My quondam friends, Flail, Trask,
and Bisland, are no more; they are dead, and with
them has gone out of existence as gross an imposition
as the moral cowardice of man were capable of inventing,
constructing, and practising.
When Alice became my wife she knew
that I was a lover and collector of books, but, being
a young thing, she had no idea of the monstrous proportions
which bibliomania, unchecked, is almost certain to
acquire. Indeed, the dear girl innocently and
rapturously encouraged this insidious vice.
“Some time,” she used to say, “we
shall have a house of our own, and then your library
shall cover the whole top-floor, and the book-cases
shall be built in the walls, and there shall be a lovely
blue-glass sky-light,” etc. Moreover,
although she could not tell the difference between
an Elzévir and a Pickering, or between a folio
and an octavo, Alice was very proud of our little
library, and I recall now with real delight the times
I used to hear her showing off those precious books
to her lady callers. Alice made up for certain
inaccuracies of information with a distinct enthusiasm
and garrulity that never failed to impress her callers
deeply. I was mighty proud of Alice; I was prepared
to say, paraphrasing Sam Johnson’s remark about
the Scotchman, “A wife can be made much of, if
It was not until after little Grolier
and little Richard de Bury were born to us that Alice’s
regard for my pretty library seemed to abate.
I then began to realize the truth of what my bachelor
friend Kinzie had often declared,-namely,
that the chief objection to children was that they
weaned the collector from his love of books.
Grolier was a mischievous boy, and I had hard work
trying to convince his mother that he should by no
means be allowed to have his sweet but destructive
will with my Bewicks and Bedfords. Thumb and
finger marks look well enough in certain places, but
I protested that they did not enhance the quaint beauty
of an old wood-cut, a delicate binding, or a wide margin.
And Richard de Bury-a lovely little 16mo
of a child-was almost as destructive as
his older brother. The most painful feature of
it all to me then was that their mother actually protected
the toddling knaves in their vandalism. I never
saw another woman change so as Alice did after those
two boys came to us. Why, she even suggested
to me one day that when we did build our new house
we should devote the upper story thereof not to library
but to nursery purposes!
Things gradually got to the pass that
I began to be afraid to bring books into the house.
At first Alice used to reproach me indirectly by
eying the new book jealously, and hinting in a subtle,
womanly way that Grolier needed new shoes, or that
Richard was sadly in need of a new cap. Presently,
encouraged by my lamb-like reticence, Alice began to
complain gently of what she termed my extravagance,
and finally she fell into the pernicious practice
of berating me roundly for neglecting my family for
the selfish-yes, the cruel-gratification
of a foolish fad, and then she would weep and gather
up the two boys and wonder how soon we should all
be in the poorhouse.
I have spoken of my bachelor friend,
Kinzie; there was a philosopher for you, and his philosophy
was all the sweeter because it had never been embittered
by marital experience. I had confidence in Kinzie,
and I told him all about the dilemma I was in.
He pitied me and condoled with me, for he was a sympathetic
man, and he was, too, as consistent a bibliomaniac
as I ever met with. “Be of good cheer,”
said he, “we shall find a way out of all this
trouble.” And he suggested a way.
I seized upon it as the proverbial drowning man is
supposed to clutch at the proverbial straw.
The next time I took a bundle of books
home I marched into the house boldly with them.
Alice fetched a deep sigh. “Ah, been buying
more books, have you?” she asked in a despairing
“No, indeed,” I answered
triumphantly, “they were given to me,-a
present from judge Trask. I’m in great
luck, ain’t I?”
Alice was almost as pleased as I was.
The interest with which she inspected the lovely
volumes was not feigned. “But who is Judge
Trask?” she asked, as she read the autographic
lines upon a flyleaf in each book. I explained
glibly that the judge was a wealthy and cultured citizen
who felt somewhat under obligation to me for certain
little services I had rendered him one time and another.
I was not to be trapped or cornered. I had
learned my sinful lesson perfectly. Alice never
so much as suspected me of evil.
The scheme worked so well that I pursued
it with more or less diligence. I should say
that about twice a week on an average a bundle of
books came to the house “with the compliments”
of either Judge Trask or Colonel Flail or Mr. Bisland.
You can understand that I could not hope to play
the Trask deception exclusively and successfully.
I invented Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland, and I contrived
to render them quite as liberal in their patronage
as the mythical Judge Trask himself. Occasionally
a donation came in, by way of variety, from Smeaton
and Holbrook and Caswell and other solitary creations
of my mendacious imagination, when I used to blind
poor dear Alice to the hideous truth. Touching
myself, I gave it out that I had abandoned book-buying,
was convinced of the folly of the mania, had reformed,
and was repentant. Alice loved me all the better
for that, and she became once more the sweetest, most
amiable little woman in all the world. She was
inexpressibly happy in the fond delusion that I had
become prudent and thrifty, and was putting money
in bank for that home we were going to buy-sometime.
Meanwhile the names of Flail, Trask,
and Bisland became household words with us.
Occasionally Smeaton and Holbrook and Caswell were
mentioned gratefully as some fair volume bearing their
autograph was inspected; but, after all, Flail, Trask,
and Bisland were the favorites, for it was from them
that most of my beloved books came. Yes, Alice
gradually grew to love those three myths; she loved
them because they were good to me.
Alice had, like most others of her
sex, a strong sense of duty. She determined
to do something for my noble friends, and finally she
planned a lovely little dinner whereat Judge Trask
and Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland were to be regaled
with choicest viands of Alice’s choice larder
and with the sweetest speeches of Alice’s graceful
heart. I was authorized only to convey the invitations
to this delectable banquet, and here was a pretty
plight for a man to be in, surely enough! But
my bachelor friend Kinzie (ough, the Mephisto!)
helped me out. I reported back to Alice that
Judge Trask was out of town, that Colonel Flail was
sick abed with grip, and that Mr. Bisland was altogether
too shy a man to think of venturing out to a dinner
alone. Alice was dreadfully disappointed.
Still there was consolation in feeling that she had
done her duty in trying to do it.
Well, this system of deception and
perjury went on a long time, Alice never suspecting
any evil, but perfectly happy in my supposed reform
and economy, and in the gracious liberality of those
three Maecenas-like friends, Flail, Trask, and Bisland,
who kept pouring in rare and beauteous old tomes upon
me. She was joyous, too, in the prospect of
that new house which we would soon be able to build,
now that I had so long quit the old ruinous mania
for book-buying! And I-wretch that
I was-I humored her in this conceit; I heaped
perjury upon perjury; lying and deception had become
my second nature. Yet I loathed myself and I
hated those books; they reproached me every time I
came into their presence. So I was miserable
and helpless; how hard it is to turn about when one
once gets into the downward path! The shifts
I was put to, and the desperate devices which I was
forced to employ,-I shudder to recall them!
Life became a constant, terrifying lie.
Thank Heaven, it is over now, and
my face is turned the right way. A third little
son was born to us. Alice was, oh! so very ill.
When she was convalescing she said to me one day:
“Hiram, I have been thinking it all over, and
I’ve made up my mind that we must name the baby
Trask Flail Bisland, after our three good friends.”
I did n’t make any answer, went
out into the hall, and communed awhile with my own
hideous, tormented self. How my soul revolted
against the prospect of giving to that innocent babe
a name that would serve simply to scourge me through
the rest of my wicked life! No, I could not
consent to that. I would be a coward no longer!
I went back into Alice’s room,
and sat upon the bed beside her, and took one of Alice’s
dear little white hands in mine, and told her everything,
told Alice the whole truth,-all about my
wickedness and perjuries and deceptions; told her
what a selfish, cruel monster I had been; dispelled
all the sinful delusion about Flail, Trask, and Bisland;
threw myself, penitent and hopeless, upon my deceived,
outraged little wife’s mercy. Was it a
mean advantage to take of a sick woman?
I fancied she would reproach me, for
I knew that her heart was set upon that new house
she had talked of so often; I told her that the savings
she had supposed were in bank, were in reality represented
only by and in those stately folios and sumptuous
quartos which the mythical Flail, Trask, and Bisland
had presumably donated. “But,” I
added, “I shall sell them now, and with the
money I shall build the home in which we may be happy
again,-a lovely home, sweetheart, with no
library at all, but all nursery if you wish it so!”
“No,” said Alice, when
I had ended my blubbering confession, “we shall
not part with the books; they have caused you more
suffering than they have me, and, moreover, their
presence will have a beneficial effect upon you.
Furthermore, I myself have become attached to them,-you
know I thought they were given to you, and so I have
learned to care for them. Poor Judge Trask and
Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland,-so they
are only myths? Dear Hiram,” she added
with a sigh, “I can forgive you for everything
except for taking those three good men out of our lives!”
After all this I have indeed reformed.
I have actually become prudent, and I have a bank-account
that is constantly increasing. I do not hate
books; I simply do not buy them. And I eschew
that old sinner, Kinzie, and all the sinister influences
he represents. As for our third little boy,
we have named him Reform Meigs, after Alice’s
mother’s grandfather, who built the first saw-mill
in what is now the State of Ohio, and was killed by
the Indians in 1796.