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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Aubrey Determines To Give Service That's Different

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Seldom has a young man spent a more desolate afternoon than Aubrey on that Sunday. His only consolation was that twenty minutes after he had left the bookshop he saw a taxi drive up (he was then sitting gloomily at his bedroom window) and Titania enter it and drive away. He supposed that she had gone to join the party in Larchmont, and was glad to know that she was out of what he now called the war zone. For the first time on record, O. Henry failed to solace him. His pipe tasted bitter and brackish. He was eager to know what Weintraub was doing, but did not dare make any investigations in broad daylight. His idea was to wait until dark. Observing the Sabbath calm of the streets, and the pageant of baby carriages wheeling toward Thackeray Boulevard, he wondered again whether he had thrown away this girl's friendship for a merely imaginary suspicion.

At last he could endure his cramped bedroom no longer. Downstairs someone was dolefully playing a flute, most horrible of all tortures to tightened nerves. While her lodgers were at church the tireless Mrs. Schiller was doing a little housecleaning: he could hear the monotonous rasp of a carpet-sweeper passing back and forth in an adjoining room. He creaked irritably downstairs, and heard the usual splashing behind the bathroom door. In the frame of the hall mirror he saw a pencilled note: Will Mrs. Smith please call Tarkington 1565, it said. Unreasonably annoyed, he tore a piece of paper out of his notebook and wrote on it Will Mrs. Smith please call Bath 4200. Mounting to the second floor he tapped on the bathroom door. "Don't come in!" cried an agitated female voice. He thrust the memorandum under the door, and left the house.

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Walking the windy paths of Prospect Park he condemned himself to relentless self-scrutiny. "I've damned myself forever with her," he groaned, "unless I can prove something." The vision of Titania's face silhouetted against the shelves of books came maddeningly to his mind. "I was going to have such a good time, and you've spoilt it all!" With what angry conviction she had said: "I never saw a man like you before--and I've seen a good many!"

Even in his disturbance of soul the familiar jargon of his profession came naturally to utterance. "At least she admits I'm DIFFERENT," he said dolefully. He remembered the first item in the Grey-Matter Code, a neat little booklet issued by his employers for the information of their representatives:

Business is built upon CONFIDENCE. Before you can sell Grey-Matter Service to a Client, you must sell YOURSELF.

"How am I going to sell myself to her?" he wondered. "I've simply got to deliver, that's all. I've got to give her service that's DIFFERENT. If I fall down on this, she'll never speak to me again. Not only that, the firm will lose the old man's account. It's simply unthinkable."

Nevertheless, he thought about it a good deal, stimulated from time to time as in the course of his walk (which led him out toward the faubourgs of Flatbush) he passed long vistas of signboards, which he imagined placarded with vivid lithographs in behalf of the Chapman prunes. "Adam and Eve Ate Prunes On Their Honeymoon" was a slogan that flashed into his head, and he imagined a magnificent painting illustrating this text. Thus, in hours of stress, do all men turn for comfort to their chosen art. The poet, battered by fate, heals himself in the niceties of rhyme. The prohibitionist can weather the blackest melancholia by meditating the contortions of other people's abstinence. The most embittered citizen of Detroit will never perish by his own hand while he has an automobile to tinker.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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