Chapter IX. A Family Conclave
 

"Well, William," greeted Kate, grimly, when she came into the drawing-room, after putting her charge to bed, "have you had enough, now?"

"'Enough'! What do you mean?"

Kate raised her eyebrows.

"Why, surely, you're not thinking now that you can keep this girl here; are you?"

"I don't know why not."

"William!"

"Well, where shall she go? Will you take her?"

"I? Certainly not," declared Kate, with decision. "I'm sure I see no reason why I should."

"No more do I see why William should, either," cut in Cyril.

"Oh, come, what's the use," interposed Bertram. "Let her stay. She's a nice little thing, I'm sure."

Cyril and Kate turned sharply.

"Bertram!" The cry was a duet of angry amazement. Then Kate added: "It seems that you, too, have come under the sway of dark eyes, pink cheeks, and an unknown quantity of curly hair!"

Bertram laughed.

"Oh, well, she would be nice to--er--paint," he murmured.

"See here, children," demurred William, a little sternly, "all this is wasting time. There is no way out of it. I wouldn't be seen turning that homeless child away now. We must keep her; that's settled. The question is, how shall it be done? We must have some woman friend here to be her companion, of course; but whom shall we get?"

Kate sighed, and looked her dismay. Bertram threw a glance into Cyril's eyes, and made an expressive gesture.

"You see," it seemed to say. "I told you how it would be!"

"Now whom shall we get?" questioned William again. "We must think."

Unattached gentlewomen of suitable age and desirable temper did not prove to be so numerous among the Henshaws' acquaintances, however, as to make the selection of a chaperon very easy. Several were thought of and suggested; but in each case the candidate was found to possess one or more characteristics that made the idea of her presence utterly abhorrent to some one of the brothers. At last William expostulated:

"See here, boys, we aren't any nearer a settlement than we were in the first place. There isn't any woman, of course, who would exactly suit all of us; and so we shall just have to be willing to take some one who doesn't."

"The trouble is," explained Bertram, airily, "we want some one who will be invisible to every one except the world and Billy, and who will be inaudible always."

"I don't know but you are right," sighed William. "But suppose we settle on Aunt Hannah. She seems to be the least objectionable of the lot, and I think she'd come. She's alone in the world, and I believe the comfortable roominess of this house would be very grateful to her after the inconvenience of her stuffy little room over at the Back Bay."

"You bet it would!" murmured Bertram, feelingly; but William did not appear to hear him.

"She's amiable, fairly sensible, and always a lady," he went on; "and to-morrow morning I believe I'll run over and see if she can't come right away."

"And may I ask which--er--stratum she--they--will occupy?" smiled Bertram.

"You may ask, but I'm afraid you won't find out very soon," retorted William, dryly, "if we take as long to decide that matter as we have the rest of it."

"Er--Cyril has the most--unoccupied space," volunteered Bertram, cheerfully.

"Indeed!" retaliated Cyril. "Suppose you let me speak for myself! Of course, so far as truck is concerned, I'm not in it with you and Will. But as for the use I put my rooms to--! Besides, I already have Pete there, and would have Dong Ling probably, if he slept here. However, if you want any of my rooms, don't let my petty wants and wishes interfere--"

"No, no," interrupted William, in quick conciliation. "We don't want your rooms, Cyril. Aunt Hannah abhors stairs. Of course I might move, I suppose. My rooms are one flight less; but if I only didn't have so many things!"

"Oh, you men!" shrugged Kate, wearily. "Why don't you ask my opinion sometimes? It seems to me that in this case a woman's wit might be of some help!"

"All right, go ahead!" nodded William.

Kate leaned forward eagerly--Kate loved to "manage."

"Go easy, now," cautioned Bertram, warily. "You know a strata, even one as solid as ours, won't stand too much of an earthquake!"

"It isn't an earthquake at all," sniffed Kate. "It's a very sensible move all around. Here are these two great drawing-rooms, the library, and the little reception-room across the hall, and not one of them is ever used but this. Of course the women wouldn't like to sleep down here, but why don't you, Bertram, take the back drawing-room, the library, and the little reception-room for yours, and leave the whole of the second floor for Billy and Aunt Hannah?"

"Good for you, Kate," cried Bertram, appreciatively. "You've hit it square on the head, and we'll do it. I'll move to-morrow. The light down here is just as good as it is up-stairs--if you let it in!"

"Thank you, Bertram, and you, too, Kate," breathed William, fervently. "Now, if you don't mind, I believe I'll go to bed. I am tired!"