Once upon a time there was a peaceful Kingdom which you will hardly find upon the map. In one corner of the Kingdom by the sea was the pretty little Town of Kisington, where a great many strange things had happened in the past, the chronicles of which filled the town library.
On the High Street of Kisington lived a boy named Harold, who was chief of all the boys in town. He could run faster, jump higher, solve a problem more quickly, and throw a ball farther than any other lad of his age. He was tall and straight and broad-shouldered. His hair was brown and curly, and his eyes were sky-color,–sometimes blue, sometimes gray, sometimes almost black. All the boys liked Harold, especially Richard and Robert, his chums. And Harold liked all the boys and their doings; especially these same two, Robert and Richard.
Harold was the son of a poor widow; one of the poorest in the Kingdom. But though she was so poor, the mother of Harold was determined that her son should be a scholar, because he liked books. And she worked early and late to earn the money for his education.
When Harold was not in school or playing out of doors with the other boys, he always had a book in his hand. Often this happened in the town library, where Harold loved to go. But almost as often it happened at home. For though Harold liked to read to himself, he liked quite as well to read aloud to his mother, who ever since she was a tiny child had always been so busy taking care of other people that she had never found time to learn to read for herself. The greatest happiness of her life came in the evening when her work was done. Then she could sit in a cozy chair in their cottage and hear her boy read the exciting books which he got from the library of Kisington. And the other boys–especially Richard and Robert–liked also to hear Harold read; for his voice was agreeable and he read simply and naturally, without any gestures or tremulous tones, without pulling queer faces such as make listeners want to sink through the floor with embarrassment.
Every time Harold read a story aloud he liked it better than before; every time he read aloud he read better than he had done the last time, until there was nobody in Kisington, not even the Librarian himself, who was so good a reader as Harold. But the other boys were not jealous, Harold was so good-natured and always ready to read to them.
The Librarian was a very important personage indeed in Kisington. You see, this was a peaceful Kingdom, where books were more thought of than bullets, and libraries than battleships. The Librarian wore a splendid velvet gown with fur upon the hood, and a gold chain around his neck with a medal, and he was second in importance only to the Lord Mayor himself.
One summer evening the windows of the cottage where Harold and his mother lived were wide open, and Harold was reading aloud to her. For a wonder, they were quite by themselves. The Librarian, who was a lonely old fellow without chick or child of his own, happened to be passing down the High Street when he heard the sound of a voice reading. It read so well that he stopped to listen. Presently he tapped on the door and begged to be invited within the better to hear the reading. The widow was very proud and pleased, you may be sure. She bade the Librarian welcome, and Harold continued to read until curfew sounded for every one to go to bed. The Librarian patted him on the head and asked if he might come again to hear such good reading. He came, in fact, the very next night.
After that Harold usually had an audience of at least two on the long evenings, even when the other boys were busy. The Librarian became his fast friend. He liked to come to the little cottage better than anywhere else in the world, except to his own library. But at the library he in turn was host, and Harold became his guest. And he showed Harold many wonderful things in that library of which no one but the Librarian knew the existence,–strange histories, forgotten chronicles, wonder-tales. Gradually Harold became almost as well acquainted with the books as was the Librarian himself; though, of course, he did not at first understand them all. Nothing happens all at once. The other fellows called Harold the “Book-Wizard.”
The library was a beautiful building on the main square, close by the Lord Mayor’s house and the belfry, where swung the great town bell. It was open freely to every one, from morning until night, and any one could always get any book he wanted, for there were many copies of each book. The caretakers always knew just where to find the book one wished. Or the reader might go in and choose for himself; which is a pleasanter thing when you have forgotten the name of your book, or do not know just which book you want most until you have looked about.
The shelves of the library were nice and low, so that, no matter how little you were, you could reach the books without standing on tiptoe or climbing a dangerous ladder. And everywhere in the library were well-lighted tables to put books on, and cozy chairs, and crickets for your feet, and cushions for your back. There were wide window-seats, too, where between chapters one could curl up and look down into a beautiful garden.
The air of the library was always sweet and clean. The books were always bright and fresh. There was no noise, nor dust, nor torn pages, nor cross looks to disturb one. The people who took care of the books were civil and obliging. It was indeed a very rare and unusual library. No wonder Harold and the Librarian and all the other citizens of Kisington loved it and were proud of it and used it very often.
Categories: English Literature