He was glad this spacious and subduedly-glowing place, and all the comfortable appointments of Acluid, belonged to him. He had seen enough of the scrambling hand-to-mouth makeshifts of poverty, in poverty's heart-depressing habitations, during the thirty -eight years he weathered before the simultaneous deaths, through a motor accident, of a semimythical personage known since childhood as "your Uncle Henry in Lichfield," and of Uncle Henry's only son as well, had raised Felix Kennaston beyond monetary fre ts. As yet Kennaston did not very profoundly believe in this unlooked-for turn; and in the library of his fine house in particular he had still a sense of treading alien territory under sufferance.
Yet it was a territory which tempted exploration with alluring vistas. Kennaston had always been, when there was time for it, "very fond of reading," as his wife was used to state in tones of blended patronage and apology. Kathleen Kennaston, in the old days of poverty, had declained too many pilfered dicta concerning literary matters to retain any liking for them.
As possibly you may recall, for some years after the death of her first husband, Kathleen Eppes Saumarez had earned precarious bread and butter as a lecturer before women's clubs, and was more or less engaged in journalism, chiefly as a reveiwer of curren t literature. For all books she had thus acquired an abiding dislike. In particular, I think, she loathed the two volumes of "woodland tales" collected in those necessitous years, from her Woman's Page in the Lichfield Courier-Herald, for the fic kle general reading-public, which then used to follow the life-histories of Bazoo the Bear and Mooshwa the Mink, and other "citizens of the wild," with that incalculable unanimity which to-day may be reserved for the biographies of optimistic orphans, and to-morrow veers to vies intimes of high-minded courtesans with hearts of gold.... In fine, through a variety of reasons, Mrs. Kennaston quite frankly cared even less for books, as manifestations of art, than does the average tolerably honest woma n to whom books do not represent a source of income.
And you may or may not remember, likewise, what Kennaston wrote, about this time, in the "Colophon" to Men Who Loved Alison. With increased knowledge of the author, some sentences ttherin, to me at least, took on larger significance:
"No one, I take it, can afford to do without books unless he be quite sure that his own day and personality are the best imaginable; and for this class of persons the most crying need is not, of course seclusion in a library, but in a sanatorium.
"It was, instead, for the great generality, who combine a taste for travel with a dislike for leaving home, that books were by the luckiest hit invented, to confound the restrictions of geography and the almanac. In consequence, from the Ptolemies to the Capets, from the twilight of a spring daen in Sicily to the uglier shadow of Montfaucon's gibbet, there intervenes but the turning of a page, a choice betweeen Theocritus and Villon. From the Athens of Herodotus to the Versailles of St.-Simon, from Nais happur to Cranford, it is equally quick traveling. All times and lands that ever took the sun, indeed, lie open, equally, to the explorer by grace of Gutenberg; and transportation into Greece or Rome or Persia or Chicago, equally, in the affair of a mome nt. Then, too, the islands of Avalon and Ogygia and Theleme stay always accessible, and magic casements open readiily upon the surf of Sea-coast Bohemia. For the armchair traveler alone enjoys enfranchisement of a chronology, and of a geography, that ha s escaped the wear-and-tear of ever actually existing.
"Peregrination in the realms of gold possesses also the quite inestimable advanttage that therin one's personality is contraband. As when Dante maeks us free of Hell and Heaven, it is on the fixed condition of our actual love and hate of divers Renaissan ce Italians, whose exploits in the flesh require to-day the curt elucidation of a footnote, just so, admission to those high delights whereunto Shelley conducts is purchased by accrediting to clouds and sylarks--let us sanely admit--a temporary importance which we would never accord them unbiased. The traveler has for the half-hour exchanged his personality for that of his guide: such is the rule in literary highways, a very necessary traffic ordinance: and so long as many of us are, upon the whole, in ferior to Dante of Shelly--or Sophocles, or Thackeray, or even Shakespeare--the change need not make entirely for loss...."
Yes, it is lightly phrased; but, after all, it is only another way of confessing that his books afford Kennaston an avenue to forgetfullness of that fat pasty fellow whom Kennaston was heartily tired of being. For one, I find the admission significant of much, in veiw of what befell him afterwards.
And becides,--so Kennaston's thoughts strayed at times,--these massed books, which his predecessor at Alcluid had acquired piecemeal through the term of a long life, were a part of that predecessor's personality. No other man would have gathered and have preserved precisely the same books, and each book, with varying forcefulness, had entered into his predecessor's mind and had tinged it. These particolored books, could one but reconstrust the mosaic correctly, would give a candid portrait of "your Uncl e Henry in Lichfield," which would perhaps surprise all those who knew him daily in the flesh. Of the fact that these were unusual books their present owner and tentative explorer had no doubt whatever. They were perturbing books.
Now these books by their pleasant display of gold-leaf, soberly aglow in lamplight, recalled an obscure association of other tiny brilliances; and Felix Kennaston recollected the bit of metal he had found that evening.
Laid by the lamp, it shone agreeably as Kennaston puckered his protruding brows over the characters with which it was inscribed. So far as touched his chances of deciphering them, he knew all foreign languages were to him of almost equal inscrutability. French he could puzzle out, or even Latin, if you gave him plenty of time and a dictionartry; but this inscription was not in Roman lettering. He wished, with time-dulled yearning, that he had been accorded a college education....