« ForrigeFortsett »
HEN two strokes of the five had sounded
in the ears of Mr. Spelt, he laid his work aside, took his tall hat from one of the corners where it hung on a peg, leaped lightly from his perch into the court, shut his half of the door, told the shoemaker below that he was going to Mr. Kitely's to tea, and would be obliged if he would fetch him should any one want him, and went through the archway.
a door to Mr. Kitely's house under the archway, but the tailor preferred going round the corner to the shop-door in Bagot-street. By this he entered Jacob Kitely's domain, an old book-shop, of which it required some previous knowledge to find the way to the back premises. For the whole cubical space of the shop was divided and subdivided into a labyrinth of book-shelves, those in front filled with decently if not elegantly bound books, and those behind with a multitude innumerable of books in all
all conditions of dinginess, mustiness, and general shabbiness. Amongst these Jacob Kitely spent his time patching and mending them, and drawing up catalogues of them.
He was not one of those booksellers who are so fond of their books that they cannot bear to part with them, and therefore when they are fortunate enough to lay their hands upon a rare volume, the highest pleasure they know in life, justify themselves in keeping it by laying a manuscript price upon it, and considering it so much actual property. Such men, perhaps, know something about the contents of their wares; but while few surpassed Jacob in a knowledge of the outsides of books, from the proper treatment of covers in the varying stages of dilapidation, and of leaves when water-stained or mildewed or dry-rotted, to the different values of better and best editions, cut and uncut leaves, tall copies, and
folios shortened by the plough into doubtful quartos, he never advanced beyond the titlepage, except when one edition differed from another, and some examination was necessary to determine to which the copy belonged. And not only did he lay no fancy-prices upon his books, but he was proud of selling them under the market-value-which he understood well enough, though he used the knowledge only to regulate his buying. The rate at which he sold was determined entirely by the rate at which he bought. Do not think, my reader, that I have the thinnest ghost of a political-economy-theory under this: I am simply and only describing character. Hence he sold his books cheaper than any other bookseller in London, contenting himself with a profit proportioned to his expenditure, and taking his pleasure in the rapidity with which the stream of books flowed through his shop. I have known him take threepence off the price he had at first affixed to a book, when he found that he had not advertised it, and therefore it had not to
bear its share of the expense of the cata. logue.
Mr. Spelt made his way through the maze of books into the back shop, no one confronting him, and there found Mr. Kitely busy over his next catalogue, which he was making out in a schoolboy's hand.
“How are you, Spelt ?” he said in an alto voice, in which rung a certain healthy vigour, amounting to determination. “ Just in time, I believe. My little woman has been busy in the parlour for the last hour, and I can depend upon her to the minute. Step in.”
“Don't let me interrupt you,” suggested Mr. Spelt, meekly, and reverentially even, for he thought Mr. Kitely must be a very learned man indeed to write so much about books, and had at home a collection of his catalogues complete from the year when he first occupied the nest in the passage. I had forgot to say that Mr. Kitely was Mr. Spelt's landlord, and found him a regular tenant, else he certainly would not have invited him to tea.
“Don't let me interrupt you," said Mr. Spelt.
“Not at all,” returned Mr. Kitely. "I'm very happy to see you, Spelt. You're very kind to my Mattie, and it pleases both of us to have you to tea in our humble way.”
His humble way was a very grand way indeed to poor Spelt—and Mr. Kitely knew that. Spelt could only rub his nervous delicate hands in token that he would like to say something in reply if he could but find the right thing to say. What hands those were, instinct with life and expression to the finger nails! No hands like them for fine-drawing. He would make the worst rent look as if there never had been a rough contact with the nappy surface.
The tailor stepped into the parlour, which opened out of the back shop sideways, and found himself in an enchanted region. A firewe always see the fire first, and the remark will mean more to some people than to others—a most respectable fire burned in the grate, and if the room was full of the odour of red herrings, possibly objectionable per se, where was the harm