Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, April 2, 2024


 "The Nomad" by Robert [S.] Hichens  (first published in London Magazine.October 1907; reprinted in Metropolitan Magazine, December 1907; included in Hichens' Snake-Bite and Other Stories, 1919; included in Twenty-Three Stories by Twenty and Three Authors (sometimes referred to as Twenty and Three Stories by Twenty and Three Authors, edited by Ernest Rhys and C. A. [Catherine Amy] Dawson-Scott, 1924 [British (Thornton Butterworth) edition only; not included in the American (D. Appleton & Company edition, 1924)]; reprinted in Argosy [UK}, September 1928) 

At 17, Marie Bretelle was an "extremely coquettish and lively girl, with a strong will of her own and a passionate love of pleasure and of town life;"  one would expect that if she ever moved from her native Marseilles, it would be to Paris -- nothing else would be good enough for her.  But Marie also had "an idiotic softness for handsome faces."  So when Robert Lemaire -- handsome, bold, muscular -- came to Marseilles to give an acrobatic show at a local music hall, Marie's idiotic softness took over.  She saw him "dressed in silver-spangles tights, and doing marvelous feats on three parallel-bars.  His bare arms had lumps on them like balls of iron, his fair mustaches were trained into points, his bold eyes were lit with a fire to fascinate women"  And Marie eloped with him to become Madame Lemaire.  They travelled to Algiers, where he had an accident during a performance that ended his career.  For a while they struggled, both with different types of jobs, but eventually they left Algiers and moved throughout North Africa, finally settling down at El-Kelf in the Sahara, where they ran a small inn catering to desert wanderers.  Lemaire spent his days drunk on absinthe -- his looks, his health now gone.  It was left to Marie, now forty years old, to run "Au Retour du Desert," as the inn was named, for the past ten years, accompanied by a one-eyed Arab servant who spent his days squatting on his haunches in a corner smoking keef.   Although her husband was a hopeless drunk, he still exuded a strong personality that kept her with him.  Marie spent much of her time staring down the hot, wind-blown desert road, wondering if that figure dimly seen in the distance could be a man on a horse, a woman hunched over a donkey, a Nomad on his camel, or, perhaps, "some poor desert man, half naked in his rags, who tramps on his bare brown feet along the sun-baked track, his hood drawn over his eyes, his knotted club in his hand?"

The one day, Marie was preparing supper for Lamaire and the only friend he had made in the desert -- a man who had murdered his unfaithful wife and served only ten months for the crime.  Marie broke -- there is no better word for it.  It came to her of a sudden, and she determined "No more."  The young and ambitious 17-year-old Marie Bretelle seemed to emerge, demanding she abandon the desert life that has worn her down for so many years.  At the same time, in the distance, on the road, a figure was emerging.  Or was it her imagination?

That evening Lemaire felt there was something different about Marie.  She remained as down-trodden as before; there was no change...and yet there was.  His friend, the wife-murderer, wondered if she had taken a lover, but there had been no one else at the inn.  Still, his friend suggested, "Best her!  If you don't beat them be sure they'll betray you."  Or, perhaps, it was the devil; women "Young or old, they're always calling the Devil to their elbow."  Look closely, the wife-murderer said, you may catch sight of him.  It was the Devil who turned his wife wrong and caused him to murder her.  Lamaire confronted his wife, abused her.  She raged at him, spilling all the venom she had held within her for years.  Lamaire then beat Marie savagely while the wife-murderer and the one-eyed Arab looked on approvingly.

The next morning there was a speck far out on the road.  It was not imaginary.  A Nomad.  Marie determined to stop him and beg to go with him.  When Lamaire and his wife-murdering friend returned to the inn, drunk, they found her gone.  Lamaire drew his revolver and uttered curses.  In between rounds of absinthe, they searched the inn, but the hostess of the inn  at El-Kelf was not seen again...

Robert Hichens (1864-1950) was a popular British writer, known in his time as being the satirist of the "Naughty Nineties."  He published nearly fifty novels and thirteen collections of stories, along with at lest eight stage plays, one film script, a children's novel and a handful of nonfiction books about the Near East.  

He wrote his first novel when he was 17.  Six years later he anonymously published The Green Carnation, a novel satirizing the affair of his friends Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas; the novel was withdrawn, but not before it helped damage Wilde's reputation with the public.  Hichens was also friends with E. F. Benson, Reggie Turner, and Maude Valerie White.  His biggest best-seller was The Garden of Allah, which has been filmed three times and which he adapted into a play.  Hichens is also known for The Paradine Case, 1933, which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1947.  A good portionb of his work dealt with exotic Eastern locations and the occult, although he never fully committed to believing in the supernatural.  Despite that, a number of his short stories did use the supernatural, including his most reprinted short story, "How Love Came to Professor Guildea;" ISFDb lists 82 appearances of the story, and that listing is not exhaustive; the story was also televised in 1950 in Lights Out, and was reportedly one of the stories "they wouldn't let Alfred Hitchcock do on TV."

Snake-Bite and Other Stories  is available to be read online.


  1. I wish I'd written a novel a 17. I was busy reading ACE Doubles and looking at girls!

    1. The same for me, George -- and hoping the girls would look back!

  2. I began to write a novel @ 10yo...& two @ that I'm about to be 60, it might be time to try again. Maybe not six at once. Still wouldn't mind if more women looked my way with interest.

  3. Hitchcock and Harrison (Joan, producer) were eventually able to do most of the anthology's forbidden stories...