The stories are in full text in the comments below.
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An illustration for the story An Idle Fellow by the author Kate Chopin
Vincent van Gogh, Roses, 1890
I am tired. At the end of these years I am very tired. I have been studying in books the languages of the living and those we call dead. Early in the fresh morning I have studied in books, and throughout the day when the sun was shining; and at night when there were stars, I have lighted my oil-lamp and studied in books. Now my brain is weary and I want rest.
I shall sit here on the door-step beside my friend Paul. He is an idle fellow with folded hands. He laughs when I upbraid him, and bids me, with a motion, hold my peace. He is listening to a thrush’s song that comes from the blur of yonder apple-tree. He tells me the thrush is singing a complaint. She wants her mate that was with her last blossom-time and builded a nest with her. She will have no other mate. She will call for him till she hears the notes of her beloved-one’s song coming swiftly towards her across forest and field.
Paul is a strange fellow. He gazed idly at a billowy white cloud that rolls lazily over and over along the edge of the blue sky.
He turns away from me and the words with which I would instruct him, to drink deep the scent of the clover-field and the thick perfume from the rose-hedge.
We rise from the door-step and walk together down the gentle slope of the hill; past the apple-tree, and the rose-hedge; and along the border of the field where wheat is growing. We walk down to the foot of the gentle slope where women and men and children are living.
Paul is a strange fellow. He looks into the faces of people who pass us by. He tells me that in their eyes he reads the story of their souls. He knows men and women and the little children, and why they look this way and that way. He knows the reasons that turn them to and fro and cause them to go and come. I think I shall walk a space through the world with my friend Paul. He is very wise, he knows the language of God which I have not learned.
Lazy and indifferent, shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his way, the heron passes over the church beneath the sky. White and distant, absorbed in itself, endlessly the sky covers and uncovers, moves and remains. A lake? Blot the shores of it out! A mountain? Oh, perfect the sun gold on its slopes. Down that falls. Ferns then, or white feathers, for ever and ever--
Desiring truth, awaiting it, laboriously distilling a few words, for ever desiring—(a cry starts to the left, another to the right. Wheels strike divergently. Omnibuses conglomerate in conflict)—for ever desiring—(the clock asseverates with twelve distinct strokes that it is midday; light sheds gold scales; children swarm)—for ever desiring truth. Red is the dome; coins hang on the trees; smoke trails from the chimneys; bark, shout, cry "Iron for sale"—and truth?
Radiating to a point men's feet and women's feet, black or gold-encrusted—(This foggy weather—Sugar? No, thank you—The commonwealth of the future)—the firelight darting and making the room red, save for the black figures and their bright eyes, while outside a van discharges, Miss Thingummy drinks tea at her desk, and plate-glass preserves fur coats——
Flaunted, leaf-light, drifting at corners, blown across the wheels, silver-splashed, home or not home, gathered, scattered, squandered in separate scales, swept up, down, torn, sunk, assembled-- and truth?
Now to recollect by the fireside on the white square of marble. From ivory depths words rising shed their blackness, blossom and penetrate. Fallen the book; in the flame, in the smoke, in the momentary sparks-- or now voyaging, the marble square pendant, minarets beneath and the Indian seas, while space rushes blue and stars glint truth? Or now, content with closeness?
Lazy and indifferent the heron returns; the sky veils her stars; then bares them.
It was quite by accident I discovered this incredible invasion of Earth by lifeforms from another planet. As yet, I haven’t done anything about it; I can’t think of anything to do. I wrote to the Government, and they sent back a pamphlet on the repair and maintenance of frame houses. Anyhow, the whole thing is known; I’m not the first to discover it. Maybe it’s even under control.
I was sitting in my easy-chair, idly turning the pages of a paperbacked book someone had left on the bus, when I came across the reference that first put me on the trail. For a moment I didn’t respond. It took some time for the full import to sink in. After I’d comprehended, it seemed odd I hadn’t noticed it right away.
The reference was clearly to a nonhuman species of incredible properties, not indigenous to Earth. A species, I hasten to point out, customarily masquerading as ordinary human beings. Their disguise, however, became transparent in the face of the following observations by the author. It was at once obvious the author knew everything. Knew everything—and was taking it in his stride. The line (and I tremble remembering it even now) read:
… his eyes slowly roved about the room.
Vague chills assailed me. I tried to picture the eyes. Did they roll like dimes? The passage indicated not; they seemed to move through the air, not over the surface. Rather rapidly, apparently. No one in the story was surprised. That’s what tipped me off. No sign of amazement at such an outrageous thing. Later the matter was amplified.
… his eyes moved from person to person.
There it was in a nutshell. The eyes had clearly come apart from the rest of him and were on their own. My heart pounded and my breath choked in my windpipe. I had stumbled on an accidental mention of a totally unfamiliar race. Obviously non-Terrestrial. Yet, to the characters in the book, it was perfectly natural—which suggested they belonged to the same species.
And the author? A slow suspicion burned in my mind. The author was taking it rather too easily in his stride. Evidently, he felt this was quite a usual thing. He made absolutely no attempt to conceal this knowledge. The story continued:
… presently his eyes fastened on Julia.
Julia, being a lady, had at least the breeding to feel indignant. She is described as blushing and knitting her brows angrily. At this, I sighed with relief. They weren’t all non-Terrestrials. The narrative continues:
… slowly, calmly, his eyes examined every inch of her.
Great Scott! But here the girl turned and stomped off and the matter ended. I lay back in my chair gasping with horror. My wife and family regarded me in wonder.
“What’s wrong, dear?” my wife asked.
I couldn’t tell her. Knowledge like this was too much for the ordinary run-of-the-mill person. I had to keep it to myself. “Nothing,” I gasped. I leaped up, snatched the book, and hurried out of the room.
In the garage, I continued reading. There was more. Trembling, I read the next revealing passage:
… he put his arm around Julia. Presently she asked him if he would remove his arm. He immediately did so, with a smile.
It’s not said what was done with the arm after the fellow had removed it. Maybe it was left standing upright in the corner. Maybe it was thrown away. I don’t care. In any case, the full meaning was there, staring me right in the face.
Here was a race of creatures capable of removing portions of their anatomy at will. Eyes, arms—and maybe more. Without batting an eyelash. My knowledge of biology came in handy, at this point. Obviously they were simple beings, uni-cellular, some sort of primitive single-celled things. Beings no more developed than starfish. Starfish can do the same thing, you know.
I read on. And came to this incredible revelation, tossed off coolly by the author without the faintest tremor:
… outside the movie theater we split up. Part of us went inside, part over to the cafe for dinner.
Binary fission, obviously. Splitting in half and forming two entities. Probably each lower half went to the cafe, it being farther, and the upper halves to the movies. I read on, hands shaking. I had really stumbled onto something here. My mind reeled as I made out this passage:
… I’m afraid there’s no doubt about it. Poor Bibney has lost his head again.
Which was followed by:
… and Bob says he has utterly no guts.
Yet Bibney got around as well as the next person. The next person, however, was just as strange. He was soon described as:
… totally lacking in brains.
There was no doubt of the thing in the next passage. Julia, whom I had thought to be the one normal person, reveals herself as also being an alien life form, similar to the rest:
… quite deliberately, Julia had given her heart to the young man.
It didn’t relate what the final disposition of the organ was, but I didn’t really care. It was evident Julia had gone right on living in her usual manner, like all the others in the book. Without heart, arms, eyes, brains, viscera, dividing up in two when the occasion demanded. Without a qualm.
… thereupon she gave him her hand.
I sickened. The rascal now had her hand, as well as her heart. I shudder to think what he’s done with them, by this time.
… he took her arm.
Not content to wait, he had to start dismantling her on his own. Flushing crimson, I slammed the book shut and leaped to my feet. But not in time to escape one last reference to those carefree bits of anatomy whose travels had originally thrown me on the track:
… her eyes followed him all the way down the road and across the meadow.
I rushed from the garage and back inside the warm house, as if the accursed things were following me. My wife and children were playing Monopoly in the kitchen. I joined them and played with frantic fervor, brow feverish, teeth chattering.
I had had enough of the thing. I want to hear no more about it. Let them come on. Let them invade Earth. I don’t want to get mixed up in it.
THE LUFT BAD
I think it must be the umbrellas which make us look ridiculous.
When I was admitted into the enclosure for the first time, and saw my fellow-bathers walking about very nearly “in their nakeds,” it struck me that the umbrellas gave a distinctly “Little Black Sambo” touch.
Ridiculous dignity in holding over yourself a green cotton thing with a red parroquet handle when you are dressed in nothing larger than a handkerchief.
There are no trees in the “Luft Bad.” It boasts a collection of plain, wooden cells, a bath shelter, two swings and two odd clubs—one, presumably the lost property of Hercules or the German army, and the other to be used with safety in the cradle.
And there in all weathers we take the air—walking, or sitting in little companies talking over each other’s ailments and measurements and ills that flesh is heir to.
A high wooden wall compasses us all about; above it the pine-trees look down a little superciliously, nudging each other in a way that is peculiarly trying to a débutante. Over the wall, on the right side, is the men’s section. We hear them chopping down trees and sawing through planks, dashing heavy weights to the ground, and singing part songs. Yes, they take it far more seriously.
On the first day I was conscious of my legs, and went back into my cell three times to look at my watch, but when a woman with whom I had played chess for three weeks cut me dead, I took heart and joined a circle.
We lay curled on the ground while a Hungarian lady of immense proportions told us what a beautiful tomb she had bought for her second husband.
“A vault it is,” she said, “with nice black railings. And so large that I can go down there and walk about. Both their photographs are there, with two very handsome wreaths sent me by my first husband’s brother. There is an enlargement of a family group photograph, too, and an illuminated address presented to my first husband on his marriage. I am often there; it makes such a pleasant excursion for a fine Saturday afternoon.”
She suddenly lay down flat on her back, took in six long breaths, and sat up again.
“The death agony was dreadful,” she said brightly; “of the second, I mean. The ‘first’ was run into by a furniture wagon, and had fifty marks stolen out of a new waistcoat pocket, but the ‘second’ was dying for sixty-seven hours. I never ceased crying once—not even to put the children to bed.”
A young Russian, with a “bang” curl on her forehead, turned to me.
“Can you do the ‘Salome’ dance?” she asked. “I can.”
“How delightful,” I said.
“Shall I do it now? Would you like to see me?”
She sprang to her feet, executed a series of amazing contortions for the next ten minutes, and then paused, panting, twisting her long hair.
“Isn’t that nice?” she said. “And now I am perspiring so splendidly. I shall go and take a bath.”
Opposite to me was the brownest woman I have ever seen, lying on her back, her arms clasped over her head.
“How long have you been here to-day?” she was asked.
“Oh, I spend the day here now,” she answered. “I am making my own ‘cure,’ and living entirely on raw vegetables and nuts, and each day I feel my spirit is stronger and purer. After all, what can you expect? The majority of us are walking about with pig corpuscles and oxen fragments in our brain. The wonder is the world is as good as it is. Now I live on the simple, provided food”—she pointed to a little bag beside her—“a lettuce, a carrot, a potato, and some nuts are ample, rational nourishment. I wash them under the tap and eat them raw, just as they come from the harmless earth—fresh and uncontaminated.”
“Do you take nothing else all day?” I cried.
“Water. And perhaps a banana if I wake in the night.” She turned round and leaned on one elbow. “You over-eat yourself dreadfully,” she said; “shamelessly! How can you expect the Flame of the Spirit to burn brightly under layers of superfluous flesh?”
I wished she would not stare at me, and thought of going to look at my watch again when a little girl wearing a string of coral beads joined us.
“The poor Frau Hauptmann cannot join us to-day,” she said; “she has come out in spots all over on account of her nerves. She was very excited yesterday after having written two post-cards.”
“A delicate woman,” volunteered the Hungarian, “but pleasant. Fancy, she has a separate plate for each of her front teeth! But she has no right to let her daughters wear such short sailor suits. They sit about on benches, crossing their legs in a most shameless manner. What are you going to do this afternoon, Fräulein Anna?”
“Oh,” said the Coral Necklace, “the Herr Oberleutnant has asked me to go with him to Landsdorf. He must buy some eggs there to take home to his mother. He saves a penny on eight eggs by knowing the right peasants to bargain with.”
“Are you an American?” said the Vegetable Lady, turning to me.
“Then you are an Englishwoman?”
“You must be one of the two; you cannot help it. I have seen you walking alone several times. You wear your—”
I got up and climbed on to the swing. The air was sweet and cool, rushing past my body. Above, white clouds trailed delicately through the blue sky. From the pine forest streamed a wild perfume, the branches swayed together, rhythmically, sonorously. I felt so light and free and happy—so childish! I wanted to poke my tongue out at the circle on the grass, who, drawing close together, were whispering meaningly.
“Perhaps you do not know,” cried a voice from one of the cells, “to swing is very upsetting for the stomach? A friend of mine could keep nothing down for three weeks after exciting herself so.”
I went to the bath shelter and was hosed.
As I dressed, someone tapped on the wall.
“Do you know,” said a voice, “there is a man who lives in the Luft Bad next door? He buries himself up to the armpits in mud and refuses to believe in the Trinity.”
The umbrellas are the saving grace of the Luft Bad. Now when I go, I take my husband’s “storm gamp” and sit in a corner, hiding behind it.
This story is of a peculiar German health instution, "Das Luftbad". In England the equivalent is described as "taking the air" (which is what we are often doing during lockdown time) and is a reason for the early popularity of seaside resorts (in German "Luftkurort" ). I myself have been to one in Stuttgart, and I can say, it is very similar to the one which Katherine Mansfield describes.
The next story is "The Luft Bad" by Katherine Mansfield (1910)
Katherine Mansfield is a New Zealand writer born in 1888 who moved to London. After a number of unbappy love affairs, she was sent on a cure to Germany, after which she wrote a collection of mostly satirical short stories "In a German Pension" She died of tubercolosis in 1923.
"My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."
Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.
"I know how it will be," his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; "you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice."
Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting one of the letters of introduction came into the nice division.
"Do you know many of the people round here?" asked the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient silent communion.
"Hardly a soul," said Framton. "My sister was staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here."
He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.
"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?" pursued the self-possessed young lady.
"Only her name and address," admitted the caller. He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.
"Her great tragedy happened just three years ago," said the child; "that would be since your sister's time."
"Her tragedy?" asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.
"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.
"It is quite warm for the time of the year," said Framton; "but has that window got anything to do with the tragedy?"
"Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day's shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it." Here the child's voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. "Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back someday, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing 'Bertie, why do you bound?' as he always did to tease her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window - "
She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance.
"I hope Vera has been amusing you?" she said.
"She has been very interesting," said Framton.
"I hope you don't mind the open window," said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; "my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They've been out for snipe in the marshes today, so they'll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn't it?"
She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn the talk on to a less ghastly topic, he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.
"The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced Framton, who laboured under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure. "On the matter of diet they are not so much in agreement," he continued.
"No?" said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention - but not to what Framton was saying.
"Here they are at last!" she cried. "Just in time for tea, and don't they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!"
Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with a dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.
In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window, they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.
"Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window, "fairly muddy, but most of it's dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?"
"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodby or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."
"I expect it was the spaniel," said the niece calmly; "he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve."
Does anyone have problems? You may have to install Zoom, it will ask you
[21:12, 4/15/2020] Renate Essen: Could you let me in
at 11:21am on Thursday, 16th April 2020
The activity for 15 April is to read a short story, so we can discuss it on WhatsApp or in a Zoom meeting.
First story is just 4 pages: The Star https://sites.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/TheStar.pdf by A. C. Clarke.
We talked in the chat room, to avoid bothering people in other groups. The idea is to have a new room for each book.
The aim of a breakout chat room is to get together people to talk on a particular topic, temporarily. When the discussion is finished, the chat would be cleared so that it is available for a new topic.
You can also watch the Teleplay "The Star" by Arthur C. Clarke, which was an episode of The Twilight Zone by Alan Brennert in 1985. It is just 13 minutes on https://youtu.be/mS9b2r4HADs?t=53
It is NOT the same as the text story, which you should read for our discussion. But it is well worth watching.