“FOLDER of MAPS Required” the advert read. “Two Shillings per Day, All Training Given, Inquire Within.”
Thomas stood outside Saxton’s Topographical Emporium and stared closely. To hold and trade such precious sheets, to study details, locate towns, identify routes. Maps! Tamers of contours! Eyes of eagles in the hands of men! Perhaps he could learn the trade and produce his own elegant craftings in time. His penmanship was excellent and Thomas knew that he had a good eye. He savoured each word, frightened that another might be employed first if he were not expeditious.
“Apprentice Folder of Maps req’d with Immediate Effect. Own Apron Necessary &c. Six Days per Week. No Reading.”
Thomas arched his eyebrow and pinched his lip. He would have to ask the owner of the Emporium what it all meant. Tugging his bag closer, lifting his shoulders, he pushed the door open. A bell announced him; Thomas let his gaze catch on wall after wall of maps, large, small, old and new, hung all around him. Some were hanging from the ceiling and others were rolled in large scrolls in the corner. Drawers lined the lower walls; wide curious drawers with mysterious numbers on. Thomas composed himself, removed his hat and noticed the owner of the emporium bent over a large mahogany display case.
The white-whiskered proprietor looked over his pince-nez eyeglasses. Under his well-tailored elbows the inner thoughts of a map of London were being scrutinised and he held tight to a metal instrument which was pointing at one particular intersection. He straightened and looked Thomas in the eye.
‘You’re here about the apprenticeship, sir?’
‘Yes, I am. How did you know?’
‘I have learned to read, boy. I read situations. I read people. Mostly, I read maps. I expect you read too, given the minutes you spent inspecting my notice. Can you fold?’
‘I can fold, yes sir,’ Thomas checked his waistcoat buttons while the man looked him up and down.
‘Can you fold a map that has been put away awry?’
‘I -, I should hope so, sir.’ Thomas answered, feeling his brow reddening. ‘I believe training was offered, was it not?’
‘You can either fold a map or you cannot,’ the man replied, putting down his work and approaching. ‘I cannot fold maps myself, of course.’
Thomas tilted his head.
‘See those?’ the shopkeeper pointed at the array of maps hanging from the ceiling. ‘Can you reach them with a ladder and a stick? Can you identify and fold them? Can you categorise and label them?’
‘I see no reason why I could not, sir.’
‘And can you do it all without reading them?’
‘Without reading them sir?’
‘Without losing yourself in them I mean. I am afflicted; what I esteem most beguiles me utterly. My discipline destroys me; I fear I am lost.’
Thomas looked around again. In a room full of maps, the maker was indeed completely lost.
‘Sir, I do not want to lose myself,’ he mused, disappointed. ‘I’m sorry.’