The Child in the Library

HE was an only child and a motherless one. I may say a relationless one, except for a stray aunt or uncle, seldom heard of and never seen. His father was a busy man, and the slow change in his son from babyhood to boyhood was unnoticed. A succession of kind-hearted nurses had taken care of the child’s physical comfort, but otherwise had left him to his own devices. In some inexplicable way he learned to read by the time he was eight years old. It had been a quick step from ignorance to this delightful accomplishment. First he could not read, then he could ; there seemed to be no intermediate stage. He was a pale, delicate boy, and when his busy father took time to consult a physician the verdict was " no school ; ” so the child had all his days to himself.

He had no friends, and time hung heavily, until one day, entering his father’s library, he made the acquaintance of a large number of people. His father had no great love for books, but he felt it was a proper thing to have a wellstocked library ; so he had filled his bookshelves, with a delightful ignorance of the inside of the books, but with the knowledge that the outside was irreproachable. It was a curiously mixed collection ; there were books of all kinds, and all jumbled together without regard to subject or character. With this mixed assemblage the child made acquaintance, one cold, bleak November day.

He had come in with a vague idea of getting a picture book to look at. He knew the illustrations of the books on the table by heart; he was tired of them, and craved something new. I think it was almost entirely from illustrations that the child had learned to read. The pictures meant much; and after gathering their meaning he knew the words below must correspond, as they did, and the child read. On this day he determined to try to find pictures in the books on the shelves. He stood before the cases and gazed at the prospect before him. The books all gazed back solemnly at him ; they did n’t look inviting.

The ones that appeared less forbidding than the rest were a long line of fellows which reminded him of his soldiers. They stood shoulder to shoulder, dressed in a dark chocolate - brown uniform striped with gold. They were sober enough in color. There were many books in the cases gayer in dress, but these particular ones were fat, quite fat, and not very tall, and they appeared to be goodnatured. He opened the case where they were, and looked at their names. They almost all seemed to be about men : one was Barnaby Budge ; one, Nicholas Nickleby ; one, Martin Chuzzlewit; one, David Copperfield; and so on down the line. Somehow, after reading all their names, he returned to David Copperfield ; the name haunted him, — David, David Copperfield. What was there so bewitching in the sound ? He put out his hand and took down the volume.

The pictures were queer, very queer. He studied them gravely and carefully. He found himself saying under his breath, “ David, David, David Copperfield,” with a curious sense of having met the name before. He glanced at the first page; it was headed, “ I am born.” He glanced down the page, and some one seemed to be talking, talking in a delightfully confidential way to him, the child himself. He turned over the pages: it was David who was speaking, David Copperfield.

Suddenly an idea struck him: why should he not read the book? It was such a tremendous idea that the blood tingled in his veins from excitement. Why not ? The book was here ; he had nothing to do ; and the story might tell more about the curious pictures. He took the book, cuddled up in a chair, and began to read. He read till luncheon time; he lunched, and read till dinner time; he dined, and read till bedtime; and then dreamed the story all through again. The next day he began bright and early another rapturous ten hours. There was no one to disturb him; his nurse was only too glad to have him quiet, and his father was away till dinner time. How he read!

It seemed to him, as he read, that instead of the story coming from the book it came from the lips of a boy who sat opposite him by the library fire, — a boy with big brown eyes, curly chestnut hair, and a sweet, grave face. It was David who talked to him, David Copperfield, and he spoke of his life with curiously bated breath.

To be sure, in the book he grew up, but the child across the fire did n’t. It almost seemed as if David had lived his life, and been changed from manhood back to boyhood, with a man’s knowledge of the world and a child’s sweetness and faith. He told the child of his babyhood, of his pretty mother and honest nurse ; he spoke in a lowered tone of his aunt, a Miss Betsey Trotwood; he drew nearer and spoke of a Mr. and Miss Murdstone: and the two children held each other close. He told of a school and some boy friends ; he told of his boyhood’s sweetheart, a little Em’ly: and the child followed on. He wandered around London with David ; he trudged to Canterbury with him on his memorable pilgrimage. He shared his fortunes, and rose and fell with them.

When the book was finished the boy had an enlarged acquaintance with people and places. He was an American child, but he knew London — the docks, that is to say — intimately. A certain home at Canterbury he knew by heart, — old, substantial, so very dear, with shining wood and glass. He had new friends : a man Peggotty, a little Miss Mowcher, the best of nurses and the kindest of aunts, a Micawber and a Traddles, a most beloved one named Steerforth, and one, the best of all, one who sat with him and talked with him, a fidus Achates, — David, David Copperfield.

The next door he opened was one that took him straight to a twilight fairyland. It was labeled Pilgrim’s Progress, and he and David followed a man named Christian through a marvelous land. The child was n’t quite clear as to why Christian fled from his home, beyond the fact that something was to happen to the city where he lived, and then he was of an adventurous spirit and wanted to find a place called “ the Celestial City.” He joined David and the child by their fireside and told them of his adventures. He was a tall, dark man, quaintly clad, and had a big bundle on his back. He told them marvelous things of fights with lions, of a dreadful place called “ Vanity Fair,” of a dark valley, and finally of a river and the Shining City. I do not know why he had left this city and come to this fireside with his pack, but there he was in the group, and David and the child and he went on to new lands together.

There was a wonderful land back of these big bookcases, and each book was a key to it. David had taken him to London, and to Canterbury, and down to Suffolk. Christian took him to a land, no less real, abounding in danger and in adventure, and they were now ready for a trip to a new part of this marvelous country.

The new key was a little book that had fallen behind the rest. It was all the more strange that they tried this key, for it had no pictures, and the spelling was curious and foreign ; but the child opened it and read this : “ Sweet Lord have mercy upon me, for I may not live after the death of my love Sir Tristram de Lyoness, for he was my first love and he shall be my last.” It sounded sweet and sad to the child, and yet half real and wholly good. He turned to the front: there was a man, and a king, and a fair lady; and now he and Christian and David were in a new country. I suppose Christian must have enjoyed it, for he had been an adventurous man in his day, and I am sure David and the child loved the country with their whole hearts. They brought back new friends to join their group : a tall, fair man, who I fear slightly tyrannized over them all, and yet whom they loved, — a King Arthur ; and by his side, a tall, dark man with a sad, grave face, named Lancelot; and they felt that sometimes another man was there, — an old man in brown, with a long white beard and long hair, yet with a young face. They could never be sure he was there, for he came and went mysteriously, and his name was Merlin. They made other friends in Britain, — Tristram, and Gawain, and Geraint, and others ; but these did n’t join the fireside group, though one had only to open the little blue book to join them. Soon the five became great friends, and told one another tales that were not in their books, new tales, and their friendship grew into comradeship.

One day a brightly bound book caught the child’s eye. It was all spotted with gold, and the child played it was a golden key. It certainly opened a golden door and took them into a golden country.

This man that met them at the door, and led them across a country called Bonny England, was a jolly fellow, a kind of superior ragamuffin named Robin Hood. Oh, the gay times he gave them ! What merry adventures beneath the greenwood tree! What jolly excursions after lazy abbots and fat priests ! Another big fellow with a twinkling eye, a great rascal in his way, yet a most genial comrade, was Little John ; and there were besides him Maid Marian, and Will Scarlet, and King Richard himself. Christian and Lancelot and Arthur enjoyed this roving kind of life, and David and the child thought it wonderful. To be sure, they cried for hours over Robin Hood’s death, until they found that he and Lancelot had gone to Avalon with Arthur, and Robin Hood, green coat and great bow and all, came and joined their company, and they went on enriched by him. Sometimes they would all go with Christian to fight with Apollyon, or would accompany Lancelot and Arthur to rescue distressed damsels, or else journey with Robin Hood in mere idle quest, or David and the child would slip quietly into London. In all these lands the shadowy Merlin would go making curious things happen, “ for he was a great wise man.”

After a little time the child made a new friend, a certain Greek named Ulysses. He was entirely a new kind of character. I think the whole group mistrusted him at first ; but they soon got over that, and loved him dearly. He was so clever, and thought of such entirely new ways of doing things. When Arthur wanted to summon his knights and make a charge on Troy, and Lancelot wished to try a single combat with Hector, Ulysses thought of the Wooden Horse, which was such a complete success. After accompanying him for years, and finding how stanch and true he was, they asked him to join them; and he, finding them good fellows, left Ithaca and Penelope, and came with his dog and made one of them.

And so they traveled on : Arthur and Lancelot, friends again through the child, were able still to journey on in wide Britain, seeking adventures ; and there was Robin Hood, jolly fellow that he was, brave as a lion and full of jest and grit; and there was Christian, dauntless in trial, bearing still his mysterious bundle, the contents of which often puzzled the child ; and there was Ulysses, their guide and counselor, looking forward with crafty eyes, and occasionally turning to whistle to his good dog ; and last of all, hand clasped in hand, came David and the child.

Edith Lanigan.