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The Soul of the Rose
By Ruth Trippy
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Ruth Trippy
All rights reserved.
Celia glanced at the dim light in Mr. Chestley's back office. Surely, her employer wouldn't mind if she examined the Tennyson a few moments longer. The hand-tooled leather volume had arrived at the bookstore by post that morning, all the way from London. Who would order such an expensive item? She opened it at random.
And the soul of the rose went into my blood—
The Tennyson line touched a chord in her. How musical—rich and true. She supposed every woman's heart longed to be like that rose whose soul got into a man's blood.
Stretching, she turned up the gas lamp overhead, then set herself in front of the counter and paged to the poem's notes.
—an over-wrought youth in love with a girl whom he is prevented from marrying by difference in social position.
A sudden thought stabbed her. Her beloved friend would never read words like these—never be that rose ...
She pushed the sorrow aside. She must. Why else had her parents sent her to work in this new environment? Her eyes scanned the shelves of books. The week she'd spent here had afforded her a reader's paradise. A well-stocked bookstore this far west of Boston was a delight. The place with its paradox of stimulation and soothing quiet ministered to the deep parts of her soul. How glad she was to spend her working hours here among these books rather than in the kitchen or at the sewing box.
She looked down and turned to the Tennyson's Table of Contents. The scent of its dark red leather mingled like fine perfume with its newly cut sheets. Carefully fingering the pages of beautiful print, she scanned the contents then glanced to the end of the column, "In Memoriam A.H.H." Next, a picture of Tennyson greeted her, a brooding sort of fellow, hair and beard bushing around his face, yet she knew his contemporaries adored him, calling him the bard.
Footsteps echoed from Mr. Chestley's office. Celia quickly closed the book, placed it on the counter, and began opening the other packages. Maybe she could examine it later.
Her portly employer appeared beside her. "Ah, the Tennyson. I hoped it would come before this evening."
"Is it for someone special?"
"Oh, yes. I think it best you know about Mr. Lyons before he arrives. A man of decided learning, he comes every fortnight—either to purchase or order something new." He pursed his lips. "And as unapproachable as Mr. Lyons makes himself, he still gets the community tongues wagging. But I don't pay mind to the gossip, and don't you either. He's one of our best customers. He usually comes Friday nights when we stay open late. If I'm unavailable, treat him with utmost respect." Mr. Chestley bestowed a grandfatherly smile on her. "Of course, you will. You're an exceptional girl."
Celia felt herself glow at the unexpected praise.
"Now, as for the rest of these books, you can arrange them in the display window. I'll be busy in the office."
Of course, she would do what he said, but after he walked away, she couldn't help opening the Tennyson again.
Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control, These three alone lead life to sovereign power.
Mr. Chestley and she had discussed such a thought this week, had disagreed about its view of man and life. She hadn't expected a differing opinion from an old family friend.
She allowed herself another few minutes with the Tennyson, then gathering the books, headed for the display window, glimpsing the cavernous aisles of bookshelves. Here she would discover new worlds. The bookstore would afford her not only a new environment, but a little adventure as well.
Maybe a wonderful, hearthside adventure. How she loved to read. She looked at the books she carried and clasped them hard against her. Would she ever again find another soul mate in this, considering what had happened last year? However, she did have her father and mother. She couldn't have faced the past few months without them.
Before stepping up to the window, she glanced back. Each bookcase had a polished mahogany end, the one nearest the door carved with representations of music, art, and writing. Over the years, Mr. Chestley had lovingly added a touch here and there of Old World beauty. He not only viewed literature as fine art, but believed the place his books resided should evince an artistic spirit as well.
Edward Lyons paused in the shadow of a tree near a lamppost. Not until a lone horse and buggy passed and turned the corner did he cross the deserted, gas-lit street. The brisk air forecast a soon-to-arrive autumn. He halted in front of the glowing bookstore window.
A shipment must have arrived recently because all the titles were new. The display had an artistic touch he'd not seen previously. That edition of Plato looked interesting. He'd examine its footnotes; it might be a possible purchase.
A glint of pale yellow inside the store caught his eye. A woman's flaxen hair, or was it a girl's, shone in the lamplight, artfully coiled in a braid at the nape of her neck. He wondered what manner of face—
She turned to examine something on the counter, her oval countenance displaying classic features. Ah ...
But what about her mental acumen? Working in a bookstore, she would be bound to have some, unless hers was a clerk's mentality.
However, for him to deal with a stranger? His first spark of interest died a quick death. Accustomed to Mr. Chestley as he was, he didn't want his ordered bookstore world upset. Besides, he was done with pretty women. The last one had nearly been his undoing.
Still, he would ask to see the Plato.
* * *
The door's brass bell jangled. Celia looked up.
A man with an imposing frame entered, wrapped in a large overcoat. His hat brim pulled low, a wealth of brown hair cascaded around his neck, covering most of his visage. He removed his hat. Celia startled with recognition. The man was Tennyson come to life—with the same bushy hair and beard.
Just then, another customer appeared from one of the book aisles, an older woman enveloped in a tented gray coat, holding high a volume. "I knew this was somewhere. Last week I saw it on the shelf above." The woman plunked the book on the counter. Her large knit hat framed plump, rosy cheeks. "I told Mrs. Divers about this; she'll be glad I found it."
Celia saw the gentleman pivot and quickly enter one of the aisles, but not before the voluble customer noticed him. She stared at his retreating figure, then bent close to Celia and murmured, "Be careful of that one, Miss. He's a bad sort. The woman I'm companion to—she was his mother-in-law." Then in a louder tone, "Let me introduce myself. I'm Miss Waul, dearie." The woman opened her purse and offered a gold dollar. "Here. This ought to take care of it."
"More than enough. I have your change right here." Celia lifted a box from underneath the counter.
While Celia wrapped the purchase in brown paper, the woman flapped her coat lapels around her neck. "I should have taken my long scarf to tie up my collar. Didn't realize it would turn so cold tonight." She leaned in again and asked in a whisper, "Is Mr. Chestley around somewhere? I wouldn't want to leave you alone with ..." Her head tilted in the direction of the bookshelves where the other customer had disappeared.
"Mr. Chestley is in his office in back." Celia kept her voice low.
"Good. Well, good night then."
The door rattled when the woman slammed it shut.
Celia's eyes swept the bookcases where she'd last seen the stranger. He was nowhere to be seen, so she bent down to replace the cash box.
The Tennyson was underneath the counter. The poet had lost a close friend unexpectedly. Like herself. Somewhere in one of his poems he'd expressed that. She hesitated, then decided to open the hand-tooled volume once more.
Was it the poem "In Memoriam A.H.H"? Yes, here it was.
As she read, the immortal words brought comfort. She felt herself still inside, the self-recrimination, the guilt, eased. She would read a bit further. She grasped the page to turn it—
"Huh-hum!" A throaty growl pierced the silence.
Celia started violently, her hand jerked and she heard the paper tear. She looked down in horror. Her stomach sickened. For a moment she couldn't move, then glanced up at the large man looming in front of her.
She let the book stay underneath the counter, then slowly rose to face the customer.
"I thought I heard—" He stopped, looked at her more closely, then asked instead, "Has my order arrived? It's a special edition of Tennyson poetry."
The Tennyson was his book? A terrible dread took hold of her. How could she tell him? But she nodded, sank down to retrieve the volume.
What could she say? What would she say? She closed the book, unable to bear his first sight to be a ripped page. Then rose.
Silently, she handed him the Tennyson.
"Good. I've been waiting some time for this edition."
"It is a beautiful book," she said, her eyes downcast. She cleared her throat. "But something happened a moment ago. I accidentally ripped one of its pages." The last words were almost a whisper. Her gaze rose reluctantly to his, bracing herself for his reaction. "It was an accident. I am so sorry."
He looked at her, then looked down at the book, comprehension dawning on him. "That was the tearing sound I heard?"
She nodded, mute.
"Which page?" Anger punctuated his voice.
"I'm not sure. I was looking at "In Memoriam A.H.H."
He found the Table of Contents, located the page number of the poem, then opened to it.
The rip streaked down a third of the page.
His dark eyes looked up, piercing her like an arrow. "What were you doing, reading this? It's a special edition. I only order the best and expect mint condition."
"Sir, I didn't mean to. Truly! I would never dream—"
"But you did. Does your employer allow you to tamper with special orders?" His mouth set hard. "What are you going to do about this?"
Celia stared up at him. "I don't blame you for being angry." Her voice had sunk again. How could she assuage him? "I'm sure Mr. Chestley will have me order another one for you. I will, of course, pay for it out of my wages. I would never allow Mr. Chestley to cover the cost of my mistake." As she said the words, she was wondering how many weeks or months, it would take her to pay for the expensive volume. The Chestleys gave her room and board with only a small stipend for necessities, maybe a little left for nonessentials. She took a deep breath. Somehow, she would do it.
"Is something wrong here?" Mr. Chestley rounded the corner of the bookcase. "I thought I heard your voice from my back office." He addressed Mr. Lyons.
Neither Celia nor Mr. Lyons said anything.
Mr. Chestley turned to Celia and looked at her questioningly.
Dread filled her. She would have to tell him. She started to open her mouth—
"No," Mr. Lyons said. "Nothing is the matter. Your assistant just gave me the Tennyson I ordered."
"I was sure I heard your voice raised. I want to make sure nothing is wrong."
"No. Just excited, that's all."
"Well, then." Mr. Chestley's countenance cleared and he looked from one to the other. "Let me introduce you. Mr. Lyons, this is my new assistant, Miss Celia Thatcher. Her father and I are longtime friends."
"Celia," he nodded to the big man, "this is Mr. Edward Lyons, a valued patron of our bookstore."
The man bowed slightly, stood silently for some moments, then finally asked, "So you just arrived?"
Celia felt the forced interest of his question. "Yes, the beginning of the week, but I've been coming here for years."
Should she explain? She thought she should. "My parents' home is nearly forty miles away, but our family visits every year. Time spent in the bookshop has always been a highlight."
"Yes, Celia is quite the reader," Mr. Chestley interjected. "In fact, we've had one good discussion already—about Emerson's Self-Reliance."
Mr. Lyons expelled a long, deep breath then said, "Selfreliance over conformity, the individual over society. I believe his thinking on individualism reaches as far back as Plato."
"Yes. Much to admire in the man's writing," Mr. Chestley said. "A great deal of truth. However, my assistant takes issue with him. What did you say a few nights ago?" The proprietor turned, his smile encouraging Celia to speak.
She hesitated. "Well, sir ... as much as Emerson is respected in certain circles, I question his repeated idea of 'trust thyself.' I believe he has too heartfelt, too wholesale a trust in himself." She glanced at Mr. Lyons before continuing. "On the one hand, I believe each of us is created uniquely, given a particular message which is ours alone, and should not be smothered by society's dictates. On the other, we can be deceived about ourselves. Pride can cloud our vision. Emerson relies too heavily on his own ability to discover truth."
"Emerson challenges us to 'live in truth,'" Mr. Chestley said, "to speak and act in a truthful way with our family and friends. Where is the fault in that?"
"On the surface none, but can one trust oneself to always know the truth? Do the right thing toward God and man?"
"I grant you Emerson would think so."
"I'd term that monumental pride."
Mr. Chestley laughed. "You see, Lyons, what I'm up against?"
Celia glanced again at the customer, who gave no indication of whether he agreed or not.
"As I said—" Mr. Chestley cleared his throat, "—we had a most interesting discussion on the subject. Now, Mr. Lyons, you mentioned Plato. We have a new edition in our shop window."
"Yes, I'd like to look it over."
"Good. Miss Thatcher can assist you. I'm in the middle of examining my accounts. If you need any additional help, I'll be in my office."
Mr. Chestley turned to leave, and Celia quickly stepped from behind the counter and walked to the front window.
She leaned over the display and reached for the Plato. Turning around, she again noted the customer's shaggy appearance. Yes, his resemblance to Tennyson was remarkable. She walked back and offered him the book.
"Thank you." Mr. Lyons reached for the Tennyson, and taking the two volumes, disappeared behind a bookcase. The aisle held one of several chairs placed around the shop so customers could peruse materials at their leisure. Celia concluded Mr. Lyons felt quite at home.
After half an hour, he approached again. The Tennyson lay open in his large, finely shaped hand. That didn't accord with the rest of his unkempt appearance. He laid the book on the scarred oak of the counter with the title "Oenone" printed at the top of the page.
"Before you say anything," Celia began quietly, "I repeat, I will order a new book. And pay for it myself. I am so sorry about the ripped page."
He looked at her pointedly. "No. You will not. And you will not tell your employer. We will let this go—as if it never happened."
"But it did. I was looking at the book when I startled and ripped it. I loved the red leather binding and have been reading it since its arrival."
"Have you read quite a bit of Tennyson?"
"I particularly enjoyed 'The Lady of Shalott' and 'Idylls of the King.' Also, 'In Memoriam A.H.H.,' I found comfort."
His look was quizzical. He pointed to a particular line. "Perhaps you are aware this quote represents Tennyson's philosophy of life."
Celia bent her gaze to note the place his finger indicated. She read aloud:
Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control, These three alone lead life to sovereign power.
She looked up. "I came across those exact phrases this afternoon when I unwrapped the volume."
"From what you said about Emerson, I take it you would not be in agreement with England's poet laureate."
"Self-reverence, self-knowledge, and self-control are important. But whether they alone lead life to sovereign power is another question." She hesitated, then gently added, "No, I don't agree. But I think Tennyson had more of God in his life than the quote suggests."
Mr. Lyons stood in silence, yet when she glanced up at him, she caught a sharp, direct glint in his eyes. She decided not to press the discussion further.
"I'd be obliged if you'd wrap the books well," he said, his tone clipped. "My house is some distance and I came on foot."
Excerpted from The Soul of the Rose by Ruth Trippy. Copyright © 2013 Ruth Trippy. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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