The Beckoning Fair One
As time went on, it came to pass that few except the postman mounted Oleron's
stairs; and since men who do not write letters receive few, even the postman's
tread became so infrequent that it was not heard more than once or twice a
week. There came a letter from Oleron's publishers, asking when they might
expect to receive the manuscript of his new book; he delayed for some days to
answer it, and finally forgot it. A second letter came, which he also failed to
answer. He received no third.
The weather grew bright and warm. The privet bushes among the chopper-like
notice-boards flowered, and in the streets where Oleron did his shopping the
baskets of flower-women lined the kerbs. Oleron purchased flowers daily; his
room clamoured for flowers, fresh and continually renewed; and Oleron did not
stint its demands. Nevertheless, the necessity for going out to buy them began to
irk him more and more, and it was with a greater and ever greater sense of relief
that he returned home again. He began to be conscious that again his scale of
sensation had suffered a subtle change--a change that was not restoration to its
former capacity, but an extension and enlarging that once more included terror. It
admitted it in an entirely new form. Lux orco, tenebr‘ Jovi. The name of this terror
was agoraphobia. Oleron had begun to dread air and space and the horror that
might pounce upon the unguarded back.
Presently he so contrived it that his food and flowers were delivered daily at his
door. He rubbed his hands when he had hit upon this expedient. That was better!
Now he could please himself whether he went out or not. . . .
Quickly he was confirmed in his choice. It became his pleasure to remain
But he was not happy--or, if he was, his happiness took an extraordinary turn. he
fretted discontentedly, could sometimes have wept for mere weakness and
misery; and yet he was dimly conscious that he would not have exchanged his
sadness for all the noisy mirth of the world outside. And speaking of noise: noise,
much noise, now caused him the acutest discomfort. It was hardly more to be
endured than that new-born fear that kept him, on the increasingly rare occasions
when he did go out, sidling close to walls and feeling friendly rails with his hand.
He moved from room to room softly and in slippers, and sometimes stood for any
seconds closing a door so gently that not a sound broke the stillness that was in
itself a delight. Sunday now became an intolerable day to him, for, since the
coming of the fine weather, there had begun to assemble in the square under his
windows each Sunday morning certain members of the sect to which the long-
nosed Barrett adhered. These came with a great drum and large brass-bellied
instruments; men and women uplifted anguished voices, struggling with their
God; and Barrett himself, with upraised face and closed eyes and working brows,
prayed that the sound of his voice might penetrate the ears of all unbelievers--as
it certainly did Oleron's. One day, in the middle of one of these rhapsodies,
Oleron sprang to his blind and pulled it down, and heard as he did so, his own
name made the object of a fresh torrent of outpouring.