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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Aubrey Determines To Give Service That's Different

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As he sat there, the back door opened almost directly below him, and he heard the clang of a garbage can set out by the stoop. The door stood open for perhaps half a minute, and he heard a male voice-- Weintraub's, he thought--speaking in German. For the first time in his life he yearned for the society of his German instructor at college, and also wondered--in the rapid irrelevance of thought-- what that worthy man was now doing to earn a living. In a rather long and poorly lubricated sentence, heavily verbed at the end, he distinguished one phrase that seemed important. "Nach Philadelphia gehen"--"Go to Philadelphia."

Did that refer to Mifflin? he wondered.

The door closed again. Leaning over the rain-gutter, he saw the light go out in the kitchen. He tried to look through the upper portion of the window just below him, but leaning out too far, the tin spout gave beneath his hands. Without knowing just how he did it, he slithered down the side of the wall, and found his feet on a window-sill. His hands still clung to the tin gutter above. He made haste to climb down from his position, and found himself outside the back door. He had managed the descent rather more quietly than if it had been carefully planned. But he was badly startled, and retreated to the bottom of the yard to see if he had aroused notice.

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A wait of several minutes brought no alarm, and he plucked up courage. On the inner side of the house--away from Wordsworth Avenue-- a narrow paved passage led to an outside cellar-way with old-fashioned slanting doors. He reconnoitred this warily. A bright light was shining from a window in this alley. He crept below it on hands and knees fearing to look in until he had investigated a little. He found that one flap of the cellar door was open, and poked his nose into the aperture. All was dark below, but a strong, damp stench of paints and chemicals arose. He sniffed gingerly. "I suppose he stores drugs down there," he thought.

Very carefully he crawled back, on hands and knees, toward the lighted window. Lifting his head a few inches at a time, finally he got his eyes above the level of the sill. To his disappointment he found the lower half of the window frosted. As he knelt there, a pipe set in the wall suddenly vomited liquid which gushed out upon his knees. He sniffed it, and again smelled a strong aroma of acids. With great care, leaning against the brick wall of the house, he rose to his feet and peeped through the upper half of the pane.

It seemed to be the room where prescriptions were compounded. As it was empty, he allowed himself a hasty survey. All manner of bottles were ranged along the walls; there was a high counter with scales, a desk, and a sink. At the back he could see the bamboo curtain which he remembered having noticed from the shop. The whole place was in the utmost disorder: mortars, glass beakers, a typewriter, cabinets of labels, dusty piles of old prescriptions strung on filing hooks, papers of pills and capsules, all strewn in an indescribable litter. Some infusion was heating in a glass bowl propped on a tripod over a blue gas flame. Aubrey noticed particularly a heap of old books several feet high piled carelessly at one end of the counter.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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