Chapter VII. Introducing Spunk
 

In the soft April twilight Cyril was playing a dreamy waltz when Bertram knocked, and pushed open the door.

"Say, old chap, you'll have to quit your mooning this time and sit up and take notice."

"What do you mean?" Cyril stopped playing and turned abruptly.

"I mean that Will has gone crazy, and I think the rest of us are going to follow suit."

Cyril shrugged his shoulders and whirled about on the piano stool. In a moment his fingers had slid once more into the dreamy waltz.

"When you get ready to talk sense, I'll listen," he said coldly.

"Oh, very well; if you really want it broken gently, it's this: Will has met Billy, and Billy is a girl. They're due here now 'most any time."

The music stopped with a crash.

"A--girl!"

"Yes, a girl. Oh, I've been all through that, and I know how you feel. But as near as I can make out, it's really so. I've had instructions to tell everybody, and I've told. I got Kate on the telephone, and she's coming over. You know what she'll be. Dong Ling is having what I suppose are Chinese hysterics in the kitchen; and Pete is swinging back and forth like a pendulum in the dining- room, moaning 'Good Lord, deliver us!' at every breath. I would suggest that you follow me down-stairs so that we may be decently ready for--whatever comes." And he turned about and stalked out of the room, followed by Cyril, who was too stunned to open his lips.

Kate came first. She was not stunned. She had a great deal to say.

"Really, this is a little the most absurd thing I ever heard of," she fumed. "What in the world does your brother mean?"

That she quite ignored her own relationship to the culprit was not lost on Bertram. He made instant response.

"As near as I can make out," he replied smoothly, "your brother has fallen under the sway of a pair of great dark eyes, two pink cheeks, and an unknown quantity of curly hair, all of which in its entirety is his namesake, is lonesome, and is in need of a home."

"But she can't live--here!"

"Will says she shall."

"But that is utter nonsense," cut in Cyril.

"For once I agree with you, Cyril," laughed Bertram; "but William doesn't."

"But how can she do it?" demanded Kate.

"Don't know," answered Bertram. "He's established a petticoat propriety in you for a few hours, at least. Meanwhile, he's going to think. At least, he says he is, and that we've got to help him."

"Humph!" snapped Kate. "Well, I can prophesy we sha'n't think alike--so you'd notice it!"

"I know that," nodded Bertram; "and I'm with you and Cyril on this. The whole thing is absurd. The idea of thrusting a silly, eighteen-year-old girl here into our lives in this fashion! But you know what Will is when he's really roused. You might as well try to move a nice good-natured mountain by saying 'please,' as to try to stir him under certain circumstances. Most of the time, I'll own, we can twist him around our little fingers. But not now. You'll see. In the first place, she's the daughter of his dead friend, and she did write a pathetic little letter. It got to the inside of me, anyhow, when I thought she was a boy."

"A boy! Who wouldn't think she was a boy?" interposed Cyril. "'Billy,' indeed! Can you tell me what for any sane man should have named a girl 'Billy'?"

"For William, your brother, evidently," retorted Bertram, dryly. "Anyhow, he did it, and of course our mistake was a very natural one. The dickens of it is now that we've got to keep it from her, so Will says; and how--hush! here they are," he broke off, as there came the sound of wheels stopping before the house.

There followed the click of a key in the lock and the opening of a heavy door; then, full in the glare of the electric lights stood a plainly nervous man, and a girl with startled, appealing eyes.

"My dear," stammered William, "this is my sister, Kate, Mrs. Hartwell; and here are Cyril and Bertram, whom I've told you of. And of course I don't need to say to them that you are Billy."

It was over. William drew a long breath, and gave an agonized look into his brothers' eyes. Then Billy turned from Mrs. Hartwell and held out a cordial hand to each of the men in turn.

"Oh, you don't know how lovely this is--to me," she cried softly. "And to think that you were willing I should come!" The two younger men caught their breath sharply, and tried not to see each other's eyes. "You look so good--all of you; and I don't believe there's one of you that's got nerves or a heart," she laughed.

Bertram rallied his wits to respond to the challenge.

"No heart, Miss Billy? Now isn't that just a bit hard on us--right at first?"

"Not a mite, if you take it the way I mean it," dimpled Billy. "Hearts that are all right just keep on pumping, and you never know they are there. They aren't worth mentioning. It's the other kind--the kind that flutters at the least noise and jumps at the least bang! And I don't believe any of you mind noises and bangs," she finished merrily, as she handed her hat and coat to Mrs. Hartwell, who was waiting to receive them.

Bertram laughed. Cyril scowled, and occupied himself in finding a chair. William had already dropped himself wearily on to the sofa near his sister. Billy still continued to talk.

"Now when Spunk and I get to training--oh, and you haven't seen Spunk!" she interrupted herself suddenly. "Why, the introductions aren't half over. Where is he, Uncle William--the basket?"

"I--I put it in--in the hall," mumbled William, starting to rise.

"No, no; I'll get him," cried Billy, hurrying from the room. She returned in a moment, the green covered basket in her hand. "He's been asleep, I guess. He's slept 'most all the way down, anyhow. He's so used to being toted 'round in this basket that he doesn't mind it a bit. I take him everywhere in it at the Falls."

There was an electric pause. Four pairs of startled, questioning, fearful eyes were on the basket while Billy fumbled at the knot of the string. The next moment, with a triumphant flourish, Billy lifted from the basket and placed on the floor a very small gray kitten with a very large pink bow.

"There, ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, Spunk."

The tiny creature winked and blinked, and balanced for a moment on sleepy legs; then at the uncontrollable shout that burst from Bertram's throat, he faced the man, humped his tiny back, bristled his diminutive tail to almost unbelievable fluffiness, and spit wrathfully.

"And so that is Spunk!" choked Bertram.

"Yes," said Billy. "This is Spunk."