Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Best Kindle Fire Apps: A Starter Kit

26 December 2011
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From PC Magazine:

If you’re a new Kindle Fire owner, you need a starter kit.

. . . .

What’s not on this list are apps that come pre-installed on the Kindle Fire, which includes: Pulse for music, Audible for audio books, IMBD for information about movies and actors, Quickoffice for working with Microsoft Documents, Facebook for social networking, as well as an app for email and one called Gallery that shows a gallery of videos and pictures on the device.

. . . .

HootSuite

The Amazon Kindle Fire comes preloaded with an app for Facebook, but Twitter is not included out of the box. With the HootSuite app, it’s no matter because you manage Facebook, Twitter, and Foursqure from one single interface.
. . . .

Hulu Plus

One of the most popular video-streaming services, Hulu, announced early support for the Amazon Kindle Fire. The Hulu Plus app is free to download, but it requires a $7.99 per month subscription to watch most content, although the app does have a selection of free content, mostly selected episodes (the pilot of Ugly Betty, for example) or funny clips from popular television shows, with an occasional full-length movie thrown in.

. . . .

LogMeIn Ignition

This pricey app allows you to perform a pretty amazing feat: remotely control your home and office computers, and everything on them, from your Kindle Fire. For the app to work, you do have to install some software on your Windows or Mac PCs, but those programs are free, and you can install it on as many machines as you want.

. . . .

Read It Later Pro

With its Amazon Kindle roots firmly planted in reading, the Kindle Fire does make for a compact and friendly e-reader. The app Read It Later Pro lets you add web pages to your reading list, making them available offline to read whenever—even when you don’t have a Wi-Fi signal. The app lets you tag pages, and saves your scrolling position as a bookmark, which you can pick up from any other device with the same app installed.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

Write even when you don’t want to

26 December 2011

Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.

Agatha Christie

 

Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War

26 December 2011

From the New York Times:

Last year, Christmas was the biggest single day for e-book sales by HarperCollins. And indications are that this year’s Christmas Day total will be even higher, given the extremely strong sales of e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. Amazon announced on Dec. 15 that it had sold one million of its Kindles in each of the three previous weeks.

But we can also guess that the number of visitors to the e-book sections of public libraries’ Web sites is about to set a record, too.

And that is a source of great worry for publishers. In their eyes, borrowing an e-book from a library has been too easy. Worried that people will click to borrow an e-book from a library rather than click to buy it, almost all major publishers in the United States now block libraries’ access to the e-book form of either all of their titles or their most recently published ones.

. . . .

Explaining Simon & Schuster’s policy — it has never made its e-books available to libraries — Elinor Hirschhorn, executive vice president and chief digital officer, says, “We’re concerned that authors and publishers are made whole by library e-lending and that they aren’t losing sales that they might have made in another channel.”

Ms. Hirschhorn says the reason publishers didn’t worry about lost sales from library lending of print books is that buying a book is easier — no return trip is needed to the bookstore — and the buyer has a physical collectible after reading it.

. . . .

To keep their overall revenue from taking a hit from lost sales to individuals, publishers need to reintroduce more inconvenience for the borrower or raise the price for the library purchaser. If making the books more costly to libraries seems a perverse idea, consider that the paperback edition of a book provides an artificially costly experience for its buyers too, in terms of waiting time. The delay in the paperback’s availability permits the publisher to separate those book buyers willing to pay a premium to read the book earlier from those only willing to pay less for what is essentially the same thing, but later.

Ms. Thomas of Hachette says: “We’ve talked with librarians about the various levers we could pull,” such as limiting the number of loans permitted or excluding recently published titles. She adds that “there’s no agreement, however, among librarians about what they would accept.”

Link to the rest at the New York Times

What an enlightened approach to business, “reintroducing more inconvenience” for customers to access your products.

Everywhere else, smart businesses are pushing prices lower and making it easier for customers and prospective customers to sample their products. Some huge businesses have been built on freemium and ad-supported models in recent years.

Amazon is promoting 100 ebooks for $3.99 or less. The Kindle Daily Deal is going for 99 cents today. PG just checked the Kindle Indie Best Sellers and, other than an Angry Birds game, the top 7 bestsellers were all going for 99 cents.

Meanwhile, Big Publishing just can’t let go of the idea of a $30 hardcover.

The great ebook price swindle

26 December 2011

From The Guardian:

I want to offer a word of thanks to the American book publishing industry, or at least the traditional big companies that have dominated it in recent decades. They’ve helped me rediscover my local library and the used book stores in neighboring communities.

They’ve achieved this by exhibiting the qualities that come so naturally to corporate media giants: greed and arrogance – in this case, as applied to the way they’ve dealt with the digital world.

To understand what they’ve done, you need to understand a bit about how books are sold in America. Publishers have two major distribution methods. One is traditional wholesaling: sell the book to a middleman, who typically adds a mark-up to customers, but sometimes discounts a book below cost as a “loss leader” to attract more business for items that aren’t discounted in this way.

The other model is called the “agency” system. In this case, publishers set the price and the bookstore merely handles the sale to the ultimate customer, for a set fee or percentage of the transaction.

The “big six” US publishers all sell their physical books via the wholesale model. After years of wholesaling digital editions as well, they moved to the agency model for ebooks, with Random House becoming the final publisher to switch early last year. The publishers had been increasingly angry about Amazon’s selling of new bestsellers at the loss-leading price of $10 (actually, $9.99), worrying that the giant online company was setting customer expectations at a too-low price point and undermining the sales of physical books.

Apple played a role in this switch, by essentially telling the publishers it wanted the agency model for its own online bookstore, which services the iPad and iPhone. And Apple co-operated in what was the inevitable result for e-books everywhere: higher prices to consumers.

. . . .

An ebook priced like a physical book is a terrible deal for the customer. Among other drawbacks, you can’t resell – or even give away – an ebook in most cases. You don’t really own an ebook; you’re just renting it, even if the company you rent from says you can keep it, because that depends on the life span of the seller. Maybe Amazon will be around for a long time to come (I hope so, as a holder of a small amount of Amazon stock), but why would anyone count on that?

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Goals and Dreams 2012

26 December 2011

Author Dean Wesley Smith is starting a new series, “Goals and Dreams 2012,”:

Let me say this clearly. The reason I am starting right here, talking about failure, is that until you understand failure in publishing, you don’t have a lot of chances at success and setting goals for success. Failure is very much an option in publishing in all levels. However, quitting is not. You quit, you are done. You go into the “whatever happened to…?” authors and after that the “blank look” authors when your name is even mentioned.

. . . .

When setting goals, everything about your goal must be in your control. Completely.

Let me give you a list of examples of “control.”

1a) Selling a book to a traditional publisher…NO CONTROL

1b) Mailing a submission package to a traditional editor. YOUR CONTROL.

2a) Wanting your book to sell 200 copies a month on Kindle…NO CONTROL

2b) Getting your book on Kindle with a great cover, good, active blurbs, and written well… YOUR CONTROL.

You get the idea I hope.  So when some writer talks to me about a goal of selling a book to a traditional publisher by the end of the year, I just snort and they walk away insulted. I wasn’t laughing at their ability to write. Not at all. I was laughing at the goal they set and put a deadline on that was out of their control completely. Such goals are guaranteed to create disappointment.

. . . .

So if you are an indie writer and thinking you want to sell a thousand copies of all your books per month next year, that’s a dream. Retreat back to how many new projects you can write and indie publish. Set up how many you want to finish and publish. That’s a goal. Let the sales take care of themselves.

. . . .

[Writing about fear of failure]

A manuscript must be perfect. The writer doesn’t dare let a “flawed” manuscript out for anyone to see. 

The writers who have this major fear are constant rewriters, are major workshop people, are writers who write for their critique group instead of what they want.

Writers with this fear will take five people’s feedback and try to get it all into their manuscript turning their story into boring garbage written by a committee.

Writers with this fear spend huge sums of money on book doctors and other scams.

Writers with this fear are writers who let agents tell them to rewrite over and over. And so on.

Writers with this fear are replacing reality in publishing with their own fear. There are no perfect books in publishing. Never has been, never will.

Writers with this fear are often afraid of success, and certainly don’t trust their own art, because they willingly let many other people mess with it.

. . . .

Afraid to mail a story because of the rejection or afraid to put a story up indie published for fear of not having many sales.

I have never understood this fear, but I know it is real. For me, this fear is beyond silly. It’s like walking up to a golf course and then deciding not to play because your score might not be perfect.

This fear is one of the “quitters’ fears” as I call them. It is safer to not try than try and fail.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Joe Konrath Made the Front Page of Amazon

26 December 2011

Passive Guy almost never goes to Amazon’s front page, but millions and millions of other people do. From an ecommerce standpoint, few places on the web are more valuable than Amazon’s front page, particularly the day after Christmas when people are spending money and Amazon gift cards they received yesterday.

Today the Amazon front page features a Dear Customers letter summarizing the big happenings for Amazon in 2011.

Here’s PG’s favorite part:

In November we introduced our newest Prime benefit, the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where Kindle owners can borrow and read thousands of books for free, with no due dates. The library has grown to over 50,000 titles and includes more than 100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers such as the Hunger Games trilogy, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Moneyball. It also features Kindle Direct Publishing top-selling authors like J.A. Konrath, C.J. Lyons, and Julie Ortolon.

Joe made the front page of Amazon!

There’s nobody whose done more for indie authors than Joe has. PG says congratulations and hopes Joe sells a gazillion books today.

Mrs. Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came to spend the Christmas at Longbourn

25 December 2011

On the following Monday, Mrs. Bennet had the pleasure of receiving
her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas
at Longbourn. Mr. Gardiner was a sensible, gentlemanlike man, greatly
superior to his sister, as well by nature as education. The Netherfield
ladies would have had difficulty in believing that a man who lived
by trade, and within view of his own warehouses, could have been so
well-bred and agreeable. Mrs. Gardiner, who was several years younger
than Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips, was an amiable, intelligent, elegant
woman, and a great favourite with all her Longbourn nieces. Between the
two eldest and herself especially, there subsisted a particular regard.
They had frequently been staying with her in town.

The first part of Mrs. Gardiner’s business on her arrival was to
distribute her presents and describe the newest fashions. When this was
done she had a less active part to play. It became her turn to listen.
Mrs. Bennet had many grievances to relate, and much to complain of. They
had all been very ill-used since she last saw her sister. Two of her
girls had been upon the point of marriage, and after all there was
nothing in it.

“I do not blame Jane,” she continued, “for Jane would have got Mr.
Bingley if she could. But Lizzy! Oh, sister! It is very hard to think
that she might have been Mr. Collins’s wife by this time, had it not
been for her own perverseness. He made her an offer in this very room,
and she refused him. The consequence of it is, that Lady Lucas will have
a daughter married before I have, and that the Longbourn estate is just
as much entailed as ever. The Lucases are very artful people indeed,
sister. They are all for what they can get. I am sorry to say it of
them, but so it is. It makes me very nervous and poorly, to be thwarted
so in my own family, and to have neighbours who think of themselves
before anybody else. However, your coming just at this time is the
greatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you tell us, of
long sleeves.”

Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone

25 December 2011
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Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone,
Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping,
clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint,
from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire;
secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The
cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed
nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his
eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his
grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his
eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low
temperature always about with him; he iced his office in
the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

But it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk

25 December 2011
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Out of doors the market folks went trudging through the snow to buy their
geese and turkeys, and to bake their Christmas pies; but there would be no
Christmas dinner for Simpkin and the poor old Tailor of Gloucester.

The tailor lay ill for three days and nights; and then it was Christmas
Eve, and very late at night. The moon climbed up over the roofs and
chimneys, and looked down over the gateway into College Court. There were
no lights in the windows, nor any sound in the houses; all the city of
Gloucester was fast asleep under the snow.

And still Simpkin wanted his mice, and he mewed as he stood beside the
four-post bed.

But it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk, in the night
between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the morning (though there are
very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say).

When the Cathedral clock struck twelve there was an answer–like an echo
of the chimes–and Simpkin heard it, and came out of the tailor’s door,
and wandered about in the snow.

From all the roofs and gables and old wooden houses in Gloucester came a
thousand merry voices singing the old Christmas rhymes–all the old songs
that ever I heard of, and some that I don’t know, like Whittington’s
bells.

Beatrix Potter, The Tailor of Gloucester

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning

25 December 2011
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Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No
stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much
disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down
because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her
mother’s promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a
little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that
beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it
was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke
Meg with a “Merry Christmas,” and bade her see what was under her
pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside,
and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present
very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage
and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and
all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy
with the coming day.

In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet and pious nature,
which unconsciously influenced her sisters, especially Jo, who loved
her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently
given.

“Girls,” said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her
to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, “Mother wants
us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once.
We used to be faithful about it, but since Father went away and all
this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can
do as you please, but I shall keep my book on the table here and read a
little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good
and help me through the day.”

Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put her arm round
her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with the quiet expression
so seldom seen on her restless face.

“How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let’s do as they do. I’ll help you with
the hard words, and they’ll explain things if we don’t understand,”
whispered Beth, very much impressed by the pretty books and her
sisters’ example.

“I’m glad mine is blue,” said Amy. and then the rooms were very still
while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshine crept in to
touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.

“Where is Mother?” asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for
their gifts, half an hour later.

“Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter came a-beggin’, and your ma
went straight off to see what was needed. There never was such a woman
for givin’ away vittles and drink, clothes and firin’,” replied Hannah,
who had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was considered by
them all more as a friend than a servant.

“She will be back soon, I think, so fry your cakes, and have everything
ready,” said Meg, looking over the presents which were collected in a
basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be produced at the proper
time. “Why, where is Amy’s bottle of cologne?” she added, as the
little flask did not appear.

“She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to put a ribbon on
it, or some such notion,” replied Jo, dancing about the room to take
the first stiffness off the new army slippers.

“How nice my handkerchiefs look, don’t they? Hannah washed and ironed
them for me, and I marked them all myself,” said Beth, looking proudly
at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost her such labor.

“Bless the child! She’s gone and put ‘Mother’ on them instead of ‘M.
March’. How funny!” cried Jo, taking one up.

“Isn’t that right? I thought it was better to do it so, because Meg’s
initials are M.M., and I don’t want anyone to use these but Marmee,”
said Beth, looking troubled.

“It’s all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensible too, for
no one can ever mistake now. It will please her very much, I know,”
said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.

“There’s Mother. Hide the basket, quick!” cried Jo, as a door slammed
and steps sounded in the hall.

Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters
all waiting for her.

“Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?” asked Meg,
surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amy had been out so
early.

“Don’t laugh at me, Jo! I didn’t mean anyone should know till the time
came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a big one, and I
gave all my money to get it, and I’m truly trying not to be selfish any
more.”

As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced the cheap
one, and looked so earnest and humble in her little effort to forget
herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jo pronounced her ‘a
trump’, while Beth ran to the window, and picked her finest rose to
ornament the stately bottle.

“You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about
being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the
minute I was up, and I’m so glad, for mine is the handsomest now.”

Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa, and the
girls to the table, eager for breakfast.

“Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books. We
read some, and mean to every day,” they all cried in chorus.

“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and
hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down.
Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby.
Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they
have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy
came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will
you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a
minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, “I’m
so glad you came before we began!”

“May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?” asked
Beth eagerly.

“I shall take the cream and the muffings,” added Amy, heroically giving
up the article she most liked.

Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one
big plate.

“I thought you’d do it,” said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. “You
shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and
milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinnertime.”

They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was
early, and they went through back streets, so few people saw them, and
no one laughed at the queer party.

A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire,
ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale,
hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.

How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in.

“Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!” said the poor woman,
crying for joy.

“Funny angels in hoods and mittens,” said Jo, and set them to laughing.

In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work
there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the
broken panes with old hats and her own cloak. Mrs. March gave the
mother tea and gruel, and comforted her with promises of help, while
she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her own. The
girls meantime spread the table, set the children round the fire, and
fed them like so many hungry birds, laughing, talking, and trying to
understand the funny broken English.

“Das ist gut!” “Die Engel-kinder!” cried the poor things as they ate
and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze. The girls had
never been called angel children before, and thought it very agreeable,
especially Jo, who had been considered a ‘Sancho’ ever since she was
born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t get any of
it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there
were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little
girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with
bread and milk on Christmas morning.

“That’s loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it,” said
Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs
collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.

Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of love done up in
the few little bundles, and the tall vase of red roses, white
chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gave
quite an elegant air to the table.

“She’s coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Three cheers for
Marmee!” cried Jo, prancing about while Meg went to conduct Mother to
the seat of honor.

Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door, and Meg enacted
escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was both surprised and touched,
and smiled with her eyes full as she examined her presents and read the
little notes which accompanied them. The slippers went on at once, a
new handkerchief was slipped into her pocket, well scented with Amy’s
cologne, the rose was fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were
pronounced a perfect fit.

There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, in the
simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so pleasant at
the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, and then all fell to
work.

The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that the rest of
the day was devoted to preparations for the evening festivities. Being
still too young to go often to the theater, and not rich enough to
afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their
wits to work, and necessity being the mother of invention, made
whatever they needed. Very clever were some of their productions,
pasteboard guitars, antique lamps made of old-fashioned butter boats
covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering
with tin spangles from a pickle factory, and armor covered with the
same useful diamond shaped bits left in sheets when the lids of
preserve pots were cut out. The big chamber was the scene of many
innocent revels.

No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts to her heart’s
content and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russet leather boots
given her by a friend, who knew a lady who knew an actor. These boots,
an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used by an artist for some
picture, were Jo’s chief treasures and appeared on all occasions. The
smallness of the company made it necessary for the two principal actors
to take several parts apiece, and they certainly deserved some credit
for the hard work they did in learning three or four different parts,
whisking in and out of various costumes, and managing the stage
besides. It was excellent drill for their memories, a harmless
amusement, and employed many hours which otherwise would have been
idle, lonely, or spent in less profitable society.

On Christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed which was the
dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz curtains in a
most flattering state of expectancy. There was a good deal of rustling
and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp smoke, and an
occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to get hysterical in the
excitement of the moment. Presently a bell sounded, the curtains flew
apart, and the operatic tragedy began.

“A gloomy wood,” according to the one playbill, was represented by a
few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor, and a cave in the
distance. This cave was made with a clothes horse for a roof, bureaus
for walls, and in it was a small furnace in full blast, with a black
pot on it and an old witch bending over it. The stage was dark and the
glow of the furnace had a fine effect, especially as real steam issued
from the kettle when the witch took off the cover. A moment was
allowed for the first thrill to subside, then Hugo, the villain,
stalked in with a clanking sword at his side, a slouching hat, black
beard, mysterious cloak, and the boots. After pacing to and fro in
much agitation, he struck his forehead, and burst out in a wild strain,
singing of his hatred for Roderigo, his love for Zara, and his pleasing
resolution to kill the one and win the other. The gruff tones of Hugo’s
voice, with an occasional shout when his feelings overcame him, were
very impressive, and the audience applauded the moment he paused for
breath. Bowing with the air of one accustomed to public praise, he
stole to the cavern and ordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding,
“What ho, minion! I need thee!”

Out came Meg, with gray horsehair hanging about her face, a red and
black robe, a staff, and cabalistic signs upon her cloak. Hugo
demanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and one to destroy Roderigo.
Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promised both, and proceeded to call
up the spirit who would bring the love philter.

Hither, hither, from thy home,
Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
Born of roses, fed on dew,
Charms and potions canst thou brew?
Bring me here, with elfin speed,
The fragrant philter which I need.
Make it sweet and swift and strong,
Spirit, answer now my song!

A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of the cave
appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glittering wings, golden
hair, and a garland of roses on its head. Waving a wand, it sang…

Hither I come,
From my airy home,
Afar in the silver moon.
Take the magic spell,
And use it well,
Or its power will vanish soon!

And dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch’s feet, the spirit
vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced another apparition, not a
lovely one, for with a bang an ugly black imp appeared and, having
croaked a reply, tossed a dark bottle at Hugo and disappeared with a
mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks and put the potions in his
boots, Hugo departed, and Hagar informed the audience that as he had
killed a few of her friends in times past, she had cursed him, and
intends to thwart his plans, and be revenged on him. Then the curtain
fell, and the audience reposed and ate candy while discussing the
merits of the play.

A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again, but
when it became evident what a masterpiece of stage carpentery had been
got up, no one murmured at the delay. It was truly superb. A tower
rose to the ceiling, halfway up appeared a window with a lamp burning
in it, and behind the white curtain appeared Zara in a lovely blue and
silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came in gorgeous array, with
plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut lovelocks, a guitar, and the boots, of
course. Kneeling at the foot of the tower, he sang a serenade in
melting tones. Zara replied and, after a musical dialogue, consented
to fly. Then came the grand effect of the play. Roderigo produced a
rope ladder, with five steps to it, threw up one end, and invited Zara
to descend. Timidly she crept from her lattice, put her hand on
Roderigo’s shoulder, and was about to leap gracefully down when “Alas!
Alas for Zara!” she forgot her train. It caught in the window, the
tower tottered, leaned forward, fell with a crash, and buried the
unhappy lovers in the ruins.

A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly from the
wreck and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, “I told you so! I told
you so!” With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire,
rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hasty aside…

“Don’t laugh! Act as if it was all right!” and, ordering Roderigo up,
banished him from the kingdom with wrath and scorn. Though decidedly
shaken by the fall from the tower upon him, Roderigo defied the old
gentleman and refused to stir. This dauntless example fired Zara. She
also defied her sire, and he ordered them both to the deepest dungeons
of the castle. A stout little retainer came in with chains and led
them away, looking very much frightened and evidently forgetting the
speech he ought to have made.

Act third was the castle hall, and here Hagar appeared, having come to
free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears him coming and hides, sees
him put the potions into two cups of wine and bid the timid little
servant, “Bear them to the captives in their cells, and tell them I
shall come anon.” The servant takes Hugo aside to tell him something,
and Hagar changes the cups for two others which are harmless.
Ferdinando, the ‘minion’, carries them away, and Hagar puts back the
cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo. Hugo, getting thirsty
after a long warble, drinks it, loses his wits, and after a good deal
of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies, while Hagar informs him
what she has done in a song of exquisite power and melody.

This was a truly thrilling scene, though some persons might have
thought that the sudden tumbling down of a quantity of long red hair
rather marred the effect of the villain’s death. He was called before
the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leading Hagar, whose
singing was considered more wonderful than all the rest of the
performance put together.

Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point of stabbing
himself because he has been told that Zara has deserted him. Just as
the dagger is at his heart, a lovely song is sung under his window,
informing him that Zara is true but in danger, and he can save her if
he will. A key is thrown in, which unlocks the door, and in a spasm of
rapture he tears off his chains and rushes away to find and rescue his
lady love.

Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and Don Pedro. He
wishes her to go into a convent, but she won’t hear of it, and after a
touching appeal, is about to faint when Roderigo dashes in and demands
her hand. Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich. They shout and
gesticulate tremendously but cannot agree, and Rodrigo is about to bear
away the exhausted Zara, when the timid servant enters with a letter
and a bag from Hagar, who has mysteriously disappeared. The latter
informs the party that she bequeaths untold wealth to the young pair
and an awful doom to Don Pedro, if he doesn’t make them happy. The bag
is opened, and several quarts of tin money shower down upon the stage
till it is quite glorified with the glitter. This entirely softens the
stern sire. He consents without a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus,
and the curtain falls upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro’s
blessing in attitudes of the most romantic grace.

Tumultuous applause followed but received an unexpected check, for the
cot bed, on which the dress circle was built, suddenly shut up and
extinguished the enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and Don Pedro flew to
the rescue, and all were taken out unhurt, though many were speechless
with laughter. The excitement had hardly subsided when Hannah
appeared, with “Mrs. March’s compliments, and would the ladies walk
down to supper.”

This was a surprise even to the actors, and when they saw the table,
they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It was like Marmee
to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fine as this was
unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There was ice cream,
actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake and fruit and
distracting French bonbons and, in the middle of the table, four great
bouquets of hot house flowers.

It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at the table and
then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed it immensely.

“Is it fairies?” asked Amy.

“Santa Claus,” said Beth.

“Mother did it.” And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite of her gray
beard and white eyebrows.

“Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper,” cried Jo, with a
sudden inspiration.

“All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it,” replied Mrs. March.

“The Laurence boy’s grandfather! What in the world put such a thing
into his head? We don’t know him!” exclaimed Meg.

“Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party. He is an
odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my father years ago,
and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying he hoped I would
allow him to express his friendly feeling toward my children by sending
them a few trifles in honor of the day. I could not refuse, and so you
have a little feast at night to make up for the bread-and-milk
breakfast.”

“That boy put it into his head, I know he did! He’s a capital fellow,
and I wish we could get acquainted. He looks as if he’d like to know
us but he’s bashful, and Meg is so prim she won’t let me speak to him
when we pass,” said Jo, as the plates went round, and the ice began to
melt out of sight, with ohs and ahs of satisfaction.

“You mean the people who live in the big house next door, don’t you?”
asked one of the girls. “My mother knows old Mr. Laurence, but says
he’s very proud and doesn’t like to mix with his neighbors. He keeps
his grandson shut up, when he isn’t riding or walking with his tutor,
and makes him study very hard. We invited him to our party, but he
didn’t come. Mother says he’s very nice, though he never speaks to us
girls.”

“Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and we talked over the
fence, and were getting on capitally, all about cricket, and so on,
when he saw Meg coming, and walked off. I mean to know him some day,
for he needs fun, I’m sure he does,” said Jo decidedly.

“I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman, so I’ve no
objection to your knowing him, if a proper opportunity comes. He
brought the flowers himself, and I should have asked him in, if I had
been sure what was going on upstairs. He looked so wistful as he went
away, hearing the frolic and evidently having none of his own.”

“It’s a mercy you didn’t, Mother!” laughed Jo, looking at her boots.
“But we’ll have another play sometime that he can see. Perhaps he’ll
help act. Wouldn’t that be jolly?”

“I never had such a fine bouquet before! How pretty it is!” And Meg
examined her flowers with great interest.

“They are lovely. But Beth’s roses are sweeter to me,” said Mrs.
March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.

Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, “I wish I could send my
bunch to Father. I’m afraid he isn’t having such a merry Christmas as
we are.”

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

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