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The Silver Pageant by Stephen Crane

NEW YORK

“It's rotten,” said Grief.

“Oh, it's fair, old man. Still, I would not call it a great contribution to American art,” said Wrinkles.

“You've got a good thing, Gaunt, if you go at it right,” said little Pennoyer.

These were all volunteer orations. The boys had come in one by one and spoken their opinions. Gaunt listened to them no more than if they had been so many match-peddlers. He never heard anything close at hand, and he never saw anything excepting that which transpired across a mystic wide sea. The shadow of his thoughts was in his eyes, a little grey mist, and, when what you said to him had passed out of your mind, he asked: “Wha—a—at?” It was understood that Gaunt was very good to tolerate the presence of the universe, which was noisy and interested in itself. All the younger men, moved by an instinct of faith, declared that he would one day be a great artist if he would only move faster than a pyramid. In the meantime he did not hear their voices. Occasionally when he saw a man take vivid pleasure in life, he faintly evinced an admiration. It seemed to strike him as a feat. As for him, he was watching that silver pageant across a sea.

When he came from Paris to New York somebody told him that he must make his living. He went to see some book publishers, and talked to them in his manner—as if he had just been stunned. At last one of them gave him drawings to do, and it did not surprise him. It was merely as if rain had come down.

Great Grief went to see him in his studio, and returned to the den to say: “Gaunt is working in his sleep. Somebody ought to set fire to him.”

It was then that the others went over and smoked, and gave their opinions of a drawing. Wrinkles said: “Are you really looking at it, Gaunt? I don't think you've seen it yet, Gaunt?”

“What?”

“Why don't you look at it?”

When Wrinkles departed, the model, who was resting at that time, followed him into the hall and waved his arms in rage. “That feller's crazy. Yeh ought t' see—” and he recited lists of all the wrongs that can come to models.

It was a superstitious little band over in the den. They talked often of Gaunt. “He's got pictures in his eyes,” said Wrinkles. They had expected genius to blindly stumble at the perface and ceremonies of the world, and each new flounder by Gaunt made a stir in the den. It awed them, and they waited.

At last one morning Gaunt burst into the room. They were all as dead men.

“I'm going to paint a picture.” The mist in his eyes was pierced by a Coverian gleam. His gestures were wild and extravagant. Grief stretched out smoking on the bed, Wrinkles and little Pennoyer working at their drawing-boards tilted against the table—were suddenly frozen. If bronze statues had come and danced heavily before them, they could not have been thrilled further.

Gaunt tried to tell them of something, but it became knotted in his throat, and then suddenly he dashed out again.

Later they went earnestly over to Gaunt's studio. Perhaps he would tell them of what he saw across the sea.

He lay dead upon the floor. There was a little grey mist before his eyes.

When they finally arrived home that night they took a long time to undress for bed, and then came the moment when they waited for some one to put out the gas. Grief said at last, with the air of a man whose brain is desperately driven: “I wonder—I—what do you suppose he was going to paint?”

Wrinkles reached and turned out the gas, and from the sudden profound darkness, he said: “There is a mistake. He couldn't have had pictures in his eyes.”

 
 
 

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