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Reading Club Pre-Intermediate: The Man with the Scar by S. Maugham

8a03423uIt was on account of the scar that I first noticed him, for it ran, broad and red, from his temple to his chin. This scar spoke of a terrible wound and I wondered whether it had been caused by a saber or by a fragment of shell. It was unexpected on that round, fat and good-humored face. He had small features and his face went oddly with his large and fat body. He was a powerful man of more than common height. I never saw him in anything, but a very shabby grey suit, a khaki shirt and an old sombrero. He was far from clean. He used to come into the Palace Hotel at Guatemala City every day at cocktail time and tried to sell lottery tickets. I never saw anyone buy, but now and then I saw him offered a drink. He never refused it. He walked among the tables, pausing at each table, with a little smile offered the lottery tickets and when no notice was taken of him with the same smile passed on. I think he was the most part a little drunk.

I was standing at the bar one evening with an acquaintance when the man with the scar came up. I shook my head as for the twentieth time since my arrival he held out his lottery tickets to me. But my companion greeted him, kindly.
"How is life, general?"
"Not so bad. Business is not too good, but it might be worse."
"What will you have, general?"
"A brandy."
He drank it and put the glass back on the bar. He nodded to my acquaintance.
"Thank you."
Then he turned away and offered his tickets to the men who were standing next to us.
"Who is your friend?" I asked. "That’s a terrific scar on his face."
"It doesn’t add to his beauty, does it? He’s an exile from Nicaragua. He’s a ruffian of course and a bandit, but not a bad fellow. I give him a few pesos now and then. He took part in a rebellion and was general of the rebellious troops. If his ammunition hadn’t given out he’d have upset the government and would be minister of war now instead of selling lottery tickets in Guatemala. They captured him together with his staff, and tried him by court-martial. Such things are usually done without delay in these countries, you know, and he was sentenced to be shot at dawn. I think he knew what was coming to him when he was caught. He spent the night in jail and he and the others, there were five of them altogether, passed the time playing poker. They used matches for chips. He told me he’d never had such bad luck in his life: he lost and lost all the time. When the day broke and the soldiers came into the cell to fetch them for execution he had lost more matches than a man could use in a life-time.
"They were led into the courtyard of the jail and placed against a wall, the five of them side by side with the firing squad facing them. There was a pause and our friend asked the officer commanding the squad what the devil they were keeping him waiting for. The officer said that the general commanding the troops wished to attend the execution and they awaited his arrival.
"Then I have time to smoke another cigarette,’ said our friend.
"But he had hardly lit it when the general came into the courtyard. The usual formalities were performed and the general asked the condemned men whether there was anything they wished before the execution took place. Four of the five shook their heads, but our friend spoke.
"‘Yes, I should like to say good-bye to my wife.’
"‘Good,’ said the general, "‘I have no objection to that. Where is she?’
"‘She is waiting at the prison door.’
"Then it will not cause a delay of more than five minutes."
"‘Hardly that, Se?or General.’
"‘Have him placed on one side.’
"Two soldiers advanced and between them the condemned rebel walked to the spot indicated. The officer in command of the firing squad on a nod from the general gave an order and the four men fell. They fell strangely, not together, but one after the other, with movements that were almost grotesque, as though they were puppets in a toy theatre. The officer went up to them and into one who was still alive emptied his revolver. Our friend finished his cigarette.
"There was a little stir at the gateway, A woman came into the courtyard, with quick steps, and then, her hand on her heart, stopped suddenly. She gave a cry and with outstretched arms ran forward.
"‘Caramba, said the general.
"She was in black, with a veil over her hair, and her face was dead white. She was hardly more than a girl, a slim creature, with little regular features and enormous eyes. Her loveliness was such that as she ran, her mouth slightly open and the agony on her beautiful face, even the indifferent soldiers who looked at her gave a gasp of surprise.
"The rebel advanced a step or two to meet her. She threw herself into his arms and with a cry of passion: ‘soul of my heart,’ he pressed his lips to hers. And at the same moment he drew a knife from his ragged shirt — I haven’t a notion how he had managed to keep it — and stabbed her in the neck. The blood spurted from the cut vein and dyed his shirt. Then he threw his arms round her and once more pressed his lips to hers.
"It happened so quickly that many didn’t know what had occurred, but the others gave a cry of horror; they sprang forward and seized him. They laid the girl on the ground and stood round watching her. The rebel knew where he was striking and it was impossible to stop the blood. In a moment the officer who had been kneeling by her side rose.
"‘She’s dead,’ he whispered.
"The rebel crossed himself.
"‘Why did you do it?’ asked the general.
"‘I loved her.’
"A sort of sigh passed through those men crowded together and they looked with strange faces at the murderer. The general stared at him for a while in silence.
" ‘It was a noble gesture,’ he said at last, ‘I cannot execute this man. Take my car and drive him to the frontier. I honor you, Senor, as one brave man must honor another.’
"And between the two soldiers without a word the rebel marched to the waiting car."
My friend stopped and for a little while I was silent. I must explain that he was a Guatemaltecan and spoke to me in Spanish. I have translated what he told me as well as I could, but I have made no attempt to change his rather high-flown language. To tell the truth I think it suits the story.
"But how then did he get the scar?" I asked at last.
"Oh, that was due to a bottle that burst when he was opening it. A bottle of ginger ale."
"I never liked it," said I. 

Exercises

Pre-reading Tasks

1. How do you think the man in the story got the scar? Invent two possible story lines (5-6 sentences).

2. Practice the pronunciation of the words from the story. When in doubt refer to the transcription below.

Saber, height, sombrero, Guatemala, exile, Nicaragua, ruffian, rebellion, rebel (n), rebel (v), court-martial, jail, execution, squad, condemned, grotesque, ragged, kneel, sigh, noble, frontier.

Vocabulary and grammar tasks

1. Find in the story the English for:

шрам от виска до подбородка, добродушное лицо, довольно грязный, время от времени, знакомый, протянуть билет кому-либо, судить военным судом, быть приговоренным к расстрелу, проводить время, не везти (об удаче), заставлять кого-либо ждать, присутствовать на казни, выполнять формальности, правильные черты лица, наносить удар ножом, высокопарный язык, из-за чего-либо.

2. Use one of the words or word combinations in an appropriate form to fill each gap.

now and then
without delay
frontier
good-humored
next to
due to
far from
an acquaintance
regular
attend

1. It was unexpected on that round, fat and ___________ face.
2. He was ___________ clean.
3. ___________ I saw him offered a drink.
4. I was standing at the bar one evening with ___________.
5. Then he turned away and offered his tickets to the men who were standing ___________ us.
6. Such things are usually done ___________ in these countries, you know.
7. The general commanding the troops wished to ___________ the execution.
8. She was a slim creature, with little ___________ features and enormous eyes.
9. Take my car and drive him to the ___________.
10. Oh, that was ___________ a bottle that burst when he was opening it.

3. Choose the right word.

1. But now and then I saw him ___________ a drink.
a) suggested
b) proposed
c) offered

2. He never ___________ it.
a) refused
b) denied
c) rejected

3. He ___________ to my acquaintance.
a) shook his head
b) nodded
c) bowed

4. The general asked the condemned men whether there was anything they wished before the execution took place. Four of the five ___________ their heads.
a) shook
b) nodded
c) bowed

5. The general commanding the troops wished to ___________ the execution.
a) visit
b) attend
c) be present 

6. The blood spurted from the cut vein and ___________ the shirt.
a) painted
b) dyed
c) colored

7. They ___________ the girl on the ground and stood watching her.
a) lay
b) laid
c) lied

8. To tell the truth I think it ___________ the story.
a) fits
b) suits
c) matches 

4. Change the following sentences from the story:

A into direct speech

1) I wondered whether it had been caused by a saber or by a fragment of shell.
2) He told me he’d never had such bad luck in his life.
3) Our friends asked the officer commanding the squad what the devil they were keeping him watching for.
4) The officer said that the general commanding the troops wished to attend the execution and they awaited his arrival.
5) The general asked the condemned men whether there was anything they wished before the execution took place. 

B into indirect speech

1) “How’s life, general?”
“Not so bad. Business is not too good, but it might be worse”.
“What will you have, general?”
“A brandy”.

2) “She’s dead,” he whispered.
The rebel crossed himself.
“Why did you do it?” asked the general.
“I loved her”.

3) “But how then did he get the scar?” I asked at last.
“Oh, that was due to a bottle that burst when he was opening it. A bottle of ginger ale”.
“I never liked it,” said I. 

5. Put the verbs:

A into the Active Voice

1) No notice was taken of him.
2) Such things are usually done without delay in these countries, you know.
3) I think he knew what was coming to him when he was caught.
4) They were lead into the courtyard of the jail and placed against the wall.
5) The usual formalities were performed. 

B into the Passive Voice

1) My companion greeted him.
2) They captured him together with his staff and tried him by court-martial.
3) They used matches for chips.
4) He drew a knife from his ragged shirt.
5) They laid the girl on the ground. 

6. Decide why the nouns below are used with a, the or ? (no article). Continue the lines.

1) a drink, a brandy, tea…
2) would be minister of war, was general of the rebellious troops, the general stared at him…
3) in jail, in the courtyard of the jail…
4) such bad luck, such a noble gesture… 

Reading Comprehension and Discussion Tasks

1. Answer the following questions:

1. Why did the author notice the man? What did the scar speak of?
2. What did the man with the scar look like? What was he like?
3. What did he use to do?
4. Who told the author the story of the man? How did he characterize him?
5. Where was the man with the scar from?
6. Why was he tried by court-martial? What was the sentence?
7. How did he spend the night before the execution?
8. How was the execution carried out? Why was there a pause?
9. What was the man’s last wish? Why was it easy to fulfill?
10. What did his wife look like?
11. What happened when she threw herself into his arms? Why did the man with the scar stab her in the neck?
12. Why did the general say he couldn’t execute the man? What did he order the solders to do?
13. Where did the man get the scar?

2. Retell the story according to the outline using the given words and word combinations.

1. The frame of the story: the beginning which expresses the problem and the purpose, and the end in which the author provides the answer to the main question.

To speak of, to be caused by, of more than common height, a shabby suit, far from clean, used to come, now and then, offer smb a drink, to refuse smth, to take no notice of, an acquaintance, to shake one’s head, to hold out smth to, to nod to, due to.

2. The rebellion and the night in jail.

To capture, to try by court-martial, without delay, to be sentenced to, at dawn, to pass the time, to have bad luck.

3. The execution.

To be led, to face smb, to keep smb waiting, to attend the execution, to perform the formalities, to have no objection to, to cause a delay, on a nod from the general, grotesque, puppets in a toy theater.

4. The last wish.

To give a cry, a slim creature, regular features, indifferent soldiers, to throw oneself into smb’s arms, to draw a knife from, to stab smb in the neck, the cut vein, to seize, to lay smb on the ground, to stare at, a noble gesture, the frontier, to honor smb.

3. Discuss the following:

1) “He had small features and his face went oddly with his large and fat body. He was a powerful man of more than a common height”.
Do appearances reflect our personality? How does the appearance of the man with the scar reflect his personality?
2) “He told me he had never had such bad luck in his life: he lost and lost all the time”.
Was it an omen before the day of the execution? What sort of omen? Do you believe in omens?
3) “Why did you do it?” asked the general.
“I loved her”.
“It was a noble gesture”.
Why do you think the man with the scar killed his wife? What sort of love was it? Was it a noble gesture?
4) S. Maugham mingles the exotic, the romantic with the commonplace in his story. Why do you think he does it? What are the romantic things and what are the commonplace things in this story?
5) “They fell strangely, not together, but one after the other, with movements that were almost grotesque, as though they were puppets in a toy theater”.
Do you think this description reflects the author’s attitude to life and death?
6) What do you think is the key sentence of the story?
7) A proverb is a short popular saying expressing an obvious truth. One of the proverbs says:
Climb not top high lest the fall should be greater.
Comment on the proverb with reference to the story.
8) “I never liked it”. What do you think the final sentence means?
9) Is the life story you invented similar in any way to the story you’ve read or is it quite different? How did you like the story “The Man with the Scar”?