The Money-Box

Source: W.W. Jacobs, ‘The Money-Box’, in Odd Craft (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903), pp. 4-6

Text: The first day they was as pleased as Punch. Old Isaac got a nice, respectable bedroom for them all, and arter they’d ‘ad a few drinks they humoured ‘im by ‘aving a nice ‘ot cup o’ tea, and then goin’ off with ‘im to see a magic-lantern performance.

It was called “The Drunkard’s Downfall,” and it begun with a young man going into a nice-looking pub and being served by a nice-looking barmaid with a glass of ale. Then it got on to ‘arf pints and pints in the next picture, and arter Ginger ‘ad seen the lost young man put away six pints in about ‘arf a minute, ‘e got such a raging thirst on ‘im that ‘e couldn’t sit still, and ‘e whispered to Peter Russet to go out with ‘im.

“You’ll lose the best of it if you go now,” ses old Isaac, in a whisper; “in the next picture there’s little frogs and devils sitting on the edge of the pot as ‘e goes to drink.”

“Ginger Dick got up and nodded to Peter.”

“Arter that ‘e kills ‘is mother with a razor,” ses old Isaac, pleading with ‘im and ‘olding on to ‘is coat.

Ginger Dick sat down agin, and when the murder was over ‘e said it made ‘im feel faint, and ‘im and Peter Russet went out for a breath of fresh air. They ‘ad three at the first place, and then they moved on to another and forgot all about Isaac and the dissolving views until ten o’clock, when Ginger, who ‘ad been very liberal to some friends ‘e’d made in a pub, found ‘e’d spent ‘is last penny.

“This comes o’ listening to a parcel o’ teetotalers,” ‘e ses, very cross, when ‘e found that Peter ‘ad spent all ‘is money too. “Here we are just beginning the evening and not a farthing in our pockets.”

Comments: William Wymark Jacobs (1863–1943) was a British novelist and short story writer, known for his humorous, maritime and ghost stories. Odd Craft is one of his several collections of stories. ‘Dissolving views’ refers to the magic lantern practice of one image dimming and being gradually replaced by another, by means of a two-lens (biunial) lens mechanism, or by using two separate lanterns.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom

Source: Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (New York: The Jenson Society, 1907 – org. pub. 1753)

Text: The Major, finding him determined, insisted upon attending him in this expedition, and they set out together for Presburg, where they privately arrived in the dark, resolving to keep themselves concealed at the house of a friend, until they should have formed some plan for their future operations. Here they were informed that Count Trebasi’s castle was altogether inaccessible; that all the servants who were supposed to have the least veneration or compassion for the Countess were dismissed; and that, since Renaldo was known to be in Germany, the vigilance and caution of that cruel husband was redoubled to such a degree, that nobody knew whether his unfortunate lady was actually alive or dead.

Farrel perceiving Melvil exceedingly affected with this intimation, and hearing him declare that he would never quit Presburg until he should have entered the house, and removed his doubts on that interesting subject, not only argued with great vehemence against such an attempt, as equally dangerous and indiscreet, but solemnly swore he would prevent his purpose, by discovering his design to the family, unless he would promise to listen to a more moderate and feasible expedient. He then proposed that he himself should appear in the equipage of one of the travelling Savoyards who stroll about Europe, amusing ignorant people with the effects of a magic lanthorn, and in that disguise endeavour to obtain admittance from the servants of Trebasi, among whom he might make such inquiries as would deliver Melvil from his present uneasy suspense.

This proposal was embraced, though reluctantly, by Renaldo, who was unwilling to expose his friend to the least danger or disgrace; and the Major being next day provided with the habit and implements of his new profession, together with a ragged attendant who preceded him, extorting music from a paltry viol, approached the castle gate, and proclaimed his show so naturally in a yell, partaking of the scream of Savoy and the howl of Ireland, that one would have imagined he had been conductor to Madam Catherina from his cradle. So far his stratagem succeeded; he had not long stood in waiting before he was invited into the court-yard, where the servants formed a ring, and danced to the efforts of his companion’s skill; then he was conducted into the buttery, where he exhibited his figures on the wall, and his princess on the floor; and while they regaled him in this manner with scraps and sour wine, he took occasion to inquire about the old lady and her daughter, before whom he said he had performed in his last peregrination. Though this question was asked with all that air of simplicity which is peculiar to these people, one of the domestics took the alarm, being infected with the suspicions of his master, and plainly taxed the Major with being a spy, threatening at the same time that he should be stripped and searched.

This would have been a very dangerous experiment for the Hibernian, who had actually in his pocket a letter to the Countess from her son, which he hoped fortune might have furnished him with an opportunity to deliver. When he therefore found himself in this dilemma, he was not at all easy in his own mind. However, instead of protesting his innocence in an humble and beseeching strain, in order to acquit himself of the charge, he resolved to elude the suspicion by provoking the wrath of his accuser, and, putting on the air of vulgar integrity affronted, began to reproach the servant in very insolent terms for his unfair supposition, and undressed himself in a moment to the skin, threw his tattered garments in the face of his adversary, telling him he would find nothing there which he would not be very glad to part with; at the same time raising his voice, he, in the gibberish of the clan he represented, scolded and cursed with great fluency, so that the whole house resounded with the noise. The valet’s jealousy, like a smaller fire, was in a trice swallowed up in the greater flame of his rage enkindled by this abrupt address. In consequence of which, Farrel was kicked out at the gate, naked as he was to the waist, after his lanthorn had been broke to pieces on his head; and there he was joined by his domestic, who had not been able to recover his apparel and effect a retreat, without incurring marks of the same sort of distinction.

Comments: Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) was a British novelist. The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, published in 1973, is a picaresque novel of the kind in which Smollett specialised, featuring an amoral character who swindles and cheats his way across Europe. It is not among Smollett’s best-known nor more successful works, but does provide this intriguing short account of travelling magic lanternists and how their show was received. Presburg is modern-day Bratislava in Slovakia, but at the time in which this text is set it was part of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

Kiss Me Again, Stranger

Source: Daphne Du Maurier, extract from ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’ in Kiss Me Again Stranger: A Collection of Eight Stories Long and Short (New York: Doubleday, 1953 [orig. pub. The Apple Tree, Gollancz, 1952]), pp. 9-12

Text: I’m one for routine. I like to get on with my job, and then when the day’s work’s over settle down to a paper and a smoke and a bit of music on the wireless, variety or something of the sort, and then turn in early. I never had much use for girls, not even when I was doing my time in the Army. I was out in the Middle East, too, Port Said and that.

No, I was happy enough living with the Thompsons, carrying on much the same day after day, until that one night, when it happened. Nothing’s been the same since. Nor ever will be. I don’t know …

The Thompsons had gone to see their married daughter up at Highgate. They asked me if I’d like to go along, but somehow I didn’t fancy barging in, so instead of staying home alone after leaving the garage I went down to the picture palace and, taking a look at the poster, saw it was cowboy and Indian stuff — there was a picture of a cowboy sticking a knife into the Indian’s guts. I like that — proper baby I am for westerns — so I paid my one and twopence and went inside. I handed my slip of paper to the usherette and said, “Back row, please,” because I like sitting far back and leaning my head against the board.

Well, then I saw her. They dress the girls up no end in some of these places, velvet tarns and all, making them proper guys. They hadn’t made a guy out of this one, though. She had copper hair, page-boy style I think they call it, and blue eyes, the kind that look short-sighted but see further than you think, and go dark by night, nearly black, and her mouth was sulky-looking, as if she was fed up, and it would take someone giving her the world to make her smile. She hadn’t freckles, nor a milky skin, but warmer than that, more like a peach, and natural too. She was small and slim, and her velvet coat — blue it was — fitted her close, and the cap on the back of her head showed up her copper hair.

I bought a programme — not that I wanted one, but to delay going in through the curtain — and I said to her, “What’s the picture like?”

She didn’t look at me. She just went on staring into nothing, at the opposite wall. “The knifing’s amateur,” she said, “but you can always sleep.”

I couldn’t help laughing. I could see she was serious though. She wasn’t trying to have me on or anything.

“That’s no advertisement,” I said. “What if the manager heard you?”

Then she looked at me. She turned those blue eyes in my direction; still fed-up they were, not interested, but there was something in them I’d not seen before, and I’ve never seen it since, a kind of laziness, like someone waking from a long dream and glad to find you there. Cats’ eyes have that gleam sometimes when you stroke them, and they purr and curl themselves into a ball and let you do anything you want. She looked at me this way a moment, and there was a smile lurking somewhere behind her mouth if you gave it a chance, and tearing my slip of paper in half, she said, “I’m not paid to advertise. I’m paid to look like this and lure you inside.”

She drew aside the curtains and flashed her torch in the darkness. I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black, like it always is at first until you get used to it and begin to make out the shapes of the other people sitting there, but there were two great heads on the screen and some chap saying to the other, “If you don’t come clean I’ll put a bullet through you,” and somebody broke a pane of glass and a woman screamed.

“Looks all right to me,” I said, and began groping for somewhere to sit.

She said, “This isn’t the picture, it’s the trailer for next week,” and she flicked on her torch and showed me a seat in the back row, one away from the gangway.

I sat through the advertisements and the newsreel, and then some chap came and played the organ, and the colours of the curtains over the screen went purple and gold and green — funny, I suppose they think they have to give you your money’s worth — and looking around, I saw the house was half empty — and I guessed the girl had been right, the big picture wasn’t going to be much, and that’s why nobody much was there.

Just before the hall went dark again she came sauntering down the aisle. She had a tray of ice creams, but she didn’t even bother to call them out and try to sell them. She could have been walking in her sleep, so when she went up the other aisle I beckoned to her.

“Got a sixpenny one?” I said.

She looked across at me. I might have been something dead under her feet, and then she must have recognised me, because that half smile came back again, and the lazy look in the eye, and she walked round the back of the seats to me.

“Wafer or cornet?” she said.

I didn’t want either, to tell the truth. I just wanted to buy something from her and keep her talking.

“Which do you recommend?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Cornets last longer,” she said, and put one in my hand before I had time to give her my choice.

“How about one for you too?” I said.

“No, thanks,” she said, “I saw them made.”

And she walked off, and the place went dark, and there I was sitting with a great sixpenny cornet in my hand, looking a fool. The damn thing slopped all over the edge of the holder, spilling on to my shirt, and I had to ram the frozen stuff into my mouth as quick as I could for fear it would all go on my knees, and I turned sideways, because someone came and sat in the empty seat beside the gangway.

I finished it at last, and cleaned myself up with my pocket handkerchief, and then concentrated on the story flashing across the screen. It was a western all right, carts lumbering over prairies, and a train full of bullion being held to ransom, and the heroine in breeches one moment and full evening dress the next. That’s the way pictures should be, not a bit like real life at all; but as I watched the story I began to notice the whiff of scent in the air, and I didn’t know what it was or where it came from, but it was there just the same. There was a man to the right of me, and on my left were two empty seats, and it certainly wasn’t the people in front, and I couldn’t keep turning round and sniffing.

I’m not a great one for liking scent. It’s too often cheap and nasty, but this was different. There was nothing stale about it, or stuffy, or strong; it was like the flowers they sell up in the West End in the big flower shops before you get them on the barrows — three bob a bloom sort of touch, rich chaps buy them for actresses and such — and it was so darn good, the smell of it there in that murky old picture palace full of cigarette smoke, that it nearly drove me mad.

At last I turned right round in my seat, and I spotted where it came from. It came from the girl, the usherette; she was leaning on the back board behind me, her arms folded across it.

“Don’t fidget,” she said. “You’re wasting one and twopence. Watch the screen.”

But not out loud so that anyone could hear. In a whisper, for me alone. I couldn’t help laughing to myself. The cheek of it! I knew where the scent came from now, and somehow it made me enjoy the picture more. It was as though she was beside me in one of the empty seats and we were looking at the story together.

When it was over and the lights went on, I saw I’d sat through the last showing and it was nearly ten. Everyone was clearing off for the night. So I waited a bit, and then she came down with her torch and started squinting under the seats to see if anybody had dropped a glove or a purse, the way they do and only remember about afterwards when they get home, and she took no more notice of me than if I’d been a rag which no one would bother to pick up.

I stood up in the back row, alone — the house was clear now — and when she came to me she said, “Move over, you’re blocking the gangway,” and flashed about with her torch, but there was nothing there, only an empty packet of Player’s which the cleaners would throw away in the morning. Then she straightened herself and looked me up and down, and taking off the ridiculous cap from the back of her head that suited her so well, she fanned herself with it and said, “Sleeping here tonight?” and then went off, whistling under her breath, and disappeared through the curtains.

It was proper maddening. I’d never been taken so much with a girl in my life. I went into the vestibule after her, but she had gone through a door to the back, behind the box-office place, and the commissionaire chap was already getting the doors to and fixing them for the night. I went out and stood in the street and waited. I felt a bit of a fool, because the odds were that she would come out with a bunch of others, the way girls do. There was the one who had sold me my ticket, and I dare say there were other usherettes up in the balcony, and perhaps a cloakroom attendant too, and they’d all be giggling together, and I wouldn’t have the nerve to go up to her …

Comments: Daphne Du Maurier (1907-1989) was a British novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her collection of short stories, The Apple Tree was published in the USA under the title Kiss Me Again, Stranger, the title of the story from which the above extract is taken. The story is about a shy garage mechanic who falls for a mysterious usherette with a murderous secret. The same collection includes The Birds, filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963. ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’ has been made into a TV play in the USA on three occasions: 1953, 1958, and 1974, the latter made for Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love, starring Juliet Mills and Leonard Nimoy.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Kinetoscope of Time

Source: Brander Matthews, ‘The Kinetoscope of Time’, Scribner’s Magazine, December 1895, pp. 733-745, reproduced in his Tales of Fantasy and Fact (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1896), pp. 27-53

Text: As the twelfth stroke of the bell in the tower at the corner tolled forth slowly, the midnight wind blew chill down the deserted avenue, and swept it clear of all belated wayfarers. The bare trees in the thin strip of park clashed their lifeless branches; the river far below slipped along silently. There was no moon, and the stars were shrouded. It was a black night. Yet far in the distance there was a gleam of cheerful light which lured me on and on. I could not have said why it was that I had ventured forth at that hour on such a night. It seemed to me as though the yellow glimmer I beheld afar off was the goal of my excursion. Something within whispered to me then that I need go no farther when once I had come to the spot whence the soft glare proceeded.

The pall of darkness was so dense that I could not see the sparse houses I chanced to pass, nor did I know where I was any more. I urged forward blindly, walking towards the light, which was all that broke the blackness before me; its faint illumination seemed to me somehow to be kindly, inviting, irresistible. At last I came to a halt in front of a building I had never before seen, although I thought myself well acquainted with that part of the city. It was a circular edifice, or so it seemed to me then; and I judged that it had but a single story, or two, at the most. The door stood open to the street; and it was from this that the light was cast. So dim was this illumination now I had come to it that I marvelled I could have seen it at all afar off as I was when first I caught sight of it.

While I stood at the portal of the unsuspected edifice, peering doubtfully within, wondering to what end I had been led thither, and hesitating as to my next step, I felt again the impulse to go forward. At that moment tiny darts of fire, as it were, glowed at the end of the hall that opened before me, and they ran together rapidly and joined in liquid lines and then faded as suddenly as they had come but not too soon for me to read the simple legend they had written in the air an invitation to me, so I interpreted it, to go forward again, to enter the building, and to see for myself why I had been enticed there.

Without hesitation I obeyed. I walked through the doorway, and I became conscious that the door had closed behind me as I pressed forward. The passage was narrow and but faintly lighted; it bent to the right with a circular sweep as though it skirted the inner circumference of the building; still curving, it sank by a gentle gradient; and then it rose again and turned almost at right angles. Pushing ahead resolutely, although in not a little doubt as to the meaning of my adventure, I thrust aside a heavy curtain, soft to the hand. Then I found myself just inside a large circular hall. Letting the hangings fall behind me, I took three or four irresolute paces which brought me almost to the centre of the room. I saw that the walls were continuously draped with the heavy folds of the same soft velvet, so that I could not even guess where it was I had entered. The rotunda was bare of all furniture; there was no table in it, no chair, no sofa; nor was anything hanging from the ceiling or against the curtained walls. All that the room contained was a set of four curiously shaped narrow stands, placed over against one another at the corners of what might be a square drawn within the circle of the hall. These narrow stands were close to the curtains; they were perhaps a foot wide, each of them, or it might be a little more: they were twice or three times as long as they were wide; and they reached a height of possibly three or four feet.

Going towards one of these stands to examine it more curiously, I discovered that there were two projections from the top, resembling eye-pieces, as though inviting the beholder to gaze into the inside of the stand. Then I thought I heard a faint metallic click above my head. Raising my eyes swiftly, I read a few words written, as it were, against the dark velvet of the heavy curtains in dots of flame that flowed one into the other and melted away in a moment. When this mysterious legend had faded absolutely, I could not recall the words I had read in the fitful and flitting letters of fire, and yet I retained the meaning of the message; and I understood that if I chose to peer through the eye-pieces I should see a succession of strange dances.

To gaze upon dancing was not what I had gone forth to do, but I saw no reason why I should not do so, as I was thus strangely bidden. I lowered my head until my eyes were close to the two openings at the top of the stand. I looked into blackness at first, and yet I thought that I could detect a mystic commotion of the invisible particles at which I was staring. I made no doubt that, if I waited, in due season the promise would be fulfilled. After a period of expectancy which I could not measure, infinitesimal sparks darted hither and thither, and there was a slight crackling sound. I concentrated my attention on what I was about to see; and in a moment more I was rewarded.

The darkness took shape and robed itself in color; and there arose out of it a spacious banquet-hall, where many guests sat at supper. I could not make out whether they were Romans or Orientals; the structure itself had a Latin solidity, but the decorations were Eastern in their glowing gorgeousness. The hall was illumined by hanging lamps, by the light of which I tried to decide whether the ruler who sat in the seat of honor was a Roman or an Oriental. The beautiful woman beside him struck me as Eastern beyond all question. While I gazed intently he turned to her and proffered a request. She smiled acquiescence, and there was a flash of anticipated triumph in her eye as she beckoned to a menial and sent him forth with a message. A movement as of expectancy ran around the tables where the guests sat at meat. The attendants opened wide the portals and a young girl came forward. She was perhaps fourteen or fifteen years of age, but in the East women ripen young, and her beauty was indisputable. She had large, deep eyes and a full mouth; and there was a chain of silver and golden coins twisted into her coppery hair. She was so like to the woman who sat beside the ruler that I did not doubt them to be mother and daughter. At a word from the elder the younger began to dance; and her dance was Oriental, slow at first, but holding every eye with its sensual fascination. The girl was a mistress of the art; and not a man in the room withdrew his gaze from her till she made an end and stood motionless before the ruler. He said a few words I could not hear, and then the daughter turned to the mother for guidance; and again I caught the flash of triumph in the elder woman’s eye and on her face the suggestion of a hatred about to be glutted. And then the light faded and the darkness settled down on the scene and I saw no more. I did not raise my head from the stand, for I felt sure that this was not all I was to behold; and in a few moments there was again a faint scintillation. In time the light was strong enough for me to perceive the irregular flames of a huge bonfire burning in an old square of some mediaeval city. It was evening, and yet a throng of men and women and children made an oval about the fire and about a slim girl who had spread a Persian carpet on the rough stones of the broad street. She was a brunette, with dense black hair; she wore a striped skirt, and a jacket braided with gold had slipped from her bare shoulders. She held a tambourine in her hand and she was twisting and turning in cadence to her own song. Then she went to one side where stood a white goat with gilded horns and put down her tambourine and took up two swords; and with these in her hands she resumed her dance. A man in the throng, a man of scant thirty-five, but already bald, a man of stalwart frame, fixed hot eyes upon her; and from time to time a smile and a sigh met on his lips, but the smile was more dolorous than the sigh. And as the gypsy girl ceased her joyous gyrations, the bonfire died out, and darkness fell on the scene again, and I could no longer see anything.

Again I waited, and after an interval no longer than the other there came a faint glow that grew until I saw clearly as in the morning sun the glade of a forest through which a brook rippled. A sad-faced woman sat on a stone by the side of the streamlet; her gray garments set off the strange ornament in the fashion of a single letter of the alphabet that was embroidered in gold and in scarlet over her heart. Visible at some distance was a little girl, like a bright-apparelled vision, in a sunbeam, which fell down upon her through an arch of boughs. The ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or distinct, now like a real child, now like a child’s spirit, as the splendor came and went. With violets and anemones and columbines the little girl had decorated her hair. The mother looked at the child and the child danced and sparkled and prattled airily along the course of the streamlet, which kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy. Then the mother raised her head as though her ears had detected the approach of someone through the wood. But before I could see who this newcomer might be, once more the darkness settled down upon the scene.

This time I knew the interval between the succeeding visions and I waited without impatience; and in due season I found myself gazing at a picture as different as might be from any I had yet beheld.

In the broad parlor of a house that seemed to be spacious, a middle-aged lady, of an appearance at once austere and kindly, was looking at a smiling gentleman who was coming towards her pulling along a little negro girl about eight or nine years of age. She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and altogether there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance. The severe old maid examined this strange creature in dismay and then directed a glance of inquiry at the gentleman in white. He smiled again and gave a signal to the little negro girl. Whereupon the black eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and apparently she began to sing, keeping time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time; and finally, turning a somersault or two, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance from the corners of her eyes. The elderly lady stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement, while the smiling gentleman in white was amused at her astonishment.

Once more the vision faded. And when, after the same interval, the darkness began to disappear again, even while everything was dim and indistinct I knew that the scene was shifted from the South to the North. I saw a room comfortably furnished, with a fire smouldering in a porcelain stove. In a corner stood a stripped Christmas-tree, with its candles burned out. Against the wall between the two doors was a piano, on which a man was playing a man who twisted his head now and again to look over his shoulder, sometimes at another and younger man standing by the stove, sometimes at a young woman who was dancing alone in the centre of the room. This young woman had draped herself in a long parti-colored shawl and she held a tambourine in her hand. There was in her eyes a look of fear, as of one conscious of an impending misfortune. As I gazed she danced more and more wildly. The man standing by the porcelain stove was apparently making suggestions, to which she paid no heed. At last her hair broke loose and fell over her shoulders; and even this she did not notice, going on with her dancing as though it were a matter of life and death. Then one of the doors opened and another woman stood on the threshold. The man at the piano ceased playing and left the instrument. The dancer paused unwillingly, and looked pleadingly up into the face of the younger man as he came forward and put his arm around her.

And then once more the light died away and I found myself peering into a void blackness. This time, though I waited long, there were no crackling sparks announcing another inexplicable vision. I peered intently into the stand, but I saw nothing. At last I raised my head and looked about me. Then on the hangings over another of the four stands, over the one opposite to that into which I had been looking, there appeared another message, the letters melting one into another in lines of liquid light; and this told me that in the other stand I could, if I chose, gaze upon combats as memorable as the delectable dances I had been beholding.

I made no hesitation, but crossed the room and took my place before the other stand and began at once to look through the projecting eye-pieces. No sooner had I taken this position than the dots of fire darted across the depth into which I was gazing; and then there came a full clear light as of a cloudless sky, and I saw the walls of an ancient city. At the gates of the city there stood a young man, and toward him there ran a warrior, brandishing a spear, while the bronze of his helmet and his armor gleamed in the sunlight. And trembling seized the young man and he fled in fear; and the warrior darted after him, trusting in his swift feet. Valiant was the flier, but far mightier he who fleetingly pursued him. At last the young man took heart and made a stand against the warrior. They faced each other in fight. The warrior hurled his spear and it went over the young man’s head. And the young man then hurled his spear in turn and it struck fair upon the centre of the warrior’s shield. Then the young man drew his sharp sword that by his flank hung great and strong. But by some magic the warrior had recovered his spear; and as the young man came forward he hurled it again, and it drove through the neck of the young man at the joint of his armor, and he fell in the dust. After that the sun was darkened; and in a moment more I was looking into an empty blackness.

When again the light returned it was once more with the full blaze of mid-day that the scene was illumined, and the glare of the sun was reflected from the burning sands of the desert. Two or three palms arose near a well, and there two horsemen faced each other warily. One was a Christian knight in a coat of linked mail, over which he wore a surcoat of embroidered cloth, much frayed and bearing more than once the arms of the wearer a couchant leopard. The other was a Saracen, who was circling swiftly about the knight of the leopard. The crusader suddenly seized the mace which hung at his saddle-bow, and with a strong hand and unerring aim sent it crashing against the head of his foe, who raised his buckler of rhinoceros-hide in time to save his life, though the force of the blow bore him from the saddle. The knight spurred his steed forward, but the Saracen leaped into his seat again without touching the stirrup. While the Christian recovered his mace, the infidel withdrew to a little distance and strung the short bow he carried at his back. Then he circled about his foe, whose armor stood him in good stead, until the seventh shaft apparently found a less perfect part, and the Christian dropped heavily from his horse. But the dismounted Oriental found himself suddenly in the grasp of the European, who had recourse to this artifice to bring his enemy within his reach. The Saracen was saved again by his agility; and loosing his sword-belt, which the knight had grasped, he mounted his watching horse. He had lost his sword and his arrows and his turban, and these disadvantages seemed to incline him for a truce. He approached the Christian with his right hand extended, but no longer in a menacing attitude. What the result of this proffer of a parley might be I could not observe, for the figures became indistinct, as though a cloud had settled down on them; and in a few seconds more all was blank before me.

When the next scene grew slowly into view I thought for a moment it might be a continuation of the preceding, for the country I beheld was also soaking in the hot sunlight of the South, and there was also a mounted knight in armor. A second glance undeceived me. This knight was old and thin and worn, and his armor was broken and pieced, and his helmet was but a barber’s basin, and his steed was a pitiful skeleton. His countenance was sorrowful indeed, but there was that in his manner which would stop any man from denying his nobility. His eye was fired with a high purpose and a lofty resolve. In the distance before him were a group of windmills waving their arms in the air, and the knight urged forward his wretched horse as though to charge them. Upon an ass behind him was a fellow of the baser sort, a genial, simple follower, seemingly serving him as his squire. As the knight pricked forward his sorry steed and couched his lance, the attendant apparently appealed to him, and tried to explain, and even ventured on expostulation. But the knight gave no heed to the protests of the squire, who shook his head and dutifully followed his master. What the issue of this unequal combat was to be I could not see, for the inexorable veil of darkness fell swiftly.

Even after the stray sparks had again flitted through the blackness into which I was gazing daylight did not return, and it was with difficulty I was able at last to make out a vague street in a mediaeval city doubtfully outlined by the hidden moon. From a window high above the stones there came a faint glimmer. Under this window stood a soldier worn with the wars, who carried himself as though glad now to be at home again. He seemed to hear approaching feet, and he withdrew into the shadow as two others advanced. One of these was a handsome youth with an eager face, in which spirituality and sensuality contended. The other was older, of an uncertain age, and his expression was mocking and evil; he carried some sort of musical instrument, and to this he seemed to sing while the younger man looked up at the window. The soldier came forward angrily and dashed the instrument to the ground with his sword. Then the newcomers drew also, and the elder guarded while the younger thrust. There were a few swift passes, and then the younger of the two lunged fiercely, and the soldier fell back on the stones wounded to the death. Without a glance behind them, the two who had withstood his onslaught withdrew, as the window above opened and a fair-haired girl leaned forth.

Then nothing was visible, until after an interval the light once more returned and I saw a sadder scene than any yet. In a hollow of the bare mountains a little knot of men in darkblue uniforms were centred about their commander, whose long locks floated from beneath his broad hat. Around this small band of no more than a score of soldiers, thousands of red Indians were raging, with exultant hate in their eyes. The bodies of dead comrades lay in narrowing circles about the thinning group of blue-coats. The red men were picking off their few surviving foes, one by one; and the white men could do nothing, for their cartridges were all gone. They stood at bay, valiant and defiant, despite their many wounds; but the line of their implacable foemen was drawn tighter and tighter about them, and one after another they fell forward dying or dead, until at last only the long-haired commander was left, sore wounded but unconquered in spirit.

When this picture of strong men facing death fearlessly was at last dissolved into darkness like the others that had gone before, I had an inward monition that it was the last that would be shown me; and so it was, for although I kept ray place at the stand for two or three minutes more, no warning sparks dispersed the opaque depth.

When I raised my head from the eye-pieces, I became conscious that I was not alone. Almost in the centre of the circular hall stood a middle-aged man of distinguished appearance, whose eyes were fixed upon me. I wondered who he was, and whence he had come, and how he had entered, and what it might be that he wished with me. I caught a glimpse of a smile that lurked vaguely on his lips. Neither this smile nor the expression of his eyes was forbidding, though both were uncanny and inexplicable. He seemed to be conscious of a remoteness which would render futile any effort of his towards friendliness.

How long we stood thus staring the one at the other I do not know. My heart beat heavily and my tongue refused to move when at last I tried to break the silence.

Then he spoke, and his voice was low and strong and sweet.

“You are welcome,” he began, and I noted that the accent was slightly foreign, Italian perhaps, or it might be French. “I am glad always to show the visions I have under my control to those who will appreciate them.”

I tried to stammer forth a few words of thanks and of praise for what I had seen.

“Did you recognize the strange scenes shown to you by these two instruments?” he asked, after bowing gently in acknowledgment of my awkward compliments.

Then I plucked up courage and made bold to express to him the surprise I had felt, not only at the marvellous vividness with which the actions had been repeated before my eyes, like life itself in form and in color and in motion, but also at the startling fact that some of the things I had been shown were true and some were false. Some of them had happened actually to real men and women of flesh and blood, while others were but bits of vain imagining of those who tell tales as an art and as a means of livelihood.

I expressed myself as best I could, clumsily, no doubt; but he listened patiently and with the smile of toleration on his lips.

“Yes,” he answered, “I understand your surprise that the facts and the fictions are mingled together in these visions of mine as though there was little to choose between them. You are not the first to wonder or to express that wonder; and the rest of them were young like you. When you are as old as I am when you have lived as long as I when you have seen as much of life as I then you will know, as I know, that fact is often inferior to fiction, and that it is often also one and the same thing; for what might have been is often quite as true as what actually was?”

I did not know what to say in answer to this, and so I said nothing.

“What would you say to me,” he went on and now it seemed to me that his smile suggested rather pitying condescension than kindly toleration “what would you say to me, if I were to tell you that I myself have seen all the many visions unrolled before you in these instruments? What would you say, if I declared that I had gazed on the dances of Salome and of Esmeralda? that I had beheld the combat of Achilles and Hector and the mounted fight of Saladin and the Knight of the Leopard?”

“You are not Time himself?” I asked in amaze.

He laughed lightly, and without bitterness or mockery.

“No,” he answered, promptly, “I am not Time himself. And why should you think so? Have I a scythe? Have I an hour-glass? Have I a forelock? Do I look so very old, then?”

I examined him more carefully to answer this last question, and the more I scrutinized him the more difficult I found it to declare his age. At first I had thought him to be forty, perhaps, or of a certainty less than fifty. But now, though his hair was black, though his eye was bright, though his step was firm, though his gestures were free and sweeping, I had my doubts ; and I thought I could perceive, one after another, many impalpable signs of extreme old age.

Then, all at once, he grew restive under my fixed gaze.

“But it is not about me that we need to waste time now,” he said, impatiently. “You have seen what two of my instruments contain; would you like now to examine the contents of the other two?”

I answered in the affirmative.

“The two you have looked into are gratuitous,” he continued. “For what you beheld in them there is no charge. But a sight of the visions in the other two or in either one of them must be paid for. So far, you are welcome as my guest; but if you wish to see any more you must pay the price.”

I asked what the charge was, as I thrust my hand into my pocket to be certain that I had my purse with me.

He saw my gesture, and he smiled once more.

“The visions I can set before you in those two instruments you have not yet looked into are visions of your own life,” he said. “In that stand there,” and he indicated one behind my back, “you can see five of the most important episodes of your past.”

I withdrew my hand from my pocket. “I thank you,” I said, “but I know my own past, and I have no wish to see it again, however cheap the spectacle.”

“Then you will be more interested in the fourth of my instruments,” he said, as he waved his thin, delicate hand towards the stand which stood in front of me. “In this you can see your future!”

I made an involuntary step forward; and then, at a second thought, I shrank back again.

“The price of this is not high,” he continued, “and it is not payable in money.”

“How, then, should I buy it?” I asked, doubtingly.

“In life!” he answered, gravely. “The vision of life must be paid for in life itself. For every ten years of the future which I may unroll before you here, you must assign me a year of life twelve months to do with as I will.”

Strange as it seems to me now, I did not doubt that he could do as he declared. I hesitated, and then I fixed my resolve.

“Thank you,” I said, and I saw that he was awaiting my decision eagerly. “Thank you again for what I have already seen and for what you proffer me. But my past I have lived once, and there is no need to turn over again the leaves of that dead record. And the future I must face as best I may, the more bravely, I think, that I do not know what it holds in store for me.”

“The price is low,” he urged.

“It must be lower still,” I answered ; “it might be nothing at all, and I should still decline. I cannot afford to be impatient now and to borrow knowledge of the future. I shall know all in good time.”

He seemed not a little disappointed as I said this.

Then he made a final appeal: “Would you not wish to know even the matter of your end ?”

” No,” I answered. “That is no temptation to me, for whatever it may be I must find fortitude to undergo it somehow, whether I am to pass away in my sleep in my bed, or whether I shall have to withstand the chances of battle and murder and sudden death.”

“That is your last word?” he inquired.

“I thank you again for what I have seen,” I responded, bowing again; “but my decision is final.”

“Then I will detain you no longer,” he said, haughtily, and he walked towards the circling curtains and swept two of them aside. They draped themselves back, and I saw before me an opening like that through which I had entered.

I followed him, and the curtains dropped behind me as I passed into the insufficiently illuminated passage beyond. I thought that the mysterious being with whom I had been conversing had preceded me, but before I had gone twenty paces I found that I was alone. I pushed ahead, and my path twisted and turned on itself and rose and fell irregularly like that by means of which I had made my way into the unknown edifice. At last I picked my steps down winding stairs, and at the foot I saw the outline of a door. I pushed it back, and I found myself in the open air.

I was in a broad street, and over my head an electric light suddenly flared out and white-washed the pavement at my feet. At the corner a train of the elevated railroad rushed by with a clattering roar and a trailing plume of white steam. Then a cable-car clanged past with incessant bangs upon its gong. Thus it was that I came back to the world of actuality.

I turned to get my bearings, that I might find my way home again. I was standing almost in front of a shop, the windows of which were filled with framed engravings.

One of these caught my eye, and I confess that I was surprised. It was a portrait of a man it was a portrait of the man with whom I had been talking.

I went close to the window, that I might see it better. The electric light emphasized the lines of the high-bred face, with its sombre searching eyes and the air of old-world breeding. There could be no doubt whatever that the original of this portrait was the man from whom I had just parted. By the costume I knew that the original had lived in the last century; and the legend beneath the head, engraved in a flowing script, asserted this to be a likeness of “Monsieur le Comte de Cagliostro.”

Comments: James Brander Matthews (1852-1929) was an American author, Professor of Literature at Columbia University, and America’s first professor of drama. His 1895 short story ‘The Kinetoscope of Time’ has become famous in early cinema studies for its prescient vision of the cinematic experience, and its speculation on the relationship between cinema and the perception of time. In December 1895, aside for a handful of test screenings, projected film shows were still in the future, with films being made available to the public via the peepshow Kinetoscope in parlours much like the hall in Matthews’ story. The ‘films’ or visions that he witnesses are dance of Salomé, Hester Prynne and Little Pearl from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Topsy dancing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, the fight between Achilles and Hector, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the duel of Faust and Valentine, and Custer’s Last Stand. A number of these because the subjects of early films. Cagliostro was an 18th century Italian occultist.

Links: Copy of Tales of Fantasy and Fact at the Internet Archive
Copy of the text from Scribner’s Magazine at Cornell University Library (with original illustrations but some of the first paragraphs missing)

Guerrillas

Source: V.S. Naipaul, Guerrillas (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976 orig. pub. André Deutsch, 1975), pp. 35-37

Text: It was just after eight. Half an hour before the evening cinema shows began, half an hour before the street grew quieter, that precious last half-hour of the evening when, with the relaxed groups on the pavements, the coconut carts doing brisk business, the cafés and the rum-shops, the food-stalls and the oyster-stalls below the shop-eaves, even a little religious meeting going, with the neon lights, the flambeaux smoking in stone bottles, the acetylene lamps like Christmas sparklers, so many pleasures seemed possible. But Bryant was wise now; he was no longer a child; he knew that these moments were cheating. He had money, he had to spend it; it was like a wish to be rid of his money, and it went with the knowledge that it was all waste, that the day would end as it had begun.

[…]

He thought of the cinema. He had seen most of the films; in these country cinemas certain films were shown over and over. When he was younger he used to go to the interracial-sex films with the Negro men as star-boys; they were exciting to see but depressing afterwards, and it was Stephens who had told him that films like that were wicked and could break up a man. He chose the Sidney Poitier double. He went into the shuttered little cinema-house with the noisy electric fans and was along again, the evening almost over.

In the first film Poitier was a man with a gun. Bryant always enjoyed it, but he knew it was made-up and he didn’t allow himself to believe in it. The second film was For the Love of Ivy [sic]. It was Bryant’s favourite; it made him cry but it also made him laugh a lot, and it was his favourite. Soon he had surrendered: seeing in the Poitier of that film a version of himself that no one – but no one, and that was the terrible part – would ever get to know: the man who had died within the body Bryant carried, shown in that film in all his truth, the man Bryant knew himself to be, without the edginess and the anger and the pretend ugliness, the laughing man, the tender joker. Watching the film, he began to grieve for what was denied him: that future in which he became what he truly was, not a man with a gun, a big profession or big talk, but himself, and as himself was loved and readmitted to the house and to the people in the house. He began to sob; and other people were sobbing with him.

The cinema boy scrambled about, turning off the electric fans, creating a kind of silence, opening the exit doors and pulling curtains to shut out the street lights. It was quiet outside; traffic had died down. Bryant was already afraid of the emptiness, the end of the day. He had already come to the end of his money and was as poor as he had been in the morning. The cafés would be closed when the film finished and he went outside; the rum-shops would be closed; there would only be a coconut cart, more full of husks than coconuts, a few people sleeping below the shop eaves, drunks, disordered people, and an old woman in a straw hat selling peeled oranges by the light of a flambeau. There would remain the journey back, the taxi, the walk in the night along roads that would barely glimmer between walls of forest and bush. So even before the film ended he was sad, thinking of the blight that came unfairly on a man, ruining his whole life. A whole life.

Comments: Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (born 1932) is a British/Trinidadian author, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His 1975 novel Guerrillas is concerned with social and political conflict on a unnamed Caribbean island, presumably based on Trinidad, where Naipaul was born. The disaffected young black Bryant is a minor character in the novel, though pivotal to its violent climax. For Love of Ivy (USA 1968 d. Daniel Mann) is a romantic comedy starring Sidney Poitier and Abbey Lincoln, about an African-American maid whose employers engineer a romance with the Poitier character in the hope of persuading her not to leave them. It is notable in film history for being one of the first Hollywood mainstream pictures to feature a romance between two black leads.

We Can’t Have Everything

Source: Rupert Hughes, We Can’t Have Everything (New York: Harper & Bros, 1917), pp. 58-61

Text: At length she reached a center of what she most desired – noise and mob and hurry. At 164th Street she came to a star of streets where the Third Avenue Elevated collaborated with the surface-cars and the loose traffic to create a delicious pandemonium. She loved those high numbers—a hundred and eighty streets! Beautiful! At home Main Street dissolved into pastures at Tenth Street.

She wanted to find Main Street in New York and see what First Street looked like. It was probably along the Atlantic Ocean. That also was one of the things she must see – her first ocean!

But while Kedzie was reveling in the splendors of 164th Street her eye was caught by the gaudy placards of a moving-picture emporium. There was a movie-palace at home. It was the town’s one metropolitan charm.

There was a lithograph here that reached out and caught her like a bale-hook. It represented an impossibly large-eyed girl, cowering behind a door on whose other side stood a handsome devil in evening dress. He was tugging villainously at a wicked mustache, and his eyes were thrillingly leery. Behind a curtain stood a young man who held a revolver and waited. The title of the picture decided Kedzie. It was “The Vampire’s Victim; a Scathing Exposure of High Society.”

Kedzie studied hard. For all her gipsy wildness, she had a trace of her father’s parsimony, and she hated to spend money that was her very own. Some of the dimes and quarters in that little purse had been there for ages. Besides, her treasury would have to sustain her for an indefinite period.

But she wanted to know about high society. She was not sure what scathing meant, or what the pronunciation of it was. She rather inclined to “scat-ting.” Anyway, it looked important.

She stumbled into the black theater and found a seat among mysterious persons dully silhouetted against the screen. This was none of the latter-day temples where moving pictures are run through with cathedral solemnity, soft lights, flowers, orchestral uplift, and nearly classic song. This was a dismal little tunnel with one end lighted by the twinkling pictures. Tired mothers came here to escape from their children, and children came here to escape from their tired mothers. The plots of the pictures were as trite and as rancid as spoiled meat, but they suited the market. This plot concerned a beautiful girl who came to the city from a small town. She was a good girl, because she came from a small town and had poor parents.

She was dazzled a little, however, by the attentions of a swell devil of great wealth, and she neglected her poor – therefore honest – lover temporarily. She learned the fearful joys of a limousined life, and was lured into a false marriage which nearly proved her ruin. The villain got a fellow-demon to pretend to be a minister, put on false hair, reversed his collar, and read the wedding ceremony; and the heroine was taken to the rich man’s home.

The rooms were as full of furniture as a furniture-store, and so Kedzie knew it was a swell home. Also there was a butler who walked and acted like a wooden man.

The heroine was becomingly shy of her husband, but finally went to her room, where a swell maid put her to bed (with a proper omission of critical moments) in a bed that must have cost a million dollars. Some womanly, though welching, intuition led the bride to lock her door. Some manly intuition led the hero to enter the gardens and climb in through a window into the house. If he had not been a hero it would have been a rather reprehensible act. But to the heroes all things are pure. He prowled through the house heroically without attracting attention. Every step of his burglarious progress was applauded by the audience.

The hero hid behind one of those numberless portières that hang everywhere in the homes of the noveaux riches, and waited with drawn revolver for the dastard bridegroom to attempt his hellish purpose.

The locked door thwarted the villain for the time, and he decided to wait till he got the girl aboard one of those yachts which rich people keep for evil purposes. Thus the villain unwittingly saved the hero from the painful necessity of committing murder, and added another reel to the picture.

It is not necessary and it might infringe a copyright to tell the rest of the story. It would be insulting to say that the false minister, repenting, told the hero, who told the heroine after he rescued her from the satanic yacht and various other temptations. Of course she married the plain-clothes man and lived happily ever after in a sin-proof cottage with a garden of virtuous roses.

Comments: Rupert Hughes (1872-1956) was an American novelist, playwright, biographer and screenwriter. He was also uncle to business magnate and film producer Howard Hughes. His novel of marital disharmony We Can’t Have Everything was turned into a film (of the same title), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, in 1918. Many other of his works were also filmed.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

We Can't Have Everything

Source: Rupert Hughes, We Can’t Have Everything (New York: Harper & Bros, 1917), pp. 58-61

Text: At length she reached a center of what she most desired – noise and mob and hurry. At 164th Street she came to a star of streets where the Third Avenue Elevated collaborated with the surface-cars and the loose traffic to create a delicious pandemonium. She loved those high numbers—a hundred and eighty streets! Beautiful! At home Main Street dissolved into pastures at Tenth Street.

She wanted to find Main Street in New York and see what First Street looked like. It was probably along the Atlantic Ocean. That also was one of the things she must see – her first ocean!

But while Kedzie was reveling in the splendors of 164th Street her eye was caught by the gaudy placards of a moving-picture emporium. There was a movie-palace at home. It was the town’s one metropolitan charm.

There was a lithograph here that reached out and caught her like a bale-hook. It represented an impossibly large-eyed girl, cowering behind a door on whose other side stood a handsome devil in evening dress. He was tugging villainously at a wicked mustache, and his eyes were thrillingly leery. Behind a curtain stood a young man who held a revolver and waited. The title of the picture decided Kedzie. It was “The Vampire’s Victim; a Scathing Exposure of High Society.”

Kedzie studied hard. For all her gipsy wildness, she had a trace of her father’s parsimony, and she hated to spend money that was her very own. Some of the dimes and quarters in that little purse had been there for ages. Besides, her treasury would have to sustain her for an indefinite period.

But she wanted to know about high society. She was not sure what scathing meant, or what the pronunciation of it was. She rather inclined to “scat-ting.” Anyway, it looked important.

She stumbled into the black theater and found a seat among mysterious persons dully silhouetted against the screen. This was none of the latter-day temples where moving pictures are run through with cathedral solemnity, soft lights, flowers, orchestral uplift, and nearly classic song. This was a dismal little tunnel with one end lighted by the twinkling pictures. Tired mothers came here to escape from their children, and children came here to escape from their tired mothers. The plots of the pictures were as trite and as rancid as spoiled meat, but they suited the market. This plot concerned a beautiful girl who came to the city from a small town. She was a good girl, because she came from a small town and had poor parents.

She was dazzled a little, however, by the attentions of a swell devil of great wealth, and she neglected her poor – therefore honest – lover temporarily. She learned the fearful joys of a limousined life, and was lured into a false marriage which nearly proved her ruin. The villain got a fellow-demon to pretend to be a minister, put on false hair, reversed his collar, and read the wedding ceremony; and the heroine was taken to the rich man’s home.

The rooms were as full of furniture as a furniture-store, and so Kedzie knew it was a swell home. Also there was a butler who walked and acted like a wooden man.

The heroine was becomingly shy of her husband, but finally went to her room, where a swell maid put her to bed (with a proper omission of critical moments) in a bed that must have cost a million dollars. Some womanly, though welching, intuition led the bride to lock her door. Some manly intuition led the hero to enter the gardens and climb in through a window into the house. If he had not been a hero it would have been a rather reprehensible act. But to the heroes all things are pure. He prowled through the house heroically without attracting attention. Every step of his burglarious progress was applauded by the audience.

The hero hid behind one of those numberless portières that hang everywhere in the homes of the noveaux riches, and waited with drawn revolver for the dastard bridegroom to attempt his hellish purpose.

The locked door thwarted the villain for the time, and he decided to wait till he got the girl aboard one of those yachts which rich people keep for evil purposes. Thus the villain unwittingly saved the hero from the painful necessity of committing murder, and added another reel to the picture.

It is not necessary and it might infringe a copyright to tell the rest of the story. It would be insulting to say that the false minister, repenting, told the hero, who told the heroine after he rescued her from the satanic yacht and various other temptations. Of course she married the plain-clothes man and lived happily ever after in a sin-proof cottage with a garden of virtuous roses.

Comments: Rupert Hughes (1872-1956) was an American novelist, playwright, biographer and screenwriter. He was also uncle to business magnate and film producer Howard Hughes. His novel of marital disharmony We Can’t Have Everything was turned into a film (of the same title), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, in 1918. Many other of his works were also filmed.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Sense of Touch

senseoftouch

Source: ‘Ole Luke-Oie’ [Ernest Dunlop Swinton], extract from ‘The Sense of Touch’, The Strand Magazine, December 1912, pp. 620-631. Illustrations by John Cameron.

Text: ‘Pon my word, I really don’t know what made me go into the place. I’ve never been keen on cinemas. The ones I went to when they first came out quite choked me off. The jiggling of the pictures pulled my eyes out till they felt like a crab’s, and the potted atmosphere made my head ache. I was strolling along, rather bored with things in general and more than a bit tired, and happened to stop as I passed the doors. It seemed just the ordinary picture palace or electric theatre show – ivory-enamelled portico, neuralgic blaze of flame arc-lights above, and underneath, in coloured incandescents, the words, “Mountains of Fun.”

Fun! Good Lord!

An out-sized and over-uniformed tout, in dirty white gloves and a swagger stick, was strolling backwards and forwards, alternately shouting invitations to see the “continuous performance” and chasing away the recurring clusters of eager-eyed children, whose outward appearance was not suggestive of the possession of the necessary entrance fee. There were highly-coloured posters on every available foot of wall-space – sensational scenes, in which cowboys, revolvers, and assorted deaths predominated – and across them were pasted strips of paper bearing the legend, ” LIFE-REPRO Novelty This Evening.”

I confess that, old as I am, it was that expression which caught me – ” LIFE-REPRO.” It sounded like a new metal polish or an ointment for “swellings on the leg,” but it had the true showman’s ring. I asked the janitor what it meant. Of course he did not know – poor devil! – and only repeated his stock piece: “Splendid new novelty. Now showing. No waiting. Continuous performance. Walk right in.”

I was curious; it was just beginning to rain; and I decided to waste half an hour. No sooner had the metal disc – shot out at me in exchange for sixpence – rattled on to the zinc counter of the ticket-window than the uniformed scoundrel thrust a handbill on me and almost shoved me through a curtained doorway. Quite suddenly I found myself in a dark room, the gloom of which was only accentuated by the picture quivering on a screen about fifty feet away. The change from the glare outside was confusing and the atmosphere smote me, and as I heard the door bang and the curtain being redrawn I felt half inclined to turn round and go out. But while I hesitated, not daring to move until my eyes got acclimatized, someone flashed an electric torch in my eyes, grabbed my ticket, and squeaked, ” Straight along, please,” then switched off the light.

Useful, wasn’t it? I couldn’t see an inch. You know, I’m not very touchy as a rule, but I was getting a bit nettled, and a good deal of my boredom had vanished. I groped my way carefully down what felt like an inclined gangway, now in total darkness, for there was at the moment no picture on the screen, and at once stumbled down a step. A step, mind you, in the centre of a gangway, in a place of entertainment which is usually dark! I naturally threw out my hands to save myself and grabbed what I could. There was a scream, and the film then starting again, I discovered that I was clutching a lady by the hair. The whole thing gave me a jar and threw me into a perspiration – you must remember I was still shaky after my illness. When, as I was apologizing, the same, or another, fool with the torchlight flashed it at my waistcoat and said, “Mind the step,” I’m afraid I told him, as man to man, what I thought of him and the whole beastly show. I was now really annoyed, and showed it. I had no notion there were so many people in the hall until I heard the cries of “Ssshh! ” “Turn him out! ” from all directions.

When I was finally led to a flap-up seat – which I nearly missed, by the way, in the dark – I discovered the reason for the impatience evinced by the audience. I had butted in with my clatter and winged words at the critical moment of a touching scene. To the sound of soft, sad music, all on the black notes, the little incurable cripple child in the tenement house was just being restored to health by watching the remarkably quick growth of the cowslips given to her by the kind-hearted scavenger. Completely as boredom had been banished by the manner of my entrée it quickly returned while I suffered the long-drawn convalescence of ” Little Emmeline.” As soon as this harrowing film was over and the lights were raised I took my chance of looking round.

The hall was very much the usual sort of place – perhaps a bit smaller than most – long and narrow, with a floor sloping down from the back. In front of the screen, which was a very large one, was an enclosed pit containing some artificial palms and tin hydrangeas, a piano and a harmonium, and in the end wall at its right was a small door marked ” Private.” In the side wall on the left near the proscenium place was an exit. The only other means of egress, as far as I could see, was the doorway through which I had entered. Both of these were marked by illuminated glass signs, and on the walls were notices of “No smoking,” “The management beg to thank, those ladies who have so kindly removed their hats,” and advertisement placards – mostly of chocolate. The decorations were too garish for the place to be exactly homely, but it was distinctly commonplace, a contrast to the shambles it became later on. What?

Yes! I daresay you know all about these picture palaces, but I’ve got to give you the points as they appealed to me. I’m not telling you a story, man. I’m simply trying to give you an exact account of what happened. It’s the only way I can do it.

The ventilation was execrable, in spite of the couple of exhaust fans buzzing round overhead, and the air hung stagnant and heavy with traces of stale scent, while wafts of peppermint, aniseed, and eucalyptus occasionally reached me from the seats in front. Tobacco smoke might have increased the density of the atmosphere, but it would have been a welcome cloak to some of the other odours. The place was fairly well filled, the audience consisting largely of women and children of the poorer classes – even babies in arms – just the sort of innocent holiday crowd that awful things always happen to.

By the time I had noticed this much the lights were lowered, and we were treated to a scene of war which converted my boredom into absolute depression. I must describe it to you, because you always will maintain that we are a military nation at heart. By Jove, we are! Even the attendants at this one-horse gaff were wearing uniforms. And the applause with which the jumble of sheer military impossibility and misplaced sentiment presented to us was greeted proves it. The story was called “Only a Bugler Boy.” The first scene represented a small detachment of British soldiers ” At the Front” on ” Active Service” in a savage country. News came in of the “foe.” This was the occasion for a perfect orgy of mouthing, gesticulation, and salutation. How they saluted each other, usually with the wrong hand, without head-covering, and at what speed ! The actors were so keen to convey the military atmosphere that the officers, as often as not, acknowledged a salute before it was given.

Alter much consultation, deep breathing exercise, and making of goo-goo eyes, the long-haired rabbit who was in command selected a position for “defence to the death” so obviously unsuitable and suicidal that he should have been ham-strung at once by his round-shouldered gang of supers. But, no! In striking attitudes they waited to be attacked at immense and quite unnecessary disadvantage by the savage horde. Then, amid noise and smoke, the commander endeavoured to atone for the hopeless situation in which he had placed his luckless men by waving his sword and exposing himself to the enemy’s bullets. I say “atone,” for it would have been the only chance for his detachment if he had been killed, and killed quickly. Well, after some time and many casualties, it occurred to him that it would be as well to do something he should have done at first, and let the nearest friendly force know of his predicament. The diminutive bugler with the clean face and nicely-brushed hair was naturally chosen for this very dangerous mission, which even a grown man would have had a poor chance of carrying out, and after shaking hands all round, well in the open, the little hero started off with his written message.

Then followed a prolonged nightmare of crawling through the bush-studded desert.

Bugler stalled savage foe, and shot several with his revolver. Savage foe stalked bugler and wounded him in both arms and one leg. Finally, after squirming in accentuated and obvious agony for miles, bugler reached the nearest friendly force, staggered up to its commander, thrust his despatch upon him, and swooned in his arms. Occasion for more saluting, deep breathing, and gesticulation, and much keen gazing through field-glasses – notwithstanding the fact that if the beleaguered garrison were in sight the sound of the firing must have been heard long before ! Then a trumpet-call on the harmonium, and away dashed the relief force of mounted men.

Meanwhile we were given a chance of seeing how badly things had been going with the devoted garrison at bay. It was only when they were at their last gasp and cartridge that the relief reached them. With waving of helmets and cheers from the defenders, the first two men of the relieving force hurled themselves over the improvised stockade. You know what they were? I knew what they must be long before they appeared. And it is hardly necessary to specify to which branches of His Majesty’s United Services they belonged. The sorely-wounded but miraculously tough bugler took the stockade in his stride a very good third. He had apparently recovered sufficiently to gallop all the way back with the rescuers – only to faint again, this time in the arms of his own commanding officer. Curtain! “They all love Jack,” an imitation of bagpipes on the harmonium, and “Rule Britannia” from the combined orchestra. As I say, this effort of realism was received with great applause, even by the men present.

As soon as the light went up I had a look at my neighbours. The seats on each side of me were empty, and in the row in front, about a couple of seats to my right, there was one occupant. He was a young fellow of the type of which one sees only too many in our large towns – one of the products of an overdone industrialism. He was round-shouldered and narrow-chested, and his pale thin face suggested hard work carried out in insanitary surroundings and on unwholesome food. His expression was precocious, but the loose mouth showed that its owner was far too unintelligent to be more than feebly and unsuccessfully vicious. He wore a yachting cap well on the back of his head, and on it he sported a plush swallow or eagle – or some other bird – of that virulent but non-committal blue which is neither Oxford nor Cambridge. It was Boat-Race week. He was evidently out for pleasure – poor devil! – and from his incidental remarks, which were all of a quasi-sporting nature, I gathered that he was getting it. I felt sorry for him and sympathized in his entire absorption in the strange scenes passing before his eyes – scenes of excitement and adventure far removed from the monotonous round of his squalid life. How much better an hour of such innocent amusement than time and money wasted in some boozing-ken – eh?

Well, I’m not quite sure what it means myself – some sort of a low drinking-den. But, anyway, that’s what I felt about it. After all, he was a harmless sort of chap, and his unsophisticated enjoyment made me envious. I took an interest in him – thought of giving him a bob or two when I went out. I want you to realize that I had nothing but kindly feelings towards the fellow. He comes in later on – wasn’t so unsuccessful after all.

Then we had one of those interminable scenes of chase in which a horseman flies for life towards you over endless stretches of plain and down the perspective of long vistas of forest, pursued at a discreet distance by other riders, who follow in his exact tracks, even to avoiding the same tree-stumps, all mounted on a breed of horse which does forty-five miles an hour across country and fifty along the hard high road. I forget the cause of the pursuit and its ending, but I know revolvers were used.

The next film was French, and of the snowball type. A man runs down a street. He is at once chased by two policemen, one long and thin and the other fat and bow-legged with an obviously false stomach. The followers very rapidly increase in number to a mixed mob of fifty or more, including nurses with children in perambulators. They go round many corners, and round every corner there happens to be a carefully arranged obstacle which they all fall over in a kicking heap. I remember that soot and whitewash played an important part, also that the wheels of the passing vehicles went round the wrong way.

Owing to the interruption of light, was it? I daresay. Anyway, it was very annoying. Then we had a bit of the supernatural. I’m afraid I didn’t notice what took place, so I’ll spare you a description. I was entirely engrossed with the efforts of the wretched pianist to play tremolo for ten solid minutes. I think it was the ghost melody from “The Corsican Brothers ” that she was struggling with, and the harmonium did not help one bit. The execution got slower and slower and more staccato as her hands grew tired, and at the end I am sure she was jabbing the notes with her aching fingers straight and stiff. Poor girl! What a life!

At about this moment, as far as I remember, a lady came in and took the seat in front of mine. She was a small woman, and was wearing a microscopic bonnet composed of two strings and a sort of crepe muffin. The expression of her face was the most perfect crystallization of peevishness I’ve ever seen, and her hair was screwed up into a tight knob about the size and shape of a large snail-shell. Evidently not well off – probably a charwoman. I caught a glimpse of her gloves as she loosened her bonnet-strings, and the fingertips were like the split buds of a black fuchsia just about to bloom. Shortly after she had taken her seat my friend with the Boat-Race favour suddenly felt hungry, cracked a nut between his teeth, spat out the shell noisily, and ate the kernel with undisguised relish. The lady gathered her mantle round her and sniffed. I was not surprised. The brute continued to crack nuts, eject shells, and chew till he killed all my sympathy for him, till I began to loathe his unhealthy face, and longed for something to strike him dead. This was absolutely the limit, and I should have cleared out had not the words LIFE-REPRO” on the handbill caught my eye. After all it must come to that soon, and I determined to sit the thing out. After one or two more films of a banal nature there was a special interval – called “Intermission” on the screen – and signs were not wanting of the approach of the main event of the show.

Two of the youths had exchanged their electric torches for trays, and perambulated the gangways with cries of “Chuglit— milk chuglit.” A third produced a large garden syringe and proceeded to squirt a fine spray into the air. This hung about in a cloud, and made the room smell like a soap factory. When the curtain bell sounded the curtain was not drawn nor were the lights lowered. A man stepped out of the small door and climbed up on to the narrow ledge in front of the screen, which served as a kind of stage or platform, and much to my disgust made obvious preparation to address the audience. He was a bulky fellow, and his apparent solidity was increased by the cut of his coat. His square chin added to the sense of power conveyed by his build, while a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles gave him an air of seriousness and wisdom. I at once sized him up as a mountebank, and thought I knew what sort of showman’s patter to expect. He did not waste much time before he got busy. Looking slowly all round the room, he fixed my sporting friend with a baleful glare until the latter stopped eating, then cleared his throat and began …

Comments: Ernest Dunlop Swinton (1868-1951) was a British military officer (influential in the development of tanks in the First World War) and a writer, producing fiction under the pseudonym O’le Luk-Oie. The story continues with an announcer promising a natural history film of unsurpassed life-like realism. The film shows a praying mantis and a scorpion which come out of the screen giant-sized and attack the audience, killing those that the narrator disliked before turning on him (see illustration below). In the end it turns out to have been a dream. The description of a cinema show, though sardonic, is filled with useful documentary detail. The garden syringe is a reference to the disinfectant sprays commonly used on cinema audiences at this time.

Links: Copy of the complete story on the Internet Archive

scorpion

Babbitt

Source: Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), p. 156

Text: At least once a week Mr. and Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went to the movies. Their favorite motion-picture theater was the Chateau, which held three thousand spectators and had an orchestra of fifty pieces which played Arrangements from the Operas and suites portraying a Day on the Farm, or a Four-alarm Fire. In the stone rotunda, decorated with crown-embroidered velvet chairs and almost medieval tapestries, parrakeets sat on gilded lotos columns.

With exclamations of “Well, by golly!” and “You got to go some to beat this dump!” Babbitt admired the Chateau. As he stared across the thousands of heads, a gray plain in the dimness, as he smelled good clothes and mild perfume and chewing-gum, he felt as when he had first seen a mountain and realized how very, very much earth and rock there was in it.

He liked three kinds of films: pretty bathing girls with bare legs; policemen or cowboys and an industrious shooting of revolvers; and funny fat men who ate spaghetti. He chuckled with immense, moist-eyed sentimentality at interludes portraying puppies, kittens, and chubby babies; and he wept at deathbeds and old mothers being patient in mortgaged cottages. Mrs. Babbitt preferred the pictures in which handsome young women in elaborate frocks moved through sets ticketed as the drawing-rooms of New York millionaires. As for Tinka, she preferred, or was believed to prefer, whatever her parents told her to.

Comments: Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) was an American novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. His novel Babbitt is a satire on American middle-class life. Its central character is the materialistic and socially conformist businessman George Babbitt. It has numerous reference to the movies and movie-going. It was filmed twice in 1924 and 1934.

Bunny Brown and his Sister Sue

Source: Laura Lee Hope, extract from Bunny Brown and his Sister Sue (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1916)

bunnybrownText: Just beyond the corner there was a moving picture theatre, lately opened. Mrs. Brown and Aunt Lu had taken Bunny and his sister there once or twice, when there was a fairy play, or something nice to see, so Bunny and Sue knew what the moving pictures were like.

“Oh, let’s just go down and look at the picture posters outside,” said Bunny, as they stood on the corner, from where they could see the theatre.

“All right,” said Sue quickly.

In front of the moving picture place were some big boards, and on them were pasted brightly colored posters, almost like circus ones, telling about the moving pictures that were being shown inside. There was a picture of a man falling in the water, and another of a railroad train. Bunny loved cars and locomotives.

Not thinking anything wrong, the two tots ran across the street, looking carefully up and down first, to see that no automobiles were coming. They crossed safely.

A little later they were standing in front of the moving picture theatre, looking at the gay posters.

“Wouldn’t you like to go in?” asked Bunny.

Sue nodded her curly head.

“Maybe Aunt Lu will take us,” she said.

“We’ll ask her,” decided Bunny.

Then they heard, from down the side street, the sound of a piano. It came from the moving picture place, and the reason Bunny and Sue could hear it so plainly was because the piano was near a side door, which was open to let in the fresh air.

“Let’s go down there and listen to the music a minute,” Bunny said. “Then we’ll go back and tell Aunt Lu.”

“All right!” agreed Sue.

A little later the two were standing at the open, side door of the place. They could hear the piano very plainly now, and, what was more wonderful, they could look right in the theatre and see the moving pictures flashing on the white screen.

“Oh! oh!” murmured Bunny. “Look, Sue.”

“Oh! oh!” whispered Sue. And then Bunny had a queer idea.

“We can walk right in,” he said. “The door is open. I guess this is for children like us – they don’t want any money. Come on in, Sue, and we’ll see the moving pictures!”

Bunny Brown and his sister Sue walked right into the moving picture theatre. The door, as I have told you, was open, there was no one standing near to take tickets, or ask for money, and of course the children thought it was all right to go in.

No one seemed to notice them, perhaps because the place was dark, except where the brilliant pictures were dancing and flashing on the white screen. And no one heard Bunny and Sue, for not only did they walk very softly, but just then the girl at the piano was playing loudly, and the sound filled the place.

Right in through the open side door walked Bunny and Sue, and never for a moment did they think they were doing anything wrong. I suppose, after all, it was not very wrong.

Bunny walked ahead, and Sue followed, keeping hold of his hand. Pretty soon she whispered to her brother:

“Bunny! Bunny! I can’t see very good at all here. I want to see the pictures better.”

“All right,” Bunny whispered back. “I can’t see very good, either. We’ll find a better place.”

You know you can’t look at moving pictures from the side, they all seem to be twisted if you do. You must be almost in front of them, and this time Bunny and Sue were very much to one edge.

“We’ll get up real close, and right in front,” Bunny went on. Then he saw a little pair of steps leading up to the stage, or platform; only Bunny did not know it was that. He just thought if he and Sue went up the steps they would be better able to see. So up he went.

The screen, or big white sheet, on which the moving pictures were shown, stood back some distance from the front of the stage. And it was a real stage, with footlights and all, but it was not used for acting any more, as only moving pictures were given in that theatre now.

Sue followed Bunny up the steps. The pictures were ever so much clearer and larger now. She was quite delighted, and so was her brother. They wandered out to the middle of the stage, paying no attention to the audience. And the people in the theatre were so interested in the picture on the screen, that, for a while, they did not see the children who had wandered into the darkened theatre by the side door.

The music from the piano sounded louder and louder. The pictures became more brilliant. Then suddenly Bunny and Sue walked right out on the stage in front of the screen, where the light from the moving picture lantern shone brightly on them.

“What’s that?” cried several persons.

“Look! Why they’re real children!” said others.

Bunny and Sue could be plainly seen now, for they were exactly in the path of the strong light. There was some laughter in the audience, and then the man who was turning the crank of the moving picture machine began to understand that something was wrong.

He stopped the picture film, and turned on a plain, white light, very strong and glaring, Just like the headlights of an automobile. Bunny and Sue could hardly see, and they looked like two black shadows on the white screen.

“Look! Look! It’s part of the show!” said some persons in front.

“Maybe they’re going to sing,” said others.

“Or do a little act.”

“Oh, aren’t they cute!” laughed a lady.

By this time the piano player had stopped making music. She knew that something was wrong. So did the moving picture man up in his little iron box, and so did the usher – that’s the man who shows you where to find a seat. The usher came hurrying down the aisle.

“Hello, youngsters!” he called out, but he was not in the least bit cross. “Where did you get in?” he asked.

By this time the lights all over the place had been turned up, and Bunny and Sue could see the crowd, while the audience could also see them. Bunny blinked and smiled, but Sue was bashful, and tried to hide behind her brother. This made the people laugh still more.

“How did you get in, and who is with you?” asked the usher.

“We walked in the door over there,” and Bunny pointed to the side one. “And we came all alone. We’re waiting for Aunt Lu.”

“Oh, then she is coming?”

“I don’t guess so,” Bunny said. “We didn’t tell her we were coming here.”

“Well, well!” exclaimed the usher-man. “What does it all mean? Did your Aunt Lu send you on ahead? We don’t let little children in here unless some older person is with them, but -”

“We just comed in,” Sue said. “The door was open, and we wanted to see the pictures, so we comed in; didn’t we Bunny?”

“Yes,” he said. “But we’d like to sit down. We can’t see good up here.”

“No, you are a little too close to the screen,” said the usher. “Well, I’d send you home if I knew where you lived, but–”

“I know them!” called out a woman near the front of the theatre. “That is Bunny Brown and his sister Sue. They live just up the street. I’ll take them home.”

“Thank you; that’s very kind of you,” said the man. “I guess their folks must be worrying about them. Please take them home.”

“We don’t want to go home!” exclaimed Sue. “We want to see the pictures; don’t we, Bunny?”

“Yes,” answered the little fellow, “but maybe we’d better go and get Aunt Lu.”

“I think so myself,” laughed the usher. “You can come some other time, youngsters. But bring your aunt, or your mother, with you; and don’t come in the side door. I’ll have to keep some one there, if it’s going to be open, or I’ll have more tots walking in without paying.”

“Come the next time, with your aunt or mother,” he went on, “and I’ll give you free tickets. It won’t cost you even a penny!”

“Oh, goodie!” cried Sue. She was willing to go home now, and the lady who said she knew them – who was a Mrs. Wakefield, and lived not far from the Brown home – took Bunny and Sue by the hands and led them out of the theatre.

The lights were turned low again, and the moving picture show went on. Bunny and Sue wished they could have stayed, but they were glad they could come again, as the man had invited them.

Comments: Laura Lee Hope was a pseudonym used by American book publisher the Stratemeyer Syndicate to produce books for children, including Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Bunny Brown and his Sister Sue. The latter series, aimed at young children, was published 1916-1930.

Links: Copy on Project Gutenberg