The Landlady Summary
“The Landlady” is a short story by Roald Dahl about a young man who lodges at a sinister boarding house.
- Billy Weaver travels alone to Bath on business and decides to stay in an initially cozy-seeming boarding house, where he is the only guest.
- The boarding house’s landlady explains that she has only ever had two other guests, whose names Billy recognizes as those of young men who disappeared.
- After serving him a strange-tasting cup of tea and complimenting his looks, the landlady ominously tells Billy that her former guests are still there and reveals that she is a skilled taxidermist.
Last Updated on October 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 893
Seventeen-year-old Billy Weaver travels from London to Bath on a business trip. As he arrives in Bath, he is filled with excitement about arriving in a new town, even though the weather is “deadly cold” and so windy that it feels as if knives are cutting his cheeks.
Billy follows the advice he’s been given and tackles his first order of business: securing lodging. The porter of the train recommends that he visit The Bell and Dragon, so Billy proceeds in that direction. As he walks, he notices the contrast between the “splendid city” that a Mr. Greenslade from the Head Office had previously described to him and the decrepit condition of his current surroundings. Although Billy can tell that this section of the city was once a high-class neighborhood, it now stands in disrepair, with peeling paint and cracked facades.
As he walks, Billy suddenly finds himself captivated by a boarding house; its yellow chrysanthemums and cozy fire are appealing, and through the window, Billy can see a little dachshund curled up inside. Billy is torn. On one hand, staying at a pub like The Bell and Dragon would provide great entertainment in the evenings, and he would have plenty of other people to socialize with there. He also believes that The Bell and Dragon is likely cheaper than this boarding house. Quaint little boarding homes have a negative connotation for Billy, who associates them with “rapacious landladies” and a general sense of fear and uneasiness.
Billy decides against the idea; however, as he prepares to leave, he is drawn in an almost supernatural way to the sign, its lettering, reading “BED AND BREAKFAST,” captivating his attention. Without intending to do so, Billy finds himself climbing the stairs and ringing the bell. Instantly, before he can even remove his finger from the bell, the door leaps open, and a woman appears. She welcomes him, making sure that he knows that she already has his room prepared. She offers him a “fantastically cheap” price for his stay, and Billy is convinced to stay.
After noting the emptiness of the house, Billy is also struck by the odd behavior of the landlady. He dismisses her as being “slightly dotty” and imagines that she probably lost a son in the war, attributing her eccentricities to personal loss. She tells Billy that she was “beginning to get worried” before he arrived and offers to cook supper for him. Billy declines, but she insists that after he unpacks, he must come back downstairs before bed in order to sign her guest book.
Only taking a few minutes to unpack and wash his hands, Billy soon emerges in the living room and notices the dachshund still sleeping peacefully in front of the fire. The landlady isn’t there, so Billy proceeds to sign the guest book. After doing so, he reads the other names. There are only two: Christopher Mulholland from Cardiff and Gregory W. Temple from Bristol, names that seem oddly familiar to Billy. He becomes determined to remember how he knows them, and the landlady enters the room as he begins saying the names aloud in an effort to recall the association. Billy tells the landlady that somehow the two names are inexplicably connected in his memory. The landlady compliments Mr. Mulholland and Mr. Temple, noting that they were both charming boys. Billy continues to struggle with his familiarity with the names and finally becomes fairly certain that their names had been in newspapers. Meanwhile, the landlady has prepared tea for Billy and encourages him to sit with her on the sofa.
As Billy begins sipping the tea, he catches an odd scent emanating from the landlady. It reminds him of a hospital or perhaps of pickled walnuts. Billy becomes acutely aware of the way the landlady watches him drink his tea, and she comments on how much Mr. Mulholland loved tea when he was her guest. After a few sips, Billy places his cup down as the landlady inquires about his age. When he tells her that he is seventeen, she tells him that this is “perfect” and exactly the same age as Mr. Mulholland. She then makes special note of Billy’s teeth, complimenting how beautiful and white they are. Even stranger, she recalls how Mr. Temple, although he was twenty-eight, didn’t have a blemish on his entire body; his skin was much more youthful than his age.
Billy resumes sipping tea and suddenly realizes that the landlady’s parrot, which he first viewed from the street, is actually not alive. The landlady points out that her dachshund has been preserved as well, commenting that she always stuffs her “little pets” when they die. Billy is fascinated with the landlady’s skills when she tells him that she did the taxidermy herself. He considers how his tea tastes faintly of bitter almonds as the landlady makes certain that he has signed the guest book; she mentions that she needs to be able to recall his name later if she forgets it. Billy answers affirmatively and then questions whether there have been any other visitors at her boarding home besides the two young men who also signed the book.
The landlady replies that Billy is the only other person who has been her guest, holding her own teacup high as she watches him.