Chapter XXXVIII. The Engagement of Two
 

By the middle of July the routine of Billy's days was well established. Marie had been for a week a welcome addition to the family, and she was proving to be of invaluable aid in entertaining Billy's guests. The overworked widow and the little lodging-house keeper from the West End were enjoying Billy's hospitality now; and just to look at their beaming countenances was an inspiration, Billy said.

Cyril had gone abroad. Aunt Hannah was spending a week at the North Shore with friends. Bertram, true to his promise, was playing the gallant to Billy's guests; and so assiduous was he in his attentions that Billy at last remonstrated with him.

"But I didn't mean them to take all your time," she protested.

"Don't they like it? Do they see too much of me?" he demanded.

"No, no! They love it, of course. You must know that. Nobody else could give such beautiful times as you've given us. But it's yourself I'm thinking of. You're giving up all your time. Besides, I didn't mean to keep you here all summer, of course. You always go away some, you know, for a vacation."

"But I'm having a vacation here, doing this," laughed Bertram. "I'm sure I'm getting sea air down to the beaches and mountain air out to the Blue Hills. And as for excitement--if you can find anything more wildly exciting than it was yesterday when Miss Marie and I took the widow and the spinster lady on the Roller-coaster-- just show it to me; that's all!"

Billy laughed.

"They told me about it--Marie in particular. She said you were lovely to them, and let them do every single thing they wanted to; and that half an hour after they got there they were like two children let out of school. Dear me, I wish I'd gone. I never stay at home that I don't miss something," she finished regretfully.

Bertram shrugged his shoulders.

"If it's Roller-coasters and Chute-the-chutes that you want, I fancy you'll get enough before the week is out," he sighed laughingly. "They said they'd like to go there to-morrow, please, when I asked them what we should do next. What surprises me is that they like such things--such hair-raising things. When I first saw them, black-gowned and stiff-backed, sitting in your little room here, I thought I should never dare offer them anything more wildly exciting than a church service or a lecture on psychology, with perhaps a band concert hinted at, provided the band could be properly instructed beforehand as to tempo and selections. But now--really, Billy, why do you suppose they have taken such a fancy to these kiddish stunts--those two staid women?"

Billy laughed, but her eyes softened.

"I don't know unless it's because all their lives they've been tied to such dead monotony that just the exhilaration of motion is bliss to them. But you won't always have to risk your neck and your temper in this fashion, Bertram. Next week my little couple from South Boston comes. She adores pictures and stuffed animals. You'll have to do the museums with her. Then there's little crippled Tommy--he'll be perfectly contented if you'll put him down where he can hear the band play. And all you'll have to do when that one stops is to pilot him to the next one. This is good of you, Bertram, and I do thank you for it," finished Billy, fervently, just as Marie, the widow, and the "spinster lady" entered the room.

Billy told herself these days that she was very happy--very happy indeed. Was she not engaged to a good man, and did she not also have it in her power to make the long summer days a pleasure to many people? The fact that she had to tell herself that she was happy in order to convince herself that she was so, did not occur to Billy--yet.

Not long after Marie arrived, Billy told her of the engagement. William was at the house very frequently, and owing to the intimacy of Marie's relationship with the family Billy decided to tell her how matters stood. Marie's reception of the news was somewhat surprising. First she looked frightened.

"To William?--you are engaged to William?"

"Why--yes."

"But I thought--surely it was--don't you mean--Mr. Cyril?"

"No, I don't," laughed Billy. "And certainly I ought to know."

"And you don't--care for him?"

"I hope not--if I'm going to marry William."

So light was Billy's voice and manner that Marie dared one more question.

"And he--doesn't care--for you?"

"I hope not--if William is going to marry me," laughed Billy again.

"Oh-h!" breathed Marie, with an odd intonation of relief. "Then I'm glad--so glad! And I hope you'll be very, very happy, dear."

Billy looked into Marie's glowing face and was pleased: there seemed to be so few, so very few faces into which she had looked and found entire approbation of her engagement to William.

Billy saw a great deal of William now. He was always kind and considerate, and he tried to help her entertain her guests; but Billy, grateful as she was to him for his efforts, was relieved when he resigned his place to Bertram. Bertram did, indeed, know so much better how to do it. William tried to help her, too, about training her vines and rosebushes; but of course, even in this, he could not be expected to show quite the interest that Bertram manifested in every green shoot and opening bud, for he had not helped her plant them, as Bertram had.

Billy was a little troubled sometimes, that she did not feel more at ease with William. She thought it natural that she should feel a little diffident with him, in the face of his sudden change from an "uncle" to an accepted lover; but she did not see why she should be afraid of him--yet she was. She owned that to herself unhappily. And he was so good!--she owned that, too. He seemed not to have a thought in the world but for her comfort and happiness; and there was no end to the tactful little things he was always doing for her pleasure. He seemed, also, to have divined that she did not like to be kissed and caressed; and only occasionally did he kiss her, and then it was merely a sort of fatherly salute on her forehead--for which consideration Billy was grateful: Billy decided that she would not like to be kissed on the lips.

After some days of puzzling over the matter Billy concluded that it was self-consciousness that caused all the trouble. With William she was self-conscious. If she could only forget that she was some day to be William's wife, the old delightful comradeship would return, and she would be at ease again with him. In time, after she had become accustomed to the idea of marriage, it would not so confuse her, of course. She loved him dearly, and she wanted to make him happy; but for the present--just while she was "getting used to things"--she would try to forget, sometimes, that she was going to be William's wife.

Billy was happier now. She was always happier after she had thought things out to her own satisfaction. She turned with new zest to the entertainment of her guests; and with Bertram she planned many delightful trips for their pleasure. Bertram was a great comfort to her these days. Never, in word or look, could she see that he overstepped the role which he had promised to play-- William's brother.

Billy went back to her music, too. A new melody was running through her head, and she longed to put it on paper. Already her first little "Group of Songs" had found friends, and Billy, to a very modest extent, was beginning to taste the sweets of fame.

Thus, by all these interests, did Billy try "to get used to things."