I first met Mr. Baxter at the fourpenny box outside Mr. Timpenny's second-hand bookshop in High Street, and was attracted at once by the loving care with which he handled its contents. Dirty and dog's-eared as most of them were, he never snatched one up or threw it down, after the common fashion of patrons of inexpensive literature, but would gently extract a more than usually disreputable volume from its heap, blow the dust off, straighten the warped cover, and smooth out the wrinkled pages before dipping into the subject-matter. In fact, the last operation struck me as interesting him least of all.
Becoming aware of my presence, he moved aside with a courtly little bow. He was a dusty old gentleman, in a very shabby frock-coat. He looked as if he lived in the fourpenny box himself.
"Am I preventing you from selecting a volume, sir?" he inquired.
I hastened to reassure him. I had no special designs on the fourpenny box, or indeed on any. I was merely idling.
"I am waiting for the druggist to make up a prescription," I said.
"Then you don't do your own dispensing, sir?"
"As a rule, yes. I have run out of this particular drug, though. But you know me?"
"Yes, sir; by sight. We do not take long in Broxborough to get to know every one by sight. You succeeded to Dr. Wiseman's practice, I think?"
"A good old man, sir, and a lover of books, like myself."
"You're right about yourself," I said. "You handle a book as I would a delicate patient."
"A very apt comparison, sir. To me, in a manner of speaking, a book is a human thing. A dilapidated book is a patient; I like to repair its broken back and gum in its loose pages. In fact, the late Archdeacon used to rally me upon the subject, sir. He insisted that I cared more for a book, as a book, than for what was inside it."
I ventured, with immediate success, to draw him out upon the subject of the late Archdeacon.
"Archdeacon Belford, sir. He died many years ago, and few remember him now. A great scholar and gentleman. I was associated with him almost continuously in my younger days. It was he who assisted me to found my library."