Mr. Woods, as you may readily conceive, was sunk in the Slough of Despond deeper than ever plummet sounded. Margaret thought this very nice of him; it was a delicate tribute to her that he ate nothing; and the fact that Hugh Van Orden and Petheridge Jukesbury—as she believed—acted in precisely the same way for precisely the same reason, merely demonstrated, of course, their overwhelming conceit and presumption.
So sitting in the great Eagle’s shadow, she ate a quantity of marmalade—she was wont to begin the day in this ungodly English fashion—and gossiped like a brook trotting over sunlit pebbles. She had planned a pulverising surprise for the house-party; and in due time, she intended to explode it, and subsequently Billy was to apologise for his conduct, and then they were to live happily ever afterward.
She had not yet decided what he was to apologise for; that was his affair. His conscience ought to have told him, by this, wherein he had offended; and if his conscience hadn’t, why then, of course, he would have to apologise for his lack of proper sensibility.
After breakfast she went, according to her usual custom, to her father’s rooms, for, as I think I have told you, the old gentleman was never visible until noon. She had astonishing news for him.
What time she divulged it, the others sat on the terrace, and Mr. Kennaston read to them, as he had promised, from his “Defense of Ignorance.” It proved a welcome diversion to more than one of the party. Mr. Woods, especially, esteemed it a godsend; it staved off misfortune for at least a little; so he sat at Kathleen’s side in silence, trying desperately to be happy, trying desperately not to see the tiny wrinkles, the faint crow’s feet Time had sketched in her face as a memorandum of the work he meant to do shortly.
Billy consoled himself with the reflection that he was very fond of her; but, oh (he thought), what worship, what adoration he could accord this woman if she would only decline—positively—to have anything whatever to do with him!
I think we ought not to miss hearing Mr. Kennaston’s discourse. It is generally conceded that his style is wonderfully clever; and I have no doubt that his detractors—who complain that his style is mere word-twisting, a mere inversion of the most ancient truisms—are actuated by the very basest jealousy. Let us listen, then, and be duly edified as he reads in a low, sweet voice, and the birds twitter about him in the clear morning.
“It has been for many years,” Mr. Kennaston began, “the custom of patriotic gentlemen in quest of office to point with pride to the fact that the schoolmaster is abroad in the land, in whose defense they stand pledged to draw their salaries and fight to the last gasp for reelection. These lofty platitudes, while trying to the lungs, doubtless appeal to a certain class of minds. But, indeed, the schoolmaster is not abroad; he is domesticated in every village in America, where each hamlet has its would-be Shakespeare, and each would-be Shakespeare has his ‘Hamlet’ by heart. Learning is rampant in the land, and valuable information is pasted up in the streetcars so that he who rides may read.