The Best British Short Stories of 1922 HTML version

The Backstairs Of The Mind
(From The Manchester Guardian)
Patrick Deasey described himself as a "philosopher, psychologist, and humorist." It was
partly because Patrick delighted in long words, and partly to excuse himself for being full
of the sour cream of an inhuman curiosity. His curiosity, however, did not extend itself to
science and belles lettres; it concerned itself wholly with the affairs of other people. At
first, when Deasey retired from the police force with a pension and an heiress with three
hundred pounds, and time hung heavy on his hands, he would try to satisfy this craving
through the medium of a host of small flirtations with everybody's maid. In this way he
could inform himself exactly how many loaves were taken by the Sweeneys for a week's
consumption, as compared with those which were devoured by all the Cassidys; for
whom the bottles at the Presbytery went in by the back door; and what was the real cause
of the quarrel between the twin Miss McInerneys.
But these were but blackbird-scratchings, as it were, upon the deep soil of the human
heart. What Deasey cared about was what he called "the secrets of the soul."
"Never met a man," he was wont to say, "with no backstairs to his mind! And the quieter,
decenter, respectabler, innocenter a man looked--like enough!--the darker those
It was up these stairs he craved to go. To ring at the front door of ordinary intercourse
was not enough for him. When Deasey invested his wife's money in a public-house he
developed a better plan. It was the plan which made him ultimately describe himself as a
humorist. He would wait until the bar was deserted by all but the one lingering victim
whom his trained eye had picked out. Then, rolling that same eye about him, as though to
make quite sure no other living creature was in sight, he would gently close the door of
the bar-parlour, pick up a tumbler, breathe on it, polish the breath, lean one elbow on the
bar, look round him once again, and, setting the whisky-bottle betwixt his customer and
himself, with a nod which said "Help yourself," he would lean forward, with the soft
indulgent grin of the human man-of-the-world, and begin:
"Now, don't distress yourself, me dear man, but as between frien's, certain delicate little--
facts--in your past life have come inadvertently to me hearing."
Sometimes he would allude to a "certain document," or "incriminating facts," or "certain
letters"--he would ring the changes on these three, according to the sex and temperament
with which he had to deal. But always, whatever the words, whatever the nature or sex,
the shot would tell. First came the little start, the straightened figure, the pallor or flush,
the shamed and suddenly-lit eyes, and then--
"Who told you, Mr. Deasey, sir?" Or "Where did you get the letter?"