onsdag 24 december 2008

Lucka 24

Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.
000000000000000000000000000 Mortimer J. Adler


Rufus M. That’s the way Rufus wrote his name on his heavy arithmetic paper and on his blue-lined spelling paper. Rufus M went on one side of the paper. His age, seven, went on the other. Rufus had not learned to write his name in school, though that is one place for learning to write. He had not learned to write his name at home either, though that is another place for learning to write. The place where he had learned to write his name was the library , long ago before he ever went to school at all. This is the way it happened.
One day when Rufus had been riding his scooter up and down the street, being the motorman, the conductor, the passengers, the steam, and the whistle of a locomotive, he came home and found Joey, Jane, and Sylvie, all reading in the front yard. Joey and Jane were sitting on the steps of the porch and Sylvie was sprawled in the hammock, a book in one hand, a chocolate-covered peppermint in the other.
Rufus stood with one bare foot on his scooter and one on the grass and watched them. Sylvie read the fastest. This was natural since she was the oldest. But Joey turned the pages almost as fast and Jane went lickety-cut on the good parts. They were all reading books and he couldn't even read yet. These books they were reading were library books. The library must be open today. It wasn't open every day, just a few days a week.
"I want to go to the library," said Rufus. "And get a book," he added.
"We all just came home from there, " said Jane, while Joey and Sylvie merely went on reading as though Rufus had said nothing. "Besides," she added, "why do you want a book anyway? You can'nt even read yet."
This was true and it made Rufus mad. He liked to do everything that they did. He even liked to sew if they were sewing. He never thought whether sewing was for girls only or not. When he saw Jane sewing, he asked Mama to let him sew too. So Mama tied a thread to the head of a pin and Rufus poked that in and out of a pieceof goods. That's the way he sewed. It looked like what Jane was doing and Rufus was convinced that he was sewing too, though he could not see much sense in it.
Now here were the other Moffats, all with books from the library . And there were three more books stacked up on the porch that looked like big people' s books without pictures. They were for Mama no doubt. This meant that he was the only one here who did not have a book.
"I want a book from the library ," said Rufus. A flick of the page as Sylvie turned it over was all the answer he got. It seemed to Rufus as though even Catherine-the-cat gave him a scornful glance because he could not read yet and did not have a book.
Rufus turned his scooter around and went out of the yard. Just wait! Read? Why, soon he'd read as fast if not faster than they did. Reading looked easy. It was just flipping pages. Who couldn't do that?
Rufus thought that it was not hard to get a book out o the library . All you did was go in, look for a book that you liked, give it to the lady to punch, and come home with it He knew where the library was for he had often gone there with Jane and some of the others. While Jane went off to the shelves to find a book, he and Joey played the game of Find the Duke in the Palmer Cox Brownie books. This was a game that the two boys had made up. They would turn the pages of one of the Brownie books, any of them, and try to be the first to spot the duke, the brownie in the tall hat. The library lady thought that this was a noisy game, and said she wished they would not play it there. Rufus hoped to bring a Brownie book home now.
"Toot-toot! " he sang to clear the way. Straight down Elm Street was the way to the library; the same way that led to Sunday School, and Rufus knew it weIl. He liked sidewalks that were white the best for he could go the fastest on these.
"Toot-toot!" Rufus hurried down the street. When he arrived at the library, he hid his Scooter in the pine trees that grew under the windows beside the steps. Christmas trees, Rufus called them. The ground was covered with brown pine needles and they were soft to walk upon. Rufus always went into the library the same way. He climbed the stairs, encircled the light on the granite arm of the steps, and marched into the library.
Rufus stepped carefully on the strips of rubber matting that led to the desk. This matting looked like dirty licorice. But it wasn’t licorice. He knew because once when Sylvie had brought him here when he was scarley more than three he had tasted a torn corner of it. It was not good to eat.
The library lady was sitting at the desk playing with some cards. Rufus stepped off the matting. The cool, shiny floor felt good to his bare feet. He went over to the shelves and luckily did find one of the big Palmer Cox Brownie books there. It would be fun to play the game of Find the Duke at home. Until now he had played it only in the library. Maybe Jane or Joe would play it with him right now. He laughed out loud at the thought.
"Sh-sh-sh, quiet," said the lady at the desk.
Rufus clapped his chubby fist over his mouth. Goodness! He had forgotten where he was. Do not laugh or talk out loud in the library. He knew these rules. Well, he didn't want to stay here any longer today anyway. He wanted to read at home with the others. He took the book to the lady to punch.
She didn't punch it though. She took it and she put it on the table behind her and then she started to play cards again
"That's my book," said Rufus.
"Do you have a card?" the lady asked.
Rufus felt in his pockets. Sometimes he carried around an old playing card or t wo. Today he didn't have one.
"No," he said.
"You'll have to have a card to get a book."
"I'll go and get one," said Rufus.
The lady put down her cards. "I mean a library card," she explained kindly. "It looks to me as though you are too little to have a library card. Do you have one?"
"No," said Rufus. "I'd like to though."
"I'm afraid you're too little," said the lady. "You have to write your name to get one. Can you do that?"
Rufus nodded his head confidently. Writing. Lines up and down. He'd seen that done. And the letters that Mama had tied in bundles in the closet under the stairs were covered with writing. Of course he could write.
"Well, let's see your hands," said the lady.
Rufus obligingly showed this lady his hands, but she did not like the look of them. She cringed and clasped her head as though the sight hurt her.
"Oh," she gasped. "You'll just have to go home and wash them before we can even think about joining the library and borrowing books."
This was a complication upon which Rufus had not reckoned. However, all it meant was a slight delay. He'd wash his hands and then he'd get the book. He turned and went out of the library , found his scooter safe among the Christmas trees, and pushed it home. He surprised Mama by asking to have his hands washed. When this was done, he mounted his scooter again and returned all the long way to the library . It was not just a little trip to the library . It was a long one. A long one and a hot one on a day like this. But he didn't notice that. All he was bent on was getting his book and taking it home and reading with the others on the front porch. They were all still there, brushing flies away and reading. Again Rufus hid his scooter in the pine trees, encircled the light, and went in.
"Hello," he said.
"WeIl," said the lady. "How are they now?"
Rufus had forgotten he had had to wash his hands. He thought she was referring to the other Moffats. "Fine," he said.
"Let me see them," she said, and she held up her hands.
Oh! His hands! WeIl, they were all right, thought Rufus, for Mama had just washed them. He showed them to the lady. There was a silence while she studied them. Then she shook her head. She still did not like them.
"Ts, ts, ts!" she said. "They'll have to be cleaner than that."
Rufus looked at his hands. Supposing he went all the way home and washed them again, she still might not like them. However, if that is what she wanted, he would have to do that before he could get the Brownie book. . . and he started for the door."Well now, let's see what we can do," said the lady. "I know what," she said. "It's against the rules but perhaps we can wash them in here." And she led Rufus into a little room that smelled of paste where lots of new books and old books were stacked up. In one corner was a little round sink and Rufus washed his hands again. Then they returned to the desk. The lady got a chair and put a newspaper on it. She made Rufus stand on this because he was not big enough to write at the desk otherwise.
Then the lady put a piece of paper covered with a lot of printing in front of Rufus, dipped a pen in the ink well and gave it to him.
"All right," she said. "Here's your application. Write your name here."
All the writing Rufus had ever done before had been on big pieces of brown wrapping paper with lots of room on them. Rufus had often covered those great sheets of paper with his own kind of writing at home. Lines up and down. But on this paper there wasn't much space. It was already covered with writing. However, there was a tiny little empty space and that was where Rufus must write his name, the lady said. So, little space or not, Rufus confidently grasped the pen with his left hand and dug it into the paper. He was not accustomed to pens, having always worked with pencils until now, and he made a great many holes and blots and scratches.
"Gracious," said the lady. "Don't bear down so hardl And why don't you hold it in your right hand?" she asked moving the pen back into his right hand.
Rufus started again scraping his lines up and down and all over the page, this time using his right hand. Whereve there was an empty space he wrote. He even wrote over some of the print for good measure. Then he waited for the lady, who had gone off to get a book for some man, to come back and look.
"Oh," she said as she settled herself in her swivel chair, "is that the way you write? Well . . it's nice, but what does it say?"
"Says Rufus Moffat. My name."
Apparently these lines up and down did not spell Rufus Moffat to this lady. She shook her head.
"It's nice," she repeated. "Yery nice. But nobody but you knows what it says. You have to learn to write your name better than that before you can join the library."
Rufus was silent. He had come to the library all by himself, gone back home to wash his hands, and come back because he wanted to take books home and read them the way the others did. He had worked hard. He did not like to think he might have to go home without a book.
The library lady looked at him a moment and then she said quickly before he could get himself all the way off the big chair, "Maybe you can print your name."
Rufus looked at her hopefully. He thought he could write better than he could print, for his writing certainly looked to him exactly like all grown people's writing. Still he'd try to print if that was what she wanted.
The lady printed some letters on the top of a piece of paper. "There," she said. "That's your name. Copy it ten times and then we'll try it on another application."
Rufus worked hard. He worked so hard the knuckles showed white on his brown fist. He worked for a long, long time, now with his right hand and now with his left. Sometimes a boy or a girl came in, looked over his shoulder and watched, but he paid no attention. From time to time the lady studied his work and she said, "That's fine. That's fine." At last she said, "Well, maybe now we can try." And she gave him another application.
All Rufus could get, with his large generous letters, in that tiny little space where he was supposed to print his name, was R-U-F. The other letters he scattered here and there on the card. The lady did not like this either. She gave him still another blank. Rufus tried to print smaller and this time he got RUFUS in the space, and also he crowded an M at the end. Since he was doing so well now the lady herself printed the offat part of Motfat on the next line.
"This will have to do," she said. "Now take this home and ask your mother to sign it on the other side. Bring it back on Thursday and you'll get your card."
Rufus's face was shiny and streaked with dirt where he had rubbed it. He never knew there was all this work to getting a book. The other Moffats just came in and got books. Well, maybe they had had to do this once too. Rufus held his hard-earned application in one hand and steered his scooter with the other. When he reached home Joey, Jane and Sylvie were not around any longer. Mama signed his card for him, saying,. "My! So you've learned how to write!"
"Print, " corrected Rufus.
Mama kissed Rufus and he went back out. The lady had said to come back on Thursday, but he wanted a book today. When the other Moffats came home, he' d be sitting on the step of the porch, reading. That would surprise them. He smiled to himself as he made his way to the library for the third time.
Once his application blew away. Fortunately it landed in a thistle bush and did not get very torn. The rest of the way Rufus clutched it carefully. He climbed the granite steps to the library again only to find that the big round dark brown doors were closed. Rufus tried to open them but he couldn't. He knocked at the door, even kicked it with his foot, but there was no answer. He pounded on the door but nobody came.
A big boy strode past with his newspapers. "Hey, kid," he said to Rufus. "library's closed!" And off he went, whistling.
Rufus looked after him. The fellow said the library was closed. How could it have closed so fast? He had been here such a little while ago. The lady must still be here. He did want his Brownie book. If only he could see in, he might see the lady and get his book. The windows were high up but they had very wide sills. Rufus was a wonderful climber. He could shinny up trees and poles faster than anybody on the block. Faster than Joey. Now, helping himself up by means of one of the pine trees that grew close to the building, and by sticking his toes in the ivy and rough places in the bricks, he scrambled up the wall. He hoisted himself up on one of the sills and sat there. He peered in. It was dark inside, for the shades had been drawn almost all the way down.
"Library lady!" he called, and he knocked on the windowpane. There was no answer. He put his hands on each side of his face to shield his eyes, and he looked in for a long, long time. He could not believe that she had left. Rufus was resolved to get a book. He had lost track of the number of times he had been back and forth from home to the library, and the library home. Maybe the lady was in the cellar. He climbed down, stubbing his big toe on the bricks as he did so. He stooped down beside one of the low dirtspattered cellar windows. He couldn't see in. He lay flat on the ground, wiped one spot dean on the window, picked up a few pieces of coal from the sill and put them in his pocket for Mama.
"Hey, lady," he called.
He gave the cellar window a little push. It wasn't locked so he opened it a little and looked in. All he could see was a high pile of coal reaching up to this window. Of course he didn't put any of that coal in his pocket for that would be stealing.
"Hey, lady," he yelled again. His voice echoed in the cellar but the library lady did not answer. He called out, "Hey, lady," every few seconds, but all that answered him was an echo. He pushed the window open a little wider. " All of a sudden it swung wide open and Rufus slid in, right t on top of the coal pile, and crash, clatter, bang! He slid to the bottom, making a great racket.
A little light shone through the dusty windows, but on the whole it was very dark and spooky down here and Rufus really wished that he was back on the outside looking in. However, since he was in the library, why not go upstairs quick, get the Brownie book, and go home? The window had banged shut, but he thought he could climb up the coal pile, pull the window up, and get out. He certainly hoped he could anyway. Supposing he couldn't and he had to stay in this cellar! Well, that he would not think about. He laooked around in the dusky light and saw a staircase across the cellar. Luckily his application was still good. It was torn and dirty but it still had his name on it, RUFUS M, and that was the important part. He'd leave this on the desk in exchange for the Brownie book.
Rufus cautiously made his way over to the steps but he stopped halfway across the cellar. Somebody had opened the door at the top of the stairs. He couldn't see who it was, but he did see the light reflected and that's how he knew that somebody had opened the door. It must be the lady. He was just going to say, "Hey, lady ," when he thought, "Gee, maybe it isn't the lady. Maybe it's a spooky thing."
Then the light went away, the door was closed, and Rufus was left in the dark again. He didn' t like it down there. He started to go back to the coal pile to get out of this place. Then he felt of his application. What a lot of work he had done to get a book and now that he was this near to getting one, should he give up? No. Anyway, if it was the lady up there, he knew her and she knew him and neither one of them was scared of the other. And Mama always said there's no such thing as a spooky thing.
So Rufus bravely made his way again to the stairs. He tiptoed up them. The door at the head was not closed tightly. He pushed it open and found himself right in the library. But goodness! There in the little sink room right opposite him was the library lady!
Rufus stared at her in silence. The library lady was eating. Rufus had neyer seen her do anything before but play cards, punch books, and carry great piles of them around. Now she was eating. Mama said not to stare at anybody while they were eating. Still Rufus didn't know the library lady ate, so it was hard for him not to look at her .
She had a little gas stove in there. She could cook there. She was reading a book at the same time that she was eating. Sylvie could do that too. This lady did not see him.
"Hey, lady," said Rufus.
The librarian jumped up out of her seat. "Was that you in the cellar? I thought I heard somebody. Goodness, young , man! I thought you had gone home long ago."
Rufus didn't say anything. He just stood there. He had gone home and he had come back lots of times. He had the whole thing in his mind; the coming and going, and going and coming, and sliding down the coal pile, but he did not know where to begin, how to tell it.
"Didn't you know the library is closed now?" she demanded, coming across the floor with firm steps.
Rufus remained silent. No, he hadn't known it. The fellow had told him but he hadn't believed him. Now he could see for himself that the library was closed so the library lady could eat. If the lady would let him take his book, he’d go home and stay there. He’d play the game of Find the Duke with Jane. He hopefully held out his card with his name on it.
"Here this is, " he said.
But the lady acted as though she didn't even see it. She led Rufus over to the door.
"All right now," she said. "Out with you!" But just as she opened the door the sound of water boiling over on the stove struck their ears, and back she raced to her little room.
"Gracious!" She exclaimed. "What a day!"
Before the door could close on him, Rufus followed her in and sat down on the edge of a chair. The lady thought he had gone and started to sip her tea. Rufus watched her quietly, waiting for her to finish.
After a while the lady brushed the crumbs off her lap. And then she washed her hands and the dishes in the little sink where Rufus had washed his hands. In a library a lady could eat and could wash. Maybe she slept here too. Maybe she lived here.
"Do you live here?" Rufus asked her.
"Mercy on usl" excIaimed the lady. "Where'd you come from? Didn't I send you home? No, I don't live here and neither do you. Come now, out with you, young man. I mean it." The lady called all boys "young man" and girls "Susie." She came out of the little room and she open the big brown door again. "There," she said. "Come back on Thursday."
Rufus' s eyes filled up with tears.
"Here's this," he said again, holding up his application in a last desperate attempt. But the lady shook her head. Rufus went slowly down the steps, felt around in the bushes for his scooter, and with drooping spirits he mounted it. Then for the second time that day, the library lady changed her mind.
"Oh, weIl," she said, "come back here, young man. I’m not supposed to do business when the library' s closed, but I see we'll have to make an exception."
So Rufus rubbed his sooty hands over his face, hid his scooter in the bushes again, climbed the granite steps an without circling the light, he went back in and gave lady his application.
The lady took it gingerly. "My, it's dirty," she said "You really ought to sign another one." And go home with it?" asked Rufus. He really didn’t believe this was possible. He wiped his hot face on his sIeeve and looked up at the lady in exhaustion. What he was thinking was: All right. If he had to sign another one, all right. But would she just please stay open until he got back?
However, this was not necessary. The lady said, "WeIl now, I'll try to clean this old one up. But remember, young man, always have everything clean – your hands, your book, everything, when you come to the library."
Rufus nodded solemnly. "My feet too," he assured her. Then the lady made Rufus wash his hands again. They really were very bad this time, for he had been in a coal pile, and now at last she gave Rufus the book he wanted – one of the Palmer Cox Brownie books. This one was "The Brownies in the Philippines."
And Rufus went home.
When he reached home, he showed Mama his book. She smiled at him, and gave his cheek a pat. She thought it was fine that he had gone to the library and joined all by himself and taken out a book. And she thought it was fine when Rufus sat down at the kitchen table, was busy and quiet for a long, long time, and then showed her what he had done.
He had printed RUFUS M. That was what he had done. And that's the way he learned to sign his name. And that's the way he always did sign his name for a long time.
But, of course, that was before he ever went to school at all, when the Moffats still lived in the old house, the yellow house on New Dollar Street; before this country gone into the war; and before Mr. Abbot, the curat, started leaving his overshoes on the Moffats' front porch.

Eleanor Estes,1906-1988

4 kommentarer:

  1. Thank you for your lovely blog, so many things I haven't come across before.
    Have a happy and blessed Christmas.


  2. Books, cat, tea, easy chair... basics in life!

  3. ...and some good rye bread maybe...

  4. C.B
    You know I'm the kind of person who loves to force my knowledge on to other people, so I'm glad you like it over here!
    Hope your Christmas is as peaceful as mine.