Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chapter 7


As the ‘young tear-away’ mulls the possibility of his conversion to literacy, an answer
to the conundrum is vouchsafed to him.

“Julian, old chap,” Biffo butts back into his focus, “to the right of the fire-place, second shelf up from the bottom, tenth book from the left – between ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘The Definitive History’ – can you locate?”

Rather to his surprise, Julian leaps into action and retrieves the volume – just like
that! Parsons is, in turn, amazed – though not so much by Julian’s agility as by his
employer’s effective long-term memory.

“Remarkable recall, Milord, truly remarkable. May I make so bold as to enquire as to how you were able to pinpoint the position of such a, dare I suggest, unprepossessing volume, amongst so many thousand in your library – and after such an extended period of time, if your Lordship will forgive reference to such a personal detail?

“No mystery, Parsons, old thing, no big deal, at all. Some things just stick - even when one’s got to the point where one can’t find the specs on the end of one’s nose. As you of all people must be aware, old guardian of the family secrets, Corrie and I were never of a literary caste, what? When we did chance upon the odd few exhilarating volumes we popped them all together for ease of reference, so to speak – always there when we wanted them, sort of thing. Possibly the reason for all that fuss from the librarian about ‘chaos in the shelving catalogue’…..”

“I imagine that you may well be correct in that last supposition, Milord….. What I do find difficult to understand, Milord, is your mention of Mr Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ – and how it came to take its place amongst the ‘exhilarating’ tales from your childhood?”

“Can’t see why it shouldn’t have, old thing – just an earlier version of the only story ever told, don’t you know? Good and evil, courage and cowardice and a happy ending. When Christian arrives at the city of his dreams it’s a bit like Amblewick – but floodlit, don’t you know? First book I ever read after lights out – must have been six or seven, I suppose - ripping good yarn, what?”

“Indeed, Milord, ahem…….”

Parsons is not entirely comfortable with his employer’s existentialist view of the Heavenly Kingdom and retires, a little defensively perhaps, into his customary preoccupation with matters in hand. He occupies himself in re-dusting the volume Julian has retrieved. It is somewhat the worse for wear, he observes, as he flutters gently through its pages.

“Page edges somewhat oxidized, Milord. Care should be exercised in its handling.”

“What‘s oxy-whatever-it-is, Mr P?” Julian enquires with some temerity.

“It is a process of degeneration not far dissimilar to rust in certain metals, my boy. Here, however, we are dealing with paper rather than, for example, iron. You will observe that the paper of which this volume is constructed has become somewhat discoloured and brittle. This has occurred perhaps as a result of exposure to humidity over the years. It is a rare item, and careless handling will damage it beyond recall. This would be a great loss to the library collection – and conceivably to the world literary community.”

“Yea, right….” says Julian doubtfully. “Does that mean we can’t read it?”

There is a hint of hope in his voice.

“I don’t think there’ll be any problem about that, will there, Parsons?” Biffo interrupts politely, “Damn it all, Corrie and I used to read it with a torch under the bedclothes after Nanny turned the night-nursery lights off…….”

Parsons has by this time recovered from his theological trauma, and strikes lightly, but with surgical precision.

“A procedure, Milord, which may well have been the cause of the volume’s deteriorated condition. Human breath is known to be highly corrosive in confined spaces……..”

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