Chapter VI. The Coming of Billy
 

After another long search William came back to the train-shed, vaguely hoping that Billy might even then be there. The girl was still standing alone by the gate. There was another train on the track now, and the rush of many feet had swept her a little to one side. She looked frightened now, and almost ready to cry. Still, William noticed that her chin was lifted bravely, and that she was making a stern effort at self-control. He hesitated a moment, then went straight toward her.

"I beg your pardon," he said kindly, lifting his hat, "but I notice that you have been waiting here some time. Perhaps there is something I can do for you."

A rosy color swept to the girl's face. Her eyes lost their frightened appeal, and smiled frankly into his.

"Oh, thank you, sir! There is something you can do for me, if you will be so kind. You see, I can't leave this place, I'm so afraid he'll come and I'll miss him. But--I think there's some mistake. Could you telephone for me?" Billy Neilson was country-bred, and in Hampden Falls all men served all other men and women, whether they were strangers or not; so to Billy this was not an extraordinary request to make, in the least.

William Henshaw smiled.

"Certainly; I shall be very glad to telephone for you. Just tell me whom you want, and what you want to say."

"Thank you. If you'll call up Mr. William Henshaw, then, of Beacon Street, please, and tell him Billy's come. I'll wait here."

"Oh, then Billy did come!" cried the man in glad surprise, his face alight. "But where is he? Do you know Billy?"

"I should say I did," laughed Billy, with the lightness of a long- lost child who has found a friend. "Why, I am Billy, myself!"

To William Henshaw the world swam dizzily, and went suddenly mad. The floor rose, and the roof fell, while cars and people performed impossible acrobatic feats above, below, and around him. Then, from afar off, he heard his own voice stammer:

"You--are--B-Billy!"

"Yes; and I'll wait here, if you'll just tell him, please. He's expecting me, you know, so it's all right, only perhaps he made a mistake in the time. Maybe you know him, anyhow."

With one mighty effort William Henshaw pulled himself sharply together. He even laughed, and tossed his head in a valiant imitation of Billy herself; but his voice shook.

"Know him!--I should say I did!" he cried. "Why, I am William Henshaw, myself."

"You!--Uncle William! Why, where's your pink?"

The man's face was already so red it could not get any redder--but it tried to do so.

"Why, er--I--it--er--if you'll just come into the waiting-room a minute, my dear," he stuttered miserably, "I--I'll explain--about that. I shall have to leave you--for a minute," he plunged on frenziedly, as he led the way to a seat; "A--matter of business that I must attend to. I'll be--right back. Wait here, please!" And he almost pushed the girl into a seat and hurried away.

At a safe distance William Henshaw turned and looked back. His knees were shaking, and his fingers had grown cold at their tips. He could see her plainly, as she bent over the basket in her lap. He could see even the pretty curve of her cheek, and of her slender throat when she lifted her head.

And that was Billy--a girl!

People near him at that moment saw a flushed-faced, nervous- appearing man throw up his hands with a despairing gesture, roll his eyes heavenward, and then plunge into the nearest telephone booth.

In due time William Henshaw had his brother Bertram at the other end of the wire.

"Bertram!" he called shakily.

"Hullo, Will; that you? What's the matter? You're late! Didn't he come?"

"Come!" groaned William. "Good Lord! Bertram--Billy's a girl!"

"A wh-what?"

"A girl."

"A girl!"

"Yes, yes! Don't stand there repeating what I say in that idiotic fashion, Bertram. Do something--do something!"

"'Do something'!" gasped Bertram. "Great Scott, Will! If you want me to do something, don't knock me silly with a blow like that. Now what did you say?"

"I said that Billy is--a--girl. Can't you get that?" demanded William, despairingly.

"Well, by Jove!" breathed Bertram.

"Come, come, think! What shall we do?"

"Why, bring her home, of course."

"Home--home!" chattered William. "Do you think we five men can bring up a distractingly pretty eighteen-year-old girl with curly cheeks and pink hair?"

"With wha-at?"

"No, no. I mean curly hair and pink cheeks. Bertram, do be sensible," begged the man. "This is serious!"

"Serious! I should say it was! Only fancy what Cy will say! A girl! Holy smoke! Tote her along--I want to see her!"

"But I say we can't keep her there with us, Bertram. Don't you see we can't?"

"Then take her to Kate's, or to--to one of those Young Women's Christian Union things."

"No, no, I can't do that. That's impossible. Don't you understand? She's expecting to go home with me--home! I'm her Uncle William."

"Lucky Uncle William!"

"Be still, Bertram!"

"Well, doesn't she know your--mistake?--that you thought she was a boy?"

"Heaven forbid!--I hope not," cried the man, fervently. "I 'most let it out once, but I think she didn't notice it. You see, we--we were both surprised."

"Well, I should say!"

"And, Bertram, I can't turn her out--I can't, I tell you. Only fancy my going to her now and saying: 'If you please, Billy, you can't live at my house, after all. I thought you were a boy, you know!' Great Scott! Bert, if she'd once turned those big brown eyes of hers on you as she has on me, you'd see!"

"I'd be delighted, I'm sure," sung a merry voice across the wires. "Sounds real interesting!"

"Bertram, can't you be serious and help me out?"

"But what can we do?"

"I don't know. We'll have to think; but for now, get Kate. Telephone her. Tell her to come right straight over, and that she's got to stay all night."

"All night!"

"Of course! Billy's got to have a chaperon; hasn't she? Now hurry. We shall be up right away."

"Kate's got company."

"Never mind--leave 'em. Tell her she's got to leave 'em. And tell Cyril, of course, what to expect. And, look a-here, you two behave, now. None of your nonsense! Now mind. I'm not going to have this child tormented."

"I won't bat an eyelid--on my word, I won't," chuckled Bertram. "But, oh, I say,--Will!"

"Yes."

"What's Spunk?"

"Eh?--oh--Great Scott! I forgot Spunk. I don't know. She's got a basket. He's in that, I suppose. Anyhow, he can't be any more of a bombshell than his mistress was. Now be quick, and none of your fooling, Bertram. Tell them all--Pete and Dong Ling. Don't forget. I wouldn't have Billy find out for the world! Fix it up with Kate. You'll have to fix it up with her; that's all!" And there came the sharp click of the receiver against the hook.