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A Question Of Light
by [?]

As soon as Celia had got a cheque-book of her own (and I had explained the mysteries of “—- & Co.” to her), she looked round for a safe investment of her balance, which amounted to several pounds. My offers, first of an old stocking and afterwards of mines, mortgages and aerated breads, were rejected at once.

“I’ll leave a little in the bank in case of accidents,” she said, “and the rest must go somewhere absolutely safe and earn me five per cent. Otherwise they shan’t have it.”

We did what we could for her; we offered the money to archdeacons and other men of pronounced probity; and finally we invested it in the Blanktown Electric Light Company. Blanktown is not its real name, of course; but I do not like to let out any information which may be of value to Celia’s enemies–the wicked ones who are trying to snatch her little fortune from her. The world, we feel, is a dangerous place for a young woman with money.

“Can’t I possibly lose it now?” she asked.

“Only in two ways,” I said. “Blanktown might disappear in the night, or the inhabitants might give up using electric light.”

It seemed safe enough. At the same time we watched the newspapers anxiously for details of the latest inventions; and anybody who happened to mention when dining with us that he was experimenting with a new and powerful illuminant was handed his hat at once.

You have Blanktown, then, as the depository of Celia’s fortune. Now it comes on the scene in another guise. I made the announcement with some pride at breakfast yesterday.

“My dear,” I said, “I have been asked to deliver a lecture.”

“Whatever on?” asked Celia.

“Anything I like. The last person lectured on ‘The Minor Satellites of Jupiter,’ and the one who comes after me is doing ‘The Architecture of the Byzantine Period,’ so I can take something in between.”

“Like ‘Frostbites,'” said Celia helpfully. “But I don’t quite understand. Where is it, and why?”

“The Blanktown Literary and Philosophical Society ask me to lecture to them at Blanktown. The man who was coming is ill.”

“But why you particularly?”

“One comes down to me in the end,” I said modestly.

“I expect it’s because of my electric lights. Do they give you any money for it?”

“They ask me to name my fee.”

“Then say a thousand pounds, and lecture on the need for more electric light. Fancy if I got six per cent!”

“This is a very sordid conversation,” I said. “If I agree to lecture at all, it will be simply because I feel that I have a message to deliver … I will now retire into the library and consider what that message is to be.”

I placed the encyclopaedia handy and sat down at my desk. I had already grasped the fact that the title of my discourse was the important thing. In the list of the Society’s lectures sent to me there was hardly one whose title did not impress the imagination in advance. I must be equally impressive …

After a little thought I began to write.

“WASPS AND THEIR YOUNG

Lecture delivered before the Blanktown Literary and Philosophical Society, Tuesday, December 8th.

Ladies and Gentlemen–“

“Well,” said Celia, drifting in, “how’s it going?”

I showed her how far I had got.

“I thought you always began, ‘My Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,'” she said.

“Only if the Lord Mayor’s there.”

“But how will you know?”

“Yes, that’s rather awkward. I shall have to ask the Secretary beforehand.”

I began again.

“WASPS AND THEIR YOUNG

Lecture delivered, etc….

My Lord Mayor, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen–“

It looked much better.

“What about Baronets?” said Celia. “There’s sure to be lots.”

“Yes, this is going to be difficult. I shall have to have a long talk with the Secretary … How’s this?–‘My Lord Mayor, Lords, Baronets, Ladies and Gentlemen and Sundries.’ That’s got in everybody.”

“That’s all right. And I wanted to ask you: Have you got any lantern slides?”