The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Pre-Intermediate Level
“We’re going through!” The Captain’s voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his best navy uniform, with the cap pulled down over one cold gray eye in the latest fashion.
“We can’t make it, sir!” said Lieutenant Berg. “The wind is too strong, if you ask me.”
“I’m not asking you,” said the Captain. “Throw on the lights! Increase engine power! We’re going through!” The noise of the engines became louder and louder: pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Captain looked carefully at the ice forming outside the window. He walked over and made some changes to the brightly lit controls. “Switch on No. 8 emergency power!” he shouted.
“Switch on No. 8 emergency power!” Lieutenant Berg shouted back.
“Full power in No. 3!” shouted the Captain.
“Full power in No. 3!” answered Berg.
The other men in the huge eight-engined sea-plane looked at each other and smiled. “The Old Man’ll get us through,” they said to one another. “The Old Man isn’t scared of anything!”
“Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for?”
“Hmm?” said Walter Mitty. He turned his head to his wife, in the seat beside him, with a surprised look. It was if at first he didn’t know who she was, like a strange woman who had shouted at him in the street.
“You were up to fifty-five,” she said. “You know I don’t like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five.”
Walter Mitty drove on toward Waterbury without saying a word to her. As he did, the noise of the plane flying through the worst storm in twenty years fell back into the distant, hidden skies of his mind.
“Your nerves are playing up again,” said Mrs. Mitty. “It’s one of your days. I wish you’d let Dr. Renshaw look you over.”
Walter Mitty stopped the car in front of the building where his wife went to have her hair done.
“Remember to get those rubber boots while I’m having my hair done,” she said.
“I don’t need rubber boots,” said Mitty.
She put her mirror back into her bag. “We’ve been all through that,” she said, getting out of the car. “You’re not a young man any longer.” He raced the engine a little. “Why don’t you wear your gloves? Have you lost your gloves?”
Walter Mitty reached in a pocket and brought out the gloves. He put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he had driven on and stopped a red light, he took them off again. “Get going, brother!” shouted a policeman as the light changed, and Mitty quickly pulled on his gloves and moved on. He drove around the streets for a time without thinking where he was going. Then, as he made his way to the parking lot where he was going to leave the car, he drove past the hospital.
“It’s the rich banker, Wellington McMillan,” said the pretty nurse.
“Yes?” said Walter Mitty, taking his gloves off slowly. “Who has the case?”
“Dr. Renshaw and Dr. Benbow, but there are two specialists here, Dr. Remington from New York and Dr. Pritchard-Mitford from London. He flew over.”
A door opened and Dr. Renshaw came in. He looked very worried and very tired. “Hello, Mitty,” he said. `’We’re having a terrible time with McMillan, the banker. He’s a close personal friend of the President. Wish you’d take a look at him.”
“Happy to,” said Mitty.
In the operating room there were softly spoken introductions: “Dr. Remington, Dr. Mitty. Dr. Pritchard-Mitford, Dr. Mitty.” “I’ve read your latest book,” said Pritchard-Mitford. “A very clever piece of work, sir.”
“Thank you,” said Walter Mitty.
“Didn’t know you were in the States, Mitty,” said Remington. “Silly of them to bring Pritchard-Mitford and me up here for a simple thing like this with you here.”
“You are very kind,” said Mitty.
There was a huge machine next to the operating table, with many tubes and wires coming out of it. As they spoke it began to make a strange noise: pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. “The new anesthetic machine has a problem!” shouted a young doctor whose job it was to watch it. “There is no one in the hospital who knows how to fix it!”
“Quiet, man!” said Mitty, in a low, cool voice. He quickly walked over to the machine, which was now going pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-queep, and began looking at the brightly lit controls. “Give me a metal pen!” he ordered. Someone handed him a metal pen. He pulled something out of the machine and put the pen in its place. “That will hold for ten minutes,” he said. “Get on with the operation.”
A nurse quickly walked over and said something quietly to Renshaw, and Mitty saw the man’s face turn white. “I don’t think he’s going to make it,” said Renshaw in a worried voice. “If you would take over, Mitty?”
Mitty looked over at Renshaw and the other doctors. Benbow, who drank, looked scared. There faces of the two great specialists from London were serious and showed that they were not sure what to do.
“If you wish,” he said. He put on the special clothes that doctors wear when they operate, and pulled on some thin doctor’s gloves. A nurse handed him shining…
“Back it up, sir! Look out for that car! Walter Mitty put his foot down hard to stop his car. “Wrong way, Sir,” said the young man who worked in the car park, looking at Mitty closely.
“Oh. Yes,” said Mitty quietly, as he looked up and saw the sign marked “Exit Only.” He slowly began to back up.
“Leave the car there, sir” said the young man. “I’ll put it away.” Mitty got out of the car. “Hey, better leave the key.”
“Oh,” said Mitty, handing him the car keys. The young man jumped into the car and backed it into an empty space. He made it look so easy that Mitty felt foolish. They make me so angry, thought Walter Mitty, walking along Main Street. They think they know everything. Once, outside New Milford, he had tried to take the snow chains off the wheels of his car. He had done something wrong and got them all caught up on the inside of the wheels. They had to get someone from a garage to come out to get them off. The young man who came smiled at him the whole time. Since then Mrs. Mitty always made him drive to a garage to have the chains taken off. The next time, he thought, I’ll wear my right arm in a sling. They won’t laugh at me then. I’ll have my right arm in a sling and they’ll see that I couldn’t possibly take the chains off myself. He kicked at the watery snow on the side of the road. “Rubber boots,” he said to himself, and he began looking for a shoe store.
Walter Mitty came out into the street again with a shoe box under his arm. He then began to wonder what the other thing was his wife had told him to get. She had told him, twice before they set out from their house for Waterbury. In a way he hated these weekly trips to town – he was always getting something wrong. “Was it something for the bathroom?” he said to himself. “For washing hair? Cleaning teeth?” No. “For the kitchen?” He gave it up. But she would remember it. “Where’s the what’s its name?” she would ask. “Don’t tell me you forgot the what’s its name.” A boy selling newspapers went by shouting something about the Waterbury court case.
“Perhaps this will help your remember.” The Government lawyer suddenly pushed a heavy hand gun at the quiet man sitting alone in front of the court. “Have you ever seen this before?”
Walter Mitty took the gun and examined it carefully. “This is my Webley-Vickers 50.80,” he said calmly. People started talking excitedly around the room. The Judge called for everyone to be quiet.
“You are a good shot with any sort of gun, I believe?” said the Government lawyer, in a way that sounded as if the question was actually a statement of fact.
“That is not a fair question!” shouted Mitty’s lawyer. “We have shown that Walter Mitty could not have fired the shot. We have shown that he had hurt his right arm and wore it in a sling on the night of the fourteenth of July.”
Walter Mitty put his hand up for a moment and the two men stopped arguing. “With any known make of gun,” he said evenly, “I could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet shooting with my left hand.”
Everyone in the court room began to speak excitedly at once. Some were laughing at what he said and others were shouting. Suddenly a woman’s voice called out loudly, “No!”, and a beautiful dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty’s arms. The Government lawyer moved as if to pull her away. Without getting up from his chair, Mitty hit the man on the point of the chin. “You dirty dog!” he shouted.
“Puppy biscuit!” said Walter Mitty. He stopped walking and the buildings of Waterbury came up out of the court room and were all around him again.
A woman who was passing laughed. “He said ‘Puppy biscuit,'” she said to the woman walking with her. “That man said ‘Puppy biscuit’ to himself.”
Walter Mitty quickly walked on. He went into a grocery store, not the first one he came to but a smaller one further up the street. “I want some biscuit for small, young dogs,” he said to the shop-keeper.
“Any special kind, sir?”
The greatest shot in the world thought a moment. “It says ‘Puppies Bark for Them’ on the box,” said Walter Mitty.
His wife would be through at the hairdresser’s in fifteen minutes Mitty saw in looking at his watch. Unless they had trouble drying it; sometimes they had trouble drying it. She didn’t like to get to the hotel first, she would want him to be there waiting for her as usual. He found a big leather chair in a corner near the entrance, facing a window. He put the shoe box and the puppy biscuit on the floor beside it, and picked up an old magazine and sank down into the chair. “Can Germany Take Over the World Through the Air?” Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of planes dropping bombs and of bombed streets.
“The cannon fire has frightened young Raleigh, sir,” said the sergeant.
Captain Mitty was sitting inside a bomb shelter at the army airport, looking very tired. “Get him to bed with the others,” he said, “I’ll fly alone.”
“But you can’t, sir,” said the sergeant in a worried voice. “It takes two men to handle that bomber, and the sky is full of enemy gun fire. Also, Von Richtman’s fighter planes are based between here and Saulier. They’ve got the best pilots in Germany.”
“Somebody’s got to bomb the target,” said Mitty. “I’m going over. Some brandy?” He poured a drink for the sergeant and one for himself. War continued noisily outside and something hit the outside of the door. There was a sound of breaking wood, and small pieces of the door flew through the room. “A bit of a near thing,” said Captain Mitty as if it was nothing.
“The cannon fire is closing in,” said the sergeant.
“We only live once, Sergeant,” said Mitty, with his small, momentary smile. “Or do we?” He poured another brandy and drank it down.
“I’ve never seen a man could hold his brandy like you, sir,” said the sergeant, “if you’ll excuse me for saying so”.
Captain Mitty stood up and put on his gun belt.
“It’s forty kilometers through hell, sir,” said the sergeant.
Mitty finished one last brandy. “After all,” he said softly, “what isn’t?” The cannon fire increased. There was the rat-tat-tatting of machine guns. From somewhere came the frightening pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of those new weapons that shoot a stream fire to burn the enemy where they are hiding. Walter Mitty walked to the door of the shelter. He was softly singing, “Aupres de Ma Blonde” to himself. He turned and waved to the sergeant. “Goodbye!” he said.
Something hit his shoulder. “I’ve been looking all over this hotel for you,” said Mrs. Mitty. “Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to find you?”
“Things close in,” said Walter Mitty softly.
“What?” Mrs. Mitty said. “Did you get the what’s its name? The puppy biscuit? What’s in that box?”
“Rubber boots,” said Mitty.
“Couldn’t you have put them on in the store?”
“I was thinking,” said Walter Mitty. “Can’t you understand that I am sometimes thinking?”
She looked at him. “I’m going to take your temperature when I get you home,” she said.
The front door of the hotel was one of those that go round and round as you walk through. As you push them, they sound like they are laughing at you. As they walked past a drugstore on the way to the parking lot she said, “Wait here for me. I forgot something. I won’t be a minute.” She was more than a minute. Walter Mitty lighted a cigarette. It began to rain; rain with bits of ice in it. He stood up against the wall of the drugstore, smoking.
He put his shoulders back and his feet together. “I don’t want anything over my eyes,” said Walter Mitty as if what was happening meant nothing. He put his cigarette to his mouth one last time and then threw it away. Then, with that small, momentary smile playing about his lips, he faced the six soldiers standing opposite.
“Ready!” said an officer standing with the men. They lifted their guns to their shoulders. “Aim!” said the officer. They aimed the guns at Mitty’s heart. Standing straight and still, proud and acting as if they were not there, Walter Mitty, unbeaten, brave to the end.