The Best British Short Stories of 1922
By ALGERNON BLACKWOOD
(From Pearson's Magazine, London)
He laughed involuntarily as the olive rolled towards his chair across the shiny parquet
floor of the hotel dining-room.
His table in the cavernous salle à manger was apart: he sat alone, a solitary guest; the
table from which the olive fell and rolled towards him was some distance away. The
angle, however, made him an unlikely objective. Yet the lob-sided, juicy thing, after
hesitating once or twice en route as it plopped along, came to rest finally against his feet.
It settled with an inviting, almost an aggressive air. And he stooped and picked it up,
putting it rather self-consciously, because of the girl from whose table it had come, on the
white tablecloth beside his plate.
Then, looking up, he caught her eye, and saw that she too was laughing, though not a bit
self-consciously. As she helped herself to the hors d'oeuvres a false move had sent it
flying. She watched him pick the olive up and set it beside his plate. Her eyes then
suddenly looked away again--at her mother--questioningly.
The incident was closed. But the little oblong, succulent olive lay beside his plate, so that
his fingers played with it. He fingered it automatically from time to time until his lonely
meal was finished.
When no one was looking he slipped it into his pocket, as though, having taken the
trouble to pick it up, this was the very least he could do with it. Heaven alone knows
why, but he then took it upstairs with him, setting it on the marble mantelpiece among his
field glasses, tobacco tins, ink-bottles, pipes and candlestick. At any rate, he kept it--the
moist, shiny, lob-sided, juicy little oblong olive. The hotel lounge wearied him; he came
to his room after dinner to smoke at his ease, his coat off and his feet on a chair; to read
another chapter of Freud, to write a letter or two he didn't in the least want to write, and
then go to bed at ten o'clock. But this evening the olive kept rolling between him and the
thing he read; it rolled between the paragraphs, between the lines; the olive was more
vital than the interest of these eternal "complexes" and "suppressed desires."
The truth was that he kept seeing the eyes of the laughing girl beyond the bouncing olive.
She had smiled at him in such a natural, spontaneous, friendly way before her mother's
glance had checked her--a smile, he felt, that might lead to acquaintance on the morrow.
He wondered! A thrill of possible adventure ran through him.
She was a merry-looking sort of girl, with a happy, half-roguish face that seemed on the
lookout for somebody to play with. Her mother, like most of the people in the big hotel,