“My dear,” I said, “I have been asked to deliver a lecture.”
“Whatever on?” asked Celia.
“Anything I like. The last person lectured on ’The Minor Satellites of Jupiter,’ and the one who comes after me is doing ’The Architecture of the Byzantine Period,’ so I can take something in between.”
“Like ‘Frostbites,’” said Celia helpfully. “But I don’t quite understand. Where is it, and why?”
“The Blanktown Literary and Philosophical Society ask me to lecture to them at Blanktown. The man who was coming is ill.”
“But why you particularly?”
“One comes down to me in the end,” I said modestly.
“I expect it’s because of my electric lights. Do they give you any money for it?”
“They ask me to name my fee.”
“Then say a thousand pounds, and lecture on the need for more electric light. Fancy if I got six per cent!”
“This is a very sordid conversation,” I said. “If I agree to lecture at all, it will be simply because I feel that I have a message to deliver ... I will now retire into the library and consider what that message is to be.”
I placed the encyclopaedia handy and sat down at my desk. I had already grasped the fact that the title of my discourse was the important thing. In the list of the Society’s lectures sent to me there was hardly one whose title did not impress the imagination in advance. I must be equally impressive ...
After a little thought I began to write.
“WASPS AND THEIR YOUNG
“Lecture delivered before the Blanktown Literary and Philosophical Society, Tuesday, December 8th.
“Ladies and Gentlemen—”
“Well,” said Celia, drifting in, “how’s it going?”
I showed her how far I had got.
“I thought you always began, ‘My Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,’” she said.
“Only if the Lord Mayor’s there.”
“But how will you know?”
“Yes, that’s rather awkward. I shall have to ask the Secretary beforehand.”
I began again.
“WASPS AND THEIR YOUNG
“Lecture delivered, etc....
“My Lord Mayor, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen—”
It looked much better.
“What about Baronets?” said Celia. “There’s sure to be lots.”
“Yes, this is going to be difficult. I shall have to have a long talk with the Secretary ... How’s this?—’My Lord Mayor, Lords, Baronets, Ladies and Gentlemen and Sundries.’ That’s got in everybody.”
“That’s all right. And I wanted to ask you: Have you got any lantern slides?”
“They’re not necessary.”
“But they’re much more fun. Perhaps they’ll have some old ones of Vesuvius you can work in. Well, good-bye.” And she drifted out.
I went on thinking.
“No,” I said to myself, “I’m on the wrong tack.” So I began again:—