Chapter XXXIII. William is Worried
 

Billy's sleigh-ride had been due to the kindness of a belated winter storm that had surprised every one the last of March. After that, March, as if ashamed of her untoward behavior, donned her sweetest smiles and "went out" like the proverbial lamb. With the coming of April, and the stirring of life in the trees, Billy, too, began to be restless; and at the earliest possible moment she made her plans for her long anticipated "digging in the dirt."

Just here, much to her surprise, she met with wonderful assistance from Bertram. He seemed to know just when and where and how to dig, and he displayed suddenly a remarkable knowledge of landscape gardening. (That this knowledge was as recent in its acquirement as it was sudden in its display, Billy did not know.) Very learnedly he talked of perennials and annuals; and without hesitation he made out a list of flowering shrubs and plants that would give her a "succession of bloom throughout the season." His words and phrases smacked loudly of the very newest florists' catalogues, but Billy did not notice that. She only wondered at the seemingly exhaustless source of his wisdom.

"I suspect 'twould have been better if we'd begun things last fall," he told her frowningly one day. "But there's plenty we can do now anyway; and we'll put in some quick-growing things, just for this season, until we can get the more permanent things established."

And so they worked together, studying, scheming, ordering plants and seeds, their two heads close together above the gaily colored catalogues. Later there was the work itself to be done, and though strong men did the heavier part, there was yet plenty left for Billy's eager fingers--and for Bertram's. And if sometimes in the intimacy of seed-sowing and plant-setting, the touch of the slenderer fingers sent a thrill through the browner ones, Bertram made no sign. He was careful always to be the cheerful, helpful assistant--and that was all.

Billy, it is true, was a little disturbed at being quite so much with Bertram. She dreaded a repetition of some such words as had been uttered at the end of the sleigh-ride. She told herself that she had no right to grieve Bertram, to make it hard for him by being with him; but at the very next breath, she could but question; did she grieve him? Was it hard for him to have her with him? Then she would glance at his eager face and meet his buoyant smile--and answer "no." After that, for a time, at least, her fears would be less.

Systematically Billy avoided Cyril these days. She could not forget his promise to make many things clear to her some day. She thought she knew what he meant--that he would try to convince her (as she had tried to convince herself) that she would make a good wife for him.

Billy was very sure that if Cyril could be prevented from speaking his mind just now, his mind would change in time; hence her determination to give his mind that opportunity.

Billy's avoidance of Cyril was the more easily accomplished because she was for a time taking a complete rest from her music. The new songs had been finished and sent to the publishers. There was no excuse, therefore, for Cyril's coming to the house on that score; and, indeed, he seemed of his own accord to be making only infrequent visits now. Billy was pleased, particularly as Marie was not there to play third party. Marie had taken up her teaching again, much to Billy's distress.

"But I can't stay here always, like this," Marie had protested.

"But I should like to keep you!" Billy had responded, with no less decision.

Marie had been firm, however, and had gone, leaving the little house lonely without her.

Aside from her work in the garden Billy as resolutely avoided Bertram as she did Cyril. It was natural, therefore, that at this crisis she should turn to William with a peculiar feeling of restfulness. He, at least, would be safe, she told herself. So she frankly welcomed his every appearance, sung to him, played to him, and took long walks with him to see some wonderful bracelet or necklace that he had discovered in a dingy little curio-shop.

William was delighted. He was very fond of his namesake, and he had secretly chafed a little at the way his younger brothers had monopolized her attention. He was rejoiced now that she seemed to be turning to him for companionship; and very eagerly he accepted all the time she could give him.

William had, in truth, been growing more and more lonely ever since Billy's brief stay beneath his roof years before. Those few short weeks of her merry presence had shown him how very forlorn the house was without it. More and more sorrowfully during past years, his thoughts had gone back to the little white flannel bundle and to the dear hopes it had carried so long ago. If the boy had only lived, thought William, mournfully, there would not now have been that dreary silence in his home, and that sore ache in his heart.

Very soon after William had first seen Billy, he began to lay wonderful plans, and in every plan was Billy. She was not his child by flesh and blood, he acknowledged, but she was his by right of love and needed care. In fancy he looked straight down the years ahead, and everywhere he saw Billy, a loving, much-loved daughter, the joy of his life, the solace of his declining years.

To no one had William talked of this--and to no one did he show the bitterness of his grief when he saw his vision fade into nothingness through Billy's unchanging refusal to live in his home. Only he himself knew the heartache, the loneliness, the almost unbearable longing of the past winter months while Billy had lived at Hillside; and only he himself knew now the almost overwhelming joy that was his because of what he thought he saw in Billy's changed attitude toward himself.

Great as was William's joy, however, his caution was greater. He said nothing to Billy of his new hopes, though he did try to pave the way by dropping an occasional word about the loneliness of the Beacon Street house since she went away. There was something else, too, that caused William to be silent--what he thought he saw between Billy and Bertram. That Bertram was in love with Billy, he guessed; but that Billy was not in love with Bertram he very much feared. He hesitated almost to speak or move lest something he should say or do should, just at the critical moment, turn matters the wrong way. To William this marriage of Bertram and Billy was an ideal method of solving the problem, as of course Billy would come there to the house to live, and he would have his "daughter" after all. But as the days passed, and he could see no progress on Bertram's part, no change in Billy, he began to be seriously worried--and to show it.