Miss Billy's Decision by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter III. Billy and Bertram
Bertram called that evening. Before the open fire in the living-room he found a pensive Billy awaiting him--a Billy who let herself be kissed, it is true, and who even kissed back, shyly, adorably; but a Billy who looked at him with wide, almost frightened eyes.
"Why, darling, what's the matter?" he demanded, his own eyes growing wide and frightened.
"What's done? What do you mean?"
"Our engagement. It's--announced. I wrote stacks of notes to-day, and even now there are some left for to-morrow. And then there's--the newspapers. Bertram, right away, now, everybody will know it." Her voice was tragic.
Bertram relaxed visibly. A tender light came to his eyes.
"Well, didn't you expect everybody would know it, my dear?"
At her hesitation, the tender light changed to a quick fear.
"Billy, you aren't--sorry?"
The pink glory that suffused her face answered him before her words did.
"Sorry! Oh, never, Bertram! It's only that it won't be ours any longer--that is, it won't belong to just our two selves. Everybody will know it. And they'll bow and smile and say `How lovely!' to our faces, and `Did you ever?' to our backs. Oh, no, I'm not sorry, Bertram; but I am--afraid."
Billy sighed, and gazed with pensive eyes into the fire.
Across Bertram's face swept surprise, consternation, and dismay. Bertram had thought he knew Billy in all her moods and fancies; but he did not know her in this one.
"Why, Billy!" he breathed.
Billy drew another sigh. It seemed to come from the very bottoms of her small, satin-slippered feet.
"Well, I am. You're the Bertram Henshaw. You know lots and lots of people that I never even saw. And they'll come and stand around and stare and lift their lorgnettes and say: `Is that the one? Dear me!' "
Bertram gave a relieved laugh.
"Nonsense, sweetheart! I should think you were a picture I'd painted and hung on a wall."
"I shall feel as if I were--with all those friends of yours. Bertram, what if they don't like it?" Her voice had grown tragic again.
"Yes. The picture--me, I mean."
"They can't help liking it," he retorted, with the prompt certainty of an adoring lover.
Billy shook her head. Her eyes had gone back to the fire.
"Oh, yes, they can. I can hear them. `What, she--Bertram Henshaw's wife?--a frivolous, inconsequential "Billy" like that?' Bertram!" --Billy turned fiercely despairing eyes on her lover--"Bertram, sometimes I wish my name were `Clarissa Cordelia,' or `Arabella Maud,' or `Hannah Jane'--anything that's feminine and proper!"
Bertram's ringing laugh brought a faint smile to Billy's lips. But the words that followed the laugh, and the caressing touch of the man's hands sent a flood of shy color to her face.
" `Hannah Jane,' indeed! As if I'd exchange my Billy for her or any Clarissa or Arabella that ever grew! I adore Billy--flame, nature, and--"
"And naughtiness?" put in Billy herself.
"Yes--if there be any," laughed Bertram, fondly. "But, see," he added, taking a tiny box from his pocket, "see what I've brought for this same Billy to wear. She'd have had it long ago if she hadn't insisted on waiting for this announcement business."
"Oh, Bertram, what a beauty!" dimpled Billy, as the flawless diamond in Bertram's fingers caught the light and sent it back in a flash of flame and crimson.
"Now you are mine--really mine, sweetheart!" The man's voice and hand shook as he slipped the ring on Billy's outstretched finger.
Billy caught her breath with almost a sob.
"And I'm so glad to be--yours, dear," she murmured brokenly. "And--and I'll make you proud that I am yours, even if I am just `Billy,' " she choked. "Oh, I know I'll write such beautiful, beautiful songs now."
The man drew her into a close embrace.
"As if I cared for that," he scoffed lovingly.
Billy looked up in quick horror.
"Why, Bertram, you don't mean you don't --care?"
He laughed lightly, and took the dismayed little face between his two hands.
"Care, darling? of course I care! You know how I love your music. I care about everything that concerns you. I meant that I'm proud of you now--just you. I love you, you know."
There was a moment's pause. Billy's eyes, as they looked at him, carried a curious intentness in their dark depths.
"You mean, you like--the turn of my head and the tilt of my chin?" she asked a little breathlessly.
"I adore them!" came the prompt answer.
To Bertram's utter amazement, Billy drew back with a sharp cry.
"No, no--not that!"
Billy laughed unexpectedly; then she sighed.
"Oh, it's all right, of course," she assured him hastily. "It's only--" Billy stopped and blushed. Billy was thinking of what Hugh Calderwell had once said to her: that Bertram Henshaw would never love any girl seriously; that it would always be the turn of her head or the tilt of her chin that he loved--to paint.
"Well; only what?" demanded Bertram.
Billy blushed the more deeply, but she gave a light laugh.
"Nothing, only something Hugh Calderwell said to me once. You see, Bertram, I don't think Hugh ever thought you would--marry."
"Oh, didn't he?" bridled Bertram. "Well, that only goes to show how much he knows about it. Er--did you announce it--to him?" Bertram's voice was almost savage now.
"No; but I did to his sister, and she'll tell him. Oh, Bertram, such a time as I had over those notes," went on Billy, with a chuckle. Her eyes were dancing, and she was seeming more like her usual self, Bertram thought. "You see there were such a lot of things I wanted to say, about what a dear you were, and how much I--I liked you, and that you had such lovely eyes, and a nose--"
"Billy!" This time it was Bertram who was sitting erect in pale horror.
Billy threw him a roguish glance.
"Goosey! You are as bad as Aunt Hannah! I said that was what I wanted to say. What I really said was--quite another matter," she finished with a saucy uptilting of her chin.
Bertram relaxed with a laugh.
"You witch!" His admiring eyes still lingered on her face. "Billy, I'm going to paint you sometime in just that pose. You're adorable!"
"Pooh! Just another face of a girl," teased the adorable one.
Bertram gave a sudden exclamation.
"There! And I haven't told you, yet. Guess what my next commission is."
"To paint a portrait?"
"Can't. Who is it?"
"J. G. Winthrop's daughter."
"Not the J. G. Winthrop?"
"Oh, Bertram, how splendid!"
"Isn't it? And then the girl herself! Have you seen her? But you haven't, I know, unless you met her abroad. She hasn't been in Boston for years until now."
"No, I haven't seen her. Is she so very beautiful?" Billy spoke a little soberly.
"Yes--and no." The artist lifted his head alertly. What Billy called his "painting look" came to his face. "It isn't that her features are so regular--though her mouth and chin are perfect. But her face has so much character, and there's an elusive something about her eyes --Jove! If I can only catch it, it'll be the best thing yet that I've ever done, Billy."
"Will it? I'm so glad--and you'll get it, I know you will," claimed Billy, clearing her throat a little nervously.
"I wish I felt so sure," sighed Bertram. "But it'll be a great thing if I do get it--J. G. Winthrop's daughter, you know, besides the merit of the likeness itself."
"Yes; yes, indeed!" Billy cleared her throat again. "You've seen her, of course, lately?"
"Oh, yes. I was there half the morning discussing the details--sittings and costume, and deciding on the pose."
"Did you find one--to suit?"
"Find one!" The artist made a despairing gesture. "I found a dozen that I wanted. The trouble was to tell which I wanted the most."
Billy gave a nervous little laugh.
"Isn't that--unusual?" she asked.
Bertram lifted his eyebrows with a quizzical smile.
"Well, they aren't all Marguerite Winthrops," he reminded her.
"Marguerite!" cried Billy. "Oh, is her name Marguerite? I do think Marguerite is the dearest name!" Billy's eyes and voice were wistful.
"I don't--not the dearest. Oh, it's all well enough, of course, but it can't be compared for a moment to--well, say, `Billy'!"
Billy smiled, but she shook her head.
"I'm afraid you're not a good judge of names," she objected.
"Yes, I am; though, for that matter, I should love your name, no matter what it was."
"Even if 'twas `Mary Jane,' eh?" bantered Billy. "Well, you'll have a chance to find out how you like that name pretty quick, sir. We're going to have one here."
"You're going to have a Mary Jane here? Do you mean that Rosa's going away?"
"Mercy! I hope not," shuddered Billy. "You don't find a Rosa in every kitchen--and never in employment agencies! My Mary Jane is a niece of Aunt Hannah's,--or rather, a cousin. She's coming to Boston to study music, and I've invited her here. We've asked her for a month, though I presume we shall keep her right along."
"Well, of course, that's very nice for--Mary Jane," he sighed with meaning emphasis.
"Don't worry, dear. She won't bother us any."
"Oh, yes, she will," sighed Bertram. "She'll be 'round--lots; you see if she isn't. Billy, I think sometimes you're almost too kind--to other folks."
"Never!" laughed Billy. Besides, what would you have me do when a lonesome young girl was coming to Boston? Anyhow, you're not the one to talk, young man. I've known you to take in a lonesome girl and give her a home," she flashed merrily.
"Jove! What a time that was!" he exclaimed, regarding his companion with fond eyes. "And Spunk, too! Is she going to bring a Spunk?"
"Not that I've heard," smiled Billy; "but she is going to wear a pink."
"Not really, Billy?"
"Of course she is! I told her to. How do you suppose we could know her when we saw her, if she didn't?" demanded the girl, indignantly. "And what is more, sir, there will be two pinks worn this time. I sha'n't do as Uncle William did, and leave off my pink. Only think what long minutes-- that seemed hours of misery--I spent waiting there in that train-shed, just because I didn't know which man was my Uncle William!"
Bertram laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, your Mary Jane won't probably turn out to be quite such a bombshell as our Billy did--unless she should prove to be a boy," he added whimsically. "Oh, but Billy, she can't turn out to be such a dear treasure," finished the man. And at the adoring look in his eyes Billy blushed deeply--and promptly forgot all about Mary Jane and her pink.