|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
SHALL WE KILL THEM BOTH?
NCLE PAUL went up to his room and came back with a book.
"What I am going to read to you is from a mounted
artilleryman, more expert in the art of the pen than in that
of the cannon. At the beginning of this century a French
army occupied Calabria. Our gunner belonged to it. Here is a
letter he wrote to his cousin:
" 'One day I was traveling in Calabria. It is a country of
bad people who love no one and have a special spite against
the French. It would take too long to tell you why; enough
that they mortally hate us and one is sure of a bad time if
one falls into their hands.
" 'My companion was a young man. In these mountains the
roads are precipices; our horses could hardly climb them. My
comrade was in front. A path that seemed to him shorter and
more practicable misled us. It was my fault. Ought I to have
put my trust in a man of twenty years? As long as daylight
lasted we tried to find our way through the woods; but the
more we tried the more bewildered we got, and it was pitch
dark when we reached a dimly lighted house. We entered, not
without suspicion, but what could we do?
 " 'There we found a charcoal-burner and all his family at
table, to which they immediately invited us. My young man
needed no urging. We sat down, eating and drinking, or he at
least, for I busied myself examining the place and the
countenances of our hosts. They had the appearance of
charcoal-burners, but the house might have been taken for an
arsenal. It was full of guns, pistols, sabers, knives,
cutlasses. It all displeased me, and I saw well that I on my
part was equally displeasing to our entertainers.
" 'My comrade, on the contrary, made himself one of the
family; he laughed, chaffed with them, and, with an
imprudence that I ought to have foreseen, told them at the
very first whence we came, whither we were going, who we
were. Frenchmen, imagine it! Amongst our most mortal
enemies, alone, lost, far from all human aid; and then, to
add to our probable ruin, he acted the rich man, promising
these people whatever they wished in payment and for the
hire of guides on the morrow. Finally, he spoke of his
valise, begging them to be very careful of it and to put it
at the head of his bed: he said he did not wish any other
bolster. Ah! youth, youth, how your immaturity is to be
pitied! Cousin, you would have thought we were carrying the
crown diamonds!' "
"That young man was certainly very imprudent," commented
Jules. "Could he not hold his tongue, seeing he was in the
hands of wicked people?"
"Silence is very difficult for giddy, careless young
persons. I will go on:
" 'Supper finished, they left us. Our hosts slept
 below, we
in the upper room where we had eaten. A loft seven or eight
feet high, reached by a ladder, was the bed
that awaited us—a kind of nest
that one got into by crawling under joists
laden with provisions for a year. My comrade climbed up
alone and was soon asleep, his head on the precious valise;
I determined to watch, so made a good fire and sat down by
" 'The night had almost passed, quietly enough, and I began
to feel reassured, when, just as it seemed to me it must be
near daylight, I heard our host and his wife quarreling
immediately under me, and, putting my ear close to the
fire-place that communicated with the one below, I
distinguished perfectly this proposal of the husband: "Well,
now, let us see; shall we kill them both?" To which the
woman answered: "Yes." And I heard nothing more.
" 'What can I say? I remained scarcely breathing, my body
cold as marble. God! When I think of it! We two all but
unarmed against those twelve or fifteen with so many
weapons! And my comrade dead with sleep and fatigue! To make
a noise by calling him, I dared not; to escape by myself, I
could not. The window was not far from the ground, but
beneath it two big dogs were howling like wolves.' "
"Poor gunner!" Emile exclaimed.
"And his comrade sleeping like a simpleton!" Claire added.
" 'At the end of a quarter of an hour, which seemed long, I
heard some one on the stairs, and through the cracks of the
door I saw the father, a lamp in one
 hand and one of his
large knives in the other. He was coming up, his wife
following him. I placed myself behind the door as he opened
it; he put down the lamp, and his wife came and took it;
then he entered, barefoot. From outside she said to him in a
low tone, shading the lamp with her hand: "Gently, go
gently!" When he came to the ladder, he mounted, knife
between his teeth, and reaching the height of the bed on
which lay this poor young man, his throat uncovered, with
one hand he grasped his knife, and with the other—Ah!
"Enough, Uncle; this story frightens me!" cried Claire.
"Wait— 'And with the other he seized a ham that was hanging
from the ceiling, cut off a slice, and went off the way he
had come. The door closed, the lamp disappeared, and I was
left alone with my reflections.' "
"And then?" inquired Jules.
"And then, nothing more. 'As soon as it was daylight,'
continued the gunner, 'the whole family came and awakened us
with much noise, as we had requested them. They brought food
and served us a very good breakfast, I assure you. Two
capons were part of it, one of which our hostess said we
must eat, and take the other with us. On seeing them I
understood the significance of those terrible words: Shall
are kill them both?' "
"The man and woman were discussing whether they should kill
both capons or only one for breakfast?" asked Emile.
"That and nothing else," replied his uncle.
 "All the same, the gunner had a bad quarter of an hour for
"Those charcoal-burners were not at all such bad people as I
thought at first," said Jules.
"That is the point I wished to make. Calabria, like all
countries, has its good and its bad people."
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