Here’s a Bank Holiday Bonus….
Set in the same universe as the Crimson Mask and the continuation of https://chrisleach78.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/the-adventures-of-pratchett-and-banks/
The rest of the morning proceeded as normal; Bartholomew sold a few books and spent at least an hour listening to old Mr Douglas’ war stories as he stacked shelves in the shop’s History section. When the grandfather clock on the staircase chimed midday Bartholomew took the lunch his grandmother had prepared for him and stepped out into the hustle and bustle of Grove Street.
A couple of the Brigade’s Steam Wagons rumbled past, smoke billowing from their exhaust pipes and steam hissing from the pistons that drove their large wheels. Bartholomew watched as the wagons turned into the yard beside the Brigade Station that stood on the corner opposite the bookshop. He had to step back as Mr Clarence, the fishmonger, trundled past on his velocipede, the smell of fresh fish wafting after him.
On a bright sunny day like this, Bartholomew always liked to eat his lunch on the bench outside the Engine House at the North end of Grove Street. He liked to watch people as they went past, going about their business. In his mind he created stories, he liked to imagine where they were going, who they were going to see and what they would get up to when they got there. Behind him, in the former workhouse, he could hear the muffled thrum of the machinery contained behind the bricked-up walls of the Engine House.
“It will revolutionise our business,” his grandfather had said one morning as he read the Herald at the kitchen table.
Bartholomew climbed onto his grandfather’s lap.
“Oof, you’re getting heavy my boy,” he said as he placed the newspaper on the table and began to read aloud. “Yesterday, Mayor Cavendish, announced that the first Babbage Engine to be built on the South Coast would be installed here, in Burlington, in the old workhouse on Grove Street.”
Bartholomew had been fascinated by Charles Babbage and his Analytical Engine ever since reading about it in a book by Countess Lovelace, and when the conversion of the old workhouse began, his grandfather would take him down every lunchtime to watch the machinery needed for the vast calculating machine being delivered.
Babbage visited Burlington for the grand opening of the Engine House and Bartholomew had even managed to get Countess Lovelace’s book signed by the man himself.
After finishing his lunch of bread and cheese, Bartholomew headed back towards the bookshop. A group of anti-Darwin Creationists had gathered outside the Town Hall, waving banners and singing All Things Bright and Beautiful, watched by a few bored-looking Brigade officers on the other side of the road.
Father Christopher, upon hearing rumours that the renowned naturalist, Charles Darwin, was planning to visit the seaside town, had rallied the congregation of St George’s together in order to protest against Darwin’s absurd theories of evolution. Bartholomew mumbled apologies as he pushed his way through the crowd (…all creatures great and small…) He stumbled as a small boy in front of him stopped to point excitedly at the airship drifting overhead, (… all things bright and beautiful…) sidestepped the flailing arm of an over-enthusiastic protestor and tripped over another’s discarded banner before bumping into a gentleman in a long, brown overcoat.
“…The Lord God makes them all.” continued the gentleman as he smiled down at Bartholomew. “Mind your step dear boy.”
“Ever so sorry Sir.”
“Is everything all right Sir? It was one of the Brigade Officers from over the road.
“Everything is fine Officer,” replied the gentleman.
“You might want to check your pockets Sir,” continued the officer without taking his eyes off of Bartholomew, his moustache trembling with suspicion. “You can never be too careful. Pickpockets!”
He spat the last word out, showering Bartholomew in spittle.
The gentleman, with the busy sideburns and tall top hat, made an elaborate show of patting his pockets. He even unbuttoned his coat and opened it to reveal his red, velvet waistcoat and gold pocket watch. This appeared to be enough to convince the officer that Bartholomew was not a criminal. The officer tipped his hat towards the other man, glowered at Bartholomew and the faded away into the crowd.
“I am sorry Sir,” mumbled Bartholomew. “I wasn’t trying to…”
“I know,” replied the gentleman, offering Bartholomew a handkerchief with which to wipe his face.
As Bartholomew handed the handkerchief back he noticed the letters CD embroidered into the corner. The mysterious man smile and tucked the handkerchief back into his coat pocket. He turned and lifted up a banner that read “Jesus will soon return and sweep away all the lies”.
Bartholomew mumbled another apology and then snaked his way through the crowd. As he approached the bookshop he could see his grandmother through the shop window talking to a man in a long black coat with bushy black sideburns. They were clearly discussing the books on display in the window.
“Ah, Bartholomew,” his grandmother said as he entered the shop. “You might be able to help this gentleman. He’s interested in sea-birds.”
“I’m visiting family in Devon later this Summer,” the man explained in a deep, gruff voice. “And I would very much like to do some bird-watching whilst there. I understand Lundy Island has a large colony of puffins.”
“Ah,” replied Bartholomew. “I have just the book.”
“I knew he would,” muttered his grandmother proudly.
“Follow me Mister?”
Bartholomew led Mr Huxley around the piles of books towards the counter where the book that Penelope had returned that morning was still sat beside the till.
“Perfect,” said Huxley, “That is exactly the book I was after.” He dropped a coin onto the counter and without waiting for Bartholomew to sort out the change he turned and left the shop.
“You keep that one,” said Bartholomew’s grandmother, picking up the coin and placing it in his hand. “You earned it.”
Bartholomew would often stare at his grandmother, mentally smoothing out the wrinkles and darkening her hair in order to build a picture of what his mother must have looked like. In moments like this, his grandmother became the most beautiful woman in the world. He hugged her.
“Now be a dear,” she said, patting him on the back. “and deal with that case by the door. Mr Huxley was kind enough to leave a donation.”
The battered brown case contained a wide variety of books. Usually when someone donated books the titles gave an insight into the personality of the person who had made the donation, however, Mr Huxley’s collection appeared to be completely random. There were novels and natural history, poetry and politics, biographies and geographies. Bartholomew sorted the books into piles depending on which section of the bookshop they belonged to. He’d had to move to the kitchen so that he could use the table as there was not enough space on the shop floor.
As Bartholomew tried to find space for a new pile for botany he knocked two astronomical books onto the floor, damaging the spine of An Astronomer’s Experiment, dislodging the first few pages. As he gathered them up from the cold tiles he noticed a message scribbled on one of the pages. It appeared to be a poem, handwritten in a barely legible script.
“Bartholomew!” called his grandmother from somewhere in the shop.
“Can you help Mr Higgins? We need the big steps.”
Bartholomew sighed, placed the books on the table and the poem in his pocket and went to collect the tall step ladder from the cupboard under the stairs. He’d forbidden his grandmother from using the ladder ever since she’d fallen from the top shelf of the biographies section, knocking over a tall tower of books and trapping Mr Irvine, the greengrocer. It had taken them over two hours to dig him out and a member of the fire brigade had to rescue his grandmother from the bookcase.