Category Archives: Free Books

The Gift of the Magi – O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi
O Henry
 
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”
The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”
“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.
“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”
Down rippled the brown cascade.
“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.
“Give it to me quick,” said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty seven cents?”
At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again—you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”
“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”
Jim looked about the room curiously.
“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”
And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
 
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LBC Dystopia 17 – The Sleeper Awakes – Write Up

LBC DYSTOPIA

Date:  Tuesday 23rd of September 2015
Time:  6pm – 8pm
Address: Harper Street, LS2 7EA
Tel: 0113 246 9405

DISCUSSING

THE SLEEPER AWAKES

H.G. WELLS

 
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *

BLURB

A troubled insomniac in 1890s England falls suddenly into a sleep-like trance, from which he does not awake for over two hundred years. During his centuries of slumber, however, investments are made that make him the richest and most powerful man on Earth.

But when he comes out of his trance he is horrified to discover that the money accumulated in his name is being used to maintain a hierarchal society in which most are poor, and more than a third of all people are enslaved.

Oppressed and uneducated, the masses cling desperately to one dream – that the sleeper will awake, and lead them all to freedom.

THE SLEEPER AWAKESAs I was a little late, I missed the bulk of the catch up chatter (GRUMP) and we stuck pretty faithfully to the book discussion from that point onwards (DOUBLE GRUMP). I might have to outlaw conversations in future…

This was my third or forth time to read this and – as I’d expected – I enjoyed it as much as on previous occasions. However, when I’d read it before, I was a school girl in Zimbabwe – I knew that there was inexcusable racism but had always read the book with the proviso that it was written in another time, during different social mores. On this occasion, I felt like twitter goggles have fallen over my eyes – and all I could see were Problematic Elements everywhere I looked. So we had barely sat down before I burst out all the above.

The others looked at me for a second or two before agreeing that OBVIOUSLY the book had to be read with an awareness of the social structures of the time. It has to be read for what it is or every generation would have to start afresh. They quickly glanced to make sure I ‘got’ it. Then returned to the chat.

In the main, we agreed that this was an incredibly easy to read book, with a simple story at it’s heart. The descriptive elements left some of us cold – particularly in relation to aspects that the author accurately foresaw – TV, propaganda, mass production and so on. The elements that the author had predicted inaccurately fascinated us far more – from the roads taking over the railways to the colonization of France – the brief glimpse that we were presented with was of a world significantly different from our own. Not least one that has experienced both the death of Art and Literature. Language – written and spoken – was of great interest to us for a number of different reasons. Unfortunately, this was such an interesting bit that I temporarily stopped taking notes.

It was a delight to read an old school dystopia – no teenagers running around, no global conflict or post apocalyptic setup. This is a stable, if stifling, society.

H.G. Wells had adapted this from a short story and was apparently never truly content with the results. In comparison to his other works, this felt less like pure SF and closer to a social lecture – a thought projection if you will, with much moralising and discovery of ‘inevitable’ truths. However, despite these limitations, there was a naivety to the writing that impacted on most of us. When this book was written; the world had not yet seen one World war…let alone two. We had barely taken to the skies[1902] (that flight had truly captured Wells imagination is quite clear throughout this book [1910] however!) and had not yet conceived of using aeroplanes in battle – perhaps significant that in this book it is the ancient ‘savage’ that conceives it. Women did not yet have the franchise. No country had broken away from the British Empire since America (don’t quote me on that – I’ve googled but am not entirely satisfied with the results). We tried for a second to imagine the impact of this book on the audience of the time…but none of us quite managed it.

With regards to the concepts, we agreed that Wells must have been a very progressive mind for his time. It turns out that even his imagination had limits though – he wanted equality but couldn’t quite conceive of what women would want with it. He envisioned a world where women were free from moral constraints…but lessened without them. And gender was one of the better elements! We had all noticed the odd racist statement throughout the early stages of the book. The only times non-caucasians are mentioned was as a negative. However, at approximately the 2/3’s mark; there is a racist diatribe that quite took our breaths away. It was a sort of horrifying insight to read how overtly racist people were in 1910 (though none of us for one second thought that those thought processes have actually disappeared today). Wince inducing.  Class structures and their impact on society is also discussed throughout the book, with an honesty and self awareness that must have been very unfashionable at the time.

Frequently, we wondered if his initial thoughts had been edited out – there were a number of passages about motherhood, drug taking and the like which seemed about to decry the direction the world was heading in, but Wells pulled his punches instead – having his protagonist highlight these awful things then wave them away as it being his own lack of understanding via being stuck in the old mode of thinking.

Regarding characters, we didn’t have a huge amount to say. The protagonist is pretty well drawn but everyone else appears so briefly that it’s difficult to get a fix on them. Additionally, everyone is concealing something from the main character, so must be treated as unreliable. Which is probably why the only two that didn’t, caught our collective eye. Without a doubt, we all of us responded particularly well to the odd chap that meets Graham and basically serves to catch him up. Mr Exposition is funny, irreverant and spoke eloquently. We were quite enamored.

Our discussion around Helen was a bit more controversial. We agreed that it was frustrating on a number of levels to be presented with a character who ostensibly eshews the characteristics of her gender as observed in this book. Helen is not dumb, flighty, weak willed or dependent. However, she is only every present because she is related to a man who is high up in the resistance. Her sole reason to be is to recruit Graham and inspire him to lead. She serves no other purpose than to propel him to greatness. However, it is also incredibly rare to meet a female character from this period who actually speaks and influences events. Helen is passionate, she tells Graham that his view of the world is wrong and sets him straight. Moreover, she acts because it is the right thing to do, not out of any romantic entanglement (we all assume that this is the romance culled from the short story. Good call HG.) with Graham. These traits kind of made her more bearable to some and a downright pioneer to others!

A great meet up and an awesome choice of book for the club. Though slight, we had lots to say! Always a triumph!

 

p.s. Ultimately though, some 15 years on from first reading this book…I’m still irritated we didn’t get any more info on why he fell asleep in the first place!

HG Wells – Free Ebooks

SCORE

6/10

Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCDystopia

 
Let me know your thoughts by either tweeting me @LeedsBookClub, commenting below or emailing me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com

FREE EBOOK – LBC Dystopia

LBC Dystopia

Date: 23rd September 2015

 

Venue: Crowd of Favours

Our next pick is available for free as an ebook. Click on the links below for…

HG Wells – Free Ebooks

THE SLEEPER AWAKES

BLURB

A troubled insomniac in 1890s England falls suddenly into a sleep-like trance, from which he does not awake for over two hundred years.

During his centuries of slumber, however, investments are made that make him the richest and most powerful man on Earth.

But when he comes out of his trance he is horrified to discover that the money accumulated in his name is being used to maintain a hierarchal society in which most are poor, and more than a third of all people are enslaved.

Oppressed and uneducated, the masses cling desperately to one dream – that the sleeper will awake, and lead them all to freedom.

 

The Story of the Other Wise Man – Henry Van Dyke

Originally posted in 1895, this beautiful story has become part of our Christmas lore. 

The links lead to a HTML version of the story by Project Gutenberg.

The Story of the Other Wise Man
Henry Van Dyke
 
Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.



Introduction

You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking, and the strange way of his finding, the One whom he sought—I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.

Part 01 – Introduction

Part 05 – A pearl of a great price

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Christmas Read-a-long 2014 – Act 05

THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

caesar tv 02

WC – 08th of Dec 2014 – ACT 05

Scene 01 – The Plains of Philippi

Scene 02 – The field of Battle

Scene 03 – Another part of the Field

Scene 04 – Another part of the Field

Scene 05 – Another part of the Field (it’s clearly a big field)

caesar tv
 
 

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Isn't that Elton from Clueless?

Isn’t that Elton from Clueless?

Christmas Read-a-long 2014 – Act 04

THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

juliuscaesar

the Asterix and Obelix version

WC – 24th of Nov 2014 – ACT 04

Scene 01 – A house in Rome

Scene 02 – Camp near Sardis

Scene 03 – Brutus’ Tent (calm…it ain’t that sort of play…)

caesar 03
 
 
 
 

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Christmas Read-a-long 2014 – Act 03

THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Caesar

WC – 10th of Nov 2014 – ACT 03

Scene 01 – Rome

Scene 02 – The Forum

Scene 03 – A Street

Asterix-Julius-Caesar-1920x1200-Wallpaper-ToonsWallpapers.com-
 
 
 

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True Love – Owen Elgie

A friend of mine – Owen Elgie – has been writing fantasy for the last few years and recently decided to ‘go public’ with it.

He has completed his first novel – The Circle of Fire – which will be released in a near future and is currently working on the second in that series.

 

Recently, he sent me a short drabble that he had been working on – two pages entitled ‘True Love’.

Frankly, it’s one of those horrible creepy shorts that makes you wonder if you really know a person at all!

Naturally, once I had offered his wife a non-judgmental ear -should she need it – I decided to record an audio recording of True Love.

 

PLEASE NOTE – the story and recording contain ADULT content.

Not for those of a nervous disposition or prone to Hitchcockian nightmares.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Check out Owen’s blog HERE

Christmas Read-a-long 2014 – Act 02

THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

caesar 02

 

WC – 27th of Oct 2014 – ACT 02

Scene 01 – An Orchard

Scene 02 – Caesar’s Home

Scene 03 – A Street near the Capitol

Scene 04 – Same Street

 There weren’t any warnings on the video clip on youtube and I have a high tolerance for violence and nudity(!) on TV so please don’t watch if you are of a sensitive nature.

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Christmas Read-a-long 2014 – Act 01

THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Julius-Caesar-characters

Who’s Who

The Main Cast of Characters

JULIUS CAESAR, Roman statesman and general
OCTAVIUS, Triumvir after Caesar’s death, later Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome
MARK ANTONY, general and friend of Caesar, a Triumvir after his death
LEPIDUS, third member of the Triumvirate
MARCUS BRUTUS, leader of the conspiracy against Caesar

CASSIUS, instigator of the conspiracy
CASCA, conspirator against Caesar
TREBONIUS, conspirator against Caesar
CAIUS LIGARIUS, conspirator against Caesar
DECIUS BRUTUS, conspirator against Caesar
METELLUS CIMBER, conspirator against Caesar
CINNA, conspirator against Caesar

CALPURNIA, wife of Caesar
PORTIA, wife of Brutus
CICERO, senator
POPILIUS, senator
POPILIUS LENA, senator

FLAVIUS, tribune
MARULLUS, tribune
CATO, supportor of Brutus
LUCILIUS, supportor of Brutus
TITINIUS, supportor of Brutus
MESSALA, supportor of Brutus
VOLUMNIUS, supportor of Brutus

ARTEMIDORUS, a teacher of rhetoric
CINNA, a poet

WC – 13th of Oct 2014 – ACT 01

Scene 01 – Rome

Scene 02 – A Public Place

Scene 03 – A Street

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