In half an hour or thereabouts, Andrew Blake drew up at the gate of a small but neat house on the main street in Conway. He was a carpenter, as Philip afterward found, and had built the house himself. He was probably of about the same age as Jonas Webb, and like him was married to a young wife.
During the afternoon, Philip, being left pretty much to his own devices, took a walk in and about the village, ascending a hill at one side, which afforded him a fine view of that and neighboring villages.
He was pleasantly received and hospitably entertained at the house of Mr. Blake, and about quarter of eight started out for the hall, at which he was to play, in company with his host and hostess.
As they approached the hall, a young man approached them with a perplexed face.
“What do you think, Andrew?” he said. “Paul Beck’s in the hall, as mad as a hatter, and he vows he’ll play himself. He says he was engaged, and no one shall take his place.”
Andrew Blake looked disturbed, and Philip shared in his feeling. Was he to lose his engagement, after all?
They entered the hall, which was already well filled, for the young people of both sexes liked to have as long a time for enjoyment as possible.
At the head of the hall, in the center of a group, stood a tall, thin man, dressed in solemn black, with a violin under his arm. His face, which looked like that of a sick man, was marked by an angry expression, and this, indeed, was his feeling.
“I suppose that’s Mr. Beck?” said Philip.
“Yes, it is,” answered Andrew Blake, in evident discomposure. “What on earth brings him here from a sick-bed, I can’t understand. I heard that he had a fever.”
The fact was that Paul Beck was jealous of his reputation as a musician. It was satisfactory to him to think that he was so indispensable that no one could take his place. He had sent word to the committee that he should be unable to play for them, supposing, of course, that they would be compelled to give up the party. When intelligence was brought to him during the afternoon that it would come off, and that another musician had been engaged in his place, he was not only disturbed, but angry, though, of course, the latter feeling was wholly unreasonable. He determined that he would be present, at any rate, no matter how unfit his sickness rendered him for the evening’s work. He resolved to have no rival, and to permit no one to take his place in his own town.
It did not seem to occur to Mr. Beck that, having formally declined the engagement on account of sickness, he had no claim whatever on the committee, and was, in fact, an interloper. It was in vain that his sister protested against his imprudence. (He was an old bachelor and his sister kept house for him.) He insisted on dressing himself and making his way to the hall, where, as was to be expected, his arrival produced considerable embarrassment.