Chapter XIII. Pete
 

Bertram Henshaw had no disquieting forebodings this time concerning his portrait of Marguerite Winthrop when the doors of the Bohemian Ten Club Exhibition were thrown open to members and invited guests. Just how great a popular success it was destined to be, he could not know, of course, though he might have suspected it when he began to receive the admiring and hearty congratulations of his friends and fellow-artists on that first evening.

Nor was the Winthrop portrait the only jewel in his crown on that occasion. His marvelously exquisite "The Rose," and his smaller ideal picture, "Expectation," came in for scarcely less commendation. There was no doubt now. The originator of the famous "Face of a Girl" had come into his own again. On all sides this was the verdict, one long-haired critic of international fame even claiming openly that Henshaw had not only equaled his former best work, but had gone beyond it, in both artistry and technique.

It was a brilliant gathering. Society, as usual, in costly evening gowns and correct swallow-tails rubbed elbows with names famous in the world of Art and Letters. Everywhere were gay laughter and sparkling repartee. Even the austere-faced J. G. Winthrop unbent to the extent of grim smiles in response to the laudatory comments bestowed upon the pictured image of his idol, his beautiful daughter.

As to the great financier's own opinion of the work, no one heard him express it except, perhaps, the artist; and all that he got was a grip of the hand and a "Good! I knew you'd fetch it this time, my boy!" But that was enough. And, indeed, no one who knew the stern old man needed to more than look into his face that evening to know of his entire satisfaction in this portrait soon to be the most recent, and the most cherished addition to his far-famed art collection.

As to Bertram--Bertram was pleased and happy and gratified, of course, as was natural; but he was not one whit more so than was Bertram's wife. Billy fairly radiated happiness and proud joy. She told Bertram, indeed, that if he did anything to make her any prouder, it would take an Annex the size of the Boston Opera House to hold her extra happiness.

"Sh-h, Billy! Some one will hear you," protested Bertram, tragically; but, in spite of his horrified voice, he did not look displeased.

For the first time Billy met Marguerite Winthrop that evening. At the outset there was just a bit of shyness and constraint in the young wife's manner. Billy could not forget her old insane jealousy of this beautiful girl with the envied name of Marguerite. But it was for only a moment, and soon she was her natural, charming self.

Miss Winthrop was fascinated, and she made no pretense of hiding it. She even turned to Bertram at last, and cried:

"Surely, now, Mr. Henshaw, you need never go far for a model! Why don't you paint your wife?"

Billy colored. Bertram smiled.

"I have," he said. "I have painted her many times. In fact, I have painted her so often that she once declared it was only the tilt of her chin and the turn of her head that I loved--to paint," he said merrily, enjoying Billy's pretty confusion, and not realizing that his words really distressed her. "I have a whole studio full of `Billys' at home."

"Oh, have you, really?" questioned Miss Winthrop, eagerly. "Then mayn't I see them? Mayn't I, please, Mrs. Henshaw? I'd so love to!"

"Why, of course you may," murmured both the artist and his wife.

"Thank you. Then I'm coming right away. May I? I'm going to Washington next week, you see. Will you let me come to-morrow at-- at half-past three, then? Will it be quite convenient for you, Mrs. Henshaw?"

"Quite convenient. I shall be glad to see you," smiled Billy. And Bertram echoed his wife's cordial permission.

"Thank you. Then I'll be there at half-past three," nodded Miss Winthrop, with a smile, as she turned to give place to an admiring group, who were waiting to pay their respects to the artist and his wife.

There was, after all, that evening, one fly in Billy's ointment.

It fluttered in at the behest of an old acquaintance--one of the "advice women," as Billy termed some of her too interested friends.

"Well, they're lovely, perfectly lovely, of course, Mrs. Henshaw," said this lady, coming up to say good-night. "But, all the samee{sic}, I'm glad my husband is just a plain lawyer. Look out, my dear, that while Mr. Henshaw is stealing all those pretty faces for his canvases--just look out that the fair ladies don't turn around and steal his heart before you know it. Dear me, but you must be so proud of him!"

"I am," smiled Billy, serenely; and only the jagged split that rent the glove on her hand, at that moment, told of the fierce anger behind that smile.

"As if I couldn't trust Bertram!" raged Billy passionately to herself, stealing a surreptitious glance at her ruined glove. "And as if there weren't ever any perfectly happy marriages-- even if you don't ever hear of them, or read of them!"

Bertram was not home to luncheon on the day following the opening night of the Bohemian Ten Club. A matter of business called him away from the house early in the morning; but he told his wife that he surely would be on hand for Miss Winthrop's call at half-past three o'clock that afternoon.

"Yes, do," Billy had urged. "I think she's lovely, but you know her so much better than I do that I want you here. Besides, you needn't think I'm going to show her all those Billys of yours. I may be vain, but I'm not quite vain enough for that, sir!"

"Don't worry," her husband had laughed. "I'll be here."

As it chanced, however, something occurred an hour before half-past three o'clock that drove every thought of Miss Winthrop's call from Billy's head.

For three days, now, Pete had been at the home of his niece in South Boston. He had been forced, finally, to give up and go away. News from him the day before had been anything but reassuring, and to-day, Bertram being gone, Billy had suggested that Eliza serve a simple luncheon and go immediately afterward to South Boston to see how her uncle was. This suggestion Eliza had followed, leaving the house at one o'clock.

Shortly after two Calderwell had dropped in to bring Bertram, as he expressed it, a bunch of bouquets he had gathered at the picture show the night before. He was still in the drawing- room, chatting with Billy, when the telephone bell rang.

"If that's Bertram, tell him to come home; he's got company," laughed Calderwell, as Billy passed into the hall.

A moment later he heard Billy give a startled cry, followed by a few broken words at short intervals. Then, before he could surmise what had happened, she was back in the drawing-room again, her eyes full of tears.

"It's Pete," she choked. "Eliza says he can't live but a few minutes. He wants to see me once more. What shall I do? John's got Peggy out with Aunt Hannah and Mrs. Greggory. It was so nice to-day I made them go. But I must get there some way--Pete is calling for me. Uncle William is going, and I told Eliza where she might reach Bertram; but what shall I do? How shall I go?"

Calderwell was on his feet at once.

"I'll get a taxi. Don't worry--we'll get there. Poor old soul--of course he wants to see you! Get on your things. I'll have it here in no time," he finished, hurrying to the telephone.

"Oh, Hugh, I'm so glad I've got you here," sobbed Billy, stumbling blindly toward the stairway. "I'll be ready in two minutes."

And she was; but neither then, nor a little later when she and Calderwell drove hurriedly away from the house, did Billy once remember that Miss Marguerite Winthrop was coming to call that afternoon to see Mrs. Bertram Henshaw and a roomful of Billy pictures.

Pete was still alive when Calderwell left Billy at the door of the modest little home where Eliza's mother lived.

"Yes, you're in time, ma'am," sobbed Eliza; "and, oh, I'm so glad you've come. He's been askin' and askin' for ye."

From Eliza Billy learned then that Mr. William was there, but not Mr. Bertram. They had not been able to reach Mr. Bertram, or Mr. Cyril.

Billy never forgot the look of reverent adoration that came into Pete's eyes as she entered the room where he lay.

"Miss Billy--my Miss Billy! You were so good-to come," he whispered faintly.

Billy choked back a sob.

"Of course I'd come, Pete," she said gently, taking one of the thin, worn hands into both her soft ones.

It was more than a few minutes that Pete lived. Four o'clock came, and five, and he was still with them. Often he opened his eyes and smiled. Sometimes he spoke a low word to William or Billy, or to one of the weeping women at the foot of the bed. That the presence of his beloved master and mistress meant much to him was plain to be seen.

"I'm so sorry," he faltered once, "about that pretty dress--I spoiled, Miss Billy. But you know--my hands--"

"I know, I know," soothed Billy; "but don't worry. It wasn't spoiled, Pete. It's all fixed now."

"Oh, I'm so glad," sighed the sick man. After another long interval of silence he turned to William.

"Them socks--the medium thin ones--you'd oughter be puttin' 'em on soon, sir, now. They're in the right-hand corner of the bottom drawer-- you know."

"Yes, Pete; I'll attend to it," William managed to stammer, after he had cleared his throat.

Eliza's turn came next.

"Remember about the coffee," Pete said to her, "--the way Mr. William likes it. And always eggs, you know, for--for--" His voice trailed into an indistinct murmur, and his eyelids drooped wearily.

One by one the minutes passed. The doctor came and went: there was nothing he could do. At half-past five the thin old face became again alight with consciousness. There was a good-by message for Bertram, and one for Cyril. Aunt Hannah was remembered, and even little Tommy Dunn. Then, gradually, a gray shadow crept over the wasted features. The words came more brokenly. The mind, plainly, was wandering, for old Pete was young again, and around him were the lads he loved, William, Cyril, and Bertram. And then, very quietly, soon after the clock struck six, Pete fell into the beginning of his long sleep.