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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Tries Reading in Bed

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Aubrey dropped to the floor, and patted the dog, thanking his good fortune. He glanced about the cellar as though expecting to find some lurking horror. Nothing more appalling than several cases of beer bottles met his eyes. He started quietly to go up the cellar stairs, and Bock, evidently consumed with legitimate curiosity, kept at his heels.

"Look here," thought Aubrey. "I don't want the dog following me all through the house. If I touch anything he'll probably take a hunk out of my shin."

He unlocked the door into the yard, and Bock obeying the Irish terrier's natural impulse to get into the open air, ran outside. Aubrey quickly closed the door again. Bock's face appeared at the broken window, looking in with so quaint an expression of indignant surprise that Aubrey almost laughed. "There, old man," he said, "it's all right. I'm just going to look around a bit."

He ascended the stairs on tiptoe and found himself in the kitchen. All was quiet. An alarm clock ticked with a stumbling, headlong hurry. Pots of geraniums stood on the window sill. The range, with its lids off and the fire carefully nourished, radiated a mild warmth. Through a dark little pantry he entered the dining room. Still no sign of anything amiss. A pot of white heather stood on the table, and a corncob pipe lay on the sideboard. "This is the most innocent-looking kidnapper's den I ever heard of," he thought. "Any moving-picture director would be ashamed not to provide a better stage-set."

At that instant he heard footsteps overhead. Curiously soft, muffled footsteps. Instantly he was on the alert. Now he would know the worst.

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A window upstairs was thrown open. "Bock, what are you doing in the yard?" floated a voice--a very clear, imperious voice that somehow made him think of the thin ringing of a fine glass tumbler. It was Titania.

He stood aghast. Then he heard a door open, and steps on the stair. Merciful heaven, the girl must not find him here. What WOULD she think? He skipped back into the pantry, and shrank into a corner. He heard the footfalls reach the bottom of the stairs. There was a door into the kitchen from the central hall: it was not necessary for her to pass through the pantry, he thought. He heard her enter the kitchen.

In his anxiety he crouched down beneath the sink, and his foot, bent beneath him, touched a large tin tray leaning against the wall. It fell over with a terrible clang.

"Bock!" said Titania sharply, "what are you doing?"

Aubrey was wondering miserably whether he ought to counterfeit a bark, but it was too late to do anything. The pantry door opened, and Titania looked in.

They gazed at each other for several seconds in mutual horror. Even in his abasement, crouching under a shelf in the corner, Aubrey's stricken senses told him that he had never seen so fair a spectacle. Titania wore a blue kimono and a curious fragile lacy bonnet which he did not understand. Her dark, gold-spangled hair came down in two thick braids across her shoulders. Her blue eyes were very much alive with amazement and alarm which rapidly changed into anger.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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