“Oh, my goodness!” he shouted suddenly. “Can’t you keep still a minute?”
Miss Spence gasped. So did the pupils.
The whole room filled with a swelling conglomerate “O-O-O-O-H!”
As for Penrod himself, the walls reeled with the shock. He sat with his mouth open, a mere lump of stupefaction. For the appalling words that he had hurled at the teacher were as inexplicable to him as to any other who heard them.
Nothing is more treacherous than the human mind; nothing else so loves to play the Iscariot. Even when patiently bullied into a semblance of order and training, it may prove but a base and shifty servant. And Penrod’s mind was not his servant; it was a master, with the April wind’s whims; and it had just played him a diabolical trick. The very jolt with which he came back to the schoolroom in the midst of his fancied flight jarred his day-dream utterly out of him; and he sat, open-mouthed in horror at what he had said.
The unanimous gasp of awe was protracted. Miss Spence, however, finally recovered her breath, and, returning deliberately to the platform, faced the school. “And then for a little while,” as pathetic stories sometimes recount, “everything was very still.” It was so still, in fact, that Penrod’s newborn notoriety could almost be heard growing. This grisly silence was at last broken by the teacher.
“Penrod Schofield, stand up!”
The miserable child obeyed.
“What did you mean by speaking to me in that way?”
He hung his head, raked the floor with the side of his shoe, swayed, swallowed, looked suddenly at his hands with the air of never having seen them before, then clasped them behind him. The school shivered in ecstatic horror, every fascinated eye upon him; yet there was not a soul in the room but was profoundly grateful to him for the sensation—including the offended teacher herself. Unhappily, all this gratitude was unconscious and altogether different from the kind which, results in testimonials and loving-cups. On the contrary!
“Answer me at once! Why did you speak to me like that?”
“I was——” He choked, unable to continue.
“I was just—thinking,” he managed to stammer.
“That will not do,” she returned sharply. “I wish to know immediately why you spoke as you did.”
The stricken Penrod answered helplessly:
“Because I was just thinking.”
Upon the very rack he could have offered no ampler truthful explanation. It was all he knew about it.
Miss Spence’s expression gave evidence that her power of self-restraint was undergoing a remarkable test. However, after taking counsel with herself, she commanded: