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The Beckoning Fair One
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As far as the chief business of his life--his writing--was concerned., Paul Oleron
treated the world a good deal better than he was treated by it; but he seldom took
the trouble to strike a balance, or to compute how far, at forty-four years of age,
he was behind his points on the handicap. To have done so wouldn't have
altered matters, and it might have depressed Oleron. He had chosen his path,
and was committed to it beyond possibility of withdrawal. Perhaps he had chosen
it in the days when he had bee n easily swayed by some thing a little
disinterested, a little generous, a little noble; and had he ever thought of
questioning himself he would still have held to it that a life without nobility and
generosity and disinterestedness was no life for him. Only quite recently, and
rarely, had he even vaguely suspected that there was more in it than this; but it
was no good anticipating the day when, he supposed, he would reach that
maximum point of his powers beyond which he must inevitably decline, and be
left face to face with the question whether it would not have profited him better to
have ruled his life by less exigent ideals.
In the meantime, his removal into the old house with the insurance marks built
into its brick merely interrupted Romilly Bishop at the fifteenth chapter.
As this tall man with the lean, ascetic face moved about his new abode,
arranging, changing, altering, hardly yet into his working-stride again, he gave
the impression of almost spinster-like precision and nicety. For twenty years past,
in a score of lodgings, garrets, fiats, and rooms furnished and unfurnished, he
had been accustomed to do many things for himself, and he had discovered that
it saves time and temper to be methodical. He had arranged with the wife of the
long-nosed Barrett, a stout Welsh woman with a falsetto voice, the
Merionethshire accent of which long residence in London had not perceptibly
modified, to come across the square each morning to prepare his breakfast, and
also to "turn the place out" on Saturday mornings; and for the rest, he even
welcomed a little housework as a relaxation-from the strain of writing.
His kitchen, together with the adjoining strip of an apartment into which a modern
bath had been fitted, over- looked the alley at the side of the house; and at one
end of it was a large closet with a door, and a square sliding hatch in the upper
part of the door. This had been a powder-closet and through the hatch the
elaborately dressed head had been thrust to receive the click and puff of the
powder- pistol. Oleron puzzled a little over this closet; then, as its use occurred to
him, he smiled faintly, a little moved, he knew not by what .... He would have to
put it to a very different purpose from its original one; it would probably have to
serve as his larder .... It was in this closet that he made a discovery. The back of
it was shelved, and, rummag- ing on an upper shelf that ran deeply into the wall,
Oleron found a couple of mushroom-shaped old wooden wig-stands. He did not
know how they had come to be there. Doubtless the painters had turned them up
somewhere or other, and had put them there. But his five rooms, as a whole,
were short of cupboard and closet-room; and it was only by the exercise of some