Mister Carnegie’s “Libary”


Ben Jacks held a particular fascination for me. I had heard that when he was younger he had been a house mover. But surely not more than two houses in Moberly had ever been moved from their original moorings, so how Ben Jacks lived after and between the two jobs of his lifetime I do not know. Rumor had it that a house fell on him and that was why he was lame. I have a feeling that he was always what some people would call lazy and what Mother and I would call the cultured type.

The other two constant intellectuals in the library were the Count and Mr. Beiden. Mr. Beiden had a substantial hardware business and took trips around the world, so you could see that he did not belong in Moberly at all. A few persons in Moberly had been to Europe once in their lives, but certainly no one else had been around the world, so everyone considered him peculiar.

I think Mr. Beiden loathed Ben Jacks but felt a cultural responsibility for him. He was Ben Jacks’s meal ticket. He provided Ben with driblets of cash with which Ben bought his meals at the station sandwich counter. The cash also covered the daily noisy paper bags of candy that were Ben Jacks’s luxury. He always selected a good magazine, a comfortable rocking chair by the window, and then opened a bag of sugary lemon drops. A nap sandwiched between the New York Times and Theatre Arts rested him for an evening with the Atlantic Monthly and National Geographic . Ben Jacks actually felt superior, in spite of his limp and his shabby clothes, to most of the men in Moberly. He toiled not, neither did he spin, and yet he lived a good life. I do not think he was particularly grateful to Mr. Beiden for providing him with the necessities of living. Mr. Beiden had money; why should he not divide it? Mr. Jacks, with nothing in the world to share, except possibly his ideas, was by nature an actual if not professing communist, in the true sense of the word.

Mr. Belden did not toil very much either. He frequented his business only when more pressing things such as trips to Europe did not demand his attention. A long-standing and almost childish feud existed between him and Ben Jacks about the New York Times. They fought for it. They hovered around the desk at mail time waiting for it to be unwrapped and put in the rack along with the Christian Science Monitor and the Chicago Tribune and, of course, the Moberly Monitor-Index .


Also hovering and often swifter than either of them was the Count. His real name was Mr. Marchand, but Mother and I always referred to him by the title we had given him and that seemed to become him. He was a courtly gentleman who seemed much above his official position, which was secretary of the Moberly Chamber of Commerce. Someone had told us that the Count lived in a room bare of all furniture but a table and a wooden board that he slept on. But he was always immaculately dressed, and he called mother “Madame,” and he read strange, ancient books on spiritualism that no one else in Moberly ever asked for. If he got the New York Times first he read every item in it, so that it was hours before Mr. Belden or Ben Jacks could lay hands on it. Ben Jacks would limp restlessly about the periodical room, stopping frequently to stare rudely over the Count’s shoulder, and Mr. Belden would come up to the desk at least two or three times to complain bitterly and loudly about people who hogged the newspapers.

Mother was extremely fond of most of her library customers, but she had a keen dislike for one of them, Mr. Medley. True, he was a New York Times reader, but he had done an unforgivable thing. He had shown Mother an article in a book that referred to Mr. Carnegie as a financial octupus, a pirate, a violent and ruthless grabber for power.

“Strange old chap, wasn’t he?” and Mr. Medley looked up sneeringly at Mr. Carnegie’s grim, aristocratic portrait, which dominated the library entrance. “What was the cost of his little old libraries to him, with all those millions he fleeced the public out of? Not a drop in the bucket, no sir, not even a little drop in a great big bucket.”

Mother naturally did not put this book back on the shelves. She sat on it instead, along with Grace Livingston Hill Lutz.