Attention was called to the fact that Mr. Kelton, the great tenor, who had come from Great Gagglington to sing at Mrs. Caffyn’s concert, was walking about the streets—to be strictly accurate, the street—of Framsby in the morning, just as if he was an ordinary person. He was greatly looked at, and it was clearly understood that he was fully cognisant of this fact, for the self-conscious way in which he tried not to appear self-conscious could scarcely fail to strike even the young women of the Glee and Madrigal choir, who, it was understood, were devoted to him, not merely collectively, but individually.

It was a great gift, surely, that with which he was endowed, but at the same time, like other precious endowments of Nature, it carried with it a great responsibility—perhaps greater than any one man should be asked to sustain, was what Mr. Eggston, the Nonconformist draper of Framsby High Street, remarked to his two assistants (male) when he had returned to the low level of his shop work, after gazing out at Mr. Kelton, who went by with Clara Gibson, of the Bank. (Mr. Kelton was the guest of the Gibsons of the Bank—the Gibsons of the Bank were said to be “very musical.”) Perhaps there was something in the Nonconformist judgment on this point, and perhaps there was also something in the view taken of the whole case of Mr. Kelton and his assumptions by the friends of Mr. Mozart Tutt, and crystallized into the one word “puppy!”

At any rate, during the day (the concert was to begin at eight o’clock in the evening) the topic of the town was the quarrel—perhaps it should rather be called an artistic misunderstanding—between Mr. Tutt and Mr. Kelton; and of course it was inevitable that the action of Miss Wadhurst in coming forward to play the accompaniment when Mr. Tutt had felt himself insulted and retired from the discharge of that duty, was widely commented on.

Some who took part in the discussion affirmed that it was rather extraordinary for a young woman, situated as she was, to place herself in a position of such prominence. Surely it would have shown better taste on her part if she had kept in the background. It was foolish for her to do anything that might have a tendency to attract attention to herself and to reawaken public interest in that other affair with which she had been connected. To be sure, it was not quite her fault, that other thing; but still, if she had made proper—even reasonable—enquiries before it happened she would not have been made a fool of. Oh, yes, it was a great pity that she had failed to learn her lesson at that time.

And then an impartial chronicler cannot neglect the criticisms of The Families—the important but not impartial families who surrounded Framsby with a cincture made up of ten generations of stupidity. The Palings, the Hamptsons, the Whiteleafifes—these represented the gems in the girdle that enclosed Framsby, and they agreed that that Wadhurst young woman was showing herself to be all that they had feared she must be. “Of course there never was a question of our looking on her as one of ourselves; but still we thought it might be possible, after a year or two, when the thing was not so fresh in people’s minds... but the young woman has not shown herself to be duly penitent for having been made a fool of, and now she is actually going to appear on a platform—a public platform.... Oh, yes, it is quite as well that we made no move.”

And all this discussion took place between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening. It was on Wednesday afternoon that the rehearsal of the music was held; the concert was to take place on the following evening. Rosa Caffyn heard a good deal of the talk that arose on all sides during this brief space of time, and she knew that, whatever surmises were made as to Priscilla’s object in agreeing to play the accompaniment, not one of them got within measurable distance of the truth. What was the true object of Priscilla’s ready compliance Rosa herself was at a loss to say; but she was quite convinced that good nature was not at the bottom of it—the suggestion made by Mrs. Caffyn and acquiesced in by the Rector—and she was equally certain that a desire to bring herself into prominence was not the impulse in the force of which she had acted. Good gracious! the prominence of the player of a pianoforte accompaniment to a single song! Good nature! the most weak-kneed of the virtues. Rosa knew perfectly well that Priscilla had too much character to be ever accused of being good-natured. Miss Caffyn was puzzled, and it was not for the first time that she was so in association with the affairs of Priscilla Wadhurst. There, for instance, was that other affair which gave Priscilla rather more than the prominence of an accompanist at a charity concert—that had puzzled Rosa. How could any girl——

But Rosa refused to allow herself to enter again into that tortuous question; all that she knew was that Priscilla Wadhurst remained before her eyes as an object worthy of admiration—a girl who could think out things beforehand, and who refused to allow herself to be got the better of by Fate; who refused to be submissive to the ways of Providence, but was always on the look-out for a by-way of her own—just what strong-minded persons are when they are busy making history. When any young woman like Rosa Caffyn has come to think of another in such a spirit, she has gone too far to be brought by much thinking into line with the rest of the world, who, though thinking they can see, are blind and incapable even of groping.

But the last criticism on Priscilla Wadhurst came from Morley Quorn and the company of “bassi.” It took the form of a shaking of the head—a sad, disappointed shake taken at three-quarter time at first, but gradually quickening until it ceased in a quiver of quavers. The “bassi” were large-hearted fellows, and had always thought the best of Miss Wadhurst. They felt quite sad to think that she had consented to help that chap Kelton up to another step in that pyramid of self-conceit to the apex of which he had been toiling for years, since he had received his first encore on a platform in Framsby and had been asked to supper at the Bowlby-Suthersts. Yes, the “bassi” shook their heads, but they determined so far as the concert was concerned to remain neutral in respect of applause; they would not stoop so low as to refuse to applaud the singing of the song, if it was well sung, simply because the singer had insulted the musical conductor. At the same time they would certainly not applaud an incompetent rendering of the song simply because a young lady who had wonderful hair and who had been rather unfortunate in other ways was playing the accompaniment.

And thus, with criticism and comment and innuendo, the hours passed until the doors of the hall were opened and the public crushed into their places, the Bowlby-Suthersts arriving a little late. Priscilla sat in the third row of the front seats by the side of her friend Rosa Caffyn and her young brother Clifford Caffyn. The Rector and his wife had, of course, seats in the front row; it was necessary that they should be in that position, so that they might welcome their patrons the Bowlby-Suthersts, and this division of the family deprived people of the power of saying that Mrs. Caffyn wholly approved of Priscilla. Mrs. Caffyn had long ago perceived that it would be dangerous if not actually detrimental to her position—well, not exactly her position, for the position of the wife of a clergyman of the Church of England is not jeopardized even by a display of Christianity—no, but still—well, Mrs. Caffyn had no notion of allowing her name to be mixed up with that of Priscilla Wadhurst, especially when any of the Bowlby-Suthersts were at hand. And the consequence was that people said that Mrs. Caffyn had acted very well in this delicate matter, and that when her daughter Rosa got a year or two older she would find that it did not pay to foster close intimacies with people who showed a tendency to be unlucky in life.

Mr. Morley Quorn got a great reception when he came forward to sing “Honour and Arms,” and when he got his second wind for one of the runs, and then went ahead of the piano through a feeling of terror lest he might not have enough breath to complete the run of “glo-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-horay,” in one of those braggadocio flights of the great master, Mr. Kelton, who was among the performers on the platform, bowed his head and laughed gently to himself, but with the face of the man who laughs so that no one could fail to notice what he was about.

But although Morley Quorn saw him out of the corner of his eye, and longed to do for him all that Harapha looked forward to do for Samson, still he managed to pull himself together and make a distinct impression by his low note at the finish. He held on to that low note, and every one knew that he meant it to be a sort of challenge to that fellow Kelton. But Mr. Kelton, feeling the same thing, was more offensive than before, for he joined in the applause that greeted the singing of the aria; only he ceased clapping his hands long before the rest of the audience had ceased clapping theirs, and then he glanced around with a look of pained enquiry in his eyes, as if he were the conductor of an orchestra asking his kettledrums what they meant by continuing their noise after he had given the signal that the thing was over.

He made a little motion with his hands when an encore was insisted on, as though he felt that such an absence of discrimination made him quite hopeless of such an audience.

Mr. Morley Quorn, however, took his call, but not too easily, and when Mr. Tutt struck the first notes of “The Wolf” there were loud tokens of approval heard on all sides; for Morley’s treatment of the panoramic effects of this song was well known to Framsby. While the horrors of the situation were being dealt with vocally, Kelton was wise enough to contain himself, and the basso went off the platform with an air of triumph.

Rosa looked into Priscilla’s face and smiled; but Priscilla did not return her smile. She could not think that the fact of Morley Quorn’s having come brilliantly out of the ordeal in any way exculpated Mr. Kelton for that sneering laugh of his.

But Mr. Kelton had not yet exhausted his resources of irritation, for when Mr. Mozart Tutt sat down to the piano to play the “Moonlight Sonata,” instead of joining heartily in the greeting that the conductor received, as any one with any sense would have done, in order to give the audience to understand that, however he might differ from Mr. Tutt on certain points in playing an accompaniment, he was still generous enough to recognize the man’s merit when displayed in other channels—instead of doing this, with emphasis, he yawned ostentatiously, tilting back his chair, with his hand over his mouth. Then he began to talk to the man beside him, and a little later he smiled down upon Priscilla in the third row and signalled something to her, afterwards lying back and laughing up to the ceiling, and, on recovering himself, assuming a bored look, and taking out his watch and putting it to his ear as if to satisfy his doubts as to the accuracy of its registration of an inexpressibly dull five minutes.

Mrs. Caffyn was not a very observant woman, but she made up her mind that she would never again write a letter of entreaty to Mr. Kelton concerning her concert. Even though the patronage of the Bowlby-Suthersts were reserved, still she would not bore him again.

The tenor’s two songs had no place in the first part of the programme, and he did not resume his seat on the platform after the interval between the parts. He always took care that his entrance was made at the effective moment—when the audience had become warmed up, but not weary; and of course Priscilla had to leave her place in the body of the hall to await his moment in the little room where tea was brewed upon the occasion of some festivity involving the brewing of tea and the distribution of buns. Here she sat with Mr. Kelton and a couple of “soprani,” as they were styled in the programme, whom Mr. Kelton made laugh by his clever imitation of Mr. Morley Quorn’s “Wolf.” He was under the impression, he said, that no concert direction was in so bad a way but that they could keep “The Wolf” from the door. But then Framsby was a funny place altogether. Fancy “Honour and Arms,” “The Wolf,” and that blessed “Moonlight Sonata” all in one evening! There was no other town known to him where so old-fashioned a programme would be tolerated.

Then he cleared his throat, and ran up the scale once or twice as he had heard artists do while waiting for their turn.

“Are you in good voice, Mr. Kelton?” enquired Priscilla. “Your song is the next.”

He smiled.

“My dear young lady,” he said, “I am not like one of those tenors of long ago who could never be depended on from one day to another—Sims Reeves, you know—people of that stamp. No, I am always to be depended on. I am always at my best.”

“And never nervous?” she suggested.

“I don’t know what nerves are,” he replied.

And then they heard the sound of the applause that marked the finish of the duet which, in the programme, preceded “In the Land of Sleep.” Priscilla jumped up from her seat. Mr. Kelton rose with the smile of a man of leisure and gave a self-satisfied glance at the little mirror. He improved the set of his collar by a deft little push and then saw to his cuffs.

“Don’t be in a hurry; there’s plenty of time,” he remarked to Priscilla. He had no idea of falling into line with the ordinary amateurs who aimed at expedition. He knew the importance of making an audience slightly impatient for his appearance. He even knew the value of opening the door leading on to the platform and allowing it to close again—giving them a false alarm or two after a prolonged delay. He smiled at Priscilla g it when, after that trick of opening the door and closing it on a blank, there was a movement among the people in the hall. But this was just where Priscilla drew the line. She detested being associated with such trickery. She pulled open the door and walked on to the platform alone, making a straight line to the piano, and acknowledging in no way the warm greeting of the audience.

She had spoiled his entree, and he was well aware of this fact. The audience had wasted their applause upon her; he only came in for the tail end of it. And he was not artist enough to be able at a moment’s notice to hide his discomfiture under the ingratiating smile of the professional, which is supposed to make the most critical audience become genial. His smile was the leer of a Cherokee when his successful opponent is removing his scalp.

Priscilla spread out the paper of the music and struck the first chord of the accompaniment. At the right moment the singer’s voice came in, and he meandered through the stanza, reaching up for his high note in the repetition of the refrain and taking it easily. There was a considerable amount of applause at this point, and upon that applause Priscilla the pianist had counted, when she ran pleasantly into that very expressive “symphony” which every one knows makes so effective a link from stanza to stanza of “In the Land of Sleep.” The accompaniment was still running along soothingly and dreamily when the vocalist once more took up the theme, and was perfectly well satisfied with his treatment of it until he got to the refrain. Then he became aware of the fact that his voice was rather strained. He felt that he must make an effort to do that high note, and when the moment came, he strained. He did not quite achieve it; every one that had ears to hear knew that he was flat; and he knew it himself. He found it necessary to resist the temptation—for the first time—of holding the note, and he finished the refrain in a hurry. Led by the Bowlby-Suthersts, however, the audience gave some applause to the second stanza; and once again Priscilla was grateful for it. She flashed into the introduction to the third stanza—the showy one, with the high A introduced twice, the second time with a grace-note that adds to its effect.

But it soon became plain that the vocalist, if he had never before known what nervousness meant, was quickly learning something of this mystery. It seemed as if his voice was becoming tired, and once there was actually a suggestion of breaking down. But then Mr. Kelton pulled himself together, lifted up his chin, and boldly attacked the refrain. In an instant it became certain that he would never be able to touch the high notes. For some reason or other, which was plain only to Mr. Mozart Tutt and a few other musicians who were present, Mr. Kelton’s voice had lost some notes out of its range. He slurred over the lower notes on the principle of an aeronaut throwing out a sandbag or two, in order that he might get up higher. He went up and up and then made a bold attempt to squeeze out the A by some means. The result sounded like the quivering shriek of a leaky steam whistle. No one, however, knew exactly what it was like, the fact being that its vibrations were drowned by the shrieks of laughter of the school girls in the gallery, and in another instant these infectious sounds had spread to the body of the hall, and there was a whole minute of irrepressible merriment; even the honest attempt made by some of the boys from the grammar school to suggest a natural parallel to Mr. Kelton’s note, failed to restore order; but this was only to be expected, considering that there was a serious difference of opinion among these authorities as to the direction in which the equivalent was to be found, a large and important section maintaining sturdily that the farmyard at the break of day provided a variety of such notes (examples given); while the lower forms rather more than hinted at their impression that not dawn but moonlight was made vocal with such sounds—moonlight and tiles, or perhaps a garden wall.

Mr. Kelton was unable to profit by this purely academical discussion, or to give his casting vote to decide which of the theories—equally well supported by the disputants—was the more plausible. His weird shriek had struck terror even to his own soul—the ravening howl of Morley Quorn’s old “Wolf” sounded domestic by comparison—and with a gasp he had crumpled up the pages of his music and dashed the parcel at his feet, making a rush for the door, through which he went, closing it with an echoing bang that deprived the scene of the last shred of seriousness, and Mr. Kelton of the last shred of sympathy which his misfortune may have tended to excite among the audience.

Miss Wadhurst, every one agreed, had behaved nobly under the ordeal to which she, as (to some extent) a participant in the fiasco, had been subjected. She showed that she was doing her best to mask the retreat of the tenor by limbering up and bringing into action all the heavy artillery within the compass of her piano, and she was smiling so good-naturedly all the time that soon the cat-calls and cock-crowing merged into applause. When she rose from the instrument with a laugh, and took her call, nodding to the boys in the distance, she received an ovation, and made a graceful retreat to a chair just below the altos of the chorus.

In another minute Mr. Mozart Tutt was tapping with his bâton on the music stand, the members of the chorus sprang to their feet, and order came about quite naturally while “When the Wind Bloweth in from the Sea” was being charmingly sung by the choir; and the remaining details of an admirably selected programme were tastefully performed.

The performing members of the choir seemed extremely well satisfied with themselves, especially the “bassi”; but Mr. Morley Quorn wore a solemn look, while his friends were inclined to be jocular. He was wondering if, in spite of the verdict of science and the agnostic trend of modern thought, there was not such a thing as retributive justice. He felt strongly on the vexed question of “lessons.” Surely the downfall of Mr. Kelton the tenor should convey to the most careless of amateurs the necessity for the maintenance of a spirit of meekness even though he may be able (upon ordinary occasions) to produce the high A. Mr. Quorn tried to feel subdued; so that when young Titmus assured him that he had never sung “The Wolf” with greater effect, he only shook his head.

He had no notion that the administration of the valuable “lesson” was due solely to the cleverness of Miss Wadhurst, who had seen great possibilities in that picturesque “symphony” in the accompaniment. It was very daring of her to run the chance of such applause greeting the finish of each stanza as should enable her to raise the key in which the song was set, without being detected. She knew that Mr. Kelton would be too greatly absorbed in himself to notice the modulation until it should be too late; but she was not so sure of some other people on the platform. It seemed, however, that no one had detected her manouvre except Mr. Tutt. She caught his eye when she was in the act of rising from the piano, and she perceived that he knew all.

That was why she tried to avoid him when she was leaving the platform, letting her steps drag behind the choir. She failed in her object this time, for he waited for her.

“I was lost in admiration,” he murmured. “It never occurred to me. Anyhow, I never should have had the courage to try it on. You must have worked pretty hard at the thing last night. You have been well grounded. I couldn’t have worked out the double transposition in the time. And then you had to trust to your memory.”

“I meant to teach him a lesson,” murmured Priscilla.

“And you have done it! My word, you have done it. He caught the last train to Sherningham, starting just as he was. His suit case is to be sent after him. I could hear him shaking off the dust of Framsby from his feet. He did it very soundly in the vestibule—a regular cloud of it. A lesson! My word! a lesson!”

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