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A Tale About How "Great Grief" Got His Holiday Dinner

by Stephen Crane

NEW YORK

Wrinkles had been peering into the little dry-goods box that acted as a cupboard.

“There are only two eggs and a half of a loaf of bread left,” he announced brutally.

“Heavens!” said Warwickson, from where he lay smoking on the bed. He spoke in his usual dismal voice. By it he had earned his popular name of Great Grief.

Wrinkles was a thrifty soul. A sight of an almost bare cupboard maddened him. Even when he was not hungry, the ghosts of his careful ancestors caused him to rebel against it. He sat down with a virtuous air. “Well, what are we going to do?” he demanded of the others. It is good to be the thrifty man in a crowd of unsuccessful artists, for then you can keep the others from starving peacefully. “What are we going to do?”

“Oh, shut up, Wrinkles,” said Grief from the bed. “You make me think.”

Little Pennoyer, with head bended afar down, had been busily scratching away at a pen and ink drawing. He looked up from his board to utter his plaintive optimism.

“The Monthly Amazement may pay me to-morrow. They ought to. I've waited over three months now. I'm going down there to-morrow, and perhaps I'll get it.”

His friends listened to him tolerantly, but at last Wrinkles could not omit a scornful giggle. He was such an old man, almost twenty-eight, and he had seen so many little boys be brave. “Oh, no doubt, Penny, old man.” Over on the bed Grief croaked deep down in his throat. Nothing was said for a long time thereafter.

The crash of the New York streets came faintly. Occasionally one could hear the tramp of feet in the intricate corridors of this begrimed building that squatted, slumbering and aged, between two exalted commercial structures that would have had to bend afar down to perceive it. The light snow beat pattering into the window corners, and made vague and grey the vista of chimneys and roofs. Often the wind scurried swiftly and raised a long cry.

Great Grief leaned upon his elbow. “See to the fire, will you, Wrinkles?”

Wrinkles pulled the coal-box out from under the bed and threw open the stove door preparatory to shovelling some fuel. A red glare plunged in the first faint shadow of dusk. Little Pennoyer threw down his pen and tossed his drawing over on the wonderful heap of stuff that hid the table. “It's too dark to work.” He lit his pipe and walked about, stretching his shoulders like a man whose labour was valuable.

When dusk came it saddened these youths. The solemnity of darkness always caused them to ponder. “Light the gas, Wrinkles,” said Grief.

The flood of orange light showed clearly the dull walls lined with scratches, the tousled bed in one corner, the mass of boxes and trunks in another, the little fierce stove, and the wonderful table. Moreover, there were some wine-coloured draperies flung in some places, and on a shelf, high up, there was a plaster cast dark with dust in the creases. A long stove-pipe wandered off in the wrong direction, and then twined impulsively toward a hole in the wall. There were some extensive cobwebs on the ceilings.

“Well, let's eat,” said Grief.

Later, there came a sad knock at the door. Wrinkles, arranging a tin pail on the stove, little Pennoyer busy at slicing the bread, and Great Grief affixing the rubber tube to the gas stove, yelled: “Come in!”

The door opened and Corinson entered dejectedly. His overcoat was very new. Wrinkles flashed an envious glance at it, but almost immediately he cried: “Hello, Corrie, old boy!”

Corinson sat down and felt around among the pipes until he found a good one. Great Grief had fixed the coffee to boil on the gas stove, but he had to watch it closely, for the rubber tube was short, and a chair was balanced on a trunk, and then the gas stove was balanced on the chair. Coffee making was a feat.

“Well,” said Grief, with his back turned, “how goes it, Corrie? How's Art, hey?” He fastened a terrible emphasis upon the word.

“Crayon portraits,” said Corinson.

“What?” They turned towards him with one movement, as if from a lever connection. Little Pennoyer dropped his knife.

“Crayon portraits,” repeated Corinson. He smoked away in profound cynicism. “Fifteen dollars a week or more this time of year, you know.” He smiled at them like a man of courage.

Little Pennoyer picked up his knife again. “Well, I'll be blowed,” said Wrinkles. Feeling it incumbent upon him to think, he dropped into a chair and began to play serenades on his guitar and watch to see when the water for the eggs would boil. It was a habitual pose.

Great Grief, however, seemed to observe something bitter in the affair. “When did you discover that you couldn't draw?” he said stiffly.

“I haven't discovered it yet,” replied Corinson, with a serene air. “I merely discovered that I would rather eat.”

“Oh!” said Grief.

“Hand me the eggs, Grief,” said Wrinkles. “The water's boiling.”

Little Pennoyer burst into the conversation. “We'd ask you to dinner, Corrie, but there's only three of us and there's two eggs. I dropped a piece of bread on the floor, too. I'd shy one.”

“That's all right, Penny,” said the other; “don't trouble yourself. You artists should never be hospitable. I'm going anyway. I've got to make a call. Well, good night, boys. I've got to make a call. Drop in and see me.”

When the door closed upon him, Grief said: “The coffee's done; I hate that fellow. That overcoat cost thirty dollars, if it cost a red. His egotism is so tranquil. It isn't like yours, Wrinkles. He—”

The door opened again and Corinson thrust in his head. “Say, you fellows, you know it's Thanksgiving to-morrow?”

“Well, what of it?” demanded Grief.

Little Pennoyer said: “Yes, I know it is, Corrie, I thought of it this morning.”

“Well, come out and have a table d'hote with me to-morrow night. I'll blow you off in good style.”

While Wrinkles played an exuberant air on his guitar, little Pennoyer did part of a ballet. They cried ecstatically: “Will we? Well, I guess yes?”

When they were alone again, Grief said: “I'm not going, anyhow. I hate that fellow.”

“Oh, fiddle,” said Wrinkles. “You're an infernal crank. And besides, where's your dinner coming from to-morrow night if you don't go? Tell me that.”

Little Pennoyer said: “Yes, that's so, Grief. Where's your dinner coming from if you don't go?”

Grief said: “Well, I hate him, anyhow.”

       * * * * *

AS TO PAYMENT OF THE RENT.

Little Pennoyer's four dollars could not last for ever. When he received it he and Wrinkles and Great Grief went to a table d'hote. Afterwards little Pennoyer discovered that only two dollars and a half remained. A small magazine away down town had accepted one out of the six drawings that he had taken them, and later had given him four dollars for it. Penny was so disheartened when he saw that his money was not going to last for ever, that even with two dollars and a half in his pockets, he felt much worse than when he was penniless, for at that time he anticipated twenty-four. Wrinkles lectured upon “Finance.”

Great Grief said nothing, for it was established that when he received six dollar cheques from comic weeklies he dreamed of renting studios at seventy-five dollars per month, and was likely to go out and buy five dollars' worth of second-hand curtains and plaster casts.

When he had money Penny always hated the cluttered den in the old building. He desired to go out and breathe boastfully like a man. But he obeyed Wrinkles, the elder and the wise, and if you had visited that room about ten o'clock of a morning or about seven of an evening you would have thought that rye bread, frankfurters, and potato salad from Second Avenue were the only foods in the world.

Purple Sanderson lived there too, but then he really ate. He had learned parts of the gasfitter's trade before he came to be such a great artist, and when his opinions disagreed with that of every art manager in New York, he went to see a plumber, a friend of his, for whose opinion he had a great respect. In consequence, he frequented a very great restaurant on Twenty-third Street, and sometimes on Saturday nights he openly scorned his companions.

Purple was a good fellow, Grief said, but one of his singularly bad traits was that he always remembered everything. One night, not long after little Pennoyer's great discovery, Purple came in, and as he was neatly hanging up his coat, said: “Well, the rent will be due in four days.”

“Will it?” demanded Penny, astounded. Penny was always astounded when the rent came due. It seemed to him the most extraordinary occurrence.

“Certainly it will,” said Purple, with the irritated air of a superior financial man.

“My soul!” said Wrinkles.

Great Grief lay on the bed smoking a pipe and waiting for fame. “Oh, go home, Purple. You resent something. It wasn't me, it was the calendar.”

“Try and be serious a moment, Grief.”

“You're a fool, Purple.”

Penny spoke from where he was at work. “Well, if those Amazement Magazine people pay me when they said they would I'll have money then.”

“So you will, dear,” said Grief, satirically. “You'll have money to burn. Did the Amazement people ever pay you when they said they would? You're wonderfully important all of a sudden, it seems to me. You talk like an artist.”

Wrinkles, too, smiled at little Pennoyer. “The Established Magazine people wanted Penny to hire models and make a try for them too. It will only cost him a big blue chip. By the time he has invested all the money he hasn't got and the rent is two weeks' overdue, he will be able to tell the landlord to wait seven months until the Monday morning after the publication. Go ahead, Penny.”

It was the habit to make game of little Pennoyer. He was always having gorgeous opportunities, with no opportunity to take advantage of his opportunities.

Penny smiled at them, his tiny, tiny smile of courage.

“You're a confident little cuss,” observed Grief, irrelevantly.

“Well, the world has no objection to your being confident also, Grief,” said Purple.

“Hasn't it?” said Grief. “Well, I want to know.”

Wrinkles could not be light-spirited long. He was obliged to despair when occasion offered. At last he sank down in a chair and seized his guitar.

“Well, what's to be done?” he said. He began to play mournfully.

“Throw Purple out,” mumbled Grief from the bed.

“Are you fairly certain that you will have money then, Penny?” asked Purple.

Little Pennoyer looked apprehensive. “Well, I don't know,” he said.

And then began that memorable discussion, great in four minds. The tobacco was of the “Long John” brand. It smelled like burning mummies.

A DINNER ON SUNDAY EVENING.

Once Purple Sanderson went to his home in St. Lawrence county to enjoy some country air, and, incidentally, to explain his life failure to his people. Previously, Great Grief had given him odds that he would return sooner than he had planned, and everybody said that Grief had a good bet. It is not a glorious pastime, this explaining of life failures.

Later, Great Grief and Wrinkles went to Haverstraw to visit Grief's cousin and sketch. Little Pennoyer was disheartened, for it is bad to be imprisoned in brick and dust and cobbles when your ear can hear in the distance the harmony of the summer sunlight upon leaf and blade of green. Besides, he did not hear Wrinkles and Grief discoursing and quarrelling in the den, and Purple coming in at six o'clock with contempt.

On Friday afternoon he discovered that he only had fifty cents to last until Saturday morning, when he was to get his cheque from the Gamin. He was an artful little man by this time, however, and it is as true as the sky that when he walked toward the Gamin office on Saturday he had twenty cents remaining.

The cashier nodded his regrets, “Very sorry, Mr.—er—Pennoyer, but our pay-day, you know, is on Monday. Come around any time after ten.”

“Oh, it don't matter,” said Penny. As he walked along on his return he reflected deeply how he could invest his twenty cents in food to last until Monday morning any time after ten. He bought two coffee cakes in a third avenue bakery. They were very beautiful. Each had a hole in the centre, and a handsome scallop all around the edges.

Penny took great care of those cakes. At odd times he would rise from his work and go to see that no escape had been made. On Sunday he got up at noon and compressed breakfast and noon into one meal. Afterwards he had almost three-quarters of a cake still left to him. He congratulated himself that with strategy he could make it endure until Monday morning any time after ten.

At three in the afternoon there came a faint-hearted knock. “Come in,” said Penny. The door opened and old Tim Connegan, who was trying to be a model, looked in apprehensively. “I beg pardon, sir,” he said at once.

“Come in, Tim, you old thief,” said Penny. Tim entered slowly and bashfully. “Sit down,” said Penny. Tim sat down and began to rub his knees, for rheumatism had a mighty hold upon him.

Penny lit his pipe and crossed his legs. “Well, how goes it?”

Tim moved his square jaw upward and flashed Penny a little glance.

“Bad?” said Penny.

The old man raised his hand impressively. “I've been to every studio in the hull city, and I never see such absences in my life. What with the seashore and the mountains, and this and that resort, I think all the models will be starved by fall. I found one man in up on Fifty-seventh Street. He ses to me: 'Come around Tuesday—I may want yez and I may not.' That was last week. You know, I live down on the Bowery, Mr. Pennoyer, and when I got up there on Tuesday, he ses: 'Confound you, are you here again?' ses he. I went and sat down in the park, for I was too tired for the walk back. And there you are, Mr. Pennoyer. What with trampin' around to look for men that are thousand miles away, I'm near dead.”

“It's hard,” said Penny.

“It is, sir. I hope they'll come back soon. The summer is the death of us all, sir; it is. Sure, I never know where my next meal is coming until I get it. That's true.”

“Had anything to-day?”

“Yes, sir, a little.”

“How much?”

“Well, sir, a lady gave me a cup of coffee this morning. It was good, too, I'm telling you.”

Penny went to his cupboard. When he returned, he said: “Here's some cake.”

Tim thrust forward his hands, palms erect. “Oh, now, Mr. Pennoyer, I couldn't. You—”

“Go ahead. What's the odds?”

“Oh, now.”

“Go ahead, you old bat.”

Penny smoked.

When Tim was going out, he turned to grow eloquent again. “Well, I can't tell you how much I'm obliged to you, Mr. Pennoyer. You—”

“Don't mention it, old man.”

Penny smoked.

 
 
 

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