Edwin Elsey stared at the Bodleian’s magical collection for the first time since 1923. It was both completely the same and utterly different as it had been five years ago. The slightly dusty old-book smell infused the place just like before. The old wood shelves were smooth and cool beneath his fingertips. The small box of supplies Master Woolridge had left him was the same cardboard as always.
After half a decade of minding but a small repository of data at the corner of the Empire, he had returned to a veritable cradle of knowledge and civilisation.
And everything he’d read about the Empire’s corners’ magical denizens had been wrong.
Elsey muffled his frustration into nothing but a quiet hiss, then turned back to the reason he was at the Bodleian: John Isaac Boyle’s meagre magical book collection, freshly scavenged from the late practitioner’s Copenhagen apartment at great cost to Elsey’s dignity.
Elsey knelt and opened the box again. He’d packed the books as best he could, but being tossed into a canal and then thrown back out again had jostled them significantly. A sniff revealed no signs of residual mildew.
First, a Principia. Elsey skimmed through it, but Boyle had done no more than underline some of the key sections. Going through Boyle’s extensive collection of books on seemingly every subject known to man, it had seemed like Boyle hadn’t read any of them – until Elsey discovered Boyle’s stack of notebooks, filled with what would have been marginalia in books from anyone else. At least he’d kept the magic observations separate from the mundane observations.
Elsey flipped open the first notebook. A table of contents, with, yes, dog-eared pages as section markers. A methodical man, Boyle. A useful cross-check for the books Elsey’d grabbed.
Elsey had gotten every book on the magical world that Boyle had owned, in addition to a copy of Opticks by Isaac Newton, and a small box labelled merely with ‘magic’ that contained Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, The Lustful Turk, Venus in Furs, and Raped on the Railway: a True Story of a Lady who was first ravished and then flagellated on the Scotch Express. A different sort of ‘magic’, those. Elsey would take them home himself.
Of the books on Danish fae, one was very preoccupied with categorising fae by percentage of seelie, unseelie, and human blood, but didn’t make any remarks on character or even appearance, beyond a few illustrations. The other was filled with blatant lies about how Danish fae were sweet and simpering and were afraid of human practitioners. In Elsey’s opinion, tossing him and his book box into a canal whilst yelling about ‘fucking Isaacs’ did not count as being sweet or simpering, and was the antithesis of fear. Neither was yelling at Nyhavn canal’s genius loci sweet or simpering. (The rowdy-looking woman had tossed Elsey and his book box back onto dry land and chastised the fae for littering. The two women had then proceeded to have a shouting match in Danish whilst Elsey made his escape into the omnipresent mist, imprecating both of them under his breath.)
The glue for the pockets worked much better here than in hot India. Elsey smoothed the thick paper constructions onto the insides of the front covers, then looked at the code-sheet provided by Master Woolridge and turned to underlining words on the given pages. (It was occasionally possible to guess the librarian who’d done the intake from the choice of words underlined. Master Woolridge chose function words like ‘heretofore’; Elsey preferred aesthetically pleasing common nouns.)
That done, Elsey found section 2.2.4 Magical Creatures of Continental Europe – Scandinavia, and slotted in the books in the proper alphabetic order – he had to squeeze in Thomsen’s book onto a near-overflowing shelf – then took them back out again to write the authors, titles, publication years, and identifier codes onto index cards. He pencilled in the section he’d placed them in. One of the actual librarians of the Bodleian would eventually come look at the new index cards and decide whether they were appropriately categorised. If he actually read the book, he might even add some keywords to the cards. Then, they’d go into the Box, to be used by librarians to help find what someone else was looking for. The someone else might even borrow a book, in which case a slip of paper detailing the borrowing would be attached to the index card with a paperclip. At the Bodleian, the librarians also had a permanent ledger for each book of who had borrowed it and when, unlike at the small Foreign Office library Elsey’d been in charge of.
A quick look through the section revealed only one other book on Danish fae. Elsey opened it. A look through the table of contents and the index revealed that the author – a Radolphus Smithson – had only concerned himself with countryside fae. A glance at the foreword was illuminating: the book was from 1796. Elsey sighed. The industrial revolution had surely changed the character of the fae, just as it had changed the character of man. He put it back on the shelf.
The next of Boyle’s magical books was a classic, many copies of which were in fond circulation at Casterbrook: Codex Cantationum Clandestinarum, featuring such things as spells to eliminate one’s refractory period (regular use not recommended), all with luculent instructions on casting them, concise descriptions on the intended effects, and a short section the anonymous author’s own experiences with each spell. Elsey glued in a card pocket, did the underlining required for the next code, crossed said code off the code-sheet, jotted down the details on an index card, then pondered where to put it. 1.1.2 Spells, 1st Order, Rare? 1.3.3 Spells, Miscellanea, Archaic? Somewhere in 1.4 Spells of Foreign Origin, based on the firework lux spell that was of either Chinese origin or inspiration? A small hesitation later, he pressed it in 1.3.2 Spells, Miscellanea, Rare and made a mental note to bring up the issue of categorisation with Master Woolridge, who had been loth to interrupt his visit to the Folly and had sent Elsey to do it himself. Well, it would serve him right if he had to re-do all of it.
The Amazing Magical Adventures of Robert Smith of Casterbrook belonged into 18.1 Fiction, Children’s. Why Boyle had acquired it was anyone’s guess; the book antedated Boyle’s own stay at Casterbrook. Elsey had reread it once as an adult and regretted it: from an adult’s point of view, the story-telling was abysmally terrible and the plot nonsensical.
The Baleful Gem, written under a pseudonym by someone who claimed to have gone to India with the Foreign Office, was 18.2 Fiction, Adults’. It was a gripping story of a lachrymose widower who was sent to India and quickly became embroiled in a terrific plot in the Bombay fae community. Alas, everything it claimed was false, starting from the fact that the main goblin market was not run by a heartbreakingly beautiful woman called Gem and ending with the fact that the Mithi River was not full of exotically alluring naiads, ready to seduce any good British man to his doom. Elsey opened the book and wrote a warning beneath the title on one of the inner pages: ‘Any resemblance to the India of the real world is entirely coincidental. Ask the Nightingale for actual information.’ (Providing accurate information was one of a librarian’s duties.) He then went to 2.3.1 Magical Creatures of British Colonies – India, sought out Baxter’s Compendium of All the Hindoostani Fae & Genii Locorum, and added in the same warning. He’d trusted Baxter’s information and almost gotten himself killed. The genius loci of the Ganges was not at all dull-witted, nor did she look kindly upon the British Empire. Ganga Devi also did not look at all like Baxter’s description of her. Black-haired and brown-eyed, she had all the poise of an Empress suo jure and all the patient uncaring of an immortal. Perhaps the Gem of The Baleful Gem was based on her. Perhaps not. She was impressive, and she had almost drowned him in her waters once. Would have, had the Nightingale not been willing to be conciliatory. The memory embarrassed Elsey greatly. He put the book back on the shelf.
Now, the pile was reduced to but Boyle’s marginalia books. A closer look revealed that one of them was titled Magical Implications on Tsiolkovsky’s Rocket Theory, rather than the Ars Magica that graced the cover of all Boyle’s notebooks. Elsey opened it and was confronted with intricate sketches of something resembling an aeroplane, chemical equations, and extended passages on spells to help withstand acceleration. It was fascinating, apart from the major hurdle of Elsey not understanding a single thing about anything except the magic. He went through the gluing and coding routine and filled in an index card with the title and Boyle’s name, then regretfully placed the book in 1.5 Magic Spells, Experimental. He resolved to bring up the matter with David Mellenby, whose legendarily persistent pestering of the Bodleian’s staff was why section 1.5 existed.
Elsey looked through the rest of Boyle’s notebooks, but they were nothing but marginalia occasionally interspersed with notes on the minutiae of Danish life. Perhaps at a later date, a scholar could trawl through them and construct a slightly more accurate picture of Danish fae. For now, they were going into the Bodleian’s hall for the journals of the deceased. Boyle’s pornography would be going to Elsey, and Boyle’s non-magical books would go to his relatives, who would near certainly sell all of them.
The desk was deserted, like it had been when he’d arrived. A glance at the grandfather clock revealed that he’d taken long enough that it anyone taking lunch should have returned. He put down the box containing the extraneous card pockets, glue, index cards, and code-sheet, and was about to knock on the door behind the desk when a woman of his own age hurried in.
‘Hello, you must be Mr. Elsey. I’m Miss Pretoria Postmartin,’ she said, tossed her coat beneath the desk, and smiled.
He shook the offered hand. ‘Edwin Elsey.’ She looked like her greatest ambition in life was to become an absent-minded professor, and was more than a little miffed that women need not apply. ‘I shelved Boyle’s books on magic. The index cards are here. Where should I place his notebooks?’
She plucked the index cards from his hands, then read them, nodding to herself occasionally. ‘Boyle wrote something of his own? Oh, Mellenby’ll love this.’ She brought up a scrap paper and scribbled a note on it. Then she opened drawers and inserted the index cards into what must be their proper places with all the speed of one who did it all day every day.
‘Section nine is this way,’ she declared and bounced up from her chair. Elsey could only follow as she led him first to an out-of-the-way door and then down a dark stairwell. He’d heard stories that 9 Journals & Notebooks of Deceased Practitioners was situated in a tomb, but never would he have suspected that the rumours were true.
‘Lux,’ Miss Postmartin said, and a werelight appeared. She glanced at Elsey apologetically. ‘The one piece of magic I know. Too useful for Master Woolridge not to teach it to me.’
‘Speaking of Master Woolridge, where is everyone else? I was under the impression that the library employed numerous practitioners.’ Then again, Master Woolridge was seemingly under the impression that Elsey had been a proper librarian at the Bodleian before his jaunt in the Foreign Office, rather than a re-shelver with occasional index card replacement duty. Elsey couldn’t quite decide whether he’d hoped for Master Woolridge to have been here so that he could disabuse him of such notions, or for him to never cross paths with Master Woolridge again to avoid the embarrassment of such a conversation.
‘They were all invited to the Folly for the day and asked for me to take care of things.’ They arrived at the bottom of the stairwell. ‘Here!’ Miss Postmartin unlocked the door and ushered him in.
Section 9 was in a huge underground hall, a large portion of which was empty. Werelights were affixed to the ceiling at regular intervals, in addition to the shelves themselves.
‘Boyle died this year, did he not? The 20th century is over there.’ Miss Postmartin pointed at a shelf six rows over. Elsey had never realised quite how many wizards had bequeathed their magical belongings to the Bodleian.
‘Is this hall new?’ he asked.
‘Well, the original part dates from 1804, but a few nice German chaps came over a few years ago and expanded it. The magic they used was very intriguing. Ah, here is 1928. You can leave the box here and I’ll come back later to put them in place.’
‘No! No, some of the books are more mundane things like Newton’s Opticks that would be better suited elsewhere.’ Elsey was very glad he’d put Opticks on top of Fanny Hill. ‘I can place the notebooks here.’
‘Very well,’ Miss Postmartin acquiesced, though she quirked an eyebrow.
‘But would you please tell more about the expansion of the hall?’
‘Oh, certainly,’ she said, and launched into a long and interesting explanation of what, exactly, the Germans had done. Elsey listened calmly, distantly wondering how far along they would be in a decade or two.
If progress continued on like this, the results couldn’t be anything but glorious.