(and it should serve as a reminder that there are many more bowls of McSerial to be enjoyed over on the McStorytellers site, as well as the biggest poke of short stories of Scottish origin in the known universe/s. Right HERE (and navigate to the McStory/McSerial of your choice)
To find more work by James Leatham online go to the new online FREE Gateway magazine at http://www.thedeveronpress.scot/gateway.html and to buy full works by James Leatham go to the Deveron Press bookshelf at http://www.unco.scot/store/c42/DEVERON_PRESS_CATALOGUE.html
Meantime, we hope you enjoy these episodes from 100 years ago.
Twixt Desk and Shelves
VII. The Wolf and the Not-too- lamblike lamb.
First published in January 1917.
The Printer was feverishly sticking in big envelopes the last batch of copies of The Pelican, which, owing to the pressure of other work, was very late this month. When he heard a heavy step in the machine-room, which had a separate entrance, supposed to be for goods only, he looked up with an air of tiredness; for the owner of the heavy step was evidently making for the inner room, and it would be either a friend coming to hinder him, or it would be some of the awkward people who, disregarding the lettering on the windows, wheeled their cycles into a room full of heaps of paper, and with printing going one, and asked him to mend a burst tyre or to give them ‘a fill o’ gas.’ His friends usually came in that way also, because they knew he was oftenest to be found in the machine-room. But just as a well-bred visitor does not go to one’s back-door, even if it be nearest, and enter the house by way of the scullery and kitchen, so he had found that people who came in by what was obviously not the proper entrance were usually awkward folk. One man, coming in that way, had knocked down a couple of newly-cleaned machine-rollers, which had to be washed over again; and his faux pas in that respect had been preliminary to still further disagreeable, entirely of his making. Yet another day a visitor in his absence had interfered with the fire-extinguishing chemical. The printer had thought of having an inscription painted on the door announcing ‘No admittance except for business.’ But on the principle of contraries which seemed to be the rule of a certain type of mind, such a taboo would only be an additional reason for coming in that way. In the rush of getting out the magazine the room was in disorder, as a private place might well be. So what with his hurry and his slight resentment over the irregular mode of entry, he looked up, as said with a tired expression.
‘Good morning,’ said the visitor, a fresh-faced local solicitor, whom the printer had met just once before.
It was close on one 0’clock; but the man of letters returned the salutation thinking it not quite well bred to say ‘Good Afternoon.’
‘Is that catalogue nearly ready yet?’ asked the lawyer plunging in medias res without further ceremony.
‘No, sir,’ said the Printer. ‘I didn’t know there was any particular hurry on it. We have just made a start on it; and you will get your proof this week. By the way, what is that S for before each number? Couldn’t you put what it stands for in a note and save the repetition in each line?’
‘No,’ said the lawyer, blushing and bridling. ‘That’s the way it always has been, and that’s the way it must be.’
The speech was in any case an abominable one, and, as angrily delivered it touched the spot at once. The job in question was a supplementary catalogue of books, which the institution concerned was issuing for the first time. To say it had ‘always been so’ was a palpable lie which only a furious and heedless man would have uttered. The printer was himself a member of the committee which had to do with the choosing of the books and the issuing of the catalogue, and as such he had a right to make a suggestion regarding the printing of the catalogue, even if, as the printer and as a man of greater years and experience than his visitor, he had not a double right to make it. Alike as a printer, a student, and a lifelong book-buyer, he had handled probably a hundred catalogues for this young man’s one. Clearly a quarrel was intended. It was the Aesopian story of the Wolf and the Lamb all over again. The lamb even behaved in character for a little.
‘It would take hundreds of capital Esses to do that,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe I have enough.’
Lawyer: Good gracious, surely your equipment is equal to that?
The printer looked round on the galley-rack full of tied-up paper of type dumbly calling to witness his equipment. He had produced a quarterly magazine last week and a monthly magazine this week. The signs were there of a very good equipment indeed. But what he said was:
‘That’s not the only thing. The page is very narrow and the S eats into the space.’
Lawyer (angrily): We have been perfectly humbugged over this all along.
Printer: Not by me. You hadn’t got all the books nine days ago. I helped to find three of them last Saturday week, and the manuscript was taken away for several days even after that. I have never once seen you about the matter, and the understanding with the secretary naturally was that we were not to proceed till you had got the books. I haven’t had the job in the place a week with a clear order to go on. I understood that if the thing was out this year it would be in time enough.
Lawyer (disdaining the facts): We’ve been humbugged by you, and now you want to do the job in your way. But I must have it done in mine.
This was a kind of bullying of which the Printer had had no previous experience. He had associated with all sorts and conditions of men, from scavengers up to a royal prince. He had long been on good terms with a Solicitor General, had gone campaigning with K.C, had hobnobbed with a Viceroy and Cabinet minister, including a Premier, and had always been treated with amiable and courteous intimacy. But he had heard that for haughty masterfulness there was nobody to beat a country solicitor. And this was evidently the Harbitrary Gent. At last. He had met only two country solicitors before who were at all in character, and their manners were so exceptional that one was known as Count Robert and as Poker Back, and the soubriquet of the other was the Peterhead Pigeon, because of his strut and his post. But even they had been incapable of this sort of hectoring. ‘That’s the way it always has been done, and that’s the way it must be.’ The sentence kept ringing in the printer’s mind. And the job was being done for the first time! The idea that because a thing had always been it always must, sprang, in his view, from the most depraved of mental attitudes. Obviously it shut doors upon all improvement. This was the curse of use-and-wont against which the reformer in all ages had so often dashed himself in vain. The principle was false, and in this case the statement itself was a lie. However, a quarrel was obviously intended, and he was very busy, and full of the sense of the visitor’s injustice. He ought to have told the visitor that he had nothing to do with him; that the secretary had given him the job, and that with the secretary only would he deal. But he was overburdened with work, and the prospect of getting rid of this job tempted him.
‘You had better take it away,’ he said, handing over the manuscript.
This was evidently exactly what the other wanted. He gripped the type-written sheets, and said, comparatively equably:
‘If say expense has been incurred, just send in your account. You have asked me to take it away and I shall certainly take it away. Good morning.’
Printer: Good morning!
When these two first met at a semi-public gathering, the printer was asked: ‘Do you know our chairman, Mr So-and-so?’ He answered, ‘I have not the pleasure.’ The lawyer had remarked: ‘Wait till you know me before you say it is a pleasure.’ The printer had thought to himself; ‘You have better allow me to take you for a gentleman as long as you can.’ But what he said was, ‘Oh, I daresay it would depend on what capacity I met you in.’ And everybody laughed. He thought he knew now why they laughed.
It was a very much astonished printer who was left behind. ‘Good Lord,’ he thought to himself, ‘ imagine anybody getting in a rage like that about a catalogue of popular novels!’ One would think the society was his private property. And he isn’t even the chairman. There was no election of officials at the annual meeting. The old lot simply went on be default- as a matter of course. He had joined the association because he believed in meetings for discussion; but there were no meetings and there were no discussions. The funds raised were spent chiefly on novels. It was a ‘cute enough way of getting cheap reading for one’s wife and daughters. He had joined with the idea of doing some good among the youths just under military age for whom nothing was being done in the evenings. They did not attend evening classes, and he could not well blame them. There were things that could not be learned at evening classes, or day classed either. To know history, economics, and good general literature – which was in his view a pre-requisite of intelligent citizenship – meant reading for years and years, and an evening class in English could only a best start one in the desirable studies. Apart from this there were a hundred and one entertaining things that could be discussed and opened up at meetings of a mutual improvement association; but it had to be done in a lively, entertaining way, and he understood that had not exactly been the rule locally. A racy farmer of the neighbourhood had always managed to draw an audience, and that others had failed to attract was not a matter for which the public could fairly be blamed. He himself had started successful organizations of the kind elsewhere; but they took some starting, and he was very busy and getting on in years.
He yawned with faintness - it was nearing his dinner hour – and attacked a fresh pile of magazines.
We hope to resume normal McSerial service on McStorytellers next week.