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Philip had never liked Nick Holden. He was a coarse, rough-looking boy, his reddish face one mass of freckles, and about as unattractive as a person could be, without absolute deformity. This, however, was not the ground for Philip's dislike.
With all his unattractiveness, Nick might have possessed qualities which would have rightly made him popular. So far from this, however, he was naturally mean, selfish, and a bully, with very slight regard for truth.
Will it be believed that, in spite of his homely face, Nick really thought himself good-looking and aspired to be a beau? For this reason he had often wished that he possessed Philip's accomplishment of being able to play upon the violin.
His conversational powers were rather limited, and he felt at a loss when he undertook to make himself fascinating to the young ladies in the village. If he could only play on the violin like Philip he thought he would be irresistible.
He had therefore conceived the design of buying Philip's instrument for a trifle, judging that our hero would feel compelled to sell it.
The reader will now understand the object which led to Nick's call so soon after the funeral of Mr. Gray. He was afraid some one else might forestall him in gaining possession of the coveted instrument.
When Philip saw who his visitor was, he was not overjoyed. It was with reluctance that he rose and gave admission to Nick.
"I thought I would call around and see you, Phil," said Nick, as he sat down in the most comfortable chair in the room.
"Thank you," responded Phil coldly.
"The old man went off mighty sudden," continued Nicholas, with characteristic delicacy.
"Do you mean my father?" inquired Philip.
"Of course I do. There ain't any one else dead, is there!"
"I had been expecting my poor father's death for some time," said Philip gravely.
"Just so! He wa'n't very rugged. We've all got to come to it sooner or later. I expect dad'll die of apoplexy some time-he's so awful fat," remarked Nicholas cheerfully. "If he does, it's lucky he's got me to run the business. I'm only eighteen, but I can get along as well as anybody. I'm kinder smart in business."
"I am glad you are smart in anything," thought Philip; for he knew that Nick was a hopeless dunce in school duties.
"I hope your father'll live a good while," he said politely.
"Yes, of course," said Nick lightly. "I'd be sorry to have the old man pop off; but then you never can tell about such a thing as that."
Philip did not relish the light way in which Nick referred to such a loss as he was suffering from, and, by way of changing the subject, said:
"I believe you said you came on business, Nicholas?"
"Yes; that's what I wanted to come at. It's about your fiddle."
"My violin!" said Philip, rather surprised.
"Oh, well, fiddle or violin! what's the odds? I want to buy it."
"To play on, of course! What did you think I wanted it for?"
"But you can't play, can you?"
"Not yet; but I expect you could show me some—now, couldn't you?"
"What put it into your head to want to play on the violin?" asked Philip, with some curiosity.
"Why, you see, the girls like it. It would be kind of nice when I go to a party, or marm has company, to scrape off a tune or two-just like you do. It makes a feller kinder pop'lar with the girls, don't you see?" said Nick, with a knowing grin.
"And you want to be popular with the young ladies!" said Philip, smiling, in spite of his bereavement, at the idea being entertained by such a clumsy-looking caliban as Nick Holden.
"Of course I do!" answered Nick, with another grin. "You see I'm gettin' along-I'll be nineteen next month, and I might want to get married by the time I'm twenty-one, especially if the old man should drop off sudden."
"I understand all that, Nicholas—"
"Call me Nick. I ain't stuck up if I am most a man. Call me pet names, dearest."
And Nicholas laughed loudly at his witty quotation.
"Just as you prefer. Nick, then, I understand your object. But what made you think I wanted to sell the violin?"
It was Nick's turn to be surprised.
"Ain't there goin' to be an auction of your father's things?" he said.
"Yes; but the violin is mine, and I am not going to sell it."
"You'll have to," said Nick.
"What do you mean by that, Nicholas Holden?" said Philip quickly.
"Because you'll have to sell everything to pay your father's debt. My father said so this very morning."
"I think I know my own business best," said Philip coldly. "I shall keep the violin."
"Maybe it ain't for you to say," returned Nick, apparently not aware of his insolence. "Come, now, I'll tell you what I'll do. My father's got a bill against yours for a dollar and sixty-four cents. I told father I had a use for the fiddle, and he says if you'll give it to me, he'll call it square. There, what do you say to that?"
Nicholas leaned back in his chair and looked at Philip through his small, fishy eyes, as if he had made an uncommonly liberal offer. As for Philip, he hardly knew whether to be angry or amused.
"You offer me a dollar and sixty-four cents for my violin?" he repeated.
"Yes. It's second-hand, to be sure, but I guess it's in pretty fair condition. Besides, you might help me a little about learnin' how to play."
"How much do you suppose the violin cost?" inquired Philip.
"It cost my father twenty-five dollars."
"Oh, come, now, that's too thin! You don't expect a feller to believe such a story as that?"
"I expect to be believed, for I never tell anything but the truth."
"Oh, well, I don't expect you do, generally, but when it comes to tradin', most everybody lies," observed Nick candidly.
"I have no object in misrepresenting, for I don't want to sell the violin."
"You can't afford to keep it! The town won't let you!"
"The town won't let me?" echoed Philip, now thoroughly mystified.
"Of course they won't. The idea of a pauper bein' allowed a fiddle to play on! Why, it's ridiculous!"
"What do you mean?" demanded Philip, who now began to comprehend the meaning of this thick-witted visitor. "What have I got to do with the town, or with paupers?"
"Why, you're goin' to the poorhouse, ain't you?"
"Certainly not!" answered Philip, with flashing eyes.
"I guess you're mistaken," said Nick coolly. "Squire Pope was over to our shop this mornin', and he told dad that the seleckmen were goin' to send you there after the auction."
Philip's eyes flashed angrily. He felt insulted and outraged. Never for a moment had he conceived the idea that any one would regard him as a candidate for the poorhouse.
He had an honorable pride in maintaining himself, and would rather get along on one meal a day, earned by himself in honest independence, than be indebted to public charity even for a luxurious support.
"Squire Pope doesn't know what he's talking about," retorted Philip, who had to exercise some self-restraint not to express himself more forcibly "and you can tell him so when you see him. I am no more likely to go to the poorhouse than you are!"
"Come, that's a good one," chuckled Nick. "Talk of me goin' to the poorhouse, when my father pays one of the biggest taxes in town! Of course, it's different with you."
"You'll have to excuse me now," said Philip, determined to get rid of his disagreeable companion. "I have something to do."
"Then you won't sell me the fiddle, Phil?"
"No, I won't," answered our hero, with scant ceremony.
"Then I'll have to bid it off at the auction. Maybe I'll get it cheaper."
And Mr. Nicholas Holden at length relieved Philip of his company.
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