Author: Edward J. O'Brien and John Cournos, editors




НазваниеAuthor: Edward J. O'Brien and John Cournos, editors
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Title: The Best British Short Stories of 1922


Author: Edward J. O'Brien and John Cournos, editors


CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION


WHERE WAS WYCH STREET? By Stacy Aumonier

(From _The Strand Magazine_ and _The Saturday Evening Post_)


THE LOOKING-GLASS. By J.D. Beresford

(From _The Cornhill Magazine_)


THE OLIVE. By Algernon Blackwood

(From _Pearson's Magazine, London_)


ONCE A HERO. By Harold Brighouse

(From _Pan_)


"THE PENSIONER." By William Caine

(From _The Graphic_)


BROADSHEET BALLAD. By A.E. Coppard

(From _The Dial_)


THE CHRISTMAS PRESENT. By Richmal Crompton

(From _Truth_)


SEATON'S AUNT. By Walter de la Mare

(From _The London Mercury_)


THE REAPER. By Dorothy Easton

(From _The English Review_)


THE SONG. By May Edginton

(From _Lloyd's Story Magazine_)


A HEDONIST. By John Galsworthy

(From _Pears' Annual_, 1921 and _The Century Magazine_)


THE BAT AND BELFRY INN. By Alan Graham

(From _The Story-Teller_)


THE LIE. By Holloway Horn

(From _The Blue Magazine_)


A GIRL IN IT. By Rowland Kenney

(From _The New Age_)


THE BACKSTAIRS OF THE MIND. By Rosamond Langbridge

(From _The Manchester Guardian_)


THE BIRTH OF A MASTERPIECE. By Lucas Malet

(From _The Story-Teller_)


"GENIUS." By Elinor Mordaunt

(From _Hutchinson's Magazine_ and _The Century Magazine_)


THE DEVIL TO PAY. By Max Pemberton

(From _The Story-Teller_)


EMPTY ARMS. By Roland Pertwee

(From _The Ladies' Home Journal_)


LENA WRACE. By May Sinclair

(From _The Dial_)


THE DICE THROWER. By Sidney Southgate

(From _Colour_)


THE STRANGER WOMAN. By G.B. Stern

(From _John o'London's Weekly_)


THE WOMAN WHO SAT STILL. By Parry Truscott

(From _Colour_)


MAJOR WILBRAHAM. By Hugh Walpole

(From _The Chicago Tribune_)


WHERE WAS WYCH STREET?


By STACY AUMONIER


(From _The Strand Magazine_ and _The Saturday Evening Post_)


1921, 1922


In the public bar of the Wagtail, in Wapping, four men and a woman were

drinking beer and discussing diseases. It was not a pretty subject, and

the company was certainly not a handsome one. It was a dark November

evening, and the dingy lighting of the bar seemed but to emphasize the

bleak exterior. Drifts of fog and damp from without mingled with the

smoke of shag. The sanded floor was kicked into a muddy morass not

unlike the surface of the pavement. An old lady down the street had

died from pneumonia the previous evening, and the event supplied a

fruitful topic of conversation. The things that one could get!

Everywhere were germs eager to destroy one. At any minute the symptoms

might break out. And so--one foregathered in a cheerful spot amidst

friends, and drank forgetfulness.


Prominent in this little group was Baldwin Meadows, a sallow-faced

villain with battered features and prominent cheek-bones, his face cut

and scarred by a hundred fights. Ex-seaman, ex-boxer, ex-fish-porter

--indeed, to every one's knowledge, ex-everything. No one

knew how he lived. By his side lurched an enormous coloured man who

went by the name of Harry Jones. Grinning above a tankard sat a

pimply-faced young man who was known as The Agent. Silver rings adorned

his fingers. He had no other name, and most emphatically no address,

but he "arranged things" for people, and appeared to thrive upon it in

a scrambling, fugitive manner. The other two people were Mr. and Mrs.

Dawes. Mr. Dawes was an entirely negative person, but Mrs. Dawes shone

by virtue of a high, whining, insistent voice, keyed to within half a

note of hysteria.


Then, at one point, the conversation suddenly took a peculiar turn. It

came about through Mrs. Dawes mentioning that her aunt, who died from

eating tinned lobster, used to work in a corset shop in Wych Street.

When she said that, The Agent, whose right eye appeared to survey the

ceiling, whilst his left eye looked over the other side of his tankard,

remarked:


"Where was Wych Street, ma?"


"Lord!" exclaimed Mrs. Dawes. "Don't you know, dearie? You must be a

young 'un, you must. Why, when I was a gal every one knew Wych Street.

It was just down there where they built the Kingsway, like."


Baldwin Meadows cleared his throat, and said:


"Wych Street used to be a turnin' runnin' from Long Acre into

Wellington Street."


"Oh, no, old boy," chipped in Mr. Dawes, who always treated the ex-man

with great deference. "If you'll excuse me, Wych Street was a narrow

lane at the back of the old Globe Theatre, that used to pass by the

church."


"I know what I'm talkin' about," growled Meadows. Mrs. Dawes's high

nasal whine broke in:


"Hi, Mr. Booth, you used ter know yer wye abaht. Where was Wych

Street?"


Mr. Booth, the proprietor, was polishing a tap. He looked up.


"Wych Street? Yus, of course I knoo Wych Street. Used to go there with

some of the boys--when I was Covent Garden way. It was at right angles

to the Strand, just east of Wellington Street."


"No, it warn't. It were alongside the Strand, before yer come to

Wellington Street."


The coloured man took no part in the discussion, one street and one

city being alike to him, provided he could obtain the material comforts

dear to his heart; but the others carried it on with a certain amount

of acerbity.


Before any agreement had been arrived at three other men entered the

bar. The quick eye of Meadows recognized them at once as three of what

was known at that time as "The Gallows Ring." Every member of "The

Gallows Ring" had done time, but they still carried on a lucrative

industry devoted to blackmail, intimidation, shoplifting, and some of

the clumsier recreations. Their leader, Ben Orming, had served seven

years for bashing a Chinaman down at Rotherhithe.


"The Gallows Ring" was not popular in Wapping, for the reason that many

of their depredations had been inflicted upon their own class. When

Meadows and Harry Jones took it into their heads to do a little wild

prancing they took the trouble to go up into the West-end. They

considered "The Gallows Ring" an ungentlemanly set; nevertheless, they

always treated them with a certain external deference--an unpleasant

crowd to quarrel with.


Ben Orming ordered beer for the three of them, and they leant against

the bar and whispered in sullen accents. Something had evidently

miscarried with the Ring. Mrs. Dawes continued to whine above the

general drone of the bar. Suddenly she said:


"Ben, you're a hot old devil, you are. We was just 'aving a discussion

like. Where was Wych Street?"


Ben scowled at her, and she continued:


"Some sez it was one place, some sez it was another. I _know_ where it

was, 'cors my aunt what died from blood p'ison, after eatin' tinned

lobster, used to work at a corset shop----"


"Yus," barked Ben, emphatically. "I know where Wych Street was--it was

just sarth of the river, afore yer come to Waterloo Station."


It was then that the coloured man, who up to that point had taken no

part in the discussion, thought fit to intervene.


"Nope. You's all wrong, cap'n. Wych Street were alongside de church,

way over where the Strand takes a side-line up west."


Ben turned on him fiercely.


"What the blazes does a blanketty nigger know abaht it? I've told yer

where Wych Street was."


"Yus, and I know where it was," interposed Meadows.


"Yer both wrong. Wych Street was a turning running from Long Acre into

Wellington Street."


"I didn't ask yer what _you_ thought," growled Ben.


"Well, I suppose I've a right to an opinion?"


"You always think you know everything, you do."


"You can just keep yer mouth shut."


"It 'ud take more'n you to shut it."


Mr. Booth thought it advisable at this juncture to bawl across the bar:


"Now, gentlemen, no quarrelling--please."


The affair might have been subsided at that point, but for Mrs. Dawes.

Her emotions over the death of the old lady in the street had been so

stirred that she had been, almost unconsciously, drinking too much gin.

She suddenly screamed out:


"Don't you take no lip from 'im, Mr. Medders. The dirty, thieving

devil, 'e always thinks 'e's goin' to come it over every one."


She stood up threateningly, and one of Ben's supporters gave her a

gentle push backwards. In three minutes the bar was in a complete state

of pandemonium. The three members of "The Gallows Ring" fought two men

and a woman, for Mr. Dawes merely stood in a corner and screamed out:


"Don't! Don't!"


Mrs. Dawes stabbed the man who had pushed her through the wrist with a

hatpin. Meadows and Ben Orming closed on each other and fought savagely

with the naked fists. A lucky blow early in the encounter sent Meadows

reeling against the wall, with blood streaming down his temple. Then

the coloured man hurled a pewter tankard straight at Ben and it hit him

on the knuckles. The pain maddened him to a frenzy. His other supporter

had immediately got to grips with Harry Jones, and picked up one of the

high stools and, seizing an opportunity, brought it down crash on to

the coloured man's skull.


The whole affair was a matter of minutes. Mr. Booth was bawling out in

the street. A whistle sounded. People were running in all directions.


"Beat it! Beat it for God's sake!" called the man who had been stabbed

through the wrist. His face was very white, and he was obviously about

to faint.


Ben and the other man, whose name was Toller, dashed to the door. On

the pavement there was a confused scramble. Blows were struck

indiscriminately. Two policemen appeared. One was laid _hors de combat_

by a kick on the knee-cap from Toller. The two men fled into the

darkness, followed by a hue-and-cry. Born and bred in the locality,

they took every advantage of their knowledge. They tacked through

alleys and raced down dark mews, and clambered over walls. Fortunately

for them, the people they passed, who might have tripped them up or

aided in the pursuit, merely fled indoors. The people in Wapping are

not always on the side of the pursuer. But the police held on. At last

Ben and Toller slipped through the door of an empty house in Aztec

Street barely ten yards ahead of their nearest pursuer. Blows rained on

the door, but they slipped the bolts, and then fell panting to the

floor. When Ben could speak, he said:


"If they cop us, it means swinging."


"Was the nigger done in?"


"I think so. But even if 'e wasn't, there was that other affair the

night before last. The game's up."


The ground-floor rooms were shuttered and bolted, but they knew that

the police would probably force the front door. At the back there was

no escape, only a narrow stable yard, where lanterns were already

flashing. The roof only extended thirty yards either way and the police

would probably take possession of it. They made a round of the house,

which was sketchily furnished. There was a loaf, a small piece of

mutton, and a bottle of pickles, and--the most precious

possession--three bottles of whisky. Each man drank half a glass of

neat whisky; then Ben said: "We'll be able to keep 'em quiet for a bit,

anyway," and he went and fetched an old twelve-bore gun and a case of

cartridges. Toller was opposed to this last desperate resort, but Ben

continued to murmur, "It means swinging, anyway."


And thus began the notorious siege of Aztec Street. It lasted three

days and four nights. You may remember that, on forcing a panel of the

front door, Sub-Inspector Wraithe, of the V Division, was shot through

the chest. The police then tried other methods. A hose was brought into

play without effect. Two policemen were killed and four wounded. The

military was requisitioned. The street was picketed. Snipers occupied

windows of the houses opposite. A distinguished member of the Cabinet

drove down in a motor-car, and directed operations in a top-hat. It was

the introduction of poison-gas which was the ultimate cause of the

downfall of the citadel. The body of Ben Orming was never found, but

that of Toller was discovered near the front door with a bullet through

his heart. The medical officer to the Court pronounced that the man had

been dead three days, but whether killed by a chance bullet from a

sniper or whether killed deliberately by his fellow-criminal was never

revealed. For when the end came Orming had apparently planned a final

act of venom. It was known that in the basement a considerable quantity

of petrol had been stored. The contents had probably been carefully

distributed over the most inflammable materials in the top rooms. The

fire broke out, as one witness described it, "almost like an

explosion." Orming must have perished in this. The roof blazed up, and

the sparks carried across the yard and started a stack of light timber

in the annexe of Messrs. Morrel's piano-factory. The factory and two

blocks of tenement buildings were burnt to the ground. The estimated

cost of the destruction was one hundred and eighty thousand pounds. The

casualties amounted to seven killed and fifteen wounded.


At the inquiry held under Chief Justice Pengammon various odd

interesting facts were revealed. Mr. Lowes-Parlby, the brilliant young

K.C., distinguished himself by his searching cross-examination of many

witnesses. At one point a certain Mrs. Dawes was put in the box.


"Now," said Mr. Lowes-Parlby, "I understand that on the evening in

question, Mrs. Dawes, you, and the victims, and these other people who
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