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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Learns the Business

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Although he kept late hours, Roger Mifflin was a prompt riser. It is only the very young who find satisfaction in lying abed in the morning. Those who approach the term of the fifth decade are sensitively aware of the fluency of life, and have no taste to squander it among the blankets.

The bookseller's morning routine was brisk and habitual. He was generally awakened about half-past seven by the jangling bell that balanced on a coiled spring at the foot of the stairs. This ringing announced the arrival of Becky, the old scrubwoman who came each morning to sweep out the shop and clean the floors for the day's traffic. Roger, in his old dressing gown of vermilion flannel, would scuffle down to let her in, picking up the milk bottles and the paper bag of baker's rolls at the same time. As Becky propped the front door wide, opened window transoms, and set about buffeting dust and tobacco smoke, Roger would take the milk and rolls back to the kitchen and give Bock a morning greeting. Bock would emerge from his literary kennel, and thrust out his forelegs in a genial obeisance. This was partly politeness, and partly to straighten out his spine after its all-night curvature. Then Roger would let him out into the back yard for a run, himself standing on the kitchen steps to inhale the bright freshness of the morning air.

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This Saturday morning was clear and crisp. The plain backs of the homes along Whittier Street, irregular in profile as the margins of a free verse poem, offered Roger an agreeable human panorama. Thin strands of smoke were rising from chimneys; a belated baker's wagon was joggling down the alley; in bedroom bay-windows sheets and pillows were already set to sun and air. Brooklyn, admirable borough of homes and hearty breakfasts, attacks the morning hours in cheery, smiling spirit. Bock sniffed and rooted about the small back yard as though the earth (every cubic inch of which he already knew by rote) held some new entrancing flavour. Roger watched him with the amused and tender condescension one always feels toward a happy dog-- perhaps the same mood of tolerant paternalism that Gott is said to have felt in watching his boisterous Hohenzollerns.

The nipping air began to infiltrate his dressing gown, and Roger returned to the kitchen, his small, lively face alight with zest. He opened the draughts in the range, set a kettle on to boil, and went down to resuscitate the furnace. As he came upstairs for his bath, Mrs. Mifflin was descending, fresh and hearty in a starchy morning apron. Roger hummed a tune as he picked up the hairpins on the bedroom floor, and wondered to himself why women are always supposed to be more tidy than men.

Titania was awake early. She smiled at the enigmatic portrait of Samuel Butler, glanced at the row of books over her bed, and dressed rapidly. She ran downstairs, eager to begin her experience as a bookseller. The first impression the Haunted Bookshop had made on her was one of superfluous dinginess, and as Mrs. Mifflin refused to let her help get breakfast--except set out the salt cellars-- she ran down Gissing Street to a little florist's shop she had noticed the previous afternoon. Here she spent at least a week's salary in buying chrysanthemums and a large pot of white heather. She was distributing these about the shop when Roger found her.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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