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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

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

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In the exact centre of the bridge something diluted his mood; he halted, leaning against the railing, to consider the splendour of the scene. The hour was late--moving on toward midnight-- but in the tall black precipices of Manhattan scattered lights gleamed, in an odd, irregular pattern like the sparse punctures on the raffle-board--"take a chance on a Milk-Fed Turkey"--the East Indian elevator-boy presents to apartment-house tenants about Hallowe'en. A fume of golden light eddied over uptown merriment: he could see the ruby beacon on the Metropolitan Tower signal three quarters. Underneath the airy decking of the bridge a tug went puffing by, her port and starboard lamps trailing red and green threads over the tideway. Some great argosy of the Staten Island fleet swept serenely down to St. George, past Liberty in her soft robe of light, carrying theatred commuters, dazed with weariness and blinking at the raw fury of the electric bulbs. Overhead the night was a superb arch of clear frost, sifted with stars. Blue sparks crackled stickily along the trolley wires as the cars groaned over the bridge.

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Aubrey surveyed all this splendid scene without exact observation. He was of a philosophic turn, and was attempting to console his discomfiture in the overwhelming lustre of Miss Titania by the thought that she was, after all, the creature and offspring of the science he worshipped--that of Advertising. Was not the fragrance of her presence, the soft compulsion of her gaze, even the delirious frill of muslin at her wrist, to be set down to the credit of his chosen art? Had he not, pondering obscurely upon "attention-compelling" copy and lay-out and type-face, in a corner of the Grey-Matter office, contributed to the triumphant prosperity and grace of this unconscious beneficiary? Indeed she seemed to him, fiercely tormenting himself with her loveliness, a symbol of the mysterious and subtle power of publicity. It was Advertising that had done this-- that had enabled Mr. Chapman, a shy and droll little person, to surround this girl with all the fructifying glories of civilization-- to foster and cherish her until she shone upon the earth like a morning star! Advertising had clothed her, Advertising had fed her, schooled, roofed, and sheltered her. In a sense she was the crowning advertisement of her father's career, and her innocent perfection taunted him just as much as the bright sky-sign he knew was flashing the words CHAPMAN PRUNES above the teeming pavements of Times Square. He groaned to think that he himself, by his conscientious labours, had helped to put this girl in such a position that he could hardly dare approach her.

He would never have approached her again, on any pretext, if the intensity of his thoughts had not caused him, unconsciously, to grip the railing of the bridge with strong and angry hands. For at that moment a sack was thrown over his head from behind and he was violently seized by the legs, with the obvious intent of hoisting him over the parapet. His unexpected grip on the railing delayed this attempt just long enough to save him. Swept off his feet by the fury of the assault, he fell sideways against the barrier and had the good fortune to seize his enemy by the leg. Muffled in the sacking, it was vain to cry out; but he held furiously to the limb he had grasped and he and his attacker rolled together on the footway. Aubrey was a powerful man, and even despite the surprise could probably have got the better of the situation; but as he wrestled desperately and tried to rid himself of his hood, a crashing blow fell upon his head, half stunning him. He lay sprawled out, momentarily incapable of struggle, yet conscious enough to expect, rather curiously, the dizzying sensation of a drop through insupportable air into the icy water of the East River. Hands seized him-- and then, passively, he heard a shout, the sound of footsteps running on the planks, and other footsteps hurrying away at top speed. In a moment the sacking was torn from his head and a friendly pedestrian was kneeling beside him.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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