AND THEN THERE WERE SIX
A man must have a roomy heart who is prepared to install six sisters-in-law, however charming, within it. But to George Bollop, from the West, where spaces are wide and ladies few, it was the simplest thing in the world.
THEY had been eight. But Emily died shortly before they left Sherbrooke. Now they were seven, and obliged to live together, since the money their father had left them, including the proceeds from the sale of their house, amounted to very little.
Their gregarious habit, however, lay deeper than circumstance. It was instinctive and traditional. If one Miss Pinney was missing from the dining-room before Martha said prayers, the rest of them went in search of her. When three of them came to a corner of the street on their way to church, they made sure the others were in sight before continuing. Only once had they been separated: the occasion when Agatha had been ordered to Murray Bay.
The Pinney girls all looked alike. Physiologically, Martha wasn’t very unlike Faith; despite the fact she was twenty six years older. Maude, Sarah and Grace, with four years proportionately balanced between them, were often taken for triplets. Agatha had faded a little, although she was actually two years younger than Grace.
Faith came next; then Lucy, the baby of the family. She had just passed her twenty-fourth birthday.
The Pinney girls were not homely. They were plain, their plainness accentuated by their clothes and a birdlike expression they had in common. With the exception of Lucy, they dressed alike, having a preference for coatsuits that might well have been unearthed from the old cedar-chest. Slight variations in the arrangement of buttons, pleats, material, distinguished them a little; but not much. Faith’s skirts were less impregnable and a bit shorter. Maude, Sarah and Grace—the trio—were made
for bustles and great sleeves; dressed in the fashion of that bygone day they would have sailed down the avenue in grand style. The compromise was as saddening as a bed without bolsters.
Lucy’s ideas on the subject were revolutionary. She lately had bought a French frock, and some of her stockings were sheer silk. Once, in her room, she tried rolling them, only deciding against it because she was afraid they might come down.
Of all the Pinney girls only one, Agatha, had had a ‘beau.’ She had found him at Murray Bay and the advent of Sam Cornberry was so miraculous it sufficed to make him the ‘beau’ of eight.
Agatha returned engaged to him and such was the fervor that seven Miss Pinneys wore imaginary engagement rings on their fingers for days.
It had come to nothing. Mr. Cornberry arrived in Sherbrooke, called once, was overwhelmed by his eight fiancees, and never called again. This was about the time when Lucy decided to come to Montreal, but for poor Agatha’s sake she felt it only right to linger a while.
How Lucy ever entertained the notion of working in an office was something not one of the Pinney girls could explain. Lucy, henzelf, couldn’t account for it. Before Miles Pinney died, an old friend of his from Montreal, Mr.
Minnett, was a periodical visitor. The girls went solidly to meet his train, attended his every want, made him feel perfectly at home, circled him at the table. “Why don’t you get about more?
Rub elbows with the world?
Take a position or something in an office?” Mr. Minnett had advised his lamb-chop rather than any particular one of the eight penguins placidly regarding him, but Lucy said: “It would be quite nice!” And then Mr. Minnett seemed to understand she had accepted a position in his office, the confirmation springing up in a series of extraordinary letters. Lucy was a secretary. As soon as she went to Montreal! Her salary was to be twenty-five dollars a week!
Meanwhile, old Mr. Minnett went to his fathers, but the position was kept open for her by his son and in the end, after Emily was buried, all the Pinneys came to Montreal so as to be together. Lucy embarked on her adventure so courageously. They loved and admired her for it. Really it was as if all of them were working in an office.
Now, after five months, a new \ excitement had them by the ears. ' The very whisper of it thrilled them. Even Agatha’s pale cheeks caught a dash of color. Lucy had an admirer!
TSN’T it almost time to call her?” *■ asked Martha, bringing in the seventh grapefruit.
Faith began arranging the flowers so that Lucy would get the full benefit of them. “Shall we say something during breakfast?” She had a habit of protruding her tongue a little after she had finished speaking and usually it remained there for a moment, pale pink, moist and thin as a kitten’s. She read Freud and Remy de Gourmont without being one whit the wiser, and played every inversion of solitaire, extant and obsolete.
“It might seem a little inquisitive.”
Agatha’s remark occasioned similar expressions of disappointment on the faces of Maude, Sarah and Grace. They had chrome-leather complexions and heavy, slumbrous eyelids that opened and shut very slowly. Their hair, frizzed at the sides, was done in bangs over rather nice foreheads. In their pink wrappers they looked like three pink penguins.
“Lucy,” said Sarah, speaking for the trio, “is sure to tell us all about it this morning.”
“Probably, dear.” There was a further wistful note in Agatha’s voice. “But-—we mustn’t ...” She had attractive grey eyes flecked with hazel, unhappily resigned and forlorn. The hollows in her eheeks were becoming more pronounced.
“No,” enjoined Martha. “You know, I think we ought to be very careful.” From her eyes radiated needle-like wrinkles which slid backwards and forwards when she expressed her feelings. Her thin hair, silvering a little and drawn tightly over her scalp, was fastened in a bit of a knot at the back. Old-fashioned earrings dangled from her small lobes. “We’re a formidable company for any one man to face alone,” she added, timidity and courage alternating in her voice.
This was met by a profound silence. Then the trio smiled as though to say, ‘Dear Martha says such amusing things at times.’ Faith gave her little twitter.
Their formidability hadn’t, actually, been admitted; yet in their own way they were dimly conscious of it. Seven of them! It had frightened Mr. Cornberry away.
Really, Agatha had been awfully uncomplaining. She never talked about Mr. Cornberry now, but her sisters knew she often thought of him, wondered if he might return. They knew, also, what she was doing each time she locked herself in her room. The trousseau they had painstakingly prepared for her four years ago still lay virginal in her traveling trunk, delicately folded between innumerable sheets of soft tissue paper. There were, probably, not a few tear stains on the Irish lace, and each garment had been folded and refolded a hundred times. Dear Agatha!
The truth was Sam Cornberry had behaved very badly. “The fellow,” said Miles Pinney, “got scared, scared. Agatha should have prepared him.” The breakfast was ready now, so Martha rang the silver bell. Lucy entered happily. Her dress was open at the throat, not much, but a little. Her hair was loose, the least bit wavy, and her lips were quite red.
“Good morning, everybody!”
She kissed them all in turn, almost upsetting Agatha’s tray with three dishes of cornflakes, two porridges, one grape-nuts and a shredded wheat on it.
“Did you forget to call me?”
“No, darling. We thought we’d give you an extra five minutes.”
“Because,” said Faith, “you must be awfully tired, after such a late evening.”
“We’re dying to hear how you liked the play,” said Sarah, spooning her grape-fruit very tenderly.
“It was lovely. Aren’t these flowers adorable? You really must see it. A translation from the French. A bit naughty-—but so well acted.”
“Do you know, Faith,”—Martha’s eyes were bright this morning—“you have only given her two spoons.” “Why, so I have! And the eggs!” Faith vanished. “Here, darling, take mine.”
“Thank you, Sarah.” Lucy’s hand shook a little, then she said: “I’m—I’m bringing him to call-—soon.”
There was a perceptible flutter round the table.
“Put heaps of cream, dear, on your cornflakes.”
“We’re dying to meet him.”
“I think you’ll like him,” murmured poor Lucy. “He’s awfully nice—and—”
“We’re sure he is.”
Agatha, removing the partly consumed grapefruits, ceased that operation in order to straighten Lucy’s silk collar.
“Do tell us what he’s like.”
It was an important question. Even Faith, entering with the bacon and eggs, stood still for a moment. Lucy absently stirred her coffee.
“Well-—he’s not very good-looking—”
“Looks don’t count, dear.”
Martha said: “You know, we’re very anxious to have you tell us about him. Of course, darling, if you’d prefer not—”
“Oh, please, dear, Martha.” Lucy became scarlet. “I wouldn’t think of keeping anything from you. It isn’t that. I’ve only known him a week. I met him at the office. He-—well, he isn’t what we’d call . . . He’s quite an ordinary man. But very nice. His name is Mr. Billop.”
“It’s awfully exciting—isn’t ‘it, Agatha?” Faith’s tongue came out a tiny bit further than usual.
Agatha didn’t reply.
“Mr. Billop,” Martha repeated it sympathetically. “Working in your office, dear?”
“Oh, no. I just met him there. He came, I think, to see about a position; but Mr. Minnett couldn’t help him. He must be interested in machinery because I heard them talking. He—.” Lucy became absorbed in the contemplation of her fried egg.
“I’m afraid your coffee is quite cold, dear.”
“No, Maude.” She drank a little to show her.
“Is he tall?”
“I do hope he’s dark?”
“And not too old for you, darling.”
Lucy remained perfectly quiet, her head bowed. Agatha startled everybody by abruptly leaving the room. She wore shoes with elastic at the sides, walked a little flat-footedly. The trouble originated soon after Mr. Cornberry disappeared when Agatha duplicated the performance of poor Madame Butterfly in the opera.
In the face of an embarrassing restraint Maude rose to great heights.
' “I really believe,” she said, “it would be best if we did not all meet him at the same time!”
Martha’s earrings waggled approvingly. “You know, that’s just what I was going to say.”
“Sarah and I could go to the movies,” offered Grace with inexpressible sacrifice and devotion.
“Couldn’t some of us be cousins?” advanced the little pale, pink tongue.
There were tears in Lucy’s eyes. “Please,” she begged them. “I wouldn’t for the world have you think that I-—■’’ “But, Lucy, dear.” Grace kissed her warmly. “He can meet us little by little. Not all at once, the way poor Mr. Cornberry did. Then, you see, when he’s used to us—”
“I think henna suits you so well,” relieved Sarah. “You look so pretty in it.”
“Do you really like it?” Lucy, essaying a little smile that wasn’t wholly successful, looked at her dress. She had a mobile, generous mouth, a rounded chin, and pretty hands. Noting the hour, she hurriedly pushed back her chair. “You’re all so s-sweet to me. And really I love you so much-—”
Agatha wasn’t in the kitchen, so Lucy knocked gently on her door.
“I’m going now, dear Agatha.”
The forlorn one’s feelings were somehow characterized by the turning of the key. She had been crying. “I do hope—. We mustn’t-—”
“Dear, dear Agatha,” said Lucy, embracing her.
MR. GEORGE BILLOP was as fine a specimen of physical manhood as ever came out of the West. He was six feet tall, sandy of hair, bronzed, and looked younger than his age, which was thirty-six. Between his red moustache and very shaggy eyebrows danced a pair of clear brown eyes. His clothes were obviously readymade, his boots and hat appeared to have been purchased in the general store; but his shirt was immaculately clean and his cravat, a new one bought for the occasion of his visit, was, in his own estimation, a ‘regular humdinger.’ He was presented one evening after dinner. “This,” proceeded Lucy very shyly, “is my sister Martha.” The eldest Miss Pinney was dressed in her grey silk. A very distinguished penguin!
“Lucy,” she enthused genially, “has told us a great deal about you, Mr. Billop.”
“Heard quite a lot about you, ma’am-—come to that,” he replied gallantly, first putting his bowler on a chair then taking it up again and holding it in front of him. “Let me take your hat, Mr. Billop.”
He surrendered it, curling his left moustache with a magnificent if slightly nervous gesture. Another Miss Pinney appeared. “This,” said Lucy, bringing her forward charmingly, “is Sarah.”
Continued on page 32
And Then There Were Six
Continued from page 17
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am, Pm sure.”
Sarah gave him her cold little hand, greeting him fashionably. “So very nice of you to visit our humble apartment,” she pronounced. “It’s not like our home, in Sherbrooke. Lucy must show you the snapshots. But it’s rather comfortable and—. Do please sit down, Mr. Billop.” “I certainly will.”
“No, not there, Mr. Billop. Take this chair. It’s a regular man’s chair. It used to be father’s. And do let me take your gloves.”
Mr. Billop gave them up, then curled his right moustache.
A third Miss Pinney quietly manifested herself in the door. Lucy beckoned to her. “Faith,” she introduced, putting an arm about her sister’s spare waist. “The clever one of the family. . ”
“What another!” cried Mr. Billop goodnaturedly. “Got ’em behind every chair, haven’t you?” The quip so amused him that he gave an extra squeeze to the extended hand. Faith felt her little bones crush, but she didn’t wince.
“It’s been a treat”-—he was addressing Martha, Faith and Sarah—“to have your little sister’s company to the the-ater. An’ I”—he coughed to hide his uncertainty-—“an’ I was wonderin’ if you ladies would care to join us the next time.” “Oh, thank you, Mr. Billop,” negatived Martha, hurrying to relieve him. “You know, we mustn’t impose on your generosity.”
“No,” said Faith.
“Well, ma’am—” He was trying to figure out what she meant by the displayed tongue.
“Although it is very kind of you.”
“You see,” Martha went on, “we ourselves have had to consider the value of money-—how quickly it goes.” The wrinkles were moving rapidly. “Your kindness to Lucy includes all of us.”
“It does, indeed.”
“You really mustn’t think of it, Mr. Billop. But some evening we’d love to have you up for dinner. We can’t offer you anything very elaborate, you know. Still we’d be delighted if you’d come.” “Couldn’t keep me away, ma’am,” smiled Mr. Billop.
“Lucy can let you know.” Martha rose: an act of distinction in itself. “And now we must ask you to excuse us. We have a little matter to attend to.” She was playing her part superbly. “Come, Faith. Come, Sarah, dear!”
“Charmed to have met you,” they chorused.
Mr. George Billop bowed: a thing he had never done before.
All they had to attend to was the preparation of coffee in case he preferred that to ginger ale with his sandwiches and cake. The silver tray was polished until jt shone beautifully and the choicest napkins in the Pinney establishment were placed beside the choicest cups, saucers and plates.
Everything went off splendidly. After drinking two cups of coffee, eating all the sandwiches and devouring a huge portion of cake, Mr. Billop made his departure.
A little after eleven, Maude, Grace and Agatha returned from the movies.
“What’s he like, Sarah?”
“He invited us to the theater.”
“With a lovely moustache,” put in Faith. “Really?” Grace looked admiringly at Lucy as though her sister and not Mr.
Billop was adorned with that symbol of masculinity.
“I think all men ought to wear moustaches,” advocated Maude, beginning to remove her many hat-pins. “Like father and Mr. Corn-—”
“I’d love to meet him.”
“You shall, Grace, dear. I’ll ask him up again-—very soon.” Lucy promised this a trifle apprehensively. The rooms seemed full of women, individually harmless, yet prognostic and somewhat terrifying as a whole.
On Sunday night Mr. George Billop called again. With him, he brought two long, cardboard boxes decorated with the name of a fashionable florist. One he gave to Lucy; the other, he said, was for her three sisters.
They had known of his coming, for in the interim Lucy had twice lunched with him, dined at the Mount Royal and gone to a revue. Consequently, the arrangement this evening had been that Faith and Sarah go out with Maude. Of the latter Miss Pinney he was not to be acquainted. Martha accepted the roses on behalf of her two sisters.
“You know,” she told Lucy in the kitchen, “I think he must be spending every penny he earns. A little extravagant, perhaps. You mustn’t give him the impression, dear.”
“But what can I do?” asked Lucy, burying her face in the water-sprinkled flowers.
The roses, put into deep vases, were brought into the drawing-room. Mr. Billop, marooned in a straight-backed chair, loomed gigantically. “You should not buy such expensive flowers, you know.” Martha told him, conscious of a certain pleasure in scolding such a big, splendid man.
He met this with a liberal wave of his hand. “Don’t need to worry about that, ma’am.”
“They’re perfectly beautiful,” cooed Lucy, holding them before his nose. “The fragrance.”
He drank in the perfume as though he were drinking a stein of beer, his moustaches brushing the cold wet blooms. A little moisture had clung to the left one and it quickly gathered into a glistening bead, suspending there critically. Martha watched it with fascinated, half-dilated eyes. Then, all unwittingly to Mr. Billop, it dropped on his coat lapel. Martha gave a little gasp.
“Somebody there?” Lucy glanced at the door. “Come in, Grace, dear.”
That lady’s pallid countenance lost something by her forced and protracted smile. The complete absence of men in the Pinney entourage and the elaboration, the rehearsing, attending this contradiction of it was such that she almost dropped a curtsey.
“My sister, Grace,” managed Lucy in a thin voice.
Mr. Billop rose from his chair, grinning broadly. “Met you, I guess, the other evenin’,” he reminded her, offering his hand.
“No,” said Grace very sweetly. “That was Sarah, I think. We’re so alike, you see.”
His grin was incorporated in his deepening confusion. “Eh!” he shouted. “Mean to say you’re another one?” With a physical effort he recovered his former pomposity. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”
His consternation had reached poor Agatha and she crept to her room, from which retreat, fifteen minutes later, a good deal of coaxing was necessary before she agreed to accompany Martha and Lucy into the drawing room.
“Here’s a sixth,” cried Lucy, laughing the least bit hysterically. “My sister, Agatha.”
“Well, I’ll be damned.” To cover that inadvertant expletive, Mr. George Billop went to work with a will on his moustaches. “Ladies,” he said, getting to his feet determinedly, “I must ask you to excuse me.”
A deadly fear crept into four gray faces. “I apologize,” he explained. “Out where I come from, men get into the habit of-—of cussin’.” Ill at ease, he tendered his regrets to Agatha. “Hope you’ll pardon me, ma’am. My manners might be improved I admit—still I ain’t quite so bad as I look.”
“Not at all, Mr. Billop.”
He began to laugh. “If Lucy had only told me she had such a whack of sisters I’d have been better prepared.”
“Oh, Mr. Billop,” said Grace, “we don’t mind a little word now and then. We often say naughty things ourselves sometimes.”
“So there’s six of you, eh? Gosh! that’s —that’s quite a number! I like big families. We was quite a lot at home when I was a kid. Seven of us. Four boys and three gals.”
“Seven?” echoed Lucy. “Why that’s just-—”
Martha cut in with: “Do go on, Mr. Billop.”
“Out of seven,” he continued, “there’s just two of us left. An’ I often wish Milt was along with me so’s to meet some of you gels.”
‘Gels’ didn’t in the least disturb them. “Most of ’em,” he went on, in furtherance of his family history, “died when they was young. Sally, she married a feller from Vancouver an’ died when her baby was born. Me and Milt grew up side by side right along. Sort of got used to livin’ together. I got a telegram from him this afternoon.”
“From your brother?”
“Yes, ma’am. Wants me to come back to Bassano right away.”
“Bassano, Alberta. This side of Calgary.”
“Oh, we thought you lived in Montreal?”
“No, ma’am. Milt and me’s got a small ranch near Bassano. I come down here on a little business, that’s all.”
“Then you are going back?” Lucy’s question seemed to linger in the air. “Tuesday night.”
“I’d have got away sooner, only I’ve been held up on some machinery I come for till Tuesday. Monday’s my last night in Montreal for a spell. Say! How about the thea-ater, Monday even’? The whole lot of us?”
It took Martha some time to find her voice. “Supposing,” she said, “we make it dinner here, instead?”
“Fine. I’ll get the tickets.”
“I’m afraid”—Agatha’s tone betrayed her disappointment-—“dinner would hardly be over in time for the-—theater.” She hesitated over the word, blushing as she pronounced it correctly.
“And there are too many of us,” said Grace.
“We could get a box, ma’am.” Mr. Billop estimated them. “A couple of boxes.”
“Oh, dear, no! We do appreciate your kindness, Mr. Billop. But we mustn’t put you to such expense. No, really.”
“No,” ended Agatha, positively.
Martha, her earrings swinging, edged to the door. “We’ll expect you for dinner,” she smiled.
“I’ll be right on deck.”
“About half-past seven. Don’t bother to dress. Come, Grace. Come Agatha, dear.”
In the kitchen, Grace poured some berries into the coffee-grinder. “I’m afraid,” she murmured, “he has no intention of-—of ...” Mournfully, she began to turn the handle.
“But he called her Lucy!” Agatha’s voice rose above the noise. “Did you hear him? Twice!”
Grace, displaying sad eyes, ceased grinding for a moment. “Yes, I did. And it really sounded quite hopeful, didn’t it? I wonder what his brother is like. They may be very rich.”
“I don’t think they are,” said Martha. “I noticed his hat. You know he must have had it for years. That’s why I feel so sorry he bought those roses. I’m sure they cost him ten dollars a dozen. Foor, dear man!”
“Wasn’t it generous of him? And want ing to take all of us to the theater as well!” Grace resumed her grinding, only to stop again when Martha touched her arm.
“Of course, dear,” said the eldest Miss Pinney, “the roses were meant for you and Agatha and Maude, too.”
“Oh, no, Martha.”
“Why, of course, darling. Of course they were.” Martha kissed her.
“For all of us.”
Mr. Billop was staying late. Coffee and sandwiches, the latter carefully done into little triangles, the bread cut very thin, had long since been taken in by Lucy. At half past eleven the three other Miss Pinneys made their appearance, creeping on tiptoe pa§t the slightly open drawingroom door. Lucy couldn’t be heard, but her companion’s brass laughter defied all intervening space.
Suddenly, without warning, Lucy came running down the corridor and was in the midst of them. Her precipitant entrance, her hysteria, her tears, terrified them; they could not have been more agitated had she been a ferocious dog.
A tremor passed down the youngest Miss Pinney’s smooth throat. “He’s— he’s gone!” she cried. “I m-may never see him again. Oh, dear, I’m so miserable.”
“Tell us, darling? What has happened to disturb you?” They were all round her. Sarah was bathing her forehead with eaude-cologne. The smelling salts shook in Faith’s hands.
“He asked me to marry him. To m-marry him and go with him to Alberta on Tuesday!”
Assimilating this staggering news six mouths opened to almost identical ovals.
“I said I didn’t think I could. The time was so —so short.” Lucy’s sobs rendered articulate speech an impossibility. “I-—I haven’t got anything to wear. And my position at the office. Besides” —she showed a tearful face—“I can't bear the thought of 1—leaving you.”
Continued on page 45
Continued from page 32
“But, Lucy, darling—” Agatha burst into tears.
“Perhaps he’ll come back for you—from —from—” Grace also began to weep.
“I don’t think he will. I’ll never see him again.”
With a preliminary wail Martha joined the concert. Seven Miss Pinneys surrendered themselves to their crying, endeavoring, now they were committed, to make the least possible noise about it. Agatha, however, was so overcome she had to go to her room.
Gradually the sobbings subsided. Mutually acknowledging it their duty, Sarah and Grace, with a combined herculean effort, pulled themselves together and started to make tea. It would relieve dear Lucy’s feelings—and their own.
Martha addressed her with infinite tenderness. “Darling, it really doesn’t matter about your office position. After all, you know—”
“But I hate to 1-leave you. I haven’t a trousseau—or anything.”
That, they realized, was an obstacle. The luxury was also beyond the immeddiate purchasing power of the family purse. The Pinneys, anyway, didn’t buy trousseaus. They made them—if the time allowed.
Agatha’s reappearance was welcomed by six pairs of sympathetic if slightly swollen eyes. Her lower lip was trembling like a bit of lemon jelly as she smiled at them.
“Lucy, dear—you might have taken my trousseau. It’s all packed and everything.”
Agatha’s generosity brought about a deep silence. Then Lucy, accompanied by Maude and Grace, relapsed into fresh tears.
“Oh, Agatha—it’s yours—and I . . .” Faith said: “I’m sure poor Mr. Billop was fearfully upset when you refused him.” Into this remark she couldn’t help injecting a note of pride! A Pinney refusing an offer of marriage!
“But I didn’t refuse h-him,” said Lucy. “I told him I’d give him an answer tomorrow night at dinner.”
^^OT one of them slept through the ^ night. The following morning, during Lucy’s absence, the Miss Pinneys, in twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes, collaborated and formed plans for the evening dinner. Of course, as Lucy feared and Agatha pointed out, he might change his mind and not come; still, if he did, it was agreed they should proceed with tact and wisdom. It would be the first time he saw them together. Maude had to be presented. Seven of them! All so very alike and-—
“Formidable,” said the little pale tongue.
“We must be jolly,” decided Maude. “Say clever things.”
“And wouldn’t it be simply wonderful if we could have cocktails?” It was Faith’s proposal. She was so ingenious!
“There’s father’s cocktail shaker. It’s solid silver.”
“Then we could put those lovely glasses on the table,” said Martha. “The champagne ones. You know, they’d look awfully effective.”
“But we haven’t anything to put in it. We need some sort of liquor,—don’t we?” “Couldn’t we make it out of fruit juice and ice and something?”
The idea appealed.
“And there’s those preserved prunes that Maude made. They ought to strengthen it, don’t you think?”
Faith confirmed it.
“Then do let’s try.” Led by Grace, they went hilariously into the kitchen where the prune juice was pronounced decidedly exciting by Maude who tasted a little on a spoon.
By six o’clock the table with its sparkling glass and silver, Mr. Billop’s roses, the spotless linen and napkins handembroidered with small forget-me-nots, really looked delightful.
Meanwhile, the Miss Pinneys were dressing in relays. The trio wore pink blouses and navy blue skirts. Faith had on her green satin, the flounce trailing behind her; Agatha, her empire dress, the one that first attracted poor Mr. Cornberry; Martha had pinned a red rose to her gray silk and wore her coral earrings.
Lucy’s arrival, a little later than usual, brought all of them rushing to the drawing-room. She had made several purchases, but the dear girl looked so tired and nervous, her cheeks pale, her eyes almost feverish.
“You’re not sick, are you, darling?” “No,” said Lucy. “But when I think of going away from you-—I feel so unhappy. You’ve been so sweet to me.” They kissed her with more than customary warmth, then hurried her away to get dressed.
Everything, they informed each other, was ready. Nevertheless, the ringing of the front door bell found them woefully unprepared. At the moment, Faith’s satin was being taken up a little by Grace. Both fled, precipitately. Martha, however, welcomed her future brother-in-law very graciously.
“We’re so glad to see you, Mr. Billop.” “Well, how’s the gels?” He positively shone with pleasurable satisfaction; one could almost hear his amiability ticking like a clock.
“Do let me take your hat, Mr. Billop.” “Thanks.”
“And your coat, Mr. Billop.”
He made a jovial pretence of whispering in Sarah’s ear. “Careful with the coat,” he said. “There’s somethin’ in it. Be no use to anybody if it was broken.” Sarah blushed.
“This,” commenced Martha, bringing the unintroduced one forward, “is Maude.”
“Can’t surprise me this time,” he said, winking his eye knowingly, “I’ve got it straight at last.”
But Maude wished to establish herself a little more definitely. “I’m afraid, Mr. Billop, you are mistaking me for Grace or Sarah,” she returned with easy courtesy, ranging herself beside the two other pink blouses.
“We’re so alike, you see,” chanted Grace, who, with the green satin, had just come in. «■
“No, ma’am.” Mr. Billop laughed brassily. “Lucy told me all about you this afternoon.”
Oh! so Lucy had been lunching with him again; this very day!
“There’s seven of you, all told.” Mr. Billop massaged his moustaches. “Isn’t that right?”
Five softly uttered affirmatives floated in his direction.
“Unless you’ve got a couple more hidin’ behind the door or some place.”
“We were eight,” Martha told him, twisting her mouth into a little smile. “But Emily—”
“That’s fine!” Mr. George Billop emptied his pockets of seven small boxes tied with red and blue ribbons. “You wouldn’t come to the the-ater, so I brought along a souvenir for each one of you.”
“Oh, Mr. Billop—”
“They’re all alike,” he went on calmly, handing them to Sarah. “Put ’em beside each plate. Not to be opened till dinner.” Sarah noted the jeweller’s name. “Really, Mr. Billop,” she gasped.
Agatha, in Lucy’s room, was surprised to find her sister, arrayed in a new dress.
“Has he arrived?” Lucy gave the impression that she didn’t know what she was saying, or doing.
Agatha nodded. “I know you’re going to accept him, darling,” she said softly; “and I’m so glad. I’ve never seen you look so beautiful. He’ll be quite fascinated. And I love your dress.” She regarded her a little enviously. “Such color in your cheeks, Lucy. And your eyes! I only wish,” she went on, putting a thin hand to her face, “that I—”
“You can, quite easily, dear Agatha.” At this moment Lucy thought she loved Agatha more than any of her sisters, so much, in fact, that she was willing to share her innermost secrets. “Look!” She opened a drawer in front of her. Inside were two boxes of face-powder, cream, rouge and a palpable lip-stick. “I bought them two weeks ago when I first met-—” Agatha was still gasping when Martha and Sarah came in to beg them to hurry. Lucy’s new dress charmed them! Where had she bought it? And two more parcels had just come for her! Evidently she had been shopping!
“Yes, I bought a lot of things. Mr. Billop ...”
“Lucy!” Faith appeared; terribly excited. “Do come, dear. He—he wants to see you.”
Her meeting with Mr. Billop was watched by anxious eyes. Lucy seemed very embarrassed as she gave him her hand, and Mr. Billop’s moustaches fairly twirled of themselves as he gently but firmly drew her toward him and, before all of them, gave her a kiss! •
“Oh!” gasped Sarah.
“Oh!” repeated Grace.
On the table the silver cocktail shaker was smoking. Mr. Billop pointed at it masterfully. “What’s in that thing!” “Something to-—to drink,” Martha managed to say.
“Only there’s n-nothing in it. It’s just fruit juice.”
“Where’s my coat? I’ve bought a bottle of something good with me.” Sarah ran for it. “Now just a minute, ladies. I’m cornin’ to Lucy and me soon as we get our glasses filled.”
The shaker was partly emptied and refilled with one quarter the contents of Mr. Billop’s bottle. Looking very big and handsome, he shook the mixture up and down with red faced and determined energy. “Won’t hurt you,” he panted, as he went round the table filling the glasses.
“A toast!” roared Mr. Billop irresistibly, shooting an ardent glance at the somewhat removed and blushing Lucy. “To Mrs. Billop!”
“Lucy! Are you and Mr. Billop actually married?”
“I thought you’d be sure to notice my ring,” said Lucy, the tears coming to her eyes. “You see, George—George wanted to keep it a secret until we—”
“Married this afternoon!” Mr. Billop was in immense form. “Special license.” “Oh, I’m s-so disappointed.”
“We wanted to come to the wedding, Lucy. Why-—why didn’t you tell us—or call us on the f>hone?”
“George says you must come and visit us,” Lucy told them apologetically. “He and his brother found oil on their ranch and they-—”
Mr. Billop still held his glass in the air. “Nine hundred barrels per day!”
“Oil!” piped Grace, wiping her tears and looking as if she had just announced the springing of a well herself.
“He’s worth millions,” said Lucy. “He —he gave me a thousand dollars this afternoon to buy clothes. I-—I bought something for all of you.”
Her husband’s eyes were focused on his glass. “But, come, ladies! This ought to be a time for jollification—not tears. Now then! Everybody!”
“I’m so happy, dear.” Martha was the .first to kiss her newly wed sister. The others followed automatically.
“Not so bad, is she7” Mr. Billop was evidently referring to the mixture in the shaker. He reached for that vessel, poured himself another glass and exhorted all the Miss Pinneys to drain glasses with him. “One, two, three,” he called merrily. Only Maude and Faith succeeded. “The coffee!” shrieked Grace. She and Sarah, bleary-eyed and palpitating from excitement, ran to the kitchen.
“It’s been such a surprise,” said Martha, her coral earrings dancing with her last few sobs. “You must forgive us, Mr. Billop. We love her so.”
“I know she don’t like to leave you,” he replied. “But I hope some of you will come out and visit us one of these days.” “They’ve simply got to promise me before I go,” announced Lucy.
Maude remained where she sat, stiff and formal in pose, beatific of countenance, one eye a little more opaque and open than the other. All at once Faith’s tongue came out as she began to giggle. “Lucy!” she called. “Your office!”
“I told them-—this morning.”
“I told them,” said Mr. Billop, start ing his third libation.
Faith was still giggling. “I wonder— oh, dear!-—I wonder if I might try for the position? I’d love—love to try for the position.”
“No!” Maude directed a fixed and steady look at the opposite wall.
“But why not, darling?”
“Because”-—she spoke with an odd determination-—“we are all going out to Alberta to live.”
“Atta girl!” bellowed Mr. Billop.