Chapter XXIV. Cyril, the Enigma

Perhaps it was because Billy saw so little of Cyril that it was Cyril whom she wished particularly to see. William, Bertram, Calderwell--all her other friends came frequently to the little house on the hill, Billy told herself; only Cyril held aloof--and it was Cyril that she wanted.

Billy said that it was his music; that she wanted to hear him play, and that she wanted him to hear her. She felt grieved and chagrined. Not once since she had come had he seemed interested-- really interested in her music. He had asked her, it is true, in a perfunctory way what she had done, and who her teachers had been. But all the while she was answering she had felt that he was not listening; that he did not care. And she cared so much! She knew now that all her practising through the long hard months of study, had been for Cyril. Every scale had been smoothed for his ears, and every phrase had been interpreted with his approbation in view. Across the wide waste of waters his face had shone like a star of promise, beckoning her on and on to heights unknown. . . And now she was here in Boston, but she could not even play the scale, nor interpret the phrase for the ear to which they had been so laboriously attuned; and Cyril's face, in the flesh, was no beckoning star of promise, but was a thing as cold and relentless as was the waste of waters across which it had shone in the past.

Billy did not understand it. She knew, it is true, of Cyril's reputed aversion to women in general and to noise; but she was neither women in general nor noise, she told herself indignantly. She was only the little maid, grown three years older, who had sat at his feet and adoringly listened to all that he had been pleased to say in the old days at the top of the Strata. And he had been kind then--very kind, Billy declared stoutly. He had been patient and interested, too, and he had seemed not only willing, but glad to teach her, while now--

Sometimes Billy thought she would ask him candidly what was the matter. But it was always the old, frank Billy that thought this; the impulsive Billy, that had gone up to Cyril's rooms years before and cheerfully announced that she had come to get acquainted. It was never the sensible, circumspect Billy that Aunt Hannah had for three years been shaping and coaxing into being. But even this Billy frowned rebelliously, and declared that sometime something should be said that would at least give him a chance to explain.

In all the weeks since Billy's purchase of Hillside, Cyril had been there only twice, and it was nearly Thanksgiving now. Billy had seen him once or twice, also, at the Beacon Street house, when she and Aunt Hannah had dined there; but on all these occasions he had been either the coldly reserved guest or the painfully punctilious host. Never had he been in the least approachable.

"He treats me exactly as he treated poor little Spunk that first night," Billy declared hotly to herself.

Only once since she came had Billy heard Cyril play, and that was when she had shared the privilege with hundreds of others at a public concert. She had sat then entranced, with her eyes on the clean-cut handsome profile of the man who played with so sure a skill and power, yet without a note before him. Afterward she had met him face to face, and had tried to tell him how moved she was; but in her agitation, and because of a strange shyness that had suddenly come to her, she had ended only in stammering out some flippant banality that had brought to his face merely a bored smile of acknowledgment.

Twice she had asked him to play for her; but each time he had begged to be excused, courteously, but decidedly.

"It's no use to tease," Bertram had interposed once, with an airy wave of his hands. "This lion always did refuse to roar to order. If you really must hear him, you'll have to slip up-stairs and camp outside his door, waiting patiently for such crumbs as may fall from his table."

"Aren't your metaphors a little mixed?" questioned Cyril irritably.

"Yes, sir," acknowledged Bertram with unruffled temper. "but I don't mind if Billy doesn't. I only meant her to understand that she'd have to do as she used to do--listen outside your door."

Billy's cheeks reddened.

"But that is what I sha'n't do," she retorted with spirit. "And, moreover, I still have hopes that some day he'll play to me."

"Maybe," conceded Bertram, doubtfully; "if the stool and the piano and the pedals and the weather and his fingers and your ears and my watch are all just right--then he'll play."

"Nonsense!" scowled Cyril. "I'll play, of course, some day. But I'd rather not today." And there the matter had ended. Since then Billy had not asked him to play.