Fragrance Among Old Books

Old Library


In one alcove of a certain library there seemeth 
ever to linger the scent of tea-roses. Two 
maiden ladies are wont to read there, mostly on 
Saturday afternoons, and once they were wearing 
each a sweet cluster of these flowers. Perchance 
some rarer balminess of air and sunshine had 
cleared their vision and compelled the unwonted 
purchase ; for they never wore them before nor 
after — nor, indeed, any flowers at all. They live 
in the town, and have no fragrant garden where 
sun-lit flowers thrive ; they are poor in this 
world's goods, so perforce they cannot buy. 
Therefore we see them clad ever soberly in close- 
fitting bonnets that, through some obscure tinge 
of colour, are just not black, and, if the weather 
is cold, in some quaint cape and woollen gloves. 
Their skirts are short for the cleaner walking ; 
their boots stout and, it may be, patched ; their 
hair smoothly braided. 

In such guise are these sisters, Miss Joan and 
Miss Dorothy, wont to come on Saturdays to 
their corner of the library, and to gather the 
substance of some lesson that they must give to 
their scholars next week ; for they are school- 
mistresses. In Chambers's Encyclopedia they 
find great store of wealth, and ply their pencils 
and little note-books, whispering and nodding to 
one another. Or the librarian, seeing that they 
are perchance busied about the early explorers, 
may show them, in an old volume of travels, some 
strange tale of marvels in newly - discovered 
lands. With what rapt wonder do they read, with 
what whispered exclamations of awe and delight. 
But at last — well, 'tis hard in these voyages 
to sever fact from fancy — how shall they be sure 
which is which ? How terrible if they made a 
mistake in class ! So they turn once more to the 
terra firma of Chambers s Encyclopcedia, though 
Miss Dorothy, the younger, whose face has still 
hints of comeliness, heaves a little sigh at 
abandoning those bold sailors, and the rush o' 
the sea, and that free, strong life. But she defers 
happily to her wiser sister, gladdened at heart for 
this glimpse into a bygone wonderland ; and 
presently, their work done, they will get up, still 
nodding and smiling, and go home armed at all 
points for the lesson to their highest class — 
which consists of two big girls. 

Teaching does not bring them riches ; but if 
they know that they are poor, the knowledge 
afflicts them not. They work on with a happy 
naturalness, now and again going, note-book still 
in hand (for they have ever an afterthought for 
their school), to some free lecture in the town. 
One thing only about their school-work troubles 
them — and it is that they can spare so few 
pounds a term as salary to the teacher who helps 
them. Still, the teacher is generally loth to leave 
them, and grows to love them not a little. 

For gifts of charity they have but scanty pence. 
Therefore, that they be not found at the last 
empty-handed, they give of their toil ; and on 
Sunday, after their week's teaching, will don a 
somewhat wider lace-collar, and plod down twice 
a day to the Church rooms, in fair weather or 
foul, to teach once more in the Sunday School. 
Ye sweet-minded women ! Small wonder if after 
this labour your faces look at times pale and 
pinched, and your eyes too alert and hungry. 

But if we would see them in a glow of hospit- 
able happiness, we must call upon them in their 
home, and have a cup of tea with them. The 
tea-pot is ready to their hand, and while Miss 
Dorothy cuts into a little cake (kept in readiness 
for visitors, and only eaten privately when quite 
stale). Miss Joan brews the tea. 

So they spend their life — a life that, if simple- 
minded, hath yet a certain dignity and recol- 
lectedness ; if austere towards themselves, is yet, 
within its means, generous to others ; if labori- 
ous, yet taketh delight in the society of friends. 
And the fragrance of such a life is, one may 
fancy, not ill symbolised by the flowers they wore 
on that memorable day.