The Bookworm: A Sample
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing.
— Edmund Burke
Villers-devant-Orval, Occupied Belgium
The monk walked out of the cool woods from the French side of the road. On the tall man’s back, weighing him down, was the sort of rucksack the Dominicans use, fraying almost to the point of tearing where the canvas straps crossed his shoulders. He walked with a slight limp and carried a poplar walking stick that had seen years of hard use.
The grizzled man of the cloth looked back once and then set foot on the gravel road pilgrims had trod for centuries. The large wooden door of the abbey at Orval loomed ahead in the torpid summer twilight and he made for it. A hundred and fifty years ago this was the cloister’s side entrance, but that was before the French revolutionaries burned down most of the original abbey in 1793.
The traveler withdrew his letter of introduction from the Monsignor of Liège and, using the head of his walking stick, banged on the heavy oak door. An onlooker standing back in the forest with binoculars would have observed a member of the friary come to the door and, having been given the letter, usher the visitor within.
Once inside, he was greeted warmly by the brethren at their evening meal. Though not of their order, he was invited to break bread with them and, later, was given a place to say his devotions and spend the night before traveling on.
But their guest wouldn’t be spending the night. Instead, a little after three in the morning, he slipped down to the abbey library where the medieval manuscripts were kept, dusty tomes that represented the labors of hundreds of the faithful over the eons. Placing his rucksack on the cold stone floor, he pulled on a pair of cotton gloves. Then he took out an electric torch and passed the beam over the bookshelves until he found what he was looking for.
Were any of the monks, unable to sleep, to wander down to the library now, what would they make of such a visitor? First, he used his hands to make a little more room on the shelf by sliding an illuminated 13th Century Book of Job over from its centuries-long resting place. Then, from his sack, he carefully lifted the heavy cowhide-and-parchment volume he’d brought and slid it onto the shelf.
He took a little atomizer a woman might use to perfume herself. With it he carefully sprayed fine dust onto the book, the volume next to it and all the nearby manuscripts—even the shelf itself. Returning the empty sprayer to his sack and dropping the gloves and the torch in after it, he took up his walking stick and made his way, as quietly as he could, out of the abbey.
There was no moon to silhouette the tall man against the trees as he hurried back, without sign of a limp, up the road to the woods. Once there, he tapped on a tree trunk with his stick and was gratified to hear the same tapped-out signal played back to him. Five minutes later, standing in the clearing with the woman who had been his lookout, he took off the false beard.
So ended the first great Allied victory of World War II.