Chapter XV. What Bertram Calls "The Limit"
 

At half past ten o'clock on the evening following Mrs. Stetson's very plain talk with William, the telephone bell at the Beacon Street house rang sharply. Pete answered it.

"Well?"--Pete never said "hello."

"Hello. Is that you, Pete?" called Billy's voice agitatedly. "Is Uncle William there?"

"No, Miss Billy."

"Oh dear! Well, Mr. Cyril, then?"

"He's out, too, Miss Billy. And Mr. Bertram--they're all out."

"Yes, yes, I know he's out," almost sobbed Billy. "Dear, dear, what shall I do! Pete, you'll have to come. There isn't any other way!"

"Yes, Miss; where?" Pete's voice was dubious, but respectful.

"To the Boylston Street subway--on the Common, you know--North- bound side. I'll wait for you--but hurry! You see, I'm all alone here."

"Alone! Miss Billy--in the subway at this time of night! But, Miss Billy, you shouldn't--you can't--you mustn't--"stuttered the old man in helpless horror.

"Yes, yes, Pete, but never mind; I am here! And I should think if 'twas such a dreadful thing you would hurry fast to get here, so I wouldn't be alone," appealed Billy.

With an inarticulate cry Pete jerked the receiver on to the hook, and stumbled away from the telephone. Five minutes later he had left the house and was hurrying through the Common to the Boylston Street subway station.

Billy, a long cloak thrown over her white dress, was waiting for him. Her white slippers tapped the platform nervously, and her hair, under the light scarf of lace, fluffed into little broken curls as if it had been blown by the wind.

"Miss Billy, Miss Billy, what can this mean?" gasped the man. "Where is Mrs. Stetson?"

"At Mrs. Hartwell's--you know she is giving a reception to-night. But come, we must hurry! I'm after Mr. Bertram."

"After Mr. Bertram!"

"Yes, yes."

"Alone?--like this?"

"But I'm not alone now; I have you. Don't you see?"

At the blank stupefaction in the man's face, the girl sighed impatiently.

"Dear me! I suppose I'll have to explain; but we're losing time-- and we mustn't--we mustn't!" she cried feverishly. "Listen then, quick. It was at Mrs. Hartwell's tonight. I'd been watching Mr. Bertram. He was with that horrid Mr. Seaver, and I never liked him, never! I overheard something they said, about some place they were going to, and I didn't like what Mr. Seaver said. I tried to speak to Mr. Bertram, but I didn't get a chance; and the next thing I knew he'd gone with that Seaver man! I saw them just in time to snatch my cloak and follow them."

"Follow them! Miss Billy!"

"I had to, Pete; don't you see? There was no one else. Mr. Cyril and Uncle William had gone--home, I supposed. I sent back word by the maid to Aunt Hannah that I'd gone ahead; you know the carriage was ordered for eleven; but I'm afraid she won't have sense to tell Aunt Hannah, she looked so dazed and frightened when I told her. But I couldn't wait to say more. Well, I hurried out and caught up with Mr. Bertram just as they were crossing Arlington Street to the Garden. I'd heard them say they were going to walk, so I knew I could do it. But, Pete, after I got there, I didn't dare to speak-- I didn't dare to! So I just--followed. They went straight through the Garden and across the Common to Tremont Street, and on and on until they stopped and went down some stairs, all marble and lights and mirrors. 'Twas a restaurant, I think. I saw just where it was, then I flew back here to telephone for Uncle William. I knew he could do something. But--well, you know the rest. I had to take you. Now come, quick; I'll show you."

"But, Miss Billy, I can't! You mustn't; it's impossible," chattered old Pete. "Come, let me take ye home, Miss Billy, do!"

"Home--and leave Mr. Bertram with that Seaver man? No, no!"

"What can ye do?"

"Do? I can get him to come home with me, of course."

The old man made a despairing gesture and looked about him as if for help. He saw then the curious, questioning eyes on all sides; and with a quick change of manner, he touched Miss Billy's arm.

"Yes; we'll go. Come," he apparently agreed. But once outside on the broad expanse before the Subway entrance he stopped again. "Miss Billy, please come home," he implored. "Ye don't know--ye can't know what yer a-doin'!"

The girl tossed her head. She was angry now.

"Pete, if you will not go with me I shall go alone. I am not afraid."

"But the hour--the place--you, a young girl! Miss Billy!" remonstrated the old man agitatedly.

"It isn't so very late. I've been out lots of times later than this at home. And as for the place, it's all light and bright, and lots of people were going in--ladies and gentlemen. Nothing could hurt me, Pete, and I shall go; but I'd rather you were with me. Why, Pete, we mustn't leave him. He isn't--he isn't himself, Pete. He--he's been drinking!" Billy's voice broke, and her face flushed scarlet. She was almost crying. "Come, you won't refuse now!" she finished, resolutely turning toward the street.

And because old Pete could not pick her up bodily and carry her home, he followed close at her heels. At the head of the marble stairs "all lights and mirrors," however, he made one last plea.

"Miss Billy, once more I beg of ye, won't ye come home? Ye don't know what yer a-doin', Miss Billy, ye don't--ye don't!"

"I can't go home," persisted Billy. "I must get Mr. Bertram away from that man. Now come; we'll just stand at the door and look in until we see him. Then I'll go straight to him and speak to him." And with that she turned and ran down the steps.

Billy blinked a little at the lights which, reflected in the great plate-glass mirrors, were a million dazzling points that found themselves again repeated in the sparkling crystal and glittering silver on the flower-decked tables. All about her Billy saw flushed-faced men, and bright-eyed women, laughing, chatting, and clinking together their slender-stemmed wine glasses. But nowhere, as she looked about her, could Billy descry the man she sought.

The head waiter came forward with uplifted hand, but Billy did not see him. A girl at her left laughed disagreeably, and several men stared with boldly admiring eyes; but to them, too, Billy paid no heed. Then, halfway across the room she spied Bertram and Seaver sitting together at a small table alone.

Simultaneously her own and Bertram's eyes met.

With a sharp word under his breath Bertram sprang to his feet. His befogged brain had cleared suddenly under the shock of Billy's presence.

"Billy, for Heaven's sake what are you doing here?" he demanded in a low voice, as he reached her side.

"I came for you. I want you to go home with me, please, Mr. Bertram," whispered Billy, pleadingly.

The man had not waited for an answer to his question. With a deft touch he had turned Billy toward the door; and even as she finished her sentence she found herself in the marble hallway confronting Pete, pallid-faced, and shaking.

"And you, too, Pete! Great Scott! what does this mean?" he exploded angrily.

Pete could only shake his head and glance imploringly at Billy. His dry lips and tongue refused to articulate even one word.

"We came--for--you," choked Billy. "You see, I don't like that Seaver man."

"Well, by Jove! this is the limit!" breathed Bertram.