The Best British Short Stories of 1922 HTML version

The Stranger Woman
(From John o'London's Weekly)
After Hal Burnham had banged himself with his usual vigour out of the house, Dickie sat
quite inconsolably staring in front of him at a favourite picture on his wall; a dim, sombre
effect of quays and masts and intent hurrying men; his neat little brows were pulled down
in a worried frown, his childish mouth was puckered.
Was it accurate and just, what Hal had said? Or, simpler still, was it true?
"What you damn well need, Dickie, old son, is life in the raw. You're living in a lady's
work-box here."
It was a bludgeoning return for the courteous attention with which Dickie had that
evening listened to his friend's experiences of travel, for Hal was not even a good
raconteur; he started an anecdote by its point, and roughly slapped in the scenery
afterwards; he had likewise a habit of disconnecting his impressions from any sequence
of time; also he exaggerated, and forgot names and dates; and even occasionally lapsed
into odd silence just when Dickie was offering himself receptively for a climax.
And then the inevitable: "Well--and what have you been doing meanwhile?"
Dickie was not in the least at a loss; he had refurnished his rooms, to begin with; and that
involved a diligent search in antique shops and at sale rooms, and one or two trips across
country in order not to miss a real gem. And they had to be ready for comfortable
habitation before the arrival of M. and Mlle. St. André for their annual stay with him--a
delightful old pair, brother and sister, with peppery manners and hypercritical
appreciation of a good cuisine--but so poor, so really painfully poor, that, as Dickie
delicately put it: "I could not help knowing that it might make a difference to them if I
postponed their visit, of less trivial annoyance, but more vital in quality, than with other
of my friends for whom I should therefore have hurried my preparations rather less--this
is in confidence, of course, my dear Hal!" He had set himself to complete his collection
of Watts's Literary Souvenirs--"I have the whole eleven volumes now----" And he had
been a guest at two charming house-parties in the country, and at one of them had been
given the full responsibility of rehearsing a comic opera in the late eighteenth-century
style. "Amateurs, of course. But I was so bent on realizing the flavour of the period, that
I'm indeed afraid that I did not draw a clear enough line between the deliciously robust
and the obnoxiously coarse----"
"Coarse--you!" Hal guffawed. And then--out came the accusation which was so
disturbing little Dickie.