Miss Billy by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXII. Hugh Calderwell
In the Beacon Street house William mournfully removed the huge pink bow from Spunkie's neck, and Bertram threw away the roses. Cyril marched up-stairs with his pile of new music and his book; and Pete, in obedience to orders, hid the workbasket, the tea table, and the low sewing-chair. With a great display of a "getting back home" air, Bertram moved many of his belongings upstairs--but inside of a week he had moved them down again, saying that, after all, he believed he liked the first floor better. Billy's rooms were closed then, and remained as they had for years--silent and deserted.
Billy with Aunt Hannah had gone directly to their Back Bay hotel. "This is for just while I'm house-hunting," the girl had said. But very soon she had decided to go to Hampden Falls for the summer and postpone her house-buying until the autumn. Billy was twenty-one now, and there were many matters of business to arrange with Lawyer Harding, concerning her inheritance. It was not until September, therefore, when Billy once more returned to Boston, that the Henshaw brothers had the opportunity of renewing their acquaintance with William's namesake.
"I want a home," Billy said to Bertram and William on the night of her arrival. (As before, Mrs. Stetson and Billy had gone directly to a hotel.) "I want a real home with a furnace to shake--if I want to--and some dirt to dig in."
"Well, I'm sure that ought to be easy to find," smiled Bertram.
"Oh, but that isn't all," supplemented Billy. "It must be mostly closets and piazza. At least, those are the important things."
"Well, you might run across a snag there. Why don't you build?"
Billy gave a gesture of dissent.
"Too slow. I want it now."
Bertram laughed. His eyes narrowed quizzically.
"From what Calderwell says," he bantered, "I should judge that there are plenty of sighing swains who are only too ready to give you a home--and now."
The pink deepened in Billy's cheeks.
"I said closets and a piazza, dirt to dig, and a furnace to shake," she retorted merrily. "I didn't say I wanted a husband."
"And you don't, of course," interposed William, decidedly. "You are much too young for that."
"Yes, sir," agreed Billy demurely; but Bertram was sure he saw a twinkle under the downcast lashes.
"And where is Cyril?" asked Mrs. Stetson, coming into the room at that moment.
William stirred restlessly.
"Well, Cyril couldn't--couldn't come," stammered William with an uneasy glance at his brother.
Billy laughed unexpectedly.
"It's too bad--about Mr. Cyril's not coming," she murmured. And again Bertram caught the twinkle in the downcast eyes.
To Bertram the twinkle looked interesting, and worth pursuit; but at the very beginning of the chase Calderwell's card came up, and that ended--everything, so Bertram declared crossly to himself.
Billy found her dirt to dig in, and her furnace to shake, in Brookline. There were closets, too, and a generous expanse of veranda. They all belonged to a quaint little house perched on the side of Corey Hill. From the veranda in the rear, and from many of the windows, one looked out upon a delightful view of many-hued, many-shaped roofs nestling among towering trees, with the wide sweep of the sky above, and the haze of faraway hills at the horizon.
"In fact, it's as nearly perfect as it can be--and not take angel- wings and fly away," declared Billy. "I have named it 'Hillside.'"
Very early in her career as house-owner, Billy decided that however delightful it might be to have a furnace to shake, it would not be at all delightful to shake it; besides, there was the new motor car to run. Billy therefore sought and found a good, strong man who had not only the muscle and the willingness to shake the furnace, but the skill to turn chauffeur at a moment's notice. Best of all, this man had also a wife who, with a maid to assist her, would take full charge of the house, and thus leave Billy and Mrs. Stetson free from care. All these, together with a canary, and a kitten as near like Spunk as could be obtained, made Billy's household.
"And now I'm ready to see my friends," she announced.
"And I think your friends will be ready to see you," Bertram assured her.
And they were--at least, so it appeared. For at once the little house perched on the hillside became the Mecca for many of the Henshaws' friends who had known Billy as William's merry, eighteen- year-old namesake. There were others, too, whom Billy had met abroad; and there were soft-stepping, sweet-faced old women and an occasional white-whiskered old man--Aunt Hannah's friends--who found that the young mistress of Hillside was a charming hostess. There were also the Henshaw "boys," and there was always Calderwell--at least, so Bertram declared to himself sometimes.
Bertram came frequently to the little house on the hill, even more frequently than William; but Cyril was not seen there so often. He came once at first, it is true, and followed Billy from room to room as she proudly displayed her new home. He showed polite interest in her view, and a perfunctory enjoyment of the tea she prepared for him. But he did not come again for some time, and when he did come, he sat stiffly silent, while his brothers did most of the talking.
As to Calderwell--Calderwell seemed suddenly to have lost his interest in impenetrable forests and unclimbable mountains. Nothing more intricate than the long Beacon Street boulevard, or more inaccessible than Corey Hill seemed worth exploring, apparently. According to Calderwell's own version of it, he had "settled down"; he was going to "be something that was something." And he did spend sundry of his morning hours in a Boston law office with ponderous, calf-bound volumes spread in imposing array on the desk before him. Other hours--many hours--he spent with Billy.
One day, very soon, in fact, after she arrived in Boston, Billy asked Calderwell about the Henshaws.
"Tell me about them," she said. "Tell me what they have been doing all these years."
"Tell you about them! Why, don't you know?"
She shook her head.
"No. Cyril says nothing. William little more--about themselves; and you know what Bertram is. One can hardly separate sense from nonsense with him."
"You don't know, then, how splendidly Bertram has done with his art?"
"No; only from the most casual hearsay. Has he done well then?"
"Finely! The public has been his for years, and now the critics are tumbling over each other to do him honor. They rave about his 'sensitive, brilliant, nervous touch,'--whatever that may be; his 'marvelous color sense'; his 'beauty of line and pose.' And they quarrel over whether it's realism or idealism that constitutes his charm."
"I'm so glad! And is it still the 'Face of a Girl'?"
"Yes; only he's doing straight portraiture now as well. It's got to be quite the thing to be 'done' by Henshaw; and there's many a fair lady that has graciously commissioned him to paint her portrait. He's a fine fellow, too--a mighty fine fellow. You may not know, perhaps, but three or four years ago he was--well, not wild, but 'frolicsome,' he would probably have called it. He got in with a lot of fellows that--well, that weren't good for a chap of Bertram's temperament."
Calderwell turned sharply.
"Did you know Seaver?" he demanded in obvious surprise.
"I used to see him--with Bertram."
"Oh! Well, he was one of them, unfortunately. But Bertram shipped him years ago."
Billy gave a sudden radiant smile--but she changed the subject at once.
"And Mr. William still collects, I suppose," she observed.
"Jove! I should say he did! I've forgotten the latest; but he's a fine fellow, too, like Bertram."
"That chap's a poser for me, Billy, and no mistake. I can't make him out!"
"What's the matter?"
"I don't know. Probably I'm not 'tuned to his pitch.' Bertram told me once that Cyril was very sensitively strung, and never responded until a certain note was struck. Well, I haven't ever found that note, I reckon."
"I never heard Bertram say that, but I think I know what he means; and he's right, too. I begin to realize now what a jangling discord I must have created when I tried to harmonize with him three years ago! But what is he doing in his music?"
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"Same thing. Plays occasionally, and plays well, too; but he's so erratic it's difficult to get him to do it. Everything must be just so, you know--air, light, piano, and audience. He's got another book out, I'm told--a profound treatise on somebody's something or other--musical, of course."
"And he used to write music; doesn't he do that any more?"
"I believe so. I hear of it occasionally through musical friends of mine. They even play it to me sometimes. But I can't stand for much of it--his stuff--really, Billy."
"'Stuff' indeed! And why not?" An odd hostility showed in Billy's eyes.
Again Calderwell shrugged his shoulders.
"Don't ask me. I don't know. But they're always dead slow, somber things, with the wail of a lost spirit shrieking through them."
"But I just love lost spirits that wail," avowed Billy, with more than a shade of reproach in her voice.
Calderwell stared; then he shook his head.
"Not in mine, thank you;" he retorted whimsically. "I prefer my spirits of a more sane and cheerful sort."
The girl laughed, but almost instantly she fell silent.
"I've been wondering," she began musingly, after a time, "why some one of those three men does not--marry."
"You wouldn't wonder--if you knew them better," declared Calderwell. "Now think. Let's begin at the top of the Strata--by the way, Bertram's name for that establishment is mighty clever! First, Cyril: according to Bertram Cyril hates 'all kinds of women and other confusion'; and I fancy Bertram hits it about right. So that settles Cyril. Then there's William--you know William. Any girl would say William was a dear; but William isn't a marrying man. Dad says,"--Calderwell's voice softened a little--"dad says that William and his young wife were the most devoted couple that he ever saw; and that when she died she seemed to take with her the whole of William's heart--that is, what hadn't gone with the baby a few years before. There was a boy, you know, that died."
"Yes, I know," nodded Billy, quick tears in her eyes. "Aunt Hannah told me."
"Well, that counts out William, then," said Calderwell, with an air of finality.
"But how about Bertram? You haven't settled Bertram," laughed Billy, archly.
"Bertram!" Calderwell's eyes widened. "Billy, can you imagine Bertram's making love in real earnest to a girl?"
"Why, I--don't--know; maybe!" Billy tipped her head from side to side as if she were viewing a picture set up for her inspection.
"Well, I can't. In the first place, no girl would think he was serious; or if by any chance she did, she'd soon discover that it was the turn of her head or the tilt of her chin that he admired-- to paint. Now isn't that so?"
Billy laughed, but she did not answer.
"It is, and you know it," declared Calderwell. "And that settles him. Now you can see, perhaps, why none of these men--will marry."
It was a long minute before Billy spoke.
"Not a bit of it. I don't see it at all," she declared with roguish merriment. "Moreover, I think that some day, some one of them--will marry, Sir Doubtful!"
Calderwell threw a quick glance into her eyes. Evidently something he saw there sent a swift shadow to his own. He waited a moment, then asked abruptly:
"Billy, won't you marry me?"
Billy frowned, though her eyes still laughed.
"Hugh, I told you not to ask me that again," she demurred.
"And I told you not to ask impossibilities of me," he retorted imperturbably. "Billy, won't you, now--seriously? "
"Seriously, no, Hugh. Please don't let us go all over that again when we've done it so many times."
"No, let's don't," agreed the man, cheerfully. "And we don't have to, either, if you'll only say 'yes,' now right away, without any more fuss."
Billy sighed impatiently.
"Hugh, won't you understand that I'm serious?" she cried; then she turned suddenly, with a peculiar flash in her eyes.
"Hugh, I don't believe Bertram himself could make love any more nonsensically than you can!"
Calderwell laughed, but he frowned, too; and again he threw into Billy's face that keenly questioning glance. He said something--a light something--that brought the laugh to Billy's lips in spite of herself; but he was still frowning when he left the house some minutes later, and the shadow was not gone from his eyes.