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Miss billys decision, p.1
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       Miss Billy's Decision, p.1

           Eleanor H. Porter
 
Miss Billys Decision


  Produced by Charles Keller

  MISS BILLY'S DECISION

  By Eleanor H. Porter

  Author of "Miss Billy," etc.

  TO My Cousin Helen

  CONTENTS CHAPTER I. CALDERWELL DOES SOME TALKING II. AUNT HANNAH GETS A LETTER III. BILLY AND BERTRAM IV. FOR MARY JANE V. MARIE SPEAKS HER MIND VI. AT THE SIGN OF THE PINK VII. OLD FRIENDS AND NEW VIII. M. J. OPENS THE GAME IX. A RUG, A PICTURE, AND A GIRL AFRAID X. A JOB FOR PETE--AND FOR BERTRAM XI. A CLOCK AND AUNT HANNAH XII. SISTER KATE XIII. CYRIL AND A WEDDING XIV. M. J. MAKES ANOTHER MOVE XV. "MR. BILLY" AND "MISS MARY JANE" XVI. A GIRL AND A BIT OF LOWESTOFT XVII. ONLY A LOVE SONG, BUT-- XVIII. SUGARPLUMS XIX. ALICE GREGGORY XX. ARKWRIGHT TELLS A STORY XXI. A MATTER OF STRAIGHT BUSINESS XXII. PLANS AND PLOTTINGS XXIII. THE CAUSE AND BERTRAM XXIV. THE ARTIST AND HIS ART XXV. THE OPERETTA XXVI. ARKWRIGHT TELLS ANOTHER STORY XXVII. THE THING THAT WAS THE TRUTH XXVIII. BILLY TAKES HER TURN XXIX. KATE WRITES A LETTER XXX. "I'VE HINDERED HIM" XXXI. FLIGHT XXXII. PETE TO THE RESCUE XXXIII. BERTRAM TAKES THE REINS

  MISS BILLY'S DECISION

  CHAPTER I. CALDERWELL DOES SOME TALKING

  Calderwell had met Mr. M. J. Arkwright in London through a commonfriend; since then they had tramped half over Europe together in acomradeship that was as delightful as it was unusual. As Calderwell putit in a letter to his sister, Belle:

  "We smoke the same cigar and drink the same tea (he's just as much ofan old woman on that subject as I am!), and we agree beautifully onall necessary points of living, from tipping to late sleeping in themorning; while as for politics and religion--we disagree in those justenough to lend spice to an otherwise tame existence."

  Farther along in this same letter Calderwell touched upon his new friendagain.

  "I admit, however, I would like to know his name. To find out what thatmysterious 'M. J.' stands for has got to be pretty nearly an obsessionwith me. I am about ready to pick his pocket or rifle his trunk insearch of some lurking 'Martin' or 'John' that will set me at peace. Asit is, I confess that I have ogled his incoming mail and his outgoingbaggage shamelessly, only to be slapped in the face always andeverlastingly by that bland 'M. J.' I've got my revenge, now, though. Tomyself I call him 'Mary Jane'--and his broad-shouldered, brown-beardedsix feet of muscular manhood would so like to be called 'Mary Jane'!By the way, Belle, if you ever hear of murder and sudden death in mydirection, better set the sleuths on the trail of Arkwright. Six to oneyou'll find I called him 'Mary Jane' to his face!"

  Calderwell was thinking of that letter now, as he sat at a small tablein a Paris cafe. Opposite him was the six feet of muscular manhood,broad shoulders, pointed brown beard, and all--and he had just addressedit, inadvertently, as "Mary Jane."

  During the brief, sickening moment of silence after the name had lefthis lips, Calderwell was conscious of a whimsical realization of thelights, music, and laughter all about him.

  "Well, I chose as safe a place as I could!" he was thinking. ThenArkwright spoke.

  "How long since you've been in correspondence with members of myfamily?"

  "Eh?"

  Arkwright laughed grimly.

  "Perhaps you thought of it yourself, then--I'll admit you're capable ofit," he nodded, reaching for a cigar. "But it so happens you hit upon myfamily's favorite name for me."

  "_Mary Jane!_ You mean they actually _call_ you that?"

  "Yes," bowed the big fellow, calmly, as he struck a light."Appropriate!--don't you think?"

  Calderwell did not answer. He thought he could not.

  "Well, silence gives consent, they say," laughed the other. "Anyhow, youmust have had _some_ reason for calling me that."

  "Arkwright, what _does_ 'M. J.' stand for?" demanded Calderwell.

  "Oh, is that it?" smiled the man opposite. "Well, I'll own thoseinitials have been something of a puzzle to people. One man declaresthey're 'Merely Jokes'; but another, not so friendly, says they standfor 'Mostly Jealousy' of more fortunate chaps who have real names fora handle. My small brothers and sisters, discovering, with the usualperspicacity of one's family on such matters, that I never signed, orcalled myself anything but 'M. J.,' dubbed me 'Mary Jane.' And there youhave it."

  "Mary Jane! You!"

  Arkwright smiled oddly.

  "Oh, well, what's the difference? Would you deprive them of theirinnocent amusement? And they do so love that 'Mary Jane'! Besides,what's in a name, anyway?" he went on, eyeing the glowing tip of thecigar between his fingers. "'A rose by any other name--'--you'veheard that, probably. Names don't always signify, my dear fellow. Forinstance, I know a 'Billy'--but he's a girl."

  Calderwell gave a sudden start.

  "You don't mean Billy--Neilson?"

  The other turned sharply.

  "Do _you_ know Billy Neilson?"

  Calderwell gave his friend a glance from scornful eyes.

  "Do I know Billy Neilson?" he cried. "Does a fellow usually know thegirl he's proposed to regularly once in three months? Oh, I know I'mtelling tales out of school, of course," he went on, in response to thelook that had come into the brown eyes opposite. "But what's the use?Everybody knows it--that knows us. Billy herself got so she took it asa matter of course--and refused as a matter of course, too; just as shewould refuse a serving of apple pie at dinner, if she hadn't wanted it."

  "Apple pie!" scouted Arkwright.

  Calderwell shrugged his shoulders.

  "My dear fellow, you don't seem to realize it, but for the last sixmonths you have been assisting at the obsequies of a dead romance."

  "Indeed! And is it--buried, yet?"

  "Oh, no," sighed Calderwell, cheerfully. "I shall go back one of thesedays, I'll warrant, and begin the same old game again; though I willacknowledge that the last refusal was so very decided that it's been ayear, almost, since I received it. I think I was really convinced, fora while, that--that she didn't want that apple pie," he finished witha whimsical lightness that did not quite coincide with the stern linesthat had come to his mouth.

  For a moment there was silence, then Calderwell spoke again.

  "Where did you know--Miss Billy?"

  "Oh, I don't know her at all. I know of her--through Aunt Hannah."

  Calderwell sat suddenly erect.

  "Aunt Hannah! Is she your aunt, too? Jove! This _is_ a little old world,after all; isn't it?"

  "She isn't my aunt. She's my mother's third cousin. None of us have seenher for years, but she writes to mother occasionally; and, of course,for some time now, her letters have been running over full of Billy. Shelives with her, I believe; doesn't she?"

  "She does," rejoined Calderwell, with an unexpected chuckle. "I wonderif you know how she happened to live with her, at first."

  "Why, no, I reckon not. What do you mean?"

  Calderwell chuckled again.

  "Well, I'll tell you. You, being a 'Mary Jane,' ought to appreciate it.You see, Billy was named for one William Henshaw, her father's chum,who promptly forgot all about her. At eighteen, Billy, being left quitealone in the world, wrote to 'Uncle William' and asked to come and livewith him."

  "Well?"

  "But it wasn't well. William was a forty-year-old widower who lived withtwo younger brothers, an old butler, and a Chinese cook in one of thosefunny old Beacon Street houses in Boston. 'The Strata,' Bertram calledit. Bright boy--Bertram!"

  "The Strata!"


  "Yes. I wish you could see that house, Arkwright. It's a regular layercake. Cyril--he's the second brother; must be thirty-four or fivenow--lives on the top floor in a rugless, curtainless, music-madexistence--just a plain crank. Below him comes William. William collectsthings--everything from tenpenny nails to teapots, I should say, andthey're all there in his rooms. Farther down somewhere comes Bertram.He's _the_ Bertram Henshaw, you understand; the artist."

  "Not the 'Face-of-a-Girl' Henshaw?"

  "The same; only of course four years ago he wasn't quite so well knownas he is now. Well, to resume and go on. It was into this house, thismasculine paradise ruled over by Pete and Dong Ling in the kitchen, thatBilly's naive request for a home came."

  "Great Scott!" breathed Arkwright, appreciatively.

  "Yes. Well, the letter was signed 'Billy.' They took her for a boy,naturally, and after something of a struggle they agreed to let 'him'come. For his particular delectation they fixed up a room next toBertram with guns and fishing rods, and such ladylike specialties; andWilliam went to the station to meet the boy."

  "With never a suspicion?"

  "With never a suspicion."

  "Gorry!"

  "Well, 'he' came, and 'she' conquered. I guess things were lively fora while, though. Oh, there was a kitten, too, I believe, 'Spunk,' whoadded to the gayety of nations."

  "But what did the Henshaws do?"

  "Well, I wasn't there, of course; but Bertram says they spun around liketops gone mad for a time, but finally quieted down enough to summon amarried sister for immediate propriety, and to establish Aunt Hannah forpermanency the next day."

  "So that's how it happened! Well, by George!" cried Arkwright.

  "Yes," nodded the other. "So you see there are untold possibilities justin a name. Remember that. Just suppose _you_, as Mary Jane, should beg ahome in a feminine household--say in Miss Billy's, for instance!"

  "I'd like to," retorted Arkwright, with sudden warmth.

  Calderwell stared a little.

  The other laughed shamefacedly.

  "Oh, it's only that I happen to have a devouring curiosity to meetthat special young lady. I sing her songs (you know she's written somedandies!), I've heard a lot about her, and I've seen her picture."(He did not add that he had also purloined that same picture from hismother's bureau--the picture being a gift from Aunt Hannah.) "So yousee I would, indeed, like to occupy a corner in the fair Miss Billy'shousehold. I could write to Aunt Hannah and beg a home with her, youknow; eh?"

  "Of course! Why don't you--'Mary Jane'?" laughed Calderwell. "Billy'dtake you all right. She's had a little Miss Hawthorn, a music teacher,there for months. She's always doing stunts of that sort. Belle writesme that she's had a dozen forlornites there all this last summer, twoor three at a time-tired widows, lonesome old maids, and crippledkids--just to give them a royal good time. So you see she'd take you,without a doubt. Jove! what a pair you'd make: Miss Billy and Mr. MaryJane! You'd drive the suffragettes into conniption fits--just by thesound of you!"

  Arkwright laughed quietly; then he frowned.

  "But how about it?" he asked. "I thought she was keeping house with AuntHannah. Didn't she stay at all with the Henshaws?"

  "Oh, yes, a few months. I never knew just why she did leave, but Ifancied, from something Billy herself said once, that she discovered shewas creating rather too much of an upheaval in the Strata. So she tookherself off. She went to school, and travelled considerably. She wasover here when I met her first. After that she was with us all onesummer on the yacht. A couple of years ago, or so, she went back toBoston, bought a house and settled down with Aunt Hannah."

  "And she's not married--or even engaged?"

  "Wasn't the last I heard. I haven't seen her since December, and I'veheard from her only indirectly. She corresponds with my sister, and sodo I--intermittently. I heard a month ago from Belle, and _she_ had aletter from Billy in August. But I heard nothing of any engagement."

  "How about the Henshaws? I should think there might be a chance therefor a romance--a charming girl, and three unattached men."

  Calderwell gave a slow shake of the head.

  "I don't think so. William is--let me see--nearly forty-five, I guess,by this time; and he isn't a marrying man. He buried his heart with hiswife and baby years ago. Cyril, according to Bertram, 'hates womenand all other confusion,' so that ought to let him out. As for Bertramhimself--Bertram is 'only Bertram.' He's always been that. Bertram lovesgirls--to paint; but I can't imagine him making serious love to any one.It would always be the tilt of a chin or the turn of a cheek that he wasadmiring--to paint. No, there's no chance for a romance there, I'llwarrant."

  "But there's--yourself."

  Calderwell's eyebrows rose the fraction of an inch.

  "Oh, of course. I presume January or February will find me back there,"he admitted with a sigh and a shrug. Then, a little bitterly, he added:"No, Arkwright. I shall keep away if I can. I _know_ there's no chancefor me--now."

  "Then you'll leave me a clear field?" bantered the other.

  "Of course--'Mary Jane,'" retorted Calderwell, with equal lightness.

  "Thank you."

  "Oh, you needn't," laughed Calderwell. "My giving you the right of waydoesn't insure you a thoroughfare for yourself--there are others, youknow. Billy Neilson has had sighing swains about I her, I imagine, sinceshe could walk and talk. She is a wonderfully fascinating little bit offemininity, and she has a heart of pure gold. All is, I envy the man whowins it--for the man who wins that, wins her."

  There was no answer. Arkwright sat with his eyes on the moving throngoutside the window near them. Perhaps he had not heard. At all events,when he spoke some time later, it was of a matter far removed from MissBilly Neilson, or the way to her heart. Nor was the young lady mentionedbetween them again that day.

  Long hours later, just before parting for the night, Arkwright said:

  "Calderwell, I'm sorry, but I believe, after all, I can't take that tripto the lakes with you. I--I'm going home next week."

  "Home! Hang it, Arkwright! I'd counted on you. Isn't this rathersudden?"

  "Yes, and no. I'll own I've been drifting about with you contentedlyenough for the last six months to make you think mountain-climbing andboat-paddling were the end and aim of my existence. But they aren't, youknow, really."

  "Nonsense! At heart you're as much of a vagabond as I am; and you knowit."

  "Perhaps. But unfortunately I don't happen to carry your pocketbook."

  "You may, if you like. I'll hand it over any time," grinned Calderwell.

  "Thanks. You know well enough what I mean," shrugged the other.

  There was a moment's silence; then Calderwell queried:

  "Arkwright, how old are you?"

  "Twenty-four."

  "Good! Then you're merely travelling to supplement your education, see?"

  "Oh, yes, I see. But something besides my education has got to besupplemented now, I reckon."

  "What are you going to do?"

  There was an almost imperceptible hesitation; then, a little shortly,came the answer:

  "Hit the trail for Grand Opera, and bring up, probably--in vaudeville."

  Calderwell smiled appreciatively.

  "You _can_ sing like the devil," he admitted.

  "Thanks," returned his friend, with uplifted eyebrows. "Do you mindcalling it 'an angel'--just for this occasion?"

  "Oh, the matinee-girls will do that fast enough. But, I say,Arkwright, what are you going to do with those initials then?"

  "Let 'em alone."

  "Oh, no, you won't. And you won't be 'Mary Jane,' either. Imagine a MaryJane in Grand Opera! I know what you'll be. You'll be 'Senor MartiniJohnini Arkwrightino'! By the way, you didn't say what that 'M. J.'really did stand for," hinted Calderwell, shamelessly.

  "'Merely Jokes'--in your estimation, evidently," shrugged the other."But my going isn't a joke, Calderwell. I'm really going. And I'm goingto work."

  "But--how shall you manag
e?"

  "Time will tell."

  Calderwell frowned and stirred restlessly in his chair.

  "But, honestly, now, to--to follow that trail of yours will takemoney. And--er--" a faint red stole to his forehead--"don't theyhave--er--patrons for these young and budding geniuses? Why can't I havea hand in this trail, too--or maybe you'd call it a foot, eh? I'd be noend glad to, Arkwright."

  "Thanks, old man." The red was duplicated this time above the brownsilky beard. "That was mighty kind of you, and I appreciate it; but itwon't be necessary. A generous, but perhaps misguided bachelor uncleleft me a few thousands a year or so ago; and I'm going to put them alldown my throat--or rather, _into_ it--before I give up."

  "Where you going to study? New York?"

  Again there was an almost imperceptible hesitation before the answercame.

  "I'm not quite prepared to say."

  "Why not try it here?"

  Arkwright shook his head.

  "I did plan to, when I came over but I've changed my mind. I believe I'drather work while longer in America."

  "Hm-m," murmured Calderwell.

  There was a brief silence, followed by other questions and otheranswers; after which the friends said good night.

  In his own room, as he was dropping off to sleep, Calderwell muttereddrowsily:

  "By George! I haven't found out yet what that blamed 'M. J.' standsfor!"

 
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