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By the way The Tree was a text originally by German mystic, Sebastian Franck


Of course, right from the start, Brierley would have had a fairly good idea of how I had got hold of it, even before I explained to him – at least as far down the chain of contacts as Shaw and he probably expected some Familistic involvement at some deeper – but more obscure – level as well. He would not want to know the complete details anyway, especially about ‘sectarian’ contacts – for him that might make him guilty of Familist error simply by second-tier association. After all, not formally being part of it all anymore had hardly improved the treatment received by Etherington. Brierley said nothing regarding any of that and I assumed that he and I had come to some commodious understanding, a convenient accommodation which might permit his involvement on his own terms. However, just then, I realised that his level of enthusiasm with regard to that text might actually have been too great. Convincing him that he was interested was going to be the least of my problems! For he turned to me, his face now in full beeswax glow, thereby blotting out all light that might otherwise have illuminated Anne who fell essentially into shadow again. Yes, his interest was at risk of being too great. I could see that.


–           Matthew, it is quite wonderful that you have managed to get this beautiful book up here to us. I don’t think you can imagine just how much Richard[1] and I are going to enjoy working on this. We have been labouring hard on a number of joint projects recently – but nothing like this, believe me! …The Tree of all things! [He began to turn one page after another, scanning the lines seriously if rather rapidly, briefly breaking his discourse, distractedly.] …It looks complicated in places but that in itself will never deter us; certain pages are badly damaged too [he fingered a page edge carefully, with a touch of concern even, where some of the text appeared simply to have disintegrated] …which is, at the very least, unhelpful – more of a problem! However, I think we could have it complete for you (and whoever else is interested, of course…) within a few months.


Another Brierley-Tennant collaboration! That was not at all what I had had planned! It was what I had feared – granted! It would reduce me once again to the lowly status of messenger boy. What had that innkeeper called me: Brierley’s ‘boy’? I was not going to allow that again if there were anything I could do to bear influence upon it. I had to speak now or put up with the consequences of my trepidation and silence forever. Some radical intervention was called for. Therefore, I feigned shock at the amount of time Brierley had mentioned. It was the only thing to which I could cling at that point or all that seemed obvious to me at any rate.

–          A few months…! [Of course, I knew full well that it would take him at least that.]     Exactly how many months?


Brierley – and more especially, Anne (although that was less important to me …for the moment) seemed thoroughly taken aback by my abrupt change of tone. However, he was really too absorbed in his own thoughts about the ‘De Arbore’ to make it too much of an issue. But I could still tell that it was strongly noted; something in a slight motion of his nose gave it away to me. He did his best to concentrate his attentions for his reply, dragging his gaze away from the page in front of him as best he could, albeit without emphatic success. Nevertheless, beneath all the surface calmness, there was irritation and, when he did address me, it seemed as though his response was carefully judged.


–           I do not know ‘exactly’ how many, Matthew. These things don’t always work like that: a book takes one on a voyage of self-exploration – at least it does me. [Well, I knew that too! But I didn’t want to show too great a sympathy to that perspective at that particular time.] And there is no telling ‘exactly’ how long such journeys might eventually require. It will depend – my guess is two or three, perhaps? Maybe a little more for the two of us to be truly happy with it? You should know my approach well enough by now: I like to keep refining until I am at least content with what I have done. That necessitates one iteration after another…


I guessed that ‘the two of us’ meant Tennant and he rather than he and I. And that was not how it was supposed to work: it was me who had to be satisfied. In reality, on the time front though, two or three months was the very least that anyone could have expected. He might easily have estimated more. I should have imagined that Shaw would have been happy enough with six months or a year – and Brierley could perhaps have got away with even more than that to fit around other demands upon his time. They were not looking for some rushed job; they desired the utmost in accuracy. That was their stated position, at least! Anything less and the Network would appear as nothing better than a bunch of tradesmen with a side interest. And they would not want that! Everard would certainly have got it completed no faster with so many other calls upon his time and Shaw would have known that well enough. He also knew both characters well enough to realise that he would genuinely get a better quality translation from the largely self-educated Northerner in spite of any surface appearances to the contrary. However, making out that two or three months was simply not prompt enough gave me the chanced-upon opportunity to re-involve myself with the project and to reject being confined to the role of messenger boy again. After all, my Latin was up to it by then – more or less!


–         Listen, Brierley! [Perhaps that might have sounded a little short. But then, he knew that I only ever called him by his family name even if he was still probably re-accustoming himself to the fact.] The people in London who I am, in effect, representing… [I put great emphasis upon that word believing that it somehow acted to raise my status. But, actually, it merely made me sound like some legal clerk, a servant of one of the Inns perhaps[2], and I wondered the moment it had escaped my mouth whether Brierley was secretly amused. He did not show it, mind! But had I not, in fact, rather belittled myself by ‘representing’ some other party rather than taking control of the situation for myself? He wasn’t interest in such an analysis. He was probably busy wondering exactly what clandestine bunch of Shaw’s associates – sectaries of sectaries, heretics amidst heretics, what nobility of mealemen and chandlers – I was indeed ‘representing’?] …they have gone to great trouble to get hold of this text. Furthermore they may only be able to keep it for a certain period of time… sometimes such things have to be returned…


At that moment, there was a genuine look of recognition in Brierley’s eye. He would have known that. After all, had there not been books that had once been in his possession and yet, after only a few weeks, had ceased to be?

–        … Ah! I see…That can sometimes be a problem.

–         … So you will appreciate that it is important that we move quickly. [Brierley nodded and, in doing so, he tacitly and implicitly accepted a new definition of ‘we’ as well, very probably with no intention of doing so or even knowledge of having so done.] I know that you and Tennant are the best translators – everybody knows that – it is why I am here; why they have asked me to be here. [Brierley seemed complimented – but it was also true, of course. It was also a tremendous compromise on my part to allow Tennant to be part of the newly-established ‘we’ as well. As for who ‘they’ were, I did not elaborate any further.] However, what if I were to stay up here for, say, a month, to help you with this? That way we could have it done within that time. [Noting some surface concern on Brierley’s face…] …Obviously, you …and he …would have the final say on any translation… of course. It would absolutely not be my intention to alter the meaning of your translation in any way. Far from it! It is because you are so accurate and so careful that I am up here. [The flattery had worked well the first time so I figured that such repetition would do no harm. Nobody seemed to notice that I had yielded up any lingering pretence that I had simply been ‘passing through’! Perhaps a similar conclusion had already been drawn anyway? It did not really matter all that much!]


He looked serious for a moment and then nodded very firmly as his gaze fell back down to the script of the print in front of him. It was as though he could not hold back from devouring it. Nothing was going to stand in his way on that front! The sin of gluttony over words had obviously got to him as badly as it had its hold upon me. He nodded. There was no obvious sign of a smile though. Somewhere there was a compromise for him which was a touch painful.

–         Yes… that seems like a sensible idea if you can afford the time, Matthew.


[1] Tennant, obviously.

[2] The Inns: The Inns of Court, presumably.