Chapter XIII. A Surprise All Around

May came, and with it warm sunny days. There was a little balcony at the rear of the second floor, and on this Mrs. Stetson and Billy sat many a morning and sewed. There were occupations that Billy liked better than sewing; but she was dutiful, and she was really fond of Aunt Hannah; so she accepted as gracefully as possible that good lady's dictum that a woman who could not sew, and sew well, was no lady at all.

One of the things that Billy liked to do so much better than to sew was to play on Cyril's piano. She was very careful, however, that Mr. Cyril himself did not find this out. Cyril was frequently gone from the house, and almost as frequently Aunt Hannah took naps. At such times it was very easy to slip up-stairs to Cyril's rooms, and once at the piano, Billy forgot everything else.

One day, however, the inevitable happened: Cyril came home unexpectedly. The man heard the piano from William's floor, and with a surprised ejaculation he hurried upstairs two steps at a time. At the door he stopped in amazement.

Billy was at the piano, but she was not playing "rag-time," "The Storm," nor yet "The Maiden's Prayer." There was no music before her, but under her fingers "big bass notes" very much like Cyril's own, were marching on and on to victory. Billy's face was rapturously intent and happy.

"By Jove--Billy!" gasped the man.

Billy leaped to her feet and whirled around guiltily.

"Oh, Mr. Cyril--I'm so sorry!"

"Sorry!--and you play like that!"

"No, no; I'm not sorry I played. It's because you--found me."

Billy's cheeks were a shamed red, but her eyes were defiantly brilliant, and her chin was at a rebellious tilt. "I wasn't doing any--harm; not if you weren't here--with your nerves!"

The man laughed and came slowly into the room.

"Billy, who taught you to play?"

"No one. I can't play. I can only pick out little bits of things in C."

"But you do play. I just heard you."

Billy shrugged her shoulders.

"That was nothing. It was only what I had heard. I was trying to make it sound like--yours."

"And, by George! you succeeded," muttered Cyril under his breath; then aloud he asked: "Didn't you ever study music?"

Billy's eyes dimmed.

"No. That was the only thing Aunt Ella and I didn't think alike about. She had an old square piano, all tin-panny and thin, you know. I played some on it, and wanted to take lessons; but I didn't want to practise on that. I wanted a new one. That's what she wouldn't do--get me a new piano, or let me do it. She said she practised on that piano, and that it was quite good enough for me, especially to learn on. I--I'm afraid I got stuffy. I hated that piano so! But I was almost ready to give in when--when Aunt Ella died."

"And all you play then is just by ear?"

"By--ear? I suppose so--if you mean what I hear. Easy things I can play quick, but--but those chords are hard; they skip around so!"

Cyril smiled oddly.

"I should say so," he agreed. "But perhaps there is something else that I play--that you like. Is there?"

"Oh, yes. Now there's that little thing that swings and sways like this," cried Billy, dropping herself on to the piano stool and whisking about. Billy was not afraid now, nor defiant. She was only eager and happy again. In a moment a dreamy waltz fell upon Cyril's ears--a waltz that he often played himself. It was not played correctly, it is true. There were notes, and sometimes whole measures, that were very different from the printed music. But the tune, the rhythm, and the spirit were there.

"And there's this," said Billy; "and this," she went on, sliding into one little strain after another--all of which were recognized by the amazed man at her side.

"Billy," he cried, when she had finished and whirled upon him again, "Billy, would you like to learn to play--really play from notes?"

"Oh, wouldn't I!"

"Then you shall! We'll have a piano tomorrow in your rooms for you to practise on. And--I'll teach you myself."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Cyril--you don't know how I thank you!" exulted Billy, as she danced from the room to tell Aunt Hannah of this great and good thing that had come into her life.

To Billy, this promise of Cyril's to be her teacher was very kind, very delightful; but it was not in the least a thing at which to marvel. To Bertram, however, it most certainly was.

"Well, guess what's happened," he said to William that night, after he had heard the news. "I'll believe anything now--anything: that you'll raffle off your collection of teapots at the next church fair, or that I shall go to Egypt as a 'Cooky' guide. Listen; Cyril is going to give piano lessons to Billy!--Cyril!"