Chapter XXV. "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot"
 

Bertram did not ask Billy very soon again to go to the theater. For some days, indeed, he did not ask her to do anything. Then, one evening, he did beg for some music.

"Billy, you haven't played to me or sung to me since I could remember," he complained. "I want some music."

Billy gave a merry laugh and wriggled her fingers experimentally.

"Mercy, Bertram! I don't believe I could play a note. You know I'm all out of practice."

"But why don't you practice?"

"Why, Bertram, I can't. In the first place I don't seem to have any time except when Baby's asleep; and I can't play then-I'd wake him up."

Bertram sighed irritably, rose to his feet, and began to walk up and down the room. He came to a pause at last, his eyes bent a trifle disapprovingly on his wife.

"Billy, dear, don't you wear anything but those wrapper things nowadays?" he asked plaintively.

Again Billy laughed. But this time a troubled frown followed the laugh.

"I know, Bertram, I suppose they do look dowdy, sometimes," she confessed; "but, you see, I hate to wear a really good dress--Baby rumples them up so; and I'm usually in a hurry to get to him mornings, and these are so easy to slip into, and so much more comfortable for me to handle him in!"

"Yes, of course, of course; I see," mumbled Bertram, listlessly taking up his walk again.

Billy, after a moment's silence, began to talk animatedly. Baby had done a wonderfully cunning thing that morning, and Billy had not had a chance yet to tell Bertram. Baby was growing more and more cunning anyway, these days, and there were several things she believed she had not told him; so she told them now.

Bertram listened politely, interestedly. He told himself that he was interested, too. Of course he was interested in the doings of his own child! But he still walked up and down the room a little restlessly, coming to a halt at last by the window, across which the shade had not been drawn.

"Billy," he cried suddenly, with his old boyish eagerness, "there's a glorious moon. Come on! Let's take a little walk--a real fellow-and- his-best-girl walk! Will you?"

"Mercy! dear, I couldn't," cried Billy springing to her feet. "I'd love to, though, if I could," she added hastily, as she saw disappointment cloud her husband's face. "But I told Delia she might go out. It isn't her regular evening, of course, but I told her I didn't mind staying with Baby a bit. So I'll have to go right up now. She'll be going soon. But, dear, you go and take your walk. It'll do you good. Then you can come back and tell me all about it--only you must come in quietly, so not to wake the baby," she finished, giving her husband an affectionate kiss, as she left the room.

After a disconsolate five minutes of solitude, Bertram got his hat and coat and went out for his walk--but he told himself he did not expect to enjoy it.

Bertram Henshaw knew that the old rebellious jealousy of the summer had him fast in its grip. He was heartily ashamed of himself, but he could not help it. He wanted Billy, and he wanted her then. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to tell her about a new portrait commission he had just obtained; and he wanted to ask her what she thought of the idea of a brand-new "Face of a Girl" for the Bohemian Ten Exhibition next March. He wanted--but then, what would be the use? She would listen, of course, but he would know by the very looks of her face that she would not be really thinking of what he was saying; and he would be willing to wager his best canvas that in the very first pause she would tell about the baby's newest tooth or latest toy. Not but that he liked to hear about the little fellow, of course; and not but that he was proud as Punch of him, too; but that he would like sometimes to hear Billy talk of something else. The sweetest melody in the world, if dinned into one's ears day and night, became something to be fled from.

And Billy ought to talk of something else, too! Bertram, Jr., wonderful as he was, really was not the only thing in the world, or even the only baby; and other people--outsiders, their friends-- had a right to expect that sometimes other matters might be considered--their own, for instance. But Billy seemed to have forgotten this. No matter whether the subject of conversation had to do with the latest novel or a trip to Europe, under Billy's guidance it invariably led straight to Baby's Jack-and-Jill book, or to a perambulator journey in the Public Garden. If it had not been so serious, it would have been really funny the way all roads led straight to one goal. He himself, when alone with Billy, had started the most unusual and foreign subjects, sometimes, just to see if there were not somewhere a little bypath that did not bring up in his own nursery. He never, however, found one.

But it was not funny; it was serious. Was this glorious gift on parenthood to which he had looked forward as the crowning joy of his existence, to be nothing but a tragedy that would finally wreck his domestic happiness? It could not be. It must not be. He must he patient, and wait. Billy loved him. He was sure she did. By and by this obsession of motherhood, which had her so fast in its grasp, would relax. She would remember that her husband had rights as well as her child. Once again she would give him the companionship, love, and sympathetic interest so dear to him. Meanwhile there was his work. He must bury himself in that. And fortunate, indeed, he was, he told himself, that he had something so absorbing.

It was at this point in his meditations that Bertram rounded a corner and came face to face with a man who stopped him short with a jovial:

"Isn't it--by George, it is Bertie Henshaw! Well, what do you think of that for luck?--and me only two days home from `Gay Paree'!"

"Oh, Seaver! How are you? You are a stranger!" Bertram's voice and handshake were a bit more cordial than they would have been had he not at the moment been feeling so abused and forlorn. In the old days he had liked this Bob Seaver well. Seaver was an artist like himself, and was good company always. But Seaver and his crowd were a little too Bohemian for William's taste; and after Billy came, she, too, had objected to what she called "that horrid Seaver man." In his heart, Bertram knew that there was good foundation for their objections, so he had avoided Seaver for a time; and for some years, now, the man had been abroad, somewhat to Bertram's relief. To-night, however, Seaver's genial smile and hearty friendliness were like a sudden burst of sunshine on a rainy day--and Bertram detested rainy days. He was feeling now, too, as if he had just had a whole week of them.

"Yes, I am something of a stranger here," nodded Seaver. "But I tell you what, little old Boston looks mighty good to me, all the same. Come on! You're just the fellow we want. I'm on my way now to the old stamping ground. Come--right about face, old chap, and come with me!"

Bertram shook his head.

"Sorry--but I guess I can't, to-night," he sighed. Both gesture and words were unhesitating, but the voice carried the discontent of a small boy, who, while the sun is still shining, has been told to come into the house.

"Oh, rats! Yes, you can, too. Come on! Lots of the old crowd will be there--Griggs, Beebe, Jack Jenkins, and Tully. We need you to complete the show."

"Jack Jenkins? Is he here?" A new eagerness had come into Bertram's voice.

"Sure! He came on from New York last night. Great boy, Jenkins! Just back from Paris fairly covered with medals, you know."

"Yes, so I hear. I haven't seen him for four years."

"Better come to-night then."

"No-o," began Bertram, with obvious reluctance. "It's already nine o'clock, and--"

"Nine o'clock!" cut in Seaver, with a broad grin. "Since when has your limit been nine o'clock? I've seen the time when you didn't mind nine o'clock in the morning, Bertie! What's got-- Oh, I remember. I met another friend of yours in Berlin; chap named Arkwright-- and say, he's some singer, you bet! You're going to hear of him one of these days. Well, he told me all about how you'd settled down now-- son and heir, fireside bliss, pretty wife, and all the fixings. But, I say, Bertie, doesn't she let you out--any?"

"Nonsense, Seaver!" flared Bertram in annoyed wrath.

"Well, then, why don't you come to-night? If you want to see Jenkins you'll have to; he's going back to New York to-morrow."

For only a brief minute longer did Bertram hesitate; then he turned squarely about with an air of finality.

"Is he? Well, then, perhaps I will," he said. "I'd hate to miss Jenkins entirely."

"Good!" exclaimed his companion, as they fell into step. "Have a cigar?"

"Thanks. Don't mind if I do."

If Bertram's chin was a little higher and his step a little more decided than usual, it was all merely by way of accompaniment to his thoughts.

Certainly it was right that he should go, and it was sensible. Indeed, it was really almost imperative--due to Billy, as it were--after that disagreeable taunt of Seaver's. As if she did not want him to go when and where he pleased! As if she would consent for a moment to figure in the eyes of his friends as a tyrannical wife who objected to her husband's passing a social evening with his friends! To be sure, in this particular case, she might not favor Seaver's presence, but even she would not mind this once-- and, anyhow, it was Jenkins that was the attraction, not Seaver. Besides, he himself was no undeveloped boy now. He was a man, presumedly able to take care of himself. Besides, again, had not Billy herself told him to go out and enjoy the evening without her, as she had to stay with the baby? He would telephone her, of course, that he had met some old friends, and that he might be late; then she would not worry.

And forthwith, having settled the matter in his mind, and to his complete satisfaction, Bertram gave his undivided attention to Seaver, who had already plunged into an account of a recent Art Exhibition he had attended in Paris.