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indignation for Elsie, acting possibly with the residue of the brandy in
him, excluded all other considerations; and he put out his candle, lay
down, and passed immediately into a deep and dreamless sleep, which, in
the absence of Mrs. Barrett's morning call, lasted almost once round the
clock.


VIII

To the man who pays heed to that voice within him which warns him that
twilight and danger are settling over his soul, terror is apt to appear
an absolute thing, against which his heart must be safeguarded in a twink
unless there is to take place an alteration in the whole range and scale
of his nature. Mercifully, he has never far to look for safeguards. Of
the immediate and small and common and momentary things of life, of
usages and observances and modes and conventions, he builds up
fortifications against the powers of darkness. He is even content that,
not terror only, but joy also, should for working purposes be placed in
the category of the absolute things; and the last treason he will commit
will be that breaking down of terms and limits that strikes, not at one
man, but at the welfare of the souls of all.

In his own person, Oleron began to commit this treason. He began to
commit it by admitting the inexplicable and horrible to an increasing
familiarity. He did it insensibly, unconsciously, by a neglect of the
things that he now regarded it as an impertinence in Elsie Bengough to
have prescribed. Two months before, the words "a haunted house," applied
to his lovely bemusing dwelling, would have chilled his marrow; now,
his scale of sensation becoming depressed, he could ask "Haunted by
what?" and remain unconscious that horror, when it can be proved to be
relative, by so much loses its proper quality. He was setting aside the
landmarks. Mists and confusion had begun to enwrap him.

And he was conscious of nothing so much as of a voracious
inquisitiveness. He wanted _to know_. He was resolved to know. Nothing
but the knowledge would satisfy him; and craftily he cast about for means
whereby he might attain it.

He might have spared his craft. The matter was the easiest imaginable. As
in time past he had known, in his writing, moments when his thoughts
had seemed to rise of themselves and to embody themselves in words not to
be altered afterwards, so now the questions he put himself seemed to be
answered even in the moment of their asking. There was exhilaration in
the swift, easy processes. He had known no so such joy in his own power
since the days when his writing had been a daily freshness and a delight
to him. It was almost as if the course he must pursue was being dictated
to him.

And the first thing he must do, of course, was to define the problem. He
defined it in terms of mathematics. Granted that he had not the place to
himself; granted that the old house had inexpressibly caught and engaged
his spirit; granted that, by virtue of the common denominator of the
place, this unknown co-tenant stood in some relation to himself: what
next? Clearly, the nature of the other numerator must be ascertained.

And how? Ordinarily this would not have seemed simple, but to Oleron it
was now pellucidly clear. The key, _of course_, lay in his half-written
novel - or rather, in both _Romillys_, the old and the proposed new one.

A little while before Oleron would have thought himself mad to have
embraced such an opinion; now he accepted the dizzying hypothesis without
a quiver.

He began to examine the first and second _Romillys_.

From the moment of his doing so the thing advanced by leaps and bounds.
Swiftly he reviewed the history of the _Romilly_ of the fifteen chapters.
He remembered clearly now that he had found her insufficient on the very
first morning on which he had sat down to work in his new place. Other
instances of his aversion leaped up to confirm his obscure investigation.
There had come the night when he had hardly forborne to throw the whole
thing into the fire; and the next morning he had begun the planning of
the new _Romilly_. It had been on that morning that Mrs. Barrett,
overhearing him humming a brief phrase that the dripping of a tap the
night before had suggested, had informed him that he was singing some air
he had never in his life heard before, called "The Beckoning Fair
One."...

The Beckoning Fair One!...

With scarcely a pause in thought he continued:

The first _Romilly_ having been definitely thrown over, the second had
instantly fastened herself upon him, clamouring for birth in his brain.
He even fancied now, looking back, that there had been something like
passion, hate almost, in the supplanting, and that more than once a stray
thought given to his discarded creation had - (it was astonishing how
credible Oleron found the almost unthinkable idea) - had offended the
supplanter.

Yet that a malignancy almost homicidal should be extended to his
fiction's poor mortal prototype....

In spite of his inuring to a scale in which the horrible was now a thing
to be fingered and turned this way and that, a "Good God!" broke from
Oleron.

This intrusion of the first _Romilly's_ prototype into his thought
again was a factor that for the moment brought his inquiry into the
nature of his problem to a termination; the mere thought of Elsie was
fatal to anything abstract. For another thing, he could not yet think of
that letter of Barrett's, nor of a little scene that had followed it,
without a mounting of colour and a quick contraction of the brow. For,
wisely or not, he had had that argument out at once. Striding across the
square on the following morning, he had bearded Barrett on his own
doorstep. Coming back again a few minutes later, he had been strongly of
opinion that he had only made matters worse. The man had been vagueness
itself. He had not been to be either challenged or browbeaten into
anything more definite than a muttered farrago in which the words
"Certain things ... Mrs. Barrett ... respectable house ... if the cap
fits ... proceedings that shall be nameless," had been constantly
repeated.

"Not that I make any charge - " he had concluded.

"Charge!" Oleron had cried.

"I 'ave my idears of things, as I don't doubt you 'ave yours - "

"Ideas - mine!" Oleron had cried wrathfully, immediately dropping his
voice as heads had appeared at windows of the square. "Look you here, my
man; you've an unwholesome mind, which probably you can't help, but a
tongue which you can help, and shall! If there is a breath of this
repeated ..."

"I'll not be talked to on my own doorstep like this by anybody,..."
Barrett had blustered....

"You shall, and I'm doing it ..."

"Don't you forget there's a Gawd above all, Who 'as said..."

"You're a low scandalmonger!..."

And so forth, continuing badly what was already badly begun. Oleron had
returned wrathfully to his own house, and thenceforward, looking out
of his windows, had seen Barrett's face at odd times, lifting blinds or
peering round curtains, as if he sought to put himself in possession of
Heaven knew what evidence, in case it should be required of him.

The unfortunate occurrence made certain minor differences in Oleron's
domestic arrangements. Barrett's tongue, he gathered, had already been
busy; he was looked at askance by the dwellers of the square; and he
judged it better, until he should be able to obtain other help, to make
his purchases of provisions a little farther afield rather than at the
small shops of the immediate neighbourhood. For the rest, housekeeping
was no new thing to him, and he would resume his old bachelor habits....

Besides, he was deep in certain rather abstruse investigations, in which
it was better that he should not be disturbed.

He was looking out of his window one midday rather tired, not very well,
and glad that it was not very likely he would have to stir out of doors,
when he saw Elsie Bengough crossing the square towards his house. The
weather had broken; it was a raw and gusty day; and she had to force
her way against the wind that set her ample skirts bellying about her
opulent figure and her veil spinning and streaming behind her.

Oleron acted swiftly and instinctively. Seizing his hat, he sprang to the
door and descended the stairs at a run. A sort of panic had seized him.
She must be prevented from setting foot in the place. As he ran along the
alley he was conscious that his eyes went up to the eaves as if something
drew them. He did not know that a slate might not accidentally fall....

He met her at the gate, and spoke with curious volubleness.

"This is really too bad, Elsie! Just as I'm urgently called away! I'm
afraid it can't be helped though, and that you'll have to think me an
inhospitable beast." He poured it out just as it came into his head.

She asked if he was going to town.

"Yes, yes - to town," he replied. "I've got to call on - on Chambers. You
know Chambers, don't you? No, I remember you don't; a big man you once
saw me with.... I ought to have gone yesterday, and - " this he felt to be
a brilliant effort - "and he's going out of town this afternoon. To
Brighton. I had a letter from him this morning."

He took her arm and led her up the square. She had to remind him that his
way to town lay in the other direction.

"Of course - how stupid of me!" he said, with a little loud laugh. "I'm so
used to going the other way with you - of course; it's the other way to
the bus. Will you come along with me? I am so awfully sorry it's happened
like this...."

They took the street to the bus terminus.

This time Elsie bore no signs of having gone through interior struggles.
If she detected anything unusual in his manner she made no comment, and
he, seeing her calm, began to talk less recklessly through silences. By
the time they reached the bus terminus, nobody, seeing the pallid-faced
man without an overcoat and the large ample-skirted girl at his side,
would have supposed that one of them was ready to sink on his knees for
thankfulness that he had, as he believed, saved the other from a wildly
unthinkable danger.

They mounted to the top of the bus, Oleron protesting that he should not
miss his overcoat, and that he found the day, if anything, rather
oppressively hot. They sat down on a front seat.

Now that this meeting was forced upon him, he had something else to say
that would make demands upon his tact. It had been on his mind for some
time, and was, indeed, peculiarly difficult to put. He revolved it for
some minutes, and then, remembering the success of his story of a sudden
call to town, cut the knot of his difficulty with another lie.

"I'm thinking of going away for a little while, Elsie," he said.

She merely said, "Oh?"

"Somewhere for a change. I need a change. I think I shall go to-morrow,
or the day after. Yes, to-morrow, I think."

"Yes," she replied.

"I don't quite know how long I shall be," he continued. "I shall have to
let you know when I am back."

"Yes, let me know," she replied in an even tone.

The tone was, for her, suspiciously even. He was a little uneasy.

"You don't ask me where I'm going," he said, with a little cumbrous
effort to rally her.

She was looking straight before her, past the bus-driver.

"I know," she said.

He was startled. "How, you know?"

"You're not going anywhere," she replied.

He found not a word to say. It was a minute or so before she continued,
in the same controlled voice she had employed from the start.

"You're not going anywhere. You weren't going out this morning. You only
came out because I appeared; don't behave as if we were strangers, Paul."

A flush of pink had mounted to his cheeks. He noticed that the wind had
given her the pink of early rhubarb. Still he found nothing to say.

"Of course, you ought to go away," she continued. "I don't know whether
you look at yourself often in the glass, but you're rather noticeable.
Several people have turned to look at you this morning. So, of course,
you ought to go away. But you won't, and I know why."

He shivered, coughed a little, and then broke silence.

"Then if you know, there's no use in continuing this discussion," he said
curtly.

"Not for me, perhaps, but there is for you," she replied. "Shall I tell
you what I know?"

"No," he said in a voice slightly raised.

"No?" she asked, her round eyes earnestly on him.

"No."

Again he was getting out of patience with her; again he was conscious of
the strain. Her devotion and fidelity and love plagued him; she was only
humiliating both herself and him. It would have been bad enough had he
ever, by word or deed, given her cause for thus fastening herself on
him ... but there; that was the worst of that kind of life for a woman.
Women such as she, business women, in and out of offices all the time,
always, whether they realised it or not, made comradeship a cover for
something else. They accepted the unconventional status, came and
went freely, as men did, were honestly taken by men at their own
valuation - and then it turned out to be the other thing after all, and
they went and fell in love. No wonder there was gossip in shops and
squares and public houses! In a sense the gossipers were in the right of
it. Independent, yet not efficient; with some of womanhood's graces
forgone, and yet with all the woman's hunger and need; half
sophisticated, yet not wise; Oleron was tired of it all....

And it was time he told her so.

"I suppose," he said tremblingly, looking down between his knees, "I
suppose the real trouble is in the life women who earn their own living
are obliged to lead."

He could not tell in what sense she took the lame generality; she merely
replied, "I suppose so."

"It can't be helped," he continued, "but you do sacrifice a good deal."

She agreed: a good deal; and then she added after a moment, "What, for
instance?"

"You may or may not be gradually attaining a new status, but you're in a
false position to-day."

It was very likely, she said; she hadn't thought of it much in that
light -

"And," he continued desperately, "you're bound to suffer. Your most
innocent acts are misunderstood; motives you never dreamed of are
attributed to you; and in the end it comes to - " he hesitated a moment
and then took the plunge, " - to the sidelong look and the leer."

She took his meaning with perfect ease. She merely shivered a little as
she pronounced the name.

"Barrett?"

His silence told her the rest.

Anything further that was to be said must come from her. It came as the
bus stopped at a stage and fresh passengers mounted the stairs.

"You'd better get down here and go back, Paul," she said. "I understand
perfectly - perfectly. It isn't Barrett. You'd be able to deal with
Barrett. It's merely convenient for you to say it's Barrett. I know what
it is ... but you said I wasn't to tell you that. Very well. But before
you go let me tell you why I came up this morning."

In a dull tone he asked her why. Again she looked straight before her as
she replied:

"I came to force your hand. Things couldn't go on as they have been
going, you know; and now that's all over."

"All over," he repeated stupidly.

"All over. I want you now to consider yourself, as far as I'm concerned,
perfectly free. I make only one reservation."

He hardly had the spirit to ask her what that was.

"If _I_ merely need _you_," she said, "please don't give that a thought;
that's nothing; I shan't come near for that. But," she dropped her voice,
"if _you're_ in need of _me_, Paul - I shall know if you are, _and you
will be_ - then I shall come at no matter what cost. You understand that?"

He could only groan.

"So that's understood," she concluded. "And I think that's all. Now go
back. I should advise you to walk back, for you're shivering - good-bye - "

She gave him a cold hand, and he descended. He turned on the edge of the
kerb as the bus started again. For the first time in all the years he had
known her she parted from him with no smile and no wave of her long arm.


IX

He stood on the kerb plunged in misery, looking after her as long as she
remained in sight; but almost instantly with her disappearance he felt
the heaviness lift a little from his spirit. She had given him his
liberty; true, there was a sense in which he had never parted with it,
but now was no time for splitting hairs; he was free to act, and all was
clear ahead. Swiftly the sense of lightness grew on him: it became a
positive rejoicing in his liberty; and before he was halfway home he had
decided what must be done next.

The vicar of the parish in which his dwelling was situated lived within
ten minutes of the square. To his house Oleron turned his steps. It was
necessary that he should have all the information he could get about this
old house with the insurance marks and the sloping "To Let" boards, and
the vicar was the person most likely to be able to furnish it. This last
preliminary out of the way, and - aha! Oleron chuckled - things might be
expected to happen!

But he gained less information than he had hoped for. The house, the
vicar said, was old - but there needed no vicar to tell Oleron that; it
was reputed (Oleron pricked up his ears) to be haunted - but there were
few old houses about which some such rumour did not circulate among the
ignorant; and the deplorable lack of Faith of the modern world, the vicar
thought, did not tend to dissipate these superstitions. For the rest,
his manner was the soothing manner of one who prefers not to make
statements without knowing how they will be taken by his hearer. Oleron
smiled as he perceived this.

"You may leave my nerves out of the question," he said. "How long has the
place been empty?"

"A dozen years, I should say," the vicar replied.

"And the last tenant - did you know him - or her?" Oleron was conscious of
a tingling of his nerves as he offered the vicar the alternative of sex.

"Him," said the vicar. "A man. If I remember rightly, his name was
Madley; an artist. He was a great recluse; seldom went out of the place,
and - " the vicar hesitated and then broke into a little gush of candour
" - and since you appear to have come for this information, and since it
is better that the truth should be told than that garbled versions should
get about, I don't mind saying that this man Madley died there, under
somewhat unusual circumstances. It was ascertained at the post-mortem
that there was not a particle of food in his stomach, although he was
found to be not without money. And his frame was simply worn out. Suicide
was spoken of, but you'll agree with me that deliberate starvation is, to
say the least, an uncommon form of suicide. An open verdict was
returned."

"Ah!" said Oleron.... "Does there happen to be any comprehensive history
of this parish?"

"No; partial ones only. I myself am not guiltless of having made a number
of notes on its purely ecclesiastical history, its registers and so
forth, which I shall be happy to show you if you would care to see them;
but it is a large parish, I have only one curate, and my leisure, as you
will readily understand ..."

The extent of the parish and the scantiness of the vicar's leisure
occupied the remainder of the interview, and Oleron thanked the vicar,
took his leave, and walked slowly home.

He walked slowly for a reason, twice turning away from the house within a
stone's-throw of the gate and taking another turn of twenty minutes or
so. He had a very ticklish piece of work now before him; it required the
greatest mental concentration; it was nothing less than to bring his
mind, if he might, into such a state of unpreoccupation and receptivity
that he should see the place as he had seen it on that morning when,
his removal accomplished, he had sat down to begin the sixteenth chapter
of the first _Romilly_.

For, could he recapture that first impression, he now hoped for far more
from it. Formerly, he had carried no end of mental lumber. Before the
influence of the place had been able to find him out at all, it had had
the inertia of those dreary chapters to overcome. No results had shown.
The process had been one of slow saturation, charging, filling up to a
brim. But now he was light, unburdened, rid at last both of that
_Romilly_ and of her prototype. Now for the new unknown, coy, jealous,
bewitching, Beckoning Fair!...

At half-past two of the afternoon he put his key into the Yale lock,
entered, and closed the door behind him....

His fantastic attempt was instantly and astonishingly successful. He
could have shouted with triumph as he entered the room; it was as if he
had _escaped_ into it. Once more, as in the days when his writing had had
a daily freshness and wonder and promise for him, he was conscious of
that new ease and mastery and exhilaration and release. The air of the
place seemed to hold more oxygen; as if his own specific gravity had
changed, his very tread seemed less ponderable. The flowers in the bowls,
the fair proportions of the meadowsweet-coloured panels and mouldings,
the polished floor, and the lofty and faintly starred ceiling, fairly
laughed their welcome. Oleron actually laughed back, and spoke aloud.

"Oh, you're pretty, pretty!" he flattered it.

Then he lay down on his couch.

He spent that afternoon as a convalescent who expected a dear visitor
might have spent it - in a delicious vacancy, smiling now and then as
if in his sleep, and ever lifting drowsy and contented eyes to his
alluring surroundings. He lay thus until darkness came, and, with
darkness, the nocturnal noises of the old house....

But if he waited for any specific happening, he waited in vain.

He waited similarly in vain on the morrow, maintaining, though with less
ease, that sensitised-plate-like condition of his mind. Nothing occurred
to give it an impression. Whatever it was which he so patiently wooed, it
seemed to be both shy and exacting.

Then on the third day he thought he understood. A look of gentle drollery
and cunning came into his eyes, and he chuckled.

"Oho, oho!... Well, if the wind sits in _that_ quarter we must see what
else there is to be done. What is there, now?... No, I won't send for
Elsie; we don't need a wheel to break the butterfly on; we won't go to
those lengths, my butterfly...."

He was standing musing, thumbing his lean jaw, looking aslant; suddenly
he crossed to his hall, took down his hat, and went out.

"My lady is coquettish, is she? Well, we'll see what a little neglect
will do," he chuckled as he went down the stairs.

He sought a railway station, got into a train, and spent the rest of the
day in the country. Oh, yes: Oleron thought _he_ was the man to deal with
Fair Ones who beckoned, and invited, and then took refuge in shyness and
hanging back!

He did not return until after eleven that night.

"_Now_, my Fair Beckoner!" he murmured as he walked along the alley and
felt in his pocket for his keys....

Inside his flat, he was perfectly composed, perfectly deliberate,
exceedingly careful not to give himself away. As if to intimate that he
intended to retire immediately, he lighted only a single candle; and as
he set out with it on his nightly round he affected to yawn. He went
first into his kitchen. There was a full moon, and a lozenge of
moonlight, almost peacock-blue by contrast with his candle-frame, lay on
the floor. The window was uncurtained, and he could see the reflection of
the candle, and, faintly, that of his own face, as he moved about. The
door of the powder-closet stood a little ajar, and he closed it before
sitting down to remove his boots on the chair with the cushion made of
the folded harp-bag. From the kitchen he passed to the bathroom. There,
another slant of blue moonlight cut the windowsill and lay across the
pipes on the wall. He visited his seldom-used study, and stood for a
moment gazing at the silvered roofs across the square. Then, walking
straight through his sitting-room, his stockinged feet making no noise,
he entered his bedroom and put the candle on the chest of drawers. His
face all this time wore no expression save that of tiredness. He had
never been wilier nor more alert.

His small bedroom fireplace was opposite the chest of drawers on which
the mirror stood, and his bed and the window occupied the remaining
sides of the room. Oleron drew down his blind, took off his coat, and
then stooped to get his slippers from under the bed.

He could have given no reason for the conviction, but that the
manifestation that for two days had been withheld was close at hand he
never for an instant doubted. Nor, though he could not form the faintest
guess of the shape it might take, did he experience fear. Startling or


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