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The Quest Of The Lost Digamma
by [?]

I was still, however, making a tolerable pretense of attention, when a learned person across the table was sharp enough to see that I was a novice in the gathering. For my improvement, therefore, he fixed his great round glasses in my direction. In my confusion they seemed burning lenses hotly focused on me. Under such a glare, he thought, my tender sprouts of knowledge must spring up to full blossom.

When he had my attention, he proceeded to lay out the dinner into calories, which I now discovered to be a kind of heat or nutritive unit. He cast his appraisal on the meat and vegetables, and turned an ear toward the pantry door if by chance he might catch a hint of the dessert for his estimate, but by this time, being overwrought, I gave up all pretense, and put my coarse attention on my plate.

Sometimes I fall on better luck. It was but yesterday that I sat waiting for a book in the Public Library, when a young woman came and sat beside me on the common bench. Immediately she opened a monstrous note-book, and fell to studying it. I had myself been reading, but I had held my book at a stingy angle against the spying of my neighbors. As the young woman was of a more open nature, she laid hers out flat. It is my weakness to pry upon another’s book. Especially if it is old and worn–a musty history or an essay from the past–I squirm and edge myself until I can follow the reader’s thumb.

At the top of each page she had written the title of a book, with a space below for comment, now well filled. There were a hundred of these titles, and all of them concerned John Paul Jones. She busied herself scratching and amending her notes. The whole was thrown into such a snarl of interlineation, was so disfigured with revision, and the writing so started up the margins to get breath at the top, that I wondered how she could possibly bring a straight narrative out of the confusion. Yet here was a book growing up beneath my very nose. If in a year’s time–or perhaps in a six-month, if the manuscript is not hawked too long among publishers–if when again the nights are raw, a new biography of John Paul Jones appears, and you cut its leaves while your legs are stretched upon the hearth, I bid you to recognize as its author my companion on the bench. Although she did not have beauty to rouse a bachelor, yet she had an agreeable face and, if a soft white collar of pleasing fashion be evidence, she put more than a scholar’s care upon her dress.

I am not entirely a novice in a library. Once I gained admittance to the Reading Room of the British Museum–no light task even before the war. This was the manner of it. First, I went among the policemen who frequent the outer corridors, and inquired for a certain office which I had been told controlled its affairs. The third policeman had heard of it and sent me off with directions. Presently I went through an obscure doorway, traversed a mean hall with a dirty gas-jet at the turn and came before a wicket. A dark man with the blood of a Spanish inquisitor asked my business. I told him I was a poor student, without taint or heresy, who sought knowledge. He stroked his chin as though it were a monstrous improbability. He looked me up and down, but this might have been merely a secular inquiry on the chance that I carried explosives. He then dipped his pen in an ancient well (it was from such a dusty fount that the warrant for Saint Bartholomew went forth), then bidding me be careful in my answers, he cocked his head and shut his less suspicious eye lest it yield to mercy.