Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Luck" by Mark Twain, from VOA.

SUSAN CLARK: Now, the Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story today is called "Luck." It was written by Mark Twain. Here is Shep O’Neal with the story.


SHEP O'NEAL: I was at a dinner in London given in honor of one of the most celebrated English military men of his time. I do not want to tell you his real name and titles. I will just call him Lieutenant General Lord Arthur Scoresby.

I cannot describe my excitement when I saw this great and famous man. There he sat, the man himself, in person, all covered with medals. I could not take my eyes off him. He seemed to show the true mark of greatness. His fame had no effect on him. The hundreds of eyes watching him, the worship of so many people did not seem to make any difference to him.

Next to me sat a clergyman, who was an old friend of mine. He was not always a clergyman. During the first half of his life he was a teacher in the military school at Woolwich. There was a strange look in his eye as he leaned toward me and whispered – “Privately – he is a complete fool.” He meant, of course, the hero of our dinner.

This came as a shock to me. I looked hard at him. I could not have been more surprised if he has said the same thing about Nepoleon, or Socrates, or Solomon. But I was sure of two things about the clergyman. He always spoke the truth. And, his judgment of men was good. Therefore, I wanted to find out more about our hero as soon as I could.

Some days later I got a chance to talk with the clergyman, and he told me more. These are his exact words:

About forty years ago, I was an instructor in the military academy at Woolwich, when young Scoresby was given his first examination. I felt extremely sorry for him. Everybody answered the questions well, intelligently, while he – why, dear me – he did not know anything, so to speak. He was a nice, pleasant young man. It was painful to see him stand there and give answers that were miracles of stupidity.

I knew of course that when examined again he would fail and be thrown out. So, I said to myself, it would be a simple, harmless act to help him as much as I could.

I took him aside and found he knew a little about Julius Ceasar’s history. But, he did not know anything else. So, I went to work and tested him and worked him like a slave. I made him work, over and over again, on a few questions about Ceasar, which I knew he would be asked.

If you will believe me, he came through very well on the day of the examination. He got high praise too, while others who knew a thousand times more than he were sharply criticized. By some strange, lucky accident, he was asked no questions but those I made him study. Such an accident does not happen more than once in a hundred years.

Well, all through his studies, I stood by him, with the feeling a mother has for a disabled child. And he always saved himself by some miracle.

I thought that what in the end would destroy him would be the mathematics examination. I decided to make his end as painless as possible. So, I pushed facts into his stupid head for hours. Finally, I let him go to the examination to experience what I was sure would be his dismissal from school. Well, sir, try to imagine the result. I was shocked out of my mind. He took first prize! And he got the highest praise.

I felt guilty day and night – what I was doing was not right. But I only wanted to make his dismissal a little less painful for him. I never dreamed it would lead to such strange, laughable results.

I thought that sooner or later one thing was sure to happen: The first real test once he was through school would ruin him.

Then, the Crimean War broke out. I felt that sad for him that there had to be a war. Peace would have given this donkey a chance to escape from ever being found out as being so stupid. Nervously, I waited for the worst to happen. It did. He was appointed an officer. A captain, of all things! Who could have dreamed that they would place such a responsibility on such weak shoulders as his.

I said to myself that I was responsible to the country for this. I must go with him and protect the nation against him as far as I could. So, I joined up with him. And anyway we went to the field.

And there – oh dear, it was terrible. Mistakes, fearful mistakes – why, he never did anything that was right – nothing but mistakes. But, you see, nobody knew the secret of how stupid he really was. Everybody misunderstood his actions. They saw his stupid mistakes as works of great intelligence. They did, honestly!

His smallest mistakes made a man in his right mind cry, and shout and scream too – to himself, of course. And what kept me in a continual fear was the fact that every mistake he made increased his glory and fame. I kept saying to myself that when at last they found out about him, it will be like the sun falling out of the sky.

He continued to climb up, over the dead bodies of his superiors. Then, in the hottest moment of one battle down went our colonel. My heart jumped into my mouth, for Scoresby was the next in line to take his place. Now, we are in for it, I said…

The battle grew hotter. The English and their allies were steadily retreating all over the field. Our regiment occupied a position that was extremely important. One mistake now would bring total disaster. And what did Scoresby do this time – he just mistook his left hand for his right hand…that was all. An order came for him to fall back and support our right. Instead, he moved forward and went over the hill to the left. We were over the hill before this insane movement could be discovered and stopped. And what did we find? A large and unsuspected Russian army waiting! And what happened – were we all killed? That is exactly what would have happened in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. But no – those surprised Russians thought that no one regiment by itself would come around there at such a time.

It must be the whole British army, they thought. They turned tail, away they went over the hill and down into the field in wild disorder, and we after them. In no time, there was the greatest turn around you ever saw. The allies turned defeat into a sweeping and shining victory.

The allied commander looked on, his head spinning with wonder, surprise and joy. He sent right off for Scoresby, and put his arms around him and hugged him on the field in front of all the armies. Scoresby became famous that day as a great military leader – honored throughout the world. That honor will never disappear while history books last.

He is just as nice and pleasant as ever, but he still does not know enough to come in out of the rain. He is the stupidest man in the universe.

Until now, nobody knew it but Scoresby and myself. He has been followed, day by day, year by year, by a strange luck. He has been a shining soldier in all our wars for years. He has filled his whole military life with mistakes. Every one of them brought him another honorary title. Look at his chest, flooded with British and foreign medals. Well, sir, every one of them is the record of some great stupidity or other. They are proof that the best thing that can happen to a man is to be born lucky. I say again, as I did at the dinner, Scoresby’s a complete fool.


SUSAN CLARK: You have just heard the story "Luck." It was written by Mark Twain and adapted for Special English by Harold Berman. Your narrator was Shep O’Neal. Listen again next week at this same time for another American Story told in Special English on the Voice of America. This is Susan Clark.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Sybil Ludington, Revolutionary Heroine," from Edcon Publishing.

A dangerous assignment was willingly accepted by this brave patriot.

Everyone has heard of Paul Revere - of his famous ride to warn his neighbors of the approach of British troops in 1775. Two years later, someone else made a ride to marshal defenders against the British. But how many people have heard of Sybil Ludington?

Paul Revere rode for three hours on a moonlit night over good roads; Sybil Ludington rode for eight hours in heavy rain over roads which were often no more than muddy tracks. His ride covered about fifteen miles; hers is estimated at about fifty miles. Paul Revere was forty years old; Sybil Ludington had just turned sixteen.

Her remarkable ride was but one example of Sybil's courage during the American Revolution. Her family lived in New York, in the Hudson River Valley, where battle and the threat of battle were always near. The fight for independence went on all around her, and Sybil was a part of it.

Her father, Colonel Henry Ludington, was an influential citizen whose farm was a meeting place for local patriot's. 'There his regiment drilled, news was shared, and plans were made. The regiment, consisting of mostly farmers, protected their home district. Home troops were set up at the start of the war by an act of the Continental Congress. All men between the ages of sixteen and fifty were supposed to serve. Besides protecting their own and their neighbors' homes, they were ready to ride out and fight when they were needed. Colonel Ludington commanded the home troops in his county, and Sybil knew them all.

Her father played more than one role in the war for independence. As an important link in a chain of communication, he received top secret reports and passed them on, sometimes even to General George Washington. Sybil knew all the secret codes.

Many times when her father was away at war, she received and delivered such messages herself. Colonel Ludington also served on the Commission of Public Safety all through the war. The Commission's task was to learn which of their neighbors were not in sympathy with the Revolution and then prevent them from giving aid to the British.

Some of the Ludingtons' neighbors were loyal to the British government. One large group met and drilled in secrecy, planning to go to New York City and join the British army there. But Ludington and his men found out about the plan. They surrounded the group and captured them on the very night they had planned to sneak away. Incidents of this kind happened often, and the British commander offered a large sum of money for Ludington's capture, "dead or alive." As a result,his whole family was in constant danger.

Colonel Ludington relied on Sybil and her sister Rebecca, fourteen years old, to help guard their home and family. At a time when women were seldom expected to leave the kitchen or the spinning wheel, these feminine sentries did the job as well as any man. Muskets in hand, Sybil and her sister would watch from the upper windows or lie hidden in the cornfields. One night they found the house surrounded by a band of their father's enemies. The situation seemed desperate. The two girls rushed to wake their father. He quickly roused his wife and younger children, gave each a candle and a musket, and posted them near the windows. Besides Sybil and Rebecca, there were twelve-year-old Mary, and little brothers aged ten, eight, six, and four. Only the baby, Abigail, slept on.

Colonel Ludington moved from child to child, from lighted window to lighted window, waving his arms, trying to look like many men in motion. The children held the muskets where they would be seen from outside. Apparently the show was good enough to convince the men that the house was well defended. They rode away into the night without coming close enough to fire a shot.

Enemies would come again on other nights, but none would escape the notice of the young sentries. And all would be fooled by repeat performances of the lighted candle trick. The lone rider who came galloping up to the Ludington farm on the rainy night of April 26, 1777 was no enemy. He had been riding hard all the way from Danbury, Connecticut to deliver the startling news: the British were burning Danbury. American supplies stored there had already been destroyed, and now the city itself was in flames. Ludington's regiment was needed to help in the fighting.

Colonel Ludington had a problem indeed. Someone had to ride out to all the farms in the district to marshal the home troops. The messenger from Danbury was exhausted, and so was his horse. Ludington couldn't ride out himself, because that would leave no one to organize the troops as they arrived. He had no farm hands to send, and his sons were all too young. But there was one person he knew he could trust, someone who could carry the message with haste and determination.

Out rode Sybil into the rain and the darkness with no light from moon or stars to show her the way. The farms of her father's soldiers were far apart, and she rode many long, lonely stretches with nothing to guide her but her memory and judgment. All through the night she rode from farm to farm, delivering her message again and again. "The British are burning Danbury. Gather at Ludington's." By dawn, the regiment was assembled and ready to ride to Danbury where they helped defeat the English troops.

When the British came up the Hudson River later that same year, Colonel Ludington again took an active role and continued to rely on Sybil as his sentry and messenger. During the battle of White Plains, he served on General Washington's staff. And in the summer and fall of 1778, Washington used the Ludington house as his headquarters. It was necessary that messages come in and out of the house in complete secrecy. Sybil not only understood the coded reports, but helped in carrying them. Many more rides by daylight and dark were made by the young patriot who knew the importance of both haste and caution.

After the war, Colonel Ludington remained an influential figure in New York State politics. Little is known about Sybil's later life. We do know that she married a man named Ogden and had four sons and two daughters. Years later, in Indian territory, one of her grandsons died a hero's death when he refused to leave behind some of his men who were too sick to travel. He died fighting to protect them. Perhaps he was following the example set by his grandmother. A model of feminine confidence and courage, Sybil Ludington has never had the fame she deserves. Travelers in the area of New York State now known as Ludingtonville may notice roadside markers along the route of her night ride. One of her father's mills remains standing near the small family graveyard where Sybil is buried.

In 1975, the United States government issued a stamp in her honor. Beneath a picture of a young girl on horseback are the words: "Sybil Ludington - Youthful Heroine." But how many people who see that stamp know who Sybil Ludington was? How many know of her ride through the long stormy night, or the way she risked her life again and again in the fight for independence?

1. Sybil Ludington rode in order to _____
a. warn her neighbors of approaching British troops.
b. marshal local troops to march on Danbury.
c. fool the British troops.
d. learn which roads were safe.

2. Colonel Ludington, Sybil's father, commanded ______
a. General George Washington's regiment.
b. the Continental Congress.
c. a regiment of home troops.
d. a large group of female sentries.

3. In order to help win independence, Sybil often _______
a. taught her brothers to make candles.
b. drilled a regiment of farmers at her home.
c. received and delivered secret messages.
d. dressed as a British soldier.

4. General George Washington used the Ludington house as his headquarters ______
a. before Sybil's famous ride.
b. after Sybil's famous ride.
c. before Danbury was burned.
d. before the regiment marched on Danbury.

5. Sybil's ride was ________
a. her only act of courage.
b. one of her many acts of courage.
c. a sign of her loyalty to the British.
d. the only famous ride during the Revolution.

6. The Ludington sisters helped guard their home at a time when ______
a. women were expected to stay near the kitchen.
b. women were expected to defend their homes.
c. women were not allowed in corn fields.
d. female sentries often helped their country.

7. Paul Revere's ride _______
a. took much longer than Sybil's.
b. was made sixteen years before Sybil's
c. is more well-known than Sybil's.
d. is not as well-known as Sybil's.

8. Sybil Ludington's story would most likely be found in the following book:
a. The Life of Paul Revere.
b. The American Revolution.
c. Women of the American Revolution.
d. Famous British Spies.

9. Another name for this selection could be ______
a. "Riders in the Night."
b. "Battles of the Revolution."
c. "Helping the British."
d. "She Deserved More Fame."

10. This selection is mainly about ______
a. a young woman who helped her country.
b. a family who drilled troops.
c. the British attack on Danbury.
d. Paul Revere's famous ride.

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other
materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher

Paul Revere's Ride:

Sybil Ludington in Wikipedia
Paul Revere's Ride, Youtube
Paul Revere Slide Show

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"The Triple" from Edcon Publishing.

A successful triple for Rico would mean he would no longer be regarded as a child.

From the moment he had taken hold of the bar this afternoon, Rico's timing had been perfect. Now he checked the tape on his wrists, ignoring the familiar bustle of other circus people moving about below, and looked across to the opposite trapeze where his brother Eduardo waited.
U "Ed," he called, sounding more relaxed than he felt, "this time we go for the triple."

Immediately, before Eduardo could answer, the voice of their sister Anita shot up from the ground, warning and scolding.

"You know Papa told you to go easy until he got back and if he finds out you've been trying for triples ... "

Changing over to their native Spanish, she let the threats roll rapidly off her tongue. To Rico's surprise Eduardo cut her short, sounding almost impatient. Eduardo was the "catcher" in the Mendoza family's aerial act. When the rest of them came spinning off the trapeze, speeding through space, only Eduardo's steady strength and state of constant readiness kept them from flying beyond the edges of the safety net, flying to terrible injury or to death. When Eduardo spoke, even sister Anita had to listen with respect.

"Watch Little Brother make this triple," he said, "before you decide what Papa will think about it."

Rico let the annoying nickname slip right by in his pleasure at Eduardo's expression of confidence. The triple somersault was a difficult feat for any aerialist at any age. To achieve it on a consistent basis was a mark of greatness, the kind of greatness Rico felt was not beyond his reach.

Without another word he began to swing, arching his body to build up the necessary speed until, at exactly the right moment, he let go and soared free, tucking into the first perfect somersault, the second, the third. Then he was flat out, reaching for Eduardo. Feeling those powerful hands touch his wrists, he tried to close his own hands around the wrists of his brother but their grip did not hold.

"You're still trying too hard," Eduardo called down, as Rico flipped expertly but disgustedly from the net to the floor. "Let's give it another try but this time you concentrate on the flying and let me worry about the catching."

Rico looked up at him, surprised again. In the past, only great persistence on his part had gotten Ed to agree to an occasional try at the triple. Usually, like Anita, Eduardo reminded him all the time that Papa wanted him to go easy. Everybody, it seemed, always wanted him to go easy. Despite his acknowledged talent for the family vocation, he was by far the youngest, the "Little Brother." This time, however, as he climbed to the platform, Anita was silent and no more did he hear about going easy or about what Papa might say.

In the days following, Rico worked with Eduardo on the triple, and at night he dreamt about it, until every movement was as perfect a reflex as possible. Then it was almost time to go on the road for the season. Papa had returned, asking how they all were and what was new. By now everyone in the family, definitely everyone in the circus, knew that Rico Mendoza was doing a fairly consistent triple but they wanted Rico to be the one to tell Papa.

"There's something I've been working on that I think you ought to see," Rico said.

Papa, with other matters on his mind, just nodded absently and followed his sons to the practice area, but Rico knew his father's full attention would be riveted on him as soon as his hands left that bar. He didn't dare misjudge the timing by a fraction of a second, because if this triple didn't just about knock Papa's eyes out, he wasn't likely to get another chance.

With a last arching swing he went off the bar, over once, twice, three times and straight out to Eduardo's firm, triumphant clasp. He came down to scattered applause from various circus folk who had stopped by to watch, but Papa didn't join in. Instead, he looked Rico up and down as if measuring him for a new pair of spangled tights.

"This," he said finally, "is what you call going easy?"

"Well, Papa," Rico answered carefully, "the more I do it, the easier it gets."

Papa, a strict father who demanded obedience, but also an aerialist who valued persistence and perfection, threw back his head in a great roar of satisfied laughter. That problem solved, Rico didn't see any reason to hesitate about taking the next step. His vocation was performing and the triple wouldn't be good enough for him until he had performed it before an audience.

"I want to make it part of the act," he told Papa. "Right away, for the new season."

"Rico, Rico," Papa exclaimed, "to do this in practice is one thing, but to perform for the public ... think of the difficulty, the pressure."
"That's exactly what I am thinking of," Rico replied.

From then until opening night the hours passed swiftly. There was practice, and more 'practice, broken only by the long trip to the first city on the schedule. Even while traveling, Rico did mental triples, his muscles contracting by reflex as he imagined every movement. He was finding that each goal he achieved became a challenge in its turn. Having won Papa's consent to perform the triple, he now faced the biggest challenge of all.

Opening night was always a miracle as each new circus area went from complete chaos to a state of perfect readiness, from the scuffle and scurry of work crews to the glitter and glory of circus time. The huge audience cheered with excitement. Rico, whose training made him quick to notice if a fellow performer misjudged his time or made a slip, felt like cheering too.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, high above the center ring, the tremendous trapeze talents of the Amazing Mendozas!"

So the cheers now were for him and his family and they too, went through their routine without a flaw until the whistles and applause quieted for, " ... a special announcement, ladies and gentlemen." Not really listening, Rico heard only parts: "Young Rico Mendoza ... first time anywhere ... the extremely demanding triple somersault."

For just a moment he was keenly aware of all those eyes watching him, all those voices ready to cheer his success - or groan at his failure. Then he was up and off, his body and mind a single instrument under his complete control. Not until he came spinning out of the last somersault into the strong grip of Eduardo did he hear the crowd cheer.
Afterward there was celebration, laughter and song.

"I wonder, Little Brother," Eduardo joked, "when you'll be wanting to go for four."

"I will need to grow stronger first," Rico answered seriously, expecting to be teased or scolded.

"It is not impossible," Papa said suddenly, astonishing them all. "I have never seen it, and I know I could not do four, but all the same, it is not impossible. " Rico tried to lighten the silence that followed by joking back at Eduardo.

"What I wonder," he said, "is when you're going to stop calling me 'Little Brother'."

"Oh," Ed laughed, "probably about the time you make those four somersaults."

But for the rest of the evening, Rico noticed, everyone was careful to call him by his name.

Comprehension Check

1. In the story, the triple was ____
a. a play in baseball.
b. three identical children.
c. Eduardo, Rico and Anita.
d. three complete aerial somersaults.

2. The Mendoza family _____
a. owned the circus.
b. were animal trainers.
c. ran a concession stand.
d. were trapeze artists.

3. Everyone stopped calling Rico "Little Brother" because _____
a. he showed good judgment, skill, and maturity.
b. he demanded they do so.
c. he left the family and the act.
d. his strict father told them they should.

4. Papa Mendoza wanted Rico to take it easy because ____
a. he did not want him to get conceited.
b. he was concerned about his son's safety.
c. he did not want the act to be ruined.
d. he did not want his son to become better than he.

5. The first time Ed encouraged his brother to perform a triple, Rico completed three somersaults. Then _____
a. he attempted a fourth.
b. he grabbed Ed's hands tightly.
c. decided they weren't perfect enough.
d. he tried to grab Ed's wrists, but failed.

6. Eduardo's responsibility in the act was ______
a. swinging the bar.
b. doing the double.
c. catching Rico.
d. coaching the rest of the family.

7. The one factor that made performing really different from practicing was _______
a. the pressure of the crowd.
b. the circus tent.
c. Papa's attention.
d. Anita's scolding.

8. Papa's reaction to Rico's accomplishment was_________
a. annoyance, disgust, and frustration.
b. anger, pride, and expectation.
c. fear, hate, and pride.
d. happiness, concern, and depression.

9.Another name for this selection might be ___________
a. "Papa's Trip."
b. "The Big Top."
c. "The Biggest Challenge."
d. "A Trapeze For Two."

10. This selection is mainly about_____________
a. a family working to attain a goal.
b. the circus coming to town.
c. a strict father and a disobedient son.
d. the dangers of the trapeze.

Joren Dawson, the son of a former ESL teacher at Mission Campus, Bob Dawson, performs
a straps act at the Montreal Circus School.