy understood the flush, and struggled for

``Please--please, forgive me!'' she choked.
``But you see--you couldn't, of course, know
that Mary Jane and Peggy aren't _girls_. They're
just a man and an automobile!''

An unwilling smile trembled on Alice Greggory's
lips; but she still stood her ground.

``After all, girls, or men and automobiles,
Miss Neilson--it makes little difference. They're
--charity. And it's not so long that we've been
objects of charity that we quite really enjoy it--

There was a moment's hush. Billy's eyes had
filled with tears.

``I never even _thought_--charity,'' said Billy,
so gently that a faint red stole into the white
cheeks opposite.

For a tense minute Alice Greggory held herself
erect; then, with a complete change of manner
and voice, she released her mother's hand, dropped
into her own chair again, and said wearily:

``I know you didn't, Miss Neilson. It's all
my foolish pride, of course. It's only that I was
thinking how dearly I would love to meet girls
again--just as _girls!_ But--I no longer have
any business with pride, of course. I shall be
pleased, I'm sure,'' she went on dully, ``to accept
anything you may do for us, from automobile
rides to--to red flannel petticoats.''

Billy almost--but not quite--laughed. Still,
the laugh would have been near to a sob, had it
been given. Surprising as was the quick transition
in the girl's manner, and absurd as was the
juxtaposition of automobiles and red flannel
petticoats, the white misery of Alice Greggory's face
and the weary despair of her attitude were tragic
--specially to one who knew her story as did
Billy Neilson. And it was because Billy did know
her story that she did not make the mistake now
of offering pity. Instead, she said with a bright
smile, and a casual manner that gave no hint
of studied labor:

``Well, as it happens, Miss Greggory, what I
want to-day has nothing whatever to do with
automobiles or red flannel petticoats. It's a
matter of straight business.'' (How Billy blessed
the thought that had so suddenly come to her!)
``Your mother tells me you play accompaniments.
Now a girls' club, of which I am a member, is
getting up an operetta for charity, and we need
an accompanist. There is no one in the club who
is able, and at the same time willing, to spend
the amount of time necessary for practice and
rehearsals. So we had decided to hire one outside,
and I have been given the task of finding one. It
has occurred to me that perhaps you would be
willing to undertake it for us. Would you?''

Billy knew, at once, from the quick change in
the other's face and manner, that she had taken
exactly the right course to relieve the strain of
the situation. Despair and lassitude fell away
from Alice Greggory almost like a garment. Her
countenance became alert and interested.

``Indeed I would! I should be glad to do it.''

``Good! Then can you come out to my home
sometime to-morrow, and go over the music with
me? Rehearsals will not begin until next week;
but I can give you the music, and tell you
something of what we are planning to do.''

``Yes. I could come at ten in the morning for
an hour, or at three in the afternoon for two
hours or more,'' replied Miss Greggory, after a
moment's hesitation.

``Suppose we call it in the afternoon, then,''
smiled Billy, as she rose to her feet. ``And now I
must go--and here's my address,'' she finished,
taking out her card and laying it on the table
near her.

For reasons of her own Billy went away that
morning without saying anything more about
the proposed new pupils. New pupils were not
automobile rides nor petticoats, to be sure--but
she did not care to risk disturbing the present
interested happiness of Alice Greggory's face by
mentioning anything that might be construed as
too officious an assistance.

On the whole, Billy felt well pleased with her
morning's work. To Aunt Hannah, upon her
return, she expressed herself thus:

``It's splendid--even better than I hoped. I
shall have a chance to-morrow, of course, to see
for myself just how well she plays, and all that.
I'm pretty sure, though, from what I hear, that
that part will be all right. Then the operetta
will give us a chance to see a good deal of her,
and to bring about a natural meeting between her
and Mary Jane. Oh, Aunt Hannah, I couldn't
have _planned_ it better--and there the whole
thing just tumbled into my hands! I knew it had
the minute I remembered about the operetta.
You know I'm chairman, and they left me to
get the accompanist; and like a flash it came to
me, when I was wondering _what_ to say or do to
get her out of that awful state she was in--`Ask
her to be your accompanist.' And I did. And I'm
so glad I did! Oh, Aunt Hannah, it's coming out
lovely!--I know it is.''



To Billy, Alice Greggory's first visit to Hillside
was in every way a delight and a satisfaction. To
Alice, it was even more than that. For the first
time in years she found herself welcomed into a
home of wealth, culture, and refinement as an equal;
and the frank cordiality and naturalness of her
hostess's evident expectation of meeting a
congenial companion was like balm to a sensitive
soul rendered morbid by long years of superciliousness
and snubbing.

No wonder that under the cheery friendliness
of it all, Alice Greggory's cold reserve vanished,
and that in its place came something very like
her old ease and charm of manner. By the time
Aunt Hannah--according to previous agreement
--came into the room, the two girls were laughing
and chatting over the operetta as if they had known
each other for years.

Much to Billy's delight, Alice Greggory, as a
musician, proved to be eminently satisfactory.
She was quick at sight reading, and accurate.
She played easily, and with good expression.
Particularly was she a good accompanist, possessing
to a marked degree that happy faculty of _accompanying_
a singer: which means that she neither
led the way nor lagged behind, being always
exactly in sympathetic step--than which nothing
is more soul-satisfying to the singer.

It was after the music for the operetta had been
well-practised and discussed that Alice Greggory
chanced to see one of Billy's own songs lying near
her. With a pleased smile she picked it up.

``Oh, you know this, too!'' she cried. ``I
played it for a lady only the other day. It's so
pretty, I think--all of hers are, that I have seen.
Billy Neilson is a girl, you know, they say, in
spite of--``She stopped abruptly. Her eyes
grew wide and questioning. ``Miss Neilson--it
can't be--you don't mean--is your name--it
_is--you!_'' she finished joyously, as the telltale
color dyed Billy's face. The next moment her
own cheeks burned scarlet. ``And to think of
my letting _you_ stand in line for a twenty-five-cent
admission!'' she scorned.

``Nonsense!'' laughed Billy. ``It didn't hurt
me any more than it did you. Come!''--in
looking about for a quick something to take her
guest's attention, Billy's eyes fell on the manuscript
copy of her new song, bearing Arkwright's
name. Yielding to a daring impulse, she drew
it hastily forward. ``Here's a new one--a brand-
new one, not even printed yet. Don't you think
the words are pretty?'' she asked.

As she had hoped, Alice Greggory's eyes, after
they had glanced half-way through the first page,
sought the name at the left side below the title.

`` `Words by M. J.--' ''--there was a
visible start, and a pause before the `` `Arkwright' ''
was uttered in a slightly different tone.

Billy noted both the start and the pause--and
gloried in them.

``Yes; the words are by M. J. Arkwright,'' she
said with smooth unconcern, but with a covert
glance at the other's face. ``Ever hear of him?''

Alice Greggory gave a short little laugh.

``Probably not--this one. I used to know
an M. J. Arkwright, long ago; but he wasn't--a
poet, so far as I know,'' she finished, with a little
catch in her breath that made Billy long to take
her into a warm embrace.

Alice Greggory turned then to the music. She
had much to say of this--very much; but she
had nothing more whatever to say of Mr. M. J.
Arkwright in spite of the tempting conversation
bait that Billy dropped so freely. After that,
Rosa brought in tea and toast, and the little
frosted cakes that were always such a favorite
with Billy's guests. Then Alice Greggory said
good-by--her eyes full of tears that Billy pretended
not to see.

``There!'' breathed Billy, as soon as she had
Aunt Hannah to herself again. ``What did I
tell you? Did you see Miss Greggory's start
and blush and hear her sigh just over the _name_
of M. J. Arkwright? Just as if--! Now I want
them to meet; only it must be casual, Aunt Hannah--
casual! And I'd rather wait till Mary
Jane hears from his mother, if possible, so if there
_is_ anything good to tell the poor girl, he can tell

``Yes, of course. Dear child!--I hope he can,''
murmured Aunt Hannah. (Aunt Hannah had
ceased now trying to make Billy refrain from the
reprehensible ``Mary Jane.'' In fact, if the truth
were known, Aunt Hannah herself in her thoughts
--and sometimes in her words--called him
``Mary Jane.'') ``But, indeed, my dear, I didn't
see anything stiff, or--or repelling about Miss
Greggory, as you said there was.''

``There wasn't--to-day,'' smiled Billy.
``Honestly, Aunt Hannah, I should never have known
her for the same girl--who showed me the door
that first morning,'' she finished merrily, as she
turned to go up-stairs.

It was the next day that Cyril and Marie came
home from their honeymoon. They went directly
to their pretty little apartment on Beacon Street,
Brookline, within easy walking distance of Billy's
own cozy home.

Cyril intended to build in a year or two.
Meanwhile they had a very pretty, convenient home
which was, according to Bertram, ``electrified to
within an inch of its life, and equipped with
everything that was fireless, smokeless, dustless, and
laborless.'' In it Marie had a spotlessly white
kitchen where she might make puddings to her
heart's content.

Marie had--again according to Bertram--
``a visiting acquaintance with a maid.'' In
other words, a stout woman was engaged to come
two days in the week to wash, iron, and scrub;
also to come in each night to wash the dinner
dishes, thus leaving Marie's evenings free--``for
the shaded lamp,'' Billy said.

Marie had not arrived at this--to her, delightful--
arrangement of a ``visiting acquaintance''
without some opposition from her friends. Even
Billy had stood somewhat aghast.

``But, my dear, won't it be hard for you, to do
so much?'' she argued one day. ``You know
you aren't very strong.''

``I know; but it won't be hard, as I've planned
it,'' replied Marie, ``specially when I've been
longing for years to do this very thing. Why, Billy,
if I had to stand by and watch a maid do all these
things I want to do myself, I should feel just like
--like a hungry man who sees another man eating
up his dinner! Oh, of course,'' she added plaintively,
after Billy's laughter had subsided, ``I
sha'n't do it always. I don't expect to. Of course,
when we have a house--I'm not sure, then,
though, that I sha'n't dress up the maid and order
her to receive the calls and go to the pink teas,
while I make her puddings,'' she finished saucily,
as Billy began to laugh again.

The bride and groom, as was proper, were, soon
after their arrival, invited to dine at both William's
and Billy's. Then, until Marie's ``At Homes''
should begin, the devoted couple settled down to
quiet days by themselves, with only occasional
visits from the family to interrupt--``interrupt''
was Bertram's word, not Marie's. Though it is
safe to say it was not far different from the one
Cyril used--in his thoughts.

Bertram himself, these days, was more than
busy. Besides working on Miss Winthrop's portrait,
and on two or three other commissions, he
was putting the finishing touches to four pictures
which he was to show in the exhibition soon to be
held by a prominent Art Club of which he was
the acknowledged ``star'' member. Naturally,
therefore, his time was well occupied. Naturally,
too, Billy, knowing this, lashed herself more
sternly than ever into a daily reminder of Kate's
assertion that he belonged first to his Art.

In pursuance of this idea, Billy was careful to
see that no engagement with herself should in any
way interfere with the artist's work, and that
no word of hers should attempt to keep him at her
side when ART called. (Billy always spelled
that word now in her mind with tall, black letters
--the way it had sounded when it fell from Kate's
lips.) That these tactics on her part were beginning
to fill her lover with vague alarm and a very
definite unrest, she did not once suspect. Eagerly,
therefore,--even with conscientious delight--
she welcomed the new song-words that Arkwright
brought--they would give her something else
to take up her time and attention. She welcomed
them, also, for another reason: they would bring
Arkwright more often to the house, and this
would, of course, lead to that ``casual meeting''
between him and Alice Greggory when the
rehearsals for the operetta should commence--
which would be very soon now. And Billy did
so long to bring about that meeting!

To Billy, all this was but ``occupying her mind,''
and playing Cupid's assistant to a worthy young
couple torn cruelly apart by an unfeeling fate.
To Bertram--to Bertram it was terror, and woe,
and all manner of torture; for in it Bertram saw
only a growing fondness on the part of Billy for
Arkwright, Arkwright's music, Arkwright's words,
and Arkwright's friends.

The first rehearsal for the operetta came on
Wednesday evening. There would be another on
Thursday afternoon. Billy had told Alice Greggory
to arrange her pupils so that she could stay
Wednesday night at Hillside, if the crippled mother
could get along alone--and she could, Alice had
said. Thursday forenoon, therefore, Alice Greggory
would, in all probability, be at Hillside, specially
as there would doubtless be an appointment or
two for private rehearsal with some nervous soloist
whose part was not progressing well. Such being
the case, Billy had a plan she meant to carry out.
She was highly pleased, therefore, when Thursday
morning came, and everything, apparently, was
working exactly to her mind.

Alice was there. She had an appointment at
quarter of eleven with the leading tenor, and another
later with the alto. After breakfast, therefore,
Billy said decisively:

``Now, if you please, Miss Greggory, I'm going
to put you up-stairs on the couch in the sewing-
room for a nap.''

``But I've just got up,'' remonstrated Miss

``I know you have,'' smiled Billy; ``but you
were very late to bed last night, and you've got
a hard day before you. I insist upon your resting.
You will be absolutely undisturbed there, and
you must shut the door and not come down-stairs
till I send for you. Mr. Johnson isn't due till
quarter of eleven, is he?''


``Then come with me,'' directed Billy, leading
the way up-stairs. ``There, now, don't come down
till I call you,'' she went on, when they had reached
the little room at the end of the hall. ``I'm going
to leave Aunt Hannah's door open, so you'll
have good air--she isn't in there. She's writing
letters in my room, Now here's a book, and you
_may_ read, but I should prefer you to sleep,'' she
nodded brightly as she went out and shut the
door quietly. Then, like the guilty conspirator
she was, she went down-stairs to wait for Arkwright.

It was a fine plan. Arkwright was due at ten
o'clock--Billy had specially asked him to come
at that hour. He would not know, of course, that
Alice Greggory was in the house; but soon after
his arrival Billy meant to excuse herself for a
moment, slip up-stairs and send Alice Greggory
down for a book, a pair of scissors, a shawl for
Aunt Hannah--anything would do for a pretext,
anything so that the girl might walk into the
living-room and find Arkwright waiting for her
alone. And then-- What happened next was,
in Billy's mind, very vague, but very attractive
as a nucleus for one's thoughts, nevertheless.

All this was, indeed, a fine plan; but-- (If
only fine plans would not so often have a ``but''!)
In Billy's case the ``but'' had to do with things
so apparently unrelated as were Aunt Hannah's
clock and a negro's coal wagon. The clock struck
eleven at half-past ten, and the wagon dumped
itself to destruction directly in front of a trolley
car in which sat Mr. M. J. Arkwright, hurrying
to keep his appointment with Miss Billy Neilson.
It was almost half-past ten when Arkwright
finally rang the bell at Hillside. Billy greeted
him so eagerly, and at the same time with such
evident disappointment at his late arrival, that
Arkwright's heart sang with joy.

``But there's a rehearsal at quarter of eleven,''
exclaimed Billy, in answer to his hurried explanation
of the delay; ``and this gives so little time
for--for--so little time, you know,'' she finished
in confusion, casting frantically about in
her mind for an excuse to hurry up-stairs and
send Alice Greggory down before it should be
quite too late.

No wonder that Arkwright, noting the sparkle
in her eye, the agitation in her manner, and the
embarrassed red in her cheek, took new courage.
For so long had this girl held him at the end of a
major third or a diminished seventh; for so long
had she blithely accepted his every word and act
as devotion to music, not herself--for so long
had she done all this that he had come to fear
that never would she do anything else. No
wonder then, that now, in the soft radiance of the
strange, new light on her face, his own face
glowed ardently, and that he leaned forward
with an impetuous rush of eager words.

``But there is time, Miss Billy--if you'd give
me leave--to say--''

``I'm afraid I kept you waiting,'' interrupted
the hurried voice of Alice Greggory from the hall
doorway. ``I was asleep, I think, when a clock
somewhere, striking eleven-- Why, Mr.--Arkwright!''

Not until Alice Greggory had nearly crossed the
room did she see that the man standing by her
hostess was--not the tenor she had expected to
find--but an old acquaintance. Then it was
that the tremulous ``Mr.-Arkwright!'' fell from
her lips.

Billy and Arkwright had turned at her first
words. At her last, Arkwright, with a half-
despairing, half-reproachful glance at Billy, stepped

``Miss Greggory!--you _are_ Miss Alice Greggory,
I am sure,'' he said pleasantly.

At the first opportunity Billy murmured a
hasty excuse and left the room. To Aunt Hannah
she flew with a woebegone face.

``Oh, Aunt Hannah, Aunt Hannah,'' she
wailed, half laughing, half crying; ``that wretched
little fib-teller of a clock of yours spoiled it

``Spoiled it! Spoiled what, child?''

``My first meeting between Mary Jane and
Miss Greggory. I had it all arranged that they
were to have it _alone_; but that miserable little
fibber up-stairs struck eleven at half-past ten,
and Miss Greggory heard it and thought she was
fifteen minutes late. So down she hurried, half
awake, and spoiled all my plans. Now she's
sitting in there with him, in chairs the length of
the room apart, discussing the snowstorm last
night or the moonrise this morning--or some
other such silly thing. And I had it so beautifully

``Well, well, dear, I'm sorry, I'm sure,'' smiled
Aunt Hannah; ``but I can't think any real harm
is done. Did Mary Jane have anything to tell
her--about her father, I mean?''

Only the faintest flicker of Billy's eyelid testified
that the everyday accustomedness of that ``Mary
Jane'' on Aunt Hannah's lips had not escaped her.

``No, nothing definite. Yet there was a little.
Friends are still trying to clear his name, and I
believe are meeting with increasing success. I
don't know, of course, whether he'll say anything
about it to-day--_now_. To think I had to be
right round under foot like that when they met!''
went on Billy, indignantly. ``I shouldn't have
been, in a minute more, though. I was just trying
to think up an excuse to come up and send down
Miss Greggory, when Mary Jane began to tell
me something--I haven't the faintest idea what
--then _she_ appeared, and it was all over. And
there's the doorbell, and the tenor, I suppose; so
of course it's all over now,'' she sighed, rising to go

As it chanced, however, it was not the tenor,
but a message from him--a message that brought
dire consternation to the Chairman of the Committee
of Arrangements. The tenor had thrown
up his part. He could not take it; it was too
difficult. He felt that this should be told--at once
rather than to worry along for another week or
two, and then give up. So he had told it.

``But what shall we do, Miss Greggory?''
appealed Billy. ``It _is_ a hard part, you know;
but if Mr. Tobey can't take it, I don't know who
can. We don't want to hire a singer for it, if we can
help it. The profits are to go to the Home for
Crippled Children, you know,'' she explained,
turning to Arkwright, ``and we decided to hire
only the accompanist.''

An odd expression flitted across Miss Greggory's

``Mr. Arkwright used to sing--tenor,'' she
observed quietly.

``As if he didn't now--a perfectly glorious
tenor,'' retorted Billy. ``But as if _he_ would take

For only a brief moment did Arkwright hesitate;
then blandly he suggested:

``Suppose you try him, and see.''

Billy sat suddenly erect.

``Would you, really? _Could_ you--take the
time, and all?'' she cried.

``Yes, I think I would--under the circumstances,''
he smiled. ``I think I could, too,
though I might not be able to attend all the
rehearsals. Still, if I find I have to ask permission,
I'll endeavor to convince the powers-that-be that
singing in this operetta will be just the stepping-
stone I need to success in Grand Opera.''

``Oh, if you only would take it,'' breathed Billy,
``we'd be so glad!''

``Well,'' said Arkwright, his eyes on Billy's
frankly delighted face, ``as I said before--under
the circumstances I think I would.''

``Thank you! Then it's all beautifully settled,''
rejoiced Billy, with a happy sigh; and unconsciously
she gave Alice Greggory's hand near her
a little pat.

In Billy's mind the ``circumstances'' of
Arkwright's acceptance of the part were Alice Greggory
and her position as accompanist, of course.
Billy would have been surprised indeed--and
dismayed--had she known that in Arkwright's
mind the ``circumstances'' were herself, and the
fact that she, too, had a part in the operetta,
necessitating her presence at rehearsals, and hinting
at a delightful comradeship impossible, perhaps, otherwise.



February came The operetta, for which
Billy was working so hard, was to be given the
twentieth. The Art Exhibition, for which Bertram
was preparing his four pictures, was to open the
sixteenth, with a private view for specially
invited friends the evening before.

On the eleventh day of February Mrs. Greggory
and her daughter arrived at Hillside for a ten-
days' visit. Not until after a great deal of pleading
and argument, however, had Billy been able
to bring this about.

``But, my dears, both of you,'' Billy had at
last said to them; ``just listen. We shall have
numberless rehearsals during those last ten days
before the thing comes off. They will be at all
hours, and of all lengths. You, Miss Greggory,
will have to be on hand for them all, of course,
and will have to stay all night several times,
probably. You, Mrs. Greggory, ought not to
be alone down here. There is no sensible, valid
reason why you should not both come out to the
house for those ten days; and I shall feel seriously
hurt and offended if you do not consent to do

``But--my pupils,'' Alice Greggory had demurred.

``You can go in town from my home at any
time to give your lessons, and a little shifting
about and arranging for those ten days will enable
you to set the hours conveniently one after another,
I am sure, so you can attend to several on
one trip. Meanwhile your mother will be having
a lovely time teaching Aunt Hannah how to
knit a new shawl; so you won't have to be
worrying about her.''

After all, it had been the great good and pleasure
which the visit would bring to Mrs. Greggory that
had been the final straw to tip the scales. On the
eleventh of February, therefore, in the company
of the once scorned ``Peggy and Mary Jane,''
Alice Greggory and her mother had arrived at

Ever since the first meeting of Alice Greggory
and Arkwright, Billy had been sorely troubled
by the conduct of the two young people. She had,
as she mournfully told herself, been able to make
nothing of it. The two were civility itself to each
other, but very plainly they were not at ease in
each other's company; and Billy, much to her
surprise, had to admit that Arkwright did not
appear to appreciate the ``circumstances'' now
that he had them. The pair called each other,
ceremoniously, ``Mr. Arkwright,'' and ``Miss
Greggory''--but then, that, of course, did not
``signify,'' Billy declared to herself.

``I suppose you don't ever call him `Mary
Jane,' '' she said to the girl, a little mischievously,
one day.

`` `Mary Jane'? Mr. Arkwright? No, I don't,''
rejoined Miss Greggory, with an odd smile. Then,
after a moment, she added: ``I believe his brothers
and sisters used to, however.''

``Yes, I know,'' laughed Billy. ``We thought
he was a real Mary Jane, once.'' And she told
the story of his arrival. ``So you see,'' she
finished, when Alice Greggory had done laughing
over the tale, ``he always will be `Mary Jane' to
us. By the way, what is his name?''

Miss Greggory looked up in surprise.

``Why, it's--'' She stopped short, her eyes
questioning. ``Why, hasn't he ever told you?''
she queried.

Billy lifted her chin.

``No. He told us to guess it, and we have
guessed everything we can think of, even up to
`Methuselah John'; but he says we haven't
hit it yet.''

`` `Methuselah John,' indeed!'' laughed the
other, merrily.

``Well, I'm sure that's a nice, solid name,''
defended Billy, her chin still at a challenging
tilt. ``If it isn't `Methuselah John,' what is it,

But Alice Greggory shook her head. She, too,
it seemed, could be firm, on occasion. And though
she smiled brightly, all she would say, was:

``If he hasn't told you, I sha'n't. You'll have
to go to him.''

``Oh, well, I can still call him `Mary Jane,' ''
retorted Billy, with airy disdain.

All this, however, so far as Billy could see, was
not in the least helping along the cause that had
become so dear to her--the reuniting of a pair
of lovers. It occurred to her then, one day, that
perhaps, after all, they were not lovers, and did
not wish to be reunited. At this disquieting
thought Billy decided, suddenly, to go almost to
headquarters. She would speak to Mrs. Greggory
if ever the opportunity offered. Great was her
joy, therefore, when, a day or two after the
Greggorys arrived at the house, Mrs. Greggory's
chance reference to Arkwright and her daughter
gave Billy the opportunity she sought.

``They used to know each other long ago, Mr.
Arkwright tells me,'' Billy began warily.


The quietly polite monosyllable was not very
encouraging, to be sure; but Billy, secure in her
conviction that her cause was a righteous one,
refused to be daunted.

``I think it was so romantic--their running
across each other like this, Mrs. Greggory,'' she
murmured. ``And there _was_ a romance, wasn't
there? I have just felt in my bones that there
was--a romance!''

Billy held her breath. It was what she had
meant to say, but now that she had said it, the
words seemed very fearsome indeed--to say to
Mrs. Greggory. Then Billy remembered her
Cause, and took heart--Billy was spelling it
now with a capital C.

For a long minute Mrs. Greggory did not
answer--for so long a minute that Billy's breath
dropped into a fluttering sigh, and her Cause
became suddenly ``IMPERTINENCE'' spelled
in black capitals. Then Mrs. Greggory spoke
slowly, a little sadly.

``I don't mind saying to you that I did hope,
once, that there would be a romance there. They
were the best of friends, and they were well-
suited to each other in tastes and temperament.
I think, indeed, that the romance was well under
way (though there was never an engagement)
when--'' Mrs. Greggory paused and wet her
lips. Her voice, when she resumed, carried the
stern note so familiar to Billy in her first acquaintance
with this woman and her daughter. ``As
I presume Mr. Arkwright has told you, we have
met with many changes in our life--changes
which necessitated a new home and a new mode
of living. Naturally, under those circumstances,
old friends--and old romances--must change,

``But, Mrs. Greggory,'' stammered Billy, ``I'm
sure Mr. Arkwright would want--'' An up-
lifted hand silenced her peremptorily.

``Mr. Arkwright was very kind, and a gentleman,
always,'' interposed the lady, coldly; ``but
Judge Greggory's daughter would not allow herself
to be placed where apologies for her father
would be necessary--_ever!_ There, please, dear
Miss Neilson, let us not talk of it any more,''
begged Mrs. Greggory, brokenly.

``No, indeed, of course not!'' cried Billy; but
her heart rejoiced.

She understood it all now. Arkwright and Alice
Greggory had been almost lovers when the charges
against the Judge's honor had plunged the family
into despairing humiliation. Then had come the
time when, according to Arkwright's own story,
the two women had shut themselves indoors, refused
to see their friends, and left town as soon
as possible. Thus had come the breaking of
whatever tie there was between Alice Greggory
and Arkwright. Not to have broken it would have
meant, for Alice, the placing of herself in a position
where, sometime, apologies must be made for
her father. This was what Mrs. Greggory had
meant--and again, as Billy thought of it, Billy's
heart rejoiced.

Was not her way clear now before her? Did
she not have it in her power, possibly--even
probably--to bring happiness where only sadness
was before? As if it would not be a simple thing
to rekindle the old flame--to make these two
estranged hearts beat as one again!

Not now was the Cause an IMPERTINENCE
in tall black letters. It was, instead, a shining
beacon in letters of flame guiding straight to

Billy went to sleep that night making plans
for Alice Greggory and Arkwright to be thrown
together naturally--``just as a matter of course,
you know,'' she said drowsily to herself, all in
the dark.

Some three or four miles away down Beacon
Street at that moment Bertram Henshaw, in the
Strata, was, as it happened, not falling asleep.
He was lying broadly and unhappily awake Bertram
very frequently lay broadly and unhappily
awake these days--or rather nights. He told
himself, on these occasions, that it was perfectly
natural--indeed it was!--that Billy should be
with Arkwright and his friends, the Greggorys,
so much. There were the new songs, and the
operetta with its rehearsals as a cause for it all.
At the same time, deep within his fearful soul
was the consciousness that Arkwright, the Greggorys,
and the operetta were but Music--Music,
the spectre that from the first had dogged his

With Billy's behavior toward himself, Bertram
could find no fault. She was always her sweet,
loyal, lovable self, eager to hear of his work,
earnestly solicitous that it should be a success.
She even--as he sometimes half-irritably
remembered--had once told him that she realized
he belonged to Art before he did to himself; and
when he had indignantly denied this, she had only
laughed and thrown a kiss at him, with the remark
that he ought to hear his sister Kate's opinion of
that matter. As if he wanted Kate's opinion on
that or anything else that concerned him and

Once, torn by jealousy, and exasperated at the
frequent interruptions of their quiet hours
together, he had complained openly.

``Actually, Billy, it's worse than Marie's
wedding,'' he declared, ``_Then_ it was tablecloths
and napkins that could be dumped in a chair.
_Now_ it's a girl who wants to rehearse, or a woman
that wants a different wig, or a telephone message
that the sopranos have quarrelled again. I loathe
that operetta!''

Billy laughed, but she frowned, too.

``I know, dear; I don't like that part. I wish
they _would_ let me alone when I'm with you! But
as for the operetta, it is really a good thing, dear,
and you'll say so when you see it. It's going to
be a great success--I can say that because my
part is only a small one, you know. We shall
make lots of money for the Home, too, I'm sure.''

``But you're wearing yourself all out with it,
dear,'' scowled Bertram.

``Nonsense! I like it; besides, when I'm doing
this I'm not telephoning you to come and amuse
me. Just think what a lot of extra time you have
for your work!''

``Don't want it,'' avowed Bertram.

``But the _work_ may,'' retorted Billy, showing
all her dimples. ``Never mind, though; it'll all
be over after the twentieth. _This_ isn't an understudy
like Marie's wedding, you know,'' she finished demurely.

``Thank heaven for that!'' Bertram had
breathed fervently. But even as he said the words
he grew sick with fear. What if, after all, this
_were_ an understudy to what was to come later
when Music, his rival, had really conquered?

Bertram knew that however secure might seem
Billy's affection for himself, there was still in
his own mind a horrid fear lest underneath that
security were an unconscious, growing fondness
for something he could not give, for some one
that he was not--a fondness that would one day
cause Billy to awake. As Bertram, in his morbid
fancy pictured it, he realized only too well what
that awakening would mean to himself.



The private view of the paintings and drawings
of the Brush and Pencil Club on the evening of
the fifteenth was a great success. Society sent
its fairest women in frocks that were pictures in
themselves. Art sent its severest critics and its
most ardent devotees. The Press sent reporters
that the World might know what Art and Society
were doing, and how they did it.

Before the canvases signed with Bertram
Henshaw's name there was always to be found an
admiring group representing both Art and Society
with the Press on the outskirts to report. William
Henshaw, coming unobserved upon one such group,
paused a moment to smile at the various more or
less disconnected comments.

``What a lovely blue!''

``Marvellous color sense!''

``Now those shadows are--''

``He gets his high lights so--''

``I declare, she looks just like Blanche Payton!''

``Every line there is full of meaning.''

``I suppose it's very fine, but--''

``Now, I say, Henshaw is--''

``Is this by the man that's painting Margy
Winthrop's portrait?''

``It's idealism, man, idealism!''

``I'm going to have a dress just that shade of

``Isn't that just too sweet!''

``Now for realism, I consider Henshaw--''

``There aren't many with his sensitive, brilliant

``Oh, what a pretty picture!''

William moved on then.

Billy was rapturously proud of Bertram that
evening. He was, of course, the centre of
congratulations and hearty praise. At his side,
Billy, with sparkling eyes, welcomed each smiling
congratulation and gloried in every commendatory
word she heard.

``Oh, Bertram, isn't it splendid! I'm so proud
of you,'' she whispered softly, when a moment's
lull gave her opportunity.

``They're all words, words, idle words,'' he
laughed; but his eyes shone.

``Just as if they weren't all true!'' she bridled,
turning to greet William, who came up at that
moment. ``Isn't it fine, Uncle William?'' she
beamed. ``And aren't we proud of him?''

``We are, indeed,'' smiled the man. ``But if
you and Bertram want to get the real opinion of
this crowd, you should go and stand near one
of his pictures five minutes. As a sort of crazy--
quilt criticism it can't be beat.''

``I know,'' laughed Bertram. ``I've done it,
in days long gone.''

``Bertram, not really?'' cried Billy.

``Sure! As if every young artist at the first
didn't don goggles or a false mustache and study
the pictures on either side of his own till he could
paint them with his eyes shut!''

``And what did you hear?'' demanded the girl.

``What didn't I hear?'' laughed her lover.
``But I didn't do it but once or twice. I lost my
head one day and began to argue the question
of perspective with a couple of old codgers who
were criticizing a bit of foreshortening that was
my special pet. I forgot my goggles and sailed
in. The game was up then, of course; and I
never put them on again. But it was worth a
farm to see their faces when I stood `discovered'
as the stage-folk say.''

``Serves you right, sir--listening like that,''
scolded Billy.

Bertram laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

``Well, it cured me, anyhow. I haven't done
it since,'' he declared.

It was some time later, on the way home, that
Bertram said:

``It was gratifying, of course, Billy, and I
liked it. It would be absurd to say I didn't like
the many pleasant words of apparently sincere
appreciation I heard to-night. But I couldn't
help thinking of the next time--always the next

``The next time?'' Billy's eyes were slightly

``That I exhibit, I mean. The Bohemian Ten
hold their exhibition next month, you know. I
shall show just one picture--the portrait of
Miss Winthrop.''

``Oh, Bertram!''

``It'll be `Oh, Bertram!' then, dear, if it isn't
a success,'' he sighed. ``I don't believe you realize
yet what that thing is going to mean for me.''

``Well, I should think I might,'' retorted
Billy, a little tremulously, ``after all I've heard
about it. I should think _everybody_ knew you were
doing it, Bertram. Actually, I'm not sure Marie's
scrub-lady won't ask me some day how Mr.
Bertram's picture is coming on!''

``That's the dickens of it, in a way,'' sighed
Bertram, with a faint smile. ``I am amazed--
and a little frightened, I'll admit--at the universality
of the interest. You see, the Winthrops
have been pleased to spread it, for one reason or
another, and of course many already know of
the failures of Anderson and Fullam. That's
why, if I should fail--''

``But you aren't going to fail,'' interposed
the girl, resolutely.

``No, I know I'm not. I only said `if,' '' fenced
the man, his voice not quite steady.

``There isn't going to be any `if,' '' settled
Billy. ``Now tell me, when is the exhibition?''

``March twentieth--the private view. Mr.
Winthrop is not only willing, but anxious, that I
show it. I wasn't sure that he'd want me to--
in an exhibition. But it seems he does. His
daughter says he has every confidence in the
portrait and wants everybody to see it.''

``That's where he shows his good sense,''
declared Billy. Then, with just a touch of constraint,
she asked: ``And how is the new, latest pose
coming on?''

``Very well, I think,'' answered Bertram, a
little hesitatingly. ``We've had so many, many
interruptions, though, that it is surprising how
slow it is moving. In the first place, Miss
Winthrop is gone more than half the time (she goes
again to-morrow for a week!), and in this portrait
I'm not painting a stroke without my model before
me. I mean to take no chances, you see; and Miss
Winthrop is perfectly willing to give me all the
sittings I wish for. Of course, if she hadn't changed
the pose and costume so many times, it would
have been done long ago--and she knows it.''

``Of course--she knows it,'' murmured Billy,
a little faintly, but with a peculiar intonation in
her voice.

``And so you see,'' sighed Bertram, ``what the
twentieth of March is going to mean for me.''

``It's going to mean a splendid triumph!''
asserted Billy; and this time her voice was not
faint, and it carried only a ring of loyal confidence.

``You blessed comforter!'' murmured Bertram,
giving with his eyes the caress that his lips would
so much have preferred to give--under more
propitious circumstances.



The sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth of
February were, for Billy, and for all concerned
in the success of the operetta, days of hurry,
worry, and feverish excitement, as was to be
expected, of course. Each afternoon and every
evening saw rehearsals in whole, or in parts. A
friend of the Club-president's sister-in-law-a
woman whose husband was stage manager of a
Boston theatre--had consented to come and
``coach'' the performers. At her appearance
the performers--promptly thrown into nervous
spasms by this fearsome nearness to the ``real
thing''--forgot half their cues, and conducted
themselves generally like frightened school children
on ``piece day,'' much to their own and every one
else's despair. Then, on the evening of the
nineteenth, came the final dress rehearsal on the stage
of the pretty little hall that had been engaged for
the performance of the operetta.

The dress rehearsal, like most of its kind, was,
for every one, nothing but a nightmare of discord,
discouragement, and disaster. Everybody's nerves
were on edge, everybody was sure the thing would
be a ``flat failure.'' The soprano sang off the
key, the alto forgot to shriek ``Beware, beware!''
until it was so late there was nothing to beware of;
the basso stepped on Billy's trailing frock and
tore it; even the tenor, Arkwright himself, seemed
to have lost every bit of vim from his acting. The
chorus sang ``Oh, be joyful!'' with dirge-like
solemnity, and danced as if legs and feet were
made of wood. The lovers, after the fashion
of amateur actors from time immemorial, ``made
love like sticks.''

Billy, when the dismal thing had dragged its
way through the final note, sat ``down front,''
crying softly in the semi-darkness while she was
waiting for Alice Greggory to ``run it through
just once more'' with a pair of tired-faced, fluffy-
skirted fairies who could _not_ learn that a duet
meant a _duet_--not two solos, independently
hurried or retarded as one's fancy for the moment

To Billy, just then, life did not look to be even
half worth the living. Her head ached, her throat
was going-to-be-sore, her shoe hurt, and her dress
--the trailing frock that had been under the
basso's foot--could not possibly be decently
repaired before to-morrow night, she was sure.

Bad as these things were, however, they were
only the intimate, immediate woes. Beyond and
around them lay others many others. To be
sure, Bertram and happiness were supposed to
be somewhere in the dim and uncertain future;
but between her and them lay all these other
woes, chief of which was the unutterable tragedy
of to-morrow night.

It was to be a failure, of course. Billy had
calmly made up her mind to that, now. But then,
she was used to failures, she told herself. Was
she not plainly failing every day of her life to
bring about even friendship between Alice Greggory
and Arkwright? Did they not emphatically and
systematically refuse to be ``thrown together,''
either naturally, or unnaturally? And yet--
whenever again could she expect such opportunities
to further her Cause as had been hers the
past few weeks, through the operetta and its
rehearsals? Certainly, never again! It had been
a failure like all the rest; like the operetta, in

Billy did not mean that any one should know
she was crying. She supposed that all the performers
except herself and the two earth-bound
fairies by the piano with Alice Greggory were gone.
She knew that John with Peggy was probably
waiting at the door outside, and she hoped that
soon the fairies would decide to go home and go
to bed, and let other people do the same. For her
part, she did not see why they were struggling
so hard, anyway. Why needn't they go ahead
and sing their duet like two solos if they wanted
to? As if a little thing like that could make a
feather's weight of difference in the grand total
of to-morrow night's wretchedness when the final
curtain should have been rung down on their

``Miss Neilson, you aren't--crying!''
exclaimed a low voice; and Billy turned to find
Arkwright standing by her side in the dim light.

``Oh, no--yes--well, maybe I was, a little,''
stammered Billy, trying to speak very unconcernedly.
``How warm it is in here! Do you
think it's going to rain?--that is, outdoors,
of course, I mean.''

Arkwright dropped into the seat behind Billy
and leaned forward, his eyes striving to read the
girl's half-averted face. If Billy had turned,
she would have seen that Arkwright's own face
showed white and a little drawn-looking in the
feeble rays from the light by the piano. But Billy
did not turn. She kept her eyes steadily averted;
and she went on speaking--airy, inconsequential words.

``Dear me, if those girls _would_ only pull together!
But then, what's the difference? I supposed
you had gone home long ago, Mr. Arkwright.''

``Miss Neilson, you _are_ crying!'' Arkwright's
voice was low and vibrant. ``As if anything or
anybody in the world _could_ make _you_ cry! Please
--you have only to command me, and I will
sally forth at once to slay the offender.'' His
words were light, but his voice still shook with

Billy gave an hysterical little giggle. Angrily
she brushed the persistent tears from her eyes.

``All right, then; I'll dub you my Sir Knight,''
she faltered. ``But I'll warn you--you'll have
your hands full. You'll have to slay my headache,
and my throat-ache, and my shoe that hurts,
and the man who stepped on my dress, and--and
everybody in the operetta, including myself.''

``Everybody--in the operetta!'' Arkwright
did look a little startled, at this wholesale slaughter.

``Yes. Did you ever see such an awful, awful
thing as that was to-night?'' moaned the girl.

Arkwright's face relaxed.

``Oh, so _that's_ what it is!'' he laughed lightly.
``Then it's only a bogy of fear that I've got to
slay, after all; and I'll despatch that right now
with a single blow. Dress rehearsals always go
like that to-night. I've been in a dozen, and I
never yet saw one go half decent. Don't you
worry. The worse the rehearsal, the better the
performance, every time!''

Billy blinked off the tears and essayed a smile
as she retorted:

``Well, if that's so, then ours to-morrow night
ought to be a--a--''

``A corker,'' helped out Arkwright, promptly;
``and it will be, too. You poor child, you're worn
out; and no wonder! But don't worry another
bit about the operetta. Now is there anything
else I can do for you? Anything else I can slay?''

Billy laughed tremulously.

``N-no, thank you; not that you can--slay, I
fancy,'' she sighed. ``That is--not that you
_will_,'' she amended wistfully, with a sudden
remembrance of the Cause, for which he might
do so much--if he only would.

Arkwright bent a little nearer. His breath
stirred the loose, curling hair behind Billy's ear.
His eyes had flashed into sudden fire.

``But you don't know what I'd do if I could,''
he murmured unsteadily. ``If you'd let me tell
you--if you only knew the wish that has lain
closest to my heart for--''

``Miss Neilson, please,'' called the despairing
voice of one of the earth-bound fairies; ``Miss
Neilson, you _are_ there, aren't you?''

``Yes, I'm right here,'' answered Billy, wearily.
Arkwright answered, too, but not aloud--which
was wise.

``Oh dear! you're tired, I know,'' wailed the
fairy, ``but if you would please come and help
us just a minute! Could you?''

``Why, yes, of course.'' Billy rose to her feet,
still wearily.

Arkwright touched her arm. She turned and
saw his face. It was very white--so white that
her eyes widened in surprised questioning.

As if answering the unspoken words, the man
shook his head.

``I can't, now, of course,'' he said. ``But there
_is_ something I want to say--a story I want to
tell you--after to-morrow, perhaps. May I?''

To Billy, the tremor of his voice, the suffering
in his eyes, and the ``story'' he was begging to
tell could have but one interpretation: Alice
Greggory. Her face, therefore, was a glory of
tender sympathy as she reached out her hand in

``Of course you may,'' she cried. ``Come any
time after to-morrow night, please,'' she smiled
encouragingly, as she turned toward the stage.

Behind her, Arkwright stumbled twice as he
walked up the incline toward the outer door--
stumbled, not because of the semi-darkness of
the little theatre, but because of the blinding
radiance of a girl's illumined face which he had, a
moment before, read all unknowingly exactly

A little more than twenty-four hours later,
Billy Neilson, in her own room, drew a long breath
of relief. It was twelve o'clock on the night of
the twentieth, and the operetta was over.

To Billy, life was eminently worth living to-
night. Her head did not ache, her throat was not
sore, her shoe did not hurt, her dress had been
mended so successfully by Aunt Hannah, and with
such comforting celerity, that long before night
one would never have suspected the filmy thing
had known the devastating tread of any man's
foot. Better yet, the soprano had sung exactly
to key, the alto had shrieked ``Beware!'' to
thrilling purpose, Arkwright had shown all his
old charm and vim, and the chorus had been prodigies
of joyousness and marvels of lightness. Even
the lovers had lost their stiffness, while the two
earth-bound fairies of the night before had found
so amiable a meeting point that their solos sounded,
to the uninitiated, very like, indeed, a duet. The
operetta was, in short, a glorious and gratifying
success, both artistically and financially. Nor was
this all that, to Billy, made life worth the living:
Arkwright had begged permission that evening
to come up the following afternoon to tell her
his ``story''; and Billy, who was so joyously
confident that this story meant the final crowning
of her Cause with victory, had given happy consent.

Bertram was to come up in the evening, and
Billy was anticipating that, too, particularly:
it had been so long since they had known a really
free, comfortable evening together, with nothing
to interrupt. Doubtless, too, after Arkwright's
visit of the afternoon, she would be in a position
to tell Bertram the story of the suspended romance
between Arkwright and Miss Greggory, and perhaps
something, also, of her own efforts to bring
the couple together again. On the whole, life
did, indeed, look decidedly worth the living as
Billy, with a contented sigh, turned over to go
to sleep.



Promptly at the suggested hour on the day
after the operetta, Arkwright rang Billy Neilson's
doorbell. Promptly, too, Billy herself came into
the living-room to greet him.

Billy was in white to-day--a soft, creamy
white wool with a touch of black velvet at her
throat and in her hair. The man thought she
had never looked so lovely: Arkwright was still
under the spell wrought by the soft radiance of
Billy's face the two times he had mentioned his

Until the night before the operetta Arkwright
had been more than doubtful of the way that
story would be received, should he ever summon
the courage to tell it. Since then his fears had been
changed to rapturous hopes. It was very eagerly,
therefore, that he turned now to greet Billy as
she came into the room.

``Suppose we don't have any music to-day.
Suppose we give the whole time up to the story,''
she smiled brightly, as she held out her hand.

Arkwright's heart leaped; but almost at once
it throbbed with a vague uneasiness. He would
have preferred to see her blush and be a little
shy over that story. Still--there was a chance,
of course, that she did not know what the story
was. But if that were the case, what of the radiance
in her face? What of-- Finding himself
in a tangled labyrinth that led apparently only
to disappointment and disaster, Arkwright pulled
himself up with a firm hand.

``You are very kind,'' he murmured, as he
relinquished her fingers and seated himself near her.
``You are sure, then, that you wish to hear the

``Very sure,'' smiled Billy.

Arkwright hesitated. Again he longed to see
a little embarrassment in the bright face opposite.
Suddenly it came to him, however, that if Billy
knew what he was about to say, it would manifestly
not be her part to act as if she knew! With
a lighter heart, then, he began his story.

``You want it from the beginning?''

``By all means! I never dip into books, nor
peek at the ending. I don't think it's fair to
the author.''

``Then I will, indeed, begin at the beginning,''
smiled Arkwright, ``for I'm specially anxious
that you shall be--even more than `fair' to
me.'' His voice shook a little, but he hurried on.
``There's a--girl--in it; a very dear, lovely

``Of course--if it's a nice story,'' twinkled

``And--there's a man, too. It's a love story,
you see.''

``Again of course--if it's interesting.'' Billy
laughed mischievously, but she flushed a little.

``Still, the man doesn't amount to much, after
all, perhaps. I might as well own up at the
beginning--I'm the man.''

``That will do for you to say, as long as you're
telling the story,'' smiled Billy. ``We'll let it
pass for proper modesty on your part. But I
shall say--the personal touch only adds to the

Arkwright drew in his breath.

``We'll hope--it'll really be so,'' he murmured.

There was a moment's silence. Arkwright
seemed to be hesitating what to say.

``Well?'' prompted Billy, with a smile. ``We
have the hero and the heroine; now what happens
next? Do you know,'' she added, ``I have always
thought that part must bother the story-
writers--to get the couple to doing interesting
things, after they'd got them introduced.''

Arkwright sighed.

``Perhaps--on paper; but, you see, my story
has been _lived_, so far. So it's quite different.''

``Very well, then--what did happen?'' smiled

``I was trying to think--of the first thing.
You see it began with a picture, a photograph
of the girl. Mother had it. I saw it, and wanted
it, and--'' Arkwright had started to say ``and
took it.'' But he stopped with the last two words
unsaid. It was not time, yet, he deemed, to tell
this girl how much that picture had been to him
for so many months past. He hurried on a little
precipitately. ``You see, I had heard about this
girl a lot; and I liked--what I heard.''

``You mean--you didn't know her--at the
first?'' Billy's eyes were surprised. Billy had
supposed that Arkwright had always known Alice

``No, I didn't know the girl--till afterwards.
Before that I was always dreaming and wondering
what she would be like.''

``Oh!'' Billy subsided into her chair, still
with the puzzled questioning in her eyes.

``Then I met her.''


``And she was everything and more than I had
pictured her.''

``And you fell in love at once?'' Billy's voice
had grown confident again.

``Oh, I was already in love,'' sighed Arkwright.
``I simply sank deeper.''

``Oh-h!'' breathed Billy, sympathetically.
``And the girl?''

``She didn't care--or know--for a long time.
I'm not really sure she cares--or knows--even
now.'' Arkwright's eyes were wistfully fixed on
Billy's face.

``Oh, but you can't tell, always, about girls,''
murmured Billy, hurriedly. A faint pink had
stolen to her forehead. She was thinking of Alice
Greggory, and wondering if, indeed, Alice did
care; and if she, Billy, might dare to assure this
man--what she believed to be true--that his
sweetheart was only waiting for him to come to
her and tell her that he loved her.

Arkwright saw the color sweep to Billy's forehead,
and took sudden courage. He leaned forward
eagerly. A tender light came to his eyes.
The expression on his face was unmistakable.

``Billy, do you mean, really, that there is--
hope for me?'' he begged brokenly.

Billy gave a visible start. A quick something
like shocked terror came to her eyes. She drew
back and would have risen to her feet had the
thought not come to her that twice before she had
supposed a man was making love to her, when
subsequent events proved that she had been
mortifyingly mistaken: once when Cyril had told her of
his love for Marie; and again when William had
asked her to come back as a daughter to the house
she had left desolate.

Telling herself sternly now not to be for the third
time a ``foolish little simpleton,'' she summoned
all her wits, forced a cheery smile to her lips,
and said:

``Well, really, Mr. Arkwright, of course I
can't answer for the girl, so I'm not the one to
give hope; and--''

``But you are the one,'' interrupted the man,
passionately. ``You're the only one! As if from
the very first I hadn't loved you, and--''

``No, no, not that--not that! I'm mistaken!
I'm not understanding what you mean,'' pleaded
a horror-stricken voice. Billy was on her feet
now, holding up two protesting hands, palms outward.

``Miss Neilson, you don't mean--that you
haven't known--all this time--that it was
you?'' The man, now, was on his feet, his eyes
hurt and unbelieving, looking into hers.

Billy paled. She began slowly to back away.
Her eyes, still fixed on his, carried the shrinking
terror of one who sees a horrid vision.

``But you know--you _must_ know that I am
not yours to win!'' she reproached him sharply.
``I'm to be Bertram Henshaw's--_wife_.'' From
Billy's shocked young lips the word dropped with
a ringing force that was at once accusatory and
prohibitive. It was as if, by the mere utterance
of the word, wife, she had drawn a sacred circle
about her and placed herself in sanctuary.

From the blazing accusation in her eyes
Arkwright fell back.

``Wife! You are to be Bertram Henshaw's
wife!'' he exclaimed. There was no mistaking
the amazed incredulity on his face.

Billy caught her breath. The righteous
indignation in her eyes fled, and a terrified appeal
took its place.

``You don't mean that you _didn't--know?_''
she faltered.

There was a moment's silence. A power quite
outside herself kept Billy's eyes on Arkwright's
face, and forced her to watch the change there
from unbelief to belief, and from belief to set

``No, I did not know,'' said the man then,
dully, as he turned, rested his arm on the mantel
behind him, and half shielded his face with his

Billy sank into a low chair. Her fingers fluttered
nervously to her throat. Her piteous, beseeching
eyes were on the broad back and bent head of
the man before her.

``But I--I don't see how you could have
helped--knowing,'' she stammered at last. ``I
don't see how such a thing could have happened
that you shouldn't know!''

``I've been trying to think, myself,'' returned
the man, still in a dull, emotionless voice.

``It's been so--so much a matter of course.
I supposed everybody knew it,'' maintained

``Perhaps that's just it--that it was--so much
a matter of course,'' rejoined the man. ``You
see, I know very few of your friends, anyway--
who would be apt to mention it to me.''

``But the announcements--oh, you weren't
here then,'' moaned Billy. ``But you must have
known that--that he came here a good deal--
that we were together so much!''

``To a certain extent, yes,'' sighed Arkwright.
``But I took your friendship with him and his
brothers as--as a matter of course. _That_ was
_my_ `matter of course,' you see,'' he went on
bitterly. ``I knew you were Mr. William
Henshaw's namesake, and Calderwell had told me
the story of your coming to them when you were
left alone in the world. Calderwell had said, too,
that--'' Arkwright paused, then hurried on a
little constrainedly--``well, he said something
that led me to think Mr. Bertram Henshaw was
not a marrying man, anyway.''

Billy winced and changed color. She had
noticed the pause, and she knew very well what
it was that Calderwell had said to occasion that
pause. Must _always_ she be reminded that no one
expected Bertram Henshaw to love any girl--
except to paint?

``But--but Mr. Calderwell must know about
the engagement--now,'' she stammered.

``Very likely, but I have not happened to
hear from him since my arrival in Boston. We
do not correspond.''

There was a long silence, then Arkwright spoke

``I think I understand now--many things.
I wonder I did not see them before; but I never
thought of Bertram Henshaw's being-- If
Calderwell hadn't said--'' Again Arkwright
stopped with his sentence half complete, and again
Billy winced. ``I've been a blind fool. I was
so intent on my own-- I've been a blind fool;
that's all,'' repeated Arkwright, with a break
in his voice.

Billy tried to speak, but instead of words,
there came only a choking sob.

Arkwright turned sharply.

``Miss Neilson, don't--please,'' he begged.
``There is no need that you should suffer--too.''

``But I am so ashamed that such a thing _could_
happen,'' she faltered. ``I'm sure, some way, I
must be to blame. But I never thought. I was
blind, too. I was wrapped up in my own affairs.
I never suspected. I never even _thought_ to
suspect! I thought of course you knew. It was
just the music that brought us together, I
supposed; and you were just like one of the family,
anyway. I always thought of you as Aunt Hannah's--''
She stopped with a vivid blush.

``As Aunt Hannah's niece, Mary Jane, of
course,'' supplied Arkwright, bitterly, turning back
to his old position. ``And that was my own fault,
too. My name, Miss Neilson, is Michael Jeremiah,''
he went on wearily, after a moment's
hesitation, his voice showing his utter abandonment
to despair. ``When a boy at school I got
heartily sick of the `Mike' and the `Jerry' and
the even worse `Tom and Jerry' that my young
friends delighted in; so as soon as possible I
sought obscurity and peace in `M. J.' Much
to my surprise and annoyance the initials proved
to be little better, for they became at once the
biggest sort of whet to people's curiosity. Naturally,
the more determined persistent inquirers
were to know the name, the more determined I
became that they shouldn't. All very silly and
very foolish, of course. Certainly it seems so
now,'' he finished.

Billy was silent. She was trying to find
something, _anything_, to say, when Arkwright began
speaking again, still in that dull, hopeless voice
that Billy thought would break her heart.

``As for the `Mary Jane'--that was another
foolishness, of course. My small brothers and
sisters originated it; others followed, on occasion,
even Calderwell. Perhaps you did not know, but
he was the friend who, by his laughing question,
`Why don't you, Mary Jane?' put into my head
the crazy scheme of writing to Aunt Hannah and
letting her think I was a real Mary Jane. You
see what I stooped to do, Miss Neilson, for the
chance of meeting and knowing you.''

Billy gave a low cry. She had suddenly
remembered the beginning of Arkwright's story. For
the first time she realized that he had been talking
then about herself, not Alice Greggory.

``But you don't mean that you--cared--
that I was the--'' She could not finish.

Arkwright turned from the mantel with a
gesture of utter despair.

``Yes, I cared then. I had heard of you. I
had sung your songs. I was determined to meet
you. So I came--and met you. After that
I was more determined than ever to win you. Perhaps
you see, now, why I was so blind to--to
any other possibility. But it doesn't do any
good--to talk like this. I understand now. Only,
please, don't blame yourself,'' he begged as he
saw her eyes fill with tears. The next moment he
was gone.

Billy had turned away and was crying softly,
so she did not see him go.



Bertram called that evening. Billy had no
story now to tell--nothing of the interrupted
romance between Alice Greggory and Arkwright.
Billy carefully, indeed, avoided mentioning
Arkwright's name.

Ever since the man's departure that afternoon,
Billy had been frantically trying to assure herself
that she was not to blame; that she would not
be supposed to know he cared for her; that it
had all been as he said it was--his foolish
blindness. But even when she had partially comforted
herself by these assertions, she could not by any
means escape the haunting vision of the man's
stern-set, suffering face as she had seen it that
afternoon; nor could she keep from weeping at
the memory of the words he had said, and at
the thought that never again could their pleasant
friendship be quite the same--if, indeed, there
could be any friendship at all between them.

But if Billy expected that her red eyes, pale
cheeks, and generally troubled appearance and
unquiet manner were to be passed unnoticed by
her lover's keen eyes that evening, she found
herself much mistaken.

``Sweetheart, what _is_ the matter?'' demanded
Bertram resolutely, at last, when his more
indirect questions had been evasively turned aside.
``You can't make me think there isn't something
the trouble, because I know there is!''

``Well, then, there is, dear,'' smiled Billy,
tearfully; ``but please just don't let us talk of
it. I--I want to forget it. Truly I do.''

``But I want to know so _I_ can forget it,''
persisted Bertram. ``What is it? Maybe I could

She shook her head with a little frightened

``No, no--you can't help--really.''

``But, sweetheart, you don't know. Perhaps
I could. Won't you _tell_ me about it?''

Billy looked distressed.

``I can't, dear--truly. You see, it isn't
quite mine--to tell.''

``Not yours!''


``But it makes you feel bad?''


``Then can't I know that part?''

``Oh, no--no, indeed, no! You see--it
wouldn't be fair--to the other.''

Bertram stared a little. Then his mouth set
into stern lines.

``Billy, what are you talking about? Seems
to me I have a right to know.''

Billy hesitated. To her mind, a girl who would
tell of the unrequited love of a man for herself,
was unspeakably base. To tell Bertram
Arkwright's love story was therefore impossible.
Yet, in some way, she must set Bertram's mind
at rest.

``Dearest,'' she began slowly, her eyes wistfully
pleading, ``just what it is, I can't tell you. In
a way it's another's secret, and I don't feel that
I have the right to tell it. It's just something
that I learned this afternoon.''

``But it has made you cry!''

``Yes. It made me feel very unhappy.''

``Then--it was something you couldn't help?''

To Bertram's surprise, the face he was watching
so intently flushed scarlet.

``No, I couldn't help it--now; though I
might have--once.'' Billy spoke this last just
above her breath. Then she went on, beseechingly:
``Bertram, please, please don't talk of it any more.
It--it's just spoiling our happy evening together!''

Bertram bit his lip, and drew a long sigh.

``All right, dear; you know best, of course--
since I don't know _anything_ about it,'' he finished

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