Class 12th Free Reading Comprehension
1-T1-he Bridge Builder
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and grey,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
‘Old man,’ said a fellow pilgrim near,
You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old grey head;
‘Good friend, in the path I have come,’ he said,
There followed after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!’
Will Allen Dromgoole
2-The Secret Treasure
Many years ago, in the country of Holland, there lived a hard-working peasant named Hans Bloom and his very talkative wife Nanette. They stayed in a small but comfortable little cottage on the outskirts of a village. Hans, who was what we would now call a crofter or smallholder, earned his living by cultivating a few fields, snaring game in the neighboring woods and fishing in the nearby river.
One lovely spring morning, as Hans was plowing in a corner of his largest field, the plowshare struck something hard, which brought him to a sudden halt. On looking at the cause of the stoppage, he uttered a cry of amazement, for the obstacle was not a boulder as he expected, but a large metal box, half-hidden in the earth. After looking round to see that no one was watching him, Hans dug round the box until he had completely unearthed it. He then placed it on the ground and tried to force the lid with his knife, but without success. However, by smashing the lock with a stone, he managed to open it and see the contents.
Imagine his surprise and joy, on discovering that the box was almost full of gold and silver coins. He kept staring and staring at the treasure, as if he could scarcely believe his eyes. But after the first moments of delight had passed, he frowned as he began to wonder what he should do in order to retain his newly-found wealth. The chief difficulty was that he must tell his wife Nanette, and she being one of the village gossips, could not possibly keep a secret for long. The news would soon reach the ears of the Count, who was the overlord of the district and he, no doubt, would immediately confiscate the treasure and punish him in the bargain, for not informing him in the first place. Hans closed and replaced the box in the hole, taking good care to cover it well, lest it might be seen by anyone who chanced to come that way. He then sat for a long time, with his head cupped in his hands, trying to think of a plan by which he could keep the treasure. Suddenly he sprang to his feet exclaiming, “Of course! The very thing!” Going over to the plow, he quickly unyoked the ass and led the creature to its small stable at the back of the house.
Nanette was surprised to see her husband return from work so early in the day and when he told her of his wonderful luck, she was overjoyed and at once began to talk of the many things they would buy with the money. Hans made her promise not to reveal his discovery to anyone, not even to their dearest friends, and this vow she readily made at least half-a-dozen times in her excitement. Despite her repeated promises, however, Hans knew that the story of his good fortune would soon be the talk of the whole neighborhood.
An hour or so later, Hans decided to put his plan into operation and went to the wood where he had set his snares. To his great satisfaction, he found that a fine hare had been caught in one of his traps. Removing the dead animal from the snare, he placed it in his bag and proceeded to the river, where he drew in his fishing lines. Certainly luck was with him that day, for the lines were laden with trout. After taking the fish off the hooks, Hans carefully attached the hair to a hook and threw the line, with its odd catch, back into the stream. Next, he returned to the wood with his load of fish and placed them in his snares, one by one, just as if they had been caught there.
On reaching home, Hans found Nanette busy about the house and in the best of spirits. Later, when he asked her to accompany him on his usual round of the snares and fishing lines, she was quite eager to join him.
First the couple proceeded to the river, where Hans said, “I’ll see if we have caught anything for supper.” Drawing in the lines slowly and steadily, with his wife a most interested spectator, he pulled and pulled and there, sure enough, was the hare dangling from the hook. Nanette was so astonished that she could only stare, first at the hare and then at her husband.
“Why do you look so surprised?” said Hans calmly. “Surely you know that a great many animals can swim and a few, like the otter and the seal, spend most of their lives in water. Isn’t this a lovely water-hare?” Poor Nanette, quite ignorant of the habits of animals, thought her husband spoke the truth, although she had never heard of such a creature. Putting their catch into a bag, the two continued their walk until they eventually reached the wood.
“Now!” exclaimed Hans, “I wonder if we’ll have any luck with the snares?” If Nanette was surprised to see a hare hooked on a fishing line, she was absolutely amazed to see the fish caught in the traps. But this time she did not show her astonishment, in case her husband would scold her again for her ignorance, and without saying a word, she helped him to release the trout from the snares and place them in the bag beside the hare.
On the way home they talked and talked as if nothing strange had happened, and when nearing the house Hans said, “Did you hear the news about the Count today? “No! What happened?” replied Nanette eagerly, for she was always keen to listen to the tittle-tattle of the village. “Well, proceeded Hans, “he burst into the butcher’s shop today and in a fit of temper, threw a leg of mutton at the butcher. However, the Count soon regretted his hasty action, for the butcher, chopper in hand, chased His Lordship down the street.” Nanette had been so surprised by the events of the day that she did not even question that truth of this most remarkable piece of news.
Three days passed, during which Nanette kept silent about the treasure, but on the fourth day, when a neighbor called, she felt that she must tell someone of her good fortune and she confided the secret to her visitor. Needless to say, in a few hours the whole village had the story of her husband’s lucky discovery and it became at once the sole topic of conversation in the district. So quickly did the news spread, that it reached the ears of the Count that very night. In the morning, Hans was arrested by two of the Count’s soldiers and taken to the castle to appear before His Lordship.
When the Count approached Hans he said to him in a stern voice, “It appears that you have found a very valuable treasure and have not even troubled to inform me of your discovery.”
“A tr-tr-treasure?” Hans stammered as if he was bewildered. “A-a treasure? Do you say that I have found a treasure? Let me see it, my Lord, for I have much need of it.” “Make no pretense at innocence!” thundered the Count, “or I shall have you punished. Your wife admits your discovery, and she herself has told everyone of it.”
At the mention of his wife, Hans broke into loud laughter. “My Lord,” he said, “Nanette, my wife, is simple and imagines many stupid notions to be true.”
“What?” replied the Count, “I cannot accept your answer without proof.” Turning to two of his guards, he commanded, “Bring this man’s wife here immediately!” A few minutes later, Nanette stood trembling by the side of her husband. “Tell me,” said the Count looking at her severely, “did your husband find a box containing treasure?” “Yes,” replied the frightened woman, “Hans really found a treasure, but he buried it again so that we could use the money later.” “How long ago did he find it, my good woman?” asked the Count. Nanette thought for a moment and said “Just five days ago. I remember it well, for on the same day, Hans fished a hare out of the river.”
The Count looked at her in amazement and Hans interrupted, “You see, my Lord, that I was speaking the truth. I told you she has silly notions.” Naturally, this angered Nanette and she turned to her husband and cried, “Notions – indeed! Why I remember too that you caught several fish in your snares that very same evening.”
At these words, even the Count was forced to laugh, and this caused Nanette to lose her temper. “Yes,” she declared hotly, “Hans discovered the treasure on the same day that you threw a leg of mutton at the butcher. Surely you can remember the butcher chasing you for your life down the street.”
For a few moments the Count stared at her in silence, and then he said quietly to Hans, “Take her home, for in her present state of mind, she could imagine anything.”
Shortly afterward, as the two trudged homewards, Hans said to her, “Well wife! I hope this experience will teach you to keep the next secret I tell you.” Although Nanette was too angry to reply, the lesson was not lost upon her, for from that day, she was more careful about what she told her neighbors.
Interesting Facts about Holland and the Dutch People
- Holland or the Netherlands, is sometimes called “The Land of the Tulip”, “The Land of the Hyacinth”, “The Land of the Windmill”, and the natives of this country are known as the Dutch people.
- “The Netherlands” means low country in Dutch. About half of its surface area is just one meter above sea level. In some places the land is much lower than the sea, and the people have constructed sand dunes, and high embankments, and built huge walls of dykes to prevent the water from flooding their farms. Stretches of land which have been reclaimed from sea or river are called polders. The word “Holland” means “land of the wood (holt)”.
- The Dutch are fine farmers and throughout the land may be seen the world famous bulb farms of flowers, such as tulips, hyacinths, snowdrops and daffodils. They are also noted for cheese-making, and export the famous round red-skinned cheeses about the size and shape of a football.
- Holland has a great number of canals, which are an important means of communication. On these canals, barges laden with merchandise ply their trade between the various towns within Holland, and even cross its borders to go into other European countries. The barge skippers and their families live on board. There are special schools on the main canals, and when the barge is docked for a few days the children attend there. They get homework which they complete before reaching the next school on their route.
- The whole country is dotted with windmills and they are a special feature of the Dutch landscape. These windmills, which all turn to the left (against the clock), are used to pump the surface water from the fields into the rivers and canals.
- In the winter, when the waterways are frozen over, they become the playground of the whole nation. Even the Queen goes skating. Everyone takes a holiday and long distance skating races are held.
- Most families eat a light snack in the middle of the day and have their main meal in the evening. A dish which is very popular with children in Holland is called Hot Lightning. It is made by mashing boiled potatoes and boiled apples together with some bacon dripping and is served, very hot, with the meat course.
- In towns, cycling is the favorite method of travel, and the sight of hundreds of cyclists constantly passing to and fro immediately attracts a visitor’s attention.
- The Dutch have always been good sailors and this has helped make their country prosperous and wealthy. During the seventeenth century, Holland was the world’s leading sea-power and her daring explorers and traders created a large overseas and West Indies empire in the East – an empire which does not exist today. The Netherlands Antilles in the West Indies are self-governing though they are part of the Netherlands Realm. Holland still has a very large merchant fleet.
- Between 1835 and 1845, about 15,000 people of Dutch origin moved out of the (British) Cape Colony across the Gariep (Orange) River into the interior of South Africa. They established two independent republics – the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. They acquired the name “Boers”, the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmers. The Boer Wars were two wars fought during 1880-1881 and 1899-1902 by the British Empire against the Dutch settlers of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic. Afrikaans, the language of the original Dutch settlers, is still commonly spoken in South Africa and Namibia.
Questions on the Story
- In what country did the story take place?
- Describe the home of Hans Bloom.
- How did he obtain a living?
- What kind of woman was his wife Nanette?
- What was Hans doing when he discovered the treasure?
- Name the season of the year.
- Why was he worried about his newly-found wealth?
- What did he do with the box containing the treasure?
- What animal was yoked to the plow?
- What vow did Nanette make when Hans told her of his wonderful luck?
- What did Hans do with the trapped hare?
- What did he do with the fish caught on his lines?
- Which animals did Hans mention as living most of their lives in water?
- Relate the story which he told his wife about the Count.
- For how long did Nanette keep the secret of the treasure?
- What happened to Hans when the Count heard of his discovery?
- What excuse did he make for his wife’s story?
- Who brought Nanette before the Count?
- Why did she completely lose her temper?
- What advice did the Count give to Hans?
Questions on the Interesting Facts
- (a) Give a popular name for Holland.
(b) What are the natives of the country called?
- (a) How is the sea prevented from flooding the land?
(b) What is the meaning of the word “Holland”?
- Name two products for which Holland is famous.
- Name an important means of communication in Holland.
- How are great quantities of goods transported?
- What is the purpose of most Dutch windmills?
- What dish do Dutch children like? How is it made?
- Holland was once one of the most powerful countries in the world. To what was this due?
- What war broke out between the British and the Dutch settlers in South Africa?
- Name the language of the Dutch settlers in Africa.
- Point out on the map
(b) The Netherlands Antilles.
(c) South Africa.
- Many world-famous painters are from Holland. Can you name a few? Can you also name some of their famous works?
- Hans used an ass to pull his plow. What other creatures are sometimes used for this work? What is the modern method of plowing?
- The Dutch are famous flower growers. Name and describe briefly.
(a) four garden flowers. (b) four wildflowers.
- Some animals, like the otter and the seal, spend most of their lives in water. Do you know of any other such animals? Which of them closely resemble fish?
- The butcher, chopper in hand, chased the Count down the street. Who, in the course of their daily work, use the following: awl, pick, razor, saw, spanner?
- Snaring is a method of hunting by which the victims are trapped. Which animals are mostly caught by means of traps?
- In the Netherlands, a great amount of goods is transported by canals. What is the difference between a river and a canal? Name two world famous canals and point them out on the map.
3 -The Journey to America
In the early ages of history, the people of the West knew very little about the countries and civilizations of the East. The East was believed to be a great wonderland, where splendid monarchs ruled over vast and powerful kingdoms. Legends spread about strange people and stranger flowers, fruits, birds and animals. Most attractive of all was the legend that gold, silver and gleaming precious stones could be obtained in abundance, without much difficulty.
The West, on the other hand, was looked upon as a region of danger and mystery, cut off from the rest of the world by fogs, storms and a never-ending stretch of cold, angry water. In the fifteenth century, however, explorers began to think and to wonder and to dream of fresh worlds to conquer. Everyone agreed that they should discover a new gateway to the East.
Among these dreamers was the one who was later to become the most famous explorer of this or any other age Christopher Columbus. We know very little of his early life, but it is recorded that he was born in Genoa (Italy), served as a navigator in a Genoese ship and was forced by Venetian pirates to seek his livelihood in Portugal.
Columbus believed that the world was round and he wanted to explore the unknown regions which lay beyond the Atlantic, because he thought that a straight course due west of Portugal would bring him to the eastern seaboard of Asia – to Zipangu (Japan), the country which the famous traveler Marco Polo had termed “The Land of Gold”.
The fearless adventurer outlined his plans and sought help in many countries, but without success. After many refusals, he finally won the consent of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and obtained from them a royal commission giving him authority to take possession of all new lands and conferring on him the title “Admiral of the Ocean Sea”.
Many difficulties had to be overcome, even after he had received the royal consent; financial help was hard to get; shipowners feared the risks attached to so crazy a voyage; and crews could not be found, for few men cared to venture out into the unknown sea with no certainty of return. Queen Isabella, however, was so convinced of the sincerity and wisdom of this remarkable sailor, that she provided the necessary money to buy and equip three ships and instructions were issued that criminals, with seafaring experience, be taken from the gaols to serve as members of the crews. Thus, after repeated setbacks, Columbus was ready to embark on his great adventure and put all his theories to the test.
On the night of August 2nd, 1492, all was hustle and bustle in the usually quiet little Spanish river port of Palos. Crowds were moving in the streets, lights were twinkling and torches flaring, as the church bell boomed out a solemn toll, summoning the people to take part in a farewell service for those who were to set out in a few hours on in history.
Inside the church, the crews and captains of the three ships were grouped around the leader of the expedition. After they had received the blessing of the Church their venture and the service was over, the crews, headed by their Admiral and captains, marched down the cobbled streets to the harbor. The crowd screamed along with them, shouting farewells and words of encouragement and good cheer.
Once onboard, the sailors immediately set to making their ships ready for departure. About daybreak, when all the necessary preparations had been completed, the anchors were raised and the vessels moved towards the open sea. The Admiral’s flagship, the Santa Maria, a great red cross on her main-sail and the royal standard of Spain aloft, led the way, while following close astern were the Pinta, and the Nina. And so these little ships – tiny ships when compared with the huge liners of modern times – sailed away to face the perils of unknown and uncharted seas.
Trouble began when they reached the Canary Islands, as the volcano at Tenerife was in eruption and the crews were afraid of the awe-inspiring sight. It must be remembered that at this time people were very easily frightened, as they believed in witches, demons and all the specters of the Dark Ages. Matters became worse when these isles had disappeared behind them and they were alone in the wide Atlantic. Some of the sailors protested to their captains that they were challenging the wrath of Heaven and foretold that they would come to a horrible and untimely death. Columbus, however, assured them that they were perfectly safe so long as they continued to obey his orders and he promised them large and rich rewards, when they reached “The Land of Gold”.
For seven weeks, the little fleet held on its westward course and happily met with smooth seas and favorable winds. The courage of Columbus never wavered, but, on the other hand, the fears of his men increased as day followed day without any sight of land. Some of them declared that they were being led by a madman, who was prepared to sacrifice all their lives in a hopeless effort to prove his absurd, fantastic notions.
So alarmed and disgruntled were the sailors that there were even rumblings of mutiny and the situation became tense and serious. The Admiral, however, was equal to the occasion and proved himself a capable leader. He renewed his promises of rich reward to the greedy, threatened the cowards with punishment and told them that, unless they sighted land in another week, the ships would swing about and sail for home.
Columbus calculated the total distance they had already traveled, and reckoned that his fleet should be off the coast of Japan. He set a sharp look-out on the western horizon and two days later – on a bright October morning – that which they all had hoped and prayed for came in view. There were frantic cries of “Land ahead!” The sailors were beside themselves with joy. The explorer could hardly contain himself as he realized that all his dreams had come true, and that his great adventure had been crowned with success.
The land which they had sighted was an inhabited island, and Columbus ordered the small boats to be readied, so that they could go ashore and ascertain their exact whereabouts. The Admiral landed at a little cove and after the royal standard of Spain had been planted on a hillock, claimed possession of the island on behalf of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
Around the landing party there soon gathered a crowd of natives, who had come out of their hiding-places to gaze in wonderment and awe at the strangers. They were very friendly to their visitors and brought them gifts of fruit and bread. The natives were delighted to receive in exchange such things as colored beads and cheap metal trinkets.
Now Columbus did not know that he was near America, but thought that he had discovered a new island near Japan. The explorer called the island San Salvador (now known as Watling Island). As Columbus judged the natives to be of the race that belonged to India, he called them Indians. Ever since then, the group of islands hereabouts has been known as the West Indies, in order to distinguish them from the East Indies – half the world away.
All three crews had been eagerly expecting to come to a land where rich treasure was to be found and the thought of untold wealth filled their minds with greed. Noticing that some of the people wore valuable necklets and bracelets, the sailors asked them, by means of signs, where the gold had come from. The natives replied by pointing to the south, and they indicated to the voyagers that gold, silver and precious stones could be obtained there.
Next day, the ships set sail in quest of the lands to which they had been directed, and thus the islands of Cuba and Haiti were discovered. Gold and silver articles were in common use among the natives there and many of the heavy and valuable ornaments were taken aboard the ships. At Haiti, the Santa Maria was wrecked on a sandbar and from her timbers, Columbus built a fort for a few members of the crew, who had decided to settle there and become the first colony of the “new world”. The explorer, now aboard the Nina, decided to sail for Spain and accompanied by the Pinta, the vessels were soon homeward bound. After a rough and stormy crossing, they reached their starting point, the little river port of Palos.
Columbus received a splendid welcome and was acclaimed and honored at the Spanish Court. The people flocked to see the many wonders he had brought back and they marveled greatly at the strange plants and birds and, most of all, at the six natives who had come with him. The explorer soon became a national hero, and was fêted throughout the country.
Naturally the Spaniards fitted out many expeditions so that they could reap the benefit of these rich possessions as soon as possible. Columbus made several more voyages to the West and discovered the islands of Dominica, Santa Cruz, Trinidad and the mainland of South America. He established new colonies and much of the great wealth of the natives were shipped to Spain, which soon became the richest country in the world.
Many adventurers of the worst type flocked to the new colonies and the story of their get-rich-quick methods is a terrible tale of native oppression and slavery. Columbus protested and consequently fell into bad grace, as the colonists were interested only in amassing as much wealth as they could. Even King Ferdinand forsook the gallant explorer, who died some years later in poverty and neglect.
And so the route to America (named after a later explorer-Amerigo Vespucci) was discovered by Christopher Columbus. At that time, it was not known to be a great new continent, and the importance of his voyage to the history of the world was realized much later.
Questions on the Story
- Where was Christopher Columbus born?
- How did he come to seek his livelihood in Portugal?
- According to Columbus, what country lay on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean?
- Who gave consent and help for his daring adventure?
- What title was conferred on him?
- Name the three ships which took part in the expedition.
- From which port did they leave?
- In what year did they set sail?
- What caused the crews to be frightened when they reached the Canary Islands?
- What kind of weather did the expedition experience on the westward voyage?
- Why did the sailors threaten to mutiny?
- What name did Columbus give to the first island he discovered?
- How did the natives treat their unexpected visitors?
- Why did the adventurers leave to search for islands further to the South?
- What misfortune befell the expedition at Haiti?
- How was the explorer received when he returned to Spain?
- Name other places where Columbus went in later voyages.
- How did these colonies benefit Spain?
- In what circumstances did the gallant explorer die?
- How did America get its name?
- The king and the queen of Spain authorized Columbus to take possession of all new lands. Did they have the right to do this? Express your opinion.
- The people who now inhabit the continents of North and South America are not the natives who welcomed Columbus. What happened to the natives after the Europeans came in large numbers?
- What is colonialism?
- What other countries, besides Spain, sent explorers to discover and conquer faraway lands and people? Make a list of such countries and the places they conquered.
- Many textbooks teach us that Columbus “discovered” America. However, since there were already people living in America, was it a discovery in any sense? Explain.