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  The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Tries Reading in Bed

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Aubrey, sitting at his window with the opera glasses, soon realized that he was blind weary. Even the exalted heroics of romance are not proof against fatigue, most potent enemy of all who do and dream. He had had a long day, coming after the skull-smiting of the night before; it was only the frosty air at the lifted sash that kept him at all awake. He had fallen into a half drowse when he heard footsteps coming down the opposite side of the street.

He had forced himself awake several times before, to watch the passage of some harmless strollers through the innocent blackness of the Brooklyn night, but this time it was what he sought. The man stepped stealthily, with a certain blend of wariness and assurance. He halted under the lamp by the bookshop door, and the glasses gave him enlarged to Aubrey's eye. It was Weintraub, the druggist.

The front of the bookshop was now entirely dark save for a curious little glimmer down below the pavement level. This puzzled Aubrey, but he focussed his glasses on the door of the shop. He saw Weintraub pull a key out of his pocket, insert it very carefully in the lock, and open the door stealthily. Leaving the door ajar behind him, the druggist slipped into the shop.

"What devil's business is this?" thought Aubrey angrily. "The swine has even got a key of his own. There's no doubt about it. He and Mifflin are working together on this job."

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For a moment he was uncertain what to do. Should he run downstairs and across the street? Then, as he hesitated, he saw a pale beam of light over in the front left-hand corner of the shop. Through the glasses he could see the yellow circle of a flashlight splotched upon dim shelves of books. He saw Weintraub pull a volume out of the case, and the light vanished. Another instant and the man reappeared in the doorway, closed the door behind him with a gesture of careful silence, and was off up the street quietly and swiftly. It was all over in a minute. Two yellow oblongs shone for a minute or two down in the area underneath the door. Through the glasses he now made out these patches as the cellar windows. Then they disappeared also, and all was placid gloom. In the quivering light of the street lamps he could see the bookseller's sign gleaming whitely, with its lettering THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED.

Aubrey sat back in his chair. "Well," he said to himself, "that guy certainly gave his shop the right name. This is by me. I do believe it's only some book-stealing game after all. I wonder if he and Weintraub go in for some first-edition faking, or some such stunt as that? I'd give a lot to know what it's all about."

He stayed by the window on the qui vive, but no sound broke the stillness of Gissing Street. In the distance he could hear the occasional rumble of the Elevated trains rasping round the curve on Wordsworth Avenue. He wondered whether he ought to go over and break into the shop to see if all was well. But, like every healthy young man, he had a horror of appearing absurd. Little by little weariness numbed his apprehensions. Two o'clock clanged and echoed from distant steeples. He threw off his clothes and crawled into bed.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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