Chapter XXVII - Conclusion Of The Quiet Afternoon
It was during the discussion of the details of this enterprise that Georgie's mother, a short distance down the street, received a few female callers, who came by appointment to drink a glass of iced tea with her, and to meet the Rev. Mr. Kinosling. Mr. Kinosling was proving almost formidably interesting to the women and girls of his own and other flocks. What favour of his fellow clergymen a slight precociousness of manner and pronunciation cost him was more than balanced by the visible ecstasies of ladies. They blossomed at his touch.
He had just entered Mrs. Bassett's front door, when the son of the house, followed by an intent and earnest company of four, opened the alley gate and came into the yard. The unconscious Mrs. Bassett was about to have her first experience of a fatal coincidence. It was her first, because she was the mother of a boy so well behaved that he had become a proverb of transcendency. Fatal coincidences were plentiful in the Schofield and Williams families, and would have been familiar to Mrs. Bassett had Georgie been permitted greater intimacy with Penrod and Sam.
Mr. Kinosling sipped his iced tea and looked about, him approvingly. Seven ladies leaned forward, for it was to be seen that he meant to speak.
"This cool room is a relief," he said, waving a graceful hand in a neatly limited gesture, which everybody's eyes followed, his own included. "It is a relief and a retreat. The windows open, the blinds closed--that is as it should be. It is a retreat, a fastness, a bastion against the heat's assault. For me, a quiet room--a quiet room and a book, a volume in the hand, held lightly between the fingers. A volume of poems, lines metrical and cadenced; something by a sound Victorian. We have no later poets."
"Swinburne?" suggested Miss Beam, an eager spinster. "Swinburne, Mr. Kinosling? Ah, SWINBURNE!"
"Not Swinburne," said Mr. Kinosling chastely. "No."
That concluded all the remarks about Swinburne.
Miss Beam retired in confusion behind another lady; and somehow there became diffused an impression that Miss Beam was erotic.
"I do not observe your manly little son, "Mr. Kinosling addressed his hostess.
"He's out playing in the yard," Mrs. Bassett returned. "I heard his voice just now, I think."
"Everywhere I hear wonderful report of him," said Mr. Kinosling. "I may say that I understand boys, and I feel that he is a rare, a fine, a pure, a lofty spirit. I say spirit, for spirit is the word I hear spoken of him."
A chorus of enthusiastic approbation affirmed the accuracy of this proclamation, and Mrs. Bassett flushed with pleasure. Georgie's spiritual perfection was demonstrated by instances of it, related by the visitors; his piety was cited, and wonderful things he had said were quoted.
"Not all boys are pure, of fine spirit, of high mind," said Mr. Kinosling, and continued with true feeling: "You have a neighbour, dear Mrs. Bassett, whose household I indeed really feel it quite impossible to visit until such time when better, firmer, stronger handed, more determined discipline shall prevail. I find Mr. and Mrs. Schofield and their daughter charming----"
Three or four ladies said "Oh!" and spoke a name simultaneously. It was as if they had said, "Oh, the bubonic plague!"
"Oh! Penrod Schofield!"
"Georgie does not play with him," said Mrs. Bassett quickly-- "that is, he avoids him as much as he can without hurting Penrod's feelings. Georgie is very sensitive to giving pain. I suppose a mother should not tell these things, and I know people who talk about their own children are dreadful bores, but it was only last Thursday night that Georgie looked up in my face so sweetly, after he had said his prayers and his little cheeks flushed, as he said: "Mamma, I think it would be right for me to go more with Penrod. I think it would make him a better boy."
A sibilance went about the room. "Sweet! How sweet! The sweet little soul! Ah, SWEET!"
"And that very afternoon," continued Mrs. Bassett, "he had come home in a dreadful state. Penrod had thrown tar all over him."
"Your son has a forgiving spirit!" said Mr. Kinosling with vehemence. "A too forgiving spirit, perhaps." He set down his glass. "No more, I thank you. No more cake, I thank you. Was it not Cardinal Newman who said----"
He was interrupted by the sounds of an altercation just outside the closed blinds of the window nearest him.
"Let him pick his tree!" It was the voice of Samuel Williams. "Didn't we come over here to give him one of his own trees? Give him a fair show, can't you?"
"The little lads!" Mr. Kinosling smiled. "They have their games, their outdoor sports, their pastimes. The young muscles are toughening. The sun will not harm them. They grow; they expand; they learn. They learn fair play, honour, courtesy, from one another, as pebbles grow round in the brook. They learn more from themselves than from us. They take shape, form, outline. Let them."
"Mr. Kinosling!" Another spinster--undeterred by what had happened to Miss Beam--leaned fair forward, her face shining and ardent. "Mr. Kinosling, there's a question I DO wish to ask you."
"My dear Miss Cosslit," Mr. Kinosling responded, again waving his hand and watching it, "I am entirely at your disposal."
"WAS Joan of Arc," she asked fervently, "inspired by spirits?"
He smiled indulgently. "Yes--and no," he said. "One must give both answers. One must give the answer, yes; one must give the answer, no."
"Oh, THANK you!" said Miss Cosslit, blushing.
"She's one of my great enthusiasms, you know."
"And I have a question, too," urged Mrs. Lora Rewbush, after a moment's hasty concentration. "'I've never been able to settle it for myself, but NOW----"
"Yes?" said Mr. Kinosling encouragingly.
"Is--ah--is--oh, yes: Is Sanskrit a more difficult language than Spanish, Mr. Kinosling?"
"It depends upon the student," replied the oracle smiling. "One must not look for linguists everywhere. In my own especial case--if one may cite one's self as an example--I found no great, no insurmountable difficulty in mastering, in conquering either."
"And may I ask one?" ventured Mrs. Bassett. "Do you think it is right to wear egrets?"
"There are marks of quality, of caste, of social distinction," Mr. Kinosling began, "which must be permitted, allowed, though perhaps regulated. Social distinction, one observes, almost invariably implies spiritual distinction as well. Distinction of circumstances is accompanied by mental distinction. Distinction is hereditary; it descends from father to son, and if there is one thing more true than `Like father, like son,' it is--" he bowed gallantly to Mrs. Bassett--"it is, `Like mother, like son.' What these good ladies have said this afternoon of YOUR----"
This was the fatal instant. There smote upon all ears the voice of Georgie, painfully shrill and penetrating--fraught with protest and protracted, strain. His plain words consisted of the newly sanctioned and disinfected curse with a big H.
With an ejaculation of horror, Mrs. Bassett sprang to the window and threw open the blinds.
Georgie's back was disclosed to the view of the tea-party. He was endeavouring to ascend a maple tree about twelve feet from the window. Embracing the trunk with arms and legs, he had managed to squirm to a point above the heads of Penrod and Herman, who stood close by, watching him earnestly--Penrod being obviously in charge of the performance. Across the yard were Sam Williams and Maurice Levy, acting as a jury on the question of voice-power, and it was to a complaint of theirs that Georgie had just replied.
"That's right, Georgie," said Penrod encouragingly. "They can, too, hear you. Let her go!"
"Going to heaven!" shrieked Georgie, squirming up another inch. "Going to heaven, heaven, heaven!"
His mother's frenzied attempts to attract his attention failed utterly. Georgie was using the full power of his lungs, deafening his own ears to all other sounds. Mrs. Bassett called in vain; while the tea-party stood petrified in a cluster about the window.
"Going to heaven!" Georgie bellowed. "Going to heaven! Going to heaven, my Lord! Going to heaven, heaven, heaven!"
He tried to climb higher, but began to slip downward, his exertions causing damage to his apparel. A button flew into the air, and his knickerbockers and his waistband severed relations.
"Devil's got my coat-tails, sinners! Old devil's got my coat-tails!" he announced appropriately. Then he began to slide.
He relaxed his clasp of the tree and slid to the ground.
"Going to hell!" shrieked Georgie, reaching a high pitch of enthusiasm in this great climax. "Going to hell! Going to hell! I'm gone to hell, hell, hell!"
With a loud scream, Mrs. Bassett threw herself out of the window, alighting by some miracle upon her feet with ankles unsprained.
Mr. Kinosling, feeling that his presence as spiritual adviser was demanded in the yard, followed with greater dignity through the front door. At the corner of the house a small departing figure collided with him violently. It was Penrod, tactfully withdrawing from what promised to be a family scene of unusual painfulness.
Mr. Kinosling seized him by the shoulders and, giving way to emotion, shook him viciously.
"You horrible boy!" exclaimed Mr. Kinosling. "You ruffianly creature! Do you know what's going to happen to you when you grow up? Do you realize what you're going to BE!"
With flashing eyes, the indignant boy made know his unshaken purpose. He shouted the reply: