3:19 pm - Tuesday February 24, 5232

An Experiment in Misery-by Stephen Crane-Novel and Ebooks

Novel Name:An Experiment in Misery

Written by:Stephen Crane

Category:Fiction, Classics, Fairytales, Children

Page 1:

It was late at night, and a fine rain was swirling softly down, causing
the pavements to glisten with hue of steel and blue and yellow in the
rays of the innumerable lights. A youth was trudging slowly, without
enthusiasm, with his hands buried deep in his trousers’ pockets, toward
the downtown places where beds can be hired for coppers. He was clothed
in an aged and tattered suit, and his derby was a marvel of dust-covered
crown and torn rim. He was going forth to eat as the wanderer may eat,
and sleep as the homeless sleep. By the time he had reached City Hall
Park he was so completely plastered with yells of “bum” and “hobo,” and
with various unholy epithets that small boys had applied to him at
intervals, that he was in a state of the most profound dejection. The
sifting rain saturated the old velvet collar of his overcoat, and as the
wet cloth pressed against his neck, he felt that there no longer could
be pleasure in life. He looked about him searching for an outcast of
highest degree that they too might share miseries, but the lights threw
a quivering glare over rows and circles of deserted benches that
glistened damply, showing patches of wet sod behind them. It seemed that
their usual freights had fled on this night to better things. There were
only squads of well-dressed Brooklyn people who swarmed towards the
bridge.

The young man loitered about for a time and then went shuffling off down
Park Row. In the sudden descent in style of the dress of the crowd he
felt relief, and as if he were at last in his own country. He began to
see tatters that matched his tatters. In Chatham Square there were
aimless men strewn in front of saloons and lodging-houses, standing
sadly, patiently, reminding one vaguely of the attitudes of chickens in
a storm. He aligned himself with these men, and turned slowly to occupy
himself with the flowing life of the great street.

Through the mists of the cold and storming night, the cable cars went in
silent procession, great affairs shining with red and brass, moving with
formidable power, calm and irresistible, dangerful and gloomy, breaking
silence only by the loud fierce cry of the gong. Two rivers of people
swarmed along the sidewalks, spattered with black mud, which made each
shoe leave a scarlike impression. Overhead elevated trains with a shrill
grinding of the wheels stopped at the station, which upon its leglike
pillars seemed to resemble some monstrous kind of crab squatting over
the street. The quick fat puffings of the engines could be heard. Down
an alley there were somber curtains of purple and black, on which street
lamps dully glittered like embroidered flowers.

A saloon stood with a voracious air on a corner. A sign leaning against
the front of the door-post announced “Free hot soup to-night!” The swing
doors, snapping to and fro like ravenous lips, made gratified smacks as
the saloon gorged itself with plump men, eating with astounding and
endless appetite, smiling in some indescribable manner as the men came
from all directions like sacrifices to a heathenish superstition.

Caught by the delectable sign the young man allowed himself to be
swallowed. A bartender placed a schooner of dark and portentous beer on
the bar. Its monumental form upreared until the froth a-top was above
the crown of the young man’s brown derby.

“Soup over there, gents,” said the bartender affably. A little yellow
man in rags and the youth grasped their schooners and went with speed
toward a lunch counter, where a man with oily but imposing whiskers
ladled genially from a kettle until he had furnished his two mendicants
with a soup that was steaming hot, and in which there were little
floating suggestions of chicken. The young man, sipping his broth, felt
the cordiality expressed by the warmth of the mixture, and he beamed at
the man with oily but imposing whiskers, who was presiding like a priest
behind an altar. “Have some more, gents?” he inquired of the two sorry
figures before him. The little yellow man accepted with a swift gesture,
but the youth shook his head and went out, following a man whose
wondrous seediness promised that he would have a knowledge of cheap
lodging-houses.

On the sidewalk he accosted the seedy man. “Say, do you know a cheap
place to sleep?”

The other hesitated for a time, gazing sideways. Finally he nodded in
the direction of the street, “I sleep up there,” he said, “when I’ve got
the price.”

“How much?”

“Ten cents.”
The young man shook his head dolefully. “That’s too rich for me.”

At that moment there approached the two a reeling man in strange
garments. His head was a fuddle of bushy hair and whiskers, from which
his eyes peered with a guilty slant. In a close scrutiny it was possible
to distinguish the cruel lines of a mouth which looked as if its lips
had just closed with satisfaction over some tender and piteous morsel.
He appeared like an assassin steeped in crimes performed awkwardly.

But at this time his voice was tuned to the coaxing key of an
affectionate puppy. He looked at the men with wheedling eyes, and began
to sing a little melody for charity.

“Say, gents, can’t yeh give a poor feller a couple of cents t’ git a
bed? I got five, and I gits anudder two I gits me a bed. Now, on th’
square, gents, can’t yeh jest gimme two cents t’ git a bed? Now, yeh
know how a respecter’ble gentlem’n feels when he’s down on his luck, an’
I–“

The seedy man, staring with imperturbable countenance at a train which
clattered overhead, interrupted in an expressionless voice–“Ah, go t’
h—-!”

But the youth spoke to the prayerful assassin in tones of astonishment
and inquiry. “Say, you must be crazy! Why don’t yeh strike somebody that
looks as if they had money?”

The assassin, tottering about on his uncertain legs, and at intervals
brushing imaginary obstacles from before his nose, entered into a long
explanation of the psychology of the situation. It was so profound that
it was unintelligible.

When he had exhausted the subject, the young man said to him:

“Let’s see th’ five cents.”

The assassin wore an expression of drunken woe at this sentence, filled
with suspicion of him. With a deeply pained air he began to fumble in
his clothing, his red hands trembling. Presently he announced in a voice
of bitter grief, as if he had been betrayed–“There’s on’y four.”

“Four,” said the young man thoughtfully. “Well, look here, I’m a
stranger here, an’ if ye’ll steer me to your cheap joint I’ll find the
other three.”

The assassin’s countenance became instantly radiant with joy. His
whiskers quivered with the wealth of his alleged emotions. He seized the
young man’s hand in a transport of delight and friendliness.

“B’ Gawd,” he cried, “if ye’ll do that, b’ Gawd, I’d say yeh was a
damned good fellow, I would, an’ I’d remember yeh all m’ life, I would,
b’ Gawd, an’ if I ever got a chance I’d return the compliment”–he spoke
with drunken dignity–“b’ Gawd, I’d treat yeh white, I would, an’ I’d
allus remember yeh.”

The young man drew back, looking at the assassin coldly. “Oh, that’s all
right,” he said. “You show me th’ joint–that’s all you’ve got t’ do.”

The assassin, gesticulating gratitude, led the young man along a dark
street. Finally he stopped before a little dusty door. He raised his
hand impressively. “Look-a-here,” he said, and there was a thrill of
deep and ancient wisdom upon his face, “I’ve brought yeh here, an’
that’s my part, ain’t it? If th’ place don’t suit yeh, yeh needn’t git
mad at me, need yeh? There won’t be no bad feelin’, will there?”

“No,” said the young man.

The assassin waved his arm tragically, and led the march up the steep
stairway. On the way the young man furnished the assassin with three
pennies. At the top a man with benevolent spectacles looked at them
through a hole in a board. He collected their money, wrote some names on
a register, and speedily was leading the two men along a gloom-shrouded
corridor.

Shortly after the beginning of this journey the young man felt his liver
turn white, for from the dark and secret places of the building there
suddenly came to his nostrils strange and unspeakable odors, that
assailed him like malignant diseases with wings. They seemed to be from
human bodies closely packed in dens; the exhalations from a hundred
pairs of reeking lips; the fumes from a thousand bygone debauches; the
expression of a thousand present miseries.

A man, naked save for a little snuff-colored undershirt, was parading
sleepily along the corridor. He rubbed his eyes, and, giving vent to a
prodigious yawn, demanded to be told the time.

“Half-past one.”

The man yawned again. He opened a door, and for a moment his form was
outlined against a black, opaque interior. To this door came the three
men, and as it was again opened the unholy odors rushed out like fiends,
so that the young man was obliged to struggle as against an overpowering
wind.

It was some time before the youth’s eyes were good in the intense gloom
within, but the man with benevolent spectacles led him skilfully,
pausing but a moment to deposit the limp assassin upon a cot. He took
the youth to a cot that lay tranquilly by the window, and showing him a
tall locker for clothes that stood near the head with the ominous air of
a tombstone, left him.

The youth sat on his cot and peered about him. There was a gas-jet in a
distant part of the room, that burned a small flickering orange-hued
flame. It caused vast masses of tumbled shadows in all parts of the
place, save where, immediately about it, there was a little grey haze.
As the young man’s eyes became used to the darkness, he could see upon
the cots that thickly littered the floor the forms of men sprawled out,
lying in deathlike silence, or heaving and snoring with tremendous
effort, like stabbed fish.

The youth locked his derby and his shoes in the mummy case near him, and
then lay down with an old and familiar coat around his shoulders. A
blanket he handed gingerly, drawing it over part of the coat. The cot
was covered with leather, and as cold as melting snow. The youth was
obliged to shiver for some time on this affair, which was like a slab.
Presently, however, his chill gave him peace, and during this period of
leisure from it he turned his head to stare at his friend the assassin,
whom he could dimly discern where he lay sprawled on a cot in the
abandon of a man filled with drink. He was snoring with incredible
vigor. His wet hair and beard dimly glistened, and his inflamed nose
shone with subdued lustre like a red light in a fog.

Filed in: Classics, Short Novel, Short Stories

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