The Wonder

by J.D. Beresford

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Chapter XXIII


Meanwhile a child of five—all unconscious that his quiet refusal to participate in the making and breaking of reputations was temporarily a matter of considerable annoyance to a Fellow of the Royal Society—ran through a well-kept index of the books in the library of Challis Court—an index written clearly on cards that occupied a great nest of accessible drawers; two cards with a full description to each book, alphabetically arranged, one card under the title of the work and one under the author's name.

The child made no notes as he studied—he never wrote a single line in all his life; but when a drawer of that delightful index had been searched, he would walk here and there among the three rooms at his disposal, and by the aid of the flight of framed steps that ran smoothly on rubber-tyred wheels, he would take down now and again some book or another until, returning to the table at last to read, he sat in an enceinte of piled volumes that had been collected round him.

Sometimes he read a book from beginning to end, more often he glanced through it, turning a dozen pages at a time, and then pushed it on one side with a gesture displaying the contempt that was not shown by any change of expression.

On many afternoons the sombrely clad figure of a tall, gaunt woman would stand at the open casement of a window in the larger room, and keep a mystic vigil that sometimes lasted for hours. She kept her gaze fixed on that strange little figure whenever it roved up and down the suite of rooms or clambered the pyramid of brown steps that might have made such a glorious plaything for any other child. And even when her son was hidden behind the wall of volumes he had built, the woman would still stare in his direction, but then her eyes seemed to look inwards; at such times she appeared to be wrapped in an introspective devotion.

Very rarely, the heavy-shouldered figure of a man would come to the doorway of the larger room, and also keep a silent vigil—a man who would stand for some minutes with thoughtful eyes and bent brows and then sigh, shake his head and move away, gently closing the door behind him.

There were few other interruptions to the silence of that chapel-like library. Half a dozen times in the first few months a fair-haired, rather supercilious young man came and fetched away a few volumes; but even he evidenced an inclination to walk on tiptoe, a tendency that mastered him whenever he forgot for a moment his self-imposed rôle of scorn....

Outside, over the swelling undulations of rich grass the sheep came back with close-cropped, ungainly bodies to a land that was yellow with buttercups. But when one looked again, their wool hung about them, and they were snatching at short turf that was covered at the woodside by a sprinkle of brown leaves. Then the sheep have gone, and the wood is black with February rain. And, again, the unfolding of the year is about us; a thickening of high twigs in the wood, a glint of green on the blackthorn....

Nearly three cycles of death and birth have run their course, and then the strange little figure comes no more to the library at Challis Court.

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