Scrupulous (part two)

365-70The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story will be delivered to your inbox every Friday. Please tell your friends about the Carding Chronicles.

Previously on the Carding Chronicles: Mild-mannered Jane Twitchell, Carding’s longtime librarian, has discovered a disturbing literary secret among the books of the Carding Public Library. She’s sworn herself to secrecy about it. Will she keep her promise?

It all began with Martin Chuzzlewit, that bleak, rather boring novel by Charles Dickens in which the great British author skewered America as a backwater best ignored and deplored. While Dickens had his adherents among Carding’s readerly population, none of them liked “Martin,” as they called the book.

(Actually, to give Mr. Dickens his due, his negative attitude toward America and Americans is easy to understand when you know that 19th century publishers in our country were printing and selling copies of his most popular books without paying him royalties for his work. The Chinese are hardly the first people to sell pirated books.)

Anyhow, back to our story. Jane Twitchell’s uncomfortable secret began when with her annual culling of the library’s shelves in preparation for the used book sale held each year before Christmas. She’d never considered eliminating any of Dickens’ novels from the collection before but the space needed for new books, movies, and audiobooks was so great, she thought it a good idea to be more fierce in her discarding duties.

Her decision about Martin became easy once she looked to see how often it had been taken out. She was not surprised to discover that the yellowing book hadn’t moved from the library for more than 20 years.

“Hmph, time for you to go,” Jane said, being no fan of Martin Chuzzlewit herself. She gave the book a little toss into her discard box, and an envelope slid out from behind the back cover.

Now, Jane loved what she called “oddments,” the strange and sometimes puzzling items that people tucked between the pages of books. In fact, she kept a small collection of her favorites in her top desk drawer. There was a 1939 ticket to the movie Gone with the Wind when it opened in New York City, a 1950s Disney Land memento of Dumbo, a bookmark featuring a psychedelic zebra painted by Jasper Johns, and a small image of John Lennon wearing a T-shirt that read New York City.

So she dove to the floor after the old envelope with delight and many expectations.

The short note inside was penciled on a piece of erasable bond, a crinkly paper once widely used in typewriters, and Jane recognized the obsessively small, neat handwriting immediately. It was from her predecessor, Agatha Norcross.

“Dear Jane,” the note began, “for I assume it will be you who follows me, please forgive me for not telling you about this matter in person. I had always hoped I would have the fortitude to destroy the last copies of Hanson Willis’s ‘D-H‘ books myself. But I must confess to you that I fell under their spell like so many before me, and I could not bring myself to do it.

“While he was still alive, Mr. Willis said these books were just his overactive imagination at work. To the best of my knowledge, the only copies ever printed were done by Daniel and Kitty Wolfe, the couple who started the Carding Chronicle newspaper in 1912. But after reading all the stories and tales (more than once, I blush to say), I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Willis described truths about Carding that we might be better off not knowing.

“You and I were born here so we’re used to the town’s odd ways. But did you ever ask yourself why crows are always around the female descendants of the Cooper family, and why the women of the Wolfe family are wiser than anyone else or why dogs never go into the caves at the edge of Half Moon Lake?

“I think Mr. Willis discovered those secrets, and more. But he didn’t think anyone would believe him so he put them in books to fool people into thinking they were just strange stories that he made up.

“Maybe that’s all they are. I cannot judge any more so I will leave it to you. Start with Martin Chuzzlewit—the shorter D-H tales are found here—and then move on, if you dare.

“My dearest Jane, read with care and beware of where you place your personal beliefs. I cannot give you any more guidance than that.

“Yours—Agatha Norcross.”

Jane’s hands shook so hard, the paper rattled from between her fingers. Agatha Norcross was the most sober human being she’d ever known so for the former librarian to claim that the inexplicable eccentricities of Carding were more than odd behavior unnerved Jane to her core.

It was a rather uncomfortable—but not altogether unpleasant— sensation.

Who could resist such an invitation? Not me, and I dare say you couldn’t either. Let’s explore together, shall we?

Join us next week for the next installment of the Carding Chronicles. If you enjoy these stories, consider telling your friends.

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