Posts filed under “Short Fiction”

THE SINGULAR ASPECT.

Second-Anniversary-Day

[In honor of the second anniversary of the migration of his Celebrated Magazine to the World-Wide Web, Dr. Boli is reprinting the first story he ever published in electrical form.]

A MAN WALKED into Abelard’s office the other day and announced that he had a singular case. Our morning had begun with tea, as usual, but I had hardly poured the first cup when the office door opened and the man with the singular case walked in.

It is well known by now that Magnus Abelard deals only with singular cases, so everyone who walks through the door announces that he has a singular case. Nevertheless, the door is, by Abelard’s explicit command, never locked; and this case really did turn out to be singular. I have taken the trouble, therefore, to record it among Abelard’s most remarkable achievements, in the hope that the record will serve as an imperishable monument to Abelard’s genius.

We began with the usual formalities. I informed our visitor that he would have ten minutes to convince Abelard of the singularity of his case. I also explained the payment schedule in the unlikely event that Abelard did pronounce his case singular. Abelard did not speak during the proceedings; he never does speak until some singular aspect of the case has caught his attention.

“Mine is a singular case,” the visitor began as I took notes. “Indeed, it is so singular that I have not spoken with anyone about it until now. I have lived for ten years in fear for my life—a fear all the worse for being secret. I have not dared reveal it to anyone, and yet it eats at me, day after day, hour after hour, like a kind of parasitic creature that gnaws but cannot consume.”

“You have nine and a half minutes,” I reminded him.

“Ten years ago, my wife, to whom I had been married only a month, announced that she had a few purchases to make, and declared her intention to walk to the drug store on Murray Avenue. She would be gone for about an hour, she said. I bid her farewell; she walked out the door; and that, Mr. Abelard, was the last time I ever saw her.

“I shall not weary you with the details of my inquiries. Over the years, I have found opportunities to interrogate our neighbors and the clerks at the drug store. From their statements, I have discovered that my wife did indeed reach the drug store; that she left and turned right on Murray Avenue; that she was last seen walking on Phillips, the very street on which we lived, in the direction of our house. But she never arrived.”

Here the visitor stopped; and, as Abelard was still silent, I knew the narration had not interested him enough for him to take the case. It was therefore incumbent upon me to disappoint our visitor.

“Disappearances such as the one you describe,” I told him, “while exceedingly regrettable, are not extraordinarily uncommon. Perhaps the city police, or a less specialized private agency, might be able to render you some assistance.”

Our visitor sat back in his chair and sighed. “I have not yet revealed to you,” he said slowly and quietly, “the singular aspect of the case.”

Abelard leaned forward. This statement had at least caught his attention.

The visitor took a deep breath, appeared to think for a moment, and then continued, picking his words with care and deliberation.

“About an hour after my wife left, a woman entered my house by the front door. She entered boldly—as if she owned the place, you might say. Now here is the singular and remarkable thing: in every particular, this woman was the exact image of my missing wife. Even her clothes were the same as the ones my wife had been wearing when she left. She proceeded to make herself quite at home; she treated me as though she were actually my wife.”

Here the visitor leaned forward and lowered his voice about a fifth. “For ten years, Mr. Abelard, that woman has inhabited my house, living in every respect as though she were my wife. For ten long years, I have lived in fear, utterly convinced that this woman in my house is somehow deeply involved in the mystery, and afraid even to sleep at night—afraid I might fall prey to the same sinister forces that took my beloved wife from me. The fear is tearing at my soul, sir, and I have at last resolved that, whatever the cost to myself, I must unravel this mystery.”

A moment of silence followed; then Abelard spoke for the first time.

“And how exactly was it that you knew this woman was not really your wife, returned from her shopping trip?”

The visitor started forward; then he sank slowly back in his chair, staring straight ahead.

“Good lord,” he whispered hoarsely.

Abelard observed him closely.

“Good lord,” the visitor said again, somewhat louder this time. “I never thought of that.”

He sat upright in his chair with a new air of confidence. “Well, sir, you certainly have earned your reputation. I never would have imagined that a mystery of such devilish com­plex­ity could be unraveled in such a short time. I shall certainly be recommending your agency. You may expect a check from me in the morning, although you must be aware that no re­muneration could ever express my profound gratitude. I bid you good day, and once again I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Abelard watched him walk out of the office with a jaunty confidence that had been completely foreign to him only minutes before.

For some time after, Abelard was silent, as though lost in thought. At last he turned to address me.

“Perhaps,” he said, “we ought to reconsider the idea of locking the door.”

THE MAN WHO BUILT A RHINOCEROS FROM A KIT.

Anniversary-Week-2

[In honor of the forthcoming second anniversary of Dr. Boli on the World-Wide Web, Dr. Boli is reprinting a number of his own favorite articles from the past two years.]

ONCE THERE WAS a man who decided to build a rhinoceros from a kit.

His sister, who had never liked rhinoceroi, warned him that no good would ever come from it. “You’ll get trampled flat like a tortilla, that’s what will happen,” she said. “You can’t keep a rhinoceros around the house.”

“It’s not a terribly big one,” he answered. “And I like building things.”

“It will stomp you into a jelly,” she assured him. But he kept working, screwing the back legs into assembly no. 5 as shown in fig. 3-b.

Later on one of his friends stopped by to see how he was doing.

“Still building that rhinoceros,” the friend said in a slightly patronizing way.

“Just about halfway done,” the man said, attaching the hindquarters to the spine as shown in fig. 13-h.

“Don’t hold much with rhinocerosesses,” the friend said. “They stomp all over you and expect you to like it.”

“It’s only a medium-sized one,” the man said, and he continued fiddling with his screwdriver and glue gun.

After a little while, a woman came to read the gas meter. “Building a rhinoceros?” she asked, just to make pleasant conversation.

“I’m getting close to finished now,” the man answered, attaching shoulder assembly (3) to abdominal cavity (4) as shown in fig. 21-m.

“I knew a guy who bought a ready-made rhino from K-mart,” the meter-reader said. “That thing stomped him flatter than Cleveland.”

“It’s not the most powerful model,” the man responded, and he snapped the shoulders into place with a satisfying click.

At last the man was ready to screw the horn in place to complete his rhinoceros.

“Don’t do it,” his sister warned him. “It’ll squash you to tapioca.”

“Don’t do it,” said the friend. “You’ll get trampled for sure.”

“Don’t do it,” said the meter-reader, who was still hanging around for some reason. “You’ll be flattened in seconds.”

But the man screwed the horn in anyway, and now he and his rhinoceros are the best of friends, running a small antique shop from a storefront near their home. Which just goes to show you what a lot of meddling busybodies the people around you are, and I wouldn’t listen to them at all if I were you.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS.

“TELL ME AGAIN about the old days, grandmother,” said the sweet little girl sitting by the fire.

“Well,” her grandmother began, her eyes misting over with nostalgia, “we didn’t have trees or any of these modern conveniences. When we wanted wood, we had to make it ourselves. I remember the day old Mitch from down at the mill told your great-grandpappy that there was a new kind of plant that grew wood in its stem, and all you had to do was take it if you wanted it. Pappy laughed himself sick. That was how he died, in fact.

“We had to walk fifteen miles in the snow just to get to school, and then when we got there we had to turn around and walk right back, because schools hadn’t been invented yet.

“The sun didn’t start automatically every morning the way it does now. Pappy had to turn a crank, and some mornings it took forever to get it started. Those were cold mornings, but all we could do was shiver until Pappy got the sun started, because of course no one had thought of blankets in those days.

“The moon was a bit smaller then, and more rectangular. There weren’t nearly as many stars, but then we lived in a poor neighborhood. We didn’t know we were poor, though, because poverty wasn’t discovered till I was eighteen years old. I remember that day, and how cheated we all felt when we finally found out we were poor.

“We didn’t have opposable thumbs back then, either. When we wanted to pick something up, we had to use our toes, so of course we fell down a lot. We couldn’t hold cups, so we had to drink everything through a straw, even hot water, which we couldn’t make into tea or coffee because no one had thought of those things.

“People didn’t live very long in those days, either. The average lifespan was about twenty-one. I myself died when I was nineteen, but I didn’t like it and gave it up after a while. Most people died of starvation, because food hadn’t been invented yet, and the only time we ate anything was when something accidentally fell into our mouths.”

“Goodness, grandmother,” said the little girl, “aren’t you glad you lived to see our modern world, with all its wonderful inventions?”

“Well, I’m not so sure I am,” the kindly old lady replied. “We had to work hard in the old days, but that made us tough. We didn’t have time for dilly-dallying with fripperies like shoes and elbows. I forgot to mention that elbows hadn’t been invented yet, either, so we had to hold our arms straight out like this. But we didn’t complain, because complaining hadn’t been invented yet, either. No, those were the good old days.”

FIRST ANNIVERSARY.

Today is Dr. Boli’s first anniversary on the World-Wide Web. In honor of this auspicious occasion, he is reprinting the very first story that ever appeared in his CELEBRATED MAGAZINE, one year ago today.

The Singular Aspect.

A man walked into Abelard’s office the other day and announced that he had a singular case. Our morning had begun with tea, as usual, but I had hardly poured the first cup when the office door opened and the man with the singular case walked in.

It is well known by now that Magnus Abelard deals only with singular cases, so everyone who walks through the door announces that he has a singular case. Nevertheless, the door is, by Abelard’s explicit command, never locked; and this case really did turn out to be singular. I have taken the trouble, therefore, to record it among Abelard’s most remarkable achievements, in the hope that the record will serve as an imperishable monument to Abelard’s genius.

We began with the usual formalities. I informed our visitor that he would have ten minutes to convince Abelard of the singularity of his case. I also explained the payment schedule in the unlikely event that Abelard did pronounce his case singular. Abelard did not speak during the proceedings; he never does speak until some singular aspect of the case has caught his attention.

“Mine is a singular case,” the visitor began as I took notes. “Indeed, it is so singular that I have not spoken with anyone about it until now. I have lived for ten years in fear for my life—a fear all the worse for being secret. I have not dared reveal it to anyone, and yet it eats at me, day after day, hour after hour, like a kind of parasitic creature that gnaws but cannot consume.”

“You have nine and a half minutes,” I reminded him.

“Ten years ago, my wife, to whom I had been married only a month, announced that she had a few purchases to make, and declared her intention to walk to the drug store on Murray Avenue. She would be gone for about an hour, she said. I bid her farewell; she walked out the door; and that, Mr. Abelard, was the last time I ever saw her.

“I shall not weary you with the details of my inquiries. Over the years, I have found opportunities to interrogate our neighbors and the clerks at the drug store. From their statements, I have discovered that my wife did indeed reach the drug store; that she left and turned right on Murray Avenue; that she was last seen walking on Phillips, the very street on which we lived, in the direction of our house. But she never arrived.”

Here the visitor stopped; and, as Abelard was still silent, I knew the narration had not interested him enough for him to take the case. It was therefore incumbent upon me to disappoint our visitor.

“Disappearances such as the one you describe,” I told him, “while exceedingly regrettable, are not extraordinarily uncommon. Perhaps the city police, or a less specialized private agency, might be able to render you some assistance.”

Our visitor sat back in his chair and sighed. “I have not yet revealed to you,” he said slowly and quietly, “the singular aspect of the case.”

Abelard leaned forward. This statement had at least caught his attention.

The visitor took a deep breath, appeared to think for a moment, and then continued, picking his words with care and deliberation.

“About an hour after my wife left, a woman entered my house by the front door. She entered boldly—as if she owned the place, you might say. Now here is the singular and remarkable thing: in every particular, this woman was the exact image of my missing wife. Even her clothes were the same as the ones my wife had been wearing when she left. She proceeded to make herself quite at home; she treated me as though she were actually my wife.”

Here the visitor leaned forward and lowered his voice about a fifth. “For ten years, Mr. Abelard, that woman has inhabited my house, living in every respect as though she were my wife. For ten long years, I have lived in fear, utterly convinced that this woman in my house is somehow deeply involved in the mystery, and afraid even to sleep at night—afraid I might fall prey to the same sinister forces that took my beloved wife from me. The fear is tearing at my soul, sir, and I have at last resolved that, whatever the cost to myself, I must unravel this mystery.”

A moment of silence followed; then Abelard spoke for the first time.

“And how exactly was it that you knew this woman was not really your wife, returned from her shopping trip?”

The visitor started forward; then he sank slowly back in his chair, staring straight ahead.

“Good lord,” he whispered hoarsely.

Abelard observed him closely.

“Good lord,” the visitor said again, somewhat louder this time. “I never thought of that.”

He sat upright in his chair with a new air of confidence. “Well, sir, you certainly have earned your reputation. I never would have imagined that a mystery of such devilish com­plex­ity could be unraveled in such a short time. I shall certainly be recommending your agency. You may expect a check from me in the morning, although you must be aware that no re­muneration could ever express my profound gratitude. I bid you good day, and once again I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Abelard watched him walk out of the office with a jaunty confidence that had been completely foreign to him only minutes before.

For some time after, Abelard was silent, as though lost in thought. At last he turned to address me.

“Perhaps,” he said, “we ought to reconsider the idea of locking the door.”

THE MAN WHO BUILT A RHINOCEROS FROM A KIT.

ONCE THERE WAS a man who decided to build a rhinoceros from a kit.

His sister, who had never liked rhinoceroi, warned him that no good would ever come from it. “You’ll get trampled flat like a tortilla, that’s what will happen,” she said. “You can’t keep a rhinoceros around the house.”

“It’s not a terribly big one,” he answered. “And I like building things.”

“It will stomp you into a jelly,” she assured him. But he kept working, screwing the back legs into assembly no. 5 as shown in fig. 3-b.

Later on one of his friends stopped by to see how he was doing.

“Still building that rhinoceros,” the friend said in a slightly patronizing way.

“Just about halfway done,” the man said, attaching the hindquarters to the spine as shown in fig. 13-h.

“Don’t hold much with rhinocerosesses,” the friend said. “They stomp all over you and expect you to like it.”

“It’s only a medium-sized one,” the man said, and he continued fiddling with his screwdriver and glue gun.

After a little while, a woman came to read the gas meter. “Building a rhinoceros?” she asked, just to make pleasant conversation.

“I’m getting close to finished now,” the man answered, attaching shoulder assembly (3) to abdominal cavity (4) as shown in fig. 21-m.

“I knew a guy who bought a ready-made rhino from K-mart,” the meter-reader said. “That thing stomped him flatter than Cleveland.”

“It’s not the most powerful model,” the man responded, and he snapped the shoulders into place with a satisfying click.

At last the man was ready to screw the horn in place to complete his rhinoceros.

“Don’t do it,” his sister warned him. “It’ll squash you to tapioca.”

“Don’t do it,” said the friend. “You’ll get trampled for sure.”

“Don’t do it,” said the meter-reader, who was still hanging around for some reason. “You’ll be flattened in seconds.”

But the man screwed the horn in anyway, and now he and his rhinoceros are the best of friends, running a small antique shop from a storefront near their home. Which just goes to show you what a lot of meddling busybodies the people around you are, and I wouldn’t listen to them at all if I were you.

 

THE CRANE WHO WAS BETTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE.

From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.

ONCE THERE WAS a crane who thought he was better than everybody else.

He thought he was better than all the other birds, because he was a crane, and cranes are tall and majestic. He thought he was better than all the other cranes, too, because he was smarter and more handsome, and because he had a better name: he was called Franklin Pierce Jones, whereas all the other cranes had very ordinary names like Harriet or Ichabod.

And because Franklin Pierce Jones insisted that he was better than everybody else, the other cranes began to believe that he really was better. If you repeat something often enough and with enough conviction, you can usually make it true.

There was, however, one skeptical crane, by the name of Alexandra, who refused to admit that Franklin Pierce Jones was better than absolutely everybody. “You may be better than the other birds,” she said, “and you may even be better than I am. But you’re not as good as people, because they wear clothes and use pocket calculators.”

At this challenge the color rose in Franklin Pierce Jones’ cheeks, although no one but him knew it because his face was covered with feathers. “I most certainly am in every way equal to people, and I’ll prove it to you,” he declared in a voice so loud that all the other cranes stopped what they were doing and listened. “I’ll wear clothes like a person, walk into the town, and do all the things people do. They won’t even be able to tell the difference.”

So that was exactly what Franklin Pierce Jones did. From a clothesline nearby he procured a pair of shorts, a white shirt, a very smart necktie, and a dark blue jacket that fitted him admirably. For a hat he wore a tasteful baby’s bonnet. Then he walked into town.

When he passed near a school, he fell among a group of children who had just finished their classes for the day.

“Look at that pointy nose!” one impolite little boy shouted, and a small group of children soon gathered around the crane as he attempted to make his way through the town.

“And he’s got skinny legs like a bird!” a little girl added, much to the delight of the other children.

“Bird-legs! Bird-legs!” the children began to chant, and soon they were all doing it. “Bird-legs! Bird-legs!”

“Did your mommy make you wear that tie?” one little boy demanded, yanking the end of Franklin Pierce Jones’ tie so it untied and fell on the ground.

“And did she put this cute little bonnet on your head?” another asked, snapping the elastic that held the bonnet in place.

“Is that a nose or a hose?” a little girl asked, and all the children laughed in a mean and very impolite way.

By this time Franklin Pierce Jones had definitely had enough, so he slipped off his jacket with one shrug, spread his wings, and took off, leaving all the children on the ground astonished.

His friend Alexandra was waiting for him when he got back, and all the other cranes were not far away.

“So did you prove that you’re equal to people?” Alexandra asked with a triumphant smirk, seeing that Franklin Pierce Jones’ clothes were mostly missing.

“No, I did not,” said Franklin Pierce Jones, and Alexandra could not keep herself from smirking even more triumphantly.

“I proved that I’m far better than people,” Franklin Pierce Jones continued. “The miserable ill-mannered creatures may be bipeds like us, but they are utterly lacking in the finer sensibilities. My experiences during my expedition prove, if any proof were needed, that I am indeed a superior being.”

All the other cranes nodded sagely, and even Alexandra had to admit the justice of his claim. Franklin Pierce Jones’ reputation was now secure.

MORAL: Travel is broadening, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s pleasant.

THE WONDERFULL AVENTURE OF SYR GAWAYNE IN THE CASTELL OF MAYDEN CLERKES,

Which Is a Tale Sette Downe for One of the Trewest and Mervayllest Aventures That Ever Bifel Syr Gawayne.

AND AFTER RYDING above thre Englysshe legues syr Gawayne cam uppon a fayre castell. And over the castell gate was wryten in letters of gold,

WORDPRESS TAG: POETRY

And in front of the castell on a roche there sate a mayden, weping ful sore for pyté. And syr Gawayne unmounted hym and asked the mayden, “Wherefor makyst thou soche dole?”

And the mayden answered him, “Trewely I am wepyng for the custome of this castell, for whan that I sawe thee, a knight valyaunt and ful of vertu, approche unto thys curssed castell, hyt nyghe brast myn herte for pyté.”

“Tell me,” quod syr Gawayne, “what ys the custome of this castell?”

“Trewely,” quod the mayden, “ill chance hath brought thee here. For thys ys the Castell of Mayden Clerkes, and hyt ys the custome of this castell that no knyght may passe but that the Mayden Clerkes assaulten hym with dogerel. And many knyghtes have com hereby, but none be yet on lyve.”

“That ys an yvell custome,” seyde syr Gawayne.

“Wherefor I dyd make soche dole whan that I sawe thee. For hyt is seyde that none bot the moste valyaunt of King Arthurs knyghtes schal conquer thys castell. And truely the knyght that enchevyth this aventure schall have moche erthely worschipp. And lo, the Mayden Clerkes approche even now, wherefor I byd the mak haste to arme the.”

And syr Gawayne loked and biheld sevvyn maydens armed like unto knyghts. And eche helde a scroll on whych wer wryt straunge letters, and at once they biganne to rede from the scrolls. And syr Gawayne helde hys shelde tofore hym, but the maydens dyd shoot jagged half-rimes that brast hys shelde asonder.

And whan syr Gawayne was sore bysette, and wot not how he myght defend hymselffe, bihold there appered unto hym Merlion, who gav hym a boke and bade hym rede therfrom. “And loke you rede loude and eke streng,” quod Merlion, “for your lyf dipendyth uppon hyt.”

So syr Gawayne opyned the boke, and lo, in it wer wryten the workes of the Englysshe poets of most renome and worschippe. And syr Gawayne bigan to rede dan Chaucer his poemys in a voys ful resonaunt. And straightaway the maydens dyd dropp hir scrolls, and thei did cover hir eares with hir hondes. And at the fift stanza of Troylus and Criseyde, the maydens all fel doun dede, and the castell vanysshed al sodeynly, for the inchauntements of the place were al to-brokyn.

And on the roche wher the mayden had sate Merlion lette wryt in gold letters,

HERE SYR GAWAYNE DYD CONQUER THE CASTELL OF MAYDEN CLERKES BY POUER AND VERTU OF TREWE POETRIE.

And the peple of the lands about the castell mad grete chere of syr Gawayne, and he dyd abyde with hem fyve dayes with grete honneur.

THE SHOES THAT WENT FOR A WALK.

A Cautionary Tale for Young Readers.

shoes.jpg

BOBBY WAS PROUD to say he had a pair of good walking shoes.

But sometimes they were a little too good at walking. They would walk around the house all day, and Bobby had a hard time finding them when he needed them. They would walk around the house all night, going clomp, thump, whump and keeping Bobby and his mother and father awake.

“Maybe we should get you a new pair of shoes,” his mother would always say after a hard night of clomping, thumping, and whumping.

“But they are very good walking shoes,” Bobby would always reply, and they always left it at that.

One day when Bobby was at school, his feet started to itch. So he did the thing he should never have done: he took off his shoes to scratch the itch.

This was the chance the shoes had been waiting for. With a laugh, a jaunty tappa-tap, and a Bronx cheer, the shoes ran out of the room.

Bobby has hammer-toes!” shouted little Mary, pointing at Bobby’s bare feet.

(Mary didn’t know what hammer-toes were, but she thought they sounded silly.)

In the mean time, the shoes had dashed out the front door and were merrily jogging up the road.

When they came to the old Simmons farm, they cut across the field. What fun to trot and scamper between the cornstalks! Soon the shoes were covered with mud, but they were having too much fun to care.

But all of a sudden a big orange cat leaped out from behind the corn. The cat pounced on the left shoe. It jumped and leaped and squiggled and squirmed and finally got away. But then the cat pounced on the right shoe. The right shoe was having a simply awful time until the left shoe hopped up from behind and kicked the cat. That startled the cat, and the shoes ran as fast as they could—right into a dog.

The dog looked down at them, and the shoes looked up at the dog. It was a very big dog, and the shoes were quaking in their boots, so to speak.

All at once the dog’s mouth came down and closed on the shoes. The dog lifted them up and ran—but where was he taking them? He ran through the fields and up to the farmhouse, where old Farmer Simmons was sitting on the porch whittling a ham radio.

Good boy, Bismarck,” said Farmer Simmons to the dog. The dog dropped the shoes at his feet.

But wait,” Farmer Simmons said. “These aren’t my shoes, you silly dog! They look like little Bobby’s from down the road.”

Now the shoes saw their chance. They ran down the porch steps and back across the field. Bismarck the dog chased after them, but they ran so fast that he lost them in the corn. When they got to the road, they ran even faster, and they kept running until they came right back to the school.

All the children stood up to watch as the shoes, covered with dirt and more than a little beaten up, walked back toward Bobby’s desk.

Where have you two been?” Bobby asked them sternly.

But they said nothing, because the cat had got their tongues.

Maybe you should get a new pair of shoes, Bobby,” said little Mary.

But they are very good walking shoes,” Bobby said, and all the children had to agree that they were.

THE BEAUTY AND THE SWANS.

From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.

swans.jpg

A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG woman was taking a walk in the garden. She had just had a letter from her most ardent admirer, so she was more than usually conscious of her own beauty. It was very pleasant to stroll among the flowers, enjoying the soft breeze and turning over in her mind the many praises and endearments she had just read.

In a while she came down the steps to the pond, and there at the edge two graceful white swans floated, hardly rippling the water as they moved. She admired the beauty of the swans, but even more she admired her own beauty reflected in the still water.

“Indeed it is true,” she said to herself: “the comparison Montague made was a just one.” (Montague was the name of her most ardent admirer.) “For see, my complexion, how perfectly white it is! How like the plumage of the swan, the whitest of all birds! And the delicate grace of my carriage, how like the grace of these noble creatures!”

The swans looked back at her, almost as if they could understand what she was saying, and would add their praises to her own if they were but gifted with speech.

“And my neck,” she continued, touching her neck with her fingertips—“my neck, how slender like the swan’s, and how gracefully formed! Oh, Montague, what an artist you are, and what an accurate observer of nature!”

Still the swans gazed back at her; but the young woman had tired of this recreation and walked on toward the summer-house.

As she walked off, the male swan turned to the female.

“Did you ever see such a clumsy biped in your life?” he asked her.

“Indeed!” she agreed. “And that horrible mottled pink skin! It looks as though she’s been attacked by a fungus.”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” the male concluded. “If I had a stumpy fat neck like that, I’d cut my own throat.”

 

MORAL: Comparisons are odious, at least to one side of the equation.

THE MONKEYS AND THE BOAT.

From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.

monkeys.jpg

ONCE THERE WAS a small island in the middle of a great river, and on this little island lived a tribe of monkeys. At first they lived very happily, for the island produced fruit in abundance. But as time went on, the monkeys multiplied faster than the fruit did, so that the whole tribe was hungry and miserable.

Now, one day it happened that the monkeys saw a boat full of intrepid explorers drifting down the river. They had never seen a boat before, and they were filled with wonder; but they were clever monkeys, and soon grasped the purpose of the thing.

“Behold,” said one especially bright young monkey: “those odd but obviously intelligent bald monkeys have hit on the simple and obvious solution to our food problem. If we were to build such a floating island as they have, we could all float downstream to a place of abundance, where we need never be hungry again.”

All the monkeys agreed that this was a capital idea—all but one, that is. She was an old grump who had never had a good idea in her life, and she never had a kind word for anybody.

“It’ll never work,” she said in a loud and grating screech. “No one can build a floating island.”

Here the chief of the monkeys spoke up. He was a wise and kindly monkey, always ready to acknowledge and reward a good idea when he heard one.

“On the contrary,” said the chief, “we have just seen it done: the bald monkeys have done it, and done it successfully. I decree, therefore, that a floating island shall be built, and that all monkeys of the tribe shall contribute to the building of it.”

All the monkeys cheered—all except the old grump.

“You’re all fools!” she screeched. “You’ll all drown in the river. No one can build a floating island.”

The others ignored her, for they had become accustomed to her outbursts and had learned to ignore them.

Immediately the whole tribe set to work. Some used sharp rocks to cut down small saplings; some cut the saplings into equal lengths; some gathered strong vines to lash them together. Everyone worked merrily—everyone, that is, except the old grump, who refused to have anything to do with the project. “You’ll all drown,” she told anyone who would listen, and anyone who would not listen as well. “No one can build a floating island.” The other monkeys began to find her quite annoying, but the wise and kindly chief advised them merely to ignore her and keep working. Success, he said, would be the best retort.

With all the monkeys working, a large raft quickly took shape; and when they pushed it into the water and saw that it floated, the whole tribe cried out with a triumphant cheer.

“And now,” said the chief when the cheering had died down, “we have but to float to our new home, where there will be fruit in abundance for all.” Then he turned to the old grump. “But you, old one, shall not accompany us. Since you took no part in the effort of the whole tribe, you shall not share in its success.”

The monkeys all nodded and murmured their approval at the chief’s wise and just decision.

“For the rest of us, let us leap to our floating island and float to the land of plenty!”

With a mighty cheer, all the monkeys leapt at once to the raft they had constructed. Immediately it broke apart and sank under their weight, and the monkeys were carried away by the swift current and never heard from again.

The old grump, however, had the island to herself, with all the fruit she could want, and she lived out the rest of her days in peace and plenty.

MORAL: There’s a reason why so many grumps are old.