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|The Haunted Bookshop||Christopher Morley|
The "Cromwell" Makes its Last Appearance
|Page 8 of 9||
"I think they're both crazy," said Titania. "Let's put the Cromwell back on the shelf and let this creature go." She put out her hand for the book.
"Stop!" cried Aubrey, and seized her arm. "Don't touch that book!"
Titania shrank back, frightened by his voice. Had everyone gone insane?
"Here, Mr. Metzger," said Aubrey, "you put that book back on the shelf where it belongs. Don't try to get away. I've got this revolver pointed at you."
He and Roger were both startled by the chef's face. Above the unkempt beard his eyes shone with a half-crazed lustre, and his hands shook.
"Very well," he said. "Show me where it goes."
"I'll show you," said Titania.
Aubrey put out his arm in front of the girl. "Stay where you are," he said angrily.
"Down in the History alcove," said Roger. "The front alcove on the other side of the shop. We've both got you covered."
Instead of taking the volume from the suitcase, Metzger picked up the whole bag, holding it flat. He carried it to the alcove they indicated. He placed the case carefully on the floor, and picked the Cromwell volume out of it.
"Where would you want it to go?" he said in an odd voice. "This is a valuable book."
"On the fifth shelf," said Roger. "Over there----"
"For God's sake stand back," said Aubrey. "Don't go near him. There's something damnable about this."
"You poor fools!" cried Metzger harshly. "To hell with you and your old books." He drew his hand back as though to throw the volume at them.
There was a quick patter of feet, and Bock, growling, ran down the aisle. In the same instant, Aubrey, obeying some unexplained impulse, gave Roger a violent push back into the Fiction alcove, seized Titania roughly in his arms, and ran with her toward the back of the shop.
Metzger's arm was raised, about to throw the book, when Bock darted at him and buried his teeth in the man's leg. The Cromwell fell from his hand.
There was a shattering explosion, a dull roar, and for an instant Aubrey thought the whole bookshop had turned into a vast spinning top. The floor rocked and sagged, shelves of books were hurled in every direction. Carrying Titania, he had just reached the steps leading to the domestic quarters when they were flung sideways into the corner behind Roger's desk. The air was full of flying books. A row of encyclopedias crashed down upon his shoulders, narrowly missing Titania's head. The front windows were shivered into flying streamers of broken glass. The table near the door was hurled into the opposite gallery. With a splintering crash the corner of the gallery above the History alcove collapsed, and hundreds of volumes cascaded heavily on to the floor. The lights went out, and for an instant all was silence.
"Are you all right?" said Aubrey hastily. He and Titania had fallen sprawling against the bookseller's desk.
"I think so," she said faintly. "Where's Mr. Mifflin?"
Aubrey put out his hand to help her, and touched something wet on the floor. "Good heavens," he thought. "She's dying!" He struggled to his feet in the darkness. "Hullo, Mr. Mifflin," he called, "where are you?"
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