9. An Old Bible

9. An Old Bible

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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TALES FROM THE BOOKSHOP (9)

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The Reverend Bertram Smythe was in a quandary.

His elderly copy of the Holy Bible as rescued by his housekeeper, Dottie Pippin, a matronly woman with one leg shorter than the other which gave her a pronounced limp, had tooth marks in it.

He was sure they were tooth marks and that they hadn’t been there disfiguring his precious book before.

He showed the book to Mrs Pippin who sniffed, lurched to one side and said she was sure that seen the like before.

It’s rats,” she said after a long drawn moment of deep thought, “with their nasty sharp teeth gnawing away at it. Rats.”.

He was horrified. “Rats?” he almost exploded, “where are there rats in this vicarage? Tell me, and I’ll have them exterminated tomorrow!”

I didn’t say there were rats, just that it could be,” she replied, and then sniffed. “There’s no telling what you’ve got lurking down the back of that there settee,” she added, “though truth to tell I’ve never seen owt with teeth in it.”

I need to get it fixed!” he decided.

What? That settee? It don’t want fixing,. it wants going to the tip and chucking!” she told him.

Not the settee, but my bible. I’ll pop to the shops. That’s what I’ll do. The Bookworm woman will know all about fixing tooth marks in books, I’ll be bound. I’ll go and see her.”

Best hurry up, then. She closes early on Wednesdays,” grunted Dottie.

And it’s Wednesday today?” enquired the Reverend Smythe who was never quite sure what day of the week it was, and even Sundays often took him by surprise when they arrived every seventh day.

That it is,” she sniffed, wondering how such an empty headed man as her clerical boss could ever expect to find his way to Heaven when he passed away, because it must be quite a long journey and he even found difficulties finding his way from one room to the next in the house he’d lived in for half his life.

One thing he could do, though, was find the bookshop where Mrs Bookworm was busy dusting her till, and do it without getting lost once.

It was still well short of noon even though it may or may not have been a Wednesday, and when he arrived there the woman a corner of his mind found to be highly beautiful, Jennifer Dewberry, was just leaving.

Ah, your reverence,” she said, beaming at him, “Mr Archer sends his most grateful thanks.”

He looked puzzled, so she reminded him of the sewing book he’d asked to be sent on to a man who, apparently, was having difficulties with his trousers.

Oh, yes,” he smiled, “tell him jolly good!” and he left a confused Miss Dewberry watching him push his way into the shop.

Why, hello Reverend,” smiled Mrs Bookworm, giving her duster a rest and picking up a mug of almost cold tea, “what on this bright day can I do for you?”

I had to hurry, it being, I suppose, Wednesday,” he told her, quite seriously.

Oh, I don’t close for the afternoons on Wednesdays any more, not since the pandemic and the hope of regaining the clientele I used to enjoy serving,” she said, putting her tea back down with a frown, “but things have fallen off, you know, what with wearing masks and the like.”

Neither she nor the vicar were wearing face masks, though she kept one on the counter in case P.C. Humphrey Truman came in. She didn’t know whether it was the law or not and truth to tell didn’t care because there was rarely more than one customer in the shop and when he or she wasn’t nosing around her used books corner there was no-one these days. And no-one meant nobody to pass anything nasty to her via droplets in sneezes like she’d seen on the television. But she kept one mask in sight ready to pop onto her face if Humphrey poked his nose into the shop. After all, who knew? It might be him harbouring the noxious disease everyone was so scared of.

Thoughts of pandemics and masks risked driving what he needed out of the vicar’s mind and he only just rescued his intentions from his collection of little grey cells that were declining at an alarming rate.

I have a bible,” he said, fumbling in his capacious coat pocket for it, “I think it must have been gnawed.”

I’m not surprised you have such a hallowed book,” she murmured, and she looked at it closely.

Gnawed?” she asked.

He nodded. “Dottie thinks it must be a rat,” he told her, “I’ve been fearful of rats and mice since I was a nipper,” he added, “and one scuttled past me when I was kneeling by my bed saying my prayers. There I was with my eyes peeping when they were supposed to be shut, and I saw the creature, a flash of grey fur, so to speak, and it was gone. It even ran past my leg! I was terrified and it took a good hiding to sort me out.”

What a fearful experience,” she murmured.

It was, and my father’s good hiding left bruises that lasted for ever,” he said, soberly, “or seemed to, but not really. They’ve gone now.”

Discipline was quite firm in the good old days,” she told him.

I quite enjoyed it,” he murmured, “a sound thrashing affirmed my place in the world, made me feel wanted and at home in the bosom of my family, and when mummy comforted me afterwards I could see the light of my Lord in the softness of her eyes...”

Rats, you say?” she asked, examining the book closely and sniffing at the scuff marks on its cover, “it’s not rats, father, I’d be shocked if it was anything like rats that did this...”

You would?” he asked, “Mrs Pippin was most sure it had to be.”

Dottie’s not got my experience with old books,” Mrs Bookworm told him with a glint in her eyes, a glint that told him of a huge chasm of experience, something he should take notice of and trust.

I dared say not,” he admitted,

And I’d say this precious book of yours has been down the back of something like a very old settee or chair,” she told him, “one with an assortment of broken springs that has scuffed and scraped it every time a bottom sat on it. No, these aren’t any kind of rodent tooth marks, they’re good old fashioned steel springs that have come loose from their mountings and are probably getting ready to poke through a cushion or two and stab their sharp and rusty selves into a clerical bottom!”

Springs, you say? Springs?” He thought for a moment, then smiled at her, “of course!” he agreed, “it must be springs! Silly old Dottie telling me it’s rats! What does she know about rats? No, you’re quite right, Mrs Bookworm, it must be springs! So what should I do about them?”

Mrs Bookworm stroked her chin for a moment, then picked up her duster and polished a speck of dust off her till.

If you like,” she said, “you can leave it with me. I know a few tricks when it comes to scuff marks on old books! And I won’t charge the Earth!”

I can?” he asked, “leave it with you? Oh, that’s a load off my mind! It was a gift when I was a boy, from an old man who ruffled my hair with his gnarled old hands and called me lovely! He’s been dead for long since, but I’ve still got his good book together with a vague memory of his sad old smile.”

Sentimental,” she sighed, “always the best reasons for protecting books.”

I think he must have liked me,” sighed the Reverend Bertram Smythe thoughtfully, “not many people did, but he must have.”

© Peter Rogerson 01.07 20




© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on July 1, 2020
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Tags: vicar, bible, settee, rats


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing