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HOME > Short Stories > The Disagreeable Woman > CHAPTER IX. AN EVENING AT THE BOARDING-HOUSE.
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The confidence which Prof. Poppendorf had reposed in me, naturally led me to observe his behavior at table to the young woman from Macy's. There was a difficulty as I had to look round the "Disagreeable Woman," who sat next to me. Then I could not very well watch the Professor's expression, as his large, green goggles concealed so large a part of his face.

He still continued to devote the chief part of his time to the business of the hour, and his eyes were for the most part fixed upon his plate. Yet now and then I observed he offered her the salt or the pepper, a piece of attention quite new to[Pg 83] him. I had some thought of suggesting to Miss Canby that she had awakened an interest in the heart of the gray old Professor, but it occurred to me that this would be hardly fair to the elderly suitor. It was only right to leave him a fair field, and let him win if Fate ordained it.

On Wednesday evenings it was generally understood that the boarders, such at any rate as had no other engagements, would remain after supper and gather in the little reception-room, till the dining-room was cleared, spending the evening socially.

On such occasions Mrs. Wyman would generally volunteer a song, accompanying herself if there was no one else to play. She had a thin, strident voice, such as one would not willingly hear a second time, but out of courtesy we listened, and applauded. The widow had one who fully appreciated her vocal efforts, and this was herself. She always[Pg 84] looked pleased and complacent when her work was done.

It was on the first Wednesday after the Count's arrival that she induced him to remain.

"Don't you sing, Count?" she asked.

"Very little, madam," he said.

"But you are an Italian, and all Italians are musical."

He uttered a faint disclaimer, but she insisted.

"Do me a favor—a great favor," she said, persuasively, "and sing some sweet Italian air, such as you must know."

"No, I don't sing Italian airs," he said.

"What then?"

"I can sing 'Sweet Marie.'"

"I am sure we shall all be glad to hear it. I sometimes sing a little myself—just a tiny bit."

"I shall like much to hear you, signora."

"I shall feel very bashful about singing[Pg 85] to an Italian gentleman. You will laugh at me."

"No, no, I would not be so rude."

"Then perhaps I may. Our friends always insist upon hearing me."

So at an early period in the evening she sang one of her routine songs.

I watched the Count's face while she was singing. I was amused. At first his expression was one of surprise. Then of pain, and it seemed to me of annoyance. When Mrs. Wyman had completed the song she turned to him a look of complacent inquiry. She was looking for a compliment.

"Didn't I do horribly?" she asked.

"Oh, no, no," answered the Count, vaguely.

"It must have seemed very bad to you."

"No, no—"

"Do you think it was passable?"

"Oh, signora, I never heard anything like it."

[Pg 86]

"Oh, you naughty flatterer," she said, smiling with delight. "I am sure you don't mean it."

"Indeed I do."

I was sitting next the Disagreeable Woman.

"The Count has more brains than I thought," she said. "I quite agree with him."

"That you never heard anything like it?" I queried, smiling.


"Miss Ruth," I said to the young woman from Macy's, "do you never sing?"

"I used to sing a little in my country home," she admitted.

"What, for instance?"

"I can sing 'Annie Laurie'."

"Nothing could be better. It is a general favorite. Won't you sing it to-night?"

"But I cannot sing without an accompaniment," she said, shyly.

[Pg 87]

"I am not much of a musician, but I can play that."

With a little more persuasion I induced her to sing. She had a pleasant voice, and while I cannot claim for her anything out of the common on the score of musical talent, she rendered the song fairly well. All seemed to enjoy it, except Mrs. Wyman, who said, in a sneering tone............
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