The Two Matches

One day there was a traveller in the woods in California, in the dry season, when the Trades were blowing strong. He had ridden a long way, and he was tired and hungry, and dismounted from his horse to smoke a pipe. But when he felt in his pocket he found but two matches. He struck the first, and it would not light.

‘Here is a pretty state of things!’ said the traveller. ‘Dying for a smoke; only one match left; and that certain to miss fire! Was there ever a creature so unfortunate? And yet,’ thought the traveller, ‘suppose I light this match, and smoke my pipe, and shake out the dottle here in the grass – the grass might catch on fire, for it is dry like tinder; and while I snatch out the flames in front, they might evade and run behind me, and seize upon yon bush of poison oak; before I could reach it, that would have blazed up; over the bush I see a pine tree hung with moss; that too would fly in fire upon the instant to its topmost bough; and the flame of that long torch – how would the trade wind take and brandish that through the inflammable forest! I hear this dell roar in a moment with the joint voice of wind and fire, I see myself gallop for my soul, and the flying conflagration chase and outflank me through the hills; I see this pleasant forest burn for days, and the cattle roasted, and the springs dried up, and the farmer ruined, and his children cast upon the world. What a world hangs upon this moment!’

With that he struck the match, and it missed fire.

‘Thank God!’ said the traveller, and put his pipe in his pocket.

– Robert Louis Stevenson, “Fables,” Longman’s Magazine, August 1895

Thanks to Greg Ross for allowing me to reproduce the post Philosophy, from Futility Closet – An idler’s miscellany, of compendious amusements: anecdotes, epigrams, illusions and wonders; puzzles, prodigies, sublimities and horrors.

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