Miss Billy by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXV. The Old Room--and Billy
Thanksgiving was to be a great day in the Henshaw family. The Henshaw brothers were to entertain. Billy and Aunt Hannah had been invited to dinner; and so joyously hospitable was William's invitation that it would have included the new kitten and the canary if Billy would have consented to bring them.
Once more Pete swept and garnished the house, and once more Dong Ling spoiled uncounted squares of chocolate trying to make the baffling fudge. Bertram said that the entire Strata was a-quiver. Not but that Billy and Aunt Hannah had visited there before, but that this was different. They were to come at noon this time. This visit was not to be a tantalizing little piece of stiffness an hour and a half long. It was to be a satisfying, whole-souled matter of half a day's comradeship, almost like old times. So once more the roses graced the rooms, and a flaring pink bow adorned Spunkie's fat neck; and once more Bertram placed his latest "Face of a Girl" in the best possible light. There was still a difference, however, for this time Cyril did not bring any music down to the piano, nor display anywhere a copy of his newest book.
The dinner was to be at three o'clock, but by special invitation the guests were to arrive at twelve; and promptly at the appointed hour they came.
"There, this is something like," exulted Bertram, when the ladies, divested of their wraps, toasted their feet before the open fire in his den.
"Indeed it is, for now I've time to see everything--everything you've done since I've been gone," cried Billy, gazing eagerly about her.
"Hm-m; well, that wasn't what I meant," shrugged Bertram.
"Of course not; but it's what I meant," retorted Billy. "And there are other things, too. I expect there are half a dozen new 'Old Blues' and black basalts that I want to see; eh, Uncle William?" she finished, smiling into the eyes of the man who had been gazing at her with doting pride for the last five minutes.
"Ho! Will isn't on teapots now," quoth Bertram, before his brother had a chance to reply. "You might dangle the oldest 'Old Blue' that ever was before him now, and he'd pay scant attention if he happened at the same time to get his eyes on some old pewter chain with a green stone in it."
Billy laughed; but at the look of genuine distress that came into William's face, she sobered at once.
"Don't you let him tease you, Uncle William," she said quickly. "I'm sure pewter chains with green stones in them sound just awfully interesting, and I want to see them right away now. Come," she finished, springing to her feet, "take me up-stairs, please, and show them to me."
William shook his head and said, "No, no!" protesting that what he had were scarcely worth her attention; but even while he talked he rose to his feet and advanced half eagerly, half reluctantly, toward the door.
"Nonsense," said Billy, fondly, as she laid her hand on his arm. "I know they are very much worth seeing. Come!" And she led the way from the room. "Oh, oh!" she exclaimed a few moments later, as she stood before a small cabinet in one of William's rooms. "Oh, oh, how pretty!"
"Do you like them? I thought you would," triumphed William, quick joy driving away the anxious fear in his eyes. "You see, I--I thought of you when I got them--every one of them. I thought you'd like them. But I haven't very many, yet, of course. This is the latest one." And he tenderly lifted from its black velvet mat a curious silver necklace made of small, flat, chain-linked disks, heavily chased, and set at regular intervals with a strange, blue- green stone.
Billy hung above it enraptured.
"Oh, what a beauty! And this, I suppose, is Bertram's 'pewter chain'! 'Pewter,' indeed!" she scoffed. "Tell me, Uncle William, where did you get it?"
And uncle William told, happily, thirstily, drinking in Billy's evident interest with delight. There were, too, a quaintly-set ring and a cat's-eye brooch; and to each belonged a story which William was equally glad to tell. There were other treasures, also: buckles, rings, brooches, and necklaces, some of dull gold, some of equally dull silver; but all of odd design and curious workmanship, studded here and there with bits of red, green, yellow, blue, and flame-colored stones. Very learnedly then from William's lips fell the new vocabulary that had come to him with his latest treasures: chrysoprase, carnelian, girasol, onyx, plasma, sardonyx, lapis lazuli, tourmaline, chrysolite, hyacinth, and carbuncle.
"They are lovely, perfectly lovely!" breathed Billy, when the last chain had slipped through her fingers into William's hand. "I think they are the very nicest things you ever collected."
"So do I," agreed the man, emphatically. "And they are--different, too."
"They are," said Billy, "very--different." But she was not looking at the jewelry: her eyes were on a small shell hairpin and a brown silk button half hidden behind a Lowestoft teapot.
On the way down-stairs William stopped a moment at Billy's old rooms.
"I wish you were here now," he said wistfully. "They're all ready for you--these rooms."
"Oh, but why don't you use them?--such pretty rooms!" cried Billy, quickly.
William gave a gesture of dissent.
"We have no use for them; besides, they belong to you and Aunt Hannah. You left your imprint long ago, my dear--we should not feel at home in them."
"Oh, but you should! You mustn't feel like that!" objected Billy, hurriedly crossing the room to the window to hide a sudden nervousness that had assailed her. "And here's my piano, too, and open!" she finished gaily, dropping herself upon the piano stool and dashing into a brilliant mazourka.
Billy, like Cyril, had a way of working off her moods at her finger tips; and to-day the tripping notes and crashing chords told of a nervous excitement that was not all joy. From the doorway William watched her flying fingers with fond pride, and it was very reluctantly that he acceded to Pete's request to go down-stairs for a moment to settle a vexed question concerning the table decorations.
Billy, left alone, still played, but with a difference. The tripping notes slowed into a weird melody that rose and fell and lost itself in the exquisite harmony that had been born of the crashing chords. Billy was improvising now, and into her music had crept something of her old-time longing when she had come to that house a lonely, orphan girl, in search of a home. On and on she played; then with a discordant note, she suddenly rose from the piano. She was thinking of Kate, and wondering if, had Kate not "managed" the little room would still be home.
So swiftly did Billy cross to the door that the man on the stairs outside had not time to get quite out of sight. Billy did not see his face, however; she saw only a pair of gray-trousered legs disappearing around the curve of the landing above. She thought nothing of it until later when dinner was announced, and Cyril came down-stairs; then she saw that he, and he only, that afternoon wore trousers of that particular shade of gray.
The dinner was a great success. Even the chocolate fudge in the little cut glass bonbon dishes was perfect; and it was a question whether Pete or Dong Ling tried the harder to please.
After dinner the family gathered in the drawing-room and chatted pleasantly. Bertram displayed his prettiest and newest pictures, and Billy played and sung--bright, tuneful little things that she knew Aunt Hannah and Uncle William liked. If Cyril was pleased or displeased, he did not show it--but Billy had ceased to play for Cyril's ears. She told herself that she did not care; but she did wonder: was that Cyril on the stairs, and if so--what was he doing there?