Billy And The Book by Elbert Hubbard

Story type: Literature

To be your brother’s keeper is beautiful

if you do not cease to be his friend.

One day last Winter in New York I attended a police court on a side street, just off lower Broadway. I was waiting to see my old friend Rosenfeld in the Equitable Life Building, but as his office didn’t open up until nine o’clock, I put in my time at the police court.

There was the usual assortment of drunks, petty thieves–male and female, black, white and coffee-colored–disorderlies, vagabonds and a man in full-dress suit and a wide expanse of dull ecru shirt-bosom.

The place was stuffy, foul-smelling, and reeked with a stale combination of tobacco and beer and patchouli, and tears, curses, fear and promises unkept.

The Judge turned things off, but without haste. He showed more patience and consideration than one usually sees on the bench. His judgments seemed to be gentle and just.

The courtroom was clearing, and I started to go.


As I was passing down the icy steps a piping child’s voice called to me, “Mister, please give me a lift!”

There at the foot of the steps, standing in the snow, was a slender slip of a girl, yellow and earnest, say ten years old, with a shawl pinned over her head. She held in her hand a rope, and this rope was tied to a hand-sled. On this sled sat a little boy, shivering, dumpy and depressed, his bare red hands clutching the seat.

“Mister, I say, please give me a lift!”

“Sure!” I said.

It was a funny sight.

This girl seemed absolutely unconscious of herself. She was not at all abashed, and very much in earnest about something.

Evidently she had watched the people coming out and had waited until one appeared that she thought safe to call on for help.

“Of course I’ll give you a lift–what is it you want me to do?”

“I’ve got to go inside and see the Judge. It’s about my brudder here. He is six, goin’ on seven, and they sent him home from school ’cause they said he wasn’t old enough. I’m going to have that teacher ‘rested. I’ve got the Bible here that says he’s six years old. If you’ll carry the book I’ll bring Billy and the sled!”

“Where is the Bible?” I asked.

“Billy’s settin’ on it.”

It was a big, black, greasy Family Bible, evidently a relic of better days. It had probably been hidden under the bed for safety.

The girl grappled the sled with one hand, and with the other Billy’s little red fist.

I followed, carrying the big, black, greasy Family Bible.

Evidently this girl had been here before. She walked around the end of the judicial bar, and laid down the sled. Then she took the Bible out of my hands. It was about all she could do to lift it.

In a shrill, piping voice, full of business, and very much in earnest, she addressed the Judge: “I say, Mister Judge, they sent my brudder Billy away from school, they did. He’s six, goin’ on seven, and I want that teacher ‘rested and brought here so you can tell her to let Billy go to school. Here is our Family Bible–you can see for yourself how old Billy is!”

The Judge adjusted his glasses, stared, and exclaimed, “God bless my soul!”

Then he called a big, blue-coated officer over and said: “Mike, you go with this little girl and her brother, and tell that teacher, if possible, to allow the boy to go to school; that I say he is old enough. You understand! If you do not succeed, come back and tell me why.”

The officer smiled and saluted.

The big policeman took the little boy in his arms. The girl carried the sled, and I followed with the Family Bible.

The officer looked at me–“Newspaper man, I s’pose?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What paper?”

“The American.”

“It’s the best ever.”

“I think so–possibly with a few exceptions.”

“She’s the queerest lot yet, is this kid,” and the big bluecoat jerked his thumb toward the girl.

I suggested that we go to the restaurant across the way and get a bite of something to eat.

“I’m not hungry,” said the officer, “but the youngsters look as if they hadn’t et since day before yesterday.”

We lined up at the counter.

The officer drank two cups of coffee and ate a ham sandwich, two hard-boiled eggs, a plate of cakes and a piece of pie.

The girl and her brother each had a plate of cakes, a piece of pie and a glass of milk.

“What’s yours?” asked the waiter.

“Same,” said I.

As I did not care for the cakes, the officer cleaned the plate for me.

I didn’t have time to go to the school, but the officer assured me that he would “fix it,” and he winked knowingly, as if he had looked after such things before. He was kind, but determined, and I had confidence he would see that the little boy was duly admitted.

I started up the street alone.

They went the other way. The officer carried the little boy.

The girl with the shawl over her head followed, pulling the hand-sled, and on the sled rested the big, black Family Bible. I lost sight of them as they turned the corner.

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