The Best British Short Stories of 1922
The Christmas Present
By RICHMAL CROMPTON
Mary Clay looked out of the window of the old farmhouse. The view was dreary enough-
-hill and field and woodland, bare, colourless, mist-covered--with no other house in sight.
She had never been a woman to crave for company. She liked sewing. She was
passionately fond of reading. She was not fond of talking. Probably she could have been
very happy at Cromb Farm--alone. Before her marriage she had looked forward to the
long evenings with her sewing and reading. She knew that she would be busy enough in
the day, for the farmhouse was old and rambling, and she was to have no help in the
housework. But she looked forward to quiet, peaceful, lamplit evenings; and only lately,
after ten years of married life, had she reluctantly given up the hope of them. For peace
was far enough from the old farm kitchen in the evening. It was driven away by John
Clay's loud voice, raised always in orders or complaints, or in the stumbling, incoherent
reading aloud of his newspaper.
Mary was a silent woman herself and a lover of silence. But John liked to hear the sound
of his voice; he liked to shout at her; to call for her from one room to another; above all,
he liked to hear his voice reading the paper out loud to her in the evening. She dreaded
that most of all. It had lately seemed to jar on her nerves till she felt she must scream
aloud. His voice going on and on, raucous and sing-song, became unspeakably irritating.
His "Mary!" summoning her from her household work to wherever he happened to be,
his "Get my slippers," or "Bring me my pipe," exasperated her almost to the point of
rebellion. "Get your own slippers" had trembled on her lips, but had never passed them,
for she was a woman who could not bear anger. Noise of any kind appalled her.
She had borne it for ten years, so surely she could go on with it. Yet today, as she gazed
hopelessly at the wintry country side, she became acutely conscious that she could not go
on with it. Something must happen. Yet what was there that could happen?
It was Christmas next week. She smiled ironically at the thought. Then she noticed the
figure of her husband coming up the road. He came in at the gate and round to the side-
She went slowly in answer to the summons. He held a letter in his hand.
"Met the postman," he said. "From your aunt."
She opened the letter and read it in silence. Both of them knew quite well what it