Saturday, 13 December 1845
“He’s done it again, Aigee!”
A magazine fluttered down on the pile of books next to Alan “A.G.” Garmond, who was rummaging around the back rooms of Munro’s Bookshop, getting dust all over his short-cropped brown hair.
“Who’s done—Lud, I’m starting to suspect we might have moved the remaining copies of Colonel Keating’s Travels to Morocco.” Aigee straightened and rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh wait! How about…” He moved some books on the top shelf in front of him and pulled out a hefty quarto volume. “Ha! Mr. Hollington will be pleased. He’s wanted to come in this afternoon, and—”
“Aigee,” his employer said with some emphasis. “He’s done it again.” The older man stabbed the open page of the magazine with an agitated finger. “Here. That bastard!”
Turning, Aigee glanced at the magazine, the page layout instantly familiar. “Ugh.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Foreman.”
“The new issue of About Town has just been delivered, and, of course, I had to take a look.” Mr. Munro pushed back his spectacles. “This is unacceptable. That man is directly targeting Munro’s Magazine—our MuMa!—and he’s been doing it for months now.”
Aigee picked up the copy of About Town and peered at the open page, while they made their way out of the room and down the narrow wooden stairs. “What is he complaining about now?”
“Your review of The Fairy Ring.”
“Oh.” That beautiful little book with marbled boards that currently held pride of place in their window display of Christmas books. Of course, this would change as the month progressed: it was not yet mid-December, and most Christmas books would be released closer to the holiday.
Aigee loved the Yuletide season, when the windows of Munro’s Bookshop would exhibit a host of crimson books with gold embossing on the covers and beautiful illustrations inside. The mere sight gave him a warm, tingly feeling and made him think of evenings spent in an armchair by the fireside.
Well, in his case it would be a very old and tattered armchair and a very small oven, and he couldn’t exactly afford to buy one of the Christmas books, but a man could dream, couldn’t he?
Or at least he could until a new issue of About Town was released and Christopher Foreman packed yet another verbal punch into Aigee’s face.
Clever, witty Christopher Foreman, whose writing spoke of a keen intelligence, whose prose sparkled, who could make words sing—and who, for some reason or other, seemed to have formed a dislike for Munro’s Magazine.
Well, no. A dislike for Aigee in particular.
And for the life of him, Aigee couldn’t think of a reason why.
With a sigh, he pushed open the door that led from the back into the front part of the bookshop. Walking to the counter, he read aloud, “‘From out of Albemarle Street Mr. Murray has thrust upon the reading public a collection of fairy tales, which he apparently deems suitable for the Christmas season, as they are full of childish sentimentality. The Fairy Ring contains thirty-six tales taken from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Kinder- und Hausmärchen and translated from the German by John Edward Taylor, cousin to the man who first gave us a selection of the Grimms’ tales in English. While some people, like our young colleague at Munro’s Magazine—’”
“Ha!” Mr. Munro inserted. “That…that fiend!”
“‘—will no doubt find much to charm them inside this book, readers who have perused the original German tales will experience some difficulties in enthusing over Mr. Taylor’s translation, as he has not so much translated as edited the tales in question. He might have thereby heightened the morality of the original, but, in our opinion, he also destroyed much of the charm of these stories that the Grimms collected. A mention of this circumstance is sadly missing from the glowing reviews that have already started to appear in the periodical press.’”
The little bells above the entrance door tinkled, making Aigee glance up. Sarah Woodall stepped into the shop, and as always, a cheerful smile lit up her face. “Good day, gentlemen. I’m bringing some new patterns for the MuMa,” she said, waving a bundle of papers. It had been Aigee’s idea to include some fancywork patterns in Munro’s Magazine for the amusement of the mother and daughters of the family during the reading in the evening. Women, he had learnt from watching his own mother, did not like having idle hands.
He could clearly imagine the scene: a peaceful evening spent in the circle of the family, the deep tones of the head of the house as he was reading from some book or magazine to the accompaniment of the softly whooshing sounds of needle and thread gliding through fabric.
Young Mrs. Woodall, whose husband had been lost at sea, had seemed the perfect choice to provide patterns for the MuMa, for she had immediately understood what kind of thing Aigee wanted: useful, but pretty. Something that could be a gift or adornment.
Now Mrs. Woodall’s smile diminished as her gaze fell on the magazine Aigee was holding. “Oh dear. About Town? I take it the ‘Adonis of Fleet Street’ has struck again.”