A tragic tale of one of the Estate Librarians. The final lines are a true groaner.
We are immersed in mystery around here. Not just the hidden doors, secret rooms and unexpectedly extensible corridors — a lot of our denizens and visitors are mysteries as well. Some of them get clearer as they age, like home-brewed beer. Some just get weirder on continued acquaintance. Some showed up so briefly but so memorably that they end up immortalized in our history, mysteries never to be solved.
Several of the undying sort center around MacKenzie’s immediate predecessor, Grubb. That wretched man was Librarian for two weeks just before MacKenzie joined us, and lives on in infamy for his high-handed ways and abrupt disappearance. They say he legged it in a panic after enraging Mrs. Ware, the Cook: the funny thing was, the rooms he lived in vanished too. The younger Staff search for him now and again, usually after someone reports that a skinny wraith in thick glasses and a bad combover has been sighted lurking in the Stacks … and when a volume goes missing (and the Wrath of MacKenzie hasn’t produced its anonymous return) they say Grubb’s had it away to his secret rooms.
Well, we’ve finally had a clear sighting of our fugitive Grubb. But it’s only added to the conundrum. The witness was our own, our very own, Michael Jones, working late in the Reading Room. (You’ll notice he is the Esteemed Author of twenty-one reviews in this issue. The man is a machine.) And since he was a little busy at the time, as well as being immersed in several alternate universes, the details are none too clear.
But Michael says he’d been dimly aware of someone going back and forth in the back of the room for some time, and hadn’t given it a thought. It was when he turned round to remove a cat (one of several) from a book (one of dozens) that he saw a bony little git step through the floor to ceiling bookcases and vanish.
The gleam of thick eyeglasses flashed green for a moment, and then the scruffy apparition was gone.
Now, Michael is a fearless fellow — as is well known, he can’t die while he still has something to read — so he went right after the phantom. He says he couldn’t find any secret latches or hidden doors; all he noticed was a greasy handprint on the wood of the shelves, and the lingering perfume of pork pie … being a sensible man as well, he went back to his reviewing (which is why he’s got twenty-one reviews in here) and eventually home to his patient and lovely wife, leaving a note about the incident for MacKenzie.
Well! The Grubb Hunt to end all Grubb Hunts convened the very next day. They had Jack in, since he knows where more secret doors are than anyone else in the place; they pulled in Kate from the Kitchens, to try dowsing with her frying tongs; they even brought in one of the faerie terriers from the garden to nose about the place. They tried conjuration, abjuration and condensation. They tried scrying. They tried Google (some very odd things show up on Google Earth — at least on our computers). They tried bells, books, and candles. And a pendulum. And a bee smoker. And, not surprisingly, they found the door.
There are mirrors all over the Library, you know. Some say they’re for security, but others swear the mirrors themselves are archives, ones that are only open to Very Special Researchers. Several of them are on the ceilings, and one was over that very stretch of shelves where Grubb was seen to disappear. Turns out that with the right pressure on the right section of shelf, the shelf swings a bit – and so does the mirror in the ceiling, with the interesting result that if you are glancing round from across the room (and maybe slightly dazed with writing your eleventh straight review) someone stepping through the gap looks like he’s stepping through the bookcase.
MacKenzie says he’s not sure if the rooms behind were Grubb’s. No one ever saw them before he moved in, nor after he scarpered. But there was certainly a nice little suite back there, thick with dust and books. (MacKenzie waxed choleric, I can tell you.) And on the floor of the dim little parlour was a rug, and on the rug — was a skeleton.
It was a feeble little anatomy, wearing a cheap tweed jacket and corduroy trousers. There were glasses askew on the bony face. All around it were scattered heavy books, plus a shattered china plate; and the mummified remains of a pork pie were spread over both the plate shards and the cracked skull. Whatever had happened, happened a long time ago; no corruption in the air, the body undisturbed.
Some of the books had long gone missing, and were identified and reclaimed. Some were unknown to the Catalog and some of those were quite rare and valuable, and taken in with rejoicing (and some understandable suspicion). But they never could identify the body, whose pockets proved to be utterly empty and uninformative. Oh, he’d been a little man in fusty clothes, and there were glasses near him — but no one could say for sure.
So when all the dust was cleared and settled, no one could decide exactly what they’d found. Did someone whack a good heavy tome over Grubb’s head? Did he die from the impact of a china plate? Did he choke on a stolen pie and crack his own skull on a stolen book?
Was it even Grubb? No one knows. If someone did for him, then the Grubb we see from time to time in the Stacks is his ghost. If Grubb himself murdered someone, who and why? And why is Grubb still living in hiding here? All we know for sure is that even finding all this doesn’t answer any questions. In the final analysis, it remains the unending mystery:
Grubb. In the Library. With a pork pie.