The Librarian Explains.
The Librarian ExplainsOnce again, I feel it behooves me to present my own view of events in our town of Skunk Corners. Alice does her best to be fair, of course, but she is not in a position to see all sides of things. For example, I know that Alice never thought I stood up for her properly in the matter of the fellow who came courting. I refer, of course, to the man who called himself Nebuchadnezzar Jones, to whom she was forced to present an exceptionally clear indication of her lack of interest in any form of romantic involvement.
I might, it is true, have handled that situation in a more helpful manner. The difficulty, of course, lay in the fact that I know very little about young girls, and still less about the sort of young woman that is Alice. To be sure, there are unlikely to be any others quite like Alice, so it is wrong to speak of her “sort.” Alice is, I believe and hope, in many ways unique.
But I can see Alice giving me that particular look that says she doesn’t believe I am telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. She is still young enough to believe that she should know everything—and, perhaps, that her way of seeing things is the only way.
I admit to being rather taken aback when Alice presented to me her concern that the young man who had watched her practicing her kicks and blocks down by the watercourse meant to court her. It struck me as unlikely that such a young man would recognize the value of a young woman as unconventional as our Alice. Still less did I trust his assertions that she was the most beautiful creature he’d seen.
Alice is the child of my heart, and is a great deal more good-looking than she allows herself to appear. But she is not, as he tried to tell her, the loveliest woman ever.
Thus, my suspicions were aroused when Alice reported to me that the gentleman—I use the term to offer the man the benefit of the doubt—had run on about her loveliness. I would have trusted him farther had he simply said that he admired her strength and thought she would handle life on his homestead well. I would not have liked him any the better, as I do not believe that a man should evaluate a potential mate as though she were a draft horse, but I should have known then exactly what his intentions might be.
Because Mr. Jones took us both by surprise with his claims of being rendered nearly senseless by her beautiful presence, neither of us could immediately establish an appropriate response. Being further uncertain of Alice’s own desires in this matter, I chose to keep my mouth shut.
Now, I know that Alice will tell you that she made her feelings completely clear to me, and so I should think she did. But I have known young women in my early life. . . though perhaps the least said of that the soonest mended. I did choose to separate myself from this event, so that there should be no opportunity of reproach.
In the event, of course, as Alice has made clear in her own narration of the events, keeping my mouth shut left me open to strong reproach indeed. I left the young woman to resolve her romantic troubles on her own, and as a result she was forced to fight off an attack from out of the dark.
Though I will point out, as she will not, that Neb Jones never stood a chance.
And yet. . . as Miss Alice would say, I am dancing around the truth. If I am to be wholly honest, as was my intent in writing to you, I will say that I had no wish to encounter the young man for reasons of my own.
Neb Jones was not, in fact, a stranger to me. I believe that he actually came to Skunk Corners in search of me, with intent to wreak some form of revenge.
I met Mr. Jones on the train coming west. He was, as I came to understand, running a con on what he would doubtless refer to as “suckers,” or “ignert greenhorns.” That I was, in fact, as green as the hills in spring, I have already confessed to you. I am not, however, a fool. Though I was taken in my Mr. Jones’ gambit in the beginning, I soon saw that he was less than honest. Further, I saw that he had “taken” several poor immigrants for sums that they could surely ill afford.
I therefore exposed the man, and assisted him to leave the train rapidly. In that, I gathered, I had done him something of a favor. The other victims of his efforts, having recovered their valuables, were in favor of more violent reprisals.
Mr. Jones, however, seemed to have little appreciation of the manner in which I had saved him from a worse fate, and vowed revenge. How he found me in Skunk Corners I do not know, but I had little desire to meet him, feeling that I would either be forced to treat him with violence or would become the brunt of his coarse ribaldry for my failure to initially recognize his falsehoods.
I had not thought that he might cause trouble in town by other means. I still am not certain if he attached himself to Alice because she was my pupil, or merely out of what she might call cussedness. He may have thought to humiliate her, or he may have had some idea that she would be easy prey to a man with a tongue he apparently considered golden.
Had Alice been a different sort of girl, I would, of course, have intervened at an early date. Naturally, she never knew that I watched all that he did, albeit discretely. I had no wish for him to even learn for certain that the man he sought was in Skunk Corners, and in fact he did not. I beg you to understand that this sprung not from any physical cowardice, but rather from a worse source: a fear that I would lose my hard-won standing in the community. This I greatly regret.
Nonetheless, I believe that the outcome of the incident proved better than I deserved. To wit: Alice learned to make up her own mind about a possible suitor, with no advice from a perhaps too-respected elder.
She then learned to discourage him through a series of escalating tactics, from simply declining to associate with him, through the final discouragement by means of the very fighting skills I have been at pains to teach her. Finally, she learned to speak up—and speak back—to her townspeople. I do not think that Alice herself has realized it, but from that point forward, the denizens of Skunk Corners have listened to what she says. Not only those who like her, but also those who dislike or distrust her, or are merely flummoxed—to use her own word—by such a one as our Alice.
She does not yet see it, and might not like it if she did, but Alice has become a leader in her community.
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