Uploaded by Ricelle Nojadera

Short Story Compilation

Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
She was one of those pretty and charming girls born, as if by an error of fate, into a
family of clerks. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of becoming known,
understood, loved or wedded by a man of wealth and distinction; and so she let
herself be married to a minor official at the Ministry of Education.
She dressed plainly because she had never been able to afford anything better, but
she was as unhappy as if she had once been wealthy. Women don't belong to a
caste or class; their beauty, grace, and natural charm take the place of birth and
family. Natural delicacy, instinctive elegance and a quick wit determine their place in
society, and make the daughters of commoners the equals of the very finest ladies.
She suffered endlessly, feeling she was entitled to all the delicacies and luxuries of
life. She suffered because of the poorness of her house as she looked at the dirty
walls, the worn-out chairs and the ugly curtains. All these things that another woman
of her class would not even have noticed, tormented her and made her resentful. The
sight of the little Brenton girl who did her housework filled her with terrible regrets and
hopeless fantasies. She dreamed of silent antechambers hung with Oriental
tapestries, lit from above by torches in bronze holders, while two tall footmen in kneelength breeches napped in huge armchairs, sleepy from the stove's oppressive
warmth. She dreamed of vast living rooms furnished in rare old silks, elegant
furniture loaded with priceless ornaments, and inviting smaller rooms, perfumed,
made for afternoon chats with close friends - famous, sought after men, who all
women envy and desire.
When she sat down to dinner at a round table covered with a three-day-old cloth
opposite her husband who, lifting the lid off the soup, shouted excitedly, "Ah! Beef
stew! What could be better," she dreamed of fine dinners, of shining silverware, of
tapestries which peopled the walls with figures from another time and strange birds in
fairy forests; she dreamed of delicious dishes served on wonderful plates, of
whispered gallantries listened to with an inscrutable smile as one ate the pink flesh of
a trout or the wings of a quail.
She had no dresses, no jewels, nothing; and these were the only things she loved.
She felt she was made for them alone. She wanted so much to charm, to be envied,
to be desired and sought after.
She had a rich friend, a former schoolmate at the convent, whom she no longer
wanted to visit because she suffered so much when she came home. For whole days
afterwards she would weep with sorrow, regret, despair and misery.
*One evening her husband came home with an air of triumph, holding a large
envelope in his hand.
"Look," he said, "here's something for you."
She tore open the paper and drew out a card, on which was printed the words:
"The Minister of Education and Mme. Georges Rampouneau request the pleasure of
M. and Mme. Loisel's company at the Ministry, on the evening of Monday January
Instead of being delighted, as her husband had hoped, she threw the invitation on the
table resentfully, and muttered:
"What do you want me to do with that?"
"But, my dear, I thought you would be pleased. You never go out, and it will be such
a lovely occasion! I had awful trouble getting it. Every one wants to go; it is very
exclusive, and they're not giving many invitations to clerks. The whole ministry will be
She stared at him angrily, and said, impatiently:
"And what do you expect me to wear if I go?"
He hadn't thought of that. He stammered:
"Why, the dress you go to the theatre in. It seems very nice to me ..."
He stopped, stunned, distressed to see his wife crying. Two large tears ran slowly
from the corners of her eyes towards the corners of her mouth. He stuttered:
"What's the matter? What's the matter?"
With great effort she overcame her grief and replied in a calm voice, as she wiped
her wet cheeks:
"Nothing. Only I have no dress and so I can't go to this party. Give your invitation to a
friend whose wife has better clothes than I do."
He was distraught, but tried again:
"Let's see, Mathilde. How much would a suitable dress cost, one which you could use
again on other occasions, something very simple?"
She thought for a moment, computing the cost, and also wondering what amount she
could ask for without an immediate refusal and an alarmed exclamation from the
thrifty clerk.
At last she answered hesitantly:
"I don't know exactly, but I think I could do it with four hundredfrancs."
He turned a little pale, because he had been saving that exact amount to buy a gun
and treat himself to a hunting trip the following summer, in the country near Nanterre,
with a few friends who went lark-shooting there on Sundays.
However, he said:
"Very well, I can give you four hundred francs. But try and get a really beautiful
The day of the party drew near, and Madame Loisel seemed sad, restless, anxious.
Her dress was ready, however. One evening her husband said to her:
"What's the matter? You've been acting strange these last three days."
She replied: "I'm upset that I have no jewels, not a single stone to wear. I will look
cheap. I would almost rather not go to the party."
"You could wear flowers, " he said, "They are very fashionable at this time of year.
For ten francs you could get two or three magnificent roses."
She was not convinced.
"No; there is nothing more humiliating than looking poor in the middle of a lot of rich
"How stupid you are!" her husband cried. "Go and see your friend Madame Forestier
and ask her to lend you some jewels. You know her well enough for that."
She uttered a cry of joy.
"Of course. I had not thought of that."
The next day she went to her friend's house and told her of her distress.
Madame Forestier went to her mirrored wardrobe, took out a large box, brought it
back, opened it, and said to Madame Loisel:
"Choose, my dear."
First she saw some bracelets, then a pearl necklace, then a gold Venetian cross set
with precious stones, of exquisite craftsmanship. She tried on the jewelry in the
mirror, hesitated, could not bear to part with them, to give them back. She kept
"You have nothing else?"
"Why, yes. But I don't know what you like."
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace, and her
heart began to beat with uncontrolled desire. Her hands trembled as she took it. She
fastened it around her neck, over her high-necked dress, and stood lost in ecstasy as
she looked at herself.
Then she asked anxiously, hesitating:
"Would you lend me this, just this?"
"Why, yes, of course."
She threw her arms around her friend's neck, embraced her rapturously, then fled
with her treasure.
The day of the party arrived. Madame Loisel was a success. She was prettier than all
the other women, elegant, gracious, smiling, and full of joy. All the men stared at her,
asked her name, tried to be introduced. All the cabinet officials wanted to waltz with
her. The minister noticed her.
She danced wildly, with passion, drunk on pleasure, forgetting everything in the
triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness,
made up of all this respect, all this admiration, all these awakened desires, of that
sense of triumph that is so sweet to a woman's heart.
She left at about four o'clock in the morning. Her husband had been dozing since
midnight in a little deserted anteroom with three other gentlemen whose wives were
having a good time.
He threw over her shoulders the clothes he had brought for her to go outside in, the
modest clothes of an ordinary life, whose poverty contrasted sharply with the
elegance of the ball dress. She felt this and wanted to run away, so she wouldn't be
noticed by the other women who were wrapping themselves in expensive furs.
Loisel held her back.
"Wait a moment, you'll catch a cold outside. I'll go and find a cab."
But she would not listen to him, and ran down the stairs. When they were finally in
the street, they could not find a cab, and began to look for one, shouting at the
cabmen they saw passing in the distance.
They walked down toward the Seine in despair, shivering with cold. At last they found
on the quay one of those old night cabs that one sees in Paris only after dark, as if
they were ashamed to show their shabbiness during the day.
They were dropped off at their door in the Rue des Martyrs, and sadly walked up the
steps to their apartment. It was all over, for her. And he was remembering that he
had to be back at his office at ten o'clock.
In front of the mirror, she took off the clothes around her shoulders, taking a final look
at herself in all her glory. But suddenly she uttered a cry. She no longer had the
necklace round her neck!
"What is the matter?" asked her husband, already half undressed.
She turned towards him, panic-stricken.
"I have ... I have ... I no longer have Madame Forestier's necklace."
He stood up, distraught.
"What! ... how! ... That's impossible!"
They looked in the folds of her dress, in the folds of her cloak, in her pockets,
everywhere. But they could not find it.
"Are you sure you still had it on when you left the ball?" he asked.
"Yes. I touched it in the hall at the Ministry."
"But if you had lost it in the street we would have heard it fall. It must be in the cab."
"Yes. That's probably it. Did you take his number?"
"No. And you, didn't you notice it?"
They stared at each other, stunned. At last Loisel put his clothes on again.
"I'm going back," he said, "over the whole route we walked, see if I can find it."
He left. She remained in her ball dress all evening, without the strength to go to bed,
sitting on a chair, with no fire, her mind blank.
Her husband returned at about seven o'clock. He had found nothing.
He went to the police, to the newspapers to offer a reward, to the cab companies,
everywhere the tiniest glimmer of hope led him.
She waited all day, in the same state of blank despair from before this frightful
Loisel returned in the evening, a hollow, pale figure; he had found nothing.
"You must write to your friend," he said, "tell her you have broken the clasp of her
necklace and that you are having it mended. It will give us time to look some more."
She wrote as he dictated.
At the end of one week they had lost all hope.
And Loisel, who had aged five years, declared:
"We must consider how to replace the jewel."
The next day they took the box which had held it, and went to the jeweler whose
name they found inside. He consulted his books.
"It was not I, madame, who sold the necklace; I must simply have supplied the case."
And so they went from jeweler to jeweler, looking for an necklace like the other one,
consulting their memories, both sick with grief and anguish.
In a shop at the Palais Royal, they found a string of diamonds which seemed to be
exactly what they were looking for. It was worth forty thousand francs. They could
have it for thirty-six thousand.
So they begged the jeweler not to sell it for three days. And they made an
arrangement that he would take it back for thirty-four thousand francs if the other
necklace was found before the end of February.
Loisel had eighteen thousand francs which his father had left him. He would borrow
the rest.
And he did borrow, asking for a thousand francs from one man, five hundred from
another, five louis here, three louis there. He gave notes, made ruinous agreements,
dealt with usurers, with every type of money-lender. He compromised the rest of his
life, risked signing notes without knowing if he could ever honor them, and, terrified
by the anguish still to come, by the black misery about to fall on him, by the prospect
of every physical privation and every moral torture he was about to suffer, he went to
get the new necklace, and laid down on the jeweler's counter thirty-six
thousand francs.
When Madame Loisel took the necklace back, Madame Forestier said coldly:
"You should have returned it sooner, I might have needed it."
To the relief of her friend, she did not open the case. If she had detected the
substitution, what would she have thought? What would she have said? Would she
have taken her friend for a thief?
From then on, Madame Loisel knew the horrible life of the very poor. But she played
her part heroically. The dreadful debt must be paid. She would pay it. They dismissed
their maid; they changed their lodgings; they rented a garret under the roof.
She came to know the drudgery of housework, the odious labors of the kitchen. She
washed the dishes, staining her rosy nails on greasy pots and the bottoms of pans.
She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and the dishcloths, which she hung to dry on a
line; she carried the garbage down to the street every morning, and carried up the
water, stopping at each landing to catch her breath. And, dressed like a commoner,
she went to the fruiterer's, the grocer's, the butcher's, her basket on her arm,
bargaining, insulted, fighting over every miserable sou.
Each month they had to pay some notes, renew others, get more time.
Her husband worked every evening, doing accounts for a tradesman, and often, late
into the night, he sat copying a manuscript at five sous a page.
And this life lasted ten years.
At the end of ten years they had paid off everything, everything, at usurer's rates and
with the accumulations of compound interest.
Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become strong, hard and rough like all
women of impoverished households. With hair half combed, with skirts awry, and
reddened hands, she talked loudly as she washed the floor with great swishes of
water. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she sat down near the
window and thought of that evening at the ball so long ago, when she had been so
beautiful and so admired.
What would have happened if she had not lost that necklace? Who knows, who
knows? How strange life is, how fickle! How little is needed for one to be ruined or
One Sunday, as she was walking in the Champs Élysées to refresh herself after the
week's work, suddenly she saw a woman walking with a child. It was Madame
Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still charming.
Madame Loisel felt emotional. Should she speak to her? Yes, of course. And now
that she had paid, she would tell her all. Why not?
She went up to her.
"Good morning, Jeanne."
The other, astonished to be addressed so familiarly by this common woman, did not
recognize her. She stammered:
"But - madame - I don't know. You must have made a mistake."
"No, I am Mathilde Loisel."
Her friend uttered a cry.
"Oh! ... my poor Mathilde, how you've changed! ..."
"Yes, I have had some hard times since I last saw you, and many miseries ... and all
because of you! ..."
"Me? How can that be?"
"You remember that diamond necklace that you lent me to wear to the Ministry
"Yes. Well?"
"Well, I lost it."
"What do you mean? You brought it back."
"I brought you back another exactly like it. And it has taken us ten years to pay for it.
It wasn't easy for us, we had very little. But at last it is over, and I am very glad."
Madame Forestier was stunned.
"You say that you bought a diamond necklace to replace mine?"
"Yes; you didn't notice then? They were very similar."
And she smiled with proud and innocent pleasure.
Madame Forestier, deeply moved, took both her hands.
"Oh, my poor Mathilde! Mine was an imitation! It was worth five hundred francs at
most! ..."
God Sees the Truth, But Waits
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
In the town of Vladimir lived a young merchant named Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov. He
had two shops and a house of his own.
Aksionov was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond
of singing. When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous
when he had had too much; but after he married he gave up drinking, except now
and then.
One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his
family, his wife said to him, "Ivan Dmitrich, do not start to-day; I have had a bad
dream about you."
Aksionov laughed, and said, "You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on a
His wife replied: "I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad
dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw
that your hair was quite grey."
Aksionov laughed. "That's a lucky sign," said he. "See if I don't sell out all my goods,
and bring you some presents from the fair."
So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.
When he had travelled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and they put up
at the same inn for the night. They had some tea together, and then went to bed in
adjoining rooms.
It was not Aksionov's habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel while it was still cool,
he aroused his driver before dawn, and told him to put in the horses.
Then he made his way across to the landlord of the inn (who lived in a cottage at the
back), paid his bill, and continued his journey.
When he had gone about twenty-five miles, he stopped for the horses to be fed.
Aksionov rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he stepped out into the porch,
and, ordering a samovar to be heated, got out his guitar and began to play.
Suddenly a troika drove up with tinkling bells and an official alighted, followed by two
soldiers. He came to Aksionov and began to question him, asking him who he was
and whence he came. Aksionov answered him fully, and said, "Won't you have some
tea with me?" But the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him. "Where
did you spend last night? Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant? Did you see
the other merchant this morning? Why did you leave the inn before dawn?"
Aksionov wondered why he was asked all these questions, but he described all that
had happened, and then added, "Why do you cross-question me as if I were a thief
or a robber? I am travelling on business of my own, and there is no need to question
Then the official, calling the soldiers, said, "I am the police-officer of this district, and I
question you because the merchant with whom you spent last night has been found
with his throat cut. We must search your things."
They entered the house. The soldiers and the police-officer unstrapped Aksionov's
luggage and searched it. Suddenly the officer drew a knife out of a bag, crying,
"Whose knife is this?"
Aksionov looked, and seeing a blood-stained knife taken from his bag, he was
"How is it there is blood on this knife?"
Aksionov tried to answer, but could hardly utter a word, and only stammered: "I--don't
know--not mine." Then the police-officer said: "This morning the merchant was found
in bed with his throat cut. You are the only person who could have done it. The house
was locked from inside, and no one else was there. Here is this blood-stained knife in
your bag and your face and manner betray you! Tell me how you killed him, and how
much money you stole?"
Aksionov swore he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant after they had
had tea together; that he had no money except eight thousand rubles of his own, and
that the knife was not his. But his voice was broken, his face pale, and he trembled
with fear as though he went guilty.
The police-officer ordered the soldiers to bind Aksionov and to put him in the cart. As
they tied his feet together and flung him into the cart, Aksionov crossed himself and
wept. His money and goods were taken from him, and he was sent to the nearest
town and imprisoned there. Enquiries as to his character were made in Vladimir. The
merchants and other inhabitants of that town said that in former days he used to
drink and waste his time, but that he was a good man. Then the trial came on: he
was charged with murdering a merchant from Ryazan, and robbing him of twenty
thousand rubles.
His wife was in despair, and did not know what to believe. Her children were all quite
small; one was a baby at her breast. Taking them all with her, she went to the town
where her husband was in jail. At first she was not allowed to see him; but after much
begging, she obtained permission from the officials, and was taken to him. When she
saw her husband in prison-dress and in chains, shut up with thieves and criminals,
she fell down, and did not come to her senses for a long time. Then she drew her
children to her, and sat down near him. She told him of things at home, and asked
about what had happened to him. He told her all, and she asked, "What can we do
"We must petition the Czar not to let an innocent man perish."
His wife told him that she had sent a petition to the Czar, but it had not been
Aksionov did not reply, but only looked downcast.
Then his wife said, "It was not for nothing I dreamt your hair had turned grey. You
remember? You should not have started that day." And passing her fingers through
his hair, she said: "Vanya dearest, tell your wife the truth; was it not you who did it?"
"So you, too, suspect me!" said Aksionov, and, hiding his face in his hands, he began
to weep. Then a soldier came to say that the wife and children must go away; and
Aksionov said good-bye to his family for the last time.
When they were gone, Aksionov recalled what had been said, and when he
remembered that his wife also had suspected him, he said to himself, "It seems that
only God can know the truth; it is to Him alone we must appeal, and from Him alone
expect mercy."
And Aksionov wrote no more petitions; gave up all hope, and only prayed to God.
Aksionov was condemned to be flogged and sent to the mines. So he was flogged
with a knot, and when the wounds made by the knot were healed, he was driven to
Siberia with other convicts.
For twenty-six years Aksionov lived as a convict in Siberia. His hair turned white as
snow, and his beard grew long, thin, and grey. All his mirth went; he stooped; he
walked slowly, spoke little, and never laughed, but he often prayed.
In prison Aksionov learnt to make boots, and earned a little money, with which he
bought The Lives of the Saints. He read this book when there was light enough in the
prison; and on Sundays in the prison-church he read the lessons and sang in the
choir; for his voice was still good.
The prison authorities liked Aksionov for his meekness, and his fellow-prisoners
respected him: they called him "Grandfather," and "The Saint." When they wanted to
petition the prison authorities about anything, they always made Aksionov their
spokesman, and when there were quarrels among the prisoners they came to him to
put things right, and to judge the matter.
No news reached Aksionov from his home, and he did not even know if his wife and
children were still alive.
One day a fresh gang of convicts came to the prison. In the evening the old prisoners
collected round the new ones and asked them what towns or villages they came
from, and what they were sentenced for. Among the rest Aksionov sat down near the
newcomers, and listened with downcast air to what was said.
One of the new convicts, a tall, strong man of sixty, with a closely-cropped grey
beard, was telling the others what be had been arrested for.
"Well, friends," he said, "I only took a horse that was tied to a sledge, and I was
arrested and accused of stealing. I said I had only taken it to get home quicker, and
had then let it go; besides, the driver was a personal friend of mine. So I said, 'It's all
right.' 'No,' said they, 'you stole it.' But how or where I stole it they could not say. I
once really did something wrong, and ought by rights to have come here long ago,
but that time I was not found out. Now I have been sent here for nothing at all... Eh,
but it's lies I'm telling you; I've been to Siberia before, but I did not stay long."
"Where are you from?" asked some one.
"From Vladimir. My family are of that town. My name is Makar, and they also call me
Aksionov raised his head and said: "Tell me, Semyonich, do you know anything of
the merchants Aksionov of Vladimir? Are they still alive?"
"Know them? Of course I do. The Aksionovs are rich, though their father is in Siberia:
a sinner like ourselves, it seems! As for you, Gran'dad, how did you come here?"
Aksionov did not like to speak of his misfortune. He only sighed, and said, "For my
sins I have been in prison these twenty-six years."
"What sins?" asked Makar Semyonich.
But Aksionov only said, "Well, well--I must have deserved it!" He would have said no
more, but his companions told the newcomers how Aksionov came to be in Siberia;
how some one had killed a merchant, and had put the knife among Aksionov's
things, and Aksionov had been unjustly condemned.
When Makar Semyonich heard this, he looked at Aksionov, slapped his own knee,
and exclaimed, "Well, this is wonderful! Really wonderful! But how old you've grown,
The others asked him why he was so surprised, and where he had seen Aksionov
before; but Makar Semyonich did not reply. He only said: "It's wonderful that we
should meet here, lads!"
These words made Aksionov wonder whether this man knew who had killed the
merchant; so he said, "Perhaps, Semyonich, you have heard of that affair, or maybe
you've seen me before?"
"How could I help hearing? The world's full of rumours. But it's a long time ago, and
I've forgotten what I heard."
"Perhaps you heard who killed the merchant?" asked Aksionov.
Makar Semyonich laughed, and replied: "It must have been him in whose bag the
knife was found! If some one else hid the knife there, 'He's not a thief till he's caught,'
as the saying is. How could any one put a knife into your bag while it was under your
head? It would surely have woke you up."
When Aksionov heard these words, he felt sure this was the man who had killed the
merchant. He rose and went away. All that night Aksionov lay awake. He felt terribly
unhappy, and all sorts of images rose in his mind. There was the image of his wife as
she was when he parted from her to go to the fair. He saw her as if she were present;
her face and her eyes rose before him; he heard her speak and laugh. Then he saw
his children, quite little, as they: were at that time: one with a little cloak on, another
at his mother's breast. And then he remembered himself as he used to be-young and
merry. He remembered how he sat playing the guitar in the porch of the inn where he
was arrested, and how free from care he had been. He saw, in his mind, the place
where he was flogged, the executioner, and the people standing around; the chains,
the convicts, all the twenty-six years of his prison life, and his premature old age. The
thought of it all made him so wretched that he was ready to kill himself.
"And it's all that villain's doing!" thought Aksionov. And his anger was so great
against Makar Semyonich that he longed for vengeance, even if he himself should
perish for it. He kept repeating prayers all night, but could get no peace. During the
day he did not go near Makar Semyonich, nor even look at him.
A fortnight passed in this way. Aksionov could not sleep at night, and was so
miserable that he did not know what to do.
One night as he was walking about the prison he noticed some earth that came
rolling out from under one of the shelves on which the prisoners slept. He stopped to
see what it was. Suddenly Makar Semyonich crept out from under the shelf, and
looked up at Aksionov with frightened face. Aksionov tried to pass without looking at
him, but Makar seized his hand and told him that he had dug a hole under the wall,
getting rid of the earth by putting it into his high-boots, and emptying it out every day
on the road when the prisoners were driven to their work.
"Just you keep quiet, old man, and you shall get out too. If you blab, they'll flog the
life out of me, but I will kill you first."
Aksionov trembled with anger as he looked at his enemy. He drew his hand away,
saying, "I have no wish to escape, and you have no need to kill me; you killed me
long ago! As to telling of you--I may do so or not, as God shall direct."
Next day, when the convicts were led out to work, the convoy soldiers noticed that
one or other of the prisoners emptied some earth out of his boots. The prison was
searched and the tunnel found. The Governor came and questioned all the prisoners
to find out who had dug the hole. They all denied any knowledge of it. Those who
knew would not betray Makar Semyonich, knowing he would be flogged almost to
death. At last the Governor turned to Aksionov whom he knew to be a just man, and
"You are a truthful old man; tell me, before God, who dug the hole?"
Makar Semyonich stood as if he were quite unconcerned, looking at the Governor
and not so much as glancing at Aksionov. Aksionov's lips and hands trembled, and
for a long time he could not utter a word. He thought, "Why should I screen him who
ruined my life? Let him pay for what I have suffered. But if I tell, they will probably flog
the life out of him, and maybe I suspect him wrongly. And, after all, what good would
it be to me?"
"Well, old man," repeated the Governor, "tell me the truth: who has been digging
under the wall?"
Aksionov glanced at Makar Semyonich, and said, "I cannot say, your honour. It is not
God's will that I should tell! Do what you like with me; I am your hands."
However much the Governor! tried, Aksionov would say no more, and so the matter
had to be left.
That night, when Aksionov was lying on his bed and just beginning to doze, some
one came quietly and sat down on his bed. He peered through the darkness and
recognised Makar.
"What more do you want of me?" asked Aksionov. "Why have you come here?"
Makar Semyonich was silent. So Aksionov sat up and said, "What do you want? Go
away, or I will call the guard!"
Makar Semyonich bent close over Aksionov, and whispered, "Ivan Dmitrich, forgive
"What for?" asked Aksionov.
"It was I who killed the merchant and hid the knife among your things. I meant to kill
you too, but I heard a noise outside, so I hid the knife in your bag and escaped out of
the window."
Aksionov was silent, and did not know what to say. Makar Semyonich slid off the
bed-shelf and knelt upon the ground. "Ivan Dmitrich," said he, "forgive me! For the
love of God, forgive me! I will confess that it was I who killed the merchant, and you
will be released and can go to your home."
"It is easy for you to talk," said Aksionov, "but I have suffered for you these twenty-six
years. Where could I go to now?... My wife is dead, and my children have forgotten
me. I have nowhere to go..."
Makar Semyonich did not rise, but beat his head on the floor. "Ivan Dmitrich, forgive
me!" he cried. "When they flogged me with the knot it was not so hard to bear as it is
to see you now ... yet you had pity on me, and did not tell. For Christ's sake forgive
me, wretch that I am!" And he began to sob.
When Aksionov heard him sobbing he, too, began to weep. "God will forgive you!"
said he. "Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you." And at these words his heart
grew light, and the longing for home left him. He no longer had any desire to leave
the prison, but only hoped for his last hour to come.
In spite of what Aksionov had said, Makar Semyonich confessed, his guilt. But when
the order for his release came, Aksionov was already dead.
The Lottery Ticket
Anton Chekhov (1860-1905)
IVAN DMITRITCH, a middle-class man who lived with his family on an income of
twelve hundred a year and was very well satisfied with his lot, sat down on the sofa
after supper and began reading the newspaper.
"I forgot to look at the newspaper today," his wife said to him as she cleared the
table. "Look and see whether the list of drawings is there."
"Yes, it is," said Ivan Dmitritch; "but hasn't your ticket lapsed?"
"No; I took the interest on Tuesday."
"What is the number?"
"Series 9,499, number 26."
"All right . . . we will look . . . 9,499 and 26."
Ivan Dmitritch had no faith in lottery luck, and would not, as a rule, have consented to
look at the lists of winning numbers, but now, as he had nothing else to do and as the
newspaper was before his eyes, he passed his finger downwards along the column
of numbers. And immediately, as though in mockery of his scepticism, no further than
the second line from the top, his eye was caught by the figure 9,499! Unable to
believe his eyes, he hurriedly dropped the paper on his knees without looking to see
the number of the ticket, and, just as though some one had given him a douche of
cold water, he felt an agreeable chill in the pit of the stomach; tingling and terrible
and sweet!
"Masha, 9,499 is there!" he said in a hollow voice.
His wife looked at his astonished and panic-stricken face, and realized that he was
not joking.
"9,499?" she asked, turning pale and dropping the folded tablecloth on the table.
"Yes, yes . . . it really is there!"
"And the number of the ticket?"
"Oh, yes! There's the number of the ticket too. But stay . . . wait! No, I say! Anyway,
the number of our series is there! Anyway, you understand. . . ."
Looking at his wife, Ivan Dmitritch gave a broad, senseless smile, like a baby when a
bright object is shown it. His wife smiled too; it was as pleasant to her as to him that
he only mentioned the series, and did not try to find out the number of the winning
ticket. To torment and tantalize oneself with hopes of possible fortune is so sweet, so
"It is our series," said Ivan Dmitritch, after a long silence. "So there is a probability
that we have won. It's only a probability, but there it is!"
"Well, now look!"
"Wait a little. We have plenty of time to be disappointed. It's on the second line from
the top, so the prize is seventy-five thousand. That's not money, but power, capital!
And in a minute I shall look at the list, and there -- 26! Eh? I say, what if we really
have won?"
The husband and wife began laughing and staring at one another in silence. The
possibility of winning bewildered them; they could not have said, could not have
dreamed, what they both needed that seventy-five thousand for, what they would
buy, where they would go. They thought only of the figures 9,499 and 75,000 and
pictured them in their imagination, while somehow they could not think of the
happiness itself which was so possible.
Ivan Dmitritch, holding the paper in his hand, walked several times from corner to
corner, and only when he had recovered from the first impression began dreaming a
"And if we have won," he said -- "why, it will be a new life, it will be a transformation!
The ticket is yours, but if it were mine I should, first of all, of course, spend twentyfive thousand on real property in the shape of an estate; ten thousand on immediate
expenses, new furnishing . . . travelling . . . paying debts, and so on. . . . The other
forty thousand I would put in the bank and get interest on it."
"Yes, an estate, that would be nice," said his wife, sitting down and dropping her
hands in her lap.
"Somewhere in the Tula or Oryol provinces. . . . In the first place we shouldn't need a
summer villa, and besides, it would always bring in an income."
And pictures came crowding on his imagination, each more gracious and poetical
than the last. And in all these pictures he saw himself well-fed, serene, healthy, felt
warm, even hot! Here, after eating a summer soup, cold as ice, he lay on his back on
the burning sand close to a stream or in the garden under a lime-tree. . . . It is hot. . .
. His little boy and girl are crawling about near him, digging in the sand or catching
ladybirds in the grass. He dozes sweetly, thinking of nothing, and feeling all over that
he need not go to the office today, tomorrow, or the day after. Or, tired of lying still,
he goes to the hayfield, or to the forest for mushrooms, or watches the peasants
catching fish with a net. When the sun sets he takes a towel and soap and saunters
to the bathing-shed, where he undresses at his leisure, slowly rubs his bare chest
with his hands, and goes into the water. And in the water, near the opaque soapy
circles, little fish flit to and fro and green water-weeds nod their heads. After bathing
there is tea with cream and milk rolls. . . . In the evening a walk or vint with the
"Yes, it would be nice to buy an estate," said his wife, also dreaming, and from her
face it was evident that she was enchanted by her thoughts.
Ivan Dmitritch pictured to himself autumn with its rains, its cold evenings, and its St.
Martin's summer. At that season he would have to take longer walks about the
garden and beside the river, so as to get thoroughly chilled, and then drink a big
glass of vodka and eat a salted mushroom or a soused cucumber, and then -- drink
another. . . . The children would come running from the kitchen-garden, bringing a
carrot and a radish smelling of fresh earth. . . . And then, he would lie stretched full
length on the sofa, and in leisurely fashion turn over the pages of some illustrated
magazine, or, covering his face with it and unbuttoning his waistcoat, give himself up
to slumber.
The St. Martin's summer is followed by cloudy, gloomy weather. It rains day and
night, the bare trees weep, the wind is damp and cold. The dogs, the horses, the
fowls -- all are wet, depressed, downcast. There is nowhere to walk; one can't go out
for days together; one has to pace up and down the room, looking despondently at
the grey window. It is dreary!
Ivan Dmitritch stopped and looked at his wife.
"I should go abroad, you know, Masha," he said.
And he began thinking how nice it would be in late autumn to go abroad somewhere
to the South of France . . . to Italy . . . . to India!
"I should certainly go abroad too," his wife said. "But look at the number of the
"Wait, wait! . . ."
He walked about the room and went on thinking. It occurred to him: what if his wife
really did go abroad? It is pleasant to travel alone, or in the society of light, careless
women who live in the present, and not such as think and talk all the journey about
nothing but their children, sigh, and tremble with dismay over every farthing. Ivan
Dmitritch imagined his wife in the train with a multitude of parcels, baskets, and bags;
she would be sighing over something, complaining that the train made her head
ache, that she had spent so much money. . . . At the stations he would continually be
having to run for boiling water, bread and butter. . . . She wouldn't have dinner
because of its being too dear. . . .
"She would begrudge me every farthing," he thought, with a glance at his wife. "The
lottery ticket is hers, not mine! Besides, what is the use of her going abroad? What
does she want there? She would shut herself up in the hotel, and not let me out of
her sight. . . . I know!"
And for the first time in his life his mind dwelt on the fact that his wife had grown
elderly and plain, and that she was saturated through and through with the smell of
cooking, while he was still young, fresh, and healthy, and might well have got married
"Of course, all that is silly nonsense," he thought; "but . . . why should she go
abroad? What would she make of it? And yet she would go, of course. . . . I can
fancy . . . In reality it is all one to her, whether it is Naples or Klin. She would only be
in my way. I should be dependent upon her. I can fancy how, like a regular woman,
she will lock the money up as soon as she gets it. . . . She will hide it from me. . . .
She will look after her relations and grudge me every farthing."
Ivan Dmitritch thought of her relations. All those wretched brothers and sisters and
aunts and uncles would come crawling about as soon as they heard of the winning
ticket, would begin whining like beggars, and fawning upon them with oily,
hypocritical smiles. Wretched, detestable people! If they were given anything, they
would ask for more; while if they were refused, they would swear at them, slander
them, and wish them every kind of misfortune.
Ivan Dmitritch remembered his own relations, and their faces, at which he had looked
impartially in the past, struck him now as repulsive and hateful.
"They are such reptiles!" he thought.
And his wife's face, too, struck him as repulsive and hateful. Anger surged up in his
heart against her, and he thought malignantly:
"She knows nothing about money, and so she is stingy. If she won it she would give
me a hundred roubles, and put the rest away under lock and key."
And he looked at his wife, not with a smile now, but with hatred. She glanced at him
too, and also with hatred and anger. She had her own daydreams, her own plans,
her own reflections; she understood perfectly well what her husband's dreams were.
She knew who would be the first to try and grab her winnings.
"It's very nice making daydreams at other people's expense!" is what her eyes
expressed. "No, don't you dare!"
Her husband understood her look; hatred began stirring again in his breast, and in
order to annoy his wife he glanced quickly, to spite her at the fourth page on the
newspaper and read out triumphantly:
"Series 9,499, number 46! Not 26!"
Hatred and hope both disappeared at once, and it began immediately to seem to
Ivan Dmitritch and his wife that their rooms were dark and small and low-pitched, that
the supper they had been eating was not doing them good, but lying heavy on their
stomachs, that the evenings were long and wearisome. . . .
"What the devil's the meaning of it?" said Ivan Dmitritch, beginning to be illhumoured. "Wherever one steps there are bits of paper under one's feet, crumbs,
husks. The rooms are never swept! One is simply forced to go out. Damnation take
my soul entirely! I shall go and hang myself on the first aspen-tree!"
The Last Leaf
O. Henry (1862-1910)
In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken
themselves into small strips called "places." These "places" make strange angles and
curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable
possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas
should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent
having been paid on account!
So, to quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came prowling, hunting for
north windows and eighteenth-century gables and Dutch attics and low rents. Then
they imported some pewter mugs and a chafing dish or two from Sixth Avenue, and
became a "colony."
At the top of a squatty, three-story brick Sue and Johnsy had their studio. "Johnsy"
was familiar for Joanna. One was from Maine; the other from California. They had
met at the table d'hôte of an Eighth Street "Delmonico's," and found their tastes in
art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.
That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called
Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy
fingers. Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by
scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown
Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. A mite of a
little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the
red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer. But Johnsy he smote; and she lay, scarcely
moving, on her painted iron bedstead, looking through the small Dutch window-panes
at the blank side of the next brick house.
One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a shaggy, gray
"She has one chance in - let us say, ten," he said, as he shook down the mercury in
his clinical thermometer. " And that chance is for her to want to live. This way people
have of lining-u on the side of the undertaker makes the entire pharmacopoeia look
silly. Your little lady has made up her mind that she's not going to get well. Has she
anything on her mind?"
"She - she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day." said Sue.
"Paint? - bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking twice - a man for
"A man?" said Sue, with a jew's-harp twang in her voice. "Is a man worth - but, no,
doctor; there is nothing of the kind."
"Well, it is the weakness, then," said the doctor. "I will do all that science, so far as it
may filter through my efforts, can accomplish. But whenever my patient begins to
count the carriages in her funeral procession I subtract 50 per cent from the curative
power of medicines. If you will get her to ask one question about the new winter
styles in cloak sleeves I will promise you a one-in-five chance for her, instead of one
in ten."
After the doctor had gone Sue went into the workroom and cried a Japanese napkin
to a pulp. Then she swaggered into Johnsy's room with her drawing board, whistling
Johnsy lay, scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes, with her face toward the
window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep.
She arranged her board and began a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate a magazine
story. Young artists must pave their way to Art by drawing pictures for magazine
stories that young authors write to pave their way to Literature.
As Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horseshow riding trousers and a monocle of
the figure of the hero, an Idaho cowboy, she heard a low sound, several times
repeated. She went quickly to the bedside.
Johnsy's eyes were open wide. She was looking out the window and counting counting backward.
"Twelve," she said, and little later "eleven"; and then "ten," and "nine"; and then
"eight" and "seven", almost together.
Sue look solicitously out of the window. What was there to count? There was only a
bare, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away.
An old, old ivy vine, gnarled and decayed at the roots, climbed half way up the brick
wall. The cold breath of autumn had stricken its leaves from the vine until its skeleton
branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks.
"What is it, dear?" asked Sue.
"Six," said Johnsy, in almost a whisper. "They're falling faster now. Three days ago
there were almost a hundred. It made my head ache to count them. But now it's
easy. There goes another one. There are only five left now."
"Five what, dear? Tell your Sudie."
"Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go, too. I've known that for
three days. Didn't the doctor tell you?"
"Oh, I never heard of such nonsense," complained Sue, with magnificent scorn.
"What have old ivy leaves to do with your getting well? And you used to love that vine
so, you naughty girl. Don't be a goosey. Why, the doctor told me this morning that
your chances for getting well real soon were - let's see exactly what he said - he said
the chances were ten to one! Why, that's almost as good a chance as we have in
New York when we ride on the street cars or walk past a new building. Try to take
some broth now, and let Sudie go back to her drawing, so she can sell the editor man
with it, and buy port wine for her sick child, and pork chops for her greedy self."
"You needn't get any more wine," said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed out the
window. "There goes another. No, I don't want any broth. That leaves just four. I want
to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I'll go, too."
"Johnsy, dear," said Sue, bending over her, "will you promise me to keep your eyes
closed, and not look out the window until I am done working? I must hand those
drawings in by to-morrow. I need the light, or I would draw the shade down."
"Couldn't you draw in the other room?" asked Johnsy, coldly.
"I'd rather be here by you," said Sue. "Beside, I don't want you to keep looking at
those silly ivy leaves."
"Tell me as soon as you have finished," said Johnsy, closing her eyes, and lying
white and still as fallen statue, "because I want to see the last one fall. I'm tired of
waiting. I'm tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go
sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves."
"Try to sleep," said Sue. "I must call Behrman up to be my model for the old hermit
miner. I'll not be gone a minute. Don't try to move 'til I come back."
Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor beneath them. He was past
sixty and had a Michael Angelo's Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr
along with the body of an imp. Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had
wielded the brush without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress's
robe. He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it.
For several years he had painted nothing except now and then a daub in the line of
commerce or advertising. He earned a little by serving as a model to those young
artists in the colony who could not pay the price of a professional. He drank gin to
excess, and still talked of his coming masterpiece. For the rest he was a fierce little
old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as
especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.
Sue found Behrman smelling strongly of juniper berries in his dimly lighted den
below. In one corner was a blank canvas on an easel that had been waiting there for
twenty-five years to receive the first line of the masterpiece. She told him of Johnsy's
fancy, and how she feared she would, indeed, light and fragile as a leaf herself, float
away, when her slight hold upon the world grew weaker.
Old Behrman, with his red eyes plainly streaming, shouted his contempt and derision
for such idiotic imaginings.
"Vass!" he cried. "Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs
dey drop off from a confounded vine? I haf not heard of such a thing. No, I will not
bose as a model for your fool hermit-dunderhead. Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness
to come in der brain of her? Ach, dot poor leetle Miss Yohnsy."
"She is very ill and weak," said Sue, "and the fever has left her mind morbid and full
of strange fancies. Very well, Mr. Behrman, if you do not care to pose for me, you
needn't. But I think you are a horrid old - old flibbertigibbet."
"You are just like a woman!" yelled Behrman. "Who said I will not bose? Go on. I
come mit you. For half an hour I haf peen trying to say dot I am ready to bose. Gott!
dis is not any blace in which one so goot as Miss Yohnsy shall lie sick. Some day I
vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shall all go away. Gott! yes."
Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. Sue pulled the shade down to the
window-sill, and motioned Behrman into the other room. In there they peered out the
window fearfully at the ivy vine. Then they looked at each other for a moment without
speaking. A persistent, cold rain was falling, mingled with snow. Behrman, in his old
blue shirt, took his seat as the hermit miner on an upturned kettle for a rock.
When Sue awoke from an hour's sleep the next morning she found Johnsy with dull,
wide-open eyes staring at the drawn green shade.
"Pull it up; I want to see," she ordered, in a whisper.
Wearily Sue obeyed.
But, lo! after the beating rain and fierce gusts of wind that had endured through the
livelong night, there yet stood out against the brick wall one ivy leaf. It was the last
one on the vine. Still dark green near its stem, with its serrated edges tinted with the
yellow of dissolution and decay, it hung bravely from the branch some twenty feet
above the ground.
"It is the last one," said Johnsy. "I thought it would surely fall during the night. I heard
the wind. It will fall to-day, and I shall die at the same time."
"Dear, dear!" said Sue, leaning her worn face down to the pillow, "think of me, if you
won't think of yourself. What would I do?"
But Johnsy did not answer. The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is
making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her
more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were
The day wore away, and even through the twilight they could see the lone ivy leaf
clinging to its stem against the wall. And then, with the coming of the night the north
wind was again loosed, while the rain still beat against the windows and pattered
down from the low Dutch eaves.
When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the shade be
The ivy leaf was still there.
Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. And then she called to Sue, who was stirring
her chicken broth over the gas stove.
"I've been a bad girl, Sudie," said Johnsy. "Something has made that last leaf stay
there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die. You may bring a me a
little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it, and - no; bring me a hand-mirror
first, and then pack some pillows about me, and I will sit up and watch you cook."
And hour later she said:
"Sudie, some day I hope to paint the Bay of Naples."
The doctor came in the afternoon, and Sue had an excuse to go into the hallway as
he left.
"Even chances," said the doctor, taking Sue's thin, shaking hand in his. "With good
nursing you'll win." And now I must see another case I have downstairs. Behrman,
his name is - some kind of an artist, I believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak
man, and the attack is acute. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital today to be made more comfortable."
The next day the doctor said to Sue: "She's out of danger. You won. Nutrition and
care now - that's all."
And that afternoon Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay, contentedly knitting a
very blue and very useless woollen shoulder scarf, and put one arm around her,
pillows and all.
"I have something to tell you, white mouse," she said. "Mr. Behrman died of
pneumonia to-day in the hospital. He was ill only two days. The janitor found him the
morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and
clothing were wet through and icy cold. They couldn't imagine where he had been on
such a dreadful night. And then they found a lantern, still lighted, and a ladder that
had been dragged from its place, and some scattered brushes, and a palette with
green and yellow colors mixed on it, and - look out the window, dear, at the last ivy
leaf on the wall. Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind
blew? Ah, darling, it's Behrman's masterpiece - he painted it there the night that the
last leaf fell."
Lao Hsiang
A boy in the country gets to be at least half as useful as a
grownup by the time he is eight or nine years old. He can weed in the spring or ti7e
up harvest bundles in summer: he is able to pass bricks when a house is built or
open and shut the furrows to the irrigation ditches. This, being the case, who'd want
to send him to school? But an official proclamation had been issued in the city to the
effect that unless a boy over six years of age.
When they found the cause of her distress, Father said, "We'll have the boy ask his
teacher whose mama this really is. Maybe it is the teacher's mama."
The next morning before dawn, Mother woke up her son and made him go to school
and ask the teacher for a solution to the problem that had bothered her all night.
Arriving at school, the boy found that it was Sunday and that there would be no
school. Moreover, the teacher had drunk more wine than was good for him the night
before and was still sound asleep. The boy told Mother the circumstances, which
made her curse the institution of Sunday.
At general assembly on Monday, the teacher said gently to his charges, "One who
wants to learn must not be afraid to ask questions. Anyone who has any question
should raise it at once, to his teacher at school or to his parents at home." Thereupon
our hero stood up and asked, (the reader says) "This is Mama." Whose is she,
really?” The teacher answered even more gently than before. "It is the mama of
anyone who happens to read the book, do you understand now?"
"No," the boy said. This embarrassed the teacher a little but he said patiently, "Why
don't you understand?"
"Baldy is also reading this, but his mama is not like this lady," the boy said. "Baldy's
mother is lame in one arm and has only one eye," Hsiao Li said.
"And you have no mama at all. She died a long time ago," Baldy said in self-defense.
"Don't talk among yourselves" the teacher said, knocking on the blackboard with his
ferule. "We are going to have the lesson plan today: This is Papa. Look, everyone.
This is Papa, the man with spectacles and patted hair."
After school, Mother was still warned about who the picture woman was, but when
she heard her son reiterating "this is Papa," she did not dare to pursue the question,
being afraid that her husband might want to know when she'd found a new papa for
their son. She was puzzled more than ever and wondered why the book insisted on
presenting people with papas and mamas when they had them already.
A few days later, the boy learned two new sentences: "The ox tends the fire; the
horse eats noodles." He read the text over thousands of times but he could not get
over the feeling that there was something queer about the assertions. They had an
ox and a horse and he had himself taken them out to tend the hills, but he had never
once seen a horse eat noodles and he was sure that their ox could not tend the fire.
But could the book be wrong? Since he could not answer these questions, he
obeyed his teacher's injunction of the week before and asked his father about it.
Father said, "I once went to a foreign circus in the city and saw a horse that could
ring a bell and fire a gun. Perhaps the book is talking about such horses and oxen." It
in our circumstances. You' 11 be very ungrateful if you don't study hard and learn
The boy took his father's instructions to heart and set out for school the next day at
dawn. When he got there, however, the porter said to him in a low voice, "Classes
don't start till nine. It's now only five thirty. You are too early. The teacher is asleep
and the classroom isn't unlocked. You had better go home now." The boy looked
around the yard and found that he was indeed the only student there; he listened
outside the teacher's window and heard him snoring; he walked around the lecture
room and found no open door. There was nothing for him to do but run back home.
Grandfather was sweeping the yard when he suddenly caught sight of the boy. He
threw down his broom and said. "What is the use of trying to make a scholar of a boy
whom Heaven and Earth intended for the hoe? Look at him. it's only the second day
and he is playing truant already!" The boy was just about to explain when his mother
gave him two resounding slaps and made him tend the fire for breakfast. Needless to
say, the price of the books that they had to buy had a great deal to do with their
When the boy went to school again after breakfast, the teacher was already on the
platform and was holding forth on the subject of being late to school. To illustrate his
point, he told a story about a little fairy that waited by the wayside with a bag of gold
to reward the earliest boy. Our boy was enchanted with the story and the words
"fairy" gold" but he could not figure out just what was meant by "earliest."
In the afternoon, our young hero came back from school at three thirty, just as his
father was going back to work after his midday nap. Luckily his father happened to
see the other boys also coming home from school and the teaching laking a stroll
with his “dog stick," and concluded that his son was not playing truant. He kept
wondering, however, about the strange ways of these foreign schools.
The first six days of school were taken up with the first lesson in the reader, with the
text. “This is mama." It couldn't be said that the boy was not diligent He reviewed his
lesson every day after school, reading over and over again "This is Mama," until
dusk. With his left hand holding the book open and his right following the characters,
he read on faithfully and conscientiously if afraid that the characters would fly away if
he did not fix his entire attention on them.
But every time he reads "This is Mama," his mother's heart would jump. On the sixth
day of school she could stand it no longer. She snatched the book from him and said,
“Let me see who your mama is!" Thinking that his mother was really eager to learn,
the boy pointed to the accompanying picture and said, This is Mama- the lady with
leather shoes, bobbed hair, and long dress." One glance at the picture and Mother
burst out crying. Grandfather, Grandmother, and Father were frightened, thinking
that she might have become possessed by some evil spirits. At first, she only cried
and would not say anything when they asked her what the matter was, but when they
persisted, she said. “Where did the boy get that vampire-like mama?"
Grandmother, however, did not agree with father's explanation. She said, "The ox
must be the Ox-Head Devil King and the horse must also be a demon. Don't you see
that all wear human clothing? They haven't changed their heads if human heads yet,
but that alone will take to live hundred a years." The old lady then went on to tell
stories about demons that could command the wing and summon rain; the result was
that the boy dreamed that night of being seized by a winged-wolf demon and woke
up crying.
The following day, the boy asked his teacher "Is this ox that can tend the fire a
foreign ox ?"
The teacher laughed and said, "You are too literal! The book has only made those
things up. It is not true that oxen can really tend the fire or that horses really eat
The explanation cleared up at one stroke many things in the book that had puzzled
the boy. He had read about such things as bread, milk, park, ball, and the like, which
he had never seen and which had made him wonder, it dawned upon him that the
book dealt only with make believe things.
One day, the boy and his schoolmates decided that they would play tea party as they
had read about it in their reading. They agreed that each would contribute twenty
cents so that they could send to the city for oranges, apples, chocolates, and things.
Our boy knew, of course, that he would be only inviting a beating to ask money for
buying sweetmeats. Grandmother always mumbled that school would bankrupt them
yet, whenever he had to buy a sheet of writing paper. But be could not resist the
glowing picture that his book gave of the tea party, and decided to help himself to
the money that his mother had just got from selling more of her jewels and which she
had set aside for buying cabbage seedlings.
Grandfather had been suffering for a long time from a chronic cough, and someone
had hold him that orange peels would give him relief. He kept on asking what orange
peels were like and where they could be gotten. Thinking that this was a chance for
him to ingratiate himself into his grandfather's favor, the boy said, "We are getting
some oranges?" Grandfather asked. "What are you getting oranges for?"
We want to hold a tea party," the boy said.
"What is a tea party?"
"It means to get together and eat things and drink tea," the boy said. "It is in the book
"What kind of book is this that is either making animals talk or tea people to eat and
play? No wonder the boys have become lazy and choosy about their food since they
went to school" Grandmother said.
"And it is always about foreign food. There doesn't seem to be any corn stew or bean
curd with onions in it." Grandfather said.
"Remember, son, to bring back some orange peels for your grandfather's cough,"
said Mother.
"Where did you get the money to buy oranges?" asked Father.
"The teacher - "but before the boy could finish making up his story, they heard Badly,
who live in the next dwelling to the east, suddenly begin to cry. Then they heard his
father shout, "We can't even afford salt, and yet you want to buy candy."
This was followed by the voice of Hsiao Lin's uncle, who live in the west. "I let you
buy books with my earned-money because it is for your good, but I haven't any
money for you to buy sweetmeats. You can ask whoever you want to hold tea parties
for it."
The truth came out. The boy's father aimed a kick at him, but fortunately the table
intervened. He only upset the table and broke a few rice bowls. Grandfather was of
the opinion th at it might be better to take the boy out of school, but Grandmother did
not want her son to go to jail. After long arguments, it was decided that they would
let him try school for a few more days.
After this Humiliation, our young scholar vowed to study harder and to recover his
lost prestige in the family. Everyday after school, he read without stopping until it was
dark. He did not realize that the source of his troubles lay in the textbook itself.
Grandmother had been feeling that her son was no longer as close to her as before
marriage and that her position in the family had been gradually slipping. Now as she
listened to the boy reading aloud his latest lessons, she heard him say, "In my family
I have a papa, a mama, a brother, and a sister," but nothing about Grandfather and
Grandmother. She became very indignant and shouted. "So this house is now all
yours and I have no longer a share in it!" She was mad with fury. She picked up a
brick and broke their iron pot into pieces.
“Don't be angry any more!" the boy's father said. "We won't let him read this kind of
book any longer. I would rather go to jail."
And so the next day, Father discharged a day laborer and the teacher marked the
boy's absence in the record book at school.
"A Country Boy Quits School" by Lao Hsiang is an endearing social satire. It is about
a poor Chinese family which is forced to send its boy to school following an official
proclamation, ignoring which would mean a jail term. How the English illustrations in
books and the literal translation lead to much confusion and misunderstandings in his
household is at the centre of the story. The boy is finally pulled out of the school.