Francis Trigge stared mournfully at the ransacked shelves.
"Another one?" he asked, wearily rubbing his head.
John Lombard, his assistant, nodded. "Another one."
"I just don't understand! How many precautions do we have to take? We impose fines, hire guards, double-bolt the doors, bar the windows, and make the whole place look like a prison! We even set up regular searches in the town. Yet still it happens." Francis gestured at the smart wooden bookshelves that lined the walls. Where should have stood new, leather-bound books, were only glaring spaces. "How did they get in this time?"
"Well, sir, as far as we know, they came down the chimney."
"And the guards?"
"It was a very professional job, sir. The guards didn't notice anything. "
"Humph. John, I'm getting so sick of these book thieves! We've done everything short of wrapping the building up in chains, yet we just can't stop them. Time after time, they break in and rob us of these valuable manuscripts. Back in the days of king Harry, there was trouble with monasteries being razed to the ground. Now, in Queen Bess's reign, we have this to worry about! Why does it happen?"
"Uh, well sir, if I may explain ..."
"I know why they do it!" Francis snapped. "Books can get them a nice profit. They're just too valuable. What I need to know is how to deal with this problem."
"We could send another letter to London."
"Oh, don't be foolish, John. We've already sent, what is it, seventeen letters to London, but those fat lords aren't interested in library ransackers in insignificant Grantham. No, we need to come up with something radical to solve our problems once and for all."
"That's what he said about the fines, searches, and increased security," John muttered as he skulked out of the library.
"What was that?"
"Oh, nothing, sir."
Francis stalked through the town in a vile mood. Book thieves were the bane of his life. As head librarian of Grantham, it was his job to make sure these robberies didn't happen. But there was just too much to be gained from stealing books. So many volumes had been whisked away, most of them theological disputes – Lutheran arguments, Calvinistic ideas, attacks on Catholics, attacks on Protestants; the list never ended. He had tried so hard, but nothing was working.
No doubt half the town is in on it. They probably warn the thieves with secret codes whenever a search is carried out. They I dare say they even shuttle the books around, and then sell them on to some chubby-faced, stuck-up, greedy merchant. Then they share out the cash. And what do I get out of it? A throbbing headache and rapidly greying hair, that's what! There must be something we can do.
Hang on. Maybe, just maybe. . .
A week later, Francis Trigge looked contentedly at his newly-furnished library. The blacksmith had accomplished exactly what he'd requested. "Well, John? What do you think?"
"Uh, sir, well, what I mean to say is . . ."
"Spit it out, man!"
"Well, what is it?"
Francis looked pleased. "This, John, is my latest idea. The thieves can sneak past guards, creep through the chimney, and smash open cupboards all they like,"
"I'd rather they didn't, sir. These cupboards are costly."
"As I was saying," Francis glared at his assistant, "they can do all that, but they still won't be able to move these books!"
"But sir, chains? Is it really proper to chain books? Because, well, they haven't done anything wrong."
Francis sighed. "Yes, John, it's fine. Look. The books are chained at the spine, right at the corner so as not to break the binding. The chain is securely attached to the lockable cupboard. Nobody will buy a book that's had the spine ripped out, so there's no way they can be moved. I've done it, man! I've solved our problems."
"Yes, sir, as you say. A stroke of genius."
John clumped out of the library, thinking hard. This new idea of his employer's would set things back a bit. He would need very sharp saws, or some tool to wrench the chain out of the wall. No matter what Francis Trigge came up with, the Guild of Book Dealers would counter it. Their trade would not die out. John Lombard would make sure of it.
Author's note: In Medieval times, books were very valuable and libraries did have difficulty with book thieves. In 1598 Francis Trigge's 'chained library' was the first of many such libraries that were designed to thwart book thieves such as the (fictional) John Lombard.
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