Negligible Tales, by Ambrose Bierce

The Little Story

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ—A Supernumerary Editor. A Probationary Contributor.

SCENE—”The Expounder” Office.

PROBATIONARY CONTRIBUTOR— Editor in?

SUPERNUMERARY EDITOR— Dead.

P.C. — The gods favor me. (Produces roll of manuscript.) Here is a little story, which I will read to you.

S.E. — O, O!

P.C. —(Reads.) “It was the last night of the year — a naughty, noxious, offensive night. In the principal street of San Francisco”—

S.E. — Confound San Francisco!

P.C. — It had to be somewhere. (Reads.)

“In the principal street of San Francisco stood a small female orphan, marking time like a volunteer. Her little bare feet imprinted cold kisses on the paving-stones as she put them down and drew them up alternately. The chilling rain was having a good time with her scalp, and toyed soppily with her hair — her own hair. The night-wind shrewdly searched her tattered garments, as if it had suspected her of smuggling. She saw crowds of determined-looking persons grimly ruining themselves in toys and confectionery for the dear ones at home, and she wished she was in a position to ruin a little — just a little. Then, as the happy throng sped by her with loads of things to make the children sick, she leaned against an iron lamp-post in front of a bake-shop and turned on the wicked envy. She thought, poor thing, she would like to be a cake — for this little girl was very hungry indeed. Then she tried again, and thought she would like to be a tart with smashed fruit inside; then she would be warmed over every day and nobody would eat her. For the child was cold as well as hungry. Finally, she tried quite hard, and thought she could be very well content as an oven; for then she would be kept always hot, and bakers would put all manner of good things into her with a long shovel.”

S.E. — I’ve read that somewhere.

P.C. — Very likely. This little story has never been rejected by any paper to which I have offered it. It gets better, too, every time I write it. When it first appeared in Veracity the editor said it cost him a hundred subscribers. Just mark the improvement! (Reads.)

“The hours glided by — except a few that froze to the pavement — until midnight. The streets were now deserted, and the almanac having predicted a new moon about this time, the lamps had been conscientiously extinguished. Suddenly a great globe of sound fell from an adjacent church-tower, and exploded on the night with a deep metallic boom. Then all the clocks and bells began ringing-in the New Year — pounding and banging and yelling and finishing off all the nervous invalids left over from the preceding Sunday. The little orphan started from her dream, leaving a small patch of skin on the frosted lamp-post, clasped her thin blue hands and looked upward, ‘with mad disquietude,’"—

S.E. — In The Monitor it was “with covetous eyes.”

P.C. — I know it; hadn’t read Byron then. Clever dog, Byron. (Reads.)

“Presently a cranberry tart dropped at her feet, apparently from the clouds.”

S.E. — How about those angels?

P.C. — The editor of Good Will cut ’em out. He said San Francisco was no place for them; and I don’t believe ——

S.E. — There, there! Never mind. Go on with the little story.

P.C. —(Reads.) “As she stooped to take up the tart a veal sandwich came whizzing down, and cuffed one of her ears. Next a wheaten loaf made her dodge nimbly, and then a broad ham fell flat-footed at her toes. A sack of flour burst in the middle of the street; a side of bacon impaled itself on an iron hitching-post. Pretty soon a chain of sausages fell in a circle around her, flattening out as if a road-roller had passed over them. Then there was a lull — nothing came down but dried fish, cold puddings and flannel under-clothing; but presently her wishes began to take effect again, and a quarter of beef descended with terrific momentum upon the top of the little orphan’s head.”

S.E. — How did the editor of The Reasonable Virtues like that quarter of beef?

P.C. — Oh, he swallowed it like a little man, and stuck in a few dressed pigs of his own. I’ve left them out, because I don’t want outsiders altering the Little Story. (Reads.)

“One would have thought that ought to suffice; but not so. Bedding, shoes, firkins of butter, mighty cheeses, ropes of onions, quantities of loose jam, kegs of oysters, titanic fowls, crates of crockery and glassware, assorted house-keeping things, cooking ranges, and tons of coal poured down in broad cataracts from a bounteous heaven, piling themselves above that infant to a depth of twenty feet. The weather was more than two hours in clearing up; and as late as half-past three a ponderous hogshead of sugar struck at the corner of Clay and Kearney Streets, with an impact that shook the peninsula like an earthquake and stopped every clock in town.

“At daybreak the good merchants arrived upon the scene with shovels and wheelbarrows, and before the sun of the new year was an hour old, they had provided for all of these provisions — had stowed them away in their cellars, and nicely arranged them on their shelves, ready for sale to the deserving poor.”

S.E. — And the little girl — what became of her?

P.C. — You musn’t get ahead of the Little Story. (Reads.)

“When they had got down to the wicked little orphan who had not been content with her lot some one brought a broom, and she was carefully swept and smoothed out. Then they lifted her tenderly, and carried her to the coroner. That functionary was standing in the door of his office, and with a deprecatory wave of his hand, he said to the man who was bearing her:

“‘There, go away, my good fellow; there was a man here three times yesterday trying to sell me just such a map.’”

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bierce/ambrose/negligible-tales/chapter14.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31