THE LITTLE STORY
by Ambrose Bierce
DRAMATIS PERSONAE--A Supernumerary Editor. A Probationary Contributor.
SCENE--"The Expounder" Office.
PROBATIONARY CONTRIBUTOR--Editor in?
P.C.--The gods favor me. (Produces roll of
manuscript.) Here is a little story, which
I will read to you.
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
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
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
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.'"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~