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short storyA story set in 1980s Nigeria Muhammed lay quiet in the corner of his cell when police chief Chuwungu and his deputy passed by. They stopped by the door and smiled at his bruises. After all, Muhammed was a muslim, and what they internally referred to as a “B-citizen” in the station. A B-citizen was a person who had been arrested, but for whom they had yet to come up with a charge. Usually, this was done within a few months. But it was not easy because Chuwungu had limited imagination. Sometimes, he claimed they had attacked the police unprovoked, but most of the time he claimed that they were fundamentalists. This was very convenient, because it was both very serious, there were bombings elsewhere in the country quite often, and most importantly, it was impossible to disprove. After all, not even the judges had access to the man’s mind? And most of his criminals were so starved, unclean and agitated when they arrived in court that the judge – who was a neat well-kept and well-fed academic educated somewhere in Europe – frowned with disgust when they took the stand. Chuwungu always smiled at this. Once, however, the judge had sent him a suspicious and irritated look, and after that Chuwungu always wore his fake Ray-ban glasses court, and pulled his cap a little down. Muhammed was one of those ruffians who became so cocky in their teens that they stood on street corners laughing at the police. Then, of course, he had no choice but to put him in his place. He got some of his men to pick him up one evening while he was out drinking, gave him a real good beating and dumped him in a cell overnight. When he woke in the morning Muhammed was thirsty and bruised. They let him go with a warning.However, next week, he looked at them with even more spite, and it was then Chuwungu decided that Muhammed was a B-citizen. This was some years back. Of course, the local shop owners would be ordered to be very rude to Muhammed, and he would not be allowed to visit certain areas in which there were girls or entertainment. Chuwungu also made sure that the taxi company in which Muhammed worked cut his salary. And that his girl friend did not offer him sex more than once a month. This was the ultimate insult to any African man, and Chuwungu thought Muhammed would beat her senseless. But he did nothing, which was even more contemptible. There were many things that B-citizens would not be allowed to do. Chuwungu and his deputy used to sit and brainstorm in order to come up with ways of limiting their options. Someone suggested that they would deny them chicken, or even bush meat, leaving only pork. But this was very impractical because there was no way to keep track of such things. So, he simply dismissed the idea.Even if Chuwungu was feared by ordinary people, he was not disliked by his own, that is, the other police. He was a tall muscular man with a round face, balled and black as coal. He had teeth, which – by contrast- glittered like ivory when the roar of his laughter was heard. He had six children, and a very proud wife, and who was sometimes seen in the town square in her flowery red robe, negotiating for the price of vegetables. She was not the sort of person who downplayed her position. She looked at you with determination, and she ordered her children about like a true deputy – and she obeyed her husband in everything. For after all, he was the police chief known locally as the Lion of Edo state. Chuwungu almost never beat his wife. He was a man who appreciated loyalty. And she was loyal in every sense of the word. But, if any shopkeeper was late with their payments, he had no qualms about bringing them in, then locking himself in a cell with the unfortunate later payer, who afterwards almost never repeated the offense. Muhammed had never been a major concern for Chuwungu. He was muslim, but one of the nameless characters who sometimes drifted into town from the large shanty suburb north of the center. He lived there with his ailing mother and his younger sister. Little is known about his mother’s past. No one in such places had any identification. Those in the center at least had a local id. Very few, except for academics like the judge and people like himself, and the rich tycoons, owned a passport. Chuwungu had never used his passport, it just lay on his office shelf next to his golden bracelet, his sunglasses and the keys to his car. Muhammed’s mother was fat and frail, and quiet. She had always been this way. 20 years ago she had arrived with some refugees from the north. She married another muslim and they settled in a very modest house in town, and she had her babies. Then suddenly the man left her. Some say they argued and some say he had found another woman. But Chuwungu suspected that he had gone off to join the militants in the jungle. It did not matter because this was ages ago, and all these years Muhammed’s mother had scraped by in a run down shed with her two children. The house she had once lived in had been renovated and extended, and now belonged to Chuwungu’s preacher. There was no bitterness on Chuwungu’s part against Muhammed and his family. But Chuwungu needed to be respected and feared. If teenagers and twenty year olds were allowed to look him directly in the eye that would not be possible. When Chuwungu drove through the gravel covered streets at night, they appeared in his head lights, dancing in front of women – showing off. When he heard the music from portable radios he often wondered why it was that he had never been this carefree himself. He had been destined for something else, for keeping control and for assuming power. He had always been a large man, and when he entered a room, all murmur had always fallen silent. Chuwungu had really only begun thinking about Muhammed two years ago when a young muslim from arrived from the north selling cheap Japanese walkmans. Because he was a man from the other side, he ignored Chuwungu’s warnings and struck up a friendship with Muhammed. They were both muslim, but sometimes drank a little alcohol. Chuwungu had begun pondering about how he could drive a wedge between the two so that Muhammed would be kept in his place. After all, a B-citizen should never rise above his station. One day while Chuwungu was sitting in his office, he was notified of a car crash north of town involving two young men. At first, he did not react. Nobody was seriously hurt, but the car hit a tree and was now a wreck. The officer had been paid on site and Chuwungu would receive his share, so the matter almost slipped by unnoticed.But upon his return to the station the officer mentioned in passing that the men in the old blue Ford were Muhammed and his new friend. “Really?” said Chuwungu. “I have had enough! It is time I had a talk with this electronics seller, whoever he might be. Bring him in. Let him understand that we don’t like drunk driving in our town. Leave him in a cell overnight, I will talk to him in the morning alone”. The next morning Chuwungu entered the cell, and the following week the seller moved back north. The dry season had now arrived. The nights were cold, the stars clear and the cracked ground twice as dusty in daylight. Muhammed was often seen in town, in back alleys drinking cheap alcohol. He avoided those areas where he was not welcome, and kept to himself. But he was not sober, and there were rumors that his aging mother was ill. When Muhammed was fired from his job, his sister took up whoring to pay for his mother’s treatment. This made him feel even worse. For earning money was a man’s duty in life. And what sort of man had he become? Then one day Chuwungu was notified of a robbery. There was no one on call. They had been summoned to the scene of some exploded oil pipe. So, chief Chuwungu answered and drove to the crime scene himself. An old man was waiting for him. He showed visible signs of a beating, and seemed very agitated. “Calm down, old man!” Chuwungu began. “Tell me what happened – very slowly.”“A young lunatic appeared out of nowhere, took all my money and fled.”“Do you have any idea who he was?”“Yes, I know him well. It was that drunk, Muhammed.”“Muhammed? Are you sure?” Chuwungu almost smiled.“Yes. I know him well by sight.”“I see. Don’t worry. We will leave no stone unturned and find him. Get your money back.”“There is no need to search. He entered that shed over there. He has not come out”. He pointed to a rotting wooden shed, hidden in the shade of some trees a few hundred meters away.“How long ago?”“An hour or two.”“Have you spoken to him?”“No, he is mad”Chuwungu nodded, left the old man and slowly and silently made his way towards the shed. There was no sound, only night crickets, but the flicker of a small light could be seen through the window, probably an oil lamp. Chuwungu checked the back. There was only one entrance.He approached the door, stopped and listened. All quiet. Then he tore the door open quickly and stuck his head in. The shed had been used for storage for old scrap metal, and rods and rusty bars were lying about among heaps of paper and plastic trash. In a clearing on the ground sat Muhammed – drunk as hell. He was alive, but only glanced up indifferently at Chuwungu.“You know what your problem is, Muhammed. You have no respect for authority. You never had”.“My mother died last night. I could not pay for her treatment.”Their eyes met, and then suddenly Chuwungu smiled and even laughed. He was a huge man towering above the drunk Muhammed. “So now you finally realize that you cannot change the way things are in this world.”‘Chuwungu went to the window, and looked out to wave at the old man 200 meter away. As he turned he heard a swish and felt a sharp pain in his ankles. The huge policeman tumbled over, and fell to the ground with a thump. He was not unconscious and realized that Muhammed had swung at his leg with one of the rusty iron bars. It had been a tremendous blow, for Chuwungu felt blood on his hands. He looked up and saw the insane and frightened stare of Muhammed looking down at him. In a flash, the mad man had opened the door and fled into the dense dark forest. It goes without saying that Muhammed never returned to his old town. He walked till morning, slept by a river and started to make his way north. He thought maybe there would be a better life for him somewhere where there would be more Muslims like himself. He stayed clear of major cities, ate bush meat, drank water from creeks and wells and consumed berries. In the open areas he hitch hiked with lorry drivers and called himself Ali instead of Muhammed. When he eventually arrived at a mid-sized northern town, he first lived on the street. Then he got a job as a cleaner at a mosque, and he rented a room. It was only 11 square meters, but it was something. A year passed, and Muhammed had the feeling of a new beginning. He had no friends, but he never had anyway. One evening, after he had received his paycheck and was walking home, he took a shortcut via a long poorly lit alley. He was half way through the alley, when a shadow rushed upon him out of nowhere. He felt a sting in his arm, and before he knew it all his money had vanished. He had been robbed. Returning to the light of his room, he noticed a bad stab wound on his arm. There was blood and pain. At first he wanted to deal with it himself, but eventually he walked 4 kilometers under the crescent sky to the hospital. They cleaned and dressed the wound, put on some bandages, and then he sat waiting till morning in the corridor. At dawn the nurses, the doctor and finally a policeman arrived. The policeman was an elderly man, wise in the ways of the world. He told Ali not to worry, the culprit had already been caught. Unfortunately, he had bought alcohol for the entire amount.“Alcohol?” said Ali.“Yes,” the old man replied. “He was one of those drunk infidel Christian pigs.”“I see.”Even if these were cruel words, there was an immediate connection between the officer and the man now calling himself Ali. The old man bought Ali sweet tea, and then they smoked and talked for an hour.At one point, the man said: “I hear you work at the mosque. That is noble work.”“I am only a cleaner”.“But still. It is something. I make an OK living as a policeman. The pay is not much, but it is steady, and there are extra sources of income. My children depend on these, you see.”“Yes”“We are actually looking for new recruits. You need a few courses. But the state provides them one by one. You are spoon fed.” He smiled.“I am not sure if this is my thing…”Before the old man left, their eyes met again, and there was another moment of unspoken understanding. The next week, Ali did contact the recruiting office, and the story goes that he eventually did become a policeman. And some years later even the police chief of a small town. There he became known for his violent temper, his cunning and his ruthlessness. Because of the way he compensated for his feeble stature and his utter lack of mercy, they called him “The Hyena”. They say he referred to all his Christian criminals as “C-citizens”. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story“The Rose Of Sokna: Another Adventure in the Sahara” by Karl May (1842-1912) (Published here with the permission of the translator Marlies Bugmann and the editor Reinhard Marheinecke) returned to Murzuk from an excursion into the mountains of Soudah. The city gardens with their palm trees, the pomegranate, olive, fig, peach and apricot trees already lay in front of us. My servant Ali stopped his horse, a brave bay, to unfurl the lion skin he had strapped behind the saddle so that the inhabitants of the place could see we had dared to challenge the lion, the ‘lord with the big head’ as the Arab called the animal, to a battle. I let him have his way because I was lucky to have the courageous, if a little vain Ali as my servant. He was steadfast and strong, wily like a fox, loyal to his master and familiar with all dialects and customs of the desert nations so that I could rely upon him in any situation. Ali had been recommended to me by the proprietor of the famous Hotel d’Orient in Algiers, had accompanied me from there via Tunisia, Tripoli and Sokna to Fezzan, and was determined also to travel with me to Augilah, Siwah and then on to Cahira. He was truly devoted to me and would probably have accompanied me to Siberia, had such a journey been on my mind. He puffed himself up in no small measure when he noticed the half shy, half admiring glances that the by-standers cast upon our hunting trophy. “Do you see the kahshef who is approaching there, sihdi?” he asked me. “Look how the eyes are popping out of his head. Yes, I have a sihdi, a master who is a great taleb and effendi and he is unafraid of Assad the terrifying, the lion! But I, Ali el Hakemi Ebn Abbas Ebn er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi, have received the rifle of the wise sultan Solomon, who spoke with the animals, from the father of my brother and am not even afraid of the black panther who is more dangerous than the lion whom we call abu el salssali!” I couldn’t help but admire the subtlety, with which he artfully accomplished to place his own courage just above mine, and let him carry on until we got to the house of my host, the Jewish trader and businessman Manasse ben Arahab. I tossed the reins of my horse to Ali and entered my quarters to get changed, then went to find the master of the house. I was curious why I had not encountered any of the servants yet and received a shock when I entered the divan. The honourable Manasse didn’t sit, as he usually did, with crossed legs in the rahat oturmak pose, as the Turks called it, but, instead, he lay outstretched on the cushions with his face buried in them and his hair in disarray. “As-salaamu alaikum, peace be with you!” I greeted him. “Salaam—peace? How could there be peace in the house of Ben Arahab, when the fountains cry and the walls wail about…ah, it is you? Praised be God the Almighty for leading you back to the place of the tragedy! Be welcome, effendi, and hear the anguish that has come over us!” “What has happened?” I asked, shaken by the expression of desperation that I read in his features. “What has happened? The god of my ancestors has turned his face away from me and took the child who was the greatest happiness on Earth in my old age.” “Your child! Rahel?” I was stunned. “Has she died?” “Died? Oh, if only she had, that would have been preferable! I would say thanks to Jehova Elohim that he had at least left me with her grave, above which I could cry my tears and comfort the woman who gave me my only precious child! Why didn’t I stay in Sokna where there are no desert robbers and no murderers of our daughters; why did I move to Murzuk and attempt to increase my wealth by trade with the kaffila! You knew Rahel, the daughter of my heart, the child of my soul and the pride of my life. She was young like Sulamith, beautiful like Bathseba and proud like Judith, the heroine from the city of Bethulia. She was the light of my eyes, the star of my days and the sun of my existence. Now the star is extinguished and the sun has gone down; I will die of a broken heart, like Jacob almost did when Joseph was sold!” Heavy teardrops streamed down into his grey beard during this genuinely oriental, heartrending outburst. He tried to dry them and continued: “She painted kohl around her beautiful eyes and donned her golden dress to stroll along outside the eastern gate, the ain el shemms. That’s when two huge riders came with long guns and sharp chandjars, long daggers, pulled her onto the horse and raced away with her into the desert.” I was just about to ask how long ago that had happened when one of the previously invisible servants entered, bowed humbly down to the ground and announced: “There is a man in the courtyard who wishes to speak to you, master.” “I won’t speak—won’t talk—won’t see anyone. Tell them I’ve gone away—tell them I’m dead, I’ve died of a broken heart!” “I have told him,” the man knew his master very well. “But he wants to talk about a large deal that could be worth many pouches.” “Large deal—many pouches? What good is a deal and what should I do with the pouches full of money, now that Rahel, my only heiress, has gone! Who is the man?” “An Arab with a golden clasp on his burnus and silver-inlayed pistols.” “Golden clasp—silver…? Show him in!” The sound of the precious metal obviously had the same power over him as his pain. After a few moments, a stranger with a proud and dignified bearing entered. “As-salaamu alaikum!” he greeted without lowering his head. He was a free son of the desert and came to see a giaur; he the orthodox visited a Jew. “Peace be with you! What is your name and what do you want from me?” “My name is as feared as the name of el timsach and you shall hear what I want from you, Manasse ben Arahab!” He spoke with a confident, deep voice and although he had the end of the turban fabric folded down as a lisham, a veil, I still noticed that his dark eyes keenly observed the room. “You have a daughter?” he continued. “A daughter! Do you know her—have you seen her—do you know of her, the one I’ve sent all my servants out to search?” Manasse cried and tensed up. “Neither your servants nor the bei with his soldiers, the one you went to see, will find her, not even the pasha of Tripoli. Send all your sheitans, your devils out, it will be for naught, because—she is with me!” “With you?” The Jew jumped up entirely and approached the stranger. “How did you get her and who are you?” “You are familiar with my name; I am the Kofla Aga.” “The Kofla Aga!” Manasse recoiled and even I received a shock. It was the name of the infamous and feared leader of a gum, a robber caravan that appeared here and there, ambushed and destroyed other caravans, whereby the people and animals vanished without a trace. Every trade caravan not accompanied by a substantial military escort, fell prey to the gum. Neither the angry orders of the pasha nor the efforts of the bei had been effective in combating the terrible state of affairs. The deplorable and reckless man stood in front of us and explained that Rahel was in his hands. He had undoubtedly robbed her for a ransom, because Ben Arahab was known as a very rich man. “Yes, habihb, the Kofla Aga!” he repeated proudly. “Allah kerihm, God is merciful! What is she doing with you?” “Do you wish to have her back?” “Yes, yes—as soon as possible—now, immediately! You found her. You will bring her back — hamdulillah; you’re an honest man!” “Help him, oh God; he’s delih, gone mad!” the robber mocked. “You shall have her, hale and untouched, as soon as you pay me ten pouches in gold.” “Pay…?” Manasse flinched away from him as if bitten by an adder. “Then you’ve robbed her? You villain, I’ll have you arrested immediately!” “You will not do that,” the Kofla Aga retorted with a dismissive gesture. “Because I swear by the beard of the prophet that your child will die if I don’t return by a pre-determined hour! I give you three weeks to gather the pouches, and then I will tell you where to deliver them.” “Ten pouches of gold! I can’t get that together!” “Then the girl will become my wife and the wife of my men, Allah knows it, and then she shall die! Now keep your mouth shut. Because the Kofla Aga always keeps an oath he swore by the beard of the prophet. As-salaamu alaikum, peace be with you!” Without having looked at me once, he left. Distraught Manasse ben Arahab collapsed onto the cushions. Never before had he been offered a worse deal than the one by the man with the golden clasp and the silver-studded pistols. *** We were three days into our journey from Murzuk to Augilah. Although I had advised against it, Manasse had gone ahead and fitted out the goods transport caravan, to which Ali and I were attached, and hadn’t waited until the kafilat could merge with a larger one. However, the goods had been expected since a long time and Manasse believed the Kofla Aga was occupied with the prospect of the ten pouches and we didn’t have to fear an attack even though the bei had been unable to give him a protection escort. That was because those of the two hundred and fifty men strong Turkish garrison at Murzuk, intended for that purpose, had already been dispatched into all directions of the compass. I had a different opinion. It was a certainty that the robber had Ben Arahab’s house watched and, therefore, was bound to find out about the caravan’s departure. Regardless of the situation, I informed the old, loyal shech el djemali, the oldest of the camel drivers, that I would accompany them. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get myself to be afraid of the Arab highwayman and, besides, I had the urge to be of use to my host. I had seen Rahel often. She was one of those beauties only the Orient could produce. For that reason, and because she originated from Sokna, she was deservedly called ‘the Rose of Sokna’ by the people of Fezzan’s capital. I lost count of how often I had been sitting near her, quietly fascinated by her appearance, how many times I had received the small coffee cup from her hands, how often I had listened to her songs, of which I had made her repeat the Arabic pilgrimage song lubecka Allah hameeh the most! As I said, we had been on the move for three days and hadn’t noticed anything suspicious. It was the time of assr, the breaking camp and heading off, for all true Arabs, two hours before sunset. I rode my hedjihn at the head of the caravan next to the shech el djemali who told me about the dangers of travelling in the desert, because he took me to be a rhashim, a newcomer, with some justification. I listened to his superlative depictions, which he delivered with typical oriental mannerism, although I knew that the greatest dangers weren’t to be found in the Libyan Desert but only later in the actual Sahara. “See the stones lie about here as if the bad djinns, the bad spirits had scattered them, sihdi? They fell from the sky when the archangel fought with the devil, who held onto the walls of Heaven and tore a piece of it down with him.” “Ama di bacht, what luck that you didn’t stand under it right at that moment, or else no balsam could have helped your skull!” “Don’t you believe me? Yes, you’re a Nemsi, a German, and no mullah or dervish can help a Nemsi! Once upon a time came the brave uelad Arfa and conquered the wide land. Two sunrises from here…” he pointed south “…some of the wall pieces fell onto the rras, a single mountain; the uelad Arfa built a kasr, a mountain fortress from them; but sheitan, the evil one drove them out. Now the bad djinns live in the castle and those travellers who get too close when they travel through the region will be trapped in tjehenna. In the name of the all-merciful, believe what I tell you; I was told by a devout marabut who is five thousand years old and was present when it happened!” I made no attempt to set him right and stopped my hedjihn to let the train pass, the rear of which was brought up by my brave Ali. The pack camels only moved slowly; it tired me more than the fast ride on a slim bisharinhedjihn that was capable of covering between fifteen and twenty-five kilometres at a trot, without interruption. My mount was from that excellent breed; therefore I decided to make camp for a while together with Ali to completely soak up the impressions of the overwhelming desert wasteland for once, and then quickly catch up to the caravan again on our agile animals. “Have you ever heard of el kasr?” I asked my servant after we had dismounted. When the shech had mentioned the ghost castle to me before, a thought surfaced in my mind that could perhaps be justified. “El kasr, effendi?” he stretched out all ten fingers in a defensive gesture. “Help us, oh Lord, bless us with your mercy, because that is the cursed building over which not even our birds of paradise, the swallows, can fly without plummeting! I have heard of it in Murzuk. Only el budj, the powerful bearded vulture may circle above it because he has to devour the hapless ones who stray off their path and fall prey to the bad djinns.” “Then you’re afraid of these ghosts?” “Allah icharkilik, may God burn you to ashes if you believe that I, the invincible Ali el Hakemi Ebn Abbas Ebn er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi run away from a man or an animal! You are a great taleb and effendi, but Allah hu akbar, God is even greater and if you insult me with cowardice, then I leave you lying here and go back to where I came from! But say, who can fight these ghosts?” “What if those ghosts were people?” Dear Ali dropped his chin almost to the ground; he couldn’t comprehend in what way a ghost could be human, until I gave him the necessary explanation. “Be issm Lillahi, sihdi, you are wise like sultan Solomon when he wanted to cut the child in half! But what sort of men would possibly live on el kasr?” “Perhaps the Kofla Aga with his robbers!” “The Kofla Aga…the Kofla Aga…the caravan robber?” he repeated a few times to make his ingenuous mind more receptive for the daring thought; then he stretched out on his bast mat and closed is eyes. I knew that he wouldn’t broach the subject again until he had completely digested it. He only once interrupted his contemplations for a short time when the sun dipped into the ocean of sand. He rose to his knees and exclaimed: “Now is the time when the call of the mueddihn re-sounds from all the mosques of the faithful: ‘hai aal el sallah!’ Turn away, sihdi, because I wish to wash and look towards Mecca!” He prayed the prescribed paragraph from the Quran and instead of water, of which there was a dearth of in the desert, scooped up some dry sand and let it run through his fingers. After he finished he returned to his previous position. I stretched out as well and rolled into my blanket to shield myself as best as possible against the heat that radiated from the sun-drenched ground. While I had earlier decided to follow the caravan after a short rest, I, subsequently, changed my mind and decided to stay where I was because the others would make camp as well in any case and not continue on until daybreak. I would be able to follow their tracks much easier in the morning rather than during the night. Despite the brighter light of the southern stars, I still wasn’t going to be able to see into the distance. I ordered my hedjihn to lie down; Ali did likewise. A few durrha cakes from pearl millet and water from our kirba, the small goat skin water bags for the personal daily rations, made up our frugal evening meal, after which we sought to go to sleep. The spacious distances of the oceans and the wide plains of the American prairies or savannahs, pampas and llanos have much in common with the extensive plateaus of the desert, however, the oceans and prairies didn’t create an impression of desolation, loneliness and hopelessness such as the Sahara did, of which Freiligrath so aptly said: “It lies before God with its emptiness like the empty fist of a beggar.” The farther away from human contact someone was the more overwhelming that impression became; it gave the feeling of being tossed into a deadly forlornness and oblivion, like a tiny grain of sand into the unfathomable ocean of rock and rubble where the grin of the ugly mask of death continuously surrounded the daring traveller. I shut my eyes. The last dying glows of daylight kept burning behind the closed lids, and I only slowly fell into an uneasy slumber that conjured up jumbled images of Ali, Rahel, the Kofla Aga, the old shech el djemali and el kasr the ghost fortress with el budj, the mighty bearded vulture, as well as the little thiuhr el djinne that fell dead from the sky. I even witnessed the wall of Heaven plunge and shatter together with the devil who was clinging to it, and tossed back and forth until deeper sleep mercifully engulfed me shortly before sunrise. It didn’t last long because Ali’s voice woke me. He knelt, faced east and prayed al-Fatiha, the dawn prayer no good Muslim would miss. After we ate a few mouthfuls of durrha cake and drank a little water, we broke camp. Anyone who had tracked buffalo, bear or Indians in the Wild West of North America, didn’t find it hard to read the tracks of the caravan on the gravel-covered ground. Yet I recognized that it was going to be obliterated within a short time. We would have gone almost two kilometres when we reached the place where they had obviously camped. The ground formed an almost circular, small, plate-shaped enclosure that consisted of fine sand and was framed by lar-ger boulders. To my surprise, it contained an unusually large number of footprints, which caught my attention. I dismounted to inspect the conspicuous tracks. Great confusion, perhaps even a fight, albeit a bloodless one, had caused them. I looked for clues and found one that gave me complete clarity: a kofla of almost twenty animals had sneaked up from the south, ambushed our caravan while the people were asleep, and had then taken them away in the same direction. No sign had been left behind, not even a camel halter, a tent peg, strap, not even the tie of a rauie, a pack frame, or of an old serdj; no trace of the crime was going to be left behind after the alternating gebli and behari, the south and north winds had wiped out the footprints. “Ali, are you really as loyal to me as you always say you are?” “Why do you ask, oh sihdi? I am as loyal to you as the drop to the water and the warmth to the fire!” “And you go with me where I lead you?” “Hamdulillah, I have found you, the good effendi from Nemsistan that you call Germany. You are the best master of all blad el rumi, Europe and I am the best servant in mehr, mogreb el ausath and mogreb el aksa, which to you means Egypt and North Africa. Why should I not follow you? I’ll go to the end of the world with you and a thousand days’ travel farther!” “Even to the Kofla Aga, Ali?” “Even to him, if you wish. What’s so special about that? He lives here in the bahr billa ma, in the ocean without water, the desert!” “He lives on el kasr.” “Do you know that precisely, effendi?” “Yes. He was here with his kofla and took our caravan with him to his ghost castle. There, he will murder the men and keep the animals and goods.” “God damn the dog! Shall I go there and tear him apart, sihdi?” “Did you know Manasse ben Arahab?” “Why shouldn’t I? Didn’t I eat the best cuscus in his place?” “And have you ever seen Rahel, his daughter?” “I have seen her. She has eyes like leikum saaide and her fingers are full of grace and kindness. But she has disappeared. I believe a bad djinn became mesmerized by her and has carried her away through the air.” “Yes, it was a bad djinn, not one of those you’re talking about, but one of flesh and blood. His name is Kofla Aga.” “The Kofla Aga? Who told you, effendi?” “I know it. He has imprisoned her on el kasr.” “Imprisoned? Sihdi, I know someone who will go there and free her!” “Who is that?” “His name is Ali el Hakemi Ebe Abbas Ebe er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi.” “Are you serious, Ali?” “Do you believe I wish to joke around with the Kofla Aga?” “Very well then, I’ll go, too. Many men’s lives are at stake as well as the freedom of Ben Arahab’s daughter. If you do as I tell you, the reward the bei of Fezzan has put on the Kofla Aga’s head is yours. Let’s follow the trail!” “Be issm Lillahi, sihdi, but permit me first that I pray al-Fatiha. Allah helps those who turn to him when they are in danger!” He knelt in the saddle on top of his calm animal, faced the sunrise and prayed the first verse of the Quran as prescribed to all faithful before an important undertaking. Following that, I urged my bisharinhedjihn to stride out in order for us to reach the ghost castle as soon as possible. *** We had travelled south for almost two days. Our small rations and water reserves, which had only been calculated to last a day, dwindled away despite our frugality and it was getting time for us to reach the destination of our ride. If anybody imagined the desert to consist only of a large, sand-filled plain, he was mistaken. The sharply defined, fantastic contours of a mountain chain rose in front of us and the trail we followed led between the foothills. It had gradually become more defined, hour upon hour, and we were just about to turn a rocky corner when Ali stopped his animal and with the customary ‘e—o—a!’ gave the command for it to lie down. I followed his example immediately; he had to have good reasons for wanting to remain hidden. “Allah kerihm, God is merciful! Can you see the gum there, sihdi?” I looked along the direction his outstretched arm indicated. Before us lay a broad valley surrounded by steeply rising mountainsides; precisely opposite our position, about three quarters of an hour’s ride away rose a peculiar stone structure on top of a mountain. A long file of riders headed directly towards it. I looked through my telescope and recognized our caravan, flanked and led by the robbers, and watched it gradually disappeared inside the old, collapsed gate. We hastily devised a plan. We had to stay out of sight and, therefore, needed to ride around the open valley. “Back, Ali; that’s el kasr; we must reach it by a detour!” We were forced to follow a terrible route, but had to hurry if we wanted to reach our destination before nightfall. Our race went through narrow side valleys and one wild, naked gorge after another, and then across jagged ridges as if we were chased towards the ghost castle by a thousand djinns. It really was a rash undertaking; but, as I said earlier, I couldn’t get myself to be afraid of the Kofla Aga, and truth be told, I looked forward to the adventure ahead of us and relied completely upon our excellent weapons and my good luck, which had thus far not abandoned me even in the most critical of circumstances. I could also count absolutely upon Ali’s courage. When he found out that people, not ghosts, inhabited the castle, it had lost its hold of terror over him completely. We rode into a narrow wadi, the bottom of which was covered with dry, razor-sharp halfa grass. There had to be water nearby, and there was; when we followed the bend of the valley, the much sought-after element glistened its greeting at us. It was a birket, a rare, small desert lake. They held water only for a short time, and then remained empty and dry for the rest of the year. But I also noticed something else: we had arrived at el kasr. The wadi had a side arm, only a few metres wide but its cliffs rose almost vertically up to the castle walls. We couldn’t be spotted from above especially because of the steep angle and rode into the gorge. We hadn’t gone far when Ali pointed into the air and whispered: “Can you see el budj the great bearded vulture with his wife and children, effendi?” An entire flock of vulture had taken to the sky above us and a few steps farther along we found the ground of the gorge covered in gnawed and bleached bones. They were human bones—I shuddered at the thought—and, undoubtedly, the remains of the hapless camel drivers who had been captured in the desert, led to el kasr, and then sent plum-meting to their deaths into the chasm. That’s why folklore told of el budj, the mighty bearded vulture, which circled above the ghost fortress! The birds could reveal our presence; we had to wait until they settled back down again. I led my animal to a cleft I had noticed in the cliff wall, dismounted and was just about to inspect the opening when a man walked out who held two kirba in his hands. He was obviously on his way to fetch some water from the birket. I grabbed him by the throat immediately and squeezed it so that he couldn’t call out and a minute later he lay tightly bound on the ground. Then I held the tip of my dagger onto his chest. “Listen, ja radjal, to what I tell you: if you try to resist, or utter even one single word of a lie, this steel will send you down into tjehenna! The Kofla Aga lives on el kasr?” “Yes, sihdi,” he moaned full of fear. “He has Rahel, Manasse ben Arahab’s daughter with him?” “Yes.” “This cleft leads to the castle?” “Yes.” “How many men are up there?” He hesitated with his answer, but a tickle with the blade helped him along. “Twenty-four.” “Where is the aga at present?” “In his divan, his best room.” “And the others.” “With the loot.” “All of them?” “Yes!” “Where?” “Not far from here.” “Swear by the head of the prophet that you told me the truth!” “I swear!” “Get up and show me the way. If you obey, nothing will happen to you; but if you make the slightest attempt at betraying us, you’re lost! Where are the prisoners?” “Locked up.” “Good. Climb ahead of us!” I grabbed the rope, the other end of which held his hands tied behind his back. After Ali had tethered the camels, we stepped into the cleft. The Arab was unarmed. Ali and I carried a dagger, a double-barreled gun and two double pistols each. In addition, I carried two six-shooter revolvers, all loaded. The cleft led straight into the rock initially, and then gradually upwards. The inhabitants of the castle had helped it along and turned it into a passable corridor. By my reckoning, we had arrived at the top of the cliff. I heard voices. We reached a door, cautiously stepped closer and took a peek into the room behind it. I immediately recognized it as the storage area of the robbed goods. It was filled almost to the ceiling with bales of merchandise and articles of the most diverse nature, such as a caravan would haul. In the dim flickering light of camel dung torches, I counted over twenty men, some of whom were busy and some were idle. I threw the heavy ancient door shut and placed the surely unbreakable, wall-anchored bolts across it. Luck was on my side: the gang of the Kofla Aga was captured. “Show me the men who arrived a short time ago!” I ordered the Arab. He climbed a few more steps and then stopped in front of another door. I handed the rope to Ali, and then oriented myself in the dark. There were also heavy bolts in place. I opened them. “As-salaamu alaikum, you people! Step outside, you’re free!” “Hamdulillah! Is it really you, sihdi?” the old shech el djemali exclaimed with joy. “It sure is. I wanted to see for myself whether or not the five-thousand-year-old marabut had told you the truth, and then I caught the bad djinns.” I led him and half of his people to the door of the store-room and handed the responsibility of guarding it to him: I continued to follow our Arab leader together with the other half. We finally stepped out into daylight. “Lubecka Allah hameeh!” I heard a familiar song and voice straight above us. It was Rahel. “Where is the aga’s divan?” I asked the Arab. “Walk up these steps and through two rooms; you will find him in the third!” “Follow me and wait in front of the door!” I directed Ali. The short dusk of the south had already fallen when I stepped into the divan, but I was still able to recognize the splendour with which the room in the old ruin had been fitted out. The Kofla Aga sat on a precious Beni-Snassen carpet, woven by the women of Berbers in East Morocco, which must have weighed at least two hundred kilograms, was engrossed in smoking his narghile, and hadn’t noticed my approach. “As-salaamu alaikum!” I greeted. “Has the caravan robber gone deaf that he didn’t hear my footsteps?” He jumped up at the sound of the unexpected voice and rushed up to me. He obviously recognized me and reached for the yatagan, a Turkish curved sword. “Allah akbar. Who has led you from Murzuk to el kasr, stranger, and how did you get here unnoticed?” “I’ve come to fetch Rahel, Manasse ben Arahab’s daughter.” “She isn’t here. Have you got the ten pouches?” “She is here, you father of murder and robbery, the pouches are in Murzuk.” “Then go and get them!” “Bah! You will not let me leave here because the den of the Kofla Aga would then be revealed, but, instead, you will have me thrown off the cliff just like all the others!” “By the beard of the prophet, giaur, you’re correct! Give me your weapons!” “You shall have a look at them!” I pulled the revolver. He had, in all likelihood, not seen one of those small instruments before. “Are you trying to make fun of me? I swear to you by Muhammad and all holy caliphs that you will die if you don’t put down your weapons immediately!” “And I swear to you by Isa ben Marryam, the one we call Jesus, the son of Mary, that I will smash your hand if you don’t immediately throw your blade on the ground!” “Then die, kelb, you dog!” He lunged at me; I pulled the trigger—he dropped his hand and the sword rattled to the ground. Immediately, he picked it up with his left and kept coming at me with a furious yell. I pulled the trigger a second time; his left hand was hit as well and he collapsed. “Amahl, amahl, Ali, come her!” I shouted. The loyal ser-vant rushed into the room and threw himself onto the injured man who writhed under his clinch like a wounded panther. It didn’t help him. The freed camel drivers rushed up as well. The Kofla Aga was overpowered and bound. *** Once again we rode into Murzuk. We had only taken the Kofla Aga along, the leader of the robber gang, while his men had remained on el kasr, guarded by the camel drivers who had stayed at the castle for that purpose. The soldiers of the bei were going to pick up the rest of the gum. The ‘robber of caravans’ was firmly tied onto his camel and rode between Ali and the old, brave shech el djemali; I followed behind them together with Rahel, who excitedly greeted the fragrant gardens of the city from within the tachterwan. The booty we brought the second time around was more precious than the skin of abu el salssali, which had graced Ali’s horse on our previous arrival. My servant was proud of our catch in no small measure and came to my side when we reached the first houses. “Sihdi, do you see the fundukih, the guesthouse owner standing in his doorway and how he is curious about our prisoner? You are a great effendi and taleb; but your servant Ali Hakemi Ebn Abbas Ebn er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi held the Kofla Aga down, and then bound him like el thibb, the cowardly jackal, or el tabaa, the stinking hyena. He is a brave hero and will get the bei to pay him the reward — tefattelan, if you don’t mind!” published by Karl May in 1879. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storypublished in All-Story Weekly, September 21, 1918 by Francis Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett, 1884–1948) t was after nine o’clock when the bell rang, and descending to the dimly lighted hall I opened the front door, at first on the chain to be sure of my visitor. Seeing, as I had hoped, the face of our friend, Ralph Quentin, I took off the chain and he entered with a blast of sharp November air for company. I had to throw my weight upon the door to close it against the wind. As he removed his hat and cloak he laughed good-humoredly. “You’re very cautious, Santallos. I thought you were about to demand a password before admitting me.” “It is well to be cautious,” I retorted. “This house stands somewhat alone, and thieves are everywhere.” “It would require a thief of considerable muscle to make off with some of your treasures. That stone tomb-thing, for instance; what do you call it?” “The Beni Hassan sarcophagus. Yes. But what of the gilded inner case, and what of the woman it contains? A thief of judgment and intelligence might covet that treasure and strive to deprive me of it. Don’t you agree?” He only laughed again, and counterfeited a shudder. “The woman! Don’t remind me that such a brown, shriveled, mummy-horror was ever a woman!” “But she was. Doubtless in her day my poor Princess of Naarn was soft, appealing; a creature of red, moist lips and eyes like stars in the black Egyptian sky. ‘The Songstress of the House’ she was called, ere she became Ta–Nezem the Osirian. But I keep you standing here in the cold hall. Come upstairs with me. Did I tell you that Beatrice is not here tonight?” “No?” His intonation expressed surprise and frank disappointment. “Then I can’t say good-by to her? Didn’t you receive my note? I’m to take Sanderson’s place as manager of the sales department in Chicago, and I’m off tomorrow morning.” “Congratulations. Yes, we had your note, but Beatrice was given an opportunity to join some friends on a Southern trip. The notice was short, but of late she has not been so well and I urged her to go. This November air is cruelly damp and bitter.” “What was it — a yachting cruise?” “A long cruise. She left this afternoon. I have been sitting in her boudoir, Quentin, thinking of her, and I’ll tell you about it there — if you don’t mind?” “Wherever you like,” he conceded, though in a tone of some surprise. I suppose he had not credited me with so much sentiment, or thought it odd that I should wish to share it with another, even so good a friend as he. “You must find it fearfully lonesome here without Bee,” he continued. “A trifle.” We were ascending the dark stairs now. “After tonight, however, things will be quite different. Do you know that I have sold the house?” “No! Why, you are full of astonishments, old chap. Found a better place with more space for your tear-jars and tombstones?” He meant, I assumed, a witty reference to my collection of Coptic and Egyptian treasures, well and dearly bought, but so much trash to a man of Quentin’s youth and temperament. I opened the door of my wife’s boudoir, and it was pleasant to pass into such rosy light and warmth out of the stern, dark cold of the hall. Yet it was an old house, full of unexpected drafts. Even here there was a draft so strong that a heavy velour curtain at the far side of the room continually rippled and billowed out, like a loose rose-colored sail. Never far enough, though, to show what was behind it. My friend settled himself on the frail little chair that stood before my wife’s dressing-table. It was the kind of chair that women love and most men loathe, but Quentin, for all his weight and stature, had a touch of the feminine about him, or perhaps of the feline. Like a cat, he moved delicately. He was blond and tall, with fine, regular features, a ready laugh, and the clean charm of youth about him — also its occasional blundering candor. As I looked at him sitting there, graceful, at ease, I wished that his mind might have shared the litheness of his body. He could have understood me so much better. “I have indeed found a place for my collections,” I observed, seating myself near by. “In fact, with a single exception — the Ta–Nezem sarcophagus — the entire lot is going to the dealers.” Seeing his expression of astonished disbelief I continued: “The truth is, my dear Quentin, that J have been guilty of gross injustice to our Beatrice. I have been too good a collector and too neglectful a husband. My ‘tear-jars and tombstones,’ in fact, have enjoyed an attention that might better have been elsewhere bestowed. Yes, Beatrice has left me alone, but the instant that some few last affairs are settled I intend rejoining her. And you yourself are leaving. At least, none of us three will be left to miss the others’ friendship.” “You are quite surprising tonight, Santallos. But, by Jove, I’m not sorry to hear any of it! It’s not my place to criticize, and Bee’s not the sort to complain. But living here in this lonely old barn of a house, doing all her own work, practically deserted by her friends, must have been — ” “Hard, very hard,” I interrupted him softly, “for one so young and lovely as our Beatrice. But if I have been blind at least the awakening has come. You should have seen her face when she heard the news. It was wonderful. We were standing, just she and I, in the midst of my tear-jars and tombstones — my ‘chamber of horrors’ she named it. You are so apt at amusing phrases, both of you. We stood beside the great stone sarcophagus from the Necropolis of Beni Hassan. Across the trestles beneath it lay the gilded inner case wherein Ta–Nezem the Osirian had slept out so many centuries. You know its appearance. A thing of beautiful, gleaming lines, like the quaint, smiling image of a golden woman. “Then I lifted the lid and showed Beatrice that the one-time songstress, the handmaiden of Amen, slept there no more, and the case was empty. You know, too, that Beatrice never liked my princess. For a jest she used to declare that she was jealous. Jealous of a woman dead and ugly so many thousand years! Or — but that was only in anger — that I had bought Ta–Nezem with what would have given her, Beatrice, all the pleasure she lacked in life. Oh, she was not too patient to reproach me, Quentin, but only in anger and hot blood. “So I showed her the empty case, and I said, ‘Beloved wife, never again need you be jealous of Ta–Nezem. All that is in this room save her and her belongings I have sold, but her I could not bear to sell. That which I love, no man else shall share or own. So I have destroyed her. I have rent her body to brown, aromatic shreds. I have burned her; it is as if she had never been. And now, dearest of the dear, you shall take for your own all the care, all the keeping that Heretofore I have lavished upon the Princess of Naam.’ “Beatrice turned from the empty case as if she could scarcely believe her hearing, but when she saw by the look in my eyes that I meant exactly what I said, neither more nor less, you should have seen her face, my dear Quentin — you should have seen her face!” “I can imagine.” He laughed, rather shortly. For some reason my guest seemed increasingly ill at ease, and glanced continually about the little rose-and-white room that was the one luxurious, thoroughly feminine corner — that and the cold, dark room behind the curtain — in what he had justly called my “barn of a house.” “Santallos,” he continued abruptly, and I thought rather rudely, “you should have a portrait done as you look tonight. You might have posed for one of those stern old hidalgos of — which painter was it who did so many Spanish dons and donesses?” “You perhaps mean Velasquez,” I answered with mild courtesy, though secretly and as always his crude personalities displeased me. “My father, you may recall, was of Cordova in southern Spain. But — must you go so soon? First drink one glass with me to our missing Beatrice. See how I was warming my blood against the wind that blows in, even here. The wine is Amontillado, some that was sent me by a friend of my father’s from the very vineyards where the grapes were grown and pressed. And for many years it has ripened since it came here. Before she went, Beatrice drank of it from one of these same glasses. True wine of Montilla! See how it lives — like fire in amber, with a glimmer of blood behind it.” I held high the decanter and the light gleamed through it upon his face. “Amontillado! Isn’t that a kind of sherry? I’m no connoisseur of wines, as you know. But–Amontillado.” For a moment he studied the wine I had given him, liquid flame in the crystal glass. Then his face cleared. “I remember the association now. ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ Ever read the story?” “I seem to recall it dimly.” “Horrible, fascinating sort of a yarn. A fellow takes his trustful friend down into the cellars to sample some wine, traps him and walls him up in a niche. Buries him alive, you understand. Read it when I was a youngster, and it made a deep impression, partly, I think, because I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend a nature — even an Italian nature — desiring so horrible a form of vengeance. You’re half Latin yourself, Santallos. Can you elucidate?” “I doubt if you would ever understand,” I responded slowly, wondering how even Quentin could be so crude, so tactless. “Such a revenge might have its merits, since the offender would be a long time dying. But merely to kill seems to me so pitifully inadequate. Now I, if I were driven to revenge, should never be contented by killing. I should wish to follow.” “What — beyond the grave?” I laughed. “Why not? Wouldn’t that be the very apotheosis of hatred? I’m trying to interpret the Latin nature, as you asked me to do.” “Confound you, for an instant I thought you were serious. The way you said it made me actually shiver!” “Yes,” I observed, “or perhaps it was the draft. See, Quentin, how that curtain billows out.” His eyes followed my glance. Continually the heavy, rose-colored curtain that wag hung before the door of my wife’s bedroom bulged outward, shook and quivered like a bellying sail, as draperies will with a wind behind them. His eyes strayed from the curtain, met mine and fell again to the wine in his glass. Suddenly he drained it, not as would a man who was a judge of wines, but hastily, indifferently, without thought for its flavor or bouquet. I raised my glass in the toast he had forgotten. “To our Beatrice,” I said, and drained mine also, though with more appreciation. “To Beatrice — of course.” He looked at the bottom of his empty glass, then before I could offer to refill it, rose from his chair. “I must go, old man. When you write to Bee, tell her I’m sorry to have missed her.” “Before she could receive a letter from me I shall be with her — I hope. How cold the house is tonight, and the wind breathes everywhere. See how the curtain blows, Quentin.” “So it does.” He set his glass on the tray beside the decanter. Upon first entering the room he had been smiling, but now his straight, fine brows were drawn in a perpetual, troubled frown, his eyes looked here and there, and would never meet mine — which were steady. “There’s a wind,” he added, “that blows along this wall — curious. One can’t notice any draft there, either. But it must blow there, and of course the curtain billows out.” “Yes,” I said. “Of course it billows out.” “Or is there another door behind that curtain?” His careful ignorance of what any fool might infer from mere appearance brought an involuntary smile to my lips. Nevertheless, I answered him. “Yes, of course there is a door. An open door.” His frown deepened. My true and simple replies appeared to cause him a certain irritation. “As I feel now,” I added, “even to cross the room would be an effort. I am tired and weak tonight. As Beatrice once said, my strength beside yours is as a child’s to that of a grown man. Won’t you close that door for me, dear friend?” “Why — yes, I will. I didn’t know you were ill. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t be alone in this empty house. Shall I stay with you for a while?” As he spoke he walked across the room. His hand was on the curtain, but before it could be drawn aside my voice checked him. “Quentin,” I said, “are even you quite strong enough to close that door?” Looking back at me, chin on shoulder, his face appeared scarcely familiar, so drawn was it in lines of bewilderment and half-suspicion. “What do you mean? You are very odd tonight. Is the door so heavy then? What door is it?” I made no reply. As if against their owner’s will his eyes fled from mine, he turned and hastily pushed aside the heavy drapery. Behind it my wife’s bedroom lay dark and cold, with windows open to the invading winds. And erect in the doorway, uncovered, stood an ancient gilded coffin-case. It was the golden casket of Ta–Nezem, but its occupant was more beautiful than the poor, shriveled Songstress of Naam. Bound across her bosom were the strange, quaint jewels which had been found in the sarcophagus. Ta–Nezem’s amulets — heads of Hathor and Horus the sacred eye, the uroeus, even the heavy dull-green scarab, the amulet for purity of heart — there they rested upon the bosom of her who had been mistress of my house, now Beatrice the Osirian. Beneath them her white, stiff body was enwrapped in the same crackling dry, brown linen bands, impregnated with the gums and resins of embalmers dead these many thousand years, which had been about the body of Ta–Nezem. Above the white translucence of her brow appeared the winged disk, emblem of Ra. The twining golden bodies of its supporting uraeii, its cobras of Egypt, were lost in the dusk of her hair, whose soft fineness yet lived and would live so much longer than the flesh of any of us three. Yes, I had kept my word and given to Beatrice all that had been Ta-Nezem’s, even to the sarcophagus itself, for in my will it was written that she be placed in it for final burial. Like the fool he was, Quentin stood there, staring at the unclosed, frozen eyes of my Beatrice — and his. Stood till that which had been in the wine began to make itself felt. He faced me then, but with so absurd and childish a look of surprise that, despite the courtesy due a guest, I laughed and laughed. I, too, felt warning throes, but to me the pain was no more than a gage — a measure of his sufferings stimulus to point the phrases in which I told him all I knew and had guessed of him and Beatrice, and thus drive home the jest. But I had never thought that a man of Quentin’s youth and strength could die so easily. Beatrice, frail though she was, had taken longer to die. He could not even cross the room to stop my laughter, but at the first step stumbled, fell, and in a very little while lay at the foot of the gilded case. After all, he was not so strong as I. Beatrice had seen. Her still, cold eyes saw all. How he lay there, his fine, lithe body contorted, worthless for any use till its substance should have been cast again in the melting-pot of dissolution, while I who had drunk of the same draft, suffered the same pangs, yet stood and found breath for mockery. So I poured myself another glass of that good Cordovan wine, and I raised it to both of them and drained it, laughing. “Quentin,” I cried, “you asked what door, though your thought was that you had passed that way before, and feared that I guessed your, knowledge. But there are doors and doors, dear, charming friend, and one that is heavier than any other. Close it if you can. Close it now in my face, who otherwise will follow even whither you have gone — the heavy, heavy door of the Osiris, Keeper of the House of Death!” Thus I dreamed of doing and speaking. It was so vivid, the dream, that awakening in the darkness of my room I could scarcely believe that it had been other than reality. True, I lived, while in my dream I had shared the avenging poison. Yet my veins were still hot with the keen passion of triumph, and my eyes filled with the vision of Beatrice, dead — dead in Ta–Nezem’s casket. Unreasonably frightened. I sprang from bed, flung on a dressing-gown, and hurried out. Down the hallway I sped, swiftly and silently, at the end of it unlocked heavy doors with a tremulous hand, switched on lights, lights and more lights, till the great room of my collection was ablaze with them, and as my treasures sprang into view I sighed, like a man reaching home from a perilous journey. The dream was a lie. There, fronting me, stood the heavy empty sarcophagus; there on the trestles before it lay the gilded case, a thing of beautiful, gleaming lines, like the smiling image of a golden woman. I stole across the room and softly, very softly, lifted the upper half of the beautiful lid, peering within. The dream indeed was a lie. Happy as a comforted child I went to my room again. Across the hall the door of my wife’s boudoir stood partly open. In the room beyond a faint light was burning, and I could see the rose-colored curtain sway slightly to a draft from some open window. Yesterday she had come to me and asked for her freedom. I had refused, knowing to whom she would turn, and hating him for his youth, and his crudeness and his secret scorn of me. But had I done well? They were children, those two, and despite my dream I was certain that their foolish, youthful ideals had kept them from actual sin against my honor. But what if, time passing, they might change? Or, Quentin gone, my lovely Beatrice might favor another, young as he and not so scrupulous? Every one, they say, has a streak of incipient madness. I recalled the frenzied act to which my dream jealousy had driven me. Perhaps it was a warning, the dream. What if my father’s jealous blood should some day betray me, drive me to the insane destruction of her I held most dear and sacred. I shuddered, then smiled at the swaying curtain. Beatrice was too beautiful for safety. She should have her freedom. Let her mate with Ralph Quentin or whom she would, Ta–Nezem must rest secure in her gilded house of death. My brown, perfect, shriveled Princess of the Nile! Destroyed — rent to brown, aromatic shreds — burned — destroyed — and her beautiful coffin-case desecrated as I had seen it in my vision’. Again I shuddered, smiled and shook my head sadly at the swaying, rosy curtain. “You are too lovely, Beatrice,” I said, “and my father was a Spaniard. You shall have your freedom!” I entered my room and lay down to sleep again, at peace and content. The dream, thank God, was a lie. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureThe undisputed queen of crime, Agatha Christie, has sold more books than any other writer in modern times. She famously said that “Very few of us are what we seem”. So, in order to glance beneath the surface of Christie’s own life, we had a brief chat with Barabara Sichtermann, an award-winning German writer, who published a biography about Christie this year: You have written a book about Agatha Christie. What was it about her that interested you? Barbara Sichtermann: Since I have read her in my youth I was fascinated by her books. Later I wondered about her enormous success and I wanted to explain that to me and the public by writing a biography about her. And I considered her life very interesting when I read about her in her autobiography. When and why did Agatha Christie decide to become a crime writer? Barbara Sichtermann: It was because of a bet between her and her elder sister Madge who was a writer as well. Madge told her that she had tried to write a crime story and failed. She added: “I think you wouldn’t make it either.” Several years she only wrote for fun. It took a long time for her to accept writing as a profession. Her self-image was that of a house wife and mother. You have written extensively on feminism and female history, was Agatha Christie a feminist in any way? Barbara Sichtermann: No, she was a declared non-feminist. She thought it a higher step in civilization when women are not forced to got to work. But because of her work and success she was of course a feminist idol. Is there a difference between what Agatha Christie said about gender equality and the message conveyed in her books? Barbara Sichtermann: Yes, she staged a lot of women in her books who where independent, confident and eager to get a job. Agatha Christie is quite a brilliant plotter. Did she outline her novels down to the slightest details before she started writing? Barbara Sichtermann: No, she was more chaotic in the beginning and did not know where the story would carry her. Her sense of order and structure came to her later beyond the climax. How would you describe her use of different settings? Barbara Sichtermann: She preferred old English country estates. But she was not dogmatic and chose also locked rooms like aeroplanes, lonely islands, snowed in hotels and trains. If we look at the list of the world’s best selling authors on Wikipedia, Agatha Christie and Shakespeare tower far above the rest in the number of sold books. But do the two of them really have anything in common? Barbara Sichtermann: Yes, Agatha was strongly influenced by him and loved the theater. She herself was a successful playwright and often quoted Hamlet, Julius Cesar, Macbeth and other dramas of William Shakespeare in her work. What sets Agatha Christie apart from the other golden age crime writers? Why has she sold billions of books, and Dorothy L. Sayers not? Barbara Sichtermann: She was able to hit the nerves of all generations and nations in her lifetime. She was a representative of the common sense and nevertheless unique. There is a marked contrast between the British and American crime fiction traditions? While the British favored puzzles and plots, the Americans created their gangster and noir genre. Why do you think the two traditions turned out so different? Barbara Sichtermann: The British favored sophisticated plots, psychology and polite manners, Americans tended to cynical and vulgar expressions. Would you say that Agatha Christie is a great psychologist? Some claim her characters are flat? Barbara Sichtermann: She was more philosopher than psychologist. Her question was “What to do with the evil in the world?” And therefore she did not need sophisticated psychology. Her most important characters are her sleuths M. Poirot and Miss Marple. But they are more ideas than characters. If we look at Christie’s prose. It is not full of elaborate descriptions. Nor is she a stylist like Raymond Chandler. Yet, her books are quite compelling? Why? Barbara Sichtermann: She was able to describe complex circumstances and connections in a simple way without losing substance. Agatha Christie saw immense success in her own lifetime? What did she do with the money? Barbara Sichtermann: She bought old houses with flair and renovated them. And she traveled a lot. Which of Agatha Christie’s novels would you say is her best? Which one did she consider her best? Barbara Sichtermann: My favorite is Sleeping Murder (1976) . She liked best Absent in the Spring (1944), which was not a crime novel. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history A crowd of millions cheered as Ghana became independent in 1957 (audio above). “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked-up with the total liberation of the African Continent”, Kwame Nkrumah boldly declared on the day of liberation. Yet a couple of decades later, Nkrumah has been toppled from power, has ended up in exile on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, and his pan African dream lies in ruins. In some ways, his own personal fate mirrored that of a whole continent. We talked to professor Jeffrey Ahlman, a specialist on the Ghanaian statesman, about what happened to Nkrumah, and what has been the lasting legacy of his ideas.  Let us begin at the end of Nkrumah’s life. He had quite a sad demise. He was ill, paranoid and afraid of western intelligence agencies. And he lived in exile. Did he have reason to be afraid? Professor Ahlman: There was significant reason for Nkrumah to have concerns about US and other western subversion in Ghana. In African history, the year 1960 is often remembered quite jubilantly as the “Year of Africa,” marking not only the independence of Nigeria and the Congo, but also the many states that comprised French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa. However, from the perspective of radical anti colonial figures like Nkrumah, the year opened not with jubilance, but with the troubling independence of Cameroon under a government viewed by many as an appendage of the French state. The rushed independence of the Congo and the political chaos that ensued—much of it the result of US and Belgian Cold War intrusion into Congolese democratic politics—only further added to Nkrumah’s wariness, especially as his government had committed a significant number of Ghanaian troops to the UN peace mission to the Congo. However, it was the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s assassination that dramatically shook Nkrumah as, for him, the assassination marked the extremes to which capitalist powers would go to subvert the autonomy of African independence. Meanwhile, in Ghana, Nkrumah survived a number of attempts on his own life. The most famous one being the bombing in the far northern Ghanaian town of Kulungugu in August 1962 in which at least two people were killed and Nkrumah himself suffered significant injuries—injuries that some Ghanaians argue was a cause of the cancer that killed him a decade later. Eyeing what had happened to Lumumba a year and a half earlier, Nkrumah and his government read the Kulungugu attack, among the others he endured, as at least in part efforts by capitalist countries like the United States, Belgium, and Great Britain to subvert his vision for Ghana and for Africa. Given this context in Ghana and Africa more broadly, yes, he did have reason to be afraid. How did he become involved with the struggle against British Colonial Rule in The Gold Coast? Professor Ahlman: In his autobiography, Nkrumah argues that he first became aware of the “wickedness of colonialism” while in the UK while waiting for a visa to the US as Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. According to him, the expressionless response from men and women on the streets as the newspapers’ headlines announced the invasion awakened in him a desire to “play my part in bringing about the downfall of such a system.” In the United States, Nkrumah attended Lincoln University and later UPenn, while also seeking connections to African student groups as well as a number of black political and cultural institutions during his time in the country. After a decade in the US, he traveled to the UK, where he joined the political network of the Trinidadian pan-Africanist George Padmore and played a key role in helping to organize the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester—a congress that demanded an immediate end to colonial rule in Africa. It was approximately two years after the Manchester Congress that Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast at the invitation of the newly formed United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political party often maligned as being too moderate. During his time as the UGCC’s general secretary, he clashed with the convention’s other leaders before leaving the convention—or getting expelled depending on whose version one accepts—and forming his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), under the mantra of “Self-Government Now.” Why the CPP is so important to African history is that it was one of the first mass political parties on the continent, drawing supporters from a wide range of walks of life (educated, uneducated, farmers, urban dwellers, youth, women, etc) and, for many, providing a new sense of belonging in a period of rapid political and social change following WWII. Like Gandhi he was partly educated in Britain, in what way did this influence his ideas? Or were his years in the United States more significant? Professor Ahlman: I think the fundamental elements of his political education occurred in Great Britain as he came under the tutelage of George Padmore. It was here, I believe, where his ideas began to mature and gained their first coherent form in his 1947 pamphlet Towards Colonial Freedom. However, one cannot underestimate the role of his time in the US, for he arrived in the US in the midst of the Great Depression and stayed through the war years. During this time, he not only actively sought out readings by such people as Marcus Garvey and associated with Paul Robeson’s Council on African Affairs, among others, but was forced to live in the highly racialized social environment of the United States as a black man. It is hard to imagine that such an experience did not help shape his understanding of the world, colonialism, and race. Was he always a leftist? Professor Ahlman: I think in terms of his adult life, yes. When he became PM of the newly liberated Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) he was quite popular. How popular were his ideas of pan-African unity? Professor Ahlman: I think you have to add more nuance to the question. In principle, I think many Ghanaians were supportive of some sort of largely undefined pan-African unity, especially one that—like Nkrumah suggested—placed Ghana at the center of an emerging pan-African politics. Part of this was pride; part may have been—and still may be—an authentic hope for what unity could bring to the future of both Ghana and Africa. On the other hand, many questioned the resources spent in pursuing Nkrumah’s continental ambitions. This included the aid Ghana offered to other countries and liberation movements as well as the time Nkrumah spent away from the country. By as early as 1958, if not earlier, criticism of the resources spent on Nkrumah’s pan-African policies had become a potent critique of the government when marshaled by some opposition officials. Why do you think the idea of pan-Africanism failed? Professor Ahlman: I don’t believe it did, particularly because I don’t think we can talk about pan-Africanism in the singular. There were/are many different pan-Africanisms—diasporic, continental, political, social, cultural, economic, etc. What may have failed was Nkrumah’s particular vision of a United States of Africa. However, even Nkrumah shouldn’t be beholden to that singular definition of pan-Africanism, especially when answering rather normative questions like whether he succeeded or failed. In his life, Nkrumah came to influence, embody, interact with, and shape a number of competing, if not contradictory forms of pan-Africanism. His flirtation with Garveyism may not have meshed organically with his socialism and aspects of the Ghanaian nation-building project at home and the Ghanaian exceptionalism that seemed to follow in its wake does not easily fit within the continental vision he so famously articulated. He launched quite a lot of programs in those early years, how successful was he in modernizing Ghana? Professor Ahlman: Ghana has not seen a leader like him to date. He transformed the country politically, socially, culturally, economically, and infrastructurally. He shepherded in the development of the city of Tema, transforming a previously small fishing village into the industrial engine of the new Ghana. Similarly, he also ushered in the damming of the Volta River that, through the electricity it produced, electrified much of the country and still does so today. However, the greatest impact his government had was in its promotion of fee-free primary education. This program democratized education in the country, allowing untold numbers of boys and girls who may not have had the opportunity to go to school before gaining an education. When did his downfall begin? And why did he eventually lose his grip on power? Professor Ahlman: His downfall began with the 1966 coup. People were talking in unspecific ways about what Ghana might look like without Nkrumah prior to the coup. However, it was always in vague terms. He and his government appeared strong on the eve of the coup and the coup surprised many. This is not to say that many were content with the state of affairs in Ghana at the time. The reality was much more complicated. Instead, even as late as the month of the coup, many people had come to terms with a reality that the one-party political context created by Nkrumah and the CPP represented the reality that they must live with for the foreseeable future. In what way would you say the Cold War affected the idea of pan-Africanism? Professor Ahlman: I think it constrained the possibilities open to African thinkers and leaders as they sought to reimagine the new world created by decolonization. As individual countries and  liberation movements faced pressures from the US, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Soviet Union, many found it difficult to break from the bifurcated global model that so defined the Cold War in their efforts to make a reality the futures they imagined. How is Nkrumah remembered in Ghana today? Do they celebrate him, or lament his failings? Professor Ahlman: Nkrumah and his ideas appear to be gaining in popularity in Ghana again. However, Ghanaians tend to have a complicated relationship with Nkrumah, especially those who lived through his rule. Many truly appreciate how he transformed Ghana into a major player on the international stage during his tenure and, at the same time, built roads, schools, healthcare facilities, etc. Yet, many of the same people recall the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that accompanied a government that in many ways policed many forms of political and social expression, particularly those forms did not fit within the ideological confines of an orthodox decolonization-era Nkrumahism. What is the legacy of Pan Aficanism today? Professor Ahlman: I’m not sure how to answer this given that there are still pan-African thinkers today, both in Africa and the diaspora. They are actively trying to reflect on the legacies of earlier generations of thinkers like Nkrumah, Du Bois, Padmore, Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X, and others. At the same time, they are actively trying to construct their own pan-African visions that not only take into account contemporary realities in Africa, the diaspora, and the world, but are also experimenting with methods and ideas—small and large—to bring their visions for the future into a reality   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn his youth, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) wrote 6 poems in total. We publish 4 of them here with the permission of their translator Donald Rayfield. The poems are presented for educational purposes.   Untitled The rose’s bud had blossomed out Reaching out to touch the violet The lily was waking up And bending its head in the breeze High in the clouds the lark Was singing a chirrupping hymn While the joyful nightingale With a gentle voice was saying- ‘Be full of blossom, oh lovely land Rejoice Iverians’ country And you oh Georgian, by studying Bring joy to your motherland.’ by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”)   Old Ninika Our Ninika has grown old His hero’s shoulders have failed him… How did this desolate grey hair Break an iron strength? Oh mother! Many a time With his ‘hyena’ sickle swinging, Bare-chested, at the end on the cornfield He must have suddenly burst out with a roar. He must have piled up mountains Of sheaves side by side, And on his face governed by dripping sweat Fire and smoke must have poured out. But now he can no longer move his knees, Scythed down by old age. He lies down or he dreams or he tells His children’s children of the past. From time to time he catches the sound Of singing in the nearby cornfields And his heart that was once so tough Begins to beat with pleasure. He drags himself out, trembling. He takes a few steps on is sheperd’s crook And, when he catches sight of the lads, He smiles with relief. by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”)   To the Moon Move tirelessly Do not hang your head scatter the mist of the clouds The Lord’s providence is great.   Gently smile at the earth Stretched out beneath you; Sing a lullaby to the glacier Strung down from the heavens. Know for certain that once Struck down to the ground, an oppressed man Strives again to reach the pure mountain, When exalted by hope.   So, lovely moon, as before Glimmer through the clouds; Pleasantly in the azure vault Make your beams play.   But I shall undo my vest And thrust out my chest to the moon, With outstreched arms, I shall revere The spreader of light upon the earth! by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”)   To Raphael Eristavi When the laments of the toiling peasants Had moved you to tears of pity, You groaned to the heavens, oh Bard, Placed at the head of the people’s heads; When the people’s welfare Had pleasantly exalted you, You made your strings sweetly sound, Like a man sent forth by heaven; When you sang hymns to the motherland, That was your love, For her your harp brought forth A heart enraputuring twang…. Then oh Bard, a Georgian Would listen to you as to a heavenly monument And for your labours and woes of the past Has crowned you with the present. Your words have in his heart Now put down roots; Reap, grey-haired saint, What you sowed in your youth; For a sickle, use the people’s Heartfelt cry in the air: ‘Hurray for Raphael! May there be many Sons like thee in the fatherland!!’ by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story“An Unequal Marriage” by Vicente Riva Palacio (1832-1896) (published here with the permission of the translator, Toshiya Kamei) It was starting to get dark by the time we reached Covadonga. A crescent moon was almost halfway across the sky, and its weak light was mixed with the last hints of twilight, giving a fantastic aspect to all objects, amplifying their proportions with indecisive silhouettes. For days we had been dreaming of Covadonga. With a feverish impatience to visit that historic place, we revived its traditions and chronicles in our minds and expanded the legends that sprouted from each one of the cantos inspired by those rocks, sacred for the Spaniards. Thus, as we arrived and descended into the ravine at the mysterious hour, our imagination was piqued, and we thought we were hearing the shriek of the Moors and the hoarse cry of the Christians; and we gazed at those soaring crags in wonderment, and Covadonga seemed like an enormous granite shell that had closed its huge valves to shelter a band of heroes like a pearl, and opened them later to disperse the seeds of a people who would grow stronger every day, reconquer their homeland, and wave their flags triumphantly over half the world in the sixteenth century. * * * We took shelter in an inn and, at eight in the evening, we sat to eat with the few pilgrims who were there. The after-dinner conversation took on a pleasantly informal tone, because there were only a few of us and we all had come in search of the impression the place produced in us. Across the table from me sat a young German man, who looked about thirty-five, and at his side a woman of about fifty-five. It was impossible to tell at first sight whether she was his mother or wife. The two spoke correct Spanish and were tactful enough not to say anything in German to each other, for fear that we wouldn’t understand it, thus proving to us, though indirectly, they were persons of distinction. Halfway through the meal, we already knew the woman was the wife of the German, whose name was Leopoldo Schloesing; but to our surprise, his wife called him Guillermo, while he was Don Leopoldo to us. Perhaps Leopoldo came to notice that we were amazed by this, besides their great age difference and their deep affection for each other, as, turning to me, he said, “Do you think my wife is older than I am?” I didn’t know how to answer him, because saying no was a lie that my eyes would have given away; yet saying yes was a lack of manners toward the woman, who gave a sweet smile when she heard her husband’s question and looked at him with a deep tenderness. “Well, no, señor,” continued the German. “I’m at least eight years older than she is, and I can assure you of that on my word of honor.” None of us dared say a word. Had he said it in jest, even though laughing at it would probably have offended the woman, we would have given way to laughter; but as he said it, his features assumed a solemn expression, his voice had prophetic vibrations, and he looked beyond us, his eyes lost in infinity. “It’s not a secret, nor do I want to make a mystery out of what I’m going to tell you. Surely you will take me for a madman and feel pity for my poor Margarita, but it’s true.” The woman squeezed her husband’s arm, laid her head on his shoulder, and we saw her eyes well up in tears. It seemed as though we were dreaming, and even a servant and two girls attending to the table stood thunderstruck with the plates and cutlery, which they washed in a basin at the back of the dining room. The lamps seemed to have dimmed. The man had begun to move us, even fascinate us. “I was twenty-eight years old; I was honest, hardworking, and intelligent; with all my heart, I loved Margarita, who was then twenty and lived with her kind mother in Hamburg; not rich, but not destitute either. Her father, at his death, had left them income, well invested, enough to cover the needs of the two women, who had no other relative. “Our love had grown when we were children, and I was waiting to make my fortune to marry Margarita; well, for that, I not only had her mother’s approval, but the kind woman also loved me like her own son. “In those days a brilliant enterprise in America fell into my lap, which would take too long to explain but, after a year’s absence from my country, it would quadruple my investment; but I didn’t have the capital, and it came to worry me so much that Margarita and her mother noticed something was wrong with me, and they urged me to reveal my secret. How could I have refused? They were my only loved ones on earth! When I told them everything, they tried to comfort me; but I was inconsolable as I felt a fortune slipping through my fingers and, with it, my happiness, because the realization of my marriage depended on it. “A few days later, on arriving at Margarita’s house, the two women flung themselves into my arms, shedding happy tears. They had sold everything they owned and were offering it to me for my enterprise. “I adamantly refused to accept it, but they begged, cried, and insisted on it, making me understand that we were all part of the same family, that we had to share one another’s joys, sorrows, and hopes, and if that money was lost, Margarita and I would marry penniless, and I would support the family with the blessed fruits of my labor. I couldn’t possibly refuse the offer. I accepted it: the day for my departure arrived; I said goodbye to Margarita and her mother, and set sail for America.” * * * The German remained silent for a while, during which all eyes were fixed on him. “I already know,” he continued in a solemn tone. “There’s no need to ask you if you believe in metempsychosis, the Pythagorean theory of the transmigration of the soul, or the doctrine of reincarnation, which has been upheld with such vigor by apostles of Spiritism like Allan Kardec and Juan Renau, because all those theories must be nonsense to you. I was convinced of the same thing. “On the sixth day of the voyage, we were enveloped in one of those dense fogs prevalent in the northern seas. We sailed among reefs as the captain took precautions: a large lamp high above one of the masts; a bell ringing all the time; the steam engine letting out a long and loud groan every few minutes, and sailors keeping watch on the spars. “But all was in vain: I was on deck and suddenly saw the fog before us grow dark; enveloped in the fog, as if rising from the bottom of the sea, an enormous steamer came crashing against us, making a terrible noise I can’t explain. Our ship split, and I don’t know what happened next, because I felt faint, and vaguely sensed murmurs, music, and distress. “I recovered my senses, but I wasn’t who I had been. I felt myself light; suspended in space, I saw the scene of the catastrophe far away, just a patch of fog on the vast sea, because the earth, without dragging me along, was floating dizzily in infinity. Then I realized I was dead. I began to acquire the marvelous perfection of the spirit: I could see a great distance, and among many cadavers floating on the waves I recognized mine. “I suffered the most terrible sorrow, thinking of Margarita and her mother, their pain, their solitude, the miserable life ahead of them, and decided to return to the world to help them.” Leopoldo became quiet again, and no one dared look at the others, for fear of seeing a mocking face. We didn’t believe this story, but we were so drawn in that we wanted to believe it. “A year later,” continued Leopoldo, “I had reincarnated in the body of a child, the only son of an affluent businessman in the city where Margarita lived. “Until I turned seven, my memories were dormant, but they awoke clearly and brightly with the awareness of the mission I had imposed on myself. “It was time to give her proof so that she would believe me. I searched for Margarita as well as a child could, who was only taken to parks for fresh air. “Fortunately for me, one afternoon, while I was playing with other children, she passed where we were, and the moment I saw her, I went to her and lavished her with caresses. She was taken aback by that sudden display of affection, and even more when I told her, ‘Come tomorrow at this time, because I have something very beautiful to tell you.’ “No doubt she thought these were the things of a child, but the following day she was there. We sat on a stone bench while my governess, on another bench farther away, was completely absorbed in reading a novel. Then I told Margarita that I, young Leopoldo, was Guillermo: I thought she was going to go mad, because to prove that truth, I repeated our conversations word for word and the most insignificant details of my past life, but trying to hide my plans for the future. I learned that Margarita’s mother had died of grief on hearing the news of the catastrophe, and that she, always sad, supported herself by giving music lessons. “From that time on, Margarita recovered her cheerfulness, worked harder, saved to buy me a toy, and tried to see me everywhere: I felt the tenderness of a mother. “I was twenty-eight; my father and mother had died, and I possessed a considerable fortune. I proposed marriage to her; she refused, citing our age difference, but I forced her: we have been together for eight years, and we are as happy as the first day of our marriage. Good night, señores, and each of you will have to judge my story for himself.” “Good night,” we all said. And Leopoldo, leading his wife by the arm, slowly left the dining room. * * * Without making any comment, we all went to bed then, but I could hardly sleep a wink, wondering whether there was any truth in that story, whether they were both mad or a madman and a martyr. When we got up the next morning, the Germans had already left Covadonga. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
animation / literatureRobert E. Howard (1906-1936) created a sophisticated sword and sandal fantasy more than  decade before Tolkien published his stories. In novels like The Jungle Book (1894), the late victorian writer Rudyard Kipling stripped away the trappings of civilization from man. In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan (1912), man stripped of his culture became a realistic hero. But in Conan and the works of Robert E. Howard, this primordial force becomes a driver of history, affecting the rise and fall of civilizations.  Conan comes drenched in blood and gore. talked to Mark Finn, Howard’s biographer, in order to understand the continuing attraction of the muscular barbarian. Robert E. Howard only lived till he was 30, yet he created a new genre before he committed suicide. Was he a very hard-working writer?  Like most pulp writers, Howard was serious about his craft. He also needed the money. It wasn’t uncommon for him to put in a twelve-hour day at the typewriter, working on stories and poems. He also wrote letters to his friends and correspondents, including H.P. Lovecraft, and some of those letters are thirty pages long. Despite all of that, he wrote over 300 short stories and around 700 poems in a ten-year period. He was a Texan. Do we know how and when he came up with this prehistoric character? It seems so remote from the kind of life he would have led? Howard has a famous quote that Conan was an amalgam of various gambler, oil field roughnecks, boxers, etc. that he’d met. Remember, too, that Howard was a student of history, and he read about the subject extensively. So even though Howard had never killed a panther with a spear, it was easy for him to imagine what that would be like. How was it that he ended up as a writer in the first place? He had an early aptitude for words and language. When he was fifteen, he decided to try his hand writing stories. It took him three years to get published, in Weird Tales, no less. We should all be so lucky. After that it was a lot of long, hard hours writing at a breakneck pace. He published his first work in magazines. How important were these magazines to literary culture at the time? Pulps weren’t important to “literary culture” at the time, even though they sold tens of millions of copies and fostered generations of writers, and gave us so much in terms of American Literature. But at the time, pulps were considered trashy, beneath the notice of certain folks.  There wasn’t really anyone like Conan at the time. That’s not to say there weren’t other rough characters, but part of what makes Howard’s work so unique is that it straddles genres and slips out of any easy labels.  The Viking sagas may have had some influence on the creation of Conan. Yet, few of the Vikings looked like bodybuilders. Where do you think he found the inspiration for the physical look of Conan? Howard himself mentions boxers and roughnecks and the like. The bodybuilding aspect is part of “pop culture Conan,” which includes the comics, the images of Frank Frazetta, and of course, the movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Howard is known as one of the first great world builders. How particular was he about the details of the Conan universe? His details were intended for the reader to picture clearly what was going on and when and with whom. His world itself was based on the idea of a forgotten epoch in recorded history, and so Howard wrote lots of indicators to the readers that this was supposed to be a precursor to, say, India, or Britain. Those choices he made were actually very deliberate. Given that Conan is a violent, sometimes ruthless, killer, why do you think he is so attractive as a protagonist? Conan is a killer, but not without reason. He keeps his own moral compass on who dies and when. This is something that grows throughout the Conan stories. But any character willing to do the right thing, apart from the popular or expected thing, will always be attractive to readers.  What sort of literary style would you say Howard uses? He was a muscular writer, to be sure, but his language was quite poetic, leading to a style that looks effortless, but is actually quite difficult to master. And no one has been able to do so since. “Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars ………… Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” (“The Phoenix on the Sword”, 1932)  There was a psychological subtext to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Does Howard’s writing have any literary qualities beyond entertainment? Is there a message in the Conan stories?   Oh, yes. Lots of messages. Most of them relating to the arguments he was having with H.P. Lovecraft about Barbarism versus Civilization. The Conan stories are all about Howard’s concept of what a barbarian would be like in a civilized world. He felt that our world, in the 20th century, had peaked, and was due for a downward slide, so that the new barbarians could come over the walls and kill everyone. Then they would build their civilization up, up, up, until THEY became fat and lazy, and the new barbarians would come and tear them down. That was Howard’s view of history and it plays out in several Conan stories. What, in your opinion, is the best Conan story that Howard wrote? My all time favorite is “Beyond the Black River,” but I also love “Rogues in the House,” “The Tower of the Elephant,” “Red Nails,” and “The God in the Bowl.”   Pulp refers to inexpensive fiction magazines that were published between 1896 and the late 1950s. They were printed on cheap wood pulp paper, hence the term pulp fiction. The publications were the successors to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short-fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines were best known for their lurid, exploitative, and sensational subject matter. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of “hero pulps”; pulp magazines that often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters (source: wiki)     Listen to “Gods of the North” (a.k.a “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”) by Robert E. Howard. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyWhen Mohammad died in 632, most of the Arabian peninsula had converted to his new religion. Soon a rapid expansion of the faith across most of North Africa followed, untill a caliphate was established. During the Middle Ages, Islam became the sworn enemy of Christian Europe. Even so, it is through Islamic custodianship that much of the legacy of classical Antiquity survived.  The animosity between cultures seems to have reached a new peak in the wake of the war on terror following 9/11. Today, there is hardly a more controversial historical figure than the prophet Muhammad, the man who, in 610 A.D., at the age of 40, sought refuge in a mountain cave and was visited by the angel Gabriel. We talked with a well-known moderate, British proponent of interfaith dialogues, Methodist and historian, Martin Forward.  We asked him to introduce Muhammad to those of us unfamiliar with his life. You have studied Muhammad and written a short biography of the man, what attracted you to this subject? Muhammad has had a very bad press in the west as a false prophet, an epileptic, a cardinal who went bad and founded another religion out of spite, and a host of other bad things. These criticisms arose in part out of people dissing what they fear. Islam was a threat to Europe’s Christian identity for over 1,000 years: as late as 1683, Ottoman Turks laid siege to the gates of Vienna. But they also arose out of a genuine puzzlement: why, Christians thought, did Muslims need another religious founder after Jesus? Why could they not accept him and his religion? So I found him a fascinating figure and wanted to see what I thought of him. Writing it out helped that process! In the West, we often compare Muhammad to Jesus, but how fair is that comparison? Muslims compare Jesus with Muhammad. For Muslims, Jesus is a prophet, Messiah and son of Mary (but not of God). Christians, as I have said, often regard Muhammad as a fraud, though there is no obligation, in their religion, to have a point of view about Muhammad at all, since he post-dates it. Understandably, Muslims are often disappointed that Christians can’t find fine things to say about Muhammad when they themselves hold Jesus in high regard. Equally understandable, Christians are disappointed that Muslims high regard for Jesus misses (from their perspective) the important point about him and his role in salvation.  Do all Muslims have the same view of Muhammad? Are there differences within sects or traditions? There are different views but they’ve been submerged by the dominant one. An early view, that of the Mutazilites, didn’t see him as a passive recipient of an inerrant scripture but gave him a much more positive role in its manufacture. There views were quickly abandoned as innovative, though they re-emerge in the writings of Muslim modernists in Egypt and India (e.g. Syed Ameer Ali’s “The Spirit of Islam”) Shiahs tend to emphasize Muhammad as a charismatic leader whose descendants may inherit some of that spiritual power, whereas Sunnis are more cautious about this. But the vast majority have the view that he is the last and greatest prophet, after whom there will be no more prophets. What sources do we have about his life, and how reliable are these sources? The Qur’an and the hadith (traditions). Muslims and until recently, western scholars of Islam, have taken a conservative view of these and see them as closely linked to the historical life of the prophet and as reliable guides to it. But radical recent western historians now often regard the Qur’an as a work that wasn’t fixed and finalized until many years after Muhammad’s death. Muslims don’t accept this, but the evidence is quite compelling that, e.g., some of the Qur’an is post-Muhammad. (John Wansbrough and Patricia Crone are famous exponents of this view).  What sort of a man was he? Was he an educated man? Many Muslims believe him to have been illiterate and this has the advantage of highlighting the miracle of the Qur’an and its divine provenance. Since he was a member of a distinguished clan, and the husband of a wealthy businesswoman, Khadijah, it’s likely that he was able to read and write (though, as I say, many Muslims don’t believe so,) and to do basic math.  We often hear that Muhammad was a military man, and that as such he cannot be worthy of being praised. How should we deal with this issue? How do Muslims deal with it? Islam was the most successful religion of all, in its infancy. Within a few years, it had destroyed the Persian Empire, and vastly reduced the territories of the Byzantine Empire. Within a century Muslims controlled much of the Middle East and North Africa, and had entered Europe as conquerors through the Iberian peninsula. Islam’s success was based on military power. This isn’t a problem for Muslims, God being on the side of the righteous, though it conflicts with views of Jesus as the prince of peace. To Christians, Muhammad seems to be a violent sort of prophet. To many Muslims, Jesus seems to have been an unsuccessful one, dying before he could implement his vision in any concrete ways. Describe for us the sort of tribal culture he was born into? He was born into a distinguished clan, the Quraysh. Clan life was originally desert based and gave its members an identity and a loyalty. You could, e.g., raid another clan but not your own. Mecca, the town where he was born, was on the silk route. Many scholars suggest that greedy capitalism was beginning to subvert tribal values at the time of Muhammad, and see this as the background to the Qur’an’s condemnation of those who oppress the poor and needy. How did Muhammad regard women? This is a minefield. He had many wives, and had them veiled out of respect, though he didn’t require other women to be veiled. He limited wives to four, for others, and some Muslims claim polygamy was a concession to circumstances, to protect and look after widows of the Muslims who died fighting against pagan Meccans. One of his wives, Ayesha, was very young, and his marriage to her nowadays would be regarded as pedophilia. But it wasn’t a problem then, if you compare it with practices in Greek and other cultures.  There is the very difficult topic of Muhammad’s relationship with the Jews. How should we today interpret his military actions against Jews? Muhammad saw them as thorns in his side, preventing him from implementing his vision; fifth-columnists, if you like. He acted as leaders of his day did, removing them in a ruthless fashion. But he wasn’t a modern anti-Semite, regarding Jews as intrinsically sub-human. In the Middle Ages, Jews often did pretty well under Muslim rule, as opposed to Christian rule. Why is it so important for some Muslims that we don’t show artistic representations of Muhammad. Like Jews, (but unlike Christians) Muslims believe that God is incomparably beyond our power to depict him artistically or in any other way. Muhammad is the messenger of God. and so should be afforded the same courtesy.  What do the sources say about his appearance? Do we know anything about what he actually looked like? I summarize his appearance in my book. There I write: “He was of average height or a little taller. He was strongly built. His complexion was fair. He had a hooked nose, and black eyes flecked with brown. He had a good head of hair, and was bearded. He had a large mouth, which occasionally broke into a warm smile. His was a mobile body: he turned his whole self to look at somebody, spoke rapidly and to the point, and was often in a rush.” Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storypublished  in All-Story Weekly September 7, 1918 Francis Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett, 1884–1948) t was upon the waterfront that I first met her, in one of the shabby little tea shops frequented by able sailoresses of the poorer type. The uptown, glittering resorts of the Lady Aviators’ Union were not for such as she. Stern of feature, bronzed by wind and sun, her age could only be guessed, but I surmised at once that in her I beheld a survivor of the age of turbines and oil engines—a true sea-woman of that elder time when woman’s superiority to man had not been so long recognized. When, to emphasize their victory, women in all ranks were sterner than today’s need demands. The spruce, smiling young maidens—engine-women and stokers of the great aluminum rollers, but despite their profession, very neat in gold-braided blue knickers and boleros—these looked askance at the hard-faced relic of a harsher day, as they passed in and out of the shop. I, however, brazenly ignoring similar glances at myself, a mere male intruding on the haunts of the world’s ruling sex, drew a chair up beside the veteran. I ordered a full pot of tea, two cups and a plate of macaroons, and put on my most ingratiating air. Possibly my unconcealed admiration and interest were wiles not exercised in vain. Or the macaroons and tea, both excellent, may have loosened the old sea-woman’s tongue. At any rate, under cautious questioning, she had soon launched upon a series of reminiscences well beyond my hopes for color and variety. “When I was a lass,” quoth the sea-woman, after a time, “there was none of this high-flying, gilt-edged, leather-stocking luxury about the sea. We sailed by the power of our oil and gasoline. If they failed on us, like as not ’twas the rubber ring and the rolling wave for ours.” She referred to the archaic practice of placing a pneumatic affair called a life-preserver beneath the arms, in case of that dreaded disaster, now so unheard of, shipwreck. “In them days there was still many a man bold enough to join our crews. And I’ve knowed cases,” she added condescendingly, “where just by the muscle and brawn of such men some poor sailor lass has reached shore alive that would have fed the sharks without ’em. Oh, I ain’t so down on men as you might think. It’s the spoiling of them that I don’t hold with. There’s too much preached nowadays that man is fit for nothing but to fetch and carry and do nurse-work in big child-homes. To my mind, a man who hasn’t the nerve of a woman ain’t fitted to father children, let alone raise ’em. But that’s not here nor there. My time’s past, and I know it, or I wouldn’t be setting here gossipin’ to you, my lad, over an empty teapot.” I took the hint, and with our cups replenished, she bit thoughtfully into her fourteenth macaroon and continued. “There’s one voyage I’m not likely to forget, though I live to be as old as Cap’n Mary Barnacle, of the Shouter. ‘Twas aboard the old Shouter that this here voyage occurred, and it was her last and likewise Cap’n Mary’s. Cap’n Mary, she was then that decrepit, it seemed a mercy that she should go to her rest, and in good salt water at that. “I remember the voyage for Cap’n Mary’s sake, but most I remember it because ’twas then that I come the nighest in my life to committin’ matrimony. For a man, the man had nerve; he was nearer bein’ companionable than any other man I ever seed; and if it hadn’t been for just one little event that showed up the—the mannishness of him, in a way I couldn’t abide, I reckon he’d be keepin’ house for me this minute.” “We cleared from Frisco with a cargo of silkateen petticoats for Brisbane. Cap’n Mary was always strong on petticoats. Leather breeches or even half-skirts would ha’ paid far better, they being more in demand like, but Cap’n Mary was three-quarters owner, and says she, land women should buy petticoats, and if they didn’t it wouldn’t be the Lord’s fault nor hers for not providing ’em. “We cleared on a fine day, which is an all sign—or was, then when the weather and the seas o’ God still counted in the trafficking of the humankind. Not two days out we met a whirling, mucking bouncer of a gale that well nigh threw the old Shouter a full point off her course in the first wallop. She was a stout craft, though. None of your featherweight, gas-lightened, paper-thin alloy shells, but toughened aluminum from stern to stern. Her turbine drove her through the combers at a forty-five knot clip, which named her a speedy craft for a freighter in them days. “But this night, as we tore along through the creaming green billows, something unknown went ‘way wrong down below. “I was forward under the shelter of her long over-sloop, looking for a hairpin I’d dropped somewheres about that afternoon. It was a gold hairpin, and gold still being mighty scarce when I was a girl, a course I valued it. But suddenly I felt the old Shouter give a jump under my feet like a plane struck by a shell in full flight. Then she trembled all over for a full second, frightened like. Then, with the crash of doomsday ringing in my ears, I felt myself sailing through the air right into the teeth o’ the shrieking gale, as near as I could judge. Down I come in the hollow of a monstrous big wave, and as my ears doused under I thought I heard a splash close by. Coming up, sure enough, there close by me was floating a new, patent, hermetic, thermo-ice-chest. Being as it was empty, and being as it was shut up air-tight, that ice-chest made as sweet a life-preserver as a woman could wish in such an hour. About ten foot by twelve, it floated high in the raging sea. Out on its top I scrambled, and hanging on by a handle I looked expectant for some of my poor fellow-women to come floating by. Which they never did, for the good reason that the Shouter had blowed up and went below, petticoats, Cap’n Mary and all.” “What caused the explosion?” I inquired. “The Lord and Cap’n Mary Barnacle can explain,” she answered piously. “Besides the oil for her turbines, she carried a power of gasoline for her alternative engines, and likely ’twas the cause of her ending so sudden like. Anyways, all I ever seen of her again was the empty ice-chest that Providence had well-nigh hove upon my head. On that I sat and floated, and floated and sat some more, till by-and-by the storm sort of blowed itself out, the sun come shining—this was next morning—and I could dry my hair and look about me. I was a young lass, then, and not bad to look upon. I didn’t want to die, any more than you that’s sitting there this minute. So I up and prays for land. Sure enough toward evening a speck heaves up low down on the horizon. At first I took it for a gas liner, but later found it was just a little island, all alone by itself in the great Pacific Ocean. “Come, now, here’s luck, thinks I, and with that I deserts the ice-chest, which being empty, and me having no ice to put in it, not likely to have in them latitudes, is of no further use to me. Striking out I swum a mile or so and set foot on dry land for the first time in nigh three days. “Pretty land it were, too, though bare of human life as an iceberg in the Arctic. “I had landed on a shining white beach that run up to a grove of lovely, waving palm trees. Above them I could see the slopes of a hill so high and green it reminded me of my own old home, up near Couquomgomoc Lake in Maine. The whole place just seemed to smile and smile at me. The palms waved and bowed in the sweet breeze, like they wanted to say, ‘Just set right down and make yourself to home. We’ve been waiting a long time for you to come.’ I cried, I was that happy to be made welcome. I was a young lass then, and sensitive-like to how folks treated me. You’re laughing now, but wait and see if or not there was sense to the way I felt. “So I up and dries my clothes and my long, soft hair again, which was well worth drying, for I had far more of it than now. After that I walked along a piece, until there was a sweet little path meandering away into the wild woods. “Here, thinks I, this looks like inhabitants. Be they civil or wild, I wonder? But after traveling the path a piece, lo and behold it ended sudden like in a wide circle of green grass, with a little spring of clear water. And the first thing I noticed was a slab of white board nailed to a palm tree close to the spring. Right off I took a long drink, for you better believe I was thirsty, and then I went to look at this board. It had evidently been tore off the side of a wooden packing box, and the letters was roughly printed in lead pencil. “‘Heaven help whoever you be,’ I read. ‘This island ain’t just right. I’m going to swim for it. You better too. Good-by. Nelson Smith.’ That’s what it said, but the spellin’ was simply awful. It all looked quite new and recent, as if Nelson Smith hadn’t more than a few hours before he wrote and nailed it there. “Well, after reading that queer warning I begun to shake all over like in a chill. Yes, I shook like I had the ague, though the hot tropic sun was burning down right on me and that alarming board. What had scared Nelson Smith so much that he had swum to get away? I looked all around real cautious and careful, but not a single frightening thing could I behold. And the palms and the green grass and the flowers still smiled that peaceful and friendly like. ‘Just make yourself to home,’ was wrote all over the place in plainer letters than those sprawly lead pencil ones on the board. “Pretty soon, what with the quiet and all, the chill left me. Then I thought, ‘Well, to be sure, this Smith person was just an ordinary man, I reckon, and likely he got nervous of being so alone. Likely he just fancied things which was really not. It’s a pity he drowned himself before I come, though likely I’d have found him poor company. By his record I judge him a man of but common education.’ “So I decided to make the most of my welcome, and that I did for weeks to come. Right near the spring was a cave, dry as a biscuit box, with a nice floor of white sand. Nelson had lived there too, for there was a litter of stuff—tin cans—empty—scraps of newspapers and the like. I got to calling him Nelson in my mind, and then Nelly, and wondering if he was dark or fair, and how he come to be cast away there all alone, and what was the strange events that drove him to his end. I cleaned out the cave, though. He had devoured all his tin-canned provisions, however he come by them, but this I didn’t mind. That there island was a generous body. Green milk-coconuts, sweet berries, turtle eggs and the like was my daily fare. “For about three weeks the sun shone every day, the birds sang and the monkeys chattered. We was all one big, happy family, and the more I explored that island the better I liked the company I was keeping. The land was about ten miles from beach to beach, and never a foot of it that wasn’t sweet and clean as a private park. “From the top of the hill I could see the ocean, miles and miles of blue water, with never a sign of a gas liner, or even a little government running-boat. Them running-boats used to go most everywhere to keep the seaways clean of derelicts and the like. But I knowed that if this island was no more than a hundred miles off the regular courses of navigation, it might be many a long day before I’d be rescued. The top of the hill, as I found when first I climbed up there, was a wore-out crater. So I knowed that the island was one of them volcanic ones you run across so many of in the seas between Capricorn and Cancer. “Here and there on the slopes and down through the jungly tree-growth, I would come on great lumps of rock, and these must have came up out of that crater long ago. If there was lava it was so old it had been covered up entire with green growing stuff. You couldn’t have found it without a spade, which I didn’t have nor want.” “Well, at first I was happy as the hours was long. I wandered and clambered and waded and swum, and combed my long hair on the beach, having fortunately not lost my side-combs nor the rest of my gold hairpins. But by-and-by it begun to get just a bit lonesome. Funny thing, that’s a feeling that, once it starts, it gets worse and worser so quick it’s perfectly surprising. And right then was when the days begun to get gloomy. We had a long, sickly hot spell, like I never seen before on an ocean island. There was dull clouds across the sun from morn to night. Even the little monkeys and parrakeets, that had seemed so gay, moped and drowsed like they was sick. All one day I cried, and let the rain soak me through and through—that was the first rain we had—and I didn’t get thorough dried even during the night, though I slept in my cave. Next morning I got up mad as thunder at myself and all the world. “When I looked out the black clouds was billowing across the sky. I could hear nothing but great breakers roaring in on the beaches, and the wild wind raving through the lashing palms. “As I stood there a nasty little wet monkey dropped from a branch almost on my head. I grabbed a pebble and slung it at him real vicious. ‘Get away, you dirty little brute!’ I shrieks, and with that there come a awful blinding flare of light. There was a long, crackling noise like a bunch of Chinese fireworks, and then a sound as if a whole fleet of Shouters had all went up together. “When I come to, I found myself ‘way in the back of my cave, trying to dig further into the rock with my finger nails. Upon taking thought, it come to me that what had occurred was just a lightning-clap, and going to look, sure enough there lay a big palm tree right across the glade. It was all busted and split open by the lightning, and the little monkey was under it, for I could see his tail and his hind legs sticking out. “Now, when I set eyes on that poor, crushed little beast I’d been so mean to, I was terrible ashamed. I sat down on the smashed tree and considered and considered. How thankful I had ought to have been. Here I had a lovely, plenteous island, with food and water to my taste, when it might have been a barren, starvation rock that was my lot. And so, thinking, a sort of gradual peaceful feeling stole over me. I got cheerfuller and cheerfuller, till I could have sang and danced for joy. “Pretty soon I realized that the sun was shining bright for the first time that week. The wind had stopped hollering, and the waves had died to just a singing murmur on the beach. It seemed kind o’ strange, this sudden peace, like the cheer in my own heart after its rage and storm. I rose up, feeling sort of queer, and went to look if the little monkey had came alive again, though that was a fool thing, seeing he was laying all crushed up and very dead. I buried him under a tree root, and as I did it a conviction come to me. “I didn’t hardly question that conviction at all. Somehow, living there alone so long, perhaps my natural womanly intuition was stronger than ever before or since, and so I knowed. Then I went and pulled poor Nelson Smith’s board off from the tree and tossed it away for the tide to carry off. That there board was an insult to my island!” The sea-woman paused, and her eyes had a far-away look. It seemed as if I and perhaps even the macaroons and tea were quite forgotten. “Why did you think that?” I asked, to bring her back. “How could an island be insulted?” She started, passed her hand across her eyes, and hastily poured another cup of tea. “Because,” she said at last, poising a macaroon in mid-air, “because that island—that particular island that I had landed on—had a heart! “When I was gay, it was bright and cheerful. It was glad when I come, and it treated me right until I got that grouchy it had to mope from sympathy. It loved me like a friend. When I flung a rock at that poor little drenched monkey critter, it backed up my act with an anger like the wrath o’ God, and killed its own child to please me! But it got right cheery the minute I seen the wrongness of my ways. Nelson Smith had no business to say, ‘This island ain’t just right,’ for it was a righter place than ever I seen elsewhere. When I cast away that lying board, all the birds begun to sing like mad. The green milk-coconuts fell right and left. Only the monkeys seemed kind o’ sad like still, and no wonder. You see, their own mother, the island, had rounded on one o’ them for my sake! “After that I was right careful and considerate. I named the island Anita, not knowing her right name, or if she had any. Anita was a pretty name, and it sounded kind of South Sea like. Anita and me got along real well together from that day on. It was some strain to be always gay and singing around like a dear duck of a canary bird, but I done my best. Still, for all the love and gratitude I bore Anita, the company of an island, however sympathetic, ain’t quite enough for a human being. I still got lonesome, and there was even days when I couldn’t keep the clouds clear out of the sky, though I will say we had no more tornadoes. “I think the island understood and tried to help me with all the bounty and good cheer the poor thing possessed. None the less my heart give a wonderful big leap when one day I seen a blot on the horizon. It drawed nearer and nearer, until at last I could make out its nature.” “A ship, of course,” said I, “and were you rescued?” “‘Tweren’t a ship, neither,” denied the sea-woman somewhat impatiently. “Can’t you let me spin this yarn without no more remarks and fool questions? This thing what was bearing down so fast with the incoming tide was neither more nor less than another island! “You may well look startled. I was startled myself. Much more so than you, likely. I didn’t know then what you, with your book-learning, very likely know now—that islands sometimes float. Their underparts being a tangled-up mess of roots and old vines that new stuff’s growed over, they sometimes break away from the mainland in a brisk gale and go off for a voyage, calm as a old-fashioned, eight-funnel steamer. This one was uncommon large, being as much as two miles, maybe, from shore to shore. It had its palm trees and its live things, just like my own Anita, and I’ve sometimes wondered if this drifting piece hadn’t really been a part of my island once—just its daughter like, as you might say. “Be that, however, as it might be, no sooner did the floating piece get within hailing distance than I hears a human holler and there was a man dancing up and down on the shore like he was plumb crazy. Next minute he had plunged into the narrow strip of water between us and in a few minutes had swum to where I stood. “Yes, of course it was none other than Nelson Smith! “I knowed that the minute I set eyes on him. He had the very look of not having no better sense than the man what wrote that board and then nearly committed suicide trying to get away from the best island in all the oceans. Glad enough he was to get back, though, for the coconuts was running very short on the floater what had rescued him, and the turtle eggs wasn’t worth mentioning. Being short of grub is the surest way I know to cure a man’s fear of the unknown.” “Well, to make a long story short, Nelson Smith told me he was a aeronauter. In them days to be an aeronauter was not the same as to be an aviatress is now. There was dangers in the air, and dangers in the sea, and he had met with both. His gas tank had leaked and he had dropped into the water close by Anita. A case or two of provisions was all he could save from the total wreck. “Now, as you might guess, I was crazy enough to find out what had scared this Nelson Smith into trying to swim the Pacific. He told me a story that seemed to fit pretty well with mine, only when it come to the scary part he shut up like a clam, that aggravating way some men have. I give it up at last for just man-foolishness, and we begun to scheme to get away. “Anita moped some while we talked it over. I realized how she must be feeling, so I explained to her that it was right needful for us to get with our kind again. If we stayed with her we should probably quarrel like cats, and maybe even kill each other out of pure human cussedness. She cheered up considerable after that, and even, I thought, got a little anxious to have us leave. At any rate, when we begun to provision up the little floater, which we had anchored to the big island by a cable of twisted bark, the green nuts fell all over the ground, and Nelson found more turtle nests in a day than I had in weeks. “During them days I really got fond of Nelson Smith. He was a companionable body, and brave, or he wouldn’t have been a professional aeronauter, a job that was rightly thought tough enough for a woman, let alone a man. Though he was not so well educated as me, at least he was quiet and modest about what he did know, not like some men, boasting most where there is least to brag of. “Indeed, I misdoubt if Nelson and me would not have quit the sea and the air together and set up housekeeping in some quiet little town up in New England, maybe, after we had got away, if it had not been for what happened when we went. I never, let me say, was so deceived in any man before nor since. The thing taught me a lesson and I never was fooled again. “We was all ready to go, and then one morning, like a parting gift from Anita, come a soft and favoring wind. Nelson and I run down the beach together, for we didn’t want our floater to blow off and leave us. As we was running, our arms full of coconuts, Nelson Smith, stubbed his bare toe on a sharp rock, and down he went. I hadn’t noticed, and was going on. “But sudden the ground begun to shake under my feet, and the air was full of a queer, grinding, groaning sound, like the very earth was in pain. “I turned around sharp. There sat Nelson, holding his bleeding toe in both fists and giving vent to such awful words as no decent sea-going lady would ever speak nor hear to! “‘Stop it, stop it!’ I shrieked at him, but ’twas too late. “Island or no island, Anita was a lady, too! She had a gentle heart, but she knowed how to behave when she was insulted. “With one terrible, great roar a spout of smoke and flame belched up out o’ the heart of Anita’s crater hill a full mile into the air! “I guess Nelson stopped swearing. He couldn’t have heard himself, anyways. Anita was talking now with tongues of flame and such roars as would have bespoke the raging protest of a continent. “I grabbed that fool man by the hand and run him down to the water. We had to swim good and hard to catch up with our only hope, the floater. No bark rope could hold her against the stiff breeze that was now blowing, and she had broke her cable. By the time we scrambled aboard great rocks was falling right and left. We couldn’t see each other for a while for the clouds of fine gray ash. “It seemed like Anita was that mad she was flinging stones after us, and truly I believe that such was her intention. I didn’t blame her, neither! “Lucky for us the wind was strong and we was soon out of range. “‘So!’ says I to Nelson, after I’d got most of the ashes out of my mouth, and shook my hair clear of cinders. ‘So, that was the reason you up and left sudden when you was there before! You aggravated that island till the poor thing druv you out!’ “‘Well,’ says he, and not so meek as I’d have admired to see him, ‘how could I know the darn island was a lady?’ “‘Actions speak louder than words,’ says I. ‘You should have knowed it by her ladylike behavior!’ “‘Is volcanoes and slingin’ hot rocks ladylike?’ he says. ‘Is snakes ladylike? T’other time I cut my thumb on a tin can, I cussed a little bit. Say—just a li’l’ bit! An’ what comes at me out o’ all the caves, and out o’ every crack in the rocks, and out o’ the very spring o’ water where I’d been drinkin’? Why snakes! Snakes, if you please, big, little, green, red and sky-blue-scarlet! What’d I do? Jumped in the water, of course. Why wouldn’t I? I’d ruther swim and drown than be stung or swallowed to death. But how was I t’ know the snakes come outta the rocks because I cussed?’ “‘You, couldn’t,’ I agrees, sarcastic. ‘Some folks never knows a lady till she up and whangs ’em over the head with a brick. A real, gentle, kind-like warning, them snakes were, which you would not heed! Take shame to yourself, Nelly,’ says I, right stern, ‘that a decent little island like Anita can’t associate with you peaceable, but you must hurt her sacredest feelings with language no lady would stand by to hear!’ “I never did see Anita again. She may have blew herself right out of the ocean in her just wrath at the vulgar, disgustin’ language of Nelson Smith. I don’t know. We was took off the floater at last, and I lost track of Nelson just as quick as I could when we was landed at Frisco. “He had taught me a lesson. A man is just full of mannishness, and the best of ’em ain’t good enough for a lady to sacrifice her sensibilities to put up with. “Nelson Smith, he seemed to feel real bad when he learned I was not for him, and then he apologized. But apologies weren’t no use to me. I could never abide him, after the way he went and talked right in the presence of me and my poor, sweet lady friend, Anita!” Now I am well versed in the lore of the sea in all ages. Through mists of time I have enviously eyed wild voyagings of sea rovers who roved and spun their yarns before the stronger sex came into its own, and ousted man from his heroic pedestal. I have followed—across the printed page—the wanderings of Odysseus. Before Gulliver I have burned the incense of tranced attention; and with reverent awe considered the history of one Munchausen, a baron. But alas, these were only men! In what field is not woman our subtle superior? Meekly I bowed my head, and when my eyes dared lift again, the ancient mariness had departed, leaving me to sorrow for my surpassed and outdone idols. Also with a bill for macaroons and tea of such incredible proportions that in comparison therewith I found it easy to believe her story! Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureOur new podcast  series, “At the Bottom of the Sea”, starts one rainy afternoon in Tromso, a small town in North Norway some time in the near future. We follow a number of characters as they board a helicopter. There is Frank Hansen, a military diver, Fatima Ali, the cook and several others. The aircraft are heading to a converted oil rig in the middle of the North Sea. There, a diving vessel will take them to the sea floor and a research base, a permanent settlement 2000 m below the surface. However, something goes wrong, and soon events unfold which baffle the imagination and test them all. The Cast Frank Hansen (military diver) Krister Brandser Fatima Ali (cook) Julie Hoverson Peter Edwardsen (base leader) Peter Yearsley Henrik Abelsen (genius mathmatician) George Snow Hans Storm (biologist) mentioned character Egon Gundersen (engineeer) mentioned character  Schultz (chief engineer)  mentioned character Inga & Nils (twins, kitchen help)  mentioned characters The play was written and edited by  Michael Henrik Wynn ( editor) Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 1. Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 2. Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 3. Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 4. (conclusion) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyLong before Bob Dylan, the 18’th century Scottish poet and song-writer Robert Burns published an anti-war anthem. Surprisingly modern sounding (video below), the song rejects contemporary war mongering and focuses on the human suffering caused by conflict. However, in order to understand the historical context of the song, we do need an expert. We asked George Mcclellan, a director of the Robert Burns Association of North America, to set the scene. Why was “Ye Jacobites by Name” written”? Originally to condemn the Jacobite cause. It’s necessary to understand the period following the Reformation when Great Britain became firmly anti-Catholic after years of conflict. There were two periods of Catholic rebellion, The Jacobite risings, or the Jacobite rebellions or the War of the British Succession, 1688 thru 1748, the intent of which was to return Catholic, James Stuart II and VII, to the British throne and, their last attempt with “Bonnie Prince Charlie’s (Charles Edward Stuart) ending with his loss at Culloden in 1746. Jacobite is Latin for “James.” Do we know who wrote it? I believe the original tune was written by Hector Macneill titled: My Love’s in Germany. He was probably referring to the German House of Hanover who became the sovereigns of Great Britain following the reign of William and Mary. Robert Burns re-wrote the song as an anti-war anthem? What sort of changes did he make? Actually, Burns borrowed extensively from other authors, as well as fill in fragments long lost of many old songs. He did not plagiarize but rewrote or reframed ideas expressed by others to fit tunes from traditional Scottish folk songs, before they became lost forever. Burns borrowed only the first verse from the original version of Ye Jacobites By Name that attacked Catholics from the political point of view of the conservative (and Protestant) British government, aka: the Whigs. Burns rewrote his version in 1791 with an anti-war outlook. His is the version that most people know today. The tune for the lyrics was from a song titled Captain Kid (one ‘d’) and may have been a version of Put in All in ‘Pills’ written after The Battle of Falkirk Garland in 1746. Before Burns was born. Many tunes were written and published comforting the failed Catholic efforts and most were published in Ewan MacColl’s collection titled Personal Choice. Burns wrote for two publishers, Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum and James Hogg. Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum, with Burn’s version was published in 1793. How was the song received when it was published by Burns, with the tune added? Little remark has been recorded as to the songs first appearance. Enough Catholics still existed as neighbors to have been offended when publicly sang. The pro-monarchy pub crowd probably liked it, as they did most things Burns did. The song has a pretty strong political message, at what sort of events would it be performed? Except it be in a pub or ale house, it would not be performed like we understand performers do today. In your face songs would have been punished not glorified. Politics of the time could be deadly if one stood against the Crown. So, public demonstrations of the tune, outside of pubs, etc. ,simply didn’t occur. Burns wrote it. It was published in Johnson’s Scots Museum and received little notoriety except to confirm Britain’s religious conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. In Scotland in Burns time, it was the Calvinism of the people vs. Anglicanism (Church of Scotland) of the Govt. Would you say the song has had any influence on Scottish history? The song, No! Culloden (Protestant government forces vs Catholic pretender) had the greater influence on Scottish History by killing all pretense that a Catholic Stuart would return to the throne of Great Britain. It also killed the Highland Clan system, mostly Catholic, forever. Clarifying why such a song should be important is to understand the Jacobite cause. Charles Stuart’s Jacobite army, largely composed of Catholics and Episcopalians, but mostly Highland Clans, with a small detachment of Catholic Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment, plus some Irish, represented a return to old feudalism. Charlie’s effort was supported by France, with some Irish and Catholic Scots military units in French service, to support the Stuart claim. The British Governments Hanoverian forces were Protestants, English with a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and some non-Catholic Highlanders. The results of that complete and disastrous rout are well known, but it ended the Clan system and took Scotland out of the past and pointed it into the future. But deeper economic motives however, lie hidden as causal effects. England and the Scottish Lowlanders were moving into an industrial age of unprecedented prosperity and growth. A return of the Stuarts would mean a return to feudalism and they weren’t having any of that. Advances in agricultural production and world trade was enriching even the crofters in the Lowlands and the Industrial Revolution was just around the corner. No, a return to feudalism would have ended all that. Culloden’s aftermath did arouse strong feelings for a long time and the original song contributed to that so Burns rewrote the lyrics to temper down ill feelings because he recognized all Scots as kinsmen, “Brothers be for a’ that,” not enemies because of religion. Remember too, Burns had his own private religious war (with words) against the Scottish Kirk too. Too, Burns was more than emphatic to the lost Jacobite cause as revealed in several pieces he wrote on his first tour to the Highlands. Burns understood his own family’s history in the religious conflicts that preceded him, and was proud that his ancestors sided with the persecuted rebels of the Covenanters on his mum’s side and the Jacobites on his fathers side. Burns was particularly aware that the final results of the Scottish religious wars, and the collapse of Catholicism, rendered his fathers family near the poverty level. Burns referred to it as Jacobite “Ruin”and, it did adversely affect his fathers course through life. Burns was also proud that his father recovered, gained an occupation (Gardner) and survived. It was an awful period of time for the people of Scotland. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story“Tribal Mark” by Iroakazi Ifeanyi here I come from, scars are just enough to tell if you are good enough, especially when they appear on your face. They are not just the regular scars from mosquito bites or accidental injuries. They are deliberate scars that you carry from cradle to grave. So they come first before anything else. Your tongue is next before whatever hidden treasure you may think hiding beneath your skull, in your heart, or wherever- it can suit itself for any occasion! Sometimes the scars appear on your cheeks, close to your nose; at the corners of your eyes, close to the brow tails; between the brows on your forehead, and other time they appear like a cat’s whiskers, growing from the corners of your mouth up until they ended just below your ears. You could get any of these and they set you apart to either make or mar you, but it all depends on the scars of those you meet. I remember the day I took Amina to see my parents years ago. Amina suggested that because she had just said YES to me a week ago, and I was so happy and eager to show this narrow-faced, slim, and tall beauty to my parents that I decided it would be the following weekend. She was a perfect woman for me-maybe I never stared into her face long enough-she always teased me about being too shy to gaze at her without blushing. You’re too shy for my liking, she would say, laughing and tickling my nipples. I so much love to be tickled because it makes me laugh like a fool even at thirty-five. I would laugh until my head muscles begin to ache. My parents were much happier when I called them. My only son is finally getting married, I heard my mother say in the background as she handed the phone to my father. Congratulations son, my Dad said. He has never used plenty words- he only give orders. My father was an ex Biafran soldier; one of those gallant soldiers who taught the Nigerian troops an unforgettable lesson at Abagana. He would often recount how he was nearly blown up while igniting the local made explosive, Ogbunigwe. One morning he had fallen off his wheelchair and after helping him up, he began to sing a particular Biafran war song that he always reminiscence his soldiering days with and as he sang, he looked up to the sky, saluting half of a yellow sun that was just breaking in the East. He began to grow gradually hysteric and soon he fell off again. It had always been funny but this time, he was seriously shedding tears and cursing Nigeria, Britian, Russia, and Egypt for confining him on a wheelchair for almost five decades. He was a boy when he lost his feet in the war and he has nursed the pain, and his hatred for the enemies to this day. When I told Abike, my ex fiance, about my father, she said hers was like him, and for sure it did end things between us few months later. Amina had something similar to tell about his uncle. Thank God it wasn’t her father. My mother was so happy that I was coming home with a woman that she prepared a mountain of Fufu and a full pot of my favorite soup as though a community of people were visiting. When we arrived at a park close to my mother’s wretched bread store, I noticed her running towards us with her whole snow-white teeth bare; her face bright and lovely; her cooing voice endearing and warm, but as she drew closer, her lips began to gradually hide the teeth and soon the smile was gone; her mouth twisted, her face furrowed. Her ‘ welcome son’ , her ‘ nwunye m’ all lacked life, though I made it looked as elaborate as it could have been if I had come with a girl with a round face, broader nose, and who doesn’t pronounce ‘Papa’ as ‘ Fafa’ when greeting my father. Amina was beginning to notice the death of the distant excitement but she just kept her calm. She was before me, rushing to embrace her soon-to-be Mother-in-law whom she had prepared so much to meet. Ndewo Mama, she greeted in my dialect, swatting. I taught her that greeting for only one night and she learnt it perfectly. My mother opened her arms, Amina hurried, I was flustered; smiling stupidly because I knew my mother was already praying in her heart for her God to intervene. Not again, she must have said countless times. When Amina buried herself in her embrace and she began to run her trembling fingers about her facial scars, it became obvious from the disappointment in her eyes as she stared still at me over Amina’s shoulder that my beauty wasn’t good enough for me. Although she pretended everything was alright afterwards, I did too, but Amina understood it was over. Her kinsmen maimed mine and crippled my father and we must punish her for that. She bore the scars of an alien, the mark of the enemies, so we had no place to exist together. That was my father’s verdict and it can’t be appealed. by Iroakazi Ifeanyi, 2019. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyThe greatest city on earth in medieval times was not London, Paris or Rome. It was probably Angkor Wat, the Cambodian giant temple complex that was eventually swallowed by the jungle and forgotten by time. However, there exists a first-hand account of the Angkor culture at the peak of its power, from the pen of Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat who later published a book entitled The Customs of Cambodia. Solang Uk has translated this rare work into English, and we asked him to describe the journey  Zhou Daguan would have taken. What sort of man was Zhou Daguan, and why was he selected to go on this long trip to Angkor? Solang Uk: He must have been a young Han Chinese (Han is the major ethnic group) in search of an adventure. The Emperor at the time was a Mongolian (not a Han). Maybe he was selected to be a delegation member because he was a young intellectual with keen eyes and good at recording. Were there strong trading links between China and Angkor? What sort of place did Angkor have in regional politics? Solang Uk: Of course, for a long time – Chinese records about the region existed since the 3rd century although the country was called different name by the Chinese. Zhou (the surname of Zhou Daguan – all Asians write surname first) wrote about Produce (chap. 19), Trade (chap. 20), Desirable Chinese Goods (chap. 21). Angkor was a major power on the mainland Southeast Asia. Recent lidar imaging have revealed that Angkor was a gigantic urbanised empire. I know China too was pretty developed, but was Zhou in any way impressed by what he saw? Solang Uk: Zhou did not mention canals, but he talked about huge artificial lakes called Baray. There are known three large Barays (the East, the West, and the North or Indratataka). In chapter 1, “On the City Perimeter”, he talked a lot about huge monuments with golden towers. His words: “Maybe this is the reason why foreign merchants often talk about the rich and noble Zenla”. What do we know about the king he visited, Indravarman III ? Solang Uk: Indravarman III is the son-in-law of the preceding King Jayavarman VIII. He was a General of the latter whose daughter (Indravarman III’s wife) stole the King’s royal sacred sword and gave it to her husband. The crown prince (son of Jayavarman VIII, name not known) plotted an attack on the General, but the plot was discovered, he was arrested, jailed, and had his toes cut off. Upon the King’s abdication in his old age, the General took the throne as Indravarman III (his other name is Sri Srindravarman). “I was told by the locals that the king goes up to sleep inside the golden tower every night. Inside there is a nine-headed snake spirit that is the lord of the land for the whole country, and is in the form of a woman. Every night she sees the king first, sleep; and couples with him. Even the queen would not dare go in. The king leaves at the ‘second drum beat’. Only then can the king sleep with the queen or with the royal concubines. If the snake spirit does not appear one night, the time of death for the king has arrived. If the barbarian king fails to go up one night, then disaster will certainly happen.” Zhou Daguan Were the people of Angkor literate like the Chinese? If so, has any of their literature survived? Solang Uk: Do you think the people who can build an empire that rivals the Chinese were less literate than the latter? Alas, the books did not survive the hot and humid tropical climate. Describe to us what Zhou would have seen in Angkor? Solang Uk:  In addition to the two gigantic lakes mentioned by Zhou, all monuments have surrounding moats 100m – 200m wide. The city of Yashodarapura known today as Angkor Thom is square shape of 3km each side surrounded by a moat 100m wide. There are dozens of temples outside Angkor Thom all surrounded by moats, the famous one being the well known 7th wonder of the world, Angkor Wat with a moat 200m wide and a perimeter of 5.5km. What sort of religion did the people of Angkor have? What sort of diet did they have, and what were their life expectancy? Solang Uk: Zhou mentioned three concurrent religions – Buddhism, Hinduism (predominantly Sivaism, occasionally Vishnuism), and ascetism. They ate fish and rice, obviously. We are talking about the 13th century world – who is to know people’s life expectancy! Do we know anything about the past times of the people of Angkor? Solang Uk: Zhou mentioned that practically every month of the year, there are different sorts of entertainment: 4th month, the ceremony of ball throwing, 5th month ceremony of welcoming/washing Buddha, 7th month, the ceremony of burning freshly ripen paddy, 8th month festival of music and dance, and pig fights and elephant fights, etc. The bas-relief sculptures on the Bayon temple are full of daily life scenes with dancers, musicians, pig fights, traders, tea shops, soldiers, and war scenes, etc. How important has Zhou Daguan’s book been to Cambodians and their understanding of history? Solang Uk: Zhou’s Record is very important for Cambodia as it is the only surviving written document on Cambodia in the 13th century. It fills the gap in the Cambodian history. Other documents of the time that were written on animal skin or palm leaves did not survive the tropical climate – moulds and bacteria love the hot and humid environment of Angkor. Other parts of Cambodian history were deciphered from stone inscriptions in Sanskrit or in ancient Khmer, and they refer mainly to the good deeds of Kings and high officials. What happened to Daguan after his return to China? Solang Uk: Soon after his return to China, Zhou must have had his Record published in his native province of Zhejiang, but the date is not exactly known. The Record was subsequently republished by different editors. According to the French sinologist, the late Paul Pelliot, there are now seven different versions of Zhou Daguan’s Record on Cambodia, but all are based on single archetype. Zhou Daguan was not well known in China. To China, Cambodia (although Angkor was well known then) was not so important as Japan, Korea, Mongolia where the threat of invasion/war is its main constant preoccupation. In 1296 AD, Chinese traveler Zhou Daguan visited Angkor-capital of Cambodia’s powerful Khmer Empire-as a member of a diplomatic mission sent by Emperor Temur Khan. Today, Zhou’s written record of his residency is the only surviving eyewitness account of that extraordinary and mysterious time and place. Customs of Cambodia – Zhou Daguan Paperback, is published by is published by DatASIA and available from Amazon     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story“A Balloon Seller” by Takane Kiuchi (published here with the permission of the translator, Toshiya Kamei) n a certain town there once was a curious man who made his living selling balloons. The man lived at the top of a large tree in a park. During the day he would stroll around the town selling balloons of various colors, such as blue, red, green, and purple. When evening arrived, he would return to his home up in the tree. On his way home the balloon seller would buy himself something for dinner in the first store he stepped into, whichever it might be. For that reason, sometimes he would end up buying nothing but odd things. Also, he was careful to eat as light as possible because of his line of work. So he would buy only two things at each time. Depending on the store, he would buy only a caramel and a cracker at times, only a fig fruit and a bunch of grapes at other times, and only a carrot and an onion at another time. Even so, the balloon seller found all this funny. He would stuff his purchased items into his pockets and go home with a smile on his face. His home was the largest and tallest tree in the park. It was a magnificent tree, indeed. The balloon seller would always whistle his way back. Also, he would think about everything that had happened that day. He would remember every one of his customers, pretty girls and lively boys who had bought his balloons. As he walked while whistling and smiling, his heart would gradually become lighter. By the time he had reached under the tree, his body had become fluffy and light, so he would be able to fly up to his home with the floating power of the balloons he hadn’t sold that day. That’s why he was able to live high up in the tree, where there was a branch that had grown in the shape of a soft bed among the thick leaves. He would lay down his tired body there. He would tie his balloons tightly to a branch, and then eat slowly what he had bought earlier. Whatever came out of his pockets, he would savor his dinner with a smile. When he lay on his back, the stars would shine brightly above him. While humming or whistling a tune, the balloon seller would feel cozy and doze off into sleep. In the morning, a chorus of chirping birds would wake him up. Then he would loosen the strings of his balloons from the branch, hold half of them with each hand, jump off the tree, and land softly on the ground. Then he would walk up to a nearby food stand and eat his breakfast. After that, he would spend the whole day strolling and hawking his balloons. Day after day passed, without any incident. However, one night, the balloon seller was no longer able to go back to his home in the tree. What on earth happened? This is a story of how he lost his ability to fly home. * * * The day had been sultry since the morning. The wind blew hard, raising dust. It was a dreadfully unpleasant day. The whole town had become cranky, irritable, and spiteful. Even though the balloon seller headed for home as usual, he couldn’t think of anything pleasant. Earlier that day a little girl had stamped her feet and burst into tears, complaining that her mother had bought her a green balloon, instead of a blue one. A little boy got angry and kicked another boy, who said, “My balloon is bigger than yours.” Two boys, who were brothers, fought over their balloons. When both of them let go of the balloons, which floated up to the sky, they cried. None of the other children who had bought balloons did a good thing. While remembering such things, the balloon seller, too, felt angry and disgusted. On that day, he, who hardly stopped grinning all day, from morning until night, didn’t crack a smile at all, not even once. On top of that, the mean-spirited wind tried to blow his balloons away in all directions. The balloon seller fell into a terrible mood. In addition, the balloon seller marched into a hardware store by mistake when he went shopping for diner. Now he was in a fix because he had decided to buy in the first store he entered. “Uh, let me see… Please give me a couple of nails,” he said reluctantly. But suddenly he changed his mind. “No, I want a nail and a rivet.” Even though they were too hard for dinner, he would rather have them both. He then put them into his pocket and started trudging along the darkened path. “I wanted to eat something delicious to cheer myself up, but I have nothing but a nail and rivet. What did I do to deserve this?” the balloon seller whispered. He couldn’t see a single star when he stood under the tree. His heart became heavier and heavier. He couldn’t even bring himself to whistle. Unlike other times, his body didn’t become light. No matter how hard he tried to jump, his heavy feet dropped back to the ground. The balloon seller pulled the nail from his pocket and threw it away because he wanted to make his body lighter, even a little. But nothing changed. His feet were stuck to the ground, not willing to fly. Having no other choice, he tried to climb the trunk of the tree. However, it was so thick that it would take three or four men, each with arms outstretched, to encircle the tree. He just dropped to the ground and banged the tip of his nose. “Ah, darn it!” the balloon seller said, quite upset. “I can’t go home ever again. Balloons, why don’t you pull me up with more force? Is it really too much to ask you to lift me up?” Then the balloons pulled him up with all their might. But the balloon seller’s body felt like lead. Finally, the strings snapped and the balloons glided away in every direction. “Ah, this is the end of everything!” the balloon seller said, hurling himself to the ground. Then he began to pluck weeds as if tearing out his hair. “Oh, what’s the use of doing that?” Startled by the voice, the balloon seller looked up at the tree and saw an owl whose face was familiar to him. “So what should I do?” “You should go look for the balloons.” “Why? It’s impossible to do that.” “On your way home, you weren’t whistling, like always. Now, that’s a problem.” “But I don’t feel like whistling. I feel so bored, worried, and disappointed that I don’t know what to do.” “Why are you feeling that way? That’s what’s the matter with you. People got upset because you were in a bad mood. That’s why you have lost your balloons and can’t go home,” said the owl. “Why don’t you whistle now?” The balloon seller got back to his feet. But he still wasn’t in the mood to whistle. Even so, in the end only feeble sounds came out of his mouth. They were so frail and weak that he would have burst into laughter if he weren’t in such a bad mood. The balloon seller whistled again. This time it was better. “You’re getting better at it,” said the owl. Then as the balloon seller started to whistle one of his favorite tunes, his heart began to feel lighter. “I bought a nail for dinner! How silly of me!” He burst into a loud chortle. “How come I didn’t find this funny before?” The owl joined the balloon seller in laughter. And then they picked up all the balloons together. Before he realized it, the balloon seller’s body had become light and afloat, so he was easily able to return to his home in the tree. * * * After that, no matter how bad the day had gone, the balloon seller would always whistle his way home. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureIn Nepal every school boy knows the name Laxmi Devkota (1909-59), author of the short Napelese epic Muna Madan. All over Himalaya his works are revered as classics, yet in Europe and the West his folk inspired narrative poems remain largely unknown. In a special interview one of his two surviving sons, Padma Devkota, explains the continuing attraction of his father’s stories, and why a tale like Muna Madan still fascinates today, almost 100 years after it was written. Why has Muna Madan become such a central work in Nepalese literature? Professor Padma Devkota: Muna-Madan remains a central work in Nepali literature for several reasons. Briefly, it is the first major Romantic work in Nepali literature which revolts against the age-long Sanskrit classical tradition and seeks to tell the story, as Professor Shreedhar Lohani observes in “Life, Love, and Death in Muna Madan,” of real people through lives of fictional characters, and to fictionalize real geographical space. This is the first work in Nepali literature which elevates the jhyaure song, an otherwise neglected cultural space, to a significant literary height. Next, it tells a story of the common Nepali people which remains realistically contemporary in the context of the international labor market which still attracts many indigent Nepali workers. It is a heart-rending tragedy written in a simple diction which even the illiterate people of Nepal easily understood. They found their own lives written all over the pages of this book. Even then, Poet Devkota himself was criticized by elitist writers as having done something that would mar his literary career. Muna Madan deals with issues like poverty and caste, to what extent are these issues in present day Nepal? Professor Padma Devkota: The caste system is not a central theme of Muna-Madan. It is mentioned only once in the course of the story when Madan’s overwhelming gratitude to the Good Samaritan figure, the Bhote, causes Madan to mention his own caste. Furthermore, the caste system itself was efficient at the time it was created. Later practices cast a slur on its original intent, which was simply a division of labor within a small, ancient community. Quite obviously it has outlasted its use in contemporary societies and the Government of Nepal has taken efficient action against all caste discriminations. However, even as poets and thinkers point up the correct path, human habits die hard. We now fear the rise of economic castes such as those that encrust capitalistic societies. I believe Nepal, especially after its secularization, has been more successful fighting the discriminatory caste system than it has succeeded in fighting poverty. Tell us a little about your father, Laxmi Prasad Devkota. What sort of man was he? Professor Padma Devkota: Laxmi Devkota is popular as Mahakavi (Great Poet/Epicist). The public was quick to recognize the exceptional qualities of a poet whose fifty-ninth book, The Witch Doctor and Other Essays, a collection of thirty essays written originally in English, appeared on November 11, 2017. There are several other documents waiting to be published. He wrote in practically all the genres of literature and excelled in poetry and essay. Initially, he wrote under the influence of his Sanskrit background and English education. He started out as a Romantic poet in the Nepali tradition but continually grew as a poet to a literary modernity which the bulk of his writings have shaped. As an intellectual, he participated in the socio-political life of the nation, which he loved with all his heart. As a writer, he had vision, imagination and mastery over the medium. He also raised his voice against colonialism, imperialism, discriminations and injustice. As a thinker, he asserted the necessity of scientific and logical thinking to counteract blind faith and orthodoxy which hindered progress. As a human being, he had the gift of compassion and empathy. Legends continue growing around the life of the poet. What kind of reception did Muna Mudan receive when it was published? Professor Padma Devkota: Muna-Madan is a long narrative poem written in the lyrical form called jhyaure in which learned people of the time found, as Devkota himself explains, “a low standard of rural taste, an inkling of distancing from civilization or of showiness or trace of ill-manners of the hills.” He tells us how the pundits “started wrinkling their nose” at the mention of jhyaure. For them, the merits of literature were with Kalidas and Bhavabhuti, the classical Sanskrit poets. For Devkota, they were not national poets and their literary output was not the Nepali national literature. So, he compares his situation to that of his predecessor, Bhanubhakta Acharya, the Adi Kavi or the First Poet of Nepal. During Bhanubhakta’s time, the elitists asked if it was possible to write poetry in Nepali. But Bhanubhakta used the Sanskrit classical meter and produced wonderful poetry in Nepali. Similarly, in Devkota’s time, the elitists asked if it was possible to write poetry in jhyaure. Devkota elevated the status of jhyaure by writing serious literature in this rhythm of the common heart. Quickly, Muna-Madan gained popularity and it still remains the best-seller even to this day.  There is a movie version of the novel, is this film faithful to the original text? Professor Padma Devkota: I would have to look at the movie again to tell you just how faithful it is. When I watched it for the first time years ago, I thought it was sufficiently faithful to the original text, but that is just a passing claim. Gaps, additions and interpretations of the movie need a more serious revisiting. Watch the movie trailer  Could you describe the literary style of that your father uses in his narrative? Is he a realist writer, a naturalist? A modernist? Professor Padma Devkota: Muna-Madan is a long narrative poem written with the ballad in mind. It uses a lyrical form called the jhyaure which was popular among people at work, especially in the paddy fields where young boys and girls teased each other with songs and fell in love. Although Devkota’s poem is tragic in essence in keeping with the eastern view of life, he insists on the importance of action, which alone can give significance to life. Throughout the poem, there are reversals of the imaginary and the real, of gender roles, of situations, and so on. The poem is romantic in vision, emotionally well-balanced and under full control of the writer. It uses fresh metaphors and images that have a lasting impression upon the mind of the reader. The work is popularly acclaimed as being simple, but simplicity of diction is counteracted by the poet’s imaginative flights that trail the syntax behind them. It is as if my father wanted to apply William Wordsworth’s famous poetic declaration in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads to Nepali literature: to write about real people in their own tongues. In trying to select a “language really used by men,” Devkota strikes gold and achieves a simplicity which stands in great contrast to the complexity he was later able to achieve in the epic language of Nepali Shakuntala, for instance. In terms of its revolt against the classical tradition and its attempt to speak in the simple language of the common people, Muna-Madan is modernist too. It does make a very powerful statement against discriminatory caste practices.  In which way does his novel fall into the narrative of Nepalese literary history? Professor Padma Devkota: Nepali derives from Pali, which derives from Sanskrit. Very early Nepali writers wrote devotional poetry in Sanskrit; but Bhanubhakta Acharya decided to freely translate Ramanyan into Nepali using the classical Sanskrit meters. He also wrote a few poems about the political and social issues of his time. Then came Motiram Bhatta and introduced the Urdu gazal and wrote many love poems. Lekhanath Poudyal stuck to the Sanskrit tradition but wrote a Nepali that gleamed with polished language. Balakrishna Sama, a playwright and a poet, looked westward and to science and philosophy. Laxmi Prasad Devkota introduced Romanticism and Modernity to Nepali literature. Briefly again, my father’s poetry is spontaneous, deeply felt, sincere and honest, and has a touch of spirituality in it. He loves his nation, but goes glocal. He finds his inspiration in the histories and mythologies of India, Greater India (Bharatvarsha), Greece, Rome and Nepal. For him, mythology offers a proper window into the hearts of the peoples of the world. For the human being must stand at the center of the universe. The human being is the only significantly worthy object of worship. And the poet remains a liberal humanist.  Why do you think Muna Madan is so little known in Europe? Professor Padma Devkota: No serious attempt has been made by the Nepalese Government to introduce its culture and literature to the Europeans, who don’t read Nepali anyway. And why should they? Nepal is not an economic or military giant. So, its richest cultural mine awaits discovery by individuals who wander in search of the best in world literature. Some such as Dom Moreas who met Devkota at his death-bed and reminisced him in Gone Away: An Indian Journal or David Rubin whose translations of Devkota’s poems appear under the title Nepali Visions, Nepali Dreams or Michael Hutt of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, who translated Muna-Madan are examples of Western scholars who have discovered him. More recently, international scholarship has grown around Devkota’s work. One such study, though peripheral to Muna-Madan, is that of Anna Stirr’s on “Sounding and Writing a Nepali Public Sphere: The Music and Language of Jhyaure” (Asian Music 46, 2015). Although Devkota himself started the tradition of translating his own works and those of his colleagues’ into English, and although he also started the tradition of writing serious literature originally in English, we have not been able to publicize it beyond the frontiers of our immediate neighbors.  Are there many foreign translations of the story? Professor Padma Devkota: Not as many as or as good as we would like to see. Some Nepali translators have attempted rendering Muna-Madan into English. Among them are my father’s brother, Madhusudhan Devkota, and Tirtha Man Tuladhar both of whom attempted a translation of this work in 1970. Ananda Shrestha’s rendering into English appeared in 1995. Foreigners, too, have tried to translate this work in their own ways. A. M. Syangden and Ganga Singh Rai form India attempted translating Muna-Madan in 1994 and 1996, respectively. Their major problem is with the language itself. Michael J. Hutt’s translation appeared in 1996. It remains the most noted version to this day. Liu Xian translated it into Chinese in 2011. Portions of the text have been translated into Russian, Korean, French, German and other European languages, too. All of them have translated from the original text of Muna-Madan, which is shorter by 399 lines from the text revised by the poet in 1958. This one remains to be translated by someone.     Click to buy an English translation “Muna Madan follows the life of Madan who leaves his wife , Muna,  and goes to Lhasa to make money, and while returning he becomes sick on the way. His friends leave him on the road and come back home saying he has died. The story also shows the life of a poor woman who suffered much without her husband and later dies because of grief. Finally he is rescued by a man who is considered to be of lower caste in Nepal. That is why it is said that a man is said to be great not by caste or race but by a heart full of love and humanity. When Madan returns to Kathmandu after regaining his health, he discovers that his wife is dead and becomes grief-stricken. Madan comes to realize that money is of no value at that point. In this poem, Devkota has written about the biggest problems in Nepalese society at the time.” (Wiki) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyThis story begins in the gas-lit and fog-covered alleys of Victorian London. There are prostitutes in the night along  the banks of the Thames, shouting young boys sell newspapers and horses make their way across cobblestones. There is music from a gambling hall, loud cheers and a doctor makes his bet. He is well-dressed compared to the others there, his dark suit and coat are clean and unlike those creatures of the night around him, his grey beard has a healthy well-kept glow. Dices are thrown, money is exchanged back and forth as the doctor drinks. He becomes intoxicated, not only by the mild beer, but by the perpetual thrill of the game. His roaring laughter is often heard  from a distance, even overwhelming the false notes of the piano and the hum of the anonymous throng. But then suddenly it is as if time runs out, the music stops, the crowds disperse and he left alone with a man holding a quarter of the doctor’s life-savings in his merciless hands. Being a medical man, the doctor glances at the man’s face, almost trying to analyze away the man’s resolute features, his heavy build and uncompromising stare. But moments later, he is grabbed by men who have crept up on him unseen, and drawn into an alley. One punch to the gut, and the doctor falls over by a dustbin as the heavy wooden door slams shut behind him. There is total silence. He is removed from both streets and shop windows. He looks up, and sees stars glisten as he gets to his feet. In the morning, he wakes up with a throbbing head-ache in his bed next to his wife. His baby cries in another room. At first, he is filled with joy, thinking how wonderful it is to wake up to such a spectacle. But then he remembers that it might soon be gone. In the next few weeks, the problem consumes him. He is unable to concentrate on his job. But being a very respected man, none of the patients have the audacity to complain. How would he find the funds to continue? What could he do to undo the damage? The doctor was in luck. That winter a terrible pandemic hit London. Fever, running noses, coughing – crying babies in his crowded waiting room. It was all very lovely, he thought. But was it enough? He often worked into the night, and sat alone counting coins at his wooden desk by a solitary candle until dawn. Walking home as the early morning rays penetrate the smog, standing on Westminster Bridge staring down-stream just as the bending river is revealed by morning, he realizes that it was not enough. He sighs. But the doctor is in luck again. One day, a new patient enters his room. He notices him immediately because he is much taller and stronger than his usual patients. It has now been half a year since his disastrous gambling loss, but the doctor immediately recognizes the man who ran the game in the gambling hall. He, of course, being a professional thug, does not recognize the doctor. The doctor soon realizes that he is a nobody, just another worthless victim. The man talks to him as if they have never met. Not being very strong or brave himself, the doctor hides his fury behind a polite smile. He listens to the man’s chest, makes the usual examinations. The man has a mild cough, nothing more. He walks over to scribble a prescription in a corner hidden by a screen. But as his pen is about to hit the paper, he thinks: what a pity that the man does not have a more serious illness? Something that could both make him suffer and helpless, the way he had been helpless in that alley, where he lost his financial security, and perhaps even his well-furnished apartment? For a second, he dismissed the idea, shook his head and resigned to his fate. But then he turned, glanced over the screen and observed the unsympathetic countenance of the man. He was really very ugly in daylight, there were scars on his hand and arm, as if they had been badly cut by a blunt edge years ago, perhaps a broken bottle, and then they had healed very very slowly, leaving an unnecessary blemish on an already rugged appearance. The doctor was suddenly filled with contempt. He grabs a piece of cloth still dripping with blood from the pregnant consumptive female who had visited his clinic before the thug. When he feels the moist on his fingers, he gets an idea. He grabs a bottle of cough syrup, opens it, places a funnel on top and squeezes the cloth until blood drips down into the interior of the bottle. It is not much, he thinks as darker drops dilutes and vanish in the warm liquid. But if certain unverified theories about the transmission of disease were true, it might be enough. He shakes the bottle, cleans his hands and returns to his patient. “Sir,” he begins politely, “I have here a bottle of the most common cough syrup. This is what you require in order to regain your health quickly. But it is imperative that you follow my instructions to the letter. This medicine must be stored in a cold room. So every evening, try to lower the temperature in your dwelling a little, perhaps by keeping a door ajar, or not putting as much kindling on your fire as normal.” The man makes a grunt of dissatisfaction, knowing quite well how uncomfortable the evenings are when the chill of dusk descends. But, like most patients at the time, he also knows that all medicines require suffering. So, he does not protest, but nods and stares to the floor. The doctor smiles as he realizes his power over the brute.“This first bottle is not cheap, but it is essential that you take it every evening and morning. You see, there are some – very few don’t worry – who do develop further symptoms. Then you must double your dose.”“I understand”, the man says and gets up. “What do I pay you?”, he says as his height almost looms over his much smaller physician.When he hears the sum, he shouts “But Dear Lord!!”. The doctor is suddenly intimidated. What can he do if the man simply beats him to the floor, takes his medicine and departs? But then the thug reaches for coins from his pocket, wipes snot from his mustache, grabs his coat and pays what he is due. The doctor sighs with relief as the man shuts the door behind him. From his window, the doctor sees him walk down the street, stopping to cough by some derelict barrel and then vanish behind some horse. The doctor smiles, and almost laughs. He draws the curtains and decides to leave work early that day. On his way home, however, he suddenly realizes that his problem is not yet solved. He had inflicted pain on a very evil man, but the debt was still there. Nothing had changed. The joy that he felt was completely gone as greeted his wife. He had still betrayed her, and he could barely look at the baby. Three weeks later, there is a knock at the door of his clinic, and the brute appears once again. This time his face is covered in sweat. But this was a man of immense strength, so he stood upright still, like some towering bronze pillar. The doctor let him in, examined him and immediately recognized the early symptoms of consumption. At  first he was a little confused, had to hide behind the screen in the corner again to think. He kept glancing at the man in secret trying to make up his mind. Was he happy, or was he not happy about this? Then suddenly the force of the gut punch came back to him. He was happy. In fact, the doctor was thrilled. He once again looked up at bottles from his previous patient. He remembered that a patient he had bled that morning suffered from the worst case of syphilis he had ever seen. In fact, he had been frightened, and thrown most of the rubbish away immediately. But there was one bloody rag left. The doctor meticulously repeats what he done the first time. He looks at his sweating patient, but is still nervous. At first he is uncertain about whether he would dare to up the price on his cough syrup. But then he thinks about his wife and child, how they would suffer because of this horrible giant. “This is an extra strong mixture,” the doctor says, “I am afraid it is a little more expensive.” The giant sighs, and the doctor turns to hide his smile as he is paid. “Thank you, Sir, the doctor says. “Come back if you get any worse, Mr Jones-Smythe”. The brute suddenly smiles, shakes his head and says. “Never mind about those fancy names. Most people just call me Bricklayer-John.”‘ “Bricklayer-John?” “Yes, I am a brick layer. Big by birth, but work has made me strong, you see. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. It gives me a few extra bob now and again. I just stand by some door most of time. Some weasel pays me a five bob for this. But only once a month.” “I see”, doctor says as the man leaves. The doctor then returns to his family in the evening, but now he is a little confused. Had he done the right thing? What did he really remember from that night he lost his money? So much time had passed that the facts were blurred. Who did what, and when? Was it Bricklayer-John who had hit him? Looking at his baby and his wife, his worries settled. The man was still not a nice person. He was still just as unsympathetic, even if it was all part time. Part-time thug was just as bad as full-time thug. Now six months passed, and as if by a miracle the doctor managed to get his budget in order. He reckoned that it would take him five years to recover his loss. But he was in charge, and his darling wife and baby would never know. Patients started coming in larger numbers that autumn. There was much to do for an important person. So much responsibility. One day, a pregnant woman entered his office, the most gorgeous creature put on this earth, he thought. The doctor, however, was a man completely devoted to his wife, both in spirit and in mind. He would recognize beauty wherever he saw it, but that would be as far it would go. As he treated the woman, he recognized the symptoms of consumption. He almost had to look away  as he informed her of his diagnosis. He heard a sob. He took a seat next to her. “Will you manage?”, he said. “I suppose I will have to,” answered the woman, her long black hair slightly lifted by a sudden gust of wind from an open window. “I will shut the window”, the doctor said and got up. “You see, my late husband was a hard working man. He would work from morning till evening. He said work made him into a bull. But bricklayers meet a lot of people. Then he had an extra night job sometimes as well. I can forgive John for giving me this plague. But never for being unfaithful to me.” The doctor turned suddenly towards his patient and stared at her in horror. “John gave me syphilis, as well, you see. Bricklayer-John, what a monster he was!!! But at least he left me well cared for.” by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureLaura White is a renowned expert on Jane Austen. However, she has chosen a novel approach to this classic British icon. The Nebraska professor is an innovator in the emerging field of digital humanities, and studies literature by means of a computer. The rigid divide between human creativity and the world of binary computer code is quickly being bridged, according to Google.  I had a few words with professor White about this new branch of study, and what it means for writing and literary studies. You have studied Jane Austen, have you discovered something new about her, something we couldn’t have discovered without the use of a computer? Professor White: Yes, I think so. What we did was identify (code) each and every word in the six major novels as to speaker. That’s easy to do for the narrator and character speech, but trickier with free indirect diction, when the narrator is “speaking for” a character, using his or her vocabulary and point of view. Such shared speech we coded as such, and weighted to reflect the depth of ventriloquism. The results are not yet fully known, because what we created is a public sandbox in which people can design their own searches about diction to use the coding we created—there is a lot waiting to be discovered. But at the very least we found that Austen’s use of free indirect discourse (and she was the first major novelist to exploit FID fully) was far more complex and varied than we (and all the scholars writing on the subject thus far) had suspected. We also have found some cute nuggets—for instance, the fact that no male character in Austen uses the word “wedding” and no female character uses the word “marriage”! When you began your studies of Austen, did you have to create your own methodology? Professor White: We had to create coding that would properly reflect the complexity of Austen’s speakers: was the speech spoken or written? How many levels of speaker are in a given phrase (in one letter, for instance, we have the string of Mrs.Younge-told-Darcy-told-Mr.Gardiner-told-Mrs.Gardiner-told-Elizabeth-told-reader). But the flexible marvel of .xml already existed, and even more importantly, the program TokenX, designed by our team member Brian Pytlik Zillig (Professor at UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities), was at our service. TokenX determines unique frequencies of words and thus provides an easy-to-use interface for text analysis (especially through frequency tables) and visualization. I have heard of similar studies on Agatha Christie, and that they were able to create a profile of her style. Is this your goal with Jane Austen? Professor White: You can’t actually get to a full knowledge of Austen’s style, even by understanding her patterns of diction, because verbal irony (and its reverberations) can’t be caught mathematically—and her verbal irony is pervasive. But you can learn a lot about her use of free indirect diction, which is in turn important to understanding her style. One could make a profile about percentages of indirect diction, dialogue, and so on—but that would only be helpful to compare with other writers—or, using big data searches, comparing that data against the profile of such a thing as “the eighteenth-century British novel” or “Henry James” (the latter being an author who took Austen’s innovations with FID and ran with them about as far as they can be run). Our project may indeed do such things in the future—it’s the next obvious step. If you had something resembling a profile, not only of her choice of words, but of the larger patterns in her plot construction, do you think a computer could emulate Austen? Could it produce a fake Austen, so to speak? Professor White: You could perhaps create an Austen that could fool some people, but it wouldn’t be a good fake. Unless you can feed in her values (not possible) AND her education, including but not restricted to her reading (difficult) AND the operations of her irony (not possible), you’ll just get a partial simulacrum. This new approach could be used to compare authors, and then detect larger patterns in literary and cultural history. Austen is of course a central figure in the development of the English novel. In the past, this has been studied by Ian Watt and others. Do you think we now could have a more empirical history of literature? Professor White: I do think we can have more data that tells us interesting things about patterns of diction and clusters of tropes across large bodies of texts—a lot of people at UNL, such as my colleagues Steve Ramsay and Matt Jockers, do work on just that sort of thing. Matt for instance has very recently uncovered a lot of information about patterns among popular fiction, especially bestsellers. If we can design the right questions, we can find some interesting answers. But as I pointed out before, huge literary elements such as irony can’t be reckoned computationally, so a Theory of All Lit from digital humanities is impossible. Gillian Beer, Arthur O. Lovejoy and others have specialized in detecting patterns from the history of ideas in fiction. Can a computer assist us in this type of study? Professor White: This kind of work is my favorite kind of scholarship to read, that which finds the largest patterns in imaginative literature over the centuries. I’d recommend your readers go to Northrop Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism (1957) for the best of such of work; Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis (1946) is also marvelous. For finding the largest patterns in the Bible, read Frye’s The Great Code (1982) (admittedly very demanding). And, yes, to some degree, computers can help with this kind of work, especially with discerning patterns of diction and plot (though in the latter case obviously the text won’t tell you its own plot—a human being has to schematize what happens and feed that information in). Where do you see the field of digital humanities in 20 years or so? Professor White: Moving upward and onwards. By the 90s, humanities had been somewhat exhausted following the usual roads of literary criticism—I don’t generally advise students to focus on Jane Austen, for instance, because it’s very hard to find room for an original thought. One way the humanities are being revitalized is with a much more stringent attention to history, and digital humanities plays a role here too by making it easy to read texts long forgotten, literary and otherwise. For instance, in my recent book on Carroll’s Alice books, I made much use of the texts in Carroll’s library of about 3,000 volumes. They were all auctioned off at his death, but catalogs of the library which have been produced by Jeffrey Stern and Charlie Lovett let one read his library cover to cover through Googlebooks, Hathitrust, and other such digitization initiatives. When read in detail, one finds this virtual library corrects many of the critical and biographical misperceptions about Carroll. And these resources are just a small part of how digital humanities is transforming literary studies: visualization, archives, data-mining all play a part. Some people think that creativity is unique to us as humans, and may feel threatened by the fact that our “cultural soul” is gradually dissected by computers. What do you say to them? Professor White: I’d agree that creativity is unique to humans, though some of the higher apes do seem to like to finger-paint. Computers can’t be creative—it isn’t possible. They can be programmed to make wild outputs, and we might think creative thoughts about those generated outputs, but there’s no creativity on the part of the computer involved. We are more threatened by computers in terms of surveillance; we are not at all private when we’re online, and big data (which doesn’t care about us as individuals) can nonetheless potentially be retrofitted to be small data, fingering us one by one. So people are right to worry about this—since human beings are in charge of computers, it is very unlikely that they will always be used for good (no other human invention has been).   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIn 2008 Radio Prague covered the publication of a new Czech book about Jean-Paul Belmondo (1933-2021, he passed away a few days ago). Their brief report described Belmondo’s unique standing in the old Soviet-bloc country; the only major, western action star to gain a foothold behind the iron curtain during the Cold War. Through him a generation of Eastern Europeans got to experience capitalist action flicks. Among hipsters around the world today Belmondo is sometimes elevated to a rugged icon of snobbish intellectualism, through the early films of the Nouvelle Vague-movement. But in Eastern Europe he is remembered as B-movie royalty, the macho man with a twinkle in his eye. Of course, it was Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960) that became his break-through, but in many ways his collaboration with Phillipe de Broca (1933-2004) was just as important for his future career. De Broca had been a film photographer during the war in Algeria, and became so disillusioned by the events he witnessed that he decided to make more cheerful and uplifting movies. He started out as an assistant for a few Nouvelle Vague directors, but changed paths and made comedy farces when he established himself as a director. His two producers, Alexandre Mnouchkine and Georges Dancigers, suggested Belmondo for the role of the brash swashbuckling Robin Hood-character Cartouche. A few years earlier they had produced the adventure classic Fanfan la Tulipe (1952) with the legend Gérard Philipe in the lead, and now de Broca bet on Belmondo to revive the swashbuckling genre. Cartouche (1962) was an instant box-office hit, and two years later that success was followed by L’homme de Rio (1964) – an action-packed contemporary adventure about a soldier (played by Belmondo) who pursues the men who kidnapped his girlfriend from Paris to the Amazonian jungles. The Oscar-nominated movie features a series of spectacular action-scenes, and de Broca declared in an interview that the movie was made because “he needed a hit”. His producers had only been reluctantly swayed, and he had spent five months finishing the script. The result was satisfactory, even to himself, but the film was by no means a favorite for de Broca among his own productions. He said: “This was the kind of movie I longed to see when I was 14”. As a director, de Broca often took a hands-off approach to his actors, and Belmondo tended to follow his instincts. “Belmondo will always be Belmondo. You cannot change him. You cannot hide his personality. When he plays a drunkard, he is a drunk Belmondo. When he is in love, he is Belmondo in love.” (de Broca in Gardner 1969-70: 153-157). Belmondo’s charismatic self shone through, especially in B-movies like Tendre voyou (1966), Flic ou voyou (1979), Le cerveau (1969) and L’as des as (1982). The two latter were action-comedies by Gérard Oury, France’s pre-eminent comedy director, most famous for his collaboration with the hilarious genius Louis de Funès. In the 60s and 70s, Belmondo became affiliated with the commercial side of French cinema. Godard and Truffaut ruled the film festivals and the student-bodegas, but ordinary Frenchmen rushed to the cinemas to experience the shenanigans of Louis de Funès and the hazardous stunts of Jean-Paul Belmondo, his broken nose and seductive smile. To critics like Pierre Maillot, however, Belmondo represented the “disillusionment” of French identity because so many of the models for genre movies were American. Two of the great “golden ages” that have supported the self-esteem of French cinematic culture have been the poetic realism of the 30s and 40s and the Nouvelle Vague (“New Wave”) of the 50s and 60s. As a major star and the leading man of the Nouvelle Vague Belmondo therefore became the natural successor to Jean Gabin, the icon of the 30s. But where Gabin had acted tempered and cool – often under dire circumstances – Belmondo would burst with joie de vivre. There was a generational gap between parents in the 1950s and the new rebellious youth. The young wanted more than traditional French values, they needed happy endings. The vulgar neon-lights of Hollywood and Las Vegas beckoned in the distance. Belmondo grew out of the Nouvelle Vague into a new commercial reality. The Armenian-born Henri Verneuil (1920-2002) was a director unconvinced by new wave-ideology. The Belmondo we witness in Verneuil’s movies was rougher, the soldier in the second world war, the tough criminal and the uncompromising cop. The inspiration for Peur sur la ville (1975) was probably Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. Belmondo plays a policeman pursuing the serial killer Minos through the streets of Paris – in stylish cinematography. The Belmondo we see in this movie is not his usual careless self, the lives of young women were at stake. A contemporary reviewer called it “a tough and ruthless movie”. The newspaper stated that “It was impressive to see Belmondo dangling in a rope from a building, jumping between roof-tops several floors above the asphalt and making subway journeys on top of the cars. Because Belmondo has no stuntman…” (Aftenposten, 06.02.1976) Belmondo also kept a serious face in the gangster movies Borsalino (1970) and Le voleur (1967). The latter was directed by Jacques Cousteau’s old cameraman, Louis Malle, today one of the major names in the history of French cinema. In Le Voleur (1967) Belmondo shines as an actor. He penetrates the mind of a professional thief. He persuasively portrays nerves of steel and deliberate theft. According to the contemporary press Belmondo used all his tricks, “his whole range of charm”. Like Belmondo, Malle would transcend Nouvelle Vague conventions, and create a memorable genre movie aimed at the masses, based on a novel, quite contrary to contemporary ideas about the “auteur”. Belmondo was therefore not only an actor who drifted from art into commercialism, he was a personification of a suppressed part of French cultural history. There existed another France alongside Godard and Truffaut and the other Cahiers-directors, a cinematic culture unashamedly modeled on Hollywood. Belmondo, that first ingratiating face of the Nouvelle Vague-movement, became the major box-office draw of this “other” France. He was just as charming as Roger Moore, and – at his best -adventurous to the level of Harrison Ford. by Michael Wynn editor * Sources: Philippe de Broca and Paul Gardner, «Philippe de Broca: talking to Paul Gardner», The Transatlantic Review, no. 33/34 (winter 1969-70), p. 153-157 Aftenposten (a major Norwegian newspaper), 06.02.1976, s. 6 (signed O.T.) Note: This article was originally published in the Norwegian movie review by Michael Henrik Wynn 30. januar 2014. It has been translated by him and published at this site with the consent of   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Margie Harris, Mobs magazine 1930(Courtesy of John Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon) A mystery night club queen, with a look of death in her eyes and a little black book filled with names . . . a steadily shorter list! eattle, Queen City of the Northwest, gleaming like a great, white jewel on rising ground overlooking Elliott Bay, is a city beautiful. There roses bloom the year around. There men and women live and love and die, far from the tenements and slums of the great Eastern cities.But in Seattle lies hidden one canker spot. It is the district below Yesler Way, which is the sole blot on the city’s fair escutcheon. There is to be found the last remaining trace of those other days when lumberjacks from the woods and miners from Alaska came whooping forth with gold-filled hands, demanding of Life those things of which they had been deprived.“Below Yesler” is evil, and of all the evil things within its purlieus, none is more depraved, more terrible in the minds of the decent and law-abiding than the underworld cabaret and speakeasy operated for nearly two decades by “Scar” Argyle. There gathered waterfront thugs, gangsters, racketeers, gunmen.Most fearsome of all, to the uninitiated, was its proprietor. His face was thoroughly repulsive. A great red seam led from the stiff hair above his left temple and down across the bridge of his nose. It ended at the right jawbone after creasing the cheek deeply. In healing it had drawn the flesh so that the mouth seemed cast in a permanent sneer. The right eye was so affected that half of the lower eyelid turned down, gleaming redly.That was Scar’s reminder that he once had double-crossed “Nigger George,” a piano player. True, Scar had seen to it that there was an early funeral in George’s personal social circle, but the razor slash had put a permanent end to whatever was delightful, either in countenance or disposition, of Argyle. Now he was a leering, gross mountain of fat. For hours he would sit, seemingly without movement, his piggish black eyes searching, always searching for new methods of vile profit. On a bright afternoon in March, Scar sat cursing his luck, his failing patronage and most of all the police of his precinct. Their increasing demands for graft and favors bade fair to turn his once prosperous business into a losing venture.Only that day he had received a shipment of liquor and had paid his “delivery charge” to the policeman on the beat without demur. Later he had sent to the precinct captain the usual weekly payment for protection. Now, within the last four hours, four sergeants had slipped in to see him.One had compelled him to buy four tickets for a police ball. The next had asked for two quarts of prime liquor “for the lieutenant.” Number Three asked for a couple of drinks and then borrowed five dollars.The fourth brought the crowning blow. With him came a stranger—a supposed friend. Scar had been bullied into cashing a twenty dollar check for this man. He tore it up after they left. Too many such had bounced back from his bank. Truly the lot of an underworld cabaret owner was trouble filled.The side door bell rang as Scar cogitated on his woes, and the doorman turned to say:“Lady to see youse, Scar. Good looker!”“Hell, let her in!” Scar almost spat the words. “Probably a hen cop with another touch; they’re all that have overlooked me this week.”His eyes brightened, however, as a modishly gowned, athletic appearing girl stepped through the door and looked unconcernedly about her. Few such had been there since the days of the gold rush. When her eyes encountered his, Scar beckoned. She walked to the table and took a place opposite him.“Pat Jennings told me to see you,” she said confidentially. “My name is Kate Dever. I’m on the lam from New York—witness in a gang killing, which means a year in the sticks for me. Jennings says you need a hostess to pep up your game; I need a job. Also I know my stuff, Big Boy, and the jack I can make for you will be nobody’s business. I’ll have to do it in my own way, though; no buttinskys.”As Argyle stared suspiciously at her, the girl dropped her coat from her shoulders and removed a close-fitting hat. Scar’s eyes lighted as a throat and shoulders a Diana might have envied, were revealed. He grunted in renewed admiration as the dim lights outlined a beautiful, resolute face and a frame of dark-red hair, well kept and bobbed in the latest mode.“Hell, kid,” Scar burst forth breathlessly. “Sure! You’re fixed fer life.”The tone, the gleam in his eyes, made his meaning all too clear. Kate Dever did not seek to evade his burning glance.“Yes?” she queried coldly. “You wouldn’t kid a little girl, would you, Scar? You think you want me? Then come and take me.”The man lurched to his feet with a speed surprising in one of his bulk and clawed at her in an awkward attempt to draw her into his arms. One hand fixed itself on her shoulder. Before he could do more, she sprang up, thrusting with both hands against his chest.Scar stumbled backward a step and the girl slipped out from behind the table. In her hand, seemingly juggled out of thin air, was a gleaming Spanish dagger, needle-pointed and with a blade almost paper thin. Scar eyed the knife; noted that it was held in the thrusting position—and that the point was aimed directly at his stomach. His arms dropped to his side in token of surrender.“What th’ hell do you think—?” he began thickly.Kate, smiling now, resumed her seat.“Oh, sit down, stupid,” she said quietly. “Sit down and buy me a drink. You had to learn it some time—and right at first is the best time. Remember this hereafter. I’m no man’s woman. Any man who puts his hands on me gets hurt. I know how to take care of myself morning, noon and night—also vacations. Now how about the job?”Scar had signaled for a waiter, who brought whiskey. Scar gulped down a huge portion. Kate poured a few drops in a glass with ginger ale and tossed it off.“My first and last drink in your place,” she said. “If I work here I’m served tea for whiskey, distilled water for gin and sparkling cider instead of what you call champagne. And Lord help the waiter who brings me anything else!” Here was a new type to Scar. A beautiful woman who dared to come to his own joint and flout him when the odds were all his way, would be an asset. He visioned the returning trade when the word went out through the underworld that the Argyle Club had a new hostess who could not be “made.”“You’ve got the job,” he said decisively. “Seventy-five a week and a piece of the profits over the first thousand. That’s about what I’m doin’ now.”“Big-hearted Scar!” Kate mocked him. “Hundred a week, five per cent of the gross—and I start tonight.”About to protest, Scar thought better of it and extended his hand for the underworld shake of acceptance. Instead, Kate turned sidewise, circled his arm with her left, caught the knuckles of his fist with her right and bent the member downward. Scar grinned. It was the gangster method of making the sucker loosen up from whatever he held.“Know your grapes, don’t you?” he chuckled. “Well, I’ve loosened for a yard and five per cent a week, so be here at eight. Wanna little advance?”Kate opened her purse and smiled. A wad of yellow-backed bills had been thrust in there loosely.“No, thanks,” she replied sweetly. “A nice old gentleman on the train attended to that for you. Somehow he got off at the next station; the conductor put him off. He tried to get into my berth.”“Onto all the games, hey?” Scar queried. “Now, what’s your deal?”“What are you using?” she countered, looking about at the small stage and the orchestra stand.“Pretty fair nigger string band, six dancin’ girls who double as drink grafters and cigarette girls, an’ a good boy hoofer. You sing, kid?”“Nor dance,” Kate replied. “I work from the floor; out where the money jingles and the saps need encouraging. Leave it to me, Big Fellow, and don’t mind later on if I make some changes.”Scar nodded perplexedly.“It’s O.K. by me, girlie,” he replied, “but leave Little Laura on th’ job if you can. She’s a good little guy—kinda fond of me. And by the way, kid, what’s your moniker? Got one?”Kate looked him squarely in the eye and said:“They call me ‘Cougar Kitty’—better let that spread around a little.”“She mountain lion, huh?” Scar mused. “Damn if they ain’t right.” Midnight in Scar’s cabaret was merely breakfast time in Gangland.Kate, resplendent in a gold sequin gown which cast forth points of light in every direction as she moved, sat chatting with Scar at a table near the orchestra. With them, snuggled close against the proprietor’s bulk, was the cigarette girl, Little Laura. She was a big-eyed, wistful child woman of the clinging type, but except when she looked at Scar, there was a hard little glitter in her eyes.Scar had said she was “kinda fond” of him. Strangely enough, Kate reflected, there seemed reason for the statement. Between the big-eyed girl and the gross flesh-mountain of villainy there existed some bond. When he spoke to the girl, Scar’s tone was gentle and as nearly affable as it could be. Laura was serious in her talk with him and actually seemed to enjoy his elephantine pawings.The grapevine telegraph of the underworld had carried the news of Scar’s new attraction. Already the tables had filled with a swaggering crew of gangsters, sleek haired, gorgeously dressed young gunmen, and here and there older men—cold of eye, and each seemingly determined to sit so as to face the door.Many brought their molls and, because a thug’s standing is measured by the appearance of his woman, they made a brave showing of costly garments and gleaming jewels. Only those older men, the square jawed poachers in the Land of Rackets, were alone. They hunted among the ranks of the hostesses and entertainers.Presently Kate caught Scar’s eye and nodded. He had his orders and when he lumbered to his feet and stopped the music, everyone became quiet.Scar was about to make a speech! Usually he contented himself with howling, profane comments from his chair by the orchestra.“Listen, guys and molls,” he rumbled. “Seattle ain’t so big as Noo York, but she’s just as lively, and when it comes to givin’ you the best in ent’tainment, Scar Argyle’s the boy to do it. From now on, the Argyle Club’s the live spot here. And I now takes pleasure in int’ducin’ to you Miss Kate Dever—knowed mostly as ‘Cougar Kitty,’ our new hostess.”Kate, self-possessed as her namesake in the home nest, walked to a place beside him and smiled brightly. Prolonged hand-clapping and a few cheers greeted her.“I am glad to be here,” she said, “and I want one and all of you for my best pals. Scar Argyle has given me the right to do what I please for your entertainment. The word hereafter is ‘Go as far as you like, as fast as you like, so long as you keep fairly quiet—and so long as you don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ ”New applause burst forth and Kate nodded to the orchestra. Instantly a mad, jazzing dance number flared forth. Some derisive laughs had greeted Kate’s reference to herself and some of the bolder of the young cannons left their tables to gather around her.Scar was watching, fascinated. Kate dismissed the pleas of dance partners one by one, until Speedball Kane, a leader among the gunmen and handsome in a wild, boyish fashion, clasped her about the waist. He fell into a dance step and tugged. The smile never left her face. Suddenly her hands came up apparently to hold him off, but instead they caught both of his shoulders firmly. At the same moment she stepped forward with the speed of a striking reptile. She thrust her toe back of his left heel, then pushed him backward with all her surprising strength.Though he was a rough-and-tumble fighter trained on the docks, Speedball had not expected the reverse back-heel from a handsomely gowned night hostess. The backward thrust was too powerful, the fulcrum supplied by her foot too far below his center of balance to be resisted.The gangster crashed to the floor on his shoulders. A split-second later his head collided with the maple with a resounding thump. A roar of laughter followed. It stilled a few seconds later when the young tough failed to rise. Two of his friends moved toward him.“Leave him there,” Kate commanded coldly. “I want him to come to there so he’ll realize that he’s to keep his hands off me in future. I’m no better than he is—but I’m as good—and when I want a man’s hands on me, I’ll ask him to put them there.”Speedball stirred, blinked, dragged himself to his knees. Then his glance swept upward and encountered the gleeful eyes of Cougar Kitty. He shook his head and looked about. On every hand he saw the awe-stricken eyes of his friends. Instantly a dull red suffused his face. He gathered his muscles for a leap at the mocking girl before him.“Damn you—” he began. Then the words choked in his throat and his eyes went wide with surprise.Kate’s right hand was extended toward him. A dull ring of blued steel peeped out between her second and third fingers; the whole hand was tightening on something within her palm. Too well Speed knew what that meant.For Cougar Kitty was holding in her plump, beringed hand one of the dwarfed, vicious little plunger guns of Gangland. It was a mere ring of metal extending out of a firing chamber, back of which was a trip plunger which released the pin against a solitary bullet of heavy caliber.Speed could be forgiven for pausing. The one-inch barrel was trained directly on his forehead. A child could not miss at that distance. The crook teetered on his feet uncertainly. Then a girl’s voice cut the silence:“Slap the broad down, Speed,” it said. “Don’t spoil a good notion.”Kate smiled bleakly and waved Speed back to his place. Then came a muffled roar and gray smoke curled from between her fingers.She had fired the weapon into the floor as the best means of squaring Speedball against later accusations of cowardice. Everyone leaped up; all had some question to ask.Kate held the still smoking weapon above her head.“Sorry, boys and girls,” she said. “I hate to pull off rough stuff on our first evening together—but I had him covered—plenty. I had to let you know I meant it when I said: ‘Don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ All right? Well, let’s play again.”She motioned to the goggling bandsmen to continue playing. Then, under cover of the opening notes, she walked straight to where Speedball was struggling into his light overcoat. He felt alone, disgraced in the eyes of the other gangsters and their molls. The red of shame colored his face, but about his mouth was the deadly white line which marks the killing rage in man. Everyone was watching openly. Kate moved as one who has decided on a definite course. Speed jerked his coat into place and clapped his hat down over his eyes. She was at his side now, hand extended.“Sit down, Speed,” she said in a tone intended for his ears alone. “If you go out now, you’ll leave these others laughing. Be nice and I’ll make it all jake for us both. Now shake hands like a sport and tell me it’s all right—even if you did start it.”Speed took her hand, shook it heartily and grinned. Too well he knew it was his only course. Unless there was more to add to the story, Gangland would be yelping taunts at him for months to come. Maybe, he reflected, he could turn the tables on this wise broad from New York if he was crafty.“I’m game; speak your piece,” he half whispered. “But don’t figure to start nothin’ more.”“Be your age,” she replied. “Now, listen, Speed, I’m starting a new racket here and I need at least one friend on whom I can depend. You made me tangle with you before your friends, but I didn’t ask you to. Now, we can be the best of friends, and at the same time I’ll show you how to get yourself some good out of it.“I’ve heard about you. They call you ‘Speedball’ because you drive the stickups and hijackers away so far and so fast, they have to wait ten minutes before they start to make an alibi. What?”Such tribute to his unerring efficiency at the wheel of a getaway car caused the young gangster to flush happily. Maybe here was a woman worth hanging about after.“No,” Kate went on as though reading his thoughts, “you don’t mean any more to me than any other man, but if you wish, I’ll let you be my Number One Pal. We’ll play around together and sometimes you can take me home—as far as the door.“What I want of you is to keep them off my back if things get rough—nothing more. If the others see us palling around together we’ll be accused of having fallen for one another. Now, say it. Want to play, or will you put on the funny hat and coat and go out and get yourself laughed at? First and last chance, boy.”“Sure, Kitty, I’ll play,” he answered, “just to square myself.”“Speedball and I are all made up ‘n’ everything,” Kate announced to the watching crowd. “And now I want you all to walk past here in line and shake hands with us both. Then we’ll all be the best kind of pals. Scar will buy a drink for the house, and I’ll show you the latest New York racket.”She was exerting herself now, putting into her simple little speech and almost childish plan of personal contact with each, all of the hard won personality she possessed. She let her eyes flicker toward Scar. He sat there, a contented mountain of evil, literally drooling over the manner in which she was earning the attention of his patrons. The idea struck the gangsters and their molls favorably. There was an instant rush to get into line. Speed fell into place beside Kate as the orchestra struck up a slow drag march. The head of the line moved forward. Kate had a bright smile, a word, a nod for each. One plump patron found himself being prodded in the ribs. Another laughed when Kate flicked his tie from under his vest. One pretty girl simpered when Kate whispered: “Gosh, kid! I’m jealous of you—you’re so darn lovely.”Scar came to his feet as the last of the line passed and bellowed for the drinks. Kate held up her hand for silence.“Wait, please,” she said. “Will the tall gentleman in dinner clothes, the one at the last table—you, handsome—; the girl with the black hair and the red dress; the man who left his hair at home but wore a horseshoe pin in his tie—and you, Mister Red Necktie—all please come forward?”The four responded somewhat sheepishly.“I want you to search my new pal, Speedball,” Kate said smilingly. “I think he’s turned dip. Look in his left, outside pocket.”Speedball did not wait to be searched. He felt in the pocket himself and gaspingly brought forth a watch, attached to which was a fine chain and gold key; a gold mesh coin purse wrapped in a handkerchief, a diamond stickpin and a thin, but costly, cigarette case.The crowd roared with laughter at Speed’s consternation. No other group could appreciate better what had happened. None had even a remote suspicion of the youth. He was a known gunman and gangster, and as such, he looked down on the dip as dips in turn look down on doormat thieves.Kate waited until there was a measure of silence.“That’s one of the New York night club tricks,” Kate laughed as she restored the property to its owners. They get you all hot and bothered over something that’s happening and then the waiters and house dips put the vacuum to you. One man swore somebody’d stolen his underwear while he waited to kiss a toe dancer whose number he’d drawn in a lottery!”“What a dame,” someone croaked admiringly. “She’s oke for me,” another chimed in. For minutes the place buzzed with admiration for Kate’s deftness. Scar bought for the house. The two losers of property would not be outdone in generosity and the girl in red, whose coin purse was restored, argued her boy friend into loosening up as well.It was daylight when the last patron left. That was Speedball, who had waited for Kate. She dismissed him with a shake of her head.“See you tonight, pal,” she said. “And wear your rod.”When Scar counted up, he found a take for the night of $900.Cougar Kitty was an established institution in Seattle’s underworld.As she walked to the corner of First Avenue to catch a cab, Kate noticed one of the waiters slipping from door to door behind her. As she entered the taxi, she saw him sprint forward and flag down another.“Drive around for half an hour,” she told the driver. He nodded joyously at such luck at the beginning of his day’s work. Kate, sitting in the center of the rear seat, used her compact mirror to watch the street behind her. She was not mistaken, the other car was dawdling along half a block behind her.“Keep ahead and when you get a chance pretend to try to lose a cab that’s following us,” Kate told the driver, putting a folded bill into his hand. “Then when you get a chance, make him pass you and cut him off at the curb. I want to talk to his passenger.”The driver looked at the bill and smiled knowingly. “I’ll have him in two blocks,” he said.At the next corner he slipped along the right hand curb until traffic changed for east-and-west travel. Then he meshed his gears and swung right up the hill to Second Avenue, going at a furious pace in low gear.At First Avenue he turned south again and stopped with a shrieking of brakes just past the building line. In a few moments the other cab charged up the hill and turned right also.“Get him!” Kate commanded. Her driver swung wide from the curb, ran even with the other cab and forced it slowly but surely against the curbing despite the other driver’s shrill curses and the sounds of his horn.A policeman ran up. “Here!” he demanded. “What’s goin’ on?”Kate opened the cab door and smiled at the officer.“The man in the other cab has been following me all over town,” she said, “and I wish to prefer a charge against him, if you please, officer.”The policeman dragged the luckless waiter from the cab by his collar.“Tell me about it,” he demanded of Kate.“He works at Scar Argyle’s,” she replied. “I was there for awhile and when I left this fellow got in another cab and followed me.”But great was the power of Scar in policedom.“I wouldn’t do that, lady,” the officer replied. “You go on about your business and I’ll keep this baby here. If you have him pinched, you got to go to court.”“All right, officer—and thanks,” Kate said as her cab moved off. It was late afternoon when Kate emerged from her tiny apartment in a huge building on the shores of Lake Union to go abroad again in a taxicab.Her first stop was at the office of The Hour, greatest of the city’s newspapers. Largess properly distributed to a reception clerk and office boy bought her way into the paper’s morgue of photographs and clippings.A chubby, partly deaf statistician was in charge. His sole desire seemed to be to prevent any intrusion into his domain. A five dollar bill again wrought wonders and soon Kate was deep in a huge envelope of clippings out of the “H” file.When she departed, the attendant also dumped out the clippings and studied them.“Humph!” he grunted. “Now I wonder?”From the newspaper office she drove to a tall building given over to plastic surgeons, beauticians and hair dressers. One of the latter “touched up” the roots of her dark-red hair. A dermatologist on the floor above injected a white liquid under her skin at the temple, massaged it, and said:“Lay a good cold-cream base under the powder. When you are ready I will radium-peel your face and we’ll hide that scar entirely.”“Thanks, doctor,” she replied. “But I’m a busy girl now.”Dinner at one of the better cafés, a picture show afterward and then Kate took a cab to the Argyle Club where she found a deferential corps of barmen and waiters ready to extend her a grinning welcome. Also she found the place well filled. Her name and fame had spread rapidly among the cannons and molls of South of Yesler.Scar too waved a warm welcome. She walked to his side in response to a beckoning finger.“Where you livin’, kid?” he demanded. “It’s a police regulation, you know.” He produced a soiled memorandum book and a stub of pencil expectantly.“Find out like you tried to this morning,” Kate jeered, but she softened the taunt with an amused smile.“That’s a bet!” Scar replied. “Think I can’t, huh?” He was in nowise disconcerted.“Not by using a waiter for a gumshoe, anyway,” Kate replied, seating herself at his table. “What did it cost you to get him loose?”“Crook of me finger,” Scar jeered in turn. “The bulls don’t want none of my boys.”“Right, Scar. Now tell me, how did you like my stuff last night? Shall I keep it up?”“That’s what I hired you for.” Scar was becoming wary now.“Then we’ll have a novelty night once each week, beginning tonight. You know what I mean? Funny light flashes, contests with everybody doing goofy things like they do at highbrow parties? Get everybody into it and the losers have to buy. Get the idea?”“The dump’s yours from now to closin’ time. Take it apart if you want to.”Kate rose, smoothed down her skirt, and said casually.“By the way, I ordered a regular stage electrician to be here at 11 o’clock to handle the lights. He’s bringing a dimmer; the rest we’ll do with the master switch.”“Bring two,” said Scar grandly, “or three—if he’s triplets. Keep on getting in the jack and you can hire the devil himself.”“No need, Scar old thing,” Kate laughed. “He’s here already—and wearing your union suit.”Scar grunted happily, the nearest to a laugh of which he was capable.“Wrong,” he said. “Mine’s two-piece.” Meanwhile Kate was going from table to table, welcoming the friends of the night before and newcomers, attracted by the news of the tiger-girl hostess at the Argyle Club.The bleak-faced victim of the pocket-picking episode of the previous night was back at his usual table in a corner across from the orchestra and not more than three feet distant from Scar’s customary seat. As Kate stopped before him, he stared at her searchingly.“Did I ever see you before?” he asked suddenly.“Surely you did,” she laughed. “I’m King Tut’s daughter. Remember how you used to hold my hand under the purple Egyptian skies—or what have you?”“Can the jokes,” the man snapped. “I’m serious.”“Oh-h-h!” Kate said derisively, “so, Mister Kinney, racketeer-in-chief and Big Fixer mustn’t be kidded by a night club hostess.”“Drop it!” the man snarled. “Forget that name here. It’s ‘Hanson’ now. What the— Say, did you know me in Detroit?” With the question he snatched at her wrist, his fingers pinching deep into her flesh.The girl did not reply, nor did she wince. Instead she leaned slightly forward, bringing her sneering, ice hard glance on a level with his own.“All right, Kinney-Hanson,” she said, and there was a deadly chill in her tones. “Don’t move that other hand. I can get you before you ever could touch your gun—and believe me, it’ll be one big pleasure to do it.”Hanson’s hard eyes searched hers angrily. The smile clung to her lips but he recognized the basilisk expression of the natural killer seeking the slightest excuse to slay. Yet he held to her wrist, trying to probe her mind—to find some reason for such bitter hatred from the mere touch of his hand.“Let go!” Kate rapped the words out venomously. “I said last night that nobody is permitted to touch me. If I let you get away with it, then I’m sunk here.” Then, in a louder tone for the benefit of those nearby, she said airily:“Unhand me, vill-yun—and when are you going to buy a drink?”Hanson’s steely fingers relaxed. He gestured to a seat across the table.“You’re a nice, pleasant little thing,” he said sarcastically, “but tell me what you want to drink—and all about Detroit.”“Champagne,” Kate replied with a disarming smile. “Detroit? No, I don’t know much about things there. A girl friend of mine was married to a boy named Wilbur Bealey—‘Wib the Gun,’ they called him. He was mixed up in a booze running gang, and soon after I left there he was killed. Someone said his own gang finished him.”“Know him pretty well?” Hanson demanded.“Oh, in a way,” Kate replied nonchalantly. “Daisy, his wife, was an old sidekick of mine, but Wib was away most of the time when I was visiting her.”“Who else did you know there?” Hanson continued.“Let me see—why, you were there! I saw you out at a Grosse Pointe roadhouse the night Merrill Orrum, the criminal lawyer, was killed.”Hanson’s eyes were pinpoint lights of green now, but his poker face did not change. Quietly he produced a cigarette and lighted it. Kate noted that the hand which held the ornate gold lighter did not tremble.He let a thin cloud of smoke drift from his mouth and Kate felt his eyes studying her critically. Her expression was bored, a trifle uninterested.“Ah yes, Merrill Orrum,” he said musingly. “I’d forgotten his name. And by the way”—he almost hissed the words—“how does it happen that you, a stranger, remember it? That was a whole year ago.”“Oh, I don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders as though tired of the subject. “Probably it was because it was an unusual name and the papers said they—the other mobsmen—called him ‘Mary Lorum’ for a nickname, sort of a pun name. Things like that stick in one’s mind, don’t you think so?”“Not so you’d notice it,” Hanson replied quickly. “You haven’t told me all of it. Damn it, you remind me of someone—”“Some dizzy blonde from over the river in Windsor probably,” Kate suggested teasingly. Hanson’s eyes narrowed to mere slits.“Blonde!” he said explosively. “What do you know about a blonde in Detroit?”Kate laughed merrily.“Listen, Big Boy,” she replied, “What I know about all Detroit blondes is plenty. Did poor, little Hansy-Hanson get all mixed up with a fuzzy yellow-head?”Hanson flared up again at the derisive note in her voice.“Hell with her!” he growled. “I fixed her up good and plenty; don’t worry. But it’s you I’m wondering about. What’re you holding out on me?”“What would you give to know?”“Nothing or a lot; I don’t know which. I’ve got a hunch about you, Miss Cougar Kitty whatsyourname, and the first thing you know I’ll be calling the turn on you. Don’t figure me for a dumbbell.”“Do your prettiest, Big Boy,” she replied as she rose. “And if you guess right—you’ll have something coming to you. I said—‘you’ll have something coming to you’!”She accented each of the drawled words. Hanson caught a note of menace in her voice; frowned as he watched her retreating form and sought for the answer to the riddle.He motioned to Scar to come over.“Where’d you get that damned twist?” he said in a low tone. “She just called the turn on me in Detroit—cracked about ‘Wib the Gun,’ and that lousy mouthpiece, Orrum.”Scar grinned knowingly.“She’s a wise head,” he husked. “Doin’ all right here and maybe’ll stand a little watchin’. If she gets flossy she’ll go for a ride—but I ain’t worryin’ none about her. Don’t you, neither.”Further conversation ended with the entrance of Speedball Kane.“Whoopee!” Kate sang out. “Solomon in all his glory! Lookit the boy friend!”Speed was attired in his first dinner clothes. His broad shoulders filled the pinch waisted coat perfectly. He had been shaved, pomaded and massaged into the condition of pink shininess which in Gangland is accepted as perfection.It is true that he hitched once at the harness of his shoulder holster, but in Argyle Club circles that meant no more than button-fiddling meant in the higher walks of life.“Everybody give the dressed-up boy friend a hand!” Kate demanded. The guests obliged. “Boy friend and I will buy a drink now.” She continued. There was more applause. Kate drew Speed to a place near the orchestra.“Speed is to be associate master of ceremonies tonight,” she continued. “So I told him to bring his rod. His job is to see that everybody does just what I tell them to. We’re going to raise hell tonight and put a chunk under it, but we can’t do it unless everybody helps. The first number will be a button busting contest, with Scar Argyle leading off.”“Huh?” Scar grunted in amazement. “Run your own damn show.”“Burn him down, Speed, if he don’t mind,” Kate laughed. “Oh come on, chief, it’s easy. Draw a big breath, lean against the inside of the old vest and see what happens. Snap into it, dearie, take a big breath and do your stuff.” Scar’s mind dealt largely in cash-register terms. Kate had said the loser would buy the drinks. Very well, then, the idea was for him not to lose.Slowly he inflated his huge chest. His cheeks began to purple as he set his muscles and began to expand. Quickly the vast mountain of fat and muscle pressed outward. An audible “pop” followed and a button tinkled on a glass table top across the room.“One!” cheered Kate. As she spoke there were three other “pops.” “Two, three, four!” she counted. “Don’t anybody wisecrack. If Scar laughs now he’ll undress himself.” The final button held but tore its way through the buttonhole.“Fine!” Kate exclaimed. “Four buttons and one buttonhole. Now, who’s next?”Several of the gunmen patrons went into a huddle. Presently ‘Shanty’ Boles turned and said:“Us four’s buyin’ for th’ house, Kitty. Name it an’ we pays. Dat’s cheaper’n buyin’ new vests!”“Lovely!” Kate responded. “Did someone tell me Shanty wasn’t bright?”As the round of drinks was being served, the electrician touched Kate’s arm and told her the dimmer was connected.“Don’t test it,” she ordered, “just follow up the orders I gave you. Everybody out now,” she demanded, turning to the patrons. “There’s another surprise for you. We start off with a march around the room. When the lights go out, drop your partner and take the girl ahead of you for a partner. That leaves an extra man and he goes to the end of the line.“When the orchestra stops playing, everybody buys a drink for the girl with him. Remember now—no cheating or hitting in the clinches.”The orchestra struck up a jazz march and the patrons, hard-boiled thieves and killers playing a “kid” game for the first time in their lives, began to parade about the room. Kate nodded and the electrician pulled the main switch. Stygian darkness followed.“One, two, three, four, five, six!” Kate counted slowly. “Lights on!”As they flared forth everyone went into shrieks of laughter. From a recess back of the stage where Kate had concealed her, an immense negro girl had emerged, taking a place silently beside Scar. She had been well coached for, as the light came on, she leaned confidingly toward the proprietor and snuggled her head against his shoulder.Scar leaped up, glaring ferociously at Kate while the patrons vented jeers and catcalls. Kate raised her hand and said:“The house buys on that one, gang—and Scar ought to be thankful that we didn’t see her coming in with him.”The negress, grinning happily, waddled out. Kate patted Scar’s shoulder and whispered:“We’ve got to give ‘em stunts, Scar—and we can’t kid the money customers all of the time.”The evening was off to an auspicious start. Stunt followed stunt in rapid succession. The lights, on dimmers now, went up and down the range of their power; again they flashed like lightning’s play. They would go out and come on again, occasionally disclosing grim gunmen and their molls engaged in the softer process of “necking.” This brought jeers and another round of drinks.Kate kept it going at fever heat. Between dances she had the girls balancing on beer barrels laid on their sides, or trying to step through the “U” made by their arms and a broom handle. It was a real novelty to the socially starved tough boys and girls and through it all Scar sat and listened happily to the tinkle of the cash registers.Here and there heads not hard enough to resist the kick of Scar’s raw liquor, had succumbed. Shanty Boles and his moll slept side by side, their heads pillowed on the table before them. Someone had taken a lipstick and painted Shanty’s nose a violent crimson.Through it all, Hanson sat sipping his liquor, smoking innumerable cigarettes—but always watching Kate narrowly. He seemed to enjoy chatting with one of the chorus girls—Gladys King—whom he had chosen for his companion of the evening.Once, as the lights came back on, Kate saw him slip a heavy automatic back under his arm. He was taking no chances of an attack in the dark. She slipped to Speed’s side and asked:“What’s the matter with Hanson? He’s out with the gat every time the lights go down.”“He’d better,” Speed whispered. “He’s a wholesale junkie. There’s a gang back east gunnin’ for him, and some of the big boys here figure to spot him if they can get him right. He’s nudgin’ in on their racket.” As they talked, a clock outside chimed the hour of four. Thereafter, Kate kept a close check on the face of her watch.Fifteen minutes later she snapped into action. First she nodded to the orchestra with a signal for a mad jazz number, calling to the electrician, “Use your own judgment, Johnny.”With this she stepped over beside Scar and Little Laura. It seemed to Scar that her fingers, pressing on his shoulder, were unduly heavy. Thus she stood while the electrician ran the gamut of his light changes. Scar still could feel the weight of her fingers on his shoulder when the lights went completely out.There followed a moment of silence, punctuated by minor squeals of fright and laughter. Suddenly someone grunted as though in pain.A gun roared heavily in the blackness. A girl’s screaming moan sounded as a body struck the floor. The music had been silenced with the sound of the shot.Out of the babel of sound came Kate’s clear voice: “Lights—quick,” she commanded.As they came on the horrified merrymakers saw Gladys King squirming on the floor, blood flowing from a wound high up on her right shoulder. Scar leaped up and barked angrily:“Shut up your damn noise—want the bulls in here?”Kate knelt beside the injured girl. A cool-headed waiter brought water and Kate began bathing the girl’s forehead.“What was it, dear?” she asked tenderly. “What happened?”“He—he—shot me!” Gladys replied. She pointed weakly at Hanson.From the others there came a growl of anger. Gladys was a favorite. Then followed a concerted rush to the table where Hanson sat, apparently unperturbed. His eyes were half closed. But as the foremost of the gang reached him his body seemed to sag. Then he toppled and his chin struck the table with a thud.The color had drained from the flesh in his neck. Right at the edge of the hair a single drop of blood stood for a second. It rolled down inside the dead man’s collar and another welled slowly in its place.Hanson unquestionably was dead. Too many present knew the marks of the coming of the Dread One. An unerring hand had struck once at the base of the brain, severing the spinal cord.Scar glared around the room ferociously. A mighty anger shook his frame. Hanson, as an individual, meant nothing to him. As a racketeer, head of a junk-running organization of no mean proportions, his murder spelled trouble.“Who done this?” Scar roared. “Get up on your damned hind legs and have the guts to say so—” A stream of horrible profanity welled and bubbled from his lips.Kate whispered something to Speed under cover of the noise. The gangster moved quickly to Scar’s side. He talked rapidly in an undertone. At first the proprietor shook his head impatiently. Speed continued talking until silenced with a gesture.“Listen, guns and molls,” Scar said after a moment of thought. “This here thing ain’t goin’ to do us any good. Now, we’re all-right guys here tonight; there ain’t a rat or snitch in the joint. Hanson’s croaked. Nobody knows who done it, but me and Speedy figgers it will be a good idee for him to be found somewhere else. What say?”“Take the blankety-blank out and dump him in the bay,” someone growled. “That’s the ticket—out in the streets some’rs,” another said. Scar and Shanty Boles turned to the gruesome task of dressing the corpse in overcoat, gloves and soft gray hat.“Whose car are you going to use?” Kate asked quietly. Then before anyone answered, she suggested: “Better steal one, Speed, and leave him in it out in the residence district. And while we’re about it, poke a gun in his ribs hard. The blood will settle there and the dicks will think his kidnappers did it.”“Damn smart,” Scar applauded. “Go ahead, Speed. Find a likely lookin’ bus and shoot her in the alley. I’ll have a lookout waitin’.”Thus it was arranged. Hanson’s body, with a gangster on each side of it, was loaded into a stolen limousine, Speed at the wheel. Larry Michaels, his buddy, followed in another car. Within thirty minutes all were back at the Argyle Club.Scar closed soon afterward. Kitty, en route home, made certain she was not being followed. When she had disrobed and made her night toilet, she unfastened a secret compartment in a suitcase and brought to light a small memorandum book.Then she drew a heavy black line through the first of three names inscribed on its fly-leaf.The name was “Lester Kinney.” Seattle morning newspapers had good reason for first-page streamer lines that morning.Henry Wilson, a milkman, discovered Hanson’s body, rigid behind the steering wheel and with the gloved hands in driving posture. It was in a shining limousine, standing before one of the beautiful homes in the exclusive Queen Anne Hill district.Wilson notified the police and detectives made several startling discoveries. The first was a footprint in the mud of the gutter where apparently someone had stood beside the car. Plaster casts were made, but later the sleuths were chagrined to find it matched perfectly to the milkman’s brogans.Next came the news that the limousine had been stolen from a patron of the Elk’s Club. Atop of this came the medical examiner’s announcement that Hanson’s death had been brought about by someone thoroughly skilled in surgery.Then the discoloration on the side of the body was discovered. As Kate had predicted, the detectives seized on this as proof that someone had jammed a gun against the victim’s side, had kidnapped him and taken him for a ride.“Gawd, kid!” Scar said to Kate when she entered the club that night, “you sure saved ol’ Scar’s bacon with quick thinkin’ last night. Hereafter they’s another five per cent in the cut fer you.”“Thanks, Scar,” Kate said listlessly. “Who do you think did it?”Scar ruminated for a time, then said in a low voice:“If you hadn’t stood with your hand on my shoulder all the time the lights was out, I’d have said, ‘Mebbe you!’ I seen you and Hanson glarin’ at one another, an’ I copped you two watchin’ each other all evenin’. But I ain’t answerin’ any questions—nor askin’ any. I know where you was every second.”“Who was against him in the dope game here?” Kate asked after a brief pause, during which she studied Scar’s face attentively.“Mugs Dietrich,” Scar replied. “He was the big junkie until Hanson showed up nine-ten months ago. Hanson nudged in on the alky racket, but as soon as he’d built up a gang, he hijacked a trunkful of dope, coming from Kansas City to Mugs.“They was better’n fifty thousand dollars worth in it. Hanson sent for Mugs, covered him with a rod and they talked turkey. When Mugs left, he had half the dope and Hanson had half the town. That’s how Hanson worked. Since then, he’s been edgin’ in on Mugs and four-five boys on both sides has been croaked. Mugs got sore last week and cracked that Hanson better come smokin’ next time they met. That’s why the dicks is figgerin’ last night’s job as a gang-spottin’.”“Who is Hanson’s Man Friday—his next in command?” Kate asked.“A guy twicet as hard as Hanson ever wanted to be. They call him Sugarface Mallon. He’s the reason I didn’t want anybody to know Hanson was croaked here. This pritty boy came from the East with Hanson, and after the first week none of our gunnies wanted any of Sugarface’s game. He throws hot lead faster ‘n easier than anybody I ever did see—and some of the best of ‘em has come through that door there.” Thrill-seeking and curiosity brought back all of the crowd of the night before and yet others who had heard of the live-wire Cougar Kitty. It was by that title she was known in Gangland now; few could have told her last name.But it was an apathetic crowd. Even Kate’s flaming personality could not evoke a real response, except from the newcomers. The shadow of tragedy still lingered over the place.The bar patronage was holding up well, however. Some of the patrons seemed anxious to drink themselves insensible in the shortest possible space of time. These were succeeding admirably. Such failed to witness the new situation which unfolded itself suddenly.During an interval when the orchestra was silent, the doorbell pealed shrilly. When the doorman swung the steel-faced portal open, two well-dressed men stepped into the room. Both stood looking the crowd over coldly.One, the taller, might have posed for magazine collar advertisements. Nature had given him a trig slenderness, height, a handsome face and a certain air of real gentility. His companion was shorter, dark and glowering, seemingly dissipated and he had a hangdog air. As he turned it was apparent that one of his ears was badly cauliflowered. Both had one thing in common. Their air was purposeful and either could be depended on to do what was needful, no matter what the circumstances.Scar started to struggle to his feet, but sank back at a signal from Kate. Straight to the pair she went, eyes shining, teeth flashing in a smile of welcome.“Greetings, Mr. Sugarface Mallon,” she called from the middle of the floor. “Come on in, both of you. The water’s wet—and we haven’t any.”Mallon eyed her with evident admiration, yet curiously. His companion scowled darkly and whispered something. Sugarface stepped forward and took Kate’s outstretched hand.“A stranger in town, yet she calls my name,” he said suavely. “Who am I—to be so honored?”“Tell you later,” Kate said in a low tone. “Play up now.”Now Scar came lumbering forward. Mallon gave him a cold nod; his companion struck the owner’s outstretched hand aside. Scar turned and waddled back to his chair.Two of the waiters removed a somnolent drunk from one of the tables, brought a third chair and Kate, Mallon and the other man sat down. Kate and Mallon faced each other across the table; the other’s back was to the dance floor.“This is Kid Sharkey,” Mallon said, pointing to his companion. “He’s with me always—now that Hanson’s dead.”“Oh yes,” Kate said nonchalantly, “I read of it in the papers. You were his associate, weren’t you—both here and in the East?”Mallon’s eyes probed hers ominously, curiously, for a moment.“See here,” he said as though in sudden decision. “They tell me you’re a wise head; anyway you look it, and I’m going to lay ‘em right out before you. There is a whisper that Hanson was done in right in this room. It is a whisper that hasn’t reached the police, however. One of my boys heard a girl stew talking about it and came to me with the story.“Now get me right; I’m not caring one half-witted damn about Hanson being rubbed out. Probably it saved me the trouble. He was a bad one and would knock me off in a minute, but he knew I could let him draw and then kill him. For the last six months when we talked he sat with his hands folded over his most recent meal. I’d warned him to.“But I’m head of the gang now. I’m taking over where he left off. If it was one of Muggsy’s gang that croaked him, then I know where to watch. If it was done here, then there’s a new enemy for me to go gunning after.“What would you do in my place?”He fairly hissed the last words.“I’d buy a drink!” Kate said nonchalantly. “Waiter!”A red surge of color leaped to Mallon’s pale face.“Damn it!” he snarled. “Answer me, you rotten—”Kate’s hand—the right one—slipped over the edge of the table. With the index finger of the left Kate pointed casually toward it. Mallon’s eyes dropped; visioned the deadly steel muzzle of the little plunger-gun between her fingers. Kid Sharkey gasped. For the fraction of a second the weapon turned on him, then flashed back to Sugarface.“Rotten—what—?” she demanded. “Say anything that’s in your system—and if I don’t like it, then it’s my turn to say or do something—you fool. Say it!” she demanded coldly. Now she was Cougar Kitty indeed. Speedball Kane, who had lost no item of the byplay from a distance, came slipping to the table. His body was poised on the balls of his feet. The right hand was under his left lapel.Kate sensed, rather than saw him.“My affair,” she said over her shoulder. “Don’t interfere unless things get hot—and if they do, then burn Kid Sharkey down and burn him fast.”“Baby,” Speed said with deep conviction. “He’s afire now.”“What a broad!” It was Kid Sharkey’s unwilling tribute as he realized just how hot things had become.Mallon it was who broke the tension.“Stand off all around,” he said putting his hands before him on the table. “I’m apologizing—not because of the palm-gun, but because they taught me as a kid not to call girls bad names.”The deadly muzzle slipped out of sight beneath the table. Mallon had a dubious impression that it still covered his stomach.“Right,” Kate snapped. “Now what do you want to know?”“Was Hanson fixed up here? That’s all.”“He was not,” she replied steadily. “He left here about two.”“Alone?”“Alone. I think he had a telephone call.” Then, before Mallon could stop her, she called over her shoulder, “Oh, Scar!” When he lumbered over, she asked:“Hanson left last night about two, didn’t he—alone?”“Uh-huh, about then,” Scar said easily. “I got th’ idee somebody was waitin’ for him—or did he get a ‘phone call?”“Thanks!” Mallon said carelessly after a moment’s close scrutiny of the scarred, evil countenance before him.“S’all right,” Scar rumbled. “Let’s us have a drink.”“Why not?” the younger man replied lightly. “Kid, you go along and see about the trucks. I’ll be at the hangout later.”Sharkey started to protest, then rose and lurched from the place. His last glance at Kate was one of reverent worship. Kid Sharkey had seen his first real gun-moll.Mallon rose as Kate did and accompanied her to the table adjoining Scar’s lookout chair, unwittingly dropping into the seat where his chief’s body had been but a few hours before.Suddenly Kate felt his eyes on her and turned about to surprise the same searching, calculating expression she had encountered in Hanson’s eyes. She smiled, blandly, seated herself across from him and said:“Want to tell an inquisitive girl something, Mr. Mallon?”“What?” he demanded. She paused before replying, holding his glance by sheer willpower for a moment.“How is it that a man of your class, who could be anything he set out to be, is in the booze and dope game?” she said at last.“Just naturally bad, I guess,” he replied, but Kate saw she had scored her first victory in her fight to draw his interest to her personally.From then until the moment later when Mallon, now warmed by a number of drinks, began paying her elaborate compliments, Kate used her every art to let glances and half spoken sentences show him that she was not indifferent to him. At last, while the electrician had dimmed the lights to almost out, he leaned across the table and whispered:“I’m waiting for you tonight, baby—and every other night, if you say so.”Kate did not answer, contenting herself with letting her hand touch his for a moment in a quick, firm pressure. Then she excused herself and turned to the other patrons. The crowd was thinning out now. Several of the more intoxicated still slumbered in their chairs. Not more than fifteen couples were on the dance floor when Kate stopped the music with a wave of her hand and said:“Not enough pep, gang. We’re closing soon now, and let’s make it all hot ‘n everything in the meantime. Make it snappy now, for Speed and I have a surprise for you pretty soon.”The orchestra swung into a mad jazz number, quickening the cadence until the dancers’ feet literally were flying. Kate called Little Laura to her away from Scar’s side, and whispered something. The girl laughed and took a chair at a vacant table.Kate caught the electrician’s eye and nodded, holding up a silver chime whistle as a signal. He nodded and began a furious succession of light changes. They flickered up, then dimmed down to mere red-brown shapes within the globes. On again—and the electrician snapped the main switch off and on rapidly, giving the effect of lightning flashes. Once Kate caught Mallon’s eyes and tossed him an airy kiss from her fingertips. Scar, sitting three feet distant from him, scowled wonderingly.Occasionally couples would barge together on the dance floor, the girls screaming curses or ribald commands. Kate’s eyes narrowed calculatingly watching the unconscious distribution of the couples about the floor.Suddenly she sounded a musical trill from the whistle. The music rose to a shrill crescendo of noise as the electrician pulled the main switch and threw the entire club into darkness.But over the music, the shouts of laughter and the scrape of feet, there sounded ten clearly spaced blasts of Kate’s whistle as though she was marking time for the next stunt.Three sharp blasts followed one another in rapid succession. The lights flared on and the music ceased in the middle of a bar.For an instant there was a grave-like silence; then gasps of surprise—here and there a nervous titter from one of the molls.There was reason. Midway down the room, clear of the dancers and at a point where every person in the room was under her eye stood Cougar Kitty, in each hand a thirty-eight automatic. Flanking her, four at each side, stood the club’s eight waiters. Now they were masked with handkerchiefs tied across their noses to conceal mouths and chins. Each carried two snub-nose, small caliber automatics! These were trained on the dancing group and the orchestra.Kitty’s guns covered Mallon and Scar.“Up with them,” she demanded dramatically. “Drag me down a star and let me look at it. This is a stick-up and I don’t mean perhaps.”Mallon and Scar laughed happily, admiringly.“Some twist, that one,” Scar said out of the corner of his twisted mouth. “Who else’d think of a stunt like that?”With the words the tension broke. The waiters snapped the handkerchiefs from their faces, broke the seeming automatics and disclosed that they were cigarette guns, made in the shape of pistols. These were distributed to the dancers as they crowded about the smiling hostess.Kate, meanwhile, stood toying with the weapons hanging loosely at her side. She looked anxiously about for Speedball. He was at one of the tables, retying a shoelace. He looked up at her and grinned.It was Scar, master of the double-cross and personification of vileness, who was the first to sense the tenseness which had descended on the room. As he dropped his hands to the chair arms, ready to derrick his great body to a standing position, Kate whirled and leveled both guns.“Down!” she snapped savagely. “Up with them—both of you—you’re in on this too, Mallon. “Quick—fingers together behind your heads.”The muzzles of both guns jumped in unison. With the roar came a splintering crash as the missiles flew past the heads of the two men and buried themselves in the wall behind them.There was no question now of obedience. Mallon, white, silent but watchful as a snake, cradled the back of his head in his hands. Scar was slower and his gross face was splotched and purple as he too withdrew his hands from his holster.The girl’s tense figure, alone in the center of the floor as she held two redoubtable gunmen helpless, appealed to their sense of the dramatic. They were breathless with suspense when at last she broke silence to say in a lifeless monotone:“Listen everybody—I’m going to tell you about a couple of damned, lousy skunks—the two sitting there, and another I got last night—Hanson.“In a little while, I’m going out of here. It is up to you—you boys and girls who, like me, have had to fight for yourselves—it’s up to you whether I go out of here—or whether I don’t! But I’m going to take Skunk Mallon and Skunk Argyle with me! It’ll be the hot seat for them! And I’ve nothing on you!“I’m a slum kid from Brooklyn. My dad was a drunk; mother was a decent woman. I had two brothers, Wilbur and Merrill. Our family name was Orrum. Merrill, the older brother, was a good kid. He made me go to school just as he did. The other was weak, a sneak thief at twelve and an ex-con at twenty. They called him ‘Wib the Gun.’ ”Scar’s arms jerked at the words and the girl’s finger tightened for an instant on the trigger of the weapon in her right hand.“Means something to you, doesn’t it, Skunk Argyle?” she taunted. “Wib was the lad you and Hanson and Mallon, jobbed into killing his own brother that night in Detroit—the lad Mallon and Hanson killed later to stop his mouth.”Someone in the crowd grated out a curse. She continued her story.“Merrill had worked his way through law school and had taken up criminal practice. In a few years he was known as the best crook mouthpiece in Detroit. I was his helper—his private investigator.“But Merrill fell out with Hanson and Mallon, and also with Scar who was the big money back of their booze and dope running. They got poor Wib drunk one night and planted him out to kill a Federal dick near a roadhouse. They decoyed Merrill to the spot and let Wib kill his own brother.“When he found out what he’d done, he went into hiding. It took me days to find him and when I got there he was croaking. He had just enough strength to tell me the story and to let me know that Mallon had run him down and shot him to silence him.“I went crazy then. When I found where Hanson was planted out I went there one night and got into the house. I hoped to get him as he slept. But Sugarface Mallon was on the prowl and got me before I could shoot.“He tied me up. He didn’t call Hanson. He just gagged me—and for that night I was his prisoner. Figure that for yourselves.“The next morning he threw me down the front steps. He’d finished wrecking the Orrum family. Nice boy—Skunk Mallon—isn’t he?”“Hanson and Mallon disappeared,” she continued, and now she was tumbling the words forth with machine-gun speed. “But I found they were here, working with Scar Argyle on a new dope underground.“My hair was gold-yellow. I dyed it red. My figure was slight. I ate sweets, drank heavy cream, stuffed like a Strasbourg goose until I had gained twenty pounds. I went to Chicago and then New York to establish a new identity, but always I kept track of the three skunks.“You know most of the rest of it. I came here and tricked Scar into giving me work. Last night I stood beside Scar, pressing my fingers into his fat shoulder until the lights went out. Then I got Hanson in the neck with a thin, knife. I was back beside Scar when the lights went on again. He thought he had felt my hand on his shoulder all of the time.”She paused for a quick glance about the tables, flashed her eyes toward the doorway where waiters and barmen were grouped.But even that brief second of respite was enough for Sugarface. As she turned back his right hand was flitting under his coat lapel, fingers clawing for the gun butt nestling there.Cougar Kitty’s left gun jerked twice and a horrible oath spat from Scar’s lips as two black holes appeared, one above the other, in Mallon’s smooth, white forehead. He teetered for a moment in his chair, then fell sideways across Scar’s feet.The death threat in the girl’s eyes as they flickered to Scar nerved the gross man to action. He threw himself, wedged as he was in his great chair, sideways to the floor. His hand flashed with incredible speed to the butt of his gun.Cougar Kitty, her eyes pinpoints of blazing hate, waited as the thick fingers grasped the weapon, started to raise it.Crash! Crash! Crash!Her gun spoke thrice in rapid succession. A jet of blood leaped from Scar’s lips as the first bullet smashed against his set teeth.The second smashed through the center of the scar under the victim’s right eye and ploughed into the brain.The third struck squarely between the eyes—a small, purple edged perforation which wrote the final period on the life-tale of Scar Argyle.For a moment Cougar Kitty stood silent, staring at the two unmoving bodies on the floor. “Killing was too good for them!”Then with a gesture of finality she let the guns crash to the floor. Turning, her hands outstretched toward the silent group of grim-faced onlookers, she whispered:“And now—the verdict. Getaway—or?”Tense eyes stared back into hers. Still no word was spoken.Suddenly, as though an invisible wedge was driving into the group, they began to fall back.White lipped, staring unseeingly before her, Kitty passed the grimly watchful cannons and molls who lined her pathway. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureSometimes everyone who writes get frustrated. You search for different ways of improving your writing, and of understanding what it actually is. There is a whole support industry for writers, with all sorts of meta theories, methods and ideas. But which ones to choose? decided on a different approach: we would seek out a genuine clinical psychologist and ask him or her some questions. Of course, there is the a chance that we might not be asking the right questions. But that’s what psychologists are for, isn’t it? We were fortunate enough to get in touch with professor Elena Grigorenko. And we got some things clarified at least: even a distinguished professor may struggle with writing. ……..Also, I think our questions could have been better. Some people write diaries or journals, does this have any proven psychological value? Elena Grigorenko: This is a very broad question. Psychological value in general? Or as a component of something else, for example, treatment for aphasia or dysgraphia or depression? With regard to the former, it depends on how the writer frames diary and/or journal writing for him/herself. The subjective value attached to this exercise does matter a lot. It could be viewed as an autobiographical tool, as a self-efficacy tool, as a writing development tool, and all these tools are improvable—the more you practice, the better you get. With regard to the latter, yes, writing is used effectively in various treatment approaches and there is a corresponding literature for that. Does it matter whether you write by hand or on a keyboard? Elena Grigorenko: The writing mode one uses does matter. Consider a number of parameters here. The first is speed. When adults speak, they produce 120-180 words per minute, when they type—60-90 words, when they handwrite—18-24 words. The second is coordination—while writing by hand, we need to coordinate multiple modalities, there is a substantial fine motor element to hand-writing which is very important. The third is editability; when we type, it is much easier to edit, compared to handwriting. Finally (among many other possible dimensions of comparisons, I suppose), there are esthetic features to writing. Calligraphy was considered a type of art; not quite like painting, but… not that different, really. Typing has never been appreciated for its esthetic features. So, it does matter; different types of writing engage different (although overlapping, of course) sets of psychological processes. What about writing literature, being creative and constructing scenarios that have nothing to do with your personal experience? Elena Grigorenko:  What about it? This opens different dimensions for us to consider, among which are “gift with words” (this type of writing is different from creating grocery lists) and “gift of storytelling.” This is not only about the skill of putting words on paper or on screen. There is much more to it! Is there an optimal way of writing, things that one should or should not do? Elena Grigorenko:  Writing for what purposes? Developmentally, writing acquisition is a very important component of developing mind-hand coordination, so hand-writing is very important. In the everyday adult world typing saves time, makes people much more effective in expressing their thoughts quickly (and sometimes sloppily). There are different (very different!) goals for which different modes of writing are used, and it is important to differentiate these goals. When I was a student, I found that writing had an impact on memory. For instance, if there was a lecture, whether I remembered its content or not often depended on whether I took notes. Regardless of whether I actually consulted my notes afterwards. Is this true? Elena Grigorenko: Yes, it is true. Note-taking gives you a chance to process the information twice, initially orally and then when you put your thoughts on paper. This means you have encoded the information twice (and therefore, will remember it better). Many writers have different rituals that they perform before beginning their daily sessions. Does this have any proven value? Elena Grigorenko:  I, unfortunately, do not know much about these routines, but I assume that these are used as self-organization devices, so people get themselves into states of mind that they consider effective for the goals they want to accomplish. It is, probably, not that different from musicians or athletes or professors—all have to get into modes of maximum performance. What does writing tell us about the way we externalize and organize ideas? Elena Grigorenko:  Are you asking about judging the quality of thinking of an individual based on his or her writing? Sure, that can be done. That is why writing is used diagnostically in school settings, admission to higher education settings, and job performance settings. Yes, writing is a good diagnostic tool. And it could be used to diagnose different skills–critical thinking and creative thinking, among other things. If we regard writing in terms of brain function, have we discovered anything new in recent years about the phenomena of writing? Elena Grigorenko:  Writing does involve the brain and there are specific pathways (partially overlapping with and partially different from those used to substantiate reading and math). Are there differences between the effect of different types of languages, for instance English and Chinese? Elena Grigorenko: Yes, of course. Writing necessitates the mastery of a writing system, alphabetic or not. As systems differ, so does writing, both developmentally (i.e., how we learn it) and functionally (i.e. how we use it). What about your own methods of writing? You have written several books; did you follow any of your own advice? Elena Grigorenko: No, unfortunately, I do not have a recipe. Writing is difficult for me, it is hard work. And all I do to get better is practice as much as I can and solicit feedback as much as I can. And try to get better at it. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureMorocco is a land of contrasts, with scenery ranging from the most beautiful mountain valleys to deserts and sprawling metropolitan areas. It is also a land of unequal wealth, a gap between the rich and the poor- prostitution and crime. Yet, while the arab world has been in turmoil, Morocco has remained fairly stable. It is perhaps not so strange then that the country is the center of an unlikely arabic revival: the police procedural. We talked with the founder of the arab noir genre, Abdelilah Hamdouchi, and we followed the literary traces of his hero, detective Hannach, through some distinctly Moroccan alleyways. Tell us a little about your background. When and how did you decide to become a crime writer? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: When I decided to write my first crime novel in late 90s, Morocco had just started a new political experience under the banner “A Government of Change”. This change followed a general amnesty for all political prisoners. Also, some democratic practices began to take hold in the running of the state and society, to the extent that a former convict and exiled leftist became head of the government. In those days, I had penned novels about social affairs, but no one took notice of these writings. So I decided to try the crime novel, even if I only was familiar with Agatha Christie in this niche. A while back I heard a theory that no crime novel could exist in a non-democratic country, simply because the citizens in dictatorships didn’t trust the police? Yet, your Moroccan police procedurals show otherwise? Do Moroccans trust the police? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: This is relatively true, the crime novel finds its space in democratic countries; or human rights and the law. Russia, for example, never knew this kind of literature during the Soviet era, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and the Francoist Spain neither, and the first crime novel in Spain was written after the death of dictator Franco in Spain in 1974. This can be said of dictatorships in Africa and in Latin America. But, of course, it does not prevent exceptions from emerging, like the author Leonardo Padura, who wrote the crime novels in Cuba. My country, Morocco, is a special case in the sense that we have always lived under a regime that adapts by drawing red lines not to cross, including the kingship, the territorial unit and the Moslem religion, Malekite. If someone goes beyond these red lines, he is overtaken by the law. Otherwise everything is subject to opinions and criticisms freely. When did Moroccans begin reading crime fiction, and what sort of crime fiction do they prefer? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: My experience is unique and even avant-garde in Arab culture. In part, this has left me with almost a feeling of rush to be translated into English and other languages. The Hoopoe Publishing House has commissioned me for a series of Moroccan thrillers whose hero is a certain Hannach. The crime novel is almost absent in our literature and Moroccan cultures in particular and Arabs in general. Even translations are limited to Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. They say many Italian police procedurals have open endings or let the bad guy get away because they reflect public expectations of corruption and incompetence in the police force? Is there a similar tradition in Morocco? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: We must not forget that Italy is the country of the Mafia and organized crime. The majority of the crimes in Morocco are of individual nature or connected to family affairs, and the motives are often money-related or sentimental. Organized crime, like in Italy, is almost absent. It is true that Moroccans are part of mafia organizations, but the majority of crimes are individual. What sort of hero is Detective Hannach? How does he compare with let’s say Mankell’s Wallander? Does he drink? Is he flawed in any way? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: Hannach is fond of life: he loves beautiful women and has experienced both good and bad times, against a backdrop of corruption, he has a good heart. How does he go about solving his crimes, does he have a method or does he just stumble his way towards a solution in the manner of Philip Marlowe? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: First, he has a proper background. He worked in the narcotics brigade in Tangier and built a career.  He then joined the criminal brigade in Casablanca, where his experience with the drug squad helped him in his new mission, especially since he is intelligent and organizes his teams with professionalism. Before solving the crime, he asks all his colleagues their opinion. What about yourself, how do you write your novels? Do you write on instinct or do you outline the plot in advance? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: In general, before I start writing, I have a pretty clear idea of ​​my subject. I am inspired by various facts; to put my writing technique at the service of the crime novel with everything that leaves the reader in the pleasure of reading. Do you have any literary role models, writers who inspired you when you started writing? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: In principle I have no model, I read a lot, literature, crime novels, other than that I admire the clear and transparent style of Paul Auster. Also I much admire Henning Mankell. You were among the first to write modern police procedurals in your country. Have you met with any difficulties? How were your first novels received? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: My first crime novel was about the world of Hashish, and lower-ranking police officers who made a considerable effort to dismantle the traffic, and who see their effort in the water following the interventions of the officers. The purpose of this crime novel was to convey a certain message. This first noir was well received, both commercially and critically, which resulted in the making of a TV movie. According to Al Jazeera, Maurice Leblanc’s golden age rogue, Arsene Lupin, is popular in the arab world. Would you say that the cozy 1920’s crime puzzle still fascinates Moroccans? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: I’m not so sure about Al Jazeera Television’s conclusions, but the Arab reader does not consume a lot of crime novels, due to a lack of available translations. Apart from yourself, are there other major crime writers in Morocco? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: Yes, there is another author who writes in French, and who (coincidentally) has the same surname as me, Miloudi Hamdouchi. He was a very popular detective writer in the 90s and was known as “Colombo” in the popular press. You can buy 3 of Hamdouchi’s latest thrillers at Amazon. Whitefly (2016) The Final Bet (2016)  Bled Dry (2017) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn 1873 the restless poetic prodigy composed one of his final and greatest works. Arthur Rimbaud had been shot by his lover. Now he left the literary salons to become a vagabond, a deserter and a gun runner among the sand dunes of north Africa. Rimbaud came upon the artistic crowd in Paris like an invasion from the Ardenne. All his life he tried to escape his claustrophobic childhood. His father was passing soldier who deserted his family and his mother was strict, religious and maintained a facade of respectability. Most people who met Rimbaud were stunned by his talent, but they soon detected a rebellious streak behind his childish features. If there ever lived a poet of the gutter or a man who lived up to the bohemian myth of the restless artiste, Rimbaud must be it. He wrote his masterpieces between the ages of 16 and 19. Then he quit suddenly, left everyone and everything and became a legend. There are different theories as to why he did this. Was it the break-up with his homosexual lover Paul Verlaine? (Verlaine was much older than Rimbaud.) Was it his tragic childhood? He ran away from home when he was 14. As a teenager he searched the dustbins of Paris when France lost the war against Prussia in 1870. He saw the last French empire dissolve and the communes of Paris. He hung out with artists, painters, drank constantly, experimented with drugs and lived fully the life of the caffees. But after Verlaine had shot him in the hand, Rimbaud withdrew to face up to his theory of art in the poem “A Season in Hell” and decided to become a man of action. Verlaine, who still missed his wife and children, made a futile attempt at reconciliation, but Rimbaud turned his back on him. Verlaine was a born again christian at this time, and he is said to have prayed for Rimbaud’s salvation: “Merciful God,please save this angry child.” Distant horizons Rimbaud’s travels brought him to most countries in Europe, including Sweden, but after his sister’s death in 1875, he set his eye on exotic continents. First he decided to travel to Russia via Austria, but in Wien he was robbed by his own coachman. He begged in the streets until he was arrested by the police for vagrancy and shipped out of the country. A year later he was in the Netherlands where he joined the army for a six-year period, but after a few months in Java, he deserted. He returned to Paris wearing British sailor’s outfit. Then he decided to go to Egypt. In Hamburg he heard that a ship was due to sail from Greece, and in 1878 he crossed the alps during the winter season, an insane undertaking that almost cost him his life. A few months later he could proudly engrave his name on one of the pillars at the Luxor temple. In Egypt he worked for a while in Alexandria before he moved to Cyprus. Here he contracted typhoid, and when he returned to his mother he was only 25. Rimbaud’s return was nothing but a stay of necessity. Suffering had been a part of his artistic ideas, and now it became the force that drove him. He returned immediately to Cyprus where he saved up enough money to travel south along the shores of the Red Sea. Tired and sick with fever he ended up in the desolate and isolated seaport of Aden. Here he came into contact with a French coffee merchant, and it was in his service that the vast interior with its waving sand dunes, jagged peaks and savage tribes opened up to him. He was sent to Harar, a city where no Frenchmen had been, and soon he was given the opportunity to penetrate deeper into the unknown continent, the heart of darkness. His article about this journey was published by the French Geographical society, but only his letter to his mother revealed his true feelings: Loneliness is a wretched thing, and I am starting to regret the fact that I never married or started a family. As things are now, I am obliged to roam the earth, tied down by a distant enterprise. And every day I lose my taste for the climate and way of life in Europe. But no, what does the endless spending and accumulation of profit mean, these adventures, this hardship among alien races, these languages that fill my mind; what does all the indescribable suffering mean if I not, after many years, can rest in a place I like and have my own family. . .. Who knows how long I can survive in the mountains here. I may lose my life among these people without anyone ever knowing. .. The arms dealer When Rimbaud finally returned to Aden he brought with him an Abyssinian woman with who he lived happily for a while. We don’t know the reason for why he sent her away. New changes arrived in the area. Egypt was losing its political position, and like many Europeans Rimbaud tried to make money from gun running. He found experienced partners and invested all his savings to fund a caravan, but lady luck was not on his side. One of his colleagues was murdered and the other two fell ill. Rimbaud took charge of the caravan himself, from the coast to the interior. It took several months, a bitter contest with the elements. When he finally reached his destination, he was swindled by the devious king Menelek, and the balance only barely swung in his favor. Because he had a unique knowledge of local conditions, and because Italy had become active in the region, Rimbaud sent some articles to the newspaper Le Temps. The articles were rejected, but the newspaper could tell about his growing reputation in France. You probably don’t know this as you live so remote, but you have become a legend to a small circle here in Paris; one of those who is taken for dead, but who still maintain a group who believes in you and who patiently awaits your return. The petty salons of Europe were part of a world that Rimbaud had permanently abandoned. Rimbaud was now a weathered adventurer who pursued his investments. He found a partner for shipping goods between the French port Djibouti and Harar. His partner got him involved in the illegal slave trade to Arabia. However, he traded mostly in guns and other merchandise. Gradually he established a significant business and was well liked as a trader and known for his integrity and frugal nature. He had a good relationship to the natives, often helping those in need. As a white man in Africa, he was still an outsider, and he often wrote dreamy letters to his mother about how she would give him away in marriage upon his return to France. The servant Djami kept him company, a constant support for Rimbaud. The warm-hearted Rimbaud married him off when he turned 20, even if it served to consolidate his own solitude. The poet returns The decision to return to Europe was inevitable. In 1891 Rimbaud was struck by pains in one of his feet. It became infected and he lost mobility. He feared that his days were numbered and he immediately set course for home. 16 servants carried him through desert and rainstorm to the sea port. The local doctor eased his symptoms, which allowed him to set sail for Marseille. He telegraphed his mother and his sister and asked them to meet him there, and told them he might have to amputate one of his legs. He was carried ashore, but realised his time had come. All he could think about now was whether his personal life had been wasted. He returned as a poetic legend, but he never got in touch with his old colleagues. His final days were spent with his sister and he constantly complained about the fact that he had not married: And I who had planned to return to France this fall to marry. Goodbye marriage! Goodbye family! Goodbye future! My life is over! I am nothing but a rotting log. Rimbaud died November 9 1891 by his sister’s side, at the age of 37. His many acts of rebellion both in life and in poetry have since influenced a generation of poets. When his old lover, the great Verlaine, published his book about what he called “the damned poets”, Rimbaud was given special mention. In the 1960s he was admired by Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and he became – in spite of the fact that he resented his own fate – the poet icon of the sixties. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureAs the first trains departed for the front in 1914, few of the enlisted suspected that a tragedy was to follow. Not even Siegfried Sassoon who was to arrive at the frontline a year later, realised what was coming. The First World War, like the American Civil War some decades earlier, became a showcase for new military technology, laming, disfiguring or killing millions. Soon the enemies were entrenched on opposite sides in a war of attrition. The old world view perished in the bloody trenches of Verdun and the Somme. The most important witnesses to the tragedy, the ones who communicated this cultural shell schock most clearly, were the Great War poets, men like Rupert Brooke (d.1915), Wilfred Owen (d.1918) and Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). contacted one of the authorities on the period, Lord Egremont, in order to learn more about Sassoon. Siegfried Sassoon came from a very privileged family, do you think this protected him in any way? Lord Egremont: I think it helped him hugely. Class was important in Britain then. He also had a private income and a considerable fortune after a relation’s death in 1928. There were several poets of the Great War, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and others. Many of them knew each other, isn’t that a strange coincidence? Lord Egremont: They met accidentally; Graves and Sassoon were in the same regiment and Owen and Sassoon were patients together at Craiglockhart. In the probably quite philistine atmosphere of the army they were drawn to each other. Where did they publish their poems? How did their literary output come to the attention of the public? Lord Egremont: The war poems were not really successful during the war and Owen’s work was not published in any significant amount until after 1918. Sassoon’s prose works that came out at the end of the 1920s sold well. The acclaim for the war poems grew gradually and became particularly great during the 1960s. When did Sassoon’s doubts about the great war begin? Lord Egremont: He became disillusioned when his friends began to be killed and the home front became increasingly hysterical and out of touch with the reality of the trenches. He was of course decorated for his tremendous bravery. But then he turned and issued a declaration against the war, and was detained in a psychiatric hospital. But he could have been shot, could he not? Lord Egremont: He could have been. But the army was reluctant to risk a trial and public support for Sassoon. From the point of view of the Allies the general progress of the war at this point in 1917 was bad – at least a stale mate that seemed to favour the Germans. After the war, he had some professional success, married and fathered a child. He was, of course, a well-known homosexual. To what extent was this a marriage of convenience? Lord Egremont: I think he longed to have a family and hoped marriage might work. There is a famous poem called «Suicide in the Trenches», do we know anything about when he wrote this poem? Lord Egremont: Suicide in the Trenches was probably written while Sassoon was in the barracks at Limerick in January 1918. It has some Housman-like lines, and appeared in the Cambridge Magazine, February 23 1918. It is also in Sassoon’s 1918 collection Counter-Attack. It symbolises his growing disillusion with the war and his wish to shock civilians out of their ignorance. Sassoon’s style was relaxed and informal although strikingly effective. “Suicide in the Trenches” I knew a simple soldier boy Who grinned at life in empty joy, Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, And whistled early with the lark. In winter trenches, cowed and glum, With crumps and lice and lack of rum, He put a bullet through his brain. No one spoke of him again. You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye Who cheer when soldier lads march by, Sneak home and pray you’ll never know The hell where youth and laughter go.   Listen to a dramatic reading  Was Sassoon traumatized by his war experiences throughout his life, the way many veterans are today, with PTSD? Lord Egremont: I think he remained deeply affected by it. I think the poem “Letter to Robert Graves” shows Sassoon’s disturbed state of mind during the summer of 1918, when he wrote it in hospital in Lancaster Gate, having had a bad time in the trenches. He recovered during the 1920s, perhaps helped by writing the prose works such as the Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man and Memoirs of an infantry Officer. But the war undoubtedly scarred him as it scarred so many. His friends of the 1950s remember long sessions listening to him talk about it. He was a man who valued dignity and therefore would have not wanted to reveal private pain except to people to whom he felt very close. The doctor Rivers was his confessor/father figure and this helped greatly until Rivers died in 1922. Max Egremont (Lord Egremont) is a biographer of Siegfried Sassoon and a fellow of the Royal Society for Literature. (Image credit : Macmillan.) Garth Ennis and Phil Winslade’s illustrated interpretation of Sassoon’s poem “The General”(some scenes added for dramatic effect) from the comic book Above the Dreamless Dead (2014).  Buy Above the Dreamless Dead (2014) here  Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyn the year 1841, there resided, at different points in the State of Illinois, three brothers by the name of Trailor. Their Christian names were William, Henry and Archibald. Archibald resided at Springfield, then as now the seat of Government of the State. He was a sober, retiring, and industrious man, of about thirty years of age; a carpenter by trade, and a bachelor, boarding with his partner in business—a Mr. Myers. Henry, a year or two older, was a man of like retiring and industrious habits; had a family, and resided with it on a farm, at Clary’s Grove, about twenty miles distant from Springfield in a northwesterly direction. William, still older, and with similar habits, resided on a farm in Warren county, distant from Springfield something more than a hundred miles in the same northwesterly direction. He was a widower, with several children. In the neighborhood of William’s residence, there was, and had been for several years, a man by the name of Fisher, who was somewhat above the age of fifty; had no family, and no settled home; but who boarded and lodged a while here and a while there, with persons for whom he did little jobs of work. His habits were remarkably economical, so that an impression got about that he had accumulated a considerable amount of money. In the latter part of May, in the year mentioned, William formed the purpose of visiting his brothers at Clary’s Grove and Springfield; and Fisher, at the time having his temporary residence at his house, resolved to accompany him. They set out together in a buggy with a single horse. On Sunday evening they reached Henry’s residence, and stayed overnight. On Monday morning, being the first Monday of June, they started on to Springfield, Henry accompanying them on horseback. They reached town about noon, met Archibald, went with him to his boardinghouse, and there took up their lodgings for the time they should remain. After dinner, the three Trailors and Fisher left the boardinghouse in company, for the avowed purpose of spending the evening together in looking about the town. At supper, the Trailors had all returned, but Fisher was missing, and some inquiry was made about him. After supper, the Trailors went out professedly in search of him. One by one they returned, the last coming in after late teatime, and each stating that he had been unable to discover anything of Fisher. The next day, both before and after breakfast, they went professedly in search again, and returned at noon, still unsuccessful. Dinner again being had, William and Henry expressed a determination to give up the search, and start for their homes. This was remonstrated against by some of the boarders about the house, on the ground that Fisher was somewhere in the vicinity, and would be left without any conveyance, as he and William had come in the same buggy. The remonstrance was disregarded, and they departed for their homes respectively. Up to this time, the knowledge of Fisher’s mysterious disappearance had spread very little beyond the few boarders at Myers’, and excited no considerable interest. After the lapse of three or four days, Henry returned to Springfield, for the ostensible purpose of makings further search for Fisher. Procuring some of the boarders, he, together with them and Archibald, spent another day in ineffectual search, when it was again abandoned, and he returned home. No general interest was yet excited. On the Friday, week after Fisher’s disappearance, the Postmaster at Springfield received a letter from the Postmaster nearest William’s residence, in Warren County, stating that William had returned home without Fisher, and was saying, rather boastfully, that Fisher was dead, and had willed him his money, and that he had got about fifteen hundred dollars by it. The letter further stated that William’s story and conduct seemed strange, and desired the Postmaster at Springfield to ascertain and write what was the truth in the matter. The Postmaster at Springfield made the letter public, and at once, excitement became universal and intense. Springfield, at that time, had a population of about 3,500, with a city organization. The Attorney General of the State resided there. A purpose was forthwith formed to ferret out the mystery, in putting which into execution, the Mayor of the city and the Attorney General took the lead. To make search for, and, if possible, find the body of the man supposed to be murdered, was resolved on as the first step. In pursuance of this, men were formed into large parties, and marched abreast, in all directions, so as to let no inch of ground in the vicinity remain unsearched. Examinations were made of cellars, wells, and pits of all descriptions, where it was thought possible the body might be concealed. All the fresh, or tolerably fresh graves in the graveyard, were pried into, and dead horses and dead dogs were disintered, where, in some instances, they had been buried by their partial masters. This search, as has appeared, commenced on Friday. It continued until Saturday afternoon without success, when it was determined to dispatch officers to arrest William and Henry, at their residences, respectively. The officers started on Sunday morning; meanwhile, the search for the body was continued, and rumors got afloat of the Trailors having passed, at different times and places, several gold pieces, which were readily supposed to have belonged to Fisher. On Monday, the officers sent for Henry, having arrested him, arrived with him. The Mayor and Attorney Gen’l took charge of him, and set their wits to work to elicit a discovery from him. He denied, and denied, and persisted in denying. They still plied him in every conceivable way, till Wednesday, when, protesting his own innocence, he stated that his brothers, William and Archibald, had murdered Fisher; that they had killed him, without his (Henry’s) knowledge at the time, and made a temporary concealment of his body; that, immediately preceding his and William’s departure from Springfield for home, on Tuesday, the day after Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald communicated the fact to him, and engaged his assistance in making a permanent concealment of the body; that, at the time he and William left professedly for home, they did not take the road directly, but, meandering their way through the streets, entered the woods at the northwest of the city, two or three hundred yards to the right of where the road they should have travelled, entered them; that, penetrating the woods some few hundred yards, they halted and Archibald came a somewhat different route, on foot, and joined them; that William and Archibald then stationed him (Henry) on an old and disused road that ran near by, as a sentinel, to give warning of the approach of any intruder; that William and Archibald then removed the buggy to the edge of a dense brush thicket, about forty yards distant from his (Henry’s) position, where, leaving the buggy, they entered the thicket, and in a few minutes returned with the body, and placed it in the buggy; that from his station he could and did distinctly see that the object placed in the buggy was a dead man, of the general appearance and size of Fisher; that William and Archibald then moved off with the buggy in the direction of Hickox’s mill pond, and after an absence of half an hour, returned, saying they had put him in a safe place; that Archibald then left for town, and he and William found their way to the road, and made for their homes. At this disclosure, all lingering credulity was broken down, and excitement rose to an almost inconceivable height. Up to this time the well-known character of Archibald had repelled and put down all suspicions as to him. Till then, those who were ready to swear that a murder had been committed, were almost as confident that Archibald had had no part in it. But now, he was seized and thrown into jail; and indeed, his personal security rendered it by no means objectionable to him. And now came the search for the brush thicket, and the search of the mill pond. The thicket was found, and the buggy tracks at the point indicated. At a point within the thicket, the signs of a struggle were discovered, and a trail from thence to the buggy track was traced. In attempting to follow the track of the buggy from the thicket, it was found to proceed in the direction of the mill pond, but could not be traced all the way. At the pond, however, it was found that a buggy had been backed down to, and partially into the water’s edge. Search was now to be made in the pond; and it was made in every imaginable way. Hundreds and hundreds were engaged in raking, fishing, and draining. After much fruitless effort in this way, on Thursday morning the mill dam was cut down, and the water of the pond partially drawn off, and the same processes of search again gone through with. About noon of this day, the officer sent for William, returned having him in custody; and a man calling himself Dr. Gilmore, came in company with them. It seems that the officer arrested William at his own house, early in the day on Tuesday, and started to Springfield with him; that after dark awhile, they reached Lewiston, in Fulton County, where they stopped for the night; that late in the night this Dr. Gilmore arrived, stating that Fisher was alive at his house, and that he had followed on to give the information, so that William might be released without further trouble; that the officer, distrusting Dr. Gilmore, refused to release William, but brought him on to Springfield, and the doctor accompanied them. On reaching Springfield, the doctor re-asserted that Fisher was alive, and at his house. At this, the multitude for a time, were utterly confounded. Gilmore’s story was communicated to Henry Trailor, who without faltering, reaffirmed his own story about Fisher’s murder. Henry’s adherence to his own story was communicated to the crowd, and at once the idea started, and became nearly, if not quite universal, that Gilmore was a confederate of the Trailors, and had invented the tale he was telling, to secure their release and escape. Excitement was again at its zenith. About three o’clock the same evening, Myers, Archibald’s partner, started with a two-horse carriage, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Fisher was alive, as stated by Gilmore, and if so, of bringing him back to Springfield with him. On Friday a legal examination was gone into before two Justices, on the charge of murder against William and Archibald. Henry was introduced as a witness by the prosecution, and on oath re-affirmed his statements, as heretofore detailed, and at the end of which he bore a thorough and rigid cross-examination without faltering or exposure. The prosecution also proved, by a respectable lady, that on the Monday evening of Fisher’s disappearance, she saw Archibald, whom she well knew, and another man whom she did not then know, but whom she believed at the time of testifying to be William, (then present,) and still another, answering the description of Fisher, all enter the timber at the northwest of town, (the point indicated by Henry,) and after one or two hours, saw William and Archibald return without Fisher. Several other witnesses testified, that on Tuesday, at the time William and Henry professedly gave up the search for Fisher’s body, and started for home, they did not take the road directly, but did go into the woods, as stated by Henry. By others, also, it was proved, that since Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald had passed rather an unusual number of gold pieces. The statements heretofore made about the thicket, the signs of a struggle, the buggy tracks, &c., were fully proven by numerous witnesses. At this the prosecution rested. Dr. Gilmore was then introduced by the defendants. He stated that he resided in Warren county, about seven miles distant from William’s residence; that on the morning of William’s arrest, he was out from home, and heard of the arrest, and of its being on a charge of the murder of Fisher; that on returning to his own house, he found Fisher there; that Fisher was in very feeble health, and could give no rational account as to where he had been during his absence; that he (Gilmore) then started in pursuit of the officer, as before stated; and that he should have taken Fisher with him, only that the state of his health did not permit. Gilmore also stated that he had known Fisher for several years, and that he had understood he was subject to temporary derangement of mind, owing to an injury about his head received in early life. There was about Dr. Gilmore so much of the air and manner of truth, that his statement prevailed in the minds of the audience and of the court, and the Trailors were discharged, although they attempted no explanation of the circumstances proven by the other witnesses. On the next Monday, Myers arrived in Springfield, bringing with him the now famed Fisher, in full life and proper person. Thus ended this strange affair and while it is readily conceived that a writer of novels could bring a story to a more perfect climax, it may well be doubted whether a stranger affair ever really occurred. Much of the matter remains in mystery to this day. The going into the woods with Fisher, and returning without him, by the Trailors; their going into the woods at the same place the next day, after they professed to have given up the search; the signs of a struggle in the thicket, the buggy tracks at the edge of it; and the location of the thicket, and the signs about it, corresponding precisely with Henry’s story, are circumstances that have never been explained. William and Archibald have both died since—William in less than a year, and Archibald in about two years after the supposed murder. Henry is still living, but never speaks of the subject. It is not the object of the writer of this to enter into the many curious speculations that might be indulged upon the facts of this narrative; yet he can scarcely forbear a remark upon what would, almost certainly, have been the fate of William and Archibald, had Fisher not been found alive. It seems he had wandered away in mental derangement, and, had he died in this condition, and his body been found in the vicinity, it is difficult to conceive what could have saved the Trailors from the consequence of having murdered him. Or, if he had died, and his body never found, the case against them would have been quite as bad, for, although it is a principle of law that a conviction for murder shall not be had, unless the body of the deceased be discovered, it is to be remembered, that Henry testified that he saw Fisher’s dead body. Published by Abraham Lincoln, April 15, 1846 Listen to a reading of the story:   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyArchaeologists have discovered a treasure deep in the jungles of meso-America more valuable than any city of gold: a Mayan writing system that developed in isolation from Europe or the ancient cultures of Africa and Asia. However, due to the passage of time and our own brutality as colonizers only fragments remain. But what do we know about these sophisticated, urban people and their hieroglyphs?  As always, language offers rare glimpses into the minds of the defeated. contacted Brown University’s Anthropology department, and talked to Mallory Matsumoto, a Ph.d. student who is a specialist on Maya culture and writing. The Maya were one of the very few literate cultures in ancient meso-America, how common was reading and writing among their people? Did everyone know how to read and write? Mallory Matsumoto: As far as we can tell—from the quantity of texts we have, their contents and contexts, archaeological evidence for scribes, and comparison with other cultures—only a small minority in pre-Columbian Maya society would have been able to read or write. Moreover, these people probably would have been elites; some lower-status persons or commoners, who were the majority, may have been able to recognize the hieroglyphs as writing or even interpret a few signs, but probably did not engage with the writing system much more than that. Did the Maya use literature for personal entertainment like we do today? Mallory Matsumoto: For the most part, we don’t have direct evidence indicating in what context or for what purposes the Maya used their hieroglyphic texts—we must deduce this largely from text content and context, including where and when it was created. For example, some monumental texts were positioned to be clearly visible to people, in a space that would have been accessible to many; thus, these may have been intended to serve a broadcasting function. Their texts often record historical or biographical information about the dynasty and appear with images of the king or his allies. The relatively few surviving murals, like those at Bonampak, Rio Azul, or Xultun, would have only been visible to those who were able to enter the building or tomb in which they were painted, and in some cases, the hieroglyphs were small enough that the viewer would need to come up to the wall to read them. In contrast, writing on portable objects, like ceramic vessels or ornaments, is thought to have been intended for more restricted or even individual use. These texts may more directly address the object itself or a mythological narrative, for example, rather than political events. Do we know anything about what sort of literature they had? Is it possible to talk of any Maya literary style, for instance? Mallory Matsumoto: Unfortunately, it’s not clear to what extent the texts we have represent the entire breadth of Maya hieroglyphic writing as it was used in pre-Columbian times. Most hieroglyphic texts have not survived, because of a combination of preservation bias that favors materials more durable than bark paper or (probably) palm leaves, (intentional or otherwise), and random chance. Nonetheless, one key stylistic feature of Maya writing and orality for which we have ample evidence is parallelism, a strategy of articulating two or more comparable elements (words, grammatical forms, etc.) to add nuance or communicate additional meaning. In its most basic form, this strategy juxtaposes two elements (words, grammatical forms, etc.) in a couplet. But more elaborate examples can combine three or more elements to convey very subtle levels of nuance. We have examples of parallelism in hieroglyphic texts from pre-Columbian times, as well as in alphabetic writing and oral traditions recorded since the early colonial period, and it remains an integral component of Maya expression through the present. Many of the books were of course destroyed during the Spanish conquest by people like Diego De Landa? Do we know anything about what was lost? What do the sources tell us about what Landa destroyed? Mallory Matsumoto: Almost all pre-Columbian books have been destroyed or lost. Some simply decayed; painted and plastered bark paper would have needed extraordinary conditions to survive, especially in the hot, humid Maya Lowlands. In this context, it is unsurprising that the four books that we do have all date to within a few centuries of European contact. Archaeologists have found eroded remains of much older, pre-Columbian books, but they are illegible because they are so fragmentary. Most of those books that did manage to survive the stress of time, the elements, and general wear and tear, were abandoned or confiscated by colonial officials as part of cultural persecution under European colonialism. Because these books were written in a writing system completely foreign to the colonizers and many books were integral components of Maya spiritual and ritual practice, they were seen generally as threats to the Europeans’ civilizing and evangelizing mission. We do have records of Europeans seeing these books, but for the most part, their descriptions have proved to be unreliable for reconstructing the original books’ contents. More frequently, they refer to the documents in passing as exotic and impenetrable, if not outright threatening, objects. What about the remaining manuscripts, what sort of text are they? Mallory Matsumoto: Only four books or codices are known to have survived into the present. These books contain hieroglyphs and images painted on bark paper, and their contents are, as far as we can tell, largely calendrical, religious, or astronomical. However, many passages are still opaque, so there is plenty that these codices have left to tell that we don’t yet understand. Are there any significant literary texts inscribed in stone? Mallory Matsumoto: Almost all known hieroglyphic writing is preserved on more durable media, like stone or ceramic, although a handful of surviving texts were recorded on wood, bone, shell, or other, more fragile materials. Hence, texts inscribed in stone have been critical in decipherment efforts and in the ongoing development of our understanding of pre-Columbian Maya political history, among other issues. However, they are not, as far as we can tell, representative of all genres of Maya writing: those on stone monuments typically deal with politically, historically, or dynastically relevant information, whereas those on portable stone objects like jade celts or earspools are, necessarily, briefer, and tend to focus on the immediate context of the object itself and its user. What about the oral traditions of the Maya people, do they in any way reflect what you have discovered in manuscripts and in texts? Mallory Matsumoto: Many narratives known from later oral traditions probably would have been recorded in books and other media that have not survived into the present. We see hints of this in texts from the colonial period, most famously the Popol Wuj, that record community histories and cosmology. However, it’s likely that much content of known oral traditions would not have readily been written down during the colonial period, at least not in documents that were made available to those from outside the local community, because they could have been seen as incompatible with European (especially Christian) values. We have a small number of comparable texts from the pre-Columbian period as well, including the four surviving codices, but most known hieroglyphic texts are different in content and style from oral traditions that have been recorded since European contact. The Maya language system seems very difficult, does it bear any resemblance to any other language found in meso-America or elsewhere? Mallory Matsumoto: Mayan languages form their own linguistic family and are not known to be related to other languages in Mesoamerica, but there has been a substantial amount of contact and borrowing between Mayan languages and those spoken by their neighbors, including Mixtec, Zapotec, and Nahuatl. The language primarily recorded in hieroglyphic texts, now referred to as Classic Mayan, is no longer spoken today. Even at the time, it was probably an elite, literary language that was not spoken by most of the population. Around 30 Mayan languages are spoken now by several million people, although most of them are not directly descended from Classic Mayan. Do you know if the rediscovery of the Mayan script has influenced any modern mexican writers, or literary movements? Mallory Matsumoto: Research on pre-Columbian Maya contexts has certainly influenced contemporary literary and artistic movements. Artists are incorporating elements and motifs from pre-Columbian Maya culture into their paintings, sculptures, prose, poetry, etc. Growing interest, both locally and internationally, in (especially pre-Columbian) Maya society and culture has also generally inspired more pride and association in some contemporary Maya peoples with the heritage of the more distant past. One important, recent development in this context has been the revitalization of the hieroglyphic script itself, led by local and international intellectuals interested in reclaiming the ancient writing system in the present. In addition to hosting workshops to disseminate knowledge of the script, they have also created new murals, paintings, books, and monuments with hieroglyphic writing. What is the most surprising thing you have discovered after the Mayan scripts were deciphered? Mallory Matsumoto: One key realization, catalyzed by the work of Tatiana Proskouriakoff and Heinrich Berlin in the mid-20th century, has been that the content of hieroglyphic texts, especially on monuments, is overwhelmingly historical and biographical, rather than singly focused on esoteric, spiritual themes. This advancement had consequences for our view of pre-Columbian Maya civilization as a whole—as scholars have become able to read more and more and have interpreted them as historical sources, they have developed a more dynamic view of Maya politics and warfare, among other aspects of society. It continues to drive much current epigraphic and archaeological research as we have been able to reveal more of the complexities of pre-Columbian Maya society. For me personally, one of the more surprising aspects of studying the Maya hieroglyphic script has been the sheer diversity of the corpus—of the text forms and contents, of the objects on which they were created, of the manner of presenting the texts, of the materials used to produce them, of the contexts in which they were made and used, among other aspects. It continues to remind me just how many perspectives and corners of Maya epigraphy there are to be explored. Are there any remaining mysteries concerning the Mayan scripts? Mallory Matsumoto: Despite decades of intense and insightful epigraphic work, the Maya hieroglyphic script has not yet been fully deciphered; a number of glyphs cannot yet be interpreted, phonetically, semantically, or both. The early and late hieroglyphic texts remain some of the most enigmatic—to really understand the history and development of the script, we need to be able to read them, which will require the discovery of additional texts and more concentrated effort from scholars. We also know relatively little, for instance, about how much linguistic diversity that the hieroglyphic script records. Most texts seem to have been written in a relatively standard variant, now called Classic Mayan, but this elite literary language would not have been the primary language of everyone, certainly not most non-elites across the region who spoke any of many different Mayan languages. Scholars have found some evidence of local, vernacular influence on hieroglyphic texts, but we still do not fully understand the relationship of the writing system to spoken languages(s), and work on this topic remains ongoing. And these are just a few examples—there certainly plenty of issues waiting to be addressed by future generations of Maya epigraphers. Every discovery or advancement in Maya archaeology or epigraphy raises more questions. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureRead a Margie Harris story in our fiction pages In the 1930, when the United States was in the grip of the Great Depression, pulp magazines became immensely popular. The country had just been through the age of prohibition, and these were the days of Capone and Dillinger. In the 1910s, magazines had started to publish stories like Boston Blackie, an early gangster favorite. Later, pulp magazines that focused specifically on criminals emerged. One of these was Gangster Stories, Mobs was another. Among the most prominent pulp authors at the time was an individual writing under the name «Margie Harris». Little is known about her life, so we contacted the editor of a collection of her stories, John Locke, to find out more. What do we know about the life of Margie Harris? John Locke: Most of what we know about her came from a letter published in the June 1931 Gangster Stories. Readers had been speculating that the stories with her byline were so tough they had to have been written by a man. She put that rumor to rest, explaining how her career as a newspaper reporter introduced her to many criminals and underworld figures. She cited a number of notorious names which allows us to establish her career in two locales: the San Francisco Bay Area from about the turn of the century to the early 1910s, and Chicago in the early 1920s. Dovetailing with her reportorial background, in the mid-1930s, she wrote articles for a true-crime magazine. All were set within either Houston or a 250-mile radius. If she had been born circa 1880, then she would have been about fifty in 1930 when she started her fiction-writing career, an opportunity afforded by the sudden emergence of the gang pulps, magazines which presented a gangster-centric view of society. Beyond that, her identity couldn’t be independently identified. “Margie Harris” may have been a pseudonym. None of her newspaper reportage has thus far been found, which is not terribly unusual. Many reporters never see their bylines in print. Was she a prolific writer, how many stories did she write? John Locke: She published almost ninety stories in her ten-year fiction career from 1930-39. In the beginning, all were gangster tales. As that genre quickly faded from popularity, she turned to action-detective stories. Most of her stories ranged from 10-25 pages in the magazines. About ten were in the 40-50-page range. Her first published story was 39 pages, so she didn’t exactly ease into the pulp scene. Her only novel-length story was “Little Big Shot,” published in full in the May 1932 Gangster Stories. In the 1930s, pulp fiction was a penny-a-word business for most freelance writers. A 20-page story would run about 10,000 words, for which the author received $100. Margie’s best year may have been 1932, during which she published 14 stories, or about 500 pages of fiction, for which she would have received $2,500. That was at the very depths of the Depression. In 1932, the average hourly wage dropped from 50 to 40 cents an hour, or from $1,000 to $800 a year. How does she compare with Hammett, Chandler and the hard-boiled school of noir fiction? John Locke: She’s definitely hardboiled. Her stories are plenty violent, generally centering around gangland wars, police brutality, etc. She’s not shy about describing society’s soiled undersides. I wouldn’t label her noir since all of her fiction was published in the 1930s, and I associate noir with a post-WWII sense of traditional morality in decay. Gang-pulp stories didn’t show good people falling from grace. They immersed the reader in that depraved world from the outset. Hammett and Chandler are more polished, which is a function of time—and talent. Margie probably wrote her fiction like a reporter writes news stories, i.e. meet the editor’s expectations and move on to the next thing. That was the general approach for a pulp writer. The editors wanted genre thrills, not literature. They weren’t interested in detailed descriptions of settings, complex characters, or intricate plots. They wanted rapidly paced stories of action. Some writers discovered, to their chagrin, that the editors would strip the artful descriptions out of the text; the average reader didn’t want it so the editor wasn’t going to pay a penny a word for it. The seasoned pulp-writer learned the lesson. Hammett and Chandler were pulp writers, too, before they were considered better than that. But they had the advantage of writing for Black Mask which, unlike the majority of pulp magazines, encouraged a higher level of style. The editor of Black Mask, Joseph Shaw, flattered his contributors’ ambitions. Margie may simply have been writing for a living, the way she had in the newspaper business. How would you characterize her prose. It is quite good, isn’t it? John Locke: Yes, she’s a clever wordsmith. She’s writes in a near-steady stream of gangland lingo, most of which is very colorful, but some of which can be challenging to interpret today. She drops artful innuendo into her prose on occasion, as in one of my favorite gags from “Cougar Kitty.” Kitty is the hostess of a speakeasy who greets two mobsters with: “Come on in, both of you. The water’s wet—and we haven’t any.” That one stopped me short. She’s also frequently betrays her insider newspaper knowledge with details like this: “The afternoon papers had extras on the street when Gimpy went underground at a nearby subway station. The Journal’s headlines shrieked: ‘Vice King Sought for Death of Slum Worker.’ Monk Diller was named in the secondary headline. A two-column cut of his features centered the first page. The caption read: ‘$5000 Reward,’ while below it was an accurate police description.” Indeed, her working writer sensibilities seep into her prose in interesting ways: “Tac-tac-tac-tac-tac-tac-tac!” The “typewriter” in the street outside wrote its lethal message in seven stuttering blasts—with dead silence for the final period. She’s referring, of course, to the weapon of choice: a machine-gun. She is entertaining, why do think she has fallen into obscurity the way she did? John Locke: The gang pulps weren’t mainstream when she wrote for them, so the problem starts there. And they only had a few years of success, from 1930 through the end of Prohibition, about 1933. Virtually no authors used their success in the gang pulps as a springboard to something greater. It was a specialized field and, when the gang pulps faded, the careers of most of the authors withered with them. Margie fared better than most through the rest of the decade, but was only one author among many hundreds supplying short stories and novelettes to the detective and crime pulps. Additionally, popular culture is bolstered by a huge industry that constantly churns out new product. Most of the past gets buried in the avalanche. Only a small handful of things remain popular or get rediscovered. There seem to have been a huge number of very substantial writers who have emerged from these pulp magazines. Do you know of other writers whom you feel have been neglected? John Locke: In the gangster field, Anatole Feldman stands out. Like Margie, he had a knack for the underworld lingo, some of which was probably authentic, and some of which he probably invented, but you can’t tell the difference. What sort of circulation did Gangster Stories and Mobs have? John Locke: Most publishers held these numbers close and precise circulation figures for the pulps are hard to obtain. Most pulps were sold on newsstands and very few through mail subscriptions, so the national magazine distributors set the terms. There were about 100,000 newsstands in the country, in railway stations, on busy street corners, in drugstores, etc. Publisher Harold Hersey, who was most responsible the gang-pulp boom, probably had as many copies of an issue printed, hoping to sell at least half the run, which he probably did when the magazines were at their peak of popularity. The minimum circulation to be viable was probably about 30,000. I read once that the lone gunman of the old west was the literary precursor to the noir detective. Why do you think people are so fascinated by the lives of gangsters? John Locke: I think that gang life is a perversion of self-government. We all chafe to one degree or another at being directed, boxed in, or otherwise told what to do, and the man with the gun or, better still, the gang armed like an army, represents a twisted form of freedom. In the old west, we can imagine that protecting one’s prerogatives with a well-oiled six-shooter was actually virtuous, a necessary survival skill in a somewhat lawless frontier. Prohibition (1920-33) violated the social contract of the Constitution by trespassing into what most people considered a valid use of freedom: drinking. Instead of eliminating booze, what the law actually did was to create a set of shadow governments—the mob—organizations who, on one level of interpretation, defended freedom against its oppressors, law enforcement. It was as if the old west view of virtuous self-defense had been appropriated by vast criminal enterprises. For the reader, it’s wish-fulfillment to experience characters controlling their individual destinies through force of arms. The gang pulps emerged in the final years of Prohibition, after the unintended and shocking consequences of the law had become apparent. Many of the fans of gangland fiction, I believe, read the stories as a parody of American society. Reading them was an act of rebellion—they were undoubtedly popular with teenagers and other cynics—a way to say: Our wise elders have been exposed as fools. In that respect, Prohibition parallels the experience of World War I, another noble cause that quickly turned into human disaster on an epic scale. Indeed, the imagery of the gangland story draws upon that conflict, still fresh in the mind in the early ’30s: batteries of soldiers armed with machine-guns facing off in a ruthless fight to the death. It’s probably no coincidence that the gang pulps immediately followed a wave of popularity for pulps featuring WWI fiction, a trend that started in 1926. While the United States in the 20s and 30s turned to the noir and hard-boiled school of mystery, the UK produced writers like Agatha Christie who favored plot over style. Why do you think the two traditions became so different? John Locke: It might be as simple as manners, that is, the British have better manners and thus their crime fiction reflects that. It might be the long shadow of the frontier, as we explored above. Or perhaps it’s the influence of Hollywood on the broader American culture. The movies—especially the silents—favored action over the subtleties of human behavior, things in physical motion over things in thought. In a silent movie, it’s easier to show a conflict resolved by violence than one solved by deduction. Indeed, the gang pulps were clearly influenced by Hollywood. Films like Underworld (1927) and The Dragnet (1928) heightened interest in gangland, which the pulps were all too happy to capitalize on. The introduction of sound into film significantly altered the equation, but the idea of action remains at the core of cinema. What do you think has been the legacy of the gangster stories? John Locke: I think that they helped solidify the mythology of Prohibition: racketeers and gangsters, speakeasies, Tommy-guns, hoodlums shooting out of the windows of their speeding Packards, and so forth. I’m not sure the gang pulps had much of a literary legacy; their flavor is very much wedded to their brief window of time. The pulps returned to gang-fiction magazines at various times, but never with the same vigor. Later, interest in organized crime moved more into the nonfiction domain as awareness of the Mafia grew. In film and television, though, organized crime has remained a popular theme. For my tastes, the closest production to capture the spirit of the gang pulps was the great TV series The Untouchables (1959-63). If you were to recommend a Margie Harris story from your collection, which one would it be, and why?  John Locke: She was remarkably consistent in quality, so you can pick up any of her stories for a good read. I’m partial to the ones with female protagonists, as they break the mold. Most gang-pulp stories—and most of Margie’s—feature male protagonists, as we would expect. But occasionally, like in “Cougar Kitty,” it’s time for a woman to take the ultimate revenge on the men who have wronged her. Another heroine featured in our collection was Lota Remsden, the so-called Black Moll (she’s white), in “Understudy From Hell.” She gets ahead by being smarter than the dumb hoods who populate her mob. There actually was a pulp featuring gang-fiction with female leads, called Gun Molls Magazine. It lasted for nineteen issues from 1930-32 and is quite a scarce collectible today. Queen of the Gangsters: Stories by by Margie Harris is available from Amazon Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / online resourcesIn the 19th century the British Empire went to war to keep China addicted to opium. Britain was the largest drug cartell the world had ever seen, shipping their merchandise from India, and bribing the Chinese customs officials to bring the drugs into the country. Millions of Chinese became addicted, a public health emergency. The Chinese emperor dispatched Lin Zexu, an efficient former regional govenor, to deal with the issue.  The result was an armed conflict which ended in a humiliating treaty for the Chinese. William Gladstone, the famous liberal, denounced the war as scandalous. “A war more unjust in its origin, a war calculated in its progress to cover this country with a permanent disgrace, I do not know and I have not read of” he wrote. His opposition was Lord Palmerston, the prime minister at the time, who said he would fight for compensation from the Chinese for lost merchandise. Along with the great Indian famines, the opium wars are seldom mentioned in Britain. The UK likes to take the moral high ground focusing on Churchill’s struggle with the nazis. But the British were, at times, no saints themselves. Lin Zexu on the other hand, the rigid moralist, emerges a hero of Chinese history. There are at least three great epic movies about him (two below).  Although blamed for the war, he was partially rehabilitated in his lifetime. He died in 1850. “Let us ask, where is your conscience?”- Lin Zexu open letter to Queen Victoria Lectures The Opium Wars “Conflict over China” “The China Trade” part 7 “The Opium Wars” London School Economics Lecture by Amitav Ghosh on his Opium War novels The Guardian audio “Raj Ghatak reads the first chapter of Amitav Ghosh’s latest novel, Flood of Fire” (1 hour 12 min) Radio shows BBC In Our Time “The Opium Wars” Teacup media The First Opium War History Today Podcast “The Opium Wars” with Julia Lovell “Frank Sanello, author of The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another” (25 min) Documentary Below you can watch a Chinese feature movie on the Opium Wars. There is a public domain version of the story from 1959, but it is not subtitled. This one from 1997 has been available from several channels on youtube for a while. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyI have suspected my neighbor of using my garden hose without my permission for many years, perhaps even 20. Of course, I have never asked him about it, even if he sometimes comes to dinner in my own home. In stead, I have begun watching him. I sit by my window in the evening observing him as he goes about his business. My thought was that if I could catch him in the act then I would rush out and finally have my theories proven. I am retired, and I don’t have much else to do. After having been at my post every morning some years, I discovered that someone else, the neighbor one house up, was in fact using my neighbor’s garden hose in his absence, most certainly without his permission. Clearly, this was extremely immoral, and I would not stand for it. So, I got the idea that if I informed my long hated Nemesis about the fact that his neighbor was taking liberties, the two of them would bring about each other’s downfall. So, one morning I casually walked up to my dishonest neighbor and mentioned, almost in passing, that I had seen the neighbor one house down entering his house that morning. My neighbor did not say anything, but his eyes revealed a total shock. I was very pleased, and returned to my lookout post. The next day, I could see my Nemesis peering through his curtains, obviously trying to verify my gossip. He also began walking down the road, looking up at his neighbor’s house in disbelief. The two passed even each other in the street, and my Nemesis gave the neighbor a very nasty look. I almost had to smile. But what happened then was not what I expected. My Nemesis told me over dinner that he had discovered that the matter was related to a use of a garden hose, and that he had talked with his neighbor one house down, and that the garden hose would be placed in the shed, where they both could get to it with ease. The matter was settled, he said. This was not what I wanted, so I had to come up with something else in the spur of the moment. “And what about your car?” I asked. “My car?” said my neighbor. “Yes, I have seen your neighbor driving your car while you are away? I thought you had an agreement?” My neighbor was wonderfully shocked, threw down his dinner napkin and ran out the door. The next morning the two of them were shouting it out on the front lawn. I was hidden behind a semitransparent curtain in front of an open window. I could not see their faces, but I saw the distinct silhouettes of their waving arms and heard their mutual accusations and insults. I almost laughed when my long held Nemesis struck his neighbor in the face. Now it would be a matter for the police, and the courts would be involved. And I was quite right. I wandered down the road to the neighbor one house down. I have never known him very well. Still, I feel some connection to him because his sister is the ex-wife of my own brother. She is a very nice person, but I have kept my distance out of respect for my brother. They quarreled, you see. I found him frantically dialing something on his mobile phone. He had a black eye, and was very agitated. “Hello”, I said. “Have you been in an accident?” I pointed to my own eye to indicate what I meant. “No! I most certainly have not,” he said. “My neighbor has gone absolutely insane and has started to accuse me of using his car. It all started with me using his garden hose without his permission. I thought it would be no big deal.”“No big deal!!” I exclaimed. “Taking liberties with others is a huge breach of trust. And now he has struck you in the face! You must take legal action!”“I was planning to, but then I thought my credibility would be ruined by the fact that I had used his garden hose. I have admitted this in front of witnesses. But using a garden hose is not the same as using his car. Which is what he is now claiming.”“Well”, I said. “Your neighbor might not be as morally upright as he is pretending to be. In fact, I may be willing to testify in court to this fact. And as you know, I may be retired. But I have impeccable credentials after spending almost 40 years as a clerk in the legal department of the town property registry. No one will doubt my word”.“Really? You would do such a thing for me? But we hardly know each other?”“We do in a way. Many years ago, your sister was married to my younger brother. I have never mentioned it because they argued so terribly, and I kept my distance out of respect for my brother. But I have always liked your sister much better than my own brother.”“I see,” he said and thoughtfully scratched his ear. “Will you give me a week to think about this. I will do as you say. But I must find a good lawyer. Some are very expensive?”“Of course”, I said and smiled confidently. “I understand completely”.I then returned to my home, and had a full bottle of wine to celebrate. Finally, I would be given a chance to confront my best friend about his illegitimate use of my garden hose. The whole world would be able to read the court transcripts a hundred years from now. If there is one thing a legal clerk knows, it is that history does not remember things that are not written in black and white.A week later, I was informed that a date for a trial was set. Of course, the case was not given priority, so we all had to wait half a year. But it was worth the wait because matters of principle cannot go unsettled.The two of them appeared in court on opposite sides with each their own suited lawyers. I was seated at the back, and would appear as a witness later. They both knew this, but I had not been too specific about what I was going to say. I had mentioned the hose, but I thought I would air some other flaws in my Nemesis’ character that had annoyed me over the years.First, there was some legal mambo-jumbo, but then finally the man was on the stand telling the horrific story of the unmotivated violence to which he had been so unfairly subjected. I smiled as he recounted the unsubstantiated car story to the court. “But of course, this is nothing compared to the man who is about to appear as a witness. He always uses this man’s lawnmower when he is gone. And he also sometimes steals his mail.”“WHAT!!” I shouted from the back.“Yes, I can confirm this” my Nemesis said. “I have seen this many times. He is always taking liberties. He is not honest. I am very sorry for having struck you. Will you forgive me?”Then the two of them met in front of the judge, and hugged. The judge sighed. Then, he lifted his gavel and, almost in dismay, struck at the table as he said: “case dismissed”. My two neighbors and their lawyers then left, almost without looking at me.I sat alone at the back utterly confused. But then I got up and shouted at the judge: “I have NEVER EVER used someone else’s lawnmower without their permission. These are all lies, I tell you!”. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storymagine traveling through space at lightening speed, exploring the deep recesses of the universe to unveil her deepest secrets. “Are we really alone?” is one of the most fundamental questions that future generations must explore. The questions really makes my heart beat. Somehow the notion of that grand future, of all those limitless possibilities makes me relax, bringing balance to a boring life. I am a social worker, you see, for a private company. I make rounds helping old people, geezers, hags and cripples. Perhaps they need something. Then I will provide it for them. I will even wipe their bottoms if they need it. Naturally, I often hate my job and like most people I sit on my couch and dream of becoming a millionaire or I get completely wasted and pretend to be one. Sometimes I feel as if I would care for anything or anyone provided the pay was satisfactory. Science Fiction writing is therefore a great passion of mine. When I write about the future, a world of possibilities and probabilities opens up to me and I can mould it into a format I can accept. I will become the next Arthur C. Clark. In the meantime, I will, for a modest fee, remove your excrements and make your bed. In January a few years back, I was given a new patient to take care of, a certain Mrs. Jackson whose husband had died suddenly in a horrible accident a few years earlier leaving her all alone with failing memory. She lived a nice house on the west end of town, with a patch of grass outside and a white fence to match. It would have been a paradise for someone healthy. What it was for Mrs. Jackson, I cannot say. She sat in a wheelchair as I entered, but I don’t think she was physically dependent upon it. When she saw me she was immediately disgusted. “Who are you?” she said. “I am Michael, your new social worker? Don’t you remember?” “No.  Will you be taking care of me?” “Yes.” “Well you damn well better. Crazy old cow like me, sitting here all alone!” I soon found out that Mrs. Jackson had many needs that needed to be fulfilled. She had a schedule to keep and if it was not kept to the letter, she would become hysterical and utter words I have never heard from people her age. Other times – I think this was in her best periods- she would get flashes of clarity and her eyes gleamed of doom and tragedy. “I am so lonely”, she would say. One day she was looking for her glasses in the living room. “Michael! Michael Michael” she shouted as she paced across the room. I ran down the stairs from the upstairs bedroom where I was making the bed thinking that she had suffered some form of injury. When I arrived she said “I cannot find my glasses. I know they are here. Perhaps they have taken them from me?” “Who?” I replied. “Don’t get funny with me! You know very well who I am talking about. Anyway it’s 3 o’clock and you haven’t finished the bedroom yet. That means that you will be late for cleaning the kitchen at 4 like we normally do. I always have the kitchen cleaned at 4. Why can’t I find my glasses”, she said as she sunk down in her chair. I could see now that she was crying. I was going to her side, but something held me back. Then she made it easy for me as she said “Go away!”. “I know what I want”, the old woman said. “I want to be human. You all want me dead. That is what you really want. Actually, if you are going to continue with that sort of attitude, I don’t see how we can work together. I honestly don’t. Where are my glasses? I want my glasses, damn it” The old woman had turned mean on me. Her face was stone cold, even her wrinkles seemed inanimate. I studied her expressions, but I could not find a hint of compromise. “Do you want me to leave Mrs. Jackson?” “Yes” I sighed and gathered my things. As I was leaving, I heard her shout after me: «And don’t bother coming back». The next day I returned to have the matter settled. I expected that she simply didn’t like me and that she would prefer to have someone else in her house, perhaps a woman. Surprisingly she seemed cheerful in her chair by the window. She greeted me and smiled. I sat down, began politely by saying that I understood her situation, that it was her choice and that I was willing to have the company find a replacement within the month. She looked at me and laughed “My dear, what are you rambling about?” “Don’t you remember that you shouted at me and called me a liar?” “No” “You said I had a bad attitude.” “My dear young man, I have never seen you before in my life. I bear grudges to no one, especially not a complete stranger such as yourself. Now be a dear sweetheart and give my pills, will you.” At first, I thought she was playing with me, but her act seemed so natural and her expression so innocent that I discarded the idea. “Mrs. Jackson, do you remember my name?” “John?” “No, it’s Michael.” “Such a nice name too,” she said and touched my hand. I now began wondering what she really remembered from our past encounter. What did it matter what I did, if she would never remember it. Normally I bring some cake every Friday to my patients, but in view of recent events it would seem a waste of time. She always asked me if we had cake on Friday, and having assumed that she simply needed to have the obvious confirmed; I thought she remembered. From that day on I brought no more cake on Fridays. Certainly there was no reason to bring the actual cake. When she asked me if we had cake, I told her we had and she was just as happy as if she actually did. Pretty soon other changes occurred. I no longer needed to follow her stringent rules. She would always ask me if I had done the kitchen at 4 like she wanted it done, and I replied yes, and that was that. I had no qualms about what I was doing because it meant nothing to her now. I started wondering whether there was even any need for kindness. I thought I could insult her one day and come back the next as if nothing happened. But, such deliberate cruelty was beyond even me. Things were bad enough. There was no need to rub it in. The situation with Mrs. Jackson soon started to depress me. Somehow I blamed her for her effect on me, and I am afraid I at times was not as polite to her as she deserved. Seeing her sit there, asking me every time who I was and what I was doing there, got to me in a way that I didn’t understand. It was as if I saw in her my own situation magnified. I began searching for something to do, something that could take my mind of the job. I found it in a newspaper ad. A local writer was organizing a course in creative writing. But it was too expensive for me, a 1000 dollars. The opportunity that presented itself to me at the end of May that year now fills me with shame, although there are parts of me that think I deserved something in compensation for the way she made me feel. Mrs. Jackson’s failing memory had brought more of her practical affairs to my attention. When there was something that needed to be fixed, local taxes or gas bills, I stepped in to pay them for her. Naturally she had given me all her papers and permission to withdraw any amount from the bank. Legally she was in need of a guardian, and in the absence of relatives, the system left those tasks temporarily to me. I now realized that Mrs. Jackson was a very rich woman. In fact, I was told that she owned as much as a million, and that there were no close relatives to inherit the money. In fact, the money would probably be donated to charity when she died, or even worse, it would confiscated by the government. 1000 dollars to her was nothing. It was a drop in the ocean. I would get my writing class, and then I would be a better nurse to her. She might actually want that. Surely, in the end this was something that I did for her too, seeing that she was helpless and needed constant assistance from strangers. I was a tip. Yes, that’s what it was. The next day I withdrew the 1000 dollars from her account and enrolled in the writing class. I was very excited at first. I never thought that I would have any kind of talent for writing. I never compared myself to great writers, but I thought that might actually be able to write for the mass marked rather than for the sophisticated critic, who it was impossible to please anyway. The classes took place every Friday at some shabby downtown haunt. Unfortunately the classes took place at the same time as my Friday appointments with Mrs. Jackson, but I discovered that if I arrived 2 hours later and stayed a few minutes longer, she would never even notice that I was gone. There were about 10 of us and our teacher was just as eccentric as I hoped he would be. Everybody knows that anyone who tries to teach writing to others must be certifiably insane. He was a tall skinny character with bushy hair and a wild staring gaze. Apparently he had published some novels himself, although I had never heard of any of them. There were several people who considered themselves artists in the true sense of the word. They quoted Russian novelists and spoke of literary theory with great insight. Naturally, none of them had ever published anything and in my opinion they were all idiots. When I announced my intention to write about aliens for the mass marked, they said I was insincere. “Don’t you know”, I said, “that the future is a very exciting subject? New developments in biotechnology will revolutionize our treatment of disease and new information technology will bring all the knowledge of the world into our living rooms. In the future, I believe, all humans will learn faster because they can take drugs to improve their memory. We will all become geniuses.” “Interesting”, the teacher said, and stared at me with his crazy eyes. “Very interesting. What do the rest of you think, will there be a brave new world of tomorrow? Hm Hm Tell me.” His eyes searched the room for an opinion. “Well, I think he is on to something”, a girl replied. “I can sort of see the sense of it”. She looked at me with deep brown eyes and smiled. I felt my heart skip a beat. I don’t get many smiles from women. Next time the class gathered, the teacher was late and I got her into a conversation. She was very pretty, too pretty for me actually. She had quiet, subdued manner about her, she never looked straight at me. It occurred to me that she was painfully shy, even delicate. “What do you do?”, I said, “I mean when you are not writing” “I’m a psychologist”, she said. “Really”, I replied, “I am a social worker.” We soon discovered that we had much in common. A few minutes later we talked about personal matters, things that we both seemed concerned about. She had some oddities though, but I easily forgave them considering how beautiful she was. For instance, she would always ask me if I thought she was fat, even though she was extremely skinny. When I told her that I thought she could well gain a few pounds, she gave me a very irritated look, as if I was lying to her. However, most of the time we talked about other things, such as the best Sci-Fi movies and who founded modern science fiction, Mary Shelley or H.G. Wells. Very soon I realized that I was in love with her. This blessing was a tragedy in disguise. I could hardly work anymore without having all sorts of plans for our future in my head. Her face seemed to haunt me constantly, even when I worked with Mrs. Jackson. Once Mrs. Jackson eyed me suspiciously and said “Michael, are you in love?” “Of course not”, I said. “Don’t be silly.” After that I decided that I should not talk to her the rest of the week. After all, I could start talking to her in a week when I had calmed down and she wouldn’t remember a thing. That weekend Lisa and I went up to a cottage she had in the country. It was one of those perfect moments that are forever imprinted in your memory. We drove into her valley and we felt happy. The cottage lay on the bank of a slow moving river that glittered where the landscape opened up into a wide-open space. I think I told myself that this was too good to be true, fearing that I could wake up at any moment. The following week we met regularly, and it goes without saying that I partly neglected my duties with Mrs. Jackson. However, she did not suffer any distress in the sense that her physical needs were ignored. She had food, her house was clean and she never complained. Lisa and I had now become intimate and I cherished the memory of her naked body, elegant and dexterous as it was. I could sit by myself and think about it for hours on end. Sometimes I would catch myself in red-handed apathy and at those occasions I would humour myself with the idea that the senile Mrs. Jackson and I after all were not much different, comfortably seated in our chairs, staring into oblivion. My writing classes were now drawing to a close. I think we had about a week left. To be honest I had not produced much. Lisa had found an expression for her obsession with dieting and produced the first draft of a book for overweight women. I had only produced the first draft of a story about time travel. Our teacher, however, now declared the course a complete success. Some day, he predicted, several people in our class would win the Nobel prize and then we would be grateful for the advice he had given. I think he was just making excuses for our obvious lack of talent, but I went along with it because I wanted to close on a good note. Lisa and I had made plans for a travel to Europe. It was kind of a honeymoon for us. We wanted to travel in France and make love like they do in all the clichés. However, the journey was quite expensive. I had not told her any details about my financial situation. I barely got by on my present salary. The truth was that not only did I not make enough money to live in the dream world we wanted, my house was heavily mortgaged. I therefore asked for extra hours at work. I would stay with Mrs. Jackson the whole week and help her in any way I could. It would be much easier if she had one person to relate to instead of all the people that she had coming and going all week. Perhaps then she would remember my name. I assured my employer that that would be very unlikely. One day Mrs. Jackson came to me and asked me to get her some medicines from the pharmacy. They were very expensive, but she would give me the money like she usually did. I was surprised to find that she had large sums of cash stored in a box in her closet. She handed me a roll of notes, and as I held them in my hand, I could not help thinking what would happen if I took some of it. After all, I had done it before and gotten away with it. Was I stealing from her? She was wealthy and had no one to inherit her money. If I didn’t take it, the money would simply go to waste. I decided to steal yet another time. On the way from pharmacy the remaining notes found their way into my pockets. That evening I called Lisa and told her I bought the tickets. She laughed and said we would have the time our lives. I repeated that phrase over again as I went asleep that night “the time of our lives”. As the morning broke the next day I felt alive for the very first time. It was as if everything was clearer now. I noticed the slow movements of the morning mists and watched the dewdrops on the windowpane. I made my sandwich and prepared for my final day at the writing class. It was, ironically, Friday and we were having a cake baked by our mad teacher. I took the bus through the city as usual, but found that traffic was especially annoying this morning. Cars, streetlights and sirens seemed to conspire against us in a futile attempt to nag me. But nothing could touch me now. I got off the bus and made my way through the crowded park to the building and classroom. As I entered the classroom I found everyone in a strange, almost quiet mood. “Hi guys,” I said defiantly, “guess what”. “Michael, you’d better sit down. Something has happened. Have you not heard about the accident? They are dead.” “What do you mean, ‘They are dead?’ Who is dead? When did they die?” “This morning, in a car crash. Lisa and her sister.” “You are lying? They are not dead” “Yes, they are, ask anyone. I looked at their faces and they all nodded “But I have made plans. We are going to Europe. I have bought tickets. The worst thing about it is that I can’t get a refund now. They don’t give refunds on cheap tickets. It’s funny really because I seldom travel. And I know they like traveling. Most people like traveling. It’s not like I am an astronaut or anything. Imagine going on a spaceship to the moon or something. I just like to see new things you see.” They all gave me a strange look, my hands suddenly started shaking. I was unable to control them, so I stuffed them in my pockets. I began laughing at my own clumsiness. Those damn hands, I thought. Well I have something to do, I said, got up nodded reassuringly to them and left. I shall not bother you with the details of my sorrow. It is, after all, not much different from that which most people experience at some point in their lives. It took me about a month to compose myself. I then took up my job for Mrs. Jackson, who still sat in her chair by the window. “Who are you?” she said as I entered. “I am your social worker. Michael is my name”, I said. “Don’t you remember?” “No” Michael Henrik Wynn (written at the end of the 1990s) Like this:Like Loading... [...]