"Ah, Reverend Stewart, how be you this fine day?" Such was the generosity of Billy Wilson's hospitality.
"Faring well, Billy, fairing well indeed. And how are things with you and your dear mother?"
"She is well but growing weaker. She regrets she cannot make it to church these days. She hopes that Easter will find her strong enough."
Billy Wilson had much of his saintly mother's way about him. It was in his smile, a somehow knowing and naughty smile. It always gave a hint of mischief was behind those bonnie brown eyes. It was in his voice, the lyric of Irish poetry surely read at his crib side when he was a boy. It was in his gracious embrace of life. With Billy and his sweet mother, there neve day that could not be considered beautiful.
"Reverend, what might you be looking for?"
"I was hoping you might have a well-seasoned edition of Keats, a copy with The Eve of Saint Agnes."
As was Billy's gift, he quickly drew forth the quote ...
"St Agnes' Eve---Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.
Over there. Top shelf, near that collection of Burns." Billy pointed insistently, urging me ever closer to the place. I ran my hand along the books, needing to stand on tiptoe to have the slightest of chances to read the faded titles. My fingers finally came upon a volume of the size that often housed poet and their words. A book with a cover of chocolate brown leather with the feel of suede velvet, the consequence of being lovingly read by generations of some well-bred, landholding gentry.
"That would be the book, Reverend, The price is marked."
I reverently turned the frail pages and found them sturdier that I had expected them to be. " Page twenty-two, The Eve of St. Agnes," my lips silently read.
As I turned to take a seat in one of the four leather chairs by the wide, bay window to looked out into the street of passers-by, Billy asked, "Will it be mead or tea today, Reverend?"
"Best make it tea, Billy. I will be meeting with the Ladies Society today. Make it Earl Grey, if you would."
Billy snapped to it for I believe I might be considered his most regular of all of his regulars. The Old Bailey Bookstore was more my study than was my study in St. Alban's. Here I could read and think and pray and watch the sheep of my flock walk by.
St. Anges' Eve-Ah, bitter chill it was;
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold.
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold
I always felt sorry for that poor rabbit. In fact, I have more than once felt like that shivering hare, limping about in the icy cold.
"Your tea, Reverend,"
"Ah, you're a good man, Billy, a good man indeed."
"Thank you, sir."