Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.



For the Love of Dickens and the Want of a Book

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

(12/2016) Now, what I want is facts.

It was December and the biting cold wind wrapped itself around the library that sat among other public buildings in a certain town. In this library, on a dusty shelf labeled MDS 823.8, sat a book. It was a shabby looking book, but then again, it always had been, even when it first came to rest there. It sat, bound in cheap, imitation leather as searching hands found the newer editions of itself. The red leather was beginning to peel away and the pages that were once the color of buttercream, now looked as though someone had painted them with coffee. It was once a handsome book, but years of forget had left its mark.

The gold leaf title on the front cover was beginning to fade, but the words were still legible; Selected Works of Charles Dickens. A librarian, tasked with discovering books that were too old for public use, found it. Holding it in hands that looked nearly as old as the book they held, she knew that it would be a sin to cast it away. However, shelf space was needed and it wasnít as if it were the only copy of the work. It was a library after all. But for the librarian, it was the principle of the thing and her heart ached at the thought of this book wasting away or worse. Holding it in her hands, she had an idea, she smiled and checked her watch. Yes, she thought, he should be here any moment now.

Now, there once lived, in a sequestered part of the county, a young boy no older than thirteen. School had just been let out and the young boy pedaled through the streets, scarf wrapped thrice around the bottom half of his face as the winter wind made his eyes water. He relied on the blurry, dotted lights lining the windows to act as some kind of guide. As he rode on, narrowly missing a group of carolers, he felt himself relax as he drew nearer to home. Well, actually, the building was the public library. It was usually empty because most people found what they needed in a matter of seconds and a few keystrokes.

As no lady or gentleman he had met shared the same reverence for the building as he did, he often went alone. He preferred it that way, for this was holy ground. A solemn temple full of knowledge and wonder that had always welcomed him back with promises of something new. Within its walls he would sit, head bowed, and read each and every book that came his way as though it were his sacred scripture. He was nine when he converted to this way of life, for it kindled in his heart a love of words.

He sighed as the warmth of the building embraced him with the heavenly scent of paper and ink. However, he paused for a moment at the sight of something that wasnít there the day before. Standing in the middle of the entryway was a colossal tree decorated with tinsel and cheap ornaments, half of the lights were out and the plastic branches crumbled slightly in one section. It was Christmas? Already?

To be honest, it was easy to forget about Christmas. After all, his family wasnít necessarily the celebrating type and besides a battered wreath on the door and an unwrapped gift on Christmas Eve, there was nothing to mark the occasion. Not that it bothered him.

It took him a moment before he realized that his name was being called. He turned to see and unconsciously stood a little straighter at the approach of the voice. She was a severe looking woman who vaguely resembled a bird. Her suits ranged from charcoal to the color of fog. Indeed her whole appearance seemed to exist on a grayscale. Even her hair, which was always pulled in a tight bun, was the color of storm clouds. She had an air of sternness that would make even the most troublesome persons think twice about causing any sort of havoc in her library. But as she came closer, she smiled and it softened her features,

"You were two minutes late, I was about to send out a search party," she said, looking at the bright young man as he took off his scarf. He grinned sheepishly and mumbled an apology.

"Donít be sorry, you silly boy," sitting on the bench in front of the Christmas tree, she beckoned him, "Come here and sit. I have something for you."

He sat down obediently next to her as she held out a rectangular object wrapped in brown paper and tied with green ribbon. He held it in his hands lamely, until the librarian spoke, letting a note of impatience enter her voice, "Come on then, open it up."

He made quick work of the ribbon and paper and stared mutely at the book in his lap, barely registering her voice, "I know it might be, well, a bit more than what youíre used to reading, but I thought you would enjoy-"

"I, um, I canít accept this," he said, cutting her off.

"And why ever not?" she demanded.

"Because óbecause I didnít get you anything," he said, trying to give it back to her. The truth was, charity made him feel terribly uncomfortable. She hummed and said, "Well, if you wonít take it then I guess it will have to be discarded," she said with a theatrical sigh and reaching towards the book, she held back a smile when he hugged it to his chest.

"What?" he asked, eyebrows raised in horror.

"Well, we need the shelf space and I was hoping on finding this book a good home, but if you would rather see it turn to pulp then-" she shrugged her shoulders and held out her hand. She knew she was laying it on a bit thick, but then again, the boy probably wouldnít accept it any other way.

The boy looked to the book and to the outstretched hand and then back to the book,

"Um, I-I guess Iíll look after it, then," said he. The librarian narrowed her eyes, "Really? Because itís fine if you donít want it."

"No, I do, really," he said with eagerness.

"That solves that problem then," she replied with a smile that barely hid her satisfaction.

"I think youíll enjoy Dickens. Brilliant writer." She was startled by the hug he gave her, but returned it nonetheless. She then stood and, not before wishing him a Merry Christmas and upon hearing his reply, she walked out into the evening.

He sat there for a few moments, gazing at the book. Reminding himself that it was not just any book; it was his book. He relished over the feel of owning a world built of ink and paper and in his mind no other gift in the world could match to what was in his hands. Opening it to the first story, he began to read:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must showÖ

He looked up briefly one more time to see that the librarian was already long gone, he settled in front of the Christmas tree and read onÖ

Years would pass and his one book would turn into a library and his solitude into a busy, warm household, filled with generations. And my story which began with a lonely little boy who was given a book ends happily. For his children and grandchildren would mark the start of Christmas not by the rhymes of Clement Moore, but by the words of Charles Dickens. They would remember surrounding the fireplace and watching as from the top shelf he would fetch the book whose pages were beginning to shed. He would gingerly open it to the proper page and read, allowing memory to take over for some parts. His voice would surround them, the room would dissipate, and up from the words spilling from his lips would spring the ghost of Marley, or the small frame of Oliver Twist, or the figure of the warm Mrs. Lirriper. They would fall asleep on the hearthrug to the sound of his voice. He would read on and in his heart know that for better and worst, through wisdom and foolishness, belief and incredulity, light and darkness, hope and despair, he would always have Dickens.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir