Miss Billy Married by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XI. Calderwell Does Some Questioning
On the day after his dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Henshaw, Hugh Calderwell left Boston and did not return until more than a month had passed. One of his first acts, when he did come, was to look up Mr. M. J. Arkwright at the address which Billy had given him.
Calderwell had not seen Arkwright since they parted in Paris some two years before, after a six- months tramp through Europe together. Calderwell liked Arkwright then, greatly, and he lost no time now in renewing the acquaintance.
The address, as given by Billy, proved to be an attractive but modest apartment hotel near the Conservatory of Music; and Calderwell was delighted to find Arkwright at home in his comfortable little bachelor suite.
Arkwright greeted him most cordially.
"Well, well," he cried, "if it isn't Calderwell! And how's Mont Blanc? Or is it the Killarney Lakes this time, or maybe the Sphinx that I should inquire for, eh?"
"Guess again," laughed Calderwell, throwing off his heavy coat and settling himself comfortably in the inviting-looking morris chair his friend pulled forward.
"Sha'n't do it," retorted Arkwright, with a smile. "I never gamble on palpable uncertainties, except for a chance throw or two, as I gave a minute ago. Your movements are altogether too erratic, and too far-reaching, for ordinary mortals to keep track of."
"Well, maybe you're right," grinned Calderwell, appreciatively. "Anyhow, you would have lost this time, sure thing, for I've been working."
"Seen the doctor yet?" queried Arkwright, coolly, pushing the cigars across the table.
"Thanks--for both," sniffed Calderwell, with a reproachful glance, helping himself. "Your good judgment in some matters is still unimpaired, I see," he observed, tapping the little gilded band which had told him the cigar was an old favorite. "As to other matters, however,--you're wrong again, my friend, in your surmise. I am not sick, and I have been working."
"So? Well, I'm told they have very good specialists here. Some one of them ought to hit your case. Still--how long has it been running?" Arkwright's face showed only grave concern.
"Oh, come, let up, Arkwright," snapped Calderwell, striking his match alight with a vigorous jerk. "I'll admit I haven't ever given any special indication of an absorbing passion for work. But what can you expect of a fellow born with a whole dozen silver spoons in his mouth? And that's what I was, according to Bertram Henshaw. According to him again, it's a wonder I ever tried to feed myself; and perhaps he's right --with my mouth already so full."
"I should say so," laughed Arkwright.
"Well, be that as it may. I'm going to feed myself, and I'm going to earn my feed, too. I haven't climbed a mountain or paddled a canoe, for a year. I've been in Chicago cultivating the acquaintance of John Doe and Richard Roe."
"Sure. I studied it here for a while, before that bout of ours a couple of years ago. Billy drove me away, then."
"Yes. I thought I told you. She turned down my tenth-dozen proposal so emphatically that I lost all interest in Boston and took to the tall timber again. But I've come back. A friend of my father's wrote me to come on and consider a good opening there was in his law office. I came on a month ago, and considered. Then I went back to pack up. Now I've come for good, and here I am. You have my history to date. Now tell me of yourself. You're looking as fit as a penny from the mint, even though you have discarded that `lovely' brown beard. Was that a concession to--er--Mary Jane?"
Arkwright lifted a quick hand of protest.
" `Michael Jeremiah,' please. There is no `Mary Jane,' now," he said a bit stiffly.
The other stared a little. Then he gave a low chuckle.
" `Michael Jeremiah,' " he repeated musingly, eyeing the glowing tip of his cigar. "And to think how that mysterious `M. J.' used to tantalize me! Do you mean," he added, turning slowly, "that no one calls you `Mary Jane' now?"
"Not if they know what is best for them."
"Oh!" Calderwell noted the smouldering fire in the other's eyes a little curiously. "Very well. I'll take the hint--Michael Jeremiah."
"Thanks." Arkwright relaxed a little. "To tell the truth, I've had quite enough now--of Mary Jane."
"Very good. So be it," nodded the other, still regarding his friend thoughtfully. "But tell me --what of yourself?"
Arkwright shrugged his shoulders.
"There's nothing to tell. You've seen. I'm here."
"Humph! Very pretty," scoffed Calderwell. "Then if you won't tell, I will. I saw Billy a month ago, you see. It seems you've hit the trail for Grand Opera, as you threatened to that night in Paris; but you haven't brought up in vaudeville, as you prophesied you would do--though, for that matter, judging from the plums some of the stars are picking on the vaudeville stage, nowadays, that isn't to be sneezed at. But Billy says you've made two or three appearances already on the sacred boards themselves--one of them a subscription performance--and that you created no end of a sensation."
"Nonsense! I'm merely a student at the Opera School here," scowled Arkwright.
"Oh, yes, Billy said you were that, but she also said you wouldn't be, long. That you'd already had one good offer--I'm not speaking of marriage-- and that you were going abroad next summer, and that they were all insufferably proud of you."
"Nonsense!" scowled Arkwright, again, coloring like a girl. "That is only some of--of Mrs. Henshaw's kind flattery."
Calderwell jerked the cigar from between his lips, and sat suddenly forward in his chair.
"Arkwright, tell me about them. How are they making it go?"
"Who? Make what go?" he asked.
"The Henshaws. Is she happy? Is he--on the square?"
Arkwright's face darkened.
"Well, really," he began; but Calderwell interrupted.
"Oh, come; don't be squeamish. You think I'm butting into what doesn't concern me; but I'm not. What concerns Billy does concern me. And if he doesn't make her happy, I'll--I'll kill him."
In spite of himself Arkwright laughed. The vehemence of the other's words, and the fierceness with which he puffed at his cigar as he fell back in his chair were most expressive
"Well, I don't think you need to load revolvers nor sharpen daggers, just yet," he observed grimly.
Calderwell laughed this time, though without much mirth.
"Oh, I'm not in love with Billy, now," he explained. "Please don't think I am. I shouldn't see her if I was, of course."
Arkwright changed his position suddenly, bringing his face into the shadow. Calderwell talked on without pausing.
"No, I'm not in love with Billy. But Billy's a trump. You know that."
"I do." The words were low, but steadily spoken.
"Of course you do! We all do. And we want her happy. But as for her marrying Bertram-- you could have bowled me over with a soap bubble when I heard she'd done it. Now understand: Bertram is a good fellow, and I like him. I've known him all his life, and he's all right. Oh, six or eight years ago, to be sure, he got in with a set of fellows--Bob Seaver and his clique--that were no good. Went in for Bohemianism, and all that rot. It wasn't good for Bertram. He's got the confounded temperament that goes with his talent, I suppose--though why a man can't paint a picture, or sing a song, and keep his temper and a level head I don't see!"
"He can," cut in Arkwright, with curt emphasis.
"Humph! Well, that's what I think. But, about this marriage business. Bertram admires a pretty face wherever he sees it--to paint, and always has. Not but that he's straight as a string with women--I don't mean that; but girls are always just so many pictures to be picked up on his brushes and transferred to his canvases. And as for his settling down and marrying anybody for keeps, right along--Great Scott! imagine Bertram Henshaw as a domestic man!"
Arkwright stirred restlessly as he spoke up in quick defense:
"Oh, but he is, I assure you. I--I've seen them in their home together--many times. I think they are--very happy." Arkwright spoke with decision, though still a little diffidently.
Calderwell was silent. He had picked up the little gilt band he had torn from his cigar and was fingering it musingly.
"Yes; I've seen them--once," he said, after a minute. "I took dinner with them when I was on, a month ago."
"I heard you did."
At something in Arkwright's voice, Calderwell turned quickly.
"What do you mean? Why do you say it like that?"
Arkwright laughed. The constraint fled from his manner.
"Well, I may as well tell you. You'll hear of it. It's no secret. Mrs. Henshaw herself tells of it everywhere. It was her friend, Alice Greggory, who told me of it first, however. It seems the cook was gone, and the mistress had to get the dinner herself."
"Yes, I know that."
"But you should hear Mrs. Henshaw tell the story now, or Bertram. It seems she knew nothing whatever about cooking, and her trials and tribulations in getting that dinner on to the table were only one degree worse than the dinner itself, according to her story. Didn't you--er --notice anything?"
"Notice anything!" exploded Calderwell. "I noticed that Billy was so brilliant she fairly radiated sparks; and I noticed that Bertram was so glum he--he almost radiated thunderclaps. Then I saw that Billy's high spirits were all assumed to cover a threatened burst of tears, and I laid it all to him. I thought he'd said something to hurt her; and I could have punched him. Great Scott! Was that what ailed them?"
"I reckon it was. Alice says that since then Mrs. Henshaw has fairly haunted the kitchen, begging Eliza to teach her everything, every single thing she knows!"
"If that isn't just like Billy! She never does anything by halves. By George, but she was game over that dinner! I can see it all now."
"Alice says she's really learning to cook, in spite of old Pete's horror, and Eliza's pleadings not to spoil her pretty hands."
"Then Pete is back all right? What a faithful old soul he is!"
Arkwright frowned slightly.
"Yes, he's faithful, but he isn't all right, by any means. I think he's a sick man, myself."
"What makes Billy let him work, then?"
"Let him!" sniffed Arkwright. "I'd like to see you try to stop him! Mrs. Henshaw begs and pleads with him to stop, but he scouts the idea. Pete is thoroughly and unalterably convinced that the family would starve to death if it weren't for him; and Mrs. Henshaw says that she'll admit he has some grounds for his opinion when one remembers the condition of the kitchen and dining-room the night she presided over them."
"Poor Billy!" chuckled Calderwell. "I'd have gone down into the kitchen myself if I'd suspected what was going on."
Arkwright raised his eyebrows.
"Perhaps it's well you didn't--if Bertram's picture of what he found there when he went down is a true one. Mrs. Henshaw acknowledges that even the cat sought refuge under the stove."
"As if the veriest worm that crawls ever needed to seek refuge from Billy!" scoffed Calderwell. "By the way, what's this Annex I hear of? Bertram mentioned it, but I couldn't get either of them to tell what it was. Billy wouldn't, and Bertram said he couldn't--not with Billy shaking her head at him like that. So I had my suspicions. One of Billy's pet charities?"
"She doesn't call it that." Arkwright's face and voice softened. "It is Hillside. She still keeps it open. She calls it the Annex to her home. She's filled it with a crippled woman, a poor little music teacher, a lame boy, and Aunt Hannah."
"She doesn't think so. She says it's just an overflow house for the extra happiness she can't use."
There was a moment's silence. Calderwell laid down his cigar, pulled out his handkerchief, and blew his nose furiously. Then he got to his feet and walked to the fireplace. After a minute he turned.
"Well, if she isn't the beat 'em!" he spluttered. "And I had the gall to ask you if Henshaw made her--happy! Overflow house, indeed!"
"The best of it is, the way she does it," smiled Arkwright. "They're all the sort of people ordinary charity could never reach; and the only way she got them there at all was to make each one think that he or she was absolutely necessary to the rest of them. Even as it is, they all pay a little something toward the running expenses of the house. They insisted on that, and Mrs. Henshaw had to let them. I believe her chief difficulty now is that she has not less than six people whom she wishes to put into the two extra rooms still unoccupied, and she can't make up her mind which to take. Her husband says he expects to hear any day of an Annexette to the Annex."
"Humph!" grunted Calderwell, as he turned and began to walk up and down the room. "Bertram is still painting, I suppose."
"What's he doing now?"
"Several things. He's up to his eyes in work. As you probably have heard, he met with a severe accident last summer, and lost the use of his right arm for many months. I believe they thought at one time he had lost it forever. But it's all right now, and he has several commissions for portraits. Alice says he's doing ideal heads again, too."
"Same old `Face of a Girl'?"
"I suppose so, though Alice didn't say. Of course his special work just now is painting the portrait of Miss Marguerite Winthrop. You may have heard that he tried it last year and --and didn't make quite a success of it."
"Yes. My sister Belle told me. She hears from Billy once in a while. Will it be a go, this time?"
"We'll hope so--for everybody's sake. I imagine no one has seen it yet--it's not finished; but Alice says--"
Calderwell turned abruptly, a quizzical smile on his face.
"See here, my son," he interposed, "it strikes me that this Alice is saying a good deal--to you! Who is she?"
Arkwright gave a light laugh.
"Why, I told you. She is Miss Alice Greggory, Mrs. Henshaw's friend--and mine. I have known her for years."
"Hm-m; what is she like?"
"Like? Why, she's like--like herself, of course. You'll have to know Alice. She's the salt of the earth--Alice is," smiled Arkwright, rising to his feet with a remonstrative gesture, as he saw Calderwell pick up his coat. "What's your hurry?"
"Hm-m," commented Calderwell again, ignoring the question. "And when, may I ask, do you intend to appropriate this--er--salt --to--er--ah--season your own life with, as I might say--eh?"
Arkwright laughed. There was not the slightest trace of embarrassment in his face.
"Never. You're on the wrong track, this time. Alice and I are good friends--always have been, and always will be, I hope."
"Nothing more. I see her frequently. She is musical, and the Henshaws are good enough to ask us there often together. You will meet her, doubtless, now, yourself. She is frequently at the Henshaw home."
"Hm-m." Calderwell still eyed his host shrewdly. "Then you'll give me a clear field, eh?"
"Certainly." Arkwright's eyes met his friend's gaze without swerving.
"All right. However, I suppose you'll tell me, as I did you, once, that a right of way in such a case doesn't mean a thoroughfare for the party interested. If my memory serves me, I gave you right of way in Paris to win the affections of a certain elusive Miss Billy here in Boston, if you could. But I see you didn't seem to improve your opportunities," he finished teasingly.
Arkwright stooped, of a sudden, to pick up a bit of paper from the floor.
"No," he said quietly. "I didn't seem to improve my opportunities." This time he did not meet Calderwell's eyes.
The good-byes had been said when Calderwell turned abruptly at the door.
"Oh, I say, I suppose you're going to that devil's carnival at Jordan Hall to-morrow night."
"Devil's carnival! You don't mean--Cyril Henshaw's piano recital!"
"Sure I do," grinned Calderwell, unabashed. "And I'll warrant it'll be a devil's carnival, too. Isn't Mr. Cyril Henshaw going to play his own music? Oh, I know I'm hopeless, from your standpoint, but I can't help it. I like mine with some go in it, and a tune that you can find without hunting for it. And I don't like lost spirits gone mad that wail and shriek through ten perfectly good minutes, and then die with a gasping moan whose home is the tombs. However, you're going, I take it."
"Of course I am," laughed the other. "You couldn't hire Alice to miss one shriek of those spirits. Besides, I rather like them myself, you know."
"Yes, I suppose you do. You're brought up on it--in your business. But me for the `Merry Widow' and even the hoary `Jingle Bells' every time! However, I'm going to be there--out of respect to the poor fellow's family. And, by the way, that's another thing that bowled me over --Cyril's marriage. Why, Cyril hates women!"
"Not all women--we'll hope," smiled Arkwright. "Do you know his wife?"
"Not much. I used to see her a little at Billy's. Music teacher, wasn't she? Then she's the same sort, I suppose."
"But she isn't," laughed Arkwright. Oh, she taught music, but that was only because of necessity, I take it. She's domestic through and through, with an overwhelming passion for making puddings and darning socks, I hear. Alice says she believes Mrs. Cyril knows every dish and spoon by its Christian name, and that there's never so much as a spool of thread out of order in the house."
"But how does Cyril stand it--the trials and tribulations of domestic life? Bertram used to declare that the whole Strata was aquiver with fear when Cyril was composing, and I remember him as a perfect bear if anybody so much as whispered when he was in one of his moods. I never forgot the night Bertram and I were up in William's room trying to sing `When Johnnie comes marching home,' to the accompaniment of a banjo in Bertram's hands, and a guitar in mine. Gorry! it was Hugh that went marching home that night."
"Oh, well, from reports I reckon Mrs. Cyril doesn't play either a banjo or a guitar," smiled Arkwright. "Alice says she wears rubber heels on her shoes, and has put hushers on all the chair- legs, and felt-mats between all the plates and saucers. Anyhow, Cyril is building a new house, and he looks as if he were in a pretty healthy condition, as you'll see to-morrow night."
"Humph! I wish he'd make his music healthy, then," grumbled Calderwell, as he opened the door.