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After some talk, it was settled that Richard should work in the large oriel of the library. Mrs. Locke was called, and the necessary orders were given. Employer and workman were both anxious, the one to see, the other to make a commencement. In a few minutes Richard had looked out as many of the books in most need of attention as would keep him, turning from the one to the other, as each required time in the press or to dry, thoroughly employed.
"There is a volume here I should like to know your mind about, sir," he said, after looking at one of them a moment or two, "--the first collected edition of Spenser's works, actually bound up with Sir John Harrington's translation of Ariosto! If it were a good, or even an old binding, I should have said nothing."
"It don't seem in a bad way."
"No, but the one book is so unworthy of the other!"
"What would you propose?"
"I would separate them; put the Spenser in plain calf, and make the present cover, with a new back, do for Sir John; it is a good enough coat for him."
"Very well. Do as you think best."
"I should like to send them both to my father."
"But you have undertaken everything!"
"I am quite ready, sir; but in that case these must wait. My faculty is best laid out on mending, and I must do some good work in that first. I don't know that I'm quite up to my father in binding. I mentioned him because if he were to help me with those that must be bound, I should have the more time for what often takes longer. You may trust my father, sir; he does not want to make a fortune."
"I will try him then," answered the cautious heir. "At least I will send him the books, and learn what he would charge."
He had more of the ordinary tradesman in him than Richard and his uncle put together.
"I will put the prices on them, and engage that my father will charge no more," said Richard.
Lestrange was content on hearing them, and Richard set to work with the other volumes.
The bookbinder, always busy, soon began to be respected in the house, and before long had gained several indulgences--among the rest, to have a table for himself in the library, at which, when work-hours were over, he might read or write when he pleased. As his labours went on, the bookscape began to revive, and continued slowly putting on an autumnal radiance of light and colour. Dingy and broken backs gradually disappeared. Pamphlets and magazines, such as, from knowledge or inquiry, Richard thought worth the expense, were sent off to his father to be bound. But I must continue my narrative from a point long before his work began to make much of a show.
A few valuable books, much injured by time and rough usage,--among the rest a quarto of The Merry Wives--he had pulled apart, and was treating with certain solutions, in preparation for binding them, when Lestrange came in one morning, accompanied by the curate of the parish. His eyes fell on a loose title-page which he happened to know.
"What on earth are you doing?" he cried. "You will destroy that book! By Jove!--You little know what you're about!"
"I do know what I am about, sir. I shall do the book nothing but good," answered Richard. "It could not have lasted many years without what I am doing."
"Leave it alone," said Lestrange. "I must ask some one. The treatment is too dangerous."
"Excuse me, sir; the treatment is by no means dangerous. After this bath, I shall take it through one of thin size, to help the paper to hold together. The book has suffered much, both from damp and insects."
"No matter!" answered Lestrange imperiously. "I will not have you meddle further with that volume.--Would you believe it, Hardy," he went on, turning to the curate, "it is that translation of Ovid he is experimenting upon!"
"I beg your pardon, I am not experimenting," said Richard.
"I hardly think it is such a very rare book!" replied the curate. "I believe it could be replaced!"
"Ah, you don't know, I see! I thought I had shown you!" returned Lestrange excitedly. "Look there!"
He pointed to the title-page, which was lying on the table.
"I see!" said Hardy. "It is a first edition--in black letter--of Arthur Golding's Ovid!"
"But you don't look! Why don't you look? Have you no eyes for that faded ink just under the title?"
"Why! What's this? Gul. Shaksper!--Is it possible!"
"You find it hard to believe your eyes, and well you may!--There, Tuke! I told you you didn't know what you were doing!"
"I always examine the title-page of a book," answered Richard. "You must allow me to do as I see fit, Mr. Lestrange, or I give up the job."
"You undertook to work for a year, if required!"
"I did not undertake to receive orders as to my mode of working. I care for books far too much for that. Besides, I have my character to see to! I warn you that if I do not go on with that volume, it will be ruined."
"You don't consider the money you risk!--That name makes the book worth hundreds at least."
"It is the greatest of names! Only that name was not written by him who owned it!"
"What do you know about it!" said Lestrange rudely.
"Are you an expert?" asked the curate.
"By no means," answered Richard; "but I have been a good deal with old books, and my impression is you have got there one of the Ireland forgeries!"
"I believe it to be quite genuine!" said Lestrange.
"If it be, there is the more reason in what I am doing, sir."
Lestrange turned abruptly to the curate, saying--"Come along, Hardy! I can't bear to see the butchery!"
"Depend on it," returned the curate laughing, "the surgeon knows his knife!--You know what you're about, don't you, Mr. Tuke?"
"If I did not, sir, I wouldn't meddle with a book like that, forgery or no forgery! You should see the quantities of old print I've destroyed in learning how to save such books!--This is no vile body to experiment upon!"
"Mr. Lestrange, you may trust that man!" said the curate.
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