I loathed shopping with my Aunt Harriet. She always wanted a bargain and she always wanted the best of everything. I had flinched as she swept into the secondhand bookshop. I knew what was coming.
“I’m only interested in First Editions,” she announced. “Of good, classic works.”
“I do have a few select copies.” The bookseller led the way to the back of the shop. I could see him mentally adding a ‘difficult customer’ surcharge. “Perhaps madam would be interested in this? It’s a first edition copy of An Expedition to Patagonia. The illustrations are exquisite.”
I glanced over Aunt Harriet’s shoulder. The faded line drawings and water colours looked insipid, but I never claimed to be a judge. “It’s very nice.”
“It’s a find my dear.” Aunt Harriet announced. “So many of these have been sadly pulled apart and the illustrations sold separately as prints for profit.”
“Indeed,” the bookseller agreed, resigned to the fate of the book.
“But these marks are unacceptable,” Aunt Harriet said. “I was looking for an elegant copy.”
“Marks occur on books of that age,” the bookseller said. “It is a natural process.”
I wandered away towards the bargain bin. I didn’t want to be drawn into Aunt Harriet’s haggling. There were the usual contents. I found a copy of the Da Vinci Code, a battered cookbook with the soup section missing, a very dated road atlas and – a treasure.
I checked and checked again. It was Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier and perhaps my favourite book in all the libraries. The price was pencilled on the inside. My hands shook and I had to check yet again. I glanced across at the bookseller who was holding his own against Aunt Hattie and keeping the price firm. I looked again. This was a first edition and he only wanted ‘Clearance 50p’. I’d seen it online for hundreds of pounds.
“I’ll just get this,” I called over to Aunt Harriet.
Aunt Harriet ignored me and pointed to an infinitesimal mark on the spine. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that were mildew. I don’t know how you could charge so much for a damaged copy.”
“It’s described as ‘slightly foxed’ in the catalogues and there has been some interest from abroad.” The bookseller was refusing to budge on the price.
I edged across and tried to play it cool as the assistant rang up the find, too distracted by Aunt Harriet’s antics to pay much attention. “I’m sorry about my aunt,” I said. “She likes a good haggle.”
The assistant grinned. “It’s great seeing my boss finally meet his match.” He looked over to the combatants. “It looks like they may be some time.”
I called over. “I’ll just wait in the coffee shop across the road.” And, leaving my aunt engrossed in her bargaining, I escaped with my prize.