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another thing. You've been pretty shy of “ Hillo!” he said, starting back nermy friends ever since we married, and lately, vously. whenever one of them comes into the house, Good-night, Will !” said Blane, passing I notice that you go away and hide yourself
. an arm through one of his with a singular Now, I'm not going to stand that either. slow and firm deliberateness.
Ned's arm You'll come in to-night and take your place clenched on his old companion's so firmly at the head of the supper-table, where you that Hackett felt as though he were in cusought to be. Mind that, now."
tody, and made a half-unconscious movement She never changed the weary look of anger to extricate himself, but the arm which enand disdain which had impelled him to tag circled his felt like a bar of iron. Hackett this injunction to his list of complaints, and had never had an idea that Blane was so he, growing restless under it, had turned prodigiously muscular as he seemed to be. away from her, and, opening the hall door, He began to wonder a little what his old had delivered the greater part of his speech friend might mean by his silence, and the half in the house and half out of it. The strange captivity in which he held him. young gentleman not only wanted to stand Then he remembered the open door, and the well with himself, but had, perhaps, even a recent address delivered to his wife-in the stronger desire to stand well with other open air, for any passer-by to have the people, and if he had suspected the presence benefit of it! of Ned Blane outside it is likely that he "Don't you think, Will," said Blane, strewould have moderated his tone; for although nuously but quietly controlling Hackett's it is undeniably a pleasant thing to bully the footsteps to the measure of his own, “that feeble, and to have one's way with full you'd better keep those little endearments assurance of
courage, where there is no private-eh?” danger, the most triumphant swaggerer
“Oh!” cried Hackett, gladly seizing on would prefer to execute his paces in private. the chance this gave him, “you've been
But, little as his presence was suspected, eavesdropping, have you, Ned ? Come, now! Ned Blane stood in the darkness, under the that doesn't do you any special credit, does shadow of the hedge opposite, and heard it?” more than enough of his successful rival's “Now I'll warn you," said Blane, with a speech and tone to make his blood boil and curious dryness and coolness of tone which his heart ache anew. He was not of the very much chilled his involuntary companion, stuff of which listeners are made, and had “there's nothing I should so dearly like at lingered there with no hope of a glimpse of this minute as for you to give me a reasonable the family skeleton. He had been unaware chance of quarrelling with you on my own of Hackett's entrance, for when he had once account. Will you take that back, if you seen Mary beyond her own door he had re- please ?” traced his steps awhile and had then returned. “Well," said Hackett, who liked less and But the tone and the words together rooted less the iron pressure on his arm, " I don't him to the place, and he felt such a dangerous recognise your right, you know, to make any flood of rage rise within him that he knew comment on what you happen to overhear he had only to make one physical movement between my wife and me to give it a chance to break all bounds. “ Will you take it bacn, if you please ?"
By the time Hackett's diatribe was over, Blane asked again, as if the other had not however, the boiling flood had all subsided spoken. strangely. He was bitter within until his “ Haven't I taken it back ?” Hackett deheart loathed its own bitterness, but he manded. “I said you happened to overhear, was completely master of himself
, and he didn't I ?” knew it. The honestly-incensed husband “Will you take it back, if you please ?” slammed the door behind him at the “mind “I have taken it back," said Hackett. that now !” and so escaped without retort, !
“Very well. And now for my question and at the same time gave force and point to again. Don't you think those little endearhis injunction. He strode angrily down the ments between man and wife are best kept little gravel path and fumbled for a moment private? Tell me now.” at the gate. In his wrath he shook at it so “I don't see what it has to do with you noisily that he failed to hear Blane's footstep, at all, Ned. You used not to be a meddleand it was something of a shock to him to some fellow. Let a man mind his own consee the sombre figure looming so closely cerns, will you ?” on him in the dark.
He was a good deal less bellicose than he
had been a while ago with the weaker vessel, restrictions a hostess's presence would have but that, of course, was natural. He put imposed upon them. more of good-humoured badinage than of The rosy maid, who waited at table, was remonstrance into his voice, and finished with amazed at the gaiety of the party, and more a half laugh.
than a little frightened by it. She remem“I don't see what it has to do with me bered the burdensome gloom, the terror and either," said Blane. The iron grip on Hac- restraint which had been created by Abram's kett's arm began to tremble perceptibly, and presence in her father's house, and her whilst the captive wondered what this might master's recklessness had something awful mean, he found himself suddenly released, in it, to her simple mind. It even wore a but confronted face to face. “I do see one look of impiety, and the rosy maid was in or two things,” Blane was saying. “I do see terror of a judgment, and broke a plate or that you've married—one of the best girls in two in her agitation. the world, and that you're as worthy of her as Hackett's convives were four in number. I am to be an angel. I do see that you bully Two were old cronies of his—by no means her and snarl at her, like the mongrel dog the pick of his old acquaintances, but such as you are. Business of mine ! You may thank fate and his own courses had left to himyour stars, my lad, that it's no business of and the other two were strangers to him, mine, for if it were you'd suffer.”
found in his friends' companionship on that “Now come, Ned,” said Hackett in an day's race-course. almost genial, and altogether allowing and “My friends' friends," said Will with his friendly way, "you go too fast and too far. own genial and delightful swagger, "are You do now, really. I'm in the most abo- mine. I won't offer you amontillado and minable heap of trouble. I've had shameful turtle, gentlemen, but plain fare and a hearty luck lately, and nothing's seemed to go as it welcome you can have." ought to go. And I've had news to-night There are people who do not care for these that's enough to put any fellow out of sudden expansions of the heart, but then, on temper."
the other hand, there are people who do, and Go your way,” Blane answered with Mr. Hackett's new acquaintances happened something very like a groan. “I've done to belong to the latter type. They said they
would be delighted, and they accepted with “I shan't bear any malice for what's passed almost as much effusion as Will himself had between us, Ned,” said Hackett.
displayed in his invitation. They were in all “Very well,” said the other. “Least said the better humour with themselves, and with -soonest mended.”
the world at large, because the day's ventures “Ned's queer,” thought Hackett to himself, had been prosperous, and they were all the as he went on his way. “He's very queer. more pleased with their host because his inHe used to be prowling a good deal about spirations had for once in a way led him to old Howarth's house himself. Is that it ?” choose the right horses, and they had fol
So the one effect of Ned Blane's inter- lowed his lead. ference was that it gave Will Hackett a “And now, Will, my lad,” said one of needle to prick his wife with, and that he them, when the cloth was cleared away, made up his mind to use it.
“ before we settle down I've a favour to ask
you. This gentleman is a mighty fine judge CHAPTER VIII.
of music. He ought to be, for he ran the MARY did not appear at the supper table, opera in New York for three years—didn't in spite of Hackett's injunction, and when you, Bob and I particularly want him to the latter went up-stairs to insist upon obedi- hear you sing. In fact it's a treat I've as ence he found the bedroom door locked good as promised him-haven't I, Bob?" against him. He reserved to himself the This gentleman was a bald man in specright to express his opinion with regard to tacles and evening dress. He had apologised this open defiance later on, and controlling on arrival for the character of his costume himself without much difficulty-for he was by the statement that he had been obliged one of those people who need to say how to look in at the theatre in the great town indignant they are before they can get up hard by for an hour or two, and Hackett any great force of steam—he descended to his had bean told, with an air of mystery and companions. They were easily contented importance fully equal to the nature of the with his apologies, and were, indeed, rather disclosure, that he had his eye on a singing pleased than otherwise to be freed from the chambermaid there, and had half a mind to
engage her. The two squireens were mighty them on the fingers of one hand. What proud of their knowledge of this personage, pleased him, even more than the voice, was and to be permitted to call him Bob was a the management of it. glory they would not have exchanged to The tender, melting rapture of the caphave been at Waterloo, and barely to have tivating rascal's voice reached his wife as she won money from a professional exponent of lay sobbing in her bedroom. the three-card trick.
“No!" I exclaimed," by Heaven! may I perish, The great man said, with no particular If ever I plant in that bosom a thorni" enthusiasm, that he should like very much He warbled on, never thinking of her, and indeed to hear Mr. Hackett sing.
charming all listeners' ears but hers and one “ I'm not in particularly good voice lately,” other's. And as for her, poor thing, it is not said Will, “but I'll do my best for you.” easy to be angry with her, because anger
The entrepreneur leaned back in his chair, stilled her sobs for a moment at this tuneful drew his glass towards him, and puffing lazily lie. The barbed satire of the thing struck at his cigar prepared to suffer. His experi- through and through her. It had been his pet ence had made him familiar with the amateur song in his brief courting days, and though tenor, and he dreaded him as the burnt child he had always ogled her in precisely the same dreads the fire. Among the smaller of life's way and at precisely the same places, she unescapable ills the amateur tenor bulks dark had never pierced to the mechanism of the and large, and the gentleman from New York handsome and devoted eyes he made at her, had suffered more from him than most men and had taken the declaration to be as solemn have; in part, of course, because of his position, a piece of earnest as if he had spoken it, and which impelled musical incapacities of all sorts it had been in prose. It had been through to whine and howl and growl and strum and this chivalrous and devoted tenderness of his scrape for him, but mainly because he was that she had hoped to lead him from his an uncommonly good judge of music, and erring ways and make a good man of him. bad music was as offensive to his ear as an So affectionate, so easily swayed, so facile in evil odour is the average nose.
confession, in repentance, in promise for the At this ebb of his fortunes Hackett hailed future! And now.
And now. with all his heart the chance of singing be- Ned Blane must needs torture himself, as fore such a man as this. He displayed no happens with most young men who find themeagerness, but he had too much tact to make selves in similar case. He could have made the common fuss, and wait for the usual choice among a score of streets and lanes to eager pressure. He laid down his cigar upon stroll in if he had a fancy for getting wet an ash-tray and sauntered to the piano, and through ; and by this time the threatening carelessly turned over a heap of music storm had burst, and the warm summer rain there. If in the whole range of English had soaked him to the skin in the first five balladry there was a ditty on the rendering minutes of its fall. But he must torment
, of which he particularly prided himself, it himself by being near his suffering idol, whom was that sweet old song, “The Thorn.” He he had no right or power to comfort, and by decided that he would not sing more than the grim hate which was taking root in once, unless the important personage especi- every fibre of him against the man to whom ally pressed him, and there was no such she was tied. And the song which struck great difference between his singing of “The up as he was passing for the fifth or sixth Thorn” and any of his other pet ballads that time made such an appeal to him as any man the listener would be likely to note a falling of common sympathy can understand. Perish off, and he wanted to create a good im- rather than plant a thorn in that tender pression. So he opened the pages, balanced breast? The song itself was an unimaginthem on the music rest with a good deal of able insolence of cruelty. Perish? He would feminine-looking coaxing and persuading of have done it! Ay, a thousand times. The the limp and well-used pages, and began. desolate heart ached as it had never ached
Before he had sung through the first line before. the man of music rose softly from his chair, Young men exaggerate this love trouble at and dropping his elbows noiselessly on the times, no doubt, and in a year or two Jane mantel-board, suffered his chin to fall upon consoles for Sarah's want of feeling. And if his hands and put his heart into his ears. Mary Howarth had married well and had From first to last—not a flaw. Tone, phrasing been happy, Ned Blane could have put up and expression absolutely just. The listener with his trouble as many a stalwart, worthy had heard finer voices, but he could count | fellow had done before and has done since,
is doing now, and will do. But it was not a tithe of his trouble that he was left out in the cold. It would have been hard that another man should make her happy, and not he; but he was man enough to have borne that quietly. But to have that pure soul throw herself away on such a man as Hackett-that queen of womanhood degraded, that sweet heart wounded, the delicate, sensitive, weak thing rated and scolded-oh! all this was hideous and too bitter to be anger and borne. His burned dry with eyes his whole frame ached with pity. When the song was over three of the singer's guests were noisy in approbation. The important man turned his back to the fireplace, flicked off the ash of his extinguished cigar behind him, struck a light, took a meditative puff or two, and for awhile said nothing. By-and-by, when the others had done with their compliments, he spoke. "Mr. Hackett," he said, "will you be so studied?" you good as to tell me where "Oh," Will answered, "I never studied at all, to speak of. My grandfather went through three or four years in Italy. He taught my father, and my father taught me, what little bit he knew."
"Ah," said the stranger; "you come of a musical family. What was your father's name?"
"Hackett, of course," said Will. He knew very well what the other meant, though he would not seem to do so.
"Of course," the other answered smilingly. 'But his stage name?"
'My father had no stage name," said Master Will, rather haughtily.
"He was the biggest landowner for some ten miles around," said one of the young squireens.
Will had relied upon one of them to say this for him; but, in default, he would have said it for himself.
"I beg pardon. Did you ever think of carrying that fine voice of your own to market, Mr. Hackett?"
"No," said Hackett carelessly, fingering the pages of his music and looking round "I'm not upon his questioner as he did so. a rich man, but I've never had need to do that yet. And I'm not sure that I should care to do it. They're not a very gentlemanly lot," he added, with a very gentlemanly air, "that get their living that way."
"There are all sorts," said the spectacled man, smoothing his head placidly with a hand all over rings; "Mario's a nobleman, as you know."
"Of course, of course," said Will. He was not ill-pleased to let it be thought he knew it.
"There's a good two thousand a year in the voice if you cared to use it," said the "That's a stranger guest.
"Oh?" said Hackett lightly. bait, if I could see it to bite at." "Is it?" asked the other, still polishing Will you his head and placidly puffing. "It's there to bite at if you like to bite. sing us another song, Mr. Hackett?"
This judgment from a man who ought to be competent warmed the vocalist's heart. He had been thinking of little else than of carrying that fine voice of his to market for a month or two past: but his habit of putting things off was native and rooted by habit, and what with that, and his pride, and his not quite knowing how to begin, his thinking had led to nothing.
"Do you sing in Italian?" asked the manager, turning to the canterbury and finger"What's this? ing the pile of music there. 'Spirito gentil?' Try that, Mr. Hackett." No," said Will; "I'd rather not. I can sing it in a way when I know there's nobody by to see where I go wrong in the lingo. Here's My Pretty Jane.' I'm not afraid of you like it." that, if
"My Pretty Jane,' by all means," said the manager.
So Will sang "My Pretty Jane," and confirmed the good opinion the important personage had formed of him. The man in possession stole into the hall to listen, and so the vocalist had three more auditors than he counted on or thought about.
"And now," said Hackett, when his song was finished and the applause was over, "let us have a turn at the pasteboard." And the others assenting, they sat down to the table and began to play.
It was the host's style to play wildly, and so it almost always happened that he lost or won with great rapidity. To-night the run of the cards favoured him, and he won a great deal more than two at least of his guests could have desired to lose. At last, what with his winnings on that day's racing and his run of luck at cards, he had more than enough in hand to discharge his unwelcome visitor in the morning. He grew radiant, and he laughed louder and drank more than all his guests together.
There is a gambler's superstition, which, like all superstitions, will fulfil itself at times, to the effect that it is a fatal thing for a winner to count his gains before the end