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The Beckoning Fair One
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One knows not whether there can be human compassion for an‘mia of the soul.
When the pitch of Life is dropped, and the spirit is so put over and reversed that
that only is horrible which before was sweet and worldly and of the day, the
human relation disappears. The sane soul turns appalled away, lest not merely
itself, but sanity should suffer. We are not gods. We cannot drive out devils. We
must see selfishly to it that devils do not enter into ourselves.
And this we must do even though Love so transfuse us that e may well deem our
nature to be half divine. We shall but speak of honour and duty in vain. The letter
dropped within the dark door will lie unregarded, or, if regarded for a brief instant
between two unspeakable lapses, left and forgotten again. The telegram will be
undelivered, nor will the whistling messenger (wislier guided than he knows to
whistle) be conscious as he walks away of the drawn blind that is pushed aside
an inch by a finger and then fearfully replaced again. No: let the miserable
wrestle with his own shadows; let him, if indeed he be so mad, clip and strain and
enfold and couch the succubus; but lt him do so in a house into which not an air
of Heaven penetrates, nor a bright finger of the sun pierces the filthy twilight. The
lost must remain lost. Humanity has other business to attend to.
For the handwriting of the two letters that Oleron, stealing noiselessly one June
day into his kitchen to rid his sitting-room of an armful of fetid and decaying
flowers, had seen on the floor within his door, had had no more meaning for him
than if it had belonged to some dim and far-away dream. And at the beating of
the telegraph-boy upon the door, within a few feet of the bed where he lay, he
had gnashed his teeth and stopped his ears. He had pictured the lad standing
there, just beyond his partition, among packets of provisions and bundles of dead
and dying flowers. For his outer landing was littered with these. Oleron had
feared to open his door to take them in. After a week, the errand lads had
reported that there must be some mistake about the order, and had left no more.
Inside, in the red twilight, the old flowers turned brown and fell and decayed
where they lay.
Gradually his power was draining away. The Abomination fastened on Oleron's
power. The steady sapping sometimes left him for many hours of prostration
gazing vacantly up at his red-tinged ceiling, idly suffering such fancies as came
of themselves to have their way with him. Even the strongest of his memories
had no more than a precarious hold upon his attention. Sometimes a flitting half-
memory, of a novel to be written, a novel it was important that he could write,
tantalised him for a space before vanishing again; and sometimes whole novels,
perfect, splendid, established to endure, rose magically before him. And
sometimes the memories were absurdly remote and trivial, of garrets he had
inhabited and lodgings that had sheltered him, and so forth. Oleron had known a
great deal about such things in his time, but all that was now past. He had at last
found a place which he did not intend to eave until they fetched him out--a place
that some might have thought a little on the green-sick side, that others might
have considered to be a little too redolent of long-dead and morbid things for a