Chapter IV. Billy Sends a Telegram
 

James Harding's letter very promptly followed Billy's, though it was not like Billy's at all. It told something of Billy's property, and mentioned that, according to Mrs. Neilson's will, Billy would not come into control of her fortune until the age of twenty-one years was reached. It dwelt at some length upon the fact of Billy's loneliness in the world, and expressed the hope that her father's friend could find it in his heart to welcome the orphan into his home. It mentioned Ned, and the old college friendship, and it closed by saying that the writer, James Harding, was glad to renew his acquaintance with the good old Henshaw family that he had known long years ago; and that he hoped soon to hear from William Henshaw himself.

It was a good letter--but it was not well written. James Harding's handwriting was not distinguished for its legibility, and his correspondents rejoiced that the most of his letters were dictated to his stenographer. In this case, however, he had elected to use the more personal pen; and it was because of this that William Henshaw, even after reading the letter, was still unaware of his mistake in supposing his namesake, Billy, to be a boy.

In the main the lawyer had referred to Billy by name, or as "the orphan," or as that "poor, lonely child." And whenever the more distinctive feminine "her" or "herself" had occurred, the carelessly formed letters had made them so much like "his" and "himself" that they carried no hint of the truth to a man who had not the slightest reason for thinking himself in the wrong. It was therefore still for the "boy," Billy, that William Henshaw at once set about making a place in the home.

First he telegraphed the single word "Come" to Billy.

"I'll set the poor lad's heart at rest," he said to Bertram. "I shall answer Harding's letter more at length, of course. Naturally he wants to know something about me now before he sends Billy along; but there is no need for the boy to wait before he knows that I'll take him. Of course he won't come yet, till Harding hears from me."

It was just here, however, that William Henshaw met with a surprise, for within twenty-four hours came Billy's answer, and by telegraph.

"I'm coming to-morrow. Train due at five P. M.

"BILLY."

William Henshaw did not know that in Hampden Falls Billy's trunk had been packed for days. Billy was desperate. The house, even with the maid, and with the obliging neighbor and his wife who stayed there nights, was to Billy nothing but a dismal tomb. Lawyer Harding had fallen suddenly ill; she could not even tell him that the blessed telegram "Come" had arrived. Hence Billy, lonely, impulsive, and always used to pleasing herself, had taken matters in hand with a confident grasp, and had determined to wait no longer.

That it was a fearsomely unknown future to which she was so jauntily pledging herself did not trouble the girl in the least. Billy was romantic. To sally gaily forth with a pink in the buttonhole of her coat to find her father's friend who was a "Billy" too, seemed to Billy Neilson not only delightful, but eminently sensible, and an excellent way out of her present homesick loneliness. So she bought the pink and her ticket, and impatiently awaited the time to start.

To the Beacon Street house, Billy's cheerful telegram brought the direst consternation. Even Kate was hastily summoned to the family conclave that immediately resulted.

"There's nothing--simply nothing that I can do," she declared irritably, when she had heard the story. "Surely, you don't expect me to take the boy!"

"No, no, of course not," sighed William. "But you see, I supposed I'd have time to--to get used to things, and to make arrangements; and this is so--so sudden! I hadn't even answered Harding's letter until to-day; and he hasn't got that--much less replied to it."

"But what could you expect after sending that idiotic telegram?" demanded the lady. "'Come,' indeed!"

"But that's what Billy told me to do."

"What if it was? Just because a foolish eighteen-year-old boy tells you to do something, must you, a supposedly sensible forty- year-old man obey?"

"I think it tickled Will's romantic streak," laughed Bertram. "It seemed so sort of alluring to send that one word 'Come' out into space, and watch what happened."

"Well, he's found out, certainly," observed Cyril, with grim satisfaction.

"Oh, no; it hasn't happened yet," corrected Bertram, cheerfully. "It's just going to happen. William's got to put on the pink first, you know. That's the talisman."

William reddened.

"Bertram, don't be foolish. I sha'n't wear any pink. You must know that."

"How'll you find him, then?"

"Why, he'll have one on; that's enough," settled William.

"Hm-m; maybe. Then he'll have Spunk, too," murmured Bertram, mischievously.

"Spunk!" cried Kate.

"Yes. He wrote that he hoped we wouldn't mind his bringing Spunk with him."

"Who's Spunk?

"We don't know." Bertram's lips twitched.

"You don't know! What do you mean?"

"Well, Will thinks it's a dog, and I believe Cyril is anticipating a monkey. I myself am backing it for a parrot."

"Boys, what have you done!" groaned Kate, falling back in her chair. "What have you done!"

To William her words were like an electric shock stirring him to instant action. He sprang abruptly to his feet.

"Well, whatever we've done, we've done it," he declared sternly; "and now we must do the rest--and do it well, too. He's the son of my boyhood's dearest friend, and he shall be made welcome. Now to business! Bertram, you said you'd take him in. Did you mean it?"

Bertram sobered instantly, and came erect in his chair. William did not often speak like this; but when he did--

"Yes, Will. He shall have the little bedroom at the end of the hall. I never used the room much, anyhow, and what few duds I have there shall be cleared out to-morrow."

"Good! Now there are some other little details to arrange, then I'll go down-stairs and tell Pete and Dong Ling. And, please to understand, we're going to make this lad welcome--welcome, I say!"

"Yes, sir," said Bertram. Neither Kate nor Cyril spoke.