“How the First Letter Was Written” — Rudyard Kipling

ONCE upon a most early time was a Neolithic man. He was not a Jute or an Angle, or even a Dravidian, which he might well have been, Best Beloved, but never mind why. He was a Primitive, and he lived cavily in a Cave, and he wore very few clothes, and he couldn’t read and he couldn’t write and he didn’t want to, and except when he was hungry he was quite happy. His name was Tegumai Bopsulai, and that means, ‘Man-who-does-not-put-his-foot-forward-in-a-hurry’; but we, O Best Beloved, will call him Tegumai, for short. And his wife’s name was Teshumai Tewindrow, and that means, ‘Lady-who-asks-a-very-many-questions’; but we, O Best Beloved, will call her Teshumai, for short. And his little girl-daughter’s name was Taffimai Metallumai, and that means, ‘Small-person-without-any-manners-who-ought-to-be-spanked’; but I’m going to call her Taffy. And she was Tegumai Bopsulai’s Best Beloved and her own Mummy’s Best Beloved, and she was not spanked half as much as was good for her; and they were all three very happy. As soon as Taffy could run about she went everywhere with her Daddy Tegumai, and sometimes they would not come home to the Cave till they were hungry, and then Teshumai Tewindrow would say, ‘Where in the world have you two been to, to get so shocking dirty? Really, my Tegumai, you’re no better than my Taffy.’

Now attend and listen! Continue reading ““How the First Letter Was Written” — Rudyard Kipling”

Dick Whittington’s Cat — Ub Iwerks

“Sound and Fury” — O. Henry

“Sound and Fury” by O. Henry


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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.”

Miss Lore—Oh!

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.)


Karel Franta’s Marvelous Fairy Tale Illustrations


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.










“The Mouse” — Saki

“The Mouse” — Saki

Theodoric Voler had been brought up, from infancy to the confines of middle age, by a fond mother whose chief solicitude had been to keep him screened from what she called the coarser realities of life. When she died she left Theodoric alone in a world that was as real as ever, and a good deal coarser than he considered it had any need to be. To a man of his temperament and upbringing even a simple railway journey was crammed with petty annoyances and minor discords, and as he settled himself down in a second-class compartment one September morning he was conscious of ruffled feelings and general mental discomposure.

He had been staying at a country vicarage, the inmates of which had been certainly neither brutal nor bacchanalian, but their supervision of the domestic establishment had been of that lax order which invites disaster. The pony carriage that was to take him to the station had never been properly ordered, and when the moment for his departure drew near, the handyman who should have produced the required article was nowhere to be found. In this emergency Theodoric, to his mute but very intense disgust, found himself obliged to collaborate with the vicar’s daughter in the task of harnessing the pony, which necessitated groping about in an ill-lighted outbuilding called a stable, and smelling very like one – except in patches where it smelled of mice. Without being actually afraid of mice, Theodoric classed them among the coarser incidents of life, and considered that Providence, with a little exercise of moral courage, might long ago have recognised that they were not indispensable, and have withdrawn them from circulation.

As the train glided out of the station Theodoric’s nervous imagination accused himself of exhaling a weak odour of stable yard, and possibly of displaying a mouldy straw or two on his unusually well-brushed garments. Fortunately the only other occupation of the compartment, a lady of about the same age as himself, seemed inclined for slumber rather than scrutiny; the train was not due to stop till the terminus was reached, in about an hour’s time, and the carriage was of the old-fashioned sort that held no communication with a corridor, therefore no further travelling companions were likely to intrude on Theodoric’s semiprivacy. And yet the train had scarcely attained its normal speed before he became reluctantly but vividly aware that he was not alone with the slumbering lady; he was not even alone in his own clothes. Continue reading ““The Mouse” — Saki”

“Mutations” — Jorge Luis Borges