Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/52

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Some Emotions and a Moral.

was plainly the topic of all others for general discussion. He commenced with a loud cough: "Now as to the Egyptians!" he began. The company looked bewildered but attentive. "Now as to the Egyptians. They are an interesting race, if you like." Here he looked at Provence and smiled encouragingly. "I can fully understand a man devoting his life and energy to a close study of their immense Past. I don't pretend to know much about it myself," he added, with magnificent modesty, "it is naturally matter for the specialist; but in a quiet way and in one's library of a morning, I say one would be—well—one would be an ass not to feel a certain amount of awe at the antiquity of the Pyramids." Then he stared so very hard at Provence that he felt constrained to make some remark.

"I fear," he said, "that indifference as to the Past of Egypt is far more common than you suppose. You, no doubt, have studied the subject seriously."

"Merely as a dilettante," said Sir James, lightly, "the merest dilettante." As he had spent some twenty-five minutes that morning skipping through "Egypt" in the Encyclopædia, he felt that in describing himself as a dilettante he had, if anything, underrated his knowledge. To what lengths the ingenuous gentleman would have carried his discourse it is impossible to say; but as Mr. Heathcote's conscience did not allow him to indulge in sleeve-laughter at a guest's expense —particularly when that guest was an estimable, kind-hearted man who owned the finest peach-houses in the county and was a liberal subscriber to the parish charities—he determined to set matters right.