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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Learns the Business

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"I used to wonder what I could do to justify my comfortable existence here during such a time of horror. What right had I to shirk in a quiet bookshop when so many men were suffering and dying through no fault of their own? I tried to get into an ambulance unit, but I've had no medical training and they said they didn't want men of my age unless they were experienced doctors."

"I know how you felt," said Titania, with a surprising look of comprehension. "Don't you suppose that a great many girls, who couldn't do anything real to help, got tired of wearing neat little uniforms with Sam Browne belts?"

"Well," said Roger, "it was a bad time. The war contradicted and denied everything I had ever lived for. Oh, I can't tell you how I felt about it. I can't even express it to myself. Sometimes I used to feel as I think that truly noble simpleton Henry Ford may have felt when he organized his peace voyage-- that I would do anything, however stupid, to stop it all. In a world where everyone was so wise and cynical and cruel, it was admirable to find a man so utterly simple and hopeful as Henry. A boob, they called him. Well, I say bravo for boobs! I daresay most of the apostles were boobs--or maybe they called them bolsheviks."

Titania had only the vaguest notion about bolsheviks, but she had seen a good many newspaper cartoons.

"I guess Judas was a bolshevik," she said innocently.

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"Yes, and probably George the Third called Ben Franklin a bolshevik," retorted Roger. "The trouble is, truth and falsehood don't come laid out in black and white--Truth and Huntruth, as the wartime joke had it. Sometimes I thought Truth had vanished from the earth," he cried bitterly. "Like everything else, it was rationed by the governments. I taught myself to disbelieve half of what I read in the papers. I saw the world clawing itself to shreds in blind rage. I saw hardly any one brave enough to face the brutalizing absurdity as it really was, and describe it. I saw the glutton, the idler, and the fool applauding, while brave and simple men walked in the horrors of hell. The stay-at-home poets turned it to pretty lyrics of glory and sacrifice. Perhaps half a dozen of them have told the truth. Have you read Sassoon? Or Latzko's Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it? Humph! Putting Truth on rations!"

He knocked out his pipe against his heel, and his blue eyes shone with a kind of desperate earnestness.

"But I tell you, the world is going to have the truth about War. We're going to put an end to this madness. It's not going to be easy. Just now, in the intoxication of the German collapse, we're all rejoicing in our new happiness. I tell you, the real Peace will be a long time coming. When you tear up all the fibres of civilization it's a slow job to knit things together again. You see those children going down the street to school? Peace lies in their hands. When they are taught in school that War is the most loathsome scourge humanity is subject to, that it smirches and fouls every lovely occupation of the mortal spirit, then there may be some hope for the future. But I'd like to bet they are having it drilled into them that war is a glorious and noble sacrifice.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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