Widdershins by Oliver [pseud.] Onions


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Page 1




THE BECKONING FAIR ONE




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 Oleron 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 and 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 Oleron,
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 shaven jaw; then, with another glance at the
board, he walked slowly across the square to Number Six.

He knocked, and waited for two or three minutes, but, although the door
stood open, received no answer. He was knocking again when a long-nosed
man in shirt-sleeves appeared.

"I was arsking a blessing on our food," he said in severe explanation.

Oleron asked if he might have the key of the old house; and the
long-nosed man withdrew again.

Oleron waited for another five minutes on the step; then the man,
appearing again and masticating some of the food of which he had spoken,
announced that the key was lost.

"But you won't want it," he said. "The entrance door isn't closed, and a
push'll open any of the others. I'm a agent for it, if you're thinking of
taking it--"

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 22nd Aug 2019, 2:58