The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County 1
Man From the South 5
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge 25
The Second Bakery Attack 31
The Swimmer 42
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings: A Tale For Children 50
Three Questions 54
The Fall of the House of Usher 58
The Looking-glass 96
The Most Dangerous Game 100
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 117
The Yellow Wallpaper 120
The Rocking Horse Winner 131
The South 144
The Lottery 149
The Use of Force 156
Signs and Symbols 159


In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I
called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friend's
friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result. I
have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never
knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that, if I asked old Wheeler
about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work
and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and
tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it certainly succeeded.
I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the bar-room stove of the old,
dilapidated tavern in the ancient mining camp of Angel's, and I noticed that he was
fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity
upon his tranquil countenance. He roused up and gave me good-day. I told him a
friend of mine had commissioned me to make some inquiries about a cherished
companion of his boyhood named Leonidas W. Smiley Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley a
young minister of the Gospel, who he had heard was at one time a resident of
Angel's Camp. I added that, if Mr. Wheeler could tell me any thing about this Rev.
Leonidas W. Smiley, I would feel under many obligations to him.
Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair, and
then sat me down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this
paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the
gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the
slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there
ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so
far from his imagining that there was any thing ridiculous or funny about his story,
he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of
transcendent genius in finesse. To me, the spectacle of a man drifting serenely along
through such a queer yarn without ever smiling, was exquisitely absurd. As I said
before, I asked him to tell me what he knew of Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and he
replied as follows. I let him go on in his own way, and never interrupted him once:
There was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of '49 or may
be it was the spring of '50 I don't recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me
think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume wasn't finished
when he first came to the camp; but any way, he was the curiosest man about
always betting on any thing that turned up you ever see, if he could get any body to
bet on the other side; and if he couldn't, he'd change sides. Any way that suited the
other man would suit him any way just so's he got a bet, he was satisfied. But still he
was lucky, uncommon lucky; he most always come out winner. He was always ready
and laying for a chance; there couldn't be no solittry thing mentioned but that
feller'd offer to bet on it, and -take any side you please, as I was just telling you. If
there was a horse-race, you'd find him flush, or you'd find him busted at the end of
it; if there was a dog-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he'd bet on it; if
there was a chicken-fight, he'd bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a

fence, he would bet you which one would fly first; or if there was a camp-meeting,
he would be there reg'lar, to bet on Parson Walker, which he judged to be the best
exhorter about here, and so he was, too, and a good man. If he even seen a straddle-
bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get
wherever he was going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle-bug
to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was
on the road. Lots of the boys here has seen that Smiley, and can tell you about him.
Why, it never made no difference to him he would bet on any thing the dangdest
feller. Parson Walker's wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if
they warn's going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley asked how
she was, and he said she was considerable better thank the Lord for his inftnit
mercy and coming on so smart that, with the blessing of Providence, she'd get well
yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, "Well, I'll risk two- and-a-half that she
don't, any way."
Thish-yer Smiley had a mare the boys called her the fifteen- minute nag, but that
was only in fun, you know, because, of course, she was faster than that and he used
to win money on that horse, for all she was so slow and always had the asthma, or
the distemper, or the consumption, or something of that kind. They used to give her
two or three hundred yards start, and then pass her under way; but always at the
fag-end of the race she'd get excited and desperate- like, and come cavorting and
straddling up, and scattering her legs around limber, sometimes in the air, and
sometimes out to one side amongst the fences, and kicking up m-o-r-e dust, and
raising m-o-r-e racket with her coughing and sneezing and blowing her nose and
always fetch up at the stand just about a neck ahead, as near as you could cipher it
And he had a little small bull pup, that to look at him you'd think he wan's worth a
cent, but to set around and look ornery, and lay for a chance to steal something. But
as soon as money was up on him, he was a different dog; his underjaw'd begin to
stick out like the fo'castle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover, and shine
savage like the furnaces. And a dog might tackle him, and bully- rag him, and bite
him, and throw him over his shoulder two or three times, and Andrew Jackson
which was the name of the pup Andrew Jackson would never let on but what he was
satisfied, and hadn't expected nothing else and the bets being doubled and doubled
on the other side all the time, till the money was all up; and then all of a sudden he
would grab that other dog jest by the j'int of his hind leg and freeze on it not chew,
you understand, but only jest grip and hang on till they thronged up the sponge, if it
was a year. Smiley always come out winner on that pup, till he harnessed a dog once
that didn't have no hind legs, because they'd been sawed off by a circular saw, and
when the thing had gone along far enough, and the money was all up, and he come
to make a snatch for his pet bolt, he saw in a minute how he'd been imposed on, and
how the other dog had him in the door, so to speak, and he 'peered sur- prised, and
then he looked sorter discouraged-like, and didn't try no more to win the fight, and
so he got shucked out bad. He give Smiley a look, as much as to say his heart was
broke, and it was his fault, for putting up a dog that hadn't no hind legs for him to
take bolt of, which was his main dependence in a fight, and then he limped off a
piece and laid down and died. It was a good pup, was that Andrew Jackson, and
would have made a name for hisself if he'd lived, for the stuff was in him, and he had

genius I know it, because he hadn't had no opportunities to speak of, and it don't
stand to reason that a dog could make such a fight as he could under them
circumstances, if he hadn't no talent. It always makes me feel sorry when I think of
that last fight of his'n, and the way it turned out.
Well, thish-yer Smiley had rat-tarriers, and chicken cocks, and tom- cats, and all of
them kind of things, till you couldn't rest, and you couldn't fetch nothing for him to
bet on but he'd match you. He ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said
he cal'klated to edercate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set
in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet you he did learn him, too.
He'd give him a little punch behind, and the next minute you'd see that frog whirling
in the air like a doughnut see him turn one summerset, or may be a couple, if he got
a good start, and come down flat-footed and all right, like a cat. He got him up so in
the matter of catching flies, and kept him in practice so constant, that he'd nail a fly
every time as far as he could see him. Smiley said all a frog wanted was education,
and he could do most any thing and I believe him. Why, I've seen him set Dan'l
Webster down here on this floor Dan'l Webster was the name of the frog and sing
out, "Flies, Dan'l, flies!" and quicker'n you could wink, he'd spring straight up, and
snake a fly off'n the counter there, and flop down on the floor again as solid as a gob
of mud, and fall to scratching the side of his head with his hind foot as indifferent as
if he hadn't no idea he'd been doin' any more'n any frog might do. You never see a
frog so modest and straightforward as he was, for all he was so gifted. And when it
come to fair and square jumping on a dead level, he could get over more ground at
one straddle than any animal of his breed you ever see. Jumping on a dead level was
his strong suit, you understand; and when it come to that, Smiley would ante up
money on him as long as he had a red. Smiley was monstrous proud of his frog, and
well he might be, for fellers that had traveled and been everywheres, all said he laid
over any frog that ever they see.
Well, Smiley kept the beast in a little lattice box, and he used to fetch him down
town sometimes and lay for a bet. One day a feller a stranger in the camp, he was
come across him with his box, and says:
"What might it be that you've got in the box?"
And Smiley says, sorter indifferent like, "It might be a parrot, or it might be a canary,
may be, but it an't it's only just a frog."
And the feller took it, and looked at it careful, and turned it round this way and that,
and says, "H'm so 'tis. Well, what's he good for?"
"Well," Smiley says, easy and careless, "He's good enough for one thing, I should
judge he can outjump any frog in Calaveras county."
The feller took the box again, and took another long, particular look, and give it back
to Smiley, and says, very deliberate, "Well, I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's
any better'n any other frog."

"May be you don't," Smiley says. "May be you understand frogs, and may be you
don't understand 'em; may be you've had experience, and may be you an't only a
amature, as it were. Anyways, I've got my opinion, and I'll risk forty dollars that he
can outjump any frog in Calaveras county."
And the feller studied a minute, and then says, kinder sad like, "Well, I'm only a
stranger here, and I an't got no frog; but if I had a frog, I'd bet you."
And then Smiley says, "That's all right that's all right if you'll hold my box a minute,
I'll go and get you a frog." And so the feller took the box, and put up his forty dollars
along with Smiley's, and set down to wait.
So he set there a good while thinking and thinking to hisself, and then he got the frog
out and prized his mouth open and took a tea- spoon and filled him full of quail shot
filled him pretty near up to his chin and set him on the floor. Smiley he went to the
swamp and slopped around in the mud for a long time, and finally he ketched a frog,
and fetched him in, and give him to this feller, and says:
"Now, if you're ready, set him alongside of Dan'l, with his fore- paws just even with
Dan'l, and I'll give the word." Then he says, "One two three jump!" and him and the
feller touched up the frogs from behind, and the new frog hopped off, but Dan'l give
a heave, and hysted up his shoulders so like a Frenchman, but it wan's no use he
couldn't budge; he was planted as solid as an anvil, and he couldn't no more stir
than if he was anchored out. Smiley was a good deal surprised, and he was disgusted
too, but he didn't have no idea what the matter was, of course.
The feller took the money and started away; and when he was going out at the door,
he sorter jerked his thumb over his shoulders this way at Dan'l, and says again, very
deliberate, "Well, I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's any better'n any other
Smiley he stood scratching his head and looking down at Dan'l a long time, and at
last he says, "I do wonder what in the nation that frog throw'd off for I wonder if
there an't something the matter with him he 'pears to look mighty baggy, somehow."
And he ketched Dan'l by the nap of the neck, and lifted him up and says, "Why,
blame my cats, if he don't weigh five pound!" and turned him upside down, and he
belched out a double handful of shot. And then he see how it was, and he was the
maddest man he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketchd
him. And-
[Here Simon Wheeler heard his name called from the front yard, and got up to see
what was wanted.] And turning to me as he moved away, he said: "Just set where
you are, stranger, and rest easy I an't going to be gone a second."
But, by your leave, I did not think that a continuation of the history of the
enterprising vagabond Jim Smiley would be likely to afford me much information
concerning the Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started away.

At the door I met the sociable Wheeler returning, and he button- holed me and
"Well, thish-yer Smiley had a yeller one-eyed cow that didn't have no tail, only jest a
short stump like a bannanner, and "
"Oh! hang Smiley and his afflicted cow!" I muttered, good-naturedly, and bidding the
old gentleman good-day, I departed.
BY ROALD DAHL (1916-1990)
It was getting on toward six o’clock so I thought I’d buy myself a beer and go out and
sit in a deck chair by the swimming pool and have a little evening sun.

I went to the bar and got the beer and carried it outside and wandered down the
garden toward the pool.

It was a fine garden with lawns and beds of azaleas and tall coconut palms, and the
wind was blowing strongly through the tops of the palm trees making the leaves
hiss and crackle as though they were on fire. I could see the clusters of big brown
nuts handing down underneath the leaves.

There were plenty of deck chairs around the swimming pool and there were white
tables and huge brightly colored umbrellas and sunburned men and women sitting
around in bathing suits. In the pool itself there were three or four girls and about a
dozen boys, all splashing about and making a lot of noise and throwing a large
rubber ball at one another.

I stood watching them. The girls were English girls from the hotel. The boys I didn’t
know about, but they sounded American and I thought they were probably naval
cadets who’d come ashore from the U.S. naval training vessel which had arrived in
the harbor that morning.

I went over and sat down under a yellow umbrella where there were four empty
seats, and I poured my beer and settled back comfortably with a cigarette.

It was very pleasant sitting there in the sunshine with beer and a cigarette. It was
pleasant to sit and watch the bathers splashing about in the green water.

The American sailors were getting on nicely with the English girls. They’d reached
the stage where they were diving under the water and tipping them up by their legs.

Just then I noticed a small, oldish man walking briskly around the edge of the
pool. He was immaculately dressed in a white suit and he walked very quickly with
little bouncing strides, pushing himself high up onto his toes with each step. He had
on a large creamy Panama hat, and he came bouncing along the side of the pool,
looking at the people and the chairs.

He stopped beside me and smiled, showing two rows of very small, uneven teeth,
slightly tarnished. I smiled back.

“Excuse pleess, but may I sit here?”

“Certainly,” I said. “Go ahead.”

He bobbed around to the back of the chair and inspected it for safety, then he sat
down and crossed his legs. His white buckskin shows had little holes punched all
over them for ventilation.

“A fine evening,” he said. “They are all evenings fine here in Jamaica.” I couldn’t tell
if the accent were Italian or Spanish, but I felt fairly sure he was some sort of a South
American. And old too, when you saw him close. Probably around sixty-eight or

“Yes,” I said. “It is wonderful here, isn’t it.”

“And who, might I ask are all dese? Dese is no hotel people.” He was pointing at the
bathers in the pool.

“I think they’re American sailors,” I told him. “They’re Americans who are learning
to be sailors.”

“Of course dey are Americans. Who else in de world is going to make as much noise
as dat? You are not American, no?”

“No,” I said. “I am not.”

Suddenly one of the American cadets was standing in front of us. He was dripping
wet from the pool and one of the English girls was standing there with him.

“Are these chairs taken?” he said.

“No,” I answered.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Go ahead.”

“Thanks,” he said. He had a towel in his hand and when he sat down he unrolled it
and produced a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He offered the cigarettes to the girl
and she refused; then he offered them to me and I took one. The little man said,
“Tank you, no, but I tink I have a cigar.” He pulled out a crocodile case and got
himself a cigar, then he produced a knife which had a small scissors in it and he
snipped the end off the cigar.

“Here, let me give you a light.” The American boy held up his lighter.

“Dat will not work in dis wind.”

“Sure, it’ll work. It always works.”

The little man removed his unlighted cigar from his mouth, cocked his head on one
side and looked at the boy.

“All-ways?” he said softly.

“Sure, it never fails. Not with me anyway.”

The little man’s head was still cocked over on one side and he was still watching the
boy. “Well, well. So you say dis famous lighter it never fails. Iss dat you say?”

“Sure,” the boy said. “That’s right.” He was about nineteen or twenty with a long
freckled face and a rather sharp birdlike nose. His chest was not very sunburned
and there were freckles there too, and a few wisps of pale-reddish hair. He was
holding the lighter in his right hand, ready to flip the wheel. “It never fails,” he said,
smiling now because he was purposely exaggerating his little boast. “I promise you
it never fails.”

“One momint, pleess.” The hand that held the cigar came up high, palm outward, as
though it were stopping traffic. “Now juss one momint.” He had a curiously soft,
toneless voice and he kept looking at the boy all the time.

“Shall we not perhaps make a little bet on dat?” He smiled at the boy. “Shall we not
make a little bet on whether your lighter lights?”

“Sure, I’ll bet,” the boy said. “Why not?”

“You like to bet?”

“Sure, I’ll always bet.”

The man paused and examined his cigar, and I must say I didn’t much like the way
he was behaving. It seemed he was already trying to make something out of this,
and to embarrass the boy, and at the same time I had the feeling he was relishing a
private little secret all his own.

He looked up again at the boy and said slowly, “I like to bet, too. Why we don’t have
a good bet on dis ting? A good big bet?

“Now wait a minute,” the boy said. “I can’t do that. But I’ll bet you a dollar, or
whatever it is over here-some shillings, I guess.”


The little man waved his hand again. “Listen to me. Now we have some fun. We
make a bet. Den we go up to my room here in de hotel where iss no wind and I bet
you you cannot light dis famous lighter of yours ten times running without missing

“I’ll bet I can,” the boy said.

“All right. Good. We make a bet, yes?”

“Sure. I’ll bet you a buck.”

“No, no. I make you very good bet. I am rich man and I am sporting man
also. Listen to me. Outside de hotel iss my car. Iss very fine car. American car from
your country. Cadillac-”

“Hey, now. Wait a minute.” The boy leaned back in his deck chair and he laughed. “I
can’t put up that sort of property. This is crazy.”

“Not crazy at all. You strike lighter successfully ten times running and Cadillac is
yours. You like to have dis Cadillac, yes?”

“Sure, I’d like to have a Cadillac.” The boy was still grinning.

“All right. Fine. We make a bet and I put up my Cadillac.”

“And what do I put up?”

“The little man carefully removed the red band from his still unlighted cigar. “I
never ask you, my friend, to bet something you cannot afford. You understand?”

“Then what do I bet?”

“I make it very easy for you, yes?”

“Okay. You make it easy.”

“Some small ting you can afford to give away, and if you did happen to lose it you
would not feel too bad. Right?”

“Such as what?”

“Such as, perhaps, de little finger of your left hand.”

“My what! The boy stopped grinning.

“Yes. Why not? You win, you take de car. You looss, I take de finger.”

“I don’t get it. How d’you mean, you take the finger?”


“I chop it off.”

“Jumping jeepers! That’s a crazy bet. I think I’ll just make it a dollar.”

The man leaned back, spread out his hands palms upward and gave a tiny
contemptuous shrug of the shoulders. “Well, well, well,” he said. “I do not
understand. You say it lights but you will not bet. Den we forget it, yes?”

The boy sat quite still, staring at the bathers in the pool. Then he remembered
suddenly he hadn’t lighted his cigarette. He put it between his lips, cupped his
hands around the lighter and flipped the wheel. The wick lighted and burned with a
small, steady, yellow flame and the way he held his hands the wind didn’t get to it at

“Could I have a light, too?” I said.

“Gee, I’m sorry. I forgot you didn’t have one.”

I held out my hand for the lighter, but he stood up and came over to do it for me.

“Thank you,” I said, and he returned to his seat.

“You having a good time?” I asked.

“Fine,” he answered. “It’s pretty nice here.”

There was a silence then, and I could see that the little man has succeeded in
disturbing the boy with his absurd proposal. He was sitting there very still, and it
was obvious that a small tension was beginning to build up inside him. Then he
started shifting about in his seat, and rubbing his chest, and stroking the back of his
neck, and finally he placed both hands on his knees and began tapping his fingers
against his knee-caps. Soon he was tapping with one of his feet as well.

“Now just let me check up on this bet of yours,” he said at last. “You say we go up to
your room and if I make this lighter light ten times running I win a Cadillac. If it
misses just once then I forfeit the little finger of my left hand. Is that right?”

“Certainly. Dat is de bet. But I tink you are afraid.”

“What do we do if I lose? Do I have to hold my finger out while you chop it off?”

“Oh, no! Dat would be no good. And you might be tempted to refuse to hold it
out. What I should do I should tie one of your hands to de table before we started
and I should stand dere with a knife ready to go chop de momint your lighter

“What year is the Cadillac?” the boy asked.

“Excuse. I not understand.”

“What year-how old is the Cadillac?”

“Ah! How old? Yes. It is last year. Quite now car. But I see you are not betting
man. Americans never are.”

The boy paused for just a moment and he glanced first at the English girl, then at
me. “Yes,” he said sharply. “I’ll bet you.”

“Good!” The little man clapped his hands together quietly, once. “Fine,” he said. “We
do it now. And you, sir,” he turned to me, “you would perhaps be good enough to,
what you call it, to-to referee.” He had pale, almost colorless eyes with tiny bright
black pupils.

“Well,” I said. “I think it’s a crazy bet. I don’t think I like it very much.”

“Nor do I,” said the English girl. It was the first time she’d spoken. “I think it’s a
stupid, ridiculous bet.”

“Are you serious about cutting off this boy’s finger if he loses?” I said.

“Certainly I am. Also about cutting off this boy’s finger if he loses?” I said.

“Certainly I am. Also about giving him Cadillac if he win. Come now. We go to my

He stood up. “You like to put on some clothes first?” he said.

“No,” the boy answered. “I’ll come like this.” Then he turned to me. “I’d consider it
a favor if you’d come along and referee.”

“All right,” I said. “I’ll come along, but I don’t like the bet.”

“You come too,” he said to the girl. “You come and watch.

The little man led the way back through the garden to the hotel. He was animated
now, and excited, and that seemed to make him bounce up higher than ever on his
toes as he walked along.

“I live in annex,” he said. “You like to see car first? Iss just here.”

He took us to where we could see the front driveway of the hotel and he stopped
and pointed to a sleek pale-green Cadillac parked close by.

“Dere she iss. De green one. You like?”

“Say, that’s a nice car,” the boy said.

“All right. Now we go up and see if you can win her.”

We followed him into the annex and up one flight of stairs. He unlocked his door
and we all trooped into what was a large pleasant double bedroom. There was a
woman’s dressing gown lying across the bottom of one of the beds.

“First,” he said, “we’ave a little Martini.”

The drinks were on a small table in the far corner, all ready to be mixed, and there
was a shaker and ice and plenty of glasses. He began to make the Martini, but
meanwhile he’d rung the bell and now there was a knock on the door and a colored
maid came in.

“Ah!” he said, putting down the bottle of gin, taking a wallet from his pocket and
pulling out a pound note. “You will do something for me now, pleess.” He gave the
maid the pound.

“You keep dat,” he said. “And now we are going to play a little game in here and I
want you to go off and find for me two-no three tings. I want some nails; I want a
hammer, and I want a chopping knife, a butcher’s chipping knife which you can
borrow from de kitchen. You can get, yes?”

“A chopping knife!” The maid opened her eyes wide and clasped her hands in front
of her. “You mean a real chopping knife?”

“Yes, yes, of course. Come on now, pleess. You can find dose tings surely for me.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll try, sir. Surely I’ll try to get them.” And she went.

The little man handed round the Martinis. We stood there and sipped them, the boy
with the long freckled face and the pointed nose, bare-bodied except for a pair of
faded brown bathing shorts; the English girl, a large-boned, fair-haired girl wearing
a pale blue bathing suit, who watched the boy over the top of her glass all the time;
the little man with the colorless eyes standing there in his immaculate white suit
drinking his Martini and looking at the girl in her pale blue bathing dress. I didn’t
know what to make of it all. The man seemed serious about the bet and he seemed
serious about the business of cutting off the finger. But hell, what if the boy
lost? Then we’d have to rush him to the hospital in the Cadillac that he hadn’t
won. That would be a fine thing. Now wouldn’t that be a really find thing? It would
be a damn silly unnecessary thing so far as I could see.

“Don’t you think this is rather a silly bet?” I said.

“I think it’s a fine bet,” the boy answered. He had already downed one large Martini.

“I think it’s a stupid, ridiculous bet,” the girl said. “What’ll happen if you lose?”


“It won’t matter. Come to think of it, I can’t remember ever in my life having had
any use for the little finger on my left hand. Here he is.” The boy took hold of the
finger. “Here he is and he hasn’t ever done a thing for me yet. So why shouldn’t I bet
him. I think it’s a fine bet.”

The little man smiled and picked up the shaker and refilled our glasses.

“Before we begin,” he said, “I will present to de-to de referee de key of de car.” He
produced a car key from his pocket and gave it to me. “De papers,” he said, “de
owning papers and insurance are in de pocket of de car.”

Then the colored maid came in again. In one hand she carried a small chopper, the
kind used by butchers for chopping meat bones, and in the other a hammer and a
bag of nails.

“Good! You get dem all. Tank you, tank you. Now you can go.” He waited until the
maid had closed the door, then he put the implements on one of the beds and said,
“Now we prepare ourselves, yes?” And to the boy “Help me, pleess, with dis
table. We carry it out a little.”

It was the usual kind of hotel writing desk, just a plain rectangular table about four
feet by three with a blotting pad, ink, pens and paper. They carried it out into the
room away from the wall, and removed the writing things.

“And now,” he said, “a chair.” He picked up a chair and placed it beside the table. He
was very brisk and very animated, like a person organizing games at a children’s
party. “And now de nails. I must put in de nails.” He fetched the nails and he began
to hammer them into the top of the table.

We stood there, the boy, the girl, and I, holding Martinis in out hands, watching the
little man at work. We watched him hammer two nails into the table, about six
inches apart. He didn’t hammer them right home; he allowed a small part of each
one to stick up. Then he tested them for firmness with his fingers.

Anyone would think the son of a bitch had done this before, I told myself. He never
hesitates. Table, nails, hammer, kitchen chopper. He knows exactly what he needs
and how to arrange it.

“And now,” he said, “all we want is some string.” He found some string. “All right, at
last we are ready. Will you pleess to sit here at de table,” he said to the boy.

The boy put his glass away and sat down.

“Now place de left hand between dese two nails. De nails are only so I can tie your
hand in place. All right, good. Now I tie your hand secure to de table-so,”

He wound the string around the boy’s wrist, then several times around the wide
part of the hand, then he fastened it tight to the nails. He made a good job of it and
when he’d finished there wasn’t any question about the boy being able to draw his

hand away. But he could move his fingers.

“Now pleess, clench de fist, all except for de little finger. You must leave de little
finger sticking out, lying on de table.”

“Ex-cellent! Ex-cellent! Now we are ready. Wid your right hand you manipulate de
lighter. But one momint, pleess.”

He skipped over to the bed and picked up the chopper. He came back and stood
beside the table with the chopper in his hand.

“We are all ready?” he said. “Mister referee, you must say to begin.”

The English girl was standing there in her pale blue bathing costume right behind
the boy’s chair. She was just standing there, not saying anything. The boy was
sitting quite still, holding the lighter in his right hand, looking at the chopper. The
little man was looking at me.

“Are you ready?” I asked the boy.

“I’m ready.”

“And you?” to the little man.

“Quite ready,” he said and he lifted the chopper up in the air and held it there about
two feet above the boy’s finger, ready to chop. The boy watched it, but he didn’t
flinch and his mouth didn’t move at all. He merely raised his eyebrows and frowned.

“All right,” I said. “Go ahead.”

The boy said, “Will you please count aloud the number of times I light it.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll do that.”

With his thumb he raised the top of the lighter, and again with the thumb he gave
the wheel a sharp flick. The flint sparked and the wick caught fire and burned with a
small yellow flame.

“One!” I called.

He didn’t blow the flame out; he closed the top of the lighter on it and he waited for
perhaps five seconds before opening it again.

He flicked the wheel very strongly and once more there was a small flame burning
on the wick.


No one else said anything. The boy kept his eyes on the lighter. The little man held

the chipper up in the air and he too was watching the lighter.





“Seven!” Obviously it was one of those lighters that worked. The fling gave a big
spark and the wick was the right length. I watched the thumb snapping the top
down onto the flame. Then a pause. Then the thumb raising the top once
more. This was an all-thumb operation. The thumb did everything. I took a breath,
ready to say eight. The thumb flicked the wheel. The flint sparked. The little flame

“Eight!” I said, and as I said it the door opened. We all turned and we saw a woman
standing in the doorway, a small, black-haired woman, rather old, who stood there
for about two seconds then rushed forward shouting, “Carlos! Carlos!” She grabbed
his wrist, took the chopper from him, threw it on the bed, took hold of the little man
by the lapels of his white suit and began shaking him very vigorously, talking to him
fast and loud and fiercely all the time in some Spanish-sounding language. She
shook him so fast you couldn’t see him any more. He became a faint, misty, quickly
moving outline, like the spokes of a turning wheel.

Then she slowed down and the little man came into view again and she hauled him
across the room and pushed him backward onto one of the beds. He sat on the edge
of it blinking his eyes and testing his head to see if it would still turn on his neck.

“I am so sorry,” the woman said. “I am so terribly sorry that this should
happen.” She spoke almost perfect English.

“It is too bad,” she went on. “I suppose it is really my fault. For ten minutes I leave
him alone to go and have my hair washed and I come back and he is at it again.” She
looked sorry and deeply concerned.

The boy was untying his hand from the table. The English girl and I stood there and
said nothing.

“He is a menace,” the woman said. “Down where we live at home he has taken
altogether forty-seven fingers from different people, and he has lost eleven cars. In
the end they threatened to have him put away somewhere. That’s why I brought
him up here.”

“We were only having a little bet,” mumbled the little man from the bed.

“I suppose he bet you a car,” the woman said.


“Yes,” the boy answered. “A Cadillac.”

“He has no car. It’s mine. And that makes it worse,” she said, “that he should bet you
when he has nothing to bet with. I am ashamed and very sorry about it all.” She
seemed an awfully nice woman.

“Well,” I said, “then here’s the key of your car.” I put it on the table.

“We were only having a little bet,” mumbled the little man.

“He hasn’t anything left to bet with,” the woman said. “He hasn’t a thing in the
world. Not a thing. As a matter of fact I myself won it all from him a long while
ago. It took time, a lot of time, and it was hard work, but I won it all in the end.” She
looked up at the boy and she smiled, a slow sad smile, and she came over and put
out a hand to take the key from the table.

I can see it now, that hand of hers; it had only one finger on it, and a thumb.
BY W.W. JACOBS (1902)
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
"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

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

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
"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
"Oh, thank God!" said the old woman, clasping her hands. "Thank God for that!
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.

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
"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
"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.
A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the
swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists
bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-
timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards
laid upon the sleepers supporting the metals of the railway supplied a footing for
him and his executioners--two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a
sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff. At a short remove upon the
same temporary platform was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. He was a
captain. A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position
known as "support," that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the hammer
resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest--a formal and unnatural
position, enforcing an erect carriage of the body. It did not appear to be the duty of
these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely
blockaded the two ends of the foot planking that traversed it.
Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straight away into
a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view. Doubtless there was an
outpost farther along. The other bank of the stream was open ground--a gentle
acclivity topped with a stockade of vertical tree trunks, loopholed for rifles, with a
single embrasure through which protruded the muzzle of a brass cannon
commanding the bridge. Midway of the slope between the bridge and fort were the
spectators--a single company of infantry in line, at "parade rest," the butts of the
rifles on the ground, the barrels inclining slightly backward against the right
shoulder, the hands crossed upon the stock. A lieu tenant stood at the right of the
line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right.
Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The
company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the

banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood
with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign.
Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal
manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of
military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference.
The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years
of age. He was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a
planter. His features were good--a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from
which his long, dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the
collar of his well-fitting frock coat. He wore a mustache and pointed beard, but no
whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one
would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was
no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many
kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.
The preparations being complete, the two private soldiers stepped aside and each
drew away the plank upon which he had been standing. The sergeant turned to the
captain, saluted and placed himself immediately behind that officer, who in turn
moved apart one pace. These movements left the condemned man and the sergeant
standing on the two ends of the same plank, which spanned three of the cross-ties of
the bridge. The end upon which the civilian stood almost, but not quite, reached a
fourth. This plank had been held in place by the weight of the captain; it was now
held by that of the sergeant. At a signal from the former the latter would step aside,
the plank would tilt and the condemned man go down between two ties. The
arrangement commended itself to his judgment as simple and effective. His face had
not been covered nor his eyes bandaged. He looked a moment at his "unsteadfast
footing," then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly
beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes
followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move, What a sluggish
He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The
water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some
distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift--all had distracted
him. And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the
thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand,
a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith's hammer upon
the anvil; it had the same ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether
immeasurably distant or near by--it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as
slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and--he
knew not why--apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer,
the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased
in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he
would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.
He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. "If I could free my hands,"
he thought, "I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I
could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods

and get away home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and
little ones are still beyond the invader's farthest advance."
As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the
doomed man's brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the sergeant.
The sergeant stepped aside.
Peyton Farquhar was a well-to-do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama
family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician he was naturally
an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause. Circumstances
of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had prevented him
from taking service with the gallant army that had fought the disastrous campaigns
ending with the fall of Corinth, and he chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing
for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for
distinction. That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in war time.
Meanwhile he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in
aid of the South, no adventure too perilous for him to undertake if consistent with
the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and
without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous
dictum that all is fair in love and war.
One evening while Farquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the
entrance to his grounds, a gray-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink
of water. Mrs. Farquhar was only toe, happy to serve him with her own white hands.
While she was fetching the water her husband approached the dusty horseman and
inquired eagerly for news from the front.
"The Yanks are repairing the railroads," said the man, "and are getting ready for
another advance. They have reached the Owl Creek bridge, put it in order and built a
stockade on the north bank. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted
everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its
bridges, tunnels or trains will be summarily hanged. I saw the order."
"How far is it to the Owl Creek bridge?" Farquhar asked.
"About thirty miles."
"Is there no force on this side the creek?"
"Only a picket post half a mile out, on the railroad, and a single sentinel at this end of
the bridge."
"Suppose a man--a civilian and student of hanging--should elude the picket post and
perhaps get the better of the sentinel," said Farquhar, smiling, "what could he

The soldier reflected. "I was there a month ago," he replied. "I observed that the
flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden
pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tow."
The lady had now brought the water, which the soldier drank. He thanked her
ceremoniously, bowed to her husband and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall,
he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had
come. He was a Federal scout.
As Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost
consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened--ages
later, it seemed to him--by the pain of a sharp pressure upon his throat, followed by
a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck
downward through every fiber of his body and limbs. These pains appeared to flash
along well-defined lines of ramification and to beat with an inconceivably rapid
periodicity. They seemed like streams of pulsating fire heating him to an intolerable
temperature. As to his head, he was conscious of nothing but a feeling of fulness--of
congestion. These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part
of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was
torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he
was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through
unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum. Then all at once, with terrible
suddenness, the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud splash; a
frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark. The power of thought
was restored; he knew that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the stream.
There was no additional strangulation; the noose about his neck was already
suffocating him and kept the water from his lungs. To die of hanging at the bottom of
a river!--the idea seemed to him ludicrous. He opened his eyes in the darkness and
saw above him a gleam of light, but how distant, how inaccessible! He was still
sinking, for the light became fainter and fainter until it was a mere glimmer. Then it
began to grow and brighten, and he knew that he was rising toward the surface--
knew it with reluctance, for he was now very comfortable. "To be hanged and
drowned," he thought? "that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; I will not
be shot; that is not fair."
He was not conscious of an effort, but a sharp pain in his wrist apprised him that he
was trying to free his hands. He gave the struggle his attention, as an idler might
observe the feat of a juggler, without interest in the outcome. What splendid effort!--
what magnificent, what superhuman strength! Ah, that was a fine endeavor! Bravo!
The cord fell away; his arms parted and floated upward, the hands dimly seen on
each side in the growing light. He watched them with a new interest as first one and
then the other pounced upon the noose at his neck. They tore it away and thrust it
fiercely aside, its undulations resembling those of a water snake. "Put it back, put it
back!" He thought he shouted these words to his hands, for the undoing of the noose
had been succeeded by the direst pang that he had yet experienced. His neck ached
horribly; his brain was on fire; his heart, which had been fluttering faintly, gave a
great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth. His whole body was racked and

wrenched with an insupportable anguish! But his disobedient hands gave no heed to
the command. They beat the water vigorously with quick, downward strokes,
forcing him to the surface. He felt his head emerge; his eyes were blinded by the
sunlight; his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony
his lungs engulfed a great draught of air, which instantly he expelled in a shriek!
He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed,
preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic
system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never
before perceived. He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds
as they struck. He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual
trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf--saw the very insects upon them: the
locusts, the brilliant-bodied flies, the grey spiders stretching their webs from twig to
twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of
grass. The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the
beating of the dragon flies' wings, the strokes of the water-spiders' legs, like oars
which had lifted their boat--all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath
his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.
He had come to the surface facing down the stream; in a moment the visible world
seemed to wheel slowly round, himself the pivotal point, and he saw the bridge, the
fort, the soldiers upon the bridge, the captain, the sergeant, the two privates, his
executioners. They were in silhouette against the blue sky. They shouted and
gesticulated, pointing at him. The captain had drawn his pistol, but did not fire; the
others were unarmed. Their movements were grotesque and horrible, their forms
Suddenly he heard a sharp report and something struck the water smartly within a
few inches of his head, spattering his face with spray. He heard a second report, and
saw one of the sentinels with his rifle at his shoulder, a light cloud of blue smoke
rising from the muzzle. The man in the water saw the eye of the man on the bridge
gazing into his own through the sights of the rifle. He observed that it was a grey eye
and remembered having read that grey eyes were keenest, and that all famous
marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.
A counter-swirl had caught Farquhar and turned him half round; he was again
looking into the forest on the bank opposite the fort. The sound of a clear, high voice
in a monotonous singsong now rang out behind him and came across the water with
a distinctness that pierced and subdued all other sounds, even the beating of the
ripples in his ears. Although no soldier, he had frequented camps enough to know
the dread significance of that deliberate, drawling, aspirated chant; the lieu. tenant
on shore was taking a part in the morning's work. How coldly and pitilessly--with
what an even, calm intonation, presaging, and enforcing tranquillity in the men--
with what accurately measured inter vals fell those cruel words:
"Attention, company! . . Shoulder arms! . . . Ready! . . . Aim! . . . Fire!"
Farquhar dived--dived as deeply as he could. The water roared in his ears like the
voice of Niagara, yet he heard the dulled thunder of the volley and, rising again

toward the surface, met shining bits of metal, singularly flattened, oscillating slowly
downward. Some of them touched him on the face and hands, then fell away,
continuing their descent. One lodged between his collar and neck; it was
uncomfortably warm and he snatched it out.
As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a long time
under water; he was perceptibly farther down stream nearer to safety. The soldiers
had almost finished reloading; the metal ramrods flashed all at once in the sunshine
as they were drawn from the barrels, turned in the air, and thrust into their sockets.
The two sentinels fired again, independently and ineffectually.
The hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming vigorously
with the current. His brain was as energetic as his arms and legs; he thought with
the rapidity of lightning.
The officer," he reasoned, "will not make that martinet's error a second time. It is as
easy to dodge a volley as a single shot. He has probably already given the command
to fire at will. God help me, I cannot dodge them all!"
An appalling plash within two yards of him was followed by a loud, rushing sound,
diminuendo, which seemed to travel back through the air to the fort and died in an
explosion which stirred the very river to its deeps!
A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him, strangled
him! The cannon had taken a hand in the game. As he shook his head free from the
commotion of the smitten water he heard the deflected shot humming through the
air ahead, and in an instant it was cracking and smashing the branches in the forest
"They will not do that again," he thought; "the next time they will use a charge of
grape. I must keep my eye upon the gun; the smoke will apprise me--the report
arrives too late; it lags behind the missile. That is a good gun."
Suddenly he felt himself whirled round and round--spinning like a top. The water,
the banks, the forests, the now distant bridge, fort and men--all were commingled
and blurred. Objects were represented by their colors only; circular horizontal
streaks of color--that was all he saw. He had been caught in a vortex and was being
whirled on with a velocity of advance and gyration that made him giddy and sick. In
a few moments he was flung upon the gravel at the foot of the left bank of the
stream--the southern bank--and behind a projecting point which concealed him
from his enemies. The sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of his hands
on the gravel, restored him, and he wept with delight. He dug his fingers into the
sand, threw it over himself in handfuls and audibly blessed it. It looked like
diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing beautiful which it did not
resemble. The trees upon the bank were giant garden plants; he noted a definite
order in their arrangement, inhaled the fragrance of their blooms. A strange, roseate
light shone through the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in their
branches the music of Æolian harps. He had no wish to perfect his escape--was
content to remain in that enchanting spot until retaken.

A whiz and rattle of grapeshot among the branches high above his head roused him
from his dream. The baffled cannoneer had fired him a random farewell. He sprang
to his feet, rushed up the sloping bank, and plunged into the forest.
All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest seemed
interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a woodman's road. He
had not known that he lived in so wild a region. There was something uncanny in
the revelation.
By nightfall he was fatigued, footsore, famishing. The thought of his wife and
children urged him on. At last he found a road which led him in what he knew to be
the right direction. It was as wide and straight as a city street, yet it seemed
untraveled. No fields bordered it, no dwelling anywhere. Not so much as the barking
of a dog suggested human habitation. The black bodies of the trees formed a straight
wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson
in perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great
garden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure
they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The
wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which--once, twice, and
again--he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.
His neck was in pain and lifting his hand to it found it horribly swollen. He knew that
it had a circle of black where the rope had bruised it. His eyes felt congested; he
could no longer close them. His tongue was swollen with thirst; he relieved its fever
by thrusting it forward from between his teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf
had carpeted the untraveled avenue--he could no longer feel the roadway beneath
his feet!
Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for now he sees
another scene--perhaps he has merely recovered from a delirium. He stands at the
gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning
sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and
passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking
fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom
of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless
grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forward with extended arms.
As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a
blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon--
then all is darkness and silence!
Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to
side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.


I'm still not sure I made the right choice when I told my wife about the bakery
attack. But then, it might not have been a question of right and wrong. Which is to
say that wrong choices can produce right results, and vice versa. I myself have
adopted the position that, in fact, we never choose anything at all. Things happen. Or
If you look at it this way, it just so happens that I told my wife about the bakery
attack. I hadn't been planning to bring it up--I had forgotten all about it--but it
wasn't one of those now-that-you-mention-it kind of things, either.
What reminded me of the bakery attack was an unbearable hunger. It hit just before
two o'clock in the morning. We had eaten a light supper at six, crawled into bed at
nine-thirty, and gone to sleep. For some reason, we woke up at exactly the same
moment. A few minutes later, the pangs struck with the force of the tornado in The
Wizard of Oz. These were tremendous, overpowering hunger pangs.
Our refrigerator contained not a single item that could be technically categorized as
food. We had a bottle of French dressing, six cans of beer, two shriveled onions, a
stick of butter, and a box of refrigerator deodorizer. With only two weeks of married
life behind us, we had yet to establish a precise conjugal understanding with regard
to the rules of dietary behavior. Let alone anything else.
I had a job in a law firm at the time, and she was doing secretarial work at a design
school. I was either twenty-eight or twenty-nine--why can't I remember the exact
year we married?--and she was two years and eight months younger. Groceries
were the last things on our minds.
We both felt too hungry to go back to sleep, but it hurt just to lie there. On the other
hand, we were also too hungry to do anything useful. We got out of bed and drifted
into the kitchen, ending up across the table from each other. What could have
caused such violent hunger pangs?
We took turns opening the refrigerator door and hoping, but no matter how many
times we looked inside, the contents never changed. Beer and onions and butter and
dressing and deodorizer. It might have been possible to saute the onions in the
butter, but there was no chance those two shriveled onions could fill our empty
stomachs. Onions are meant to be eaten with other things. They are not the kind of
food you use to satisfy an appetite.
"Would madame care for some French dressing sauteed in deodorizer?"
I expected her to ignore my attempt at humor, and she did. "Let's get in the car and
look for an all-night restaurant," I said. "There must be one on the highway."
She rejected that suggestion. "We can't. You're not supposed to go out to eat after
midnight." She was old-fashioned in that way.
I breathed once and said, "I guess not."

Whenever my wife expressed such an opinion (or thesis) back then, it reverberated
in my ears with the authority of a revelation. Maybe that's what happens with
newlyweds, I don't know. But when she said this to me, I began to think that this
was a special hunger, not one that could be satisfied through the mere expedient of
taking it to an all-night restaurant on the highway.
A special kind of hunger. And what might that be?
I can present it here in the form of a cinematic image.
One, I am in a little boat, floating on a quiet sea. Two, I look down, and in the water, I
see the peak of a volcano thrusting up from the ocean floor. Three, the peak seems
pretty close to the water's surface, but just how close I cannot tell. Four, this is
because the hypertransparency of the water interferes with the perception of
This is a fairly accurate description of the image that arose in my mind during the
two or three seconds between the time my wife said she refused to go to an all-night
restaurant and I agreed with my "I guess not." Not being Sigmund Freud, I was, of
course, unable to analyze with any precision what this image signified, but I knew
intuitively that it was a revelation. Which is why--the almost grotesque intensity of
my hunger notwithstanding--I all but automatically agreed with her thesis (or
We did the only thing we could do: opened the beer. It was a lot better than eating
those onions. She didn't like beer much, so we divided the cans, two for her, four for
me. While I was drinking the first one, she searched the kitchen shelves like a
squirrel in November. Eventually, she turned up a package that had four butter
cookies in the bottom. They were leftovers, soft and soggy, but we each ate two,
savoring every crumb.
It was no use. Upon this hunger of ours, as vast and boundless as the Sinai Peninsula,
the butter cookies and beer left not a trace.
Time oozed through the dark like a lead weight in a fish's gut. I read the print on the
aluminum beer cans. I stared at my watch. I looked at the refrigerator door. I turned
the pages of yesterday's paper. I used the edge of a postcard to scrape together the
cookie crumbs on the tabletop.
"I've never been this hungry in my whole life," she said. "I wonder if it has anything
to do with being married."
"Maybe," I said. "Or maybe not."
While she hunted for more fragments of food, I leaned over the edge of my boat and
looked down at the peak of the underwater volcano. The clarity of the ocean water
all around the boat gave me an unsettled feeling, as if a hollow had opened
somewhere behind my solar plexus--a hermetically sealed cavern that had neither
entrance nor exit. Something about this weird sense of absence--this sense of the

existential reality of nonexistence--resembled the paralyzing fear you might feel
when you climb to the very top of a high steeple. This connection between hunger
and acrophobia was a new discovery for me.
Which is when it occurred to me that I had once before had this same kind of
experience. My stomach had been just as empty then...When?...Oh, sure, that was--
"The time of the bakery attack," I heard myself saying.
"The bakery attack? What are you talking about?"
And so it started.
"I once attacked a bakery. Long time ago. Not a big bakery. Not famous. The bread
was nothing special. Not bad, either. One of those ordinary little neighborhood
bakeries right in the middle of a block of shops. Some old guy ran it who did
everything himself. Baked in the morning, and when he sold out, he closed up for the
"If you were going to attack a bakery, why that one?"
"Well, there was no point in attacking a big bakery. All we wanted was bread, not
money. We were attackers, not robbers."
"We? Who's we?"
"My best friend back then. Ten years ago. We were so broke we couldn't buy
toothpaste. Never had enough food. We did some pretty awful things to get our
hands on food. The bakery attack was one."
"I don't get it." She looked hard at me. Her eyes could have been searching for a
faded star in the morning sky. "Why didn't you get a job? You could have worked
after school. That would have been easier than attacking bakeries."
"We didn't want to work. We were absolutely clear on that."
"Well, you're working now, aren't you?"
I nodded and sucked some more beer. Then I rubbed my eyes. A kind of beery mud
had oozed into my brain and was struggling with hunger pangs.
"Times change. People change," I said. "Let's go back to bed. We've got to get up
"I'm not sleepy. I want you to tell me about the bakery attack."
"There's nothing to tell. No action. No excitement."
"Was it a success?"

I gave up on sleep and ripped open another beer. Once she gets interested in a story,
she has to hear it all the way through. That's just the way she is.
"Well, it was kind of a success. And kind of not. We got what we wanted. But as a
holdup, it didn't work. The baker gave us the bread before we could take it from
"Not exactly, no. That's the hard part." I shook my head. "The baker was a classical-
music freak, and when we got there, he was listening to an album of Wagner
overtures. So he made us a deal. If we would listen to the record all the way through,
we could take as much bread as we liked. I talked it over with my buddy and we
figured, Okay. It wouldn't be work in the purest sense of the word, and it wouldn't
hurt anybody. So we put our knives back in our bag, pulled up a couple of chairs, and
listened to the overtures to Tannhauser and The Flying Dutchman."
"And after that, you got your bread?"
"Right. Most of what he had in the shop. Stuffed it in our bag and took it home. Kept
us fed for maybe four or five days." I took another sip. Like soundless waves from an
undersea earthquake, my sleepiness gave my boat a long, slow rocking.
"Of course, we accomplished our mission. We got the bread. But you couldn't say we
had committed a crime. It was more of an exchange. We listened to Wagner with
him, and in return, we got our bread. Legally speaking, it was more like a
commercial transaction."
"But listening to Wagner is not work," she said.
"Oh, no, absolutely not. If the baker had insisted that we wash his dishes or clean his
windows or something, we would have turned him down. But he didn't. All he
wanted from us was to listen to his Wagner LP from beginning to end. Nobody could
have anticipated that. I mean--Wagner? It was like the baker put a curse on us. Now
that I think of it, we should have refused. We should have threatened him with our
knives and taken the damn bread. Then there wouldn't have been any problem."
"You had a problem?"
I rubbed my eyes again.
"Sort of. Nothing you could put your finger on. But things started to change after
that. It was kind of a turning point. Like, I went back to the university, and I
graduated, and I started working for the firm and studying the bar exam, and I met
you and got married. I never did anything like that again. No more bakery attacks."
"That's it?"

"Yup, that's all there was to it." I drank the last of the beer. Now all six cans were
gone. Six pull-tabs lay in the ashtray like scales from a mermaid.
Of course, it wasn't true that nothing had happened as a result of the bakery attack.
There were plenty of things that you could have easily put your finger on, but I
didn't want to talk about them with her.
"So, this friend of yours, what's he doing now?"
"I have no idea. Something happened, some nothing kind of thing, and we stopped
hanging around together. I haven't seen him since. I don't know what he's doing."
For awhile, she didn't speak. She probably sensed that I wasn't telling her the whole
story. But she wasn't ready to press me on it.
"Still," she said, "that's why you two broke up, isn't it? The bakery attack was the
direct cause."
"Maybe so. I guess it was more intense than either of us realized. We talked about
the relationship of bread to Wagner for days after that. We kept asking ourselves if
we had made the right choice. We couldn't decide. Of course, if you look at it
sensibly, we did make the right choice. Nobody got hurt. Everybody got what he
wanted. The baker--I still can't figure out why he did what he did--but anyway, he
succeeded with his Wagner propaganda. And we succeeded in stuffing our faces
with bread.
"But even so, we had this feeling that we had made a terrible mistake. And
somehow, this mistake has just stayed there, unresolved, casting a dark shadow on
our lives. That's why I used the word 'curse.' It's true. It was like a curse."
"Do you think you still have it?"
I took the six pull-tabs from the ashtray and arranged them into an aluminum ring
the size of a bracelet.
"Who knows? I don't know. I bet the world is full of curses. It's hard to tell which
curse makes any one thing go wrong."
"That's not true." She looked right at me. "You can tell, if you think about it. And
unless you, yourself, personally break the curse, it'll stick with you like a toothache.
It'll torture you till you die. And not just you. Me, too."
"Well, I'm your best friend now, aren't I? Why do you think we're both so hungry? I
never, ever, once in my life felt a hunger like this until I married you. Don't you think
it's abnormal? Your curse is working on me, too."

I nodded. Then I broke up the ring of pull-tabs and put them back in the ashtray. I
didn't know if she was right, but I did feel she was onto something.
The feeling of starvation was back, stronger than ever, and it was giving me a deep
headache. Every twinge of my stomach was being transmitted to the core of my
head by a clutch cable, as if my insides were equipped with all kinds of complicated
I took another look at my undersea volcano. The water was clearer than before--
much clearer. Unless you looked closely, you might not even notice it was there. It
felt as though the boat were floating in midair, with absolutely nothing to support it.
I could see every little pebble on the bottom. All I had to do was reach out and touch
"We've only been living together for two weeks," she said, "but all this time I've been
feeling some kind of weird presence." She looked directly into my eyes and brought
her hands together on the tabletop, her fingers interlocking. "Of course, I didn't
know it was a curse until now. This explains everything. You're under a curse."
"What kind of presence?"
"Like there's this heavy, dusty curtain that hasn't been washed for years, hanging
down from the ceiling."
"Maybe it's not a curse. Maybe it's just me," I said, and smiled.
She did not smile.
"No, it's not you," she said.
"Okay, supposed you're right. Suppose it is a curse. What can I do about it?"
"Attack another bakery. Right away. Now. It's the only way."
"Yes. Now. While you're still hungry. You have to finish what you left unfinished."
"But it's the middle of the night. Would a bakery be open now?"
"We'll find one. Tokyo's a big city. There must be at least one all-night bakery."
We got into my old Corolla and started drifting around the streets of Tokyo at 2:30
a.m., looking for a bakery. There we were, me clutching the steering wheel, she in
the navigator's seat, the two of us scanning the street like hungry eagles in search of
prey. Stretched out on the backseat, long and stiff as a dead fish, was a Remington
automatic shotgun. Its shells rustled dryly in the pocket of my wife's windbreaker.
We had two black ski masks in the glove compartment. Why my wife owned a

shotgun, I had no idea. Or ski masks. Neither of us had ever skied. But she didn't
explain and I didn't ask. Married life is weird, I felt.
Impeccably equipped, we were nevertheless unable to find an all-night bakery. I
drove through the empty streets, from Yoyogi to Shinjuku, on to Yosuya and
Akasaka, Aoyama, Hiroo, Roppongi, Daikanyama, and Shibuya. Late-night Tokyo had
all kinds of people and shops, but no bakeries.
Twice we encountered patrol cars. One was huddled at the side of the road, trying to
look inconspicuous. The other slowly overtook us and crept past, finally moving off
into the distance. Both times I grew damp under the arms, but my wife's
concentration never faltered. She was looking for that bakery. Every time she shifted
the angle of her body, the shotgun shells in her pocket rustled like buckwheat husks
in an old-fashioned pillow.
"Let's forget it," I said. "There aren't any bakeries open at this time of night. You've
got to plan for this kind of thing or else--"
"Stop the car!"
I slammed on the brakes.
"This is the place," she said.
The shops along the street had their shutters rolled down, forming dark, silent walls
on either side. A barbershop sign hung in the dark like a twisted, chilling glass eye.
There was a bright McDonald's hamburger sign some two hundred yards ahead, but
nothing else.
"I don't see any bakery," I said.
Without a word, she opened the glove compartment and pulled out a roll of cloth-
backed tape. Holding this, she stepped out of the car. I got out on my side. Kneeling
at the front end, she tore off a length of tape and covered the numbers on the license
plate. Then she went around to the back and did the same. There was a practiced
efficiency to her movements. I stood on the curb staring at her.
"We're going to take that McDonald's," she said, as coolly as if she were announcing
what we would have for dinner.
"McDonald's is not a bakery," I pointed out to her.
"It's like a bakery," she said. "Sometimes you have to compromise. Let's go."
I drove to the McDonald's and parked in the lot. She handed me the blanket-
wrapped shotgun.
"I've never fired a gun in my life," I protested.

"You don't have to fire it. Just hold it. Okay? Do as I say. We walk right in, and as
soon as they say, 'Welcome to McDonald's,' we slip on our masks. Got that?"
"Sure, but--"
"Then you shove the gun in their faces and make all the workers and customers get
together. Fast. I'll do the rest."
"How many hamburgers do you think we'll need? Thirty?"
"I guess so." With a sigh, I took the shotgun and rolled back the blanket a little. The
thing was as heavy as a sandbag and as black as a dark night.
"Do we really have to do this?" I asked, half to her and half to myself.
"Of course we do."
Wearing a McDonald's hat, the girl behind the counter flashed me a McDonald's
smile and said, "Welcome to McDonald's." I hadn't thought that girls would work at
McDonald's late at night, so the sight of her confused me for a second. But only for a
second. I caught myself and pulled on the mask. Confronted with this suddenly
masked duo, the girl gaped at us.
Obviously, the McDonald's hospitality manual said nothing about how do deal with a
situation like this. She had been starting to form the phrase that comes after
"Welcome to McDonald's," but her mouth seemed to stiffen and the words wouldn't
come out. Even so, like a crescent moon in the dawn sky, the hint of a professional
smile lingered at the edges of her lips.
As quickly as I could manage, I unwrapped the shotgun and aimed it in the direction
of the tables, but the only customers there were a young couple--students, probably-
-and they were facedown on the plastic table, sound asleep. Their two heads and
two strawberry-milk-shake cups were aligned on the table like an avant-garde
sculpture. They slept the sleep of the dead. They didn't look likely to obstruct our
operation, so I swung my shotgun back toward the counter.
All together, there were three McDonald's workers. The girl at the counter, the
manager--a guy with a pale, egg-shaped face, probably in his late twenties--and a
student type in the kitchen--a thin shadow of a guy with nothing on his face that you
could read as an expression. They stood together behind the register, staring into
the muzzle of my shotgun like tourists peering down an Incan well. No one
screamed, and no one made a threatening move. The gun was so heavy I had to rest
the barrel on top of the cash register, my finger on the trigger.
"I'll give you the money," said the manager, his voice hoarse. "They collected it at
eleven, so we don't have too much, but you can have everything. We're insured."

"Lower the front shutter and turn off the sign," said my wife.
"Wait a minute," said the manager. "I can't do that. I'll be held responsible if I close
up without permission."
My wife repeated her order, slowly. He seemed torn.
"You'd better do what she says," I warned him.
He looked at the muzzle of the gun atop the register, then at my wife, and then back
at the gun. He finally resigned himself to the inevitable. He turned off the sign and
hit a switch on an electrical panel that lowered the shutter. I kept my eye on him,
worried that he might hit a burglar alarm, but apparently McDonald's don't have
burglar alarms. Maybe it had never occurred to anybody to attack one.
The front shutter made a huge racket when it closed, like an empty bucket being
smashed with a baseball bat, but the couple sleeping at their table was still out cold.
Talk about a sound sleep: I hadn't seen anything like that in years.
"Thirty Big Macs. For takeout," said my wife.
"Let me just give you the money," pleaded the manager. "I'll give you more than you
need. You can go buy food somewhere else. This is going to mess up my accounts
"You'd better do what she says," I said again.
The three of them went into the kitchen area together and started making the thirty
Big Macs. The student grilled the burgers, the manager put them in buns, and the
girl wrapped them up. Nobody said a word.
I leaned against a big refrigerator, aiming the gun toward the griddle. The meat
patties were lined up on the griddle like brown polka dots, sizzling. The sweet smell
of grilling meat burrowed into every pore of my body like a swarm of microscopic
bugs, dissolving into my blood and circulating to the farthest corners, then massing
together inside my hermetically sealed hunger cavern, clinging to its pink walls.
A pile of white-wrapped burgers was growing nearby. I wanted to grab and tear into
them, but I could not be certain that such an act would be consistent with our
objective. I had to wait. In the hot kitchen area, I started sweating under my ski
The McDonald's people sneaked glances at the muzzle of the shotgun. I scratched
my ears with the little finger of my left hand. My ears always get itchy when I'm
nervous. Jabbing my finger into an ear through the wool, I was making the gun
barrel wobble up and down, which seemed to bother them. It couldn't have gone off
accidentally, because I had the safety on, but they didn't know that and I wasn't
about to tell them.

My wife counted the finished hamburgers and put them into two small shopping
bags, fifteen burgers to a bag.
"Why do you have to do this?" the girl asked me. "Why don't you just take the money
and buy something you like? What's the good of eating thirty Big Macs?"
I shook my head.
My wife explained, "We're sorry, really. But there weren't any bakeries open. If
there had been, we would have attacked a bakery."
That seemed to satisfy them. At least they didn't ask any more questions. Then my
wife ordered two large Cokes from the girl and paid for them.
"We're stealing bread, nothing else," she said. The girl responded with a complicated
head movement, sort of like nodding and sort of like shaking. She was probably
trying to do both at the same time. I thought I had some idea how she felt.
My wife then pulled a ball of twine from her pocket--she came equipped--and tied
the three to a post as expertly as if she were sewing on buttons. She asked if the cord
hurt, or if anyone wanted to go to the toilet, but no one said a word. I wrapped the
gun in the blanket, she picked up the shopping bags, and out we went. The
customers at the table were still asleep, like a couple of deep-sea fish. What would it
have taken to rouse them from a sleep so deep?
We drove for a half hour, found an empty parking lot by a building, and pulled in.
There we ate hamburgers and drank our Cokes. I sent six Big Macs down to the
cavern of my stomach, and she ate four. That left twenty Big Macs in the back seat.
Our hunger--that hunger that had felt as if it could go on forever--vanished as the
dawn was breaking. The first light of the sun dyed the building's filthy walls purple
and made a giant SONY BETA ad tower glow with painful intensity. Soon the whine
of highway truck tires was joined by the chirping of birds. The American Armed
Forces radio was playing cowboy music. We shared a cigarette. Afterward, she
rested her head on my shoulder.
"Still was it really necessary for us. to do this?" I asked.
"Of course it was!" With one deep sigh, she fell asleep against me. She felt as soft and
as light as a kitten.
Alone now, I leaned over the edge of my boat and looked down to the bottom of the
sea. The volcano was gone. The water's calm surface reflected the blue of the sky.
Little waves--like silk pajamas fluttering in a breeze--lapped against the side of the
boat. There was nothing else.
I stretched out in the bottom of the boat and closed my eyes, waiting for the rising
tide to carry me where I belonged.

It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, "I drank
too much last night." You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving
church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the
vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the
wildlife preserve where the leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a
terrible hangover. "I drank too much," said Donald Westerhazy. "We all drank too
much," said Lucinda Merrill. "It must have been the wine," said Helen Westerhazy. "I
drank too much of that claret."
This was at the edge of the Westerhazys' pool. The pool, fed by an artesian well with
a high iron content, was a pale shade of green. It was a fine day. In the west there
was a massive stand of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance—from the
bow of an approaching ship—that it might have had a name. Lisbon. Hackensack.
The sun was hot. Neddy Merrill sat by the green water, one hand in it, one around a
glass of gin. He was a slender man—he seemed to have the especial slenderness of
youth—and while he was far from young he had slid down his banister that morning
and given the bronze backside of Aphrodite on the hall table a smack, as he jogged
toward the smell of coffee in his dining room. He might have been compared to a
summer's day, particularly the last hours of one, and while he lacked a tennis racket
or a sail bag the impression was definitely one of youth, sport, and clement weather.
He had been swimming and now he was breathing deeply, stertorously as if he could
gulp into his lungs the components of that moment, the heat of the sun, the
intenseness of his pleasure. It all seemed to flow into his chest. His own house stood
in Bullet Park, eight miles to the south, where his four beautiful daughters would
have had their lunch and might be playing tennis. Then it occurred to him that by
taking a dogleg to the southwest he could reach his home by water.
His life was not confining and the delight he took in this observation could not be
explained by its suggestion of escape. He seemed to see, with a cartographer's eye,
that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across
the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would
name the stream Lucinda after his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a
fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as
a legendary figure. The day was beautiful and it seemed to him that a long swim
might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.
He took off a sweater that was hung over his shoulders and dove in. He had an
inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools. He swam a
choppy crawl, breathing either with every stroke or every fourth stroke and
counting somewhere well in the back of his mind the one-two one-two of a flutter
kick. It was not a serviceable stroke for long distances but the domestication of
swimming had saddled the sport with some customs and in his part of the world a
crawl was customary. To be embraced and sustained by the light green water was
less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption of a natural condition, and he would
have liked to swim without trunks, but this was not possible, considering his project.

He hoisted himself up on the far curb—he never used the ladder—and started
across the lawn. When Lucinda asked where he was going he said he was going to
swim home.
The only maps and charts he had to go by were remembered or imaginary but these
were clear enough. First there were the Grahams, the Hammers, the Lears, the
Howlands, and the Crosscups. He would cross Ditmar Street to the Bunkers and
come, after a short portage, to the Levys, the Welchers, and the public pool in
Lancaster. Then there were the Hallorans, the Sachses, the Biswangers, Shirley
Adams, the Gilmartins, and the Clydes. The day was lovely, and that he lived in a
world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence. His
heart was high and he ran across the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon
route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny,
and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the
banks of the Lucinda River.
He went through a hedge that separated the Westerhazys' land from the Grahams',
walked under some flowering apple trees, passed the shed that housed their pump
and filter, and came out at the Grahams' pool. "Why, Neddy," Mrs. Graham said,
"what a marvelous surprise. I've been trying to get you on the phone all morning.
Here, let me get you a drink." He saw then, like any explorer, that the hospitable
customs and traditions of the natives would have to be handled with diplomacy if he
was ever going to reach his destination. He did not want to mystify or seem rude to
the Grahams nor did he have the time to linger there. He swam the length of their
pool and joined them in the sun and was rescued, a few minutes later, by the arrival
of two carloads of friends from Connecticut. During the uproarious reunions he was
able to slip away. He went down by the front of the Grahams' house, stepped over a
thorny hedge, and crossed a vacant lot to the Hammers'. Mrs. Hammer, looking up
from her roses, saw him swim by although she wasn't quite sure who it was. The
Lears heard him splashing past the open windows of their living room. The
Howlands and the Crosscups were away. After leaving the Howlands' he crossed
Ditmar Street and started for the Bunkers', where he could hear, even at that
distance, the noise of a party.
The water refracted the sound of voices and laughter and seemed to suspend it in
midair. The Bunkers' pool was on a rise and he climbed some stairs to a terrace
where twenty-five or thirty men and women were drinking. The only person in the
water was Rusty Towers, who floated there on a rubber raft. Oh, how bonny and
lush were the banks of the Lucinda River! Prosperous men and women gathered by
the sapphire-colored waters while caterer's men in white coats passed them cold
gin. Overhead a red de Haviland trainer was circling around and around and around
in the sky with something like the glee of a child in a swing. Ned felt a passing
affection for the scene, a tenderness for the gathering, as if it was something he
might touch. In the distance he heard thunder. As soon as Enid Bunker saw him she
began to scream: "Oh, look who's here! What a marvelous surprise! When Lucinda
said that you couldn't come I thought I'd die." She made her way to him through the
crowd, and when they had finished kissing she led him to the bar, a progress that
was slowed by the fact that he stopped to kiss eight or ten other women and shake
the hands of as many men. A smiling bartender he had seen at a hundred parties

gave him a gin and tonic and he stood by the bar for a moment, anxious not to get
stuck in any conversation that would delay his voyage. When he seemed about to be
surrounded he dove in and swam close to the side to avoid colliding with Rusty's
raft. At the far end of the pool he bypassed the Tomlinsons with a broad smile and
jogged up the garden path. The gravel cut his feet but this was the only
unpleasantness. The party was confined to the pool, and as he went toward the
house he heard the brilliant, watery sound of voices fade, heard the noise of a radio
from the Bunkers' kitchen, where someone was listening to a ball game. Sunday
afternoon. He made his way through the parked cars and down the grassy border of
their driveway to Alewives Lane. He did not want to be seen on the road in his
bathing trunks but there was no traffic and he made the short distance to the Levys'
driveway, marked with a PRIVATE PROPERTY sign and a green tube for The New
York Times. All the doors and windows of the big house were open but there were
no signs of life; not even a dog barked. He went around the side of the house to the
pool and saw that the Levys had only recently left. Glasses and bottles and dishes of
nuts were on a table at the deep end, where there was a bathhouse or gazebo, hung
with Japanese lanterns. After swimming the pool he got himself a glass and poured a
drink. It was his fourth or fifth drink and he had swum nearly half the length of the
Lucinda River. He felt tired, clean, and pleased at that moment to be alone; pleased
with everything.
It would storm. The stand of cumulus cloud—that city—had risen and darkened,
and while he sat there he heard the percussiveness of thunder again. The de
Haviland trainer was still circling overhead and it seemed to Ned that he could
almost hear the pilot laugh with pleasure in the afternoon; but when there was
another peal of thunder he took off for home. A train whistle blew and he wondered
what time it had gotten to be. Four? Five? He thought of the provincial station at that
hour, where a waiter, his tuxedo concealed by a raincoat, a dwarf with some flowers
wrapped in newspaper, and a woman who had been crying would be waiting for the
local. It was suddenly growing dark; it was that moment when the pin-headed birds
seem to organize their song into some acute and knowledgeable recognition of the
storm's approach. Then there was a fine noise of rushing water from the crown of an
oak at his back, as if a spigot there had been turned. Then the noise of fountains
came from the crowns of all the tall trees. Why did he love storms, what was the
meaning of his excitement when the door sprang open and the rain wind fled rudely
up the stairs, why had the simple task, of shutting the windows of an old house
seemed fitting and urgent, why did the first watery notes of a storm wind have for
him the unmistakable sound of good news, cheer, glad tidings? Then there was an
explosion, a smell of cordite, and rain lashed the Japanese lanterns that Mrs. Levy
had bought in Kyoto the year before last, or was it the year before that?
He stayed in the Levys' gazebo until the storm had passed. The rain had cooled the
air and he shivered. The force of the wind had stripped a maple of its red and yellow
leaves and scattered them over the grass and the water. Since it was midsummer the
tree must be blighted, and yet he felt a peculiar sadness at this sign of autumn. He
braced his shoulders, emptied his glass, and started for the Welchers' pool. This
meant crossing the Lindleys' riding ring and he was surprised to find it overgrown
with grass and all the jumps dismantled. He wondered if the Lindleys had sold their
horses or gone away for the summer and put them out to board. He seemed to

remember having heard something about the Lindleys and their horses but the
memory was unclear. On he went, barefoot through the wet grass, to the Welchers',
where he found their pool was dry.
This breach in his chain of water disappointed him absurdly, and he felt like some
explorer who seeks a torrential headwater and finds a dead stream. He was
disappointed and mystified. It was common enough to go away for the summer but
no one ever drained his pool. The Welchers had definitely gone away. The pool
furniture was folded, stacked, and covered with a tarpaulin. The bathhouse was
locked. All the windows of the house were shut, and when he went around to the
driveway in front he saw a FOR SALE sign nailed to a tree. When had he last heard
from the Welchers—when, that is, had he and Lucinda last regretted an invitation to
dine with them? It seemed only a week or so ago. Was his memory failing or had he
so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense
of the truth? Then in the distance he heard the sound of a tennis game. This cheered
him, cleared away all his apprehensions and let him regard the overcast sky and the
cold air with indifference. This was the day that Neddy Merrill swam across the
county. That was the day! He started off then for his most difficult portage.
Had you gone for a Sunday afternoon ride that day you might have seen him, close to
naked, standing on the shoulders of Route 424, waiting for a chance to cross. You
might have wondered if he was the victim of foul play, had his car broken down, or
was he merely a fool. Standing barefoot in the deposits of the highway—beer cans,
rags, and blowout patches—exposed to all kinds of ridicule, he seemed pitiful. He
had known when he started that this was a part of his journey—it had been on his
maps—but confronted with the lines of traffic, worming through the summery light,
he found himself unprepared. He was laughed at, jeered at, a beer can was thrown at
him, and he had no dignity or humor to bring to the situation. He could have gone
back, back to the Westerhazys', where Lucinda would still be sitting in the sun. He
had signed nothing, vowed nothing, pledged nothing, not even to himself. Why,
believing as he did, that all human obduracy was susceptible to common sense, was
he unable to turn back? Why was he determined to complete his journey even if it
meant putting his life in danger? At what point had this prank, this joke, this piece of
horseplay become serious? He could not go back, he could not even recall with any
clearness the green water at the Westerhazys', the sense of inhaling the day's
components, the friendly and relaxed voices saying that they had drunk too much. In
the space of an hour, more or less, be had covered a distance that made his return
An old man, tooling down the highway at fifteen miles an hour, let him get to the
middle of the road, where there was a grass divider. Here he was exposed to the
ridicule of the northbound traffic, but after ten or fifteen minutes he was able to
cross. From here he had only a short walk to the Recreation Center at the edge of the
village of Lancaster, where there were some handball courts and a public pool.
The effect of the water on voices, the illusion of brilliance and suspense, was the
same here as it had been at the Bunkers' but the sounds here were louder, harsher,
and more shrill, and as soon as he entered the crowded enclosure he was confronted

THEIR IDENTIFICATION DISKS." He took a shower, washed his feet in a cloudy and
bitter solution, and made his way to the edge of the water. It stank of chlorine and
looked to him like a sink. A pair of lifeguards in a pair of towers blew police whistles
at what seemed to be regular intervals and abused the swimmers through a public
address system. Neddy remembered the sapphire water at the Bunkers' with
longing and thought that he might contaminate himself—damage his own
prosperousness and charm—by swimming in this murk, but he reminded himself
that be was an explorer, a pilgrim, and that this was merely a stagnant bend in the
Lucinda River. He dove, scowling with distaste, into the chlorine and had to swim
with his head above water to avoid collisions, but even so he was bumped into,
splashed, and jostled. When he got to the shallow end both lifeguards were shouting
at him: "Hey, you, you without the identification disk, get outa the water." He did,
but they had no way of pursuing him and he went through the reek of suntan oil,
and chlorine out through the hurricane fence and passed the handball courts. By
crossing the road he entered the wooded part of the Halloran estate. The woods
were not cleared and the footing was treacherous and difficult until he reached the
lawn and the clipped beech hedge that encircled their pool.
The Hallorans were friends, an elderly couple of enormous wealth who seemed to
bask in the suspicion that they might be Communists. They were zealous reformers
but they were not Communists, and yet when they were accused, as they sometimes
were, of subversion, it seemed to gratify and excite them. Their beech hedge was
yellow and he guessed this had been blighted like the Levys' maple. He called hullo,
hullo, to warn the Hallorans of his approach, to palliate his invasion of their privacy.
The Hallorans, for reasons that had never been explained to him, did not wear
bathing suits. No explanations were in order, really. Their nakedness was a detail in
their uncompromising zeal for reform and he stepped politely out of his trunks
before he went through the opening in the hedge.
Mrs. Halloran, a stout woman with white hair and a serene face, was reading the
Times. Mr. Halloran was taking beech leaves out of the water with a scoop. They
seemed not surprised or displeased to see him. Their pool was perhaps the oldest in
the country, a fieldstone rectangle, fed by a brook. It had no filter or pump and its
waters were the opaque gold of the stream.
"I'm swimming across the county," Ned said.
"Why, I didn't know one could," exclaimed Mrs. Halloran.
"Well, I've made it from the Westerhazys'," Ned said. "That must be about four
He left his trunks at the deep end, walked to the shallow end, and swam this stretch.
As he was pulling himself out of the water he heard Mrs. Halloran say, "We've been
terribly sorry to bear about all your misfortunes, Neddy."
"My misfortunes?" Ned asked. "I don't know what you mean."

"Why, we heard that you'd sold the house and that your poor children . . . "
"I don't recall having sold the house," Ned said, "and the girls are at home."
"Yes," Mrs. Halloran sighed. "Yes . . . " Her voice filled the air with an unseasonable
melancholy and Ned spoke briskly. "Thank you for the swim."
"Well, have a nice trip," said Mrs. Halloran.
Beyond the hedge he pulled on his trunks and fastened them. They were loose and
he wondered if, during the space of an afternoon, he could have lost some weight. He
was cold and he was tired and the naked Hallorans and their dark water had
depressed him. The swim was too much for his strength but how could he have
guessed this, sliding down the banister that morning and sitting in the Westerhazys'
sun? His arms were lame. His legs felt rubbery and ached at the joints. The worst of
it was the cold in his bones and the feeling that he might never be warm again.
Leaves were falling down around him and he smelled wood smoke on the wind.
Who would be burning wood at this time of year?
He needed a drink. Whiskey would warm him, pick him up, carry him through the
last of his journey, refresh his feeling that it was original and valorous to swim
across the county. Channel swimmers took brandy. He needed a stimulant. He
crossed the lawn in front of the Hallorans' house and went down a little path to
where they had built a house, for their only daughter, Helen, and her husband, Eric
Sachs. The Sachses' pool was small and he found Helen and her husband there.
"Oh, Neddy, " Helen said. "Did you lunch at Mother's?"
"Not really, " Ned said. "I did stop to see your parents." This seemed to be
explanation enough. "I'm terribly sorry to break in on you like this but I've taken a
chill and I wonder if you'd give me a drink."
"Why, I'd love to," Helen said, "but there hasn't been anything in this house to drink
since Eric's operation. That was three years ago."
Was he losing his memory, had his gift for concealing painful facts let him forget that
he had sold his house, that his children were in trouble, and that his friend had been
ill? His eyes slipped from Eric's face to his abdomen, where be saw three pale,
sutured scars, two of them at least a foot long. Gone was his navel, and what, Neddy
thought, would the roving hand, bed-checking one's gifts at 3 a.m., make of a belly
with no navel, no link to birth, this breach in the succession?
"I'm sure you can get a drink at the Biswangers'," Helen said. "They're having an
enormous do. You can hear it from here. Listen!"
She raised her head and from across the road, the lawns, the gardens, the woods, the
fields, he heard again the brilliant noise of voices over water. "Well, I'll get wet," he
said, still feeling that he had no freedom of choice about his means of travel. He dove
into the Sachses' cold water and, gasping, close to drowning, made his way from one

end of the pool to the other. "Lucinda and I want terribly to see you," he said over
his shoulder, his face set toward the Biswangers'. "We're sorry it's been so long and
we'll call you very soon."
He crossed some fields to the Biswangers' and the sounds of revelry there. They
would be honored to give him a drink, they would be happy to give him a drink. The
Biswangers invited him and Lucinda for dinner four times a year, six weeks in
advance. They were always rebuffed and yet they continued to send out their
invitations, unwilling to comprehend the rigid and undemocratic realities of their
society. They were the sort of people who discussed the price of things at cocktails,
exchanged market tips during dinner, and after dinner told dirty stories to mixed
company. They did not belong to Neddy's set—they were not even on Lucinda's
Christmas-card list. He went toward their pool with feelings of indifference, charity,
and some unease, since it seemed to be getting dark and these were the longest days
of the year. The party when he joined it was noisy and large. Grace Biswanger was
the kind of hostess who asked the optometrist, the veterinarian, the real-estate
dealer, and the dentist. No one was swimming and the twilight, reflected on the
water of the pool, had a wintry gleam. There was a bar and he started for this. When
Grace Biswanger saw him she came toward him, not affectionately as he had every
right to expect, but bellicosely.
"Why, this party has everything," she said loudly, "including a gate crasher."
She could not deal him a social blow—there was no question about this and he did
not flinch. "As a gate crasher," he asked politely, "do I rate a drink?"
"Suit yourself," she said. "You don't seem to pay much attention to invitations."
She turned her back on him and joined some guests, and he went to the bar and
ordered a whiskey. The bartender served him but be served him rudely. His was a
world in which the caterer's men kept the social score, and to be rebuffed by a part-
time barkeep meant that be had suffered some loss of social esteem. Or perhaps the
man was new and uninformed. Then he heard Grace at his back say: "They went for
broke overnight—nothing but income—and he showed up drunk one Sunday and
asked us to loan him five thousand dollars. . . ." She was always talking about money.
It was worse than eating your peas off a knife. He dove into the pool, swam its length
and went away.
The next pool on his list, the last but two, belonged to his old mistress, Shirley
Adams. If he had suffered any injuries at the Biswangers' they would be cured here.
Love—sexual roughhouse in fact—was the supreme elixir, the pain killer, the
brightly colored pill that would put the spring back into his step, the joy of life in his
heart. They had had an affair last week, last month, last year. He couldn't remember,
It was he who had broken it off, his was the upper hand, and he stepped through the
gate of the wall that surrounded her pool with nothing so considered as self-
confidence. It seemed in a way to be his pool, as the lover, particularly the illicit
lover, enjoys the possessions of his mistress with an authority unknown to holy
matrimony. She was there, her hair the color of brass, but her figure, at the edge of
the lighted, cerulean water, excited in him no profound memories. It had been, he

thought, a lighthearted affair, although she had wept when he broke it off. She
seemed confused to see him and he wondered if she was still wounded. Would she,
God forbid, weep again?
"What do you want?" she asked.
"I'm swimming across the county."
"Good Christ. Will you ever grow up?"
"What's the matter?"
"If you've come here for money," she said, "I won't give you another cent."
"You could give me a drink."
"I could but I won't. I'm not alone."
"Well, I'm on my way."
He dove in and swam the pool, but when be tried to haul himself up onto the curb he
found that the strength in his arms and shoulders had gone, and he paddled to the
ladder and climbed out. Looking over his shoulder be saw, in the lighted bathhouse,
a young man. Going out onto the dark lawn he smelled chrysanthemums or
marigolds—some stub- born autumnal fragrance—on the night air, strong as gas.
Looking overhead he saw that the stars had come out, but why should he seem to
see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of
midsummer? He began to cry.
It was probably the first time in his adult life that he had ever cried, certainly the
first time in his life that he had ever felt so miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered. He
could not understand the rudeness of the caterer's barkeep or the rudeness of a
mistress who had come to him on her knees and showered his trousers with tears.
He had swum too long, he had been immersed too long, and his nose and his throat
were sore from the water. What he needed then was a drink, some company, and
some clean, dry clothes, and while he could have cut directly across the road to his
home he went on to the Gilmartins' pool. Here, for the first time in his life, he did not
dive but went down the steps into the icy water and swam a bobbled sidestroke that
he might have learned as a youth. He staggered with fatigue on his way to the
Clydes' and paddled the length of their pool, stopping again and again with his hand
on the curb to rest. He climbed up the ladder and wondered if he had the strength to
get home. He had done what he wanted, he had swum the county, but he was so
stupefied with exhaustion that his triumph seemed vague. Stooped, holding on to
the gateposts for support, he turned up the driveway of his own house.
The place was dark. Was it so late that they had all gone to bed? Had Lucinda stayed
at the Westerhazys' for supper? Had the girls joined her there or gone someplace
else? Hadn't they agreed, as they usually did on Sunday, to regret all their invitations
and stay at home? He tried the garage doors to see what cars were in but the doors

were locked and rust came off the handles onto his hands. Going toward the house,
he saw that the force of the thunderstorm had knocked one of the rain gutters loose.
It hung down over the front door like an umbrella rib, but it could be fixed in the
morning. The house was locked, and he thought that the stupid cook or the stupid
maid must have locked the place up until he remembered that it had been some time
since they had employed a maid or a cook. He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to
force it with his shoulder, and then, looking in at the windows, saw that the place
was empty.
On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that
Pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because
the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the
stench. The world had been sad since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a single ash-gray
thing and the sands of the beach, which on March nights glimmered like powdered
light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish. The light was so weak at noon
that when Pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the crabs, it
was hard for him to see what it was that was moving and groaning in the rear of the
courtyard. He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man,
lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn't get up,
impeded by his enormous wings.
Frightened by that nightmare, Pelayo ran to get Elisenda, his wife, who was
putting compresses on the sick child, and he took her to the rear of the courtyard.
They both looked at the fallen body with a mute stupor. He was dressed like a
ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth
in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away
and sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-
plucked were forever entangled in the mud. They looked at him so long and so
closely that Pelayo and Elisenda very soon overcame their surprise and in the end
found him familiar. Then they dared speak to him, and he answered in an
incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor's voice. That was how they skipped
over the inconvenience of the wings and quite intelligently concluded that he was a
lonely castaway from some foreign ship wrecked by the storm. And yet, they called
in a neighbor woman who knew everything about life and death to see him, and all
she needed was one look to show them their mistake.
"He's an angel," she told them. "He must have been coming for the child, but the
poor fellow is so old that the rain knocked him down."
On the following day everyone knew that a flesh-and-blood angel was held
captive in Pelayo's house. Against the judgment of the wise neighbor woman, for

whom angels in those times were the fugitive survivors of a spiritual conspiracy,
they did not have the heart to club him to death. Pelayo watched over him all
afternoon from the kitchen, armed with his bailiff's club, and before going to bed he
dragged him out of the mud and locked him up with the hens in the wire chicken
coop. In the middle of the night, when the rain stopped, Pelayo and Elisenda were
still killing crabs. A short time afterward the child woke up without a fever and with
a desire to eat. Then they felt magnanimous and decided to put the angel on a raft
with fresh water and provisions for three days and leave him to his fate on the high
seas. But when they went out into the courtyard with the first light of dawn, they
found the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop having fun with the
angel, without the slightest reverence, tossing him things to eat through the
openings in the wire as if weren't a supernatural creature but a circus animal.
Father Gonzaga arrived before seven o'clock, alarmed at the strange news. By
that time onlookers less frivolous than those at dawn had already arrived and they
were making all kinds of conjectures concerning the captive's future. The simplest
among them thought that he should be named mayor of the world. Others of sterner
mind felt that he should be promoted to the rank of five-star general in order to win
all wars. Some visionaries hoped that he could be put to stud in order to implant the
earth a race of winged wise men who could take charge of the universe. But Father
Gonzaga, before becoming a priest, had been a robust woodcutter. Standing by the
wire, he reviewed his catechism in an instant and asked them to open the door so
that he could take a close look at that pitiful man who looked more like a huge
decrepit hen among the fascinated chickens. He was lying in the corner drying his
open wings in the sunlight among the fruit peels and breakfast leftovers that the
early risers had thrown him. Alien to the impertinences of the world, he only lifted
his antiquarian eyes and murmured something in his dialect when Father Gonzaga
went into the chicken coop and said good morning to him in Latin. The parish priest
had his first suspicion of an imposter when he saw that he did not understand the
language of God or know how to greet His ministers. Then he noticed that seen close
up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back
side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been
mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud
dignity of angels. The he came out of the chicken coop and in a brief sermon warned
the curious against the risks of being ingenuous. He reminded them that the devil
had the bad habit of making use of carnival tricks in order to confuse the unwary. He
argued that if wings were not the essential element in determining the different
between a hawk and an airplane, they were even less so in the recognition of angels.
Nevertheless, he promised to write a letter to his bishop so that the latter would
write his primate so that the latter would write to the Supreme Pontiff in order to
get the final verdict from the highest courts.
His prudence fell on sterile hearts. The news of the captive angel spread with
such rapidity that after a few hours the courtyard had the bustle of a marketplace
and they had to call in troops with fixed bayonets to disperse the mob that was
about to knock the house down. Elisenda, her spine all twisted from sweeping up so
much marketplace trash, then got the idea of fencing in the yard and charging five
cents admission to see the angel.

The curious came from far away. A traveling carnival arrived with a flying
acrobat who buzzed over the crowd several times, but no one paid any attention to
him because his wings were not those of an angel but, rather, those of a sidereal bat.
The most unfortunate invalids on earth came in search of health: a poor woman who
since childhood has been counting her heartbeats and had run out of numbers; a
Portuguese man who couldn't sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him; a
sleepwalker who got up at night to undo the things he had done while awake; and
many others with less serious ailments. In the midst of that shipwreck disorder that
made the earth tremble, Pelayo and Elisenda were happy with fatigue, for in less
than a week they had crammed their rooms with money and the line of pilgrims
waiting their turn to enter still reached beyond the horizon.
The angel was the only one who took no part in his own act. He spent his time
trying to get comfortable in his borrowed nest, befuddled by the hellish heat of the
oil lamps and sacramental candles that had been placed along the wire. At first they
tried to make him eat some mothballs, which, according to the wisdom of the wise
neighbor woman, were the food prescribed for angels. But he turned them down,
just as he turned down the papal lunches that the pentinents brought him, and they
never found out whether it was because he was an angel or because he was an old
man that in the end ate nothing but eggplant mush. His only supernatural virtue
seemed to be patience. Especially during the first days, when the hens pecked at
him, searching for the stellar parasites that proliferated in his wings, and the
cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most
merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him
standing. The only time they succeeded in arousing him was when they burned his
side with an iron for branding steers, for he had been motionless for so many hours
that they thought he was dead. He awoke with a start, ranting in his hermetic
language and with tears in his eyes, and he flapped his wings a couple of times,
which brought on a whirlwind of chicken dung and lunar dust and a gale of panic
that did not seem to be of this world. Although many thought that his reaction had
not been one of rage but of pain, from then on they were careful not to annoy him,
because the majority understood that his passivity was not that of a her taking his
ease but that of a cataclysm in repose.
Father Gonzaga held back the crowd's frivolity with formulas of maidservant
inspiration while awaiting the arrival of a final judgment on the nature of the
captive. But the mail from Rome showed no sense of urgency. They spent their time
finding out in the prisoner had a navel, if his dialect had any connection with
Aramaic, how many times he could fit on the head of a pin, or whether he wasn't just
a Norwegian with wings. Those meager letters might have come and gone until the
end of time if a providential event had not put and end to the priest's tribulations.
It so happened that during those days, among so many other carnival
attractions, there arrived in the town the traveling show of the woman who had
been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents. The admission to see
her was not only less than the admission to see the angel, but people were permitted
to ask her all manner of questions about her absurd state and to examine her up and

down so that no one would ever doubt the truth of her horror. She was a frightful
tarantula the size of a ram and with the head of a sad maiden. What was most
heartrending, however, was not her outlandish shape but the sincere affliction with
which she recounted the details of her misfortune. While still practically a child she
had sneaked out of her parents' house to go to a dance, and while she was coming
back through the woods after having danced all night without permission, a fearful
thunderclap rent the sky in tow and through the crack came the lightning bolt of
brimstone that changed her into a spider. Her only nourishment came from the
meatballs that charitable souls chose to toss into her mouth. A spectacle like that,
full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat
without even trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals.
Besides, the few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder,
like the blind man who didn't recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the
paralytic who didn't get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose
sores sprouted sunflowers. Those consolation miracles, which were more like
mocking fun, had already ruined the angel's reputation when the woman who had
been changed into a spider finally crushed him completely. That was how Father
Gonzaga was cured forever of his insomnia and Pelayo's courtyard went back to
being as empty as during the time it had rained for three days and crabs walked
through the bedrooms.
The owners of the house had no reason to lament. With the money they saved
they built a two-story mansion with balconies and gardens and high netting so that
crabs wouldn't get in during the winter, and with iron bars on the windows so that
angels wouldn't get in. Pelayo also set up a rabbit warren close to town and have up
his job as a bailiff for good, and Elisenda bought some satin pumps with high heels
and many dresses of iridescent silk, the kind worn on Sunday by the most desirable
women in those times. The chicken coop was the only thing that didn't receive any
attention. If they washed it down with creolin and burned tears of myrrh inside it
every so often, it was not in homage to the angel but to drive away the dungheap
stench that still hung everywhere like a ghost and was turning the new house into
an old one. At first, when the child learned to walk, they were careful that he not get
too close to the chicken coop. But then they began to lose their fears and got used to
the smell, and before they child got his second teeth he'd gone inside the chicken
coop to play, where the wires were falling apart. The angel was no less standoffish
with him than with the other mortals, but he tolerated the most ingenious infamies
with the patience of a dog who had no illusions. They both came down with the
chicken pox at the same time. The doctor who took care of the child couldn't resist
the temptation to listen to the angel's heart, and he found so much whistling in the
heart and so many sounds in his kidneys that it seemed impossible for him to be
alive. What surprised him most, however, was the logic of his wings. They seemed so
natural on that completely human organism that he couldn't understand why other
men didn't have them too.
When the child began school it had been some time since the sun and rain had
caused the collapse of the chicken coop. The angel went dragging himself about here
and there like a stray dying man. They would drive him out of the bedroom with a
broom and a moment later find him in the kitchen. He seemed to be in so many

places at the same time that they grew to think that he'd be duplicated, that he was
reproducing himself all through the house, and the exasperated and unhinged
Elisenda shouted that it was awful living in that hell full of angels. He could scarcely
eat and his antiquarian eyes had also become so foggy that he went about bumping
into posts. All he had left were the bare cannulae of his last feathers. Pelayo threw a
blanket over him and extended him the charity of letting him sleep in the shed, and
only then did they notice that he had a temperature at night, and was delirious with
the tongue twisters of an old Norwegian. That was one of the few times they became
alarmed, for they thought he was going to die and not even the wise neighbor
woman had been able to tell them what to do with dead angels.
And yet he not only survived his worst winter, but seemed improved with the
first sunny days. He remained motionless for several days in the farthest corner of
the courtyard, where no one would see him, and at the beginning of December some
large, stiff feathers began to grow on his wings, the feathers of a scarecrow, which
looked more like another misfortune of decreptitude. But he must have known the
reason for those changes, for he was quite careful that no one should notice them,
that no one should hear the sea chanteys that he sometimes sang under the stars.
One morning Elisenda was cutting some bunches of onions for lunch when a wind
that seemed to come from the high seas blew into the kitchen. Then she went to the
window and caught the angel in his first attempts at flight. They were so clumsy that
his fingernails opened a furrow in the vegetable patch and he was on the point of
knocking the shed down with the ungainly flapping that slipped on the light and
couldn't get a grip on the air. But he did manage to gain altitude. Elisenda let out a
sigh of relief, for herself and for him, when she watched him pass over the last
houses, holding himself up in some way with the risky flapping of a senile vulture.
She kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and she kept
on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was
no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.

It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to
listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what
was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything
he might undertake.
And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed
throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one
who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and

who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was
the most important thing to do.
And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his
questions differently.
In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right
time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days,
months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only
thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time.
Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the
right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be
absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was
going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said
that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it
was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for
every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who
would help him to fix the proper time for everything.
But then again others said there were some things which could not
wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to
decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide
that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only
magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right
time for every action, one must consult magicians.
Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said,
the people the King most needed were his councillors; others, the
priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the
most necessary.
To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation:
some replied that the most important thing in the world was science.
Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was
religious worship.
All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them,
and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right
answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely
renowned for his wisdom.
The hermit lived in a wood which he never quitted, and he received
none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and before
reaching the hermit's cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving
his body-guard behind, went on alone.
When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front
of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging.

The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into
the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.
The King went up to him and said: "I have come to you, wise hermit,
to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the
right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and
to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest?
And, what affairs are the most important, and need my first attention?"
The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat
on his hand and recommenced digging.
"You are tired," said the King, "let me take the spade and work
awhile for you."
"Thanks!" said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he
sat down on the ground.
When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his
questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out
his hand for the spade, and said:
"Now rest awhile-and let me work a bit."
But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One
hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees,
and the King at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said:
"I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can
give me none, tell me so, and I will return home."
"Here comes some one running," said the hermit, "let us see who it is."
The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the
wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood
was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell
fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit
unfastened the man's clothing. There was a large wound in his
stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with
his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood
would not stop flowing, and the King again and again removed the
bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and rebandaged the wound.
When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for
something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to
him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the
King, with the hermit's help, carried the wounded man into the hut
and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes
and was quiet; but the King was so tired with his walk and with the
work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also

fell asleep--so soundly that he slept all through the short summer
night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could
remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on
the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.
"Forgive me!" said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw
that the King was awake and was looking at him.
"I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for," said the King.
"You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who
swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother
and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the
hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day
passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find
you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and
wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had
you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved
my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your
most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!"
The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily,
and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him,
but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend
him, and promised to restore his property.
Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the
porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished
once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit
was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been
dug the day before.
The King approached him, and said:
"For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man."
"You have already been answered!" said the hermit, still crouching
on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.
"How answered? What do you mean?" asked the King.
"Do you not see," replied the hermit. "If you had not pitied my
weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone
your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have
repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time
was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important
man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards
when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were
attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would

have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most
important man, and what you did for him was your most important
business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important--
Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when
we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are,
for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one
else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for
that purpose alone was man sent into this life!"
DURING THE WHOLE of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year,
when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on
horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself,
as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of
insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was
unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which
the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or
terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple
landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like
windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed
trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation
more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse
into everyday life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a
sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no
goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I
paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the
House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy
fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the
unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very
simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of
this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected,
that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the
picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for
sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the
precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the
dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—
upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-
stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.
Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some
weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of my boon companions in
boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had
lately reached me in a distant part of the country—a letter from him—which, in its
wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS.

gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness—of a
mental disorder which oppressed him—and of an earnest desire to see me, as his
best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the
cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in
which all this, and much more, was said—it was the apparent heart that went with
his request—which allowed me no room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed
forthwith what I still considered a very singular summons.
Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of
my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was a man-of-ware,
however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a
peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many
works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet
unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps
even more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of musical science.
I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-
honoured as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other
words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with
very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I
considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the
premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon
the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have
exercised upon the other—it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the
consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the
name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the
estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher”—an
appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it,
both the family and the family mansion.
I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish experiment—that of looking
down within the tarn—had been to deepen the first singular impression. There can
be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition—for
why should I not so term it?—served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I
have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis.
And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes to
the house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange fancy—
a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show the vivid force of the
sensations which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really to
believe that about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere
peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity—an atmosphere which had no
affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and
the gray wall, and the silent tarn—a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish,
faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.
Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly
the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive
antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the
whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was
apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen;

and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of
parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much
that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for
long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the
external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave
little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have
discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the
building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became
lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.
Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house. A servant in
waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of
stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate
passages in my progress to the studio of his master. Much that I encountered on the
way contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have
already spoken. While the objects around me—while the carvings of the ceilings, the
sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the
phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to
which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy—while I
hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this—I still wondered to find how
unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the
staircases, I met the physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a
mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation
and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence
of his master.
The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long,
narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be
altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their
way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more
prominent objects around the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter
angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark
draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless,
antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but
failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow.
An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.
Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been lying at full length,
and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of
an overdone cordiality—of the constrained effort of the ennuyé man of the world. A
glance, however, at his countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat
down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling
half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a
period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to
admit the identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my early
boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A
cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond
comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful
curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in

similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a
want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these
features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up
altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And now in the mere
exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they
were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The
now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eve, above all
things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all
unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the
face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of
simple humanity.
In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence—an
inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble and futile
struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy—an excessive nervous agitation. For
something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less by his letter, than by
reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar
physical conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious and
sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits
seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision—that abrupt,
weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation—that leaden, self-balanced
and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost
drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense
It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his earnest desire to see me,
and of the solace he expected me to afford him. He entered, at some length, into
what he conceived to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional
and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy—a mere nervous
affection, he immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It
displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed them,
interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and the general
manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid
acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear
only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes
were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these
from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.
To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. “I shall perish,” said
he, “I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be
lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder
at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this
intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its
absolute effect—in terror. In this unnerved—in this pitiable condition—I feel that
the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together,
in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”
I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal hints, another
singular feature of his mental condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious

impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many
years, he had never ventured forth—in regard to an influence whose supposititious
force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated—an influence which
some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by
dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit-an effect which the physique
of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down,
had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.
He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the peculiar gloom
which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more natural and far more palpable
origin—to the severe and long-continued illness—indeed to the evidently
approaching dissolution—of a tenderly beloved sister—his sole companion for long
years—his last and only relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said, with a bitterness
which I can never forget, “would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last
of the ancient race of the Ushers.” While he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she
called) passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without
having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an utter astonishment
not unmingled with dread—and yet I found it impossible to account for such
feelings. A sensation of stupor oppressed me, as my eyes followed her retreating
steps. When a door, at length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and
eagerly the countenance of the brother—but he had buried his face in his hands, and
I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary wanness had overspread the
emaciated fingers through which trickled many passionate tears.
The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her physicians. A
settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although
transient affections of a partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis.
Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her malady, and had not
betaken herself finally to bed; but, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at
the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible
agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I
had obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should obtain—that
the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no more.
For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either Usher or myself: and
during this period I was busied in earnest endeavours to alleviate the melancholy of
my friend. We painted and read together; or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild
improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and closer still intimacy
admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did
I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an
inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical
universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.
I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I thus spent alone
with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an
idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved
me, or led me the way. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a
sulphureous lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears.
Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and

amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over
which his elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into
vaguenesses at which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered
knowing not why;—from these paintings (vivid as their images now are before me)
I would in vain endeavour to educe more than a small portion which should lie
within the compass of merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by the
nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted
an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least—in the circumstances then
surrounding me—there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac
contrived to throw upon his canvas, an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of
which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete
reveries of Fuseli.
One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so rigidly of the
spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small
picture presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel,
with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory
points of the design served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an
exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any
portion of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of light was
discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a
ghastly and inappropriate splendour.
I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve which rendered all
music intolerable to the sufferer, with the exception of certain effects of stringed
instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself
upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of his
performances. But the fervid facility of his impromptus could not be so accounted
for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the words of his wild
fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal
improvisations), the result of that intense mental collectedness and concentration to
which I have previously alluded as observable only in particular moments of the
highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily
remembered. I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it,
because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and
for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his
lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which were entitled “The Haunted Palace,”
ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus:
In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion—
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odour went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute's well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad led us into a train of
thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher's which I mention not
so much on account of its novelty, (for other men have thought thus,) as on account
of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was
that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had
assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon
the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest
abandon of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously
hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the
sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these
stones—in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which
overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around—above all, in the
long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still
waters of the tarn. Its evidence—the evidence of the sentience—was to be seen, he
said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an
atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was
discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible influence which
for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I
now saw him—what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.
Our books—the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of the mental
existence of the invalid—were, as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this
character of phantasm. We pored together over such works as the Ververt et
Chartreuse of Gresset; the Belphegor of Machiavelli; the Heaven and Hell of
Swedenborg; the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg; the
Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D'Indaginé, and of De la Chambre; the Journey
into the Blue Distance of Tieck; and the City of the Sun of Campanella. One favourite
volume was a small octavo edition of the Directorium Inquisitorum, by the
Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about
the old African Satyrs and Ægipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for hours.
His chief delight, however, was found in the perusal of an exceedingly rare and
curious book in quarto Gothic—the manual of a forgotten church—the Vigilae
Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae.
I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of its probable influence
upon the hypochondriac, when, one evening, having informed me abruptly that the
lady Madeline was no more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse for a
fortnight, (previously to its final interment,) in one of the numerous vaults within
the main walls of the building. The worldly reason, however, assigned for this
singular proceeding, was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The brother
had been led to his resolution (so he told me) by consideration of the unusual
character of the malady of the deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on
the part of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burial-
ground of the family. I will not deny that when I called to mind the sinister
countenance of the person whom I met upon the staircase, on the day of my arrival
at the house, I had no desire to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless,
and by no means an unnatural, precaution.

At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the arrangements for the
temporary entombment. The body having been encoffined, we two alone bore it to
its rest. The vault in which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that
our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity
for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely without means of admission for
light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in
which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote
feudal times, for the worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place
of deposit for powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a portion of
its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which we reached it,
were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massive iron, had been, also,
similarly protected. Its immense weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as
it moved upon its hinges.
Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this region of horror,
we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the
face of the tenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first
arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out
some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins,
and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between
them. Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead—for we could not
regard her unawed. The disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity
of youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character, the
mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that suspiciously
lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death. We replaced and screwed
down the lid, and, having secured the door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the
scarcely less gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the house.
And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable change came over
the features of the mental disorder of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished.
His ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to
chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step. The pallor of his countenance
had assumed, if possible, a more ghastly hue—but the luminousness of his eye had
utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard no more; and
a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habitually characterized his utterance.
There were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was
labouring with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the
necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all into the mere
inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long
hours, in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary
sound. It was no wonder that his condition terrified—that it infected me. I felt
creeping upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of his own
fantastic yet impressive superstitions.
It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the seventh or eighth day
after the placing of the lady Madeline within the don-jon, that I experienced the full
power of such feelings. Sleep came not near my couch—while the hours waned and
waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me.
I endeavoured to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the

bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room—of the dark and tattered
draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed
fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the
bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremour gradually pervaded my
frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless
alarm. Shaking this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows,
and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber, hearkened—I
know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me—to certain low and
indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at long intervals, I
knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable
yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no
more during the night), and endeavoured to arouse myself from the pitiable
condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the
I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on an adjoining staircase
arrested my attention. I presently recognised it as that of Usher. In an instant
afterward he rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered, bearing a lamp.
His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan—but, moreover, there was a
species of mad hilarity in his eyes—an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole
demeanour. His air appalled me—but anything was preferable to the solitude which
I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence as a relief.
“And you have not seen it?” he said abruptly, after having stared about him for some
moments in silence—“you have not then seen it?—but, stay! you shall.” Thus
speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the casements,
and threw it freely open to the storm.
The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our feet. It was, indeed,
a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and
its beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity; for there
were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind; and the exceeding
density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house)
did not prevent our perceiving the lifelike velocity with which they flew careering
from all points against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say that
even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this—yet we had no
glimpse of the moon or stars—nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning. But
the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapour, as well as all terrestrial
objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly
luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and
enshrouded the mansion.
“You must not—you shall not behold this!” said I, shudderingly, to Usher, as I led
him, with a gentle violence, from the window to a seat. “These appearances, which
bewilder you, are merely electrical phenomena not uncommon—or it may be that
they have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us close this
casement;—the air is chilling and dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your
favourite romances. I will read, and you shall listen;—and so we will pass away this
terrible night together.”

The antique volume which I had taken up was the “Mad Trist” of Sir Launcelot
Canning; but I had called it a favourite of Usher's more in sad jest than in earnest;
for, in truth, there is little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which could
have had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my friend. It was, however,
the only book immediately at hand; and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement
which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history of mental
disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the extremeness of the folly which I
should read. Could I have judged, indeed, by the wild over-strained air of vivacity
with which he hearkened, or apparently hearkened, to the words of the tale, I might
well have congratulated myself upon the success of my design.
I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where Ethelred, the hero of the
Trist, having sought in vain for peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit,
proceeds to make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, the words
of the narrative run thus:
“And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was now mighty
withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine which he had drunken, waited no
longer to hold parley with the hermit, who, in sooth, was of an obstinate and
maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising of the
tempest, uplifted his mace outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the
plankings of the door for his gauntleted hand; and now pulling there-with sturdily,
he so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry and hollow-
sounding wood alarumed and reverberated throughout the forest.
At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment, paused; for it
appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my excited fancy had deceived
me)—it appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, there
came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of
character, the echo (but a stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and
ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond
doubt, the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention; for, amid the rattling
of the sashes of the casements, and the ordinary commingled noises of the still
increasing storm, the sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have
interested or disturbed me. I continued the story:
“But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door, was sore enraged
and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful hermit; but, in the stead thereof, a
dragon of a scaly and prodigious demeanour, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in
guard before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a
shield of shining brass with this legend enwritten—
Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;
And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the dragon, which fell
before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a shriek so horrid and harsh, and

withal so piercing, that Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his hands against the
dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was never before heard.”
Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild amazement—for there
could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance, I did actually hear (although from
what direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently
distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound—the
exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon's
unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.
Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of the second and most
extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting sensations, in which wonder
and extreme terror were predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind to
avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness of my companion. I
was by no means certain that he had noticed the sounds in question; although,
assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few minutes, taken place in his
demeanour. From a position fronting my own, he had gradually brought round his
chair, so as to sit with his face to the door of the chamber; and thus I could but
partially perceive his features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were
murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast—yet I knew that he
was not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye as I caught a glance of it
in profile. The motion of his body, too, was at variance with this idea—for he rocked
from side to side with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly taken
notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir Launcelot, which thus proceeded:
“And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of the dragon,
bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the breaking up of the enchantment
which was upon it, removed the carcass from out of the way before him, and
approached valorously over the silver pavement of the castle to where the shield
was upon the wall; which in sooth tarried not for his full coming, but fell down at his
feet upon the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing sound.”
No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than—as if a shield of brass had
indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a floor of silver became aware of a
distinct, hollow, metallic, and clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation.
Completely unnerved, I leaped to my feet; but the measured rocking movement of
Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent
fixedly before him, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a stony
rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon his shoulder, there came a strong shudder
over his whole person; a sickly smile quivered about his lips; and I saw that he
spoke in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my presence.
Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the hideous import of his words.
“Not hear it?—yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long—long—long—many minutes,
many hours, many days, have I heard it—yet I dared not—oh, pity me, miserable
wretch that I am!—I dared not—I dared not speak! We have put her living in the
tomb! Said I not that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first
feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them—many, many days ago—yet I
dared not—I dared not speak! And now—to-night—Ethelred—ha! ha!—the

breaking of the hermit's door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangour of
the shield!—say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges
of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the vault! Oh
whither shall I fly? Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for
my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do I not distinguish that heavy
and horrible beating of her heart? Madman!” here he sprang furiously to his feet,
and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul—
“Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!”
As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been found the potency of
a spell—the huge antique panels to which the speaker pointed, threw slowly back,
upon the instant, ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust—
but then without those doors there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the
lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of
some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she
remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low
moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent
and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the
terrors he had anticipated.
From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad
in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot
along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could we
have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance
was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone vividly through
that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have before spoken as extending from
the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure
rapidly widened—there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the
satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls
rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a
thousand waters—and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently
over the fragments of the “HOUSE OF USHER.”
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal
before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter
than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was
stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th,
and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents
of the United States Handicapper General.
Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still
drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that
the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison,

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel
had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything
except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal,
had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all
times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the
transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from
taking unfair advantage of their brains.
George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's cheeks, but
she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.
A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a
burglar alarm.
"That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did," said Hazel.
"Huh" said George.
"That dance-it was nice," said Hazel.
"Yup," said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren't really
very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were
burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so
that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like
something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe
dancers shouldn't be handicapped. But he didn't get very far with it before another
noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.
George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.
Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George
what the latest sound had been.
"Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer," said George.
"I'd think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds," said Hazel a
little envious. "All the things they think up."
"Um," said George.
"Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?" said Hazel. Hazel,
as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman
named Diana Moon Glampers. "If I was Diana Moon Glampers," said Hazel, "I'd have
chimes on Sunday-just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion."
"I could think, if it was just chimes," said George.

"Well-maybe make 'em real loud," said Hazel. "I think I'd make a good Handicapper
"Good as anybody else," said George.
"Who knows better then I do what normal is?" said Hazel.
"Right," said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who
was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped
"Boy!" said Hazel, "that was a doozy, wasn't it?"
It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the
rims of his red eyes. Two of of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor,
were holding their temples.
"All of a sudden you look so tired," said Hazel. "Why don't you stretch out on the
sofa, so's you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch." She was
referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was
padlocked around George's neck. "Go on and rest the bag for a little while," she said.
"I don't care if you're not equal to me for a while."
George weighed the bag with his hands. "I don't mind it," he said. "I don't notice it
any more. It's just a part of me."
"You been so tired lately-kind of wore out," said Hazel. "If there was just some way
we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them
lead balls. Just a few."
"Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out," said
George. "I don't call that a bargain."
"If you could just take a few out when you came home from work," said Hazel. "I
mean-you don't compete with anybody around here. You just set around."
"If I tried to get away with it," said George, "then other people'd get away with it-and
pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing
against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would you?"
"I'd hate it," said Hazel.
"There you are," said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you
think happens to society?"
If Hazel hadn't been able to come up with an answer to this question, George
couldn't have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.
"Reckon it'd fall all apart," said Hazel.

"What would?" said George blankly.
"Society," said Hazel uncertainly. "Wasn't that what you just said?
"Who knows?" said George.
The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn't clear
at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers,
had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high
excitement, the announcer tried to say, "Ladies and Gentlemen."
He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.
"That's all right-" Hazel said of the announcer, "he tried. That's the big thing. He
tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for
trying so hard."
"Ladies and Gentlemen," said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been
extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy
to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her
handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.
And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a
woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. "Excuse me-" she
said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.
"Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen," she said in a grackle squawk, "has just escaped
from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.
He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as
extremely dangerous."
A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down,
then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full
length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was
exactly seven feet tall.
The rest of Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever
born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could
think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a
tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The
spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging
headaches besides.
Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a
military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like
a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red
rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth
with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.
"If you see this boy," said the ballerina, "do not - I repeat, do not - try to reason with
There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.
Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The
photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though
dancing to the tune of an earthquake.
George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have - for
many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. "My God-"
said George, "that must be Harrison!"
The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile
collision in his head.
When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A
living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.
Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood - in the center of the studio. The knob
of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians,
and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.
"I am the Emperor!" cried Harrison. "Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody
must do what I say at once!" He stamped his foot and the studio shook.
"Even as I stand here" he bellowed, "crippled, hobbled, sickened - I am a greater
ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!"
Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps
guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.
Harrison's scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.
Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head
harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and
spectacles against the wall.
He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the
god of thunder.
"I shall now select my Empress!" he said, looking down on the cowering people. "Let
the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!"
A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical
handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.
She was blindingly beautiful.
"Now-" said Harrison, taking her hand, "shall we show the people the meaning of the
word dance? Music!" he commanded.
The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their
handicaps, too. "Play your best," he told them, "and I'll make you barons and dukes
and earls."
The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two
musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he
wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.
The music began again and was much improved.
Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened gravely,
as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.
They shifted their weights to their toes.
Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the
weightlessness that would soon be hers.
And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!
Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of
motion as well.
They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.
They leaped like deer on the moon.
The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to
It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.
And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air
inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.
It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the
studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor
and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.
Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told
them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons' television tube burned out.
Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out
into the kitchen for a can of beer.
George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up.
And then he sat down again. "You been crying" he said to Hazel.
"Yup," she said.
"What about?" he said.
"I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television."
"What was it?" he said.
"It's all kind of mixed up in my mind," said Hazel.
"Forget sad things," said George.
"I always do," said Hazel.
"That's my girl," said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in
his head.
"Gee - I could tell that one was a doozy," said Hazel.
"You can say that again," said George.
"Gee-" said Hazel, "I could tell that one was a doozy."
On 25 March an unusually strange event occurred in St. Petersburg. For that
morning Barber Ivan Yakovlevitch, a dweller on the Voznesensky Prospekt (his
family name is lost now — it no longer figures on a signboard bearing a portrait of a
gentleman with a soaped cheek, and the words: “Also, Blood Let Here”) — for that
morning Barber Ivan Yakovlevitch awoke early, and caught the smell of newly baked
bread. Raising himself a little, he perceived his wife (a most respectable lady, and
one especially fond of coffee) to be just in the act of drawing newly baked rolls from
the oven.
“Prascovia Osipovna,” he said, “I would rather not have any coffee for breakfast,
but, instead, a hot roll and an onion,” — the truth being that he wanted both but

knew it to be useless to ask for two things at once, as Prascovia Osipovna did not
fancy such tricks.
“Oh, the fool shall have his bread,” the wife thought, “So much the better for me
then, as I shall have that much more coffee.”
And she threw one roll on to the table.
Ivan Yakovlevitch donned a jacket over his shirt for politeness' sake, and, seating
himself at the table, poured out salt, got a couple of onions ready, took a knife into
his hand, assumed an air of importance, and cut the roll open. Then he glanced into
the roll's middle. To his intense surprise he saw something glimmering there. He
probed it cautiously with the knife — then poked at it with a finger.
“Quite solid it is!” he said to himself. “What in the world is it likely to be?”
He stuck in his fingers, and pulled out — a nose! .. His hands dropped to his sides
for a moment. Then he rubbed his eyes hard. Then again he probed the thing. A
nose! Sure enough a nose! Yes, and one familiar to him, somehow! Oh, horror spread
upon his feature! Yet that horror was a trifle compared with his spouse's
overmastering wrath.
“You brute!” she shouted frantically. “Where have you cut off that nose? You
villain, you! You drunkard! Why, I'll go and report you to the police myself. You
brigand, you! I have already heard from three men that, while shaving them, your
pulled their noses to the point that they could hardly stand it.”
But Ivan Yakovlevitch was neither alive nor dead. He realized that the nose was
none other than that Collegiate Assessor Kovalev, whom he was shaved every
Wednesday and Sunday.
— “Stop, Prascovia Osipovna! I'll wrap it in a rag, in some corner: leave it there for
awhile, and afterwards I'll take it away.”
“And I won't hear of it! As if I'm going to have a cutoff nose lying around the room!
Oh, you old stick! Maybe you can just strop a razor still; but soon you'll be no good at
all for the rest of your work. You loafer, you wastrel, you bungler, you blockhead!
Aye, I'll tell the police of you. Take it away, then. Take it away. Take it anywhere you
like. Oh, that I'd never caught the smell of it!”
Ivan Yakovlevitch was dumbfounded. He thought and thought, but did not know
what to think.
“The devil knows how it's happened,” he said, scratching one ear. “You see, I don't
know for certain whether I came home drunk last night or not. But certainly things
look as though something out of the way happened then, for bread comes of baking,
and a nose of something else altogether. Oh, I just can't make it out.”

So he sat silent. At the thought that the police might find the nose at his place, and
arrest him, he felt frantic. Yes, already he could see the red collar with the smart
silver braiding — the sword! He shuddered from head to foot.
But at last he got out, and donned waistcoat and shoes, wrapped the nose in a rag,
and departed amid Prascovia Osipovna's forcible objurgations.
His one idea was to rid himself of the nose, and return quietly home — to do so
either by throwing the nose into the gutter in front of the gates or by just letting it
drop anywhere. Yet, unfortunately, he kept meeting friends, and they kept saying to
him: “Where are you off to?” or “Whom have you arranged to shave at this early
hour?” until finding a suitable moment became impossible. Once, true, he did
succeed in dropping the thing, but no sooner had he done so than a constable
pointed at him with his truncheon, and shouted: “Pick it up again! You've lost
something,” and he perforce had to take the nose into his possession once more, and
stuff it into a pocket. Meanwhile his desperation grew in proportion as more and
more booths and shops opened for business, and more and more people appeared in
the street.
At last he decided that he would go to the Isaakievsky Bridge, and throw the thing,
if he could, into the Neva. But here let me confess my fault in not having said more
about Ivan Yakovlevitch himself, a man estimable in more respects than one.
Like every decent Russian tradesman, Ivan Yakovlevitch was a terrible tippler.
Daily he shaved the chins of others, but always his own was unshorn, and his jacket
(he never wore a topcoat) piebald — black, thickly studded with grayish, brownish-
yellowish stains — and shiny at the collar, and adorned with three drooping tufts of
thread instead of buttons. But, with that, Ivan Yakovlevitch was a great cynic.
Whenever Collegiate Assessor Kovalev was being shaved, and said to him, according
to custom: “Ivan Yakovlevitch, your hands do smell!” he would retort: “But why
should they smell?” and, when the Collegiate Assessor had replied: “Really I do not
know, brother, but in any case they do,” take a pinch of snuff, and soap the Collegiate
Assessor upon cheek, and under nose, and behind ears, and around chin at his good
will and pleasure.
So the worthy citizen stood on the Isaakievsky Bridge, and looked about him. Then,
leaning over the parapet, he feigned to be trying to see if any fish were passing
underneath. Then gently he cast forth the nose.
At once ten puds-weight seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders. Actually
he smiled! But, instead of departing, next, to shave the chins of chinovniki, he
bethought him of making for a certain establishment inscribed “Meals and Tea,” that
he might get there a glassful of punch.
Suddenly he sighted a constable standing at the end of the bridge, a constable of
smart appearance, with long whiskers, a three-cornered hat, and complete with a
sword. Oh, Ivan Yakovlevitch could have fainted! Then the constable, beckoning
with a finger, cried:

“Nay, my good man. Come here.”
Ivan Yaklovlevitch, knowing the proprieties, pulled off his cap at quite a distance
away, advanced quickly, and said:
“I wish your Excellency the best of health.”
“No, no! None of that `your Excellency,' brother. Come and tell me what you have
been doing on the bridge.”
“Before God, sir, I was crossing it on my way to some customers when I peeped to
see if there were any fish jumping.”
“You lie, brother! You lie! You won't get out of it like that. Be so good as to answer
me truthfully.”
“Oh, twice a week in future I'll shave you for nothing. Aye, or even three times a
“No, no, friend. That is rubbish. Already I've got three barbers for the purpose, and
all of them account it an honor. Now, tell me, I ask again, what you have just been
This made Ivan Yakovlevitch blanch, and — —
Further events here become enshrouded in mist. What happened after that is
unknown to all men.
Collegiate Assessor KOVALEV also awoke early that morning. And when he had
done so he made the “B-r-rh!” with his lips which he always did when he had been
asleep — he himself could not have said why. Then he stretched, reached for a small
mirror on the table near by, and set himself to inspect a pimple which had broken
out on his nose the night before. But, to his unbounded astonishment, there was
only a flat patch on his face where the nose should have been! Greatly alarmed, he
got some water, washed, and rubbed his eyes hard with the towel. Yes, the nose
indeed was gone! He prodded the spot with a hand — pinched himself to make sure
that he was not still asleep. But no; he was not still sleeping. Then he leapt from the
bed, and shook himself. No nose! Finally, he got his clothes on, and hurried to the
office of the Police Commissioner.
Here let me add something which may enable the reader to perceive just what the
Collegiate Assessor was like. Of course, it goes without saying that Collegiate
Assessors who acquire the title with the help of academic diplomas cannot be
compared with Collegiate Assessors who become Collegiate Assessors through
service in the Caucasus, for the two species are wholly distinct, they are — — Stay,
though. Russia is so strange a country that, let one but say anything about any one
Collegiate Assessor, and the rest, from Riga to Kamchatka, at once apply the remark

to themselves — for all titles and all ranks it means the same thing. Now, Kovalev
was a “Caucasian” Collegiate Assessor, and had, as yet, borne the title for two years
only. Hence, unable ever to forget it, he sought the more to give himself dignity and
weight by calling himself, in addition to “Collegiate Assessor,” “Major.”
“Look here, good woman,” once he said to a shirts' vendor whom he met in the
street, “come and see me at my home. My apartment is on Sadovaia Street. Just ask,
‘Is this where Major Kovalev lives?' Anyone will show you.” Or, on meeting
fashionable ladies, he would say: “My dear madam, ask for Major Kovalev's
apartment.” So we too will call the Collegiate Assessor “Major.”
Major Kovalev was in the habit of taking a daily walk on Nevsky Prospekt in an
extremely clean and well-starched shirt and collar, and in whiskers of the sort still
to be seen on provincial surveyors, architects, regimental doctors, other officials,
and all men who have round, red cheeks, and play a good hand of “Boston.” Such
whiskers run across the exact center of the cheek — then head straight for the nose.
Again, Major Kovalev always had on him a quantity of seals, both of seals engraved
with coats of arms, and of seals inscribed “Wednesday,” “Thursday,” “Monday,” and
the rest. And, finally, Major Kovalev had come to live in St. Petersburg because of
necessity. That is to say, he had come to live in St. Petersburg because he wished to
obtain a post befitting his new title — whether a Vice-Governorship or, failing that,
an Administratorship in a leading department. Nor was Major Kovalev altogether set
against marriage. Merely he required that his bride should possess not less than two
hundred thousand rubles in capital. The reader, therefore, can now imagine what
was the Major's disposition when he saw that instead of a not unpresentable nose
there was on his face an extremely uncouth, smooth, and uniform patch.
Ill luck had it, that morning, that not a cab was visible throughout the street's
whole length; so, huddling himself up in his cloak, and covering his face with a
handkerchief (to make it look as though his nose were bleeding), he had to start
upon his way on foot.
“Perhaps this is only imagination?” he reflected. Presently he turned aside towards
a restaurant (for he wished yet again to get a sight of himself in a mirror). “The nose
can't have removed itself of sheer idiocy.”
Luckily no customers were present in the restaurant — merely some waiters were sweeping out
the rooms, and rearranging the chairs, and others, sleepy-eyed fellows, were setting forth trayfuls of
hot pastries. On chairs and tables last night's newspapers, coffee-stained, were strewn.
“Thank God that no one is here!” the Major reflected. “Now I can look at myself
He approached a mirror in some trepidation, and peeped therein. Then he spat.
“The devil only knows what this vileness means!” he muttered. “If even there had
been something to take the nose's place! But, as it is, there's nothing there at all.”
He bit his lips with vexation, and hurried out of the restaurant. No; as he went along he must look at
no one, and smile at no one. Then he halted as though riveted to earth. For in front of the doors of a

mansion he saw occur a phenomenon of which, simply, no explanation was possible. Before that
mansion there stopped a carriage. And then a door of the carriage opened, and there leapt thence,
huddling himself up, a uniformed gentleman, and that uniformed gentleman ran headlong up the
mansion's entrance-steps, and disappeared within. And oh, Kovalev's horror and astonishment to
perceive that the gentleman was none other than — his own nose! The unlooked-for spectacle made
everything swim before his eyes. Scarcely, for a moment, could he even stand. Then, deciding that at
all costs he must await the gentleman's return to the carriage, he remained where he was, shaking as
though with fever. Sure enough, the Nose did return, two minutes later. It was clad in a gold-braided,
high-collared uniform, buckskin breeches, and cockaded hat. And slung beside it there was a sword,
and from the cockade on the hat it could be inferred that the Nose was purporting to pass for a State
Councilor. It seemed now to be going to pay another visit somewhere. At all events it glanced about it,
and then, shouting to the coachman, “Drive up here,” reentered the vehicle, and set forth.
Poor Kovalev felt almost demented. The astounding event left him utterly at a loss.
For how could the nose which had been on his face but yesterday, and able then
neither to drive nor to walk independently, now be going about in uniform? — He
started in pursuit of the carriage, which, luckily, did not go far, and soon halted
before the Gostiny Dvor. [
Kovalev too hastened to the building, pushed through the line of old beggar-
women with bandaged faces and apertures for eyes whom he had so often scorned,
and entered. Only a few customers were present, but Kovalev felt so upset that for a
while he could decide upon no course of action save to scan every corner in the
gentleman's pursuit. At last he sighted him again, standing before a counter, and,
with face hidden altogether behind the uniform's standup collar, inspecting with
absorbed attention some wares.
“How, even so, am I to approach it?” Kovalev reflected. “Everything about it,
uniform, hat, and all, seems to show that it is a State Councilor. now. Only the devil
knows what is to be done!”
He started to cough in the Nose's vicinity, but the Nose did not change its position
for a single moment.
“My good sir,” at length Kovalev said, compelling himself to boldness, “my good sir,
I — — ”
“What do you want?” And the Nose did then turn round.
“My good sir, I am in a difficulty. Yet somehow, I think, I think, that — well, I think
that you ought to know your proper place better. All at once, you see, I find you —
where? Do you not feel as I do about it?”
“Pardon me, but I cannot apprehend your meaning. Pray explain further.”
“Yes, but how, I should like to know?” Kovalev thought to himself. Then, again
taking courage, he went: on:
“I am, you see — well, in point of fact, you see, I am a Major. Hence you will realize
how unbecoming it is for me to have to walk about without a nose. Of course, a
peddler of oranges on the Vozkresensky Bridge could sit there noseless well enough,

but I myself am hoping soon to receive a — — Hm, yes. Also, I have amongst my
acquaintances several ladies of good houses (Madame Chektareva, wife of the State
Councilor, for example), and you may judge for yourself what that alone signifies.
Good sir” — Major Kovalev gave his shoulders a shrug — “I do not know whether
you yourself (pardon me) consider conduct of this sort to be altogether in
accordance with the rules of duty and honor, but at least you can understand that —
— ”
“I understand nothing at all,” the Nose broke in. “Explain yourself more
“Good sir,” Kovalev went on with a heightened sense of dignity, “the one who is at
a loss to understand the other is I. But at least the immediate point should be plain,
unless you are determined to have it otherwise. Merely — you are my own nose.”
The Nose regarded the Major, and contracted its brows a little.
“My dear sir, you speak in error,” was its reply. “I am just myself — myself
separately. And in any case there cannot ever have existed a close relation between
us, for, judging from the buttons of your undress uniform, your service is being
performed in another department than my own.”
And the Nose definitely turned away.
Kovalev stood dumbfounded. What to do, even what to think, he had not a notion.
Presently the agreeable swish of ladies' dresses began to be heard. Yes, an elderly,
lace-bedecked dame was approaching, and, with her, a slender maiden in a white
frock which outlined delightfully a trim figure, and, above it, a straw hat of a
lightness as of pastry. Behind them there came, stopping every now and then to
open a snuffbox, a tall, whiskered beau in quite a twelve-fold collar.
Kovalev moved a little nearer, pulled up the collar of his shirt, straightened the
seals on his gold watch-chain, smiled, and directed special attention towards the
slender lady as, swaying like a floweret in spring, she kept raising to her brows a
little white hand with fingers almost of transparency. And Kovalev's smiles became
broader still when peeping from under the hat he saw there to be an alabaster,
rounded little chin, and part of a cheek flushed like an early rose. But all at once he
recoiled as though scorched, for all at once he had remembered that he had not a
nose on him, but nothing at all. So, with tears forcing themselves upwards, he
wheeled about to tell the uniformed gentleman that he, the uniformed gentleman,
was no State Councilor, but an impostor and a knave and a villain and the Major's
own nose. But the Nose, behold, was gone! That very moment had it driven away to,
presumably, pay another visit.
This drove Kovalev to the last pitch of desperation. He went back to the mansion,
and stationed himself under its portico, in the hope that, by peering hither and
thither, hither and thither, he might once more see the Nose appear. But, well
though he remembered the Nose's cockaded hat and gold-braided uniform, he had

failed at the time to note also its cloak, the color of its horses, the make of its
carriage, the look of the lackey seated behind, and the pattern of the lackey's livery.
Besides, so many carriages were moving swiftly up and down the street that it
would have been impossible to note them all, and equally so to have stopped any
one of them. Meanwhile, as the day was fine and sunny, the Prospekt was thronged
with pedestrians also — a whole kaleidoscopic stream of ladies was flowing along
the pavements, from Police Headquarters to the Anitchkin Bridge. There one could
descry an Aulic Councilor. whom Kovalev knew well. A gentleman he was whom
Kovalev always addressed as “Lieutenant-Colonel,” and especially in the presence of
others. And there went Yaryzhkin, Chief Clerk to the Senate, a crony who always
rendered forfeit at “Boston” on playing an eight. And, lastly, a “Major” like Kovalev, a
similar “Major” with an Assessorship acquired through Caucasian service, started to
beckon to Kovalev with a finger!
“The devil take him!” was Kovalev's muttered comment. “Hi, cabman! Drive to the
Police Commissioner's direct.”
But just when he was entering the drozhki he added:
“No. Go by Ivanovskaia Street.”
“Is the Commissioner in?” he asked on crossing the threshold.
“He is not,” was the doorkeeper's reply. “He's gone this very moment.”
“There's luck for you!”
“Aye,” the doorkeeper went on. “Only just a moment ago he was off. If you'd been a
bare half-minute sooner you'd have found him at home, maybe.”
Still holding the handkerchief to his face, Kovalev returned to the cab, and cried
“Drive on!”
“Where to, though?” the cabman inquired.
“Oh, straight ahead!”
“`Straight ahead'? But the street divides here. To right, or to left?”
The question caused Kovalov to pause and recollect himself. In his situation he
ought to make his next step an application to the Board of Discipline — not because
the Board was directly connected with the police, but because its dispositions would
be executed more speedily than in other departments. To seek satisfaction of the
very department in which the Nose had declared itself to be serving would be quite
unwise, since from the Nose's very replies it was clear that it was the sort of
individual who held nothing sacred, and, in that case, might lie as unconscionably as
it had lied in asserting itself never to have figured in its proprietor's company.

Kovalev, therefore, decided to seek the Board of Discipline. But just as he was on the
point of being driven thither there occurred to him the thought that the impostor
and knave who had behaved so shamelessly during the late encounter might even
now be using the time to get out of the city, and that in that case all further pursuit
of the rogue would become vain, or at all events last for, God preserve us! a full
month. So at last, left only to the guidance of Providence, the Major resolved to go to
a newspaper office, and publish a circumstantial description of the Nose in such
good time that anyone meeting with the truant might at once be able either to
restore it to him or to give information as to its whereabouts. So he not only
directed the cabman to the newspaper office, but, all the way thither, prodded him
in the back, and shouted: “Hurry up, you rascal! Hurry up, you rogue!” whilst the
cabman intermittently responded: “Aye, barin,” and nodded, and plucked at the
reins of a steed as shaggy as a spaniel.
The moment that the drozhki halted Kovalev dashed, breathless, into a small
reception-office. There, seated at a table, a gray-headed clerk in ancient jacket and
pair of spectacles was, with pen tucked between lips, counting sums received in
“Who here takes the advertisements?” Kovalev exclaimed as he entered. “A-ah!
Good day to you.”
“And my respects,” the gray-headed clerk replied, raising his eyes for an instant,
and then lowering them again to the spread out copper heaps.
“I want you to publish — — ”
“Pardon — one moment.” And the clerk with one hand committed to paper a
figure, and with a finger of the other hand shifted two accounts markers. Standing
beside him with an advertisement in his hands, a footman in a laced coat, and
sufficiently smart to seem to be in service in an aristocratic mansion, now thought
well to display some knowledge
“Sir,” he said to the clerk, “I do assure you that the puppy is not worth eight grivni
even. In any case I wouldn't give that much for it. Yet the countess loves it — yes,
just loves it, by God! Anyone wanting it of her will have to pay a hundred rubles.
Well, to tell the truth between you and me, people's tastes differ. Of course, if one's a
sportsman one keeps a setter or a spaniel. And in that case don't you spare five
hundred rubles, or even give a thousand, if the dog is a good one.”
The worthy clerk listened with gravity, yet none the less accomplished a
calculation of the number of letters in the advertisement brought. On either side
there was a group of charwomen, shop assistants, doorkeepers, and the like. All had
similar advertisements in their hands, with one of the documents to notify that a
coachman of good character was about to be disengaged, and another one to
advertise a koliaska imported from Paris in 1814, and only slightly used since, and
another one a maidservant of nineteen experienced in laundry work, but prepared
also for other jobs, and another one a sound drozhki save that a spring was lacking,
and another one a gray-dappled, spirited horse of the age of seventeen, and another

one some turnip and radish seed just received from London, and another one a
country house with every amenity, stabling for two horses, and sufficient space for
the laying out of a fine birch or spruce plantation, and another one some
secondhand footwear, with, added, an invitation to attend the daily auction sale
from eight o'clock to three. The room where the company thus stood gathered
together was small, and its atmosphere confined; but this closeness, of course,
Collegiate Assessor Kovalev never perceived, for, in addition to his face being
muffled in a handkerchief, his nose was gone, and God only knew its present habitat!
“My dear sir,” at last he said impatiently, “allow me to ask you something: it is a
pressing matter.”
“One moment, one moment! Two rubles, forty-three kopeks. Yes, presently. Sixty
rubles, four kopeks.”
With which the clerk threw the two advertisements concerned towards the group
of charwomen and the rest, and turned to Kovalev.
“Well?” he said. “What do you want?”
“Your pardon,” replied Kovalev, “but fraud and knavery has been done. I still
cannot understand the affair, but wish to announce that anyone returning me the
rascal shall receive an adequate reward.”
“Your name, if you would be so good?”
“No, no. What can my name matter? I cannot tell it you. I know many
acquaintances such as Madame Chektareva (wife of the State Councilor.) and
Pelagea Grigorievna Podtochina (wife of the Staff-Officer), and, the Lord preserve us,
they would learn of the affair at once. So say just `a Collegiate Assessor,' or, better, `a
gentleman ranking as Major.”'
“Has a household serf of yours absconded, then?”
“A household serf of mine? As though even a household serf would perpetrate such
a crime as the present one! No, indeed! It is my nose that has absconded from me.”
“Gospodin Nossov, Gospodin Nossov? Indeed a strange name, that!
Then has this
Gospodin Nossov robbed you of some money?”
“I said nose, not Nossov. You are making a mistake. There has disappeared,
goodness knows whither, my nose, my own actual nose. Presumably it is trying to
make a fool of me.”
“But how could it so disappear? The matter has something about it which I do not
fully understand.”
“I cannot tell you the exact how. The point is that now the nose is driving about the
city, and giving itself out for a State Councilor. — wherefore I beg you to announce

that anyone apprehending any such nose ought at once, in the shortest possible
space of time, to return it to myself. Surely you can judge what it is for me
meanwhile to be lacking such a conspicuous portion of my frame? For a nose is not
like a toe which one can keep inside a boot, and hide the absence of if it is not there.
Besides, every Thursday I am due to call upon Madame Chektareva (wife of the State
Councilor); whilst Pelagea Grigorievna Podtochina (wife of the Staff-Officer, mother
of a pretty daughter) also is one of my closest acquaintances. So, again, judge for
yourself how I am situated at present. In such a condition as this I could not possibly
present myself before the ladies named.”
Upon that the clerk became thoughtful: the fact was clear from his tightly
compressed lips alone.
“No,” he said at length. “Insert such an announcement I cannot.”
“But why not?”
“Because, you see, it might injure the paper's reputation. Imagine if everyone were
to start proclaiming a disappearance of his nose! People would begin to say that,
that — well, that we printed absurdities and false tales.”
“But how is this matter a false tale? Nothing of the sort has it got about it.”
“You think not; but only last week a similar case occurred. One day a chinovnik
brought us an advertisement as you have done. The cost would have been only two
rubles, seventy-three kopeks, for all that it seemed to signify was the running away
of a poodle. Yet what was it, do you think, in reality? Why, the thing turned out to be
a libel, and the ‘poodle’ in question a cashier — of what department precisely I do
not know.”
“Yes, but here am I advertising not about a poodle, but about my own nose, which,
surely, is, for all intents and purposes, myself?”
“All the same, I cannot insert the advertisement.”
“Even when actually I have lost my own nose!”
“The fact that your nose is gone is a matter for a doctor. There are doctors, I have heard, who can fit
one out with any sort of nose one likes. I take it that by nature you are a wag, and like playing jokes in
“That is not so. I swear it as God is holy. In fact, as things have gone so far, I will let
you see for yourself.”
“Why trouble?” Here the clerk took some snuff before adding with, nevertheless, a
certain movement of curiosity: “However, if it really won't trouble you at all, a sight
of the spot would gratify me.”
The Collegiate Assessor removed the handkerchief.

“Strange indeed! Very strange indeed!” the clerk exclaimed. “And the patch is as
uniform as a newly fried pancake, almost unbelievably uniform.”
“So you will dispute what I say no longer? Then surely you cannot but put the
announcement into print. I shall be extremely grateful to you, and glad that the
present occasion has given me such a pleasure as the making of your acquaintance”
— whence it will be seen that for once the Major had decided to climb down.
“To print what you want is nothing much,” the clerk replied. “Yet frankly I cannot
see how you are going to benefit from the step. I would suggest, rather, that you
commission a skilled writer to compose an article describing this as a rare product
of nature, and have the article published in The Northern Bee” (here the clerk took
more snuff), “either for the instruction of our young” (the clerk wiped his nose for a
finish) “or as a matter of general interest.”
This again depressed the Collegiate Assessor: and even though, on his eyes happening to fall upon a
copy of the newspaper, and reach the column assigned to theatrical news, and encounter the name of
a beautiful actress, so that he almost broke into a smile, and a hand began to finger a pocket for a
Treasury note (since he held that only stalls were seats befitting Majors and so forth) — although all
this was so, there again recurred to him the thought of the nose, and everything again became spoilt.
Even the clerk seemed touched with the awkwardness of Kovalev's plight, and
wishful to lighten with a few sympathetic words the Collegiate Assessor's
“I am sorry indeed that this has befallen,” he said. “Should you care for a pinch of
this? Snuff can dissipate both headache and low spirits. Nay, it is good for
hemorrhoids as well.”
And he proffered his box-deftly, as he did so, folding back underneath it the lid
depicting a lady in a hat.
Kovalev lost his last shred of patience at the thoughtless act, and said heatedly:
“How you can think fit thus to jest I cannot imagine. For surely you perceive me no
longer to be in possession of a means of sniffing? Oh, you and your snuff can go to
hell! Even the sight of it is more than I can bear. I should say the same even if you
were offering me, not wretched birch bark, but real rapée.”
Greatly incensed, he rushed out of the office, and made for the ward police
inspector's residence. Unfortunately he arrived at the very moment when the
inspector, after a yawn and a stretch, was reflecting: “Now for two hours' sleep!” In
short, the Collegiate Assessor's visit chanced to be exceedingly ill-timed.
Incidentally, the inspector, though a great patron of manufacturers and the arts,
preferred still more a Treasury note.
“That's the thing!” he frequently would say. “It's a thing which can't be beaten
anywhere, for it wants nothing at all to eat, and it takes up very little room, and it
fits easily to the pocket, and it doesn't break in pieces if it happens to be dropped.”

So the inspector received Kovalev very drily, and intimated that just after dinner
was not the best moment for beginning an inquiry — nature had ordained that one
should rest after food (which showed the Collegiate Assessor that at least the
inspector had some knowledge of sages' old saws), and that in any case no one
would purloin the nose of a really respectable man.
Yes, the inspector gave it Kovalev between the eyes. And as it should be added that
Kovalev was extremely sensitive where his title or his dignity was concerned
(though he readily pardoned anything said against himself personally, and even
held, with regard to stage plays, that, whilst Staff-Officers should not be assailed,
officers of lesser rank might be referred to), the police inspector's reception so took
him aback that, in a dignified way, and with hands set apart a little, he nodded,
remarked: “After your insulting observations there is nothing which I wish to add,”
and betook himself away again.
He reached home scarcely hearing his own footsteps. Dusk had fallen, and, after
the unsuccessful quests, his flat looked truly dreary. As he entered the hall he
perceived Ivan, his valet, to be lying on his back on the stained old leather divan, and
spitting at the ceiling with not a little skill as regards successively hitting the same
spot. The man's coolness rearoused Kovalev's ire, and, smacking him over the head
with his hat, he shouted:
“You utter pig! You do nothing but play the fool.” Leaping up, Ivan hastened to take
his master's cloak.
The tired and despondent Major then sought his sitting-room, threw himself into
an easy-chair, sighed, and said to himself:
“My God, my God! why has this misfortune come upon me? Even loss of hands or
feet would have been better, for a man without a nose is the devil knows what — a
bird, but not a bird, a citizen, but not a citizen, a thing just to be thrown out of
window. It would have been better, too, to have had my nose cut off in action, or in a
duel, or through my own act: whereas here is the nose gone with nothing to show
for it — uselessly — for not a groat's profit! — No, though,” he added after thought,
“it's not likely that the nose is gone for good: it's not likely at all. And quite probably
I am dreaming all this, or am fuddled. It may be that when I came home yesterday I
drank the vodka with which I rub my chin after shaving instead of water —
snatched up the stuff because that fool Ivan was not there to receive me.”
So he sought to ascertain whether he might not be drunk by pinching himself till
he fairly yelled. Then, certain, because of the pain, that he was acting and living in
waking life, he approached the mirror with diffidence, and once more scanned
himself with a sort of inward hope that the nose might by this time be showing as
restored. But the result was merely that he recoiled and muttered:
“What an absurd spectacle still!”
Ah, it all passed his understanding! If only a button, or a silver spoon, or a watch,
or some such article were gone, rather than that anything had disappeared like this

— for no reason, and in his very flat! Eventually, having once more reviewed the
circumstances, he reached the final conclusion that he should most nearly hit the
truth in supposing Madame Podtochina (wife of the Staff-Officer, of course — the
lady who wanted him to become her daughter's husband) to have been the prime
agent in the affair. True, he had always liked dangling in the daughter's wake, but
also he had always fought shy of really coming down to business. Even when the
Staff-Officer's lady had said point blank that she desired him to become her son-in-
law he had put her off with his compliments, and replied that the daughter was still
too young, and himself due yet to perform five years service, and aged only forty-
two. Yes, the truth must be that out of revenge the Staff-Officer's wife had resolved
to ruin him, and hired a band of witches for the purpose, seeing that the nose could
not conceivably have been cut off — no one had entered his private room lately, and,
after being shaved by Ivan Yakovlevitch on the Wednesday, he had the nose intact,
he knew and remembered well, throughout both the rest of the Wednesday and the
day following. Also, if the nose had been cut off, pain would have resulted, and also a
wound, and the place could not have healed so quickly, and become of the
uniformity of a pancake.
Next, the Major made his plans. Either he would sue the Staff-Officer's lady in legal
form or he would pay her a surprise visit, and catch her in a trap. Then the foregoing
reflections were cut short by a glimmer showing through the chink of the door — a
sign that Ivan had just lit a candle in the hall: and presently Ivan himself appeared,
carrying the candle in front of him, and throwing the room into such clear radiance
that Kovalev had hastily to snatch up the handkerchief again, and once more cover
the place where the nose had been but yesterday, lest the stupid fellow should be
led to stand gaping at the monstrosity on his master's features.
Ivan had just returned to his cupboard when an unfamiliar voice in the hall
“Is this where Collegiate Assessor Kovalev lives?”
“It is,” Kovalev shouted, leaping to his feet, and flinging wide the door. “Come in,
will you?”
Upon which there entered a police-officer of smart exterior, with whiskers neither
light nor dark, and cheeks nicely plump. As a matter of fact, he was the police-officer
whom Ivan Yakovlevitch had met at the end of the Isaakievsky Bridge.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, “but have you lost your nose?”
“I have — just so.”
“Then the nose is found.”
“What?” For a moment or two joy deprived Major Kovalev of further speech. All
that he could do was to stand staring, open-eyed, at the officer's plump lips and
cheeks, and at the tremulant beams which the candlelight kept throwing over them.
“Then how did it come about?”

“Well, by the merest chance the nose was found beside a roadway. Already it had
entered a stagecoach, and was about to leave for Riga with a passport made out in
the name of a certain chinovnik. And, curiously enough, I myself, at first, took it to be
a gentleman. Luckily, though, I had my eyeglasses on me. Soon, therefore, I
perceived the ‘gentleman’ to be no more than a nose. Such is my shortness of sight,
you know, that even now, though I see you standing there before me, and see that
you have a face, I cannot distinguish on that face the nose, the chin, or anything else.
My mother-in-law (my wife's mother) too cannot easily distinguish details.”
Kovalev felt almost beside himself.
“Where is the nose now?” cried he. “Where, I ask? Let me go to it at once.”
“Do not trouble, sir. Knowing how greatly you stand in need of it, I have it with me.
It is a curious fact, too, that the chief agent in the affair has been a rascal of a barber
who lives on the Vozkresensky Prospekt, and now is sitting at the police station. For
long past I had suspected him of drunkenness and theft, and only three days ago he
took away from a shop a button-card. Well, you will find your nose to be as before.
And the officer delved into a pocket, and drew thence the nose, wrapped in paper.
“Yes, that's the nose all right!” Kovalev shouted. “It's the nose precisely! Will you
join me in a cup of tea?”
“I should have accounted it indeed a pleasure if I had been able, but, unfortunately,
I have to go straight on to the penitentiary. Provisions, sir, have risen greatly in
price. And living with me I have not only my family, but my mother-in-law (my
wife's mother). Yet the eldest of my children gives me much hope. He is a clever lad.
The only thing is that I have not the means for his proper education.”
When the officer was gone the Collegiate Assessor sat plunged in vagueness,
plunged in inability to see or to feel, so greatly was he overcome with joy. Only after
a while did he with care take the thus recovered nose in cupped hands, and again
examine it attentively.
“It, undoubtedly. It, precisely,” he said at length. “Yes, and it even has on it the
pimple to the left which broke out on me yesterday.”
Sheerly he laughed in his delight.
But nothing lasts long in this world. Even joy grows less lively the next moment. And a moment
later, again, it weakens further. And at last it reemerges insensibly with the normal mood, even as the
ripple from a pebble's impact becomes reemerged with the smooth surface of the water at large. So
Kovalev relapsed into thought again. For by now he had realized that even yet the affair was not
wholly ended, seeing that, though retrieved, the nose needed to be re-stuck.
“What if it should fail so to stick!”
The bare question thus posed turned the Major pale.

Feeling, somehow, very nervous, he drew the mirror closer to him, lest he should
fit the nose awry. His hands were trembling as gently, very carefully he lifted the
nose in place. But, oh, horrors, it would not remain in place! He held it to his lips,
warmed it with his breath, and again lifted it to the patch between his cheeks —
only to find, as before, that it would not retain its position.
“Come, come, fool!” said he. “Stop where you are, I tell you.”
But the nose, obstinately wooden, fell upon the table with a strange sound as of a
cork, whilst the Major's face became convulsed.
“Surely it is not too large now?” he reflected in terror. Yet as often as he raised it
towards its proper position the new attempt proved as vain as the last.
Loudly he shouted for Ivan, and sent for a doctor who occupied a flat (a better one
than the Major's) on the first floor. The doctor was a fine-looking man with splendid,
coal-black whiskers. Possessed of a healthy, comely wife, he ate some raw apples
every morning, and kept his mouth extraordinarily clean — rinsed it out, each
morning, for three-quarters of an hour, and polished its teeth with five different
sorts of brushes. At once he answered Kovalev's summons, and, after asking how
long ago the calamity had happened, tilted the Major's chin, and rapped the vacant
site with a thumb until at last the Major wrenched his head away, and, in doing so,
struck it sharply against the wall behind. This, the doctor said, was nothing; and
after advising him to stand a little farther from the wall, and bidding him incline his
head to the right, he once more rapped the vacant patch before, after bidding him
incline his head to the left, dealing him, with a “Hm!” such a thumb-dig as left the
Major standing like a horse which is having its teeth examined.
The doctor, that done, shook his head.
“The thing is not feasible,” he pronounced. “You had better remain as you are
rather than go farther and fare worse. Of course, I could stick it on again — I could
do that for you in a moment; but at the same time I would assure you that your
plight will only become worse as the result.”
“Never mind,” Kovalev replied. “Stick it on again, pray. How can I continue without
a nose? Besides, things could not possibly be worse than they are now. At present
they are the devil himself. Where can I show this caricature of a face? My circle of
acquaintances is a large one: this very night I am due in two houses, for I know a
great many people like Madame Chektareva (wife of the State Councilor.), Madame
Podtochina (wife of the Staff-Officer), and others. Of course, though, I shall have
nothing further to do with Madame Podtochina (except through the police) after her
present proceedings. Yes,” persuasively he went on, “I beg of you to do me the favor
requested. Surely there are means of doing it permanently? Stick it on in any sort of
a fashion — at all events so that it will hold fast, even if not becomingly. And then,
when risky moments occur, I might even support it gently with my hand, and
likewise dance no more — anything to avoid fresh injury through an unguarded
movement. For the rest, you may feel assured that I shall show you my gratitude for
this visit so far as ever my means will permit.”

“Believe me,” the doctor replied, neither too loudly nor too softly, but just with
incisiveness and magnetic force, “when I say that I never attend patients for money.
To do that would be contrary alike to my rules and to my art. When I accept a fee for
a visit I accept it only lest I offend through a refusal. Again I say — this time on my
honor, as you will not believe my plain word — that, though I could easily re-affix
your nose, the proceeding would make things worse, far worse, for you. It would be
better for you to trust merely to the action of nature. Wash often in cold water, and I
assure you that you will be as healthy without a nose as with one. This nose here I
should advise you to put into a jar of spirit: or, better still, to steep in two
tablespoonfuls of stale vodka and strong vinegar. Then you will be able to get a good
sum for it. Indeed, I myself will take the thing if you consider it of no value.”
“No, no!” shouted the distracted Major. “Not on any account will I sell it. I would
rather it were lost again.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon.” And the doctor bowed. “My only idea had been to serve
you. What is it you want? Well, you have seen me do what I could.”
And majestically he withdrew. Kovalev, meanwhile, had never once looked at his
face. In his distraction he had noticed nothing beyond a pair of snowy cuffs
projecting from black sleeves.
He decided, next, that, before lodging a plea next day, he would write and request
the Staff-Officer's lady to restore him his nose without publicity. His letter ran as
DEAR MADAME ALEXANDRA GRIGORIEVNA, I am at a loss to understand your
strange conduct. At least, however, you may rest assured that you will benefit
nothing by it, and that it will in no way further force me to marry your daughter.
Believe me, I am now aware of all the circumstances connected with my nose, and
know that you alone have been the prime agent in them. The nose's sudden
disappearance, its subsequent gaddings about, its masqueradings as, firstly, a
chinovnik and, secondly, itself — all these have come of witchcraft practiced either
by you or by adepts in pursuits of a refinement equal to your own. This being so, I
consider it my duty herewith to warn you that if the nose should not this very day
reassume its correct position, I shall be forced to have resort to the law's protection
and defense. With all respect, I have the honor. to remain your very humble servant,
“MY DEAR SIR,” wrote the lady in return, “your letter has greatly surprised me, and
I will say frankly that I had not expected it, and least of all its unjust reproaches. I
assure you that I have never at any time allowed the chinovnik whom you mention
to enter my house — either masquerading or as himself. True, I have received calls
from Philip Ivanovitch Potanchikov, who, as you know, is seeking my daughter's
hand, and, besides, is a man steady and upright, as well as learned; but never, even
so, have I given him reason to hope. You speak, too, of a nose. If that means that I
seem to you to have desired to leave you with a nose and nothing else, that is to say,
to return you a direct refusal of my daughter's hand, I am astonished at your words,
for, as you cannot but be aware, my inclination is quite otherwise. So now, if still you

wish for a formal betrothal to my daughter, I will readily, I do assure you, satisfy
your desire, which all along has been, in the most lively manner, my own also. In
hopes of that, I remain yours sincerely, ALEXANDRA PODTOCHINA.
“No, no!” Kovalev exclaimed, after reading the missive. “She, at least, is not guilty.
Oh, certainly not!

No one who had committed such a crime could write such a letter.” The Collegiate
Assessor was the more expert in such matters because more than once he had been
sent to the Caucasus to institute prosecutions. “Then by what sequence of chances
has the affair happened? Only the devil could say!”
His hands fell in bewilderment.
It had not been long before news of the strange occurrence had spread through the capital. And, of
course, it received additions with the progress of time. Everyone's mind was, at that period, bent
upon the marvelous. Recently experiments with the action of magnetism had occupied public
attention, and the history of the dancing chairs of Koniushennaia Street also was fresh. So no one
could wonder when it began to be said that the nose of Collegiate Assessor Kovalev could be seen
promenading the Nevski Prospekt at three o'clock, or when a crowd of curious sightseers gathered
there. Next, someone declared that the nose, rather, could be beheld at Junker's store, and the throng
which surged thither became so massed as to necessitate a summons to the police. Meanwhile a
speculator of highly respectable aspect and whiskers who sold stale cakes at the entrance to a theater
knocked together some stout wooden benches, and invited the curious to stand upon them for eighty
kopeks each; whilst a retired colonel who came out early to see the show, and penetrated the crowd
only with great difficulty, was disgusted when in the window of the store he beheld, not a nose, but
merely an ordinary woolen waistcoat flanked by the selfsame lithograph of a girl pulling up a
stocking, whilst a dandy with cutaway waistcoat and receding chin peeped at her from behind a tree,
which had hung there for ten years past.
“Dear me!” irritably he exclaimed. “How come people so to excite themselves about
stupid, improbable reports?”
Next, word had it that the nose was walking, not on the Nevski Prospekt, but in the
Taurida Park, and, in fact, had been in the habit of doing so for a long while past, so
that even in the days when Khozrev Mirza had lived near there he had been greatly
astonished at the freak of nature. This led students to repair thither from the College
of Medicine, and a certain eminent, respected lady to write and ask the Warden of
the Park to show her children the phenomenon, and, if possible, add to the
demonstration a lesson of edifying and instructive tenor.
Naturally, these events greatly pleased also gentlemen who frequented routs, since
those gentlemen wished to entertain the ladies, and their resources had become
exhausted. Only a few solid, worthy persons deprecated it all. One such person even
said, in his disgust, that comprehend how foolish inventions of the sort could
circulate in such an enlightened age he could not — that, in fact, he was surprised
that the Government had not turned its attention to the matter. From which
utterance it will be seen that the person in question was one of those who would
have dragged the Government into anything on earth, including even their daily
quarrels with their wives.
Next — —

But again events here become enshrouded in mist. What happened after that is
unknown to all men.

Farce really does occur in this world, and, sometimes, farce altogether without an
element of probability. Thus, the nose which lately had gone about as a State
Councilor., and stirred all the city, suddenly reoccupied its proper place (between
the two cheeks of Major Kovalev) as though nothing at all had happened. The date
was 7 April, and when, that morning, the major awoke as usual, and, as usual, threw
a despairing glance at the mirror, he this time, beheld before him, what? — why, the
nose again! Instantly he took hold of it. Yes, the nose, the nose precisely! “Aha!” he
shouted, and, in his joy, might have executed a trepak about the room in bare feet
had not Ivan's entry suddenly checked him. Then he had himself furnished with
materials for washing, washed, and glanced at the mirror again. Oh, the nose was
there still! So next he rubbed it vigorously with the towel. Ah, still it was there, the
same as ever!
“Look, Ivan,” he said. “Surely there is a pimple on my nose?” But meanwhile he was
thinking: “What if he should reply: `You are wrong, sir. Not only is there not a pimple
to be seen, but not even a nose'?”
However, all that Ivan said was:
“Not a pimple, sir, that isn't. The nose is clear all over.”
“Good!” the Major reflected, and snapped his fingers. At the same moment Barber
Ivan Yakovlevitch peeped round the door. He did so as timidly as a cat which has
just been whipped for stealing cream.
“Tell me first whether your hands are clean?” the Major cried.
“They are, sir.”
“You lie, I'll be bound.”
“By God, sir, I do not!”
“Then go carefully.'
As soon as Kovalev had seated himself in position Ivan Yakovlevitch vested him in
a sheet, and plied brush upon chin and a portion of a cheek until they looked like the
blanc mange served on tradesmen's namedays.
“Ah, you!” Here Ivan Yakovlevitch glanced at the nose. Then he bent his head
askew, and contemplated the nose from a position on the flank. “It looks right
enough,” finally he commented, but eyed the member for quite a little while longer

before carefully, so gently as almost to pass the imagination, he lifted two fingers
towards it, in order to grasp its tip — such always being his procedure.
“Come, come! Do mind!” came in a shout from Kovalev. Ivan Yakovlevitch let fall
his hands, and stood disconcerted, dismayed as he had never been before. But at last
he started scratching the razor lightly under the chin, and, despite the unhandiness
and difficulty of shaving in that quarter without also grasping the organ of smell,
contrived, with the aid of a thumb planted firmly upon the cheek and the lower gum,
to overcome all obstacles, and bring the shave to a finish.
Everything thus ready, Kovalev dressed, called a cab, and set out for the
restaurant. He had not crossed the threshold before he shouted: “Waiter! A cup of
chocolate!” Then he sought a mirror, and looked at himself. The nose was still in
place! He turned round in cheerful mood, and, with eves contracted slightly,
bestowed a bold, satirical scrutiny upon two military men, one of the noses on
whom was no larger than a waistcoat button. Next, he sought the chancery of the
department where he was agitating to obtain a Vice-Governorship (or, failing that,
an Administratorship), and, whilst passing through the reception vestibule, again
surveyed himself in a mirror. As much in place as ever the nose was!
Next, he went to call upon a brother Collegiate Assessor, a brother “Major.” This
colleague of his was a great satirist, but Kovalev always met his quarrelsome
remarks merely with: “Ah, you! I know you, and know what a wag you are.”
Whilst proceeding thither he reflected:
“At least, if the Major doesn't burst into laughter on seeing me, I shall know for
certain that all is in order again.
And this turned out to be so, for the colleague said nothing at all on the subject.
“Splendid, damn it all!” was Kovalev's inward comment.
In the street, on leaving the colleague's, he met Madame Podtochina, and also
Madame Podtochina's daughter. Bowing to them, he was received with nothing but
joyous exclamations. Clearly all had been fancy, no harm had been done. So not only
did he talk quite a while to the ladies, but he took special care, as he did so, to
produce his snuffbox, and deliberately plug his nose at both entrances. Meanwhile
inwardly he said:
“There now, good ladies! There now, you couple of hens! I'm not going to marry
the daughter, though. All this is just — par amour, allow me.”
And from that time onwards Major Kovalev gadded about the same as before. He
walked on the Nevski Prospekt, and he visited theaters, and he showed himself
everywhere. And always the nose accompanied him the same as before, and evinced
no signs of again purposing a departure. Great was his good humor, replete was he
with smiles, intent was he upon pursuit of fair ladies. Once, it was noted, he even

halted before a counter of the Gusting Dvor, and there purchased the ribbon of an
order. Why precisely he did so is not known, for of no order was he a knight.
To think of such an affair happening in this our vast empire's northern capital! Yet
general opinion decided that the affair had about it much of the improbable. Leaving
out of the question the nose's strange, unnatural removal, and its subsequent
appearance as a State Councilor., how came Kovalev not to know that one ought not
to advertise for a nose through a newspaper? Not that I say this because I consider
newspaper charges for announcements excessive. No, that is nothing, and I do not
belong to the number of the mean. I say it because such a proceeding would have
been gauche, derogatory, not the thing. And how came the nose into the baked roll?
And what of Ivan Yakovlevitch? Oh, I cannot understand these points — absolutely I
cannot. And the strangest, most unintelligible fact of all is that authors actually can
select such occurrences for their subject! I confess this too to pass my
comprehension, to — — But no; I will say just that I do not understand it. In the first
place, a course of the sort never benefits the country. And in the second place — in
the second place, a course of the sort never benefits anything at all. I cannot divine
the use of it.
Yet, even considering these things; even conceding this, that, and the other (for
where are not incongruities found at times?) there may have, after all, been
something in the affair. For no matter what folk say to the contrary, such affairs do
happen in this world — rarely of course, yet none the less really.
NEW YEAR'S EVE. Nellie, the daughter of a landowner and general, a young and
pretty girl, dreaming day and night of being married, was sitting in her room, gazing
with exhausted, half-closed eyes into the looking-glass. She was pale, tense, and as
motionless as the looking-glass.

The non-existent but apparent vista of a long, narrow corridor with endless rows of
candles, the reflection of her face, her hands, of the frame -- all this was already
clouded in mist and merged into a boundless grey sea. The sea was undulating,
gleaming and now and then flaring crimson. . . .

Looking at Nellie's motionless eyes and parted lips, one could hardly say whether
she was asleep or awake, but nevertheless she was seeing. At first she saw only the
smile and soft, charming expression of someone's eyes, then against the shifting
grey background there gradually appeared the outlines of a head, a face, eyebrows,
beard. It was he, the destined one, the object of long dreams and hopes. The
destined one was for Nellie everything, the significance of life, personal happiness,
career, fate. Outside him, as on the grey background of the looking-glass, all was
dark, empty, meaningless. And so it was not strange that, seeing before her a
handsome, gently smiling face, she was conscious of bliss, of an unutterably sweet
dream that could not be expressed in speech or on paper. Then she heard his voice,

saw herself living under the same roof with him, her life merged into his. Months
and years flew by against the grey background. And Nellie saw her future distinctly
in all its details.

Picture followed picture against the grey background. Now Nellie saw herself one
winter night knocking at the door of Stepan Lukitch, the district doctor. The old dog
hoarsely and lazily barked behind the gate. The doctor's windows were in darkness.
All was silence.

"For God's sake, for God's sake!" whispered Nellie.

But at last the garden gate creaked and Nellie saw the doctor's cook.

"Is the doctor at home?"

"His honour's asleep," whispered the cook into her sleeve, as though afraid of
waking her master.

"He's only just got home from his fever patients, and gave orders he was not to be

But Nellie scarcely heard the cook. Thrusting her aside, she rushed headlong into
the doctor's house. Running through some dark and stuffy rooms, upsetting two or
three chairs, she at last reached the doctor's bedroom. Stepan Lukitch was lying on
his bed, dressed, but without his coat, and with pouting lips was breathing into his
open hand. A little night-light glimmered faintly beside him. Without uttering a
word Nellie sat down and began to cry. She wept bitterly, shaking all over.

"My husband is ill!" she sobbed out. Stepan Lukitch was silent. He slowly sat up,
propped his head on his hand, and looked at his visitor with fixed, sleepy eyes. "My
husband is ill!" Nellie continued, restraining her sobs. "For mercy's sake come
quickly. Make haste. . . . Make haste!"

"Eh?" growled the doctor, blowing into his hand.

"Come! Come this very minute! Or . . . it's terrible to think! For mercy's sake!"

And pale, exhausted Nellie, gasping and swallowing her tears, began describing to
the doctor her husband's illness, her unutterable terror. Her sufferings would have
touched the heart of a stone, but the doctor looked at her, blew into his open hand,
and -- not a movement.

"I'll come to-morrow!" he muttered.

"That's impossible!" cried Nellie. "I know my husband has typhus! At once . . . this
very minute you are needed!"

"I . . . er . . . have only just come in," muttered the doctor. "For the last three days I've
been away, seeing typhus patients, and I'm exhausted and ill myself. . . . I simply

can't! Absolutely! I've caught it myself! There!"

And the doctor thrust before her eyes a clinical thermometer.

"My temperature is nearly forty. . . . I absolutely can't. I can scarcely sit up. Excuse
me. I'll lie down. . . ."

The doctor lay down.

"But I implore you, doctor," Nellie moaned in despair. "I beseech you! Help me, for
mercy's sake! Make a great effort and come! I will repay you, doctor!"

"Oh, dear! . . . Why, I have told you already. Ah!"

Nellie leapt up and walked nervously up and down the bedroom. She longed to
explain to the doctor, to bring him to reason. . . . She thought if only he knew how
dear her husband was to her and how unhappy she was, he would forget his
exhaustion and his illness. But how could she be eloquent enough?

"Go to the Zemstvo doctor," she heard Stepan Lukitch's voice.

"That's impossible! He lives more than twenty miles from here, and time is precious.
And the horses can't stand it. It is thirty miles from us to you, and as much from here
to the Zemstvo doctor. No, it's impossible! Come along, Stepan Lukitch. I ask of you
an heroic deed. Come, perform that heroic deed! Have pity on us!"

"It's beyond everything. . . . I'm in a fever. . . my head's in a whirl . . . and she won't
understand! Leave me alone!"

"But you are in duty bound to come! You cannot refuse to come! It's egoism! A man
is bound to sacrifice his life for his neighbour, and you. . . you refuse to come! I will
summon you before the Court."

Nellie felt that she was uttering a false and undeserved insult, but for her husband's
sake she was capable of forgetting logic, tact, sympathy for others. . . . In reply to her
threats, the doctor greedily gulped a glass of cold water. Nellie fell to entreating and
imploring like the very lowest beggar. . . . At last the doctor gave way. He slowly got
up, puffing and panting, looking for his coat.

"Here it is!" cried Nellie, helping him. "Let me put it on to you. Come along! I will
repay you. . . . All my life I shall be grateful to you. . . ."

But what agony! After putting on his coat the doctor lay down again. Nellie got him
up and dragged him to the hall. Then there was an agonizing to-do over his goloshes,
his overcoat. . . . His cap was lost. . . . But at last Nellie was in the carriage with the
doctor. Now they had only to drive thirty miles and her husband would have a
doctor's help. The earth was wrapped in darkness. One could not see one's hand
before one's face. . . . A cold winter wind was blowing. There were frozen lumps
under their wheels. The coachman was continually stopping and wondering which

road to take.

Nellie and the doctor sat silent all the way. It was fearfully jolting, but they felt
neither the cold nor the jolts.

"Get on, get on!" Nellie implored the driver.

At five in the morning the exhausted horses drove into the yard. Nellie saw the
familiar gates, the well with the crane, the long row of stables and barns. At last she
was at home.

"Wait a moment, I will be back directly," she said to Stepan Lukitch, making him sit
down on the sofa in the dining-room. "Sit still and wait a little, and I'll see how he is
going on."

On her return from her husband, Nellie found the doctor lying down. He was lying
on the sofa and muttering.

"Doctor, please! . . . doctor!"

"Eh? Ask Domna!" muttered Stepan Lukitch.


"They said at the meeting . . . Vlassov said . . . Who? . . . what?"

And to her horror Nellie saw that the doctor was as delirious as her husband. What
was to be done?

"I must go for the Zemstvo doctor," she decided.

Then again there followed darkness, a cutting cold wind, lumps of frozen earth. She
was suffering in body and in soul, and delusive nature has no arts, no deceptions to
compensate these sufferings. . . .

Then she saw against the grey background how her husband every spring was in
straits for money to pay the interest for the mortgage to the bank. He could not
sleep, she could not sleep, and both racked their brains till their heads ached,
thinking how to avoid being visited by the clerk of the Court.

She saw her children: the everlasting apprehension of colds, scarlet fever,
diphtheria, bad marks at school, separation. Out of a brood of five or six one was
sure to die.

The grey background was not untouched by death. That might well be. A husband
and wife cannot die simultaneously. Whatever happened one must bury the other.
And Nellie saw her husband dying. This terrible event presented itself to her in
every detail. She saw the coffin, the candles, the deacon, and even the footmarks in
the hall made by the undertaker.

"Why is it, what is it for?" she asked, looking blankly at her husband's face.

And all the previous life with her husband seemed to her a stupid prelude to this.

Something fell from Nellie's hand and knocked on the floor. She started, jumped up,
and opened her eyes wide. One looking-glass she saw lying at her feet. The other
was standing as before on the table.

She looked into the looking-glass and saw a pale, tear-stained face. There was no
grey background now.

"I must have fallen asleep," she thought with a sigh of relief.
"OFF THERE to the right--somewhere--is a large island," said Whitney." It's rather a
"What island is it?" Rainsford asked.
"The old charts call it `Ship-Trap Island,"' Whitney replied." A suggestive name, isn't
it? Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don't know why. Some superstition--"
"Can't see it," remarked Rainsford, trying to peer through the dank tropical night
that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht.
"You've good eyes," said Whitney, with a laugh," and I've seen you pick off a moose
moving in the brown fall bush at four hundred yards, but even you can't see four
miles or so through a moonless Caribbean night."
"Nor four yards," admitted Rainsford. "Ugh! It's like moist black velvet."
"It will be light enough in Rio," promised Whitney. "We should make it in a few days.
I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey's. We should have some good
hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting."
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a
philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.
"Bah! They've no understanding."

"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing--fear. The fear of pain and the
fear of death."
"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a
realist. The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the huntees. Luckily,
you and I are hunters. Do you think we've passed that island yet?"
"I can't tell in the dark. I hope so."
"Why? " asked Rainsford.
"The place has a reputation--a bad one."
"Cannibals?" suggested Rainsford.
"Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn't live in such a God-forsaken place. But it's gotten
into sailor lore, somehow. Didn't you notice that the crew's nerves seemed a bit
jumpy today?"
"They were a bit strange, now you mention it. Even Captain Nielsen--"
"Yes, even that tough-minded old Swede, who'd go up to the devil himself and ask
him for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held a look I never saw there before. All I could
get out of him was `This place has an evil name among seafaring men, sir.' Then he
said to me, very gravely, `Don't you feel anything?'--as if the air about us was
actually poisonous. Now, you mustn't laugh when I tell you this--I did feel something
like a sudden chill.
"There was no breeze. The sea was as flat as a plate-glass window. We were drawing
near the island then. What I felt was a--a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread."
"Pure imagination," said Rainsford.
"One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship's company with his fear."
"Maybe. But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense that tells them when they
are in danger. Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing--with wave lengths, just as
sound and light have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil.
Anyhow, I'm glad we're getting out of this zone. Well, I think I'll turn in now,
"I'm not sleepy," said Rainsford. "I'm going to smoke another pipe up on the
"Good night, then, Rainsford. See you at breakfast."
"Right. Good night, Whitney."

There was no sound in the night as Rainsford sat there but the muffled throb of the
engine that drove the yacht swiftly through the darkness, and the swish and ripple
of the wash of the propeller.
Rainsford, reclining in a steamer chair, indolently puffed on his favorite brier. The
sensuous drowsiness of the night was on him." It's so dark," he thought, "that I could
sleep without closing my eyes; the night would be my eyelids--"
An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it, and his ears, expert in
such matters, could not be mistaken. Again he heard the sound, and again.
Somewhere, off in the blackness, someone had fired a gun three times.
Rainsford sprang up and moved quickly to the rail, mystified. He strained his eyes in
the direction from which the reports had come, but it was like trying to see through
a blanket. He leaped upon the rail and balanced himself there, to get greater
elevation; his pipe, striking a rope, was knocked from his mouth. He lunged for it; a
short, hoarse cry came from his lips as he realized he had reached too far and had
lost his balance. The cry was pinched off short as the blood-warm waters of the
Caribbean Sea dosed over his head.
He struggled up to the surface and tried to cry out, but the wash from the speeding
yacht slapped him in the face and the salt water in his open mouth made him gag
and strangle. Desperately he struck out with strong strokes after the receding lights
of the yacht, but he stopped before he had swum fifty feet. A certain coolheadedness
had come to him; it was not the first time he had been in a tight place. There was a
chance that his cries could be heard by someone aboard the yacht, but that chance
was slender and grew more slender as the yacht raced on. He wrestled himself out
of his clothes and shouted with all his power. The lights of the yacht became faint
and ever-vanishing fireflies; then they were blotted out entirely by the night.
Rainsford remembered the shots. They had come from the right, and doggedly he
swam in that direction, swimming with slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his
strength. For a seemingly endless time he fought the sea. He began to count his
strokes; he could do possibly a hundred more and then--
Rainsford heard a sound. It came out of the darkness, a high screaming sound, the
sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror.
He did not recognize the animal that made the sound; he did not try to; with fresh
vitality he swam toward the sound. He heard it again; then it was cut short by
another noise, crisp, staccato.
"Pistol shot," muttered Rainsford, swimming on.
Ten minutes of determined effort brought another sound to his ears--the most
welcome he had ever heard--the muttering and growling of the sea breaking on a
rocky shore. He was almost on the rocks before he saw them; on a night less calm he
would have been shattered against them. With his remaining strength he dragged
himself from the swirling waters. Jagged crags appeared to jut up into the

opaqueness; he forced himself upward, hand over hand. Gasping, his hands raw, he
reached a flat place at the top. Dense jungle came down to the very edge of the cliffs.
What perils that tangle of trees and underbrush might hold for him did not concern
Rainsford just then. All he knew was that he was safe from his enemy, the sea, and
that utter weariness was on him. He flung himself down at the jungle edge and
tumbled headlong into the deepest sleep of his life.
When he opened his eyes he knew from the position of the sun that it was late in the
afternoon. Sleep had given him new vigor; a sharp hunger was picking at him. He
looked about him, almost cheerfully.
"Where there are pistol shots, there are men. Where there are men, there is food,"
he thought. But what kind of men, he wondered, in so forbidding a place? An
unbroken front of snarled and ragged jungle fringed the shore.
He saw no sign of a trail through the closely knit web of weeds and trees; it was
easier to go along the shore, and Rainsford floundered along by the water. Not far
from where he landed, he stopped.
Some wounded thing--by the evidence, a large animal--had thrashed about in the
underbrush; the jungle weeds were crushed down and the moss was lacerated; one
patch of weeds was stained crimson. A small, glittering object not far away caught
Rainsford's eye and he picked it up. It was an empty cartridge.
"A twenty-two," he remarked. "That's odd. It must have been a fairly large animal
too. The hunter had his nerve with him to tackle it with a light gun. It's clear that the
brute put up a fight. I suppose the first three shots I heard was when the hunter
flushed his quarry and wounded it. The last shot was when he trailed it here and
finished it."
He examined the ground closely and found what he had hoped to find--the print of
hunting boots. They pointed along the cliff in the direction he had been going.
Eagerly he hurried along, now slipping on a rotten log or a loose stone, but making
headway; night was beginning to settle down on the island.
Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when Rainsford sighted the
lights. He came upon them as he turned a crook in the coast line; and his first
thought was that be had come upon a village, for there were many lights. But as he
forged along he saw to his great astonishment that all the lights were in one
enormous building--a lofty structure with pointed towers plunging upward into the
gloom. His eyes made out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on a
high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where the sea licked greedy
lips in the shadows.
"Mirage," thought Rainsford. But it was no mirage, he found, when he opened the tall
spiked iron gate. The stone steps were real enough; the massive door with a leering
gargoyle for a knocker was real enough; yet above it all hung an air of unreality.

He lifted the knocker, and it creaked up stiffly, as if it had never before been used. He
let it fall, and it startled him with its booming loudness. He thought he heard steps
within; the door remained closed. Again Rainsford lifted the heavy knocker, and let
it fall. The door opened then--opened as suddenly as if it were on a spring--and
Rainsford stood blinking in the river of glaring gold light that poured out. The first
thing Rainsford's eyes discerned was the largest man Rainsford had ever seen--a
gigantic creature, solidly made and black bearded to the waist. In his hand the man
held a long-barreled revolver, and he was pointing it straight at Rainsford's heart.
Out of the snarl of beard two small eyes regarded Rainsford.
"Don't be alarmed," said Rainsford, with a smile which he hoped was disarming. "I'm
no robber. I fell off a yacht. My name is Sanger Rainsford of New York City."
The menacing look in the eyes did not change. The revolver pointing as rigidly as if
the giant were a statue. He gave no sign that he understood Rainsford's words, or
that he had even heard them. He was dressed in uniform--a black uniform trimmed
with gray astrakhan.
"I'm Sanger Rainsford of New York," Rainsford began again. "I fell off a yacht. I am
The man's only answer was to raise with his thumb the hammer of his revolver.
Then Rainsford saw the man's free hand go to his forehead in a military salute, and
he saw him click his heels together and stand at attention. Another man was coming
down the broad marble steps, an erect, slender man in evening clothes. He advanced
to Rainsford and held out his hand.
In a cultivated voice marked by a slight accent that gave it added precision and
deliberateness, he said, "It is a very great pleasure and honor to welcome Mr. Sanger
Rainsford, the celebrated hunter, to my home."
Automatically Rainsford shook the man's hand.
"I've read your book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet, you see," explained the
man. "I am General Zaroff."
Rainsford's first impression was that the man was singularly handsome; his second
was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general's face. He
was a tall man past middle age, for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows
and pointed military mustache were as black as the night from which Rainsford had
come. His eyes, too, were black and very bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharpcut
nose, a spare, dark face--the face of a man used to giving orders, the face of an
aristocrat. Turning to the giant in uniform, the general made a sign. The giant put
away his pistol, saluted, withdrew.
"Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow," remarked the general, "but he has the
misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a
bit of a savage."

"Is he Russian?"
"He is a Cossack," said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth.
"So am I."
"Come," he said, "we shouldn't be chatting here. We can talk later. Now you want
clothes, food, rest. You shall have them. This is a most-restful spot."
Ivan had reappeared, and the general spoke to him with lips that moved but gave
forth no sound.
"Follow Ivan, if you please, Mr. Rainsford," said the general. "I was about to have my
dinner when you came. I'll wait for you. You'll find that my clothes will fit you, I
It was to a huge, beam-ceilinged bedroom with a canopied bed big enough for six
men that Rainsford followed the silent giant. Ivan laid out an evening suit, and
Rainsford, as he put it on, noticed that it came from a London tailor who ordinarily
cut and sewed for none below the rank of duke.
The dining room to which Ivan conducted him was in many ways remarkable. There
was a medieval magnificence about it; it suggested a baronial hall of feudal times
with its oaken panels, its high ceiling, its vast refectory tables where twoscore men
could sit down to eat. About the hall were mounted heads of many animals--lions,
tigers, elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect specimens Rainsford had
never seen. At the great table the general was sitting, alone.
"You'll have a cocktail, Mr. Rainsford," he suggested. The cocktail was surpassingly
good; and, Rainsford noted, the table apointments were of the finest--the linen, the
crystal, the silver, the china.
They were eating borsch, the rich, red soup with whipped cream so dear to Russian
palates. Half apologetically General Zaroff said, "We do our best to preserve the
amenities of civilization here. Please forgive any lapses. We are well off the beaten
track, you know. Do you think the champagne has suffered from its long ocean trip?"
"Not in the least," declared Rainsford. He was finding the general a most thoughtful
and affable host, a true cosmopolite. But there was one small trait of .the general's
that made Rainsford uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up from his plate he found
the general studying him, appraising him narrowly.
"Perhaps," said General Zaroff, "you were surprised that I recognized your name.
You see, I read all books on hunting published in English, French, and Russian. I have
but one passion in my life, Mr. Rainsford, and it is the hunt."
"You have some wonderful heads here," said Rainsford as he ate a particularly well-
cooked filet mignon. " That Cape buffalo is the largest I ever saw."
"Oh, that fellow. Yes, he was a monster."

"Did he charge you?"
"Hurled me against a tree," said the general. "Fractured my skull. But I got the
"I've always thought," said Rainsford, "that the Cape buffalo is the most dangerous of
all big game."
For a moment the general did not reply; he was smiling his curious red-lipped smile.
Then he said slowly, "No. You are wrong, sir. The Cape buffalo is not the most
dangerous big game." He sipped his wine. "Here in my preserve on this island," he
said in the same slow tone, "I hunt more dangerous game."
Rainsford expressed his surprise. "Is there big game on this island?"
The general nodded. "The biggest."
"Oh, it isn't here naturally, of course. I have to stock the island."
"What have you imported, general?" Rainsford asked. "Tigers?"
The general smiled. "No," he said. "Hunting tigers ceased to interest me some years
ago. I exhausted their possibilities, you see. No thrill left in tigers, no real danger. I
live for danger, Mr. Rainsford."
The general took from his pocket a gold cigarette case and offered his guest a long
black cigarette with a silver tip; it was perfumed and gave off a smell like incense.
"We will have some capital hunting, you and I," said the general. "I shall be most glad
to have your society."
"But what game--" began Rainsford.
"I'll tell you," said the general. "You will be amused, I know. I think I may say, in all
modesty, that I have done a rare thing. I have invented a new sensation. May I pour
you another glass of port?"
"Thank you, general."
The general filled both glasses, and said, "God makes some men poets. Some He
makes kings, some beggars. Me He made a hunter. My hand was made for the
trigger, my father said. He was a very rich man with a quarter of a million acres in
the Crimea, and he was an ardent sportsman. When I was only five years old he gave
me a little gun, specially made in Moscow for me, to shoot sparrows with. When I
shot some of his prize turkeys with it, he did not punish me; he complimented me on
my marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the Caucasus when I was ten. My whole
life has been one prolonged hunt. I went into the army--it was expected of

noblemen's sons--and for a time commanded a division of Cossack cavalry, but my
real interest was always the hunt. I have hunted every kind of game in every land. It
would be impossible for me to tell you how many animals I have killed."
The general puffed at his cigarette.
"After the debacle in Russia I left the country, for it was imprudent for an officer of
the Czar to stay there. Many noble Russians lost everything. I, luckily, had invested
heavily in American securities, so I shall never have to open a tearoom in Monte
Carlo or drive a taxi in Paris. Naturally, I continued to hunt--grizzliest in your
Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges, rhinoceroses in East Africa. It was in Africa that
the Cape buffalo hit me and laid me up for six months. As soon as I recovered I
started for the Amazon to hunt jaguars, for I had heard they were unusually cunning.
They weren't." The Cossack sighed. "They were no match at all for a hunter with his
wits about him, and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed. I was lying in
my tent with a splitting headache one night when a terrible thought pushed its way
into my mind. Hunting was beginning to bore me! And hunting, remember, had been
my life. I have heard that in America businessmen often go to pieces when they give
up the business that has been their life."
"Yes, that's so," said Rainsford.
The general smiled. "I had no wish to go to pieces," he said. "I must do something.
Now, mine is an analytical mind, Mr. Rainsford. Doubtless that is why I enjoy the
problems of the chase."
"No doubt, General Zaroff."
"So," continued the general, "I asked myself why the hunt no longer fascinated me.
You are much younger than I am, Mr. Rainsford, and have not hunted as much, but
you perhaps can guess the answer."
"What was it?"
"Simply this: hunting had ceased to be what you call `a sporting proposition.' It had
become too easy. I always got my quarry. Always. There is no greater bore than
The general lit a fresh cigarette.
"No animal had a chance with me any more. That is no boast; it is a mathematical
certainty. The animal had nothing but his legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match
for reason. When I thought of this it was a tragic moment for me, I can tell you."
Rainsford leaned across the table, absorbed in what his host was saying.
"It came to me as an inspiration what I must do," the general went on.
"And that was?"

The general smiled the quiet smile of one who has faced an obstacle and
surmounted it with success. "I had to invent a new animal to hunt," he said.
"A new animal? You're joking." "Not at all," said the general. "I never joke about
hunting. I needed a new animal. I found one. So I bought this island built this house,
and here I do my hunting. The island is perfect for my purposes--there are jungles
with a maze of traits in them, hills, swamps--"
"But the animal, General Zaroff?"
"Oh," said the general, "it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world.
No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow
bored now, for I have a quarry with which I can match my wits."
Rainsford's bewilderment showed in his face.
"I wanted the ideal animal to hunt," explained the general. "So I said, `What are the
attributes of an ideal quarry?' And the answer was, of course, `It must have courage,
cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason."'
"But no animal can reason," objected Rainsford.
"My dear fellow," said the general, "there is one that can."
"But you can't mean--" gasped Rainsford.
"And why not?"
"I can't believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a grisly joke."
"Why should I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting."
"Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder."
The general laughed with entire good nature. He regarded Rainsford quizzically. "I
refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young man as you seem to be
harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in the
"Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder," finished Rainsford stiffly.
Laughter shook the general. "How extraordinarily droll you are!" he said. "One does
not expect nowadays to find a young man of the educated class, even in America,
with such a naive, and, if I may say so, mid-Victorian point of view. It's like finding a
snuffbox in a limousine. Ah, well, doubtless you had Puritan ancestors. So many
Americans appear to have had. I'll wager you'll forget your notions when you go
hunting with me. You've a genuine new thrill in store for you, Mr. Rainsford."
"Thank you, I'm a hunter, not a murderer."

"Dear me," said the general, quite unruffled, "again that unpleasant word. But I think
I can show you that your scruples are quite ill founded."
"Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong.
The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why
should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the
earth: sailors from tramp ships--lassars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels--a
thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them."
"But they are men," said Rainsford hotly.
"Precisely," said the general. "That is why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can
reason, after a fashion. So they are dangerous."
"But where do you get them?"
The general's left eyelid fluttered down in a wink. "This island is called Ship Trap,"
he answered. "Sometimes an angry god of the high seas sends them to me.
Sometimes, when Providence is not so kind, I help Providence a bit. Come to the
window with me."
Rainsford went to the window and looked out toward the sea.
"Watch! Out there!" exclaimed the general, pointing into the night. Rainsford's eyes
saw only blackness, and then, as the general pressed a button, far out to sea
Rainsford saw the flash of lights.
The general chuckled. "They indicate a channel," he said, "where there's none; giant
rocks with razor edges crouch like a sea monster with wide-open jaws. They can
crush a ship as easily as I crush this nut." He dropped a walnut on the hardwood
floor and brought his heel grinding down on it. "Oh, yes," he said, casually, as if in
answer to a question, "I have electricity. We try to be civilized here."
"Civilized? And you shoot down men?"
A trace of anger was in the general's black eyes, but it was there for but a second;
and he said, in his most pleasant manner, "Dear me, what a righteous young man
you are! I assure you I do not do the thing you suggest. That would be barbarous. I
treat these visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of good food and
exercise. They get into splendid physical condition. You shall see for yourself
"What do you mean?"
"We'll visit my training school," smiled the general. "It's in the cellar. I have about a
dozen pupils down there now. They're from the Spanish bark San Lucar that had the
bad luck to go on the rocks out there. A very inferior lot, I regret to say. Poor

specimens and more accustomed to the deck than to the jungle." He raised his hand,
and Ivan, who served as waiter, brought thick Turkish coffee. Rainsford, with an
effort, held his tongue in check.
"It's a game, you see," pursued the general blandly. "I suggest to one of them that we
go hunting. I give him a supply of food and an excellent hunting knife. I give him
three hours' start. I am to follow, armed only with a pistol of the smallest caliber and
range. If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him "-
-the general smiled--" he loses."
"Suppose he refuses to be hunted?"
"Oh," said the general, "I give him his option, of course. He need not play that game if
he doesn't wish to. If he does not wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had
the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he has his own
ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt."
"And if they win?"
The smile on the general's face widened. "To date I have not lost," he said. Then he
added, hastily: "I don't wish you to think me a braggart, Mr. Rainsford. Many of them
afford only the most elementary sort of problem. Occasionally I strike a tartar. One
almost did win. I eventually had to use the dogs."
"The dogs?"
"This way, please. I'll show you."
The general steered Rainsford to a window. The lights from the windows sent a
flickering illumination that made grotesque patterns on the courtyard below, and
Rainsford could see moving about there a dozen or so huge black shapes; as they
turned toward him, their eyes glittered greenly.
"A rather good lot, I think," observed the general. "They are let out at seven every
night. If anyone should try to get into my house--or out of it--something extremely
regrettable would occur to him." He hummed a snatch of song from the Folies
"And now," said the general, "I want to show you my new collection of heads. Will
you come with me to the library?"
"I hope," said Rainsford, "that you will excuse me tonight, General Zaroff. I'm really
not feeling well."
"Ah, indeed?" the general inquired solicitously. "Well, I suppose that's only natural,
after your long swim. You need a good, restful night's sleep. Tomorrow you'll feel
like a new man, I'll wager. Then we'll hunt, eh? I've one rather promising prospect--"
Rainsford was hurrying from the room.

"Sorry you can't go with me tonight," called the general. "I expect rather fair sport--a
big, strong, black. He looks resourceful--Well, good night, Mr. Rainsford; I hope you
have a good night's rest."
The bed was good, and the pajamas of the softest silk, and he was tired in every fiber
of his being, but nevertheless Rainsford could not quiet his brain with the opiate of
sleep. He lay, eyes wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the
corridor outside his room. He sought to throw open the door; it would not open. He
went to the window and looked out. His room was high up in one of the towers. The
lights of the chateau were out now, and it was dark and silent; but there was a
fragment of sallow moon, and by its wan light he could see, dimly, the courtyard.
There, weaving in and out in the pattern of shadow, were black, noiseless forms; the
hounds heard him at the window and looked up, expectantly, with their green eyes.
Rainsford went back to the bed and lay down. By many methods he tried to put
himself to sleep. He had achieved a doze when, just as morning began to come, he
heard, far off in the jungle, the faint report of a pistol.
General Zaroff did not appear until luncheon. He was dressed faultlessly in the
tweeds of a country squire. He was solicitous about the state of Rainsford's health.
"As for me," sighed the general, "I do not feel so well. I am worried, Mr. Rainsford.
Last night I detected traces of my old complaint."
To Rainsford's questioning glance the general said, "Ennui. Boredom."
Then, taking a second helping of crêpes Suzette, the general explained: "The hunting
was not good last night. The fellow lost his head. He made a straight trail that
offered no problems at all. That's the trouble with these sailors; they have dull
brains to begin with, and they do not know how to get about in the woods. They do
excessively stupid and obvious things. It's most annoying. Will you have another
glass of Chablis, Mr. Rainsford?"
"General," said Rainsford firmly, "I wish to leave this island at once."
The general raised his thickets of eyebrows; he seemed hurt. "But, my dear fellow,"
the general protested, "you've only just come. You've had no hunting--"
"I wish to go today," said Rainsford. He saw the dead black eyes of the general on
him, studying him. General Zaroff's face suddenly brightened.
He filled Rainsford's glass with venerable Chablis from a dusty bottle.
"Tonight," said the general, "we will hunt--you and I."
Rainsford shook his head. "No, general," he said. "I will not hunt."
The general shrugged his shoulders and delicately ate a hothouse grape. "As you
wish, my friend," he said. "The choice rests entirely with you. But may I not venture
to suggest that you will find my idea of sport more diverting than Ivan's?"

He nodded toward the corner to where the giant stood, scowling, his thick arms
crossed on his hogshead of chest.
"You don't mean--" cried Rainsford.
"My dear fellow," said the general, "have I not told you I always mean what I say
about hunting? This is really an inspiration. I drink to a foeman worthy of my steel--
at last." The general raised his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.
"You'll find this game worth playing," the general said enthusiastically." Your brain
against mine. Your woodcraft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine.
Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?"
"And if I win--" began Rainsford huskily.
"I'll cheerfully acknowledge myself defeat if I do not find you by midnight of the
third day," said General Zaroff. "My sloop will place you on the mainland near a
town." The general read what Rainsford was thinking.
"Oh, you can trust me," said the Cossack. "I will give you my word as a gentleman
and a sportsman. Of course you, in turn, must agree to say nothing of your visit
"I'll agree to nothing of the kind," said Rainsford.
"Oh," said the general, "in that case--But why discuss that now? Three days hence
we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, unless--"
The general sipped his wine.
Then a businesslike air animated him. "Ivan," he said to Rainsford, "will supply you
with hunting clothes, food, a knife. I suggest you wear moccasins; they leave a
poorer trail. I suggest, too, that you avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner of
the island. We call it Death Swamp. There's quicksand there. One foolish fellow tried
it. The deplorable part of it was that Lazarus followed him. You can imagine my
feelings, Mr. Rainsford. I loved Lazarus; he was the finest hound in my pack. Well, I
must beg you to excuse me now. I always' take a siesta after lunch. You'll hardly
have time for a nap, I fear. You'll want to start, no doubt. I shall not follow till dusk.
Hunting at night is so much more exciting than by day, don't you think? Au revoir,
Mr. Rainsford, au revoir." General Zaroff, with a deep, courtly bow, strolled from the
From another door came Ivan. Under one arm he carried khaki hunting clothes, a
haversack of food, a leather sheath containing a long-bladed hunting knife; his right
hand rested on a cocked revolver thrust in the crimson sash about his waist.
Rainsford had fought his way through the bush for two hours. "I must keep my
nerve. I must keep my nerve," he said through tight teeth.

He had not been entirely clearheaded when the chateau gates snapped shut behind
him. His whole idea at first was to put distance between himself and General Zaroff;
and, to this end, he had plunged along, spurred on by the sharp rowers of something
very like panic. Now he had got a grip on himself, had stopped, and was taking stock
of himself and the situation. He saw that straight flight was futile; inevitably it would
bring him face to face with the sea. He was in a picture with a frame of water, and his
operations, clearly, must take place within that frame.
"I'll give him a trail to follow," muttered Rainsford, and he struck off from the rude
path he had been following into the trackless wilderness. He executed a series of
intricate loops; he doubled on his trail again and again, recalling all the lore of the
fox hunt, and all the dodges of the fox. Night found him leg-weary, with hands and
face lashed by the branches, on a thickly wooded ridge. He knew it would be insane
to blunder on through the dark, even if he had the strength. His need for rest was
imperative and he thought, "I have played the fox, now I must play the cat of the
fable." A big tree with a thick trunk and outspread branches was near by, and, taking
care to leave not the slightest mark, he climbed up into the crotch, and, stretching
out on one of the broad limbs, after a fashion, rested. Rest brought him new
confidence and almost a feeling of security. Even so zealous a hunter as General
Zaroff could not trace him there, he told himself; only the devil himself could follow
that complicated trail through the jungle after dark. But perhaps the general was a
An apprehensive night crawled slowly by like a wounded snake and sleep did not
visit Rainsford, although the silence of a dead world was on the jungle. Toward
morning when a dingy gray was varnishing the sky, the cry of some startled bird
focused Rainsford's attention in that direction. Something was coming through the
bush, coming slowly, carefully, coming by the same winding way Rainsford had
come. He flattened himself down on the limb and, through a screen of leaves almost
as thick as tapestry, he watched. . . . That which was approaching was a man.
It was General Zaroff. He made his way along with his eyes fixed in utmost
concentration on the ground before him. He paused, almost beneath the tree,
dropped to his knees and studied the ground. Rainsford's impulse was to hurl
himself down like a panther, but he saw that the general's right hand held
something metallic--a small automatic pistol.
The hunter shook his head several times, as if he were puzzled. Then he
straightened up and took from his case one of his black cigarettes; its pungent
incenselike smoke floated up to Rainsford's nostrils.
Rainsford held his breath. The general's eyes had left the ground and were traveling
inch by inch up the tree. Rainsford froze there, every muscle tensed for a spring. But
the sharp eyes of the hunter stopped before they reached the limb where Rainsford
lay; a smile spread over his brown face. Very deliberately he blew a smoke ring into
the air; then he turned his back on the tree and walked carelessly away, back along
the trail he had come. The swish of the underbrush against his hunting boots grew
fainter and fainter.

The pent-up air burst hotly from Rainsford's lungs. His first thought made him feel
sick and numb. The general could follow a trail through the woods at night; he could
follow an extremely difficult trail; he must have uncanny powers; only by the merest
chance had the Cossack failed to see his quarry.
Rainsford's second thought was even more terrible. It sent a shudder of cold horror
through his whole being. Why had the general smiled? Why had he turned back?
Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him was true, but the truth
was as evident as the sun that had by now pushed through the morning mists. The
general was playing with him! The general was saving him for another day's sport!
The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew the full
meaning of terror.
"I will not lose my nerve. I will not."
He slid down from the tree, and struck off again into the woods. His face was set and
he forced the machinery of his mind to function. Three hundred yards from his
hiding place he stopped where a huge dead tree leaned precariously on a smaller,
living one. Throwing off his sack of food, Rainsford took his knife from its sheath and
began to work with all his energy.
The job was finished at last, and he threw himself down behind a fallen log a
hundred feet away. He did not have to wait long. The cat was coming again to play
with the mouse.
Following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound came General Zaroff. Nothing
escaped those searching black eyes, no crushed blade of grass, no bent twig, no
mark, no matter how faint, in the moss. So intent was the Cossack on his stalking
that he was upon the thing Rainsford had made before he saw it. His foot touched
the protruding bough that was the trigger. Even as he touched it, the general sensed
his danger and leaped back with the agility of an ape. But he was not quite quick
enough; the dead tree, delicately adjusted to rest on the cut living one, crashed down
and struck the general a glancing blow on the shoulder as it fell; but for his
alertness, he must have been smashed beneath it. He staggered, but he did not fall;
nor did he drop his revolver. He stood there, rubbing his injured shoulder, and
Rainsford, with fear again gripping his heart, heard the general's mocking laugh ring
through the jungle.
"Rainsford," called the general, "if you are within sound of my voice, as I suppose
you are, let me congratulate you. Not many men know how to make a Malay
mancatcher. Luckily for me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving
interesting, Mr. Rainsford. I am going now to have my wound dressed; it's only a
slight one. But I shall be back. I shall be back."
When the general, nursing his bruised shoulder, had gone, Rainsford took up his
flight again. It was flight now, a desperate, hopeless flight, that carried him on for
some hours. Dusk came, then darkness, and still he pressed on. The ground grew

softer under his moccasins; the vegetation grew ranker, denser; insects bit him
Then, as he stepped forward, his foot sank into the ooze. He tried to wrench it back,
but the muck sucked viciously at his foot as if it were a giant leech. With a violent
effort, he tore his feet loose. He knew where he was now. Death Swamp and its
His hands were tight closed as if his nerve were something tangible that someone in
the darkness was trying to tear from his grip. The softness of the earth had given
him an idea. He stepped back from the quicksand a dozen feet or so and, like some
huge prehistoric beaver, he began to dig.
Rainsford had dug himself in in France when a second's delay meant death. That had
been a placid pastime compared to his digging now. The pit grew deeper; when it
was above his shoulders, he climbed out and from some hard saplings cut stakes and
sharpened them to a fine point. These stakes he planted in the bottom of the pit with
the points sticking up. With flying fingers he wove a rough carpet of weeds and
branches and with it he covered the mouth of the pit. Then, wet with sweat and
aching with tiredness, he crouched behind the stump of a lightning-charred tree.
He knew his pursuer was coming; he heard the padding sound of feet on the soft
earth, and the night breeze brought him the perfume of the general's cigarette. It
seemed to Rainsford that the general was coming with unusual swiftness; he was
not feeling his way along, foot by foot. Rainsford, crouching there, could not see the
general, nor could he see the pit. He lived a year in a minute. Then he felt an impulse
to cry aloud with joy, for he heard the sharp crackle of the breaking branches as the
cover of the pit gave way; he heard the sharp scream of pain as the pointed stakes
found their mark. He leaped up from his place of concealment. Then he cowered
back. Three feet from the pit a man was standing, with an electric torch in his hand.
"You've done well, Rainsford," the voice of the general called. "Your Burmese tiger
pit has claimed one of my best dogs. Again you score. I think, Mr. Rainsford, Ill see
what you can do against my whole pack. I'm going home for a rest now. Thank you
for a most amusing evening."
At daybreak Rainsford, lying near the swamp, was awakened by a sound that made
him know that he had new things to learn about fear. It was a distant sound, faint
and wavering, but he knew it. It was the baying of a pack of hounds.
Rainsford knew he could do one of two things. He could stay where he was and wait.
That was suicide. He could flee. That was postponing the inevitable. For a moment
he stood there, thinking. An idea that held a wild chance came to him, and,
tightening his belt, he headed away from the swamp.
The baying of the hounds drew nearer, then still nearer, nearer, ever nearer. On a
ridge Rainsford climbed a tree. Down a watercourse, not a quarter of a mile away, he
could see the bush moving. Straining his eyes, he saw the lean figure of General
Zaroff; just ahead of him Rainsford made out another figure whose wide shoulders

surged through the tall jungle weeds; it was the giant Ivan, and he seemed pulled
forward by some unseen force; Rainsford knew that Ivan must be holding the pack
in leash.
They would be on him any minute now. His mind worked frantically. He thought of a
native trick he had learned in Uganda. He slid down the tree. He caught hold of a
springy young sapling and to it he fastened his hunting knife, with the blade
pointing down the trail; with a bit of wild grapevine he tied back the sapling. Then
he ran for his life. The hounds raised their voices as they hit the fresh scent.
Rainsford knew now how an animal at bay feels.
He had to stop to get his breath. The baying of the hounds stopped abruptly, and
Rainsford's heart stopped too. They must have reached the knife.
He shinned excitedly up a tree and looked back. His pursuers had stopped. But the
hope that was in Rainsford's brain when he climbed died, for he saw in the shallow
valley that General Zaroff was still on his feet. But Ivan was not. The knife, driven by
the recoil of the springing tree, had not wholly failed.
Rainsford had hardly tumbled to the ground when the pack took up the cry again.
"Nerve, nerve, nerve!" he panted, as he dashed along. A blue gap showed between
the trees dead ahead. Ever nearer drew the hounds. Rainsford forced himself on
toward that gap. He reached it. It was the shore of the sea. Across a cove he could
see the gloomy gray stone of the chateau. Twenty feet below him the sea rumbled
and hissed. Rainsford hesitated. He heard the hounds. Then he leaped far out into
the sea. . . .
When the general and his pack reached the place by the sea, the Cossack stopped.
For some minutes he stood regarding the blue-green expanse of water. He shrugged
his shoulders. Then be sat down, took a drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a
cigarette, and hummed a bit from Madame Butterfly.
General Zaroff had an exceedingly good dinner in his great paneled dining hall that
evening. With it he had a bottle of Pol Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. Two
slight annoyances kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was the thought that it
would be difficult to replace Ivan; the other was that his quarry had escaped him; of
course, the American hadn't played the game--so thought the general as he tasted
his after-dinner liqueur. In his library he read, to soothe himself, from the works of
Marcus Aurelius. At ten he went up to his bedroom. He was deliciously tired, he said
to himself, as he locked himself in. There was a little moonlight, so, before turning on
his light, he went to the window and looked down at the courtyard. He could see the
great hounds, and he called, "Better luck another time," to them. Then he switched
on the light.
A man, who had been hiding in the curtains of the bed, was standing there.
"Rainsford!" screamed the general. "How in God's name did you get here?"

"Swam," said Rainsford. "I found it quicker than walking through the jungle."
The general sucked in his breath and smiled. "I congratulate you," he said. "You have
won the game."
Rainsford did not smile. "I am still a beast at bay," he said, in a low, hoarse voice.
"Get ready, General Zaroff."
The general made one of his deepest bows. "I see," he said. "Splendid! One of us is to
furnish a repast for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On
guard, Rainsford." . . .
He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," first published in 1939, is one of James
Thurber's most well-known and beloved stories. Its famous protagonist holds a
place in the cultural lexicon, meriting his own entry in English-language
dictionaries. In 1947, Norman McLeod directed an MGM Technicolor musical with
the same title based on Thurber's story. The film, which extends Mitty's imaginary
adventures over a two-day period, stars Danny Kaye as the affable daydreamer.

"We're going through!" The Commander's voice was like thin ice breaking. He
wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down
rakishly over one cold gray eye. "We can't make it, sir. It's spoiling for a hurricane, if
you ask me." "I'm not asking you, Lieutenant Berg," said the Commander. "Throw on
the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We're going through!" The pounding of the
cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander
stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of
complicated dials. "Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!" he shouted. "Switch on No. 8
auxiliary!" repeated Lieutenant Berg. "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" shouted the
Commander. "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" The crew, bending to their various tasks
in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and
grinned. "The old man will get us through" they said to one another. "The Old Man
ain't afraid of Hell!" . . .
"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Mitty. "What are you driving so fast
"Hmm?" said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with
shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who
had yelled at him in a crowd. "You were up to fifty-five," she said. "You know I don't
like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five." Walter Mitty drove on toward
Waterbury in silence, the roaring of the SN202 through the worst storm in twenty
years of Navy flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind.

"You're tensed up again," said Mrs. Mitty. "It's one of your days. I wish you'd let Dr.
Renshaw look you over."
Walter Mitty stopped the car in front of the building where his wife went to have
her hair done. "Remember to get those overshoes while I'm having my hair done,"
she said. "I don't need overshoes," said Mitty. She put her mirror back into her bag.
"We've been all through that," she said, getting out of the car. "You're not a young
man any longer." He raced the engine a little. "Why don't you wear your gloves?
Have you lost your gloves?" Walter Mitty reached in a pocket and brought out the
gloves. He put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he
had driven on to a red light, he took them off again. "Pick it up, brother!" snapped a
cop as the light changed, and Mitty hastily pulled on his gloves and lurched ahead.
He drove around the streets aimlessly for a time, and then he drove past the hospital
on his way to the parking lot.
. . . "It's the millionaire banker, Wellington McMillan," said the pretty nurse. "Yes?"
said Walter Mitty, removing his gloves slowly. "Who has the case?" "Dr. Renshaw
and Dr. Benbow, but there are two specialists here, Dr. Remington from New York
and Mr. Pritchard-Mitford from London. He flew over." A door opened down a long,
cool corridor and Dr. Renshaw came out. He looked distraught and haggard. "Hello,
Mitty," he said. "We're having the devil's own time with McMillan, the millionaire
banker and close personal friend of Roosevelt. Obstreosis of the ductal tract.
Tertiary. Wish you'd take a look at him." "Glad to," said Mitty.
In the operating room there were whispered introductions: "Dr. Remington, Dr.
Mitty. Mr. Pritchard-Mitford, Dr. Mitty." "I've read your book on streptothricosis,"
said Pritchard-Mitford, shaking hands. "A brilliant performance, sir." "Thank you,"
said Walter Mitty. "Didn't know you were in the States, Mitty," grumbled Remington.
"Coals to Newcastle, bringing Mitford and me up here for a tertiary." "You are very
kind," said Mitty. A huge, complicated machine, connected to the operating table,
with many tubes and wires, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.
"The new anesthetizer is giving way!" shouted an intern. "There is no one in the East
who knows how to fix it!" "Quiet, man!" said Mitty, in a low, cool voice. He sprang to
the machine, which was going pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep. He began
fingering delicately a row of glistening dials. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped.
Someone handed him a fountain pen. He pulled a faulty piston out of the machine
and inserted the pen in its place. "That will hold for ten minutes," he said. "Get on
with the operation." A nurse hurried over and whispered to Renshaw, and Mitty saw
the man turn pale. "Coreopsis has set in," said Renshaw nervously. "If you would
take over, Mitty?" Mitty looked at him and at the craven figure of Benbow, who
drank, and at the grave, uncertain faces of the two great specialists. "If you wish," he
said. They slipped a white gown on him; he adjusted a mask and drew on thin
gloves; nurses handed him shining . . .
"Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!" Walter Mitty jammed on the brakes.
"Wrong lane, Mac," said the parking-lot attendant, looking at Mitty closely. "Gee.
Yeh," muttered Mitty. He began cautiously to back out of the lane marked "Exit
Only." "Leave her sit there," said the attendant. "I'll put her away." Mitty got out of
the car. "Hey, better leave the key." "Oh," said Mitty, handing the man the ignition
key. The attendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it
where it belonged.
They're so damn cocky, thought Walter Mitty, walking along Main Street; they

think they know everything. Once he had tried to take his chains off, outside New
Milford, and he had got them wound around the axles. A man had had to come out in
a wrecking car and unwind them, a young, grinning garageman. Since then Mrs.
Mitty always made him drive to the garage to have the chains taken off. The next
time, he thought, I'll wear my right arm in a sling; they won't grin at me then. I'll
have my right arm in a sling and they'll see I couldn't possibly take the chains off
myself. He kicked at the slush on the sidewalk. "Overshoes," he said to himself, and
he began looking for a shoe store.
When he came out into the street again, with the overshoes in a box under his
arm, Walter Mitty began to wonder what the other thing was his wife had told him
to get. She had told him, twice, before they set out from their house for Waterbury.
In a way he hated these weekly trips to town-he was always getting something
wrong. Kleenex, he thought, Squibb's, razor blades? No. Toothpaste, toothbrush,
bicarbonate, cardorundum, initiative and referendum? He gave it up. But she would
remember it. "Where's the what's-its-name," she would ask. "Don't tell me you
forgot the what's-its-name." A newsboy went by shouting something about the
Waterbury trial.
. . . "Perhaps this will refresh your memory." The District Attorney suddenly thrust
a heavy automatic at the quiet figure on the witness stand. "Have you ever seen this
before?" Walter Mitty took the gun and examined it expertly. "This is my Webley-
Vickers 50.80," he said calmly. An excited buzz ran around the courtroom. The Judge
rapped for order. "You are a crack shot with any sort of firearms, I believe?" said the
District Attorney, insinuatingly. "Objection!" shouted Mitty's attorney. "We have
shown that the defendant could not have fired the shot. We have shown that he
wore his right arm in a sling on the night of the fourteenth of July." Walter Mitty
raised his hand briefly and the bickering attorneys were stilled. "With any known
make of gun," he said evenly, "I could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred
feet with my left hand." Pandemonium broke loose in the courtroom. A woman's
scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter
Mitty's arms. The District Attorney struck at her savagely. Without rising from his
chair, Mitty let the man have it on the point of the chin. "You miserable cur!" . . .
"Puppy biscuit," said Walter Mitty. He stopped walking and the buildings of
Waterbury rose up out of the misty courtroom and surrounded him again. A woman
who was passing laughed. "He said 'Puppy biscuit'," she said to her companion.
"That man said 'Puppy biscuit' to himself." Walter Mitty hurried on. He went into an
A&P, not the first one he came to but a smaller one farther up the street. "I want
some biscuit for small, young dogs," he said to the clerk. "Any special brand, sir?"
The greatest pistol shot in the world thought a moment. "It says 'Puppies Bark for It'
on the box," said Walter Mitty.
His wife would be through at the hairdresser's in fifteen minutes, Mitty saw in
looking at his watch, unless they had trouble drying it; sometimes they had trouble
drying it. She didn't like to get to the hotel first; she would want him to be there
waiting for her as usual. He found a big leather chair in the lobby, facing a window,
and he put the overshoes and the puppy biscuit on the floor beside it. He picked up
an old copy of Liberty and sank down into the chair. "Can Germany Conquer the
World Through the Air?" Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of bombing planes and
of ruined streets.
. . . "The cannonading has got the wind up in young Raleigh, sir," said the sergeant.

Captain Mitty looked up at him through tousled hair. "Get him to bed," he said
wearily. "With the others. I'll fly alone." "But you can't, sir," said the sergeant
anxiously. "It takes two men to handle that bomber and the Archies are pounding
hell out of the air. Von Richtman's circus is between here and Saulier." "Somebody's
got to get that ammunition dump," said Mitty. "I'm going over. Spot of brandy?" He
poured a drink for the sergeant and one for himself. War thundered and whined
around the dugout and battered at the door. There was a rending of wood and
splinters flew through the room. "A bit of a near thing," said Captain Mitty carelessly.
"The box barrage is closing in," said the sergeant. "We only live once, Sergeant," said
Mitty with his faint, fleeting smile. "Or do we?" He poured another brandy and
tossed it off. "I never see a man could hold his brandy like you, sir," said the
sergeant. "Begging your pardon, sir." Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his
huge Webley-Vickers automatic. "It's forty kilometers through hell, sir," said the
sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. "After all," he said softly, "what isn't?" The
pounding of the cannon increased; there was the rat-tat-tatting of machine guns,
and from somewhere came the menacing pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the new
flame-throwers. Walter Mitty walked to the door of the dugout humming "AuprËs de
Ma Blonde." He turned and waved to the sergeant. "Cheerio!" he said. . .
Something struck his shoulder. "I've been looking all over this hotel for you," said
Mrs. Mitty. "Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to
find you?" "Things close in," said Walter Mitty vaguely. "What?" Mrs. Mitty said. "Did
you get the what's-its-name? The puppy biscuit? What's in that box?" "Overshoes,"
said Mitty. "Couldn't you have put them on in the store?" "I was thinking," said
Walter Mitty. "Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?" She looked
at him. "I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home," she said.
They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive whistling
sound when you pushed them. It was two blocks to the parking lot. At the drugstore
on the corner she said, "Wait here for me. I forgot something. I won't be a minute."
She was more than a minute. Walter Mitty lighted a cigarette. It began to rain, rain
with sleet in it. He stood up against the wall of the drugstore, smoking . . . He put his
shoulders back and his heels together. "To hell with the handkerchief," said Walter
Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then,
with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect
and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to
the last.
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral
halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach
the height of romantic felicity--but that would be asking too much of fate!
Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.
Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror
of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and
put down in figures.
John is a physician, and perhaps--(I would not say it to a living soul, of course,
but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)--perhaps that is one reason I do
not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?
If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and
relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous
depression--a slight hysterical tendency-- what is one to do?
My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same
So I take phosphates or phosphites--whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys,
and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to "work" until I am well again.
Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do
me good.
But what is one to do?
I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal--
having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.
I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society
and stimulus--but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my
condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.
So I will let it alone and talk about the house.
The most beautiful place! It is quite alone standing well back from the road,
quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read
about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little
houses for the gardeners and people.
There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden--large and shady, full of
box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under
There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now.
There was some legal trouble, I believe, something about the heirs and coheirs;
anyhow, the place has been empty for years.
That spoils my ghostliness, I am afraid, but I don't care--there is something
strange about the house--I can feel it.
I even said so to John one moonlight evening but he said what I felt was a
draught, and shut the window.
I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes I'm sure I never used to be so
sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.
But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to
control myself-- before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.
I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza
and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings!
but John would not hear of it.
He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near
room for him if he took another.
He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from
me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and
all the air I could get. "Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear," said he,
"and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time. ' So
we took the nursery at the top of the house.
It is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways,
and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium,
I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and
things in the walls.
The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off--the
paper in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and
in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper
in my life.
One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.
It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to
constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain
curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous
angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.
The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely
faded by the slow-turning sunlight.
It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.
No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this
room long.
There comes John, and I must put this away,--he hates to have me write a word.
We have been here two weeks, and I haven't felt like writing before, since that
first day.
I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is
nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength.
John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious!
But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to
suffer, and that satisfies him.
Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any
I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a
comparative burden already!
Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able,--to dress
and entertain, and order things.
It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby!
And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.
I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-
At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it
get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give

way to such fancies.
He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead,
and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.
"You know the place is doing you good," he said, "and really, dear, I don't care to
renovate the house just for a three months' rental."
"Then do let us go downstairs," I said, "there are such pretty rooms there."
Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he
would go down to the cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.
But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things.
It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would
not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim.
I'm really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper.
Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deepshaded arbors,
the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.
Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging
to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I
always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has
cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative
power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all
manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check
the tendency. So I try.
I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve
the press of ideas and rest me.
But I find I get pretty tired when I try.
It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work.
When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long
visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have
those stimulating people about now.
I wish I could get well faster.
But I must not think about that. This paper looks to me as if it knew what a
vicious influence it had!
There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two
bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.
I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up
and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are
everywhere There is one place where two breaths didn't match, and the eyes go all
up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.
I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know
how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more
entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children
could find in a toy-store.
I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have,
and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend.
I used to feel that if any of the other things looked too fierce I could always hop
into that chair and be safe.
The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had
to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had
to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the
children have made here.

The wall-paper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a
brother--they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.
Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug
out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks
as if it had been through the wars.
But I don't mind it a bit--only the paper.
There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must
not let her find me writing.
She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better
profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!
But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.
There is one that commands the road, a lovely shaded winding road, and one
that just looks off over the country. A lovely country, too, full of great elms and
velvet meadows.
This wall-paper has a kind of sub-pattern in a, different shade, a particularly
irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.
But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so--I can see a
strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that
silly and conspicuous front design.
There's sister on the stairs!
Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are all gone and I am tired out. John
thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and
Nellie and the children down for a week.
Of course I didn't do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now.
But it tired me all the same.
John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.
But I don't want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and
she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!
Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.
I don't feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm
getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.
I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.
Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.
And I am alone a good deal just now. John is kept in town very often by serious
cases, and Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to.
So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under
the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.
I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wall-paper. Perhaps because of
the wall-paper.
It dwells in my mind so!
I lie here on this great immovable bed--it is nailed down, I believe--and follow
that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll
say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and
I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some
sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged

on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else
that I ever heard of.
It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise.
Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and
flourishes--a kind of "debased Romanesque" with delirium tremens--go waddling up
and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run
off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full
The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself
in trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.
They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to
the confusion.
There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the
crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation
after all,--the interminable grotesques seem to form around a common centre and
rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction.
It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess.
I don't know why I should write this.
I don't want to.
I don't feel able. And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I
feel and think in some way--it is such a relief!
But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.
Half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much.
John says I mustn't lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of
tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.
Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a
real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he
would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.
But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not
make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished .
It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous
weakness I suppose.
And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid
me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.
He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take
care of myself for his sake, and keep well.
He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-
control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.
There's one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy
this nursery with the horrid wall-paper.
If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape!
Why, I wouldn't have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a
room for worlds.
I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can
stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.

Of course I never mention it to them any more--I am too wise,--but I keep watch
of it all the same.
There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.
Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day.
It is always the same shape, only very numerous.
And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I
don't like it a bit. I wonder--I begin to think--I wish John would take me away from
It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because
he loves me so.
But I tried it last night.
It was moonlight. The moon shines in all around just as the sun does.
I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, and always comes in by one
window or another.
John was asleep and I hated to waken him, so I kept still and watched the
moonlight on that undulating wall-paper till I felt creepy.
The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get
I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came
back John was awake.
"What is it, little girl?" he said. "Don't go walking about like that--you'll get cold."
I thought it was a good time to talk, so I told him that I really was not gaining
here, and that I wished he would take me away.
"Why darling!" said he, "our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can't see how
to leave before.
"The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town just now. Of
course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear,
whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh
and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you."
"I don't weigh a bit more," said 1, "nor as much; and my appetite may be better
in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are
"Bless her little heart!" said he with a big hug, "she shall be as sick as she
pleases! But now let's improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it
in the morning!"
"And you won't go away?" I asked gloomily.
"Why, how can 1, dear? It is only three weeks more and then we will take a nice
little trip of a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are
"Better in body perhaps--" I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and
looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.
"My darling," said he, "I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well
as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind!
There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a
false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?"
So of course I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long. He

thought I was asleep first, but I wasn't, and lay there for hours trying to decide
whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or
On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law,
that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.
The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but
the pattern is torturing.
You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following,
it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you
down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.
The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can
imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and
sprouting in endless convolutions--why, that is something like it.
That is, sometimes!
There is one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to
notice but myself, and that is that it changes as the light changes.
When the sun shoots in through the east window--I always watch for that first
long, straight ray--it changes so quickly that I never can quite believe it.
That is why I watch it always.
By moonlight--the moon shines in all night when there is a moon--I wouldn't
know it was the same paper.
At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all
by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it
is as plain as can be.
I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim
sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.
By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still.
It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour.
I lie down ever so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can.
Indeed he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal.
It is a very bad habit I am convinced, for you see I don't sleep.
And that cultivates deceit, for I don't tell them I'm awake--O no!
The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.
He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.
It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis,--that perhaps it is the
I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and come into the
room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I've caught him several times
looking at the paper! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.
She didn't know I was in the room, and when I asked her in a quiet, a very quiet
voice, with the most restrained manner possible, what she was doing with the
paper--she turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite
angry-- asked me why I should frighten her so!
Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found
yellow smooches on all my clothes and John's, and she wished we would be more

Did not that sound innocent? But I know she was studying that pattern, and I am
determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!
Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something
more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more
quiet than I was.

John is so pleased to see me improve ! He laughed a little the other day, and said I
seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wall-paper.
I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the
wall-paper--he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away.
I don't want to leave now until I have found it out. There is a week more, and I
think that will be enough.
I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night, for it is so
interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime.
In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing.
There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it.
I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried conscientiously.
It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow
things I ever saw--not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.
But there is something else about that paper-- the smell! I noticed it the moment
we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have
had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is
It creeps all over the house.
I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall,
lying in wait for me on the stairs.
It gets into my hair.
Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise it--there is that
Such a peculiar odor, too! I have spent hours in trying to analyze it, to find what
it smelled like.
It is not bad--at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor
I ever met.
In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over
It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house--to reach
the smell.
But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of
the paper! A yellow smell.
There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak
that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a
long, straight, even smooch, as if it had been rubbed over and over.

I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and
round and round--round and round and round--it makes me dizzy!
I really have discovered something at last.
Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out.
The front pattern does move--and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!
Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only
one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.
Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just
takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.
And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through
that pattern--it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.
They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them
upside down, and makes their eyes white!
If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.
I think that woman gets out in the daytime!
And I'll tell you why--privately--I've seen her!
I can see her out of every one of my windows!
It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do
not creep by daylight.
I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage
comes she hides under the blackberry vines.
I don't blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by
I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know
John would suspect something at once.
And John is so queer now, that I don't want to irritate him. I wish he would take
another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but
I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once.
But, turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at one time.
And though I always see her, she may be able to creep faster than I can turn!
I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as
a cloud shadow in a high wind.
If only that top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try it,
little by little.
I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do
to trust people too much.
There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is
beginning to notice. I don't like the look in his eyes.
And I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a

very good report to give.
She said I slept a good deal in the daytime.
John knows I don't sleep very well at night, for all I'm so quiet!
He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and
As if I couldn't see through him!
Still, I don't wonder he acts so, sleeping under this paper for three months.
It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.
Hurrah! This is the last day, but it is enough. John to stay in town over night, and
won't be out until this evening.
Jennie wanted to sleep with me--the sly thing! but I told her I should
undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone.
That was clever, for really I wasn't alone a bit! As soon as it was moonlight and
that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her.
I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had
peeled off yards of that paper.
A strip about as high as my head and half around the room.
And then when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I
declared I would finish it to-day!
We go away to-morrow, and they are moving all my furniture down again to
leave things as they were before.
Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I told her merrily that I did it out of
pure spite at the vicious thing.
She laughed and said she wouldn't mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired.
How she betrayed herself that time!
But I am here, and no person touches this paper but me,--not alive !
She tried to get me out of the room--it was too patent! But I said it was so quiet
and empty and clean now that I believed I would lie down again and sleep all I
could; and not to wake me even for dinner--I would call when I woke.
So now she is gone, and the servants are gone, and the things are gone, and
there is nothing left but that great bedstead nailed down, with the canvas mattress
we found on it.
We shall sleep downstairs to-night, and take the boat home to-morrow.
I quite enjoy the room, now it is bare again.
How those children did tear about here!
This bedstead is fairly gnawed!
But I must get to work.
I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path.
I don't want to go out, and I don't want to have anybody come in, till John comes.
I want to astonish him.
I've got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out,
and tries to get away, I can tie her!
But I forgot I could not reach far without anything to stand on!
This bed will not move!
I tried to lift and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little
piece at one corner--but it hurt my teeth.

Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks
horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes
and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!
I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the
window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.
Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is
improper and might be misconstrued.
I don't like to look out of the windows even-- there are so many of those
creeping women, and they creep so fast.
I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?
But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope--you don't get me out in
the road there !
I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and
that is hard!
It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!
I don't want to go outside. I won't, even if Jennie asks me to.
For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of
But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long
smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.
Why there's John at the door!
It is no use, young man, you can't open it!
How he does call and pound!
Now he's crying for an axe.
It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!
"John dear!" said I in the gentlest voice, "the key is down by the front steps,
under a plantain leaf!"
That silenced him for a few moments.
Then he said--very quietly indeed, "Open the door, my darling!"
"I can't," said I. "The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!"
And then I said it again, several times, very gently and slowly, and said it so
often that he had to go and see, and he got it of course, and came in. He stopped
short by the door.
"What is the matter?" he cried. "For God's sake, what are you doing!"
I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.
"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of
the paper, so you can't put me back!"
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by
the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!
There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she
had no luck. She married for love, and the love turned to dust. She had bonny
children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them.
They looked at her coldly, as if they were finding fault with her. And hurriedly she
felt she must cover up some fault in herself. Yet what it was that she must cover up

she never knew. Nevertheless, when her children were present, she always felt the
centre of her heart go hard. This troubled her, and in her manner she was all the
more gentle and anxious for her children, as if she loved them very much. Only she
herself knew that at the centre of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel
love, no, not for anybody. Everybody else said of her: "She is such a good mother.
She adores her children." Only she herself, and her children themselves, knew it was
not so. They read it in each other's eyes.
There were a boy and two little girls. They lived in a pleasant house, with a garden,
and they had discreet servants, and felt themselves superior to anyone in the
Although they lived in style, they felt always an anxiety in the house. There was
never enough money. The mother had a small income, and the father had a small
income, but not nearly enough for the social position which they had to keep up. The
father went into town to some office. But though he had good prospects, these
prospects never materialised. There was always the grinding sense of the shortage
of money, though the style was always kept up.
At last the mother said: "I will see if I can't make something." But she did not know
where to begin. She racked her brains, and tried this thing and the other, but could
not find anything successful. The failure made deep lines come into her face. Her
children were growing up, they would have to go to school. There must be more
money, there must be more money. The father, who was always very handsome and
expensive in his tastes, seemed as if he never would be able to do anything worth
doing. And the mother, who had a great belief in herself, did not succeed any better,
and her tastes were just as expensive.
And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more
money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though
nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid
toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart
doll's house, a voice would start whispering: "There must be more money! There
must be more money!" And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment.
They would look into each other's eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one
saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. "There must be more
money! There must be more money!"
It came whispering from the springs of the still-swaying rocking-horse, and even the
horse, bending his wooden, champing head, heard it. The big doll, sitting so pink and
smirking in her new pram, could hear it quite plainly, and seemed to be smirking all
the more self-consciously because of it. The foolish puppy, too, that took the place of
the teddy-bear, he was looking so extraordinarily foolish for no other reason but
that he heard the secret whisper all over the house: "There must be more money!"
Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one
spoke it. Just as no one ever says: "We are breathing!" in spite of the fact that breath
is coming and going all the time.
"Mother," said the boy Paul one day, "why don't we keep a car of our own? Why do
we always use uncle's, or else a taxi?"

"Because we're the poor members of the family," said the mother.
"But why are we, mother?"
"Well - I suppose," she said slowly and bitterly, "it's because your father has no
The boy was silent for some time.
"Is luck money, mother?" he asked, rather timidly.
"No, Paul. Not quite. It's what causes you to have money."
"Oh!" said Paul vaguely. "I thought when Uncle Oscar said filthy lucker, it meant
"Filthy lucre does mean money," said the mother. "But it's lucre, not luck."
"Oh!" said the boy. "Then what is luck, mother?"
"It's what causes you to have money. If you're lucky you have money. That's why it's
better to be born lucky than rich. If you're rich, you may lose your money. But if
you're lucky, you will always get more money."
"Oh! Will you? And is father not lucky?"
"Very unlucky, I should say," she said bitterly.
The boy watched her with unsure eyes.
"Why?" he asked.
"I don't know. Nobody ever knows why one person is lucky and another unlucky."
"Don't they? Nobody at all? Does nobody know?"
"Perhaps God. But He never tells."
"He ought to, then. And aren't you lucky either, mother?"
"I can't be, it I married an unlucky husband."
"But by yourself, aren't you?"
"I used to think I was, before I married. Now I think I am very unlucky indeed."
"Well - never mind! Perhaps I'm not really," she said.
The child looked at her to see if she meant it. But he saw, by the lines of her mouth,
that she was only trying to hide something from him.
"Well, anyhow," he said stoutly, "I'm a lucky person."
"Why?" said his mother, with a sudden laugh.

He stared at her. He didn't even know why he had said it.
"God told me," he asserted, brazening it out.
"I hope He did, dear!", she said, again with a laugh, but rather bitter.
"He did, mother!"
"Excellent!" said the mother, using one of her husband's exclamations.
The boy saw she did not believe him; or rather, that she paid no attention to his
assertion. This angered him somewhere, and made him want to compel her
He went off by himself, vaguely, in a childish way, seeking for the clue to 'luck'.
Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth,
seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it. When the two
girls were playing dolls in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse,
charging madly into space, with a frenzy that made the little girls peer at him
uneasily. Wildly the horse careered, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes
had a strange glare in them. The little girls dared not speak to him.
When he had ridden to the end of his mad little journey, he climbed down and stood
in front of his rocking-horse, staring fixedly into its lowered face. Its red mouth was
slightly open, its big eye was wide and glassy-bright.
"Now!" he would silently command the snorting steed. "Now take me to where there
is luck! Now take me!"
And he would slash the horse on the neck with the little whip he had asked Uncle
Oscar for. He knew the horse could take him to where there was luck, if only he
forced it. So he would mount again and start on his furious ride, hoping at last to get
"You'll break your horse, Paul!" said the nurse.
"He's always riding like that! I wish he'd leave off!" said his elder sister Joan.
But he only glared down on them in silence. Nurse gave him up. She could make
nothing of him. Anyhow, he was growing beyond her.
One day his mother and his Uncle Oscar came in when he was on one of his furious
rides. He did not speak to them.
"Hallo, you young jockey! Riding a winner?" said his uncle.
"Aren't you growing too big for a rocking-horse? You're not a very little boy any
longer, you know," said his mother.
But Paul only gave a blue glare from his big, rather close-set eyes. He would speak to
nobody when he was in full tilt. His mother watched him with an anxious expression
on her face.

At last he suddenly stopped forcing his horse into the mechanical gallop and slid
"Well, I got there!" he announced fiercely, his blue eyes still flaring, and his sturdy
long legs straddling apart.
"Where did you get to?" asked his mother.
"Where I wanted to go," he flared back at her.
"That's right, son!" said Uncle Oscar. "Don't you stop till you get there. What's the
horse's name?"
"He doesn't have a name," said the boy.
"Gets on without all right?" asked the uncle.
"Well, he has different names. He was called Sansovino last week."
"Sansovino, eh? Won the Ascot. How did you know this name?"
"He always talks about horse-races with Bassett," said Joan.
The uncle was delighted to find that his small nephew was posted with all the racing
news. Bassett, the young gardener, who had been wounded in the left foot in the war
and had got his present job through Oscar Cresswell, whose batman he had been,
was a perfect blade of the 'turf'. He lived in the racing events, and the small boy lived
with him.
Oscar Cresswell got it all from Bassett.
"Master Paul comes and asks me, so I can't do more than tell him, sir," said Bassett,
his face terribly serious, as if he were speaking of religious matters.
"And does he ever put anything on a horse he fancies?"
"Well - I don't want to give him away - he's a young sport, a fine sport, sir. Would
you mind asking him himself? He sort of takes a pleasure in it, and perhaps he'd feel
I was giving him away, sir, if you don't mind.
Bassett was serious as a church.
The uncle went back to his nephew and took him off for a ride in the car.
"Say, Paul, old man, do you ever put anything on a horse?" the uncle asked.
The boy watched the handsome man closely.
"Why, do you think I oughtn't to?" he parried.
"Not a bit of it! I thought perhaps you might give me a tip for the Lincoln."
The car sped on into the country, going down to Uncle Oscar's place in Hampshire.
"Honour bright?" said the nephew.

"Honour bright, son!" said the uncle.
"Well, then, Daffodil."
"Daffodil! I doubt it, sonny. What about Mirza?"
"I only know the winner," said the boy. "That's Daffodil."
"Daffodil, eh?"
There was a pause. Daffodil was an obscure horse comparatively.
"Yes, son?"
"You won't let it go any further, will you? I promised Bassett."
"Bassett be damned, old man! What's he got to do with it?"
"We're partners. We've been partners from the first. Uncle, he lent me my first five
shillings, which I lost. I promised him, honour bright, it was only between me and
him; only you gave me that ten-shilling note I started winning with, so I thought you
were lucky. You won't let it go any further, will you?"
The boy gazed at his uncle from those big, hot, blue eyes, set rather close together.
The uncle stirred and laughed uneasily.
"Right you are, son! I'll keep your tip private. How much are you putting on him?"
"All except twenty pounds," said the boy. "I keep that in reserve."
The uncle thought it a good joke.
"You keep twenty pounds in reserve, do you, you young romancer? What are you
betting, then?"
"I'm betting three hundred," said the boy gravely. "But it's between you and me,
Uncle Oscar! Honour bright?"
"It's between you and me all right, you young Nat Gould," he said, laughing. "But
where's your three hundred?"
"Bassett keeps it for me. We're partners."
"You are, are you! And what is Bassett putting on Daffodil?"
"He won't go quite as high as I do, I expect. Perhaps he'll go a hundred and fifty."
"What, pennies?" laughed the uncle.
"Pounds," said the child, with a surprised look at his uncle. "Bassett keeps a bigger
reserve than I do."
Between wonder and amusement Uncle Oscar was silent. He pursued the matter no
further, but he determined to take his nephew with him to the Lincoln races.

"Now, son," he said, "I'm putting twenty on Mirza, and I'll put five on for you on any
horse you fancy. What's your pick?"
"Daffodil, uncle."
"No, not the fiver on Daffodil!"
"I should if it was my own fiver," said the child.
"Good! Good! Right you are! A fiver for me and a fiver for you on Daffodil."
The child had never been to a race-meeting before, and his eyes were blue fire. He
pursed his mouth tight and watched. A Frenchman just in front had put his money
on Lancelot. Wild with excitement, he flayed his arms up and down, yelling
"Lancelot!, Lancelot!" in his French accent.
Daffodil came in first, Lancelot second, Mirza third. The child, flushed and with eyes
blazing, was curiously serene. His uncle brought him four five-pound notes, four to
"What am I to do with these?" he cried, waving them before the boys eyes.
"I suppose we'll talk to Bassett," said the boy. "I expect I have fifteen hundred now;
and twenty in reserve; and this twenty."
His uncle studied him for some moments.
"Look here, son!" he said. "You're not serious about Bassett and that fifteen hundred,
are you?"
"Yes, I am. But it's between you and me, uncle. Honour bright?"
"Honour bright all right, son! But I must talk to Bassett."
"If you'd like to be a partner, uncle, with Bassett and me, we could all be partners.
Only, you'd have to promise, honour bright, uncle, not to let it go beyond us three.
Bassett and I are lucky, and you must be lucky, because it was your ten shillings I
started winning with ..."
Uncle Oscar took both Bassett and Paul into Richmond Park for an afternoon, and
there they talked.
"It's like this, you see, sir," Bassett said. "Master Paul would get me talking about
racing events, spinning yarns, you know, sir. And he was always keen on knowing if
I'd made or if I'd lost. It's about a year since, now, that I put five shillings on Blush of
Dawn for him: and we lost. Then the luck turned, with that ten shillings he had from
you: that we put on Singhalese. And since that time, it's been pretty steady, all things
considering. What do you say, Master Paul?"
"We're all right when we're sure," said Paul. "It's when we're not quite sure that we
go down."
"Oh, but we're careful then," said Bassett.

"But when are you sure?" smiled Uncle Oscar.
"It's Master Paul, sir," said Bassett in a secret, religious voice. "It's as if he had it from
heaven. Like Daffodil, now, for the Lincoln. That was as sure as eggs."
"Did you put anything on Daffodil?" asked Oscar Cresswell.
"Yes, sir, I made my bit."
"And my nephew?"
Bassett was obstinately silent, looking at Paul.
"I made twelve hundred, didn't I, Bassett? I told uncle I was putting three hundred
on Daffodil."
"That's right," said Bassett, nodding.
"But where's the money?" asked the uncle.
"I keep it safe locked up, sir. Master Paul he can have it any minute he likes to ask for
"What, fifteen hundred pounds?"
"And twenty! And forty, that is, with the twenty he made on the course."
"It's amazing!" said the uncle.
"If Master Paul offers you to be partners, sir, I would, if I were you: if you'll excuse
me," said Bassett.
Oscar Cresswell thought about it.
"I'll see the money," he said.
They drove home again, and, sure enough, Bassett came round to the garden-house
with fifteen hundred pounds in notes. The twenty pounds reserve was left with Joe
Glee, in the Turf Commission deposit.
"You see, it's all right, uncle, when I'm sure! Then we go strong, for all we're worth,
don't we, Bassett?"
"We do that, Master Paul."
"And when are you sure?" said the uncle, laughing.
"Oh, well, sometimes I'm absolutely sure, like about Daffodil," said the boy; "and
sometimes I have an idea; and sometimes I haven't even an idea, have I, Bassett?
Then we're careful, because we mostly go down."
"You do, do you! And when you're sure, like about Daffodil, what makes you sure,
"Oh, well, I don't know," said the boy uneasily. "I'm sure, you know, uncle; that's all."

"It's as if he had it from heaven, sir," Bassett reiterated.
"I should say so!" said the uncle.
But he became a partner. And when the Leger was coming on Paul was 'sure' about
Lively Spark, which was a quite inconsiderable horse. The boy insisted on putting a
thousand on the horse, Bassett went for five hundred, and Oscar Cresswell two
hundred. Lively Spark came in first, and the betting had been ten to one against him.
Paul had made ten thousand.
"You see," he said. "I was absolutely sure of him."
Even Oscar Cresswell had cleared two thousand.
"Look here, son," he said, "this sort of thing makes me nervous."
"It needn't, uncle! Perhaps I shan't be sure again for a long time."
"But what are you going to do with your money?" asked the uncle.
"Of course," said the boy, "I started it for mother. She said she had no luck, because
father is unlucky, so I thought if I was lucky, it might stop whispering."
"What might stop whispering?"
"Our house. I hate our house for whispering."
"What does it whisper?"
"Why - why" - the boy fidgeted - "why, I don't know. But it's always short of money,
you know, uncle."
"I know it, son, I know it."
"You know people send mother writs, don't you, uncle?"
"I'm afraid I do," said the uncle.
"And then the house whispers, like people laughing at you behind your back. It's
awful, that is! I thought if I was lucky -"
"You might stop it," added the uncle.
The boy watched him with big blue eyes, that had an uncanny cold fire in them, and
he said never a word.
"Well, then!" said the uncle. "What are we doing?"
"I shouldn't like mother to know I was lucky," said the boy.
"Why not, son?"
"She'd stop me."
"I don't think she would."

"Oh!" - and the boy writhed in an odd way - "I don't want her to know, uncle."
"All right, son! We'll manage it without her knowing."
They managed it very easily. Paul, at the other's suggestion, handed over five
thousand pounds to his uncle, who deposited it with the family lawyer, who was
then to inform Paul's mother that a relative had put five thousand pounds into his
hands, which sum was to be paid out a thousand pounds at a time, on the mother's
birthday, for the next five years.
"So she'll have a birthday present of a thousand pounds for five successive years,"
said Uncle Oscar. "I hope it won't make it all the harder for her later."
Paul's mother had her birthday in November. The house had been 'whispering'
worse than ever lately, and, even in spite of his luck, Paul could not bear up against
it. He was very anxious to see the effect of the birthday letter, telling his mother
about the thousand pounds.
When there were no visitors, Paul now took his meals with his parents, as he was
beyond the nursery control. His mother went into town nearly every day. She had
discovered that she had an odd knack of sketching furs and dress materials, so she
worked secretly in the studio of a friend who was the chief 'artist' for the leading
drapers. She drew the figures of ladies in furs and ladies in silk and sequins for the
newspaper advertisements. This young woman artist earned several thousand
pounds a year, but Paul's mother only made several hundreds, and she was again
dissatisfied. She so wanted to be first in something, and she did not succeed, even in
making sketches for drapery advertisements.
She was down to breakfast on the morning of her birthday. Paul watched her face as
she read her letters. He knew the lawyer's letter. As his mother read it, her face
hardened and became more expressionless. Then a cold, determined look came on
her mouth. She hid the letter under the pile of others, and said not a word about it.
"Didn't you have anything nice in the post for your birthday, mother?" said Paul.
"Quite moderately nice," she said, her voice cold and hard and absent.
She went away to town without saying more.
But in the afternoon Uncle Oscar appeared. He said Paul's mother had had a long
interview with the lawyer, asking if the whole five thousand could not be advanced
at once, as she was in debt.
"What do you think, uncle?" said the boy.
"I leave it to you, son."
"Oh, let her have it, then! We can get some more with the other," said the boy.
"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, laddie!" said Uncle Oscar.
"But I'm sure to know for the Grand National; or the Lincolnshire; or else the Derby.
I'm sure to know for one of them," said Paul.

So Uncle Oscar signed the agreement, and Paul's mother touched the whole five
thousand. Then something very curious happened. The voices in the house suddenly
went mad, like a chorus of frogs on a spring evening. There were certain new
furnishings, and Paul had a tutor. He was really going to Eton, his father's school, in
the following autumn. There were flowers in the winter, and a blossoming of the
luxury Paul's mother had been used to. And yet the voices in the house, behind the
sprays of mimosa and almond-blossom, and from under the piles of iridescent
cushions, simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy: "There must be more
money! Oh-h-h; there must be more money. Oh, now, now-w! Now-w-w - there must
be more money! - more than ever! More than ever!"
It frightened Paul terribly. He studied away at his Latin and Greek with his tutor. But
his intense hours were spent with Bassett. The Grand National had gone by: he had
not 'known', and had lost a hundred pounds. Summer was at hand. He was in agony
for the Lincoln. But even for the Lincoln he didn't 'know', and he lost fifty pounds. He
became wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him.
"Let it alone, son! Don't you bother about it!" urged Uncle Oscar. But it was as if the
boy couldn't really hear what his uncle was saying.
"I've got to know for the Derby! I've got to know for the Derby!" the child reiterated,
his big blue eyes blazing with a sort of madness.
His mother noticed how overwrought he was.
"You'd better go to the seaside. Wouldn't you like to go now to the seaside, instead
of waiting? I think you'd better," she said, looking down at him anxiously, her heart
curiously heavy because of him.
But the child lifted his uncanny blue eyes.
"I couldn't possibly go before the Derby, mother!" he said. "I couldn't possibly!"
"Why not?" she said, her voice becoming heavy when she was opposed. "Why not?
You can still go from the seaside to see the Derby with your Uncle Oscar, if that
that's what you wish. No need for you to wait here. Besides, I think you care too
much about these races. It's a bad sign. My family has been a gambling family, and
you won't know till you grow up how much damage it has done. But it has done
damage. I shall have to send Bassett away, and ask Uncle Oscar not to talk racing to
you, unless you promise to be reasonable about it: go away to the seaside and forget
it. You're all nerves!"
"I'll do what you like, mother, so long as you don't send me away till after the
Derby," the boy said.
"Send you away from where? Just from this house?"
"Yes," he said, gazing at her.
"Why, you curious child, what makes you care about this house so much, suddenly? I
never knew you loved it."

He gazed at her without speaking. He had a secret within a secret, something he had
not divulged, even to Bassett or to his Uncle Oscar.
But his mother, after standing undecided and a little bit sullen for some moments,
said: "Very well, then! Don't go to the seaside till after the Derby, if you don't wish it.
But promise me you won't think so much about horse-racing and events as you call
"Oh no," said the boy casually. "I won't think much about them, mother. You needn't
worry. I wouldn't worry, mother, if I were you."
"If you were me and I were you," said his mother, "I wonder what we should do!"
"But you know you needn't worry, mother, don't you?" the boy repeated.
"I should be awfully glad to know it," she said wearily.
"Oh, well, you can, you know. I mean, you ought to know you needn't worry," he
"Ought I? Then I'll see about it," she said.
Paul's secret of secrets was his wooden horse, that which had no name. Since he was
emancipated from a nurse and a nursery-governess, he had had his rocking-horse
removed to his own bedroom at the top of the house.
"Surely you're too big for a rocking-horse!" his mother had remonstrated.
"Well, you see, mother, till I can have a real horse, I like to have some sort of animal
about," had been his quaint answer.
"Do you feel he keeps you company?" she laughed.
"Oh yes! He's very good, he always keeps me company, when I'm there," said Paul.
So the horse, rather shabby, stood in an arrested prance in the boy's bedroom.
The Derby was drawing near, and the boy grew more and more tense. He hardly
heard what was spoken to him, he was very frail, and his eyes were really uncanny.
His mother had sudden strange seizures of uneasiness about him. Sometimes, for
half an hour, she would feel a sudden anxiety about him that was almost anguish.
She wanted to rush to him at once, and know he was safe.
Two nights before the Derby, she was at a big party in town, when one of her rushes
of anxiety about her boy, her first-born, gripped her heart till she could hardly
speak. She fought with the feeling, might and main, for she believed in common
sense. But it was too strong. She had to leave the dance and go downstairs to
telephone to the country. The children's nursery-governess was terribly surprised
and startled at being rung up in the night.
"Are the children all right, Miss Wilmot?"
"Oh yes, they are quite all right."

"Master Paul? Is he all right?"
"He went to bed as right as a trivet. Shall I run up and look at him?"
"No," said Paul's mother reluctantly. "No! Don't trouble. It's all right. Don't sit up. We
shall be home fairly soon." She did not want her son's privacy intruded upon.
"Very good," said the governess.
It was about one o'clock when Paul's mother and father drove up to their house. All
was still. Paul's mother went to her room and slipped off her white fur cloak. She
had told her maid not to wait up for her. She heard her husband downstairs, mixing
a whisky and soda.
And then, because of the strange anxiety at her heart, she stole upstairs to her son's
room. Noiselessly she went along the upper corridor. Was there a faint noise? What
was it?
She stood, with arrested muscles, outside his door, listening. There was a strange,
heavy, and yet not loud noise. Her heart stood still. It was a soundless noise, yet
rushing and powerful. Something huge, in violent, hushed motion. What was it?
What in God's name was it? She ought to know. She felt that she knew the noise. She
knew what it was.
Yet she could not place it. She couldn't say what it was. And on and on it went, like a
Softly, frozen with anxiety and fear, she turned the door-handle.
The room was dark. Yet in the space near the window, she heard and saw something
plunging to and fro. She gazed in fear and amazement.
Then suddenly she switched on the light, and saw her son, in his green pyjamas,
madly surging on the rocking-horse. The blaze of light suddenly lit him up, as he
urged the wooden horse, and lit her up, as she stood, blonde, in her dress of pale
green and crystal, in the doorway.
"Paul!" she cried. "Whatever are you doing?"
"It's Malabar!" he screamed in a powerful, strange voice. "It's Malabar!"
His eyes blazed at her for one strange and senseless second, as he ceased urging his
wooden horse. Then he fell with a crash to the ground, and she, all her tormented
motherhood flooding upon her, rushed to gather him up.
But he was unconscious, and unconscious he remained, with some brain-fever. He
talked and tossed, and his mother sat stonily by his side.
"Malabar! It's Malabar! Bassett, Bassett, I know! It's Malabar!"
So the child cried, trying to get up and urge the rocking-horse that gave him his
"What does he mean by Malabar?" asked the heart-frozen mother.

"I don't know," said the father stonily.
"What does he mean by Malabar?" she asked her brother Oscar.
"It's one of the horses running for the Derby," was the answer.
And, in spite of himself, Oscar Cresswell spoke to Bassett, and himself put a
thousand on Malabar: at fourteen to one.
The third day of the illness was critical: they were waiting for a change. The boy,
with his rather long, curly hair, was tossing ceaselessly on the pillow. He neither
slept nor regained consciousness, and his eyes were like blue stones. His mother sat,
feeling her heart had gone, turned actually into a stone.
In the evening Oscar Cresswell did not come, but Bassett sent a message, saying
could he come up for one moment, just one moment? Paul's mother was very angry
at the intrusion, but on second thoughts she agreed. The boy was the same. Perhaps
Bassett might bring him to consciousness.
The gardener, a shortish fellow with a little brown moustache and sharp little brown
eyes, tiptoed into the room, touched his imaginary cap to Paul's mother, and stole to
the bedside, staring with glittering, smallish eyes at the tossing, dying child.
"Master Paul!" he whispered. "Master Paul! Malabar came in first all right, a clean
win. I did as you told me. You've made over seventy thousand pounds, you have;
you've got over eighty thousand. Malabar came in all right, Master Paul."
"Malabar! Malabar! Did I say Malabar, mother? Did I say Malabar? Do you think I'm
lucky, mother? I knew Malabar, didn't I? Over eighty thousand pounds! I call that
lucky, don't you, mother? Over eighty thousand pounds! I knew, didn't I know I
knew? Malabar came in all right. If I ride my horse till I'm sure, then I tell you,
Bassett, you can go as high as you like. Did you go for all you were worth, Bassett?"
"I went a thousand on it, Master Paul."
"I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there, then I'm
absolutely sure - oh, absolutely! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!"
"No, you never did," said his mother.
But the boy died in the night.
And even as he lay dead, his mother heard her brother's voice saying to her, "My
God, Hester, you're eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the
bad. But, poor devil, poor devil, he's best gone out of a life where he rides his
rocking-horse to find a winner."

The man who landed in Buenos Aires in 1871 bore the name of Johannes Dahlmann
and he was a minister in the Evangelical Church. In 1939, one of his grandchlidren,
Juan Dahlmann, was secretary of a municipal library on Calle Cordoba, and he
considered himself profoundly Argentinian. His maternal grandfather had been that
Francisco Flores, of the Second Line-Infantry Division, who had died on the frontier
of Buenos Aires, run through with a lance by Indians from Catriel; in the discord
inherent betweeh his two lines of descent, Juan Dahlmann (perhaps driven to it by
his Germanic blood) chose the line represented by his romantic ancestor, his
ancestor of the romantic death. An old sword, a leather frame containing the
daguerreotype of a blank-faced man with a beard, the dash and grace of certin
music, the familiar strophes of Martin Fierro, the passing years, boredom and
solitude, all went to foster this voluntary, but never ostentatioous nationalism. At
the cost of numerous small privations, Dahlmann had managed to save the empty
shell of a ranch in the South which had belonged to the Flores family; he continually
recalled the image of the balsamic eucalyptus trees and the great rose-colored house
which had once been crimson. His duties, perhaps even indolence, kept him in the
city. Summer after summer he contented himself with the abstract idea of
possession and with the certitude that his ranch was waiting for him on a precise
site in the middle of the plain. Late in February, 1939, something happened to him.
Blind to all fault, destiny can be ruthless at one's slightest distraction. Dahlmann had
succeeded in acquiring, on that very afternoon, an imperfect copy of Weil's edition
of The Thousand and One Nights. Avid to examine this find, he did not wait for the
elevator but hurried up the stairs. In the obscurity, something brushed by his
forehead: a bat, a bird? On the face of the woman who opened the door to him he
saw horror engraved, and the hand he wiped across his face came away red with
blood. The edge of a recently painted door which someone had forgotten to close
had caused this wound. Dahlmann was able to fall asleep, but from the moment he
awoke at dawn the savor of all things was atrociously poignant. Fever wasted him
and the pictures in The Thousand and One Nights served to illustrate nightmares.
Friends and relatives paid him visits and, with exaggerated smiles, assured him that
they thought he looked fine. Dahlmann listened to them with a kind of feeble stupor
and he marveled at their not knowing that he was in hell. A week, eight days passed,
and they were like eight centuries. One afternoon, the usual doctor appeared,
accompanied by a new doctor, and they carried him off to a sanitarium on the Calle
Ecuador, for it was necessary to X-ray him. Dahlmann, in the hackney coach which
bore them away, thought that he would, at last, be able to sleep in a room different
from his own. He felt happy and communicative. When he arrived at his destination,
they undressed him, shaved his head, bound him with metal fastenings to a
stretcher; they shone bright lights on him until he was blind and dizzy, auscultated
him, and a masked man stuck a needle into his arm. He awoke with a feeling of
nausea, covered with a bandage, in a cell with something of a well about it; in the
days and nights which followed the operation he came to realize that he had merely
been, up until then, in a suburb of hell. Ice in his mouth did not leave the least trace
of freshness. During these days Dahlmann hated himself in minute detail: he hated
his identity, his bodily necessities, his humiliation, the beard which bristled up on
his face. He stoically endured the curative measures, which were painful, but when
the surgeon told him he had been on the point of death from septicemia, Dahlmann
dissolved in tears of self-pity for his fate. Physical wretchedness and the incessant

anticipation of horrible nights had not allowed him time to think of anything so
abstact as death. On another day, the surgeon told him he was healing and that, very
soon, he would be able to go to his ranch for convalescence. Incredibly enough, the
promised day arrived.
Reality favors symmetries and slight anachronisms: Dahlmann had arrived at the
sanitarium in a hackney coach and now a hackney coach was to take him to the
Constitucion station. The first fresh tang of autumn, after the summer's
oppressiveness, seemed like a symbol in nature of his rescue and release from fever
and death. The city, at seven in the morning, had not lost that air of an old house lent
it by the night; the streets seemed like long vestibules, the plazas were like patios.
Dahlmann recognized the city with joy on the edge of vertigo: a second before his
eyes registered the phenomena themselves, he recalled the corners, the billboards,
the modest variety of Buenos Aires. In the yellow light of the new day, all things
returned to him.
Every Argentine knows that the South begins at the other side of Rivadavia.
Dahlmann was in the habit of saying that this was no mere convention, that whoever
crosses this street enters a more ancient and sterner world. From inside the carriage
he sought out, among the new buildings, the iron grill window, the brass knocker,
the arched door, the entrance way, the intimate patio.
At the railroad station he noted that he still had thirty minutes. He quickly recalled
that in a cafe on the Calle Brazil (a few dozen feet from Yrigoyen's house) there was
an enormous cat which allowed itself to be caressed as if it were a disdainful
divinity. He entered the cafe. There was the cat, asleep. He ordered a cup of coffee,
slowly stirred the sugar, sipped it (this pleasure had been denied him in the clinic),
and thought, as he smoothed the cat's black coat, that this contact was an illusion
and that the two beings, man and cat, were as good as separated by a glass, for man
lives in time, in succession, while the magical animal lives in the present, in the
eternity of the instant.
Along the next to the last platform the train lay waiting. Dahlmann walked through
the coaches until he found one almost empty. He arranged his baggage in the
network rack. When the train started off, he took down his valise and extracted,
after some hesitation, the first volume of The Thousand and One Nights. To travel
with this book, which was so much a part of the history of his ill-fortune, was a kind
of affirmation that his ill-fortune had been annulled; it was a joyous and secret
defiance of the frustrated forces of evil.
Along both sides of the train the city dissipated into suburbs; this sight, and then a
view of the gardens and villas, delayed the beginning of his reading. The truth was
that Dahlmann read very little. The magnetized mountain and the genie who swore
to kill his benefactor are - who would deny it? - marvelous, but not so much more
than the morning itself and the mere fact of being. The joy of life distracted him from
paying attention to Scheherezade and her superfluous miracles. Dahlmann closed
his book and allowed himself to live.

Lunch - the bouillon served in shining metal bowls, as in the remote summers of
childhood - was one more peaceful and rewarding delight.
Tomorrow I'll wake up at the ranch, he thought, and it was as if he was two men at a
time: the man who traveled through the autumn day and across the geography of
the fatherland, and the other one, locked up in a sanitarium and subject to
methodical servitude. He saw unplastered brick houses, long and angled, timelessly
watching the trains go by; he saw horsemen along the dirt roads; he saw gullies and
lagoons and ranches; he saw great luminous clouds that resembled marble; and all
these things were accidental, casual, like dreams of the plain. He also thought he
recognized trees and crop fields; but he would not have been able to name them, for
his actual knowledge of the country side was quite inferior to his nostalgic and
literary knowledge.
From time to time he slept, and his dreams were animated by the impetus of the
train. The intolerable white sun of high noon had already become the yellow sun
which precedes nightfall, and it would not be long before it would turn red. The
railroad car was now also different; it was not the same as the one which had quit
the station siding at Constitucion; the plain and the hours had transfigured it.
Outside, the moving shadow of the railroad car stretched toward the horizon. The
elemental earth was not perturbed either by settlements or other signs of humanity.
The country was vast but at the same time intimate and, in some measure, secret.
The limitless country sometimes contained only a solitary bull. The solitude was
perfect, perhaps hostile, and it might have occurred to Dahlmann that he was
traveiling into the past and not merely south. He was distracted form these
considerations by the railroad inspector who, on reading his ticket, advised him that
the train would not let him off at the regular station but at another: an earlier stop,
one scarcely known to Dahlmann. (The man added an explanation which Dahlmann
did not attempt to understand, and which he hardly heard, for the mechanism of
events did not concern him.)
The train laboriously ground to a halt, practically in the middle of the plain. The
station lay on the other side of the tracks; it was not much more than a siding and a
shed. There was no means of conveyance to be seen, but the station chief supposed
that the traveler might secure a vehicle from a general store and inn to be found
some ten or twelve blocks away.
Dahlmann accepted the walk as a small adventure. The sun had already disappeared
from view, but a final splendor, exalted the vivid and silent plain, before the night
erased its color. Less to avoid fatigue than to draw out his enjoyment of these sights,
Dahmann walked slowly, breathing in the odor of clover with sumptuous joy.
The general store at one time had been painted a deep scarlet, but the years had
tempered this violent color for its own good. Something in its poor architecture
recalled a steel engraving, perhaps one from an old edition of Paul et Virginie. A
number of horses were hitched up to the paling. Once inside, Dahlmann thought he
recognized the shopkeeper. Then he realized that he had been deceived by the
man's resemblance to one of the male nurses in the sanitarium. When the
shopkeeper heard Dahlmann's request, he said he would have the shay made up. In

order to add one more event to that day and to kill time, Dahlmann decided to eat at
the general store.
Some country louts, to whom Dahlmann did not at first pay any attention, were
eating and drinking at one of the tables. On the floor, and hanging on to the bar,
squatted an old man, immobile as an object. His years had reduced and polished him
as water does a stone or the generations of men do a sentence. He was dark, dried
up , diminutive, and seemed outside time, situated in eternity. Dahlmann noted with
satisfaction the kerchief, the thick poncho, the long chiripa, and the colt boots, and
told himself, as he recalled futile discussions with people from the Northern
counties or from the province of Entre Rios, that gauchos like this no longer existed
outside the South.
Dahlmann sat down next to the window. The darkness began overcoming the plain,
but the odor and sound of the earth penetrated the iron bars of the window. The
shop owner brought him sardines, followed by some roast meat. Dahlmann washed
the meal down with several glasses of red wine. Idling, he relished the tart savor of
the wine, and let his gaze, now grown somewhat drowsy, wander over the shop. A
kerosene lamp hung from a beam. There were three customers at the other table:
two of them appeared to be farm workers; the third man, whose features hinted at
Chinese blood, was drinking with his hat on. Of a sudden, Dahlmann felt something
brush lightly against his face. Next to the heavy glass of turbid wine, upon one of the
stripes in the table cloth, lay a spit ball of breadcrumb. That was all: but someone
had throuwn it there.
The men at the other table seemed totally cut off from him. Perplexed, Dahlmann
decided that nothing had happened, and he opened the volume of The Thousand and
One Nights, by way of suppressing reality. After a few moments another little ball
landed on his table, and now the peones laughed outright. Dahlmann said to himself
that he was not frightened, but he reasoned that it would be a major blunder if he, a
convalescent, were to allow himself to be dragged by strangers into some chaotic
quarrel. He determined to leave, and had already gotten to his feet when the owner
came up and exhorted him in an alarmed voice:
"Senor Dahlmann, don't pay any attention to those lads; they're half high."
Dahlmann was not surprised to learn that the other man, now, knew his name. But
he felt that these conciliatory words served only to aggravate the situation. Previous
to the moment, the peones' provocation was directed againt an unknown face,
against no one in particular, almost againt no one at all. Now it was an attack against
him, against his name, and his neighbors knew it. Dahlmann pushed the owner
aside, confronted the peones, and demanded to know what they wanted of him.
The tough with a Chinese look staggered heavily to his feet. Almost in Juan
Dahlmann's face he shouted insults, as if he had been a long way off. He game was to
exaggerate constituted ferocious mockery. Between curses and obscenities, he
threw a long knife into the air, followed it with his eyes, caught and juggled it, and
challenged Dahlmann to a knife fight. The owner objected in a tremulous voice,

pointing out that Dahlmann was unarmed. At this point, something unforeseeable
From a corner of the room, the old ecstatic gaucho - in whom Dahlmann saw a
summary and cipher of the South (his South) - threw him a naked dagger, which
landed at his feet. It was as if the South had resolved that Dahlmann should accept
the duel. Dahlmann bent over to pick up the dagger, and felt two things. The first,
that this almost instinctive act bound him to fight. The second, that the weapon, in
his torpid hand, was no defense at all, but would merely serve to justify his murder.
He had once played with a poniard, like all men, but his idea of fencing and knife-
play did not go further than the notion that all strokes should be directed upwards,
with the cutting edge held inwards. They would not have allowed such things ot
happen to me in the sanitarium, he thought.
"Let's get on our way," said that other man.
They went out and if Dahlmann was without hope, he was also without fear. As he
crossed the threshold, he felt that to die in a knife fight, under the open sky, and
going forward to the attack, would have been a liberation, a joy, and a festive
occasion, on the first night in the sanitarium, when they stuck him with the needle.
He felt that if he had been able to choose, then, or to dream his death, this would
have been the death he would have chosen or dreamt.
Firmly clutching his knife, which he perhaps would not know how to wield,
Dahlmann went out into the plain.

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-
summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.
The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and
the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the
lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th. but in this village, where
there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two
hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to
allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.
The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer,
and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather
together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk
was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin
had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his
example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and
Dickie Delacroix-- the villagers pronounced this name "Dellacroy"--eventually made
a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of

the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their
shoulders at the boys, and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the
hands of their older brothers or sisters.
Soon the men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting
and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the
corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women,
wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They
greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their
husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call to their
children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times.
Bobby Martin ducked under his mother's grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to
the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his
place between his father and his oldest brother.
The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween
program--by Mr. Summers, who had time and energy to devote to civic activities. He
was a round-faced, jovial man and he ran the coal business, and people were sorry
for him because he had no children and his wife was a scold. When he arrived in the
square, carrying the black wooden box, there was a murmur of conversation among
the villagers, and he waved and called, "Little late today, folks." The postmaster, Mr.
Graves, followed him, carrying a three- legged stool, and the stool was put in the
center of the square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it. The villagers
kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool, and when Mr.
Summers said, "Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?" there was a hesitation
before two men, Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, came forward to hold the box
steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it.
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box
now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the
oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about
making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was
represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made
with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed
when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the
lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the
subject was allowed to fade off without anything's being done. The black box grew
shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly
along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.
Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, held the black box securely on the stool until
Mr. Summers had stirred the papers thoroughly with his hand. Because so much of
the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in
having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for
generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued, had been all very well when
the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and
likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more
easily into he black box. The night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves
made up the slips of paper and put them in the box, and it was then taken to the safe

of Mr. Summers' coal company and locked up until Mr. Summers was ready to take it
to the square next morning. The rest of the year, the box was put way, sometimes
one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves's barn and
another year underfoot in the post office. and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the
Martin grocery and left there.
There was a great deal of fussing to be done before Mr. Summers declared the
lottery open. There were the lists to make up--of heads of families, heads of
households in each family, members of each household in each family. There was
the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the
lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort,
performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been
rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used
to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to
walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been
allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery
had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but
this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official
to speak to each person approaching. Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his
clean white shirt and blue jeans, with one hand resting carelessly on the black box,
he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr. Graves and
the Martins.
Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers,
Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown
over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. "Clean forgot what
day it was," she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed
softly. "Thought my old man was out back stacking wood," Mrs. Hutchinson went on,
"and then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it
was the twenty-seventh and came a-running." She dried her hands on her apron,
and Mrs. Delacroix said, "You're in time, though. They're still talking away up there."
Mrs. Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd and found her husband
and children standing near the front. She tapped Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a
farewell and began to make her way through the crowd. The people separated good-
humoredly to let her through; two or three people said, in voices just loud enough to
be heard across the crowd, "Here comes your Missus, Hutchinson," and "Bill, she
made it after all." Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had
been waiting, said cheerfully, "Thought we were going to have to get on without you,
Tessie." Mrs. Hutchinson said, grinning, "Wouldn't have me leave m'dishes in the
sink, now, would you. Joe?" and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people
stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson's arrival.
"Well, now," Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over
with, so's we can go back to work. Anybody ain't here?"
"Dunbar," several people said. "Dunbar, Dunbar."

Mr. Summers consulted his list. "Clyde Dunbar," he said. "That's right. He's broke his
leg, hasn't he? Who's drawing for him?"
"Me, I guess," a woman said, and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. "Wife draws for
her husband," Mr. Summers said. "Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you,
Janey?" Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer
perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions
formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs.
Dunbar answered.
"Horace's not but sixteen yet," Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. "Guess I gotta fill in for
the old man this year."
"Right," Mr. Summers said. He made a note on the list he was holding. Then he
asked, "Watson boy drawing this year?"
A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. "Here," he said. "I m drawing for m'mother
and me." He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the
crowd said things like "Good fellow, Jack," and "Glad to see your mother's got a man
to do it."
"Well," Mr. Summers said, "guess that's everyone. Old Man Warner make it?"
"Here," a voice said, and Mr. Summers nodded.
A sudden hush fell on the crowd as Mr. Summers cleared his throat and looked at
the list. "All ready?" he called. "Now, I'll read the names--heads of families first--and
the men come up and take a paper out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your
hand without looking at it until everyone has had a turn. Everything clear?"
The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions;
most of them were quiet, wetting their lips, not looking around. Then Mr. Summers
raised one hand high and said, "Adams." A man disengaged himself from the crowd
and came forward. "Hi, Steve," Mr. Summers said, and Mr. Adams said, "Hi, Joe."
They grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously. Then Mr. Adams reached
into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one corner as he
turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd, where he stood a little apart
from his family, not looking down at his hand.
"Allen," Mr. Summers said. "Anderson.... Bentham."
"Seems like there's no time at all between lotteries any more," Mrs. Delacroix said to
Mrs. Graves in the back row. "Seems like we got through with the last one only last
"Time sure goes fast," Mrs. Graves said.
"Clark.... Delacroix."

"There goes my old man," Mrs. Delacroix said. She held her breath while her
husband went forward.
"Dunbar," Mr. Summers said, and Mrs. Dunbar went steadily to the box while one of
the women said, "Go on, Janey," and another said, "There she goes."
"We're next," Mrs. Graves said. She watched while Mr. Graves came around from the
side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely and selected a slip of paper from the
box. By now, all through the crowd there were men holding the small folded papers
in their large hands, turning them over and over nervously Mrs. Dunbar and her two
sons stood together, Mrs. Dunbar holding the slip of paper.
"Harburt.... Hutchinson."
"Get up there, Bill," Mrs. Hutchinson said, and the people near her laughed.
"They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, "that over
in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery."
Old Man Warner snorted, "Pack of crazy fools," he said. "Listening to the young folks,
nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back
to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a
saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be
eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added
petulantly. "Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody."
"Some places have already quit lotteries," Mrs. Adams said.
"Nothing but trouble in that," Old Man Warner said stoutly. "Pack of young fools."
"Martin." And Bobby Martin watched his father go forward. "Overdyke.... Percy."
"I wish they'd hurry," Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son. "I wish they'd hurry."
"They're almost through," her son said.
"You get ready to run tell Dad," Mrs. Dunbar said.
Mr. Summers called his own name and then stepped forward precisely and selected
a slip from the box. Then he called, "Warner."
"Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery," Old Man Warner said as he went
through the crowd. "Seventy-seventh time."
"Watson." The tall boy came awkwardly through the crowd. Someone said, "Don't be
nervous, Jack," and Mr. Summers said, "Take your time, son."

After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers, holding
his slip of paper in the air, said, "All right, fellows." For a minute, no one moved, and
then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at
once, saying, "Who is it?" "Who's got it?" "Is it the Dunbars?," "Is it the Watsons?"
Then the voices began to say, "It's Hutchinson. It's Bill," "Bill Hutchinson's got it."
"Go tell your father," Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing
quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly, Tessie Hutchinson shouted to
Mr. Summers, "You didn't give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw
you. It wasn't fair!"
"Be a good sport, Tessie, " Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, "All of us took
the same chance."
"Shut up, Tessie," Bill Hutchinson said.
"Well, everyone," Mr. Summers said, "that was done pretty fast, and now we've got
to be hurrying a little more to get done in time." He consulted his next list. "Bill," he
said, "you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the
"There's Don and Eva," Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. "Make them take their chance!"
"Daughters draw with their husbands' families, Tessie," Mr. Summers said gently.
"You know that as well as anyone else."
"It wasn't fair," Tessie said.
"I guess not, Joe," Bill Hutchinson said regretfully. "My daughter draws with her
husband's family, that's only fair. And I've got no other family except the kids."
"Then, as far as drawing for families is concerned, it's you," Mr. Summers said in
explanation, "and as far as drawing for households is concerned, that's you, too.
"Right," Bill Hutchinson said.
"How many kids, Bill?" Mr. Summers asked formally.
"Three," Bill Hutchinson said. "There's Bill, Jr., and Nancy, and little Dave. And Tessie
and me."
"All right, then," Mr. Summers said. "Harry, you got their tickets back?"

Mr. Graves nodded and held up the slips of paper. "Put them in the box, then," Mr.
Summers directed. "Take Bill's and put it in."
"I think we ought to start over," Mrs. Hutchinson said, as quietly as she could. "I tell
you it wasn't fair. You didn't give him time enough to choose. Everybody saw that."
Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box, and he dropped all
the papers but those onto the ground, where the breeze caught them and lifted them
"Listen, everybody," Mrs. Hutchinson was saying to the people around her.
"Ready, Bill?" Mr. Summers asked, and Bill Hutchinson, with one quick glance
around at his wife and children, nodded.
"Remember," Mr. Summers said, "take the slips and keep them folded until each
person has taken one. Harry, you help little Dave." Mr. Graves took the hand of the
little boy, who came willingly with him up to the box. "Take a paper out of the box,
Davy," Mr. Summers said. Davy put his hand into the box and laughed. "Take just
one paper," Mr. Summers said. "Harry, you hold it for him." Mr. Graves took the
child's hand and removed the folded paper from the tight fist and held it while little
Dave stood next to him and looked up at him wonderingly.
"Nancy next," Mr. Summers said. Nancy was twelve, and her school friends breathed
heavily as she went forward, switching her skirt, and took a slip daintily from the
box "Bill, Jr.," Mr. Summers said, and Billy, his face red and his feet overlarge, nearly
knocked the box over as he got a paper out. "Tessie," Mr. Summers said. She
hesitated for a minute, looking around defiantly, and then set her lips and went up
to the box. She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.
"Bill," Mr. Summers said, and Bill Hutchinson reached into the box and felt around,
bringing his hand out at last with the slip of paper in it.
The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, "I hope it's not Nancy," and the sound of the
whisper reached the edges of the crowd.
"It's not the way it used to be," Old Man Warner said clearly. "People ain't the way
they used to be."
"All right," Mr. Summers said. "Open the papers. Harry, you open little Dave's."
Mr. Graves opened the slip of paper and there was a general sigh through the crowd
as he held it up and everyone could see that it was blank. Nancy and Bill. Jr., opened
theirs at the same time, and both beamed and laughed, turning around to the crowd
and holding their slips of paper above their heads.
"Tessie," Mr. Summers said. There was a pause, and then Mr. Summers looked at Bill
Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and showed it. It was blank.

"It's Tessie," Mr. Summers said, and his voice was hushed. "Show us her paper. Bill."
Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It
had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with
the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was
a stir in the crowd.
"All right, folks," Mr. Summers said. "Let's finish quickly."
Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they
still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was
ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had
come out of the box. Mrs. Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up
with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. "Come on," she said. "Hurry up."
Mrs. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said. gasping for breath, "I
can't run at all. You'll have to go ahead and I'll catch up with you."
The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her
hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. "It isn't fair," she said. A
stone hit her on the side of the head.
Old Man Warner was saying, "Come on, come on, everyone." Steve Adams was in the
front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson screamed and then they were upon her.
They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olson. Please come down as
soon as you can, my daughter is very sick.

When I arrived I was met by the mother, a big startled looking woman, very clean
and apologetic who merely said, Is this the doctor? and let me in. In the back, she
added. You must excuse us, doctor, we have her in the kitchen where it is warm. It is
very damp here sometimes.

The child was fully dressed and sitting on her father's lap near the kitchen table. He
tried to get up, but I motioned for him not to bother, took off my overcoat and
started to look things over. I could see that they were all very nervous, eyeing me up
and down distrustfully. As often, in such cases, they weren't telling me more than
they had to, it was up to me to tell them; that's why they were spending three
dollars on me.


The child was fairly eating me up with her cold, steady eyes, and no expression to
her face whatever. She did not move and seemed, inwardly, quiet; an unusually
attractive little thing, and as strong as a heifer in appearance. But her face was
flushed, she was breathing rapidly, and I realized that she had a high fever. She had
magnificent blonde hair, in profusion. One of those picture children often
reproduced in advertising leaflets and the photogravure sections of the Sunday

She's had a fever for three days, began the father and we don't know what it comes
from. My wife has given her things, you know, like people do, but it don't do no good.
And there's been a lot of sickness around. So we tho't you'd better look her over and
tell us what is the matter.

As doctors often do I took a trial shot at it as a point of departure. Has she had a sore

Both parents answered me together, No . . . No, she says her throat don't hurt her.

Does your throat hurt you? added the mother to the child. But the little girl's
expression didn't change nor did she move her eyes from my face.

Have you looked?

I tried to, said the mother, but I couldn't see.

As it happens we had been having a number of cases of diphtheria in the school to
which this child went during that month and we were all, quite apparently, thinking
of that, though no one had as yet spoken of the thing.

Well, I said, suppose we take a look at the throat first. I smiled in my best
professional manner and asking for the child's first name I said, come on, Mathilda,
open your mouth and let's take a look at your throat.

Nothing doing.

Aw, come on, I coaxed, just open your mouth wide and let me take a look. Look, I
said opening both hands wide, I haven't anything in my hands. Just open up and let
me see.

Such a nice man, put in the mother. Look how kind he is to you. Come on, do what he
tells you to. He won't hurt you.

At that I ground my teeth in disgust. If only they wouldn't use the word "hurt" I
might be able to get somewhere. But I did not allow myself to be hurried or
disturbed but speaking quietly and slowly I approached the child again.

As I moved my chair a little nearer suddenly with one catlike movement both her
hands clawed instinctively for my eyes and she almost reached them too. In fact she

knocked my glasses flying and they fell, though unbroken, several feet away from
me on the kitchen floor.
Both the mother and father almost turned themselves inside out in embarrassment
and apology. You bad girl, said the mother, taking her and shaking her by one arm.
Look what you've done. The nice man . . .

For heaven's sake, I broke in. Don't call me a nice man to her. I'm here to look at her
throat on the chance that she might have diphtheria and possibly die of it. But that's
nothing to her. Look here, I said to the child, we're going to look at your throat.
You're old enough to understand what I'm saying. Will you open it now by yourself
or shall we have to open it for you)

Not a move. Even her expression hadn't changed. Her breaths however were coming
faster and faster. Then the battle began. I had to do it. I had to have a throat culture
for her own protection. But first I told the parents that it was entirely up to them. I
explained the danger but said that I would not insist on a throat examination so long
as they would take the responsibility.

If you don't do what the doctor says you'll have to go to the hospital, the mother
admonished her severely.

Oh yeah? I had to smile to myself. After all, I had already fallen in love with the
savage brat, the parents were contemptible to me. In the ensuing struggle they grew
more and more abject, crushed, exhausted while she surely rose to magnificent
heights of insane fury of effort bred of her terror of me.

The father tried his best, and he was a big man but the fact that she was his
daughter, his shame at her behavior and his dread of hurting her made him release
her just at the critical times when I had almost achieved success, till I wanted to kill
him. But his dread also that she might have diphtheria made him tell me to go on, go
on though he himself was almost fainting, while the mother moved back and forth
behind us raising and lowering her hands in an agony of apprehension.

Put her in front of you on your lap, I ordered, and hold both her wrists.

But as soon as he did the child let out a scream. Don't, you're hurting me. Let go of
my hands. Let them go I tell you. Then she shrieked terrifyingly, hysterically. Stop it!
Stop it! You're killing me! Do you think she can stand it, doctor! said the mother.

You get out, said the husband to his wife. Do you want her to die of diphtheria?

Come on now, hold her, I said.


Then I grasped the child's head with my left hand and tried to get the wooden
tongue depressor between her teeth. She fought, with clenched teeth, desperately!
But now I also had grown furious--at a child. I tried to hold myself down but I
couldn't. I know how to expose a throat for inspection. And I did my best. When
finally I got the wooden spatula behind the last teeth and just the point of it into the
mouth cavity, she opened up for an instant but before I could see anything she came
down again and gripping the wooden blade between her molars she reduced it to
splinters before I could get it out again.

Aren't you ashamed, the mother yelled at her. Aren't you ashamed to act like that in
front of the doctor?

Get me a smooth-handled spoon of some sort, I told the mother. We're going
through with this. The child's mouth was already bleeding. Her tongue was cut and
she was screaming in wild hysterical shrieks. Perhaps I should have desisted and
come back in an hour or more. No doubt it would have been better. But I have seen
at least two children lying dead in bed of neglect in such cases, and feeling that I
must get a diagnosis now or never I went at it again. But the worst of it was that I
too had got beyond reason. I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and
enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her. My face was burning with it.

The damned little brat must be protected against her own idiocy, one says to one's
self at such times. Others must be protected against her. It is a social necessity. And
all these things are true. But a blind fury, a feeling of adult shame, bred of a longing
for muscular release are the operatives. One goes on to the end.

In a final unreasoning assault I overpowered the child's neck and jaws. I forced the
heavy silver spoon back of her teeth and down her throat till she gagged. And there
it was--both tonsils covered with membrane. She had fought valiantly to keep me
from knowing her secret. She had been hiding that sore throat for three days at least
and lying to her parents in order to escape just such an outcome as this.

Now truly she was furious. She had been on the defensive before but now she
attacked. Tried to get off her father's lap and fly at me while tears of defeat blinded
her eyes.


For the fourth time in as many years they were confronted with the problem
of what birthday present to bring a young man who was incurably deranged
in his mind. He had no desires. Man-made objects were to him either hives
of evil, vibrant with a malignant activity that he alone could perceive,
or gross comforts for which no use could be found in his abstract world.

After eliminating a number of articles that might offend him or frighten
him (anything in the gadget line for instance was taboo), his parents
chose a dainty and innocent trifle: a basket with ten different fruit
jellies in ten little jars.

At the time of his birth they had been married already for a long time; a
score of years had elapsed, and now they were quite old. Her drab gray
hair was done anyhow. She wore cheap black dresses. Unlike other women of
her age (such as Mrs. Sol, their next-door neighbor, whose face was all
pink and mauve with paint and whose hat was a cluster of brookside
flowers), she presented a naked white countenance to the fault- finding
light of spring days. Her husband, who in the old country had been a
fairly successful businessman, was now wholly dependent on his brother
Isaac, a real American of almost forty years standing. They seldom saw him
and had nicknamed him " the Prince."

That Friday everything went wrong. The underground train lost its life
current between two stations, and for a quarter of an hour one could hear
nothing but the dutiful beating of one's heart and the rustling of
newspapers. The bus they had to take next kept them waiting for ages; and
when it did come, it was crammed with garrulous high-school children. It
was raining hard as they walked up the brown path leading to the
sanitarium. There they waited again; and instead of their boy shuffling
into the room as he usually did (his poor face blotched with acne,
ill-shaven, sullen, and confused), a nurse they knew, and did not care
for, appeared at last and brightly explained that he had again attempted
to take his life. He was all right, she said, but a visit might disturb
him. The place was so miserably understaffed, and things got mislaid or
mixed up so easily, that they decided not to leave their present in the
office but to bring it to him next time they came.

She waited for her husband to open his umbrella and then took his arm. He
kept clearing his throat in a special resonant way he had when he was
upset. They reached the bus-stop shelter on the other side of the street
and he closed his umbrella. A few feet away, under a swaying and dripping
tree, a tiny half-dead unfledged bird was helplessly twitching in a

During the long ride to the subway station, she and her husband did not
exchange a word; and every time she glanced at his old hands (swollen
veins, brown-spotted skin), clasped and twitching upon the handle of his
umbrella, she felt the mounting pressure of tears. As she looked around
trying to hook her mind onto something, it gave her a kind of soft shock,
a mixture of compassion and wonder, to notice that one of the passengers,
a girl with dark hair and grubby red toenails, was weeping on the shoulder
of an older woman. Whom did that woman resemble? She resembled Rebecca
Borisovna, whose daughter had married one of the Soloveichik - in Minsk,
years ago.


The last time he had tried to do it, his method had been, in the doctor's
words, a masterpiece of inventiveness; he would have succeeded, had not an
envious fellow patient thought he was learning to fly - and stopped him.
What he really wanted to do was to tear a hole in his world and escape.

The system of his delusions had been the subject of an elaborate paper in
a scientific monthly, but long before that she and her husband had puzzled
it out for themselves. "Referential mania," Herman Brink had called it. In
these very rare cases the patient imagines that everything happening
around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. He
excludes real people from the conspiracy - because he considers himself to
be so much more intelligent than other men. Phenomenal nature shadows him
wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to one another, by
means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His
inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly
gesticulating trees. Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns
representing in some awful way messages which he must intercept.
Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme. Some of the
spies are detached observers, such are glass surfaces and still pools;
others, such as coats in store windows, are prejudiced witnesses, lynchers
at heart; others again (running water, storms) are hysterical to the point
of insanity, have a distorted opinion of him and grotesquely misinterpret
his actions. He must be always on his guard and devote every minute and
module of life to the decoding of the undulation of things. The very air
he exhales is indexed and filed away. If only the interest he provokes
were limited to his immediate surroundings - but alas it is not! With
distance the to rents of wild scandal increase in volume and volubility.
The silhouettes of his blood corpuscles, magnified a million times, flit
over vast plains; and still farther, great mountains of unbearable
solidity and height sum up in terms of granite and groaning firs the
ultimate truth of his being.


When they emerged from the thunder and foul air of the subway, the last
dregs of the day were mixed with the street lights. She wanted to buy some
fish for supper, so she handed him the basket of jelly jars, telling him
to go home. He walked up to the third landing and then remembered he had
given her his keys earlier in the day.

In silence he sat down on the steps and in silence rose when some ten
minutes later she came, heavily trudging upstairs, wanly smiling, shaking
her head in deprecation of her silliness. They entered their two-room flat
and he at once went to the mirror. Straining the corners of his mouth
apart by means of his thumbs, with a horrible masklike grimace, he removed
his new hopelessly uncomfortable dental plate and severed the long tusks
of saliva connecting him to it. He read his Russian-language newspaper
while she laid the table. Still reading, he ate the pale victuals that
needed no teeth. She knew his moods ands was also silent.

When he had gone to bed, she remained in the living room with her pack of
soiled cards and her old albums. Across the narrow yard where the rain
tinkled in the dark against some battered ash cans, windows were blandly
alight and in one of them a blacktrousered man with his bare elbows
raised could be seen lying supine on a untidy bed. She pulled the blind
down and examined the photographs. As a baby he looked more surprised than
most babies. From a fold in the album, a German maid they had had in
Leipzig and her fat-faced fiance fell out. Minsk, the Revolution, Leipzig,
Berlin, Leipzig, a slanting house front badly out of focus. Four years
old, in a park: moodily, shyly, with puckered forehead, looking away from
an eager squirrel as he would from any other stranger. Aunt Rosa, a
fussy, angular, wild-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of
bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths--until the
Germans put her to death, together with all the people she had worried
about. Age six - that was when he drew wonderful birds with human hands
and feet, and suffered from insomnia like a grown-up man. His cousin, now
a famous chess player. He again, aged about eight, already difficult to
understand, afraid of the wallpaper in the passage, afraid of a certain
picture in a book which merely showed an idyllic landscape with rocks on a
hillside and an old cart wheel hanging from the branch of a leafless tree.
Aged ten: the year they left Europe. The shame, the pity, the humiliating
difficulties, the ugly, vicious, backward children he was with in that
special school. And then came a time in his life, coinciding with a long
convalescence after pneumonia, when those little phobias of his which his
parents had stubbornly regarded as the eccentricities of a prodigiously
gifted child hardened as it were into a dense tangle of logically
interacting illusions, making him totally inaccessible to normal minds.

This, and much more, she accepted - for after all living did mean accepting
the loss of one joy after another, not even joys in her case - mere
possibilities of improvement. She thought of the endless waves of pain
that for some reason or other she and her husband had to endure; of the
invisible giants hurting her boy in some unimaginable fashion; of the
incalculable amount of tenderness contained in the world; of the fate of
this tenderness, which is either crushed, or wasted, or transformed into
madness; of neglected children humming to themselves in unswept corners;
of beautiful weeds that cannot hide from the farmer and helplessly have to
watch the shadow of his simian stoop leave mangled flowers in its wake, as
the monstrous darkness approaches.


It was past midnight when from the living room she heard her husband moan;
and presently he staggered in, wearing over his nightgown the old overcoat
with astrakhan collar which he much preferred to the nice blue bathrobe he

"I can't sleep," he cried.

"Why," she asked, "why can't you sleep? You were tired."

"I can't sleep because I am dying," he said and lay down on the couch.

"Is it your stomach? Do you want me to call Dr. Solov?"

"No doctors, no doctors," he moaned, "To the devil with doctors! We must
get him out of there quick. Otherwise we'll be responsible. Responsible!"
he repeated and hurled himself into a sitting position, both feet on the
floor, thumping his forehead with his clenched fist.

"All right," she said quietly, "we shall bring him home tomorrow morning."

"I would like some tea," said her husband and retired to the bathroom.

Bending with difficulty, she retrieved some playing cards and a photograph
or two that had shipped from the couch to the floor: knave of hearts, nine
of spades, ace of spades, Elsa and her bestial beau. He returned in high
spirits, saying in a loud voice:

"I have it all figured out. We will give him the bedroom. Each of us will
spend part of the night near him and the other part on this couch. By
turns. We will have the doctor see him at least twice a week. It does not
matter what the Prince says. He won't have to say much anyway because it
will come out cheaper."

The telephone rang. It was an unusual hour for their telephone to ring.
His left slipper had come off and he groped for it with his heel and toe
as he stood in the middle of the room, and childishly, toothlessly, gaped
at his wife. Having more English than he did, it was she who attended to

"Can I speak to Charlie," said a girl's dull little voice.

"What number you want? No. That is not the right number."

The receiver was gently cradled. Her hand went to her old tired heart.

He smiled a quick smile and immediately resumed his excited monologue.
They would fetch him as soon as it was day. Knives would have to be kept
in a locked drawer. Even at his worst he presented no danger to other

The telephone rang a second time. The same toneless anxious young voice
asked for Charlie.

"You have the incorrect number. I will tell you what you are doing: you
are turning the letter O instead of the zero."

They sat down to their unexpected festive midnight tea. The birthday
present stood on the table. He sipped noisily; his face was flushed; every
now and then he imparted a circular motion to his raised glass so as to
make the sugar dissolve more thoroughly . The vein on the side of his bald
head where there was a large birthmark stood out conspicuously and,
although he had shaved that morning, a silvery bristle showed on his chin.
While she poured him another glass of tea, he put on his spectacles and
re-examined with pleasure the luminous yellow, green, red little jars.
His clumsy moist lips spelled out their eloquent labels: apricot, grape,
beech plum, quince. He had got to crab apple, when the telephone rang

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