The King of Ypres

A Scots soldier of the 10th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

A Scots soldier of the 10th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

John Buchan (1875 – 1940) was a Scottish novelist and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the 15th since that country’s confederation.

After a brief career in law, Buchan simultaneously began writing and his political and diplomatic career, serving as a private secretary to the colonial administrator of various colonies in Southern Africa, and eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort in First World War.  The following short story is set in this era.  Buchan is probably most famous, in literary circles, for his book The Thirty-Nine Steps.

The King of Ypres

Private Peter Galbraith, of the 3rd Lennox Highlanders, awoke with a splitting headache and the consciousness of an intolerable din. At first he thought it was the whistle from the forge, which a year ago had pulled him from his bed when he was a puddler in Motherwell, He scrambled to his feet, and nearly cracked his skull against a low roof. That, and a sound which suggested that the heavens were made of canvas which a giant hand was rending, cleared his wits and recalled him to the disagreeable present. He lit the dottle in his pipe, and began to piece out his where- abouts.

Continue reading

Jeannot and Colin

voltaire candideVoltaire (1694 – 1778) was a French Enlightenment writer and philosopher  famous for his wit  and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and free trade. Voltaire was a prolific writer and produced works in almost every literary form including plays, poetry, novels, essays, historical and scientific works, more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform, despite strict censorship  laws and harsh penalties for those who broke them. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize Catholic Church dogma and the French institutions of his day.

Voltaire was one of several Enlightenment figures (along with Montesquieu, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) whose works and ideas influenced important thinkers of both the American and French Revolutions.

Jeannot and Colin is a fine example of his short fiction, and is a moral tale on vanity.

Continue reading

The Stolen Bacillus

H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946)  was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary. Together with Jules Verne, Wells has been referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”.

His best known works are The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and in his short fiction The Stolen Bacillus.

“This again,” said the Bacteriologist, slipping a glass slide under the microscope, “is a preparation of the celebrated Bacillus of cholera—the cholera germ.”

The pale-faced man peered down the microscope. He was evidently not accustomed to that kind of thing, and held a limp white hand over his disengaged eye. “I see very little,” he said.

Continue reading

Little Speck In Garnered Fruit

More from one of America’s greatest short story writers O. Henry, this time a charming, romantic tale of a lovers quest.

The honeymoon was at its full. There was a flat with the reddest of new carpets, tasselled portieres and six steins with pewter lids arranged on a ledge above the wainscoting of the dining-room. The wonder of it was yet upon them. Neither of them had ever seen a yellow primrose by the river’s brim; but if such a sight had met their eyes at that time it would have seemed like–well, whatever the poet expected the right kind of people to see in it besides a primrose.

Continue reading

The Trimmed Lamp

O. Henry was the pseudonym (pen name) of the American  writer  William Sydney Porter (1862 – 1910). O. Henry’s short stories are well known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization and clever twist endings.

Of course there are two sides to the question. Let us look at the other. We often hear “shop-girls” spoken of. No such persons exist. There are girls who work in shops. They make their living that way. But why turn their occupation into an adjective? Let us be fair. We do not refer to the girls who live on Fifth Avenue as “marriage-girls.”

Lou and Nancy were chums. They came to the big city to find work because there was not enough to eat at their homes to go around. Nancy was nineteen; Lou was twenty. Both were pretty, active, country girls who had no ambition to go on the stage.

Continue reading

Rhampsinitus and the Thief

Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian  who lived in the 5th century BC (c.484 BC – c.425 BC). He is regarded as the “Father of History” in Western culture. He was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative.

This is a tale that Herodotus learned in Egypt and many believe that this anecdote was told to him by Egyptian priests, claiming it a true story. Herodotus, himself, didn’t actually believe this particular story but he felt it was his duty to report what he was told.

Continue reading

Markheim

Many critics agree that Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) was a pioneer in developing the modern short story in English literature and Markheim is among his most celebrated. The tale is generally interpreted as an allegory or fable, a narrative of virtue and vice containing a moral.

‘Yes,’ said the dealer, ‘our windfalls are of various kinds. Some customers are ignorant, and then I touch a dividend on my superior knowledge. Some are dishonest,’ and here he held up the candle, so that the light fell strongly on his visitor, ‘and in that case,’ he continued, ‘I profit by my virtue.’

Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, and his eyes had not yet grown familiar with the mingled shine and darkness in the shop. At these pointed words, and before the near presence of the flame, he blinked painfully and looked aside.

Continue reading