The Rise of David Levinsky
Part 6 out of 11
"Anyhow, you certainly knew that marriage is the most serious
thing in life," I persisted
"Oh, I don't think I knew much of anything."
"And after the wedding?"
"After the wedding I knew that I was a married woman and must
be contented," she parried
"But this is not love," I pressed her
"Oh, let us not talk of these things, pray! Don't ask me questions
like that," she said in a low, entreating voice. "It isn't right."
"I don't know if it is right or wrong," I replied, also in a low voice.
"All I do know is that I am interested in everything that ever
happened to you
Silence fell. She was the first to break it. She tried to talk of
trivialities. I scarcely listened. She broke off again
"Dora!" I said, amorously. "My heart is so full."
"Don't," she whispered, with a gesture of pained supplication.
"Talk of something else, pray."
"I can't. I can't talk of anything else. Nor think of anything else,
"You mustn't, you mustn't, you mustn't," she said, with sudden
vehemence, though still with a beseeching ring in her voice. "I
won't let you. May I not live to see my children again if I will. Do
you hear, Levinsky? Do you hear? Do you hear? I want you to
understand it. Be a man. Have a heart, Levinsky. You must behave
yourself. If you don't you'll have to move. There can't be any other
way about it. If you are a real friend of mine, not an enemy, you
must behave yourself." She spoke with deep, solemn earnestness,
somewhat in the singsong of a woman reading the Yiddish
Commentary on the Five Books of Moses or wailing over a grave.
She went on: "Why should you vex me? You are a respectable
man. You don't want to do what is wrong. You don't want to make
me miserable, do you? So be good, Levinsky. I beg of you.
I beg of you. Be good. Be good. Be good. Let us never have
another talk like this. Do you promise?"
I was silent
"Do you promise, Levinsky? You must. You must. Do you promise
me never to come back to this kind of talk?"
"I do," I said, like a guilty school-boy
She was terribly in earnest. She almost broke my heart. I could not
thwart her will
She was in love with me
Days passed. There was no lack of unspoken tenderness between
us. That she was tremulously glad to see me every time I came
home was quite obvious, but she bore herself in such a manner
that I never ventured to allude to my feeling, much less to touch
her hand or sit close to her.
"It is as well that I should not," I often said to myself. "Am I not
happy as it is? Is it not bliss enough to have a home--her home? It
would be too awful to forfeit it." I registered a vow to live up to
the promise she had exacted from me, but I knew that I would
She was in love with me. She had an iron will, but I hoped that
this, too, would soon be broken.
There were moments when I would work myself up to an exalted,
religious kind of mood over it. "I should be a vile creature if I
interfered with the peace of this house," I would exhort myself,
passionately. "Max has been a warm friend to me. Oh, I will be
Dora talked less than usual. She, too, seemed to be a changed
person. She was particularly taciturn when we happened to be
alone in the house, and then it would be difficult for us to look
each other in the face. Such tête-à-tˆtes occurred once or twice a
week, quite late in the evening. I was very busy at the shop and I
could never leave it before 10, 11, or even 12, except on Sabbath
eve (Friday night), when it was closed. On those evenings when
Max stayed out very late I usually found her alone in the little
dining-room, sewing, mending, or--more often--poring over Lucy's
school reader or story-book
After exchanging a few perfunctory sentences with her, each of us
aware of the other's embarrassment, I would take a seat a
considerable distance from her and take up a newspaper or
clipping from one, while she went on with her work or reading.
Lucy had begun to take juvenile books out of the circulating
library of the Educational Alliance, so her mother would read
them also. The words were all short and simple and Dora had not
much difficulty in deciphering their meaning. Anyhow, she now
never sought my assistance for her reading. I can still see her
seated at the table, a considerable distance from me, moving her
head from word to word and from line to line, and silently
working her lips, as though muttering an incantation. I would do
her all sorts of little services (though she never asked for any), all
silently, softly, as if performing a religious rite
I have said that on such occasions I would read my newspaper or
some clipping from it. In truth I read little else in those days.
Editorials of the daily press interested me as much as the most
sensational news, and if some of the more important leading
articles in my paper had to be left unread on the day of their
publication I would clip them and glance them over at the next
leisure moment, sometimes days later
The financial column was followed by me with a sense of being a
member of a caste for which it was especially intended, to the
exclusion of the rest of the world. At first the jargon of that
column made me feel as though I had never learned any English at
all. But I was making headway in this jargon, too, and when I
struck a recondite sentence I would cut the few lines out and put
them in my pocket, on the chance of coming across somebody who
could interpret them for me. Often, too, I would clip and put away
a paragraph containing some curious piece of information or a bit
of English that was an addition to my knowledge of the language.
My inside pocket was always full of all sorts of clippings
CHAPTER XII I was about this time that I found myself
confronted with an unexpected source of anxiety in my business
affairs. There were several circumstances that made it possible for
a financial midget like myself to outbid the lions of the
cloak-and-suit industry. Now, however, a new circumstance arose
which threatened to rob me of my chief advantage and to
undermine the very foundation of my future
The rent of my loft, which was in the slums, was, comparatively
speaking, a mere trifle, while my overhead expense amounted to
scarcely anything at all.
I did my own bookkeeping, and a thirteen-year-old girl,
American-born, school-bred, and bright, whose bewigged mother
was one of my finishers, took care of the shop while I was out,
helped me with my mail, and sewed on buttons
between-whiles--all for four dollars a week. Another finisher, a
young widow, saved me the expense of a figure woman. To which
should be added that I did business on a profit margin far beneath
the consideration of the well-known firms. All this, however, does
not include the most important of all the items that gave me an
advantage over the princes of the trade. That was cheap labor
Three of my men were excellent tailors. They could have easily
procured employment in some of the largest factories, where they
would have been paid at least twice as much as I paid them. They
were bewhiskered, elderly people, strictly orthodox and extremely
old-fashioned as to dress and habits. They felt perfectly at home in
my shop, and would rather work for me and be underpaid than be
employed in an up-to-date factory where a tailor was expected to
wear a starched collar and necktie and was made the butt of
ridicule if he covered his head every time he took a drink of water.
These, however, were minor advantages. The important thing, the
insurmountable obstacle which kept these three skilled tailors
away from the big cloak-shops, was the fact that one had to work
on Saturdays there, while in my place one could work on Sunday
instead of Saturday
My pressers were of the same class as my tailors. As for my
operators, who were younger fellows and had adopted American
ways, my shop had other attractions for them. For example, my
operations were limited to a very small number of styles, and, as
theirs was piece-work, it meant greater earnings. While the
employee of a Broadway firm (or of one of its contractors) was
engaged on a large variety of garments, being continually shifted
from one kind of work to another, a man working for me would be
taken up with the same style for many days in succession, thus
developing a much higher rate of speed and a fatter pay-envelope
Altogether, I always contrived to procure the cheapest labor
obtainable, although this, as we have seen, by no means implied
that my "hands" were inferior mechanics. The sum and substance
of it all was that I could afford to sell a garment for less than what
was its cost of production in the best-known cloak-houses
My business was making headway when the Cloak and Suit
Makers' Union sprang into life again, with the usual rush and
commotion, but with unusual portents of strength and stability. It
seemed as if this time it had come to stay. My budding little
establishment was too small, in fact, to be in immediate danger. It
was one of a scattered number of insignificant places which the
union found it difficult to control. Still, cheap labor being my
chief excuse for being, the organization caused me no end of worry
"Just when a fellow is beginning to make a living all sorts of black
dreams will come along and trip him up," I complained to Meyer
"A bunch of good-for-nothings, too lazy to work, will stir up
trouble, and there you are."
"Oh, it won't last long," Meyer Nodelman consoled me. "Don't be
excited, anyhow. Business does not always go like grease, you
know. You must be ready for trouble too."
He told me of his own experiences with unions and he drifted into
a philosophic view of the matter. "You and I want to make as
much money as possible, don't we?" he said. "Well, the
working-men want the same. Can you blame them? We are
fighting them and they are fighting us. The world is not a
wedding-feast, Levinsky. It is a big barn-yard full of chickens and
they are scratching one another, and scrambling over one another.
Why? Because there are little heaps of grain in the yard and each
chicken wants to get as much of it as possible. So let us try our
best. But why be mad at the other chickens? Scratch away,
Levinsky, but what's the use being excited?"
He gave a chuckle, and I could not help smiling, but at heart I was
bored and wretched.
The big manufacturers could afford to pay union wages, yet they
were fighting tooth and nail, and I certainly could not afford to
pay high wages.
If I had to, I should have to get out of business.
Officially mine had become a union shop, yet my men continued
to work on non-union terms. They made considerably more
money by working for non-union wages than they would in the
places that were under stringent union supervision. They could
work any number of hours in my shop, and that was what my
piece-workers wanted. To toil from sunrise till long after sunset
was what every tailor was accustomed to in Antomir, for instance.
Only over there one received a paltry few shillings at the end of
the week. while I paid my men many dollars
So far, then, I had been successful in eluding the vigilance of the
walking delegates and my shop was in full blast from 5 in the
morning to midnight, whereas in the genuine union shops the
regular workday was restricted to ten hours, and overtime to three,
which, coupled with the especial advantage accruing from a
limited number of styles handled, made my shop a desirable place
to my "hands."
A storm broke. All cloak-manufacturers formed a coalition and
locked out their union men. A bitter struggle ensued. As it was
rich in quaint "human-nature" material, the newspapers bestowed
a good deal of space upon it
I made a pretense of joining in the lockout, my men clandestinely
continuing to work for me. More than that, my working force was
trebled, for, besides filling my own orders, I did some of the work
of a well-known firm which found it much more difficult to
procure non-union labor than I did. What was a great calamity to
the trade in general seemed to be a source of overwhelming
prosperity to me. But the golden windfall did not last long.
The agitation and the picketing activities of the union, aided by the
Arbeiter Zeitung, a Yiddish socialist weekly, were spreading a
spell of enthusiasm (or fear) to which my men gradually
succumbed. My best operator, a young fellow who exercised
much influence over his shopmates and who had hitherto been
genuinely devoted to me, became an ardent convert to union
principles and led all my operatives out of the shop. I organized a
shop elsewhere, but it was soon discovered
Somebody must have reported to the editor of the Arbeiter Zeitung
that at one time I had been a member of the union myself, for that
weekly published a scurrilous paragraph, branding me as a traitor
I read the paragraph with mixed rage and pain, and yet the sight of
my name in print flattered my vanity, and when the heat of my
fury subsided I became conscious of a sneaking feeling of
gratitude to the socialist editor for printing the attack on me. For,
behold! the same organ assailed the Vanderbilts, the Goulds, the
Rothschilds, and by calling me "a fleecer of labor" it placed me in
their class. I felt in good company. I felt, too, that while there
were people by whom "fleecers" were cursed, there were many
others who held them in high esteem, and that even those who
cursed them had a secret envy for them, hoping some day to be
fleecers of labor like them
The only thing in that paragraph that galled me was the appellation
of "cockroach manufacturer" by which it referred to me. I was
going to parade the "quip" before Max and Dora, but thought
better of it. The notion of Dora hearing me called "cockroach"
made me squirm
But Max somehow got wind of the paragraph, and one evening as I
came home for supper he said, good-naturedly: "You got a
spanking, didn't you? I have seen what they say in the Arbeiter
Zeitung about you."
"Oh. to the eighty black years with them!" I answered, blushing,
and hastened to switch the conversation to the lockout and strike
"Oh, we'll get all the men we want," I said. "It's only a matter of
We'll teach these scoundrels a lesson they'll never forget."
"If only you manufacturers stick together."
"You bet we will. We can wait. We are in no hurry. We can wait
till those tramps come begging for a job," I said. For the benefit of
Dora I added a little disquisition on the opportunities America
offered to every man who had brains and industry, and on the
grudge which men like myself were apt to arouse in lazy fellows.
"Those union leaders have neither brains nor a desire to work.
That's why they can't work themselves up," I said. "Yes, and that's
why they begrudge those who can. All those scoundrels are able to
do is to hatch trouble."
I spoke as if I had been a capitalist of the higher altitudes and of
long standing. That some of the big cloak firms had promised to
back me with funds to keep me from yielding to the union I never
CHAPTER XIII MY shop being practically closed, I was at home
most of the time, not only in the evening, but many a forenoon or
afternoon as well. Dora and I would hold interminable
conversations. Our love was never alluded to. A relationship on
new terms seemed to have been established between us. It was as
if she were saying: "Now, isn't this better? Why can't we go on like
Sometimes I would watch her read with Lucy. Or else I would take
up a newspaper or a book and sit reading it at the same table.
Dora was making rapid headway in her studies. It was July and
Lucy was free from school, so she would let her spend many an
hour in the street, but she caused her to spend a good deal of time
with her, too. If she did not read with her she would talk or listen
to her. I often wondered whether it was for fear of being too much
thrown into my company that she would make the child stay
indoors. At all events, her readings, spelling contests, or talks with
Lucy bore perceptible fruit. Her English seemed to be improving
every day, so much so that we gradually came to use a good deal
of that language even when we were alone in the house; even
when every word we said had an echo of intimacy with which the
tongue we were learning to speak seemed to be out of accord
One evening mother and daughter sat at the open parlor window.
While I was reclining in an easy-chair at the other end of the room
Lucy was narrating something and Dora was listening, apparently
with rapt attention. I watched their profiles. Finally I said: "She
must be telling you something important, considering the interest
you are taking in it."
"Everything she says is important to me," Dora answered
"What has she been telling you?"
"Oh, about her girls, about their brothers and their baseball games,
about lots of things," she said, with a far-away tone in her voice. "I
want to know everything about her. Everything. I wish I could get
right into her. I wish I could be a child like her. Oh, why can't a
person be born over again?"
Her longing ejaculation had perhaps more to do with her feelings
for me than with her feelings for her child. Anyhow, what she said
about her being interested in everything that Lucy had to say was
true. And, whether she listened to the child's prattle or not, it
always seemed to me as though she absorbed every English word
Lucy uttered and every American gesture she made. The
American school-girl radiated a subtle influence, a spiritual
ozone, which her mother breathed in greedily
"My own life is lost, but she shall be educated"-- these words
dropped from her lips quite often. On one occasion they came
from her with a modification that lent them unusual meaning. It
was on a Friday evening. Max was out, as usual, and the children
were asleep. "My own life is lost, but Lucy shall be happy," she
"Why?" I said, feelingly. "Why should you think yourself lost? I
can't bear it, Dora."
She made no answer. I attempted to renew the conversation, but
without avail. She answered in melancholy monosyllables and my
voice had a constrained note
At last I burst out, in our native tongue: "Why do you torture me,
Dora? Why don't you let me talk and pour my heart out?"
"'S-sh! You mustn't," she said, peremptorily, also in Yiddish.
"You'll get me in trouble if you do. It'll be the ruin of me and of
the children, too.
"But you say your life is lost," I retorted, coming up close to the
chair on which she sat. "Do you think it's easy for me to hear it?
Do you think my heart is made of iron?"
"'S-sh! You know everything without my speaking," she said,
slowly rising and drawing back. "You know well enough that I am
not happy. Can't you rest until you have heard me say so again and
again? Must you drink my blood? All right, then. Go ahead. Here.
I am unhappy, I am unhappy, I am unhappy. Max is a good
husband to me. I can't complain. And we get along well, too. And I
shall be true to him. May I choke right here, may darkness come
upon me, if I ever cease to be a faithful wife to him. But you know
that my heart has never been happy. Lucy will be happy and that
will be my happiness, too. She shall go to college and be an
educated American lady, and, if God lets me live, I shall see to it
that she doesn't marry unless she meets the choice of her heart.
She must be happy. She must make up for her mother's lost life,
too. If my mother had understood things as I do, I, too, should have
been happy. But she was an old-fashioned woman and she would
have me marry in the old-fashioned way, as she herself had
married: without laying her eyes on her 'predestined one' until the
morning after the wedding." She laughed bitterly. "Of course I did
see Max before the wedding, but it made no difference. I obeyed
my mother, peace upon her soul. I thought love-marriages were
something which none but educated girls could dream of.
My mother--peace upon her soul--told me to throw all fancies out
of my mind, that I was a simple girl and must get married without
fuss. And I did. In this country people have dlfferent notions. But I
am already married and a mother. All I can do now is to see to it
that Lucy shall be both educated and happy, and, well, I beg of
you, I beg of you, I beg of you, Levinsky, never let me talk of
these things again. They must be locked up in my heart and the
key must be thrown into the river, Levinsky. It cannot be
otherwise, Levinsky. Do you hear?"
CHAPTER XIV THE situation could not last. One morning about
three weeks subsequent to the above conversation Max left town
for a day. One of his debtors, a dancing-master, had disappeared
without settling his account and Max had recently discovered that
he was running a dance-hall and meeting-rooms in New Haven; so
he went there to see what he could do toward collecting his bill.
His absence for a whole day was nothing new, and yet the house
seemed to have assumed a novel appearance that morning. When,
after breakfast, Lucy ran out into the street I felt as though Dora
and I were alone for the first time, and from her constraint I could
see that she was experiencing a similar feeling. I hung around the
house awkwardly. She was trying to keep herself busy. Finally I
said: "I think I'll be going. Maybe there is some news about the
I rose to go to the little corridor for my hat, but on my way thither,
as I came abreast of her, I paused, and with amorous mien I drew
her to me.
She made but a perfunctory attempt at resistance, and when I
kissed her she responded, our lips clinging together hungrily. It all
seemed to have happened in a most natural way. When our lips
parted at last her cheeks were deeply flushed and her eyes looked
"Dearest," I whispered
"I must go out," she said, shrinking back, her embarrassed gaze on
the floor. "I have some marketing to do."
"Don't. Don't go away from me, Dora. Please don't," I said in
Yiddish, with the least bit of authority. "I love thee. I love thee,
Dora," I raved, for the first time addressing her in the familiar
"You ought not to speak to me like that," she said, limply, with
frank happiness in her voice. "It's terrible. What has got into me?"
I strained her to me once again, and again we abandoned ourselves
to a transport of kisses and hugs
"Dost thou love me, Dora? Tell me. I want to hear it from thine
She slowly drew me to her bosom and clasped me with all her
might. That was her answer to my question. Then, with a hurried
parting kiss on my forehead, she said: "Go. Attend to business,
dearest." As I walked through the street I was all but shouting to
myself: "Dora has kissed me! Dora dear is mine!" My heart was
dancing with joy over my conquest of her, and at the same time I
felt that I was almost ready to lay down my life for her. It was a
blend of animal selfishness and spiritual sublimity. I really loved
I attended to my affairs (that is, to some of the affairs of the
Manufacturers' Organization) that day; but while thus engaged I
was ever tremulously conscious of my happiness, ever in an
uplifted state of mind. I was bubbling over with a desire to be
good to somebody, to everybody--except, of course, the
Cloak-makers' Union. My membership in the Manufacturers'
Association flattered my vanity inordinately, and I always danced
attendance upon the other members, the German Jews, the big men
of the trade; now, however, I ran their errands with an alacrity that
was not mere servility
I was constantly aware of the fact that this was my second
love-affair, as if it were something to be proud of. My love for
Matilda was remote as a piece of art, while my passion for Dora
was a flaming reality. "Matilda only tortured me," I said to myself,
without malice. "She treated me as she would a dog, whereas
Dora is an angel. I would jump into fire for her. Dora dear!
Sweetheart mine!" I had not the patience to wait until evening. I
ran in to see her in the middle of the day
She flung herself at me and we embraced and kissed as if we had
been separated for years. Then, holding me by both hands, she
gave me a long look full of pensive bliss and clasped me to her
bosom again. When she had calmed down she smoothed my hair,
adjusted my necktie, told me she did not like it and offered to get
me one more becoming
"Do you love me? Do you really?" she asked, with deep
"I do, I do. Dora mine, I am crazy for you," I replied. "Now I know
what real love means."
She sighed, and after a pause her grave, strained mien broke into a
"So all you told me about Matilda was a lie, was it?" she said,
"There is no such person in the world, is there?"
"Don't talk about her, pray. You don't understand me. I never was
happy before. Never in my life."
"Never at all?" she questioned me, earnestly
"Never, Dora dearest. Anyhow, let bygones be bygones. All I know
is that I love you, that I am going crazy for you. Oh, I do love
you." "And nobody else?"
"And nobody else."
"And you are not lying?"
"Lying? Why should you talk like that, dearest?"
"Why, have you forgotten Matilda so soon?"
"Do you call that soon? It's more than five years."
"But you told me that you had been in love with her a considerable
time after you came to this country. Will you forget me so soon,
I squirmed, I writhed. "Don't be tormenting me, dearest," I
implored, my voice quavering with impatience. "I love thee and
She fell into a muse. Then she said, with a far-away look in her
eyes: "I don't know where this will land me. It seems as if a great
misfortune had befallen me. But I don't care. I don't care. I don't
care. Come what may. I can't help it. At last I know what it means
to be happy. I have been dreaming of it all my life. Now I know
what it is like, and I am willing to suffer for it. Yes, I am willing
to suffer for you, Levinsky." She spoke with profound,
even-voiced earnestness, with peculiar solemnity, as though
chanting a prayer. I was somewhat bored. Presently she paused,
and, changing her tone, she asked. "Matilda talked to you of
education. She wanted you to be an educated man, did she? Yes,
but what did she do for you? She drank your blood, the leech, and
when she got tired of it she dropped you. A woman like that ought
to be torn to pieces. May every bit of the suffering she caused you
come back to her a thousandfold. May her blood be shed as she
shed yours." Suddenly she checked herself and said: "But, no, I am
not going to curse her. I don't want you to think badly of her. Your
love must be sacred, Levinsky. If you ever go back on me and love
somebody else, don't let her curse me. Don't let anybody say a
cross word about me." Max came home after midnight and I did
not see him until the next evening.
When we met at supper (Dora was out at that moment) I had to
make an effort to meet his eye. But he did not seem to notice
anything out of the usual, and my awkwardness soon wore off
Nor, indeed, was there any change in my feelings toward him. I
had expected that he would now be hateful to me. He was not. He
was absolutely the same man as he had always been, except,
perhaps, that I vaguely felt like a thief in his presence. Only I
hated to think of Dora while I looked at him
Presently Dora made her appearance. My embarrassment returned,
more acute than ever. The consciousness of her confusion and,
above all, the consciousness of the three of us being together, was
insupportable. It was a terrible repast, though Max was absolutely
unaware of anything unnatural in our demeanor. I retired to my
room soon after supper
I had a what-not half filled with books, so I drew a volume from it.
I found it difficult to get my mind on it. My thoughts were circling
round Dora and Max, round my precarious happiness, round the
novelty of carrying on a romantic conspiracy with a married
woman. Dora was so dear to me. I seemed to be vibrating with
devotion to her. Regardless of the fact that she was somebody
else's wife and a mother of two children, my love impressed me as
something sacred. I seemed to accept the general rule that a
wife-stealer is a despicable creature, a thief, a vile, immoral
wretch. But now, that I was not facing Max, that rule, somehow,
did not apply to my relations with Dora.
Simultaneously with this feeling I had another one which excused
my conduct on the theory that everybody was at the bottom of his
heart likewise ready to set that rule at defiance and to make a
mistress of his friend's wife, provided it could be done with
absolute secrecy and safety. Max in my place would certainly not
have scrupled to act as I did. But then I hated to think of him in
this connection. I would brush all thoughts of him aside as I would
a vicious fly. I was too selfish to endure the pain even of a
moment's compunction. I treated myself as a doting mother does a
The book in my hands was the first volume of Herbert Spencer's
Sociology. My interest in this author and in Darwin was of recent
origin. It had been born of my hatred for the Cloak-makers' Union,
in fact. This is how I came to discover the existence of the two
great names and to develop a passion for the ideas with which
they are identified
In my virulent criticism of the leaders of the union I had often
characterized them as so many good-for-nothings, jealous of those
who had succeeded in business by their superior brains, industry,
One day I found a long editorial in my newspaper, an answer to a
letter from a socialist. The editorial derived its inspiration from
the theory of the Struggle for Existence and the Survival of the
Fittest. Unlike many of the other editorials I had read, it breathed
conviction. It was obviously a work of love. When the central idea
of the argument came home to me I was in a turmoil of surprise
and elation. "Why, that's just what I have been saying all these
days!" I exclaimed in my heart. "The able fellows succeed, and the
misfits fail. Then the misfits begrudge those who accomplish
things." I almost felt as though Darwin and Spencer had
plagiarized a discovery of mine. Then, as I visualized the Struggle
for Existence, I recalled Meyer Nodelman's parable of chickens
fighting for food, and it seemed to me that, between the two of us,
Nodelman and I had hit upon the whole Darwinian doctrine.
Later, however, when I dipped into Social Statics, I was
over-borne by the wondrous novelty of the thing and by a sense of
my own futility, ignorance, and cheapness. I felt at the gates of a
great world of knowledge whose existence I had not even
suspected. I had to read the Origin of Species and the Descent of
Man, and then Spencer again. I sat up nights reading these books.
Apart from the purely intellectual intoxication they gave me, they
flattered my vanity as one of the "fittest." It was as though all the
wonders of learning, acumen, ingenuity, and assiduity displayed in
these works had been intended, among other purposes, to establish
my title as one of the victors of Existence
A working-man, and every one else who was poor, was an object
of contempt to me--a misfit, a weakling, a failure, one of the ruck
CHAPTER XV IT was August. In normal times this would have
been the beginning of the great "winter season" in our trade. As it
was, the deadlock continued. The stubbornness of the men, far
from showing signs of wilting under the strain of so many weeks
of enforced idleness and suffering, seemed to be gathering
strength, while our own people, the manufacturers, were frankly
The danger of having the great season pass without one being able
to fill a single order overcame the fighting blood of the most
pugnacious among them.
One was confronted with the risk of losing one's best customers.
The trade threatened to pass from New York to Philadelphia and
Chicago. If you called the attention of a manufacturer to the
unyielding courage of the workmen, the reply invariably was,
first, that it was all mere bravado; and, second, that, anyhow, the
poor devils had nothing to lose, while the manufacturers had their
investments to lose
The press supported the strikers. It did so, not because they were
working-people, but because they were East-Siders. Their district
was the great field of activity for the American University
Settlement worker and fashionable slummer. The East Side was a
place upon which one descended in quest of esoteric types and
"local color," as well as for purposes of philanthropy and "uplift"
work. To spend an evening in some East Side café was regarded
as something like spending a few hours at the Louvre so much so
that one such café, in the depth of East Houston Street, was
making a fortune by purveying expensive wine dinners to people
from up-town who came there ostensibly to see "how the other
half lived," but who only saw one another eat and drink in
freedom from the restraint of manners. Accordingly, to show
sympathy for East Side strikers was within the bounds of the
highest propriety. It was as "correct" as belonging to the Episcopal
Church. And so public opinion was wholly on the side of the
Cloak-makers' Union. This hastened the end. We succumbed. A
settlement was patched up. We were beaten.
But even this did not appease the men. They repudiated the
agreement between their organization and ours, branding it as a
trap, and the strike was continued. Then the manufacturers
yielded completely, acceding to every demand of the union
I became busy. I continued to curse the union, but at the bottom of
my heart I wished it well, for the vigor with which it enforced its
increased wage scale in all larger factories gave me greater
advantages than ever. I was still able to get men who were willing
to trick the organization. Every Friday afternoon these men
received pay-envelopes which bore figures in strict conformity
with the union's schedule, but the contents of which were
considerably below the sum marked outside. Subsequently this
proved to be a risky practice to pursue, for the walking delegates
were wide awake and apt to examine the envelopes as the
operatives were emerging from the shop.
Accordingly, I adopted another system: the men would receive the
union pay in full, but on the following Monday each of them
would pay me back the difference between the official and the
actual wage. The usual practice was for the employee to put the
few dollars into his little wage-book, which he would then place
on my desk for the ostensible purpose of having his account
By thus cheating the union I could now undersell the bigger
manufacturers more easily than I had been able to do previous to
the lockout and strike. I had more orders than I could fill. Money
was coming in in floods
The lockout and the absolute triumph of the union was practically
the making of me
I saw much less of Dora than I had done during the five months of
the lockout, and our happiness when we managed to be left alone
was all the keener for it. Our best time for a tê-à-tˆte were the
hours between 10 and 12 on the evenings, when Max was sure to
be away at his dancing-schools, but then it often happened that
those were among my busiest hours at the shop.
Sometimes I would snatch half an hour from my work in the
middle of a busy day to surprise her with my caresses. If a week
passed without my doing so she would punish me with mute
scenes of jealousy, of which none but she and I were aware. She
would avoid looking at me, and I would press my hand to my
heart and raise a pleading gaze at her, which said: "I couldn't get
away, dearest. Honest, I couldn't."
One evening I bought her some roses. As I carried them home I
was thrilled as much by the fact that I, David of Abner's Court,
was taking flowers to a lady as I was by visioning the moment
when I should hand them to Dora. When I came home and put my
offering into her hand she was in a flurry of delight over it, but she
was scared to death lest it should betray our secret. After giving
way to bursts of admiration for the flowers and myself, and
smelling her fill, and covering me with kisses, she burned the
bouquet in the stove and forbade me to use this method of
showing her attention again
"Your dear eyes are the best flowers you can bring me," she said
Her love burned with a steady flame, bright and even. It
manifested itself in a thousand little things which she did for the
double purpose of ministering to my comfort and keeping me in
mind of herself. I felt it in the taste of the coffee I drank, in the
quality of my cup and saucer, in the painstaking darning on my
socks, in the frequency with which my room was swept, my towel
changed, my books dusted
"Did you notice the new soap-dish on your wash-stand?" she asked
me, one morning. "Do you deserve it? Do you know how often I
am in your room every day? Just guess."
"A million times a day."
"To you it's a joke. But if you loved as I do you would not be up to
"Very well, I'll cry." And I personated a boy crying. "Don't. It
breaks my heart," she said, earnestly. "I can't see you crying even
for fun." She kissed my eyes. "No, really, I go to your room twenty
times a day, perhaps.
When I am there it seems to me that I am nearer to you. I kiss the
pillow on which you sleep. I pat the blanket, the pitcher, every
book of yours--everything your dear little hands touch. I want you
to know it. I want you to know how I love you. I knew that love
was sweet, but I never knew that it was so sweet. Oh, my loved
She would pour out all sorts of endearments on me, some of them
rather of a fantastic nature, but "my loved one" became her
favorite appellation, while I found special relish in calling her "my
bride" or "bridie mine."
I can almost feel her white fingers as they played with my
abundant dark hair or rested on my shoulders while she looked
into my eyes and murmured, yearningly: "My loved one! My loved
one! My loved one!"
The set of my shoulders was a special object of her admiration.
She would shake them tenderly, call me monkey, and ask me if I
realized how much she loved me and if I deserved it all, bad boy
that I was
She held me in check with an iron hand. Whenever my caresses
threatened to overstep the bounds of what she termed "respectable
love" she would stop them. With clouded eyes she would slap my
hand and then kiss it, saying: "Be a gentleman, Levinsky. Be a
gentleman. Can't you be a gentleman?"
"Oh, you don't love me," I would grunt
"I don't? I don't? I wish you would love me half as much," with a
sigh. "If you did you would not behave the way you do. That's all
your love amounts to--behaving like that. All men are hogs, after
all." With which she would take to lecturing me and pouring out
her infatuated heart in that solemn singsong of hers, which
somewhat bored me
If she thought my kisses unduly passionate and the amorous look
of my eye dangerous she would move away from me
"Don't be angry at me, sweetheart," she would say, cooingly
"I am not angry, but you don't love me."
"Why should you hurt my feelings like that? Why should you shed
my blood? Am I not yours, heart and soul? Am I not ready to cut
myself to pieces to please you? Why should you torture me?"
"What are you afraid of? He won't know any more than he does
now," I once urged.
She blushed, looking at the floor. After a minute's silence she said,
dolefully: "It isn't so much on account of that as on account of the
children. How could I look Lucy in the face?"
Her eyes grew humid. My heart went out to her.
"I understand. You are right," I yielded
The scene repeated itself not many days after. It occurred again
and again at almost regular intervals. She fought bravely
Many months passed, and still she was able "to look Lucy in the
At first, for a period of six or seven weeks, my moral conduct
outside the house was immaculate. Then I renewed my excursions
to certain streets. I made rather frequent calls at the apartment of a
handsome Hungarian woman who called herself Cleo. Once, in a
frenzy, I tried to imagine that she was Dora, and then I
experienced qualms of abject compunction and self-loathing
Sometimes Lucy would arouse my jealous rancor, as a living
barrier between her mother and myself. But she was really dear to
me. I revered Dora for her fortitude, and Lucy appealed to me as
the embodiment of her mother's saintliness
I would watch Lucy. She was an interesting study. Her manner of
speaking, her giggle, her childish little affectations seemed to
grow more American every day. She was like a little foreigner in
Dora was watching and studying her with a feeling akin to despair,
I thought. It was as though she was pursuing the little girl, with
outstretched arms, vainly trying to overtake her
CHAPTER XVI I WAS rapidly advancing on the road to financial
triumphs. I was planning to move my business to larger quarters,
in the same modest neighborhood. Mrs.
Chaikin, my partner's wife, failed to realize the situation, however.
She could not forgive me the false representations I had made to
her regarding my assets
"And where is the treasure you were expecting?" she would twit
me. "You never tell a lie, do you? You simply don't know how to
do it. Poor thing!"
When we were in the midst of an avalanche of lucrative orders
promising a brilliant winter season she took it into her head to
withdraw her husband from the firm, in which he was a silent
partner. Her decision was apparently based on the extreme efforts
she had once seen me making to raise five hundred dollars. As a
matter of fact, this was due to the rapidity of our growth. I lacked
capital. But then my credit was growing, too, and altogether things
were in a most encouraging condition
"What is the use worrying along like that?" she said. "You
deceived me from the start. You made me believe you had a lot of
money, while you were really a beggar. Yes, you are a beggar, and
a beggar you are bound to stay. A beggar and a swindler--that's
what you are. You have fooled me long enough.
You can't fool me any longer. So there!"
Her husband was still employed by the German firm, attending to
the needs of our growing little factory surreptitiously every
evening and on Sundays. The day seemed near when it would pay
him to give all his time to our shop. And he was aware of it, too;
to some extent, at least. But Mrs. Chaikin ordained otherwise
I attempted to present the actual state of affairs to her, but broke
off in the middle of a sentence. It suddenly flashed upon my mind
that it might all be to my advantage. "A designer can be hired," I
said to myself. "The business is progressing rapidly. To make him
my life partner is too high a price to pay for his skill. Besides,
having him for a partner actually means having his nuisance of a
wife for a partner. It will be a good thing to get rid of her." I
consulted Max, as I did quite often now. Not that I thought myself
in need of his advice, or anybody else's, for that matter. Success
had made me too self-confident for that. I played the intimate and
ardent friend, and this was simply part of my personation. To
flatter his vanity I would make him think his suggestions had been
acted upon and that they had brought good results. As a
consequence, he was developing the notion that my success was
largely due to his guidance, a notion which jarred on me, but
which I humored, nevertheless
"Do you know what's the matter?" he said, sagely. "Mrs. Chaikin
must have found another partner for her husband. Some fellow
with big money, I suppose."
"You are right, Max," I said, sincerely. "How stupid I am."
"Why, of course they have got another partner. Of course they
have," he repeated, with elation. "So much the better for you. Let
them go to the eighty black years. Don't run after him. Just do as I
tell you and you'll be all right, Levinsky. My advice has never got
you in trouble, has it?"
"Indeed not. Indeed not," I answered
Max's blindness to what was going on between Dora and myself
was a riddle to which I vainly sought a solution. That this cynic
who charged every man and woman with immorality should, in
the circumstances, be so absolutely undisturbed in his confidence
regarding his wife seemed nothing short of a miracle. When I now
think of the riddle I see its solution in a modified version of the
old rule concerning the mote in thy neighbor's eye and the beam in
thine own eve. Your worst pessimist is, after all, an optimist with
regard to himself. We are quick to recognize the gravity of ill
health in somebody else, yet we ourselves may be on the very
brink of death without realizing it. It is a special phase of
selfishness. We are loath to connect the idea of a catastrophe with
our own person. Max, who saw a mote in the eye of everybody
else's wife, failed to perceive the beam in the eye of his own
As for Sadie, who lived in the same house now, and who visited
Dora's apartment at all hours, she was too silly and too deeply
infatuated with her friend to suspect her of anything wrong
I idolized Dora. It seemed to me that I adored her soul even more
than I did her body. I was under her moral influence, and the
firmness with which she maintained the distance between us
added to my respect for her. And yet I never ceased to dream of
and to seek her moral downfall
I had extended my canvassing activities to a number of cities
outside New York, my territory being a semicircle with a radius of
about a hundred and fifty miles. I had long since picked up some
of the business jargon of the country and I was thirstily drinking in
more and more
"What do you think of this number, Mr. So-and-so?" I would say,
self-consciously, to a merchant, as I dangled a garment in front of
"You can make a run on it. It's the kind of suit that gives the
wearer an air of distinction."
If I heard a bit of business rhetoric that I thought effective I would
jot it down and commit it to memory. In like manner I would
write down every new piece of slang, the use of the latest popular
phrase being, as I thought, helpful in making oneself popular with
Americans, especially with those of the young generation. But
somehow a slang phrase would be in general use for a
considerable time before it attracted my attention. The Americans
I met were so quick to discern and adopt these phrases it seemed
as if they were born with a special slang sense which I, poor
foreigner that I was, lacked.
That I was not born in America was something like a physical
defect that asserted itself in many disagreeable ways--a physical
defect which, alas! no surgeon in the world was capable of
Other things that I would enter in my note-book were names of
dishes on the bills of fare of the better restaurants, with
explanations of my own. I would describe the difference between
Roquefort cheese and Liederkranz cheese, between consommé
Celestine and consommé princesse; I would make a note of the
composition of macaroni au gratin, the appearance and taste of
potatoes Lyonnaise, of various salad-dressings. But I gradually
picked up this information in a practical way and really had no
need of my culinary notes. I had many occasions to eat in
high-class restaurants and I was getting to feel quite at home in
Max's conjecture regarding Chaikin was borne out. The talented
designer had given up his job at the Manheimer Brothers' and
opened a cloak-and-suit house with a man who had made
considerable money as a cloak salesman, and as a landlord for a
partner. When Max heard of it he was overjoyed
"I tell you what, Levinsky," he said, half in jest and half in earnest.
"Let the two of us make a partnership of it. I could put some
money into the business."
I reflected that when I approached him for a loan of four hundred
dollars, on my first visit at his house, he had pleaded poverty
"I could do a good deal of hustling, too," he added, gravely.
"Between the two of us we should make a great success of it."
I gave him an evasive answer. I must have looked annoyed, for he
exclaimed: "Look at him! Look at him, Dora! Scared to death, isn't
he?" And to me: "Don't be uneasy, old chap! I am not going to
snatch your factory from you.
But you are a big hog, all the same. I can tell you that. How will
you manage all alone? Who will take care of your business when
you go traveling?"
"Oh, I'll manage it somehow," I answered, making an effort to be
"Chaikin was scarcely ever in the shop, anyhow."
CHAPTER XVII I TRAVELED quite often, sometimes staying
away from New York for two or three days, but more frequently
for only one day. On one occasion, however, I was detained on the
road for five days in succession. It was the beginning of June, a
little over a year since the Margolises moved into the Clinton
Street flat with myself as their boarder. I was homesick. I missed
Dora acutely. I loved her passionately, tenderly, devotedly. I now
felt it with special force. Her face and figure loomed up a hundred
times a day.
"Dora dear! Bridie mine!" I would whisper, all but going to pieces
with tenderness and yearning
One afternoon, after closing an unexpectedly large sale in a
department store, I went to the jewelry department of the same
firm and paid a hundred and twenty dollars for a bracelet. I knew
that she would not be able to wear it, yet I was determined to
make her accept it
"Let her keep it in some hiding-place," I thought. "Let her steal an
occasional look at it. I don't care what she does with it. I want her
to know that I think of her, that I am crazy for her."
It was Friday evening when I returned to New York, having been
on the road since the preceding Monday morn- ing. I first went to
my place of business and then to a restaurant for supper. I would
not make my appearance at the house until half past 10, when the
coast was sure to be clear. With thrills of anticipation that verged
on physical pain I was looking forward to the moment when I
should close the bracelet about her slender white wrist
At the fixed minute I was at the door of the Clinton Street
apartment. I pulled the bell. I expected an excited rush, a violent
opening of the door, a tremulous: "My loved one! My loved one!"
There was a peculiar disappointment in store for me. She received
me icily, not letting me come near her
"Why, what's the matter? What's up?" "Nothing," she muttered
When we reached the light of the Sabbath candles in the
dining-room I noticed that she looked worn and haggard
"What has happened?" I asked, greatly perplexed. "I have
something for you," I said, producing the blue-velvet box
containing the bracelet and opening it. "Here, my bride!"
"How dare you call me 'bride,' you hypocrite?" she gasped. "Away
with you, your present and all!"
"Why? Why? What does it all mean?" I asked, between mirth and
For an answer she merely continued: "You thought you could bribe
me by this present of yours, did you? You can fool me no longer. I
have found you out.
You have fallen into your own trap. You have. How dare you buy
At this she tore the bracelet out of my hand and flung it into the
little corridor. She was on the verge of a fit of hysterics. I fetched
her a glass of water, but she dashed it out of my hand. Then,
frightened and sobered by the crash, she first tiptoed to the
bedroom to ascertain if Lucy was not awake and listening, and
then went to the little corridor, picked up the bracelet and slipped
it into my pocket
"If you have decided to get married, I can't stop you, of course,"
she began, in a ghastly undertone, as she crouched to gather up the
fragments of the glass and to wipe the floor.
"Decided to get married?" I interrupted her. "Where on earth did
you get that? What 'trap' are you talking about, Dora?"
She made no answer. I continued to protest my innocence. Finally,
when she had removed the broken glass, she said: "It's no use
pretending you don't know anything about it. It won't do you any
good. You have been very foxy about it, but you made a break, and
there you are! You think you are very clever. If you were you
wouldn't let your shadchen [note] know where you live--"
Oh, I see," I said, with a hearty laugh. "Has he been here?" And I
gave way to another guffaw
Shadchen was a conspiracy name for a man who would bring an
employer together with cloak-makers who were willing to cheat
the union. The one who performed these services for me was one
of my own "hands." He was thoroughly dishonest, but he
possessed a gentle disposition and a certain gift of expression.
This gave him power over his shopmates. He was their "shop
chairman" and a member of their "price committee." He was the
only man in my employ who actually received the full union price.
In addition to this, I paid him his broker's commission for every
new man he furnished me, and various sums as bribes pure and
I explained it all to Dora. The ardor with which I spoke and the
details of my dealings with the shadchen must have made my
explanation convincing, for she accepted it at once
"You're not fooling me, are you?" she asked, piteously, yet in a
tone of immense relief.
"Strike me dumb if--"
"'S-sh! Don't curse yourself," she said, clapping her hand over my
mouth. "I can't bear to hear it. I believe you. If you knew what I
have gone through!"
"Poor, poor child!" I said, kissing her soft white fingers tenderly.
"Poor, poor baby! How could you think of such a thing! There is
only one bride for me in all the world, and that is my own Dora
Her face shone with a wan, beseeching kind of light
Again I drew forth the bracelet
"Foolish child!" I said, examining it. "Thank God, it isn't damaged.
Not a bit."
I took her by the hand, opened the bracelet, and closed it over her
She instantly took it off again, with an instinctive side-glance at
the door. Then, holding it up to the light admiringly, she said:
"Oh! Oh! Must have cost a pile of money! Why did you spend so
much? I can't wear it, anyway. Better return it."
"Never! It's yours, my sweetheart. Do whatever you like with it.
Put it away somewhere. If you wear it for one minute every week I
shall be happy. If you only look at it once in a while I shall be
"I am afraid to keep it. Somebody may come across it some day.
Better return it, my loved one! I am happy as it is. It would make
me nervous to have it in the house."
She made me take it back
"Thank God it wasn't a real shadchen! I thought I was going to
commit suicide," she said
I seized her in my arms. She abandoned herself to a transport of
gratitude and happiness in which her usual fortitude melted away
The next morning she had the appearance of one doomed to death.
Her eyes avoided everybody, not only her husband and Lucy, but
myself as well. She pleaded indisposition
Max left for the synagogue, as he always did on Saturday morning.
I accompanied him out of the house, on my way to business. We
parted at a corner where I was to wait for a street-car. Instead of
boarding a car, however, I returned home. I was burning to be
alone with Dora, to cuddle her out of her forlorn mood
"I have come back for a minute just to tell you how dear you are to
me," I whispered to her in the presence of the children, who were
having their breakfast. I signed to her to follow me into the parlor,
and she did. "Just one kiss, dearest!" I said, clasping her to me and
kissing her. "I'd let myself be cut to pieces for you."
She nestled to me for a moment ,gave me a hasty kiss, and ran
back to the children, all without looking at me
I went away with a broken heart
Late that evening, when we found ourselves alone, and I rushed at
her, she gently pushed me off
"Why? What's the trouble?" I asked.
"No trouble at all," she answered, looking down, with shamefaced
"Do you hate me?"
"Hate you! I wish I could," she answered, with a sad smile, still
"Why this new way, then?" I said, rather impatiently. "You are
dearer than ever to me, Levinsky. Tell me to jump into fire, and I
will. But--can't we love each other and be good?"
"What are you talking about, Dora? What has got into you? Do you
know what you are to me now?" I demanded, melodramatically
I made another attempt at kissing her, but was repulsed again
"Not now, anyway, my loved one," she said, entreatingly. "Let a.
few days pass. You don't want me to feel bad, do you, dearest?"
I looked sheepish. I was convinced that it was merely a passing
[note: shadchen]: Marriage broker, match-maker
CHAPTER XVIII NEXT Monday, when I was ready to go to my
place of business, Dora left the house, pitcher in hand, before I
rose from the breakfast-table. She was going for milk, but a
side-glance which she cast at the floor in my direction as she
turned to shut the door behind her told me that she wanted to see
me in the street. After letting some minutes pass I put on my
overcoat and hat, bade Max a studiously casual good-by, and
I awaited her on the stoop. Presently she emerged from the grocery
in the adjoining building
"Could you be free at 4 o'clock this afternoon?" she asked,
ascending the few steps, and pausing by my side. "I want to have a
talk with you.
Somewhere else. Not at home."
"Why not at home, in the evening?" "No. That won't do," she
overruled me, softly. "Somebody might come in and interrupt me.
I'll wait for you in the little park on Second Avenue and Fifteenth
Street. You know the place, don't you?"
She meant Stuyvesant Park, which the sunny Second Avenue cuts
in two, and she explained that our meeting was to take place on
the west side of the thoroughfare
"Will you come?" she asked, nervously
"I will, I will. But what's up? Why do you look so serious? Dora!
"'S-sh! You had better go. When we meet I'll explain everything.
At 4 o'clock, then. Don't forget. As you come up the avenue, going
up-town, it is on the left-hand side. Write it down."
To insure against any mistakes on my part she made me repeat it
and then jot it down. As she turned to go upstairs she said, in a
melancholy whisper: "Good-by, dearest."
When I reached the appointed place the brass hands of the clock
on the steeple high overhead indicated ten minutes of 4. It was
June, but the day was a typical November day, mildly warm, clear,
and charged with the exhilarating breath of a New York autumn.
Dora had not yet arrived. The benches in the little park were for
the most part occupied by housewives or servant-girls who sat
gossiping in front of baby-carriages, amid the noise of romping
children. Here and there an elderly man sat smoking his pipe
broodingly. They were mostly Germans or Czechs. There were
scarcely any of our people in the neighborhood at the period in
question, and that was why Dora had selected the place
I stood outside the iron gate, gazing down the avenue. The minutes
were insupportably long.
At last her womanly figure came into dim view. My heart leaped. I
was in a flutter of mixed anxiety and joyous anticipation. "Oh,
she'll back down," I persuaded myself
She was walking fast, apparently under the impression that she
was late. Her face was growing more distinct every moment. The
blue hat she wore and the parasol she carried gave her a new
aspect. I had more than once seen her leave the house in street
array, but watching her come up the street thus formally attired
somehow gave her a different appearance
She looked so peculiarly dignified and so exquisitely lady-like she
almost seemed to be a stranger. This, added to her romantic
estrangement from me and to the clandestine nature of our tryst,
produced a singular effect upon me.
"Am I very late?" she asked
"No. Not at all, Dora!" I said, yearningly
She made no answer
We could not find an empty bench, and to let Germans overhear
our Yiddish, which is merely a German dialect, would have been
rather risky. So she delivered her message as we walked round
and round, both of us eying the asphalt all the while. Her beautiful
complexion and our manner attracted much attention. The people
on the benches apparently divined the romantic nature of our
interview. One white-haired little man with a terrier face never
took his eyes off her
"First of all I want to tell you that this is one of the most important
days in my life," she began. "It is certainly not a happy day. It's
Yom Kippur [note] with me. I want to say right here that I am
willing to die for you, Levinsky. I am terribly in love with you,
Her voice broke. She was confused and agitated, but she soon
regained her self-mastery. She spoke in sad, solemn, quietly
passionate tones, and gradually developed a homespun sort of
eloquence which I had never heard from her before. But then the
gift of homely rhetoric is rather a common talent among
The revolting sight of the dog-faced old fellow who was ogling
Dora so fascinated me that it interfered with my listening. I made
a point of looking away from him every time we came round to
his bench, but that only kept me thinking of him instead of
listening to Dora. Finally we confined our walk to the farther side
of the little park, giving him a wide berth
"I love you more than I can tell you, Levinsky," she resumed. "But
it is not my good luck to be happy. I dreamed all my life of love,
and now that it is here, right here in my heart, I must choke it with
my own hands." "Why? Why?" I said, with vehemence. "Why
"Why!" she echoed, bitterly. "Because the Upper One brought you
to me only to punish me, to tease me. That's all. That's all. That's
"Why should you take it that way?" "Don't interrupt me,
Levinsky," she said, chanting, rather than speaking. As she
proceeded, her voice lapsed into a quaint, doleful singsong, not
unlike the lament of our women over a grave. "No, Levinsky. It is
not given to me to be happy. But I ask no questions of the Upper
One. I used to live in peace. I was not happy, but I lived in peace.
I did not know what happiness was, so I did not miss it much. I
only dreamed of it. But the Lord of the World would have me
taste it, so that I might miss it and that my heart might be left with
a big, big wound. I want you to know exactly how I feel.
Oh, if I could turn this poor heart of mine inside out! Then you
could see all that is going on there. Listen, Levinsky. If it were not
for my children, my dear children, my all in all in the world, I
should not live with Margolis another day. If he gave me a
divorce, well and good; if not, then I don't know what I might do. I
shouldn't care. I love you so and I want to be happy. I do, I do, I
A sob rang through her voice as she repeated the words. "You do,
and yet you are bound to make both of us miserable," I said
"Can I help it?"
"If you would you could," I said, grimly. "Get a divorce and let us
be married and have it over."
She shook her head sadly
"Thousands of couples get divorced." She kept shaking her head
"Then what's the use pretending you love me?"
"Pretending! Shall I turn my heart inside out to show you how hard
it is to live without you? But you can't understand. No, Levinsky. I
have no right to be happy. Lucy shall be happy. She certainly
sha'n't marry without love. Her happiness will be mine, too. That's
the only kind I am entitled to. She shall go to college. She shall be
educated. She shall marry the loved one of her heart. She shall not
be buried alive as her mother was. Let her profit by what little
sense I have been able to pick up."
A bench became vacant and we occupied it. The momentary
interruption and the change in her physical attitude broke the
spell. The solemnity was gone out of her voice. She resumed in a
distracted and somewhat listless manner, but she soon warmed up
"What would you have me do? Let Lucy find out some day that her
mother was a bad woman? I should take poison first."
"A bad woman!" I protested. "A better woman could not be found
anywhere in the world. You are a saint, Dora."
"No, I am not. I am a bad, wicked, nasty woman. I hate myself."
"'S-sh! You mustn't speak like that," I said, stopping my ears. " I
cannot bear it."
"Yes, that's what I am, a nasty creature. I used to be pure as gold.
There was not a speck on my soul, and now, woe is me, pain is
me! What has come over me?"
When she finally got down to the practical side of her resolution it
turned out that she wanted me to move out of her house and never
to see her again
I was shocked. I flouted the idea of it. I argued, I poured out my
lovelorn heart. But she insisted with an iron-clad finality. I argued
again, entreated, raved, all to no purpose
"I'll never come close to you. All I want is to be able to see you, to
live in the same house with you."
"Don't be tearing my heart to pieces," she said. "It is torn badly
enough as it is. Do as I say, Levinsky." "Don't you want to see me
at all?" "Oh, it's cruel of you to ask questions like that. You have
no heart, Levinsky. It's just because I am crazy to see you that you
have got to move."
"Don't you want me even to call at your house?" I asked, with an
ironical smile, as though I did not take the matter seriously
"Well, that would look strange. Call sometimes, not often, though,
and never when Margolis is out."
"Oh, I shall commit suicide," I snarled
"Oh, well. It isn't as bad as all that."
"I will. I certainly will," I said, knowing that I was talking
"Don't torment me, Levinsky. Don't sprinkle salt over my wound.
Take pity on me. Do as I wish and let the tooth be pulled out with
as little pain as possible."
I accompanied her down the avenue as far as Houston Street,
where she insisted upon our parting. Before we did, however, she
indulged in another outburst of funereal oratory, bewailing her
happiness as she would a dead child. It was apparently not easy
for her to take leave of me, but her purpose to make our romance
a thing of the past and to have me move to other lodgings
"This is the last time I shall ever speak to you of my love,
Levinsky," she said. "I must tear it out of my heart, even if I have
to tear out a piece of my heart along with it. Such is my fate.
Good-by, Levinsky. Good luck to you. Be good. Be good. Be
good. Remember you have a good head. Waste no time. Study as
much as you can. God grant you luck in your business, but try to
find time for your books, too. You must become a great man. Do
you promise me to read and study a lot?"
"I do. I do. But I won't move out. I can't live without you. We
belong to each other, and all you say is nothing but a woman's
whim. It's all bosh," I concluded, with an air of masculine
superiority. "I won't move out."
"You shall, dearest. Good-by. Good-by."
She broke into a fit of sobbing, but checked it, shook my hand
vehemently and hastened away
[note: Yom Kippur] Day of Atonement; figuratively, a day of
anguish and tears
CHAPTER XIX I HOPED she would yield, but she did not. I
found myself in the grip of an iron will and I did as I was bidden
When I set out in quest of a furnished room I instinctively betook
myself to the neighborhood of Stuyvesant Park. That park had
acquired a melancholy fascination for me. As though to make
amends for my agonies, I determined to move into a good,
spacious room, even if I had to pay three or four times as much as
I had been paying at the Margolises'. I found a sunny front room
with two windows in an old brown-stone house on East Nineteenth
Street, between Second Avenue and First, a short distance from
the little park and near an Elevated station. The curtains, the
carpet, the huge, soft arm-chair, and the lounge struck me as
decidedly "aristocratic." To cap the climax of comfort and
"swellness," the landlady--a gray little German-American--had, at
my request, a bookcase placed between the mantelpiece and one
of the windows. It was a "regular" bookcase, doors and all, not a
mere "what-not," and the sight of it swelled my breast
"I shall forget all my troubles here," I thought. "I am going to buy a
complete set of Spencer and some other books. Won't the
bookcase look fine! I shall read, read, read."
When I reported to Dora that I was ready to move, her face
"You seem to be glad to," she said, with venom, dropping her eyes
"Glad? Glad? Why, I am not going to move, then. May I stay here,
darling mine? May I?"
"Are you really sorry you have to move?" she asked, fixing a
loving glance at me. "Do you really love me?"
There were tears in her eyes. I attempted to come close to her, to
kiss her, but she held me back
"No, dearest," she said, shaking her head. "Move out to-morrow,
will you? Let's be done with it."
"And what will Max say?" I asked, sardonically. Will nothing seem
strange to him nothing at all?"
"Never mind that."
She never mentioned Max to me now, not even by pronoun
"Then you must know him to be an idiot." Now I hated Max with
all my heart.
"Don't," she implored
"Oh, I see. He's dear to you now," I laughed
"Have a heart, Levinsky. Have a heart. Must you keep shedding my
blood? Have you no pity at all?"
"But it is all so ridiculous. It will look strange," I argued, seriously.
"He is bound to get suspicious."
"I have thought it all out. Don't be uneasy. I'll say we had a quarrel
over your board bill."
"A nice dodge, indeed! It may fool Dannie, not him."
"Leave it all to me. Better tell me what sort of lodgings you have
got. Is it a decent room? Plenty of air and sunshine? But, no. Don't
tell me anything. I mustn't know." I sneered
She was absorbed in thought, flushed, nervous.
Presently she said, with an effect of speaking to herself: "It's sweet
to suffer for what is right."
I moved out according to her program. I came home at io the first
My double room, with its great arm-chair, carpets, bookcase,
imposing lace curtains, and the genteel silence of the street
outside, was a prison to me.
I attempted to read, but there was a lump in my throat and the lines
swam before me
I went out, roamed about the streets, dropped in at a Hungarian
café, took another ramble, and returned to my room
I tossed about on my great double bed. I sat up in front of one of
my two windows, gazing at a street-lamp. It was not solely Dora,
but also Lucy and Dannie that I missed. Only the image of Max
now aroused hostile feelings in me
Max called at my shop the very next day. The sight of him cut me
to the quick. I received him in morose silence
"What's the matter? What's the matter?" he inquired, with pained
"What did you two quarrel about?"
I made no answer. His presence oppressed me. My surly reticence
was no mere acting. But I knew that he misinterpreted it into grim
resentment of Dora's sally, as though I said, "Your wife's conduct
had better be left undiscussed."
"What nonsense! She charged you too much, did she? Is that the
way it all began? Did she insult you? Well, women-folk are liable
to flare up, you know. Tell me all about it. I'll straighten it out
between you. The children miss you awfully. Come, don't be a
fool, Levinsky. Who ever took the words of a woman seriously?
What did she say that you should take it so hard?"
"You had better ask her," I replied, with a well-acted frown
"Ask her! She gets wild when I do. I never saw her so wild. She
thinks you insulted her first. Well, she is a woman, but you aren't
one, are you? Come to the house this evening, will you?"
"That's out of the question."
"Then meet me somewhere else. I want to have a talk with you. It's
all so foolish." I pleaded important other engagements, but he
insisted that I should meet him later in the evening, and I had to
make the appointment. I promised to be at a Canal Street café on
condition that he did not mention the disagreeable episode nor
offer to effect a reconciliation between Dora and myself
"You're a tough customer. As tough as Dora," he said
When I came to the café, at about 11, I found him waiting for me.
He kept his promise about avoiding the subject of Dora, but he
talked of women, which jarred on me inordinately now. His
lecherous fibs and philosophy made him literally unbearable to
me. To turn the conversation I talked shop, and this bored him.
About a week later he called on me again. He informed me that
Dora had taken a new apartment up in Harlem, where the rooms
were even more modern and cheaper than on Clinton Street
"I wouldn't mind staying where we are," he observed. "But you
know how women are. Everybody is moving up-town, so she must
My face hardened, as if to say: "Why will you speak of your wife?
You know I can't bear to hear of her." At the same time I said to
myself: "Poor Dora! She must have found it awful to live in the
old place, now that I am no longer there."
His next visit at my shop took place after a lapse of three or four
He descanted upon his new home and the Harlem dwellings in
general, and I made an effort to show him cordial attention and to
bear myself generally as though there were no cause for
estrangement between us, but I failed
At last he said, resentfully: "What's the matter with you? Why are
you so sour? If you and Dora have had a falling out, is that any
reason why you and I should not be good friends?" "Why, why?" I
protested. "Who says I am sour?"
We parted on very friendly terms. But it was a long time before I
saw him again, and then under circumstances that were a
disagreeable surprise to me
BOOK X ON THE ROAD CHAPTER I WEEKS went by. My
desolation seemed to be growing in excruciating intensity.
From time to time, when I chanced to recall some trait or trick of
Dora's, her person would come back to me with special vividness,
smiting me with sudden cruelty. The very odor of her flesh would
grip my consciousness. At such moments my agony would be so
great that I seemed to be on the brink of a physical collapse.
During intervals there was a steady gnawing pain. It was as though
the unrelenting tortures of a dull toothache had settled somewhere
in the region of my heart or stomach, I knew not exactly where. I
recognized the pang as an old acquaintance. It had the same flavor
as the terrors of my tantalizing love for Matilda
My shop had lost all meaning to me. I vaguely longed to flee from
There was plenty to do in the shop and all sorts of outside
appointments to keep, not to speak of my brief trips as traveling
salesman. To all of which I attended with automatic regularity,
with listless doggedness. The union was a constant source of
worry. In addition, there was a hitch in my relations with the
"marriage broker." But even my worrying seemed to be done
Having forfeited the invaluable services of Chaikin, who now gave
all his time to his newly established factory, I filled the gap with
all sorts of makeshifts and contrivances. An employee of one of
the big shops, a tailor, stole designs for me. These were used in
my shop by a psalm-muttering old tailor with a greenish-white
beard full of snuff, who would have become a Chaikin if he had
been twenty years younger. Later I hired the services of a newly
graduated cloak-designer who would drop in of an afternoon.
Officially the old man was my foreman, but in reality he acted as
a guiding spirit to that designer and one of my sample-makers, as
well as foreman
I was forming new connections, obtaining orders from new
sources. Things were coming my way in spite of myself, as it
were. There was so much work and bustle that it became next to
impossible to manage it all single-handed.
The need of a bookkeeper, at least, was felt more keenly every day.
But I simply lacked the initiative to get one
While I was thus cudgeling my brains, hovering about my shop,
meeting people, signing checks, reading or writing letters, that
dull pain would keep nibbling, nibbling, nibbling at me. At times,
during some of those violent onslaughts I would seek the partial
privacy of my second-hand desk for the express purpose of
abandoning myself to the tortures of my helpless love. There is
pleasure in this kind of pain. It was as though I were two men at
once, one being in the toils of hopeless love and the other filled
with the joy of loving, all injunctions and barriers notwithstanding
One October evening as I passed through the Grand Central
station on my way from an Albany train I was hailed with an
impulsive, "Hello, Levinsky!"
It was Bender, my old-time evening-school instructor. I had not
seen him for more than three years, during which time he had
developed a pronounced tendency to baldness, though his apple
face had lost none of its roseate freshness. He looked spruce as
ever, his clothes spick and span, his "four-in-hand" tastefully tied,
his collar and cuffs immaculate. His hazel eyes, however, had a
worn and wistful look in them.
"Quite an American, I declare," he exclaimed, with patronizing
admiration and pride, as who should say, "My work has borne
fruit, hasn't it?"
"Well, how is the world treating you?" he questioned me, after
having looked me over more carefully. "You seem to be doing
When he heard that I was "trying to manufacture cloaks and suits"
he surveyed me once again, with novel interest
"Are you really? That's good. Glad to hear you're getting on in the
"Do you remember the two books you gave me--Dombey and Son
and the little dictionary?"
I told him how much good they had done me and he complimented
me on my English
He wanted to know more about my business, and I sketched for
him my struggles during the first year and the progress I was now
making. My narrative was interspersed with such phrases as, "my
growing credit," "my "in my desk," "dinner with a buyer from
Ohio," all of which I uttered with great self-consciousness. He
congratulated me upon my success and upon my English again.
Whereupon I exuberantly acknowledged the gratitude I owed him
for the special pains he had taken with me when I was his pupil
He still taught evening school during the winter months. When I
asked about his work at the custom-house, which had been his
chief occupation three years before, he answered evasively. By
little and little, however, he threw off his reserve and told, at first
with studied flippancy and then with frank bitterness, how "the
new Republican broom swept clean," and how he had lost his job
because of his loyalty to the Democratic party. He dwelt on the
civil-service reform of President Cleveland, charging the
Republicans with "offensive partisanship," a Cleveland phrase
then as new as four-in-hand neckties. And in the next breath he
proceeded to describe certain injustices (of which he apparently
considered himself a victim) within the fold of his own party. His
immediate ambition was to obtain a "permanent appointment" as
teacher of a public day school
He was a singular surprise to me. Formerly I had looked up to him
as infinitely my superior, whereas now he struck me as being
piteously beneath me
"Can't you think of something better?" I said, with mild contempt.
Then, with a sudden inspiration, I exclaimed: "I have a scheme for
Bender! Suppose you try to sell cloaks? There's lots of money in
The outcome of our conversation was that he agreed to spend a
week or two in my shop preparatory to soliciting orders for me, at
first in the city and then on the road
Our interview lasted a little over an hour, but that hour produced a
world of difference in our relations. He had met me with a
patronizing, "Hello, Levinsky." When we parted there was a note
of gratitude and of something like obsequiousness in his voice
CHAPTER II ON a Friday afternoon, during the first week of
Bender's connection with my establishment, as he and I were
crossing a side-street on our way from luncheon, I ran into the
loosely built, bulky figure of Max Margolis. Max and I paused
with a start, both embarrassed. I greeted him complaisantly
"And how are you?" he said, looking at the lower part of my face
I introduced my companion and after a brief exchange of
trivialities we were about to part, when Max detained me
"Wait. What's your hurry?" he said. "There is something I want to
speak to you about. In fact, it was to your shop I was going."
His manner disturbed me. "Were you? Come on, then," I said
"Hold on. What's your hurry? We might as well talk here."
Bender tipped his hat to him and moved away, leaving us to
"What is it?" I repeated, with studied indifference
"Well, I should like to have a plain, frank talk with you, Levinsky,"
he answered. "There is something that is bothering my mind. I
never thought I should speak to you about it, but at last I decided
to see you and have it out. I was going to call on you and to ask
you to go out with me, because you have no private office."
There was a nervous, under-dog kind of air about him. His damp
lips revolted me
"But what is it? What are all these preliminaries for? Come to the
point and be done with it. What is it?" Then I asked, with
well-simulated indignation, "Your wife has not persuaded you that
I have cheated her out of some money, has she?"
"Why, no. Not at all," he answered, looking at the pavement. "It
isn't that at all. The thing is driving me mad."
"But what is it?" I shouted, in a rage
"'S-sh!" he said, nervously. "If you are going to be excited like that
it's no use speaking at all. Perhaps you are doing it on purpose to
get out of it."
Get out of what? What on earth are you prating about?" I
demanded, with a fine display of perplexity and sarcasm
We were attracting attention. Bystanders were eying us. An old
woman, leading a boy by the hand, even paused to watch us, and
then her example was followed by some others
"Come on, for God's sake!" he implored me. "All I want is a
friendly talk with you. We might talk in your shop, but you have
no private office."
"Whether I have one or not is none of your business" I retorted,
with irrelevant resentment
We walked on. He proposed to take me to one of the ball and
meeting-room places in which he did business, and I acquiesced
A few minutes later we were seated on a long cushion of red plush
covering one of the benches in a long, narrow meeting-hall. We
were close to the window, in the full glare of daylight. A few feet
off the room was in semi-darkness which, still farther off, lapsed
into night. As the plush cushions stretched their lengths into the
deepening gloom their live red died away. There was a touch of
weirdness to the scene, adding to the oppressiveness of the
"I want to ask you a plain question," he began, in a strange voice.
"And I want you to answer it frankly. I assure you I sha'n't be
angry. On the contrary, I shall be much obliged to you if you tell
me the whole truth.
Tell me what happened between you and Dora." I was about to
burst into laughter, but I felt that it would not do. Before I knew
how to act he added, with a sort of solemnity: "She has confessed
"Confessed everything!" I exclaimed, with a feigned compound of
hauteur, indignation, and amusement, playing for time
"That's what she did."
A frenzy of hate took hold of me. I panted to be away from him, to
be out of this room, semi-darkness, red cushions, and all, and let
the future take care of itself. And so, jumping to my feet, I said, in
a fury: "You always were a liar and an idiot. I don't want to have
anything to do with you." With which I made for the door
"Oh, don't be excited. Don't go yet, Levinsky dear, please," he
implored, hysterically, running after me. "I have the best of
feelings for you. May the things that I wish you come to me.
Levinsky! Dear friend! Darling!"
"What do you want of me?" I demanded, with quiet rancor,
pausing at the door and half opening it, without moving on
"If you tell me it isn't true I'll believe you, even if she did confess. I
don't know if she meant what she said. If only you were not
excited! I want to tell you everything, everything."
I laughed sardonically. My desire to escape the ordeal gave way to
strange curiosity. He seemed to be aware of it, for he boldly shut
the door. lie begged me to take a seat again, and I did, a short
distance from the door, where the gloom was almost thick enough
to hide our faces from each other's view
"Why, you are simply crazy, Max!" I said. "You probably bothered
the life out of her and she 'confessed' to put an end to it all. You
might as well have made her confess to murder."
"That's what she says now. But I don't know. When she confessed
she confessed. I could see it was the truth."
"You are crazy, Max! It is all nonsense. Ab-solutely."
"Is it?" he demanded, straining to make out the expression of my
face through the dusk. "Do assure me it is all untrue. Take pity,
dear friend. Do take pity."
"How can I assure you, seeing that you have taken that crazy
notion into your head and don't seem to be able to get rid of it?
Come, throw that stuff out of your mind!" I scolded him,
mentorially. "It's enough to make one sick. Come to reason. Don't
be a fool. I am no saint, but in this case you are absolutely
mistaken. Why, Dora is such an absolutely respectable woman, a
fellow would never dare have the slightest kind of fun with her.
The idea!"--with a little laugh. "You are a baby, Max. Upon my
word, you are.
Dora and I had some words over my bill and--well, she insulted me
and I wouldn't take it from her. That's all there was to it. Why,
look here, Max.
With your knowledge of men and women, do you mean to say that
something was going on under your very nose and you never
noticed anything? Don't you see how ridiculous it is?"
"Well, I believe you, Levinsky," he said, lukewarmly. "Now that
you assure me you don't know anything about it, I believe you. I
know you are not an enemy of mine. I have always considered you
a true friend. You know I have.
That's why I am having this talk with you. I am feeling better
already. But you have no idea what I have been through the last
few weeks. She is so dear to me. I love her so." His voice broke
I was seized with a feeling of mixed abomination and sympathy
"You are a child," I said, taking him by the hand. As I did so every
vestige of hostility faded out of me. My heart went out to him.
"Come, Max, pull yourself together! Be a man!"
"I have always known you to be my friend. I believe all you say. I
first began to think of this trouble a few days after you moved out.
But at first I made no fuss about it. I thought she was not well. I
came to see you a few times and you did not behave like a fellow
who was guilty."
I gave a silent little laugh
He related certain intimate incidents which had aroused his first
twinge of suspicion. He was revoltingly frank
"I spoke to her plainly," he said. "'What's the matter with you,
Dora?' I asked her. 'Don't you like me any more?' And she got wild
and said she hated me like poison. She never talked to me like
that before. It was a different Dora. She was always downhearted,
cranky. The slightest thing made her yell or cry with tears. It got
worse and worse. Oh, it was terrible! We quarreled twenty times a
day and the children cried and I thought I was going mad.
Maybe she was just missing you. You were like one of the family,
don't you know. And, well, you are a good-looking fellow,
Levinsky, and she is only a woman."
"Nonsense!" I returned, the hot color mounting to my cheeks. "I
am sure Dora had not a bad thought in her mind--"
"But she confessed," he interrupted me. "She said she was crazy
for you and I could do as I pleased."
"But you know she did not mean it. She said it just for spite, just to
make you feel bad, because you were quarreling with her."
He quoted a brutal question which he had once put to her
concerning her relations with me, and then he quoted Dora as
answering: "Yes, yes, yes! And if you don't like it you can sue me
I laughed, making my merriment as realistic as I could. "It's all
ridiculous nonsense, Max," I said. "You made life miserable to her
and she was ready to say anything. She may have been worried
over something, and you imagined all sorts of things. Maybe it
was something about her education that worried her. You know
how ambitious she is to be educated, and how hard she takes these
Max shook his head pensively
"I am sure it is as I say," I continued. "Dora is a peculiar woman.
The trouble is, you judge her as if she were like the other women
you meet. Hers is a different character."
This point apparently interested him
"She is always taken up with her thoughts," I pursued. "She is not
so easy to understand, anyway. I lived over a year in your house,
and yet I'll be hanged if I know what kind of woman she is. Of
course you're her husband, but still--can you say you know what
she is thinking of most of the time?"
"There is something in what you say," he assented, half-heartedly
As we rose to go he said, timidly: "There is only one more question
I want to ask of you, Levinsky. You won't be angry, will you?"
"What is it?" I demanded, with a good-natured laugh. "What is
bothering your head?"
"I mean if you meet her now, sometimes?"
"Now, look here, Max. You are simply crazy," I said, earnestly. "I
swear to you by my mother that I have not seen Dora since I
moved out of your house, and that all your suspicions are
nonsense" (to keep the memory of my mother from desecration I
declared mutely that my oath referred to the truthful part of my
declaration only-- that is, exclusively to the fact that I no longer
"I believe you, I believe you, Levinsky," he rejoined. We parted
more than cordially, Max promising to call on me again and to
spend an evening with me
I was left in a singular state of mind. I was eaten up with
compunction, and yet the pain of my love reasserted itself with the
tantalizing force of two months before
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