Tome Sweet Tome

Terence Morgan did not like being called ‘Terry’, or being referred to as a ‘digital immigrant’. He just preferred the ‘peel and flap’ method of reading The London Review of Books, compared to the ‘finger skating’  of the Tablet version. But there was more to his reading. The ‘LRB’ was to him a vital window into the world of academic books. It was like ‘The Racing Post’ was to the dedicated racegoer. He was in the back of a taxi on the way to his publisher. 

He could check on the form of his rivals, what they had written and how it was received. He could see them jockeying to review a book on, say, the importance of frogging in 18th century cavalry uniforms. Terence had his favourite publishers – that would count as stables. But what he most enjoyed was when a book has clearly wowed academia, and led to lecture tours around the world. That had happened to him a few years ago, and had led to fame and fortune. He felt confident that this meeting with Saskia Andersson would lead to the next elevation of his reputation, and leave other European historians crying into their keyboards. 

The taxi swung into the kerb in front of the building and came to a halt. Terence beeped his credit card, straightened up out of the taxi and took the steps to the front door.

Saskia Andersson rested her pen on her lower lip as she leafed through proofs of a manuscript by Professor Terence Morgan. As a partner in the firm she was delighted with the money Morgan’s books had made. Each published book usually sold for over a hundred pounds, but that was not a problem for university libraries, research institutes and government departments across Europe.

However, this manuscript troubled her. It felt incomplete. As if there was a piece of the jigsaw missing. But that should be solved this afternoon, as she waited for Professor Morgan to come to her Oxford office. 

One knock on the door, her PA Helen announced the visitor and opened the door for Professor Morgan. He appeared to tower over her, and smiled courteously as he passed Helen. Helen gave a little giggle “And thank you for the birthday card Terence”.

His appearance marked him as different from the usual crumpled academic that Saskia’s firm published. He may be balding, and what hair he had was close cropped, but his tailoring always gave him an athletic profile. All he needed to be nicer was an injection of genuine humanity.

“New suit Terence?” 

“No Saskia. You? That classic camel and cream combination suits you. Anyway, I hope my manuscript is finally going to print. Is that what this meeting is about?”

“Terence, can I be candid? There is something missing in your latest masterpiece, and I have realised what it is. Morency’s The True Historie of Trade and Conquest published in 1690. You have writers who reference it, but no direct quotations, or licensed illustrations. It is the ring that holds your complete set of ideas together. If we publish without that content, academics in Milan and Paris, let alone Oxford, will tear it to pieces. Consequently, your reputation will, let’s be kind, be as much use as a chocolate teapot.’

Terence rubbed his right eyebrow as he did when he was frustrated or annoyed. ‘Saskia, I have, and my researchers have, been scouring libraries, both public and private for even a whisper of the book. The British Library told me only twenty were ever printed, and they have always believed all copies were lost or destroyed over the centuries. All that exists are references, as I say in my manuscript.’

Saskia tilted her ash blonde head to one side,’Terence. I have to be firm about this. No True Historie, no publication.’ 

Terence’s expression could be drawn as two dots above a straight line. Peeved and tight-lipped. He stood, buttoned his jacket, pushed his chair back and walked to the door. He turned as he opened the door. ‘Saskia, I will resolve this. We will have this book published. Goodbye, and take care.’

Terence described his predicament as a ‘patina problem’. This meant that it needed his best thinking, and that was achieved by polishing his top-class Oxfords. It was a habit passed on from his sharply dressed father whose RAF background required toe caps you could see your face in. He had also told the young Terence that shoes are the second thing a woman always looks at. 

It took one pair of black brogues and a pair of deep burgundy tan Derbys to come up with a plan to pull the threads – or would it be laces – together. And that plan may need further creative thinking, or drinking, with colleague Jason West, Professor of European Literature. Twelve-thirty at the Duke of Albany on The Broadway.

“ Here you are Terence” Jason carefully placed the full pint glass on the small table. “It occurred to me that you need wider sources than the usual academic highways and byways. Have you tried social media?”

Terence sipped and replaced the glass. “My researcher Ellen has already thought of that. It did not produce anything apart from waking up interest from Italian and French universities who are working on theories similar to mine. This is really frustrating, and I sense time is running out.”

“Hmm” Jason lifted his head and stroked his moustache as he did when thinking. “I think you may have to resort to the old media – I have a contact in Current Affairs at Radio 4. Let me see if I can arrange an interview. We could pitch it that you are racing against time, competing against foreign interests, to create a publishing coup. I think that might get picked up more widely. Leave it to me.”

The two pints had been productive. Terence usually stopped outside ‘Richardson’s Rare Books’ on his way back to college, just to see what was on display. He noticed the bookseller, Gemma Richardson, on tiptoes, adding a new leather bound tome to an upper shelf. Terence casually wandered in. 

“Hello” said Gemma “Looking for anything in particular?” Terence grinned wryly. “If you have a copy of Philip Morency’s The True Historie of Trade and Conquest, I would nominate you for bookseller of the year.”

Gemma nodded her grey curls down. “What was it I just put on the shelf. Hold your horses.” She reached up again to the same shelf. ‘Well dear, it’s what we call “rare but useless” Very pretty binding, don’t you think? Sadly, over time pages go missing and consequently the book becomes no more that a nice thing to decorate a bookshelf. So because of the fine binding: £120.’

Terence was stunned. It WAS the book. THE book. He carefully leafed through it and noticed, as he had been told, there were pages missing. Those pages, he believed, were the details and record of key trades and innovations that were so influential in 17th century Europe. But, no matter, there must be more historical gold in here and he paid without a murmur. Only once he had left the shop did he wonder “Suppose it is a poor copy?” he needed to get it properly assessed. He stopped his walk, took out his mobile and rang a contact at the British Library in London, to arrange an authentication. Then a brisk walk home to start the process of note taking from the book, and start thinking about confirming his theories about the impact of Morency’s trade and financial practice on commercial activity in 17th century Europe.

TJ’s Photo Studio was found in a side street in the area where the lawyers’ and architects’ offices give way to the builders’ merchants and chip shops. Terence found the flight of stairs to the studio, and as he neared the door could hear the muffled thud of the studio flash system, and the coaxing, charming patter of Tim Thompson. It sounded to Terence that ‘Sophia’ – presumably the name of the model – needed precise instructions about which limbs to move and where. Terence had established beforehand that TJ did ‘boudoir photography’ when he wasn’t travelling internationally for advertising campaigns or corporate brochure production. 

Terence called out “Mister Thompson”. A voice came back “Almost done. Come through if you like”. Terence brushed through the blackout curtains into the studio space, saw an auburn haired woman in her early forties making writhing shapes on a large bed, and thought “Oh my God. It’s the Vice-Chancellor’s wife. Here was an authority on Venetian art making an exhibition of herself!’

Tim turned his pale denim torso, acknowledged Terence’s arrival, and turned back to the ‘set’ to find that his model had bounced off the bed and approached Terence. ‘Hello Terence’ smiled Dr Gianna Fantini, (aka Sophia) ‘Are you doing a boudoir session too’? She was completely relaxed about standing in front of the two men, wearing just embroidered silk French knickers. Tim moved off to one side, and Terence took half a pace backwards. He looked down at his shoes to avoid looking at her breasts, only to see her knickers reflected in his toecaps. He did not know where to look now. At that moment Tim handed Gianna a cotton robe which she wrapped around herself without tying it up with the sash. 

With her arms folded under her bust, holding the robe closed, she said that her husband had been talking about Terence only that morning. She said Marcus was becoming impatient with Terence’s lack of publication, especially due to the international interest in the college’s work on the topic. ‘Things may become, shall we say, difficult, for you, unless you can get your book published before the end of the semester’ Gianna ran a glossy burgundy fingernail down Terence’s silk tie. Because of that gesture, her robe fell open and Terence had to swiftly look to his shoes again. Gianna gathered the robe around her. Terence straightened up and brought his shoes together. He bent stiffly toward Gianna and bowed his head, as if in a formal bow.

”Comportati bene signora. Ricordate chi siete” he said softly in an impeccable Milanese accent. Gianna glared at him and turned on her heel, making for the changing room. 

“I hope Marcus is thrilled with your, er, portfolio” called Terence.

“Who said it is for Marcus” Gianna called back.

Terence did not like academic intimidation. That was why he had suggested Dr Fantini behave herself and remember who she is. That evening stroll, hand-in-hand, caressed by the late summer zephyrs on the Corso Vercelli, was a long time ago now.

Tim appeared next to him. ‘Sorry, had to finish the session. I heard your interview on Radio 4 and that’s why I rang you. I am sure my sister has the pages you are searching for. They are in old box our mum passed on; in Theresa’s flat in Hastings.’

Tim explained that their mother had cared for an old lady in a big house full of books, just outside Hastings. They had got on really well and just before the old lady died, she gave their mother a large manilla envelope. She told her that the pages inside were hard to read, because some parts were in Latin, but they were valuable because they were missing pages from a famous book. The lady told our mum “As you know, Sally, my Sammy had been in the book trade, and at one point had to sell the old book, but kept the pages like buried treasure.”. 

“Go on Tim, this is getting exciting.” Terence clenched has fists at his side and leaned forward.

Tim smiled “She said mum must always keep them safe because one day the book itself will be in the news. Then these pages will be worth a lot of money. When mum died Theresa kept the envelope. Because I have moved around the world so much I live a very ‘stripped down’ life. I don’t keep much of anything around. Mind you, nor does Theresa, poor lamb. If these pages are worth a bit, it would really help her with the rent, her debts, and the kids.” 

Terence took down Theresa’s address and promised to make sure that she would be compensated for her trouble. 

The Google Maps version of Senlac Court was a poor guide to find Theresa’s flat. Terence, for once, was grateful that his ten-year-old Peugeot would not attract attention among the surrounding cars. At the University it was usually surrounded by Mercs and Audis.

He was mildly surprised that he did not see anyone around the estate. He was concerned that he might look like someone’s social worker. The hard shell of his attache case compounded that feeling. He found Theresa’s door number and pressed the bell. ‘Hello?’ said a woman’s anxious voice.

‘Mrs Theresa Edgerton? It’s Terence Morgan. We spoke on the phone yesterday’

‘Oh yes Professor Morgan. Come on up.’ The buzzer sounded and the door lock clunked. Terence climbed one flight of stairs, checked the flat numbers and turned left after two doors. He rang the door bell, and heard a toddler’s voice say ‘Someone’s at the door’.

The door opened on a chain, and a woman of around thirty, scraped-back dark blond hair, pale blue eyes, peered through the gap. ‘Oh hello’ she said ‘sorry to ask, but do you have any ID?’

Terence was momentarily taken aback, but remembered he had his university ID on a red lanyard in his trouser pocket. Some clumsy fumbling and he held the card up for inspection. The door closed, the chain was slid off, and the door opened to show a slim woman in a baggy sweatshirt and track suit bottoms. 

 As the door opened further Terence saw a boy of around five with his arm around Theresa’s leg, and a chubby faced-baby on Theresa’s hip. ‘Come in Mr Morgan. This is James .. Say hello James’. James mouthed ‘hello’. ‘And this is Hattie .. Aren’t you my darling puffin’ Theresa buried her face in Hattie’s neck and the baby giggled. 

Terence noticed was that the flat was spotless, but tired. The furniture, the curtains, and the tenant. Theresa offered Terence an armchair.  Terence sat and noticed that across the room was a photo of a young man in regimental dress uniform, with a younger Theresa at his side. There was a black ribbon draped across the upper right corner. He stood up and moved closer.

“I hope you won’t think me rude, but isn’t that the uniform of the RAF Regiment?’

‘Yes’. Theresa looked at the photo, looked down for a moment, and back at the photo. ‘That was my Pete. My husband. He was killed in Afghanistan three months ago’. Terence felt a pang of sorrow, because remembered how his mother feared for her husband in some of his postings. 

Theresa saw his downcast eyes but decided not to enquire. ‘You asked about Mrs Silverman’s old pages? I found them again in a box in the airing cupboard. I’ll get them.” As she reached the cupboard, she bit her lip. She wanted to ask how much they are worth, straight out. Professor Morgan looks like he is not short of a few quid. Could she trust him to give her a fair price? ‘Get on with it Theresa’, she said softly to herself.

She brought a stiff manilla envelope to the coffee table, just larger than a magazine. White tissue paper was peeping beyond the flap of the envelope. Theresa left it like that on the coffee table. As if it might explode.

Terence opened his attache case, took out a pair of cotton gloves, put them on and drew the envelope closer. The tissue paper crackled as the contents were drawn out of the envelope. Theresa was leaning over, watching. Terence lifted and parted the paper and stopped. ‘Oh yes! Good heavens, yes!’

Theresa looked down to him ‘Is that the right thing then?’

‘Yes, Mrs Edgerton. That is definitely the right thing. I think. I must be sure though. I need to get it  checked out by an expert at Southeby’s’. 

‘What? So, you are going to take it away without paying for it?’ Theresa was standing with her feet apart and her arms folded, her head forward.

Terence held up one hand for a moment, then dipped into the attache case. He brought out, and placed on the table, a letter on university headed paper. ‘This is my receipt to you for the pages. They will only be worth something once they are back in the book they came from. I have that book.  I will have the book and the pages restored and bring them back. I will show you how they complete the book. I will also by then have an idea how much it is worth.’

‘Oh. Alright. When will you bring it back? Because if you are a day late I will go to the police.’ 

‘Mrs Edgerton. I will bring it back next Wednesday. The letter has all my details, and of this transaction. The police would soon find me. I would not risk that damage to my reputation.’

Theresa picked up the letter and was reading through it as Terence snapped the envelope into his attache case, and stood up.

‘Mrs Edgerton. I can’t tell you how important these pages are to me. They are the missing piece in the jigsaw that I call my latest book on European history. I will be back next Wednesday. Thank you very much’

Still holding the letter, and still with a toddler attached to her leg, she followed Terence to the door. ‘Bye Professor Morgan’ she said and closed the door.

It was Monday and Marcus Leith-Jones had just taken a telephone call as Terence entered his office. Marcus beckoned Terence in with a flapping right hand and pointed his open palm down to the chair in front of the desk.

 ‘George, what is this invoice from Tuttons on The Broadway. What? ..  No! If you would take those stupid headphones off for a moment you would have heard me say “Give him a dressing down, not give him a dressing gown! Get it sorted”

The telephone was dropped rather than placed on its base. “Sorry Terence” 

“That’s okay MLJ. You wanted a word.”

‘Is that Morency’s book?’ Leith-Jones stood up and leaned over, staring. 

“It is” grinned Terence.

Still leaning over his desk, he was eye to eye with Terence. “What about its provenance. Has it been authenticated?” Leith-Jones’ eyes had narrowed from surprise to suspicion. “I thought that all copies were destroyed or lost in a library fire”

“I’m meeting Lawrence Hart at the British Library on Thursday to get it repaired, then to Southeby’s for a formal evaluation’

Leith-Jones straightened up.”You have saved me an embarrassing tirade against you for letting the college down, and letting an Italian academic take the keynote at next month’s academic convention at your former employer in Milan. This changes everything.’

Terence rose from his chair and buttoned his jacket, ‘Must get to work on this and the necessary redrafting of my manuscript’ 

‘Of course Terence. Many thanks’. Leith-Jones sank gratefully into his chair. Then the serious questions struck him.”How much must a 17th century book like that have cost? Some of these tomes go for millions! Something is not right” 

Lawrence gently lifted the lid off the gold-topped box, smoothed away the tissue and lifted “True Historie” onto the table. He passed a pair of cotton gloves to Terence, who put them on. “Kelly has done her usual wonderful job at re-uniting the book with its missing pages, as well as some cleaning, and repairing some small rips”

Terence gazed with reverence at the book that would confirm his theories. ‘Lawrence, I explained that this book is yet to be in the university’s ownership. It currently belongs to a widow who lives in Hastings. She has trusted me with the repairs, and arranging the sale by auction’

“She may become  a very merry widow then. The last time something like this came up at auction in New York, it went for two hundred thousand dollars’

Terence whistled. “I have no idea how much this is worth. I am arranging for Sotheby’s to evaluate it on Tuesday and then sell it at auction. I am confident the university will want it, and the History department has just received an enormous bequest intended for just such a purchase. It will also complete my latest manuscript. 

Terence felt less self conscious on this visit to Theresa’s flat on the Wednesday, as promised.  He smiled as he pressed the door entry system. There was a pause, and he heard Theresa’s voice “Hello”. Terence said ‘Hello Theresa. The book now has your pages fitted back and it’s been cleaned up. Would you like to see it?’

 “Yes I would” The door entry buzzed and unlocked. Terence strode along the corridor and almost collided with an exotically dressed Somali woman, and a child who gave him a big toothy grin. 

When he reached the front door of the flat, Theresa was standing at the open door. Today she was wearing a polo shirt and track suit bottoms, but she had obviously spent some time on her hair. She smiled and lifted a finger to her lips. “The little ones are having a nap.” Terence remembered when it was such a relief when their little Emma was quiet for half an hour. He put the attache case down, slipped his shoes off, picked up the case again and padded into the flat. 

Terence placed the gold-topped box on the table, and chuckled – very unusual for him. “This feels like opening a gift at Christmas” Terence lifted the top off and gently lifted True Historie out. 

He explained to Theresa that the pages she had given him brought the book back to life as a very important record. It was really special and rare. Theresa, sitting next to him on the sofa, looked from the book to Terence, and shrugged. ‘If you say so’ she said with a laugh. “Was it expensive, from the bookshop I mean?

‘No, not really’ said Terence with a shrug ‘£120’

Theresa sat back on the sofa “I can’t afford to pay £120 for that book”

 Terence put both hands, palms down on the attache case. He opened the case and brought out a new letter on university headed paper. ‘I’ve thought of that. This letter, which I have signed, and you should countersign, is the bill of sale for the book from me to you. You will be the legal owner, and I have agreed the cost is zero because it is for the education of your children.’

At that moment, little James came into the sitting room, rubbing his eyes, his bare feet scuffing the carpet. Theresa sprang up to meet James and sat him on her knee as she returned to the sofa.

“But won’t you be out of pocket?”

“Oh no. Once the college has ownership I can finish my latest book and the advance sales come to several times what I paid for True Historie.’

Theresa tilted her head to one side. ‘So what happens now the pages are put back in the book?’

‘Does magic happen?’ called out little James, looking up at his mother.

‘Yes James’ Terence looked over to the child. ‘It does. Your mummy will have a lot of money’

Theresa leaned forward ‘Really? Like, how much? Ten thousand?’

Terence looked at Theresa as if to say ‘Sweet girl’. ‘More like one hundred thousand’

‘For a book! Well, fu .. ‘ She placed her hand over her mouth, then took it away.’Good Heavens’ She hugged James and rocked with laughing disbelief. Once she was over the shock, Terence took her through the text of the bill of sale, and she borrowed his pen to sign. 

Terence then had his serious and organised face on. ‘When I leave I am taking it to the auctioneers in Oxford. I think you said you are not working next Wednesday?’

‘That’s right. Mum usually looks after James and Hattie, so I can go out shopping or whatever.’

‘Good. I would like you to come to the auction. I will send a taxi for you, and there will be a lunch after the auction. Your brother Tim will be there too. I will call you with the times on Monday. Would that be okay?’

‘Oh, yes Professor Morgan  ..’

‘Terence, please’

Theresa nodded her head ‘Terence. That will be lovely Terence’

Terence slipped his shoes on again. Waved goodbye to James, and stepped out into the corridor. He stood stock still for what must have been two beats. He shook his head at the sheer pleasure of finalising the search and rescue of ‘that book’. But there was another feeling. It wafted around in his head as he walked to his car. Then he was able to grasp it. His cool, business-minded focus, had been sidelined by sentiment. His jaw dropped just to think about it. He had met a decent woman, disadvantaged by fate and poverty, and had this time taken notice. He was in a position to help her change her life, and he did. And she had, unknowingly, done Terence a big favour. She had given him an injection of genuine humanity.

Theresa was delighted that her best dress still fitted so well. She had borrowed some shoes from her neighbour Kate, and the shoes and dress went well together. She was especially pleased that her brother Tim was to wear a proper collar and tie instead of the usual denim. The auction was in the rooms of Hartigan’s, a well established Oxford firm, with offices in New York and Paris. The rows of seats had men and women of all ages but nearly all were dressed expensively. Those who weren’t, Terence had commented, were Oxford academics with an interest in the items in the auction. Although she felt out of place, she was too excited to care.

Terence had noticed several eminent Italian and French historians at the auction. Some of the Italians he knew from Milan, and nodded greetings across the room. 

The auctioneer used his gavel and a hush fell on the room. He announced Lot 40: a rare book, The True Historie of Trade and Conquest by Philip Morency, published in 1690. ‘Bidding opens at one hundred thousand pounds.’

‘Jesus’ said Tim under his breath. Theresa hissed at him, and said out of the side of her mouth ‘Shut up in case they think you’re bidding for it!’

Bidding went briskly until the price reached three hundred thousand. Then the competition was left between Oxford, Milan and Paris. The auctioneer asked for three hundred and ten thousand. The Milan team became agitated, but you would only know this by seeing the flourished application of Genoese silk to a sweaty brow. But one of the Milanese held up his catalogue and said four hundred thousand. People began to sidle into the auction room, excited by the gossip they heard in the building. Unseen in the auction room, a local journalist was briefing via the hashtag #TrueHistorie.

Paris was cool, assertive. They pushed the bidding to four hundred and fifty thousand. Oxford was quiet. The room was murmuring, heads turning, looking for the next move.

‘At four hundred and fifty thousand. Going once.’

There was a pause. ‘Four hundred and seventy five thousand’ said in a distinctly British accent. 

Milan and Paris slumped back in their chairs, shaking their heads.

Terence leaned over to Theresa. “Thank you, on behalf of Peregrine college, for bringing an important book back to academia, where it belongs.” 

‘ I thought we were in Oxford’. Pause. ‘Only kidding’ She grinned. A member of the auctioneer’s staff appeared and invited Theresa to meet in the office to complete the formalities of the auction. 

‘Terence, the complementary copies of your book have arrived’ Charlotte Morgan called to her husband. “At last!” She chuckled.
Terence would have leapt from his office chair, but he was basking in the warm satisfaction from Theresa’s email. It was now a month after the auction and her email was to let him know that she had just completed the purchase of a house near the school where she worked. She wrote: “I am so happy. I wondered if I should send you flowers, but that doesn’t seem right for a posh bloke. So James and Hattie have sent you a ‘Thank You’ card’. The email had an attachment, that opened to a brightly crayoned image of a book and a squiggly house with flowers.

Charlotte walked into the study. “You are so popular now. Saskia has sent vintage champagne to arrive with the books.” She put her hand on her husband’s shoulder, and saw the Thank You card.
“This must be the first time one of your books did some good outside academia”

They both laughed.


This is where I aim to publish what I think worth sharing

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