The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Three More (2024) Movie Script

[Roald] Hmm. Yes.
Well, here we are now
in the hut where I write.
I've been in this hut for 30 years now.
Well, it's important, uh, before I start,
I like to make sure I have everything
around me that I'm going to need. Um
Cigarettes, of course.
Some coffee, chocolates.
And always make sure
I have a sharp pencil before I start.
[sharpener grinding]
I have six pencils,
and then I like to clean my writing board.
See how many bits of rubber.
And then, finally, one starts.
It's, uh
usually a few corrections needed.
It's, um
Henry Sugar was 41 years old,
unmarried and rich.
He was rich because
he had a rich father who was now dead.
Was unmarried because he was too selfish
to share any of his money with a wife.
He was 6'2" tall,
and not perhaps as handsome
as he thought he was.
He paid a great deal
of attention to his clothes.
He went
to an expensive tailor for his suits,
to a shirtmaker for his shirts,
and to a boot maker for his shoes.
His hairdresser trimmed his hair
once every ten days,
and he always took a manicure
at the same time.
He drove a Ferrari motor car
which cost him about the same
as a country cottage.
[bell tolling distantly]
All his friends were rich
and he had never done
a day's work in his life.
Men like Henry Sugar can be found
drifting like seaweed all over the world.
They're not particularly bad men,
but they're not good men either.
They're simply part of the decoration.
All rich people
of Henry's type, of course,
have one peculiarity in common:
a terrific urge to make themselves richer.
The 10 million is never enough.
Nor is 20 million.
Always they suffer
the insatiable longing for more money
and the terror of waking up one morning
and finding nothing in the bank.
They employ various methods
to increase their fortunes.
Some buy stocks and shares,
watch them go up and down.
Some buy land or art or diamonds.
Some bet on roulette, blackjack, horses.
Some, indeed, bet on anything.
Henry Sugar was one of those,
and not at all above cheating, by the way.
One summer weekend,
Henry drove from London to the countryside
to stay with Sir William W.
The house was magnificent.
So were the grounds.
But when Henry arrived that Saturday,
it was already pelting with rain.
The host and his other guests
whiled away the afternoon playing games,
while Henry glumly stared out at the drops
splashing against the windows.
Henry wandered out of the drawing room
and into the front hall.
He drifted through the house, aimless.
Then finally mooched into the library.
Sir William's father was a book collector,
and the walls of this huge room
were lined with antiquated
leather bound volumes floor-to-ceiling.
Henry wasn't interested.
He only read detective novels
and thrillers. Nothing like that here.
He was about to leave
when his eye was caught and held
by something quite different.
So slim, he never would've noticed it
if it hadn't been sticking out
from the books on either side.
He pulled it from the shelf.
It was nothing more
than a cardboard exercise book,
the kind children use at school.
The cover was dark blue,
with nothing written on it.
On the first page, hand-printed
in black ink, clear and neat, it said:
Strange. Weird. What is this?
He settled himself into an armchair
and started from the beginning.
The following is what Henry read
in the little, blue exercise book.
My name is Z.Z. Chatterjee. Head surgeon
at Lords and Ladies Hospital, Calcutta.
On the morning of 2nd December, 1935,
I was in the doctors' rest room
having a cup of tea.
Three other doctors were present with me.
Doctors Marshall, Mitra, and Macfarlane.
-There was a knock.
"Come in," I said.
Excuse me, please.
May I ask you gentlemen a favor?
"This is a private room," I said.
I know. I'm sorry to burst in like this,
but I have a most, I think,
interesting thing to show you.
We were pretty annoyed
and didn't say anything.
Gentlemen, I'm a man
who can see without using his eyes.
He was a small man, about 60,
white mustache and a matting of black hair
over the outsides of his ears.
You may bandage my head
with 50 bandages in any way,
and I'll still be able to read you a book.
He seemed perfectly serious.
I felt my curiosity beginning to stir.
Come in, please.
All right. How many fingers
is Dr. Marshall holding up?
-"Once more," I said.
-"Once more," I said.
-Once more--
-Three again.
-Once more.
No fingers.
Hmm. What's the trick?
There's no trick. This is a genuine thing
I've managed after years of training.
What sorts of training?
Forgive me, sir,
but that is a private matter.
What can we do for you?
I work in a traveling theater.
We arrived in Calcutta today.
Tonight we give our opening performance
at the Royal Palace Hall.
I am billed on the program as:
Imdad Khan,
the Man Who Sees without His Eyes.
When our company arrives in a new town,
I go to the largest hospital
and ask the doctors to bandage my eyes
in the most thorough fashion.
It is important this job
is done by doctors,
otherwise people may think I'm cheating.
Then I go out into the streets
and do a dangerous thing.
I looked at the others.
Mitra and Macfarlane
had to go back to their patients. Go on.
-But Dr. Marshall said
-Why not? Let's do the job properly.
Make it absolutely certain
he can't see anything.
You are kind. Please do whatever you wish.
"Before we bandage him," I said,
"fill his eye sockets
with something soft, solid."
-Perfect. Go to the hospital bakery.
I'll take him and seal his eyelids.
I led Imdad down
the long corridor to the surgery.
"Lie down there," I said.
I took a bottle of collodion
from the cupboard.
I'll glue your eyelids shut
with this stuff.
How do I remove it later?
Just dab some alcohol carefully
below the lashes. That'll dissolve it.
Keep your eyes closed
while we wait for it to harden.
Two minutes passed.
"Open your eyes," I said. He couldn't.
I took some of Dr. Marshall's dough
and plastered it over one of Imdad's eyes.
I filled the whole socket
and let the dough
overlap onto the surrounding skin.
I did the same with the other eye.
I pressed the edges down hard.
-"Isn't too uncomfortable?" I asked.
-[Imdad] Not at all. Thank you.
"Do the bandaging," I said to Marshall.
My fingers are too sticky.
Pleasure. We'll just pop these here
Dr. Marshall laid thick cotton-wool
on Imdad's dough-filled eyes.
It stuck in place.
Sit up please.
Dr. Marshall rolled a three-inch bandage
round the face and head.
Please do leave
my nose free for breathing.
[Dr. Marshall] Of course.
Sorry, it's going to be
a pinch on the tight side.
[Imdad groans softly]
How's that?
"Splendid," I said.
Looked like he suffered
a terrible brain operation.
How does it feel?
[Imdad] It feels very good.
I must compliment you gentlemen
on doing such a thorough job.
Imdad Khan stood up off the bed
and walked straight to the door.
Great Scott! See that?
He put his hand right on the doorknob!
Dr. Marshall stopped grinning.
Imdad was walking normally,
quite briskly along the corridor.
We followed five yards behind him.
Spooky it was to watch this man
with an enormous,
totally bandaged head strolling casually
"He saw it!" I cried.
"He saw that trolley!
This is unbelievable!"
Dr. Marshall didn't answer.
His whole face was rigid
with shocked disbelief.
Imdad went down the stairs
with no trouble at all.
Didn't even hold the stair-rail.
Several people were coming up.
You can see how they reacted.
At the bottom of the stairs, he turned
and headed out the doors to the street.
Dr. Marshall and I kept close behind him.
Below us, a crowd of 100
barefoot children shouted and surged
towards our white-headed visitor.
He greeted them
with his hands above his head.
He walked to a bicycle,
mounted it, and pedaled a figure-eight.
The barefoot children chased him,
cheering and laughing.
He sped straight out
into the traffic of the busy street
with honking motorcars
whizzing around him in every direction.
He rode superbly.
For a minute, we kept him in sight.
Then he turned a corner and was gone.
-"I can't believe it," Dr. Marshall said.
-I can't believe it.
"I can't either," I said.
I think we just witnessed a miracle.
For the rest of the day,
I was busy with patients.
In the evening,
I went to my flat to change clothes.
I took a long, cool shower.
I drank whiskey-soda on the veranda
with only a towel around my waist.
At ten minutes to 7:00,
I arrived at the Royal Palace Hall.
[Dr. Z.Z.] The show lasted two hours.
To my surprise, I enjoyed it. The juggler,
the snake-charmer, the fire-eater,
the sword-swallower who pushed a rapier
down his throat into his stomach.
Lastly, to a great fanfare of trumpets,
our friend Imdad Khan
came out to do his act.
Members of the audience
were called onstage to blindfold him
before he threw knives around a boy's body
and shot a can off his head
with a revolver.
Then, finally, a metal barrel was fitted
over his already bandaged head.
The boy placed a needle in Imdad's hand
and some cotton thread in the other.
A large magnifying glass
was placed in front of him,
and with no false moves,
he neatly threaded the thread
through the eye of the needle.
-[crowd] Ah!
-[lively music playing]
I was flabbergasted.
Backstage, I found Imdad
sitting quietly on a stool
while he removed his stage makeup.
You're curious, doctor, correct?
"Most curious," I said.
Again, I was struck by the matting
of black hair on the outsides of his ears.
I'd never seen anything like it
on another person.
I have a proposal:
I'm not a writer by profession.
But if you tell me
how you developed this power
of seeing without your eyes,
I'll take it down faithfully.
I'll try to get it published
in the British Medical Journal
or in a famous magazine.
Would that help you?
To become better known?
-It would help me very much.
I have a shorthand
for taking down medical histories.
I believe I got everything
Imdad said to me, word for word.
I give it to you now
exactly as he spoke it.
I was born in Kashmir State in 1873.
My father was a ticket inspector
on the national railway.
One day, a conjurer came to our school
and gave a performance.
I was spellbound.
Two weeks later, I took all my savings
and ran away
to join a traveling theater company.
That was in 1886. I was 13 years old.
For three years
I traveled with this group
all over the Punjab.
By the end of it,
I was playing top of the bill.
All the time, I was saving money,
which finally added up
to just over 3,000 rupees.
At this moment,
I heard tell of a great, famous yogi
who had acquired
the rare power of levitation.
It was said that when he prayed,
his whole body left the ground
and rose up 18 inches into the air.
At the very least, a terrific effect.
-Oh. I quit the theater company
-[woman] Mm-hmm.
and made my way to the small town
on the banks of the Ganges,
where rumor said this yogi was living.
One day,
I overheard a traveler mention a hermit
he had encountered not so very far away,
in the densest jungle, all alone.
That was enough for me.
Um, I dashed out to hire a horse and cart.
As I negotiated with the driver,
a man appeared and said
he was going in the same direction,
and suggested we share the ride
and split the cost.
Well, what truly fantastic luck!
Talking to my companion,
I found that he was a disciple
of the great yogi himself,
and on his way,
at that very moment, to visit his master.
I blurted out,
"This is the man I'm looking for!
Please, may I meet him?"
My companion looked at me long and slow.
"That is impossible," he said.
From this point forward,
he refused to answer my questions.
However, I managed
to learn one small thing:
the time of day
the great yogi commenced his meditation.
My companion signaled to halt the cart,
dismounted, and was gone.
I pretended to drive on.
But just around the corner,
I jumped down
and snuck back along the path.
Already, the man
had disappeared into the jungle.
-[twig snaps]
-I heard a rustling in the undergrowth.
"If that's not him," I thought,
"it's a tiger,
and I'm about to be
pounced upon, thrashed,
and eaten in little, torn morsels
of bloody flesh."
It was him.
-[insects trilling]
-[birds chirping]
There wasn't even a shadow of a trace
of a path where the man was walking.
He was pushing his way
between tall bamboos
and every kind of heavy vegetation.
I crept after him, very quiet,
keeping at least 100 yards behind.
Whenever I lost sight of him,
which was most of the time,
I was able to follow
the sound of his footsteps.
For half an hour, this tense game
of follow-the-leader went on.
Then, suddenly,
I no longer heard the man in front of me.
I stopped and listened.
All at once,
through the thick undergrowth,
I saw a little clearing
and two small huts.
My heart jumped.
There was a water hole
next to the nearest hut
with a prayer mat beside it, and above,
a large baobab tree
with beautiful, thick, leafy branches.
All through
the great noontime heat, I waited.
On through the heavy wet heat
of the afternoon, I waited.
As five o'clock approached,
I quietly climbed up my tree
and hid among the leaves.
Finally, the great yogi
came out of his hut
and sat cross-legged on the mat.
Each movement he made was calm and gentle.
He put his hands
palm downward on his knees
and took a long breath
through his nostrils,
and already I could see
a sort of brightness was melting over him.
For 14 minutes, he remained
perfectly still in this position.
And then, as I watched,
I saw, quite positively,
his body slowly lifting off the ground.
Twelve inches. Fifteen. Eighteen. Twenty.
Two feet above the prayer mat.
Up in the tree, I said to myself,
"There before you
is a man sitting in the air."
Forty-six minutes, by my watch,
his body remained suspended.
And then he slowly descended
back to earth,
until his buttocks
rested again upon the mat.
I climbed down from my tree
and ran straight over.
The great yogi
was washing his hands and feet.
"How long have you been here?"
he said sharply.
Suddenly, he picked up a brick
and threw it at me so hard
it broke in two
as it struck my leg below the knee.
I have the scar still.
I'll show it to you.
This was actually a stroke of luck.
A great yogi isn't meant
to lose his temper and fling bricks.
The old man was humiliated, remorseful,
and deeply disappointed in himself.
He explained that though
he could not take me on as a disciple,
he would, nevertheless,
give me some informal instruction
in order to make amends for attacking me,
an attack I fully deserved, by the way.
This was in 1890.
I was nearly 17 years old.
Now, what was
the great yogi's instruction?
Here it comes.
The mind is a scattered thing.
It concerns itself
with thousands of different items at once.
Things you see around you.
Things you hear and smell.
Things you think about.
Things you try not to think about.
You must learn to concentrate such that
you can visualize at will one item,
one item only, and nothing else.
If you work hard, you may be able
to concentrate your conscious mind
on any one object you select
for around three and one-half minutes.
This will take
about 20 years of diligent, daily effort.
"Twenty years!" I cried.
Twenty years. It may take longer.
That's the usual time,
if you are able to do it at all.
I'll be an old man by then!
The time varies.
Some take ten years, some take 30.
On extremely rare occasions,
a special person comes along
who's able to develop the power
in only one or two years,
but this is one in a billion. Not you.
Is it that difficult
to concentrate the mind--
Almost impossible. Try it and see.
Shut your eyes and think of something.
Think of just one object.
Visualize it. See it before you.
In a few seconds, your mind will wander.
Other thoughts will creep in.
It's a very difficult thing.
Thus spoke the great, wise, old yogi.
[Imdad] And so my exercises began.
Each evening, I sat down,
closed my eyes, and visualized the person
I loved best in the world,
which was my elder brother
who died, age ten, from a blood disease.
I concentrated on his face,
but the instant my mind began to wander,
I stopped the exercise,
rested for several minutes,
then I tried again.
After five years of daily practice,
I was able to concentrate
absolutely on my brother's face
for one and a half minutes.
I was making progress.
In the meantime,
I began to earn quite good money
giving conjuring performances.
By nature,
my sleight of hand is very good,
but always, I continued my exercises.
Every evening, wherever I was,
I settled myself down in a quiet spot
and concentrated my mind
on my brother's face.
Sometimes, I lit a candle
and began by staring at the flame.
A candle flame, as you know,
has three separate parts:
the yellow at the top,
the mauve lower down,
and the black inside.
I placed the candle
16 inches away from my face,
absolutely level with my eyes,
so I didn't have to make
even tiny adjustments of my eye muscles
by looking up or down.
I stared at the black part in the center
until everything around me disappeared.
Then I shut my eyes
and began to concentrate
on my brother's face.
By 1907, when I was 34 years old,
I could concentrate for three minutes
without any wandering
of my mind whatsoever.
It was also at this time
that I became aware of a slight ability,
just a queer, little feeling,
that when I closed my eyes
and looked at something hard,
with fierce intensity,
I could see the outline
of the object I was looking at.
I thought of a thing the yogi had said:
"Certain holy people have been known
to develop so great a concentration
they can see without using their eyes."
Each night after I performed
my exercises with the candle flame,
I drank a cup of coffee,
then I blindfolded myself
and sat in my chair
trying to see without my eyes.
I started with a deck of playing cards.
I studied the backs. I guessed the values.
Immediately, I had a 60% success rate.
Later, I bought maps
and navigational charts
and pinned them up around my room.
I spent hours looking at them blindfolded,
trying to read the small lettering.
Every evening for the next eight years,
I proceeded with this kind of practice.
By 1915,
I could read a book straight through,
cover to cover, blindfolded.
I had it!
At last, I had this power.
As you know,
it became my entire conjuring performance.
Audiences loved it, but no one
believed it to be genuine. Still don't.
Even doctors, like you, who blindfold me
in the most expert fashion,
refuse to believe
anyone can see without his eyes.
They forget there are other ways
of sending an image to the brain.
Imdad Khan fell silent.
He was tired.
"What other ways?" I asked.
Quite honestly, I do not know.
The seeing is done
by another part of the body.
[Dr. Z.Z.] Which part?
That night I didn't go to bed.
This man would have scientists
turning somersaults in the air.
He must be the most valuable man alive.
I had to find out exactly how it was,
biologically, chemically, magically,
an image could be sent to the brain
without using the eyes.
Blind people might be able to see.
Deaf people to hear. Who knows what else?
"This incredible man
must not be ignored," I thought.
I started transcribing with care
everything Imdad had told me that evening.
I wrote for five hours without stopping.
At eight o'clock the next morning,
I finished the most important part:
the pages you've just read.
I didn't see Dr. Marshall
until we met for our tea break.
I told him what I could
in the time we had.
"Back to the theater tonight," I said.
Can't lose him now.
I'll come with you.
At 6:45,
we drove to the Royal Palace Hall.
I parked the car,
and we walked to the theater.
"There's something wrong," I said.
There was no crowd,
and the doors were closed.
The poster for the show was in place,
but someone had printed across it
"Tonight's performance canceled."
I asked an old gatekeeper
by the locked doors: "What happened?"
-[gatekeeper] Someone died.
Of course, I already knew.
[gatekeeper] The man who sees
without his eyes.
"How?" I cried.
[gatekeeper] He went to sleep
and never woke up.
These things happen.
We walked slowly back to the car.
I felt an overwhelming sense
of grief and anger.
I should never have allowed him
out of my sight.
I should've given him my bed,
taken care of him.
Imdad Khan was a maker of miracles.
He'd communicated with mysterious forces
far beyond the reach of ordinary people.
Now he was dead.
"That's that," Dr. Marshall said.
That's that.
"Yes," I said.
"That's that."
This is a true and accurate report
of everything
concerning my two meetings
with Imdad Khan.
Well, well, well.
Now that is extremely interesting.
This is a terrific piece of information.
This could change my life.
[rain pattering]
[rain stops]
[electrical buzzing]
The piece of information
Henry was referring to
was that Imdad Khan had trained himself
to read the value of a playing card
from the reverse side,
and, being,
as mentioned, a dishonest gambler,
Henry realized at once,
he could make a fortune.
He went downstairs to the butler's pantry
and asked for a candle,
a candlestick, and a ruler.
He took them to his bedroom,
locked the door,
drew the curtains,
and turned off the lights.
Put the candle on the dressing table.
Pulled up a chair.
He noticed with satisfaction
that his eyes were level with the wick.
Using the ruler, he positioned
his face 16 inches from the candle,
as indicated in the book.
Imdad Khan had visualized
the face of the person he loved best,
which, in his case,
was his deceased brother.
Henry didn't have a brother.
He decided instead
to visualize his own face.
[car engine revving]
As Henry stared into the black area
at the center of the flame,
an extraordinary thing happened.
His mind went absolutely blank,
his brain ceased fidgeting,
and all at once he felt as if
his entire body had become encased,
snug and cozy,
within that little black area
of burning nothingness.
Admittedly, this lasted only 15 seconds.
Then, no matter where,
or what he was doing,
he made a point of practicing
with the candle five times a day.
For the very first time, he threw himself
into something with enthusiasm,
and the progress he made was remarkable.
After six months
he could concentrate absolutely upon
the image of his face for three minutes
without a single outside thought
entering his mind.
"It's me," Henry thought.
"I'm the one-in-a-billion with the ability
to acquire yoga powers
at incredible speed!"
By the end of the first year,
he'd exceeded five and a half minutes.
The time had come.
[wings fluttering]
[distant car horn blaring]
The living room
of Henry's London flat. Midnight.
He shakes with excitement as,
for the first time,
he places a deck of cards
upside down before him
and concentrates on the top card.
All he sees initially is the ordinary
design of thin red lines on the back,
perhaps the most common
playing-card design in the world.
He now shifts his concentration
to the other side of the card.
He focuses with great intensity
upon the invisible underneath of the card.
Thirty seconds elapse.
One, two, three minutes.
Henry doesn't move a muscle.
His now highly-developed concentration
is absolute.
He visualizes the reverse of the card.
No other thought
is permitted to enter his mind.
During the fourth minute,
something starts to happen.
Slowly, magically, but distinctly,
a black blob becomes a spade,
a twisty squiggle becomes a five.
The five of spades.
Fingers quivering,
he picks up the card and turns it over.
[gasps] "I've done it," he says.
Henry becomes a fanatic.
He never leaves his flat
except to buy food and drink.
All day and often far into the night,
he crouches over the cards
with the stopwatch.
-Reducing his time, second by second.
-[cork pops]
In a month, he's at a minute and a half.
Six months, 20 seconds.
Seven more months, ten seconds flat.
His target is five.
Unless he can read through
a card in five seconds,
he won't work the casinos successfully.
Yet the nearer he gets to his target,
the more difficult it becomes to reach it.
Four weeks
to get from ten seconds to nine.
Five more to get from nine to eight.
Hard work no longer bothers him.
He's able to work
12 hours straight, no trouble.
He knows with certainty he'll get there.
The last two seconds
are the hardest, 11 months.
But late one Saturday afternoon
[watch ticking]
Five seconds. Henry goes through the pack,
timing himself with every card.
Five seconds. Five seconds. Five seconds.
How long has it taken him
to reach this moment?
Three years and three months
of uninterrupted effort.
There were over
100 legitimate casinos in London.
Henry was a member of no less than ten.
Lord's House was his favorite.
It was the finest in the land,
in a magnificent Georgian mansion.
Good evening, Mr. Sugar.
said the man
whose job it was to never forget a face.
Henry ascended the marvelous staircase
to the cashier's office.
He wrote a check for 10,000.
Well-fed women circled the roulette wheel
like plump hens around a feeding hopper.
Men with crimson faces,
cigars between their lips
counted their chips,
eyes glittering with greed.
[choir vocalizing]
Odd. For the first time in Henry's life,
he looked with distaste upon a room
full of horrible rich people.
He searched for a vacant seat
directly on the dealer's camera left
at any of the blackjack tables.
The dealer took Henry's plaque
and dropped it into a slot.
He was a young-ish man
with black eyes and gray skin.
He never smiled
and only spoke when necessary.
He had slim hands.
There was arithmetic in his fingers.
He picked up a wedge of 25 chips
and placed them in a pile.
He didn't need to count them.
Those nimble fingers were never wrong.
He slid the pile to Henry.
As Henry stacked his chips,
he glanced at the top card
in the dealer's shoe.
In five seconds he read it as a ten.
He pushed out eight chips, 200,
the maximum stake allowed at Lord's House.
He was dealt the ten.
His second card was a nine.
Nineteen all together.
On 19, you stick.
You sit tight and hope the dealer
doesn't get 20 or 21. It's a given.
-When the dealer came to Henry, he said
and passed to the next player.
"Wait," said Henry.
The dealer came back to Henry.
He raised his eyebrows,
looked with cool eyes.
-You wish to draw to 19?
-he asked crisply.
There were only two ranks that
wouldn't bust a 19, the ace and the two.
Only an idiot would risk drawing on 19,
especially with 200 on the table.
The back of the next card lay visible.
The dealer hadn't touched it.
"Yes," Henry said. "Another card."
The dealer shrugged and dealt it.
The two of clubs landed in front of Henry
alongside the ten and the nine.
-the dealer said evenly.
He glanced up again into Henry's face,
and rested there,
silent, watchful, puzzled.
[crowd murmuring]
Henry had unbalanced him. He'd rarely,
if ever, seen anyone draw on 19.
This fellow had
with a calmness and certainty
that was quite staggering, and he'd won.
Henry caught the dealer's look,
realized he'd made a silly mistake.
He'd attracted attention.
"I beg your pardon."
He must never do that again.
He must be very careful,
even make himself lose occasionally.
The game went on.
Henry's advantage was so enormous,
he had difficulty
keeping his winnings reasonable.
In an hour, he'd won 30,000.
There he stopped.
It could just as easily
have been a million.
Thank you.
Henry was almost certainly capable
of making money
faster than any other person
in the entire world.
Had this been a made-up story
instead of a true one,
it would have been necessary
to invent a surprising
and exciting end for the thing.
Something dramatic and unusual.
For example, Henry could go home
and start counting his money.
While doing this,
he might suddenly begin to feel unwell.
He has a pain in his chest.
He decides to go to bed.
He takes off his clothes.
Walks naked and puts on pajamas.
He passes the full-length mirror
against the wall. He stops.
Automatically, from force of habit,
he starts to concentrate.
All at once, he sees through his own skin.
Like an X-ray, only better.
He sees everything.
Arteries, veins,
the blood pumping through him.
Liver, kidneys, intestines.
He sees his heart beating.
He looks at where the pain is coming from
and sees a dark lump inside the large vein
leading into the heart on the right side.
A blood clot. At first,
the clot appears to be stationary.
Then it moves. The movement's slight.
Only a millimeter or so.
The blood is pumping up behind the clot
and pushing past it,
and the clot moves again.
It jerks forward about half an inch.
Henry watches in terror.
He knows a large clot that's broken free
and is traveling in the vein
will reach the heart.
He is about to die.
Not a bad ending for fiction,
but this isn't fiction.
This story is fact.
The only untrue thing is Henry's name,
which wasn't Henry Sugar.
His name has to be protected.
It still must be protected.
Apart from that, this is a true story,
and because it's a true story,
it must have the true ending.
Here's what actually happened.
Henry walked for an hour.
The evening was cool and pleasant.
The city still wide awake.
He could feel the thick bankroll
in the inside pocket of his jacket.
He patted it gently.
A lot of money for an hour's work.
Yet, he was a puzzled man.
He couldn't understand why he felt
so little excitement about this success.
If this had happened three years ago,
before the yoga,
he'd have gone crazy with excitement,
he'd be rushing off
to a nightclub to celebrate.
But Henry didn't feel excited.
-He felt sad.
-[choir singing]
Every time he made a bet,
he'd been certain to win.
There was no thrill,
no suspense, no danger.
He knew he could travel
around the world making millions.
But was it going to be any fun?
Another thing.
Was it not entirely possible
the process of acquiring yoga powers
had completely and utterly
changed his entire outlook on life?
It was possible.
The next morning,
Henry woke up late, got out of bed,
saw the enormous bundle
lying on his dressing-table,
and didn't want it.
[film projector whirring]
-[choir vocalizing]
[man 1] Oy?!
Good morning, sir.
That's for you! It's a present.
[man 1] I
A what?
Put it in your pocket!
[man 1] All right.
[woman 1] What is it?
-[man 2] It's money.
-Keep it!
[passing footsteps]
[man 2] Hey!
[hurried footsteps approaching]
[woman 2] Come on
[bicycle bell ringing]
[bicycle thuds]
[car horn honking]
[people chattering excitedly]
[people yelling indistinctly]
-[car brakes screech]
-[car doors slam]
[people clamoring violently]
-[brakes screech]
-[car crashes]
[whistle blowing]
[doorbell ringing]
[policeman] The doorbell rang.
-What do you think you're doing?
-Sorry about the crowd.
I was giving away some money.
-You're inciting a riot!
-Just giving away some money.
I won't do it again. They'll soon go away.
The policeman took one hand off his hip,
produced a 50 note.
-A-ha, you got one yourself.
-This is evidence. Where's the money from?
I won it at blackjack.
I had a tremendously lucky night.
Henry named the club
and the policeman wrote it down.
They'll tell you it's true.
The policeman lowered the book.
I don't care.
-Don't you?
-Not whatsoever.
In fact, I believe your story,
but that doesn't excuse
what you did even the tiniest bit.
I didn't do anything illegal, did I?
[shouting] You're an idiot!
If you're lucky enough to win yourself
a big sum of money like that,
and want to give it away,
you don't throw it out of the window.
You give it somewhere it'll do some good.
A hospital for instance, or an orphanage.
There's hospitals and orphanages all over
got hardly enough money
to buy the kids a present for Christmas.
Then comes a spoiled idiot
who's never known
what it's like to be hard up,
and you throw the stuff
out into the street!
The policeman stomped down the stairs
and out of the door.
Henry didn't move.
Those words, and the fury
with which they were spoken,
struck hard and deep.
He was ashamed.
It was an awful feeling.
Then, all at once,
Henry felt a powerful electricity
tingling through his entire body,
and there began to come to him
an idea that was to change everything.
He started pacing up and down,
ticking off the points
that would make his idea possible.
One. I'm going to win
a very large sum of money
each and every day of my life
from this moment forward.
[different voice] Two. I can go to the
same casino only once every six months.
Three. I must never win
too much money in one sitting.
[normally] 50,000 pounds a night,
that's my limit.
[in Texan accent] Four.
50,000 a night for 365 days a year.
That's 18.25 million.
[normally] Five. Keep moving.
No more than three nights
at a stretch in any city.
London, Monte-Carlo, Cannes, Biarritz,
Deauville, Las Vegas,
Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Nassau.
Six. I'll take the money and establish
hospitals and orphanages around the world.
[in woman's voice] Corny and sentimental
as a dream,
but as a reality,
I think I can make it work.
I don't think it'd be corny at all.
It would be wonderfully stupendous.
[normally] Seven. I need a partner who can
sit behind a desk and receive the money,
then send it where it's needed.
Someone I can deeply,
emphatically, categorically trust forever.
John Winston was Henry's accountant,
and had been his father's too,
and John's father had been
Henry's father's father's accountant.
You could be the richest man on Earth.
I don't want to be
the richest man on Earth.
I can't operate in England.
The taxman'll take it all.
I'll have to move to Switzerland.
But not tomorrow.
I'm not unattached like you
with no responsibilities.
I must talk to my family,
give notice to my partners.
I must sell my house,
find another in Switzerland,
take the kids out of school.
These things take time.
One year later,
Henry had sent just over 120 million
to John Winston in Lausanne.
The money was delivered five days a week
to a Swiss company
called Winston Sugar, LLC.
Nobody except John and Henry
knew where the money came from
or what would happen to it.
The Monday remittance was the biggest
because it included the take
for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,
when the banks were closed.
[Henry] He moved with astonishing speed,
changing his identity
several times in a single week.
Often, the only clue John had
of Henry's whereabouts
was the address of the bank which had
sent the money. It was stupendous.
[choir vocalizing]
[clock ticking]
-[ticking stops]
-[choir continues]
[birds and insects buzzing]
Henry died last year,
age 63, from a pulmonary embolism.
He saw it coming, quite literally,
but was very much at peace.
He'd been following his plan
for just over 20 years.
He'd made 644 million.
He'd left 21 well-established,
well-run children's hospitals
and orphanages around the world,
administered and financed from Lausanne
by John Winston and his staff.
His work was complete.
Now, how do I know all this?
Good question. I'll tell you.
Soon after Henry's death, John Winston
telephoned me from Switzerland.
He introduced himself simply
as the head of a company
calling itself Winston Sugar, LLC,
and asked
if I'd come to Lausanne to see him
with a view to writing
a brief history of the organization.
I don't know how he chose me.
Probably had a list of writers
and stuck a pin in it.
He would pay me well, he said, and added,
"A remarkable man has died recently."
"His name was Henry Sugar."
"I think people ought to know a bit
about what he has done for the world."
In my ignorance,
I asked whether the story
was really interesting enough
to merit being put on paper.
This annoyed John Winston very much.
Perhaps it even offended him.
In five minutes on the phone,
he told me
about Henry Sugar's secret career.
It was secret no longer.
Henry was dead and would never
enter another casino again.
"I'm coming," I said.
In Lausanne,
I met John Winston, now over 70,
also Max Engelman,
a renowned make-up artist
who traveled the world with Henry
creating fantastic disguises
to conceal his identity.
They were both shattered by Henry's death.
Max even more so than John Winston.
I loved him. He was a great man.
John Winston showed me
the original dark-blue exercise book
written by Z.Z. Chatterjee
in Calcutta in 1935.
I later copied it out word-for-word.
"One last question," I said.
"You keep calling him Henry Sugar,
yet you tell me that wasn't his name."
"Don't you want me to say
who he really was when I do the story?"
-John Winston said.
Max and I promised
never to reveal his identity.
Oh, I suppose
it'll probably leak out sooner or later.
He was from a well-known English family,
but I'd appreciate it
if you didn't try to find out.
Just please,
call him plain Mr. Henry Sugar.
And that is what I have done.
Ernie had been given a rifle
for his birthday.
He took the gun and a box of bullets
and went to see what he could kill.
Outside Raymond's house,
he stuck two fingers in his mouth
and gave a long shrill whistle.
Raymond was Ernie's best friend.
He lived four doors away.
He held up the rifle over his head.
"Gripes!" said Raymond.
"We can have some fun with that!"
The two boys set off.
This was a Saturday morning in May.
The chestnut trees were in full flower,
and the hawthorn was white
along the hedgerows.
As Ernie and Raymond
progressed up the narrow hedgy lane,
they shot every little bird they saw.
Bullfinches, hedge sparrows,
whitethroats, yellowhammers.
When they reached the railway line,
there were 14 small birds
dangling on a line of string.
"Look!" whispered Ernie,
pointing with a long arm. "Over there!"
There was a small boy looking up
into the branches of an old tree
through binoculars.
"Watson! That little twerp."
Peter Watson had a small, frail body.
His face was freckled
and he wore spectacles with thick lenses.
He was a brilliant pupil,
already in senior class at school
though he was only 13.
He loved music and played the piano well.
He was no good at games.
He was quiet and polite.
The two bigger boys
crept up slowly on the small boy.
He did not see them
because he had the binoculars to his eyes
and was deeply captivated
by what he was looking at.
"Stick 'em up!"
Ernie shouted, pointing the gun.
Peter Watson jumped.
[bird calling]
He stared through his spectacles
at the two intruders.
"Go on!" Ernie shouted. "Stick 'em up!"
Peter Watson stood still,
holding the binoculars
in front of him with both hands.
He looked at Raymond and Ernie.
He wasn't afraid, but knew better
than to play the fool with these two.
He'd suffered
from their attentions over the years.
Hands up.
It was the only sensible thing to do.
Raymond stepped forward
and snatched the binoculars away.
"Who you spyin' on?" He snapped.
Peter Watson considered the possibilities.
He could turn and run,
but they'd catch him in seconds.
He could shout for help,
but no one would hear him.
All he could do,
therefore, was to keep calm
and try to talk his way
out of the situation.
"I was watching
a green woodpecker," Peter said.
"A what?"
"A male, green woodpecker." Picus viridis.
"He was tapping the trunk
of that dead tree, searching for grubs."
"Where is he?"
Ernie said, raising his gun.
"I'll 'ave 'im!"
"No, you won't," Peter said,
looking at the string of birds
slung over Raymond's shoulder.
"He flew off the moment you shouted.
Woodpeckers are extremely timid."
Raymond whispered in Ernie's ear.
Ernie slapped his thigh. "Great idea!"
He placed his gun on the ground
and advanced upon the small boy.
He threw him to the ground.
Raymond took out some string
and cut off a length of it.
They tied Peter's wrists together tight.
"Now the legs," Raymond said.
Peter struggled
and received a punch in the stomach.
That winded him, and he lay still.
The bigger boys
tied his ankles with more string,
trussed him like a chicken.
Ernie picked up his gun,
and they began to carry the boy
towards the railway lines.
Peter Watson kept absolutely quiet.
Whatever they were up to,
talking wouldn't help matters.
They dragged him down the embankment
and laid him lengthwise
between the tracks. These tracks here.
These tracks right here.
This happened to me 27 years ago.
My name is Peter Watson.
"More string," Ernie said.
When they finished, Peter was helpless,
tied fast between the rails.
The only parts he could move
were his head and feet.
Ernie and Raymond stepped back
to survey their handiwork.
"We done a nice job," Ernie said.
"This is murder,"
said the boy lying between the rails.
"Not for certain," said Ernie.
"Depends how much clearance
the trains have."
"You keep down flat,
you might just get away with it." [laughs]
The bigger boys climbed up the embankment
and sat behind some bushes.
Ernie produced a pack of cigarettes.
They smoked.
Peter knew
they weren't going to release him.
These were dangerous, crazy boys.
Dangerous, crazy, stupid boys.
"I must try to keep calm and think,"
Peter told himself.
He lay there, still, weighing his chances.
The highest part of his head was his nose.
He estimated his nose was sticking up
about four inches above the rails.
Was that too much?
Hard to say with modern diesels.
His head rested
upon loose gravel between two sleepers.
He must try to burrow down a little.
He began to wriggle his head
pushing the gravel away
and gradually making for himself
a small indentation.
He reckoned
he'd lowered his head two inches.
That would do. But what about the feet?
He tucked them pigeon-toed
so they lay almost flat,
then waited for the train to come.
He wondered whether there might be
a vacuum created underneath the train
as it rushed over him,
sucking him upward. There might.
He must concentrate everything
upon pressing his entire body
against the ground.
"Don't go limp. Keep stiff and tense
and press down into the ground."
Peter watched the white sky
above his head,
where a single cumulus cloud
was drifting slowly.
An aeroplane came across the cloud.
A small high-winged monoplane
with a red fuselage.
An old Piper Cub, he thought it was.
He watched it until it disappeared.
Then, quite suddenly,
he heard a curious vibrating sound
coming from the rails either side of him.
It was very soft, scarcely audible,
a tiny, thrumming whisper
that seemed to be
coming along the rails from far away.
[rails rattling softly]
Peter raised his head
and looked down the railway line
that stretched for a mile in the distance,
and saw the train.
First, only a black dot,
but as he kept his head raised,
the dot grew bigger and bigger
and began to take shape
and was no longer a dot,
but instead, the big, square,
blunt front-end of a diesel engine.
Peter dropped his head
and pushed it down hard
-into the hole in the gravel.
-[bell dinging]
He pigeon-toed his feet flat.
He shut his eyes tight
and pressed his body into the ground.
The train came on with an explosive blast.
Like a gun went off in his head.
With the explosion
came a tearing, screaming wind
like a hurricane blowing down his nostrils
and into his lungs.
The noise was shattering.
The wind choked him.
He felt as if he were being eaten alive
and swallowed up in the belly
of a screaming, murderous monster.
[Peter] And then it was over.
The train was gone.
Peter Watson opened his eyes
and saw the white sky
and the big, white cloud
still drifting overhead.
It was all over, and he had done it.
-Cut him loose.
-Ernie said.
Raymond cut the strings
binding Peter to the rails.
"Undo his feet, but keep his hands tied."
Raymond cut the strings around his ankles.
"Oh, you're still a prisoner, matey,"
Ernie said.
The two bigger boys marched Peter Watson
across the next field towards the lake.
The prisoner's wrists
were still tied together.
Ernie held the gun in his spare hand
and Raymond carried the binoculars
he had taken from Peter.
The lake was long and narrow
with tall willow trees
growing along its bank.
In the middle, the water was clear,
but closer to the shore
was a forest of bulrushes.
"Now, then," Ernie said.
"What I suggest is this."
"You take his arms, I'll take his legs,
and we'll swing him as far out as we can
over them nice muddy reeds."
"Look!" Raymond interrupted.
"There! Let's have him!"
Peter Watson turned and saw it at once.
A nest consisting
of a huge pile of reeds and rushes
that rose up two feet above the waterline.
And, on top, a magnificent white swan
sitting serenely as the Lady of the Lake.
Her head was turned towards the boys,
alert and watchful.
"Holy cats!" cried Raymond.
"What a beauty!"
Ernie let go of the prisoner's arm
and lifted the gun to his shoulder.
"This is This is a bird sanctuary,"
said Peter, stammering.
"A what?" asked Ernie.
Peter felt a wild rage
beginning to build up inside him.
He tried to keep his voice calm.
"Swans are the most
protected birds in England,
and nobody shoots a bird on its nest.
She may have cygnets under her."
"Please don't do it. You can't do it.
Please, don't do it! Stop!"
[wings fluttering]
The bullet hit the swan
in her elegant head
and her long white neck
sank slowly to the side of the nest.
"Cut his hands free, Raymond.
He's our gun-dog."
Raymond cut the strings
binding the small boy's wrists.
"Go get him!"
"I refuse," I said.
Ernie hit Peter
across the face, hard, with his open hand.
A trickle of blood
began running out of one nostril.
"Try refusin' one more time,
and I'm goin' to make you a promise:
I'll knock out every one
of your shiny white front teeth,
top and bottom. You understand that?"
Peter said nothing.
"Answer me!" Ernie barked.
"You understand?"
"Yes," Peter Watson said quietly.
"I understand that."
Tears were running down Peter's face
as he went down the bank
and entered the water.
He waded out to the dead swan
and picked it up tenderly with both hands.
Underneath were two tiny cygnets,
their bodies covered with gray down.
They were huddling
in the center of the nest.
"Any eggs?" Ernie shouted from the bank.
"No," Peter answered. "Nothing."
He carried the dead swan
back to the edge of the lake.
He placed it gently on the ground,
and he stood up and faced the two others.
His eyes, still wet with tears,
were blazing with fury.
"It's you who ought to be dead," he said.
Ernie seemed just a tiny bit taken aback,
but he quickly recovered.
A dangerous little spark
danced in his small black eyes.
"Give me your knife, Raymond."
There is a joint in the bone
where the wing meets the bird.
Ernie slid the knife into the joint
and cut through the tendon.
The knife was sharp and cut well,
and soon the wing came away
all in one piece.
Ernie turned the swan over
and severed the other wing.
"String," he said,
holding out his hand to Raymond.
Ernie cut eight pieces,
each about a yard long.
He tied the bits of string
along the top edge of the great wing.
"Stick out your arms."
Peter Watson stood in the sunshine
beside the lake
on this beautiful May morning,
the enormous, limp,
slightly bloodied wings
dangling grotesquely at his sides.
Ernie clapped his hands
and danced a little jig on the grass.
[lively instrumental music playing]
-[music stops]
-"Have you finished?" Peter Watson asked.
"Swans don't talk," Ernie said.
They marched along the bank of the lake
until they came to a tall willow tree.
The branches hung down from a great height
until they almost touched
the surface of the lake.
"What you're gonna do, Mr. Swan,
is climb to the top,
and when you get there,
you'll spread out your wings
and take off!"
"Fantastic!" cried Raymond.
The thought of being high up
and out of reach of these hooligans
appealed to Peter greatly.
When he was up there, he'd stay up there.
He doubted
they would bother to come up after him.
If they did,
he could climb away on a thin limb
that wouldn't take the weight
of two people.
The tree was fairly easy to climb,
with low branches to give him a start up.
"Higher!" shouted Ernie. "Keep going!"
Peter eventually arrived at a point
where he could go no higher.
His feet were standing
on a branch as thick as a man's wrist,
and this branch
reached far out over the lake,
then curved gracefully downward.
He stood there resting after the climb.
He was very high up, at least 50 feet.
He couldn't see the two boys.
They were no longer
standing at the base of the tree.
"Now listen carefully!"
They had walked away from the tree
to a point where they had a clear view
of the small boy at the top.
Looking down at them now,
Peter Watson realized
how sparse and slender
the leaves of a willow tree were.
They gave him almost no cover at all.
"Start walking out along that branch!"
"Keep goin' till you're out over
the nice muddy water! Then take off"
Peter Watson didn't move.
He kept his eyes on the distant figures
in the field below.
They were standing quite still,
looking up at him.
"I'm gonna count to ten,
if you ain't spread them wings
and flown away, I'm gonna shoot you down."
"That'll make two swans
I've knocked off today."
"Here we go."
"One, two, three, four, five, six!"
Peter Watson remained absolutely still.
Nothing would make him move from now on.
"Seven, eight, nine, ten!"
Peter could see the gun
coming up to the shoulder.
Pointing straight at him.
He heard the crack of the rifle
and the zip of the bullet
as it whistled past his head.
[mimics gunshot, whooshing]
It was frightening, but he didn't move.
He could see Ernie loading the gun.
"Last chance!" yelled Ernie.
"Next one's gonna get you!"
Peter waited.
He watched the boy among the buttercups
in the meadow far below
with the other boy beside him.
The gun came up
once again to the shoulder.
This time he heard the crack
as the bullet hit him in the thigh.
There was no pain,
but the force of it was devastating.
Like someone had whacked him
with a sledgehammer,
and it knocked both feet
off the branch he was standing on.
He scrabbled with his hands to hang on.
The small branch he was holding onto
bent over and split.
[wood cracks]
Some people, when they have taken too much
and been driven
beyond the point of endurance,
simply crumble and collapse and give up.
Others, however, though they are not many,
who will for some reason
always be unconquerable.
You meet them in time of war
and also in time of peace.
They have an indomitable spirit
and nothing, neither pain
nor torture nor threat of death,
will cause them to give up.
Little Peter Watson was one of these.
And as he fought and scrabbled
to prevent himself
from falling out of the top of that tree,
it came to him suddenly
that he was going to win.
He looked up and saw a light
shining over the waters of the lake
that was of such brilliance and beauty
he was unable to look away from it.
The light was beckoning him,
drawing him on,
and he dived towards the light
and spread his wings.
Three different people
reported seeing a great white swan
circling over the village that morning:
a schoolteacher,
a man replacing tiles
on the roof of the chemist's shop,
and a boy playing in a nearby field.
Mrs. Watson,
washing dishes in her kitchen sink,
happened to glance up
through the window at the exact moment
something huge and white
came crashing down
onto the lawn in her back garden.
She rushed outside.
She dropped to her knees
beside the small crumpled figure
of her only son.
"My darling!" she cried. "My darling boy!"
"What's happened to you?"
[bell tolling in the distance]
In the afternoon,
the rat man came to the petrol station.
He sidled up the driveway
with a soft, stealthy gait.
His feet made no noise at all
on the gravel.
He had an army knapsack
slung over one shoulder.
He wore an old-fashioned corduroy jacket
with large pockets.
Corduroy trousers were tied around
the knees with lengths of white string.
Rodent operative.
His small, dark eyes
moved swiftly over the premises.
-The rat man?
-That's me.
He was lean, leathery, a sharp face,
two long, sulfur-yellow teeth
protruding from the upper jaw
over the lower lip.
His ears were round and thin,
set near the back of his head.
The eyes were almost black,
but when they looked at you,
there was a flash of yellow in them.
-You've come quick.
-Special orders from the Health Office.
And now
you're going to catch all the rats?
Yes. How?
Depends what rats, where they is.
Different methods for different rats.
-Trap them, I suppose.
-Trap 'em.
-Trap 'em?
The rat man snorted.
Won't catch 'em that way.
Rats ain't rabbits.
He held his face up high,
sniffing the air with a nose that
twitched perceptibly from side to side.
Rats is clever. You wanna catch 'em,
you gotta know 'em.
You gotta know rats on this job.
You know what they do? They watch you.
All the time you're preparin' how to
exterminate 'em, they're watchin' you.
This ain't a sewer job, is it?
No, it's not a sewer job.
-Tricky things, sewer jobs.
-I shouldn't think so.
You shouldn't, should you?
I'd like to see you do a sewer job.
Just exactly how'd you set about it,
I'd like to know.
Poison them, I suppose.
And where exactly
would you put the poison?
Down the sewer?
The rat man sparkled, triumphant.
Yeah, I knew it. "Down the sewer."
Know what'd happen?
Get washed away completely.
All your poison. Sewer's like a river.
All right. Well, what would you do,
Mr. Rat Man? On a sewer job?
The rat man advanced a step closer.
His voice became secretive
and confidential,
the voice of a man
divulging professional secrets.
You works on the understandin'
a rat is a gnawin' animal, see?
Anythin' you give 'em, they gnaws on it.
So you got a sewer job on your hands.
What d'you do?
His voice had the soft,
throaty sound of a croaking frog,
and he seemed to speak all his words
with a wet-lipped relish,
as if they tasted good on the tongue.
You go down the sewer
and you take along
some ordinary brown paper bags
filled with plaster of paris powder.
Nothin' else.
Then you suspend 'em
from the roof of the sewer
so they hangs down
not quite touchin' the water.
Just high enough so a rat can reach 'em.
Claud was listening, rapt.
Old rat comes swimmin' along the sewer,
sees the bag. He stops.
[sniffs] Takes a sniff at it.
It don't smell so bad.
-What's he do?
-He gnaws it.
That's it! He starts gnawin' at the bag,
and the bag breaks,
and the old rat
gets a mouthful of powder for his pains.
Well, that does him.
-That kills him?
-Stone dead.
-Plaster of paris
-It swells when you wet it.
Gets into the rat's tubes
and swells right up
and kills him
quicker than anythin' in the world.
That's where you got to know rats.
His face glowed with a shifty pride.
He rubbed his stringy fingers together,
holding the hands up close to his face.
Now, where's them rats?
The word "rats" came out
with a rich, fruity sound
as if he were gargling with melted butter.
In the hayrick across the road.
-Not inside?
-Only in the hayrick. Nowhere else.
I'll wager they're inside too,
gettin' in your food, spreadin' disease.
-Got any sickness here?
-He looked pointedly at me, then at Claud.
-Everyone's well.
-Quite sure?
-Quite sure.
-You never know.
He'd taken upon himself
the mantle of a public health officer,
disappointed we were not suffering
from bubonic plague.
Nevertheless, the rats are in the hayrick.
How will you remove them?
The rat man grinned a crafty, toothy grin.
He reached into his knapsack
and withdrew a large tin,
weighing it up and down
in his hands as he spoke.
Poison. Special poison. Deadly poison.
They'd put you inside if they caught you
with even a spoonful of this.
There's enough here to kill a million men.
-Want to see?
-Yes, please.
He took a penny and prized open the lid.
There it is.
He spoke almost lovingly of the stuff
and held it forward for Claud.
[Claud] Corn or barley, is it?
Oats. Oats soaked in deadly poison.
You take just one grain in your mouth
and you're a goner in three minutes.
Never out of me sight, this tin.
[editor] He caressed the tin and shook it
[rat man mimics rattle]
so that the oat grains
rustled softly inside.
But your rats don't get this today.
They wouldn't have it, anyway.
That's where you got to know rats.
Rats is suspicious. Terrible suspicious.
So today they get
some nice, clean, tasty oats
as will do 'em no harm in the world.
Fatten 'em up, that's all.
And tomorrow, the same again.
And the day after that,
and the day after that.
And it'll taste so good,
all the rats in the district
will be comin' along soon enough.
Very clever.
You got to be clever on this job,
cleverer than a rat.
And that's saying something.
"You've almost got to be a rat yourself."
It slipped out before I could stop myself.
I couldn't help it,
I was looking at him at the time.
The effect it had on him was surprising.
-That's it!
-he cried.
Now you got it, you really said somethin'.
A good ratter's gotta be
more like a rat than anythin' else.
Cleverer even than a rat,
and that is not an easy thing to be,
let me tell you.
Well, let's get on with it.
Lady Leonora Benson's
asking for me urgent up at the manor.
She's got rats too?
Everybody's got rats.
The rat man ambled off down the driveway.
The way he walked was so like a rat,
it made you wonder.
That slow, almost delicate, ambling walk
with a lot of give at the knees
and no sound at all
from his footsteps on the gravel.
He hopped over the gate,
and walked quickly 'round the hayrick,
scattering handfuls of oats
onto the ground.
The next day he returned
and repeated the procedure.
The day after that he came again,
and the day after that,
and finally, on the fourth day,
he put down the poisoned oats.
But he didn't scatter these.
Instead, he placed them in little piles
at each corner of the hayrick.
-You got a dog?
-[Claud] Yes.
Well, if you want him to die a horrible,
twisting death, let him in that gate.
The next day he came to collect the dead.
Get me an old sack.
I'm gonna need one to put 'em in.
He was puffed up and important now,
the black eyes gleaming with pride.
He was about to display
the results of his catch to the audience.
Claud fetched a sack
and we walked across the road.
The rat man prowled around the hayrick,
bending over to inspect
one of his piles of poison.
-Something wrong here.
-he muttered.
His voice was soft and angry.
He ambled over to another pile
and got down to examine it closely.
-Something wrong here.
-[Claud] What's the matter?
He didn't answer, but it was clear
the rats hadn't touched his bait.
"These are very clever rats here," I said.
The rat man was annoyed
and showed it on his face and nose
and by the way the two yellow teeth
were pressing into his lower lip.
-Don't give me that crap.
-he said, looking at me.
Nothing's wrong with these rats,
somebody's feedin' 'em.
They got somethin' juicy
to eat somewhere, plenty of it.
No rats in the world will turn down oats
unless their bellies is full to burstin'.
The rat man turned away, sullen.
He knelt down again scooping up
the poisoned oats with a small shovel,
tipping it carefully back into a tin.
When he had finished, all three of us
walked back across the road.
The rat man stood by the petrol-pump,
a rather sorry, humble rat man now
whose face was beginning
to take on a brooding aspect.
He had withdrawn into himself
over his failure,
the eyes veiled and wicked,
the little tongue darting out to one side
of the two yellow teeth.
He looked up at me,
a surreptitious glance,
then over at Claud.
His nose-end twitched, sniffing the air.
He raised himself up and down
on his toes, swaying gently,
and in a soft voice,
soft and secretive, he said
You want to see something?
He was trying to retrieve his reputation.
-You want to see something amazing?
He put his right hand
into the poacher's pocket of his jacket
and brought out a large, live rat
clasped tight between his fingers.
Good God!
[chuckles] That's it. You see?
He was crouching slightly
and craning his neck forward
and leering at us and holding
this enormous brown rat,
one finger and thumb making
a tight circle around its neck,
clamping its head
so it couldn't turn and bite.
Do you go around
with rats in your pockets?
Always a rat or two about me somewhere.
He put his free hand into the other pocket
and produced a small, white
-Is that a ferret?
-The rat man snickered, hissing.
The ferret seemed to know him
and stayed still.
Nothing will kill a rat
quicker than a ferret.
He held the two animals
close in front of him
so the ferret's nose
came within six inches of the rat's face.
The pink beady eyes of the ferret
stared at the rat.
The rat struggled,
trying to edge away from the killer.
-he said.
[editor] His khaki shirt
was open at the neck,
and he lifted the rat
and slipped it down inside,
next to his skin.
His belt prevented the rat
from going lower than his waist.
He slipped the ferret in next.
Immediately, there was
a great commotion inside the shirt.
It appeared the rat was running around
his body, chased by the ferret.
Six or seven times they went around,
the small bulge chasing the larger one,
gaining on it slightly each circuit,
drawing closer and closer
until at last the two bulges
seemed to come together,
and there was a scuffle
and a series of shrill shrieks.
Throughout this performance,
the rat man stood absolutely still,
legs apart, arms hanging loosely,
dark eyes resting calmly
on Claud's frozen face.
Finally, he took his hand
and reached down into his shirt
and pulled out the ferret.
With the other, he took out the dead rat.
There were traces of blood
around the white muzzle of the ferret.
"Not sure I liked that very much," I said.
You never seen nothin' like it before,
I'll bet you that.
Can't say I have.
You'll get a nasty nip
in the guts one of these days.
Claud told him, but was intrigued,
and the rat man was becoming cocky again.
You want to see something
far more amazing?
Something you'd never believe unless
you're seeing it with your own eyes?
I glanced at Claud
more than slightly apprehensive.
The rat man slipped the dead rat
into one pocket
and the ferret into the other.
Then he reached into his knapsack
and produced a second live rat.
Holy Christ!
Always got one or two rats
about me somewhere.
You got to know rats on this job,
and if you wanna know 'em
you gotta have 'em around.
This is a sewer rat, this one.
An old sewer rat, clever as buggery.
See him watchin' me all the time,
wonderin' what I'm gonna do next?
-See him?
-Most unpleasant.
"What will you do?"
I had a feeling I'd like
this demonstration less than the last one.
-Fetch me a piece of string.
-Claud fetched a piece of string.
The rat man
looped it around the rat's hind leg.
The rat struggled,
but the rat man held it tight.
Now, you got a table inside?
"We don't want the rat inside," I said.
Well, I need a table.
Or somethin' flat, anyway.
We walked over to the petrol-pump
and he put the sewer rat on top.
He attached the string to a post
so the rat was now tethered.
At first, it crouched,
unmoving and suspicious,
a big-bodied gray rat
with bright black eyes
and a scaly tail that lay in a long curl
on the metal surface.
It was looking away,
but watching him sideways
to see what he was going to do.
The rat man stepped back a few paces,
and immediately the rat relaxed.
It sat up on its haunches
and began to lick
the gray fur on its chest.
Then it scratched its muzzle
with both front paws.
It seemed quite unconcerned
about the other men standing nearby.
-How about a little bet?
-[editor] the rat man said.
"No, thank you." I said.
-[rat man] It's more fun if you bet.
-[Claud] What do you want to bet on?
[rat man] I can kill that rat
without using my hands.
I'll put 'em in my pockets
and not use 'em.
[editor] It was apparent the rat man
was out to earn some money.
I looked at the rat that was to be killed
and began to feel sick,
not because it was going to be killed,
but because it was to be killed
in a special way,
with a considerable degree of enthusiasm.
-[Claud] You'll kick it with your feet.
-[rat man] No feet.
-No arms?
-No arms, no legs, no hands neither.
-You'll sit on it.
-No squashing.
-Let's see it.
-Bet me a quid first.
Don't be bloody daft. Why should we?
-What'll you bet?
-Zero. Nothing.
All right. Then it's a no-go.
-He made as if to untie the string.
-I'll bet a shilling.
The sick sensation in my stomach
was increasing.
But there was an awful magnetism
about this business.
I found myself
unable to walk away or even move.
-You too?
Want me to do this for a lousy shilling?
-I don't want you to do it.
-Where's the money?
Claud put a shilling on the petrol-pump.
The rat man laid two sixpences
beside Claud's money.
Bet's on.
Claud and I stepped back.
The rat man stepped forward,
put his hands in his pockets
and inclined his body
from the waist toward the rat.
The rat was crouching, alarmed.
It seemed it was preparing
to spring at the rat man,
but then it began to reverse away,
dragging its body backwards
with crouching steps
until the string tautened on its hind leg.
The rat man
leaned further towards the rat,
following it back and forth
with his eyes. Suddenly
-It panicked.
-it panicked and leapt into the air.
[wind gusting]
The string pulled it up with a jerk
that must've nearly dislocated its leg.
It crouched again at the edge,
as far away as the string would allow,
whiskers quivering,
the long gray body rigid with fear.
At this point, the rat man again
began to move his face very slowly,
closer and closer.
I wanted to cry out for him to stop,
but I couldn't speak.
Something extremely unpleasant
was about to happen, I was sure of that.
Something sinister and cruel,
but I had to see it now.
Not more than the length of a man's hand
was separating the two.
The rat pressed its body flat,
tense and terrified.
The rat man was also tense,
but with a dangerous active tensity
that was like a tight-wound spring.
The shadow of a smile
flickered around the skin of his mouth.
-[bell tolling]
-Then, suddenly, he struck,
as a snake strikes,
darting his head forward
with a swift knife-like stroke
that originated in the muscles
of the lower body
and I had a glimpse
of the mouth opening wide
two yellow teeth
[both] the whole face contorted
by the effort of mouth-opening.
More than that, I did not care to see.
I closed my eyes,
and when I opened them again,
the rat was dead,
the rat man
was slipping the money into his pocket
and spitting to clear his mouth.
And that's what
they makes licorice out of.
Rat's blood's what the big factories
and chocolate-makers use to make licorice.
Nothin' wrong with a drop of rat's blood.
You are absolutely disgusting.
But that's it, you see.
You eaten it many a time.
Penny sticks and licorice bootlaces
all made from rat's blood.
We don't want to hear
another word, thanks.
Boiled up in great cauldrons,
bubblin' and steamin'
and men stirrin' it with long poles.
One of the big secrets
of the chocolate factories,
and no one knows about it,
except the ratters supplyin' the stuff.
Suddenly he noticed his audience
was no longer with him.
Our faces were hostile
and sick-looking and crimson with anger.
He stopped and turned away
without another word.
We watched as he sloped onto the road
with a slow, delicate, ambling walk.
His footsteps didn't make a sound,
not even on the gravel.
[bell tolling in the distance]
The rats never ate the poisoned oats.
There must be
something nutritious in the hayrick.
It was midnight when I drove home.
As I approached the bungalow,
I switched off the headlamps
so the beam wouldn't swing through
the window and wake Harry Pope.
I needn't have bothered.
His light was still on.
I parked, went up to the porch,
counting each step
so I wouldn't take an extra step,
which wasn't there, at the top.
One, two, three, four.
I went to Harry's room,
opened it quietly, and looked in.
He was lying in bed awake.
He didn't move or even turn his head.
But I heard him whispering,
almost inaudible
[whispering] Help.
[clock ticking]
I pushed the door
and started across the room.
"Stop"? I could hardly hear a word.
He seemed to be straining enormously
to produce sound.
What's the matter, Harry?
Take off shoes.
"Take off shoes"?
He reminded me of George Barling
after he got shot in the stomach
when he leaned against a crate,
gripping himself
and muttering about the Japanese pilot
in just the same straining
half-whisper Harry was using now.
Then George Barling bent over, of course
and died.
Take off shoes.
"Take off shoes."
I couldn't understand,
but I wasn't going to object.
-What is it, Harry?
-Don't touch.
He was on his back with a sheet
covering three-quarters of his body,
wearing striped pajamas
and sweating terribly.
It was hot.
I was sweating, but not like Harry.
His face was wet
and the pillow was soaked.
It looked like malaria to me.
-What is it, Harry?
You've been bitten. How long ago?
Didn't bite yet.
That confused me.
I gave Harry a funny look.
Krait on stomach. Asleep.
I jumped backwards. I couldn't help it.
I stared at his stomach,
at the sheet that covered it.
It was impossible to tell
if there was something underneath.
You don't mean there's a krait
on your stomach now? Asleep?
How'd it get there?
I shouldn't have asked a question.
I should've just told him to keep quiet.
Lying on back. Reading.
Felt something on chest, behind book.
From corner of eye,
saw little krait sliding over pajamas.
Small. Maybe ten inches.
Knew mustn't move.
Lay frozen, watching it.
Thought it would go over top of sheet.
[Woods] Harry was silent for a moment.
He was making sure his whispering
wasn't disturbing the thing laying there.
It went under.
Felt it through pajamas.
Moving on stomach.
Then it stopped. Now lying there asleep.
I've been waiting.
-[Woods] How long?
-For hours.
Hours and hours
and bloody hours and hours.
Can't keep still much longer.
Need to cough.
[Roald] In fact,
it wasn't a surprising thing
for a krait to do.
They linger around people's houses
and go for the warm places.
The surprising thing was
that Harry hadn't been bitten so far.
The bite is ferociously deadly,
unless you catch it at once,
with a dose of antivenom
immediately at hand.
Slim, little things. They look like this.
One might slip, discreetly,
through the just-cracked open door
of a small child's bedroom, for instance.
The manager of a tea estate once told me
about a sheep bitten on the hind leg.
When he cut open the carcass,
its blood ran pitch, black as tar.
[whispering] "All right, Harry," I said.
Now I was whispering too.
Don't move
and don't talk unless you have to.
It won't bite unless it's frightened.
We'll fix it.
[in normal voice] I went out softly
and fetched a small sharp knife
from the kitchen.
I put it in my pocket ready to use in case
Harry frightened the krait and got bitten.
I was ready to cut Harry
and suck out the venom.
[whispering] "Harry,
I think the best thing to do
is for me to draw back the sheet
very gently and have a look."
You idiot.
There was no expression in his voice.
He spoke too slowly and softly for that.
The expression was in the eyes
and corners of the mouth.
Light will startle. Snake will kill me.
Good point.
How about I whip back the sheet
and brush it off the instant--
Get doctor.
He looked at me as if
I should have thought of that myself.
A doctor. Of course.
That's it. I'll get Dr. Ganderbai.
[in normal voice] I tiptoed out,
looked up Dr. Ganderbai's number,
lifted the phone
and told the operator to hurry.
[phone ringing]
[clock ticking]
-This is Supervisor Woods.
-Hello, Mr. Woods. You're not in bed yet?
Come at once and bring serum. For a krait.
Serum? Who's been bitten?
The question came
like a small explosion in my ear.
No one. No one, yet.
Harry's got one
sleeping on his stomach under the sheet.
For about three seconds
there was silence on the line.
Speaking slowly, not like an explosion,
precisely, Dr. Ganderbai said
He's not to move or talk.
Do you understand?
-Of course, Doctor.
-I'm coming now.
He rang off,
and I went back to the bedroom.
Harry's eyes walked me to his bed.
[whispering] Dr. Ganderbai's coming.
He said to lie still.
-What does he think I've been doing?
-No talking. Either of us.
Shut up, then.
The muscles on one side of his mouth,
the muscles used for smiling
started twitching, little movements
that continued for a while
after he finished speaking.
I didn't like that,
or the way he talked, either.
-[car approaching]
-Dr. Ganderbai's car sped up to the front.
I went out to meet him.
-Where is he?
-Dr. Ganderbai didn't stop for my answer.
He walked on past me into the hall.
He put his bag down on a chair.
He was wearing
soft-soled bedroom slippers.
He walked across the floor noiselessly,
like a careful cat.
Harry watched out the sides of his eyes.
Upon reaching the bed,
he looked at Harry and smiled,
reassuring, nodding his head as if to say
Don't worry. This is a simple matter.
Leave it to Dr. Ganderbai.
He went into the kitchen,
and I followed him.
He opened his bag.
First is to try to get serum into him,
but I must do it neatly. He can't flinch.
He held a hypodermic and a small bottle.
He stuck in the needle
and drew up a pale yellow liquid.
-He handed it to me.
-Hold that till I ask for it.
We returned to the room.
[clock ticking]
[whispering] Harry's eyes were bright now
and wide open.
Dr. Ganderbai
cautiously rolled up Harry's sleeve
to the elbow without moving the arm.
He stood well away from the bed.
He whispered
I'm going to give you an injection.
Just a prick. Don't move.
Don't tighten your stomach muscles.
Let them go limp.
Harry looked at the syringe.
His smiling muscle began to twitch again.
Dr. Ganderbai took rubber tubing
and tied it tight around Harry's bicep.
He sponged a small area
of the forearm with alcohol.
He held up the syringe,
squinting at the calibrations,
squirting out some fluid.
Harry was sweating all over his face
so it shone like face cream
melting on his skin,
running down the pillow.
I could see the blue vein on his forearm,
swollen under the tourniquet.
Needle above the vein,
Ganderbai holding it flat against the arm,
sliding the needle sideways into the vein,
slowly and firmly
so it went in smooth as into cheese.
Harry closed his eyes
and opened them again but didn't move.
Ganderbai leaned forward,
mouth close to Harry's ear.
Now you'll be all right even if it bites,
but don't move. I'll be back in a moment.
-"Is he safe now?" I asked.
-It might or might not save him.
Ganderbai wiped his forehead
and stood nibbling his lip.
There is a way to do this.
There is a way to do this.
He was speaking slowly
and trying to think while he talked.
We're going to administer an anesthetic
to the creature where it lies.
It was a splendid suggestion.
It's not safe. A snake is cold-blooded.
Anesthetic doesn't work well
with cold-blooded animals.
But I don't have any other ideas.
Ether or chloroform?
I nodded.
-Which one?
-Was he asking me? I don't know.
[loudly] Chloroform!
[in normal voice]
He pulled me to the hall.
Drive to my house.
The boy will be waiting for you.
Here's the key to my poisons cupboard.
Take chloroform. It has an orange label.
The name is printed on it.
I'll stay in case anything happens.
Be quick!
-My shoes
-You don't need shoes.
[engine starts]
[Woods] I drove fast, and in 15 minutes
I was back with the bottle.
He knows what we're going to do,
but he's understandably losing his nerve.
I'm not sure how much longer he can last.
[lively music playing faintly]
[whispering] Harry was lying
in the same position as before.
His face was white and wet.
He turned his eyes towards me.
I smiled at him and nodded.
The doctor picked up the tube
he'd used as a tourniquet,
now with a paper funnel
fitted into one end.
He untucked a section of sheet
from under the mattress,
took the rubber tube, inserted it,
and slid it under the sheet
towards Harry's body.
Not sure how long it took
to slide that tube in.
It may have been 20 minutes, or 40.
I never saw the tube move,
but the visible part of it
grew gradually shorter.
Dr. Ganderbai himself was sweating now,
large pearls on his forehead
and upper lip,
but his hands were steady,
and his eyes were glued to the sheet
above Harry's stomach.
He held out his hand for the chloroform.
I twisted out the stopper
and put the bottle into his hand,
not letting go
until I was sure he had a good hold.
Mr. Pope, I'm going to soak the mattress.
It's going to be cold under your body.
-Be ready for it and don't move.
-[loud whisper] Get on with it!
For the first time,
Harry raised his voice.
Dr. Ganderbai looked up,
watched him and went back to business.
He poured into the funnel
and waited while it ran down the tube.
He poured more and waited again.
The heavy, sickening smell of chloroform
spread over the room
bringing faint, unpleasant memories
of nurses and surgeons
in a white room with a long white table.
Ganderbai was pouring steadily,
and I could see the heavy vapor swirling
like smoke above the paper funnel.
He paused, poured one more
and handed the bottle back to me.
Slowly he drew out the rubber tube,
then stood up.
The strain of this procedure
must have been enormous
because he sounded like this
[softly] Give it 15 minutes to be safe.
I leaned over to tell Harry.
-We'll give it--
-[loudly] I heard him!
This time Dr. Ganderbai sprang 'round,
his face suddenly angry.
Stared at Harry, a cold stone.
Harry's smiling muscle began to twitch.
We waited 15 minutes by the bed.
Dr. Ganderbai watched Harry's face
in the most curious,
profoundly intense, arresting gaze,
concentrating all his will power
on keeping Harry
absolutely still and quiet.
He never took his eye away,
and although he made no sound,
he seemed to be shouting at him.
-Something like
-[loudly] Don't move or speak!
You're not spoiling this now! You hear me?
In this silence,
Harry lay there twitching his mouth,
sweating, closing his eyes, opening them,
looking at me, the sheet, the ceiling,
never looking at Dr. Ganderbai.
Yet somehow,
Dr. Ganderbai was holding him.
It was like someone
was blowing up a huge balloon,
that it was going to burst,
but I couldn't turn away.
Finally Dr. Ganderbai nodded,
and I knew he was ready to proceed.
Go to the other side.
We'll each take a side of the sheet
and draw it back together.
Very slowly, please. Keep still, Mr. Pope.
[Woods] The whole of Harry's chest
was visible now.
I saw the white cord
of his pajama trousers
neatly tied in a bow.
A little farther below,
I saw a mother-of-pearl button,
something I never had on my pajamas,
a fly-button,
let alone a mother-of-pearl one.
Odd how one sometimes
has frivolous thoughts
at exciting moments.
Nothing else was on his stomach.
Don't move, Mr. Pope.
Ganderbai peered around
along Harry's body and under his legs.
Be careful. It could be anywhere,
up the pajama leg.
Harry sat up.
[breathing heavily]
It was the first time he'd moved.
Harry jumped up, stood on his bed,
shook his legs violently.
We thought he'd been bitten.
Ganderbai was scrambling for a scalpel,
but then Harry ceased leaping,
stood still,
looked down at the mattress and shouted
It's not there!
Dr. Ganderbai straightened up.
He looked at Harry.
Harry was all right.
He hadn't been bitten.
He wasn't going to get bitten or killed.
And everything was fine.
Sort of.
[chuckling] Maybe you were dreaming,
Mr. Pope.
[heart beating]
[Woods] The way he said it,
I knew his teasing
was not seriously intended.
He was easing up after the extreme strain.
Harry didn't take it that way.
He stood in his pajamas,
glaring at Ganderbai. The color
began to spread over his cheeks.
Are you suggesting I'm a liar?
Dr. Ganderbai remained still,
watching Harry.
Harry took a pace forward on the bed.
A shining look in his eyes.
-You dirty, little, Bengali, sewer rat.
-"Shut up, Harry," I said.
-You dirty, brown, filthy, little
-Shut up!
-Shut your mouth!
Dr. Ganderbai left the room,
I followed him into the hall,
to the screened porch.
He's out of his mind,
doesn't know what he's saying.
We went across the drive in the darkness
to the doctor's old Morris Motor car.
He got inside.
"You did a miraculous thing," I said.
-"You saved his life."
-No, I don't think so.
I mean, you might've
He owes you his life.
-I mean, he owes you his life, Doctor.
-No, he doesn't.
I'm sorry.
You can't be.
[engine starts]
Dr. Ganderbai started the engine
and drove off.
[sharpener grinding]
[mystical music playing]
[author] Here are some of the qualities
you should possess
or should try to acquire
if you wish to become a fiction writer.
You should have a lively imagination.
[music continues]
You should be able to write well.
By that I mean,
you should be able to make a scene
come alive in the reader's mind.
Not everybody has this ability.
It is a gift,
and you either have it or you don't.
You must have stamina.
In other words,
you must be able to stick
to what you're doing and never give up.
For hour after hour
Hour after hour
day after day
Day after day
week after week
Week after week
month after month
Month after month
year after year after year
You must be a perfectionist.
That means you must never be satisfied
with what you have written
until you've rewritten it again and again,
making it as good as you possibly can.
You must have strong self-discipline.
You're working alone.
No one is employing you.
No one is around to give you the sack
if you don't turn up for work
or to tick you off if you start slacking.
It helps a lot
if you have a keen sense of humor.
This is not essential
when writing for grown-ups,
but for children, it's vital.
[Roald] Finally
You must have a degree of humility.
The writer that thinks
his work is marvelous
is heading for trouble.
[music fades]