Hansel And Gretel

MANY years ago, a woodcutter and his wife, with their two children, Hansel and Gretel, lived upon the outskirts of a dense wood. They were very poor, so that when a famine fell upon the land, and bread became dear, they could no longer afford to buy sufficient food for the whole family.

One night, as the poor man lay tossing on his hard bed, he cried aloud in his grief and anguish:

“Alas! what will become of us? How can I feed my hungry little ones when we have no food for ourselves?”

“Listen to me, good-man,” answered his wife, who was stepmother to the children. “As it is no longer possible for us to keep our children, we will take them into the wood with us tomorrow, light a fire for them, and give each a piece of bread and leave them. They will not easily find their way back, and so we shall be rid of the burden of them.”

But the father said: “No, no! I could not find it in my heart to leave my darlings to perish. The wild beasts would tear them limb from limb.”

“Then,” answered the wife, “we must all four die of hunger.” She gave her husband no peace until he promised to do as she wished, and at last, very unwillingly, he consented.

Now, the two children had been too hungry to go to sleep that night, and so it happened that they overheard all that their parents were saying. Gretel wept bitterly, but brave little Hansel did his best to comfort her. “Don’t be afraid,” he said; “I will take care of you.”

As soon as his father and stepmother were asleep, he slipped on his coat, and-opening the door softly, went out into the garden. The moon was shining brightly, and by its light he could see the little white pebbles that lay scattered in front of the house, shining like little pieces of silver. He stooped and filled his pockets as full as he could, and then went back to Gretel, and once more bidding her be comforted, for God would be sure to watch over them, he jumped into bed, and they both fell fast asleep.

Early in the morning, before the sun had risen, the stepmother came and wakened the children. “Rise, little lie-a-beds,” she said, “and come with us into the wood to gather fuel.”

She gave them each a piece of bread for their dinner, and told them to be sure not to eat it too soon, for they would get nothing more.

Gretel carried the bread in her pinafore, because Hansel had his pockets full, and then they all set out upon their way to the wood.

As they trudged along, the father noticed that his little son kept turning back to look at the house. “Take care, my boy,” he said, “or you will slip. What are you looking at so earnestly?”

“I am watching my kitten, father: she is sitting on the roof to bid me good-by.”

“Silly little lad, that is not your cat,” said the stepmother; “it is only the morning sun shining on the chimney.”

But Hansel had not been watching his cat at all; he had stayed behind to drop the pebbles upon the path.

When they reached the thickest part of the forest, the father bade the children gather wood, that he might kindle a fire for them, so that they might rest beside it and warm themselves whilst he and his wife were cutting the fuel. So they gathered a pile of brushwood and twigs, and as soon as it was well alight, the parents left them, promising to return as soon as they had finished their work.

Hansel and Gretel sat down by the fire, and when midday came they ate their bread and sat listening to the strokes of their father’s axe, thinking all the time that he was near to them. But what they heard was only a dry branch which the man had bound to a tree, so that the wind swung it hither and thither, and the noise it made deceived the children. At last the poor, tired, little eyelids closed, and, side by side, brother and sister fell asleep.

When they awoke, the night was very dark, and Gretel was frightened, and began to cry. Hansel put his arms around her and whispered. “Wait, dearie, till the moon rises; we shall soon find our way home then.”

As soon as the bright moon rose, Hansel took his little sister by the hand, and all night long they followed the track of the little white pebbles, until at daybreak they came to their father’s house.

They knocked at the door, and no sooner did the stepmother open it than she began to scold them for having stayed out so long in the wood; but the father greeted them kindly, for he had grieved sorely for his little ones.

In a short time they were as badly off as ever, and one night they again heard their mother trying to persuade her husband to take them out into the wood and lose them. “There is nothing left in the house but half a loaf of bread,” she said; “for our own sakes it is better to get rid of the children; but this time we will lead them farther away, so that they will not be able to find their way home.”

But the man would not agree. “Better to divide our last morsel with them,” he said, “and then die together.”

His wife would not listen to what he said, but scolded him for his want of thought for her; and at last the poor man gave way a second time, just as he had done at first.

But the children had overheard all that was said, and as soon as the mother and father were asleep, Hansel stole down to the door, meaning to go and collect pebbles as he had done before; but the door was locked and bolted, and he could not get out. “Never mind, Gretel,” he said consolingly, “the good God will surely help us.”

Early in the morning the woman wakened the children, and, giving them a small piece of bread, bade them follow her and their father into the wood. As they went, Hansel crumbled his morsel of bread in his pocket and strewed the crumbs upon the path.

“Come, Hansel,” said the father, “don’t loiter so, sonny. What can you see to stare at so often?”

“My little dove, father. It is sitting on the housetop, bidding me good-by.”

“Nonsense,” said the woman, “it is not your dove; it is only the rising sun shining upon the chimney.”

Hansel did not answer, but he went on strewing his crumbs carefully until the last morsel of bread was gone.

Deeper and deeper into the wood they went, where the children had never been before. There a great fire was kindled, and the mother said: “Stay here, children, whilst your father and I go to cut wood. If you are tired you may sleep a while, and we will fetch you when it is time to go home.”

When dinner-time came, Gretel divided her piece of bread with Hansel, because he had scattered all his share upon the road; and then they went to sleep. The evening shadows fell, but still no one came to fetch the poor children, and it was not until midnight that they awakened.

Hansel put his arms round his sister and told her not to fear, for when the moon rose they would easily be able to see the crumbs, and so find their way home again.

So when the moon rose they set out upon their way; but alas! there were no crumbs to be seen, for the little birds that lived in the green wood were as hungry as the children, and had eaten them all up.

“We will find the way somehow,” cried cheerful little Hansel; but though they traveled all night long, and the next day too, they could not find it. Poor little mites, how tired and hungry they were, for they had nothing to eat but the berries that grew by the roadside!

When at length the weary little feet could go no farther, the children lay down beneath a tree and slept.

On the third day they were still as far away as ever, and it seemed to them that the longer they walked the deeper they got into the wood, and they began to be afraid that they would die of cold and hunger.

But presently, when the midday sun was shining brightly, they noticed a little snow-white bird singing so sweetly that they could not help but stay to listen. When the birdie’s song was ended, he spread his wings and flew away.

The children followed him until they reached a little house, on the roof of which he perched. Then the children saw with surprise that the strange little house was built entirely of bread, roofed with cakes, and with windows of barley sugar.

“See, Gretel,” cried Hansel joyfully, “there is food for us in plenty. I will take a piece of the roof, and you shall have one of the windows.”

He stretched out his hand to help himself, and Gretel had already begun to nibble one of the window-panes, when suddenly they heard a voice call from within:—

“Nibbly, nibbly, mouse!

Who’s nibbling at my house?”

The children answered quickly:—

“‘Tis my Lady Wind that blows,

As round about the house she goes.”

And then they went on eating as though nothing had happened for the cake of which the roof was made just suited Hansel’s taste, whilst the barley-sugar window-panes were better than any sweetmeat Gretel had ever tasted before.

Hansel and Gretel.

All at once the door of the cottage flew wide open, and out came an old, old woman, leaning upon a crutch. The children were so frightened that they dropped their food and clung to each other.

The old woman nodded her head to them, and said: “Who brought you here, my pets? Come inside, come inside; no one will hurt you.”

She took their hands and led them into the house, and set before them all kinds of delicious foods, milk, sugared pancakes, apples, and nuts. When they had finished their meal she showed them two cosy little white beds, and as Hansel and Gretel lay snugly tucked up in them, they thought to themselves that surely they had now found the most delightful place in the whole wide world.

But the old woman had only pretended to be friendly and kind, for she was really a wicked old witch, who was always lying in wait to catch little children, indeed, she had built the little house of bread and cakes especially to entice them in. Whenever anyone came into her power, she cooked and ate him, and thought what a fine feast she had had.

Witches have red eyes and cannot see far, but they have keen scent, like animals, and can tell at once when a human being is near to them.

As soon as Hansel and Gretel came into her neighborhood she laughed to herself and said mockingly: “Ha, ha! they are mine already; they will not easily escape me.”

Early in the morning, before the children were awake, she stood beside them and admired their rosy cheeks and soft round limbs.

“What nice tit-bits for me,” murmured she. Then, seizing Hansel by the hand, she led him to a little stable, and, in spite of his cries and screams, shut him up and left him. Then she shook Gretel until she was awake, and bade her get up at once and carry food and drink to her brother, and it must be of the best too, for she wished to fatten him.

“When he is nice and plump, I shall eat him,” said the cruel old witch. Gretel wept bitterly, but it was quite in vain, for she was obliged to do the witch’s bidding; and every day she cooked the choicest food for her brother, while she herself lived upon nothing but oyster-shells.

Day by day the old woman visited the stable and called to Hansel to put his finger through the window bars, that she might see if he were getting fat; but the little fellow held out a bone instead, and as her eyes were dim with age, she mistook the bone for the boy’s finger, and thought how thin and lean he was. When a whole month had passed without Hansel becoming the least bit fatter, the old witch lost patience and declared she would wait no longer. “Hurry, Gretel,” she said to the little girl, “fill the pot with water, for to-morrow, be he lean or fat, Hansel shall be cooked for my dinner.”

The tears chased each other down Gretel’s cheeks as she carried in the water, and she sobbed aloud in her grief. “Dear God,” she cried, “we have no one to help us but Thou. Alas! if only the wild beasts in the wood had devoured us, at least we should have died together.”

“Cease your chattering,” cried the old witch angrily. “It will not help you, so you may as well be still.”

The next morning poor Gretel was forced to light the fire and hang the great pot of water over it, and then the witch said: “First we will bake. I have kneaded the dough, and heated the oven; you shall creep inside it to see if it is hot enough to bake the bread.”

But Gretel guessed that the old witch meant to shut the door upon her and roast her, so she pretended that she did not know how to get in.

“Silly goose,” said the witch. “The door is wide enough, to be sure. Why, even I could get inside it.” As she spoke, she popped her head into the oven. In a moment Gretel sprang towards her, pushed her inside, shut the iron door, and shot the bolt. Oh! how she squealed and shrieked, but Gretel ran off as fast as she could, and so there was an end of the cruel old witch.

Quick as thought, Gretel ran to her brother. “We are saved, Hansel,” she cried, opening the door of the stable, “the wicked old witch is dead.”

Hansel flew from his prison as a bird from its cage, and the two happy little children kissed each other and jumped for joy. No longer afraid of the old witch, they entered the house, hand in hand, and then they saw that in every corner of the room were boxes of pearls and diamonds, and all kinds of precious gems.

“Ah!” said Hansel merrily, “these are better than pebbles, Gretel,” and he stuffed his pockets with the jewels, whilst Gretel filled her pinafore. “Now,” said Hansel, “we will leave the witch’s wood behind us as fast as we can.”

So off they ran, and never stopped until they came to a lake, upon which swam a large white duck.

“How can we cross,” said Hansel, “for there is no bridge anywhere?”

“And no ship either,” Gretel answered; “but we will ask the pretty white duck to carry us over.” So they cried aloud:—

“Little duck, little duck,

With wings so white,

Carry us over

The waters bright.”

The duck came at once, and, taking Hansel upon her back, carried him over to the other side, and then did the same for Gretel. They went merrily on their way, and very soon they found themselves in a part of the wood they knew quite well.

When they saw the roof of their father’s house in the distance they began to run, and, breathless with haste, half laughing and half crying, they rushed into the cottage and flung themselves into their father’s arms.

Oh! how pleased he was to see them once again, for he had not known a happy hour since he had left them alone in the wood. Gretel shook out her pinafore, and Hansel emptied his pockets, and the floor of the little room was quite covered with glittering precious stones.

So now their troubles were at an end, for the cruel stepmother was dead, and Hansel and Gretel and their father lived together happily ever after.

My story is ended, and see, there runs a little mouse, and the first who catches him shall have a fur cap made from his skin.

The Greedy Brownie

THERE was once a little Brownie who lived in a hollow tree stump. He had been busy all the day playing pranks. His pranks had taken him far away from home to the house of a very important laird. Into the laird’s cup of wine he had dropped some sour berries which he had picked on his way. He also put thistles into his boots, so that when the laird had drawn them on he had screamed out with pain.

The Brownie had been away all the day, so that when at last he turned to go back to his home he felt really very tired. On his way back to the wood he passed by a cozy-looking farmhouse. The door of the dairy was open. The Brownie thought this would be a very nice cool place in which to rest for a few moments. So he slipped into the dairy, and curled himself up underneath the bench to have a nice little doze.

He was so weary that once he had fallen asleep he never woke up again until it was quite dark, when he was disturbed by two lassies who had come into the dairy.

One was carrying a candle in her hand, and by its light the pair espied a big bowl of cream on the shelf. The naughty girls thought that they would drink it for supper. They could only find one spoon on the shelf, so they decided they would each have a spoonful in turn. Lassie Jean took the bowl and carried it to a bench in the corner, and Lassie Meg followed it with the candle. No sooner had the two girls settled themselves than the Brownie, who was now wide awake, and who was himself feeling that some supper might not be out of place, crept up behind them and blew out the candle.

The lassies at first were very much concerned at being in the dark; nevertheless they determined they would drink the cream, all the same.

Lassie Jean filled the spoon with the rich delicacy. She was about to raise it to her lips when the naughty Brownie poked his head over her shoulder, and lapped it out of the spoon before it had reached her mouth. Lassie Meg, believing that Lassie Jean had already swallowed some cream while she [page 512]had had none, stretched out her hand to take away the spoon from her friend. Lassie Jean was not willing to give it up, since she said she had not yet tasted any cream. Lassie Meg was unwilling to believe her, for she declared she had heard her lapping the cream.

Without waiting for Lassie Jean to explain, she snatched the spoon out of her friend’s hand. She filled it with cream from the bowl, and was about to raise it to her lips when the Brownie jumped from behind Lassie Jean, and settling himself behind Lassie Meg’s shoulders, poked forward his head, and again lapped up the cream from out of the spoon.

Lassie Jean in her turn snatched back the spoon from Lassie Meg. Thus they went on, for every time one or the other raised the spoonful of cream to her lips it was lapped up by the Brownie. This continued until the bowl was emptied. The Brownie was full of cream, but the poor lassies had not so much as tasted one drop, although each believed the other had drunk it all.

The lassies were still quarreling when the door of the dairy was opened, and the farmer’s wife entered, carrying a lighted candle in her hand. The moment that she did so the Brownie hopped under the bench and the lassies started up guiltily.

The farmer’s wife caught sight of the empty basin. She was very angry with them indeed. When they tried hastily to explain, each blaming the other, the farmer’s wife would not listen, but only grew the more angry. She told them that, since they had supped so well, they should have none of the scones and eggs which she had prepared for the evening meal in the kitchen.

When the farmer’s wife had entered she had left the door open, so while she was busily scolding the lassies the Brownie slipped out from under the bench and made his escape. As he ran chuckling down the road, he could still hear her angry voice drowning the attempted explanations of the bewildered lassies. When the little fellow curled himself up some time later in the tree trunk he was still laughing.

The Country Of The Blind

Three hundred miles and more from Chimborazo, one hundred from the snows of Cotopaxi, in the wildest wastes of Ecuador’s Andes, there lies that mysterious mountain valley, cut off from all the world of men, the Country of the Blind. Long years ago that valley lay so far open to the world that men might come at last through frightful gorges and over an icy pass into its equable meadows, and thither indeed men came, a family or so of Peruvian half-breeds fleeing from the lust and tyranny of an evil Spanish ruler. Then came the stupendous outbreak of Mindobamba, when it was night in Quito for seventeen days, and the water was boiling at Yaguachi and all the fish floating dying even as far as Guayaquil; everywhere along the Pacific slopes there were land-slips and swift thawings and sudden floods, and one whole side of the old Arauca crest slipped and came down in thunder, and cut off the Country of the Blind for ever from the exploring feet of men. But one of these early settlers had chanced to be on the hither side of the gorges when the world had so terribly shaken itself, and he perforce had to forget his wife and his child and all the friends and possessions he had left up there, and start life over again in the lower world. He started it again but ill, blindness overtook him, and he died of punishment in the mines; but the story he told begot a legend that lingers along the length of the Cordilleras of the Andes to this day.

He told of his reason for venturing back from that fastness, into which he had first been carried lashed to a llama, beside a vast bale of gear, when he was a child. The valley, he said, had in it all that the heart of man could desire–sweet water, pasture, an even climate, slopes of rich brown soil with tangles of a shrub that bore an excellent fruit, and on one side great hanging forests of pine that held the avalanches high. Far overhead, on three sides, vast cliffs of grey-green rock were capped by cliffs of ice; but the glacier stream came not to them, but flowed away by the farther slopes, and only now and then huge ice masses fell on the valley side. In this valley it neither rained nor snowed, but the abundant springs gave a rich green pasture, that irrigation would spread over all the valley space. The settlers did well indeed there. Their beasts did well and multiplied, and but one thing marred their happiness. Yet it was enough to mar it greatly. A strange disease had come upon them and had made all the children born to them there–and, indeed, several older children also–blind. It was to seek some charm or antidote against this plague of blindness that he had with fatigue and danger and difficulty returned down the gorge. In those days, in such cases, men did not think of germs and infections, but of sins, and it seemed to him that the reason of this affliction must he in the negligence of these priestless immigrants to set up a shrine so soon as they entered the valley. He wanted a shrine–a handsome, cheap, effectual shrine–to be erected in the valley; he wanted relics and such-like potent things of faith, blessed objects and mysterious medals and prayers. In his wallet he had a bar of native silver for which he would not account; he insisted there was none in the valley with something of the insistence of an inexpert liar. They had all clubbed their money and ornaments together, having little need for such treasure up there, he said, to buy them holy help against their ill. I figure this dim-eyed young mountaineer, sunburnt, gaunt, and anxious, hat brim clutched feverishly, a man all unused to the ways of the lower world, telling this story to some keen-eyed, attentive priest before the great convulsion; I can picture him presently seeking to return with pious and infallible remedies against that trouble, and the infinite dismay with which he must have faced the tumbled vastness where the gorge had once come out. But the rest of his story of mischances is lost to me, save that I know of his evil death after several years. Poor stray from that remoteness! The stream that had once made the gorge now bursts from the mouth of a rocky cave, and the legend his poor, ill-told story set going developed into the legend of a race of blind men somewhere “over there” one may still hear to-day.

And amidst the little population of that now isolated and forgotten valley the disease ran its course. The old became groping, the young saw but dimly, and the children that were born to them never saw at all. But life was very easy in that snow-rimmed basin, lost to all the world, with neither thorns nor briers, with no evil insects nor any beasts save the gentle breed of llamas they had lugged and thrust and followed up the beds of the shrunken rivers in the gorges up which they had come. The seeing had become purblind so gradually that they scarcely noticed their loss. They guided the sightless youngsters hither and thither until they knew the whole valley marvellously, and when at last sight died out among them the race lived on. They had even time to adapt themselves to the blind control of fire, which they made carefully in stoves of stone. They were a simple strain of people at the first, unlettered, only slightly touched with the Spanish civilisation, but with something of a tradition of the arts of old Peru and of its lost philosophy. Generation followed generation. They forgot many things; they devised many things. Their tradition of the greater world they came from became mythical in colour and uncertain. In all things save sight they were strong and able, and presently chance sent one who had an original mind and who could talk and persuade among them, and then afterwards another. These two passed, leaving their effects, and the little community grew in numbers and in understanding, and met and settled social and economic problems that arose. Generation followed generation. Generation followed generation. There came a time when a child was born who was fifteen generations from that ancestor who went out of the valley with a bar of silver to seek God’s aid, and who never returned. Thereabout it chanced that a man came into this community from the outer world. And this is the story of that man.

He was a mountaineer from the country near Quito, a man who had been down to the sea and had seen the world, a reader of books in an original way, an acute and enterprising man, and he was taken on by a party of Englishmen who had come out to Ecuador to climb mountains, to replace one of their three Swiss guides who had fallen ill. He climbed here and he climbed there, and then came the attempt on Parascotopetl, the Matterhorn of the Andes, in which he was lost to the outer world. The story of that accident has been written a dozen times. Pointer’s narrative is the best. He tells how the little party worked their difficult and almost vertical way up to the very foot of the last and greatest precipice, and how they built a night shelter amidst the snow upon a little shelf of rock, and, with a touch of real dramatic power, how presently they found Nunez had gone from them. They shouted, and there was no reply; shouted and whistled, and for the rest of that night they slept no more.

As the morning broke they saw the traces of his fall. It seems impossible he could have uttered a sound. He had slipped eastward towards the unknown side of the mountain; far below he had struck a steep slope of snow, and ploughed his way down it in the midst of a snow avalanche. His track went straight to the edge of a frightful precipice, and beyond that everything was hidden. Far, far below, and hazy with distance, they could see trees rising out of a narrow, shut-in valley–the lost Country of the Blind. But they did not know it was the lost Country of the Blind, nor distinguish it in any way from any other narrow streak of upland valley. Unnerved by this disaster, they abandoned their attempt in the afternoon, and Pointer was called away to the war before he could make another attack. To this day Parascotopetl lifts an unconquered crest, and Pointer’s shelter crumbles unvisited amidst the snows.

And the man who fell survived.

At the end of the slope he fell a thousand feet, and came down in the midst of a cloud of snow upon a snow-slope even steeper than the one above. Down this he was whirled, stunned and insensible, but without a bone broken in his body; and then at last came to gentler slopes, and at last rolled out and lay still, buried amidst a softening heap of the white masses that had accompanied and saved him. He came to himself with a dim fancy that he was ill in bed; then realized his position with a mountaineer’s intelligence and worked himself loose and, after a rest or so, out until he saw the stars. He rested flat upon his chest for a space, wondering where he was and what had happened to him. He explored his limbs, and discovered that several of his buttons were gone and his coat turned over his head. His knife had gone from his pocket and his hat was lost, though he had tied it under his chin. He recalled that he had been looking for loose stones to raise his piece of the shelter wall. His ice-axe had disappeared.

He decided he must have fallen, and looked up to see, exaggerated by the ghastly light of the rising moon, the tremendous flight he had taken. For a while he lay, gazing blankly at the vast, pale cliff towering above, rising moment by moment out of a subsiding tide of darkness. Its phantasmal, mysterious beauty held him for a space, and then he was seized with a paroxysm of sobbing laughter . . . .

After a great interval of time he became aware that he was near the lower edge of the snow. Below, down what was now a moon-lit and practicable slope, he saw the dark and broken appearance of rock-strewn turf He struggled to his feet, aching in every joint and limb, got down painfully from the heaped loose snow about him, went downward until he was on the turf, and there dropped rather than lay beside a boulder, drank deep from the flask in his inner pocket, and instantly fell asleep . . . .

He was awakened by the singing of birds in the trees far below.

He sat up and perceived he was on a little alp at the foot of a vast precipice that sloped only a little in the gully down which he and his snow had come. Over against him another wall of rock reared itself against the sky. The gorge between these precipices ran east and west and was full of the morning sunlight, which lit to the westward the mass of fallen mountain that closed the descending gorge. Below him it seemed there was a precipice equally steep, but behind the snow in the gully he found a sort of chimney-cleft dripping with snow-water, down which a desperate man might venture. He found it easier than it seemed, and came at last to another desolate alp, and then after a rock climb of no particular difficulty, to a steep slope of trees. He took his bearings and turned his face up the gorge, for he saw it opened out above upon green meadows, among which he now glimpsed quite distinctly a cluster of stone huts of unfamiliar fashion. At times his progress was like clambering along the face of a wall, and after a time the rising sun ceased to strike along the gorge, the voices of the singing birds died away, and the air grew cold and dark about him. But the distant valley with its houses was all the brighter for that. He came presently to talus, and among the rocks he noted–for he was an observant man–an unfamiliar fern that seemed to clutch out of the crevices with intense green hands. He picked a frond or so and gnawed its stalk, and found it helpful.

About midday he came at last out of the throat of the gorge into the plain and the sunlight. He was stiff and weary; he sat down in the shadow of a rock, filled up his flask with water from a spring and drank it down, and remained for a time, resting before he went on to the houses.

They were very strange to his eyes, and indeed the whole aspect of that valley became, as he regarded it, queerer and more unfamiliar. The greater part of its surface was lush green meadow, starred with many beautiful flowers, irrigated with extraordinary care, and bearing evidence of systematic cropping piece by piece. High up and ringing the valley about was a wall, and what appeared to be a circumferential water channel, from which the little trickles of water that fed the meadow plants came, and on the higher slopes above this flocks of llamas cropped the scanty herbage. Sheds, apparently shelters or feeding-places for the llamas, stood against the boundary wall here and there. The irrigation streams ran together into a main channel down the centre of the valley, and this was enclosed on either side by a wall breast high. This gave a singularly urban quality to this secluded place, a quality that was greatly enhanced by the fact that a number of paths paved with black and white stones, and each with a curious little kerb at the side, ran hither and thither in an orderly manner. The houses of the central village were quite unlike the casual and higgledy-piggledy agglomeration of the mountain villages he knew; they stood in a continuous row on either side of a central street of astonishing cleanness, here and there their parti-coloured facade was pierced by a door, and not a solitary window broke their even frontage. They were parti-coloured with extraordinary irregularity, smeared with a sort of plaster that was sometimes grey, sometimes drab, sometimes slate-coloured or dark brown; and it was the sight of this wild plastering first brought the word “blind” into the thoughts of the explorer. “The good man who did that,” he thought, “must have been as blind as a bat.”

He descended a steep place, and so came to the wall and channel that ran about the valley, near where the latter spouted out its surplus contents into the deeps of the gorge in a thin and wavering thread of cascade. He could now see a number of men and women resting on piled heaps of grass, as if taking a siesta, in the remoter part of the meadow, and nearer the village a number of recumbent children, and then nearer at hand three men carrying pails on yokes along a little path that ran from the encircling wall towards the houses. These latter were clad in garments of llama cloth and boots and belts of leather, and they wore caps of cloth with back and ear flaps. They followed one another in single file, walking slowly and yawning as they walked, like men who have been up all night. There was something so reassuringly prosperous and respectable in their bearing that after a moment’s hesitation Nunez stood forward as conspicuously as possible upon his rock, and gave vent to a mighty shout that echoed round the valley.

The three men stopped, and moved their heads as though they were looking about them. They turned their faces this way and that, and Nunez gesticulated with freedom. But they did not appear to see him for all his gestures, and after a time, directing themselves towards the mountains far away to the right, they shouted as if in answer. Nunez bawled again, and then once more, and as he gestured ineffectually the word “blind” came up to the top of his thoughts. “The fools must be blind,” he said.

When at last, after much shouting and wrath, Nunez crossed the stream by a little bridge, came through a gate in the wall, and approached them, he was sure that they were blind. He was sure that this was the Country of the Blind of which the legends told. Conviction had sprung upon him, and a sense of great and rather enviable adventure. The three stood side by side, not looking at him, but with their ears directed towards him, judging him by his unfamiliar steps. They stood close together like men a little afraid, and he could see their eyelids closed and sunken, as though the very balls beneath had shrunk away. There was an expression near awe on their faces.

“A man,” one said, in hardly recognisable Spanish. “A man it is–a man or a spirit–coming down from the rocks.”

But Nunez advanced with the confident steps of a youth who enters upon life. All the old stories of the lost valley and the Country of the Blind had come back to his mind, and through his thoughts ran this old proverb, as if it were a refrain:–

“In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King.”

“In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King.”

And very civilly he gave them greeting. He talked to them and used his eyes.

“Where does he come from, brother Pedro?” asked one.

“Down out of the rocks.”

“Over the mountains I come,” said Nunez, “out of the country beyond there–where men can see. From near Bogota–where there are a hundred thousands of people, and where the city passes out of sight.”

“Sight?” muttered Pedro. “Sight?”

“He comes,” said the second blind man, “out of the rocks.”

The cloth of their coats, Nunez saw was curious fashioned, each with a different sort of stitching.

They startled him by a simultaneous movement towards him, each with a hand outstretched. He stepped back from the advance of these spread fingers.

“Come hither,” said the third blind man, following his motion and clutching him neatly.

And they held Nunez and felt him over, saying no word further until they had done so.

“Carefully,” he cried, with a finger in his eye, and found they thought that organ, with its fluttering lids, a queer thing in him. They went over it again.

“A strange creature, Correa,” said the one called Pedro. “Feel the coarseness of his hair. Like a llama’s hair.”

“Rough he is as the rocks that begot him,” said Correa, investigating Nunez’s unshaven chin with a soft and slightly moist hand. “Perhaps he will grow finer.”

Nunez struggled a little under their examination, but they gripped him firm.

“Carefully,” he said again.

“He speaks,” said the third man. “Certainly he is a man.”

“Ugh!” said Pedro, at the roughness of his coat.

“And you have come into the world?” asked Pedro.

Out of the world. Over mountains and glaciers; right over above there, half-way to the sun. Out of the great, big world that goes down, twelve days’ journey to the sea.”

They scarcely seemed to heed him. “Our fathers have told us men may be made by the forces of Nature,” said Correa. “It is the warmth of things, and moisture, and rottenness–rottenness.”

“Let us lead him to the elders,” said Pedro.

“Shout first,” said Correa, “lest the children be afraid. This is a marvellous occasion.”

So they shouted, and Pedro went first and took Nunez by the hand to lead him to the houses.

He drew his hand away. “I can see,” he said.

“See?” said Correa.

“Yes; see,” said Nunez, turning towards him, and stumbled against Pedro’s pail.

“His senses are still imperfect,” said the third blind man. “He stumbles, and talks unmeaning words. Lead him by the hand.”

“As you will,” said Nunez, and was led along laughing.

It seemed they knew nothing of sight.

Well, all in good time he would teach them.

He heard people shouting, and saw a number of figures gathering together in the middle roadway of the village.

He found it tax his nerve and patience more than he had anticipated, that first encounter with the population of the Country of the Blind. The place seemed larger as he drew near to it, and the smeared plasterings queerer, and a crowd of children and men and women (the women and girls he was pleased to note had, some of them, quite sweet faces, for all that their eyes were shut and sunken) came about him, holding on to him, touching him with soft, sensitive hands, smelling at him, and listening at every word he spoke. Some of the maidens and children, however, kept aloof as if afraid, and indeed his voice seemed coarse and rude beside their softer notes. They mobbed him. His three guides kept close to him with an effect of proprietorship, and said again and again, “A wild man out of the rocks.”

“Bogota,” he said. “Bogota. Over the mountain crests.”

“A wild man–using wild words,” said Pedro. “Did you hear that–“Bogota? His mind has hardly formed yet. He has only the beginnings of speech.”

A little boy nipped his hand. “Bogota!” he said mockingly.

“Aye! A city to your village. I come from the great world –where men have eyes and see.”

“His name’s Bogota,” they said.

“He stumbled,” said Correa–” stumbled twice as we came hither.”

“Bring him in to the elders.”

And they thrust him suddenly through a doorway into a room as black as pitch, save at the end there faintly glowed a fire. The crowd closed in behind him and shut out all but the faintest glimmer of day, and before he could arrest himself he had fallen headlong over the feet of a seated man. His arm, outflung, struck the face of someone else as he went down; he felt the soft impact of features and heard a cry of anger, and for a moment he struggled against a number of hands that clutched him. It was a one-sided fight. An inkling of the situation came to him and he lay quiet.

“I fell down,” be said; I couldn’t see in this pitchy darkness.”

There was a pause as if the unseen persons about him tried to understand his words. Then the voice of Correa said: “He is but newly formed. He stumbles as he walks and mingles words that mean nothing with his speech.”

Others also said things about him that he heard or understood imperfectly.

“May I sit up?” he asked, in a pause. “I will not struggle against you again.”

They consulted and let him rise.

The voice of an older man began to question him, and Nunez found himself trying to explain the great world out of which he had fallen, and the sky and mountains and such-like marvels, to these elders who sat in darkness in the Country of the Blind. And they would believe and understand nothing whatever that he told them, a thing quite outside his expectation. They would not even understand many of his words. For fourteen generations these people had been blind and cut off from all the seeing world; the names for all the things of sight had faded and changed; the story of the outer world was faded and changed to a child’s story; and they had ceased to concern themselves with anything beyond the rocky slopes above their circling wall. Blind men of genius had arisen among them and questioned the shreds of belief and tradition they had brought with them from their seeing days, and had dismissed all these things as idle fancies and replaced them with new and saner explanations. Much of their imagination had shrivelled with their eyes, and they had made for themselves new imaginations with their ever more sensitive ears and finger-tips. Slowly Nunez realised this: that his expectation of wonder and reverence at his origin and his gifts was not to be borne out; and after his poor attempt to explain sight to them had been set aside as the confused version of a new-made being describing the marvels of his incoherent sensations, he subsided, a little dashed, into listening to their instruction. And the eldest of the blind men explained to him life and philosophy and religion, how that the world (meaning their valley) had been first an empty hollow in the rocks, and then had come first inanimate things without the gift of touch, and llamas and a few other creatures that had little sense, and then men, and at last angels, whom one could hear singing and making fluttering sounds, but whom no one could touch at all, which puzzled Nunez greatly until he thought of the birds.

He went on to tell Nunez how this time had been divided into the warm and the cold, which are the blind equivalents of day and night, and how it was good to sleep in the warm and work during the cold, so that now, but for his advent, the whole town of the blind would have been asleep. He said Nunez must have been specially created to learn and serve the wisdom they had acquired, and that for all his mental incoherency and stumbling behaviour he must have courage and do his best to learn, and at that all the people in the door-way murmured encouragingly. He said the night–for the blind call their day night–was now far gone, and it behooved everyone to go back to sleep. He asked Nunez if he knew how to sleep, and Nunez said he did, but that before sleep he wanted food. They brought him food, llama’s milk in a bowl and rough salted bread, and led him into a lonely place to eat out of their hearing, and afterwards to slumber until the chill of the mountain evening roused them to begin their day again. But Nunez slumbered not at all.

Instead, he sat up in the place where they had left him, resting his limbs and turning the unanticipated circumstances of his arrival over and over in his mind.

Every now and then he laughed, sometimes with amusement and sometimes with indignation.

“Unformed mind!” he said. “Got no senses yet! They little know they’ve been insulting their Heaven-sent King and master . . . . .

“I see I must bring them to reason.

“Let me think.

“Let me think.”

He was still thinking when the sun set.

Nunez had an eye for all beautiful things, and it seemed to him that the glow upon the snow-fields and glaciers that rose about the valley on every side was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His eyes went from that inaccessible glory to the village and irrigated fields, fast sinking into the twilight, and suddenly a wave of emotion took him, and he thanked God from the bottom of his heart that the power of sight had been given him.

He heard a voice calling to him from out of the village.

“Yaho there, Bogota! Come hither!”

At that he stood up, smiling. He would show these people once and for all what sight would do for a man. They would seek him, but not find him.

“You move not, Bogota,” said the voice.

He laughed noiselessly and made two stealthy steps aside from the path.

“Trample not on the grass, Bogota; that is not allowed.”

Nunez had scarcely heard the sound he made himself. He stopped, amazed.

The owner of the voice came running up the piebald path towards him.

He stepped back into the pathway. “Here I am,” he said.

“Why did you not come when I called you?” said the blind man. “Must you be led like a child? Cannot you hear the path as you walk?”

Nunez laughed. “I can see it,” he said.

“There is no such word as see,” said the blind man, after a pause. “Cease this folly and follow the sound of my feet.”

Nunez followed, a little annoyed.

“My time will come,” he said.

“You’ll learn,” the blind man answered. “There is much to learn in the world.”

“Has no one told you, ‘In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King?'”

“What is blind?” asked the blind man, carelessly, over his shoulder.

Four days passed and the fifth found the King of the Blind still incognito, as a clumsy and useless stranger among his subjects.

It was, he found, much more difficult to proclaim himself than he had supposed, and in the meantime, while he meditated his coup d’etat, he did what he was told and learnt the manners and customs of the Country of the Blind. He found working and going about at night a particularly irksome thing, and he decided that that should be the first thing he would change.

They led a simple, laborious life, these people, with all the elements of virtue and happiness as these things can be understood by men. They toiled, but not oppressively; they had food and clothing sufficient for their needs; they had days and seasons of rest; they made much of music and singing, and there was love among them and little children. It was marvellous with what confidence and precision they went about their ordered world. Everything, you see, had been made to fit their needs; each of the radiating paths of the valley area had a constant angle to the others, and was distinguished by a special notch upon its kerbing; all obstacles and irregularities of path or meadow had long since been cleared away; all their methods and procedure arose naturally from their special needs. Their senses had become marvellously acute; they could hear and judge the slightest gesture of a man a dozen paces away–could hear the very beating of his heart. Intonation had long replaced expression with them, and touches gesture, and their work with hoe and spade and fork was as free and confident as garden work can be. Their sense of smell was extraordinarily fine; they could distinguish individual differences as readily as a dog can, and they went about the tending of llamas, who lived among the rocks above and came to the wall for food and shelter, with ease and confidence. It was only when at last Nunez sought to assert himself that he found how easy and confident their movements could be.

He rebelled only after he had tried persuasion.

He tried at first on several occasions to tell them of sight. “Look you here, you people,” he said. “There are things you do not understand in me.”

Once or twice one or two of them attended to him; they sat with faces downcast and ears turned intelligently towards him, and he did his best to tell them what it was to see. Among his hearers was a girl, with eyelids less red and sunken than the others, so that one could almost fancy she was hiding eyes, whom especially he hoped to persuade. He spoke of the beauties of sight, of watching the mountains, of the sky and the sunrise, and they heard him with amused incredulity that presently became condemnatory. They told him there were indeed no mountains at all, but that the end of the rocks where the llamas grazed was indeed the end of the world; thence sprang a cavernous roof of the universe, from which the dew and the avalanches fell; and when he maintained stoutly the world had neither end nor roof such as they supposed, they said his thoughts were wicked. So far as he could describe sky and clouds and stars to them it seemed to them a hideous void, a terrible blankness in the place of the smooth roof to things in which they believed–it was an article of faith with them that the cavern roof was exquisitely smooth to the touch. He saw that in some manner he shocked them, and gave up that aspect of the matter altogether, and tried to show them the practical value of sight. One morning he saw Pedro in the path called Seventeen and coming towards the central houses, but still too far off for hearing or scent, and he told them as much. “In a little while,” he prophesied, “Pedro will be here.” An old man remarked that Pedro had no business on path Seventeen, and then, as if in confirmation, that individual as he drew near turned and went transversely into path Ten, and so back with nimble paces towards the outer wall. They mocked Nunez when Pedro did not arrive, and afterwards, when he asked Pedro questions to clear his character, Pedro denied and outfaced him, and was afterwards hostile to him.

Then he induced them to let him go a long way up the sloping meadows towards the wall with one complaisant individual, and to him he promised to describe all that happened among the houses. He noted certain goings and comings, but the things that really seemed to signify to these people happened inside of or behind the windowless houses–the only things they took note of to test him by–and of those he could see or tell nothing; and it was after the failure of this attempt, and the ridicule they could not repress, that he resorted to force. He thought of seizing a spade and suddenly smiting one or two of them to earth, and so in fair combat showing the advantage of eyes. He went so far with that resolution as to seize his spade, and then he discovered a new thing about himself, and that was that it was impossible for him to hit a blind man in cold blood.

He hesitated, and found them all aware that he had snatched up the spade. They stood all alert, with their heads on one side, and bent ears towards him for what he would do next.

“Put that spade down,” said one, and he felt a sort of helpless horror. He came near obedience.

Then he had thrust one backwards against a house wall, and fled past him and out of the village.

He went athwart one of their meadows, leaving a track of trampled grass behind his feet, and presently sat down by the side of one of their ways. He felt something of the buoyancy that comes to all men in the beginning of a fight, but more perplexity. He began to realise that you cannot even fight happily with creatures who stand upon a different mental basis to yourself. Far away he saw a number of men carrying spades and sticks come out of the street of houses and advance in a spreading line along the several paths towards him. They advanced slowly, speaking frequently to one another, and ever and again the whole cordon would halt and sniff the air and listen.

The first time they did this Nunez laughed. But afterwards he did not laugh.

One struck his trail in the meadow grass and came stooping and feeling his way along it.

For five minutes he watched the slow extension of the cordon, and then his vague disposition to do something forthwith became frantic. He stood up, went a pace or so towards the circumferential wall, turned, and went back a little way. There they all stood in a crescent, still and listening.

He also stood still, gripping his spade very tightly in both hands. Should he charge them?

The pulse in his ears ran into the rhythm of “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King.”

Should he charge them?

He looked back at the high and unclimbable wall behind–unclimbable because of its smooth plastering, but withal pierced with many little doors and at the approaching line of seekers. Behind these others were now coming out of the street of houses.

Should he charge them?

“Bogota!” called one. “Bogota! where are you?”

He gripped his spade still tighter and advanced down the meadows towards the place of habitations, and directly he moved they converged upon him. “I’ll hit them if they touch me,” he swore; “by Heaven, I will. I’ll hit.” He called aloud, “Look here, I’m going to do what I like in this valley! Do you hear? I’m going to do what I like and go where I like.”

They were moving in upon him quickly, groping, yet moving rapidly. It was like playing blind man’s buff with everyone blindfolded except one. “Get hold of him!” cried one. He found himself in the arc of a loose curve of pursuers. He felt suddenly he must be active and resolute.

“You don’t understand,” he cried, in a voice that was meant to be great and resolute, and which broke. “You are blind and I can see. Leave me alone!”

“Bogota! Put down that spade and come off the grass!”

The last order, grotesque in its urban familiarity, produced a gust of anger. “I’ll hurt you,” he said, sobbing with emotion. “By Heaven, I’ll hurt you! Leave me alone!”

He began to run–not knowing clearly where to run. He ran from the nearest blind man, because it was a horror to hit him. He stopped, and then made a dash to escape from their closing ranks. He made for where a gap was wide, and the men on either side, with a quick perception of the approach of his paces, rushed in on one another. He sprang forward, and then saw he must be caught, and swish! the spade had struck. He felt the soft thud of hand and arm, and the man was down with a yell of pain, and he was through.

Through! And then he was close to the street of houses again, and blind men, whirling spades and stakes, were running with a reasoned swiftness hither and thither.

He heard steps behind him just in time, and found a tall man rushing forward and swiping at the sound of him. He lost his nerve, hurled his spade a yard wide of this antagonist, and whirled about and fled, fairly yelling as he dodged another.

He was panic-stricken. He ran furiously to and fro, dodging when there was no need to dodge, and, in his anxiety to see on every side of him at once, stumbling. For a moment he was down and they heard his fall. Far away in the circumferential wall a little doorway looked like Heaven, and he set off in a wild rush for it. He did not even look round at his pursuers until it was gained, and he had stumbled across the bridge, clambered a little way among the rocks, to the surprise and dismay of a young llama, who went leaping out of sight, and lay down sobbing for breath.

And so his coup d’etat came to an end.

He stayed outside the wall of the valley of the blind for two nights and days without food or shelter, and meditated upon the Unexpected. During these meditations he repeated very frequently and always with a profounder note of derision the exploded proverb: “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King.” He thought chiefly of ways of fighting and conquering these people, and it grew clear that for him no practicable way was possible. He had no weapons, and now it would be hard to get one.

The canker of civilisation had got to him even in Bogota, and he could not find it in himself to go down and assassinate a blind man. Of course, if he did that, he might then dictate terms on the threat of assassinating them all. But–Sooner or later he must sleep! . . . .

He tried also to find food among the pine trees, to be comfortable under pine boughs while the frost fell at night, and– with less confidence–to catch a llama by artifice in order to try to kill it–perhaps by hammering it with a stone–and so finally, perhaps, to eat some of it. But the llamas had a doubt of him and regarded him with distrustful brown eyes and spat when he drew near. Fear came on him the second day and fits of shivering. Finally he crawled down to the wall of the Country of the Blind and tried to make his terms. He crawled along by the stream, shouting, until two blind men came out to the gate and talked to him.

“I was mad,” he said. “But I was only newly made.”

They said that was better.

He told them he was wiser now, and repented of all he had done.

Then he wept without intention, for he was very weak and ill now, and they took that as a favourable sign.

They asked him if he still thought he could see.”

“No,” he said. “That was folly. The word means nothing. Less than nothing!”

They asked him what was overhead.

“About ten times ten the height of a man there is a roof above the world–of rock–and very, very smooth. So smooth–so beautifully smooth . . “He burst again into hysterical tears. “Before you ask me any more, give me some food or I shall die!”

He expected dire punishments, but these blind people were capable of toleration. They regarded his rebellion as but one more proof of his general idiocy and inferiority, and after they had whipped him they appointed him to do the simplest and heaviest work they had for anyone to do, and he, seeing no other way of living, did submissively what he was told.

He was ill for some days and they nursed him kindly. That refined his submission. But they insisted on his lying in the dark, and that was a great misery. And blind philosophers came and talked to him of the wicked levity of his mind, and reproved him so impressively for his doubts about the lid of rock that covered their cosmic casserole that he almost doubted whether indeed he was not the victim of hallucination in not seeing it overhead.

So Nunez became a citizen of the Country of the Blind, and these people ceased to be a generalised people and became individualities to him, and familiar to him, while the world beyond the mountains became more and more remote and unreal. There was Yacob, his master, a kindly man when not annoyed; there was Pedro, Yacob’s nephew; and there was Medina-sarote, who was the youngest daughter of Yacob. She was little esteemed in the world of the blind, because she had a clear-cut face and lacked that satisfying, glossy smoothness that is the blind man’s ideal of feminine beauty, but Nunez thought her beautiful at first, and presently the most beautiful thing in the whole creation. Her closed eyelids were not sunken and red after the common way of the valley, but lay as though they might open again at any moment; and she had long eyelashes, which were considered a grave disfigurement. And her voice was weak and did not satisfy the acute hearing of the valley swains. So that she had no lover.

There came a time when Nunez thought that, could he win her, he would be resigned to live in the valley for all the rest of his days.

He watched her; he sought opportunities of doing her little services and presently he found that she observed him. Once at a rest-day gathering they sat side by side in the dim starlight, and the music was sweet. His hand came upon hers and he dared to clasp it. Then very tenderly she returned his pressure. And one day, as they were at their meal in the darkness, he felt her hand very softly seeking him, and as it chanced the fire leapt then, and he saw the tenderness of her face.

He sought to speak to her.

He went to her one day when she was sitting in the summer moonlight spinning. The light made her a thing of silver and mystery. He sat down at her feet and told her he loved her, and told her how beautiful she seemed to him. He had a lover’s voice, he spoke with a tender reverence that came near to awe, and she had never before been touched by adoration. She made him no definite answer, but it was clear his words pleased her.

After that he talked to her whenever he could take an opportunity. The valley became the world for him, and the world beyond the mountains where men lived by day seemed no more than a fairy tale he would some day pour into her ears. Very tentatively and timidly he spoke to her of sight.

Sight seemed to her the most poetical of fancies, and she listened to his description of the stars and the mountains and her own sweet white-lit beauty as though it was a guilty indulgence. She did not believe, she could only half understand, but she was mysteriously delighted, and it seemed to him that she completely understood.

His love lost its awe and took courage. Presently he was for demanding her of Yacob and the elders in marriage, but she became fearful and delayed. And it was one of her elder sisters who first told Yacob that Medina-sarote and Nunez were in love.

There was from the first very great opposition to the marriage of Nunez and Medina-sarote; not so much because they valued her as because they held him as a being apart, an idiot, incompetent thing below the permissible level of a man. Her sisters opposed it bitterly as bringing discredit on them all; and old Yacob, though he had formed a sort of liking for his clumsy, obedient serf, shook his head and said the thing could not be. The young men were all angry at the idea of corrupting the race, and one went so far as to revile and strike Nunez. He struck back. Then for the first time he found an advantage in seeing, even by twilight, and after that fight was over no one was disposed to raise a hand against him. But they still found his marriage impossible.

Old Yacob had a tenderness for his last little daughter, and was grieved to have her weep upon his shoulder.

“You see, my dear, he’s an idiot. He has delusions; he can’t do anything right.”

“I know,” wept Medina-sarote. “But he’s better than he was. He’s getting better. And he’s strong, dear father, and kind–stronger and kinder than any other man in the world. And he loves me–and, father, I love him.”

Old Yacob was greatly distressed to find her inconsolable, and, besides–what made it more distressing–he liked Nunez for many things. So he went and sat in the windowless council-chamber with the other elders and watched the trend of the talk, and said, at the proper time, “He’s better than he was. Very likely, some day, we shall find him as sane as ourselves.”

Then afterwards one of the elders, who thought deeply, had an idea. He was a great doctor among these people, their medicine-man, and he had a very philosophical and inventive mind, and the idea of curing Nunez of his peculiarities appealed to him. One day when Yacob was present he returned to the topic of Nunez. “I have examined Nunez,” he said, “and the case is clearer to me. I think very probably he might be cured.”

“This is what I have always hoped,” said old Yacob.

“His brain is affected,” said the blind doctor.

The elders murmured assent.

“Now, what affects it?”

“Ah!” said old Yacob.

This,” said the doctor, answering his own question. “Those queer things that are called the eyes, and which exist to make an agreeable depression in the face, are diseased, in the case of Nunez, in such a way as to affect his brain. They are greatly distended, he has eyelashes, and his eyelids move, and consequently his brain is in a state of constant irritation and distraction.”

“Yes?” said old Yacob. “Yes?”

“And I think I may say with reasonable certainty that, in order to cure him complete, all that we need to do is a simple and easy surgical operation–namely, to remove these irritant bodies.”

“And then he will be sane?”

“Then he will be perfectly sane, and a quite admirable citizen.”

“Thank Heaven for science!” said old Yacob, and went forth at once to tell Nunez of his happy hopes.

But Nunez’s manner of receiving the good news struck him as being cold and disappointing.

“One might think,” he said, “from the tone you take that you did not care for my daughter.”

It was Medina-sarote who persuaded Nunez to face the blind surgeons.

You do not want me,” he said, “to lose my gift of sight?”

She shook her head.

“My world is sight.”

Her head drooped lower.

“There are the beautiful things, the beautiful little things–the flowers, the lichens amidst the rocks, the light and softness on a piece of fur, the far sky with its drifting dawn of clouds, the sunsets and the stars. And there is you. For you alone it is good to have sight, to see your sweet, serene face, your kindly lips, your dear, beautiful hands folded together. . . . . It is these eyes of mine you won, these eyes that hold me to you, that these idiots seek. Instead, I must touch you, hear you, and never see you again. I must come under that roof of rock and stone and darkness, that horrible roof under which your imaginations stoop . . . noyou would not have me do that?”

A disagreeable doubt had arisen in him. He stopped and left the thing a question.

“I wish,” she said, “sometimes–” She paused.

“Yes?” he said, a little apprehensively.

“I wish sometimes–you would not talk like that.”

“Like what?”

“I know it’s pretty–it’s your imagination. I love it, but now–“

He felt cold. “Now?” he said, faintly.

She sat quite still.

“You mean–you think–I should be better, better perhaps–“

He was realising things very swiftly. He felt anger perhaps, anger at the dull course of fate, but also sympathy for her lack of understanding–a sympathy near akin to pity.

Dear,” he said, and he could see by her whiteness how tensely her spirit pressed against the things she could not say. He put his arms about her, he kissed her ear, and they sat for a time in silence.

“If I were to consent to this?” he said at last, in a voice that was very gentle.

She flung her arms about him, weeping wildly. “Oh, if you would,” she sobbed, “if only you would!”

For a week before the operation that was to raise him from his servitude and inferiority to the level of a blind citizen Nunez knew nothing of sleep, and all through the warm, sunlit hours, while the others slumbered happily, he sat brooding or wandered aimlessly, trying to bring his mind to bear on his dilemma. He had given his answer, he had given his consent, and still he was not sure. And at last work-time was over, the sun rose in splendour over the golden crests, and his last day of vision began for him. He had a few minutes with Medina-sarote before she went apart to sleep.

“To-morrow,” he said, “I shall see no more.”

“Dear heart!” she answered, and pressed his hands with all her strength.

“They will hurt you but little,” she said; “and you are going through this pain, you are going through it, dear lover, for me . . . . Dear, if a woman’s heart and life can do it, I will repay you. My dearest one, my dearest with the tender voice, I will repay.”

He was drenched in pity for himself and her.

He held her in his arms, and pressed his lips to hers and looked on her sweet face for the last time. “Good-bye!” he whispered to that dear sight, “good-bye!”

And then in silence he turned away from her.

She could hear his slow retreating footsteps, and something in the rhythm of them threw her into a passion of weeping.

He walked away.

He had fully meant to go to a lonely place where the meadows were beautiful with white narcissus, and there remain until the hour of his sacrifice should come, but as he walked he lifted up his eyes and saw the morning, the morning like an angel in golden armour, marching down the steeps . . . .

It seemed to him that before this splendour he and this blind world in the valley, and his love and all, were no more than a pit of sin.

He did not turn aside as he had meant to do, but went on and passed through the wall of the circumference and out upon the rocks, and his eyes were always upon the sunlit ice and snow.

He saw their infinite beauty, and his imagination soared over them to the things beyond he was now to resign for ever!

He thought of that great free world that he was parted from, the world that was his own, and he had a vision of those further slopes, distance beyond distance, with Bogota, a place of multitudinous stirring beauty, a glory by day, a luminous mystery by night, a place of palaces and fountains and statues and white houses, lying beautifully in the middle distance. He thought how for a day or so one might come down through passes drawing ever nearer and nearer to its busy streets and ways. He thought of the river journey, day by day, from great Bogota to the still vaster world beyond, through towns and villages, forest and desert places, the rushing river day by day, until its banks receded, and the big steamers came splashing by and one had reached the sea–the limitless sea, with its thousand islands, its thousands of islands, and its ships seen dimly far away in their incessant journeyings round and about that greater world. And there, unpent by mountains, one saw the sky–the sky, not such a disc as one saw it here, but an arch of immeasurable blue, a deep of deeps in which the circling stars were floating . . . .

His eyes began to scrutinise the great curtain of the mountains with a keener inquiry.

For example; if one went so, up that gully and to that chimney there, then one might come out high among those stunted pines that ran round in a sort of shelf and rose still higher and higher as it passed above the gorge. And then? That talus might be managed. Thence perhaps a climb might be found to take him up to the precipice that came below the snow; and if that chimney failed, then another farther to the east might serve his purpose better. And then? Then one would be out upon the amber-lit snow there, and half-way up to the crest of those beautiful desolations. And suppose one had good fortune!

He glanced back at the village, then turned right round and regarded it with folded arms.

He thought of Medina-sarote, and she had become small and remote.

He turned again towards the mountain wall down which the day had come to him.

Then very circumspectly he began his climb.

When sunset came he was not longer climbing, but he was far and high. His clothes were torn, his limbs were bloodstained, he was bruised in many places, but he lay as if he were at his ease, and there was a smile on his face.

From where he rested the valley seemed as if it were in a pit and nearly a mile below. Already it was dim with haze and shadow, though the mountain summits around him were things of light and fire. The mountain summits around him were things of light and fire, and the little things in the rocks near at hand were drenched with light and beauty, a vein of green mineral piercing the grey, a flash of small crystal here and there, a minute, minutely-beautiful orange lichen close beside his face. There were deep, mysterious shadows in the gorge, blue deepening into purple, and purple into a luminous darkness, and overhead was the illimitable vastness of the sky. But he heeded these things no longer, but lay quite still there, smiling as if he were content now merely to have escaped from the valley of the Blind, in which he had thought to be King. And the glow of the sunset passed, and the night came, and still he lay there, under the cold, clear stars.

The Shot

CHAPTER I.

WE were stationed in the little town of N—-. The life of an officer in the army is well known. In the morning, drill and the riding-school; dinner with the Colonel or at a Jewish restaurant; in the evening, punch and cards. In N—- there was not one open house, not a single marriageable girl. We used to meet in each other’s rooms, where, except our uniforms, we never saw anything.

  One civilian only was admitted into our society. He was about thirty-five years of age, and therefore we looked upon him as an old fellow. His experience gave him great advantage over us, and his habitual taciturnity, stern disposition and caustic tongue produced a deep impression upon our young minds. Some mystery surrounded his existence; he had the appearance of a Russian, although his name was a foreign one. He had formerly served in the Hussars, and with distinction. Nobody knew the cause that had induced him to retire from the service and settle in a wretched little village, where he lived poorly and, at the same time, extravagantly. He always went on foot, and constantly wore a shabby black overcoat, but the officers of our regiment were ever welcome at his table. His dinners, it is true, never consisted of more than two or three dishes, prepared by a retired soldier, but the champagne flowed like water. Nobody knew what his circumstances were, or what his income was, and nobody dared to question him about them. He had a collection of books, consisting chiefly of works on military matters and a few novels. He willingly lent them to us to read, and never asked for them back; on the other hand, he never returned to the owner the books that were lent to him. His principal amusement was shooting with a pistol. The walls of his room were riddled with bullets, and were as full of holes as a honey-comb. A rich collection of pistols was the only luxury in the humble cottage where he lived. The skill which he had acquired with his favourite weapon was simply incredible; and if he had offered to shoot a pear off somebody’s forage-cap, not a man in our regiment would have hesitated to place the object upon his head.

  Our conversation often turned upon duels. Silvio — so I will call him — never joined in it. When asked if he had ever fought, he drily replied he had; but he entered into no particulars, and it was evident that such questions were not to his liking. We came to the conclusion that he had upon his conscience the memory of some unhappy victim of his terrible skill. Moreover, it never entered into the head of any of us to suspect him of anything like cowardice. There are persons whose mere look is sufficient to repel such a suspicion. But an unexpected incident occurred which astounded us all.

  One day, about ten of our officers dined with Silvio. They drank as usual, that is to say, a great deal. After dinner we asked our host to hold the bank for a game at faro. For a long time he refused, for he hardly ever played, but at last he ordered cards to be brought, placed half a hundred ducats upon the table, and sat down to deal. We took our places round him, and the play began. It was Silvio’s custom to preserve a complete silence when playing. He never disputed, and never entered into explanations. If the punter made a mistake in calculating, he immediately paid him the difference or noted down the surplus. We were acquainted with this habit of his, and we always allowed him to have his own way; but among us on this occasion was an officer who had only recently been transferred to our regiment. During the course of the game, this officer absently scored one point too many. Silvio took the chalk and noted down the correct account according to his usual custom. The officer, thinking that he had made a mistake, began to enter into explanations. Silvio continued dealing in silence. The officer, losing patience, took the brush and rubbed out what he considered was wrong. Silvio took the chalk and corrected the score again. The officer, heated with wine, play, and the laughter of his comrades, considered himself grossly insulted, and in his rage he seized a brass candlestick from the table, and hurled it at Silvio, who barely succeeded in avoiding the missile. We were filled with consternation. Silvio rose, white with rage, and with gleaming eyes, said:

  “My dear sir, have the goodness to withdraw, and thank God that this has happened in my house.”

  None of us entertained the slightest doubt as to what the result would be, and we already looked upon our new comrade as a dead man. The officer withdrew, saying that he was ready to answer for his offence in whatever way the banker liked. The play went on for a few minutes longer, but feeling that our host was no longer interested in the game, we withdrew one after the other, and repaired to our respective quarters, after having exchanged a few words upon the probability of there soon being a vacancy in the regiment.

  The next day, at the riding-school, we were already asking each other if the poor lieutenant was still alive, when he himself appeared among us. We put the same question to him, and he replied that he had not yet heard from Silvio. This astonished us. We went to Silvio’s house and found him in the courtyard shooting bullet after bullet into an ace pasted upon the gate. He received us as usual, but did not utter a word about the event of the previous evening. Three days passed, and the lieutenant was still alive. We asked each other in astonishment: “Can it be possible that Silvio is not going to fight?”

  Silvio did not fight. He was satisfied with a very lame explanation, and became reconciled to his assailant.

  This lowered him very much in the opinion of all our young fellows. Want of courage is the last thing to be pardoned by young men, who usually look upon bravery as the chief of all human virtues, and the excuse for every possible fault. But, by degrees, everything became forgotten, and Silvio regained his former influence.

  I alone could not approach him on the old footing. Being endowed by nature with a romantic imagination, I had become attached more than all the others to the man whose life was an enigma, and who seemed to me the hero of some mysterious drama. He was fond of me; at least, with me alone did he drop his customary sarcastic tone, and converse on different subjects in a simple and unusually agreeable manner. But after this unlucky evening, the thought that his honour had been tarnished, and that the stain had been allowed to remain upon it in accordance with his own wish, was ever present in my mind, and prevented me treating him as before. I was ashamed to look at him. Silvio was too intelligent and experienced not to observe this and guess the cause of it. This seemed to vex him; at least I observed once or twice a desire on his part to enter into an explanation with me, but I avoided such opportunities, and Silvio gave up the attempt. From that time forward I saw him only in the presence of my comrades, and our confidential conversations came to an end.

  The inhabitants of the capital, with minds occupied by so many matters of business and pleasure, have no idea of the many sensations so familiar to the inhabitants of villages and small towns, as, for instance, the awaiting the arrival of the post. On Tuesdays and Fridays our regimental bureau used to be filled with officers: some expecting money, some letters, and others newspapers. The packets were usually opened on the spot, items of news were communicated from one to another, and the bureau used to present a very animated picture. Silvio used to have his letters addressed to our regiment, and he was generally there to receive them.

  One day he received a letter, the seal of which he broke with a look of impatience. As he read the contents, his eyes sparkled. The officers, each occupied with his own letters, did not observe anything.

  “Gentlemen,” said Silvio, “circumstances demand my immediate departure; I leave to-night. I hope that you will not refuse to dine with me for the last time. I shall expect you, too,” he added, turning towards me. “I shall expect you without fail.”

  With these words he hastily departed, and we, after agreeing to meet at Silvio’s dispersed to our various quarters.

  I arrived at Silvio’s house at the appointed time, and found nearly the whole regiment there. All his things were already packed; nothing remained but the bare, bullet-riddled walls. We sat down to table. Our host was in an excellent humour, and his gaiety was quickly communicated to the rest. Corks popped every moment, glasses foamed incessantly, and, with the utmost warmth, we wished our departing friend a pleasant journey and every happiness. When we rose from the table it was already late in the evening. After having wished everybody good-bye, Silvio took me by the hand and detained me just at the moment when I was preparing to depart.

  “I want to speak to you,” he said in a low voice.

  I stopped behind.

  The guests had departed, and we two were left alone. Sitting down opposite each other, we silently lit our pipes. Silvio seemed greatly troubled; not a trace remained of his former convulsive gaiety. The intense pallor of his face, his sparkling eyes, and the thick smoke issuing from his mouth, gave him a truly diabolical appearance. Several minutes elapsed, and then Silvio broke the silence.

  “Perhaps we shall never see each other again,” said he; “before we part, I should like to have an explanation with you. You may have observed that I care very little for the opinion of other people, but I like you, and I feel that it would be painful to me to leave you with a wrong impression upon your mind.”

  He paused, and began to knock the ashes out of his pipe. I sat gazing silently at the ground.

  “You thought it strange,” he continued, “that I did not demand satisfaction from that drunken idiot R—-. You will admit, however, that having the choice of weapons, his life was in my hands, while my own was in no great danger. I could ascribe my forbearance to generosity alone, but I will not tell a lie. If I could have chastised R—- without the least risk to my own life, I should never have pardoned him.”

  I looked at Silvio with astonishment. Such a confession completely astounded me. Silvio continued:

  “Exactly so: I have no right to expose myself to death. Six years ago I received a slap in the face, and my enemy still lives.”

  My curiosity was greatly excited.

  “Did you not fight with him?” I asked. “Circumstances probably separated you.”

  “I did fight with him,” replied Silvio: “and here is a souvenir of our duel.”

  Silvio rose and took from a cardboard box a red cap with a gold tassel and embroidery (what the French call a bonnet de police); he put in on —- a bullet had passed through it about an inch above the forehead.

  “You know,” continued Silvio, “that I served in one of the Hussar regiments. My character is well-known to you: I am accustomed to taking the lead. From my youth this has been my passion. In our time dissoluteness was the fashion, and I was the most outrageous man in the army. We used to boast of our drunkenness: I beat in a drinking bout the famous Bourtsoff, of whom Denis Davidoff has sung. Duels in our regiment were constantly taking place, and in all of them I was either second or principal. My comrades adored me, while the regimental commanders, who were constantly being changed, looked upon me as a necessary evil.

  “I was calmly enjoying my reputation, when a young man belonging to a wealthy and distinguished family — I will not mention his name — joined our regiment. Never in my life have I met with such a fortunate fellow! Imagine to yourself youth, wit, beauty, unbounded gaiety, the most reckless bravery, a famous name, untold wealth — imagine all these, and you can form some idea of the effect that he would be sure to produce among us. My supremacy was shaken. Dazzled by my reputation, he began to seek my friendship, but I received him coldly, and without the least regret he held aloof from me. I took a hatred to him. His success in the regiment and in the society of ladies brought me to the verge of despair. I began to seek a quarrel with him; to my epigrams he replied with epigrams which always seemed to me more spontaneous and more cutting than mine, and which were decidedly more amusing, for he joked while I fumed. At last, at a ball given by a Polish landed proprietor, seeing him the object of the attention of all the ladies, and especially of the mistress of the house, with whom I was upon very good terms, I whispered some grossly insulting remark in his ear. He flamed up and gave me a slap in the face. We grasped our swords; the ladies fainted; we were separated; and that same night we set out to fight.

  “The dawn was just breaking. I was standing at the appointed place with my three seconds. With inexplicable impatience I awaited my opponent. The spring sun rose, and it was already growing hot. I saw him coming in the distance. He was walking on foot, accompanied by one second. We advanced to meet him. He approached, holding his cap filled with black cherries. The seconds measured twelve paces for us. I had to fire first, but my agitation was so great, that I could not depend upon the steadiness of my hand; and in order to give myself time to become calm, I ceded to him the first shot. My adversary would not agree to this. It was decided that we should cast lots. The first number fell to him, the constant favourite of fortune. He took aim, and his bullet went through my cap. It was now my turn. His life at last was in my hands; I looked at him eagerly, endeavouring to detect if only the faintest shadow of uneasiness. But he stood in front of my pistol, picking out the ripest cherries from his cap and spitting out the stones, which flew almost as far as my feet. His indifference annoyed me beyond measure. ‘What is the use,’ thought I, ‘of depriving him of life, when he attaches no value whatever to it?’ A malicious thought flashed through my mind. I lowered my pistol.

  “‘You don’t seem to be ready for death just at present,’ I said to him: ‘you wish to have your breakfast; I do not wish to hinder you.’

  “‘You are not hindering me in the least,’ replied he. ‘Have the goodness to fire, or just as you please — the shot remains yours; I shall always be ready at your service.’

  “I turned to the seconds, informing them that I had no intention of firing that day, and with that the duel came to an end.

  “I resigned my commission and retired to this little place. Since then, not a day has passed that I have not thought of revenge. And now my hour has arrived.”

  Silvio took from his pocket the letter that he had received that morning, and gave it to me to read. Someone (it seemed to be his business agent) wrote to him from Moscow, that a certain person was going to be married to a young and beautiful girl.

  “You can guess,” said Silvio, “who the certain person is. I am going to Moscow. We shall see if he will look death in the face with as much indifference now, when he is on the eve of being married, as he did once with his cherries!”

  With these words, Silvio rose, threw his cap upon the floor, and began pacing up and down the room like a tiger in his cage. I had listened to him in silence; strange conflicting feelings agitated me.

  The servant entered and announced that the horses were ready. Silvio grasped my hand tightly, and we embraced each other. He seated himself in his telega, in which lay two trunks, one containing his pistols, the other his effects. We said good-bye once more, and the horses galloped off.CHAPTER II.

SEVERAL years passed, and family circumstances compelled me to settle in the poor little village of M—-. Occupied with agricultural pursuits, I ceased not to sigh in secret for my former noisy and careless life. The most difficult thing of all was having to accustom myself to passing the spring and winter evenings in perfect solitude. Until the hour for dinner I managed to pass away the time somehow or other, talking with the bailiff, riding about to inspect the work, or going round to look at the new buildings; but as soon as it began to get dark, I positively did not know what to do with myself. The few books that I had found in the cupboards and store-rooms, I already knew by heart. All the stories that my housekeeper Kirilovna could remember, I had heard over and over again. The songs of the peasant women made me feel depressed. I tried drinking spirits, but it made my head ache; and moreover, I confess I was afraid of becoming a drunkard from mere chagrin, that is to say, the saddest kind of drunkard, of which I had seen many examples of in our district.

  I had no near neighbours, except two or three topers, whose conversation consisted for the most part of hiccups and sighs. Solitude was preferable to their society. At last I decided to go to bed as early as possible, and to dine as late as possible; in this way I shortened the evening and lengthened out the day, and I found that the plan answered very well.

  Four versts from my house was a rich estate belonging to the Countess B—-; but nobody lived there except the steward. The Countess had only visited her estate once, in the first year of her married life, and then she had remained there no longer than a month. But in the second spring of my hermitical life, a report was circulated that the Countess, with her husband, was coming to spend the summer on her estate. The report turned out to be true, for they arrived at the beginning of June.

  The arrival of a rich neighbour is an important event in the lives of country people. The landed proprietors and the people of their household talk about it for two months beforehand, and for three years afterwards. As for me, I must confess that the news of the arrival of a young and beautiful neighbour affected me strongly. I burned with impatience to see her, and the first Sunday after her arrival I set out after dinner for the village of A—-, to pay my respects to the Countess and her husband, as their nearest neighbour and most humble servant.

  A lackey conducted me into the Count’s study, and then went to announce me. The spacious apartment was furnished with every possible luxury. Around the walls were cases filled with books and surmounted by bronze busts; over the marble mantelpiece was a large mirror; on the floor was a green cloth covered with carpets. Unaccustomed to luxury in my own poor corner, and not having seen the wealth of other people for a long time, I awaited the appearance of the Count with some little trepidation, as a suppliant from the provinces awaits the arrival of the minister. The door opened, and a handsome-looking man, of about thirty-two years of age, entered the room. The Count approached me with a frank and friendly air: I endeavoured to be self-possessed and began to introduce myself, but he anticipated me. We sat down. His conversation, which was easy and agreeable, soon dissipated my awkward bashfulness; and I was already beginning to recover my usual composure, when the Countess suddenly entered, and I became more confused than ever. She was indeed beautiful. The Count presented me. I wished to appear at ease, but the more I tried to assume an air of unconstraint, the more awkward I felt. They, in order to give me time to recover myself and to become accustomed to my new acquaintances, began to talk to each other, treating me as a good neighbour, and without ceremony. Meanwhile, I walked about the room, examining the books and pictures. I am no judge of pictures, but one of them attracted my attention. It represented some view in Switzerland, but it was not the painting that struck me, but the circumstance that the canvas was shot through by two bullets, one planted just above the other.

  “A good shot, that!” said I, turning to the Count.

  “Yes,” replied he, “a very remarkable shot…. Do you shoot well?” he continued.

  “Tolerably,” replied I, rejoicing that the conversation had turned at last upon a subject that was familiar to me. “At thirty paces I can manage to hit a card without fail, — I mean, of course, with a pistol that I am used to.”

  “Really?” said the Countess, with a look of the greatest interest. “And you, my dear, could you hit a card at thirty paces?”

  “Some day,” replied the Count, “we will try. In my time I did not shoot badly, but it is now four years since I touched a pistol.”

  “Oh!” I observed, “in that case, I don’t mind laying a wager that Your Excellency will not hit the card at twenty paces: the pistol demands practice every day. I know that from experience. In our regiment I was reckoned one of the best shots. It once happened that I did not touch a pistol for a whole month, as I had sent mine to be mended; and would you believe it, Your Excellency, the first time I began to shoot again, I missed a bottle four times in succession at twenty paces! Our captain, a witty and amusing fellow, happened to be standing by, and he said to me: ‘It is evident, my friend, that your hand will not lift itself against the bottle.’ No, Your Excellency, you must not neglect to practise, or your hand will soon lose its cunning. The best shot that I ever met used to shoot at least three times every day before dinner. It was as much his custom to do this, as it was to drink his daily glass of brandy.”

  The Count and Countess seemed pleased that I had begun to talk.

  “And what sort of a shot was he?” asked the Count.

  “Well, it was this way with him, Your Excellency: if he saw a fly settle on the wall — you smile, Countess, but, before Heaven, it is the truth. If he saw a fly, he would call out: ‘Kouzka, my pistol!’ Kouzka would bring him a loaded pistol — bang! and the fly would be crushed against the wall.”

  “Wonderful!” said the Count. “And what was his name?”

  “Silvio, Your Excellency.”

  “Silvio!” exclaimed the Count, starting up. “Did you know Silvio?”

  “How could I help knowing him, Your Excellency: we were intimate friends; he was received in our regiment like a brother officer, but it is now five years since I had any tidings of him. Then Your Excellency also knew him?”

  “Oh, yes, I knew him very well. Did he ever tell you of one very strange incident in his life?”

  “Does Your Excellency refer to the slap in the face that he received from some blackguard at a ball?”

  “Did he tell you the name of this blackguard?”

  “No, Your Excellency, he never mentioned his name…Ah! Your Excellency!” I continued, guessing the truth: “pardon me…I did not know…could it really have been you?”

  “Yes, I myself,” replied the Count, with a look of extraordinary agitation; “and that bullet-pierced picture is a memento of our last meeting.”

  “Ah, my dear,” said the Countess, “for Heaven’s sake, do not speak about that; it would be too terrible for me to listen to.”

  “No,” replied the Count: “I will relate everything. He knows how I insulted his friend, and it is only right that he should know how Silvio revenged himself.”

  The Count pushed a chair towards me, and with the liveliest interest I listened to the following story:

  “Five years ago I got married. The first month — the honeymoon — I spent here, in this village. To this house I am indebted for the happiest moments of my life, as well as for one of its most painful recollections.

  “One evening we went out together for a ride on horseback. My wife’s horse became restive; she grew frightened, gave the reins to me, and returned home on foot. I rode on before. In the courtyard I saw a travelling carriage, and I was told that in my study sat waiting for me a man, who would not give his name, but who merely said that he had business with me. I entered the room and saw in the darkness a man, covered with dust and wearing a beard of several days’ growth. He was standing there, near the fireplace. I approached him, trying to remember his features.

  “‘You do not recognize me, Count?’ said he, in a quivering voice.

  “‘Silvio!’ I cried, and I confess that I felt as if my hair had suddenly stood on end.

  “‘Exactly,’ continued he. ‘There is a shot due to me, and I have come to discharge my pistol. Are you ready?’

  “His pistol protruded from a side pocket. I measured twelve paces and took my stand there in that corner, begging him to fire quickly, before my wife arrived. He hesitated, and asked for a light. Candles were brought in. I closed the doors, gave orders that nobody was to enter, and again begged him to fire. He drew out his pistol and took aim….I counted the seconds…I thought of her…A terrible minute passed! Silvio lowered his hand.

  “‘I regret,’ said he, ‘that the pistol is not loaded with cherry-stones…the bullet is heavy. It seems to me that this is not a duel, but a murder. I am not accustomed to taking aim at unarmed men. Let us begin all over again; we will cast lots as to who shall fire first.’

  “My head went round…I think I raised some objection….At last we loaded another pistol, and rolled up two pieces of paper. He placed these latter in his cap — the same through which I had once sent a bullet — and again I drew the first number.

  “‘You are devilish lucky, Count,’ said he, with a smile that I shall never forget.

  “I don’t know what was the matter with me, or how it was that he managed to make me do it…but I fired and hit that picture.”

  The Count pointed with his finger to the perforated picture; his face glowed like fire; the Countess was whiter than her own handkerchief; and I could not restrain an exclamation.

  “I fired,” continued the Count, “and, thank Heaven, missed my aim. Then Silvio…at that moment he was really terrible….Silvio raised his hand to take aim at me. Suddenly the door opens, Masha rushes into the room, and with a loud shriek throws herself upon my neck. Her presence restored to me all my courage.

  “‘My dear,’ said I to her, ‘don’t you see that we are joking? How frightened you are! Go and drink a glass of water and then come back to us; I will introduce you to an old friend and comrade.’

  “Masha still doubted.

  “‘Tell me, is my husband speaking the truth?’ said she, turning to the terrible Silvio: ‘is it true that you are only joking?’

  “‘He is always joking, Countess,’ replied Silvio: ‘once he gave me a slap in the face in a joke; on another occasion he sent a bullet through my cap in a joke; and just now, when he fired at me and missed me, it was all in a joke. And now I feel inclined for a joke.’

  “With these words he raised his pistol to take aim at me — right before her! Masha threw herself at his feet.

  “‘Rise, Masha; are you not ashamed!’ I cried in a rage: ‘and you, sir, will you not cease to make fun of a poor woman? Will you fire or not?’

  “‘I will not,’ replied Silvio: ‘I am satisfied. I have seen your confusion, your alarm. I forced you to fire at me. That is sufficient. You will remember me. I leave you to your conscience.’

  “Then he turned to go, but pausing in the doorway, and looking at the picture that my shot had passed through, he fired at it almost without taking aim, and disappeared. My wife had fainted away; the servants did not venture to stop him, the mere look of him filled them with terror. He went out upon the steps, called his coachman, and drove off before I could recover myself.”

  The Count was silent. In this way I learned the end of the story, whose beginning had once made such a deep impression upon me. The hero of it I never saw again. It is said that Silvio commanded a detachment of Hetairists during the revolt under Alexander Ipsilanti, and that he was killed in the battle of Skoulana.

The Adventure Of The Speckled Band

On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic. Of all these varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which presented more singular features than that which was associated with the well-known Surrey family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran. The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street. It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given. It is perhaps as well that the facts should now come to light, for I have reasons to know that there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth.

It was early in April in the year ’83 that I woke one morning to find Sherlock Holmes standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed. He was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhaps just a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits.

“Very sorry to knock you up, Watson,” said he, “but it’s the common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, she retorted upon me, and I on you.”

“What is it, then–a fire?”

“No; a client. It seems that a young lady has arrived in a considerable state of excitement, who insists upon seeing me. She is waiting now in the sitting-room. Now, when young ladies wander about the metropolis at this hour of the morning, and knock sleepy people up out of their beds, I presume that it is something very pressing which they have to communicate. Should it prove to be an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to follow it from the outset. I thought, at any rate, that I should call you and give you the chance.”

“My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything.”

I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis with which he unravelled the problems which were submitted to him. I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in a few minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room. A lady dressed in black and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in the window, rose as we entered.

“Good-morning, madam,” said Holmes cheerily. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Ha! I am glad to see that Mrs. Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire. Pray draw up to it, and I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you are shivering.”

“It is not cold which makes me shiver,” said the woman in a low voice, changing her seat as requested.

“What, then?”

“It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror.” She raised her veil as she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and gray, with restless frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal. Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with premature gray, and her expression was weary and haggard. Sherlock Holmes ran her over with one of his quick, all-comprehensive glances.

“You must not fear,” said he soothingly, bending forward and patting her forearm. “We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt. You have come in by train this morning, I see.”

“You know me, then?”

“No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left glove. You must have started early, and yet you had a good drive in a dog-cart, along heavy roads, before you reached the station.”

The lady gave a violent start and stared in bewilderment at my companion.

“There is no mystery, my dear madam,” said he, smiling. “The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. The marks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only when you sit on the left-hand side of the driver.”

“Whatever your reasons may be, you are perfectly correct,” said she. “I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at twenty past, and came in by the first train to Waterloo. Sir, I can stand this strain no longer; I shall go mad if it continues. I have no one to turn to–none, save only one, who cares for me, and he, poor fellow, can be of little aid. I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mrs. Farintosh, whom you helped in the hour of her sore need. It was from her that I had your address. Oh, sir, do you not think that you could help me, too, and at least throw a little light through the dense darkness which surrounds me? At present it is out of my power to reward you for your services, but in a month or six weeks I shall be married, with the control of my own income, and then at least you shall not find me ungrateful.”

Holmes turned to his desk and, unlocking it, drew out a small case-book, which he consulted.

“Farintosh,” said he. “Ah yes, I recall the case; it was concerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson. I can only say, madam, that I shall be happy to devote the same care to your case as I did to that of your friend. As to reward, my profession is its own reward; but you are at liberty to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which suits you best. And now I beg that you will lay before us everything that may help us in forming an opinion upon the matter.”

“Alas!” replied our visitor, “the very horror of my situation lies in the fact that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions depend so entirely upon small points, which might seem trivial to another, that even he to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so, but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes. But I have heard, Mr. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart. You may advise me how to walk amid the dangers which encompass me.”

“I am all attention, madam.”

“My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather, who is the last survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in England, the Roylotts of Stoke Moran, on the western border of Surrey.”

Holmes nodded his head. “The name is familiar to me,” said he.

“The family was at one time among the richest in England, and the estates extended over the borders into Berkshire in the north, and Hampshire in the west. In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage. The last squire dragged out his existence there, living the horrible life of an aristocratic pauper; but his only son, my stepfather, seeing that he must adapt himself to the new conditions, obtained an advance from a relative, which enabled him to take a medical degree and went out to Calcutta, where, by his professional skill and his force of character, he established a large practice. In a fit of anger, however, caused by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the house, he beat his native butler to death and narrowly escaped a capital sentence. As it was, he suffered a long term of imprisonment and afterwards returned to England a morose and disappointed man.

“When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner, the young widow of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery. My sister Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of my mother’s re-marriage. She had a considerable sum of money–not less than 1000 pounds a year–and this she bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him, with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return to England my mother died–she was killed eight years ago in a railway accident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned his attempts to establish himself in practice in London and took us to live with him in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran. The money which my mother had left was enough for all our wants, and there seemed to be no obstacle to our happiness.

“But a terrible change came over our stepfather about this time. Instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our neighbors, who had at first been overjoyed to see a Roylott of Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, he shut himself up in his house and seldom came out save to indulge in ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross his path. Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the family, and in my stepfather’s case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics. A series of disgraceful brawls took place, two of which ended in the police-court, until at last he became the terror of the village, and the folks would fly at his approach, for he is a man of immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger.

“Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet into a stream, and it was only by paying over all the money which I could gather together that I was able to avert another public exposure. He had no friends at all save the wandering gypsies, and he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land which represent the family estate, and would accept in return the hospitality of their tents, wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end. He has a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely over his grounds and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their master.

“You can imagine from what I say that my poor sister Julia and I had no great pleasure in our lives. No servant would stay with us, and for a long time we did all the work of the house. She was but thirty at the time of her death, and yet her hair had already begun to whiten, even as mine has.”

“Your sister is dead, then?”

“She died just two years ago, and it is of her death that I wish to speak to you. You can understand that, living the life which I have described, we were little likely to see anyone of our own age and position. We had, however, an aunt, my mother’s maiden sister, Miss Honoria Westphail, who lives near Harrow, and we were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at this lady’s house. Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and offered no objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event occurred which has deprived me of my only companion.”

Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed and his head sunk in a cushion, but he half opened his lids now and glanced across at his visitor.

“Pray be precise as to details,” said he.

“It is easy for me to be so, for every event of that dreadful time is seared into my memory. The manor-house is, as I have already said, very old, and only one wing is now inhabited. The bedrooms in this wing are on the ground floor, the sitting-rooms being in the central block of the buildings. Of these bedrooms the first is Dr. Roylott’s, the second my sister’s, and the third my own. There is no communication between them, but they all open out into the same corridor. Do I make myself plain?”

“Perfectly so.”

“The windows of the three rooms open out upon the lawn. That fatal night Dr. Roylott had gone to his room early, though we knew that he had not retired to rest, for my sister was troubled by the smell of the strong Indian cigars which it was his custom to smoke. She left her room, therefore, and came into mine, where she sat for some time, chatting about her approaching wedding. At eleven o’clock she rose to leave me, but she paused at the door and looked back.

“‘Tell me, Helen,’ said she, ‘have you ever heard anyone whistle in the dead of the night?’

“‘Never,’ said I.

“‘I suppose that you could not possibly whistle, yourself, in your sleep?’

“‘Certainly not. But why?’

“‘Because during the last few nights I have always, about three in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper, and it has awakened me. I cannot tell where it came from perhaps from the next room, perhaps from the lawn. I thought that I would just ask you whether you had heard it.’

“‘No, I have not. It must be those wretched gypsies in the plantation.’

“‘Very likely. And yet if it were on the lawn, I wonder that you did not hear it also.’

“‘Ah, but I sleep more heavily than you.’

“‘Well, it is of no great consequence, at any rate.’ She smiled back at me, closed my door, and a few moments later I heard her key turn in the lock.”

“Indeed,” said Holmes. “Was it your custom always to lock yourselves in at night?”

“Always.”

“And why?”

“I think that I mentioned to you that the doctor kept a cheetah and a baboon. We had no feeling of security unless our doors were locked.”

“Quite so. Pray proceed with your statement.”

“I could not sleep that night. A vague feeling of impending misfortune impressed me. My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied. It was a wild night. The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows. Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of the gale, there burst forth the wild scream of a terrified woman. I knew that it was my sister’s voice. I sprang from my bed, wrapped a shawl round me, and rushed into the corridor. As I opened my door I seemed to hear a low whistle, such as my sister described, and a few moments later a clanging sound, as if a mass of metal had fallen. As I ran down the passage, my sister’s door was unlocked, and revolved slowly upon its hinges. I stared at it horror-stricken, not knowing what was about to issue from it. By the light of the corridor-lamp I saw my sister appear at the opening, her face blanched with terror, her hands groping for help, her whole figure swaying to and fro like that of a drunkard. I ran to her and threw my arms round her, but at that moment her knees seemed to give way and she fell to the ground. She writhed as one who is in terrible pain, and her limbs were dreadfully convulsed. At first I thought that she had not recognized me, but as I bent over her she suddenly shrieked out in a voice which I shall never forget, ‘Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!’ There was something else which she would fain have said, and she stabbed with her finger into the air in the direction of the doctor’s room, but a fresh convulsion seized her and choked her words. I rushed out, calling loudly for my stepfather, and I met him hastening from his room in his dressing-gown. When he reached my sister’s side she was unconscious, and though he poured brandy down her throat and sent for medical aid from the village, all efforts were in vain, for she slowly sank and died without having recovered her consciousness. Such was the dreadful end of my beloved sister.”

“One moment,” said Holmes, “are you sure about this whistle and metallic sound? Could you swear to it?”

“That was what the county coroner asked me at the inquiry. It is my strong impression that I heard it, and yet, among the crash of the gale and the creaking of an old house, I may possibly have been deceived.”

“Was your sister dressed?”

“No, she was in her night-dress. In her right hand was found the charred stump of a match, and in her left a match-box.”

“Showing that she had struck a light and looked about her when the alarm took place. That is important. And what conclusions did the coroner come to?”

“He investigated the case with great care, for Dr. Roylott’s conduct had long been notorious in the county, but he was unable to find any satisfactory cause of death. My evidence showed that the door had been fastened upon the inner side, and the windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutters with broad iron bars, which were secured every night. The walls were carefully sounded, and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the flooring was also thoroughly examined, with the same result. The chimney is wide, but is barred up by four large staples. It is certain, therefore, that my sister was quite alone when she met her end. Besides, there were no marks of any violence upon her.”

“How about poison?”

“The doctors examined her for it, but without success.”

“What do you think that this unfortunate lady died of, then?”

“It is my belief that she died of pure fear and nervous shock, though what it was that frightened her I cannot imagine.”

“Were there gypsies in the plantation at the time?”

“Yes, there are nearly always some there.”

“Ah, and what did you gather from this allusion to a band–a speckled band?”

“Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of delirium, sometimes that it may have referred to some band of people, perhaps to these very gypsies in the plantation. I do not know whether the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear over their heads might have suggested the strange adjective which she used.”

Holmes shook his head like a man who is far from being satisfied.

“These are very deep waters,” said he; “pray go on with your narrative.”

“Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until lately lonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known for many years, has done me the honor to ask my hand in marriage. His name is Armitage–Percy Armitage–the second son of Mr. Armitage, of Crane Water, near Reading. My stepfather has offered no opposition to the match, and we are to be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building, and my bedroom wall has been pierced, so that I have had to move into the chamber in which my sister died, and to sleep in the very bed in which she slept. Imagine, then, my thrill of terror when last night, as I lay awake, thinking over her terrible fate, I suddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which had been the herald of her own death. I sprang up and lit the lamp, but nothing was to be seen in the room. I was too shaken to go to bed again, however, so I dressed, and as soon as it was daylight I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn, which is opposite, and drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have come on this morning with the one object of seeing you and asking your advice.”

“You have done wisely,” said my friend. “But have you told me all?”

“Yes, all.”

“Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepfather.”

“Why, what do you mean?”

For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which fringed the hand that lay upon our visitor’s knee. Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist.

“You have been cruelly used,” said Holmes.

The lady colored deeply and covered over her injured wrist. “He is a hard man,” she said, “and perhaps he hardly knows his own strength.”

There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned his chin upon his hands and stared into the crackling fire.

“This is a very deep business,” he said at last. “There are a thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide upon our course of action. Yet we have not a moment to lose. If we were to come to Stoke Moran to-day, would it be possible for us to see over these rooms without the knowledge of your stepfather?”

“As it happens, he spoke of coming into town to-day upon some most important business. It is probable that he will be away all day, and that there would be nothing to disturb you. We have a housekeeper now, but she is old and foolish, and I could easily get her out of the way.”

“Excellent. You are not averse to this trip, Watson?”

“By no means.”

“Then we shall both come. What are you going to do yourself?”

“I have one or two things which I would wish to do now that I am in town. But I shall return by the twelve o’clock train, so as to be there in time for your coming.”

“And you may expect us early in the afternoon. I have myself some small business matters to attend to. Will you not wait and breakfast?”

“No, I must go. My heart is lightened already since I have confided my trouble to you. I shall look forward to seeing you again this afternoon.” She dropped her thick black veil over her face and glided from the room.

“And what do you think of it all, Watson?” asked Sherlock Holmes, leaning back in his chair.

“It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business.”

“Dark enough and sinister enough.”

“Yet if the lady is correct in saying that the flooring and walls are sound, and that the door, window, and chimney are impassable, then her sister must have been undoubtedly alone when she met her mysterious end.”

“What becomes, then, of these nocturnal whistles, and what of the very peculiar words of the dying woman?”

“I cannot think.”

“When you combine the ideas of whistles at night, the presence of a band of gypsies who are on intimate terms with this old doctor, the fact that we have every reason to believe that the doctor has an interest in preventing his stepdaughter’s marriage, the dying allusion to a band, and, finally, the fact that Miss Helen Stoner heard a metallic clang, which might have been caused by one of those metal bars that secured the shutters falling back into its place, I think that there is good ground to think that the mystery may be cleared along those lines.”

“But what, then, did the gypsies do?”

“I cannot imagine.”

“I see many objections to any such theory.”

“And so do I. It is precisely for that reason that we are going to Stoke Moran this day. I want to see whether the objections are fatal, or if they may be explained away. But what in the name of the devil!”

The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door had been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man had framed himself in the aperture. His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand. So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed to span it across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin, fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.

“Which of you is Holmes?” asked this apparition.

“My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me,” said my companion quietly.

“I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran.”

“Indeed, Doctor,” said Holmes blandly. “Pray take a seat.”

“I will do nothing of the kind. My stepdaughter has been here. I have traced her. What has she been saying to you?”

“It is a little cold for the time of the year,” said Holmes.

“What has she been saying to you?” screamed the old man furiously.

“But I have heard that the crocuses promise well,” continued my companion imperturbably.

“Ha! You put me off, do you?” said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking his hunting-crop. “I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler.”

My friend smiled.

“Holmes, the busybody!”

His smile broadened.

“Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!”

Holmes chuckled heartily. “Your conversation is most entertaining,” said he. “When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught.”

“I will go when I have said my say. Don’t you dare to meddle with my affairs. I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her! I am a dangerous man to fall foul of! See here.” He stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.

“See that you keep yourself out of my grip,” he snarled, and hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace he strode out of the room.

“He seems a very amiable person,” said Holmes, laughing. “I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own.” As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again.

“Fancy his having the insolence to confound me with the official detective force! This incident gives zest to our investigation, however, and I only trust that our little friend will not suffer from her imprudence in allowing this brute to trace her. And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast, and afterwards I shall walk down to Doctors’ Commons, where I hope to get some data which may help us in this matter.”

It was nearly one o’clock when Sherlock Holmes returned from his excursion. He held in his hand a sheet of blue paper, scrawled over with notes and figures.

“I have seen the will of the deceased wife,” said he. “To determine its exact meaning I have been obliged to work out the present prices of the investments with which it is concerned. The total income, which at the time of the wife’s death was little short of 1100 pounds, is now, through the fall in agricultural prices, not more than 750 pounds. Each daughter can claim an income of 250 pounds, in case of marriage. It is evident, therefore, that if both girls had married, this beauty would have had a mere pittance, while even one of them would cripple him to a very serious extent. My morning’s work has not been wasted, since it has proved that he has the very strongest motives for standing in the way of anything of the sort. And now, Watson, this is too serious for dawdling, especially as the old man is aware that we are interesting ourselves in his affairs; so if you are ready, we shall call a cab and drive to Waterloo. I should be very much obliged if you would slip your revolver into your pocket. An Eley’s No. 2 is an excellent argument with gentlemen who can twist steel pokers into knots. That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need.”

At Waterloo we were fortunate in catching a train for Leatherhead, where we hired a trap at the station inn and drove for four or five miles through the lovely Surrey laries. It was a perfect day, with a bright sun and a few fleecy clouds in the heavens. The trees and wayside hedges were just throwing out their first green shoots, and the air was full of the pleasant smell of the moist earth. To me at least there was a strange contrast between the sweet promise of the spring and this sinister quest upon which we were engaged. My companion sat in the front of the trap, his arms folded, his hat pulled down over his eyes, and his chin sunk upon his breast, buried in the deepest thought. Suddenly, however, he started, tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed over the meadows

“Look there!” said he.

A heavily timbered park stretched up in a gentle slope, thickening into a grove at the highest point. From amid the branches there jutted out the gray gables and high roof-tree of a very old mansion.

“Stoke Moran?” said he.

“Yes, sir, that be the house of Dr. Grimesby Roylott,” remarked the driver.

“There is some building going on there,” said Holmes; “that is where we are going.”

“There’s the village,” said the driver, pointing to a cluster of roofs some distance to the left; “but if you want to get to the house, you’ll find it shorter to get over this stile, and so by the foot-path over the fields. There it is, where the lady is walking.”

“And the lady, I fancy, is Miss Stoner,” observed Holmes, shading his eyes. “Yes, I think we had better do as you suggest.”

We got off, paid our fare, and the trap rattled back on its way to Leatherhead.

“I thought it as well,” said Holmes as we climbed the stile, “that this fellow should think we had come here as architects, or on some definite business. It may stop his gossip. Good-afternoon, Miss Stoner. You see that we have been as good as our word.”

Our client of the morning had hurried forward to meet us with a face which spoke her joy. “I have been waiting so eagerly for you,” she cried, shaking hands with us warmly. “All has turned out splendidly. Dr. Roylott has gone to town, and it is unlikely that he will be back before evening.”

“We have had the pleasure of making the doctor’s acquaintance,” said Holmes, and in a few words he sketched out what had occurred. Miss Stoner turned white to the lips as she listened.

“Good heavens!” she cried, “he has followed me, then.”

“So it appears.”

“He is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from him. What will he say when he returns?”

“He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than himself upon his track. You must lock yourself up from him to-night. If he is violent, we shall take you away to your aunt’s at Harrow. Now, we must make the best use of our time, so kindly take us at once to the rooms which we are to examine.”

The building was of gray, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin. The central portion was in little better repair, but the right-hand block was comparatively modern, and the blinds in the windows, with the blue smoke curling up from the chimneys, showed that this was where the family resided. Some scaffolding had been erected against the end wall, and the stone-work had been broken into, but there were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit. Holmes walked slowly up and down the ill-trimmed lawn and examined with deep attention the outsides of the windows.

“This, I take it, belongs to the room in which you used to sleep, the centre one to your sister’s, and the one next to the main building to Dr. Roylott’s chamber?”

“Exactly so. But I am now sleeping in the middle one.”

“Pending the alterations, as I understand. By the way, there does not seem to be any very pressing need for repairs at that end wall.”

“There were none. I believe that it was an excuse to move me from my room.”

“Ah! that is suggestive. Now, on the other side of this narrow wing runs the corridor from which these three rooms open. There are windows in it, of course?”

“Yes, but very small ones. Too narrow for anyone to pass through.”

“As you both locked your doors at night, your rooms were unapproachable from that side. Now, would you have the kindness to go into your room and bar your shutters?”

Miss Stoner did so, and Holmes, after a careful examination through the open window, endeavored in every way to force the shutter open, but without success. There was no slit through which a knife could be passed to raise the bar. Then with his lens he tested the hinges, but they were of solid iron, built firmly into the massive masonry. “Hum!” said he, scratching his chin in some perplexity, “my theory certainly presents some difficulties. No one could pass these shutters if they were bolted. Well, we shall see if the inside throws any light upon the matter.”

A small side door led into the whitewashed corridor from which the three bedrooms opened. Holmes refused to examine the third chamber, so we passed at once to the second, that in which Miss Stoner was now sleeping, and in which her sister had met with her fate. It was a homely little room, with a low ceiling and a gaping fireplace, after the fashion of old country-houses. A brown chest of drawers stood in one corner, a narrow white-counterpaned bed in another, and a dressing-table on the left-hand side of the window. These articles, with two small wicker-work chairs, made up all the furniture in the room save for a square of Wilton carpet in the centre. The boards round and the panelling of the walls were of brown, worm-eaten oak, so old and discolored that it may have dated from the original building of the house. Holmes drew one of the chairs into a corner and sat silent, while his eyes travelled round and round and up and down, taking in every detail of the apartment.

“Where does that bell communicate with?” he asked at last pointing to a thick belt-rope which hung down beside the bed, the tassel actually lying upon the pillow.

“It goes to the housekeeper’s room.”

“It looks newer than the other things?”

“Yes, it was only put there a couple of years ago.”

“Your sister asked for it, I suppose?”

“No, I never heard of her using it. We used always to get what we wanted for ourselves.”

“Indeed, it seemed unnecessary to put so nice a bell-pull there. You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor.” He threw himself down upon his face with his lens in his hand and crawled swiftly backward and forward, examining minutely the cracks between the boards. Then he did the same with the wood-work with which the chamber was panelled. Finally he walked over to the bed and spent some time in staring at it and in running his eye up and down the wall. Finally he took the bell-rope in his hand and gave it a brisk tug.

“Why, it’s a dummy,” said he.

“Won’t it ring?”

“No, it is not even attached to a wire. This is very interesting. You can see now that it is fastened to a hook just above where the little opening for the ventilator is.”

“How very absurd! I never noticed that before.”

“Very strange!” muttered Holmes, pulling at the rope. “There are one or two very singular points about this room. For example, what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room, when, with the same trouble, he might have communicated with the outside air!”

“That is also quite modern,” said the lady.

“Done about the same time as the bell-rope?” remarked Holmes.

“Yes, there were several little changes carried out about that time.”

“They seem to have been of a most interesting character–dummy bell-ropes, and ventilators which do not ventilate. With your permission, Miss Stoner, we shall now carry our researches into the inner apartment.”

Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s chamber was larger than that of his step-daughter, but was as plainly furnished. A camp-bed, a small wooden shelf full of books, mostly of a technical character an armchair beside the bed, a plain wooden chair against the wall, a round table, and a large iron safe were the principal things which met the eye. Holmes walked slowly round and examined each and all of them with the keenest interest.

“What’s in here?” he asked, tapping the safe.

“My stepfather’s business papers.”

“Oh! you have seen inside, then?”

“Only once, some years ago. I remember that it was full of papers.”

“There isn’t a cat in it, for example?”

“No. What a strange idea!”

“Well, look at this!” He took up a small saucer of milk which stood on the top of it.

“No; we don’t keep a cat. But there is a cheetah and a baboon.”

“Ah, yes, of course! Well, a cheetah is just a big cat, and yet a saucer of milk does not go very far in satisfying its wants, I daresay. There is one point which I should wish to determine.” He squatted down in front of the wooden chair and examined the seat of it with the greatest attention.

“Thank you. That is quite settled,” said he, rising and putting his lens in his pocket. “Hello! Here is something interesting!”

The object which had caught his eye was a small dog lash hung on one corner of the bed. The lash, however, was curled upon itself and tied so as to make a loop of whipcord.

“What do you make of that, Watson?”

“It’s a common enough lash. But I don’t know why it should be tied.”

“That is not quite so common, is it? Ah, me! it’s a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all. I think that I have seen enough now, Miss Stoner, and with your permission we shall walk out upon the lawn.”

I had never seen my friend’s face so grim or his brow so dark as it was when we turned from the scene of this investigation. We had walked several times up and down the lawn, neither Miss Stoner nor myself liking to break in upon his thoughts before he roused himself from his reverie.

“It is very essential, Miss Stoner,” said he, “that you should absolutely follow my advice in every respect.”

“I shall most certainly do so.”

“The matter is too serious for any hesitation. Your life may depend upon your compliance.”

“I assure you that I am in your hands.”

“In the first place, both my friend and I must spend the night in your room.”

Both Miss Stoner and I gazed at him in astonishment.

“Yes, it must be so. Let me explain. I believe that that is the village inn over there?”

“Yes, that is the Crown.”

“Very good. Your windows would be visible from there?”

“Certainly.”

“You must confine yourself to your room, on pretence of a headache, when your stepfather comes back. Then when you hear him retire for the night, you must open the shutters of your window, undo the hasp, put your lamp there as a signal to us, and then withdraw quietly with everything which you are likely to want into the room which you used to occupy. I have no doubt that, in spite of the repairs, you could manage there for one night.”

“Oh, yes, easily.”

“The rest you will leave in our hands.”

“But what will you do?”

“We shall spend the night in your room, and we shall investigate the cause of this noise which has disturbed you.”

“I believe, Mr. Holmes, that you have already made up your mind,” said Miss Stoner, laying her hand upon my companion’s sleeve.

“Perhaps I have.”

“Then, for pity’s sake, tell me what was the cause of my sister’s death.”

“I should prefer to have clearer proofs before I speak.”

“You can at least tell me whether my own thought is correct, and if she died from some sudden fright.”

“No, I do not think so. I think that there was probably some more tangible cause. And now, Miss Stoner, we must leave you for if Dr. Roylott returned and saw us our journey would be in vain. Good-bye, and be brave, for if you will do what I have told you you may rest assured that we shall soon drive away the dangers that threaten you.”

Sherlock Holmes and I had no difficulty in engaging a bedroom and sitting-room at the Crown Inn. They were on the upper floor, and from our window we could command a view of the avenue gate, and of the inhabited wing of Stoke Moran Manor House. At dusk we saw Dr. Grimesby Roylott drive past, his huge form looming up beside the little figure of the lad who drove him. The boy had some slight difficulty in undoing the heavy iron gates, and we heard the hoarse roar of the doctor’s voice and saw the fury with which he shook his clinched fists at him. The trap drove on, and a few minutes later we saw a sudden light spring up among the trees as the lamp was lit in one of the sitting-rooms.

“Do you know, Watson,” said Holmes as we sat together in the gathering darkness, “I have really some scruples as to taking you to-night. There is a distinct element of danger.”

“Can I be of assistance?”

“Your presence might be invaluable.”

“Then I shall certainly come.”

“It is very kind of you.”

“You speak of danger. You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me.”

“No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did.”

“I saw nothing remarkable save the bell-rope, and what purpose that could answer I confess is more than I can imagine.”

“You saw the ventilator, too?”

“Yes, but I do not think that it is such a very unusual thing to have a small opening between two rooms. It was so small that a rat could hardly pass through.”

“I knew that we should find a ventilator before ever we came to Stoke Moran.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“Oh, yes, I did. You remember in her statement she said that her sister could smell Dr. Roylott’s cigar. Now, of course that suggested at once that there must be a communication between the two rooms. It could only be a small one, or it would have been remarked upon at the coroner’s inquiry. I deduced a ventilator.”

“But what harm can there be in that?”

“Well, there is at least a curious coincidence of dates. A ventilator is made, a cord is hung, and a lady who sleeps in the bed dies. Does not that strike you?”

“I cannot as yet see any connection.”

“Did you observe anything very peculiar about that bed?”

“No.”

“It was clamped to the floor. Did you ever see a bed fastened like that before?”

“I cannot say that I have.”

“The lady could not move her bed. It must always be in the same relative position to the ventilator and to the rope–or so we may call it, since it was clearly never meant for a bell-pull.”

“Holmes,” I cried, “I seem to see dimly what you are hinting at. We are only just in time to prevent some subtle and horrible crime.”

“Subtle enough and horrible enough. When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession. This man strikes even deeper, but I think, Watson, that we shall be able to strike deeper still. But we shall have horrors enough before the night is over; for goodness’ sake let us have a quiet pipe and turn our minds for a few hours to something more cheerful.”

About nine o’clock the light among the trees was extinguished, and all was dark in the direction of the Manor House. Two hours passed slowly away, and then, suddenly, just at the stroke of eleven, a single bright light shone out right in front of us.

“That is our signal,” said Holmes, springing to his feet; “it comes from the middle window.”

As we passed out he exchanged a few words with the landlord, explaining that we were going on a late visit to an acquaintance, and that it was possible that we might spend the night there. A moment later we were out on the dark road, a chill wind blowing in our faces, and one yellow light twinkling in front of us through the gloom to guide us on our sombre errand.

There was little difficulty in entering the grounds, for unrepaired breaches gaped in the old park wall. Making our way among the trees, we reached the lawn, crossed it, and were about to enter through the window when out from a clump of laurel bushes there darted what seemed to be a hideous and distorted child, who threw itself upon the grass with writhing limbs and then ran swiftly across the lawn into the darkness.

“My God!” I whispered; “did you see it?”

Holmes was for the moment as startled as I. His hand closed like a vise upon my wrist in his agitation. Then he broke into a low laugh and put his lips to my ear.

“It is a nice household,” he murmured. “That is the baboon.”

I had forgotten the strange pets which the doctor affected. There was a cheetah, too; perhaps we might find it upon our shoulders at any moment. I confess that I felt easier in my mind when, after following Holmes’s example and slipping off my shoes, I found myself inside the bedroom. My companion noiselessly closed the shutters, moved the lamp onto the table, and cast his eyes round the room. All was as we had seen it in the daytime. Then creeping up to me and making a trumpet of his hand, he whispered into my ear again so gently that it was all that I could do to distinguish the words:

“The least sound would be fatal to our plans.”

I nodded to show that I had heard.

“We must sit without light. He would see it through the ventilator.”

I nodded again.

“Do not go asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your pistol ready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of the bed, and you in that chair.”

I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table.

Holmes had brought up a long thin cane, and this he placed upon the bed beside him. By it he laid the box of matches and the stump of a candle. Then he turned down the lamp, and we were left in darkness.

How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil? I could not hear a sound, not even the drawing of a breath, and yet I knew that my companion sat open-eyed, within a few feet of me, in the same state of nervous tension in which I was myself. The shutters cut off the least ray of light, and we waited in absolute darkness.

From outside came the occasional cry of a night-bird, and once at our very window a long drawn catlike whine, which told us that the cheetah was indeed at liberty. Far away we could hear the deep tones of the parish clock, which boomed out every quarter of an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall.

Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the direction of the ventilator, which vanished immediately, but was succeeded by a strong smell of burning oil and heated metal. Someone in the next room had lit a dark-lantern. I heard a gentle sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, though the smell grew stronger. For half an hour I sat with straining ears. Then suddenly another sound became audible–a very gentle, soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continually from a kettle. The instant that we heard it, Holmes sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashed furiously with his cane at the bell-pull.

“You see it, Watson?” he yelled. “You see it?”

But I saw nothing. At the moment when Holmes struck the light I heard a low, clear whistle, but the sudden glare flashing into my weary eyes made it impossible for me to tell what it was at which my friend lashed so savagely. I could, however, see that his face was deadly pale and filled with horror and loathing. He had ceased to strike and was gazing up at the ventilator when suddenly there broke from the silence of the night the most horrible cry to which I have ever listened. It swelled up louder and louder, a hoarse yell of pain and fear and anger all mingled in the one dreadful shriek. They say that away down in the village, and even in the distant parsonage, that cry raised the sleepers from their beds. It struck cold to our hearts, and I stood gazing at Holmes, and he at me, until the last echoes of it had died away into the silence from which it rose.

“What can it mean?” I gasped.

“It means that it is all over,” Holmes answered. “And perhaps, after all, it is for the best. Take your pistol, and we will enter Dr. Roylott’s room.”

With a grave face he lit the lamp and led the way down the corridor. Twice he struck at the chamber door without any reply from within. Then he turned the handle and entered, I at his heels, with the cocked pistol in my hand.

It was a singular sight which met our eyes. On the table stood a dark-lantern with the shutter half open, throwing a brilliant beam of light upon the iron safe, the door of which was ajar. Beside this table, on the wooden chair, sat Dr. Grimesby Roylott clad in a long gray dressing-gown, his bare ankles protruding beneath, and his feet thrust into red heelless Turkish slippers. Across his lap lay the short stock with the long lash which we had noticed during the day. His chin was cocked upward and his eyes were fixed in a dreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round his brow he had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightly round his head. As we entered he made neither sound nor motion.

“The band! the speckled band!” whispered Holmes.

I took a step forward. In an instant his strange headgear began to move, and there reared itself from among his hair the squat diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent.

“It is a swamp adder!” cried Holmes; “the deadliest snake in India. He has died within ten seconds of being bitten. Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. Let us thrust this creature back into its den, and we can then remove Miss Stoner to some place of shelter and let the county police know what has happened.”

As he spoke he drew the dog-whip swiftly from the dead man’s lap, and throwing the noose round the reptile’s neck he drew it from its horrid perch and, carrying it at arm’s length, threw it into the iron safe, which he closed upon it.

Such are the true facts of the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran. It is not necessary that I should prolong a narrative which has already run to too great a length by telling how we broke the sad news to the terrified girl, how we conveyed her by the morning train to the care of her good aunt at Harrow, of how the slow process of official inquiry came to the conclusion that the doctor met his fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous pet. The little which I had yet to learn of the case was told me by Sherlock Holmes as we travelled back next day.

“I had,” said he, “come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data. The presence of the gypsies, and the use of the word ‘band,’ which was used by the poor girl, no doubt to explain the appearance which she had caught a hurried glimpse of by the light of her match, were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent. I can only claim the merit that I instantly reconsidered my position when, however, it became clear to me that whatever danger threatened an occupant of the room could not come either from the window or the door. My attention was speedily drawn, as I have already remarked to you, to this ventilator, and to the bell-rope which hung down to the bed. The discovery that this was a dummy, and that the bed was clamped to the floor, instantly gave rise to the suspicion that the rope was there as a bridge for something passing through the hole and coming to the bed. The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me, and when I coupled it with my knowledge that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I was probably on the right track. The idea of using a form of poison which could not possibly be discovered by any chemical test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless man who had had an Eastern training. The rapidity with which such a poison would take effect would also, from his point of view, be an advantage. It would be a sharp-eyed coroner, indeed, who could distinguish the two little dark punctures which would show where the poison fangs had done their work. Then I thought of the whistle. Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the victim. He had trained it, probably by the use of the milk which we saw, to return to him when summoned. He would put it through this ventilator at the hour that he thought best, with the certainty that it would crawl down the rope and land on the bed. It might or might not bite the occupant, perhaps she might escape every night for a week, but sooner or later she must fall a victim.

“I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered his room. An inspection of his chair showed me that he had been in the habit of standing on it, which of course would be necessary in order that he should reach the ventilator. The sight of the safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcord were enough to finally dispel any doubts which may have remained. The metallic clang heard by Miss Stoner was obviously caused by her stepfather hastily closing the door of his safe upon its terrible occupant. Having once made up my mind, you know the steps which I took in order to put the matter to the proof. I heard the creature hiss as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantly lit the light and attacked it.”

“With the result of driving it through the ventilator.”

“And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its master at the other side. Some of the blows of my cane came home and roused its snakish temper, so that it flew upon the first person it saw. In this way I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience.”

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Chapter I

As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anesthetic air of a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a hospital. Whether this anachronism had any bearing upon the astonishing history I am about to set down will never be known.

I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge for yourself. The Roger Buttons held an enviable position, both social and financial, in ante-bellum Baltimore. They were related to the This Family and the That Family, which, as every Southerner knew, entitled them to membership in that enormous peerage which largely populated the Confederacy. This was their first experience with the charming old custom of having babies–Mr. Button was naturally nervous. He hoped it would be a boy so that he could be sent to Yale College in Connecticut, at which institution Mr. Button himself had been known for four years by the somewhat obvious nickname of “Cuff.”

On the September morning consecrated to the enormous event he arose nervously at six o’clock dressed himself, adjusted an impeccable stock, and hurried forth through the streets of Baltimore to the hospital, to determine whether the darkness of the night had borne in new life upon its bosom.

When he was approximately a hundred yards from the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen he saw Doctor Keene, the family physician, descending the front steps, rubbing his hands together with a washing movement–as all doctors are required to do by the unwritten ethics of their profession.

Mr. Roger Button, the president of Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware, began to run toward Doctor Keene with much less dignity than was expected from a Southern gentleman of that picturesque period. “Doctor Keene!” he called. “Oh, Doctor Keene!”

The doctor heard him, faced around, and stood waiting, a curious expression settling on his harsh, medicinal face as Mr. Button drew near.

“What happened?” demanded Mr. Button, as he came up in a gasping rush. “What was it? How is she? A boy? Who is it? What—“

“Talk sense!” said Doctor Keene sharply, He appeared somewhat irritated.

“Is the child born?” begged Mr. Button.

Doctor Keene frowned. “Why, yes, I suppose so–after a fashion.” Again he threw a curious glance at Mr. Button.

“Is my wife all right?”

“Yes.”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“Here now!” cried Doctor Keene in a perfect passion of irritation,” I’ll ask you to go and see for yourself. Outrageous!” He snapped the last word out in almost one syllable, then he turned away muttering: “Do you imagine a case like this will help my professional reputation? One more would ruin me–ruin anybody.”

“What’s the matter?” demanded Mr. Button appalled. “Triplets?”

“No, not triplets!” answered the doctor cuttingly. “What’s more, you can go and see for yourself. And get another doctor. I brought you into the world, young man, and I’ve been physician to your family for forty years, but I’m through with you! I don’t want to see you or any of your relatives ever again! Good-bye!”

Then he turned sharply, and without another word climbed into his phaeton, which was waiting at the curbstone, and drove severely away.

Mr. Button stood there upon the sidewalk, stupefied and trembling from head to foot. What horrible mishap had occurred? He had suddenly lost all desire to go into the Maryland Private Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen–it was with the greatest difficulty that, a moment later, he forced himself to mount the steps and enter the front door.

A nurse was sitting behind a desk in the opaque gloom of the hall. Swallowing his shame, Mr. Button approached her.

“Good-morning,” she remarked, looking up at him pleasantly.

“Good-morning. I–I am Mr. Button.”

At this a look of utter terror spread itself over girl’s face. She rose to her feet and seemed about to fly from the hall, restraining herself only with the most apparent difficulty.

“I want to see my child,” said Mr. Button.

The nurse gave a little scream. “Oh–of course!” she cried hysterically. “Upstairs. Right upstairs. Go–up!

She pointed the direction, and Mr. Button, bathed in cool perspiration, turned falteringly, and began to mount to the second floor. In the upper hall he addressed another nurse who approached him, basin in hand. “I’m Mr. Button,” he managed to articulate. “I want to see my—-“

Clank! The basin clattered to the floor and rolled in the direction of the stairs. Clank! Clank! It began a methodical decent as if sharing in the general terror which this gentleman provoked.

“I want to see my child!” Mr. Button almost shrieked. He was on the verge of collapse.

Clank! The basin reached the first floor. The nurse regained control of herself, and threw Mr. Button a look of hearty contempt.

“All right, Mr. Button,” she agreed in a hushed voice. “Very well! But if you knew what a state it’s put us all in this morning! It’s perfectly outrageous! The hospital will never have a ghost of a reputation after—-“

“Hurry!” he cried hoarsely. “I can’t stand this!”

“Come this way, then, Mr. Button.”

He dragged himself after her. At the end of a long hall they reached a room from which proceeded a variety of howls–indeed, a room which, in later parlance, would have been known as the “crying-room.” They entered.

“Well,” gasped Mr. Button, “which is mine?”

“There!” said the nurse.

Mr. Button’s eyes followed her pointing finger, and this is what he saw. Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partly crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-coloured beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window. He looked up at Mr. Button with dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled question.

“Am I mad?” thundered Mr. Button, his terror resolving into rage. “Is this some ghastly hospital joke?

“It doesn’t seem like a joke to us,” replied the nurse severely. “And I don’t know whether you’re mad or not–but that is most certainly your child.”

The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button’s forehead. He closed his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again. There was no mistake–he was gazing at a man of threescore and ten–a baby of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung over the sides of the crib in which it was reposing.

The old man looked placidly from one to the other for a moment, and then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient voice. “Are you my father?” he demanded.

Mr. Button and the nurse started violently.

“Because if you are,” went on the old man querulously, “I wish you’d get me out of this place–or, at least, get them to put a comfortable rocker in here.”

“Where in God’s name did you come from? Who are you?” burst out Mr. Button frantically.

“I can’t tell you exactly who I am,” replied the querulous whine, “because I’ve only been born a few hours–but my last name is certainly Button.”

“You lie! You’re an impostor!”

The old man turned wearily to the nurse. “Nice way to welcome a new-born child,” he complained in a weak voice. “Tell him he’s wrong, why don’t you?”

“You’re wrong. Mr. Button,” said the nurse severely. “This is your child, and you’ll have to make the best of it. We’re going to ask you to take him home with you as soon as possible-some time to-day.”

“Home?” repeated Mr. Button incredulously.

“Yes, we can’t have him here. We really can’t, you know?”

“I’m right glad of it,” whined the old man. “This is a fine place to keep a youngster of quiet tastes. With all this yelling and howling, I haven’t been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked for something to eat”–here his voice rose to a shrill note of protest–“and they brought me a bottle of milk!”

Mr. Button, sank down upon a chair near his son and concealed his face in his hands. “My heavens!” he murmured, in an ecstasy of horror. “What will people say? What must I do?”

“You’ll have to take him home,” insisted the nurse–“immediately!”

A grotesque picture formed itself with dreadful clarity before the eyes of the tortured man–a picture of himself walking through the crowded streets of the city with this appalling apparition stalking by his side.

“I can’t. I can’t,” he moaned.

People would stop to speak to him, and what was he going to say? He would have to introduce this–this septuagenarian: “This is my son, born early this morning.” And then the old man would gather his blanket around him and they would plod on, past the bustling stores, the slave market–for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately that his son was black–past the luxurious houses of the residential district, past the home for the aged….

“Come! Pull yourself together,” commanded the nurse.

“See here,” the old man announced suddenly, “if you think I’m going to walk home in this blanket, you’re entirely mistaken.”

“Babies always have blankets.”

With a malicious crackle the old man held up a small white swaddling garment. “Look!” he quavered. “This is what they had ready for me.”

“Babies always wear those,” said the nurse primly.

“Well,” said the old man, “this baby’s not going to wear anything in about two minutes. This blanket itches. They might at least have given me a sheet.”

“Keep it on! Keep it on!” said Mr. Button hurriedly. He turned to the nurse. “What’ll I do?”

“Go down town and buy your son some clothes.”

Mr. Button’s son’s voice followed him down into the hall: “And a cane, father. I want to have a cane.”

Mr. Button banged the outer door savagely….

Chapter II

“Good-morning,” Mr. Button said nervously, to the clerk in the Chesapeake Dry Goods Company. “I want to buy some clothes for my child.”

“How old is your child, sir?”

“About six hours,” answered Mr. Button, without due consideration.

“Babies’ supply department in the rear.”

“Why, I don’t think–I’m not sure that’s what I want. It’s–he’s an unusually large-size child. Exceptionally–ah large.”

“They have the largest child’s sizes.”

“Where is the boys’ department?” inquired Mr. Button, shifting his ground desperately. He felt that the clerk must surely scent his shameful secret.

“Right here.”

“Well—-” He hesitated. The notion of dressing his son in men’s clothes was repugnant to him. If, say, he could only find a very large boy’s suit, he might cut off that long and awful beard, dye the white hair brown, and thus manage to conceal the worst, and to retain something of his own self-respect–not to mention his position in Baltimore society.

But a frantic inspection of the boys’ department revealed no suits to fit the new-born Button. He blamed the store, of course—in such cases it is the thing to blame the store.

“How old did you say that boy of yours was?” demanded the clerk curiously.

“He’s–sixteen.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon. I thought you said six hours. You’ll find the youths’ department in the next aisle.”

Mr. Button turned miserably away. Then he stopped, brightened, and pointed his finger toward a dressed dummy in the window display. “There!” he exclaimed. “I’ll take that suit, out there on the dummy.”

The clerk stared. “Why,” he protested, “that’s not a child’s suit. At least it is, but it’s for fancy dress. You could wear it yourself!”

“Wrap it up,” insisted his customer nervously. “That’s what I want.”

The astonished clerk obeyed.

Back at the hospital Mr. Button entered the nursery and almost threw the package at his son. “Here’s your clothes,” he snapped out.

The old man untied the package and viewed the contents with a quizzical eye.

“They look sort of funny to me,” he complained, “I don’t want to be made a monkey of–“

“You’ve made a monkey of me!” retorted Mr. Button fiercely. “Never you mind how funny you look. Put them on–or I’ll–or I’ll spank you.” He swallowed uneasily at the penultimate word, feeling nevertheless that it was the proper thing to say.

“All right, father”–this with a grotesque simulation of filial respect–“you’ve lived longer; you know best. Just as you say.”

As before, the sound of the word “father” caused Mr. Button to start violently.

“And hurry.”

“I’m hurrying, father.”

When his son was dressed Mr. Button regarded him with depression. The costume consisted of dotted socks, pink pants, and a belted blouse with a wide white collar. Over the latter waved the long whitish beard, drooping almost to the waist. The effect was not good.

“Wait!”

Mr. Button seized a hospital shears and with three quick snaps amputated a large section of the beard. But even with this improvement the ensemble fell far short of perfection. The remaining brush of scraggly hair, the watery eyes, the ancient teeth, seemed oddly out of tone with the gaiety of the costume. Mr. Button, however, was obdurate–he held out his hand. “Come along!” he said sternly.

His son took the hand trustingly. “What are you going to call me, dad?” he quavered as they walked from the nursery–“just ‘baby’ for a while? till you think of a better name?”

Mr. Button grunted. “I don’t know,” he answered harshly. “I think we’ll call you Methuselah.”

Chapter III

Even after the new addition to the Button family had had his hair cut short and then dyed to a sparse unnatural black, had had his face shaved so close that it glistened, and had been attired in small-boy clothes made to order by a flabbergasted tailor, it was impossible for Button to ignore the fact that his son was a sorry excuse for a first family baby. Despite his aged stoop, Benjamin Button–for it was by this name they called him instead of by the appropriate but invidious Methuselah–was five feet eight inches tall. His clothes did not conceal this, nor did the clipping and dyeing of his eyebrows disguise the fact that the eyes under–were faded and watery and tired. In fact, the baby-nurse who had been engaged in advance left the house after one look, in a state of considerable indignation.

But Mr. Button persisted in his unwavering purpose. Benjamin was a baby, and a baby he should remain. At first he declared that if Benjamin didn’t like warm milk he could go without food altogether, but he was finally prevailed upon to allow his son bread and butter, and even oatmeal by way of a compromise. One day he brought home a rattle and, giving it to Benjamin, insisted in no uncertain terms that he should “play with it,” whereupon the old man took it with a weary expression and could be heard jingling it obediently at intervals throughout the day.

There can be no doubt, though, that the rattle bored him, and that he found other and more soothing amusements when he was left alone. For instance, Mr. Button discovered one day that during the preceding week be had smoked more cigars than ever before–a phenomenon, which was explained a few days later when, entering the nursery unexpectedly, he found the room full of faint blue haze and Benjamin, with a guilty expression on his face, trying to conceal the butt of a dark Havana. This, of course, called for a severe spanking, but Mr. Button found that he could not bring himself to administer it. He merely warned his son that he would “stunt his growth.”

Nevertheless he persisted in his attitude. He brought home lead soldiers, he brought toy trains, he brought large pleasant animals made of cotton, and, to perfect the illusion which he was creating–for himself at least–he passionately demanded of the clerk in the toy-store whether “the paint would come off the pink duck if the baby put it in his mouth.” But, despite all his father’s efforts, Benjamin refused to be interested. He would steal down the back stairs and return to the nursery with a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, over which he would pore through an afternoon, while his cotton cows and his Noah’s ark were left neglected on the floor. Against such a stubbornness Mr. Button’s efforts were of little avail.

The sensation created in Baltimore was, at first, prodigious. What the mishap would have cost the Buttons and their kinsfolk socially cannot be determined, for the outbreak of the Civil War drew the city’s attention to other things. A few people who were unfailingly polite racked their brains for compliments to give to the parents–and finally hit upon the ingenious device of declaring that the baby resembled his grandfather, a fact which, due to the standard state of decay common to all men of seventy, could not be denied. Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were not pleased, and Benjamin’s grandfather was furiously insulted.

Benjamin, once he left the hospital, took life as he found it. Several small boys were brought to see him, and he spent a stiff-jointed afternoon trying to work up an interest in tops and marbles–he even managed, quite accidentally, to break a kitchen window with a stone from a sling shot, a feat which secretly delighted his father.

Thereafter Benjamin contrived to break something every day, but he did these things only because they were expected of him, and because he was by nature obliging.

When his grandfather’s initial antagonism wore off, Benjamin and that gentleman took enormous pleasure in one another’s company. They would sit for hours, these two, so far apart in age and experience, and, like old cronies, discuss with tireless monotony the slow events of the day. Benjamin felt more at ease in his grandfather’s presence than in his parents’–they seemed always somewhat in awe of him and, despite the dictatorial authority they exercised over him, frequently addressed him as “Mr.”

He was as puzzled as anyone else at the apparently advanced age of his mind and body at birth. He read up on it in the medical journal, but found that no such case had been previously recorded. At his father’s urging he made an honest attempt to play with other boys, and frequently he joined in the milder games–football shook him up too much, and he feared that in case of a fracture his ancient bones would refuse to knit.

When he was five he was sent to kindergarten, where he was initiated into the art of pasting green paper on orange paper, of weaving coloured maps and manufacturing eternal cardboard necklaces. He was inclined to drowse off to sleep in the middle of these tasks, a habit which both irritated and frightened his young teacher. To his relief she complained to his parents, and he was removed from the school. The Roger Buttons told their friends that they felt he was too young.

By the time he was twelve years old his parents had grown used to him. Indeed, so strong is the force of custom that they no longer felt that he was different from any other child–except when some curious anomaly reminded them of the fact. But one day a few weeks after his twelfth birthday, while looking in the mirror, Benjamin made, or thought he made, an astonishing discovery. Did his eyes deceive him, or had his hair turned in the dozen years of his life from white to iron-gray under its concealing dye? Was the network of wrinkles on his face becoming less pronounced? Was his skin healthier and firmer, with even a touch of ruddy winter colour? He could not tell. He knew that he no longer stooped, and that his physical condition had improved since the early days of his life.

“Can it be—-?” he thought to himself, or, rather, scarcely dared to think.

He went to his father. “I am grown,” he announced determinedly. “I want to put on long trousers.”

His father hesitated. “Well,” he said finally, “I don’t know. Fourteen is the age for putting on long trousers–and you are only twelve.”

“But you’ll have to admit,” protested Benjamin, “that I’m big for my age.”

His father looked at him with illusory speculation. “Oh, I’m not so sure of that,” he said. “I was as big as you when I was twelve.”

This was not true-it was all part of Roger Button’s silent agreement with himself to believe in his son’s normality.

Finally a compromise was reached. Benjamin was to continue to dye his hair. He was to make a better attempt to play with boys of his own age. He was not to wear his spectacles or carry a cane in the street. In return for these concessions he was allowed his first suit of long trousers….

Chapter IV

Of the life of Benjamin Button between his twelfth and twenty-first year I intend to say little. Suffice to record that they were years of normal ungrowth. When Benjamin was eighteen he was erect as a man of fifty; he had more hair and it was of a dark gray; his step was firm, his voice had lost its cracked quaver and descended to a healthy baritone. So his father sent him up to Connecticut to take examinations for entrance to Yale College. Benjamin passed his examination and became a member of the freshman class.

On the third day following his matriculation he received a notification from Mr. Hart, the college registrar, to call at his office and arrange his schedule. Benjamin, glancing in the mirror, decided that his hair needed a new application of its brown dye, but an anxious inspection of his bureau drawer disclosed that the dye bottle was not there. Then he remembered–he had emptied it the day before and thrown it away.

He was in a dilemma. He was due at the registrar’s in five minutes. There seemed to be no help for it–he must go as he was. He did.

“Good-morning,” said the registrar politely. “You’ve come to inquire about your son.”

“Why, as a matter of fact, my name’s Button—-” began Benjamin, but Mr. Hart cut him off.

“I’m very glad to meet you, Mr. Button. I’m expecting your son here any minute.”

“That’s me!” burst out Benjamin. “I’m a freshman.”

“What!?”

“I’m a freshman.”

“Surely you’re joking.”

“Not at all.”

The registrar frowned and glanced at a card before him. “Why, I have Mr. Benjamin Button’s age down here as eighteen.”

“That’s my age,” asserted Benjamin, flushing slightly.

The registrar eyed him wearily. “Now surely, Mr. Button, you don’t expect me to believe that.”

Benjamin smiled wearily. “I am eighteen,” he repeated.

The registrar pointed sternly to the door. “Get out,” he said. “Get out of college and get out of town. You are a dangerous lunatic.”

“I am eighteen.”

Mr. Hart opened the door. “The idea!” he shouted. “A man of your age trying to enter here as a freshman. Eighteen years old, are you? Well, I’ll give you eighteen minutes to get out of town.”

Benjamin Button walked with dignity from the room, and half a dozen undergraduates, who were waiting in the hall, followed him curiously with their eyes. When he had gone a little way he turned around, faced the infuriated registrar, who was still standing in the door-way, and repeated in a firm voice: “I am eighteen years old.”

To a chorus of titters which went up from the group of undergraduates, Benjamin walked away.

But he was not fated to escape so easily. On his melancholy walk to the railroad station he found that he was being followed by a group, then by a swarm, and finally by a dense mass of undergraduates. The word had gone around that a lunatic had passed the entrance examinations for Yale and attempted to palm himself off as a youth of eighteen. A fever of excitement permeated the college. Men ran hatless out of classes, the football team abandoned its practice and joined the mob, professors’ wives with bonnets awry and bustles out of position, ran shouting after the procession, from which proceeded a continual succession of remarks aimed at the tender sensibilities of Benjamin Button.

“He must be the wandering Jew!”

“He ought to go to prep school at his age!”

“Look at the infant prodigy!” “He thought this was the old men’s home.”

“Go up to Harvard!”

Benjamin increased his gait, and soon he was running. He would show them! He would go to Harvard, and then they would regret these ill-considered taunts!

Safely on board the train for Baltimore, he put his head from the window. “You’ll regret this!” he shouted.

“Ha-ha!” the undergraduates laughed. “Ha-ha-ha!” It was the biggest mistake that Yale College had ever made….

Chapter V

In 1880 Benjamin Button was twenty years old, and he signalised his birthday by going to work for his father in Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware. It was in that same year that he began “going out socially”–that is, his father insisted on taking him to several fashionable dances. Roger Button was now fifty, and he and his son were more and more companionable–in fact, since Benjamin had ceased to dye his hair (which was still grayish) they appeared about the same age, and could have passed for brothers.

One night in August they got into the phaeton attired in their full-dress suits and drove out to a dance at the Shevlins’ country house, situated just outside of Baltimore. It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless colour of platinum, and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter. The open country, carpeted for rods around with bright wheat, was translucent as in the day. It was almost impossible not to be affected by the sheer beauty of the sky–almost.

“There’s a great future in the dry-goods business,” Roger Button was saying. He was not a spiritual man–his aesthetic sense was rudimentary.

“Old fellows like me can’t learn new tricks,” he observed profoundly. “It’s you youngsters with energy and vitality that have the great future before you.”

Far up the road the lights of the Shevlins’ country house drifted into view, and presently there was a sighing sound that crept persistently toward them–it might have been the fine plaint of violins or the rustle of the silver wheat under the moon.

They pulled up behind a handsome brougham whose passengers were disembarking at the door. A lady got out, then an elderly gentleman, then another young lady, beautiful as sin. Benjamin started; an almost chemical change seemed to dissolve and recompose the very elements of his body. A rigour passed over him, blood rose into his cheeks, his forehead, and there was a steady thumping in his ears. It was first love.

The girl was slender and frail, with hair that was ashen under the moon and honey-coloured under the sputtering gas-lamps of the porch. Over her shoulders was thrown a Spanish mantilla of softest yellow, butterflied in black; her feet were glittering buttons at the hem of her bustled dress.

Roger Button leaned over to his son. “That,” he said, “is young Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of General Moncrief.”

Benjamin nodded coldly. “Pretty little thing,” he said indifferently. But when the negro boy had led the buggy away, he added: “Dad, you might introduce me to her.”

They approached a group, of which Miss Moncrief was the centre. Reared in the old tradition, she curtsied low before Benjamin. Yes, he might have a dance. He thanked her and walked away–staggered away.

The interval until the time for his turn should arrive dragged itself out interminably. He stood close to the wall, silent, inscrutable, watching with murderous eyes the young bloods of Baltimore as they eddied around Hildegarde Moncrief, passionate admiration in their faces. How obnoxious they seemed to Benjamin; how intolerably rosy! Their curling brown whiskers aroused in him a feeling equivalent to indigestion.

But when his own time came, and he drifted with her out upon the changing floor to the music of the latest waltz from Paris, his jealousies and anxieties melted from him like a mantle of snow. Blind with enchantment, he felt that life was just beginning.

“You and your brother got here just as we did, didn’t you?” asked Hildegarde, looking up at him with eyes that were like bright blue enamel.

Benjamin hesitated. If she took him for his father’s brother, would it be best to enlighten her? He remembered his experience at Yale, so he decided against it. It would be rude to contradict a lady; it would be criminal to mar this exquisite occasion with the grotesque story of his origin. Later, perhaps. So he nodded, smiled, listened, was happy.

“I like men of your age,” Hildegarde told him. “Young boys are so idiotic. They tell me how much champagne they drink at college, and how much money they lose playing cards. Men of your age know how to appreciate women.”

Benjamin felt himself on the verge of a proposal–with an effort he choked back the impulse. “You’re just the romantic age,” she continued–“fifty. Twenty-five is too wordly-wise; thirty is apt to be pale from overwork; forty is the age of long stories that take a whole cigar to tell; sixty is–oh, sixty is too near seventy; but fifty is the mellow age. I love fifty.”

Fifty seemed to Benjamin a glorious age. He longed passionately to be fifty.

“I’ve always said,” went on Hildegarde, “that I’d rather marry a man of fifty and be taken care of than many a man of thirty and take care of him.”

For Benjamin the rest of the evening was bathed in a honey-coloured mist. Hildegarde gave him two more dances, and they discovered that they were marvellously in accord on all the questions of the day. She was to go driving with him on the following Sunday, and then they would discuss all these questions further.

Going home in the phaeton just before the crack of dawn, when the first bees were humming and the fading moon glimmered in the cool dew, Benjamin knew vaguely that his father was discussing wholesale hardware.

“…. And what do you think should merit our biggest attention after hammers and nails?” the elder Button was saying.

“Love,” replied Benjamin absent-mindedly.

“Lugs?” exclaimed Roger Button, “Why, I’ve just covered the question of lugs.”

Benjamin regarded him with dazed eyes just as the eastern sky was suddenly cracked with light, and an oriole yawned piercingly in the quickening trees…

Chapter VI

When, six months later, the engagement of Miss Hildegarde Moncrief to Mr. Benjamin Button was made known (I say “made known,” for General Moncrief declared he would rather fall upon his sword than announce it), the excitement in Baltimore society reached a feverish pitch. The almost forgotten story of Benjamin’s birth was remembered and sent out upon the winds of scandal in picaresque and incredible forms. It was said that Benjamin was really the father of Roger Button, that he was his brother who had been in prison for forty years, that he was John Wilkes Booth in disguise–and, finally, that he had two small conical horns sprouting from his head.

The Sunday supplements of the New York papers played up the case with fascinating sketches which showed the head of Benjamin Button attached to a fish, to a snake, and, finally, to a body of solid brass. He became known, journalistically, as the Mystery Man of Maryland. But the true story, as is usually the case, had a very small circulation.

However, every one agreed with General Moncrief that it was “criminal” for a lovely girl who could have married any beau in Baltimore to throw herself into the arms of a man who was assuredly fifty. In vain Mr. Roger Button published his son’s birth certificate in large type in the Baltimore Blaze. No one believed it. You had only to look at Benjamin and see.

On the part of the two people most concerned there was no wavering. So many of the stories about her fiance were false that Hildegarde refused stubbornly to believe even the true one. In vain General Moncrief pointed out to her the high mortality among men of fifty–or, at least, among men who looked fifty; in vain he told her of the instability of the wholesale hardware business. Hildegarde had chosen to marry for mellowness, and marry she did….

Chapter VII

In one particular, at least, the friends of Hildegarde Moncrief were mistaken. The wholesale hardware business prospered amazingly. In the fifteen years between Benjamin Button’s marriage in 1880 and his father’s retirement in 1895, the family fortune was doubled–and this was due largely to the younger member of the firm.

Needless to say, Baltimore eventually received the couple to its bosom. Even old General Moncrief became reconciled to his son-in-law when Benjamin gave him the money to bring out his History of the Civil War in twenty volumes, which had been refused by nine prominent publishers.

In Benjamin himself fifteen years had wrought many changes. It seemed to him that the blood flowed with new vigour through his veins. It began to be a pleasure to rise in the morning, to walk with an active step along the busy, sunny street, to work untiringly with his shipments of hammers and his cargoes of nails. It was in 1890 that he executed his famous business coup: he brought up the suggestion that all nails used in nailing up the boxes in which nails are shipped are the property of the shippee, a proposal which became a statute, was approved by Chief Justice Fossile, and saved Roger Button and Company, Wholesale Hardware, more than six hundred nails every year.

In addition, Benjamin discovered that he was becoming more and more attracted by the gay side of life. It was typical of his growing enthusiasm for pleasure that he was the first man in the city of Baltimore to own and run an automobile. Meeting him on the street, his contemporaries would stare enviously at the picture he made of health and vitality.

“He seems to grow younger every year,” they would remark. And if old Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what amounted to adulation.

And here we come to an unpleasant subject which it will be well to pass over as quickly as possible. There was only one thing that worried Benjamin Button; his wife had ceased to attract him.

At that time Hildegarde was a woman of thirty-five, with a son, Roscoe, fourteen years old. In the early days of their marriage Benjamin had worshipped her. But, as the years passed, her honey-coloured hair became an unexciting brown, the blue enamel of her eyes assumed the aspect of cheap crockery–moreover, and, most of all, she had become too settled in her ways, too placid, too content, too anemic in her excitements, and too sober in her taste. As a bride it had been she who had “dragged” Benjamin to dances and dinners–now conditions were reversed. She went out socially with him, but without enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal inertia which comes to live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end.

Benjamin’s discontent waxed stronger. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898 his home had for him so little charm that he decided to join the army. With his business influence he obtained a commission as captain, and proved so adaptable to the work that he was made a major, and finally a lieutenant-colonel just in time to participate in the celebrated charge up San Juan Hill. He was slightly wounded, and received a medal.

Benjamin had become so attached to the activity and excitement of army life that he regretted to give it up, but his business required attention, so he resigned his commission and came home. He was met at the station by a brass band and escorted to his house.

Chapter VIII

Hildegarde, waving a large silk flag, greeted him on the porch, and even as he kissed her he felt with a sinking of the heart that these three years had taken their toll. She was a woman of forty now, with a faint skirmish line of gray hairs in her head. The sight depressed him.

Up in his room he saw his reflection in the familiar mirror–he went closer and examined his own face with anxiety, comparing it after a moment with a photograph of himself in uniform taken just before the war.

“Good Lord!” he said aloud. The process was continuing. There was no doubt of it–he looked now like a man of thirty. Instead of being delighted, he was uneasy–he was growing younger. He had hitherto hoped that once he reached a bodily age equivalent to his age in years, the grotesque phenomenon which had marked his birth would cease to function. He shuddered. His destiny seemed to him awful, incredible.

When he came downstairs Hildegarde was waiting for him. She appeared annoyed, and he wondered if she had at last discovered that there was something amiss. It was with an effort to relieve the tension between them that he broached the matter at dinner in what he considered a delicate way.

“Well,” he remarked lightly, “everybody says I look younger than ever.”

Hildegarde regarded him with scorn. She sniffed. “Do you think it’s anything to boast about?”

“I’m not boasting,” he asserted uncomfortably. She sniffed again. “The idea,” she said, and after a moment: “I should think you’d have enough pride to stop it.”

“How can I?” he demanded.

“I’m not going to argue with you,” she retorted. “But there’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you’ve made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don’t suppose I can stop you, but I really don’t think it’s very considerate.”

“But, Hildegarde, I can’t help it.”

“You can too. You’re simply stubborn. You think you don’t want to be like any one else. You always have been that way, and you always will be. But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things as you do–what would the world be like?”

As this was an inane and unanswerable argument Benjamin made no reply, and from that time on a chasm began to widen between them. He wondered what possible fascination she had ever exercised over him.

To add to the breach, he found, as the new century gathered headway, that his thirst for gaiety grew stronger. Never a party of any kind in the city of Baltimore but he was there, dancing with the prettiest of the young married women, chatting with the most popular of the debutantes, and finding their company charming, while his wife, a dowager of evil omen, sat among the chaperons, now in haughty disapproval, and now following him with solemn, puzzled, and reproachful eyes.

“Look!” people would remark. “What a pity! A young fellow that age tied to a woman of forty-five. He must be twenty years younger than his wife.” They had forgotten–as people inevitably forget–that back in 1880 their mammas and papas had also remarked about this same ill-matched pair.

Benjamin’s growing unhappiness at home was compensated for by his many new interests. He took up golf and made a great success of it. He went in for dancing: in 1906 he was an expert at “The Boston,” and in 1908 he was considered proficient at the “Maxine,” while in 1909 his “Castle Walk” was the envy of every young man in town.

His social activities, of course, interfered to some extent with his business, but then he had worked hard at wholesale hardware for twenty-five years and felt that he could soon hand it on to his son, Roscoe, who had recently graduated from Harvard.

He and his son were, in fact, often mistaken for each other. This pleased Benjamin–he soon forgot the insidious fear which had come over him on his return from the Spanish-American War, and grew to take a naive pleasure in his appearance. There was only one fly in the delicious ointment–he hated to appear in public with his wife. Hildegarde was almost fifty, and the sight of her made him feel absurd….

Chapter IX

One September day in 1910–a few years after Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware, had been handed over to young Roscoe Button–a man, apparently about twenty years old, entered himself as a freshman at Harvard University in Cambridge. He did not make the mistake of announcing that he would never see fifty again, nor did he mention the fact that his son had been graduated from the same institution ten years before.

He was admitted, and almost immediately attained a prominent position in the class, partly because he seemed a little older than the other freshmen, whose average age was about eighteen.

But his success was largely due to the fact that in the football game with Yale he played so brilliantly, with so much dash and with such a cold, remorseless anger that he scored seven touchdowns and fourteen field goals for Harvard, and caused one entire eleven of Yale men to be carried singly from the field, unconscious. He was the most celebrated man in college.

Strange to say, in his third or junior year he was scarcely able to “make” the team. The coaches said that he had lost weight, and it seemed to the more observant among them that he was not quite as tall as before. He made no touchdowns–indeed, he was retained on the team chiefly in hope that his enormous reputation would bring terror and disorganisation to the Yale team.

In his senior year he did not make the team at all. He had grown so slight and frail that one day he was taken by some sophomores for a freshman, an incident which humiliated him terribly. He became known as something of a prodigy–a senior who was surely no more than sixteen–and he was often shocked at the worldliness of some of his classmates. His studies seemed harder to him–he felt that they were too advanced. He had heard his classmates speak of St. Midas’s, the famous preparatory school, at which so many of them had prepared for college, and he determined after his graduation to enter himself at St. Midas’s, where the sheltered life among boys his own size would be more congenial to him.

Upon his graduation in 1914 he went home to Baltimore with his Harvard diploma in his pocket. Hildegarde was now residing in Italy, so Benjamin went to live with his son, Roscoe. But though he was welcomed in a general way there was obviously no heartiness in Roscoe’s feeling toward him–there was even perceptible a tendency on his son’s part to think that Benjamin, as he moped about the house in adolescent moodiness, was somewhat in the way. Roscoe was married now and prominent in Baltimore life, and he wanted no scandal to creep out in connection with his family.

Benjamin, no longer persona grata with the debutantes and younger college set, found himself left much done, except for the companionship of three or four fifteen-year-old boys in the neighbourhood. His idea of going to St. Midas’s school recurred to him.

“Say,” he said to Roscoe one day, “I’ve told you over and over that I want to go to prep school.”

“Well, go, then,” replied Roscoe shortly. The matter was distasteful to him, and he wished to avoid a discussion.

“I can’t go alone,” said Benjamin helplessly. “You’ll have to enter me and take me up there.”

“I haven’t got time,” declared Roscoe abruptly. His eyes narrowed and he looked uneasily at his father. “As a matter of fact,” he added, “you’d better not go on with this business much longer. You better pull up short. You better–you better”–he paused and his face crimsoned as he sought for words–“you better turn right around and start back the other way. This has gone too far to be a joke. It isn’t funny any longer. You–you behave yourself!”

Benjamin looked at him, on the verge of tears.

“And another thing,” continued Roscoe, “when visitors are in the house I want you to call me ‘Uncle’–not ‘Roscoe,’ but ‘Uncle,’ do you understand? It looks absurd for a boy of fifteen to call me by my first name. Perhaps you’d better call me ‘Uncle’ all the time, so you’ll get used to it.”

With a harsh look at his father, Roscoe turned away….

Chapter X

At the termination of this interview, Benjamin wandered dismally upstairs and stared at himself in the mirror. He had not shaved for three months, but he could find nothing on his face but a faint white down with which it seemed unnecessary to meddle. When he had first come home from Harvard, Roscoe had approached him with the proposition that he should wear eye-glasses and imitation whiskers glued to his cheeks, and it had seemed for a moment that the farce of his early years was to be repeated. But whiskers had itched and made him ashamed. He wept and Roscoe had reluctantly relented.

Benjamin opened a book of boys’ stories, The Boy Scouts in Bimini Bay, and began to read. But he found himself thinking persistently about the war. America had joined the Allied cause during the preceding month, and Benjamin wanted to enlist, but, alas, sixteen was the minimum age, and he did not look that old. His true age, which was fifty-seven, would have disqualified him, anyway.

There was a knock at his door, and the butler appeared with a letter bearing a large official legend in the corner and addressed to Mr. Benjamin Button. Benjamin tore it open eagerly, and read the enclosure with delight. It informed him that many reserve officers who had served in the Spanish-American War were being called back into service with a higher rank, and it enclosed his commission as brigadier-general in the United States army with orders to report immediately.

Benjamin jumped to his feet fairly quivering with enthusiasm. This was what he had wanted. He seized his cap, and ten minutes later he had entered a large tailoring establishment on Charles Street, and asked in his uncertain treble to be measured for a uniform.

“Want to play soldier, sonny?” demanded a clerk casually.

Benjamin flushed. “Say! Never mind what I want!” he retorted angrily. “My name’s Button and I live on Mt. Vernon Place, so you know I’m good for it.”

“Well,” admitted the clerk hesitantly, “if you’re not, I guess your daddy is, all right.”

Benjamin was measured, and a week later his uniform was completed. He had difficulty in obtaining the proper general’s insignia because the dealer kept insisting to Benjamin that a nice V.W.C.A. badge would look just as well and be much more fun to play with.

Saying nothing to Roscoe, he left the house one night and proceeded by train to Camp Mosby, in South Carolina, where he was to command an infantry brigade. On a sultry April day he approached the entrance to the camp, paid off the taxicab which had brought him from the station, and turned to the sentry on guard.

“Get some one to handle my luggage!” he said briskly.

The sentry eyed him reproachfully. “Say,” he remarked, “where you goin’ with the general’s duds, sonny?”

Benjamin, veteran of the Spanish-American War, whirled upon him with fire in his eye, but with, alas, a changing treble voice.

“Come to attention!” he tried to thunder; he paused for breath–then suddenly he saw the sentry snap his heels together and bring his rifle to the present. Benjamin concealed a smile of gratification, but when he glanced around his smile faded. It was not he who had inspired obedience, but an imposing artillery colonel who was approaching on horseback.

“Colonel!” called Benjamin shrilly.

The colonel came up, drew rein, and looked coolly down at him with a twinkle in his eyes. “Whose little boy are you?” he demanded kindly.

“I’ll soon darn well show you whose little boy I am!” retorted Benjamin in a ferocious voice. “Get down off that horse!”

The colonel roared with laughter.

“You want him, eh, general?”

“Here!” cried Benjamin desperately. “Read this.” And he thrust his commission toward the colonel. The colonel read it, his eyes popping from their sockets. “Where’d you get this?” he demanded, slipping the document into his own pocket. “I got it from the Government, as you’ll soon find out!” “You come along with me,” said the colonel with a peculiar look. “We’ll go up to headquarters and talk this over. Come along.” The colonel turned and began walking his horse in the direction of headquarters. There was nothing for Benjamin to do but follow with as much dignity as possible–meanwhile promising himself a stern revenge. But this revenge did not materialise. Two days later, however, his son Roscoe materialised from Baltimore, hot and cross from a hasty trip, and escorted the weeping general, sans uniform, back to his home.

Chapter XI

In 1920 Roscoe Button’s first child was born. During the attendant festivities, however, no one thought it “the thing” to mention, that the little grubby boy, apparently about ten years of age who played around the house with lead soldiers and a miniature circus, was the new baby’s own grandfather.

No one disliked the little boy whose fresh, cheerful face was crossed with just a hint of sadness, but to Roscoe Button his presence was a source of torment. In the idiom of his generation Roscoe did not consider the matter “efficient.” It seemed to him that his father, in refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a “red-blooded he-man”–this was Roscoe’s favourite expression–but in a curious and perverse manner. Indeed, to think about the matter for as much as a half an hour drove him to the edge of insanity. Roscoe believed that “live wires” should keep young, but carrying it out on such a scale was–was–was inefficient. And there Roscoe rested.

Five years later Roscoe’s little boy had grown old enough to play childish games with little Benjamin under the supervision of the same nurse. Roscoe took them both to kindergarten on the same day, and Benjamin found that playing with little strips of coloured paper, making mats and chains and curious and beautiful designs, was the most fascinating game in the world. Once he was bad and had to stand in the corner–then he cried–but for the most part there were gay hours in the cheerful room, with the sunlight coming in the windows and Miss Bailey’s kind hand resting for a moment now and then in his tousled hair.

Roscoe’s son moved up into the first grade after a year, but Benjamin stayed on in the kindergarten. He was very happy. Sometimes when other tots talked about what they would do when they grew up a shadow would cross his little face as if in a dim, childish way he realised that those were things in which he was never to share.

The days flowed on in monotonous content. He went back a third year to the kindergarten, but he was too little now to understand what the bright shining strips of paper were for. He cried because the other boys were bigger than he, and he was afraid of them. The teacher talked to him, but though he tried to understand he could not understand at all.

He was taken from the kindergarten. His nurse, Nana, in her starched gingham dress, became the centre of his tiny world. On bright days they walked in the park; Nana would point at a great gray monster and say “elephant,” and Benjamin would say it after her, and when he was being undressed for bed that night he would say it over and over aloud to her: “Elyphant, elyphant, elyphant.” Sometimes Nana let him jump on the bed, which was fun, because if you sat down exactly right it would bounce you up on your feet again, and if you said “Ah” for a long time while you jumped you got a very pleasing broken vocal effect.

He loved to take a big cane from the hat-rack and go around hitting chairs and tables with it and saying: “Fight, fight, fight.” When there were people there the old ladies would cluck at him, which interested him, and the young ladies would try to kiss him, which he submitted to with mild boredom. And when the long day was done at five o’clock he would go upstairs with Nana and be fed on oatmeal and nice soft mushy foods with a spoon.

There were no troublesome memories in his childish sleep; no token came to him of his brave days at college, of the glittering years when he flustered the hearts of many girls. There were only the white, safe walls of his crib and Nana and a man who came to see him sometimes, and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at just before his twilight bed hour and called “sun.” When the sun went his eyes were sleepy–there were no dreams, no dreams to haunt him.

The past–the wild charge at the head of his men up San Juan Hill; the first years of his marriage when he worked late into the summer dusk down in the busy city for young Hildegarde whom he loved; the days before that when he sat smoking far into the night in the gloomy old Button house on Monroe Street with his grandfather-all these had faded like unsubstantial dreams from his mind as though they had never been. He did not remember.

He did not remember clearly whether the milk was warm or cool at his last feeding or how the days passed–there was only his crib and Nana’s familiar presence. And then he remembered nothing. When he was hungry he cried–that was all. Through the noons and nights he breathed and over him there were soft mumblings and murmurings that he scarcely heard, and faintly differentiated smells, and light and darkness.

Then it was all dark, and his white crib and the dim faces that moved above him, and the warm sweet aroma of the milk, faded out altogether from his mind.

The Monkey’s Paw

WITHOUT, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

  “Hark at the wind,” said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it.

  “I’m listening,” said the latter, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. “Check.”

  “I should hardly think that he’d come to-night,” said his father, with his hand poised over the board.

  “Mate,” replied the son.

  “That’s the worst of living so far out,” bawled Mr. White, with sudden and unlooked-for violence; “of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway’s a bog, and the road’s a torrent. I don’t know what people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses on the road are let, they think it doesn’t matter.”

  “Never mind, dear,” said his wife soothingly; “perhaps you’ll win the next one.”

  Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to intercept a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin grey beard.

  “There he is,” said Herbert White, as the gate banged to loudly and heavy footsteps came toward the door.

  The old man rose with hospitable haste, and opening the door, was heard condoling with the new arrival. The new arrival also condoled with himself, so that Mrs. White said, “Tut, tut!” and coughed gently as her husband entered the room, followed by a tall burly man, beady of eye and rubicund of visage.

  “Sergeant-Major Morris,” he said, introducing him.

  The sergeant-major shook hands, and taking the proffered seat by the fire, watched contentedly while his host got out whisky and tumblers and stood a small copper kettle on the fire.

  At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk, the little family circle regarding with eager interest this visitor from distant parts, as he squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of strange scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.

  “Twenty-one years of it,” said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and son. “When he went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse. Now look at him.”

  “He don’t look to have taken much harm,” said Mrs. White, politely.

  “I’d like to go to India myself,” said the old man, “just to look round a bit, you know.”

  “Better where you are,” said the sergeant-major, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, and sighing softly, shook it again.

  “I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers,” said the old man. “What was that you started telling me the other day about a monkey’s paw or something, Morris?”

  “Nothing,” said the soldier hastily. “Leastways, nothing worth hearing.”

  “Monkey’s paw?” said Mrs. White curiously.

  “Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps,” said the sergeant-major off-handedly.

  His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absentmindedly put his empty glass to his lips and then set it down again. His host filled it for him.

  “To look at,” said the sergeant-major, fumbling in his pocket, “it’s just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy.”

  He took something out of his pocket and proffered it. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it curiously.

  “And what is there special about it?” inquired Mr. White, as he took it from his son and, having examined it, placed it upon the table.

  “It had a spell put on it by an old fakir,” said the sergeant-major, “a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.”

  His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their light laughter jarred somewhat.

  “Well, why don’t you have three, sir?” said Herbert White cleverly.

  The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth. “I have,” he said quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

  “And did you really have the three wishes granted?” asked Mrs. White.

  “I did,” said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.

  “And has anybody else wished?” inquired the old lady.

  “The first man had his three wishes, yes,” was the reply. “I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw.”

  His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.

  “If you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no good to you now, then, Morris,” said the old man at last. “What do you keep it for?”

  The soldier shook his head. “Fancy, I suppose,” he said slowly.

  “If you could have another three wishes,” said the old man, eyeing him keenly, “would you have them?”

  “I don’t know,” said the other. “I don’t know.”

  He took the paw, and dangling it between his front finger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it off.

  “Better let it burn,” said the soldier solemnly.

  “If you don’t want it, Morris,” said the old man, “give it to me.”

  “I won’t,” said his friend doggedly. “I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don’t blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again, like a sensible man.”

  The other shook his head and examined his new possession closely. “How do you do it?” he inquired.

  “Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud,’ said the sergeant-major, “but I warn you of the consequences.”

  “Sounds like the Arabian Nights,” said Mrs White, as she rose and began to set the supper. “Don’t you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?”

  Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket and then all three burst into laughter as the sergeant-major, with a look of alarm on his face, caught him by the arm.

  “If you must wish,” he said gruffly, “wish for something sensible.”

  Mr. White dropped it back into his pocket, and placing chairs, motioned his friend to the table. In the business of supper the talisman was partly forgotten, and afterward the three sat listening in an enthralled fashion to a second instalment of the soldier’s adventures in India.

  “If the tale about the monkey paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us,” said Herbert, as the door closed behind their guest, just in time for him to catch the last train, “we shan’t make much out of it.”

  “Did you give him anything for it, father?” inquired Mrs. White, regarding her husband closely.

  “A trifle,” said he, colouring slightly. “He didn’t want it, but I made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away.”

  “Likely,” said Herbert, with pretended horror. “Why, we’re going to be rich, and famous, and happy. Wish to be an emperor, father, to begin with; then you can’t be henpecked.”

  He darted round the table, pursued by the maligned Mrs. White armed with an antimacassar.

  Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously. “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact,” he said slowly. “It seems to me I’ve got all I want.”

  “If you only cleared the house, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you?” said Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder. “Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that’ll just do it.”

  His father, smiling shamefacedly at his own credulity, held up the talisman, as his son, with a solemn face somewhat marred by a wink at his mother, sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords.

  “I wish for two hundred pounds,” said the old man distinctly.

  A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.

  “It moved, he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on the floor. “As I wished it twisted in my hands like a snake.”

  “Well, I don’t see the money,” said his son, as he picked it up and placed it on the table, “and I bet I never shall.”

  “It must have been your fancy, father,” said his wife, regarding him anxiously.

  He shook his head. “Never mind, though; there’s no harm done, but it gave me a shock all the same.”

  They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man started nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. A silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three, which lasted until the old couple rose to retire for the night.

  “I expect you’ll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed,” said Herbert, as he bade them good-night, “and something horrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your ill-gotten gains.”

  He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement. It got so vivid that, with a little uneasy laugh, he felt on the table for a glass containing a little water to throw over it. His hand grasped the monkey’s paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went up to bed.II.

IN the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over the breakfast table Herbert laughed at his fears. There was an air of prosaic wholesomeness about the room which it had lacked on the previous night, and the dirty, shrivelled little paw was pitched on the sideboard with a carelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues.

  “I suppose all old soldiers are the same,” said Mrs White. “The idea of our listening to such nonsense! How could wishes be granted in these days? And if they could, how could two hundred pounds hurt you, father?”

  “Might drop on his head from the sky,” said the frivolous Herbert.

  “Morris said the things happened so naturally,” said his father, “that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence.”

  “Well, don’t break into the money before I come back,” said Herbert, as he rose from the table. “I’m afraid it’ll turn you into a mean, avaricious man, and we shall have to disown you.”

  His mother laughed, and following him to the door, watched him down the road, and returning to the breakfast table, was very happy at the expense of her husband’s credulity. All of which did not prevent her from scurrying to the door at the postman’s knock, nor prevent her from referring somewhat shortly to retired sergeant-majors of bibulous habits when she found that the post brought a tailor’s bill.

  “Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he comes home,” she said, as they sat at dinner.

  “I dare say,” said Mr. White, pouring himself out some beer; “but for all that, the thing moved in my hand; that I’ll swear to.”

  “You thought it did,” said the old lady soothingly.

  “I say it did,” replied the other. “There was no thought about it; I had just—-What’s the matter?”

  His wife made no reply. She was watching the mysterious movements of a man outside, who, peering in an undecided fashion at the house, appeared to be trying to make up his mind to enter. In mental connection with the two hundred pounds, she noticed that the stranger was well dressed and wore a silk hat of glossy newness. Three times he paused at the gate, and then walked on again. The fourth time he stood with his hand upon it, and then with sudden resolution flung it open and walked up the path. Mrs. White at the same moment placed her hands behind her, and hurriedly unfastening the strings of her apron, put that useful article of apparel beneath the cushion of her chair.

  She brought the stranger, who seemed ill at ease, into the room. He gazed at her furtively, and listened in a preoccupied fashion as the old lady apologized for the appearance of the room, and her husband’s coat, a garment which he usually reserved for the garden. She then waited as patiently as her sex would permit, for him to broach his business, but he was at first strangely silent.

  “I–was asked to call,” he said at last, and stooped and picked a piece of cotton from his trousers. “I come from Maw and Meggins.”

  The old lady started. “Is anything the matter?” she asked breathlessly. “Has anything happened to Herbert? What is it? What is it?”

  Her husband interposed. “There, there, mother,” he said hastily. “Sit down, and don’t jump to conclusions. You’ve not brought bad news, I’m sure, sir” and he eyed the other wistfully.

  “I’m sorry—-” began the visitor.

  “Is he hurt?” demanded the mother.

  The visitor bowed in assent. “Badly hurt,” he said quietly, “but he is not in any pain.”

  “Oh, thank God!” said the old woman, clasping her hands. “Thank God for that! Thank—-“

  She broke off suddenly as the sinister meaning of the assurance dawned upon her and she saw the awful confirmation of her fears in the other’s averted face. She caught her breath, and turning to her slower-witted husband, laid her trembling old hand upon his. There was a long silence.

  “He was caught in the machinery,” said the visitor at length, in a low voice.

  “Caught in the machinery,” repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion, “yes.”

  He sat staring blankly out at the window, and taking his wife’s hand between his own, pressed it as he had been wont to do in their old courting days nearly forty years before.

  “He was the only one left to us,” he said, turning gently to the visitor. “It is hard.”

  The other coughed, and rising, walked slowly to the window. “The firm wished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss,” he said, without looking round. “I beg that you will understand I am only their servant and merely obeying orders.”

  There was no reply; the old woman’s face was white, her eyes staring, and her breath inaudible; on the husband’s face was a look such as his friend the sergeant might have carried into his first action.

  “I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility,” continued the other. “They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.”

  Mr. White dropped his wife’s hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with a look of horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, “How much?”

  “Two hundred pounds,” was the answer.

  Unconscious of his wife’s shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.III.

  IN the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buried their dead, and came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence. It was all over so quickly that at first they could hardly realize it, and remained in a state of expectation as though of something else to happen–something else which was to lighten this load, too heavy for old hearts to bear.

  But the days passed, and expectation gave place to resignation–the hopeless resignation of the old, sometimes miscalled, apathy. Sometimes they hardly exchanged a word, for now they had nothing to talk about, and their days were long to weariness.

  It was about a week after that that the old man, waking suddenly in the night, stretched out his hand and found himself alone. The room was in darkness, and the sound of subdued weeping came from the window. He raised himself in bed and listened.

  “Come back,” he said tenderly. “You will be cold.”

  “It is colder for my son,” said the old woman, and wept afresh.

  The sound of her sobs died away on his ears. The bed was warm, and his eyes heavy with sleep. He dozed fitfully, and then slept until a sudden wild cry from his wife awoke him with a start.

  “The paw!” she cried wildly. “The monkey’s paw!”

  He started up in alarm. “Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?”

  She came stumbling across the room toward him. “I want it,” she said quietly. “You’ve not destroyed it?”

  “It’s in the parlour, on the bracket,” he replied, marvelling. “Why?”

  She cried and laughed together, and bending over, kissed his cheek.

  “I only just thought of it,” she said hysterically. “Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t you think of it?”

  “Think of what?” he questioned.

  “The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one.”

  “Was not that enough?” he demanded fiercely.

  “No,” she cried, triumphantly; “we’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.”

  The man sat up in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs. “Good God, you are mad!” he cried aghast.

  “Get it,” she panted; “get it quickly, and wish—- Oh, my boy, my boy!”

  Her husband struck a match and lit the candle. “Get back to bed,” he said, unsteadily. “You don’t know what you are saying.”

  “We had the first wish granted,” said the old woman, feverishly; “why not the second.”

  “A coincidence,” stammered the old man.

  “Go and get it and wish,” cried the old woman, quivering with excitement.

  The old man turned and regarded her, and his voice shook. “He has been dead ten days, and besides he–I would not tell you else, but–I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how now?”

  “Bring him back,” cried the old woman, and dragged him toward the door. “Do you think I fear the child I have nursed?”

  He went down in the darkness, and felt his way to the parlour, and then to the mantelpiece. The talisman was in its place, and a horrible fear that the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son before him ere he could escape from the room seized upon him, and he caught his breath as he found that he had lost the direction of the door. His brow cold with sweat, he felt his way round the table, and groped along the wall until he found himself in the small passage with the unwholesome thing in his hand.

  Even his wife’s face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.

  “Wish!” she cried, in a strong voice.

  “It is foolish and wicked,” he faltered.

  “Wish!” repeated his wife.

  He raised his hand. “I wish my son alive again.”

  The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it fearfully. Then he sank trembling into a chair as the old woman, with burning eyes, walked to the window and raised the blind.

  He sat until he was chilled with the cold, glancing occasionally at the figure of the old woman peering through the window. The candle end, which had burnt below the rim of the china candlestick, was throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls, until, with a flicker larger than the rest, it expired. The old man, with an unspeakable sense of relief at the failure of the talisman, crept back to his bed, and a minute or two afterward the old woman came silently and apathetically beside him.

  Neither spoke, but both lay silently listening to the ticking of the clock. A stair creaked, and a squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. The darkness was oppressive, and after lying for some time screwing up his courage, the husband took the box of matches, and striking one, went downstairs for a candle.

  At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to strike another, and at the same moment a knock, so quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.

  The matches fell from his hand. He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.

  “What’s that?” cried the old woman, starting up.

  “A rat,” said the old man, in shaking tones–“a rat. It passed me on the stairs.”

  His wife sat up in bed listening. A loud knock resounded through the house.

  “It’s Herbert!” she screamed. “It’s Herbert!”

  She ran to the door, but her husband was before her, and catching her by the arm, held her tightly.

  “What are you going to do?” he whispered hoarsely.

  “It’s my boy; it’s Herbert!” she cried, struggling mechanically. “I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.”

  “For God’s sake, don’t let it in,” cried the old man trembling.

  “You’re afraid of your own son,” she cried, struggling. “Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert; I’m coming.”

  There was another knock, and another. The old woman with a sudden wrench broke free and ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs. He heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.

  “The bolt,” she cried loudly. “Come down. I can’t reach it.”

  But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.

  The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back and the door opened. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.

THE END

The Lottery Ticket

IVAN DMITRITCH, a middle-class man who lived with his family on an income of twelve hundred a year and was very well satisfied with his lot, sat down on the sofa after supper and began reading the newspaper.

“I forgot to look at the newspaper today,” his wife said to him as she cleared the table. “Look and see whether the list of drawings is there.”

“Yes, it is,” said Ivan Dmitritch; “but hasn’t your ticket lapsed?”

“No; I took the interest on Tuesday.”

“What is the number?”

“Series 9,499, number 26.”

“All right . . . we will look . . . 9,499 and 26.”

Ivan Dmitritch had no faith in lottery luck, and would not, as a rule, have consented to look at the lists of winning numbers, but now, as he had nothing else to do and as the newspaper was before his eyes, he passed his finger downwards along the column of numbers. And immediately, as though in mockery of his scepticism, no further than the second line from the top, his eye was caught by the figure 9,499! Unable to believe his eyes, he hurriedly dropped the paper on his knees without looking to see the number of the ticket, and, just as though some one had given him a douche of cold water, he felt an agreeable chill in the pit of the stomach; tingling and terrible and sweet!

“Masha, 9,499 is there!” he said in a hollow voice.

His wife looked at his astonished and panic-stricken face, and realized that he was not joking.

“9,499?” she asked, turning pale and dropping the folded tablecloth on the table.

“Yes, yes . . . it really is there!”

“And the number of the ticket?”

“Oh, yes! There’s the number of the ticket too. But stay . . . wait! No, I say! Anyway, the number of our series is there! Anyway, you understand. . . .”

Looking at his wife, Ivan Dmitritch gave a broad, senseless smile, like a baby when a bright object is shown it. His wife smiled too; it was as pleasant to her as to him that he only mentioned the series, and did not try to find out the number of the winning ticket. To torment and tantalize oneself with hopes of possible fortune is so sweet, so thrilling!

“It is our series,” said Ivan Dmitritch, after a long silence. “So there is a probability that we have won. It’s only a probability, but there it is!”

“Well, now look!”

“Wait a little. We have plenty of time to be disappointed. It’s on the second line from the top, so the prize is seventy-five thousand. That’s not money, but power, capital! And in a minute I shall look at the list, and there — 26! Eh? I say, what if we really have won?”

The husband and wife began laughing and staring at one another in silence. The possibility of winning bewildered them; they could not have said, could not have dreamed, what they both needed that seventy-five thousand for, what they would buy, where they would go. They thought only of the figures 9,499 and 75,000 and pictured them in their imagination, while somehow they could not think of the happiness itself which was so possible.

Ivan Dmitritch, holding the paper in his hand, walked several times from corner to corner, and only when he had recovered from the first impression began dreaming a little.

“And if we have won,” he said — “why, it will be a new life, it will be a transformation! The ticket is yours, but if it were mine I should, first of all, of course, spend twenty-five thousand on real property in the shape of an estate; ten thousand on immediate expenses, new furnishing . . . travelling . . . paying debts, and so on. . . . The other forty thousand I would put in the bank and get interest on it.”

“Yes, an estate, that would be nice,” said his wife, sitting down and dropping her hands in her lap.

“Somewhere in the Tula or Oryol provinces. . . . In the first place we shouldn’t need a summer villa, and besides, it would always bring in an income.”

And pictures came crowding on his imagination, each more gracious and poetical than the last. And in all these pictures he saw himself well-fed, serene, healthy, felt warm, even hot! Here, after eating a summer soup, cold as ice, he lay on his back on the burning sand close to a stream or in the garden under a lime-tree. . . . It is hot. . . . His little boy and girl are crawling about near him, digging in the sand or catching ladybirds in the grass. He dozes sweetly, thinking of nothing, and feeling all over that he need not go to the office today, tomorrow, or the day after. Or, tired of lying still, he goes to the hayfield, or to the forest for mushrooms, or watches the peasants catching fish with a net. When the sun sets he takes a towel and soap and saunters to the bathing-shed, where he undresses at his leisure, slowly rubs his bare chest with his hands, and goes into the water. And in the water, near the opaque soapy circles, little fish flit to and fro and green water-weeds nod their heads. After bathing there is tea with cream and milk rolls. . . . In the evening a walk or vint with the neighbours.

“Yes, it would be nice to buy an estate,” said his wife, also dreaming, and from her face it was evident that she was enchanted by her thoughts.

Ivan Dmitritch pictured to himself autumn with its rains, its cold evenings, and its St. Martin’s summer. At that season he would have to take longer walks about the garden and beside the river, so as to get thoroughly chilled, and then drink a big glass of vodka and eat a salted mushroom or a soused cucumber, and then — drink another. . . . The children would come running from the kitchen-garden, bringing a carrot and a radish smelling of fresh earth. . . . And then, he would lie stretched full length on the sofa, and in leisurely fashion turn over the pages of some illustrated magazine, or, covering his face with it and unbuttoning his waistcoat, give himself up to slumber.

The St. Martin’s summer is followed by cloudy, gloomy weather. It rains day and night, the bare trees weep, the wind is damp and cold. The dogs, the horses, the fowls — all are wet, depressed, downcast. There is nowhere to walk; one can’t go out for days together; one has to pace up and down the room, looking despondently at the grey window. It is dreary!

Ivan Dmitritch stopped and looked at his wife.

“I should go abroad, you know, Masha,” he said.

And he began thinking how nice it would be in late autumn to go abroad somewhere to the South of France . . . to Italy . . . . to India!

“I should certainly go abroad too,” his wife said. “But look at the number of the ticket!”

“Wait, wait! . . .”

He walked about the room and went on thinking. It occurred to him: what if his wife really did go abroad? It is pleasant to travel alone, or in the society of light, careless women who live in the present, and not such as think and talk all the journey about nothing but their children, sigh, and tremble with dismay over every farthing. Ivan Dmitritch imagined his wife in the train with a multitude of parcels, baskets, and bags; she would be sighing over something, complaining that the train made her head ache, that she had spent so much money. . . . At the stations he would continually be having to run for boiling water, bread and butter. . . . She wouldn’t have dinner because of its being too dear. . . .

“She would begrudge me every farthing,” he thought, with a glance at his wife. “The lottery ticket is hers, not mine! Besides, what is the use of her going abroad? What does she want there? She would shut herself up in the hotel, and not let me out of her sight. . . . I know!”

And for the first time in his life his mind dwelt on the fact that his wife had grown elderly and plain, and that she was saturated through and through with the smell of cooking, while he was still young, fresh, and healthy, and might well have got married again.

“Of course, all that is silly nonsense,” he thought; “but . . . why should she go abroad? What would she make of it? And yet she would go, of course. . . . I can fancy . . . In reality it is all one to her, whether it is Naples or Klin. She would only be in my way. I should be dependent upon her. I can fancy how, like a regular woman, she will lock the money up as soon as she gets it. . . . She will hide it from me. . . . She will look after her relations and grudge me every farthing.”

Ivan Dmitritch thought of her relations. All those wretched brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles would come crawling about as soon as they heard of the winning ticket, would begin whining like beggars, and fawning upon them with oily, hypocritical smiles. Wretched, detestable people! If they were given anything, they would ask for more; while if they were refused, they would swear at them, slander them, and wish them every kind of misfortune.

Ivan Dmitritch remembered his own relations, and their faces, at which he had looked impartially in the past, struck him now as repulsive and hateful.

“They are such reptiles!” he thought.

And his wife’s face, too, struck him as repulsive and hateful. Anger surged up in his heart against her, and he thought malignantly:

“She knows nothing about money, and so she is stingy. If she won it she would give me a hundred roubles, and put the rest away under lock and key.”

And he looked at his wife, not with a smile now, but with hatred. She glanced at him too, and also with hatred and anger. She had her own daydreams, her own plans, her own reflections; she understood perfectly well what her husband’s dreams were. She knew who would be the first to try and grab her winnings.

“It’s very nice making daydreams at other people’s expense!” is what her eyes expressed. “No, don’t you dare!”

Her husband understood her look; hatred began stirring again in his breast, and in order to annoy his wife he glanced quickly, to spite her at the fourth page on the newspaper and read out triumphantly:

“Series 9,499, number 46! Not 26!”

Hatred and hope both disappeared at once, and it began immediately to seem to Ivan Dmitritch and his wife that their rooms were dark and small and low-pitched, that the supper they had been eating was not doing them good, but lying heavy on their stomachs, that the evenings were long and wearisome. . . .

“What the devil’s the meaning of it?” said Ivan Dmitritch, beginning to be ill-humoured. “Wherever one steps there are bits of paper under one’s feet, crumbs, husks. The rooms are never swept! One is simply forced to go out. Damnation take my soul entirely! I shall go and hang myself on the first aspen-tree!”

The Requiem

IN the village church of Verhny Zaprudy mass was just over. The people had begun moving and were trooping out of church. The only one who did not move was Andrey Andreyitch, a shopkeeper and old inhabitant of Verhny Zaprudy. He stood waiting, with his elbows on the railing of the right choir. His fat and shaven face, covered with indentations left by pimples, expressed on this occasion two contradictory feelings: resignation in the face of inevitable destiny, and stupid, unbounded disdain for the smocks and striped kerchiefs passing by him. As it was Sunday, he was dressed like a dandy. He wore a long cloth overcoat with yellow bone buttons, blue trousers not thrust into his boots, and sturdy goloshes — the huge clumsy goloshes only seen on the feet of practical and prudent persons of firm religious convictions.

His torpid eyes, sunk in fat, were fixed upon the ikon stand. He saw the long familiar figures of the saints, the verger Matvey puffing out his cheeks and blowing out the candles, the darkened candle stands, the threadbare carpet, the sacristan Lopuhov running impulsively from the altar and carrying the holy bread to the churchwarden. . . . All these things he had seen for years, and seen over and over again like the five fingers of his hand. . . . There was only one thing, however, that was somewhat strange and unusual. Father Grigory, still in his vestments, was standing at the north door, twitching his thick eyebrows angrily.

“Who is it he is winking at? God bless him!” thought the shopkeeper. “And he is beckoning with his finger! And he stamped his foot! What next! What’s the matter, Holy Queen and Mother! Whom does he mean it for?”

Andrey Andreyitch looked round and saw the church completely deserted. There were some ten people standing at the door, but they had their backs to the altar.

“Do come when you are called! Why do you stand like a graven image?” he heard Father Grigory’s angry voice. “I am calling you.”

The shopkeeper looked at Father Grigory’s red and wrathful face, and only then realized that the twitching eyebrows and beckoning finger might refer to him. He started, left the railing, and hesitatingly walked towards the altar, tramping with his heavy goloshes.

“Andrey Andreyitch, was it you asked for prayers for the rest of Mariya’s soul?” asked the priest, his eyes angrily transfixing the shopkeeper’s fat, perspiring face.

“Yes, Father.”

“Then it was you wrote this? You?” And Father Grigory angrily thrust before his eyes the little note.

And on this little note, handed in by Andrey Andreyitch before mass, was written in big, as it were staggering, letters:

“For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot Mariya.”

“Yes, certainly I wrote it, . . .” answered the shopkeeper.

“How dared you write it?” whispered the priest, and in his husky whisper there was a note of wrath and alarm.

The shopkeeper looked at him in blank amazement; he was perplexed, and he, too, was alarmed. Father Grigory had never in his life spoken in such a tone to a leading resident of Verhny Zaprudy. Both were silent for a minute, staring into each other’s face. The shopkeeper’s amazement was so great that his fat face spread in all directions like spilt dough.

“How dared you?” repeated the priest.

“Wha . . . what?” asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.

“You don’t understand?” whispered Father Grigory, stepping back in astonishment and clasping his hands. “What have you got on your shoulders, a head or some other object? You send a note up to the altar, and write a word in it which it would be unseemly even to utter in the street! Why are you rolling your eyes? Surely you know the meaning of the word?”

“Are you referring to the word harlot?” muttered the shopkeeper, flushing crimson and blinking. “But you know, the Lord in His mercy . . . forgave this very thing, . . . forgave a harlot. . . . He has prepared a place for her, and indeed from the life of the holy saint, Mariya of Egypt, one may see in what sense the word is used — excuse me . . .”

The shopkeeper wanted to bring forward some other argument in his justification, but took fright and wiped his lips with his sleeve.

“So that’s what you make of it!” cried Father Grigory, clasping his hands. “But you see God has forgiven her — do you understand? He has forgiven, but you judge her, you slander her, call her by an unseemly name, and whom! Your own deceased daughter! Not only in Holy Scripture, but even in worldly literature you won’t read of such a sin! I tell you again, Andrey, you mustn’t be over-subtle! No, no, you mustn’t be over-subtle, brother! If God has given you an inquiring mind, and if you cannot direct it, better not go into things. . . . Don’t go into things, and hold your peace!”

“But you know, she, . . . excuse my mentioning it, was an actress!” articulated Andrey Andreyitch, overwhelmed.

“An actress! But whatever she was, you ought to forget it all now she is dead, instead of writing it on the note.”

“Just so, . . .” the shopkeeper assented.

“You ought to do penance,” boomed the deacon from the depths of the altar, looking contemptuously at Andrey Andreyitch’s embarrassed face, “that would teach you to leave off being so clever! Your daughter was a well-known actress. There were even notices of her death in the newspapers. . . . Philosopher!”

“To be sure, . . . certainly,” muttered the shopkeeper, “the word is not a seemly one; but I did not say it to judge her, Father Grigory, I only meant to speak spiritually, . . . that it might be clearer to you for whom you were praying. They write in the memorial notes the various callings, such as the infant John, the drowned woman Pelagea, the warrior Yegor, the murdered Pavel, and so on. . . . I meant to do the same.”

“It was foolish, Andrey! God will forgive you, but beware another time. Above all, don’t be subtle, but think like other people. Make ten bows and go your way.”

“I obey,” said the shopkeeper, relieved that the lecture was over, and allowing his face to resume its expression of importance and dignity. “Ten bows? Very good, I understand. But now, Father, allow me to ask you a favor. . . . Seeing that I am, anyway, her father, . . . you know yourself, whatever she was, she was still my daughter, so I was, . . . excuse me, meaning to ask you to sing the requiem today. And allow me to ask you, Father Deacon!”

“Well, that’s good,” said Father Grigory, taking off his vestments. “That I commend. I can approve of that! Well, go your way. We will come out immediately.”

Andrey Andreyitch walked with dignity from the altar, and with a solemn, requiem-like expression on his red face took his stand in the middle of the church. The verger Matvey set before him a little table with the memorial food upon it, and a little later the requiem service began.

There was perfect stillness in the church. Nothing could be heard but the metallic click of the censer and slow singing. . . . Near Andrey Andreyitch stood the verger Matvey, the midwife Makaryevna, and her one-armed son Mitka. There was no one else. The sacristan sang badly in an unpleasant, hollow bass, but the tune and the words were so mournful that the shopkeeper little by little lost the expression of dignity and was plunged in sadness. He thought of his Mashutka, . . . he remembered she had been born when he was still a lackey in the service of the owner of Verhny Zaprudy. In his busy life as a lackey he had not noticed how his girl had grown up. That long period during which she was being shaped into a graceful creature, with a little flaxen head and dreamy eyes as big as kopeck-pieces passed unnoticed by him. She had been brought up like all the children of favorite lackeys, in ease and comfort in the company of the young ladies. The gentry, to fill up their idle time, had taught her to read, to write, to dance; he had had no hand in her bringing up. Only from time to time casually meeting her at the gate or on the landing of the stairs, he would remember that she was his daughter, and would, so far as he had leisure for it, begin teaching her the prayers and the scripture. Oh, even then he had the reputation of an authority on the church rules and the holy scriptures! Forbidding and stolid as her father’s face was, yet the girl listened readily. She repeated the prayers after him yawning, but on the other hand, when he, hesitating and trying to express himself elaborately, began telling her stories, she was all attention. Esau’s pottage, the punishment of Sodom, and the troubles of the boy Joseph made her turn pale and open her blue eyes wide.

Afterwards when he gave up being a lackey, and with the money he had saved opened a shop in the village, Mashutka had gone away to Moscow with his master’s family. . . .

Three years before her death she had come to see her father. He had scarcely recognized her. She was a graceful young woman with the manners of a young lady, and dressed like one. She talked cleverly, as though from a book, smoked, and slept till midday. When Andrey Andreyitch asked her what she was doing, she had announced, looking him boldly straight in the face: “I am an actress.” Such frankness struck the former flunkey as the acme of cynicism. Mashutka had begun boasting of her successes and her stage life; but seeing that her father only turned crimson and threw up his hands, she ceased. And they spent a fortnight together without speaking or looking at one another till the day she went away. Before she went away she asked her father to come for a walk on the bank of the river. Painful as it was for him to walk in the light of day, in the sight of all honest people, with a daughter who was an actress, he yielded to her request.

“What a lovely place you live in!” she said enthusiastically. “What ravines and marshes! Good heavens, how lovely my native place is!”

And she had burst into tears.

“The place is simply taking up room, . . .” Andrey Andreyitch had thought, looking blankly at the ravines, not understanding his daughter’s enthusiasm. “There is no more profit from them than milk from a billy-goat.”

And she had cried and cried, drawing her breath greedily with her whole chest, as though she felt she had not a long time left to breathe.

Andrey Andreyitch shook his head like a horse that has been bitten, and to stifle painful memories began rapidly crossing himself. . . .

“Be mindful, O Lord,” he muttered, “of Thy departed servant, the harlot Mariya, and forgive her sins, voluntary or involuntary. . . .”

The unseemly word dropped from his lips again, but he did not notice it: what is firmly imbedded in the consciousness cannot be driven out by Father Grigory’s exhortations or even knocked out by a nail. Makaryevna sighed and whispered something, drawing in a deep breath, while one-armed Mitka was brooding over something. . . .

“Where there is no sickness, nor grief, nor sighing,” droned the sacristan, covering his right cheek with his hand.

Bluish smoke coiled up from the censer and bathed in the broad, slanting patch of sunshine which cut across the gloomy, lifeless emptiness of the church. And it seemed as though the soul of the dead woman were soaring into the sunlight together with the smoke. The coils of smoke like a child’s curls eddied round and round, floating upwards to the window and, as it were, holding aloof from the woes and tribulations of which that poor soul was full.

Taman

Taman is the most miserable dump of all the seaboard towns in Russia. I very nearly died of hunger there, and was almost drowned in the bargain. I arrived by stage coach late at night. The coachman stopped his tired troika at the gate of the only brick building, which stood at the entrance to the town. Roused from a doze by the tinkling of the carriage bell, the Black Sea Cossack on sentry duty shouted wildly: “Who goes there?” A Cossack sergeant and a corporal emerged from the building. I explained that I was an officer on my way to join an active service unit on official business and demanded housing for the night. The corporal took us around town. All the cottages we stopped at were occupied. It was chilly, and not having slept for three nights running, I was exhausted and began to lose my temper. “Take me anywhere you want, you good-for-nothing! To hell, if you please, as long as there’s a place to stay!” I shouted. “There is still one place left,” the corporal replied, scratching the back of his head. “Only you won’t like it, sir; there are strange goings on there . . .” Failing to understand the precise meaning of the last remark, I told him to go ahead, and after wandering about for a long time in muddy alleys lined with rickety fences, we drove up to a small hut on the seashore.

A full moon lit up the reed roof and white walls of my prospective dwelling. In the courtyard, which was fenced in by a crude stone wall, stood another miserable, crooked hut, smaller and older than the first. A cliff dropped abruptly to the sea from the very walls of the hut, and down below the dark-blue waves broke against the shore with an incessant roar. The moon looked down serenely upon the restless ships at anchor far from the shore, their black rigging a motionless cobweb against the paler background of the skyline. “There are ships in the anchorage,” thought I. “Tomorrow I’ll leave for Gelendzhik.”

A Cossack from a front-line unit served as my valet. Telling him to take down my suitcase and dismiss the driver, I called for the master of the house. There was no answer. I knocked, and still there was no reply. What could it mean? Finally a boy of about fourteen appeared from the porch.

“Where is the master?” “No master.” “What? You mean there is no master at all?” “None at all.” “And the mistress?” “Gone to town.” “Who’s going to open the door for me?” said I, kicking at it. The door opened by itself, and a damp smell came from the hut. I struck a sulfur match and brought it close to the youngster’s nose, and in its light I saw two white eyes. He was blind, totally blind from birth. As he stood motionless before me I looked closely into his face.

I admit that I’m greatly prejudiced against all the blind, squint-eyed, deaf, mute, legless, armless, hunch-backed and so on. I’ve observed that there’s always some strange relationship between the external appearance of a man and his soul, as if with the loss of a limb the soul too has lost some faculty of sensation.

So I examined the blind lad’s face, but what would you have me read on a face without eyes? I looked at him long with involuntary pity, when a faint smile flitted across his thin lips, making, I know not why, the most unpleasant impression on me. A suspicion that he wasn’t as blind as he seemed flashed through my mind, and in vain I tried to assure myself that it’s impossible to pretend to have a cataract. And why would anyone do that? But I couldn’t help suspecting, for I am often inclined to preconceived notions.

“Are you the master’s son?” I asked him at last. “Nay.” “Then who are you?” “Orphan, a poor orphan.” “Has the mistress any children?” “Nay. There was a daughter but she ran away across the sea with a Tatar.” “What kind of a Tatar?” “The devil knows! A Crimean Tatar, a boatman from Kerch.”

I walked into the hut. Two benches, a table and a huge trunk next to the stove were the sole furnishings. Not a single icon was there on the wall–a bad sign that! The sea wind blew in through a broken window. I took out the stub of a wax candle from my suitcase and lighting it began to lay out my things. I put my sword and gun in a corner, laid my pistols on the table, and spread out my cloak on a bench while the Cossack laid out his on the other. In ten minutes he was snoring, but I couldn’t sleep. The lad with the white eyes kept twirling before me in the darkness.

About an hour passed in this way. The moon shone into the window and a beam of light played on the earth floor of the hut. Suddenly a shadow darted across the bright strip on the floor. I got up and looked out of the window. Someone again ran past and disappeared, God knows where. It didn’t seem possible that the somebody could have run down the cliff to the shore, yet he could not have gone anywhere else. I got up, put on my shirt, fastened a knife to my belt, and softly went out of the hut. The blind boy was coming towards me. I moved close to the fence, and he went past with sure though cautious tread. He carried a bundle under his arm. Turning toward the boat landing, he began down along a narrow, steep path. “On that day shall the mute sing out and the blind shall see,” . . . I thought, following close enough not to lose sight of him.

In the meantime clouds began to close around the moon and a fog came up at sea. The stern light of the ship nearest the shore was barely visible through it. On the shore gleamed the foam of the breakers, which threatened to submerge it at any moment. Picking my way with difficulty down the steep slope, I saw the blind boy stop, then turn to the right and proceed so close to the water that it seemed the waves must surely grab him and carry him out to sea. It was obvious, however, that this was not the first time he was taking this stroll, judging by the confidence with which he stepped from stone to stone and avoided the holes. At last he stopped as if listening for something, then sat down on the ground with his bundle beside him. Hidden behind a projecting cliff I watched his movements. A few minutes later a figure in white appeared from the other side, walked up to the blind boy and sat down beside him. The wind carried fragments of their conversation to me.

“What do you say, blind one?” a woman’s voice said. “The storm is too heavy; Yanko won’t come.”

“Yanko is not afraid of storms,” the other replied.

“The fog’s thickening,” came the woman’s voice again with a note of sadness.

“It will be easier to slip by the patrol ships in the fog,” was the reply.

“What if he’s drowned?”

“Well, what of it? You’ll go to church on Sunday without a new ribbon.”

A silence followed. I was struck, however, by one thing: the blind boy had spoken to me in the Ukrainian dialect, and now he was speaking pure Russian.

“You see, I’m right,” said the blind boy again, clapping his hands. “Yanko does not fear the sea, or the winds, or the fog, or yet the coast patrols. Listen, that’s not the waves splashing, you can’t fool me; those are his long oars.”

The woman jumped up and peered anxiously into the distance.

“You’re raving, blind one,” she said. “I don’t see anything.”

I must admit that, strain as I did, I couldn’t detect anything like a boat in the distance. Some ten minutes had passed that way when a black speck now growing larger, now smaller, appeared among the mountainous billows, Slowly climbing to the crests of the waves and sharply dropping into the troughs, the boat approached the shore. It was an very brave oarsman who ventured on a night like this to cross the fifteen miles of the strait, and the reason that was behind it must have been important indeed. Thus thinking, my heart involuntarily quickening its beat, I watched the frail craft dive with the dexterity of a duck and then leap up from the watery chasm through the flying foam with a swift movement of the oars that recalled the thrust of wings. I thought it would have to crash full force against the shore and be dashed to pieces, but it neatly swung around and slipped safely into a tiny bay. A man of medium size, wearing a Tatar sheepskin cap, stepped from the boat. He motioned with his hand and all three began to haul something from the craft. The cargo was so great that to this day I can’t understand why the boat hadn’t sunk. Each shouldering a bundle, they set out along the shore and I soon lost sight of them. I had to return to my lodgings. I must admit, however, that all these strange doings alarmed me, and I could hardly wait for the morning.

My Cossack was very much surprised when upon waking up he found me fully dressed, but I gave him no explanation. After admiring for some time the blue sky mottled with ragged little clouds and the Crimean coast which spread out in a line of mauve in the distance and ended in a crag topped by the white tower of a lighthouse, I set out for the Phangoria fort to inquire at the commandant’s when I could leave for Gelendzhik.

But, alas, the commandant was unable to tell me anything definite. The vessels in the harbor were either coast guard ships or merchant boats which hadn’t even begun loading. “Perhaps there’ll be a packet boat in three or four days,” the commandant said, “and then we’ll see.” I returned to my lodgings sad and angry. My Cossack met me at the door with a scared look on his face.

“Looks bad, sir!” he said.

“Yes, my friend. The Lord knows when we will get away!” Now he looked still more worried. Bending toward me, he whispered: “It’s an unclean place here! Today I met a Cossack sergeant I know–we were in the same detachment last year. When I told him where we’d stopped he said to me: ‘Brother, it’s unclean there; the people are no good!’ And, come to think of it, what sort of a fellow is this blind man? Goes everywhere alone, to the market, for bread, and to fetch water. You can see they’re used to that sort of thing here.”

“What of it? Has the mistress of the house appeared at least?”

“While you were out today an old woman came with her daughter.”

“What daughter? She has no daughter.”

“God knows who she is then, if she’s not. The old woman is in the hut now.”

I went inside. The stove had been stoked up until it was hot and a dinner rather sumptuous for poor folk was cooking. To all my questions the old woman replied that she was deaf and couldn’t hear me. What could I do? I addressed the blind boy, who was sitting in front of the stove feeding brushwood into the fire. “Now tell me, you blind imp,” said I, taking hold of his ear, “where did you go last night with that bundle, eh?” He burst into tears and began howling and wailing: “Where’d I go? Nowhere. And I don’t know of any bundle.” This time the old woman heard what was going on and began to grumble: “Of all the things to imagine, and about a poor boy like him, too! Why can’t you leave him alone? What has he done to you?” I got tired of this and I walked out firmly resolved to find the key to the riddle.

I wrapped my cloak around me and sat down on a boulder beside the wall, looking into the distance. Before me spread the sea agitated by last night’s gale, and its monotonous roar like the murmuring of a city falling into slumber reminded me of bygone years, carrying my thoughts to the North, to our frigid capital. Stirred by memories I forgot all else. An hour and perhaps more passed that way. Suddenly something like a song caught my ear. It was indeed a song, and the voice was pleasant, feminine, but where did it come from? I listened to it. It was a strange melody, now slow and plaintive, now fast and lively. I looked around, but saw no one. I listened again, and the sound seemed to drop from the heavens. I looked up, and on the roof of the hut I saw a girl in a striped dress, a real mermaid with loose long hair. Shading her eyes from the sun with her hand, she was looking into the distance, now smiling and talking to herself, now starting up the song again.

I memorized the song word for word:

Over boundless billows green,
    Over billows surging,
Fly the ships with sails a-spread,
    Onward urging.
There among those ships at sea,
    Sails my shallop sprightly,
Curtsying to wind and wave,
    Kissed by combers lightly.
Stormy winds begin to blow,
    Stately ships a-rocking,
Widely do they spread their wings–
    To leeward flocking.
The angry ocean then I pray,
    Bending low before him:
“Spare my bark, Oh fearsome one!”–
    Thus I do implore him.–
“Precious goods are stowed on board!–
    The sea foam is a fright!–
Keep her safe–a crazy one steers
    Through the darkening night!”

It occurred to me that I had heard the same voice the night before. For a moment I was lost in thought, and when I looked up at the roof again, the girl was no longer there. Suddenly she skipped past me, singing a different tune. Snapping her fingers, she ran in to the old woman, and I heard their voices rise in argument. The old woman grew very angry but the girl merely laughed aloud. A short while later my mermaid came skipping along again. As she approached me she paused and looked me straight in the eyes, as if surprised at finding me there. Then she turned away carelessly and went quietly down to the boat landing. This, however, wasn’t the end of it: all day long she hovered around near me, singing and skipping about without a moment’s rest. She was a strange creature indeed. There was nothing foolish about her expression–on the contrary, her eyes inspected me with keen penetration, they seemed to be endowed with some magnetic power, and each glance appeared to invite a question, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak she ran away, smiling artfully.

Never had I seen a woman like her. She was far from beautiful, though I have my preconceived notions as regards beauty as well. There was much of the thoroughbred in her, and in women as in horses that is a great thing–this is something discovered by Young France. It (I mean breeding, not Young France) is betrayed mainly by the walk and by the hands and feet, and particularly characteristic is the nose. In Russia a classic straight, Roman nose is rarer than small feet. My songstress looked no more than eighteen. Her extraordinarily supple figure, the peculiar way she had of tilting her head, her long auburn hair, the golden sheen of her slightly sun-tanned neck and shoulders, and especially her finely chiseled straight nose enchanted me. Though I could read something wild and suspicious in her sidelong glances and though there was something indefinable in her smile, the preconceived notions got the better of me. The chiseled nose knocked me off my feet, and I fancied I had found Goethe’s Mignon, that fanciful figment of his German imagination. And indeed, there was much in common between the two, the same swift transitions from supreme agitation to utter immobility, the same enigmatic conversation, the same gambolling and the same strange songs . . .

Toward evening I stopped her in the doorway and engaged her in the following conversation:

“Tell me, my pretty one,” I asked, “what were you doing on the roof today?”

“Looking where the wind blows from.”

“Why?”

“Whence the wind blows, thence blows happiness.”

“Indeed, were you invoking happiness by song?”

“Where there is song there is also good fortune.”

“Supposing you sing in grief for yourself?”

“What of it? If things will not be better, they’ll be worse, and then it’s not so far from bad to good.”

“Who taught you that song?”

“No one taught it to me. I sing whatever comes to my mind; he to whom I sing will hear; he to whom I don’t won’t understand.”

“What is your name, my nightingale?”

“Whoever named me knows.”

“And who named you?”

“How should I know?”

“You are furtive! But I’ve learned something about you.” There was no change in her expression, not even a trembling of her lips, as if it all were no concern of hers. “I’ve learned that you went down to the shore last night.” Assuming an air of importance I told her everything I had seen, hoping to disconcert her, but no way! She only burst out laughing. “You saw a lot but you know little–and what you do know you’d best keep under lock and key.”

“Supposing I took it into my head to report to the commandant?” And here I adopted a very serious, even severe face. Suddenly she bounded off and began singing, disappearing like a bird frightened into flight. My last remark was entirely out of place, though at the time I did not suspect its full significance and only later had occasion to regret ever having made it.

It was already just dark and I told the Cossack to put on the kettle, lit a candle and sat at the table smoking my traveling pipe. I was already finishing my second glass of tea when the door suddenly creaked and I heard the soft rustle of a dress and light footsteps behind me. I was startled and turned around: it was she, my mermaid! She sat down opposite me without a word and looked at me with eyes that for some unfathomable reason seemed full of sweet tenderness. They reminded me of eyes that years before had so despotically played with my life. She seemed to wait for me to speak, but I was too confused to say a word. The deathly white of her face betrayed the tumult within her. Her hand aimlessly wandered over the table and I noticed that it trembled–now her bosom rose high, now she seemed to be holding her breath. The comedy began to fade and I was ready to cut it short in the most ordinary fashion by offering her a glass of tea when she jumped up, twisted her arms around my neck and planted a moist, fiery kiss on my lips. Everything went dark before my eyes, my head swam, and I embraced her with all my youthful passion, but she slipped like a snake from my arms, whispering in my ear: “Meet me on the shore tonight after everyone is asleep”, and ran out of the room as swift as an arrow. In the hallway she upset the tea-kettle and the candle standing on the floor. “She-devil!” shouted the Cossack, who had made himself comfortable on some straw and was intending to warm himself with the tea I had left. I came to myself suddenly.

Some two hours later when all was quiet in the harbor I woke up my Cossack. “If you hear a pistol shot,” I told him, “run down to the waterfront.” He opened his eyes wide but replied mechanically: “Yes, sir.” I stuck a pistol under my belt and went out. She was waiting for me at the top of the slope, flimsily clad to say the least, a small shawl tied around her supple waist.

“Follow me,” she said, taking me by the hand, and we started down the slope. I do not know how I managed not to break my neck. At the bottom we turned to the right and took the same path along which I had followed the blind boy the night before. The moon had not risen yet, and only two stars like two distant lighthouses shone in the dark blue sky. The swell came in at even, regular intervals, barely lifting the lone boat moored to the shore. “Let’s get into the boat,” said my companion. I hesitated, for I have no predilection for sentimental sea jaunts, but this was not the time to retreat. She jumped into the boat and I followed, and before I knew it we had cast off. “What does this mean?” I asked, angrily now. “It means,” she said as she pushed me on to a seat and wrapped her arms around me, “that I love you.” She pressed her cheek against mine and I felt her breath hot on my face. Suddenly something splashed into the water; I reached for my belt, but the pistol was gone. Now a terrible suspicion crept into my heart and the blood rushed to my head. Looking around, I saw we were already some hundred yards from the shore, and there am I unable to swim! I wanted to push her away but she clung to my clothes like a cat, then gave me a sharp push that nearly threw me overboard. The boat rocked dangerously, but I regained my balance, and a desperate struggle began between us. Fury gave me strength, but I soon noticed that my opponent was more agile than I. “What do you want?” I shouted, gripping her small hands. I could hear her fingers crack, but she didn’t cry out–her snakelike nature was superior to the pain.

“You saw us,” she replied, “and you will tell on us.” With a superhuman effort she forced me against the gunwale until we both hung perilously over the water and her hair dipped into it. The moment was decisive. I braced my knee against the side of the boat and held her by the hair with one hand and the throat with the other. She let go of my clothes and in a flash I had hurled her into the sea.

It was already quite dark and after seeing her head bob up a couple of times in the foam I lost sight of her completely.

I found a piece of an old oar at the bottom of the boat, and after a great deal of effort managed to reach the landing. As I was making my way along the shore back to the hut, my eyes turned involuntarily toward the spot where the blind boy had waited for the nocturnal boatman the night before. The moon was coming up and in its light I thought I saw someone with white clothes sitting on the shore. Spurred on by curiosity I crept towards it and lay down in the grass on top of a hill rising from the shore. By raising my head slightly I could observe everything that happened below, and I was neither too surprised nor too sorry to find my mermaid there. She was wringing the sea water from her long hair, and I noticed how her wet shift outlined her lithe form and raised breasts. Soon a boat appeared in the distance and quickly approached the shore. Like the night before, a man stepped out of it wearing a Tatar cap, though his hair was cut in Cossack fashion, and he had a large knife stuck under his belt. “Yanko,” she said, “everything is lost!” They continued talking, but in so low a voice that I could not hear a word. “And where is the blind one?” Yanko finally asked in a louder tone. “I sent him for something,” was the reply. A few minutes later the blind boy appeared carrying a bag on his back. This was put into the boat.

“Listen, blind one,” said Yanko, “take care of that spot, you know what I mean? There’s a wealth of goods there . . . And tell (the name I could not make out) that I am no longer his servant. Things have turned out badly and he’ll see me no more. It’s dangerous to go on. I’m going to look for work elsewhere; he won’t find another daredevil like me. And tell him that had he paid more generously, Yanko wouldn’t have left him. I can always make my way wherever the wind blows and the sea roars!” After a brief pause, Yanko continued: “I’ll take her with me, for she can’t stay behind, and tell the old woman it’s time she died. She’s lived long enough and ought to know when her time’s up. She’ll never see us again.”

“What about me?” the blind boy whimpered.

“What do I need you for?” was the answer.

In the meantime my mermaid had jumped into the boat and was making signs to the other to come. Yanko put something into the blind boy’s hand and muttered: “Here, buy yourself some ginger cakes.” “Is that all?” asked the blind one. “All right, take this too.” The coin rang as it fell on the stones. The blind boy didn’t pick it up. Yanko got into the boat, and as the wind was blowing out to sea, they raised a small sail and quickly slipped into the distance. For a long time the white sail flashed among the dark waves in the moonlight. The blind boy remained sitting on the shore, and I heard something that sounded like sobbing: it was the blind boy crying, and he cried for a long, long time . . . A sadness came over me. Why did fate have to throw me into the peaceful lives of honest smugglers? Like a stone hurled into the placid surface of a pond I had disturbed their tranquillity, and like a stone had nearly gone to the bottom myself!

I returned to where I was staying. In the hall a candle spluttered its last on a wooden platter, while my Cossack, orders notwithstanding, was fast asleep, gripping a gun with both hands. I didn’t disturb him, and picking up the candle went into the room. But alas, my box, my silver-inlaid saber and a Daghestan dagger that I’d received as a present from a friend had all disappeared. Now I guessed what the confounded blind boy had been carrying. Waking up the Cossack with little ceremony, I swore at him and vented my anger, but there was nothing that could be done about it any more. And wouldn’t it have been idiotic for me to complain to my superiors that I’d been robbed by a blind boy and that an eighteen-year-old girl had all but drowned me?

Thank God an opportunity offered itself the following morning to travel on, and I left Taman. What became of the old woman and the poor blind boy, I don’t know. And, after all, what have human joys and sorrows to do with me, an officer who travels around on official business!