Marion was busy in the grand ballroom of Mount Lœng House. There was no ball going on today, however. There wasn’t likely to be one for some time. The ballroom had become a bookstore. Caolin was working with two of the footmen and one of the chauffeurs to bring in the boxes that had been delivered by freight shuttle.

Marion was opening the boxes and examining their contents. Rosanda was acting as her clerk, checking off a list of the books that had been ordered from a wholesale store on the Manopticon III Space Mall.

“Oh, these are beautiful,” she said, opening a beautifully decorated hardback copy of The Hobbit that was at the top of one large box of treasures. “Such fine quality. I can’t believe this is rip-proof, stain-resistant paper. It looks and feels like the real thing. But these will last for years and years, no matter how many people read them. I’m glad Kristoph thought of the Manopticon. My first plan was to go to Waterstones in Liverpool. Then he reminded me, of course, that those books would be in ENGLISH.” She looked at the page of text. To her it was English just as the book had been written. But as well as virtually indestructible pages, these books had a tiny microchip inserted into the spines which acted as automatic translators so that the Caretakers who would be reading them in future would see their own language on the page. If she concentrated very hard, she could actually see the words in Gallifreyan and read them that way. She thought The Hobbit translated very beautifully.

“This is far better,” she admitted. “And, of course, there are books from other worlds, too. The Venturan Sagas, the Udiman Classics, the Star Poets of Arcateen V….”

“They say that Arcateenian poetry is the most sublime in the galaxy,” Rosanda said.

“Well, it is when they read it aloud,” Marion answered her. “I went to a recital at the Arcateen embassy on Ventura, with Rika. They have such amazing voices. And they look so very beautiful. But I think it must lose something when you read it from the page.”

“That’s a pity. But never mind. I still think the Pazzione Gallifreya is the finest poem ever written.”

“Oh, I love the Pazzione,” Marion admitted. “But for me the Earth poets are still my first choice. I adore the works of W.B. Yeats. I studied him at university and still managed to keep my love for him. He has such a command of words.”

Rosanda confessed that she had never heard of Yeats. Marion turned to one of the stacks of already itemised books and found a thick volume of his complete poems.

“You can be the first member of my lending library,” she said, giving the book to Rosanda. “Take as long as you like with it. We haven’t got a shelf for it, yet. So you might as well keep it on yours.

“I shall be too busy reading it to put it on a shelf,” Rosanda answered. “Thank you, Marion.” She set the book carefully aside and then turned back to the job that was still only half finished.

What do you think Lord de Lœngbærrow will say when he sees all this?” she asked warily.

“Something sardonically witty, I imagine,” Marion admitted with a deep sigh. “Oh, I’m sure he won’t mind too much. It’s only for a few days. I really should have considered storage before I went out and spent so much money.”

Three more boxes were carried into the room. Marion wondered how many more there were. Had she bitten off more than she could chew? And this was just the literature section. There was a whole collection of non-fiction on order, too; books on astronomy, biographies, books on handicrafts, all kinds of sciences and technology, and many more subjects she thought the Caretakers using the libraries might find useful.

“I really ought to have waited until the building was ready,” she admitted. “Kristoph will say I am running before I can walk. And he will be right. I am. But I wanted it to happen so very much. I wanted to be able to touch the books and know they’re real.”

“It’s a good idea, Marion,” Rosanda assured her. “Caretakers have so very little chance to read books once they’ve left school. This is a wonderful opportunity for so many people. I think you’re going to need a lot more books than we have here.”

“I know. I’m making up lists,” Marion said. “Every night I sit in the drawing room making up lists of book. Kristoph is so pre-occupied by affairs of state, I don’t think he even knows what I’m doing with my mini-computer on my lap.”

“I am sure that can’t be true,” Rosanda told her. “His Lordship is such a loving husband to you. Even if he is terribly busy just now with his new Presidential duties, he would not neglect you.”

“No,” Marion conceded. “Not exactly neglect. I see him looking up from his own pre-occupations sometimes. And he smiles at me and suggests a little music to lighten the burden of our work. And when we’re both done, we sit together and talk. He tells me what happened in the Panopticon – unless it’s secret, of course. I tell him about my students and what’s happening at the hospice on Ventura and all about my library plans.”

“Caolin and I talk in the evening, too, in our own little drawing room in the butler’s rooms. He tells me about his work, and I tell him about mine. He loves serving you and Lord de Lœngbærrow.”

Perhaps unaware that his wife was talking about him, Caolin came into the ballroom. He wasn’t carrying any boxes this time and he was frowning.

“Madam,” he said to Marion. “There is a deputation of Ladies waiting in the drawing room to speak to you.”

“A… deputation?” Marion was puzzled. “Is that the word you meant, Caolin? It sounds rather confrontational. Why would there be a deputation of ladies to see me?”

“I am sorry, madam,” the butler replied. “Perhaps the word means something different in your language. But… begging your pardon, Ladyship. Perhaps I should not be so presumptuous. But I would advise discretion when you meet with them.”

“It is not presumptuous at all,” Marion answered him. “Thank you, Caolin, for your advice to me in the absence of his Lordship. Will you see to it that tea is brought to the drawing room, and then, if you could help Rosanda with the itemising of these books until I am done..”

“I will do so, Madam.” Caolin bowed graciously and went to do her bidding. She looked at Rosanda who smiled reassuringly at her. She needed that reassurance as she made her way to the drawing room, wondering what to expect.

That was the main drawing room, of course. When she entertained friends, she always did so in her white drawing room, where she felt perfectly relaxed and at home. But for a ‘deputation’ the main drawing room was appropriate.

There were four ladies. She recognised them as Madam Charr, a cousin of the late Lady Ravenswode who was a tutor at one of the Academies, Lady Kannois, Lady Dúccesci and Madam Hedin.

Of them all, she knew Lady Dúccesci best. And she was the only one she would consider to be a personal friend. Madam Charr she hardly knew but she doubted she would ever call her a friend. She came from that disapproving sector of Gallifreyan society who had never accepted her ‘foreign’ marriage to Lord de Lœngbærrow. The other two ladies she had no particular opinion about.

Madam Charr had clearly appointed herself as spokeswoman for the group. She stood even though the others sat. She refused the offer of tea, mentioning that it was a ‘foreign’ drink and she would not partake of it. The other three ladies accepted politely and didn’t seem to find the taste unsatisfying. Lady Dúccesci looked apologetic as Madam Charr began to speak.

“Lady de Lœngbærrow,” she said. “It has come to our notice that you intend to make foreign literature available in these free libraries you are planning to open in the Caretaker communities.”

“Literature of all kinds will be available,” Marion answered. “Most of the books on science will be by Gallifreyan authors. But fiction has never really been a feature of Gallifreyan culture, and of course there are many different kinds of literature from other worlds.”

“Particularly your own planet,” Madam Charr suggested. “We are concerned that Caretakers might get unsuitable ideas from these foreign books.”

“What sort of unsuitable ideas?” Marion asked.

“The sort that might promote dissatisfaction with their status,” Madam Charr explained. “Ideas about equality with the aristocracy….”

“As I understand it, under the Gallifreyan constitution there IS a notion of equality. All citizens, regardless of status may not be imprisoned without trial, for example. And of course, there is the notion that anyone, regardless of birth, may be educated to the highest level.”

“An idea which I find abhorrent,” Madam Charr responded. “The very idea that Caretakers should swell the numbers at the Academies, making our great institutions into mere ‘schools’.”

“Nevertheless,” Marion added. “It IS in the Constitution. And that being so, my libraries will be of use to Caretakers who wish to educate themselves. They will have a chance to learn about other cultures through reading literature. I doubt if reading Tolkein or Emily Bronte is going to inspire anyone to bring down the High Council in revolution.”

“I should think not!” Madam Charr protested. “The very idea.”

“Marion….” Lady Dúccesci spoke up a little nervously. “The problem is… some people have said…”

“Which people?” Marion asked. “I didn’t know my project was the subject of discussion.”

“Well… Madam Charr has said… that Earth literature is full of low morals…”

“I thought we were worried about Caretakers getting ideas above their station,” Madam Hedin said questioningly. She looked at the other women and then at Marion. “I’m not sure what ‘low morals’ even means.”

Marion could think of several definitions of ‘low morals’ among the books she had ordered. Most of the works of D.H. Lawrence would come under that category to those who chose to see them that way. She wasn’t even sure about the Bronte’s for that matter. Or Dickens. Or James Joyce. If that was to be a criteria for what was suitable for her lending library then a lot of the books she had already bought might have to go back.

“They are the morals, the values of other cultures,” she said. “Some of them may not be as strict as Gallifrey. But that does not mean that reading the literature would lower the standards here. Surely it is likely that Gallifreyans would be proud of their higher standards and strive to rise above those lesser morals of other cultures?”

“It may be so,” Madam Hedin conceded. “But… what about the Caretakers. Will reading books written on other planets make them question their position in our society?”

“I don’t think that is the question we should be asking,” Marion answered. “I think the question is whether Caretakers shouldn’t have the right to question their position in our society. Again, even though there is a distinct hierarchy on Gallifrey, with the Oldbloods clearly at the top, the ordinary rights of citizens do not depend on money or social status. A Caretaker has as much right to question anything as an Oldblood…. According to the Constitution of Gallifrey which was written long before George Orwell’s 1984.”

“Even so…” Lady Kannois was clearly wavering. Madam Hedin and Lady Dúccesci were uncertain. Madam Charr stuck to her position, though.

“Maybe you ought to read some of the books,” Marion suggested. “Then you will see for yourselves. Wait… please… wait here.”

Marion stepped out of the drawing room in a quiet, dignified way, then she broke into a run and didn’t stop until she reached the ballroom where Caolin and Rosanda were still sorting books.

“I need…” she began. “I need…”

“You need to take a breath, madam,” Caolin pointed out to her. She did so. Then she repeated her request. Caolin found the books she asked for and insisted on carrying them to the drawing room for her. She distributed them among the four women. Madam Charr received a copy of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Lady Hedin was given that beautifully illustrated copy of The Hobbit. Lady Dúccesci looked dubiously at the front cover of Pride and Prejudice while Lady Kannois opened an illustrated copy of Watership Down. Marion asked Caolin to bring in more tea. The same three ladies happily took a fresh cup. Marion drank one herself as she watched them turn the pages rapidly. Gallifreyans could read very fast, disseminating information most people would take hours to get through. Kristoph always said that text books and instruction manuals were best read that way. But if he read a novel or a book of poetry, or a play, he would do so slowly, often reading passages aloud. He always said literature was meant to be savoured. These ladies were missing out on the real enjoyment of the books they were reading. But in this case it was more important that they should finish them.

“My goodness,” Lady Kannois said as she closed her book. “That was a charming tale. As for the morals… courage in the face of adversity. That is something we encourage in our own literature. It is rather odd to tell such a story through the lives of animals… as if they had sentient qualities. But apart from that…”

Lady Hedin looked up from her reading of The Hobbit and nodded.

“This being… he is from the lower class of his world?”

“I… suppose it can be taken that way.”

“He knows his place. He does not seek to overthrow the status quo. But again, courage and integrity in the face of difficulties… a little fanciful, perhaps. But that is no harm. Our own sagas… dragon slaying and other adventurous ideas come into them.”

Lady Dúccesci closed the book she was reading and asked if she might borrow any other works by the same author.

They all looked at Madam Charr.

“This school which the author describes. It does not accept females. I find that dissatisfactory. Women of the higher classes at least must be educated to the same standards as men.”

“On Earth there are different kinds of schools,” Marion explained. “Some are for boys only. Others for girls only, and some for both. That particular book is about a boy’s school.”

“It appears to be a place of sound discipline,” Madam Charr conceded. “Even the more reckless youths are reined in eventually and conform to the expected standard. I see nothing wrong with that particular work. It is acceptable.”

“Then may I have your assurance there will be no opposition to the literature that is made available through the Presidential Free Libraries?” Marion asked.

“It appears that there is less cause for concern than we first thought,” Madam Charr replied. “Yes, these books and others like them may be distributed among the Caretaker classes. They disseminate the proper respect for authority.”

“Then, if that is all,” Marion said, drawing herself up proudly. “If you will excuse me, I have a great deal of work to do this afternoon. My butler will show you out.” She rang the bell. Caolin came into the room dutifully, along with a maid to take away the remains of the tea.

“Marion,” Lady Dúccesci said. “I wonder… if I might stay a little longer. I should like to look at a few more of these books. Might I be permitted to help with the cataloguing?”

“Yes, of course,” she answered. And when the other three ladies left to return to their homes in Madam Charr’s chauffeured limousine, Lady Dúccesci came to the ballroom instead, She joined in with the work, marvelling at the great variety of literature there was. At four o’clock, Marion invited her and Rosanda to take high tea with her in the White Drawing Room. Lady Dúccesci brought a book with her and was engrossed in it while they ate. She looked up finally with flushed cheeks and a rather bemused expression.

“I think,” she said. “It was fortunate that Madam Charr didn’t read this one. It… really ought to be read only by married women.”

Marion looked at the title and agreed with that assessment.

Later, when Kristoph sat with her in the drawing room and they talked about their day, he asked what book it was that Lady Dúccesci had been so impressed by.

“Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” Marion replied with a perfectly straight face.

“The book an English barrister didn’t think suitable to be read by wives or servants?” Kristoph laughed at the irony.

“Or Madam Charr,” Marion added with a wry smile.

“Lord Ravenswode tried to bring up the question of foreign reading material in the session this afternoon,” Kristoph added. “I think he was a second wave of the same attack. But nobody took him seriously. I don’t think there will be any further opposition to your plans… except from one quarter…”

“Who’s that?” Marion asked nervously.

“Me,” Kristoph answered her. “I’m rather concerned about scuff marks on the ballroom floor. It is five hundred years old, after all. There is a building in the village that used to be used as an administration office for the mines. It has stood empty for some years. It isn’t ideal, but it could be set up as a temporary library headquarters until your fine new building is complete. We shall see about it over the weekend while the Panopticon is not in session. Then I can have my home back to normal.”