Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

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.

===

A Trip to The Bookstore

February 20, 2011

A Trip to The Bookstore

Grandpa: Okay, kids, here we are…The Bookstore.

Watson (a six-year old boy): Yay!  We’re at the bookstore!  What’s a bookstore, Grandpa?

StefJo (a nine-year old girl): It’s a site where they sell books, BeeSOD.

Grandpa: We don’t call them sites when we are there in person, StefJo…we call them stores.  And don’t call your brother names. 

StefJo: Yes, Grandpa.

Salesclerk: Hi, can I help you folks find something?

(Watson starts crying and hides behind Grandpa)

StefJo (whispering): Grandpa, why is that man talking to us?  We don’t know him.

Grandpa (whispering): It’s okay, StefJo…he works for the store.  You just say, “No thank you, we’re just looking.”

StefJo: No thank you, we’re just looking.

Salesclerk: Well, if you folks want anything, just let me know.  (leaves)

StefJo: I don’t understand, Grandpa.  Why would a stranger talk to us like that?

Grandpa: Well, the store would pay them to do that.  That way, he can help us find some books to buy.

StefJo: Why can’t we find them ourselves? 

Grandpa: We can…but this is a big place, we might need help.

StefJo: Can’t we just do a search?

Grandpa: There might be a computer around here some place–

Watson: I have a phone!

Grandpa: I know you do, Byte-Byte.  That won’t help us here, though.  Your phone won’t know which books are where.

StefJo: What do you mean?  Don’t they bring us the books?

Grandpa: No, we walk around the store and look.  See those signs?  They tell us what kind of books are where.  We just need to find the Children’s section.

Watson: Carry me!

Grandpa: Hop up here, Sport.  I think I see the children’s books over there.

(Grandpa carries Watson over to the children’s books section.  StefJo walks up to a shelf of Young Adult books.)

StefJo: Look, Grandpa, they have Nancy Drew!  (She touches the picture on the spine of the book.  She rubs her fingers up and down the spine.)  Grandpa, I can’t get it to open.

Grandpa: You have to take it off the shelf first.  Just get one finger on the top, like this, and you can tilt it towards you and pull it off.  Okay, there’s a comfortable chair…why don’t you sit there and read?  I’m going to help your brother find a book.

StefJo: Sure, Grandpa.

(Grandpa takes Watson to an area with picture books.  He pulls out a copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and starts Watson looking at the book)

StefJo: Grandpa!

Grandpa: What is it, Princess?

StefJo: I got the book open, but it isn’t in English.  How do I change it?

Grandpa: It’s not?  Oh, I see, you have the book upside down.

StefJo: Oh.

Grandpa: Were you reading this book before we came here?

StefJo: No, why?

Grandpa: Well, you’re in the middle of the book.

StefJo: I didn’t know how to make it go to the beginning.

Grandpa: You just start over here on this side.  Then, as you finish reading a page, you turn to the next one…like this.

StefJo: Thanks, Grandpa.  Are these numbers the percentages?  This is short!

Grandpa: No, those are page numbers.  See?  Every time you turn the page, the number gets higher.

StefJo: But I tried and the number was like ten higher!

Grandpa: You must have turned too many pages.  You have to be careful just to get one of them.

StefJo: That’s hard!

Grandpa: You’ll get used to it.

StefJo: Oops!  The page has a big line on it!

Grandpa: Let me see that…oh, it looks like you tore the page!

StefJo: I’m sorry, Grandpa. 

Grandpa: Oh, that’s okay, that happens.  We’ll just have to buy this one.  We can tape it up when we get home.

StefJo: What’s tape?

Grandpa: I think they sell it here.  You use it to stick two pieces of paper together.

StefJo: What’s paper?

Grandpa: That’s what the pages are made of.  If we tape it together, it won’t tear any more.

StefJo: Why don’t they just make the whole book out of tape, then?

Grandpa: That’s a good question, Stef.  Let’s go see how your brother is doing.  Hey, Byte-Byte…where is the book?

Watson: I deleted it.

Grandpa: You deleted…what do you mean?

Watson: I got done, so I threw it away.

Grandpa: Why did you do that?  Why didn’t you put it back on the shelf?

Watson: I didn’t like it.  It didn’t sing to me like at home.

Grandpa: Where did you throw it away?

Watson (starting to cry again): Over there!

(Grandpa fishes the book out of a garbage can)

Grandpa: Well, we’re lucky they have old-fashioned garbage cans here, too, and not recyclatrons.  We’ll just have to buy this one, too.

Watson: I don’t want it!  I don’t want it! (crying and screaming)

Grandpa: Watson!  Calm down!

StefJo: Couldn’t we just put it back on the shelf?  It looks okay.

Grandpa: Yes, you’re right.  It’s okay, Sport, it’s okay!  You don’t have to have the book.

StefJo: Grandpa, look out!  It’s that man again!  We’re just looking, we’re just looking!

Salesclerk: Everything okay here, folks?

Grandpa: Yes, yes.  I’m afraid there was a little misunderstanding, and my grandson here threw this book in the garbage.  I’d be happy to pay for it…

Salesclerk: Don’t worry about it…happens all the time.  I’ve seen kids do a lot worse things to books.  We’ll just put it back right here, and someone else can buy it.

StefJo (whispering): Are all the books dirty like that?

Grandpa (whispering): It’s not dirty, but you never know what someone else has done with a book you buy.

StefJo: Ew!

Grandpa: Unfortunately, we did damage this one…I insist on buying it.

Salesclerk: That’s fine, then.  Come right over here to the check-out.  That one is one hundred dollars.

Grandpa: That’s more than what we paid for our admission tickets to this place.

StefJo: I’m sorry, Grandpa.

Grandpa: Oh, that’s okay, Princess.  It’s fun for Grandpa to buy a book like in the old days.

StefJo: Will you carry it for me?  It’s heavy.

Grandpa: Sure, Princess.

StefJO: Where are we going next?

Grandpa: To The Pet Store.  I understand they have some real live dogs and cats.

StefJo: You mean alive alive?

Grandpa: I think so.

StefJo: That’s scary!  I don’t think Watson would like that.

Grandpa: Yes, you’re a smart girl.  I can see how that might scare him.  You are much braver, aren’t you?

(StefJo gives a shy smile)

Grandpa: Where would you like to go, Sport?

Watson: I wanna eat. 

Grandpa: We can go to The Food Court.  They have some amazing things there!

StefJo: Do they have broccoli?  I like broccoli.

Grandpa: Wouldn’t you like to try something from when your parents were kids?  I’ll bet they’ll have a Happy Meal!  Doesn’t that sound good?

StefJo: I guess so.  People aren’t going to talk to us there, right?

Grandpa: Well, there is usually somebody behind the counter who takes our orders.  But they won’t come to the table.

Watson (looking confused): What’s a table?

Grandpa: I’ll show you when we get there.  It’s a place where we all sit down together and talk to each other.

StefJo: The olden days sure were hard, Grandpa. 

Grandpa: I guess they were in some ways, Princess.  But you know what was always the same?

StefJo: What’s that?

Grandpa: There were always grandpas who loved their grandkids very much.

Watson: I love you, Grandpa!

Grandpa: I love you too, Sport!  Let’s go get some fries…and later on, I’ll show you a car!

(The three of them start to leave The Bookstore together, Grandpa holding StefJo’s hand, StefJo holding Watson’s hand.  In Grandpa’s other hand is a bag, and in it is a book.)

Grandpa: You kids wait here for a minute…play with your phones.

(Grandpa walks over to the salesclerk who is a dusting off some books)

Grandpa: Sir?  Would you mind very much if I gave you this back?

Salesclerk: I’m afraid I can’t give you a refund…you said it was damaged.

Grandpa: I don’t want a refund.  You can just put it back on the shelf.  I was thinking about it…I don’t think their parents are going to want me to bring it home: they wouldn’t have any place to put it.  I think it belongs here, where other kids can see it.

Salesclerk: But what about your granddaughter?  Didn’t you buy it for her?

Grandpa: Don’t worry about it…she won’t even miss it.

Salesclerk: As you wish, sir.  Thank you for shopping with The Bookstore.  We’ll look forward to seeing you again.

Grandpa: Maybe when the kids are older…I think they’ll appreciate the history of it more.  Think you’ll still be around in five years?

Salesclerk: Why certainly, sir.  We’ve been doing business the same way for over one hundred years.  Now that we are entirely government supported, there’s no reason we can’t keep doing it for the next hundred.

Grandpa: See you in five years, then.

(Grandpa walks back towards the kids, but stops a meter away.  Neither child looks up.  They haven’t noticed him yet.  Watson is shaking his phone wildly with his eyes closed, playing some kind of game with tactile feedback or a machine-brain interface.  StefJo sits quietly, reading as the pages turn automatically for her.  Grandpa remembers back to lying under a blanket reading with a flashlight, or sitting under a tree with a book.  He recognizes that look on her face…she’s wherever the book has taken her…Mars, Oz, Fairlyland…or a time long ago when people did things in strange ways.  He knows that look, and he smiles.  Some things never change.)

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

A Missouri Humorist’s Internet Report

January 7, 2011

A Missouri Humorist’s Internet Report

This is about a trip I had, thanks to my friend, Tom Edison.

He may not be the first Tom you think of when you think of Mark Twain.  But what I needed was more likely to be found in New Jersey than Mississippi.

Tom was in his workshop when I got there, still trying to make a machine to talk to dead folks.  I never could see the sense of that: anyone who’s heard the mess most people make of it when talking while alive can’t have much interest in an encore.

I was on my way to London to give a talk about my autobiography.  I think that was just them hoping to get into the book…they probably figured the lecture would get its own chapter.  I had some business there, and since my expenses were covered, I said yes.

I didn’t feel quite right telling a story before I had seen the end of it, so I asked Tom to give me a look at how my life turned out.

He took to the challenge like TR takes to a hunt.  It wasn’t long before I was in the sitting room of a family in 2010.

I asked a young fellow there if he knew my name, and he knew them both.  He showed me my picture on a telephone smaller than my hand.  When I said Tom Edison’s name, he showed me a film of Frankenstein that I knew Tom was making.  I asked him how he paid for it, and he said didn’t have to pay.

Copyright had not made the progress I hoped.

I asked him to show me the most modern thing he had.  He got excited and took me out in the street, where he showed me an electric automobile.  I didn’t see the reason for the fuss: electric cars were common in my day.  Not being a preacher, though, I didn’t think it was my job to make him less excited about something.

While we were talking, he got telegrams on his phone.  He showed them to me.  It seems at this time they have got hold of Daniel Webster’s idea of making spelling easier and carried it a good deal down the road.  “R U L8″ was their way of asking if someone would arrive on time.

I thought that might be because they were being charged by the letter.  He told me they were free, but he paid twenty-five dollars a month for the privilege.

For twenty-five dollars a month, I’d be inclined to use as many letters as I could.

He showed me the news.  There was a lot of talking and not a lot of thinking, some things don’t change.  It was all what you might expect, politicians telling you why the other fellow is going to ruin the country, and the latest Morris Incident.

I didn’t have much of a finish for my lecture, until he pulled out a thing about the size of a cigar box and as flat as a flounder.  He had my autobiography.  When he told me he had paid nearly ten dollars for it, I was satisfied.

I thanked him for his time.

Back in New Jersey, I didn’t tell Tom books were bought and films were free.

I did offer to buy a stake in Edison General Electric.  Tom asked if I would prefer to put money into his ghost box, and how he reckoned it could be working in another ten years.  I said as how I thought a telephone that got wireless telegrams might be a good idea.  He told me that people would talk on wireless telephones, but weren’t likely to be reading in the future.

I told him he was wrong, and left in time to catch my ship.  When I gave my talk, I now knew how it would finish, with an electrical book costing ten dollars.

===

This piece was inspired by a comment made in this Amazon Kindle community thread.  The question was raised by SueEllen as to what Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison would think if they were to see the modern world.  I replied that they were living in a time when they thought anything might happen in the future.

I think there is an egotistical desire to assume that people from more “primitive”  times would be confused, frightened, and uncomprehending of our modern technology.

I knew Mark Twain was one person who wouldn’t be.  He had even considered the possibility of books being delivered electrically.  He was quite into the technology of his day. 

I’ve also recently read his autobiography (well, I haven’t finished all of the notes), and it was brilliant.  That helped inspire me as well.

I like writing in other author’s voices.  This was the most challenging one, and I’m not sure I’ve achieved it.  I had noticed some things about his writing in that book (I had read others of Twain’s, of course, but I wanted to match his voice, not his characters).  One odd thing: he generally doesn’t use adjective/noun combinations…and he recommends to someone else to remove adjectives from a new story.

Twain has a distinctive voice, but it seems to me that one of the main thing is that it is very, very simple.  While I do speak in a “high-faluting” manner in the perception of some, I’m sure, I do write more formally than I speak.  I try to colloquialize it sometimes to make a point, but Twain was quite right that it is a temptation to write in an intellectual manner. 

While I think I’ve hit the right note a few times, there are other parts of this piece that still don’t strike me as Twainish enough.  :)  Thomas Edison and Mark Twain did know each other.  Edison did supposedly work on a machine to talk to the dead, but not until after Twain’s death.  Edison did make a movie of Frankenstein, and you can see it for free online.  TR is Teddy Roosevelt, and Twain did comment about him.  Electric cars were actually old-fashioned by 1910, which is roughly when Twain visits Edison in this piece.  Twain would die later that year…which is why we got his autobiography in 2010: he wanted it published 100 years after his death, so he could write more freely about people without offending them or their children.

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

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!  This work by Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) originally appeared in 1881 in St. Nicholas Magazine, and then in book form in 1882, and is in the public domain in the USA. 

AN OLD-FASHIONED THANKSGIVING

Sixty years ago, up among the New Hampshire hills, lived Farmer Bassett, with a house full of sturdy sons and daughters growing up about him. They were poor in money, but rich in land and love, for the wide acres of wood, corn, and pasture land fed, warmed, and clothed the flock, while mutual patience, affection, and courage made the old farm-house a very happy home.

November had come; the crops were in, and barn, buttery, and bin were overflowing with the harvest that rewarded the summer’s hard work. The big kitchen was a jolly place just now, for in the great fireplace roared a cheerful fire; on the walls hung garlands of dried apples, onions, and corn; up aloft from the beams shone crook-necked squashes, juicy hams, and dried venison—for in those days deer still haunted the deep forests, and hunters flourished. Savory smells were in the air; on the crane hung[Pg 8] steaming kettles, and down among the red embers copper sauce-pans simmered, all suggestive of some approaching feast.

A white-headed baby lay in the old blue cradle that had rocked seven other babies, now and then lifting his head to look out, like a round, full moon, then subsided to kick and crow contentedly, and suck the rosy apple he had no teeth to bite. Two small boys sat on the wooden settle shelling corn for popping, and picking out the biggest nuts from the goodly store their own hands had gathered in October. Four young girls stood at the long dresser, busily chopping meat, pounding spice, and slicing apples; and the tongues of Tilly, Prue, Roxy, and Rhody went as fast as their hands. Farmer Bassett, and Eph, the oldest boy, were “chorin’ ’round” outside, for Thanksgiving was at hand, and all must be in order for that time-honored day.

To and fro, from table to hearth, bustled buxom Mrs. Bassett, flushed and floury, but busy and blithe as the queen bee of this busy little hive should be.

“I do like to begin seasonable and have things to my mind. Thanksgivin’ dinners can’t be drove, and it does take a sight of victuals to fill all these hungry stomicks,” said the good woman, as she gave a vigorous stir to the great kettle of cider apple-sauce, and cast a glance of housewifely pride at the fine array of pies set forth on the buttery shelves.

[Pg 9] “Only one more day and then it will be time to eat. I didn’t take but one bowl of hasty pudding this morning, so I shall have plenty of room when the nice things come,” confided Seth to Sol, as he cracked a large hazel-nut as easily as a squirrel.

“No need of my starvin’ beforehand. I always have room enough, and I’d like to have Thanksgiving every day,” answered Solomon, gloating like a young ogre over the little pig that lay near by, ready for roasting.

“Sakes alive, I don’t, boys! It’s a marcy it don’t come but once a year. I should be worn to a thread-paper with all this extra work atop of my winter weavin’ and spinnin’,” laughed their mother, as she plunged her plump arms into the long bread-trough and began to knead the dough as if a famine was at hand.

Tilly, the oldest girl, a red-cheeked, black-eyed lass of fourteen, was grinding briskly at the mortar, for spices were costly, and not a grain must be wasted. Prue kept time with the chopper, and the twins sliced away at the apples till their little brown arms ached, for all knew how to work, and did so now with a will.

“I think it’s real fun to have Thanksgiving at home. I’m sorry Gran’ma is sick, so we can’t go there as usual, but I like to mess ’round here, don’t you, girls?” asked Tilly, pausing to take a sniff at the spicy pestle.

[Pg 10] “It will be kind of lonesome with only our own folks.” “I like to see all the cousins and aunts, and have games, and sing,” cried the twins, who were regular little romps, and could run, swim, coast and shout as well as their brothers.

“I don’t care a mite for all that. It will be so nice to eat dinner together, warm and comfortable at home,” said quiet Prue, who loved her own cozy nooks like a cat.

“Come, girls, fly ’round and get your chores done, so we can clear away for dinner jest as soon as I clap my bread into the oven,” called Mrs. Bassett presently, as she rounded off the last loaf of brown bread which was to feed the hungry mouths that seldom tasted any other.

“Here’s a man comin’ up the hill, lively!” “Guess it’s Gad Hopkins. Pa told him to bring a dezzen oranges, if they warn’t too high!” shouted Sol and Seth, running to the door, while the girls smacked their lips at the thought of this rare treat, and Baby threw his apple overboard, as if getting ready for a new cargo.

But all were doomed to disappointment, for it was not Gad, with the much-desired fruit. It was a stranger, who threw himself off his horse and hurried up to Mr. Bassett in the yard, with some brief message that made the farmer drop his ax and look so sober that his wife guessed at once some bad[Pg 11] news had come; and crying, “Mother’s wuss! I know she is!” out ran the good woman, forgetful of the flour on her arms and the oven waiting for its most important batch.

The man said old Mr. Chadwick, down to Keene, stopped him as he passed, and told him to tell Mrs. Bassett her mother was failin’ fast, and she’d better come to-day. He knew no more, and having delivered his errand he rode away, saying it looked like snow and he must be jogging, or he wouldn’t get home till night.

“We must go right off, Eldad. Hitch up, and I’ll be ready in less’n no time,” said Mrs. Bassett, wasting not a minute in tears and lamentations, but pulling off her apron as she went in, with her mind in a sad jumble of bread, anxiety, turkey, sorrow, haste, and cider apple-sauce.

A few words told the story, and the children left their work to help her get ready, mingling their grief for “Gran’ma” with regrets for the lost dinner.

“I’m dreadful sorry, dears, but it can’t be helped. I couldn’t cook nor eat no way, now, and if that blessed woman gets better sudden, as she has before, we’ll have cause for thanksgivin’, and I’ll give you a dinner you won’t forget in a hurry,” said Mrs. Bassett, as she tied on her brown silk pumpkin-hood, with a sob for the good old mother who had made it for her.

[Pg 12] Not a child complained after that, but ran about helpfully, bringing moccasins, heating the footstone, and getting ready for a long drive, because Gran’ma lived twenty miles away, and there were no railroads in those parts to whisk people to and fro like magic. By the time the old yellow sleigh was at the door, the bread was in the oven, and Mrs. Bassett was waiting, with her camlet cloak on, and the baby done up like a small bale of blankets.

“Now, Eph, you must look after the cattle like a man, and keep up the fires, for there’s a storm brewin’, and neither the children nor dumb critters must suffer,” said Mr. Bassett, as he turned up the collar of his rough coat and put on his blue mittens, while the old mare shook her bells as if she preferred a trip to Keene to hauling wood all day.

“Tilly, put extry comfortables on the beds to-night, the wind is so searchin’ up chamber. Have the baked beans and Injun-puddin’ for dinner, and whatever you do, don’t let the boys git at the mince-pies, or you’ll have them down sick. I shall come back the minute I can leave Mother. Pa will come to-morrer, anyway, so keep snug and be good. I depend on you, my darter; use your jedgment, and don’t let nothin’ happen while Mother’s away.”

“Yes’m, yes’m—good-bye, good-bye!” called the children, as Mrs. Bassett was packed into the sleigh and driven away, leaving a stream of directions behind her.

[Pg 13] Eph, the sixteen-year-old boy, immediately put on his biggest boots, assumed a sober, responsible manner, and surveyed his little responsibilities with a paternal air, drolly like his father’s. Tilly tied on her mother’s bunch of keys, rolled up the sleeves of her homespun gown, and began to order about the younger girls. They soon forgot poor Granny, and found it great fun to keep house all alone, for Mother seldom left home, but ruled her family in the good old-fashioned way. There were no servants, for the little daughters were Mrs. Bassett’s only maids, and the stout boys helped their father, all working happily together with no wages but love; learning in the best manner the use of the heads and hands with which they were to make their own way in the world.

The few flakes that caused the farmer to predict bad weather soon increased to a regular snow-storm, with gusts of wind, for up among the hills winter came early and lingered long. But the children were busy, gay, and warm in-doors, and never minded the rising gale nor the whirling white storm outside.

Tilly got them a good dinner, and when it was over the two elder girls went to their spinning, for in the kitchen stood the big and little wheels, and baskets of wool-rolls, ready to be twisted into yarn for the winter’s knitting, and each day brought its stint of work to the daughters, who hoped to be as thrifty as their mother.

[Pg 14] Eph kept up a glorious fire, and superintended the small boys, who popped corn and whittled boats on the hearth; while Roxy and Rhody dressed corn-cob dolls in the settle corner, and Bose, the brindled mastiff, lay on the braided mat, luxuriously warming his old legs. Thus employed, they made a pretty picture, these rosy boys and girls, in their homespun suits, with the rustic toys or tasks which most children nowadays would find very poor or tiresome.

Tilly and Prue sang, as they stepped to and fro, drawing out the smoothly twisted threads to the musical hum of the great spinning-wheels. The little girls chattered like magpies over their dolls and the new bed-spread they were planning to make, all white dimity stars on a blue calico ground, as a Christmas present to Ma. The boys roared at Eph’s jokes, and had rough and tumble games over Bose, who didn’t mind them in the least; and so the afternoon wore pleasantly away.

At sunset the boys went out to feed the cattle, bring in heaps of wood, and lock up for the night, as the lonely farm-house seldom had visitors after dark. The girls got the simple supper of brown bread and milk, baked apples, and a doughnut all ’round as a treat. Then they sat before the fire, the sisters knitting, the brothers with books or games, for Eph loved reading, and Sol and Seth never failed to play[Pg 15] a few games of Morris with barley corns, on the little board they had made themselves at one corner of the dresser.

“Read out a piece,” said Tilly, from Mother’s chair, where she sat in state, finishing off the sixth woolen sock she had knit that month.

“It’s the old history book, but here’s a bit you may like, since it’s about our folks,” answered Eph, turning the yellow page to look at a picture of two quaintly dressed children in some ancient castle.

“Yes, read that. I always like to hear about the Lady Matildy I was named for, and Lord Bassett, Pa’s great-great-great-grandpa. He’s only a farmer now, but it’s nice to know that we were somebody two or three hundred years ago,” said Tilly, bridling and tossing her curly head as she fancied the Lady Matilda might have done.

“Don’t read the queer words, ’cause we don’t understand ‘em. Tell it,” commanded Roxy, from the cradle, where she was drowsily cuddled with Rhody.

“Well, a long time ago, when Charles the First was in prison, Lord Bassett was a true friend to him,” began Eph, plunging into his story without delay. “The lord had some papers that would have hung a lot of people if the king’s enemies got hold of ‘em, so when he heard one day, all of a sudden,[Pg 16] that soldiers were at the castle-gate to carry him off, he had just time to call his girl to him, and say: ‘I may be going to my death, but I won’t betray my master. There is no time to burn the papers, and I can not take them with me; they are hidden in the old leathern chair where I sit. No one knows this but you, and you must guard them till I come or send you a safe messenger to take them away. Promise me to be brave and silent, and I can go without fear.’ You see, he wasn’t afraid to die, but he was to seem a traitor. Lady Matildy promised solemnly, and the words were hardly out of her mouth when the men came in, and her father was carried away a prisoner and sent off to the Tower.

“But she didn’t cry; she just called her brother, and sat down in that chair, with her head leaning back on those papers, like a queen, and waited while the soldiers hunted the house over for ‘em: wasn’t that a smart girl?” cried Tilly, beaming with pride, for she was named for this ancestress, and knew the story by heart.

“I reckon she was scared, though, when the men came swearin’ in and asked her if she knew anything about it. The boy did his part then, for he didn’t know, and fired up and stood before his sister; and he says, says he, as bold as a lion: ‘If my lord had told us where the papers be, we would die before we would betray him. But we are children and know[Pg 17] nothing, and it is cowardly of you to try to fright us with oaths and drawn swords!'”

As Eph quoted from the book, Seth planted himself before Tilly, with the long poker in his hand, saying, as he flourished it valiantly:

“Why didn’t the boy take his father’s sword and lay about him? I would, if any one was ha’sh to Tilly.”

“You bantam! He was only a bit of a boy, and couldn’t do anything. Sit down and hear the rest of it,” commanded Tilly, with a pat on the yellow head, and a private resolve that Seth should have the largest piece of pie at dinner next day, as reward for his chivalry.

“Well, the men went off after turning the castle out of window, but they said they should come again; so faithful Matildy was full of trouble, and hardly dared to leave the room where the chair stood. All day she sat there, and at night her sleep was so full of fear about it, that she often got up and went to see that all was safe. The servants thought the fright had hurt her wits, and let her be, but Rupert, the boy, stood by her and never was afraid of her queer ways. She was ‘a pious maid,’ the book says, and often spent the long evenings reading the Bible, with her brother by her, all alone in the great room, with no one to help her bear her secret, and no good news of her father. At last, word came that the[Pg 18] king was dead and his friends banished out of England. Then the poor children were in a sad plight, for they had no mother, and the servants all ran away, leaving only one faithful old man to help them.”

“But the father did come?” cried Roxy, eagerly.

“You’ll see,” continued Eph, half telling, half reading.

“Matilda was sure he would, so she sat on in the big chair, guarding the papers, and no one could get her away, till one day a man came with her father’s ring and told her to give up the secret. She knew the ring, but would not tell until she had asked many questions, so as to be very sure, and while the man answered all about her father and the king, she looked at him sharply. Then she stood up and said, in a tremble, for there was something strange about the man: ‘Sir, I doubt you in spite of the ring, and I will not answer till you pull off the false beard you wear, that I may see your face and know if you are my father’s friend or foe.’ Off came the disguise, and Matilda found it was my lord himself, come to take them with him out of England. He was very proud of that faithful girl, I guess, for the old chair still stands in the castle, and the name keeps in the family, Pa says, even over here, where some of the Bassetts came along with the Pilgrims.”

“Our Tilly would have been as brave, I know, and[Pg 19] she looks like the old picter down to Grandma’s, don’t she, Eph?” cried Prue, who admired her bold, bright sister very much.

“Well, I think you’d do the settin’ part best, Prue, you are so patient. Till would fight like a wild cat, but she can’t hold her tongue worth a cent,” answered Eph; whereat Tilly pulled his hair, and the story ended with a general frolic.

When the moon-faced clock behind the door struck nine, Tilly tucked up the children under the “extry comfortables,” and having kissed them all around, as Mother did, crept into her own nest, never minding the little drifts of snow that sifted in upon her coverlet between the shingles of the roof, nor the storm that raged without.

As if he felt the need of unusual vigilance, old Bose lay down on the mat before the door, and pussy had the warm hearth all to herself. If any late wanderer had looked in at midnight, he would have seen the fire blazing up again, and in the cheerful glow the old cat blinking her yellow eyes, as she sat bolt upright beside the spinning-wheel, like some sort of household goblin, guarding the children while they slept.

When they woke, like early birds, it still snowed, but up the little Bassetts jumped, broke the ice in their pitchers, and went down with cheeks glowing like winter apples, after a brisk scrub and scramble[Pg 20] into their clothes. Eph was off to the barn, and Tilly soon had a great kettle of mush ready, which, with milk warm from the cows, made a wholesome breakfast for the seven hearty children.

“Now about dinner,” said the young housekeeper, as the pewter spoons stopped clattering, and the earthen bowls stood empty.

“Ma said, have what we liked, but she didn’t expect us to have a real Thanksgiving dinner, because she won’t be here to cook it, and we don’t know how,” began Prue, doubtfully.

“I can roast a turkey and make a pudding as well as anybody, I guess. The pies are all ready, and if we can’t boil vegetables and so on, we don’t deserve any dinner,” cried Tilly, burning to distinguish herself, and bound to enjoy to the utmost her brief authority.

“Yes, yes!” cried all the boys, “let’s have a dinner anyway; Ma won’t care, and the good victuals will spoil if they ain’t eaten right up.”

“Pa is coming to-night, so we won’t have dinner till late; that will be real genteel and give us plenty of time,” added Tilly, suddenly realizing the novelty of the task she had undertaken.

“Did you ever roast a turkey?” asked Roxy, with an air of deep interest.

“Should you darst to try?” said Rhody, in an awe-stricken tone.

[Pg 21] “You will see what I can do. Ma said I was to use my jedgment about things, and I’m going to. All you children have got to do is to keep out of the way, and let Prue and me work. Eph, I wish you’d put a fire in the best room, so the little ones can play in there. We shall want the settin’-room for the table, and I won’t have ‘em pickin’ ’round when we get things fixed,” commanded Tilly, bound to make her short reign a brilliant one.

“I don’t know about that. Ma didn’t tell us to,” began cautious Eph, who felt that this invasion of the sacred best parlor was a daring step.

“Don’t we always do it Sundays and Thanksgivings? Wouldn’t Ma wish the children kept safe and warm anyhow? Can I get up a nice dinner with four rascals under my feet all the time? Come, now, if you want roast turkey and onions, plum-puddin’ and mince-pie, you’ll have to do as I tell you, and be lively about it.”

Tilly spoke with such spirit, and her last suggestion was so irresistible, that Eph gave in, and, laughing good-naturedly, tramped away to heat up the best room, devoutly hoping that nothing serious would happen to punish such audacity.

The young folks delightedly trooped in to destroy the order of that prim apartment with housekeeping under the black horse-hair sofa, “horseback riders” on the arms of the best rocking-chair, and[Pg 22] an Indian war-dance all over the well-waxed furniture. Eph, finding the society of the peaceful sheep and cows more to his mind than that of two excited sisters, lingered over his chores in the barn as long as possible, and left the girls in peace.

Now Tilly and Prue were in their glory, and as soon as the breakfast things were out of the way, they prepared for a grand cooking-time. They were handy girls, though they had never heard of a cooking-school, never touched a piano, and knew nothing of embroidery beyond the samplers which hung framed in the parlor; one ornamented with a pink mourner under a blue weeping-willow, the other with this pleasing verse, each word being done in a different color, which gave the effect of a distracted rainbow:

“This sampler neat was worked by me,
 In my twelfth year, Prudence B.”

Both rolled up their sleeves, put on their largest aprons, and got out all the spoons, dishes, pots, and pans they could find, “so as to have everything handy,” as Prue said.

“Now, sister, we’ll have dinner at five; Pa will be here by that time if he is coming to-night, and be so surprised to find us all ready, for he won’t have had any very nice victuals if Gran’ma is so sick,” said Tilly importantly. “I shall give the children a piece at noon” (Tilly meant luncheon); “doughnuts and[Pg 23] cheese, with apple-pie and cider will please ‘em. There’s beans for Eph; he likes cold pork, so we won’t stop to warm it up, for there’s lots to do, and I don’t mind saying to you I’m dreadful dubersome about the turkey.”

“It’s all ready but the stuffing, and roasting is as easy as can be. I can baste first rate. Ma always likes to have me, I’m so patient and stiddy, she says,” answered Prue, for the responsibility of this great undertaking did not rest upon her, so she took a cheerful view of things.

“I know, but it’s the stuffin’ that troubles me,” said Tilly, rubbing her round elbows as she eyed the immense fowl laid out on a platter before her. “I don’t know how much I want, nor what sort of yarbs to put in, and he’s so awful big, I’m kind of afraid of him.”

“I ain’t! I fed him all summer, and he never gobbled at me. I feel real mean to be thinking of gobbling him, poor old chap,” laughed Prue, patting her departed pet with an air of mingled affection and appetite.

“Well, I’ll get the puddin’ off my mind fust, for it ought to bile all day. Put the big kettle on, and see that the spit is clean, while I get ready.”

Prue obediently tugged away at the crane, with its black hooks, from which hung the iron tea-kettle and three-legged pot; then she settled the long spit in the[Pg 24] grooves made for it in the tall andirons, and put the dripping-pan underneath, for in those days meat was roasted as it should be, not baked in ovens.

Meantime Tilly attacked the plum-pudding. She felt pretty sure of coming out right, here, for she had seen her mother do it so many times, it looked very easy. So in went suet and fruit; all sorts of spice, to be sure she got the right ones, and brandy instead of wine. But she forgot both sugar and salt, and tied it in the cloth so tightly that it had no room to swell, so it would come out as heavy as lead and as hard as a cannon-ball, if the bag did not burst and spoil it all. Happily unconscious of these mistakes, Tilly popped it into the pot, and proudly watched it bobbing about before she put the cover on and left it to its fate.

“I can’t remember what flavorin’ Ma puts in,” she said, when she had got her bread well soaked for the stuffing. “Sage and onions and apple-sauce go with goose, but I can’t feel sure of anything but pepper and salt for a turkey.”

“Ma puts in some kind of mint, I know, but I forget whether it is spearmint, peppermint, or penny-royal,” answered Prue, in a tone of doubt, but trying to show her knowledge of “yarbs,” or, at least, of their names.

“Seems to me it’s sweet marjoram or summer savory. I guess we’ll put both in, and then we are[Pg 25] sure to be right. The best is up garret; you run and get some, while I mash the bread,” commanded Tilly, diving into the mess.

Away trotted Prue, but in her haste she got catnip and wormwood, for the garret was darkish, and Prue’s little nose was so full of the smell of the onions she had been peeling, that everything smelt of them. Eager to be of use, she pounded up the herbs and scattered the mixture with a liberal hand into the bowl.

“It doesn’t smell just right, but I suppose it will when it is cooked,” said Tilly, as she filled the empty stomach, that seemed aching for food, and sewed it up with the blue yarn, which happened to be handy. She forgot to tie down his legs and wings, but she set him by till his hour came, well satisfied with her work.

“Shall we roast the little pig, too? I think he’d look nice with a necklace of sausages, as Ma fixed one last Christmas,” asked Prue, elated with their success.

“I couldn’t do it. I loved that little pig, and cried when he was killed. I should feel as if I was roasting the baby,” answered Tilly, glancing toward the buttery where piggy hung, looking so pink and pretty it certainly did seem cruel to eat him.

It took a long time to get all the vegetables ready, for, as the cellar was full, the girls thought they[Pg 26] would have every sort. Eph helped, and by noon all was ready for cooking, and the cranberry-sauce, a good deal scorched, was cooling in the lean-to.

Luncheon was a lively meal, and doughnuts and cheese vanished in such quantities that Tilly feared no one would have an appetite for her sumptuous dinner. The boys assured her they would be starving by five o’clock, and Sol mourned bitterly over the little pig that was not to be served up.

“Now you all go and coast, while Prue and I set the table and get out the best chiny,” said Tilly, bent on having her dinner look well, no matter what its other failings might be.

Out came the rough sleds, on went the round hoods, old hats, red cloaks, and moccasins, and away trudged the four younger Bassetts, to disport themselves in the snow, and try the ice down by the old mill, where the great wheel turned and splashed so merrily in the summer-time.

Eph took his fiddle and scraped away to his heart’s content in the parlor, while the girls, after a short rest, set the table and made all ready to dish up the dinner when that exciting moment came. It was not at all the sort of table we see now, but would look very plain and countrified to us, with its green-handled knives and two-pronged steel forks; its red-and-white china, and pewter platters, scoured till they shone, with mugs and spoons to match, and a[Pg 27] brown jug for the cider. The cloth was coarse, but white as snow, and the little maids had seen the blue-eyed flax grow, out of which their mother wove the linen they had watched and watered while it bleached in the green meadow. They had no napkins and little silver; but the best tankard and Ma’s few wedding spoons were set forth in state. Nuts and apples at the corners gave an air, and the place of honor was left in the middle for the oranges yet to come.

“Don’t it look beautiful?” said Prue, when they paused to admire the general effect.

“Pretty nice, I think. I wish Ma could see how well we can do it,” began Tilly, when a loud howling startled both girls, and sent them flying to the window. The short afternoon had passed so quickly that twilight had come before they knew it, and now, as they looked out through the gathering dusk, they saw four small black figures tearing up the road, to come bursting in, all screaming at once: “The bear, the bear! Eph, get the gun! He’s coming, he’s coming!”

Eph had dropped his fiddle, and got down his gun before the girls could calm the children enough to tell their story, which they did in a somewhat incoherent manner. “Down in the holler, coastin’, we heard a growl,” began Sol, with his eyes as big as saucers. “I see him fust lookin’ over the wall,” roared Seth, eager to get his share of honor.

[Pg 28] “Awful big and shaggy,” quavered Roxy, clinging to Tilly, while Rhody hid in Prue’s skirts, and piped out: “His great paws kept clawing at us, and I was so scared my legs would hardly go.”

“We ran away as fast as we could go, and he come growling after us. He’s awful hungry, and he’ll eat every one of us if he gets in,” continued Sol, looking about him for a safe retreat.

“Oh, Eph, don’t let him eat us,” cried both little girls, flying up stairs to hide under their mother’s bed, as their surest shelter.

“No danger of that, you little geese. I’ll shoot him as soon as he comes. Get out of the way, boys,” and Eph raised the window to get good aim.

“There he is! Fire away, and don’t miss!” cried Seth, hastily following Sol, who had climbed to the top of the dresser as a good perch from which to view the approaching fray.

Prue retired to the hearth as if bent on dying at her post rather than desert the turkey, now “browning beautiful,” as she expressed it. But Tilly boldly stood at the open window, ready to lend a hand if the enemy proved too much for Eph.

All had seen bears, but none had ever come so near before, and even brave Eph felt that the big brown beast slowly trotting up the door-yard was an unusually formidable specimen. He was growling horribly, and stopped now and then as if to rest and shake himself.

[Pg 29] “Get the ax, Tilly, and if I should miss, stand ready to keep him off while I load again,” said Eph, anxious to kill his first bear in style and alone; a girl’s help didn’t count.

Tilly flew for the ax, and was at her brother’s side by the time the bear was near enough to be dangerous. He stood on his hind legs, and seemed to sniff with relish the savory odors that poured out of the window.

“Fire, Eph!” cried Tilly, firmly.

“Wait till he rears again. I’ll get a better shot, then,” answered the boy, while Prue covered her ears to shut out the bang, and the small boys cheered from their dusty refuge up among the pumpkins.

But a very singular thing happened next, and all who saw it stood amazed, for suddenly Tilly threw down the ax, flung open the door, and ran straight into the arms of the bear, who stood erect to receive her, while his growlings changed to a loud “Haw, haw!” that startled the children more than the report of a gun.

“It’s Gad Hopkins, tryin’ to fool us!” cried Eph, much disgusted at the loss of his prey, for these hardy boys loved to hunt, and prided themselves on the number of wild animals and birds they could shoot in a year.

“Oh, Gad, how could you scare us so?” laughed Tilly, still held fast in one shaggy arm of the bear,[Pg 30] while the other drew a dozen oranges from some deep pocket in the buffalo-skin coat, and fired them into the kitchen with such good aim that Eph ducked, Prue screamed, and Sol and Seth came down much quicker than they went up.

“Wal, you see I got upsot over yonder, and the old horse went home while I was floundering in a drift, so I tied on the buffalers to tote ‘em easy, and come along till I see the children playin’ in the holler. I jest meant to give ‘em a little scare, but they run like partridges, and I kep’ up the joke to see how Eph would like this sort of company,” and Gad haw-hawed again.

“You’d have had a warm welcome if we hadn’t found you out. I’d have put a bullet through you in a jiffy, old chap,” said Eph, coming out to shake hands with the young giant, who was only a year or two older than himself.

“Come in and set up to dinner with us. Prue and I have done it all ourselves, and Pa will be along soon, I reckon,” cried Tilly, trying to escape.

“Couldn’t, no ways. My folks will think I’m dead ef I don’t get along home, sence the horse and sleigh have gone ahead empty. I’ve done my arrant and had my joke; now I want my pay, Tilly,” and Gad took a hearty kiss from the rosy cheeks of his “little sweetheart,” as he called her. His own cheeks tingled with the smart slap she gave him as[Pg 31] she ran away, calling out that she hated bears and would bring her ax next time.

“I ain’t afeared; your sharp eyes found me out; and ef you run into a bear’s arms you must expect a hug,” answered Gad, as he pushed back the robe and settled his fur cap more becomingly.

“I should have known you in a minute if I hadn’t been asleep when the girls squalled. You did it well, though, and I advise you not to try it again in a hurry, or you’ll get shot,” said Eph, as they parted, he rather crestfallen and Gad in high glee.

“My sakes alive—the turkey is burnt one side, and the kettles have biled over so the pies I put to warm are all ashes!” scolded Tilly, as the flurry subsided and she remembered her dinner.

“Well, I can’t help it. I couldn’t think of victuals when I expected to be eaten alive myself, could I?” pleaded poor Prue, who had tumbled into the cradle when the rain of oranges began.

Tilly laughed, and all the rest joined in, so good humor was restored, and the spirits of the younger ones were revived by sucks from the one orange which passed from hand to hand with great rapidity, while the older girls dished up the dinner. They were just struggling to get the pudding out of the cloth when Roxy called out, “Here’s Pa!”

“There’s folks with him,” added Rhody.

“Lots of ‘em! I see two big sleighs chock full,” shouted Seth, peering through the dusk.

[Pg 32] “It looks like a semintary. Guess Gramma’s dead and come up to be buried here,” said Sol in a solemn tone. This startling suggestion made Tilly, Prue, and Eph hasten to look out, full of dismay at such an ending of their festival.

“If that is a funeral, the mourners are uncommon jolly,” said Eph, drily, as merry voices and loud laughter broke the white silence without.

“I see Aunt Cinthy, and Cousin Hetty—and there’s Mose and Amos. I do declare, Pa’s bringin’ ‘em all home to have some fun here,” cried Prue, as she recognized one familiar face after another.

“Oh, my patience! Ain’t I glad I got dinner, and don’t I hope it will turn out good!” exclaimed Tilly, while the twins pranced with delight, and the small boys roared:

“Hooray for Pa! Hooray for Thanksgivin’!”

The cheer was answered heartily, and in came Father, Mother, Baby, aunts and cousins, all in great spirits, and all much surprised to find such a festive welcome awaiting them.

“Ain’t Gran’ma dead at all?” asked Sol, in the midst of the kissing and hand-shaking.

“Bless your heart, no! It was all a mistake of old Mr. Chadwick’s. He’s as deaf as an adder, and when Mrs. Brooks told him Mother was mendin’ fast, and she wanted me to come down to-day, certain sure, he got the message all wrong, and give it[Pg 33] to the fust person passin’ in such a way as to scare me ‘most to death, and send us down in a hurry. Mother was sittin’ up as chirk as you please, and dreadful sorry you didn’t all come.”

“So, to keep the house quiet for her, and give you a taste of the fun, your Pa fetched us all up to spend the evenin’, and we are goin’ to have a jolly time on’t, to jedge by the looks of things,” said Aunt Cinthy, briskly finishing the tale when Mrs. Bassett paused for want of breath.

“What in the world put it into your head we was comin’, and set you to gettin’ up such a supper?” asked Mr. Bassett, looking about him, well pleased and much surprised at the plentiful table.

Tilly modestly began to tell, but the others broke in and sang her praises in a sort of chorus, in which bears, pigs, pies, and oranges were oddly mixed. Great satisfaction was expressed by all, and Tilly and Prue were so elated by the commendation of Ma and the aunts, that they set forth their dinner, sure everything was perfect.

But when the eating began, which it did the moment wraps were off, then their pride got a fall; for the first person who tasted the stuffing (it was big Cousin Mose, and that made it harder to bear) nearly choked over the bitter morsel.

“Tilly Bassett, whatever made you put wormwood and catnip in your stuffin’?” demanded Ma, trying[Pg 34] not to be severe, for all the rest were laughing, and Tilly looked ready to cry.

“I did it,” said Prue, nobly taking all the blame, which caused Pa to kiss her on the spot, and declare that it didn’t do a might of harm, for the turkey was all right.

“I never see onions cooked better. All the vegetables is well done, and the dinner a credit to you, my dears,” declared Aunt Cinthy, with her mouth full of the fragrant vegetable she praised.

The pudding was an utter failure, in spite of the blazing brandy in which it lay—as hard and heavy as one of the stone balls on Squire Dunkin’s great gate. It was speedily whisked out of sight, and all fell upon the pies, which were perfect. But Tilly and Prue were much depressed, and didn’t recover their spirits till the dinner was over and the evening fun well under way.

“Blind-man’s buff,” “Hunt the slipper,” “Come, Philander,” and other lively games soon set every one bubbling over with jollity, and when Eph struck up “Money Musk” on his fiddle, old and young fell into their places for a dance. All down the long kitchen they stood, Mr. and Mrs. Bassett at the top, the twins at the bottom, and then away they went, heeling and toeing, cutting pigeon-wings, and taking their steps in a way that would convulse modern children with their new-fangled romps called dancing.[Pg 35] Mose and Tilly covered themselves with glory by the vigor with which they kept it up, till fat Aunt Cinthy fell into a chair, breathlessly declaring that a very little of such exercise was enough for a woman of her “heft.”

Apples and cider, chat and singing, finished the evening, and after a grand kissing all round, the guests drove away in the clear moonlight which came just in time to cheer their long drive.

When the jingle of the last bell had died away, Mr. Bassett said soberly, as they stood together on the hearth: “Children, we have special cause to be thankful that the sorrow we expected was changed into joy, so we’ll read a chapter ‘fore we go to bed, and give thanks where thanks is due.”

Then Tilly set out the light-stand with the big Bible on it, and a candle on each side, and all sat quietly in the fire-light, smiling as they listened with happy hearts to the sweet old words that fit all times and seasons so beautifully.

When the good-nights were over, and the children in bed, Prue put her arm around Tilly and whispered tenderly, for she felt her shake, and was sure she was crying:

“Don’t mind about the old stuffin’ and puddin’, deary—nobody cared, and Ma said we really did do surprisin’ well for such young girls.”

The laughter Tilly was trying to smother broke[Pg 36] out then, and was so infectious, Prue could not help joining her, even before she knew the cause of the merriment.

“I was mad about the mistakes, but don’t care enough to cry. I’m laughing to think how Gad fooled Eph and I found him out. I thought Mose and Amos would have died over it when I told them, it was so funny,” explained Tilly, when she got her breath.

“I was so scared that when the first orange hit me, I thought it was a bullet, and scrabbled into the cradle as fast as I could. It was real mean to frighten the little ones so,” laughed Prue, as Tilly gave a growl.

Here a smart rap on the wall of the next room caused a sudden lull in the fun, and Mrs. Bassett’s voice was heard, saying warningly, “Girls, go to sleep immediate, or you’ll wake the baby.”

“Yes’m,” answered two meek voices, and after a few irrepressible giggles, silence reigned, broken only by an occasional snore from the boys, or the soft scurry of mice in the buttery, taking their part in this old-fashioned Thanksgiving.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.  The story by Louisa May Alcott originally appeared in 1881.


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