Paul Beck stood in sullen impatience awaiting the arrival of his rival.
It so happened that no one had thought to mention to him that it was a boy. He was prepared to see a full-grown man.
Philip followed Andrew Blake up to the central group.
“Who is it, I say,” Mr. Beck was inquiring, “that engaged another musician to take my place?”
“No one, sir,” answered Andrew Blake firmly, for Mr. Beck’s unreasonableness provoked him. “I engaged a musician to play this evening, but it was not in your place, for you had sent us word that you could not appear.”
“Where is he, I say?” continued Paul Beck sourly.
“Here he is,” replied Blake, drawing toward our hero, who felt that he was placed in an awkward position.
“Why, he’s only a baby!” said Beck, surveying our hero contemptuously.
Philip’s cheek flushed, and he, too, began to feel angry.
“He isn’t as old as you are, Mr. Beck,” said Andrew Blake manfully, “but you’ll find he understands his business.”
“I certainly didn’t expect you to get a child in my place,” said Paul Beck scornfully.
“I suppose a musician may know how to play, if he isn’t sixty-five,” said Miss Maria Snod-grass, who had listened indignantly to Mr. Beck’s contemptuous remarks about our hero, whose cause she so enthusiastically championed.
Poor Mr. Beck! He was sensitive about his age, and nothing could have cut him more cruelly than this exaggeration of it. He was really fifty-five, and looked at least sixty, but he fondly flattered himself that he looked under fifty. “Sixty-five!” he repeated furiously. “Who says I am sixty-five?”
“Well, you look about that age,” said Maria, with malicious pleasure.
“I shall have to live a good many years before I am sixty,” said Paul Beck angrily. “But that’s either here nor there. You engaged me to play to-night, and I am ready to do it.”
Andrew Blake felt the difficulty of his position, but he did not mean to desert the boy-musician whom he had engaged.
“Mr. Beck,” said he, “we shall be glad to have you serve us on another occasion, but to-night Mr. Gray, here, is engaged. You gave up the engagement of your own accord, and that ended the matter, so far as you are concerned.”
“Do you refuse to let me play?” demanded Paul Beck, his pale cheek glowing with anger and mortification.
“You understand why,” answered Blake. “This young man is engaged, and we have no right to break the engagement.”
Philip, who had felt the embarrassment of his position, had meanwhile made up his mind what to do. The three dollars he expected to earn were important to him, but he didn’t care to make trouble. He did not doubt that his lodging and meals would be given him, and that would be something. Accordingly, he spoke:
“I have been engaged, it is true,” he said, “but if Mr. Beck wants to play I will resign my engagement and stay and hear him.”