Chapter XXVII. Marie, Who Longs to Make Puddings
 

Wonderful days came then to Billy. Four songs, it seemed, had been pronounced by competent critics decidedly "worth it"--unmistakably "good enough"; and they were to be brought out as soon as possible.

"Of course you understand," explained Cyril, "that there's no 'hit' expected. Thank heaven they aren't that sort! And there's no great money in it, either. You'd have to write a masterpiece like 'She's my Ju-Ju Baby' or some such gem to get the 'hit' and the money. But the songs are fine, and they'll take with cultured hearers. We'll get them introduced by good singers, of course, and they'll be favorites soon for the concert stage, and for parlors."

Billy saw a good deal of Cyril now. Already she was at work rewriting and polishing some of her half-completed melodies, and Cyril was helping her, by his interest as well as by his criticism. He was, in fact, at the house very frequently--too frequently, indeed, to suit either Bertram or Calderwell. Even William frowned sometimes when his cozy chats with Billy were interrupted by Cyril's appearing with a roll of new music for her to "try"; though William told himself that he ought to be thankful if there was anything that could make Cyril more companionable, less reserved and morose. And Cyril was different--there was no disputing that. Calderwell said that he had come "out of his shell"; and Bertram told Billy that she must have "found his note and struck it good and hard."

Billy was very happy. To the little music teacher, Marie Hawthorn, she talked more freely, perhaps, than she did to any one else.

"It's so wonderful, Marie--so wonderfully wonderful," she said one day, "to sit here in my own room and sing a little song that comes from somewhere, anywhere, out of the sky itself. Then by and by, that little song will fly away, away, over land and sea; and some day it will touch somebody's heart just as it has touched mine. Oh, Marie, is it not wonderful?"

"It is, dear--and it is not. Your songs could not help reaching somebody's heart. There's nothing wonderful in that."

"Sweet flatterer!"

"But I mean it. They are beautiful; and so is--Mr. Henshaw's music."

"Yes, it is," murmured Billy, abstractedly.

There was a long pause, then Marie asked with shy hesitation:

"Do you think, Miss Billy--that he would care? I listened yesterday when he was playing to you. I was up here in your room, but when I heard the music I--I went out, on the stairs and sat down. Was it very--bad of me?"

Billy laughed happily.

"If it was, he can't say anything," she reassured her. "He's done the same thing himself--and so have I."

"He has done it!"

"Yes. It was at his home last Thanksgiving. It was then that he found out--about my improvising."

"Oh-h!" Marie's eyes were wistful. "And he cares so much now for your music!"

"Does he? Do you think he does?" demanded Billy.

"I know he does--and for the one who makes it, too."

"Nonsense!" laughed Billy, with pinker cheeks. "It's the music, not the musician, that pleases him. Mr. Cyril doesn't like women."

"He doesn't like women!"

"No. But don't look so shocked, my dear. Every one who knows Mr. Cyril knows that."

"But I don't think--I believe it," demurred Marie, gazing straight into Billy's eyes. "I'm sure I don't believe it."

Under the little music teacher's steady gaze Billy flushed again. The laugh she gave was an embarrassed one, but through it vibrated a pleased ring.

"Nonsense!" she exclaimed, springing to her feet and moving restlessly about the room. With the next breath she had changed the subject to one far removed from Mr. Cyril and his likes and dislikes.

Some time later Billy played, and it was then that Marie drew a long sigh.

"How beautiful it must be to play--like that," she breathed.

"As if you, a music teacher, could not play!" laughed Billy.

"Not like that, dear. You know it is not like that."

Billy frowned.

"But you are so accurate, Marie, and you can read at sight so rapidly!"

"Oh, yes, like a little machine, I know!" scorned the usually gentle Marie, bitterly. "Don't they have a thing of metal that adds figures like magic? Well, I'm like that. I see g and I play g; I see d and I play d; I see f and I play f; and after I've seen enough g's and d's and f's and played them all, the thing is done. I've played."

"Why, Marie! Marie, my dear!" The second exclamation was very tender, for Marie was crying.

"There! I knew I should some day have it out--all out," sobbed Marie. "I felt it coming."

"Then perhaps you'll--you'll feel better now," stammered Billy. She tried to say more--other words that would have been a real comfort; but her tongue refused to speak them. She knew so well, so woefully well, how very wooden and mechanical the little music teacher's playing always had been. But that Marie should realize it herself like this--the tragedy of it made Billy's heart ache. At Marie's next words, however, Billy caught her breath in surprise.

"But you see it wasn't music--it wasn't ever music that I wanted-- to do," she confessed.

"It wasn't music! But what--I don't understand," murmured Billy.

"No, I suppose not," sighed the other. "You play so beautifully yourself."

"But I thought you loved music."

"I do. I love it dearly--in others. But I can't--I don't want to make it myself."

"But what do you want to do?"

Marie laughed suddenly.

"Do you know, my dear, I have half a mind to tell you what I do like to do--just to make you stare."

"Well?" Billy's eyes were wide with interest.

"I like best of anything to--darn stockings and make puddings."

"Marie!"

"Rank heresy, isn't it?" smiled Marie, tearfully. "But I do, truly. I love to weave the threads evenly in and out, and see a big hole close. As for the puddings I don't mean the common bread- and-butter kind, but the ones that have whites of eggs and fruit, and pretty quivery jellies all ruby and amber lights, you know."

"You dear little piece of domesticity," laughed Billy. "Then why in the world don't you do these things?"

"I can't, in my own kitchen; I can't afford a kitchen to do them in. And I just couldn't do them--right along--in other people's kitchens."

"But why do you--play?"

"I was brought up to it. You know we had money once, lots of it," sighed Marie, as if she were deploring a misfortune. "And mother was determined to have me musical. Even then, as a little tot, I liked pudding-making, and after my mud-pie days I was always begging mother to let me go down into the kitchen, to cook. But she wouldn't allow it, ever. She engaged the most expensive masters and set me practising, always practising. I simply had to learn music; and I learned it like the adding machine. Then afterward, when father died, and then mother, and the money flew away, why, of course I had to do something, so naturally I turned to the music. It was all I could do. But--well, you know how it is, dear. I teach, and teach well, perhaps, so far as the mechanical part goes; but as for the rest--I am always longing for a cozy corner with a basket of stockings to mend, or a kitchen where there is a pudding waiting to be made."

"You poor dear!" cried Billy. "I've a pair of stockings now that needs attention, and I've been just longing for one of your 'quivery jellies all ruby and amber lights' ever since you mentioned them. But--well, is there anything I could do to help?"

"Nothing, thank you," sighed Marie, rising wearily to her feet, and covering her eyes with her hand for a moment. "My head aches shockingly, but I've got to go this minute and instruct little Jennie Knowls how to play the wonderful scale of G with a black key in it. Besides, you do help me, you have helped me, you are always helping me, dear," she added remorsefully; "and it's wicked of me to make that shadow come to your eyes. Please don't think of it, or of me, any more." And with a choking little sob she hurried from the room, followed by the amazed, questioning, sorrowful eyes of Billy.