Chapter XLII. The "End of the Story"
 

It was two days after Billy's new happiness had come to her that Cyril came home. He went very soon to see Billy.

The girl was surprised at the change in his appearance. He had grown thin and haggard looking, and his eyes were somber. He moved restlessly about the room for a time, finally seating himself at the piano and letting his fingers slip from one mournful little melody to another. Then, with a discordant crash, he turned.

"Billy, do you think any girl would marry--me?" he demanded.

"Why, Cyril!"

"There, now, please don't begin that," he begged fretfully. "I realize, of course, that I'm a very unlikely subject for matrimony. You made me understand that clearly enough last winter!"

"Last--winter?"

Cyril raised his eyebrows.

"Oh, I came to you for a little encouragement, and to make a confession," he said. "I made the confession--but I didn't get the encouragement."

Billy changed color. She thought she knew what he meant, but at the same time she couldn't understand why he should wish to refer to that conversation now.

"A--confession?" she repeated, hesitatingly.

"Yes. I told you that I'd begun to doubt my being such a woman- hater, after all. I intimated that you'd begun the softening process, and that then I'd found a certain other young woman who had--well, who had kept up the good work."

"Oh!" cried Billy suddenly, with a peculiar intonation. "Oh-h!" Then she laughed softly.

"Well, that was the confession," resumed Cyril. "Then I came out flat-footed and said that I wanted to marry her--but there is where I didn't get the encouragement!"

"Indeed! I'm afraid I wasn't very considerate," stammered Billy.

"No, you weren't," agreed Cyril, moodily. "I didn't know but now--" his voice softened a little--"with this new happiness of yours and Bertram's that--you might find a little encouragement for me."

"And I will," cried Billy, promptly. "Tell me about her."

"I did--last winter," reproached the man, "and you were sure I was deceiving myself. You drew the gloomiest sort of picture of the misery I would take with a wife."

"I did?" Billy was laughing very merrily now.

"Yes. You said she'd always be talking and laughing when I wanted to be quiet, and that she'd want to drag me out to parties and plays when I wanted to stay at home; and--oh, lots of things. I tried to make it clear to you that--that this little woman wasn't that sort. But I couldn't," finished Cyril, gloomily.

"But of course she isn't," declared Billy, with quick sympathy. "I--I didn't know--what--I was--talking about," she added with emphatic distinctness. Then she smiled to think how little Cyril knew how very true those words were. "Tell me about her," she begged again. "I know she must be very lovely and brilliant, and of course a wonderful musician. You couldn't choose any one else!"

To her surprise Cyril turned abruptly and began to play again. A nervous little staccato scherzo fell from his fingers, but it dropped almost at once into a quieter melody, and ended with something that sounded very much like the last strain of "Home, Sweet Home." Then he wheeled about on the piano stool.

"Billy, that's exactly where you're wrong--I don't want that kind of wife. I don't want a brilliant one, and--now, Billy, this sounds like horrible heresy, I know, but it's true--I don't care whether she can play, or not; but I should prefer that she shouldn't play--much!"

"Why, Cyril Henshaw!--and you, with your music! As if you could be contented with a woman like that!"

"Oh, I want her to like music, of course," modified Cyril; "but I don't care to have her make it. Billy, do you know? You'll laugh, of course, but my picture of a wife is always one thing: a room with a table and a shaded lamp, and a little woman beside it with the light on her hair, and a great, basket of sewing beside her. You see I am domestic!" he finished a little defiantly.

"I should say you were," laughed Billy. "And have you found her?-- this little woman who is to do nothing but sit and sew in the circle of the shaded lamp?"

"Yes, I've found her, but I'm not at all sure she's found me. That's where I want your help. Oh, I don't mean, of course," he added, "that she's got to sit under that lamp all the time. It's only that--that I hope she likes that sort of thing."

"And--does she?"

"Yes; that is, I think she does," smiled Cyril. "Anyhow, she told me once that--that the things she liked best to do in all the world were to mend stockings and to make puddings."

Billy sprang to her feet with a little cry. Now, indeed, had Cyril kept his promise and made "many things clear" to her.

"Cyril, come here," she cried tremulously, leading the way to the open veranda door. The next moment Cyril was looking across the lawn to the little summerhouse in the midst of Billy's rose garden. In full view within the summerhouse sat Marie--sewing.

"Go, Cyril; she's waiting for you," smiled Billy, mistily. "The light's only the sun, to be sure, and maybe there isn't a whole basket of sewing there. But--she's there!"

"You've--guessed, then!" breathed Cyril.

"I've not guessed--I know. And--it's all right."

"You mean--?" Only Cyril's pleading eyes finished the question.

"Yes, I'm sure she does," nodded Billy. And then she added under her breath as the man passed swiftly down the steps: "'Marie Henshaw' indeed! So 'twas Cyril all the time--and never Bertram-- who was the inspiration of that bit of paper give-away!"

When she turned back into the room she came face to face with Bertram.

"I spoke, dear, but you didn't hear," he said, as he hurried forward with outstretched hands.

"Bertram," greeted Billy, with surprising irrelevance, "'and they all lived happily ever after'--they did! Isn't that always the ending to the story--a love story?"

"Of course," said Bertram with emphasis;--"our love story!"

"And theirs," supplemented Billy, softly; but Bertram did not hear that.