Category Archives: Literature

Excerpt from “Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo ~~Children~~

He attempted to climb the bridge, but in vain; he dug his nails in between the stones and clung there for a few seconds, but the layers were as smoothly joined as if the wall had been new — Radoub fell back. The conflagration swept on, each instant growing more terrible. They could see the heads of the three children framed in the red light of the window. In his frenzy Radoub shook his clenched hand at the sky, and shouted, “Is there no mercy yonder!”
The mother, on her knees, clung to one of the piers, crying, “Mercy, mercy!”
The hollow sound of cracking timbers rose above the roar of the flames. The panes of glass in the book-cases of the library cracked and fell with a crash. It was evident that the timber-work had given way. Human strength could do nothing. Another moment and the whole would fall. The soldiers only waited for the final catastrophe. They could hear the little voices repeat “Mamma! mamma!”
The whole crowd was paralyzed with horror. Suddenly, at the casement near that where the children stood, a tall form appeared against the crimson background of the flames.
Every head was raised — every eye fixed. A man was above there — a man in the library — in the furnace. The face showed black against the flames, but they could see the white hair: they recognized the Marquis de Lantenac. He disappeared, then appeared again.
The indomitable old man stood in the window shoving out an enormous ladder. It was the escape-ladder deposited in the library; he had seen it lying upon the floor and dragged it to the window. He held it by one end; with the marvellous agility of an athlete he slipped it out of the casement, and slid it along the wall down into the ravine.
Radoub folded his arms about the ladder as it descended within his reach, crying, “Long live the Republic!”
The marquis shouted, “Long live the King!”
Radoub muttered, “You may cry what you like, and talk nonsense if you please, but you are an angel of mercy all the same.”
The ladder was safely grounded, and communication established between the burning floor and the ground. Twenty men rushed up, Radoub at their head, and in the twinkling of an eye they were hanging to the rungs from the top to the bottom, making a human ladder. Radoub, on the topmost rung, touched the window. He had his face turned toward the conflagration. The little army scattered among the heath and along the sides of the ravine pressed forward, overcome by contending emotions, upon the plateau, into the ravine, out on the platform of the tower.
The marquis disappeared again, then re-appeared bearing a child in his arms. There was a tremendous clapping of hands.
The marquis had seized the first little one that he found within reach. It was Gros-Alain.
Gros-Alain cried, “I am afraid.”
The marquis gave the boy to Radoub; Radoub passed him on to the soldier behind, who passed him to another, and just as Gros-Alain, greatly frightened and sobbing loudly, was given from hand to hand to the bottom of the ladder, the marquis, who had been absent for a moment returned to the window with René-Jean, who struggled and wept and beat Radoub with his little fists as the marquis passed him on to the sergeant.
The marquis went back into the chamber that was now filled with flames. Georgette was there alone. He went up to her. She smiled. This man of granite felt his eyelids grow moist. He asked, “What is your name?”
“Orgette,” said she.
He took her in his arms – she was still smiling, and, at the instant he handed her to Radoub, that conscience so lofty, and yet so darkened, was dazzled by the beauty of innocence: the old man kissed the child.
“It is the little girl!” said the soldiers; and Georgette in her turn descended from arm to arm till she reached the ground, amid cries of exultation. They clapped their hands; they leaped; the old grenadiers sobbed, and she smiled at them.
The mother stood at the foot of the ladder breathless, mad, intoxicated by this change — flung, without a pause, from hell into paradise. Excess of joy lacerates the heart in its own way. She extended her arms; she received first Gros-Alain, then René-Jean, then Georgette. She covered them with frantic kisses, then burst into a wild laugh, and fainted.
A great cry rose: “They are all saved!”
All were indeed saved, except the old man.
But no one thought of him — not even he himself, perhaps. He remained for a few instants leaning against the window-ledge lost in a reverie, as if he wished to leave the gulf of flames time to make a decision. Then, without the least haste, slowly indeed and proudly, he stepped over the window-sill, and erect, upright, his shoulders against the rungs, having the conflagration at his back, the depth before him, he began to descend the ladder in silence with the majesty of a phantom. The men who were on the ladder sprang off; every witness shuddered; about this man thus descending from that height there was a sacred horror as about a vision. But he plunged calmly into the darkness before him; they recoiled, he drew nearer them; the marble pallor of his face showed no emotion; his haughty eyes were calm and cold; at each step he made toward those men whose wondering eyes gazed upon him out of the darkness, he seemed to tower higher, the ladder shook and echoed under his firm tread — one might have thought him the statue of the commandatore descending anew into his sepulchre.
As the marquis reached the bottom, and his foot left the last rung and planted itself on the ground, a hand seized his shoulder. He turned about.
“I arrest you,” said Cimourdain.
“I approve of what you do,” said Lantenac.

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Excerpt from “Get Smart!” by William Johnston ~~Shoe~~

At the first phone booth he came to, Max stepped inside and pulled the door closed. He bent down, and with considerable difficulty, since the built had not been built for the purpose of removing a shoe, he unlaced his right oxford, slipped it from his foot, then straightened and spoke into the sole, while listening at the heel.
Max: 86 here – that you, Chief?
Chief: What took you so long? I’ve been ringing you for a good ten minutes!
Max: Sorry, Chief. I was indisposed.
Chief: Oh . . . in the shower?
Max: No, taking a stroll . . . enjoying the carbon monoxide on Madison Avenue. It’s lovely at this time of year.
Chief: Max, I need you right away. There’s another crisis. How soon can you –
Max (interrupting): Excuse me, Chief. Hang on a second.

Max turned toward the door of the booth, where, outside, a matronly middle-aged woman was rapping on the glass. He opened the door a crack and spoke to her.
“Sorry, Madam,” he said, “this booth is in use.”
“I have to make a call,” the woman said irritably.
“This isn’t a dressing room, it’s a telephone booth. If you want to change your shoes, find a shoe store.”
“Madam, I happen to be on the phone,” Max said.
“You are not. The phone is on the hook.”
Max glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh . . . that phone.” Then, facing the woman again, he said, “It so happens, Madam, that I’m talking through my shoe. Now . . . if you’ll excuse me . . .”
He pulled the door closed, and resumed his conversation with the Chief.

Max: Sorry, Chief. A little misunderstanding with a civilian. Now . . . what were you saying?
Chief: I said there’s a crisis afoot. And, following our procedure of assigning cases by rotation, your number came up. I need you here at Control right away. How soon can you –
Max (interrupting again): Chief . . . can you hold on? That civilian is back. I’ll just be a second.

The middle-aged matron had returned, accompanied by a uniformed policeman. The policeman had rapped on the glass with his night stick. Once more, Max opened the door a crack.
“Yes, officer, what can I do for you?” Max said.
“That’s a telephone booth, buddy,” the policeman said. “And this lady wants to make a call.”
“Officer, as I told the lady, the booth is in use,” Max said. “I’m making a call myself. A very important call. If it’s anything like most of my calls, the fate of the whole civilized world may hang in the balance.”
“Now I believe him!” the woman snorted. “He told me he was talking through his hat!”
“My shoe, Madam!” Max said. “I said my shoe – I’m talking through my shoe.” He opened the door the rest of the way and handed his oxford to the policeman. “Here, officer, try it yourself. The Chief is on the line. He’ll explain it to you.”
Suspiciously, the policeman accepted the phone.
“No, no, you speak into the sole,” Max said. “The heel is for listening.”
The policeman turned the shoe around.
“Go ahead,” Max said. “Say, ‘Hello, Chief’ or something like that. Just don’t ask him about his rheumatism – it’s a very sore point.
The policeman spoke. “Chief . . .?”
As a reply came back, his mouth dropped open. Then, after a second, he said, “Sure, Chief, I understand. I thought he was a nut. Naturally, when he –” He listened again. Then, nodding, said, “Right, you can count on me. The fate of the whole civilized world is very important to me, too.”
The policeman handed the shoe back to Max, then turned to the matron. “Sorry, lady,” he said, “this booth is in use.”

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Excerpt from “A Passage To India” by E. M. Forster ~~Friends~~

Aziz grew more excited. He rose in his stirrups and pulled at his horse’s head in the hope it would rear. Then he should feel in a battle. He cried: “Clear out, all you Turtons and Burtons. We wanted to know you ten years back—now it’s too late. If we see you and sit on your committees, it’s for political reasons, don’t you make any mistake.” His horse did rear. “Clear out, clear out, I say. Why are we put to so much suffering? We used to blame you, now we blame ourselves, we grow wiser. Until England is in difficulties we keep silent, but in the next European war—aha, aha! Then is our time.” He paused, and the scenery, though it smiled, fell like a gravestone on any human hope. They cantered past a temple to Hanuman— God so loved the world that he took monkey’s flesh upon him— and past a Saivite temple, which invited to lust, but under the semblance of eternity, its obscenities bearing no relation to those of our flesh and blood. They splashed through butterflies and frogs; great trees with leaves like plates rose among the brushwood. The divisions of daily life were returning, the shrine had almost shut.
“Who do you want instead of the English? The Japanese?” jeered Fielding, drawing rein.
“No, the Afghans. My own ancestors.”
“Oh, your Hindu friends will like that, won’t they?”
“It will be arranged— a conference of oriental statesmen.”
“It will indeed be arranged.”
“Old story of ‘We will rob every man and rape every woman from Peshawar to Calcutta,’ I suppose, which you get some nobody to repeat and then quote every week in the Pioneer in order to frighten us into retaining you! We know!” Still he couldn’t quite fit in Afghans at Mau, and, finding he was in a corner, made his horse rear again until he remembered that he had, or ought to have, a mother- land. Then he shouted: “India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and all shall be one! Hurrah! Hurrah for India! Hurrah! Hurrah!”
India a nation! What an apotheosis! Last corner to the drab nineteenth-century sisterhood! Waddling in at this hour of the world to take her seat! She, whose only peer was the Holy Roman Empire, she shall rank with Guatemala and Belgium perhaps! Fielding mocked again. And Aziz in an awful rage danced this way and that, not knowing what to do, and cried: “Down with the English anyhow. That’s certain. Clear out, you fellows, double quick, I say. We may hate one another, but we hate you most. If I don’t make you go, Ahmed will, Karim will, if it’s fifty or five hundred years we shall get rid of you, yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then “—he rode against him furiously— “and then,” he concluded, half kissing him, “you and I shall be friends.”
“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. “It’s what I want. It’s what you want.”
But the horses didn’t want it— they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.”

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Excerpt from “Birdy” by William Wharton ~~Flight~~

In my dream one night, I look up and see the opening; the wires are pulled back. I fly onto the edge of the opening and hop out onto the landing platform. The dream of my dream is coming true. I’m going to fly free.
I fly up onto the top of the aviary. I hop along the roof edge, look down at the ground, then across the yard to the roof of our house. It’s a beautiful day, the spring leaves are open, there are huge, soft, white clouds drifting in the sky. I spring. I loop-swing through the air, feeling the fullness of the wind in the pits of my wings. I look down and the yard gets smaller. I circle once, then land on the rain gutter. The world is bigger and smaller at the same time. Bigger because I can see farther, and smaller because I’m looking down on it and know it’s mine, more than ever before.
I fly from the roof almost straight up; straight as I can, not flying to anywhere, just feeling the sky. Then, I fold my wings and let myself drop until my feathers begin to flutter in the wind. I open my wings, catch myself, and fly straight up again, stalling, looping a long lingering loop. I look down.
Below is my yard, all in one piece. I can see all of it without turning my head. I can see the whole baseball field and out along Church Lane to the cemetery. I’m directly over the tree in the corner of our yard. I come down in slow circles looking for a branch on which to land. I find one just on the yard side of the top of the tree. I land and fluff out my feathers. I feel all together. I feel like me to the very tips of myself.
I look over to the aviary. Perta is coming out, standing on the landing board. On top of the aviary are two of my sons and one of my daughters. I think of peeping to tell them where I am but decide to sing. I start to sing in the sunshine and my song goes out into the blue air. I have a sense of drifting into the sky with my notes. I feel I’m a part of everything my song touches. While I’m singing, Perta flies up, and joins me on the branch. She feels what I’m feeling and asks me to feed her. I feed her and sing some more, then feed her again. I fly up over her and in. it’s more than it ever was before. I spring away and fly small circles over Perta. I sing while I’m flying. I’m forgetting I’m Birdy; I’m a real bird and it isn’t a dream.

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Excerpt from “Letters of the Great Artists” by Richard Friedenthal ~~Renoir – Charpentier~~

PIERRE AUGUSTE RENOIR TO GEORGES CHARPENTIER
1877
My dear friend,
May I ask you if it is within possibility nevertheless, the sum of three hundred francs before the end of the month. If it is possible, I am truly grieved that it may be the last time and that I shall have nothing to write to you any more except commonplace, quite stupid letters, without asking you for anything because you will owe me nothing any longer except respect, that I am older than you, I do not send you my account because I have none.
Now, my dear friend, have the amiability to thank Madame Charpentier warmly on behalf of her most devoted artist and that I shall never forget that if one day I cross the tape that it is to her that I shall owe, for by myself I am certainly not capable of it. I would like to get there, so as to be able the sooner to procure her all my gratitude.

Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) spent four years of his youth painting pretty rococo pictures on porcelain, then studied under Gleyre, and achieved some success as a fashionable portrait painter. In 1868 he worked with Monet out of doors and his technique became more Impressionist. Charpentier, the recipient of Monet’s rather similar letter, was a publisher and to a certain extent a patron of art. Renoir’s portrait of Madame Charpentier and her children, painted in 1878, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which paid 50,000 francs for it in his own lifetime. When asked how much he had been paid for it, he replied, ‘Me! Three hundred francs and lunch!’

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Excerpt from “The Naked Island” by Russell Braddon ~~Captured~~

We worked on a “two-man-ahead patrol” system – on the All Clear from them the remaining seven moved up, whereupon the next two took over. Thus we leapfrogged for about two hours. Hugh and I patrolled together: Harry and the first infantryman, called (we now learnt) Herc: the two young sigs: and the sergeant and Sandshoes.
The latter pair were now ahead. We waited for their “All Clear”.
“Pair of no-hopers, they are,” declared Harry acidly, as he lay with his feet resting high up against a rubber tree, “done nothing but bellyache ever since we started.”
There was a moment’s silence whilst everyone thought of the undoubted degree of the no-hopers’ capacity for bellyaching.
“O.K.,” said one of the sigs, “she’s clear up ahead.” We looked up and saw the sergeant waving us forward.
Harry got to his feet and Herc with him. Roy and Rene, the sigs, followed with the officer. Hugh and I brought up the rear. As fast as possible we walked forward to where the two bellyachers waited and then on along their patrolled beat. We had covered perhaps fifty yards of it when we cleared the first small rise in the rubber. The jungle lay cosily by our left hand. We trotted down the far side of the rise. And instantly the air was full of bullets, whilst ahead of us and to our right about fifty yards away, with automatic weapons blazing, were Japanese soldiers. We had walked straight into an ambush. The bellyachers had funked their patrol.
I didn’t wait to see what happened. I was off at once, sprinting wildly, towards that jungle on the left. Beside me, I was aware without seeing him, ran Hugh. Cursing myself for every fool in the world, I thought yearningly of those four beautiful hand grenades now lying uselessly beside a canal the other side of Yong Peng.
“Stop there,” I heard the officer’s clear voice directed at us, “stop and surrender or we’ll all be shot” and my absurd Army training made me falter for a second and look back. I saw Herc already bleeding from a wound in the arm; and Sandshoes and the sergeant lying on the ground; and the officer standing quite still, the sigs looking at him questioningly and Harry in outrage. Just for a second we faltered. As in any race, when one falters, it was then too late. The path to the jungle was cut by a Jap soldier with a tommy gun. We stood still, our only chance lost. Then, very slowly, very foolishly and with a sense of utter unreality, I put up my hands.
At that moment all that occurred to me was that this procedure was completely disgraceful. I have not since then changed my mind. I have no doubt at all that I should have continued running. One does not win battles by standing still and extending the arms upwards in the hope that one’s foes have read the Hague Convention concerning the treatment of Prisoners of War. It was unfortunate that the Army had trained me sufficiently neither to disobey instantly and without hesitation, nor to obey implicitly and without compunction. Accordingly, I had done neither: and I now stood in the recognized pose of one who optimistically seeks mercy from a conqueror whose reputation is for being wholly merciless.
The enemy patrol closed in on us. Black-whiskered men, with smutty eyes and the squat pudding faces of bullies. They snatched off our watches first of all and then belted us with rifle butts because these did not point to the north as they swung them around under the ludicrous impression that they were compasses. They made dirty gestures at the photographs of the womenfolk they took from our wallets. They threw the money in the wallets away, saying, “Dammé, dammé, Englishu Dollars”: and, pointing at the King’s head on the notes, they commented: “Georgey Six number ten. Tojo number one!” And all the time two Tamils stood in the background, murmuring quietly to one another, their hips tight-swathed in dirty check sarongs and their wide-splayed feet drawing restless patterns in the bare soil of the rubber plantation.
“Done a good job, haven’t you, Joe?” demanded Harry savagely but they wouldn’t meet his eye. Just kept on drawing in the dirt with their toes.
Hugh picked up a ten-dollar bill and stuffed it defiantly back in his pockets. Then they tied us up with wire, lashing it round our wrists, which were crossed behind our backs and looped to our throats. They prodded us onto the edge of a drain in the rubber. We sat with our legs in it, while they set their machine guns up facing us and about ten yards away.
“That bloody intelligence officer would have to be right this time of all times, wouldn’t he?” demanded Harry we all knew that he referred to the “Japanese take no prisoners” report, and Herc, bleeding badly, nodded rather wanly.
“We must die bravely,” said the officer desperately at which the sergeant howled for mercy. Howled and pleaded, incredibly craven.
Neither he nor Sandshoes had been hit at all when I had seen them prostrate on the ground, merely frightened. The sergeant continued to bawl lustily. We sat, the nine of us, side by side, on the edge of our ready-dug grave.
The Japanese machine gunner lay down and peered along his barrel. It was my twenty-first birthday and I was not happy.

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Excerpt from “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett ~~Take it and like it~~

Brigid O’Shaughnessy smiled at him and said: “But I haven’t got the falcon.”
Cairo’s face was darkened by a flush of annoyance. He put an ugly hand on either arm of his chair, holding his small-boned body erect and stiff between them. His dark eyes were angry.
He did not say anything.
The girl made a mock-placatory face at him. “I’ll have it in a week at the most, though,” she said.
“Where is it?” Cairo used politeness of mien to express scepticism.
“Where Floyd hid it.”
“Floyd? Thursby?”
She nodded.
“And you know where that is?” he asked. “I think I do.”
“Then why must we wait a week?”
“Perhaps not a whole week. Whom are you buying it for, Joe?”
Cairo raised his eyebrows. “I told Mr. Spade. For its owner.”
Surprise illuminated the girl’s face. “So you went back to him?”
“Naturally I did.”
She laughed softly in her throat and said: “I should have liked to have seen that.”
Cairo shrugged. “That was the logical development.” He rubbed the back of one hand with the palm of the other. His upper lids came down to shade his eyes. “Why, if I in turn may ask a question, are you willing to sell to me?”
“I’m afraid,” she said simply, “after what happened to Floyd. That’s why I haven’t it now.
I’m afraid to touch it except to turn it over to somebody else right away.”
Spade, propped on an elbow on the sofa, looked at and listened to them impartially. In the comfortable slackness of his body, in the easy stillness of his features, there was no indication of either curiosity or impatience.
“Exactly what,” Cairo asked in a low voice, “happened to Floyd?”
The tip of Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s right forefinger traced a swift G in the air.
Cairo said, “I see,” but there was something doubting in his smile. “Is he here?”
“I don’t know.” She spoke impatiently. “What difference does it make?”
The doubt in Cairo’s smile deepened. “It might make a world of difference,” he said, and rearranged his hands in his lap so that, intentionally or not, a blunt forefinger pointed at Spade.
The girl glanced at the pointing finger and made an impatient motion with her head. “Or me,” she said, “or you.”
“Exactly, and shall we add more certainly the boy outside?”
“Yes,” she agreed and laughed. “Yes, unless he’s the one you had in Constantinople.”
Sudden blood mottled Cairo’s face. In a shrill enraged voice he cried: “The one you couldn’t make?”
Brigid O’Shaughnessy jumped up from her chair. Her lower lip was between her teeth.
Her eyes were dark and wide in a tense white face. She took two quick steps towards Cairo. He started to rise. Her right hand went out and cracked sharply against his cheek, leaving the imprint of fingers there.
Cairo grunted and slapped her cheek, staggering her side-wise, bringing from her mouth a brief muffled scream.
Spade, wooden of face, was up from the sofa and close to them by then. He caught Cairo by the throat and shook him. Cairo gurgled and put a hand inside his coat. Spade grasped the Levantine’s wrist, wrenched it away from the coat, forced it straight out to the side, and twisted it until the clumsy flaccid fingers opened to let the black pistol fall down on the rug.
Brigid O’Shaughnessy quickly picked up the pistol.
Cairo, speaking with difficulty because of the fingers on his throat, said: “This is the second time you’ve put your hands on me.” His eyes, though the throttling pressure on his throat made them bulge, were cold and menacing.
“Yes,” Spade growled. “And when you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.” He released Cairo’s wrist and with a thick open hand struck the side of his face three times, savagely. Cairo tried to spit in Spade’s face, but the dryness of the Levantine’s mouth made it only an angry gesture. Spade slapped the mouth, cutting the lower lip.
The door-bell rang.

The 1941 film featured Humphrey Bogart as “Sam Spade”, Mary Astor as “Brigid O’Shaughnessy”, and Peter Lorre as “Joel Cairo”.

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