Learn English through story ★ Wicked and Humorous Tales by Saki



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The Open Window

Chapter 1: A Nervous Man

Framton Nuttel was very tired and nervous. The doctors told him he needed a rest and said he should go somewhere peaceful. So he decided to spend some time in the country.

‘I know what you are like, Framton,’ his sister said. ‘When you go to the country, you will stay all alone. That’s not good for you. You should not stay all alone. You should meet some nice people. I was in that part of the country four years ago. I met some nice people. I will write you some letters of introduction, and you can meet them.’

‘I am not sure that is a good idea,’ objected Framton. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t. After all, I don’t know any of those people.’

‘Take my advice,’ replied Framton’s sister. ‘It will be good for you.’

So Framton went to the country with his sister’s letters of introduction. The first person he visited was Mrs Sappleton. He knocked at the door of Mrs Sappleton’s house and a young girl about fifteen years old opened the door. It was Mrs Sappleton’s niece. Her name was Vera.

‘My aunt will be down in a moment, Mr Nuttel,’ said the girl, who looked very mature and intelligent. ‘While you are waiting, I will try to entertain you. I hope you don’t mind.’

‘Oh, I will be happy to talk with you,’ replied Framton. He did not want to offend the girl. But he wondered if going to meet new people was really good for his health. In fact, he felt quite nervous, and he hoped that Mrs Sappleton was nice.

‘Do you know many of the people round here?’ asked Mrs Sappleton’s niece after a few minutes of silence.

‘No,’ replied Framton, ‘I don’t know anybody around here. My sister stayed here four years ago and she gave me some letters of introduction to some of the people here.’

Framton felt more and more nervous, and he was more and more convinced that it was a bad idea. He needed rest, not new friends.

‘Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?’ continued the confident young lady.

‘I know only her name and address,’ admitted Framton. He was wondering whether Mrs Sappleton’s husband was alive or dead. Looking at the room, he thought that a man must live there.

‘My aunt’s great tragedy happened exactly three years ago,’ said the girl. ‘That was after your sister was here.’

‘Your aunt’s tragedy?’ asked Framton. He thought the country was very peaceful. He could not imagine a tragedy there.

‘You probably wonder why we keep that window open on a cool October evening,’ said Vera. In fact, behind Framton’s chair there was a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

‘It is very warm for this time of the year.’ said Framton. ‘But is that window connected with the tragedy?’

‘Exactly three years ago my aunt’s husband and her two younger brothers went out through that window. They were going hunting. They never came back. While they were going to their favourite hunting spot, they fell into a bog. That particular summer it rained a lot. The bog was normally safe, but after the rain it became very dangerous. Their bodies were never found. That is the most horrible part of the story.’

Until this moment, the young girl had seemed very calm. Now she seemed a little frightened and her voice trembled as she continued the story.

‘My poor aunt thinks that her dead husband and brothers will return some day, together with the dog that went with them. She thinks that they will walk into the house through that French window as they always did before they died. That is why that window behind you is kept open until dark. My poor aunt! She has often told me every detail of that terrible day! Her husband carried a white raincoat over his arm. Her youngest brother was singing the song ‘Bertie, why do you bound?’ He sang this song to make fun of her. Sometimes, Mr Nuttel, I have the strange feeling that they will return, that they will walk in through that window. It’s horrible, really horrible!’

She stopped telling him her sad story. Framton was happy when the aunt came back into the room.

‘I hope my niece is entertaining you, Mr Nuttel,’ Mrs Sappleton said.

‘She is very interesting,’ said Framton nervously.

Chapter 2: Mental Excitement

‘I hope you don’t mind the open window,’ said Mrs Sappleton quickly. ‘My husband and my brothers will be back from hunting soon. They always come into the house through that window.

Today they went to the bogs to hunt for snipe. When they come home I am sure they will make a mess of everything. You know what men are like!’

Mrs Sappleton continued to talk about hunting. She told Framton that there were not many snipes that year. She said that she hoped there would be a lot of ducks in November. To Framton it was all completely horrible. While he tried desperately to change the topic of conversation, he was conscious that Mrs Sappleton only gave him part of her attention. She continued to look past him out the window.

‘Obviously she’s looking for her dead husband and brothers,’ Framton thought. ‘What a terrible time to visit her, today, the anniversary of their death.’

To change the topic of conversation he started talking about his bad health.

‘The doctors,’ he said, ‘told me to rest. I should avoid mental excitement, and I should avoid all physical activity. They did not, however, tell me what I should eat.’

‘Oh? That is very interesting,’ said Mrs Sappleton, who was obviously not really interested at all. In fact, she almost yawned. Then she became very interested – but not in what Framton was saying.

‘Here they are!’ she cried. ‘They are just in time for tea. Look, they are covered with mud up to their eyes!’

Framton shivered and looked at Vera. His look seemed to say, ‘Oh, I am really sorry for your poor aunt!’ But the girl was looking out the window, and she looked horrified. Framton became terrified. He turned around and looked out the window too.

It was almost dark, but Framton could see three men walking across the lawn towards the window. They all carried guns. One of the three men had a white raincoat over his arm. There was also a small dog. They did not say a word. When they were near the window one of them began to sing, ‘Bertie, why do you bound?’

Framton jumped up from his chair. He picked up his coat, and ran out of the house, to the road and was never seen again.

‘Here we are, my dear,’ said the man who was carrying the white raincoat over his arm. ‘I’m sorry we are a little muddy. Who was that man who ran away?’

‘A very strange man. His name is Framton Nuttel,’ said Mrs Sappleton. ‘He only wanted to talk about his bad health, and then he ran away without saying goodbye and without apologising, as if he had seen a ghost.’

‘I think he ran away because he saw the dog,’ said Mrs Sappleton’s niece calmly. ‘He told me that he was very afraid of dogs. When he was in India many years ago, he was attacked by a pack of wild dogs. He ran into a cemetery, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave. The dogs growled and snarled above him for the entire night. So you can understand why he is so afraid of dogs.’

Inventing fantastic stories was Vera’s speciality.

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The Penance

Chapter 1: The Beast

Octavian Ruttle was an active, friendly person. He liked people and it was important to him that people liked him. For example, there were three children who lived in the house next to his. Octavian thought that he should know their names, their birthdays and their favourite toys. But he only knew that their parents lived in India, and that they lived with their aunt and uncle. Occasionally, Octavian saw that the three children were looking down from the wall that divided the two properties. They never said anything; they just watched carefully everything he did.

Octavian was a farmer. He had pigs, chickens, and other animals. One day Octavian looked in the chicken coop and found some blood and feathers. Some animal had killed one of his chickens. More and more chickens were killed. Octavian looked carefully for the animal that was killing his chickens.

One day he saw a cat walking around the coop. He was sure that the cat was the killer. Unfortunately, the cat belonged to the three children. Octavian went to the children’s house, and explained his problem to their uncle. The uncle agreed that the cat had to be killed. ‘The children will be upset but you don’t have to tell them,’ was the uncle’s last word on the matter.

The next day, Octavian waited for the cat. When it arrived he shot at it with his hunting rifle – and missed it. The cat tried desperately to escape. Octavian shot again and missed it again. Then the cat ran out into a field where there was a large oak tree. It climbed up the tree and now it was trapped. Octavian walked up to the tree, pointed his rifle at the cat, and shot. This time he did not miss and the dead cat fell to the ground. Octavian told the gardener to bury it near the oak tree.

Octavian felt very bad about killing the cat but he had to do it: it was killing his chickens. He walked slowly back to his house. And as he walked near the wall he looked up and saw that the three children were staring at him. They had seen everything! Now they were looking at Octavian. Their expressions showed how much they hated him.

‘I am sorry, but I had to do it,’ said Octavian sincerely.

‘Beast!’ was the answer the three children gave with great intensity.

He saw that it was impossible to explain the situation to the children at that moment. He decided to wait a few days before he tried to make peace with them.

Two days later he went to the sweet-shop and asked for a large box of chocolates. He didn’t want the first two boxes that the shopkeeper showed him; one had a picture of a cat on the cover, and the other had a picture of some chickens. Finally the shopkeeper brought him a box decorated with flowers. Octavian sent the box to the children and later received a note saying that they had received the present.

The next day he felt much better when he went to look at his chicken coops and pigsties. He saw that the three children were looking down from the wall, but they were not looking at him. Then Octavian noticed that here and there in the grass were pieces of chocolate and their shiny wrappers.  It looked like a greedy child’s paradise.

The children had thrown his presents back at him.

chapter 2: Un-Beast

Octavian felt even worse when he found more blood and feathers in the coop. Apparently, the cat was innocent; some other animal was the real killer. The cat had probably come near the coop looking for rats. The children learned from the servants that the real killer was not their cat, and one day Octavian found a piece of paper on which was written: ‘Beast. Rats eaten your chickens.’ Now more than ever he wished to find some way to make peace with the children.

One day he had an inspiration. His two-year-old daughter Olivia usually spent a couple of hours with him while her nursemaid ate lunch. About the same time the children appeared on the wall. Octavian walked with Olivia near the wall and he saw that the children seemed very interested.

‘My Olivia,’ thought Octavian, ‘will be able to succeed where I have failed.’

He brought Olivia a large yellow dahlia. Then he looked up at the children on the wall and asked, ‘Do you like flowers?’ They nodded their heads solemnly.

‘Which do you like best?’ he asked.

‘Those with all the colours, over there,’ answered the children, pointing to a group of sweet peas at the other end of the garden. Octavian ran happily to get the flowers for the children. He pulled up lots and lots of flowers of all different colours, and then he returned to the wall to give them to the children. But there was no one on the wall. The children had gone, and, what is more, Olivia had gone too.

Down in the meadow, the three children were pushing a go-cart very fast towards the pigsties; it was Olivia’s go-cart and she was on it. Octavian stared for a moment at the rapidly moving group, and then started to run after them. When he arrived at the pigsties he saw the children climbing on the roof with Olivia. They were old buildings and could not support Octavian’s weight.

‘What are you going to do with her?’ he shouted. It was obvious from the expression on their faces that they were going to do something bad.

‘We are going to cook her over a fire,’ said one of the boys who had obviously read English history.

‘Throw her down and the pigs will eat all of her except the palms of her hands,’ said the other boy, who had obviously read Biblical history.

The last proposal alarmed Octavian the most. He had heard of cases where pigs had eaten small children.

‘You wouldn’t do such a horrible thing to my little Olivia?’ he shouted.

‘You killed our little cat,’ replied the children.

‘I’m very sorry that I did,’ said Octavian.

‘We will be very sorry when we kill Olivia,’ said the girl, ‘but we can’t be sorry until we have killed her.’

Before Octavian could think of an answer to this child-logic, he saw Olivia fall from the roof into the muck below. He went quickly over the wall of the pigsty to rescue his daughter but found himself trapped in the muck. He could hardly move. At first Olivia was almost happy to be in the slippery muck. But when she began to sink she realised that she was not at all happy, and she began to cry. Octavian battled with the muck, but he could not move.

‘I can’t reach her in time,’ he shouted. ‘She’ll die in the muck. Won’t you help her?’

‘No one helped our cat,’ the children reminded him.

‘I’ll do anything to show you that I am really and truly sorry,’ cried Octavian.

‘Will you stand wearing only your white shirt by the cat’s grave?’

‘Yes,’ screamed Octavian.

‘Holding a candle?’ asked one of the boys.

‘And saying, ‘I’m a miserable Beast’?’ asked the girl.

‘Yes, yes!’ answered Octavian.

‘For a long, long time?’ asked the girl.

‘For half an hour,’ said Octavian anxiously. He had read that a German king had done penance by standing outside in only his shirt for five days and five nights at Christmas-time. Fortunately, the children had not read any German history and half an hour seemed like enough time to them. They threw down a ladder and Octavian was able to save Olivia.

That evening he went to the oak tree where the cat was buried. He was wearing only a shirt. In one hand he had a candle, and in the other hand he had a watch. He stood there for half an hour saying, ‘I’m a miserable Beast. I’m a miserable Beast. I’m a miserable Beast.’ He was sure that the three children were watching him.

The next morning Octavian was very happy when he found a piece of paper next to the wall, on which was written the message ‘Un-Beast.’

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Morlvera

chapter 1: The Adventuress

The Olympic Toy Emporium had a large shop window in an important West End street. No one called it the more familiar and exciting name of toyshop. Its toys were incredible but not toys that children really liked. For example, the animal toys looked like scientific models and not friendly companions to take to bed.

One of the dolls in the window looked like a model in a fashion magazine. She wore a skirt and leopard-skin accessories.

Unlike a model in a fashion magazine, this doll had a terrible expression on her face. She seemed to have a really horrible character and you could imagine hundreds of stories about her in which she had unworthy ambitions and a great desire for money.

As a matter of fact, two poor children, Emmeline, aged ten and Bert, aged seven, had stopped on their way to St James’s Park. They did not like her much because she was rich and they were poor, and because she had such a terrible expression on her face. Emmeline gave the doll a terrible reputation; she got her ideas from the conversations of her mother’s friends about romantic novels.

‘She is a bad one,’ declared Emmeline, ‘and her husband hates her.’

‘He hits her a lot,’ said Bert with enthusiasm.

‘No, he doesn’t, because he’s dead. She poisoned him slowly so that no one would know. Now she wants to marry a lord with lots and lots of money. He’s already got a wife, but she’s going to poison her too.’

‘She’s a bad one,’ said Bert with growing hostility.

‘Her mother hates her,’ continued Emmeline, ‘because she’s so sarcastic. She’s greedy too. If there is fish for dinner, she eats her own share and her little girl’s share too, and her little girl is delicate.’

‘She had a little boy once,’ said Bert, ‘but she pushed him into the water when nobody was looking.’

‘No, she didn’t,’ said Emmeline, ‘she sent him away to live with some poor people, and they treat him very badly.’

‘What’s her name?’ asked Bert, thinking that such an interesting personality should have a name.

‘Her name?’ said Emmeline, thinking hard. ‘Her name is Morlvera.’ She thought this seemed like the name of an adventuress in a film.

‘She hasn’t paid for the clothes she is wearing, and she will never pay for them; she thinks that the rich lord will pay for them, but he won’t. He has already given her lots of jewels.’

‘He won’t pay for the clothes,’ said Bert with conviction.

It seems that there is a limit to the weak good nature of a rich lord.

chapter 2: Revenge

At that moment, a motor car with servants drove up to the emporium. A large lady and a sulky little boy stepped out. He was wearing a very white sailor suit.

‘Now Victor,’ said the lady, ‘come and buy a nice doll for your cousin Bertha. She gave you a beautiful box of soldiers on your birthday, and you must give her a present on hers.’

‘Bertha is a fat little fool,’ said the little boy loudly.

‘Victor,’ said his mother, ‘you shouldn’t say such things. Bertha is not a fool, and she is not fat. You must come in and choose a doll for her.’

They then walked into the shop.

‘He is in a bad temper,’ exclaimed Emmeline. However, she and Bert believed him when he said that his cousin was fat and foolish.

‘I want to see some dolls,’ said the mother to the shop assistant. ‘It’s for a girl of eleven.’

‘A fat little girl of eleven,’ added Victor.

‘Victor, if you say such rude things about your cousin, you will go to bed the moment we get home, without tea.’

‘This is one of the newest dolls,’ said the assistant, taking Morlvera out of the shop window. ‘You won’t find anything newer anywhere. It’s an exclusive design.’

‘Look!’ whispered Emmeline outside. ‘They have taken Morlvera.’

She was both excited and a little sad. She really wanted to look at Morlvera a little longer.

‘She is probably going away in a carriage to marry the rich lord,’ said Bert.

‘She’s up to no good,’ said Emmeline seriously.

Inside the shop, Victor and his mother bought the doll.

‘It’s a beautiful doll, and Bertha will be very happy with it,’ said Victor’s mother.

‘Oh, very well,’ said Victor sulkily, ‘but we don’t have to wait for him to wrap it. We can take it directly to Bertha’s house so that I don’t have to write, ‘For dear Bertha, with Victor’s love’ on a piece of paper.’

‘Very well,’ said the mother, ‘we can go to Bertha’s house on the way home. You must wish her happy birthday and give her the doll.’

‘But I won’t let the little beast kiss me,’ said Victor.

His mother said nothing because, in the end, Victor had not acted so badly. When he wanted, he could be terribly naughty.

Emmeline and Bert were just walking away from the window, when Victor came out holding Morlvera. She seemed to have a look of triumph on her face. As for Victor, he had a peaceful look on his face now. He seemed to have accepted his defeat.

His mother got into the motor car and gave directions to the driver, and Victor got in beside her, holding the elegantly dressed doll.

The driver started moving the car back a little bit in order to turn around. Very secretly, very gently, very mercilessly, Victor threw the doll over his shoulder and it fell just behind one of the wheels.

The car went over the doll and made a crunching sound as it broke. Then the car moved forward making another crunching sound. The motor car drove away, and Bert and Emmeline looked with scared delight at the mess of dirty clothes, sawdust and leopard skin, which was all that remained of the hateful Morlvera. They cheered happily and ran away from the scene of the tragedy.

Later that afternoon in St James’s Park, Emmeline said seriously to Bert, ‘I’ve been thinking. Do you know who he was? He was the little boy that she had sent away to live with poor people. He came back and did that to her.’

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Sredni Vashtar

chapter 1: For his good

Conradin was ten years old. He lived with Mrs De Ropp, who was his cousin and guardian. One day Mrs De Ropp called a doctor because Conradin was always sick. The doctor came and examined him.

‘This boy will only live another five years,’ said the doctor.

‘I agree,’ said Mrs De Ropp; ‘he is such an ill little boy.’

The doctor’s opinion wasn’t important to Conradin, but Mrs De Ropp’s was very important. She represented that large part of Conradin’s world that was unpleasant, necessary and real. The other, smaller part of his world was represented by his imagination – his only defense against Mrs De Ropp.

‘One day,’ thought Conradin, ‘I’m certain that I’ll lose this war against her. Tomorrow will be like today: I’ll take my medicine at nine o’clock, I won’t play in the garden, I’ll go to bed at seven o’clock. Every day I’ll do these things, and, in the end, I’ll die.’ For the moment, however, Conradin continued to fight his battle, with imagination as his only weapon.

Mrs De Ropp did not admit to herself that she disliked Conradin; but she was probably aware that she took pleasure in stopping him from playing – ‘for his good’. Conradin hated her but he was able to hide this hate. He enjoyed his few pleasures very much because he knew that Mrs De Ropp did not approve.

There was a garden behind the house, but Conradin never played there. He knew that one of the windows of the house would open and he would hear Mrs De Ropp shout, ‘Conradin, come and take your medicine!’ or ‘Conradin, come inside now. It’s too cold. Do you want to get ill?’ So Conradin went to a shed in a far corner of the garden. This shed was his place of refuge; it was in part a cathedral and in part a playroom. Conradin’s imagination had filled the shed with hundreds of interesting phantoms, but there were also two real living creatures. One of these was a hen, to which Conradin gave all of his affection – he had no one else. And in the back of the shed there was a large hutch. This was the home of a large polecat-ferret. Conradin was terribly afraid of this beast with sharp teeth, but it was his most treasured possession. It was also his secret from the Woman, which was his own private name for Mrs De Ropp. And one day he invented a fantastic name for the beast – Sredni Vashtar, and it became his god and religion. The Woman also had her religion, and she took Conradin to her church once a week. But the Woman’s religion was not his. Every Thursday Conradin worshipped his god. He brought it red flowers and red fruit because Sredni Vashtar was an impatient god that would not like the slow, boring rituals of the Woman’s religion. And on special festivals he brought nutmeg to his god, and it was essential that the nutmeg was stolen from the kitchen of the Woman. These festivals were not regular; they were held to celebrate something special that happened. For example, once Mrs De Ropp had a horrible toothache for three days and Conradin celebrated for three days. He almost believed that Sredni Vashtar had caused the Woman’s terrible pain.

Unfortunately, the Woman noticed that he spent a lot of time in the shed. ‘It is not good for him to be there all the time. I am going to tell the gardener to take away his hen. Then there will be no reason for him to go to the shed,’ she thought.

chapter 2: Teast

The next day at breakfast Mrs De Ropp turned to Conradin and said, ‘Yesterday the gardener took your hen away and sold it.’

She waited for him to say something, to become angry; then she could explain why the chicken was taken away ‘for his good’. But Conradin said nothing.

Perhaps Mrs De Ropp felt a little guilty because at tea that afternoon there was toast on the table. Normally Conradin was not permitted to eat toast, even though it was his favourite food. This time, however, he did not eat the toast.

‘I thought you liked toast,’ she said.

‘Sometimes,’ said Conradin.

In the shed that evening he changed his manner of worshipping the ferret. Before this, he had only praised his god; now he asked it for a favour.

‘Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.’

The thing was not specified. But Sredni Vashtar was a god, and so he knew. Conradin looked at the place where the chicken had lived and almost cried. Then he went back to the world he hated.

And every night in the darkness of his bedroom and every evening in the shed Conradin said the same thing: ‘Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.’

Mrs De Ropp saw that Conradin continued to go to the shed; one day she decided to see why.

‘What do you keep in that hutch?’ she asked. ‘I think you have some guinea pigs. I will tell the gardener to take them away.’

The woman then went to Conradin’s bedroom to find the key to the hutch. When she found it she went directly to the hutch to complete her discovery. From a window of the dining room Conradin could see the door of the shed. He saw that the Woman entered. He imagined that she was opening the door of the sacred hutch and trying to see what was hidden inside. Perhaps she would put her hand inside. Conradin said his prayer for the last time. But he knew as he prayed that he did not really believe that the polecat-ferret was a god.

‘I’m sure that she will come out in a minute,’ Conradin thought, ‘with the hutch in her hand. She will have a smile on her face. I hate her smile! Then she will call the gardener and tell him to take away my wonderful god, who is not even a real god. She will win because she always wins, and I will grow sicker and sicker. And she will be right and the doctor will be right. And I will die.’

Conradin began to sing loudly to his god:

Sredni Vashtar went forth, His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white. His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.

Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful.

 

And then he stopped singing and went near the window. He could see that the door of the shed was still open. Time went very slowly, one minute, two minutes, three minutes…, but it went. He watched the birds in the garden. They flew in little groups from tree to tree. He counted them, one, two, three, four, five…, and then he counted them again. A maid came in with the table for tea, and still Conradin watched. Minutes were moving and there was hope for the first time. Perhaps victory was near. He started singing again, ‘Sredni Vashtar went forth, His thoughts were red thoughts and…’ And then he saw what he wanted to see: the long yellow-and-brown beast came out from the shed into the bright sunlight. Its fur was dark with blood. Conradin fell on  his knees. The great polecat-ferret went to a small stream in the garden. It drank, crossed a little bridge, and then vanished.

‘Tea is ready,’ said the maid. ‘Where is Mrs De Ropp?’

‘She went down to the shed a half an hour ago,’ said Conradin. The maid left the room to call Mrs De Ropp. When she had gone Conradin opened a drawer, pulled out a toasting fork, and started to toast a piece of bread. While he was toasting the bread and putting enormous quantities of delicious butter on it, he listened to the noises that came from downstairs. He heard the maid screaming, people running in and out, and, finally, he heard men carrying some heavy object into the house.

Then he heard the maid say, ‘Who will tell the boy the terrible news. I can’t. Oh it’s just too horrible.’ And while the servants debated the matter, Conradin made himself another piece of toast.

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Tobermory

Chapter 1: A Great Discovery

Lady Blemley knew that her house-party was going to be difficult to organise because it would continue for several days and the guests would have to sleep in her large house. She always tried to invite guests who were talented and entertaining. Some people were invited because they were good at playing cards, others because they were good at acting, and others because they were good at playing the piano. After all, it was difficult to entertain guests for three or four days. To this particular house-party Lady Blemley invited Cornelius Appin. People said that he was clever; and, in fact, Cornelius seemed like the name of a clever man. But when he was at the party Lady Blemley could not understand why people thought he was clever. He said very little.

One afternoon it was raining and all the guests were in the living room.

Cornelius Appin said, ‘I have made the most important scientific discovery in the history of the world. I have worked on this particular problem for many years.’

‘What is this fantastic discovery?’ asked Sir Wilfrid, another one of Lady Blemley’s guests.

‘I have taught animals how to speak our language,’ explained Cornelius.

‘Do you have an example of your work here?’ asked Sir Wilfrid, who obviously did not believe Cornelius.

‘Yes, I do. Lady Blemley’s cat, Tobermory. Tobermory is my best student,’ answered Cornelius.

‘How can we possibly believe,’ continued Sir Wilfrid, ‘that you have discovered how to teach animals to talk?’

‘Well,’ explained Cornelius, ‘I have worked on this problem for many years. I have experimented with thousands and thousands of animals. Seven months ago I began to work with cats. Cats are the perfect animals for my work: they live with us but they are still like wild animals. And there are cats who are more intelligent than other cats. Tobermory is one of these intelligent cats: in fact, he is a Super-cat. He is the first animal that I have taught to speak perfectly.’

All the guests looked at Cornelius. Nobody said a word. They thought he was crazy, or a liar.

Finally, after a minute or two, Miss Resker said, ‘I understand. You have taught Tobermory to say and understand very simple sentences like ‘Go!’ or ‘Come!’ That’s very interesting.’

‘No, no,’ said Cornelius patiently, Tittle children learn short sentences first. But Tobermory is a very intelligent animal. I taught him to speak English perfectly and completely. His English is as good as your English.’

Now everybody was sure that Cornelius was a liar.

‘I think we should see the cat and then we can judge for ourselves,’ suggested Lady Blemley.

Sir Wilfrid left the room and went to look for the cat. Everyone began to think that Cornelius was a good ventriloquist. They waited for this interesting show of ventriloquism to begin.

A minute later, Sir Wilfrid came back in the room. His face was white. He was obviously very excited.

‘It’s true! It’s true!’ he shouted.

The other guests could see that Sir Wilfrid was telling the truth and they asked him what had happened.

‘Well, I found Tobermory sleeping on a chair in the smoking-room. I told him to come to the living room immediately. He opened his eyes slowly and looked at me.

‘Then he said, ‘I’ll come when I want to. Now, go away!’ I almost fainted!’

chapter 2: Some Terrible Discoveries

Now everybody believed Cornelius. They began to ask him lots of questions. Cornelius smiled. He was very happy with his first success. At that moment, when everybody was asking Cornelius questions, Tobermory walked into the room. None of the guests said a word. They felt embarrassed in front of a talking cat.

Finally, the hostess – Lady Blemley – said nervously, ‘Would you like some milk, Tobermory?’

‘Yes, I’m a little thirsty,’ said the cat indifferently.

Everyone in the room was shocked. And Lady Blemley’s hand shook as she poured Tobermory some milk.

‘I’m sorry, but I’ve spilt most of the milk on the carpet,’ apologised Lady Blemley.

‘I don’t care,’ responded Tobermory, ‘it’s not my carpet.’

The room was silent for another minute. Then Miss Resker asked Tobermory if it was difficult to learn to speak. The cat looked at Miss Resker for a minute. Then he looked out the window. It was obvious that he considered Miss Resker’s question ridiculous.

‘What do you think of human intelligence?’ asked Mavis Pellington stupidly.

‘Human intelligence in general, or do you want to know about some particular person?’ asked Tobermory.

‘Uh… well… my intelligence. What do you think of my intelligence?’ asked Mavis with a nervous laugh.

‘Well, you put me in an embarrassing position,’ said Tobermory. But he did not look embarrassed. ‘Anyway, I’ll answer you. When Lady Blemley told Sir Wilfrid that she wanted to invite you to this party he said, ‘Mavis Pellington is the stupidest woman in the world. Why are you inviting her?’ Lady Blemley replied, ‘Sir Wilfrid, I am inviting her because she is stupid. I have this old car that I want to sell and Mavis Pellington is the only person stupid enough to buy it.”

Lady Blemley, of course, said that Tobermory was a liar. But Mavis Pellington did not believe her: that morning she had bought Lady Blemley’s old car.

Major Barfield tried to change the subject.

He said, ‘Tobermory, do you want to tell us about your girlfriend, the striped cat that lives near the stable?’

Everyone immediately understood that he had made a terrible mistake.

‘It is not polite to ask people about their love affairs.’ replied Tobermory coldly. ‘Do you want me to talk about what I have seen during this party? I’m sure that you wouldn’t like that, would you?’ There was a moment of general panic. Almost all the guests had some private love affair. They all thought, ‘If Tobermory says what he has seen, I’ll be in trouble.’

Tobermory’s dinner was in two hours, but Lady Blemley said, ‘Tobermory, why don’t you ask the cook if your dinner is ready?’

‘Thanks,’ responded Tobermory, ‘but I have just had tea. I don’t want to die of indigestion.’

‘Cats have nine lives, Tobermory,’ said Sir Wilfrid, trying to be funny. ‘Possibly,’ was the answer, ‘but only one liver.’

‘Lady Blemley, are you going to permit this cat to talk about us with the servants?’ said Mrs Cornett, another guest.

The panic was general. Everyone remembered that Tobermory often walked outside their windows. It was obvious that he had seen and heard everything that happened in their bedrooms. Some guests became white with fear. Others, like Odo Finsberry, who was studying to be a minister of the Church, ran out of the room.

All the guests thought, ‘If Tobermory tells everything he knows, there will be terrible scandals.’

Finally, Agnes Resker said dramatically, ‘Why did I come to this house-party?’

Tobermory had the answer:

‘I know why you came. Yesterday you said to Mrs Cornett that Lady Blemley’s parties were very boring but the food was delicious. You told her that you came for the good food. In fact, you said that everyone came for the food.’

‘That is not true. You are a liar! Mrs Cornett, tell the truth. Did I say that? Tell the…’

‘Then Mrs Cornett told Bertie van Tahnn what you said,’ continued Tobermory, ‘and he said that Agnes Resker went anywhere she could get free food, and then…’

Fortunately for the guests, at that moment Tobermory stopped his story. He had seen his enemy, a big yellow tomcat. He jumped out the window, and ran after it. 

All the guests looked at Cornelius angrily. He had caused all this trouble.

‘Do you think Tobermory will teach other cats to talk?’ they asked Cornelius.

‘It’s possible,’ replied Cornelius. ‘Maybe he has taught his girlfriend, the cat that lives in the stables. But I don’t think he has taught any other cats. At least, not yet.’

‘Lady Blemley,’ said Mrs Cornett, ‘I know that you and your husband like Tobermory very much, but he and his friend the stable cat must be killed.’

‘I have not enjoyed this last half hour either,’ said Lady Blemley. ‘Yes, it is true that my husband and I like Tobermory very much. Well, we liked him before he learned to talk, and tell our secrets. Anyway, I agree that he must be killed as soon as possible.’

‘We can put poison in his food,’ said Sir Wilfrid, ‘and I will go and drown the stable cat.’

‘What about my great discovery?’ Cornelius said with great emotion. ‘I have worked for many years!’

‘Why don’t you go to the zoo,’ said Mrs Cornett, ‘and teach the elephants to talk. Elephants are very intelligent animals, but they do not hide under your chair and they do not sit outside your bedroom window!’

Cornelius tried to persuade them not to kill Tobermory and destroy all his scientific work. No one listened to him. In fact, many of the guests thought that poison should be put in Cornelius’s food.

That night at dinner all the guests were quiet. Lady Blemley tried to create conversation. But no one talked. They were all watching Tobermory’s bowl. Inside the bowl was some delicious meat and poison. But Tobermory still did not come back.

After dinner, still no Tobermory. The servants came and announced that the window of the kitchen was open as usual for Tobermory. Nine o’clock, no Tobermory. Ten o’clock, no Tobermory. At eleven o’clock one of the guests got up to go to bed. Before leaving the room he said, ‘Tobermory probably went to the local newspaper to tell everything he has seen and heard during this house-party. Good night!’

It was not a good night.

The next morning all the guests asked the servants the same question, and the servants gave the guests the same answer: ‘No, Tobermory has not returned.’

Breakfast was even more depressing than dinner the night before. But, before it was over, the gardener walked into the room with Tobermory’s dead body.

‘His enemy, the big tomcat, killed him,’ explained the gardener.

Tobermory was Cornelius Appin’s first and only successful student. A few weeks later Lady Blemley read in the newspaper that an elephant in the Dresden Zoological Garden had killed an Englishman. The newspaper said that the elephant was usually gentle and calm, but that the Englishman had apparently provoked it. The name of the Englishman was C. Appin.’

As one of Lady Blemley’s guests said, ‘If he was trying to teach that elephant German irregular verbs, he deserved to die.’

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The Interlopers

chapter 1: Enemies

One winter night a man stood in a forest in the Carpathian Mountains. He was carrying a rifle and it seemed that he was waiting and listening for some wild animal. But Ulrich von Gradwitz was looking for a human enemy.

Ulrich had a lot of land. This land was full of all different kinds of wild animals, but he always guarded carefully one particular area of this land. It was mountainous and not many animals lived there. So why did Ulrich guard this land so carefully?

Many years ago Ulrich’s grandfather and a neighbour, Heinrich Znaeym, had both wanted the same portion of land. They went to court and Ulrich’s grandfather won the case. Heinrich Znaeym, however, did not accept the court’s decision; he continued to hunt on the land. The two families began fighting. Ulrich and Heinrich Znaeym’s grandson, Georg, hated each other passionately. When they were boys they wanted to kill each other. Now they were men, and they each wanted the other to suffer.

This night Ulrich and his forest guards were out looking for Georg and his men. It was a stormy night and the wind was strong. Ulrich saw deer running from the contested area of land. Normally, during a storm deer stay in one place, so he knew that his enemy was near.

He told his guards to wait at the top of a hill and walked off into the woods and down the hill by himself. He listened carefully for the sound of branches breaking.

‘I hope,’ he said to himself, ‘I will meet Georg Znaeym tonight man to man. If I kill him here, no one will ever know.’

At that moment, as Ulrich walked around the trunk of a gigantic tree, he came face to face with Georg Znaeym.

The enemies stared at each other for a long, silent moment. Each man had a rifle in his hand, each man had hate in his heart, and each man had murder in his thoughts. But it is difficult for a civilised man to shoot his neighbour in cold blood. They had to say something. At this moment, however, the wind blew particularly hard and there was a crash: a gigantic tree fell on top of the two men. Ulrich von Gradwitz could not move. One arm was probably broken and the other arm was partly under the trunk. His legs were under a large branch. His face was badly cut, and he had to blink several times to move the blood from his eyes.

Almost next to him lay Georg Znaeym, alive and fighting to move. Ulrich could see that he was in almost the same condition.

Ulrich was both happy to be alive and angry at his situation. Georg was almost blind from the blood that flowed into his eyes from cuts on his forehead. He stopped moving for a moment to listen, and then he laughed angrily.

‘So you weren’t killed,’ said Georg, ‘but you’re caught anyway. That’s very funny: Ulrich von Gradwitz caught in his stolen forest. Now that is real justice!’

And he laughed again angrily and ironically.

‘I’m caught in my own forest,’ replied Ulrich. ‘When my men come to release me, you’ll be sorry that you were caught poaching here in my forest.’

Georg was silent for a moment; then he answered quietly.

‘Are you sure that your men will find you first? I have men, too, in the forest tonight. They’re near, and they’ll find me first. When they pull me out, perhaps, by accident of course, they’ll push the trunk on top of you. Your men will find you dead under this tree. Then, because I am a gentleman, I shall send my condolences to your family.’

‘That’s a good idea,’ said Ulrich angrily and ironically. ‘I told my men to follow me after ten minutes. Seven of those ten minutes have gone by already, and when they come I’ll remember your idea! Only I can’t decently send condolences to your family: after all, you were poaching on my land.’

‘Good,’ growled Georg, ‘good. We shall fight to the death, just you and I and our guards, with no interlopers. Death and damnation to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz.’

‘The same to you, Georg Znaeym, forest-thief, poacher.’

But both men knew that it was a question of chance which man’s guards would come first.

chapter 2: Friends

Now the two men had stopped trying to get free. Ulrich tried with his partially free arm to pull out his wine-flask. After a few minutes he finally succeeded. Then after another few minutes he succeeded in pulling off the stopper. He drank a little. It was truly wonderful. In this cold weather the wine warmed his body. Then he looked with pity at Georg, who was fighting not to scream in pain.

‘Can you reach the flask if I throw it to you?’ Ulrich asked suddenly. ‘There’s good wine in it and there’s no reason why we should suffer. Let us drink, even if tonight one of us dies.’

‘No, I can’t see anything because I have dried blood on my eyes,’ said Georg. ‘And in any case I don’t drink wine with an enemy.’ Ulrich was silent for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the wind. An idea was gradually formulating in his brain. This idea grew clearer every time he looked at Georg fighting against his pain. In the pain that Ulrich was feeling the old hate was beginning to die.

‘Neighbour,’ Ulrich said, ‘you can do what you want if your men come first. It was a fair agreement. But I’ve changed my mind. If my men come first, they will help you first, as though you were my guest. We have fought all our lives over this stupid portion of forest. Tonight lying here thinking, I have come to the conclusion that we have been fools. What is so important about this portion of forest? Neighbour, if you help me end this fight, I’ll ask you to be my friend.’

Georg Znaeym was silent for a long time. Ulrich began to think that he had fainted because of the pain. Then Georg spoke slowly.

‘Everyone would be shocked if we rode into town together. Nobody can remember a Znaeym and a von Gradwitz talking to each other as friends. And there will be peace among the forest guards and their families if we end the fight tonight. And if we choose to make peace among our families, there is no one who will interfere, no interlopers from outside. You could come to my house at Christmas and I could come to your castle on other holidays. I would never hunt on your land, if you didn’t invite me; and you could come and hunt ducks in my marshes. There is nobody around here who can stop us if we want to make peace. I have always thought that I wanted to hate you. But I changed my mind when you offered me your wine-flask. Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend.’

Then they were both silent. They were thinking about the wonderful changes this new peace would bring. In the cold, dark forest, with the wind blowing, they waited for the help that would free both of them. And each man wanted his men to come first, so that he could be the first to help his new friend.

Then the wind stopped for a moment and Ulrich spoke.

‘Let’s shout for help,’ he said. ‘Now that the wind has stopped, they might hear us.’

‘It will be difficult in this forest,’ replied Georg, ‘but let’s try. Together, then.’

The two men shouted together for help.

‘Together again,’ said Ulrich a few minutes later.

‘I heard something that time, I think,’ said Ulrich.

‘I only heard the wind,’ said Georg.

There was silence again for a few minutes, and then Ulrich shouted joyfully.

‘I can see people coming through the forest.’

Both men shouted again.

‘They can hear us! They’ve stopped. Now they’ve seen us. They’re running down the hill toward us,’ cried Ulrich.

‘How many are there?’ asked Georg who could not see because of the dried blood on his eyes.

‘I can’t see distinctly,’ said Ulrich; ‘nine or ten.’

‘Then they’re your men,’ said Georg. ‘I only had seven men with me tonight.’

‘They are running quickly. What brave men! said Ulrich gladly.

‘Are they your men?’ asked Georg. ‘Are they your men?’ he repeated impatiently as Ulrich did not answer.

‘No,’ said Ulrich with a laugh. But it was the idiotic laugh of a man who is very afraid.

‘Who are they?’ asked George quickly, trying to see what the other man would have preferred not to see.

‘Wolves.’

– THE END –

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