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HOME > Short Stories > The Disagreeable Woman > CHAPTER IV. PROF. POPPENDORF'S LECTURE.
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We all sat at supper on Thursday evening. There was a general air of expectation. It was on this evening that Prof. Poppendorf was to give his lecture. We all gazed at him with more than ordinary interest. The old Professor, gray and grim-visaged, sat more than usually erect, and his manner and bearing were marked by unusual dignity. He felt himself to be the hero of the hour.

I have neglected to say that Mrs. Wyman had been transferred to the seat adjoining mine. As she could not do without masculine attention I suspect that this arrangement was prompted by [Pg 30]herself. Henceforth I was favored with the greater part of her conversation.

"I am quite looking forward to Prof. Poppendorf's lecture!" she said. "You are going, are you not?"

"I think so, but I can't say I am looking forward to it. I fancy it will be dry and difficult to understand."

"You think he is a learned man, do you not?"

"Very probably—in certain directions."

"Dr. Fenwick, I am going to ask a favor of you."

"I hope it isn't money," thought I, "for I was beginning to have some anxiety about my steadily dwindling bank account."

"Name it, Mrs. Wyman," I said, somewhat nervously.

"I am almost ashamed to say it, but I don't like to go to the lecture alone. Would you mind giving me your escort?"

[Pg 31]

"With pleasure," I answered.

My answer was not quite truthful, for I had intended to ask the young woman from Macy's to accompany me. She was not intellectual, but she had a fresh, country face and complexion; she came from Pomfret, Connecticut, and was at least ten years younger than Mrs. Wyman. But what could I say? I had not the moral courage to refuse a lady.

"Thank you very much. Now I shall look forward to the evening with pleasure."

"You are complimentary. Do you expect to understand the lecture?"

"I don't know. I never gave much thought to the 'Material and Immaterial.'"

"Possibly we may understand as much about the subject as the Professor himself."

"Oh, how severe you are! Now I have great faith in the Professor's learning."

[Pg 32]

"He ought to be learned. He certainly has no physical beauty."

Mrs. Wyman laughed.

"I suppose few learned men are handsome," she said.

"Then perhaps I may console myself for having so little learning. Do you think the same rule holds good with ladies?"

"To a certain extent. I am sure the principal of the seminary I attended was frightfully plain; but I am sure she was learned. Prof. Poppendorf, have you sold many lecture tickets?"

"Quite a few!" answered the Professor, vaguely.

"Are you going to attend the lecture, Miss Blagden?" asked the widow.

"Miss Canby and I have agreed to go together."

Miss Canby was the young woman from Macy's. The Disagreeable Woman finding that she wished to attend the lecture, offered her a ticket and her [Pg 33]company, both being thankfully accepted. So that after all my escort was not needed by the young woman, and I lost nothing by my attention to the widow.

We did not rise from the table till seven o'clock. Mrs. Wyman excused herself for a short time. She wished to dress for the lecture. The gentlemen withdrew to the reception room, a small and very narrow room on one side of the hall, and waited for the ladies to appear. Among those who seated themselves there was the Disagreeable Woman. She waited for the appearance of the young woman from Macy's, whom she was to accompany to the lecture. Somehow she did not seem out of place in the assemblage of men.

"You did not at first propose to hear Prof. Poppendorf?" I remarked.

"No; I shall not enjoy it. But I found Miss Canby wished to attend."

"We shall probably know a good deal[Pg 34] more about the Material and the Immaterial when we return."

"Possibly we shall know as much as the Professor himself," she answered, quietly.

"I am afraid you are no hero worshiper, Miss Blagden."

"Do you refer to the Professor as a hero?"

"He is the hero of this evening."

"Perhaps so. We will see."

Prof. Poppendorf looked into the reception room previous to leaving the house. He wore a long coat, or surtout, as it used to be called—tightly buttoned around his spare figure. There was a rose in his buttonhole. I had never seen one there before, but then this was a special occasion. He seemed in good spirits, as one on the eve of a triumph. He was content with one comprehensive glance. Then he opened the front door, and went out.

Just then Mrs. Wyman tripped into the[Pg 35] room, closely followed by Ruth Canby. The widow was quite radiant. I can't undertake to itemize her splendor. She looked like a social butterfly.

Quite in contrast with her was the young woman from Macy's, whose garb was almost Quaker-like in its simplicity. Mrs. Wyman surveyed her with a contemptuous glance, and no doubt mentally contrasted her plainness with her own showy apparel. But the Disagreeable Woman's eye seemed to rest approvingly on her young companion. They started out ahead of the rest of us.

"What a very plain person Miss Canby is!" said the widow, as we emerged into the street, her arm resting lightly in mine.

"Do you refer to her dress or her face and figure?"

"Well, to both."

"She dresses plainly; but I suspect that is dictated by economy. She has a pleasant face."

[Pg 36]

"It is the face of a peasant."

"I didn't know there were any peasants in America."

"Well, you understand what I mean. She looks like a country girl."

"Perhaps so, but is that an objection?"

"Few country girls are stylish."

"I don't myself care so much for style as for good health and a good heart."

"Really, Dr. Fenwick, your ideas are very old-fashioned. In that respect you resemble my dear, departed husband."

"Is it permitted to ask whether your husband has long been dead?"

"I have been a widow six years," said Mrs. Wyman, with an ostentatious sigh. "I was quite a girl when my dear husband died."

According to her own chronology, she was twenty-three. In all probability she became a widow at twenty-nine or thirty. But of course I could not insinuate any doubt of a lady's word.

[Pg 37]

"And you have never been tempted to marry again?" I essayed with great lack of prudence.

"Oh, Dr. Fenwick, do you think it would be right?" said the widow, leaning more heavily on my arm.

"If you should meet one who was congenial to you. I don't know why not."

"I have always thought that if I ever married again I would select a professional gentleman," murmured the widow.

I began to understand my danger and tried a diversion.

"I don't know if you would consider Prof. Poppendorf a 'professional gentleman'," I said.

"Oh, how horrid! Who would marry such an old fossil?"

"It is well that the Professor does not hear you."

Perhaps this conversation is hardly worth recording, but it throws some light on the character of the widow. Moreover it satisfied me that should I desire[Pg 38] to marry her there would be no violent opposition on her part. But, truth to tell, I would have preferred the young woman from Macy's, despite the criticism of Mrs. Wyman. One was artificial, the other was natural.

We reached Schiller Hall, after a long walk. It was a small hall, looking something like a college recitation room.

Prof. Poppendorf took his place behind a desk on the platform and looked about him. There were scarcely a hundred persons, all told, in the audience. The men, as a general thing, were shabbily dressed, and elderly. There were perhaps twenty women, with whom dress was a secondary consideration.

"Did you ever see such frights, Doctor?" whispered the widow.

"You are the only stylishly dressed woman in the hall."

Mrs. Wyman looked gratified.

The Professor commenced a long and rather incomprehensible talk, in which[Pg 39] the words material and immaterial occurred at frequent intervals. There may have been some in the audience who understood him, but I was not one of them.

"Do you understand him?" I asked the widow.

"Not wholly," she answered, guardedly.

I was forced to smile, for she looked quite bewildered.

The Professor closed thus: "Thus you will see, my friends, that much that we call material is immaterial, while per contra, that which is usually called immaterial is material."

"A very satisfactory conclusion," I remarked, turning to the widow.

"Quite so," she answered, vaguely.

"I thank you for your attention, my friends," said the Professor, with a bow.

There was faint applause, in which I assisted.

The Professor looked gratified, and we[Pg 40] all rose and quietly left the hall. I walked out behind Miss Canby and the Disagreeable Woman.

"How did you like the lecture, Miss Blagden?" I inquired.

"Probably as much as you did," she answered, dryly.

"What do you think of the Professor, now?"

"He seems to know a good deal that isn't worth knowing."

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