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Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

THE MARVELLOUS THING IS THAT IT’S painless,” he said. “That’s how you know when it starts.”

“Is it really?”

“Absolutely. I’m awfully sorry about the odor though. That must bother you.”

“Don’t! Please don’t.”

“Look at them,” he said. “Now is it sight or is it scent that brings them like that?”

The cot the man lay on was in the wide shade of a mimosa tree and as he looked out past the shade onto the glare of the plain there were three of the big birds squatted obscenely, while in the sky a dozen more sailed, making quick-moving shadows as they passed.

“They’ve been there since the day the truck broke down,” he said. “Today’s the first time any have lit on the ground. I watched the way they sailed very carefully at first in case I ever wanted to use them in a story. That’s funny now.””I wish you wouldn’t,” she said.

“I’m only talking,” he said. “It’s much easier if I talk. But I don’t want to bother you.”

“You know it doesn’t bother me,” she said. “It’s that I’ve gotten so very nervous not being able to do anything. I think we might make it as easy as we can until the plane comes.”

“Or until the plane doesn’t come.”

“Please tell me what I can do. There must be something I can do.

“You can take the leg off and that might stop it, though I doubt it. Or you can shoot me. You’re a good shot now. I taught you to shoot, didn’t I?”

“Please don’t talk that way. Couldn’t I read to you?”

“Read what?”

“Anything in the book that we haven’t read.”

“I can’t listen to it,” he said.” Talking is the easiest. We quarrel and that makes the time pass.”

“I don’t quarrel. I never want to quarrel. Let’s not quarrel any more. No matter how nervous we get. Maybe they will be back with another truck today. Maybe the plane will come.”

“I don’t want to move,” the man said. “There is no sense in moving now except to make it easier for you.”

“That’s cowardly.”

“Can’t you let a man die as comfortably as he can without calling him names? What’s the use of clanging me?”

“You’re not going to die.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m dying now. Ask those bastards.” He looked over to where the huge, filthy birds sat, their naked heads sunk in the hunched feathers. A fourth planed down, to run quick-legged and then waddle slowly toward the others.

“They are around every camp. You never notice them. You can’t die if you don’t give up.”

“Where did you read that? You’re such a bloody fool.”

“You might think about some one else.”

“For Christ’s sake,” he said, “that’s been my trade.”

He lay then and was quiet for a while and looked across the heat shimmer of the plain to the edge of the bush. There were a few Tommies that showed minute and white against the yellow and, far off, he saw a herd of zebra, white against the green of the bush. This was a pleasant camp under big trees against a hill, with good water, and close by, a nearly dry water hole where sand grouse flighted in the mornings.

“Wouldn’t you like me to read?” she asked. She was sitting on a canvas chair beside his cot. “There’s a breeze coming up.

“No thanks.”

“Maybe the truck will come.”

“I don’t give a damn about the truck.”

“I do.”

“You give a damn about so many things that I don’t.”

“Not so many, Harry.”

“What about a drink?”

“It’s supposed to be bad for you. It said in Black’s to avoid all alcohol.

You shouldn’t drink.”

“Molo!” he shouted.

“Yes Bwana.”

“Bring whiskey-soda.”

“Yes Bwana.”

“You shouldn’t,” she said. “That’s what I mean by giving up. It says it’s

bad for you. I know it’s bad for you.”

“No,” he said. “It’s good for me.”

So now it was all over, he thought. So now he would never have a chance

to finish it. So this was the way it ended, in a bickering over a drink. Since

the gangrene started in his right leg he had no pain and with the pain the

horror had gone and all he felt now was a great tiredness and anger that this was the end of it. For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity.

For years it had obsessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was

strange how easy being tired enough made it.

Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.

“I wish we’d never come,” the woman said. She was looking at him holding the glass and biting her lip. “You never would have gotten anything like this in Paris. You always said you loved Paris. We could have stayed in Paris or gone anywhere. I’d have gone anywhere. I said I’d go anywhere you wanted. If you wanted to shoot we could have gone shooting in Hungary and been comfortable.”

“Your bloody money,” he said.

“That’s not fair,” she said. “It was always yours as much as mine. I left everything and I went wherever you wanted to go and I’ve done what you wanted to do But I wish we’d never come here.”

“You said you loved it.”

“I did when you were all right. But now I hate it. I don’t see why that had to happen to your leg. What have we done to have that happen to us?”

“I suppose what I did was to forget to put iodine on it when I first scratched it. Then I didn’t pay any attention to it because I never infect. Then, later, when it got bad, it was probably using that weak carbolic solution when the other antiseptics ran out that paralyzed the minute blood vessels and started the gangrene.” He looked at her, “What else'”

“I don’t mean that.”

“If we would have hired a good mechanic instead of a half-baked Kikuyu driver, he would have checked the oil and never burned out that bearing in the truck.”

“I don’t mean that.”

“If you hadn’t left your own people, your goddamned Old Westbury Saratoga, Palm Beach people to take me on ” *’Why, I loved you. That’s not fair. I love you now. I’ll always love you Don’t you love me?”

“No,” said the man. “I don’t think so. I never have.”

“Harry, what are you saying? You’re out of your head.”

“No. I haven’t any head to go out of.”

“Don’t drink that,” she said. “Darling, please don’t drink that. We have to do everything we can.”

“You do it,” he said. “I’m tired.”

Now in his mind he saw a railway station at Karagatch and he was standing with his pack and that was the headlight of the Simplon-Offent cutting the dark now and he was leaving Thrace then after the retreat. That was one of the things he had saved to write, with, in the morning at breakfast, looking out the window and seeing snow on the mountains in Bulgaffa and Nansen’s Secretary asking the old man if it were snow and the old man looking at it and saying, No, that’s not snow. It’s too early for snow. And the Secretary repeating to the other girls, No, you see. It’s not snow and them all saying, It’s not snow we were mistaken. But it was the snow all right and he sent them on into it when he evolved exchange of populations. And it was snow they tramped along in until they died that winter.

It was snow too that fell all Christmas week that year up in the Gauertal, that year they lived in the woodcutter’s house with the big square porcelain stove that filled half the room, and they slept on mattresses filled with beech leaves, the time the deserter came with his feet bloody in the snow. He said the police were right behind him and they gave him woolen socks and held the gendarmes talking until the tracks had drifted over.

In Schrunz, on Christmas day, the snow was so bright it hurt your eyes when you looked out from the Weinstube and saw every one coming home from church. That was where they walked up the sleigh-smoothed urine-yellowed road along the river with the steep pine hills, skis heavy on the shoulder, and where they ran down the glacier above the Madlenerhaus, the snow as smooth to see as cake frosting and as light as powder and he remembered the noiseless rush the speed made as you dropped down like a bird.

They were snow-bound a week in the Madlenerhaus that time in the blizzard playing cards in the smoke by the lantern light and the stakes were higher all the time as Herr Lent lost more. Finally he lost it all. Everything, the Skischule money and all the season’s profit and then his capital. He could see him with his long nose, picking up the cards and then opening, “Sans Voir.” There was always gambling then. When there was no snow you gambled and when there was too much you gambled. He thought of all the time in his life he had spent gambling.

But he had never written a line of that, nor of that cold, bright Christmas day with the mountains showing across the plain that Barker had flown across the lines to bomb the Austrian officers’ leave train, machine-gunning them as they scattered and ran. He remembered Barker afterwards coming into the mess and starting to tell about it. And how quiet it got and then somebody saying, ”You bloody murderous bastard.”

Those were the same Austrians they killed then that he skied with later. No not the same. Hans, that he skied with all that year, had been in the Kaiser Jagers and when they went hunting hares together up the little valley above the saw-mill they had talked of the fighting on Pasubio and of the attack on Perticara and Asalone and he had never written a word of that. Nor of Monte Corona, nor the Sette Communi, nor of Arsiero.

How many winters had he lived in the Vorarlberg and the Arlberg? It was four and then he remembered the man who had the fox to sell when they had walked into Bludenz, that time to buy presents, and the cherry-pit taste of good kirsch, the fast-slipping rush of running powder-snow on crust, singing ”Hi! Ho! said Rolly!’ ‘ as you ran down the last stretch to the steep drop, taking it straight, then running the orchard in three turns and out across the ditch and onto the icy road behind the inn. Knocking your bindings loose, kicking the skis free and leaning them up against the wooden wall of the inn, the lamplight coming from the window, where inside, in the smoky, new-wine smelling warmth, they were playing the accordion.

“Where did we stay in Paris?” he asked the woman who was sitting by him in a canvas chair, now, in Africa.

“At the Crillon. You know that.”

“Why do I know that?”

“That’s where we always stayed.”

“No. Not always.”

“There and at the Pavillion Henri-Quatre in St. Germain. You said you loved it there.”

“Love is a dunghill,” said Harry. “And I’m the cock that gets on it to crow.”

“If you have to go away,” she said, “is it absolutely necessary to kill off everything you leave behind? I mean do you have to take away everything? Do you have to kill your horse, and your wife and burn your saddle and your armour?”

“Yes,” he said. “Your damned money was my armour. My Sword and my Armour.”

“Don’t.”

“All right. I’ll stop that. I don’t want to hurt you.’

“It’s a little bit late now.”

“All right then. I’ll go on hurting you. It’s more amusing. The only thing I ever really liked to do with you I can’t do now.”

“No, that’s not true. You liked to do many things and everything you wanted to do I did.”

“Oh, for Christ sake stop bragging, will you?”

He looked at her and saw her crying.

“Listen,” he said. “Do you think that it is fun to do this? I don’t know why I’m doing it. It’s trying to kill to keep yourself alive, I imagine. I was all right when we started talking. I didn’t mean to start this, and now I’m crazy as a coot and being as cruel to you as I can be. Don’t pay any attention, darling, to what I say. I love you, really. You know I love you. I’ve never loved any one else the way I love you.”

He slipped into the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by.

“You’re sweet to me.”

“You bitch,” he said. “You rich bitch. That’s poetry. I’m full of poetry now. Rot and poetry. Rotten poetry.”

“Stop it. Harry, why do you have to turn into a devil now?”

“I don’t like to leave anything,” the man said. “I don’t like to leave things behind.”

* * *

It was evening now and he had been asleep. The sun was gone behind the hill and there was a shadow all across the plain and the small animals were feeding close to camp; quick dropping heads and switching tails, he watched them keeping well out away from the bush now. The birds no longer waited on the ground. They were all perched heavily in a tree. There were many more of them. His personal boy was sitting by the bed.

“Memsahib’s gone to shoot,” the boy said. “Does Bwana want?”

“Nothing.”

She had gone to kill a piece of meat and, knowing how he liked to watch the game, she had gone well away so she would not disturb this little pocket of the plain that he could see. She was always thoughtful, he thought. On anything she knew about, or had read, or that she had ever heard.

It was not her fault that when he went to her he was already over. How could a woman know that you meant nothing that you said; that you spoke only from habit and to be comfortable? After he no longer meant what he said, his lies were more successful with women than when he had told them the truth.

It was not so much that he lied as that there was no truth to tell. He had had his life and it was over and then he went on living it again with different people and more money, with the best of the same places, and some new ones.

You kept from thinking and it was all marvellous. You were equipped with good insides so that you did not go to pieces that way, the way most of them had, and you made an attitude that you cared nothing for the work you used to do, now that you could no longer do it. But, in yourself, you said that you would write about these people; about the very rich; that you were really not of them but a spy in their country; that you would leave it and write of it and for once it would be written by some one who knew what he was writing of. But he would never do it, because each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all. The people he knew now were all much more comfortable when he did not work. Africa was where he had been happiest in the good time of his life, so he had come out here to start again. They had made this safari with the minimum of comfort. There was no hardship; but there was no luxury and he had thought that he could get back into training that way. That in some way he could work the fat off his soul the way a fighter went into the mountains to work and train in order to burn it out of his body.

She had liked it. She said she loved it. She loved anything that was exciting, that involved a change of scene, where there were new people and where things were pleasant. And he had felt the illusion of returning strength of will to work. Now if this was how it ended, and he knew it was, he must not turn like some snake biting itself because its back was broken. It wasn’t this woman’s fault. If it had not been she it would have been another. If he lived by a lie he should try to die by it. He heard a shot beyond the hill.

She shot very well this good, this rich bitch, this kindly caretaker and destroyer of his talent. Nonsense. He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook. What was this? A catalogue of old books? What was his talent anyway? It was a talent all right but instead of using it, he had traded on it. It was never what he had done, but always what he could do. And he had chosen to make his living with something else instead of a pen or a pencil. It was strange, too, wasn’t it, that when he fell in love with another woman, that woman should always have more money than the last one? But when he no longer was in love, when he was only lying, as to this woman, now, who had the most money of all, who had all the money there was, who had had a husband and children, who had taken lovers and been dissatisfied with them, and who loved him dearly as a writer, as a man, as a companion and as a proud possession; it was strange that when he did not love her at all and was lying, that he should be able to give her more for her money than when he had really loved.

We must all be cut out for what we do, he thought. However you make your living is where your talent lies. He had sold vitality, in one form or another, all his life and when your affections are not too involved you give much better value for the money. He had found that out but he would never write that, now, either. No, he would not write that, although it was well worth writing.

Now she came in sight, walking across the open toward the camp. She was wearing jodphurs and carrying her rifle. The two boys had a Tommie slung and they were coming along behind her. She was still a good-looking woman, he thought, and she had a pleasant body. She had a great talent and appreciation for the bed, she was not pretty, but he liked her face, she read enormously, liked to ride and shoot and, certainly, she drank too much. Her husband had died when she was still a comparatively young woman and for a while she had devoted herself to her two just-grown children, who did not need her and were embarrassed at having her about, to her stable of horses, to books, and to bottles. She liked to read in the evening before dinner and she drank Scotch and soda while she read. By dinner she was fairly drunk and after a bottle of wine at dinner she was usually drunk enough to sleep.

That was before the lovers. After she had the lovers she did not drink so much because she did not have to be drunk to sleep. But the lovers bored her. She had been married to a man who had never bored her and these people bored her very much.

Then one of her two children was killed in a plane crash and after that was over she did not want the lovers, and drink being no anaesthetic she had to make another life. Suddenly, she had been acutely frightened of being alone. But she wanted some one that she respected with her.

It had begun very simply. She liked what he wrote and she had always envied the life he led. She thought he did exactly what he wanted to. The steps by which she had acquired him and the way in which she had finally fallen in love with him were all part of a regular progression in which she had built herself a new life and he had traded away what remained of his old life.

He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else? He did not know. She would have bought him anything he wanted. He knew that. She was a damned nice woman too. He would as soon be in bed with her as any one; rather with her, because she was richer, because she was very pleasant and appreciative and because she never made scenes. And now this life that she had built again was coming to a term because he had not used iodine two weeks ago when a thorn had scratched his knee as they moved forward trying to photograph a herd of waterbuck standing, their heads up, peering while their nostrils searched the air, their ears spread wide to hear the first noise that would send them rushing into the bush. They had bolted, too, before he got the picture.

Here she came now. He turned his head on the cot to look toward her. “Hello,” he said.

“I shot a Tommy ram,” she told him. “He’ll make you good broth and I’ll have them mash some potatoes with the Klim. How do you feel?”

“Much better.”

“Isn’t that lovely? You know I thought perhaps you would. You were sleeping when I left.”

“I had a good sleep. Did you walk far?”

“No. Just around behind the hill. I made quite a good shot on the Tommy.”

“You shoot marvellously, you know.”

“I love it. I’ve loved Africa. Really. If you’re all right it’s the most fun that I’ve ever had. You don’t know the fun it’s been to shoot with you. I’ve loved the country.”

“I love it too.”

“Darling, you don’t know how marvellous it is to see you feeling better. I couldn’t stand it when you felt that way. You won’t talk to me like that again, will you? Promise me?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t remember what I said.”

“You don’t have to destroy me. Do you? I’m only a middle-aged woman who loves you and wants to do what you want to do. I’ve been destroyed two or three times already. You wouldn’t want to destroy me again, would you?”

“I’d like to destroy you a few times in bed,” he said.

“Yes. That’s the good destruction. That’s the way we’re made to be destroyed. The plane will be here tomorrow.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m sure. It’s bound to come. The boys have the wood all ready and the grass to make the smudge. I went down and looked at it again today. There’s plenty of room to land and we have the smudges ready at both ends.”

“What makes you think it will come tomorrow?”

“I’m sure it will. It’s overdue now. Then, in town, they will fix up your leg and then we will have some good destruction. Not that dreadful talking kind.”

“Should we have a drink? The sun is down.”

“Do you think you should?”

“I’m having one.”

“We’ll have one together. Molo, letti dui whiskey-soda!” she called.

“You’d better put on your mosquito boots,” he told her.

“I’ll wait till I bathe . . .”

While it grew dark they drank and just before it was dark and there was no longer enough light to shoot, a hyena crossed the open on his way around the hill.

“That bastard crosses there every night,” the man said. “Every night for two weeks.”

“He’s the one makes the noise at night. I don’t mind it. They’re a filthy animal though.”

Drinking together, with no pain now except the discomfort of lying in the one position, the boys lighting a fire, its shadow jumping on the tents, he could feel the return of acquiescence in this life of pleasant surrender. She was very good to him. He had been cruel and unjust in the afternoon. She was a fine woman, marvellous really. And just then it occurred to him that he was going to die.

It came with a rush; not as a rush of water nor of wind; but of a sudden, evil-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it.

“What is it, Harry?” she asked him.

“Nothing,” he said. “You had better move over to the other side. To windward.”

“Did Molo change the dressing?”

“Yes. I’m just using the boric now.”

“How do you feel?”

“A little wobbly.”

“I’m going in to bathe,” she said. “I’ll be right out. I’ll eat with you and then we’ll put the cot in.”

So, he said to himself, we did well to stop the quarrelling. He had never quarrelled much with this woman, while with the women that he loved he had quarrelled so much they had finally, always, with the corrosion of the quarrelling, killed what they had together. He had loved too much, demanded too much, and he wore it all out.

He thought about alone in Constantinople that time, having quarrelled in Paris before he had gone out. He had whored the whole time and then, when that was over, and he had failed to kill his loneliness, but only made it worse, he had written her, the first one, the one who left him, a letter telling her how he had never been able to kill it … How when he thought he saw her outside the Regence one time it made him go all faint and sick inside, and that he would follow a woman who looked like her in some way, along the Boulevard, afraid to see it was not she, afraid to lose the feeling it gave him. How every one he had slept with had only made him miss her more. How what she had done could never matter since he knew he could not cure himself of loving her. He wrote this letter at the Club, cold sober, and mailed it to New York asking her to write him at the of fice in Paris. That seemed safe. And that night missing her so much it made him feel hollow sick inside, he wandered up past Maxim’s, picked a girl up and took her out to supper. He had gone to a place to dance with her afterward, she danced badly, and left her for a hot Armenian slut, that swung her belly against him so it almost scalded. He took her away from a British gunner subaltern after a row. The gunner asked him outside and they fought in the street on the cobbles in the dark. He’d hit him twice, hard, on the side of the jaw and when he didn’t go down he knew he was in for a fight. The gunner hit him in the body, then beside his eye. He swung with his left again and landed and the gunner fell on him and grabbed his coat and tore the sleeve off and he clubbed him twice behind the ear and then smashed him with his right as he pushed him away. When the gunner went down his head hit first and he ran with the girl because they heard the M.P. ‘s coming. They got into a taxi and drove out to Rimmily Hissa along the Bosphorus, and around, and back in the cool night and went to bed and she felt as over-ripe as she looked but smooth, rose-petal, syrupy, smooth-bellied, big-breasted and needed no pillow under her buttocks, and he left her before she was awake looking blousy enough in the first daylight and turned up at the Pera Palace with a black eye, carrying his coat because one sleeve was missing.

That same night he left for Anatolia and he remembered, later on that trip, riding all day through fields of the poppies that they raised for opium and how strange it made you feel, finally, and all the distances seemed wrong, to where they had made the attack with the newly arrived Constantine officers, that did not know a god-damned thing, and the artillery had fired into the troops and the British observer had cried like a child.

That was the day he’d first seen dead men wearing white ballet skirts and upturned shoes with pompons on them. The Turks had come steadily and lumpily and he had seen the skirted men running and the of ficers shooting into them and running then themselves and he and the British observer had run too until his lungs ached and his mouth was full of the taste of pennies and they stopped behind some rocks and there were the Turks coming as lumpily as ever. Later he had seen the things that he could never think of and later still he had seen much worse. So when he got back to Paris that time he could not talk about it or stand to have it mentioned. And there in the cafe as he passed was that American poet with a pile of saucers in front of him and a stupid look on his potato face talking about the Dada movement with a Roumanian who said his name was Tristan Tzara, who always wore a monocle and had a headache, and, back at the apartment with his wife that now he loved again, the quarrel all over, the madness all over, glad to be home, the office sent his mail up to the flat. So then the letter in answer to the one he’d written came in on a platter one morning and when he saw the hand writing he went cold all over and tried to slip the letter underneath another. But his wife said, ”Who is that letter from, dear?” and that was the end of the beginning of that.

He remembered the good times with them all, and the quarrels. They always picked the finest places to have the quarrels. And why had they always quarrelled when he was feeling best? He had never written any of that because, at first, he never wanted to hurt any one and then it seemed as though there was enough to write without it. But he had always thought that he would write it finally. There was so much to write. He had seen the world change; not just the events; although he had seen many of them and had watched the people, but he had seen the subtler change and he could remember how the people were at different times. He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would.

“How do you feel?” she said. She had come out from the tent now after her bath.

“All right.”

“Could you eat now?” He saw Molo behind her with the folding table and the other boy with the dishes.

“I want to write,” he said.

“You ought to take some broth to keep your strength up.”

“I’m going to die tonight,” he said. “I don’t need my strength up.”

“Don’t be melodramatic, Harry, please,” she said.

“Why don’t you use your nose? I’m rotted half way up my thigh now. What the hell should I fool with broth for? Molo bring whiskey-soda.”

“Please take the broth,” she said gently.

“All right.”

The broth was too hot. He had to hold it in the cup until it cooled enough to take it and then he just got it down without gagging.

“You’re a fine woman,” he said. “Don’t pay any attention to me.”

She looked at him with her well-known, well-loved face from Spur and Town & Country, only a little the worse for drink, only a little the worse for bed, but Town & Country never showed those good breasts and those useful thighs and those lightly small-of-back-caressing hands, and as he looked and saw her well-known pleasant smile, he felt death come again.

in.

This time there was no rush. It was a puff, as of a wind that makes a candle flicker and the flame go tall.

“They can bring my net out later and hang it from the tree and build the fire up. I’m not going in the tent tonight. It’s not worth moving. It’s a clear night. There won’t be any rain.”

So this was how you died, in whispers that you did not hear. Well, there would be no more quarrelling. He could promise that. The one experience that he had never had he was not going to spoil now. He probably would. You spoiled everything. But perhaps he wouldn’t.

“You can’t take dictation, can you?”

“I never learned,” she told him.

“That’s all right.”

There wasn’t time, of course, although it seemed as though it telescoped so that you might put it all into one paragraph if you could get it right.

There was a log house, chinked white with mortar, on a hill above the lake. There was a bell on a pole by the door to call the people in to meals. Behind the house were fields and behind the fields was the timber. A line of lombardy poplars ran from the house to the dock. Other poplars ran along the point. A road went up to the hills along the edge of the timber and along that road he picked blackberries. Then that log house was burned down and all the guns that had been on deer foot racks above the open fire place were burned and afterwards their barrels, with the lead melted in the magazines, and the stocks burned away, lay out on the heap of ashes that were used to make lye for the big iron soap kettles, and you asked Grandfather if you could have them to play with, and he said, no. You see they were his guns still and he never bought any others. Nor did he hunt any more. The house was rebuilt in the same place out of lumber now and painted white and from its porch you saw the poplars and the lake beyond; but there were never any more guns. The barrels of the guns that had hung on the deer feet on the wall of the log house lay out there on the heap of ashes and no one ever touched them.

In the Black Forest, after the war, we rented a trout stream and there were two ways to walk to it. One was down the valley from Triberg and around the valley road in the shade of the trees that bordered the white road, and then up a side road that went up through the hills past many small farms, with the big Schwarzwald houses, until that road crossed the stream. That was where our fishing began.

The other way was to climb steeply up to the edge of the woods and then go across the top of the hills through the pine woods, and then out to the edge of a meadow and down across this meadow to the bridge. There were birches along the stream and it was not big, but narrow, clear and fast, with pools where it had cut under the roots of the birches. At the Hotel in Triberg the proprietor had a fine season. It was very pleasant and we were all great friends. The next year came the inflation and the money he had made the year before was not enough to buy supplies to open the hotel and he hanged himself. You could dictate that, but you could not dictate the Place Contrescarpe where the flower sellers dyed their flowers in the street and the dye ran over the paving where the autobus started and the old men and the women, always drunk on wine and bad mare; and the children with their noses running in the cold; the smell of dirty sweat and poverty and drunkenness at the Cafe’ des Amateurs and the whores at the Bal Musette they lived above. The concierge who entertained the trooper of the Garde Republicaine in her loge, his horse-hair-plumed helmet on a chair. The locataire across the hall whose husband was a bicycle racer and her joy that morning at the cremerie when she had opened L’Auto and seen where he placed third in Paris-Tours, his first big race. She had blushed and laughed and then gone upstairs crying with the yellow sporting paper in her hand. The husband of the woman who ran the Bal Musette drove a taxi and when he, Harry, had to take an early plane the husband knocked upon the door to wake him and they each drank a glass of white wine at the zinc of the bar before they started. He knew his neighbors in that quarter then because they all were poor.

Around that Place there were two kinds; the drunkards and the sportifs. The drunkards killed their poverty that way; the sportifs took it out in exercise. They were the descendants of the Communards and it was no struggle for them to know their politics. They knew who had shot their fathers, their relatives, their brothers, and their friends when the Versailles troops came in and took the town after the Commune and executed any one they could catch with calloused hands, or who wore a cap, or carried any other sign he was a working man. And in that poverty, and in that quarter across the street from a Boucherie Chevaline and a wine cooperative he had written the start of all he was to do. There never was another part of Paris that he loved like that, the sprawling trees, the old white plastered houses painted brown below, the long green of the autobus in that round square, the purple flower dye upon the paving, the sudden drop down the hill of the rue Cardinal Lemoine to the River, and the other way the narrow crowded world of the rue Mouffetard. The street that ran up toward the Pantheon and the other that he always took with the bicycle, the only asphalted street in all that quarter, smooth under the tires, with the high narrow houses and the cheap tall hotel where Paul Verlaine had died. There were only two rooms in the apartments where they lived and he had a room on the top floor of that hotel that cost him sixty francs a month where he did his writing, and from it he could see the roofs and chimney pots and all the hills of Paris.

From the apartment you could only see the wood and coal man’s place. He sold wine too, bad wine. The golden horse’s head outside the Boucherie Chevaline where the carcasses hung yellow gold and red in the open window, and the green painted co-operative where they bought their wine; good wine and cheap. The rest was plaster walls and the windows of the neighbors. The neighbors who, at night, when some one lay drunk in the street, moaning and groaning in that typical French ivresse that you were propaganded to believe did not exist, would open their windows and then the murmur of talk.

”Where is the policeman? When you don’t want him the bugger is always there. He’s sleeping with some concierge. Get the Agent. ” Till some one threw a bucket of water from a window and the moaning stopped. ”What’s that? Water. Ah, that’s intelligent.” And the windows shutting. Marie, his femme de menage, protesting against the eight-hour day saying, ”If a husband works until six he gets only a riffle drunk on the way home and does not waste too much. If he works only until five he is drunk every night and one has no money. It is the wife of the working man who suffers from this shortening of hours. ‘

“Wouldn’t you like some more broth?” the woman asked him now.

“No, thank you very much. It is awfully good.”

“Try just a little.”

“I would like a whiskey-soda.”

“It’s not good for you.”

“No. It’s bad for me. Cole Porter wrote the words and the music. This knowledge that you’re going mad for me.”

“You know I like you to drink.”

“Oh yes. Only it’s bad for me.”

When she goes, he thought, I’ll have all I want. Not all I want but all there is. Ayee he was tired. Too tired. He was going to sleep a little while. He lay still and death was not there. It must have gone around another street. It went in pairs, on bicycles, and moved absolutely silently on the pavements.

No, he had never written about Paris. Not the Paris that he cared about. But what about the rest that he had never written?

What about the ranch and the silvered gray of the sage brush, the quick, clear water in the irrigation ditches, and the heavy green of the alfalfa. The trail went up into the hills and the cattle in the summer were shy as deer. The bawling and the steady noise and slow moving mass raising a dust as you brought them down in the fall. And behind the mountains, the clear sharpness of the peak in the evening light and, riding down along the trail in the moonlight, bright across the valley. Now he remembered coming down through the timber in the dark holding the horse’s tail when you could not see and all the stories that he meant to write.

About the half-wit chore boy who was left at the ranch that time and told not to let any one get any hay, and that old bastard from the Forks who had beaten the boy when he had worked for him stopping to get some feed. The boy refusing and the old man saying he would beat him again. The boy got the rifle from the kitchen and shot him when he tried to come into the barn and when they came back to the ranch he’d been dead a week, frozen in the corral, and the dogs had eaten part of him. But what was left you packed on a sled wrapped in a blanket and roped on and you got the boy to help you haul it, and the two of you took it out over the road on skis, and sixty miles down to town to turn the boy over. He having no idea that he would be arrested. Thinking he had done his duty and that you were his friend and he would be rewarded. He’d helped to haul the old man in so everybody could know how bad the old man had been and how he’d tried to steal some feed that didn’t belong to him, and when the sheriff put the handcuffs on the boy he couldn’t believe it. Then he’d started to cry. That was one story he had saved to write. He knew at least twenty good stories from out there and he had never written one. Why?

“You tell them why,” he said.

“Why what, dear?”

“Why nothing.”

She didn’t drink so much, now, since she had him. But if he lived he would never write about her, he knew that now. Nor about any of them. The rich were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Julian and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, “The very rich are different from you and me.” And how some one had said to Julian, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Julian. He thought they were a special glamourous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.

He had been contemptuous of those who wrecked. You did not have to like it because you understood it. He could beat anything, he thought, because no thing could hurt him if he did not care.

All right. Now he would not care for death. One thing he had always dreaded was the pain. He could stand pain as well as any man, until it went on too long, and wore him out, but here he had something that had hurt frightfully and just when he had felt it breaking him, the pain had stopped.

He remembered long ago when Williamson, the bombing officer, had been hit by a stick bomb some one in a German patrol had thrown as he was coming in through the wire that night and, screaming, had begged every one to kill him. He was a fat man, very brave, and a good officer, although addicted to fantastic shows. But that night he was caught in the wire, with a flare lighting him up and his bowels spilled out into the wire, so when they brought him in, alive, they had to cut him loose. Shoot me, Harry. For Christ sake shoot me. They had had an argument one time about our Lord never sending you anything you could not bear and some one’s theory had been that meant that at a certain time the pain passed you out automatically. But he had always remembered Williamson, that night. Nothing passed out Williamson until he gave him all his morphine tablets that he had always saved to use himself and then they did not work right away.

Still this now, that he had, was very easy; and if it was no worse as it went on there was nothing to worry about. Except that he would rather be in better company.

He thought a little about the company that he would like to have.

No, he thought, when everything you do, you do too long, and do too late, you can’t expect to find the people still there. The people all are gone. The party’s over and you are with your hostess now.

I’m getting as bored with dying as with everything else, he thought.

“It’s a bore,” he said out loud.

“What is, my dear?”

“Anything you do too bloody long.”

He looked at her face between him and the fire. She was leaning back in the chair and the firelight shone on her pleasantly lined face and he could see that she was sleepy. He heard the hyena make a noise just outside the range of the fire.

“I’ve been writing,” he said. “But I got tired.”

“Do you think you will be able to sleep?”

“Pretty sure. Why don’t you turn in?”

“I like to sit here with you.”

“Do you feel anything strange?” he asked her.

“No. Just a little sleepy.”

“I do,” he said.

He had just felt death come by again.

“You know the only thing I’ve never lost is curiosity,” he said to her.

“You’ve never lost anything. You’re the most complete man I’ve ever known.”

“Christ,” he said. “How little a woman knows. What is that? Your intuition?”

Because, just then, death had come and rested its head on the foot of the cot and he could smell its breath.

“Never believe any of that about a scythe and a skull,” he told her. “It can be two bicycle policemen as easily, or be a bird. Or it can have a wide snout like a hyena.”

It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape any more. It simply occupied space.

“Tell it to go away.”

It did not go away but moved a little closer.

“You’ve got a hell of a breath,” he told it. “You stinking bastard.”

It moved up closer to him still and now he could not speak to it, and when it saw he could not speak it came a little closer, and now he tried to send it away without speaking, but it moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest, and while it crouched there and he could not move or speak, he heard the woman say, “Bwana is asleep now. Take the cot up very gently and carry it into the tent.”

He could not speak to tell her to make it go away and it crouched now, heavier, so he could not breathe. And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest.

It was morning and had been morning for some time and he heard the plane. It showed very tiny and then made a wide circle and the boys ran out and lit the fires, using kerosene, and piled on grass so there were two big smudges at each end of the level place and the morning breeze blew them toward the camp and the plane circled twice more, low this time, and then glided down and levelled off and landed smoothly and, coming walking toward him, was old Compton in slacks, a tweed jacket and a brown felt hat.

“What’s the matter, old cock?” Compton said.

“Bad leg,” he told him. “Will you have some breakfast?”

“Thanks. I’ll just have some tea. It’s the Puss Moth you know. I won’t be able to take the Memsahib. There’s only room for one. Your lorry is on the way.”

Helen had taken Compton aside and was speaking to him. Compton came back more cheery than ever.

“We’ll get you right in,” he said. “I’ll be back for the Mem. Now I’m afraid I’ll have to stop at Arusha to refuel. We’d better get going.”

“What about the tea?”

“I don’t really care about it, you know.”

The boys had picked up the cot and carried it around the green tents and down along the rock and out onto the plain and along past the smudges that were burning brightly now, the grass all consumed, and the wind fanning the fire, to the little plane. It was difficult getting him in, but once in he lay back in the leather seat, and the leg was stuck straight out to one side of the seat where Compton sat. Compton started the motor and got in. He waved to Helen and to the boys and, as the clatter moved into the old familiar roar, they swung around with Compie watching for warthog holes and roared, bumping, along the stretch between the fires and with the last bump rose and he saw them all standing below, waving, and the camp beside the hill, flattening now, and the plain spreading, clumps of trees, and the bush flattening, while the game trails ran now smoothly to the dry waterholes, and there was a new water that he had never known of. The zebra, small rounded backs now, and the wildebeeste, big-headed dots seeming to climb as they moved in long fingers across the plain, now scattering as the shadow came toward them, they were tiny now, and the movement had no gallop, and the plain as far as you could see, gray-yellow now and ahead old Compie’s tweed back and the brown felt hat. Then they were over the first hills and the wildebeeste were trailing up them, and then they were over mountains with sudden depths of green-rising forest and the solid bamboo slopes, and then the heavy forest again, sculptured into peaks and hollows until they crossed, and hills sloped down and then another plain, hot now, and purple brown, bumpy with heat and Compie looking back to see how he was riding. Then there were other mountains dark ahead.

And then instead of going on to Arusha they turned left, he evidently figured that they had the gas, and looking down he saw a pink sifting cloud, moving over the ground, and in the air, like the first snow in at ii blizzard, that comes from nowhere, and he knew the locusts were coming, up from the South. Then they began to climb and they were going to the East it seemed, and then it darkened and they were in a storm, the rain so thick it seemed like flying through a waterfall, and then they were out and Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.

Just then the hyena stopped whimpering in the night and started to make a strange, human, almost crying sound. The woman heard it and, stirred uneasily. She did not wake. In her dream she was at the house on Long Island and it was the night before her daughter’s debut. Somehow her father was there and he had been very rude. Then the noise the hyena made was so loud she woke and for a moment she did not know where she was and she was very afraid. Then she took the flashlight and shone it on the other cot that they had carried in after Harry had gone to sleep. She could see his bulk under the mosquito bar but somehow he had gotten his leg out and it hung down alongside the cot. The dressings had all come down and she could not look at it.

“Molo,” she called, “Molo! Molo!”

Then she said, “Harry, Harry!” Then her voice rising, “Harry! Please. Oh Harry!”

There was no answer and she could not hear him breathing.

Outside the tent the hyena made the same strange noise that had awakened her. But she did not hear him for the beating of her heart.

(ack:xroads.virginia.edu)

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Leo Tolstoi

I

An elder sister came to visit her younger sister in the country.

The elder was married to a tradesman in town, the younger to a

peasant in the village. As the sisters sat over their tea talking,

the elder began to boast of the advantages of town life: saying how

comfortably they lived there, how well they dressed, what fine

clothes her children wore, what good things they ate and drank, and

how she went to the theatre, promenades, and entertainments.

The younger sister was piqued, and in turn disparaged the life of a

tradesman, and stood up for that of a peasant.

“I would not change my way of life for yours,” said she. “We may

live roughly, but at least we are free from anxiety. You live in

better style than we do, but though you often earn more than you

need, you are very likely to lose all you have. You know the proverb,

‘Loss and gain are brothers twain.’ It often happens that people who

are wealthy one day are begging their bread the next. Our way is

safer. Though a peasant’s life is not a fat one, it is a long one.

We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat.”

The elder sister said sneeringly:

“Enough? Yes, if you like to share with the pigs and the calves!

What do you know of elegance or manners! However much your good man

may slave, you will die as you are living-on a dung heap-and your

children the same.”

“Well, what of that?” replied the younger. “Of course our work is

rough and coarse. But, on the other hand, it is sure; and we need

not bow to any one. But you, in your towns, are surrounded by

temptations; today all may be right, but tomorrow the Evil One may

tempt your husband with cards, wine, or women, and all will go to

ruin. Don’t such things happen often enough?”

Pahom, the master of the house, was lying on the top of the oven,

and he listened to the women’s chatter.

“It is perfectly true,” thought he. “Busy as we are from childhood

tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense

settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t land

enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”

The women finished their tea, chatted a while about dress, and then

cleared away the tea-things and lay down to sleep.

But the Devil had been sitting behind the oven, and had heard all

that was said. He was pleased that the peasant’s wife had led her

husband into boasting, and that he had said that if he had plenty of

land he would not fear the Devil himself.

“All right,” thought the Devil. “We will have a tussle. I’ll give you

land enough; and by means of that land I will get you into my power.”

II

Close to the village there lived a lady, a small landowner, who had

an estate of about three hundred acres. She had always lived on

good terms with the peasants, until she engaged as her steward an

old soldier, who took to burdening the people with fines. However

careful Pahom tried to be, it happened again and again that now a

horse of his got among the lady’s oats, now a cow strayed into her

garden, now his calves found their way into her meadows-and he

always had to pay a fine.

Pahom paid, but grumbled, and, going home in a temper, was rough

with his family. All through that summer Pahom had much trouble

because of this steward; and he was even glad when winter came and

the cattle had to be stabled. Though he grudged the fodder when

they could no longer graze on the pasture-land, at least he was free

from anxiety about them.

In the winter the news got about that the lady was going to sell her

land, and that the keeper of the inn on the high road was bargaining

for it. When the peasants heard this they were very much alarmed.

“Well,” thought they, “if the innkeeper gets the land he will worry us

with fines worse than the lady’s steward. We all depend on that estate.”

So the peasants went on behalf of their Commune, and asked the lady

not to sell the land to the innkeeper; offering her a better price

for it themselves. The lady agreed to let them have it. Then the

peasants tried to arrange for the Commune to buy the whole estate,

so that it might be held by all in common. They met twice to

discuss it, but could not settle the matter; the Evil One sowed

discord among them, and they could not agree. So they decided to

buy the land individually, each according to his means; and the lady

agreed to this plan as she had to the other.

Presently Pahom heard that a neighbor of his was buying fifty acres,

and that the lady had consented to accept one half in cash and to

wait a year for the other half. Pahom felt envious.

“Look at that,” thought he, “the land is all being sold, and I shall

get none of it.” So he spoke to his wife.

“Other people are buying,” said he, “and we must also buy twenty

acres or so. Life is becoming impossible. That steward is simply

crushing us with his fines.”

So they put their heads together and considered how they could

manage to buy it. They had one hundred roubles laid by. They sold

a colt, and one half of their bees; hired out one of their sons as a

laborer, and took his wages in advance; borrowed the rest from a

brother-in-law, and so scraped together half the purchase money.

Having done this, Pahom chose out a farm of forty acres, some of it

wooded, and went to the lady to bargain for it. They came to an

agreement, and he shook hands with her upon it, and paid her a

deposit in advance. Then they went to town and signed the deeds; he

paying half the price down, and undertaking to pay the remainder

within two years.

So now Pahom had land of his own. He borrowed seed, and sowed it on

the land he had bought. The harvest was a good one, and within a

year he had managed to pay off his debts both to the lady and to his

brother-in-law. So he became a landowner, ploughing and sowing his

own land, making hay on his own land, cutting his own trees, and

feeding his cattle on his own pasture. When he went out to plough

his fields, or to look at his growing corn, or at his grass meadows,

his heart would fill with joy. The grass that grew and the flowers

that bloomed there, seemed to him unlike any that grew elsewhere.

Formerly, when he had passed by that land, it had appeared the same

as any other land, but now it seemed quite different.

III

So Pahom was well contented, and everything would have been right if

the neighboring peasants would only not have trespassed on his corn-

fields and meadows. He appealed to them most civilly, but they

still went on: now the Communal herdsmen would let the village cows

stray into his meadows; then horses from the night pasture would get

among his corn. Pahom turned them out again and again, and forgave

their owners, and for a long time he forbore from prosecuting any

one. But at last he lost patience and complained to the District

Court. He knew it was the peasants’ want of land, and no evil

intent on their part, that caused the trouble; but he thought:

“I cannot go on overlooking it, or they will destroy all I have.

They must be taught a lesson.”

So he had them up, gave them one lesson, and then another, and two

or three of the peasants were fined. After a time Pahom’s

neighbours began to bear him a grudge for this, and would now and

then let their cattle on his land on purpose. One peasant even got

into Pahom’s wood at night and cut down five young lime trees for

their bark. Pahom passing through the wood one day noticed

something white. He came nearer, and saw the stripped trunks lying

on the ground, and close by stood the stumps, where the tree had

been. Pahom was furious.

“If he had only cut one here and there it would have been bad enough,”

thought Pahom, “but the rascal has actually cut down a whole clump.

If I could only find out who did this, I would pay him out.”

He racked his brains as to who it could be. Finally he decided: “It

must be Simon-no one else could have done it.” Se he went to

Simon’s homestead to have a look around, but he found nothing, and

only had an angry scene. However’ he now felt more certain than

ever that Simon had done it, and he lodged a complaint. Simon was

summoned. The case was tried, and re-tried, and at the end of it

all Simon was acquitted, there being no evidence against him. Pahom

felt still more aggrieved, and let his anger loose upon the Elder

and the Judges.

“You let thieves grease your palms,” said he. “If you were honest

folk yourselves, you would not let a thief go free.”

So Pahom quarrelled with the Judges and with his neighbors. Threats

to burn his building began to be uttered. So though Pahom had more

land, his place in the Commune was much worse than before.

About this time a rumor got about that many people were moving to

new parts.

“There’s no need for me to leave my land,” thought Pahom. “But some

of the others might leave our village, and then there would be more

room for us. I would take over their land myself, and make my

estate a bit bigger. I could then live more at ease. As it is, I

am still too cramped to be comfortable.”

One day Pahom was sitting at home, when a peasant passing through

the village, happened to call in. He was allowed to stay the night,

and supper was given him. Pahom had a talk with this peasant and

asked him where he came from. The stranger answered that he came

from beyond the Volga, where he had been working. One word led to

another, and the man went on to say that many people were settling

in those parts. He told how some people from his village had

settled there. They had joined the Commune, and had had twenty-five

acres per man granted them. The land was so good, he said, that the

rye sown on it grew as high as a horse, and so thick that five cuts

of a sickle made a sheaf. One peasant, he said, had brought nothing

with him but his bare hands, and now he had six horses and two cows

of his own.

Pahom’s heart kindled with desire. He thought:

“Why should I suffer in this narrow hole, if one can live so well

elsewhere? I will sell my land and my homestead here, and with the

money I will start afresh over there and get everything new. In

this crowded place one is always having trouble. But I must first

go and find out all about it myself.”

Towards summer he got ready and started. He went down the Volga on

a steamer to Samara, then walked another three hundred miles on

foot, and at last reached the place. It was just as the stranger

had said. The peasants had plenty of land: every man had twenty-

five acres of Communal land given him for his use, and any one who

had money could buy, besides, at fifty-cents an acre as much good

freehold land as he wanted.

Having found out all he wished to know, Pahom returned home as

autumn came on, and began selling off his belongings. He sold his

land at a profit, sold his homestead and all his cattle, and

withdrew from membership of the Commune. He only waited till the

spring, and then started with his family for the new settlement.

IV

As soon as Pahom and his family arrived at their new abode, he

applied for admission into the Commune of a large village. He stood

treat to the Elders, and obtained the necessary documents. Five

shares of Communal land were given him for his own and his sons’

use: that is to say–125 acres (not altogether, but in different

fields) besides the use of the Communal pasture. Pahom put up the

buildings he needed, and bought cattle. Of the Communal land alone

he had three times as much as at his former home, and the land was

good corn-land. He was ten times better off than he had been. He

had plenty of arable land and pasturage, and could keep as many head

of cattle as he liked.

At first, in the bustle of building and settling down, Pahom was

pleased with it all, but when he got used to it he began to think

that even here he had not enough land. The first year, he sowed

wheat on his share of the Communal land, and had a good crop. He

wanted to go on sowing wheat, but had not enough Communal land for

the purpose, and what he had already used was not available; for in

those parts wheat is only sown on virgin soil or on fallow land. It

is sown for one or two years, and then the land lies fallow till it

is again overgrown with prairie grass. There were many who wanted

such land, and there was not enough for all; so that people

quarrelled about it. Those who were better off, wanted it for

growing wheat, and those who were poor, wanted it to let to dealers,

so that they might raise money to pay their taxes. Pahom wanted to

sow more wheat; so he rented land from a dealer for a year. He

sowed much wheat and had a fine crop, but the land was too far from

the village–the wheat had to be carted more than ten miles. After

a time Pahom noticed that some peasant-dealers were living on

separate farms, and were growing wealthy; and he thought:

“If I were to buy some freehold land, and have a homestead on it, it

would be a different thing, altogether. Then it would all be nice

and compact.”

The question of buying freehold land recurred to him again and again.

He went on in the same way for three years; renting land and sowing

wheat. The seasons turned out well and the crops were good, so that

he began to lay money by. He might have gone on living contentedly,

but he grew tired of having to rent other people’s land every year,

and having to scramble for it. Wherever there was good land to be

had, the peasants would rush for it and it was taken up at once, so

that unless you were sharp about it you got none. It happened in

the third year that he and a dealer together rented a piece of

pasture land from some peasants; and they had already ploughed it

up, when there was some dispute, and the peasants went to law about

it, and things fell out so that the labor was all lost.

“If it were my own land,” thought Pahom, “I should be independent,

and there would not be all this unpleasantness.”

So Pahom began looking out for land which he could buy; and he came

across a peasant who had bought thirteen hundred acres, but having

got into difficulties was willing to sell again cheap. Pahom

bargained and haggled with him, and at last they settled the price

at 1,500 roubles, part in cash and part to be paid later. They had

all but clinched the matter, when a passing dealer happened to stop

at Pahom’s one day to get a feed for his horse. He drank tea with

Pahom, and they had a talk. The dealer said that he was just

returning from the land of the Bashkirs, far away, where he had

bought thirteen thousand acres of land all for 1,000 roubles. Pahom

questioned him further, and the tradesman said:

“All one need do is to make friends with the chiefs. I gave away

about one hundred roubles’ worth of dressing-gowns and carpets,

besides a case of tea, and I gave wine to those who would drink it;

and I got the land for less than two cents an acre. And he showed

Pahom the title-deeds, saying:

“The land lies near a river, and the whole prairie is virgin soil.”

Pahom plied him with questions, and the tradesman said:

“There is more land there than you could cover if you walked a year,

and it all belongs to the Bashkirs. They are as simple as sheep,

and land can be got almost for nothing.”

“There now,” thought Pahom, “with my one thousand roubles, why

should I get only thirteen hundred acres, and saddle myself with a

debt besides. If I take it out there, I can get more than ten times

as much for the money.”

V

Pahom inquired how to get to the place, and as soon as the tradesman

had left him, he prepared to go there himself. He left his wife to

look after the homestead, and started on his journey taking his man

with him. They stopped at a town on their way, and bought a case of

tea, some wine, and other presents, as the tradesman had advised.

On and on they went until they had gone more than three hundred

miles, and on the seventh day they came to a place where the

Bashkirs had pitched their tents. It was all just as the tradesman

had said. The people lived on the steppes, by a river, in felt-

covered tents. They neither tilled the ground, nor ate bread.

Their cattle and horses grazed in herds on the steppe. The colts

were tethered behind the tents, and the mares were driven to them

twice a day. The mares were milked, and from the milk kumiss was

made. It was the women who prepared kumiss, and they also made

cheese. As far as the men were concerned, drinking kumiss and tea,

eating mutton, and playing on their pipes, was all they cared about.

They were all stout and merry, and all the summer long they never

thought of doing any work. They were quite ignorant, and knew no

Russian, but were good-natured enough.

As soon as they saw Pahom, they came out of their tents and gathered

round their visitor. An interpreter was found, and Pahom told them

he had come about some land. The Bashkirs seemed very glad; they

took Pahom and led him into one of the best tents, where they made

him sit on some down cushions placed on a carpet, while they sat

round him. They gave him tea and kumiss, and had a sheep killed,

and gave him mutton to eat. Pahom took presents out of his cart and

distributed them among the Bashkirs, and divided amongst them the

tea. The Bashkirs were delighted. They talked a great deal among

themselves, and then told the interpreter to translate.

“They wish to tell you,” said the interpreter, “that they like you,

and that it is our custom to do all we can to please a guest and to

repay him for his gifts. You have given us presents, now tell us

which of the things we possess please you best, that we may present

them to you.”

“What pleases me best here,” answered Pahom, “is your land. Our

land is crowded, and the soil is exhausted; but you have plenty of

land and it is good land. I never saw the like of it.”

The interpreter translated. The Bashkirs talked among themselves

for a while. Pahom could not understand what they were saying, but

saw that they were much amused, and that they shouted and laughed.

Then they were silent and looked at Pahom while the interpreter said:

“They wish me to tell you that in return for your presents they will

gladly give you as much land as you want. You have only to point it

out with your hand and it is yours.”

The Bashkirs talked again for a while and began to dispute. Pahom

asked what they were disputing about, and the interpreter told him

that some of them thought they ought to ask their Chief about the

land and not act in his absence, while others thought there was no

need to wait for his return.

VI

While the Bashkirs were disputing, a man in a large fox-fur cap

appeared on the scene. They all became silent and rose to their

feet. The interpreter said, “This is our Chief himself.”

Pahom immediately fetched the best dressing-gown and five pounds of

tea, and offered these to the Chief. The Chief accepted them, and

seated himself in the place of honour. The Bashkirs at once began

telling him something. The Chief listened for a while, then made a

sign with his head for them to be silent, and addressing himself to

Pahom, said in Russian:

“Well, let it be so. Choose whatever piece of land you like; we

have plenty of it.”

“How can I take as much as I like?” thought Pahom. “I must get a

deed to make it secure, or else they may say, ‘It is yours,’ and

afterwards may take it away again.”

“Thank you for your kind words,” he said aloud. “You have much

land, and I only want a little. But I should like to be sure which

bit is mine. Could it not be measured and made over to me? Life and

death are in God’s hands. You good people give it to me, but your

children might wish to take it away again.”

“You are quite right,” said the Chief. “We will make it over to you.”

“I heard that a dealer had been here,” continued Pahom, “and that

you gave him a little land, too, and signed title-deeds to that

effect. I should like to have it done in the same way.”

The Chief understood.

“Yes,” replied he, “that can be done quite easily. We have a scribe,

and we will go to town with you and have the deed properly sealed.”

“And what will be the price?” asked Pahom.

“Our price is always the same: one thousand roubles a day.”

Pahom did not understand.

“A day? What measure is that? How many acres would that be?”

“We do not know how to reckon it out,” said the Chief. “We sell it

by the day. As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is

yours, and the price is one thousand roubles a day.”

Pahom was surprised.

“But in a day you can get round a large tract of land,” he said.

The Chief laughed.

“It will all be yours!” said he. “But there is one condition: If

you don’t return on the same day to the spot whence you started,

your money is lost.”

“But how am I to mark the way that I have gone?”

“Why, we shall go to any spot you like, and stay there. You must

start from that spot and make your round, taking a spade with you.

Wherever you think necessary, make a mark. At every turning, dig a

hole and pile up the turf; then afterwards we will go round with a

plough from hole to hole. You may make as large a circuit as you

please, but before the sun sets you must return to the place you

started from. All the land you cover will be yours.”

Pahom was delighted. It-was decided to start early next morning.

They talked a while, and after drinking some more kumiss and eating

some more mutton, they had tea again, and then the night came on.

They gave Pahom a feather-bed to sleep on, and the Bashkirs

dispersed for the night, promising to assemble the next morning at

daybreak and ride out before sunrise to the appointed spot.

VII

Pahom lay on the feather-bed, but could not sleep. He kept thinking

about the land.

“What a large tract I will mark off!” thought he. “I can easily go

thirty-five miles in a day. The days are long now, and within a

circuit of thirty-five miles what a lot of land there will be! I

will sell the poorer land, or let it to peasants, but I’ll pick out

the best and farm it. I will buy two ox-teams, and hire two more

laborers. About a hundred and fifty acres shall be plough-land, and

I will pasture cattle on the rest.”

Pahom lay awake all night, and dozed off only just before dawn.

Hardly were his eyes closed when he had a dream. He thought he was

lying in that same tent, and heard somebody chuckling outside. He

wondered who it could be, and rose and went out, and he saw the

Bashkir Chief sitting in front of the tent holding his side and

rolling about with laughter. Going nearer to the Chief, Pahom

asked: “What are you laughing at?” But he saw that it was no longer

the Chief, but the dealer who had recently stopped at his house and

had told him about the land. Just as Pahom was going to ask, “Have

you been here long?” he saw that it was not the dealer, but the

peasant who had come up from the Volga, long ago, to Pahom’s old

home. Then he saw that it was not the peasant either, but the Devil

himself with hoofs and horns, sitting there and chuckling, and

before him lay a man barefoot, prostrate on the ground, with only

trousers and a shirt on. And Pahom dreamt that he looked more

attentively to see what sort of a man it was lying there, and he saw

that the man was dead, and that it was himself! He awoke horror-struck.

“What things one does dream,” thought he.

Looking round he saw through the open door that the dawn was breaking.

“It’s time to wake them up,” thought he. “We ought to be starting.”

He got up, roused his man (who was sleeping in his cart), bade him

harness; and went to call the Bashkirs.

“It’s time to go to the steppe to measure the land,” he said.

The Bashkirs rose and assembled, and the Chief came, too. Then they

began drinking kumiss again, and offered Pahom some tea, but he

would not wait.

“If we are to go, let us go. It is high time,” said he.

VIII

The Bashkirs got ready and they all started: some mounted on horses,

and some in carts. Pahom drove in his own small cart with his

servant, and took a spade with him. When they reached the steppe,

the morning red was beginning to kindle. They ascended a hillock

(called by the Bashkirs a shikhan) and dismounting from their carts

and their horses, gathered in one spot. The Chief came up to Pahom

and stretched out his arm towards the plain:

“See,” said he, “all this, as far as your eye can reach, is ours.

You may have any part of it you like.”

Pahom’s eyes glistened: it was all virgin soil, as flat as the palm

of your hand, as black as the seed of a poppy, and in the hollows

different kinds of grasses grew breast high.

The Chief took off his fox-fur cap, placed it on the ground and said:

“This will be the mark. Start from here, and return here again.

All the land you go round shall be yours.”

Pahom took out his money and put it on the cap. Then he took off

his outer coat, remaining in his sleeveless under coat. He

unfastened his girdle and tied it tight below his stomach, put a

little bag of bread into the breast of his coat, and tying a flask

of water to his girdle, he drew up the tops of his boots, took the

spade from his man, and stood ready to start. He considered for

some moments which way he had better go–it was tempting everywhere.

“No matter,” he concluded, “I will go towards the rising sun.”

He turned his face to the east, stretched himself, and waited for

the sun to appear above the rim.

“I must lose no time,” he thought, “and it is easier walking while

it is still cool.”

The sun’s rays had hardly flashed above the horizon, before Pahom,

carrying the spade over his shoulder, went down into the steppe.

Pahom started walking neither slowly nor quickly. After having gone

a thousand yards he stopped, dug a hole and placed pieces of turf

one on another to make it more visible. Then he went on; and now

that he had walked off his stiffness he quickened his pace. After a

while he dug another hole.

Pahom looked back. The hillock could be distinctly seen in the

sunlight, with the people on it, and the glittering tires of the

cartwheels. At a rough guess Pahom concluded that he had walked

three miles. It was growing warmer; he took off his under-coat,

flung it across his shoulder, and went on again. It had grown quite

warm now; he looked at the sun, it was time to think of breakfast.

“The first shift is done, but there are four in a day, and it is too

soon yet to turn. But I will just take off my boots,” said he to himself.

He sat down, took off his boots, stuck them into his girdle, and went on.

It was easy walking now.

“I will go on for another three miles,” thought he, “and then turn

to the left. The spot is so fine, that it would be a pity to lose

  1. The further one goes, the better the land seems.”

He went straight on a for a while, and when he looked round, the

hillock was scarcely visible and the people on it looked like black

ants, and he could just see something glistening there in the sun.

“Ah,” thought Pahom, “I have gone far enough in this direction, it

is time to turn. Besides I am in a regular sweat, and very thirsty.”

He stopped, dug a large hole, and heaped up pieces of turf. Next he

untied his flask, had a drink, and then turned sharply to the left.

He went on and on; the grass was high, and it was very hot.

Pahom began to grow tired: he looked at the sun and saw that it was noon.

“Well,” he thought, “I must have a rest.”

He sat down, and ate some bread and drank some water; but he did not

lie down, thinking that if he did he might fall asleep. After

sitting a little while, he went on again. At first he walked

easily: the food had strengthened him; but it had become terribly

hot, and he felt sleepy; still he went on, thinking: “An hour to

suffer, a life-time to live.”

He went a long way in this direction also, and was about to turn to

the left again, when he perceived a damp hollow: “It would be a pity

to leave that out,” he thought. “Flax would do well there.” So he

went on past the hollow, and dug a hole on the other side of it

before he turned the corner. Pahom looked towards the hillock. The

heat made the air hazy: it seemed to be quivering, and through the

haze the people on the hillock could scarcely be seen.

“Ah!” thought Pahom, “I have made the sides too long; I must make

this one shorter.” And he went along the third side, stepping

faster. He looked at the sun: it was nearly half way to the

horizon, and he had not yet done two miles of the third side of the

square. He was still ten miles from the goal.

“No,” he thought, “though it will make my land lopsided, I must

hurry back in a straight line now. I might go too far, and as it is

I have a great deal of land.”

So Pahom hurriedly dug a hole, and turned straight towards the hillock.

IX

Pahom went straight towards the hillock, but he now walked with

difficulty. He was done up with the heat, his bare feet were cut

and bruised, and his legs began to fail. He longed to rest, but it

was impossible if he meant to get back before sunset. The sun waits

for no man, and it was sinking lower and lower.

“Oh dear,” he thought, “if only I have not blundered trying for too

much! What if I am too late?”

He looked towards the hillock and at the sun. He was still far from

his goal, and the sun was already near the rim. Pahom walked on and

on; it was very hard walking, but he went quicker and quicker. He

pressed on, but was still far from the place. He began running,

threw away his coat, his boots, his flask, and his cap, and kept

only the spade which he used as a support.

“What shall I do,” he thought again, “I have grasped too much, and

ruined the whole affair. I can’t get there before the sun sets.”

And this fear made him still more breathless. Pahom went on

running, his soaking shirt and trousers stuck to him, and his mouth

was parched. His breast was working like a blacksmith’s bellows,

his heart was beating like a hammer, and his legs were giving way as

if they did not belong to him. Pahom was seized with terror lest he

should die of the strain.

Though afraid of death, he could not stop. “After having run all

that way they will call me a fool if I stop now,” thought he. And

he ran on and on, and drew near and heard the Bashkirs yelling and

shouting to him, and their cries inflamed his heart still more. He

gathered his last strength and ran on.

The sun was close to the rim, and cloaked in mist looked large, and

red as blood. Now, yes now, it was about to set! The sun was quite

low, but he was also quite near his aim. Pahom could already see

the people on the hillock waving their arms to hurry him up. He

could see the fox-fur cap on the ground, and the money on it, and

the Chief sitting on the ground holding his sides. And Pahom

remembered his dream.

“There is plenty of land,” thought he, “but will God let me live on

it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach

that spot!”

Pahom looked at the sun, which had reached the earth: one side of it

had already disappeared. With all his remaining strength he rushed

on, bending his body forward so that his legs could hardly follow

fast enough to keep him from falling. Just as he reached the

hillock it suddenly grew dark. He looked up–the sun had already

set. He gave a cry: “All my labor has been in vain,” thought he,

and was about to stop, but he heard the Bashkirs still shouting, and

remembered that though to him, from below, the sun seemed to have

set, they on the hillock could still see it. He took a long breath

and ran up the hillock. It was still light there. He reached the

top and saw the cap. Before it sat the Chief laughing and holding

his sides. Again Pahom remembered his dream, and he uttered a cry:

his legs gave way beneath him, he fell forward and reached the cap

with his hands.

“Ah, what a fine fellow!” exclaimed the Chief. “He has gained

much land!”

Pahom’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw

that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead!

The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.

His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for

Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to

his heels was all he needed.

(ack:online-literature.com)

The End

footnotes:

1. One hundred kopeks make a rouble. The kopek is worth about
half a cent.

2. A non-intoxicating drink usually made from rye-malt and rye-flour.

3. The brick oven in a Russian peasant’s hut is usually built so
as to leave a flat top, large enough to lie on, for those who want
to sleep in a warm place.

4. 120 “desyatins.” The “desyatina” is properly 2.7 acres; but in
this story round numbers are used.

5. Three roubles per “desyatina.”

6. Five “kopeks” for a “desyatina.”

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ph_0111200535-BjornsonBjørnstjerne Bjørnson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903. He was the third person to receive it. Henrik Ibsen was never awarded the prize. Posterity has chosen to regard this as a proof of the unimportance of literary prizes. The contemporaries of the two writers held a different view: Ibsen and Bjørnson were twin stars in the northern hemisphere, like Castor and Pollux, and they both deserved the prize. Possibly Bjørnson deserved it more, as he came closest to fulfilling the intentions of the testator regarding works written in “an idealistic spirit.” This is particularly applicable if the word “works” is applied in its broadest sense, also embracing Bjørnson’s championship — through the international press — of persecuted individuals and oppressed nations, and of his efforts on behalf of peace and international justice. (Edvard Beyer/mnc.net)

The Father

THE MAN whose story is here to be told was the wealthiest and

most influential person in his parish; his name was Thord Overaas. He appeared in the priest’s study one day, tall and earnest.

I have gotten a son,” said he, “and I wish to present him for baptism.”  “What shall his name be?” “Finn,—after my father.”

 “And the sponsors?” They were mentioned, and proved to be the best men and women of Thord’s relations in the parish.

 “Is there anything else?” inquired the priest, and looked up. The peasant hesitated a little.

 “I should like very much to have him baptized by himself,” said he finally.“That is to say on a week day?” “Next Saturday, at twelve o’clock noon.”  “Is there anything else?” inquired the priest.

There is nothing else;” and the peasant twirled his cap, as though he were about to go.

Then the priest arose. “There is yet this, however,” said he, and walking toward Thord, he took him by the hand and looked gravely into his eyes: “God grant that the child may become a blessing to you!”

 One day sixteen years later, Thord stood once more in the priest’s study.“Really, you carry your age astonishingly well, Thord,” said the priest; for he saw no change whatever in the man.“That is because I have no troubles,” replied Thord. To this the priest said nothing, but after a while he asked: “What is the pleasure this evening?”

I have come this evening about that son of mine who is to be confirmed to-morrow.”  “He is a bright boy.”

I did not wish to pay the priest until I heard what number the boy would have when he takes his place in church to-morrow.”

He will stand number one.” “So I have heard; and here are ten dollars for the priest.”“Is there anything else I can do for you?” inquired the priest, fixing his eyes on Thord. “There is nothing else.” Thord went out.

Eight years more rolled by, and then one day a noise was heard outside of the priest’s study, for many men were approaching, and at their head was Thord, who entered first. The priest looked up and recognized him. “You come well attended this evening, Thord,” said he. “I am here to request that the banns may be published for my son; he is about to marry Karen Storliden, daughter of Gudmund, who stands here beside me.”

Why, that is the richest girl in the parish.”

So they say,” replied the peasant, stroking back his hair with one hand.The priest sat awhile as if in deep thought, then entered the names in his book, without making any comments, and the men wrote their signatures underneath. Thord laid three dollars on the table. “One is all I am to have,” said the priest.“I know that very well; but he is my only child; I want to do it handsomely.”The priest took the money.“This is now the third time, Thord, that you have come here on your son’s account.” “But now I am through with him,” said Thord, and folding up his pocket-book he said farewell and walked away. The men slowly followed him. A fortnight later, the father and son were rowing across the lake, one calm, still day, to Storliden to make arrangements for the wedding. “This thwart is not secure,” said the son, and stood up to straighten the seat on which he was sitting. At the same moment the board he was standing on slipped from under him; he threw out his arms, uttered a shriek, and fell overboard.

Take hold of the oar!” shouted the father, springing to his feet and holding out the oar. But when the son had made a couple of efforts he grew stiff. “Wait a moment!” cried the father, and began to row toward his son. Then the son rolled over on his back, gave his father one long look, and sank. Thord could scarcely believe it; he held the boat still, and stared at the spot where his son had gone down, as though he must surely come to the surface again. There rose some bubbles, then some more, and finally one large one that burst; and the lake lay there as smooth and bright as a mirror again. For three days and three nights people saw the father rowing round and round the spot, without taking either food or sleep; he was dragging the lake for the body of his son. And toward morning of the third day he found it, and carried it in his arms up over the hills to his gard.It might have been about a year from that day, when the priest, late one autumn evening, heard some one in the passage outside of the door, carefully trying to find the latch. The priest opened the door, and in walked a tall, thin man, with bowed form and white hair. The priest looked long at him before he recognized him. It was Thord.

Are you out walking so late?” said the priest, and stood still in front of him. “Ah, yes! it is late,” said Thord, and took a seat. The priest sat down also, as though waiting. A long, long silence followed. At last Thord said:— “I have something with me that I should like to give to the poor; I want it to be invested as a legacy in my son’s name.” He rose, laid some money on the table, and sat down again. The priest counted it. “It is a great deal of money,” said he.“It is half the price of my gard. I sold it to-day.” The priest sat long in silence. At last he asked, but gently:—“What do you propose to do now, Thord?” “Something better.”They sat there for a while, Thord with downcast eyes, the priest with his eyes fixed on Thord. Presently the priest said, slowly and softly:—

I think your son has at last brought you a true blessing.”

Yes, I think so myself,” said Thord, looking up while two big tears coursed slowly down his cheeks.

(Ack: This translation, by Professor R. B. Anderson, is printed by permission of Houghton, Mifflin & Co)

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img_item_68

 

 

 

Who can tell me when the sun is most beautiful, at rising, or at setting? Who can tell me whether of the Olive or the Almond is the most beautiful of trees? Who can tell me whether Andalusia or Valencia sends forth the bravest knight? What man can tell me who is the fairest of women? I will tell you who is the fairest of women. She is Aurora de Vargas, the Pearl of Toledo.

 

Swarthy Tuzani has called for his lance, he has called for his buckler; his lance he grasps in his strong right hand; his buckler hangs from his neck. He goes down to his stable, and considers well his forty good steeds; in due order he considers them all, and he says:

 

“Berja is the fleetest and trustiest of all. On her strong back will I carry away the Pearl of Toledo, as mine will I bear her away, or by Allah, Cordova shall see me no more.”

 

So he sets forth and he rides on his way, till at length he reaches Toledo, and he meets an old man hard by Zucatin.

 

“Old man, with the snowy beard, carry this letter to Don Guttiera, to Don Guttiera de Saldaña. If he is a man he will come and meet me in a single combat, near to the fountain of Almami. The Pearl of Toledo must belong to one of us.”

 

The old man has taken the letter, he has taken and carried it to the Count de Saldaña, as he sat playing chess with the Pearl of Toledo. The Count has read the letter, he has read the parchment, and with his closed fist does he smite the table so mightily that all the chessmen have fallen to the ground. Then he rises and calls for his lance and his good steed, and all trembling does the Pearl of Toledo arise, for she has perceived and understood that he is going forth to combat.

 

“My Lord Guttiera de Saldaña, go not hence I pray, go not hence, but play still this game with me.”

 

“No longer will I play at chess; I will play at the game of lances by the fountain of Almami.”

 

And the tears of Aurora availed not to stay him; for naught stays a knight who goes forth to combat. Then the Pearl of Toledo took her mantle, and mounting upon her mule she went her way to the fountain of Almami.

 

All about the fountain is the grass crimson, crimson too the waters of the fountain; but it is not the blood of a Christian that stains the green sward, that stains the waters of the fountain. The swarthy Tuzani lies there with his face to the sky. The lance of Don Guttiera is splintered in his breast: all his life blood spends itself drop by drop. His faithful steed, Berja, looks down upon him weeping, for she cannot heal the wound of her master.

 

The Pearl of Toledo alights from her mule. “Take heart, good sir, for you will live yet to wed some poor Moorish maiden; my hand has cunning to heal the wound made by my knight.”

 

“O Pearl so white, O Pearl so fair, draw forth from my breast the splinter of lance which rends it. The cold of the steel chills me and freezes my heart.”

 

In all confidence she approached him, but he gathered his strength, and with his sabre’s blade, gashes her beautiful face.

(Transcribed and adapted from The Works of Prosper Mérimée. Vol. 3. Trans Emily Mary Waller and Mary Helena Dey. New York: Frank S. Holby, 1906. For educational use only. )

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She was called Sin. Who gave her such a name I cannot say. Was it her professional name she would not say for silver or for my abject surrender to her wish the whole day. My persuasive speech and silver was wasted on her. She came in her street clothes a voluptuous red head on whom any dress didn’t do justice. I meant to keep aloof and keep the encounter strictly business like. No perfect specimen of her kind had I ever seen or made love to. Having bought love by galore from the day I became a man I knew I was the boss.
I placed directly an envelope into her hands. I noticed the dimple in her elbow and I could not help thinking she was well upholstered. She smiled and laid aside the envelope unopened with neither hauteur not rancor. ‘I will demand my price after my service.’ The rodomontade of a whore was not in her speech. It was more of woman of pleasure who had whole time to give pleasure and transport her clientele to dimensions they never had an inkling of. She knew it and the luxuriousness of oohs and ahhs during our sport was that of woman who was born to give pleasure.
Pleasure she could give like a tap running on and on. I asked her name and she said: Sin. Much to my annoyance she never budged. Her body could writhe and roll and add to the pleasure but her inner spirit was like a barbed wire, cutting and tearing my human frailties that must seek pleasure and pay and go on paying,- and in the end feel left out in the cold. She was correct and Sin chose to be correct.
She stuck to our contract; it was sealed over a written contract sealed and delivered to her three days before the encounter. She would surrender her body totally for the price she deemed fit. I knew how high the price was but that nothing compared to the wound in my innermost being. It was a rvage I could not bear. I wanted to her carnally and the knowledge was all that mattered. By midnight as she parted she merely nipped my earlobe so only I could hear it. ‘Price is paid for.’
The strangest sensation was the early hours of the night. Sin was completely erased from my thoughts! I slept like a log and the love-making had sunk into some dark pool like a boulder and not for once I could recall it. She had completely disappeared from memory.
In my forties I married a girl from the village where my ancestral house even now stands. Meanwhile I had become a man with power and influence and I was the Big Boss to great many.
Marriage of the Big Boss was an event and how the townsfolk bent backwards to make the wedding a success. I knew the bride knew my position and my prestige. She was docile and on the wedding night I would do my duties. One thing led to another and she was all for me to take. But the image of Sin lay before me. Incredible it was! My hair all stood on ends and sweat beaded on my fore head. The bride asked if anything was the matter. The shadow of Sin lay between and the lips of my bride had taken on the snarl of a cougar. However much I tried she just didn’t go away. My bride was all for sleeping off. But it was a vain hope. Sin had come back and she was demanding payment.
One night I just sneaked out of the house and I had not the heart to face the woman I had married. Let her live with the illusions she was married into power and prestige. I had paid the price Sin demanded. Her image merely would not go away was the price I paid.
benny

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Changing values

In a curious town like Pye-in-the Skye there are many ways to be considered ‘mad.’ Max was not an idiot but the folks thought he was a borderline case. They didn’t take kindly to those who did not live unto their expectations. Nor did they warm up to those who stuck to their guns. As soon as he learned to assemble a refrigerator he knew he wanted to sell one. Where did he go but to the North Pole and naturally the rest sighed and said, ‘Good riddance.’
He wanted to sell refrigerators to the natives.
The Inuit didn’t buy a single one and he died a very poor man. All that he left behind was some ice boxes and a technical manual.
On the other hand Dr. Faustus having made a pact with the devil became the most celebrated scholar. He knew everything that went under the Sun, which passed for knowledge. How the crowned heads and scholars alike feted him! Then came the computers that made him redundant. He died in grief. He said that a machine beat him. Yes.
The world went a-changing! Then came a thaw and ice melted. The polar caps vanished as an icicle in a furnace. The people in Nunavut learned to live with the climate changes. Then someone found the papers of ‘Mad’ Max and it was a discovery that electrified the whole region. They began to make fridges themselves and control their houses to the right temperature.
The world in their own muddling ways saw a great injustice was done to Inuit. They owed to them a great debt for destroying their old way of life. How to repay them?
Nunavut became synonymous the home of refrigerators. The world leaders came to an agreement that fridges made there could be sold worldwide duty-free. Buying fridges made in Nunavut was consistent with principles of ethical living. Inuit prospered.
Who contributed to the welfare of the world more? A fool or a scholar?
benny

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Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
When novels were written with a serious purpose and read as avidly all across the world Tolstoy was a doyen in the same class as Balzac, Dickens, Hawthorne, Poe, Scott and Dosteovsky. Literary tastes have since changed. Tastes of readers are weighted on the side of best sellers and since writers who sell are more a product and who are geared to cater to the lowest denominator we see the kind of books that is touted in each season as best sellers. I would not be surprised if Tolstoy’s moral passion and Dosteovsky’ delving into darkness human soul are now dubbed as top heavy or elitist by modern readers who have grown up with Dan Brown or John Grisham.
Nevertheless according to the English writer Virginia Woolf, ‘he with his observational powers elicited a kind of fear in readers’ and she granted that Tolstoy was “the greatest of all novelists.”
The scion of prominent aristocrats, Tolstoy was born at the family estate, about 130 miles south of Moscow, where he was to live the better part of his life and write his most important works. Having lost his parents at a tender age Tolstoy and his four siblings were then transferred to the care of another aunt in Kazan, in western Russia. From his diaries we know the agonizing spiritual ambivalence that plagued him and he well into his mature years lived a loose life as customary with nobility of his times in debauchery. . Educated at home by tutors, Tolstoy enrolled in the University of Kazan in 1844 as a student of Oriental languages. His poor record soon forced him to transfer to other areas. Thus he drew towards literature. The writings of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a deep impact on him. (in place of a cross, he wore a medallion with a portrait of Rousseau). In 1851 he joined his older brother Nikolay, an army officer, in the Caucasus and then entered the army himself. He took part in campaigns against the native Caucasian tribes and, soon after, in the Crimean War (1853–56).
Concealing his identity, Tolstoy submitted Childhood for publication in Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”), a prominent journal edited by the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Nekrasov was enthusiastic, and the pseudonymously published work was widely praised. During the next few years Tolstoy published a number of stories based on his experiences in the Caucasus, including “Nabeg” (1853; “The Raid”) and his three sketches about the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War: “Sevastopol v dekabre mesyatse” (“Sevastopol in December”), “Sevastopol v maye” (“Sevastopol in May”), and “Sevastopol v avguste 1855 goda” (“Sevastopol in August”; all published 1855–56).
After the Crimean War Tolstoy resigned from the army and was at first hailed by the literary world of St. Petersburg. But his prickly vanity, his refusal to join any intellectual camp, and his insistence on his complete independence soon earned him the dislike of the radical intelligentsia. He was to remain throughout his life an “archaist,” opposed to prevailing intellectual trends.
The period of the great novels (1863–77)
Happily married and ensconced with his wife and family at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy reached the height of his creative powers. He devoted the remaining years of the 1860s to writing* War and Peace. This was followed up with his other great novel, Anna Karenina(1875–77). These two works share a vision of human experience rooted in an appreciation of everyday life and prosaic virtues. In 1899 Tolstoy published his third long novel, Voskreseniye (Resurrection).
Tolstoy’s rejection of religious ritual contrasts markedly with his attitude in Anna Karenina, where religion is viewed as a matter not of dogma but of traditional forms of daily life.
His search was increasingly straining his married life since his wife yearned for a settled life with the rightly earned fame and material affluence while his attitudes and beliefs were creating enemies inside Russia. His religion upset the Orthodox Church and pacifism, the State.
With the notable exception of his daughter Aleksandra, whom he made his heir, Tolstoy’s family remained aloof from or hostile to his teachings.
Tormented by his domestic situation and by the contradiction between his life and his principles, in 1910 Tolstoy at last escaped incognito from Yasnaya Polyana, accompanied by Aleksandra and his doctor. Within a few days, he contracted pneumonia and died of heart failure at the railroad station of Astapovo.
In contrast to other psychological writers, such as Dostoyevsky, who specialized in unconscious processes, Tolstoy described conscious mental life with unparalleled mastery. His name has become synonymous with an appreciation of contingency and of the value of everyday activity. Oscillating between skepticism and dogmatism, Tolstoy explored the most diverse approaches to human experience. Above all, his greatest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, endure as the summit of realist fiction.


Most readers will agree with the assessment of the 19th-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold that a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life; the 20th-century Russian author Isaak Babel commented that, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy. Critics of diverse schools have agreed that somehow Tolstoy’s works seem to elude all artifice. Ultimately he remains by such diverse works as War and Peace, Resurrection, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Anna Karenina the living symbol of the search for life’s meaning.
• War and Peace
The work’s historical portions narrate the campaign of 1805 leading to Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, a period of peace, and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Contrary to generally accepted views, Tolstoy portrays Napoleon as an ineffective, egomaniacal buffoon, Tsar Alexander I as a phrasemaker obsessed with how historians will describe him, and the Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov (previously disparaged) as a patient old man who understands the limitations of human will and planning. Particularly noteworthy are the novel’s battle scenes, which show combat as sheer chaos. Generals may imagine they can “anticipate all contingencies, ” but battle is really the result of “a hundred million diverse chances” decided on the moment by unforeseeable circumstances. In war as in life, no system or model can come close to accounting for the infinite complexity of human behaviour.
The novel’s other hero, the bumbling and sincere Pierre Bezukhov, oscillates between belief in some philosophical system promising to resolve all questions and a relativism so total as to leave him in apathetic despair.
Tolstoy’s belief in the efficacy of the ordinary and the futility of system-building set him in opposition to the thinkers of his day. It remains one of the most controversial aspects of his philosophy.

(Copyright © 1994-2011 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc./ Gary Saul Morson)

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