Part Three of The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions
This section comprises parts 8, 9 and 10 of The Beckoning Fair One.
I find the first section of 8 a bit long, and if I’d been his editor, I would have cut it. That’s the bit where he muses somewhat abstractly with long words about this and that.
However, the next bit when Elsie comes round and they go on the bus is excellent. Not from a ghost story point of view, but just as a snapshot of an awkward conversation between two former friends.
Elsie comes off by far the better person. He then starts to talk about women who earn their own living and how they sacrifice their womanliness and open themselves to failed love affairs with the men they mix with in a man’s world. He even pretends to be understanding of this predicament, but Elsie sees right through him. Oleron becomes increasingly pathetic. She, on the other hand, is pretty magnificent. She is caring and thoughtful, and he’s just an idiot.
Onions does this exceptionally well.
Section 9 begins with Oleron’s visit to the vicar. From this, he learns that his predecessor Mr Madley died in the house of starvation twelve or so years previously. We infer from this that he too was a victim of that deadly muse, or anti-muse, the Beckoning Fair One.
After that, he goes home and tries to summon the spirit.
From here on in, the ghost begins to look ambiguous. Where it seemed to be clearly a spirit that was jealous and would brook no rival in Elsie Bengough, from here, I can see that readers might think that Oleron is merely going mad. He is now deliberately courting the female spirit that inhabits his house or his mind.
“Whatever it was which he so patiently wooed, it seemed to be both shy and exacting.”
He sits and waits for the spirit, but when she doesn’t come, he considers making her jealous and even considers sending for Elsie to do that job. It is some slight recommendation of him that even he dismisses that as a wheel to break a butterfly on. He decides to go to the country to teach her a lesson, and from now on sounds increasingly lunatic.
He tries to fool the Beckoner to appear by pretending to go to bed. And then, when he searches for his slippers, he sees her reflection in the glass of a photo frame. She brushes her hair with his old comb. I can’t imagine any woman would use my comb to comb her hair, but times were different then, I suppose.
Section 10 paints a picture of him becoming increasingly reclusive. We already had a hint that this is his fate from the fate of the previous tenant, the painter Madley. Oleron is still in love with the spirit. We see that its malign influence grows on him and he becomes agoraphobic. He doesn’t even go out for food or flowers any longer and chooses to stay in his house throughout. Onions may have had some experience of agoraphobia because his description of it is spot on.
He calls out “Romilly” as if he thinks the ghost is the heroine of his novel. Either that or the spirit has made him believe that. We now see him increasingly labile in his emotions, happy and sad. Then he thinks he sees Elsie Bengough’s skirt in his house. His worry is not for Elsie’s safety here, I guess. He says that her being there would have compromised him horribly. I guess he means that the Beckoner would have been jealous and it would have ruined his chances with her.
The mad ranting about this search for the Beckoner being his real work reminded me of Poe or The Yellow Wallpaper or the Horla. This is the standard writerly rendition of a crazy person which I very much enjoy narrating. He finally becomes jealous of Madley and imagines that he is going to marry the Beckoner.
Elsie comes on her last desperate mission to rescue Oleron from the Beckoner. I thought this part, both Elsie’s attempt and Oleron’s sneering dismissal of Elsie’s care was very well done. He is by now, totally mad. He burns his novel while Elsie waits outside, Elsie, who is the prototype of the original and best Romilly. The Beckoner has won. The Elsie “the pestering creature” is allowed to go and Oleron now expects the Beckoner to show herself as a reward for him destroying Romilly/Elsie.
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Music by The Heartwood Institute
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