Excerpt of Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura
(Page 5 of 13)
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What do you think?
Paralysed by the physical impact of his hunch, Conde didnt
hear Dionisios question.
Well, what do you make of it? the man persisted, standing in
the Counts field of vision.
Simply fantastic, he muttered finally, as his excitement led him
to suspect he was most certainly in the presence of an extraordinary
vein, one of those youre always seeking and which you find once
in a lifetime, if ever. Experience screamed to him that it must hold
unimaginable surprises, for if only five per cent of those books
turned out to have special worth, he was potentially looking at
twenty or thirty bibliographical treasures, able on their own to kill
or at least fend off for a good while the hunger now torturing
the Ferreros and himself.
When he was sure he was fit to make another move, the Count
went over to the shelf that was looking him in the eye and, without
asking for permission, opened the glass doors. He reviewed at
random some of the book spines, and spotted the ruddy leather
jacket of Miró Argenters Chronicles of the War in Cuba, in the 1911
princes edition. After wiping the sweat from his hands, he took out
the volume and found it was signed and dedicated by the warrior-writer
To my warm friend, my dear General Serafín Montes de
Oca. Next to Mirós Chronicles lay the two imposing volumes of
the much prized Alphabetical Index of Demises in the Cuban Liberation
Army, by Major-General Carlos Roloff, from its rare 1901 single
printing in Havana and, his hands shaking even more violently,
Conde dared remove from the adjacent space the volumes of the
Notes Towards the History of Letters and Public Education on the Island
of Cuba, the classic by Antonio Bachiller y Morales, published in
Havana between 1859 and 1861. Condes finger caressed even more
lingeringly the lightweight spine of The Coffee Plantation, Domingo
Malpica de la Barcas novel, published by the Havana printers
Los Niños Huérfanos in 1890, and the pleasantly muscular, soft
leather covers of the five volumes of José Antonio Sacos History
of Slavery, in the 1936 edition from the Alfa printing house, until,
like a man possessed, he fished out the next book. The spine was
only engraved with the initials C.V., and opening it he felt his legs
give way, for it really was a first edition of The Young Woman with the
Golden Arrow, Cirilo Villaverdes novel, in that first, mythical edition
printed by the famous Oliva print shop, in 1842 . . .
Conde felt that space was like a sanctuary lost in time, and for
the first time wondered whether he wasnt committing an act of
profanation. He gingerly returned each book to its respective place
and inhaled the lovely scent emanating from the open bookcase.
He took several deep breaths until hed filled his lungs, and shut the
doors only when he felt inebriated. He tried to hide his discomfort
as he turned to the Ferreros, whose faces now burned with a
flame of hope, that was determined to triumph over the only too
conspicuous disasters life brings.
Why do you want to sell these books? he asked, against all
his principles, already seeking out a path to the history of that
exceptional library. Nobody consciously, so abruptly, got rid of
treasure like that, (and hed only glimpsed the first promising
jewels), unless there was some other reason, apart from hunger,
and the Count felt an urgent need to know what that might be.
Its a long story and . . . Dionisio hesitated for the first time
since hed encountered the Count, but immediately recovered an
almost martial aplomb. We still arent sure we want to sell. That
will depend on the offer you make. There are lots of bandits in
the antiques trade as you well know . . . The other day two paid
us a visit. They wanted to buy our stained-glass windows and the
cheeky bastards offered three hundred dollars for each . . . They
think one is either mad or starving to death . . .
Excerpted from Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura Copyright © 2009 by Leonardo Padura. Excerpted by permission of Bitter Lemon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher