by Frank Stockton
Mr. Tolman was a gentleman whose apparent age was of a varying character. At times, when deep in thought on business matters or other affairs, one might have thought him fifty-five or fifty- seven, or even sixty. Ordinarily, however, when things were running along in a satisfactory and commonplace way, he appeared to be about fifty years old, while upon some extraordinary occasions, when the world assumed an unusually attractive aspect, his age seemed to run down to forty-five or less.
He was the head of a business firm. In fact, he was the only member of it. The firm was known as Pusey and Co. But Pusey had long been dead and the “Co.,” of which Mr. Tolman had been a member, was dissolved. Our elderly hero, having bought out the business, firm-name and all, for many years had carried it on with success and profit. His counting-house was a small and quiet place, but a great deal of money had been made in it. Mr. Tolman was rich–very rich indeed.
And yet, as he sat in his counting-room one winter evening, he looked his oldest. He had on his hat and his overcoat, his gloves and his fur collar. Every one else in the establishment had gone home, and he, with the keys in his hand, was ready to lock up and leave also. He often stayed later than any one else, and left the keys with Mr. Canterfield, the head clerk, as he passed his house on his way home.
Mr. Tolman seemed in no hurry to go. He simply sat and thought, and increased his apparent age. The truth was, he did not want to go home. He was tired of going home. This was not because his home was not a pleasant one. No single gentleman in the city had a handsomer or more comfortable suite of rooms. It was not because he felt lonely, or regretted that a wife and children did not brighten and enliven his home. He was perfectly satisfied to be a bachelor. The conditions suited him exactly. But, in spite of all this, he was tired of going home.
“I wish,” said Mr. Tolman to himself, “that I could feel some interest in going home.” Then he rose and took a turn or two up and down the room. But as that did not seem to give him any more interest in the matter, he sat down again. “I wish it were necessary for me to go home,” said he, “but it isn’t.” So then he fell again to thinking. “What I need,” he said, after a while, “is to depend more upon myself–to feel that I am necessary to myself. Just now I’m not. I’ll stop going home–at least, in this way. Where’s the sense in envying other men, when I can have all that they have just as well as not? And I’ll have it, too,” said Mr. Tolman, as he went out and locked the doors. Once in the streets, and walking rapidly, his ideas shaped themselves easily and readily into a plan which, by the time he reached the house of his head clerk, was quite matured. Mr. Canterfield was just going down to dinner as his employer rang the bell, so he opened the door himself. “I will detain you but a minute or two,” said Mr. Tolman, handing the keys to Mr. Canterfield. “Shall we step into the parlor?”
When his employer had gone, and Mr. Canterfield had joined his family at the dinner-table, his wife immediately asked him what Mr. Tolman wanted.
“Only to say that he is going away to-morrow, and that I am to attend to the business, and send his personal letters to—-,” naming a city not a hundred miles away.
“How long is he going to stay?”
“He didn’t say,” answered Mr. Canterfield.
“I’ll tell you what he ought to do,” said the lady. “He ought to make you a partner in the firm, and then he could go away and stay as long as he pleased.”
“He can do that now,” returned her husband. “He has made a good many trips since I have been with him, and things have gone on very much in the same way as when he is here. He knows that.”
“But still you’d like to be a partner?”
“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Canterfield.
“And common gratitude ought to prompt him to make you one,” said his wife.
Mr. Tolman went home and wrote a will. He left all his property, with the exception of a few legacies, to the richest and most powerful charitable organization in the country.
“People will think I am crazy,” said he to himself, “and if I should die while I am carrying out my plan, I will leave the task of defending my sanity to people who are able to make a good fight for me.” And before he went to bed his will was signed and witnessed.
The next day he packed a trunk and left for the neighboring city. His apartments were to be kept in readiness for his return at any time. If you had seen him walking over to the railroad depot, you would have taken him for a man of forty-five.
When he arrived at his destination, Mr. Tolman established himself temporarily at a hotel, and spent the next three or four days in walking about the city looking for what he wanted. What he wanted was rather difficult to define, but the way in which he put the matter to himself was something like this:
“I would like to find a snug little place where, I can live, and carry on some business which I can attend to myself, and which will bring me into contact with people of all sorts–people who will interest me. It must be a small business, because I don’t want to have to work very hard, and it must be snug and comfortable, because I want to enjoy it. I would like a shop of some sort, because that brings a man face to face with his fellow-creatures.”
The city in which he was walking about was one of the best places in the country in which to find the place of business he desired. It was full of independent little shops. But Mr. Tolman could not readily find one which resembled his ideal. A small dry-goods establishment seemed to presuppose a female proprietor. A grocery store would give him many interesting customers; but he did not know much about groceries, and the business did not appear to him to possess any aesthetic features.
He was much pleased by a small shop belonging to a taxidermist. It was exceedingly cosey, and the business was probably not so great as to overwork any one. He might send the birds and beasts which were brought to be stuffed to some practical operator, and have him put them in proper condition for the customers. He might– But no. It would be very unsatisfactory to engage in a business of which he knew absolutely nothing. A taxidermist ought not to blush with ignorance when asked some simple question about a little dead bird or a defunct fish. And so he tore himself from the window of this fascinating place, where, he fancied, had his education been differently managed, he could in time have shown the world the spectacle of a cheerful and unblighted Mr. Venus.
The shop which at last appeared to suit him best was one which he had passed and looked at several times before it struck him favorably. It was in a small brick house in a side street, but not far from one of the main business avenues of the city. The shop seemed devoted to articles of stationery and small notions of various kinds not easy to be classified. He had stopped to look at three penknives fastened to a card, which was propped up in the little show-window, supported on one side by a chess-board with “History of Asia” in gilt letters on the back, and on the other by a small violin labelled “1 dollar.” And as he gazed past these articles into the interior of the shop, which was now lighted up, it gradually dawned upon him that it was something like his ideal of an attractive and interesting business place. At any rate, he would go in and look at it. He did not care for a violin, even at the low price marked on the one in the window, but a new pocket-knife might be useful. So he walked in and asked to look at pocket-knives.
The shop was in charge of a very pleasant old lady of about sixty, who sat sewing behind the little counter. While she went to the window and very carefully reached over the articles displayed therein to get the card of penknives, Mr. Tolman looked about him. The shop was quite small, but there seemed to be a good deal in it. There were shelves behind the counter, and there were shelves on the opposite wall, and they all seemed well filled with something or other. In the corner near the old lady’s chair was a little coal stove with a bright fire in it, and at the back of the shop, at the top of two steps, was a glass door partly open, through which he saw a small room, with a red carpet on the floor, and a little table apparently set for a meal.
Mr. Tolman looked at the knives when the old lady showed them to him, and after a good deal of consideration he selected one which he thought would be a good knife to give to a boy. Then he looked over some things in the way of paper-cutters, whist- markers, and such small matters, which were in a glass case on the counter. And while he looked at them he talked to the old lady.
She was a friendly, sociable body, very glad to have any one to talk to, and so it was not at all difficult for Mr. Tolman, by some general remarks, to draw from her a great many points about herself and her shop. She was a widow, with a son who, from her remarks, must have been forty years old. He was connected with a mercantile establishment, and they had lived here for a long time. While her son was a salesman, and came home every evening, this was very pleasant. But after he became a commercial traveller, and was away from the city for months at a time, she did not like it at all. It was very lonely for her.
Mr. Tolman’s heart rose within him, but he did not interrupt her.
“If I could do it,” said she, “I would give up this place, and go and live with my sister in the country. It would be better for both of us, and Henry could come there just as well as here when he gets back from his trips.”
“Why don’t you sell out?” asked Mr. Tolman, a little fearfully, for he began to think that all this was too easy sailing to be entirely safe.
“That would not be easy,” said she, with a smile. “It might be a long time before we could find any one who would want to take the place. We have a fair trade in the store, but it isn’t what it used to be when times were better. And the library is falling off, too. Most of the books are getting pretty old, and it don’t pay to spend much money for new ones now.”
“The library!” said Mr. Tolman. “Have you a library?”
“Oh, yes,” replied the old lady. “I’ve had a circulating library here for nearly fifteen years. There it is on those two upper shelves behind you.”
Mr. Tolman turned, and beheld two long rows of books in brown-paper covers, with a short step-ladder, standing near the door of the inner room, by which these shelves might be reached. This pleased him greatly. He had had no idea that there was a library here.
“I declare!” said he. “It must be very pleasant to manage a circulating library–a small one like this, I mean. I shouldn’t mind going into a business of the kind myself.”
The old lady looked up, surprised. Did he wish to go into business? She had not supposed that, just from looking at him.
Mr. Tolman explained his views to her. He did not tell what he had been doing in the way of business, or what Mr. Canterfield was doing for him now. He merely stated his present wishes, and acknowledged to her that it was the attractiveness of her establishment that had led him to come in.
“Then you do not want the penknife?” she said quickly.
“Oh, yes, I do,” said he. “And I really believe, if we can come to terms, that I would like the two other knives, together with the rest of your stock in trade.”
The old lady laughed a little nervously. She hoped very much indeed that they could come to terms. She brought a chair from the back room, and Mr. Tolman sat down with her by the stove to talk it over. Few customers came in to interrupt them, and they talked the matter over very thoroughly. They both came to the conclusion that there would be no difficulty about terms, nor about Mr. Tolman’s ability to carry on the business after a very little instruction from the present proprietress. When Mr. Tolman left, it was with the understanding that he was to call again in a couple of days, when the son Henry would be at home, and matters could be definitely arranged.
When the three met, the bargain was soon struck. As each party was so desirous of making it, few difficulties were interposed. The old lady, indeed, was in favor of some delay in the transfer of the establishment, as she would like to clean and dust every shelf and corner and every article in the place. But Mr. Tolman was in a hurry to take possession; and as the son Henry would have to start off on another trip in a short time, he wanted to see his mother moved and settled before he left. There was not much to move but trunks and bandboxes, and some antiquated pieces of furniture of special value to the old lady, for Mr. Tolman insisted on buying everything in the house, just as it stood. The whole thing did not cost him, he said to himself, as much as some of his acquaintances would pay for a horse. The methodical son Henry took an account of stock, and Mr. Tolman took several lessons from the old lady, in which she explained to him how to find out the selling prices of the various articles from the marks on the little tags attached to them. And she particularly instructed him in the management of the circulating library. She informed him of the character of the books, and, as far as possible, of the character of the regular patrons. She told him whom he might trust to take out a book without paying for the one brought in, if they didn’t happen to have the change with them, and she indicated with little crosses opposite their names those persons who should be required to pay cash down for what they had had, before receiving further benefits.
It was astonishing to see what interest Mr. Tolman took in all this. He was really anxious to meet some of the people about whom the old lady discoursed. He tried, too, to remember a few of the many things she told him of her methods of buying and selling, and the general management of her shop; and he probably did not forget more than three fourths of what she told him.
Finally everything was settled to the satisfaction of the two male parties to the bargain,–although the old lady thought of a hundred things she would yet like to do,–and one fine frosty afternoon a cart-load of furniture and baggage left the door, the old lady and her son took leave of the old place, and Mr. Tolman was left sitting behind the little counter, the sole manager and proprietor of a circulating library and a stationery and notion shop. He laughed when he thought of it, but he rubbed his hands and felt very well satisfied.
“There is nothing really crazy about it,” he said to himself. “If there is a thing that I think I would like, and I can afford to have it, and there’s no harm in it, why not have it?”
There was nobody there to say anything against this, so Mr. Tolman rubbed his hands again before the fire, and rose to walk up and down his shop, and wonder who would be his first customer.
In the course of twenty minutes a little boy opened the door and came in. Mr. Tolman hastened behind the counter to receive his commands. The little boy wanted two sheets of note-paper and an envelope.
“Any particular kind!” asked Mr. Tolman.
The boy didn’t know of any particular variety being desired. He thought the same kind she always got would do. And he looked very hard at Mr. Tolman, evidently wondering at the change in the shopkeeper, but asking no questions.
“You are a regular customer, I suppose,” said Mr. Tolman, opening several boxes of paper which he had taken down from the shelves. “I have just begun business here, and don’t know what kind of paper you have been in the habit of buying. But I suppose this will do.” And he took out a couple of sheets of the best, with an envelope to match. These he carefully tied up in a piece of thin brown paper, and gave to the boy, who handed him three cents. Mr. Tolman took them, smiled, and then, having made a rapid calculation, he called to the boy, who was just opening the door, and gave him back one cent.
“You have paid me too much,” he said.
The boy took the cent, looked at Mr. Tolman, and then got out of the store as quickly as he could.
“Such profits as that are enormous,” said Mr. Tolman, “but I suppose the small sales balance them.” This Mr. Tolman subsequently found to be the case.
One or two other customers came in in the course of the afternoon, and about dark the people who took out books began to arrive. These kept Mr. Tolman very busy. He not only had to do a good deal of entering and cancelling, but he had to answer a great many questions about the change in proprietorship, and the probability of his getting in some new books, with suggestions as to the quantity and character of these, mingled with a few dissatisfied remarks in regard to the volumes already on hand.
Every one seemed sorry that the old lady had gone away. But Mr. Tolman was so pleasant and anxious to please, and took such an interest in their selection of books, that only one of the subscribers appeared to take the change very much to heart. This was a young man who was forty-three cents in arrears. He was a long time selecting a book, and when at last he brought it to Mr. Tolman to be entered, he told him in a low voice that he hoped there would be no objection to letting his account run on for a little while longer. On the first of the month he would settle it, and then he hoped to be able to pay cash whenever he brought in a book.
Mr. Tolman looked for his name on the old lady’s list, and, finding no cross against it, told him that it was all right, and that the first of the month would do very well. The young man went away perfectly satisfied with the new librarian. Thus did Mr. Tolman begin to build up his popularity. As the evening grew on he found himself becoming very hungry. But he did not like to shut up the shop, for every now and then some one dropped in, sometimes to ask what time it was, and sometimes to make a little purchase, while there were still some library patrons coming in at intervals.
However, taking courage during a short rest from customers, he put up the shutters, locked the door, and hurried off to a hotel, where he partook of a meal such as few keepers of little shops ever think of indulging in.
The next morning Mr. Tolman got his own breakfast. This was delightful. He had seen how cosily the old lady had spread her table in the little back room, where there was a stove suitable for any cooking he might wish to indulge in, and he longed for such a cosey meal. There were plenty of stock provisions in the house, which he had purchased with the rest of the goods, and he went out and bought himself a fresh loaf of bread. Then he broiled a piece of ham, made some good strong tea, boiled some eggs, and had a breakfast on the little round table which, though plain enough, he enjoyed more than any breakfast at his club which he could remember. He had opened the shop, and sat facing the glass door, hoping, almost, that there would be some interruption to his meal. It would seem so much more proper in that sort of business if he had to get up and go attend to a customer.
Before the evening of that day Mr. Tolman became convinced that he would soon be obliged to employ a boy or some one to attend to the establishment during his absence. After breakfast, a woman recommended by the old lady came to make his bed and clean up generally, but when she had gone he was left alone with his shop. He determined not to allow this responsibility to injure his health, and so at one o’clock boldly locked the shop door and went out to his lunch. He hoped that no one would call during his absence, but when he returned he found a little girl with a pitcher standing at the door. She came to borrow half a pint of milk.
“Milk!” exclaimed Mr. Tolman, in surprise. “Why, my child, I have no milk. I don’t even use it in my tea.”
The little girl looked very much disappointed. “Is Mrs. Walker gone away for good?” said she.
“Yes,” replied Mr. Tolman. “But I would be just as willing to lend you the milk as she would be, if I had any. Is there any place near here where you can buy milk?”
“Oh, yes,” said the girl. “You can get it round in the market-house.”
“How much would half a pint cost?” he asked.
“Three cents,” replied the girl.
“Well, then,” said Mr. Tolman, “here are three cents. You can go and buy the milk for me, and then you can borrow it. Will that suit?”
The girl thought it would suit very well, and away she went.
Even this little incident pleased Mr. Tolman. It was so very novel. When he came back from his dinner in the evening, he found two circulating library subscribers stamping their feet on the door-step, and he afterwards heard that several others had called and gone away. It would certainly injure the library if he suspended business at meal-times. He could easily have his choice of a hundred boys if he chose to advertise for one, but he shrank from having a youngster in the place. It would interfere greatly with his cosiness and his experiences. He might possibly find a boy who went to school, and who would be willing to come at noon and in the evening if he were paid enough. But it would have to be a very steady and responsible boy. He would think it over before taking any steps.
He thought it over for a day or two, but he did not spend his whole time in doing so. When he had no customers, he sauntered about in the little parlor over the shop, with its odd old furniture, its quaint prints on the walls, and its absurd ornaments on the mantelpiece. The other little rooms seemed almost as funny to him, and he was sorry when the bell on the shop door called him down from their contemplation. It was pleasant to him to think that he owned all these odd things. The ownership of the varied goods in the shop also gave him an agreeable feeling which none of his other possessions had ever afforded him. It was all so odd and novel.
He liked much to look over the books in the library. Many of them were old novels, the names of which were familiar enough to him, but which he had never read. He determined to read some of them as soon as he felt fixed and settled.
In looking over the book in which the names and accounts of the subscribers were entered, he amused himself by wondering what sort of persons they were who had out certain books. Who, for instance, wanted to read “The Book of Cats,” and who could possibly care for “The Mysteries of Udolpho”? But the unknown person in regard to whom Mr. Tolman felt the greatest curiosity was the subscriber who now had in his possession a volume entitled “Dormstock’s Logarithms of the Diapason.”
“How on earth,” exclaimed Mr. Tolman, “did such a book get into this library? And where on earth did the person spring from who would want to take it out? And not only want to take it,” he continued, as he examined the entry regarding the volume, “but come and have it renewed one, two, three, four–nine times! He has had that book for eighteen weeks!”
Without exactly making up his mind to do so, Mr. Tolman deferred taking steps toward getting an assistant until P. Glascow, the person in question, should make an appearance, and it was nearly time for the book to be brought in again.
“If I get a boy now,” thought Mr. Tolman, “Glascow will be sure to come and bring the book while I am out.”
In almost exactly two weeks from the date of the last renewal of the book, P. Glascow came in. It was the middle of the afternoon, and Mr. Tolman was alone. This investigator of musical philosophy was a quiet young man of about thirty, wearing a light-brown cloak, and carrying under one arm a large book.
P. Glascow was surprised when he heard of the change in the proprietorship of the library. Still, he hoped that there would be no objection to his renewing the book which he had with him, and which he had taken out some time ago.
“Oh, no,” said Mr. Tolman, “none in the world. In fact, I don’t suppose there are any other subscribers who would want it. I have had the curiosity to look to see if it had ever been taken out before, and I find it has not.”
The young man smiled quietly. “No,” said he, “I suppose not. It is not every one who would care to study the higher mathematics of music, especially when treated as Dormstock treats the subject.”
“He seems to go into it pretty deeply,” remarked Mr. Tolman, who had taken up the book. “At least, I should think so, judging from all these calculations, and problems, and squares, and cubes.”
“Indeed he does,” said Glascow. “And although I have had the book some months, and have more reading time at my disposal than most persons, I have only reached the fifty-sixth page, and doubt if I shall not have to review some of that before I can feel that I thoroughly understand it.”
“And there are three hundred and forty pages in all!” said Mr. Tolman, compassionately.
“Yes,” replied the other. “But I am quite sure that the matter will grow easier as I proceed. I have found that out from what I have already done.”
“You say you have a good deal of leisure?” remarked Mr. Tolman. “Is the musical business dull at present?”
“Oh, I’m not in the musical business,” said Glascow. “I have a great love for music, and wish to thoroughly understand it. But my business is quite different. I am a night druggist, and that is the reason I have so much leisure for reading.”
“A night druggist?” repeated Mr. Tolman, inquiringly.
“Yes, sir,” said the other. “I am in a large downtown drug store which is kept open all night, and I go on duty after the day clerks leave.”
“And does that give you more leisure?” asked Mr. Tolman.
“It seems to,” answered Glascow. “I sleep until about noon, and then I have the rest of the day, until seven o’clock, to myself. I think that people who work at night can make a more satisfactory use of their own time than those who work in the daytime. In the summer I can take a trip on the river, or go somewhere out of town, every day, if I like.”
“Daylight is more available for many things, that is true,” said Mr. Tolman. “But is it not dreadfully lonely sitting in a drug store all night? There can’t be many people to come to buy medicine at night. I thought there was generally a night-bell to drug stores, by which a clerk could be awakened if anybody wanted anything.”
“It’s not very lonely in our store at night,” said Glascow. “In fact, it’s often more lively then than in the daytime. You see, we are right down among the newspaper offices, and there’s always somebody coming in for soda-water, or cigars, or something or other. The store is a bright, warm place for the night editors and reporters to meet together and talk and drink hot soda, and there’s always a knot of ’em around the stove about the time the papers begin to go to press. And they’re a lively set, I can tell you, sir. I’ve heard some of the best stories I ever heard in my life told in our place after three o’clock in the morning.”
“A strange life!” said Mr. Tolman. “Do you know, I never thought that people amused themselves in that way–and night after night, I suppose.”
“Yes, sir, night after night, Sundays and all.”
The night druggist now took up his book.
“Going home to read?” asked Mr. Tolman.
“Well, no,” said the other. “It’s rather cold this afternoon to read. I think I’ll take a brisk walk.”
“Can’t you leave your book until you return!” asked Mr. Tolman. “That is, if you will come back this way. It’s an awkward book to carry about.”
“Thank you, I will,” said Glascow. “I shall come back this way.”
When he had gone, Mr. Tolman took up the book, and began to look over it more carefully than he had done before. But his examination did not last long.
“How anybody of common sense can take any interest in this stuff is beyond my comprehension,” said Mr. Tolman, as he closed the book and put it on a little shelf behind the counter.
When Glascow came back, Mr. Tolman asked him to stay and warm himself. And then, after they had talked for a short time, Mr. Tolman began to feel hungry. He had his winter appetite, and had lunched early. So said he to the night druggist, who had opened his “Dormstock,” “How would you like to sit here and read awhile, while I go and get my dinner? I will light the gas, and you can be very comfortable here, if you are not in a hurry.”
P. Glascow was in no hurry at all, and was very glad to have some quiet reading by a warm fire; and so Mr. Tolman left him, feeling perfectly confident that a man who had been allowed by the old lady to renew a book nine times must be perfectly trustworthy.
When Mr. Tolman returned, the two had some further conversation in the corner by the little stove.
“It must be rather annoying,” said the night druggist, “not to be able to go out to your meals without shutting up your shop. If you like,” said he, rather hesitatingly, “I will stop in about this time in the afternoon, and stay here while you go to dinner. I’ll be glad to do this until you get an assistant. I can easily attend to most people who come in, and others can wait.”
Mr. Tolman jumped at this proposition. It was exactly what he wanted.
So P. Glascow came every afternoon and read “Dormstock” while Mr. Tolman went to dinner; and before long he came at lunch-time also. It was just as convenient as not, he said. He had finished his breakfast, and would like to read awhile. Mr. Tolman fancied that the night druggist’s lodgings were, perhaps, not very well warmed, which idea explained the desire to walk rather than read on a cold afternoon. Glascow’s name was entered on the free list, and he always took away the “Dormstock” at night, because he might have a chance of looking into it at the store, when custom began to grow slack in the latter part of the early morning.
One afternoon there came into the shop a young lady, who brought back two books which she had had for more than a month. She made no excuses for keeping the books longer than the prescribed time, but simply handed them in and paid her fine. Mr. Tolman did not like to take this money, for it was the first of the kind he had received; but the young lady looked as if she were well able to afford the luxury of keeping books over their time, and business was business. So he gravely gave her her change. Then she said she would like to take out “Dormstock’s Logarithms of the Diapason.”
Mr. Tolman stared at her. She was a bright, handsome young lady, and looked as if she had very good sense. He could not understand it. But he told her the book was out.
“Out!” she said. “Why, it’s always out. It seems strange to me that there should be such a demand for that book. I have been trying to get it for ever so long.”
“It IS strange,” said Mr. Tolman, “but it is certainly in demand. Did Mrs. Walker ever make you any promises about it?”
“No,” said she, “but I thought my turn would come around some time. And I particularly want the book just now.”
Mr. Tolman felt somewhat troubled. He knew that the night druggist ought not to monopolize the volume, and yet he did not wish to disoblige one who was so useful to him, and who took such an earnest interest in the book. And he could not temporize with the young lady, and say that he thought the book would soon be in. He knew it would not. There were three hundred and forty pages of it. So he merely remarked that he was sorry.
“So am I, ” said the young lady, “very sorry. It so happens that just now I have a peculiar opportunity for studying that book which may not occur again.”
There was something in Mr. Tolman’s sympathetic face which seemed to invite her confidence, and she continued.
“I am a teacher,” she said, “and on account of certain circumstances I have a holiday for a month, which I intended to give up almost entirely to the study of music, and I particularly wanted “Dormstock.” Do you think there is any chance of its early return, and will you reserve it for me?”
“Reserve it!” said Mr. Tolman. “Most certainly I will.” And then he reflected a second or two. “If you will come here the day after to-morrow, I will be able to tell you something definite.”
She said she would come.
Mr. Tolman was out a long time at lunch-time the next day. He went to all the leading book-stores to see if he could buy a copy of Dormstock’s great work. But he was unsuccessful. The booksellers told him that there was no probability that he could get a copy in the country, unless, indeed, he found it in the stock of some second-hand dealer, and that even if he sent to England for it, where it was published, it was not likely he could get it, for it had been long out of print. There was no demand at all for it. The next day he went to several second- hand stores, but no “Dormstock” could he find.
When he came back he spoke to Glascow on the subject. He was sorry to do so, but thought that simple justice compelled him to mention the matter. The night druggist was thrown into a perturbed state of mind by the information that some one wanted his beloved book.
“A woman!” he exclaimed. “Why, she would not understand two pages out of the whole of it. It is too bad. I didn’t suppose any one would want this book.”
“Do not disturb yourself too much,” said Mr. Tolman. “I am not sure that you ought to give it up.”
“I am very glad to hear you say so,” said Glascow. “I have no doubt it is only a passing fancy with her. I dare say she would really rather have a good new novel.” And then, having heard that the lady was expected that afternoon, he went out to walk, with the “Dormstock” under his arm.
When the young lady arrived, an hour or so later, she was not at all satisfied to take out a new novel, and was very sorry indeed not to find the “Logarithms of the Diapason” waiting for her. Mr. Tolman told her that he had tried to buy another copy of the work, and for this she expressed herself gratefully. He also found himself compelled to say that the book was in the possession of a gentleman who had had it for some time–all the time it had been out, in fact–and had not yet finished it.
At this the young lady seemed somewhat nettled.
“Is it not against the rules for any person to keep one book out so long?” she asked.
“No,” said Mr. Tolman. “I have looked into that. Our rules are very simple, and merely say that a book may be renewed by the payment of a certain sum.”
“Then I am never to have it?” remarked the young lady.
“Oh, I wouldn’t despair about it,” said Mr. Tolman. “He has not had time to reflect upon the matter. He is a reasonable young man, and I believe that he will be willing to give up his study of the book for a time and let you take it.”
“No,” said she, “I don’t wish that. If he is studying, as you say he is, day and night, I do not wish to interrupt him. I should want the book at least a month, and that, I suppose, would upset his course of study entirely. But I do not think any one should begin in a circulating library to study a book that will take him a year to finish; for, from what you say, it will take this gentleman at least that time to finish Dormstock’s book.” So she went her way.
When P. Glascow heard all this in the evening, he was very grave. He had evidently been reflecting.
“It is not fair,” said he. “I ought not to keep the book so long. I now give it up for a while. You may let her have it when she comes.” And he put the “Dormstock” on the counter, and went and sat down by the stove.
Mr. Tolman was grieved. He knew the night druggist had done right, but still he was sorry for him. “What will you do?” he asked. “Will you stop your studies?”
“Oh, no,” said Glascow, gazing solemnly into the stove. “I will take up some other books on the diapason which I have, and so will keep my ideas fresh on the subject until this lady is done with the book. I do not really believe she will study it very long.” Then he added: “If it is all the same to you, I will come around here and read, as I have been doing, until you shall get a regular assistant.”
Mr. Tolman would be delighted to have him come, he said. He had entirely given up the idea of getting an assistant, but this he did not say.
It was some time before the lady came back, and Mr. Tolman was afraid she was not coming at all. But she did come, and asked for Mrs. Burney’s “Evelina.” She smiled when she named the book, and said that she believed she would have to take a novel, after all, and she had always wanted to read that one.
“I wouldn’t take a novel if I were you,” said Mr. Tolman; and he triumphantly took down the “Dormstock” and laid it before her.
She was evidently much pleased, but when he told her of Mr. Glascow’s gentlemanly conduct in the matter, her countenance instantly changed.
“Not at all,” said she, laying down the book. “I will not break up his study. I will take the `Evelina’ if you please.”
And as no persuasion from Mr. Tolman had any effect upon her, she went away with Mrs. Burney’s novel in her muff.
“Now, then,” said Mr. Tolman to Glascow, in the evening, “you may as well take the book along with you. She won’t have it.”
But Glascow would do nothing of the kind. “No,” he remarked, as he sat looking into the stove. “When I said I would let her have it, I meant it. She’ll take it when she sees that it continues to remain in the library.”
Glascow was mistaken: she did not take it, having the idea that he would soon conclude that it would be wiser for him to read it than to let it stand idly on the shelf.
“It would serve them both right,” said Mr. Tolman to himself, “if somebody else should come and take it.” But there was no one else among his subscribers who would even think of such a thing.
One day, however, the young lady came in and asked to look at the book. “Don’t think that I am going to take it out,” she said, noticing Mr. Tolman’s look of pleasure as he handed her the volume. “I only wish to see what he says on a certain subject which I am studying now.” And so she sat down by the stove on the chair which Mr. Tolman placed for her, and opened “Dormstock.”
She sat earnestly poring over the book for half an hour or more, and then she looked up and said: “I really cannot make out what this part means. Excuse my troubling you, but I would be very glad if you would explain the latter part of this passage.”
“Me!” exclaimed Mr. Tolman. “Why, my good madam,–miss, I mean,–I couldn’t explain it to you if it were to save my life. But what page is it?” said he, looking at his watch.
“Page twenty-four,” answered the young lady.
“Oh, well, then,” said he, “if you can wait ten or fifteen minutes, the gentleman who has had the book will be here, and I think he can explain anything in the first part of the work.”
The young lady seemed to hesitate whether to wait or not; but as she had a certain curiosity to see what sort of a person he was who had been so absorbed in the book, she concluded to sit a little longer and look into some other parts of the volume.
The night druggist soon came in, and when Mr. Tolman introduced him to the lady, he readily agreed to explain the passage to her if he could. So Mr. Tolman got him a chair from the inner room, and he also sat down by the stove.
The explanation was difficult, but it was achieved at last, and then the young lady broached the subject of leaving the book unused. This was discussed for some time, but came to nothing, although Mr. Tolman put down his afternoon paper and joined in the argument, urging, among other points, that as the matter now stood he was deprived by the dead-lock of all income from the book. But even this strong argument proved of no avail.
“Then I will tell you what I wish you would do,” said Mr. Tolman, as the young lady rose to go: “come here and look at the book whenever you wish to do so. I would like to make this more of a reading-room, anyway. It would give me more company.”
After this the young lady looked into “Dormstock” when she came in; and as her holidays had been extended by the continued absence of the family in which she taught, she had plenty of time for study, and came quite frequently. She often met Glascow in the shop, and on such occasions they generally consulted “Dormstock,” and sometimes had quite lengthy talks on musical matters. One afternoon they came in together, having met on their way to the library, and entered into a conversation on diapasonic logarithms, which continued during the lady’s stay in the shop.
“The proper thing,” thought Mr. Tolman, “would be for these two people to get married. Then they could take the book and study it to their heart’s content. And they would certainly suit each other, for they are both greatly attached to musical mathematics and philosophy, and neither of them either plays or sings, as they have told me. It would be an admirable match.”
Mr. Tolman thought over this matter a good deal, and at last determined to mention it to Glascow. When he did so, the young man colored, and expressed the opinion that it would be of no use to think of such a thing. But it was evident from his manner and subsequent discourse that he had thought of it.
Mr. Tolman gradually became quite anxious on the subject, especially as the night druggist did not seem inclined to take any steps in the matter. The weather was now beginning to be warmer, and Mr. Tolman reflected that the little house and the little shop were probably much more cosey and comfortable in winter than in summer. There were higher buildings all about the house, and even now he began to feel that the circulation of air would be quite as agreeable as the circulation of books. He thought a good deal about his airy rooms in the neighboring city.
“Mr. Glascow,” said he, one afternoon, “I have made up my mind to sell out this business shortly.”
“What!” exclaimed the other. “Do you mean you will give it up and go away–leave the place altogether?”
“Yes,” replied Mr. Tolman, “I shall give up the place entirely, and leave the city.”
The night druggist was shocked. He had spent many happy hours in that shop, and his hours there were now becoming pleasanter than ever. If Mr. Tolman went away, all this must end. Nothing of the kind could be expected of any new proprietor.
“And considering this,” continued Mr. Tolman, “I think it would be well for you to bring your love matters to a conclusion while I am here to help you.”
“My love matters!” exclaimed Mr. Glascow, with a flush.
“Yes, certainly,” said Mr. Tolman. “I have eyes, and I know all about it. Now let me tell you what I think. When a thing is to be done, it ought to be done the first time there is a good chance. That’s the way I do business. Now you might as well come around here to-morrow afternoon prepared to propose to Miss Edwards. She is due to-morrow, for she has been two days away. If she doesn’t come, we will postpone the matter until the next day. But you should be ready to-morrow. I don’t believe you can see her much when you don’t meet her here, for that family is expected back very soon, and from what I infer from her account of her employers, you won’t care to visit her at their house.”
The night druggist wanted to think about it.
“There is nothing to think,” said Mr. Tolman. “We know all about the lady.” (He spoke truly, for he had informed himself about both parties to the affair.) “Take my advice, and be here to-morrow afternoon–and come rather early.”
The next morning Mr. Tolman went up to his parlor on the second floor, and brought down two blue stuffed chairs, the best he had, and put them in the little room back of the shop. He also brought down one or two knickknacks and put them on the mantelpiece, and he dusted and brightened up the room as well as he could. He even covered the table with a red cloth from the parlor.
When the young lady arrived, he invited her to walk into the back room to look over some new books he had just got in. If she had known he proposed to give up the business, she would have thought it rather strange that he should be buying new books. But she knew nothing of his intentions. When she was seated at the table whereon the new books were spread, Mr. Tolman stepped outside of the shop door to watch for Glascow’s approach. He soon appeared.
“Walk right in,” said Mr. Tolman. “She’s in the back room looking over books. I’ll wait here, and keep out customers as far as possible. It’s pleasant, and I want a little fresh air. I’ll give you twenty minutes.”
Glascow was pale, but he went in without a word, and Mr. Tolman, with his hands under his coat-tail, and his feet rather far apart, established a blockade on the doorstep. He stood there for some time, looking at the people outside, and wondering what the people inside were doing. The little girl who had borrowed the milk of him, and who had never returned it, was about to pass the door; but seeing him standing there, she crossed over to the other side of the street. But he did not notice her. He was wondering if it was time to go in. A boy came up to the door, and wanted to know if he kept Easter eggs. Mr. Tolman was happy to say he did not. When he had allowed the night druggist a very liberal twenty minutes, he went in. As he entered the shop door, giving the bell a very decided ring as he did so, P. Glascow came down the two steps that led from the inner room. His face showed that it was all right with him.
A few days after this Mr. Tolman sold out his stock, good will, and fixtures, together with the furniture and lease of the house. And who should he sell out to but to Mr. Glascow! This piece of business was one of the happiest points in the whole affair. There was no reason why the happy couple should not be married very soon, and the young lady was charmed to give up her position as teacher and governess in a family, and come and take charge of that delightful little store and that cunning little house, with almost everything in it that they wanted.
One thing in the establishment Mr. Tolman refused to sell. That was Dormstock’s great work. He made the couple a present of the volume, and between two of the earlier pages he placed a bank-note which in value was very much more than that of the ordinary wedding gift.
“What are YOU going to do?” they asked of him, when all these things were settled. And then he told them how he was going back to his business in the neighboring city, and he told them what it was, and how he had come to manage a circulating library. They did not think him crazy. People who studied the logarithms of the diapason would not be apt to think a man crazy for such a little thing as that.
When Mr. Tolman returned to the establishment of Pusey & Co., he found everything going on very satisfactorily.
“You look ten years younger, sir,” said Mr. Canterfield. “You must have had a very pleasant time. I did not think there was enough to interest you in —- for so long a time.”
“Interest me!” exclaimed Mr. Tolman. “Why, objects of interest crowded on me. I never had a more enjoyable holiday in my life.”
When he went home that evening (and he found himself quite willing to go), he tore up the will he had made. He now felt that there was no necessity for proving his sanity.