"And now," the teacher went on, glancing at the gallery where the doctor and I had been sitting unseen, "I have a great surprise for you. Among those who have listened to your recitation to-day, both in the forenoon and afternoon, has been a certain personage whose identity you ought to be able to infer when I say that, of all persons now on earth, he is absolutely the one best able, and the only one fully able, to judge how accurate your portrayal of nineteenth-century conditions has been. Lest the knowledge should disturb your equanimity, I have refrained from telling you, until the present moment, that we have present with us this afternoon a no less distinguished visitor than Julian West, and that with great kindness he has consented to permit me to present you to him."
I had assented, rather reluctantly, to the teacher's request, not being desirous of exposing myself unnecessarily to curious staring. But I had yet to make the acquaintance of twentieth-century boys and girls. When they came around me it was easy to see in the wistful eyes of the girls and the moved faces of the boys how deeply their imaginations were stirred by the suggestions of my presence among them, and how far their sentiment was from one of common or frivolous curiosity. The interest they showed in me was so wholly and delicately sympathetic that it could not have offended the most sensitive temperament.
This had indeed been the attitude of all the persons of mature years whom I had met, but I had scarcely expected the same considerateness from school children. I had not, it seemed, sufficiently allowed for the influence upon manners of the atmosphere of refinement which surrounds the child of to-day from the cradle. These young people had never seen coarseness, rudeness, or brusqueness on the part of any one. Their confidence had never been abused, their sympathy wounded, or their suspicion excited. Having never imagined such a thing as a person socially superior or inferior to themselves, they had never learned but one sort of manners. Having never had any occasion to create a false or deceitful impression or to accomplish anything by indirection, it was natural that they should not know what affectation was.
Truly, it is these secondary consequences, these moral and social reactions of economic equality to create a noble atmosphere of human intercourse, that, after all, have been the greatest contribution which the principle has made to human happiness.
At once I found myself talking and jesting with the young people as easily as if I had always known them, and what with their interest in what I told them of the old-time schools, and my delight in their naive comments, an hour slipped away unnoticed. Youth is always inspiring, and the atmosphere of these fresh, beautiful, ingenuous lives was like a wine bath.
Florence! Esther! Helen! Marion! Margaret! George! Robert! Harold! Paul!--Never shall I forget that group of star-eyed girls and splendid lads, in whom I first made acquaintance with the boys and girls of the twentieth century. Can it be that God sends sweeter souls to earth now that the world is so much fitter for them?