Billy Weaver had travelled down from London on the slow afternoon train, changing trains on the way, and by the time he got to Bath it was about nine o'clock in the evening. The air was very 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 pub down the road,' a man at the station said, pointing. 'They might take you in. It's about a kilometer along on the other side.'
Billy thanked him and picked up his suitcase and set out to walk to the inn. He had never been to Bath before. He didn't know anyone who lived there, but his boss at the Head Office in London had told him it was a splendid city. 'Find your own accommodation,' he had said, 'and then go along and report to the Local Manager as soon as you've got yourself settled.'
Billy was seventeen years old. He was wearing a new dark blue overcoat, a new brown hat, a new brown suit, and he was feeling fine. He walked briskly down the street. He was trying to do everything briskly these days. All successful businessmen, he had decided, were brisk. The top men at Head Office were brisk all the time. They were amazing.
There were no shops on this wide street, only a line of tall houses on each side, all of them looking the same. They had grand entrances and four or five steps going up to their front doors, and it was obvious that they had been very grand houses indeed. But now, even in the darkness, he could see that the paint was coming off the doors and windows, and that the handsome white exteriors had cracks and patches from lack of repair.
Suddenly, in a downstairs window that was illuminated by a nearby street lamp, Billy saw a printed notice leaning against the glass in one of the windows. It said BED AND BREAKFAST.
He stopped walking. He moved a bit closer. Green curtains were hanging down on each side of the window. He went right up to it and looked through the glass into the room, and the first thing he saw was a bright fire burning in the fireplace. On the carpet in front of the fire, a pretty little dog was curled up asleep. The room itself, which he could only see in half-darkness, was filled with pleasant furniture. There was a piano and a big sofa and several comfortable armchairs; and in one corner he saw a large parrot in a cage. Animals were usually a good sign in a place like this, Billy told himself, and it looked to him as if it would be a pretty decent house to stay in. Certainly it would be more comfortable than a pub.