[This is the twelfth episode of Mr. Amazon’s Bookshop. The previous episode is here. A list of all episodes is here. In the previous episode, Kylie and Edmund spent a morning running Whimsley’s differ and made some disturbing findings about the Mr. Amazon’s recommendations. Then Kylie left without warning to go and steal some lunch, leaving Whimsley even more bemused than usual.]
After the excitement and confusion of Kylie and Edmund’s investigation, evening found me tired and emotional. My head was spinning with all the numbers they had collected and what Kylie seemed to make of them. You may not believe this, but I was feeling a little out of my depth. At sea even. We gentry typically have little use for numbers bigger than a dozen or so; anything more and we have hired help to deal with them. And though my interest in the differ had got me more familiar with numerology than most of my class, I had always been more enthusiastic about building the device than actually using it.
I had written Kylie off as riff-raff when I first met her, but I was beginning to realize that some of these youngsters may actually know a thing or two. Her outburst about Mr. Amazon’s unfairness carried the mark of immaturity and self-dramatization so characteristic of her class and sex, but as I pored over the notebook I really did not know what to make of the reams of Edmund’s writing in my notebook. Yesterday Kylie had showed me one page of summary and claimed that is showed Mr. Amazon’s populist claims to be fraudulent, but as I turned page after page of my notebook I could make neither head nor tail of the admirably neat tables and lists that I saw in front of me. My first thought was that it would be embarrassing to have to ask for more detailed explanations, but then I realized that numerology is really a matter for the trades, not for men of standing, so there is no shame in being a little foggy when it comes to details. My neighbour Mr. Belloc was correct when he told me of his friend’s fate:
Lord Finchley tried to mend the electric light
It struck him dead, and serve him right.
It is the duty of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.
By then I was looking forward to Kylie’s return, when I would demand further explanation of her investigations and take our next steps in what seemed increasingly like a campaign against Mr. Amazon and his book “shop”. I had the bit between my teeth and was ready to run – I felt energized and zealous.
But Kylie did not reappear the next day. I fretted, and paced the grounds.
And she did not appear the following day either. I went by the gardener’s hut to ask Edmund her whereabouts, but Edmund had vanished as well! I expressed my concern to his father, who told me Edmund frequently went to stay with relatives in the village and that I “should not worry my little head”, which seemed charming enough, but was hardly helpful.
When neither was to be seen on the third morning, my spirits tumbled and I retreated into the gloom of Whimsley Hall. Their explosion of youthful energy reminded me what a grim dwelling it has become over the years, and their sudden absence plunged me into weeks of sour temper. The stone pillars, the sepulchural halls, the long shadows – they speak to my bones through the generations of Whimsleys, and yet there are times when I resent their weight and their lugubrious depths. A darkness came over me in those days, despite the summer sunshine outside. I spent morning after morning in the breakfast room just staring at the patterns made by the damp on the ornate wallpaper, afternoons in the library poring slack-jawed over erotic tales and cheap pulp novels. The evenings in fitful, chemically-assisted slumber.
Google would bring me the newspaper each morning and tell me the odd facts he always has at his fingertips that would normally keep me amused, yet they could do nothing to lift my spirits. Jennie would clatter into the room, swinging on her crutch, to bring me my breakfast or to clean away a few of the every-accumulating cobwebs. Usually a friendly sight, she became a Barquentine-like presence, stunted and cantakerous and clouded with a deep rage. And why not? He family has served mine for six generations, tied almost as intimately as myself to the arches and history of Whimsley Hall. She has watched from close up my failure to maintain its legacy, to prevent its fall. The world was changing around me, I felt. Whimsley Hall has been, truth to tell, an anachronism for years. And now, in the new world of the prim Mr. Amazon and his impersonally-friendly recommendations, what place would there be for the traditional virtues of short sharp floggings, of loyalty and doffings of caps and tied cottages? Ritual and symbol were fading. I could see no way to raise myself from despondency.
It was Jennie who dragged me out of my self-absorpion, as autumn approached and the winds and rain came back to scour Whimsley village. One morning she hobbled in with my usual breakfast tray of fried eggs, fried bacon, fried black pudding, fried potatoes, fried sausages, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes and fried bread, together with a half-full bowl of soup. She was breathing deeply, clearly exhausted from her journey up the staircase as she cleared a spot on the desk and threw the tray unceremoniously in front of me. “There you go. Full English. Not that it will help.”
“What do you mean, help?” Jennie rarely spoke these days, so I was taken aback.
“You’ve not been eating right for weeks. Ever since that excitement with Kylie and Edmund and the differ. You’re going downhill in a big way sir, and I’m not going to stand by and watch it happen. You need to pull yourself together.”
Of course, if there is one thing guaranteed not to help a person in spiritual pain it is telling them to pull themselves together. I scowled and stabbed a fork half-hearedly at a half-hearted sausage.
“You’re fretting about them numbers Kylie and Edmund put together ain’t you? She’s too quick for the likes of you, that one.”
“You know Kylie?”
“Well”, she said in a most un-servant-like tone, “they don’t call it Whimsley village for nothing. It’s not exactly surprising if I live down the street from Kylie Higgins is it? There’s not that many streets. And even if I didn’t, everyone knows Kylie. You can’t miss that one, what with running the bookie’s for her Dad. She’s smart, that kid, and she puts up with no nonsense.”
“The bookie’s eh? That would explain her facility with numbers. Do you know where she is? She said she would be back, but then she and Edmund just vanished.”
“Well she’s been up to no good, I can tell you that. Sometimes I sit on my porch of an evening you know. Watch the dogs fight, just to pass the time. It’s not easy to get around a lot, what with having one leg. Not that some people care, getting me to hop up and down staircases all bloody day long.”
“A little exercise will do you good, I’m sure. Just you wait and see. But what do you mean ‘up to no good’?”
“What I heard was that she decided Mr. Amazon’s a fraud. So she’s been rounding up some of the local kids – teenagers with nowt to do over the summer holidays. She started off by telling them stories about this Wazzock character and his dragon and they loved it. But then last night she just stopped. They got mad and she just says ‘Well if you want to know more you’d better go and get Mr. Bloody Amazon to sell you a book then.’ They didn’t look so keen on that, so she says ‘And if you don’t want to buy one, maybe you could just take it. Who’s to stop you?'” So I reckon she’s got it in for this Amazon and she’s going to set the neighbourhood kids on him – break in and do the place over,
if you get my meaning. Maybe they’ve already done it.”
“I’ve no doubt she’s capable of vandalism. But vandalism won’t help sell her book, will it? I think I’ll have to talk some sense into the young harridan. We pillars of the community have a duty, don’t you know?”
“You betcha. You’d better not waste any time if you want to stop her. You’ll probably find her at the bookie’s or in the park by the pond. So you won’t be needing these eggs then? Not to worry, I’ll look after them.” And with that Jennie whisked the tray from under my nose, and clattered off towards the staircase before I could say anything, spilling the remaining soup in all directions as she went.
It was indeed time, I decided, to take action. Raising myself from my torpor I flung open the windows and breathed in the stale odour of the Whimsley air. I found my walking stick, put on my heaviest boots and within a few minutes I was striding off down the road to the village, with the cobwebs of my mind left among the cobwebs of Whimsley Hall. Just as I approached the gate I noticed Google talking to the gardener. He’s a big man and might be handy if there’s trouble, I decided. “You’re with me Google!” I cried, “There’s trouble at Mr. Amazon’s shop and we need to be the voice of reason. I know you don’t like the man – not too keen on him myself – but we can’t have hooliganism in Whimsley village. Not cricket is it?” I’m gratified to say that Google looked shocked. I can tell you that doesn’t happen often. He dropped his conversation like a hot potato and came after me, and the gardener followed too.
We approached the village and turned up the street on which Mr. Amazon’s bookshop was found, and were greeted by the sight of a crowd of youth – perhaps twenty of them – approaching the shop from the other end. They looked tense and nervous; sleeves rolled up, ready for business. Kylie was at their head, but she didn’t even acknowledge my presence. Instead the crowd went straight to the bookshop and she yanked at the door.
It did not open.
“Hey, Amazon!” she yelled. “I want some answers. And I want you to sell some copies of my book. I’ve got some customers here, so let us in, right?” She hammered on the door again.
It looked like there was going to be trouble. How delicious!