Once, when news was scarce, a certain
propounded to its readers the following problem of conduct: "If you
in a burning building, and could save either a great masterpiece, such
as the 'Mona Lisa,' or a child you had never seen before, which would
The question aroused general interest, and the newspaper discussion continued thoughout the summer. Philosophers, clergymen, chorus girls, painters, politicians, and other eminent personages were asked which they would save, the child or the masterpiece? Among them was H.G. Wells and he replied, "I would save the child, or, if it were a kitten, the kitten."
But this anecdote has, strictly speaking, nothing to do with the story that follows.
In the days when rents were low in Greenwich
and artists and writers really lived there, Paul Sherwood had the
hall bedroom in one of those decaying houses on the south side of
Square. Those were the days when the inhabitants of Greenwich
in spite of their poverty, took life gayly. But in this matter
was an exception. He lived in Greenwich Village because his rent
was only eight dollars a month. And he rather begrudged that
He was writing a novel. He had been wanting to write that novel for two years. During most of those two years he had been working every day at one job or another, and at night finding himself too tired to write; he could only think for a while of what he would like to write, and then uneasily fall asleep, remembering that the alarm clock would go off at six in the morning. Sometimes he thought about his novel during working hours; but sometimes, as when he worked in a shipyard and had the job of holding a pail to catch red-hot rivets tossed from a considerable distance, he did not dare to think about anything so remote and beautiful. He did write a little on Sundays and, when his work was not tiring, late into the night; but when his job was easy enough to permit that, the pay was too poor to save anything out of. And he had to save up for a year of leisure in which to write his novel.
Before this wild ambition had come to possess him, he had been a sort of dreamy vagabond and unskilled worker, fond of talk and reading, who drifted from place to place and job to job, not caring much what he did so long as he could spend his evenings browsing at the free public library or talking with some fellow-vagabond about the universe. He had read everything and discussed everything, and had been happy in a detached and philosophic way; but the day came when he wanted to write. And then he had lived as a man lives in a prison from which he plans to escape.
He had tried too desperately to escape, working too hard and eating too little, and losing precious time in illness and convalescence. So, what with one kind of luck and another, it was some time before he had saved up the five hundred dollars upon which he intended to live for a whole year and write his novel.
Five hundred dollars-- with that fortune he moved into Greenwich Village and began his new career. Everything was figured carefully into his budget-- rent, food, gas, paper and ink, and even an occasional visit to the theater, if a Shaw play whould be in town. In the course of his reading he had become a devotee of Shaw. He conceived himself as another sort of Cashel Byron, with perhaps a touch of Jack London in him. If he had not seen everything, at least he had seen through everything. He was twenty-six years old, and he had no doubt that he possessed the divine fire.
Five hundred dollars a year is nine dollars and sixty-one cents a week-- or nine dollars and sixty-two cents, if you want to call the odd fraction a cent. But preferring to be always on the safe side in his finances, he thought of his weekly income as nine dollars and sixty-one cents.
A novel contains anywhere from eighty thousand to a hundred and sixty thousand words. His would be a fairly long novel. But one can easily write fifteen hundred words a day, and at that rate his novel would be finished in a little over three months. However, he wanted to be conservative in his expectations; at the very least, then, he would write five hundred words a day, and have his novel finished in ten months, with plenty of time left to revise it in.
Every dollar in his hoard meant seven-and-a-half hours of freedom, and a page done toward his novel. These were his plans.
He began by discarding the fragments he had already written and starting in afresh. The first day he wrote a thousand words. Every day for a week he rewrote that thousand words. Then for four months he wrote furiously, rewrote furiously, and sometimes furiously threw what he had written into the waste-basket. During the last week he wrote at the rate of ten thousand words a day. At the end of those four months he had written nearly half a million words, and thrown most of them away; but there remained as real accomplishment ten long chapters-- the first half of the novel.
He then spent three weeks in the work of revision, and then cast up his accounts. He was exactly on schedule in his writing, and six dollars and thirty cents ahead in his finances. Moreover, he was very tired. He had worked steadily from June to November, and so it seemed entirely reasonable that he should go out and spend some of that six dollars and thirty cents on amusement.
He took from his carefully secreted hoard a twenty-dollar bill. He would get it changed, and look in the paper to see if there was a Shaw play in town that night.
He changed the bill at a delicatessen, and put six dollars and thirty cents in his right hand trousers pocket to spend. The other thirteen dollars and seventy cents he put in his left hand trousers pocket, as in a safety deposit vault. It was for the present untouchable and sacred. It meant, that thirteen dollars and seventy cents, ten more days of freedom and five thousand more words.
He bought a newspaper. There was no Shaw play in town. If there had been, doubtless things would not have happened as they did.
What happened was that on the following noon he tramped through the snowy streets of Greenwich Village in a gaudy turban and an overcoat which did not conceal the fact that his legs were bare. Underneath the overcoat was a florid masquerade costume patched up for him out of scraps of colored cloth by a girl he had never seen before last night. His clothes were at her studio, and he was on his way there to get them. He hoped she would be awake by now. He had been there twice before this morning, on the same errand, vainly.
She wasn't awake, but this time she reluctantly roused at his knock, and sleepily thrust his clothes through the door into his arms. She was too sleepy to notice that he still had on his masquerade costume under his overcoat; she didn't know that he had only one suit of clothes. And as he couldn't very well dress in her hallway, he walked home, in his bare legs, with his clothes over his arms.
When that girl had improvised his costume for him last night, an artistic costume without any pockets, he had wondered what to do with his money; and she had given him a safety-pin with which to pin his bills inside the folds of his robe. "You can keep your loose change in your turban," she had said.
That had seemed at the time a sensible arrangement. The only trouble was that it mingled together the sacred money which belonged to the next ten days and the money which had been dedicated to an evening's amusement. That was doubtless the reason for the fact which he now pondered soberly-- that fact that it was all spent except twenty cents.
In his room he dressed himself in his own
kicked the others into a corner, and considered. He had twenty
and he needed to think. So he took the elevated downtown and the
ferry to Staten Island, and walked out along a lonely road.
He was ashamed of himself. What had happened seemed to prove that he was not the stuff of which an artist is made. He was too human.
Yet at the beginning there had appeared to be no danger. He had intended to enjoy himself for an hour or two with his new-found Village friends, spend his six dollars, and go home. One of them had given him a ticket to the masquerade; another, the girl at the studio, had furnished up a costime for him. He in turn had contributed most of his six dollars to buy ingredients for the punch which helped enliven the long prelude to the party while everybody was getting ready to go. He had merely tasted that punch; that wasn't the trouble. The trouble was that little girl he had met at the masquerade.
She had a name that was like herself-- June Glory. She had been delightful, a wonderful person to find anywhere in the world, and doubly wonderful to discover at a masquerade which became hour by hour more drab, more dull, more pathetic in its rowdy efforts at gaiety-- or so it seemed to one who had merely tasted the preliminary punch. She had redeemed the occasion for him. She talked as she danced, lightly, surely, with an instant response to his thought.
When her friends carried her away from him at last, the ball became something merely to be endured; and when he had endured it enough, he started to go. Then he saw her again; she was looking very tired.
"Going?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"I'll go, too," she told him. "Wait for me."
He had already spent practically all of his evening's amusement allowance; there would hardly be enough left to pay for a taxi, he reflected uncomfortably as he waited.
"I'm going to walk home," he said gruffly when she joined him.
"I'd like to walk," she said and took his arm.
"Well," he addressed her in his thoughts, "you shall walk, if you come with me, whether you like it or not."
They walked a block through new-fallen and melting snow. He looked down unhappily at her flimsy gold slippers. Her little feet would be getting wet.
That was the trouble. She looked so fragile and so defiantly brave in her fragility. One couldn't help wanting to cherish and protect her.
At the end of the block he gave in to his protective impulses and hailed a taxi.
Having done that, laid, as it were, profane hands on the sacred thirteen dollars and seventy cents that belonged to his art, he was lost. The taxi might be only seventy cents, but the thirteen dollars would follow it.
Sure enough, he discovered that he was hungry; and so, he found, was she. He redirected the taxi, and they stopped at an all-night restaurant, where they feasted on flapjacks and coffee. And in the royal and reckless mood induced by the feast, it appealed to him to tell the taxi-driver to drive around Central Park a little while.
Presently they were kissing shyly, and the taxi-driver drove them about the quiet roads of the park till dawn.
She had said she lived on Washington Square, but until the last moment he did not know that it was in the same house with himself. He gathered that she, too, was a beginning writer; a poet, it seemed. Trying to make a living at it, poor child! She had come to Greenwich Village from some place in New England, and had been there on Washington Square all summer, and he, immersed in his novel, had never seen her. She had seen him, and wondered about him, she confessed. "This is my place," she said at the door of the little hall bedroom just above his. "Good night. It's been lovely!" And thus they had parted.
And now, walking along a lonely road on Staten Island, he resolved not to see her again-- at least not until his year was up and his novel finished; certainly not now.
He might all too easily fall in love with such a girl, and that would be absurd. With a novel to write, he had no time for being in love.
It occurred to him that she might perhaps have taken their kisses too seriously: she might fall in love with him. Well, she would have to get over it then. He had a novel to write.
"Be hard!" Nietzsche had said that somewhere. He would not see that girl again.
That was settled. But that wasn't all: in his folly he had thrown away the equivalent of ten days of freedom. He might work all the harder to make up for those ten lost days, but he ought to penalize himself in some way, so as not to let this folly go unmarked.
He had drawn ten days' expenses in advance and squandered them on a girl; very well, he would go without money during those ten days. There were some emergency quarters in the little box by the gas meter, so he would not have to freeze; and there was a little food in the house, so that he would not actually starve. A loaf of bread and a little butter, properly eked out with water, can last a long time. Besides, if he did go hungry for a day or two, it would only serve him right. If he was going to be hard, he had to be hard on himself as well as on-- well, every one else.
So that was settled, too; and he turned abruptly in his walk along that lonely Staten Island road and started back toward the ferry.
Just then a little black kitten, hardly old enough to walk, came trudging out into the road from a by-path, and called to him, a faint and appealing mew.
"Cunning little thing!" he said, and knelt and petted it. The kitten rubbed its back gratefully against his hand. Then he rose and walked on again.
A tired kittten walks unsteadily on its little
and with an effort. He observed as much, glancing back. The
kitten, he noted, was following him. That was too bad. He
"Go home kitty! Go back home!"
But when he glanced about, there was no home in sight from which the kitten might have strayed. He wondered what had happened. Perhaps a dog had chased it, and the sense of homeward, which even a young kitten possess, had become confused. It was very tired, and it was following him.
"But you don't belong to me, kitty," he said.
The kitten toddled confidently toward him.
"Go back home, I tell you!" He made a handful of snow into a soft ball, and threw it, by way of dramatizing his meaning.
The kitten kept on. It did not know what kittens must learn, that the world of people is a harsh and cruel world. It did not recognize this as a hostile gesture; it still regarded him as a friend.
He was touched by this misplaced confidence, but, nevertheless, he made another snowball and threw it. This time the soft missle struck the kitten and tunbled it from its feet, but in a moment it was up again and coming toward him. It did not understand. He shook his head and gave up the attempt to educate the kitten. He simply walked on.
After a while he turned and looked, and there was the kitten, still following him. He paused, uncertain whether to argue the matter further. He decided it was no use, and went on.
But he kept looking back, and always there was the kitten. If he stopped for a moment, it stopped too, called to him faintly, and then hurried toward him, or tried to hurry; but it was so weary that it rocked from side to side as it walked, almost losing its balance.
It was absurd that this kitten should keep on following him. What right had it to behave as though it belonged to him? He had merely stopped for a moment to pet it. Kittens were silly things. He couldn't be bothered with them. He walked on.
But he couldn't help looking back to see if the kitten had become discouraged. No, there it was.
"You're not my kitten!" he cried.
And he walked very fast, and left the kitten out of sight around a bend in the road. Presently he came to the main traveled highway that led down to the ferry. A heavy truck plowed past, spattering muddy snow to each side. He thought:
"That silly kitten will be run over and killed if it comes here."
He waited, looking back, hoping that the kitten had had sense enough to turn and go home.
He waited three minutes, with his eyes fixed on the bend of the road. No kitten yet. Good! Even kittens could be made to understand that they weren't wanted. He congratulated himself upon his firmness. "Be hard!"-- to kittens or anything else that might interdere with his plans.
Just then, around the bend of the road came a little dot of black fur, wavering uncertainly against the background of muddy snow.
"Damn!" said the young Nietzschean, and went back and picked up the tired kitten and put it in his overall pocket, where it purred and went to sleep.
In his room he took the kitten from his pocket,
put it on his couch-bed.
"Cat," he said, "let us come to an understanding. It is you who insisted on coming with me. I did not ask you to come. I did not want a kitten. Remember that! It was all your doing. So don't complain if you do not like my establishment. I am a writer and a busy man. I have no time to play."
The kitten, refreshed by its sleep, rose and stretched itself, yawned, and then jumped to the floor.
"Listen to me, cat. I am a poor man. You could not have picked out a worse provider. Of course you are welcome to share with me what I have--"
Then he suddenly remembered his resolve-- to live for the next ten days on what food there might be in the house as a punishment for last night's recklessness. He jumped up and went to the little box outside the window where he kept his food.
Bread-- a whole loaf, and half a pound of butter, virtually untouched, and plenty of coffee. But kittens do no drink coffee. They are usually fed on--
"Milk!" said the kitten.
"Yes, milk; I know," he replied. "But unfortunately for you, there is no milk, and no money to buy milk with-- for ten long days. Do you understand that? I promised to share with you what I had. I did not promise to give you whatever you asked for."
"Milk!" said the kitten, looking up at him trustfully.
"Cat," he said, "it is not true that I am poor; I'll be honest with you. I am rich. I have two hundred and eighty dollars right here on these premises. Think of all the milk I could buy for you with two hundred and eighty dollars! And fish-- and liver-- everything your little heart might desire! And if I were a regular human being, I'd go right out and buy you what you ask for. But that's where you've made your big mistake. I'm not a regular human being! I'm an artist. Do you know what an artist is like? Well, you'll find out if you stick around here. But I'm sorry for you, cat. A pint of milk costs only eight cents, but that eight cents will buy me time and freedom in which to write twenty-nine words of my novel. You wouldn't think I could possibly care for twenty-nine words than for a pretty little thing like you. But that's what artists are like-- when they are really artists. If they are going to care more about other people than about their art, why, they might as well give up and go back to a job, and get married and support a wife like everybody else. You see, don't you, cat?" He cut two slices from the loaf, and crumbled one of them into a saucer of water. "I'm giving you just what I'm having myself," he said-- "bread and water."
The kitten nosed the dish on the floor, sniffed disdainfully, and looked up at him.
"Milk!" it said impatiently.
There was a knock at the door. He hastily pushed the saucer out of sight under his gas stove before opening.
The girl stood there.
"Hello!" she said.
"Oh-- hello!" he replied. He did not ask her in. Instead, he waited with a look of severe inquiry, as if asking how she dared interrupt a busy man.
She missed the look, for she was gazing past him.
"What a darling little thing!" she cried, and then walked into his room.
She knelt and petted the kitten and then looked up.
"I think it's hungry," she said.
"Oh, do you think so?" he asked indifferently. What right had she to come in and criticize? It was none of her business if the kitten was hungry.
"Yes, I'm sure it is," she said, and rose. "Wait a minute, kitty!" and she ran out, and down the stairs.
She was going out into the cold without anything on her head; she ought not to do that. But, then, he reminded himself, that was none of his business.
He waited uneasily. At last she came back with a quart bottle of milk.
"It needs to be warmed," she said, lighting the gas, and pouring the milk into one of his sauce pans, after mysteriously putting some of the creamy top milk aside in a cup. She was making herself very much at home, he thought resentfully.
"You don't imagine that cat can drink a whole quart of milk?" he asked.
She laughed as though he had said something very funny.
"Do you like milk-toast?" she asked.
"Yes," he said unguardedly.
"So do I," she told him. "We'll have some, shall we? You cut the bread and make the toast. Here, kitty, this is your share." She poured some of the warm milk into a saucer.
The kitten lapped it gratefully.
She was putting butter and pepper and salt into the saucepan, and turned up the gas under it.
"Hurry with the toast!" she warned. "We'll make the coffee afterward."
The next evening, she knocked on the door again,
and this time she had a bottle of milk with her.
"How's the kitten?" she asked.
A kitten, he had discovered, was a nuisance to a busy writer. It climbed into his lap and purred noisily when he wanted to write. And it did no good to scold a kitten; it could not take him seriously. It regarded everything from its own point of view. It chose his pile of manuscript to go to sleep on in the daytime, and at night it awoke, after he was in bed, and played, leaping from the table to his bed and walking over his face.
But all he said was:
"Oh, the kitten's all right."
"Milk?" said the kitten, speaking for itself.
"Yes, here's your milk," she said.
Again she made milk-toast and coffee for the two of them. This time the other half of his loaf of bread was used up. He said to himself, "Well, there will be no more milk-toast, anyway."
But the third evening she appeared with a bottle of milk under one arm and a loaf of bread under the other.
He began to have a horrid suspicion. Had he easten too ravenously of that milk-toast? Did she know he was hungry? Did she perhaps think he was too poor to buy himself food? Was she making the kitten an excuse for-- yes, for feeding him?
These hateful surmises made him surly, but she did not seem to mind. And when she lingered that evening after their dinner, and talked about writing in a way that showed she understood something of an artist's difficulties, he could not but become friendly. When she bade him good night she was so sweet that he forgot his resolutions, and stooped to kiss her. She flung her arms about him and passionately returned his kiss, then disengaged herself and ran from the room.
This would not do; he must not keep this up. Tomorrow he would not be here when she came, or he would lock the door and pretend not to be here; she could think what she liked. Let her think him a cad! Artists had to be cads sometimes.
He locked the door the next evening and waited. He heard her light step coming downstairs from the room above. He heard the front door close. Again he waited. He heard the front door open and close many times as various people came in, then her quick step on the stairs. He held his breath. She had reached the landing, she was coming toward his door. Be firm now!
"Miss Glory!" It was the landlady's querilous voice from the other end of the hall.
"Yes?" June Glory's voice sounded a little anxious.
"I'm sorry, but I'll have to ask you for that rent. I can't wait any longer."
There was a pause.
"I'll give it to you tomorrow." The girl's tone was cool, but there was a tinge of desperation in it.
"Well, see that you do, then. Tomorrow is the last day, mind you. I'm a poor woman myself, and I can't have people staying in their rooms for nothing. I've not asked the rent from you in advance,-- you know that,-- But here it is the fifth of November, and I've got to have my October rent. There's been two people I've turned away already--"
"Please! You shall have the rent tomorrow." said June in a low tone.
"All right; tomorrow at the latest!" and the landlady clumped down the stairs.
The young man listening behind the door silently shifted the bolt. The girl's steps turned slowly away from his door toward the stairs that led to her room. He flung open the door.
She looked at him and flamed red.
"Come here!" he said.
She came slowly, and he shut the door behind ger.
"You heard?" she asked.
"I'm sorry." She laid her parcels on the table, and stood there, looking as though she had done something to be ashamed of.
"How much is it?" he demanded.
She straightened her little shoulders and looked at him calmly.
"None of your business," she said.
"Well-- it's probably eight dollars, the same as mine," he said, and went to his secret and sacred hoard. He came back with a bill. "Here!" he said roughly.
She put her hands behind her back.
"No," she said.
"What will you do tomorrow?"
"There may be a check-- from one of the magazines."
"And if there shouldn't?" he pursued relentlessly.
"I don't care!"
"Silly grl!" he said. "Take this, damn you!" and he forced it into one of her clenched hands.
Then she burst out crying.
"What's the matter now?" he asked. "Are you so conventional minded as all that?"
She stopped crying, and looked at him scornfully.
"No, but you are!" she said.
"You mean," he cried indignantly, "that just because of this, I'll think I've the-- the right to make love to you? I assure you--"
"That's just it," she said. "You'll think that just because of this, you-- haven't the right to any more!"
He stepped back, overwhelmed.
"Men are so stupid," she said.
The kitten broke the tense silence.
"Milk?" it said.
They were very happy.
He was playing for the first time in his life with a wonderful playmate. They went to the theater, they danced, they dined in gilded cafes. With her he entered a strange, unfamiliar world and made new friends. Every evening with her he threw away a week's precious freedom. And he did not care.
They played through November and December. On New Year's Eve he took from his hiding place the last of his money.
"I've just twenty dollars left in the world," he told her. "Come, and let's spend it together."
"Is that true?" she asked soberly.
He had told her about himself; she knew that he had saved up some money, but she didn't know how little. Money was a subject on which she was very vague. She had had so little that it intoxicated her to help spend it; nevertheless, she had remembered to protest from time to time, which had only made him angry.
"You've been very reckless," she said reprovingly now.
"Would you like me better if I were very sensible?" he asked.
"No," she said and sighed. "I seem to like reckless people."
"I'm glad you do."
"But-- I'd like to be reckless, too," she said. "I got my first check for a poem today. It's only ten dollars. But let's put it with yours and spend it!" Her eyes brightened with excitement.
"No," he begged, "let this be my party."
"All right, then," she said. "I'll save it for bread and milk. I sha'n't mind going back to our milk-toast parties again. Shall you? But too bad the kitten won't be there to share them."
For the kitten, now that there was no novel writing to interfere with, had left him, and, as he learned after making inquiries, had found a home in another house on the suqare. There was no accounting for the whims of a kitten.
"Do you love me?" he asked.
"What do you think?" She kissed him.
"I think perhaps you do."
"But what about your plans?" she asked. "I wish I could stake you while you finish your novel," she added wistfully.
"I'll tell you my plans," he promised, "on the stroke of midnight."
They started out to the old year's jocund funeral.
It wanted five minutes of twelve. They were
at a table in a noisy cafe. As the hour approached that would
in the new year they became silent.
"In five minutes," he said to himself.
And, as though the matter were not already decided in his own mind, he went over the whole question again.
"I suppose I'm not the stuff of which real artists are made," he thought. Oh, he would manage somehow to finish that novel-- or a better one. He hadn't known very much about life when he planned that one. Fate wasn't as grim as he had thought. And love was sweeter.
"Well," he said to himself, "I'll take that job, anyway."
That job was one he had been offered by some of his new friends; it was on a magazine. It was a better job than he had ever dreamed of having. If he wanted to, he could save up his money and buy years of freedom to write. Or, on the other hand--
"That," he mused, "is the question." And he frowned as he pondered it. If he married, he wouldn't be able to save up to write. He would have to think first of his wife always. And then there would be babies. He would have to give up his freedom.
"But I don't mind," he thought. "That's the odd thing about it. As an artist, I ought to mind. When an artist marries, he is simply taking money that belongs to his art and spending it on a girl-- and her babies. And yet my friends will congratulate me. They'll think I am doing a fine thing. If I were a bank cashier and betrayed my trust in order to spend money on a girl, they wouldn't congratualte me. They'd put me in jail. But I shall be considered a good citizen.
"It's funny," he thought. "I can see it all so clearly. And yet I don't care. So I suppose I'm not really an artist at all. I'm just human-- and a man. I can't bear to think of that girl ever going hungry, waiting for a check from some damned magazine. Oh, I shall be happy, working for her. But I ought to be ashamed of myself!"
There was a hush throughout the cafe, and then the noise of horns and bells burst in from the outside. People stood on chairs and lifted their their glasses and laughed and sang and cheered.
"Now tell me that's on your mind," said the girl, leaning forward so as to be heard above the din.
He took both her hands in his and told her his plans and asked her to marry him.
"Oh!" she said, and tears came into her eyes, "But-- but I can't!"
"You love me, don't you, dear?"
"Yes; but I don't want to be your wife. I don't want to be anybody's wife. I want to write poetry."
"Yes, of course. That must come first always. And so I mustn't try to be a wife to any one. It's terribly nice of you to want me to be, Paul. And what you say is true. It would be pleasant to be taken care of, and all that; but I'll have to take my chances. Oh, I know I would be happy, being your wife. It's just that I'm most afraid of! Don't you see?"
"Oh!" he said.
"I'm sorry, dear," she said, pressing his hand in hers. "It's been so lovely, all of it; but-- I thought you understood!"
All this happened several years ago in Greenwich
Village, when rents were low and artists and writers lived there happy
in their poverty and youth, scornful of the great world, disdaining its
wisdom, and finding for themselves in kisses and tears a wisdom of
own. Here, and in such a manner, were begun two careers, the
developments of which are sufficiently set forth in the pages of Who's
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