ICSE Class 10 Poems and Short Stories A Face in the Dark (Ruskin Bond)
A Face in the Dark Synopsis and Important Questions
Ruskin Bond is an Indian author of British descent. He is a prolific writer whose works are popular with adults and children. He was born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh. He did his schooling in Shimla. He has written several short stories and novels. He was awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan.
In the story ‘A Face in the Dark’, Ruskin Bond has related a suspense incident set in the picturesque hills around Shimla. His fascination with the paranormal finds expression in this tale. He has made use of skilful elements for a horror story. The story has an equal amount of surprise, suspense and mystery to explore humanity’s collective fascination with the dark.
This story is based in Shimla and describes a thrilling experience. When we think of Shimla, we are reminded of beautiful and fascinating mountains and hills with scenic beauty. It is one of the best hill stations in India. Such places are renowned for their scenic appearances and stories and tales related to paranormal incidents. This story is a description of one such incident.
Through the story, the author asserts that even powerful people and non-believers of evil spirits go blank when confronted by strange and horrible situations. The story is set on a windy night when Mr Oliver, an Anglo-Indian teacher, is on his way back to school late one night. He takes a little detour and chooses to walk through the pine forest on his way back to the school after an evening at Shimla bazaar. He encounters a boy and this experience turns out to be one where there is no escape for Mr Oliver.
Let us go through the story in detail.
Mr Oliver used to teach in a school in Shimla. He is a bachelor who usually walks to the town in the evening. One day, Mr Oliver was returning to his school from the outskirts of the hill station and he got late. When he was returning, it became dark, and so he thought of taking a little detour from his route to school. He took a shortcut through the pine forest. As we think of the beautiful town of Shimla, it is filled with mountains, hills and woods. It became very dark by the time Mr Oliver was about to cross the pine forest. Whenever there is a strong wind or breeze, the pine trees make sad and terrible sounds that keep most of the people on the main road. But Oliver was not nervous or an imaginative man, so he took the narrow forest path. This also shows that he was very familiar with the area. He generally carried a torch along with him. It might be often that he got late or returned when it was dark. But this time as he was returning, there in the forest he saw a figure of a boy. He used his torch to infer that someone is present there. In the light of the torch, he found a boy sitting alone on a rock.
He could see the figure of the boy from a distance. Oliver stops and moves closer to the figure in order to recognise it. He was puzzled and worried that why a student or a boy was in the forest at this hour. Mr Oliver thought that all students are advised to stay inside the campus or at home during the dark. They were not supposed to be out and definitely not in the forest as it was not safe.
Oliver pondered what the boy was doing out in the dark, and so asked him what he was doing out there at that time. He sensed that something was wrong. The boy had seemed to be crying and his head hung down. He appeared to be holding his face between his hands and his body was shaking continuously. It was a strange soundless weeping and Mr Oliver felt uneasy. Despite these unusualities, Mr Oliver approached the boy. He kept asking the boy who he was and why was he out in the dark. The boy neither answered nor looked up but kept weeping continuously.
Oliver was worried about the fact that the boy is out at night. So he asked the boy why he was crying. The boy finally took his hands off from his face and looked up at the teacher. The torch from Mr Oliver’s hand falls down. The boy was not a normal one but some ghostly figure. The boy had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. He just had a round, smooth head with a school cap on.
The torch fell from Mr Oliver’s trembling hands, and he runs down the path blindly through the trees calling and crying for help. He ran towards the school building and saw a lantern swinging in the middle of the path. Mr Oliver was petrified after the encounter with the faceless boy.
There he found the watchman standing at the school gate. The watchman saw Mr Oliver running and asked him what had happened. Oliver replied that he saw something horrible. He said in parts that he saw a boy weeping in the forest and he had no face. The watchman showed him his own face and asked Oliver, “Do you mean it was like this?”
The watchman too had no eyes, no ears and no features at all. He did not even have eyebrows and that is when the wind blew and turned the lamp out.
The story ends with suspense to what might happen to Mr Oliver and leaves the readers in confusion. It thus describes a thrilling and horrific incident leaving the readers intrigued about Mr Oliver.
Short Answer Questions
- Who was Mr Oliver? What was his profession?
Ans. Mr Oliver was an Anglo-Indian teacher at a school on the outskirts of the hill station of Shimla. The school where Mr Oliver was a teacher was called ‘Eton of the East’ by Life magazine. He was a bachelor and was probably staying alone on the school premises. During his leisure time, he used to walk to Shimla bazaar.
- How did Mr Oliver usually spend his evenings?
Ans. Mr Oliver usually spent his evenings in Shimla bazaar which had cinemas and restaurants. He used to stroll into the town in the evening as he was a bachelor and returned after dark taking a shortcut through the pine forest to the school.
- Why did he take a shortcut while returning?
Ans. Mr Oliver was returning to school at night after spending time in Shimla bazaar. He was quite bold and did not worry about the terrible sounds made by the pine trees when the strong winds blew. Oliver took the shortcut as he wanted to reach the school in less time.
- What did Oliver carry with him? Why?
Ans. Unlike most people, Mr Oliver used to take a shortcut through the pine forest, but the forest was dark and it was difficult to determine the way at night. Therefore, he carried a torch that helped him to find his way back home.
- Describe the posture of the boy.
Ans. The boy sat on a rock with his head down and his face held in his hands. His body shivered continuously. It seemed that the boy was either in some pain or freezing with cold. Mr Oliver could figure out that the boy was weeping.
- Why did Oliver think that the boy was a miscreant?
Ans. Oliver had noticed a boy with his school cap sitting on a rock at night. The hostel boys were not supposed to come out after dark. It was a punishable misdeed. So, when he saw the boy, he assumed that he was a miscreant, a person who has done some mischief.
- Who did Oliver stumble upon?
Ans. As he ran towards the school, Mr Oliver saw a lantern swinging in the middle of the path. He was running as he was petrified after seeing the faceless boy. He was screaming for help as he saw the lantern towards the school building. He ran towards it and came across a watchman who had the lantern.
- Why did the torch fall from Oliver’s hand?
Ans. Oliver was horrified when the boy took his hands off his face and looked up at him. As the torchlight fell on the boy’s face, Oliver was stunned to see that the boy’s face was featureless and without eyes, ears, nose or mouth. It was just a round smooth head with a school cap on. Mr Oliver who had never believed in anything like a ghost was gripped with fear. The torch he held fell from his trembling hands.
- What did the watchman do?
Ans. Mr Oliver was running towards the school building and crying for help. He was petrified after seeing the faceless boy. He saw a lantern swinging in the middle of the path. Mr Oliver stumbled upon a watchman who asked him what the matter was. The watchman enquired as he was running and crying for help. When Mr Oliver told him about the faceless featureless creature that he had seen on his way, the watchman raised the lamp to show Oliver his face. The watchmen had no eyes, nose, mouth or even eyebrows. The wind blew at the same moment and turned the lantern off that the watchman was holding in his hand.
Long Answer Questions
- What did Oliver see when he was returning?
Ans. Mr Oliver was returning through the pine forest as usual. He often took a shortcut through the pine forest while returning to school after spending time at the Shimla bazaar. He was carrying a torch to see the path. It was quite dark when he saw something that caught his attention. With the light of his torch, he saw a boy who was just sitting on a rock weeping with his hands on his face. He was surprised to witness a student out of school at that hour. He was worried about the boy’s safety; therefore, he approached him asking why he was out at that hour and the reason for his weeping.
- How did Oliver react after seeing the face of the boy?
Ans. When Oliver witnessed the boy in the late hours of the evening sitting on a rock in the pine forest, he got worried for him. Students were not allowed to be out at night. Initially, he was angry but when he understood that the boy was crying continuously he went near him and asked him to look up. The boy neither looked up nor replied. When Oliver went close to the boy, he lifted his face and Oliver was shocked. The torch fell from Oliver’s hand and he started running towards the school building crying for help. The boy was without any eyes, nose or lips. He had no features. He was a faceless boy.
- How does the watchman enhance the surprise element of the story?
Ans. Introduction of the watchman is full of doubts and mystery. After seeing the faceless boy, Mr Oliver was terrified and started running towards the school crying for help. While running through the forest, Oliver came across the watchman holding a lantern in the middle of the path. It is not known or mentioned later from where he had appeared in this deserted forest. When he is supposed to help the frightened Mr Oliver, he himself turns out to be a ghostly figure making the story more surprising. We may say that the role of the watchman is shocking and surprising. These elements of the story act as a twist in the tale and leave the reader intrigued.
- What answer did Mr Oliver give when the watchman asked why he was running?
Ans. After the encounter with the faceless boy, Mr Oliver was running and crying for help. He was stopped by the watchman. The watchman was holding a lantern in his hand in the middle of the forest close to the school. He asked Mr Oliver the reason for his running. At this, Oliver replied that he had seen a boy sitting on a rock and weeping but he was without any eyes, ears, mouth or nose. Mr Oliver was so petrified that he could not even complete his sentence. He was also tired from running, so he just said the main words of the sentence. The presence of the watchman is a mystery. However, after hearing Mr Oliver, he showed him his own face which was without features too.
- What message does the story convey?
Ans. The message that the story conveys is man finds himself helpless in front of ghosts and supernatural things. In the course of time, a man may behave differently not holding to his permanent character. One should neither boast of one's good habits nor be ashamed of his shortcomings. The character of Mr Oliver strengthens our point when he runs away from the boy with no features. We have been told that he is not a nervous or imaginative man. All of Mr Oliver’s courage vanishes at the sight of the ghost. The story conveys an idea of horror, mystery and unconventional activity.
- What are your views about the story? Justify.
Ans. The story ‘A Face in the Dark’ is written by Ruskin Bond. He was born in Himachal Pradesh and is of British descent. This is an unusual short story with an element of supernaturalism, mystery, suspense and fear. The story has a simple plot and the author has made an ordinary setting look extraordinary by giving it a supernatural touch. The story has two major revelations that shocked me. The revelation of the boy in the woods being a ghostly figure is less surprising than that of the watchman. It has left me completely stunned. The end of the story left me perplexed thinking about what could have happened to Mr Oliver after these two encounters. It is a mysterious story that kept me hooked till the end.
- ‘A Face in the Dark’ is a supernatural story. Comment.
Do you think someone was playing a trick on Mr Oliver? Was it really a supernatural incident?
Ans. The story revolves around an incident faced by an Anglo-Indian teacher named Mr Oliver. Set in a pine forest outside Shimla, the story deals with the elements of supernaturalism, mystery and strangeness.
Late one night, Mr Oliver is returning to his school from the outskirts of the hill station of Shimla. He took a shortcut and was returning to the pine forest. There he saw a figure of a boy in the light of the torch. He found him sitting on a rock. He stopped there going closer to the boy in order to recognise him and ask him what he was doing there at night. When the boy looked up, Mr Oliver got frightened to see that the boy had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. It was a smooth head with the school cap on it. He got frightened and the torch fell from his trembling hands. He started running towards the school crying for help. When he came across the watchman in the middle of his path, he told him that he saw a horrible sight. The watchman was surprised to listen to the story of Mr Oliver and asked him if he had a face like his. The watchman too had no eyes, ears, mouth, no features at all, not even eyebrows.
All of the points above make it clear that this is not a normal incident but a supernatural incident.
- Describe Mr Oliver.
Write the character sketch of Mr Oliver.
Ans. Mr Oliver is the main character of the story. The story represents the sharp contrast of his character. In the first few paragraphs, we are made to believe that he is not a nervous or imaginative man, but as the story progresses, we see a complete reversal of what we have been told. Mr Oliver is a bachelor, so he does not have any family responsibility. He may roam around wherever and whenever he wants, and this is the main reason why he strolls at Shimla bazaar daily.
In the beginning, we are impressed with the fearlessness of his character as it is mentioned that he often takes a shortcut through the pine forest. This shows that he is not scared of the surroundings. This is a quality that is not possessed by every person.
He is also concerned about others, and this is one of the highlights of his character. He observes a strange boy at an unusual hour of the evening. He goes closer to him to know his problem. His anger changes into concern as soon as he realises the boy is weeping.
When the boy looks up and he finds out that he has no eyes, ears, nose, mouth or features, he becomes extremely afraid, and without thinking, he starts running crying for help through the forest. Initially, he is being portrayed as a different man, but when he encounters a supernatural figure, he is scared and runs to save his life.
- The story did not end for Mr Oliver after he saw the boy’s face. What was the hidden trouble? Can you guess what would have happened after Mr Oliver saw the faceless watchman?
Ans. The story ‘A Face in the Dark’ did not end for Mr Oliver after he saw the boy’s face. Encountering a boy with a featureless face, Mr Oliver was terribly frightened. Although he was a strong man, he was gripped with fear. The torch fell from his trembling hands and he ran towards the school building. He cried for help as a strange mysterious incident happened with him.
To our surprise, Mr Oliver again comes across a shocking incident with the watchman too. The watchman was also a man with a featureless face. The chapter ends but it leaves the readers puzzled about what happened to Mr Oliver after that. There are many possibilities in this situation.
The incident would have left him in shock. He could have fainted when he saw the watchman and then might have been taken to the doctor. When he regains consciousness, he could have narrated the entire incident and told people about it.
There are also chances that he would not be able to take such shocks and that it affected his mental health.
Also, there is a possibility that someone was trying to play some kind of prank on him in order to frighten him.
It is also possible that Mr Oliver tries to escape both featureless creatures whom he encountered and made it to his room safely. However, when he looks at himself in the mirror, he is not able to find any features on his face too.
There are many possible ends to the story.
- How does Ruskin Bond create an atmosphere of strangeness, mystery and supernaturalism in this story?
Ans. On seeing the featureless face, Oliver ran away from there, calling for help. He was still running towards the school building when he saw a lantern swinging in the middle of the path and bumped into a watchman. The watchman asked him why he was running. Oliver told him about seeing a boy weeping in the forest who had no face. When Oliver asserts that he had seen a boy with no face in the forest, the watchman raised his lamp to show his face and ask Oliver if the boy was like him. The watchman too was without a face. Hence, the story ends with a thrilling climax as Oliver runs into another apparition while he is trying to run away from one. However, the climax is reached when the wind blew out the lamp, leaving the readers to imagine what might have happened to Oliver. Here, the author has created an eerie atmosphere in the story where a strong wind was blowing and pine trees made mysteries sounds, indicating something evil was likely to happen. The batteries of Oliver’s torch were running down, creating an atmosphere of fear and suspense. By the use of the words strange, soundless weeping, the author has tried to create an atmosphere of strangeness, mystery and supernaturalism. He makes the supernatural appear entirely natural by his artistic skill, and therefore, it becomes hard to ignore. The seeds of fear and suspense are sowed in the minds of readers.
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