Read PART I : CHAPTER XIX of The Soul of a Child, free online book, by Edwin Bjorkman, on ReadCentral.com.

The next Sunday morning found Keith more than usually restless. Half a dozen times in quick succession he appealed to the mother for suggestions as to what to do. Finally she turned to the father, who was preparing to go out:

“Can’t you take him along, Carl? He has never seen the bank, and he really should get out a little.”

For a little while the father said nothing. Then he spoke directly to Keith:

“Put on your coat and cap.”

The boy who had been looking and listening with open mouth and a heart that hardly dared to beat, became wildly excited.

“Now, Keith,” the father admonished, “you can’t go unless you behave.”

“Where’s my coat, mother,” asked Keith eagerly and unheedingly.

“Don’t you know that yourself,” growled the father. “You are a big boy already, and you should keep your own things in order.”

“I have hung it up where he cannot reach it,” the mother interceded. “I’ll get it for him.”

The coat and the cap were on at last, but then began the struggle about the muffler and the mittens. The mother had crocheted them herself for Keith and insisted that they should be worn whenever he went outdoors during autumn and winter. The muffler was long and white, with blue rings two inches apart, and in shape more like a boa.

Keith wanted the mittens, because his hands got cold easily, but not the muffler, which, he thought, made him look like a girl.

The father objected to everything of that kind, which he said, tended to make the boy soft and susceptible to colds. He himself did not put on an overcoat until the weather grew very severe, and he never buttoned it, no matter how cold it grew. His throat was always bare, and he never wore gloves of any kind. Nor did he ever put his hands in his pockets while walking. He had a favourite trick of picking up a handful of snow, which he rolled into a ball and carried in his hand until it became hard as ice. His hands were milk-white, beautifully shaped and well cared for. It was impossible to believe that for many years they had done the hardest kind of work, often outdoors and generally in a poorly heated drafty shop. He was proud of them, although he pretended not to care when anybody spoke of them, and they filled Keith with admiration and envy. He tried to follow the father’s example, but with the result that his hands grew red as boiled crawfish and began to ache under the nails until he had to cry.

“You bring him up a woman,” the father muttered, when Keith was ready at last.

Then they left, having been kissed several times each by the mother, who warned Keith not to let go of his father’s hand under any circumstances while they were on the streets.

Down in the passageway on the ground floor, Keith started to take off the muffler.

“No,” said the father. “Now you keep it on. Your mother has told you to wear it, and you must not take it off behind her back.”

“But you didn’t want me to have it on,” Keith protested in genuine surprise.

“No, I didn’t, because I want you to be hardened and grow up like a man. But there is something I want still more, and that is for you to obey your mother, first because children should always obey their parents, and secondly because it makes your mother very unhappy if you don’t do as she tells you.”

His tone changed slightly during the last part of his remark. Something of an appeal came into it and went straight to Keith’s heart, filling it with a glow of righteous determination. It was always that way with him. A word spoken kindly made him eager to comply, and that was particularly the case if it came from some person not given to sentimentality.

In the lane they turned and saw the mother lying in the window to watch them. As usual, kisses were thrown back and forth as they passed up the lane, but Keith felt rather impatient about it, and it was with a marked sense of relief he turned the corner into East Long Street. He was eager to push ahead into unknown regions and did not care to look back.

Although he spoke little enough, the father proved a more genial companion than Keith had dared to expect. In fact, he had been a little oppressed at the thought of being entirely alone with the father, which was quite a new experience to him. But now he found it a pleasure, and their communion seemed more easy than when the mother was with them. He walked sedately enough, clinging to one of his father’s soft, white hands, but every so often he ventured a skip and a jump without being rebuked, and on the whole he felt the kind of happiness that used to come on Christmas Eve, after the father had started to distribute the presents.

Keith had frequently accompanied his mother as far as the little square at the end of the street, and he pointed proudly to the grocery store where he had helped to buy things.

“Yes,” responded the father, and again his tone seemed strangely unfamiliar to the boy. “I might have had such a store myself, if luck had been with me.”

The idea was more than Keith could digest at once. It was too overwhelming, and once more he looked at his father with the feeling of wonder and awe that sometimes took hold of him almost against his will a feeling that clashed hopelessly with the nervous shyness commonly inspired by the father’s stern manners.

“Why didn’t you get it,” the boy ventured at last.

“Because I was born under the Monkey Star,” replied the father grimly.

The boy wondered what kind of star that was, but still more he wondered at the father’s mood which appeared to indicate a displeasure not directed at the questioner. Before Keith could ask anything more, they had started across one of the open market places that line the fresh-water side of the old City.

The place was empty except for a few closed and abandoned booths. But at the foot of it lay rows of one-masted sailing vessels loaded halfway up their masts with piles of fire-wood. In the background, beyond a small sheet of water crossed by a low iron bridge, rose abruptly the rocky walls of the South End, with funny old houses perched precariously along their edges. Keith stared so hard at all the new things that not a single question had a chance to escape him before they entered another street and stopped in front of a stone house that to him looked like a castle.

It had a real portal instead of an ordinary doorway, and the inside was still more impressive. Keith had been to church once or twice, and for a moment he thought himself in one. But he saw no seats, and his father did not look solemn at all. The walls were of stone curiously streaked and coloured. The ceiling was so far up that Keith had to bend far backwards to see it. It was full of ornaments and supported by two rows of tall round stone pillars so thick that Keith could not get his arms halfway around one of them. In the background rose a very broad and seemingly endless stairway of white stone. While they climbed it step by step, Keith wondered if the king in his palace had anything like it.

Arrived at the top at last, they turned into a sort of lobby a rather bare room with several plain desks by the windows and many hooks along the inner wall. There the father took off both his coats and armed himself with a huge feather duster and a rag.

“Remember, Keith,” he said in his ordinary tone, “that you may look as much as you please, but that you must not touch anything. If you do, you can never come here again.”

Having passed through several smaller rooms, they emerged finally into a hall so bright and spacious that Keith stopped with a gasp and for a moment thought himself in the open air again. It was as wide as the building itself and three sides were full of large windows A counter of mahogany that looked miles long ran from one end to the other. The place behind it contained many desks so tall that Keith could not have reached the tops of them with his raised hand. But from a distance he could see that they were full of tempting things paper and pens and pencils, red bars of sealing wax, glue-pots and rulers and glistening shears.

Two men, also in their shirt-sleeves, were busy at the desks, dusting them and arranging the things on top of them. And the father quickly went to work in the same way.

It seemed interesting to Keith, who would have liked to try his hand at it. But it also disconcerting for some reason he could not explain and for a while he watched the father as if unwilling to believe his own eyes. Somehow it did not tally with certain notions formed in Keith’s head on the night when the church was burning. At last he up to his father and asked:

“Is this where you always work?”

“No,” was the answer given with a peculiar grimness. “This is for the officials.”

“What are they?”

“Oh, tellers and cashiers and bookkeepers.”

Keith noted the words for future inquiries. For the moment they meant nothing to him.

“Why are you not here too,” he persisted.

“Because I am only an attendant a mere vaktmaestare. That is a fact you had better fix in your mind once for all, my boy.”

“Is that your little boy, Wellander,” one of the other men called out at that moment. “Let us have a look at him.”

Hand-shakings and head-pattings followed as Keith was presented to “Uncle” This and “Uncle” That. He didn’t object and he didn’t care. They looked nice enough, and their talk was friendly, but somehow he felt that his parents did not care for them. Some of the glamour had left the place. In spite of its magnificence, he did not like it, although he was glad to have seen it.

Discovering a wastepaper basket full of envelopes with brightly coloured marks on them, he regained his interest a little. He knew those marks for stamps and they had pictures on them which attracted him very much. So he made a bee-line for the basket and proceeded to pick out what he liked best.

“Have you forgotten what I told you,” he heard his father shout to him.

“They have been thrown away,” he said going toward the father.

“That is neither here nor there,” was the sharp answer he got. “You know they are not yours, and so you must not touch them. Put them back at once.”

Keith did as he was told, wondering if he really had done anything wrong or if his father merely objected for some reason of his own.

Then he walked around uninterested and forlorn until they were ready to go home again. The stairway seemed shorter as they descended, but the pillars were tall and thick as before. And on the way home his father found a little shop open and bought him a few oere’s worth of hard candy.

It was the only time Keith could ever remember his having done such a thing.