When the Letter Came by Jacob A. Riis
To-morrow it will come, Godfrey Krueger had said that night to his
landlord. To-morrow it will surely come, and then I shall have money.
Soon I shall be rich, richer than you can think.
And the landlord of the Forsyth Street tenement, who in his heart
liked the gray-haired inventor, but who had rooms to let, grumbled
something about a to-morrow that never came.
Oh, but it will come, said Krueger, turning on the stairs and
shading the lamp with his hand, the better to see his landlord's
good-natured face; you know the application has been advanced. It is
bound to be granted, and to-night I shall finish my ship.
Now, as he sat alone in his room at his work, fitting, shaping, and
whittling with restless hands, he had to admit to himself that it was
time it came. Two whole days he had lived on a crust, and he was
starving. He had worked and waited thirteen hard years for the success
that had more than once been almost within his grasp, only to elude it
again. It had never seemed nearer and surer than now, and there was
need of it. He had come to the jumping-off place. All his money was
gone, to the last cent, and his application for a pension hung fire in
Washington unaccountably. It had been advanced to the last stage, and
word that it had been granted might be received any day. But the days
slipped by and no word came. For two days he had lived on faith and a
crust, but they were giving out together. If only
Well, when it did come, what with his back pay for all those years,
he would have the means to build his ship, and hunger and want would be
forgotten. He should have enough. And the world would know that Godfrey
Krueger was not an idle crank.
In six months I shall cross the ocean to Europe in twenty hours in
my air-ship, he had said in showing the landlord his models, with as
many as want to go. Then I shall become a millionnaire and shall make
you one, too. And the landlord had heaved a sigh at the thought of his
twenty-seven dollars, and doubtingly wished it might be so.
Weak and famished, Krueger bent to his all but finished task. Before
morning he should know that it would work as he had planned. There
remained only to fit the last parts together. The idea of building an
air-ship had come to him while he lay dying with scurvy, as they
thought, in a Confederate prison, and he had never abandoned it. He had
been a teacher and a student, and was a trained mathematician. There
could be no flaw in his calculations. He had worked them out again and
again. The energy developed by his plan was great enough to float a
ship capable of carrying almost any burden, and of directing it against
the strongest head winds. Now, upon the threshold of success, he was
awaiting merely the long-delayed pension to carry his dream into life.
To-morrow would bring it, and with it an end to all his waiting and
One after another the lights went out in the tenement. Only the one
in the inventor's room burned steadily through the night. The policeman
on the beat noticed the lighted window, and made a mental note of the
fact that some one was sick. Once during the early hours he stopped
short to listen. Upon the morning breeze was borne a muffled sound, as
of a distant explosion. But all was quiet again, and he went on,
thinking that his senses had deceived him. The dawn came in the eastern
sky, and with it the stir that attends the awakening of another day.
The lamp burned steadily yet behind the dim window pane.
The milkmen came, and the push-cart criers. The policeman was
relieved, and another took his place. Lastly came the mail-carrier with
a large official envelope marked, Pension Bureau, Washington. He
shouted up the stairway:
The landlord came to the door and was glad. So it had come, had it?
Run, Emma, he said to his little daughter, run and tell Mr.
Godfrey his letter has come.
The child skipped up the steps gleefully. She knocked at the
inventor's door, but no answer came. It was not locked, and she pushed
it open. The little lamp smoked yet on the table. The room was strewn
with broken models and torn papers that littered the floor. Something
there frightened the child. She held to the banisters and called
Papa! Oh, papa!
They went in together on tiptoe without knowing why, the postman
with the big official letter in his hand. The morrow had kept its
promise. Of hunger and want there was an end. On the bed, stretched at
full length, with his Grand Army hat flung beside him, lay the
inventor, dead. A little round hole in the temple, from which a few
drops of blood had flowed, told what remained of his story. In the
night disillusion had come, with failure.