Chapter XXVI. "Music Hath Charms"
 

Two days after Thanksgiving Cyril called at Hillside.

"I've come to hear you play," he announced abruptly.

Billy's heart sung within her--but her temper rose. Did he think then that he had but to beckon and she would come--and at this late day, she asked herself. Aloud she said:

"Play? But this is 'so sudden'! Besides, you have heard me."

The man made a disdainful gesture.

"Not that. I mean play--really play. Billy, why haven't you played to me before?"

Billy's chin rose perceptibly.

"Why haven't you asked me?" she parried.

To Billy's surprise the man answered this with calm directness.

"Because Calderwell said that you were a dandy player, and I don't care for dandy players."

Billy laughed now.

"And how do you know I'm not a dandy player, Sir Impertinent?" she demanded.

"Because I've heard you--when you weren't."

"Thank you," murmured Billy.

Cyril shrugged his shoulders.

"Oh, you know very well what I mean," he defended. "I've heard you; that's all."

"When?"

"That doesn't signify."

Billy was silent for a moment, her eyes gravely studying his face. Then she asked:

"Were you long--on that stairway?"

"Eh? What? Oh!" Cyril's forehead grew suddenly pink. "Well?" he finished a little aggressively.

"Oh, nothing," smiled the girl. "Of course people who live in glass houses must not throw stones."

"Very well then, I did listen," acknowledged the man, testily. "I liked what you were playing. I hoped, down-stairs later, that you'd play it again; but you didn't. I came to-day to hear it."

Again Billy's heart sung within her--but again her temper rose, too.

"I don't think I feel like it," she said sweetly, with a shake of her head. "Not to-day."

For a brief moment Cyril stared frowningly; then his face lighted with his rare smile.

"I'm fairly checkmated," he said, rising to his feet and going straight to the piano.

For long minutes he played, modulating from one enchanting composition to another, and finishing with the one "all chords with big bass notes" that marched on and on--the one Billy had sat long ago on the stairs to hear.

"There! Now will you play for me?" he asked, rising to his feet, and turning reproachful eyes upon her.

Billy, too, rose to her feet. Her face was flushed and her eyes were shining. Her lips quivered with emotion. As was always the case, Cyril's music had carried her quite out of herself.

"Oh, thank you, thank you," she sighed. "You don't know--you can't know how beautiful it all is--to me!"

"Thank you. Then surely now you'll play to me," he returned.

A look of real distress came to Billy's face.

"But I can't--not what you heard the other day," she cried remorsefully. "You see, I was--only improvising."

Cyril turned quickly.

"Only improvising! Billy, did you ever write it down--any of your improvising?"

An embarrassed red flew to Billy's face.

"Not--not that amounted to--well, that is, some--a little," she stammered.

"Let me see it."

"No, no, I couldn't--not you!"

Again the rare smile lighted Cyril's eyes.

"Billy, let me see that paper--please."

Very slowly the girl turned toward the music cabinet. She hesitated, glanced once more appealingly into Cyril's face, then with nervous haste opened the little mahogany door and took from one of the shelves a sheet of manuscript music. But, like a shy child with her first copy book, she held it half behind her back as she came toward the piano.

"Thank you," said Cyril as he reached far out for the music. The next moment he seated himself again at the piano.

Twice he played the little song through carefully, slowly.

"Now, sing it," he directed.

Falteringly, in a very faint voice, and with very many breaths taken where they should not have been taken, Billy obeyed.

"When we want to show off your song, Billy, we won't ask you to sing it," observed the man, dryly, when she had finished.

Billy laughed and dimpled into a blush.

"When I want to show off my song I sha'n't be singing it to you for the first time," she pouted.

Cyril did not answer. He was playing over and over certain harmonies in the music before him.

"Hm-m; I see you've studied your counterpoint to some purpose," he vouchsafed, finally; then: "Where did you get the words?"

The girl hesitated. The flush had deepened on her face.

"Well, I--" she stopped and gave an embarrassed laugh. "I'm like the small boy who made the toys. 'I got them all out of my own head, and there's wood enough to make another.'"

"Hm-m; indeed!" grunted the man. "Well, have you made any others?"

"One--or two, maybe."

"Let me see them, please."

"I think--we've had enough--for today," she faltered.

"I haven't. Besides, if I could have a couple more to go with this, it would make a very pretty little group of songs."

"'To go with this'! What do you mean?"

"To the publishers, of course."

"The publishers!"

"Certainly. Did you think you were going to keep these songs to yourself?"

"But they aren't worth it! They can't be--good enough!" Unbelieving joy was in Billy's voice.

"No? Well, we'll let others decide that," observed Cyril, with a shrug. "All is, if you've got any more wood--like this--I advise you to make it up right away."

"But I have already!" cried the girl, excitedly. "There are lots of little things that I've--that is, there are--some," she corrected hastily, at the look that sprang into Cyril's eyes.

"Oh, there are," laughed Cyril. "Well, we'll see what--" But he did not see. He did not even finish his sentence; for Billy's maid, Rosa, appeared just then with a card.

"Show Mr. Calderwell in here," said Billy. Cyril said nothing-- aloud; which was well. His thoughts, just then, were better left unspoken.