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The Best British Short Stories of 1922

A Girl In It
(From The New Age)
I was just cooking a couple of two-eyed steaks when Black Mick walked in, and, noting
the look in his eyes and being for some reason in an expansive mood, I offered him a sit
down. After comparing notes on the various possibilities of the district with regard to job-
getting, we turned on to a discussion of the relative moralities of begging and stealing.
But in this, I found, Mick was not vitally interested--both were too deeply immoral for
him to touch. For Mick was a worker. He liked work. Vagrancy to him made no appeal.
To "settle down" was his one definite desire. But jobs refused to hold him, and the road
gripped him in spite of himself. So the problem presented itself to him in an abstract way
only; to me there was a real--but let that go.
Mick's respectability was uncanny. He could speculate on these things as if they were
matters affecting none of us there. In that fourpenny doss-house he remained as aloof as a
god, and in some vague way the calmness of the man in face of this infringing realism for
a time repelled me.
We cleaned up my packet to the last shred and crumb, and I found a couple of fag ends in
my pocket. We smoked silently. Mick's manner gradually affected me. We became
somehow mentally detached from the place in which we sat. We were in a corner of the
room, at the end of the longest table, and so incurious about the rest of the company that
neither of us knew whether there were two or twenty men there. For a while Mick was
absorbed in his smoke, and then I saw him slowly turn his head to the door. It was a
languid movement. His dark eyes were half veiled as he watched for the entrance of
someone who fumbled at the latch. Then, in an instant, as the face of the newcomer thrust
forward, Black Mick's whole personality seemed to change. His eyelids lifted, showing
great, glowing eyes staring from a cold set face. His back squared, and the table, clamped
to the floor, creaked protestingly as his sprawled legs were drawn up and the knees
pressed against the under part. A second only he stared, then slung himself full forward.
The newcomer was a live man, quicker than Mick. The recognition between the two was
apparently mutual; for as Mick vaulted the table the other rushed forward, grabbed the
poker from the grate, and got home on Mick's head with it. Before I could get near
enough to grip, the door again banged and our visitor had disappeared.
"There was a girl in it," said Mick to me when we took the road together a fortnight later,
and that was as far as he got in explanation. It was enough. I could read men a little. To
Mick women--all women--were sacred creatures. In the scheme of nature woman was
good and man was evil. Passion was a male attribute, an evil fire that scorched and
burned and rendered impotent the protesting innocence of hapless femininity....