Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Pot-Boiler
by [?]


The studio faced north, looking out over a dismal reach of roofs and chimneys, and rusty fire-escapes hung with heterogeneous garments. A crust of dirty snow covered the level surfaces, and a December sky with more snow in it lowered over them.

The room was bare and gaunt, with blotched walls and a stained uneven floor. On a divan lay a pile of “properties”–limp draperies, an Algerian scarf, a moth-eaten fan of peacock feathers. The janitor had forgotten to fill the coal-scuttle over-night, and the cast-iron stove projected its cold flanks into the room like a black iceberg. Ned Stanwell, who had just added his hat and great-coat to the miscellaneous heap on the divan, turned from the empty stove with a shiver.

“By Jove, this is a little too much like the last act of Boheme,” he said, slipping into his coat again after a vain glance at the coal-scuttle. Much solitude, and a lively habit of mind, had bred in him the habit of audible soliloquy, and having flung a shout for the janitor down the seven flights dividing the studio from the basement, he turned back, picking up the thread of his monologue. “Exactly like Boheme, really–that crack in the wall is much more like a stage-crack than a real one–just the sort of crack Mungold would paint if he were doing a Humble Interior.”

Mungold, the fashionable portrait-painter of the hour, was the favourite object of the younger men’s irony.

“It only needs Kate Arran to be borne in dying,” Stanwell continued with a laugh. “Much more likely to be poor little Caspar, though,” he concluded.

His neighbour across the landing–the little sculptor, Caspar Arran, humorously called “Gasper” on account of his bronchial asthma–had lately been joined by a sister, Kate Arran, a strapping girl, fresh from the country, who had installed herself in the little room off her brother’s studio, keeping house for him with a chafing-dish and a coffee-machine, to the mirth and envy of the other young men in the building.

Poor little Gasper had been very bad all the autumn, and it was surmised that his sister’s presence, which he spoke of growlingly, as a troublesome necessity devolved on him by the inopportune death of an aunt, was really an indication of his failing ability to take care of himself. Kate Arran took his complaints with unfailing good-humour, darned his socks, brushed his clothes, fed him with steaming broths and foaming milk-punches, and listened with reverential assent to his interminable disquisitions on art. Every one in the house was sorry for little Gasper, and the other fellows liked him all the more because it was so impossible to like his sculpture; but his talk was a bore, and when his colleagues ran in to see him they were apt to keep a hand on the door-knob and to plead a pressing engagement. At least they had been till Kate came; but now they began to show a disposition to enter and sit down. Caspar, who was no fool, perceived the change, and perhaps detected its cause; at any rate, he showed no special gratification at the increased cordiality of his friends, and Kate, who followed him in everything, took this as a sign that guests were to be discouraged.

There was one exception, however: Ned Stanwell, who was deplorably good-natured, had always lent a patient ear to Caspar, and he now reaped his reward by being taken into Kate’s favour. Before she had been a month in the building they were on confidential terms as to Caspar’s health, and lately Stanwell had penetrated farther, even to the inmost recesses of her anxiety about her brother’s career. Caspar had recently had a bad blow in the refusal of his magnum opus–a vast allegorical group–by the Commissioners of the Minneapolis Exhibition. He took the rejection with Promethean irony, proclaimed it as the clinching proof of his ability, and abounded in reasons why, even in an age of such crass artistic ignorance, a refusal so egregious must react to the advantage of its object. But his sister’s indignation, if as glowing, was a shade less hopeful. Of course Caspar was going to succeed–she knew it was only a question of time–but she paled at the word and turned imploring eyes on Stanwell. Was there time enough? It was the one element in the combination that she could not count on; and Stanwell, reddening under her look of interrogation, and cursing his own glaring robustness, would affirm that of course, of course, of course, by everything that was holy there was time enough–with the mental reservation that there wouldn’t be, even if poor Caspar lived to be a hundred.