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The Beckoning Fair One

Chapter IX
He stood on the kerb plunged in misery, looking after her as long as she
remained in sight; but almost instantly with her disappearance he felt the
heaviness lift a little from his spirit. She had given him his liberty; true, there was
a sense in which he had never parted with it, but now was no time for splitting
hairs; he was free to act, and all was clear ahead. Swiftly the sense of lightness
grew on him: it became a positive rejoicing in his liberty; and before he was half-
way home he had decided what must be done next.
The vicar of the parish in which his dwelling was situated lived within ten minutes
of the square. To his house Oleron turned his steps. It was necessary that he
should have all the information he could get about this old house with the
insurance marks an d the sloping "To Let" boards, and the vicar was the person
most likely to be able to furnish it. This last preliminary out of the way, and--aha!
Oleron chuckled --things might be expected to happen!
But he gained less information than he had hoped for. The house, the vicar said,
was old--but there needed no vicar to tell Oleron that; it was reputed (0leron
pricked up his-ears) to be haunted--but there were few old houses about which
some such rumour did not circulate among ignorant; and the deplorable lack of
Faith of the modern world, the vicar thought, did not tend to dissipate these
superstitions. For the rest, his manner was the soothing manner of one who
prefers not to make statements without knowing how they will be taken by his
hearer. Oleron smiled as he perceived this.
"You may leave my nerves out of the question," he said. "How long has the place
been empty?"
"A dozen years, I should say," the vicar replied.
"And the last tenant--did you know him--or her?" Oleron was conscious of a
tingling of his nerves as he offered the vicar the alternative of sex.
"Him," said the vicar. "A man. If I remember rightly, his name was Madley an
artist. He was a great recluse; seldom went out of place, and "--the vicar
hesitated and then broke into a little gush of candour--" and since you appear to
have come for this information, and since it is better that the truth should be told
than that garbled versions should get about, I don't mind saying that this man
Madley died there, under somewhat unusual circumstances. It was ascertained
at the post-mortem that there was not a particle of food in his stomach, although
he was found to be-not without money. And his frame was simply worn out.
Suicide was spoken of, but you'll agree with me that deliberate starvation is, to
say the least, an uncommon form of suicide. An open verdict was returned."
"Ah!" said Oleron. . . . "Does there happen to be any comprehensive history of
this parish?"
"No; partial ones only. I myself am not guiltless of having made a number of
notes on its purely ecclesiastical history, its registers and so forth, which I shall
be happy to show you if you would care to see them; but it is a large parish, I
have only on e curate, and my leisure, as you will readily understand . . . "
 
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