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An Experiment in Misery
by [?]

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, an’ 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 respecterble 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’ hell!”

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-a-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 speedlly was leading the two men along a gloom-shrouded corridor.

Shortly after the beginning of this journey the young man felt his liver turn w
hite, 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.