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Book Fair Frenzy (Or, Macalley Turns the Page), страница 1

 

Book Fair Frenzy (Or, Macalley Turns the Page)
 

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Book Fair Frenzy (Or, Macalley Turns the Page)


  Contents

  Title Page

  About This Book

  Book Fair Frenzy

  More by Robert Dahlen

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  Book Fair Frenzy

  (Or, Macalley Turns The Page)

  A story from Peavley Manor

  by Robert Dahlen

  It’s Alice Peavley’s first book fair in her new hometown of Darbyfield. Things are going well...except for the incidents with the mud. And the disappearance of the books her friend Mabel brought to sell. And the arrogant elfish noble who just accepted her accidental challenge to a duel. It’ll take all of Alice’s cleverness, all the brainpower of her gnome valet Macalley, and several good cups of tea to close the cover on this tale.

  © 2017 Robert Dahlen. All rights reserved.

  Looking back at that chaotic weekend, it seems fitting that I started it by waking up on Saturday with a throbbing cranium. My dear friends Priscilla and Mabel had come to Darbyfield, and we had spent the night before at the fine establishment known as the Fractured Tankard. We had split several bottles of elfish wine, swapping stories and catching one another exaggerating our parts in them. Alas, said happy night inevitably led to an unhappy morning, and as I lay in the bedroom of my manor outside of town, my gray matter was now pleading for a sweet mercy, or a swift demise should mercy be in short supply.

  Had I been allowed to sleep three more hours, I might have been in less agony that morning. However, the additional time in Dreamland had been denied to me by a certain gnome valet who was shaking my shoulder, albeit and to his credit gently. “Madame Alice?” Macalley said.

  I tried to ransack my poor aching brain for a suitable reply. It had none within reach. “Aaugh,” I muttered.

  “I suppose a cheerful ‘Good morning!’ is out of the question at this point.”

  “I think a ‘Let me sleep, you thrice-damned monster’ is more fitting.”

  Macalley restrained a sigh. “As much as I agree that your further slumber would be best for both of us, I must remind you that you have a pressing engagement that you cannot miss.”

  “Who claimed that this cannot be missed?”

  “I believe it was a certain Alice Peavley, madame.”

  “Was I besotted at the time?”

  “This was well before the besotting, madame.”

  I groaned loudly and plaintively. “So what is it that, in my younger and more foolish days—”

  “As in, yesterday afternoon?”

  “—I authorized such a rude awakening for?”

  “The Darbyfield Book Fair, madame.”

  My eyes, which been sealed tighter than an elfin noble’s purse when it was time to stand a round, snapped open. I sat bolt upright. “Ye Gods!” I exclaimed. “I’m not late, am I?”

  “Not at all,” Macalley said. “I thought it best to try to awaken you early.”

  “I should approve, but…” I rested my aching head in my hands.

  “I anticipated such a reaction.” I peeked through the cracks in my fingers as Macalley picked up the small tray and presented it to me.

  “Your...remedy?” I lowered my hands and stared at the small glass filled with a foamy, dark-red liquid.

  “Of course.”

  Normally, I have a certain reluctance to consume Macalley’s remedy, which would be shared by anyone within fifty feet of the thing. The smell of it could be described as bracing, but frankly, “stomach-churning” was somewhat more accurate. So was the taste, which I knew from experience, having consumed more than my share over the last few months. However, there was no time to dally about. I grabbed the glass from the tray and downed it in one prolonged gulp.

  The remedy proved itself to be, once again, remarkably efficacious. The pain swiftly fled my cranium for parts unknown, and a certain vigor that I feared never to experience again crept into my limbs. “Might the bath have been drawn?” I asked Macalley.

  “Yes, madame.”

  “Tea?”

  “The kettle is prepared.”

  “And for breakfast?”

  “Fresh apricot jam to go with your croissants.”

  I smiled. “Macalley, as always, you are a marvel.”

  “Very good, madame.” He bowed slightly, which I had come to know meant he was pleased, and left the room. I hopped off the bed and headed for my morning bath.

  ***

  There was very little that could have stirred me into action on a morning like that, but the Darbyfield Book Fair was in that category. I had been looking forward to that for weeks, and it would have taken two broken legs or a long-term incarceration to keep me from being there. A mere hangover? Pshaw.

  This was to be the first book fair I had attended since I had come to live at Peavley Manor. It had once belonged to my dear Uncle Clarence, who had passed from this world late the year before and bequeathed it to me in his will. Things had gotten a bit prickly after that, as both relatives and bureaucrats tried to claim it, but in the end I wound up with possession.

  I also wound up, to my initial surprise, with a valet. Macalley had served my uncle well for many years, and Clarence had made it clear in his posthumous instructions that he was to stay on. Relations between Macalley and I were awkward at first, but I quickly grew to appreciate his hard work, and more importantly, his brains. He had more between the ears than any university professor, wizard, or investigator this side of the Great Detective; without his assistance, I might have lost the manor. And we found common ground in our love of books and reading.

  And books were also the reason I was eager to attend the fair, and not just as a customer. You will recall I had mentioned my reunion with my friends the previous evening, and the distress it had led to. One of those friends, Mabel, owned the book shop in Thorn Harbour where I had worked before moving into the manor. She had been considering opening a second shop in Darbyfield, and when I had mentioned the book fair, she jumped on the chance to sell books there like a goblin on a stray sausage, or me on one of Macalley’s croissants with apricot jam. She asked for my assistance at the fair, and I could never turn down a friend.

  There were also the townspeople to consider. As the lady of Peavley Manor, it behooved me to get to know them better, especially after having to untangle the snarled state of affairs following my uncle’s passing. Spending more time in Darbyfield and its surroundings, or at least not just the library and the taverns, seemed advisable.

  So, I had shaken off the desperate clinging of sleep, drunk as much tea as was safe to consume at breakfast, and set off in the motorcar for the Darbyfield town square with Macalley. It was a lovely late spring morning, with clouds dotting the sky, and the mud had mostly dried up from the previous week’s rains. The motorcar barely skidded as we drove from the manor to the town.

  When we arrived, we saw a circle of twenty tables set up in the town square. Most of them had been claimed by locals, who had brought books from their own collections or from friends to sell or trade. A few had also brought homemade crafts for sale, bookmarks and magnifiers and the like. As I glanced around, my eyes lit upon a table with a selection of bookends. One pair caught my attention. They were unicorns, hand-carved from redwood and brightly, exquisitely painted, with jewels for eyes and a touch of gold on the horns. I was in need of a new pair of bookends, and I resolved to visit that table for a closer look at some point during the fair.

  My resolve, however, weakened as I saw Eldric Bludergard, amateur novelist and professional prat, at the next table, hovering over his stacks of books like a bloated, mustachioed hummingbird. As if being near Bludergard wasn’t bad enough to begin with, he
had been trying for weeks to get me to read his most recent book, “My Mother Wore Army Boots”, which he had presented to me with great relish. I had only made it three pages in, mostly because I found the writing style awkward and the main character, “Aldric Nudergard”, almost as thoroughly thickheaded as his author. At this point, the challenge of finding new excuses to explain why I hadn’t read the book, difficult as it was, was easier to face than the challenge of continuing to try to read it.

  As I desperately avoided catching Bludergard’s eye, I noticed Stibbins, noted bounder and Bludergard’s manservant, standing behind his master’s table. He was arranging a stack of books that he had carried over from a nearby carriage. I shook my head at the thought of Bludergard believing that he would sell that many books as I moved on.

  “Alice!” The familiarity caught me by surprise, but I dismissed it when I saw who had called out to me. Augustus Thurston was the publisher of the weekly newspaper for Darbyfield and its surroundings, The Emerald Dell Courier. He was also a key part of the operations of Darbyfield’s small library, and the head of the committee that ran the book fair.

  “A pleasure to see you, Augustus,” I said as we shook hands.

  “You remember Clarinda?” He gestured towards the short, gray-haired woman next to him.

  “Absolutely!” I said. Clarinda Tapping was the town librarian, and was even more well-read than I.

  “I’m so glad you could come!” Clarinda took my hand and smiled. “I wanted to thank you again for your donation to the library.”

  “Think nothing of it.” I waved my hand to try to distract attention from my sudden blush. “I trust it’s been put to good use?”

  “We were able to finally get the roof fixed. You must come by to see it sometime.”

  “I’ll be sure to. It looks a good turnout today.”

  “Indeed!” Augustus rubbed his hands with anticipation, in the same way directors might as the curtain raises on their newest play. He glanced past me and suddenly scowled. “Oh dear. The Fotheringay sisters are squabbling again. You must excuse me.”

  “Of course,” I said.

  He was gone before I finished speaking. I couldn’t fault him; an argument between the Fotheringays could deafen half the fairgoers. More importantly, the book fair was an important source of revenue for the library, from fees paid by the sellers and donations from the attendees. Augustus had to make sure that things went as smoothly as possible, and that meant, among other things, keeping the Fotheringays’ books on their table and not bouncing off the heads of a bystander or two. “I hope he can calm them down,” I said to Clarinda.

  “Maybe we should let them have it out,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

  “For what reason?”

  “We could raise additional funds for the library by charging admission.” Clarinda winked, and I laughed as we parted.

  ***

  I soon reached the three tables that had been rented by Mabel. She had also rented a carriage to bring books from Thorn Harbour, and was busily unloading the cargo as two men from the local public stable led the horses away. She was wearing, as always, a green dress, along with more jewelry than one would think could fit on her skinny frame without falling off.

  She smiled as I approached her tables. “Good morning, my dear Alice!” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here this early.”

  “Someone needs to keep you on your toes,” I said. “And good morning.”

  “What a marvelous hat you have today!”

  I smiled and thanked Mabel. I was wearing a simple robin’s egg blue skirt and a matching jacket, a short-sleeved white blouse, and calf-high black boots with small heels for comfort. To liven up my outfit, I had chosen a delightful, wide-brimmed purple hat, trimmed with a darker purple ribbon and some flowery touches to mark the coming of spring. I do love my hats, and even if, as many say, the world is heading down a hatless path, I shall resist to the very last and wear my chapeau of choice when I wish.

  “You sound quite chipper!” Mabel said as she set more books on the table.

  “Indeed, I am feeling very chipperish.”

  “Would that be Macalley’s doing?”

  “Of course it is.” I glanced at the carriage and saw Priscilla Wentworth, my oldest friend and Mabel’s employee, coming up to us. She was staggering, but I could not be sure if it was due to the large stack of books she was carrying or the lingering effects of the wine from the night before. She wore a white dress, a blue hat that offset her wavy black hair, and an expression that matched what mine must have been when I awoke earlier.

  “Good morning, Priscilla,” I said with a loud voice and a grin.

  She winced as she dropped her books on the table. “Must you?” she said, her voice filled with reproach, as if I had just flung her favorite pair of shoes out the nearest window. “My head is about to split open as it is.”

  “Still recovering, are we?”

  Priscilla snorted. “I don’t have the elfish constitution that Mabel does.”

  “An advantage to being an elf.” I walked over to the carriage. “And a useful one at that.”

  “And,” Priscilla added, “I don’t have the valet you do.”

  “What does that have to do with anything?” I took a stack of books from the carriage and carried them back.

  “Don’t sandbag me, Peavley. You were deeper in your cups than either Mabel or I. And yet, you’re here full of pep, and that’s only due to Macalley and his remedy.”

  “And his croissants.”

  “With blueberry jam?”

  “Apricot today.”

  “I think I’m running out of ways to curse how lucky you are.”

  I smiled. “You also have a bit of luck this morning.”

  “How—”

  Mabel dropped the books she had been arranging and ran up to me. “Alice!” she said as she clamped her hand on my mouth. “Don’t.”

  “Was she going to shout again?” Priscilla said.

  I started to speak, remembered Mabel’s hand, and removed it while glaring briefly at her. “I was going to remind you—”

  “Al-ice!” Mabel said.

  I ignored her. “—that the two of you had a bet going as to what time I’d arrive. And I believe that Priscilla won.”

  Priscilla smiled and extended a hand. “All is forgiven.”

  Mabel rolled her eyes. “For you, maybe.” She pulled two shillings from her pocket and slapped them into Priscilla’s palm. “But tonight…”

  “I’m standing the first round?”

  “No. Alice is.” Mabel gave me a glare that could have frozen a bonfire.

  I chuckled. “We’ll just have to sell enough books to cover it, then.”

  ***

  With some welcome assistance from Macalley, we finished setting the tables up with just enough time to catch our collective breath and wonder if there might be tea before the fair opened. We had seen the crowd gather as we worked, and when the appointed hour arrived, they swarmed the tables like ants who had, after years of patient tunnelling, finally found their way into a sweet shop.

  It was a grueling first hour, but it was worth it for one reason alone, and it had nothing to do with sales. Mabel, with my prompting, had brought a large selection of books meant for children. There were picture books for the youngest, illustrated books for those slightly older, and adventures and romances for the ones in their teens. Children had gathered from not just Darbyfield and its surroundings, but from villages and towns further away, and they tore through the stock Mabel had brought. The exhaustion in dealing with those eager children was easily countered by the smiles on their faces, and the happiness in their eyes, as they carried their new prizes away.

  Forgive me for striking a tone similar to one of those traveling preachers in this instance, but I truly love reading. Losing myself in a good book is one of my favorite pastimes. Nothing can truly compare. I encourage everyone to read, even if it’s one of those books that the elitist s
nobs or the know-nothings treat with disdain. Even if it’s Bludergard’s book, as long as there’s nothing else on hand and you're trapped inside due to a sudden snowstorm. Seeing those children getting so excited over books brought even more vigor to my limbs than Macalley’s remedy, and a smile to my face that lasted for some time.

  After the first two hours, the benches surrounding the square were crowded with adults and children, many engrossed in their purchases. Mabel knew this was my first book fair, and saw my furtive glances at the other tables. With a sigh and a smile, she gave me leave to wander the grounds for a few minutes, as the crowd had thinned out slightly prior to lunch.

  I carefully paced around the tables, glancing at what was on offer, exchanging greetings with acquaintances as I went. My goal was to reach the table with those unicorn bookends, without attracting the attention of Bludergard at the next table over. I was walking along silently, trying not to slip in the mud, when I felt an odd sensation on my calf. I glanced down and smiled.

  Murgatroyd was a bloodhound, with a magnificent pedigree and an even greater nose. His sense of smell could pick out a rose in a haystack, and I suspected that he had a better than even chance were he asked to find a needle there. He had helped unlock the mystery surrounding my uncle’s manor, and I had developed a fondness for the old boy. What I had felt just then was his marvelous snooter sniffing at my leg. He looked up at me and barked a greeting.

  “Back down a bit, old boy!” A dwarf in the blue uniform of Darbyfield’s finest hurried up to Murgatroyd and tugged on his leash. I was quietly grateful that Constable Alf Matterhorn had, for the only flaw that Murgatroyd had was his tremendous capability for producing drool. Had he stayed by my leg, his saliva would have caused a small flood at my feet, and Macalley would have been up half the night cleaning my favorite boots.

  I quickly remembered my manners. “Good morning!” I said to Matterhorn.

  “Likewise,” he said, tipping his custodian’s hat. “First time at the book fair?”

 
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