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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Aubrey Takes Lodgings

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I am sensible that Mr. Aubrey Gilbert is by no means ideal as the leading juvenile of our piece. The time still demands some explanation why the leading juvenile wears no gold chevrons on his left sleeve. As a matter of fact, our young servant of the Grey-Matter Agency had been declined by a recruiting station and a draft board on account of flat feet; although I must protest that their flatness detracts not at all from his outward bearing nor from his physical capacity in the ordinary concerns of amiable youth. When the army "turned him down flat," as he put it, he had entered the service of the Committee on Public Information, and had carried on mysterious activities in their behalf for over a year, up to the time when the armistice was signed by the United Press. Owing to a small error of judgment on his part, now completely forgotten, but due to the regrettable delay of the German envoys to synchronize with overexuberant press correspondents, the last three days of the war had been carried on without his active assistance. After the natural recuperation necessary on the 12th of November, he had been reabsorbed by the Grey-Matter Advertising Agency, with whom he had been connected for several years, and where his sound and vivacious qualities were highly esteemed. It was in the course of drumming up post-war business that he had swung so far out of his ordinary orbit as to call on Roger Mifflin. Perhaps these explanations should have been made earlier.

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At any rate, Aubrey woke that Saturday morning, about the time Titania began to dust the pavement-boxes, in no very world-conquering humour. As it was a half-holiday, he felt no compunction in staying away from the office. The landlady, a motherly soul, sent him up some coffee and scrambled eggs, and insisted on having a doctor in to look at his damage. Several stitches were taken, after which he had a nap. He woke up at noon, feeling better, though his head still ached abominably. Putting on a dressing gown, he sat down in his modest chamber, which was furnished chiefly with a pipe-rack, ash trays, and a set of O. Henry, and picked up one of his favourite volumes for a bit of solace. We have hinted that Mr. Gilbert was not what is called "literary." His reading was mostly of the newsstand sort, and Printer's Ink, that naive journal of the publicity professions. His favourite diversion was luncheon at the Advertising Club where he would pore, fascinated, over displays of advertising booklets, posters, and pamphlets with such titles as Tell Your Story in Bold-Face. He was accustomed to remark that "the fellow who writes the Packard ads has Ralph Waldo Emerson skinned three ways from the Jack." Yet much must be forgiven this young man for his love of O. Henry. He knew, what many other happy souls have found, that O. Henry is one of those rare and gifted tellers of tales who can be read at all times. No matter how weary, how depressed, how shaken in morale, one can always find enjoyment in that master romancer of the Cabarabian Nights. "Don't talk to me of Dickens' Christmas Stories," Aubrey said to himself, recalling his adventure in Brooklyn. "I'll bet O. Henry's Gift of the Magi beats anything Dick ever laid pen to. What a shame he died without finishing that Christmas story in Rolling Stones! I wish some boss writer like Irvin Cobb or Edna Ferber would take a hand at finishing it. If I were an editor I'd hire someone to wind up that yarn. It's a crime to have a good story like that lying around half written."

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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