Monthly Archives: March 2015

Excerpt from “Good Morning, Miss Dove” by Frances Gray Patton ~~Kiss~~

picture-GoodMorningMissDove-PattonSlowly Randy Baker raised his hand. The sounds stopped. Silence like a caught breath hung on the room. Miss Dove could see beads of sweat on Randy’s brow. His open palm was damp and gleaming.
“Yes, Randolph?” she said.
Randy stood up. Miss Dove’s pupils always stood when they addressed her. He smoothed his plump stomach with his hand. “I got a letter from Tommy yestiddy,” he said.
Received, Randolph,” said Miss Dove. “You received a letter from your brother yesterday. That was nice.”
“Yes, Miss Dove,” said Randy. He hesitated. Clearly, he was floundering. “He sent me a dollar he won playing poker in the convalescent hospital.”
“I am sorry to hear that Thomas gambles,” said Miss Dove, “but we are all very proud of his war record. If you have nothing more interesting to tell us you may take your seat, Randolph.”
“H-hr-rmph!” went the boy behind Randy.
“He’s been decorated,” said Randy, “for bravery beyond the call of duty.” The high words seemed to inspirit him. “He sent a message to the class.”
“Did you bring the letter?” asked Miss Dove. “If so, you may read that part aloud.”
Randy took an air-mail envelope from his hip pocket.
The class stirred. The ghost of a titter rippled the air.
“Attention, please,” said Miss Dove.
Randy opened the letter. The paper was smudged and crumpled. Obviously, it had suffered many readings in many hands. Randy cleared his throat. The sound he made was not a link in the chain signal. Miss Dove could tell the difference. “It’s sort of long,” Randy demurred hopefully.
“We can spare the time,” she said.
Randy began to read. His voice was high and clear; it had the girlish sweetness that comes just before the breaking point.
“The funny thing about the world,” Randy read, “is that it looks just like you think it does. When they flew me back to Cal. in a hospital plane I looked down, and, heck, kid, I might as well have been looking at those diagrams on the geography board back in dear (ha, ha!) ole Cedar Grove. I spotted a peninsula. A body of water almost entirely surrounded by land. I saw some atolls, too. And they really are made in rings like doughnuts with palm trees sprouting out of the cake part and blue water in the hole in the middle. The water is the colour of that blue chalk I swiped once and drew a picture of Miss Dove on the sidewalk with. Remember?”
He swallowed hard.
“Proceed, Randolph,” said Miss Dove.
“You want to know if I was scared when the little yellow insects from –” Randy blushed but went on – “from hell” – in his embarrassment he brought out the word with unnecessary force – “dive-bombed us. The answer is, you bet. But it came to me in a flash that I wasn’t much scareder than I was that time old lady Dove caught me bragging about how I could beat her up at the drinking fountain. ‘I didn’t run that time,’ I told myself, ‘so I won’t run now.’ Beside there wasn’t much place to run to.”
The class laughed nervously.
“And later,” Randy read on doggedly, “when I was bobbing up and down like Crusoe on my raft, what do you guess I thought about? It wasn’t any pin-up girl. It was Miss Dove. I thought about the fishy stare she used to give us when we needed a drink of water. So to make my supply hold out I played I was back in the geography room. And even after the water was gone I kept playing. I’d think, ‘The bell is bound to ring in a few minutes. You can last a little longer.’ It took the same kind of guts in the Pacific it did in school. Tell that to the guys in Cedar Grove.” Randy stopped abruptly.
“Hr-hrmph!” went someone.
“Is that the end?” asked Miss Dove.
Randy looked directly at her. For a fleeting moment she thought he was going to say yes. If he did, that would be that. Randy shook his head. “No, Miss Dove,” he said. “There’s a little more.” His face turned the colour of a ripe tomato. “He says here” – Randy gulped – “he says” – Randy took a deep breath – “he says: ‘Give the terrible Miss Dove a kiss for me!’”
Miss Dove came down from her platform. She inclined her head with her cheek turned in Randy’s direction.
“Well, Randolph,” said Miss Dove, “I am waiting.”
There was an electric stillness that was followed, as the full meaning of her words penetrated the children’s consciousness, by a gasp. Randy folded the letter and put it back into his pocket. Then he began to walk toward the teacher. He walked with deliberate stoicism of a martyr going to the chopping block. He did not come any closer than he had to. He leaned forward stiffly from the waist and placed his puckered lips against her cheek. His kiss resounded, a small explosion in the room.
“Thank you, Randolph,” said Miss Dove. “You may give Thomas my regards.” She straightened up and faced the class. To her surprise, nobody was grinning.
Jincey Webb spoke. She did not raise her hand for permission. She just spoke out.
“It’s like a medal,” Jincey said softly. “It’s like he pinned a medal on Miss Dove.”
For a moment a lamp seemed to burn behind her face. Then over the light swept a shadow. It was as if Jincey had glimpsed some universal beauty – of sorrow, perhaps, or of nobility – too poignant for her youth to bear. She began to cry. She flopped her head down on her desk with her red hair falling forward and spreading out like a crinkly fan.
All the other girls wept with her. All the boys stared sternly into space.

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Excerpt from “The End” by Murray Leinster ~~Memory-machine~~

An interesting perspective at the dawn of the computer age, showing tremendous foresight for the advancements to be made in the years ahead.

picture-TheEnd-LeinsterThrilling Wonder Stories: Vol. 29, No. 2. December 1946

He went restlessly to old Dik Morin and demanded the helmet that was tuned to the memory-machine on the ship. He sat down, turned it on and carefully explored the memory-files he needed.
Those files were, of course, the records which had supplanted printed books. Wearing a helmet, one could explore an entire library, cross-indexed as thoroughly as the memories of a living brain and giving the same sensations as the examination of a personal, individual memory. The memory-machines made the memories of ten thousand or a hundred thousand minds available to an individual. They had made the achievements of a galactic civilization possible. No person could have even begun to learn all the facts of even a sub-branch of a given science. But, wearing a memory-helmet, he had them all at his command. And, using a helmet for research, the facts he found and used became his individual memories, too, so that education was simply a matter of making use of facilities provided for accomplishment. No two persons ever quite gathered exactly the same education. But every man remembered what he found useful of all the knowledge stored up by the race – and every man had all knowledge available to him as one of his rights as a citizen.

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Excerpt from “Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo ~~Charge!~~

picture-NinetyThree-Hugo_Vendee“Mass the whole column with arms loaded, and hold them ready for attack.”
He spoke a few words additional in Guéchamp’s ear.
“I understand,” said Guéchamp.
Gauvain continued: “Are all our drummers on hand?”
“Yes.”
“We have nine. Keep two, give me seven.”
The seven drummers ranged themselves silently before Gauvain.
Then Gauvain cried: “Battalion of Bonnet-Rouge!”
Twelve men, with a sergeant, left the main body of the troops.
“I ask for the whole battalion,” said Gauvain.
“Here we are!” replied the sergeant.
“Twelve of you!”
“There are twelve of us left.”
“Very good,” said Gauvain.
This sergeant was the rough, but kind-hearted, trooper Radoub, who had adopted in the name of the battalion the three children found in the woods of La Sandraie.
Only half a battalion, it will be remembered, had been exterminated at Herbe-en-Pail, and Radoub had the good luck not to form a part of it.
A forage wagon was near; Gauvain pointed it out to the sergeant.
“Sergeant, have your men make ropes of straw and twist them around their guns to prevent any sound if they knock against each other.”
In a moment’s time the order had been executed, in silence and darkness.
“It is done,” said the sergeant.
“Soldiers, take off your shoes,” added Gauvain.
“We haven’t any,” said the sergeant.
That made, with the seven drummers, nineteen men; Gauvain was the twentieth.
He cried, “Follow me in single file. The drummers behind me, the battalion next. Sergeant, you will command the battalion.”
He took the head of the column, and, while the cannonading continued on both sides, these twenty men, gliding along like ghosts, plunged into the deserted lanes.
They marched some time in this way, winding along by the houses. Everything seemed dead in the town; the citizens were crouching in the cellars. There was not a door which was not barred, not a blind which was not closed. No light anywhere.
The great street was making a furious din in the midst of this silence; the cannonading still continued; the Republican battery and the Royalist barricade were angrily spitting out all their volleys.
After twenty minutes of winding about, Gauvain, who led the way with certainty in the darkness, reached the end of a lane running into the principal street; only it was on the other side of the market.
The position was reversed. On this side there was no intrenchment,—such is the everlasting imprudence of those who build barricades,—the market was open and they could enter under the arches, where some baggage wagons were harnessed ready for departure. Gauvain and his nineteen men had before them the five thousand Vendéans, but they were behind the Vendéans’ backs and not in front of them.
Gauvain spoke in a low voice to the sergeant; they removed the straw from their guns; the twelve grenadiers stationed themselves in order of battle behind the corner of the lane, and the seven drummers held their drumsticks in readiness for orders.
The discharge of artillery was intermittent. Suddenly, in an interval between two reports, Gauvain raised his sword, and, in a voice which sounded like a trumpet in the silence, cried out,—
“Two hundred men to the right, two hundred men to the left, the rest in the centre!”
The twelve guns fired, the seven drums beat the charge.
And Gauvain uttered the terrible cry of the Blues,—
“Charge bayonets!”
The effect was wonderful.
This entire mass of peasants felt that they were surprised from the rear, and imagined that there was a new army behind them. At the same time, the column holding the head of the street and commanded by Guéchamp, hearing the drums, moved forward, beating the charge in return, and rushed in double-quick time on the barricade; the peasants saw that they were between two fires.
A panic exaggerates everything; in a panic, a pistol shot makes as much noise as a cannon, and sounds are magnified by the imagination, and the baying of a hound seems like the roar of a lion. We may add that the peasant takes fear as the thatch takes fire, and peasant’s fear increases to defeat, as easily as the burning thatch grows to a conflagration. Their flight was beyond description.

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Excerpt from “36 Children” by Herbert Kohl ~~Park Avenue~~

In 1962, Herbert Kohl became a teacher at a public school in Harlem where he taught a class of thirty-six sixth grade students. The children were familiar with their own neighbourhood, but not further down the road…

 

picture-36Children-KohlA week after we had gone to the museum I made a general invitation to the class to take a drive with me down Park Avenue. Seven children took me up and at 3.15 on Friday we set out from 120th Street and Park Avenue, passing the covered markets at 116th, the smelly streets down to 110th, and the dismal row upon row of slum clearance projects all the way to 99th Street. On the left of us loomed the elevated tracks of the New York Central Railroad. We ascended from 99th to 96th, reaching the summit of that glorious hill where the tracks sink into the bowels of the city and Park Avenue is metamorphized into a rich man’s fairyland. Down the middle of the street is an island filled with Christmas trees in winter and flowers during the summer, courtesy of The Park Avenue Association. On either side of the broad street opulent apartment buildings, doormen, clean sidewalks. The children couldn’t, wouldn’t believe it.
“Mr Kohl, where are the ash cans?”
“This can’t be Park Avenue.”
“Mr Kohl, something’s wrong …”
It was Pamela, not angry but sad and confused. We passed the gleaming office buildings further downtown. I was about to comment but sensed that the children were tired and restless. They had had enough and I had too. We returned to Harlem and then I drove home back downtown. The city was transformed for me through the eyes of the children.

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Excerpt from “Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo ~~Loose cannon~~

picture-NinetyThree-Hugo_CannonThe gunner knew his piece, and it seemed to him that she must recognize her master. He had lived a long while with her. How many times he had thrust his hand between her jaws! It was his tame monster. He began to address it as he might have done his dog.
“Come!” said he. Perhaps he loved it.
He seemed to wish that it would turn towards him.
But to come towards him would be to spring upon him. Then he would be lost. How to avoid its crush? There was the question. All stared in terrified silence.
Not a breast respired freely, except perchance that of the old man who alone stood in the deck with the two combatants, a stern second.
He might himself be crushed by the piece. He did not stir.
Beneath them the blind sea directed the battle.
At the instant when, accepting this awful hand-to-hand contest, the gunner approached to challenge the cannon, some chance fluctuation of the waves kept it for a moment immovable as if suddenly stupefied.
“Come on!” the man said to it. It seemed to listen. Suddenly it darted upon him. The gunner avoided the shock.
The struggle began – struggle unheard of – the fragile matching itself against the invulnerable; the thing of flesh attacking the brazen brute; on the one side blind force, on the other a soul.
The whole passed in a half-light. It was like the indistinct vision of a miracle.
A soul – strange thing; but you would have said that the cannon had one also – a soul filled with rage and hatred. This blindness appeared to have eyes. The monster had the air of watching the man. There was – one might have fancied so at least – cunning in this mass. It also chose its moment. It became some gigantic insect of metal, having, or seeming to have, the will of a demon. Sometimes this colossal grasshopper would strike the low ceiling of the gun-deck, then fall back on its four wheels like a tiger upon its four claws, and dart anew on the man. He, supple, agile, adroit, would glide away like a snake from the reach of these lightning-like movements. He avoided the encounters; but the blows which he escaped fell upon the vessel, and continued the havoc.
An end of broken chain remained attached to the carronade. This chain had twisted itself, one could not tell how, about the screw of the breech-button. One extremity of the chain was fastened to the carriage. The other, hanging loose, whirled wildly about the gun, and added to the danger of its blows.
The screw held it like a clenched hand, and the chain, multiplying the strokes of the battering-ram by its strokes of a thong, made a fearful whirlwind about the cannon – a whip of iron in a fist of brass. This chain complicated the battle.
Nevertheless this man fought. Sometimes, even, it was the man who attacked the cannon. He crept along the side, bar and rope in hand, and the cannon had the air of understanding, and fled as if it perceived a snare. The man pursued it, formidable, fearless.
Such a duel could not last long. The gun seemed suddenly to say to itself, “Come, we must make an end!” and it paused. One felt the approach of the crisis. The cannon, as if in suspense, appeared to have, or had – because it seemed to all a sentient being – a furious premeditation. It sprang unexpectedly upon the gunner. He jumped aside, let it pass, and cried out with a laugh, “Try again!” The gun, as if in a fury, broke a carronade to larboard; then, seized anew by the invisible sling which held it, was flung to starboard towards the man, who escaped.
Three carronades gave way under the blows of the gun; then, as if blind and no longer conscious of what it was doing, it turned its back on the man, rolled from the stern to the bow, bruising the stem and making a breach in the plankings of the prow. The gunner had taken refuge at the foot of the stairs, a few steps from the old man, who was watching.
The gunner held his handspike in rest. The cannon seemed to perceive him, and, without taking the trouble to turn itself, backed upon him with the quickness of an axe-stroke. The gunner, if driven back against the side, was lost. The crew uttered a simultaneous cry.
But the old passenger, until now immovable, made a spring more rapid than all those wild whirls. He seized a bale of the false assignats, and at the risk of being crushed, succeeded in flinging it between the wheels of the carronade. This manoeuvre, decisive and dangerous, could not have been executed with more adroitness and precision by a man trained to all the exercises set down in Durosel’s “Manual of Sea Gunnery.”
The bale had the effect of a plug. A pebble may stop a log, a tree branch turn an avalanche. The carronade stumbled. The gunner, in his turn, seizing this terrible chance, plunged his iron bar between the spokes of one of the hind wheels. The cannon was stopped. It staggered. The man, using the bar as a lever, rocked it to and fro. The heavy mass turned over with a clang like a falling bell, and the gunner, dripping with sweat, rushed forward headlong and passed the slipping noose of the tiller-rope about the bronze neck of the overthrown monster.
It was ended. The man had conquered. The ant had subdued the mastodon; the pygmy had taken the thunderbolt prisoner.
The marines and the sailors clapped their hands.
The whole crew hurried down with cables and chains, and in an instant the cannon was securely lashed.
The gunner saluted the passenger.
“Sir,” he said to him, “you have saved my life.”
The old man had resumed his impassible attitude, and did not reply.

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