The Beckoning Fair One
Without quite knowing how he came to be there Oleron found himself striding
over the loose board he had temporarily placed on the step broken by Miss
Bengough. He was hatless, and descending the stairs. Not until later did there
return to him a hazy memory that he had left the candle burning on the table, had
opened the door no wider than was necessary to allow the passage of his body,
and had sidled out, closing the door softly behind him. At the foot of the stairs
another shock awaited him. Something dashed with a flurry up from the disused
cellars and disappeared out of the door. It was only a cat, but Oleron gave a
He passed out of the gate, and stood for a moment under the "To Let" boards,
plucking foolishly at his lip and looking up at the glimmer of light behind one of
his red blinds. Then, still looking over his shoulder, he moved stumblingly up the
square. There was a small public-house round the corner; Oleron had never
entered it; but he entered it now, and put down a shilling that missed the counter
"B---b---bran--brandy," he said, and then stooped to look for the shilling.
He had the little sawdusted bar to himself; what company there was--carters and
labourers and the small tradesmen of the neighbourhood--was gathered in the
farther compartment, beyond the space where the white-haired landlady moved
among her taps and bottles. Oleron sat down on a hardwood settee with a
perforated seat, drank half his brandy, and then, thinking he might as well drink it
as spill it, finished it.
Then he fell to wondering which of the men whose voices he heard across the
public-house would undertake the removal of his effects on the morrow.
In the meantime he ordered more brandy.
For he did not intend to go back to that room where he had left the candle
burning. Oh no! He couldn't have faced even the entry and the staircase with the
broken step --certainly not that pith-white, fascinating room. He would go back for
the present to his old arrangement, of work-room and separate sleeping-
quarters; he would go to his old landlady at once--presently--when he had
finished his brandy --and see if she could put him up for the night. His glass was
empty now ....
He rose, had it refilled, and sat down again.
And if anybody asked his reason for removing again? Oh, he had reason
enough--reason enough! Nails that put themselves back into wood again and
gashed people's hands, steps that broke when you trod on them, and women
who came into a man's place and brushed their hair in the dark, were reasons
enough! He was querulous and injured about it all. He had taken the place for
himself, not for invisible women to brush their hair in; that lawyer fellow in
Lincoln's Inn should be told so, too, before many hours were out; it was
outrageous, letting people in for agreement like that!
A cut-glass partition divided the compartment where Oleron sat from the space
where the white-haired landlady moved; but it stopped seven or eight inches