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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Learns the Business

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"The people who write poems about the divine frenzy of going over the top are usually those who dipped their pens a long, long way from the slimy duckboards of the trenches. It's funny how we hate to face realities. I knew a commuter once who rode in town every day on the 8.13. But he used to call it the 7.73. He said it made him feel more virtuous."

There was a pause, while Roger watched some belated urchins hurrying toward school.

"I think any man would be a traitor to humanity who didn't pledge every effort of his waking life to an attempt to make war impossible in future."

"Surely no one would deny that," said Titania. "But I do think the war was very glorious as well as very terrible. I've known lots of men who went over, knowing well what they were to face, and yet went gladly and humbly in the thought they were going for a true cause."

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"A cause which is so true shouldn't need the sacrifice of millions of fine lives," said Roger gravely. "Don't imagine I don't see the dreadful nobility of it. But poor humanity shouldn't be asked to be noble at such a cost. That's the most pitiful tragedy of it all. Don't you suppose the Germans thought they too were marching off for a noble cause when they began it and forced this misery on the world? They had been educated to believe so, for a generation. That's the terrible hypnotism of war, the brute mass-impulse, the pride and national spirit, the instinctive simplicity of men that makes them worship what is their own above everything else. I've thrilled and shouted with patriotic pride, like everyone. Music and flags and men marching in step have bewitched me, as they do all of us. And then I've gone home and sworn to root this evil instinct out of my soul. God help us-- let's love the world, love humanity--not just our own country! That's why I'm so keen about the part we're going to play at the Peace Conference. Our motto over there will be America Last! Hurrah for us, I say, for we shall be the only nation over there with absolutely no axe to grind. Nothing but a pax to grind!"

It argued well for Titania's breadth of mind that she was not dismayed nor alarmed at the poor bookseller's anguished harangue. She surmised sagely that he was cleansing his bosom of much perilous stuff. In some mysterious way she had learned the greatest and rarest of the spirit's gifts--toleration.

"You can't help loving your country," she said.

"Let's go indoors," he answered. "You'll catch cold out here. I want to show you my alcove of books on the war."

"Of course one can't help loving one's country," he added. "I love mine so much that I want to see her take the lead in making a new era possible. She has sacrificed least for war, she should be ready to sacrifice most for peace. As for me," he said, smiling, "I'd be willing to sacrifice the whole Republican party!"

"I don't see why you call the war an absurdity," said Titania. "We HAD to beat Germany, or where would civilization have been?"

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Christopher Morley

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