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THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP
TO THE BOOKSELLERS
Be pleased to know, most worthy, that this little book is dedicated to you in affection and respect.
The faults of the composition are plain to you all. I begin merely in the hope of saying something further of the adventures of ROGER MIFFLIN, whose exploits in "Parnassus on Wheels" some of you have been kind enough to applaud. But then came Miss Titania Chapman, and my young advertising man fell in love with her, and the two of them rather ran away with the tale.
I think I should explain that the passage in Chapter VIII, dealing with the delightful talent of Mr. Sidney Drew, was written before the lamented death of that charming artist. But as it was a sincere tribute, sincerely meant, I have seen no reason for removing it.
Chapters I, II, III, and VI appeared originally in The Bookman, and to the editor of that admirable magazine I owe thanks for his permission to reprint.
Now that Roger is to have ten Parnassuses on the road, I am emboldened to think that some of you may encounter them on their travels. And if you do, I hope you will find that these new errants of the Parnassus on Wheels Corporation are living up to the ancient and honourable traditions of our noble profession.
Philadelphia, April 28, 1919
The Haunted Bookshop
The Haunted Bookshop
If you are ever in Brooklyn, that borough of superb sunsets and magnificent vistas of husband-propelled baby-carriages, it is to be hoped you may chance upon a quiet by-street where there is a very remarkable bookshop.
This bookshop, which does business under the unusual name "Parnassus at Home," is housed in one of the comfortable old brown-stone dwellings which have been the joy of several generations of plumbers and cockroaches. The owner of the business has been at pains to remodel the house to make it a more suitable shrine for his trade, which deals entirely in second-hand volumes. There is no second-hand bookshop in the world more worthy of respect.
It was about six o'clock of a cold November evening, with gusts of rain splattering upon the pavement, when a young man proceeded uncertainly along Gissing Street, stopping now and then to look at shop windows as though doubtful of his way. At the warm and shining face of a French rotisserie he halted to compare the number enamelled on the transom with a memorandum in his hand. Then he pushed on for a few minutes, at last reaching the address he sought. Over the entrance his eye was caught by the sign:
PARNASSUS AT HOME R. AND H. MIFFLIN BOOKLOVERS WELCOME! THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED
He stumbled down the three steps that led into the dwelling of the muses, lowered his overcoat collar, and looked about.
It was very different from such bookstores as he had been accustomed to patronize. Two stories of the old house had been thrown into one: the lower space was divided into little alcoves; above, a gallery ran round the wall, which carried books to the ceiling. The air was heavy with the delightful fragrance of mellowed paper and leather surcharged with a strong bouquet of tobacco. In front of him he found a large placard in a frame:
THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED by the ghosts Of all great literature, in hosts;
We sell no fakes or trashes. Lovers of books are welcome here, No clerks will babble in your ear,
Please smoke—but don't drop ashes! —— Browse as long as you like. Prices of all books plainly marked. If you want to ask questions, you'll find the proprietor where the tobacco smoke is thickest. We pay cash for books. We have what you want, though you may not know you want it.
Malnutrition of the reading faculty is a serious thing.
Let us prescribe for you.
By R. & H. MIFFLIN, Proprs.
The shop had a warm and comfortable obscurity, a kind of drowsy dusk, stabbed here and there by bright cones of yellow light from green-shaded electrics. There was an all-pervasive drift of tobacco smoke, which eddied and fumed under the glass lamp shades. Passing down a narrow aisle between the alcoves the visitor noticed that some of the compartments were wholly in darkness; in others where lamps were glowing he could see a table and chairs. In one corner, under a sign lettered ESSAYS, an elderly gentleman was reading, with a face of fanatical ecstasy illumined by the sharp glare of electricity; but there was no wreath of smoke about him so the newcomer concluded he was not the proprietor.
As the young man approached the back of the shop the general effect became more and more fantastic. On some skylight far overhead he could hear the rain drumming; but otherwise the place was completely silent, peopled only (so it seemed) by the gurgitating whorls of smoke and the bright profile of the essay reader. It seemed like a secret fane, some shrine of curious rites, and the young man's throat was tightened by a stricture which was half agitation and half tobacco. Towering above him into the gloom were shelves and shelves of books, darkling toward the roof. He saw a table with a cylinder of brown paper and twine, evidently where purchases might be wrapped; but there was no sign of an attendant.
"This place may indeed be haunted," he thought, "perhaps by the delighted soul of Sir Walter Raleigh, patron of the weed, but seemingly not by the proprietors."
His eyes, searching the blue and vaporous vistas of the shop, were caught by a circle of brightness that shone with a curious egg-like lustre. It was round and white, gleaming in the sheen of a hanging light, a bright island in a surf of tobacco smoke. He came more close, and found it was a bald head.
This head (he then saw) surmounted a small, sharp-eyed man who sat tilted back in a swivel chair, in a corner which seemed the nerve centre of the establishment. The large pigeon-holed desk in front of him was piled high with volumes of all sorts, with tins of tobacco and newspaper clippings and letters. An antiquated typewriter, looking something like a harpsichord, was half-buried in sheets of manuscript. The little bald-headed man was smoking a corn-cob pipe and reading a cook-book.
"I beg your pardon," said the caller, pleasantly; "is this the proprietor?"
Mr. Roger Mifflin, the proprietor of "Parnassus at Home," looked up, and the visitor saw that he had keen blue eyes, a short red beard, and a convincing air of competent originality.
"It is," said Mr. Mifflin. "Anything I can do for you?"
"My name is Aubrey Gilbert," said the young man. "I am representing the Grey-Matter Advertising Agency. I want to discuss with you the advisability of your letting us handle your advertising account, prepare snappy copy for you, and place it in large circulation mediums. Now the war's over, you ought to prepare some constructive campaign for bigger business."
The bookseller's face beamed. He put down his cook-book, blew an expanding gust of smoke, and looked up brightly.
"My dear chap," he said, "I don't do any advertising."
"Impossible!" cried the other, aghast as at some gratuitous indecency.
"Not in the sense you mean. Such advertising as benefits me most is done for me by the snappiest copywriters in the business."
"I suppose you refer to Whitewash and Gilt?" said Mr. Gilbert wistfully.
"Not at all. The people who are doing my advertising are Stevenson, Browning, Conrad and Company."
"Dear me," said the Grey-Matter solicitor. "I don't know that agency at all. Still, I doubt if their copy has more pep than ours."
"I don't think you get me. I mean that my advertising is done by the books I sell. If I sell a man a book by Stevenson or Conrad, a book that delights or terrifies him, that man and that book become my living advertisements."
"But that word-of-mouth advertising is exploded," said Gilbert. "You can't get Distribution that way. You've got to keep your trademark before the public."
"By the bones of Tauchnitz!" cried Mifflin. "Look here, you wouldn't go to a doctor, a medical specialist, and tell him he ought to advertise in papers and magazines? A doctor is advertised by the bodies he cures. My business is advertised by the minds I stimulate. And let me tell you that the book business is different from other trades. People don't know they want books. I can see just by looking at you that your mind is ill for lack of books but you are blissfully unaware of it! People don't go to a bookseller until some serious mental accident or disease makes them aware of their danger. Then they come here. For me to advertise would be about as useful as telling people who feel perfectly well that they ought to go to the doctor. Do you know why people are reading more books now than ever before? Because the terrific catastrophe of the war has made them realize that their minds are ill. The world was suffering from all sorts of mental fevers and aches and disorders, and never knew it. Now our mental pangs are only too manifest. We are all reading, hungrily, hastily, trying to find out—after the trouble is over—what was the matter with our minds."
The little bookseller was standing up now, and his visitor watched him with mingled amusement and alarm.
"You know," said Mifflin, "I am interested that you should have thought it worth while to come in here. It reinforces my conviction of the amazing future ahead of the book business. But I tell you that future lies not merely in systematizing it as a trade. It lies in dignifying it as a profession. It is small use to jeer at the public for craving shoddy books, quack books, untrue books. Physician, cure thyself! Let the bookseller learn to know and revere good books, he will teach the customer. The hunger for good books is more general and more insistent than you would dream. But it is still in a way subconscious. People need books, but they don't know they need them. Generally they are not aware that the books they need are in existence."
"Why wouldn't advertising be the way to let them know?" asked the young man, rather acutely.
"My dear chap, I understand the value of advertising. But in my own case it would be futile. I am not a dealer in merchandise but a specialist in adjusting the book to the human need. Between ourselves, there is no such thing, abstractly, as a 'good' book. A book is 'good' only when it meets some human hunger or refutes some human error. A book that is good for me would very likely be punk for you. My pleasure is to prescribe books for such patients as drop in here and are willing to tell me their symptoms. Some people have let their reading faculties decay so that all I can do is hold a post mortem on them. But most are still open to treatment. There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it. No advertisement on earth is as potent as a grateful customer.
"I will tell you another reason why I don't advertise," he continued. "In these days when everyone keeps his trademark before the public, as you call it, not to advertise is the most original and startling thing one can do to attract attention. It was the fact that I do NOT advertise that drew you here. And everyone who comes here thinks he has discovered the place himself. He goes and tells his friends about the book asylum run by a crank and a lunatic, and they come here in turn to see what it is like."
"I should like to come here again myself and browse about," said the advertising agent. "I should like to have you prescribe for me."
"The first thing needed is to acquire a sense of pity. The world has been printing books for 450 years, and yet gunpowder still has a wider circulation. Never mind! Printer's ink is the greater explosive: it will win. Yes, I have a few of the good books here. There are only about 30,000 really important books in the world. I suppose about 5,000 of them were written in the English language, and 5,000 more have been translated."
"You are open in the evenings?"
"Until ten o'clock. A great many of my best customers are those who are at work all day and can only visit bookshops at night. The real book-lovers, you know, are generally among the humbler classes. A man who is impassioned with books has little time or patience to grow rich by concocting schemes for cozening his fellows."
The little bookseller's bald pate shone in the light of the bulb hanging over the wrapping table. His eyes were bright and earnest, his short red beard bristled like wire. He wore a ragged brown Norfolk jacket from which two buttons were missing.
A bit of a fanatic himself, thought the customer, but a very entertaining one. "Well, sir," he said, "I am ever so grateful to you. I'll come again. Good-night." And he started down the aisle for the door.
As he neared the front of the shop, Mr. Mifflin switched on a cluster of lights that hung high up, and the young man found himself beside a large bulletin board covered with clippings, announcements, circulars, and little notices written on cards in a small neat script. The following caught his eye:
If your mind needs phosphorus, try "Trivia," by Logan Pearsall Smith.
If your mind needs a whiff of strong air, blue and cleansing, from hilltops and primrose valleys, try "The Story of My Heart," by Richard Jefferies.
If your mind needs a tonic of iron and wine, and a thorough rough-and-tumbling, try Samuel Butler's "Notebooks" or "The Man Who Was Thursday," by Chesterton.
If you need "all manner of Irish," and a relapse into irresponsible freakishness, try "The Demi-Gods," by James Stephens. It is a better book than one deserves or expects.
It's a good thing to turn your mind upside down now and then, like an hour-glass, to let the particles run the other way.
One who loves the English tongue can have a lot of fun with a Latin dictionary.
Human beings pay very little attention to what is told them unless they know something about it already. The young man had heard of none of these books prescribed by the practitioner of bibliotherapy. He was about to open the door when Mifflin appeared at his side.
"Look here," he said, with a quaint touch of embarrassment. "I was very much interested by our talk. I'm all alone this evening—my wife is away on a holiday. Won't you stay and have supper with me? I was just looking up some new recipes when you came in."
The other was equally surprised and pleased by this unusual invitation.
"Why—that's very good of you," he said. "Are you sure I won't be intruding?"
"Not at all!" cried the bookseller. "I detest eating alone: I was hoping someone would drop in. I always try to have a guest for supper when my wife is away. I have to stay at home, you see, to keep an eye on the shop. We have no servant, and I do the cooking myself. It's great fun. Now you light your pipe and make yourself comfortable for a few minutes while I get things ready. Suppose you come back to my den."
On a table of books at the front of the shop Mifflin laid a large card lettered:
PROPRIETOR AT SUPPER IF YOU WANT ANYTHING RING THIS BELL
Beside the card he placed a large old-fashioned dinner bell, and then led the way to the rear of the shop.
Behind the little office in which this unusual merchant had been studying his cook-book a narrow stairway rose on each side, running up to the gallery. Behind these stairs a short flight of steps led to the domestic recesses. The visitor found himself ushered into a small room on the left, where a grate of coals glowed under a dingy mantelpiece of yellowish marble. On the mantel stood a row of blackened corn-cob pipes and a canister of tobacco. Above was a startling canvas in emphatic oils, representing a large blue wagon drawn by a stout white animal—evidently a horse. A background of lush scenery enhanced the forceful technique of the limner. The walls were stuffed with books. Two shabby, comfortable chairs were drawn up to the iron fender, and a mustard-coloured terrier was lying so close to the glow that a smell of singed hair was sensible.
"There," said the host; "this is my cabinet, my chapel of ease. Take off your coat and sit down."
"Really," began Gilbert, "I'm afraid this is——"
"Nonsense! Now you sit down and commend your soul to Providence and the kitchen stove. I'll bustle round and get supper." Gilbert pulled out his pipe, and with a sense of elation prepared to enjoy an unusual evening. He was a young man of agreeable parts, amiable and sensitive. He knew his disadvantages in literary conversation, for he had gone to an excellent college where glee clubs and theatricals had left him little time for reading. But still he was a lover of good books, though he knew them chiefly by hearsay. He was twenty-five years old, employed as a copywriter by the Grey-Matter Advertising Agency.
The little room in which he found himself was plainly the bookseller's sanctum, and contained his own private library. Gilbert browsed along the shelves curiously. The volumes were mostly shabby and bruised; they had evidently been picked up one by one in the humble mangers of the second-hand vendor. They all showed marks of use and meditation.
Mr. Gilbert had the earnest mania for self-improvement which has blighted the lives of so many young men—a passion which, however, is commendable in those who feel themselves handicapped by a college career and a jewelled fraternity emblem. It suddenly struck him that it would be valuable to make a list of some of the titles in Mifflin's collection, as a suggestion for his own reading. He took out a memorandum book and began jotting down the books that intrigued him:
The Works of Francis Thompson (3 vols.) Social History of Smoking: Apperson The Path to Rome: Hilaire Belloc The Book of Tea: Kakuzo Happy Thoughts: F. C. Burnand Dr. Johnson's Prayers and Meditations Margaret Ogilvy: J. M. Barrie Confessions of a Thug: Taylor General Catalogue of the Oxford University Press The Morning's War: C. E. Montague The Spirit of Man: edited by Robert Bridges The Romany Rye: Borrow Poems: Emily Dickinson Poems: George Herbert The House of Cobwebs: George Gissing
So far had he got, and was beginning to say to himself that in the interests of Advertising (who is a jealous mistress) he had best call a halt, when his host entered the room, his small face eager, his eyes blue points of light.
"Come, Mr. Aubrey Gilbert!" he cried. "The meal is set. You want to wash your hands? Make haste then, this way: the eggs are hot and waiting."
The dining-room into which the guest was conducted betrayed a feminine touch not visible in the smoke-dimmed quarters of shop and cabinet. At the windows were curtains of laughing chintz and pots of pink geranium. The table, under a drop-light in a flame-coloured silk screen, was brightly set with silver and blue china. In a cut-glass decanter sparkled a ruddy brown wine. The edged tool of Advertising felt his spirits undergo an unmistakable upward pressure.
"Sit down, sir," said Mifflin, lifting the roof of a platter. "These are eggs Samuel Butler, an invention of my own, the apotheosis of hen fruit."
Gilbert greeted the invention with applause. An Egg Samuel Butler, for the notebook of housewives, may be summarized as a pyramid, based upon toast, whereof the chief masonries are a flake of bacon, an egg poached to firmness, a wreath of mushrooms, a cap-sheaf of red peppers; the whole dribbled with a warm pink sauce of which the inventor retains the secret. To this the bookseller chef added fried potatoes from another dish, and poured for his guest a glass of wine.
"This is California catawba," said Mifflin, "in which the grape and the sunshine very pleasantly (and cheaply) fulfil their allotted destiny. I pledge you prosperity to the black art of Advertising!"
The psychology of the art and mystery of Advertising rests upon tact, an instinctive perception of the tone and accent which will be en rapport with the mood of the hearer. Mr. Gilbert was aware of this, and felt that quite possibly his host was prouder of his whimsical avocation as gourmet than of his sacred profession as a bookman.
"Is it possible, sir," he began, in lucid Johnsonian, "that you can concoct so delicious an entree in so few minutes? You are not hoaxing me? There is no secret passage between Gissing Street and the laboratories of the Ritz?"
"Ah, you should taste Mrs. Mifflin's cooking!" said the bookseller. "I am only an amateur, who dabbles in the craft during her absence. She is on a visit to her cousin in Boston. She becomes, quite justifiably, weary of the tobacco of this establishment, and once or twice a year it does her good to breathe the pure serene of Beacon Hill. During her absence it is my privilege to inquire into the ritual of housekeeping. I find it very sedative after the incessant excitement and speculation of the shop."
"I should have thought," said Gilbert, "that life in a bookshop would be delightfully tranquil."
"Far from it. Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world—the brains of men. I can spend a rainy afternoon reading, and my mind works itself up to such a passion and anxiety over mortal problems as almost unmans me. It is terribly nerve-racking. Surround a man with Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, Chesterton, Shaw, Nietzsche, and George Ade—would you wonder at his getting excited? What would happen to a cat if she had to live in a room tapestried with catnip? She would go crazy!"
"Truly, I had never thought of that phase of bookselling," said the young man. "How is it, though, that libraries are shrines of such austere calm? If books are as provocative as you suggest, one would expect every librarian to utter the shrill screams of a hierophant, to clash ecstatic castanets in his silent alcoves!"
"Ah, my boy, you forget the card index! Librarians invented that soothing device for the febrifuge of their souls, just as I fall back upon the rites of the kitchen. Librarians would all go mad, those capable of concentrated thought, if they did not have the cool and healing card index as medicament! Some more of the eggs?"
"Thank you," said Gilbert. "Who was the butler whose name was associated with the dish?"
"What?" cried Mifflin, in agitation, "you have not heard of Samuel Butler, the author of The Way of All Flesh? My dear young man, whoever permits himself to die before he has read that book, and also Erewhon, has deliberately forfeited his chances of paradise. For paradise in the world to come is uncertain, but there is indeed a heaven on this earth, a heaven which we inhabit when we read a good book. Pour yourself another glass of wine, and permit me——"
(Here followed an enthusiastic development of the perverse philosophy of Samuel Butler, which, in deference to my readers, I omit. Mr. Gilbert took notes of the conversation in his pocketbook, and I am pleased to say that his heart was moved to a realization of his iniquity, for he was observed at the Public Library a few days later asking for a copy of The Way of All Flesh. After inquiring at four libraries, and finding all copies of the book in circulation, he was compelled to buy one. He never regretted doing so.)
"But I am forgetting my duties as host," said Mifflin. "Our dessert consists of apple sauce, gingerbread, and coffee." He rapidly cleared the empty dishes from the table and brought on the second course.
"I have been noticing the warning over the sideboard," said Gilbert. "I hope you will let me help you this evening?" He pointed to a card hanging near the kitchen door. It read:
ALWAYS WASH DISHES IMMEDIATELY AFTER MEALS IT SAVES TROUBLE
"I'm afraid I don't always obey that precept," said the bookseller as he poured the coffee. "Mrs. Mifflin hangs it there whenever she goes away, to remind me. But, as our friend Samuel Butler says, he that is stupid in little will also be stupid in much. I have a different theory about dish-washing, and I please myself by indulging it.
"I used to regard dish-washing merely as an ignoble chore, a kind of hateful discipline which had to be undergone with knitted brow and brazen fortitude. When my wife went away the first time, I erected a reading stand and an electric light over the sink, and used to read while my hands went automatically through base gestures of purification. I made the great spirits of literature partners of my sorrow, and learned by heart a good deal of Paradise Lost and of Walt Mason, while I soused and wallowed among pots and pans. I used to comfort myself with two lines of Keats:
'The moving waters at their priest-like task Of pure ablution round earth's human shores——'
Then a new conception of the matter struck me. It is intolerable for a human being to go on doing any task as a penance, under duress. No matter what the work is, one must spiritualize it in some way, shatter the old idea of it into bits and rebuild it nearer to the heart's desire. How was I to do this with dish-washing?
"I broke a good many plates while I was pondering over the matter. Then it occurred to me that here was just the relaxation I needed. I had been worrying over the mental strain of being surrounded all day long by vociferous books, crying out at me their conflicting views as to the glories and agonies of life. Why not make dish-washing my balm and poultice?
"When one views a stubborn fact from a new angle, it is amazing how all its contours and edges change shape! Immediately my dishpan began to glow with a kind of philosophic halo! The warm, soapy water became a sovereign medicine to retract hot blood from the head; the homely act of washing and drying cups and saucers became a symbol of the order and cleanliness that man imposes on the unruly world about him. I tore down my book rack and reading lamp from over the sink.
"Mr. Gilbert," he went on, "do not laugh at me when I tell you that I have evolved a whole kitchen philosophy of my own. I find the kitchen the shrine of our civilization, the focus of all that is comely in life. The ruddy shine of the stove is as beautiful as any sunset. A well-polished jug or spoon is as fair, as complete and beautiful, as any sonnet. The dish mop, properly rinsed and wrung and hung outside the back door to dry, is a whole sermon in itself. The stars never look so bright as they do from the kitchen door after the ice-box pan is emptied and the whole place is 'redd up,' as the Scotch say."
"A very delightful philosophy indeed," said Gilbert. "And now that we have finished our meal, I insist upon your letting me give you a hand with the washing up. I am eager to test this dish-pantheism of yours!"
"My dear fellow," said Mifflin, laying a restraining hand on his impetuous guest, "it is a poor philosophy that will not abide denial now and then. No, no—I did not ask you to spend the evening with me to wash dishes." And he led the way back to his sitting room.
"When I saw you come in," said Mifflin, "I was afraid you might be a newspaper man, looking for an interview. A young journalist came to see us once, with very unhappy results. He wheedled himself into Mrs. Mifflin's good graces, and ended by putting us both into a book, called Parnassus on Wheels, which has been rather a trial to me. In that book he attributes to me a number of shallow and sugary observations upon bookselling that have been an annoyance to the trade. I am happy to say, though, that his book had only a trifling sale."
"I have never heard of it," said Gilbert.
"If you are really interested in bookselling you should come here some evening to a meeting of the Corn Cob Club. Once a month a number of booksellers gather here and we discuss matters of bookish concern over corn-cobs and cider. We have all sorts and conditions of booksellers: one is a fanatic on the subject of libraries. He thinks that every public library should be dynamited. Another thinks that moving pictures will destroy the book trade. What rot! Surely everything that arouses people's minds, that makes them alert and questioning, increases their appetite for books."
"The life of a bookseller is very demoralizing to the intellect," he went on after a pause. "He is surrounded by innumerable books; he cannot possibly read them all; he dips into one and picks up a scrap from another. His mind gradually fills itself with miscellaneous flotsam, with superficial opinions, with a thousand half-knowledges. Almost unconsciously he begins to rate literature according to what people ask for. He begins to wonder whether Ralph Waldo Trine isn't really greater than Ralph Waldo Emerson, whether J. M. Chapple isn't as big a man as J. M. Barrie. That way lies intellectual suicide.
"One thing, however, you must grant the good bookseller. He is tolerant. He is patient of all ideas and theories. Surrounded, engulfed by the torrent of men's words, he is willing to listen to them all. Even to the publisher's salesman he turns an indulgent ear. He is willing to be humbugged for the weal of humanity. He hopes unceasingly for good books to be born.
"My business, you see, is different from most. I only deal in second-hand books; I only buy books that I consider have some honest reason for existence. In so far as human judgment can discern, I try to keep trash out of my shelves. A doctor doesn't traffic in quack remedies. I don't traffic in bogus books.
"A comical thing happened the other day. There is a certain wealthy man, a Mr. Chapman, who has long frequented this shop——"
"I wonder if that could be Mr. Chapman of the Chapman Daintybits Company?" said Gilbert, feeling his feet touch familiar soil.
"The same, I believe," said Mifflin. "Do you know him?"
"Ah," cried the young man with reverence. "There is a man who can tell you the virtues of advertising. If he is interested in books, it is advertising that made it possible. We handle all his copy—I've written a lot of it myself. We have made the Chapman prunes a staple of civilization and culture. I myself devised that slogan 'We preen ourselves on our prunes' which you see in every big magazine. Chapman prunes are known the world over. The Mikado eats them once a week. The Pope eats them. Why, we have just heard that thirteen cases of them are to be put on board the George Washington for the President's voyage to the peace Conference. The Czecho-Slovak armies were fed largely on prunes. It is our conviction in the office that our campaign for the Chapman prunes did much to win the war."
"I read in an ad the other day—perhaps you wrote that, too?" said the bookseller, "that the Elgin watch had won the war. However, Mr. Chapman has long been one of my best customers. He heard about the Corn Cob Club, and though of course he is not a bookseller he begged to come to our meetings. We were glad to have him do so, and he has entered into our discussions with great zeal. Often he has offered many a shrewd comment. He has grown so enthusiastic about the bookseller's way of life that the other day he wrote to me about his daughter (he is a widower). She has been attending a fashionable girls' school where, he says, they have filled her head with absurd, wasteful, snobbish notions. He says she has no more idea of the usefulness and beauty of life than a Pomeranian dog. Instead of sending her to college, he has asked me if Mrs. Mifflin and I will take her in here to learn to sell books. He wants her to think she is earning her keep, and is going to pay me privately for the privilege of having her live here. He thinks that being surrounded by books will put some sense in her head. I am rather nervous about the experiment, but it is a compliment to the shop, isn't it?"
"Ye gods," cried Gilbert, "what advertising copy that would make!"
At this point the bell in the shop rang, and Mifflin jumped up. "This part of the evening is often rather busy," he said. "I'm afraid I'll have to go down on the floor. Some of my habitues rather expect me to be on hand to gossip about books."
"I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed myself," said Gilbert. "I'm going to come again and study your shelves."
"Well, keep it dark about the young lady," said the bookseller. "I don't want all you young blades dropping in here to unsettle her mind. If she falls in love with anybody in this shop, it'll have to be Joseph Conrad or John Keats!"
As he passed out, Gilbert saw Roger Mifflin engaged in argument with a bearded man who looked like a college professor. "Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell?" he was saying. "Yes, indeed! Right over here! Hullo, that's odd! It WAS here."
The Corn Cob Club
 The latter half of this chapter may be omitted by all readers who are not booksellers.
The Haunted Bookshop was a delightful place, especially of an evening, when its drowsy alcoves were kindled with the brightness of lamps shining on the rows of volumes. Many a passer-by would stumble down the steps from the street in sheer curiosity; others, familiar visitors, dropped in with the same comfortable emotion that a man feels on entering his club. Roger's custom was to sit at his desk in the rear, puffing his pipe and reading; though if any customer started a conversation, the little man was quick and eager to carry it on. The lion of talk lay only sleeping in him; it was not hard to goad it up.
It may be remarked that all bookshops that are open in the evening are busy in the after-supper hours. Is it that the true book-lovers are nocturnal gentry, only venturing forth when darkness and silence and the gleam of hooded lights irresistibly suggest reading? Certainly night-time has a mystic affinity for literature, and it is strange that the Esquimaux have created no great books. Surely, for most of us, an arctic night would be insupportable without O. Henry and Stevenson. Or, as Roger Mifflin remarked during a passing enthusiasm for Ambrose Bierce, the true noctes ambrosianae are the noctes ambrose bierceianae.
But Roger was prompt in closing Parnassus at ten o'clock. At that hour he and Bock (the mustard-coloured terrier, named for Boccaccio) would make the round of the shop, see that everything was shipshape, empty the ash trays provided for customers, lock the front door, and turn off the lights. Then they would retire to the den, where Mrs. Mifflin was generally knitting or reading. She would brew a pot of cocoa and they would read or talk for half an hour or so before bed. Sometimes Roger would take a stroll along Gissing Street before turning in. All day spent with books has a rather exhausting effect on the mind, and he used to enjoy the fresh air sweeping up the dark Brooklyn streets, meditating some thought that had sprung from his reading, while Bock sniffed and padded along in the manner of an elderly dog at night.
While Mrs. Mifflin was away, however, Roger's routine was somewhat different. After closing the shop he would return to his desk and with a furtive, shamefaced air take out from a bottom drawer an untidy folder of notes and manuscript. This was the skeleton in his closet, his secret sin. It was the scaffolding of his book, which he had been compiling for at least ten years, and to which he had tentatively assigned such different titles as "Notes on Literature," "The Muse on Crutches," "Books and I," and "What a Young Bookseller Ought to Know." It had begun long ago, in the days of his odyssey as a rural book huckster, under the title of "Literature Among the Farmers," but it had branched out until it began to appear that (in bulk at least) Ridpath would have to look to his linoleum laurels. The manuscript in its present state had neither beginning nor end, but it was growing strenuously in the middle, and hundreds of pages were covered with Roger's minute script. The chapter on "Ars Bibliopolae," or the art of bookselling, would be, he hoped, a classic among generations of book vendors still unborn. Seated at his disorderly desk, caressed by a counterpane of drifting tobacco haze, he would pore over the manuscript, crossing out, interpolating, re-arguing, and then referring to volumes on his shelves. Bock would snore under the chair, and soon Roger's brain would begin to waver. In the end he would fall asleep over his papers, wake with a cramp about two o'clock, and creak irritably to a lonely bed.
All this we mention only to explain how it was that Roger was dozing at his desk about midnight, the evening after the call paid by Aubrey Gilbert. He was awakened by a draught of chill air passing like a mountain brook over his bald pate. Stiffly he sat up and looked about. The shop was in darkness save for the bright electric over his head. Bock, of more regular habit than his master, had gone back to his couch in the kitchen, made of a packing case that had once coffined a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
"That's funny," said Roger to himself. "Surely I locked the door?" He walked to the front of the shop, switching on the cluster of lights that hung from the ceiling. The door was ajar, but everything else seemed as usual. Bock, hearing his footsteps, came trotting out from the kitchen, his claws rattling on the bare wooden floor. He looked up with the patient inquiry of a dog accustomed to the eccentricities of his patron.
"I guess I'm getting absent-minded," said Roger. "I must have left the door open." He closed and locked it. Then he noticed that the terrier was sniffing in the History alcove, which was at the front of the shop on the left-hand side.
"What is it, old man?" said Roger. "Want something to read in bed?" He turned on the light in that alcove. Everything appeared normal. Then he noticed a book that projected an inch or so beyond the even line of bindings. It was a fad of Roger's to keep all his books in a flat row on the shelves, and almost every evening at closing time he used to run his palm along the backs of the volumes to level any irregularities left by careless browsers. He put out a hand to push the book into place. Then he stopped.
"Queer again," he thought. "Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell! I looked for that book last night and couldn't find it. When that professor fellow was here. Maybe I'm tired and can't see straight. I'll go to bed."
The next day was a date of some moment. Not only was it Thanksgiving Day, with the November meeting of the Corn Cob Club scheduled for that evening, but Mrs. Mifflin had promised to get home from Boston in time to bake a chocolate cake for the booksellers. It was said that some of the members of the club were faithful in attendance more by reason of Mrs. Mifflin's chocolate cake, and the cask of cider that her brother Andrew McGill sent down from the Sabine Farm every autumn, than on account of the bookish conversation.
Roger spent the morning in doing a little housecleaning, in preparation for his wife's return. He was a trifle abashed to find how many mingled crumbs and tobacco cinders had accumulated on the dining-room rug. He cooked himself a modest lunch of lamb chops and baked potatoes, and was pleased by an epigram concerning food that came into his mind. "It's not the food you dream about that matters," he said to himself; "it's the vittles that walk right in and become a member of the family." He felt that this needed a little polishing and rephrasing, but that there was a germ of wit in it. He had a habit of encountering ideas at his solitary meals.
After this, he was busy at the sink scrubbing the dishes, when he was surprised by feeling two very competent arms surround him, and a pink gingham apron was thrown over his head. "Mifflin," said his wife, "how many times have I told you to put on an apron when you wash up!"
They greeted each other with the hearty, affectionate simplicity of those congenially wedded in middle age. Helen Mifflin was a buxom, healthy creature, rich in good sense and good humour, well nourished both in mind and body. She kissed Roger's bald head, tied the apron around his shrimpish person, and sat down on a kitchen chair to watch him finish wiping the china. Her cheeks were cool and ruddy from the keen air, her face lit with the tranquil satisfaction of those who have sojourned in the comfortable city of Boston.
"Well, my dear," said Roger, "this makes it a real Thanksgiving. You look as plump and full of matter as The Home Book of Verse."
"I've had a stunning time," she said, patting Bock who stood at her knee, imbibing the familiar and mysterious fragrance by which dogs identify their human friends. "I haven't even heard of a book for three weeks. I did stop in at the Old Angle Book Shop yesterday, just to say hullo to Joe Jillings. He says all booksellers are crazy, but that you are the craziest of the lot. He wants to know if you're bankrupt yet."
Roger's slate-blue eyes twinkled. He hung up a cup in the china closet and lit his pipe before replying.
"What did you say?"
"I said that our shop was haunted, and mustn't be supposed to come under the usual conditions of the trade."
"Bully for you! And what did Joe say to that?"
"'Haunted by the nuts!'"
"Well," said Roger, "when literature goes bankrupt I'm willing to go with it. Not till then. But by the way, we're going to be haunted by a beauteous damsel pretty soon. You remember my telling you that Mr. Chapman wants to send his daughter to work in the shop? Well, here's a letter I had from him this morning."
He rummaged in his pocket, and produced the following, which Mrs. Mifflin read:
DEAR MR. MIFFLIN,
I am so delighted that you and Mrs. Mifflin are willing to try the experiment of taking my daughter as an apprentice. Titania is really a very charming girl, and if only we can get some of the "finishing school" nonsense out of her head she will make a fine woman. She has had (it was my fault, not hers) the disadvantage of being brought up, or rather brought down, by having every possible want and whim gratified. Out of kindness for herself and her future husband, if she should have one, I want her to learn a little about earning a living. She is nearly nineteen, and I told her if she would try the bookshop job for a while I would take her to Europe for a year afterward.
As I explained to you, I want her to think she is really earning her way. Of course I don't want the routine to be too hard for her, but I do want her to get some idea of what it means to face life on one's own. If you will pay her ten dollars a week as a beginner, and deduct her board from that, I will pay you twenty dollars a week, privately, for your responsibility in caring for her and keeping your and Mrs. Mifflin's friendly eyes on her. I'm coming round to the Corn Cob meeting to-morrow night, and we can make the final arrangements.
Luckily, she is very fond of books, and I really think she is looking forward to the adventure with much anticipation. I overheard her saying to one of her friends yesterday that she was going to do some "literary work" this winter. That's the kind of nonsense I want her to outgrow. When I hear her say that she's got a job in a bookstore, I'll know she's cured.
Cordially yours, GEORGE CHAPMAN.
"Well?" said Roger, as Mrs. Mifflin made no comment. "Don't you think it will be rather interesting to get a naive young girl's reactions toward the problems of our tranquil existence?"
"Roger, you blessed innocent!" cried his wife. "Life will no longer be tranquil with a girl of nineteen round the place. You may fool yourself, but you can't fool me. A girl of nineteen doesn't REACT toward things. She explodes. Things don't 'react' anywhere but in Boston and in chemical laboratories. I suppose you know you're taking a human bombshell into the arsenal?"
Roger looked dubious. "I remember something in Weir of Hermiston about a girl being 'an explosive engine,'" he said. "But I don't see that she can do any very great harm round here. We're both pretty well proof against shell shock. The worst that could happen would be if she got hold of my private copy of Fireside Conversation in the Age of Queen Elizabeth. Remind me to lock it up somewhere, will you?"
This secret masterpiece by Mark Twain was one of the bookseller's treasures. Not even Helen had ever been permitted to read it; and she had shrewdly judged that it was not in her line, for though she knew perfectly well where he kept it (together with his life insurance policy, some Liberty Bonds, an autograph letter from Charles Spencer Chaplin, and a snapshot of herself taken on their honeymoon) she had never made any attempt to examine it.
"Well," said Helen; "Titania or no Titania, if the Corn Cobs want their chocolate cake to-night, I must get busy. Take my suitcase upstairs like a good fellow."
A gathering of booksellers is a pleasant sanhedrim to attend. The members of this ancient craft bear mannerisms and earmarks just as definitely recognizable as those of the cloak and suit business or any other trade. They are likely to be a little—shall we say—worn at the bindings, as becomes men who have forsaken worldly profit to pursue a noble calling ill rewarded in cash. They are possibly a trifle embittered, which is an excellent demeanour for mankind in the face of inscrutable heaven. Long experience with publishers' salesmen makes them suspicious of books praised between the courses of a heavy meal.
When a publisher's salesman takes you out to dinner, it is not surprising if the conversation turns toward literature about the time the last of the peas are being harried about the plate. But, as Jerry Gladfist says (he runs a shop up on Thirty-Eighth Street) the publishers' salesmen supply a long-felt want, for they do now and then buy one a dinner the like of which no bookseller would otherwise be likely to commit.
"Well, gentlemen," said Roger as his guests assembled in his little cabinet, "it's a cold evening. Pull up toward the fire. Make free with the cider. The cake's on the table. My wife came back from Boston specially to make it."
"Here's Mrs. Mifflin's health!" said Mr. Chapman, a quiet little man who had a habit of listening to what he heard. "I hope she doesn't mind keeping the shop while we celebrate?"
"Not a bit," said Roger. "She enjoys it."
"I see Tarzan of the Apes is running at the Gissing Street movie palace," said Gladfist. "Great stuff. Have you seen it?"
"Not while I can still read The Jungle Book," said Roger.
"You make me tired with that talk about literature," cried Jerry. "A book's a book, even if Harold Bell Wright wrote it."
"A book's a book if you enjoy reading it," amended Meredith, from a big Fifth Avenue bookstore. "Lots of people enjoy Harold Bell Wright just as lots of people enjoy tripe. Either of them would kill me. But let's be tolerant."
"Your argument is a whole succession of non sequiturs," said Jerry, stimulated by the cider to unusual brilliance.
"That's a long putt," chuckled Benson, the dealer in rare books and first editions.
"What I mean is this," said Jerry. "We aren't literary critics. It's none of our business to say what's good and what isn't. Our job is simply to supply the public with the books it wants when it wants them. How it comes to want the books it does is no concern of ours."
"You're the guy that calls bookselling the worst business in the world," said Roger warmly, "and you're the kind of guy that makes it so. I suppose you would say that it is no concern of the bookseller to try to increase the public appetite for books?"
"Appetite is too strong a word," said Jerry. "As far as books are concerned the public is barely able to sit up and take a little liquid nourishment. Solid foods don't interest it. If you try to cram roast beef down the gullet of an invalid you'll kill him. Let the public alone, and thank God when it comes round to amputate any of its hard-earned cash."
"Well, take it on the lowest basis," said Roger. "I haven't any facts to go upon——"
"You never have," interjected Jerry.
"But I'd like to bet that the Trade has made more money out of Bryce's American Commonwealth than it ever did out of all Parson Wright's books put together."
"What of it? Why shouldn't they make both?"
This preliminary tilt was interrupted by the arrival of two more visitors, and Roger handed round mugs of cider, pointed to the cake and the basket of pretzels, and lit his corn-cob pipe. The new arrivals were Quincy and Fruehling; the former a clerk in the book department of a vast drygoods store, the latter the owner of a bookshop in the Hebrew quarter of Grand Street—one of the best-stocked shops in the city, though little known to uptown book-lovers.
"Well," said Fruehling, his bright dark eyes sparkling above richly tinted cheek-bones and bushy beard, "what's the argument?"
"The usual one," said Gladfist, grinning, "Mifflin confusing merchandise with metaphysics."
MIFFLIN—Not at all. I am simply saying that it is good business to sell only the best.
GLADFIST—Wrong again. You must select your stock according to your customers. Ask Quincy here. Would there be any sense in his loading up his shelves with Maeterlinck and Shaw when the department-store trade wants Eleanor Porter and the Tarzan stuff? Does a country grocer carry the same cigars that are listed on the wine card of a Fifth Avenue hotel? Of course not. He gets in the cigars that his trade enjoys and is accustomed to. Bookselling must obey the ordinary rules of commerce.
MIFFLIN—A fig for the ordinary rules of commerce! I came over here to Gissing Street to get away from them. My mind would blow out its fuses if I had to abide by the dirty little considerations of supply and demand. As far as I am concerned, supply CREATES demand.
GLADFIST—Still, old chap, you have to abide by the dirty little consideration of earning a living, unless someone has endowed you?
BENSON—Of course my line of business isn't strictly the same as you fellows'. But a thought that has often occurred to me in selling rare editions may interest you. The customer's willingness to part with his money is usually in inverse ratio to the permanent benefit he expects to derive from what he purchases.
MEREDITH—Sounds a bit like John Stuart Mill.
BENSON—Even so, it may be true. Folks will pay a darned sight more to be amused than they will to be exalted. Look at the way a man shells out five bones for a couple of theatre seats, or spends a couple of dollars a week on cigars without thinking of it. Yet two dollars or five dollars for a book costs him positive anguish. The mistake you fellows in the retail trade have made is in trying to persuade your customers that books are necessities. Tell them they're luxuries. That'll get them! People have to work so hard in this life they're shy of necessities. A man will go on wearing a suit until it's threadbare, much sooner than smoke a threadbare cigar.
GLADFIST—Not a bad thought. You know, Mifflin here calls me a material-minded cynic, but by thunder, I think I'm more idealistic than he is. I'm no propagandist incessantly trying to cajole poor innocent customers into buying the kind of book I think they ought to buy. When I see the helpless pathos of most of them, who drift into a bookstore without the slightest idea of what they want or what is worth reading, I would disdain to take advantage of their frailty. They are absolutely at the mercy of the salesman. They will buy whatever he tells them to. Now the honourable man, the high-minded man (by which I mean myself) is too proud to ram some shimmering stuff at them just because he thinks they ought to read it. Let the boobs blunder around and grab what they can. Let natural selection operate. I think it is fascinating to watch them, to see their helpless groping, and to study the weird ways in which they make their choice. Usually they will buy a book either because they think the jacket is attractive, or because it costs a dollar and a quarter instead of a dollar and a half, or because they say they saw a review of it. The "review" usually turns out to be an ad. I don't think one book-buyer in a thousand knows the difference.
MIFFLIN—Your doctrine is pitiless, base, and false! What would you think of a physician who saw men suffering from a curable disease and did nothing to alleviate their sufferings?
GLADFIST—Their sufferings (as you call them) are nothing to what mine would be if I stocked up with a lot of books that no one but highbrows would buy. What would you think of a base public that would go past my shop day after day and let the high-minded occupant die of starvation?
MIFFLIN—Your ailment, Jerry, is that you conceive yourself as merely a tradesman. What I'm telling you is that the bookseller is a public servant. He ought to be pensioned by the state. The honour of his profession should compel him to do all he can to spread the distribution of good stuff.
QUINCY—I think you forget how much we who deal chiefly in new books are at the mercy of the publishers. We have to stock the new stuff, a large proportion of which is always punk. Why it is punk, goodness knows, because most of the bum books don't sell.
MIFFLIN—Ah, that is a mystery indeed! But I can give you a fair reason. First, because there isn't enough good stuff to go round. Second, because of the ignorance of the publishers, many of whom honestly don't know a good book when they see it. It is a matter of sheer heedlessness in the selection of what they intend to publish. A big drug factory or a manufacturer of a well-known jam spends vast sums of money on chemically assaying and analyzing the ingredients that are to go into his medicines or in gathering and selecting the fruit that is to be stewed into jam. And yet they tell me that the most important department of a publishing business, which is the gathering and sampling of manuscripts, is the least considered and the least remunerated. I knew a reader for one publishing house: he was a babe recently out of college who didn't know a book from a frat pin. If a jam factory employs a trained chemist, why isn't it worth a publisher's while to employ an expert book analyzer? There are some of them. Look at the fellow who runs the Pacific Monthly's book business for example! He knows a thing or two.
CHAPMAN—I think perhaps you exaggerate the value of those trained experts. They are likely to be fourflushers. We had one once at our factory, and as far as I could make out he never thought we were doing good business except when we were losing money.
MIFFLIN—As far as I have been able to observe, making money is the easiest thing in the world. All you have to do is to turn out an honest product, something that the public needs. Then you have to let them know that you have it, and teach them that they need it. They will batter down your front door in their eagerness to get it. But if you begin to hand them gold bricks, if you begin to sell them books built like an apartment house, all marble front and all brick behind, you're cutting your own throat, or rather cutting your own pocket, which is the same thing.
MEREDITH—I think Mifflin's right. You know the kind of place our shop is: a regular Fifth Avenue store, all plate glass front and marble columns glowing in the indirect lighting like a birchwood at full moon. We sell hundreds of dollars' worth of bunkum every day because people ask for it; but I tell you we do it with reluctance. It's rather the custom in our shop to scoff at the book-buying public and call them boobs, but they really want good books—the poor souls don't know how to get them. Still, Jerry has a certain grain of truth to his credit. I get ten times more satisfaction in selling a copy of Newton's The Amenities of Book-Collecting than I do in selling a copy of—well, Tarzan; but it's poor business to impose your own private tastes on your customers. All you can do is to hint them along tactfully, when you get a chance, toward the stuff that counts.
QUINCY—You remind me of something that happened in our book department the other day. A flapper came in and said she had forgotten the name of the book she wanted, but it was something about a young man who had been brought up by the monks. I was stumped. I tried her with The Cloister and the Hearth and Monastery Bells and Legends of the Monastic Orders and so on, but her face was blank. Then one of the salesgirls overheard us talking, and she guessed it right off the bat. Of course it was Tarzan.
MIFFLIN—You poor simp, there was your chance to introduce her to Mowgli and the bandar-log.
QUINCY—True—I didn't think of it.
MIFFLIN—I'd like to get you fellows' ideas about advertising. There was a young chap in here the other day from an advertising agency, trying to get me to put some copy in the papers. Have you found that it pays?
FRUEHLING—It always pays—somebody. The only question is, does it pay the man who pays for the ad?
MEREDITH—What do you mean?
FRUEHLING—Did you ever consider the problem of what I call tangential advertising? By that I mean advertising that benefits your rival rather than yourself? Take an example. On Sixth Avenue there is a lovely delicatessen shop, but rather expensive. Every conceivable kind of sweetmeat and relish is displayed in the brightly lit window. When you look at that window it simply makes your mouth water. You decide to have something to eat. But do you get it there? Not much! You go a little farther down the street and get it at the Automat or the Crystal Lunch. The delicatessen fellow pays the overhead expense of that beautiful food exhibit, and the other man gets the benefit of it. It's the same way in my business. I'm in a factory district, where people can't afford to have any but the best books. (Meredith will bear me out in saying that only the wealthy can afford the poor ones.) They read the book ads in the papers and magazines, the ads of Meredith's shop and others, and then they come to me to buy them. I believe in advertising, but I believe in letting someone else pay for it.
MIFFLIN—I guess perhaps I can afford to go on riding on Meredith's ads. I hadn't thought of that. But I think I shall put a little notice in one of the papers some day, just a little card saying
PARNASSUS AT HOME GOOD BOOKS BOUGHT AND SOLD THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED
It will be fun to see what come-back I get.
QUINCY—The book section of a department store doesn't get much chance to enjoy that tangential advertising, as Fruehling calls it. Why, when our interior decorating shark puts a few volumes of a pirated Kipling bound in crushed oilcloth or a copy of "Knock-kneed Stories," into the window to show off a Louis XVIII boudoir suite, display space is charged up against my department! Last summer he asked me for "something by that Ring fellow, I forget the name," to put a punchy finish on a layout of porch furniture. I thought perhaps he meant Wagner's Nibelungen operas, and began to dig them out. Then I found he meant Ring Lardner.
GLADFIST—There you are. I keep telling you bookselling is an impossible job for a man who loves literature. When did a bookseller ever make any real contribution to the world's happiness?
MIFFLIN—Dr. Johnson's father was a bookseller.
GLADFIST—Yes, and couldn't afford to pay for Sam's education.
FRUEHLING—There's another kind of tangential advertising that interests me. Take, for instance, a Coles Phillips painting for some brand of silk stockings. Of course the high lights of the picture are cunningly focussed on the stockings of the eminently beautiful lady; but there is always something else in the picture—an automobile or a country house or a Morris chair or a parasol—which makes it just as effective an ad for those goods as it is for the stockings. Every now and then Phillips sticks a book into his paintings, and I expect the Fifth Avenue book trade benefits by it. A book that fits the mind as well as a silk stocking does the ankle will be sure to sell.
MIFFLIN—You are all crass materialists. I tell you, books are the depositories of the human spirit, which is the only thing in this world that endures. What was it Shakespeare said—
Not marble nor the gilded monuments Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme—
By the bones of the Hohenzollerns, he was right! And wait a minute! There's something in Carlyle's Cromwell that comes back to me.
He ran excitedly out of the room, and the members of the Corn Cob fraternity grinned at each other. Gladfist cleaned his pipe and poured out some more cider. "He's off on his hobby," he chuckled. "I love baiting him."
"Speaking of Carlyle's Cromwell," said Fruehling, "that's a book I don't often hear asked for. But a fellow came in the other day hunting for a copy, and to my chagrin I didn't have one. I rather pride myself on keeping that sort of thing in stock. So I called up Brentano's to see if I could pick one up, and they told me they had just sold the only copy they had. Somebody must have been boosting Thomas! Maybe he's quoted in Tarzan, or somebody has bought up the film rights."
Mifflin came in, looking rather annoyed.
"Here's an odd thing," he said. "I know damn well that copy of Cromwell was on the shelf because I saw it there last night. It's not there now."
"That's nothing," said Quincy. "You know how people come into a second-hand store, see a book they take a fancy to but don't feel like buying just then, and tuck it away out of sight or on some other shelf where they think no one else will spot it, but they'll be able to find it when they can afford it. Probably someone's done that with your Cromwell."
"Maybe, but I doubt it," said Mifflin. "Mrs. Mifflin says she didn't sell it this evening. I woke her up to ask her. She was dozing over her knitting at the desk. I guess she's tired after her trip."
"I'm sorry to miss the Carlyle quotation," said Benson. "What was the gist?"
"I think I've got it jotted down in a notebook," said Roger, hunting along a shelf. "Yes, here it is." He read aloud:
"The works of a man, bury them under what guano-mountains and obscene owl-droppings you will, do not perish, cannot perish. What of Heroism, what of Eternal Light was in a Man and his Life, is with very great exactness added to the Eternities, remains forever a new divine portion of the Sum of Things.
"Now, my friends, the bookseller is one of the keys in that universal adding machine, because he aids in the cross-fertilization of men and books. His delight in his calling doesn't need to be stimulated even by the bright shanks of a Coles Phillips picture.
"Roger, my boy," said Gladfist, "your innocent enthusiasm makes me think of Tom Daly's favourite story about the Irish priest who was rebuking his flock for their love of whisky. 'Whisky,' he said, 'is the bane of this congregation. Whisky, that steals away a man's brains. Whisky, that makes you shoot at landlords—and not hit them!' Even so, my dear Roger, your enthusiasm makes you shoot at truth and never come anywhere near it."
"Jerry," said Roger, "you are a upas tree. Your shadow is poisonous!"
"Well, gentlemen," said Mr. Chapman, "I know Mrs. Mifflin wants to be relieved of her post. I vote we adjourn early. Your conversation is always delightful, though I am sometimes a bit uncertain as to the conclusions. My daughter is going to be a bookseller, and I shall look forward to hearing her views on the business."
As the guests made their way out through the shop, Mr. Chapman drew Roger aside. "It's perfectly all right about sending Titania?" he asked.
"Absolutely," said Roger. "When does she want to come?"
"Is to-morrow too soon?"
"The sooner the better. We've got a little spare room upstairs that she can have. I've got some ideas of my own about furnishing it for her. Send her round to-morrow afternoon."
The first pipe after breakfast is a rite of some importance to seasoned smokers, and Roger applied the flame to the bowl as he stood at the bottom of the stairs. He blew a great gush of strong blue reek that eddied behind him as he ran up the flight, his mind eagerly meditating the congenial task of arranging the little spare room for the coming employee. Then, at the top of the steps, he found that his pipe had already gone out. "What with filling my pipe and emptying it, lighting it and relighting it," he thought, "I don't seem to get much time for the serious concerns of life. Come to think of it, smoking, soiling dishes and washing them, talking and listening to other people talk, take up most of life anyway."
This theory rather pleased him, so he ran downstairs again to tell it to Mrs. Mifflin.
"Go along and get that room fixed up," she said, "and don't try to palm off any bogus doctrines on me so early in the morning. Housewives have no time for philosophy after breakfast."
Roger thoroughly enjoyed himself in the task of preparing the guest-room for the new assistant. It was a small chamber at the back of the second storey, opening on to a narrow passage that connected through a door with the gallery of the bookshop. Two small windows commanded a view of the modest roofs of that quarter of Brooklyn, roofs that conceal so many brave hearts, so many baby carriages, so many cups of bad coffee, and so many cartons of the Chapman prunes.
"By the way," he called downstairs, "better have some of the prunes for supper to-night, just as a compliment to Miss Chapman."
Mrs. Mifflin preserved a humorous silence.
Over these noncommittal summits the bright eye of the bookseller, as he tacked up the freshly ironed muslin curtains Mrs. Mifflin had allotted, could discern a glimpse of the bay and the leviathan ferries that link Staten Island with civilization. "Just a touch of romance in the outlook," he thought to himself. "It will suffice to keep a blasee young girl aware of the excitements of existence."
The room, as might be expected in a house presided over by Helen Mifflin, was in perfect order to receive any occupant, but Roger had volunteered to psychologize it in such a fashion as (he thought) would convey favourable influences to the misguided young spirit that was to be its tenant. Incurable idealist, he had taken quite gravely his responsibility as landlord and employer of Mr. Chapman's daughter. No chambered nautilus was to have better opportunity to expand the tender mansions of its soul.
Beside the bed was a bookshelf with a reading lamp. The problem Roger was discussing was what books and pictures might be the best preachers to this congregation of one. To Mrs. Mifflin's secret amusement he had taken down the picture of Sir Galahad which he had once hung there, because (as he had said) if Sir Galahad were living to-day he would be a bookseller. "We don't want her feasting her imagination on young Galahads," he had remarked at breakfast. "That way lies premature matrimony. What I want to do is put up in her room one or two good prints representing actual men who were so delightful in their day that all the young men she is likely to see now will seem tepid and prehensile. Thus she will become disgusted with the present generation of youths and there will be some chance of her really putting her mind on the book business."
Accordingly he had spent some time in going through a bin where he kept photos and drawings of authors that the publishers' "publicity men" were always showering upon him. After some thought he discarded promising engravings of Harold Bell Wright and Stephen Leacock, and chose pictures of Shelley, Anthony Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. Then, after further meditation, he decided that neither Shelley nor Burns would quite do for a young girl's room, and set them aside in favour of a portrait of Samuel Butler. To these he added a framed text that he was very fond of and had hung over his own desk. He had once clipped it from a copy of Life and found much pleasure in it. It runs thus:
ON THE RETURN OF A BOOK LENT TO A FRIEND
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks for the safe return of this book which having endured the perils of my friend's bookcase, and the bookcases of my friend's friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition.
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant as a plaything, nor use it as an ash-tray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething-ring for his mastiff.
WHEN I lent this book I deemed it as lost: I was resigned to the bitterness of the long parting: I never thought to look upon its pages again.
BUT NOW that my book is come back to me, I rejoice and am exceeding glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honour: for this my book was lent, and is returned again.
PRESENTLY, therefore, I may return some of the books that I myself have borrowed.
"There!" he thought. "That will convey to her the first element of book morality."
These decorations having been displayed on the walls, he bethought himself of the books that should stand on the bedside shelf.
This is a question that admits of the utmost nicety of discussion. Some authorities hold that the proper books for a guest-room are of a soporific quality that will induce swift and painless repose. This school advises The Wealth of Nations, Rome under the Caesars, The Statesman's Year Book, certain novels of Henry James, and The Letters of Queen Victoria (in three volumes). It is plausibly contended that books of this kind cannot be read (late at night) for more than a few minutes at a time, and that they afford useful scraps of information.
Another branch of opinion recommends for bedtime reading short stories, volumes of pithy anecdote, swift and sparkling stuff that may keep one awake for a space, yet will advantage all the sweeter slumber in the end. Even ghost stories and harrowing matter are maintained seasonable by these pundits. This class of reading comprises O. Henry, Bret Harte, Leonard Merrick, Ambrose Bierce, W. W. Jacobs, Daudet, de Maupassant, and possibly even On a Slow Train Through Arkansaw, that grievous classic of the railway bookstalls whereof its author, Mr. Thomas W. Jackson, has said "It will sell forever, and a thousand years afterward." To this might be added another of Mr. Jackson's onslaughts on the human intelligence, I'm From Texas, You Can't Steer Me, whereof is said (by the author) "It is like a hard-boiled egg, you can't beat it." There are other of Mr. Jackson's books, whose titles escape memory, whereof he has said "They are a dynamite for sorrow." Nothing used to annoy Mifflin more than to have someone come in and ask for copies of these works. His brother-in-law, Andrew McGill, the writer, once gave him for Christmas (just to annoy him) a copy of On a Slow Train Through Arkansaw sumptuously bound and gilded in what is known to the trade as "dove-coloured ooze." Roger retorted by sending Andrew (for his next birthday) two volumes of Brann the Iconoclast bound in what Robert Cortes Holliday calls "embossed toadskin." But that is apart from the story.
To the consideration of what to put on Miss Titania's bookshelf Roger devoted the delighted hours of the morning. Several times Helen called him to come down and attend to the shop, but he was sitting on the floor, unaware of numbed shins, poring over the volumes he had carted upstairs for a final culling. "It will be a great privilege," he said to himself, "to have a young mind to experiment with. Now my wife, delightful creature though she is, was—well, distinctly mature when I had the good fortune to meet her; I have never been able properly to supervise her mental processes. But this Chapman girl will come to us wholly unlettered. Her father said she had been to a fashionable school: that surely is a guarantee that the delicate tendrils of her mind have never begun to sprout. I will test her (without her knowing it) by the books I put here for her. By noting which of them she responds to, I will know how to proceed. It might be worth while to shut up the shop one day a week in order to give her some brief talks on literature. Delightful! Let me see, a little series of talks on the development of the English novel, beginning with Tom Jones—hum, that would hardly do! Well, I have always longed to be a teacher, this looks like a chance to begin. We might invite some of the neighbours to send in their children once a week, and start a little school. Causeries du lundi, in fact! Who knows I may yet be the Sainte Beuve of Brooklyn."
Across his mind flashed a vision of newspaper clippings—"This remarkable student of letters, who hides his brilliant parts under the unassuming existence of a second-hand bookseller, is now recognized as the——"
"Roger!" called Mrs. Mifflin from downstairs: "Front! someone wants to know if you keep back numbers of Foamy Stories."
After he had thrown out the intruder, Roger returned to his meditation. "This selection," he mused, "is of course only tentative. It is to act as a preliminary test, to see what sort of thing interests her. First of all, her name naturally suggests Shakespeare and the Elizabethans. It's a remarkable name, Titania Chapman: there must be great virtue in prunes! Let's begin with a volume of Christopher Marlowe. Then Keats, I guess: every young person ought to shiver over St. Agnes' Eve on a bright cold winter evening. Over Bemerton's, certainly, because it's a bookshop story. Eugene Field's Tribune Primer to try out her sense of humour. And Archy, by all means, for the same reason. I'll go down and get the Archy scrapbook."
It should be explained that Roger was a keen admirer of Don Marquis, the humourist of the New York Evening Sun. Mr. Marquis once lived in Brooklyn, and the bookseller was never tired of saying that he was the most eminent author who had graced the borough since the days of Walt Whitman. Archy, the imaginary cockroach whom Mr. Marquis uses as a vehicle for so much excellent fun, was a constant delight to Roger, and he had kept a scrapbook of all Archy's clippings. This bulky tome he now brought out from the grotto by his desk where his particular treasures were kept. He ran his eye over it, and Mrs. Mifflin heard him utter shrill screams of laughter.
"What on earth is it?" she asked.
"Only Archy," he said, and began to read aloud—
down in a wine vault underneath the city two old men were sitting they were drinking booze torn were their garments hair and beards were gritty one had an overcoat but hardly any shoes
overhead the street cars through the streets were running filled with happy people going home to christmas in the adirondacks the hunters all were gunning big ships were sailing down by the isthmus
in came a little tot for to kiss her granny such a little totty she could scarcely tottle saying kiss me grandpa kiss your little nanny but the old man beaned her with a whisky bottle.
outside the snowflakes began for to flutter far at sea the ships were sailing with the seamen not another word did angel nanny utter her grandsire chuckled and pledged the whisky demon
up spake the second man he was worn and weary tears washed his face which otherwise was pasty she loved her parents who commuted on the erie brother im afraid you struck a trifle hasty
she came to see you all her pretty duds on bringing christmas posies from her mothers garden riding in the tunnel underneath the hudson brother was it rum caused your heart to harden——
"What on earth is there funny in that?" said Mrs. Mifflin. "Poor little lamb, I think it was terrible."
"There's more of it," cried Roger, and opened his mouth to continue.
"No more, thank you," said Helen. "There ought to be a fine for using the meter of Love in the Valley that way. I'm going out to market so if the bell rings you'll have to answer it."
Roger added the Archy scrapbook to Miss Titania's shelf, and went on browsing over the volumes he had collected.
"The Nigger of the Narcissus," he said to himself, "for even if she doesn't read the story perhaps she'll read the preface, which not marble nor the monuments of princes will outlive. Dickens' Christmas Stories to introduce her to Mrs. Lirriper, the queen of landladies. Publishers tell me that Norfolk Street, Strand, is best known for the famous literary agent that has his office there, but I wonder how many of them know that that was where Mrs. Lirriper had her immortal lodgings? The Notebooks of Samuel Butler, just to give her a little intellectual jazz. The Wrong Box, because it's the best farce in the language. Travels with a Donkey, to show her what good writing is like. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to give her a sense of pity for human woes—wait a minute, though: that's a pretty broad book for young ladies. I guess we'll put it aside and see what else there is. Some of Mr. Mosher's catalogues: fine! they'll show her the true spirit of what one book-lover calls biblio-bliss. Walking-Stick Papers—yes, there are still good essayists running around. A bound file of The Publishers' Weekly to give her a smack of trade matters. Jo's Boys in case she needs a little relaxation. The Lays of Ancient Rome and Austin Dobson to show her some good poetry. I wonder if they give them The Lays to read in school nowadays? I have a horrible fear they are brought up on the battle of Salamis and the brutal redcoats of '76. And now we'll be exceptionally subtle: we'll stick in a Robert Chambers to see if she falls for it."
He viewed the shelf with pride. "Not bad," he said to himself. "I'll just add this Leonard Merrick, Whispers about Women, to amuse her. I bet that title will start her guessing. Helen will say I ought to have included the Bible, but I'll omit it on purpose, just to see whether the girl misses it."
With typical male curiosity he pulled out the bureau drawers to see what disposition his wife had made of them, and was pleased to find a little muslin bag of lavender dispersing a quiet fragrance in each. "Very nice," he remarked. "Very nice indeed! About the only thing missing is an ashtray. If Miss Titania is as modern as some of them, that'll be the first thing she'll call for. And maybe a copy of Ezra Pound's poems. I do hope she's not what Helen calls a bolshevixen."
There was nothing bolshevik about a glittering limousine that drew up at the corner of Gissing and Swinburne streets early that afternoon. A chauffeur in green livery opened the door, lifted out a suitcase of beautiful brown leather, and gave a respectful hand to the vision that emerged from depths of lilac-coloured upholstery.
"Where do you want me to carry the bag, miss?"
"This is the bitter parting," replied Miss Titania. "I don't want you to know my address, Edwards. Some of my mad friends might worm it out of you, and I don't want them coming down and bothering me. I am going to be very busy with literature. I'll walk the rest of the way."
Edwards saluted with a grin—he worshipped the original young heiress—and returned to his wheel.
"There's one thing I want you to do for me," said Titania. "Call up my father and tell him I'm on the job."
"Yes, miss," said Edwards, who would have run the limousine into a government motor truck if she had ordered it.
Miss Chapman's small gloved hand descended into an interesting purse that was cuffed to her wrist with a bright little chain. She drew out a nickel—it was characteristic of her that it was a very bright and engaging looking nickel—and handed it gravely to her charioteer. Equally gravely he saluted, and the car, after moving through certain dignified arcs, swam swiftly away down Thackeray Boulevard.
Titania, after making sure that Edwards was out of sight, turned up Gissing Street with a fluent pace and an observant eye. A small boy cried, "Carry your bag, lady?" and she was about to agree, but then remembered that she was now engaged at ten dollars a week and waved him away. Our readers would feel a justifiable grudge if we did not attempt a description of the young lady, and we will employ the few blocks of her course along Gissing Street for this purpose.
Walking behind her, the observer, by the time she had reached Clemens Place, would have seen that she was faultlessly tailored in genial tweeds; that her small brown boots were sheltered by spats of that pale tan complexion exhibited by Pullman porters on the Pennsylvania Railroad; that her person was both slender and vigorous; that her shoulders were carrying a sumptuous fur of the colour described by the trade as nutria, or possibly opal smoke. The word chinchilla would have occurred irresistibly to this observer from behind; he might also, if he were the father of a family, have had a fleeting vision of many autographed stubs in a check book. The general impression that he would have retained, had he turned aside at Clemens Place, would be "expensive, but worth the expense."
It is more likely, however, that the student of phenomena would have continued along Gissing Street to the next corner, being that of Hazlitt Street. Taking advantage of opportunity, he would overtake the lady on the pavement, with a secret, sidelong glance. If he were wise, he would pass her on the right side where her tilted bonnet permitted a wider angle of vision. He would catch a glimpse of cheek and chin belonging to the category known (and rightly) as adorable; hair that held sunlight through the dullest day; even a small platinum wrist watch that might pardonably be excused, in its exhilarating career, for beating a trifle fast. Among the greyish furs he would note a bunch of such violets as never bloom in the crude springtime, but reserve themselves for November and the plate glass windows of Fifth Avenue.
It is probable that whatever the errand of this spectator he would have continued along Gissing Street a few paces farther. Then, with calculated innocence, he would have halted halfway up the block that leads to the Wordsworth Avenue "L," and looked backward with carefully simulated irresolution, as though considering some forgotten matter. With apparently unseeing eyes he would have scanned the bright pedestrian, and caught the full impact of her rich blue gaze. He would have seen a small resolute face rather vivacious in effect, yet with a quaint pathos of youth and eagerness. He would have noted the cheeks lit with excitement and rapid movement in the bracing air. He would certainly have noted the delicate contrast of the fur of the wild nutria with the soft V of her bare throat. Then, to his surprise, he would have seen this attractive person stop, examine her surroundings, and run down some steps into a rather dingy-looking second-hand bookshop. He would have gone about his affairs with a new and surprised conviction that the Almighty had the borough of Brooklyn under His especial care.
Roger, who had conceived a notion of some rather peevish foundling of the Ritz-Carlton lobbies and Central Park riding academies, was agreeably amazed by the sweet simplicity of the young lady.
"Is this Mr. Mifflin?" she said, as he advanced all agog from his smoky corner.
"Miss Chapman?" he replied, taking her bag. "Helen!" he called. "Miss Titania is here."
She looked about the sombre alcoves of the shop. "I do think it's adorable of you to take me in," she said. "Dad has told me so much about you. He says I'm impossible. I suppose this is the literature he talks about. I want to know all about it."
"And here's Bock!" she cried. "Dad says he's the greatest dog in the world, named after Botticelli or somebody. I've brought him a present. It's in my bag. Nice old Bocky!"
Bock, who was unaccustomed to spats, was examining them after his own fashion.
"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Mifflin. "We are delighted to see you. I hope you'll be happy with us, but I rather doubt it. Mr. Mifflin is a hard man to get along with."
"Oh, I'm sure of it!" cried Titania. "I mean, I'm sure I shall be happy! You mustn't believe a word of what Dad says about me. I'm crazy about books. I don't see how you can bear to sell them. I brought these violets for you, Mrs. Mifflin."
"How perfectly sweet of you," said Helen, captivated already. "Come along, we'll put them right in water. I'll show you your room."
Roger heard them moving about overhead. It suddenly occurred to him that the shop was rather a dingy place for a young girl. "I wish I had thought to get in a cash register," he mused. "She'll think I'm terribly unbusiness-like."
"Now," said Mrs. Mifflin, as she and Titania came downstairs again, "I'm making some pastry, so I'm going to turn you over to your employer. He can show you round the shop and tell you where all the books are."
"Before we begin," said Titania, "just let me give Bock his present." She showed a large package of tissue paper and, unwinding innumerable layers, finally disclosed a stalwart bone. "I was lunching at Sherry's, and I made the head waiter give me this. He was awfully amused."
"Come along into the kitchen and give it to him," said Helen. "He'll be your friend for life."
"What an adorable kennel!" cried Titania, when she saw the remodelled packing-case that served Bock as a retreat. The bookseller's ingenious carpentry had built it into the similitude of a Carnegie library, with the sign READING-ROOM over the door; and he had painted imitation book-shelves along the interior.
"You'll get used to Mr. Mifflin after a while," said Helen amusedly. "He spent all one winter getting that kennel fixed to his liking. You might have thought he was going to live in it instead of Bock. All the titles that he painted in there are books that have dogs in them, and a lot of them he made up."
Titania insisted on getting down to peer inside. Bock was much flattered at this attention from the new planet that had swum into his kennel.
"Gracious!" she said, "here's 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Canine.' I do think that's clever!"
"Oh, there are a lot more," said Helen. "The works of Bonar Law, and Bohn's 'Classics,' and 'Catechisms on Dogma' and goodness knows what. If Roger paid half as much attention to business as he does to jokes of that sort, we'd be rich. Now, you run along and have a look at the shop."
Titania found the bookseller at his desk. "Here I am, Mr. Mifflin," she said. "See, I brought a nice sharp pencil along with me to make out sales slips. I've been practicing sticking it in my hair. I can do it quite nicely now. I hope you have some of those big red books with all the carbon paper in them and everything. I've been watching the girls up at Lord and Taylor's make them out, and I think they're fascinating. And you must teach me to run the elevator. I'm awfully keen about elevators."
"Bless me," said Roger, "You'll find this very different from Lord and Taylor's! We haven't any elevators, or any sales slips, or even a cash register. We don't wait on customers unless they ask us to. They come in and browse round, and if they find anything they want they come back here to my desk and ask about it. The price is marked in every book in red pencil. The cash-box is here on this shelf. This is the key hanging on this little hook. I enter each sale in this ledger. When you sell a book you must write it down here, and the price paid for it."
"But suppose it's charged?" said Titania.
"No charge accounts. Everything is cash. If someone comes in to sell books, you must refer him to me. You mustn't be surprised to see people drop in here and spend several hours reading. Lots of them look on this as a kind of club. I hope you don't mind the smell of tobacco, for almost all the men that come here smoke in the shop. You see, I put ash trays around for them."
"I love tobacco smell," said Titania. "Daddy's library at home smells something like this, but not quite so strong. And I want to see the worms, bookworms you know. Daddy said you had lots of them."
"You'll see them, all right," said Roger, chuckling. "They come in and out. To-morrow I'll show you how my stock is arranged. It'll take you quite a while to get familiar with it. Until then I just want you to poke around and see what there is, until you know the shelves so well you could put your hand on any given book in the dark. That's a game my wife and I used to play. We would turn off all the lights at night, and I would call out the title of a book and see how near she could come to finding it. Then I would take a turn. When we came more than six inches away from it we would have to pay a forfeit. It's great fun."