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Lost in a Good Book
Special Features - Bonus Material
Chapter nineteen in 'Lost in a Good Book' is called: 'Bargain Books'. It wasn't always so. As originally drafted the action takes place in a department store during the Autumn sales, a fearful experience that I recall with dread from my early years. The chapter was accepted by Hodder in the UK and even made it as far as the advanced proofs. I rewrote it at the behest of Penguin and as is so often the case, preferred it. I spoke to Hodder who happily included the ammended chapter. It is here reproduced in full and possibly gives an insight into how extensive changes can be concluded satisfactorily with word substitution and not much else.
We pick up the chapter as soon as they have arrived at the store. Incidentally, 'Spring Moffat' is my version of 'Camp Hopson', a department store actually located in Newbury. For those of you who don't know, a 'Barbour' is a sort of waxed jacket popular with the British Riding/Fishing/Hunting brigade. I still liked the sudden volte-face from the violent little old ladies when Thurs announces she's pregnant, but it didn't work so well in a bookshop so in stepped Daphne.
'You nearly killed eight people!' I managed to gasp out loud.
'My count was closer to twelve,' returned Havisham as she opened the door, 'And anyhow, you can't nearly kill someone. Either they are dead or they are not; and not one of them was so much as scratched!'
The police car slid to a halt behind us; both sides of the car had deep gouges down the side - the bollards, I presumed.
'I'm more used to my Bugatti than this,' said Miss Havisham as she handed me the keys and slammed the door, 'but it's not so very bad, now is it? - I like the gearbox especially.'
The police didn't look very friendly. They peered at Miss Havisham closely, unsure of how to put their outrage at her flagrant disregard for the Road Traffic Act into words.
'You,' said one of the officers in a barely controlled voice, 'you, madam, are in a lot of trouble.'
She looked at the young officer with an imperious glare.
'Young man, you have no idea of the word!'
'Listen, Rawlings,' I interrupted, 'Can we-'
'-Miss Next,' replied the officer firmly but positively, 'your turn will come, OK?'
I got out of the car. The local police didn't much care for SpecOps and we didn't care much for them. They would be overjoyed to try and pin something on any of us.
'Miss Dame-rouge,' she announced, lying spectacularly, 'and don't bother asking me for my licence or insurance - I haven't either!'
The officer pondered this for a moment.
'I'd like you to get in my car, Madam, I'm going to have to take you in for questioning.'
'Am I under arrest?'
'If you refuse to come with me.'
Havisham glanced at me and mouthed 'After three'. She then sighed deeply and walked over to the police car in a very overdramatic manner, shaking with muscle tremors and generally behaving like the ancient person she wasn't. I looked at her hand as she signalled to me -out of sight of the officers- a single finger, then two, then finally, as she rested for a moment against the front wing of their car, the third and final finger.
'LOOK OUT!' I yelled, pointing up.
The officers, mindful of the Hispano-Suiza accident two days before, dutifully looked up as Havisham and I bolted to the head of the queue pretending we knew someone; The two officers wasted no time and leapt after us, only to be beaten back by a crowd of elderly ladies who had not waited eight hours to be queue barged by anyone - least of all a police officer. The two officers moved forward again but at that very moment the doors were unbolted and a sea of lavender smelling umbrella waving grey hairs moved forward, knocking both officers off their feet and sweeping Miss Havisham and I into the bowels of the department store.
Inside there was a near riot in progress and I was soon separated from Miss Havisham; ahead of me a pair of octogenarians were tugging one leg each of a pair of tights that ripped down the middle. I fought my way round the ground floor and was just giving up the idea of ever seeing Havisham again when I noticed a long red flowing robe poking out from beneath a fawn macintosh. I watched the crimson hem cross the floor and into the elevator. I ran across and put my foot in the door just before it shut. The neanderthal lift operator looked at me curiously, opened the doors to let me in and then closed them again. The Red Queen stared at me loftily and shuffled slightly to achieve a more regal position.
'Good morning your majesty,' I said, as politely as I could.
'Humph!' replied the red queen, then after a pause, added: 'Are you that tawdry Havisham woman's new apprentice?'
'Since this morning, Ma'am.'
'A morning wasted, I shouldn't wonder. Do you have a name?'
'Thursday Next, Ma'am.'
'You may curtsey if you so wish.'
So I did.
'You will regret not learning with me, my dear - but you are, of course, merely a child and right and wrong are so difficult to spot at your tender age.'
'Which floor, your majesty?' asked the neanderthal.
The Red Queen beamed at him, told him that if he played his cards right she would make him a duke and then added 'four' as an afterthought.
There was one of those funny empty pauses that seem to exist only in elevators and dentist waiting rooms. We stared at the floor indicator as it moved slowly upwards and stopped on the second floor where someone tried to get on; But the Red Queen barked 'taken!' in such a fearful tone that they backed out again.
'And how is Havisham these days?' asked the Red Queen with a diffident air. 'Well, I think,' I replied.
'You must ask her about her wedding.'
'I don't think that's very wise,' I returned.
'Decidedly not!' said the Red Queen, guffawing like a sealion, 'but it will illicit an amusing effect. Like Vesuvius as I recall!'
The doors opened on the fourth floor to reveal a mass of dangerously violent old women, tearing at each other and parrying blows with umbrellas and walking sticks.
'Come, this is more like it!' announced the Red Queen happily, rubbing her hands together and knocking a little old lady flying as she hopped out of the elevator.
'Where are you Havisham?' She yelled, looking to left and right. 'She has to be... Yes! Yes! Ahoy there, Stella you old trollop!'
Miss Havisham stopped in mid stride and stared in the queen's direction. In a single swift movement she drew a small pistol from the folds of her tattered wedding dress and loosed off a shot in our direction. The Red Queen ducked as the bullet knocked a corner off a plaster cornice.
'Temper temper!' shouted the Red Queen, but Havisham was no longer there.
'Hah!' said the Red Queen, hopping into the fray, 'The devil take her - she's heading towards outdoor garments!'
It was just between galoshes and gardening kneepads that Havisham made her first mistake. Trying to push a little old lady out of the way she met her match and the grey-haired granny - no stranger to department store sales battle tactics - parried Havisham's blow expertly and hooked her bamboo handled umbrella around her ankle. Havisham came down with a heavy thud and lay still, the breath knocked out of her. I kneeled beside her as the Red Queen hopped past, laughing loudly and making 'nyah, nyah' noises.
'Thursday!' panted Miss Havisham as several stockinged feet ran across her, 'The Barbour jacket - Run!'
And run I did. I entered the fight behind the Red Queen and was instantly punched on the nose. I reeled with the shock and was pushed heavily from behind while someone else - an accomplice I assumed - thrust a walking stick between my shins. I lost my footing and fell amidst a forest of shuffling sensible shoes, stockinette bandages and rubber tipped walking sticks. There were several daggers, coshes, blackjacks and a Derringer or two being kicked around the floor; this was not a safe place to be. I crawled out of the battle and joined Miss Havisham where she had taken cover under a display of generously discounted grey knitted cardigans.
'Not so easy as it looks, eh girl?' asked Havisham with a rare smile, holding a lacy white handkerchief to my bleeding nose, 'Did you see the Royal harridan anywhere?'
'I last saw her fighting somewhere between golfing umbrellas and headscarves.'
'Blast!' replied Havisham with a grunt. 'Listen girl, I'm done for. My ankle's twisted and I think I've had it. But you - you might be able to make it.'
I looked out at the squabbling masses as a pair of false teeth clattered to the ground not far from us.
'I thought this might happen, so I drew a map.'
She unfolded a piece of Satis House headed note paper and pointed out where she thought we were.
'You won't make it across the main floor alive. You're going to have to climb behind the clothes rail, make your way past the cash register and stock returns, crawl past reduced 70% rayon floral dresses and then fight the last six feet to the Barbour jacket display.'
'This is lunacy, Miss Havisham!' I replied indignantly, 'I will not fight with senior citizens over a Barbour!'
Miss Havisham looked sharply at me as the muffled crack of a small calibre firearm sounded and there was the thud of a body falling.
'I thought as much!' she sneered, 'A streak of yellow a mile wide all the way down your back! How did you think you were going to handle the otherness at Jurisfiction if you can't handle a few old women hell-bent on finding bargains? Your apprenticeship is at an end. Good-day. Miss Next!'
'Wait! This is a test?'
'What did you think it was? Think someone like me with all the money I have enjoys spending my time fighting for garments I can easily afford and wouldn't wear anyway?'
I resisted the temptation to say: "well, yes" and answered instead:
'Will you be okay here, Ma'am?'
'I'll be fine,' she replied, tripping up a woman near us for no reason I could see, 'now go!'
I turned and crawled rapidly across the carpet, under the clothes racks to just beyond the registers where tin hatted sales assistants rang in the bargains with a fervour bordering on messianic. I crept past them, through the empty returns department and dived under the floral pattern dresses to emerge a scant two yards from the Barbour display; by a miracle no-one had yet grabbed the coat - and it was very discounted. I looked to my left and could see the Red Queen fighting her way through a blur of whirling handbags. She caught my eye and dared me to try and beat her. I took a deep breath and waded into the swirling maelstrom of dry sherry and almond slice induced violence. Almost instantly I was punched on the jaw and thumped in the kidneys; I cried out in pain and quickly withdrew to the safety of the dresses. I met a woman there who had a nasty cut above her eye; she told me in a concussed manner that the dresses we were hiding beneath were drip-dry and shouldn't be put in a tumble drier. I glanced to where the Red Queen was cutting a swathe through the crowd, knocking senior citizens aside in her zeal to beat me to the overcoat. She smiled triumphantly as she head butted a woman who had tried to poke her in the eye with a buy-two-get-one-free wooden spoon. On the floor below a brief burst of machine gun fire sounded and I took a deep breath and barged into the crowd. Almost instantly I was thumped on the chin; I fell over backwards and landed with a harsh thump on my backside. The pain made me cry out; a noise that was lost in the cacophony of bickering, tearing of garments, crack of broken limbs and shuffling of woollen slippers. I'd had enough.
'I'm pregnant, Goddamnit!'
Before I knew what had happened I was lifted to my feet by two sisters on a day trip from Slough who smiled benignly, brushed me down and asked me when the happy day was. Confused, I stepped forward - and the crowd parted to let me through.
'Make way!' said a friendly voice close to my ear, 'She's expecting, the little dear!'
To cries of 'ahh!' and questions about whether I thought it was going to be boy or a girl, I was suddenly invincible. I walked easily to the Barbour overcoat as the Red Queen fell to a severe pummelling, then walked straight to the checkout, talking animatedly about my husband and the date of my first scan to a woman named Mrs Henshaw who said she came here every year 'just for the scrap'. I was given a chair to sit on by another women who smiled happily at me while defending with her elbow an interloper who was trying to reach the umbrella display.
'Thank you, thank you very much,' I said as a pair of knitted bootees in a paper bag were thrust into my hand by a small women who told me that she had five children herself and that Kevin, the eldest, was a policeman.
I paid for the overcoat and said goodbye to all my new-found friends before retracing my steps to where Miss Havisham was waiting for me. I showed her the overcoat.
'Not bad,' she said grudgingly, 'did you get a receipt?'
'And the Red Queen?'
'One of the fallen,' I replied simply.
A thin smile crossed Miss Havisham's lips.
'Serve her right. Help me up will you, girl?'
I crawled out from underneath the clothes rail and helped Havisham to her feet. Together we walked slowly past the mass of squabbling shoppers and made for the exit.
'How did you manage it?' asked Miss Havisham.
'I told them I was pregnant.'
There was a sharp intake of breath from Havisham who was obviously shocked at my audacity.
'Goodness!' she muttered, then, thinking for a moment, added: 'But you couldn't be, of course?'
'Er - of course not.'
'That's as well,' she smiled, tripping up another shopper who was just hurrying in, 'Do you, know, I think you'll do as an apprentice after all. Here - this is for you. Never take it off. Do you understand?'
She handed me a simple gold ring with a single stone that slipped easily over my little finger.
'Thank you, Miss Havisham.'
'Save your gratitude for real favours, not baubles, my girl. Come along. I know of a very good bun shop in Little Doritt - and I'm buying!'
Extract Copyright Jasper Fforde 2002