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Filter- Story ,Short Story

A Dark Brown Dog

Posted by -   Funway
09:45:46 2014-06-20 Short Story

Stephen Crane

A child was standing on a street-corner. He leaned with one shoulder against a high board-fence and swayed the other to and fro, the while kicking carelessly at the gravel.

Sunshine beat upon the cobbles, and a lazy summer wind raised yellow dust which trailed in clouds down the avenue. Clattering trucks moved with indistinctness through it. The child stood dreamily gazing.

After a time, a little dark-brown dog came trotting with an intent air down the sidewalk. A short rope was dragging from his neck. Occasionally he trod upon the end of it and stumbled.

He stopped opposite the child, and the two regarded each other. The dog hesitated for a moment, but presently he made some little advances with his tail. The child put out his hand and called him. In an apologetic manner the dog came close, and the two had an interchange of friendly pattings and waggles. The dog became more enthusiastic with each moment of the interview, until with his gleeful caperings he threatened to overturn the child. Whereupon the child lifted his hand and struck the dog a blow upon the head.

This thing seemed to overpower and astonish the little dark-brown dog, and wounded him to the heart. He sank down in despair at the child's feet. When the blow was repeated, together with an admonition in childish sentences, he turned over upon his back, and held his paws in a peculiar manner. At the same time with his ears and his eyes he offered a small prayer to the child.

He looked so comical on his back, and holding his paws peculiarly, that the child was greatly amused and gave him little taps repeatedly, to keep him so. But the little dark-brown dog took this chastisement in the most serious way, and no doubt considered that he had committed some grave crime, for he wriggled contritely and showed his repentance in every way that was in his power. He pleaded with the child and petitioned him, and offered more prayers.

At last the child grew weary of this amusement and turned toward home. The dog was praying at the time. He lay on his back and turned his eyes upon the retreating form.

Presently he struggled to his feet and started after the child. The latter wandered in a perfunctory way toward his home, stopping at times to investigate various matters. During one of these pauses he discovered the little dark-brown dog who was following him with the air of a footpad.

The child beat his pursuer with a small stick he had found. The dog lay down and prayed until the child had finished, and resumed his journey. Then he scrambled erect and took up the pursuit again.

On the way to his home the child turned many times and beat the dog, proclaiming with childish gestures that he held him in contempt as an unimportant dog, with no value save for a moment. For being this quality of animal the dog apologized and eloquently expressed regret, but he continued stealthily to follow the child. His manner grew so very guilty that he slunk like an assassin.

When the child reached his door-step, the dog was industriously ambling a few yards in the rear. He became so agitated with shame when he again confronted the child that he forgot the dragging rope. He tripped upon it and fell forward.

The child sat down on the step and the two had another interview. During it the dog greatly exerted himself to please the child. He performed a few gambols with such abandon that the child suddenly saw him to be a valuable thing. He made a swift, avaricious charge and seized the rope.

He dragged his captive into a hall and up many long stairways in a dark tenement. The dog made willing efforts, but he could not hobble very skilfully up the stairs because he was very small and soft, and at last the pace of the engrossed child grew so energetic that the dog became panic-stricken. In his mind he was being dragged toward a grim unknown. His eyes grew wild with the terror of it. He began to wiggle his head frantically and to brace his legs.

The child redoubled his exertions. They had a battle on the stairs. The child was victorious because he was completely absorbed in his purpose, and because the dog was very small. He dragged his acquirement to the door of his home, and finally with triumph across the threshold.

No one was in. The child sat down on the floor and made overtures to the dog. These the dog instantly accepted. He beamed with affection upon his new friend. In a short time they were firm and abiding comrades.

When the child's family appeared, they made a great row. The dog was examined and commented upon and called names. Scorn was leveled at him from all eyes, so that he became much embarrassed and drooped like a scorched plant. But the child went sturdily to the center of the floor, and, at the top of his voice, championed the dog. It happened that he was roaring protestations, with his arms clasped about the dog's neck, when the father of the family came in from work.

The parent demanded to know what the blazes they were making the kid howl for. It was explained in many words that the infernal kid wanted to introduce a disreputable dog into the family.

A family council was held. On this depended the dog's fate, but he in no way heeded, being busily engaged in chewing the end of the child's dress.

The affair was quickly ended. The father of the family, it appears, was in a particularly savage temper that evening, and when he perceived that it would amaze and anger everybody if such a dog were allowed to remain, he decided that it should be so. The child, crying softly, took his friend off to a retired part of the room to hobnob with him, while the father quelled a fierce rebellion of his wife. So it came to pass that the dog was a member of the household.

He and the child were associated together at all times save when the child slept. The child became a guardian and a friend. If the large folk kicked the dog and threw things at him, the child made loud and violent objections. Once when the child had run, protesting loudly, with tears raining down his face and his arms outstretched, to protect his friend, he had been struck in the head with a very large saucepan from the hand of his father, enraged at some seeming lack of courtesy in the dog. Ever after, the family were careful how they threw things at the dog. Moreover, the latter grew very skilful in avoiding missiles and feet. In a small room containing a stove, a table, a bureau and some chairs, he would display strategic ability of a high order, dodging, feinting and scuttling about among the furniture. He could force three or four people armed with brooms, sticks and handfuls of coal, to use all their ingenuity to get in a blow. And even when they did, it was seldom that they could do him a serious injury or leave any imprint.

But when the child was present, these scenes did not occur. It came to be recognized that if the dog was molested, the child would burst into sobs, and as the child, when started, was very riotous and practically unquenchable, the dog had therein a safeguard.

However, the child could not always be near. At night, when he was asleep, his dark-brown friend would raise from some black corner a wild, wailful cry, a song of infinite lowliness and despair, that would go shuddering and sobbing among the buildings of the block and cause people to swear. At these times the singer would often be chased all over the kitchen and hit with a great variety of articles.

Sometimes, too, the child himself used to beat the dog, although it is not known that he ever had what could be truly called a just cause. The dog always accepted these thrashings with an air of admitted guilt. He was too much of a dog to try to look to be a martyr or to plot revenge. He received the blows with deep humility, and furthermore he forgave his friend the moment the child had finished, and was ready to caress the child's hand with his little red tongue.

When misfortune came upon the child, and his troubles overwhelmed him, he would often crawl under the table and lay his small distressed head on the dog's back. The dog was ever sympathetic. It is not to be supposed that at such times he took occasion to refer to the unjust beatings his friend, when provoked, had administered to him.

He did not achieve any notable degree of intimacy with the other members of the family. He had no confidence in them, and the fear that he would express at their casual approach often exasperated them exceedingly. They used to gain a certain satisfaction in underfeeding him, but finally his friend the child grew to watch the matter with some care, and when he forgot it, the dog was often successful in secret for himself.

So the dog prospered. He developed a large bark, which came wondrously from such a small rug of a dog. He ceased to howl persistently at night. Sometimes, indeed, in his sleep, he would utter little yells, as from pain, but that occurred, no doubt, when in his dreams he encountered huge flaming dogs who threatened him direfully.

His devotion to the child grew until it was a sublime thing. He wagged at his approach; he sank down in despair at his departure. He could detect the sound of the child's step among all the noises of the neighborhood. It was like a calling voice to him.

The scene of their companionship was a kingdom governed by this terrible potentate, the child; but neither criticism nor rebellion ever lived for an instant in the heart of the one subject. Down in the mystic, hidden fields of his little dog-soul bloomed flowers of love and fidelity and perfect faith.

The child was in the habit of going on many expeditions to observe strange things in the vicinity. On these occasions his friend usually jogged aimfully along behind. Perhaps, though, he went ahead. This necessitated his turning around every quarter-minute to make sure the child was coming. He was filled with a large idea of the importance of these journeys. He would carry himself with such an air! He was proud to be the retainer of so great a monarch.

One day, however, the father of the family got quite exceptionally drunk. He came home and held carnival with the cooking utensils, the furniture and his wife. He was in the midst of this recreation when the child, followed by the dark-brown dog, entered the room. They were returning from their voyages.

The child's practised eye instantly noted his father's state. He dived under the table, where experience had taught him was a rather safe place. The dog, lacking skill in such matters, was, of course, unaware of the true condition of affairs. He looked with interested eyes at his friend's sudden dive. He interpreted it to mean: Joyous gambol. He started to patter across the floor to join him. He was the picture of a little dark-brown dog en route to a friend.

The head of the family saw him at this moment. He gave a huge howl of joy, and knocked the dog down with a heavy coffee-pot. The dog, yelling in supreme astonishment and fear, writhed to his feet and ran for cover. The man kicked out with a ponderous foot. It caused the dog to swerve as if caught in a tide. A second blow of the coffee-pot laid him upon the floor.

Here the child, uttering loud cries, came valiantly forth like a knight. The father of the family paid no attention to these calls of the child, but advanced with glee upon the dog. Upon being knocked down twice in swift succession, the latter apparently gave up all hope of escape. He rolled over on his back and held his paws in a peculiar manner. At the same time with his eyes and his ears he offered up a small prayer.

But the father was in a mood for having fun, and it occurred to him that it would be a fine thing to throw the dog out of the window. So he reached down and grabbing the animal by a leg, lifted him, squirming, up. He swung him two or three times hilariously about his head, and then flung him with great accuracy through the window.

The soaring dog created a surprise in the block. A woman watering plants in an opposite window gave an involuntary shout and dropped a flower-pot. A man in another window leaned perilously out to watch the flight of the dog. A woman, who had been hanging out clothes in a yard, began to caper wildly. Her mouth was filled with clothes-pins, but her arms gave vent to a sort of exclamation. In appearance she was like a gagged prisoner. Children ran whooping.

The dark-brown body crashed in a heap on the roof of a shed five stories below. From thence it rolled to the pavement of an alleyway.

The child in the room far above burst into a long, dirgelike cry, and toddled hastily out of the room. It took him a long time to reach the alley, because his size compelled him to go downstairs backward, one step at a time, and holding with both hands to the step above.

When they came for him later, they found him seated by the body of his dark-brown friend.

Copyright: this story is in the public domain and not protected by copyright.

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A Coward

Posted by -   Funway
09:43:21 2014-06-20 Short Story

Guy de Maupassant

Society called him Handsome Signoles. His name was Viscount Gontran-Joseph de Signoles.

An orphan, and possessed of an adequate income, he cut a dash, as the saying is. He had a good figure and a good carriage, a sufficient flow of words to pass for wit, a certain natural grace, an air of nobility and pride, a gallant moustache and an eloquent eye, attributes which women like.

He was in demand in drawing-rooms, sought after for valses, and in men he inspired that smiling hostility which is reserved for vital and attractive rivals. He had been suspected of several love-affairs of a sort calculated to create a good opinion of a youngster. He lived a happy, care-free life, in the most complete well-being of body and mind. He was known to be a fine swordsman and a still finer shot with the pistol.

"When I come to fight a duel," he would say, "I shall choose pistols. With that weapon, I'm sure of killing my man."

One evening, he went to the theatre with two ladies, quite young, friends of his, whose husbands were also of the party, and after the performance he invited them to take ices at Tortoni's.

They had been sitting there for a few minutes when he noticed a gentleman at a neighbouring table staring obstinately at one of the ladies of the party. She seemed embarrassed and ill at ease, and bent her head. At last she said to her husband:

"There's a man staring at me. I don't know him; do you?"

The husband, who had seen nothing, raised his eyes, but declared:

"No, not in the least."

Half smiling, half in anger, she replied:

"It's very annoying; the creature's spoiling my ice."

Her husband shrugged his shoulders.

"Deuce take him, don't appear to notice it. If we had to deal with all the discourteous people one meets, we'd never have done with them."

But the Viscount had risen abruptly. He could not permit this stranger to spoil an ice of his giving. It was to him that the insult was addressed, since it was at his invitation and on his account that his friends had come to the cafe. The affair was no business of anyone but himself.

He went up to the man and said:

"You have a way of looking at those ladies, sir, which I cannot stomach. Please be so good as to set a limit to your persistence."

"You hold your tongue," replied the other.

"Take care, sir," retorted the Viscount, clenching his teeth;" you'll force me to overstep the bounds of common politeness."

The gentleman replied with a single word, a vile word which rang across the cafe from one end to the other, and, like the release of a spring, jerked every person present into an abrupt movement. All those with their backs towards him turned round, all the rest raised their heads; three waiters spun round on their heels like tops; the two ladies behind the counter started, then the whole upper half of their bodies twisted round, as though they were a couple of automata worked by the same handle.

There was a profound silence. Then suddenly a sharp noise resounded in the air. The Viscount had boxed his adversary's ears. Every one rose to intervene. Cards were exchanged.

Back in his home, the Viscount walked for several minutes up and down his room with long quick strides. He was too excited to think. A solitary idea dominated his mind: "a duel"; but as yet the idea stirred in him no emotion of any kind. He had done what he was compelled to do; he had shown himself to be what he ought to be. People would talk of it, would approve of him, congratulate him. He repeated aloud, speaking as a man speaks in severe mental distress:

"What a hound the fellow is!"

Then he sat down and began to reflect. In the morning he must find seconds. Whom should he choose? He searched his mind for the most important and celebrated names of his acquaintance. At last he decided on the Marquis de la Tour-Noire and Colonel Bourdin, an aristocrat and a soldier; they would do excellently. Their names would look well in the papers. He realised that he was thirsty, and drank three glasses of water one after the other; then he began to walk up and down again. He felt full of energy. If he played the gallant, showed himself determined, insisted on the most strict and dangerous arrangements, demanded a serious duel, a thoroughly serious duel, a positively terrible duel, his adversary would probably retire an apologist.

He took up once more the card which he had taken from his pocket and thrown down upon the table, and read it again as he had read it before, in the cafe, at a glance, and in the cab, by the light of each gas-lamp, on his way home.

"Georges Lamil, 51 rue Moncey." Nothing more.

He examined the grouped letters; they seemed to him mysterious, full of confused meaning. Georges Lamil? Who was this man? What did he do? Why had he looked at the woman in that way? Was it not revolting that a stranger, an unknown man, could thus disturb a man's life, without warning, just because he chose to fix his insolent eyes upon a woman? Again the Viscount repeated aloud:

"What a hound!"

Then he remained standing stock-still, lost in thought, his eyes still fixed upon the card. A fury against this scrap of paper awoke in him, a fury of hatred in which was mingled a queer sensation of uneasiness. This sort of thing was so stupid! He took up an open knife which lay close at hand and thrust it through the middle of the printed name, as though he had stabbed a man.

So he must fight. Should he choose swords or pistols?--for he regarded himself as the insulted party. With swords there would be less risk, but with pistols there was a chance that his adversary might withdraw. It is very rare that a duel with swords is fatal, for mutual prudence is apt to restrain combatants from engaging at sufficiently close quarters for a point to penetrate deeply. With pistols he ran a grave risk of death; but he might also extricate himself from the affair with all the honours of the situation and without actually coming to a meeting.

"I must be firm," he said. "He will take fright."

The sound of his voice set him trembling, and he looked round. He felt very nervous. He drank another glass of water, then began to undress for bed.

As soon as he was in bed, he blew out the light and closed his eyes.

"I've the whole of to-morrow," he thought, "in which to set my affairs in order. I'd better sleep now, so that I shall be quite calm."

He was very warm in the blankets, but he could not manage to compose himself to sleep. He turned this way and that, lay for five minutes upon his back, turned on to his left side, then rolled over on to his right.

He was still thirsty. He got up to get a drink. A feeling of uneasiness crept over him:

"Is it possible that I'm afraid?"

Why did his heart beat madly at each familiar sound in his room? When the clock was about to strike, the faint squeak of the rising spring made him start; so shaken he was that for several seconds afterwards he had to open his mouth to get his breath.

He began to reason with himself on the possibility of his being afraid.

"Shall I be afraid?"

No, of course he would not be afraid, since he was resolved to see the matter through, and had duly made up his mind to fight and not to tremble. But he felt so profoundly distressed that he wondered:

"Can a man be afraid in spite of himself?"

He was attacked by this doubt, this uneasiness, this terror; suppose a force more powerful than himself, masterful, irresistible, overcame him, what would happen? Yes, what might not happen? Assuredly he would go to the place of the meeting, since he was quite ready to go. But supposing he trembled? Supposing he fainted? He thought of the scene, of his reputation, his good name.

There came upon him a strange need to get up and look at himself in the mirror. He relit his candle. When he saw his face reflected in the polished glass, he scarcely recognised it, it seemed to him as though he had never yet seen himself. His eyes looked to him enormous; and he was pale; yes, without doubt he was pale, very pale.

He remained standing in front of the mirror. He put out his tongue, as though to ascertain the state of his health, and abruptly the thought struck him like a bullet:

"The day after to-morrow, at this very hour, I may be dead."

His heart began again its furious beating.

"The day after to-morrow, at this very hour, I may be dead. This person facing me, this me I see in the mirror, will be no more. Why, here I am, I look at myself, I feel myself alive, and in twenty-four hours I shall be lying in that bed, dead, my eyes closed, cold, inanimate, vanished."

He turned back towards the bed, and distinctly saw himself lying on his back in the very sheets he had just left. He had the hollow face of a corpse, his hands had the slackness of hands that will never make another movement.

At that he was afraid of his bed, and, to get rid of the sight of it, went into the smoking-room. Mechanically he picked up a cigar, lit it, and began to walk up and down again. He was cold; he went to the bell to wake his valet; but he stopped, even as he raised his hand to the rope.

"He will see that I am afraid."

He did not ring; he lit the fire. His hands shook a little, with a nervous tremor, whenever they touched anything. His brain whirled, his troubled thoughts became elusive, transitory, and gloomy; his mind suffered all the effects of intoxication, as though he were actually drunk.

Over and over again he thought:

"What shall I do? What is to become of me?"

His whole body trembled, seized with a jerky shuddering; he got up and, going to the window, drew back the curtains.

Dawn was at hand, a summer dawn. The rosy sky touched the town, its roofs and walls, with its own hue. A broad descending ray, like the caress of the rising sun, enveloped the awakened world; and with the light, hope--a gay, swift, fierce hope--filled the Viscount's heart! Was he mad, that he had allowed himself to be struck down by fear, before anything was settled even, before his seconds had seen those of this Georges Lamil, before he knew whether he was going to fight?

He washed, dressed, and walked out with a firm step.

He repeated to himself, as he walked:

"I must be energetic, very energetic. I must prove that I am not afraid."

His seconds, the Marquis and the Colonel, placed themselves at his disposal, and after hearty handshakes discussed the conditions.

"You are anxious for a serious duel? " asked the Colonel.

"Yes, a very serious one," replied the Viscount.

"You still insist on pistols?" said the Marquis.

"Yes."

"You will leave us free to arrange the rest?"

In a dry, jerky voice the Viscount stated:

"Twenty paces; at the signal, raising the arm, and not lowering it. Exchange of shots till one is seriously wounded."

"They are excellent conditions," declared the Colonel in a tone of satisfaction. "You shoot well, you have every chance."

They departed. The Viscount went home to wait for them. His agitation, momentarily quietened, was now growing minute by minute. He felt a strange shivering, a ceaseless vibration, down his arms, down his legs, in his chest; he could not keep still in one place, neither seated nor standing. There was not the least moistening of saliva in his mouth, and at every instant he made a violent movement of his tongue, as though to prevent it sticking to his palate.

He was eager to have breakfast, but could not eat. Then the idea came to him to drink in order to give himself courage, and he sent for a decanter of rum, of which he swallowed six liqueur glasses full one after the other.

A burning warmth flooded through his body, followed immediately by a sudden dizziness of the mind and spirit.

"Now I know what to do," he thought. "Now it is all right."

But by the end of an hour he had emptied the decanter, and his state of agitation had once more become intolerable. He was conscious of a wild need to roll on the ground, to scream, to bite. Night was falling.

The ringing of a bell gave him such a shock that he had not strength to rise and welcome his seconds.

He did not even dare to speak to them, to say "Good evening" to them, to utter a single word, for fear they guessed the whole thing by the alteration in his voice.

"Everything is arranged in accordance with the conditions you fixed," observed the Colonel. "At first your adversary claimed the privileges of the insulted party, but he yielded almost at once, and has accepted everything. His seconds are two military men."

"Thank you," said the Viscount.

"Pardon us," interposed the Marquis, "if we merely come in and leave again immediately, but we have a thousand things to see to. We must have a good doctor, since the combat is not to end until a serious wound is inflicted, and you know that pistol bullets are no laughing-matter. We must appoint the ground, near a house to which we may carry the wounded man if necessary, etc. In fact, we shall be occupied for two or three hours arranging all that there is to arrange."

"Thank you," said the Viscount a second time.

"You are all right?" asked the Colonel. "You are calm?"

"Yes, quite calm, thank you."

The two men retired.

When he realised that he was once more alone, he thought that he was going mad. His servant had lit the lamps, and he sat down at the table to write letters. After tracing, at the head of a sheet: "This is my will," he rose shivering and walked away, feeling incapable of connecting two ideas, of taking a resolution, of making any decision whatever.

So he was going to fight! He could no longer avoid it. Then what was the matter with him? He wished to fight, he had absolutely decided upon this plan of action and taken his resolve, and he now felt clearly, in spite of every effort of mind and forcing of will, that he could not retain even the strength necessary to get him to the place of meeting. He tried to picture the duel, his own attitude and the bearing of his adversary.

From time to time his teeth chattered in his mouth with a slight clicking noise. He tried to read, and took down Chateauvillard's code of duelling. Then he wondered:

"Does my adversary go to shooting-galleries? Is he well known? Is he classified anywhere? How can I find out?"

He bethought himself of Baron Vaux's book on marksmen with the pistol, and ran through it from end to end. Georges Lamil was not mentioned in it. Yet if the man were not a good shot, he would surely not have promptly agreed to that dangerous weapon and those fatal conditions?

He opened, in passing, a case by Gastinne Renette standing on a small table, and took out one of the pistols, then placed himself as though to shoot and raised his arm. But he was trembling from head to foot and the barrel moved in every direction.

At that, he said to himself:

"It's impossible. I cannot fight in this state."

He looked at the end of the barrel, at the little, black, deep hole that spits death; he thought of the disgrace, of the whispers at the club, of the laughter in drawing-rooms, of the contempt of women, of the allusions in the papers, of the insults which cowards would fling at him.

He was still looking at the weapon, and, raising the hammer, caught a glimpse of a cap gleaming beneath it like a tiny red flame. By good fortune or forgetfulness, the pistol had been left loaded. At the knowledge, he was filled with a confused inexplicable sense of joy.

If, when face to face with the other man, he did not show a proper gallantry and calm, he would be lost for ever. He would be sullied, branded with a mark of infamy, hounded out of society. And he would not be able to achieve that calm, that swaggering poise; he knew it, he felt it. Yet he was brave, since he wanted to fight I ... He was brave, since....

The thought which hovered in him did not even fulfil itself in his mind; but, opening his mouth wide, he thrust in the barrel of his pistol with savage gesture until it reached his throat, and pressed on the trigger.

When his valet ran in, at the sound of the report, he found him lying dead upon his back. A shower of blood had splashed the white paper on the table, and made a great red mark beneath these four words:

"This is my will."

Copyright: this story is in the public domain and not protected by copyright.

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The Winepress

Posted by -   Funway
09:39:07 2014-06-20 Short Story

by Josef Essberger

"You don't have to be French to enjoy a decent red wine," Charles Jousselin de Gruse used to tell his foreign guests whenever he entertained them in Paris. "But you do have to be French to recognize one," he would add with a laugh.

After a lifetime in the French diplomatic corps, the Count de Gruse lived with his wife in an elegant townhouse on Quai Voltaire. He was a likeable man, cultivated of course, with a well deserved reputation as a generous host and an amusing raconteur.

This evening's guests were all European and all equally convinced that immigration was at the root of Europe's problems. Charles de Gruse said nothing. He had always concealed his contempt for such ideas. And, in any case, he had never much cared for these particular guests.

The first of the red Bordeaux was being served with the veal, and one of the guests turned to de Gruse.

"Come on, Charles, it's simple arithmetic. Nothing to do with race or colour. You must've had bags of experience of this sort of thing. What d'you say?"

"Yes, General. Bags!"

Without another word, de Gruse picked up his glass and introduced his bulbous, winey nose. After a moment he looked up with watery eyes.

"A truly full-bodied Bordeaux," he said warmly, "a wine among wines."

The four guests held their glasses to the light and studied their blood-red contents. They all agreed that it was the best wine they had ever tasted.


One by one the little white lights along the Seine were coming on, and from the first-floor windows you could see the brightly lit bateaux-mouches passing through the arches of the Pont du Carrousel. The party moved on to a dish of game served with a more vigorous claret.

"Can you imagine," asked de Gruse, as the claret was poured, "that there are people who actually serve wines they know nothing about?"

"Really?" said one of the guests, a German politician.

"Personally, before I uncork a bottle I like to know what's in it."

"But how? How can anyone be sure?"

"I like to hunt around the vineyards. Take this place I used to visit in Bordeaux. I got to know the winegrower there personally. That's the way to know what you're drinking."

"A matter of pedigree, Charles," said the other politician.

"This fellow," continued de Gruse as though the Dutchman had not spoken, "always gave you the story behind his wines. One of them was the most extraordinary story I ever heard. We were tasting, in his winery, and we came to a cask that made him frown. He asked if I agreed with him that red Bordeaux was the best wine in the world. Of course, I agreed. Then he made the strangest statement.

"'The wine in this cask,' he said, and there were tears in his eyes, 'is the best vintage in the world. But it started its life far from the country where it was grown.'"

De Gruse paused to check that his guests were being served.

"Well?" said the Dutchman.

De Gruse and his wife exchanged glances.

"Do tell them, mon chéri," she said.

De Gruse leaned forwards, took another sip of wine, and dabbed his lips with the corner of his napkin. This is the story he told them.


At the age of twenty-one, Pierre - that was the name he gave the winegrower - had been sent by his father to spend some time with his uncle in Madagascar. Within two weeks he had fallen for a local girl called Faniry, or "Desire" in Malagasy. You could not blame him. At seventeen she was ravishing. In the Malagasy sunlight her skin was golden. Her black, waist-length hair, which hung straight beside her cheeks, framed large, fathomless eyes. It was a genuine coup de foudre, for both of them. Within five months they were married. Faniry had no family, but Pierre's parents came out from France for the wedding, even though they did not strictly approve of it, and for three years the young couple lived very happily on the island of Madagascar. Then, one day, a telegram came from France. Pierre's parents and his only brother had been killed in a car crash. Pierre took the next flight home to attend the funeral and manage the vineyard left by his father.

Faniry followed two weeks later. Pierre was grief-stricken, but with Faniry he settled down to running the vineyard. His family, and the lazy, idyllic days under a tropical sun, were gone forever. But he was very happily married, and he was very well-off. Perhaps, he reasoned, life in Bordeaux would not be so bad.

But he was wrong. It soon became obvious that Faniry was jealous. In Madagascar she had no match. In France she was jealous of everyone. Of the maids. Of the secretary. Even of the peasant girls who picked the grapes and giggled at her funny accent. She convinced herself that Pierre made love to each of them in turn.

She started with insinuations, simple, artless ones that Pierre hardly even recognized. Then she tried blunt accusation in the privacy of their bedroom. When he denied that, she resorted to violent, humiliating denouncements in the kitchens, the winery, the plantations. The angel that Pierre had married in Madagascar had become a termagant, blinded by jealousy. Nothing he did or said could help. Often, she would refuse to speak for a week or more, and when at last she spoke it would only be to scream yet more abuse or swear again her intention to leave him. By the third vine-harvest it was obvious to everyone that they loathed each other.

One Friday evening, Pierre was down in the winery, working on a new electric winepress. He was alone. The grape-pickers had left. Suddenly the door opened and Faniry entered, excessively made up. She walked straight up to Pierre, flung her arms around his neck, and pressed herself against him. Even above the fumes from the pressed grapes he could smell that she had been drinking.

"Darling," she sighed, "what shall we do?"

He badly wanted her, but all the past insults and humiliating scenes welled up inside him. He pushed her away.

"But, darling, I'm going to have a baby."

"Don't be absurd. Go to bed! You're drunk. And take that paint off. It makes you look like a tart."

Faniry's face blackened, and she threw herself at him with new accusations. He had never cared for her. He cared only about sex. He was obsessed with it. And with white women. But the women in France, the white women, they were the tarts, and he was welcome to them. She snatched a knife from the wall and lunged at him with it. She was in tears, but it took all his strength to keep the knife from his throat. Eventually he pushed her off, and she stumbled towards the winepress. Pierre stood, breathing heavily, as the screw of the press caught at her hair and dragged her in. She screamed, struggling to free herself. The screw bit slowly into her shoulder and she screamed again. Then she fainted, though whether from the pain or the fumes he was not sure. He looked away until a sickening sound told him it was over. Then he raised his arm and switched the current off.


The guests shuddered visibly and de Gruse paused in his story.

"Well, I won't go into the details at table," he said. "Pierre fed the rest of the body into the press and tidied up. Then he went up to the house, had a bath, ate a meal, and went to bed. The next day, he told everyone Faniry had finally left him and gone back to Madagascar. No-one was surprised."

He paused again. His guests sat motionless, their eyes turned towards him.

"Of course," he continued, "Sixty-five was a bad year for red Bordeaux. Except for Pierre's. That was the extraordinary thing. It won award after award, and nobody could understand why."

The general's wife cleared her throat.

"But, surely," she said, "you didn't taste it?"

"No, I didn't taste it, though Pierre did assure me his wife had lent the wine an incomparable aroma."

"And you didn't, er, buy any?" asked the general.

"How could I refuse? It isn't every day that one finds such a pedigree."

There was a long silence. The Dutchman shifted awkwardly in his seat, his glass poised midway between the table and his open lips. The other guests looked around uneasily at each other. They did not understand.

"But look here, Gruse," said the general at last, "you don't mean to tell me we're drinking this damned woman now, d'you?"

De Gruse gazed impassively at the Englishman.

"Heaven forbid, General," he said slowly. "Everyone knows that the best vintage should always come first."

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