It was about four in the afternoon when a young girl came into the salon of the little hotel at C—- in Switzerland, and drew her chair up to the fire.
“You are soaked through,” said an elderly lady, who was herself trying to get roasted. “You ought to lose no time in changing your clothes.”
“I have not anything to change,” said the young girl, laughing. “Oh, I shall soon be dry!”
“Have you lost all your luggage?” asked the lady, sympathetically.
“No,” said the young girl; “I had none to lose.” And she smiled a little mischievously, as though she knew by instinct that her companion’s sympathy would at once degenerate into suspicion!
“I don’t mean to say that I have not a knapsack,” she added, considerately. “I have walked a long distance–in fact, from Z—-.”
“And where did you leave your companions?” asked the lady, with a touch of forgiveness in her voice.
“I am without companions, just as I am without luggage,” laughed the girl.
And then she opened the piano, and struck a few notes. There was something caressing in the way in which she touched the keys; whoever she was, she knew how to make sweet music; sad music, too, full of that undefinable longing, like the holding out of one’s arms to one’s friends in the hopeless distance.
The lady bending over the fire looked up at the little girl, and forgot that she had brought neither friends nor luggage with her. She hesitated for one moment, and then she took the childish face between her hands and kissed it.
“Thank you, dear, for your music,” she said, gently.
“The piano is terribly out of tune,” said the little girl, suddenly; and she ran out of the room, and came back carrying her knapsack.
“What are you going to do?” asked her companion.
“I am going to tune the piano,” the little girl said; and she took a tuning-hammer out of her knapsack, and began her work in real earnest. She evidently knew what she was about, and pegged away at the notes as though her whole life depended upon the result.
The lady by the fire was lost in amazement. Who could she be? Without luggage and without friends, and with a tuning-hammer!
Meanwhile one of the gentlemen had strolled into the salon; but hearing the sound of tuning, and being in secret possession of nerves, he fled, saying, “The tuner, by Jove!”
A few minutes afterward Miss Blake, whose nerves were no secret possession, hastened into the salon, and, in her usual imperious fashion, demanded instant silence.
“I have just done,” said the little girl. “The piano was so terribly out of tune, I could not resist the temptation.”
Miss Blake, who never listened to what any one said, took it for granted that the little girl was the tuner for whom M. le Proprietaire had promised to send; and having bestowed on her a condescending nod, passed out into the garden, where she told some of the visitors that the piano had been tuned at last, and that the tuner was a young woman of rather eccentric appearance.
“Really, it is quite abominable how women thrust themselves into every profession,” she remarked, in her masculine voice. “It is so unfeminine, so unseemly.”
There was nothing of the feminine about Miss Blake; her horse-cloth dress, her waistcoat and high collar, and her billycock hat were of the masculine genus; even her nerves could not be called feminine, since we learn from two or three doctors (taken off their guard) that nerves are neither feminine nor masculine, but common.
“I should like to see this tuner,” said one of the tennis-players, leaning against a tree.
“Here she comes,” said Miss Blake, as the little girl was seen sauntering into the garden.
The men put up their eye-glasses, and saw a little lady with a childish face and soft brown hair, of strictly feminine appearance and bearing. The goat came toward her and began nibbling at her frock. She seemed to understand the manner of goats, and played with him to his heart’s content. One of the tennis players, Oswald Everard by name, strolled down to the bank where she was having her frolic.