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Miss Pamela Plumstone's Piano by Sydney Dayre

"What do you say to Ned's taking a ride up to Miss Pamela's to-morrow?" said Mr. Weatherby to his wife.

"How? All by himself? A ride of twenty miles?"

"On horseback. Yes. Yes. Does that answer your three questions satisfactorily? Now I'll ask one. Why not?"

"Oh, I suppose there is no objection, only he has never taken such a long ride alone."

"Why, mother! I, a great fellow of fourteen! Of course I can go—that is, please let me. What for, father?"

"I have had a little dividend of fifty dollars paid in on Miss Pamela's morsel of horse-railway stock, and I know she always wants money as soon as it comes."

"Probably much sooner, poor soul—" said Mrs. Weatherby.

"Unlike most other people, eh, ma'am?" interrupted Mr. Weatherby.

"—and more than ever now, since she has taken those two girls of her good-for-nothing brother's. If they had been boys, they might have been some use on her mite of a farm. When I said so to her, she said: 'Yes, my dear, that's just the reason their mother's family don't want them; but, you know, girls have to live as well as boys. We're pretty sure of getting enough to eat, and as for the rest, I believe the Lord will provide.'"

"Her faith will be rewarded just now," said Mr. Weatherby, "for this is an unlooked-for dividend. The road has been doing better than usual of late."

"I'm very glad," said his wife. "I dare say it will be a real godsend to them all."

"I'll be off early in the morning," said Ned.

"All alone, and carrying money!" said his brother Tom, with an ominous shake of the head.

Ned did feel a little like a hero as he started on his long ride through a thinly settled country, and over a road passing through miles of thick woods. His suggestion that it might be well to carry a revolver had been smiled at by his father, and frowned down by his mother, and he had to confess to himself that he felt a little safer without it. His half-desire for just a trifling adventure was not to be gratified, for as noon approached he drew near Miss Pamela Plumstone's quaint old farm-house, and was soon warmly welcomed by that sprightly lady.

"Why, Master Ned, I am delighted! How good of you! Didn't you find the roads very bad? And how is your mother and the twins? And has your father quite got over his rheumatism? And when is she going to get out to see us again?"

"Very well, thank you. Yes, ma'am. No'm. Just as soon as the roads get settled, she says," said Ned, attempting to answer her rather mixed questions, as he perceived by her pause that she expected a reply.

"And what a fine big fellow you've grown to be, Master Ned! I am astonished to see how you improve."

Ned fully agreed with her, but modestly refrained from saying so, and made known his errand. How poor Miss Pamela's face shone!

"Oh, my dears, come here," she cried, running to a door. "Do come here and see what has come to us."

Ned looked curiously at the two girls who came in answer to her call. They had become inmates of Miss Pamela's home since his last visit to her, and he had never seen them before.

"The youngest one looks as if she might be pretty," he said to himself; "but how funny they do look!"

They did look funny. Miss Pamela's only ideas on the subject of dressing little girls were drawn from her memories of what she herself had worn forty years ago. Their pantalets reached almost to their heels, and their gingham aprons were almost as long, and cut without a gore. Their hair was drawn tightly back, and braided in two tails, those of the older one being long and dangly, and of the other short and stubby.

"See here, my dears," again exclaimed Miss Pamela, "here is some money I didn't expect. Didn't I tell you, Kitty Plumstone, that Providence would send you some new music somehow? She plays on the piano, Master Ned; I really do think she is going to make quite a musician. I teach her myself, you know. I can't play any more because of the stiffness in my fingers, but Kitty can play 'Days of Absence,' and 'Come, Haste to the Wedding,' already."

Ned was expressing pleasure at this pleasing proficiency, when Miss Pamela bustled away with a few words about dinner, which sounded agreeably to him after his ride.

A long ramble afterward on the farm, in company with the funny-looking girls, proved them to be as genial and companionable as they could have been had their dress included all the modern improvements, although Ned, who was rather critical in such matters, still thought it a pity they could not have blue streaks on their stockings, ruffles somewhere about them, and wear their hair loose.

They knew where the late wild flowers and the wild strawberries grew, and where the birds built their nests. They gathered early cherries, and promised Ned plenty of nuts if he would come in October. They had tame squirrels and rabbits penned up in the wonderful old ramshackle building which did duty as barn, stable, carriage-house, granary, and general receptacle for all kinds of queer old-fashioned lumber, the accumulations of many years. They were poultry-fanciers, too, in a small way; had a tiny duck-pond at one corner of the barn, where the great sweep of roof sloped down almost to the ground, forming a shed, and they all climbed upon it, and watched a quacking mother as she introduced her first brood of downy little yellow lumps to their lawful privileges as ducklings. And all agreed (the girls and boy, that is) that it was much nicer to be young ducks than young chickens; and there is no reason to doubt that the young ducks thought so too, as they realized the delights of the cold-water system.

But all agreed that nothing came up to the bantams—the proud little strutting "gamy" (Ned said that) roosters, all bright color and ambitious crow, and the darling wee brown mothers, scarcely larger than quails, whose cunning babies were no bigger than a good-sized marble. Kitty promised Ned a pair when they should be grown.

After tea he was called upon to admire Kitty's playing, but his praises of her performance were interrupted by Miss Pamela's profuse apologies for the condition of the piano.

"It is so terribly out of tune, you see, Master Ned." He was evidently looked upon as something of a critic in music. He rather liked to be so considered, and thought it unnecessary to assure them he knew nothing about it. The old piano sounded to him very much like the bottom of two tin pans mildly banged together; but if it had been a much better instrument, it would have been all the same to his unmusical ear.

"Oh, it sounds very well, I assure you, Miss Pamela," he said.

"You see," went on the lady, "it hasn't been tuned for four years or more. Mr. Scrutite went about the country for many a year tuning pianos; but he got old, and the last time he came he left his tuning key, or whatever you call it, saying he'd be round again if he could; but he never came. It's such an expensive thing, you know, to bring a man twenty miles to do it, that I've been putting it off, and putting it off. But we'll have it done now, eh, Kitty?"

"Why, Miss Pamela," said Ned, "I'll do it for you, if you have the thing they do it with."

"You, Master Ned? Can you tune a piano?"

"Well, I never did tune one, but I know exactly how they do it. I've seen Professor Seaflatt tune my mother's ever so many times."

"Oh, I'm sure you could do it, if you really feel as if you could take so much trouble; it would be a great kindness to us."

"Of course I'll do it, with the greatest pleasure in the world, ma'am. Let me see— I am to go home to-morrow afternoon; I'll do it the first thing in the morning." And rash Ned went to rest on Miss Pamela's feather-bed, in a room smelling of withered rose leaves. The bed was hung with old chintz curtains; the wall-paper displayed a pattern of large faded flowers. The swallows made a soft twittering in the wide chimney, as he closed his eyes with a glow of satisfaction at the thought of the kind action (and very clever one, too!) he had undertaken to perform.

He found it harder than he had expected. The screws were rusty and hard to move, and the tuning key was old, and would slip. But before noon he announced his task completed, and Miss Pamela and her two nieces gathered near, their faces beaming with interest.

The piano was small and narrow, with legs so thin as to suggest to Ned that it needed pantaloons. It had been the pride and glory of Miss Pamela's girlhood, and was still, in her eyes, an excellent and valuable instrument, although she, being of a modest turn of mind, was willing to acknowledge that it had probably seen its best days.

"It will be so nice to have it in good tune again!" she said, in a tone of great satisfaction. "I declare, Master Ned, what a thing it is to have such advantages as you boys are having!—to be able to turn your hand to 'most anything! Now, then, Kitty, play 'Days of Absence.'"

Kitty played it. But what could be the meaning of that fearful jumble of strange sounds? Surely that time-honored melody (modern hymn-book, "Greenville") never sounded so before. What was the matter? Miss Pamela's face fell a little, but she still smiled, and said,

"You had better get your notes, Kitty; you are playing carelessly."

Kitty got her notes, and played carefully, but the result was still, to say the least, most astonishing and unsatisfactory.

"Try 'Come, Haste to the Wedding,' then." But the jig ran riot to such an extent that Kitty lost her place, stumbled, and finally came to a dead stop.

Poor Miss Pamela listened with a face of deepening dismay, while Ned stood still, with cold chills running down his back, as he was suddenly struck with the appalling idea that he might have undertaken something entirely beyond his abilities, and that the ruin of the cherished old piano might be the possible dreadful result.

"Try a scale, Kitty," again suggested Miss Pamela, with a polite effort to look tranquil.

Oh, that scale—what capers it cut! what unheard-of combinations of fearful sounds it was guilty of! Up and down it jumped and flourished, careering about in a manner as far as possible removed from that of a sober, well-conducted scale. Bass notes and treble notes ran against each other; high notes and low notes played leap-frog—they groaned, shrieked, and wheezed in a horrid discord, which could not have been worse if a thousand imps had been let loose in the old oaken case.

Did you ever see an intelligent dog with a rustling paper ruffle tied round his tail, paper shoes on, and a fool's cap on his head? and as everybody laughed at him, and he knew they were doing so, do you remember his reproachful look of helpless, indignant protest against being made to appear ridiculous in spite of himself?

Just such an expression we may imagine that poor old piano would have worn, to any one who could have taken in the full absurdity of the position. A venerable instrument like itself, after thirty-five years of honorable service, thus to be forced to exhibit a levity so unbefitting its age and dignity!

"Well," and Miss Pamela sank into a chair, "it's very strange—very strange indeed."

Poor Ned was red-hot with mortification and chagrin. He certainly was to be pitied. It was very trying indeed to have been led into such a scrape by his boyish over-confidence in his own powers, and a real desire to do a favor. Even through her own surprise, and her distress at what she feared might prove a lasting injury to her precious old piano, Miss Pamela felt sorry for his embarrassment.

"Never mind, Master Ned," she said, in a kindly tone. "I dare say the tuning key was too old, or perhaps you understand modern pianos better. I don't believe any real harm is done, and you know I was going to have it tuned with some of the money you were so good as to bring me, so you see I am no worse off than I was before."

As she left the room, Kitty buried her face in her big gingham apron.

"Oh, Kitty, don't cry!" exclaimed Ned, his trouble greatly increased, if that were possible, by her evident emotion. "Kitty, I'll have it fixed the first thing—you see if I don't! I know it can be fixed."

Kitty raised her head, and Ned was wonderfully relieved at seeing that the tears in her eyes were caused by suppressed laughter.

"Oh, Ned, it's so funny!" she half whispered. "If Aunt Pamela knew I laughed, though, she would never forgive me."

"Kitty, what is the matter, anyhow?" asked Ned, pointing to the piano.

"Why, I don't know. Don't you know? I thought you knew all about music and pianos."

"No, I don't, Kitty," said Ned, in a burst of remorseful frankness. "I'm the only one of the family that don't. The only things I could ever sing were 'Greenland's Icy Mountains' and 'Oh, Susannah' (that's a song mother used to sing to us children), and I always got them mixed up, because they begin just alike; so I never dare to sing 'Greenland's Icy' in church."

Kitty's words of comfort were as kind as those of her aunt, but Ned felt very anxious to get away from the scene of his discomfiture, and was glad to find himself at last on the road home, where he arrived in due season, finding the family at tea. It was not until he was alone with his father and mother that he unburdened himself.

"Father," he began, with some effort, "will you allow me to send a person at your expense to tune Miss Pamela's piano?"

"At my expense? Well, I should want first to know why you ask it."

"The fact of it is, sir, I undertook to tune it myself, and—well, I'm afraid I made a bad business of it."

"You did what?" asked his mother, turning on him a look of such comical amazement that he could not help laughing, although he turned redder than before.

"I tuned her piano."

"Where did you ever learn to tune a piano? I always thought you had no ear for music."

"I didn't do it with my ears, I did it with my hands, and it was hard enough work, too. They are all blistered, and my wrists ache, and I am as lame all over as if I had been sawing wood all day."

"How did you do it? and, in the name of all that is ridiculous, why?" gasped his mother.

"Well, I did it just as I've seen Seaflatt do yours. I screwed every wire up as tight as I could, and kept on fiddling with the other hand on the key to see if it kept on sounding, just exactly as he always does."

Ned never forgot the peal of laughter which came from his parents. Both keenly relished the joke, and when Ned learned that what he had done could easily be undone, he felt so much relieved as to be able to laugh with them.

"Yes," said his father, emphatically, when he could recover his voice, "I think you had better send Seaflatt up to Miss Pamela's as soon as possible, and set her mind at rest."

"And, oh, Ned," said his mother, "if ever you tune another piano, may I be there to see—and hear!"

"If ever I do, ma'am," he answered, with a vigorous shake of the head, "I hope you may."