“What are you talking about?” demanded Margaret, turning from her mirror. “Uncle John sent them here. Why shouldn’t he let them stay?”
Penrod looked crestfallen. “Then he hasn’t taken to drink?”
“Certainly not!” She emphasized the denial with a pretty peal of soprano laughter.
“Then why,” asked her brother gloomily, “why did Aunt Clara look so worried when she got here?”
“Good gracious! Don’t people worry about anything except somebody’s drinking? Where did you get such an idea?”
“Well,” he persisted, “you don’t know it ain’t that.”
She laughed again, wholeheartedly. “Poor Uncle John! He won’t even allow grape juice or ginger ale in his house. They came because they were afraid little Clara might catch the measles. She’s very delicate, and there’s such an epidemic of measles among the children over in Dayton the schools had to be closed. Uncle John got so worried that last night he dreamed about it; and this morning he couldn’t stand it any longer and packed them off over here, though he thinks its wicked to travel on Sunday. And Aunt Clara was worried when she got here because they’d forgotten to check her trunk and it will have to be sent by express. Now what in the name of the common sense put it into your head that Uncle John had taken to——”
“Oh, nothing.” He turned lifelessly away and went downstairs, a new-born hope dying in his bosom. Life seems so needlessly dull sometimes.
Next morning, when he had once more resumed the dreadful burden of education, it seemed infinitely duller. And yet what pleasanter sight is there than a schoolroom well filled with children of those sprouting years just before the ’teens? The casual visitor, gazing from the teacher’s platform upon these busy little heads, needs only a blunted memory to experience the most agreeable and exhilarating sensations. Still, for the greater part, the children are unconscious of the happiness of their condition; for nothing is more pathetically true than that we “never know when we are well off.” The boys in a public school are less aware of their happy state than are the girls; and of all the boys in his room, probably Penrod himself had the least appreciation of his felicity.
He sat staring at an open page of a textbook, but not studying; not even reading; not even thinking. Nor was he lost in a reverie: his mind’s eye was shut, as his physical eye might well have been, for the optic nerve, flaccid with ennui, conveyed nothing whatever of the printed page upon which the orb of vision was partially focused. Penrod was doing something very unusual and rare, something almost never accomplished except by coloured people or by a boy in school on a spring day: he was doing really nothing at all. He was merely a state of being.