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The Battle of Ludlow Street

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Rarely was a more genuine tribute paid to entrancing girlhood than when Aubrey compelled himself, by sheer force of will and the ticking of his subconscious time-sense, to wake at six o'clock the next morning. For this young man took sleep seriously and with a primitive zest. It was to him almost a religious function. As a minor poet has said, he "made sleep a career."

But he did not know what train Roger might be taking, and he was determined not to miss him. By a quarter after six he was seated in the Milwaukee Lunch (which is never closed-- Open from Now Till the Judgment Day. Tables for Ladies, as its sign says) with a cup of coffee and corned beef hash. In the mood of tender melancholy common to unaccustomed early rising he dwelt fondly on the thought of Titania, so near and yet so far away. He had leisure to give free rein to these musings, for it was ten past seven before Roger appeared, hurrying toward the subway. Aubrey followed at a discreet distance, taking care not to be observed.

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The bookseller and his pursuer both boarded the eight o'clock train at the Pennsylvania Station, but in very different moods. To Roger, this expedition was a frolic, pure and simple. He had been tied down to the bookshop so long that a day's excursion seemed too good to be true. He bought two cigars--an unusual luxury-- and let the morning paper lie unheeded in his lap as the train drummed over the Hackensack marshes. He felt a good deal of pride in having been summoned to appraise the Oldham library. Mr. Oldham was a very distinguished collector, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant whose choice Johnson, Lamb, Keats, and Blake items were the envy of connoisseurs all over the world. Roger knew very well that there were many better-known dealers who would have jumped at the chance to examine the collection and pocket the appraiser's fee. The word that Roger had had by long distance telephone was that Mr. Oldham had decided to sell his collection, and before putting it to auction desired the advices of an expert as to the prices his items should command in the present state of the market. And as Roger was not particularly conversant with current events in the world of rare books and manuscripts, he spent most of the trip in turning over some annotated catalogues of recent sales which Mr. Chapman had lent him. "This invitation," he said to himself, "confirms what I have always said, that the artist, in any line of work, will eventually be recognized above the mere tradesman. Somehow or other Mr. Oldham has heard that I am not only a seller of old books but a lover of them. He prefers to have me go over his treasures with him, rather than one of those who peddle these things like so much tallow."

Aubrey's humour was far removed from that of the happy bookseller. In the first place, Roger was sitting in the smoker, and as Aubrey feared to enter the same car for fear of being observed, he had to do without his pipe. He took the foremost seat in the second coach, and peering occasionally through the glass doors he could see the bald poll of his quarry wreathed with exhalements of cheap havana. Secondly, he had hoped to see Weintraub on the same train, but though he had tarried at the train-gate until the last moment, the German had not appeared. He had concluded from Weintraub's words the night before that druggist and bookseller were bound on a joint errand. Apparently he was mistaken. He bit his nails, glowered at the flying landscape, and revolved many grievous fancies in his prickling bosom. Among other discontents was the knowledge that he did not have enough money with him to pay his fare back to New York, and he would either have to borrow from someone in Philadelphia or wire to his office for funds. He had not anticipated, when setting out upon this series of adventures, that it would prove so costly.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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