The Beckoning Fair One
In the bright June sunlight a crowd filled the square, and looked up at the
windows of the old house with the antique insurance marks in its walls of red
brick and the agents' notice-boards hanging like wooden choppers over the
paling. Two constables stood at the broken gate of the narrow entrance-alley,
keeping folk back. The women kept to the outskirts of the throng, moving now an
then as if to see the drawn red blinds of the old house from a new angle, and
talking in whispers. The children were in the houses, behind closed doors.
A long-nosed man had a little group about him, and he was telling some story
over and over again; and another man, little and fat and wide-eyed, sought to
capture the long-nosed man's audience with some relation in which a key figured.
". . . and it was revealed to me that there'd been something that very afternoon,"
the long-nosed man was saying. "I was standing there, where Constable
Saunders is--or rather, I was passing about my business, when they came out.
There was no deceiving me, oh, no deceiving me! I saw her face. . . . "
"What was it like, Mr. Barrett?" a man asked.
"It was like hers whom our Lord said to, Woman, doth any man accuse tee?'--
white as paper, and no mistake! Don't tell me! . . . And so I walks straight across
to Mrs. Barrett, and Jane,' I says, this must stop, and stop at once; we are
commanded to avoid evil,' I says, and it must come to an end now; let him get
help elsewhere.' And she says to me, John,' she says, it's four-and-sixpence a
week'--them was her words. Jane," I says, if it was forty-six thousand pounds it
should top' . . . and from that day to this she hasn't set foot inside that gate."
There was a short silence: then,
"Did Mrs. Barrett ever . . . see anythink, like?" somebody vaguely inquired.
Barrett turned austerely on the speaker.
"What Mrs. Barrett saw and Mrs. Barrett didn't see shall not pas these lips; even
as it is written, keep thy tongue from speaking evil," he said.
Another man spoke.
"He was pretty near canned up in the Wagon and Horses that night, weren't he,
"Yes, e hadn't half copped it. . . . "
"Not standing treat much, neither; he was in the bar, all on his own. . . . "
"So e was; we talked about it. . . . "
The fat, scared-eyed man made another attempt.
"She got the key off of me--she had the number of it--she came into my shop of a
Tuesday evening. . . . "
Nobody heeded him.
"Shut your heads," a heavy labourer commented gruffly, "she hasn't been found
yet. Ere's the inspectors; we shall know more in a bit."
Two inspectors had come up and were talking to the constables who guarded the
gate. The little fat man ran eagerly forwarded, saying that she had bought the key
of him. "I remember the number, because of it's being three one's and three
three's--111333!" he explained excitedly.