By Saki (H. H. Munro, 1870-1916).
First appearance: Unknown.
Collected in Beasts and Super-Beasts (1914).
Reprinted in EQMM, April 1966 (as "Circumstantial Evidence").
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Short Stories of Saki (HERE), Wikisource (HERE), and East of the Web (HERE).
"Of course, the weak point of your story is that you can't produce the soap."The time between sunset and total darkness can be, for some people, a mirror for their moods; on this gloomy evening it is especially so for Norman Gortsby, observing humanity from his secluded bench in Hyde Park:
"Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as possible from the scrutiny
of the curious, came forth in this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unrecognised. He was in the mood to count himself among the defeated. Money troubles did not press on him; had he so wished he could have strolled into the thoroughfares of light and noise, and taken his place among the jostling ranks of those who enjoyed prosperity or struggled for it. He had failed in a more subtle ambition, and for the moment he was heartsore and disillusioned, and not disinclined to take a certain cynical pleasure in observing and labelling his fellow wanderers as they went their ways in the dark stretches between the lamp-lights."
Soon one such fellow wanderer, a young man, detaches himself from the gloom and gravitates to Norman's place on the park bench; the two strike up a conversation in which
the newcomer explains how it is that, through a series of mishaps, he has managed to end up practically flat broke in London and, he says, "likely to spend the night on the Embank-ment," not so subtly hinting that he certainly could benefit from a handout. Norman, how-ever, jaded and skeptical, isn't a pushover for just any old sob story, and gently but firmly wants proof—and that, dear reader, is where the bar of soap comes in . . .
- You can find plenty of biographical information about Saki (HERE) and (HERE).
- We briefly encountered Saki in his terror tales mode nearly two years ago (HERE), story 2.