Chapter XXXI. The Engagement of One

Many times during those winter days Billy thought of Marie's words: "But what if the man and the music both happen to be on the same side?" They worried her, to some extent, and, curiously, they pleased and displeased her at the same time.

She told herself that she knew very well, of course, what Marie meant: it was Cyril; he was the man, and the music. But was Cyril beginning to care for her; and did she want him to? Very seriously one day Billy asked herself these questions; very calmly she argued the matter in her mind--as was Billy's way.

She was proud, certainly, of what her influence had apparently done for Cyril. She was gratified that to her he was showing the real depth and beauty of his nature. It was flattering to feel that she, and only she, had thus won the regard of a professional woman- hater. Then, besides all this, there was his music--his glorious music. Think of the bliss of living ever with that! Imagine life with a man whose soul would be so perfectly attuned to hers that existence would be one grand harmony! Ah, that, truly, would be the ideal marriage! But she had planned not to marry. Billy frowned now, and tapped her foot nervously. It was, indeed, most puzzling--this question, and she did not want to make a mistake. Then, too, she did not wish to wound Cyril. If the dear man had come out of his icy prison, and were reaching out timid hands to her for her help, her interest, her love--the tragedy of it, if he met with no response! . . . . This vision of Cyril with outstretched hands, and of herself with cold, averted eyes was the last straw in the balance with Billy. She decided suddenly that she did care for Cyril--a little; and that she probably could care for him a great deal. With this thought, Billy blushed--already in her own mind she was as good as pledged to Cyril.

It was a great change for Billy--this sudden leap from girlhood and irresponsibility to womanhood and care; but she took it fearlessly, resolutely. If she was to be Cyril's wife she must make herself fit for it--and in pursuance of this high ideal she followed Marie into the kitchen the very next time the little music teacher went out to make one of her dainty desserts that the family liked so well.

"I'll just watch, if you don't mind," announced Billy.

"Why, of course not," smiled Marie, "but I thought you didn't like to make puddings."

"I don't," owned Billy, cheerfully.

"Then why this--watchfulness?"

"Nothing, only I thought it might be just as well if I knew how to make them. You know how Cyril--that is, all the Henshaw boys like every kind you make."

The egg in Marie's hand slipped from her fingers and crashed untidily on the shelf. With a gleeful laugh Billy welcomed the diversion. She had not meant to speak so plainly. It was one thing to try to fit herself to be Cyril's wife, and quite another to display those efforts so openly before the world.

The pudding was made at last, but Marie proved to be a nervous teacher. Her hand shook, and her memory almost failed her at one or two critical points. Billy laughingly said that it must be stage fright, owing to the presence of herself as spectator; and with this Marie promptly, and somewhat effusively, agreed.

So very busy was Billy during the next few days, acquiring her new domesticity, that she did not notice how little she was seeing of Cyril. Then she suddenly realized it, and asked herself the reason for it. Cyril was at the house certainly, just as frequently as he had been; but she saw that a new shyness in herself had developed which was causing her to be restless in his presence, and was leading her to like better to have Marie or Aunt Hannah in the room when he called. She discovered, too, that she welcomed William, and even Bertram, with peculiar enthusiasm--if they happened to interrupt a tete-a-tete with Cyril.

Billy was disturbed at this. She told herself that this shyness was not strange, perhaps, inasmuch as her ideas in regard to love and marriage had undergone so abrupt a change; but it must be overcome. If she was to be Cyril's wife, she must like to be with him--and of course she really did like to be with him, for she had enjoyed his companionship very much during all these past weeks. She set herself therefore, now, determinedly to cultivating Cyril.

It was then that Billy made a strange and fearsome discovery: there were some things about Cyril that she did--not--like!

Billy was inexpressibly shocked. Heretofore he had been so high, so irreproachable, so god-like!--but heretofore he had been a friend. Now he was appearing in a new role--though unconsciously, she knew. Heretofore she had looked at him with eyes that saw only the delightful and marvelous unfolding of a coldly reserved nature under the warmth of her own encouraging smile. Now she looked at him with eyes that saw only the possibilities of that same nature when it should have been unfolded in a lifelong companionship. And what she saw frightened her. There was still the music--she acknowledged that; but it had come to Billy with overwhelming force that music, after all, was not everything. The man counted, as well. Very frankly then Billy stated the case to herself.

"What passes for 'fascinating mystery' in him now will be plain moroseness--sometime. He is 'taciturn' now; he'll be--cross, then. It is 'erratic' when he won't play the piano to-day; but a few years from now, when he refuses some simple request of mine, it will be--stubbornness. All this it will be--if I don't love him; and I don't. I know I don't. Besides, we aren't really congenial. I like people around; he doesn't. I like to go to plays; he doesn't. He likes rainy days; I abhor them. There is no doubt of it--life with him would not be one grand harmony; it would be one jangling discord. I simply cannot marry him. I shall have to break the engagement!

Billy spoke with regretful sorrow. It was evident that she grieved to bring pain to Cyril. Then suddenly the gloom left her face: she had remembered that the "engagement" was just three weeks old--and was a profound secret, not only to the bridegroom elect, but to all the world as well--save herself!

Billy was very happy after that. She sang about the house all day, and she danced sometimes from room to room, so light were her feet and her heart. She made no more puddings with Marie's supervision, but she was particularly careful to have the little music teacher or Aunt Hannah with her when Cyril called. She made up her mind, it is true, that she had been mistaken, and that Cyril did not love her; still she wished to be on the safe side, and she became more and more averse to being left alone with him for any length of time.