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 half-way 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 an d 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 (0leron pricked up his-ears) to be haunted--but there were few old houses about which some such rumour did not circulate among 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 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 on e 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 tarred 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 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-late-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...
And 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 thatquarter 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 one to deal with Fair Ones who beckoned, and invited, and then took refuge in shyness and hanging back!
The Beckoning Fair One -by- Oliver Onions