Freddy recognized the truth of what he said. She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines—not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master’s call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality. Solly was in a measure a victim of this unscrupulous passion, but Freddy was wholly in the grip of it.
Still, she had her pride. She would not beg Valentine to regard her as a member of the clergy for a day; she would not even hang about the house in a hinting manner. She would just drop in, and if the conversation happened to turn upon books, as some scholarly rural dean fingered a rare volume, she would let it be known, subtly, that she was deeply interested in them, and then—well, and then she would see what happened.
With this plan in view she was at the residence of the late Dr. Adam Savage at five minutes to ten on the following morning, dismayed to find that an astounding total of two hundred and seventeen clergymen were there before her, waiting impatiently on the lawn. They ranged from canons of the cathedral, in shovel hats and the grey flannels which the more worldly Anglicans affect in summer, through Presbyterians and ministers of the United Church in black coats and Roman collars, to the popes and miracle workers of back-street sects, dressed in everything under the sun. There was a young priest, a little aloof from the others, who had been instructed by his bishop to bespeak a copy of The Catholic Encyclopaedia which was known to be in the house, for a school library. There were two rabbis, one with a beard and one without, chatting with the uneasy geniality of men who expect shortly to compete in a race for a shelf of books on the Pentateuch. There were High Anglicans with crosses on their watch chains, and low Anglicans with moustaches. There were sixteen Divinity students, not yet ordained, but trying to looksanctified in dark suits.