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The Pursuit Of The Piano
by [?]

I.

Hamilton Gaites sat breakfasting by the window of a restaurant looking out on Park Square, in Boston, at a table which he had chosen after rejecting one on the Boylston Street side of the place because it was too noisy, and another in the little open space, among evergreens in tubs, between the front and rear, because it was too chilly. The wind was east, but at his Park Square window it tempered the summer morning air without being a draught; and he poured out his coffee with a content in his circumstance and provision which he was apt to feel when he had taken all the possible pains, even though the result was not perfect. But now, he had real French bread, as good as he could have got in New York, and the coffee was clear and bright. A growth of crisp green watercress embowered a juicy steak, and in its shade, as it were, lay two long slices of bacon, not stupidly broiled to a crisp, but delicately pink, and exemplarily lean. Gaites had already had a cantaloupe, whose spicy fragrance lingered in the air and mingled with the robuster odors of the coffee, the steak, and the bacon.

He owned to being a fuss, but he contended that he was a cheerful fuss, and when things went reasonably well with him, he was so. They were going well with him now, not only in the small but in the large way. He was sitting there before that capital breakfast in less than half an hour after leaving the sleeping-car, where he had passed a very good night, and he was setting out on his vacation, after very successful work in the June term of court. He was in prime health; he had a good conscience in leaving no interests behind him that could suffer in his absence; and the smile that he bent upon the Italian waiter as he retired, after putting down the breakfast, had some elements of a benediction.

There was a good deal of Gaites’s smile, when it was all on: he had a generous mouth, full of handsome teeth, very white and even, which all showed in his smile. His whole face took part in the smile, and it was a charming face, long and rather quaintly narrow, of an amiable aquilinity, and clean-shaven. His figure, tall and thin, comported well with his style of visage, and at a given moment, when he suddenly rose and leaned from the window, eagerly following something outside with his eye, he had an alert movement that was very pleasant.

The thing outside which had caught, and which now kept, his eye as long as he could see it, was a case in the shape of an upright piano, on the end of a long, heavy-laden truck, making its way with a slow, jolting progress among the carts, carriages, and street cars, out of the square round the corner toward Boylston Street. On the sloping front of the case was inscribed an address, which seemed to gaze at Gaites with the eyes of the girl whom it named and placed, and to whom in the young man’s willing fancy it attributed a charming quality. Nothing, he felt, could be more suggestive, more expressive of something shy, something proud, something pure, something pastoral yet patrician, something unaffected and yet chic, in an unknown personality, than the legend:

Miss Phyllis Desmond,
Lower Merritt,
New Hampshire.

Via S. B. & H. C. R. R.

Like most lawyers, he had a vein of romance, and this now opened in pleasing conjectures concerning the girl. He knew just where Lower Merritt was, and so well what it was like that a vision of its white paint against the dark green curtain of the wooded heights around it filled his sense as agreeably as so much white marble. There was the cottage of some summer people well above the village level, among pines and birches, and overlooking the foamiest rush of the Saco, to which he instantly destined the piano of Phyllis Desmond. He had never known that these people’s name was Desmond, and he had certainly never supposed that they had a daughter called Phyllis; but he divined these facts in losing sight of the truck; and he imagined with as logical probability that one of the little girls whom he used to see playing on the hill-slope before the cottage had grown up into the young lady whose name the piano bore. There was quite time enough for this transformation; it was seven years since Gaites had run up into the White Mountains for a month’s rest after his last term in the Harvard Law School, and before beginning work in the office of the law firm in New York where he had got a clerkship, and where he had now a junior partnership. The little girl was then just ten years old, and now, of course, the young lady was seventeen, or would be when the piano reached Lower Merritt, for it was clearly meant to arrive on her birthday; it was a birthday-present and a surprise. He had always liked the way those nice people let their children play about barefoot; it would be in character with them to do a fond, pretty thing like that; and Gaites smiled for pleasure in it, and then rather blushed in relating the brown legs of the little girl, as he remembered seeing them in her races over her father’s lawn, to the dignified young lady she had now become.