"I'm Hank, by the way," said the man, holding out a hand. "Hank Christiansen."
"Peter Byerly," said Peter, returning Hank's firm handshake. "Thanks for the?.?.?.?? the recommendation."
"Sure thing," said Hank.
Peter turned to go, but stopped in the doorway. "And thanks for this," he said, holding up the repaired volume of Royal Academy pictures.
"I hope she likes it," said Hank.
Peter returned the book to its place in the stacks. The next day, she checked it out.
On November 15, 1984, a pair of books in the Ridgefield Library transformed Peter's life. He had gone to the library after his ten o'clock class, hoping to finish his shift before his three-?thirty interview with Francis Leland in Special Collections. At three he picked up a cart of books to shelve and scanned it for anything that might have been returned by his mystery woman. In a matter of seconds he found the repaired Royal Academy catalog. Smiling, he wheeled his cart toward the elevator.
Not until he pulled the book out and was about to place it in its proper spot did he notice a crisp piece of ivory paper sticking out of it. She had never left a bookmark in a book before. He gently pulled the paper out of the book. At the top, printed in royal blue, was the initial "A." Below that, in a neat script, was a note addressed "To my admirer.
" First of all, thank you for having this book repaired. I so hate having to handle damaged books ? I'm always afraid I'll cause further injury. I have noticed you watching me, you know. I even followed you in the stacks one day. I've been hoping you would say "hello," but since it's been a month and you haven't done it yet, I suppose I'll have to be the one to get things started. Meet me tonight at 10:30 in the snack bar at the Student Center.
The letter was signed simply, "Amanda." Peter leaned against the steel bookcase and felt the cold metal through the fabric of his shirt. He had held his breath as he read the letter and now he exhaled heavily as books seemed to swirl around him. After a minute, feeling somewhat steadier, he read the letter again to be sure he hadn't misunderstood. She wanted to meet him, to speak to him. She had noticed him and her name was Amanda. Where had he heard that name before? Suddenly he remembered his appointment. He had only five minutes to get himself to the top floor of the library. He carefully folded the letter and slipped it into his shirt pocket, then set off at a brisk pace for the Amanda Devereaux Rare Books Room.
The Devereaux family was as old in Louisiana as the Ridgefields were in North Carolina, and the family's great maverick was Amanda. Wealthy almost beyond equal by the time she was twenty, due to the early death of both her parents, she began to collect books just after World War I. She started by assembling one of the finest collections of eighteenth-century literature in the world. Then she began on the seventeenth century, and eventually expanded to cover literature in English from all eras.
In 1939 she stunned her family when, at the age of forty and apparently confirmed in her spinsterhood, she became the second wife of sixty-year-old Robert Ridgefield, widower and patriarch of the Ridgefield clan. There were those who suspected she married him because his up-and-coming university would make a perfect repository for her books, but by all outward signs they had a close and loving relationship. Their only child, a daughter, had been born a year after the wedding.
A lifelong smoker, Amanda Devereaux, who kept her maiden name, died of lung cancer at the age of fifty-seven, two weeks before the groundbreaking ceremony for the library. Robert Ridgefield never fully recovered from her death, but he did build a magnificent home for her collection, as he had promised her he would. At the center of the Special Collections department was the Amanda Devereaux Rare Books Room, a monument to the late bibliophile in which her greatest treasures were permanently displayed.
Excerpted from The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett. Copyright © 2013 by Charlie Lovett. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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