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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

The Corn Cob Club

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The latter half of this chapter may be omitted by all readers who are not booksellers.

The Haunted Bookshop was a delightful place, especially of an evening, when its drowsy alcoves were kindled with the brightness of lamps shining on the rows of volumes. Many a passer-by would stumble down the steps from the street in sheer curiosity; others, familiar visitors, dropped in with the same comfortable emotion that a man feels on entering his club. Roger's custom was to sit at his desk in the rear, puffing his pipe and reading; though if any customer started a conversation, the little man was quick and eager to carry it on. The lion of talk lay only sleeping in him; it was not hard to goad it up.

It may be remarked that all bookshops that are open in the evening are busy in the after-supper hours. Is it that the true book-lovers are nocturnal gentry, only venturing forth when darkness and silence and the gleam of hooded lights irresistibly suggest reading? Certainly night-time has a mystic affinity for literature, and it is strange that the Esquimaux have created no great books. Surely, for most of us, an arctic night would be insupportable without O. Henry and Stevenson. Or, as Roger Mifflin remarked during a passing enthusiasm for Ambrose Bierce, the true noctes ambrosianae are the noctes ambrose bierceianae.

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But Roger was prompt in closing Parnassus at ten o'clock. At that hour he and Bock (the mustard-coloured terrier, named for Boccaccio) would make the round of the shop, see that everything was shipshape, empty the ash trays provided for customers, lock the front door, and turn off the lights. Then they would retire to the den, where Mrs. Mifflin was generally knitting or reading. She would brew a pot of cocoa and they would read or talk for half an hour or so before bed. Sometimes Roger would take a stroll along Gissing Street before turning in. All day spent with books has a rather exhausting effect on the mind, and he used to enjoy the fresh air sweeping up the dark Brooklyn streets, meditating some thought that had sprung from his reading, while Bock sniffed and padded along in the manner of an elderly dog at night.

While Mrs. Mifflin was away, however, Roger's routine was somewhat different. After closing the shop he would return to his desk and with a furtive, shamefaced air take out from a bottom drawer an untidy folder of notes and manuscript. This was the skeleton in his closet, his secret sin. It was the scaffolding of his book, which he had been compiling for at least ten years, and to which he had tentatively assigned such different titles as "Notes on Literature," "The Muse on Crutches," "Books and I," and "What a Young Bookseller Ought to Know." It had begun long ago, in the days of his odyssey as a rural book huckster, under the title of "Literature Among the Farmers," but it had branched out until it began to appear that (in bulk at least) Ridpath would have to look to his linoleum laurels. The manuscript in its present state had neither beginning nor end, but it was growing strenuously in the middle, and hundreds of pages were covered with Roger's minute script. The chapter on "Ars Bibliopolae," or the art of bookselling, would be, he hoped, a classic among generations of book vendors still unborn. Seated at his disorderly desk, caressed by a counterpane of drifting tobacco haze, he would pore over the manuscript, crossing out, interpolating, re-arguing, and then referring to volumes on his shelves. Bock would snore under the chair, and soon Roger's brain would begin to waver. In the end he would fall asleep over his papers, wake with a cramp about two o'clock, and creak irritably to a lonely bed.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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