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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Musician - Chapter 22. Rival Musicians
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The Young Musician - Chapter 22. Rival Musicians Post by :louis1899 Category :Long Stories Author :Horatio Alger Date :May 2012 Read :3515

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The Young Musician - Chapter 22. Rival Musicians

CHAPTER XXII. RIVAL MUSICIANS

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.

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."

"No, no!" exclaimed several--Mr. Blake and Miss Snodgrass being among them.

"Mr. Gray, you were regularly engaged," said one of the committee.

"That's true," answered Philip, "and," he couldn't help adding, "I should be justified in insisting upon playing; but since Mr. Beck seems to feel so bad about it, I will give way to him."

He spoke manfully, and there was no sign of weakness or submission about him. He asserted his rights, while he expressed his willingness to surrender them.

There was a little consultation among the committee. They were all disgusted with the conduct of Paul Beck, and were unwilling that he should triumph. At the same time, as they might need his services at some future time, they did not wish wholly to alienate him.

Finally, they announced their decision through Andrew Blake.

"We are not willing to accept Mr. Gray's resignation wholly," he said, "but we propose that he and Mr. Beck shall divide the evening's work between them--each to receive half the usual compensation."

There was considerable applause, for it seemed to be a suitable compromise, and would enable the company to compare the merits of the rival musicians.

"I agree," said Philip promptly.

"What do you say, Mr. Beck?" asked Andrew Blake.

Now, while Paul Beck did not like to give up half the honor, he felt thoroughly convinced that Philip was only a beginner, and that he, as an experienced player, could easily eclipse him, and thus gain a triumph which would be very gratifying to his pride.

As for the compensation, to do him justice, he did not much care for that, being a man of very good means. He played more for glory than for pay--though he, of course, had no objection to receiving compensation.

"I have no objections," he said. "If you want to give the boy a chance to practice a little, I am willing."

Philip understood the sneer, and he secretly determined to do his best.

The committee was much pleased at the satisfactory conclusion of what had threatened to be a very troublesome dispute, and it was arranged, Philip consenting, that Mr. Beck should play first.

The old musician played, in a confident manner, a familiar dancing-tune, accompanying his playing with various contortions of the face and twistings of his figure, supposed to express feeling. It was a fair performance, but mechanical, and did not indicate anything but very ordinary talent. His time was good, and dancers always found his playing satisfactory.

When Paul Beck had completed his task, he looked about him complacently, as if to say, "Let the boy beat that if he can," and sat down.

Philip had listened to Mr. Beck with attention. He was anxious to learn how powerful a rival he had to compete with. What he heard did not alarm him, but rather gave him confidence.

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