Their rooms were full of books piled on chairs and under beds, and double-stacked on shelves. Most of the editions were of the quarter and dollar variety, and a few were brand new around the time of Christmas or birthdays. Neither Emma nor Hailey spent much more than a dollar at a time. Dollars, after all, were not a thing to be wasted, and if one couldn't find a book cheaply, then one must wait until a better opportunity offered. But occasionally exceptions are worth making, and in the case of Emma's Austen set, she was saving up every penny to buy a collector's edition. Until she had it, the books often came home from the library just a half a mile away from their house. After all, the time would come soon when she could claim them for her very own, so the waiting wasn't too hard.
There was also the matter of time, come to think of it. They had quartered and dimed their way through so many book sales that they bought a good few more a year than they ever had time to read. And when it came down to the special ones that they saved up for--like Hailey's Little Dorrit--well, she had it carefully stored it under her bed for the last two years, savoring the thought of reading it "one of these days". The teasing feeling that she was running out of time to get to it was starting to creep in, but it made her uncomfortable, so she didn't like to dwell on it.
Time and money. After all, high school girls the world over are short on these commodities.
Weeks passed, the weeds were pulled, the babysitting was done, and eventually Emma saved enough money to buy her Austen set. The feel of the limp bills in her palm sent a shiver of delight through her frame. Now, she could buy what she had been saving so long for. The very next time they went to the bookstore, she would buy those Austen novels to be her very own.
But by the time Emma reached the store, she wasn't so sure any more. There were a lot of other books she wanted to buy, and maybe she could wait a little longer. After all, the library still had them. And it wasn't as if she wouldn't be getting them, next time she saved enough money. So she bought Gaskell's Wives and Daughters instead. The Austen's would just have to hold off until next time, because she needed the rest of the money she had earned for birthday gifts.
Hailey pulled out Little Dorrit around this time, and again read the back and looked at the front cover. She really should read this soon. Perhaps in a month or so, when their family took a vacation, she would bring that as her book to read. Splendid. She smiled with excitement as she tucked it reverently back into the paper bag it came in. In a month, she would be reading Little Dorrit on the beach, and finally--finally, she would know the story she had waited so long for.
But when the time came for Hailey to pack her bags, she wasn't so sure any more. Dickens took some effort to get through--after all, it was vacation now, and she wanted some easy gratification. If only she had room to take all her books with her--but that would never do. L.M. Montgomery sounded appealing lately. So she packed several Anne books in her bag, and left Little Dorrit sitting quietly at home.
Time passed, school began, and free moments to read slipped to few and far between. Leaf raking in the fall brought in some money to Emma's savings, but that went towards Christmas gifts. Then the snow fell, and weeds and leaves were covered by a thick sheet of white. The girls she babysat moved away, and the funds for the Austen set didn't grow very speedily.
Hailey's book list expanded, and what with all her library finds, she didn't have much time to read books she already owned. Books with due dates required her first attention, and reading programs at the library forced her to pick shorter books, especially with school going on too. So the fall faded to winter, and winter faded to spring, and spring faded to summer, with things not much different than the year before. Books sales and trips to thrift stores provided a steady stream of opportunities to spend savings, and books lists of titles to read grew and grew for both sisters.
But now, something else started to happen. Whenever Hailey picked up a book, she remembered Little Dorrit, and wondered, with a sore heart, if she would ever find time for it--after all, it had been three years sitting in that brown paper bag, waiting to be read. The time of anticipation had expired long ago to a sense of failure for having waited this long. And Emma, when she pulled out a quarter for another good find, thought of that Austen set, and wondered if her opportunity for buying it would ever come again. Did she want it as much as she had during all those months? Perhaps she shouldn't buy it after all.
One day, as the summer green was turning to the russet-colored leaves of fall, Hailey's mother surprised her by asking how she had enjoyed Little Dorrit.
Hailey sighed. "I haven't read it yet, Mum. I bought it three years ago, and I haven't found an opportunity yet."
"I see," her mother said quietly. "But I thought you were eager to read it when you bought it?"
"I was." Hailey nodded. "But I had to finish my library books first, and I wanted to finish all the books I had started, so I wouldn't have those hanging over my head. And then I decided to save it for that one weekend trip we took, but Emma turned on the music and I couldn't concentrate in the car. By the time we got home, the other library books I had ordered came in, so I had to finish those, and then the winter reading contest started up, and then school and everything. I don't know, I just was waiting for a good time, I guess."
"Sounds to me like you were waiting for a perfect time," her mother commented. "Those don't come, Hailey dear. You have to seize the day. Time is something to be redeemed, not found. And sometimes you have to return some books unread so that you can read the ones you've been looking forward to so long. God gives good gifts, and when He provides them for us, we shouldn't wait three years to open them."
"I see what you mean, Mum." A slow smile spread across Hailey's face. "But you'd better talk to Emma about her Austen set then," she teased; "after all, if we shouldn't wait three years to open a gift, then we shouldn't wait two years to accept one."
Her mother laughed. "You leave Emma's shortcomings to me, and go correct your own."
"Yes ma'am." Hailey flashed another smile, then went to her room and pulled her brand-new book from it's carefully kept bag. The crisp pages smelled clean and fresh, like the shelves of a bookstore. The cover laid flat, not a bend or wrinkle in it. And eagerly, she began to read.
"Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day. . . ."
It took her two weeks to read what she had waited three years to find time for.
Emma's Austen set took a little more waiting, but at the end of the fall season she had saved enough money to purchase it. When she reached the bookstore, she didn't give it a second thought.
In my long ramblings in the fiction realm over the years, I've enjoyed a good bit of Eleanor Porter. Her timeless tales--albeit with a few too many stuttering characters ("Spit out what you want to say, Miss Billy.") -- ring joyfully of happily-ever-after endings. Some of her short stories are more poignant, however, and one quote in particular reminded me of an issue that too many of us fall prey to--delaying gratification too long: "There are folks like that, you know--that never enjoy a thing for what it is, lest sometime they might want it different. Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia never took the good that was goin'; they've always saved it for sometime later." I have re-told the story, in bibliophile terms, and with my own little plots and characters, but I wish to credit her original inspiration in "The Black Silk Gowns". If you wish to read her story, then by all means check it out here.
Life is short. Don't wait too long. Seize the day!