WHAT Morley Quorn could not understand was why people made such a fuss over that fellow Kelton. Who was Kelton anyway that he should give himself airs, he enquired with some insistence of the five “bassi”—they were labelled “bassi” in the programme—who were lounging about the door of the schoolroom where the rehearsal for the concert was being held.

“He does give himself airs, doesn’t he?” growled another of the same division of the chorus.

The rest shook their heads gloomily. It was denied to them to express themselves adequately on this point, the fact being that the Reverend Edwin Tucknott, the curate of St. Joan of Arc, was standing hard by with his flute. The proximity of the clergyman checked complete freedom of speech, including “language,” among the young men, for they failed to recollect that in the due performance of that portion of his sacred office known as the Commination Service he went much further than the most highly qualified basso could go even when he found it necessary to describe the absurdities of another and more popular vocalist.

Mr. Tucknott smiled his olive branch smile in the direction of the “bassi.”

“I suppose it is natural for a tenor to give himself airs,” he remarked. The instant he had spoken he glanced around in rather a shaky way. He had a feeling that he had gone a little too far. He hoped that no one would fancy he had been unable to resist a play upon the words. He had no need, however, to have any misgiving on this point. It was plain that his daring had hurt the susceptibilities of none.

“Oh, I don’t say that we’re not prepared for a good bit of side from a—a chap that fancies he sings tenor,” said Morley Quorn; “but that fellow Kelton goes just too far. Now what is he up to this time? Cheeking Mozart Tutt! I wonder that Mr. Tutt stands his impudence.”

But in a second it became plain that Mr. Mozart Tutt was doing nothing of the sort. He had been playing the pianoforte accompaniment to Mr. Kelton’s song, but not in a way that was met with the unqualified approval of Mr. Kelton.

“I must ask you to try to play pianissimo when I am doing my shake on the high note,” said he; and Mr. Tutt had accordingly played pianissimo when the thing was repeated.

But Mr. Kelton did not attempt to ascend to the high notes. He stopped short, and let his page of music flap down in a movement suggestive of a disappointment that was practically hopeless.

“If you don’t throw some life into the passage you had better let me sing without any accompaniment,” he said in a pained way.

“I will play in any way you suggest, Mr. Kelton,” said Mr. Tutt. “Will you kindly sit down to the piano and play the accompaniment as you wish it to be played?”

But this invitation the tenor felt it to be his duty to decline. He was no musician. He could not play a passage from the musical score to save his life, and of this fact Mr. Tutt was well aware.

“I don’t ask very much—only that you should give me a little support,” said Mr. Kelton with a suggestion of long-suffering in his voice. “I take it that the accompaniment to a song—a tenor song—should be played as if it were nothing more than a background, so to speak, and the vocalization supplies the colour. I don’t wish to discourage you, Mr. Tutt; you play quite well sometimes—quite well enough for the people about here; but we must have light and shade, Mr. Tutt. Now let us try again.”

If Mr. Kelton sang with expression, Mr. Tutt played with expressions—he was almost audible at the door. But still he attacked the air with spirit. He was a very competent man; he had composed a Magnificat which Miss Caffyn, the Rector’s daughter, said took a deal of beating, like a dusty carpet.

Down went Mr. Kelton’s page of music once more, after he had strained up to a very shaky G, and up jumped Mr. Mozart Tutt, before the vocalist had time to formulate his latest complaint.

“I’ve done my best, and if that isn’t good enough for Mr. Kelton he would do well to play his own accompaniment, or get some one to play it who will submit to his insults,” said the musician.

He walked with dignity to the door leading off the platform, and was enthusiastically greeted by the five “bassi.” Mr. Tucknott, flute and all, ran away; he was fearful lest some people should associate him with the intrepid step taken by Mr. Tutt.

It was the Rector’s wife who took command of the situation. She knew that the singing of Mr. Kelton increased to an appreciable extent the attractiveness of the concert, inasmuch as the Honourable Mrs. Bowlby-Sutherst had a passion for listening to tenor music, and Mrs. Bowlby-Sutherst lived at the Hall, and, her husband being patron of the living, she duly patronized the people who lived by it. It would never do, Mrs. Caffyn, the Rector’s wife, perceived, to induce the patroness to attend the concert and then find that there was no tenor solo. That was why she approached Mr. Kelton with a smile that was meant to suggest a great deal, and that certainly assured Mr. Kelton that the Church was on his side.

“We mustn’t be too hard on poor Mr. Tutt,” she said soothingly.

“I’m not,” cried the tenor quickly. “But it’s a little too bad that a man in my position should be subjected to the caprice of such a person. I have a great mind to throw up the whole business.”

He had turned a cold shoulder to the lady, as if he meant to leave the platform that very instant.

“Oh, no, Mr. Kelton, you would never desert us in such a fashion; it would not be like you to do so,” said Mrs. Cafifyn. “Mrs. Bowlby-Sutherst is, I know, coming to our concert solely to hear you sing ‘In the Land of Sleep.’”

“I cannot help that, Mrs. Cafifyn. I do not expect a great deal when I come to sing at a country concert, but I look for common civility, Mrs. Cafifyn—common civility.”

“We are all so sorry. I would not for anything that this—this little difference should arise. You will make allowance for the strain upon poor Mr. Tutt—I know you will.”

“Not unless he apologizes—I have a certain amount of self-respect, Mrs. Caffyn. I have no idea of allowing a person in the position of Mr. Tutt to presume——”

“Oh, mother, I have just been talking to Priscilla, and she says she will be delighted to play the accompaniment to ‘The Land of Sleep,’” said Rosa Caffyn, who came up hastily to the platform at that moment. She was a girl who was alluded to in a friendly spirit as healthy—in an unhealthy spirit as blowsy. She had a good eye, critics of beauty affirmed, and a straightforward voice, Mr. Tutt had more than once announced to the schoolmistress.

“How sweet of Priscilla!” cried Mrs. Caffyn. “Oh, Mr. Kelton, you will, I know, be pleased with Priscilla’s playing—Miss Wadhurst, you know,” she added in an explanatory tone.

Mr. Kelton pursed out his lips slightly, assuming the air of a man who is being bandaged by the people in the motor that has knocked him down—an air of aggrieved submission.

“An amateur?” he said. “I am not familiar with the name as a professional.”

“Oh, yes—strictly amateur,” replied Miss Caffyn, who played golf and other things, and so knew all about the distinctions between performers.

“I’m not accustomed to be accompanied by amateurs,” said the tenor, who was a bank clerk in the county town, “but I don’t mind giving her a trial. Where is she?”

He put on his pince-nez and looked patronizingly around.

“Here she comes,” said Rosa, beckoning to some one who was seated in the body of the school-house—a young woman with a good deal that might be called striking about her, besides her hair, which was rather marvellous, and made one think of a painter of the early Venetian school—there was too much of brown in it to allow of its ever being called golden, and too much of gold to admit of its being called coppery. People who knew where they stood compromised the matter by calling it marvellous. But whatever it was it suited her, though a girl or two had said positively that Priscilla Wadhurst would be nothing without her hair. They were wrong: she would still have been Priscilla—with a difference.

“It is so sweet of you, Priscilla,” began Mrs Caffyn.

“Oh, no,” said Priscilla; “I am not good enough—not nearly good enough.”

She cast down her eyes for a tremulous moment, and then raised them coyly to Mr. Kelton’s face; and she saw by the way he looked at her that he thought she would do.

“You will not find that I am such a terrible person after all, Miss—Miss——”

“Wadhurst,” said Rosa. “I should have introduced you. Miss Wadhurst—Mr. Kelton.”

“I heard you last year,” murmured Miss Wadhurst. “I am not likely to forget it. I am not nearly good enough to be your accompanist, Mr. Kelton; but if you will make allowances——”

“Don’t be afraid,” said he with a condescending wave of the left hand—the right was engaged at the point of his moustache. “You will find me anything but the dreadful person you might imagine me to be. All that I ask is to have my instructions carried out to the letter. I am sure that I shall have no trouble with you, Miss Wadhurst.”

“I can only do my best, Mr. Kelton,” said Priscilla, sitting down at the piano.

“What a nice girl she is! and plays so prettily too,” murmured Mrs. Cafifyn, resuming her seat and addressing the lady next to her, a Mrs. Musgrave.

“Pity she made such a fool of herself!” said Mrs. Musgrave, who, being a large subscriber to the Church and other charities, availed herself of the privilege of speaking out when she pleased; and it pleased her to speak rather more frequently than she pleased by speaking.

“Ah, yes, yes—a sad story—very sad!” assented the Rector’s wife with a pleasant sigh.

And then Miss Wadhurst struck the first chords of “In the Land of Sleep” in no spirit of compromise. She played the accompaniment a great deal better than Mr. Tutt had played it—Mr. Tutt said so, and he knew. Mr. Kelton affirmed it, though he knew nothing about it. Miss Wadhurst knew a good deal about a piano, and within the past half-hour she had acquired more than an elementary knowledge of the vanity of an amateur tenor. She knew that she was at the piano not to do anything more artistic than to feed the vanity of the vocalist, and she found herself giving him a very generous meal. She never allowed the instrument to assert itself, and she wilfully rejected several chances that the music offered her of showing him what was the exact effect he should aim at achieving. She knew what the music meant and she knew what the man meant, and she let him do what he pleased. She gave him plenty of rope and he made use of every fathom. She waited while he lingered lovingly on the high note that came into the setting of every stanza, and she smothered up his false quantities in his lower range. She prolonged the symphony which the composer had artfully introduced between one stanza and the next—this was the great feature of the song, for it enabled the tenor to burst in with startling effect just when people were getting thoughtful—and, above all, she allowed the vocalist to have the last word, though the composer meant this to be the perquisite of the piano.

Mr. Kelton professed himself delighted. He was patronizingly polite in his reference to Miss Wadhurst’s “touch”—it was quite creditable, he said; occasionally it had reminded him of Wallace Clarke—it really had. Wallace Clarke was the very prince of accompanists; it was a pleasure to sing to his playing. But lest Miss Wadhurst should allow her head to be turned by his encomiums, Mr. Kelton very discreetly expressed the hope that she would spend the evening with the music, so that when the time came for her to accompany him in public she should be able to give all her attention to his singing, and not have to glance at the pages of the music before her.

“Keep your eye on me,” he said. “I never bind myself down to sing a song twice in the same way—I trust to the inspiration of the moment. My accompanist must be prepared for anything.”

“You must not be too hard on Miss Wadhurst,” said Mrs. Caffyn, smiling.

“Oh, dear, no! you may trust me,” he said heartily. “I know Miss Wadhurst will trust me. By the way, Miss Wadhurst, I think I shall sing ‘The Message’ for the encore. I hope you know the accompaniment.”

“I think I can manage it,” said Priscilla.

“It is so good of you to promise us an encore,” cried Mrs. Caffyn, “and I am sure that Mrs. Bowlby-Sutherst will be delighted.”

“I am always ready to comply with an encore,” said Mr. Kelton, “but I simply decline to respond when people encore my encore. Please bear that in mind, Mrs. Caffyn. I cannot in justice to myself do more than respond to one encore, let that be clearly understood. No matter how enthusiastic your friends may become——”

“I am going home. Are you coming, Priscilla?” cried Rosa Caffyn, breaking in on the cautionary remarks of the tenor with such abruptness as caused him to be startled, and put on his pince-nez for the purpose of giving her a rebuking stare. But she was off before he had fallen into the right pose to obtain the best results, and Priscilla was only a pace behind her.

“Did you ever hear such a bounder?” cried Rosa, before they were quite off the platform. “The idea of taking an encore—a double encore—for granted! Priscilla, I would give my second best hat to be sure that he did not get even the first encore.”

“He knows that an encore is a foregone conclusion: every one encores the tenor,” said Priscilla, smiling queerly. “Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if for once—

“What are you grinning about in that way? Do you mean to get up a claque to shout him down?” said Rosa, fancying that she saw some intelligence behind the smile of the other.

“Goodness! Do you think that it would be possible to import the tactics of Italian opera into our peaceful village?” cried Priscilla. “Besides, how could any one prevent an encore being given? It is easy enough to force one on, but how are you, short of hissing, to keep down the applause?”

Rosa looked at her searchingly.

“I don’t know, but I believe that you do,” she said.

“Oh, Laura Mercy!” exclaimed Priscilla, and laughed.

Before Rosa could demand an explanation of the laugh, they came face to face with Mr. Mozart Tutt. He was smiling, but not quite easily; it was plain that he was not sure how his behaviour in regard to the accompaniment would be regarded by the young women; he had a great respect for their point of view, and so his smile was a little blurred. Its outlines were fluctuating.

He raised a playful forefinger to Priscilla.

“I am ashamed of you,” he said in a low voice.

“You need not be, Mr. Tutt. You know that I played the accompaniment quite well,” said she.

“You played it artfully, not artistically,” he replied. “The composer would be ready to tear his hair at the way you pandered at his expense to that fellow. Did you mean to teach me a lesson in manners?”

“I mean to teach him a lesson in manners, and music,” said Priscilla confidentially.

“What do you say?” cried Rosa, who had failed to hear every word.

“I only mean that in my opinion Mr. Tutt showed himself singularly lacking in tact as well as tactics,” said Priscilla. “The idea of a capable musician standing on his dignity with a man who sings without any knowledge of music! You should be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Tutt. You a master, and yet incapable of teaching him a lesson!”

“I think that you were quite right, Mr. Tutt,” said Rosa. “You showed the most marvellous patience with that bounder, and you were fully justified in throwing him over. If he were Caruso himself he could not have behaved more insolently.”

“I am so glad that you take my part, Miss Caffyn,” said Mr. Tutt. “I am sorry that you have not been able to persuade Miss Wadhurst to take your view of the incident. I assure you that in all my experience I never found it necessary to act as I did to-day. It was very painful to me. I wish I understood you better, Miss Wadhurst.”

“Didn’t some one say that to be understood was to be found out?” said Priscilla. “Good-bye, Mr. Tutt. Mr. Kelton instructed me to spend the rest of the day in the company of—of the accompaniment, and I mean to obey him. I think I see my way to do a good deal with that accompaniment. Good-bye. I suppose you mean to wait for your mother, Rosa?”

“I wouldn’t if you would make it worth my while not,” said Rosa.

Priscilla shook her head and hurried off.

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