"And furthermore," he exclaimed, his orotund voice carrying well beyond the six or seven lords and ladies clustered about him like tittering grapes, "I have yet to meet a woman who is not out of proportion." He paused for effect, dancing his gaze from expectant smile to expectant smile. "Either she's too meek to hear or too brash to listen." The company collapsed into guffaws, though these were more automatic than earlier, due to the jest's relative weakness. He understood this, and frowned slightly, letting his wit dig around in the concept for one final bon mot to rescue the phrase. "That's why I refrain from being blinded by love, lest I be deafened by their conversation." There, that put a topper to it.
In the corner near the pianoforte, young Miss Givens -- though let us be honest, she is less in the bloom of youth, and now merely an unpicked flower -- scowled at the blustering gentleman, whom she had only invited because it was fashionable to do so, thanks to his well-received lectures on theatre. She had rather looked forward to a first-hand audience with his renowned cleverness, but found him to be, in person, rather more a boor and a bore. His current thread of discourse was becoming particularly irksome.
"Do pardon me, gentlewomen," he said, addressing the ladies nearest him, though they gave no sign of offense and indeed hung upon his words even more dearly than the gin-sotted men. "I don't mean to demean." Here he drew out the long 'e', as though a scant internal rhyme could elevate his banal performance. "I merely wish to explain my bachelorhood in a way that doesn't succumb to recent scandalous talk about me." The miniature crowd grew silent, waiting to see how he might address the, as it were, elephant in the room. (As if any creature in the manse could be any more elephantine than he, Miss Givens thought sourly.) Dragging once upon his cigarette holder, for he truly was a connoisseur of the pregnant pause, he fixed his attention upon the youngest lady within his circle and said, with gentle deliberateness that contrasted mightily with his earlier booming pronouncements, "I would much rather be drawn, in body and spirit, to the vacuous charms of a lass than to the charmless vacuum of an ass." The young lady blushed, but the rest of the company roared in appreciation, a roar helped along by drink and by their performer's by-now established role as the evening's entertainment. People will make such a fuss over anyone who successfully takes the reins of attention in a crowd, whether by desserts or by persistence.
"Show me a dainty lad who can equal the beauty and grace of a woman," he roared, "and I'll show you the door, for wasting my time upon frivolous pursuits of easy observation."
"Good sir," Miss Grisham replied in her highest, strongest voice, instantly quieting the room. "Would it be much trouble for you to take your barbarous conversation elsewhere?"
"My lady?" he inquired with a raised eyebrow, then, upon seeing who spoke, "my hostess?"
"Your thoughts on women and lads are tedious. I should find rather more enjoyment if thoughtful members of our company were given room to speak."
"Ah, ah," he said, addressing his nearest listeners, "this is what I was saying. She has ears, but their function lies only in distorting my words, and possibly my honor."
"Your honor could not be more distorted already if you had spent the evening sitting upon it."
The guests remained silent, but a fizz of anticipation could be felt in the room. They were awaiting some sign from the general multitude as to whose side they should be on. Such is the feedback loop of an audience.
"If I did not hear such lovely things about your reputation, miss, I should say you were becoming rude with gin. It is a rare lady who fancies herself part of my debating society."
"Perhaps because it is a rare lady who finds herself an opening to speak in your presence."
"Come now, I am more than respectful to my fellow creatures..."
"What word are you referring to when you say 'more than respectful'. Is there a superlative I have not come across? Or, in your mind, is respect merely a waystation between contempt and condescension?"
"A track you seem to know well."
"A track I have listened to you hammer with sooty grunts in my parlor for far too long. I should wish to repeat my first request that you leave."
"But I have done nothing wrong, I have merely attempted to brighten the evening with some of my observations..."
"And in the process you have darkened these halls with your ignorance. You offend me, sir, just as your blithering remarks about women offend the spirit the Lord planted in all, so that we may know the difference between love and fear."
"I think you might find that some people about would disagree with your assessment of my trivial speech," he said, gesturing to the crowd around him. The guests were now whipping their heads as at a tennis match. "Should anybody be offended by my philosophy, let them say so, or simply move to another part of the room. I will rest on my wilted laurels if it is clear that nobody wishes to indulge me."
"Your laurels are not wilted, but pressed like dried flowers in a diary by the way you rest upon them in order to draw the attention of society, and while it may be in human nature to be arrested, by curiosity or something more sinister, by a personage about whom there's gossip, I have seen through the veil of your notoriety, and taken heed of the content of your words and your character, and I speak now to break whatever spell you have woven upon our society in order to cast you out." Miss Givens was nearly shaking. Her cheeks, which were ruddy in her youth, now reddened in a splotchy manner. She had become a force to behold, and the room, mostly made up of casual acquaintances, beheld that force with fervor now. Whatever would she say next?
"Very well," he said, effecting a mock bow. "Very well. I have made it a general policy in my life to avoid three animals: cows, for they smell; weasels, for they bite; and shrews, for they do both."
The crowd gasped.
"It must indeed be lonely here, to find yourself a vulture in a meadow," she replied, suddenly not wanting the conversation to be over. "Perhaps the Royal Zoo will have a menagerie more to your liking."
"Don't press your point," he muttered, grabbing his hat from the rack by the parlor door. And with that, he left.
We would wish to report that the party was measurably improved in his absence, or that there was a general air of congratulation for Miss Givens and her artful expulsion of the tiresome guest. But although the conversation was more earnest and polite than before, the party struggled with an oppression from there on out. And although Miss Drumsley, who had been the young lady fixed with the epithet about the ass, did cry a bit in her bed that night with revulsion at the image he had conjured up, for many of the guests present, it was indisputable that Miss Givens had won the battle only to lose the party.