They met again the following evening and proceeded to the church. It was a simple but pleasant auditorium, nearly filled with well-dressed people. During the programme Bles applauded vociferously every number that pleased him, which is to say, every one—and stamped his feet, until he realized that he was attracting considerable attention to himself. Then the entertainment straightway lost all its charm; he grew painfully embarrassed, and for the remainder of the evening was awkwardly self-conscious. When all was over, the audience rose leisurely and stood in little knots and eddies, laughing and talking; many moved forward to say a word to the singers and players, Stillings stepped aside to a group of men, and Bles was left miserably alone. A man came to him, a white-faced man, with slightly curling close gray hair, and high-bred ascetic countenance.
“You are a stranger?” he asked pleasantly, and Bles liked him.
“Yes, sir,” he answered, and they fell to talking. He discovered that this was the pastor of the church.
“Do you know no one in town?”
“One or two of my fellow clerks and Mr. Stillings. Oh, yes, I’ve met Miss Wynn.”
“Why, here is Miss Wynn now.”
Bles turned. She was right behind him, the centre of a group. She turned, slowly, and smiled.
“Oh!” she uttered twice, but with difference cadence. Then something like amusement lurked a moment in her eye, and she quietly presented Bles to her friends, while Stillings hovered unnoticed in the offing:
“Miss Jones—Mr. Alwyn of—” she paused a second—“Alabama. Miss Taylor—Mr. Alwyn—and,” with a backward curving of her neck, “Mr. Teerswell,” and so on. Mr. Teerswell was handsome and indolent, with indecision in his face and a cynical voice. In a moment Bles felt the subtle antagonism of the group. He was an intruder. Mr. Teerswell nodded easily and turned away, continuing his conversation with the ladies.
But Miss Wynn was perverse and interrupted. “I saw you enjoyed the concert, Mr. Alwyn,” she said, and one of the young ladies rippled audibly. Bles darkened painfully, realizing that these people must have been just behind him. But he answered frankly:
“Yes, I did immensely—I hope I didn’t disturb you; you see, I’m not used to hearing such singing.”
Mr. Teerswell, compelled to listen, laughed drily.
“Plantation melodies, I suppose, are more your specialty,” he said with a slight cadence.
“Yes,” said Bles simply. A slight pause ensued.
Then came the surprise of the evening for Bles Alwyn. Even his inexperienced eye could discern that Miss Wynn was very popular, and that most of the men were rivals for her attentions.
“Mr. Alwyn,” she said graciously, rising. “I’m going to trouble you to see me to my door; it’s only a block. Good-night, all!” she called, but she bowed to Mr. Teerswell.