Chapter XII. Cyril Takes His Turn
 

Billy had been a member of the Beacon Street household a week before she repeated her visit to Cyril at the top of the house. This time Bertram was not with her. She went alone. Even Spunk was left behind--Billy remembered her prospective host's aversion to cats.

Billy did not feel that she knew Cyril very well. She had tried several times to chat with him; but she had made so little headway, that she finally came to the conclusion--privately expressed to Bertram--that Mr. Cyril was bashful. Bertram had only laughed. He had laughed the harder because at that moment he could hear Cyril pounding out his angry annoyance on the piano upstairs--Cyril had just escaped from one of Billy's most determined "attempts," and Bertram knew it. Bertram's laugh had puzzled Billy--and it had not quite pleased her. Hence to-day she did not tell him of her plan to go up-stairs and see what she could do herself, alone, to combat this "foolish bashfulness" on the part of Mr. Cyril Henshaw.

In spite of her bravery, Billy waited quite one whole minute at the top of the stairs before she had the courage to knock at Cyril's door.

The door was opened at once.

"Why--Billy!" cried the man in surprise.

"Yes, it's Billy. I--I came up to--to get acquainted," she smiled winningly.

"Why, er--you are very kind. Will you--come in?"

"Thank you; yes. You see, I didn't bring Spunk. I--remembered."

Cyril bowed gravely.

"You are very kind--again," he said.

Billy fidgeted in her chair. To her mind she was not "getting on" at all. She determined on a bold stroke.

"You see, I thought if--if I should come up here, where there wouldn't be so many around, we might get acquainted," she confided; "then I would get to like you just as well as I do the others."

At the odd look that came into the man's face, the girl realized suddenly what she had said. Her cheeks flushed a confused red.

"Oh, dear! That is, I mean--I like you, of course," she floundered miserably; then she broke off with a frank laugh. "There! you see I never could get out of anything. I might as well own right up. I don't like you as well as I do Uncle William and Mr. Bertram. So there!"

Cyril laughed. For the first time since he had seen Billy, something that was very like interest came into his eyes.

"Oh, you don't," he retorted. "Now that is--er--very unkind of you."

Billy shook her head.

"You don't say that as if you meant it," she accused him, her eyes gravely studying his face. "Now I'M in earnest. I really want to like you!"

"Thank you. Then perhaps you won't mind telling me why you don't like me," he suggested.

Again Billy flushed.

"Why, I--I just don't; that's all," she faltered. Then she cried aggrievedly: "There, now! you've made me be impolite; and I didn't mean to be, truly."

"Of course not," assented the man; "and it wasn't impolite, because I asked you for the information, you know. I may conclude then," he went on with an odd twinkle in his eyes, "that I am merely classed with tripe and rainy days."

"With--wha-at?"

"Tripe and rainy days. Those are the only things, if I remember rightly, that you don't like."

The girl stared; then she chuckled.

"There! I knew I'd like you better if you'd only say something," she beamed. "But let's not talk any more about that. Play to me; won't you? You know you promised me 'The Maiden's Prayer.'"

Cyril stiffened.

"Pardon me, but you must be mistaken," he replied coldly. "I do not play 'The Maiden's Prayer.'"

"Oh, what a shame! And I do so love it! But you play other things; I've heard you a little, and Mr. Bertram says you do--in concerts and things."

"Does he?" murmured Cyril, with a slight lifting of his eyebrows.

"There! Now off you go again all silent and horrid!" chaffed Billy. "What have I said now? Mr. Cyril--do you know what I think? I believe you've got nerves!" Billy's voice was so tragic that the man could but laugh.

"Perhaps I have, Miss Billy."

"Like Miss Letty's?"

"I'm not acquainted with the lady."

"Gee! wouldn't you two make a pair!" chuckled Billy unexpectedly. "No; but, really, I mean--do you want people to walk on tiptoe and speak in whispers?"

"Sometimes, perhaps."

The girl sprang to her feet--but she sighed.

"Then I'm going. This might be one of the times, you know." She hesitated, then walked to the piano. "My, wouldn't I like to play on that!" she breathed.

Cyril shuddered. Cyril could imagine what Billy would play--and Cyril did not like "rag-time," nor "The Storm."

"Oh, do you play?" he asked constrainedly.

Billy shook her head.

"Not much. Only little bits of things, you know," she said wistfully, as she turned toward the door.

For some minutes after she had gone, Cyril stood where she had left him, his eyes moody and troubled.

"I suppose I might have played--something," he muttered at last; "but--'The Maiden's Prayer'!--good heavens!"

Billy was a little shy with Cyril when he came down to dinner that night. For the next few days, indeed, she held herself very obviously aloof from him. Cyril caught himself wondering once if she were afraid of his "nerves." He did not try to find out, however; he was too emphatically content that of her own accord she seemed to be leaving him in peace.

It must have been a week after Billy's visit to the top of the house that Cyril stopped his playing very abruptly one day, and opened his door to go down-stairs. At the first step he started back in amazement.

"Why, Billy!" he ejaculated.

The girl was sitting very near the top of the stairway. At his appearance she got to her feet shamefacedly.

"Why, Billy, what in the world are you doing there?"

"Listening."

"Listening!"

"Yes. Do you mind?"

The man did not answer. He was too surprised to find words at once, and he was trying to recollect what he had been playing.

"You see, listening to music this way isn't like listening to--to talking," hurried on Billy, feverishly. "It isn't sneaking like that; is it?"

"Why--no."

"And you don't mind?"

"Why, surely, I ought not to mind--that," he admitted.

"Then I can keep right on as I have done. Thank you," sighed Billy, in relief.

"Keep right on! Have you been here before?"

"Why, yes, lots of days. And, say, Mr. Cyril, what is that--that thing that's all chords with big bass notes that keep saying something so fine and splendid that it marches on and on, getting bigger and grander, just as if there couldn't anything stop it, until it all ends in one great burst of triumph? Mr. Cyril, what is that?"

"Why, Billy!"--the interest this time in the man's face was not faint--"I wish I might make others catch my meaning as I have evidently made you do it! That's something of my own--that I'm writing, you understand; and I've tried to say--just what you say you heard."

"And I did hear it--I did! Oh, won't you play it, please, with the door open?"

"I can't, Billy. I'm sorry, indeed I am. But I've an appointment, and I'm late now. You shall hear it, though, I promise you, and with the door wide open," continued the man, as, with a murmured apology, he passed the girl and hurried down the stairs.

Billy waited until she heard the outer hall door shut; then very softly she crept through Cyril's open doorway, and crossed the room to the piano.