Tag: Short Stories

എങ്ങോ മറഞ്ഞു : പ്രണയാക്ഷരങ്ങൾ ചാലിച്ചെഴുതിയ മനോഹരമായൊരു പ്രണയഗാനം

Engo Maranju – A musical which defines the existence of love within the finite bounds of human measurement, it continues to stand out as timeless and manifests itself within the realms of being eternal, pure and divine. It presents the true meaning of love breaking the usual norms as the mating of two souls, than […]

എങ്ങോ മറഞ്ഞു : പ്രണയാക്ഷരങ്ങൾ ചാലിച്ചെഴുതിയ മനോഹരമായൊരു പ്രണയഗാനം

Short Story: THE VALLEY OF SPIDERS by H. G. Wells

THE VALLEY OF SPIDERS

by H. G. Wells

Towards mid-day the three pursuers came abruptly round a bend in

the torrent bed upon the sight of a very broad and spacious valley.

The difficult and winding trench of pebbles along which they had

tracked the fugitives for so long, expanded to a broad slope,

and with a common impulse the three men left the trail, and rode

to a little eminence set with olive-dun trees, and there halted,

the two others, as became them, a little behind the man with

the silver-studded bridle.

For a space they scanned the great expanse below them with eager eyes.

It spread remoter and remoter, with only a few clusters of sere

thorn bushes here and there, and the dim suggestions of some now

waterless ravine, to break its desolation of yellow grass. Its purple

distances melted at last into the bluish slopes of the further hills–

hills it might be of a greener kind–and above them invisibly

supported, and seeming indeed to hang in the blue, were the snowclad

summits of mountains that grew larger and bolder to the north-westward

as the sides of the valley drew together. And westward the valley

opened until a distant darkness under the sky told where the forests

began. But the three men looked neither east nor west, but only

steadfastly across the valley.

The gaunt man with the scarred lip was the first to speak. “Nowhere,”

he said, with a sigh of disappointment in his voice. “But after all,

they had a full day’s start.”

“They don’t know we are after them,” said the little man on the white

horse.

“SHE would know,” said the leader bitterly, as if speaking to himself.

“Even then they can’t go fast. They’ve got no beast but the mule,

and all to-day the girl’s foot has been bleeding—“

The man with the silver bridle flashed a quick intensity of rage

on him. “Do you think I haven’t seen that?” he snarled.

“It helps, anyhow,” whispered the little man to himself.

The gaunt man with the scarred lip stared impassively. “They can’t

be over the valley,” he said. “If we ride hard–“

He glanced at the white horse and paused.

“Curse all white horses!” said the man with the silver bridle,

and turned to scan the beast his curse included.

The little man looked down between the melancholy ears of his steed.

“I did my best,” he said.

The two others stared again across the valley for a space. The gaunt

man passed the back of his hand across the scarred lip.

“Come up!” said the man who owned the silver bridle, suddenly.

The little man started and jerked his rein, and the horse hoofs

of the three made a multitudinous faint pattering upon the withered

grass as they turned back towards the trail. . . .

They rode cautiously down the long slope before them, and so came

through a waste of prickly, twisted bushes and strange dry shapes

of horny branches that grew amongst the rocks, into the levels below.

And there the trail grew faint, for the soil was scanty, and the only

herbage was this scorched dead straw that lay upon the ground.

Still, by hard scanning, by leaning beside the horses’ necks and

pausing ever and again, even these white men could contrive to follow

after their prey.

There were trodden places, bent and broken blades of the coarse

grass, and ever and again the sufficient intimation of a footmark.

And once the leader saw a brown smear of blood where the half-caste

girl may have trod. And at that under his breath he cursed her for

a fool.

The gaunt man checked his leader’s tracking, and the little man

on the white horse rode behind, a man lost in a dream. They rode

one after another, the man with the silver bridle led the way,

and they spoke never a word. After a time it came to the little man

on the white horse that the world was very still. He started out

of his dream. Besides the little noises of their horses and equipment,

the whole great valley kept the brooding quiet of a painted scene.

Before him went his master and his fellow, each intently leaning

forward to the left, each impassively moving with the paces of his

horse; their shadows went before them–still, noiseless, tapering

attendants; and nearer a crouched cool shape was his own. He looked

about him. What was it had gone? Then he remembered the reverberation

from the banks of the gorge and the perpetual accompaniment of

shifting, jostling pebbles. And, moreover–? There was no breeze.

That was it! What a vast, still place it was, a monotonous afternoon

slumber. And the sky open and blank, except for a sombre veil of haze

that had gathered in the upper valley.

He straightened his back, fretted with his bridle, puckered his lips

to whistle, and simply sighed. He turned in his saddle for a time,

and stared at the throat of the mountain gorge out of which they

had come. Blank! Blank slopes on either side, with never a sign

of a decent beast or tree–much less a man. What a land it was!

What a wilderness! He dropped again into his former pose.

It filled him with a momentary pleasure to see a wry stick of purple

black flash out into the form of a snake, and vanish amidst the brown.

After all, the infernal valley WAS alive. And then, to rejoice him

still more, came a little breath across his face, a whisper that

came and went, the faintest inclination of a stiff black-antlered

bush upon a little crest, the first intimations of a possible breeze.

Idly he wetted his finger, and held it up.

He pulled up sharply to avoid a collision with the gaunt man, who

had stopped at fault upon the trail. Just at that guilty moment

he caught his master’s eye looking towards him.

For a time he forced an interest in the tracking. Then, as they rode

on again, he studied his master’s shadow and hat and shoulder,

appearing and disappearing behind the gaunt man’s nearer contours.

They had ridden four days out of the very limits of the world into

this desolate place, short of water, with nothing but a strip

of dried meat under their saddles, over rocks and mountains,

where surely none but these fugitives had ever been before–for THAT!

And all this was for a girl, a mere willful child! And the man

had whole cityfulls of people to do his basest bidding–girls, women!

Why in the name of passionate folly THIS one in particular? asked

the little man, and scowled at the world, and licked his parched lips

with a blackened tongue. It was the way of the master, and that

was all he knew. Just because she sought to evade him. . . .

His eye caught a whole row of high plumed canes bending in unison,

and then the tails of silk that hung before his neck flapped and fell.

The breeze was growing stronger. Somehow it took the stiff stillness

out of things–and that was well.

“Hullo!” said the gaunt man.

All three stopped abruptly.

“What?” asked the master. “What?”

“Over there,” said the gaunt man, pointing up the valley.

“What?”

“Something coming towards us.”

And as he spoke a yellow animal crested a rise and came bearing

down upon them. It was a big wild dog, coming before the wind,

tongue out, at a steady pace, and running with such an intensity

of purpose that he did not seem to see the horsemen he approached.

He ran with his nose up, following, it was plain, neither scent

nor quarry. As he drew nearer the little man felt for his sword.

“He’s mad,” said the gaunt rider.

“Shout!” said the little man, and shouted.

The dog came on. Then when the little man’s blade was already out,

it swerved aside and went panting by them and past. The eyes of

the little man followed its flight. “There was no foam,” he said.

For a space the man with the silver-studded bridle stared up

the valley. “Oh, come on!” he cried at last. “What does it matter?”

and jerked his horse into movement again.

The little man left the insoluble mystery of a dog that fled from

nothing but the wind, and lapsed into profound musings on human

character. “Come on!” he whispered to himself. “Why should it be

given to one man to say ‘Come on!’ with that stupendous violence

of effect. Always, all his life, the man with the silver bridle

has been saying that. If _I_ said it–!” thought the little man.

But people marvelled when the master was disobeyed even in the wildest

things. This half-caste girl seemed to him, seemed to every one,

mad–blasphemous almost. The little man, by way of comparison,

reflected on the gaunt rider with the scarred lip, as stalwart as

his master, as brave and, indeed, perhaps braver, and yet for him

there was obedience, nothing but to give obedience duly and stoutly. . .

Certain sensations of the hands and knees called the little man back

to more immediate things. He became aware of something. He rode up

beside his gaunt fellow. “Do you notice the horses?” he said in an

undertone.

The gaunt face looked interrogation.

“They don’t like this wind,” said the little man, and dropped behind

as the man with the silver bridle turned upon him.

“It’s all right,” said the gaunt-faced man.

They rode on again for a space in silence. The foremost two rode

downcast upon the trail, the hindmost man watched the haze that

crept down the vastness of the valley, nearer and nearer, and noted

how the wind grew in strength moment by moment. Far away on the left

he saw a line of dark bulks–wild hog perhaps, galloping down

the valley, but of that he said nothing, nor did he remark again upon

the uneasiness of the horses.

And then he saw first one and then a second great white ball,

a great shining white ball like a gigantic head of thistle-down,

that drove before the wind athwart the path. These balls soared

high in the air, and dropped and rose again and caught for a moment,

and hurried on and passed, but at the sight of them the restlessness

of the horses increased.

Then presently he saw that more of these drifting globes–and then

soon very many more–were hurrying towards him down the valley.

They became aware of a squealing. Athwart the path a huge boar rushed,

turning his head but for one instant to glance at them, and then

hurling on down the valley again. And at that, all three stopped

and sat in their saddles, staring into the thickening haze that

was coming upon them.

“If it were not for this thistle-down–” began the leader.

But now a big globe came drifting past within a score of yards

of them. It was really not an even sphere at all, but a vast, soft,

ragged, filmy thing, a sheet gathered by the corners, an aerial

jelly-fish, as it were, but rolling over and over as it advanced,

and trailing long, cobwebby threads and streamers that floated

in its wake.

“It isn’t thistle-down,” said the little man.

“I don’t like the stuff,” said the gaunt man.

And they looked at one another.

“Curse it!” cried the leader. “The air’s full of it up there.

If it keeps on at this pace long, it will stop us altogether.”

An instinctive feeling, such as lines out a herd of deer at the

approach of some ambiguous thing, prompted them to turn their horses

to the wind, ride forward for a few paces, and stare at that advancing

multitude of floating masses. They came on before the wind with a sort

of smooth swiftness, rising and falling noiselessly, sinking to earth,

rebounding high, soaring–all with a perfect unanimity, with a still,

deliberate assurance.

Right and left of the horsemen the pioneers of this strange army

passed. At one that rolled along the ground, breaking shapelessly

and trailing out reluctantly into long grappling ribbons and bands,

all three horses began to shy and dance. The master was seized

with a sudden unreasonable impatience. He cursed the drifting globes

roundly. “Get on!” he cried; “get on! What do these things matter?

How CAN they matter? Back to the trail!” He fell swearing at his horse

and sawed the bit across its mouth.

He shouted aloud with rage. “I will follow that trail, I tell you!”

he cried. “Where is the trail?”

He gripped the bridle of his prancing horse and searched amidst

the grass. A long and clinging thread fell across his face, a grey

streamer dropped about his bridle-arm, some big, active thing

with many legs ran down the back of his head. He looked up to discover

one of those grey masses anchored as it were above him by these things

and flapping out ends as a sail flaps when a boat comes, about–

but noiselessly.

He had an impression of many eyes, of a dense crew of squat bodies,

of long, many-jointed limbs hauling at their mooring ropes to bring

the thing down upon him. For a space he stared up, reining in his

prancing horse with the instinct born of years of horsemanship.

Then the flat of a sword smote his back, and a blade flashed overhead

and cut the drifting balloon of spider-web free, and the whole mass

lifted softly and drove clear and away.

“Spiders!” cried the voice of the gaunt man. “The things are full

of big spiders! Look, my lord!”

The man with the silver bridle still followed the mass that drove away.

“Look, my lord!”

The master found himself staring down at a red, smashed thing

on the ground that, in spite of partial obliteration, could still

wriggle unavailing legs. Then when the gaunt man pointed to another

mass that bore down upon them, he drew his sword hastily. Up the

valley now it was like a fog bank torn to rags. He tried to grasp the

situation.

“Ride for it!” the little man was shouting. “Ride for it down the

valley.”

What happened then was like the confusion of a battle. The man

with the silver bridle saw the little man go past him slashing

furiously at imaginary cobwebs, saw him cannon into the horse

of the gaunt man and hurl it and its rider to earth. His own horse

went a dozen paces before he could rein it in. Then he looked up

to avoid imaginary dangers, and then back again to see a horse

rolling on the ground, the gaunt man standing and slashing over it

at a rent and fluttering mass of grey that streamed and wrapped

about them both. And thick and fast as thistle-down on waste land

on a windy day in July, the cobweb masses were coming on.

The little man had dismounted, but he dared not release his horse.

He was endeavouring to lug the struggling brute back with the strength

of one arm, while with the other he slashed aimlessly, The tentacles

of a second grey mass had entangled themselves with the struggle,

and this second grey mass came to its moorings, and slowly sank.

The master set his teeth, gripped his bridle, lowered his head,

and spurred his horse forward. The horse on the ground rolled over,

there were blood and moving shapes upon the flanks, and the gaunt man,

suddenly leaving it, ran forward towards his master, perhaps ten paces.

His legs were swathed and encumbered with grey; he made ineffectual

movements with his sword. Grey streamers waved from him; there was

a thin veil of grey across his face. With his left hand he beat at

something on his body, and suddenly he stumbled and fell. He struggled

to rise, and fell again, and suddenly, horribly, began to howl,

“Oh–ohoo, ohooh!”

The master could see the great spiders upon him, and others upon

the ground.

As he strove to force his horse nearer to this gesticulating,

screaming grey object that struggled up and down, there came a

clatter of hoofs, and the little man, in act of mounting, swordless,

balanced on his belly athwart the white horse, and clutching its mane,

whirled past. And again a clinging thread of grey gossamer swept

across the master’s face. All about him, and over him, it seemed

this drifting, noiseless cobweb circled and drew nearer him. . . .

To the day of his death he never knew just how the event of that moment

happened. Did he, indeed, turn his horse, or did it really of its

own accord stampede after its fellow? Suffice it that in another

second he was galloping full tilt down the valley with his sword

whirling furiously overhead. And all about him on the quickening

breeze, the spiders’ airships, their air bundles and air sheets,

seemed to him to hurry in a conscious pursuit.

Clatter, clatter, thud, thud–the man with the silver bridle rode,

heedless of his direction, with his fearful face looking up now right,

now left, and his sword arm ready to slash. And a few hundred yards

ahead of him, with a tail of torn cobweb trailing behind him, rode

the little man on the white horse, still but imperfectly in the saddle.

The reeds bent before them, the wind blew fresh and strong, over his

shoulder the master could see the webs hurrying to overtake. . . .

He was so intent to escape the spiders’ webs that only as his horse

gathered together for a leap did he realise the ravine ahead. And then

he reaIised it only to misunderstand and interfere. He was leaning

forward on his horse’s neck and sat up and back all too late.

But if in his excitement he had failed to leap, at any rate he had

not forgotten how to fall. He was horseman again in mid-air.

He came off clear with a mere bruise upon his shoulder, and his horse

rolled, kicking spasmodic legs, and lay still. But the master’s sword

drove its point into the hard soil, and snapped clean across, as

though Chance refused him any longer as her Knight, and the splintered

end missed his face by an inch or so.

He was on his feet in a moment, breathlessly scanning the onrushing

spider-webs. For a moment he was minded to run, and then thought

of the ravine, and turned back. He ran aside once to dodge one drifting

terror, and then he was swiftly clambering down the precipitous sides,

and out of the touch of the gale.

There under the lee of the dry torrent’s steeper banks he might

crouch, and watch these strange, grey masses pass and pass in safety

till the wind fell, and it became possible to escape. And there

for a long time he crouched, watching the strange, grey, ragged

masses trail their streamers across his narrowed sky.

Once a stray spider fell into the ravine close beside him–a full

foot it measured from leg to leg, and its body was half a man’s hand–

and after he had watched its monstrous alacrity of search and escape

for a little while, and tempted it to bite his broken sword, he lifted

up his iron-heeled boot and smashed it into a pulp. He swore as he did

so, and for a time sought up and down for another.

Then presently, when he was surer these spider swarms could not

drop into the ravine, he found a place where he could sit down,

and sat and fell into deep thought and began after his manner

to gnaw his knuckles and bite his nails. And from this he was moved

by the coming of the man with the white horse.

He heard him long before he saw him, as a clattering of hoofs,

stumbling footsteps, and a reassuring voice. Then the little man

appeared, a rueful figure, still with a tail of white cobweb trailing

behind him. They approached each other without speaking, without

a salutation. The little man was fatigued and shamed to the pitch

of hopeless bitterness, and came to a stop at last, face to face with

his seated master. The latter winced a little under his dependant’s

eye. “Well?” he said at last, with no pretence of authority.

“You left him?”

“My horse bolted.”

“I know. So did mine.”

He laughed at his master mirthlessly.

“I say my horse bolted,” said the man who once had a silver-studded

bridle.

“Cowards both,” said the little man.

The other gnawed his knuckle through some meditative moments,

with his eye on his inferior.

“Don’t call me a coward,” he said at length.

“You are a coward like myself.”

“A coward possibly. There is a limit beyond which every man must fear.

That I have learnt at last. But not like yourself. That is where

the difference comes in.”

“I never could have dreamt you would have left him. He saved

your life two minutes before. . . . Why are you our lord?”

The master gnawed his knuckles again, and his countenance was dark.

“No man calls me a coward,” he said. “No. A broken sword is better

than none. . . . One spavined white horse cannot be expected to carry

two men a four days’ journey. I hate white horses, but this time

it cannot be helped. You begin to understand me? . . . I perceive

that you are minded, on the strength of what you have seen and fancy,

to taint my reputation. It is men of your sort who unmake kings.

Besides which–I never liked you.”

“My lord!” said the little man.

“No,” said the master. “NO!”

He stood up sharply as the little man moved. For a minute perhaps

they faced one another. Overhead the spiders’ balls went driving.

There was a quick movement among the pebbles; a running of feet,

a cry of despair, a gasp and a blow. . . .

Towards nightfall the wind fell. The sun set in a calm serenity,

and the man who had once possessed the silver bridle came at last

very cautiously and by an easy slope out of the ravine again; but now

he led the white horse that once belonged to the little man.

He would have gone back to his horse to get his silver-mounted

bridle again, but he feared night and a quickening breeze might

still find him in the valley, and besides he disliked greatly

to think he might discover his horse all swathed in cobwebs

and perhaps unpleasantly eaten.

And as he thought of those cobwebs and of all the dangers he

had been through, and the manner in which he had been preserved

that day, his hand sought a little reliquary that hung about his neck,

and he clasped it for a moment with heartfelt gratitude. As he did so

his eyes went across the valley.

“I was hot with passion,” he said, “and now she has met her reward.

They also, no doubt–“

And behold! Far away out of the wooded slopes across the valley,

but in the clearness of the sunset distinct and unmistakable,

he saw a little spire of smoke.

At that his expression of serene resignation changed to an amazed

anger. Smoke? He turned the head of the white horse about, and

hesitated. And as he did so a little rustle of air went through the

grass about him. Far away upon some reeds swayed a tattered sheet of

grey. He looked at the cobwebs; he looked at the smoke.

“Perhaps, after all, it is not them,” he said at last.

But he knew better.

After he had stared at the smoke for some time, he mounted the white

horse.

As he rode, he picked his way amidst stranded masses of web. For some

reason there were many dead spiders on the ground, and those that

lived feasted guiltily on their fellows. At the sound of his horse’s

hoofs they fled.

Their time had passed. From the ground without either a wind to carry

them or a winding sheet ready, these things, for all their poison,

could do him little evil.  He flicked with his belt at those

he fancied came too near. Once, where a number ran together over

a bare place, he was minded to dismount and trample them with his boots,

but this impulse he overcame. Ever and again he turned in his saddle,

and looked back at the smoke.

“Spiders,” he muttered over and over again. “Spiders! Well, well. . . .

The next time I must spin a web.”

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Short Story: A SCHOOL STORY by by M. R. James

A SCHOOL STORY

by M. R. James

Two men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days. “At our

school,” said A., “we had a ghost’s footmark on the staircase. “

  ” What was it like?”

  “Oh, very unconvincing. Just the shape of a shoe, with a square toe, if I

remember right. The staircase was a stone one. I never heard any story about

the thing. That seems odd, when you come to think of it. Why didn’t somebody

invent one, I wonder?”

  “You never can tell with little boys. They have a mythology of their own.

There’s a subject for you, by the way – “The Folklore of Private Schools.”

  “Yes; the crop is rather scanty, though. I imagine, if you were to

investigate the cycle of ghost stories, for instance, which the boys at

private schools tell each other, they would all turn out to be

highly-compressed versions of stories out of books.”

  “Nowadays the Strand and Pearson’s, and so on, would be extensively drawn

upon.”

  “No doubt: they weren’t born or thought of in my time. Let’s see. I

wonder if I can remember the staple ones that I was told. First, there was

the house with a room in which a series of people insisted on passing a

night; and each of them in the morning was found kneeling in a corner, and

had just time to say, ‘I’ve seen it,’ and died.”

  “Wasn’t that the house in Berkeley Square?”

  “I dare say it was. Then there was the man who heard a noise in the

passage at night, opened his door, and saw someone crawling towards him on

all fours with his eye hanging out on his cheek. There was besides, let me

think – Yes! the room where a man was found dead in bed with a horseshoe

mark on his forehead, and the floor under the bed was covered with marks of

horseshoes also; I don’t know why. Also there was the lady who, on locking

her bedroom door in a strange house, heard a thin voice among the

bed-curtains say, ‘Now we’re shut in for the night.’ None of those had any

explanation or sequel. I wonder if they go on still, those stories.”

  “Oh, likely enough – with additions from the magazines, as I said. You

never heard, did you, of a real ghost at a private school? I thought not,

nobody has that ever I came across.”

  “From the way in which you said that, I gather that you have.”

  “I really don’t know, but this is what was in my mind. It happened at my

private school thirty odd years ago, and I haven’t any explanation of it.

  “The school I mean was near London. It was established in a large and

fairly old house – a great white building with very fine grounds about it;

there were large cedars in the garden, as there are in so many of the older

gardens in the Thames valley, and ancient elms in the three or four fields

which we used for our games. I think probably it was quite an attractive

place, but boys seldom allow that their schools possess any tolerable

features.

  “I came to the school in a September, soon after the year 1870; and among

the boys who arrived on the same day was one whom I took to: a Highland boy,

whom I will call McLeod. I needn’t spend time in describing him: the main

thing is that I got to know him very well. He was not an exceptional boy in

any way – not particularly good at books or games – but he suited me.

  “The school was a large one: there must have been from 120 to 130 boys

there as a rule, and so a considerable staff of masters was required, and

there were rather frequent changes among them.

  “One term – perhaps it was my third or fourth – a new master made his

appearance. His name was Sampson. He was a tallish, stoutish, pale,

black-bearded man. I think we liked him: he had travelled a good deal, and

had stories which amused us on our school walks, so that there was some

competition among us to get within earshot of him. I remember too – dear me,

I have hardly thought of it since then – that he had a charm on his

watch-chain that attracted my attention one day, and he let me examine it.

It was, I now suppose, a gold Byzantine coin; there was an effigy of some

absurd emperor on one side; the other side had been worn practically smooth,

and he had had cut on it – rather barbarously – his own initials, G.W.S.,

and a date, 24 July, 1865. Yes, I can see it now: he told me he had picked

it up in Constantinople: it was about the size of a florin, perhaps rather

smaller.

  “Well, the first odd thing that happened was this. Sampson was doing

Latin grammar with us. One of his favourite methods – perhaps it is rather a

good one – was to make us construct sentences out of our own heads to

illustrate the rules he was trying to make us learn. Of course that is a

thing which gives a silly boy a chance of being impertinent: there are lots

of school stories in which that happens – or any-how there might be. But

Sampson was too good a disciplinarian for us to think of trying that on with

him. Now, on this occasion he was telling us how to express remembering in

Latin: and he ordered us each to make a sentence bringing in the verb

memini, ‘I remember.’ Well, most of us made up some ordinary sentence such

as ‘I remember my father,’ or ‘He remembers his book,’ or something equally

uninteresting: and I dare say a good many put down memino librum meum, and

so forth: but the boy I mentioned – McLeod – was evidently thinking of

something more elaborate than that. The rest of us wanted to have our

sentences passed, and get on to something else, so some kicked him under the

desk, and I, who was next to him, poked him and whispered to him to look

sharp. But he didn’t seem to attend. I looked at his paper and saw he had

put down nothing at all. So I jogged him again harder than before and

upbraided him sharply for keeping us all waiting. That did have some effect.

He started and seemed to wake up, and then very quickly he scribbled about a

couple of lines on his paper, and showed it up with the rest. As it was the

last, or nearly the last, to come in, and as Sampson had a good deal to say

to the boys who had written meminiscimus patri meo and the rest of it, it

turned out that the clock struck twelve before he had got to McLeod, and

McLeod had to wait afterwards to have his sentence corrected. There was

nothing much going on outside when I got out, so I waited for him to come.

He came very slowly when he did arrive, and I guessed there had been some

sort of trouble. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘what did you get?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know,’

said McLeod, ‘nothing much: but I think Sampson’s rather sick with me.’

‘Why, did you show him up some rot?’ ‘No fear,’ he said. ‘It was all right

as far as I could see: it was like this: Memento – that’s right enough for

remember, and it takes a genitive, – memento putei inter quatuor taxos.’

‘What silly rot!’ I said. ‘What made you shove that down? What does it

mean?’ ‘That’s the funny part,’ said McLeod. ‘I’m not quite sure what it

does mean. All I know is, it just came into my head and I corked it down. I

know what I think it means, because just before I wrote it down I had a sort

of picture of it in my head: I believe it means “Remember the well among the

four” – what are those dark sort of trees that have red berries on them?’

‘Mountain ashes, I s’pose you mean.’ ‘I never heard of them,’ said McLeod;

‘no, I’ll tell you – yews.’ ‘Well, and what did Sampson say?’ ‘Why, he was

jolly odd about it. When he read it he got up and went to the mantel-piece

and stopped quite a long time without saying anything, with his back to me.

And then he said, without turning round, and rather quiet, “What do you

suppose that means?” I told him what I thought; only I couldn’t remember the

name of the silly tree: and then he wanted to know why I put it down, and I

had to say something or other. And after that he left off talking about it,

and asked me how long I’d been here, and where my people lived, and things

like that: and then I came away: but he wasn’t looking a bit well.’

  “I don’t remember any more that was said by either of us about this. Next

day McLeod took to his bed with a chill or something of the kind, and it was

a week or more before he was in school again. And as much as a month went by

without anything happening that was noticeable. Whether or not Mr. Sampson

was really startled, as McLeod had thought, he didn’t show it. I am pretty

sure, of course, now, that there was something very curious in his past

history, but I’m not going to pretend that we boys were sharp enough to

guess any such thing.

  “There was one other incident of the same kind as the last which I told

you. Several times since that day we had had to make up examples in school

to illustrate different rules, but there had never been any row except when

we did them wrong. At last there came a day when we were going through those

dismal things which people call Conditional Sentences, and we were told to

make a conditional sentence, expressing a future consequence. We did it,

right or wrong, and showed up our bits of paper, and Sampson began looking

through them. All at once he got up, made some odd sort of noise in his

throat, and rushed out by a door that was just by his desk. We sat there for

a minute or two, and then – I suppose it was incorrect – but we went up, I

and one or two others, to look at the papers on his desk. Of course I

thought someone must have put down some nonsense or other, and Sampson had

gone off to report him. All the same, I noticed that he hadn’t taken any of

the papers with him when he ran out. Well, the top paper on the desk was

written in red ink – which no one used – and it wasn’t in anyone’s hand who

was in the class. They all looked at it – McLeod and all – and took their

dying oaths that it wasn’t theirs. Then I thought of counting the bits of

paper. And of this I made quite certain: that there were seventeen bits of

paper on the desk, and sixteen boys in the form. Well, I bagged the extra

paper, and kept it, and I believe I have it now. And now you will want to

know what was written on it. It was simple enough, and harmless enough, I

should have said.

  “‘Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te,’ which means, I suppose, ‘If

you don’t come to me, I’ll come to you.'”

  “Could you show me the paper?” interrupted the listener.

  “Yes, I could: but there’s another odd thing about it. That same

afternoon I took it out of my locker – I know for certain it was the same

bit, for I made a finger-mark on it and no single trace of writing of any

kind was there on it. I kept it, as I said, and since that time I have tried

various experiments to see whether sympathetic ink had been used, but

absolutely without result.

  “So much for that. After about half an hour Sampson looked in again: said

he had felt very unwell, and told us we might go. He came rather gingerly to

his desk, and gave just one look at the uppermost paper: and I suppose he

thought he must have been dreaming: anyhow, he asked no questions.

  “That day was a half-holiday, and next day Sampson was in school again,

much as usual. That night the third and last incident in my story happened.

  “We – McLeod and I – slept in a dormitory at right angles to the main

building. Sampson slept in the main building on the first floor. There was a

very bright full moon. At an hour which I can’t tell exactly, but some time

between one and two, I was woken up by somebody shaking me. It was McLeod,

and a nice state of mind he seemed to be in. ‘Come,’ he said, – ‘come

there’s a burglar getting in through Sampson’s window.’ As soon as I could

speak, I said, ‘Well, why not call out and wake everybody up? ‘No, no,’ he

said, ‘I’m not sure who it is: don’t make a row: come and look.’ Naturally I

came and looked, and naturally there was no one there. I was cross enough,

and should have called McLeod plenty of names: only – I couldn’t tell why –

it seemed to me that there was something wrong – something that made me very

glad I wasn’t alone to face it. We were still at the window looking out, and

as soon as I could, I asked him what he had heard or seen. ‘I didn’t hear

anything at all,’ he said, ‘but about five minutes before I woke you, I

found myself looking out of this window here, and there was a man sitting or

kneeling on Sampson’s window-sill, and looking in, and I thought he was

beckoning.’ ‘What sort of man?’ McLeod wriggled. ‘I don’t know,’ he said,

‘but I can tell you one thing – he was beastly thin: and he looked as if he

was wet all over: and,’ he said, looking round and whispering as if he

hardly liked to hear himself, ‘I’m not at all sure that he was alive.’

  “We went on talking in whispers some time longer, and eventually crept

back to bed. No one else in the room woke or stirred the whole time. I

believe we did sleep a bit afterwards, but we were very cheap next day.

  “And next day Mr. Sampson was gone: not to be found: and I believe no

trace of him has ever come to light since. In thinking it over, one of the

oddest things about it all has seemed to me to be the fact that neither

McLeod nor I ever mentioned what we had seen to any third person whatever.

Of course no questions were asked on the subject, and if they had been, I am

inclined to believe that we could not have made any answer: we seemed unable

to speak about it.

  “That is my story,” said the narrator. “The only approach to a ghost

story connected with a school that I know, but still, I think, an approach

to such a thing.”

                               *   *   *  *  *

  The sequel to this may perhaps be reckoned highly conventional; but a

sequel there is, and so it must be produced. There had been more than one

listener to the story, and, in the latter part of that same year, or of the

next, one such listener was staying at a country house in Ireland.

  One evening his host was turning over a drawer full of odds and ends in

the smoking-room. Suddenly he put his hand upon a little box. “Now,” he

said, “you know about old things; tell me what that is.” My friend opened

the little box, and found in it a thin gold chain with an object attached to

  1. He glanced at the object and then took off his spectacles to examine it

more narrowly. “What’s the history of this?” he asked. “Odd enough,” was the

answer. “You know the yew thicket in the shrubbery: well, a year or two back

we were cleaning out the old well that used to be in the clearing here, and

what do you suppose we found?”

  “Is it possible that you found a body?” said the visitor, with an odd

feeling of nervousness.

  “We did that: but what’s more, in every sense of the word, we found two.”

  “Good Heavens! Two? Was there anything to show how they got there? Was

this thing found with them?”

  “It was. Amongst the rags of the clothes that were on one of the bodies.

A bad business, whatever the story of it may have been. One body had the

arms tight round the other. They must have been there thirty years or more –

long enough before we came to this place. You may judge we filled the well

up fast enough. Do you make anything of what’s cut on that gold coin you

have there?”

  “I think I can,” said my friend, holding it to the light (but he read it

without much difficulty); “it seems to be G.W.S., 24 July, 1865.”

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Short Story: The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet  

The Last Lesson 

I started for school very late that morning and was in great dread of a scolding, especially because M. Hamel had said that he would question us on participles, and I did not know the first word about them. For a moment I thought of running away and spending the day out of doors. It was so warm, so bright! The birds were chirping at the edge of the woods; and in the open field back of the sawmill the Prussian soldiers were drilling. It was all much more tempting than the rule for participles, but I had the strength to resist, and hurried off to school.

When I passed the town hall there was a crowd in front of the bulletin-board. For the last two years all our bad news had come from there—the lost battles, the draft, the orders of the commanding officer—and I thought to myself, without stopping:

“What can be the matter now?”

Then, as I hurried by as fast as I could go, the blacksmith, Wachter, who was there, with his apprentice, reading the bulletin, called after me:

“Don’t go so fast, bub; you’ll get to your school in plenty of time!”

I thought he was making fun of me, and reached M. Hamel’s little garden all out of breath.

Usually, when school began, there was a great bustle, which could be heard out in the street, the opening and closing of desks, lessons repeated in unison, very loud, with our hands over our ears to understand better, and the teacher’s great ruler rapping on the table. But now it was all so still! I had counted on the commotion to get to my desk without being seen; but, of course, that day everything had to be as quiet as Sunday morning. Through the window I saw my classmates, already in their places, and M. Hamel walking up and down with his terrible iron ruler under his arm. I had to open the door and go in before everybody. You can imagine how I blushed and how frightened I was.

But nothing happened. M. Hamel saw me and said very kindly:

“Go to your place quickly, little Franz. We were beginning without you.”

I jumped over the bench and sat down at my desk. Not till then, when I had got a little over my fright, did I see that our teacher had on his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt, and the little black silk cap, all embroidered, that he never wore except on inspection and prize days. Besides, the whole school seemed so strange and solemn. But the thing that surprised me most was to see, on the back benches that were always empty, the village people sitting quietly like ourselves; old Hauser, with his three-cornered hat, the former mayor, the former postmaster, and several others besides. Everybody looked sad; and Hauser had brought an old primer, thumbed at the edges, and he held it open on his knees with his great spectacles lying across the pages.

While I was wondering about it all, M. Hamel mounted his chair, and, in the same grave and gentle tone which he had used to me, said:

“My children, this is the last lesson I shall give you. The order has come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The new master comes to-morrow. This is your last French lesson. I want you to be very attentive.”

What a thunderclap these words were to me!

Oh, the wretches; that was what they had put up at the town-hall!

My last French lesson! Why, I hardly knew how to write! I should never learn any more! I must stop there, then! Oh, how sorry I was for not learning my lessons, for seeking birds’ eggs, or going sliding on the Saar! My books, that had seemed such a nuisance a while ago, so heavy to carry, my grammar, and my history of the saints, were old friends now that I couldn’t give up. And M. Hamel, too; the idea that he was going away, that I should never see him again, made me forget all about his ruler and how cranky he was.

Poor man! It was in honor of this last lesson that he had put on his fine Sunday clothes, and now I understood why the old men of the village were sitting there in the back of the room. It was because they were sorry, too, that they had not gone to school more. It was their way of thanking our master for his forty years of faithful service and of showing their respect for the country that was theirs no more.

While I was thinking of all this, I heard my name called. It was my turn to recite. What would I not have given to be able to say that dreadful rule for the participle all through, very loud and clear, and without one mistake? But I got mixed up on the first words and stood there, holding on to my desk, my heart beating, and not daring to look up. I heard M. Hamel say to me:

“I won’t scold you, little Franz; you must feel bad enough. See how it is! Every day we have said to ourselves: ‘Bah! I’ve plenty of time. I’ll learn it to-morrow.’ And now you see where we’ve come out. Ah, that’s the great trouble with Alsace; she puts off learning till to-morrow. Now those fellows out there will have the right to say to you: ‘How is it; you pretend to be Frenchmen, and yet you can neither speak nor write your own language?’ But you are not the worst, poor little Franz. We’ve all a great deal to reproach ourselves with.

“Your parents were not anxious enough to have you learn. They preferred to put you to work on a farm or at the mills, so as to have a little more money. And I? I’ve been to blame also. Have I not often sent you to water my flowers instead of learning your lessons? And when I wanted to go fishing, did I not just give you a holiday?”

Then, from one thing to another, M. Hamel went on to talk of the French language, saying that it was the most beautiful language in the world—the clearest, the most logical; that we must guard it among us and never forget it, because when a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison. Then he opened a grammar and read us our lesson. I was amazed to see how well I understood it. All he said seemed so easy, so easy! I think, too, that I had never listened so carefully, and that he had never explained everything with so much patience. It seemed almost as if the poor man wanted to give us all he knew before going away, and to put it all into our heads at one stroke.

After the grammar, we had a lesson in writing. That day M. Hamel had new copies for us, written in a beautiful round hand: France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked like little flags floating everywhere in the school-room, hung from the rod at the top of our desks. You ought to have seen how every one set to work, and how quiet it was! The only sound was the scratching of the pens over the paper. Once some beetles flew in; but nobody paid any attention to them, not even the littlest ones, who worked right on tracing their fish-hooks, as if that was French, too. On the roof the pigeons cooed very low, and I thought to myself:

“Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?”

Whenever I looked up from my writing I saw M. Hamel sitting motionless in his chair and gazing first at one thing, then at another, as if he wanted to fix in his mind just how everything looked in that little school-room. Fancy! For forty years he had been there in the same place, with his garden outside the window and his class in front of him, just like that. Only the desks and benches had been worn smooth; the walnut-trees in the garden were taller, and the hopvine that he had planted himself twined about the windows to the roof. How it must have broken his heart to leave it all, poor man; to hear his sister moving about in the room above, packing their trunks! For they must leave the country next day.

But he had the courage to hear every lesson to the very last. After the writing, we had a lesson in history, and then the babies chanted their ba, be bi, bo, bu. Down there at the back of the room old Hauser had put on his spectacles and, holding his primer in both hands, spelled the letters with them. You could see that he, too, was crying; his voice trembled with emotion, and it was so funny to hear him that we all wanted to laugh and cry. Ah, how well I remember it, that last lesson!

All at once the church-clock struck twelve. Then the Angelus. At the same moment the trumpets of the Prussians, returning from drill, sounded under our windows. M. Hamel stood up, very pale, in his chair. I never saw him look so tall.

“My friends,” said he, “I—I—” But something choked him. He could not go on.

Then he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and, bearing on with all his might, he wrote as large as he could:

“Vive La France!”

Then he stopped and leaned his head against the wall, and, without a word, he made a gesture to us with his hand:

“School is dismissed—you may go.”

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