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