The Lucky Number
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY THE RED BOOK CORPORATION
COPYRIGHT, 1911 AND 1913, BY THE PHILLIPS PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1914, 1921, AND 1922, BY THE METROPOLITAN PUBLICATIONS, INC.
COPYRIGHT, 1914 AND 1922, BY THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY THE RIDGWAY COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1915, 1917, 1922, AND 1923, BY IAN HAY BEITH
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The Riverside Press
CAMBRIDGE • MASSACHUSETTS
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
TO THE READER
Here are thirteen stories. I understand that there exists a certain prejudice against this number: it is supposed to bring ill luck. Something must therefore be done about it.
My first idea was to follow the plan of a house just round the corner, which endeavors, rather ingeniously, to mask its true identity from Fortune under the number 12A. But 12A Stories is not an impressive title. It suggests a bulb catalogue, or an exercise in elementary algebra. I have therefore decided to take a hint from the ancients, who were accustomed to propitiate any gods about whose benevolence they were doubtful by judicious flattery. For instance, that particularly stormy sheet of water now known as the Black Sea was originally called Pontus Euxinus which means “The Sea which is Kind to Strangers.” Following this artful example, I have decided to call this little collection of stories “The Lucky Number.” Of course, like you, I harbour no childish prejudices about the luck of this numeral or that: in fact I have always found thirteen one of my luckiest numbers. But other people are cowardly and superstitious that perhaps we ought to make certain allowances for them.
Some of the stories in this book have already appeared in magazine form: others are published for the first time. They are not arranged in chronological order, because if they were you might be tempted to comment upon the obvious and progressive decay of the author's mental powers. They are arranged more or less in order of size, which ought to make each succeeding story just a little easier to read, and so maintain the reader's strength to the end. Here is a list of the stories, and the author's excuse for writing them.
1. “The Liberry.” Written in 1921. This story is based on actual fact, and is therefore likely to be condemned as too utterly improbable. I put it first, to give it a chance.
2. Natural Causes. I suppose every flat-footed, blundering wooer, exasperated by the unsportsmanlike manner in which the modern maiden employs against him the entirely artificial weapons with which modern convention furnishes her, dreams dreams of the manner in which he would handle the creature if ever he found himself alone with her on a comfortably appointed desert island. “Natural Causes” is my idea of the way in which the situation would work out. Written in 1912.
3. “Scally”. Everybody has to write a dog story sooner or later. This is mine. I wrote it in 1911, and, having written it, promptly left the manuscript in a railway carriage on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway. Whoever found never published it—a circumstance of which two explanations present themselves. The first is obvious and humiliating. The second is that no one can read my handwriting but myself—and then not always. Ultimately I had to rewrite the whole story from memory. Retracing one's steps is the most uncongenial of exercises, and I have disliked “Scally” cordially ever since. However, it was not his fault that I lost him, so here he is.
4. Ocean Air. My complaint against most love stories is that they make the hero altogether too dashing and irresistible. This story gives the underdog his day out. And also illustrates the wonderful effect of ocean air upon character. Further, it affords to the author a pretext for resuscitating an old friend—rather a favourite of his—from a former novel. Written in 1922.
5. Petit-Jean. We are credibly informed that the recent War is no longer mentioned by the best people. However, I have taken upon myself to insert one War story in this collection. Like Jean himself, it is only a little one. Written in 1917.
6. The Cure. If “Petit-Jean” is a War story, “The Cure” is essentially post-War, and deals with the habits, customs, and mental attitude of that new and characteristic type, the Profiteer—particularly his anxiety to assume the feudal responsibilities and privileges of the class whom here in England and Scotland he has largely supplanted. Written in 1921.
7. The Side-Step. This, too, is a post-War story, in the sense that in the course of the narrative it is frankly admitted that there has been a War, and that that War has had consequences, such as War widows, who insist upon intruding into the narratives of the most exclusive novelists. Written in 1921.
8. Our Pirate. A children's story, pure and simple. Should be skipped by all readers between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one. Written in 1914.
9. Locum Tenens. I think we all like to speculate as to what we would do if invited by fate to hold down some one else's job for an hour or two. Personally, I have always coveted the post of the Traffic Policeman; but perhaps, considering the present high death-rate in the great cities of this country, Providence knows best. It would be a fine thing, too, to occupy a pulpit for a little while. It is given to few men to say exactly what they like, for as long as thirty minutes at a time, to an audience precluded from offering a single protest or contradiction. So I started out to write a story about a young man who impersonated a Vicar. Needless to say, the story took an unexpected turn at an early stage, and I never got the sermon in at all. But perhaps the reader will overlook that. Written in 1922.
10. “Bill Bailey.” Nowadays the motorist of limited means can send a modest cheque to Detroit and receive almost by return of post a brand-new “Tin Lizzie.” In 1910, when “Bill Bailey” was written, cheap cars were unknown, and the humbler sort of motorist had to wait until some elaborate and expensive machine crawled on to the market in a condition sufficiently decayed to suit his purse. Those were the really romantic days of the automobile, when men went forth to the garage in the morning knowing neither whether the car would be induced to start at all, nor, if it did, whether it would ever get home again. Those days are dead, but it is well that their memory should be preserved.
11. A Wire Entanglement. This is not a War story, as you might think, unless an artless study of ordinary domestic and connubial strategy can be regarded as such. Written in 1922.
12. A Sporting College. This is the oldest of the stories, written away back in 1905. It is a memory of those happy, happy days when every tree was green and nothing mattered very much except manipulating a ball, or an oar, with just a little more dexterity or endurance than your bosom friend.
13. Fowl Play. A very little story indeed. In fact, it is the “A” in the “12A” mentioned above.