Without quite knowing how he came to be there Oleron found himself striding over the loose board he had temporarily placed on the step broken by Miss Bengough. He was hatless, and descending the stairs. Not until later did there return to him a hazy memory that he had left the candle burning on the table, had opened the door no wider than was necessary to allow the passage of his body, and had sidled out, closing the door softly behind him. At the foot of the stairs another shock awaited him. Something dashed with a flurry up from the disused cellars and disappeared out of the door. It was only a cat, but Oleron gave a childish sob.
He passed out of the gate, and stood for a moment under the "To Let" boards, plucking foolishly at his lip and looking up at the glimmer of light behind one of his red blinds. Then, still looking over his shoulder, he moved stumblingly up the square. There was a small public-house round the corner; Oleron had never entered it; but he entered it now, and put down a shilling that missed the counter by inches.
"B---b---bran--brandy," he said, and then stooped to look for the shilling.
He had the little sawdusted bar to himself; what company there was--carters and labourers and the small tradesmen of the neighbourhood--was gathered in the farther compartment, beyond the space where the white-haired landlady moved among her taps and bottles. Oleron sat down on a hardwood settee with a perforated seat, drank half his brandy, and then, thinking he might as well drink it as spill it, finished it.
Then he fell to wondering which of the men whose voices he heard across the public-house would undertake the removal of his effects on the morrow.
In the meantime he ordered more brandy.
For he did not intend to go back to that room where he had left the candle burning. Oh no! He couldn't have faced even the entry and the staircase with the broken step --certainly not that pith-white, fascinating room. He would go back for the present to his old arrangement, of work-room and separate sleeping-quarters; he would go to his old landlady at once--presently--when he had finished his brandy --and see if she could put him up for the night. His glass was empty now ....
He rose, had it refilled, and sat down again.
And if anybody asked his reason for removing again? Oh, he had reason enough--reason enough! Nails that put themselves back into wood again and gashed people's hands, steps that broke when you trod on them, and women who came into a man's place and brushed their hair in the dark, were reasons enough! He was querulous and injured about it all. He had taken the place for himself, not for invisible women to brush their hair in; that lawyer fellow in Lincoln's Inn should be told so, too, before many hours were out; it was outrageous, letting people in for agreement like that!
A cut-glass partition divided the compartment where Oleron sat from the space where the white-haired landlady moved; but it stopped seven or eight inches above the level of the counter. There was no partition at the further bar. Presently Oleron, raising his eyes, saw that faces were watching him through the aperture. The faces disappeared when he looked at them.
He moved to a corner where he could not be seen from the other bar; but this brought him into line with the white-haired landlady.
She knew him by sight--had doubtless seen him passing and repassing; and presently she made a remark on the weather. Oleron did not know what he replied, but it sufficed to call forth the further remark that the winter had been a bad one for influenza, but that the spring weather seemed to be coming at last .... Even this slight contact with the commonplace steadied Oleron a little; an idle, nascent wonder whether the landlady brushed her hair every night, and, if so, whether it gave out those little electric cracklings, was shut down with a snap; and 0leron was better ....
With his next glass of brandy he was all for going back to his flat. Not go back? Indeed, he would go back! They should very soon see whether he was to be turned out of his place like that! He began to wonder why he was doing the rather unusual thing he was doing at that moment, unusual for him--sitting hatless, drinking brandy, in a public-house. Suppose he were to tell the white-haired landlady all about it--to tell her that a caller had scratched her hand on a nail, had later had the bad luck to put her foot through a rotten stair, and that he himself, in an old house full of squeaks and creaks and whispers, had heard a minute noise and had bolted from it in fright--what would she think of him? That he was mad, of course .... Pshaw! The real truth of the matter was that he hadn't been doing enough work to occupy him. He had been dreaming his days away, filling his head with a lot of moonshine about a new Romilly (as if the old one was not good enough), and now he was surprised that the devil should enter an empty head!
Yes, he would go back. He would take a walk in the air first--he hadn't walked enough lately--and then he would take himself in hand, settle the hash of that sixteenth chapter of Romilly (fancy, he had actually been fool enough to think of destroying fifteen chapters !) and thenceforward he would remember that he had obligations to his fellow men and work to do in the world. There was the matter in a nutshell.
The Beckoning Fair One -by- Oliver OnionsBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.