A Slow Day at the Library

By Leigh Stewart

The wooden sign above her desk requested, “Quiet, Please!” and the young librarian liked to point at it and smile politely whenever requesting unruly visitors preserve the atmosphere of church-like quietness that normally prevailed in the small town library. Patricia had worked there ever since graduating college at the top of her class, and she considered her employment there to be her small contribution to bringing the arts – and civilization - into the untamed west. She was very pretty and quite personable, but her education and genteel reserve - which some interpreted as an air of superiority - kept her somewhat aloof from the rough and tumble townspeople who frequented her shrine of books.

It was another slow day at the library. Patricia - or Trish, as her friends called her - had just finished helping three customers find books that she had no doubt would fail to improve their minds or lot in life, and it was nearly time to close the library. She was in the back, reshelving books to their proper places, and working on the inventory that she hoped would provide the basis for the modern cataloging system she hoped to implement.

She had just put her pencil into her mouth to free up her hands when one of her least favorite patrons came in - Mr. Crabtree. He came up to the desk where she worked and rang the bell for assistance – not just once, but three separate times!

Oh please, she thought, looking at him from the top of the small ladder where she stood to reach the top shelf, not him again, oh please!

No matter how many times he visited, no matter how many questions she answered, he never had any success in finding the books - dull, stupefying, mind-numbing books - he invariably wanted. He simply would not make the effort or take the time to look on his own.

She looked at him and sighed, considering his unwashed state, his dirty clothes, and his unshaven whiskers. She simply couldn’t abide a man wearing whiskers. But worst of all, he had a habit of inhaling sharply through his nose to produce an awful sniffing sound. The sound of it disturbed the peace and quiet in the library like a gunshot.

“Yew got a customer,” he called in his crackled voice, as if he thought she couldn’t see him, despite the fact that she was looking right at him and had nodded to acknowledge his presence.

She took the pencil out of her mouth and smiled politely – as a person of cultivation and refinement should - and said, “Good evening, Mr. Crabtree. I’ll be right with you.”

Tonight, he wanted yet another book on plow farming, and she bravely suppressed a sigh as she escorted him to the correct shelves where the books were kept. Then, he wanted to take some notes, and he demanded paper and an ink pen for this purpose.

Trish tried to tell him that the library was closing shortly and that tomorrow morning might be a better time for him to sit and copy the material, but he was insistent that he had to have the information tonight. She suppressed another sigh as she wondered what urgency could possibly be associated with information on plow farming that he had to have the information right there and then.

“All right, Mr. Crabtree, if it’s really that urgent, let me show you where you can sit and take your notes.” She escorted him past the shelves of literature – which her efforts to dust ensured were kept spotless – and indicated several chairs aligned neatly next to the desk placed for customer use. “Just make yourself at home,” she said, wondering how many extra hours her would keep her at the library tonight.

He scratched the stubble on his chin. “Yew know, Miss Trish,” he began and then stopped to indulge himself in making in that awful sniffing sound.

She gritted her teeth. She hated his informal use of her first name – it just wasn’t proper. But she knew that if she requested him to address her formally, he’d complain to her employer - and the thought of what Mr. Loden might do if one more customer complained gave her pause. Her attempts to encourage the townspeople to expand their horizons had been met with stiff resistance, if not outright hostility. Mr. Loden had warned her in no uncertain terms that she should simply help the customers to find what they asked for and not tell them what they could or should be reading, and he invariably criticized the selection of books she was trying to obtain for the library.

Crabtree continued his complaint, “I come in here yestaday, an’ Missus Loden tol’ me yew’d loaned this here book out ta that Kennedy fella, an' come ta find out, it wuz here all th' time. I had ta make a speshul trip back inta town fer it. I surely wish yew’d let her know where this here book is kept.”

Only her years of experience encountering the rough manners of the local inhabitants of this desolate wasteland allowed her to keep her polite smile on her face. She could not tell him that he must have misunderstood Mrs. Loden, or she’d be caught up in an argument with him. “I surely apologize for any inconvenience, Mr. Crabtree. I will talk to Mrs. Loden about it.” Her smile felt so insincere, it almost hurt to have it on her face.

He took off his dusty hat and slapped it down on the table, expelling a cloud of particles into the air, and then sat, creating another small dust storm. She knew she would have to perform some extra cleaning following his visit.

Two more customers walked in. One headed immediately for the literature section, and she turned to look at the second, who had remained by her desk. He was a tall, handsome man with curly blond hair and eyes so blue that the color took her breath away for a moment.

He most certainly was not anyone who lived in the town - she knew just about everyone by sight, if not by name and occupation. Judging by his clothes, he was likely a cowboy passing through town.

The man smiled at her – an incredibly warm smile - and tipped his hat and said, “Evening, ma’am,” in a mellow voice that fell oh so very pleasantly on her ears.

She felt her face growing warm under his approving gaze.

Her experience and training came to her assistance at once. “Good evening. May I help you, Mr.?” She added a note of inquiry to the end of her sentence, hoping he would give her his name.

“Jones, ma’am, Thaddeus Jones. Nice place ya got here,” he said, indicating the tidy library with a wave of his gloved hand.

“I’m glad you approve, Mr. Jones. May I help you find a book?”

Mr. Crabtree watched the exchange with an open mouth. He did not seem to like the tall cowboy taking the librarian’s attention away from him. “Hey, Miss Trish, about that paper,” he complained impatiently.

She tried not to wrinkle her nose at his breath odor and stepped back from him to increase the distance between them. “I’ll be back with your paper and ink pen in a moment, Mr. Crabtree,” she said and walked back to her desk, smoothing her gray dress and wishing she'd had a chance to fix her hair. My goodness, she thought, this Mr. Jones is one nice looking man. She appreciated his polite manner too – it was such a change of pace from the usual rough country manners exhibited in the small town.

Mr. Jones had caught the exchange between her and Crabtree, she could tell, because the expression in his eyes took on a steely glint. And the color changed! – she was amazed to discover, no longer the clear blue of a cloudless hot summer day, but a darker blue, like that of an icy, storm-filled sky. He glared at Crabtree for a moment before returning his gaze to her and smiling that incredible smile again.

“Now, about a book, Mr. Jones?” she inquired.

“Well, ma’am, my partner is the one lookin' for a book,” he replied.

She caught her breath – she had completely forgotten the other customer! This is not like me at all, she thought in wonder, and she told herself silently to watch her behavior.

“Your partner?” she asked, and he nodded. Turning, she realized the other man had joined them and was looking at her with the brownest eyes she had ever seen. Just like chocolate, she thought and then gave herself another warning. The dark-haired man was at least as handsome as his partner, and she needed a chance to catch her breath.

“Joshua Smith, ma’am,” he said, removing his hat and smiling at her.

The warmth of his smile caused her to stop breathing, and for a moment she actually felt dizzy. She noticed he had the most wonderful dimples when he smiled.

“May I check out this book?” he asked, replacing his hat and holding the book out to her.

She was stunned to discover that he had selected a book by Robert Louis Stevenson, one of her favorite authors – it was a book that she had been completely unsuccessful in interesting the town in reading.

She smiled with genuine delight. “You certainly may, Mr. Smith. Just a moment while I fill out a registration card for you.”

Crabtree chose that moment to speak up, his expression belligerent. “Now see here, Miss Trish, yew were gonna git me my paper an’ ink pen, an’ I think these here other fellas kin jes’ wait their turn.” He sniffed through his nose. “Yew git me that paper an’ ink pen right now, or I’ll be seein’ Mr. Loden first thing in th' mornin’.” He looked at her threateningly.

Mr. Jones regarded Crabtree as if he were a lower form of life. “That’s no way to address a lady. Maybe you’d like to apologize and ask her again, more polite-like.” He smiled at Crabtree, but this smile held no hint of warmth in it.

Crabtree smiled back, twisting his face into an even uglier grimace, and he sniffed again, twice. “Yew jes’ keep outta this, sonny,” he snapped.

Mr. Smith held up a hand and gestured for the other two men to calm down, smiling diplomatically. “Now, gentlemen, a library is no place for this kind of discussion,” he began, shaking his head at them and pointing to the “Quiet, Please!” sign.

Crabtree interrupted. “Yew two are not from aroun’ here,” he snarled, making it sound like a crime. “Yew should min’ yer own bus’ness, or somebody is likely ta min’ it fer yew.” He looked first at Smith, then at Jones, and told them, “Strangers in this town shouldn’t pick fights – sheriff don’t take too kin’ly ta it.”

Mr. Smith smiled pleasantly. “Well, we’re not picking any fights here, we’re just trying to check out a book. Now, if you don’t mind,” and he turned back to the pretty librarian, “we should all finish our business and let the young lady close up for the night.”

Crabtree stood abruptly. “I dew min’, and yew will wait yer turn,” he said menacingly.

Mr. Jones removed his right glove slowly, a finger at a time, then crossed his arms. “I think this library’s about to close,” he said in even tones. “That means you should be on your way home right about now. Don’t you agree, Mr. Smith?” he asked his partner.

“Mr. Jones, I’m sure we shouldn’t inconvenience this young lady any further,” Mr. Smith agreed, looking at her with another charming smile.

She had been watching the exchange openmouthed and suddenly shut it, hoping her face wasn’t as red as it felt.

Crabtree drawled, “Well, sonny, yew jes’ gonna hafta back that up,” and he flexed his hand next to his gun.

Faster than Trish could blink an eye, Mr. Jones had his gun pointed at Crabtree, and Crabtree’s mouth fell open, revealing yellow, rotten teeth.

“I think the library is closed. Right now,” Mr. Jones ordered, and he motioned for Crabtree to leave.

Crabtree picked up his dusty hat and slapped it on his thigh, raising another small cloud of dust, then placed it on his head. He sniffed loudly and frowned but said nothing as he opened the door to leave.

“Oh, and you might keep in mind, you can learn all sorts of things at a library, and one of them is manners," Mr. Smith added brightly. "And, since we’re going to be regular customers of the library while we’re in town, we’ll be keeping an eye on how well you learn them.”

Crabtree exited without another word, slamming the door behind him.

Miss Trish breathed a sigh of relief once he was gone. “Now, about that book, Mr. Smith?” she inquired.

“Please, call me Joshua,” he requested, turning that chocolatety gaze on her once more.

Her knees were weak for a moment, looking into those eyes.

“And, Thaddeus,” his partner interjected, obviously trying to claim his share of her attention.

“Certainly, gentlemen, it would be my pleasure,” she replied, smiling at them both. “And you may call me Trish.” She was rewarded with two more warm smiles.

She filled out the registration card and checked the book out to Joshua, noting that the two men were staying at the town’s only hotel.

“Uh, the library is closing now, isn't it, ma’am?” Thaddeus asked.

“That’s right. It is the usual time,” she replied.

“And did you have plans for dinner?” he continued, giving her another blue-eyed smile.

“Yes, why don’t you have dinner with us,” Joshua said quickly. “We’d be delighted.”

“Gentlemen, that’s so very nice of you,” she smiled, wondering at her amazingly good fortune at being invited to dinner by two such interesting and handsome men. And somehow, she just knew her success with the town was about to improve. “I’d love to.”

She blew out the lamps and locked up. Adjusting her shawl, she joined them at the front steps. They each offered her an arm. “Now tell me,” she asked as she took their arms, “Smith and – Jones?”

“Oh, the world’s just full of ‘em,” Joshua said with another wonderful smile as they started walking to the hotel, “people named Smith and Jones, I mean…”

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