His eloquence increased with what it fed on; and as with the eloquence so with self-reproach in the gentle bosom of the teacher. She cleared her throat with difficulty once or twice, during his description of his ministering night with Aunt Clara. “And I said to her, ’Why, Aunt Clara, what’s the use of takin’ on so about it?’ And I said, ’Now, Aunt Clara, all the crying in the world can’t make things any better.’ And then she’d just keep catchin’ hold of me, and sob and kind of holler, and I’d say, ‘don’t cry, Aunt Clara—please don’t cry."’
Then, under the influence of some fragmentary survivals of the respectable portion of his Sunday adventures, his theme became more exalted; and, only partially misquoting a phrase from a psalm, he related how he had made it of comfort to Aunt Clara, and how he had besought her to seek Higher guidance in her trouble.
The surprising thing about a structure such as Penrod was erecting is that the taller it becomes the more ornamentation it will stand. Gifted boys have this faculty of building magnificence upon cobwebs—and Penrod was gifted. Under the spell of his really great performance, Miss Spence gazed more and more sweetly upon the prodigy of spiritual beauty and goodness before her, until at last, when Penrod came to the explanation of his “just thinking,” she was forced to turn her head away.
“You mean, dear,” she said gently, “that you were all worn out and hardly knew what you were saying?”
“And you were thinking about all those dreadful things so hard that you forgot where you were?”
“I was thinking,” he said simply, “how to save Uncle John.”
And the end of it for this mighty boy was that the teacher kissed him!
The returning students, that afternoon, observed that Penrod’s desk was vacant—and nothing could have been more impressive than that sinister mere emptiness. The accepted theory was that Penrod had been arrested. How breathtaking, then, the sensation when, at the beginning of the second hour, he strolled—in with inimitable carelessness and, rubbing his eyes, somewhat noticeably in the manner of one who has snatched an hour of much needed sleep, took his place as if nothing in particular had happened. This, at first supposed to be a superhuman exhibition of sheer audacity, became but the more dumfounding when Miss Spence—looking up from her desk—greeted him with a pleasant little nod. Even after school, Penrod gave numerous maddened investigators no relief. All he would consent to say was:
“Oh, I just talked to her.”
A mystification not entirely unconnected with the one thus produced was manifested at his own family dinner-table the following evening. Aunt Clara had been out rather late, and came to the table after the rest were seated. She wore a puzzled expression.