If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2 and 3, here are the links:
The Young Bookseller looked up over his shoulder at the round-faced clock upon the wall. As he focused on it, the long hand clicked from 6:06 to 6:07. He went round the counter and twisted the lock on the door. “Clunk.” He turned the sign around so the word “Open” now faced his heart. He pulled down the toggles, and the store lights went dark. He picked up the folded vellum note from the counter. Some aisles away, he heard a few gentle thuds of books falling to the floor. As he walked back toward his office, there seemed to be a riffling sound in air. The sound was somewhere between pages moving and a stream’s soft flow.
Or was it the furnace blower fan pushing air about through the ceiling ducts?
He opened the door to his office and stopped for a moment. He stared at the ring upon the far wall. Its glow seemed to brighten a bit and then dull. Maybe it was his shadow crossing the threshold. He moved to his desk and laid the folded vellum sheet atop the mess upon the desk.
He gently lifted the narrow flap above his name. He was then able to unfold the body of the vellum sheet. Vellum is very durable, but he was still very careful not to open it too far or to try to flatten is creases.
There is no way to describe the sound of old vellum being unfolded. It is not exactly like crisp crackers cracking. Nor is it exactly like a heavy plastic report cover being gently flipped between your finger and thumb. You will have to find a friendly librarian or perhaps an old (or not so old) bookseller who can let you hear that.
Lines of words appeared below his eyes. They were written in the same very brown ink as on the front. But the script was impossible. The handwriting was like he had seen in medieval documents. Likely Latin but most of the letters did not seem to match with alphabets with which he was familiar.
“Oh, well,” he thought. “Another mystery to hang upon my wall.”
He thought of the young woman at the newspaper. He wished he had asked her name. He wished she had not fled the store so fast. The bell on the door had not rung upon her exit although her giggling at his clumsiness did seem to sound as if it as moving away from him.
He stared hard at the sheet below him. It must have come here for a reason.
He sighed and relaxed. His eyes lost a bit of focus. He found that by not thinking too much; that by letting himself go the words began to make some sense. Soon he was able to read and understand the words before him:
“the ring is round and ’round its been
since words were first etched on stone,
then pointed reeds pressed on sheets of damp clay,
left wedge shaped words that can be read today
papyrus plants’ pith pounded flat
woven pressed dried become paper mats
paper, parchment, papyrus, vellum
words and drawings become more common
rolled scrolls piled high in libraries vast
histories that can now link present with past
(one small scroll was through that ring’s hole held fast
perhaps you’ll learn that story at the last)
the first books were with runish words
incised upon Beech bark boards
stacked threaded and joined by leather cords
now recorded are the songs of bards
art and faith drawn and writ on stitched codices
laws and prayers could be read by turning leaves
pages and pages for eternity were bound
and the book could be passed round and down
so many pages bound in wood, leather vellum covers
a thousand scrolls can be carried by one to another
in the time so brief since the printing press
could first repeat page after page so all may possess
now book after book after book by machines are made
millions each month you can buy sell or trade”
It was so strange. When his eyes focused on the letters, they were incomprehensible. When his eyes and mind relaxed, the words were translated and he could “see” and understand their meaning. He wondered at the awkward verse. The rhymes, such as they were, must suffer in his mind’s translation. Was the letter being translated before his eyes in real time? Was there some part of his brain that could do this at this time and place?
His mind saw the evolution of the book with each new couplet.
The second part of the letter continued and was not quite as versified:
“through all these words
the golden round has been passed down
from one to one to one
you may hold it and turn it round
look through, observe it inside out
but do not wear it until it’s time
for once round your finger it is put
it will take you far away
you are not ready
may never be
many have not
as for the ring which has no beginning and no end?
this leaf is to inform thee:
the ring is thine
for thy time
why is this so?
that is not for me to know
I am the messenger
and to you a bit more
bookman I will be thy guide
in thy most need by your side”
Below all it was signed:
The Young Bookseller came out of his trance to hear chaotic sounds all about him. Swaths of windswept rain slapped the roof and walls surrounding him. Gusts blowing through and around and over the building’s various parts made a bizarre concert. When the wind for a moment would abate, heavy raindrops pattered above his head splatting percussion on the flat expanse of roof just above him.
He carefully folded the vellum document and slipped it into a plastic bag. He kept many bags in many sizes for bagging and hanging things in the new old bookstore for display. He rose and pinned it to the wall just beneath the ring.
The Young Bookseller walked to the front of the shop. Heavy rains were sweeping from the parking area up under the overhang and splashing upon the windows and door. He retrieved the battered green metal fishing tackle box and returned to the office. He went through the exercise of reconciling the days accounting. That done, he returned to the front.
He had no raincoat. His umbrella was out in the truck.
He sat on the floor before the threshold of the front door. He stared out into the blackness of the storm. The wane light cast by the few distant streetlights defined silhouettes of familiar objects outside. He sat and waited. Thousands of books sat and waited upon the bookshelves behind him. He heard a soft thunk as somewhere back in the stacks a book dropped gently to the floor.
The storm did not abate. Occasional distant booms of thunder and soft flashes of lightning behind thick clouds punctuated the swirling wind and rains. It was mesmerizing and comforting to watch the tempest without protected by walls and glass from within. But after a while he began to feel tired and stiff. It was time to go home.
“Well, it is not getting any better.”
He rose and reached over the counter for a plastic bag to put the day’s deposit in it. He turned and unlocked the door. He slipped out and quickly pushed the door shut so no rain would blow in. He inserted the key and twisted the lock. The rain was already soaking through the back of his shirt and pants. He dashed across the parking lot to his truck. By the time he unlocked it and climbed up to the driver’s seat, he was soaked through.
He passed by the bank. He would make the deposit tomorrow on the way in. The windshield wipers slapped at the water cascading upon it but could not keep pace. He made his way slowly home through the wind and rain, thunder and lightning.
Once there, he let the dogs out. First one then the other. They were both very anxious to come back in. He put his wet clothes into the dryer and turned it on. They thumped and thumped as they tumbled round and round. He considered them clean from the thorough drenching they’d had. He dried his hair with a towel and made a PBJ sandwich and dumped a can of soup into a saucepan atop the stove. The lights occasionally flickered when a distant flash behind the clouds was followed by a soft boom. The dogs were constantly at his feet. They did not like thunder and lightning.
While the soup heated, he walked around his home. There were bookcases in almost every room. He was looking for something new to read. The stack of books beside the bed held no appeal for him this evening. He scanned row after row of book spines. Finally, in the third room, on the fifth bookcase near the center of the seventh shelf up from the floor, a book’s title spoke to him.
“This should do it.”
He slipped it off the shelf and walked to his bed. He tossed it onto the center atop the crumpled bedclothes.
Back in the kitchen, he prepared a bowl of food for Merry and Pippin and set it on the floor next to the table. He took the saucepan off the stove and grabbed a wooden spoon and set it upon the table. He ate his dinner from the pot looking out at the wind and rain and thinking about the day’s events.
When he was done and had cleaned up the meager mess he had made, he got ready for bed. He fell back upon the mattress and picked up the book. He read and read and at some point the words became a dream.
And then it was morning. The distant horizon was orange with dawn. The sky above was sharpening to azure blue. The air was so clear from its thorough cleansing he could see for miles. It was as if the storm’s wind, water, fire and aural blasts had washed his window to the world.
He did his morning rituals and chores and headed to work. He stopped at the bank and slipped the deposit in to the heavy metal drawer built into the brick wall. The Young Bookseller parked the truck in its usual spot and crossed to the front door. He unlocked the door, looked down and smiled at the book upon the floor. It was in the very spot where he sat the night before.
“Maybe it was looking for a warm spot during the storm last night. Perhaps it wanted to watch the storm.”
The phone was ringing, and he quickly scuttled around the counter. He lifted the receiver from its cradle and spoke into it.
“Hello. This is the Classified Ad Department.”
It was she!
“I’m…I’m really sorry I didn’t get by yesterday. It is so odd. I…after we spoke…I got a call a call that my grandmother’s dog was out and roaming the neighborhood. I dropped everything and ran out. I love that dog and if anything happened, well, I…and grandma…well… And then when I got there, she was sitting on the front stoop. She looked as if she had been washed and combed out. The hair on her left ear had been braided! She has such long hairy droopy ears. It was about three inches long! Then that storm swept in, and it was too late to call because I knew you were closed.”
“She was not here last night?! It was not she?!” he thought.
He quickly took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts.
“Oh! That’s all ok. I am glad the dog is ok,” he spoke into the phone.
“Me too. I…ummm…the real reason I’m calling now is the letter I was going to bring you…it is gone! We never…well, nothing like this has happened here ever. I asked everybody here. Even the publisher called me up to his office and interviewed me. I…I am so sorry.”
The Young Bookseller thought he heard a soft sob come from her.
“Oh, everything is ok. Please do not worry. Should I write a new ad about the ring or the lost letter?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know…”
There was an awkward pause.
“I would still like to show you the bookstore sometime.”
“That would be nice.”
There was another awkward pause.
“Maybe next week?” he asked.
“Can I ask your name?”
“I don’t give…umm…it’s Priscilla.”
The Young Bookseller gave her his name and said he would think about another ad and would call or visit the newspaper soon.
“I like stopping in at the Rescue Mission when I get down that way. I have found some good books there.”
He put the telephone handset back into its cradle. He walked around the front of the counter, bent and retrieved the book that was upon the floor. It was a pretty 19th century calf binding. He opened it to the title page and was shocked. It was a 16th century copy of Hesiod’s works.
He decoded the Roman numerals. 1537. It had been printed in Venice.
A rare book and in wondrous condition!
He knew Hesiod from a college when he took some ancient history courses. Hesiod had been alive around the same time as Homer (600-700 BC.) Unlike Homer who survives only via the oral tradition passed through many voices over centuries, Hesiod may have written or dictated his works. His Theogony recounts the history of the Greek pantheon of gods from the creation onward. He was inspired to do this by…the Muses*.
*He himself attributes his poetic gifts to the Muses, who appeared to him while he was tending his sheep; giving him a poet’s staff and endowing him with a poet’s voice, they bade him “sing of the race of the blessed gods immortal.” — https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hesiod
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
End Part 4.