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The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

Part 4 out of 4

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An idea struck him.

"Have you a copy of Carlyle's Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell?"
he asked.

The other looked up.

"I'm afraid we haven't," he said. "Another gentleman was in here
asking for it just a few minutes ago."

"Good God!" cried Aubrey. "Did he get it?"

This emphasis brought no surprise to the bookseller, who was
accustomed to the oddities of edition hunters.

"No," he said. "We didn't have a copy. We haven't seen one
for a long time."

"Was he a little bald man with a red beard and bright blue eyes?"
asked Aubrey hoarsely.

"Yes--Mr. Mifflin of Brooklyn. Do you know him?"

"I should say I do!" cried Aubrey. "Where has he gone?
I've been hunting him all over town, the scoundrel!"

The bookseller, douce man, had seen too many eccentric customers
to be shocked by the vehemence of his questioner.

"He was here a moment ago," he said gently, and gazed with a mild
interest upon the excited young advertising man. "I daresay you'll
find him just outside, in Ludlow Street."

"Where's that?"

The tall man--and I don't see why I should scruple to name him,
for it was Philip Warner--explained that Ludlow Street was the narrow
alley that runs along one side of Leary's and elbows at right
angles behind the shop. Down the flank of the store, along this
narrow little street, run shelves of books under a penthouse.
It is here that Leary's displays its stock of ragamuffin ten-centers--
queer dingy volumes that call to the hearts of gentle questers.
Along these historic shelves many troubled spirits have come as near
happiness as they are like to get . . . for after all, happiness
(as the mathematicians might say) lies on a curve, and we approach
it only by asymptote. . . . The frequenters of this alley call
themselves whimsically The Ludlow Street Business Men's Association,
and Charles Lamb or Eugene Field would have been proud to preside at their
annual dinners, at which the members recount their happiest book-finds
of the year.

Aubrey rushed out of the shop and looked down the alley.
Half a dozen Ludlow Street Business Men were groping among the shelves.
Then, down at the far end, his small face poked into an open volume,
he saw Roger. He approached with a rapid stride.

"Well," he said angrily, "here you are!"

Roger looked up from his book good-humouredly. Apparently,
in the zeal of his favourite pastime, he had forgotten where he was.

"Hullo!" he said. "What are you doing in Brooklyn? Look here,
here's a copy of Tooke's Pantheon----"

"What's the idea?" cried Aubrey harshly. "Are you trying to kid me?
What are you and Weintraub framing up here in Philadelphia?"

Roger's mind came back to Ludlow Street. He looked with some
surprise at the flushed face of the young man, and put the book back
in its place on the shelf, making a mental note of its location.
His disappointment of the morning came back to him with some irritation.

"What are you talking about?" he said. "What the deuce business
is it of yours?"

"I'll make it my business," said Aubrey, and shook his fist
in the bookseller's face. "I've been trailing you, you scoundrel,
and I want to know what kind of a game you're playing."

A spot of red spread on Roger's cheekbones. In spite of his apparent
demureness he had a pugnacious spirit and a quick fist.

"By the bones of Charles Lamb!" he said. "Young man, your manners
need mending. If you're looking for display advertising, I'll give
you one on each eye."

Aubrey had expected to find a cringing culprit, and this back talk
infuriated him beyond control.

"You damned little bolshevik," he said, "if you were my size I'd
give you a hiding. You tell me what you and your pro-German pals
are up to or I'll put the police on you!"

Roger stiffened. His beard bristled, and his blue eyes glittered.

"You impudent dog," he said quietly, "you come round the corner
where these people can't see us and I'll give you some private tutoring."

He led the way round the corner of the alley. In this narrow channel,
between blank walls, they confronted each other.

"In the name of Gutenberg," said Roger, calling upon his patron saint,
"explain yourself or I'll hit you."

"Who's he?" sneered Aubrey. "Another one of your Huns?"

That instant he received a smart blow on the chin, which would
have been much harder but that Roger misgauged his footing on
the uneven cobbles, and hardly reached the face of his opponent,
who topped him by many inches.

Aubrey forgot his resolution not to hit a smaller man, and also calling
upon his patron saints--the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World--
he delivered a smashing slog which hit the bookseller in the chest
and jolted him half across the alley.

Both men were furiously angry--Aubrey with the accumulated bitterness
of several days' anxiety and suspicion, and Roger with the quick-flaming
indignation of a hot-tempered man unwarrantably outraged.
Aubrey had the better of the encounter in height, weight, and more
than twenty years juniority, but fortune played for the bookseller.
Aubrey's terrific punch sent the latter staggering across
the alley onto the opposite curb. Aubrey followed him up with
a rush, intending to crush the other with one fearful smite.
But Roger, keeping cool, now had the advantage of position.
Standing on the curb, he had a little the better in height.
As Aubrey leaped at him, his face grim with hatred, Roger met him
with a savage buffet on the jaw. Aubrey's foot struck against the curb,
and he fell backward onto the stones. His head crashed violently
on the cobbles, and the old cut on his scalp broke out afresh.
Dazed and shaken, there was, for the moment, no more fight
in him.

"You insolent pup," panted Roger, "do you want any more?"
Then he saw that Aubrey was really hurt. With horror he observed
a trickle of blood run down the side of the young man's face.

"Good Lord," he said. "Maybe I've killed him!"

In a panic he ran round the corner to get Leary's outside man,
who stands in a little sentry box at the front angle of the store
and sells the outdoor books.

"Quick," he said. "There's a fellow back here badly hurt."

They ran back around the corner, and found Aubrey walking rather
shakily toward them. Immense relief swam through Roger's brain.

"Look here," he said, "I'm awfully sorry--are you hurt?"

Aubrey glared whitely at him, but was too stunned to speak.
He grunted, and the others took him one on each side and supported him.
Leary's man ran inside the store and opened the little door
of the freight elevator at the back of the shop. In this way,
avoiding notice save by a few book-prowlers, Aubrey was carted into
the shop as though he had been a parcel of second-hand books.

Mr. Warner greeted them at the back of the shop, a little surprised,
but gentle as ever.

"What's wrong?" he said.

"Oh, we've been fighting over a copy of Tooke's Pantheon,"
said Roger.

They led Aubrey into the little private office at the rear. Here they made
him sit down in a chair and bathed his bleeding head with cold water.
Philip Warner, always resourceful, produced some surgical plaster.
Roger wanted to telephone for a doctor.

"Not on your life," said Aubrey, pulling himself together. "See here,
Mr. Mifflin, don't flatter yourself you gave me this cut on the skull.
I got that the other evening on Brooklyn Bridge, going home from your
damned bookshop. Now if you and I can be alone for a few minutes,
we've got to have a talk."

Chapter XIV
The "Cromwell" Makes its Last Appearance

"You utter idiot," said Roger, half an hour later. "Why didn't you
tell me all this sooner? Good Lord, man, there's some devil's work
going on!"

"How the deuce was I to know you knew nothing about it?"
said Aubrey impatiently. "You'll grant everything pointed against you?
When I saw that guy go into the shop with his own key, what could I
think but that you were in league with him? Gracious, man, are you
so befuddled in your old books that you don't see what's going on
round you?"

"What time did you say that was?" said Roger shortly.

"One o'clock Sunday morning."

Roger thought a minute. "Yes, I was in the cellar with Bock,"
he said. "Bock barked, and I thought it was rats. That fellow
must have taken an impression of the lock and made himself a key.
He's been in the shop hundreds of times, and could easily do it.
That explains the disappearing Cromwell. But WHY?
What's the idea?"

"For the love of heaven," said Aubrey. "Let's get back to Brooklyn
as soon as we can. God only knows what may have happened.
Fool that I was, to go away and leave those women all alone.
Triple-distilled lunacy!"

"My dear fellow," said Roger, "I was the fool to be lured off
by a fake telephone call. Judging by what you say, Weintraub must
have worked that also."

Aubrey looked at his watch. "Just after three," he said.

"We can't get a train till four," said Roger. "That means we can't
get back to Gissing Street until nearly seven."

"Call them up," said Aubrey.

They were still in the private office at the rear of Leary's. Roger was
well-known in the shop, and had no hesitation in using the telephone.
He lifted the receiver.

"Long Distance, please," he said. "Hullo? I want to get Brooklyn,
Wordsworth 1617-W."

They spent a sour twenty-five minutes waiting for the connection.
Roger went out to talk with Warner, while Aubrey fumed in the back office.
He could not sit still, and paced the little room in a fidget
of impatience, tearing his watch out of his pocket every few minutes.
He felt dull and sick with vague fear. To his mind recurred
the spiteful buzz of that voice over the wire--"Gissing Street
is not healthy for you." He remembered the scuffle on the Bridge,
the whispering in the alley, and the sinister face of the druggist
at his prescription counter. The whole series of events
seemed a grossly fantastic nightmare, yet it frightened him.
"If only I were in Brooklyn," he groaned, "it wouldn't be so bad.
But to be over here, a hundred miles away, in another cursed bookshop,
while that girl may be in trouble--Gosh!" he muttered. "If I get
through this business all right I'll lay off bookshops for the rest of
my life!"

The telephone rang, and Aubrey frantically beckoned to Roger,
who was outside, talking.

"Answer it, you chump!" said Roger. "We'll lose the connection!"

"Nix," said Aubrey. "If Titania hears my voice she'll ring off.
She's sore at me."

Roger ran to the instrument. "Hullo, hullo?" he said, irritably.
"Hullo, is that Wordsworth----? Yes, I'm calling Brooklyn--Hullo!"

Aubrey, leaning over Roger's shoulder, could hear a clucking in
the receiver, and then, incredibly clear, a thin, silver, distant voice.
How well he knew it! It seemed to vibrate in the air all about him.
He could hear every syllable distinctly. A hot perspiration burst out
on his forehead and in the palms of his hands.

"Hullo," said Roger. "Is that Mifflin's Bookshop?"

"Yes," said Titania. "Is that you, Mr. Mifflin? Where are you?"

"In Philadelphia," said Roger. "Tell me, is everything all right?"

"Everything's dandy," said Titania. "I'm selling loads of books.
Mrs. Mifflin's gone out to do some shopping."

Aubrey shook to hear the tiny, airy voice, like a trill of birdsong,
like a tinkling from some distant star. He could imagine her standing
at the phone in the back of the shadowy bookshop, and seemed to see her
as though through an inverted telescope, very minute and very perfect.
How brave and exquisite she was!

"When are you coming home?" she was saying.

"About seven o'clock," said Roger. "Listen, is everything absolutely
O. K.?"

"Why, yes," said Titania. "I've been having lots of fun.
I went down just now and put some coal on the furnace. Oh, yes.
Mr. Weintraub came in a little while ago and left a suitcase of books.
He said you wouldn't mind. A friend of his is going to call for them
this afternoon."

"Hold the wire a moment," said Roger, and clapped his hand over
the mouthpiece. "She says Weintraub left a suitcase of books
there to be called for. What do you make of that?"

"For the love of God, tell her not to touch those books."

"Hullo?" said Roger. Aubrey, leaning over him, noticed that
the little bookseller's naked pate was ringed with crystal beads.

"Hullo?" replied Titania's elfin voice promptly.

"Did you open the suitcase?"

"No. It's locked. Mr. Weintraub said there were a lot of old books
in it for a friend of his. It's very heavy."

"Look here," said Roger, and his voice rang sharply. "This is important.
I don't want you to touch that suitcase. Leave it wherever it is,
and DON'T TOUCH IT. Promise me."

"Yes, Mr. Mifflin. Had I better put it in a safe place?"

"DON'T TOUCH IT!"

"Bock's sniffing at it now."

"Don't touch it, and don't let Bock touch it. It--it's got valuable
papers in it."

"I'll be careful of it," said Titania.

"Promise me not to touch it. And another thing--if any one calls
for it, don't let them take it until I get home."

Aubrey held out his watch in front of Roger. The latter nodded.

"Do you understand?" he said. "Do you hear me all right?"

"Yes, splendidly. I think it's wonderful! You know I never talked
on long distance before----"

"Don't touch the bag," repeated Roger doggedly, "and don't let
any one take it until we--until I get back."

"I promise," said Titania blithely.

"Good-bye," said Roger, and set down the receiver. His face looked
curiously pinched, and there was perspiration in the hollows
under his eyes. Aubrey held out his watch impatiently.

"We've just time to make it," cried Roger, and they rushed from
the shop.

It was not a sprightly journey. The train made its accustomed detour
through West Philadelphia and North Philadelphia before getting
down to business, and the two voyagers felt a personal hatred of
the brakemen who permitted passengers from these suburbs to straggle
leisurely aboard instead of flogging them in with knotted whips.
When the express stopped at Trenton, Aubrey could easily have turned
a howitzer upon that innocent city and blasted it into rubble.
An unexpected stop at Princeton Junction was the last straw.
Aubrey addressed the conductor in terms that were highly treasonable,
considering that this official was a government servant.

The winter twilight drew in, gray and dreary, with a threat of snow.
For some time they sat in silence, Roger buried in a Philadelphia
afternoon paper containing the text of the President's speech
announcing his trip to Europe, and Aubrey gloomily recapitulating
the schedule of his past week. His head throbbed, his hands were wet
with nervousness so that crumbs of tobacco adhered to them annoyingly.

"It's a funny thing," he said at last. "You know I never heard of your
shop until a week ago to-day, and now it seems like the most important
place on earth. It was only last Tuesday that we had supper together,
and since then I've had my scalp laid open twice, had a desperado lie
in wait for me in my own bedroom, spent two night vigils on Gissing Street,
and endangered the biggest advertising account our agency handles.
I don't wonder you call the place haunted!"

"I suppose it would all make good advertising copy?" said Roger peevishly.

"Well, I don't know" said Aubrey. "It's a bit too rough, I'm afraid.
How do you dope it out?"

"I don't know what to think. Weintraub has run that drug store for twenty
years or more. Years ago, before I ever got into the book business,
I used to know his shop. He was always rather interested in books,
especially scientific books, and we got quite friendly when I
opened up on Gissing Street. I never fell for his face very hard,
but he always seemed quiet and well-disposed. It sounds to me like
some kind of trade in illicit drugs, or German incendiary bombs.
You know what a lot of fires there were during the war--those big grain
elevators in Brooklyn, and so on."

"I thought at first it was a kidnapping stunt," said Aubrey.
"I thought you had got Miss Chapman planted in your shop so that these
other guys could smuggle her away."

"You seem to have done me the honour of thinking me a very
complete rascal," said Roger.

Aubrey's lips trembled with irritable retort, but he checked
himself heroically.

"What was your particular interest in the Cromwell book?"
he asked after a pause.

"Oh, I read somewhere--two or three years ago--that it was
one of Woodrow Wilson's favourite books. That interested me,
and I looked it up."

"By the way," cried Aubrey excitedly, "I forgot to show you
those numbers that were written in the cover." He pulled
out his memorandum book, and showed the transcript he had made.

"Well, one of these is perfectly understandable," said Roger.
"Here, where it says 329 ff. cf. W. W. That simply means 'pages
329 and following, compare Woodrow Wilson.' I remember jotting
that down not long ago, because that passage in the book reminded
me of some of Wilson's ideas. I generally note down in the back
of a book the numbers of any pages that interest me specially.
These other page numbers convey nothing unless I had the book
before me."

"The first bunch of numbers was in your handwriting, then; but underneath
were these others, in Weintraub's--or at any rate in his ink.
When I saw that he was jotting down what I took to be code stuff
in the backs of your books I naturally assumed you and he were
working together----"

"And you found the cover in his drug store?"

"Yes."

Roger scowled. "I don't make it out," he said. "Well, there's nothing
we can do till we get there. Do you want to look at the paper?
There's the text of Wilson's speech to Congress this morning."

Aubrey shook his head dismally, and leaned his hot forehead
against the pane. Neither of them spoke again until they reached
Manhattan Transfer, where they changed for the Hudson Terminal.

It was seven o'clock when they hurried out of the subway terminus
at Atlantic Avenue. It was a raw, damp evening, but the streets
had already begun to bustle with their nightly exuberance of light
and colour. The yellow glitter of a pawnshop window reminded Aubrey
of the small revolver in his pocket. As they passed a dark alley,
he stepped aside to load the weapon.

"Have you anything of this sort with you?" he said, showing it
to Roger.

"Good Lord, no," said the bookseller. "What do you think I am,
a moving-picture hero?"

Down Gissing Street the younger man set so rapid a pace that
his companion had to trot to keep abreast. The placid vista
of the little street was reassuring. Under the glowing effusion
of the shop windows the pavement was a path of checkered brightness.
In Weintraub's pharmacy they could see the pasty-faced assistant
in his stained white coat serving a beaker of hot chocolate.
In the stationer's shop people were looking over trays of Christmas cards.
In the Milwaukee Lunch Aubrey saw (and envied) a sturdy citizen
peacefully dipping a doughnut into a cup of coffee.

"This all seems very unreal," said Roger.

As they neared the bookshop, Aubrey's heart gave a jerk of apprehension.
The blinds in the front windows had been drawn down. A dull shining
came through them, showing that the lights were turned on inside.
But why should the shades be lowered with closing time three
hours away?

They reached the front door, and Aubrey was about to seize the handle
when Roger halted him.

"Wait a moment," he said. "Let's go in quietly. There may be
something queer going on."

Aubrey turned the knob gently. The door was locked.

Roger pulled out his latchkey and cautiously released the bolt.
Then he opened the door slightly--about an inch.

"You're taller than I am," he whispered. "Reach up and muffle
the bell above the door while I open it."

Aubrey thrust three fingers through the aperture and blocked
the trigger of the gong. Then Roger pushed the door wide,
and they tiptoed in.

The shop was empty, and apparently normal. They stood for an instant
with pounding pulses.

From the back of the house came a clear voice, a little tremulous:

"You can do what you like, I shan't tell you where it is.
Mr. Mifflin said----"

There followed the bang of a falling chair, and a sound of rapid movement.

Aubrey was down the aisle in a flash, followed by Roger,
who had delayed just long enough to close the door. He tiptoed up
the steps at the back of the shop and looked into the dining room.
At the instant his eyes took in the scene it seemed as though the whole
room was in motion.

The cloth was spread for supper and shone white under the drop lamp.
In the far corner of the room Titania was struggling in the grasp
of a bearded man whom Aubrey instantly recognized as the chef.
On the near side of the table, holding a revolver levelled
at the girl, stood Weintraub. His back was toward the door.
Aubrey could see the druggist's sullen jaw crease and shake
with anger.

Two strides took him into the room. He jammed the muzzle of his pistol
against the oily cheek. "Drop it!" he said hoarsely. "You Hun!"
With his left hand he seized the man's shirt collar and drew it tight
against the throat. In his tremor of rage and excitement his arms
felt curiously weak, and his first thought was how impossible it would
be to strangle that swinish neck.

For an instant there was a breathless tableau. The bearded man still had
his hands on Titania's shoulders. She, very pale but with brilliant eyes,
gazed at Aubrey in unbelieving amazement. Weintraub stood quite
motionless with both hands on the dining table, as though thinking.
He felt the cold bruise of metal against the hollow of his cheek.
Slowly he opened his right hand and his revolver fell on the linen cloth.
Then Roger burst into the room.

Titania wrenched herself away from the chef.

"I wouldn't give them the suitcase!" she cried.

Aubrey kept his pistol pinned against Weintraub's face.
With his left hand he picked up the druggist's revolver.
Roger was about to seize the chef, who was standing uncertainly on
the other side of the table.

"Here," said Aubrey, "take this gun. Cover this fellow and leave
that one to me. I've got a score to settle with him."

The chef made a movement as though to jump through the window
behind him, but Aubrey flung himself upon him. He hit the man
square on the nose and felt a delicious throb of satisfaction
as the rubbery flesh flattened beneath his knuckles.
He seized the man's hairy throat and sank his fingers into it.
The other tried to snatch the bread knife on the table, but was too late.
He fell to the floor, and Aubrey throttled him savagely.

"You blasted Hun," he grunted. "Go wrestling with girls, will you?"

Titania ran from the room, through the pantry.

Roger was holding Weintraub's revolver in front of the German's face.

"Look here," he said, "what does this mean?"

"It's all a mistake," said the druggist suavely, though his eyes
slid uneasily to and fro. "I just came in to get some books I left
here earlier in the afternoon."

"With a revolver, eh?" said Roger. "Speak up, Hindenburg,
what's the big idea?"

"It's not my revolver," said Weintraub. "It's Metzger's."

"Where's this suitcase of yours?" said Roger. "We're going
to have a look at it."

"It's all a stupid mistake," said Weintraub. "I left a suitcase
of old books here for Metzger, because I expected to go out of town
this afternoon. He called for it, and your young woman wouldn't
give it to him. He came to me, and I came down here to tell her it
was all right."

"Is that Metzger?" said Roger, pointing to the bearded man who was
trying to break Aubrey's grip. "Gilbert, don't choke that man,
we want him to do some explaining."

Aubrey got up, picked his revolver from the floor where he had
dropped it, and prodded the chef to his feet.

"Well, you swine," he said, "how did you enjoy falling downstairs
the other evening? As for you, Herr Weintraub, I'd like to know
what kind of prescriptions you make up in that cellar of yours."

Weintraub's face shone damply in the lamplight. Perspiration was
thick on his forehead.

"My dear Mifflin," he said, "this is awfully stupid. In my eagerness,
I'm afraid----"

Titania ran back into the room, followed by Helen, whose face
was crimson.

"Thank God you're back, Roger," she said. "These brutes tied me up
in the kitchen and gagged me with a roller-towel. They threatened
to shoot Titania if she wouldn't give them the suitcase."

Weintraub began to say something, but Roger thrust the revolver
between his eyes.

"Hold your tongue!" he said. "We're going to have a look
at those books of yours."

"I'll get the suitcase," said Titania. "I hid it. When Mr. Weintraub
came in and asked for it, at first I was going to give it to him,
but he looked so queer I thought something must be wrong."

"Don't you get it," said Aubrey, and their eyes met for the first time.
"Show me where it is, and we'll let friend Hun bring it."

Titania flushed a little. "It's in my bedroom cupboard,"
she said.

She led the way upstairs, Metzger following, and Aubrey behind Metzger
with his pistol ready. Outside the bedroom door Aubrey halted.
"Show him the suitcase and let him pick it up," he said.
"If he makes a wrong movement, call me, and I'll shoot him."

Titania pointed out the suitcase, which she had stowed at the back
of her cupboard behind some clothes. The chef showed no insubordination,
and the three returned downstairs.

"Very well," said Roger. "We'll go down in the shop where we can
see better. Perhaps he's got a first folio Shakespeare in here.
Helen, you go to the phone and ring up the McFee Street police station.
Ask them to send a couple of men round here at once."

"My dear Mifflin," said Weintraub, "this is very absurd.
Only a few old books that I had collected from time to time."

"I don't call it absurd when a man comes into my house and ties my wife
up with clothesline and threatens to shoot a young girl," said Roger.
"We'll see what the police have to say about this, Weintraub.
Don't make any mistake: if you try to bolt I'll blow your brains out."

Aubrey led the way down into the shop while Metzger carried the suitcase.
Roger and Weintraub followed, and Titania brought up the rear.
Under a bright light in the Essay alcove Aubrey made the chef lay
the bag on the table.

"Open her up," he said curtly.

"It's nothing but some old books," said Metzger.

"If they're old enough they may be valuable," said Roger.
"I'm interested in old books. Look sharp!"

Metzger drew a key from his pocket and unlocked the bag.
Aubrey held the pistol at his head as he threw back the lid.

The suitcase was full of second-hand books closely packed together.
Roger, with great presence of mind, was keeping his eyes on Weintraub.

"Tell me what's in it," he said.

"Why, it's only a lot of books, after all," cried Titania.

"You see," said Weintraub surlily, "there's no mystery about it.
I'm sorry I was so----"

"Oh, look!" said Titania; "There's the Cromwell book!"

For an instant Roger forgot himself. He looked instinctively
at the suitcase, and in that moment the druggist broke away,
ran down the aisle, and flew out of the door. Roger dashed after him,
but was too late. Aubrey was holding Metzger by the collar
with the pistol at his head.

"Good God," he said, "why didn't you shoot?"

"I don't know" said Roger in confusion. "I was afraid of hitting him.
Never mind, we can fix him later."

"The police will be here in a minute," said Helen, calling from
the telephone. "I'm going to let Bock in. He's in the back yard."

"I think they're both crazy," said Titania. "Let's put the Cromwell
back on the shelf and let this creature go." She put out her hand
for the book.

"Stop!" cried Aubrey, and seized her arm. "Don't touch that book!"

Titania shrank back, frightened by his voice. Had everyone gone insane?

"Here, Mr. Metzger," said Aubrey, "you put that book back
on the shelf where it belongs. Don't try to get away.
I've got this revolver pointed at you."

He and Roger were both startled by the chef's face.
Above the unkempt beard his eyes shone with a half-crazed lustre,
and his hands shook.

"Very well," he said. "Show me where it goes."

"I'll show you," said Titania.

Aubrey put out his arm in front of the girl. "Stay where you are,"
he said angrily.

"Down in the History alcove," said Roger. "The front alcove
on the other side of the shop. We've both got you covered."

Instead of taking the volume from the suitcase, Metzger picked
up the whole bag, holding it flat. He carried it to the alcove
they indicated. He placed the case carefully on the floor,
and picked the Cromwell volume out of it.

"Where would you want it to go?" he said in an odd voice.
"This is a valuable book."

"On the fifth shelf," said Roger. "Over there----"

"For God's sake stand back," said Aubrey. "Don't go near him.
There's something damnable about this."

"You poor fools!" cried Metzger harshly. "To hell with you
and your old books." He drew his hand back as though to throw
the volume at them.

There was a quick patter of feet, and Bock, growling, ran down the aisle.
In the same instant, Aubrey, obeying some unexplained impulse,
gave Roger a violent push back into the Fiction alcove, seized Titania
roughly in his arms, and ran with her toward the back of the shop.

Metzger's arm was raised, about to throw the book, when Bock darted
at him and buried his teeth in the man's leg. The Cromwell fell
from his hand.

There was a shattering explosion, a dull roar, and for an instant
Aubrey thought the whole bookshop had turned into a vast spinning top.
The floor rocked and sagged, shelves of books were hurled in
every direction. Carrying Titania, he had just reached the steps
leading to the domestic quarters when they were flung sideways into
the corner behind Roger's desk. The air was full of flying books.
A row of encyclopedias crashed down upon his shoulders,
narrowly missing Titania's head. The front windows were shivered
into flying streamers of broken glass. The table near the door
was hurled into the opposite gallery. With a splintering crash
the corner of the gallery above the History alcove collapsed,
and hundreds of volumes cascaded heavily on to the floor.
The lights went out, and for an instant all was silence.

"Are you all right?" said Aubrey hastily. He and Titania had fallen
sprawling against the bookseller's desk.

"I think so," she said faintly. "Where's Mr. Mifflin?"

Aubrey put out his hand to help her, and touched something wet
on the floor. "Good heavens," he thought. "She's dying!"
He struggled to his feet in the darkness. "Hullo, Mr. Mifflin,"
he called, "where are you?"

There was no answer.

A beam of light gushed out from the passageway behind the shop,
and picking his way over fallen litter he found Mrs. Mifflin standing
dazed by the dining-room door. In the back of the house the lights
were still burning.

"For heaven's sake, have you a candle?" he said.

"Where's Roger?" she cried piteously, and stumbled into the kitchen.

With a candle Aubrey found Titania sitting on the floor, very faint,
but unhurt. What he had thought was blood proved to be a pool
of ink from a quart bottle that had stood over Roger's desk.
He picked her up like a child and carried her into the kitchen.
"Stay here and don't stir," he said.

By this time a crowd was already gathering on the pavement.
Someone came in with a lantern. Three policemen appeared at
the door.

"For God's sake," cried Aubrey, "get a light in here so we can
see what's happened. Mifflin's buried in this mess somewhere.
Someone ring for an ambulance."

The whole front of the Haunted Bookshop was a wreck.
In the pale glimmer of the lantern it was a disastrous sight.
Helen groped her way down the shattered aisle.

"Where was he?" she cried wildly.

"Thanks to that set of Trollope," said a voice in the remains
of the Fiction alcove, "I think I'm all right. Books make
good shock-absorbers. Is any one hurt?"

It was Roger, half stunned, but undamaged. He crawled out from
under a case of shelves that had crumpled down upon him.

"Bring that lantern over here," said Aubrey, pointing to a dark
heap lying on the floor under the broken fragments of Roger's
bulletin board.

It was the chef. He was dead. And clinging to his leg was all
that was left of Bock.

Chapter XV
Mr. Chapman Waves His Wand

Gissing Street will not soon forget the explosion at the Haunted Bookshop.
When it was learned that the cellar of Weintraub's pharmacy contained
just the information for which the Department of Justice had been
looking for four years, and that the inoffensive German-American
druggist had been the artisan of hundreds of incendiary bombs that had
been placed on American and Allied shipping and in ammunition plants--
and that this same Weintraub had committed suicide when arrested
on Bromfield Street in Boston the next day--Gissing Street hummed
with excitement. The Milwaukee Lunch did a roaring business among
the sensation seekers who came to view the ruins of the bookshop.
When it became known that fragments of a cabin plan of the George
Washington had been found in Metzger's pocket, and the confession
of an accomplice on the kitchen staff of the Octagon Hotel showed
that the bomb, disguised as a copy of one of Woodrow Wilson's
favourite books, was to have been placed in the Presidential suite
of the steamship, indignation knew no bounds. Mrs. J. F. Smith
left Mrs. Schiller's lodgings, declaring that she would stay no
longer in a pro-German colony; and Aubrey was able at last to get a
much-needed bath.

For the next three days he was too busy with agents of the Department
of Justice to be able to carry on an investigation of his own
that greatly occupied his mind. But late on Friday afternoon
he called at the bookshop to talk things over.

The debris had all been neatly cleared away, and the shattered
front of the building boarded up. Inside, Aubrey found Roger
seated on the floor, looking over piles of volumes that were
heaped pell-mell around him. Through Mr. Chapman's influence
with a well-known firm of builders, the bookseller had been able
to get men to work at once in making repairs, but even so it would
be at least ten days, he said, before he could reopen for business.
"I hate to lose the value of all this advertising," he lamented.
"It isn't often that a second-hand bookstore gets onto the front pages
of the newspapers."

"I thought you didn't believe in advertising," said Aubrey.

"The kind of advertising I believe in," said Roger, "is the kind
that doesn't cost you anything."

Aubrey smiled as he looked round at the dismantled shop.
"It seems to me that this'll cost you a tidy bit when the bill
comes in."

"My dear fellow," said Roger, "This is just what I needed.
I was getting into a rut. The explosion has blown out a whole
lot of books I had forgotten about and didn't even know I had.
Look, here's an old copy of How to Be Happy Though Married, which I
see the publisher lists as 'Fiction.' Here's Urn Burial, and The Love
Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, and Mistletoe's Book of Deplorable Facts.
I'm going to have a thorough house-cleaning. I'm thinking seriously
of putting in a vacuum cleaner and a cash register. Titania was
quite right, the place was too dirty. That girl has given me a lot
of ideas."

Aubrey wanted to ask where she was, but didn't like to say so point-blank.

"There's no question about it," said Roger, "an explosion now and then
does one good. Since the reporters got here and dragged the whole yarn
out of us, I've had half a dozen offers from publishers for my book,
a lyceum bureau wants me to lecture on Bookselling as a Form
of Public Service, I've had five hundred letters from people asking
when the shop will reopen for business, and the American Booksellers'
Association has invited me to give an address at its convention
next spring. It's the first recognition I've ever had. If it weren't
for poor dear old Bock---- Come, we've buried him in the back yard.
I want to show you his grave."

Over a pathetically small mound near the fence a bunch of big
yellow chrysanthemums were standing in a vase.

"Titania put those there," said Roger. "She says she's going
to plant a dogwood tree there in the spring. We intend to put up
a little stone for him, and I'm trying to think of an inscription,
I thought of De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum, but that's a bit too flippant."

The living quarters of the house had not been damaged
by the explosion, and Roger took Aubrey back to the den.
"You've come just at the right time," he said. "Mr. Chapman's
coming to dinner this evening, and we'll all have a good talk.
There's a lot about this business I don't understand yet."

Aubrey was still keeping his eye open for a sign of Titania's presence,
and Roger noticed his wandering gaze.

"This is Miss Chapman's afternoon off," he said. "She got
her first salary to-day, and was so much exhilarated that she
went to New York to blow it in. She's out with her father.
Excuse me, please, I'm going to help Helen get dinner ready."

Aubrey sat down by the fire, and lit his pipe. The burden
of his meditation was that it was just a week since he had first
met Titania, and in all that week there had been no waking moment
when he had not thought of her. He was wondering how long it
might take for a girl to fall in love? A man--he knew now--
could fall in love in five minutes, but how did it work with girls?
He was also thinking what unique Daintybits advertising copy
he could build (like all ad men he always spoke of building an ad,
never of writing one) out of this affair if he could only use
the inside stuff.

He heard a rustle behind him, and there she was. She had on a gray
fur coat and a lively little hat. Her cheeks were delicately
tinted by the winter air. Aubrey rose.

"Why, Mr. Gilbert!" she said. "Where have you been keeping
yourself when I wanted to see you so badly? I haven't seen you,
not to talk to, since last Sunday."

He found it impossible to say anything intelligible. She threw
off her coat, and went on, with a wistful gravity that became
her even more than smiles:

"Mr. Mifflin has told me some more about what you did last week--
I mean, how you took a room across the street and spied upon that
hateful man and saw through the whole thing when we were too blind
to know what was going on. And I want to apologize for the silly
things I said that Sunday morning. Will you forgive me?"

Aubrey had never felt his self-salesmanship ability at such a low ebb.
To his unspeakable horror, he felt his eyes betray him.
They grew moist.

"Please don't talk like that," he said. "I had no right to do what
I did, anyway. And I was wrong in what I said about Mr. Mifflin.
I don't wonder you were angry."

"Now surely you're not going to deprive me of the pleasure
of thanking you," she said. "You know as well as I do that you
saved my life--all our lives, that night. I guess you'd have
saved poor Bock's, too, if you could." Her eyes filled with tears.

"If anybody deserves credit, it's you," he said. "Why, if it hadn't
been for you they'd have been away with that suitcase and probably
Metzger would have got his bomb on board the ship and blown up
the President----"

"I'm not arguing with you," she said. "I'm just thanking you."

It was a happy little party that sat down in Roger's dining room
that evening. Helen had prepared Eggs Samuel Butler in Aubrey's honour,
and Mr. Chapman had brought two bottles of champagne to pledge
the future success of the bookshop. Aubrey was called upon
to announce the result of his conferences with the secret service
men who had been looking up Weintraub's record.

"It all seems so simple now," he said, "that I wonder we didn't see
through it at once. You see, we all made the mistake of assuming that
German plotting would stop automatically when the armistice was signed.
It seems that this man Weintraub was one of the most dangerous spies
Germany had in this country. Thirty or forty fires and explosions
on our ships at sea are said to have been due to his work.
As he had lived here so long and taken out citizen's papers, no one
suspected him. But after his death, his wife, whom he had treated
very brutally, gave way and told a great deal about his activities.
According to her, as soon as it was announced that the President
would go to the Peace Conference, Weintraub made up his mind to get
a bomb into the President's cabin on board the George Washington.
Mrs. Weintraub tried to dissuade him from it, as she was in secret
opposed to these murderous plots of his, but he threatened to kill
her if she thwarted him. She lived in terror of her life.
I can believe it, for I remember her face when her husband looked
at her.

"Of course to make the bomb was simple enough for Weintraub.
He had an infernally complete laboratory in the cellar of his house,
where he had made hundreds. The problem was, how to make a bomb
that would not look suspicious, and how to get it into the President's
private cabin. He hit on the idea of binding it into the cover
of a book. How he came to choose that particular volume,
I don't know."

"I think probably I gave him the idea quite innocently," said Roger.
"He used to come in here a good deal and one day he asked me whether
Mr. Wilson was a great reader. I said that I believed he was,
and then mentioned the Cromwell, which I had heard was one of Wilson's
favourite books. Weintraub was much interested and said he must
read the book some day. I remember now that he stood in that alcove
for some time, looking over it."

"Well," said Aubrey, "it must have seemed to him that luck
was playing into his hands. This man Metzger, who had been
an assistant chef at the Octagon for years, was slated to go
on board the George Washington with the party of cooks
from that hotel who were to prepare the President's meals.
Weintraub was informed of all this from someone higher up in the German
spy organization. Metzger, who was known as Messier at the hotel,
was a very clever chef, and had fake passports as a Swiss citizen.
He was another tool of the organization. By the original scheme
there would have been no direct communication between Weintraub
and Metzger, but the go-between was spotted by the Department
of Justice on another count, and is now behind bars at Atlanta.

"It seems that Weintraub had conceived the idea that the least
suspicious way of passing his messages to Metzger would be to slip
them into a copy of some book--a book little likely to be purchased--
in a second-hand bookshop. Metzger had been informed what the book
was, but--perhaps owing to the unexpected removal of the go-between--
did not know in which shop he was to find it. That explains why
so many booksellers had inquiries from him recently for a copy
of the Cromwell volume.

"Weintraub, of course, was not at all anxious to have any direct
dealings with Metzger, as the druggist had a high regard for his
own skin. When the chef was finally informed where the bookshop
was in which he was to see the book, he hurried over here.
Weintraub had picked out this shop not only because it was as unlikely
as any place on earth to be suspected as a channel of spy codes,
but also because he had your confidence and could drop in frequently
without arousing surprise. The first time Metzger came here happened
to be the night I dined with you, as you remember."

Roger nodded. "He asked for the book, and to my surprise,
it wasn't there."

"No: for the excellent reason that Weintraub had taken it some
days before, to measure it so he could build his infernal machine to fit,
and also to have it rebound. He needed the original binding as a case
for his bomb. The following night, as you told me, it came back.
He brought it himself, having provided himself with a key to your
front door."

"It was gone again on Thursday night, when the Corn Cob Club met here,"
said Mr. Chapman.

"Yes, that time Metzger had taken it," said Aubrey. "He misunderstood
his instructions, and thought he was to steal the book.
You see, owing to the absence of their third man, they were working
at cross purposes. Metzger, I think, was only intended to get
his information out of the book, and leave it where it was.
At any rate, he was puzzled, and inserted that ad in the Times
the next morning--that LOST ad, you remember. By that, I imagine,
he intended to convey the idea that he had located the bookshop,
but didn't know what to do next. And the date he mentioned in the ad,
midnight on Tuesday, December third, was to inform Weintraub
(of whose identity he was still ignorant) when Metzger was to go
on board the ship. Weintraub had been instructed by their spy
organization to watch the LOST and FOUND ads."

"Think of it!" cried Titania.

"Well," continued Aubrey, "all this may not be 100 per cent.
accurate, but after putting things together this is how it dopes out.
Weintraub, who was as canny as they make them, saw he'd have to get
into direct touch with Metzger. He sent him word, on the Friday,
to come over to see him and bring the book. Metzger, meanwhile,
had had a bad fright when I spoke to him in the hotel elevator.
He returned the book to the shop that night, as Mrs. Mifflin remembers.
Then, when I stopped in at the drug store on my way home, he must have been
with Weintraub. I found the Cromwell cover in the drug-store bookcase--
why Weintraub was careless enough to leave it there I can't guess--
and they spotted me right away as having some kind of hunch.
So they followed me over the Bridge and tried to get rid of me.
It was because I got that cover on Friday night that Weintraub broke
into the shop again early Sunday morning. He had to have the cover
of the book to bind his bomb in."

Aubrey was agreeably conscious of the close attention of his audience.
He caught Titania's gaze, and flushed a little.

"That's pretty nearly all there is to it," he said. "I knew
that if those guys were so keen to put me out of the way there
must be something rather rotten on foot. I came over to Brooklyn
the next afternoon, Saturday, and took a room across the street."

"And we went to the movies," chirped Titania.

"The rest of it I think you all know--except Metzger's visit
to my lodgings that night." He described the incident.
"You see they were trailing me pretty close. If I hadn't happened
to notice the cigar at my window I guess he'd have had me on toast.
Of course you know how wrongly I doped it out. I thought Mr. Mifflin
was running with them, and I owe him my apology for that.
He's laid me out once on that score, over in Philadelphia."

Humourously, Aubrey narrated how he had sleuthed the bookseller
to Ludlow Street, and had been worsted in battle.

"I think they counted on disposing of me sooner or later," said Aubrey.
"They framed up that telephone call to get Mr. Mifflin out of town.
The point in having Metzger come to the bookshop to get the suitcase
was to clear Weintraub's skirts if possible. Apparently it was just
a bag of old books. The bombed book, I guess, was perfectly harmless
until any one tried to open it."

"You both got back just in the nick of time," said Titania admiringly.
"You see I was all alone most of the afternoon. Weintraub left
the suitcase about two o'clock. Metzger came for it about six.
I refused to let him have it. He was very persistent, and I had
to threaten to set Bock at him. It was all I could do to hold
the dear old dog in, he was so keen to go for Metzger. The chef
went away, and I suppose he went up to see Weintraub about it.
I hid the suitcase in my room. Mr. Mifflin had forbidden
me to touch it, but I thought that the safest thing to do.
Then Mrs. Mifflin came in. We let Bock into the yard for a run,
and were getting supper. I heard the bell ring, and went into the shop.
There were the two Germans, pulling down the shades. I asked
what they meant by it, and they grabbed me and told me to shut up.
Then Metzger pointed a pistol at me while the other one tied up
Mrs. Mifflin."

"The damned scoundrels!" cried Aubrey. "They got what was coming
to them."

"Well, my friends," said Mr. Chapman, "Let's thank heaven that it
ended no worse. Mr. Gilbert, I haven't told you yet how I feel
about the whole affair. That'll come later. I'd like to propose
the health of Mr. Aubrey Gilbert, who is certainly the hero of this film!"

They drank the toast with cheers, and Aubrey blushed becomingly.

"Oh, I forgot something!" cried Titania. "When I went shopping
this afternoon I stopped in at Brentano's, and was lucky enough
to find just what I wanted. It's for Mr. Gilbert, as a souvenir
of the Haunted Bookshop."

She ran to the sideboard and brought back a parcel.

Aubrey opened it with delighted agitation. It was a copy of
Carlyle's Cromwell. He tried to stammer his thanks, but what he saw--
or thought he saw--in Titania's sparkling face--unmanned him.

"The same edition!" said Roger. "Now let's see what those mystic
page numbers are! Gilbert, have you got your memorandum?"

Aubrey took out his notebook. "Here we are," he said.
"This is what Weintraub wrote in the back of the cover."

153 (3) 1, 2.

Roger glanced at the notation.

"That ought to be easy," he said. "You see in this edition three
volumes are bound in one. Let's look at page 153 in the third volume,
the first and second lines."

Aubrey turned to the place. He read, and smiled.

"Right you are," he said.

"Read it!" they all cried.

"To seduce the Protector's guard, to blow up the Protector
in his bedroom, and do other little fiddling things."

"I shouldn't wonder if that's where he got his idea," said Roger.
"What have I been saying right along--that books aren't merely
dead things!"

"Good gracious," said Titania. "You told me that books are explosives.
You were right, weren't you! But it's lucky Mr. Gilbert didn't hear
you say it or he'd certainly have suspected you!"

"The joke is on me," said Roger.

"Well, I'VE got a toast to propose," said Titania. "Here's to
the memory of Bock, the dearest, bravest dog I ever met!"

They drank it with due gravity.

"Well, good people," said Mr. Chapman, "there's nothing we can
do for Bock now. But we can do something for the rest of us.
I've been talking with Titania, Mr. Mifflin. I'm bound to say
that after this disaster my first thought was to get her out of
the book business as fast as I could. I thought it was a little
too exciting for her. You know I sent her over here to have a quiet
time and calm down a bit. But she wouldn't hear of leaving.
And if I'm going to have a family interest in the book business
I want to do something to justify it. I know your idea about
travelling book-wagons, and taking literature into the countryside.
Now if you and Mrs. Mifflin can find the proper people to run them,
I'll finance a fleet of ten of those Parnassuses you're always
talking about, and have them built in time to go on the road next spring.
How about it?"

Roger and Helen looked at each other, and at Mr. Chapman.
In a flash Roger saw one of his dearest dreams coming true.
Titania, to whom this was a surprise, leaped from her chair
and ran to kiss her father, crying, "Oh, Daddy, you ARE a darling!"

Roger rose solemnly and gave Mr. Chapman his hand.

"My dear sir," he said, "Miss Titania has found the right word.
You are an honour to human nature, sir, and I hope you'll never live
to regret it. This is the happiest moment of my life."

"Then that's settled," said Mr. Chapman. "We'll go over
the details later. Now there's another thing on my mind.
Perhaps I shouldn't bring up business matters here, but this is a kind
of family party--Mr. Gilbert, it's my duty to inform you that I intend
to take my advertising out of the hands of the Grey-Matter Agency."
Aubrey's heart sank. He had feared a catastrophe of this kind
from the first. Naturally a hard-headed business man would not
care to entrust such vast interests to a firm whose young men went
careering about like secret service agents, hunting for spies,
eavesdropping in alleys, and accusing people of pro-germanism. Business,
Aubrey said to himself, is built upon Confidence, and what confidence
could Mr. Chapman have in such vagabond and romantic doings?
Still, he felt that he had done nothing to be ashamed of.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "We have tried to give you service.
I assure you that I've spent by far the larger part of my time at
the office in working up plans for your campaigns."

He could not bear to look at Titania, ashamed that she should
be the witness of his humiliation.

"That's exactly it," said Mr. Chapman. "I don't want just the larger
part of your time. I want all of it. I want you to accept the position
of assistant advertising manager of the Daintybits Corporation."

They all cheered, and for the third time that evening Aubrey felt
more overwhelmed than any good advertising man is accustomed to feel.
He tried to express his delight, and then added:

"I think it's my turn to propose a toast. I give you the health
of Mr. and Mrs. Mifflin, and their Haunted Bookshop, the place
where I first--I first----"

His courage failed him, and he concluded, "First learned the meaning
of literature."

"Suppose we adjourn to the den," said Helen. "We have so many
delightful things to talk over, and I know Roger wants to tell
you all about the improvements he is planning for the shop."

Aubrey lingered to be the last, and it is to be conjectured
that Titania did not drop her handkerchief merely by accident.
The others had already crossed the hall into the sitting room.

Their eyes met, and Aubrey could feel himself drowned in her steady,
honest gaze. He was tortured by the bliss of being so near her,
and alone. The rest of the world seemed to shred away and leave them
standing in that little island of light where the tablecloth gleamed
under the lamp.

In his hand he clutched the precious book. Out of all the thousand
things he thought, there was only one he dared to say.

"Will you write my name in it?"

"I'd love to," she said, a little shakily, for she, too,
was strangely alarmed at certain throbbings.

He gave her his pen, and she sat down at the table.
She wrote quickly

For Aubrey Gilbert
From Titania Chapman
With much gr

She paused.

"Oh," she said quickly. "Do I have to finish it now?"

She looked up at him, with the lamplight shining on her vivid face.
Aubrey felt oddly stupefied, and was thinking only of the little
golden sparkle of her eyelashes. This time her eyes were the first to
turn away.

"You see," she said with a funny little quaver, "I might want
to change the wording." And she ran from the room.

As she entered the den, her father was speaking. "You know,"
he said, "I'm rather glad she wants to stay in the book business."
Roger looked up at her.

"Well," he said, "I believe it agrees with her! You know, the beauty
of living in a place like this is that you get so absorbed in the books
you don't have any temptation to worry about anything else.
The people in books become more real to you than any one in actual life."

Titania, sitting on the arm of Mrs. Mifflin's chair, took Helen's hand,
unobserved by the others. They smiled at each other slyly.

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