The Landlady

Jasmine W

Billy Weaver had traveled down from London on the slow afternoon train, with a change at Reading on the way, and by the time he got to Bath, it was about nine o’clock in the evening, and the moon was coming up out of a clear starry sky over the houses opposite the station entrance. But the air was deadly cold and the wind was like a flat blade of ice on his cheeks. “Excuse me,” he said, “but is there a fairly cheap hotel not too far away from here?” “Try The Bell and Dragon,” the porter answered, pointing down the road. “They might take you in. It’s about a quarter of a mile along on the other side.” Billy thanked him and picked up his suitcase and set out to walk the quarter-mile to The Bell and Dragon. He had never been to Bath before. He didn’t know anyone who lived there. But Mr. Greenslade at the head office in London had told him it was a splendid town. “Find your own lodgings,” he had said, “and then go along and report to the branch manager as soon as you’ve got yourself settled.” Billy was seventeen years old. He was wearing a new navy-blue overcoat, a new brown trilby hat, and a new brown suit, and he was feeling fine. He walked briskly down the street. He was trying to do everything briskly these days. Briskness, he had decided, was the one common characteristic of all successful businessmen. The big shots up at the head office were absolutely fantastically brisk all the time. They were amazing. There were no shops on this wide street that he was walking along, only a line of tall houses on each side, all of them identical. They had porches and pillars and four or five steps going up to their front doors, and it was obvious that once upon a time they had been very swanky residences. But now, even in the darkness, he could see that the paint was peeling from the woodwork on their doors and windows and that the handsome white facades were cracked and blotchy from neglect. Suddenly, in a downstairs window that was brilliantly illuminated by a street lamp not six yards away, Billy caught sight of a printed notice propped up against the glass in one of the upper panes. It said BED AND BREAKFAST. There was a vase of yellow chrysanthemums, tall and beautiful, standing just underneath the notice. He stopped walking. He moved a bit closer. Green curtains (some sort of velvety material) were hanging down on either side of the window. The chrysanthemums looked wonderful beside them. He went right up and peered through the glass into the room, and the first thing he saw was a bright fire burning in the hearth. On the carpet in front of the fire, a pretty little dachshund was curled up asleep with its nose tucked into its belly. The room itself, so far as he could see in the half darkness, was filled with pleasant furniture. There was a baby grand piano and a big sofa and several plump armchairs, and in one corner he spotted a large parrot in a cage. Animals were usually a good sign in a place like this, Billy told himself; and all in all, it looked to him as though it would be a pretty decent house to stay in. Certainly it would be more comfortable than The Bell and Dragon. On the other hand, a pub would be more congenial than a boardinghouse. There would be beer and darts in the evenings, and lots of people to talk to, and it would probably be a good bit cheaper, too. He had stayed a couple of nights in a pub once before and he had liked it. He had never stayed in any boardinghouses, and, to be perfectly honest, he was a tiny bit frightened of them. The name itself conjured up images of watery cabbage, rapacious landladies, and a powerful smell of kippers in the living room. After dithering about like this in the cold for two or three minutes, Billy decided that he would walk on and take a look at The Bell and Dragon before making up his mind. He turned to go. And now a queer thing happened to him. He was in the act of stepping back and turning away from the window when all at once his eye was caught and held in the most peculiar manner by the small notice that was there. BED AND BREAKFAST, it said. BED AND BREAKFAST, BED AND BREAKFAST, BED AND BREAKFAST. Each word was like a large black eye staring at him through the glass, holding him, compelling him, forcing him to stay where he was and not to walk away from that house, and the next thing he knew, he was actually moving across from the window to the front door of the house, climbing the steps that led up to it, and reaching for the bell. He pressed the bell. Far away in a back room he heard it ringing, and then at once —it must have been at once because he hadn’t even had time to take his finger from the bell button—the door swung open and a woman was standing there. Normally you ring the bell and you have at least a half-minute’s wait before the door opens. But this dame was like a jack-in-the-box. He pressed the bell—and out she popped! It made him jump. She was about forty-five or fifty years old, and the moment she saw him, she gave him a warm, welcoming smile. “ Please come in,” she said pleasantly. She stepped aside, holding the door wide open, and Billy found himself automatically starting forward. The compulsion or, more accurately, the desire to follow after her into that house was extraordinarily strong. “I saw the notice in the window,” he said, holding himself back. “Yes, I know.” “I was wondering about a room.” “It’s all ready for you, my dear,” she said. She had a round pink face and very gentle blue eyes. “I was on my way to The Bell and Dragon,” Billy told her. “But the notice in your window just happened to catch my eye.” “My dear boy,” she said, “why don’t you come in out of the cold?” “How much do you charge?” “Five and sixpence a night, including breakfast.” It was fantastically cheap. It was less than half of what he had been willing to pay. “If that is too much,” she added, “then perhaps I can reduce it just a tiny bit. Do you desire an egg for breakfast? Eggs are expensive at the moment. It would be sixpence less without the egg.” “Five and sixpence is fine,” he answered. “I should like very much to stay here.” “I knew you would. Do come in.” She seemed terribly nice. She looked exactly like the mother of one’s best school friend welcoming one into the house to stay for the Christmas holidays. Billy took off his hat and stepped over the threshold. “Just hang it there,” she said, “and let me help you with your coat.” There were no other hats or coats in the hall. There were no umbrellas, no walking sticks—nothing. “We have it all to ourselves,” she said, smiling at him over her shoulder as she led the way upstairs. “You see, it isn’t very often I have the pleasure of taking a visitor into my little nest.”The old girl is slightly dotty, Billy told himself. But at five and sixpence a night, who cares about that? “I should’ve thought you’d be simply swamped with applicants,” he said politely. “Oh, I am, my dear, I am, of course I am. But the trouble is that I’m inclined to be just a teeny-weeny bit choosy and particular—if you see what I mean.” “Ah, yes.” “But I’m always ready. Everything is always ready day and night in this house just on the off chance that an acceptable young gentleman will come along. And it is such a pleasure, my dear, such a very great pleasure when now and again I open the door and I see someone standing there who is just exactly right.” She was halfway up the stairs, and she paused with one hand on the stair rail, turning her head and smiling down at him with pale lips. “Like you,” she added, and her blue eyes traveled slowly all the way down the length of Billy’s body, to his feet, and then up again. On the second-floor landing she said to him, “This floor is mine.” They climbed up another flight. “And this one is all yours,” she said. “Here’s your room. I do hope you’ll like it.” She took him into a small but charming front bedroom, switching on the light as she went in. “The morning sun comes right in the window, Mr. Perkins. It is Mr. Perkins, isn’t it?” “No,” he said. “It’s Weaver.” “Mr. Weaver. How nice. I’ve put a water bottle between the sheets to air them out, Mr. Weaver. It’s such a comfort to have a hot-water bottle in a strange bed with clean sheets, don’t you agree? And you may light the gas fire at any time if you feel chilly.” “Thank you,” Billy said. “Thank you ever so much.” He noticed that the bedspread had been taken off the bed and that the bedclothes had been neatly turned back on one side, all ready for someone to get in. “I’m so glad you appeared,” she said, looking earnestly into his face. “I was beginning to get worried.” “That’s all right,” Billy answered brightly. “You mustn’t worry about me.” He put his suitcase on the chair and started to open it. “And what about supper, my dear? Did you manage to get anything to eat before you came here?” “I’m not a bit hungry, thank you,” he said. “I think I’ll just go to bed as soon as possible because tomorrow I’ve got to get up rather early and report to the office.” “Very well, then. I’ll leave you now so that you can unpack. But before you go to bed, would you be kind enough to pop into the sitting room on the ground floor and sign the book? Everyone has to do that because it’s the law of the land, and we don’t want to go breaking any laws at this stage in the proceedings, do we?” She gave him a little wave of the hand and went quickly out of the room and closed the door.
Billy wondered since no one else is here, I could go around and peak at the other rooms.
Billy unpacks his stuff and decides to do down stairs to sign the guest book. He find the guest book near the front door. He looks at it and sees that the last to entries are form a few years ago. He thinks about it and realizes those people have been missing for a year or two. Billy thinks that maybe I should leave cause I don't know what this lady is up to.He decides to leave cause that lady seems up to no good. He goes up a packs up his stuff. The lady didn't seem to notice him leaving because she was upstairs. He goes on his way to the bell and dragon.