Chapter XXX. By a Baby's Hand
 

After all, it was the baby's hand that did it, as was proper, and perhaps to be expected; for surely, was it not Bertram, Jr.'s place to show his parents that he was, indeed, no Wedge, but a dear and precious Tie binding two loving, loyal hearts more and more closely together? It would seem, indeed, that Bertram, Jr., thought so, perhaps, and very bravely he set about it; though, to carry out his purpose, he had to turn his steps into an unfamiliar way--a way of pain, and weariness, and danger.

It was Arkwright who told Bertram that the baby was very sick, and that Billy wanted him. Bertram went home at once to find a distracted, white-faced Billy, and a twisted, pain-racked little creature, who it was almost impossible to believe was the happy, laughing baby boy he had left that morning.

For the next two weeks nothing was thought of in the silent old Beacon Street house but the tiny little life hovering so near Death's door that twice it appeared to have slipped quite across the threshold. All through those terrible weeks it seemed as if Billy neither ate nor slept; and always at her side, comforting, cheering, and helping wherever possible was Bertram, tender, loving, and marvelously thoughtful.

Then came the turning point when the universe itself appeared to hang upon a baby's breath. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, came the fluttering back of the tiny spirit into the longing arms stretched so far, far out to meet and hold it. And the father and the mother, looking into each other's sleepless, dark-ringed eyes, knew that their son was once more theirs to love and cherish.

When two have gone together with a dear one down into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and have come back, either mourning or rejoicing, they find a different world from the one they had left. Things that were great before seem small, and some things that were small seem great. At least Bertram and Billy found their world thus changed when together they came back bringing their son with them.

In the long weeks of convalescence, when the healthy rosiness stole bit by bit into the baby's waxen face, and the light of recognition and understanding crept day by day into the baby's eyes, there was many a quiet hour for heart-to- heart talks between the two who so anxiously and joyously hailed every rosy tint and fleeting sparkle. And there was so much to tell, so much to hear, so much to talk about! And always, running through everything, was that golden thread of joy, beside which all else paled--that they had Baby and each other. As if anything else mattered!

To be sure, there was Bertram's arm. Very early in their talks Billy found out about that. But Billy, with Baby getting well, was not to be daunted, even by this.

"Nonsense, darling--not paint again, indeed! Why, Bertram, of course you will," she cried confidently.

"But, Billy, the doctor said," began Bertram; but Billy would not even listen.

"Very well, what if he did, dear?" she interrupted. "What if he did say you couldn't use your right arm much again?" Billy's voice broke a little, then quickly steadied into something very much like triumph. "You've got your left one!"

Bertram shook his head.

"I can't paint with that."

"Yes, you can," insisted Billy, firmly. "Why, Bertram, what do you suppose you were given two arms for if not to fight with both of them? And I'm going to be ever so much prouder of what you paint now, because I'll know how splendidly you worked to do it. Besides, there's Baby. As if you weren't ever going to paint for Baby! Why, Bertram, I'm going to have you paint Baby, one of these days. Think how pleased he'll be to see it when he grows up! He's nicer, anyhow, than any old `Face of a Girl' you ever did. Paint? Why, Bertram, darling, of course you're going to paint, and better than you ever did before!"

Bertram shook his head again; but this time he smiled, and patted Billy's cheek with the tip of his forefinger.

"As if I could!" he disclaimed. But that afternoon he went into his long-deserted studio and hunted up his last unfinished picture. For some time he stood motionless before it; then, with a quick gesture of determination, he got out his palette, paints, and brushes. This time not until he had painted ten, a dozen, a score of strokes, did he drop his brush with a sigh and carefully erase the fresh paint on the canvas. The next day he worked longer, and this time he allowed a little, a very little, of what he had done to remain.

The third day Billy herself found him at his easel.

"I wonder--do you suppose I could?" he asked fearfully.

"Why, dearest, of course you can! Haven't you noticed? Can't you see how much more you can do with your left hand now? You've had to use it, you see. I've seen you do a lot of things with it, lately, that you never used to do at all. And, of course, the more you do with it, the more you can!"

"I know; but that doesn't mean that I can paint with it," sighed Bertram, ruefully eyeing the tiny bit of fresh color his canvas showed for his long afternoon's work.

"You wait and see," nodded Billy, with so overwhelming a cheery confidence that Bertram, looking into her glowing face, was conscious of a curious throb of exultation, almost as if already the victory were his.

But it was not always of Bertram's broken arm, nor even of his work that they talked. Bertram, hanging over the baby's crib to assure himself that the rosiness and the sparkle were really growing more apparent every day, used to wonder sometimes how ever in the world he could have been jealous of his son. He said as much one day to Billy.

To Billy it was a most astounding idea.

"You mean you were actually jealous of your own baby?" she gasped. "Why, Bertram, how could-- And was that why you--you sought distraction and-- Oh, but, Bertram, that was all my f-fault," she quavered remorsefully. "I wouldn't play, nor sing, nor go to walk, nor anything; and I wore horrid frowzy wrappers all the time, and--"

"Oh, come, come, Billy," expostulated the man. "I'm not going to have you talk like that about my wife!"

"But I did--the book said I did," wailed Billy.

"The book? Good heavens! Are there any books in this, too?" demanded Bertram.

"Yes, the same one; the--the `Talks to Young Wives,' " nodded Billy. And then, because some things had grown small to them, and some others great, they both laughed happily.

But even this was not quite all; for one evening, very shyly, Billy brought out the chessboard.

"Of course I can't play well," she faltered; "and maybe you don't want to play with me at all."

But Bertram, when he found out why she had learned, was very sure he did want very much to play with her.

Billy did not beat, of course. But she did several times experience--for a few blissful minutes --the pleasure of seeing Bertram sit motionless, studying the board, because of a move she had made. And though, in the end, her king was ignominiously trapped with not an unguarded square upon which to set his poor distracted foot, the memory of those blissful minutes when she had made Bertram "stare" more than paid for the final checkmate.

By the middle of June the baby was well enough to be taken to the beach, and Bertram was so fortunate as to secure the same house they had occupied before. Once again William went down in Maine for his fishing trip, and the Strata was closed. In the beach house Bertram was painting industriously--with his left hand. Almost he was beginning to feel Billy's enthusiasm. Almost he was believing that he was doing good work. It was not the "Face of a Girl," now. It was the face of a baby: smiling, laughing, even crying, sometimes; at other times just gazing straight into your eyes with adorable soberness. Bertram still went into Boston twice a week for treatment, though the treatment itself had changed. The great surgeon had sent him to still another specialist.

"There's a chance--though perhaps a small one," he had said. "I'd like you to try it, anyway."

As the summer advanced, Bertram thought sometimes that he could see a slight improvement in his injured arm; but he tried not to think too much about this. He had thought the same thing before, only to be disappointed in the end. Besides, he was undeniably interested just now in seeing if he could paint with his left hand. Billy was so sure, and she had said that she would be prouder than ever of him, if he could--and he would like to make Billy proud! Then, too, there was the baby--he had no idea a baby could be so interesting to paint. He was not sure but that he was going to like to paint babies even better than he had liked to paint his "Face of a Girl" that had brought him his first fame.

In September the family returned to the Strata. The move was made a little earlier this year on account of Alice Greggory's wedding.

Alice was to be married in the pretty living- room at the Annex, just where Billy herself had been married a few short years before; and Billy had great plans for the wedding--not all of which she was able to carry out, for Alice, like Marie before her, had very strong objections to being placed under too great obligations.

"And you see, really, anyway," she told Billy,

"I owe the whole thing to you, to begin with-- even my husband."

"Nonsense! Of course you don't," disputed Billy.

"But I do. If it hadn't been for you I should never have found him again, and of course I shouldn't have had this dear little home to be married in. And I never could have left mother if she hadn't had Aunt Hannah and the Annex which means you. And if I hadn't found Mr. Arkwright, I might never have known how-- how I could go back to my old home (as I am going on my honeymoon trip), and just know that every one of my old friends who shakes hands with me isn't pitying me now, because I'm my father's daughter. And that means you; for you see I never would have known that my father's name was cleared if it hadn't been for you. And--"

"Oh, Alice, please, please," begged Billy, laughingly raising two protesting hands. "Why don't you say that it's to me you owe just breathing, and be done with it?"

"Well, I will, then," avowed Alice, doggedly. "And it's true, too, for, honestly, my dear, I don't believe I would have been breathing to-day, nor mother, either, if you hadn't found us that morning, and taken us out of those awful rooms."

"I? Never! You wouldn't let me take you out," laughed Billy. "You proud little thing! Maybe you've forgotten how you turned poor Uncle William and me out into the cold, cold world that morning, just because we dared to aspire to your Lowestoft teapot; but I haven't!"

"Oh, Billy, please, don't," begged Alice, the painful color staining her face. "If you knew how I've hated myself since for the way I acted that day--and, really, you did take us away from there, you know."

"No, I didn't. I merely found two good tenants for Mr. and Mrs. Delano," corrected Billy, with a sober face.

"Oh, yes, I know all about that," smiled Alice, affectionately; "and you got mother and me here to keep Aunt Hannah company and teach Tommy Dunn; and you got Aunt Hannah here to keep us company and take care of Tommy Dunn; and you got Tommy Dunn here so Aunt Hannah and we could have somebody to teach and take care of; and, as for the others,--" But Billy put her hands to her ears and fled.

The wedding was to be on the fifteenth. From the West Kate wrote that of course it was none of her affairs, particularly as neither of the interested parties was a relation, but still she should think that for a man in Mr. Arkwright's position, nothing but a church wedding would do at all, as, of course, he did, in a way, belong to the public. Alice, however, declared that perhaps he did belong to the public, when he was Don Somebody- or-other in doublet and hose; but when he was just plain Michael Jeremiah Arkwright in a frock coat he was hers, and she did not propose to make a Grand Opera show of her wedding. And as Arkwright, too, very much disapproved of the church-wedding idea, the two were married in the Annex living-room at noon on the fifteenth as originally planned, in spite of Mrs. Kate Hartwell's letter.

It was soon after the wedding that Bertram told Billy he wished she would sit for him with Bertram, Jr.

"I want to try my hand at you both together," he coaxed.

"Why, of course, if you like, dear," agreed Billy, promptly, "though I think Baby is just as nice, and even nicer, alone."

Once again all over Bertram's studio began to appear sketches of Billy, this time a glorified, tender Billy, with the wonderful mother-love in her eyes. Then, after several sketches of trial poses, Bertram began his picture of Billy and the baby together.

Even now Bertram was not sure of his work. He knew that he could not yet paint with his old freedom and ease; he knew that his stroke was not so sure, so untrammeled. But he knew, too, that he had gained wonderfully, during the summer, and that he was gaining now, every day. To Billy he said nothing of all this. Even to himself he scarcely put his hope into words; but in his heart he knew that what he was really painting his "Mother and Child" picture for was the Bohemian Ten Club Exhibition in March--if he could but put upon canvas the vision that was spurring him on.

And so Bertram worked all through those short winter days, not always upon the one picture, of course, but upon some picture or sketch that would help to give his still uncertain left hand the skill that had belonged to its mate. And always, cheering, encouraging, insisting on victory, was Billy, so that even had Bertram been tempted, sometimes, to give up, he could not have done so--and faced Billy's grieved, disappointed eyes. And when at last his work was completed, and the pictured mother and child in all their marvelous life and beauty seemed ready to step from the canvas, Billy drew a long ecstatic breath.

"Oh, Bertram, it is, it is the best work you have ever done." Billy was looking at the baby. Always she had ignored herself as part of the picture. "And won't it be fine for the Exhibition!"

Bertram's hand tightened on the chair-back in front of him. For a moment he could not speak. Then, a bit huskily, he asked:

"Would you dare--risk it?"

"Risk it! Why, Bertram Henshaw, I've meant that picture for the Exhibition from the very first--only I never dreamed you could get it so perfectly lovely. Now what do you say about Baby being nicer than any old `Face of a Girl' that you ever did?" she triumphed.

And Bertram, who, even to himself, had not dared whisper the word exhibition, gave a tremulous laugh that was almost a sob, so overwhelming was his sudden realization of what faith and confidence had meant to Billy, his wife.

If there was still a lingering doubt in Bertram's mind, it must have been dispelled in less than an hour after the Bohemian Ten Club Exhibition flung open its doors on its opening night. Once again Bertram found his picture the cynosure of all admiring eyes, and himself the center of an enthusiastic group of friends and fellow-artists who vied with each other in hearty words of congratulation. And when, later, the feared critics, whose names and opinions counted for so much in his world, had their say in the daily press and weekly reviews, Bertram knew how surely indeed he had won. And when he read that "Henshaw's work shows now a peculiar strength, a sort of reserve power, as it were, which, beautiful as was his former work, it never showed before," he smiled grimly, and said to Billy:

"I suppose, now, that was the fighting I did with my good left hand, eh, dear?"

But there was yet one more drop that was to make Bertram's cup of joy brim to overflowing. It came just one month after the Exhibition in the shape of a terse dozen words from the doctor. Bertram fairly flew home that day. He had no consciousness of any means of locomotion. He thought he was going to tell his wife at once his great good news; but when he saw her, speech suddenly fled, and all that he could do was to draw her closely to him with his left arm and hide his face.

"Why, Bertram, dearest, what--what is it?" stammered the thoroughly frightened Billy. "Has anything-happened?"

"No, no--yes--yes, everything has happened. I mean, it's going to happen," choked the man. "Billy, that old chap says that I'm going to have my arm again. Think of it--my good right arm that I've lost so long!"

"Oh, Bertram!" breathed Billy. And she, too, fell to sobbing.

Later, when speech was more coherent, she faltered:

"Well, anyway, it doesn't make any difference how many beautiful pictures you p-paint, after this, Bertram, I can't be prouder of any than I am of the one your l--left hand did."

"Oh, but I have you to thank for all that, dear."

"No, you haven't," disputed Billy, blinking teary eyes; "but--" she paused, then went on spiritedly, "but, anyhow, I--I don't believe any one--not even Kate--can say now that-- that I've been a hindrance to you in your c-career!"

"Hindrance!" scoffed Bertram, in a tone that left no room for doubt, and with a kiss that left even less, if possible.

Billy, for still another minute, was silent; then, with a wistfulness that was half playful, half serious, she sighed:

"Bertram, I believe being married is something like clocks, you know, 'specially at the first."

"Clocks, dear?"

"Yes. I was out to Aunt Hannah's to-day. She was fussing with her clock--the one that strikes half an hour ahead--and I saw all those quantities of wheels, little and big, that have to go just so, with all the little cogs fitting into all the other little cogs just exactly right. Well, that's like marriage. See? There's such a lot of little cogs in everyday life that have to be fitted so they'll run smoothly--that have to be adjusted, 'specially at the first."

"Oh, Billy, what an idea!"

"But it's so, really, Bertram. Anyhow, I know my cogs were always getting out of place at the first," laughed Billy. "And I was like Aunt Hannah's clock, too, always going off half an hour ahead of time. And maybe I shall be so again, sometimes. But, Bertram,"--her voice shook a little--"if you'll just look at my face you'll see that I tell the right time there, just as Aunt Hannah's clock does. I'm sure, always, I'll tell the right time there, even if I do go off half an hour ahead!"

"As if I didn't know that," answered Bertram, very low and tenderly. "Besides, I reckon I have some cogs of my own that need adjusting!"