Archive for the ‘Excerpts’ Category

Excerpt: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

April 8, 2012

Excerpt: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Your mother keeps well?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“You were going to say——?”

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

I nodded.

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

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

“Difficult! It’s damnable!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cynthia! That’s not your wife?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My wife, Hastings,” said John.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Inglethorp greeted me with effusion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Cavendish leant forward.

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

“Well, that depends.”

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

“You’ll laugh at me.”

She smiled.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It might be a ‘she,'” I suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dropped down obediently.

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

She nodded.

“For my sins.”

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia smiled too.

“Oh, hundreds!” she said.

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

“Certainly, Aunt Emily.”

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

My hostess turned to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Evie? Off?”

John nodded gloomily.

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

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

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

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

Miss Howard nodded grimly.

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

“What did she say?”

Miss Howard made an extremely expressive grimace.

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

“But not now?”

“This minute!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

She interrupted me by slowly shaking her forefinger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And who is Dr. Bauerstein?”

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

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

John Cavendish frowned and changed the subject.

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

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

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

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

John’s face hardened.

“That is Mrs. Raikes.”

“The one that Miss Howard——”

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

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

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

He nodded rather gloomily.

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

“Hard up, are you?”

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

“Couldn’t your brother help you?”

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

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

Want to continue? The book is free!

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

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


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day: an excerpt from Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens

March 17, 2012

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day: an excerpt from Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens

James Stephens was an Irish author, poet, and actor. One of the things for which he was known was retellings of Irish folklore, and this is an excerpt from Irish Fairy Tales (1920). 




One day something happened to Fionn, the son of Uail; that is, he departed from the world of men, and was set wandering in great distress of mind through Faery. He had days and nights there and adventures there, and was able to bring back the memory of these.

That, by itself, is wonderful, for there are few people who remember that they have been to Faery or aught of all that happened to them in that state.

In truth we do not go to Faery, we become Faery, and in the beating of a pulse we may live for a year or a thousand years. But when we return the memory is quickly clouded, and we seem to have had a dream or seen a vision, although we have verily been in Faery.

It was wonderful, then, that Fionn should have remembered all that happened to him in that wide-spun moment, but in this tale there is yet more to marvel at; for not only did Fionn go to Faery, but the great army which he had marshalled to Ben Edair [The Hill of Howth] were translated also, and neither he nor they were aware that they had departed from the world until they came back to it.

Fourteen battles, seven of the reserve and seven of the regular Fianna, had been taken by the Chief on a great march and manoeuvre. When they reached Ben Edair it was decided to pitch camp so that the troops might rest in view of the warlike plan which Fionn had imagined for the morrow. The camp was chosen, and each squadron and company of the host were lodged into an appropriate place, so there was no overcrowding and no halt or interruption of the march; for where a company halted that was its place of rest, and in that place it hindered no other company, and was at its own ease.

When this was accomplished the leaders of battalions gathered on a level, grassy plateau overlooking the sea, where a consultation began as to the next day’s manoeuvres, and during this discussion they looked often on the wide water that lay wrinkling and twinkling below them.

A roomy ship under great press of sall was bearing on Ben Edair from the east.

Now and again, in a lull of the discussion, a champion would look and remark on the hurrying vessel; and it may have been during one of these moments that the adventure happened to Fionn and the Fianna.

“I wonder where that ship comes from?” said Cona’n idly.

But no person could surmise anything about it beyond that it was a vessel well equipped for war.

As the ship drew by the shore the watchers observed a tall man swing from the side by means of his spear shafts, and in a little while this gentleman was announced to Fionn, and was brought into his presence.

A sturdy, bellicose, forthright personage he was indeed. He was equipped in a wonderful solidity of armour, with a hard, carven helmet on his head, a splendid red-bossed shield swinging on his shoulder, a wide-grooved, straight sword clashing along his thigh. On his shoulders under the shield he carried a splendid scarlet mantle; over his breast was a great brooch of burnt gold, and in his fist he gripped a pair of thick-shafted, unburnished spears.

Fionn and the champions looked on this gentleman, and they admired exceedingly his bearing and equipment.

“Of what blood are you, young gentleman?” Fionn demanded, “and from which of the four corners of the world do you come?”

“My name is Cael of the Iron,” the stranger answered, “and I am son to the King of Thessaly.”

“What errand has brought you here?”

“I do not go on errands,” the man replied sternly, “but on the affairs that please me.”

“Be it so. What is the pleasing affair which brings you to this land?”

“Since I left my own country I have not gone from a land or an island until it paid tribute to me and acknowledged my lordship.”

“And you have come to this realm,” cried Fionn, doubting his ears.

“For tribute and sovereignty,” growled that other, and he struck the haft of his spear violently on the ground.

“By my hand,” said Cona’n, “we have never heard of a warrior, however great, but his peer was found in Ireland, and the funeral songs of all such have been chanted by the women of this land.”

“By my hand and word,” said the harsh stranger, “your talk makes me think of a small boy or of an idiot.”

“Take heed, sir,” said Fionn, “for the champions and great dragons of the Gael are standing by you, and around us there are fourteen battles of the Fianna of Ireland.”

“If all the Fianna who have died in the last seven years were added to all that are now here,” the stranger asserted, “I would treat all of these and those grievously, and would curtail their limbs and their lives.”

“It is no small boast,” Cona’n murmured, staring at him.

“It is no boast at all,” said Cael, “and, to show my quality and standing, I will propose a deed to you.”

“Give out your deed,” Fionn commanded.

“Thus,” said Cael with cold savagery. “If you can find a man among your fourteen battalions who can outrun or outwrestle or outfight me, I will take myself off to my own country, and will trouble you no more.”

And so harshly did he speak, and with such a belligerent eye did he stare, that dismay began to seize on the champions, and even Fionn felt that his breath had halted.

“It is spoken like a hero,” he admitted after a moment, “and if you cannot be matched on those terms it will not be from a dearth of applicants.”

“In running alone,” Fionn continued thoughtfully, “we have a notable champion, Caelte mac Rona’n.”

“This son of Rona’n will not long be notable,” the stranger asserted.

“He can outstrip the red deer,” said Cona’n.

“He can outrun the wind,” cried Fionn.

“He will not be asked to outrun the red deer or the wind,” the stranger sneered. “He will be asked to outrun me,” he thundered. “Produce this runner, and we shall discover if he keeps as great heart in his feet as he has made you think.”

“He is not with us,” Cona’n lamented.

“These notable warriors are never with us when the call is made,” said the grim stranger.

“By my hand,” cried Fionn, “he shall be here in no great time, for I will fetch him myself.”

“Be it so,” said Cael. “And during my absence,” Fionn continued, “I leave this as a compact, that you make friends with the Fianna here present, and that you observe all the conditions and ceremonies of friendship.”

Cael agreed to that.

“I will not hurt any of these people until you return,” he said.

Fionn then set out towards Tara of the Kings, for he thought Caelte mac Romin would surely be there; “and if he is not there,” said the champion to himself, “then I shall find him at Cesh Corran of the Fianna.”


I believe Irish Fairy Tales originally appeared in 1920 in the USA, making it in the public domain in that country. This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Before the movie: John Carter

January 8, 2012

Before the movie: John Carter

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

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

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

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

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




Edgar Rice Burroughs

To My Son Jack


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.



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.

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…

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.

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

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

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.


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

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

"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

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

"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

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

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

"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

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.


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

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

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


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

"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

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.

In honor of the 4th of July: Carl Becker

July 4, 2011

In honor of the 4th of July: Carl Becker

Today is the Fourth of July, and in the USA, we celebrate the birth of our country, 235 years ago.

There can be a tendency, with the passage of time, to take the human elements out of history.

Today, I share with you an excerpt from a 1918 work by noted historian Carl Becker. It’s Chapter Four of The Eve of the Revolution, entitled Defining the Issue.

It starts with Americans celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act…not with stately 18th Century “hear, hears”, but with John Hancock opening a pipe (over 100 gallons) of wine for all comers and “Paaaarrrttttttttaaaayyyyyyyy!”

You get the sense of how politics worked (and still works)…while you might picture people in powdered wigs listening with all seriousness to arguments pro and con, what you get is the influence of effectively lobbyists and “corporate” interests:

“Honorable members were more disposed to listen to Mr. Pitt than to vote with him; and were doubtless less influenced by his hot eloquence than by the representations of English merchants to the effect that trade was being ruined by Mr. Grenville’s measures.”

I also really like the information about Soame Jensyns, who appears to be a satirical commentator…sort of a Jon Stewart of the period. He doesn’t have basic cable and YouTube…his medium is pamphlets. It seems many people enjoy it, and some don’t get it, just like today. One person suggests he take public office…sort of like wanting Jon Stewart for President.

I hope you have an enjoyable Fourth of July, even if it’s just a day on the calendar where you are. I hope also that you enjoy this excerpt, and how it shows that people are people…even when they are part of history.


CHAPTER IV. Defining The Issue

     A pepper-corn, in acknowledgement of the right, is of more
     value than millions without it.—George Grenville.

     A perpetual jealousy respecting liberty, is absolutely
     requisite in all free states.—John Dickinson.

Good Americans everywhere celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act with much festivity and joyful noises in the streets, and with “genteel entertainments” in taverns, where innumerable toasts were drunk to Liberty and to its English defenders. Before his house on Beacon Hill, Mr. John Hancock, on occasion a generous man, erected a platform and placed there a pipe of Madeira which was broached for all comers. At Colonel Ingersoll’s, where twenty-eight gentlemen attended to take dinner, fifteen toasts were drunk, “and very loyal they were, and suited to the occasion”; upon which occasion, we are told, Mr. Hancock again “treated every person with cheerfulness.” Throughout the land men with literary gifts, or instincts, delivered themselves of vigorous free verse, founded upon the antithesis of Freedom and Tyranny, and enforcing the universal truth that “in the unequal war Oppressors fall, the hate, contempt, and endless curse of all.” In New York, on the occasion of the King’s birthday, an ox was roasted whole in the Fields, and twenty kegs of beer were opened for a great dinner at the King’s Arms; and afterwards, through the generosity of the Assembly of that province, there was erected on the Bowling Green a mounted statue—made of lead but without present intention of being turned into bullets representing His Majesty King George the Third, of ever glorious memory, the Restorer of Liberty.

The joyful Americans could not know how little King George aspired to be thought the Restorer of Liberty. In reality he was extremely sulky in his silent, stubborn way over the repeal of the Stamp Act, and vexed most particularly at the part which he himself had been forced to play in it. The idea of a Patriot King, conceived by Lord Bolingbroke (one-time Jacobite exile) and instilled into the mind of the young Hanoverian monarch by an ambitious mother, had little to do with liberty, either British or colonial, but had much to do with authority. The Patriot King was to be a king indeed, seeking advice of all virtuous men of whatever connections, without being bound by any man or faction of men. It was not to restore liberty, nor yet to destroy it, but to destroy factions, that the King was ambitious; and for this purpose he desired a ministry that would do his bidding without too much question. If Mr. Grenville did not satisfy His Majesty, it was not on account of the Stamp Act, in respect to which the King was wholly of Mr. Grenville’s opinion that it was a just law and ought to be enforced. In July, 1765, when Mr. Grenville was dismissed, there had indeed as yet been no open resistance in America; and if the King had been somewhat annoyed by the high talk of his loyal subjects in Virginia, he had been annoyed much more by Mr. Grenville, who was disposed, in spite of his outward air of humility and solemn protestations of respect, to be very firm with His Majesty in the matter of ministerial prerogative, reading him from time to time carefully prepared pedantic little curtain lectures on the customs of the Constitution and the duties of kings under particular circumstances.

Unable to endure Mr. Grenville longer, the King turned to Mr. Pitt. This statesman, although extremely domineering in the House, was much subdued in the presence of his sovereign, and along with many defects had one great virtue in his Majesty’s eyes, which was that he shared the King’s desire to destroy the factions. The King was accordingly ready to receive the Great Commoner, even though he insisted on bringing “the Constitution,” and Earl Temple into the bargain, with him to St. James’s Palace. But when it appeared that Earl Temple was opposed to the repeal of the Stamp Act, Mr. Pitt declined after all to come to St. James’s on any terms, even with his beloved Constitution; whereupon the harassed young King, rather than submit again to Mr. Grenville’s lectures, surrendered himself, temporarily, to the old-line Whigs under the lead of the Marquis of Rockingham. In all the negotiations which ended in this unpromising arrangement of the King’s business, the Stamp Act had apparently not been once mentioned; except that Mr. Grenville, upon retiring, had ventured to say to His Majesty, as a kind of abbreviated parting homily, that if “any man ventured to defeat the regulations laid down for the colonies, by a slackness in the execution, he [Mr. Grenville] should look upon him as a criminal and the betrayer of his country.”

The Marquis of Rockingham and his friends had no intention of betraying their country. They had, perhaps, when they were thus accidentally lifted to power, no very definite intentions of any sort. Respecting the Stamp Act, as most alarming reports began to come in from America, His Majesty’s Opposition, backed by the landed interest and led by Mr. Grenville and the Duke of Bedford, knew its mind much sooner than ministers knew theirs. America was in open rebellion, they said, and so far from doing anything about it ministers were not even prepared, four months after disturbances began, to lay necessary information before the House. Under pressure of such talk, the Marquis of Rockingham had to make up his mind. It would be odd and contrary to well-established precedent for ministers to adopt a policy already outlined by Opposition; and in view of the facts that good Whig tradition, even if somewhat obscured in latter days, committed them to some kind of liberalism, that the City and the mercantile interest thought Mr. Grenville’s measures disastrous to trade, and that they were much in need of Mr. Pitt’s eloquence to carry them through, ministers at last, in January, 1766, declared for the repeal.

Now that it was a question of repealing Mr. Grenville’s measures, serious attention was given to them; and honorable members, in the notable debate of 1766, learned much about America and the rights of Englishmen which they had not known before. Lord Mansfield, the most eminent legal authority in England, argued that the Stamp Act was clearly within the power of Parliament, while Lord Camden, whose opinion was by no means to be despised, staked his reputation that the law was unconstitutional. Mr. Grenville, in his precise way, laid it down as axiomatic that since “Great Britain protects America, America is therefore bound to yield obedience”; if not; he desired to know when Americans were emancipated. Whereupon Mr. Pitt, springing up, desired to know when they were made slaves. The Great Commoner rejoiced that America had resisted, and expressed the belief that three millions of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be made slaves would be very fit instruments to make slaves of all Englishmen.

Honorable members were more disposed to listen to Mr. Pitt than to vote with him; and were doubtless less influenced by his hot eloquence than by the representations of English merchants to the effect that trade was being ruined by Mr. Grenville’s measures. Sir George Seville, honorable member for Yorkshire, spoke the practical mind of business men when he wrote to Lord Rockingham: “Our trade is hurt; what the devil have you been doing? For our part, we don’t pretend to understand your politics and American matters, but our trade is hurt: pray remedy it, and a plague of you if you won’t.” This was not so eloquent as Mr. Pitt’s speech, but still very eloquent in its way and more easily followed than Mr. Pitt’s theory that “taxation is no part of the governing or legislative power.”

Constitutional arguments, evenly balanced pro and con, were not certain to change many minds, while such brief statements as that of Sir George Seville, although clearly revealing the opinion of that gentleman, did little to enlighten the House on the merits of the question. That members might have every opportunity to inform themselves about America, the ministers thought it worth while to have Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, printer and Friend of the Human Race, brought before the bar of the House to make such statements of fact or opinion as might be desired of him. The examination was a long one; the questions very much to the point; the replies very ready and often more to the point than the questions. With much exact information the provincial printer maintained that the colonists, having taxed themselves heavily in support of the last war, were not well able to pay more taxes, and that, even if they were abundantly able, the sugar duties and the stamp tax were improper measures. The stamps, in remote districts, would frequently require more in postage to obtain than the value of the tax. The sugar duties had already greatly diminished the volume of colonial trade, while both the duties and the tax, having to be paid in silver, were draining America of its specie and thus making it impossible for merchants to import from England to the same extent as formerly. It was well known that at the moment Americans were indebted to English merchants to the amount of several million pounds sterling, which they were indeed willing, as English merchants themselves said, but unable to pay. Necessarily, therefore, Americans were beginning to manufacture their own cloth, which they could very well do. Before their old clothes were worn out they “would have new ones of their own making.”

Against the Stamp Act, honorable members were reminded, there was a special objection to be urged. It was thought with good reason to be unconstitutional, which would make its application difficult, if not impossible. Troops might no doubt be sent to enforce it, but troops would find no enemy to contend with, no men in arms; they would find no rebellion in America, although they might indeed create one. Pressed by Mr. Townshend to say whether the colonies might not, on the ground of Magna Carta, as well deny the validity of external as internal taxes, the Doctor was not ready to commit himself on that point. It was true many arguments had lately been used in England to show Americans that, if Parliament has no right to tax them internally, it has none to tax them externally, or to make any other law to bind them; in reply to which, he could only say that “at present they do not reason so, but in time they may possibly be convinced by these, arguments.”

Whether the Parliament was truly enlightened and resolved by statistical information and lofty constitutional argument is not certainly known; but it is known that the King, whose steady mind did not readily change, was still opposed to the repeal, a fact supposed to be not without influence in unsettling the opinions of some honorable members. Lord Mansfield had discreetly advised His Majesty that although it was contrary to the spirit of the constitution to “endeavour by His Majesty’s name to carry questions in Parliament, yet where the lawful rights of the King and Parliament were to be asserted and maintained, he thought the making His Majesty’s opinion in support of those rights to be known, was very fit and becoming.”

The distinction was subtle, but perhaps not too subtle for a great lawyer. It was apparently not too subtle for a Patriot King, since certain noble lords who could be counted on to know the King’s wishes conveyed information to the proper persons that those who found it against their conscience to vote for the repeal would not for that reason be received coldly at St. James’s Palace. In order to preserve the constitution as well as to settle the question of the repeal on its merits, Lord Rockingham and the Earl of Shelburne obtained an interview with the King at which they pointed out to him the manifest irregularity of such a procedure, and in addition expressed their conviction that, on account of the high excitement in the City, failure to repeal the Stamp Act would be attended with very serious consequences. Whether to preserve the Constitution, or to allow the repeal to be determined on its merits, or for some other reason, the King at last gave in writing his consent to the ministers’ measure. On February 22, by a vote of 275 to 167, Mr. Conway was given leave to bring in the bill for a total repeal of the Stamp Act. The bill was accordingly brought in, passed by both houses, and on March 18 assented to by the King.

In the colonies the repeal was thought to be a victory for true principles of government, at least a tacit admission by the mother country that the American interpretation of the Constitution was the correct one. No Englishman denied that the repeal was an American victory; and there were some, like Pitt and Camden, who preferred the constitutional theories of Daniel Dulaney * to those of George Grenville. But most Englishmen who took the trouble to have any views on such recondite matters, having in general a poor opinion of provincial logic, easily dismissed the whole matter with the convincing phrase of Charles Townshend that the distinction between internal and external taxes was “perfect nonsense.” The average Briton, taking it for granted that all the subtle legal aspects of the question had been thoroughly gone into by Lord Mansfield, was content to read Mr. Soame Jenyns, a writer of verse and member of the Board of Trade, who in a leisure hour had recently turned his versatile mind to the consideration of colonial rights with the happiest results. In twenty-three very small pages he had disposed of the “Objections to the Taxation of Our American Colonies” in a manner highly satisfactory to himself and doubtless also to the average reading Briton, who understood constitutional questions best when they were “briefly considered,” and when they were humorously expounded in pamphlets that could be had for sixpence.

     *Daniel Dulaney, of Maryland, was the author of a pamphlet
     entitled "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes
     on the British Colonies." Pitt, in his speech on the repeal
     of the Stamp Act, referred to in this pamphlet as a masterly

Having a logical mind, Mr. Jenyns easily perceived that taxes could be objected to on two grounds: the ground of right and the ground of expediency. In his opinion the right of Parliament to lay taxes on America and the expediency of doing so at the present moment were propositions so clear that any man, in order not to bring his intelligence in question, needed to apologize for undertaking to defend them. Mr. Jenyns wished it known that he was not the man to carry owls to Athens, and that he would never have thought it necessary to prove either the right or the expediency of taxing our American colonies, “had not many arguments been lately flung out… which with insolence equal to their absurdity deny them both.” With this conciliatory preliminary disclaimer of any lack of intelligence on his own part, Mr. Jenyns proceeded to point out, in his most happy vein, how unsubstantial American reasoning really appeared when, brushing aside befogging irrelevancies, you once got to the heart of the question.

The heart of the question was the proposition that there should be no taxation without representation; upon which principle it was necessary to observe only that many individuals in England, such as copyholders and leaseholders, and many communities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, were taxed in Parliament without being represented there. If Americans quoted you “Lock, Sidney, Selden, and many other great names to prove that every Englishman … is still represented in Parliament,” he would only ask why, since Englishmen are all represented in Parliament, are not all Americans represented in exactly the same way? Either Manchester is not represented or Massachusetts is. “Are Americans not British subjects? Are they not Englishmen? Or are they only Englishmen when they solicit protection, but not Englishmen when taxes are required to enable this country to protect them?” Americans said they had Assemblies of their own to tax them, which was a privilege granted them by charter, without which “that liberty which every Englishman has a right to is torn from them, they are all slaves, and all is lost.” Colonial charters were, however, “undoubtedly no more than those of all corporations, which empower them to make bye-laws.” As for “liberty,” the word had so many meanings,” having within a few years been used as a synonymous term for Blasphemy, Bawdy, Treason, Libels, Strong Beer, and Cyder,” that Mr. Jenyns could not presume to say what it meant.

Against the expediency of the taxes, Mr. Jenyns found that two objections had been raised: that the time was improper and the manner wrong as to the manner, the colonies themselves had in a way prescribed it, since they had not been able at the request of ministers to suggest any other. The time Mr. Jenyns thought most propitious, a point upon which he grew warm and almost serious.

“Can any time be more proper to require some assistance from our colonies, to preserve to themselves their present safety, than when this country is almost undone by procuring it? Can any time be more proper to impose some tax upon their trade, than when they are enabled to rival us in their manufactures by the encouragement and protection which we have given them? Can any time be more proper to oblige them to settle handsome incomes on their governors, than when we find them unable to procure a subsistence on any other terms than those of breaking all their instructions, and betraying the rights of their Sovereign?… Can there be a more proper time to force them to maintain an army at their expence, than when that army is necessary for their own protection, and we are utterly unable to support it? Lastly, can there be a more proper time for this mother country to leave off feeding out of her own vitals these children whom she has nursed up, than when they are arrived at such strength and maturity as to be well able to provide for themselves, and ought rather with filial duty to give some assistance to her distresses?”

Americans, after all, were not the only ones who might claim to have a grievance!

It was upon a lighter note, not to end in anticlimax, that Mr. Jenyns concluded his able pamphlet. He had heard it hinted that allowing the colonies representation in Parliament would be a simple plan for making taxes legal. The impracticability of this plan, he would not go into, since the plan itself had nowhere been seriously pressed, but he would, upon that head, offer the following consideration:

“I have lately seen so many specimens of the great powers of speech of which these American gentlemen are possessed, that I should be much afraid that the sudden importation of so much eloquence at once would greatly endanger the safety of the government of this country…. If we can avail ourselves of these taxes on no other condition, I shall never look upon it as a measure of frugality, being perfectly satisfied that in the end, it will be much cheaper for us to pay their army than their orators.”

Mr. Jenyns’s pamphlet, which could be had for sixpence, was widely read, with much appreciation for its capital wit and extraordinary common sense; more widely read in England than Mr. James Otis’s “Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved” or Daniel Dulaney’s “Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes on the British Colonies”; and it therefore did much more than these able pamphlets to clarify English opinion on the rights of Parliament and the expediency of taxing America. No one could deny that Government had yielded in the face of noisy clamor and forcible resistance. To yield under the circumstances may have been wise or not; but Government had not yielded on any ground of right, but had on the contrary most expressly affirmed, in the Declaratory Act, that “the King’s Majesty, by and with the advice of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make such laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.” Government had not even denied the expediency of taxing America, the total repeal of the Stamp Act and the modification of the Sugar Act having been carried on a consideration of the inexpediency of these particular taxes only. Taxes not open to the same objection might in future be found, and doubtless must be found, inasmuch as the troops were still retained in America and the Quartering Act continued in force there. For new taxes, however, it would doubtless be necessary to await the formation of a new ministry.

The formation of a new ministry was not an unusual occurrence in the early years of King George the Third. No one supposed that Lord Rockingham could hold on many months; and as early as July, 1766, all London knew that Mr. Pitt had been sent for. The coming and going of great men in times of ministerial crisis was always a matter of interest; but the formation of that ministry of all the factions which the Patriot King had long desired was something out of the ordinary, the point of greatest speculation being how many irreconcilables Mr. Pitt (the Earl of Chatham he was now) could manage to get seated about a single table. From the point of view of irreconcilability, no one was more eligible than Mr. Charles Townshend, at that moment Paymaster of the Forces, a kind of enfant terrible of English politics, of whom Horace Walpole could say, with every likelihood of being believed, that “his speech of last Friday, made while half drunk, was all wit and indiscretion; nobody but he could have made it, nobody but he would have made it if he could. He beat Lord Chatham in language, Burke in metaphors, Grenville in presumption, Rigby in impudence, himself in folly, and everybody in good humour.”

This gentleman, much to his astonishment, one day received the following note from Lord Chatham: “Sir: You are too great a magnitude not to be in a responsible place; I intend to propose you for Chancellor of the Exchequer, and must desire to have your answer by nine o’clock tonight.” Mr. Townshend was dismayed as well as astonished, his dismay arising from the fact that the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer was worth but 2700 pounds, which was precisely 4300 pounds less than he was then receiving as Paymaster of the Forces. To be a great magnitude on small pay had its disadvantages, and Mr. Townshend, after remaining home all day in great distress of mind, begged Mr. Pitt to be allowed to retain the office of Paymaster; which was no sooner granted than he changed his mind and begged Mr. Pitt to be allowed to accept the Exchequer place, which Mr. Pitt at first refused and was only persuaded to grant finally upon the intercession of the Duke of Grafton. The day following, Mr. Townshend accordingly informed the King that he had decided, in view of the urgent representations of the Earl of Chatham, to accept the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Majesty’s new ministry.

No one supposed, least of all himself, that this delightful man would have any influence in formulating the policies of the Chatham ministry. Lord Chatham’s policies were likely to be his own; and in the present case, so far as America was concerned, they were not such as could be readily associated with Mr. Townshend’s views, so far as those views were known or were not inconsistent. For dealing with America, the Earl of Shelburne, because of his sympathetic understanding of colonial matters, had been brought into the ministry to formulate a comprehensive and conciliatory plan; as for the revenue, always the least part of Lord Chatham’s difficulties as it was the chief of Mr. Grenville’s, it was thought that the possessions of the East India Company, if taken over by the Government, would bring into the Treasury sums quite sufficient to pay the debt as well as to relieve the people, in England and America at least, of those heavy taxes which Mr. Grenville and his party had thought necessarily involved in the extension of empire. It was a curious chapter of accidents that brought all these well laid plans to nought. Scarcely was the ministry formed when the Earl of Chatham, incapacitated by the gout, retired into a seclusion that soon became impenetrable; and “even before this resplendent orb was entirely set, and while the western horizon was in a blaze with his descending glory, on the opposite quarter of the heavens arose another luminary, and, for his hour, became lord of the ascendant.” This luminary was Mr. Charles Townshend.

Mr. Townshend was the “delight and ornament” of the House, as Edmund Burke said. Never was a man in any country of “more pointed and finished wit, or (where his passions were not concerned) of a more refined, exquisite, and penetrating judgment”; never a man to excel him in “luminous explanation and display of his subject,” nor ever one less tedious or better able to conform himself exactly to the temper of the House which he seemed to guide because he was always sure to follow it. In 1765 Mr. Townshend had voted for the Stamp Act, but in 1766, when the Stamp Act began to be no favorite, he voted for the repeal, and would have spoken for it too, if an illness had not prevented him. And now, in 1767, Mr. Townshend was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as such responsible for the revenue; a man without any of that temperamental obstinacy which persists in opinions once formed, and without any fixed opinions to persist in; but quite disposed, according to habit, to “hit the House just between wind and water,” and to win its applause by speaking for the majority, or by “haranguing inimitably on both sides” when the majority was somewhat uncertain.

In January, 1767, when Lord Chatham was absent and the majority was very uncertain, Mr. Grenville took occasion, in the debate upon the extraordinaries for the army in England and America, to move that America, like Ireland, should support its own establishment. The opportunity was one which Mr. Townshend could not let pass. Much to the astonishment of every one and most of all to that of his colleagues in the ministry, he supported Mr. Grenville’s resolution, declaring himself now in favor of the Stamp Act which he had voted to repeal, treating “Lord Chatham’s distinction between internal and external taxation as contemptuously as Mr. Grenville had done,” and pledging himself able, if necessary, to find a revenue in America nearly adequate to the proposed project. The Earl of Shelburne, in great distress of mind, at once wrote to Lord Chatham, relating the strange if characteristic conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and declaring himself entirely ignorant of the intentions of his colleagues. It was indeed an anomalous situation. If Lord Chatham’s policies were still to be considered those of the ministry, Mr. Townshend might be said to be in opposition, a circumstance which made “many people think Lord Chatham ill at St. James’s” only.

Lord Chatham was not ill at St. James’s. He was most likely very well at St. James’s, being unable to appear there, thus leaving the divided ministry amenable to the King’s management or helpless before a factious Opposition. The opportunity of the Opposition came when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in February, proposed to continue the land tax at four shillings for one year more, after which time, he thought, it might be reduced to three shillings in view of additional revenues to be obtained from the East India Company. But Opposition saw no reason why, in view of the revenue which Mr. Townshend had pledged himself to find in America, a shilling might not be taken from the land at once, a proposal which Mr. Dowdeswell moved should be done, and which was accordingly voted through the influence of Mr. Grenville and the Duke of Bedford, who had formerly carried the Stamp Act, aided by the Rockingham Whigs who had formerly repealed it. If Lord Chatham was ill at St. James’s, this was a proper time to resign. It was doubtless a proper time to resign in any case. But Lord Chatham did not resign: In March he came to London, endeavored to replace Mr. Townshend by Lord North, which he failed to do, and then retired to Bath to be seen no more, leaving Mr. Townshend more than ever “master of the revels.”

Mr. Townshend did not resign either, but continued in office, quite undisturbed by the fact that a cardinal measure of the ministry had been decisively voted down. Mr. Townshend reasoned that if Opposition would not support the ministry, all difficulties would be straightened out by the ministry’s supporting the Opposition. This was the more reasonable since Opposition had perhaps been right after all, so far as the colonies were concerned. Late reports from that quarter seemed to indicate that the repeal of the Stamp Act, far from satisfying the Americans, had only confirmed that umbrageous people in a spirit of licentiousness, which was precisely what Opposition had predicted as the sure result of any weak concession. The New York Assembly, it now appeared, refused to make provision for the troops according to the terms of the Quartering Act; New York merchants were petitioning for a further modification of the trade acts; the precious Bostonians, wrangling refined doctrinaire points with Governor Bernard, were making interminable difficulties about compensating the sufferers from the Stamp Act riots. If Lord Chatham, in February, 1767, could go so far as to say that the colonies had “drunk deep of the baneful cup of infatuation,” Mr. Townshend, having voted for the Stamp Act and for its repeal, might well think, in May, that the time was ripe for a return to rigorous measures.

On May 13, in a speech which charmed the House, Mr. Townshend opened his plan for settling the colonial question. The growing spirit of insubordination, which must be patent to all, he thought could be most effectively checked by making an example of New York, where defiance was at present most open; for which purpose it was proposed that the meetings of the Assembly of that province be totally suspended until it should have complied with the terms of the Mutiny Act. As one chief source of power in colonial assemblies which contributed greatly to make them insubordinate was the dependence of executive officials upon them for salaries, Mr. Townshend now renewed the proposal, which he had formerly brought forward in 1763, to create an independent civil list for the payment of governors and judges from England. The revenue fox such a civil list would naturally be raised in America. Mr. Townshend would not, however, venture to renew the Stamp Act, which had been so opposed on the ground of its being an internal tax. He was free to say that the distinction between internal and external taxes was perfect nonsense; but; since the logical Americans thought otherwise, he would concede the point and would accordingly humor them by laying only external duties, which he thought might well be on various kinds of glass and paper, on red and white lead, and upon teas, the duties to be collected in colonial ports upon the importation of these commodities from England. It was estimated that the duties might altogether make about 40,000 pounds, if the collection were properly attended to; and in order that the collection might be properly attended to, and for the more efficient administration of the American customs in general, Mr. Townshend further recommended that a Board of Customs Commissioners be created and established in Massachusetts Bay. With slight opposition, all these recommendations were enacted into law; and the Commissioners of the Customs, shortly afterward appointed by the King, arrived in Boston in November, 1767.

At Boston, the Commissioners found much to be done in the way of collecting the customs, particularly in the matter of Madeira wines. Madeira wines were much drunk in the old Bay colony, being commonly imported directly from the islands, without too much attention to the duty of 7 pounds per ton lawfully required in that case. Mr. John Hancock, a popular Boston merchant, did a thriving business in this way; and his sloop Liberty, in the ordinary course of trade, carrying six pipes of “good saleable Madeira” for the coffeehouse retailers, four pipes of the “very best” for his own table, and “two pipes more of the best… for the Treasurer of the province,” entered the harbor on May 9, 1768. In the evening Mr. Thomas Kirk, tide-waiter, acting for the Commissioners, boarded the sloop, where he found the captain, Nat Bernard, and also, by some chance, another of Mr. Hancock’s skippers, young James Marshall, together with half a dozen of his friends. They sat with punch served by the captain all round until nine o’clock, when young James Marshall casually asked if a few casks might not as well be set on shore that evening. Mr. Kirk replied that it could not be done with his leave; whereupon he found himself “hoved down” into the cabin and confined there for three hours, from which point of disadvantage he could distinctly hear overhead “a noise of many people at work, a-hoisting out of goods.” In due time Mr. Kirk was released, having suffered no injury, except perhaps a little in his official character. Next day Mr. Hancock’s cargo was duly entered, no pipes of Madeira listed; and to all appearance the only serious aspect of the affair was that young James Marshall died before morning, it was thought from overexertion and excitement.

Very likely few people in Boston knew anything about this interesting episode; and a month later much excitement was accordingly raised by the news that Mr. Hancock’s sloop Liberty had been ordered seized for nonpayment of customs. A crowd watched the ship towed, for safe-keeping, under the guns of the Romney in the harbor. When the Commissioners, who had come down to see the thing done, left the wharf they were roughly handled by the incensed people; and in the evening windows of some of their houses were broken, and a boat belonging to a collector was hauled on shore and burnt on the Common. Governor Bernard at last informed the Commissioners that he could not protect them in Boston, whereupon they retired with their families to the Romney, and later to Castle William. There they continued, under difficulties, the work of systematizing the American customs; and not without success, inasmuch as the income from the duties during the years from 1768 to 1774 averaged about 30,000 pounds sterling, at an annual cost to the revenue of not more than 13,000 pounds. This saving was nevertheless not effected without the establishment at Boston, on the recommendation of the Commissioners, of two regiments of the line which arrived September 28, 1768, and were landed under the guns of eight men-of-war, without opposition. The cost of maintaining the two regiments in Boston was doubtless not included in the 13,000 pounds charged to the revenue as the annual expense of collecting 30,000 pounds of customs.

In spite of the two regiments of the line, with artillery, Boston was not quiet in this year 1768. The soldiers acted decently enough, no doubt; but their manners were very British and their coats were red, and “their simple presence,” conveying every day the suggestion of compulsion, was “an intolerable grievance.” Every small matter was magnified. The people, says Hutchinson, “had been used to answer to the call of the town watch in the night, yet they did not like to answer to the frequent calls of the centinels posted at the barracks;… and either a refusal to answer, or an answer accompanied with irritating language, endangered the peace of the town.” On Sundays, especially, the Boston mind found something irreverent, something at the very least irrelevant, in the presence of the bright colored and highly secular coats; while the noise of fife and drum, so disturbing to the sabbath calm, called forth from the Selectmen a respectful petition to the general requesting him to “dispense with the band.”

These were but slight matters; but as time passed little grievances accumulated on both sides until the relation between the people and the soldiers was one of settled hostility, and at last, after two years, the tense situation culminated in the famous Boston Massacre. On the evening of March 5, 1770, there was an alarm of fire, false as it turned out, which brought many people into the streets, especially boys, whom one may easily imagine catching up, as they ran, handfuls of damp snow to make snowballs. For snowballs, there could be no better target than red-coated sentinels standing erect and motionless at the post of duty; and it chanced that one of these individuals, stationed before the Customs House door, was pelted with the close-packed missiles. Being several times struck, he called for aid, the guard turned out, and a crowd gathered. One of the soldiers was presently knocked down, another was hit by a club, and at last six or seven shots were fired, with or without orders, the result of which was four citizens lying dead on the snow-covered streets of Boston.

The Boston Massacre was not as serious as the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew or the Sicilian Vespers; but it served to raise passion to a white heat in the little provincial town. On the next day there was assembled, under the skillful leadership of Samuel Adams, a great town meeting which demanded in no uncertain terms the removal of the troops from Boston. Under the circumstances, six hundred British soldiers would have fared badly in Boston; and in order to prevent further bloodshed, acting Governor Hutchinson finally gave the order. Within a fortnight, the two small regiments retired to Castle William. Seven months later Captain Preston and other soldiers implicated in the riot were tried before a Boston jury. Ably defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincy, they were all acquitted on the evidence, except two who were convicted and lightly punished for manslaughter.

As it happened, the Boston Massacre occurred on the 5th of March, 1770, which was the very day that Lord North rose in the House of Commons to propose the partial repeal of the Townshend duties. This outcome was not unconnected with events that had occurred in America during the eighteen months since the landing of the troops in Boston in September, 1768. In 1768, John Adams could not have foretold the Boston Massacre, or have foreseen that he would himself incur popular displeasure for having defended the soldiers. But he could, even at that early date, divine the motives of the British government in sending the troops to Boston. To his mind, “the very appearance of the troops in Boston was a strong proof that the determination of Great Britain to subjugate us was too deep and inveterate to be altered.” All the measures of ministry seemed indeed to confirm that view. Mr. Townshend’s condescension in accepting the colonial distinction between internal and external taxes was clearly only a subtle maneuver designed to conceal an attack upon liberty far more dangerous than the former attempts of Mr. Grenville. After all, Mr. Townshend was probably right in thinking the distinction of no importance, the main point being whether, as Lord Chatham had said, the Parliament could by any kind of taxes “take money out of their pockets without their consent.”

Duties on glass and tea certainly would take money out of their pockets without their consent, and therefore it must be true that taxes could be rightly laid only by colonial assemblies, in which alone Americans could be represented. But of what value was it to preserve the abstract right of taxation by colonial assemblies if meanwhile the assemblies themselves might, by act of Parliament, be abolished? And had not the New York Assembly been suspended by act of Parliament? And were not the new duties to be used to pay governors and judges, thus by subtle indirection undermining the very basis of legislative independence? And now, in the year 1768, the Massachusetts Assembly, having sent a circular letter to the other colonies requesting concerted action in defense of their liberties, was directed by Lord Hillsborough, speaking in his Majesty’s name, “to rescind the resolution which gave birth to the circular letter from the Speaker, and to declare their disapprobation of, and dissent to, that rash and hasty proceeding.” Clearly, it was no mere question of taxation but the larger question of legislative independence that now confronted Americans.

A more skillful dialectic was required to defend American rights against the Townshend duties than against the Stamp Act. It was a somewhat stubborn fact that Parliament had for more than a hundred years passed laws effectively regulating colonial trade, and for regulating trade had imposed duties, some of which had brought into the Exchequer a certain revenue. Americans, wishing to be thought logical as well as loyal, could not well say at this late date that Parliament had no right to lay duties in regulation of trade. Must they then submit to the Townshend duties? Or was it possible to draw a line, making a distinction, rather more subtle than the old one between internal and external taxes, between duties for regulation and duties for revenue? This latter feat was undertaken by Mr. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, anonymously, under the guise of a simple but intelligent and virtuous farmer whose arcadian existence had confirmed in him an instinctive love of liberty and had supplied him with the leisure to meditate at large upon human welfare and the excellent British Constitution.

Mr. Dickinson readily granted America to be dependent upon Great Britain, “as much dependent upon Great Britain as one perfectly free people can be on another.” But it appeared axiomatic to the unsophisticated mind of a simple farmer that no people could be free if taxed without its consent, and that Parliament had accordingly no right to lay any taxes upon the colonies; from which it followed that the sole question in respect to duties laid on trade was whether they were intended for revenue or for regulation. Intention in such matters was of primary importance, since all duties were likely to be regulative to some extent. It might be objected that “it will be difficult for any persons but the makers of the laws to determine which of them are made for regulation of trade, and which for raising a revenue.” This was true enough but at present of academic importance only, inasmuch as the makers of the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Townshend duties had conveniently and very clearly proclaimed their intention to be the raising of a revenue. Yet this question, academic now, might soon become extremely practical. The makers of laws might not always express their intention so explicitly; they might, with intention to raise a revenue, pass acts professing to be for regulation only; and therefore, since “names will not change the nature of things,” Americans ought “firmly to believe… that unless the most watchful attention be exerted, a new servitude may be slipped upon us under the sanction of usual and respectable terms.” In such case the intention should be inferred from the nature of the act; and the Farmer, for his part, sincerely hoped that his countrymen “would never, to their latest existence, want understanding sufficient to discover the intentions of those who rule over them.”

Mr. Dickinson’s “Farmer’s Letters” were widely read and highly commended. The argument, subtle but clear, deriving the nature of an act from the intention of its makers, and the intention of its makers from the nature of the act, contributed more than any other exposition to convince Americans that they “have the same right that all states have, of judging when their privileges are invaded.”

“As much dependent on Great Britain as one perfectly free people can be on another,” the Farmer said. Englishmen might be excused for desiring a more precise delimitation of parliamentary jurisdiction than could be found in this phrase, as well as for asking what clear legal ground there was for making any delimitation at all. To the first point, Mr. Dickinson said in effect that Parliament had not the right to tax the colonies and that it had not the right to abolish their assemblies through which they alone could tax themselves. The second point Mr. Dickinson did not clearly answer, although it was undoubtedly most fundamental. To this point Mr. Samuel Adams had given much thought; and in letters which he drafted for the Massachusetts Assembly, in the famous circular letter particularly, and in the letter of January 12,1769, sent to the Assembly’s agent in England, Mr. Dennys De Berdt, Mr. Adams formulated a theory designed to show that the colonies were “subordinate” but not subject to the British Parliament. The delimitation of colonial and parliamentary jurisdictions Mr. Adams achieved by subordinating all legislative authority to an authority higher than any positive law, an authority deriving its sanction from the fixed and universal law of nature. This higher authority, which no legislature could “overleap without destroying its own foundation,” was the British Constitution.

Mr. Adams spoke of the British Constitution with immense confidence, as something singularly definite and well known, the provisions of which were clearly ascertainable; which singular effect doubtless came from the fact that he thought of it, not indeed as something written down on paper and deposited in archives of state, but as a series of propositions which, as they were saying in France, were indelibly “written in the hearts of all men.” The British Constitution, he said, like the constitution of every free state, “is fixed,” having its foundation not in positive law, which would indeed give Parliament an ultimate and therefore a despotic authority, but in “the law of God and nature.” There were in the British Empire many legislatures, all deriving their authority from, and all finding their limitations in, the Constitution. Parliament had certainly a supreme or superintending legislative authority in the Empire, as the colonial assemblies had a “subordinate,” in the sense of a local, legislative authority; but neither the Parliament nor any colonial assembly could “overleap the Constitution without destroying its own foundation.” And therefore, since the Constitution is founded “in the law of God and nature,” and since “it is an essential natural right that a man shall quietly enjoy and have the sole disposal of his property,” the Americans must enjoy this right equally with Englishmen, and Parliament must be bound to respect this right in the colonies as well as in England; from which it followed irresistibly that the consent of the colonies to any taxation must be sought exclusively in their own assemblies, it being manifestly impossible for that consent to be “constitutionally had in Parliament.”

It was commonly thought in America that Mr. Adams, although not a judge, had a singular gift for constitutional interpretation. Far-sighted men could nevertheless believe that a powerful party in England, inspired by inveterate hatred of America and irretrievably bent upon her ruin, would pronounce all his careful distinctions ridiculous and would still reply to every argument by the mere assertion, as a fact behind which one could not go, that Parliament had always had and must therefore still have full power to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever. If Britain would not budge from this position, Americans would soon be confronted with the alternative of admitting Parliament to have full power or denying it to have any.

With that sharp-set alternative in prospect, it would be well to keep in mind the fact that arguments lost carrying power in proportion to their subtlety; and in the opinion of so good a judge as Benjamin Franklin the reasoning of Mr. Adams and Mr. Dickinson was perhaps not free from this grave disadvantage.

“I am not yet master [he was free to confess] of the idea these… writers have of the relation between Britain and her colonies. I know not what the Boston people mean by the “subordination” they acknowledge in their Assembly to Parliament, while they deny its power to make laws for them, nor what bounds the Farmer sets to the power he acknowledges in Parliament to “regulate the trade of the colonies,” it being difficult to draw lines between duties for regulation and those for revenue; and, if the Parliament is to be the judge, it seems to me that establishing such a principle of distinction will amount to little. The more I have thought and read on the subject, the more I find myself confirmed in opinion, that no middle ground can be well maintained, I mean not clearly with intelligible arguments. Something might be made of either of the extremes: that Parliament has a power to make ALL LAWS for us, or that it has a power to make NO LAWS for us; and I think the arguments for the latter more numerous and weighty, than those for the former.”

The good Doctor had apparently read and thought a great deal about the matter since the day when Mr. Grenville had called him in to learn if there were good objections to be urged against the Stamp Act.

Practical men were meanwhile willing to allow the argument to take whatever direction the exigencies of the situation might require, being ready to believe that Mr. Dickinson counseled well and that Mr. Franklin counseled well; being nevertheless firmly convinced from past experience that an Englishman’s ability to see reason was never great except when his pocket was touched. Practical men were therefore generally of the opinion that they could best demonstrate their rights by exhibiting their power. This happily, they could do by bringing pressure to bear upon English merchants by taking money out of THEIR pockets—without their consent to be sure but in a manner strictly legal—by means of non-importation agreements voluntarily entered into.

As early as October, 1767, the Boston merchants entered into such an agreement, which was however not very drastic and proved to be of no effect, as it was at first unsupported by the merchants in any other colony. In April, 1768, the merchants of New York, seeing the necessity of concerted action, agreed not to import “any goods [save a very few enumerated articles] which shall be shipped from Great Britain after the first of October next; provided Boston and Philadelphia adopt similar measures by the first of June.” Philadelphia merchants said they were not opposed to the principle of nonimportation, but greatly feared the New York plan would serve to create a monopoly by enabling men of means to lay in a large stock of goods before the agreement went into effect. This was very true; but the objection, if it was an objection, proved not to be an insurmountable one. Before the year was out, in the late summer for the most part, the merchants in all the commercial towns had subscribed to agreements, differing somewhat in detail, of which the substance was that they would neither import from Great Britain any commodities, nor buy or sell any which might inadvertently find their way in, until the duties imposed by the Townshend act should have been repealed.

The merchants’ agreements were, for whatever reason, much better observed in some places than in others. Imports from Great Britain to New York fell during the year 1769 from about 482,000 pounds to about 74,000 pounds. Imports into New England and into Pennsylvania declined a little more than one half; whereas in the southern colonies there was no decline at all, but on the contrary an increase, slight in the case of Maryland and Virginia and rather marked in the Carolinas. In spite of these defections, the experiment was not without effect upon English merchants. English merchants, but little interested in the decline or increase of trade to particular colonies, were chiefly aware that the total exportation to America was nearly a million pounds less in 1769 than in 1768. Understanding little about colonial rights, but knowing only, as in 1766, that their “trade was hurt,” they accordingly applied once more to Parliament for relief. The commerce with America which was “so essential to afford employment and subsistence to the manufactures of these kingdoms, to augment the public revenue, to serve as a nursery for seamen, and to increase our navigation and maritime strength”—this commerce, said the Merchants and Traders of the City of London Trading to America, “is at present in an alarming state of suspension”; and the Merchants and Traders of the City of London therefore humbly prayed Parliament to repeal the duties which were the occasion of their inconveniences.

The petition of the London merchants came before the House on March 5, 1770, that being the day fixed by Lord North for proposing, on behalf of the ministry, certain measures for America. No one, said the first minister, could be more free than himself to recognize the importance of American trade or more disposed to meet the wishes of the London merchants as far as possible. The inconveniences under which that trade now labored were manifest, but he could not think, with the petitioners, that these inconveniences arose from “the nature of the duties” so much as “through the medium of the dissatisfaction of the Americans, and those combinations and associations of which we have heard”—associations and combinations which had been called, in an address to the House, “unwarrantable,” but which he for his part would go so far as to call illegal. These illegal combinations in America were obviously what caused the inconveniences of which the merchants complained. To the pressure of illegal combinations alone Parliament ought never to yield; and ministers wished it clearly understood that, if they were about to propose a repeal of some of the duties, they were not led to take this step from any consideration of the disturbances in the colonies.

On the contrary, the duties which it was now proposed to repeal—the duties on lead, glass, and paper—were to be repealed strictly on the ground that they ought never to have been laid, because duties on British manufactures were contrary to true commercial principles. Last year, when ministers had expressed, in a letter of Lord Hillsborough to the governors, their intention to repeal these duties, some members had been in favor of repealing all the duties and some were still in favor of doing so. As to that, the first minister could only say that he had not formerly been opposed to it and would not now be opposed to it, had the Americans, in response to the Earl of Hillsborough’s letter, exhibited any disposition to cease their illegal disturbances or renounce their combinations. But the fact was that conditions in America had grown steadily worse since the Earl of Hillsborough’s letter, and never had been so bad as now; in view of which fact ministers could not but think it wise to maintain some tax as a matter of principle purely. They would therefore recommend that the tax on tea, no burden certainly on anyone, be continued as a concrete application of the right of Parliament to tax the colonies.

In so far as they were designed to bring pressure to bear upon the mother country, the merchants’ agreements were clearly not without a measure of success, having helped perhaps to bring Parliament to the point of repealing the duties on lead, glass, and paper, as well as to bring ministers to the point of keeping the duty on tea. Americans generally were doubtless well pleased with this effect; but not all Americans were able to regard the experiment in non-importation with unqualified approval in other respects. Non-importation, by diminishing the quantity and increasing the price of commodities, involved a certain amount of personal sacrifice. This sacrifice, however, fell chiefly on the consumers, the non-importation not being under certain circumstances altogether without advantage to merchants who faithfully observed their pledges as well as to those who observed them only occasionally. So long as their warehouses, well stocked in advance, contained anything that could be sold at a higher price than formerly, non-importation was no bad thing even for those merchants who observed the agreement. For those who did not observe the agreement, as well as for those who engaged in the smuggling trade from Holland, it was no bad thing at any time, and it promised to become an increasingly excellent thing in exact proportion to the exhaustion of the fair trader’s stock and the consequent advance in prices. As time passed, therefore, the fair trader became aware that the non-importation experiment, practically considered, was open to certain objections; whereas the unfair trader was more in favor of the experiment the longer it endured, being every day more convinced that the non-importation agreement ought to be continued and strictly adhered to as essential to the maintenance of American liberties.

The practical defects of non-importation were likely to be understood, by those who could ever understand them, in proportion to the decay of business; and in the spring of 1770 they were nowhere better understood than in New York, where the decay of business was most marked. This decrease was greatest in New York, so the merchants maintained, because that city had been most faithful in observing the agreement, importation having there fallen from 482,000 pounds to 74,000 pounds during the year. It is possible, however, that the decay of business in New York was due in part and perhaps primarily to the retirement, in November, 1768, of the last issues of the old Bills of Credit, according to the terms of the Paper Currency Act passed by Parliament during Mr. Grenville’s administration. As a result of this retirement of all the paper money in the province, money of any sort was exceedingly scarce during the years 1769 and 1770. Lyon dollars were rarely seen; and the quantity of Spanish silver brought into the colony through the trade with the foreign islands, formerly considerable but now greatly diminished by, they, stricter enforcement of the Townshend Trade Acts, was hardly sufficient for local exchange alone, to say nothing of settling heavy balances in London, although, fortunately perhaps, there were in the year 1769 no heavy London balances to be settled on account of the faithful observance of the non-importation agreement by the merchants. The lack of money was therefore doubtless a chief cause of the great decay of business in New York; and some there were who maintained that the faithful observance of the non-importation agreement by the merchants was due to the decay of trade rather than the decay of trade being due to the faithful observance of the non-importation agreement.

Whatever the true explanation of this academic point might be, it was an undoubted fact that business was more nearly at a standstill in New York than elsewhere. Accordingly, in the spring of 1770, when money was rarely to be seen and debtors were selling their property at one-half or one-third of its former value in order to discharge obligations long overdue, the fair trading merchants of New York were not disposed to continue an experiment of which, as they said, they had borne the chief burden to the advantage of others and to their own impending ruin. Zealous Sons of Liberty, such as Alexander MacDougall and John Lamb, popular leaders of the “Inhabitants” of the city, were on the other hand determined that the non-importation agreement should be maintained unimpaired. The hard times, they said, were due chiefly to the monopoly prices exacted by the wealthy merchants, who were not ruined at all, who had on the contrary made a good thing out of the non-importation as long as they had anything to sell, and whose patriotism (God save the mark!) had now suddenly grown lukewarm only because they had disposed of all their goods, including “old moth-eaten clothes that had been rotting in the shops for years.”

These aspersions the merchants knew how to ignore. Their determination not to continue the non-importation was nevertheless sufficiently indicated in connection with the annual celebration, in March, of the repeal of the Stamp Act. On this occasion the merchants refused to meet as formerly with the Sons of Liberty, but made provision for a dinner of their own at another place, where all the Friends of Liberty and Trade were invited to be present. Both dinners were well attended, and at both the repeal of the Stamp Act was celebrated with patriotic enthusiasm, the main difference being that whereas the Sons of Liberty drank a toast to Mr. MacDougall and to “a continuance of the non-importation agreement until the revenue acts are repealed,” the Friends of Liberty and Trade ignored Mr. MacDougall and drank to “trade and navigation and a speedy removal of their embarrassments.”

In the determination not to continue the old agreement, the Friends of Liberty and Trade were meanwhile strongly confirmed when it was learned that Britain was willing on her part to make concessions. By the middle of May it was known that the Townshend duties (except the duty on tea) had been repealed; and in June it was learned that Parliament had at last, after many representations from the Assembly, passed a special act permitting New York to issue 120,000 pounds in Bills of Credit receivable at the Treasury. It was thought that concession on the part of Great Britain ought in justice to meet with concession on the part of America. Accordingly, on the ground that other towns, and Boston in particular, were more active “in resolving what they ought to do than in doing what they had resolved,” and on the ground that the present non-importation agreement no longer served “any other purpose than tying the hands of honest men, to let rogues, smugglers, and men of no character plunder their country,” the New York merchants, on July 9, 1770, resolved that for the future they would import from Great Britain all kinds of commodities except such as might be subject to duties imposed by Parliament.

The New York merchants were on every hand loudly denounced for having betrayed the cause of liberty; but before the year was out the old agreement was everywhere set aside. Yet everywhere, as at New York, the merchants bound themselves not to import any British teas. The duty on British teas was slight. Americans might have paid the duty without increasing the price of their much prized luxury; ministers might have collected the same duty in England to the advantage of the Exchequer. That Britain should have insisted on this peppercorn in acknowledgement of her right, that America should have refused it in vindication of her liberty, may be taken as a high tribute from two eminently, practical peoples to the power of abstract ideas.


The original piece was first published in 1918 in the United States, which puts it into the public domain in the USA. This post, including the introduction by Bufo Calvinoriginally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

In honor of Presidents’ Day 2011: who said it?

February 21, 2011

In honor of Presidents’ Day 2011: who said it?

I have to admit, I have a little bit of a prejudice against Presidents’ (or President’s or Presidents) Day.

My birthday is February 12 (the same as Lincoln’s) which meant that I used to get a day off school when I was a kid…very handy for birthday parties.  😉

Then California combined Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday into one holiday…and to keep us from ending up with something like forty more state holidays at some point, through in everybody else from Chester A. Arthur to Millard Fillmore.

I thought it would be fun today to look at what Presidents have said in the past.  I took State of the Union addresses (which were available for free online). 

It’s amazing how many of the same themes repeat (or appear to repeat…the language can sometimes apply to several different situations).

Just to make it fun, I’ll give you five quotations from five different State of the Union addresses…by five different Presidents.  Take a guess at the President…I’ll give you who said what at the bottom of the post.

Oh, and I’m obviously not endorsing any political point of view expressed in these quotations.  🙂


“In dealing with both labor and capital, with the questions affecting both corporations and trades unions, there is one matter more important to remember than aught else, and that is the infinite harm done by preachers of mere discontent. These are the men who seek to excite a violent class hatred against all men of wealth. They seek to turn wise and proper movements for the better control of corporations and for doing away with the abuses connected with wealth, into a campaign of hysterical excitement and falsehood in which the aim is to inflame to madness the brutal passions of mankind. The sinister demagogs and foolish visionaries who are always eager to undertake such a campaign of destruction sometimes seek to associate themselves with those working for a genuine reform in governmental and social methods, and sometimes masquerade as such reformers. In reality they are the worst enemies of the cause they profess to advocate, just as the purveyors of sensational slander in newspaper or magazine are the worst enemies of all men who are engaged in an honest effort to better what is bad in our social and governmental conditions. To preach hatred of the rich man as such, to carry on a campaign of slander and invective against him, to seek to mislead and inflame to madness honest men whose lives are hard and who have not the kind of mental training which will permit them to appreciate the danger in the doctrines preached—all this is to commit a crime against the body politic and to be false to every worthy principle and tradition of American national life. Moreover, while such preaching and such agitation may give a livelihood and a certain notoriety to some of those who take part in it, and may result in the temporary political success of others, in the long run every such movement will either fail or else will provoke a violent reaction, which will itself result not merely in undoing the mischief wrought by the demagog and the agitator, but also in undoing the good that the honest reformer, the true upholder of popular rights, has painfully and laboriously achieved. Corruption is never so rife as in communities where the demagog and the agitator bear full sway, because in such communities all moral bands become loosened, and hysteria and sensationalism replace the spirit of sound judgment and fair dealing as between man and man. In sheer revolt against the squalid anarchy thus produced men are sure in the end to turn toward any leader who can restore order, and then their relief at being free from the intolerable burdens of class hatred, violence, and demagogy is such that they can not for some time be aroused to indignation against misdeeds by men of wealth; so that they permit a new growth of the very abuses which were in part responsible for the original outbreak. The one hope for success for our people lies in a resolute and fearless, but sane and cool-headed, advance along the path marked out last year by this very Congress. There must be a stern refusal to be misled into following either that base creature who appeals and panders to the lowest instincts and passions in order to arouse one set of Americans against their fellows, or that other creature, equally base but no baser, who in a spirit of greed, or to accumulate or add to an already huge fortune, seeks to exploit his fellow Americans with callous disregard to their welfare of soul and body. The man who debauches others in order to obtain a high office stands on an evil equality of corruption with the man who debauches others for financial profit; and when hatred is sown the crop which springs up can only be evil.”


“But our commitment to national safety is not a commitment to expand our military establishment indefinitely. We do not dismiss disarmament as merely an idle dream. For we believe that, in the end, it is the only way to assure the security of all without impairing the interests of any. Nor do we mistake honorable negotiation for appeasement. While we shall never weary in the defense of freedom, neither shall we ever abandon the pursuit of peace.”


“It is a circumstance of sincere gratification to me that on meeting the great council of our nation I am able to announce to them on grounds of reasonable certainty that the wars and troubles which have for so many years afflicted our sister nations have at length come to an end, and that the communications of peace and commerce are once more opening among them. Whilst we devoutly return thanks to the beneficent Being who has been pleased to breathe into them the spirit of conciliation and forgiveness, we are bound with peculiar gratitude to be thankful to Him that our own peace has been preserved through so perilous a season, and ourselves permitted quietly to cultivate the earth and to practice and improve those arts which tend to increase our comforts. The assurances, indeed, of friendly disposition received from all the powers with whom we have principle relations had inspired a confidence that our peace with them would not have been disturbed. But a cessation of irregularities which had affected the commerce of neutral nations and of the irritations and injuries produced by them can not but add to this confidence, and strengthens at the same time the hope that wrongs committed on unoffending friends under a pressure of circumstances will now be reviewed with candor, and will be considered as founding just claims of retribution for the past and new assurance for the future.”


“Adequate accommodations for the great library, which is overgrowing the capacity of the rooms now occupied at the Capitol, should be provided without further delay. This invaluable collection of books, manuscripts, and illustrative art has grown to such proportions, in connection with the copyright system of the country, as to demand the prompt and careful attention of Congress to save it from injury in its present crowded and insufficient quarters. As this library is national in its character, and must from the nature of the case increase even more rapidly in the future than in the past, it can not be doubted that the people will sanction any wise expenditure to preserve it and to enlarge its usefulness.”


“For people in the entertainment industry in this country, we applaud your creativity and your worldwide success and we support your freedom of expression but you do have a responsibility to assess the impact of your work and to understand the damage that comes from the incessant, repetitive, mindless violence and irresponsible conduct that permeates our media all the time.”


#1: Theodore Roosevelt, 1906

#2: John F. Kennedy, 1963

#3: Thomas Jefferson, 1801

#4: Rutherford B. Hayes, 1878

#5: William J. Clinton, 1995

Happy Presidents’ Day!

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

In honour of International Talk Like a Pirate Day: a Treasure Island excerpt

September 19, 2010

In honour of International Talk Like a Pirate Day: a Treasure Island excerpt

Arr! Today (the 19th o’ September) be International Talk Like a Pirate Day!  For those o’ ye who be wantin’ to hear more of the tale, set your sails for this post from me other blog.

In honor o’ th’ day, this be th’ first chapter o’ Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  First published in eighteen hundred and eighty-three, it be not piracy to give it t’ ye.  😉


The Old Sea-dog at the Admiral Benbow

SQUIRE TRELAWNEY, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow—a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:

          "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
             Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared, called roughly for a glass of rum. This, when it was brought to him, he drank slowly, like a connoisseur, lingering on the taste and still looking about him at the cliffs and up at our signboard.

“This is a handy cove,” says he at length; “and a pleasant sittyated grog-shop. Much company, mate?”

My father told him no, very little company, the more was the pity.

“Well, then,” said he, “this is the berth for me. Here you, matey,” he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; “bring up alongside and help up my chest. I’ll stay here a bit,” he continued. “I’m a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you’re at—there”; and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold. “You can tell me when I’ve worked through that,” says he, looking as fierce as a commander.

And indeed bad as his clothes were and coarsely as he spoke, he had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast, but seemed like a mate or skipper accustomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the morning before at the Royal George, that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.

He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove or upon the cliffs with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a corner of the parlour next the fire and drank rum and water very strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to, only look up sudden and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman did put up at the Admiral Benbow (as now and then some did, making by the coast road for Bristol) he would look in at him through the curtained door before he entered the parlour; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the matter, for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had taken me aside one day and promised me a silver fourpenny on the first of every month if I would only keep my “weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg” and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my four-penny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for “the seafaring man with one leg.”

How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. On stormy nights, when the wind shook the four corners of the house and the surf roared along the cove and up the cliffs, I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.

But though I was so terrified by the idea of the seafaring man with one leg, I was far less afraid of the captain himself than anybody else who knew him. There were nights when he took a deal more rum and water than his head would carry; and then he would sometimes sit and sing his wicked, old, wild sea-songs, minding nobody; but sometimes he would call for glasses round and force all the trembling company to listen to his stories or bear a chorus to his singing. Often I have heard the house shaking with “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum,” all the neighbours joining in for dear life, with the fear of death upon them, and each singing louder than the other to avoid remark. For in these fits he was the most overriding companion ever known; he would slap his hand on the table for silence all round; he would fly up in a passion of anger at a question, or sometimes because none was put, and so he judged the company was not following his story. Nor would he allow anyone to leave the inn till he had drunk himself sleepy and reeled off to bed.

His stories were what frightened people worst of all. Dreadful stories they were—about hanging, and walking the plank, and storms at sea, and the Dry Tortugas, and wild deeds and places on the Spanish Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea, and the language in which he told these stories shocked our plain country people almost as much as the crimes that he described. My father was always saying the inn would be ruined, for people would soon cease coming there to be tyrannized over and put down, and sent shivering to their beds; but I really believe his presence did us good. People were frightened at the time, but on looking back they rather liked it; it was a fine excitement in a quiet country life, and there was even a party of the younger men who pretended to admire him, calling him a “true sea-dog” and a “real old salt” and such like names, and saying there was the sort of man that made England terrible at sea.

In one way, indeed, he bade fair to ruin us, for he kept on staying week after week, and at last month after month, so that all the money had been long exhausted, and still my father never plucked up the heart to insist on having more. If ever he mentioned it, the captain blew through his nose so loudly that you might say he roared, and stared my poor father out of the room. I have seen him wringing his hands after such a rebuff, and I am sure the annoyance and the terror he lived in must have greatly hastened his early and unhappy death.

All the time he lived with us the captain made no change whatever in his dress but to buy some stockings from a hawker. One of the cocks of his hat having fallen down, he let it hang from that day forth, though it was a great annoyance when it blew. I remember the appearance of his coat, which he patched himself upstairs in his room, and which, before the end, was nothing but patches. He never wrote or received a letter, and he never spoke with any but the neighbours, and with these, for the most part, only when drunk on rum. The great sea-chest none of us had ever seen open.

He was only once crossed, and that was towards the end, when my poor father was far gone in a decline that took him off. Dr. Livesey came late one afternoon to see the patient, took a bit of dinner from my mother, and went into the parlour to smoke a pipe until his horse should come down from the hamlet, for we had no stabling at the old Benbow. I followed him in, and I remember observing the contrast the neat, bright doctor, with his powder as white as snow and his bright, black eyes and pleasant manners, made with the coltish country folk, and above all, with that filthy, heavy, bleared scarecrow of a pirate of ours, sitting, far gone in rum, with his arms on the table. Suddenly he—the captain, that is—began to pipe up his eternal song:

          "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
             Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
           Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
             Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

At first I had supposed “the dead man’s chest” to be that identical big box of his upstairs in the front room, and the thought had been mingled in my nightmares with that of the one-legged seafaring man. But by this time we had all long ceased to pay any particular notice to the song; it was new, that night, to nobody but Dr. Livesey, and on him I observed it did not produce an agreeable effect, for he looked up for a moment quite angrily before he went on with his talk to old Taylor, the gardener, on a new cure for the rheumatics. In the meantime, the captain gradually brightened up at his own music, and at last flapped his hand upon the table before him in a way we all knew to mean silence. The voices stopped at once, all but Dr. Livesey’s; he went on as before speaking clear and kind and drawing briskly at his pipe between every word or two. The captain glared at him for a while, flapped his hand again, glared still harder, and at last broke out with a villainous, low oath, “Silence, there, between decks!”

“Were you addressing me, sir?” says the doctor; and when the ruffian had told him, with another oath, that this was so, “I have only one thing to say to you, sir,” replies the doctor, “that if you keep on drinking rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel!”

The old fellow’s fury was awful. He sprang to his feet, drew and opened a sailor’s clasp-knife, and balancing it open on the palm of his hand, threatened to pin the doctor to the wall.

The doctor never so much as moved. He spoke to him as before, over his shoulder and in the same tone of voice, rather high, so that all the room might hear, but perfectly calm and steady: “If you do not put that knife this instant in your pocket, I promise, upon my honour, you shall hang at the next assizes.”

Then followed a battle of looks between them, but the captain soon knuckled under, put up his weapon, and resumed his seat, grumbling like a beaten dog.

“And now, sir,” continued the doctor, “since I now know there’s such a fellow in my district, you may count I’ll have an eye upon you day and night. I’m not a doctor only; I’m a magistrate; and if I catch a breath of complaint against you, if it’s only for a piece of incivility like tonight’s, I’ll take effectual means to have you hunted down and routed out of this. Let that suffice.”

Soon after, Dr. Livesey’s horse came to the door and he rode away, but the captain held his peace that evening, and for many evenings to come.


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

Jimgrim and Allah’s Peace

July 13, 2010

Jimgrim and Allah’s Peace

“I suppose the men who can analyze their thoughts, and separate the wise impulses from the rash ones, are the people whom the world calls men of destiny and whom history later assigns to its halls of fame. The rest of us simply act from pique, prejudice, passion or whatever other emotion is in charge.”
–Jimgrim and Allah’s Peace
by Talbot Mundy

I pre-loaded my Kindle with several books for a recent trip (I was going to spend some time on planes, where I can’t download more).

One of them was first published in 1936, and was by an author I had read before, Talbot Mundy.

I was expecting an exotic adventure with perhaps some supernatural elements.

Instead, I got a rip-roaring thriller…a button-pushing plot that could make a great summer blockbuster.

It’s been quite a while since I read a book that made me regret the times when I wasn’t reading it.  I was involved with a family thing, so I couldn’t just read it straight through…but I leapt at it every chance I got.

I know it’s not going to be for everybody, but I really enjoyed the writing.

You’ll have to be prepared for a lot of cultural observation, but I didn’t find it offensive, generally.  It’s the time between the World Wars…after “The War to End All Wars” and “The Great War”.  It takes place in what we now call The Middle East (but it was the Near East then). 

It’s a complicated time in Jerusalem: be prepared for references to Zionists, the British and the French aren’t exactly in agreement, and there are Sikhs, Sheikhs, and Damascenes.

Our hero is thrust into the situation, but there is a man there who is fully a part of it: a man called Jimgrim (Major James Schuyler Grim).

Jimgrim is one of those impossibly competent characters, like Sherlock Holmes.  Mundy wisely makes him support to our far less competent narrator.  It’s hard to be emotionally involved with someone who seems so unlike you, who seems like she or he can’t lose.  Instead, Jimgrim here is essential to the plot and a force of nature…but not the one on whom we hang our hearts.

While I think the book would make a great movie, I can’t imagine who could play Jimgrim.  He is a master of disguise…but not because of any special sort of makeup.  It’s because he has several identities, each from a different culture, each convincing even to those within the group, some as subtly different as Clark Kent and Superman.  You can describe that in a book, but it’s hard to pull off on screen.

The plot involves a dastardly scheme, like something out of James Bond…but quite believable.  The politics make sense…convoluted politics, but quite accessible to the reader.

Mundy’s writing rings true for many of the cultures involved…and he himself was widely traveled.  The only misstep for me was the description of a minor character of African descent…that one struck me as a bit stereotyped, unlike the way most of the characters appear to me.

There are quite a few characters, and I found many of them charming, distinct, and memorable.

One thing, which I didn’t mind at all, is that the book has two clear halves…that may be a legacy of it having been published serially initially.

As you can tell, I’m recommending this one.  🙂 

You can get it for free here:

and that comes in several formats, including azw for Kindle and EPUB and PDF (so you’ll be covered on your iPad, Sony, or NOOK).

You might also just want to pay ninety-nine cents for 17 Talbot Mundy novels here:

The Works of Talbot Mundy

Here’s the opening…

There is a beautiful belief that journalists may do exactly as they please, and whenever they please. Pleasure with violet eyes was in Chicago. My passport describes me as a journalist. My employer said: “Go to Jerusalem.” I went, that was in 1920.

I had been there a couple of times before the World War, when the Turks were in full control. So I knew about the bedbugs and the stench of the citadel moat; the pre-war price of camels; enough Arabic to misunderstand it when spoken fluently, and enough of the Old Testament and the Koran to guess at Arabian motives, which are important, whereas words are usually such stuff as lies are made of.

El Kudz, as Arabs call Jerusalem, is, from a certain distance, as they also call it, shellabi kabir. Extremely beautiful. Beautiful upon a mountain. El Kudz means The City, and in a certain sense it is that, to unnumbered millions of people. Ludicrous, uproarious, dignified, pious, sinful, naively confidential, secretive, altruistic, realistic. Hoary-ancient and ultra-modern. Very, very proud of its name Jerusalem, which means City of Peace. Full to the brim with the malice of certainly fifty religions, fifty races, and five hundred thousand curious political chicaneries disguised as plans to save our souls from hell and fill some fellow’s purse. The jails are full.

“Look for a man named Grim,” said my employer. “James Schuyler Grim, American, aged thirty-four or so. I’ve heard he knows the ropes.”

The ropes, when I was in Jerusalem before the war, were principally used for hanging people at the Jaffa Gate, after they had been well beaten on the soles of their feet to compel them to tell where their money was hidden. The Turks entirely understood the arts of suppression and extortion, which they defined as government. The British, on the other hand, subject their normal human impulse to be greedy, and their educated craving to be gentlemanly white man’s burden-bearers, to a process of compromise. Perhaps that isn’t government. But it works. They even carry compromise to the point of not hanging even their critics if they can possibly avoid doing it. They had not yet, but they were about to receive a brand-new mandate from a brand-new League of Nations, awkwardly qualified by Mr. Balfour’s post-Armistice promise to the Zionists to give the country to the Jews, and by a war-time promise, in which the French had joined, to create an Arab kingdom for the Arabs.

So there was lots of compromising being done, and hell to pay, with no one paying, except, of course, the guests in the hotels, at New York prices. The Zionist Jews were arriving in droves. The Arabs, who owned most of the land, were threatening to cut all the Jews’ throats as soon as they could first get all their money. Feisal, a descendant of the Prophet, who had fought gloriously against the Turks, was romantically getting ready in Damascus to be crowned King of Syria. The French, who pride themselves on being realistic, were getting ready to go after Feisal with bayonets and poison-gas, as they eventually did.

In Jerusalem the Bolsheviks, astonishingly credulous of “secret” news from Moscow, and skeptical of every one’s opinion but their own, were bolsheviking Marxian Utopia beneath a screen of such arrogant innocence that even the streetcorner police constables suspected them. And Mustapha Kemal, in Anatolia, was rumoured to be preparing a holy war. It was known as a Ghazi in those days. He had not yet scrapped religion. He was contemplating, so said rumour, a genuine old-fashioned moslem jihad, with modern trimmings.

A few enthusiasts astonishingly still laboured for an American mandate. At the Holy Sepulchre a British soldier stood on guard with bayonet and bullets to prevent the priests of rival creeds from murdering one another. The sun shone and so did the stars. General Bols reopened Pontius Pilate’s water-works. The learned monks in convents argued about facts and theories denied by archaeologists. Old-fashioned Jews wailed at the Wailing Wall. Tommy Atkins blasphemously dug corpses of donkeys and dogs from the Citadel moat.

I arrived in the midst of all that, and spent a couple of months trying to make head or tail of it, and wondering, if that was peace, what war is? They say that wherever a man was ever slain in Palestine a flower grows. So one gets a fair idea of the country’s mass-experience without much difficulty. For three months of the year, from end to end, the whole landscape is carpeted with flowers so close together that, except where beasts and men have trodden winding tracks, one can hardly walk without crushing an anemone or wild chrysanthemum. There are more battle-fields in that small land than all Europe can show. There are streams everywhere that historians assert repeatedly “ran blood for days.”

Five thousand years of bloody terrorism, intermingling of races, piety, plunder, politics and pilgrims, have produced a self- consciousness as concentrated as liquid poison-gas. The laughter is sarcastic, the humour sardonic, and the credulity beyond analysis. For instance, when I got there, I heard the British being accused of “imperialistic savagery” because they had removed the leprous beggars from the streets into a clean place where they could receive medical treatment.

It was difficult to find one line of observation. Whatever anybody told you, was reversed entirely by the next man. The throat-distorting obligation to study Arabic called for rather intimate association with educated Arabs, whose main obsession was fear of the Zionist Jews. The things they said against the Jews turned me pro-Zionist. So I cautiously made the acquaintance of some gentlemen with gold-rimmed spectacles, and the things they said about the Arabs set me to sympathizing with the sons of Ishmael again.

In the midst of that predicament I met Jimgrim—Major James Schuyler Grim, to give him his full title, although hardly any one ever called him by it. After that, bewilderment began to cease as, under his amused, painstaking fingers, thread after thread of the involved gnarl of plots and politics betrayed its course.

However, first I must tell how I met him…

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

The Great God Pan

July 9, 2010

The Great God Pan

“…think, think what you are saying. It is too incredible, too monstrous; such things can never be in this quiet world, where men and women live and die, and struggle, and conquer, or maybe fail, and fall down under sorrow, and grieve and suffer strange fortunes for many a year; but not this, Phillips, not such things as this. There must be some explanation, some way out of the terror. Why, man, if such a case were possible, our earth would be a nightmare.”
–The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

An ancient evil so horrible to look upon that men go mad. A book, the work of a lunatic, that can derange the reader.

Sound familiar? The book isn’t the Necronomicon, and the author it isn’t H.P. Lovecraft (or one of the other contributors to the Cthulhu mythos).

However, Arthur Machen did influence later writers, including Lovecraft (who called him one of the four masters…Stephen King has cited The Great God Pan as one of the great horror stories).

Would you have named him?

I think his relative anonymity now is interesting. I’ve read it suggested that Oscar Wilde’s sensational difficulties caused the whole genre to lose favor. It’s hard to imagine The Great God Pan having been considered respectable even before that, though.

Oh, I think it is well-written, and evocative. But the subject matter…I don’t want to give too much away. Let’s say “they meddled in things best left alone”. But don’t picture a ravening monster released from a pentagram in a protective circle or a robot destroying its creator.

Like Lovecraft later, there really isn’t a lot of explicit description. The plot is clear, but things don’t have to be described to be frightening.

Val Lewton could undoubtedly have made a classic movie out of The Great God Pan…but to my knowledge, no one has. It’s Victorian approach to science would require either a period piece or an update…but I think it could still have a really atmospheric visual interpretation.

There also is more plot than one might imagine, even though it is only about 20,000 words (traditionally, that’s about 80 pages).

It was first published in 1894, and the author died in 1947. That’s going to put it in the public domain in many countries (even if copyright was renewed).

The Great God Pan  at

Here’s the beginning of the book to give you a taste…but not enough to risk your sanity… 😉



“I am glad you came, Clarke; very glad indeed. I was not sure you could spare the time.”

“I was able to make arrangements for a few days; things are not very lively just now. But have you no misgivings, Raymond? Is it absolutely safe?”

The two men were slowly pacing the terrace in front of Dr. Raymond’s house. The sun still hung above the western mountain-line, but it shone with a dull red glow that cast no shadows, and all the air was quiet; a sweet breath came from the great wood on the hillside above, and with it, at intervals, the soft murmuring call of the wild doves. Below, in the long lovely valley, the river wound in and out between the lonely hills, and, as the sun hovered and vanished into the west, a faint mist, pure white, began to rise from the hills. Dr. Raymond turned sharply to his friend.

“Safe? Of course it is. In itself the operation is a perfectly simple one; any surgeon could do it.”

“And there is no danger at any other stage?”

“None; absolutely no physical danger whatsoever, I give you my word. You are always timid, Clarke, always; but you know my history. I have devoted myself to transcendental medicine for the last twenty years. I have heard myself called quack and charlatan and impostor, but all the while I knew I was on the right path. Five years ago I reached the goal, and since then every day has been a preparation for what we shall do tonight.”

“I should like to believe it is all true.” Clarke knit his brows, and looked doubtfully at Dr. Raymond. “Are you perfectly sure, Raymond, that your theory is not a phantasmagoria—a splendid vision, certainly, but a mere vision after all?”

Dr. Raymond stopped in his walk and turned sharply. He was a middle-aged man, gaunt and thin, of a pale yellow complexion, but as he answered Clarke and faced him, there was a flush on his cheek.

“Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things—yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet—I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these ‘chases in Arras, dreams in a career,’ beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another’s eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan.”

Clarke shivered; the white mist gathering over the river was chilly.

“It is wonderful indeed,” he said. “We are standing on the brink of a strange world, Raymond, if what you say is true. I suppose the knife is absolutely necessary?”

“Yes; a slight lesion in the grey matter, that is all; a trifling rearrangement of certain cells, a microscopical alteration that would escape the attention of ninety-nine brain specialists out of a hundred. I don’t want to bother you with ‘shop,’ Clarke; I might give you a mass of technical detail which would sound very imposing, and would leave you as enlightened as you are now. But I suppose you have read, casually, in out-of-the-way corners of your paper, that immense strides have been made recently in the physiology of the brain. I saw a paragraph the other day about Digby’s theory, and Browne Faber’s discoveries. Theories and discoveries! Where they are standing now, I stood fifteen years ago, and I need not tell you that I have not been standing still for the last fifteen years. It will be enough if I say that five years ago I made the discovery that I alluded to when I said that ten years ago I reached the goal. After years of labour, after years of toiling and groping in the dark, after days and nights of disappointments and sometimes of despair, in which I used now and then to tremble and grow cold with the thought that perhaps there were others seeking for what I sought, at last, after so long, a pang of sudden joy thrilled my soul, and I knew the long journey was at an end. By what seemed then and still seems a chance, the suggestion of a moment’s idle thought followed up upon familiar lines and paths that I had tracked a hundred times already, the great truth burst upon me, and I saw, mapped out in lines of sight, a whole world, a sphere unknown; continents and islands, and great oceans in which no ship has sailed (to my belief) since a Man first lifted up his eyes and beheld the sun, and the stars of heaven, and the quiet earth beneath. You will think this all high-flown language, Clarke, but it is hard to be literal. And yet; I do not know whether what I am hinting at cannot be set forth in plain and lonely terms. For instance, this world of ours is pretty well girded now with the telegraph wires and cables; thought, with something less than the speed of thought, flashes from sunrise to sunset, from north to south, across the floods and the desert places. Suppose that an electrician of today were suddenly to perceive that he and his friends have merely been playing with pebbles and mistaking them for the foundations of the world; suppose that such a man saw uttermost space lie open before the current, and words of men flash forth to the sun and beyond the sun into the systems beyond, and the voice of articulate-speaking men echo in the waste void that bounds our thought. As analogies go, that is a pretty good analogy of what I have done; you can understand now a little of what I felt as I stood here one evening; it was a summer evening, and the valley looked much as it does now; I stood here, and saw before me the unutterable, the unthinkable gulf that yawns profound between two worlds, the world of matter and the world of spirit; I saw the great empty deep stretch dim before me, and in that instant a bridge of light leapt from the earth to the unknown shore, and the abyss was spanned. You may look in Browne Faber’s book, if you like, and you will find that to the present day men of science are unable to account for the presence, or to specify the functions of a certain group of nerve-cells in the brain. That group is, as it were, land to let, a mere waste place for fanciful theories. I am not in the position of Browne Faber and the specialists, I am perfectly instructed as to the possible functions of those nerve-centers in the scheme of things. With a touch I can bring them into play, with a touch, I say, I can set free the current, with a touch I can complete the communication between this world of sense and—we shall be able to finish the sentence later on. Yes, the knife is necessary; but think what that knife will effect. It will level utterly the solid wall of sense, and probably, for the first time since man was made, a spirit will gaze on a spirit-world. Clarke, Mary will see the god Pan!”

“But you remember what you wrote to me? I thought it would be requisite that she—”


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

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