Saturday, July 25, 2009

"The Diamond Lens" by Fitz-James O'Brien, Part One

Now, the Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story today is called "The Diamond Lens. " It was written by Fitz-James O'Brien. We will tell the story in two parts. Now, here is Maurice Joyce with part one of "The Diamond Lens."



When I was ten years old, one of my older cousins gave me a microscope. The first time I looked through its magic lens, the clouds that surrounded my daily life rolled away. I saw a universe of tiny living creatures in a drop of water. Day after day, night after night, I studied life under my microscope.

The fungus that spoiled my mother’s jam was, for me, a land of magic gardens. I would put one of those spots of green mold under my microscope and see beautiful forests, where strange silver and golden fruit hung from the branches of tiny trees. I felt as if I had discovered another Garden of Eden.

Although I didn’t tell anyone about my secret world, I decided to spend my life studying the microscope.

My parents had other plans for me. When I was nearly twenty years old, they insisted that I learn a profession even though we were a rich family, and I really didn’t have to work at all. I decided to study medicine in New York.

This city was far away from my family, so I could spend my time as I pleased. As long as I paid my medical school fees every year, my family would never know I wasn’t attending any classes. In New York, I would be able to buy excellent microscopes and meet scientists from all over the world. I would have plenty of money and plenty of time to spend on my dream. I left home with high hopes.

Two days after I arrived in New York, I found a place to live. It was large enough for me to use one of the rooms as my laboratory. I filled this room with expensive scientific equipment that I did not know how to use. But by the end of my first year in the city, I had become an expert with the microscope. I also had become more and more unhappy.

The lens in my expensive microscope was still not strong enough to answer my questions about life. I imagined there were still secrets in Nature that the limited power of my equipment prevented me from knowing.

I lay awake nights, wishing to find the perfect lens – an instrument of great magnifying power. Such a lens would permit me to see life in the smallest parts of its development. I was sure that a powerful lens like that could be built. And I spent my second year in New York trying to create it.

I experimented with every kind of material. I tried simple glass, crystal and even precious stones. But I always found myself back where I started.

My parents were angry at the lack of progress in my medical studies. I had not gone to one class since arriving in New York. Also, I had spent a lot of money on my experiments.

One day, while I was working in my laboratory, Jules Simon knocked at my door. He lived in the apartment just above mine. I knew he loved jewelry, expensive clothing and good living. There was something mysterious about him, too. He always had something to sell: a painting, a rare statue, an expensive pair of lamps.

I never understood why Simon did this. He didn’t seem to need the money. He had many friends among the best families of New York.

Simon was very excited as he came into my laboratory. “O my dear fellow!” he gasped. “I have just seen the most amazing thing in the world!”

He told me he had gone to visit a woman who had strange, magical powers. She could speak to the dead and read the minds of the living. To test her, Simon had written some questions about himself on a piece of paper. The woman, Madame Vulpes, had answered all of the questions correctly.

Hearing about the woman gave me an idea. Perhaps she would be able to help me discover the secret of the perfect lens. Two days later, I went to her house.

Madame Vulpes was an ugly woman with sharp, cruel eyes. She didn’t say a word to me when she opened the door, but took me right into her living room. We sat down at a large round table, and she spoke. “What do you want from me?”

“I want to speak to a person who died many years before I was born.”

“Put your hands on the table.”

We sat there for several minutes. The room grew darker and darker. But Madame Vulpes did not turn on any lights. I began to feel a little silly. Then I felt a series of violent knocks. They shook the table, the back of my chair, the floor under my feet and even the windows.

Madam Vulpes smiled. “They are very strong tonight. You are lucky. They want you to write down the name of the spirit you wish to talk to.”

I tore a piece of paper out of my notebook and wrote down a name. I didn’t show it to Madame Vulpes.

After a moment, Madame Vulpes’ hand began to shake so hard the table move. She said the spirit was now holding her hand and would write me a message.

I gave her paper and a pencil. She wrote something and gave the paper to me. The message read: “I am her. Question me.” I was signed “Leeuwenhoek.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The name was the same one I had written on my piece of paper. I was sure that an ignorant woman like Madame Vulpes would not know who Leeuwenhoek was. Why would she know the name of the man who invented the microscope?

Quickly, I wrote a question on another piece of paper. “How can I create the perfect lens?” Leeuwenhoek wrote back: “Find a diamond of one hundred and forty carats. Give it a strong electrical charge. The electricity will change the diamond’s atoms. From that stone you can form the perfect lens.”

I left Madame Vulpes’ house in a state of painful excitement. Where would I find a diamond that large? All my family’s money could not buy a diamond like that. And even if I had enough money, I knew that such diamonds are very difficult to find.

When I came home, I saw a light in Simon’s window. I climbed the stairs to his apartment and went in without knocking. Simon’s back was toward me as he bent over a lamp. He looked as if he were carefully studying a small object in his hands. As soon as he heard me enter, he put the object in his pocket. His face became red, and he seemed very nervous.

“What are you looking at?” I asked. Simon didn’t answer me. Instead, he laughed nervously and told me to sit down. I couldn’t wait to tell him my news.

“Simon, I have just come from Madame Vulpes. She gave me some important information that will help me find the perfect lens. If only I could find a diamond that weighs one hundred forty carats!”

My words seemed to change Simon into a wild animal. He rushed to a small table and grabbed a long, thin knife. “No!” he shouted. “You won’t get my treasure! I’ll die before I give it to you!”

“My dear Simon,” I said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I went to Madame Vulpes to ask her for help with a scientific problem. She told me I needed an enormous diamond. You could not possibly own a diamond that large. If you did, you would be very rich. And you wouldn’t be living here.”

He stared at me for a second. Then he laughed and apologized.

“Simon,” I suggested, “let us drink some wine and forget all this. I have two bottles downstairs in my apartment. What do you think?”

“I like your idea,” he said.

I brought the wine to his apartment, and we began to drink. By the time we had finished the first bottle, Simon was very sleepy and very drunk. I felt as calm as ever…for I believed that I knew Simon’s secret.


Announcer: You have just heard part one of the "The Diamond Lens" by Fitz-James O'Brien. It was adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. Your storyteller was Maurice Joyce.

Listen again next week for the final part of our story told in Special English on the Voice of America. This is Shirley Griffith.

"The Diamond Lens" by Fitz-James O'Brien, Part Two, From "Voice of America"

Now, the Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story is called "The Diamond Lens. " It was written by Fitz-James O'Brien. Today we will hear the second and final part of the story. Here is Maurice Joyce with part two of "The Diamond Lens."



When I was a child, someone gave me a microscope. I spent hours looking through that microscope, exploring Nature's tiny secrets. As I grew up, I became more interested in my microscope than in people.

When I was twenty years old, my parents sent me to New York City to study medicine. I never went to any of my classes. Instead, I spent all my time, and a lot of my money, trying to build the perfect microscope. I wanted to make a powerful lens that would let me see even the smallest parts of life. But all my experiments failed.

Then one day, I met a young man, who lived in the apartment above mine. Jules Simon told me about a woman who could speak to the dead. When I visited Madame Vulpes, she let me speak to the spirit of the man who invented the microscope. The spirit of Anton Leeuwenhoek told me how to make a perfect lens from a diamond of one hundred forty carats.

But where could I find a diamond that big?

When I returned home, I went to Simon's apartment. He was surprised to see me and tried to hide a small object in his pocket. I wanted to discover what it was, so I brought two bottles of wine to his apartment. We began to drink. By the time we had finished the first bottle, Simon was very drunk.

"Simon, I know you have a secret. Why don't you tell me about it?" Something in my voice must have made him feel safe. He made me promise to keep his secret. Then he took a small box from his pocket. When he opened it, I saw a large diamond shaped like a rose. A pure white light seemed to come from deep inside the diamond.

Simon told me he had stolen the diamond from a man in South America. He said it weighed exactly one hundred forty carats.

Excitement shook my body. I could not believe my luck. On the same evening that the spirit of Leeuwenhoek tells me the secret of the perfect lens, I find the diamond I need to create it.

I decided to steal Simon's treasure.

I sat across the table from him as he drank another glass of wine. I knew I could not simply steal the diamond. Simon would call the police. There was only one way to get the diamond. I had to kill Simon.

Everything I needed to murder Simon was right there in his apartment. A bottle full of sleeping powder was on a table near his bed. A long thin knife lay on the table. Simon was so busy looking at his diamond that I was able to put the drug in his glass quite easily. He fell asleep in fifteen minutes.

I put his diamond in my pocket and carried Simon to the bed. I wanted to make the police think Simon had killed himself. I picked up Simon's long thin knife and stared down at him. I tried to imagine exactly how the knife would enter Simon's heart if he were holding the knife himself.

I pushed the knife deep into his heart. I heard a sound come from his throat, like the bursting of a large bubble. His body moved and his right hand grabbed the handle of the knife. He must have died immediately.

I washed our glasses and took the two wine bottles away with me. I left the lights on, closed the door and went back to my apartment.

Simon's death was not discovered until three o'clock the next day. One of the neighbors knocked at his door and when there was no answer, she called the police. They discovered Simon's body on the bed. The police questioned everyone. But they did not learn the truth. The police finally decided Jules Simon had killed himself, and soon everyone forgot about him. I had committed the perfect crime.

For three months after Simon's death, I worked day and night on my diamond lens. At last the lens was done. My hands shook as I put a drop of water on a piece of glass. Carefully, I added some oil to the water to prevent it from drying. I turned on a strong light under the glass and looked through the diamond lens.

For a moment, I saw nothing in that drop of water. And then I saw a pure white light. Carefully, I moved the lens of my microscope closer to the drop of water.

Slowly, the white light began to change. It began to form shapes. I could see clouds and wonderful trees and flowers. These plants were the most unusual colors: bright reds, greens, purples, as well as silver and gold. The branches of these trees moved slowly in a soft wind. Everywhere I looked, I could see fruits and flowers of a thousand different colors.

"How strange," I thought, "that this beautiful place has no animal life in it."

Then, I saw something moving slowly among the brightly-colored trees and bushes. The branches of a purple and silver bush were gently pushed aside. And, there, before my eye, stood the most beautiful woman I had ever seen! She was perfect: pink skin, large blue eyes and long golden hair that fell over her shoulders to her knees.

She stepped away from the rainbow-colored trees. Like a flower floating on water, she drifted through the air. Watching her move was like listening to the sound of tiny bells ringing in the wind.

She went to the rainbow-colored trees and looked up at one of them. The tree moved one of its branches that was full of fruit. It lowered the branch to her, and she took one of the fruits. She turned it in her tiny hands and began to eat.

How I wished I had the power to enter that bright light and float with her through those beautiful forests.

Suddenly, I realized I had fallen in love with this tiny creature! I loved someone who would never love me back. Someone who is a prisoner in a drop of water. I ran out of the room, threw myself on my bed and cried until I fell asleep.

Day after day, I returned to my microscope to watch her. I never left my apartment. I rarely even ate or slept.

One day, as usual, I went to my microscope, ready to watch my love. She was there, but a terrible change had taken place. Her face had become thin, and she could hardly walk. The wonderful light in her golden hair and blues eyes was gone. At that moment, I would have given my soul to become as small as she and enter her world to help her.

What was causing her to be so sick? She seemed in great pain. I watched her for hours, helpless and alone with my breaking heart. She grew weaker and weaker. The forest also was changing. The trees were losing their wonderful colors.

Suddenly, I realized I had not looked at the drop of water for several days. I had looked into it with the microscope, but not at it. As soon as I looked at the glass under the microscope, I understood the horrible truth. I had forgotten to add more oil to the drop of water to stop it from drying. The drop of water had disappeared.

I rushed again to look through the lens. The rainbow forests were all gone.

My love lay in a spot of weak light. Her pink body was dried and wrinkled. Her eyes were black as dust. Slowly she disappeared forever.

I fainted and woke many hours later on pieces of my microscope. I had fallen on it when I fainted. My mind was as broken as the diamond lens. I crawled to my bed and withdrew from the world.

I finally got better, months later. But all my money was gone. People now say I am crazy. They call me "Linley, the mad scientist."

No one believes I spoke to the spirit of Leeuwenhoek. They laugh when I tell them how I killed Jules Simon and stole his diamond to make the perfect lens. They think I never saw that beautiful world in a drop of water.

But I know the truth of the diamond lens. And now, so do you.



You have just heard "The Diamond Lens" by Fitz-James O'Brien. It was adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. Your storyteller was Maurice Joyce.

Listen again next week for another AMERICAN STORY told in Special English on the Voice of America.

"The Diamond Lens" Comprehension Check

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain

ANNOUNCER: Now, the VOA Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story is called “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” It was written by Mark Twain. Here is Shep O’Neal with the story.


STORYTELLER: A friend of mine in the East asked me to visit old Simon Wheeler, to ask about my friend's friend, Leonidas W. Smiley. I did as my friend asked me to do and this story is the result.

Angel's Camp Today
I found Simon Wheeler sleeping by the stove in the ruined mining camp of Angel's.

I saw that he was fat and had no hair, and had a gentle and simple look upon his peaceful face. He woke up, and gave me “good-day.” I told him a friend had asked me to find out about a friend named Leonidas W. Smiley, who he heard was at one time living in Angel's Camp. I added that if Mister Wheeler could tell me anything about this Leonidas W. Smiley, I would feel a great responsibility to him.

Simon Wheeler forced me into a corner with his chair and began telling me this long story. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice. But all through the endless story there was a feeling of great seriousness and honesty. This showed me plainly that he thought the heroes of the story were men of great intelligence.

I let him go on in his own way, and never stopped him once. This is the story Simon Wheeler told.


Leonidas W. …. h'm… Le… well, there was a man here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of eighteen forty-nine--or may be it was the spring of eighteen-fifty. Anyway, he was the strangest man. He was always making money on anything that turned up if he could get anybody to try to make money on the other side. And if he could not do that, he would change sides.

And he was lucky, uncommon lucky. He most always was a winner. If there was a dog-fight, he would try to win money on it. If there was a cat-fight, he would take the risk. If there was a chicken-fight, he would try to win money on it. Why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would want you to decide which one would fly first so he could win money.

Lots of the boys here have seen that Smiley and can tell you about him. Why, it did not matter to him. He would try to make money on anything. He was the most unusual man. Parson Walker's wife was very sick once, for a long time, and it seemed as if they were not going to save her.

But one morning he come in, and Smiley asked him how was his wife, and he said she was better, thank God. And Smiley, before he thought, says, “Well, I'll risk my money she will not get well.'"

And Smiley had a little small dog. To look at the dog, you would think he was not worth anything but to sit around and look mean and look for a chance to steal something. But as soon as there was money, he was a different dog. Another dog might attack and throw him around two or three times. Then all of a sudden Smiley’s dog would grab that other dog by his back leg and hang on till the men said it was over.

Smiley always come out the winner on that dog, at least until he found a dog once that did not have any back legs. The dog’s legs had been cut off in a machine. Well, the fighting continued long enough, and the money was gone. Then when Smiley’s dog come to make a grab the other dog’s back legs, he saw in a minute how there was a problem.

The other dog was going to win and Smiley’s dog looked surprised and did not try to win the fight anymore. He gave Smiley a look that said he was sorry for fighting a dog that did not have any back legs for him to hold, which he needed to win a fight. Then Smiley’s dog walked away, laid down and died. He was a good dog, and would have made a name for himself if he had lived, for he had intelligence. It always makes me feel sorry when I think of that last fight of his and the way it turned out.


Well, this Smiley had rats, and chickens, and cats and all of them kind of things. You could not get anything for him to risk money on but he would match you. He caught a frog one day, and took him home, and said he was going to educate the frog. And so he never done nothing for three months but sit in his back yard and teach that frog to jump. And you bet you he did teach him, too.

He would give him a little hit from behind. And the next minute you would see that frog dancing in the air and then come down all on his feet and all right, like a cat. Smiley got him so the frog was catching flies, and he would catch one of those insects every time.

Smiley said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do almost anything. And I believe him. Why, I have seen him set Dan'l Webster down here on this floor--Dan'l Webster was the name of the frog -- and sing out, "Flies, Dan'l, flies!" And quicker than you could shut your eyes that frog would jump straight up and catch a fly off the table. Then he would fall down on the floor again like a ball of dirt and start rubbing the side of his head with his back foot as if he had no idea he had been doing any more than any frog might do.

You never seen a frog so honest and simple as he was, for all he was so skilled. And when it come to jumping, he could get over more ground in one jump than any animal of his kind that you ever saw.

Smiley was very proud of his frog, and people who had traveled and been everywhere all said he was better than any frog they had ever seen.

Well, one day a stranger came in and says to Smiley, "What might be that you have got in the box?"

And Smiley says, "It’s only just a frog." And the man took it, and looked at it careful, and turned it round this way and that, and says, "H'm, so it is. Well, what is he good for?"

"Well," Smiley says, easy and careless, “he can out jump any frog in Calaveras county."

The man took the box again, and took another long look, and gave it back to Smiley, and says, "Well, I don't see anything about that frog that is any better than any other frog."

"Maybe you don't," Smiley says. "Maybe you understand frogs and maybe you don't. Anyways, I will risk forty dollars and bet you that he can jump farther than any frog in Calaveras County."

And the man studied a minute. "Well, I'm only a stranger here, and I do not have a frog. But if I had a frog, I would risk my money on it.

And then Smiley says, "That's all right. If you will hold my box a minute, I will go and get you a frog." And so the man took the box, and put up his forty dollars and sat down to wait.

He sat there a long time thinking and thinking. Then he got the frog out of the box. He filled its mouth full of bullets used to kill small birds. Then he put the frog on the floor.

Now Smiley had caught another frog and gave it to the man and said, “Now sit him next to Dan’l and I will give the word.”

Then Smiley says, “One-two-three-go!” and Smiley and the other man touched the frogs.

The new frog jumped. Dan’l just lifted up his body but could not move at all. He was planted like a building. Smiley was very surprised and angry too. But he did not know what the problem was.

The other man took the money and started away. And when he was going out the door, he looked back and said "Well, I don’t see anything about that frog that is any better than any other frog."

Smiley stood looking down at Dan'l a long time, and at last says, "I wonder what in the nation happened to that frog. I wonder if there is something wrong with him.”

And he picked up Dan’l and turned him upside down and out came a whole lot of bullets. And Smiley was the angriest man. He set the frog down and took out after that man but he never caught him.


Now Simon Wheeler heard his name called and got up to see what was wanted. He told me to wait but I did not think that more stories about Jim Smiley would give me any more information about Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started to walk away.

At the door I met Mister Wheeler returning, and he started talking again. "Well, this here Smiley had a yellow cow with one eye and no tail…”

However, lacking both time and interest, I did not wait to hear about the cow. I just left.


ANNOUNCER: You have heard the American Story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Your storyteller was Shep O’Neal. This story was written by Mark Twain and adapted into Special English by Karen Leggett. Listen again next week at this time for another American Story in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.


1. Smiley's dog lost because his opponent __________________ .
a: was much stronger
b: had no back legs to grab onto
c: was able to get away from the dog's bites
d: was much faster, therefore more difficult to catch

2. In the frog jumping contest with Dan'l Webster, the stranger _____________________
a: had a better frog
b: was able to get his frog to jump farther
c: didn't play fair
d: was smarter than Jim Smiley

3. After Smiley made a discovery about Dan'l Webster, he ran after the dishonest stranger, __________________
a: and had him arrested
b: and demanded he return the money he had won
c: and physically attacked him
d: but never found him

4. The story of Jim Smiley and his frog was told by __________________ .
a: Mark Twain
b: Shep O'Neal
c: Simon Wheeler
d: Leonidas W. Smiley

5. After he said that there was nothing special about Dan'l Webster, the stranger left with the money, then ___________________ .
a: Smiley threw Dan'l Webster against the wall
b: Smiley turned Dan'l Webster upside down
c: Smiley put Dan'l Webster back in the box
d: Dan'l Webster jumped out of the window and was never found again

6. The story tells us that Jim Smiley was an unusual ___________________ .
a: gambler
b: animal expert
c: miner
d: investor

7. One method Jim Smiley used to teach his frog how to jump was to _______________ .
a: place flies at a distance
b: pat a table until the frog jumped up to it
c: call the frog's name in a loud voice
d: fill the frog's stomach with bullets

8. Smiley said, "I bet you that my frog _______________ any frog in Calaveraus County."
a: can to jump farther then
b: can jumping more far than
c: can to jumping farther
d: can jump farther than

9. Angel's Camp was populated in 1850 by ________________ and their families.
a: gold miners
b: animal trainers
c: gamblers
d: jumping frogs

10. When Parson Walker said his sick wife was feeling better, Jim Smiley said that _____________________
a: he was glad she was better
b: hoped she would be entirely cured
c: he would bet money that she wouldn't improve
d: he would be happy to help out any way he could

Here's a video that uses toys to tell Mark Twain's story of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"The Californian's Tale" by Mark Twain

Now, the weekly Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story today is called “The Californian’s Tale." It was written by Mark Twain. Here is Shep O’Neal with the story.


When I was young, I went looking for gold in California. I never found enough to make me rich. But I did discover a beautiful part of the country. It was called “the Stanislau.” The Stanislau was like Heaven on Earth. It had bright green hills and deep forests where soft winds touched the trees.

Other men, also looking for gold, had reached the Stanislau hills of California many years before I did. They had built a town in the valley with sidewalks and stores, banks and schools. They had also built pretty little houses for their families.

At first, they found a lot of gold in the Stanislau hills. But their good luck did not last. After a few years, the gold disappeared. By the time I reached the Stanislau, all the people were gone, too.

Grass now grew in the streets. And the little houses were covered by wild rose bushes. Only the sound of insects filled the air as I walked through the empty town that summer day so long ago. Then, I realized I was not alone after all.

A man was smiling at me as he stood in front of one of the little houses. This house was not covered by wild rose bushes. A nice little garden in front of the house was full of blue and yellow flowers. White curtains hung from the windows and floated in the soft summer wind.

Still smiling, the man opened the door of his house and motioned to me. I went inside and could not believe my eyes. I had been living for weeks in rough mining camps with other gold miners. We slept on the hard ground, ate canned beans from cold metal plates and spent our days in the difficult search for gold.

Here in this little house, my spirit seemed to come to life again.

I saw a bright rug on the shining wooden floor. Pictures hung all around the room. And on little tables there were seashells, books and china vases full of flowers. A woman had made this house into a home.

The pleasure I felt in my heart must have shown on my face. The man read my thoughts. “Yes,” he smiled, “it is all her work. Everything in this room has felt the touch of her hand.”

One of the pictures on the wall was not hanging straight. He noticed it and went to fix it. He stepped back several times to make sure the picture was really straight. Then he gave it a gentle touch with his hand.

“She always does that,” he explained to me. “It is like the finishing pat a mother gives her child’s hair after she has brushed it. I have seen her fix all these things so often that I can do it just the way she does. I don’t know why I do it. I just do it.”

As he talked, I realized there was something in this room that he wanted me to discover. I looked around. When my eyes reached a corner of the room near the fireplace, he broke into a happy laugh and rubbed his hands together.

“That’s it!” he cried out. “You have found it! I knew you would. It is her picture. I went to a little black shelf that held a small picture of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. There was a sweetness and softness in the woman’s expression that I had never seen before.

The man took the picture from my hands and stared at it. “She was nineteen on her last birthday. That was the day we were married. When you see her…oh, just wait until you meet her!”

“Where is she now?” I asked.

“Oh, she is away,” the man sighed, putting the picture back on the little black shelf. “She went to visit her parents. They live forty or fifty miles from here. She has been gone two weeks today.”

“When will she be back?” I asked. “Well, this is Wednesday,” he said slowly. “She will be back on Saturday, in the evening.”

I felt a sharp sense of regret. “I am sorry, because I will be gone by then,” I said.

“Gone? No! Why should you go? Don’t go. She will be so sorry. You see, she likes to have people come and stay with us.”

“No, I really must leave,” I said firmly.

He picked up her picture and held it before my eyes. “Here,” he said. “Now you tell her to her face that you could have stayed to meet her and you would not.”

Something made me change my mind as I looked at the picture for a second time. I decided to stay.

The man told me his name was Henry.

That night, Henry and I talked about many different things, but mainly about her. The next day passed quietly.

Thursday evening we had a visitor. He was a big, grey-haired miner named Tom. “I just came for a few minutes to ask when she is coming home,” he explained. “Is there any news?”

“Oh yes,” the man replied. “I got a letter. Would you like to hear it? He took a yellowed letter out of his shirt pocket and read it to us. It was full of loving messages to him and to other people – their close friends and neighbors. When the man finished reading it, he looked at his friend. “Oh no, you are doing it again, Tom! You always cry when I read a letter from her. I’m going to tell her this time!”

“No, you must not do that, Henry,” the grey-haired miner said. “I am getting old. And any little sorrow makes me cry. I really was hoping she would be here tonight.”

The next day, Friday, another old miner came to visit. He asked to hear the letter. The message in it made him cry, too. “We all miss her so much,” he said.

Saturday finally came. I found I was looking at my watch very often. Henry noticed this. “You don’t think something has happened to her, do you?” he asked me.

I smiled and said that I was sure she was just fine. But he did not seem satisfied.

I was glad to see his two friends, Tom and Joe, coming down the road as the sun began to set. The old miners were carrying guitars. They also brought flowers and a bottle of whiskey. They put the flowers in vases and began to play some fast and lively songs on their guitars.

Henry’s friends kept giving him glasses of whiskey, which they made him drink. When I reached for one of the two glasses left on the table, Tom stopped my arm. “Drop that glass and take the other one!” he whispered. He gave the remaining glass of whiskey to Henry just as the clock began to strike midnight.

Henry emptied the glass. His face grew whiter and whiter. “Boys,” he said, “I am feeling sick. I want to lie down.”

Henry was asleep almost before the words were out of his mouth.

In a moment, his two friends had picked him up and carried him into the bedroom. They closed the door and came back. They seemed to be getting ready to leave. So I said, “Please don’t go gentlemen. She will not know me. I am a stranger to her.”

They looked at each other. “His wife has been dead for nineteen years,” Tom said.

“Dead?” I whispered.

“Dead or worse,” he said.

“She went to see her parents about six months after she got married. On her way back, on a Saturday evening in June, when she was almost here, the Indians captured her. No one ever saw her again. Henry lost his mind. He thinks she is still alive. When June comes, he thinks she has gone on her trip to see her parents. Then he begins to wait for her to come back. He gets out that old letter. And we come around to visit so he can read it to us.

“On the Saturday night she is supposed to come home, we come here to be with him. We put a sleeping drug in his drink so he will sleep through the night. Then he is all right for another year.”

Joe picked up his hat and his guitar. “We have done this every June for nineteen years,” he said. “The first year there were twenty-seven of us. Now just the two of us are left.” He opened the door of the pretty little house. And the two old men disappeared into the darkness of the Stanislau.



You have just heard the story "The Californian’s Tale." It was written by Mark Twain and adapted for Special English by Donna de Sanctis. Your storyteller was Shep O’Neal. For VOA Special English, this is Shirley Griffith.


1. The yellowed letter that Henry took from his pocket was probably _____________ .
a: not from Henry's wife
b: very old
c: written very fast
d: not written on white paper

2. Henry's wife ______________________ .
a: won't be coming back
b: won't be leaving her parents
c: will soon be straightening the picture frame
d: will be home by Saturday

3. At the beginning of the story, ________________________ .
a: there's a lot of gold in the Stanislau
b: there are beautiful little houses where families live
c: Henry's wife is cleaning the house
d: most of the people are gone

4. The narrator of the story hasn't been ______________________ .
a: eating canned beans
b: sleeping on the hard ground
c: staying in a nice home
d: searching for gold

5. Henry gave the straightened picture a gentle touch with his hand because ________________ .
a: he wanted to make sure it was straight
b: it's what his wife would have done
c: he wanted to show off his housekeeping skills to his guest
d: he imagined it was the child he could never have

6. Henry told his guest that _______________________________ .
a: his wife was dead
b: his wife was visiting her parents 40 miles away
c: his wife was searching for gold
d: his wife was outside trimming wild rose bushes

7. After Henry reads the letter from his wife, Tom and Joe _________________ .
a: always cry
b: always play the guitar
c: never show emotion
d: try to tell Henry his wife has passed away

8. Tom told me not to take that glass of whisky, but instead drink the other one because _____________________ .
a: the other one was a better glass of whisky
b: the first one contained poison
c: the other one contained ice
d: the first one contained a sleeping medicine

9. The Stanislau hills of California had __________________ .
a: an unlimited amount of gold in them
b: thriving communities of wealthy miners
c: green grass, deep forests, and soft winds
d: beautiful women that made every man's spirit come to life

10.There was a bright rug on a shining wooden floor ________________ .
a: in all the houses
b: in Tom's house
c: in Henry's wife's parents' house
d: in Henry's house

11. If Tom and Jim didn't make Henry go to sleep, Henry _______________________ .
a: would go looking for his wife
b: would get very drunk
c: would tear up the letter
d: would probably not sleep, but wait up for his wife

Here's Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain: