The Reluctant Reader

In the hill country of England, a wealthy landlord lived.  Through his estate wound a small and lively brook.  It laughed and chased itself through the property and continued laughing onward.  This brook was a common stop for the tenants of the landlord.  Often they would stop and look at the laughing brook, wishing their journey in life was so easy.

By the brook sat a girl, who often sat in this place, reading a book.  She was remarkably beautiful with raven curls that half-veiled her face.  Her cheeks were rosy, but sunken, and her mouth was full.

Her long dark lashes shaded her dark eyes and her dark brows came to a point with excitement or joy as the story continued in her book.  She sat there, oblivious to all that went on about her.  This beauty’s name was the uncommon name of Elmira.  She was an orphan and lived with her aunt in one of the landlord’s sad cottages.

Elmira did not hear the quick step or cheery whistle as William Honorable came down the path.  He was the landlord’s, Mr. Honorable, only son.  His mother had perished in the birth of a younger sibling that had perished likewise, making him dearer to his father’s heart.

William, or Will as he was called, was a tall boy with light hair and twinkling eyes that were light blue. He was kind to the tenants when he met them, but otherwise he never bothered his head about them.  He was inclined to outdoor sports and disliked the boredom of the classroom.

Today he was going for a walk in the keen air, enjoying every minute of it.  As he came toward the bridge that crossed over the brook, he stopped in surprise.  He waited for a minute; waiting for the girl to realize his presence.

As Elmira neither noticed Will nor moved her head, he cleared his throat respectfully.  Elmira’s head jerked up and her fair face filled with a blush.

“Hello, there,” said Will, smiling and trying to reassure the girl.

“Hello,” answered Elmira as she carefully closed the book and stood up.  She noticed Will was in the dress of a young gentleman and that made her shy.

“I’m Will Honorable,” said Will, giving her a hand.  Will was around the age of seventeen.

“I’m Elmira Kingston,” said she, taking the hand-held out to her hesitantly.  Her clothes were coarse and worn but instead of decreasing her beauty they seemed to add to it.  She was around the age of fourteen.

“Are you one of my father’s tenants?” asked Will.

Elmira now realized who this boy was.

She withdrew her hand quickly and blushed, saying, “Yes, my aunt lives up the path and she kindly took me in.”

“I see you were reading.  What book is that?” asked Will, taking a seat.

“Oh, it is by Susan Warner.  She is a splendid author even if she is a Yankee.  This one is delightful.  You see, it is about a young girl and her trials as she lives with her unloving aunt,” said Elmira, her eyes lighting up as she fondled the well-worn book.

“Is that one of your favorites?” asked Will, who was now really interested.

“Yes, I suppose so.  It is one of the few books we own.  It is my second favorite next to the Bible,” said Elmira frankly.

“Well, I see you enjoy reading, but I do not. The large library my father has collected is unused and unloved by me.  Suppose you come and borrow a few books.  I am sure my father wouldn’t mind,” said Will impulsively.  He always felt sorry for the poor and he wanted to do something help her.

“Oh no!  I mean, thank you, kindly, but I mustn’t.  I shouldn’t even be wasting my time sitting here, but I got distracted.  I really should be going,” Elmira said, standing up and nodding toward Will.  “Have a good day, sir.”

“Oh, bother!  Just let me walk you home,” said Will cheekily, getting up as well.  “Don’t get uppity with me.  That is the bother of being a son of someone wealthy.”

“No, I don’t need to be walked home!” exclaimed Elmira in horror.   “I mean, thank you, but you mustn’t.” Elmira turned to cross the bridge.

“But that is the way I am going. I might as well walk with you,” Will insisted.

“Well, I suppose you may.  As long as you don’t go near the cottage,” said Elmira.  Will joyfully stepped beside her and playfully offered his arm.  Elmira took it with a nod of the head. They enjoyed their walk but Elmira insisted that Will not come near the cottage.  “It really is just over the hill, so you mustn’t bother yourself.  Have a good day and thank you!” Elmira called as she darted up the hill.

A few weeks later, Elmira was busy near the cottage with the washing. As she scrubbed the clothes, she sang softly to herself.  In the cottage sat her aunt, busy with sewing.  The day was fair and nice as she kneeled washing.  She might be washing in this world but her mind was still chasing characters in books; puzzling out their problems and chasing better endings.

She was startled when a shadow covered her.  She looked up to see Will standing there.

“Mr. Honorable! What are you doing here?” asked Elmira, more shock then anger filling her voice.

“I’m here to make sure you take up my offer about the library.  It still stands, and I wanted to make sure you knew I am serious.”

“But Mr. Honorable, I really can’t,” sighed Elmira.  “I have washing to do.  It takes most the day if I have to do it by myself.  Aunt can’t help—Sir!  No, you can’t,” exclaimed Elmira as Will pulled off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.

“Why can’t I?  You can, so I can too, and don’t call me Mr. Honorable.  That is my father,” said Will, kneeling down beside her.

“You can’t because you are the son of the landlord,” said Elmira frankly.  “How would it look if everyone knew Mr. Honorable helped a poor washer girl?”

“Oh, do stop thrusting my rank upon me!  That is my utter curse in life.  Now, how do you do this?” inquired Will.

Elmira giggled and looked toward the cottage.  She was sure her aunt had not heard any of this since her aunt was almost deaf.  “All right, this is how you do it,” said Elmira, as she started showing him.  Her interest in the library overcame her fear of discovery.

Who knows what got wetter, the clothes they were supposed to be washing or Elmira and Will themselves.  By the time they had washed the last article of clothing, both were needing to be dried.

“What will your father say?” asked Elmira in dismay as she looked at Will’s wet and crumpled clothes.

“He won’t say anything.  He likes to indulge me every now and then,” said Will confidently.  “Come on now.  My clothes will dry on the way to my house.”

“I will come as soon as I tell Aunt that I am leaving,” said Elmira, as she went into the cottage.  Will looked at the outside of the house.  It was worn and the roof looked like it leaked.  The hinges on the door were broken and the whole place just looked dilapidated.  Elmira came out and giggled as she came toward him.

“Your clothes look really awful!  You even got mud on them.”

“Who got mud on them?  I thought it was you who splashed me,” teased Will.

“Maybe it was,” admitted Elmira.  They enjoyed the walk to Will’s house and Elmira entered it shyly.  It was a large house common to those days.  Will lead Elmira straight to the library.  It was a cosy room with windows to the west and to the north.  The bookshelves lined the walls and a fire-place was in the middle of one of the walls.  Will lead Elmira straight to a bookshelf.  He pulled out a book and handed it to her.

“A.L.O.E. is my favorite author.  I think you might enjoy her work.  This one is good, it is about a women who tells her children about the giant’s of Pride, Sloth, and Untruth.  There are some other giants but I don’t remember them,” Will explained.  The light in Elmira’s eyes was worth all the trouble Will had gone through with the washing.

“Oh, you should read it again then! That is the best of books.  You can enjoy them over and over,” breathed Elmira as she touched the leather binding.

“I don’t really care for books much, but I suppose you can tell me about it when you finish it.”  Will shrugged.  “If it will add to your enjoyment we can read it at the brook together,” said Will, smiling at Elmira’s eager face as she ran her finger down the titles of the books on the shelf.

“Oh, that will be delightful.  Thank you ,Will!  But I must be going.  Should I leave this book here with you?” Elmira asked walking toward the door.

“No, you may take it home with you.  I know you will take good care of it,” said Will.

“Indeed I will!  Good day!” laughed Elmira as she waved to Will and started down the path.

After Will and Elmira finished the “Giant Killer”, they went on to “Ishmael”.  They met at the brook three times a week.  Elmira had just finished reading the last line in the book.  She looked over at Will, who was stretched out on the soft grass, gazing at the sky.

He started up after a few seconds and asked,  “Is that the end?”

“Yes, it is,” Elmira smiled as Will’s face showed disappointment.

“Don’t the Yankees know how to end a story?” He grumbled.

“It says E.D.E.N. Southworth wrote a sequel,” remarked Elmira.

“Oh, good!  So Yankees do know more than we give them credit.  Let me run and get it,” Will said eagerly, jumping up.

“Wait, let us discuss what we learned from Ishmael first,” said Elmira, caressing the leather cover of the book.

Will placed his chin in his hands in deep thought.  “Well, I assume he taught us to work hard and then you will rise to the top.”

“What would you call that?” inquired Elmira, flipping through the book.

“The fancy word for that is…”

“Have you never played Dictionary?” laughed Elmira as Will trailed off.

“Oh bother!  It went straight out of my head.”

“I would call it perseverance,” Elmira murmured softly.  “And what else did he teach us?  Say… when he saved the Burghe boys?”

“Selflessness,” promptly asserted Will.

“Good, and he showed one other character quality we should notice and try to imitate,” Elmira instructed.

“Well, aren’t you the little teacher?” inquired Will.  “Well, Ishmael was extremely smart.”

“And what would we call that?”

“Wisdom?”

“No, try again,” prompted Elmira.

“Integrity?” queried Will.

“Yes!  Integrity,” Elmira said.  “Now that is all for today.  Bring “Self-Raised” Wednesday and we will start it then.”  Will took the book and smiled at Elmira.

“Thank you, Elmira.”

“No, Will, thank you.”

Again the friends were by the side of the dancing and laughing brook.  This time the sun smiled down upon them and the birds sang as Elmira finished the dramatic tale of ‘Self-Raised.

“That’s a jolly story!” exclaimed Will upon the conclusion.  “Even if it did have a bit too much love in it.”

“I agree. E.D.E.N. Southworth knows what she is doing,” said Elmira in rapture at the thrilling tale.  “Now, for the lessons we learned,” said the little teacher.

Will sighed heavily and then went into deep thought.  “Well, I guess this one was about justice!”

“Indeed, that is one of the values of this story.  What else?”

“And I suppose it had to do with marriage since most of the story was about Bee and Claudia and, of course, Ishmael,” Will reflected.

“I would timidly venture to say two of it’s qualities are purity and virtue,” Elmira put forth.

“You touched it!” exclaimed Will.  “Why do you have me guess the qualities anyway?”

“Because reading is one of the best ways to learn,” she explained.

“Can you not just read for enjoyment?” questioned Will.

“Yes, but how much better if you enjoy the way you learn?  It does not hurt you to answer a few questions, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t,” Will admitted reluctantly.

“Now, did E.D.E.N Southworth write anymore books?”

“Yes, I noticed one when I went to get “Self-Raised”.  It was titled “The Hidden Hand””

“Oh good!  A mystery will be just the thing.  Bring it on Saturday and we will start it,” Elmira said, handing Will the book and waving good-bye.

Together they went through many good books. Elmira gently pointing out the character qualities and Will gleaning wisdom.  He soon started to show many of the qualities in his daily life.  His father remarked upon it once to a friend saying,

“Will has improved very much this year.  He has gone through his school work with unusual zeal and is much more considerate.  I can’t figure out what has caused his sudden improvement, but whatever it is, I am very thankful.”

Over the months, they read through Mr. Honorable’s library.  Soon Will started asking his father to add more books to it.

“Why, you want more books?  This really is astonishing!” exclaimed the old man.  “I thought you found books a bore.”

“I did, Father, but someone has taught me the real meaning of reading,” answered Will readily.

“And what would that be, my boy?”

“The real meaning is first, to learn how to please our Heavenly Father, second to learn how to respect our neighbor and thirdly, to improve our knowledge of this world and the next.”

“Indeed my boy!  That is really the true reason to read,” said Mr. Honorable nodding his head.