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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 suffering.

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:—

“Krueger! Letter!”

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 faintly:—

“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.

 
 
 

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