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Theodoric Voler had been brought up, from infancy to the confines of middle age, by a fond mother whose chief solicitude had been to keep him screened from what she called the coarser realities of life. When she died she left Theodoric alone in a world that was as real as ever, and a good deal coarser than he considered it had any need to be. To a man of his temperament and upbringing even a simple railway journey was crammed with petty annoyances and minor discords, and as he settled himself down in a second-class compartment one September morning he was conscious of ruffled feelings and general mental discomposure. He had been staying at a country vicarage, the inmates of which had been certainly neither brutal nor bacchanalian, but their supervision of the domestic establishment had been of that lax order which invites disaster. The pony carriage that was to take him to the station had never been properly ordered, and when the moment for his departure drew near, the handyman who should have produced the required article was nowhere to be found. In this emergency Theodoric, to his mute but very intense disgust, found himself obliged to collaborate with the vicar’s daughter in the task of harnessing the pony, which necessitated groping about in an ill-lighted outbuilding called a stable, and melling very like one–except in patches where it smelled of mice. Without being actually afraid of mice, Theodoric classed them among the coarser incidents of life, and considered that Providence, with a little exercise of moral courage, might long ago have recognized that they were not indispensable, and have withdrawn them from circulation. As the train glided out of the station Theodoric’s nervous imagination accused himself of exhaling a weak odor of stable yard, and possibly of displaying a moldy straw or two on his unusually well-brushed garments. Fortunately the only other occupation of the compartment, a lady of about the same age as himself, seemed inclined for slumber rather than scrutiny; the train was not due to stop till the terminus was reached, in about an hour’s time, and the carriage was of the oId-fashioned sort that held no communication with a corridor, therefore no further traveling companions were likely to intrude on Theodoric’s semiprivacy. And yet the train had scarcely attained its normal speed before he became reluctantly but vividly aware that he was not alone with the slumbering lady; he was not even alone in his own clothes. A warm, creeping movement over his flesh betrayed the unwelcome and highly resented presence, unseen but poignant, of a strayed mouse, that had evidently dashed into its present retreat during the episode of the pony harnessing. Furtive stamps and shakes and wildly directed pinches failed to dislodge the intruder, whose motto, indeed, seemed to be Excelsior; and the lawful occupant of the clothes lay back against the cushions and endeavored rapidly to evolve some means for putting an end to the dual ownership. It was unthinkable that he should continue for the space of a whole hour in the horrible position of a Rowton House for vagrant mice already his imagination had at least doubled the numbers of the alien invasion. On the other hand, nothing less drastic than partial disrobing would ease him of his tormentor, and to undress in the presence of a lady, even for so laudable a purpose, was an idea that made his ear tips tingle in a blush of abject shame. He had never heen able to bring himself even to the mild exposure of openwork socks in the presence of the fair sex. And yet–the lady in this case was to all appearances soundly and securely asleep; the mouse, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to crowd a wanderjahr into a few strenuous minutes. If there is any truth in the theory of transmigration, this particular mouse must certainly have been in a former state a member of the Alpine Club. Sometimes in its eagerness it lost its footing and slipped for half an inch or so; and then, in fright, or more probably temper, it bit. Theodoric was goaded into the most audacious undertaking of his life. Crimsoning to the hue of a beetroot and keeping an agonized watch on his slumbering fellow traveler, he swiftly and noiselessly secured the ends of his railway rug to the racks on either side of the carriage, so that a substantial curtain hung athwart the compartment. In the narrow dressing room that he had thus improvised he proceeded with violent haste to extricate himself partially and the mouse entirely from the surrounding casings of tweed and half-wool. As the unraveled mouse gave a wild leap to the floor, the rug, slipping its fastening at either end, also came down with a heart-curdling flop, and almost simultaneously the awakened sleeper opened her eyes. With a movement almost quicker than the mouse’s, Theodoric pounced on the rug and hauled its ample folds chin-high over his dismantled person as he collapsed into the farther corner of the carriage. The blood raced and beat in the veins of his neck and forehead, while he waited dumbly for the communication cord to be pulled. The lady, however, contented herself with a silent stare at her strangely muffled companion. How much had she seen, Theodoric queried to himself; and in any case what on earth must she think of his present posture?
“I think I have caught a chill,” he ventured desperately.
“Really, I’m sorry,” she replied. “I was just going to ask you if you would open this window.”
“I fancy it’s malaria,” he added, his teeth chattering slightly, as much from fright as from a desire to support his theory.
“I’ve got some brandy in my holdall, if you’ll kindly reach it down for me,” said his companion.
“Not for worlds–I mean, I never take anything for it,” he assured her earnestly.
“I suppose you caught it in the tropics?”
Theodoric, whose acquaintance with the tropics was limited to an annual present of a chest of tea from an uncle in Ceylon, felt that even the malaria was slipping from him. Would it be possible, he wondered to disclose the real state of affairs to her in small installments?
“Are you afraid of mice?” he ventured, growing, if possible, more scarlet in the face.
“Not unless they came in quantities. Why do you ask?”
“I had one crawling inside my clothes just now,” said Theodoric in a voice that hardly seemed his own. “It was a most awkward situation.”
“It must have been, if you wear your clothes at all tight,” she observed. “But mice have strange ideas of comfort.”
“I had to get rid of it while you were asleep,” he continued. Then, with a gulp, he added, “It was getting rid of it that brought me to-to this.”
“Surely leaving off one small mouse wouldn’t bring on a chill,” she exclaimed, with a levity that Theodoric accounted abominable.
Evidently she had detected something of his predicament, and was enjoying his confusion. All the blood in his body seemed to have mobilized in one concentrated blush, and an agony of abasement, worse than a myriad mice, crept up and down over his soul. And then, as reflection began to assert itself, sheer terror took the place of humiliation. With every minute that passed the train was rushing nearer to the crowded and bustling terminus, where dozens of prying eyes would be exchanged for the one paralyzing pair that watched him from the farther corner of the carriage. There was one slender, despairing chance, which the next few minutes must decide. His fellow traveler might relapse into a blessed slumber. But as the minutes throbbed by that chance ebbed away. The furtive glance which Theodoric stole at her from time to time disclosed only an unwinking wakefulness.
“I think we must be getting near now,” she presently observed.
Theodoric had already noted with growing terror the recurring stacks of small, ugly dwellings that heralded the journey’s end. The words acted as a signal. Like a hunted beast breaking cover and dashing madly toward some other haven of momentary safety he threw aside his rug, and struggled frantically into his disheveled garments. He was conscious of dull suburban stations racing past the window, of a choking, hammering sensation in his throat and heart, and of an icy silence in that corner toward which he dared not look. Then as he sank back in his seat, clothed and almost delirious, the train slowed down to a final crawl, and the woman spoke.
“Would you be so kind,” she asked, “as to get me a porter to put me into a cab? It’s a shame to trouble you when you’re feeling unwell, but being blind makes one so helpless at a railway station.”
by HH Munro (Saki)
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“The ways of God in Nature, as in Providence, are not as our ways; nor are the models that we frame any way commensurate to the vastness, profundity, and unsearchableness of His works, which have a depth in them greater than the well of 
We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.
“Not long ago,” said he at length, “and I could have guided you on this route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past, there happened to me an event such as never happened to mortal man – or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of – and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man – but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?”
The “little cliff,” upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and slippery edge – this “little cliff” arose, a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet from the world of crags beneath us. Nothing would have tempted me to within half a dozen yards of its brink. In truth so deeply was I excited by the perilous position of my companion, that I fell at full length upon the ground, clung to the shrubs around me, and dared not even glance upward at the sky – while I struggled in vain to divest myself of the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in danger from the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the distance.
“You must get over these fancies,” said the guide, “for I have brought you here that you might have the best possible view of the scene of that event I mentioned – and to tell you the whole story with the spot just under your eye.”
“We are now,” he continued, in that particularizing manner which distinguished him – “we are now close upon the Norwegian coast – in the sixty-eighth degree of latitude – in the great province of Nordland – and in the dreary district of Lofoden. The mountain upon whose top we sit is Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise yourself up a little higher – hold on to the grass if you feel giddy – so – and look out, beyond the belt of vapor beneath us, into the sea.”
I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer’s account of the Mare Tenebrarum . A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against its white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking forever. Just opposite the promontory upon whose apex we were placed, and at a distance of some five or six miles out at sea, there was visible a small, bleak-looking island; or, more properly, its position was discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it was enveloped. About two miles nearer the land, arose another of smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at various intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.
The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although, at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a brig in the remote offing lay to under a double-reefed trysail, and constantly plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was here nothing like a regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry cross dashing of water in every direction – as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam there was little except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks.
“The island in the distance,” resumed the old man, “is called by the Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Islesen, Hotholm, Keildhelm, Suarven, and Buckholm. Farther off – between Moskoe and Vurrgh – are Otterholm, Flimen, Sandflesen, and Stockholm. These are the true names of the places – but why it has been thought necessary to name them at all, is more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear anything? Do you see any change in the water?”
We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to which we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen term the chopping character of the ocean beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed – to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion – heaving, boiling, hissing – gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous descents.
In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast. Suddenly – very suddenly – this assumed a distinct and definite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.
The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of nervous agitation.
“This,” said I at length, to the old man – “this can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelström.”
“So it is sometimes termed,” said he. “We Norwegians call it the Moskoe-ström, from the island of Moskoe in the midway.”
The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for what I saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the most circumstantial of any, cannot impart the faintest conception either of the magnificence, or of the horror of the scene – or of the wild bewildering sense of the novel which confounds the beholder. I am not sure from what point of view the writer in question surveyed it, nor at what time; but it could neither have been from the summit of Helseggen, nor during a storm. There are some passages of his description, nevertheless, which may be quoted for their details, although their effect is exceedingly feeble in conveying an impression of the spectacle.
“Between Lofoden and Moskoe,” he says, “the depth of the water is between thirty-six and forty fathoms; but on the other side, toward Ver Vurrgh this depth decreases so as not to afford a convenient passage for a vessel, without the risk of splitting on the rocks, which happens even in the calmest weather. When it is flood, the stream runs up the country between Lofoden and Moskoe with a boisterous rapidity; but the roar of its impetuous ebb to the sea is scarce equalled by the loudest and most dreadful cataracts; the noise being heard several leagues off, and the vortices or pits are of such an extent and depth, that if a ship comes within its attraction, it is inevitably absorbed and carried down to the bottom, and there beat to pieces against the rocks; and when the water relaxes, the fragments thereof are thrown up again. But these intervals of tranquility are only at the turn of the ebb and flood, and in calm weather, and last but a quarter of an hour, its violence gradually returning. When the stream is most boisterous, and its fury heightened by a storm, it is dangerous to come within a Norway mile of it. Boats, yachts, and ships have been carried away by not guarding against it before they were within its reach. It likewise happens frequently, that whales come too near the stream, and are overpowered by its violence; and then it is impossible to describe their howlings and bellowings in their fruitless struggles to disengage themselves. A bear once, attempting to swim from Lofoden to Moskoe, was caught by the stream and borne down, while he roared terribly, so as to be heard on shore. Large stocks of firs and pine trees, after being absorbed by the current, rise again broken and torn to such a degree as if bristles grew upon them. This plainly shows the bottom to consist of craggy rocks, among which they are whirled to and fro. This stream is regulated by the flux and reflux of the sea – it being constantly high and low water every six hours. In the year 1645, early in the morning of Sexagesima Sunday, it raged with such noise and impetuosity that the very stones of the houses on the coast fell to the ground.”
In regard to the depth of the water, I could not see how this could have been ascertained at all in the immediate vicinity of the vortex. The “forty fathoms” must have reference only to portions of the channel close upon the shore either of Moskoe or Lofoden. The depth in the centre of the Moskoe-ström must be immeasurably greater; and no better proof of this fact is necessary than can be obtained from even the sidelong glance into the abyss of the whirl which may be had from the highest crag of Helseggen. Looking down from this pinnacle upon the howling Phlegethon below, I could not help smiling at the simplicity with which the honest Jonas Ramus records, as a matter difficult of belief, the anecdotes of the whales and the bears; for it appeared to me, in fact, a self-evident thing, that the largest ship of the line in existence, coming within the influence of that deadly attraction, could resist it as little as a feather the hurricane, and must disappear bodily and at once.
The attempts to account for the phenomenon – some of which, I remember, seemed to me sufficiently plausible in perusal – now wore a very different and unsatisfactory aspect. The idea generally received is that this, as well as three smaller vortices among the Ferroe islands, “have no other cause than the collision of waves rising and falling, at flux and reflux, against a ridge of rocks and shelves, which confines the water so that it precipitates itself like a cataract; and thus the higher the flood rises, the deeper must the fall be, and the natural result of all is a whirlpool or vortex, the prodigious suction of which is sufficiently known by lesser experiments.” – These are the words of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Kircher and others imagine that in the centre of the channel of the Maelström is an abyss penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very remote part – the Gulf of Bothnia being somewhat decidedly named in one instance. This opinion, idle in itself, was the one to which, as I gazed, my imagination most readily assented; and, mentioning it to the guide, I was rather surprised to hear him say that, although it was the view almost universally entertained of the subject by the Norwegians, it nevertheless was not his own. As to the former notion he confessed his inability to comprehend it; and here I agreed with him – for, however conclusive on paper, it becomes altogether unintelligible, and even absurd, amid the thunder of the abyss.
“You have had a good look at the whirl now,” said the old man, “and if you will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden the roar of the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you I ought to know something of the Moskoe-ström.”
I placed myself as desired, and he proceeded.
“Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of about seventy tons burthen, with which we were in the habit of fishing among the islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh. In all violent eddies at sea there is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one has only the courage to attempt it; but among the whole of the Lofoden coastmen, we three were the only ones who made a regular business of going out to the islands, as I tell you. The usual grounds are a great way lower down to the southward. There fish can be got at all hours, without much risk, and therefore these places are preferred. The choice spots over here among the rocks, however, not only yield the finest variety, but in far greater abundance; so that we often got in a single day, what the more timid of the craft could not scrape together in a week. In fact, we made it a matter of desperate speculation – the risk of life standing instead of labor, and courage answering for capital.
“We kept the smack in a cove about five miles higher up the coast than this; and it was our practice, in fine weather, to take advantage of the fifteen minutes’ slack to push across the main channel of the Moskoe-ström, far above the pool, and then drop down upon anchorage somewhere near Otterholm, or Sandflesen, where the eddies are not so violent as elsewhere. Here we used to remain until nearly time for slack-water again, when we weighed and made for home. We never set out upon this expedition without a steady side wind for going and coming – one that we felt sure would not fail us before our return – and we seldom made a mis-calculation upon this point. Twice, during six years, we were forced to stay all night at anchor on account of a dead calm, which is a rare thing indeed just about here; and once we had to remain on the grounds nearly a week, starving to death, owing to a gale which blew up shortly after our arrival, and made the channel too boisterous to be thought of. Upon this occasion we should have been driven out to sea in spite of everything, for the whirlpools threw us round and round so violently, that, at length, we fouled our anchor and dragged it if it had not been that we drifted into one of the innumerable cross currents – here to-day and gone to-morrow – which drove us under the lee of Flimen, where, by good luck, we brought up.
“I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we encountered ‘on the grounds’ – it is a bad spot to be in, even in good weather – but we made shift always to run the gauntlet of the Moskoe-ström itself without accident; although at times my heart has been in my mouth when we happened to be a minute or so behind or before the slack. The wind sometimes was not as strong as we thought it at starting, and then we made rather less way than we could wish, while the current rendered the smack unmanageable. My eldest brother had a son eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my own. These would have been of great assistance at such times, in using the sweeps, as well as afterward in fishing – but, somehow, although we ran the risk ourselves, we had not the heart to let the young ones get into the danger – for, after all is said and done, it was a horrible danger, and that is the truth.
“It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to tell you occurred. It was on the tenth day of July, 18-, a day which the people of this part of the world will never forget – for it was one in which blew the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the heavens. And yet all the morning, and indeed until late in the afternoon, there was a gentle and steady breeze from the south-west, while the sun shone brightly, so that the oldest seaman among us could not have foreseen what was to follow.
“The three of us – my two brothers and myself – had crossed over to the islands about two o’clock P. M., and had soon nearly loaded the smack with fine fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than we had ever known them. It was just seven, by my watch , when we weighed and started for home, so as to make the worst of the Ström at slack water, which we knew would be at eight.
“We set out with a fresh wind on our starboard quarter, and for some time spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger, for indeed we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we were taken aback by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most unusual – something that had never happened to us before – and I began to feel a little uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the boat on the wind, but could make no headway at all for the eddies, and I was upon the point of proposing to return to the anchorage, when, looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular copper-colored cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.
“In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we were dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think about it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us – in less than two the sky was entirely overcast – and what with this and the driving spray, it became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in the smack.
“Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The oldest seaman in Norway never experienced any thing like it. We had let our sails go by the run before it cleverly took us; but, at the first puff, both our masts went by the board as if they had been sawed off – the mainmast taking with it my youngest brother, who had lashed himself to it for safety.
“Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water. It had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the bow, and this hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when about to cross the Ström, by way of precaution against the chopping seas. But for this circumstance we should have foundered at once – for we lay entirely buried for some moments. How my elder brother escaped destruction I cannot say, for I never had an opportunity of ascertaining. For my part, as soon as I had let the foresail run, I threw myself flat on deck, with my feet against the narrow gunwale of the bow, and with my hands grasping a ring-bolt near the foot of the fore-mast. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do this – which was undoubtedly the very best thing I could have done – for I was too much flurried to think.
“For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid herself, in some measure, of the seas. I was now trying to get the better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I had made sure that he was overboard – but the next moment all this joy was turned into horror – for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out the word ‘ Moskoe-ström! ‘
“No one ever will know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I knew what he meant by that one word well enough – I knew what he wished to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound for the whirl of the Ström, and nothing could save us!
“You perceive that in crossing the Ström channel, we always went a long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had to wait and watch carefully for the slack – but now we were driving right upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! ‘To be sure,’ I thought, ‘we shall get there just about the slack – there is some little hope in that’ – but in the next moment I cursed myself for being so great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.
“By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps we did not feel it so much, as we scudded before it, but at all events the seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat and frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change, too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a circular rift of clear sky – as clear as I ever saw – and of a deep bright blue – and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that I never before knew her to wear. She lit up every thing about us with the greatest distinctness – but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up!
“I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother – but, in some manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as death, and held up one of his finger, as if to say ‘listen!’
“At first I could not make out what he meant – but soon a hideous thought flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not going. I glanced at its face by the moonlight, and then burst into tears as I flung it far away into the ocean. It had run down at seven o’clock! We were behind the time of the slack, and the whirl of the Ström was in full fury!
“When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the waves in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip from beneath her – which appears very strange to a landsman – and this is what is called riding, in sea phrase. Well, so far we had ridden the swells very cleverly; but presently a gigantic sea happened to take us right under the counter, and bore us with it as it rose – up – up – as if into the sky. I would not have believed that any wave could rise so high. And then down we came with a sweep, a slide, and a plunge, that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream. But while we were up I had thrown a quick glance around – and that one glance was all sufficient. I saw our exact position in an instant. The Moskoe-Ström whirlpool was about a quarter of a mile dead ahead – but no more like the every-day Moskoe-Ström, than the whirl as you now see it is like a mill-race. If I had not known where we were, and what we had to expect, I should not have recognised the place at all. As it was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids clenched themselves together as if in a spasm.
“It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek – such a sound as you might imagine given out by the waste-pipes of many thousand steam-vessels, letting off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss – down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we wore borne along. The boat did not seem to sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air-bubble upon the surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and on the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge writhing wall between us and the horizon.
“It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves.
“It may look like boasting – but what I tell you is truth – I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man’s mind in such extremity – and I have often thought since, that the revolutions of the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little light-headed.
“There was another circumstance which tended to restore my self-possession; and this was the cessation of the wind, which could not reach us in our present situation – for, as you saw yourself, the belt of surf is considerably lower than the general bed of the ocean, and this latter now towered above us, a high, black, mountainous ridge. If you have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the confusion of mind occasioned by the wind and spray together. They blind, deafen, and strangle you, and take away all power of action or reflection. But we were now, in a great measure, rid of these annoyances – just us death-condemned felons in prison are allowed petty indulgences, forbidden them while their doom is yet uncertain.
“How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say. We careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than floating, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge, and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this time I had never let go of the ring-bolt. My brother was at the stern, holding on to a small empty water-cask which had been securely lashed under the coop of the counter, and was the only thing on deck that had not been swept overboard when the gale first took us. As we approached the brink of the pit he let go his hold upon this, and made for the ring, from which, in the agony of his terror, he endeavored to force my hands, as it was not large enough to afford us both a secure grasp. I never felt deeper grief than when I saw him attempt this act – although I knew he was a madman when he did it – a raving maniac through sheer fright. I did not care, however, to contest the point with him. I knew it could make no difference whether either of us held on at all; so I let him have the bolt, and went astern to the cask. This there was no great difficulty in doing; for the smack flew round steadily enough, and upon an even keel – only swaying to and fro, with the immense sweeps and swelters of the whirl. Scarcely had I secured myself in my new position, when we gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought all was over.
“As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some seconds I dared not open them – while I expected instant destruction, and wondered that I was not already in my death-struggles with the water. But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of falling had ceased; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had been before, while in the belt of foam, with the exception that she now lay more along. I took courage, and looked once again upon the scene.
“Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.
“At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downward. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the manner in which the smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool. She was quite upon an even keel – that is to say, her deck lay in a plane parallel with that of the water – but this latter sloped at an angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I had scarcely more difficulty in maintaining my hold and footing in this situation, than if we had been upon a dead level; and this, I suppose, was owing to the speed at which we revolved.
“The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Mussulmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom – but the yell that went up to the Heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to describe.
“Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had carried us a great distance down the slope; but our farther descent was by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept – not with any uniform movement – but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent us sometimes only a few hundred yards – sometimes nearly the complete circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was slow, but very perceptible.
“Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company. I must have been delirious – for I even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents toward the foam below. ‘This fir tree,’ I found myself at one time saying, ‘will certainly be the next thing that takes the awful plunge and disappears,’ – and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before. At length, after making several guesses of this nature, and being deceived in all – this fact – the fact of my invariable miscalculation – set me upon a train of reflection that made my limbs again tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more.
“It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more exciting hope. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and then thrown forth by the Moskoe-ström. By far the greater number of the articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way – so chafed and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of splinters – but then I distinctly recollected that there were some of them which were not disfigured at all. Now I could not account for this difference except by supposing that the roughened fragments were the only ones which had been completely absorbed – that the others had entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, for some reason, had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not reach the bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as the case might be. I conceived it possible, in either instance, that they might thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without undergoing the fate of those which had been drawn in more early, or absorbed more rapidly. I made, also, three important observations. The first was, that, as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the more rapid their descent – the second, that, between two masses of equal extent, the one spherical, and the other of any other shape , the superiority in speed of descent was with the sphere – the third, that, between two masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any other shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly. Since my escape, I have had several conversations on this subject with an old school-master of the district; and it was from him that I learned the use of the words ‘cylinder’ and ‘sphere.’ He explained to me – although I have forgotten the explanation – how what I observed was, in fact, the natural consequence of the forms of the floating fragments – and showed me how it happened that a cylinder, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in with greater difficulty than an equally bulky body, of any form whatever.
“There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in enforcing these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them to account, and this was that, at every revolution, we passed something like a barrel, or else the yard or the mast of a vessel, while many of these things, which had been on our level when I first opened my eyes upon the wonders of the whirlpool, were now high up above us, and seemed to have moved but little from their original station.
“I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter, and to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my brother’s attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us, and did everything in my power to make him understand what I was about to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my design – but, whether this was the case or not, he shook his head despairingly, and refused to move from his station by the ring-bolt. It was impossible to reach him; the emergency admitted of no delay; and so, with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to his fate, fastened myself to the cask by means of the lashings which secured it to the counter, and precipitated myself with it into the sea, without another moment’s hesitation.
“The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself who now tell you this tale – as you see that I did escape – and as you are already in possession of the mode in which this escape was effected, and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say – I will bring my story quickly to conclusion. It might have been an hour, or thereabout, after my quitting the smack, when, having descended to a vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild gyrations in rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I was attached sunk very little farther than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and the spot at which I leaped overboard, before a great change took place in the character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and less violent. By degrees, the froth and the rainbow disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the winds had gone down, and the full moon was setting radiantly in the west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the Moskoe-ström had been. It was the hour of the slack – but the sea still heaved in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was borne violently into the channel of the Ström, and in a few minutes was hurried down the coast into the ‘grounds’ of the fishermen. A boat picked me up – exhausted from fatigue – and now that the danger was removed speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew me on board were my old mates and daily companions – but they knew me no more than they would have known a traveller from the spirit-land. My hair which had been raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed. I told them my story – they did not believe it. I now tell it to you – and I can scarcely expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry fishermen of Lofoden.”

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The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friend’s friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result. I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that, if I asked old Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it certainly suceeded.
I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the barroom stove of the old, dilapidated tavern in the ancient mining camp of Angel’s, and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance. He roused up and gave me good-day. I told him a friend of mine had commissioned me to make some inquiries about a cherished companion of his boyhood named Leonidas W. Smiley—Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley—a young minister of the Gospel, who he had heard was at one time a resident of Angel’s Camp. I added that, if Mr. Wheeler could tell me anything about this Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, I would feel under many obligations to him.
Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair, and then sat me down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse. To me, the spectacle of a man drifting serenely along through such a queer yarn without ever smiling, was exquisitely absurd. As I said before, I asked him to tell me what he knew of Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and he replied as follows. I let him go on in his own way, and never interrupted him once:
There was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of   ’49—or maybe it was the spring of   ’50—I don’t recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume wasn’t finished when he first came to the camp; but anyway, he was the curiousest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side; and if he couldn’t, he’d change sides. Any way that suited the other man would suit him—any way just so’s he got a bet, he was satisfied. But still he was lucky, uncommon lucky; he most always come out winner. He was always ready and laying for a chance; there couldn’t be no solit’ry thing mentioned but that feller’d offer to bet on it, and take any side you please, as I was just telling you. If there was a horse race, you’d find him flush, or you’d find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dogfight, h! ! e’d bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he’d bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, he’d bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first; or if there was a camp meeting, he would be there reg’lar, to bet on Parson Walker, which he judged to be the best exhorter about here, and so he was, too, and a good man. If he even seen a straddlebug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get wherever he was going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddlebug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road. Lots of the boys here has seen that Smiley, and can tell you about him. Why, it never made no difference to him—he would bet on anything—the dangdest feller. Parson Walker’s wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warn’t going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley asked ho! ! w she was, and he said she was considerable better—thank the Lord for his inf’nit mercy—and coming on so smart that, with the blessing of Prov’dence, she’d get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, “Well, I’ll risk two-and-a-half that she don’t, anyway.”
Thish-yer Smiley had a mare—the boys called her the fifteen-minute nag, but that was only in fun, you know, because, of course, she was faster than that—and he used to win money on that horse, for all she was so slow and always had the asthma, or the distemper, or the consumption, or something of that kind. They used to give her two or three hundred yards start, and then pass her under way; but always at the fag end of the race she’d get excited and desperate-like, and come cavorting and straddling up, and scattering her legs around limber, sometimes in the air, and sometimes out to one side amongst the fences, and kicking up m-o-r-e dust, and raising m-o-r-e racket with her coughing and sneezing and blowing her nose—and always fetch up at the stand just about a neck ahead, as near as you could cipher it down.
And he had a little small bull pup, that to look at him you’d think he wan’t worth a cent, but to set around and look ornery, and lay for a chance to steal something. But as soon as money was up on him, he was a different dog; his underjaw’d begin to stick out like the fo-castle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover, and shine savage like the furnaces. And a dog might tackle him, and bullyrag him, and bite him, and throw him over his shoulder two or three times, and Andrew Jackson—which was the name of the pup—Andrew Jackson would never let on but what he was satisfied, and hadn’t expected nothing else—and the bets being doubled and doubled on the other side all the time, till the money was all up; and then all of a sudden he would grab that other dog jest by the j’int of his hind leg and freeze to it—not chaw, you understand, but only jest grip and hang on till they throwed up the sponge, if it was a year. Smiley always come out winner on that pup, till he harnessed a dog once that didn’t have no hind legs, because they’d been sawed off by a circular saw, and when the thing had gone along far enough, and the money was all up, and he come to make a snatch for his pet holt, he saw in a minute how he’d been imposed on, and how the other dog had him in the door, so to speak, and he ‘peared surprised, and then he looked sorter discouraged-like, and didn’t try no more to win the fight, and so he got shucked out bad. He give Smiley a look, as much as to say his heart was broke, and it was his fault for putting up a dog that hadn’t no hind legs for him to take holt of, which was his main dependence in a fight, and then he limped off a piece and laid down and died. It was a good pup, was that Andrew Jackson, and would have made a name for hisself if he’d lived, for the stuff was in him, and he had genius—I know it, because he hadn’t had no opportunities to speak of, and it don’t stand to reason that a dog could make such a fight as he could under them circumstances, if he hadn’t no talent. It always makes me feel sorry when I think of that last fight of his’n, and the way it turned out.
Well, thish-yer Smiley had rat-tarriers, and chicken cocks, and tomcats, and all them kind of things, till you couldn’t rest, and you couldn’t fetch nothing for him to bet on but he’d match you. He ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said he cal’klated to edercate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet you he did learn him too. He’d give him a little punch behind, and the next minute you’d see that frog whirling in the air like a doughnut—see him turn one summerset, or may be a couple, if he got a good start, and come down flatfooted and all right, like a cat. He got him up so in the matter of catching flies, and kept him in practice so constant, that he’d nail a fly every time as far as he could see him. Smiley said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do most anything—and I believe him. Why, I’ve seen him set Dan’l Webster down here on this floor—Dan’l Webster was the name of the frog—and sing out, “Flies, Dan’l, flies!” and quicker’n you could wink, he’d spring straight up, and snake a fly off’n the counter there, and flop down on the floor again as solid as a gob of mud, and fall to scratching the side of his head with his hind foot as indifferent as if he hadn’t no idea he’d been doin’ any more’n any frog might do. You never see a frog so modest and straightfor’ard as he was, for all he was so gifted. And when it came to fair and square jumping on a dead level, he could get over more ground at one straddle than any animal of his breed you ever see. Jumping on a dead level was his strong suit, you understand; and when it come to that, Smiley would ante up money on him as long as he had a red. Smiley was monstrous proud of his frog, and well he might be, for fellers that had traveled and been everywheres, all said he laid over any frog that ever they see.
Well, Smiley kept the beast in a little lattice box, and he used to fetch him downtown sometimes and lay for a bet. One day a feller—a stranger in the camp, he was—come across him with his box, and says:
“What might it be that you’ve got in the box?”
And Smiley says, sorter indifferent like, “It might be a parrot, or it might be a canary, maybe, but it an’t—it’s only just a frog.”
And the feller took it, and looked at it careful, and turned it round this way and that, and says, “H’m—so ’tis. Well, what’s he good for?”
“Well,” Smiley says, easy and careless, “he’s good enough for one thing, I should judge—he can outjump ary frog in Calaveras county.”
The feller took the box again, and took another long, particular look, and give it back to Smiley, and says, very deliberate, “Well, I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better’n any other frog.”
“Maybe you don’t,” Smiley says. “Maybe you understand frogs, and maybe you don’t understand ’em; maybe you’ve had experience, and maybe you an’t only a amature, as it were. Anyways, I’ve got my opinion, and I’ll risk forty dollars that he can outjump any frog in Calaveras county.”
And the feller studied a minute, and then says, kinder sad like, “Well, I’m only a stranger here, and I an’t got no frog; but if I had a frog, I’d bet you.”
And then Smiley says, “That’s all right—that’s all right—if you’ll hold my box a minute, I’ll go and get you a frog.” And so the feller took the box, and put up his forty dollars along with Smiley’s and set down to wait.
So he set there a good while thinking and thinking to hisself, and then he got the frog out and prized his mouth open and took a teaspoon and filled him full of quail shot—filled him pretty near up to his chin—and set him on the floor. Smiley he went to the swamp and slopped around in the mud for a long time, and finally he ketched a frog, and fetched him in, and give him to this feller, and says:
“Now, if you’re ready, set him alongside of Dan’l, with his fore-paws just even with Dan’l and I’ll give the word.” Then he says, “one—two—three—jump!” and him and the feller touched up the frogs from behind, and the new frog hopped off, but Dan’l give a heave, and hysted up his shoulders—so—like a French-man, but it wan’t no use—he couldn’t budge; he was planted as solid as an anvil, and he couldn’t no more stir than if he was anchored out. Smiley was a good deal surprised, and he was disgusted too, but he didn’t have no idea what the matter was, of course.
The feller took the money and started away; and when he was going out at the door, he sorter jerked his thumb over his shoulders—this way—at Dan’l, and says again, very deliberate, “Well, I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better’n any other frog.”
Smiley he stood scratching his head and looking down at Dan’l a long time, and at last he says, “I do wonder what in the nation that frog throw’d off for—I wonder if there an’t something the matter with him—he ‘pears to look might baggy, somehow.” And he ketched Dan’l by the nap of the neck, and lifted him up and says, “Why, blame my cats, if he don’t weigh five pound!” and turned him upside down, and he belched out a double handful of shot. And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest man—he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketched him. And—
[Here Simon Wheeler heard his name called from the front yard, and got up to see what was wanted.] And turning to me as he moved away, he said: “Just set where you are, stranger, and rest easy—I an’t going to be gone a second.”
But, by your leave, I did not think that a continuation of the history of the enterprising vagabond Jim Smiley would be likely to afford me much information concerning the Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started away.
At the door I met the sociable Wheeler returning, and he buttonholed me and recommenced:
Well, thish-yer Smiley had a yaller one-eyed cow that didn’t have no tail, only jest a short stump like a bannanner, and—”
“Oh! hang Smiley and his afflicted cow!” I muttered, good-naturedly, and bidding the old gentleman good-day, I departed.
(ack:classicshorts.com)

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Fifth Avenue was shining in the sun when they left the Brevoort and started walking toward Washington Square. The sun was warm, even though it was November, and everything looked like Sunday morning–the buses, and the well-dressed people walking slowly in couples and the quiet buildings with the windows closed.

Michael held Frances’ arm tightly as they walked downtown in the sunlight. They walked lightly, almost smiling, because they had slept late and had a good breakfast and it was Sunday. Michael unbuttoned his coat and let it flap around him in the mild wind. They walked, without saying anything, among the young and pleasant-looking people who somehow seem to make up most of the population of that section of New York City.
“Look out,” Frances said, as they crossed Eighth Street. “You’ll break your neck.”
Michael laughed and Frances laughed with him.
“She’s not so pretty, anyway,” Frances said. “Anyway, not pretty enough to take a chance breaking your neck looking at her.”
Michael laughed again. He laughed louder this time, but not as solidly. “She wasn’t a bad-looking girl. She had a nice complexion. Country-girl complexion. How did you know I was looking at her?” Frances cocked her head to one side and smiled at her husband under the tip-tilted brim of her hat. “Mike, darling . . .” she said.
Michael laughed, just a little laugh this time. “Okay,” he said. “The evidence is in. Excuse me. It was the complexion. It’s not the sort of complexion you see much in New York. Excuse me.”
Frances patted his arm lightly and pulled him along a little faster toward Washington Square.
“This is a nice morning,” she said. “This is a wonderful morning. When I have breakfast with you it makes me feel good all day.”
“Tonic,” Michael said. “Morning pickup. Rolls and coffee with Mike and you’re on the alkali side, guaranteed.”
“That’s the story. Also, I slept all night, wound around you like a rope.”
“Saturday night,” he said. “I permit such liberties only when the week’s work is done.”
“You’re getting fat,” she said.
“Isn’t it the truth? The lean man from Ohio.”
“I love it,” she said, “an extra five pounds of husband.”
“I love it, too,” Michael said gravely.
“I have an idea,” Frances said.
“My wife has an idea. That pretty girl.”
“Let’s not see anybody all day,” Frances said. “Let’s just hang around with each other. You and me. We’re always up to our neck in people, drinking their Scotch, or drinking our Scotch, we only see each other in bed . . .”
“The Great Meeting Place,” Michael said. “Stay in bed long enough and everybody you ever knew will show up there.”
“Wise guy,” Frances said. “I’m talking serious.”
“Okay, I’m listening serious.”
“I want to go out with my husband all day long. I want him to talk only to me and listen only to me.”
“What’s to stop us?” Michael asked. “What party intends to prevent me from seeing my wife alone on Sunday? What party?”
“The Stevensons. They want us to drop by around one o’clock and they’ll drive us into the country.”
“The lousy Stevensons,” Mike said. “Transparent. They can whistle. They can go driving in the country by themselves. My wife and I have to stay in New York and bore each other tˆte-…-tˆte.”
“Is it a date?”
“It’s a date.”
Frances leaned over and kissed him on the tip of the ear.
“Darling,” Michael said. “This is Fifth Avenue.”
“Let me arrange a program,” Frances said. “A planned Sunday in New York for a young couple with money to throw away.”
“Go easy.”
“First let’s go see a football game. A professional football game,” Frances said, because she knew Michael loved to watch them. “The Giants are playing. And it’ll be nice to be outside all day today and get hungry and later we’ll go down to Cavanagh’s and get a steak as big as a blacksmith’s apron, with a bottle of wine, and after that, there’s a new French picture at the Filmarte that everybody says… Say, are you listening to me?”
“Sure,” he said. He took his eyes off the hatless girl with the dark hair, cut dancer-style, like a helmet, who was walking past him with the self-conscious strength and grace dancers have. She was walking without a coat and she looked very solid and strong and her belly was flat, like a boy’s, under her skirt, and her hips swung boldly because she was a dancer and also because she knew Michael was looking at her. She smiled a little to herself as she went past and Michael noticed all these things before he looked back at his wife. “Sure,” he said, “we’re going to watch the Giants and we’re going to eat steak and we’re going to see a French picture. How do you like that?”
“That’s it,” Frances said flatly. “That’s the program for the day. Or maybe you’d just rather walk up and down Fifth Avenue.”
“No,” Michael said carefully. “Not at all.”
“You always look at other women,” Frances said. “At every damn woman in the city of New York.”
“Oh, come now,” Michael said, pretending to joke. “Only pretty ones. And, after all, how many pretty women are there in New York? Seventeen?”
“More. At least you seem to think so. Wherever you go.”
“Not the truth. Occasionally, maybe, I look at a woman as she passes. In the street. I admit, perhaps in the street I look at a woman once in a while. . . .”
“Everywhere,” Frances said. “Every damned place we go. Restaurants, subways, theaters, lectures, concerts.”
“Now, darling,” Michael said. “I look at everything. God gave me eyes and I look at women and men and subway excavations and moving pictures and the little flowers of the field. I casually inspect the universe.”
“You ought to see the look in your eye,” Frances said, “as you casually inspect the universe on Fifth Avenue.”
“I’m a happily married man.” Michael pressed her elbow tenderly, knowing what he was doing. “Example for the whole twentieth century, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Loomis.”
“You mean it?”
“Frances, baby . . .”
“Are you really happily married?”
“Sure,” Michael said, feeling the whole Sunday morning sinking like lead inside him. “Now what the hell is the sense in talking like that?”
“I would like to know.” Frances walked faster now, looking straight ahead, her face showing nothing, which was the way she always managed it when she was arguing or feeling bad.
“I’m wonderfully happily married,” Michael said patiently. “I am the envy of all men between the ages of fifteen and sixty in the state of New York.”
“Stop kidding,” Frances said.
“I have a fine home,” Michael said. “I got nice books and a phonograph and nice friends. I live in a town I like the way I like and I do the work I like and I live with the woman I like. Whenever something good happens, don’t I run to you? When something bad happens, don’t I cry on your shoulder?”
“Yes,” Frances said. “You look at every woman that passes.”
“That’s an exaggeration.”
“Every woman.” Frances took her hand off Michael’s arm. “If she’s not pretty you turn away fairly quickly. If she’s halfway pretty you watch her for about seven steps. . . .”
“My Lord, Frances!”
“If she’s pretty you practically break your neck . . .”
“Hey, let’s have a drink,” Michael said, stopping.
“We just had breakfast.”
“Now, listen, darling,” Mike said, choosing his words with care, “it’s a nice day and we both feel good and there’s no reason why we have to break it up. Let’s have a nice Sunday.”
“I could have a fine Sunday if you didn’t look as though you were dying to run after every skirt on Fifth Avenue.”
“Let’s have a drink,” Michael said.
“I don’t want a drink.”
“What do you want, a fight?”
“No,” Frances said, so unhappily that Michael felt terribly sorry for her. “I don’t want a fight. I don’t know why I started this. All right, let’s drop it. Let’s have a good time.”
They joined hands consciously and walked without talking among the baby carriages and the old Italian men in their Sunday clothes and the young women with Scotties in Washington Square Park.
“I hope it’s a good game today,” Frances said after a while, her tone a good imitation of the tone she had used at breakfast and at the beginning of their walk. “I like professional football games. They hit each other as though they’re made out of concrete. When they tackle each other,” she said, trying to make Michael laugh, “they make divots. It’s very exciting.”
“I want to tell you something,” Michael said very seriously. “I have not touched another woman. Not once. In all the five years.”
“All right,” Frances said.
“You believe that, don’t you?”
“All right.”
They walked between the crowded benches, under the scrubby citypark trees.
“I try not to notice it,” Frances said, as though she were talking to herself. “I try to make believe it doesn’t mean anything. Some men’re like that, I tell myself, they have to see what they’re missing.”
“Some women’re like that, too,” Michael said. “In my time I’ve seen a couple of ladies.”
“I haven’t even looked at another man,” Frances said, walking straight ahead, “since the second time I went out with you.”
“There’s no law,” Michael said.
“I feel rotten inside, in my stomach, when we pass a woman and you look at her and I see that look in your eye and that’s the way you looked at me the first time, in Alice Maxwell’s house. Standing there in the living room, next to the radio, with a green hat on and all those people.”
“I remember the hat,” Michael said.
“The same look,” Frances said. “And it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel terrible.”
“Sssh, please, darling, sssh. . . .”
“I think I would like a drink now,” Frances said.
They walked over to a bar on Eighth Street, not saying anything, Michael automatically helping her over curbstones and guiding her past automobiles. He walked, buttoning his coat, looking thoughtfully at his neatly shined heavy brown shoes as they made the steps toward the bar. They sat near a window in the bar and the sun streamed in, and there was a small cheerful fire in the fireplace. A little Japanese waiter came over and put down some pretzels and smiled happily at them.
“What do you order after breakfast?” Michael asked.
“Brandy, I suppose,” Frances said.
“Courvoisier,” Michael told the waiter. “Two Courvoisier.”
The waiter came with the glasses and they sat drinking the brandy in the sunlight. Michael finished half his and drank a little water.
“I look at women,” he said. “Correct. I don’t say it’s wrong or right, I look at them. If I pass them on the street and I don’t look at them, I’m fooling you, I’m fooling myself.”
“You look at them as though you want them,” Frances said, playing with her brandy glass. “Every one of them.”
“In a way,” Michael said, speaking softly and not to his wife, “in a way that’s true. I don’t do anything about it, but it’s true.”
“I know it. That’s why I feel bad.”
“Another brandy,” Michael called. “Waiter, two more brandies.”
“Why do you hurt me?” Frances asked. “What’re you doing?”
Michael sighed and closed his eyes and rubbed them gently with his fingertips. “I love the way women look. One of the things I like best about New York is the battalions of women. When I first came to New York from Ohio that was the first thing I noticed, the million wonderful women, all over the city. I walked around with my heart in my throat.”
“A kid,” Frances said. “That’s a kid’s feeling.”
“Guess again,” Michael said. “Guess again. I’m older now, I’m a man getting near middle age, putting on a little fat and I still love to walk along Fifth Avenue at three o’clock on the east side of the street between Fiftieth and Fifty-seventh streets, they’re all out then, making believe they’re shopping, in their furs and their crazy hats, everything all concentrated from all over the world into eight blocks, the best furs, the best clothes, the handsomest women, out to spend money and feeling good about it, looking coldly at you, making believe they’re not looking at you as you go past.”
The Japanese waiter put the two drinks down, smiling with great happiness.
“Everything is all right?” he asked.
“Everything is wonderful,” Michael said.
“If it’s just a couple of fur coats,” Frances said, “and forty-five-dollar hats . . .”
“It’s not the fur coats. Or the hats. That’s just the scenery for that particular kind of woman. Understand,” he said, “you don’t have to listen to this.”
“I want to listen.”
“I like the girls in the offices. Neat, with their eyeglasses, smart, chipper, knowing what everything is about, taking care of themselves all the time.” He kept his eye on the people going slowly past outside the window. “I like the girls on Forty-fourth Street at lunchtime, the actresses, all dressed up on nothing a week, talking to the good-looking boys, wearing themselves out being young and vivacious outside Sardi’s, waiting for producers to look at them. I like the salesgirls in Macy’s, paying attention to you first because you’re a man, leaving lady customers waiting, flirting with you over socks and books and phonograph needles. I got all this stuff accumulated in me because I’ve been thinking about it for ten years and now you’ve asked for it and here it is.”
“Go ahead,” Frances said.
“When I think of New York City, I think of all the girls, the Jewish girls, the Italian girls, the Irish, Polack, Chinese, German, Negro, Spanish, Russian girls, all on parade in the city. I don’t know whether it’s something special with me or whether every man in the city walks around with the same feeling inside him, but I feel as though I’m at a picnic in this city. I like to sit near the women in the theaters, the famous beauties who’ve taken six hours to get ready and look it. And the young girls at the football games, with the red cheeks, and when the warm weather comes, the girls in their summer dresses . . .” He finished his drink. “That’s the story. You asked for it, remember. I can’t help but look at them. I can’t help but want them.”
“You want them,” Frances repeated without expression. “You said that.”
“Right,” Michael said, being cruel now and not caring, because she had made him expose himself. “You brought this subject up for discussion, we will discuss it fully.”
Frances finished her drink and swallowed two or three times extra. “You say you love me?”
“I love you, but I also want them. Okay.”
“I’m pretty, too,” Frances said. “As pretty as any of them.”
“You’re beautiful,” Michael said, meaning it.
“I’m good for you,” Frances said, pleading. “I’ve made a good wife, a good housekeeper, a good friend. I’d do any damn thing for you.”
“I know,” Michael said. He put his hand out and grasped hers.
“You’d like to be free to . . .” Frances said.
“Sssh.”
“Tell the truth.” She took her hand away from under his.
Michael flicked the edge of his glass with his finger. “Okay,” he said gently. “Sometimes I feel I would like to be free.”
“Well,” Frances said defiantly, drumming on the table, “anytime you say . . .”
“Don’t be foolish.” Michael swung his chair around to her side of the table and patted her thigh.
She began to cry, silently, into her handkerchief, bent over just enough so that nobody else in the bar would notice. “Someday,” she said, crying, “you’re going to make a move . . .”
Michael didn’t say anything. He sat watching the bartender slowly peel a lemon.
“Aren’t you?” Frances asked harshly. “Come on, tell me. Talk. Aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” Michael said. He moved his chair back again. “How the hell do I know?”
“You know,” Frances persisted. “Don’t you know?”
“Yes,” Michael said after a while. “I know.”
Frances stopped crying then. Two or three snuffles into the handkerchief and she put it away and her face didn’t tell anything to anybody. “At least do me one favor,” she said.
“Sure.”
“Stop talking about how pretty this woman is, or that one. Nice eyes, nice breasts, a pretty figure, good voice,” she mimicked his voice. “Keep it to yourself. I’m not interested.”
“Excuse me.” Michael waved to the waiter. “I’ll keep it to myself.”
Frances flicked the corner of her eyes. “Another brandy,” she told the waiter.
“Two,” Michael said.
“Yes, ma’am, yes, sir,” said the waiter, backing away.
Frances regarded him coolly across the table. “Do you want me to call the Stevensons?” she asked. “It’ll be nice in the country.”
“Sure,” Michael said. “Call them up.”
She got up from the table and walked across the room toward the telephone. Michael watched her walk, thinking, What a pretty girl, what nice legs.

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The boy sitting opposite him was his enemy.

The boy sitting opposite him was called Tigo, and he wore a green silk jacket with an orange stripe on each sleeve. The jacket told Danny that Tigo was his enemy. The jacket shrieked, “Enemy, enemy!”

“This is a good piece,” Tigo said, indicating the gun on the table.” This runs you close to forty-five bucks, you try to buy it in a store. That’s a lot of money.”

The gun on the table was a Smith & Wesson .38 Police Special.

It rested exactly in the center of the table, its sawed-off, two-inch barrel abruptly terminating the otherwise lethal grace of the weapon. There was a checked walnut stock on the gun, and the gun was finished in a flat blue. Alongside the gun were three .38 Special cartridges.

Danny looked at the gun disinterestedly. He was nervous and apprehensive, but he kept tight control of his face. He could not show Tigo what he was feeling. Tigo was the enemy, and so he presented a mask to the enemy, cocking one eyebrow and saying, “I seen pieces before. There’s nothing special about this one.” “Except what we got to do with it,” Tigo said. Tigo was studying him with large brown eyes. The eyes were moist-looking. He was not a bad-looking kid, Tigo, with thick black hair and maybe nose that was too long, but his mouth and chin were good. You could usually tell a cat by his mouth and his chin. Tigo would not turkey out of this particular rumble. Of that, Danny was sure. “Why don’t we start?” Danny asked. He wet his lips and looked across at Tigo.

“You understand,” Tigo said, “I got no bad blood for you.” “I understand.”

“This is what the club said. This is how the club said we should settle it. Without a big street diddlebop, you dig? But I want you to know I don’t know you from a hole in the wall-except you wear a blue and gold jacket.”

“And you wear a green and orange one,” Danny said,” and that’s enough for me.”

“Sure, but what I was trying to say…”

“We going to sit and talk all night, or we going to get this thing rolling?” Danny asked.

“What I’m tryin to say,” Tigo went on, “is that I just happened to be picked for this, you know? Like to settle this thing that’s between the two clubs I mean, you got to admit your boys shouldn’t have come in our territory last night.”

“I got to admit nothing,” Danny said flatly.

“Well, anyway, they shot at the candy store. That wasn’t right. There’s supposed to be a truce on.”

“Okay, okay,” Danny said.

“So like… like this is the way we agreed to settle it. I mean, one of us and… and one of you. Fair and square. Without any street boppin’, and without any law trouble.”

“Let’s get on with it,” Danny said.

“I’m trying to say, I never even seen you on the street before this. So this ain’t nothin’ personal with me. Whichever way it turns out, like…”

“I never seen you neither,” Danny said.

Tigo stared at him for a long time. “That’s cause you’re new around here. Where you from originally?”

“My people come down from the Bronx.”

“You got a big family?”

“A sister and two brothers, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I only got a sister.” Tigo shrugged. “Well.” He sighed. “So.” He sighed again. “Let’s make it, huh?”

“I’m waitin’,” Danny said.

Tigo picked up the gun, and then he took one of the cartridges from the table top. He broke open the gun, slid the cartridge into the cylinder, and then snapped the gun shut and twirled the cylinder. “Round and round she goes,” he said, “and where she stops, nobody knows. There’s six chambers in the cylinder and only one cartridge. That makes the odds five-to-one that the cartridge’ll be in firing position when the cylinder stops whirling. You dig?”

“I dig.”

“I’ll go first,” Tigo said.

Danny looked at him suspiciously. “Why?”

“You want to go first?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m giving you a break.” Tigo grinned. “I may blow my head off first time out.”

“Why you giving me a break?” Danny asked.

Tigo shrugged. “What the hell’s the difference?” He gave the cylinder a fast twirl.

“The Russians invented this, huh?” Danny asked.

“Yeah.”

“I always said they was crazy bastards.”

“Yeah, I always…” Tigo stopped talking. The cylinder was stopped now. He took a deep breath, put the barrel of the .38 to his temple, and then squeezed the trigger.

The firing pin clicked on an empty chamber.

“Well, that was easy, wasn’t it?” he asked. He shoved the gun across the table. “Your turn, Danny.”

Danny reached for the gun. It was cold in the basement room, but he was sweating now. He pulled the gun toward him, then left it on the table while he dried his palms on his trousers. He picked up the gun then and stared at it.

“It’s a nifty piece,” Tigo said. “I like a good piece.”

“Yeah, I do too,” Danny said. “You can tell a good piece just by the way it feels in your hand.”

Tigo looked surprised. “I mentioned that to one of the guys yesterday, and he thought I was nuts.

“Lots of guys don’t know about pieces,” Danny said, shrugging. “I was thinking,” Tigo, said, “when I get old enough, I’ll join the Army, you know? I’d like to work around pieces.”

“I thought of that, too. I’d join now only my old lady won’t give me permission. She’s got to sign if I join now.”

“Yeah, they’re all the same,” Tigo said smiling. “Your old lady born here or the old country?”

“The old country,” Danny said.

“Yeah, well you know they got these old-fashioned ideas.”

“I better spin,” Danny said.

“Yeah,” Tigo agreed.

Danny slapped the cylinder with his left hand. The cylinder whirled, whirled, and then stopped. Slowly, Danny put the gun to his head. He wanted to close his eyes, but he didn’t dare. Tigo, the enemy, was watching him. He returned Tigo’s stare, and then he squeezed the trigger.

His heart skipped a beat, and then over the roar of his blood he heard the empty click. Hastily, he put the gun down on the table.

“Makes you sweat, don’t it?” Tigo said.

Danny nodded, saying nothing. He watched Tigo. Tigo was looking at the gun.

“Me now, huh?” Tigo said. He took a deep breath, then picked up the .38. He twirled the cylinder, waited for it to stop, and then put the gun to his head.

“Bang!” Tigo said, and then he squeezed the trigger. Again the firing pin clicked on an empty chamber. Tigo let out his breath and put the gun down.

“I thought I was dead that time,” he said.

“I could hear the harps,” Danny said.

“This is a good way to lose weight, you know that?” Tigo laughed nervously, and then his laugh became honest when he saw Danny was laughing with him. “Ain’t it the truth?” You could lose ten pounds this way.”

“My old lady’s like a house,” Danny said laughing. “She ought to try this kind of a diet.” He laughed at his own humor, pleased when Tigo joined him.

“That’s the trouble,” Tigo said. “You see a nice deb in the street, you think it’s crazy, you know? Then they get to be our people’s age, and they turn to fat.” He shook his head.

“You got a chick?” Danny asked.

“Yeah, I got one.”

“What’s her name?”

“Aw, you don’t know her.”

“Maybe I do,” Danny said.

“Her name is Juana.” Tigo watched him. “She’s about five-two, got these brown eyes…”

“I think I know her,” Danny said. He nodded. “Yeah, I think I know her.”

“She’s nice, ain’t she?” Tigo asked. He leaned forward, as if Danny’s answer was of great importance to him.

“Yeah she’s nice,” Danny said.

“Yeah. Hey maybe sometime we could…” Tigo cut himself short. He looked down at the gun, and his sudden enthusiasm seemed to ebb completely. “It’s you turn,” he said.

“Here goes nothing,” Danny said. He twirled the cylinder, sucked in his breath, and then fired.

The emptily click was loud in the stillness of the room.

“Man!” Danny said.

“We’re pretty lucky, you know?” Tigo said.

“So far.”

“We better lower the odds. The boys won’t like it if we…” He stopped himself again, and then reached for one of the cartridges on the table. He broke open the gun again, slipped in the second cartridge into the cylinder. “Now we got two cartridges in here,” he said. “Two cartridges, six chambers. That’s four-to-two. Divide it, and you get two-to-two.” He paused. “You game?”

“That’s… that’s what we’re here for, ain’t it?”

“Sure.”

“Okay then.”

“Gone,” Tigo said, nodding his head. “You got courage, Danny.”

“You’re the one needs the courage,” Danny said gently. “It’s your spin.”

“Tigo lifted the gun. Idly, he began spinning the cylinder.

“You live on the next block, don’t you?” Danny asked.

“Yeah.” Tigo kept slapping the cylinder. It spun with a gently whirring sound.

“That’s how come we never crossed paths, I guess. Also, I’m new on the scene.”

“Yeah, well you know, you get hooked up with one club, that’s the way it is.”

“You like the guys on you club?” Danny asked, wondering why he was asking such a stupid question, listening to the whirring of the cylinder at the same time.

“They’re okay.” Tigo shrugged. “None of them really send me, but that’s the club on my block, so what’re you gonna do, huh?” His hand left the cylinder. It stopped spinning. He put the gun to his head.

“Wait!” Danny said.

Tigo looked puzzled. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. I just wanted to say… I mean…” Danny frowned. “I don’t dig too many of the guys on my club, either.”

Tigo nodded. For a moment, their eyes locked. Then Tigo shrugged, and fired.

The empty click filled the basement room.

“Phew,” Tigo said.

“Man, you can say that again.”

Tigo slid the gun across the table.

Danny hesitated an instant. He did not want to pick up the gun. He felt sure that this time the firing pin would strike the percussion cap of one of the cartridges. He was sure that this time he would shoot himself.

“Sometimes I think I’m turkey,” he said to Tigo, surprised that his thoughts had found voice.

“I feel that way sometimes, too,” Tigo said.

“I never told that to nobody,” Danny said. “The guys on my club would laugh at me, I ever told them that.”

“Some things you got to keep to yourself. There ain’t nobody you can trust in this world.”

“There should be somebody you can trust,” Danny said. “Hell, you can’t tell nothing to your people. They don’t understand.” Tigo laughed. “That’s an old story. But that’s the way things are. What’re you gonna do?”

“Yeah. Still, sometimes I think I’m turkey.”

“Sure, sure,” Tigo said. “It ain’t only that, though. Like sometimes… well, don’t you wonder what you’re doing stomping some guy in the street? Like … you know what I mean? Like … who’s the guy to you? What you got to beat him up for? ‘Cause he messed with somebody else’s girl?” Tigo shook his head. “It gets complicated sometimes.”

“Yeah, but …” Danny frowned again. “You got to stick with the club. Don’t you?”

“Sure, sure … hell yes.” Again, their eyes locked.

“Well, here goes.” Danny said. He lifted the gun. “It’s just …” He shook his head, and then twirled the cylinder. The cylinder spun, and then stopped. He studied the gun, wondering if one of the cartridges would roar from the barrel when he squeezed the trigger.

Then he fired.

Click.

“I didn’t think you was going through with it,” Tigo said.

“I didn’t neither.”

“You got heart, Danny,” Tigo said. He looked at the gun. He picked it up and broke it open.

“What you doing?” Danny asked.

“Another cartridge,” Tigo said. “Six chambers, three cartridges. That makes it even money. You game?”

“You?” “The boys said… ” Tigo stopped talking. “Yeah, I’m game,” he added, his voice curiously low.

“It’s your turn, you know.”

“I know,” Danny watched as Tigo picked up the gun.

“You ever been rowboating on the lake?”

Tigo looked across the table at Danny, his eyes wide. “Once,” he said. “I went with Juana.”

“Is it … is it any kicks?”

“Yeah. Yeah, its grand kicks. You mean you never been?”

“No,” Danny said.

“Hey, you got to tryin, man,” Tigo said excitedly. “You’ll like it. Hey, you try it.”

“Yeah, I was thinking maybe this Sunday I’d … ” He did not complete the sentence.

“My spin,” Tigo said wearily. He twirled the cylinder. “Here goes a good man,” he said, and he put the revolver to his head and squeezed the trigger.

Click.

Danny smiled nervously. “No rest for the weary,” he said. “But Jesus you’ve got the heart. I don’t know if I can go through with it.”

Sure, you can,” Tigo assured him. “Listen, what’s there to be afraid of?” He slid the gun across the table.

“We keep this up all night?” Danny asked.

“They said … you know … ”

“Well, it ain’t so bad. I mean, hell, we didn’t have this operation, we wouldn’ta got a chance to talk, huh?” He grinned feebly.

“Yeah,” Tigo said, his face splitting in a wide grin. “It ain’t been so bad, huh?”

“No, it’s been … well, you know, these guys on the club, who can talk to them?”

He picked up the gun. “We could …” Tigo started.

“What?”

“We could say … well … like we kept shootin’ an’ nothing happened, so …” Tigo shrugged. “What the hell! We can’t do this all night, can we?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s make this the last spin. Listen, they don’t like it, they can take a flying leap, you know?”

“I don’t think they’ll like it. We’re supposed to settle this for the clubs.”

“Screw the clubs!” Tigo said. “Can’t we pick our own …” The word was hard coming. When it came, his eyes did not leave Danny’s face. “… friends?”

“Sure we can,” Danny said vehemently. “Sure we can! Why not?”

“The last spin,” Tigo said. “Come on, the last spin.”

“Gone,” Danny said. “Hey you know, I’m glad they got this idea. You know that? I’m actually glad!” He twirled the cylinder. “Look, you want to go on the lake this Sunday? I mean with your girl and mine? We could get two boats. Or even one if you want.” “Yeah, one boat,” Tigo Said. “Hey, your girl’ll like Juana, I mean it. She’s a swell chick.”

The cylinder stopped. Danny put the gun to his head quickly.

“Here’s to Sunday,” he said. He grinned at Tigo, and Tigo grinned back, and then Danny fired.

The explosion rocked the small basement room, ripping away half of Danny’s head, shattering his face. A small cry escaped Tigo’s throat, and a look of incredulous shock knifed his eyes. Then he put his head on the table and began weeping.

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The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled–but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good-will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.

He had a weak point–this Fortunato–although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity–to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack–but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting party-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.

I said to him: “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.”

“How?” said he. “Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”

“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”

“Amontillado!”

“I have my doubts.”

“Amontillado!”

“And I must satisfy them.”

“Amontillado!”

“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me– ”

“Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”

“And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.”

“Come, let us go.”

“Whither?”

“To your vaults.”

“My friend, no. I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchesi–”

“I have no engagement–come.”

“My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre.”

“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”

Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm. Putting on a mask of black silk, and drawing a roquelaure closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.

There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honour of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.

I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.

The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.

“The pipe,” said he.

“It is farther on,” said I; “but observe the white webwork which gleams from these cavern walls.”

He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication.

“Nitre?” he asked, at length.

“Nitre,” I replied. “How long have you had that cough?”

“Ugh! ugh! ugh!–ugh! ugh! ugh!–ugh! ugh! ugh!–ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh!”

My poor friend found it impossible to reply. for many minutes.

“It is nothing,” he said at last.

“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi–”

“Enough,” he said: “the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”

“True–true.” I replied; “and indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily–but you should use all proper caution. A draught of this Medoc will defend us from the damps.”

Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the mould.

“Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine.

He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.

“I drink,” he said, “to the buried that repose around us.”

“And I to your long life.”

He again took my arm, and we proceeded.

“These vaults,” he said, “are extensive.”

“The Montresors,” I replied, “were a great and numerous family.”

“I forget your arms.”

“A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are embedded in the heel.”

“And the motto?”

Nemo me impune lacessit.”

“Good!” he said.

The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew warm with the Medoc. We had passed through walls of piled bones, with casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the catacombs. I paused again, and this time I made bold to seize Fortunato by an arm above the elbow.

“The nitre!” I said; “see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river’s bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough–”

“It is nothing,” he said; “let us go on. But first, another draught of the Medoc.”

I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grâve. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed, and threw the bottle upward with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement–a grotesque one.

“You do not comprehend?” he said.

“Not I,” I replied.

“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”

“How?”

“You are not of the masons.”

“Yes, yes,” I said, “yes, yes.”

“You? Impossible! A mason?”

“A mason,” I replied.

“A sign,” he said.

“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaure.

“You jest,” he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. “But let us proceed to the Amontillado.”

“Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and, descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame.

At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones we perceived a still interior recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use within itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of solid granite.

It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavored to pry into the depth of the recess. Its termination the feeble light did not enable us to see.

“Proceed,” I said; “herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi–”

“He is an ignoramus,” interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had fetteredhim to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key, I stepped back from the recess.

“Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed it is verydamp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.”

“The Amontillado!” ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.

“True,” I replied; “the Amontillado.”

As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of building-stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of the niche.

I had scarcely laid the first tier of the masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labours and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux over the masonwork, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.

A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated–I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to grope with it about the recess; but the thought of an instant reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt satisfied. I reapproached the wall. I replied to the yells of him who clamoured. I reëchoed–I aided–I surpassed them in volume and in strength. I did this, and the clamourer grew still.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognising as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said:

“Ha! ha! ha!–he! he! he!–a very good joke indeed–an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo–he! he! he!–over our wine–he! he! he!”

“The Amontillado!” I said.

“He! he! he!–he! he! he!–yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo–the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.”

“Yes,” I said, “let us be gone.”

“For the love of God, Montresor!”

“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”

But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud:

“Fortunato!”

No answer. I called again:

“Fortunato!”

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick–on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I reërected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat.

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One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”
The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its colour within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she cluttered out of the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One Eight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”
“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.
“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”
Down rippled the brown cascade.
“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
“Give it to me quick” said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 78 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task dear friends–a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”
At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please, God, make him think I am still pretty.”
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stepped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice-what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”
“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet, even after the hardest mental labour.
“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”
Jim looked about the room curiously.
“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with a sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”
And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy Your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”
The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men-who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
(Ack:classicshorts.com)

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