Three Readings for Pleasure




Here is a beautiful, touching, Russian short story by one of the best short story writers that has ever lived. Remember, literature is universal, so don't let strange names and places stand in the way. This story is about people like you and me, living in a Victorian society, and caught in an impossible, heart-breaking bind.



Anton Chekhov


It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney's pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a beret a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.

And afterwards he met her in the public gardens and in the square several times a day. She was walking alone, always wearing the same beret, and always with the same white dog no one knew who she was, and everyone called her simply "the lady with the dog."

"If she is here alone without a husband or friends, it wouldn't be amiss to make her acquaintance," Gurov reflected.

He was under forty, but he had a daughter already twelve years old, and two sons at school. He married young, when he was a student in his second year, and by now his wife seemed half as old again as he. She was a tall, erect woman with dark eyebrows, stately and dignified, and, as she said of herself, intellectual. She read a great deal, used phonetic spelling, called her husband, not Dmitri, but Dimitri, and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inelegant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago--had been unfaithful to her often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them "the inferior race."

It seemed to him that he had been so schooled by bitter experience that he might call them what he liked, and yet he could not get on for two days together without "the inferior race." In the society of men he was bored and not himself, with them he was cold and uncommunicative but when he was in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave and he was at ease with them even when he was silent. In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature, there was something attractive and elusive which allured women and disposed them in his favour he knew that, and some force seemed to draw him, too, to them.

Experience often repeated, truly bitter experience, had taught him long ago that with decent people, especially Moscow people always slow to move and irresolute every intimacy, which at first so agreeably diversifies life and appears a light and charming adventure, inevitably grows into a regular problem of extreme intricacy, and in the long run the situation becomes unbearable. But at every fresh meeting with an interesting woman this experience seemed to slip out of his memory, and he was eager for life, and everything seemed simple and amusing.

One evening he was dining in the gardens, and the lady in the beret came up slowly to take the next table. Her expression, her gait, her dress, and the way she did her hair told him that she belonged to the upper class, that she was married, that she was in Yalta for the first time and alone, and that she was bored there. . . . The stories told of the immorality in such places as Yalta are to a great extent untrue he despised them, and knew that such stories were for the most part made up by persons who would themselves have been glad to sin if they had been able but when the lady sat down at the next table three paces from him, he remembered these tales of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains, and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a romance with an unknown woman, whose name he did not know, suddenly took possession of him.

He beckoned coaxingly to the Pomeranian, and when the dog came up to him he shook his finger at it. The Pomeranian growled, Gurov shook his finger at it again.

The lady glanced at him and at once dropped her eyes.

"He doesn't bite," she said, and blushed.

"May I give him a bone?" he asked and when she nodded he asked courteously, "Have you been long in Yalta?"

"Five days."

"And I have already dragged out a fortnight here."

There was a brief silence.

"Time goes fast, and yet it is so dull here!" she said, not looking at him.

"That's only the fashion to say it is dull here. A provincial will live in Belyov or Zhidra and not be bored, and when he comes here it's 'Oh, the dullness! Oh, the dust!' One would think he came from Granada."

She laughed. Then both continued eating in silence, like strangers, but after dinner they walked side by side and there sprang up between them the light jesting conversation of people who are free and satisfied, to whom it does not matter where they go or what they talk about. They walked and talked of the strange light on the sea: the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it. They talked of how sultry it was after a hot day. Gurov told her that he came from Moscow, that he had taken his degree in languages and literature, but had a post in a bank that he had trained as an opera-singer, but had given it up, that he owned two houses in Moscow. . . . And from her he learnt that she had grown up in Petersburg, but had lived in S--since her marriage two years before, that she was staying another month in Yalta, and that her husband, who needed a holiday too, might perhaps come and fetch her. She was not sure whether her husband had a post in a Crown Department or under the Provincial Council--and was amused by her own ignorance. And Gurov learnt, too, that she was called Anna Sergeyevna.

Afterwards he thought about her in his room at the hotel_thought she would certainly meet him the next day it would be sure to happen. As he got into bed he thought how lately she had been a girl at school, doing lessons like his own daughter he recalled the diffidence, the angularity, that was still manifest in her laugh and her manner of talking with a stranger. This must have been the first time in her life she had been alone in surroundings in which she was followed, looked at, and spoken to merely from a secret motive which she could hardly fail to guess. He recalled her slender, delicate neck, her lovely grey eyes.

"There's something pathetic about her, anyway," he thought, and fell asleep.


A week had passed since they had struck up an acquaintance. It was a holiday. It was sultry indoors, while in the street the wind whirled the dust round and round, and blew people's hats off. One was thirsty all day, and Gurov often went into a restaurant, pressing Anna Sergeyevna to have a soft drink or ice cream. One did not know what to do with oneself.

In the evening when the wind had abated a little, they went out on to the pier to watch the steamer come in. Many peoplewere walking about the dock they had gathered to welcome someone, bringing bouquets. And two peculiarities of a well-dressedYalta crowd were very conspicuous: the elderly ladies were dressed like young ones, and there were many generals.

Owing to the roughness of the sea, the steamer arrived late, after the sun had set, and it was a long time turning about before it put in at the pier. Anna Sergeyevna looked through her lorgnette at the steamer and the passengers as though looking for acquaintances, and when she turned to Gurov her eyes were shining. She talked a great deal and asked disconnected questions, forgetting next moment what she had asked then she dropped her lorgnette in the crush.

The festive crowd began to disperse it was too dark to see people's faces. The wind had died down, but Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna still stood as though waiting to see someone else come from the steamer. Anna Sergeyevna was silent now, and sniffed the flowers without looking at Gurov.

"The weather is better this evening," he said. "Where shall we go now? Shall we drive somewhere?"

She made no answer.

Then he looked at her intently, and all at once put his arm round her and kissed her on the lips, and breathed inthe moisture and the fragrance of the flowers and he immediately looked round him, anxiously wondering whether anyone had seen them.

"Let us go to your hotel," he said softly. And both walked quickly.

The room was close and smelt of the scent she had bought at the Japanese shop. Gurov looked at her and thought: "What different people one meets in the world!" From the past he carried memories of careless, good-natured women, who loved cheerfully and were grateful to him for the happiness he gave them, however brief it might be and of women like his wife who loved without any genuine feeling, with superfluous phrases, affectedly, hysterically, with an expression that suggested that it was not love nor passion, but something more significant and of two or three others, very beautiful, cold women, on whose faces he had caught a glimpse of a rapacious expression_an obstinate desire to snatch from life more than it could give, and these were capricious, unreflecting, domineering, unintelligent women not in their first youth, and when Gurov grew cold to them their beauty aroused his hatred, and the lace on their linen seemed to him like scales.

But in this case there was still the diffidence, the angularity of inexperienced youth, an awkward feeling and there was a sense of consternation as though someone had suddenly knocked at the door. The attitude of Anna Sergeyevna--"the lady with the dog"--to what had happened was somehow peculiar, very grave, as though it were her fall--so it seemed, and it was strange and inappropriate. Her face drooped and faded, and on both sides of it her long hair hung down mournfully she mused in a dejected attitude like "the woman who was a sinner" in an old fashioned picture.

"It's wrong," she said. "You will be the first to despise me now."

There was a watermelon on the table. Gurov cut himself a slice and began eating it without haste. There followed at least half an hour of silence.

Anna Sergeyevna was touching there was about her the purity of a good, simple woman who had seen little of life. The solitary candle burning on the table threw faint light on her face, yet it was clear that she was very unhappy.

"How could I despise you?" asked Gurov. "You don't know what you are saying."

"God forgive me," she said, and her eyes filled with tears. "It's awful."

"You seem to feel you need to be forgiven."

"Forgiven? No. I am a bad, low woman I despise myself and don't attempt to justify myself. It's not my husband but myself I have deceived. And not only just now I have been deceiving myself for a long time. My husband may be a good, honest man, but he is a flunkey!

I don't know what he does there, what his work is, but I know he is a flunkey! I was twenty when I was married to him. I have been tormented by curiosity I wanted something better. 'There must be a different sort of life,' I said to myself. I wanted to live! To live, to live! . . . I was fired by curiosity . . . you don't understand it, but, I swear to God, I could not control myself something happened to me: I could not be restrained. I told my husband I was ill, and came here. . . . And here I have been walking about as though I were dazed, like a mad creature . . . and now I have become a vulgar, contemptible woman whom anyone may despise."

Gurov felt bored already, listening to her. He was irritated by the naive tone, by this remorse, so unexpected and inopportune but for the tears in her eyes, he might have thought she was jesting or playing a part.

"I don't understand," he said softly. "What is it you want?"

She hid her face on his breast and pressed close to him.

"Believe me, believe me, I beseech you . . ." she said. "I love a pure, honest life, and sin is loathsome to me. I don't know what I am doing. Simple people say: 'The Evil One has beguiled me.' And I may say of myself now that the Evil One has beguiled me."

"Hush, hush! . . ." he muttered.

He looked at her fixed, scared eyes, kissed her, talked softly and affectionately, and by degrees she was comforted, and her gaiety returned they both began laughing.

Afterwards when they went out, there was not a soul on the sea-front. The town with its cypresses looked dead, but the sea still broke noisily on the shore a single barge was rocking on the waves, and a lantern was blinking sleepily on it.

They found a cab and drove to Oreanda.

"I found out your surname in the hall just now: it was written on the board--Von Diderits," said Gurov. "Is your husband a German?"

"No I believe his grandfather was a German, but he is an Orthodox Russian himself."

At Oreanda they sat on a bench not far from the church, looked down at the sea, and were silent. Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist white clouds stood motionless on the mountain-tops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, crickets chirped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea, rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here so it sounds now and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings--the sea, mountains, clouds, the wide open sky---Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.

A man walked up to them--probably a guard--looked at them and walked away. And this detail seemed mysterious and beautiful, too. They saw a steamer come from Theodosia, with its lights out in the glow of dawn.

"There is dew on the grass," said Anna Sergeyevna, after a silence.

"Yes. It's time to go home."

They went back to the town.

Then they met every day at twelve o'clock on the sea-front, lunched and dined together, went for walks, admired the sea. She complained that she slept badly, that her heart throbbed violently asked the same questions, troubled now by jealousy and now by the fear that he did not respect her sufficiently. And often in the square or gardens, when there was no one near them, he suddenly drew her to him and kissed her passionately. Complete idleness, these kisses in broad daylight while he looked round in dread of someone's seeing them, the heat, the smell of the sea, and the continual passing to and fro before him of idle, well-dressed, well-fed people, made a new man of him he told Anna Sergeyevna how beautiful she was, how fascinating. He was impatiently passionate, he would not move a step away from her, while she was often pensive and continually urged him to confess that he did not respect her, did not love her in the least, and thought of her as nothing but a common woman. Rather late almost every evening they drove somewhere out of town, to Oreanda or to the waterfall and the expedition was always a success, the scenery invariably impressed them as grand and beautiful.

They were expecting her husband to come, but a letter came from him, saying that there was something wrong with his eyes, and he entreated his wife to come home as quickly as possible. Anna Sergeyevna made haste to go.

"It's a good thing I am going away," she said to Gurov. "It's the hand of fate!"

She went by coach and he went with her. They drove the whole day. When she had got into a compartment of the express, and when the second bell had rung, she said:

"Let me look at you once more . . . look at you once again. That's right."

She did not shed tears, but was so sad that she seemed ill, and her face was quivering.

"I shall remember you . . . think of you," she said. "God be with you be happy. Don't remember evil against me. We are parting forever it must be so, for we ought never to have met. Well, God be with you."

The train moved off rapidly, its lights soon vanished from sight, and a minute later there was no sound of it, as though everything had conspired together to end as quickly as possible that sweet delirium, that madness. Left alone on the platform, and gazing into the dark distance, Gurov listened to the chirping of the crickets and the hum of the telegraph wires, feeling as though he had only just waked up. And he thought, musing, that there had been another episode or adventure in his life, and it, too, was at an end, and nothing was left of it but a memory. . . y. He was moved, sad, and conscious of a slight remorse. This young woman whom he would never meet again had not been happy with him he was genuinely warm and affectionate with her, but yet in his manner, his tone, and his caresses there had been a shade of light irony, the coarse condescension of a happy man who was, besides, almost twice her age. All the time she had called him kind, exceptional, lofty obviously he had seemed to her different from what he really was, so he had unintentionally deceived her. . . .

Here at the station was already a scent of autumn it was a cold evening.

"It's time for me to go north," thought Gurov as he left the platform. "High time!"


At home in Moscow everything was in its winter routine the furnace was heated, and in the morning it was still dark when

the children were having breakfast and getting ready for school, and the nanny would light the lamp for a short time. The frosts had begun already. When the first snow falls, on the first day of sleigh-riding, it is pleasant to see the white earth, the white roofs one draws soft, delicious breaths, and the season brings back the days of one's youth. The old limes and birches, white with hoar-frost, have a good-natured expression they are nearer to one's heart than cypresses and palms, and near them one doesn't want to think of the sea and the mountains.

Gurov was Moscow born he arrived in Moscow on a fine frosty day, and when he put on his fur coat and warm gloves, and walked along Petrovka, and when on Saturday evening he heard the ringing of the bells, his recent trip and the places he had seen lost all charm for him. Little by little he became absorbed in Moscow life, greedily read three newspapers a day, and declared he did not read the Moscow papers on principle! He already felt a longing to go to restaurants, clubs, dinner-parties, anniversary celebrations, and he felt flattered at entertaining distinguished lawyers and artists, and at playing cards with a professor at the doctors' club. He could already eat a whole plateful of salt fish and cabbage. . . .

In another month, he fancied, the image of Anna Sergeyevna would be shrouded in a mist in his memory, and only from time to time would visit him in his dreams with a touching smile as others did. But more than a month passed, real winter had come, and everything was still clear in his memory as though he had parted with Anna Sergeyevna only the day before. And his memories glowed more and more vividly. When in the evening stillness he heard from his study the voices of his children, preparing their lessons, or when he listened to a song or to an organ playing in a restaurant, or when the storm howled in the chimney, suddenly everything would rise up in his memory: what had happened on the pier, and the early morning with the mist on the mountains, and the steamer coming from Theodosia, and the kisses. He would pace a long time about his room, remembering it all and smiling then his memories passed into dreams, and in his fancy the past was mingled with what was to come. Anna Sergeyevna did not visit him in dreams, but followed him about everywhere like a shadow and haunted him. When he shut his eyes he saw her as though she were standing before him, and she seemed to him lovelier, younger, tenderer than she had been and he imagined himself finer than he had been in Yalta. In the evenings she peeped out at him from the bookcase, from the fireplace, from the corner_he heard her breathing, the caressing rustle of her dress. In the streets he watched the women, looking for someone like her.

He was tormented by an intense desire to confide his memories to someone. But in his home it was impossible to talk of his love, and he had no one outside he could not talk to his tenants nor to anyone at the bank. And what had he to talk about? Had he been in love, then? Had there been anything beautiful, poetical, edifying or simply interesting in his relations with Anna Sergeyevna? And there was nothing for him but to talk vaguely of love, of women, and no one guessed what it meant only his wife twitched her black eyebrows, and said: "The part of a lady-killer does not suit you at all, Dimitri."

One evening, coming out of the doctors' club with an official with whom he had been playing cards, he could not resist saying:

"If only you knew what a fascinating woman I met in Yalta!"

The official got into his sledge and was driving away, but turned suddenly and shouted:

"Dmitri Dmitritch!"


"You were right this evening: the sturgeon was a bit too strong!"

These words, so ordinary, for some reason moved Gurov to indignation, and struck him as degrading and unclean. What savage manners, what people! What senseless nights, what dull, uneventful days! The rage for card-playing, the gluttony, the drunkenness, the continual talk about the same things.

Useless pursuits and conversations always about the same things absorb the better part of one's time, the better part of one's strength, and in the end there is left a life grovelling and curtailed, worthless and trivial, and there is no escaping or getting away from it--just as though one were in a madhouse or a prison.

Gurov did not sleep all night, and was filled with indignation. And he had a headache all next day. And the next night he slept badly he sat up in bed, thinking, or paced up and down his room. He was sick of his children, sick of the bank he had no desire to go anywhere or to talk of anything.

In the holidays in December he prepared for a journey, and told his wife he was going to Petersburg to do something in the interests of a young friend--and he set off for S--. What for? He did not very well know himself. He wanted to see Anna Sergeyevna and to talk with her_to arrange a meeting, if possible.

He reached S-- in the morning, and took the best room at the hotel, in which the floor was covered with grey army cloth, and on the table was an inkstand, grey with dust and adorned with a figure on horseback, with its hat in its hand and its head broken off. The hotel porter gave him the necessary information Von Diderits lived in a house of his own in Old Gontcharny Street--it was not far from the hotel: he was rich and lived in good style, and had his own horses everyone in the town knew him. The porter pronounced the name "Dridirits."

Gurov went without haste to Old Gontcharny Street and found the house. Just opposite the house stretched a long grey fence studded with nails.

"One would run away from a fence like that," thought Gurov, looking from the fence to the windows of the house and back again.

He considered: today was a holiday, and the husband would probably be at home. And in any case it would be tactless to go into the house and upset her. If he were to send her a note it might fall into her husband's hands, and then it might ruin everything. The best thing was to trust to chance. And he kept walking up and down the street by the fence, waiting for the chance. He saw a beggar go in at the gate and heard the dogs fly at him then an hour later he heard a piano, and the sounds were faint and indistinct. Probably it was Anna Sergeyevna playing. The front door suddenly opened, and an old woman came out, followed by the familiar white Pomeranian. Gurov was on the point of calling to the dog, but his heart began beating violently, and in his excitement he could not remember the dog's name.

He walked up and down, and loathed the grey fence more and more, and by now he thought irritably that Anna Sergeyevna had forgotten him, and was perhaps already amusing herself with someone else, and that that was very natural in a young woman who had nothing to look at from morning till night but that confounded fence. He went back to his hotel room and sat for a long while on the sofa, not knowing what to do, then he had dinner and a long nap.

"How stupid and worrying it is!" he thought when he woke and looked at the dark windows: it was already evening. "Here I've had a good sleep for some reason. What shall I do tonight?"

He sat on the bed, which was covered with a cheap grey blanket of the kind seen in hospitals, and he taunted himself in his vexation:

"So much for the lady with the dog . . . so much for the adventure. . . . You're in a nice fix. . . ."

That morning at the station a poster in large letters had caught his eye. "The Geisha" was to be performed for the first time. He thought of this and went to the theatre.

"It's quite possible she may go to the first performance," he thought.

The theatre was full. As in all provincial theatres, there was a haze above the chandelier, the gallery was noisy and restless in the front row the local dandies were standing with their hands behind them in the Governor's box the Governor's daughter, wearing a boa, was sitting in the front seat, while the Governor himself hid modestly behind the curtain with only his hands visible the orchestra was a long time tuning up the stage curtain swayed. While people were coming in and taking their seats, Gurov scanned their faces eagerly.

Anna Sergeyevna, too, came in. She sat down in the third row, and when Gurov looked at her his heart contracted, and he understood clearly that for him there was in the whole world no creature so near, so precious, and so important she, this little woman, in no way remarkable, lost in a provincial crowd, with a vulgar lorgnette in her hand, filled his whole life now, was his sorrow and his joy, the one happiness that he now desired for himself, and to the sounds of the provincial orchestra, of the wretched violins, he thought how lovely she was. He thought and dreamed.

A young man with small side-whiskers, tall and stooping, came in with Anna Sergeyevna and sat down beside her he bent his head at every step and seemed to be continually bowing. Most likely this was the husband whom at Yalta, in a rush of bitter feeling, she had called a flunkey. And there really was in his long figure, his side-whiskers, and the small bald patch on his head, something of the flunkey's obsequiousness his smile was sugary, and in his buttonhole there was some badge of distinction which looked like the name tag of a waiter.

During the first intermission the husband went out to smoke she remained alone in her seat. Gurov, who was sitting in the same section, went up to her and said in a trembling voice, with a forced smile:

"Good evening."

She glanced at him and turned pale, then glanced again with horror, unable to believe her eyes, and tightly gripped the fan and the lorgnette in her hands, evidently struggling with herself not to faint. Both were silent. She was sitting, he was standing, frightened by her confusion and not venturing to sit down beside her. The violins and the flute began tuning up. He felt suddenly frightened it seemed as though all the people in the boxes were looking at them. She got up and went quickly to the door he followed her, and both walked senselessly along passages, up and down stairs, and figures in legal, scholastic, and civil service uniforms, all wearing badges, flitted before their eyes. They caught glimpses of ladies, of fur coats on hangers drafts of wind blew on them, bringing a smell of stale tobacco. And Gurov, whose heart was beating violently, thought:

"Oh, heavens! Why are these people and this orchestra here!

. . ."

And at that instant he recalled how when he had seen Anna Sergeyevna off at the station he had thought that everything was over and they would never meet again. But how far they were still from the end!

On the narrow, gloomy staircase over which was written "To the Amphitheatre," she stopped.

"How you frightened me!" she said, breathing hard, still pale and overwhelmed. "Oh, how you frightened me! I am half dead. Why have you come? Why?"

"But do understand, Anna, do understand . . ." he said hastily in a low voice. "I entreat you to understand. . . ."

She looked at him with dread, with entreaty, with love she looked at him intently, to keep his features more distinctly in her memory.

"I am so unhappy," she went on, not heeding him. "I have thought of nothing but you all this time I live only in the thought of you. And I wanted to forget, to forget you but why, oh why, have you come?"

On the landing above them two schoolboys were smoking and looking down, but that was nothing to Gurov he drew Anna Sergeyevna to him, and began kissing her face, her cheeks, and her hands.

"What are you doing, what are you doing!" she cried in horror, pushing him away. "We are mad. Go away today go away at once. . . . I beseech you by all that is sacred, I implore you. . . . There are people coming this way!"

Someone was coming up the stairs.

"You must go away," Anna Sergeyevna went on in a whisper. "Do you hear, Dmitri Dmitritch? I will come and see you in Moscow. I have never been happy I am miserable now, and I never, never shall be happy, never! Don't make me suffer still more! I swear I'll come to Moscow. But now let us part. My precious, good, dear one, we must part!"

She pressed his hand and walked rapidly downstairs, turned to look at him, and from her eyes he could see that she really was unhappy. Gurov stood for a little while, listened, then, when all sound had died away, he found his coat and left the theatre.


And Anna Sergeyevna began coming to see him in Moscow. Once in two or three months she left S--, telling her husband that she was going to consult a doctor about an internal complaint_and her husband believed her, and did not believe her. In Moscow she stayed at the Slaviansky Bazaar hotel, and at once sent a man in a red cap to Gurov. Gurov went to see her, and no one in Moscow knew of it.

Once he was going to see her in this way on a winter morning (the messenger had come the evening before when he was out). With him walked his daughter, whom he wanted to take to school: it was on the way. Snow was falling in big wet flakes.

"It's three degrees above freezing-point, and yet it is snowing," said Gurov to his daughter. "The thaw is only on the surface of the earth there is quite a different temperature higher in the atmosphere."

"And why are there no thunderstorms in winter, father?"

He explained that, too. He talked, thinking all the while that he was going to see her, and no living soul knew of it, and probably never would know. He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth--such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his "inferior race," his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities---all that was open. Judging others by himself, he did not believe in what he saw, and always fancied that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilized man was so nervously protective of his personal privacy.

After leaving his daughter at school, Gurov went on to the Slaviansky Bazaar. He took off his fur coat in the lobby, went upstairs, and softly knocked at the door. Anna Sergeyevna, wearing his favourite grey dress, exhausted by the journey and the suspense, had been expecting him since the evening before. She was pale she looked at him, and did not smile, and he had hardly come in when she fell on his breast. Their kiss was slow and prolonged, as though they had not met for two years.

"Well, darling, how are you getting on there?" he asked. "What news?"

"Wait I'll tell you directly. . . . I can't talk."

She could not speak she was crying. She turned away from him, and pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.

"Let her have her cry out. I'll sit down and wait," he thought, and he sat down in an armchair.

Then he rang and ordered tea, and while he drank his tea she remained standing at the window with her back to him. She was crying from emotion, from the miserable consciousness that their life was so hard for them they could only meet in secret, hiding themselves from people, like thieves! Was not their life shattered?

"Come, do stop!" he said.

It was evident to him that this love of theirs would not soon be over, that he could not see the end of it. Anna Sergeyevna grew more and more attached to him. She adored him, and it was unthinkable to say to her that it was bound to have an end some day besides, she would not have believed it!

He went up to her and took her by the shoulders to say something affectionate and cheering, and at that moment he saw himself in the mirror.

His hair was already beginning to turn grey. And it seemed strange to him that he had grown so much older, so much plainer during the last few years. The shoulders on which his hands rested were warm and quivering. He felt compassion for this life, still so warm and lovely, but probably already not far from beginning to fade and wither like his own. Why did she love him so much? He always seemed to women different from what he was, and they loved in him not himself, but the man created by their imagination, whom they had been eagerly seeking all their lives and afterwards, when they noticed their mistake, they loved him all the same. And not one of them had been happy with him. Time passed, he had made their acquaintance, got on with them, parted, but he had never once loved it was anything you please, but not love.

And only now when his head was grey he had fallen truly, really in love--for the first time in his life.

Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.

In moments of depression in the past he had comforted himself with any arguments that came into his mind, but now he no longer cared for arguments he felt profound compassion, he wanted to be sincere and tender. . . .

"Don't cry, my darling," he said. "You've had your cry that's enough. . . . Let us talk now, let us think of some plan."

Then they spent a long while taking counsel together, talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long stretches of time. How could they free themselves from this intolerable bondage?

"How? How?" he asked, clutching his head. "How?"

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long way to go, and that the most complicated and difficult part of their journey was just beginning.

Here is an essay about natural science. Please read it with an open mind. It shows that science is fun, and not--as so many people think--boring, for "geniuses" (whatever that means) only, or pedantic. As a former full-time scientist (I too specialized in flies), I can tell you, from personal experience, that this little essay conveys the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about science. Have fun!



Vincent Dethier

i scurry around

. . . . . . .

gutters and sewers

. . . it is my mission

and garbage cans

to help rid the world

said the fly and

of these wicked persons

gather up the germs of

i am a vessel of right-

typhoid influenza


and pneumonia on my

scattering seeds of jus-

feet and wings . . .


and serving the noblest

then i carry the germs


into the households of


don marquis, the lives and times of archy and mehitabel

A properly conducted experiment is a beautiful thing. It is an adventure, an expedition, a conquest. It commences with an act of faith, faith that the world is real, that our senses generally can be trusted, that effects have causes, and that we can discover meaning by reason. It continues with an observation and a question. An experiment is a scientist's way of asking nature a question. He alters a condition, observes a result, and draws a conclusion. It is no game for a disorderly mind (although the ranks of Science are replete with confused thinkers). There are many ways of going astray. The mention of two will suffice.

The most commonly committed scientific sin is the lack of proper experimental control. The scientist must be certain that the result he obtains is a consequence of the specific alteration he introduced and not of some other coincidental one. There is the case of the gentleman who had trained a flea to leap at the command "Jump!"

"Now," said the clever gentleman, "I shall do an experiment to discover where the flea's ears are located. First I shall amputate his feelers." Whereupon, the operation having been completed and the flea having recovered, the command "Jump!" was given. The flea jumped. "Ah," said the gentleman obviously pleased, "he does not hear with his antennae. I shall now amputate his forelegs." With each succeeding operation the flea leaped on command until only the hindmost legs remained. When they were removed, the flea failed to jump. "You see," concluded the gentleman triumphantly, "he hears with his hind legs."

Or there is the well-known case of the chap who wondered which component of his mixed drink caused his inevitable intoxication. He tried bourbon and water, rum and water, scotch and water, rye and water, gin and water and concluded, since every drink had water as a constant, that water caused his drunkenness. He then gritted his teeth and tried water alone_with negative results. When I last saw him he had concluded that the glass was the intoxicating agent, and he was about to begin another series of experiments employing paper cups.

Of course even controls can be carried to absurd extremes as in the case of the atheistic scientist who seized upon the opportunity afforded by the birth of twins to test the efficacy of religion. He had one baby baptized and kept the other as a control.

Another common fallacy is that of confusing correlation with cause and effect. This is exemplified by the case of the gentleman who was extricated from the rubble of an apartment house immediately after an earthquake. "Do you know what happened?" his rescuers inquired.

"I am not certain," replied the survivor. "I remember pulling down the window shade and it caused the whole building to collapse."

The kind of question asked of nature is a measure of a scientist's intellectual stature. Too many research workers have no questions at all to ask, but this does not deter them from doing experiments. They become enamored of a new instrument, acquire it, then ask only "What can I do with this beauty?" Others ask such questions as "How many leaves are there this year on the ivy on the zoology building?" And having counted them do not know what to do with the information. But some questions can be useful and challenging. And meaningful questions can be asked of a fly.

Between the fly and the biologist, however, there is a language barrier that makes getting direct answers to questions difficult. With a human subject it is only necessary to ask: what color is this? does that hurt? are you hungry? The human subject may, of course, lie the fly cannot. However, to elicit information from him it is necessary to resort to all kinds of trickery and legerdemain. This means pitting one's brain against that of the fly_a risk some people are unwilling to assume. But then, experimentation is only for the adventuresome, for the dreamers, for the brave.

It is risky even at higher levels. I am reminded of the eminent professor who had designed experiments to test an ape's capacity to use tools. A banana was hung from a string just out of reach. An assortment of tools, that is, boxes to pile up, bamboo poles to fit together, etc., were provided, and the ape's ability was to be judged by his choice of method. To the chagrin of the professor, the ape chose a method that had never even occurred to that learned gentleman.

Extracting information from a fly can be equally challenging. Take the question of taste, for example. Does a fly possess a sense of taste? Is it similar to ours? How sensitive is it? What does he prefer?

The first fruitful experimental approach to this problem began less than fifty years ago with a very shrewd observation namely, that flies (and bees and butterflies) walked about in their food and constantly stuck out their tongues. The next time you dine with a fly (and modern sanitary practice has not greatly diminished the opportunities), observe his behavior when he gavots across the top of the custard pie. His proboscis,which is normally carried retracted into his head like the landing gear of an airplane, will be lowered, and like a miniature vacuum cleaner he will suck in food. For a striking demonstration of this, mix some sugared water and food coloring and paint a sheet of paper. The first fly to find it will leave a beautiful trail of lip prints, hardly the kind suitable for lipstick ads but nonetheless instructive.

Proboscis extension has been seen thousands of times by thousands of people but few have been either struck by the sanitary aspects of the act or ingenious enough to figure out how they might put the observation to use to learn about fly behavior.

The brilliant idea conceived by the biologist who first speculated on why some insects paraded around in their food was that they tasted with their feet. In retrospect it is the simplest thing in the world to test this idea. It also makes a fine parlor trick for even the most blasé gathering.

The first step is to provide a fly with a handle since Nature failed to do so. Procure a stick about the size of a lead pencil. (A lead pencil will do nicely. So will an applicator stick, the kind that a physician employs when swabbing a throat.) Dip one end repeatedly into candle wax or paraffin until a fly-sized gob accumulates. Next anaesthetize a fly. The least messy method is to deposit him in the freezing compartment of a refrigerator for several minutes. Then, working very rapidly, place him backside down on the wax and seal his wings onto it with a hot needle.

Now for the experimental proof. Lower the fly gently over a saucer of water until his feet just touch. Chances are he is thirsty. If so, he will lower his proboscis as soon as his feet touch and will suck avidly. When thirst has been allayed, the proboscis will be retracted compactly into the head. This is a neat arrangement because a permanently extended proboscis might flop about uncomfortably during flight or be trod upon while walking.

Next, lower the fly into a saucer of sugared water. In a fraction of a second the proboscis is flicked out again. Put him back into water (this is the control), and the proboscis is retracted. Water, in sugar, out. The performance continues almost indefinitely. Who can doubt that the fly can taste with his feet? The beauty of this proboscis response, as it is called, is that it is a reflex action, almost as automatic as a knee jerk. By taking advantage of its automatism, one can learn very subtle things about a fly's sense of taste.

For example, who has the more acute sense of taste, you or the fly? As the cookbooks say, take ten saucers. Fill the first with water and stir in one teaspoon of sugar. Now pour half the contents of the saucer into another which should then be filled with water. After stirring, pour half of the contents of the second saucer into a third and fill it with water. Repeat this process until you have a row of ten saucers. Now take a fly (having made certain that he is not thirsty) and lower him gently into the most dilute mixture. Then try him in the next and so on up the series until his proboscis is lowered. This is the weakest sugar solution that he can taste.

Now test yourself. If you are the sort of person who does not mind kissing his dog, you can use the same saucers as the fly. Otherwise make up a fresh series. You will be surprised, perhaps chagrined,

to discover that the fly is unbelievably more sensitive than you. In fact, a starving fly is ten million times more sensitive.

You console yourself with the thought that he may be less versatile, less of a gourmet, than you. Well, this too can be tested. Try him on other sugars there are any number of sugars: cane sugar, beet sugar, malt sugar, milk sugar, grape sugar. Each is chemically different each has for you a different sweetness. It is only necessary to determine for each the most dilute solution that will cause the fly to lower his proboscis. Then when the sugars are listed in order of decreasing effectiveness, it turns out that the order is the same for you and the fly: grape sugar, cane sugar, malt sugar, milk sugar, beet sugar. In one respect the fly is less gullible he is not fooled by saccharine or any other artificial sweeteners.

But, you may argue, I can distinguish many other kinds of tastes. This is only partly correct. You can distinguish many kinds of flavors, but to assist you in this you recruit your nose. Flavor is a mixture of tastes, odors, and textures. With taste alone you are pretty much restricted to sweet, salt, sour, and bitter.

The old adage that one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar has a sound basis in physiology. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that flies react differently to different odors, the truth remains that flies accept materials that taste sweet to us and reject those that taste salt, sour, or bitter to us. This fact, too, can be demonstrated with the proboscis response, but the only way for a fly to say "No" is to retract his proboscis, and it can be retracted only if it is first extended. Accordingly, one prepares several saucers of sugared water. A pinch of salt is added to one, two pinches to another, three pinches to a third, and so on. As before, the fly is lowered gently into the saucer with the least salt. He responds, as expected, by extending his proboscis. He is then allowed to taste the next dish, and the next, and the next. At one of these dishes he will stubbornly refuse to extend his proboscis. Since this dish contains the same amount of sugar as the rest, one must conclude that it is the salt that is being rejected. The test can be repeated with vinegar, lemon juice, or quinine water. It can even be tried with aspirin, whiskey, bicarbonate of soda, tobacco juice_anything that will dissolve in water. If you wish to be really sophisticated, you can test the relative sensitivity of his legs and mouth by standing him in one solution and allowing his proboscis to come down into a different one. A friend of mine who once wished to study the stomach of the fly and to color it so it could be seen more easily under the microscope hit upon the idea of standing a fly in sugar but arranging for its mouth to come down in dye. As a result the fly's insides were stained beautifully. This is one example of a physiological way to coat a pill.



1. "The Most Dangerous Game" begins with this dialogue:

"Good sport, hunting."

"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.

"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."

"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"

"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.

"Bah! They've no understanding."

"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing--fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."

"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the hunted. Luckily, you and I are hunters."

Will Rainsford still feel that way at the end of the story? Can you guess what the author's views on hunting might be?

Anyone who has ever seen a live production of Sorry, Wrong Number knows that--provided with a well-written script--a single actress can hold the rapt attention of her audience. Besides being a thriller, this one-woman, one-act play can be seen as a commentary on life in faceless, fragmented, modern American cities.


Lucille Fletcher








THIRD MAN, a Western Union Operator


FOURTH MAN, a hospital clerk

SOUND. Number being dialed on the telephone--then the busy signal.

MRS. STEVENSON (a querulous, self-centered neurotic--after waiting a bit). Oh--dear . . .!

SOUND. She slams down receiver impatiently and dials Operator again.

OPERATOR (on filter). This is the Operator.

MRS. STEVENSON. Operator? I've been dialing Murray Hill 3-0093 now for the last three-quarters of an hour, and the line is always busy. But I don't see how it could be busy that long. Will you try it for me, please?

OPERATOR (on filter). I will try it for you. One moment, please.

MRS. STEVENSON (rambling, full of self-pity). I don't see how it could be busy all this time. It's my husband's office. He's working late tonight, and I'm all alone here in the house. My health is very poor--and I've been feeling so nervous all day.

OPERATOR (on filter). Ringing Murray Hill 3-0093.

SOUND. Telephone ringing. All clear. It rings three times. The receiver is picked up at the other end.

MAN'S VOICE (filter--slow, heavy, tough voice). Hello.

MRS. STEVENSON. Hello . . . ? (Puzzled). Hello. Is Mr. Stevenson there?

MAN'S VOICE (as though he had not heard). Hello . . . (louder) Hello!

2ND MAN'S VOICE (filter, also over telephone but farther away--a voice with a very distinctive quality). Hello.

1ST MAN. Hello, George?

GEORGE. Yes, sir.

MRS. STEVENSON (louder and more imperious). Hello. Who's this? What number am I calling, please?

1ST MAN. I am in the office with our client. He says the coast is clear for tonight.

GEORGE. Yes, sir.

1ST MAN. Where are you now?

GEORGE. In a phone booth.

1ST MAN. Very well. You know the address. At eleven o'clock the private patrolman goes around to the bar on Second Avenue for a beer. Be sure that all the lights downstairs are out. There should be only one light visible from the street. At eleven-fifteen a subway train crosses the bridge. It makes a noise, in case her window is open and she should scream.

MRS. STEVENSON (shocked). Oh! . . . Hello! What number is this, please?

GEORGE. Okay. I understand.

1ST MAN. Make it quick. As little blood as possible. Our client does not wish to make her suffer long.

GEORGE. A knife okay, sir?

1ST MAN. Yes. A knife will be okay. And remember--remove the rings and bracelets--and the jewelry in the bureau drawer. Our client wishes it to look like simple robbery.

SOUND. The conversation is suddenly cut off. Again MRS. STEVENSON hears a persistent buzzing signal.

MRS. STEVENSON (clicking phone). Oh . . . !

SOUND. Buzzing signal continues. She hangs up slowly.

MRS. STEVENSON (frozen with horror). How awful. How unspeakably--(a brief pause).

SOUND. She picks up phone and dials Operator. Ring once.

OPERATOR (filter). Your call, please?

MRS. STEVENSON (unnerved and breathless). Operator. I--I've just been cut off.

OPERATOR (filter). I'm sorry, madam. What number were you calling?

MRS. STEVENSON. Why--it was supposed to be Murray Hill 3-0093--but it wasn't. Some wires must have crossed--I was cut into a wrong number--and I--I've just heard the most dreadful thing--a--a murder--and (imperiously)--Operator, you'll simply have to retrace that call at once.

OPERATOR (filter). I'm sorry, madam. I do not understand.

MRS. STEVENSON. Oh--I know it was a wrong number, and I had no business listening, but these two men--they were cold-blooded fiends--and they were going to murder somebody--some poor innocent woman--who was all alone--in a house near a bridge. (Frantic.) And we've got to stop them--we've got to--

OPERATOR (filter--patiently). What number were you calling, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. That doesn't matter. This was a wrong number. And you dialed it. And we've got to find out what it was--immediately!

OPERATOR (filter). But--madam--

MRS. STEVENSON. Oh--why are you so stupid? Look--it was obviously a case of some little slip of the finger. I told you to try Murray Hill 3-0093 for me. You dialed it--but your finger slipped. And I was connected with some other number--and I could hear them, but they couldn't hear me. Now, I simply fail to see why you couldn't make the same mistake again--why you couldn't try to dial Murray Hill 3-0093 in the same sort of careless way--

OPERATOR (filter--quickly). Murray Hill 3-0093? I will try to get it for you, madam.

MRS. STEVENSON (sarcastically). Thank you.

SOUND. Telephone ringing--then the busy signal.

OPERATOR. The line is busy.

MRS. STEVENSON (frantically clicking receiver). Operator! Operator!

OPERATOR (filter). Yes, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. You didn't try to get that wrong number at all. I asked you explicitly. And all you did was dial correctly. Now I want you to trace that call. It's my civic duty--it's your civic duty--to trace that call--and to apprehend those dangerous killers--and if you won't. . . .

OPERATOR (filter--sweetly). I will connect you with the Chief Operator.

SOUND. Ringing. Then the phone is picked up.


CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). This is the Chief Operator.

MRS. STEVENSON. Chief Operator, I want you to trace a call. A telephone call. Immediately. I don't know where it came from, or who was making it, but it's absolutely necessary that it be tracked down. Because it was about a murder. Yes, a terrible, cold-blooded murder of a poor innocent woman---tonight--at eleven-fifteen.

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). I see.

MRS. STEVENSON (high-strung, demanding). Can you trace it for me?

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). It depends, madam.

MRS. STEVENSON. Depends on what?

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). It depends whether the call is still going on. If it's a live call, we can trace it. If it's been disconnected, we can't.

MRS. STEVENSON. Oh--but--but of course they must have stopped talking to each other by now. That was at least five minutes ago--and they didn't sound like the type who would make a long call.

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). Well--I can try tracing it. Now--what is your name, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. Mrs. Stevenson. Mrs. Elbert Stevenson. But, listen--

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter--interrupting). And your telephone number?

MRS. STEVENSON. Plaza 4-2295. But if you go wasting all this time--

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). And what is your reason for wanting this call traced?

MRS. STEVENSON. My reason? Oh--no reason. I mean--I merely felt very strongly--that something ought to be done about it. These men are killers--

they're dangerous--they're going to murder this woman--at eleven-fifteen-- and I thought the police--

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). Have you told the police?

MRS. STEVENSON. No. But--in the meantime--

CHIEF OPERATOR (filter). Well, Mrs. Stevenson, I seriously doubt whether we could make this check for you and trace this call just on your say-so as a private individual.

MRS. STEVENSON. Oh--for heaven's sake. You mean to tell me--I can't report a murder--without getting tied up in all this red tape? Why, it's idiotic! All right! I'll call the police!

SOUND. She slams down the receiver.

MRS. STEVENSON. Ridiculous!

SOUND. She dials operator.

OPERATOR (filter). Your call, please?

MRS. STEVENSON. The Police Department--please!

OPERATOR (filter). Ringing the Police Department.

SOUND. Ring twice.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--bored with his night duty assignment). Police Station, Precinct 43, Duffy speaking.

MRS. STEVENSON. Police Department? Oh. This is Mrs. Stevenson--Mrs. Elbert Smythe Stevenson of 53 North Sutton Place. I'm calling up to report a murder. I mean (fumbling for words)--the murder has not been committed yet. I just overheard plans for it over the telephone--over a wrong number that the operator gave me. I've been trying to trace down the call myself--but everybody is so stupid--and I guess in the end you're the only people who could do anything.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--not too impressed by all this). Yes, ma'am.

MRS. STEVENSON (trying to impress him). It was a perfectly definite murder. I heard their plans distinctly. Two men were talking--and they were going to murder some woman at eleven-fifteen tonight. She lived near a bridge.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). Yes, ma'am.

MRS. STEVENSON. And there was a private patrolman on the street. He was going to go around to Second Avenue. And there was some third man--a client--who was paying to have this poor woman murdered. They were going to take her rings and bracelets and use a knife. . . . Well, it's unnerved me dreadfully---(reaching the breaking point)--and I'm not well--

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). I see. (Stolidly.) When was all this ma'am?

MRS. STEVENSON. About eight minutes ago. Oh--(relieved)--then you can do something? You do understand--

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). And what is your name, ma'am?

MRS. STEVENSON (impatiently). Mrs. Stevenson. Mrs. Elbert Stevenson.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). And your address?

MRS. STEVENSON. 53 North Sutton Place. That's near a bridge. The Queensboro Bridge, you know--and we have a private patrolman on our street . . . and Second Avenue--

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). And what was that number you were calling?

MRS. STEVENSON. Murray Hill 3-0093. But that wasn't the number I overheard. I mean Murray Hill 3-0093 is my husband's office. He's working late tonight--and I was trying to reach him to ask him to come home. I'm an invalid, you know--and it's the maid's night off--and I hate to be alone--even though he says I'd be perfectly safe as long as I have the telephone right beside my bed.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--stolidly). Well--we'll look into it, Mrs. Stevenson, and see if we can check it with the telephone company.

MRS. STEVENSON (getting impatient). But the telephone company said they couldn't check the call if the parties had stopped talking. I've already taken care of that.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--a faint hint of sarcasm). Oh yes?

MRS. STEVENSON (high-handed). Personally I feel you ought to do something far more immediate and drastic than check the call. By the time you track it down--they'll already have committed the murder.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--giving her the "brush off"). Well--we'll take care of it, lady. Don't worry.

MRS. STEVENSON. I'd say the whole thing calls for a search--a complete and thorough search of the whole city. I'm very near the bridge--and I'm not far from Second Avenue--and I know I'd feel a whole lot better if you sent around a radio car at once!

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). And what makes you think the murder's going to be committed in your neighborhood, ma'am?

MRS. STEVENSON. Oh--I don't know. Only the coincidence is so horrible. Second Avenue--the patrolman--the bridge.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). Second Avenue is a very long street, ma'am. And do you happen to know how many bridges there are in the city of New York alone? Not to mention Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx? How do you know there isn't some little house out on Staten Island--on some little Second Avenue you've never heard about? How do you know they were even talking about New York?

MRS. STEVENSON. But I heard the call on the New York dialing system.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). How do you know it wasn't a long-distance call you overheard? Look, lady, supposing you hadn't broken in on that telephone call? Supposing you'd got your husband the way you always do. Would this murder have made any difference to you then?

MRS. STEVENSON. I suppose not. But it's so inhuman--so cold-blooded.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). A lot of murders are committed in this city every day, ma'am. If we could do something to stop 'em, we would. But a clue of this kind that's so vague isn't much more use to us than no clue at all.

MRS. STEVENSON. But--surely--

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). Unless, of course, you have some reason for thinking this call is phony--and that someone may be planning to murder you.

MRS. STEVENSON. Me? Oh--oh, no--I hardly think so. I--I mean why should anybody? I'm alone all day and night. I see nobody except my maid, Eloise. She's a big two-hundred-pounder--she's too lazy to bring up my breakfast tray--and the only other person is my husband, Elbert. He's crazy about me--adores me--waits on me hand and foot--has scarcely left my side since I took sick twelve years ago. . . .

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). Well, then, there's nothing for you to worry about. And now, if you'll just leave the rest of this to us--

MRS. STEVENSON (not completely mollified). But what will you do? It's so late . . . it's nearly eleven now.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--more firmly). We'll take care of it, lady.

MRS. STEVENSON. Will you broadcast it all over the city? And send out squads? And warn your radio cars to watch out--especially in suspicious neighborhoods--like mine--

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--very bored). Lady, I said we'd take care of it. And if you'll please hang up--


SOUND. She slams the receiver hard.


MRS. STEVENSON. Idiot! (pause.) Now, why did I do that? Now he'll think I am a fool! (pause.) Oh--why doesn't Elbert come home? Why doesn't he?

SOUND. She dials Operator.

OPERATOR (filter). Your call, please?

MRS. STEVENSON. Operator--will you ring that Murray Hill 3-0093 number again? I can't think what's keeping him so long!

OPERATOR (filter). I will try it for you, madam.

SOUND. Ring. Then busy signal.

OPERATOR (filter). The line is busy.

MRS. STEVENSON (nasty). I can hear it. You don't have to tell me. I know it's busy. . . .

SOUND. She slams down the receiver.

MRS. STEVENSON (nervously querulous). If I could only get out of this bed for a little while. If I could get a breath of fresh air--or just lean out the window--and see the street. . . .

SOUND. The telephone bell rings. She picks it up instantly.

MRS. STEVENSON. Hello. Elbert? Hello. Hello. Hello. Oh--what's the matter with this phone? HELLO . . . HELLO.

SOUND. She slams down the receiver. A second's pause. The phone rings again, once. She picks it up.

MRS. STEVENSON. Hello? Hello...Oh, for heaven's sake, who is this? Hello, HELLO!

SOUND. She slams down the receiver. Dials Operator.

OPERATOR (filter). Your call, please?

MRS. STEVENSON (very annoyed and imperious). Hello, Operator, I don't know what's the matter with this telephone tonight, but it's positively driving me crazy. I've never seen such inefficient, miserable service. Now--I'm an invalid, and I'm very nervous, and I'm not supposed to be annoyed. But . . . .

OPERATOR (filter). What seems to be the trouble, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. Well--everything's wrong. The whole world could be murdered for all you people care. And now--my phone keeps ringing.

OPERATOR (filter). Yes, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. Ringing and ringing and ringing every five seconds or so--and when I pick it up, there's no one there!

OPERATOR (filter). I am sorry, madam. I will test it for you.

MRS. STEVENSON. I don't want you to test it for me. I want you to put that call through--at once!

OPERATOR (filter). I am afraid that is not possible, madam.

MRS. STEVENSON. Not possible? And why--may I ask?

OPERATOR (filter). The system is automatic, madam. If someone is trying to dial your number, there is no way to check whether the call is coming through the system or not---unless the person who is trying to reach you complains to his particular operator.

MRS. STEVENSON. Well, of all the stupid--and meanwhile I've got to sit here in my bed, suffering every time that phone rings . . . imagining. . . .

OPERATOR (filter). I will try to check it for you, madam.

MRS. STEVENSON. Check it. Check it. That's all anybody can do. Oh--I'm going out of my mind with all you people. . . .

SOUND. She slams down the receiver. Almost instantly the phone rings. She picks up the receiver.

MRS. STEVENSON (her nerves getting scratchier and scratchier). Hello. HELLO! Stop ringing, do you hear? Answer me. Who is this? Do you realize you're driving me crazy? Who's calling me? What are you doing it for? Now stop it--stop it, I say. HELLO. HELLO! If you don't stop ringing me, I'm going to call the police--do you hear? THE POLICE!

SOUND. She slams down the receiver.

MRS. STEVENSON (sobbing nervously). If Elbert would only come home!

SOUND. The phone rings again sharply.

MRS. STEVENSON. Let it ring. Let it go on ringing. It's a trick of some kind. And I won't answer it. I won't--even if it goes on ringing all night.

SOUND. The phone suddenly stops--then silence.

MRS. STEVENSON (a terrified note in her voice). Now what's the matter? Why did they stop ringing all of a sudden? (Hysterically.) What time is it? Five to eleven . . . they've decided something. They're sure I'm home. They heard my voice answer them just now. That's why they have been ringing me--why no one has answered me--

SOUND. She dials Operator.

OPERATOR (filter). Your call, please?

MRS. STEVENSON. Give me the Police Department.

SOUND. Operator puts call through. Busy signal.

OPERATOR (filter). The line is busy.

MRS. STEVENSON. Busy? But--that's impossible. The Police Department can't be busy. There must be other lines available.

OPERATOR (filter). The line is busy. Shall I ring them for you later?

MRS. STEVENSON (frantic). No--no! I've got to speak to them now--or it may be too late. You've got to get someone for me.

OPERATOR (filter). What number do you wish to speak to, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON (desperately). I don't know. But there must be someone to protect people, besides the police department. A--detective agency. . . .

OPERATOR (filter). You will find all detective agencies listed in the Classified Directory, madam.

MRS. STEVENSON. But I don't have a Classified. I mean--I'm too nervous to look it up--and I don't know--

OPERATOR (filter). I will give you Information.

MRS. STEVENSON (agonizedly). No--no. (Furiously.) Oh--you're being spiteful, aren't you? You don't care, do you, what happens to me? I could die--and you wouldn't care. (She sobs.)

SOUND. Hangs up the receiver. Phone rings.

MRS. STEVENSON. Oh--stop it--stop it. I can't stand any more.

SOUND. She picks up the receiver.

MRS. STEVENSON (yelling frenziedly into phone). Hello. What do you want? Stop ringing, will you? Stop it...Oh...(in a more subdued voice) . . . I'm sorry. Yes. This is Plaza 4-2295.

3RD MAN (filter). This is Western Union. I have a telegram here for Mrs. Elbert Stevenson. Is there anyone there to receive the message?

MRS. STEVENSON (trying to calm herself). I am Mrs. Stevenson.

3RD MAN (filter). The telegram is as follows: Mrs. Elbert Stevenson, 53 North Sutton Place, New York, New York. Darling. Terribly sorry. Tried to get you for last hour, but line busy. Leaving for Boston 11 P.M. tonight,

on urgent business. Back tomorrow afternoon. Keep happy. Love. Signed, Elbert.

MRS. STEVENSON (breathlessly, almost to herself). Oh--no--

3RD MAN (filter). That is all, madam. Do you wish us to deliver a copy of the message?

MRS. STEVENSON. No. No, thank you.

3RD MAN (filter). Very well, madam. Good night.

SOUND. Hangs up.

MRS. STEVENSON (mechanically). Good night.

SOUND. She hangs up.

MRS. STEVENSON (suddenly bursting out). No. No--I don't believe it. He couldn't do it. Not when he knows I'll be all alone. It's some trick--

SOUND. She dials Operator.

OPERATOR (filter). Your call, please?

MRS. STEVENSON. Murray Hill 3-0093.

OPERATOR (filter). You may dial that number direct, madam. . . .


MRS. STEVENSON (wretchedly). Oh . . .

SOUND. You hear her nervously dialing the number. It comes through, ring after long ring. No answer.

MRS. STEVENSON. He's gone, Elbert--how could you? How could you--

SOUND. She hangs up the phone.

MRS. STEVENSON (sobs, pitying herself). But I can't be alone--tonight. I can't. If I'm alone one more second, I'll go mad. I don't care what he says--or what the expense is--I'm a sick. . . .


SOUND. She dials Information.

INFORMATION (filter). This is Information.

MRS. STEVENSON. I want the telephone number of Henchley Hospital.

INFORMATION (filter). Henchley Hospital? Do you have the address, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. No. It's somewhere in the seventies. It's a very small, private, and exclusive hospital where I had my appendix out two years ago. Henchley--H-e-n-c-

INFORMATION (filter). One moment.

MRS. STEVENSON. Please hurry. And please--what is the time?

INFORMATION (filter). I do not know, madam. You may find out the time by dialing Meridian 7-1212.

MRS. STEVENSON (irritated). Oh, for heaven's sake. . . .

INFORMATION (filter). The number of Henchley Hospital is Butterfield 7-0105, madam.

MRS. STEVENSON. Butterfield 7-0105.

SOUND. She hangs up before she finishes speaking, and you hear her dialing number even as she speaks--then ring.

4TH MAN (filter--solid, practical). Henchley Hospital. Good evening.

MRS. STEVENSON. Nurses' Registry.

4TH MAN (filter). Who was it you wished to speak to, please?

MRS. STEVENSON (high-handed). I want the Nurses' Registry, at once. I want a trained nurse. I want to hire her immediately. For the night.

4TH MAN (filter). I see. And what is the nature of the case, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. Nerves. I'm very nervous. I need soothing--and companionship. You see--my husband is away---and I'm--

4TH MAN (filter). Have you been recommended to us by any doctor?

MRS. STEVENSON. No. But I really don't see why all this catechizing is necessary. I want a trained nurse. I was a patient in your hospital two years ago. And after all, I do expect to pay this person for attending me.

4TH MAN (filter). We quite understand that, madam. But these are busy times, you know. Registered nurses are very scarce just now--and our superintendent has asked us to send people out only on cases where the physician in charge feels it is absolutely necessary.

MRS. STEVENSON (high-handed). Well, it is absolutely necessary. I'm a sick woman. I--I'm very upset. Very. I'm alone in this house--and I'm an invalid--and tonight I overheard a telephone conversation that upset me dreadfully. In fact (beginning to yell) if someone doesn't come at once--I'm afraid I'll go out of my mind--

4TH MAN (filter--calmly). I see. Well--I'll speak to Miss Phillips as soon as she comes in. And what is your name, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. Miss Phillips? And what time do you expect her in?

4TH MAN (filter). I really don't know, madam. She went out to supper at eleven o'clock.

MRS. STEVENSON. Eleven o'clock! But it's not eleven yet! (She cries out.) Oh--my clock has stopped. I thought it was running down. What time is it?

4TH MAN (filter--pausing). Just fifteen minutes past eleven. . . .

SOUND. Telephone receiver being lifted on the same line as MRS. STEVENSON'S.

MRS. STEVENSON (crying out). What was that?

4TH MAN (filter). What was what, madam?

MRS. STEVENSON. That--that click--just now--in my own telephone. As though someone had lifted the receiver off the hook of the extension telephone downstairs.

4TH MAN (filter). I didn't hear it, madam. Now--about this--

MRS. STEVENSON (terrified). But--I did. There's someone in this house. Someone downstairs--in the kitchen. And they're listening to me now. They're...(Screams.)

SOUND. She hangs up--then silence.

MRS. STEVENSON (in a suffocated voice). I won't pick it up. I won't let them hear me. I'll be quiet--and they'll think...(with growing terror) but if I don't call someone now--while they are still down there---there'll be no time. . . .

SOUND. She picks up the receiver and dials Operator. Ring three times.

OPERATOR (filter). Your call, please?

MRS. STEVENSON (in a desperate whisper). Operator. I--I'm in desperate trouble. I--

OPERATOR (filter). I cannot hear you, madam. Please speak louder.

MRS. STEVENSON (still whispering). I don't dare. I--there's someone listening. Can you hear me now?

OPERATOR (filter). No, madam.

MRS. STEVENSON (desperately). But you've got to hear me. Oh--please. You've got to help me. There's someone in this house. Someone who's going to murder me. And you've got to get in touch with the . . . .

SOUND. Click of receiver being put down in MRS. STEVENSON'S line.

MRS. STEVENSON (bursting out wildly). Oh--there it is. He's put it down--he's put down the extension phone. He's--coming up.... (Her voice is hoarse with fear.) He's coming upstairs. Give me the police . . . the police . . . .

OPERATOR (filter). One moment. (Pause.)

SOUND. Call is put through. Phone rings at the other end. On second ring MRS. STEVENSON starts to scream. She screams twice as the phone continues to ring. On the fourth scream we hear the sound of a subway train as it roars over a nearby bridge. It drowns out all sound for a second. Then it passes, and we hear the phone still ringing at the other end. The telephone is picked up.

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter). Police Station, Precinct 43. Duffy speaking. (A pause.)

SERGEANT DUFFY (filter--louder). Police Department. Sergeant Duffy speaking.

GEORGE (same distinctive voice as in the beginning of play). Sorry. Wrong number.

SOUND. Receiver is hung up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is this a realistic play? Is it possible, for instance, for a caller to accidentally overhear a conversation between two other parties? Is it possible for Mrs. Stevenson to never fully grasp that she is the intended victim?
  2. What makes the plot of Sorry, Wrong Number capture the reader's undivided attention?
  3. Why is the murder scene only implied (instead of actually shown)?

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