“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 8)

15 Jun

~~ Ch. 8 ~~

Mrs. Scarlett O’Leary was Faithful Bible College’s librarian — and she took her job very seriously. Although she was always ready to help the students, especially in learning good research methods, she was a stickler for returning checked-out books on time. She would not hesitate to charge a student — or a faculty member, for that matter — ten cents per day for any books not returned when due.

One of her hobbies was collecting librarians’ curses. Her favorite was from the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona, which reads:

“For him that stealeth a book from this library,
let it change into a serpent in his hand & rend him.  Let him be struck with palsy, & all his members blasted.
Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy,
& let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink to dissolution.
Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not,
& when at last he goeth to his final punishment,
let the flames of hell consume him forever & aye.”

She had several others framed and hung on her office wall. One was by Hugh, the abbot of Lobbes Abbey in Germany, who noticed in 1049 that a number of the monastery’s books were missing. So he wrote on the last page of his catalogue:

“All those who do not books return
Are thieves, not borrowers, and earn
The punishment Justice demands;
Their sacrificial loss of hands,
May God, therefore, as witness see
That it be done unswervingly.”

Two others were framed and publicly displayed on Mrs. O’Leary’s office wall. One was by a gentle Eleanor Worcester, who in 1440 wrote,

“This book is mine
And I it lost, and you it find,
I pray you heartily to be so kind,
That you will take a little pain,
To see my book brought home again.”

With tongue-in-cheek, her absolute favorite curse was by the Parisian scribe Simon Vostre who completed a Book of Hours in 1502 with the lines

“Whoever steals this Book of Prayer
May he be ripped apart by swine,
His heart be splintered, this I swear,
And his body dragged along the Rhine.”

Contrary to the impression these curses gave of Mrs. O’Leary’s personality, she was nevertheless a sweet widow who had her sights set resolutely on none other than Dr. Theophilus Hornby. Mrs. O’Leary’s husband had passed away about the same time as Mrs. Hornby, but she had finished her grieving her late husband’s passing in record time.

Whenever Hornby came into the library, Mrs. O’Leary would drop what she was doing, would unceremoniously shove aside any student worker who would dare move toward assisting Dr. Hornby, and would whisper in her best, throaty, librarian voice, “Theo, how may I help you today?”

Hornby, although he was immensely observant in his Bible studies, was quite naive regarding Mrs. O’Leary’s intentions. But the students knew, and did not hesitate to share with one another her latest efforts to turn Hornby’s head her direction. Those students whose student work responsibilities put them on library detail would try to set up Dr. Hornby and Mrs. O’Leary by asking him some arcane question in class whose answer could only be found out by visiting FBC’s stacks. And then the real observing would begin.

FBC had a monthly dessert get together at which the faculty could share about their recent writing projects or ministry opportunities, and, after appropriate cake or pie, the evening concluded with a time of prayer.

On this Friday evening Hornby had volunteered to read an original poem he had written while teaching his “Theological Methods and Issues” class.

The dean of the school, Dr. Sean Miller, opened the monthly meeting with prayer. “Tonight,” he said, “we have as our special treat an original poem by our own Dr. Theophilus Hornby. Dr. Hornby.”

The other faculty and staff clapped profusely, knowing that Hornby’s contribution to the evening’s festivities would be worth listening to.

“Friends,” Hornby began, “as some of you know, my ‘Theological Methods and Issues’ class can be a real challenge sometimes. Some students do unthinkable things to participles, like dangle them, and even maliciously split infinitives!”

The group laughed, but Hornby continued. “A few of our students think that research is stringing together a bunch of quotes from hard-to-understand experts, sometimes failing to cite the original sources. Very few of our charges intentionally plagiarize, but this situation inspired me to pen the following parody of a famous poem, entitled ‘Footprints in the Sand.”

The group all got quiet as they waited for Hornby to read his poem. “This poem is called ‘Footnotes in the Surf.’”

He then read his poem:

One night I dreamed a dream
Of a research assignment — and I began to scheme
How to finish and get a great grade
But that wouldn’t happen without some aid.
As I strolled on the beach thinking what I could do
It occurred to me that I could pursue
Not serious study but a quick treasure hunt
Into the works of others, an oft-used stunt
By lazy students who didn’t care
Whose words they used, or ideas to share
Without attribution, without any guilt
And so I competed the research paper “I” built.
After turning it in and receiving it back
I was given an “A” — and that’s a fact!
But then that night as I lay on my bed
I had a dream, a nightmare instead
And the Lord spoke to me what was undoubtedly true.
“My son — that’s not your work. Others have carried you!”

“Oh, Theo. That was tremendous!”, Mrs. O’Leary gushed as the meeting came to an end and everybody began heading home.

“You know, Theo, I happen to have some homemade apple cider and freshly-baked shortbread cookies waiting in my kitchen at home.”

Mrs. O’Leary had heard that those two items were at the top of Hornby’s list of most desirable comfort foods. But he was tired and said to Mrs. O’Leary, “Thank you, Mrs. O. But can I take a raincheck?”

“A raincheck? Theo — you can call me Scarlett — there’s not a cloud in the sky. And you’ve already collected five rainchecks from me!”

At that precise moment in his personal history as a man, it dawned on Hornby — could it possibly be — that Mrs. O’Leary was hitting on him?! Man, he said to himself, have I been naive or what?

He stumbled on his words as he made his escape. “Mrs. O’Leary, I mean Scarlett, it just occurred to me that I have several books overdue that I had better turn in to the library tomorrow! I’ll drop them off sometime in the morning.”

“Oh, Theo. Don’t worry about overdue books. I think you and I are a bit overdue, if you catch my meaning!”

Hornby could feel himself blushing as he grabbed his coat and jumped in his car.

When he got home, Luther climbed up on his lap, instinctively sensing something was upsetting Hornby. “Luther,” Hornby said, “I sure miss my Ellie.” Luther thought he said “jelly,” and thought how good a jelly biscuit would be about right now.


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