Bertram said that the Strata was not
a strata any longer. He declared that between
them, Billy and Spunk had caused such an upheaval that
there was no telling where one stratum left off and
another began. What Billy had not attended to,
Spunk had, he said.
“You see, it’s like this,”
he explained to an amused friend one day. “Billy
is taking piano lessons of Cyril, and she is posing
for one of my heads. Naturally, then, such feminine
belongings as fancy-work, thread, thimbles, and hairpins
are due to show up at any time either in Cyril’s
apartments or mine to say nothing of William’s;
and she’s in William’s lots to
look for Spunk, if for no other purpose.
“You must know that Spunk likes
William’s floor the best of the bunch, there
are so many delightful things to play with. Not
that Spunk stays there dear me, no.
He’s a sociable little chap, and his usual course
is to pounce on a shelf, knock off some object that
tickles his fancy, then lug it in his mouth to well,
anywhere that he happens to feel like going.
Cyril has found him up-stairs with a small miniature,
battered and chewed almost beyond recognition.
And Aunt Hannah nearly had a fit one day when he appeared
in her room with an enormous hard-shelled black bug dead,
of course that he had fished from a case
that Pete had left open. As for me, I can swear
that the little round white stone he was playing with
in my part of the house was one of William’s
Collection Number One.
“And that isn’t all,”
Bertram continued. “Billy brings her music
down to show to me, and lugs my heads all over the
rest of the house to show to other folks. And
there is always everywhere a knit shawl, for Aunt
Hannah is sure to feel a draught, and Billy keeps shawls
handy. So there you are! We certainly aren’t
a strata any longer,” he finished.
Billy was, indeed, very much at home
in the Beacon Street house too much so,
Aunt Hannah thought. Aunt Hannah was, in fact,
seriously disturbed. To William one evening,
late in May, she spoke her mind.
“William, what are you going
to do with Billy?” she asked abruptly.
“Do with her? What do you
mean?” returned William with the contented smile
that was so often on his lips these days. “This
is Billy’s home.”
“That’s the worst of it,”
sighed the woman, with a shake of her head.
“The worst of it! Aunt
Hannah, what do you mean? Don’t you like
“Yes, yes, William, of course
I like Billy. I love her! Who could help
it? That’s not what I mean. It’s
of Billy I’m thinking, and of the rest of you.
She can’t stay here like this. She must
go away, to school, or or somewhere.”
“And she’s going in September,”
replied the man. “She’ll go to preparatory
school first, and to college, probably.”
“Yes, but now right away. She
ought to go somewhere.”
“Why, yes, for the summer, of
course. But those plans aren’t completed
yet. Billy and I were talking of it last evening.
You know the boys are always away more or less, but
I seldom go until August, and we let Pete and Dong
Ling off then for a month and close the house.
I told Billy I’d send you and her anywhere she
liked for the whole summer, but she says no.
She prefers to stay here with me. But I don’t
quite fancy that idea through all the hot
June and July so I don’t know but
I’ll get a cottage somewhere near at one of
the beaches, where I can run back and forth night
and morning. Of course, in that case, we take
Pete and Dong Ling with us and close the house right
away. I fear Cyril would not fancy it much; but,
after all, he and Bertram would be off more or less.
They always are in the summer.”
“But, William, you haven’t
yet got my idea at all,” demurred Aunt Hannah,
with a discouraged shake of her head. “It’s
away! away from all this from
you that I want to get Billy.”
“Away! Away from me,”
cried the man, with an odd intonation of terror, as
he started forward in his chair. “Why, Aunt
Hannah, what are you talking about?”
“About Billy. This is no
place in which to bring up a young girl a
young girl who has not one shred of relationship to
“But she is my namesake, and
quite alone in the world, Aunt Hannah; quite alone poor
“My dear William, that is exactly
it she is a child, and yet she is not.
That’s where the trouble lies.”
“What do you mean?”
“William, Billy has been brought
up in a little country town with a spinster aunt and
a whole good-natured, tolerant village for company.
Well, she has accepted you and your entire household,
even down to Dong Ling, on the same basis.”
“Well, I’m sure I’m
glad,” asserted the man with genial warmth.
“It’s good for us to have her here.
It’s good for the boys. She’s already
livened Cyril up and toned Bertram down. I may
as well confess, Aunt Hannah, that I’ve been
more than a little disturbed about Bertram of late.
I don’t like that Bob Seaver that he is so fond
of; and some other fellows, too, that have been coming
here altogether too much during the last year.
Bertram says they’re only a little ‘Bohemian’
in their tastes. And to me that’s the worst
of it, for Bertram himself is quite too much inclined
“Exactly, William. And
that only goes to prove what I said before. Bertram
is not a spinster aunt, and neither are any of the
rest of you. But Billy takes you that way.”
“Takes us that way as spinster aunts!”
“Yes. She makes herself
as free in this house as she was in her Aunt Ella’s
at Hampden Falls. She flies up to Cyril’s
rooms half a dozen times a day with some question
about her lessons; and I don’t know how long
she’d sit at his feet and adoringly listen to
his playing if he didn’t sometimes get out of
patience and tell her to go and practise herself.
She makes nothing of tripping into Bertram’s
studio at all hours of the day; and he’s sketched
her head at every conceivable angle which
certainly doesn’t tend to make Billy modest or
retiring. As to you you know how much
she’s in your rooms, spending evening after
evening fussing over your collections.”
“I know; but we’re we’re
sorting them and making a catalogue,” defended
the man, anxiously. “Besides, I I
like to have her there. She doesn’t bother
me a bit.”
“No; I know she doesn’t,”
replied Aunt Hannah, with a curious inflection.
“But don’t you see, William, that all this
isn’t going to quite do? Billy’s
too young and too old.”
“Come, come, Aunt Hannah, is that exactly logical?”
“It’s true, at least.”
“But, after all, where’s
the harm? Don’t you think that you are just
a little bit too fastidious? Billy’s
nothing but a care-free child.”
“It’s the ‘free’
part that I object to, William. She has taken
every one of you into intimate companionship even
Pete and Dong Ling.”
“Pete and Dong Ling!”
“Yes.” Mrs. Stetson’s
chin came up, and her nostrils dilated a little.
“Billy went to Pete the other day to have him
button her shirt-waist up in the back; and yesterday
I found her down-stairs in the kitchen instructing
Dong Ling how to make chocolate fudge!”
William fell back in his chair.
“Well, well,” he muttered,
“well, well! She is a child, and no mistake!”
He paused, his brows drawn into a troubled frown.
“But, Aunt Hannah, what can I do?
Of course you could talk to her, but I don’t
seem to quite like that idea.”
“My grief and conscience no,
no! That isn’t what is needed at all.
It would only serve to make her self-conscious; and
that’s her one salvation now that
she isn’t self-conscious. You see, it’s
only the fault of her environment and training, after
all. It isn’t her heart that’s wrong.”
“Indeed it isn’t!”
“It will be different when she
is older when she has seen a little more
of the world outside Hampden Falls. She’ll
go to school, of course, and I think she ought to
travel a little. Meanwhile, she mustn’t
live just like this, though; certainly
not for a time, at least.”
“No, no, I’m afraid not,”
agreed William, perplexedly, rising to his feet.
“But we must think what can be done.”
His step was even slower than usual as he left the
room, and his eyes were troubled.