Wednesday, December 31, 2008

USCF's Faction Attacks Democracy

The worst threat is not the demand in the lawsuit that SP and PT be removed; it is the demand that they cannot be elected again. This affects everybody's right to vote. The EB is demanding that whatever your opinion of SP/PT may be, it shall never count. You may never be able to vote for or against them.

This is a very high price for the chess community to pay in order to keep one faction in power.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Warming Age, 20,000 - 10,000 BC


Immense volumes have been written to expound our knowledge, and conceal our ignorance, of primitive man.
- Will Durant

The attempt to wrap one's mind around pre-historic periods requires one to confront a bewildering array of jargon. Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic describe the development of humans in terms of Stone Ages. Pleistocene and Holocene describe geological periods. As I say in my article on The Age of Agriculture, I don't think that the attributes that these terms highlight are the most important.

The warming planet and the retreat of the great ice sheets may have been indiscernable to the humans of the time. Authorities seem to agree that the process was gradual, rather than the global warming trends of today. In any case, the habitats of such Ice Age animals as the Great Wooly Mammath and the Sabertooth Tiger shrunk and led to their extinction.

The Earth's typography was still substantially different than today. There was no Black Sea; it was dry. The flood waters from the Mediterranean came later. The North Sea filled up. The Sahara in northern Africa with its lush savanas was a center of human activity.

One wonders how the equator regions - the Amazon River - differed from today. Why didn't an equivalent to Egypt in the next area arise along the Amazon? Maybe it did. An ancient civilization lays under the jungle bed just waiting to be found.

Humans did use stone and fire. They domesticated animals, though the horse wasn't domesticated until late in the next age (around 4500 BC). And they painted. A lot of these artifacts were found in caves, thus giving rise to the image of early man living in caves. The supply of available caves would have severely limited the population and restricted them to hilly/mountainous areas. Caves may have just preserved things more than the shelters constructed out in the open. Were the 20,000 BC paintings in the Alamira Cave the work of an amateur while the really good stuff got lost by the wear of time?



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USCF Chooses Lawyers Over Delegates

Who needs those pesky USCF Delegates anyway? Since they voted Susan Polgar’s way instead of the way the anti-P’s crowd’s way*; the anti’s have now decided to dispense with the whole Board of Delegates voting altogether. They used their control of the USCF to have it file suit today to have an Illinois judge throw Susan Polgar and Paul Truong out of USCF office and bar them from further running for USCF election again.

- Yet another lawsuit! How many are there? A half dozen? I’ve lost count.

As for pesky things like elections – ugh! Who needs them, whey the powers in control can just use it to hire lawyers and file lawsuits?

Now we see the reason why the anti’s haven’t been sweating effort analyzing the tactics of new recall efforts and Board of Delegates Meetings. They’ve decided to bypass the USCF’s Delegates altogether. Not to mention democracy.

* See the previous post regarding the decisive Polgar vote at the USCF’s August Delegates’ Meeting.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Ice Age, 110,000 - 20,000 BC

It’s difficult to imagine living on a planet where the weather was so cold, that ice sheets covered much of North America, Europe, and Asia. Thankfully, the configuration of the continents did not permit the extension of the southern ice sheets too far north. In the higher elevations of the continents, great glaciers grew independent of the polar ice. So much of the planet's water was in the great sheets of ice that sea levels dropped. Thankfully, humans knew how to make fire.

Here’s a link to a Wikipedia map of the Ice. (There's no use trying to pop up these maps here. The blogs pages are too small to see the details.)

And here’s a map of the planet’s vegetation. While it is hard to read, here’s a few noticeable items:

  • There is no Black Sea
  • the Mediterranean is now two lakes; the Italian Peninsula is now an isthmus going all the way down to Africa
  • the Red Sea is now a small lake
  • land connects Siberia to Alaska
  • Australia includes Guinea and the Solomon Islands; and if it doesn’t connect to SE Asia, is sure comes close.

The descriptions of the kind of land are mostly bad; the few good colors can hardly be seen; the only one that seems decent is “Savannah”. Was this where most of the humans lived during this time?

During this age there were 3 species of humans:

  1. Homo Erectus had been around for 1.8 million years but died out around 70,000. They had survived previous ice ages; they didn’t survive this one.

  2. Neanderthals had been around for 350,000 years but when the great ice sheets disappeared, so did they.

  3. Modern Man started around 200,000 years ago. This ought to not be confused with Cro-Magnon Man which appeared 40,000 and died around 10,000. The Cro-Magnons were a subgroup of Modern Man.
This map shows where the three groups lived during the Ice Age. The most interesting feature in this is that the only one of the three groups that migrated was Modern Man.

About 50,000 Modern Man commenced an unprecedented level of cultural and technical achievement in a short period of time. They developed sophisticated hunting techniques (such as using trapping pits or driving animals off cliffs), made clothing out of hides, carefully buried their dead, and even painted their caves.

Neanderthals also had tools and fire but they did not innovate. As the Ice Age ended, the last communities of the Neanderthals died out in Gibralter. The future belonged to Modern Man.



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2008 USCF Highlights

2008 is over and it is a good time to look at the most important event in the USCF for the year: the failed recall of Paul Truong. According to the anti-Polgar crowd, the failure was due to bad tactics and strategy, not a bad case. So, let’s make like chess players, and do a post-mortem analysis on the event.

The first striking thing is this: My, what a difference one vote makes! Compare the anti’s comments about Delegates Meetings now to what they said last year on the 2007 thread The Delegates Meeting:

Then: The Delegates were well informed and dedicated as evidenced by their attending workshops for three days before the meeting.

Now: Here’s an example of the new party line:

(Quotes are from the USCF’s Forum)HT’s Post 119888

Yes, preparation of a written summary might have been a good idea, However, I would point out that Donna Alarie DID prepare a summary of the charges against Truong for her recall petition, which included numerous internet URLs to original source materials, such as the Mottershead Report. She mailed it to every single Delegate months before the annual meeting. Despite this, something like half the Delegates arrived at the meeting in August with not the slightest clue what the issues were.

From informed and dedicated to clueless in just one vote!

Regarding the Ethics Committee, consider this:

The preparation of such a report for the Delegates is beyond the normal scope of the Committee's duties. The Delegates could have assigned it such a task but not until they met in August. The Committee DID receive a complaint related to this matter but ruled that it did not have jurisdiction. So there was no possibility of involving the Committee further before August.

Wups! The Ethics Committee had gone defunct during the year. They had not done anything at all – about anything! And nobody noticed. Moreover, when the Committee did finally do something, after the Delegates Meeting, they “declined jurisdiction” – a very different ruling, indeed!

This whole matter (1) the Committee going defunct; (2) nobody noticing it; and (3) this declining jurisdiction thing reflects on the competence of the leadership qualities of the anti-Polgar crowd.

Yes, it might have been a good idea to send a mailing with a statement from the EB majority backing the summary of facts and supporting their recall ADM. However, as I noted above, when a previous summary was sent out by a private individual basically nobody bothered to read it. As far as a Forum discussion goes, most Delegates don't visit it. Maybe a personal mailed appeal from the EB would have increased that number, I don't know.

Yet another comment on how the rest of the chess world views the denizens of that forum. Moreover, this is another comment on the leadership and judgment of the anti-Polgar forces.

Are you kidding? Most of the Delegates don't even fly into town until Friday! It is possible that a special workshop could have been squeezed in on Thursday and might have drawn enough Delegates to be useful. I don't see that Friday would be possible though, as four hours on that day are already committed to the important Bylaws and Finance workshops.

Oh, well! So much for all that hoo-rah last time about all those days of workshops that the Delegates attended.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. It is just a fact that none of those in charge of preparing the presentation for the Delegates Meeting expected, in their wildest nightmares, that fully half the Delegates would not even have heard of the FSS issue, much less be informed about it.

Okay. So, just how ignorant of the chess players of America is the leaders of the anti-Polgar crowd? Let’s examine the elements of the strategic position.

Total vote pool is around 400 people. The year is 2008. Cell phones, faxes, e-mails, wireless. Recall has support of President and majority of EB of the USCF. Also, the ED.

These elements add up to a formidable strategic position. If a position in “Reassess Your Chess” were equivalent to this political position, Mr. Silman would just dismiss it as a matter of technique.

The key fact that stands out is that over half of the Delegates attended the meeting WITHOUT EVEN BEING AWARE OF THE ISSUE (per above). Phone-calling 400-500 people would have been a job, but it is a doable job. Sales people make those kind of calls all the time. People in multi-level marketing do this on the side, while maintaining a full-time day job. (Side note: Federal do-not call lists do not apply to this. The USCF’s members are fully entitled to call their national Delegates.)

So, why weren’t these people called? All that yak about working night and day on the recall campaign – and this? They couldn’t even lift a telephone and make a call?

Once the Delegates arrived at the meeting, it was time for the anti-Polgar forces to make their case. Their presentation, to say no more, was bad. They blame the defeat on the lawyer. Okay but why didn’t they coordinate their motions with the lawyer – at least so they wouldn’t speak at cross purposes. Were the Delegates to not pass judgment on PT (the motion) or was PT guilty (lawyer and ED)? Who knew?

All of this raises the gravest questions about the basic competence of the USCF’s leadership. Failure to properly contact the Delegates; failure to properly organize the Delegates Meeting; failure to coordinate and present the case against PT at the meeting; and on and on.

- - - - -

And in other news:

Almost none of the top players attended the US Junior Championship and the US Cadet Championship this year. The USCF failed to send invitations timely. Also, the USCF scheduled the Championships opposite the Kasparov Chess Camp in New York. Since, the players didn’t receive their invitations; they opted for the KCC instead.

In addition, almost no expense money was available and cash prizes were minimal (maybe because lawyers cost lots of dough). The result was that instead of the normal ten players, the US Junior had 6 and the US Cadet had 5. These were not the best players; only the best of what was left.

I asked the USCF’s leaders why the invitations were not issued in a timely manner and this was the reply: (post 118643)

Good golly, you're right! I must have missed that in the "Executive Board duties and responsibilities" chapter. I'll get right on that, as well as issuing the invitations for the US championship, US women's championship, US senior championship, US Armed Forces Championship, US left handed chess player's championship, and US blind squirrel's championship. Am I missing any? I do want to make sure the Executive Board is meeting your expectations.

- Randy Bauer, Vice-President, Finance

Normally, the US Junior Championship and the US Cadet Championship are two of the most prestigious tournaments held in the US, because that is where we see our future grandmasters. The U.S. Junior is a closed event, open by invitation only to the top players under the age of 21. The U.S. Cadet is a closed event, open by invitation only to those under the age of 16. At least, that’s what they used to be.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Age of Early Man, 200,000 - 110,000 BC

It’s 200,000 years ago and another ice age has just started. Two species of humans continue as before. Neanderthals had been around for 150,000 years; while the older group, Homo Erectus has been around for a couple of million years. But now a new group of humans appears: Modern Man – us.

Humanity has fire, which is a necessity to survive an ice age. They have simple stone tools and weapons.

They face fierce predators. This is the golden age for very large mammals: mammoths, sabertooth tigers, mastodons, and many others. The large size may have protected them from the cold.

Fast forward 70,000 years. Between 130,000 and 110,000 there is an inter-glacial period. The ice sheets recede. The climate approaches what it is like in historic times.
20,000 years may not seem like such a long time compared to the time scales we discuss here but consider that our own civilization goes back only 5,000 years. For 20,000 years, those early humans had plenty of time to develop the same kind of civilization that we experience now. So why didn’t they?



Pictured is a Homo Erectus, the most primitive of the 3 groups of humans. Source: Wikipedia.

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Christmas With Dostoyevksy

Kathy and I had a quiet Christmas this year. I played the computer game Sid Mier's Pirates - managed to get the hang of the game. Also, checked out the net. Here's an interesting Christmas story from Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The Christmas Tree and The Wedding

The other day I saw a wedding... But no! I would rather tell you about a Christmas tree. The wedding was superb. I liked it immensely. But the other incident was still finer. I don't know why it is that the sight of the wedding reminded me of the Christmas tree. This is the way it happened:

Exactly five years ago, on New Year's Eve, I was invited to a children's ball by a man high up in the business world, who had his
connections, his circle of acquaintances, and his intrigues. So it seemed as though the children's ball was merely a pretext for the
parents to come together and discuss matters of interest to themselves, quite innocently and casually.

I was an outsider, and, as I had no special matters to air, I was able to spend the evening independently of the others. There was another gentleman present who like myself had just stumbled upon this affair of domestic bliss. He was the first to attract my attention. His appearance was not that of a man of birth or high family. He was tall, rather thin, very serious, and well dressed. Apparently he had no heart for the family festivities. The instant he went off into a corner by himself the smile disappeared from his face, and his thick dark brows knitted into a frown. He knew no one except the host and showed every sign of being bored to death, though bravely sustaining the role of thorough enjoyment to the end. Later I learned that he was a provincial, had come to the capital on some important, brain-racking business, had brought a letter of recommendation to our host, and our host had taken him under his protection, not at all _con amore_. It was merely out of politeness that he had invited him to the children's ball.

They did not play cards with him, they did not offer him cigars. No one entered into conversation with him. Possibly they recognized the bird by its feathers from a distance. Thus, my gentleman, not knowing what to do with his hands, was compelled to spend the evening stroking his whiskers. His whiskers were really fine, but he stroked them so assiduously that one got the feeling that the whiskers had come into the world first and afterwards the man in order to stroke them.

There was another guest who interested me. But he was of quite a different order. He was a personage. They called him Julian
Mastakovich. At first glance one could tell he was an honoured guest and stood in the same relation to the host as the host to the
gentleman of the whiskers. The host and hostess said no end of amiable things to him, were most attentive, wining him, hovering over him, bringing guests up to be introduced, but never leading him to any one else. I noticed tears glisten in our host's eyes when Julian
Mastakovich remarked that he had rarely spent such a pleasant evening. Somehow I began to feel uncomfortable in this personage's presence. So, after amusing myself with the children, five of whom, remarkably well-fed young persons, were our host's, I went into a little sitting-room, entirely unoccupied, and seated myself at the end that was a conservatory and took up almost half the room.

The children were charming. They absolutely refused to resemble their elders, notwithstanding the efforts of mothers and governesses. In a jiffy they had denuded the Christmas tree down to the very last sweet and had already succeeded in breaking half of their playthings before they even found out which belonged to whom.

One of them was a particularly handsome little lad, dark-eyed, curly-haired, who stubbornly persisted in aiming at me with his wooden gun. But the child that attracted the greatest attention was his sister, a girl of about eleven, lovely as a Cupid. She was quiet and thoughtful, with large, full, dreamy eyes. The children had somehow offended her, and she left them and walked into the same room that I had withdrawn into. There she seated herself with her doll in a corner.

"Her father is an immensely wealthy business man," the guests informed each other in tones of awe. "Three hundred thousand rubles set aside for her dowry already."

As I turned to look at the group from which I heard this news item issuing, my glance met Julian Mastakovich's. He stood listening to the insipid chatter in an attitude of concentrated attention, with his hands behind his back and his head inclined to one side.

All the while I was quite lost in admiration of the shrewdness our host displayed in the dispensing of the gifts. The little maid of the
many-rubied dowry received the handsomest doll, and the rest of the gifts were graded in value according to the diminishing scale of the parents' stations in life. The last child, a tiny chap of ten, thin, red-haired, freckled, came into possession of a small book of nature
stories without illustrations or even head and tail pieces. He was the governess's child. She was a poor widow, and her little boy, clad in a sorry-looking little nankeen jacket, looked thoroughly crushed and intimidated. He took the book of nature stories and circled slowly about the children's toys. He would have given anything to play with them. But he did not dare to. You could tell he already knew his place.

I like to observe children. It is fascinating to watch the individuality in them struggling for self-assertion. I could see that the other children's things had tremendous charm for the red-haired boy, especially a toy theatre, in which he was so anxious to take a part that he resolved to fawn upon the other children. He smiled and began to play with them. His one and only apple he handed over to a
puffy urchin whose pockets were already crammed with sweets, and he even carried another youngster pickaback--all simply that he might be allowed to stay with the theatre.

But in a few moments an impudent young person fell on him and gave him a pummeling. He did not dare even to cry. The governess came and told him to leave off interfering with the other children's games, and he crept away to the same room the little girl and I were in. She let him sit down beside her, and the two set themselves busily dressing the expensive doll.

Almost half an hour passed, and I was nearly dozing off, as I sat there in the conservatory half listening to the chatter of the red-haired boy and the dowered beauty, when Julian Mastakovich entered suddenly. He had slipped out of the drawing-room under cover of a
noisy scene among the children. From my secluded corner it had not escaped my notice that a few moments before he had been eagerly conversing with the rich girl's father, to whom he had only just been introduced.

He stood still for a while reflecting and mumbling to himself, as if counting something on his fingers.

"Three hundred--three hundred--eleven--twelve--thirteen--sixteen—in five years! Let's say four per cent--five times twelve--sixty, and on these sixty----. Let us assume that in five years it will amount to--well, four hundred. Hm--hm! But the shrewd old fox isn't likely to be satisfied with four per cent. He gets eight or even ten, perhaps. Let's suppose five hundred, five hundred thousand, at least, that's
sure. Anything above that for pocket money--hm--"

He blew his nose and was about to leave the room when he spied the girl and stood still. I, behind the plants, escaped his notice. He
seemed to me to be quivering with excitement. It must have been his calculations that upset him so. He rubbed his hands and danced from place to place, and kept getting more and more excited. Finally, however, he conquered his emotions and came to a standstill. He cast a determined look at the future bride and wanted to move toward her, but glanced about first. Then, as if with a guilty conscience, he stepped over to the child on tip-toe, smiling, and bent down and kissed her head.

His coming was so unexpected that she uttered a shriek of alarm.

"What are you doing here, dear child?" he whispered, looking around and pinching her cheek.

"We're playing."

"What, with him?" said Julian Mastakovich with a look askance at the governess's child. "You should go into the drawing-room, my lad," he said to him.

The boy remained silent and looked up at the man with wide-open eyes. Julian Mastakovich glanced round again cautiously and bent down over the girl.

"What have you got, a doll, my dear?"

"Yes, sir." The child quailed a little, and her brow wrinkled.

"A doll? And do you know, my dear, what dolls are made of?"

"No, sir," she said weakly, and lowered her head.

"Out of rags, my dear. You, boy, you go back to the drawing-room, to the children," said Julian Mastakovich looking at the boy sternly.

The two children frowned. They caught hold of each other and would not part.

"And do you know why they gave you the doll?" asked Julian Mastakovich, dropping his voice lower and lower.

"No."

"Because you were a good, very good little girl the whole week."

Saying which, Julian Mastakovich was seized with a paroxysm of agitation. He looked round and said in a tone faint, almost inaudible
with excitement and impatience:

"If I come to visit your parents will you love me, my dear?"

He tried to kiss the sweet little creature, but the red-haired boy saw that she was on the verge of tears, and he caught her hand and sobbed out loud in sympathy. That enraged the man.

"Go away! Go away! Go back to the other room, to your playmates."

"I don't want him to. I don't want him to! You go away!" cried the girl. "Let him alone! Let him alone!" She was almost weeping.

There was a sound of footsteps in the doorway. Julian Mastakovich started and straightened up his respectable body. The red-haired boy was even more alarmed. He let go the girl's hand, sidled along the wall, and escaped through the drawing-room into the dining-room.

Not to attract attention, Julian Mastakovich also made for the dining-room. He was red as a lobster. The sight of himself in a mirror
seemed to embarrass him. Presumably he was annoyed at his own ardor and impatience. Without due respect to his importance and dignity, his calculations had lured and pricked him to the greedy eagerness of a boy, who makes straight for his object--though this was not as yet an object; it only would be so in five years' time. I followed the worthy man into the dining-room, where I witnessed a remarkable play.

Julian Mastakovich, all flushed with vexation, venom in his look, began to threaten the red-haired boy. The red-haired boy retreated
farther and farther until there was no place left for him to retreat to, and he did not know where to turn in his fright.

"Get out of here! What are you doing here? Get out, I say, you good-for-nothing! Stealing fruit, are you? Oh, so, stealing fruit! Get
out, you freckle face, go to your likes!"

The frightened child, as a last desperate resort, crawled quickly under the table. His persecutor, completely infuriated, pulled out his
large linen handkerchief and used it as a lash to drive the boy out of his position.

Here I must remark that Julian Mastakovich was a somewhat corpulent man, heavy, well-fed, puffy-cheeked, with a paunch and ankles as round as nuts. He perspired and puffed and panted. So strong was his dislike (or was it jealousy?) of the child that he actually began to carry on like a madman.

I laughed heartily. Julian Mastakovich turned. He was utterly confused and for a moment, apparently, quite oblivious of his immense
importance. At that moment our host appeared in the doorway opposite. The boy crawled out from under the table and wiped his knees and elbows. Julian Mastakovich hastened to carry his handkerchief, which he had been dangling by the corner, to his nose. Our host looked at the three of us rather suspiciously. But, like a man who knows the world and can readily adjust himself, he seized upon the opportunity to lay hold of his very valuable guest and get what he wanted out of him.

"Here's the boy I was talking to you about," he said, indicating the red-haired child. "I took the liberty of presuming on your goodness in his behalf."

"Oh," replied Julian Mastakovich, still not quite master of himself.

"He's my governess's son," our host continued in a beseeching tone. "She's a poor creature, the widow of an honest official. That's why, if it were possible for you--"

"Impossible, impossible!" Julian Mastakovich cried hastily. "You must excuse me, Philip Alexeyevich, I really cannot. I've made inquiries. There are no vacancies, and there is a waiting list of ten who have a greater right--I'm sorry."

"Too bad," said our host. "He's a quiet, unobtrusive child."

"A very naughty little rascal, I should say," said Julian Mastakovich, wryly. "Go away, boy. Why are you here still? Be off with you to the other children."

Unable to control himself, he gave me a sidelong glance. Nor could I control myself. I laughed straight in his face. He turned away and asked our host, in tones quite audible to me, who that odd young fellow was. They whispered to each other and left the room,
disregarding me.

I shook with laughter. Then I, too, went to the drawing-room. There the great man, already surrounded by the fathers and mothers and the host and the hostess, had begun to talk eagerly with a lady to whom he had just been introduced. The lady held the rich little girl's hand. Julian Mastakovich went into fulsome praise of her. He waxed ecstatic over the dear child's beauty, her talents, her grace, her excellent breeding, plainly laying himself out to flatter the mother, who listened scarcely able to restrain tears of joy, while the father
showed his delight by a gratified smile.

The joy was contagious. Everybody shared in it. Even the children were obliged to stop playing so as not to disturb the conversation. The atmosphere was surcharged with awe. I heard the mother of the important little girl, touched to her profoundest depths, ask Julian
Mastakovich in the choicest language of courtesy, whether he would honor them by coming to see them. I heard Julian Mastakovich accept the invitation with unfeigned enthusiasm. Then the guests scattered decorously to different parts of the room, and I heard them, with veneration in their tones, extol the business man, the business man's wife, the business man's daughter, and, especially, Julian
Mastakovich.

"Is he married?" I asked out loud of an acquaintance of mine standing beside Julian Mastakovich.

Julian Mastakovich gave me a venomous look.

"No," answered my acquaintance, profoundly shocked by my--intentional--indiscretion.

* * * * *


Not long ago I passed the Church of----. I was struck by the concourse of people gathered there to witness a wedding. It was a dreary day. A drizzling rain was beginning to come down. I made my way through the throng into the church. The bridegroom was a round, well-fed, pot-bellied little man, very much dressed up. He ran and fussed about and gave orders and arranged things. Finally word was passed that the bride was coming. I pushed through the crowd, and I beheld a marvellous beauty whose first spring was scarcely commencing. But the beauty was pale and sad. She looked distracted. It seemed to me even that her eyes were red from recent weeping. The classic severity of every line of her face imparted a peculiar significance and solemnity to her beauty. But through that severity and solemnity, through the sadness, shone the innocence of a child. There was something inexpressibly naïve, unsettled and young in her features, which, without words, seemed to plead for mercy.

They said she was just sixteen years old. I looked at the bridegroom carefully. Suddenly I recognised Julian Mastakovich, whom I had not seen again in all those five years. Then I looked at the bride again.--Good God! I made my way, as quickly as I could, out of the
church. I heard gossiping in the crowd about the bride's wealth—about her dowry of five hundred thousand rubles--so and so much for pocket money.

"Then his calculations were correct," I thought, as I pressed out into the street.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Coulter 12/24/08

Kwanzaa Is a Phony Holiday


My take on Ann Coulter's latest. Her column was published on Townhall.com.

Summary: Does anybody celebrate Kwanzaa? I mean really? Here is the history of the holiday (began in 1966) and the 7 principles of it. It is more an ideological/racial challenge to Christmas than a bonafide holiday.

Quote:
Kwanzaa itself is a nutty blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. Indeed, the seven "principles" of Kwanzaa praise collectivism in every possible arena of life -- economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch.

My Views: Ann's rhetoric may be over the top but there is an under-current about this holiday. Supporters seem to be defensive about it. And the facts that Ann provides about the founder of this holiday deserve attention. Whatever the problems with the founder's history or of the holiday's 7 principles, I wonder about the basic premise of it. Why must every group have it's own separate holiday? Why can't we all come together at least once every year? It's Christmas, everybody!



Anybody who is as hated as Ann Coulter is must be doing something right. She is very right-wing but every left-wing blogger would love to write like her. I hate rants; opinion pieces must argue from the facts. Pay attention to how she uses facts and draws politically incorrect connections among them. People would do well to think and not just be outraged.

Here's her Wiki bio. Her latest book is at the right.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Age of Mammals, 65 MYA - 200,000 BC

In the aftermath of the great comet, the small survived. Hot blooded creatures, the mammals dominated. As time went by, the evolved larger and larger. Some animals returned to the sea and evolved into giants. The whales and dolphins started out as amphibians.

Climate slowly grew cooler as the millions of years passed by. Part of this was caused by the drift of the continents.


Antarctica drifted south, all the way to the South Pole. Australia, having split from it during the Age of the Dinosaurs, drifted north. India had also split from Antarctica and moved north, colliding with Asia 55 - 45 MYA. Arabia collided with Asia, too, 35 MYA. All this activity affected Europe, too. It went from being groups of disparate islands to a continent. The collisions caused the Alps, the Pyrenees, and the Carpathian Mountains. The North and South American continents closed enough that a land bridge connected them.

2.5 million years ago, the poles began to ice over. This marked the appearance of the first homos erectus – precursors of humans.



Above is a map of Earth 50 million years ago. Source: Wikipedia.


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Beethoven's Symphony #5 Turns 200

200 Years Today this was first performed. #5 is one of the top all time favorites - ever!

Pictured is the Vienna Theater in the 19th. century.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Ludwig Beethoven (1770-1827) was one of the all time greats of Music. The symphony was first performed on December 22, 1808 at the Vienna Theater. LB conducted the orchestra himself. Two symphonies premiered that night. The Sixth was performed first; the Fifth second. That the night, the show bombed. The building was cold; the audience exhausted by the lengthy performance (4 hours for both symphonies.) LB had to stop the orchestra at one point and regroup. It wasn't until months later that people realized that this was one of the great masterpieces of history.

The Wikipedia article about him is pretty good. Also visit the Beethoven Depot. Finally, here's the lowdown on the 5th. Symphony.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Age of Dinosaurs, 250 MYA - 65 MYA

Ah, yes! The dinosaurs. Animals were big; the weather was hot; their blood ran cold. Little warm blooded mammals eeked out their living on the fringes of the biomass.

The dinosaurs marked the high point of life on Earth before Man. As predatory as lions, tigers, and bears became in the later age, it is difficult to see how any one of them could have fared against the giant T-Rex or the flying Raptor. The movie, “Jurassic Park” probably gives us more the flavor of the age than any monograph can.

The Earth looked vastly different during these times. Here is a map of the planet as it was around 100 million years ago.

The great southern continent of Godwanna had just broken up. India is drifting north; the eastern part of Godwanna drifts north north east and will split up into Australia, Guinea, New Zealand, and other islands. On the other side of the world, North and South America are drifting together.

65 million years ago a comet crashes. A cataclysmic ending to a dramatic age.



Source of map: Wikipedia.




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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Age of Animals, 400 MYA - 250 MYA

Before the dinosaurs, (if the logic of evolution is to be believed), the animals were less evolved. Scientists posit that the first aquadic life to come to land were those that had developed legs like spiders, scorpions, and primitive insects. What a golden age these first pioneers must have experienced! Continent after continent filled with plants that had millions of years to establish themselves, lay before them. The atmosphere was far more oxygen rich than later. Good times! But then came others from the sea, looking for meat.

The superior species seemed to be the reptile, with mammals living on the edges of life. In fact, the reptile's greatest age was next.



MYA = Million Years Ago
BYA = Billion Years Ago

Here's the rest of the great ages of history.

Krauthammer 12/19/08

The US House of Lords?


My take on Charles Krauthammer's latest. His column was published in the Washington Post.

Summary: While we always had some unqualified people in the U.S. Senate, the trend is getting worse. The problem with Caroline Kennedy's candidacy is not her lack of qualifications; it is her sense of entitlement. The campaign finance laws, favoring the rich, are partly to blame.

Quote:
Yes, the Founders were not democrats. They believed in aristocracy. But their idea was government by natural -- not inherited -- aristocracy, an aristocracy of "virtue and talents," as Jefferson put it.

My Views: Rich people can spend gobs of money while normal people have to scrounge for contributions in approved amounts. This is why Corzines, Rockefellers, and Kohls can just plop into office from nowhere. But this is just part of the problem.

Others parachute into office just using their celebrity or name recognition. Family connections, wealth, or celebrity may have been the path to political office in the past but this has become a trend in our time. It is a trend we should not encourage.


Charles Krauthammer is a more establishment columnist. He came to punditry by way of psychiatry (at Massachussets General Hospital) via the New Republic Magazine. He appears on TV where you never see his wheelchair. Here's his Wiki bio.

He wrote a book which is pictured at the right. I am drawn by the substance and the thinking than any particular writing flair.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Age of Fish, 650 MYA - 400 MYA

It is surprising that the earliest microbes appeared just as the Earth was beginning the last fourth of it's 4.5 billion year existence.

In this period, the planet's atmosphere was poison; plants appeared toward the end and transformed the bare continents as well as the atmosphere. Plant photosynthesis takes in carbon monoxide and puts out oxygen.

Meanwhile, in the oceans, the microbes evolved into giant sea monsters, while others made their first tentative presence on the shores.



MYA = Million Years Ago
BYA = Billion Years Ago


Previous AgeMaster ListNext Age

The Earliest Movies

There were movies before Edison. The first try was to position a series of cameras along a racetrack with tripwires across the track. Then they ran the horse down the track. The hooves struck the wires, activating the camera. The resulting photos were displayed rapidly creating the first “movie experience”. But a dead-end invention.

Edison came up with the film strip as the medium and invented a camera to photograph scenes directly to the strip. He also invented a machine for viewing the developed film, thus completing the commercial process.

He introduced his new machine to the world at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. People lined up to peer into the machine’s eyepiece one at a time and see the world’s first moving pictures. His invention was a hit. Other inventors could have stopped there but Edison knew that this new process opened both opportunities and challenges

In both Europe and America, other people were jumping into the arena. British inventors Robert W. Paul and Birt Acres developed a machine that projected the film images across the room onto the wall. Now, movies could be showed to groups of people instead of just one person at a time. In France, the Lumiere brothers began showing creative films that were widely received. If Edison wanted his invention to pay, he would have to get creative, too.

See Wikipedia for more on these earliest movie days.

While the quality of these early movies seem pretty lame today, the audiences of the 1890’s were experiencing the first sights ever seen by anyone in history: pictures that moved. The creativity was limited but the technology was, too. Each movie had to be contained in a film strip only 50 feet long! That means that each movie could last only a few seconds.

The quality of the filmstrip, well. Need we say more? The reason we have these very early movies is that the government copyright laws lagged behind this new industry, too. The only way Edison could think of to copyright his films was to reproduce them frame by frame onto a strip of paper. It was these lengthy spools of paper (adding machine tape, anybody?) with each frame printed as an individual picture, that were provided to the Library of Congress to meet the copyright laws of the 1890’s.

When film historians went looking for the earliest films, the filmstrips had long since deteriorated to dust. But the paper prints still existed in the Library of Congress. Technicians reversed Edison’s process, photographing each picture and putting it on modern film. That is what we have today.

For samples of Edison’s movies, I searched YouTube and got this:



First Kiss
This was Edison’s big hit of 1896. The lady was the famous actress May Irwin. In 1896, Irwin had a problem. As you can see from the movie, by 1896 this former sex siren of the stage was very much a FORMER sex siren. She was only 34 years old, yet she looked much older. She was starring in a play “The Widow Jones” and concerned that the leading man, John C. Rice, not so young looking himself, in fact looked old and that helped make her look old. Still, to help publicize the play, she shot the climactic scene, the big kiss, for Edison. But even as this scene was shot, she had plans for Rice.

After shooting, she fired him and hired a much younger man instead. Edison released the movie and it became a huge hit. Rice, a new star but out of work, went to work in vaudeville with an act “teaching people how to kiss for the theatre.” The act was a sensation.

Meanwhile, back on Broadway, “The Widow Jones” returned in the fall of 1896 for the new season. With the fired John C. Rice giving kissing demonstrations all across the country, and Edison’s movie a smash hit, everybody who went to the play focused on that climactic big kiss at the end. Could the new guy perform up to John C. Rice’s standards? Too, bad; uh, uh; nada; zip; it was a flop.

Irwin was in a quandary. She didn’t want Rice back; Rice didn’t want to come back; the public demanded they get back. Guess who won? This was a harbinger of the movies’ future power on public opinion.


Serpentine Dance
These were popular vaudeville acts in this era. This movie exhibits Edison’s experiments with applying color tints to the film.

Annabelle Moore is the dancer in this film from 1894. She was one of Edison’s favorite stars. She starred in Edison’s films throughout the 1890’s. Part of the reason that Edison kept bringing her back was because his master film strips kept wearing out and he needed new shoots to release.


Sandow the Strongman
It is 1894. Edison, under pressure from the competition, was looking for new stars. (The Star System was actually invented by D.W. Griffin about 20 years in the future. I use the term “stars” because even in the 1890’s, Edison had the concept, if not the execution, as this story shows.)

Eugene Sandow was the Arnold Swarzenegger of the 1890’s. He billed himself in vaudeville as “The Strongest Man in the World”. Others disputed his claim. How to solidify his reputation and thus his marketability?

Edison brought Sandow to his studios in a blaze of publicity. On March 6, with cameras flashing and the press looking on, “the world’s greatest strongman shook hands with the world’s greatest inventor.” Thus Edison and Sandow packaged the event. The reporters rushed the photos into print and the Edison/Sandow team went to work.

The movie is the opening of Sandow’s act. (Remember, this is the 1890’s, movies are only a few seconds long.) Sandow immediately followed up his movie debut with a book on physical fitness. Five weeks after this film shot, Edison introduced his new film invention, the kinetoscope.

Thus, the two celebrities used a 15 second film to promote their careers.


The Boxing Match
These two were a comedy team but Edison made movies of real fights in the 1890’s. Boxing was illegal in every state of the Union. Edison filmed the first sports films at these illegal fights.

Being the great celebrity, Edison could get away with it. And he took advantage of the gap between development of technology and the development of law. It was illegal to attend fights; there was nothing in the law making it illegal to show movies of fights. Of course, the movies could be entered into evidence against the fighters, the referee, and such spectators whose faces appeared in the film. Judges were outraged when juries refused to convict. Edison’s boxing movies played a key role in the subsequent legalizing of this sport.

------
I came upon these movies in my Netflix subscription (yet another innovative use of new technology). Netflix members can find the exact disk here.

Edison’s contribution did not stop with novelty filming; he conscientiously tried to use the invention for something larger.

For more info on these and other Edison films, see the Edison Movies Website.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kennedy and Palin

So Caroline Kennedy is gunning for US Senate? Why is nobody asking her about her qualifications? Never been elected to anything; never had to be responsible for any policy issue - ever. Should be a shoe-in for the Sarah Palin treatment, right?

Q. And what are your views on the Obama Doctrine, Ms. Kennedy? You don't know of any Obama Doctrine? Ah, ha! Gotcha!

But of course there are differences.

  1. Ms. K is a Democrat.
  2. She's connected with the establishment elite. Heck! She's in the inner circle of the EE!
  3. Daddy was JFK.

As for Ms. Palin?
  1. She's a Republican.
  2. She's just a peasant woman from Alaska. The boonies.
  3. She's one of those Christians. Those kind. Reads the Bible; believes it; devout. That kind.

So of course Caroline is going to get treated much differently that Sarah was. - The Royal Treatment.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two Big Chess Books

1) John Watson's Mastering the Chess Openings trilogy concludes with Flank Openings. These are probably the best books on the opening currently out - with all the limitations on the print medium. The author stated in Chess Life that some important openings were left out of Volume 2 "only because of lack of space". This is a significant statement. An important function of these books is that he gives discussion of the theory and principles in actual words inside actual sentences with subjects, predicates, nouns and verbs as opposed to lists of variations with symbols. Now, if there could only be a Volume 4 to cover all of the important openings he left out . . .

To give you an idea of the scope of this series, I listed the games of Volume 1. Yes, they are this many. It is not too much to say that these books can double as game collections, too.



2) The core of Mark Dvoretsky's reputation as a chess coach and author has been in the area of analyzing positions. So that's what makes his book on the subject so huge. The other books in his series of chess instruction have been well received.

This is a very hard book to go through. The thing is, that if you think that chess is fun, then plowing through all of these variations is fun, too. It is like watching a hockey game. I may not be able to do all that skating and drills that the hockey player can do, but I still like watching them do it. The frustration for the reader may come from the feeling that he may never be able to calculate all of this stuff for himself. Just like the rest of sport, there is nothing wrong with sitting in the stands and letting a master take you along for a ride. That's the thing about hard chess books like this one.

And who knows? Just following along may make you a better player, anyway.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Krauthammer 12/14/08

Obama Means Big Change


My take on Charles Krauthammer's latest. His column was published in the Washington Post.

Summary: Obama appears to be a centrist because on Foreign and on Economic Policies he will hold pat so that he can pursue radical expansion on Social Policies.

Quote:
A functioning financial system is a necessary condition for a successful Obama presidency. As in foreign policy, Obama wants experts and veterans to manage and pacify universes in which he has little experience and less personal commitment. Their job is to keep credit flowing and the world at bay so that Obama can address his real ambition: to effect a domestic transformation as grand and ambitious as Franklin Roosevelt's.

My Views: So what area is he going to concentrate on? Dr. K mentions Health Care. The other area Obama's talked about is hitting and hurting conservative talk radio. Partly what's so reasuring right now is that people don't really know what he's going to change.

One other problem with Dr. K's thesis in this essay is that his assertion of the Inside the Beltway belief that there's a mandate for dramatic government expansion. Yet, remember that before the crash in late September, McCain had actually pulled AHEAD of Obama in the polls. The dominent news was how Obama was unable to seal the deal. Then the financial industry crashed. A crash does not a mandate make.


Charles Krauthammer is a more establishment columnist. I am drawn by the substance and the thinking than any particular writing flair.

He appears on TV where you never see his wheelchair.

Here's his Wiki bio.

He wrote a book which is pictured to the right.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Don’t Overlook This! 12/13/08

Editorial Judgements To Drive Google Searches



Summary: Google executive this week announced that editorial decisions will be a major factor in determining search engine results. The computer algorithims will continue but adjustments will be made by Google staff.



Source: The A Register.



Why this is significant: What is the political bias of the staffers that will decide which sites top the searches? The world already has had reasons to question the bias of Google.

  1. The contracts with Red China blocking sites the Communist Government wanted blocked.
  2. The take-down of anti-Obama sites this year.
  3. The political contributions made by the majority of Google executives and staff.

The public already has seen the effects of media bias in the old media. New media bias may just be transferring the 20th. century problems of filtered news to the 21st. century. New media, same problem. Only, with the power that new media has at its disposal, the problem of media bias affecting public opinion may be even worse in this new century than in the last.



"Don't Overlook This!" are stories in the news that deserve more attention than they’ve received. These stories should have been the leading news items of their day. Their significance extends beyond just a particular geographical area and beyond just a particular news cycle.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Roads of Destiny, 3

O. Henry - one of my favorite writers and this is one of his best stories - albeit very long. This is Part 3, the last part. For the rest of the story, here's Part 1 and Part 2.



THE MAIN ROAD

Three leagues, then, the road ran, and turned into a puzzle. It joined with another and a larger road at right angles. David stood, uncertain, for a while, and then sat himself to rest upon its side.

Whither these roads led he knew not. Either way there seemed to lie a great world full of chance and peril. And then, sitting there, his eye fell upon a bright star, one that he and Yvonne had named for theirs. That set him thinking of Yvonne, and he wondered if he had not been too hasty. Why should he leave her and his home because a
few hot words had come between them? Was love so brittle a thing that jealousy, the very proof of it, could break it? Mornings always brought a cure for the little heartaches of evening. There was yet time for him to return home without any one in the sweetly sleeping village of Vernoy being the wiser. His heart was Yvonne's; there
where he had lived always he could write his poems and find his happiness.

David rose, and shook off his unrest and the wild mood that had tempted him. He set his face steadfastly back along the road he had come. By the time he had retravelled the road to Vernoy, his desire to rove was gone. He passed the sheepfold, and the sheep scurried, with a drumming flutter, at his late footsteps, warming his heart by
the homely sound. He crept without noise into his little room and lay there, thankful that his feet had escaped the distress of new roads that night.

How well he knew woman's heart! The next evening Yvonne was at the well in the road where the young congregated in order that the _cure_ might have business. The corner of her eye was engaged in a search for David, albeit her set mouth seemed unrelenting. He saw the look; braved the mouth, drew from it a recantation and, later, a kiss as they walked homeward together.

Three months afterwards they were married. David's father was shrewd and prosperous. He gave them a wedding that was heard of three leagues away. Both the young people were favourites in the village. There was a procession in the streets, a dance on the green; they had the marionettes and a tumbler out from Dreux to delight the guests.

Then a year, and David's father died. The sheep and the cottage descended to him. He already had the seemliest wife in the village. Yvonne's milk pails and her brass kettles were bright--_ouf!_ they blinded you in the sun when you passed that way. But you must keep your eyes upon her yard, for her flower beds were so neat and gay they restored to you your sight. And you might hear her sing, aye, as far as the double chestnut tree above Pere Gruneau's blacksmith forge.

But a day came when David drew out paper from a long-shut drawer, and began to bite the end of a pencil. Spring had come again and touched his heart. Poet he must have been, for now Yvonne was well-nigh forgotten. This fine new loveliness of earth held him with its witchery and grace. The perfume from her woods and meadows stirred him strangely. Daily had he gone forth with his flock, and brought it safe at night. But now he stretched himself under the hedge and pieced words together on his bits of paper. The sheep strayed, and the wolves, perceiving that difficult poems make easy
mutton, ventured from the woods and stole his lambs.

David's stock of poems grew larger and his flock smaller. Yvonne's nose and temper waxed sharp and her talk blunt. Her pans and kettles grew dull, but her eyes had caught their flash. She pointed out to the poet that his neglect was reducing the flock and bringing woe upon the household. David hired a boy to guard the sheep, locked himself in the little room at the top of the cottage, and wrote more poems. The boy, being a poet by nature, but not furnished with an outlet in the way of writing, spent his time in slumber. The wolves lost no time in discovering that poetry and sleep are practically the same; so the flock steadily grew smaller. Yvonne's ill temper increased at an equal rate. Sometimes she would stand in the yard and rail at David through his high window. Then you could hear her as far as the double chestnut tree above Pere Gruneau's blacksmith forge.

M. Papineau, the kind, wise, meddling old notary, saw this, as he saw everything at which his nose pointed. He went to David, fortified himself with a great pinch of snuff, and said:
Friend Mignot, I affixed the seal upon the marriage certificate of your father. It would distress me to be obliged to attest a paper signifying the bankruptcy of his son. But that is what you are coming to. I speak as an old friend. Now, listen to what I have to say. You have your heart set, I perceive, upon poetry. At Dreux, I have a friend, one Monsieur Bril--Georges Bril. He lives in a little cleared space in a houseful of books. He is a learned man; he visits Paris each year; he himself has written books. He will tell you when the catacombs were made, how they found out the names of the stars, and why the plover has a long bill. The meaning and the form of poetry is to him as intelligent as the baa of a sheep is to you. I will give you a letter to him, and you shall take him your poems and let him read them. Then you will know if you shall write more, or give your attention to your wife and business.

"Write the letter," said David, "I am sorry you did not speak of this sooner."

At sunrise the next morning he was on the road to Dreux with the precious roll of poems under his arm. At noon he wiped the dust from his feet at the door of Monsieur Bril. That learned man broke the seal of M. Papineau's letter, and sucked up its contents through his gleaming spectacles as the sun draws water. He took David inside to his study and sat him down upon a little island beat upon by a sea of books.

Monsieur Bril had a conscience. He flinched not even at a mass of manuscript the thickness of a finger length and rolled to an incorrigible curve. He broke the back of the roll against his knee and began to read. He slighted nothing; he bored into the lump as a worm into a nut, seeking for a kernel.

Meanwhile, David sat, marooned, trembling in the spray of so much literature. It roared in his ears. He held no chart or compass for voyaging in that sea. Half the world, he thought, must be writing books.

Monsieur Bril bored to the last page of the poems. Then he took off his spectacles, and wiped them with his handkerchief.

"My old friend, Papineau, is well?" he asked.

"In the best of health," said David.

"How many sheep have you, Monsieur Mignot?"

"Three hundred and nine, when I counted them yesterday. The flock has had ill fortune. To that number it has decreased from eight hundred and fifty."

"You have a wife and home, and lived in comfort. The sheep brought you plenty. You went into the fields with them and lived in the keen air and ate the sweet bread of contentment. You had but to be vigilant and recline there upon nature's breast, listening to the whistle of the blackbirds in the grove. Am I right thus far?"

"It was so," said David.

"I have read all your verses," continued Monsieur Bril, his eyes wandering about his sea of books as if he conned the horizon for a sail. "Look yonder, through that window, Monsieur Mignot; tell me what you see in that tree."

"I see a crow," said David, looking.

"There is a bird," said Monsieur Bril, "that shall assist me where I am disposed to shirk a duty. You know that bird, Monsieur Mignot; he is the philosopher of the air. He is happy through submission to his lot. None so merry or full-crawed as he with his whimsical eye and rollicking step. The fields yield him what he desires. He never
grieves that his plumage is not gay, like the oriole's. And you have heard, Monsieur Mignot, the notes that nature has given him? Is the nightingale any happier, do you think?"

David rose to his feet. The crow cawed harshly from his tree.

"I thank you, Monsieur Bril," he said, slowly. "There was not, then, one nightingale among all those croaks?"

"I could not have missed it," said Monsieur Bril, with a sigh. "I read every word. Live your poetry, man; do not try to write it any more."

"I thank you," said David, again. "And now I will be going back to my sheep."

"If you would dine with me," said the man of books, "and overlook the smart of it, I will give you reasons at length."

"No," said the poet, "I must be back in the fields cawing at my sheep."

Back along the road to Vernoy he trudged with his poems under his arm. When he reached his village he turned into the shop of one Zeigler, a Jew out of Armenia, who sold anything that came to his hand.

"Friend," said David, "wolves from the forest harass my sheep on the hills. I must purchase firearms to protect them. What have you?"

"A bad day, this, for me, friend Mignot," said Zeigler, spreading his hands, "for I perceive that I must sell you a weapon that will not fetch a tenth of its value. Only last I week I bought from a peddlar a wagon full of goods that he procured at a sale by a commissionaire of the crown. The sale was of the chateau and belongings of a great lord--I know not his title--who has been banished for conspiracy against the king. There are some choice firearms in the lot. This pistol--oh, a weapon fit for a prince! -—it shall be only forty francs to you, friend Mignot--if I lose ten by the sale. But perhaps an arquebuse--"

"This will do," said David, throwing the money on the counter. "Is it charged?"

"I will charge it," said Zeigler. "And, for ten francs more, add a store of powder and ball."

David laid his pistol under his coat and walked to his cottage. Yvonne was not there. Of late she had taken to gadding much among the neighbours. But a fire was glowing in the kitchen stove. David opened the door of it and thrust his poems in upon the coals. As they blazed up they made a singing, harsh sound in the flue.

"The song of the crow!" said the poet.

He went up to his attic room and closed the door. So quiet was the village that a score of people heard the roar of the great pistol. They flocked thither, and up the stairs where the smoke, issuing, drew their notice.

The men laid the body of the poet upon his bed, awkwardly arranging it to conceal the torn plumage of the poor black crow. The women chattered in a luxury of zealous pity. Some of them ran to tell Yvonne.

M. Papineau, whose nose had brought him there among the first, picked up the weapon and ran his eye over its silver mountings with a mingled air of connoisseurship and grief.

"The arms," he explained, aside, to the cure, "and crest of Monseigneur, the Marquis de Beaupertuys."





For the rest of the story, here's Part 1 and Part 2.

More of O. Henry's stories can be downloaded for free from Guttenberg Library.

Wiki Bio.

Here's a hardcopy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Roads of Destiny, 2

O. Henry - one of my favorite writers and this is one of his best stories - albeit very long. This is Part 2. For the rest of the story, here's Part 1 and Part 3.




THE RIGHT BRANCH

Three leagues, then, the road ran, and turned into a puzzle. It joined with another and a larger road at right angles. David stood, uncertain, for a while, and then took the road to the right.


Whither it led he knew not, but he was resolved to leave Vernoy far behind that night. He travelled a league and then passed a large chateau which showed testimony of recent entertainment. Lights shone from every window; from the great stone gateway ran a tracery of wheel tracks drawn in the dust by the vehicles of the guests.

Three leagues farther and David was weary. He rested and slept for a while on a bed of pine boughs at the roadside. Then up and on again along the unknown way.

Thus for five days he travelled the great road, sleeping upon Nature's balsamic beds or in peasants' ricks, eating of their black, hospitable bread, drinking from streams or the willing cup of the goatherd.

At length he crossed a great bridge and set his foot within the smiling city that has crushed or crowned more poets than all the rest of the world. His breath came quickly as Paris sang to him in a little undertone her vital chant of greeting--the hum of voice and foot and wheel.

High up under the eaves of an old house in the Rue Conti, David paid for lodging, and set himself, in a wooden chair, to his poems. The street, once sheltering citizens of import and consequence, was now given over to those who ever follow in the wake of decline.

The houses were tall and still possessed of a ruined dignity, but many of them were empty save for dust and the spider. By night there was the clash of steel and the cries of brawlers straying restlessly from inn to inn. Where once gentility abode was now but a rancid and rude incontinence. But here David found housing commensurate to his scant purse. Daylight and candlelight found him at pen and paper.

One afternoon he was returning from a foraging trip to the lower world, with bread and curds and a bottle of thin wine. Halfway up his dark stairway he met--or rather came upon, for she rested on the stair--a young woman of a beauty that should balk even the justice of a poet's imagination. A loose, dark cloak, flung open, showed a rich gown beneath. Her eyes changed swiftly with every little shade of thought. Within one moment they would be round and artless like a child's, and long and cozening like a gypsy's. One hand raised her gown, undraping a little shoe, high-heeled, with its ribbons dangling, untied. So heavenly she was, so unfitted to stoop, so qualified to charm and command! Perhaps she had seen David coming, and had waited for his help there.

Ah, would monsieur pardon that she occupied the stairway, but the shoe!--the naughty shoe! Alas! it would not remain tied. Ah! If monsieur _would_ be so gracious!

The poet's fingers trembled as he tied the contrary ribbons. Then he would have fled from the danger of her presence, but the eyes grew long and cozening, like a gypsy's, and held him. He leaned against the balustrade, clutching his bottle of sour wine.

"You have been so good," she said, smiling. "Does monsieur, perhaps, live in the house?"

"Yes, madame. I--I think so, madame."

"Perhaps in the third story, then?"

"No, madame; higher up."

The lady fluttered her fingers with the least possible gesture of impatience.

"Pardon. Certainly I am not discreet in asking. Monsieur will forgive me? It is surely not becoming that I should inquire where he lodges."

"Madame, do not say so. I live in the--"

"No, no, no; do not tell me. Now I see that I erred. But I cannot lose the interest I feel in this house and all that is in it. Once it was my home. Often I come here but to dream of those happy days again. Will you let that be my excuse?"

"Let me tell you, then, for you need no excuse," stammered the poet. "I live in the top floor--the small room where the stairs turn."

"In the front room?" asked the lady, turning her head sidewise.

"The rear, madame."

The lady sighed, as if with relief.

"I will detain you no longer then, monsieur," she said, employing the round and artless eye. "Take good care of my house. Alas! Only the memories of it are mine now. Adieu, and accept my thanks for your courtesy."

She was gone, leaving but a smile and a trace of sweet perfume. David climbed the stairs as one in slumber. But he awoke from it, and the smile and the perfume lingered with him and never afterward did either seem quite to leave him. This lady of whom he knew nothing drove him to lyrics of eyes, chansons of swiftly conceived love, odes to curling hair, and sonnets to slippers on slender feet.

Poet he must have been, for Yvonne was forgotten; this fine, new loveliness held him with its freshness and grace. The subtle perfume about her filled him with strange emotions.

On a certain night three persons were gathered about a table in a room on the third floor of the same house. Three chairs and the table and a lighted candle upon it was all the furniture. One of the persons was a huge man, dressed in black. His expression was one of sneering pride. The ends of his upturned moustache reached nearly to his mocking eyes. Another was a lady, young and beautiful, with eyes that could be round and artless, as a child's, or long and cozening, like a gypsy's, but were now keen and ambitious, like any other conspirator's. The third was a man of action, a combatant, a bold and impatient executive, breathing fire and steel. He was addressed
by the others as Captain Desrolles.

This man struck the table with his fist, and said, with controlled violence:

"To-night. To-night as he goes to midnight mass. I am tired of the plotting that gets nowhere. I am sick of signals and ciphers and secret meetings and such _baragouin_. Let us be honest traitors. If France is to be rid of him, let us kill in the open, and not hunt with snares and traps. To-night, I say. I back my words. My hand will do the deed. To-night, as he goes to mass."

The lady turned upon him a cordial look. Woman, however wedded to plots, must ever thus bow to rash courage. The big man stroked his upturned moustache.

"Dear captain," he said, in a great voice, softened by habit, "this time I agree with you. Nothing is to be gained by waiting. Enough of the palace guards belong to us to make the endeavour a safe one."

"To-night," repeated Captain Desrolles, again striking the table. "You have heard me, marquis; my hand will do the deed."

"But now," said the huge man, softly, "comes a question. Word must be sent to our partisans in the palace, and a signal agreed upon. Our stanchest men must accompany the royal carriage. At this hour what messenger can penetrate so far as the south doorway? Ribouet is stationed there; once a message is placed in his hands, all will go
well."

"I will send the message," said the lady.

"You, countess?" said the marquis, raising his eyebrows. "Your devotion is great, we know, but--"

"Listen!" exclaimed the lady, rising and resting her hands upon the table; "in a garret of this house lives a youth from the provinces as guileless and tender as the lambs he tended there. I have met him twice or thrice upon the stairs. I questioned him, fearing that he might dwell too near the room in which we are accustomed to meet. He is mine, if I will. He writes poems in his garret, and I think he dreams of me. He will do what I say. He shall take the message to the palace."

The marquis rose from his chair and bowed. "You did not permit me to finish my sentence, countess," he said. "I would have said: 'Your devotion is great, but your wit and charm are infinitely greater.'"

While the conspirators were thus engaged, David was polishing some lines addressed to his _amorette d'escalier_. He heard a timorous knock at his door, and opened it, with a great throb, to behold her there, panting as one in straits, with eyes wide open and artless, like a child's.

"Monsieur," she breathed, "I come to you in distress. I believe you to be good and true, and I know of no other help. How I flew through the streets among the swaggering men! Monsieur, my mother is dying. My uncle is a captain of guards in the palace of the king. Some one must fly to bring him. May I hope--"

"Mademoiselle," interrupted David, his eyes shining with the desire to do her service, "your hopes shall be my wings. Tell me how I may reach him."

The lady thrust a sealed paper into his hand.

"Go to the south gate--the south gate, mind--and say to the guards there, 'The falcon has left his nest.' They will pass you, and you will go to the south entrance to the palace. Repeat the words, and give this letter to the man who will reply 'Let him strike when he will.' This is the password, monsieur, entrusted to me by my uncle, for now when the country is disturbed and men plot against the king's life, no one without it can gain entrance to the palace grounds after nightfall. If you will, monsieur, take him this letter so that my mother may see him before she closes her eyes."

"Give it me," said David, eagerly. "But shall I let you return home through the streets alone so late? I--"

"No, no--fly. Each moment is like a precious jewel. Some time," said the lady, with eyes long and cozening, like a gypsy's, "I will try to thank you for your goodness."

The poet thrust the letter into his breast, and bounded down the stairway. The lady, when he was gone, returned to the room below.

The eloquent eyebrows of the marquis interrogated her.

"He is gone," she said, "as fleet and stupid as one of his own sheep, to deliver it."

The table shook again from the batter of Captain Desrolles's fist.

"Sacred name!" he cried; "I have left my pistols behind! I can trust no others."

"Take this," said the marquis, drawing from beneath his cloak a shining, great weapon, ornamented with carven silver. "There are none truer. But guard it closely, for it bears my arms and crest, and already I am suspected. Me, I must put many leagues between myself and Paris this night. To-morrow must find me in my chateau. After you, dear countess."

The marquis puffed out the candle. The lady, well cloaked, and the two gentlemen softly descended the stairway and flowed into the crowd that roamed along the narrow pavements of the Rue Conti.

David sped. At the south gate of the king's residence a halberd was laid to his breast, but he turned its point with the words; "The falcon has left his nest."

"Pass, brother," said the guard, "and go quickly."

On the south steps of the palace they moved to seize him, but again the _mot de passe_ charmed the watchers. One among them stepped forward and began: "Let him strike--" but a flurry among the guards told of a surprise. A man of keen look and soldierly stride suddenly pressed through them and seized the letter which David held in his hand. "Come with me," he said, and led him inside the great hall. Then he tore open the letter and read it. He beckoned to a man uniformed as an officer of musketeers, who was passing. "Captain Tetreau, you will have the guards at the south entrance and the south gate arrested and confined. Place men known to be loyal in their places." To David he said: "Come with me."

He conducted him through a corridor and an anteroom into a spacious chamber, where a melancholy man, sombrely dressed, sat brooding in a great, leather-covered chair. To that man he said:

"Sire, I have told you that the palace is as full of traitors and spies as a sewer is of rats. You have thought, sire, that it was my fancy. This man penetrated to your very door by their connivance. He bore a letter which I have intercepted. I have brought him here that your majesty may no longer think my zeal excessive."

"I will question him," said the king, stirring in his chair. He looked at David with heavy eyes dulled by an opaque film. The poet bent his knee.

"From where do you come?" asked the king.

"From the village of Vernoy, in the province of Eure-et-Loir, sire."

"What do you follow in Paris?"

"I--I would be a poet, sire."

"What did you in Vernoy?"

"I minded my father's flock of sheep."

The king stirred again, and the film lifted from his eyes.

"Ah! in the fields!"

"Yes, sire."

"You lived in the fields; you went out in the cool of the morning and lay among the hedges in the grass. The flock distributed itself upon the hillside; you drank of the living stream; you ate your sweet, brown bread in the shade, and you listened, doubtless, to blackbirds piping in the grove. Is not that so, shepherd?"

"It is, sire," answered David, with a sigh; "and to the bees at the flowers, and, maybe, to the grape gatherers singing on the hill."

"Yes, yes," said the king, impatiently; "maybe to them; but surely to the blackbirds. They whistled often, in the grove, did they not?"

"Nowhere, sire, so sweetly as in Eure-et-Loir. I have endeavored to express their song in some verses that I have written."

"Can you repeat those verses?" asked the king, eagerly. "A long time ago I listened to the blackbirds. It would be something better than a kingdom if one could rightly construe their song. And at night you drove the sheep to the fold and then sat, in peace and tranquillity, to your pleasant bread. Can you repeat those verses, shepherd?"

"They run this way, sire," said David, with respectful ardour:



"'Lazy shepherd, see your lambkins
Skip, ecstatic, on the mead;
See the firs dance in the breezes,
Hear Pan blowing at his reed.

"Hear us calling from the tree-tops,
See us swoop upon your flock;
Yield us wool to make our nests warm
In the branches of the--'"


"If it please your majesty," interrupted a harsh voice, "I will ask a question or two of this rhymester. There is little time to spare. I crave pardon, sire, if my anxiety for your safety offends."

"The loyalty," said the king, "of the Duke d'Aumale is too well proven to give offence." He sank into his chair, and the film came again over his eyes.

"First," said the duke, "I will read you the letter he brought:

"'To-night is the anniversary of the dauphin's death. If he goes, as is his custom, to midnight mass to pray for the soul of his son, the falcon will strike, at the corner of the Rue Esplanade. If this be his intention, set a red light in the upper room at the southwest corner of the palace, that the falcon may take heed.'

"Peasant," said the duke, sternly, "you have heard these words. Who gave you this message to bring?"

"My lord duke," said David, sincerely, "I will tell you. A lady gave it me. She said her mother was ill, and that this writing would fetch her uncle to her bedside. I do not know the meaning of the letter, but I will swear that she is beautiful and good."

"Describe the woman," commanded the duke, "and how you came to be her dupe."

"Describe her!" said David with a tender smile. "You would command words to perform miracles. Well, she is made of sunshine and deep shade. She is slender, like the alders, and moves with their grace. Her eyes change while you gaze into them; now round, and then half shut as the sun peeps between two clouds. When she comes, heaven
is all about her; when she leaves, there is chaos and a scent of hawthorn blossoms. She came to see me in the Rue Conti, number twenty-nine."

"It is the house," said the duke, turning to the king, "that we have been watching. Thanks to the poet's tongue, we have a picture of the infamous Countess Quebedaux."

"Sire and my lord duke," said David, earnestly, "I hope my poor words have done no injustice. I have looked into that lady's eyes. I will stake my life that she is an angel, letter or no letter."

The duke looked at him steadily. "I will put you to the proof," he said, slowly. "Dressed as the king, you shall, yourself, attend mass in his carriage at midnight. Do you accept the test?"

David smiled. "I have looked into her eyes," he said. "I had my proof there. Take yours how you will."

Half an hour before twelve the Duke d'Aumale, with his own hands, set a red lamp in a southwest window of the palace. At ten minutes to the hour, David, leaning on his arm, dressed as the king, from top to toe, with his head bowed in his cloak, walked slowly from the royal apartments to the waiting carriage. The duke assisted him inside and closed the door. The carriage whirled away along its route to the cathedral.

On the _qui vive_ in a house at the corner of the Rue Esplanade was Captain Tetreau with twenty men, ready to pounce upon the conspirators when they should appear.

But it seemed that, for some reason, the plotters had slightly altered their plans. When the royal carriage had reached the Rue Christopher, one square nearer than the Rue Esplanade, forth from it burst Captain Desrolles, with his band of would-be regicides, and assailed the equipage. The guards upon the carriage, though surprised at the premature attack, descended and fought valiantly. The noise of conflict attracted the force of Captain Tetreau, and they came pelting down the street to the rescue. But, in the meantime, the desperate Desrolles had torn open the door of the
king's carriage, thrust his weapon against the body of the dark figure inside, and fired.

Now, with loyal reinforcements at hand, the street rang with cries and the rasp of steel, but the frightened horses had dashed away. Upon the cushions lay the dead body of the poor mock king and poet, slain by a ball from the pistol of Monseigneur, the Marquis de Beaupertuys.





For the rest of the story, here's Part 1 and Part 3.

More of O. Henry's stories can be downloaded for free from Guttenberg Library.

Wiki Bio.

Here's a hardcopy.

Roads of Destiny, 1

O. Henry - one of my favorite writers and this is one of his best stories - albeit very long. This is Part 1. For the rest of the story, here's Part 2 and Part 3.



I go to seek on many roads
What is to be.
True heart and strong, with love to light--
Will they not bear me in the fight
To order, shun or wield or mould
My Destiny?
- Unpublished Poems of David Mignot.

The song was over. The words were David's; the air, one of the countryside. The company about the inn table applauded heartily, for the young poet paid for the wine. Only the notary, M. Papineau, shook his head a little at the lines, for he was a man of books, and he had not drunk with the rest.

"When my poems are on every man's tongue," he told himself, in a fine exhilaration, "she will, perhaps, think of the hard words she spoke this day."

Except the roisterers in the tavern, the village folk were abed. David crept softly into his room in the shed of his father's cottage and made a bundle of his small store of clothing. With this upon a staff, he set his face outward upon the road that ran from Vernoy.

He passed his father's herd of sheep, huddled in their nightly pen--the sheep he herded daily, leaving them to scatter while he wrote verses on scraps of paper. He saw a light yet shining in Yvonne's window, and a weakness shook his purpose of a sudden. Perhaps that light meant that she rued, sleepless, her anger, and that morning might--But, no! His decision was made. Vernoy was no place for him. Not one soul there could share his thoughts. Out along that road lay his fate and his future.

Three leagues across the dim, moonlit champaign ran the road, straight as a ploughman's furrow. It was believed in the village that the road ran to Paris, at least; and this name the poet whispered often to himself as he walked. Never so far from Vernoy had David travelled before.

THE LEFT BRANCH

Three leagues, then, the road ran, and turned into a puzzle. It joined with another and a larger road at right angles. David stood, uncertain, for a while, and then took the road to the left.

Upon this more important highway were, imprinted in the dust, wheel tracks left by the recent passage of some vehicle. Some half an hour later these traces were verified by the sight of a ponderous carriage mired in a little brook at the bottom of a steep hill. The driver and postilions were shouting and tugging at the horses' bridles. On the road at one side stood a huge, black-clothed man and a slender lady wrapped in a long, light cloak.

David saw the lack of skill in the efforts of the servants. He quietly assumed control of the work. He directed the outriders to cease their clamour at the horses and to exercise their strength upon the wheels. The driver alone urged the animals with his familiar voice; David himself heaved a powerful shoulder at the rear of the carriage, and with one harmonious tug the great vehicle rolled up on solid ground. The outriders climbed to their places.

David stood for a moment upon one foot. The huge gentleman waved a hand. "You will enter the carriage," he said, in a voice large, like himself, but smoothed by art and habit. Obedience belonged in the path of such a voice. Brief as was the young poet's hesitation, it was cut shorter still by a renewal of the command. David's foot went to the step. In the darkness he perceived dimly the form of the lady upon the rear seat. He was about to seat himself opposite, when the voice again swayed him to its will. "You will sit at the lady's side."

The gentleman swung his great weight to the forward seat. The carriage proceeded up the hill. The lady was shrunk, silent, into her corner. David could not estimate whether she was old or young, but a delicate, mild perfume from her clothes stirred his poet's fancy to the belief that there was loveliness beneath the mystery. Here was an adventure such as he had often imagined. But as yet he held no key to it, for no word was spoken while he sat with his impenetrable companions.

In an hour's time David perceived through the window that the vehicle traversed the street of some town. Then it stopped in front of a closed and darkened house, and a postilion alighted to hammer impatiently upon the door. A latticed window above flew wide and a nightcapped head popped out.

"Who are ye that disturb honest folk at this time of night? My house is closed. 'Tis too late for profitable travellers to be abroad. Cease knocking at my door, and be off."

"Open!" spluttered the postilion, loudly; "open for Monsiegneur the Marquis de Beaupertuys."

"Ah!" cried the voice above. "Ten thousand pardons, my lord. I did not know--the hour is so late--at once shall the door be opened, and the house placed at my lord's disposal."

Inside was heard the clink of chain and bar, and the door was flung open. Shivering with chill and apprehension, the landlord of the Silver Flagon stood, half clad, candle in hand, upon the threshold.

David followed the Marquis out of the carriage. "Assist the lady," he was ordered. The poet obeyed. He felt her small hand tremble as he guided her descent. "Into the house," was the next command.

The room was the long dining-hall of the tavern. A great oak table ran down its length. The huge gentleman seated himself in a chair at the nearer end. The lady sank into another against the wall, with an air of great weariness. David stood, considering how best he might now take his leave and continue upon his way.

"My lord," said the landlord, bowing to the floor, "h-had I ex-expected this honour, entertainment would have been ready. T-t-there is wine and cold fowl and m-m-maybe--"

"Candles," said the marquis, spreading the fingers of one plump white hand in a gesture he had.
"Y-yes, my lord." He fetched half a dozen candles, lighted them, and set them upon the table.

"If monsieur would, perhaps, deign to taste a certain Burgundy--there is a cask--"

"Candles," said monsieur, spreading his fingers.

"Assuredly--quickly--I fly, my lord."

A dozen more lighted candles shone in the hall. The great bulk of the marquis overflowed his chair. He was dressed in fine black from head to foot save for the snowy ruffles at his wrist and throat. Even the hilt and scabbard of his sword were black. His expression was one of neering pride. The ends of an upturned moustache reached nearly to his mocking eyes.

The lady sat motionless, and now David perceived that she was young, and possessed of pathetic and appealing beauty. He was startled from the contemplation of her forlorn loveliness by the booming voice of the marquis.

"What is your name and pursuit?"

"David Mignot. I am a poet."

The moustache of the marquis curled nearer to his eyes.

"How do you live?"

"I am also a shepherd; I guarded my father's flock," David answered, with his head high, but a flush upon his cheek.

"Then listen, master shepherd and poet, to the fortune you have blundered upon tonight. This lady is my niece, Mademoiselle Lucie de Varennes. She is of noble descent and is possessed of ten thousand francs a year in her own right. As to her charms, you have but to observe for yourself. If the inventory pleases your shepherd's heart, she becomes your wife at a word. Do not interrupt me. To-night I conveyed her to the _chateau_ of the Comte de Villemaur, to whom her hand had been promised. Guests were present; the priest was waiting; her marriage to one eligible in rank and fortune was ready to be accomplished. At the alter this demoiselle, so meek and dutiful, turned upon me like a leopardess, charged me with cruelty and crimes, and broke, before the gaping priest, the troth I had plighted for her. I swore there and then, by ten thousand devils, that she should marry the first man we met after leaving the _chateau_, be he prince, charcoal-burner, or thief. You, shepherd, are the first. Mademoiselle must be wed this night. If not you, then another. You have ten minutes in which to make your decision. Do not vex me with words or questions. Ten minutes, shepherd; and they are speeding."

The marquis drummed loudly with his white fingers upon the table. He sank into a veiled attitude of waiting. It was as if some great house had shut its doors and windows against approach. David would have spoken, but the huge man's bearing stopped his tongue. Instead, he stood by the lady's chair and bowed.

"Mademoiselle," he said, and he marvelled to find his words flowing easily before so much elegance and beauty. "You have heard me say I was a shepherd. I have also had the fancy, at times, that I am a poet. If it be the test of a poet to adore and cherish the beautiful, that fancy is now strengthened. Can I serve you in any way, mademoiselle?"

The young woman looked up at him with eyes dry and mournful. His frank, glowing face, made serious by the gravity of the adventure, his strong, straight figure and the liquid sympathy in his blue eyes, perhaps, also, her imminent need of long-denied help and kindness, thawed her to sudden tears.

"Monsieur," she said, in low tones, "you look to be true and kind. He is my uncle, the brother of my father, and my only relative. He loved my mother, and he hates me because I am like her. He has made my life one long terror. I am afraid of his very looks, and never before dared to disobey him. But to-night he would have married me to a man three times my age. You will forgive me for bringing this vexation upon you, monsieur. You will, of course, decline this mad act he tries to force upon you. But let me thank you for your generous words, at least. I have had none spoken to me in so long."

There was now something more than generosity in the poet's eyes. Poet he must have been, for Yvonne was forgotten; this fine, new loveliness held him with its freshness and grace. The subtle perfume from her filled him with strange emotions. His tender look fell warmly upon her. She leaned to it, thirstily.

"Ten minutes," said David, "is given me in which to do what I would devote years to achieve. I will not say I pity you, mademoiselle; it would not be true--I love you. I cannot ask love from you yet, but let me rescue you from this cruel man, and, in time, love may come. I think I have a future; I will not always be a shepherd. For the present I will cherish you with all my heart and make your life less sad. Will you trust your fate to me, mademoiselle?"

"Ah, you would sacrifice yourself from pity!"

"From love. The time is almost up, mademoiselle."

"You will regret it, and despise me."

"I will live only to make you happy, and myself worthy of you."

Her fine small hand crept into his from beneath her cloak.

"I will trust you," she breathed, "with my life. And--and love—may not be so far off as you think. Tell him. Once away from the power of his eyes I may forget."

David went and stood before the marquis. The black figure stirred, and the mocking eyes glanced at the great hall clock.

"Two minutes to spare. A shepherd requires eight minutes to decide whether he will accept a bride of beauty and income! Speak up, shepherd, do you consent to become mademoiselle's husband?"

"Mademoiselle," said David, standing proudly, "has done me the honour to yield to my request that she become my wife."

"Well said!" said the marquis. "You have yet the making of a courtier in you, master shepherd. Mademoiselle could have drawn a worse prize, after all. And now to be done with the affair as quick as the Church and the devil will allow!"

He struck the table soundly with his sword hilt. The landlord came, knee-shaking, bringing more candles in the hope of anticipating the great lord's whims. "Fetch a priest," said the marquis, "a priest; do you understand? In ten minutes have a priest here, or--"

The landlord dropped his candles and flew.

The priest came, heavy-eyed and ruffled. He made David Mignot and Lucie de Verennes man and wife, pocketed a gold piece that the marquis tossed him, and shuffled out again into the night.

"Wine," ordered the marquis, spreading his ominous fingers at the host.

"Fill glasses," he said, when it was brought. He stood up at the head of the table in the candlelight, a black mountain of venom and conceit, with something like the memory of an old love turned to poison in his eyes, as it fell upon his niece.

"Monsieur Mignot," he said, raising his wineglass, "drink after I say this to you: You have taken to be your wife one who will make your life a foul and wretched thing. The blood in her is an inheritance running black lies and red ruin. She will bring you shame and anxiety. The devil that descended to her is there in her eyes and skin and mouth that stoop even to beguile a peasant. There is your promise, monsieur poet, for a happy life. Drink your wine. At last, mademoiselle, I am rid of you."

The marquis drank. A little grievous cry, as if from a sudden wound, came from the girl's lips. David, with his glass in his hand, stepped forward three paces and faced the marquis. There was little of a shepherd in his bearing.

"Just now," he said, calmly, "you did me the honor to call me 'monsieur.' May I hope, therefore that my marriage to mademoiselle has placed me somewhat nearer to you in--let us say, reflected rank--has given me the right to stand more as an equal to monseigneur in a certain little piece of business I have in my mind?"

"You may hope, shepherd," sneered the marquis.

"Then," said David, dashing his glass of wine into the contemptuous eyes that mocked him, "perhaps you will condescend to fight me."

The fury of the great lord outbroke in one sudden curse like a blast from a horn. He tore his sword from its black sheath; he called to the hovering landlord: "A sword there, for this lout!" He turned to the lady, with a laugh that chilled her heart, and said: "You put much labour upon me, madame. It seems I must find you a husband and make you a widow in the same night."

"I know not sword-play," said David. He flushed to make the confession before his lady.

"'I know not sword-play,'" mimicked the marquis. "Shall we fight like peasants with oaken cudgels? _Hola!_ Francois, my pistols!"

A postilion brought two shining great pistols ornamented with carven silver, from the carriage holsters. The marquis tossed one upon the table near David's hand. "To the other end of the table," he cried; "even a shepherd may pull a trigger. Few of them attain the honour to die by the weapon of a De Beaupertuys."

The shepherd and the marquis faced each other from the ends of the long table. The landlord, in an ague of terror, clutched the air and stammered: "M-M-Monseigneur, for the love of Christ! not in my house!--do not spill blood--it will ruin my custom--" The look of the marquis, threatening him, paralyzed his tongue.

"Coward," cried the lord of Beaupertuys, "cease chattering your teeth long enough to give the word for us, if you can."

Mine host's knees smote the floor. He was without a vocabulary. Even sounds were beyond him. Still, by gestures he seemed to beseech peace in the name of his house and custom.

"I will give the word," said the lady, in a clear voice. She went up to David and kissed him sweetly. Her eyes were sparkling bright, and colour had come to her cheek. She stood against the wall, and the two men levelled their pistols for her count.

"_Un--deux--trois!_"

The two reports came so nearly together that the candles flickered but once. The marquis stood, smiling, the fingers of his left hand resting, outspread, upon the end of the table. David remained erect, and turned his head very slowly, searching for his wife with his eyes. Then, as a garment falls from where it is hung, he sank, crumpled, upon the floor.

With a little cry of terror and despair, the widowed maid ran and stooped above him. She found his wound, and then looked up with her old look of pale melancholy. "Through his heart," she whispered. "Oh, his heart!"

"Come," boomed the great voice of the marquis, "out with you to the carriage! Daybreak shall not find you on my hands. Wed you shall be again, and to a living husband, this night. The next we come upon, my lady, highwayman or peasant. If the road yields no other, then the churl that opens my gates. Out with you into the carriage!"

The marquis, implacable and huge, the lady wrapped again in the mystery of her cloak, the postilion bearing the weapons--all moved out to the waiting carriage. The sound of its ponderous wheels rolling away echoed through the slumbering village. In the hall of the Silver Flagon the distracted landlord wrung his hands above the slain poet's body, while the flames of the four and twenty candles danced and flickered on the table.





For the rest of the story, here's Part 2 and Part 3.

More of O. Henry's stories can be downloaded for free from Guttenberg Library.

Wiki Bio.

Here's a hardcopy.