“Wall! they can’t do nuthin’ till I git thar,” said Mr. Obadiah Strout, the singing-master, “so we shall both be on time. By the way,” he continued, “I was up to Boston to-day to git some things I wanted for the concert to-morrer night, and the minister asked me to buy some new music books for the church choir, and I’m goin’ up there fust to take ’em;” and ’Zekiel’s attention was attracted to a package that Mr. Strout held under his arm. “Say, Pettengill!” continued Mr. Strout, “when yet git up ter the schoolhouse, tell them I’ll be along in a few minutes;” and he started off, apparently forgetful of ’Zekiel’s declaration that he had intended to walk up with him.
It is evident that ’Zekiel’s statement was untruthful, for his words have betrayed the fact that it was not the Professor of whom he had been thinking.
’Zekiel did not move from his position until he had seen Strout turn into the yard that led to the front door of the minister’s house. Then he said to himself again, “I don’t believe she’s comin’, arter all.”
As he spoke the words a deep, heavy sigh came from his great, honest heart, heard only by the leaflless trees through which the winter wind moaned as if in sympathy.
What was going on in the little red schoolhouse? The occasion was the last rehearsal of the Eastborough Singing Society, which had been studying vocal music assiduously for the last three months under the direction of Professor Obadiah Strout, and was to give its annual conceit the following evening at the Town Hall at Eastborough.
A modest sum had been raised by subscription. A big barge had been hired in Cottonton, and after the rehearsal there was to be a sleigh ride to Eastborough Centre and return. It was evident from the clamor and confusion that the minds of those present were more intent upon the ride than the rehearsal, and when one girl remarked that the Professor was late, another quickly replied that, “if he didn’t come at all ’twould be early enough.”
There were about two score of young persons present, very nearly equally divided between the two sexes. Benjamin Bates was there and Robert Wood, Cobb’s twins, Emmanuel Howe, and Samuel Hill. Among the girls were Lindy Putnam, the best dressed and richest girl in town, Mandy Skinner, Tilly James, who had more beaus than any other girl in the village; the Green sisters Samanthy and Betsy, and Miss Seraphina Cotton, the village schoolteacher.
Evidently all the members of the society had not arrived, for constant inquiries were being made about Huldy Mason and ’Zekiel Pettengill. When Betsy Green asked Mandy Skinner if Hiram Maxwell wa’n’t comin’, the latter replied that he’d probably come up when Miss Huldy and the new boarder did.
News had reached the assemblage that Arthur Scates, the best tenor singer in the society, was sick. Lindy Putnam was to sing a duet with him at the concert, and so she asked if anybody had been to see him.