Chapter XIX. A Tough Nut to Crack for Cyril
 

It was early in the forenoon of the first day of July that Eliza told her mistress that Mrs. Stetson was asking for her at the telephone. Eliza's face was not a little troubled.

"I'm afraid, maybe, it isn't good news," she stammered, as her mistress hurriedly arose. "She's at Mr. Cyril Henshaw's--Mrs. Stetson is--and she seemed so terribly upset about something that there was no making real sense out of what she said. But she asked for you, and said to have you come quick."

Billy, her own face paling, was already at the telephone.

"Yes, Aunt Hannah. What is it?"

"Oh, my grief and conscience, Billy, if you can, come up here, please. You must come! Can't you come?"

"Why, yes, of course. But--but--Marie! The--the baby!"

A faint groan came across the wires.

"Oh, my grief and conscience, Billy! It isn't the baby. It's babies! It's twins--boys. Cyril has them now--the nurse hasn't got here yet."

"Twins! Cyril has them!" broke in Billy, hysterically.

"Yes, and they're crying something terrible. We've sent for a second nurse to come, too, of course, but she hasn't got here yet, either. And those babies--if you could hear them! That's what we want you for, to--"

But Billy was almost laughing now.

"All right, I'll come out--and hear them," she called a bit wildly, as she hung up the receiver.

Some little time later, a palpably nervous maid admitted Billy to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Henshaw. Even as the door was opened, Billy heard faintly, but unmistakably, the moaning wails of two infants.

"Mrs. Stetson says if you will please to help Mr. Henshaw with the babies," stammered the maid, after the preliminary questions and answers. "I've been in when I could, and they're all right, only they're crying. They're in his den. We had to put them as far away as possible-- their crying worried Mrs. Henshaw so."

"Yes, I see," murmured Billy. "I'll go to them at once. No, don't trouble to come. I know the way. Just tell Mrs. Stetson I'm here, please," she finished, as she tossed her hat and gloves on to the hall table, and turned to go upstairs.

Billy's feet made no sound on the soft rugs. The crying, however, grew louder and louder as she approached the den. Softly she turned the knob and pushed open the door. She stopped short, then, at what she saw.

Cyril had not heard her, nor seen her. His back was partly toward the door. His coat was off, and his hair stood fiercely on end as if a nervous hand had ruffled it. His usually pale face was very red, and his forehead showed great drops of perspiration. He was on his feet, hovering over the couch, at each end of which lay a rumpled roll of linen, lace, and flannel, from which emerged a prodigiously puckered little face, two uncertainly waving rose-leaf fists, and a wail of protesting rage that was not uncertain in the least.

In one hand Cyril held a Teddy bear, in the other his watch, dangling from its fob chain. Both of these he shook feebly, one after the other, above the tiny faces.

"Oh, come, come, pretty baby, good baby, hush, hush," he begged agitatedly.

In the doorway Billy clapped her hands to her lips and stifled a laugh. Billy knew, of course, that what she should do was to go forward at once, and help this poor, distracted man; but Billy, just then, was not doing what she knew she ought to do.

With a muttered ejaculation (which Billy, to her sorrow, could not catch) Cyril laid down the watch and flung the Teddy bear aside. Then, in very evident despair, he gingerly picked up one of the rumpled rolls of flannel, lace, and linen, and held it straight out before him. After a moment's indecision he began awkwardly to jounce it, teeter it, rock it back and forth, and to pat it jerkily.

"Oh, come, come, pretty baby, good baby, hush, hush," he begged again, frantically.

Perhaps it was the change of position; perhaps it was the novelty of the motion, perhaps it was only utter weariness, or lack of breath. Whatever the cause, the wailing sobs from the bundle in his arms dwindled suddenly to a gentle whisper, then ceased altogether.

With a ray of hope illuminating his drawn countenance, Cyril carefully laid the baby down and picked up the other. Almost confidently now he began the jouncing and teetering and rocking as before.

"There, there! Oh, come, come, pretty baby, good baby, hush, hush," he chanted again.

This time he was not so successful. Perhaps he had lost his skill. Perhaps it was merely the world-old difference in babies. At all events, this infant did not care for jerks and jounces, and showed it plainly by emitting loud and yet louder wails of rage--wails in which his brother on the couch speedily joined.

"Oh, come, come, pretty baby, good baby, hush, hush--confound it, HUSH, I say!" exploded the frightened, weary, baffled, distracted man, picking up the other baby, and trying to hold both his sons at once.

Billy hurried forward then, tearfully, remorsefully, her face all sympathy, her arms all tenderness.

"Here, Cyril, let me help you," she cried.

Cyril turned abruptly.

"Thank God, some one's come," he groaned, holding out both the babies, with an exuberance of generosity. "Billy, you've saved my life!"

Billy laughed tremulously.

"Yes, I've come, Cyril, and I'll help every bit I can; but I don't know a thing--not a single thing about them myself. Dear me, aren't they cunning? But, Cyril, do they always cry so?"

The father-of-an-hour drew himself stiffly erect.

"Cry? What do you mean? Why shouldn't they cry?" he demanded indignantly. "I want you to understand that Doctor Brown said those were A number I fine boys! Anyhow, I guess there's no doubt they've got lungs all right," he added, with a grim smile, as he pulled out his handkerchief and drew it across his perspiring brow.

Billy did not have an opportunity to show Cyril how much or how little she knew about babies, for in another minute the maid had appeared with the extra nurse; and that young woman, with trained celerity and easy confidence, assumed instant command, and speedily had peace and order restored.

Cyril, freed from responsibility, cast longing eyes, for a moment, upon his work; but the next minute, with a despairing glance about him, he turned and fled precipitately.

Billy, following the direction of his eyes, suppressed a smile. On the top of Cyril's manuscript music on the table lay a hot-water bottle. Draped over the back of his favorite chair was a pink- bordered baby blanket. On the piano-stool rested a beribboned and beruffled baby's toilet basket. From behind the sofa pillow leered ridiculously the Teddy bear, just as it had left Cyril's desperate hand.

No wonder, indeed, that Billy smiled. Billy was thinking of what Marie had said not a week before:

"I shall keep the baby, of course, in the nursery. I've been in homes where they've had baby things strewn from one end of the house to the other; but it won't be that way here. In the first place, I don't believe in it; but, even if I did, I'd have to be careful on account of Cyril. Imagine Cyril's trying to write his music with a baby in the room! No! I shall keep the baby in the nursery, if possible; but wherever it is, it won't be anywhere near Cyril's den, anyway."

Billy suppressed many a smile during the days that immediately followed the coming of the twins. Some of the smiles, however, refused to be suppressed. They became, indeed, shamelessly audible chuckles.

Billy was to sail the tenth, and, naturally, during those early July days, her time was pretty much occupied with her preparations for departure; but nothing could keep her from frequent, though short, visits to the home of her brother- in-law.

The twins were proving themselves to be fine, healthy boys. Two trained maids, and two trained nurses ruled the household with a rod of iron. As to Cyril--Billy declared that Cyril was learning something every day of his life now.

"Oh, yes, he's learning things," she said to Aunt Hannah, one morning; "lots of things. For instance: he has his breakfast now, not when he wants it, but when the maid wants to give it to him--which is precisely at eight o'clock every morning. So he's learning punctuality. And for the first time in his life he has discovered the astounding fact that there are several things more important in the world than is the special piece of music he happens to be composing-- chiefly the twins' bath, the twins' nap, the twins' airing, and the twins' colic."

Aunt Hannah laughed, though she frowned, too.

"But, surely, Billy, with two nurses and the maids, Cyril doesn't have to--to--" She came to a helpless pause.

"Oh, no," laughed Billy; "Cyril doesn't have to really attend to any of those things--though I have seen each of the nurses, at different times, unhesitatingly thrust a twin into his arms and bid him hold the child till she comes back. But it's this way. You see, Marie must be kept quiet, and the nursery is very near her room. It worries her terribly when either of the children cries. Besides, the little rascals have apparently fixed up some sort of labor-union compact with each other, so that if one cries for something or nothing, the other promptly joins in and helps. So the nurses have got into the habit of picking up the first disturber of the peace, and hurrying him to quarters remote; and Cyril's den being the most remote of all, they usually fetch up there."

"You mean--they take those babies into Cyril's den--now?" Even Aunt Hannah was plainly aghast.

"Yes," twinkled Billy. "I fancy their Hygienic Immaculacies approved of Cyril's bare floors, undraped windows, and generally knick- knackless condition. Anyhow, they've made his den a sort of--of annex to the nursery."

"But--but Cyril! What does he say?" stammered the dumfounded Aunt Hannah. "Think of Cyril's standing a thing like that! Doesn't he do anything--or say anything?"

Billy smiled, and lifted her brows quizzically.

"My dear Aunt Hannah, did you ever know many people to have the courage to `say things' to one of those becapped, beaproned, bespotless creatures of loftily superb superiority known as trained nurses? Besides, you wouldn't recognize Cyril now. Nobody would. He's as meek as Moses, and has been ever since his two young sons were laid in his reluctant, trembling arms. He breaks into a cold sweat at nothing, and moves about his own home as if he were a stranger and an interloper, endured merely on sufferance in this abode of strange women and strange babies."

"Nonsense!" scoffed Aunt Hannah.

"But it's so," maintained Billy, merrily. "Now, for instance. You know Cyril always has been in the habit of venting his moods on the piano (just as I do, only more so) by playing exactly as he feels. Well, as near as I can gather, he was at his usual trick the next day after the twins arrived; and you can imagine about what sort of music it would be, after what he had been through the preceding forty-eight hours.

"Of course I don't know exactly what happened, but Julia--Marie's second maid, you know--tells the story. She's been with them long enough to know something of the way the whole household always turns on the pivot of the master's whims; so she fully appreciated the situation. She says she heard him begin to play, and that she never heard such queer, creepy, shivery music in her life; but that he hadn't been playing five minutes before one of the nurses came into the living-room where Julia was dusting, and told her to tell whoever was playing to stop that dreadful noise, as they wanted to take the twins in there for their nap.

" `But I didn't do it, ma'am,' Julia says. `I wa'n't lookin' for losin' my place, an' I let the young woman do the job herself. An' she done it, pert as you please. An' jest as I was seekin' a hidin'-place for the explosion, if Mr. Henshaw didn't come out lookin' a little wild, but as meek as a lamb; an' when he sees me he asked wouldn't I please get him a cup of coffee, good an' strong. An' I got it.'

"So you see," finished Billy, "Cyril is learning things--lots of things."

"Oh, my grief and conscience! I should say he was," half-shivered Aunt Hannah. "Cyril looking meek as a lamb, indeed!"

Billy laughed merrily.

"Well, it must be a new experience--for Cyril. For a man whose daily existence for years has been rubber-heeled and woolen-padded, and whose family from boyhood has stood at attention and saluted if he so much as looked at them, it must be quite a change, as things are now. However, it'll be different, of course, when Marie is on her feet again."

"Does she know at all how things are going?"

"Not very much, as yet, though I believe she has begun to worry some. She confided to me one day that she was glad, of course, that she had two darling babies, instead of one; but that she was afraid it might be hard, just at first, to teach them both at once to be quiet; for she was afraid that while she was teaching one, the other would be sure to cry, or do something noisy."

"Do something noisy, indeed!" ejaculated Aunt Hannah.

"As for the real state of affairs, Marie doesn't dream that Cyril's sacred den is given over to Teddy bears and baby blankets. All is, I hope she'll be measurably strong before she does find it out," laughed Billy, as she rose to go.