Miss Billy’s Decision

September 2, 2007

Miss Billy’s Decision picks up about where Miss Billy left off: after Billy and Bertram’s engagement, but before it’s been announced. The nice thing about this second book, by the way, is that Cyril, in his rare appearances, tends to act like a chump, so I get to stop being angry about him and Billy.

Remember Hugh Calderwell, the guy who was in love with Billy? He took her last refusal seriously and went off to Europe to sulk. While there he met a guy called M.J. Arkwright, and they’ve been traveling around together. One day Arkwright tells the story of Billy’s arrival at the Henshaws’, and how they thought she was a boy. Calderwell is sort of bemused; he knows the story better than Arkwright does. Turns out Arkwright has never met Billy, but has heard of her through Aunt Hannah, who is related to him somehow. Arkwright is going to Boston to study opera, and he has an idea that, since his nickname is “Mary Jane”, he can play the same sort of trick on Billy and Aunt Hannah that Billy unintentionally played on William Henshaw.

Meanwhile, back in Boston, Billy has sent out the announcement of her engagement. So Arkwright sets out for Boston before Calderwell learns of the engagement, and arrives after everyone Billy knows has heard all about it. Consequently, when Arkwright arrives and finds Billy to be pretty, interesting, and a great musician, he immediately sets about falling in love with her, not knowing she’s already spoken for. The Mary Jane joke, by the way, goes over pretty well, especially once Billy and Hannah have heard Arkwright sing, because he has a fantastic voice.

The conflict in this one basically revolves around Billy and Bertram being jealous. Billy’s jealous because Bertram is painting the portrait of some society beauty, and he’s devoting all his time to that instead of to her. Meanwhile, Bertram thinks Billy’s falling in love with Arkwright. Curiously, while jealousy makes Bertram cranky and broody–the portrait ends up being a failure because his suspicions of Billy are poisoning all aspects of his life, or something–it makes Billy noble and self-sacrificing–but in a stupid way. So while Bertram is busy brooding and stuff, Billy breaks off the engagement because Kate (of course) has been saying that Billy will ruin Bertram’s career if she marries him. These ridiculously constructed misunderstandings are not nearly as interesting as Eleanor Porter things they are. Anyway, eventually Bertram breaks his arm, and Billy has an overwhelming need to take care of him and they get engaged again.

Far more interesting than Billy and Bertram are M.J. Arkwright and Alice Greggory. Billy meets Alice Greggory and her mother while William Henshaw (the collector) is trying to but some kind of valuable teapot. The Greggorys are poor, but have seen better times. Mrs. Greggory is an invalid, a sweet old lady who really appreciates it when Billy tries to make her life more comfortable, but Alice, an ambitious music teacher, resents anything resembling charity, and she and Billy only become friends when Billy approaches her as a fellow musician. Then it turns out that Alice Greggory and M.J. Arkwright are childhood friends, and Billy, suspecting some kind of romance between them in the past, starts trying to play matchmaker. Two things: 1. She’s really bad at it. 2. She does not know that Arkwright is actually in love with her.

Much like Billy and Bertram, while Alice and Arkwright seem to get a happy ending in the end of one book, they don’t actually get it until the end of the next book.

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