The Beckoning Fair One HTML version

Chapter I
THE THREE OR four "TO Let" boards had stood within the low paling as long as
the inhabitants of the little triangular "Square" could remember, and if they had
ever been vertical it was a very long time ago. They now overhung the palings
each at its own angle, and resembled nothing so much as a row of wooden
choppers, ever in the act of falling upon some passer-by, yet never cutting off a
tenant for the old house from the stream of his fellows. Not that there was ever
any great "stream" through the square; the stream passed a furlong and more
away, beyond the intricacy of tenements and alleys and byways that had sprung
up since the old house had been built, hemming it in completely; and probably
the house itself was only suffered to stand pending the falling-in of a lease or
two, when doubtless a clearance would be made of the whole neighbourhood.
It was of bloomy old red brick, and built into its walls were the crowns and
clasped hands and other insignia of insurance companies long since defunct.
The children of the secluded square had swung upon the low gate at the end of
the entrance-alley until little more than the solid top bar of it remained, and the
alley itself ran past boarded basement windows on which tramps had chalked
their cryptic marks. The path was washed and worn uneven by the spilling of
water from the eaves of the encroaching next house, and cats and dogs had
made the approach their own. The chances of a tenant did not seem such as to
warrant the keeping of the "To Let" boards in a state of legibility and repair, and
as a matter of fact they were not so kept.
For six months Oleron had passed the old place twice a day or oftener, on his
way from his lodgings to the room, ten minutes' walk away, he had taken to work
in; and for six months no hatchet-like notice-board had fallen across his path.
This might have been due to the fact that he usually took the other side of the
square. But he chanced one morning to take the side that ran past the broken
gate and the rain-worn entrance alley, and to pause before one of the inclined
boards. The board bore, besides the agent's name, the announcement, written
apparently about the time of Oleron's own early youth, that the key was to be had
at Number Six.
Now 0leron was already paying, for his separate bedroom and workroom, more
than an author who, without private means, habitually disregards his public, can
afford; and he was paying in addition a small rent for the storage of the greater
part of his grandmother's furniture. Moreover, it invariably happened that the
book he wished to read in bed was at his working-quarters half a mile or more
away, while the note or letter he had sudden need of during the day was as likely
as not to be in the pocket of another coat hanging behind his bedroom door. And
there were other inconveniences in having a divided domicile. Therefore 0leron,
brought suddenly up by the hatchet-like notice board, looked first down through
some scanty privet-bushes at the boarded basement windows, then up at the
blank and grimy windows of the first floor, and so up to the second floor and the
flat stone coping of the leads. He stood for a minute thumbing his lean and