Chapter XXXII. Pete to the Rescue
 

One by one the weeks passed and became a month. Then other weeks became other months. It was July when Billy, homesick and weary, came back to Hillside with Aunt Hannah.

Home looked wonderfully good to Billy, in spite of the fact that she had so dreaded to see it. Billy had made up her mind, however, that, come sometime she must. She could not, of course, stay always away. Perhaps, too, it would be just as easy at home as it was away. Certainly it could not be any harder. She was convinced of that. Besides, she did not want Bertram to think--

Billy had received only meagre news from Boston since she went away. Bertram had not written at all. William had written twice--hurt, grieved, puzzled, questioning letters that were very hard to answer. From Marie, too, had come letters of much the same sort. By far the cheeriest epistles had come from Alice Greggory. They contained, indeed, about the only comfort Billy had known for weeks, for they showed very plainly to Billy that Arkwright's heart had been caught on the rebound; and that in Alice Greggory he was finding the sweetest sort of balm for his wounded feelings. From these letters Billy learned, too, that Judge Greggory's honor had been wholly vindicated; and, as Billy told Aunt Hannah, "anybody could put two and two together and make four, now."

It was eight o'clock on a rainy July evening that Billy and Aunt Hannah arrived at Hillside; and it was only a little past eight that Aunt Hannah was summoned to the telephone. When she came back to Billy she was crying and wringing her hands.

Billy sprang to her feet.

"Why, Aunt Hannah, what is it? What's the matter?" she demanded.

Aunt Hannah sank into a chair, still wringing her hands.

"Oh, Billy, Billy, how can I tell you, how can I tell you?" she moaned.

"You must tell me! Aunt Hannah, what is it?"

"Oh--oh--oh! Billy, I can't--I can't!"

"But you'll have to! What is it, Aunt Hannah?"

"It's--B-Bertram!"

"Bertram!" Billy's face grew ashen. "Quick, quick--what do you mean?"

For answer, Aunt Hannah covered her face with her hands and began to sob aloud. Billy, almost beside herself now with terror and anxiety, dropped on her knees and tried to pull away the shaking hands.

"Aunt Hannah, you must tell me! You must --you must!"

"I can't, Billy. It's Bertram. He's--hurt!" choked Aunt Hannah, hysterically.

"Hurt! How?"

"I don't know. Pete told me."

"Pete!"

"Yes. Rosa had told him we were coming, and he called me up. He said maybe I could do something. So he told me."

"Yes, yes! But told you what?"

"That he was hurt."

"How?"

"I couldn't hear all, but I think 'twas an accident--automobile. And, Billy, Billy--Pete says it's his arm--his right arm--and that maybe he can't ever p-paint again!"

"Oh-h!" Billy fell back as if the words had been a blow. "Not that, Aunt Hannah--not that!"

"That's what Pete said. I couldn't get all of it, but I got that. And, Billy, he's been out of his head--though he isn't now, Pete says--and-- and--and he's been calling for you."

"For--me?" A swift change came to Billy's face.

"Yes. Over and over again he called for you-- while he was crazy, you know. That's why Pete told me. He said he didn't rightly understand what the trouble was, but he didn't believe there was any trouble, really, between you two; anyway, that you wouldn't think there was, if you could hear him, and know how he wanted you, and--why, Billy!"

Billy was on her feet now. Her fingers were on the electric push-button that would summon Rosa. Her face was illumined. The next moment Rosa appeared.

"Tell John to bring Peggy to the door at once, please," directed her mistress.

"Billy!" gasped Aunt Hannah again, as the maid disappeared. Billy was tremblingly putting on the hat she had but just taken off. "Billy, what are you going to do?"

Billy turned in obvious surprise.

"Why, I'm going to Bertram, of course."

"To Bertram! But it's nearly half-past eight, child, and it rains, and everything!"

"But Bertram wants me!" exclaimed Billy. "As if I'd mind rain, or time, or anything else, now!"

"But--but--oh, my grief and conscience!" groaned Aunt Hannah, beginning to wring her hands again.

Billy reached for her coat. Aunt Hannah stirred into sudden action.

"But, Billy, if you'd only wait till to-morrow," she quavered, putting out a feebly restraining hand.

"To-morrow!" The young voice rang with supreme scorn. "Do you think I'd wait till to- morrow--after all this? I say Bertram wants me." Billy picked up her gloves.

"But you broke it off, dear--you said you did; and to go down there to-night--like this--"

Billy lifted her head. Her eyes shone. Her whole face was a glory of love and pride.

"That was before. I didn't know. He wants me, Aunt Hannah. Did you hear? He wants me! And now I won't even--hinder him, if he can't --p-paint again!" Billy's voice broke. The glory left her face. Her eyes brimmed with tears, but her head was still bravely uplifted. "I'm going to Bertram!"

Blindly Aunt Hannah got to her feet. Still more blindly she reached for her bonnet and cloak on the chair near her.

"Oh, will you go, too?" asked Billy, abstractedly, hurrying to the window to look for the motor car.

"Will I go, too!" burst out Aunt Hannah's indignant voice. "Do you think I'd let you go alone, and at this time of night, on such a wild- goose chase as this?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," murmured Billy, still abstractedly, peering out into the rain.

"Don't know, indeed! Oh, my grief and conscience!" groaned Aunt Hannah, setting her bonnet hopelessly askew on top of her agitated head.

But Billy did not even answer now. Her face was pressed hard against the window-pane.