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The Boring Story

Anton Chekhov

There is in Russia an emeritus Professor Nikolay Stepanovitch, a chevalier and


privy councillor; he has so many Russian and foreign decorations that when he has
occasion to put them on the students nickname him The Ikonstand. His
acquaintances are of the most aristocratic; for the last twenty-five or thirty years, at
any rate, there has not been one single distinguished man of learning in Russia with
whom he has not been intimately acquainted. There is no one for him to make
friends with nowadays; but if we turn to the past, the long list of his famous friends
winds up with such names as Pirogov, Kavelin, and the poet Nekrasov, all of whom
bestowed upon him a warm and sincere affection. He is a member of all the Russian
and of three foreign universities. And so on, and so on. All that and a great deal
more that might be said makes up what is called my name.
That is my name as known to the public. In Russia it is known to every
educated man, and abroad it is mentioned in the lecture-room with the addition
honoured and distinguished. It is one of those fortunate names to abuse which or
to take which in vain, in public or in print, is considered a sign of bad taste. And that
is as it should be. You see, my name is closely associated with the conception of a
highly distinguished man of great gifts and unquestionable usefulness. I have the
industry and power of endurance of a camel, and that is important, and I have
talent, which is even more important. Moreover, while I am on this subject, I am a
well-educated, modest, and honest fellow. I have never poked my nose into
literature or politics; I have never sought popularity in polemics with the ignorant; I
have never made speeches either at public dinners or at the funerals of my friends.
In fact, there is no slur on my learned name, and there is no complaint one can
make against it. It is fortunate.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Jan 29, 1860 - Jul 15, 1904) was a Russian physician
and supreme short story writer and playwright. He was the third of six children. His
father was a grocer, painter and religious fanatic with a mercurial temperament who
"thrashed" his children and was likely emotionally abusive to his wife. Chekhov, like
Dickens, was no stranger to financial hardship and in 1875 his father took the family
and fled to Moscow to escape creditors. Chekhov stayed behind for three more
years to finish school. He paid for his tuition by catching and selling goldfinches and
dispensing private tutoring lessons, and selling short sketches to the newspaper. He
sent any money he could spare money to his family in Moscow. A child-family
separation theme plays out in several of Chekhov stories including Vanka, The
Steppe, and Sleepy.

In 1879 Chekhov was admitted to medical school and he joined his family in
Moscow. He assumed financial responsibility for the family and while attending
classes at Moscow State University he wrote and sold a large number of humorous
stories and vignettes of contemporary Russian life. He published more than 400
short stories, sketches and vignettes by the age of twenty-six.
Some consider Chekhov to be the founder of the modern short story and his
influence is observed in a diverse group of writers including Flannery O'Connor,
Tennessee Williams, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Carver and John Cheever. Most
of the English-speaking world knows him as a playwright, particularly for The
Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard.

The omnibus
Arthur Quiller-Couch
It was not so much a day as a burning, fiery furnace. The roar of London's traffic
reverberated under a sky of coppery blue; the pavements threw out waves of heat,
thickened with the reek of restaurants and perfumery shops; and dust became
cinders, and the wearing of flesh a weariness. Streams of sweat ran from the bellies
of 'bus-horses when they halted. Men went up and down with unbuttoned
waistcoats, turned into drinking-bars, and were no sooner inside than they longed to
be out again, and baking in an ampler oven. Other men, who had given up drinking
because of the expense, hung about the fountains in Trafalgar Square and listened
to the splash of running water. It was the time when London is supposed to be
empty; and when those who remain in town feel there is not room for a soul more.
We were eleven inside the omnibus when it pulled up at Charing Cross, so that
legally there was room for just one more. I had travelled enough in omnibuses to
know my fellow-passengers by heart-- a governess with some sheets of music in her
satchel; a minor actress going to rehearsal; a woman carrying her incurable
complaint for the hundredth time to the hospital; three middle-aged city clerks; a
couple of reporters with weak eyes and low collars; an old loose-cheeked woman
exhaling patchouli; a bald-headed man with hairy hands, a violent breast-pin, and
the indescribable air of a matrimonial agent. Not a word passed. We were all failures
in life, and could not trouble to dissemble it, in that heat. Moreover, we were used to
each other, as types if not as persons, and had lost curiosity. So we sat listless,
dispirited, drawing difficult breath and staring vacuously. The hope we shared in
common--that nobody would claim the vacant seat--was too obvious to be
discussed.
But at Charing Cross the twelfth passenger got in--a boy with a stick, and a bundle
in a blue handkerchief. He was about thirteen; bound for the docks, we could tell at
a glance, to sail on his first voyage; and, by the way he looked about, we could tell

as easily that in stepping outside Charing Cross Station he had set foot on London
stones for the first time. When we pulled up, he was standing on the opposite
pavement with dazed eyes like a hare's, wondering at the new world--the hansoms,
the yelling news-boys, the flower-women, the crowd pushing him this way and that,
the ugly shop-fronts, the hurry and stink and din of it all. Then, hailing our 'bus, he
started to run across--faltered--almost dropped his bundle--was snatched by our
conductor out of the path of a running hansom, and hauled on board. His eyelids
were pink and swollen; but he was not crying, though he wanted to. Instead, he took
a great gulp, as he pushed between our knees to his seat, and tried to look brave as
a lion.

The passengers turned an incurious, half-resentful stare upon him, and then
repented. I think that more than one of us wanted to speak, but dared not.
It was not so much the little chap's look. But to the knot of his sea-kit there was tied
a bunch of cottage-flowers--sweet williams, boy's love, love-lies-bleeding, a few
common striped carnations, and a rose or two--and the sight and smell of them in
that frowsy 'bus were like tears on thirsty eyelids. We had ceased to pity what we
were, but the heart is far withered that cannot pity what it has been; and it made us
shudder to look on the young face set towards the road along which we had
travelled so far. Only the minor actress dropped a tear; but she was used to
expressing emotion, and half-way down the Strand the 'bus stopped and she left us.
The woman with an incurable complaint touched me on the knee.
"Speak to him," she whispered.
But the whisper did not reach, for I was two hundred miles away, and occupied in
starting off to school for the first time. I had two shillings in my pocket; and at the
first town where the coach baited I was to exchange these for a coco-nut and a
clasp-knife. Also, I was to break the knife in opening the nut, and the nut, when
opened, would be sour. A sense of coming evil, therefore, possessed me.
"Why don't you speak to him?"
The boy glanced up, not catching her words, but suspicious: then frowned and
looked defiant.
"Ah," she went on in the same whisper, "it's only the young that I pity. Sometimes,
sir--for my illness keeps me much awake--I lie at night in my lodgings and listen, and
the whole of London seems filled with the sound of children's feet running. Even by
day I can hear them, at the back of the uproar--"
The matrimonial agent grunted and rose, as we halted at the top of Essex Street. I
saw him slip a couple of half-crowns into the conductor's hand: and he whispered

something, jerking his head back towards the interior of the 'bus. The boy was
brushing his eyes, under pretence of putting his cap forward; and by the time he
stole a look around to see if anyone had observed, we had started again. I
pretended to stare out of the window, but marked the wet smear on his hand as he
laid it on his lap.
In less than a minute it was my turn to alight. Unlike the matrimonial agent, I had
not two half-crowns to spare; but, catching the sick woman's eye, forced up courage
to nod and say-"Good luck, my boy."
"Good day, sir."
A moment after I was in the hot crowd, whose roar rolled east and west for miles.
And at the back of it, as the woman had said, in street and side-lane and blind-alley,
I heard the footfall of a multitude more terrible than an army with banners, the
ceaseless pelting feet of children--of Whittingtons turning and turning again.
The Cat
by Banjo Paterson
Most people think that the cat is an unintelligent animal, fond of ease, and caring
little for anything but mice and milk. But a cat has really more character than most
human beings, and gets a great deal more satisfaction out of life. Of all the animal
kingdom, the cat has the most many-sided character.
He -- or she -- is an athlete, a musician, an acrobat, a Lothario, a grim fighter, a
sport of the first water. All day long the cat loafs about the house, takes things easy,
sleeps by the fire, and allows himself to be pestered by the attentions of our
womenfolk and annoyed by our children. To pass the time away he sometimes
watches a mouse-hole for an hour or two -- just to keep himself from dying of ennui;
and people get the idea that this sort of thing is all that life holds for the cat. But
watch him as the shades of evening fall, and you see the cat as he really is.
When the family sits down to tea, the cat usually puts in an appearance to get his
share, and purrs noisily, and rubs himself against the legs of the family; and all the
time he is thinking of a fight or a love-affair that is coming off that evening. If there
is a guest at table the cat is particularly civil to him, because the guest is likely to
have the best of what is going. Sometimes, instead of recognizing this civility with
something to eat, the guest stoops down and strokes the cat, and says, "Poor pussy!
poor pussy!"
The cat soon tires of that; he puts up his claw and quietly but firmly rakes the guest
in the leg.

"Ow!" says the guest, "the cat stuck his claws into me!" The delighted family
remarks, "Isn't it sweet of him? Isn't he intelligent? HE WANTS YOU TO GIVE HIM
SOMETHING TO EAT."
The guest dares not do what he would like to do -- kick the cat through the window
-- so, with tears of rage and pain in his eyes, he affects to be very much amused,
and sorts out a bit of fish from his plate and hands it down. The cat gingerly
receives it, with a look in his eyes that says: "Another time, my friend, you won't be
so dull of comprehension," and purrs maliciously as he retires to a safe distance
from the guest's boot before eating it. A cat isn't a fool -- not by a long way.
When the family has finished tea, and gathers round the fire to enjoy the hours of
indigestion, the cat slouches casually out of the room and disappears. Life, true life,
now begins for him.
He saunters down his own backyard, springs to the top of the fence with one easy
bound, drops lightly down on the other side, trots across the right-of-way to a
vacant allotment, and skips to the roof of an empty shed. As he goes, he throws off
the effeminacy of civilisation; his gait becomes lithe and pantherlike; he looks
quickly and keenly from side to side, and moves noiselessly, for he has so many
enemies -- dogs, cabmen with whips, and small boys with stones.
Arrived on the top of the shed, the cat arches his back, rakes his claws once or twice
through the soft bark of the old roof, wheels round and stretches himself a few
times; just to see that every muscle is in full working order; then, dropping his head
nearly to his paws, he sends across a league of backyards his call to his kindred -- a
call to love, or war, or sport.
Before long they come, gliding, graceful shadows, approaching circuitously, and
halting occasionally to reconnoitre -- tortoiseshell, tabby, and black, all domestic
cats, but all transformed for the nonce into their natural state. No longer are they
the hypocritical, meek creatures who an hour ago were cadging for fish and milk.
They are now ruffling, swaggering blades with a Gascon sense of dignity. Their fights
are grim and determined, and a cat will be clawed to ribbons before he will yield.
Even young lady cats have this inestimable superiority over human beings, that
they can work off jealousy, hatred, and malice in a sprawling, yelling combat on a
flat roof. All cats fight, and all keep themselves more or less in training while they
are young. Your cat may be the acknowledged lightweight champion of his district -a Griffo of the feline ring!
Just think how much more he gets out of his life than you do out of yours -- what a
hurricane of fighting and lovemaking his life is -- and blush for yourself. You have
had one little love-affair, and never had a good, all-out fight in your life!

And the sport they have, too! As they get older and retire from the ring they go in
for sport more systematically; the suburban backyards, that are to us but dullness
indescribable, are to them hunting-grounds and trysting-places where they may
have more gallant adventure than ever had King Arthur's knights or Robin Hood's
merry men.
Grimalkin decides to kill a canary in a neighbouring verandah. Consider the
fascination of it -- the stealthy reconnaissance from the top of the fence; the care to
avoid waking the house-dog, the noiseless approach and the hurried dash, and the
fierce clawing at the fluttering bird till its mangled body is dragged through the bars
of the cage; the exultant retreat with the spoil; the growling over the feast that
follows. Not the least entertaining part of it is the demure satisfaction of arriving
home in time for breakfast and hearing the house-mistress say: "Tom must be sick;
he seems to have no appetite."
It is always levelled as a reproach against cats that they are more fond of their
home than of the people in it. Naturally, the cat doesn't like to leave his country, the
land where all his friends are, and where he knows every landmark. Exiled in a
strange land, he would have to learn a new geography, to exploit another tribe of
dogs, to fight and make love to an entirely new nation of cats. Life isn't long enough
for that sort of thing. So, when the family moves, the cat, if allowed, will stay at the
old house and attach himself to the new tenants. He will give them the privilege of
boarding him while he enjoys life in his own way. He is not going to sacrifice his
whole career for the doubtful reward which fidelity to his old master or mistress
might bring.

Banjo Paterson
An Australian poet, journalist and writer Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson, (1864 1941) focused his work on the rural and outback areas around New South Wales
capturing both the peculiarities and charms of people and places he wrote about.
He is famous for his folksong Waltzing Matilda and his poems The Man from Snowy
River and Clancy of the Overflow.
Unofficially considered Australia's "official" national song, Waltzing Matilda (1895), is
not about dancing with a pretty girl named Matilda. Once the vernacular is stripped
away and the words are understood, the song tells the tale of a migrant worker,
making some tea at a bush camp. When a sheep comes to drink from "billabong" or
watering hole, he nabs the sheep to eat. When owner of the sheep arrives with
three policemen to arrest him, he drowns himself in the billabong leaving his ghost
to haunt the site.

The Terrible Old Man


by H. P. Lovecraft
It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call on the
Terrible Old Man. This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water
Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly
feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of the profession of Messrs.
Ricci, Czanek, and Silva, for that profession was nothing less dignified than robbery.
The inhabitants of Kingsport say and think many things about the Terrible Old Man
which generally keep him safe from the attention of gentlemen like Mr. Ricci and his
colleagues, despite the almost certain fact that he hides a fortune of indefinite
magnitude somewhere about his musty and venerable abode. He is, in truth, a very
strange person, believed to have been a captain of East India clipper ships in his
day; so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn that few
know his real name. Among the gnarled trees in the front yard of his aged and
neglected place he maintains a strange collection of large stones, oddly grouped
and painted so that they resemble the idols in some obscure Eastern temple. This
collection frightens away most of the small boys who love to taunt the Terrible Old
Man about his long white hair and beard, or to break the small-paned windows of his
dwelling with wicked missiles; but there are other things which frighten the older
and more curious folk who sometimes steal up to the house to peer in through the
dusty panes. These folk say that on a table in a bare room on the ground floor are
many peculiar bottles, in each a small piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from
a string. And they say that the Terrible Old Man talks to these bottles, addressing
them by such names as Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate
Ellis, and that whenever he speaks to a bottle the little lead pendulum within makes
certain definite vibrations as if in answer.
Those who have watched the tall, lean, Terrible Old Man in these peculiar
conversations, do not watch him again. But Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel
Silva were not of Kingsport blood; they were of that new and heterogeneous alien
stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions, and
they saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a tottering, almost helpless grey-beard, who
could not walk without the aid of his knotted cane, and whose thin, weak hands
shook pitifully. They were really quite sorry in their way for the lonely, unpopular old
fellow, whom everybody shunned, and at whom all the dogs barked singularly. But
business is business, and to a robber whose soul is in his profession, there is a lure
and a challenge about a very old and very feeble man who has no account at the
bank, and who pays for his few necessities at the village store with Spanish gold
and silver minted two centuries ago.

Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva selected the night of April 11th for their call. Mr.
Ricci and Mr. Silva were to interview the poor old gentleman, whilst Mr. Czanek
waited for them and their presumable metallic burden with a covered motor-car in
Ship Street, by the gate in the tall rear wall of their hosts grounds. Desire to avoid
needless explanations in case of unexpected police intrusions prompted these plans
for a quiet and unostentatious departure.
As prearranged, the three adventurers started out separately in order to prevent
any evil-minded suspicions afterward. Messrs. Ricci and Silva met in Water Street by
the old mans front gate, and although they did not like the way the moon shone
down upon the painted stones through the budding branches of the gnarled trees,
they had more important things to think about than mere idle superstition. They
feared it might be unpleasant work making the Terrible Old Man loquacious
concerning his hoarded gold and silver, for aged sea-captains are notably stubborn
and perverse. Still, he was very old and very feeble, and there were two visitors.
Messrs. Ricci and Silva were experienced in the art of making unwilling persons
voluble, and the screams of a weak and exceptionally venerable man can be easily
muffled. So they moved up to the one lighted window and heard the Terrible Old
Man talking childishly to his bottles with pendulums. Then they donned masks and
knocked politely at the weather-stained oaken door.
Waiting seemed very long to Mr. Czanek as he fidgeted restlessly in the covered
motor-car by the Terrible Old Mans back gate in Ship Street. He was more than
ordinarily tender-hearted, and he did not like the hideous screams he had heard in
the ancient house just after the hour appointed for the deed. Had he not told his
colleagues to be as gentle as possible with the pathetic old sea-captain? Very
nervously he watched that narrow oaken gate in the high and ivy-clad stone wall.
Frequently he consulted his watch, and wondered at the delay. Had the old man
died before revealing where his treasure was hidden, and had a thorough search
become necessary? Mr. Czanek did not like to wait so long in the dark in such a
place. Then he sensed a soft tread or tapping on the walk inside the gate, heard a
gentle fumbling at the rusty latch, and saw the narrow, heavy door swing inward.
And in the pallid glow of the single dim street-lamp he strained his eyes to see what
his colleagues had brought out of that sinister house which loomed so close behind.
But when he looked, he did not see what he had expected; for his colleagues were
not there at all, but only the Terrible Old Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane
and smiling hideously. Mr. Czanek had never before noticed the colour of that mans
eyes; now he saw that they were yellow.
Little things make considerable excitement in little towns, which is the reason that
Kingsport people talked all that spring and summer about the three unidentifiable
bodies, horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the
tread of many cruel boot-heels, which the tide washed in. And some people even
spoke of things as trivial as the deserted motor-car found in Ship Street, or certain
especially inhuman cries, probably of a stray animal or migratory bird, heard in the

night by wakeful citizens. But in this idle village gossip the Terrible Old Man took no
interest at all. He was by nature reserved, and when one is aged and feeble, ones
reserve is doubly strong. Besides, so ancient a sea-captain must have witnessed
scores of things much more stirring in the far-off days of his unremembered youth.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft


Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was an American author writing odd tales
and horror stories that can be attributed to the Gothic, Horror, Supernatural,
Science Fiction and Weird genres.
He died unknown and in poverty but achieved great acclaim after his death. He
published under multiple pen names; Lewis Theobald, Humphrey Littlewit, Ward
Phillips, Edward Softly.

The Little Match Girl


by Hans Christian Andersen

Although he is well noted for his fairy-tales, the poignant story of The Little Match
Girl or The Little Matchstick Girl, is a great example of Hans Christian Andersen
wider talents and abilities.
An illustration for the story The Little Match Girl by the author Hans Christian
Andersen
Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening-- the
last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there went along the street a poor
little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on,
it is true; but what was the good of that? They were very large slippers, which her
mother had hitherto worn; so large were they; and the poor little thing lost them as
she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that rolled by
dreadfully fast.
One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by an urchin,
and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for a cradle when he some
day or other should have children himself. So the little maiden walked on with her
tiny naked feet, that were quite red and blue from cold. She carried a quantity of

matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had
bought anything of her the whole livelong day; no one had given her a single
farthing.
She crept along trembling with cold and hunger--a very picture of sorrow, the poor
little thing!
The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful curls around her
neck; but of that, of course, she never once now thought. From all the windows the
candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast goose, for you know it
was New Year's Eve; yes, of that she thought.
In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she
seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to
her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she
had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money: from her father
she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had
only the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were
stopped up with straw and rags.
Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a
world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it
against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. "Rischt!" how it
blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her
hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as
though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a
brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so
delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but-the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the
burnt-out match in her hand.
She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on
the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the
room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid
porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of
apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose
hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its
breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when--the match went out and nothing
but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lighted another match. Now
there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger,
and more decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door in the
rich merchant's house.
Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures,
such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden
stretched out her hands towards them when--the match went out. The lights of the

Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one
fell down and formed a long trail of fire.
"Someone is just dead!" said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the only person
who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that when a star falls, a
soul ascends to God.

She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the lustre there
stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild, and with such an
expression of love.
"Grandmother!" cried the little one. "Oh, take me with you! You go away when the
match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast goose, and
like the magnificent Christmas tree!" And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches
quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her
grandmother near her. And the matches gave such a brilliant light that it was
brighter than at noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been so beautiful
and so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and
in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor
anxiety--they were with God.
But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and
with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall--frozen to death on the last evening
of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one
bundle had been burnt. "She wanted to warm herself," people said. No one had the
slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of
the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new
year.

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen, Danish, born in 1805, practically invented the art of
writing fairy tales, called eventyrs or "fantastic tales." Although he wrote a broad
range of work, including plays, travelogues, novels and poems, it was his fairy tales
that became culturally iconic in the Western world. They transcend age and
nationality, and have been translated into more than 125 languages and have
inspired countless plays, ballets, and movies.
Who hasn't read or seen an animated movie adaptation of Thumbelina (1835), The
Emperor's New Clothes (1837), The Little Mermaid (1836), and The Princess and the
Pea (1835).

Andersen also blessed us with one of the saddest but most poignant and beautiful
Christmas stories of all time, The Little Match Girl (also known as The Little
Matchstick Girl).

A Letter from Santa Claus


by Mark Twain

Palace of Saint Nicholas in the Moon Christmas Morning


My Dear Susy Clemens,

I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written
me . . . . I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without
any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through
your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing
well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby
ordered in your own letters--I went down your chimney at midnight when you were
asleep and delivered them all myself--and kissed both of you, too . . . . But . . . there
were . . . one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of
stock . . . .
There was a word or two in your mama's letter which . . . I took to be "a trunk full of
doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this
morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody
but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to
the door. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak-- otherwise he
will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the
nurse's bed and put your ear to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen
and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa
Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I
shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be . . . and then you must tell me
every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say
"Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susy Clemens," you must say "Goodby, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much." Then you must go down into the
library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and
everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those
things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the
fireplace that is in the hall--if it is a trunk you want--because I couldn't get such a

thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know . . . .If I should leave any
snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't
time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag--else he will die
someday . . . . If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not
holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you
look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl.
Whenever you are naughty and someone points to that mark which your good old
Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Mark Twain
Born November 30, 1835 in Florida, Mark Twain came in with the comet and as he
predicted he went out with the comet passing away on April 21, 1910, the day
after Halleys Comet returned. His real name was Samuel Longhorn Clemens, and he
took his pen name from his days as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River where
the cry mark twain signaled the depth of water -- about 12 feet was required for
the safe passage of riverboats.

Mark Twain was a talented writer, speaker and humorist whose own personality
shined through his work. As his writing grew in popularity, he became a public figure
and iconic American. As the young country grew in size but not in a cultural manner
to the liking of the European gentry, it became fashionable to criticize "the ugly
American. Twain famously travelled abroad and disarmed his audience with his wit
and humor with pronouncements like the following, In Paris they simply stared
when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots
understand their language.
Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri and would later use that location as the setting
for two of his most famous works, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He started his
career as a typesetter at a newspaper, worked as a printer, then riverboat pilot and
then turned to gold mining. When he failed at gold mining he turned to journalism
and it was during that time that the wrote the short story that would launch his
career, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County -- a story that captivated
me when read out loud by one of my teachers in elementary school.
While Twains career as a writer enriched him, his turn as a gentleman investor did
much to impoverish him. He lost a great deal of his writing profits and much of his
wifes inheritance on different investments, the costliest was his backing of a
promising typesetting machine. The machine had great potential but it failed in the
market due to frequent breakdowns. Twain recovered financially with the help of a

benefactor from Standard Oil, Henry Huttleson Rogers. Rogers guided Twain
successfully through bankruptcy and even had Twain transfer his copyrights to his
wife to keep his royalties from his creditors. Further success from book sales and
lectures restored his financial health and in the end all his creditors were paid.

Hearts And Hands


by O. Henry
At Denver there was an influx of passengers into the coaches on the eastbound B. &
M. express. In one coach there sat a very pretty young woman dressed in elegant
taste and surrounded by all the luxurious comforts of an experienced traveler.
Among the newcomers were two young men, one of handsome presence with a
bold, frank countenance and manner; the other a ruffled, glum-faced person,
heavily built and roughly dressed. The two were handcuffed together.
As they passed down the aisle of the coach the only vacant seat offered was a
reversed one facing the attractive young woman. Here the linked couple seated
themselves. The young woman's glance fell upon them with a distant, swift
disinterest; then with a lovely smile brightening her countenance and a tender pink
tingeing her rounded cheeks, she held out a little gray-gloved hand. When she
spoke her voice, full, sweet, and deliberate, proclaimed that its owner was
accustomed to speak and be heard.

"Well, Mr. Easton, if you will make me speak first, I suppose I must. Don't you ever
recognize old friends when you meet them in the West?"
The younger man roused himself sharply at the sound of her voice, seemed to
struggle with a slight embarrassment which he threw off instantly, and then clasped
her fingers with his left hand.
"It's Miss Fairchild," he said, with a smile. "I'll ask you to excuse the other hand; "it's
otherwise engaged just at present."
He slightly raised his right hand, bound at the wrist by the shining "bracelet" to the
left one of his companion. The glad look in the girl's eyes slowly changed to a
bewildered horror. The glow faded from her cheeks. Her lips parted in a vague,
relaxing distress. Easton, with a little laugh, as if amused, was about to speak again
when the other forestalled him. The glum-faced man had been watching the girl's
countenance with veiled glances from his keen, shrewd eyes.

"You'll excuse me for speaking, miss, but, I see you're acquainted with the marshall
here. If you'll ask him to speak a word for me when we get to the pen he'll do it, and
it'll make things easier for me there. He's taking me to Leavenworth prison. It's
seven years for counterfeiting."
"Oh!" said the girl, with a deep breath and returning color. "So that is what you are
doing out here? A marshal!"
"My dear Miss Fairchild," said Easton, calmly, "I had to do something. Money has a
way of taking wings unto itself, and you know it takes money to keep step with our
crowd in Washington. I saw this opening in the West, and--well, a marshalship isn't
quite as high a position as that of ambassador, but--"
"The ambassador," said the girl, warmly, "doesn't call any more. He needn't ever
have done so. You ought to know that. And so now you are one of these dashing
Western heroes, and you ride and shoot and go into all kinds of dangers. That's
different from the Washington life. You have been missed from the old crowd."
The girl's eyes, fascinated, went back, widening a little, to rest upon the glittering
handcuffs.
"Don't you worry about them, miss," said the other man. "All marshals handcuff
themselves to their prisoners to keep them from getting away. Mr. Easton knows his
business."
"Will we see you again soon in Washington?" asked the girl.
"Not soon, I think," said Easton. "My butterfly days are over, I fear."
"I love the West," said the girl irrelevantly. Her eyes were shining softly. She looked
away out the car window. She began to speak truly and simply without the gloss of
style and manner: "Mamma and I spent the summer in Denver. She went home a
week ago because father was slightly ill. I could live and be happy in the West. I
think the air here agrees with me. Money isn't everything. But people always
misunderstand things and remain stupid--"
"Say, Mr. Marshal," growled the glum-faced man. "This isn't quite fair. I'm needing a
drink, and haven't had a smoke all day. Haven't you talked long enough? Take me in
the smoker now, won't you? I'm half dead for a pipe."
The bound travelers rose to their feet, Easton with the same slow smile on his face.
"I can't deny a petition for tobacco," he said, lightly. "It's the one friend of the
unfortunate. Good-bye, Miss Fairchild. Duty calls, you know." He held out his hand
for a farewell.
"It's too bad you are not going East," she said, reclothing herself with manner and
style. "But you must go on to Leavenworth, I suppose?"

"Yes," said Easton, "I must go on to Leavenworth."


The two men sidled down the aisle into the smoker.
The two passengers in a seat near by had heard most of the conversation. Said one
of them: "That marshal's a good sort of chap. Some of these Western fellows are all
right."
"Pretty young to hold an office like that, isn't he?" asked the other.
"Young!" exclaimed the first speaker, "why--Oh! didn't you catch on? Say--did you
ever know an officer to handcuff a prisoner to his right hand?"

O. Henry
The American short story writer O. Henry (1862 - 1910) was born under the name
William Sydney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1862. His short stories are
well known throughout the world; noted for their witticism, clever wordplay, and
unexpected endings.
Like many other writers, O. Henry's early career wandered across different activities
and professions before he found his calling as a short story writer. He started
working in his uncle's drugstore in 1879 and became a licensed pharmacist by the
age of 19. His first creative expressions came while working in the pharmacy. he
would sketch the townspeople that frequented the store and was admired for his
artistic drawing and sketching skills.
O. Henry moved to Texas in March of 1882 hoping to get rid of his persistent cough.
While there, he took up residence on a sheep ranch, learned shepherding, cooking,
babysitting, and bits of Spanish and German from the many migrant farmhands. He
had an active social life in Austin and was a fine musician, skilled with the guitar
and mandolin. Over the next several years, Porter took a number of different jobs,
from pharmacy to drafting, journalism and banking.
But banking in particular was not to be O. Henry's calling; he was quite careless with
his bookkeeping and may have crossed some ethical and legal boundaries. In 1894,
he was accused by his employer of embezzlement. He lost his job but was not
indicted. As a lover of classic literature, O. Henry had begun writing as a hobby.
When he lost his banking job he moved to Houston in 1895 and started writing for
the The Post, earning $25 per month. O. Henry collected ideas for his column by
loitering in hotel lobbies and observing and talking to people there. He used this
technique throughout his writing career.
Unfortunately, O. Henry's personal tragedy was heavy drinking and by 1908 his
health had deteriorated and his writing dropped off. He died in 1910 of cirrhosis of

the liver, complications of diabetes and an enlarged heart. The funeral was held in
New York City, but he was buried in North Carolina, the state where he was born. He
was a gifted short story writer, and left us a rich legacy of great stories to enjoy.

By Word Of Mouth
by Rudyard Kipling

Dumoise was our Civil Surgeon at Meridki, and we called him "Dormouse," because
he was a round little, sleepy little man. He was a good Doctor and never quarrelled
with any one, not even with our Deputy Commissioner, who had the manners of a
bargee and the tact of a horse. He married a girl as round and as sleepy-looking as
himself. She was a Miss Hillardyce, daughter of "Squash" Hillardyce of the Berars,
who married his Chief's daughter by mistake. But that is another story.
A honeymoon in India is seldom more than a week long; but there is nothing to
hinder a couple from extending it over two or three years. This is a delightful
country for married folk who are wrapped up in one another. They can live
absolutely alone and without interruption--just as the Dormice did. These two little
people retired from the world after their marriage, and were very happy. They were
forced, of course, to give occasional dinners, but they made no friends hereby, and
the Station went its own way and forgot them; only saying, occasionally, that
Dormouse was the best of good fellows, though dull. A Civil Surgeon who never
quarrels is a rarity, appreciated as such.
Few people can afford to play Robinson Crusoe anywhere--least of all in India, where
we are few in the land, and very much dependent on each other's kind offices.
Dumoise was wrong in shutting himself from the world for a year, and he discovered
his mistake when an epidemic of typhoid broke out in the Station in the heart of the
cold weather, and his wife went down. He was a shy little man, and five days were
wasted before he realized that Mrs. Dumoise was burning with something worse
than simple fever, and three days more passed before he ventured to call on Mrs.
Shute, the Engineer's wife, and timidly speak about his trouble. Nearly every
household in India knows that Doctors are very helpless in typhoid. The battle must
be fought out between Death and the Nurses, minute by minute and degree by
degree. Mrs. Shute almost boxed Dumoise's ears for what she called his "criminal
delay," and went off at once to look after the poor girl. We had seven cases of
typhoid in the Station that winter and, as the average of death is about one in every
five cases, we felt certain that we should have to lose somebody. But all did their
best. The women sat up nursing the women, and the men turned to and tended the

bachelors who were down, and we wrestled with those typhoid cases for fifty-six
days, and brought them through the Valley of the Shadow in triumph. But, just when
we thought all was over, and were going to give a dance to celebrate the victory,
little Mrs. Dumoise got a relapse and died in a week and the Station went to the
funeral. Dumoise broke down utterly at the brink of the grave, and had to be taken
away.
After the death, Dumoise crept into his own house and refused to be comforted. He
did his duties perfectly, but we all felt that he should go on leave, and the other
men of his own Service told him so. Dumoise was very thankful for the suggestion-he was thankful for anything in those days--and went to Chini on a walking-tour.
Chini is some twenty marches from Simla, in the heart of the Hills, and the scenery
is good if you are in trouble. You pass through big, still deodar-forests, and under
big, still cliffs, and over big, still grass-downs swelling like a woman's breasts; and
the wind across the grass, and the rain among the deodars says:--"Hush--hush-hush." So little Dumoise was packed off to Chini, to wear down his grief with a fullplate camera, and a rifle. He took also a useless bearer, because the man had been
his wife's favorite servant. He was idle and a thief, but Dumoise trusted everything
to him.
On his way back from Chini, Dumoise turned aside to Bagi, through the Forest
Reserve which is on the spur of Mount Huttoo. Some men who have travelled more
than a little say that the march from Kotegarh to Bagi is one of the finest in creation.
It runs through dark wet forest, and ends suddenly in bleak, nipped hill-side and
black rocks. Bagi dak-bungalow is open to all the winds and is bitterly cold. Few
people go to Bagi. Perhaps that was the reason why Dumoise went there. He halted
at seven in the evening, and his bearer went down the hill-side to the village to
engage coolies for the next day's march. The sun had set, and the night-winds were
beginning to croon among the rocks. Dumoise leaned on the railing of the verandah,
waiting for his bearer to return. The man came back almost immediately after he
had disappeared, and at such a rate that Dumoise fancied he must have crossed a
bear. He was running as hard as he could up the face of the hill.
But there was no bear to account for his terror. He raced to the verandah and fell
down, the blood spurting from his nose and his face iron-gray. Then he gurgled:--"I
have seen the Memsahib! I have seen the Memsahib!"
"Where?" said Dumoise.
"Down there, walking on the road to the village. She was in a blue dress, and she
lifted the veil of her bonnet and said:--'Ram Dass, give my salaams to the Sahib,
and tell him that I shall meet him next month at Nuddea.' Then I ran away, because
I was afraid."
What Dumoise said or did I do not know. Ram Dass declares that he said nothing,
but walked up and down the verandah all the cold night, waiting for the Memsahib

to come up the hill and stretching out his arms into the dark like a madman. But no
Memsahib came, and, next day, he went on to Simla cross-questioning the bearer
every hour.

Ram Dass could only say that he had met Mrs. Dumoise and that she had lifted up
her veil and given him the message which he had faithfully repeated to Dumoise. To
this statement Ram Dass adhered. He did not know where Nuddea was, had no
friends at Nuddea, and would most certainly never go to Nuddea; even though his
pay were doubled.
Nuddea is in Bengal, and has nothing whatever to do with a doctor serving in the
Punjab. It must be more than twelve hundred miles from Meridki.
Dumoise went through Simla without halting, and returned to Meridki there to take
over charge from the man who had been officiating for him during his tour. There
were some Dispensary accounts to be explained, and some recent orders of the
Surgeon-General to be noted, and, altogether, the taking-over was a full day's work.
In the evening, Dumoise told his locum tenens, who was an old friend of his
bachelor days, what had happened at Bagi; and the man said that Ram Dass might
as well have chosen Tuticorin while he was about it.
At that moment a telegraph-peon came in with a telegram from Simla, ordering
Dumoise not to take over charge at Meridki, but to go at once to Nuddea on special
duty. There was a nasty outbreak of cholera at Nuddea, and the Bengal
Government, being shorthanded, as usual, had borrowed a Surgeon from the
Punjab.
Then he remembered that Dumoise had passed through Simla on his way from Bagi;
and thus might, possibly, have heard the first news of the impending transfer.
He tried to put the question, and the implied suspicion into words, but Dumoise
stopped him with:--"If I had desired THAT, I should never have come back from
Chini. I was shooting there. I wish to live, for I have things to do . . . . but I shall not
be sorry."
The other man bowed his head, and helped, in the twilight, to pack up Dumoise's
just opened trunks. Ram Dass entered with the lamps.
Ram Dass clawed Dumoise's knees and boots and begged him not to go. Ram Dass
wept and howled till he was turned out of the room. Then he wrapped up all his
belongings and came back to ask for a character. He was not going to Nuddea to
see his Sahib die, and, perhaps to die himself.
So Dumoise gave the man his wages and went down to Nuddea alone; the other
Doctor bidding him good-bye as one under sentence of death.

Eleven days later, he had joined his Memsahib; and the Bengal Government had to
borrow a fresh Doctor to cope with that epidemic at Nuddea. The first importation
lay dead in Chooadanga Dak- Bungalow.

Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling lived an extraordinary life. The English short story writer, novelist
and poet was born in Bombay India on December 30, 1895. Though he spent most
of his life outside of India, like his parents he thought of himself as "Anglo Indian."
He referred to his early days in India as the days of strong light and darkness.
Keeping with custom, Rudyard and his younger sister were returned to England to
receive an education when Rudyard was five years old. They were boarded with
Captain Pryse Agar Halloway and Mrs. Sarah Halloway, who acted as custodians for
British Nationals serving in India. While his sister seemed to be a favorite -- she later
married the Halloway's son -- Rudyard was treated harshly at the boarding house.
He credited the experience in his autobiography for sparking his literary career
In 1889 he left the paper after a dispute, sold the rights to his short story
collections, and used the money to travel the world. That trip took him through
America and he met Mark Twain before returning to London. He married Carrie
Balestier in 1892. They travelled to America and Japan. Then back to America where
they settled from 1892 - 1896. The couple enjoyed many happy years and Kipling
wrote The Jungle Book, Captain's Courageous and some poetry including Gunga Din.
They returned to England and during the early 1900s the world was treated to a
great writer at the peak of career. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in
1907. He continued to write until the 1930s, dying in 1936 from a perforated ulcer
at age 70.

KING ALFRED AND THE CAKES


James Baldwin
MANY years ago there lived in England a wise and good king whose name was
Alfred. No other man ever did so much for his country as he; and [6] people now, all
over the world, speak of him as Alfred the Great.

In those days a king did not have a very easy life. There was war almost all the
time, and no one else could lead his army into battle so well as he. And so, between
ruling and fighting, he had a busy time of it indeed.
A fierce, rude people, called the Danes, had come from over the sea, and were
fighting the English. There were so many of them, and they were so bold and
strong, that for a long time they gained every battle. If they kept on, they would
soon be the masters of the whole country.
At last, after a great battle, the English army was broken up and scattered. Every
man had to save himself in the best way he could. King Alfred fled alone, in great
haste, through the woods and swamps.
Late in the day the king came to the hut of a woodcutter. He was very tired and
hungry, and he begged the woodcutter's wife to give him something to eat and a
place to sleep in her hut.
The woman was baking some cakes upon the hearth, and she looked with pity upon
the poor, ragged fellow who seemed so hungry. She had no thought that he was the
king.
"Yes," she said, "I will give you some supper if [7] you will watch these cakes. I want
to go out and milk the cow; and you must see that they do not burn while I am
gone."
King Alfred was very willing to watch the cakes, but he had far greater things to
think about. How was he going to get his army together again? And how was he
going to drive the fierce Danes out of the land? He forgot his hunger; he forgot the
cakes; he forgot that he was in the woodcutter's hut. His mind was busy making
plans for to-morrow.
In a little while the woman came back. The cakes were smoking on the hearth. They
were burned to a crisp. Ah, how angry she was!
"You lazy fellow!" she cried. "See what you have done! You want something to eat,
but you do not want to work!"
I have been told that she even struck the king with a stick; but I can hardly believe
that she was so ill-natured.
The king must have laughed to himself at the thought of being scolded in this way;
and he was so hungry that he did not mind the woman's angry words half so much
as the loss of the cakes.
I do not know whether he had anything to eat that night, or whether he had to go to
bed without [8] his supper. But it was not many days until he had gathered his men
together again, and had beaten the Danes in a great battle.

James Bladwin

A New York Christmas Story


S.E. Schlosser

Back in the old days, I had a successful bake-shop in Albany. I had a good
business, a plump wife, and a big family. I was a happy man. But trouble came to
my shop one year in the guise of an ugly old woman. She entered my shop a few
minutes before closing and said: I wish to have a dozen cookies. She pointed to
my special Saint Nicholas cookies that were sitting out on a tray. So I counted out
twelve cookies for her.
The old womans eyes narrowed when she saw the cookies. Only twelve? she
asked. I knew at once what she wanted. There were some bakers in town who
sometimes gave an extra cookie to their customers, but I was appalled by the
custom. What man of sense would give away an extra cookie for free?
I asked for a dozen cookies, and you only give me twelve, the woman said.
A dozen is twelve, my good woman, and that is what I have given you, I
replied.
I ordered a dozen cookies, not twelve, said the old woman.
I was upset by this demand. I always gave my customers exactly what they
paid for. But I was a thrifty man, and it was against my nature to give away
something for nothing.
I have a family to support, I said stiffly. If I give away all my cookies, how can
I feed my family? A dozen is twelve, not thirteen! Take it or leave it!
Very well, said she, and left the shop without taking the cookies.

From that moment, my luck changed. The next day, my cakes were stolen out
of my shop, and the thieves were never found. Then my bread refused to rise. For
a week, every loaf of bread I made was so heavy that it fell right through the oven
and into the fire. The next week, the bread rose so high that it actually floated up
the chimney. I was frightened when I saw the loaves floating away across the
rooftops. That was the first moment I realized I had been bewitched. It was then
that I remembered the old woman who came to my shop, and I was afraid.
The next week, the old woman appeared again in my shop and demanded a
bakers dozen of the latest batch of my cookies. I was angry. How dare she show
her face in my shop after all the bad luck she sent my way? I cursed her soundly
and showed her the door.
Things became worse for me then. My bread soured, and my olykoeks (donuts)
were a disgrace. Every cake I made collapsed as soon as it came out of the oven,
and my gingerbread children and my cookies lost their flavor. Word was getting
around that my bake-shop was no good, and one by one, my customers were falling
away. I was angry now, and stubborn. No witch was going to defeat me. When
she came to my bake-shop a third time to demand a bakers dozen of cookies, I told
her to go to the devil and I locked the door behind her.
After that day, everything I baked was either burnt or soggy, too light or too
heavy. My customers began to avoid my cursed shop, even those who had come to
me every day for years. Finally, my family and I were the only ones eating my
baking, and my money was running out. I was desperate. I took myself to church
and began to pray to Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of merchants, to lift the
witchs curse from myself and my family.
Come and advise me, Saint Nicholas, for my family is in dire straights and I
need good counsel against this evil witch who stands against us, I prayed. Then I
trudged wearily back to my empty shop, wondering what to do.
I stirred up a batch of Saint Nicholas cookies and put them into the oven to
bake, wondering how this lot would turn out. Too much cinnamon? Too little?
Burnt? Under-done? To my surprise, they came out perfectly. I frosted them
carefully, and put my first successful baking in weeks onto a tray where they could
be seen through the window. When I looked up, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) was
standing in front of me.
I knew him at once, this patron Saint of merchants, sailors, and children. He
was not carrying his gold staff or wearing the red bishops robes and mitered hat
that appeared on the figure I had just frosted on my cookies. But the white beard
and the kindly eyes were the same. I was trembling so much my legs would not
hold me, so I sat down on a stool and looked up at the Saint standing so near I could
have touched him. His eyes regarded me with such sadness it made me want to
weep.

Saint Nicholas said softly: I spent my whole life giving money to those in need,
helping the sick and suffering, and caring for little children, just as our Lord taught
us. God, in his mercy, has been generous to us, and we should be generous to
those around us.
I could not bear to look into his eyes, so I buried my face in my hands.
Is an extra cookie such a terrible price to pay for the generosity God has shown
to us? he asked gently, touching my head with his hand.
Then he was gone. A moment later, I heard the shop door open, and footsteps
approached the counter. I knew before I looked up that the ugly old woman had
returned to asked me for a dozen Saint Nicholas cookies. I got up slowly, counted
out thirteen cookies, and gave them to the old woman, free of charge.
She nodded her head briskly. The spell is broken, she said. From this time
onward, a dozen is thirteen.
And from that day onward, I gave generously of my baking and of my money,
and thirteen was always, for me, a bakers dozen.

Morning Walk
Brian Brennan

Send this page to somebody Print this page Brian Brennan


Out early one morning--this itself a surprise, normally I sleep past noon, spending
the most difficult part of the day in bed--I pass a woman on the sidewalk. "Please
help me," she cries, "I have lost my feet.
Out early one morning--this itself a surprise, normally I sleep past noon, spending
the most difficult part of the day in bed--I pass a woman on the sidewalk. "Please
help me," she cries, "I have lost my feet." I look at her. She wears a blue suit,
clutches a tan leather briefcase, and it is true, where I expect to see black pumps,
or sneakers for walking to work, I see nothing. No feet. Only then do I notice her
unwashed face and unkempt hair. She has been out all night, perhaps the whole
weekend; it is Monday.
"Would you take mine?" It is an easy offer to make. The woman can be no more
than five feet tall, and my feet, well after all, they are the feet of a six foot man. No
woman would want these feet.

"Yes," she answers, and surprised by her acceptance, not to mention her state--she
has no feet--I give them to her. She cobbles down the sidewalk, waving her thanks,
stumbling on my large feet.
First things first, I am shorter by at least three inches, and my pant legs whisper
against the pavement, but worst of all-- balance. I am an athletic man and in good
shape, but without feet I'm a wreck. People cross to the other side of the street
when they see me coming, and a few youths on their way to school shout, "Drunk!"
I sit on a stoop to rest--walking without feet is tiring-- and a few people walk past.
What good would it do to ask for their feet? This game of trading and taking would
leave someone, somewhere, without something. Then I stand up and do the only
thing possible: I imagine feet. I start to walk again, and the feet flop in the space
beneath my legs, slapping against the sidewalk.
After two blocks I walk without a hitch, gliding silently along, with no one the wiser,
except I have no shoes. I stop in a small shoe store, and when the clerk asks what
size shoes I wear, I do not know. After he measures them--10 D, a size smaller than
my old feet; I will have to buy new shoes--I look at my new feet. They are arched-no more flat feet. My toes, which had been almost as long as fingers, are now short,
and the scar which I had since I was seven and I stepped on a rake, is gone. I have
new feet.
Just as I am about to turn and head for home, a man rushes up to me. He has no
hands. Whether he noticed that I had no feet--will it always be that we seek what
we need from those who have less, the inescapable logic of "if he has no feet, what
use could his hands be?"--I can't tell. Sadness overwhelms him as he grips me in his
handless arms--sobs, then shoves me away and shouts curses in my face. Of course
I give him my hands--they were ugly, stumpy fingers and oddly lined palms, and I
always dreamt of hands worthy of marble or bronze--and he leaves happy, grasping
himself with utterly foreign hands.
This goes on all morning until a woman comes up to me not making a sound--why
she wants my head I will never know. She has a beautiful body, long legs, slender
fingers, small breasts, and a neck that now ends at my head: bearded, balding,
creased with the effort of too much imagination.
I look back at myself, one glimpse before my eyes become hers. What was I
thinking? I look like nothing more than a perfect scarecrow. Then I look at her with
my new eyes--greener than the cold northern ocean--and her smile, which never
suited me, no matter what mirror caught my reflection, only makes her more
beautiful.

Walter
Brian Brennan
Walter wakes up curled around a shopping cart. Everything is in it: a panel of the
"Yellow Kid" comic strip wrapped in plastic; a pane of glass from the Crystal Palace;
campaign pins from Eisenhower's second run; cans of paint; everything else. Trade
one of the campaign pins for a cup of coffee then get down to business: the line of
white paint that started--when the paint was fresh--in Germantown or Center City,
he doesn't remember which.
Walter wakes up curled around a shopping cart. Everything is in it: a panel of the
"Yellow Kid" comic strip wrapped in plastic; a pane of glass from the Crystal Palace;
campaign pins from Eisenhower's second run; cans of paint; everything else. Trade
one of the campaign pins for a cup of coffee then get down to business: the line of
white paint that started--when the paint was fresh--in Germantown or Center City,
he doesn't remember which.
At first there is just the white line, like a boundary at the edge of office buildings or
the city zoo. And people know about Walter: newspaper articles and the memory of
a job; someone had to be responsible for all that paint. Then come others--like
Mattie, a frightening woman who stands 6'4" and weighs 250 pounds and is
homeless (who can imagine?)--painting the city with an array of colors. The lines
down the Ben Franklin Parkway change weekly, daily.
None of this bothers Walter--the work, the work--but the city's oldest residents--who
remember a time without lines--and the youngest--who think Walter's a freak and
dangerous (children as old as 18 report the intrusion of the man with the white paint
into their nightmares)--form a temporary league against the painters. The old ones
say, "Damn them. Ban them." The young ones say, "Burn them."
Walter wakes up, bent over, on all fours. When at work, it is a dream, and I don't
know where I am, or where I have been, but there is paint all over his hands and
they are white. The line comes from around a corner, and the boys follow it until
they find him. They carry lights--no, torches--blue with fire. Someone carries a can.
Look for someplace to hide, stand behind the cart, rummage through for something
to throw. Newspaper clippings flutter in the air. They don't go far. What else can I
throw? Look, but don't get paint on everything--the paint white on my hands. They
are on top of you. Grab one of the torches. The fire lights the paint, and the paint
ignites, flames dart from my fingers--it's almost beautiful, if only there wasn't the
pain. There is nothing to put this out.
Someone splashes you into blue flame, and from my eyes-- alight, without lashes-everything is on fire. From around the corner come some brighter than others, one
tall, still a woman. They track footprints of fire until they drop. We are all on fire! In

the cart the plastic shrinks from my heat, glass breaks, and the everything melts. I
hear their voices--no longer sighted--"Oh my god. Look at him go."

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