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  The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Arrives

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The first pipe after breakfast is a rite of some importance to seasoned smokers, and Roger applied the flame to the bowl as he stood at the bottom of the stairs. He blew a great gush of strong blue reek that eddied behind him as he ran up the flight, his mind eagerly meditating the congenial task of arranging the little spare room for the coming employee. Then, at the top of the steps, he found that his pipe had already gone out. "What with filling my pipe and emptying it, lighting it and relighting it," he thought, "I don't seem to get much time for the serious concerns of life. Come to think of it, smoking, soiling dishes and washing them, talking and listening to other people talk, take up most of life anyway."

This theory rather pleased him, so he ran downstairs again to tell it to Mrs. Mifflin.

"Go along and get that room fixed up," she said, "and don't try to palm off any bogus doctrines on me so early in the morning. Housewives have no time for philosophy after breakfast."

Roger thoroughly enjoyed himself in the task of preparing the guest-room for the new assistant. It was a small chamber at the back of the second storey, opening on to a narrow passage that connected through a door with the gallery of the bookshop. Two small windows commanded a view of the modest roofs of that quarter of Brooklyn, roofs that conceal so many brave hearts, so many baby carriages, so many cups of bad coffee, and so many cartons of the Chapman prunes.

"By the way," he called downstairs, "better have some of the prunes for supper to-night, just as a compliment to Miss Chapman."

Mrs. Mifflin preserved a humorous silence.

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Over these noncommittal summits the bright eye of the bookseller, as he tacked up the freshly ironed muslin curtains Mrs. Mifflin had allotted, could discern a glimpse of the bay and the leviathan ferries that link Staten Island with civilization. "Just a touch of romance in the outlook," he thought to himself. "It will suffice to keep a blasee young girl aware of the excitements of existence."

The room, as might be expected in a house presided over by Helen Mifflin, was in perfect order to receive any occupant, but Roger had volunteered to psychologize it in such a fashion as (he thought) would convey favourable influences to the misguided young spirit that was to be its tenant. Incurable idealist, he had taken quite gravely his responsibility as landlord and employer of Mr. Chapman's daughter. No chambered nautilus was to have better opportunity to expand the tender mansions of its soul.

Beside the bed was a bookshelf with a reading lamp. The problem Roger was discussing was what books and pictures might be the best preachers to this congregation of one. To Mrs. Mifflin's secret amusement he had taken down the picture of Sir Galahad which he had once hung there, because (as he had said) if Sir Galahad were living to-day he would be a bookseller. "We don't want her feasting her imagination on young Galahads," he had remarked at breakfast. "That way lies premature matrimony. What I want to do is put up in her room one or two good prints representing actual men who were so delightful in their day that all the young men she is likely to see now will seem tepid and prehensile. Thus she will become disgusted with the present generation of youths and there will be some chance of her really putting her mind on the book business."

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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