Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

I buy a paperbook (and “The Sea Serpant”)

June 27, 2012

I buy a paperbook (and “The Sea Serpant”)

I bought a p-book (paperbook) for myself recently.

I think that’s the first time since September 5, 2008, when I bought Herbie Archives Volume 1. Herbie is a great comic strip, truly exceptional, and really due for a movie, in my opinion. It’s intelligent and sarcastic…and ridiculous, all at the same time.

Nowadays, I would have bought Herbie as an e-book, if I could. It would work fine on my Kindle Fire, which wasn’t an option in 2008.

So, why did I buy a paperbook now?

It’s a book that we had when I was a kid. I still have most of those, but I think this one ended up with a sibling:

The Birds and the Beasts Were There: Animal Poems

I’ve always been a big animal person, and I remembered really liking this book…and one poem in particular.

I could get it for a penny (plus $3.99 shipping and handling).

I wanted to identify that one poem. I remembered parts of it, but not enough to identify it.

When I got the book, I went to the poem. It had the author’s name, but it took some research online to find out when the poem was published. It was before 1923 in the USA, which meant that it was in the public domain here.

It was then a hop, skip, and a jump to find the book that originally contained the poem as an e-book online from Archive.org and other places:

Random Rhymes and Odd Numbers

I’m happy to own the p-book, but it does feel more like the $4 was a research expense. :)

I’m including the poem below. It’s by Wallace Irwin, and was first published in 1906. I thought you’d enjoy it, but also the process by which the book was preserved as a free digital file online…even if I found it through a p-book.

===

THE SEA SERPANT

AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION

A-sleepin’ at length on the sand,

Where the beach was all tidy and clean,

A-strokin’ his scale with the brush on his tail
The wily Sea Serpant I seen.

And what was his color? you asks.

And how did he look ? inquires you,

I’ll be busted and blessed if he didn’t look jest
Like you would of expected ‘im to!

His head was the size of a — well,

The size what they always attains;

He whistled a tune what was built like a prune,
And his tail was the shape o’ his brains.

His scales they was ruther — you know —

Like the leaves what you pick off o’ eggs;

And the way o’ his walk — well, it’s useless to talk,
Fer o’ course you’ve seen Sea Serpants’ legs.

His length it was seventeen miles.

Or fathoms, or inches, or feet
(Me memory’s sich that I can’t recall which.

Though at figgers I’ve seldom been beat).

And I says as I looks at the beast,

“He reminds me o’ somethin’ I’ve seen —

Is it candy or cats or humans or hats,
Or Fenimore Cooper I mean?”

And as I debated the point,

In a way that I can’t understand.

The Sea Serpant he disappeared in the sea
And walked through the ocean by land.

And somehow I knowed he’d come back.
So I marked off the place with me cap;

‘Twas Latitude West and Longitude North
And forty-eight cents by the map.

And his length it was seventeen miles,

Or inches, or fathoms, or feet
(Me memory’s sich that I can’t recall which,

Though at figgers I’ve seldom been beat).

===

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. The poem, The Sea Serpant: An Accurate Description, by Wallace Irwin, was published as part of the collection, Random Rhymes and Odd Numbers, in 1906.

Excerpt: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

April 8, 2012

Excerpt: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

This was Agatha Christie’s first published novel, originally published in the USA in 1920. Many of her works are still under copyright protection, but this one is old enough that at least in the USA, it is in the public domain. It introduces Hercule Poirot.

CHAPTER I. I GO TO STYLES

The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as “The Styles Case” has now somewhat subsided. Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we trust, will effectually silence the sensational rumours which still persist.

I will therefore briefly set down the circumstances which led to my being connected with the affair.

I had been invalided home from the Front; and, after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home, was given a month’s sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, I was trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across John Cavendish. I had seen very little of him for some years. Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good fifteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-five years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at Styles, his mother’s place in Essex.

We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his inviting me down to Styles to spend my leave there.

“The mater will be delighted to see you again—after all those years,” he added.

“Your mother keeps well?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. I suppose you know that she has married again?”

I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Mrs. Cavendish, who had married John’s father when he was a widower with two sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now. I recalled her as an energetic, autocratic personality, somewhat inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own.

Their country-place, Styles Court, had been purchased by Mr. Cavendish early in their married life. He had been completely under his wife’s ascendancy, so much so that, on dying, he left the place to her for her lifetime, as well as the larger part of his income; an arrangement that was distinctly unfair to his two sons. Their step-mother, however, had always been most generous to them; indeed, they were so young at the time of their father’s remarriage that they always thought of her as their own mother.

Lawrence, the younger, had been a delicate youth. He had qualified as a doctor but early relinquished the profession of medicine, and lived at home while pursuing literary ambitions; though his verses never had any marked success.

John practiced for some time as a barrister, but had finally settled down to the more congenial life of a country squire. He had married two years ago, and had taken his wife to live at Styles, though I entertained a shrewd suspicion that he would have preferred his mother to increase his allowance, which would have enabled him to have a home of his own. Mrs. Cavendish, however, was a lady who liked to make her own plans, and expected other people to fall in with them, and in this case she certainly had the whip hand, namely: the purse strings.

John noticed my surprise at the news of his mother’s remarriage and smiled rather ruefully.

“Rotten little bounder too!” he said savagely. “I can tell you, Hastings, it’s making life jolly difficult for us. As for Evie—you remember Evie?”

“No.”

“Oh, I suppose she was after your time. She’s the mater’s factotum, companion, Jack of all trades! A great sport—old Evie! Not precisely young and beautiful, but as game as they make them.”

“You were going to say——?”

“Oh, this fellow! He turned up from nowhere, on the pretext of being a second cousin or something of Evie’s, though she didn’t seem particularly keen to acknowledge the relationship. The fellow is an absolute outsider, anyone can see that. He’s got a great black beard, and wears patent leather boots in all weathers! But the mater cottoned to him at once, took him on as secretary—you know how she’s always running a hundred societies?”

I nodded.

“Well, of course the war has turned the hundreds into thousands. No doubt the fellow was very useful to her. But you could have knocked us all down with a feather when, three months ago, she suddenly announced that she and Alfred were engaged! The fellow must be at least twenty years younger than she is! It’s simply bare-faced fortune hunting; but there you are—she is her own mistress, and she’s married him.”

“It must be a difficult situation for you all.”

“Difficult! It’s damnable!”

Thus it came about that, three days later, I descended from the train at Styles St. Mary, an absurd little station, with no apparent reason for existence, perched up in the midst of green fields and country lanes. John Cavendish was waiting on the platform, and piloted me out to the car.

“Got a drop or two of petrol still, you see,” he remarked. “Mainly owing to the mater’s activities.”

The village of Styles St. Mary was situated about two miles from the little station, and Styles Court lay a mile the other side of it. It was a still, warm day in early July. As one looked out over the flat Essex country, lying so green and peaceful under the afternoon sun, it seemed almost impossible to believe that, not so very far away, a great war was running its appointed course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world. As we turned in at the lodge gates, John said:

“I’m afraid you’ll find it very quiet down here, Hastings.”

“My dear fellow, that’s just what I want.”

“Oh, it’s pleasant enough if you want to lead the idle life. I drill with the volunteers twice a week, and lend a hand at the farms. My wife works regularly ‘on the land’. She is up at five every morning to milk, and keeps at it steadily until lunchtime. It’s a jolly good life taking it all round—if it weren’t for that fellow Alfred Inglethorp!” He checked the car suddenly, and glanced at his watch. “I wonder if we’ve time to pick up Cynthia. No, she’ll have started from the hospital by now.”

“Cynthia! That’s not your wife?”

“No, Cynthia is a protegee of my mother’s, the daughter of an old schoolfellow of hers, who married a rascally solicitor. He came a cropper, and the girl was left an orphan and penniless. My mother came to the rescue, and Cynthia has been with us nearly two years now. She works in the Red Cross Hospital at Tadminster, seven miles away.”

As he spoke the last words, we drew up in front of the fine old house. A lady in a stout tweed skirt, who was bending over a flower bed, straightened herself at our approach.

“Hullo, Evie, here’s our wounded hero! Mr. Hastings—Miss Howard.”

Miss Howard shook hands with a hearty, almost painful, grip. I had an impression of very blue eyes in a sunburnt face. She was a pleasant-looking woman of about forty, with a deep voice, almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible square body, with feet to match—these last encased in good thick boots. Her conversation, I soon found, was couched in the telegraphic style.

“Weeds grow like house afire. Can’t keep even with ‘em. Shall press you in. Better be careful.”

“I’m sure I shall be only too delighted to make myself useful,” I responded.

“Don’t say it. Never does. Wish you hadn’t later.”

“You’re a cynic, Evie,” said John, laughing. “Where’s tea to-day—inside or out?”

“Out. Too fine a day to be cooped up in the house.”

“Come on then, you’ve done enough gardening for to-day. ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire’, you know. Come and be refreshed.”

“Well,” said Miss Howard, drawing off her gardening gloves, “I’m inclined to agree with you.”

She led the way round the house to where tea was spread under the shade of a large sycamore.

A figure rose from one of the basket chairs, and came a few steps to meet us.

“My wife, Hastings,” said John.

I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any other woman’s that I have ever known; the intense power of stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilised body—all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.

She greeted me with a few words of pleasant welcome in a low clear voice, and I sank into a basket chair feeling distinctly glad that I had accepted John’s invitation. Mrs. Cavendish gave me some tea, and her few quiet remarks heightened my first impression of her as a thoroughly fascinating woman. An appreciative listener is always stimulating, and I described, in a humorous manner, certain incidents of my Convalescent Home, in a way which, I flatter myself, greatly amused my hostess. John, of course, good fellow though he is, could hardly be called a brilliant conversationalist.

At that moment a well remembered voice floated through the open French window near at hand:

“Then you’ll write to the Princess after tea, Alfred? I’ll write to Lady Tadminster for the second day, myself. Or shall we wait until we hear from the Princess? In case of a refusal, Lady Tadminster might open it the first day, and Mrs. Crosbie the second. Then there’s the Duchess—about the school fete.”

There was the murmur of a man’s voice, and then Mrs. Inglethorp’s rose in reply:

“Yes, certainly. After tea will do quite well. You are so thoughtful, Alfred dear.”

The French window swung open a little wider, and a handsome white-haired old lady, with a somewhat masterful cast of features, stepped out of it on to the lawn. A man followed her, a suggestion of deference in his manner.

Mrs. Inglethorp greeted me with effusion.

“Why, if it isn’t too delightful to see you again, Mr. Hastings, after all these years. Alfred, darling, Mr. Hastings—my husband.”

I looked with some curiosity at “Alfred darling”. He certainly struck a rather alien note. I did not wonder at John objecting to his beard. It was one of the longest and blackest I have ever seen. He wore gold-rimmed pince-nez, and had a curious impassivity of feature. It struck me that he might look natural on a stage, but was strangely out of place in real life. His voice was rather deep and unctuous. He placed a wooden hand in mine and said:

“This is a pleasure, Mr. Hastings.” Then, turning to his wife: “Emily dearest, I think that cushion is a little damp.”

She beamed fondly on him, as he substituted another with every demonstration of the tenderest care. Strange infatuation of an otherwise sensible woman!

With the presence of Mr. Inglethorp, a sense of constraint and veiled hostility seemed to settle down upon the company. Miss Howard, in particular, took no pains to conceal her feelings. Mrs. Inglethorp, however, seemed to notice nothing unusual. Her volubility, which I remembered of old, had lost nothing in the intervening years, and she poured out a steady flood of conversation, mainly on the subject of the forthcoming bazaar which she was organizing and which was to take place shortly. Occasionally she referred to her husband over a question of days or dates. His watchful and attentive manner never varied. From the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike to him, and I flatter myself that my first judgments are usually fairly shrewd.

Presently Mrs. Inglethorp turned to give some instructions about letters to Evelyn Howard, and her husband addressed me in his painstaking voice:

“Is soldiering your regular profession, Mr. Hastings?”

“No, before the war I was in Lloyd’s.”

“And you will return there after it is over?”

“Perhaps. Either that or a fresh start altogether.”

Mary Cavendish leant forward.

“What would you really choose as a profession, if you could just consult your inclination?”

“Well, that depends.”

“No secret hobby?” she asked. “Tell me—you’re drawn to something? Every one is—usually something absurd.”

“You’ll laugh at me.”

She smiled.

“Perhaps.”

“Well, I’ve always had a secret hankering to be a detective!”

“The real thing—Scotland Yard? Or Sherlock Holmes?”

“Oh, Sherlock Holmes by all means. But really, seriously, I am awfully drawn to it. I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inflamed me. He was a marvellous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his—though of course I have progressed rather further. He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever.”

“Like a good detective story myself,” remarked Miss Howard. “Lots of nonsense written, though. Criminal discovered in last chapter. Every one dumbfounded. Real crime—you’d know at once.”

“There have been a great number of undiscovered crimes,” I argued.

“Don’t mean the police, but the people that are right in it. The family. You couldn’t really hoodwink them. They’d know.”

“Then,” I said, much amused, “you think that if you were mixed up in a crime, say a murder, you’d be able to spot the murderer right off?”

“Of course I should. Mightn’t be able to prove it to a pack of lawyers. But I’m certain I’d know. I’d feel it in my fingertips if he came near me.”

“It might be a ‘she,’” I suggested.

“Might. But murder’s a violent crime. Associate it more with a man.”

“Not in a case of poisoning.” Mrs. Cavendish’s clear voice startled me. “Dr. Bauerstein was saying yesterday that, owing to the general ignorance of the more uncommon poisons among the medical profession, there were probably countless cases of poisoning quite unsuspected.”

“Why, Mary, what a gruesome conversation!” cried Mrs. Inglethorp. “It makes me feel as if a goose were walking over my grave. Oh, there’s Cynthia!”

A young girl in V. A. D. uniform ran lightly across the lawn.

“Why, Cynthia, you are late to-day. This is Mr. Hastings—Miss Murdoch.”

Cynthia Murdoch was a fresh-looking young creature, full of life and vigour. She tossed off her little V. A. D. cap, and I admired the great loose waves of her auburn hair, and the smallness and whiteness of the hand she held out to claim her tea. With dark eyes and eyelashes she would have been a beauty.

She flung herself down on the ground beside John, and as I handed her a plate of sandwiches she smiled up at me.

“Sit down here on the grass, do. It’s ever so much nicer.”

I dropped down obediently.

“You work at Tadminster, don’t you, Miss Murdoch?”

She nodded.

“For my sins.”

“Do they bully you, then?” I asked, smiling.

“I should like to see them!” cried Cynthia with dignity.

“I have got a cousin who is nursing,” I remarked. “And she is terrified of ‘Sisters’.”

“I don’t wonder. Sisters are, you know, Mr. Hastings. They simp—ly are! You’ve no idea! But I’m not a nurse, thank heaven, I work in the dispensary.”

“How many people do you poison?” I asked, smiling.

Cynthia smiled too.

“Oh, hundreds!” she said.

“Cynthia,” called Mrs. Inglethorp, “do you think you could write a few notes for me?”

“Certainly, Aunt Emily.”

She jumped up promptly, and something in her manner reminded me that her position was a dependent one, and that Mrs. Inglethorp, kind as she might be in the main, did not allow her to forget it.

My hostess turned to me.

“John will show you your room. Supper is at half-past seven. We have given up late dinner for some time now. Lady Tadminster, our Member’s wife—she was the late Lord Abbotsbury’s daughter—does the same. She agrees with me that one must set an example of economy. We are quite a war household; nothing is wasted here—every scrap of waste paper, even, is saved and sent away in sacks.”

I expressed my appreciation, and John took me into the house and up the broad staircase, which forked right and left half-way to different wings of the building. My room was in the left wing, and looked out over the park.

John left me, and a few minutes later I saw him from my window walking slowly across the grass arm in arm with Cynthia Murdoch. I heard Mrs. Inglethorp call “Cynthia” impatiently, and the girl started and ran back to the house. At the same moment, a man stepped out from the shadow of a tree and walked slowly in the same direction. He looked about forty, very dark with a melancholy clean-shaven face. Some violent emotion seemed to be mastering him. He looked up at my window as he passed, and I recognized him, though he had changed much in the fifteen years that had elapsed since we last met. It was John’s younger brother, Lawrence Cavendish. I wondered what it was that had brought that singular expression to his face.

Then I dismissed him from my mind, and returned to the contemplation of my own affairs.

The evening passed pleasantly enough; and I dreamed that night of that enigmatical woman, Mary Cavendish.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny, and I was full of the anticipation of a delightful visit.

I did not see Mrs. Cavendish until lunch-time, when she volunteered to take me for a walk, and we spent a charming afternoon roaming in the woods, returning to the house about five.

As we entered the large hall, John beckoned us both into the smoking-room. I saw at once by his face that something disturbing had occurred. We followed him in, and he shut the door after us.

“Look here, Mary, there’s the deuce of a mess. Evie’s had a row with Alfred Inglethorp, and she’s off.”

“Evie? Off?”

John nodded gloomily.

“Yes; you see she went to the mater, and—Oh, here’s Evie herself.”

Miss Howard entered. Her lips were set grimly together, and she carried a small suit-case. She looked excited and determined, and slightly on the defensive.

“At any rate,” she burst out, “I’ve spoken my mind!”

“My dear Evelyn,” cried Mrs. Cavendish, “this can’t be true!”

Miss Howard nodded grimly.

“True enough! Afraid I said some things to Emily she won’t forget or forgive in a hurry. Don’t mind if they’ve only sunk in a bit. Probably water off a duck’s back, though. I said right out: ‘You’re an old woman, Emily, and there’s no fool like an old fool. The man’s twenty years younger than you, and don’t you fool yourself as to what he married you for. Money! Well, don’t let him have too much of it. Farmer Raikes has got a very pretty young wife. Just ask your Alfred how much time he spends over there.’ She was very angry. Natural! I went on, ‘I’m going to warn you, whether you like it or not. That man would as soon murder you in your bed as look at you. He’s a bad lot. You can say what you like to me, but remember what I’ve told you. He’s a bad lot!’”

“What did she say?”

Miss Howard made an extremely expressive grimace.

“‘Darling Alfred’—’dearest Alfred’—’wicked calumnies’ —’wicked lies’—’wicked woman’—to accuse her ‘dear husband’! The sooner I left her house the better. So I’m off.”

“But not now?”

“This minute!”

For a moment we sat and stared at her. Finally John Cavendish, finding his persuasions of no avail, went off to look up the trains. His wife followed him, murmuring something about persuading Mrs. Inglethorp to think better of it.

As she left the room, Miss Howard’s face changed. She leant towards me eagerly.

“Mr. Hastings, you’re honest. I can trust you?”

I was a little startled. She laid her hand on my arm, and sank her voice to a whisper.

“Look after her, Mr. Hastings. My poor Emily. They’re a lot of sharks—all of them. Oh, I know what I’m talking about. There isn’t one of them that’s not hard up and trying to get money out of her. I’ve protected her as much as I could. Now I’m out of the way, they’ll impose upon her.”

“Of course, Miss Howard,” I said, “I’ll do everything I can, but I’m sure you’re excited and overwrought.”

She interrupted me by slowly shaking her forefinger.

“Young man, trust me. I’ve lived in the world rather longer than you have. All I ask you is to keep your eyes open. You’ll see what I mean.”

The throb of the motor came through the open window, and Miss Howard rose and moved to the door. John’s voice sounded outside. With her hand on the handle, she turned her head over her shoulder, and beckoned to me.

“Above all, Mr. Hastings, watch that devil—her husband!”

There was no time for more. Miss Howard was swallowed up in an eager chorus of protests and good-byes. The Inglethorps did not appear.

As the motor drove away, Mrs. Cavendish suddenly detached herself from the group, and moved across the drive to the lawn to meet a tall bearded man who had been evidently making for the house. The colour rose in her cheeks as she held out her hand to him.

“Who is that?” I asked sharply, for instinctively I distrusted the man.

“That’s Dr. Bauerstein,” said John shortly.

“And who is Dr. Bauerstein?”

“He’s staying in the village doing a rest cure, after a bad nervous breakdown. He’s a London specialist; a very clever man—one of the greatest living experts on poisons, I believe.”

“And he’s a great friend of Mary’s,” put in Cynthia, the irrepressible.

John Cavendish frowned and changed the subject.

“Come for a stroll, Hastings. This has been a most rotten business. She always had a rough tongue, but there is no stauncher friend in England than Evelyn Howard.”

He took the path through the plantation, and we walked down to the village through the woods which bordered one side of the estate.

As we passed through one of the gates on our way home again, a pretty young woman of gipsy type coming in the opposite direction bowed and smiled.

“That’s a pretty girl,” I remarked appreciatively.

John’s face hardened.

“That is Mrs. Raikes.”

“The one that Miss Howard——”

“Exactly,” said John, with rather unnecessary abruptness.

I thought of the white-haired old lady in the big house, and that vivid wicked little face that had just smiled into ours, and a vague chill of foreboding crept over me. I brushed it aside.

“Styles is really a glorious old place,” I said to John.

He nodded rather gloomily.

“Yes, it’s a fine property. It’ll be mine some day—should be mine now by rights, if my father had only made a decent will. And then I shouldn’t be so damned hard up as I am now.”

“Hard up, are you?”

“My dear Hastings, I don’t mind telling you that I’m at my wit’s end for money.”

“Couldn’t your brother help you?”

“Lawrence? He’s gone through every penny he ever had, publishing rotten verses in fancy bindings. No, we’re an impecunious lot. My mother’s always been awfully good to us, I must say. That is, up to now. Since her marriage, of course——” he broke off, frowning.

For the first time I felt that, with Evelyn Howard, something indefinable had gone from the atmosphere. Her presence had spelt security. Now that security was removed—and the air seemed rife with suspicion. The sinister face of Dr. Bauerstein recurred to me unpleasantly. A vague suspicion of every one and everything filled my mind. Just for a moment I had a premonition of approaching evil.

Want to continue? The book is free!

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The book by Agatha Christie was originally published in 1920. This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Beaver and the Kindle

March 12, 2012

Beaver and the Kindle

Scene 1

In the Cleaver kitchen. Ward is reading the newspaper. June, wearing her trademark pearls, sets breakfast in front of him.

June: “Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver.”

Ward: “What is it, dear?”

June: “I was dusting under his dresser and I found a note from Miss Landers.”

Ward: “Maybe it was a homework assignment for the dust bunnies.”

June: “Ward Cleaver! We do not have dust bunnies!”

Ward: “I’m sorry, dear. I was just trying to be funny. I know we don’t.” (June smiles)

June: “Well, this is serious. She said she was worried that Beaver wasn’t reading enough.”

Ward: “Dear, Beaver’s a young boy. He doesn’t read anything unless…he doesn’t read anything.”

June: “Well, his teacher thinks he should.”

Ward: “We could get him some comic books.” (chuckles)

June: “Oh, you!”

Ward: “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt him to read some Tom Swift. I’ll talk to him about it.”

June; “Thank you, Dear. I wouldn’t want him to end up living in our basement when he’s 25.”

Ward: “No young man would ever live with his parents when he’s twenty-five!”

June: “It was my turn to be funny.”

Ward: “It’s always your turn to be pretty…leave the funny to the man of the house.”

(June crosses her arms and raises her eyebrows)

Ward: “All right, dear, you don’t have to give me the look. (yelling) Boys!”

(Beaver and Wally come bounding down the stairs)

Wally: “What is it, Dad? Is breakfast ready?”

Beaver: “Yeah. I’m so hungry, I think I’m more empty on the inside than on the outside.”

Ward: “Your stomach will just have to wait for a minute. Beaver, did Miss Landers send a note home with you?”

Beaver: “Gee, Dad, she’s a teacher…they’re always doing junk like that.”

Ward: “Why didn’t you give it to us?”

Beaver: “I didn’t remember on accounta I forgot.”

Wally: “That’s right, Dad. He’s just a little kid. His brain’s too small to remember stuff.”

Ward: “Be that as it may, Wally. Beaver, did you read the note?”

Beaver: “Gosh, no, Dad. Miss Landers didn’t ask me to read it.”

Ward: “You don’t read anything unless your teacher asks you to?”

Beaver: “No, Dad…why would I wanna do that?”

June: “Your father was reading right before you came downstairs.”

Wally: “What were you reading, Dad?”

Ward: “What was I reading, Dear?”

June: “The newspaper.”

Beaver: “Ah, that’s grown-up junk.”

Ward: “That’s right, Dear…we can’t expect a young boy to be interested in what’s going on in the world.”

June: “Wally, you read books, don’t you?”

Wally: “Just for school. Can you imagine the razzing I’d get from Eddie if he saw me with a book? He’d call me a square.”

Ward: “That’s right Dear. The boy does have a reputation to think about.”

June: “Ward…”

Ward: “Yes, Dear. Beaver, your mother and I think you should read books, and that’s all there is to it.”

Wally: “I guess it won’t be so bad being the brother of a square.” (punches Beaver in the bicep…the boys play fight)

June: “Stop it, you two…no rough-housing.”

Ward: “I just thought of something. I think Fred Rutherford got one of those Kindles. I could ask him about it. That way, Beaver could read and it wouldn’t look like a book.”

June: “Oh, Ward, aren’t those expensive?”

Ward: “You’re the one who said the boy’s reading was important. I’m just supporting you, Dear.”

June: “Beaver, Clarence has a Kindle, and he’s not a square, is he?”

Beaver: “Gee, Mom…I don’t know what kind of shape Lumpy is.”

Wally: “I’m taking geometry, and I don’t even know.”

Ward: “That’s settled, then. Beaver, you are going to have to take good care of this. I don’t want the same thing to happen to this that happened to your accordion.”

June: “Who wants French toast?”

Scene 2

The Cleaver kitchen. June is cleaning the windows (in her pearls). Eddie Haskell appears outside the window, prompting a jump take from June and an “Oh, oh…hahhahahah” from the laugh track

June: “Come on in, Eddie.”

Eddie: “I’m sorry if I scared you, Mrs. Cleaver. A gentleman should never scare an old lady.”

June: “Thank you, Eddie…I think.Wally and the Beaver are up in their room.”

Eddie: “Would if be okay if I went up to see them? It’s always such a pleasure to see young Theodore.”

June: “Certainly. Eddie, do you mind if I ask you a question, first?”

Eddie: “Of course. I’m always interested in the wisdom of my elders.”

June: “You don’t think reading a book makes a boy a square, do you?”

Eddie: “Certainly not. I think literature is crucial to the development of young minds.”

June: “Thank you, Eddie.” (she smiles broadly)

Eddie: “Of course, I don’t think that’s true for young ladies. I think glasses spoil a girl’s looks. I’d hate to see you ruin your lovely appearance with a pair of spectacles.”

June: “Run on upstairs, Eddie. Tell the boys I’ll make some sandwiches for the three of you, and bring them up with some hot soup in half an hour.”

Scene 3

In the Cleaver boys’ bedroom…Eddie enters

Eddie: “Hey, Sam, what’s shaking? Beat it, small fry…me and Wally need to have a pow wow…you know, man talk.”

Wally: “Hold on, Eddie. Go ahead, Beav…what happened?”

Beaver: “Well, I took my Kindle to the playground. I told Whitey about all the books in it, and he broke it open, on accounta he wanted to see the books in it. Gee, Wally, I don’t know what I’m gonna do!”

Eddie: “You’re in trouble now, Squirt. You’re old man’s gonna blow his top for sure! You’ll be lucky if you ever see anything with a plug again.”

Wally: “Knock it off, Eddie. Beaver, just tell Dad. There’s probably some kind of warranty or somethin’.”

Beaver: “You really think so, Wally? That’d be swell. I don’t wanna not have plugs again. How would I watch TV?”

Scene 4

In the Cleaver family room. Beaver and Wally are there, looking worried. June is in a dust mask and pearls, cleaning the air vent. Ward enters

Ward: ‘Well, Beaver, I just got off the phone with Amazon.”

Beaver: “Am I in trouble? Do I gotta go to jail for bustin’ it?”

Wally: “Beaver, they don’t send kids to jail for bustin’ stuff…they wouldn’t have enough room for the real bad guys.”

June: “What did they say, Dear?”

Ward: “They’re going to send us another one.”

Beaver: “Do you gotta pay for it?”

Ward: “I wasn’t the one who broke it, Beaver. Who do you think should pay for it?”

Beaver: “Whitey? He’s the one who busted it.”

Ward: “That would be between him and Mr. Whitney. When we agreed that we would get you this Kindle, we agreed that you would be responsible for it.”

Beaver: “Yeah, I guess so. I shouldn’t oughta of taken it where Whitey could bust it. But gee, Dad, I only got forty-five cents…does it cost more than that?”

Ward: “I think that will just about cover it.”

(Beaver and Wally trudge upstairs)

June: “Ward, it can’t cost only forty-five cents.”

Ward: “No, Dear, you’re right. They are actually replacing it for free.”

June: “So why did you want Beaver to get his forty-five cents?”

Ward: “I just want to teach him a lesson, so he’ll be more responsible with his things in the future.”

Epilogue

In the Cleaver boys’ bedroom. Beaver is laying on his bed looking at his new Kindle

Wally: “It was pretty swell of Dad not to take your forty-five cents.”

Beaver: “Yeah…how come he did that, Wally?”

Wally: “Oh, he just wanted to teach you a lesson in the first place…but then he couldn’t go through with it. Adults are like that: they like to say stuff, but they don’t always like to do it. That way, he can seem like he’s being a good father, but he’s really still just Dad.”

Beaver: “I guess so.”

Wally: “Whatcha readin’?”

Beaver: “Oh, I’m not reading nothing: I’m playing Minesweeper. I don’t wanna be a square.”

Wally: “Yeah…you don’t want to be a square and a goof.”

End Credits

This is a parody of the classic Leave It To Beaver TV series. As in any parody, I’ve exaggerated aspects of it. When I went to watch a few episodes to help me recapture the rhythm and the characters (I did used to watch it, but it’s been some time), I was surprised to not find it easily streaming. I think that may be a mistake on the part of the studio…it may be hard for older programs to find new viewers if they are only available for purchase or on scheduled TV. On demand will increasingly be the way kids see shows. By the way, yes, I am that geeky that I even research my parodies…and as a kid, it was rare that people saw me without a book. ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Before the movie: John Carter

January 8, 2012

Before the movie: John Carter

One of the hotly anticipated movies of 2012 is John Carter (of Mars), due March 9th. It’s directed (and co-written) by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo). One of the other screenwriters is Michael Chabon, the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (which won the Pulitzer Prize). Willem Defoe, Mark Strong, and Thomas Haden Church all appear.

The movie is based on A Princess of Mars, the first in a series of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the Tarzan series. The books are often referred to as the “Barsoom” series, since that’s the name the inhabitants give Mars.

Originally released in 1917, it hasn’t had the grand movie tradition of Tarzan…in part because many of the characters are non-humans and would have daunted many a 20th Century moviemaker.

Many authors (and scientists, for that matter) have cited Barsoom as an inspiratiion. It wasn’t the first successful novel involving Mars (War of the Worlds considerably predates it, for one), but the Earthling soldier fighting for an alien princess against inhuman, physically superior foes may seem familiar.

To get you started, this is the first chapter of the first novel…

===

A PRINCESS OF MARS

by

Edgar Rice Burroughs

To My Son Jack

FOREWORD

To the Reader of this Work:

In submitting Captain Carter’s strange manuscript to you in book form, I believe that a few words relative to this remarkable personality will be of interest.

My first recollection of Captain Carter is of the few months he spent at my father’s home in Virginia, just prior to the opening of the civil war. I was then a child of but five years, yet I well remember the tall, dark, smooth-faced, athletic man whom I called Uncle Jack.

He seemed always to be laughing; and he entered into the sports of the children with the same hearty good fellowship he displayed toward those pastimes in which the men and women of his own age indulged; or he would sit for an hour at a time entertaining my old grandmother with stories of his strange, wild life in all parts of the world. We all loved him, and our slaves fairly worshipped the ground he trod.

He was a splendid specimen of manhood, standing a good two inches over six feet, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with the carriage of the trained fighting man. His features were regular and clear cut, his hair black and closely cropped, while his eyes were of a steel gray, reflecting a strong and loyal character, filled with fire and initiative. His manners were perfect, and his courtliness was that of a typical southern gentleman of the highest type.

His horsemanship, especially after hounds, was a marvel and delight even in that country of magnificent horsemen. I have often heard my father caution him against his wild recklessness, but he would only laugh, and say that the tumble that killed him would be from the back of a horse yet unfoaled.

When the war broke out he left us, nor did I see him again for some fifteen or sixteen years. When he returned it was without warning, and I was much surprised to note that he had not aged apparently a moment, nor had he changed in any other outward way. He was, when others were with him, the same genial, happy fellow we had known of old, but when he thought himself alone I have seen him sit for hours gazing off into space, his face set in a look of wistful longing and hopeless misery; and at night he would sit thus looking up into the heavens, at what I did not know until I read his manuscript years afterward.

He told us that he had been prospecting and mining in Arizona part of the time since the war; and that he had been very successful was evidenced by the unlimited amount of money with which he was supplied. As to the details of his life during these years he was very reticent, in fact he would not talk of them at all.

He remained with us for about a year and then went to New York, where he purchased a little place on the Hudson, where I visited him once a year on the occasions of my trips to the New York market—my father and I owning and operating a string of general stores throughout Virginia at that time. Captain Carter had a small but beautiful cottage, situated on a bluff overlooking the river, and during one of my last visits, in the winter of 1885, I observed he was much occupied in writing, I presume now, upon this manuscript.

He told me at this time that if anything should happen to him he wished me to take charge of his estate, and he gave me a key to a compartment in the safe which stood in his study, telling me I would find his will there and some personal instructions which he had me pledge myself to carry out with absolute fidelity.

After I had retired for the night I have seen him from my window standing in the moonlight on the brink of the bluff overlooking the Hudson with his arms stretched out to the heavens as though in appeal. I thought at the time that he was praying, although I never understood that he was in the strict sense of the term a religious man.

Several months after I had returned home from my last visit, the first of March, 1886, I think, I received a telegram from him asking me to come to him at once. I had always been his favorite among the younger generation of Carters and so I hastened to comply with his demand.

I arrived at the little station, about a mile from his grounds, on the morning of March 4, 1886, and when I asked the livery man to drive me out to Captain Carter’s he replied that if I was a friend of the Captain’s he had some very bad news for me; the Captain had been found dead shortly after daylight that very morning by the watchman attached to an adjoining property.

For some reason this news did not surprise me, but I hurried out to his place as quickly as possible, so that I could take charge of the body and of his affairs.

I found the watchman who had discovered him, together with the local police chief and several townspeople, assembled in his little study. The watchman related the few details connected with the finding of the body, which he said had been still warm when he came upon it. It lay, he said, stretched full length in the snow with the arms outstretched above the head toward the edge of the bluff, and when he showed me the spot it flashed upon me that it was the identical one where I had seen him on those other nights, with his arms raised in supplication to the skies.

There were no marks of violence on the body, and with the aid of a local physician the coroner’s jury quickly reached a decision of death from heart failure. Left alone in the study, I opened the safe and withdrew the contents of the drawer in which he had told me I would find my instructions. They were in part peculiar indeed, but I have followed them to each last detail as faithfully as I was able.

He directed that I remove his body to Virginia without embalming, and that he be laid in an open coffin within a tomb which he previously had had constructed and which, as I later learned, was well ventilated. The instructions impressed upon me that I must personally see that this was carried out just as he directed, even in secrecy if necessary.

His property was left in such a way that I was to receive the entire income for twenty-five years, when the principal was to become mine. His further instructions related to this manuscript which I was to retain sealed and unread, just as I found it, for eleven years; nor was I to divulge its contents until twenty-one years after his death.

A strange feature about the tomb, where his body still lies, is that the massive door is equipped with a single, huge gold-plated spring lock which can be opened _only from the inside_.

Yours very sincerely,
Edgar Rice Burroughs.

CHAPTER I

ON THE ARIZONA HILLS

I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever; that some day I shall die the real death from which there is no resurrection. I do not know why I should fear death, I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so convinced of my mortality.

And because of this conviction I have determined to write down the story of the interesting periods of my life and of my death. I cannot explain the phenomena; I can only set down here in the words of an ordinary soldier of fortune a chronicle of the strange events that befell me during the ten years that my dead body lay undiscovered in an Arizona cave.

I have never told this story, nor shall mortal man see this manuscript until after I have passed over for eternity. I know that the average human mind will not believe what it cannot grasp, and so I do not purpose being pilloried by the public, the pulpit, and the press, and held up as a colossal liar when I am but telling the simple truths which some day science will substantiate. Possibly the suggestions which I gained upon Mars, and the knowledge which I can set down in this chronicle, will aid in an earlier understanding of the mysteries of our sister planet; mysteries to you, but no longer mysteries to me.

My name is John Carter; I am better known as Captain Jack Carter of Virginia. At the close of the Civil War I found myself possessed of several hundred thousand dollars (Confederate) and a captain’s commission in the cavalry arm of an army which no longer existed; the servant of a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South. Masterless, penniless, and with my only means of livelihood, fighting, gone, I determined to work my way to the southwest and attempt to retrieve my fallen fortunes in a search for gold.

I spent nearly a year prospecting in company with another Confederate officer, Captain James K. Powell of Richmond. We were extremely fortunate, for late in the winter of 1865, after many hardships and privations, we located the most remarkable gold-bearing quartz vein that our wildest dreams had ever pictured. Powell, who was a mining engineer by education, stated that we had uncovered over a million dollars worth of ore in a trifle over three months.

As our equipment was crude in the extreme we decided that one of us must return to civilization, purchase the necessary machinery and return with a sufficient force of men properly to work the mine.

As Powell was familiar with the country, as well as with the mechanical requirements of mining we determined that it would be best for him to make the trip. It was agreed that I was to hold down our claim against the remote possibility of its being jumped by some wandering prospector.

On March 3, 1866, Powell and I packed his provisions on two of our burros, and bidding me good-bye he mounted his horse, and started down the mountainside toward the valley, across which led the first stage of his journey.

The morning of Powell’s departure was, like nearly all Arizona mornings, clear and beautiful; I could see him and his little pack animals picking their way down the mountainside toward the valley, and all during the morning I would catch occasional glimpses of them as they topped a hog back or came out upon a level plateau. My last sight of Powell was about three in the afternoon as he entered the shadows of the range on the opposite side of the valley.

Some half hour later I happened to glance casually across the valley and was much surprised to note three little dots in about the same place I had last seen my friend and his two pack animals. I am not given to needless worrying, but the more I tried to convince myself that all was well with Powell, and that the dots I had seen on his trail were antelope or wild horses, the less I was able to assure myself.

Since we had entered the territory we had not seen a hostile Indian, and we had, therefore, become careless in the extreme, and were wont to ridicule the stories we had heard of the great numbers of these vicious marauders that were supposed to haunt the trails, taking their toll in lives and torture of every white party which fell into their merciless clutches.

Powell, I knew, was well armed and, further, an experienced Indian fighter; but I too had lived and fought for years among the Sioux in the North, and I knew that his chances were small against a party of cunning trailing Apaches. Finally I could endure the suspense no longer, and, arming myself with my two Colt revolvers and a carbine, I strapped two belts of cartridges about me and catching my saddle horse, started down the trail taken by Powell in the morning.

As soon as I reached comparatively level ground I urged my mount into a canter and continued this, where the going permitted, until, close upon dusk, I discovered the point where other tracks joined those of Powell. They were the tracks of unshod ponies, three of them, and the ponies had been galloping.

I followed rapidly until, darkness shutting down, I was forced to await the rising of the moon, and given an opportunity to speculate on the question of the wisdom of my chase. Possibly I had conjured up impossible dangers, like some nervous old housewife, and when I should catch up with Powell would get a good laugh for my pains. However, I am not prone to sensitiveness, and the following of a sense of duty, wherever it may lead, has always been a kind of fetich with me throughout my life; which may account for the honors bestowed upon me by three republics and the decorations and friendships of an old and powerful emperor and several lesser kings, in whose service my sword has been red many a time.

About nine o’clock the moon was sufficiently bright for me to proceed on my way and I had no difficulty in following the trail at a fast walk, and in some places at a brisk trot until, about midnight, I reached the water hole where Powell had expected to camp. I came upon the spot unexpectedly, finding it entirely deserted, with no signs of having been recently occupied as a camp.

I was interested to note that the tracks of the pursuing horsemen, for such I was now convinced they must be, continued after Powell with only a brief stop at the hole for water; and always at the same rate of speed as his.

I was positive now that the trailers were Apaches and that they wished to capture Powell alive for the fiendish pleasure of the torture, so I urged my horse onward at a most dangerous pace, hoping against hope that I would catch up with the red rascals before they attacked him.

Further speculation was suddenly cut short by the faint report of two shots far ahead of me. I knew that Powell would need me now if ever, and I instantly urged my horse to his topmost speed up the narrow and difficult mountain trail.

I had forged ahead for perhaps a mile or more without hearing further sounds, when the trail suddenly debouched onto a small, open plateau near the summit of the pass. I had passed through a narrow, overhanging gorge just before entering suddenly upon this table land, and the sight which met my eyes filled me with consternation and dismay.

The little stretch of level land was white with Indian tepees, and there were probably half a thousand red warriors clustered around some object near the center of the camp. Their attention was so wholly riveted to this point of interest that they did not notice me, and I easily could have turned back into the dark recesses of the gorge and made my escape with perfect safety. The fact, however, that this thought did not occur to me until the following day removes any possible right to a claim to heroism to which the narration of this episode might possibly otherwise entitle me.

I do not believe that I am made of the stuff which constitutes heroes, because, in all of the hundreds of instances that my voluntary acts have placed me face to face with death, I cannot recall a single one where any alternative step to that I took occurred to me until many hours later. My mind is evidently so constituted that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without recourse to tiresome mental processes. However that may be, I have never regretted that cowardice is not optional with me.

In this instance I was, of course, positive that Powell was the center of attraction, but whether I thought or acted first I do not know, but within an instant from the moment the scene broke upon my view I had whipped out my revolvers and was charging down upon the entire army of warriors, shooting rapidly, and whooping at the top of my lungs. Singlehanded, I could not have pursued better tactics, for the red men, convinced by sudden surprise that not less than a regiment of regulars was upon them, turned and fled in every direction for their bows, arrows, and rifles.

The view which their hurried routing disclosed filled me with apprehension and with rage. Under the clear rays of the Arizona moon lay Powell, his body fairly bristling with the hostile arrows of the braves. That he was already dead I could not but be convinced, and yet I would have saved his body from mutilation at the hands of the Apaches as quickly as I would have saved the man himself from death.

Riding close to him I reached down from the saddle, and grasping his cartridge belt drew him up across the withers of my mount. A backward glance convinced me that to return by the way I had come would be more hazardous than to continue across the plateau, so, putting spurs to my poor beast, I made a dash for the opening to the pass which I could distinguish on the far side of the table land.

The Indians had by this time discovered that I was alone and I was pursued with imprecations, arrows, and rifle balls. The fact that it is difficult to aim anything but imprecations accurately by moonlight, that they were upset by the sudden and unexpected manner of my advent, and that I was a rather rapidly moving target saved me from the various deadly projectiles of the enemy and permitted me to reach the shadows of the surrounding peaks before an orderly pursuit could be organized.

My horse was traveling practically unguided as I knew that I had probably less knowledge of the exact location of the trail to the pass than he, and thus it happened that he entered a defile which led to the summit of the range and not to the pass which I had hoped would carry me to the valley and to safety. It is probable, however, that to this fact I owe my life and the remarkable experiences and adventures which befell me during the following ten years.

My first knowledge that I was on the wrong trail came when I heard the yells of the pursuing savages suddenly grow fainter and fainter far off to my left.

I knew then that they had passed to the left of the jagged rock formation at the edge of the plateau, to the right of which my horse had borne me and the body of Powell.

I drew rein on a little level promontory overlooking the trail below and to my left, and saw the party of pursuing savages disappearing around the point of a neighboring peak.

I knew the Indians would soon discover that they were on the wrong trail and that the search for me would be renewed in the right direction as soon as they located my tracks.

I had gone but a short distance further when what seemed to be an excellent trail opened up around the face of a high cliff. The trail was level and quite broad and led upward and in the general direction I wished to go. The cliff arose for several hundred feet on my right, and on my left was an equal and nearly perpendicular drop to the bottom of a rocky ravine.

I had followed this trail for perhaps a hundred yards when a sharp turn to the right brought me to the mouth of a large cave. The opening was about four feet in height and three to four feet wide, and at this opening the trail ended.

It was now morning, and, with the customary lack of dawn which is a startling characteristic of Arizona, it had become daylight almost without warning.

Dismounting, I laid Powell upon the ground, but the most painstaking examination failed to reveal the faintest spark of life. I forced water from my canteen between his dead lips, bathed his face and rubbed his hands, working over him continuously for the better part of an hour in the face of the fact that I knew him to be dead.

I was very fond of Powell; he was thoroughly a man in every respect; a polished southern gentleman; a staunch and true friend; and it was with a feeling of the deepest grief that I finally gave up my crude endeavors at resuscitation.

Leaving Powell’s body where it lay on the ledge I crept into the cave to reconnoiter. I found a large chamber, possibly a hundred feet in diameter and thirty or forty feet in height; a smooth and well-worn floor, and many other evidences that the cave had, at some remote period, been inhabited. The back of the cave was so lost in dense shadow that I could not distinguish whether there were openings into other apartments or not.

As I was continuing my examination I commenced to feel a pleasant drowsiness creeping over me which I attributed to the fatigue of my long and strenuous ride, and the reaction from the excitement of the fight and the pursuit. I felt comparatively safe in my present location as I knew that one man could defend the trail to the cave against an army.

I soon became so drowsy that I could scarcely resist the strong desire to throw myself on the floor of the cave for a few moments’ rest, but I knew that this would never do, as it would mean certain death at the hands of my red friends, who might be upon me at any moment. With an effort I started toward the opening of the cave only to reel drunkenly against a side wall, and from there slip prone upon the floor.

===

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. The excerpt comes from A Princess of Mars, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and published in 1917. It is in the public domain in the USA.

A Kindle Carol

December 24, 2011

A Kindle Carol

In celebration of the holiday, I’m going to repost my original fiction, A Kindle Carol. The first part originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 1, 2009. It was inspired by A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

A Kindle Carol, Part 1

This story, inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, originally appeared in ILMK on December 1, 2009. 

It was a cold night in the publishing house.  Every night was cold, and the days weren’t much better.  The employees (well, the ones that were left after the latest round of layoffs) had been told it was a cost-cutting measure.  Samir in Accounting had gotten quite a laugh when he suggested it was to match the CEO’s reptilian heart.  Michel had disagreed…he said Scrooge had no heart.

Bob Cratchit would have disagreed for a different reason, if anyone had shared the joke with him.  He’d been Mr. Scrooge’s Executive Assistant for nearly twenty years.  He believed that there was some humanity left in the Old Man, although it had been diminished by years of declining sales.  It had been ten years since his last raise…before any of his children had been born.  Company policy prohibited raises based purely on longevity, and Scrooge had given him a perfect review ten years ago.   Nine years ago, his boss had said there wouldn’t be any point in doing another review…unless Bob’s performance declined.  Bob was proud of the fact that it hadn’t.

Tonight was going to be a particularly difficult test.   It was time for the annual holiday marketing strategy meeting.  J. Marley Publishing hadn’t turned a profit in three years, and was rapidly depleting its cash reserves.  It had accepted an offer of twenty-five cents on the dollar for its audiobook business in exchange for a considerable loan that would see them through the spring.  If something didn’t change, there would be no Jay-Em romances on the beaches that summer.

“Cratchit.”

Scrooge’s voice carried into Bob’s little cell of a cubicle.  He didn’t shout: he saw no reason to spend the extra energy that would take.  The phones would only accept incoming calls…even salespeople had to use their own phones to call their clients.  There was no way to call someone’s extension from inside the building, and Scrooge wasn’t going to waste the valuable time it would take to walk the ten steps from his inner office.  Time was money: although when Scrooge saw his own face in the mirror, he knew he might soon have very little of either left.

“Yes, Mr. Scrooge?”

“How many are going to be in the meeting?”

“Just three of us, sir.  You, your nephew, and myself.”

“Don’t bother printing out any agendas, then.  We can’t afford the paper.  No coffee, no donuts.  Don’t bring the garbage can: we won’t need it.”

“Yes, sir.  Anything else?”

“No.  Don’t be late…I can’t abide tardiness.”

“Yes, sir.”  Bob Cratchit had never been late for anything in his life, much less a meeting.  He wondered what had made Scrooge forgetful, and hoped the Old Man wasn’t ill.

Scrooge wasn’t sick, or not especially sick.  When you get as old as he was, you were always sick with something.  You outlived most of the viruses…it was your own failing systems that would probably get you.   That’s why they call it natural causes…only fools were surprised when the end came.

Marley had been no fool.  Everything was in order, and Scrooge had found it all laid out in minute detail.   He had followed his old partner’s plans for three years.  Marley had always been the face of the organization, and his name could still open a few doors.  Lately, though, there had been fewer and fewer of those doors…open or otherwise.

He could almost picture Marley now.  They would strategize before these meetings.  But strategies suggest choices.  Nobody in the book industry had a lot of choices left.  “People just don’t read any more”, thought Scrooge, “unless it’s under 141 characters”.  Books were going to go the way of newsreels and LPs.   Even if the electronic cancer didn’t kill them, the rising cost of paper would…the expense of natural resources bringing on natural causes.

“Hey, Unca!”

Scrooge’s nephew burst into the room.

“Seven minutes early.”

“I figured that would be okay.  Why not get the meeting done, and we can get out of here early…it’s the night before Thanksgiving, after all.”

“Hmph.  That doesn’t mean today has to be any shorter.  Why not two hours…or half the day?  Why not take the whole week off?”

“Why not?  A lot of people do.”

“Idiots.  You can’t run a business by taking off time.  If it was up to me, we’d work through Thanksgiving.”

“You don’t mean that, Unca.”

“I do…and if you had any sense, you’d agree with me.”

“Oh, I have plenty of sense, Unca…runs in the family, right?  So, you want to have Bob join us in the Conference Room?”

“You’re already here.  Cratchit!  Cancel the lights and turn off the heat for the rest of the building.  We’ll meet here now.”

“Yes, sir.  Right away, sir.”

“You mean the heat’s on?  It’s like a refrigerator in here.”

“Mr. Scrooge, would you like to begin with old business?”

“Let’s dispense with that, Unca.  I wanted to let you know…I met with some guys from Amazon.”

“And?”

“They were talking to me about the Kindle–”

“Bah!  E-books!”

“Hear me out, Unc.  They were telling me that they thought the Jay-Em line would be a good bet.  Romances do well…all those Harlequin imprints…Kimani, Silhouette, Steeple Hill…Samhain’s moving titles, too.”

“We’re not in the software business.  We sell books.”

“These are books, Unc…they’re just a different format.”

“Paperbacks and hardbacks, those are different formats.  E-books are nothing.  What do they charge for those things?”

“Well, actually, they suggested we offer a couple of them for free–”

“FREE?  That’s not a business, it’s a charity.  Call Bill Gates…he can give them away in South America or something.”

“But Unca–”

“If those e-books were worth anything, they wouldn’t be giving them away.  Books are paper, period.  Nobody’s going to pay any real money for fake books.”

“They really open up the market, though, Unca.  People who have difficulty reading the paper books can really use the increasing text size and the text-to-speech.   It’s easier for people with arthritis and you should understand about the aging population.”

“Our market’s dying off, you don’t need to remind me.  As to the blind, they can already get books for free.  That’s no help.”

“But this is more convenient, and they can share with the family.  They don’t have to prove any kind of disability to buy books from the Kindle store.”

“We’re not here to make their lives easier…we’re here to make money.”

“But Unca, I’ve got some numbers here…oh, my cell!  It’s my wife…excuse me while I take this.”

“Cratchit, go work on those end of year calculations.  No point in wasting the time while my nephew conducts his personal business.”

Left alone in his office, Scrooge’s gaze fell on the J. Marley Publishing logo on the wall.  It was a stylized silhouette of old Marley himself.   As he stared at it, he fancied he saw the portrait turn and look at him.

“These old eyes of mine are playing tricks on me,” Scrooge thought.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Audio hallucinations as well.  It was only a matter of time.”

“I am no hallucination.”

“Nonsense.  My mind is starting to go…I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately.  After the holidays, I’ll catch up and then I won’t have to worry about mind slips like you.”

“You know who I was.”

“I know you appear to be Jacob Marley, but you could have been a two-headed giraffe.  It’s just a normal consequence of sleep deprivation.  See that stack of bills?  That’s real.”

At this, the figure of Marley let out a wail that shook Scrooge to his toes.  He was sure that Cratchit and his nephew must have heard it, and would rush in at any moment.  When that didn’t happen, he knew that only he could hear and see it.

“It seems it’s just the two of us.  Alright, I’ll play along. ”

“We do not play games in this office…you of all people should know that.”

“What do you want of me?”

“Much.”

“Good luck with that.  There is very little of me left…I’ve already given everything to this company.”

“You do not know what you have to give.  But you will.  If you can still learn, you will.”

These last words chilled Scrooge.  He was unsure that he could learn anything new…and if he couldn’t, what would be the consequences?  He frantically looked at the ghost, looked for anything there that might give him a way to avoid the lesson.  He noticed the spectral ruins of buildings at the feet of the phantom.

“What…what are those crumbled walls?”

“Those are the chains to which we sold when I was alive…Crown Books, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks…I am tied to them in death as I was in life.  I stumble over them, wander their empty halls…I can not leave them, can not move on to more fertile markets.   If you can not change, you will join me here in death.”

“Tell me, spirit…tell me what I have to do!”

“That is not for me to do.  When you see me, you see our lives together.  The echoes of the past will overwhelm any truth I might tell you now.  That will be for the others.”

“Others?”

Scrooge’s heart beat faster than it had in years.  Seeing your dead business partner was one thing…he could manage Marley.  But other people…other ghosts…Scrooge had always been better with numbers than people.  That had been Marley’s area.

“Three others.  Listen openly to what they tell you, Ebenezer.  You will not be given another chance.”

At this, the figure faded back into the logo on the wall.

The ruins crumbled into dust, and the dust to lesser dust, until there was no sign that anything had ever been there.

“Delusions,” said Scrooge, “brought on by stress and lack of sleep.  Where is that nephew of mine?  Work…that’s what I need.  Back to work, and I won’t be bothered by these ridiculous visions any more.”

He noticed the old-fashioned Rolodex that sat on a corner of his desk.  He flipped backwards, precisely one letter at time.  “Just the thing,” thought Scrooge.  “I’ve been meaning to get this organized.”

He began with the letter A.  He looked at the first card.  “Dead.”  He put it in a large envelope he used to take shredding to the bank…JMP wasn’t going to pay a shredding service while he was in charge.  He looked at the second card.  “Out of business.”  The third: “Merged.”

Soon, his envelope was filled to overflowing.  He decided he would need something bigger.  He took a dusty plaque honoring the company on its first million seller out of a box.  He tried to shake the cards into the box, but they wouldn’t come out of the envelope.

“Out, you lazy garbage!  Staying together isn’t going to save you!”

He shook harder, and the cards came out in a lump.  Scrooge was stunned, though, to see that they didn’t fall.  They hung in the air above the box.   Slowly, the cards began to spread out…first in one direction, then another.  Two long flows spread towards the floor, and two more towards the walls.  A fifth formed a lump at about Scrooge’s chest level.  It took on the shape of a child.

“Neezy,” it said in a soft and gentle voice.

“Neezy?!”  No one had called Scrooge that since he was a child himself.  Scrooge had almost no memories of his own childhood…they had long ago been crushed under the weight of corporate responsibility.

The figure, who ruffled and shuffled as its card body constantly flowed and changed, held out a “hand” to the Old Man.

“No, no!  What is it?  Where do you want to take me?”

“Only where you have already been.  You will see nothing new…nothing you haven’t already lived.”

Scrooge thought about that…if there was damage to be done by the past, it had already hurt him…and he had beaten it.  He had forgotten the worst of it before…he could do it again.

“Spirit, you do not frighten me.”

“It is your past we will see…do you frighten yourself?”

The hand began to withdraw, but Scrooge snatched it before it could merge back into the card cloud.  He had never been afraid to seize an opportunity.

The rustling became an overwhelming sound, like being swept up in a tornado!  The sprite grabbed Scrooge’s other hand, and they whirled in a mad game of ring-around-the-rosy, spinning faster and faster, until it seemed to Scrooge he was in danger of exploding outwards into a million pieces!

The spinning stopped, the sound subsided…and Scrooge saw something he would never have expected…

To be continued…

A Kindle Carol, Part 2

This is part 2 of a story inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  It originally appeared in ILMK on December 22, 2009.

This is part 2 of the story that had begun in this earlier post.

“The Greasy Cat!”

The spirit child rippled with laughter at the name.

Scrooge’s eyes grew large, and he shook his head to clear it.  There could be no doubt.  Although it was much smaller than he remembered it, he was seeing the treehouse of his youth.  They had called it “The Greasy Cat” after a secret meeting place in The Scarlet Pimpernel.  While the name, Le Chat Gris actually meant “The Gray Cat”, that had been beyond his level of French at ten years old.  Marley had known that “chat” meant “cat”, and the rest had been a guess.

“But how can it still be standing after all this time?”

The spirit child rippled again.

“It couldn’t be, could it…the house was sold years ago.   This whole area is an industrial park now.”

“Not now, silly head,” said the child.

“Of course!  This is the past.  Oh, the times Jakey and I had up there!  The laughter and the secrets.  I’d love to see the inside again…but my legs are more rickety than that old board ladder.”

There was no whirlwind, just a whisper…like the too loud hsh-hsh-hsh of small children hiding behind a couch.

Scrooge suddenly found himself inside The Greasy Cat.  He thought he would feel claustrophobic, but he didn’t.   The room hadn’t gotten bigger…and he didn’t seem smaller.  In fact, he didn’t seem to be there at all, and yet, it was all perfectly clear.

The only lighting in the room came from a two-battery flashlight with a cracked lens.   If Scrooge needed any more convincing, that would have done it.  He remembered reading so many things with that thin black jagged line across the words.  They pretended it looked like a Z, and that they could use it like a Zorro signal to call that masked defender of the people.  Although there was one night when they would swear they had both heard Tornado’s hooves, Don Diego remained as hidden from them as he had from Sargent Gonzales.

But who was holding the light…

“Jakey!”

“They seek him here,
They seek him there…”

The boy with the flashlight read on, paying Scrooge no heed.

Suddenly, another child’s voice echoed through the gloom in a lightning crack:

“They seek him in his underwear!”

Both kids exploded in raucous laughter, slapping each other and rolling on the floor.

The older Scrooge smiled.   The spirit child became a cloud and whirled around the room, mirroring the boys as they made no attempt to control themselves.

“Oh, I loved that book.”

“Not a book,” said the spirit child sternly.

“Of course it is!  That’s The Scarlet Pimpernel!  That’s why we named the treehouse the Greasy Cat.”

“Comic book.”

“Comic…say, that’s right!  We were reading the comic books!  I remember now.  We would get them at Fezziwig’s.  We used to ride our bikes down there and sneak the comics back under our shirts.  Wouldn’t do to have Dad catch me with a comic, even if it was a classic.”

“Not a real book.”

“They were real to us!  Realer than school, realer than anything!”

“Fake books.”

“Hey, at least we were reading, right?  I might not be what I am today without those comic books.”

The spirit child flew at Scrooge, and for a moment all he could see was a wall of white.

He blinked his eyes and found himself back in his office.

He jumped when a figure suddenly entered the room.

“Hey, Unc…I just need to make one more call…gotta follow up on something with one of the kids.  You know how kids are, right?”

Scrooge’s nephew turned away, his thumbs flicking on the keys.

Left alone in his office, Scrooge gave the question more consideration than it had been meant to deserve.

It had been a long time since he’d thought about children.  Children didn’t buy JMP books.  He didn’t have any kids of his own.  This company had been his life.  When Marley died, he had felt like a single parent.  JMP had been theirs…it still was.  But he had suddenly had to do it all by himself.  They had always divided everything.  It wasn’t as simple as good cop/bad cop, or tough love/tenderness.  They were both tough, and everybody knew it.   They were just tough in different ways.  Marley was tough with people…Scrooge was tough with the numbers.

When he’d been left by himself, he didn’t try to copy Marley.  He couldn’t, there was no point to it.  So, he’d just let that part die along with Jacob.

He missed him now.  He’d know kids.  He’d known what people…all people wanted.

Didn’t Cratchit have kids?  Scrooge thought he did…in fact, he was sure he did.  He’d never met Cratchit’s family…not that he could remember.

“I wish I knew more about them.”

A breeze seemed to cause the potted plant in the corner to wave from side to side.  But it couldn’t be a breeze: there were no windows, and the air conditioning was off.

“Hmph.”

The plant continued to move.  Scrooge smelled that distinctive plant smell, like walking by a park after a rainy day.  The smell terrified Scrooge.

The plant was plastic.

The smell began to fill the room.  It reminded Scrooge of a particularly unpleasant trip, when he had gone to Hawaii for a publishing convention.  He’d always hated travel…meeting with people had been Marley’s part of the deal.  But Marley had been too sick to go…he’d gotten better, that time.

Scrooge coughed and hacked.  Why wasn’t his allergy medicine working?

When he could stand again, he saw that the room was covered in ivy, overgrown in leaves.  They were still growing…flowers sprouted, tendrils twisted around branches.

A man stepped into the center of the room.  At least, “man” was the closest approximation Scrooge’s confused mind could make.  Whatever it was, it was part of the jungle that was all that Scrooge could see.  He couldn’t see where the man started and the plants stopped.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Are you the second of the spirits?”

“I am here and now.”

“What will you show me?”

“I am here and now.”

The ivy continued to grow and expand.  Scrooge felt it pressing against him, wrapping around him.  He struggled. It covered his face.  He couldn’t breath!  He felt it go through his skin, becoming part of him…or he of it?  Scrooge found it hard to think…his mind was stretched, and the thinner it became the less of him was left.

He fought to control it…control was always how he got through things.

He lost.

To be continued…

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

This is the third part of a story inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  It originally appeared in ILMK on December 24, 2009.

This is part 3 (and the conclusion) of the story that had begun inthis earlier post.

It was like being everywhere at once.

Warmth and sorrow, family and fear, here and there…it was all the same.  It seemed to flicker like an old nickelodeon…phft-phft-phft as each smallest split second changed to the next.

At first, Scrooge/Everything couldn’t focus.  It was one rush of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and nothing.  You couldn’t look anywhere in particular because wherever you looked, you saw something else…or was it the same thing?  You (and I) saw yourself (and it) whenever we/they tried.

Eventually (although it happened instantly), Scrooge/Everything became aware of scenes.  Not as things separate from himself or from each other, but as part of existence (and yet, the whole of it).

Scrooge felt the immersion of someone reading a book…how you enter the author’s universe, while still being part of yours.

He was a single mother, a soldier in Iraq, the captain of the high school football team, himself, a surgeon, a small child sleeping on a cement floor with five other siblings, a cat, a dog, a thought, a prayer, a kiss, a tear…a moment.

He became aware of the Cratchit family.  Bob was still at work…we had that meeting tonight.  He felt his (Bob’s?) wife’s resentment, but resignation at the same time.  Two young children, who he knew were the twins, were playing a videogame.  A third tiny youngster shouted encouragement.

“Get him, Robby, get him!”

“I’ll get him, Tim.”

Scrooge knew there was nothing on the screen right then for Robby to get.  He was humoring Tim, who was blind.  His video self fired off a shot at the wall…the TV made the distinctive “pzzoo” sound of the ray rifle.

“Did you get him, Robby?”

“Sure did, Tim!  Sure did!”

The other gamer, a girl named Kelsea, rolled her eyes.  She didn’t really approve of lying, but it made Tim happy to be a part of the game.  She was itching to see the next level, and they weren’t going to have as good a chance of getting there if Robby kept wasting his ammunition charge like that.  Still, she figured it was worth it to see Robby high-five tiny Tim’s outstretched hand.

Buzz!

A voice came through the intercom.

“Mom, it’s me!”

Scrooge knew it was Martha, the oldest daughter.  “I’ll get it!”  Tim ran unerringly to the button and buzzed his sister up the stairs.

“Hey, Double-T!  I got you something!”

“Whatizitwhatizit?”

“Well, the teachers let us out early for Thanksgiving, and Ms. Ramirez dropped me off at the library–”

“Did you get me a book?”

“I did,” Martha said smiling.  “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

“Oh boy, thanks!  What’s a pimplemill?”

Tim’s mother called from the kitchen.  “Pimpernel.  It’s a flower.”

“A flower?”  Tim was still holding out his hands to Martha.

“Not this Pimpernel, Double-T!  He’s a hero…with a secret identity and everything.”

“Like Daredevil?”

“Even better.  He saves people from the bad guys in old France.  If he didn’t, they’d cut off their heads!”

“Yaaaaay!  I’m going to go listen to it right now!  Thanks, Martha!”

Tim took the box of CDs that Martha slapped into his open hands and ran down to the room he shared with Robby and Kelsea.

“That was nice of you, Martha.”

“Well, Mom, Ms. Ramirez offered to drive me.  Mr. Cho brought turkey in for everybody, so I had enough lunch money left for the bus.  I can probably get one of the other kids to take it back.”

“Mom,” Kelsea said hesitantly, “Latella’s cousin is blind.  They don’t have to get books from the library…he gets all the audiobooks he wants sent to him for free.”

“That’s great, dear.  But to do that, you have to have a doctor certify you as blind as there is a lot of paperwork to fill out.”

Scrooge/Kelsea fell silent.  S/he knew that they couldn’t afford a doctor.  Scrooge/Mrs. Cratchit wished again that Bob had a job with full benefits.  She’d always wondered if little Tim’s eyesight could have been saved if they weren’t just going to the community clinic.  She knew it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, but she couldn’t help wondering.

“Mom, when is Dad going to get here?”

“I don’t know, Robby.  They have that annual marketing meeting tonight.”

“Dumb old Scrooge!”

“That’s Mister Scrooge, Robby…he is your father’s boss, after all.”

“I know.  I just hate that guy sometimes.  Why doesn’t Dad just quit and get a better job?”

“We don’t say hate in this house, you know that.  It’s not that easy, Robby.  It’s a hard time to find work out there.  Besides, your father likes working for Mr. Scrooge.”

Martha pouted.  “I don’t know why.  He treats him like dirt.  He doesn’t pay him anything, and he makes him work all the time.”

“I can’t say I really understand it either, dear, but it’s what your father wants.”

Scrooge suddenly found himself back in his office.  He was just himself again.  He was thinking about Bob, when a dark figure grabbed him by the wrist.

“Wait!  Slow down”

The ghost of tomorrow did not wait…it never does.

“Where are you taking me?”

Scrooge felt himself fall through the floors of the building.  He thudded on to the lobby floor.  Workers went past him, carrying chairs and tables.  They came out of the freight elevator, headed for a big truck on the street.

“Somebody must be moving,” thought Scrooge.

The spirit pointed to where the building receptionist was opening the glass case that contained the directory.  She slid out one of the printed names.

“Spirit, tell me…what is happening?”

The spirit continued to point.  The receptionist walked over to the garbage can where a security guard was standing.

The guard smiled at her.  “Well, that’s it, huh?  They are finally gone.”

“Well, it was only a matter of time, I guess.  I heard on the news that they went bankrupt.”

“Got any news on a new tenant?”

“It’s not that easy to fill a whole floor.  I’m guessing it will be awhile.”

She dropped the laminated name in the silver bin and walked back to her desk.

The spirit led Scrooge to the garbage can.  Scrooge stood, afraid to look inside, afraid at what he might see.

“No, spirit, no!”

The spirit stood, immobile and impassionate.  Scrooge couldn’t help himself…he saw the J. Marley Publishing sign, with the logo of Jacob on it.

“Bankrupt!  It can’t be!  I won’t let it happen!  You…you wouldn’t show me this unless I could do something about it, right?  Jacob said it could change…he said I had a chance if I could learn something!  I’ve learned, spirit!  I’ve learned that books are books, whatever the format!  Its not the paper, it’s the words that matter!  And poor Tim Cratchit, and a million others like him!  We…I can help them!  Please, spirit, please!  Give me another chance!”

“Unca?  Are you alright?”

Scrooge found himself back in his office again.

“You…you’re still here!  The business is still here!”

“Sure it is, Unc.  Geez, how long was I on that phone call, anyway?  So, you want to get back to that meeting?”

“Yes…yes, I do!  Cratchit!”

Bob was surprised to hear his boss yelling.

“Get in here.  No, wait, start some coffee first.  Nephew, tell me about those e-books.  I want to do them…I want to get started right away!  Make sure they have that read-aloud thing…that’s important!”

“Sure, Unc, that’s great!”

“Cratchit…Bob, I’ve decided you are going to get a bonus!”

“Uh..a bonus, sir?”

“Yep!  I’m getting everybody in your family a Kindle!  You tell Tim he can have all the books he wants, and you send me the bills.  When he gets done with The Scarlet Pimpernel, you tell him old Neezy wants to talk with him about it.”

“Yes sir!  Bless you, sir!”

Epilogue

Scrooge was never again troubled with spirits.  Jay-Em e-Romances were a permanent part of the bestseller lists, with the first one in the series  always being offered for free.  Martha Cratchit wrote a few herself, eventually become a successful author.  The company thrived, and the Greasy Cat Foundation, with Timothy Cratchit as its Executive Director, became a leader in providing free e-book readers to those in need.

May we all learn from the past, savor the present, and build a future not just for us, but for others.

The End

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


In honor of Thanksgiving: an excerpt from The Mysterious Island

November 24, 2011

 In honor of Thanksgiving: an excerpt from The Mysterious Island

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! This is an excerpt from Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (L’Île Mystérieuse) originally published in 1874. I actually associate it most with the Ray Harryhausen version, even though it wasn’t entirely faithful. ;) Why is this in honor of Thanksgiving? One of my strong associations is with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the giant balloons, so I was looking for something with a big balloon in it. Hopefully, nobody has this same experience with the Snoopy balloon…

PART 1—DROPPED FROM THE CLOUDS
Chapter 1

“Are we rising again?” “No. On the contrary.” “Are we descending?” “Worse than that, captain! we are falling!” “For Heaven’s sake heave out the ballast!” “There! the last sack is empty!” “Does the balloon rise?” “No!” “I hear a noise like the dashing of waves. The sea is below the car! It cannot be more than 500 feet from us!” “Overboard with every weight! … everything!”

Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air, above the vast watery desert of the Pacific, about four o’clock in the evening of the 23rd of March, 1865.

Few can possibly have forgotten the terrible storm from the northeast, in the middle of the equinox of that year. The tempest raged without intermission from the 18th to the 26th of March. Its ravages were terrible in America, Europe, and Asia, covering a distance of eighteen hundred miles, and extending obliquely to the equator from the thirty-fifth north parallel to the fortieth south parallel. Towns were overthrown, forests uprooted, coasts devastated by the mountains of water which were precipitated on them, vessels cast on the shore, which the published accounts numbered by hundreds, whole districts leveled by waterspouts which destroyed everything they passed over, several thousand people crushed on land or drowned at sea; such were the traces of its fury, left by this devastating tempest. It surpassed in disasters those which so frightfully ravaged Havana and Guadalupe, one on the 25th of October, 1810, the other on the 26th of July, 1825.

But while so many catastrophes were taking place on land and at sea, a drama not less exciting was being enacted in the agitated air.

In fact, a balloon, as a ball might be carried on the summit of a waterspout, had been taken into the circling movement of a column of air and had traversed space at the rate of ninety miles an hour, turning round and round as if seized by some aerial maelstrom.

Beneath the lower point of the balloon swung a car, containing five passengers, scarcely visible in the midst of the thick vapor mingled with spray which hung over the surface of the ocean.

Whence, it may be asked, had come that plaything of the tempest? From what part of the world did it rise? It surely could not have started during the storm. But the storm had raged five days already, and the first symptoms were manifested on the 18th. It cannot be doubted that the balloon came from a great distance, for it could not have traveled less than two thousand miles in twenty-four hours.

At any rate the passengers, destitute of all marks for their guidance, could not have possessed the means of reckoning the route traversed since their departure. It was a remarkable fact that, although in the very midst of the furious tempest, they did not suffer from it. They were thrown about and whirled round and round without feeling the rotation in the slightest degree, or being sensible that they were removed from a horizontal position.

Their eyes could not pierce through the thick mist which had gathered beneath the car. Dark vapor was all around them. Such was the density of the atmosphere that they could not be certain whether it was day or night. No reflection of light, no sound from inhabited land, no roaring of the ocean could have reached them, through the obscurity, while suspended in those elevated zones. Their rapid descent alone had informed them of the dangers which they ran from the waves. However, the balloon, lightened of heavy articles, such as ammunition, arms, and provisions, had risen into the higher layers of the atmosphere, to a height of 4,500 feet. The voyagers, after having discovered that the sea extended beneath them, and thinking the dangers above less dreadful than those below, did not hesitate to throw overboard even their most useful articles, while they endeavored to lose no more of that fluid, the life of their enterprise, which sustained them above the abyss.

The night passed in the midst of alarms which would have been death to less energetic souls. Again the day appeared and with it the tempest began to moderate. From the beginning of that day, the 24th of March, it showed symptoms of abating. At dawn, some of the lighter clouds had risen into the more lofty regions of the air. In a few hours the wind had changed from a hurricane to a fresh breeze, that is to say, the rate of the transit of the atmospheric layers was diminished by half. It was still what sailors call “a close-reefed topsail breeze,” but the commotion in the elements had none the less considerably diminished.

Towards eleven o’clock, the lower region of the air was sensibly clearer. The atmosphere threw off that chilly dampness which is felt after the passage of a great meteor. The storm did not seem to have gone farther to the west. It appeared to have exhausted itself. Could it have passed away in electric sheets, as is sometimes the case with regard to the typhoons of the Indian Ocean?

But at the same time, it was also evident that the balloon was again slowly descending with a regular movement. It appeared as if it were, little by little, collapsing, and that its case was lengthening and extending, passing from a spherical to an oval form. Towards midday the balloon was hovering above the sea at a height of only 2,000 feet. It contained 50,000 cubic feet of gas, and, thanks to its capacity, it could maintain itself a long time in the air, although it should reach a great altitude or might be thrown into a horizontal position.

Perceiving their danger, the passengers cast away the last articles which still weighed down the car, the few provisions they had kept, everything, even to their pocket-knives, and one of them, having hoisted himself on to the circles which united the cords of the net, tried to secure more firmly the lower point of the balloon.

It was, however, evident to the voyagers that the gas was failing, and that the balloon could no longer be sustained in the higher regions. They must infallibly perish!

There was not a continent, nor even an island, visible beneath them. The watery expanse did not present a single speck of land, not a solid surface upon which their anchor could hold.

It was the open sea, whose waves were still dashing with tremendous violence! It was the ocean, without any visible limits, even for those whose gaze, from their commanding position, extended over a radius of forty miles. The vast liquid plain, lashed without mercy by the storm, appeared as if covered with herds of furious chargers, whose white and disheveled crests were streaming in the wind. No land was in sight, not a solitary ship could be seen. It was necessary at any cost to arrest their downward course, and to prevent the balloon from being engulfed in the waves. The voyagers directed all their energies to this urgent work. But, notwithstanding their efforts, the balloon still fell, and at the same time shifted with the greatest rapidity, following the direction of the wind, that is to say, from the northeast to the southwest.

Frightful indeed was the situation of these unfortunate men. They were evidently no longer masters of the machine. All their attempts were useless. The case of the balloon collapsed more and more. The gas escaped without any possibility of retaining it. Their descent was visibly accelerated, and soon after midday the car hung within 600 feet of the ocean.

It was impossible to prevent the escape of gas, which rushed through a large rent in the silk. By lightening the car of all the articles which it contained, the passengers had been able to prolong their suspension in the air for a few hours. But the inevitable catastrophe could only be retarded, and if land did not appear before night, voyagers, car, and balloon must to a certainty vanish beneath the waves.

They now resorted to the only remaining expedient. They were truly dauntless men, who knew how to look death in the face. Not a single murmur escaped from their lips. They were determined to struggle to the last minute, to do anything to retard their fall. The car was only a sort of willow basket, unable to float, and there was not the slightest possibility of maintaining it on the surface of the sea.

Two more hours passed and the balloon was scarcely 400 feet above the water.

At that moment a loud voice, the voice of a man whose heart was inaccessible to fear, was heard. To this voice responded others not less determined. “Is everything thrown out?” “No, here are still 2,000 dollars in gold.” A heavy bag immediately plunged into the sea. “Does the balloon rise?” “A little, but it will not be long before it falls again.” “What still remains to be thrown out?” “Nothing.” “Yes! the car!” “Let us catch hold of the net, and into the sea with the car.”

This was, in fact, the last and only mode of lightening the balloon. The ropes which held the car were cut, and the balloon, after its fall, mounted 2,000 feet. The five voyagers had hoisted themselves into the net, and clung to the meshes, gazing at the abyss.

The delicate sensibility of balloons is well known. It is sufficient to throw out the lightest article to produce a difference in its vertical position. The apparatus in the air is like a balance of mathematical precision. It can be thus easily understood that when it is lightened of any considerable weight its movement will be impetuous and sudden. So it happened on this occasion. But after being suspended for an instant aloft, the balloon began to redescend, the gas escaping by the rent which it was impossible to repair.

The men had done all that men could do. No human efforts could save them now.

They must trust to the mercy of Him who rules the elements.

At four o’clock the balloon was only 500 feet above the surface of the water.

A loud barking was heard. A dog accompanied the voyagers, and was held pressed close to his master in the meshes of the net.

“Top has seen something,” cried one of the men. Then immediately a loud voice shouted,—

“Land! land!” The balloon, which the wind still drove towards the southwest, had since daybreak gone a considerable distance, which might be reckoned by hundreds of miles, and a tolerably high land had, in fact, appeared in that direction. But this land was still thirty miles off. It would not take less than an hour to get to it, and then there was the chance of falling to leeward.

An hour! Might not the balloon before that be emptied of all the fluid it yet retained?

Such was the terrible question! The voyagers could distinctly see that solid spot which they must reach at any cost. They were ignorant of what it was, whether an island or a continent, for they did not know to what part of the world the hurricane had driven them. But they must reach this land, whether inhabited or desolate, whether hospitable or not.

It was evident that the balloon could no longer support itself! Several times already had the crests of the enormous billows licked the bottom of the net, making it still heavier, and the balloon only half rose, like a bird with a wounded wing. Half an hour later the land was not more than a mile off, but the balloon, exhausted, flabby, hanging in great folds, had gas in its upper part alone. The voyagers, clinging to the net, were still too heavy for it, and soon, half plunged into the sea, they were beaten by the furious waves. The balloon-case bulged out again, and the wind, taking it, drove it along like a vessel. Might it not possibly thus reach the land?

But, when only two fathoms off, terrible cries resounded from four pairs of lungs at once. The balloon, which had appeared as if it would never again rise, suddenly made an unexpected bound, after having been struck by a tremendous sea. As if it had been at that instant relieved of a new part of its weight, it mounted to a height of 1,500 feet, and here it met a current of wind, which instead of taking it directly to the coast, carried it in a nearly parallel direction.

At last, two minutes later, it reproached obliquely, and finally fell on a sandy beach, out of the reach of the waves.

The voyagers, aiding each other, managed to disengage themselves from the meshes of the net. The balloon, relieved of their weight, was taken by the wind, and like a wounded bird which revives for an instant, disappeared into space.

But the car had contained five passengers, with a dog, and the balloon only left four on the shore.

The missing person had evidently been swept off by the sea, which had just struck the net, and it was owing to this circumstance that the lightened balloon rose the last time, and then soon after reached the land. Scarcely had the four castaways set foot on firm ground, than they all, thinking of the absent one, simultaneously exclaimed, “Perhaps he will try to swim to land! Let us save him! let us save him!”

===

End excerpt

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

A Halloween classic to read aloud

October 31, 2011

A Halloween classic to read aloud

This is one of the classic horror stories.  It was first published in 1843 and written by Edgar Allan Poe, who died in 1849.   The story should be in the public domain everywhere.  As a Halloween treat, you may want to read it to each other out loud.  You can take turns, or one person can read it all.  You could let your Kindle take a turn…but that won’t be the same.  This shows the advantage of free distribution of the classics that e-books facilitates.  Be prepared, though…it’s scary!   It should take about fifteen minutes…hokey Halloween voices optional.  Parents, be advised…this could cause nightmares.

Enjoy?  Or at least…experience.  I now present…

THE TELL-TALE HEART (by Edgar Allan Poe)

TRUE!–nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed–not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily–how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees–very gradually–I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded–with what caution–with what foresight–with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it–oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly–very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously–cautiously (for the hinges creaked)–I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights–every night just at midnight–but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers–of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back–but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out–”Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;–just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief–oh, no!–it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself–”It is nothing but the wind in the chimney–it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel–although he neither saw nor heard–to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little–a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it–you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily–until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open–wide, wide open–and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness–all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?–now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!–do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me–the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once–once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye–not even his–could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out–no stain of any kind–no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all–ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock–still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,–for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,–for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search–search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:–It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness–until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew _very_ pale;–but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased–and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound–much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath–and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly–more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men–but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed–I raved–I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder–louder–louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!–no, no! They heard!–they suspected!–they knew!–they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now–again!–hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!–tear up the planks! here, here!–It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Bonus: Quoth My Kindle

I originally published Quoth My Kindle (with apologies to Edgar Allan Poe) in this thread in the Amazon Kindle forum.   It is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, The Raven.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
As I reached to slide to sleep mode, suddenly I found my hand slowed
As if driving up a steep road, driving with a heavy load
“I can’t seem to move it forward, as if some Kowboy had ‘whoa’d,
It’s a fluke and nothing more.”

Suddenly, a wheel was spinning, a face appeared, and it was grinning
I gasped and nearly dropped my m-edge, dropped it on the hardwood floor
I shook my head, I couldn’t take it; wasn’t sure if I would make it
Then that voice: speakers of portent – portent I would know the score
Then the robot quirkily intoned words that shook me to the core
Quoth my Kindle: “READ SOME MORE.”

“I need sleep!” I firmly stated, yet I found I hesitated
Reading – reading how it drew me like it never had before
So I sat there, pushing buttons, appetite of sev’ral gluttons
Bestsellers, public domain, ’til I think I filled up my brain
“Tis some magazine I’ve never even purchased at the store”
“I need to get up early!” I heard myself again implore
Quoth my Kindle: “READ SOME MORE.”

My eyes opened and I woke up; knew I dreamt my Kindle spoke up
So I dragged myself off to what had become my bedtime chore,
Although fact is what it did seem, I knew it was just a weird dream
So as I brushed my teeth, I felt safe behind my bathroom door
I kept my head beneath my covers, as I sailed to Morpheus’ shore…
Quoth my Kindle: “READ SOME MORE.”

For more Edgar Allan Poe, try this search for Poe freebies in the Kindle store. If you want to keep it simple, you can get this collection, which has an interactive table of contents.

Some of you may have recognized this post from previous years…yeah, ILMK has been around long enough to have annual traditions.  ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

From the Queen of Hearts by Wilkie Collins

August 22, 2011

From the Queen of Hearts by Wilkie Collins

This story is from Wilkie Collins’ 1859 work, The Queen of Hearts. The book is partially relatives telling stories, and this is one of them. I happen to be reading it myself right now, and this is the second time recently I’ve come across this particular story…so I thought I’d share. :)

SOME years ago there lived in the suburbs of a large seaport town on
the west coast of England a man in humble circumstances, by name Isaac
Scatchard. His means of subsistence were derived from any employment
that he could get as an hostler, and occasionally, when times went well
with him, from temporary engagements in service as stable-helper in
private houses. Though a faithful, steady, and honest man, he got on
badly in his calling. His ill luck was proverbial among his neighbors.
He was always missing good opportunities by no fault of his own, and
always living longest in service with amiable people who were not
punctual payers of wages. "Unlucky Isaac" was his nickname in his own
neighborhood, and no one could say that he did not richly deserve it.

With far more than one man's fair share of adversity to endure, Isaac
had but one consolation to support him, and that was of the dreariest
and most negative kind. He had no wife and children to increase his
anxieties and add to the bitterness of his various failures in life.
It might have been from mere insensibility, or it might have been from
generous unwillingness to involve another in his own unlucky destiny,
but the fact undoubtedly was, that he had arrived at the middle term of
life without marrying, and, what is much more remarkable, without once
exposing himself, from eighteen to eight-and-thirty, to the genial
imputation of ever having had a sweetheart.

When he was out of service he lived alone with his widowed mother.
Mrs. Scatchard was a woman above the average in her lowly station as to
capacity and manners. She had seen better days, as the phrase is, but
she never referred to them in the presence of curious visitors;
and, though perfectly polite to every one who approached her, never
cultivated any intimacies among her neighbors. She contrived to provide,
hardly enough, for her simple wants by doing rough work for the tailors,
and always managed to keep a decent home for her son to return to
whenever his ill luck drove him out helpless into the world.

One bleak autumn when Isaac was getting on fast toward forty and when
he was as usual out of place through no fault of his own, he set forth,
from his mother's cottage on a long walk inland to a gentleman's seat
where he had heard that a stable-helper was required.

It wanted then but two days of his birthday; and Mrs. Scatchard, with
her usual fondness, made him promise, before he started, that he would
be back in time to keep that anniversary with her, in as festive a way
as their poor means would allow. It was easy for him to comply with this
request, even supposing he slept a night each way on the road.

He was to start from home on Monday morning, and, whether he got the new
place or not, he was to be back for his birthday dinner on Wednesday at
two o'clock.

Arriving at his destination too late on the Monday night to make
application for the stablehelper's place, he slept at the village
inn, and in good time on the Tuesday morning presented himself at the
gentleman's house to fill the vacant situation. Here again his ill luck
pursued him as inexorably as ever. The excellent written testimonials to
his character which he was able to produce availed him nothing; his long
walk had been taken in vain: only the day before the stable-helper's
place had been given to another man.

Isaac accepted this new disappointment resignedly and as a matter of
course. Naturally slow in capacity, he had the bluntness of sensibility
and phlegmatic patience of disposition which frequently distinguish
men with sluggishly-working mental powers. He thanked the gentleman's
steward with his usual quiet civility for granting him an interview, and
took his departure with no appearance of unusual depression in his face
or manner.

Before starting on his homeward walk he made some inquiries at the
inn, and ascertained that he might save a few miles on his return by
following the new road. Furnished with full instructions, several times
repeated, as to the various turnings he was to take, he set forth on his
homeward journey and walked on all day with only one stoppage for bread
and cheese. Just as it was getting toward dark, the rain came on and the
wind began to rise, and he found himself, to make matters worse, in a
part of the country with which he was entirely unacquainted, though
he knew himself to be some fifteen miles from home. The first house he
found to inquire at was a lonely roadside inn, standing on the outskirts
of a thick wood. Solitary as the place looked, it was welcome to a lost
man who was also hungry, thirsty, footsore and wet. The landlord was
civil and respectable-looking, and the price he asked for a bed was
reasonable enough. Isaac therefore decided on stopping comfortably at
the inn for that night.

He was constitutionally a temperate man.

His supper consisted of two rashers of bacon, a slice of home-made bread
and a pint of ale. He did not go to bed immediately after this moderate
meal, but sat up with the landlord, talking about his bad prospects
and his long run of ill-luck, and diverging from these topics to the
subjects of horse-flesh and racing. Nothing was said either by himself,
his host, or the few laborers who strayed into the tap-room, which
could, in the slightest degree, excite the very small and very dull
imaginative faculty which Isaac Scatchard possessed.

At a little after eleven the house was closed. Isaac went round with
the landlord and held the candle while the doors and lower windows were
being secured. He noticed with surprise the strength of the bolts and
bars, and iron-sheathed shutters.

"You see, we are rather lonely here," said the landlord. "We never have
had any attempts made to break in yet, but it's always as well to be on
the safe side. When nobody is sleeping here, I am the only man in the
house. My wife and daughter are timid, and the servant-girl takes after
her missuses. Another glass of ale before you turn in? No! Well, how
such a sober man as you comes to be out of place is more than I can
make out, for one. Here's where you're to sleep. You're our only lodger
to-night, and I think you'll say my missus has done her best to make you
comfortable. You're quite sure you won't have another glass of ale? Very
well. Good-night."

It was half-past eleven by the clock in the passage as they went
upstairs to the bedroom, the window of which looked on to the wood at
the back of the house.

Isaac locked the door, set his candle on the chest of drawers, and
wearily got ready for bed.

The bleak autumn wind was still blowing, and the solemn, monotonous,
surging moan of it in the wood was dreary and awful to hear through the
night-silence. Isaac felt strangely wakeful.

He resolved, as he lay down in bed, to keep the candle alight until he
began to grow sleepy, for there was something unendurably depressing in
the bare idea of lying awake in the darkness, listening to the dismal,
ceaseless moaning of the wind in the wood.

Sleep stole on him before he was aware of it. His eyes closed, and
he fell off insensibly to rest without having so much as thought of
extinguishing the candle.

The first sensation of which he was conscious after sinking into slumber
was a strange shivering that ran through him suddenly from head to foot,
and a dreadful sinking pain at the heart, such as he had never felt
before. The shivering only disturbed his slumbers; the pain woke him
instantly. In one moment he passed from a state of sleep to a state of
wakefulness--his eyes wide open--his mental perceptions cleared on a
sudden, as if by a miracle.

The candle had burned down nearly to the last morsel of tallow, but
the top of the unsnuffed wick had just fallen off, and the light in the
little room was, for the moment, fair and full.

Between the foot of his bed and the closed door there stood a woman with
a knife in her hand, looking at him.

He was stricken speechless with terror, but he did not lose the
preternatural clearness of his faculties, and he never took his eyes off
the woman. She said not a word as they stared each other in the face,
but she began to move slowly toward the left-hand side of the bed.

His eyes followed her. She was a fair, fine woman, with yellowish flaxen
hair and light gray eyes, with a droop in the left eyelid. He noticed
those things and fixed them on his mind before she was round at the side
of the bed. Speechless, with no expression in her face, with no noise
following her footfall, she came closer and closer--stopped--and slowly
raised the knife. He laid his right arm over his throat to save it; but,
as he saw the knife coming down, threw his hand across the bed to
the right side, and jerked his body over that way just as the knife
descended on the mattress within an inch of his shoulder.

His eyes fixed on her arm and hand as she slowly drew her knife out of
the bed: a white, well-shaped arm, with a pretty down lying lightly over
the fair skin--a delicate lady's hand, with the crowning beauty of a
pink flush under and round the finger-nails.

She drew the knife out, and passed back again slowly to the foot of
the bed; stopped there for a moment looking at him; then came on--still
speechless, still with no expression on the blank, beautiful face, still
with no sound following the stealthy footfalls--came on to the right
side of the bed, where he now lay.

As she approached, she raised the knife again, and he drew himself away
to the left side. She struck, as before, right into the mattress, with
a deliberate, perpendicularly downward action of the arm. This time his
eyes wandered from her to the knife. It was like the large clasp-knives
which he had often seen laboring men use to cut their bread and bacon
with. Her delicate little fingers did not conceal more than two-thirds
of the handle: he noticed that it was made of buck-horn, clean and
shining as the blade was, and looking like new.

For the second time she drew the knife out, concealed it in the wide
sleeve of her gown, then stopped by the bedside, watching him. For an
instant he saw her standing in that position, then the wick of the spent
candle fell over into the socket; the flame diminished to a little blue
point, and the room grew dark.

A moment, or less, if possible, passed so, and then the wick flamed up,
smokingly, for the last time. His eyes were still looking eagerly over
the right-hand side of the bed when the final flash of light came, but
they discovered nothing. The fair woman with the knife was gone.

The conviction that he was alone again weakened the hold of the terror
that had struck him dumb up to this time. The preternatural sharpness
which the very intensity of his panic had mysteriously imparted to his
faculties left them suddenly. His brain grew confused--his heart beat
wildly--his ears opened for the first time since the appearance of the
woman to a sense of the woeful ceaseless moaning of the wind among the
trees. With the dreadful conviction of the reality of what he had seen
still strong within him, he leaped out of bed, and screaming "Murder!
Wake up, there! wake up!" dashed headlong through the darkness to the
door.

It was fast locked, exactly as he had left it on going to bed.

His cries on starting up had alarmed the house. He heard the terrified,
confused exclamations of women; he saw the master of the house
approaching along the passage with his burning rush-candle in one hand
and his gun in the other.

"What is it?" asked the landlord, breathlessly. Isaac could only answer
in a whisper. "A woman, with a knife in her hand," he gasped out. "In my
room--a fair, yellow-haired woman; she jobbed at me with the knife twice
over."

The landlord's pale cheeks grew paler. He looked at Isaac eagerly by the
flickering light of his candle, and his face began to get red again; his
voice altered, too, as well as his complexion.

"She seems to have missed you twice," he said.

"I dodged the knife as it came down," Isaac went on, in the same scared
whisper. "It struck the bed each time."

The landlord took his candle into the bedroom immediately. In less than
a minute he came out again into the passage in a violent passion.

"The devil fly away with you and your woman with the knife! There isn't
a mark in the bedclothes anywhere. What do you mean by coming into a
man's place and frightening his family out of their wits about a dream?"

"I'll leave your house," said Isaac, faintly. "Better out on the road,
in rain and dark, on my road home, than back again in that room, after
what I've seen in it. Lend me a light to get my clothes by, and tell me
what I'm to pay."

"Pay!" cried the landlord, leading the way with his light sulkily
into the bedroom. "You'll find your score on the slate when you go
downstairs. I wouldn't have taken you in for all the money you've got
about you if I'd known your dreaming, screeching ways beforehand. Look
at the bed. Where's the cut of a knife in it? Look at the window--is the
lock bursted? Look at the door (which I heard you fasten yourself)--is
it broke in? A murdering woman with a knife in my house! You ought to be
ashamed of yourself!"

Isaac answered not a word. He huddled on his clothes, and then they went
downstairs together.

"Nigh on twenty minutes past two!" said the landlord, as they passed
the clock. "A nice time in the morning to frighten honest people out of
their wits!"

Isaac paid his bill, and the landlord let him out at the front door,
asking, with a grin of contempt, as he undid the strong fastenings,
whether "the murdering woman got in that way."

They parted without a word on either side. The rain had ceased, but the
night was dark, and the wind bleaker than ever. Little did the darkness,
or the cold, or the uncertainty about the way home matter to Isaac. If
he had been turned out into a wilderness in a thunder-storm it would
have been a relief after what he had suffered in the bedroom of the inn.

What was the fair woman with the knife? The creature of a dream, or that
other creature from the unknown world called among men by the name of
ghost? He could make nothing of the mystery--had made nothing of it,
even when it was midday on Wednesday, and when he stood, at last, after
many times missing his road, once more on the doorstep of home.

CHAPTER III.

His mother came out eagerly to receive him.

His face told her in a moment that something was wrong.

"I've lost the place; but that's my luck. I dreamed an ill dream last
night, mother--or maybe I saw a ghost. Take it either way, it scared me
out of my senses, and I'm not my own man again yet."

"Isaac, your face frightens me. Come in to the fire--come in, and tell
mother all about it."

He was as anxious to tell as she was to hear; for it had been his
hope, all the way home, that his mother, with her quicker capacity and
superior knowledge, might be able to throw some light on the mystery
which he could not clear up for himself. His memory of the dream was
still mechanically vivid, though his thoughts were entirely confused by
it.

His mother's face grew paler and paler as he went on. She never
interrupted him by so much as a single word; but when he had done, she
moved her chair close to his, put her arm round his neck, and said to
him:

"Isaac, you dreamed your ill dream on this Wednesday morning. What time
was it when you saw the fair woman with the knife in her hand?" Isaac
reflected on what the landlord had said when they had passed by the
clock on his leaving the inn; allowed as nearly as he could for the time
that must have elapsed between the unlocking of his bedroom door and the
paying of his bill just before going away, and answered:

"Somewhere about two o'clock in the morning."

His mother suddenly quitted her hold of his neck, and struck her hands
together with a gesture of despair.

"This Wednesday is your birthday, Isaac, and two o'clock in the morning
was the time when you were born."

Isaac's capacities were not quick enough to catch the infection of his
mother's superstitious dread. He was amazed, and a little startled,
also, when she suddenly rose from her chair, opened her old
writing-desk, took pen, ink and paper, and then said to him:

"Your memory is but a poor one, Isaac, and, now I'm an old woman, mine's
not much better. I want all about this dream of yours to be as well
known to both of us, years hence, as it is now. Tell me over again all
you told me a minute ago, when you spoke of what the woman with the
knife looked like."

Isaac obeyed, and marveled much as he saw his mother carefully set down
on paper the very words that he was saying.

"Light gray eyes," she wrote, as they came to the descriptive part,
"with a droop in the left eyelid; flaxen hair, with a gold-yellow streak
in it; white arms, with a down upon them; little lady's hand, with
a reddish look about the finger nails; clasp-knife with a buck-horn
handle, that seemed as good as new." To these particulars Mrs. Scatchard
added the year, month, day of the week, and time in the morning when
the woman of the dream appeared to her son. She then locked up the paper
carefully in her writing-desk.

Neither on that day nor on any day after could her son induce her to
return to the matter of the dream. She obstinately kept her thoughts
about it to herself, and even refused to refer again to the paper in her
writing-desk. Ere long Isaac grew weary of attempting to make her break
her resolute silence; and time, which sooner or later wears out all
things, gradually wore out the impression produced on him by the dream.
He began by thinking of it carelessly, and he ended by not thinking of
it at all.

The result was the more easily brought about by the advent of some
important changes for the better in his prospects which commenced not
long after his terrible night's experience at the inn. He reaped at last
the reward of his long and patient suffering under adversity by getting
an excellent place, keeping it for seven years, and leaving it, on the
death of his master, not only with an excellent character, but also
with a comfortable annuity bequeathed to him as a reward for saving
his mistress's life in a carriage accident. Thus it happened that Isaac
Scatchard returned to his old mother, seven years after the time of the
dream at the inn, with an annual sum of money at his disposal sufficient
to keep them both in ease and independence for the rest of their lives.

The mother, whose health had been bad of late years, profited so much by
the care bestowed on her and by freedom from money anxieties, that when
Isaac's birthday came round she was able to sit up comfortably at table
and dine with him.

On that day, as the evening drew on, Mrs. Scatchard discovered that a
bottle of tonic medicine which she was accustomed to take, and in which
she had fancied that a dose or more was still left, happened to be
empty. Isaac immediately volunteered to go to the chemist's and get
it filled again. It was as rainy and bleak an autumn night as on the
memorable past occasion when he lost his way and slept at the road-side
inn.

On going into the chemist's shop he was passed hurriedly by a
poorly-dressed woman coming out of it. The glimpse he had of her
face struck him, and he looked back after her as she descended the
door-steps.

"You're noticing that woman?" said the chemist's apprentice behind the
counter. "It's my opinion there's something wrong with her. She's been
asking for laudanum to put to a bad tooth. Master's out for half an
hour, and I told her I wasn't allowed to sell poison to strangers in
his absence. She laughed in a queer way, and said she would come back
in half an hour. If she expects master to serve her, I think she'll be
disappointed. It's a case of suicide, sir, if ever there was one yet."

These words added immeasurably to the sudden interest in the woman which
Isaac had felt at the first sight of her face. After he had got the
medicine-bottle filled, he looked about anxiously for her as soon as
he was out in the street. She was walking slowly up and down on
the opposite side of the road. With his heart, very much to his own
surprise, beating fast, Isaac crossed over and spoke to her.

He asked if she was in any distress. She pointed to her torn shawl, her
scanty dress, her crushed, dirty bonnet; then moved under a lamp so as
to let the light fall on her stern, pale, but still most beautiful face.

"I look like a comfortable, happy woman, don't I?" she said, with a
bitter laugh.

She spoke with a purity of intonation which Isaac had never heard before
from other than ladies' lips. Her slightest actions seemed to have the
easy, negligent grace of a thoroughbred woman. Her skin, for all its
poverty-stricken paleness, was as delicate as if her life had been
passed in the enjoyment of every social comfort that wealth can
purchase. Even her small, finely-shaped hands, gloveless as they were,
had not lost their whiteness.

Little by little, in answer to his questions, the sad story of the woman
came out. There is no need to relate it here; it is told over and over
again in police reports and paragraphs about attempted suicides.

"My name is Rebecca Murdoch," said the woman, as she ended. "I have
nine-pence left, and I thought of spending it at the chemist's over the
way in securing a passage to the other world. Whatever it is, it can't
be worse to me than this, so why should I stop here?"

Besides the natural compassion and sadness moved in his heart by what he
heard, Isaac felt within him some mysterious influence at work all the
time the woman was speaking which utterly confused his ideas and almost
deprived him of his powers of speech. All that he could say in answer
to her last reckless words was that he would prevent her from attempting
her own life, if he followed her about all night to do it. His rough,
trembling earnestness seemed to impress her.

"I won't occasion you that trouble," she answered, when he repeated his
threat. "You have given me a fancy for living by speaking kindly to me.
No need for the mockery of protestations and promises. You may believe
me without them. Come to Fuller's Meadow to-morrow at twelve, and you
will find me alive, to answer for myself--No!--no money. My ninepence
will do to get me as good a night's lodging as I want."

She nodded and left him. He made no attempt to follow--he felt no
suspicion that she was deceiving him.

"It's strange, but I can't help believing her," he said to himself, and
walked away, bewildered, toward home.

On entering the house, his mind was still so completely absorbed by its
new subject of interest that he took no notice of what his mother was
doing when he came in with the bottle of medicine. She had opened her
old writing-desk in his absence, and was now reading a paper attentively
that lay inside it. On every birthday of Isaac's since she had written
down the particulars of his dream from his own lips, she had been
accustomed to read that same paper, and ponder over it in private.

The next day he went to Fuller's Meadow.

He had done only right in believing her so implicitly. She was there,
punctual to a minute, to answer for herself. The last-left faint
defenses in Isaac's heart against the fascination which a word or look
from her began inscrutably to exercise over him sank down and vanished
before her forever on that memorable morning.

When a man, previously insensible to the influence of women, forms
an attachment in middle life, the instances are rare indeed, let the
warning circumstances be what they may, in which he is found capable of
freeing himself from the tyranny of the new ruling passion. The charm
of being spoken to familiarly, fondly, and gratefully by a woman whose
language and manners still retained enough of their early refinement
to hint at the high social station that she had lost, would have been a
dangerous luxury to a man of Isaac's rank at the age of twenty. But it
was far more than that--it was certain ruin to him--now that his heart
was opening unworthily to a new influence at that middle time of life
when strong feelings of all kinds, once implanted, strike root most
stubbornly in a man's moral nature. A few more stolen interviews after
that first morning in Fuller's Meadow completed his infatuation. In less
than a month from the time when he first met her, Isaac Scatchard had
consented to give Rebecca Murdoch a new interest in existence, and a
chance of recovering the character she had lost by promising to make her
his wife.

She had taken possession, not of his passions only, but of his faculties
as well. All the mind he had he put into her keeping. She directed
him on every point--even instructing him how to break the news of his
approaching marriage in the safest manner to his mother.

"If you tell her how you met me and who I am at first," said the cunning
woman, "she will move heaven and earth to prevent our marriage. Say I am
the sister of one of your fellow-servants--ask her to see me before you
go into any more particulars--and leave it to me to do the rest. I mean
to make her love me next best to you, Isaac, before she knows anything
of who I really am." The motive of the deceit was sufficient to sanctify
it to Isaac. The stratagem proposed relieved him of his one great
anxiety, and quieted his uneasy conscience on the subject of his mother.
Still, there was something wanting to perfect his happiness, something
that he could not realize, something mysteriously untraceable, and yet
something that perpetually made itself felt; not when he was absent
from Rebecca Murdoch, but, strange to say, when he was actually in her
presence! She was kindness itself with him. She never made him feel
his inferior capacities and inferior manners. She showed the sweetest
anxiety to please him in the smallest trifles; but, in spite of all
these attractions, he never could feel quite at his ease with her. At
their first meeting, there had mingled with his admiration, when he
looked in her face, a faint, involuntary feeling of doubt whether that
face was entirely strange to him. No after familiarity had the slightest
effect on this inexplicable, wearisome uncertainty.

Concealing the truth as he had been directed, he announced his marriage
engagement precipitately and confusedly to his mother on the day when he
contracted it. Poor Mrs. Scatchard showed her perfect confidence in her
son by flinging her arms round his neck, and giving him joy of having
found at last, in the sister of one of his fellow-servants, a woman
to comfort and care for him after his mother was gone. She was all
eagerness to see the woman of her son's choice, and the next day was
fixed for the introduction.

It was a bright sunny morning, and the little cottage parlor was full of
light as Mrs. Scatchard, happy and expectant, dressed for the
occasion in her Sunday gown, sat waiting for her son and her future
daughter-in-law.

Punctual to the appointed time, Isaac hurriedly and nervously led his
promised wife into the room. His mother rose to receive her--advanced
a few steps, smiling--looked Rebecca full in the eyes, and suddenly
stopped. Her face, which had been flushed the moment before, turned
white in an instant; her eyes lost their expression of softness and
kindness, and assumed a blank look of terror; her outstretched hands
fell to her sides, and she staggered back a few steps with a low cry to
her son.

"Isaac," she whispered, clutching him fast by the arm when he asked
alarmedly if she was taken ill, "Isaac, does that woman's face remind
you of nothing?"

Before he could answer--before he could look round to where Rebecca
stood, astonished and angered by her reception, at the lower end of the
room, his mother pointed impatiently to her writing-desk, and gave him
the key.

"Open it," she said, in a quick breathless whisper.

"What does this mean? Why am I treated as if I had no business here?
Does your mother want to insult me?" asked Rebecca, angrily.

"Open it, and give me the paper in the left-hand drawer. Quick! quick,
for Heaven's sake!" said Mrs. Scatchard, shrinking further back in
terror.

Isaac gave her the paper. She looked it over eagerly for a moment, then
followed Rebecca, who was now turning away haughtily to leave the room,
and caught her by the shoulder--abruptly raised the long, loose sleeve
of her gown, and glanced at her hand and arm. Something like fear
began to steal over the angry expression of Rebecca's face as she shook
herself free from the old woman's grasp. "Mad!" she said to herself;
"and Isaac never told me." With these few words she left the room.

Isaac was hastening after her when his mother turned and stopped his
further progress. It wrung his heart to see the misery and terror in her
face as she looked at him.

"Light gray eyes," she said, in low, mournful, awe-struck tones,
pointing toward the open door; "a droop in the left eyelid; flaxen hair,
with a gold-yellow streak in it; white arms, with a down upon them;
little lady's hand, with a reddish look under the finger nails--The
Dream-Woman, Isaac, the Dream-Woman!"

That faint cleaving doubt which he had never been able to shake off in
Rebecca Murdoch's presence was fatally set at rest forever. He had seen
her face, then, before--seven years before, on his birthday, in the
bedroom of the lonely inn.

"Be warned! oh, my son, be warned! Isaac, Isaac, let her go, and do you
stop with me!"

Something darkened the parlor window as those words were said. A sudden
chill ran through him, and he glanced sidelong at the shadow. Rebecca
Murdoch had come back. She was peering in curiously at them over the low
window-blind.

"I have promised to marry, mother," he said, "and marry I must."

The tears came into his eyes as he spoke and dimmed his sight, but he
could just discern the fatal face outside moving away again from the
window.

His mother's head sank lower.

"Are you faint?" he whispered.

"Broken-hearted, Isaac."

He stooped down and kissed her. The shadow, as he did so, returned to
the window, and the fatal face peered in curiously once more.

CHAPTER IV.

THREE weeks after that day Isaac and Rebecca were man and wife. All that
was hopelessly dogged and stubborn in the man's moral nature seemed to
have closed round his fatal passion, and to have fixed it unassailably
in his heart.

After that first interview in the cottage parlor no consideration would
induce Mrs. Scatchard to see her son's wife again or even to talk of her
when Isaac tried hard to plead her cause after their marriage.

This course of conduct was not in any degree occasioned by a discovery
of the degradation in which Rebecca had lived. There was no question of
that between mother and son. There was no question of anything but the
fearfully-exact resemblance between the living, breathing woman and the
specter-woman of Isaac's dream.

Rebecca on her side neither felt nor expressed the slightest sorrow at
the estrangement between herself and her mother-in-law. Isaac, for the
sake of peace, had never contradicted her first idea that age and long
illness had affected Mrs. Scatchard's mind. He even allowed his wife to
upbraid him for not having confessed this to her at the time of their
marriage engagement, rather than risk anything by hinting at the truth.
The sacrifice of his integrity before his one all-mastering delusion
seemed but a small thing, and cost his conscience but little after the
sacrifices he had already made.

The time of waking from this delusion--the cruel and the rueful
time--was not far off. After some quiet months of married life, as the
summer was ending, and the year was getting on toward the month of his
birthday, Isaac found his wife altering toward him. She grew sullen and
contemptuous; she formed acquaintances of the most dangerous kind in
defiance of his objections, his entreaties, and his commands; and, worst
of all, she learned, ere long, after every fresh difference with her
husband, to seek the deadly self-oblivion of drink. Little by little,
after the first miserable discovery that his wife was keeping company
with drunkards, the shocking certainty forced itself on Isaac that she
had grown to be a drunkard herself.

He had been in a sadly desponding state for some time before the
occurrence of these domestic calamities. His mother's health, as he
could but too plainly discern every time he went to see her at the
cottage, was failing fast, and he upbraided himself in secret as the
cause of the bodily and mental suffering she endured. When to his
remorse on his mother's account was added the shame and misery
occasioned by the discovery of his wife's degradation, he sank under the
double trial--his face began to alter fast, and he looked what he was, a
spirit-broken man.

His mother, still struggling bravely against the illness that was
hurrying her to the grave, was the first to notice the sad alteration in
him, and the first to hear of his last worst trouble with his wife.
She could only weep bitterly on the day when he made his humiliating
confession, but on the next occasion when he went to see her she had
taken a resolution in reference to his domestic afflictions which
astonished and even alarmed him. He found her dressed to go out, and on
asking the reason received this answer:

"I am not long for this world, Isaac," she said, "and I shall not feel
easy on my death-bed unless I have done my best to the last to make my
son happy. I mean to put my own fears and my own feelings out of the
question, and to go with you to your wife, and try what I can do to
reclaim her. Give me your arm, Isaac, and let me do the last thing I can
in this world to help my son before it is too late."

He could not disobey her, and they walked together slowly toward his
miserable home.

It was only one o'clock in the afternoon when they reached the cottage
where he lived. It was their dinner-hour, and Rebecca was in the
kitchen. He was thus able to take his mother quietly into the parlor,
and then prepare his wife for the interview. She had fortunately drunk
but little at that early hour, and she was less sullen and capricious
than usual.

He returned to his mother with his mind tolerably at ease. His wife
soon followed him into the parlor, and the meeting between her and Mrs.
Scatchard passed off better than he had ventured to anticipate, though
he observed with secret apprehension that his mother, resolutely as she
controlled herself in other respects, could not look his wife in the
face when she spoke to her. It was a relief to him, therefore, when
Rebecca began to lay the cloth.

She laid the cloth, brought in the bread-tray, and cut a slice from
the loaf for her husband, then returned to the kitchen. At that moment,
Isaac, still anxiously watching his mother, was startled by seeing the
same ghastly change pass over her face which had altered it so awfully
on the morning when Rebecca and she first met. Before he could say a
word, she whispered, with a look of horror:

"Take me back--home, home again, Isaac. Come with me, and never go back
again."

He was afraid to ask for an explanation; he could only sign to her to be
silent, and help her quickly to the door. As they passed the breadtray
on the table she stopped and pointed to it.

"Did you see what your wife cut your bread with?" she asked, in a low
whisper.

"No, mother--I was not noticing--what was it?"

"Look!"

He did look. A new clasp-knife with a buckhorn handle lay with the loaf
in the bread-tray. He stretched out his hand shudderingly to possess
himself of it; but, at the same time, there was a noise in the kitchen,
and his mother caught at his arm.

"The knife of the dream! Isaac, I'm faint with fear. Take me away before
she comes back."

He was hardly able to support her. The visible, tangible reality of the
knife struck him with a panic, and utterly destroyed any faint doubts
that he might have entertained up to this time in relation to the
mysterious dream-warning of nearly eight years before. By a last
desperate effort, he summoned self-possession enough to help his mother
out of the house--so quietly that the "Dream-woman" (he thought of her
by that name now) did not hear them departing from the kitchen.

"Don't go back, Isaac--don't go back!" implored Mrs. Scatchard, as he
turned to go away, after seeing her safely seated again in her own room.

"I must get the knife," he answered, under his breath. His mother tried
to stop him again, but he hurried out without another word.

On his return he found that his wife had discovered their secret
departure from the house. She had been drinking, and was in a fury of
passion. The dinner in the kitchen was flung under the grate; the cloth
was off the parlor table. Where was the knife?

Unwisely, he asked for it. She was only too glad of the opportunity of
irritating him which the request afforded her. "He wanted the knife, did
he? Could he give her a reason why? No! Then he should not have it--not
if he went down on his knees to ask for it." Further recriminations
elicited the fact that she had bought it a bargain, and that she
considered it her own especial property. Isaac saw the uselessness of
attempting to get the knife by fair means, and determined to search for
it, later in the day, in secret. The search was unsuccessful. Night came
on, and he left the house to walk about the streets. He was afraid now
to sleep in the same room with her.

Three weeks passed. Still sullenly enraged with him, she would not give
up the knife; and still that fear of sleeping in the same room with her
possessed him. He walked about at night, or dozed in the parlor, or sat
watching by his mother's bedside. Before the expiration of the first
week in the new month his mother died. It wanted then but ten days of
her son's birthday. She had longed to live till that anniversary.
Isaac was present at her death, and her last words in this world were
addressed to him:

"Don't go back, my son, don't go back!" He was obliged to go back, if
it were only to watch his wife. Exasperated to the last degree by his
distrust of her, she had revengefully sought to add a sting to his
grief, during the last days of his mother's illness, by declaring that
she would assert her right to attend the funeral. In spite of any thing
he could do or say, she held with wicked pertinacity to her word, and on
the day appointed for the burial forced herself--inflamed and shameless
with drink--into her husband's presence, and declared that she would
walk in the funeral procession to his mother's grave.

This last worst outrage, accompanied by all that was most insulting in
word and look, maddened him for the moment. He struck her.

The instant the blow was dealt he repented it. She crouched down,
silent, in a corner of the room, and eyed him steadily; it was a look
that cooled his hot blood and made him tremble. But there was no time
now to think of a means of making atonement. Nothing remained but to
risk the worst till the funeral was over. There was but one way of
making sure of her. He locked her into her bedroom.

When he came back some hours after, he found her sitting, very much
altered in look and bearing, by the bedside, with a bundle on her lap.
She rose, and faced him quietly, and spoke with a strange stillness
in her voice, a strange repose in her eyes, a strange composure in her
manner.

"No man has ever struck me twice," she said, "and my husband shall have
no second opportunity. Set the door open and let me go. From this day
forth we see each other no more."

Before he could answer she passed him and left the room. He saw her walk
away up the street.

Would she return?

All that night he watched and waited, but no footstep came near the
house. The next night, overpowered by fatigue, he lay down in bed in
his clothes, with the door locked, the key on the table, and the candle
burning. His slumber was not disturbed. The third night, the fourth, the
fifth, the sixth passed, and nothing happened.

He lay down on the seventh, still in his clothes, still with the door
locked, the key on the table, and the candle burning, but easier in his
mind.

Easier in his mind, and in perfect health of body when he fell off to
sleep. But his rest was disturbed. He woke twice without any sensation
of uneasiness. But the third time it was that never-to-be-forgotten
shivering of the night at the lonely inn, that dreadful sinking pain at
the heart, which once more aroused him in an instant.

His eyes opened toward the left-hand side of the bed, and there
stood--The Dream-Woman again? No! His wife; the living reality, with the
dream-specter's face, in the dream-specter's attitude; the fair arm up,
the knife clasped in the delicate white hand.

He sprang upon her almost at the instant of seeing her, and yet not
quickly enough to prevent her from hiding the knife. Without a word from
him--without a cry from her--he pinioned her in a chair. With one hand
he felt up her sleeve, and there, where the Dream-Woman had hidden the
knife, his wife had hidden it--the knife with the buckhorn handle, that
looked like new.

In the despair of that fearful moment his brain was steady, his heart
was calm. He looked at her fixedly with the knife in his hand, and said
these last words:

"You told me we should see each other no more, and you have come back.
It is my turn now to go, and to go forever. I say that we shall see each
other no more, and my word shall not be broken."

He left her, and set forth into the night. There was a bleak wind
abroad, and the smell of recent rain was in the air. The distant
church-clocks chimed the quarter as he walked rapidly beyond the last
houses in the suburb. He asked the first policeman he met what hour that
was of which the quarter past had just struck.

The man referred sleepily to his watch, and answered, "Two o'clock." Two
in the morning. What day of the month was this day that had just begun?
He reckoned it up from the date of his mother's funeral. The fatal
parallel was complete: it was his birthday!

Had he escaped the mortal peril which his dream foretold? or had he only
received a second warning?

As that ominous doubt forced itself on his mind, he stopped, reflected,
and turned back again toward the city. He was still resolute to hold to
his word, and never to let her see him more; but there was a thought
now in his mind of having her watched and followed. The knife was in
his possession; the world was before him; but a new distrust of her--a
vague, unspeakable, superstitious dread had overcome him.

"I must know where she goes, now she thinks I have left her," he said to
himself, as he stole back wearily to the precincts of his house.

It was still dark. He had left the candle burning in the bedchamber; but
when he looked up to the window of the room now there was no light in
it. He crept cautiously to the house door. On going away, he remembered
to have closed it; on trying it now, he found it open.

He waited outside, never losing sight of the house, till daylight. Then
he ventured indoors--listened, and heard nothing--looked into kitchen,
scullery, parlor and found nothing; went up at last into the bedroom--it
was empty. A picklock lay on the floor betraying how she had gained
entrance in the night, and that was the only trace of her.

Whither had she gone? That no mortal tongue could tell him. The darkness
had covered her flight; and when the day broke, no man could say where
the light found her.

Before leaving the house and the town forever, he gave instructions to
a friend and neighbor to sell his furniture for anything that it would
fetch, and apply the proceeds to employing the police to trace her. The
directions were honestly followed, and the money was all spent, but the
inquiries led to nothing. The picklock on the bedroom floor remained the
one last useless trace of the Dream-Woman.

At this point of the narrative the landlord paused, and, turning toward
the window of the room in which we were sitting, looked in the direction
of the stable-yard.

"So far," he said, "I tell you what was told to me. The little that
remains to be added lies within my own experience. Between two and three
months after the events I have just been relating, Isaac Scatchard came
to me, withered and old-looking before his time, just as you saw him
to-day. He had his testimonials to character with him, and he asked for
employment here. Knowing that my wife and he were distantly related, I
gave him a trial in consideration of that relationship, and liked him in
spite of his queer habits. He is as sober, honest, and willing a man as
there is in England. As for his restlessness at night, and his sleeping
away his leisure time in the day, who can wonder at it after hearing his
story? Besides, he never objects to being roused up when he's wanted, so
there's not much inconvenience to complain of, after all."

"I suppose he is afraid of a return of that dreadful dream, and of
waking out of it in the dark?" said I.

"No," returned the landlord. "The dream comes back to him so often that
he has got to bear with it by this time resignedly enough. It's his wife
keeps him waking at night as he has often told me."

"What! Has she never been heard of yet?"

"Never. Isaac himself has the one perpetual thought about her, that she
is alive and looking for him. I believe he wouldn't let himself drop
off to sleep toward two in the morning for a king's ransom. Two in the
morning, he says, is the time she will find him, one of these days. Two
in the morning is the time all the year round when he likes to be most
certain that he has got that clasp-knife safe about him. He does not
mind being alone as long as he is awake, except on the night before his
birthday, when he firmly believes himself to be in peril of his life.
The birthday has only come round once since he has been here, and then
he sat up along with the night-porter. 'She's looking for me,' is all
he says when anybody speaks to him about the one anxiety of his life;
'she's looking for me.' He may be right. She may be looking for him. Who
can tell?"

"Who can tell?" said I.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Hunting Yesterday: Buying a Paper Book

July 28, 2011

Hunting Yesterday: Buying a Paper Book

Note: this is a fictional episode of an equally fictional future reality show. It takes place in our future (but hopefully, someone’s past). Each week, contestants are given a challenge to do something the way it was done by earlier generations…

“Eighteen teams have come here to face the challenge of their lives…or should I say, of their parents’ lives. Each week, they find out how it used to be…no modern conveniences, no social networks. Will they fail and be “past over”? Or will they succeed in…Hunting Yesterday?”

Previously…on Hunting Yesterday:

The Junior/Senior Senators from Kamchatka were eliminated during our “Crime Never Payphones” challenge, when it was determined that Senator Nichevo had used a SmartPhone to pay for the call. Newly dating  Carol and Pat fought over the popcorn challenge, but narrowly avoided elimination. Tonight, they face off against our remaining teams: Yo and Tho, genetically identical winners of last year’s M&M America; Danh, a boy deathly allergic to plastic, competing via a uniquely designed telepresence robot…his partner? Burnell, a cybernetically enhanced Bernese Mountain Dog. Finally, our leaders: Chloe, a 123-year old combat yoga instructor, and Pippa, her great-great-great-granddaughter…a fifteen year old lawyer raised on a space station.

Which of them will be “past over”, and which of them will succeed in…Hunting Yesterday?

Warhol, the host: “Okay, hunters. We have a very special challenge for you tonight. Are you ready?”

Teams cheer.

Warhol: “Pat and Carol: this may require you to work together as a team. After what we saw in the popcorn challenge, convince me you can do that.”

Pat: “I’d walk through fire to win this game, Warhol.”

Carol: “Or push somebody into it.”

Pat: “I didn’t push you! I told you before, one of the popcorns hit me in the face and I jumped!”

Warhol: “Yo and Tho, you seem to find that pretty funny.”

Tho (or Yo?): “We’re sorry…we just couldn’t help laughing.”

Pippa: “It looked like a push to me.”

Warhol: “What about you, Danh?”

Danh: “I wasn’t looking that way.”

Burnell: “The popcorn smelled good.”

Warhol: “Chloe, you’re quiet.”

Chloe: “I’m just thinking about tonight’s challenge, Warhol.”

Warhol: “Let’s get to it, then. Read any good books lately? Well, tonight you’ll have to find another one. But you won’t be able to download it…or even read it online. In a challenge we call, “You Can’t See the Novels for the Trees”, you need to buy a book the old-fashioned way. You’ll have to find a store that still sells paperbooks, buy one, and bring it back to Time Plaza. The first team back is guaranteed to see tomorrow. The last one, may be eliminated…and for them, it will be “past over”. Any questions?”

Danh: “If we buy it in a store, can it be a real book?”

Warhol: “No, it has to be a book actually printed on paper.”

Pippa: “Does it matter how we pay for it?”

Warhol: “I’m glad you asked. Since you are buying a paperbook, we are giving you paper money. These ‘bills’ add up to fifty dollars. You’ll pay for the books with that.”

Tho (or Yo?): “Cool! We’ve never seen paper money!”

Pat: “They’ve probably never seen a book, either.”

Yo (or Tho?): “Just because we’re identically attractive doesn’t mean we don’t read.”

Carol: “No…being as stupid as you are means you don’t read.”

Yo and Tho together: “We didn’t almost burn each other up with popcorn!”

Warhol: “Remember, you must buy a paperbook in a store. It has to be sold by the store…you can’t just buy it from somebody shopping there. The hunt for yesterday starts…now!”

Pippa: “G-ma, do you think we should look for a bookstore?”

Chloe: “There aren’t any more bookstores, sweetie. Maybe a drugstore.”

Pippa: “What’s a drugstore?”

Chloe: “A grocery store?”

Pippa: “I think the closest one is in Oregon.”

Chloe: “This may be interesting.”

Burnell: “Where are we going?”

Danh: “I don’t know yet. We’re looking for something.”

Burnell: “What does it smell like?”

Danh: “I don’t know.”

Carol: “I saw a Costco outside of town when we had to do that lawn-moaning  thing.”

Pat: “Costcos don’t sell paperbooks!”

Carol: “Your mother told me they used to.”

Pat: “Don’t talk about my mother!”

Yo and Tho: “Let’s go shopping!”

The teams head out in different directions. Pat and Carol quickly get lost, arguing about where the Costco is. Yo and Tho go to the airport. Pippa and Chloe head for the antique district, and Danh and Burnell follow them.

Chloe: “Let’s try these antique stores…they sometimes have old books.”

Pippa: “But which one? There are a hundred of them.”

Danh: “What do you think, Burnell?”

Burnell: “What does it smell like?”

Danh: “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

Burnell: “Something smells funny on you.”

Danh: “What? What is it?”

Burnell: “Warhol gave it. It’s a new smell.”

Danh: “What…the money! That’s it, Burnell! It’s paper! The books are paper! Smell it…do you smell more?”

Burnell: “Oh, wow! I smell it…I smell it…over here! This one, this door, let’s go in here! Let’s go! Let’s go!”

Danh: “Excuse me, sir, do you have any books made out of paper?”

Storekeeper: “I think I do…let’s see…calculator…dial phone…buggy whip…gas can…ah, here we go! It’s a romance.”

Danh: “How much?”

Storekeeper: “It’s not in good shape…five hundred dollars.”

Danh: “I have pay for it with these, and I don’t think I have that much.”

Storekeeper: “Are those real? I’ll take ‘em in trade!”

Danh: “Deal! Good dog, Burnell!”

Burnell: “Woof!”

Danh: “Let’s get back to Warhol.”

Warhol: “Danh and Burnell, you were the first back with a paperbook. The hunt will continue for you…you have earned another tomorrow. Yo and Tho, Chloe and Pippa, you each bought books: you are safe. Pat and Carol, you were unable to find a paperbook in the allotted time. You have been past over.”

Carol: “That’s okay, Pat. We had a great time, and we have some things to work on…”

Warhol: “So you two are going to make a go of it?”

Pat: “We’ll see where it goes from here, but yes, I’m willing to try.”

Carol: “Pat, you are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Next week on Hunting Yesterday…the teams have to type a letter on a typewriter…with a carbon copy.

Clip of Yo and Tho: “We should be naturals at this!”

Clip of Pippa: “I’m purple!”

Clip of Burnell: “Woof!”

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

In honor of Mothers’ Day: Mrs. Tabby Gray

May 8, 2011

 In honor of Mothers’ Day: Mrs. Tabby Gray

This story by Maud Lindsay originally appeared in Mother Stories in 1900.  It is in the public domain in the United States.  It conveys the idea of how a mother’s world revolves around those of her children…although this may not be the kind of mother that first comes to your mind.  It is a tale intended for children…but in a very special way, we are all children on Mothers’ Day.  

===

MRS. TABBY GRAY

MOTTO FOR THE MOTHER
All mother love attracts the child,
Its world-wide tenderness he feels.
And ev’ry beast that loves her young,
His mother’s love to him reveals.”

Mrs. Tabby Gray, with her three little kittens, lived out in the barn where the hay was stored. One of the kittens was white, one was black, and one gray, just like her mother, who was called Tabby Gray from the color of her coat.

These three little kittens opened their eyes when they grew old enough, and thought there was nothing so nice in all this wonderful world as their own dear mother, although she told them of a great many nice things, like milk and bread, which they should have when they could go up to the big house where she had her breakfast, dinner, and supper.

Every time Mother Tabby came from the big house she had something pleasant to tell. “Bones for dinner to-day, my dears,” she would say, or “I had a fine romp with a ball and the baby,” until the kittens longed for the time when they could go too.

One day, however, Mother Cat walked in with joyful news.

“I have found an elegant new home for you,” she said, “in a very large trunk where some old clothes are kept; and I think I had better move at once.”

Then she picked up the small black kitten, without any more words, and walked right out of the barn with him.

The black kitten was astonished, but he blinked his eyes at the bright sunshine, and tried to see everything.

Out in the barnyard there was a great noise, for the white hen had laid an egg, and wanted everybody to know it; but Mother Cat hurried on, without stopping to inquire about it, and soon dropped the kitten into the large trunk. The clothes made such a soft, comfortable bed, and the kitten was so tired after his exciting trip, that he fell asleep, and Mrs. Tabby trotted off for another baby.

While she was away, the lady who owned the trunk came out in the hall; and when she saw that the trunk was open, she shut it, locked it, and put the key in her pocket, for she did not dream that there was anything so precious as a kitten inside.

As soon as the lady had gone upstairs Mrs. Tabby Gray came back, with the little white kitten; and when she found the trunk closed, she was terribly frightened. She put the white kitten down and sprang on top of the trunk and scratched with all her might, but scratching did no good. Then she jumped down and reached up to the keyhole, but that was too small for even a mouse to pass through, and the poor mother mewed pitifully.

What was she to do? She picked up the white kitten, and ran to the barn with it. Then she made haste to the house again, and went upstairs to the lady’s room. The lady was playing with her baby and when Mother Cat saw this she rubbed against her skirts, and cried: “Mee-ow, mee-ow! You have your baby, and I want mine! Mee-ow, mee-ow!”

By and by the lady said: “Poor Kitty! she must be hungry”; and she went down to the kitchen and poured sweet milk in a saucer, but the cat did not want milk. She wanted her baby kitten out of the big black trunk, and she mewed as plainly as she could: “Give me my baby—give me my baby, out of your big black trunk!”

The kind lady decided that she must be thirsty: “Poor Kitty, I will give you water”; but when she set the bowl of water down Mrs. Tabby Gray mewed more sorrowfully than before. She wanted no water,—she only wanted her dear baby kitten; and she ran to and fro, crying, until, at last, the lady followed her; and she led the way to the trunk.

“What can be the matter with this cat?” said the lady; and she took the trunk key out of her pocket, put it in the lock, unlocked the trunk, raised the top—and in jumped Mother Cat with such a bound that the little black kitten waked up with a start.

The lady followed her; and she led the way to the trunk.

The lady followed her; and she led the way to the trunk.

“Purr, purr, my darling child,” said Mrs. Tabby Gray, in great excitement; “I have had a dreadful fright!” and before the black kitten could ask one question she picked him up and started for the barn.

The sun was bright in the barnyard and the hens were still chattering there; but the black kitten was glad to get back to the barn. His mother was glad, too; for, as she nestled down in the hay with her three little kittens, she told them that a barn was the best place after all to raise children.

And she never afterwards changed her mind.

===


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