Wrinkles had been peering into the little dry-goods box that acted as a cupboard. "There are only two eggs and half a loaf of bread left," he announced brutally.
"Heavens!" said Warwickson from where he lay smoking on the bed. He spoke in a dismal voice. This tone, it is said, had earned him his popular name of Great Grief.
From different points of the compass Wrinkles looked at the little cupboard with a tremendous scowl, as if he intended thus to frighten the eggs into becoming more than two, and the bread into becoming a loaf. "Plague take it!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, shut up, Wrinkles!" said Grief from the bed.
Wrinkles sat down with an air austere and virtuous. "Well, what are we going to do?" he demanded of the others.
Grief, after swearing, said: "There, that's right! Now you're happy. The holy office of the inquisition! Blast your buttons, Wrinkles, you always try to keep us from starving peacefully! It is two hours before dinner, anyhow, and----"
"Well, but what are you going to do?" persisted Wrinkles.
Pennoyer, with his head afar down, had been busily scratching at a pen-and-ink drawing. He looked up from his board to utter a plaintive optimism. "The Monthly Amazement will 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 with airs of tolerance. "Oh, no doubt, Penny, old man." But at last Wrinkles giggled pityingly. 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 to this room.
Occasionally one could hear the tramp of feet in the intricate corridors of the begrimed building which squatted, slumbering, and old, between two exalted commercial structures which would have had to bend afar down to perceive it. The northward march of the city's progress had happened not to overturn this aged structure, and it huddled there, lost and forgotten, while the cloud-veering towers strode on.
Meanwhile the first shadows of dusk came in at the blurred windows of the room. 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 a pipe and walked about, stretching his shoulders like a man whose labour was valuable.
When the dusk came fully the youths grew apparently sad. The solemnity of the gloom seemed to make them ponder. "Light the gas, Wrinkles," said Grief fretfully.
The flood of orange light showed clearly the dull walls lined with sketches, the tousled bed in one corner, the masses of boxes and trunks in another, a little dead stove, and the wonderful table. Moreover, there were wine-coloured draperies flung in some places, and on a shelf, high up, there were plaster casts, with dust in the creases. A long stove-pipe wandered off in the wrong direction and then turned impulsively toward a hole in the wall. There were some elaborate cobwebs on the ceiling.
"Well, let's eat," said Grief.
"Eat," said Wrinkles, with a jeer; "I told you there was only two eggs and a little bread left. How are we going to eat?"
Again brought face to face with this problem, and at the hour for dinner, Pennoyer and Grief thought profoundly. "Thunder and turf!" Grief finally announced as the result of his deliberations.
"Well, if Billie Hawker was only home----" began Pennoyer.
"But he isn't," objected Wrinkles, "and that settles that."
Grief and Pennoyer thought more. Ultimately Grief said, "Oh, well, let's eat what we've got." The others at once agreed to this suggestion, as if it had been in their minds.
Later there came a quick step in the passage and a confident little thunder upon the door. Wrinkles arranging the tin pail on the gas stove, Pennoyer engaged in slicing the bread, and Great Grief affixing the rubber tube to the gas stove, yelled, "Come in!"
The door opened, and Miss Florinda O'Connor, the model, dashed into the room like a gale of obstreperous autumn leaves.
"Why, hello, Splutter!" they cried.
"Oh, boys, I've come to dine with you."
It was like a squall striking a fleet of yachts.
Grief spoke first. "Yes, you have?" he said incredulously.
"Why, certainly I have. What's the matter?"
They grinned. "Well, old lady," responded Grief, "you've hit us at the wrong time. We are, in fact, all out of everything. No dinner, to mention, and, what's more, we haven't got a sou."
"What? Again?" cried Florinda.
"Yes, again. You'd better dine home to-night."
"But I'll--I'll stake you," said the girl eagerly. "Oh, you poor old idiots! It's a shame! Say, I'll stake you."
"Certainly not," said Pennoyer sternly.
"What are you talking about, Splutter?" demanded Wrinkles in an angry voice.
"No, that won't go down," said Grief, in a resolute yet wistful tone.
Florinda divested herself of her hat, jacket, and gloves, and put them where she pleased. "Got coffee, haven't you? Well, I'm not going to stir a step. You're a fine lot of birds!" she added bitterly, "You've all pulled me out of a whole lot of scrape--oh, any number of times--and now you're broke, you go acting like a set of dudes."
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 two bundles of kindling was balanced on the chair, and the gas stove was balanced on the kindling. Coffee-making was here accounted a feat.
Pennoyer dropped a piece of bread to the floor. "There! I'll have to go shy one."
Wrinkles sat playing serenades on his guitar and staring with a frown at the table, as if he was applying some strange method of clearing it of its litter.
Florinda assaulted Great Grief. "Here, that's not the way to make coffee!"
"Why, the way you're making it. You want to take----" She explained some way to him which he couldn't understand.
"For heaven's sake, Wrinkles, tackle that table! Don't sit there like a music box," said Pennoyer, grappling the eggs and starting for the gas stove.
Later, as they sat around the board, Wrinkles said with satisfaction, "Well, the coffee's good, anyhow."
"'Tis good," said Florinda, "but it isn't made right. I'll show you how, Penny. You first----"
"Oh, dry up, Splutter," said Grief. "Here, take an egg."
"I don't like eggs," said Florinda.
"Take an egg," said the three hosts menacingly.
"I tell you I don't like eggs."
"Take--an--egg!" they said again.
"Oh, well," said Florinda, "I'll take one, then; but you needn't act like such a set of dudes--and, oh, maybe you didn't have much lunch. I had such a daisy lunch! Up at Pontiac's studio. He's got a lovely studio."
The three looked to be oppressed. Grief said sullenly, "I saw some of his things over in Stencil's gallery, and they're rotten."
"Yes--rotten," said Pennoyer.
"Rotten," said Grief.
"Oh, well," retorted Florinda, "if a man has a swell studio and dresses--oh, sort of like a Willie, you know, you fellows sit here like owls in a cave and say rotten--rotten--rotten. You're away off. Pontiac's landscapes----"
"Landscapes be blowed! Put any of his work alongside of Billie Hawker's and see how it looks."
"Oh, well, Billie Hawker's," said Florinda. "Oh, well."
At the mention of Hawker's name they had all turned to scan her face.
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