“I—I’d l-i-k-e to take a bo-b-o-o-k,” stammered the boy.
“Dear me!” said the judge irritably, “dear me!”
He frowned, his gaze skimming his well-filled shelves. He regretted suddenly that he had spoken to the child at the court-house. He would never be guilty of such an indiscretion again. Of what could he have been thinking? A book! Why didn’t he ask for food—money—his best piece of fluted Royal Worcester?
Then a loud, boyish laugh rang in from the garden, and his face softened suddenly. In the sun-scorched, honest-eyed little figure before him he saw his own boy—the single child of his young wife, who was lying beneath a marble slab in the churchyard. Her face, mild and Madonna-like, glimmered against the pallid rose leaves in the deep window-seat.
He turned hastily away.
“Yes, yes,” he answered, “I will lend you one. Read the titles carefully. Don’t let the books fall. Never lay them face downwards—and don’t turn down the leaves!”
The boy advanced timidly to the shelves between the southern windows. He ran his hands slowly along the lettered backs, his lips moving as he spelled out the names.
“The F-e-d-e-r-a-l-i-s-t,” “B-l-a-c-k-s-t-o-n-e-’s
C-o-m-m-e-n-t-a-r-i-e-s,” “R-e-v-i-s-e-d Sta-tu-tes of the U-ni-ted
The judge drew up to his desk and looked over his letters. Then he took up his pen and wrote several replies in his fine, flowing handwriting. He had forgotten the boy, when he felt a touch upon his arm.
“What is it?” he asked absently. “Ah, it is you? Yes, let me see. Why! you’ve got Sir Henry Maine!”
The boy was holding the book in both hands. As the judge laughed he flushed nervously and turned towards the door.
The judge leaned back in his chair, watching the small figure cross the room and disappear into the hall. He saw the tracks of dust which the boy’s feet left upon the smooth, bare floor, but he was not thinking of them. Then, as the child went out upon the porch, he started up.
“Nicholas!” he called, “don’t turn down the leaves!”
A facetious stranger once remarked that Kingsborough dozed through the present to dream of the past and found the future a nightmare. Had he been other than a stranger, he would, perhaps, have added that Kingsborough’s proudest boast was that she had been and was not—a distinction giving her preeminence over certain cities whose charters were not received from royal grants—cities priding themselves not only upon a multiplicity of streets, but upon the more plebeian fact that the feet of their young men followed the offending thoroughfares to the undignified music of the march of progress.