Chapter XI. Bertram Has Visitors
 

Spunk did not change his name; but that was perhaps the only thing that did not meet with some sort of change during the weeks that immediately followed Billy's arrival. Given a house, five men, and an ironbound routine of life, and it is scarcely necessary to say that the advent of a somewhat fussy elderly woman, an impulsive young girl, and a very-much-alive small cat will make some difference. As to Spunk's name--it was not Mrs. Stetson's fault that even that was left undisturbed.

Mrs. Stetson early became acquainted with Spunk. She was introduced to him, indeed, on the night of her arrival--though fortunately not at table: William had seen to it that Spunk did not appear at dinner, though to accomplish this the man had been obliged to face the amazed and grieved indignation of the kitten's mistress.

"But I don't see how any one can object to a nice clean little cat at the table," Billy had remonstrated tearfully.

"I know; but--er--they do, sometimes," William had stammered; "and this is one of the times. Aunt Hannah would never stand for it-- never!"

"Oh, but she doesn't know Spunk," Billy had observed then, hopefully. "You just wait until she knows him."

Mrs. Stetson began to "know" Spunk the next day. The immediate source of her knowledge was the discovery that Spunk had found her ball of black knitting yarn, and had delightedly captured it. Not that he was content to let it remain where it was--indeed, no. He rolled it down the stairs, batted it through the hall to the drawing-room, and then proceeded to 'chasse' with it in and out among the legs of various chairs and tables, ending in one grand whirl that wound the yarn round and round his small body, and keeled him over half upon his back. There he blissfully went to sleep.

Billy found him after a gleeful following of the slender woollen trail. Mrs. Stetson was with her--but she was not gleeful.

"Oh, Aunt Hannah, Aunt Hannah," gurgled Billy, "isn't he just too cute for anything?"

Aunt Hannah shook her head.

"I must confess I don't see it," she declared. "My dear, just look at that hopeless snarl!"

"Oh, but it isn't hopeless at all," laughed Billy. "It's like one of those strings they unwind at parties with a present at the end of it. And Spunk is the present," she added, when she had extricated the small gray cat. "And you shall hold him," she finished, graciously entrusting the sleepy kitten to Mrs. Stetson's unwilling arms.

"But, I--it--I can't--Billy! I don't like that name," blurted out the indignant little lady with as much warmth as she ever allowed herself to show. "It must be changed to--to 'Thomas.'"

"Changed? Spunk's name changed?" demanded Billy, in a horrified voice. "Why, Aunt Hannah, it can't be changed; it's his, you know." Then she laughed merrily. "'Thomas,' indeed! Why, you old dear!--just suppose I should ask you to change your name! Now I like 'Helen Clarabella' lots better than 'Hannah,' but I'm not going to ask you to change that--and I'm going to love you just as well, even if you are 'Hannah'--see if I don't! And you'll love Spunk, too, I'm sure you will. Now watch me find the end of this snarl!" And she danced over to the dumbfounded little lady in the big chair, gave her an affectionate kiss, and then attacked the tangled mass of black with skilful fingers.

"But, I--you--oh, my grief and conscience!" finished the little woman whose name was not Helen Clarabella.--"Oh, my grief and conscience," according to Bertram, was Aunt Hannah's deadliest swear-word.

In Aunt Hannah's black silk lap Spunk stretched luxuriously, and blinked sleepy eyes; then with a long purr of content he curled himself for another nap--still Spunk.

It was some time after luncheon that day that Bertram heard a knock at his studio door. Bertram was busy. His particular pet "Face of a Girl" was to be submitted soon to the judges of a forthcoming Art Exhibition, and it was not yet finished. He was trying to make up now for the many hours lost during the last few days; and even Bertram, at times, did not like interruptions. His model had gone, but he was still working rapidly when the knock came. His tone was not quite cordial when he answered.

"Well?"

"It's I--Spunk and I. May we come in?" called a confident voice.

Bertram said a sharp word behind his teeth--but he opened the door.

"Of course! I was--painting," he announced.

"How lovely! And I'll watch you. Oh, my--what a pretty room!"

"I'm glad you like it."

"Indeed I do; I like it ever so much. I shall stay here lots, I know."

"Oh, you--will!" For once even Bertram's ready tongue failed to find fitting response.

"Yes. Now paint. I want to see you. Aunt Hannah has gone out anyway, and I'm lonesome. I think I'll stay."

"But I can't--that is, I'm not used to spectators."

"Of course you aren't, you poor old lonesomeness! But it isn't going to be that way, any more, you know, now that I've come. I sha'n't let you be lonesome."

"I could swear to that," declared the man, with sudden fervor; and for Billy's peace of mind it was just as well, perhaps, that she did not know the exact source of that fervency.

"Now paint," commanded Billy again.

Because he did not know what else to do, Bertram picked up a brush; but he did not paint. The first stroke of his brush against the canvas was to Spunk a challenge; and Spunk never refused a challenge. With a bound he was on Bertram's knee, gleeful paw outstretched, batting at the end of the brush.

"Tut, tut--no, no--naughty Spunk! Say, but wasn't that cute?" chuckled Billy. "Do it again!"

The artist gave an exasperated sigh.

"My dear girl," he protested, "cruel as it may seem to you, this picture is not a kindergarten game for the edification of small cats. I must politely ask Spunk to desist."

"But he won't!" laughed Billy. "Never mind; we will take it some day when he's asleep. Let's not paint any more, anyhow. I've come to see your rooms." And she sprang blithely to her feet. "Dear, dear, what a lot of faces!--and all girls, too! How funny! Why don't you paint other things? Still, they are rather nice."

"Thank you," accepted Bertram; dryly.

Bertram did not paint any more that afternoon. Billy found much to interest her, and she asked numberless questions. She was greatly excited when she understood the full significance of the omnipresent "Face of a Girl"; and she graciously offered to pose herself for the artist. She spent, indeed, quite half an hour turning her head from side to side, and demanding "Now how's that?-- and that?" Tiring at last of this, she suggested Spunk as a substitute, remarking that, after all, cats--pretty cats like Spunk--were even nicer to paint than girls.

She rescued Spunk then from the paint-box where he had been holding high carnival with Bertram's tubes of paint, and demanded if Bertram ever saw a more delightful, more entrancing, more altogether-to-be-desired model. She was so artless, so merry, so frankly charmed with it all that Bertram could not find it in his heart to be angry, notwithstanding his annoyance. But when at four o'clock, she took herself and her cat cheerily up-stairs, he lifted his hands in despair.

"Great Scott!" he groaned. "If this is a sample of what's coming-- I'm going, that's all!"