A Strange Story
In the northern part of Austin there once dwelt an honest family by the name of Smothers. The family consisted of John Smothers, his wife, himself, their little daughter, five years of age, and her parents, making six people toward the population of the city when counted for a special write-up, but only three by actual count.
One night after supper the little girl was seized with a severe colic, and John Smothers hurried down town to get some medicine.
He never came back.
The little girl recovered and in time grew up to womanhood.
The mother grieved very much over her husband’s disappearance, and it was nearly three months before she married again, and moved to San Antonio.
The little girl also married in time, and after a few years had rolled around, she also had a little girl five years of age.
She still lived in the same house where they dwelt when her father had left and never returned.
One night by a remarkable coincidence her little girl was taken with cramp colic on the anniversary of the disappearance of John Smothers, who would now have been her grandfather if he had been alive and had a steady job.
“I will go downtown and get some medicine for her,” said John Smith (for it was none other than he whom she had married).
“No, no, dear John,” cried his wife. “You, too, might disappear forever, and then forget to come back.”
So John Smith did not go, and together they sat by the bedside of little Pansy (for that was Pansy’s name).
After a little Pansy seemed to grow worse, and John Smith again attempted to go for medicine, but his wife would not let him.
Suddenly the door opened, and an old man, stooped and bent, with long white hair, entered the room.
“Hello, here is grandpa,” said Pansy. She had recognized him before any of the others.
The old man drew a bottle of medicine from his pocket and gave Pansy a spoonful.
She got well immediately.
“I was a little late,” said John Smothers, “as I waited for a street car.”
by O Henry
Clovis on Parental Responsibilities
Marion Eggelby sat talking to Clovis on the only subject that she ever willingly talked about – her offspring and their varied perfections and accomplishments. Clovis was not in what could be called a receptive mood; the younger generation of Eggelby, depicted in the glowing improbable colours of parent impressionism, aroused in him no enthusiasm. Mrs. Eggelby, on the other hand, was furnished with enthusiasm enough for two.
“You would like Eric,” she said, argumentatively rather than hopefully. Clovis had intimated very unmistakably that he was unlikely to care extravagantly for either Amy or Willie. “Yes, I feel sure you would like Eric. Every one takes to him at once. You know, he always reminds me of that famous picture of the youthful David – I forget who it’s by, but it’s very well known.”
“That would be sufficient to set me against him, if I saw much of him,” said Clovis. “Just imagine at auction bridge, for instance, when one was trying to concentrate one’s mind on what one’s partner’s original declaration had been, and to remember what suits one’s opponents had originally discarded, what it would be like to have some one persistently reminding one of a picture of the youthful David. It would be simply maddening. If Eric did that I should detest him.”
“Eric doesn’t play bridge,” said Mrs. Eggelby with dignity.
“Doesn’t he?” asked Clovis; “why not?”
“None of my children have been brought up to play card games,” said Mrs. Eggelby; “draughts and halma and those sorts of games I encourage. Eric is considered quite a wonderful draughts-player.”
“You are strewing dreadful risks in the path of your family,” said Clovis; “a friend of mine who is a prison chaplain told me that among the worst criminal cases that have come under his notice, men condemned to death or to long periods of penal servitude, there was not a single bridge-player. On the other hand, he knew at least two expert draughts-players among them.”
“I really don’t see what my boys have got to do with the criminal classes,” said Mrs. Eggelby resentfully. “They have been most carefully brought up, I can assure you that.”
“That shows that you were nervous as to how they would turn out,” said Clovis. “Now, my mother never bothered about bringing me up. She just saw to it that I got whacked at decent intervals and was taught the difference between right and wrong; there is some difference, you know, but I’ve forgotten what it is.”
“Forgotten the difference between right and wrong!” exclaimed Mrs. Eggelby.
“Well, you see, I took up natural history and a whole lot of other subjects at the same time, and one can’t remember everything, can one? I used to know the difference between the Sardinian dormouse and the ordinary kind, and whether the wry-neck arrives at our shores earlier than the cuckoo, or the other way round, and how long the walrus takes in growing to maturity; I daresay you knew all those sorts of things once, but I bet you’ve forgotten them.”
“Those things are not important,” said Mrs. Eggelby, “but – ”
“The fact that we’ve both forgotten them proves that they are important,” said Clovis; “you must have noticed that it’s always the important things that one forgets, while the trivial, unnecessary facts of life stick in one’s memory. There’s my cousin, Editha Clubberley, for instance; I can never forget that her birthday is on the 12th of October. It’s a matter of utter indifference to me on what date her birthday falls, or whether she was born at all; either fact seems to me absolutely trivial, or unnecessary – I’ve heaps of other cousins to go on with. On the other hand, when I’m staying with Hildegarde Shrubley I can never remember the important circumstance whether her first husband got his unenviable reputation on the Turf or the Stock Exchange, and that uncertainty rules Sport and Finance out of the conversation at once. One can never mention travel, either, because her second husband had to live permanently abroad.”
“Mrs. Shrubley and I move in very different circles,” said Mrs. Eggelby stiffly.
“No one who knows Hildegarde could possibly accuse her of moving in a circle,” said Clovis; “her view of life seems to be a non-stop run with an inexhaustible supply of petrol. If she can get some one else to pay for the petrol so much the better. I don’t mind confessing to you that she has taught me more than any other woman I can think of.”
“What kind of knowledge?” demanded Mrs. Eggelby, with the air a jury might collectively wear when finding a verdict without leaving the box.
“Well, among other things, she’s introduced me to at least four different ways of cooking lobster,” said Clovis gratefully. “That, of course, wouldn’t appeal to you; people who abstain from the pleasures of the card- table never really appreciate the finer possibilities of the dining-table. I suppose their powers of enlightened enjoyment get atrophied from disuse.”
“An aunt of mine was very ill after eating a lobster,” said Mrs. Eggelby.
“I daresay, if we knew more of her history, we should find out that she’d often been ill before eating the lobster. Aren’t you concealing the fact that she’d had measles and influenza and nervous headache and hysteria, and other things that aunts do have, long before she ate the lobster? Aunts that have never known a day’s illness are very rare; in fact, I don’t personally know of any. Of course if she ate it as a child of two weeks old it might have been her first illness – and her last. But if that was the case I think you should have said so.”
“I must be going,” said Mrs. Eggelby, in a tone which had been thoroughly sterilised of even perfunctory regret.
Clovis rose with an air of graceful reluctance.
“I have so enjoyed our little talk about Eric,” he said; “I quite look forward to meeting him some day.”
“Good-bye,” said Mrs. Eggelby frostily; the supplementary remark which she made at the back of her throat was –
“I’ll take care that you never shall!”
by H.H. Munro (SAKI)
A Telephonic Conversation
Consider that a conversation by telephone–when you are simply sitting by and not taking any part in that conversation–is one of the solemnest curiosities of modern life. Yesterday I was writing a deep article on a sublime philosophical subject while such a conversation was going on in the room. I notice that one can always write best when somebody is talking through a telephone close by. Well, the thing began in this way. A member of our household came in and asked me to have our house put into communication with Mr. Bagley’s downtown. I have observed, in many cities, that the sex always shrink from calling up the central office themselves. I don’t know why, but they do. So I touched the bell, and this talk ensued:
CENTRAL OFFICE. (gruffy.) Hello!
I. Is it the Central Office?
C. O. Of course it is. What do you want?
I. Will you switch me on to the Bagleys, please?
C. O. All right. Just keep your ear to the telephone.
Then I heard k-look, k-look, k’look–klook-klook-klook-look-look! then a horrible “gritting” of teeth, and finally a piping female voice: Y-e-s? (rising inflection.) Did you wish to speak to me?
Without answering, I handed the telephone to the applicant, and sat down. Then followed that queerest of all the queer things in this world– a conversation with only one end of it. You hear questions asked; you don’t hear the answer. You hear invitations given; you hear no thanks in return. You have listening pauses of dead silence, followed by apparently irrelevant and unjustifiable exclamations of glad surprise or sorrow or dismay. You can’t make head or tail of the talk, because you never hear anything that the person at the other end of the wire says. Well, I heard the following remarkable series of observations, all from the one tongue, and all shouted– for you can’t ever persuade the sex to speak gently into a telephone:
Yes? Why, how did that happen?
What did you say?
Oh no, I don’t think it was.
No! Oh no, I didn’t mean that. I meant, put it in while it is still boiling–or just before it comes to a boil.
I turned it over with a backstitch on the selvage edge.
Yes, I like that way, too; but I think it’s better to baste it on with Valenciennes or bombazine, or something of that sort. It gives it such an air–and attracts so much noise.
It’s forty-ninth Deuteronomy, sixty-forth to ninety-seventh inclusive. I think we ought all to read it often.
Perhaps so; I generally use a hair pin.
What did you say? (aside.) Children, do be quiet!
Oh! B flat! Dear me, I thought you said it was the cat!
Why, I never heard of it.
You astound me! It seems utterly impossible!
Well, what is this world coming to? Was it right in church?
And was her mother there?
Why, Mrs. Bagley, I should have died of humiliation! What did they do?
I can’t be perfectly sure, because I haven’t the notes by me; but I think it goes something like this: te-rolly-loll-loll, loll lolly-loll-loll, O tolly-loll-loll-lee-ly-li-I-do! And then repeat, you know.
Yes, I think it is very sweet–and very solemn and impressive, if you get the andantino and the pianissimo right.
Oh, gum-drops, gum-drops! But I never allow them to eat striped candy. And of course they can’t, till they get their teeth, anyway.
Oh, not in the least–go right on. He’s here writing–it doesn’t bother him.
Very well, I’ll come if I can. (aside.) Dear me, how it does tire a person’s arm to hold this thing up so long! I wish she’d–
Oh no, not at all; I like to talk–but I’m afraid I’m keeping you from your affairs.
No, we never use butter on them.
Yes, that is a very good way; but all the cook-books say they are very unhealthy when they are out of season. And he doesn’t like them, anyway–especially canned.
Oh, I think that is too high for them; we have never paid over fifty cents a bunch.
Must you go? Well, good-by.
Yes, I think so. Good-by.
Four o’clock, then–I’ll be ready. Good-by.
Thank you ever so much. Good-by.
Oh, not at all!–just as fresh–which? Oh, I’m glad to hear you say that. Good-by.
(Hangs up the telephone and says, “Oh, it does tire a person’s arm so!”)
by Mark Twain
Borrowing a Match
You might think that borrowing a match upon the street is a simple thing. But any man who has ever tried it will assure you that it is not, and will be prepared to swear to the truth of my experience of the other evening.
I was standing on the corner of the street with a cigar that I wanted to light. I had no match. I waited till a decent, ordinary-looking man came along. Then I said:
“Excuse me, sir, but could you oblige me with the loan of a match?”
“A match?” he said, “why certainly.” Then he unbuttoned his overcoat and put his hand in the pocket of his waistcoat. “I know I have one,” he went on, “and I’d almost swear it’s in the bottom pocket—or, hold on, though, I guess it may be in the top—just wait till I put these parcels down on the sidewalk.”
“Oh, don’t trouble,” I said, “it’s really of no consequence.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble, I’ll have it in a minute; I know there must be one in here somewhere”—he was digging his fingers into his pockets as he spoke—”but you see this isn’t the waistcoat I generally…”
I saw that the man was getting excited about it. “Well, never mind,” I protested; “if that isn’t the waistcoat that you generally—why, it doesn’t matter.”
“Hold on, now, hold on!” the man said, “I’ve got one of the cursed things in here somewhere. I guess it must be in with my watch. No, it’s not there either. Wait till I try my coat. If that confounded tailor only knew enough to make a pocket so that a man could get at it!”
He was getting pretty well worked up now. He had thrown down his walking-stick and was plunging at his pockets with his teeth set. “It’s that cursed young boy of mine,” he hissed; “this comes of his fooling in my pockets. By Gad! perhaps I won’t warm him up when I get home. Say, I’ll bet that it’s in my hip-pocket. You just hold up the tail of my overcoat a second till I…”
“No, no,” I protested again, “please don’t take all this trouble, it really doesn’t matter. I’m sure you needn’t take off your overcoat, and oh, pray don’t throw away your letters and things in the snow like that, and tear out your pockets by the roots! Please, please don’t trample over your overcoat and put your feet through the parcels. I do hate to hear you swearing at your little boy, with that peculiar whine in your voice. Don’t—please don’t tear your clothes so savagely.”
Suddenly the man gave a grunt of exultation, and drew his hand up from inside the lining of his coat.
“I’ve got it,” he cried. “Here you are!” Then he brought it out under the light.
It was a toothpick.
Yielding to the impulse of the moment I pushed him under the wheels of a trolley-car, and ran.
by Stephen Leacock
(Franklin reminiscences when he was a small boy and paid too much for a whistle. He sure did learn how to strike a bargain, though. His letter was excerpted from a collection published in 1914, The Oxford Collection of American Essays, chosen by Branther Matthews.)
TO MADAME BRILLON
I RECEIVED my dear friend’s two letters, one for Wednesday and one for Saturday. This is again Wednesday. I do not deserve one for to-day, because I have not answered the former. But, indolent as I am, and averse to writing, the fear of having no more of your pleasing epistles, if I do not contribute to the correspondence, obliges me to take up my pen; and as Mr. B. has kindly sent me word that he sets out to-morrow to see you, instead of spending this Wednesday evening, as I have done its namesakes, in your delightful company, I sit down to spend it in thinking of you, in writing to you, and in reading over and over again your letters.
I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that, in the meantime, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me it seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution. You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.
When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.
This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.
As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle. When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.
When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.
If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle. When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle. If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.
When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle! In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.
Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle. Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me ever yours very sincerely and with unalterable affection.
by Benjamin Franklin
A Country Cottage
Two young people who had not long been married were walking up and down the platform of a little country station. His arm was round her waist, her head was almost on his shoulder, and both were happy.
The moon peeped up from the drifting cloudlets and frowned, as it seemed, envying their happiness and regretting her tedious and utterly superfluous virginity. The still air was heavy with the fragrance of lilac and wild cherry. Somewhere in the distance beyond the line a corncrake was calling.
“How beautiful it is, Sasha, how beautiful!” murmured the young wife. “It all seems like a dream. See, how sweet and inviting that little copse looks! How nice those solid, silent telegraph posts are! They add a special note to the landscape, suggesting humanity, civilization in the distance. . . . Don’t you think it’s lovely when the wind brings the rushing sound of a train?”
“Yes. . . . But what hot little hands you’ve got. . . That’s because you’re excited, Varya. . . . What have you got for our supper to-night?”
“Chicken and salad. . . . It’s a chicken just big enough for two. . . . Then there is the salmon and sardines that were sent from town.”
The moon as though she had taken a pinch of snuff hid her face behind a cloud. Human happiness reminded her of her own loneliness, of her solitary couch beyond the hills and dales.
“The train is coming!” said Varya, “how jolly!”
Three eyes of fire could be seen in the distance. The stationmaster came out on the platform. Signal lights flashed here and there on the line.
“Let’s see the train in and go home,” said Sasha, yawning. “What a splendid time we are having together, Varya, it’s so splendid, one can hardly believe it’s true!”
The dark monster crept noiselessly alongside the platform and came to a standstill. They caught glimpses of sleepy faces, of hats and shoulders at the dimly lighted windows.
“Look! look!” they heard from one of the carriages. “Varya and Sasha have come to meet us! There they are! . . . Varya! . . . Varya. . . . Look!”
Two little girls skipped out of the train and hung on Varya’s neck. They were followed by a stout, middle-aged lady, and a tall, lanky gentleman with grey whiskers; behind them came two schoolboys, laden with bags, and after the schoolboys, the governess, after the governess the grandmother.
“Here we are, here we are, dear boy!” began the whiskered gentleman, squeezing Sasha’s hand. “Sick of waiting for us, I expect! You have been pitching into your old uncle for not coming down all this time, I daresay! Kolya, Kostya, Nina, Fifa . . . children! Kiss your cousin Sasha! We’re all here, the whole troop of us, just for three or four days. . . . I hope we shan’t be too many for you? You mustn’t let us put you out!”
At the sight of their uncle and his family, the young couple were horror-stricken. While his uncle talked and kissed them, Sasha had a vision of their little cottage: he and Varya giving up their three little rooms, all the pillows and bedding to their guests; the salmon, the sardines, the chicken all devoured in a single instant; the cousins plucking the flowers in their little garden, spilling the ink, filled the cottage with noise and confusion; his aunt talking continually about her ailments and her papa’s having been Baron von Fintich. . . .
And Sasha looked almost with hatred at his young wife, and whispered:
“It’s you they’ve come to see! . . . Damn them!”
“No, it’s you,” answered Varya, pale with anger. “They’re your relations! they’re not mine!”
And turning to her visitors, she said with a smile of welcome: “Welcome to the cottage!”
The moon came out again. She seemed to smile, as though she were glad she had no relations. Sasha, turning his head away to hide his angry despairing face, struggled to give a note of cordial welcome to his voice as he said:
“It is jolly of you! Welcome to the cottage!”
by Anton Chekhov