The Beckoning Fair One HTML version

Chapter V
Even more curious than that the commonplace dripping of an ordinary water-tap
should have tallied so closely with an actually existing air was another result it
had, namely, that it awakened, or seemed to awaken, in Oleron an abnormal
sensitiveness to other noises of the old house. It has been remarked that the
silence obtains its fullest and most impressive quality when it is broken by some
minute sound; and, truth to tell, the place was never still. Perhaps the mildness of
the spring air operated on its torpid old timbers; perhaps Oleron s fires caused it
to stretch its own anatomy; and certainly a whole world of insect life bored and
burrowed in its baulks and joists. At any rate Oleron had only so it quiet in his
chair and to wait for a minute or two in order to become aware of such a change
ion the auditory scale as comes upon a man who, conceiving the mid-summer
woods to be motionless and still, all at once finds his ear sharpened to the
crepitation of a myriad insects.
And he smiled to think of man's arbitrary distinction between that which has life
and that which has not. Here, quite apart from such recognisable sounds as the
scampering of mice, the falling of plaster behind his panelling, and the popping of
purses or coffins from his fire, was a whole house talking to him had he but
known his language. Beams settled with a tired sigh into their old mortices;
creatures ticked in the walls; joints cracked, boards complained; with no palpable
stirring of the air window-sashes changed their position with a soft knock in their
frames. And whether the place had life in this sense or not, it had at all events a
winsome personality. It needed but an hour of musing for Oleron to conceive the
idea tat, as his own body stood in friendly relation to his soul, so, by an extension
and an attenuation, his habituation might fantastically be supposed to stand in
some relation to himself. He even amused himself with the far-fetched fancy that
he might so identify himself with the place that some future tenant, taking
possession, might regard it as in a sense haunted. It would be rather a joke if he,
a perfectly harmless author, with nothing on his mind worse than a novel he had
discovered he must begin again, should turn out to be laying the foundation of a
future ghost! . . .
In proportion, as he felt this growing attachment to the fabric of his abode, Elsie
Bengough, from being merely unattracted, began to show a dislike of the place
that was more and more marked. And she did not scruple to speak of her
"It doesn't belong to to-day at all, and for you especially it's bad," she said with
decision. "You're only too ready to let go your hold on actual things and to slip
into apathy; you ought to be in a place with concrete floors and patent has-meter
and a tradesman' lift. Nd it would do you all the good in the world if you had a job
that made you scramble and rub elbows with your fellow-men. Now, if I could get
you a job, for, say, two or three days a week, one that would allow you heaps of
time for your proper work--would you take it?"
Somehow, Oleron resented a little being diagnosed like this. He thanked Miss
Bengough, but without a smile.