Chapter IX.




Renmark walked through the woods and then across the fields, until he came to the road. He avoided the habitations of man as much as he could, for he was neither so sociably inclined nor so frequently hungry as was his companion. He strode along the road, not caring much where it led him. Everyone he met gave him "Good-day," after the friendly custom of the country. Those with wagons or lighter vehicles going in his direction usually offered him a ride, and went on, wondering that a man should choose to walk when it was not compulsory. The professor, like most silent men, found himself good company, and did not feel the need of companionship in his walks. He had felt relieved rather than disappointed when Yates refused to accompany him. And Yates, swinging drowsily in his hammock, was no less gratified. Even where men are firm and intimate friends, the first few days of camping out together is a severe strain on their regard for each other. If Damon and Pythias had occupied a tent together for a week, the worst enemy of either, or both, might at the end of that time have ventured into the camp in safety, and would have been welcome.

Renmark thought of these things as he walked along. His few days' intimacy with Yates had shown him how far apart they had managed to get by following paths that diverged more and more widely the farther they were trodden. The friendship of their youth had turned out to be merely ephemeral. Neither would now choose the other as an intimate associate. Another illusion had gone.

"I have surely enough self-control," said Renmark to himself, as he walked on, "to stand his shallow flippancy for another week, and not let him see what I think of him."

Yates at the same time was thoroughly enjoying the peaceful silence of the camp. "That man is an exaggerated schoolmaster, with all the faults of the species abnormally developed. If I once open out on him, he will learn more truth about himself in ten minutes than he ever heard in his life before. What an unbearable prig he has grown to be." Thus ran Yates' thoughts as he swung in his hammock, looking up at the ceiling of green leaves.

Nevertheless, the case was not so bad as either of them thought. If it had been, then were marriage not only a failure, but a practical impossibility. If two men can get over the first few days in camp without a quarrel, life becomes easier, and the tension relaxes.

Renmark, as he polished off his ten miles, paid little heed to those he met; but one driver drew up his horse and accosted him.

"Good-day," he said. "How are you getting on in the tent?"

The professor was surprised at the question. Had their tenting-out eccentricity gone all over the country? He was not a quick man at recognizing people, belonging, as he did, to the "I-remember-your-face- but-can't-recall-your-name" fraternity. It had been said of him that he never, at any one time, knew the names of more than half a dozen students in his class; but this was an undergraduate libel on him. The young man who had accosted him was driving a single horse, attached to what he termed a "democrat"--a four-wheeled light wagon, not so slim and elegant as a buggy, nor so heavy and clumsy as a wagon. Renmark looked up at the driver with confused unrecognition, troubled because he vaguely felt that he had met him somewhere before. But his surprise at being addressed speedily changed into amazement as he looked from the driver to the load. The "democrat" was heaped with books. The larger volumes were stuck along the sides with some regularity, and in this way kept the miscellaneous pile from being shaken out on the road. His eye glittered with a new interest as it rested on the many-colored bindings; and he recognized in the pile the peculiar brown covers of the "Bohn" edition of classic translations, that were scattered like so many turnips over the top of this ridge of literature. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he was not dreaming. How came a farmer's boy to be driving a wagon load of books in the wilds of the country as nonchalantly as if they were so many bushels of potatoes?

The young driver, who had stopped his horse, for the load was heavy and the sand was deep, saw that the stranger not only did not recognize him, but that from the moment he saw the books he had forgotten everything else. It was evidently necessary to speak again.

"If you are coming back, will you have a ride?" he asked.

"I--I think I will," said the professor, descending to earth again and climbing up beside the boy.

"I see you don't remember me," said the latter, starting his horse again. "My name is Howard. I passed you in my buggy when you were coming in with your tent that day on the Ridge. Your partner--what's his name--Yates, isn't it?--had dinner at our house the other day."

"Ah, yes. I recollect you now. I thought I had seen you before; but it was only for a moment, you know. I have a very poor memory so far as people are concerned. It has always been a failing of mine. Are these your books? And how do you happen to have such a quantity?"

"Oh, this is the library," said young Howard.

"The library?"

"Yes, the township library, you know."

"Oh! The township has a library, then? I didn't know."

"Well, it's part of it. This is a fifth part. You know about township libraries, don't you? Your partner said you were a college man."

Renmark blushed at his own ignorance, but he was never reluctant to admit it.

"I ought to be ashamed to confess it, but I know nothing of township libraries. Please, tell me about them."

Young Howard was eager to give information to a college man, especially on the subject of books, which he regarded as belonging to the province of college-bred men. He was pleased also to discover that city people did not know everything. He had long had the idea that they did, and this belief had been annoyingly corroborated by the cocksureness of Yates. The professor evidently was a decent fellow, who did not pretend to universal knowledge. This was encouraging. He liked Renmark better than Yates, and was glad he had offered him a ride, although, of course, that was the custom; still, a person with one horse and a heavy load is exempt on a sandy road.

"Well, you see," he said in explanation, "it's like this: The township votes a sum of money, say a hundred dollars, or two hundred, as the case may be. They give notice to the Government of the amount voted, and the Government adds the same amount to the township money. It's like the old game: you think of a number, and they double it. The Government has a depository of books, in Toronto, I think, and they sell them cheaper than the bookstores do. At any rate, the four hundred dollars' worth are bought, or whatever the amount is, and the books are the property of the township. Five persons are picked out in the township as librarians, and they have to give security. My father is librarian for this section. The library is divided into five parts, and each librarian gets a share. Once a year I go to the next section and get all their books. They go to the next section, again, and get all the books at that place. A man comes to our house to-day and takes all we have. So we get a complete change every year, and in five years we get back the first batch, which by that time we have forgotten all about. To-day is changing day all around."

"And the books are lent to any person in each section who wishes to read them?" asked the professor.

"Yes. Margaret keeps a record, and a person can have a book out for two weeks; after that time there is a fine, but Margaret never fines anyone."

"And do people have to pay to take out the books?"

"Not likely!" said Howard with fine contempt. "You wouldn't expect people to pay for reading books; would you, now?"

"No, I suppose not. And who selected the volumes?"

"Well, the township can select the books if it likes, or it can send a committee to select them; but they didn't think it worth the trouble and expense. People grumbled enough at wasting money on books as it was, even if they did buy them at half price. Still, others said it was a pity not to get the money out of the Government when they had the chance. I don't believe any of them cared very much about the books, except father and a few others. So the Government chose the books. They'll do that if you leave it to them. And a queer lot of trash they sent, if you take my word for it. I believe they shoved off on us all the things no on else would buy. Even when they did pick out novels, they were just as tough as the history books. 'Adam Bede' is one. They say that's a novel. I tried it, but I would rather read the history of Josephus any day. There's some fighting in that, if it is a history. Then there's any amount of biography books. They're no good. There's a 'History of Napoleon.' Old Bartlett's got that, and he won't give it up. He says he was taxed for the library against his will. He dares them to go to law about it, and it aint worth while for one book. The other sections are all asking for that book; not that they want it, but the whole country knows that old Bartlett's a-holding on to it, so they'd like to see some fun. Bartlett's read that book fourteen times, and it's all he knows. I tell Margaret she ought to fine him, and keep on fining, but she won't do it. I guess Bartlett thinks the book belongs to him by this time. Margaret likes Kitty and Mrs. Bartlett,-- so does everybody,--but old Bartlett's a seed. There he sits now on his veranda, and it's a wonder he's not reading the 'History of Napoleon.'"

They were passing the Bartlett house, and young Howard raised his voice and called out:

"I say, Mr. Bartlett, we want that Napoleon book. This is changing day, you know. Shall I come up for it, or will you bring it down? If you fetch it to the gate, I'll cart it home now."

The old man paid no heed to what was said to him; but Mrs. Bartlett, attracted by the outcry, came to the door.

"You go along with your books, you young rascal!" she cried, coming down to the gate when she saw the professor. "That's a nice way to carry bound books, as if they were a lot of bricks. I'll warrant you have lost a dozen between Mallory's and here. But easy come, easy go. It's plain to be seen they didn't cost you anything. I don't know what the world's a-coming to when the township spends its money in books, as if taxes weren't heavy enough already. Won't you come in, Mr. Renmark? Tea's on the table."

"Mr. Renmark's coming with me this trip, Mrs. Bartlett," young Howard said before the professor had time to reply; "but I'll come over and take tea, if you'll invite me, as soon as I have put the horse up."

"You go along with your nonsense," she said; "I know you." Then in a lower voice she asked: "How is your mother, Henry--and Margaret?"

"They're pretty well, thanks."

"Tell them I'm going to run over to see them some day soon, but that need not keep them from coming to see me. The old man's going to town to-morrow," and with this hint, after again inviting the professor to a meal, she departed up the path to the house.

"I think I'll get down here," said Renmark, halfway between the two houses. "I am very much obliged to you for the ride, and also for what you told me about the books. It was very interesting."

"Nonsense!" cried young Howard; "I'm not going to let you do anything of the sort. You're coming home with me. You want to see the books, don't you? Very well, then, come along, Margaret is always impatient on changing day, she's so anxious to see the books, and father generally comes in early from the fields for the same reason."

As they approached the Howard homestead they noticed Margaret waiting for them at the gate; but when the girl saw that a stranger was in the wagon, she turned and walked into the house. Renmark, seeing this retreat, regretted he had not accepted Mrs. Bartlett's invitation. He was a sensitive man, and did not realize that others were sometimes as shy as himself. He felt he was intruding, and that at a sacred moment-- the moment of the arrival of the library. He was such a lover of books, and valued so highly the privilege of being alone with them, that he fancied he saw in the abrupt departure of Margaret the same feeling of resentment he would himself have experienced if a visitor had encroached upon him in his favorite nook in the fine room that held the library of the university.

When the wagon stopped in the lane, Renmark said hesitatingly:

"I think I'll not stay, if you don't mind. My friend is waiting for me at the camp, and will be wondering what has become of me."

"Who? Yates? Let him wonder. I guess he never bothers about anybody else as long as he is comfortable himself. That's how I sized him up, at any rate. Besides, you're never going back on carrying in the books, are you? I counted on your help. I don't want to do it, and it don't seem the square thing to let Margaret do it all alone; does it, now?"

"Oh, if I can be of any assistance, I shall----"

"Of course you can. Besides, I know my father wants to see you, anyhow. Don't you, father?"

The old man was coming round from the back of the house to meet them.

"Don't I what?" he asked.

"You said you wanted to see Professor Renmark when Margaret told you what Yates had said to her about him."

Renmark reddened slightly at finding so many people had made him the subject of conversation, rather suspecting at the same time that the boy was making fun of him. Mr. Howard cordially held out his hand.

"So this is Professor Renmark, is it? I am very pleased to see you. Yes, as Henry was saying, I have been wanting to see you ever since my daughter spoke of you. I suppose Henry told you that his brother is a pupil of yours?"

"Oh! is Arthur Howard your son?" cried Renmark, warming up at once. "I did not know it. There are many young men at the college, and I have but the vaguest idea from what parts of the country they all come. A teacher should have no favorites, but I must confess to a strong liking for your son. He is a good boy, which cannot be said about every member of my class."

"Arthur was always studious, so we thought we would give him a chance. I am glad to hear he behaves himself in the city. Farming is hard work, and I hope my boys will have an easier time than I had. But come in, come in. The missus and Margaret will be glad to see you, and hear how the boy is coming on with his studies."

So they went in together.



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