"I'll see. Suppose you had a rope—could you swing out of the window?"
"Yes; I could fasten it to the bedstead, and fix that just against the window."
"Then I think I can help you. Can you catch a ball?"
"Yes; but what good will that do?"
"You'll see. Make ready now, and don't miss it."
He produced a ball of common size, and after taking aim, threw it lightly up toward Philip's window. The first time it didn't come within reach. The second Philip caught it skilfully, and by the moonlight saw that a stout piece of twine was attached to it. At the end of the twine Frank had connected it with a clothesline which he had borrowed from home.
"Now pull away, Phil," urged Frank.
Philip did, and soon had the stout line in his possession.
"It will hold; it's new and strong," said Frank. "Father only bought it last week. I didn't think, then, what use we should have for it."
Philip, however, was not afraid. He was so anxious to escape that, even if there had been any risk to run, he would readily have incurred it for the sake of getting away from the poor-house, in which he was unwilling to spend a single night. He fastened one end of the rope firmly to his bedstead, as he had proposed, then cautiously got upon the window-sill and lowered himself, descending hand over hand till he reached the ground.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he detached himself from the rope and stood beside Frank Dunbar.
Just then the boys heard a second-story window open, and saw Mr. Tucker's head projecting from it.
CHAPTER XV. ESCAPE AND FLIGHT.
Though the boys had made as little noise as possible, conversing in an undertone, they had been heard by Mrs. Tucker. Her husband, as was his custom, had gone to sleep; but Mrs. Tucker, who, during the day, had discovered the loss of ten cents from her bureau drawer in which she kept her savings, had been kept awake by mental trouble. Some of my readers may think so small a loss scarcely worth keeping awake for, but Mrs. Joe Tucker was a strictly economical and saving woman—some even called her penurious—and the loss of ten cents troubled her.
She would have laid it to one of "them paupers," as she was wont contemptuously to refer to them, except that she never allowed one of them to enter the sacred precincts of her chamber.
A horrible thought entered her mind. Could it be Zeke, the boy whom she thought such a paragon, though no one else had been able to discover his virtues or attractions! She did not like to think of it, but it did occur to her that Zeke, the previous day, had asked her for ten cents, though he would not own the purpose for which he wanted it. The boy might have been tempted to take the money. At any rate, she would go and see.
Zeke slept in a small room adjoining. When his mother entered, with a candle in her hand, he was lying asleep, with his mouth wide open, and one arm dropped over the side of the bed.
Mrs. Tucker took a look at him, and saw that he was wrapped in slumber and unable to notice what she proposed to do. His clothes were thrown down carelessly on a chair near-by.
Mrs. Tucker searched first in the pockets of his pants, and, though she discovered a large variety of miscellaneous articles, "of no use to any one except the owner," she didn't discover any traces of the missing dime. She began to hope that he had not taken it, after all, although, in that case, the loss would continue to be shrouded in obscurity. But, on continuing her search, she discovered in one of the pockets of his vest a silver ten-cent piece.
Mrs. Tucker's eyes flashed, partly with indignation at Zeke's dishonesty, partly with joy at the recovery of the missing coin.
"I've found you out, you bad boy!" she said, in a low voice, shaking her fist at the sleeping boy. "I wouldn't have believed that my Zeke would have robbed his own mother. We must have a reckoning to-morrow."
She was half-inclined to wake Zeke up and charge him with his crime, confronting him with the evidence of it which she had just discovered; but on second thoughts she decided that she might as well let him sleep, as the next day would do just as well.
Poor Zeke! he was not guilty, after all, though whether his honesty was strict enough to resist a powerful temptation, I am not sure.
The dime which Mrs. Tucker had discovered was the same one that Philip had given to Zeke in return for his service in notifying Frank Dunbar of his captivity. In another pocket was the five-cent piece given him by Frank, but that had escaped his mother's attention.
The reader will understand now how it happened that Mrs. Tucker was kept awake beyond her usual time. She was broad awake when Frank Dunbar arrived, and she heard something through the partially open window of the conference between the two boys. She heard the voices that is to say, but could not tell what was said.
With her mind dwelling upon Zeke's supposed theft, however, she was more easily frightened than usual, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that there were burglars outside, trying to get in.
The absurdity of burglars attempting to rob the town poorhouse did not occur to her in panic. She sat up in bed, and proceeded to nudge her husband in no gentle fashion.
"Mr. Tucker!" she exclaimed.
Her husband responded by an inarticulate murmur, but did not wake.
"Mr. Tucker!" she exclaimed, in a louder voice, giving him a still more vigorous shake.
"Eh! What! What's the matter?" said Tucker, opening his eyes at last, and staring vacantly at his wife.
"What's the matter!" retorted his wife impatiently. "The matter is that there's burglars outside!"
"Let 'em stay outside!" said Joe Tucker, in a sleepy tone.
"Did any one ever hear such a fool?" exclaimed Mrs. Tucker, exasperated. "They're trying to get in. Do you hear that, Mr. Tucker?"
"Trying to get in! Is the door locked?" asked Joe, a little alarmed.
"You must get up and defend the house," continued Mrs. Tucker.
Now, Mr. Tucker was not a brave man. He had no fancy for having a hand-to-hand conflict with burglars, who might be presumed to be desperate men. It occurred to him that it would be decidedly better to stay where he was and ran no risk.
"Never mind, Abigail," he said, soothingly. "The burglars can't do us any harm. They can't do any more than carry off a pauper or two, and I don't, believe they'll do that."
"I wouldn't mind that, Mr. Tucker; but I've left the spoons down-stairs!" answered his wife.
"How many are there!"
"Six. I want you to go down and get them and bring them up here, where they will be safe."
"But suppose I should meet some of the burglars!" suggested Tucker, trembling.
"Then you must defend yourself like a man!"
"You might find me in the morning weltering in my gore!" said Joe, with an uneasy shudder.
"Are we to have the spoons stolen, then!" demanded Mrs. Tucker sharply.
"If you care so much for the spoons, Abigail, you'd better go down-stairs yourself and get 'em. I don't value them as much as my life."
"I don't know but I will, if you'll look out of the window and see whether you can see any of the burglars outside," responded Mrs. Tucker. "If they haven't got in yet, I'll take the risk."
"Where did you hear 'em, Abigail?"
"Eight outside. Open the window and look out, and you may see 'em."
Mr. Tucker was not entirely willing to do this, but still he preferred it to going down-stairs after the spoons, and accordingly he advanced, and, lifting the window, put his head out, as described at the close of the last chapter.
Philip and Frank were just ready to go when they heard the window rising, and naturally looked up in some trepidation.
"It's old Tucker!" said Frank, in a low voice.
Philip looked up, and saw that his friend was right.
Mr. Tucker had not yet discovered them, but the whisper caught his ear, and looking down he caught sight of the two boys.
In his alarm, and the obscurity of the night, he did not make out that they were boys and not men, and was about to withdraw his head in alarm, when a mischievous impulse seized Frank Dunbar.
"Give me the ball, Philip!" he said quickly.
Philip complied with his request, not understanding his intention.
Now, Frank belonged to a baseball club, and had a capital aim. He threw up the ball and struck Mr. Tucker fairly in the nose. The effect upon the terrified Joe was startling.
Full as his mind was of burglars, he fancied that it was something a great deal more deadly that had struck him.
"Oh, Abigail! I'm shot through the brain!" he moaned in anguish, as he poked in his head and fell back upon the floor.
"What do you mean, Joe?" asked his wife, in alarm, as she hastened to her prostrate husband, whose hand was pressed convulsively upon the injured organ, which, naturally ached badly with the force of the blow.
"I'm a dead man!" moaned Mr. Tucker; "and it's all your fault. You made me go to the window."
"I don't believe you're shot at all! I didn't hear any report," said Mrs. Tucker. "Let me see your face."
Mr. Tucker withdrew his hand mournfully.
"You've only been struck with a rock or something," said she, after a careful examination.
"It's bleeding!" groaned Joe, seeing a dark stain on his night-dress.
"Suppose it is—it won't kill you. I'll look out myself."
But she saw nothing. Philip and Frank had immediately taken to flight, and vanished in the darkness.
"They've run away!" announced Mrs. Tucker. "My spoons are safe."
"But my nose isn't," groaned Mr. Tucker.
"You won't die this time," said Mrs. Tucker, not very sympathetically. "Soak your nose in the wash-basin, and you'll be all right in the morning."
The two boys were destined to have another adventure that night.
CHAPTER XVI. A NIGHT ADVENTURE.
"I didn't mean to hit him," said Frank, as he and Philip hurried away from the poorhouse, "I only intended to give him a fright."
"I think you have. I wonder whether he recognized us!"
"I don't believe it. He had hardly got his head out of the window before I let drive."
"Then he won't imagine I have escaped."
"What are your plans, Phil? Suppose they try to take you back to the poorhouse?"
"They won't get the chance. Before five o'clock to-morrow morning I shall leave Norton."
"Leave town?" exclaimed Frank, in surprise. "And so soon?"
"Yes. There is nothing for me to do here."
"Father would like to have you stay and assist him on the farm. He said so to me. He wouldn't be able to pay much, but I think we would have a good time together."
Philip pressed his friend's hand warmly.
"I know we should, Frank," he said, "but if I remained here, it would only remind me of my poor father. I would rather go out into the world and try my fortune."
"Isn't it risky, Phil?" objected Frank doubtfully.
"I suppose it is; but I am willing to work, and I don't expect much."
"Suppose you fall sick?"
"Then, if I can, I will come back to you and your good father and mother, and stay till I am well."
"Promise me that, Phil?"
"I wish I could go with you, Phil," said Frank, with a boyish impulse.
"No, it wouldn't be wise for you. You have a good home, and you will be better off there than among strangers."
"It might be your home, too, Phil."
"Thank you; but I shall be better away from Norton for a time."
A minute later, Frank said suddenly:
"There's Squire Pope coming. He will see you."
"I don't care. He won't take me back."
"Get behind the stone wall, and I will wait and interview him."
Philip immediately followed the advice of his friend. He was curious to hear what the squire would say.
Squire Pope's eyesight was not good, and it was only when he came near that he recognized Frank Dunbar. He stopped short, for there was a subject on which he wished to speak.
"Frank Dunbar!" he said.
"Do you wish to speak to me, sir?" inquired Frank coldly.
"Yes. Where have you been?"
"Out walking," answered Frank shortly.
"Have you been to the poorhouse?"
"Did you see Philip?"
"I saw him looking out of a third-story window."
Squire Pope chuckled, if, indeed, such a dignified man can be said to chuckle.
"What did he say?" he condescended to inquire.
"That he wouldn't stay."
"He will have to," responded Squire Pope complacently. "Mr. Tucker will see to that."
"Probably Mr. Tucker will wake up some fine morning and find Phil's room empty," said Frank quietly.
"I'll take the risk of it," returned the squire serenely. "But there's a matter I want to speak to you about. You've got Philip's fiddle in your possession."
"Suppose I have."
"I wish you to bring it round to my house in the morning, and I'll give you something for your trouble."
"You must excuse me, Squire Pope. If it were your property, I would bring it to you and charge nothing for my trouble."
"Young man," said the squire sternly. "I am Philip's legal guardian, and I have a right to receive his violin. You will get into trouble if you resist my authority."
"If you will give me Philip's order for it, you shall have it, sir."
"Frank Dunbar, you are trifling with me. Philip is now a pauper, and has no right to hold property of any kind. He cannot give a legal order."
"Then you are guardian to a pauper?"
"In my capacity of overseer of the poor."
"In my capacity as Philip's friend, I refuse to consider you his guardian. You may call him a pauper, but that doesn't make him one."
"He is an inmate of the Norton Poorhouse."
"I don't want to be disrespectful, Squire Pope," he said; "but I can't help telling you that you undertook a bigger job than you thought for, when you made up your mind to make a pauper of Philip Gray."
Squire Pope was indignant at the coolness of Frank.
"I shall come to your house to-morrow morning," he said, "and convince you to the contrary."
"Very well, sir."
Frank Dunbar bowed, and the squire went his way.
"That's a very impudent boy!" he soliloquized. "Just like the Gray boy. It wouldn't do him any harm to put him under Joe Tucker's care, too."
After the squire had passed on, Philip came out from behind the stone wall.
"Did you hear what passed between your guardian and myself?" asked Frank.
"Yes, I heard every word."
"He little thought that the bird had flown, Phil."
"He will make all the trouble he can. That is one more reason why I think it best to leave town."
"I wouldn't let Squire Pope drive you out of town."
"I would stay and face the music if it suited me, but I want to go away."
"Suppose we cut across this field. It will be a little nearer."
There was a pathway through a pasture-lot, comprising some ten acres, poor land, covered with puny bushes, and a few gnarled trees, producing cider-apples. It belonged to an old bachelor farmer, who lived in solitary fashion, doing his own cooking, and in general taking care of himself. He was reputed to have money concealed about his premises, which was quite probable, as he spent little, and was known to have received, four years before, a considerable legacy from the estate of a brother who had died, a successful merchant in the city of New York.
The boys had to pass by the small and weather-stained house where he lived, as the path ran very near it.
When within a few rods of the house, the boys were startled by a sharp cry of terror, which appeared to proceed from inside the house.
Both simultaneously stood still.
"What's that!" exclaimed both in concert.
"Somebody must be trying to rob Mr. Lovett," suggested Frank.
"Can't we do something!" said Phil quickly.
"We can try."
There were two stout sticks or clubs lying on the ground at their feet. They stooped, picked them up, and ran to the house. A glance showed that one of the windows on the north side had been raised.
The window sill was low. Pausing a moment before springing over it into the room, they looked in and this was what they saw:
The farmer lay half-prostrate on the floor, half supporting himself by a chair, which he had mechanically grasped as he was forced downward. Over him stood a ruffianly looking tramp, whom Phil remembered to have seen about the streets during the day, with a stick uplifted. He had not heard the approach of the boys.
"Give me two hundred dollars, and I'll go," he said to the man at his feet.
"I cannot do it. I haven't got as much here."
"That's a lie!" said the other coarsely. "I heard all about you to-day. You're a miser, and you've got no end of money stowed away here. Get it for me, quick, or I'll dash your brains out."
Just then the prostrate farmer saw what the tramp could not see, his back being turned to the window, the faces of the two boys looking through the window. Fresh courage came to him. Single-handed, and taken at advantage, he was no match for the ruffian who had entered his house; but with these two young auxiliaries he felt that all was not lost.
CHAPTER XVII. A REFORMED BURGLAR.
"What do you say!" demanded the tramp impatiently. "Speak quick! I can't stay here all night."
"Let me up, and I'll see if I can find the money for you."
"I thought I'd bring you to terms," said the tramp, laughing grimly.
He allowed his victim to rise, as he certainly would not have done if he had looked behind him and seen the two boys at the window.
"Now's our time," answered Philip.
He gave a light spring into the room, followed by Frank.
Of course, the tramp heard them, and turned in sudden alarm. As he turned, the farmer snatched the club from his hand, and he found himself unexpectedly unarmed and confronted by three enemies.
"It's my turn now," said Lovett. "Do you surrender?"
The tramp saw that the game was up and made a dash for the open window, but Philip skillfully inserted a stick between his legs, and tripped him up, and, with the help of Mr. Lovett, held him, struggling desperately, till Frank fetched a rope, with which he was securely bound.
"Confound you!" he said, scowling at the two boys. "But for you I would have succeeded and got away with my booty."
"That's true!" said the farmer. "I owe my escape from robbery, and, perhaps, bodily injury, to you."
"I am glad we were at hand," said Philip.
"And now, my friend," said the farmer, "I may as well say that you were quite mistaken in supposing I kept a large amount of money in this lonely house. I should be a fool to do it, and I am not such a fool as that."
"Where do you keep your money, then?" growled the tramp.
"In different savings-banks. I am ready to tell you, for it will do you no good."
"I wish I'd known it sooner. I came here on a fool's errand."
"I am glad you have found it out."
"Now, what are you going to do with me!"
"Keep you here till I can deliver you into the hands of the law."
"That won't do you any good."
"It will give you a home, where you cannot prey on the community."
"I don't mean to do so any more. I'm going to turn over a new leaf and become an honest man—that is, if you'll let me go."
"Your conversion is rather sudden. I haven't any faith in it."
"Listen to me," said the man, "and then decide. Do you think I am a confirmed lawbreaker?"
"You look like it."
"Yes, I do; but I am not. Never in my life have I been confined in any prison or penitentiary. I have never been arrested on any charge. I see you don't believe me. Let me tell you how I came to be what I am: Two years since I was a mechanic, tolerably well-to-do, owning a house with a small mortgage upon it. It was burned to the ground one night. I built another, but failed to insure it. Six months since, that, too, burned down, and left me penniless and in debt. Under this last blow I lost all courage. I left the town where I had long lived, and began a wandering life. In other words, I became a tramp. Steadily I lost my self-respect till I was content to live on such help as the charitable chose to bestow on me. It was not until to-day that I formed the plan of stealing. I heard in the village that you kept a large sum of money in your house, and an evil temptation assailed me. I had become tired of wandering, and determined to raise a sum which would enable me to live at ease for a time, I should have succeeded but for these two boys."
"And you are sorry you did not succeed?"
"I was, five minutes since, but I feel differently now. I have been saved from crime. Now, I have told you my story. Do with me as you will."
The man's appearance was rough, but there was something in his tone which led Mr. Lovett to think that he was speaking the truth.
"Boys," he said, "you have heard what this man says. What do you think of it?"
"I believe him!" said Philip promptly.
"Thank you, boy," said the tramp. "I am glad some one has confidence in me."
"I believe you, too," said Frank.
"I have not deceived you. Your words have done me more good than you think. It is my first attempt to steal, and it shall be my last."
"If you want to become an honest man, God forbid that I should do aught to prevent you!" said the farmer. "I may be acting unwisely, but I mean to cut this rope and let you go."
"Will you really do this?" said the tramp, his face lighting up with mingled joy and surprise.
He knelt on the floor, and drawing from his pocket a large jack-knife, cut the rope.
The tramp sprang to his feet.
"Thank you," he said, in a husky voice. "I believe you are a good man. There are not many who would treat me as generously, considering what I tried to do just now. You sha'n't repent it. Will you give me your hand!"
"Gladly," said the farmer; and he placed his hand in that of the visitor, lately so unwelcome. "I wish you better luck."
"Boys, will you give me your hands, too?" asked tke tramp, turning to Philip and Frank.
Tke boys readily complied with his request, and repeated the good wishes of the farmer.
The stranger was about to leave the house, when Lovett said:
"Stay, my friend, I wish to ask you a question."
"Very well, sir."
"Have you any money?"
"Not a cent."
"Then take this," said the farmer, drawing from his vest pocket a five-dollar bill. "I lend it to you. Some time you will be able to repay it, if you keep to your resolution of leading an honest life. When that time comes, lend it to some man who needs it as you do now."
"Thank you, sir. I will take it, for it will help me greatly at this time. Good-by! If you ever see me again, you will see a different man."
He leaped through the window and was gone.
"I don't know if I have done a wise thing, but I will take the risk," said the farmer. "And now, boys, I want to make you some return for your assistance to-night." Both Frank and Philip earnestly protested that they would receive nothing in the conversation that ensued. Philip made known his intention to leave Norton the next morning.
"What are your plans? Where do you mean to go?" asked the farmer.
"I don't know, sir. I shall make up my mind as I go along. I think I can make my living somehow."
"Wait here five minutes," said Lovett, and he went into an adjoining room.
Within the time mentioned, he returned, holding in his hand a sealed letter.
"Philip," he said, "put this envelope in your pocket, and don't open it till you are fifty miles from here."
"Very well, sir," answered Philip, rather puzzled, but not so much surprised as he might have been if he had not known the farmer's reputation for eccentricity.
"I suppose it contains some good advice," he thought. "Well, good advice is what I need."
The two boys went home immediately upon leaving the farmhouse. Though so much had happened, it was not late, being not quite half-past nine.
Philip received a cordial welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar, who, however, hardly expected to see him so soon. "Are you willing to receive a pauper beneath your roof?" asked Philip, smiling.
"That you will never be while you have health and strength, I'll be bound," said Mr. Dunbar. "I like your pride and independence, Philip."
They tried to induce Philip to give up his resolution to leave Norton the next morning, but did not succeed.
"I will come back some time," he said. "Now I feel better to go."
At five o'clock the next morning, with a small bundle swung over his shoulder, attached to a stick, Philip Gray, carrying his violin, left the village, which, for some years, had been his home. Frank accompanied him for the first mile of his journey. Then the two friends shook hands and parted—not without sorrow, for who could tell when they would meet again?
CHAPTER XVIII. A PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT.
A depressing feeling of loneliness came to Phil after he had parted with Frank. He was going out into the world with no one to lean upon, and no one to sympathize with him or lend him a helping hand. No wonder he felt friendless and alone. But this mood did not last long.
"I shall find friends if I deserve them," he reflected, "and I don't mean to do anything dishonorable or wrong. I am willing to work, and I believe I can make a living."
Leaving him to proceed, we go back to the poor-house, where his absence was not noticed till morning.
Joe Tucker, in spite of the blow which his nasal organ had received, slept pretty comfortably, and was awakened at an early hour by his vigilant spouse.
"You'd better go up and wake that boy and set him to work, Mr. Tucker," she said. "There are plenty of chores for him to do."
"You are right, Abigail," said Mr. Tucker, with approval. He reflected that he could assign to Philip some of the work which generally fell to himself, and the reflection was an agreeable one. He had tried to get work out of Zeke, but he generally found that it was harder to keep him at work than it was to do the job himself.
After he had made his toilet—not a very elaborate one—Mr. Tucker went up-stairs to arouse his young prisoner. He found the key in the outside of the door. Everything seemed right.
"I wonder how he feels this morning?" chuckled Mr. Tucker. "Wonder whether he's tamed down a little?"
He turned the key in the lock and threw open the door. He glanced at the bed, started in amazement to find that it had not been slept in, and then his wonder ceased, for the telltale rope explained how the boy had escaped.
He ran down-stairs in anger and excitement.
"What's the matter with you, Joe Tucker?" demanded his wife. "Are you drunk or crazy?"
"Enough to make me both, wife," he answered. "The boy's gone!"
"Gone!" exclaimed Mrs. Tucker, stopping short, with a saucepan in her hand.
"Gone!" ejaculated Zeke, his mouth wide open.
"I don't believe it," said Mrs. Tucker positively. "He couldn't go. He'd have to jump out of the third-story window."
"Sure enough!" said Zeke.
"I can't help it—he's gone," declared Mr. Tucker. "He tied a clothesline to the bedstead and let himself down from the window. Now, I want to know who left a clothesline in the room?"
"There wasn't any," said Mrs. Tucker.
"Maybe he had one in his pocket," suggested Zeke.
But this suggestion was not considered worthy of notice by his parents.
"Now I know who hit me in the nose!" exclaimed Mr. Tucker, light flashing upon him. "There was two of 'em—the ones I took for burglars."
"Then the other one must have been Frank Dunbar," said Mrs. Tucker.
"Zeke," said his father, "go right off and tell Squire Pope that Philip Gray has escaped. Ask him if I can't have him arrested for assault and battery. It's likely he's at Frank Dunbar's now. We'll have him back before the day is out, and then I'll see he don't get out!"
"All right, dad! As soon as I've had breakfast I'll go."
The result of Zeke's message was that Squire Pope hurried over to the poorhouse and held a conference with Mr. and Mrs. Tucker.
The next step was that he and Joe rode over to Mr. Dunbar's, to demand the return of the fugitive.
They found Frank splitting wood in the yard. To him they made known their errand, requesting him to call Philip out.
"He isn't here," answered Frank.
"Isn't here? I don't believe it!" said the squire hastily.
"Sorry you doubt my word, Squire Pope, but it's just as I say."
"Where is he, then?" demanded the squire suspiciously.
"He has left town."
"Left town?" repeated the squire and Joe Tucker, in dismay. "Where is he gone!"
"He's probably ten miles away by this time," answered Frank, enjoying their perplexity. "I guess you'd better wait till he comes back."
Joe and the squire conferred together, but no satisfactory result was arrived at, except it wouldn't pay to pursue Philip, for two reasons—one, because they were quite uncertain in what direction he had gone; another, because, even if overtaken, they would have no authority to apprehend him, since he had been guilty of no crime.
Finally a bright idea came to the squire.
"Bring me out his fiddle," he said to Frank. "I'm his guardian, and I will take care of it for him."
"He carried it away with him," said Frank. The squire's lower jaw fell. He was defeated at all points. "I guess we can't do nothing, under the circumstances, squire," said Joe Tucker, scratching his head.
"I shall have to reflect upon it," said Squire Pope, in a crestfallen tone.
"That's as good as a circus," thought Frank, as his roguish glance followed the two baffled conspirators as they rode out of the yard. "It's a pity Phil was not here to enjoy it."
At the end of the second day, Philip was some forty miles distant from Norton. He had not walked all the way, but had got a lift for a few miles from a tin-peddler, with whom he had a social chat.
It cannot be said that he was depressed, or that he regretted having left Norton, but he certainly did feel uncomfortable, and his discomfort sprang from a very homely cause.
To tell the plain truth, he was hungry. He had not had anything to eat for six hours except an apple, which he had picked up by the roadside, and during those six hours he had walked not far from fifteen miles.
"I believe I never was so hungry before," thought Philip. "The question is, where is my supper to come from?"
Although he knew pretty well the state of his finances, he began to search his pockets to see if he could not somewhere find a stray dime, or, better still, a quarter, with which to purchase the meal of which he stood so much in need. But his search was unproductive, or, rather, it only resulted in the discovery of a battered cent.
"So that penny constitutes my whole fortune," thought Philip.
There were two houses in sight, one on each side of the road.
Probably they would have given Philip a supper at either, but our hero's honest pride revolted at the idea of begging for a meal, much as he stood in need of it. He might as well be a pauper, as he justly reflected. So he pushed on.
Evidently he was drawing near a village, for houses began to appear at nearer intervals.
"Hello, my boy! Where are you traveling!" asked a hearty voice.
Philip turned round, and his glance rested on a stout young farmer, whose face, though very much sunburned, was pleasant and good-natured.
"I don't know," answered Philip.
"Don't know?" was repeated in surprise.
"I am in search of work."
"Oh, that's it! Are you a musician?" asked the young man, looking at the violin.
"Yes; a little of one."
"Are you looking for a job at fiddling?" asked the young man.
"Yes, if I can find one," answered Philip, smiling.
"Can you play dancing-music?"
"Then I guess I can get you a job for this evening."
"I wish you could," said Philip hopefully, catching at a way out of his troubles.
"You see, there's to be a little dance in School-house Hall to-night," said the farmer; "or there was to be one, but the fiddler's took sick, and we was afraid we'd have to give it up. Now, if you'll take his place, we can have it, after all."
"I'll do it," said Philip promptly.
"What'll you charge?"
"How much was the other one going to charge?"
"Five dollars. You see, he would have to come six miles."
"I'll come for three dollars and my supper and lodging," said Philip.
"All right! You shall have supper and lodging at our house. There it is, down that lane. Come right along, for supper must be on the table. After supper I'll go and tell the committee I've engaged you."
Philip's spirits rose. Help had come from an unexpected quarter. He felt that a new career was opening before him.
CHAPTER XIX. NEW ACQUAINTANCES.
On his way to the farmhouse, Philip ascertained that his companion's name was Abner Webb, and that he and his brother Jonas carried on a farm of about a hundred acres. Abner appeared to be about twenty-five years old.
"You seem pretty young to be a fiddler," said the young man, surveying Philip with a glance of curiosity.
"I am almost sixteen."
"I am twenty-five, and I can't play at all."
"It isn't all in the age," returned our hero. "Did you ever try to learn?"
"Yes, I took one or two lessons, but I had to give it up for a bad job. I couldn't get into it somehow."
"You didn't try very long," said Philip, smiling.
"I reckon I'd never do much at it. How long have you been a fiddler?"
"I've been playing three or four years."
"Sho! You don't say so! Do you like it?"
"Yes; very much."
"Well, I'm glad you happened along. It would have been a pity to have our dance spoiled."
By this time they had reached the farmhouse, and Abner went in, followed by our hero.
A young woman, his brother's wife, looked at Philip in some surprise.
"You see, I've got a fiddler, after all," said Abner gleefully. "We won't have to put off the dance."
As he spoke, his brother Jonas came into the room, and the explanation was repeated.
"That's good," said Jonas heartily. "You'd better go down to the store after supper, Abner, and tell the boys, for they've just heard that Paul Beck can't come."
"You just save me some supper, and I'll go now. The boy'll stay with us to-night. That's the bargain I made with him."
"He's heartily welcome," said Jonas Webb, a pleasant-faced man, with sandy complexion, who was probably from two to three years older than his brother. "You've happened along just at the right time."
"I am glad of it," said Philip; and there is no doubt he was sincere, for we know how much he stood in need of employment, though he naturally did not care to let his new friends know of his destitution.
"My brother didn't tell me your name," said Jonas.
"My name is Philip Gray," answered our hero.
"Do you go round playing for dances?" inquired Jonas.
"I have only just begun."
Philip didn't think it necessary to say that the idea of making money in this way had never occurred to him till this very day.
"Sit right up to supper, Jonas, and you, too, Mr. Gray," said Mrs. Webb.
Philip was by no means loath, for the dishes which he saw on the table had had the effect of stimulating his appetite, already sharpened by his long walk and long fast.
Philip, as the guest, was first helped to a bountiful supply of cold meat, a hot biscuit, and some golden butter, not to mention two kinds of preserves, for the Webbs always lived well. He was not slow in doing justice to the good supper spread before him. He was almost afraid to eat as much as he wanted, lest his appetite should attract attention, and, therefore, was pleased to see that Jonas quite kept pace with him.
Indeed, when he had already eaten as much as he dared, Mrs. Webb said, hospitably:
"I am afraid, Mr. Gray, you won't make out a supper."
"I don't think there is any danger of that," said Philip, smiling. "I have enjoyed my supper very much."
The young woman looked gratified by this tribute to her cooking, and just then Abner came in.
"Did you see the boys, Abner?" asked Jonas.
"Yes, I saw them all. They were awfully glad we could have the dance, after all. You see, we've been lookin' forward to it, and didn't like to be disappointed. And now I must hurry down my supper, for I've got to slick up and go for Mary Ann Temple. Are you goin', Lucy?"
"Of course she is," answered Jonas. "I don't have so far to go for my girl as you do," he added slyly.
"You used to go farther once, Jonas—six miles, where I have only to go two."
When supper was over, Philip inquired:
"How early will the dance commence?"
"About eight. We keep early hours in the country, and we like to get our money's worth."
"If you have no objection, I will go out to the barn and try my violin a little to see if it is in good tune."
"Try it in the next room," said the farmer's wife.
"Yes, do!" said her husband. "We'd like to hear you."
He was a little afraid, judging from Philip's youth, that he could not play very well, and this would give him an opportunity of deciding how competent the boy was to take the place of Paul Beck, of Pomfret, who had quite a reputation in the towns around.
Philip went into the next room and began to prepare himself for his evening's task. Though lus training had by no means been confined to dancing-tunes, he was quite proficient in that department, having more than once been called upon in Norton to officiate in a similar capacity.
When Jonas had listened for five minutes to Philip, he turned to Abner with a satisfied look.
"He understands his business," he said, nodding with emphasis. "He ain't no new beginner."
"I think he beats Paul Beck," said Abner, delighted to find his choice approved.
"I don't know but he does. I feel as if I wanted to start off now."
"I don't see how he does it," said Abner, with a puzzled look. "I never could do anything at it, though I'm almost twice as old."
He passed into the room where Philip was practising.
"You're a tip-top player," said he, to Philip admiringly. "Why, you beat Paul Beck."
"Is he the one you expected to have?"
"Yes. Paul's got a big name for fiddlin'."
"I am glad you like my playing," said Philip, who was naturally pleased to find that he was likely to give satisfaction in his new business.
"The boys will be pleased, I can tell you."
"I will do all I can to give them satisfaction," said Philip modestly.
"Oh, you will! there's no doubt about that. How much did you pay for your fiddle?"
"I believe it cost twenty-five dollars. My father gave it to me."
"Sho! I didn't think fiddles cost so much."
"Some cost a great deal more."
"Seems a good deal to lay out, but you'll get your money back, if you can get enough to do."
"I hope so."
"Well, you must excuse me now. I've got to slick up, and go after Mary Ann Temple. She'd have been awfully disappointed if we'd had to give it up."
"Is she fond of dancing?"
"You'd better believe she is. Why, that girl could dance for four hours stiddy—without wiltin'!"
"How late do you keep it up?"
"Till eleven or twelve. You won't be sleepy, will you?"
"If I am, I will get up later to-morrow morning."
"That's all right. You can get up jest as late as you like. Lucy will save you some breakfast. We don't allow no one to go hungry here. But I must be off. You will go to the hall along with Jonas and Lucy. They'll introduce you round and see that you are taken care of." Philip congratulated himself on being so well provided for, at least for one night. The future was uncertain, but with the money which he was to receive for his services, he would be able to get along for two or three days, and he might, perhaps, if successful, obtain another similar engagement.
He had a new reason for being thankful that Squire Pope had not succeeded in depriving him of his violin, for this was likely to prove a breadwinner.
He continued to practice till it was time to go over to the hall.
CHAPTER XX. A LIVELY EVENING.
Schoolhouse Hall, as may be inferred, was a large hall, occupying the second story of the Center Schoolhouse, and though not originally intended for dancing-parties, answered very well for that purpose.
The hall was tolerably well filled when Philip entered in company with Jonas Webb and his wife.
Philip had effaced, as well as he could, the stains of travel, had arrayed himself in a clean shirt and collar, brushed his hair neatly, and, being naturally a very good-looking boy, appeared to very good advantage, though he certainly did look young.
As he walked through the hall, with his violin under his arm, he attracted the attention of all, it having been already made known that in place of the veteran Paul Beck—a man of fifty or more—an unknown boy would furnish the music for the evening.
Philip could not avoid hearing some of the remarks which his appearance excited. "What! that little runt play the fiddle?" said one countrified young man, in a short-waisted blue coat, and tow-colored hair, plastered down on either side of his head with tallow. "I don't believe he can play any more than I can."
"I hope he can," retained his partner—a plump, red-cheeked, young farmer's daughter. "He's very good-looking, anyhow."
"He isn't anything to brag of," said her partner jealously.
"Oh, how can you say so, Jedidiah. I See what beautiful black hair and eyes he's got, and such a lovely color on his cheeks!"
Now, Jedidiah, in appearance, was just the reverse of Philip. His hair, as already stated, was tow-color, his face was tanned, and the color rather resembled brick-dust than the deep red of our hero's cheeks.
His partner was a rustic flirt, and he was disposed to be jealous, not being certain how far she favored him. He, therefore, took offense at his partner's admiration of the young fiddler.
"He looks very common to me," said Jedidiah pettishly. "You've got a strange taste, Maria."
"Perhaps I have, and perhaps I haven't," retorted Maria, tossing her head.
"Perhaps you're in love with him?" continued Jedidiah, in a tone meant to be sarcastic.
"I should be if he was a little older," said the young lady, rather enjoying her lover's displeasure.
"I don't believe he can play at all," growled Jedidiah. "He's fooled Abner Webb, like as not. It's a pity we couldn't have Paul Beck."
"Very likely he can play better than Paul Beck," said Maria—not because she thought so, but because she knew it would tease her partner.
"Don't be a fool, Maria," said Jedidiah, scarcely conscious of the impoliteness of his speech.
The young lady, however, resented it at once.
"I am sure you are very polite, Mr. Jedidiah Burbank—so polite that I think you had better find another partner!"
"Excuse me, Maria," said Jedidiah hastily, alarmed at the prospect of being left without a partner. "Of course, I didn't mean anything."
"If you didn't mean it, what made you say it?" retorted Maria, tossing her head. "I ain't used to being called a fool. I never knew a gentleman to make such a remark to a lady. I think you'd better find some other partner."
"I take it all back," said Jedidiah, in alarm. "I was only in fun."
"I don't like that kind of fun," said Maria, in a tone of dignified coldness.
"Then I won't joke you again. I guess he can play well enough, if Abner says so."
Miss Maria Snodgrass allowed herself to be propitiated, more especially as she herself might have been left without a partner, had she adhered to her determination and sent Jedidiah adrift.
He took his place in a quadrille, not exactly wishing Philip to fail, but rather hoping that he would prove a poor performer, in order that he might have a little triumph over Maria, who had the bad taste to prefer the young musician's appearance to his.
Meanwhile Philip, following Jonas Webb across the room, had been introduced to Frank Ingalls, who acted as manager.
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Gray," said Ingalls. "I hope we sha'n't make you work too hard. We are very fond of dancing here."
"I don't get tired very easily," answered Philip. "I hope you will be satisfied with my playing."
"No fear of that, Mr. Ingalls, I've heerd him play at home, and I tell you he can do it."
"Thank you, Mr. Webb," said Philip, bowing his acknowledgment of the compliment.
"I guess we may as well commence, Mr. Gray," said Mr. Ingalls. "The boys seem to be getting impatient. Here's the order of dances for the evening."
"Very well, Mr. Ingalls."
The manager raised his voice, and said, "Gentlemen and ladies, you already know that Beck is sick, and cannot be with us this evening, as he engaged to do. In his place we have engaged a young musician, who has already gained a great reputation in his profession—"
Philip was rather surprised to hear this, but it was not for him to gainsay it.
"Let me introduce to you Mr. Philip Gray."
Philip bowed and smiled, and, putting his violin in position, immediately commenced a lively air.
In less than five minutes the manager felt perfectly at ease concerning the young musician. It was clear that Philip understood his business. Philip himself entered into the spirit of his performance. His cheek flushed, his eyes sparkled, and he almost outdid himself.
When the first dance was concluded, there was a murmur of approval throughout the ballroom. The dancers were both surprised and pleased.
"He's a smart boy!" said more than one. "He plays as well as Paul Beck, and Paul's been play-in' for more'n twenty years."
"As well? I never heard Paul Beck play as well as that," said another.
Among those who were most pleased was Miss Maria Snodgrass.
"What do you think now, Mr. Burbank?" she said, addressing her partner. "Do you think the boy can play now?"
"Yes, he can play most as well as Paul Beck," admitted Jedidiah.
"Most as well? Paul Beck can't begin to play as well as him," returned Maria, who was not educated, and occasionally made slips in grammar.
"Just as you say, Maria," answered Jedidiah, submissively; "only don't call me Mr. Burbank."
"Why? Ain't that your name?" asked the young lady demurely.
"Not to you, Maria."
"Well, I won't, if you'll take me up and introduce me to Mr. Gray."
"What for?" asked Jedidiah jealously.
"Because I want to know him."
Mr. Burbank was obliged to obey the request of his partner.
"Oh, Mr. Gray, you play just lovely!" said Miss Snodgrass rapturously.
"Thank you for the compliment," said Philip, with a low bow.
"I like your playing ever so much better than Paul Beck's."
"You are too kind," said Philip, with another bow.
"Isn't he just lovely, Jedidiah!" said Maria, as she walked away with her lover.
"Maybe he is—I ain't a judge!" said Mr. Burbank, not very enthusiastically.
So the evening passed. Philip continued to win the favorable opinion of the merry party by his animated style of playing.
When at half-past eleven the last dance was announced, he was glad, for after his long walk, and the efforts of the evening, he felt tired.
At the conclusion, Mr. Ingalls handed him three dollars, saying:
"Here's your money, Mr. Gray, and we are much obliged to you besides."
"Thank you!" said our hero, carelessly slipping the money into his vest pocket.
The manager little imagined that it constituted his entire capital.
"I hope we may have you here again some time, Mr. Gray," continued the manager.
"Perhaps so," said Philip; "but I am not sure when I shall come this way again."
"Good night, Mr. Gray," said Miss Snodgrass effusively. "I should be glad to have you call at our house."
Philip bowed his thanks. He did not notice the dark cloud on the brow of the young lady's escort.
CHAPTER XXI. FORTUNE SMILES AGAIN.
Notwithstanding his exertions during the day and evening, Philip rose the next day at his usual hour, and was in time for the family breakfast, at seven o'clock.
"Don't you feel tired, Mr. Gray?" asked Mrs. Webb.
"No, thank you. I slept well, and feel quite refreshed."
"He's used to it, Lucy," remarked her husband.
"They look upon me as a professional player," thought Philip.
"I think you and I ought to be more tired, for we were dancing all the evening," continued the farmer.
When they rose from the table, Philip looked for his hat.
"You're not going to leave us so soon, Mr. Gray?" said Mrs. Webb hospitably. "We shall be glad to have you stay with us a day or two, if you can content yourself."
"That's right, Lucy. I'm glad you thought to ask him," said her husband.
Philip was tempted to accept this kind invitation. He would have free board, and be at no expense, instead of spending the small sum he had earned the evening previous; but he reflected that he would be no nearer solving the problem of how he was to maintain himself, and while this was in uncertainty, he was naturally anxious.
"I am very much obliged to you both," he said. "If I come this way again, I shall be glad to call upon you, but now I think I must be pushing on."
"You'll always be welcome, Mr. Gray," said Mrs. Webb.
Philip thanked her, and soon after set out on his way.
He was more cheerful and hopeful than the day before, for then he was well nigh penniless, and now he had three dollars in his pocket.
Three dollars was not a very large sum, to be sure, but to one who had been so near destitution as Philip it seemed very important.
Besides, he had discovered in his violin a source of income, whereas, hitherto, he had looked upon it merely as a source of amusement. This made him feel more independent and self-reliant.
He had walked perhaps two miles, when he heard the rattle of wheels behind him. He did not turn his head, for there was nothing strange in this sound upon a frequented road. He did turn his head, however, when he heard a strong voice calling "Hello!"
Turning, he saw that a young man who was driving had slackened the speed of his horse, and was looking toward him.
Philip halted, and regarded the driver inquiringly.
"You're the young chap that played for a dance last night, ain't you!" said the newcomer.
"Then you're the one I want to see—jump in, and we'll talk as we are going along."
Philip had no objection to a ride, and he accepted the invitation with alacrity. The driver, he noticed, was a young man, of pleasant manners, though dressed in a coarse suit.
"I drove over to Jonas Webb's to see you, and they told me you had just gone," he continued. "I thought maybe you'd get up late, but you was up on time. Are you engaged for this evening?"
Philip began to prick up his ears and become interested. Was it possible that his good luck was to continue, and that he was to have an opportunity of earning some more money through his faithful friend, the violin? He didn't think it well to exhibit the satisfaction he felt, and answered, in a matter-of-fact tone;
"No, I have no engagement for this evening."
"I'm glad of it," responded the young man, evidently well pleased. "You see, we had arranged to have a dance over to our place, but Mr. Beck, being sick, we thought we'd have to give it up. One of my neighbors was over last evening and heard you play, and he thought maybe we could secure you."
"I shall be glad to play for you," said Philip politely.
"What are your terms?" asked his companion.
"Three dollars and board and lodging for the time I need to stay."
"That's satisfactory. I'll engage you."
"Is it near here?" asked Philip.
"It's in Conway—only four miles from here. I'll take you right over now, and you shall stay at my house."
"Thank you, I shall find that very agreeable," said Philip.
"Does Mr. Beck live near you?" asked our hero, a little later.
"Bless you! he lives in our place."
"I suppose his services are in demand?"
"Yes, he is sent for to all the towns around. Fact is, there isn't anybody but he that can play to suit; but I expect, from what I've heard, that you can come up to him."
"I couldn't expect to do that," said Philip modestly. "I am very young yet."
"Folks do say you beat Paul. It seems wonderful, too, considering how young you are. What might be your age, now?"
"Sho! you don't say so? Why, Paul Beck's over fifty."
"Mr. Beck won't think I'm interfering with him, will he?" asked Philip.
"Of course, he can't. We'd a had him if he was well. We can't be expected to put off the party because he's sick. That wouldn't be reasonable, now, would it?"
"I should think not."
Just then Philip became sensible that a light wagon was approaching, driven by a young lady.
He did not, however, suppose it was any one he knew till the carriage stopped, and he heard a voice saying:
"Good morning, Mr. Gray!"
Then he discovered that it was the same young lady who had asked for an introduction to him the evening previous.
"Good morning, Miss Snodgrass!" he said politely, remembering, fortunately, the young lady's name.
Meanwhile, Maria and Philip's drivers had also exchanged salutations, for they were acquainted.
"And where are you carrying Mr. Gray, Mr. Blake?" she asked.
"I'm carrying him over to our place. He's going to play for us this evening."
"Is there going to be a dance in Conway this evening?" inquired Miss Snodgrass, with sudden interest.
"Yes. Won't you come over?"
"I will, if I can get Jedidiah to bring me," answered Maria.
"I guess there's no doubt about that," answered Andrew Blake, who knew very well Jedidiah's devotion to the young lady.
"Oh, I don't know!" answered Maria coquettishly. "Perhaps he won't care for my company."
"If he doesn't, you won't have any trouble in finding another beau."
After a little more conversation, the young lady drove away; but not without expressing to Philip her delight at having another chance to hear his beautiful playing.
"She'll be there," said Andrew Blake, as they drove away. "She makes Jedidiah Burbank do just as she orders him."
"Are they engaged?" asked our hero.
"Yes, I expect so; but there may be some chance of your cutting him out, if you try. The young lady seems to admire you."
"I am only a boy of sixteen," he said. "I am too young to think of such things. I won't interfere with Mr. Burbank."
"Jedidiah's apt to be jealous," said Blake, "and Maria likes to torment him. However, she'll end by marrying him, I guess."
In half an hour or thereabouts, Andrew Blake drew up at the gate of a small but neat house on the main street in Conway. He was a carpenter, as Philip afterward found, and had built the house himself. He was probably of about the same age as Jonas Webb, and like him was married to a young wife.
During the afternoon, Philip, being left pretty much to his own devices, took a walk in and about the village, ascending a hill at one side, which afforded him a fine view of that and neighboring villages.
He was pleasantly received and hospitably entertained at the house of Mr. Blake, and about quarter of eight started out for the hall, at which he was to play, in company with his host and hostess.
As they approached the hall, a young man approached them with a perplexed face.
"What do you think, Andrew?" he said. "Paul Beck's in the hall, as mad as a hatter, and he vows he'll play himself. He says he was engaged, and no one shall take his place."
Andrew Blake looked disturbed, and Philip shared in his feeling. Was he to lose his engagement, after all?
CHAPTER XXII. RIVAL MUSICIANS.
They entered the hall, which was already well filled, for the young people of both sexes liked to have as long a time for enjoyment as possible.
At the head of the hall, in the center of a group, stood a tall, thin man, dressed in solemn black, with a violin under his arm. His face, which looked like that of a sick man, was marked by an angry expression, and this, indeed, was his feeling.
"I suppose that's Mr. Beck?" said Philip.
"Yes, it is," answered Andrew Blake, in evident discomposure. "What on earth brings him here from a sick-bed, I can't understand. I heard that he had a fever."
The fact was that Paul Beck was jealous of his reputation as a musician. It was satisfactory to him to think that he was so indispensable that no one could take his place. He had sent word to the committee that he should be unable to play for them, supposing, of course, that they would be compelled to give up the party. When intelligence was brought to him during the afternoon that it would come off, and that another musician had been engaged in his place, he was not only disturbed, but angry, though, of course, the latter feeling was wholly unreasonable. He determined that he would be present, at any rate, no matter how unfit his sickness rendered him for the evening's work. He resolved to have no rival, and to permit no one to take his place in his own town.
It did not seem to occur to Mr. Beck that, having formally declined the engagement on account of sickness, he had no claim whatever on the committee, and was, in fact, an interloper. It was in vain that his sister protested against his imprudence. (He was an old bachelor and his sister kept house for him.) He insisted on dressing himself and making his way to the hall, where, as was to be expected, his arrival produced considerable embarrassment.
Paul Beck stood in sullen impatience awaiting the arrival of his rival.
It so happened that no one had thought to mention to him that it was a boy. He was prepared to see a full-grown man.
Philip followed Andrew Blake up to the central group.
"Who is it, I say," Mr. Beck was inquiring, "that engaged another musician to take my place?"
"No one, sir," answered Andrew Blake firmly, for Mr. Beck's unreasonableness provoked him. "I engaged a musician to play this evening, but it was not in your place, for you had sent us word that you could not appear."
"Where is he, I say?" continued Paul Beck sourly.
"Here he is," replied Blake, drawing toward our hero, who felt that he was placed in an awkward position.
"Why, he's only a baby!" said Beck, surveying our hero contemptuously.
Philip's cheek flushed, and he, too, began to feel angry.
"He isn't as old as you are, Mr. Beck," said Andrew Blake manfully, "but you'll find he understands his business."
"I certainly didn't expect you to get a child in my place," said Paul Beck scornfully.
"I suppose a musician may know how to play, if he isn't sixty-five," said Miss Maria Snod-grass, who had listened indignantly to Mr. Beck's contemptuous remarks about our hero, whose cause she so enthusiastically championed.
Poor Mr. Beck! He was sensitive about his age, and nothing could have cut him more cruelly than this exaggeration of it. He was really fifty-five, and looked at least sixty, but he fondly flattered himself that he looked under fifty. "Sixty-five!" he repeated furiously. "Who says I am sixty-five?"
"Well, you look about that age," said Maria, with malicious pleasure.
"I shall have to live a good many years before I am sixty," said Paul Beck angrily. "But that's either here nor there. You engaged me to play to-night, and I am ready to do it."
Andrew Blake felt the difficulty of his position, but he did not mean to desert the boy-musician whom he had engaged.
"Mr. Beck," said he, "we shall be glad to have you serve us on another occasion, but to-night Mr. Gray, here, is engaged. You gave up the engagement of your own accord, and that ended the matter, so far as you are concerned."
"Do you refuse to let me play?" demanded Paul Beck, his pale cheek glowing with anger and mortification.
"You understand why," answered Blake. "This young man is engaged, and we have no right to break the engagement."
Philip, who had felt the embarrassment of his position, had meanwhile made up his mind what to do. The three dollars he expected to earn were important to him, but he didn't care to make trouble. He did not doubt that his lodging and meals would be given him, and that would be something. Accordingly, he spoke:
"I have been engaged, it is true," he said, "but if Mr. Beck wants to play I will resign my engagement and stay and hear him."
"No, no!" exclaimed several—Mr. Blake and Miss Snodgrass being among them.
"Mr. Gray, you were regularly engaged," said one of the committee.
"That's true," answered Philip, "and," he couldn't help adding, "I should be justified in insisting upon playing; but since Mr. Beck seems to feel so bad about it, I will give way to him."
He spoke manfully, and there was no sign of weakness or submission about him. He asserted his rights, while he expressed his willingness to surrender them.
There was a little consultation among the committee. They were all disgusted with the conduct of Paul Beck, and were unwilling that he should triumph. At the same time, as they might need his services at some future time, they did not wish wholly to alienate him.
Finally, they announced their decision through Andrew Blake.
"We are not willing to accept Mr. Gray's resignation wholly," he said, "but we propose that he and Mr. Beck shall divide the evening's work between them—each to receive half the usual compensation."
There was considerable applause, for it seemed to be a suitable compromise, and would enable the company to compare the merits of the rival musicians.
"I agree," said Philip promptly.
"What do you say, Mr. Beck?" asked Andrew Blake.
Now, while Paul Beck did not like to give up half the honor, he felt thoroughly convinced that Philip was only a beginner, and that he, as an experienced player, could easily eclipse him, and thus gain a triumph which would be very gratifying to his pride.
As for the compensation, to do him justice, he did not much care for that, being a man of very good means. He played more for glory than for pay—though he, of course, had no objection to receiving compensation.
"I have no objections," he said. "If you want to give the boy a chance to practice a little, I am willing."
Philip understood the sneer, and he secretly determined to do his best.
The committee was much pleased at the satisfactory conclusion of what had threatened to be a very troublesome dispute, and it was arranged, Philip consenting, that Mr. Beck should play first.
The old musician played, in a confident manner, a familiar dancing-tune, accompanying his playing with various contortions of the face and twistings of his figure, supposed to express feeling. It was a fair performance, but mechanical, and did not indicate anything but very ordinary talent. His time was good, and dancers always found his playing satisfactory.
When Paul Beck had completed his task, he looked about him complacently, as if to say, "Let the boy beat that if he can," and sat down.
Philip had listened to Mr. Beck with attention. He was anxious to learn how powerful a rival he had to compete with. What he heard did not alarm him, but rather gave him confidence.
CHAPTER XXIII. AN HOUR OF TRIUMPH.
When Paul rose and stood before this audience, violin in hand, he certainly presented quite a strong contrast to his rival.
Paul Beck, as we have already said, was a tall, thin, lantern-jawed man, clad in solemn black, his face of a sickly, sallow hue.
Philip was of fair height, for his age, with a bright, expressive face, his hair of a chestnut shade, and looking the very picture of boyish health. His very appearance made a pleasant impression upon those present.
"He's a nice-looking boy," thought more than one, "but he looks too young to know much about the violin."
But when Philip began to play, there was general surprise. In a dancing-tune there was not much chance for the exhibition of talent, but his delicate touch and evident perfect mastery of his instrument were immediately apparent. In comparison, the playing of Paul Beck seemed wooden and mechanical.
There was a murmur of approbation, and when Philip had finished his first part of the program, he was saluted by hearty applause, which he acknowledged by a modest and graceful bow.
Paul Beck's face, as his young rival proceeded in his playing, was an interesting study. He was very disagreeably surprised. He had made up his mind that Philip could not play at all, or, at any rate, would prove to be a mere tyro and bungler, and he could hardly believe his ears when he heard the sounds which Philip evoked from his violin.
In spite of his self-conceit, he secretly acknowledged that Philip even now was his superior, and in time would leave him so far behind that there could be no comparison between them.
It was not a pleasant discovery for a man who had prided himself for many years on his superiority as a musician. If it had been a man of established fame it would have been different, but to be compelled to yield the palm to an unknown boy, was certainly mortifying.
When he heard the applause that followed Philip's performance, and remembered that none had been called forth by his own, he determined that he would not play again that evening. He did not like to risk the comparison which he was sure would be made between himself and Philip. So, when Andrew Blake came up to him and asked him to play for the next dance, he shook his head. "I don't feel well enough," he said "I thought I was stronger than I am."
"Do you want the boy to play all the rest of the evening?"
"Yes; he plays very fairly," said Beck, in a patronizing manner, which implied his own superiority.
"There can be no doubt about that," said Andrew Blake, with emphasis, for he understood Mr. Beck's meaning, and resented it as one of the warmest admirers of the boy-musician whom he had engaged.
But Paul Beck would not for the world have revealed his real opinion of Philip's merits.
"Yes," he continued, "he plays better than I expected. I guess you can get along with him."
"How shall we arrange about the compensation, Mr. Beck?" asked Blake. "We ought in that case to give him more than half."
"Oh, you can give him the whole," answered Beck carelessly. "If I felt well enough to play, I would do my part, but I think it will be better for me to go home and go to bed."
His decision was communicated to Philip, who felt impelled by politeness to express his regrets to Mr. Beck.
"I am sorry you don't feel able to play, Mr. Beck," he said politely.
"Oh, it's of no consequence, as they've got some one to take my place," returned Beck coldly.
"I should be glad to hear you play again," continued Philip.
Paul Beck nodded slightly, but he felt too much mortified to reciprocate Philip's friendly advances. Half an hour later he left the hall.
The dancers by no means regretted the change of arrangement. They evidently preferred the young musician to his elderly rival. The only one to express regret was Miss Maria Snodgrass.
"I declare it's a shame Mr. Beck has given up," she said. "I wanted you to dance with me, Mr. Gray. I am sure if you can dance as well as you can play, you would get along perfectly lovely. Now you've got to play, and can't dance at all."
"It isn't leap-year, Maria," said Jedidiah Burbank, in a jealous tone.
Miss Snodgrass turned upon him angrily:
"You needn't put in your oar, Jedidiah Burbank!" she said. "I guess I know what I'm about. If it was leap-year fifty times over, I wouldn't offer myself to you!"
And the young lady tossed her head in a very decided manner.
"Now don't get mad, Maria!" implored Jedidiah, feeling that at the prompting of jealousy; he had put his foot in it. "I didn't mean nothing."
"Then you'd better say nothing next time," retorted the young lady.
Meanwhile, Philip acknowledged the young lady's politeness by a smile and a bow, assuring her that if it had been possible, it would have given him great pleasure to dance with her.
"If Mr. Burbank will play for me," he said with a glance at the young man, "I shall be glad to dance."
Miss Snodgrass burst out laughing.
"Jedidiah couldn't play well enough for an old cow to dance by," she said.
"There ain't any old cows here," said Jedidiah, vexed at being ridiculed.
"Well, there are some calves, anyway," retorted Maria, laughing heartily.
Poor Jedidiah! It is to be feared that he will have a hard time when he becomes the husband of the fair Maria. She will undoubtedly be the head of the new matrimonial firm.
There was nothing further to mar the harmony of the evening. It had begun with indications of a storm, but the clouds had vanished, and when Mr. Beck left the hall, there was nothing left to disturb the enjoyment of those present.
The favorable opinions expressed when Philip commenced playing were repeated again and again, as the evening slipped away.
"I tell you, he's a regular genius!" one enthusiastic admirer said to his companion. "Paul Beck can't hold a candle to him."
"That's so. He's smart, and no mistake."
Poor Mr. Beck! It was fortunate he was unable to hear these comparisons made. He could not brook a rival near the throne, and had gone home in low spirits, feeling that he could never again hold his head as high as he had done.
When the dancing was over, there was a brief conference of the committee of management, the subject of which was soon made known.
Andrew Blake approached Philip and said:
"Mr. Gray, some of us would like to hear you play something else, if you are not tired—not a dancing-tune."
"I shall be very happy to comply with your request," answered Philip.
He spoke sincerely, for he saw that all were pleased with him, and it is gratifying to be appreciated.
He paused a moment in thought, and then began to play the "Carnival of Venice," with variations. It had been taught him by his father, and he had played it so often that his execution was all that could be desired. The variations were of a showy and popular character, and very well adapted to impress an audience like that to which he was playing.
"Beautiful! Beautiful!" exclaimed the young ladies, while their partners pronounced it "tip-top" and "first-rate," by which they probably meant very much the same thing.
"Oh, Mr. Gray!" exclaimed Miss Snodgrass fervently. "You play like a seraphim!"
"Thank you!" said Philip, smiling. "I never heard a seraphim play on the violin, but I am sure your remark is very complimentary."
"I wish you could play like that, Jedidiah," said Maria.
"I'll learn to play, if you want me to," said Mr. Burbank.
"Thank you! You're very obliging," said Maria; "but I won't trouble you. You haven't got a genius for it, like Mr. Gray."
The evening was over at length, and again Philip was made the happy recipient of three dollars. His first week had certainly been unexpectedly prosperous.
"This is better than staying in the Norton Poorhouse!" he said to himself.
CHAPTER XXIV. LORENZO RICCABOCCA.
Philip's reputation as a musician was materially increased by his second night's performance. To adopt a military term, he had crossed swords with the veteran fiddler, Paul Beck, and, in the opinion of all who heard both, had far surpassed him.
This was said openly to Philip by more than one; but he was modest, and had too much tact and good taste to openly agree with them. This modesty raised him higher in the opinion of his admirers.
He was invited by the Blakes to prolong his visit, but preferred to continue on his journey—though his plans were, necessarily, not clearly defined.
Andrew Blake carried him five miles on his way, and from that point our hero used the means of locomotion with which nature had supplied him.
Some six miles farther on there was a manufacturing town of considerable size, named Wilkesville, and it occurred to him that this would be a good place at which to pass the night.
Something might turn up for him there. He hardly knew what, but the two unexpected strokes of luck which he had had thus far encouraged him to think that a third might come to him.
Philip continued on his way—his small pack of clothing in one hand and his violin under his arm. Being in no especial hurry—for it was only the middle of the forenoon—he bethought himself to sit down and rest at the first convenient and inviting place.
He soon came to a large elm tree, which, with its spreading branches, offered a pleasant and grateful shade.
He threw himself down and lay back on the greensward, in pleasant contemplation, when he heard a gentle cough—as of one who wished to attract attention. Looking up he observed close at hand, a tall man, dressed in black, with long hair, which fell over his shirt collar and shoulders.
He wore a broad collar and black satin necktie, and his hair was parted in the middle. His appearance was certainly peculiar, and excited our hero's curiosity.
"My young friend," he said, "you have chosen a pleasant resting-place beneath this umbrageous monarch of the grove." "Yes, sir," answered Philip, wondering whether the stranger was a poet.
"May I also recline beneath it?" asked the newcomer.
"Certainly, sir. It is large enough to shelter us both."
"Quite true; but I did not wish to intrude upon your meditations."
"My meditations are not of much account," answered Philip, laughing.
"I see you are modest. Am I right in supposing that yonder case contains a violin?"
"Then you are a musician?"
"A little of one," replied Philip.
"May I ask—excuse my curiosity—if you play professionally?"
"Perhaps he may help me to an engagement," thought our hero, and he said readily, "I do."
"Indeed!" said the stranger, appearing pleased. "What style of music do you play?"
"For each of the last two evenings I have played for dancing-parties."
"You do not confine yourself to dancing-music?"
"Oh, no! I prefer other kinds; but dancing-tunes seem most in demand, and I have my living to make." The stranger seemed still more gratified.
"I am delighted to have met you, Mr.—— Ahem!" he paused, and looked inquiringly at Philip.
"Mr. Gray, I believe Providence has brought us together. I see you are surprised."
Philip certainly did look puzzled, as he well might.
"I must explain myself more clearly. I am Professor Lorenzo Riccabocca, the famous elocutionist and dramatic reader."
"Doubtless you have heard of me?" said the professor inquiringly.
"I have never lived in large places," answered Philip, in some embarrassment, "or no doubt your name would be familiar to me."
"To be sure, that must make a difference. For years," said the professor, "I have given dramatic readings to crowded houses, and everywhere my merits have been conceded by the educated and refined."
Philip could not help wondering how it happened in that case that the professor should look so seedy. A genius appreciated so highly ought to have brought in more gold and silver.
Perhaps Professor Riccabocca understood Philip's expressive look, for he went to to say:
"The public has repaid me richly for the exercise of my talent; but, alas, my young friend, I must confess that I have no head for business. I invested my savings unwisely, and ascertained a month since that I had lost all."
"That was a great pity!" said Philip sympathizingly.
"It was, indeed! It quite unmanned me!" said the professor, wiping away a tear. "I felt that all ambition was quite gone, and I was mad and sick. Indeed, only a week since I rose from a sick-bed. But Lorenzo is himself again!" he exclaimed, striking his breast energetically. "I will not succumb to Fate. I will again court the favor of the public, and this time I will take care of the ducats my admirers bestow upon me."
"I should think that was a good plan," said Philip.
"I will begin at once. Nearby is a town devoted to the mammon of trade, yet among its busy thousands there must be many that will appreciate the genius of Lorenzo Riccabocca."
"I hope so," answered Philip politely.
He could not help thinking that the professor was rather self-conceited, and he hardly thought it in good taste for him to refer so boastfully to his genius.
"I wish you, Mr. Gray, to assist me in my project," continued the professor.
"How can I do so, sir?" inquired Philip.
"Let me tell you. I propose that we enter into a professional partnership, that we give an entertainment partly musical, partly dramatic. I will draw up a program, including some of my most humorous recitations and impersonations, while interspersed among them will be musical selections contributed by yourself. Do you comprehend?"
"Yes," answered Philip, nodding.
"And what do you think of it?"
"I think well of it," replied the boy-musician.
He did think well of it. It might not draw a large audience, this mixed entertainment, but it would surely pay something; and it would interfere with no plans of his own, for, in truth, he had none.
"Then you will cooperate with me?" said the professor.
"Give me your hand!" exclaimed Riccabocca dramatically. "Mr. Gray, it is a perfect bonanza of an idea. I may tell you, in confidence, I was always a genius for ideas. Might I ask a favor of you?"
"Give me a touch of your quality. Let me hear you play."
Philip drew his violin from its case and played for his new professional partner "The Carnival of Venice," with variations—the same which had been received with so much favor the evening previous.
Professor Riccabocca listened attentively, and was evidently agreeably surprised. He was not a musician, but he saw that Philip was a much better player than he had anticipated, and this, of course, was likely to improve their chances of pecuniary success.
"You are a splendid performer," he said enthusiastically. "You shall come out under my auspices and win fame. I predict for you a professional triumph."
"Thank you," said Philip, gratified by this tribute from a man of worldly experience. "I hope you will prove a true prophet."
"And now, Mr. Gray, let us proceed on our way. We must get lodgings in Wilkesville, and make arrangements for our entertainment. I feel new courage, now that I have obtained so able a partner. Wilkesville little knows what is in store for her. We shall go, see, and conquer!"
An hour later Philip and his new partner entered Wilkesville.
CHAPTER XXV. A CHANGE OF NAME.
Wilkesville was an inland city, of from fifteen to twenty thousand inhabitants.
As Philip and the professor passed along the principal street, they saw various stores of different kinds, with here and there a large, high, plain-looking structure, which they were told was used for the manufacture of shoes.
"Wilkesville will give us a large audience," he said, in a tone of satisfaction.
"I hope so," said our hero.
"Hope so? I know so!" said the professor confidently. "The town is full of young men, employed in shoe-making. They are fond of amusement, and they will gladly seize an opportunity of patronizing a first-class entertainment like ours."
The professor's reasoning seemed good, but logic sometimes fails, and Philip was not quite so sanguine. He said nothing, however, to dampen the ardor of his partner.
"Let me see," said the professor, pausing, "yonder stands the Wilkesville Hotel. We had better put up there."
It was a brick structure of considerable size, and seemed to have some pretensions to fashion.
"Do you know how much they charge?" asked Philip prudently.
"No; I neither know nor care," answered Professor Riccabocca loftily.
"But," said Philip, "I haven't much money."
"Nor I," admitted Riccabocca. "But it is absolutely necessary for us to stop at a first-class place. We must not let the citizens suppose that we are tramps or vagabonds. They will judge us by our surroundings."
"There is something in that," said Philip. "But suppose we don't succeed!"
"Succeed? We must succeed!" said the professor, striking an attitude. "In the vocabulary of youth, there's no such word as 'fail'! Away with timid caution! Our watchword be success!"
"Of course, you have much more experience than I," said Philip.
"Certainly I have! We must keep up appearances. Be guided by me, and all will come right."
Philip reflected that they could not very well make less than their expenses, and accordingly he acceded to the professor's plans. They entered the hotel, and Professor Riccabocca, assuming a dignified, important step, walked up to the office. "Sir," said he, to the clerk, "my companion and myself would like an apartment, one eligibly located, and of ample size."
"You can be accommodated, sir," answered the young man politely. "Will you enter your names?"
Opening the hotel register, the elocutionist, with various flourishes, entered, this name: "Professor Lorenzo Riccabocca, Elocutionist and Dramatic Reader."
"Shall I enter your name?" he asked of Philip.
"If you please."
This was the way Professor Riccabocca complied with his request: "Philip de Gray, the Wonderful Boy-musician."
He turned the book, so that the clerk could see the entries.
"We propose to give an entertainment in Wilkesville," he said.
"I am glad to hear it," said the clerk politely.
"After dinner I will consult you as to what steps to take. Is there anything in the way of amusement going on in town this evening?"
"Yes, there is a concert, chiefly of home-talent, in Music Hall. There is nothing announced for to-morrow evening."
"Then we will fix upon to-morrow evening. It will give us more time to get out hand-bills, etc. Is there a printing-office in town?"
"Oh, yes, sir. We have a daily paper."
"Is the office near at hand?"
"Yes, sir. It is on the corner of the next street."
"That will do for the present. We will go up to our apartment. Will dinner be ready soon?"
"In half an hour."
Here the servant made his appearance, and the professor, with a wave of his hand, said:
"Lead on, Mr. de Gray! I will follow."
CHAPTER XXVI. A PROMISING PLAN.
They were shown into a front room, of good size, containing two beds. The servant handed them the key, and left them.
"This looks very comfortable, Mr. de Gray," said the professor, rubbing his hands with satisfaction.
"Why do you call me Mr. de Gray?" asked Philip, thinking he had been misunderstood. "It is plain Gray, without any de."
"I am only using your professional name," answered the professor. "Don't you know people will think a great deal more of you if they suppose you to be a foreigner?"
"Is Lorenzo Riccabocca your true or professional name, professor?" he asked.
"Professional, of course. My real name—I impart it to you in the strictest confidence—is Lemuel Jones. Think of it. How would that look on a poster?"
"It would not be so impressive as the other."
"Of course not; and the public need to be impressed. I thank thee for that word, Mr. de Gray. By the way, it's rather a pity I didn't give you a Spanish or Italian name."
"But I can't speak either language. It would be seen through at once."
"People wouldn't think of asking. You'd be safe enough. They will generally swallow all you choose to say."
They went down to dinner presently, and the professor—Philip could not help thinking—ate as if he were half-starved. He explained afterward that elocutionary effort taxes the strength severely, and makes hearty eating a necessity.
After dinner was over the professor said:
"Are you content, Mr. de Gray, to leave me to make the necessary arrangements?"
"I should prefer that you would," said Philip, and he spoke sincerely. "Probably you understand much better than I what needs to be done."
"'Tis well! Your confidence is well placed," said the professor, with a wave of his hand. "Shall you remain in the hotel?"
"No, I think I will walk about the town and see a little of it. I have never been here before."
Philip took a walk through the principal streets, surveying with curiosity the principal building's, for, though there was nothing particularly remarkable about them, he was a young traveler, to whom everything was new. He could not help thinking of his late home, and in particular of Frank Dunbar, his special friend, and he resolved during the afternoon to write a letter to Frank, apprising him of his luck thus far. He knew that Frank would feel anxious about him, and would be delighted to hear of his success as a musician.
He went into a book-store and bought a sheet of paper and an envelope.
He had just completed his letter, when his partner entered the reading-room of the hotel with a brisk step.
"Mr. de Gray," he said, "I have made all necessary arrangements. I have hired the hall for to-morrow evening—five dollars—ordered some tickets and posters at the printing-office, and secured a first-class notice in to-morrow morning's paper. Everybody in Wilkesville will know before to-morrow night that they will have the opportunity of attending a first-class performance at the Music Hall."
"It seems to me the necessary expenses are considerable," said Philip uneasily.
"Of course they are; but what does that matter?"
"What is to be the price of tickets?"
"General admission, twenty-five cents; reserved seats, fifty cents, and children under twelve, fifteen cents. How does that strike you!"
"Will anyone be willing to pay fifty cents to hear us?" asked Philip.
"Fifty cents! It will be richly worth a dollar!" said the professor loftily.
"I suppose he knows best," thought Philip. "I hope all will come out right. If it does we can try the combination in other places."
CHAPTER XXVII. UNEXPECTED HONORS.
The next morning at breakfast, Professor Riccabocca handed Philip a copy of the Wilkesville Daily Bulletin. Pointing to a paragraph on the editorial page, he said, in a tone of pride and satisfaction:
"Read that, Mr. de Gray."
It ran thus:
"We congratulate the citizens of Wilkesville on the remarkable entertainment which they will have an opportunity of enjoying this evening at the Music Hall. Professor Lorenzo Riccabocca, whose fame as an elocutionist and dramatic reader has made his name a household word throughout Europe and America, will give some of his choice recitals and personations, assisted by Philip de Gray, the wonderful boy-musician, whose talent as a violin-player has been greeted with rapturous applause in all parts of the United States. It is universally acknowledged that no one of his age has ever equaled him. He, as well as Professor Riccabocca, will give but a limited series of entertainments in this country, having received flattering inducements to cross the Atlantic, and appear professionally in London, Paris, and the chief cities of the Continent. Fifty cents is the pitiful sum for which our citizens will have it put in their power to hear this wonderful combination of talent. This secures a reserved seat."
Philip read this notice with increasing amazement.
"What do you think of that, Mr. de Gray?" asked the professor gleefully. "Won't that make Wilkesville open its eyes, eh?"
"It has made me open my eyes, professor," said Philip.
"Ha, ha!" said the professor, appearing amused.
"How soon are we to sail for Europe?" asked Philip, smiling.
"When Queen Victoria sends our passage-money," answered Riccabocca, laughing.
"I see that your name is a household word in Europe. Were you ever there?"
"Then how can that be?"
"Mr. de Gray, your performances have been greeted with applause in all parts of the United States. How do you explain that?"
"I don't pretend to explain it. I wasn't aware that my name had ever been heard of a hundred miles from here."
"It has not, but it will be. I have only been predicting a little. The paragraph isn't true now, but it will be some time, if we live and prosper."
"But I don't like to be looked upon as a humbug, professor," said Philip uneasily.
"You won't be. You are really a fine player, or I wouldn't consent to appear with you. The name of Riccabocca, Mr. de Gray, I may truthfully say, is well known. I have appeared in the leading cities of America. They were particularly enthusiastic in Chicago," he added pensively. "I wish I could find a paragraph from one of their leading papers, comparing my rendering of the soliloquy in 'Hamlet' to Edwin Booth's, rather to the disadvantage of that tragedian."
"I would like to read the notice," said Philip, who had very strong doubts as to whether such a paragraph had ever appeared in print.
"You shall see it. It will turn up somewhere. I laid it aside carefully, for I confess, Mr. de Gray, it gratified me much. I have only one thing to regret: I should myself have gone on the stage, and essayed leading tragic roles. It may not be too late now. What do you think?"
"I can tell better after I have heard you, professor," answered Philip.
"True, you can. Mr. de Gray," continued the professor, lowering his voice, "notice how much attention we are receiving from the guests at the tables. They have doubtless read the notice of our evening entertainment."
Philip looked round the room, which was of good size, and contained some thirty or more guests, and he saw that the professor was right.
He met several curious glances, some fair ladies expressing interest as well as curiosity, and his face flushed.
"Gratifying, isn't it?" said the professor, smiling.
"No, I don't think it is," answered our hero.
"Why not?" demanded Professor Riccabocca, appearing amazed.
"If all were true, it might be," replied Philip. "As it is, I feel like a humbug."
"Humbug pays in this world," said the professor cheerfully. "By the way, there's another little paragraph to which I will call your attention."
Philip read this additional item:
"We understand that Professor Riecabocca and Mr. Philip de Gray have received a cable despatch from the Prince of Wales, inviting them to instruct his sons in elocution and music, at a very liberal salary. They have this proposal under consideration, though they are naturally rather reluctant to give up the plaudits of the public, even for so honorable a position."
"Professor Riccabocca," said Philip, considerably annoyed by this audacious invention, "you ought to have consulted me before publishing such a falsehood as this."
"Falsehood, Mr. de Gray? Really I'm shocked! Gentlemen don't use such words, or make such charges."
"You don't mean to say it's true that we have received any such telegram?"
"No; of course not."
"Then why didn't I use the right word?"
"It's an innocent little fiction, my young friend—a fiction that will do no one any harm, but will cause us to be regarded with extraordinary interest."
Here the thought occurred to Philip that he, the future instructor of British royalty, had only just escaped from a poorhouse, and it seemed to him so droll that he burst out laughing.
"Why do you laugh, Mr. de Gray?" asked the professor, a little suspiciously.
"I was thinking of something amusing," said Philip.
"Well, well! We shall have cause to laugh when we play this evening to a crowded house."
"I hope so. But, professor, if we keep together, you mustn't print any more such paragraphs about me. Of course, I am not responsible for what you say about yourself."
"Oh, it will be all right!" said Riccabocca. "What are you going to do with yourself?"
"I shall practice a little in my room, for I want to play well to-night. When I get tired I shall take a walk."
"Very wise—very judicious. I don't need to do it, being, as I may say, a veteran reader. I wouldn't rehearse if I were to play this evening before the president and all the distinguished men of the nation."
"I don't feel so confident of myself," said Philip.
"No, of course not. By the way, can you lend me fifty cents, Mr. de Gray?"
"I don't want to break a ten."
Professor Riccabocca didn't mention that the only ten he had was a ten-cent piece.
Slipping Philip's half-dollar into his vest pocket, he said carelessly:
"We'll take this into the account when we divide the proceeds of the entertainment."
"Very well," said Philip.
He went up to his room and played for an hour or more, rehearsing the different pieces he had selected for the evening, and then, feeling the need of a little fresh air, he took a walk.
In different parts of the town he saw posters, on which his name was printed in large letters.
"It seems almost like a joke!" he said to himself.
Just then he heard his name called, and, looking up, he recognized a young fellow, of sixteen or thereabouts, who had formerly lived in Norton. It seemed pleasant to see a familiar face.