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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

The Disappearing Volume

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"What is it, the Christmas Carol?" said Titania. "We had to read that in school."

"No," said Roger; "the other stories, infinitely better. Everybody gets the Carol dinned into them until they're weary of it, but no one nowadays seems to read the others. I tell you, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas to me if I didn't read these tales over again every year. How homesick they make one for the good old days of real inns and real beefsteak and real ale drawn in pewter. My dears, sometimes when I am reading Dickens I get a vision of rare sirloin with floury boiled potatoes and plenty of horse-radish, set on a shining cloth not far from a blaze of English coal----"

"He's an incorrigible visionary," said Mrs. Mifflin. "To hear him talk you might think no one had had a square meal since Dickens died. You might think that all landladies died with Mrs. Lirriper."

"Very ungrateful of him," said Titania. "I'm sure I couldn't ask for better potatoes, or a nicer hostess, than I've found in Brooklyn."

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"Well, well," said Roger. "You are right, of course. And yet something went out of the world when Victorian England vanished, something that will never come again. Take the stagecoach drivers, for instance. What a racy, human type they were! And what have we now to compare with them? Subway guards? Taxicab drivers? I have hung around many an all-night lunchroom to hear the chauffeurs talk. But they are too much on the move, you can't get the picture of them the way Dickens could of his types. You can't catch that sort of thing in a snapshot, you know: you have to have a time exposure. I'll grant you, though, that lunchroom food is mighty good. The best place to eat is always a counter where the chauffeurs congregate. They get awfully hungry, you see, driving round in the cold, and when they want food they want it hot and tasty. There's a little hash-alley called Frank's, up on Broadway near 77th, where I guess the ham and eggs and French fried is as good as any Mr. Pickwick ever ate."

"I must get Edwards to take me there," said Titania. "Edwards is our chauffeur. I've been to the Ansonia for tea, that's near there."

"Better keep away," said Helen. "When Roger comes home from those places he smells so strong of onions it brings tears to my eyes."

"We've just been talking about an assistant chef," said Roger; that suggests that I read you Somebody's Luggage, which is all about a head waiter. I have often wished I could get a job as a waiter or a bus boy, just to learn if there really are any such head waiters nowadays. You know there are all sorts of jobs I'd like to have, just to fructify my knowledge of human nature and find out whether life is really as good as literature. I'd love to be a waiter, a barber, a floorwalker----"

"Roger, my dear," said Helen, "why don't you get on with the reading?"

Roger knocked out his pipe, turned Bock out of his chair, and sat down with infinite relish to read the memor able character sketch of Christopher, the head waiter, which is dear to every lover of taverns. "The writer of these humble lines being a Waiter," he began. The knitting needles flashed with diligence, and the dog by the fender stretched himself out in the luxuriant vacancy of mind only known to dogs surrounded by a happy group of their friends. And Roger, enjoying himself enormously, and particularly pleased by the chuckles of his audience, was approaching the ever-delightful items of the coffee-room bill which is to be found about ten pages on in the first chapter--how sad it is that hotel bills are not so rendered in these times--when the bell in the shop clanged. Picking up his pipe and matchbox, and grumbling "It's always the way," he hurried out of the room.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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