Each performer quaked with fear, and both sympathy and approval were in the applause. Miss Polly Vaughn was a rare picture of rustic beauty, her cheeks as red as her ribbons, her voice low and sweet. Trove came out in the audience for a look at her as she read. Ringing salvos of laughter greeted the play and stirred the sleigh-bells on the startled horses beyond the door. The programme over, somebody called for Squire Town, a local pettifogger, who flung his soul and body into every cause. He often sored his knuckles on the court table and racked his frame with the violence of his rhetoric. He had a stock of impassioned remarks ready for all occasions.
He rose, walked to the centre of the stage, looked sternly at the people, and addressed them as “Fellow Citizens.” He belaboured the small table; he rose on tiptoe and fell upon his heels; often he seemed to fling his words with a rapid jerk of his right arm as one hurls a pebble. It was all in praise of his “young friend,” the teacher, and the high talent of Linley School.
The exhibition ended with this rare exhibit of eloquence. Trove announced the organization of a singing-school for Monday evening of the next week, and then suppressed emotion burst into noise. The Linley school-house had become as a fount of merry sound in the still night; then the loud chorus of the bells, diminishing as they went away, and breaking into streams of music and dying faint in the far woodland.
One Nelson Cartright—a jack of all trades they called him—was the singing-master. He was noted far and wide for song and penmanship. Every year his intricate flourishes in black and white were on exhibition at the county fair.
“Wal, sir,” men used to say thoughtfully, “ye wouldn’t think he knew beans. Why, he’s got a fist bigger’n a ham. But I tell ye, let him take a pen, sir, and he’ll draw a deer so nat’ral, sir, ye’d swear he could jump over a six-rail fence. Why, it is wonderful!”
Every winter he taught the arts of song and penmanship in the four districts from Jericho to Cedar Hill. He sang a roaring bass and beat the time with dignity and precision. For weeks he drilled the class on a bit of lyric melody, of which a passage is here given:—
“One, two, three, ready, sing,” he would say, his ruler cutting the air, and all began:—
Listen to the bird, and the maid, and
Tra, la la la la, tra, la la la la,
Joyfully we’ll sing the gladsome melody,
Tra, la, la, la, la.
The singing-school added little to the knowledge or the cheerfulness of that neighbourhood. It came to an end the last day of the winter term. As usual, Trove went home with Polly. It was a cold night, and as the crowd left them at the corners he put his arm around her.
“School is over,” said she, with a sigh, “and I’m sorry.”
“For me?” he inquired.
“For myself,” she answered, looking down at the snowy path.