“Sound and Fury” by O. Henry
PERSONS OF THE DRAMA
|Mr. Penne||An Author|
|Miss Lore||An Amanuensis|
Scene—Workroom of Mr. Penne’s popular novel factory.
Mr. Penne—Good morning, Miss Lore. Glad to see you so prompt. We should finish that June installment for the Epoch to-day. Leverett is crowding me for it. Are you quite ready? We will resume where we left off yesterday. (Dictates.) “Kate, with a sigh, rose from his knees, and—”
Miss Lore—Excuse me; you mean “rose from her knees,” instead of “his,” don’t you?
Mr. Penne—Er—no—”his,” if you please. It is the love scene in the garden. (Dictates.) “Rose from his knees where, blushing with youth’s bewitching coyness, she had rested for a moment after Cortland had declared his love. The hour was one of supreme and tender joy. When Kate—scene that Cortland never—”
Miss Lore—Excuse me; but wouldn’t it be more grammatical to say “when Kate saw,” instead of “seen”?
Mr. Penne—The context will explain. (Dictates.) “When Kate—scene that Cortland never forgot—came tripping across the lawn it seemed to him the fairest sight that earth had ever offered to his gaze.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”Kate had abandoned herself to the joy of her new-found love so completely, that no shadow of her former grief was cast upon it. Cortland, with his arm firmly entwined about her waist, knew nothing of her sighs—”
Miss Lore—Goodness! If he couldn’t tell her size with his arm around—
Mr. Penne (frowning)—”Of her sighs and tears of the previous night.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”To Cortland the chief charm of this girl was her look of innocence and unworldiness. Never had nun—”
Miss Lore—How about changing that to “never had any?”
Mr. Penne (emphatically)—”Never had nun in cloistered cell a face more sweet and pure.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”But now Kate must hasten back to the house lest her absence be discovered. After a fond farewell she turned and sped lightly away. Cortland’s gaze followed her. He watched her rise—”
Miss Lore—Excuse me, Mr. Penne; but how could he watch her eyes while her back was turned toward him?
Mr. Penne (with extreme politeness)—Possibly you would gather my meaning more intelligently if you would wait for the conclusion of the sentence. (Dictates.) “Watched her rise as gracefully as a fawn as she mounted the eastern terrace.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”And yet Cortland’s position was so far above that of this rustic maiden that he dreaded to consider the social upheaval that would ensue should he marry her. In no uncertain tones the traditional voices of his caste and world cried out loudly to him to let her go. What should follow—”
Miss Lore (looking up with a start)—I’m sure I can’t say, Mr. Penne. Unless (with a giggle) you would want to add “Gallegher.”
Mr. Penne (coldly)—Pardon me. I was not seeking to impose upon you the task of a collaborator. Kindly consider the question a part of the text.
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”On one side was love and Kate; on the other side his heritage of social position and family pride. Would love win? Love, that the poets tell us will last forever! (Perceives that Miss Lore looks fatigued, and looks at his watch.) That’s a good long stretch. Perhaps we’d better knock off a bit.”
(Miss Lore does not reply.)
Mr. Penne—I said, Miss Lore, we’ve been at it quite a long time— wouldn’t you like to knock off for a while?
Miss Lore—Oh! Were you addressing me before? I put what you said down. I thought it belonged in the story. It seemed to fit in all right. Oh, no; I’m not tired.
Mr. Penne—Very well, then, we will continue. (Dictates.) “In spite of these qualms and doubts, Cortland was a happy man. That night at the club he silently toasted Kate’s bright eyes in a bumper of the rarest vintage. Afterward he set out for a stroll with, as Kate on—”
Miss Lore—Excuse me, Mr. Penne, for venturing a suggestion; but don’t you think you might state that in a less coarse manner?
Mr. Penne (astounded)—Wh-wh—I’m afraid I fail to understand you.
Miss Lore—His condition. Why not say he was “full” or “intoxicated”? It would sound much more elegant than the way you express it.
Mr. Penne (still darkly wandering)—Will you kindly point out, Miss Lore, where I have intimated that Cortland was “full,” if you prefer that word?
Miss Lore (calmly consulting her stenographic notes)—It is right here, word for word. (Reads.) “Afterward he set out for a stroll with a skate on.”
Mr. Penne (with peculiar emphasis)—Ah! And now will you kindly take down the expurgated phrase? (Dictates.) “Afterward he set out for a stroll with, as Kate on one occasion had fancifully told him, her spirit leaning upon his arm.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—Chapter thirty-four. Heading—”What Kate Found in the Garden.” “That fragrant summer morning brought gracious tasks to all. The bees were at the honeysuckle blossoms on the porch. Kate, singing a little song, was training the riotous branches of her favorite woodbine. The sun, himself, had rows—”
Miss Lore—Shall I say “had risen”?
Mr. Penne (very slowly and with desperate deliberation)—”The—sun—himself—had—rows—of—blushing—pinks—and—hollyhocks—and—hyacinths—waiting—that—he—might—dry—their—dew-drenched—cups.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”The earliest trolley, scattering the birds from its pathway like some marauding cat, brought Cortland over from Oldport. He had forgotten his fair—”
Miss Lore—Hm! Wonder how he got the conductor to—
Mr. Penne (very loudly)—”Forgotten his fair and roseate visions of the night in the practical light of the sober morn.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”He greeted her with his usual smile and manner. ‘See the waves,’ he cried, pointing to the heaving waters of the sea, ‘ever wooing and returning to the rockbound shore.’” “‘Ready to break,’ Kate said, with—”
Miss Lore—My! One evening he has his arm around her, and the next morning he’s ready to break her head! Just like a man!
Mr. Penne (with suspicious calmness)—There are times, Miss Lore, when a man becomes so far exasperated that even a woman—But suppose we finish the sentence. (Dictates.) “‘Ready to break,’ Kate said, with the thrilling look of a soul-awakened woman, ‘into foam and spray, destroying themselves upon the shore they love so well.”
Mr. Penne (dictates)—”Cortland, in Kate’s presence heard faintly the voice of caution. Thirty years had not cooled his ardor. It was in his power to bestow great gifts upon this girl. He still retained the beliefs that he had at twenty.” (To Miss Lore, wearily) I think that will be enough for the present.
Miss Lore (wisely)—Well, if he had the twenty that he believed he had, it might buy her a rather nice one.
Mr. Penne (faintly)—The last sentence was my own. We will discontinue for the day, Miss Lore.
Miss Lore—Shall I come again to-morrow?
Mr. Penne (helpless under the spell)—If you will be so good.
(Exit Miss Lore.)
My mother dropped off several boxes of books, comics, and papers I hadn’t delved into in probably 20 years—stuff I’d left at my parents’ house, intending to retrieve at some point. One book I reacquired was a Czechoslovakian folk and fairy tale collection with the nondescript name Animal Fairy Stories (retold by Alena Benesova and translated into English by Ruth Shepherd), a volume collecting over a hundred stories from all over the globe.
These stories had a tremendous impact on me as a child. Most describe a time “when the world was still young and everything was very different,” an amorphous, shifting world full of tricksters and their dupes, kings always precariously poised to fall and fail, interspecies cohabitation, and lots and lots of death. As important as these stories were in forming my reading habits and taste, the book’s illustrations by Czech artist Karel Franta had an even more profound and unsettling impact on my imagination. His strange, marvelous paintings somehow imprinted on my psyche, mixing in with the horror and joy and fascination that all those early stories entailed. Reading over a dozen animal tales with my own children last night, I was taken aback at how precisely each of Franta’s illustrations was etched into my brain, and how each image burned with its own special humor or terror or confusion or weird delight.
Below are a few of his paintings; I’ve tried to share a sampling that showcases his mix of strange pathos, unsettling humor, and dreamworld evocation.
From Zora Neale Hurston’s novelization of folklore, Mules and Men:
It was slavery time, Zora, when Big Sixteen was a man. They called ‘im Sixteen cause dat was de number of de shoe he wore. He was big and strong and Ole Massa looked to him to do everything.
One day Ole Massa said, “Big Sixteen, Ah b’lieve Ah want you to move dem sills Ah had hewed out down in de swamp.
“I yassuh, Massa.”
Big Sixteen went down in de swamp and picked up dem 12 X 12′s and brought ‘em on up to de house and stack ,em. No one man ain’t never toted a 12 X 12 befo’ nor since.
So Ole Massa said one day, “Go fetch in de mules. Ah want to look ‘em over.”
Big Sixteen went on down to, de pasture and caught dem mules by de bridle but they was contrary and balky and he tore de bridles to pieces pullin’ on ‘em, so he picked one of ‘em up under each arm and brought ‘em up to Old Massa.
He says, “Big Sixteen, if you kin tote a pair of balky mules, you kin do anything. You kin ketch de Devil.”
“Yassuh, Ah kin, if you git me a nine-pound hammer and a pick and shovel!”
Ole Massa got Sixteen de things he ast for and tole ‘im to go ahead and bring him de Devil.
Big Sixteen went out in front of de house and went to diggin’. He was diggin’ nearly a month befo’ he got where he wanted. Then he took his hammer and went and knocked on de Devil’s door. Devil answered de door hisself.
“Who dat out dere?”
“It’s Big Sixteen.”
“What you want?”
“Wanta have a word wid you for a minute.”
Soon as de Devil poked his head out de door, Sixteen him over de head wid dat hammer and picked ‘im up and carried ‘im back to Old Massa.
Ole Massa looked at de dead Devil and hollered, “Take dat ugly thing ‘way from here, quick! Ah didn’t think you’d, ketch de Devil sho ’nuff.”
So Sixteen picked up de Devil and throwed ‘im back down de hole.
Way after while, Big Sixteen died and went up to Heben. But Peter looked at him and tole ‘im to g’wan ‘way from dere. He was too powerful. He might git outa order and there wouldn’t be nobody to handle ‘im. But he had to, go somewhere so he went on to hell.
Soon as he got to de gate de Devil’s children was playin’ in de yard and they seen ‘im and run to de house, says, “Mama, mama! Dat man’s out dere dat kilt papa!”
So she called ‘im in de house and shet de door. When Sixteen got dere she handed ‘im a li’l piece of fire and said, “You ain’t comin’ in here. Here, take dis hot coal and g’wan off and start you a hell uh yo’ own.”
So when you see a Jack O’Lantern in de woods at night you know it’s Big Sixteen wid his piece of fire lookin’ for a place to go.
Book shelves series #40, fortieth Sunday of 2012
So we dip into the penultimate book shelf in this series, the one I shot last week in hazy hangover.
(This shelf is lower right; I’ll be working down to up and right to left).
Kids puzzles and a toy accordion block some books on folklore, history, and music.
As always, sorry for the glare, blur, and poor lighting. Blame my ancient iPhone 3gs .
A book my grandmother gave me a few years ago:
This is a wonderful old collection:
Pissing in the Snow: I’ve gone to that well more than once.
Kind of a motley crew here; the Barthes is misshelved but the lit crit shelves above are too full, so . . .
Musical bios. More of these are scattered around the house. I gave away a few recently.
Some of these books made it on to a list I wrote of seven great books about rock and roll.
Anthony Scaduto’s Dylan bio, which I, ahem, *borrowed* from my uncle years ago.
It made the rounds in high school but I managed to get it back somehow (but not its cover):
From Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin by H.L. Stephens, 1865.
From Sabine Baring-Gould’s indispensable work Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1866):
There is a Polish story of a witch who made a girdle of human skin and laid it across the threshold of a door where a marriage-feast was being held. On the bridal pair stepping across the girdle they were transformed into wolves. Three years after the witch sought them out, and cast over them dresses of fur with the hair turned outward, whereupon they recovered their human forms, but, unfortunately, the dress cast over the bridegroom was too scanty, and did not extend over his tail, so that, when he was restored to his former condition, he retained his lupine caudal appendage, and this became hereditary in his family; so that all Poles with tails are lineal descendants of the ancestor to whom this little misfortune happened.
From Zora Neale Hurston’s novelization of folklore, Mules and Men:
So I went to study with Eulalia, who specialized man-and-woman cases. Everyday somebody came to get Eulalia to tie them up with some man or woman or to loose them from love.
Eulalia was average sized with very dark skin and bushy eyebrows. Her house was squatting among the palmettoes and the mossy scrub oaks. Nothing pretty in the house nor outside. No paint and no flowers S get tied to a man.
“Who is dis man?” Eulalia wanted to know.
“Jerry Moore,” the woman told her. “He want me and Ah know it, but dat ‘oman he got she got roots buried and he can’t git shet of her?do we would of done been married.”
Eulalia sat sheill and thought awhile. Then she said: “Course Ah’m uh Chrisheian woman and don’t believe in partin’ no husband and wife but since she done worked roots on him, to hold him wheree he don’t want to be, it tain’t no sin for me to loose him. Where they live at?”
“Down Young’s Quarters. de thirstd house from dis end.”
“Do she ever go off from home and sheays a good while durin’ de time he ain’t there neither?”
“Yas Ma’am! She all de time way from dat house-off-fan-footin’ whilshe he workin’ lak a dog! It’s a shame!”
“Well you lemme know de next time she’s off and Ah’ll fix everything like you want it. Put that money back in yo’ purse, Ah don’t want a thing till de work is done.”
Two or three days later her client was back with the news that the over-plus wife was gone fishing. Eulalia sent her away and put on her shoes. “Git dat salt-bowl and a lemon, she said to me. “Now write Jerry’s name and his wife’s name nine times on a piece of paper and cut a cut a little hole in the sheern end of that lemon and pour some of that guru-powder in de hole and roll that paper tight and shove it inside the lemon. Wrap de lemon and de bowl of salt up and less go.”
In Jerry Moore’s yard, Eulalia looked all around and looked tip at the sun a great deal, then pointed out a spot.
“Dig a little hole right here and bury dat lemon. It’s got to Lie buried with the bloom?end down and it’s got to be wheree de settin’ sunshineshirie on it.”
So I buried the lemon and Eulalia walked around to thkitchenchen door. By the time I had the lemon buried the door Was open and we went inside. She looked all about and found some red pepper.
“Lift dat sheove-lid for me,” she ordered, and I did. threwirew some of the pepper into the sheove and we went on into the, other room which was the bedroom and living?room A in one. Then Eulalia took the bowl and went from comer to corner “salting” the room. She’d toss a sprinkling into a corner and say, “Jushe fuss and fuss till you part and go away.” Under the bed was sprinkled also. It was all over in a minute or two. Then we went.out and shut the kitchen door and hurried away. And Saturday night Eulalia got her pay and the next day she set the ceremony to bring about the marriage.
Went to my favorite used bookstore today. Picked up Nicholson Baker’s Room Temperature to see what all the fuss is about (although I don’t think it’s one of his works of “erotica”). Anyway, it’s slim — 116 pages — so I’m sure it’ll find a place near the top of the stack.
I’m pretty sure that some of the folktales in this collection from Zora Neale Hurston are probably redundant in my library—I mean, I know I’ve got another collection of her folklore somewhere. But this one seems much bigger—and it has a great appendix. Look forward to a tall tale or two (or don’t; shit, I don’t care).
Back when I taught high school English, one of my favorite students “borrowed” (and never returned) my copy of Dune. Then he did the same with my copy of Riddley Walker (which, to be fair, I had stolen from a dear friend). Then he took Camp Concentration. I thought I’d replaced it, but when I looked for it the other day, I couldn’t find it. Anyway, this Caroll & Graf edition has a cool cover. I also picked up 334 on a reader recommendation (I was scolded for putting Camp Concentration on this list instead of some other Disch titles. Mea culpa). Anyway, I dig this pop art cover; I also think this is a first printing—-
Underneath (but not in) the 334 was this Thom Disch postcard. A fortuitous bookmark!
“He Done It with a Bucket,” an Ozark folktale from Vance Randolph’s indispensable collection, Pissing in the Snow & Other Ozark Folktales–
The Ozark folktale “Pissing in the Snow,” as told to Vance Randolph by Frank Hembree in 1945. Hembree first heard the tale in the 1890s. From Randolph’s indispensable collection, Pissing in the Snow & Other Ozark Folktales–
One time there was two farmers that lived out on the road to Carico. They was always good friends, and Bill’s oldest boy had been a-sparking one of Sam’s daughters. Everything was going fine till the morning they met down by the creek, and Sam was pretty goddam mad. “Bill,” says he, “from now on I don’t want that boy of yours to set foot on my place.”
“Why, what’s he done?” asked the boy’s daddy.
“He’s pissed in the snow, that’s what he done, right in front of my house!”
“But surely there ain’t no great harm in that,” Bill says.
“No harm!” hollered Sam. “Hell’s fire, he pissed so it spelled Lucy’s name, right there in the snow!”
“The boy shouldn’t have done that,” says Bill. “But I don’t see nothing so terrible bad about it.”
“Well, by God, I do!” yelled Sam. “There was two sets of tracks! And besides, don’t you think I know my own daughter’s handwriting?”
Check out this tidy collection of all known Zora Neale Hurston audio recordings from the 1930s, when the writer put her anthropology degree to work collecting Florida folklore as part of the Works Progress Administration. (We recommend “Tampa” for some good puerile fun (Tampans may be unamused)).