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.
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.
can not 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
hundreds of eyes watching him, the worship of so many people did not seem to
make any difference to him.
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.
came as a shock to me. I looked hard at
my friend. I could not have been more
surprised if he had said the same thing about Napoleon, or Socrates, or
I was sure of two things about the clergyman.
He always spoke the truth. And
his judgement of men was good.
Therefore, I wanted to find out more about our hero as soon as I could.
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.
took him aside and found he knew a little about Julius Caesar'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 Caesar which I knew he would be asked.
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.
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.
thought that what is 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
"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.
thought that sooner or later one thing was sure to happen: The first real test once he was through
school would ruin him.
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.
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 away we went to
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.
kept saying to myself that when at last they find 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.
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 unsuspecting
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.
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
"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
"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.
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."
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.
again next week at this same time for another AMERICAN STORY told in Special
English, on the Voice of America. This
is Susan Clark.