Monday, August 15, 2011

"One Thousand Dollars" by O. Henry, from VOA

FAITH LAPIDUS: Now, the VOA Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story today is called “One Thousand Dollars.” It was written by O. Henry. Here is Steve Ember with the story.

STEVE EMBER: "One thousand dollars," said the lawyer Tolman, in a severe and serious voice. "And here is the money.”

Young Gillian touched the thin package of fifty-dollar bills and laughed.

"It's such an unusual amount," he explained, kindly, to the lawyer. “If it had been ten thousand a man might celebrate with a lot of fireworks. Even fifty dollars would have been less trouble."

"You heard the reading of your uncle's will after he died," continued the lawyer Tolman. "I do not know if you paid much attention to its details. I must remind you of one. You are required to provide us with a report of how you used this one thousand dollars as soon as you have spent it. I trust that you will obey the wishes of your late uncle."

"You may depend on it," said the young man respectfully.


Gillian went to his club. He searched for a man he called Old Bryson.

Old Bryson was a calm, anti-social man, about forty years old. He was in a corner reading a book. When he saw Gillian coming near he took a noisy, deep breath, laid down his book and took off his glasses.

"I have a funny story to tell you,” said Gillian.

"I wish you would tell it to someone in the billiard room," said Old Bryson. "You know how I hate your stories."

"This is a better one than usual," said Gillian, rolling a cigarette, and I'm glad to tell it to you. It's too sad and funny to go with the rattling of billiard balls.

I’ve just come from a meeting with my late uncle's lawyers. He leaves me an even thousand dollars. Now, what can a man possibly do with a thousand dollars?"

Old Bryson showed very little interest. "I thought the late Septimus Gillian was worth something like half a million."

"He was," agreed Gillian, happily. "And that's where the joke comes in. He has left a lot of his money to an organism. That is, part of it goes to the man who invents a new bacillus and the rest to establish a hospital for doing away with it again. There are one or two small, unimportant gifts on the side. The butler and the housekeeper get a seal ring and ten dollars each. His nephew gets one thousand dollars."

"Were there any others mentioned in your uncle’s will?" asked Old Bryson.

"None." said Gillian. “There is a Miss Hayden. My uncle was responsible for her. She lived in his house. She's a quiet thing…musical… the daughter of somebody who was unlucky enough to be his friend. I forgot to say that she was in on the ring and ten dollar joke, too. I wish I had been. Then I could have had two bottles of wine, given the ring to the waiter and had the whole business off my hands. Now tell me what a man can do with a thousand dollars."

Old Bryson rubbed his glasses and smiled. And when Old Bryson smiled, Gillian knew that he intended to be more offensive than ever.

There are many good things a man could do with a thousand dollars,” said Bryson. "You?" he said with a gentle laugh. "Why, Bobby Gillian, there's only one reasonable thing you could do. You can go and buy Miss Lotta Lauriere a diamond necklace with the money and then take yourself off to Idaho and inflict your presence upon a ranch. I advise a sheep ranch, as I have a particular dislike for sheep.”

"Thanks," said Gillian as he rose from his chair. "I knew I could depend on you, Old Bryson. You've hit on the very idea. I wanted to spend the money on one thing, because I have to turn in a report for it, and I hate itemizing.”

Gillian phoned for a cab and said to the driver: "The stage entrance of the Columbine Theatre."


The theater was crowded. Miss Lotta Lauriere was preparing for her performance when her assistant spoke the name of Mr. Gillian.

"Let it in," said Miss Lauriere. "Now, what is it, Bobby? I'm going on stage in two minutes."

“It won't take two minutes for me. What do you say to a little thing in the jewelry line? I can spend one thousand dollars."

“Say, Bobby,” said Miss Lauriere, “Did you see that necklace Della Stacey had on the other night? It cost two thousand two hundred dollars at Tiffany's.”

Miss Lauriere was called to the stage for her performance.

Gillian slowly walked out to where his cab was waiting. "What would you do with a thousand dollars if you had it?" he asked the driver.

"Open a drinking place," said the driver, quickly. "I know a place I could take money in with both hands. I've got it worked out--if you were thinking of putting up the money.”

"Oh, no," said Gillian. “I was just wondering.”

Eight blocks down Broadway, Gillian got out of the cab. A blind man sat on the sidewalk selling pencils. Gillian went out and stood in front of him.

"Excuse me, but would you mind telling me what you would do if you had a thousand dollars?” asked Gillian.

The blind man took a small book from his coat pocket and held it out. Gillian opened it and saw that it was a bank deposit book.

It showed that the blind man had a balance of one thousand seven hundred eighty-five dollars in his bank account. Gillian returned the bank book and got back into the cab.

"I forgot something," he said. "You may drive to the law offices of Tolman & Sharp.”


Lawyer Tolman looked at Gillian in a hostile and questioning way.

"I beg your pardon," said Gillian, cheerfully. "But was Miss Hayden left anything by my uncle's will in addition to the ring and the ten dollars?"

"Nothing," said Mr. Tolman.

“I thank you very much, Sir," said Gillian, and went to his cab. He gave the driver the address of his late uncle's home.

Miss Hayden was writing letters in the library. The small, thin woman wore black clothes. But you would have noticed her eyes. Gillian entered the room as if the world were unimportant.

“I have just come from old Tolman's," he explained. “They have been going over the papers down there. They found a…” Gillian searched his memory for a legal term. “They found an amendment or a post-script or something to the will. It seemed that my uncle had second thoughts and willed you a thousand dollars. Tolman asked me to bring you the money. Here it is.”

Gillian laid the money beside her hand on the desk. Miss Hayden turned white. "Oh!" she said. And again, "Oh!"

Gillian half turned and looked out the window. In a low voice he said, "I suppose, of course, that you know I love you."

"I am sorry," said Miss Hayden, as she picked up her money.

"There is no use?" asked Gillian, almost light-heartedly.

"I am sorry," she said again.

"May I write a note?" asked Gillian, with a smile. Miss Hayden supplied him with paper and pen, and then went back to her writing table.

Gillian wrote a report of how he spent the thousand dollars: “Paid by Robert Gillian, one thousand dollars on account of the eternal happiness, owed by Heaven to the best and dearest woman on earth."

Gillian put the note into an envelope. He bowed to Miss Hayden and left.

His cab stopped again at the offices of Tolman & Sharp.

“I have spent the one thousand dollars," he said cheerfully, to Tolman. "And I have come to present a report of it, as I agreed.” He threw a white envelope on the lawyer's table.

Without touching the envelope, Mr. Tolman went to a door and called his partner, Sharp. Together they searched for something in a large safe. They brought out a big envelope sealed with wax. As they opened the envelope, they shook their heads together over its contents. Then Tolman became the spokesman.

"Mr. Gillian," he said, “there was an addition to your uncle's will. It was given to us privately, with instructions that it not be opened until you had provided us with a full report of your handling of the one thousand dollars received in the will.

“As you have satisfied the conditions, my partner and I have read the addition. I will explain to you the spirit of its contents.

“In the event that your use of the one thousand dollars shows that you possess any of the qualifications that deserve reward, you stand to gain much more. If your disposal of the money in question has been sensible, wise, or unselfish, it is in our power to give you bonds to the value of fifty thousand dollars. But if you have used this money in a wasteful, foolish way as you have in the past, the fifty thousand dollars is to be paid to Miriam Hayden, ward of the late Mr. Gillian, without delay.

“Now, Mr. Gillian, Mr. Sharp and I will examine your report of the one thousand dollars.”

Mr. Tolman reached for the envelope. Gillian was a little quicker in taking it up. He calmly tore the report and its cover into pieces and dropped them into his pocket.

"It's all right," he said, smilingly. "There isn't a bit of need to bother you with this. I don't suppose you would understand these itemized bets, anyway. I lost the thousand dollars on the races. Good-day to you, gentlemen."

Tolman and Sharp shook their heads mournfully at each other when Gillian left. They heard him whistling happily in the hallway as he waited for the elevator.


FAITH LAPIDUS: “One Thousand Dollars” was written by O. Henry. It was adapted for Special English by Lawan Davis. The storyteller and producer was Steve Ember.

You can read and listen to other American Stories on our Web site, I’m Faith Lapidus.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Passenger Pigeon - from Edcon Publishing

Flocks of these birds could quickly strip a field of grain.

A place you will read about: Montreal, a large city in Canada .
People you will read about: John Jacob Audubon: an American painter who studied birds.
Alexander Wilson: a man who studied birds and made pictures of them.

Once there were millions and millions of passenger pigeons in North America. The early settlers could hardly believe the size of the flocks they saw. When they wrote to Europe, they told their friends that there was no limit to the number of pigeons. They wrote about the flights of birds that filled the skies for miles. The Europeans found it hard to believe that there were such glorious flights of birds anywhere. No one in Europe had ever seen such a sight.

An American observer of nature, Alexander Wilson, wrote in 1810 that he saw a flock of over two thousand million birds. He wrote that the flock was so thick that it darkened the sky from horizon to horizon for four hours. He said the birds flew past him at sixty miles an hour. They were flying faster than most cars travel on our highways today. The flocks were so huge and glorious that people in America thought that these birds would be here forever. But now the great mass of pigeons has disappeared. There are no passenger pigeons left anywhere in the world.

What happened to them? One trouble was that it took so much food to keep the huge flocks
alive. They ate berries, small fruit, acorns, and other nuts. But sometimes they ate the farmers' grain. Alexander Wilson figured that the tremendous flock of pigeons that he saw would eat a total of 17% million bushels of grain in one day. At that time there were only about six million people in the United States. Wilson's flock could eat more grain in a day than the entire population of the country would eat in a year!

Naturally, the farmers in the United States and Canada were very unhappy to see such huge flights land in the woods near their fields. Near Montreal, Canada, in 1687 the number of pigeons was enormous. They ate so much grain that the farmers considered them evil beings. They asked their church leaders to get rid of the pigeons with specially blessed waters.
Wherever the great flights traveled, they frightened some people with their huge numbers that darkened the skies for hours. They were not flying to find a different climate. They were simply searching for food. When the pigeons discovered enough food, they would land on all of the trees in the neighborhood. Every twig on every branch became a landing place. Sometimes so many birds landed on a single branch that the branch broke. Sometimes an entire tree would be stripped of every twig by the weight of the passenger pigeons.

Although the pigeons ate a lot, they were also good to eat. They were good-sized birds with heavy bodies. Counting their eight-inch tails, the male pigeons were about seventeen inches long. The males were colored dark blue above and deep red below. Their necks were brilliant shades of shining colors. The females were not so brilliant. They were smaller and less colorful.

The early settlers found both the males and females very tasty. At first they would eat what birds they could and preserve a few barrels of pigeons to help feed their families through the long winters.

Then the trains came along.

There seemed to be no limit to the number of birds that the railroad cars could carry for sale in New York and Boston and other eastern cities. John Jacob Audubon, a famous student of nature and painter of birds, reported that in 1805 he saw ships in New York's harbor loaded with pigeons to be sold in Europe for one cent each.

Hundreds of thousands of live pigeons were captured. Many thousands were kept in cages and fattened for the market. Other live pigeons were used in "trap shooting." These pigeons would be let out of traps and then shot by men with guns. Finally the public was angered and put a stop to this cruel sport.

But the public could not save the glorious pigeons that thrilled people in North America for
nearly three hundred year~. One reason was that their number was so tremendous. People did not think that they would ever disappear from the skies. However, the female pigeons would breed only once a year. They would lay only one or two eggs at a time. This rate of breeding was not enough to make up for the total number of birds killed every year.

About one hundred years ago, some people began to doubt that the pigeons would thrive much longer. But every year millions of birds were still reported. Most people thought that there was just no limit to their numbers. When one of the great flocks was reported, people would come from miles around to kill the birds by the thousands. Some came just to watch the killing. The number of wild pigeons was dropping rapidly.

The last glorious gathering of pigeons - at least one hundred million birds - was last seen in Michigan in 1878. About twenty years later the last wild passenger pigeon was killed. The brilliant flashing flights were seen no more.

In 1914, in a Cincinnati zoo, a bird named Martha died at the age of twenty-nine. She was the last passenger pigeon in the entire world.

1. The passenger pigeon was ____________________
a. brought to America from Europe.
b. a native American bird.
c. always a rare bird.
d. killed for its brilliant feathers.

2. Because there were so many passenger pigeons in 1810, people thought that _________
a. they would scare the little children.
b. they would be here forever.
c. they would frighten the other birds away.
d. a national park should be set aside for them.

3. There were so many pigeons in some flights that _____________
a. they darkened the skies for hours.
b. they kept crashing into each other.
c. they frightened the settlers back to Europe
d. they prevented the crops from getting rain.

4. One of the largest flights reported had at least __________
a. several hundred birds.
b. several thousand birds.
c. a million birds.
d. many millions of birds.

5. The early settlers found that the pigeons ate ____________
a. fish and small game.
b. only nuts and berries.
c. their grain crops.
d. mostly insects.

6. The weight of a flock of pigeons often _______________
a. broke in the settlers' roofs.
b. broke the twigs off trees.
c. caused landslides.
d. crushed the grain fields.

7. The last flock of passenger pigeons was seen _______________
a. in Michigan about one hundred years ago.
b. in a zoo in Europe.
c. in Montreal, Canada, a few years ago.
d. in California during a snow storm.

8. The saddest fact about the passenger pigeon is that ______________
a. it ate so many berries.
b. it used to darken the skies.
c. it broke down so many trees.
d. it is no longer living.

9. Another name for this story could be _________________
a. "The Most Brilliant Birds in America."
b. "The Last of the Wild Animals."
c. "The Greatest Flocks That Ever Flew."
d. "The Bird They Could Not Tame."

10. This story is mainly about ____________________
a. a kind of wild bird.
b. the food of the early settlers.
c. the largest bird that ever flew.
d. how to breed pigeons.

More on the extinction of the passenger pigeon

You'll find many more interesting reading materials at Edcon Publishing Group.