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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 common
friend; since then they had tramped half over Europe together in a
comradeship that was as delightful as it was unusual. As Calderwell put
it in a letter to his sister, Belle:

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

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

"I admit, however, I would like to know his name. To find out what that
mysterious 'M. J.' stands for has got to be pretty nearly an obsession
with me. I am about ready to pick his pocket or rifle his trunk in
search of some lurking 'Martin' or 'John' that will set me at peace. As
it is, I confess that I have ogled his incoming mail and his outgoing
baggage shamelessly, only to be slapped in the face always and
everlastingly by that bland 'M. J.' I've got my revenge, now, though. To
myself I call him 'Mary Jane' - and his broad-shouldered, brown-bearded
six 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 my
direction, better set the sleuths on the trail of Arkwright. Six to one
you'll find I called him 'Mary Jane' to his face!"

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

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

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

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

"Eh?"

Arkwright laughed grimly.

"Perhaps you thought of it yourself, then - I'll admit you're capable of
it," he nodded, reaching for a cigar. "But it so happens you hit upon my
family'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, you
must 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 those
initials have been something of a puzzle to people. One man declares
they're 'Merely Jokes'; but another, not so friendly, says they stand
for 'Mostly Jealousy' of more fortunate chaps who have real names for
a handle. My small brothers and sisters, discovering, with the usual
perspicacity of one's family on such matters, that I never signed, or
called myself anything but 'M. J.,' dubbed me 'Mary Jane.' And there you
have it."

"Mary Jane! You!"

Arkwright smiled oddly.

"Oh, well, what's the difference? Would you deprive them of their
innocent amusement? And they do so love that 'Mary Jane'! Besides,
what's in a name, anyway?" he went on, eyeing the glowing tip of the
cigar between his fingers. "'A rose by any other name - ' - you've
heard that, probably. Names don't always signify, my dear fellow. For
instance, 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 the
girl he's proposed to regularly once in three months? Oh, I know I'm
telling tales out of school, of course," he went on, in response to the
look 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 as
a matter of course - and refused as a matter of course, too; just as she
would 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 six
months 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 these
days, I'll warrant, and begin the same old game again; though I will
acknowledge that the last refusal was so very decided that it's been a
year, almost, since I received it. I think I was really convinced, for
a while, that - that she didn't want that apple pie," he finished with
a whimsical lightness that did not quite coincide with the stern lines
that 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 seen
her for years, but she writes to mother occasionally; and, of course,
for some time now, her letters have been running over full of Billy. She
lives with her, I believe; doesn't she?"

"She does," rejoined Calderwell, with an unexpected chuckle. "I wonder
if 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 quite
alone in the world, wrote to 'Uncle William' and asked to come and live
with him."

"Well?"

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

"The Strata!"

"Yes. I wish you could see that house, Arkwright. It's a regular layer
cake. Cyril - he's the second brother; must be thirty-four or five
now - lives on the top floor in a rugless, curtainless, music-mad
existence - just a plain crank. Below him comes William. William collects
things - everything from tenpenny nails to teapots, I should say, and
they'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 known
as he is now. Well, to resume and go on. It was into this house, this
masculine paradise ruled over by Pete and Dong Ling in the kitchen, that
Billy's naïve 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 to
Bertram with guns and fishing rods, and such ladylike specialties; and
William 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 for
a while, though. Oh, there was a kitten, too, I believe, 'Spunk,' who
added to the gayety of nations."

"But what did the Henshaws do?"

"Well, I wasn't there, of course; but Bertram says they spun around like
tops gone mad for a time, but finally quieted down enough to summon a
married sister for immediate propriety, and to establish Aunt Hannah for
permanency 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 just
in a name. Remember that. Just suppose _you_, as Mary Jane, should beg a
home 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 meet
that special young lady. I sing her songs (you know she's written some
dandies!), 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 his
mother's bureau - the picture being a gift from Aunt Hannah.) "So you
see I would, indeed, like to occupy a corner in the fair Miss Billy's
household. I could write to Aunt Hannah and beg a home with her, you
know; eh?"

"Of course! Why don't you - 'Mary Jane'?" laughed Calderwell. "Billy'd
take 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 writes
me that she's had a dozen forlornites there all this last summer, two
or three at a time-tired widows, lonesome old maids, and crippled
kids - 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. Mary
Jane! You'd drive the suffragettes into conniption fits - just by the
sound of you!"

Arkwright laughed quietly; then he frowned.

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

"Oh, yes, a few months. I never knew just why she did leave, but I
fancied, from something Billy herself said once, that she discovered she
was creating rather too much of an upheaval in the Strata. So she took
herself off. She went to school, and travelled considerably. She was
over here when I met her first. After that she was with us all one
summer on the yacht. A couple of years ago, or so, she went back to
Boston, 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've
heard from her only indirectly. She corresponds with my sister, and so
do I - intermittently. I heard a month ago from Belle, and _she_ had a
letter from Billy in August. But I heard nothing of any engagement."

"How about the Henshaws? I should think there might be a chance there
for 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 his
wife and baby years ago. Cyril, according to Bertram, 'hates women
and all other confusion,' so that ought to let him out. As for Bertram
himself - Bertram is 'only Bertram.' He's always been that. Bertram loves
girls - 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 was
admiring - to paint. No, there's no chance for a romance there, I'll
warrant."

"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 chance
for 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 way
doesn't insure you a thoroughfare for yourself - there are others, you
know. Billy Neilson has had sighing swains about I her, I imagine, since
she could walk and talk. She is a wonderfully fascinating little bit of
femininity, and she has a heart of pure gold. All is, I envy the man who
wins it - for the man who wins that, wins her."

There was no answer. Arkwright sat with his eyes on the moving throng
outside 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 Miss
Billy Neilson, or the way to her heart. Nor was the young lady mentioned
between 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 trip
to the lakes with you. I - I'm going home next week."

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

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

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

"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 be
supplemented 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 mind
calling it 'an angel' - just for this occasion?"

"Oh, the matinée-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 Mary
Jane in Grand Opera! I know what you'll be. You'll be 'Señor Martini
Johnini 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 going
to work."

"But - how shall you manage?"

"Time will tell."

Calderwell frowned and stirred restlessly in his chair.

"But, honestly, now, to - to follow that trail of yours will take
money. And - er - " a faint red stole to his forehead - "don't they
have - er - patrons for these young and budding geniuses? Why can't I have
a hand in this trail, too - or maybe you'd call it a foot, eh? I'd be no
end glad to, Arkwright."

"Thanks, old man." The red was duplicated this time above the brown
silky beard. "That was mighty kind of you, and I appreciate it; but it
won't be necessary. A generous, but perhaps misguided bachelor uncle
left me a few thousands a year or so ago; and I'm going to put them all
down 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 answer
came.

"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'd
rather work while longer in America."

"Hm-m," murmured Calderwell.

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

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

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




CHAPTER II. AUNT HANNAH GETS A LETTER


In the cozy living-room at Hillside, Billy Neilson's pretty home on
Corey Hill, Billy herself sat writing at the desk. Her pen had just
traced the date, "October twenty-fifth," when Mrs. Stetson entered with
a letter in her hand.

"Writing, my dear? Then don't let me disturb you." She turned as if to
go.

Billy dropped her pen, sprang to her feet, flew to the little woman's
side and whirled her half across the room.

"There!" she exclaimed, as she plumped the breathless and scandalized
Aunt Hannah into the biggest easy chair. "I feel better. I just had to
let off steam some way. It's so lovely you came in just when you did!"

"Indeed! I - I'm not so sure of that," stammered the lady, dropping the
letter into her lap, and patting with agitated fingers her cap, her
curls, the two shawls about her shoulders, and the lace at her throat.
"My grief and conscience, Billy! Wors't you _ever_ grow up?"

"Hope not," purred Billy cheerfully, dropping herself on to a low
hassock at Aunt Hannah's feet.

"But, my dear, you - you're engaged!"

Billy bubbled into a chuckling laugh.

"As if I didn't know that, when I've just written a dozen notes to
announce it! And, oh, Aunt Hannah, such a time as I've had, telling what
a dear Bertram is, and how I love, love, _love_ him, and what beautiful
eyes he has, and _such_ a nose, and - "

"Billy!" Aunt Hannah was sitting erect in pale horror.

"Eh?" Billy's eyes were roguish.

"You didn't write that in those notes!"

"Write it? Oh, no! That's only what I _wanted_ to write," chuckled
Billy. "What I really did write was as staid and proper as - here, let me
show you," she broke off, springing to her feet and running over to her
desk. "There! this is about what I wrote to them all," she finished,
whipping a note out of one of the unsealed envelopes on the desk and
spreading it open before Aunt Hannah's suspicious eyes.

"Hm-m; that is very good - for you," admitted the lady.

"Well, I like that! - after all my stern self-control and self-sacrifice
to keep out all those things I _wanted_ to write," bridled Billy.
"Besides, they'd have been ever so much more interesting reading than
these will be," she pouted, as she took the note from her companion's
hand.

"I don't doubt it," observed Aunt Hannah, dryly.

Billy laughed, and tossed the note back on the desk.

"I'm writing to Belle Calderwell, now," she announced musingly, dropping
herself again on the hassock. "I suppose she'll tell Hugh."

"Poor boy! He'll be disappointed."

Billy sighed, but she uptilted her chin a little.

"He ought not to be. I told him long, long ago, the very first time,
that - that I couldn't."

"I know, dear; but - they don't always understand." Aunt Hannah sighed
in sympathy with the far-away Hugh Calderwell, as she looked down at the
bright young face near her.

There was a moment's silence; then Billy gave a little laugh.

"He _will_ be surprised," she said. "He told me once that Bertram
wouldn't ever care for any girl except to paint. To paint, indeed! As
if Bertram didn't love me - just _me!_ - if he never saw another tube of
paint!"

"I think he does, my dear."

Again there was silence; then, from Billy's lips there came softly:

"Just think; we've been engaged almost four weeks - and to-morrow it'll
be announced. I'm so glad I didn't ever announce the other two!"

"The other _two!_" cried Aunt Hannah.

Billy laughed.

"Oh, I forgot. You didn't know about Cyril."

"Cyril!"

"Oh, there didn't anybody know it, either not even Cyril himself,"
dimpled Billy, mischievously. "I just engaged myself to him in
imagination, you know, to see how I'd like it. I didn't like it. But
it didn't last, anyhow, very long - just three weeks, I believe. Then I
broke it off," she finished, with unsmiling mouth, but dancing eyes.

"Billy!" protested Aunt Hannah, feebly.

"But I _am_ glad only the family knew about my engagement to Uncle
William - oh, Aunt Hannah, you don't know how good it does seem to call
him 'Uncle' again. It was always slipping out, anyhow, all the time we
were engaged; and of course it was awful then."

"That only goes to prove, my dear, how entirely unsuitable it was, from
the start."

A bright color flooded Billy's face.

"I know; but if a girl _will_ think a man is asking for a wife when all
he wants is a daughter, and if she blandly says 'Yes, thank you, I'll
marry you,' I don't know what you can expect!"

"You can expect just what you got - misery, and almost a tragedy,"
retorted Aunt Hannah, severely.

A tender light came into Billy's eyes.

"Dear Uncle William! What a jewel he was, all the way through! And he'd
have marched straight to the altar, too, with never a flicker of an
eyelid, I know - self-sacrificing martyr that he was!"

"Martyr!" bristled Aunt Hannah, with extraordinary violence for her.
"I'm thinking that term belonged somewhere else. A month ago, Billy
Neilson, you did not look as if you'd live out half your days. But I
suppose _you'd_ have gone to the altar, too, with never a flicker of an
eyelid!"

"But I thought I had to," protested Billy. "I couldn't grieve Uncle
William so, after Mrs. Hartwell had said how he - he wanted me."

Aunt Hannah's lips grew stern at the corners.

"There are times when - when I think it would be wiser if Mrs. Kate
Hartwell would attend to her own affairs!" Aunt Hannah's voice fairly
shook with wrath.

"Why-Aunt Hannah!" reproved Billy in mischievous horror. "I'm shocked at
you!"

Aunt Hannah flushed miserably.

"There, there, child, forget I said it. I ought not to have said it, of
course," she murmured agitatedly.

Billy laughed.

"You should have heard what Uncle William said! But never mind. We all
found out the mistake before it was too late, and everything is lovely
now, even to Cyril and Marie. Did you ever see anything so beatifically
happy as that couple are? Bertram says he hasn't heard a dirge from
Cyril's rooms for three weeks; and that if anybody else played the kind
of music he's been playing, it would be just common garden ragtime!"

"Music! Oh, my grief and conscience! That makes me think, Billy. If I'm
not actually forgetting what I came in here for," cried Aunt Hannah,
fumbling in the folds of her dress for the letter that had slipped from
her lap. "I've had word from a young niece. She's going to study music
in Boston."

"A niece?"

"Well, not really, you know. She calls me 'Aunt,' just as you and the
Henshaw boys do. But I really am related to _her_, for her mother and I
are third cousins, while it was my husband who was distantly related to
the Henshaw family."

"What's her name?"

"'Mary Jane Arkwright.' Where is that letter?"

"Here it is, on the floor," reported Billy. "Were you going to read it
to me?" she asked, as she picked it up.

"Yes - if you don't mind."

"I'd love to hear it."

"Then I'll read it. It - it rather annoys me in some ways. I thought the
whole family understood that I wasn't living by myself any longer - that
I was living with you. I'm sure I thought I wrote them that, long ago.
But this sounds almost as if they didn't understand it - at least, as if


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