صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

of strictly feminine appearance and bearing. The goat came toward her and began nibbling at her frock. She seemed to understand the manner of goats, and played with him to his heart's content. One of the tennis players, Oswald Everard by name, strolled down to the bank where she was having her frolic.

"Good-afternoon," he said, raising his cap. "I hope the goat is not worrying you. Poor little fellow! this is his last day of play. He is to be killed to-morrow for table d'hôte."

“What a shame!” she said. “Fancy to be killed, and then grumbled at!”

“That is precisely what we do here,” he said, laughing. “We grumble at everything we eat. And I own to being one of the grumpiest; though the lady in the horse-cloth dress yonder follows close upon my heels.".

"She was the lady who was annoyed at me because I tuned the piano,” the little girl said. “Still, it had to be done. It was plainly my duty. I seemed to have come for that purpose.”

“It has been confoundedly annoying having it out of tune,” he said. “I've had to give up singing altogether. But what a strange profession you have chosen! Very unusual, is n't it?"

“Why, surely not,” she answered, amused. “It seems to me that every other woman has taken to it. The wonder to me is that any one ever scores a success. Nowadays, however, no one could amass a huge fortune out of it.”

"No one, indeed!” replied Oswald Everard, laughing. “What on earth made you take to it?”

“It took to me,” she said, simply. “It wrapped me round with enthusiasm. I could think of nothing else. I vowed that I would rise to the top of my profession. I worked day and night, But it means incessant toil for years if one wants to make any headway."

“Good gracious! I thought it was merely a matter of a few months,” he said, smiling at the little girl. . "A few months!” she repeated, scornfully. “You are speaking the language of an amateur, No; one has to work faithfully year after year; to grasp the possibilities, and pass on to greater possibilities. You imagine what it must feel like to touch the notes, and know that you are keeping the listeners spellbound; that you are taking them into a fairy-land of sound, where petty personality is lost in vague longing and regret.”

"I confess I had not thought of it in that way," he said, humbly. “I have only regarded it as a · necessary every-day evil; and, to be quite honest

with you, I fail to see now how it can inspire enthusiasm. I wish I could see," he added, looking up at the engaging little figure before him.

“Never mind,” she said, laughing at his distress; "I forgive you. And, after all, you are not the only person who looks upon it as a necessary evil. My poor old guardian abominated it. He made many sacrifices to come and listen to me. He knew I liked to see his kind old face, and that the presence of a real friend inspired me with confidence."

"I should not have thought it was nervous work,” he said.

“Try it and see,” she answered. “But surely you spoke of singing. Are you not nervous when you sing?”

"Sometimes,” he replied, rather stiffly. “But that is slightly different.” (He was very proud of his singing, and made a great fuss about it.) “Your profession, as I remarked before, is an unavoidable nuisance. When I think what I have suffered from the gentlemen of your profession, I only wonder that I have any brains left. But I am uncourteous."

“No, no,” she said ; “let me hear about your sufferings.”

"Whenever I have specially wanted to be quiet,” he said-and then he glanced at her childish little face, and he hesitated. “It seems so rude of me,” he added. He was the soul of courtesy, although he was an amateur tenor singer.

“Please tell me," the little girl said, in her winning way.

“Well,” he said, gathering himself together, "it is the one subject on which I can be eloquent. Ever since I can remember, I have been worried and tortured by those rascals. I have tried in every way to escape from them, but there is no hope for me. Yes; I believe that all the tuners in

the universe are in league against me, and have marked me out for their special prey."

"All the what?" asked the little girl, with a jerk in her voice.

"All the tuners, of course,” he replied, rather snappishly. “I know that we cannot do without them; but good heavens! they have no tact, no consideration, no mercy. Whenever I've wanted to write or read quietly, that fatal knock has come at the door, and I 've known by instinct that all chance of peace was over. Whenever I 've been giving a luncheon party, the tuner has arrived, with his abominable black bag, and his abominable card which has to be signed at once. On one occasion I was just proposing to a girl in her father's library when the tuner struck up in the drawing-room. I left off suddenly, and fled from the house. But there is no escape from these fiends; I believe they are swarming about in the air like so many bacteria. And how, in the name of goodness, you should deliberately choose to be one of them, and should be so enthusiastic over your work, puzzles me beyond all words. Don't say that you carry a black bag, and present cards which have to be filled up at the most inconvenient time; don't-"

He stopped suddenly, for the little girl was convulsed with laughter. She laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks, and then she dried her eyes and laughed again.

“Excuse me,” she said; “I can't help myself; it 's so funny.”

"It may be funny to you,” he said, laughing in spite of himself; "but it is not funny to me."

“Of course it is n't,” she replied, making a desperate effort to be serious. “Well, tell me something more about these tuners."

"Not another word,” he said, gallantly. “I am ashamed of myself as it is. Come to the end of the garden, and let me show you the view down into the valley."

She had conquered her fit of merriment, but her face wore a settled look of mischief, and she was evidently the possessor of some secret joke. She seemed in capital health and spirits, and had so much to say that was bright and interesting that Oswald Everard found himself becoming reconciled to the whole race of tuners. He was amazed to learn that she had walked all the way from z— , and quite alone, too.

“Oh, I don't think anything of that,” she said; "I had a splendid time, and I caught four rare butterflies. I would not have missed those for anything. As for the going about by myself, that is a second nature. Besides, I do not belong to any one. That has its advantages, and I suppose its disadvantages; but at present I have only discovered the advantages. The disadvantages will discover themselves!”

“I believe you are what the novels call an advanced young woman,” he said. “Perhaps you give lectures on woman's suffrage, or something of that sort?"

« السابقةمتابعة »