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The Pencil Seller
by [?]

By luck I had some pictures I could sell,
And so we fought the wolf back from the door;
She painted too, aye, wonderfully well.
We often dreamed of brighter days in store.
And then quite suddenly she seemed to fail;
I saw the shadows darken round her eyes.
So tired she was, so sorrowful, so pale,
And oh, there came a day she could not rise.
The doctor looked at her; he shook his head,
And spoke of wine and grapes and Southern air:
“If you can get her out of this,” he said,
“She’ll have a fighting chance with proper care.”

“With proper care!” When he had gone away,
I sat there, trembling, twitching, dazed with grief.
Under my old and ragged coat she lay,
Our room was bare and cold beyond belief.
“Maybe,” I thought, “I still can paint a bit,
Some lilies, landscape, anything at all.”
Alas! My brush, I could not steady it.
Down from my fumbling hand I let it fall.
“With proper care”–how could I give her that,
Half of me dead? . . . I crawled down to the street.
Cowering beside the wall, I held my hat
And begged of every one I chanced to meet.
I got some pennies, bought her milk and bread,
And so I fought to keep the Doom away;
And yet I saw with agony of dread
My dear one sinking, sinking day by day.
And then I was awakened in the night:
“Please take my hands, I’m cold,” I heard her sigh;
And soft she whispered, as she held me tight:
“Oh daddy, we’ve been happy, you and I!”
I do not think she suffered any pain,
She breathed so quietly . . . but though I tried,
I could not warm her little hands again:
And so there in the icy dark she died. . . .
The dawn came groping in with fingers gray
And touched me, sitting silent as a stone;
I kissed those piteous lips, as cold as clay–
I did not cry, I did not even moan.
At last I rose, groped down the narrow stair;
An evil fog was oozing from the sky;
Half-crazed I stumbled on, I knew not where,
Like phantoms were the folks that passed me by.
How long I wandered thus I do not know,
But suddenly I halted, stood stock-still–
Beside a door that spilled a golden glow
I saw a name, my name, upon a bill.
“A Sale of Famous Pictures,” so it read,
“A Notable Collection, each a gem,
Distinguished Works of Art by painters dead.”
The folks were going in, I followed them.
I stood upon the outskirts of the crowd,
I only hoped that none might notice me.
Soon, soon I heard them call my name aloud:
“A ‘David Strong’, his Fete in Brittany.”
(A brave big picture that, the best I’ve done,
It glowed and kindled half the hall away,
With all its memories of sea and sun,
Of pipe and bowl, of joyous work and play.
I saw the sardine nets blue as the sky,
I saw the nut-brown fisher-boats put out.)
“Five hundred pounds!” rapped out a voice near by;
“Six hundred!” “Seven!” “Eight!” And then a shout:
“A thousand pounds!” Oh, how I thrilled to hear!
Oh, how the bids went up by leaps, by bounds!
And then a silence; then the auctioneer:
“It’s going! Going! Gone! Three thousand pounds!
Three thousand pounds! A frenzy leapt in me.
“That picture’s mine,” I cried; “I’m David Strong.
I painted it, this famished wretch you see;
I did it, I, and sold it for a song.
And in a garret three small hours ago
My daughter died for want of Christian care.
Look, look at me! . . . Is it to mock my woe
You pay three thousand for my picture there?” . . .

O God! I stumbled blindly from the hall;
The city crashed on me, the fiendish sounds
Of cruelty and strife, but over all
“Three thousand pounds!” I heard; “Three thousand pounds!”

There, that’s my story, sir; it isn’t gay.
Tales of the Poor are never very bright . . .
You’ll look for me next time you pass this way . . .
I hope you’ll find me, sir; good-night, good-night.