The Rise of David Levinsky
Part 5 out of 11
I inquired after his daughter and his son-in-law, but my hint that
the latter might perhaps be willing to indorse a note for me
evoked an impatient grunt
"My son-in-law! Why, you don't even know him!" he retorted, with
a suspicious look at me
I turned it off with a joke and asked about the hen-pecked man.
Mr. Even had not seen him for four years. The other Talmudists
present had never even known him. A man with extremely long
black side-locks who spoke with a Galician accent became
interested. After Mr. Even went to his wonted seat at the east wall,
where he took up a book, this man said to me, with a sigh: "Oh, it
is not the old home. Over there people go to the same synagogue
all their lives, while here one is constantly on the move. They call
it a city.
Pshaw! It is a market-place, a bazar, an inn, not a city! People are
together for a day and then, behold! they have flown apart. Where
to? Nobody knows. I don't know what has become of you and you
don't know what has become of me."
"That's why there is no real friendship here," I chimed in, heartily.
"That's why one feels so friendless, so lonely."
My shop, of course, shut down, and I roamed about the streets a
good deal. I was restless. I continually felt nonplussed, ashamed to
look myself in the face, as it were. One forenoon I found myself
walking in the direction of Twenty-third Street and Lexington
Avenue. The college building was now a source of consolation.
Indeed, what was money beside the halo of higher education? I
paused in front of the building. There were several students on the
campus, all Jewish boys. I accosted one of them. I spoke to him
enviously, and left the place thrilling with a determination to drop
all thought of business, to take the entrance examination, and be a
college student at last. I was almost grateful to that Western firm
for going into bankruptcy
And yet, even while I was tingling with this feeling, a voice
exclaimed in my heart, "Ah, if that Western firm had not failed!"
The debt I owed the American commission merchant agonized me
I couldn't help thinking of my "credit face." To disappoint him, of
all men, seemed to be the most brutal thing I had ever done. I
imagined myself obtaining just enough money to pay him; but, as
I did so, I could not resist the temptation of extending the sum so
as to go on manufacturing cloaks. I was incessantly cudgeling my
brains for some "angel" who would come to my financial rescue
The spell of my college aspirations was broken once for all. My
Temple was destroyed. Nothing was left of it but vague yearnings
and something like a feeling of compunction which will assert
itself, sometimes, to this day
The Talmud tells us how the destruction of Jerusalem and the
great Temple was caused by a hen and a rooster. The destruction
of my American Temple was caused by a bottle of milk
The physical edifice still stands, though the college has long since
moved to a much larger and more imposing building or group of
buildings. I find the humble old structure on Lexington Avenue
and Twenty-third Street the more dignified and the more
fascinating of the two. To me it is a sacred spot. It is the sepulcher
of my dearest ambitions, a monument to my noblest enthusiasm in
BOOK IX DORA CHAPTER I "HOW about it?" Mrs. Chaikin said
to me, ominously
"About what? What do you mean, Mrs. Chaikin?"
"Oh, you know what I mean. It is no use playing the fool and trying
to make a fool of me."
The conversation was held in our deserted shop on an afternoon.
The three sewing-machines, the cutting-table, and the
pressing-table looked desolate.
She spoke in an undertone, almost in a whisper, lest the secret of
her husband's relations with me should leak out and reach his
employers. She had been guarding that secret all along, but now,
that our undertaking had apparently collapsed, she was
particularly uneasy about it
"I don't believe that store in the West has failed at all. In fact, I
know it has not. Somebody told me all about it."
This was her method of cross-examining me. I read her a clipping
containing the news of the bankruptcy, but as she could not read it
herself, she only sneered. I reasoned with her, I pleaded, I swore;
but she kept sneering or nodding her head mournfully
"I don't believe you. I don't believe you," she finally said, shutting
her eyes with a gesture of despair and exhaustion. "Do I believe a
dog when it barks? Neither do I believe you. I curse the day when
I first met you. It was the black year that brought you to us." She
fell to wringing her hands and moaning: "Woe is me! Woe is me!"
Finally she tiptoed out of the room and down the stairs. In my
despair I longed for somebody to whom I could unbosom myself. I
thought of Meyer Nodelman. A self-made man and one who had
begun manufacturing almost penniless like myself, he seemed to
be just the man I needed. A thought glimmered through my mind,
"And who knows but he may come to my rescue I was going to call
at his warehouse, but upon second thought I realized that the seat
of his cold self-interest would scarcely be a favorable setting for
the interview and that I must try to entrap him in the humanizing
atmosphere of his mother's home for the purpose
The next time I saw him at his mother's I took him up to my little
attic and laid my tribulations before him. I told him the whole
story, almost without embellishments, omitting nothing but
"Is it all true?" he interrupted me at one point
I swore that it was, and went on. At the end I offered to prove it all
to his satisfaction
"You don't need to prove it to me," he replied. "What do I care?"
Then, suddenly, casting off his reserve, he blurted out: "Look here,
young fellow! If you think I am going to lend you money you are
only wasting time, for I am not." "And why not?" I asked, boldly,
with studied dignity
"Why not! You better tell me why yes," he chuckled. "You have a
lot of spunk. That you certainly have, and you ought to make a
good business man, but I won't loan you money, for all that."
"Weren't you once hard up yourself, Mr. Nodelman? You have
made a success of it, and now it would only be right that you
should help another fellow get up in the world. You won't lose a
cent by it, either. I take an oath on it."
"You can't have an oath cashed in a bank, can you?"
"Why did that commission merchant take a chance? If a Gentile is
willing to help a Jew, and one whom he had never seen before,
you should not hesitate, either."
"Well, there is no use talking about it," was his final decision
The following day I received a letter from him, inviting me to his
His warehouse occupied a vast loft on a little street off Broadway.
Arrived there, I had to pass several men, all in their shirt-sleeves,
who were attacking mountains of cloth with long, narrow knives.
One of these directed me to a remote window, in front of which I
presently found Nodelman lecturing a man who wore a
tape-measure around his neck
Nodelman kept me waiting, without offering me a scat, a good
half-hour. He was in his shirt-sleeves, like the others, yet he
looked far more dignified than I had ever seen him look before. It
was as though the environment of his little kingdom had made
another man of him
Finally, he left the man with the tape-measure and silently led me
into his little private office, a narrow strip of partitioned-off space
at the other end of the loft
When we were seated and the partition door was shut he said, with
grave mien, "Well," and fell silent again
I gazed at him patiently
"Well," he repeated, "I have thought it over." And again he paused.
At last he burst out: "I do want to help you, young fellow. You
didn't expect it, did you? I do want to help you. And do you know
why? Because otherwise you won't pay that Gentile and I don't
want a good-hearted Gentile to think that Jews are a bad lot.
That's number one. Number two is this: If you think Meyer
Nodelman is a hog, you don't know Meyer Nodelman. Number
three: I rather liked the way you talked yesterday. I said to myself,
said I: 'An educated fellow who can talk like that will be all right.
He ought to be given a lift, for most educated people are damn
fools.' Well, I'll tell you what I am willing to do for you. I'll get
you the goods for that order of yours, not for thirty days, but for
sixty. What do you think of that? Now is Nodelman a hog or is he
not? But that's as far as I am willing to go. I can only get you the
goods for that Third Avenue order. See? But that won't be enough
to help you out of your scrape, not enough for you to pay that good
Gentile on time." He engaged in some mental arithmetic by means
of which he reached the conclusion that I should need an
additional four hundred dollars, and he wound up by an
ultimatum: he would not furnish me the goods until I had
produced that amount
"Look here, young fellow," he added; "since you were smart
enough to get that Gentile and Meyer Nodelman to help you out, it
ought not to be a hard job for you to get a third fellow to take an
interest in you. Do you remember what I told you about those
credit faces? I think you have got one."
"I have an honest heart, too," I said, with a smile
"Your heart I can't get into, so I don't know. See? Maybe there is a
rogue hiding there and maybe there isn't. But your face and your
talk certainly are all right. They ought to be able to get you some
more cash. And if they don't, then they don't deserve that I should
help you out, either. See?" He chuckled in appreciation of his own
"It's a nice piece of Talmud reasoning," I complimented him, with
an enthusiastic laugh. "But, seriously, Mr. Nodelman, I shall pay
you every cent. You run absolutely no risk."
I pleaded with him to grant me the accommodation
unconditionally. I tried to convince him that I should contrive to
do without the additional cash. But he was obdurate, and at last I
took my leave
"Wait a moment! What's your hurry? Are you afraid you'll be a
couple of minutes longer becoming a millionaire? There is
something I want to ask you."
"What is it, Mr. Nodelman?"
"How about your studying to be a doctor-philosopher?" he asked,
"Oh, well, one can attend to business and find time for books, too,"
I came away in a new transport of expectations and in a new agony
of despair at once. On the whole, however, my spirits were greatly
Encouraged by the result of taking Nodelman into my confidence,
I decided to try a similar heart-to-heart talk on Max Margolis,
better known to the reader as Maximum Max. He had some
I had seen very little of him in the past two years, having stumbled
upon him in the street but two or three times. But upon each of
these occasions he had stopped me and inquired about my affairs
with genuine interest. He was fond of me. I had no doubt about it.
And he was so good-natured. Our last chance meeting antedated
my new venture by at least six months, and he was not likely to
have any knowledge of it. I felt that he would be sincerely glad to
hear of it and I hoped that he would be inclined to help me launch
it. Anyhow, he seemed to be my last resort, and I was determined
to make my appeal to him as effective as I knew how
As he had always seen me shabbily clad, I decided to overwhelm
him with a new suit of clothes. I needed one, at any rate
After some seeking and inquiring, I found him in a Bowery
furniture-store, one of the several places from which he supplied
his instalment customers.
It was about 10 o'clock in the morning
"There is something I want to consult you about, Max," I said.
"Something awfully important to me. You're the only man I know
who could advise me and in whom I can confide," I added, with
an implication of great intimacy and affection. "It's a business
scheme, Max. I have a chance to make lots of money."
The conversation was held in a dusky passage of the labyrinthine
store, a narrow lane running between two barricades of furniture
"What is that? A business scheme?" he asked, in a preoccupied
tone of voice and straining his eyes to look me over. "You are
dressed up, I see. Quite prosperous, aren't you?"
As we emerged into the glare of the Bowery he scrutinized my suit
once again. I quailed. I now felt that to have come in such a
screamingly new suit was a fatal mistake. I cursed myself for an
idiot of a smart Aleck. But he spoke to me with his usual
cordiality and my spirits rose again. However, he seemed to be
busy, and so I asked him to set an hour when he could see me at
leisure. We made an appointment for 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I
was to meet him at the same furniture-store; but upon second
thought, and with another glance at my new clothes, he said,
jovially: "Why, you are rigged out like a regular monarch! It is
quite an honor to invite you to the house. Come up, will you?
And, as I won't have to go out to meet you, you can make it 2
o'clock, or half past."
CHAPTER II MAX occupied the top floor of an old private house
on Henry Street, a small "railroad" apartment of two large, bright
rooms--a living-room and a kitchen--with two small, dark
bedrooms between them. The ceiling was low and the air
somewhat tainted with the odor of mold and dampness. I found
Max in the general living-room, which was also a dining-room, a
fat boy of three on his lap and a slender, pale girl of eight on a
chair close by. His wife, a slender young woman with a fine white
complexion and serious black eyes, was clearing away the lunch
"Mrs. Margolis, Mr. Levinsky," he introduced us. "Plainly
speaking, this is my wifey and this is a friend of mine."
As she was leaving the room for the kitchen he called after her,
"Dvorah! Dora! make some tea, will you?"
She craned her neck and gave him a look of resentment. "It's a
good thing you are telling me that," she said. "Otherwise I
shouldn't know what I have got to do, should I?"
When she had disappeared he explained to me that he variously
addressed her by the Yiddish or English form of her name
"We are plain Yiddish folk," he generalized, good-humoredly
A few minutes later, as Mrs. Margolis placed a glass of Russian
tea before me, he drew her to him and pinched her white cheek
"What do you think of my wifey, Levinsky?"
She smiled--a grave, deprecating smile--and took to pottering
about the house
"And what do you think of these little customers?" he went on.
"Lucy, examine mamma in spelling. Quick! Dora, be a good girl,
sit down and let Levinsky see how educated you are." ("Educated"
he said in English, with the accent on the "a.") "What do you
want?" his wife protested, softly. "Mr. Levinsky wants to see you
on business, and here you are bothering him with all sorts of
"Never mind his business. It won't run away. Sit down, I say. It
won't take long." She yielded. Casting bashful side-glances at
nobody in particular, she seated herself opposite Lucy
"Well?" she said, with a little laugh
I thought her eyes looked too serious, almost angry. "Insane people
have eyes of this kind," I said to myself. I also made a mental note
of her clear, fresh, delicate complexion. Otherwise she did not
interest me in the least, and I mutely prayed Heaven to take her
out of the room
"How do you spell 'great'?" the little girl demanded
"G-r-e-a-t--great," her mother answered, with a smile
"B-o-o-k--book. Oh, give me some harder words."
"Is that correct?" Margolis turned to me, all beaming. "I wish I
could do as much. And nobody has taught her, either. She has
learned it all by herself.
Little Lucy is the only teacher she ever had. But she will soon be
ahead of her. Won't she, Lucy?"
"I'm afraid I am ahead of her already," Mrs. Margolis said, gaily,
yet flushed with excitement
"You are not!" Lucy protested, with a good-natured pout
"Shut up, bad girl you," her mother retorted, again with a bashful
"Is that the way you talk to your mamma?" Max intervened. "I'll
tell your teacher."
I was on pins and needles to be alone with him and to get down to
the object of my visit
Finally he said, brusquely: "Well, we have had enough of that.
Leave us alone, Dora. Go to the parlor and take the kids along."
When he heard of my venture he was interested. He often
interrupted me with boisterous expressions of admiration for my
subterfuges as well as for the plan as a whole. With all his
boisterousness, however, there was an air of caution about him, as
if he scented danger. When I finally said that all depended upon
my raising four hundred dollars his face clouded
"I see, I see," he murmured, with sudden estrangement. "I see. I
see." "Don't lose courage," I said to myself. "Nodelman was
exactly like that at first. Go right ahead."
I portrayed my business prospects in the most alluring colors and
gave Max to understand that if "somebody" advanced me the four
hundred dollars he would be sure to get it back in thirty days plus
any interest he might name
"It would be terrible if I had to let it all go to pieces on account of
such a thing," I concluded
There was a moment of very awkward silence. It was broken by
"It's really too bad. What are you going to do about it?" he said.
"Where can you get such a 'somebody'?"
"I don't know. That's why I came to consult you. I thought you
might suggest some way. It would be a pity if I had to give it all
up on account of four hundred dollars."
"Indeed it would. It would be terrible. Still, four hundred dollars is
not four hundred cents. I wish I were a rich man. I should lend it
to you at once. You know I should."
"I should pay you every cent of it, Max."
"You say it as if I had money. You know I have not." What I did
know was that he had, and he knew that I did
He took to analyzing the situation and offering me advice. Why not
go to that kindly Gentile, the commission merchant, make a clean
breast of it, and obtain an extension of time? Why not apply to
some money-lender? Why not make a vigorous appeal to
Nodelman? He seemed to be an obliging fellow, so if I pressed
him a little harder he might give me the cash as well as the goods
I was impelled to retort that advice was cheap, and he apparently
read my thoughts
Presently he said, with genuine ardor: "I tell you what, Levinsky.
Why not try to get your old landlady to open her stocking? From
what you have told me, she ought not to be a hard nut to crack if
you only go about it in the right way.
This suggestion made a certain appeal to me, but I would not
betray it. I continued resentfully silent
"You just try her, Levinsky. She'll let you have the four hundred
dollars, or half of it, at least."
"And if she does, her son will refuse to get me the goods," I
remarked, with a sneer.
"Nonsense. If you know how to handle her, she will realize that
she must keep her mouth shut until after she gets the money
"Oh, what's the use?" I said, impatiently. "I must get the cash at
once, or all is lost."
Again he spoke of money-lenders. He went into details about one
of them and offered to ascertain his address for me. He evidently
felt awkward about his part in the matter and eager to atone for it
in some way
"Why should a usurer trust me?" I said, rising to go
"Wait. What's your hurry? If that money-lender hears your story, he
may trust you. He is a peculiar fellow, don't you know. When he
takes a fancy to a man he is willing to take a chance on him. Of
course, the interest would be rather high." He paused abruptly,
wrinkled his forehead with an effect of pondering some new
scheme, and said: "Wait. I think I have a better plan.
I'll see if I can't get you the money without a money-lender." With
this he sprang to his feet and had his wife bring him his coat and
hat. "I'll be back in less than half an hour," he said. "Dvorah dear,
give Levinsky some more tea, will you? I am going out for a few
minutes. Don't let him be downhearted." Then, shaking a finger of
warning at me, he said, playfully, "Only take care that you don't
fall in love with her!" And he was gone
"It's all play-acting," I thought. "He just wants me to believe he is
trying to do something for me." But, of course, I was not
altogether devoid of hope that I was mistaken and that he was
making a sincere effort to raise a loan for me
Mrs. Margolis went into the kitchen immediately her husband
Presently she came back, carrying a glass of tea on a saucer. She
placed it before me with an embarrassed side-glance, brought
some cookies, and seated herself at the far end of the table. I
uttered some complimentary trivialities about the children
When a man finds himself alone with a woman who is neither his
wife nor a close relative, both feel awkward. It is as though they
heard a whisper, "There is nobody to watch the two of you."
Still, confused as I was, I was fully aware of her tempting
complexion and found her angry black eyes strangely interesting.
Upon the whole, however, I do not think she made any appeal to
me save by virtue of the fact that she was a woman and that we
were alone. I was tense with the consciousness of that fact, and
everything about her disturbed me. She wore a navy-blue summer
wrapper and I noticed the way it set off the soft whiteness of her
neck. I remarked to myself that she looked younger than her
husband, that she must be about twenty-eight or thirty, perhaps.
My glances apparently caused her painful embarrassment. Finally
she got up again, making a pretense of bustling about the room. It
seemed to me that when she was on her feet she looked younger
than when she was seated
I asked the boy his name, and he answered in lugubrious, but
distinct, accents: "Daniel Margolis."
"He speaks like a grown person," I said
"She used to speak like that, too, when she was of his age," my
hostess replied, with a glance in the direction of her daughter
"Did you?" I said to Lucy
The little girl grinned coyly
"Why don't you answer the gentleman's question?" her mother
rebuked her, in English. "It's Mr. Levinsky, a friend of papa's."
Lucy gave me a long stare and lost all interest in me. "Don't you
like me at all? Not even a little bit?" I pleaded
She soon unbent and took to plying me with questions. Where did I
live? Was I a "customer peddler "like her papa? How long had I
been in America? (A question which a child of the East Side hears
as often as it does queries about the weather.) "Can you spell?"
"No," I answered. "Not at all?"
"Not at all!"
"Shame! But my papa can't spell, neither."
"Shut up, you bad girl you!" her mother broke in with a laugh.
"Vere you lea'n such nasty things? By your mamma? The
gentleman will think by your mamma."
She delivered her a little lecture in English, taking pains to
produce the "th" and the American "r," though her were "v's."
She urged me not to let the tea get cold. As I took hold of the tall,
thin, cylindrical glass I noted that it was scrupulously clean and
that its contents had a good clear color. I threw a glance around
the room and I saw that it was well kept and tidy
Mrs. Margolis took a seat again. Lucy, with part of a cooky in her
mouth, stepped over to her and seated herself on her lap, throwing
her arm around her. She struck me as the very image of her
mother. Presently, however, I discovered that she resembled her
father quite as closely. It seemed as though the one likeness lay on
the surface of her face, while the other loomed up from
underneath, as the reflection of a face does from under the surface
of water. Lucy soon wearied of her mother and walked over to my
side. I put her on my lap. She would not let me pat her, but she did
not mind sitting on my knees.
"Are you a good speller?" I asked
"I c'n spell all the words we get at school," she answered, sagely
"How do you spell 'colonel'?"
"We never got it at school. But you can't spell it, either."
"How do you know I can't? Maybe I can. Well, let us take an easier
word. How do you spell 'because'?"
She spelled it correctly, her mother joining in playfully. I gave
them other words, addressing myself to both, and they made a
race of it, each trying to head off or outshout the other. At first
Mrs. Margolis did so with feigned gaiety, but her face soon set
into a grave look and glowed with excitement
At last I asked them to spell "coefficient."
"We never got it at school," Lucy demurred
"I don't know what it means," said Mrs. Margolis, with a shrug of
"It means something in mathematics, in high figuring," I explained
Mrs. Margolis shrugged her shoulders once more
I asked Lucy to try me in spelling. She did and I acquitted myself
so well that she exclaimed: "Oh, you liar you! Why did you say
you didn't know how to spell?"
Once more her mother took her to task for her manners
"Is that the vay to talk to a gentleman? Shame! Vere you lea'n up to
be such a pig? Not by your mamma!"
When Max came back Lucy hastened to inform him that I could
spell "awful good." To which he replied in Yiddish that he knew I
was a smart fellow, that I could read and write "everything," and
that I had studied to go to college and "to be a doctor, a lawyer, or
His wife looked me over with bashful side-glances. "Really?" she
Max told me a lame story about his errand and promised to let me
know the "final result." It was clearer than ever to me that he was
making a fool of me
CHAPTER III WHEN I hear a new melody and it makes an appeal
to me its effect usually lasts only as long as I hear it, but it is
almost sure to reassert itself later on. I scarcely ever think of it
during the first two, three, or four days, but then, all of a sudden,
it will pop up in my brain and haunt me a few days in succession,
humming itself and nagging me like a living thing.
This was precisely what happened to me with regard to Mrs.
Margolis. During the first two days after I left her house I never
gave her a thought, but on the third her shy side-glances suddenly
loomed up in my mind and would not leave it. Just her black,
serious eyes and those shy looks of theirs gleaming out of a white,
strikingly interesting complexion. Her face in general was a mere
blur in my memory
I was incessantly racking my brain over my affairs. I was so
low-spirited and worried that I was unconscious of the food I ate
or of the streets through which I passed, yet her manner of darting
embarrassed glances out of the corner of her eye and her
complexion were never absent from my mind. I felt like seeing
her once more. However, the prospect of calling at her house was
now anything but alluring. I could almost see the annoyed air with
which her husband would receive me
I sought out two usurers and begged each of them to grant me the
loan, but they unyieldingly insisted on more substantial security
than the bare story or my venture. I made other efforts to raise the
money. I approached several people, including the proprietor of
the little music-store. All to no purpose
One afternoon, eight or ten days after my call at the Margolises',
when I came to my "factory" I found under the door a closed
envelope bearing the name of that Western firm. It contained a
typewritten letter and a check in full payment of my bill. Also a
circular explaining that the firm had been reorganized with plenty
of capital, and naming as one of its new directors a man who,
from the tone of the circular, seemed to be of high standing in the
My head was in a whirl. The desolate-looking sewing-machines of
my deserted shop seemed to have suddenly brightened up. I
looked at the check again and again. The figure on it literally
staggered me. It seemed to be part of a fairy tale
I rushed over to Nodelman's office, but found him gone for the
day. The next thing on my program was to carry the glad news to
the Chaikins and to discuss plans for the immediate future with
my partner. But Chaikin never came home before 7. So I first
dropped in on the Margolises to flash my check in Max's face and,
incidentally, to see his wife
I found him playing with his fat boy
"Hello, Max! I have good news!" I shouted, excitedly. Which
actually meant: "Don't be uneasy, Max. I am not going to ask you
for a loan again."
When he had examined the check he said, sheepishly: "Now you
are all right. Why, something told me all along that you would get
it." His wife came in, apparently from the kitchen. She returned
my "Good evening" with free and easy amiability, without any
shyness or side-glances, and disappeared again. I felt annoyed. I
was tempted to call after her to come back and let me take a good
look at her
"Say, Levinsky, you must have thought I would not trust you for
the four hundred dollars," Max said. "May I have four hundred
days of distress if I have a cent. What few dollars I do have is
buried in the business. So help me, God! Let a few of my
customers stop paying and I would have to go begging. It's the real
truth I am telling you. Honest."
"I know, I know," I said, awkwardly. "Well, it was as if the check
had dropped from heaven. Thank God! Now I can begin to do
I went over the main facts of my venture, this time with a touch of
And he listened with far readier attention and more genuine
interest than he had done on the previous occasion. We discussed
my plans and my prospects.
At one point, when I referred to the Western check, he asked to see
it again, just for curiosity's sake, and as I watched him look it over
I could almost see the change that it was producing in his attitude
toward me. I do not know to what extent he had previously
believed my story, if at all. One thing was clear: the magic check
now made it all real to him. As he handed me back the strip of
paper he gave me a look that seemed to say: "So you are a
manufacturer, you whom I have always known as a miserable
Mrs. Margolis reappeared. Her husband told her of my great check
and she returned some trivialities. As we thus chatted, I made a
mental note of the fascinating feminine texture of her flesh
He made me stay to supper. It was a cheery repast. As though to
make amends for his failure to respond when I knocked at his
door, Max overwhelmed me with attention
We were eating cold sorrel soup, prepared in the old Ghetto way,
with cream, bits of boiled egg, cucumber, and scallions
"How do you like it?" he asked
"Delicious! And the genuine article, too."
"'The genuine article'!" he mocked me. "What's the use praising it
when you eat it like a bird? What's the matter with you? Are you
bashful? Fire away, old man!" Then to his wife: "Why do you keep
quiet, Dvorah? Why don't you tell him to eat like a man and not
like a bird?"
"Maybe he doesn't care for my cooking," she jested, demurely
"Why, why," I replied. "The sorrel soup is fit for a king."
"You mean for a president," Max corrected me. "We are in
America, not in Europe."
"How do you know the President of the United States would care
for a plate of cold sorrel soup?"
"And how do you know a king would?" "If you care for it, I am
satisfied," the hostess said to me
"I certainly do. I haven't eaten anything like it since I left home," I
"Feed him well, Dvorah. Now is your chance. He will soon be a
millionaire, don't you know. Then he won't bother about calling
on poor people like us."
"But I have said the sorrel soup is fit for a king, and a king has
many millions," I rejoined. "I shall always be glad to come,
provided Lucy and Dannie have no objection." "You remember
their names, don't you?" Mrs. Margolis said, beamingly. "You
certainly have a good memory."
"Who else should have one?" her husband chimed in. "I have told
you he was going to study to be a doctor or a lawyer. Lucy, did
you hear what uncle said? If you let him in he will come to see us
even when he is worth a million. What do you say? Will you let
Lucy grinned childishly
Max did most of the talking. He entertained me with stories of
some curious weddings which he said had recently been
celebrated in his dance-halls, and, as usual, it was not easy to
draw a line of demarkation between fact and fiction. Of one
bridegroom, who had agreed to the marriage under threats of
violence from the girl's father, he said: "You should have seen the
fellow! He looked like a man going to the electric chair. They
were afraid he might bolt, so the bride's father and brother, big,
strapping fellows both, stuck to him like two detectives. 'You had
better not make monkey business,' they said to him. 'If you don't
want a wedding, you'll have a funeral.' That's exactly what they
said to him. I was standing close to them and I heard it with my
own ears. May I not live till to-morrow if I did not." Mrs.
Margolis looked down shamefacedly. She certainly was not
unaware of her husband's failing, and she obviously took anything
but pride in it. As I glanced at her face at this moment it struck me
as a singularly truthful face. "Those eyes of hers do not express
anger, but integrity," I said to myself. And the more I looked at
her, watched her gestures, and listened to her voice, the stronger
grew my impression that she was a senous-minded, ingenuous
woman, incapable of playing a part. Her mannerisms were mostly
her version of manners, and those that were not were frankly
affected, as it were
The meal over and the dishes washed, Mrs. Margolis caused Lucy
to bring her school reader and began to read it aloud, Lucy or I
correcting her pronunciation where it was faulty. She was frankly
parading her intellectual achievements before me, and I could see
that she took them quite seriously.
She was very sensitive about the mistakes she made. She accepted
our corrections, Lucy's and mine, with great earnestness, often
with a gesture of annoyance and mortification at the failure of her
When I bade them good night Max said, heartily, in English, "Call
again, Levinsky." And he added, in a mixture of English and
Yiddish, "Don't be a stranger, even if you are a manufacturer."
"Call again," his wife echoed, affably
"Call again!" shouted Dannie, in his funereal voice
I left with the comfortable feeling of having spent an hour or two
in a house where I was sincerely welcome
"It's a good thing to have real friends," I soliloquized in a transport
of good spirits, on my way to the Elevated station. "Now I sha'n't
feel all alone in the world. There is at least one house where I can
call and feel at home."
I beheld Mrs. Margolis's face and her slender figure and I was
conscious of a remote desire to see her again
I was in high feather. While the Elevated train was carrying me
up-town I visioned an avalanche of new orders for my shop and a
spacious factory full of machines and men. I saw myself building
up a great business. An ugly thought flashed through my mind:
Why be saddled with a partner? Why not get rid of Chaikin? I
belittled the part which his samples had played in my successful
start, and it seemed to be a cruel injustice to myself to share my
fortune with a man who had no more brains than a cat. But I
instantly saw the other side of the situation: It was Chaikin's
models that had made the Manheimers what they were, and if I
clung to him until he could afford to let me announce him as my
partner the very news of it would be a tremendous boost for my
factory. And then I had a real qualm of compunction for having
entertained that thought even for a single moment. My heart
warmed to Chaikin and his family. "I shall be faithful to them," I
"They have been so good to me. We must be absolutely devoted to
Their house, too, will be like a home to me. Oh, it is so sweet to
have friends, real friends."
It was close upon io o'clock when I reached the Chaikins' flat in
Harlem. I had barely closed the door behind me when I whipped
out the check, and, dangling it before Mrs. Chaikin, I said,
radiantly: "Good evening. Guess what it is!" "The check you
expected from your uncle or cousin or whatever he is to you.
Is it?" she conjectured
"No. It's something far better," I replied. "It's a check from the
Western company, and for the full amount, too." And, although I
was fairly on the road to atheism, I exclaimed, with a thrill of
genuine pity, "Oh, God has been good to us, Mrs. Chaikin!"
I let her see the figures, which she could scarcely make out. Then
her husband took a look at the check. He did know something
about figures, so he read the sum out aloud
Instead of hailing it with joy, as I had expected her to do, she said
to me, glumly: "And how do we know that you did not receive
"But that was the bill," her husband put in
"I am not asking you, am I?" she disciplined him
"But it is the amount on the bill," I said, with a smile
"And how do we know that it is?" she demanded. "It's you who
write the bills, and it's you who get the checks. What do we
"Mrs. Chaikin! Mrs. Chaikin!" I remonstrated. "Why should you be
so suspicious? Can't you see that I am the most devoted friend you
people ever had? God has blessed us; we are making a success of
our business so we must be devoted to one another, while here
you imagine all kinds of nonsense."
"A woman will be a woman," Chaikin muttered, with his sheepish
The unfeigned ardor of my plea produced an impression on Mrs.
Still, she insisted upon receiving her husband's share of the profits
at once in spot cash. I argued again
"Why, of course you are going to get your share of the profits," I
said, genially. "Of course you are. Only we must first pay for the
goods of those five hundred coats and for some other things.
Mustn't we? Then, too, there is that other order to fill. We need
more goods and cash for wages and rent and other expenses.
"But you said you were going to get it all yourself, and now you
want us to pay for it. You think you are smart, don't you?"
Her husband opened his mouth, but she waved it shut before she
had any idea what he wanted to say
"Anybody could fool you," she said. "'When a fool goes shopping
there is rejoicing among the shopkeepers.'"
With our joint efforts we finally managed to placate her, however,
and the next evening our shop was the scene of feverish activity
CHAPTER IV I FILLED my Third Avenue order and went on
soliciting other business. The season was waning, but I obtained a
number of small orders and laid foundations for future sales. Our
capital was growing apace, but we often lacked working cash
After I paid the debt I owed Meyer Nodelman I obtained other
favors from him. He took a sponsorial interest in my business and
often offered me the benefit of his commercial experience in the
form of maxims
"Don't bite off more than you can chew, Levinsky," he would tell
"Finding it easy to get people to trust you is not enough. You must
also find it easy to pay them."
Some of his other rules were: "Be pleasant with the man you deal
with, even if he knows you don't mean it.
He likes it, anyway."
"Take it from me, Levinsky: honesty is the best policy. There is
only one line of business in which dishonesty pays: the burglar
business, provided the burglar does not get caught. If I thought
lying could help my business, I should lie day and night. But I
have learned that it hurts far more than it helps. Be sure that the
other fellow believes what you say. If you have his confidence you
have him by the throat."
It was not always easy to comply with Meyer's tenets, however.
The inadequacy of my working capital often forced me to have
recourse to subterfuges that could not exactly be called honorable.
One day, when we had some bills to meet two days before I could
expect to obtain the cash, I made out and signed checks, but
inclosed each of them in the wrong envelope--this supposed act of
inadvertence gaining me the needed two days of grace. On another
occasion I sent out a number of checks without my signature,
which presumably I had forgotten to affix. There were instances
when I was so hard pressed for funds that the fate of our factory
hinged on seventy-five or a hundred dollars. In one of these crises
I bought two gold watches on the instalment plan, for the express
and sole purpose of pawning them for fifty dollars. I bought the
watches of two men who did not know each other, and returned
them as soon as I could spare the cash to redeem them, forfeiting
the several weekly payments which I had made on the pretended
There were instances, too, when I had to borrow of my employees
a few dollars with which to buy cotton. Needless to say that all
this happened in the early stages of my experience as a
manufacturer. I have long since been above and beyond such
methods. Indeed, business honor and business dignity are often a
luxury in which only those in the front ranks of success can
indulge. But then there are features of the game in which the small
man is apt to be more honorable and less cruel than the financial
I was continually consulting Max on my affairs. Not that I needed
his advice or expected to act upon it. These confidential talks
seemed to promote our intimacy and to enhance the security of the
welcome I found in his house. A great immigrant city like New
York or Chicago is full of men and women who are alone amid a
welter of human life. For these nothing has a greater glamour than
a family in whose house they might be made to feel at home. I
was one of these desolate souls. I still missed my mother. The
anniversary of her death was still a feast of longing agony and
spiritual bliss to me. I scarcely ever visited the synagogue of the
Sons of Antomir these days, but on that great day I was sure to be
there. Forgetful of my atheism, I would place a huge candle for
her soul, attend all the three services, without omitting a line, and
recite the prayer for the dead with sobs in my heart. I had craved
some family who would show me warm friendship. The
Margolises were such a family (Meyer Nodelman never invited
me to his house). They were a godsend to me
Max was essentially a hospitable man, and really fond of me. As
for his wife, who received me with the same hearty welcome as
he, her liking for me was primarily based, as she once put it
herself in the presence of her husband, upon my intellectual
"It's good to have educated people come to the house," she
remarked. "It's good for the children and for everybody else." "I
knew she would like you," Max said to me. "She would give her
head for education. Only better look out, you two. See that you
don't fall in love with each other. Ha, ha!"
Sometimes there were other visitors in the house--some of Max's
friends, his and her fellow-townspeople, her relatives, or some
neighbor. Dora's great friend was a stout woman with flaxen hair
and fishy eyes, named Sadie, or Mrs. Shornik, whose little girl,
Beckie, was a classmate of Lucy's, the acquaintance and devoted
intimacy of the two mothers having originated in the intimacy of
the two school-girls. Sadie lived several blocks from the
Margolises, but she absolutely never let a day pass without calling
on her, if it were only for just time enough to kiss her. She was
infatuated with Dora, and Beckie was infatuated with Lucy
"They just couldn't live without one another," Max said, after
introducing me to Sadie and explaining the situation
"Suppose Lucy and Beckie had not happened to be in the same
school," I jested, addressing myself to the two women. "What
would you have done then?"
"This shows that we have a good God in heaven," Sadie returned,
"He put the children in the same school so that we might meet."
"'A providential match,'" I observed.
"May it last for many, many years," Sadie returned, devoutly
"Say, women!" Max shouted, "you have been more than five
minutes without kissing. What's the matter with you?"
At this, Sadie, with mock defiance, walked up to Mrs. Margolis,
threw her arms around her, and gave her a luscious smack on the
"Bravo! And now you, kids!" Max commanded
With a merry chuckle the two little girls flew into each other's
arms and kissed. Lucy had dark hair like Dora's, and Beckie
flaxen hair like Sadie's, so when their heads were close together
they were an amusing reduced copy of their mothers as these had
looked embracing and kissing a minute before
Max often dropped in to see me at my factory, and when I was not
busy we would talk of my cloaks, of his instalment business, or of
women. Women were his great topic of conversation, as usual.
But then these talks of his no longer found a ready listener in me.
Now, that I knew his wife, they jarred on me. A decided change
had come over me in this respect. I remember it vividly. It was as
if his lewd discourses desecrated her name and thereby offended
me. It may be interesting to note, however, that he never took up
this kind of topics when we were in his house, not even when his
wife was out
Sometimes I would have supper at his house. More often,
however--usually on Monday, when Max seldom went to the
dance-halls--I would come after supper and spend the rest of the
evening there. Sometimes the Shorniks would drop in--Sadie, her
husband, and Beckie. Ben Shornik and Max would play a game of
pinochle, while I, who never cared for cards, would chat with the
women or entertain them by entertaining the children. Ben--as I
came into the habit of calling him--was a spare little man with an
extremely high forehead. He was an insurance-collector and only
one degree less illiterate than Max; but because he had the
"forehead of a learned man," and because it was his business to go
from house to house with a long, thick book under his arm, he
affected longish hair, flowing black neckties, and a certain
pomposity of manner. One of his ways of being tremendously
American was to snap his fingers ferociously and to say, "I don't
care a continental!" or, "One, two, three, and there you are!" The
latter exclamation he would be continually murmuring to himself
when he was absorbed in pinochle
CHAPTER V ONE evening, when the Shorniks and I were at
Max's house, and Max and Ben were having their game of
pinochle, the conversation between the women and myself turned
upon Dora's efforts to obtain education through her little daughter.
Encouraged by Sadie and myself, Dora let herself loose and told us
much of Lucy's history, or, rather, of her own history as Lucy's
mother. In her crude, lumbering way and with flushed cheeks she
talked with profound frankness and quaint introspective insight, in
the manner of one touching upon things that are enshined in
innermost recesses of one's soul
She depicted the thrills of joyous surprise with which she had
watched Lucy, in her infancy, master the beginnings of speech.
Sometimes her delight would be accompanied by something akin
to fright. There had been moments when it all seemed unreal and
"The little thing seemed to be a stranger to me," she said. "Or else,
she did not seem to be a human being at all."
The next moment she would recognize her, as it were, and then she
would kiss and yearn over her in a mad rush of passion
The day when she took Lucy to school--about two years
before--was one of the greatest days in Dora's life. She would then
watch her learn to associate written signs with spoken words as
she had once watched her learn to speak.
But that was not all. She became jealous of the child. She herself
had never been taught to read even Hebrew or Yiddish, much less
a Gentile language, while here, lo and behold! her little girl
possessed a Gentile book and was learning to read it. She was
getting education, her child, just like the daughter of the landlord
of the house in Russia in which Dora had grown up
"C-a-t--cat," Lucy would spell out. "R-a-t--rat. M-a-t--mat."
And poor Dora would watch the performance with mixed joy and
envy and exclamations like: "What do you think of that snip of a
thing! Did you ever?"
Lucy's school-reader achievements stirred a novel feeling of rivalry
in Dora's breast. When the little girl could spell half a dozen
English words she hated herself for her inferiority to her
"The idea of that kitten getting ahead of me! Why, it worried the
life out of me!" she said. "You may think it foolish, but I couldn't
help it. I kept saying to myself, 'She'll grow up and be an educated
American lady and she'll be ashamed to walk in the street with
me.' Don't we see things like that? People will beggar themselves
to send their children to college, only to be treated as fools and
greenhorns by them. I call that terrible. Don't you? Well, I am not
going to let my child treat me like that. Not I. I should commit
suicide first. I want my child to respect me, not to look down on
me. If she reads a book she is to bear in mind that her mother is no
ignorant slouch of a greenhorn, either."
A next-door neighbor, a woman who could read English, would
help Lucy with her spelling lesson of an evening. This seemed to
have established special relations between the child and that
woman from which Dora was excluded
She made up her mind to learn to read. If Lucy could manage it,
she, her mother, could. So she caused the child to teach her to
spell out words in her First Reader. At first she pretended to treat
it as a joke, but inwardly she took it seriously from the very
outset, and later, under the intoxicating effect of the progress she
was achieving, these studies became the great passion of her life.
Whenever Lucy recited some new lines, learned at school, she
would not rest until she, too, had learned them by heart.
Here are two "pieces" which she proudly recited to us: "The snow
is white, The sky is blue, The sun is bright, And so are you."
"Our ears were made to hear, Our tongues were made to talk, Our
eyes were made to see, Our feet were made to walk."
Her voice, as she declaimed the lines, attracted Lucy's attention, so
she sent her and Beckie into the kitchen
"She doesn't know what a treasure she is to me," she said to us.
Then, after she finished the two verses, she remarked, wistfully,
"Well, my own life is lost, but she shall be educated."
"Why? Why should you talk like that, Dora?" Sadie protested, her
fishy eyes full of tragedy. "Why, you are only beginning to live."
"Of course she is," I chimed in.
"Well," Dora rejoined, "anyhow, I am afraid I love her too much.
Sometimes it seems to me I am going crazy over her. I love
Dannie, too, of course.
When he happens to hurt a finger or to hit his dear little head
against something I can't sleep. Is he not my flesh and blood like
Lucy? Still, Lucy is different." She paused and then rose from her
seat, saying, with a smile: "Wait. I am going to show you
something." She went into the kitchen and came back, holding a
tooth-brush in either hand. "Guess what it is."
"Two tooth-brushes," I answered, with perplexed gaiety
"Aren't you smart! I know they are not shoe-brushes, but what kind
of tooth-brushes? How did I come by them? That's the question.
Did I use a tooth-brush in my mother's house?"
She then told me how Lucy, coming from school one day, had
announced an order from the teacher that every girl in the class
must bring a tooth-brush the next morning
Sadie nodded confirmation
"Of course, I went to work and bought, not one brush, but two,"
Dora pursued. "I am as good as Lucy, am I not? If she is worth
twelve cents, I am. And if she is American lady enough to use a
tooth-brush, I am."
Lucy is not a usual name on the East Side. It was, in fact, the
principal of the school who had recommended it, at Dora's
solicitation. The little girl had hitherto been called Lizzie, the
commonplace East Side version of Leah, her Hebrew name. Dora
never liked it. It did not sound American enough, for there were
Lizzies or Lizas in Europe, too. Any "greenhorn" might bear such
a name. So she called on Lizzie's principal and asked her to
suggest some "nicer name" for her daughter
"I want a real American one," she said
The principal submitted half a dozen names beginning with "L,"
and the result was that Lizzie became Lucy
Dora went over every spelling lesson with the child. It was so
sweet to be helpful to her in this way. Lucy, on her part, had to
reciprocate by hearing her mother spell the same words, and often
they would have a spelling-match.
All of which, as I could see, had invested Lucy with the fascination
of a spiritual companion
The child had not been at school many weeks when she began to
show signs of estrangement from her mother-tongue. Her Yiddish
was rapidly becoming clogged with queer-sounding "r's" and with
quaintly twisted idioms. Yiddish words came less and less readily
to her tongue, and the tendency to replace them with their English
equivalents grew in persistence. Dora would taunt her on her
"Gentile Yiddish," yet she took real pride in it. Finally, Lucy
abandoned her native tongue altogether. She still understood her
parents, of course, but she now invariably addressed them or
answered their Yiddish questions in English. As a result, Dora
would make efforts to speak to her in the language that had
become the child's natural means of expression. It was a sorry
attempt at first; but she was not one to give up without a hard
struggle. She went at it with great tenacity, listening intently to
Lucy's English and trying to repeat words and phrases after her.
And so, with the child's assistance, conscious or unconscious, she
kept adding to her practical acquaintance with the language, until
by the end of Lucy's first school year she spoke it with
Dora tried her hand at writing, but little Lucy proved a poor
penmanship-teacher, and she was forced to confine herself to
reading. She forged ahead of her, reading pages which Lucy's
class had not yet reached.
To take Lucy to school was one of the keen joys of Dora's
existence. Very often they would fall in with Lucy's bosom friend
"Good morning, Lucy."
"Good morning, Beckie."
As she described the smiling, childishly lady-like way in which the
little girls exchanged their greetings and then intertwined their
little arms as they proceeded on their way together, Sadie's fishy
eyes filled with tears
"Oh, how sweet it is to be a mother!" Dora said
"I should say it was," her chum and follower echoed, wiping her
tears and laughing at once
There was a curious element of superstition in Dora's attitude
toward her little girl. She had taken it into her head that Lucy had
been playing the part of a mascot in her life
"I was a bag of bones until she was born," she said. "Why, people
who are put into the grave look better than I did. But my birdie
darling came, and, well, if I don't look like a monkey now, I have
her to thank. It was after her birth that I began to pick up." She
had formed the theory that the child was born to go to school for
her mother's sake as well as her own--a little angel sent down
from heaven to act as a messenger of light to her
Her story made a strong impression on me. "Max is not worthy of
her," I reflected. I wondered whether she was fully aware what
manner of man he was
CHAPTER VI SOMETIMES we would go to the Jewish theater
together, Max, Dora, and I, the children being left at Sadie's
house. Once, when Max's lodge had a benefit performance and he
had had some tickets for sale, we made up a party of five: the two
couples and myself. On that occasion I met Jake Mindels at the
playhouse. He was now studying medicine at the University
Medical College, and it was a considerable time since I had last
seen him. To tell the truth, I had avoided meeting him. I hated to
stand confessed before him as a traitor to my dreams of a college
education, and I begrudged him his medical books.
I took Max and Dora to see an American play. He did not
understand much of what he saw and was bored to death. As for
her, she took in scarcely more than did her husband, though she
understood many of the words she heard, but then she reverently
followed the good manners of the "real Americans" on the stage,
and the sound of their "educated" English seemed to inspire her
with mixed awe and envy
Once, on a Monday evening, when I called on the Margolises, I
found Max out.
Dora seemed to be ill at ease in my company, and I did not stay
long. It seemed natural to fear that Max, who gave so much
attention to the relations between the sexes, should view visits of
this kind with misgivings. His playful warnings that we should
beware of falling in love with each other seemed to be always in
the air, and on that evening when he was away and we found
ourselves alone I seemed to hear their echo more distinctly than
It had a disquieting effect on me, that echo, and I decided never to
call unless Max was sure to be at home. I enjoyed their hospitality
too much to hazard it rashly. Moreover, Max and Dora lived in
peace and I was the last man in the world to wish to disturb it
To my surprise, however, he did not seem to be jealous of me in
Quite the contrary. He encouraged my familiarities with her, so
much so that I soon drifted into the habit of addressing her as
The better I knew her the greater was the respect with which she
inspired me. I thought her an unusual woman, and I looked up to
It became a most natural thing that I should propose myself as a
Thousands of families like the Margolises kept boarders to lighten
the burden of rent-day
The project had been trailing in my mind for some time and, I
must confess, the fact that Max stayed out till the small hours four
or five nights a week had something to do with it
"You would be alone with her," Satan often whispered. Still, there
was nothing definitely reprehensible in this reflection. It was the
prospect of often being decorously alone with a woman who
inspired me with respect and interested me more and more keenly
that tempted me. Vaguely, however, I had a feeling that I was on
the road to falling in love with her
One evening, as I complained of my restaurant meals and of
certain inconveniences of my lodgings, Max said: "Nothing like
being married, Levinsky. Take my advice and get you a nice little
wifey. One like mine, for instance."
"Like yours! The trouble is that there is only one such, and you
have captured her." "Don't worry," Dora broke in. "There are
plenty of others, and better ones, too."
"I have a scheme," I said, seriously. "Why shouldn't you people let
me board with you?"
Natural as the suggestion was, it took them by surprise. For a
second or two Max gazed at his wife with a perplexed air. Then
he said: "That would not he a bad idea. Would it, Dora?"
"I don't know, I am sure," she answered, with a shrug and an
embarrassed smile. "We have never kept boarders."
"You will try to keep one now, then," I urged
"If there were room in the house, I should be glad. Upon my health
and strength I should." "Oh, you can make room," I said.
"Of course you can," Max put in, warming to the plan somewhat.
"He could have the children's bedroom, and they could sleep in
She held to her veto
"Oh, you don't know what an obstinate thing she is," Max said.
"Let her say that white is black, and black it must be, even if the
world turned upside down."
"What do you want of me?" she protested. "Levinsky may think I
really don't care to have him. Let us move to a larger apartment
and I'll be but too glad to give him a room."
The upshot was a compromise. For the present I was to content
myself with having my luncheons and dinners or suppers at their
house, Dora charging me cost price
"Get him to move to one of those new houses with modern
improvements," she said to me, earnestly; "to an apartment of five
light rooms, and I shall give you a room at once. The rent would
come cheaper than it is now. But Max would rather pay more and
have the children grow in these damp rooms than budge."
"Don't bother me. By and by we shall move out of here. All in due
Don't bother. Meanwhile see that your dinners and suppers are all
Levinsky thinks you a good cook. Don't disappoint him, then. Don't
run away with the idea it's on your own account he wants to board
with us. It is on account of your cooking. That's all. Isn't it,
"It's a good thing to know that I am not a bad cook, at least," she
"But how about the profits you are going to make on him? I'll
deduct them from your weekly allowance, you know," he chaffed
"Oh no. I am just going to save them and buy a house on Fifth
"You ought to allow me ten per cent. for cash," I said. "She does
not want cash," Max replied. "Your note is good enough."
I had been taking my meals with them a little over a month when
they moved into a new apartment, with me as their roomer and
boarder. The apartment was on the third floor of a corner house
on Clinton Street, one of a row of what was then a new type of
tenement buildings. It consisted of five rooms and bath, all
perfectly light, and it had a tiny private corridor or vestibule, a
dumb-waiter, an enameled bath-tub, electric and gas light, and an
electric door-bell. There was a rush for these apartments and Dora
paid a deposit on the first month's rent before the builder was
quite through with his work.
My room opened into the vestibule, its window looking out upon a
side-street. The rent for the whole apartment was thirty-two
dollars, my board being five and a half dollars a week, which was
supposed to include a monthly rental of six dollars for my room
The Shorniks moved into the same house
CHAPTER VII MY growing interest in Dora burst into flame all at
once, as it were. It happened at a moment which is distinctly fixed
in my mind. At least I distinctly remember the moment when I
became conscious of it
It was on an afternoon, four days after the Margolises had taken
possession of the new place. The family was fully established in
it, while I had just moved in. I had seen my room, furniture and
all, several times before, but I had never seen it absolutely ready
for my occupancy as I did now. It was by far the brightest, airiest,
best-furnished, and neatest room that I had ever had all to myself.
Everything in it, from the wall-paper to the little wash-stand, was
invitingly new. I can still smell its grateful odor of freshness.
When I was left to myself in it for the first time and I shut its door
the room appealed to me as a compartment in the nest of a family
of which I was a member. My lonely soul had a sense of home and
domestic comfort that all but overpowered me. The sight of the
new quilt and of the fresh white pillow, coupled with the
knowledge that it was Dora whose fingers had prepared it all for
me, sent a glow of delight through my heart
Dora's name was whispering itself in my mind. I paused at the
window, an enchanted man
A few minutes later, when I re-entered the living-room, where she
was counting some freshly ironed napkins, her face seemed to
have acquired a new meaning. I felt that a great change had come
in my attitude toward her
"Well, is everything all right?" she inquired
"First rate," I answered, in a voice that sounded unnatural to myself
Max was fussing with the rug in the parlor. The children were
gamboling from room to room, testing the faucets, the
"Get avey from there!" Dora shouted. "You'll hurt yourself. Max,
tell Lucy not to touch the dumb-vaiter, vill you?"
"Children! Children! What's a madder vitch you?" he called out
from the parlor, in English, with a perfunctory snarl. Presently he
came into the living-room. "Well, are you satisfied with your new
palace?" he addressed me in Yiddish. And for the hundredth time
he proceeded to make jokes at the various modern
"improvements," at the abundance of light, and at my new rank of
It is one of the old and deep-rooted customs of the Ghetto towns of
Europe for a young couple to live with the parents of the bride for
a year or two after the wedding. So Max gaily dubbed me his
"Try to behave, boarding son-in-law," he bantered me. "If you don't
your mother-in-law will starve you."
The pleasantry grated on me
Dora's ambition to learn to read and spell English was a passion,
and the little girl played a more important part in the efforts she
made in this direction than Dora was willing to admit. Lucy would
tell her the meaning of new words as she had heard it at school,
but it often happened that the official definition she quoted was
incomprehensible to both. This was apt to irritate Dora or even
lead to a disagreeable scene
If I happened to be around I would explain things to her, but she
seemed to accept my explanations with a grain of salt. She bowed
before my intellectual status in a general way, but since she had
good reason to doubt the quality of my English enunciation, she
doubted my Yiddish interpretations as well. Indeed, she doubted
everything that did not bear the indorsement of Lucy's school.
Whatever came from that sacred source was "real Yankee";
everything else was "greenhorn." If she failed to grasp some of the
things that Lucy brought back from school, she would blame it on
"Oh, you didn't understand what your teacher said," she would
"You must have twisted it all up, you stupid."
One afternoon, when business was slow and there did not seem to
be anything to preclude my staying at home and breathing the air
that Dora breathed, I witnessed a painful scene between them. It
was soon after Lucy returned from school. Her mother wanted her
to go over her last reading-lesson with her, and the child would
not do so, pleading a desire to call on Beckie
"Stay where you are and open your reader," Dora commanded
Lucy obeyed, whimperingly. "Read!" "I want to go to Beckie."
"Read, I say." And she slapped her hand
"Don't," I remonstrated. "Let the poor child go enjoy herself." But
it only spoiled matters
"Read!" she went on, with grim composure, hitting her on the
"I don't want to! I want to go down-stairs," Lucy sobbed, defiantly
"Read!" And once more she hit her.
My heart went out to the child, but I dared not intercede again
Dora did not relent until Lucy yielded, sobbingly
I left the room in disgust. The scene preyed upon my mind all that
afternoon. I remained in my room until supper-time. Then I found
Dora taciturn and downcast and I noticed that she treated Lucy
with exceptional, though undemonstrative, tenderness
"Must have given her a licking," Max explained to me, with a wink
I kept my counsel
She beat her quite often, sometimes violently, each scene of this
kind being followed by hours of bitter remorse on her part. Her
devotion to her children was above that of the average mother.
Lucy had been going to school for over two years, yet she missed
her every morning as though she were away to another city; and
when the little girl came back, Dora's face would brighten, as if a
flood of new sunshine had burst into the house.
On one occasion there was a quarrel between mother and daughter
over the result of a spelling-match between them which I had
umpired and which Lucy had won. Dora took her defeat so hard
that she was dejected all that evening
I have said that despite her passionate devotion to Lucy she was
jealous of her. She was jealous not only of the school education
she was receiving, but also of her American birth
She was feverishly ambitious to bring up her children in the "real
American syle," and the realization of her helplessness in this
direction caused her many a pang of despair. She was thirstily
seeking for information on the subject of table manners, and
whatever knowledge she possessed of it she would practise, and
make Lucy practise, with amusing pomp and circumstance.
"Don't reach out for the herring, Lucy!" she would say, sternly.
"How many times must I tell you about it? What do you say?"
"Pass me the herring, mamma, please." "Not 'mamma.'"
"Pass me the herring, mother, please."
The herring is passed with what Dora regards as a lady-like gesture
"Thank you, ma'am," says Lucy
"There is another way," Dora might add in a case of this kind.
"Instead of saying, 'Pass me the herring or the butter,' you can
say--What is it, Lucy?"
"May I trouble you for the herring, mother?"
I asked her to keep track of my table etiquette, too, and she did.
Whenever I made a break she would correct my error solemnly, or
with a burst of merriment, or with a scandalized air, as if she had
caught me in the act of committing a felony. This was her revenge
for my general intellectual superiority, which she could not help
admitting and envying
"You just let her teach you and she will make a man of you," Max
would say to me.
Sometimes, when I mispronounced an English word with which
she happened to be familiar, or uttered an English phrase in my
Talmudic singsong, she would mock me gloatingly. On one such
occasion I felt the sting of her triumph so keenly that I hastened to
lower her crest by pointing out that she had said "nice" where
"nicely" was in order
"What do you mean?" she asked, perplexedly
My reply was an ostentatious discourse on adjectives 2 and
adverbs, something which I knew to be utterly beyond her depth.
It had the intended effect. She listened to my explanation stupidly,
and when I had finished she said, with resignation: "I don't
understand what you say. I wish I had time to go to evening school,
at least, as you did. I haven't any idea of these things. Lucy will be
educated for both of us, for herself and for her poor mamma. If my
mother had understood as much as I do it would have been
different." She uttered a sigh, fell silent, and then resumed: "But I
can't complain of my mother, either. She was a diamond of a
woman, and she was wise as daylight. But Russia is not America.
No, I can't complain of my parents. My father was a poor man, but
ask Max or some of our fellow-townspeople and they will tell you
what a fine name he had."
She was talkative and somewhat boastful like the average woman
of her class, but there was about her an elusive effect of reserve
and earnestness that kept me at a distance from her. Moreover, the
tireless assiduity and precision which she brought to her
housework and, above all, the grim passion of her intellectual
struggles created an atmosphere of physical and spiritual tidiness
about her that inspired me with something like reverence.
Living in that atmosphere seemed to be making a better man of me
Attempting a lark with her, as I had done with Mrs. Dienstog and
Levinsky, my first two landladies in New York, was out of the
Needless to explain that this respectful distance did not prevent my
eyes and ears from feasting upon her luxurious complexion, her
clear, honest voice, and all else that made me feel both happy
and forlorn in her company. Nor would she, aware as she
undoubtedly was of the meaning of my look or smile, hesitate to
respond to them by some legitimate bit of coquetry. In short, we
often held converse in that language of smiles, glances, blushes,
pauses, gestures, which is the gesture language of sex across the
barrier of decorum.
These speechless flirtations cost me many an hour which I should
have otherwise spent at my shop or soliciting trade. When away
from the magnetic force of her presence I would attend to
business with unabated intensity.
Her image visited my brain often, but it did not disturb me. Rather,
it was the image of some customer or creditor or of some new
style of jacket or cloak that would interfere with my peace of
mind. My brain was full of prices, bills, notes, checks, fabrics,
color effects, "lines." Not infrequently, while walking in the street
or sitting in a street-car, I would catch myself describing some of
those garment lines in the air.
And yet, through all these preoccupations I seemed to be
constantly aware that something unusual had happened to me,
giving a novel tinge to my being; that I was a changed man
CHAPTER VIII MAX saw nothing. His wife was a very womanly
woman with a splendid, almost a gorgeous snow-white womanly
complexion, and I was a young man in whom, according to his
own dictum, women ought to be interested; yet he never seemed
to feel anything like apprehension about us. This man who plumed
himself upon his knowledge of women and love and who actually
had a great deal of insight in these matters, this man, I say, was
absolutely blind to his wife's power over me. He suspected every
man and every woman under the sun, yet he was the least jealous
of men so far as his wife was concerned, though he loved and was
proud of her. From time to time he would chaff Dora and myself
on the danger of our falling in love with each other, but that was
never more than a joke and, at any rate, I heard it from him far less
often than that other joke of his--about my being his and Dora's
"Look out, mother-in-law," he would say to her. "If you don't treat
your son-in-law right you'll lose him."
I have said that he was proud of her. One evening, while she stood
on a chair struggling with a recalcitrant window-shade, he drew
my attention to her efforts admiringly
"Look at her!" he said under his breath. "Another woman would
make her husband do it. Not she. I can't kick. She is not a lazy
slob, is she?"
"Certainly not," I asserted
We watched her take the shade down, wind up the spring, fit the
pins back into their sockets, and then test the flap. It was in good
working order now
"No, she is not a slob," he repeated, exultantly. "And she is not a
gossiping sort, either. She just minds her own business."
At this point Dora came over to the table where we sat. "Move
along!" he said, gaily. "Don't disturb us. I am telling Levinsky
what a bad girl you are. Run along."
She gave us a shy side-glance like those that had carried the first
germ of disquiet into my soul, and moved away
"No, she is no slob, thank God," he resumed. He boasted of her
tidiness and of the way she had picked up her English and learned
to read and spell, with little Lucy for her teacher. He depicted the
tenacity and unflagging ardor with which she had carried on her
mental pursuits ever since Lucy began to go to school. "Once she
makes up her mind to do something she will stick to it, even if the
world went under. That's the kind of woman she is. And she is no
mean, foxy thing, either. When she says something you may be
sure she means it, if I do say so. You ought to know her by this
time. Have you ever heard her say things that are not so? Or have
you heard her talk about the neighbors as other women-folk will
do? Have you, now? Just tell me," he pressed me
"Of course I have not," I answered, awkwardly. "There are not
many women like her."
"I know there are not. And, well, if she is not devoted tc her hubby,
I don't know who is," he added, sheepishly
CHAPTER IX IT was during this period that I received my first
baptism of dismay as patron of a high-class restaurant. The
occasion was a lunch to which I had invited a buyer from
Philadelphia. The word "buyer" had a bewitching sound for me,
inspiring me with awe and enthusiasm at once. The word "king"
certainly did not mean so much to me. The august person to whom
I was doing homage on the occasion in question was a man named
Charles M. Eaton, a full-blooded Anglo-Saxon of New England
origin, with a huge round forehead and small, blue, extremely
genial eyes. He was a large, fair-complexioned man, and the way
his kindly little eyes looked from under his hemispherical
forehead, like two swallows viewing the world from under the
eaves of a roof, gave him a striking appearance. The immense
restaurant, with its high, frescoed ceiling, the dazzling whiteness
of its rows and rows of table-cloths, the crowd of well-dressed
customers, the glint and rattle of knives and forks, the subdued
tones of the orchestra, and the imposing black-and-white figures
of the waiters struck terror into my Antomir heart.
The bill of fare was, of course, Chinese to me, though I made a
pretense of reading it. The words swam before me. My inside
pocket contained sufficient money to foot the most extravagant
bill our lordly waiter was likely to present, but I was in constant
dread lest my treasure disappear in some mysterious way; so, from
time to time, I felt my breast to ascertain whether it was still there
The worst part of it all was that I had not the least idea what I was
to say or do. The occasion seemed to call for a sort of table
manners which were beyond the resources not only of a poor
novice like myself, but also of a trained specialist like Dora
Finally my instinct of self-preservation whispered in my ear,
"Make a clean breast of it." And so, dropping the bill of fare with
an air of mock despair, I said, jovially: "I'm afraid you'll have to
tell me what to do, Mr. Eaton. It's no use bluffing. I have never
been in such a fine restaurant in my life. I am scared to death, Mr.
Eaton. Take pity."
The Philadelphian, who was a slow-spoken, slow-witted, though
shrewd, man, was perplexed at first
"I see," he said, coloring, and looking confusedly at me. The next
minute he seemed to realize the situation and to enjoy it, too, but
even then he was apparently embarrassed. I cracked another joke
or two at my own expense, until finally he burst into a hearty
laugh and cheerfully agreed to act as master of ceremonies. Not
only did he do the ordering, explaining things to me when the
waiter was not around, but he also showed me how to use my
napkin, how to eat the soup, the fish, the meat, what to do with the
finger-bowl, and so forth and so on, to the minutest detail
"I am afraid one lesson won't be enough," I said. "You must give
me another chance."
"With pleasure," he replied. "Only the next 'lesson' will be on me."
And then he had to tell me what "on me" meant
He took a fancy to me and that meant orders, not only from him,
but also from some people of his acquaintance, buyers from other
I sought to dress like a genteel American, my favorite color for
clothes and hats being (and still is) dark brown. It became my
dark hair well, I thought. The difference between taste and vulgar
ostentation was coming slowly, but surely, I hope. I remember the
passionate efforts I made to learn to tie a four-in-hand cravat, then
a recent invention. I was forever watching and striving to imitate
the dress and the ways of the well-bred American merchants with
whom I was, or trying to be, thrown. All this, I felt, was an
essential element in achieving business success; but the ambition
to act and look like a gentleman grew in me quite apart from these
Now, Dora seemed to notice these things in me, and to like them.
So I would parade my newly acquired manners before her as I did
my neckties or my English vocabulary
After that lecture I gave her on adverbs she no longer called my
English in question. To be educated and an "American lady" had,
thanks to Lucy's influence, become the great passion of her life. It
almost amounted to an obsession. She thought me educated and a
good deal of an American, so she looked up to me and would
listen to my harangues reverently
CHAPTER X ONE Saturday evening she said to me: "Lord! you
are so educated. I wish I had a head like yours."
"Why, you have an excellent head, Dora," I replied. "You have no
reason to complain."
"I wish I had not gone into business," I resumed
I had already told her, more than once, in fact, how I had heen
about to enter college when an accident had led me astray; so I
now referred to those events, dwelling regretfully upon the sudden
change I had made in my life plans
"It was the devil that put it in my head to become a manufacturer,"
I said, bitterly, yet with relish in the "manufacturer." "Well, one
can be a manufacturer and educated man at the same time," she
"Of course. That's exactly what I always say," I returned, joyously.
"Still, I wish I had stuck to my original plan. There was a lady in
Antomir who advised me to prepare for college. She was always
speaking to me about it."
It was about 10 o'clock. Max was away to his dancing-schools. The
children were asleep. We were alone in the living-room
I expected her to ask who that Antomir lady was, but she did not,
so I went on speaking of Matilda of my own accord. I sketched
her as an "aristocratic" young woman, the daughter of one of the
leading families in town, accomplished, clever, pretty, and
"It was she, in fact, who got me the money for my trip to
America," I said, lowering my voice, as one will when a
conversation assumes an intimate character
"Was it?" Dora said, also in a low voice
"Yes. It is a long story. It is nearly five years since I left home, but
I still think of it a good deal. Sometimes I feel as if my heart
would snap unless I had somebody to tell about it."
This was my way of drawing Dora into a flirtation, my first
attempt in that direction, though in my heart I had been making
love to her for weeks
I told her the story of my acquaintance with Matilda. She listened
with non-committal interest, with an amused, patronizing glimmer
of a smile
"You did not fall in love with her, did you?" she quizzed me as she
"That's the worst part of it," I said, gravely
"Is it?" she asked, still gaily, but with frank interest now
I recounted the episode at length. To put it in plain English, I was
using my affair with Matilda (or shall I say her affair with me?) as
a basis for an adventure with Dora. At first I took pains to gloss
over those details in which I had cut an undignified figure, but I
soon dropped all embellishments. The episode stood out so bold
in my memory. its appeal to my imagination was so poignant, that
I found an intoxicating satisfaction in conveying the facts as
faithfully as I knew how. To be telling a complete, unvarnished
truth is in itself a pleasure. It is as though there were a special
sense of truth and sincerity in our make-up (just as there is a sense
of musical harmony, for example), and the gratification of it were
a source of delight.
Nor was this my only motive for telling Dora all. I had long since
realized that the disdain and mockery with which Matilda handled
me had been but a cloak for her interest in my person. So when I
was relating to Dora the scenes of my ignominy I felt that the
piquant circumstances surrounding them were not unfavorable to
Anyhow, I was having a singularly intimate talk with Dora and she
was listening with the profoundest interest, all the little tricks she
employed to disguise it notwithstanding
In depicting the scene of the memorable night when Matilda came
to talk to me at my bedside I emphasized the fact that she had
called me a ninny
"I did not know what she meant," I said.
Dora tittered, looking at the floor shamefacedly. "The nasty thing!"
"What do you mean?" I inquired, dishonestly
"I mean just what I say. She is a nasty thing, that grand lady of
yours." And she added another word--the East Side name for a
woman of the streets--that gave me a shock
"Don't call her that," I entreated. "Please don't. You are mistaken
about her. I assure you she is a highly respectable lady. She has a
heart of gold," I added, irrelevantly
"Well, well! You are still in love with her, aren't you?"
I was tempted to say: "No. It is you I now love." But I merely said,
dolefully: "No. Not any more."
She contemplated me amusedly and broke into a soft laugh
The next time we were alone in the house I came back to it. I
added some details. I found a lascivious interest in dwelling on
our passionate kisses, Matilda's and mine. Also, it gave me
morbid pleasure to have her behold me at Matilda's feet, lovelorn,
disdained, crushed, yet coveted, kissed, triumphant
Dora listened intently. She strove to keep up an amused air, as
though listening to some childish nonsense, but the look of her
eye, tense or flinching, and the warm color that often overspread
her cheeks, betrayed her
CHAPTER XI WE talked about my first love-affair for weeks. She
asked me many questions ahout Matilda, mostly with that
pretended air of amused curiosity. Every time I had something
good to say about Matilda she would assail her brutally
The fact that Dora never referred to my story in the presence of her
husband was a tacit confession that we had a secret from him.
Outwardly it meant that the secret was mine, not hers; that she
had nothing to do with it; but then there was another secret--the
fact that she was my sole confidante in a matter of this
nature--and this secret was ours in common
On one occasion, in the course of one of these confabs of ours, she
said, with ill-concealed malice: "Do you really think she cared for
you? Not that much," marking off the tip of her little finger
"Why should you say that? Why should you hurt my feelings?" I
"It still hurts your feelings, then, does it? There is a faithful lover
for you! But what would you have me say? That she loved you as
much as you loved her?"
At this Dora jerked her head backward, with a laugh that rang so
charmingly false and so virulent that I was impelled both to slap
her face and to kiss it
"But tell me," she said, with a sudden affectation of sedate
curiosity, "was she really so beautiful?"
"I never said she was 'so beautiful,' did I? You are far more
beautiful than she." "Oh, stop joking, please! Can't you answer
"I really mean it."
"That you are prettier than Matilda." "Is that the way you are
faithful to her?"
"Oh, that was five years ago. Now there is somebody else I am
She was silent. Her cheeks glowed
"Why don't you ask who that somebody is?"
"Because I don't care. What do I care? And please don't talk like
that. I mean what I say. You must promise me never to talk like
that," she said, gravely
During the following few days Dora firmly barred all more or less
intimate conversation. She treated me with her usual friendly
familiarity, but there was something new in her demeanor,
something that seemed to say, "I don't deny that I enjoy our talks,
but that's all the more reason why you must behave yourself."
The story of my childhood seemed legitimate enough, so she let
me tell her bits of it, and before she was aware of it she was
following my childish love-affair with the daughter of one of my
despotic school-teachers, my struggles with Satan, and my early
dreams of marriage. Gradually she let me draw her out concerning
her own past.
One evening, while Lucy was playing school-teacher, with Dannie
for the class, Dora told me of an episode connected with her
betrothal to Max
"Was that a love match?" I asked, with a casual air, when she had
She winced. "What difference does it make?" she said, with an
"We were engaged as most couples are engaged. Much I knew of
the love business in those days."
"You speak as though you married when you were a mere baby.
You certainly knew how you felt toward him."
"I don't think I felt anything," she answered
"Still," I insisted, "you said to yourself, 'This man is going to be my
husband; he will kiss me, embrace me.' How did you feel then?"
"You want to know too much, Levinsky," she said, coloring. "You
know the saying, 'If you know too much you get old too quick.'
Well, I don't think I gave him any thought at all. I was too busy
thinking of the wedding and of the pretty dress they were making
for me. Besides. I was so rattled and so shy. Much I understood. I
was not quite nineteen."
It called to my mind that in the excitement following my mother's
death I was so overwhelmed by the attentions showered on me
that it was a day or two before I realized the magnitude of my
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