Coster was warden of the little church which stood near his home, and his days flowed peacefully on, in a quiet, uneventful way, occupied with the duties of his office, and reading and study, for he was one of those who had mastered the art of reading. A diligent student, he had conned over and over, until he knew them by heart, the few manuscript volumes owned by the little church of which he was warden.
A lover of solitude, as well as student and dreamer, the church warden’s favorite resort, when his duties left him at leisure, was a dense grove not far from the town. Thither he went when he wished to be free from all distraction, to think and dream over many things which would appear nonsensical to his sober, practical-minded neighbors. There he indulged in day dreams and poetic fancies; and once, when in a sentimental mood, he carved the initials of the lady of his love on one of the trees.
In time a fair young wife and children came, bringing new brightness and joy to the serious-minded warden. With ever increasing interests, he passed on from youth to middle life, and from middle life to old age. Then his son married, and again the patter of little feet filled the old home and made music in the ears of Grandfather Coster, whom the baby grandchildren almost worshiped.
To amuse the children, and to impart to them whatever knowledge he himself possessed, became the delight of his old age. Then the habit acquired in youth of carving letters in the bark of the trees served a very useful purpose in furthering his object. He still loved to take solitary walks, and many a quiet summer afternoon the familiar figure of the venerable churchwarden, in his seedy black cloak and sugar-loaf hat, might be seen wending its way along the banks of the River Spaaren to his favorite resort in the grove.
One day, while reclining on a mossy couch beneath a spreading beech tree, amusing himself by tearing strips of bark from the tree that shaded him, and carving letters with his knife, a happy thought entered his mind. “Why can I not,” he mused within himself, “cut those letters out, carry them home, and, while using them as playthings, teach the little ones how to read?”
The plan worked admirably. Long practice had made the old man quite expert in fashioning the letters, and many hours of quiet happiness were spent in the grove in this pleasing occupation. One afternoon he succeeded in cutting some unusually fine specimens, and, chuckling to himself over the delight they would give the children, he wrapped them carefully, placing them side by side in an old piece of parchment which he happened to have in his pocket. The bark from which they had been cut being fresh and full of sap, and the letters being firmly pressed upon the parchment, the result was the series of “pictures” which delighted the child and gave to the world the first suggestion of a printing press.