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A Blue Pantomime
by [?]

“You received my letter, then?” I asked.

“Yes, surely. The Rev. S. Wraxall, I suppose. Your bed’s aired, sir, and a fire in the Blue Room, and the cloth laid. My wife didn’t like to risk cooking the fowl till you were really come. ‘Railways be that uncertain,’ she said. ‘Something may happen to the train and he’ll be done to death and all in pieces.'”

It took me a couple of seconds to discover that these gloomy anticipations referred not to me but to the fowl.

“But if you can wait half an hour–” he went on.

“Certainly,” said I. “In the meanwhile, if you’ll show me up to my bedroom, I’ll have a wash and change my clothes, for I’ve been travelling since ten this morning.”

I was standing in the passage by this time, and examined it in the dusk while the landlord was fetching a candle. Yes, again: I had felt sure the staircase lay to the right. I knew by heart the Ionic pattern of its broad balusters; the tick of the tall clock, standing at the first turn of the stairs; the vista down the glazed door opening on the stable-yard. When the landlord returned with my portmanteau and a candle and I followed him up-stairs, I was asking myself for the twentieth time–‘When–in what stage of my soul’s history–had I been doing all this before? And what on earth was that tune that kept humming in my head?’

I dismissed these speculations as I entered the bedroom and began to fling off my dusty clothes. I had almost forgotten about them by the time I began to wash away my travel-stains, and rinse the coal-dust out of my hair. My spirits revived, and I began mentally to arrange my plans for the next day. The prospect of dinner, too, after my cold drive was wonderfully comforting. Perhaps (thought I), there is good wine in this inn; it is just the house wherein travellers find, or boast that they find, forgotten bins of Burgundy or Teneriffe. When my landlord returned to conduct me to the Blue Room, I followed him down to the first landing in the lightest of spirits.

Therefore, I was startled when, as the landlord threw open the door and stood aside to let me pass, it came upon me again–and this time not as a merely vague sensation, but as a sharp and sudden fear taking me like a cold hand by the throat. I shivered as I crossed the threshold and began to look about me. The landlord observed it, and said–

“It’s chilly weather for travelling, to be sure. Maybe you’d be better down-stairs in the coffee-room, after all.”

I felt that this was probable enough. But it seemed a pity to have put him to the pains of lighting this fire for nothing. So I promised him I should be comfortable enough.

He appeared to be relieved, and asked me what I would drink with my dinner. “There’s beer–I brew it myself; and sherry–“

I said I would try his beer.

“And a bottle of sound port to follow?”

Port upon home-brewed beer! But I had dared it often enough in my Oxford days, and a long evening lay before me, with a snug armchair, and a fire fit to roast a sheep. I assented.

He withdrew to fetch up the meal, and I looked about me with curiosity. The room was a long one–perhaps fifty feet from end to end, and not less than ten paces broad. It was wainscotted to the height of four feet from the ground, probably with oak, but the wood had been so larded with dark blue paint that its texture could not be discovered. Above this wainscot the walls were covered with a fascinating paper. The background of this was a greenish-blue, and upon it a party of red-coated riders in three-cornered hats blew large horns while they hunted a stag. This pattern, striking enough in itself, became immeasurably more so when repeated a dozen times; for the stag of one hunt chased the riders of the next, and the riders chased the hounds, and so on in an unbroken procession right round the room. The window at the bottom of the room stood high in the wall, with short blue curtains and a blue-cushioned seat beneath. In the corner to the right of it stood a tall clock, and by the clock an old spinet, decorated with two plated cruets, a toy cottage constructed of shells and gum, and an ormolu clock under glass–the sort of ornament that an Agricultural Society presents to the tenant of the best-cultivated farm within thirty miles of somewhere or other. The floor was un-carpeted save for one small oasis opposite the fire. Here stood my table, cleanly spread, with two plated candlesticks, each holding three candles. Along the wainscot extended a regiment of dark, leather-cushioned chairs, so straight in the back that they seemed to be standing at attention. There was but one easy-chair in the room, and this was drawn close to the fire. I turned towards it.