Miss Billy by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXXIV. Class Day
Early in June Billy announced her intention of not going away at all that summer.
"I don't need it," she declared. "I have this cool, beautiful house, this air, this sunshine, this adorable view. Besides, I've got a scheme I mean to carry out."
There was some consternation among Billy's friends when they found out what this "scheme" was: sundry of Billy's humbler acquaintances were to share the house, the air, the sunshine, and the adorable view with her.
"But, my dear Billy," Bertram cried, aghast, "you don't mean to say that you are going to turn your beautiful little house into a fresh-air place for Boston's slum children!"
"Not a bit of it," smiled the girl, "though I'd like to, really, if I could," she added, perversely. "But this is quite another thing. It's no slum work, no charity. In the first place my guests aren't quite so poor as that, and they're much too proud to be reached by the avowed charity worker. But they need it just the same."
"But you haven't much spare room; have you?" questioned Bertram.
"No, unfortunately; so I shall have to take only two or three at a time, and keep them maybe a week or ten days. It's just a sugar plum, Bertram. Truly it is," she added whimsically, but with a tender light in her eyes.
"But who are these people?" Bertram's face had lost its look of shocked surprise, and his voice expressed genuine interest.
"Well, to begin with, there's Marie. She'll stay all summer and help me entertain my guests; at the same time her duties won't be arduous, and she'll get a little playtime herself. One week I'm going to have a little old maid who keeps a lodging house in the West End. For uncounted years she's been practically tied to a doorbell, with never a whole day to breathe free. I've made arrangements there for a sister to keep house a whole week, and I'm going to show this little old maid things she hasn't seen for years: the ocean, the green fields, and a summer play or two, perhaps.
"Then there's a little couple that live in a third-story flat in South Boston. They're young and like good times; but the man is on a small salary, and they have had lots of sickness. He's been out so much he can't take any vacation, and they wouldn't have any money to go anywhere if he could. Well, I'm going to have them a week. She'll be here all the time, and he'll come out at night, of course.
"Another one is a widow with six children. The children are already provided for by a fresh-air society, but the woman I'm going to take, and--and give her a whole week of food that she didn't have to cook herself. Another one is a woman who is not so very poor, but who has lost her baby, and is blue and discouraged. There are some children, too, one crippled, and a boy who says he's 'just lonesome.' And there are--really, Bertram, there is no end to them."
"I can well believe that," declared Bertram, with emphasis, "so far as your generous heart is concerned."
Billy colored and looked distressed.
"But it isn't generosity or charity at all, Bertram," she protested. "You are mistaken when you think it is--really! Why, I shall enjoy every bit of it just as well as they do--and better, perhaps."
"But you stay here--in the city--all summer for their sakes."
"What if I do? Besides, this isn't the real city," argued Billy, "with all these trees and lawns about one. And another thing," she added, leaning forward confidentially, "I might as well confess, Bertram, you couldn't hire me to leave the place this summer--not while all these things I planted are coming up!"
Bertram laughed; but for some reason he looked wonderfully happy as he turned away.
On the fifteenth of June Kate and her husband arrived from the West. A young brother of Mr. Hartwell's was to be graduated from Harvard, and Kate said they had come on to represent the family, as the elder Mr. and Mrs. Hartwell were not strong enough to undertake the journey. Kate was looking well and happy. She greeted Billy with effusive cordiality, and openly expressed her admiration of Hillside. She looked very keenly into her brothers' face, and seemed well pleased with the appearance of Cyril and Bertram, but not so much so with William's countenance.
"William does not look well," she declared one day when she and Billy were alone together.
"Sick? Uncle William sick? Oh, I hope not!" cried the girl.
"I don't know whether it's 'sick' or not," returned Mrs. Hartwell. "But it's something. He's troubled. I'm going to speak to him. He's worried over something; and he's grown terribly thin."
"But he's always thin," reasoned Billy.
"I know, but not like this--ever. You don't notice it, perhaps, or realize it, seeing him every day as you do. But I know something troubles him."
"Oh, I hope not," murmured Billy, with anxious eyes. "We don't want Uncle William troubled: we all love him too well."
Mrs. Hartwell did not at once reply; but for a long minute she thoughtfully studied Billy's face as it was bent above the sewing in Billy's hand. When she did speak she had changed the subject.
Young Hartwell was to deliver the Ivy Oration in the Stadium on Class Day, and all the Henshaws were looking eagerly forward to the occasion.
"You have seen the Stadium, of course," said Bertram to Billy, a few days before the anticipated Friday.
"Only from across the river."
"Is that so? And you've never been here Class Day, either. Good! Then you've got a treat in store. Just wait and see!"
And Billy waited--and she saw. Billy began to see, in fact, before Class Day. Young Hartwell was a popular fellow, and he was eager to have his friends meet Billy and the Henshaws. He was a member of the Institute of 1770, D. K. E., Stylus, Signet, Round Table, and Hasty Pudding Clubs, and nearly every one of these had some sort of function planned for Class-Day week. By the time the day itself arrived Billy was almost as excited as was young Hartwell himself.
It rained Class-Day morning, but at nine o'clock the sun came out and drove the clouds away, much to every one's delight. Billy's day began at noon with the spread given by the Hasty Pudding Club. Billy wondered afterward how many times that day remarks like these were made to her:
"You've been here Class Day before, of course. You've seen the confetti-throwing! . . . No? Well, you just wait!"
At ten minutes of four Billy and Mrs. Hartwell, with Mr. Hartwell and Bertram as escorts, entered the cool, echoing shadows under the Stadium, and then out in the sunlight they began to climb the broad steps to their seats.
"I wanted them high up, you see," explained Bertram, "because you can get the effect so much better. There, here we are!"
For the first time Billy turned and looked about her. She gave a low cry of delight.
"Oh, oh, how beautiful--how wonderfully beautiful!"
"You just wait!" crowed Bertram. "If you think this is beautiful, you just wait!"
Billy did not seem to hear him. Her eyes were sweeping the wonderful scene before her, and her face was aglow with delight.
First there was the great amphitheater itself. Only the wide curve of the horseshoe was roped off for to-day's audience. Beyond lay the two sides with their tier above tier of empty seats, almost dazzling in the sunshine. Within the roped-off curve the scene was of kaleidoscopic beauty. Charmingly gowned young women and carefully groomed young men were everywhere, stirring, chatting, laughing. Gay-colored parasols and flower-garden hats made here and there brilliant splashes of rainbow tints. Above was an almost cloudless canopy of blue, and at the far horizon, earth and sky met and made a picture that was like a wondrous painted curtain hung from heaven itself.
At the first sound of the distant band that told of the graduates' coming, Bertram said almost wistfully:
"Class Day is the only time when I feel 'out of it.' You see I'm the first male Henshaw for ages that hasn't been through Harvard; and to-day, you know, is the time when the old grads come back and do stunts like the kids--if they can (and some of them can all right!). They march in by classes ahead of the seniors, and vie with each other in giving their yells. You'll see Cyril and William, if your eyes are sharp enough--and you'll see them as you never saw them before."
Far down the green field Billy spied now the long black line of moving figures with a band in the lead. Nearer and nearer it came until, greeted by a mighty roar from thousands of throats, the leaders swept into the great bowl of the horseshoe curve.
And how they yelled and cheered--those men whose first Class Day lay five, ten, fifteen, even twenty or more years behind them, as told by the banners which they so proudly carried. How they got their heads together and gave the "Rah! Rah! Rah!" with unswerving eyes on their leader! How they beat the air with their hats in time to their lusty shouts! And how the throngs above cheered and clapped in answer, until they almost split their throats--and did split their gloves--especially when the black-gowned seniors swept into view.
And when the curving line of black had become one solid mass of humanity that filled the bowl from side to side, the vast throng seated themselves, and a great hush fell while the Glee Club sang.
Young Hartwell proved to be a good speaker, and his ringing voice reached even the topmost tier of seats. Billy was charmed and interested. Everything she saw and heard was but a new source of enjoyment, and she had quite forgotten the thing for which she was to "wait," when she saw the ushers passing through the aisles with their baskets of many-hued packages of confetti and countless rolls of paper ribbon.
It began then, the merry war between the students below and the throng above. In a trice the air was filled with shimmering bits of red, blue, white, green, purple, pink, and yellow. From all directions fluttering streamers that showed every color of the rainbow, were flung to the breeze until, upheld by the supporting wires, they made a fairy lace work of marvelous beauty.
"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Billy, her eyes misty with emotion. "I think I never saw anything in my life so lovely!
"I thought you'd like it," gloried Bertram. "You know I said to wait!"
But even with this, Class Day for Billy was not finished. There was still Hartwell's own spread from six to eight, and after that there were the President's reception, and dancing in the Memorial Hall and in the Gymnasium. There was the Fairyland of the yard, too, softly aglow with moving throngs of beautiful women and gallant men. But what Billy remembered best of all was the exquisite harmony that came to her through the hushed night air when the Glee Club sang Fair Harvard on the steps of Holworthy Hall.