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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Aubrey Takes Lodgings

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Aubrey stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. In an immense mirror the pale cheese-coloured flutter of a gas jet was remotely reflected. He noticed the Landseer engraving hung against wallpaper designed in facsimile of large rectangles of gray stone, and the usual telephone memorandum for the usual Mrs. J. F. Smith (who abides in all lodging houses) tucked into the frame of the mirror. Will Mrs. Smith please call Stockton 6771, it said. A carpeted stair with a fine old mahogany balustrade rose into the dimness. Aubrey, who was thoroughly familiar with lodgings, knew instinctively that the fourth, ninth, tenth, and fourteenth steps would be creakers. A soft musk sweetened the warm, torpid air: he divined that someone was toasting marshmallows over a gas jet. He knew perfectly well that somewhere in the house would be a placard over a bathtub with the legend: Please leave this tub as you would wish to find it. Roger Mifflin would have said, after studying the hall, that someone in the house was sure to be reading the poems of Rabbi Tagore; but Aubrey was not so caustic.

Mrs. Schiller came up the basement stairs, followed by a small pug dog. She was warm and stout, with a tendency to burst just under the armpits. She was friendly. The pug made merry over Aubrey's ankles.

"Stop it, Treasure!" said Mrs. Schiller.

"Can I get a room here?" asked Aubrey, with great politeness.

"Third floor front's the only thing I've got," she said. "You don't smoke in bed, do you? The last young man I had burned holes in three of my sheets----"

Aubrey reassured her.

"I don't give meals."

We have hundreds more books for your enjoyment. Read them all!

"That's all right," said Aubrey. "Suits me."

"Five dollars a week," she said.

"May I see it?"

Mrs. Schiller brightened the gas and led the way upstairs. Treasure skipped up the treads beside her. The sight of the six feet ascending together amused Aubrey. The fourth, ninth, tenth, and fourteenth steps creaked, as he had guessed they would. On the landing of the second storey a transom gushed orange light. Mrs. Schiller was secretly pleased at not having to augment the gas on that landing. Under the transom and behind a door Aubrey could hear someone having a bath, with a great sloshing of water. He wondered irreverently whether it was Mrs. J. F. Smith. At any rate (he felt sure), it was some experienced habitue of lodgings, who knew that about five thirty in the afternoon is the best time for a bath-- before cooking supper and the homecoming ablutions of other tenants have exhausted the hot water boiler.

They climbed one more flight. The room was small, occupying half the third-floor frontage. A large window opened onto the street, giving a plain view of the bookshop and the other houses across the way. A wash-stand stood modestly inside a large cupboard. Over the mantel was the familiar picture--usually, however, reserved for the fourth floor back--of a young lady having her shoes shined by a ribald small boy.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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