The Four Million
An Adjustment Of Nature
In an art exhibition the other day I saw a painting that had been sold for $5,000. The
painter was a young scrub out of the West named Kraft, who had a favourite food and a
pet theory. His pabulum was an unquenchable belief in the Unerring Artistic Adjustment
of Nature. His theory was fixed around corned-beef hash with poached egg. There was a
story behind the picture, so I went home and let it drip out of a fountain-pen. The idea of
Kraft—but that is not the beginning of the story.
Three years ago Kraft, Bill Judkins (a poet), and I took our meals at Cypher's, on Eighth
Avenue. I say "took." When we had money, Cypher got it "off of" us, as he expressed it.
We had no credit; we went in, called for food and ate it. We paid or we did not pay. We
had confidence in Cypher's sullenness end smouldering ferocity. Deep down in his
sunless soul he was either a prince, a fool or an artist. He sat at a worm-eaten desk,
covered with files of waiters' checks so old that I was sure the bottomest one was for
clams that Hendrik Hudson had eaten and paid for. Cypher had the power, in common
with Napoleon III. and the goggle-eyed perch, of throwing a film over his eyes, rendering
opaque the windows of his soul. Once when we left him unpaid, with egregious excuses,
I looked back and saw him shaking with inaudible laughter behind his film. Now and
then we paid up back scores.
But the chief thing at Cypher's was Milly. Milly was a waitress. She was a grand example
of Kraft's theory of the artistic adjustment of nature. She belonged, largely, to waiting, as
Minerva did to the art of scrapping, or Venus to the science of serious flirtation.
Pedestalled and in bronze she might have stood with the noblest of her heroic sisters as
"Liver-and-Bacon Enlivening the World." She belonged to Cypher's. You expected to see
her colossal figure loom through that reeking blue cloud of smoke from frying fat just as
you expect the Palisades to appear through a drifting Hudson River fog. There amid the
steam of vegetables and the vapours of acres of "ham and," the crash of crockery, the
clatter of steel, the screaming of "short orders," the cries of the hungering and all the
horrid tumult of feeding man, surrounded by swarms of the buzzing winged beasts
bequeathed us by Pharaoh, Milly steered her magnificent way like some great liner
cleaving among the canoes of howling savages.
Our Goddess of Grub was built on lines so majestic that they could be followed only with
awe. Her sleeves were always rolled above her elbows. She could have taken us three
musketeers in her two hands and dropped us out of the window. She had seen fewer years
than any of us, but she was of such superb Evehood and simplicity that she mothered us
from the beginning. Cypher's store of eatables she poured out upon us with royal
indifference to price and quantity, as from a cornucopia that knew no exhaustion. Her
voice rang like a great silver bell; her smile was many-toothed and frequent; she seemed
like a yellow sunrise on mountain tops. I never saw her but I thought of the Yosemite.
And yet, somehow, I could never think of her as existing outside of Cypher's. There
nature had placed her, and she had taken root and grown mightily. She seemed happy,