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0100_005E The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Aubrey Walks Part Way Home--and Rides The Rest of the Way

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Mr. Weintraub entered the shop, a solid Teutonic person with discoloured pouches under his eyes and a face that was a potent argument for prohibition. His manner, however, was that of one anxious to please. Aubrey indicated the brand of cigarettes he wanted. Having himself coined the advertising catchword for them--They're mild-- but they satisfy--he felt a certain loyal compulsion always to smoke this kind. The druggist held out the packet, and Aubrey noticed that his fingers were stained a deep saffron colour.

"I see you're a cigarette smoker, too," said Aubrey pleasantly, as he opened the packet and lit one of the paper tubes at a little alcohol flame burning in a globe of blue glass on the counter.

"Me? I never smoke," said Mr. Weintraub, with a smile which somehow did not seem to fit his surly face. "I must have steady nerves in my profession. Apothecaries who smoke make up bad prescriptions."

"Well, how do you get your hands stained that way?" Mr. Weintraub removed his hands from the counter.

"Chemicals," he grunted. "Prescriptions--all that sort of thing."

"Well," said Aubrey, "smoking's a bad habit. I guess I do too much of it." He could not resist the impression that someone was listening to their talk. The doorway at the back of the shop was veiled by a portiere of beads and thin bamboo sections threaded on strings. He heard them clicking as though they had been momentarily pulled aside. Turning, just as he opened the door to leave, he noticed the bamboo curtain swaying.

"Well, good-night," he said, and stepped out onto the street.

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As he walked down Wordsworth Avenue, under the thunder of the L, past lighted lunchrooms, oyster saloons, and pawnshops, Miss Chapman resumed her sway. With the delightful velocity of thought his mind whirled in a narrowing spiral round the experience of the evening. The small book-crammed sitting room of the Mifflins, the sparkling fire, the lively chirrup of the bookseller reading aloud--and there, in the old easy chair whose horsehair stuffing was bulging out, that blue-eyed vision of careless girlhood! Happily he had been so seated that he could study her without seeming to do so. The line of her ankle where the firelight danced upon it put Coles Phillips to shame, he averred. Extraordinary, how these creatures are made to torment us with their intolerable comeliness! Against the background of dusky bindings her head shone with a soft haze of gold. Her face, that had an air of naive and provoking independence, made him angry with its unnecessary surplus of enchantment. An unaccountable gust of rage drove him rapidly along the frozen street. "Damn it," he cried, "what right has any girl to be as pretty as that? Why--why, I'd like to beat her!" he muttered, amazed at himself. "What the devil right has a girl got to look so innocently adorable?"

It would be unseemly to follow poor Aubrey in his vacillations of rage and worship as he thrashed along Wordsworth Avenue, hearing and seeing no more than was necessary for the preservation of his life at street crossings. Half-smoked cigarette stubs glowed in his wake;[1] his burly bosom echoed with incoherent oratory. In the darker stretches of Fulton Street that lead up to the Brooklyn Bridge he fiercely exclaimed: "By God, it's not such a bad world." As he ascended the slope of that vast airy span, a black midget against a froth of stars, he was gravely planning such vehemence of exploit in the advertising profession as would make it seem less absurd to approach the President of the Daintybits Corporation with a question for which no progenitor of loveliness is ever quite prepared.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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