DeCourtney's

I like Charing Cross Road; there are booksellers and side-streets with more booksellers, and some of those side-streets have tiny little dead-end courts with even more booksellers.  To the east is Covent Garden, and to the west is Leicester Square, both of which have their attractions and can satisfy the needs of any man.  After spending two hours going in every bookseller I could find, including DeCourtney's twice, I was ready for any kind of satisfaction I could get.  I sat on a bench watching the bustle of London traffic, half-deafened by the noise, eating a pie.  Nowhere, it seemed, even knew what De Vermiis Mysteriis was.  Mr. DeCourtney himself had stared at me for a very long time, with the oddest of odd looks in his eye, and finally told me that he was sure I would not be able to find any book of that name in London.  Not even, he had said, if you go to the British Museum.

"You mean the British Library, Mr. DeCourtney?" I'd replied, and he'd stared at me again for a long time before finally saying, That's what I said, young man.

Knowing that the Professor would be disappointed if I didn't return with a copy, I did actually venture as far as the British Library.  There, a young woman with too tight a corset told me in strangled tones that they didn't sell books, and they certainly didn't have books like that in the library.  I told her that I could completely understand that no library would want wormy tomes and left.  The Professor would be disappointed.

I arrived back just as crates of worms from Romania were being unloaded from a dray.  The Professor, supervising as always, saw me walking down the drive and beckoned me to run.

"Come along Jim, you know where the wormeries are, you can show the man here.  You can help him carry the boxes too!  Where's my book?"

I picked up several boxes of worms, noting that they all rustled and slithered as I did so, while telling the Professor that I'd been unable to find it anywhere.  He followed me into the house, along with the drayman who was carrying more boxes of worms, demanding that I tell him exactly where I'd been.

"You definitely went to DeCourtney's?" he demanded, sounding flustered.

"Yes, Professor."  I stopped, we were in the fourth guest bedroom now.  I laid the boxes down on top of the tank for the Romanian worms.  "Twice."

"Hmm.  Don't leave the worms in the boxes, empty them on to the tank.  We don't want them dying after we've got them here!"

"I was going to fetch some food for them first," I said.  I'd learned a lot about worms as well, of necessity to keep up with the Professor.

"I've... arranged that, already."  I peered at the tank and realised that the earth was scuffed up and mounded as though someone had been digging and perhaps had buried something in there.  The drayman took this as sufficient encouragement and starting prising the boxes open.  The Romanian worms were pink and wrigglesome and quickly burrowed into the soil.  After we returned from picking up the remaining boxes from the dray all the opened boxes were empty and the worms nowhere to be seen, though there was a low rustling, slithering sound coming from the wormery and the Professor was looking very pleased with himself.  He paid the drayman and left me to see him out.

"Romanian worms?" said the drayman at the door.  "What's wrong with British worms?"

"The Professor is trying to show exactly that," I said remembering what the Professor had said at breakfast the previous day.  "He believes that British worms are the best of all nationalities and intends to show just that."

The drayman nodded, somehow understanding something that I could not, and got back up on his cart.  The horse stopped cropping the grass at the side of the house, raised its head, and they moved off at a slow pace.  I found myself watching the dray wondering if I shouldn't be going with it.

"Jim!"  The Professor's voice was a demanding call from the fourth guest bedroom.

"Jim, did you put all the worms in the right tank?"

"Yes Professor," I said, returning to the bedroom.

"Were you watching the drayman the whole time?"

"No, Professor, I was collecting boxes of worms and bringing them in."

"Well the wretched idiot has put some of the Romanian worms in with the Italian worms and they're fighting."  He pointed at a tank.  At the side, pressed against the glass, two worms somehow lunged at each other, coiling around and around in agitation.  "Can you tell which is which?"

I shrugged; one worm was very much like another worm in my opinion.

"Damn.  Then they'll both have to go.  Dig them out Jim, and kill them."  The Professor left me to it.

While digging them out, I accidentally dug up a chicken's foot.  Which wasn't at all what I'd expected the worm-food to be.

The End

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