|01-01-2016, 11:38 AM||#1 (permalink)|
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Short stories and comics
Kandathum kettathum threadinte literary version aayi kandal mathi.. online aayitt available aayittulla, interesting aayi ningalkk thonniya enthum ivide idam... Neelam lesham koodiya sambavam aanenkil link ayalum mathi..
|01-01-2016, 11:46 AM||#3 (permalink)|
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by Anton Chekhov
It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party one autumn evening. There had been many clever men there, and there had been interesting conversations. Among other things they had talked of capital punishment. The majority of the guests, among whom were many journalists and intellectual men, disapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life. "I don't agree with you," said their host the banker. "I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?"
"Both are equally immoral," observed one of the guests, "for they both have the same object - to take away life. The State is not God. It has not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to."
Among the guests was a young lawyer, a young man of five-and-twenty. When he was asked his opinion, he said:
"The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all."
A lively discussion arose. The banker, who was younger and more nervous in those days, was suddenly carried away by excitement; he struck the table with his fist and shouted at the young man:
"It's not true! I'll bet you two million you wouldn't stay in solitary confinement for five years."
"If you mean that in earnest," said the young man, "I'll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years."
< 2 >
"Fifteen? Done!" cried the banker. "Gentlemen, I stake two million!"
"Agreed! You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!" said the young man.
And this wild, senseless bet was carried out! The banker, spoilt and frivolous, with millions beyond his reckoning, was delighted at the bet. At supper he made fun of the young man, and said:
"Think better of it, young man, while there is still time. To me two million is a trifle, but you are losing three or four of the best years of your life. I say three or four, because you won't stay longer. Don't forget either, you unhappy man, that voluntary confinement is a great deal harder to bear than compulsory. The thought that you have the right to step out in liberty at any moment will poison your whole existence in prison. I am sorry for you."
And now the banker, walking to and fro, remembered all this, and asked himself: "What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man's losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two million? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money ..."
Then he remembered what followed that evening. It was decided that the young man should spend the years of his captivity under the strictest supervision in one of the lodges in the banker's garden. It was agreed that for fifteen years he should not be free to cross the threshold of the lodge, to see human beings, to hear the human voice, or to receive letters and newspapers. He was allowed to have a musical instrument and books, and was allowed to write letters, to drink wine, and to smoke. By the terms of the agreement, the only relations he could have with the outer world were by a little window made purposely for that object. He might have anything he wanted - books, music, wine, and so on - in any quantity he desired by writing an order, but could only receive them through the window. The agreement provided for every detail and every trifle that would make his imprisonment strictly solitary, and bound the young man to stay there exactly fifteen years, beginning from twelve o'clock of November 14, 1870, and ending at twelve o'clock of November 14, 1885. The slightest attempt on his part to break the conditions, if only two minutes before the end, released the banker from the obligation to pay him the two million.
< 3 >
For the first year of his confinement, as far as one could judge from his brief notes, the prisoner suffered severely from loneliness and depression. The sounds of the piano could be heard continually day and night from his lodge. He refused wine and tobacco. Wine, he wrote, excites the desires, and desires are the worst foes of the prisoner; and besides, nothing could be more dreary than drinking good wine and seeing no one. And tobacco spoilt the air of his room. In the first year the books he sent for were principally of a light character; novels with a complicated love plot, sensational and fantastic stories, and so on.
In the second year the piano was silent in the lodge, and the prisoner asked only for the classics. In the fifth year music was audible again, and the prisoner asked for wine. Those who watched him through the window said that all that year he spent doing nothing but eating and drinking and lying on his bed, frequently yawning and angrily talking to himself. He did not read books. Sometimes at night he would sit down to write; he would spend hours writing, and in the morning tear up all that he had written. More than once he could be heard crying.
In the second half of the sixth year the prisoner began zealously studying languages, philosophy, and history. He threw himself eagerly into these studies - so much so that the banker had enough to do to get him the books he ordered. In the course of four years some six hundred volumes were procured at his request. It was during this period that the banker received the following letter from his prisoner:
"My dear Jailer, I write you these lines in six languages. Show them to people who know the languages. Let them read them. If they find not one mistake I implore you to fire a shot in the garden. That shot will show me that my efforts have not been thrown away. The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all. Oh, if you only knew what unearthly happiness my soul feels now from being able to understand them!" The prisoner's desire was fulfilled. The banker ordered two shots to be fired in the garden.
< 4 >
Then after the tenth year, the prisoner sat immovably at the table and read nothing but the Gospel. It seemed strange to the banker that a man who in four years had mastered six hundred learned volumes should waste nearly a year over one thin book easy of comprehension. Theology and histories of religion followed the Gospels.
In the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an immense quantity of books quite indiscriminately. At one time he was busy with the natural sciences, then he would ask for Byron or Shakespeare. There were notes in which he demanded at the same time books on chemistry, and a manual of medicine, and a novel, and some treatise on philosophy or theology. His reading suggested a man swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his ship, and trying to save his life by greedily clutching first at one spar and then at another.
The old banker remembered all this, and thought:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock he will regain his freedom. By our agreement I ought to pay him two million. If I do pay him, it is all over with me: I shall be utterly ruined."
Fifteen years before, his millions had been beyond his reckoning; now he was afraid to ask himself which were greater, his debts or his assets. Desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild speculation and the excitability whic h he could not get over even in advancing years, had by degrees led to the decline of his fortune and the proud, fearless, self-confident millionaire had become a banker of middling rank, trembling at every rise and fall in his investments. "Cursed bet!" muttered the old man, clutching his head in despair "Why didn't the man die? He is only forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will marry, will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look at him with envy like a beggar, and hear from him every day the same sentence: 'I am indebted to you for the happiness of my life, let me help you!' No, it is too much! The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!"
< 5 >
It struck three o'clock, the banker listened; everyone was asleep in the house and nothing could be heard outside but the rustling of the chilled trees. Trying to make no noise, he took from a fireproof safe the key of the door which had not been opened for fifteen years, put on his overcoat, and went out of the house.
It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp cutting wind was racing about the garden, howling and giving the trees no rest. The banker strained his eyes, but could see neither the earth nor the white statues, nor the lodge, nor the trees. Going to the spot where the lodge stood, he twice called the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently the watchman had sought shelter from the weather, and was now asleep somewhere either in the kitchen or in the greenhouse.
"If I had the pluck to carry out my intention," thought the old man, "Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman."
He felt in the darkness for the steps and the door, and went into the entry of the lodge. Then he groped his way into a little passage and lighted a match. There was not a soul there. There was a bedstead with no bedding on it, and in the corner there was a dark cast-iron stove. The seals on the door leading to the prisoner's rooms were intact.
When the match went out the old man, trembling with emotion, peeped through the little window. A candle was burning dimly in the prisoner's room. He was sitting at the table. Nothing could be seen but his back, the hair on his head, and his hands. Open books were lying on the table, on the two easy-chairs, and on the carpet near the table.
Five minutes passed and the prisoner did not once stir. Fifteen years' imprisonment had taught him to sit still. The banker tapped at the window with his finger, and the prisoner made no movement whatever in response. Then the banker cautiously broke the seals off the door and put the key in the keyhole. The rusty lock gave a grating sound and the door creaked. The banker expected to hear at once footsteps and a cry of astonishment, but three minutes passed and it was as quiet as ever in the room. He made up his mind to go in.
< 6 >
At the table a man unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless. He was a skeleton with the skin drawn tight over his bones, with long curls like a woman's and a shaggy beard. His face was yellow with an earthy tint in it, his cheeks were hollow, his back long and narrow, and the hand on which his shaggy head was propped was so thin and delicate that it was dreadful to look at it. His hair was already streaked with silver, and seeing his emaciated, aged-looking face, no one would have believed that he was only forty. He was asleep ... In front of his bowed head there lay on the table a sheet of paper on which there was something written in fine handwriting.
"Poor creature!" thought the banker, "he is asleep and most likely dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this half-dead man, throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the pillow, and the most conscientious expert would find no sign of a violent death. But let us first read what he has written here ... "
The banker took the page from the table and read as follows:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom and the right to associate with other men, but before I leave this room and see the sunshine, I think it necessary to say a few words to you. With a clear conscience I tell you, as before God, who beholds me, that I despise freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the good things of the world.
"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women ... Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds' pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to converse with me of God ... In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms ...
< 7 >
"Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you.
"And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe.
"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don't want to understand you.
"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed, and so break the compact ..."
When the banker had read this he laid the page on the table, kissed the strange man on the head, and went out of the lodge, weeping. At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself. When he got home he lay on his bed, but his tears and emotion kept him for hours from sleeping.
Next morning the watchmen ran in with pale faces, and told him they had seen the man who lived in the lodge climb out of the window into the garden, go to the gate, and disappear. The banker went at once with the servants to the lodge and made sure of the flight of his prisoner. To avoid arousing unnecessary talk, he took from the table the writing in which the millions were renounced, and when he got home locked it up in the fireproof safe.
|01-01-2016, 12:43 PM||#6 (permalink)|
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The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
THE FIRST CHILDREN who saw the dark and slinky bulge approaching through the sea let themselves think it was an enemy ship. Then they saw it had no flags or masts and they thought it was a whale. But when it washed up on the beach, they removed the clumps of seaweed, the jellyfish tentacles, and the remains of fish and flotsam, and only then did they see that it was a drowned man.
They had been playing with him all afternoon, burying him in the sand and digging him up again, when someone chanced to see them and spread the alarm in the village. The men who carried him to the nearest house noticed that he weighed more than any dead man they had ever known, almost as much as a horse, and they said to each other that maybe he'd been floating too long and the water had got into his bones. When they laid him on the floor they said he'd been taller than all other men because there was barely enough room for him in the house, but they thought that maybe the ability to keep on growing after death was part of the nature of certain drowned men. He had the smell of the sea about him and only his shape gave one to suppose that it was the corpse of a human being, because the skin was covered with a crust of mud and scales.
They did not even have to clean off his face to know that the dead man was a stranger. The village was made up of only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers and which were spread about on the end of a desert-like cape. There was so little land that mothers always went about with the fear that the wind would carry off their children and the few dead that the years had caused among them had to be thrown off the cliffs. But the sea was calm and bountiful and all the men fitted into seven boats. So when they found the drowned man they simply had to look at one another to see that they were all there.
That night they did not go out to work at sea. While the men went to find out if anyone was missing in neighboring villages, the women stayed behind to care for the drowned man. They took the mud off with grass swabs, they removed the underwater stones entangled in his hair, and they scraped the crust off with tools used for scaling fish. As they were doing that they noticed that the vegetation on him came from faraway oceans and deep water and that his clothes were in tatters, as if he had sailed through labyrinths of coral. They noticed too that he bore his death with pride, for he did not have the lonely look of other drowned men who came out of the sea or that haggard, needy look of men who drowned in rivers. But only when they finished cleaning him off did they become aware of the kind of man he was and it left them breathless. Not only was he the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best built man they had ever seen, but even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination.
They could not find a bed in the village large enough to lay him on nor was there a table solid enough to use for his wake. The tallest men's holiday pants would not fit him, nor the fattest ones' Sunday shirts, nor the shoes of the one with the biggest feet. Fascinated by his huge size and his beauty, the women then decided to make him some pants from a large piece of sail and a shirt from some bridal brabant linen so that he could continue through his death with dignity. As they sewed, sitting in a circle and gazing at the corpse between stitches, it seemed to them that the wind had never been so steady nor the sea so restless as on that night and they supposed that the change had something to do with the dead man. They thought that if that magnificent man had lived in the village, his house would have had the widest doors, the highest ceiling, and the strongest floor, his bedstead would have been made from a midship frame held together by iron bolts, and his wife would have been the happiest woman. They thought that he would have had so much authority that he could have drawn fish out of the sea simply by calling their names and that he would have put so much work into his land that springs would have burst forth from among the rocks so that he would have been able to plant flowers on the cliffs. They secretly compared him to their own men, thinking that for all their lives theirs were incapable of doing what he could do in one night, and they ended up dismissing them deep in their hearts as the weakest, meanest and most useless creatures on earth. They were wandering through that maze of fantasy when the oldest woman, who as the oldest had looked upon the drowned man with more compassion than passion, sighed: 'He has the face of someone called Esteban.'
It was true. Most of them had only to take another look at him to see that he could not have any other name. The more stubborn among them, who were the youngest, still lived for a few hours with the illusion that when they put his clothes on and he lay among the flowers in patent leather shoes his name might be Lautaro. But it was a vain illusion. There had not been enough canvas, the poorly cut and worse sewn pants were too tight, and the hidden strength of his heart popped the buttons on his shirt. After midnight the whistling of the wind died down and the sea fell into its Wednesday drowsiness. The silence put an end to any last doubts: he was Esteban. The women who had dressed him, who had combed his hair, had cut his nails and shaved him were unable to hold back a shudder of pity when they had to resign themselves to his being dragged along the ground. It was then that they understood how unhappy he must have been with that huge body since it bothered him even after death. They could see him in life, condemned to going through doors sideways, cracking his head on crossbeams, remaining on his feet during visits, not knowing what to do with his soft, pink, sea lion hands while the lady of the house looked for her most resistant chair and begged him, frightened to death, sit here, Esteban, please, and he, leaning against the wall, smiling, don't bother, ma'am, I'm fine where I am, his heels raw and his back roasted from having done the same thing so many times whenever he paid a visit, don't bother, ma'am, I'm fine where I am, just to avoid the embarrassment of breaking up the chair, and never knowing perhaps that the ones who said don't go, Esteban, at least wait till the coffee's ready, were the ones who later on would whisper the big boob finally left, how nice, the handsome fool has gone. That was what the women were thinking beside the body a little before dawn. Later, when they covered his face with a handkerchief so that the light would not bother him, he looked so forever dead, so defenseless, so much like their men that the first furrows of tears opened in their hearts. It was one of the younger ones who began the weeping. The others, coming to, went from sighs to wails, and the more they sobbed the more they felt like weeping, because the drowned man was becoming all the more Esteban for them, and so they wept so much, for he was the more destitute, most peaceful, and most obliging man on earth, poor Esteban. So when the men returned with the news that the drowned man was not from the neighboring villages either, the women felt an opening of jubilation in the midst of their tears.
'Praise the Lord,' they sighed, 'he's ours!'
The men thought the fuss was only womanish frivolity. Fatigued because of the difficult nighttime inquiries, all they wanted was to get rid of the bother of the newcomer once and for all before the sun grew strong on that arid, windless day. They improvised a litter with the remains of foremasts and gaffs, tying it together with rigging so that it would bear the weight of the body until they reached the cliffs. They wanted to tie the anchor from a cargo ship to him so that he would sink easily into the deepest waves, where fish are blind and divers die of nostalgia, and bad currents would not bring him back to shore, as had happened with other bodies. But the more they hurried, the more the women thought of ways to waste time. They walked about like startled hens, pecking with the sea charms on their breasts, some interfering on one side to put a scapular of the good wind on the drowned man, some on the other side to put a wrist compass on him , and after a great deal of get away from there, woman, stay out of the way, look, you almost made me fall on top of the dead man, the men began to feel mistrust in their livers and started grumbling about why so many main-altar decorations for a stranger, because no matter how many nails and holy-water jars he had on him, the sharks would chew him all the same, but the women kept piling on their junk relics, running back and forth, stumbling, while they released in sighs what they did not in tears, so that the men finally exploded with since when has there ever been such a fuss over a drifting corpse, a drowned nobody, a piece of cold Wednesday meat. One of the women, mortified by so much lack of care, then removed the handkerchief from the dead man's face and the men were left breathless too.
He was Esteban. It was not necessary to repeat it for them to recognize him. If they had been told Sir Walter Raleigh, even they might have been impressed with his gringo accent, the macaw on his shoulder, his cannibal-killing blunderbuss, but there could be only one Esteban in the world and there he was, stretched out like a sperm whale, shoeless, wearing the pants of an undersized child, and with those stony nails that had to be cut with a knife. They only had to take the handkerchief off his face to see that he was ashamed, that it was not his fault that he was so big or so heavy or so handsome, and if he had known that this was going to happen, he would have looked for a more discreet place to drown in, seriously, I even would have tied the anchor off a galleon around my nick and staggered off a cliff like someone who doesn't like things in order not to be upsetting people now with this Wednesday dead body, as you people say, in order not to be bothering anyone with this filthy piece of cold meat that doesn't have anything to do with me. There was so much truth in his manner that even the most mistrustful men, the ones who felt the bitterness of endless nights at sea fearing that their women would tire of dreaming about them and begin to dream of drowned men, even they and others who were harder still shuddered in the marrow of their bones at Esteban's sincerity.
That was how they came to hold the most splendid funeral they could ever conceive of for an abandoned drowned man. Some women who had gone to get flowers in the neighboring villages returned with other women who could not believe what they had been told, and those women went back for more flowers when they saw the dead man, and they brought more and more until there were so many flowers and so many people that it was hard to walk about. At the final moment it pained them to return him to the waters as an orphan and they chose a father and mother from among the best people, and aunts and uncles and cousins, so that through him all the inhabitants of the village became kinsmen. Some sailors who heard the weeping from a distance went off course and people heard of one who had himself tied to the mainmast, remembering ancient fables about sirens. While they fought for the privilege of carrying him on their shoulders along the steep escarpment by the cliffs, men and women became aware for the first time of the desolation of their streets, the dryness of their courtyards, the narrowness of their dreams as they faced the splendor and beauty of their drowned man. They let him go without an anchor so that he could come back if he wished and whenever he wished, and they all held their breath for the fraction of centuries the body took to fall into the abyss. They did not need to look at one another to realize that they were no longer all present, that they would never be. But they also knew that everything would be different from then on, that their houses would have wider doors, higher ceilings, and stronger floors so that Esteban's memory could go everywhere without bumping into beams and so that no one in the future would dare whisper the big boob finally died, too bad, the handsome fool has finally died, because they were going to paint their house fronts gay colors to make Esteban's memory eternal and they were going to break their backs digging for springs among the stones and planting flowers on the cliffs so that in future years at dawn the passengers on great liners would awaken, suffocated by the smell of gardens on the high seas, and the captain would have to come down from the bridge in his dress uniform, with his astrolabe, his pole star, and his row of war medals and, pointing to the promontory of roses on the horizon, he would say in fourteen languages, look there, where the wind is so peaceful now that it's gone to sleep beneath the beds, over there, where the sun's so bright that the sunflowers don't know which way to turn, yes, over there, that's Esteban's village.
|01-01-2016, 12:47 PM||#7 (permalink)|
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by Ray Bradbury
Oh, it was to be so jolly! What a game! Such excitement they hadn’t known in years. The children catapulted this way and that across the green lawns, shouting at each other, holding hands, flying in circles, climbing trees, laughing. Overhead the rockets flew, and beetle cars whispered by on the streets, but the children played on. Such fun, such tremulous joy, such tumbling and hearty screaming.
Mink ran into the house, all dirt and sweat. For her seven years she was loud and strong and definite. Her mother, Mrs. Morris, hardly saw her as she yanked out drawers and rattled pans and tools into a large sack.
“Heavens, Mink, what’s going on?”
“The most exciting game ever!” gasped Mink, pink-faced.
“Stop and get your breath,” said the mother.
“No, I’m all right,” gasped Mink. “Okay I take these things, Mom?”
“But don’t dent them,” said Mrs. Morris.
“Thank you, thank you!” cried Mink, and boom! she was gone, like a rocket.
Mrs. Morris surveyed the fleeing tot. “What’s the name of the game?”
“Invasion!” said Mink. The door slammed.
In every yard on the street children brought out knives and forks and pokers and old stovepipes and can openers.
It was an interesting fact that this fury and bustle occurred only among the younger children. The older ones, those ten years and more, disdained the affair and marched scornfully off on hikes or played a more dignified version of hide-and-seek on their own.
Meanwhile, parents came and went in chromium beetles. Repairmen came to repair the vacuum elevators in houses, to fix fluttering television sets, or hammer upon stubborn food-delivery tubes. The adult civilization passed and repassed the busy youngsters, jealous of the fierce energy of the wild tots, tolerantly amused at their flourishings, longing to join in themselves.
“This and this and this,” said Mink, instructing the others with their assorted spoons and wrenches. “Do that, and bring that over here. No! Here, ninny! Right. Now get back while I fix this.” Tongue in teeth, face wrinkled in thought. “Like that. See?”
“Yayyyy!” shouted the kids.
Twelve-year-old Joseph Connors ran up.
“Go away,” said Mink straight at him.
“I wanna play,” said Joseph.
“Can’t!” said Mink.
“You’d just make fun of us.”
“Honest, I wouldn’t.”
“No. We know you. Go away or we’ll kick you.”
Another twelve-year-old boy whirred by on little motor skates. “Hey, Joe! Come on! Let them sissies play!”
Joseph showed reluctance and a certain wistfulness. “I want to play,” he said.
“You’re old,” said Mink firmly.
“Not that old,” said Joe sensibly.
“You’d only laugh and spoil the Invasion.”
The boy on the motor skates made a rude lip noise. “Come on, Joe! Them and their fairies! Nuts!”
Joseph walked off slowly. He kept looking back, all down the block.
Mink was already busy again. She made a kind of apparatus with her gathered equipment. She had appointed another little girl with a pad and pencil to take down notes in painful slow scribbles. Their voices rose and fell in the warm sunlight.
All around them the city hummed. The streets were lined with good green and peaceful trees. Only the wind made a conflict across the city, across the country, across the continent. In a thousand other cities there were trees and children and avenues, businessmen in their quiet offices taping their voices, or watching televisors. Rockets hovered like darning needles in the blue sky. There was the universal, quiet conceit and easiness of men accustomed to peace, quite certain there would never be trouble again. Arm in arm, men all over earth were a united front. The perfect weapons were held in equal trust by all nations. A situation of incredibly beautiful balance had been brought about. There were no traitors among men, no unhappy ones, no disgruntled ones; therefore the world was based upon a stable ground. Sunlight illumined half the world and the trees drowsed in a tide of warm air.
Mink’s mother, from her upstairs window, gazed down.
The children. She looked upon them and shook her head. Well, they’d eat well, sleep well, and be in school on Monday. Bless their vigorous little bodies. She listened.
Mink talked earnestly to someone near the rose bush—though there was no one there.
These odd children. And the little girl, what was her name? Anna? Anna took notes on a pad. First, Mink asked the rosebush a question, then called the answer to Anna.
“Triangle,” said Mink.
“What’s a tri,” said Anna with difficulty, “angle?”
“Never mind,” said Mink.
“How you spell it?” asked Anna.
“T-r-i—” spelled Mink slowly, then snapped, “Oh, spell it yourself!” She went on to other words. “Beam,” she said.
“I haven’t got tri,” said Anna, “angle down yet!”
“Well, hurry, hurry!” cried Mink.
Mink’s mother leaned out the upstairs window. “A-n-g-l-e,” she spelled down at Anna.
“Oh, thanks, Mrs. Morris,” said Anna.
“Certainly,” said Mink’s mother and withdrew, laughing, to dust the hall with an electro-duster magnet.
The voices wavered on the shimmery air. “Beam,” said Anna. Fading.
“Four-nine-seven-A-and-B-and-X,” said Mink, far away, seriously. “And a fork and a string and a—hex-hex-agony—hexagonal!”
At lunch Mink gulped milk at one toss and was at the door. Her mother slapped the table.
“You sit right back down,” commanded Mrs. Morris. “Hot soup in a minute.” She poked a red button on the kitchen butler, and ten seconds later something landed with a bump in the rubber receiver. Mrs. Morris opened it, took out a can with a pair of aluminum holders, unsealed it with a flick, and poured hot soup into a bowl.
During all this Mink fidgeted. “Hurry, Mom! This is a matter of life and death! Aw—”
“I was the same way at your age. Always life and death. I know.”
Mink banged away at the soup.
“Slow down,” said Mom.
“Can’t,” said Mink. “Drill’s waiting for me.”
“Who’s Drill? What a peculiar name,” said Mom.
“You don’t know him,” said Mink.
“A new boy in the neighborhood?” asked Mom.
“He’s new all right,” said Mink. She started on her second bowl.
“Which one is Drill?” asked Mom.
“He’s around,” said Mink evasively. “You’ll make fun. Everybody pokes fun. Gee, darn.”
“Is Drill shy?”
“Yes. No. In a way. Gosh, Mom, I got to run if we want to have the Invasion!”
“Who’s invading what?”
“Martians invading Earth. Well, not exactly Martians. They’re—I don’t know. From up.” She pointed her spoon.
“And inside,” said Mom, touching Mink’s feverish brow.
Mink rebelled. “You’re laughing! You’ll kill Drill and everybody.”
“I didn’t mean to,” said Mom. “Drill’s a Martian?”
“No. He’s—well—maybe from Jupiter or Saturn or Venus. Anyway, he’s had a hard time.”
“I imagine.” Mrs. Morris hid her mouth behind her hand.
“They couldn’t figure a way to attack Earth.”
“We’re impregnable,” said Mom in mock seriousness.
“That’s the word Drill used! Impreg—That was the word, Mom.”
“My, my, Drill’s a brilliant little boy. Two-bit words.”
“They couldn’t figure a way to attack, Mom. Drill says—he says in order to make a good fight you got to have a new way of surprising people. That way you win. And he says also you got to have help from your enemy.”
“A fifth column,” said Mom.
“Yeah. That’s what Drill said. And they couldn’t figure a way to surprise Earth or get help.”
“No wonder. We’re pretty darn strong.” Mom laughed, cleaning up. Mink sat there, staring at the table, seeing what she was talking about.
“Until, one day,” whispered Mink melodramatically, “they thought of children!”
“Well!” said Mrs. Morris brightly.
“And they thought of how grown-ups are so busy they never look under rosebushes or on lawns!”
“Only for snails and fungus.”
“And then there’s something about dim-dims.”
“Four of ’em! And there’s something about kids under nine and imagination. It’s real funny to hear Drill talk.”
Mrs. Morris was tired. “Well, it must be funny. You’re keeping Drill waiting now. It’s getting late in the day and, if you want to have your Invasion before your supper bath, you’d better jump.”
“Do I have to take a bath?” growled Mink.
“You do. Why is it children hate water? No matter what age you live in children hate water behind the ears!”
“Drill says I won’t have to take baths,” said Mink.
“Oh, he does, does he?”
“He told all the kids that. No more baths. And we can stay up till ten o’clock and go to two televisor shows on Saturday ’stead of one!”
“Well, Mr. Drill better mind his p’s and q’s. I’ll call up his mother and—”
Mink went to the door. “We’re having trouble with guys like Pete Britz and Dale Jerrick. They’re growing up. They make fun. They’re worse than parents. They just won’t believe in Drill. They’re so snooty, ’cause they’re growing up. You’d think they’d know better. They were little only a coupla years ago. I hate them worst. We’ll kill them first.”
“Your father and I last?”
“Drill says you’re dangerous. Know why? ’Cause you don’t believe in Martians! They’re going to let us run the world. Well, not just us, but the kids over in the next block, too. I might be queen.” She opened the door.
“Logic? Why, dear, logic is knowing what things are true and not true.”
“He mentioned that,” said Mink. “And what’s im-pres-sion-able?” It took her a minute to say it.
“Why, it means—” Her mother looked at the floor, laughing gently. “It means—to be a child, dear.”
“Thanks for lunch!” Mink ran out, then stuck her head back in. “Mom, I’ll be sure you won’t be hurt much, really!”
“Well, thanks,” said Mom.
Slam went the door.
At four o’clock the audiovisor buzzed. Mrs. Morris flipped the tab. “Hello, Helen!” she said in welcome.
“Hello, Mary. How are things in New York?”
“Fine. How are things in Scranton? You look tired.”
“So do you. The children. Underfoot,” said Helen.
Mrs. Morris sighed. “My Mink too. The super-Invasion.”
Helen laughed. “Are your kids playing that game too?”
“Lord, yes. Tomorrow it’ll be geometrical jacks and motorized hopscotch. Were we this bad when we were kids in ’48?”
“Worse. Japs and Nazis. Don’t know how my parents put up with me. Tomboy.”
“Parents learn to shut their ears.”
“What’s wrong, Mary?” asked Helen.
Mrs. Morris’s eyes were half closed; her tongue slid slowly, thoughtfully, over her lower lip. “Eh?” She jerked. “Oh, nothing. Just thought about that. Shutting ears and such. Never mind. Where were we?”
“My boy Tim’s got a crush on some guy named—Drill, I think it was.”
“Must be a new password. Mink likes him too.”
“Didn’t know it had got as far as New York. Word of mouth, I imagine. Looks like a scrap drive. I talked to Josephine and she said her kids—that’s in Boston—are wild on this new game. It’s sweeping the country.”
At that moment Mink trotted into the kitchen to gulp a glass of water. Mrs. Morris turned. “How’re things going?”
“Almost finished,” said Mink.
“Swell,” said Mrs. Morris. “What’s that?”
“A yo-yo,” said Mink. “Watch.”
She flung the yo-yo down its string. Reaching the end it—It vanished.
“See?” said Mink. “Ope!” Dibbling her finger, she made the yo-yo reappear and zip up the string.
“Do that again,” said her mother.
“Can’t. Zero hour’s five o’clock! ’By.” Mink exited, zipping her yo-yo.
On the audiovisor, Helen laughed. “Tim brought one of those yo-yos in this morning, but when I got curious he said he wouldn’t show it to me, and when I tried to work it, finally, it wouldn’t work.”
“You’re not impressionable,” said Mrs. Morris.
“Never mind. Something I thought of. Can I help you, Helen?”
“I wanted to get that black-and-white cake recipe—”
The hour drowsed by. The day waned. The sun lowered in the peaceful blue sky. Shadows lengthened on the green lawns. The laughter and excitement continued. One little girl ran away, crying. Mrs. Morris came out the front door.
“Mink, was that Peggy Ann crying?”
Mink was bent over in the yard, near the rosebush. “Yeah. She’s a scarebaby. We won’t let her play, now. She’s getting too old to play. I guess she grew up all of a sudden.”
“Is that why she cried? Nonsense. Give me a civil answer, young lady, or inside you come!”
Mink whirled in consternation, mixed with irritation. “I can’t quit now. It’s almost time. I’ll be good. I’m sorry.”
“Did you hit Peggy Ann?”
“No, honest. You ask her. It was something—well, she’s just a scaredy pants.”
The ring of children drew in around Mink where she scowled at her work with spoons and a kind of square-shaped arrangement of hammers and pipes. “There and there,” murmured Mink.
“What’s wrong?” said Mrs. Morris.
“Drill’s stuck. Halfway. If we could only get him all the way through, it’d be easier. Then all the others could come through after him.”
“Can I help?”
“No’m, thanks. I’ll fix it.”
“All right. I’ll call you for your bath in half an hour. I’m tired of watching you.”
She went in and sat in the electric relaxing chair, sipping a little beer from a half-empty glass. The chair massaged her back. Children, children. Children love and hate, side by side. Sometimes children loved you, hated you—all in half a second. Strange children, did they ever forget or forgive the whippings and the harsh, strict words of command? She wondered. How can you ever forget or forgive those over and above you, those tall and silly dictators?
Time passed. A curious, waiting silence came upon the street, deepening.
Five o’clock. A clock sang softly somewhere in the house in a quiet, musical voice: “Five o’clock—five o’clock. Time’s a-wasting. Five o’clock,” and purred away into silence.
Mrs. Morris chuckled in her throat. Zero hour.
A beetle car hummed into the driveway. Mr. Morris. Mrs. Morris smiled. Mr. Morris got out of the beetle, locked it and called hello to Mink at her work. Mink ignored him. He laughed and stood for a moment watching the children. Then he walked up the front steps.
She strained forward on the edge of the chair, listening. The children were silent. Too silent.
He emptied his pipe, refilled it. “Swell day. Makes you glad to be alive.”
“What’s that?” asked Henry.
“I don’t know.” She got up suddenly, her eyes widening. She was going to say something. She stopped it. Ridiculous. Her nerves jumped. “Those children haven’t anything dangerous out there, have they?” she said.
“Nothing but pipes and hammers. Why?”
“Heck, no,” said Henry. “I looked.”
She walked to the kitchen. The buzzing continued. “Just the same, you’d better go tell them to quit. It’s after five. Tell them—” Her eyes widened and narrowed. “Tell them to put off their Invasion until tomorrow.” She laughed, nervously.
The buzzing grew louder.
“What are they up to? I’d better go look, all right.”
The house shook with dull sound. There were other explosions in other yards on other streets.
Involuntarily, Mrs. Morris screamed. “Up this way!” she cried senselessly, knowing no sense, no reason. Perhaps she saw something from the corners of her eyes; perhaps she smelled a new odor or heard a new noise. There was no time to argue with Henry to convince him. Let him think her insane. Yes, insane! Shrieking, she ran upstairs. He ran after her to see what she was up to. “In the attic!” she screamed. “That’s where it is!” It was only a poor excuse to get him in the attic in time. Oh, God—in time!
Another explosion outside. The children screamed with delight, as if at a great fireworks display.
“It’s not in the attic!” cried Henry. “It’s outside!”
“No, no!” Wheezing, gasping, she fumbled at the attic door. “I’ll show you. Hurry! I’ll show you!”
They tumbled into the attic. She slammed the door, locked it, took the key, threw it into a far, cluttered corner.
She was babbling wild stuff now. It came out of her. All the subconscious suspicion and fear that had gathered secretly all afternoon and fermented like a wine in her. All the little revelations and knowledges and sense that had bothered her all day and which she had logically and carefully and sensibly rejected and censored. Now it exploded in her and shook her to bits.
“There, there,” she said, sobbing against the door. “We’re safe until tonight. Maybe we can sneak out. Maybe we can escape!”
Henry blew up too, but for another reason. “Are you crazy? Why’d you throw that key away? Blast it!”
“Yes, yes, I’m crazy, if it helps, but stay here with me!”
“I don’t know how I can get out!”
“Quiet. They’ll hear us. Oh, God, they’ll find us soon enough—”
Below them, Mink’s voice. The husband stopped. There was a great universal humming and sizzling, a screaming and giggling. Downstairs the audio-televisor buzzed and buzzed insistently, alarmingly, violently. Is that Helen calling? thought Mrs. Morris. And is she calling about what I think she’s calling about?
Footsteps came into the house. Heavy footsteps.
“Who’s coming in my house?” demanded Henry angrily. “Who’s tramping around down there?”
Heavy feet. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty of them. Fifty persons crowding into the house. The humming. The giggling of the children. “This way!” cried Mink, below.
“Who’s downstairs?” roared Henry. “Who’s there!”
“Hush. Oh, nononononono!” said his wife, weakly, holding him. “Please, be quiet. They might go away.”
“Mom?” called Mink. “Dad?” A pause. “Where are you?”
Heavy footsteps, heavy, heavy, very heavy footsteps, came up the stairs. Mink leading them.
“Mom?” A hesitation. “Dad?” A waiting, a silence.
Humming. Footsteps toward the attic. Mink’s first.
They trembled together in silence in the attic, Mr. and Mrs. Morris. For some reason the electric humming, the queer cold light suddenly visible under the door crack, the strange odor, and the alien sound of eagerness in Mink’s voice finally got through to Henry Morris too. He stood, shivering, in the dark silence, his wife beside him.
Footsteps. A little humming sound. The attic lock melted. The door opened. Mink peered inside, tall blue shadows behind her.
“Peekaboo,” said Mink.
|01-01-2016, 01:17 PM||#9 (permalink)|
Join Date: Nov 2010
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Guy de Maupassant
She was one of those pretty and charming girls born, as though fate had blundered over her, into a family of artisans. She had no marriage portion, no expectations, no means of getting known, understood, loved, and wedded by a man of wealth and distinction; and she let herself be married off to a little clerk in the Ministry of Education. Her tastes were simple because she had never been able to afford any other, but she was as unhappy as though she had married beneath her; for women have no caste or class, their beauty, grace, and charm serving them for birth or family, their natural delicacy, their instinctive elegance, their nimbleness of wit, are their only mark of rank, and put the slum girl on a level with the highest lady in the land.
She suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and luxury. She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains. All these things, of which other women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and insulted her. The sight of the little Breton girl who came to do the work in her little house aroused heart-broken regrets and hopeless dreams in her mind. She imagined silent antechambers, heavy with Oriental tapestries, lit by torches in lofty bronze sockets, with two tall footmen in knee-breeches sleeping in large arm-chairs, overcome by the heavy warmth of the stove. She imagined vast saloons hung with antique silks, exquisite pieces of furniture supporting priceless ornaments, and small, charming, perfumed rooms, created just for little parties of intimate friends, men who were famous and sought after, whose homage roused every other woman's envious longings.
When she sat down for dinner at the round table covered with a three-days-old cloth, opposite her husband, who took the cover off the soup-tureen, exclaiming delightedly: "Aha! Scotch broth! What could be better?" she imagined delicate meals, gleaming silver, tapestries peopling the walls with folk of a past age and strange birds in faery forests; she imagined delicate food served in marvellous dishes, murmured gallantries, listened to with an inscrutable smile as one trifled with the rosy flesh of trout or wings of asparagus chicken.
She had no clothes, no jewels, nothing. And these were the only things she loved; she felt that she was made for them. She had longed so eagerly to charm, to be desired, to be wildly attractive and sought after.
She had a rich friend, an old school friend whom she refused to visit, because she suffered so keenly when she returned home. She would weep whole days, with grief, regret, despair, and misery.
One evening her husband came home with an exultant air, holding a large envelope in his hand.
"Here's something for you," he said.
Swiftly she tore the paper and drew out a printed card on which were these words:
"The Minister of Education and Madame Ramponneau request the pleasure of the company of Monsieur and Madame Loisel at the Ministry on the evening of Monday, January the 18th."
Instead of being delighted, as her husband hoped, she flung the invitation petulantly across the table, murmuring:
"What do you want me to do with this?"
"Why, darling, I thought you'd be pleased. You never go out, and this is a great occasion. I had tremendous trouble to get it. Every one wants one; it's very select, and very few go to the clerks. You'll see all the really big people there."
She looked at him out of furious eyes, and said impatiently: "And what do you suppose I am to wear at such an affair?"
He had not thought about it; he stammered:
"Why, the dress you go to the theatre in. It looks very nice, to me . . ."
He stopped, stupefied and utterly at a loss when he saw that his wife was beginning to cry. Two large tears ran slowly down from the corners of her eyes towards the corners of her mouth.
"What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you?" he faltered.
But with a violent effort she overcame her grief and replied in a calm voice, wiping her wet cheeks:
"Nothing. Only I haven't a dress and so I can't go to this party. Give your invitation to some friend of yours whose wife will be turned out better than I shall."
He was heart-broken.
"Look here, Mathilde," he persisted. "What would be the cost of a suitable dress, which you could use on other occasions as well, something very simple?"
She thought for several seconds, reckoning up prices and also wondering for how large a sum she could ask without bringing upon herself an immediate refusal and an exclamation of horror from the careful-minded clerk.
At last she replied with some hesitation:
"I don't know exactly, but I think I could do it on four hundred francs."
He grew slightly pale, for this was exactly the amount he had been saving for a gun, intending to get a little shooting next summer on the plain of Nanterre with some friends who went lark-shooting there on Sundays.
Nevertheless he said: "Very well. I'll give you four hundred francs. But try and get a really nice dress with the money."
The day of the party drew near, and Madame Loisel seemed sad, uneasy and anxious. Her dress was ready, however. One evening her husband said to her:
"What's the matter with you? You've been very odd for the last three days."
"I'm utterly miserable at not having any jewels, not a single stone, to wear," she replied. "I shall look absolutely no one. I would almost rather not go to the party."
"Wear flowers," he said. "They're very smart at this time of the year. For ten francs you could get two or three gorgeous roses."
She was not convinced.
"No . . . there's nothing so humiliating as looking poor in the middle of a lot of rich women."
"How stupid you are!" exclaimed her husband. "Go and see Madame Forestier and ask her to lend you some jewels. You know her quite well enough for that."
She uttered a cry of delight.
"That's true. I never thought of it."
Next day she went to see her friend and told her her trouble.
Madame Forestier went to her dressing-table, took up a large box, brought it to Madame Loisel, opened it, and said:
"Choose, my dear."
First she saw some bracelets, then a pearl necklace, then a Venetian cross in gold and gems, of exquisite workmanship. She tried the effect of the jewels before the mirror, hesitating, unable to make up her mind to leave them, to give them up. She kept on asking:
"Haven't you anything else?"
"Yes. Look for yourself. I don't know what you would like best."
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin case, a superb diamond necklace; her heart began to beat covetously. Her hands trembled as she lifted it. She fastened it round her neck, upon her high dress, and remained in ecstasy at sight of herself.
Then, with hesitation, she asked in anguish:
"Could you lend me this, just this alone?"
"Yes, of course."
She flung herself on her friend's breast, embraced her frenziedly, and went away with her treasure. The day of the party arrived. Madame Loisel was a success. She was the prettiest woman present, elegant, graceful, smiling, and quite above herself with happiness. All the men stared at her, inquired her name, and asked to be introduced to her. All the Under-Secretaries of State were eager to waltz with her. The Minister noticed her.
She danced madly, ecstatically, drunk with pleasure, with no thought for anything, in the triumph of her beauty, in the pride of her success, in a cloud of happiness made up of this universal homage and admiration, of the desires she had aroused, of the completeness of a victory so dear to her feminine heart.
She left about four o'clock in the morning. Since midnight her husband had been dozing in a deserted little room, in company with three other men whose wives were having a good time. He threw over her shoulders the garments he had brought for them to go home in, modest everyday clothes, whose poverty clashed with the beauty of the ball-dress. She was conscious of this and was anxious to hurry away, so that she should not be noticed by the other women putting on their costly furs.
Loisel restrained her.
"Wait a little. You'll catch cold in the open. I'm going to fetch a cab."
But she did not listen to him and rapidly descended the staircase. When they were out in the street they could not find a cab; they began to look for one, shouting at the drivers whom they saw passing in the distance.
They walked down towards the Seine, desperate and shivering. At last they found on the quay one of those old nightprowling carriages which are only to be seen in Paris after dark, as though they were ashamed of their shabbiness in the daylight.
It brought them to their door in the Rue des Martyrs, and sadly they walked up to their own apartment. It was the end, for her. As for him, he was thinking that he must be at the office at ten.
She took off the garments in which she had wrapped her shoulders, so as to see herself in all her glory before the mirror. But suddenly she uttered a cry. The necklace was no longer round her neck!
"What's the matter with you?" asked her husband, already half undressed.
She turned towards him in the utmost distress.
"I . . . I . . . I've no longer got Madame Forestier's necklace. . . ."
He started with astonishment.
"What! . . . Impossible!"
They searched in the folds of her dress, in the folds of the coat, in the pockets, everywhere. They could not find it.
"Are you sure that you still had it on when you came away from the ball?" he asked.
"Yes, I touched it in the hall at the Ministry."
"But if you had lost it in the street, we should have heard it fall."
"Yes. Probably we should. Did you take the number of the cab?"
"No. You didn't notice it, did you?"
They stared at one another, dumbfounded. At last Loisel put on his clothes again.
"I'll go over all the ground we walked," he said, "and see if I can't find it."
And he went out. She remained in her evening clothes, lacking strength to get into bed, huddled on a chair, without volition or power of thought.
Her husband returned about seven. He had found nothing.
He went to the police station, to the newspapers, to offer a reward, to the cab companies, everywhere that a ray of hope impelled him.
She waited all day long, in the same state of bewilderment at this fearful catastrophe.
Loisel came home at night, his face lined and pale; he had discovered nothing.
"You must write to your friend," he said, "and tell her that you've broken the clasp of her necklace and are getting it mended. That will give us time to look about us."
She wrote at his dictation.
By the end of a week they had lost all hope.
Loisel, who had aged five years, declared:
"We must see about replacing the diamonds."
Next day they took the box which had held the necklace and went to the jewellers whose name was inside. He consulted his books.
"It was not I who sold this necklace, Madame; I must have merely supplied the clasp."
Then they went from jeweller to jeweller, searching for another necklace like the first, consulting their memories, both ill with remorse and anguish of mind.
In a shop at the Palais-Royal they found a string of diamonds which seemed to them exactly like the one they were looking for. It was worth forty thousand francs. They were allowed to have it for thirty-six thousand.
They begged the jeweller not to sell it for three days. And they arranged matters on the understanding that it would be taken back for thirty-four thousand francs, if the first one were found before the end of February.
Loisel possessed eighteen thousand francs left to him by his father. He intended to borrow the rest.
He did borrow it, getting a thousand from one man, five hundred from another, five louis here, three louis there. He gave notes of hand, entered into ruinous agreements, did business with usurers and the whole tribe of money-lenders. He mortgaged the whole remaining years of his existence, risked his signature without even knowing if he could honour it, and, appalled at the agonising face of the future, at the black misery about to fall upon him, at the prospect of every possible physical privation and moral torture, he went to get the new necklace and put down upon the jeweller's counter thirty-six thousand francs.
When Madame Loisel took back the necklace to Madame Forestier, the latter said to her in a chilly voice:
"You ought to have brought it back sooner; I might have needed it."
She did not, as her friend had feared, open the case. If she had noticed the substitution, what would she have thought? What would she have said? Would she not have taken her for a thief?
Madame Loisel came to know the ghastly life of abject poverty. From the very first she played her part heroically. This fearful debt must be paid off. She would pay it. The servant was dismissed. They changed their flat; they took a garret under the roof.
She came to know the heavy work of the house, the hateful duties of the kitchen. She washed the plates, wearing out her pink nails on the coarse pottery and the bottoms of pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and dish-cloths, and hung them out to dry on a string; every morning she took the dustbin down into the street and carried up the water, stopping on each landing to get her breath. And, clad like a poor woman, she went to the fruiterer, to the grocer, to the butcher, a basket on her arm, haggling, insulted, fighting for every wretched halfpenny of her money.
Every month notes had to be paid off, others renewed, time gained.
Her husband worked in the evenings at putting straight a merchant's accounts, and often at night he did copying at twopence-halfpenny a page.
And this life lasted ten years.
At the end of ten years everything was paid off, everything, the usurer's charges and the accumulation of superimposed interest.
Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become like all the other strong, hard, coarse women of poor households. Her hair was badly done, her skirts were awry, her hands were red. She spoke in a shrill voice, and the water slopped all over the floor when she scrubbed it. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she sat down by the window and thought of that evening long ago, of the ball at which she had been so beautiful and so much admired.
What would have happened if she had never lost those jewels. Who knows? Who knows? How strange life is, how fickle! How little is needed to ruin or to save!
One Sunday, as she had gone for a walk along the Champs-Elysees to freshen herself after the labours of the week, she caught sight suddenly of a woman who was taking a child out for a walk. It was Madame Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still attractive.
Madame Loisel was conscious of some emotion. Should she speak to her? Yes, certainly. And now that she had paid, she would tell her all. Why not?
She went up to her.
"Good morning, Jeanne."
The other did not recognise her, and was surprised at being thus familiarly addressed by a poor woman.
"But . . . Madame . . ." she stammered. "I don't know . . . you must be making a mistake."
"No . . . I am Mathilde Loisel."
Her friend uttered a cry.
"Oh! . . . my poor Mathilde, how you have changed! . . ."
"Yes, I've had some hard times since I saw you last; and many sorrows . . . and all on your account."
"On my account! . . . How was that?"
"You remember the diamond necklace you lent me for the ball at the Ministry?"
"Well, I lost it."
"How could you? Why, you brought it back."
"I brought you another one just like it. And for the last ten years we have been paying for it. You realise it wasn't easy for us; we had no money. . . . Well, it's paid for at last, and I'm glad indeed."
Madame Forestier had halted.
"You say you bought a diamond necklace to replace mine?"
"Yes. You hadn't noticed it? They were very much alike."
And she smiled in proud and innocent happiness.
Madame Forestier, deeply moved, took her two hands.
"Oh, my poor Mathilde! But mine was imitation. It was worth at the very most five hundred francs! . . . "