Nanny was getting quite huffy, but Evelyn was adamant.
She had seen another bookshop, the last one, and surely it would have what she was looking for. “We have to go,” she insisted. “You said I could buy one book, but I haven’t bought one yet, so we can’t go home yet, can we?”
When she argued like that, Nanny liked to say she was using ‘semantics’. She wasn’t quite sure what they were, but she found them awfully useful.
“If you can’t find anything in this shop,” Nanny said, poking out her chin, “then we have to go home. You’ll be late for supper and you know how Master Jonathan fusses.”
That was as close to a victory as she could get and anyway, she was getting rather hungry.
She pulled Nanny by the hand, leading her on in the direction of the shop. She had seen it once or twice in passing, when they had been driving through the city, but had never been able to visit before. The sign said they dealt in rare books and according to all the other people in all the other shops, that’s what she was looking for.
The door was closed and there was a hand-written sign in the window beside it, but she ignored it and Nanny’s exclamation to push the door open. It wasn’t locked and Nanny sputtered in vexation behind her.
“The shop isn’t open, Miss Evelyn!”
Evelyn made a face and hurried inside. If the door was unlocked, then clearly, it wasn’t closed.
“Miss Evelyn!” Nanny’s hand caught her shoulder, but Evelyn was well-versed in wriggling free. Her big brother had made sure to teach her that along with how to punch a fellow on the nose. She ducked out of nanny’s grip and hurried deeper into the shop, then stopped short.
Oh, it was lovely, like a big, bright library with shelves everywhere and all of them piled high with books.
“Miss Evelyn!” Nanny caught her again. “You are being very disobedient.”
Evelyn was about to point out that Nanny hadn’t actually told her not to enter when a man came through from the back of the shop. He was quite tall and pink-cheeked, with fluffy hair that looked like feathers, and wore clothes very like grandfather’s.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” he said with a smile. “Is there something the matter?”
“I’m afraid this little madame has taken it into her head to go where she pleases,” Nanny said, her fingers like pincers on Evelyn’s shoulders. “I do apologise.”
The man raised his eyebrows, then looked down at Evelyn. “Is that so, young lady?”
Her bottom lip trembled. “I only wanted to see if you have a book,” she said in a small voice. “Nanny said I could buy one, but none of the other shops have the one I want.”
This time, when he smiled, it made her feel quite cosy and safe, as if he had wrapped her snugly in a blanket. “Well then,” he said, going down on one knee to bring his eyes level with hers. “Let me see what I can do for you. What book are you looking for?”
Evelyn shrugged her shoulder to shake off Nanny’s hand. “It’s called the Book of Amun-Ra.”
The man’s eyebrows went up again. “The Book of Amun Ra? My word. It’s been a long time since I heard about that one.”
Evelyn’s heart sank. “You don’t have it?”
“I’m afraid not, my dear,” the man said sadly. “There was only ever one made and it was lost many, many, many years ago. No one has seen it since the time of the Pharaohs.”
“Oh.” Evelyn wanted to cry. Jonathan had laughed at her when she said she was going to find the book from Father’s stories and now, he would laugh at her again. He was always such a beast when she was wrong about things.
The man gave her a gentle smile. “But I do have lots of other books about Egypt. Maybe you would like to see if we can find you something else? I know it won’t be half as good, but I’m sure there’s something you might enjoy.”
He got up and offered her a hand. She took it at once and he led her deeper into the shop. It was like Aladdin’s cave, full of all kinds of shiny things and statues and so many books that she was sure he had more than father and grandfather’s libraries put together.
“Now, have you heard of the Book of the Dead?”
Evelyn nodded eagerly. “Mummy sometimes lets me look at it. Did you know they use pictures instead of letters?”
“Hieroglyphics,” he agreed. “Yes. They are rather special, aren’t they?” He paused beside a shelf, considering it, then pulled a thin book with a black cover and gold letters out. It wasn’t very big and didn’t look like much as all. He went down on one knee again. “Now, this book… this is a very special book.”
Evelyn peered at it. “Is it?”
He opened it and showed her the pages. There were hieroglyphics all over them, beside proper English letters. “This will help you learn how to read hieroglyphics,” he said, his eyes shining. “You’ll be able to read all of those pictures.”
Evelyn stared at it, then up at him. “I can learn to read it to?”
The man closed the book and held it out to her. “Oh yes,” he said, smiling. “I’m sure you’ll be excellent at it as well.”
She took the book carefully. “Thank you very much,” she said, hugging it tightly to her chest. “Nanny has my pocket money.”
Nanny made a small, worried sound. “That looks like a very expensive volume, sir.”
The man looked up at Nanny as if he’d forgotten she was even there. He looked back at Evelyn. “And how much pocket money do you have, young lady?”
“Nine shillings!” Evelyn was very excited about it. It had taken her a lot of saving.
“Why!” He clapped his hands together. “What good fortune. That book is seven shillings and sixpence. You’ll have enough for a cake from the baker’s across the road as well!”
Evelyn beamed at him, then looked expectantly up at Nanny, who fished into her small purse and withdrew the money. Evelyn held up one hand demandingly. “I want to pay for it.” She waited impatiently as Nanny counted out the money into her hand, then proffered it to the man. “Thank you for my book.”
The man smiled warmly at her and got back to his feet. “Would you like me to wrap it up for you to keep it safe?”
Evelyn nodded at once. Everyone knew it was silly to take a book out of doors. Once, one of her books ended up in a duckpond because – as usual – Jonathan decided to annoy her.
The man took her back over to the desk and took the book from her, wrapping it up in a sheet of smooth brown paper. “I’m dreadfully sorry I didn’t have the book you were looking for,” he said, as he tied up the parcel with a piece of string. “But this one will be very useful.”
Evelyn nodded happily. “And one day, when I can read all the pictures properly, I’ll go and find the Book of Amun-Ra.”
He gave her such a big, warm smile that she felt like she could almost float off the floor. “You know, my dear,” he said as he bent down to give her the parcel. “I think you might well do that.”