One hears the most interesting tales late at night here in the Pub as the number of folk dwindles to but a few and the Neverending Session is but a trio of fiddlers playing quietly by the fireplace. Here is a tale of possible murder among librarians.
Well, I suppose you could say that she seems rather distant, but I tell you that she’s not, and you’re simply going to have to trust me on this one, Bela.
Oh, hello. Bela and I have been gossiping over coffee. Would you like to join us? I see there are no other tables left, but you will have to listen to me argue with Bela! I apologize for our terrible manners in advance. Bela, pas de betises, hein!
I think I’ve seen you about the Building before, haven’t I? I’m Stephanie, I am one of the Sub-Librarians. I see you have some baklava there, isn’t it lovely? He makes it every evening, you know. Oh, here’s an extra napkin!
Well, we’re arguing about Liath, our Head Archivist. Have you met her? She is very quiet, but so lovely: hair so pale it’s nearly white, tall and slender as a willow, like most of her people. Once you have met those grey eyes, you never quite forget them. Sometimes I see them in my dreams.
But no, Bela, Liath’s not cold at all, really; she’s been quite good friends with some of the Librarians, and remember Grey? I think Liath really took it very hard that Grey left The City while Liath was gone on that trip to Corsica for those diaries of the Lombards.
But of course, if you’d seen generations and generations of us growing older and dying, perhaps you’d seem a bit cold too. Think how it must be for the Folk who allow themselves to befriend these short-lived humans! Even here in the city of Midsummer where we often live extremely long lives, we must seem as mayflies.
Well, you know that she helped me with the histories of The Library and the Librarians. Liath worked with almost all of them directly — I think she’s the only one who remembers the scandal when Old Nick disappeared that night, in a remarkably similar fashion to the way Annie Radley’s husband disappeared a few years before.
Old Nick had been the Head Librarian for years, you see; some said since the late 1700’s, although of course time is a difficult thing here, and our Librarians aren’t always what you’d call official. Annie was his assistant, and then took his place after his mysterious disappearance; she was a proud and complicated Irishwoman and apparently quite an accomplished singer, who performed in the music hall that used to share the space here back in the mid-1800s; she left quite a collection of penny dreadfuls on the shelves!
But I don’t think Liath really got along well with Tatiana Islamova, Librarian after Mr. Melvil met with that odd accident in 1905. I rather suspect Liath knows something about that accident that she’s not telling us, frankly, but the Folk are very good at keeping secrets, and I could never wangle whatever it was out of her.
I wrote down Liath’s description of the Islamova’s arrival down almost verbatim: standing in the snow of the courtyard wearing a long fur coat and Cossack hat over her velvet skirt, a huge satchel of books clutched in one hand and a carpet bag of clothing in the other, dramatically asking for sanctuary from what she called the Tsarist purge of the library staff in St. Petersburg.
And certainly, everyone thought that Robert Graves came here to visit Ms. Islamova after the war, and certainly she was a lovely woman with pale skin and masses of dark hair, but, interestingly, Liath’s eye turns somewhat inward when you mention his name, so I have my suspicions . . . still, there’s no question that it was Mr. Graves who put the plaque over the fireplace in the Reading Room shortly after the Islamova died.
I’m dreadfully sorry! I didn’t realize you hadn’t met Liath after all; why, she’s one of the Fair Folk, you know. Only one of her people could manage the enormous archive collections of The Library; she’s the only one I know who can keep complete control over the staircases of the East Tower; it connects the stacks to the collection rooms. Even Mr. MacKenzie can’t always be certain where the landing of the third floor is going to take him.
And certainly we have one of the most comprehensive long-range archive plans any Library has ever had.