Chapter I. Billy Writes a Letter

Billy Neilson was eighteen years old when the aunt, who had brought her up from babyhood, died. Miss Benton's death left Billy quite alone in the world--alone, and peculiarly forlorn. To Mr. James Harding, of Harding & Harding, who had charge of Billy's not inconsiderable property, the girl poured out her heart in all its loneliness two days after the funeral.

"You see, Mr. Harding, there isn't any one--not any one who-- cares," she choked.

"Tut, tut, my child, it's not so bad as that, surely," remonstrated the old man, gently. "Why, I--I care."

Billy smiled through tear-wet eyes.

"But I can't live with you," she said.

"I'm not so sure of that, either," retorted the man. "I'm thinking that Letty and Ann would like to have you with us."

The girl laughed now outright. She was thinking of Miss Letty, who had "nerves," and of Miss Ann, who had a "heart"; and she pictured her own young, breezy, healthy self attempting to conform to the hushed and shaded thing that life was, within Lawyer Harding's home.

"Thank you, but I'm sure they wouldn't," she objected. "You don't know how noisy I am."

The lawyer stirred restlessly and pondered.

"But, surely, my dear, isn't there some relative, somewhere?" he demanded. "How about your mother's people?"

Billy shook her head. Her eyes filled again with tears.

There was only Aunt Ella, ever, that I knew anything about. She and mother were the only children there were, and mother died when I was a year old, you know."

"But your father's people?"

"It's even worse there. He was an only child and an orphan when mother married him. He died when I was but six months old. After that there was only mother and Aunt Ella, then Aunt Ella alone; and now--no one."

"And you know nothing of your father's people?"

"Nothing; that is--almost nothing."

"Then there is some one?"

Billy smiled. A deeper pink showed in her cheeks.

"Why, there's one--a man but he isn't really father's people, anyway. But I--I have been tempted to write to him."

"Who is he?"

"The one I'm named for. He was father's boyhood chum. You see that's why I'm 'Billy' instead of being a proper 'Susie,' or 'Bessie,' or 'Sally Jane.' Father had made up his mind to name his baby 'William' after his chum, and when I came, Aunt Ella said, he was quite broken-hearted until somebody hit upon the idea of naming me Billy.' Then he was content, for it seems that he always called his chum 'Billy' anyhow. And so--'Billy' I am to-day."

"Do you know this man?"

"No. You see father died, and mother and Aunt Ella knew him only very slightly. Mother knew his wife, though, Aunt Ella said, and she was lovely."

"Hm--; well, we might look them up, perhaps. You know his address?"

"Oh, yes unless he's moved. We've always kept that. Aunt Ella used to say sometimes that she was going to write to him some day about me, you know."

"What's his name?"

"William Henshaw. He lives in Boston."

Lawyer Harding snatched off his glasses, and leaned forward in his chair.

"William Henshaw! Not the Beacon Street Henshaws!" he cried.

It was Billy's turn to be excited. She, too, leaned forward eagerly.

"Oh, do you know him? That's lovely! And his address is Beacon Street! I know because I saw it only to-day. You see, I have been tempted to write him."

"Write him? Of course you'll write him," cried the lawyer. "And we don't need to do much 'looking up' there, child. I've known the family for years, and this William was a college mate of my boy's. Nice fellow, too. I've heard Ned speak of him. There were three sons, William, and two others much younger than he. I've forgotten their names."

"Then you do know him! I'm so glad," exclaimed Billy. "You see, he never seemed to me quite real."

"I know about him," corrected the lawyer, smilingly, "though I'll confess I've rather lost track of him lately. Ned will know. I'll ask Ned. Now go home, my dear, and dry those pretty eyes of yours. Or, better still, come home with me to tea. I--I'll telephone up to the house." And he rose stiffly and went into the inner office.

Some minutes passed before he came back, red of face, and plainly distressed.

"My dear child, I--I'm sorry, but--but I'll have to take back that invitation," he blurted out miserably. "My sisters are--are not well this afternoon. Ann has been having a turn with her heart-- you know Ann's heart is--is bad; and Letty--Letty is always nervous at such times--very nervous. Er--I'm so sorry! But you'll--excuse it?"

"Indeed I will," smiled Billy, "and thank you just the same; only"-- her eyes twinkled mischievously--"you don't mind if I do say that it is lucky that we hadn't gone on planning to have me live with them, Mr. Harding!"

"Eh? Well--er, I think your plan about the Henshaws is very good," he interposed hurriedly. "I'll speak to Ned--I'll speak to Ned," he finished, as he ceremoniously bowed the girl from the office.

James Harding kept his word, and spoke to his son that night; but there was little, after all, that Ned could tell him. Yes, he remembered Billy Henshaw well, but he had not heard of him for years, since Henshaw's marriage, in fact. He must be forty years old, Ned said; but he was a fine fellow, an exceptionally fine fellow, and would be sure to deal kindly and wisely by his little orphan namesake; of that Ned was very sure.

"That's good. I'll write him," declared Mr. James Harding. "I'll write him tomorrow."

He did write--but not so soon as Billy wrote; for even as he spoke, Billy, in her lonely little room at the other end of the town, was laying bare all her homesickness in four long pages to "Dear Uncle William."