The Beckoning Fair One
To the man who pays heed to that voice within him which warns him that twilight
and danger are settling over his soul, terror is apt to appear an absolute thing,
against which his heart must be safeguarded in a twink unless there-is to take
place an alteration in the whole range and scale of his nature. Mercifully, he has
never far to look for safeguards. Of the immediate and small and common and
momentary things of life, of usages and observances and modes and
conventions, he builds up fortifications against the powers of darkness. He is
even content that, not terror only, but joy also, should for working purposes be
placed in the category of the absolute things; and the last treason he will commit
will be that breaking down of terms and limits that strikes, not at one man, but at
the welfare of the souls of all.
In his own person, Oleron began to commit this treason. He began to commit it
by admitting the inexplicable and horrible to an increasing familiarity. He did it
insensibly, unconsciously, by a neglect of the things that he now regarded it as
an impertinence in Elsie Bengough to have prescribed. Two months before, the
words "a haunted house," applied to his lovely bemusing dwelling, would have
chilled his marrow; now, his scale of sensation becoming depressed, he could
ask "Haunted by what?" and remain unconscious that horror, when it can be
proved to be relative, by so much loses its proper quality. He was setting aside
the landmarks. Mists and confusion had begun to enwrap him.
And he was conscious of nothing so much as of a voracious inquisitiveness. He
wanted to know. He was resolved to know. Nothing but the knowledge would
satisfy him; and craftily he cast about for means whereby he might attain it.
He might have spared his craft. The matter was the easiest imaginable. As in
time past he had known, in his writing, moments when his thoughts had seemed
to rise of themselves and to embody themselves in words not to be altered after
wards, so now the question he put himself seemed to be answered even in the
moment of their asking. There was exhilaration in the swift, easy processes. He
had known no such joy in his own power since the days when his writing had
been a daily freshness and a delight to him. It was almost as if the course he
must pursue was being dictated to him.
And the first thing he must do, of course, was to define the problem. He defined it
in terms of mathematics. Granted that he had not the place to himself; granted
that the old house had inexpressibly caught and engaged his spirit; granted that,
by virtue of the common denominator of the place, this unknown co-tenant stood
in some relation to himself: what next? Clearly, the nature of the other numerator
must be ascertained.
And how? Ordinarily this would not have seemed simple, but to Oleron it was
now pellucidly clear. The key, of course, lay in his half-written novel--or rather, in
both Romillys, the I old and the proposed new one.
A little while before Oleron would have thought himself mad to have embraced
such an opinion; now he accepted the dizzying hypothesis without a quiver.
He began to examine the first and second Romillys.