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To An Unknown Reader
by [?]

Once in a while I dream that I come upon a person who is reading a book that I have written. In my pleasant dreams these persons do not nod sleepily upon my pages, and sometimes I fall in talk with them. Although they do not know who I am, they praise the book and name me warmly among my betters. In such circumstance my happy nightmare mounts until I ride foremost with the giants. If I could think that this disturbance of my sleep came from my diet and that these agreeable persons arose from a lobster or a pie, nightly at supper I would ply my fork recklessly among the platters.

But in a waking state these meetings never come. If an article of mine is ever read at all, it is read in secret like the Bible. Once, indeed, in a friend’s house I saw my book upon the table, but I suspect that it had been dusted and laid out for my coming. I request my hostess that next time, for my vanity, she lay the book face down upon a chair, as though the grocer’s knock intruded. Or perhaps a huckster’s cart broke upon her enjoyment. Let it be thought that a rare bargain–tender asparagus or the first strawberries of the summer–tempted her off my pages! Or maybe there was red rhubarb in the cart and the jolly farmer, as he journeyed up the street, pitched it to a pleasing melody. Dear lady, I forgive you. But let us hope no laundryman led you off! Such discord would have marred my book.

I saw once in a public library, as I went along the shelves, a volume of mine which gave evidence to have been really read. The record in front showed that it had been withdrawn one time only. The card was blank below–but once certainly it had been read. I hope that the book went out on a Saturday noon when the spirits rise for the holiday to come, and that a rainy Sunday followed, so that my single reader was kept before his fire. A dull patter on the window–if one sits unbuttoned on the hearth–gives a zest to a languid chapter. The rattle of a storm–if only the room be snug–fixes the attention fast. Therefore, let the rain descend as though the heavens rehearsed for a flood! Let a tempest come out of the west! Let the chimney roar as it were a lion! And if there must be a clearing, let it hold off until the late afternoon, lest it sow too early a distaste for indoors and reading! There is scarcely a bookworm who will not slip his glasses off his nose, if the clouds break at the hour of sunset when the earth and sky are filled with a green and golden light. I took the book off the library shelf and timidly glancing across my shoulder for fear that some one might catch me, I looked along the pages. There was a thumb mark in a margin, and presently appeared a kindly stickiness on the paper as though an orange had squirted on it. Surely there had been a human being hereabouts. It was as certain as when Crusoe found the footprints in the sand. Ah, I thought, this fellow who sits in the firelight has caught an appetite. Perhaps he bit a hole and sucked the fruit, and the skin has burst behind. Or I wave the theory and now conceive that the volume was read at breakfast. If so, it is my comfort that in those dim hours it stood propped against his coffee cup.

But the trail ended with the turning of the page. There were, indeed, further on, pencil checks against one of the paragraphs as if here the book had raised a faint excitement, but I could not tell whether they sprang up in derision or in approval. Toward the end there were uncut leaves, as though even my single reader had failed in his persistence.