The Rise of David Levinsky
Part 7 out of 11
Max never called on me again
CHAPTER III AS a salesman Bender proved a dismal failure, but I
retained him in my employ as a bookkeeper and a sort of general
supervisor. I could offer him only ten dollars a week, with a
promise to raise his salary as soon as I could afford it, and he
accepted the job "temporarily." As general supervisor under my
orders he developed considerable efficiency, although he lacked
initiative and his naïveté was a frequent cause of annoyance to
me. I found him spotlessly honest and devoted
I quickly raised his salary to fifteen dollars a week
He was the embodiment of method and precision and he often
nagged me for my deficiency in these qualities. Sometimes these
naggings of his or some display of poor judgment on his part
would give rise to a tiff between us.
Otherwise we got along splendidly. We were supposed to be great
chums. In reality, however, I would freely order him about, while
he would address me with a familiarity which had an echo of
respectful distance to it
With him to take care of my place when I was away, it became
possible for me gradually to extend my territory as traveling
salesman till it reached Nebraska and Louisiana. Thus, having
failed as a drummer himself, he made up for it by enabling me to
act as one
He had been less than a year with me when his salary was twenty
Charles Eaton, the Pennsylvanian of the hemispherical forehead
and bushy eyebrows who had given me my first lesson in
restaurant manners, was now my sponsor at the beginning of my
career as a full-fledged traveling salesman.
He took a warm interest in me. Having spent many years on the
road himself, more particularly in the Middle West and Canada,
he had formed many a close friendship among retailers, so he now
gave me some valuable letters of intro duction to merchants in
When I asked him for suggestions to guide me on the road he
"Oh, well, I guess you'll do well," he said
"Still, you have had so much experience, Mr. Eaton."
"Well, I really don't know. It's all a matter of common sense, I
guess. And, after all, the merchandise is the thing, the
merchandise and the price."
He added a word or two about the futility of laying down rules,
and that was all I could get out of him. That a man of few words
like him should have succeeded as a salesman was a riddle to me.
I subsequently realized that his reticence accentuated an effect of
solidity and helped to inspire confidence in the few words which
he did utter. But at the time in question I was sure that the "gift of
the gab" was an indispensable element of success in a salesman.
Indeed, one of my faults as a drummer, during that period at least,
was that I was apt to talk too much. I would do so partly for the
sheer lust of hearing myself use the jargon of the market, but
chiefly, of course, from eagerness to make a sale, from
over-insistence. I was too exuberant in praising my own goods and
too harsh in criticising those of my competitors.
Altogether there was more emphasis than dignity in my appeal.
One day, as I was haranguing the proprietor of a small department
store in a Michigan town, he suddenly interrupted me by placing a
friendly hand on my shoulder. His name was Henry Gans. He was
a stout man of fifty, with the stamp of American birth on a strong
"Let me give you a bit of advice, young man," he said, with
paternal geniality. "You won't mind, will you?"
I uttered a perplexed, "Why, no"; and he proceeded: "If you want
to make good as a salesman, observe these two rules: Don't knock
the other fellow and don't talk too much."
For a minute I stood silent, utterly nonplussed. Then, pulling
myself together, I said, with a bow: "Thank you, sir. Thank you
very much. I am only a beginner, and only a few years in the
country. I know I have still a great deal to learn. It's very kind of
you to point out my mistakes to The gay light of Gans's eye gave
way to a look of heart-to-heart earnestness
"It ain't nice to run down your competitor," he said. "Besides, it
don't pay. It makes a bad impression on the man you are trying to
get an order from."
We had a long conversation, gradually passing from business to
affairs of a personal nature. He was interested in my early
struggles in America, in my mode of living, in the state of my
business, and I told him the whole story.
He seemed to be well disposed toward me, but it was evident that
he did not take my "one-horse" establishment seriously, and I left
his store without an order. I was berating myself for having
revealed the true size of my business. Somehow my failure in this
instance galled me with special poignancy. I roamed around the
streets, casting about for some scheme to make good my mistake
Less than an hour after I left Gans's store I re-entered it, full of
fresh spirit and pluck.
"I beg your pardon for troubling you again, Mr. Gans," I began,
stopping him in the middle of an aisle. "You've been so kind to
me. I should like to ask you one more question. Only one. I trust I
am not intruding?"
"Go ahead," he said, patiently
"I shall do as you advise me. I shall never knock the other fellow,"
I began, with a smile. "But suppose his merchandise is really
good, and I can outbid him. Why should it not be proper for me to
say so? If you'll permit me"--pointing at one of the suits displayed
in the store, a brown cheviot trimmed with velvet. "Take that suit,
for instance. It's certainly a fine garment. It has style and dash. It's
really a beautiful garment. I haven't the least idea how much you
pay for it, of course, but I do know that I could make you the
identical coat for a much smaller price. So why shouldn't it be
right for me to say so?"
He contemplated me for a moment, broke into a hearty laugh, and
said: "You're a pretty shrewd fellow. Why, of course, there's
nothing wrong in selling cheaper than your competitor. That's
what we're all trying to do.
That's the game, provided you really can sell cheaper than the
other man, and there are no other drawbacks in doing business
What I said about the brown suit piqued him. He had his
bookkeeper show me the bill, and defied me to sell him a garment
of exactly the same material, cut, and workmanship for less. I
accepted the challenge, offering to reduce the price by four dollars
and a half before I had any idea whether I could afford to do so. I
was ready to lose money on the transaction, so long as I got a start
with this man
Gans expressed doubt of my ability to make good my offer. I
proceeded to explain the special conditions under which I ran my
business. I waxed eloquent
"Doing business on a gigantic scale is not always an advantage,
Mr. Gans," I sang out, with an affected Yankee twang. "There are
exceptions. And the cloak-and-suit industry is one of these
exceptions, especially now that the Cloak-makers' Union has
come to stay. By dealing with a very big firm you've got to pay for
union labor, while a modest fellow like myself has no trouble in
getting cheap labor. And when I say cheap I don't mean poor labor,
but just the opposite. I mean the very best tailors, the most skilled
mechanics in the country. It sounds queer, doesn't it? But it's a
fact, nevertheless, Mr. Gans. It is a fact that the best ladies' tailors
are old-fashioned, pious people, green in the country, who hate to
work in big places, and who keep away from Socialists,
anarchists, unionists, and their whole crew. They need very little,
and they love their work. They willingly stay in the shop from
early in the morning till late at night."
"They are dead stuck on it, hey?" Gans said, quizzically. "They are
used to it," I explained. "In Russia a tailor works about fourteen
hours a day. Of course, I don't let them overwork themselves. I
treat them as if they were my brothers or uncles. We get along like
a family, and they earn twice as much as the strict union people,
"I see. They get low wages and don't work too much and are ahead
of the game, after all. Is that it? Well, well. But you're a smart
fellow, just the same."
I explained to him why my men earned more than they would in
the big shops, and the upshot was an order for a hundred suits.
Twenty of these were to be copies of the brown-cheviot garment
which was the subject of his challenge, I buying that suit of him,
so as to use it as a sample
On my way home I exhibited that suit to merchants in other cities,
giving it out for my own product. It was really an attractive
garment and it brought me half a dozen additional sales.
I developed into an excellent salesman. If I were asked to name
some single element of my success on the road I should mention
the enthusiasm with which I usually spoke of my merchandise. It
was genuine, and it was contagious.
Retailers could not help believing that I believed in my goods
CHAPTER IV THE road was a great school of business and life to
me. I visited scores of cities. I met hundreds of human types. I saw
much of the United States.
Every time I returned home I felt as though, in comparison with
the places which I had just visited, New York was not an
American city at all, and as though my last trip had greatly added
to the "real American" quality in me
Thousands of things reminded me of my promotion in the world. I
could not go to bed in a Pullman car, walk over the springy
"runner" of a hotel corridor, unfold the immense napkin of a hotel
dining-room, or shake down my trousers upon alighting from a
boot-black's chair, without being conscious of the difference
between my present life and my life in Antomir
I was full of energy, full of the joy of being alive, but there was
usually an undercurrent of sadness to all this. While on the road I
would feel homesick for New York, and at the same time I would
feel that I had no home anywhere, that my mother was dead and I
was all alone in the world.
I missed Dora many months after she made me move from her
house. As for Max, the thought of him, his jealousy and the way
he groveled before me the last time I had seen him, would give me
a bad taste in the mouth. I both pitied and despised him, and I
hated my guilty conscience; so I would try to keep him out of my
mind. What I missed almost as much as I did Dora was her home.
There was no other to take its place. There was not a single family
in New York or in any other American town who would invite me
to its nest and make me feel at home there. I saw a good deal of
Meyer Nodelman, but he never asked me to the house. And so I
was forever homesick, not for Antomir--for my native town had
become a mere poem--but for a home
I did some reading on the road. There was always some book in
my hand-bag--some volume of Spencer, Emerson, or
Schopenhauer (in an English translation), perhaps. I would also
read articles in the magazines, not to mention the newspapers. But
I would chiefly spend my time in the smoker, talking to the other
drummers or listening to their talk. There was a good deal of
card-playing in the cars, but that never had any attraction for me.
I tried to learn poker, but found it tedious.
The cigarette stumps by which I had sought to counteract my
hunger pangs at the period of my dire need had developed the
cigarette habit in me. This had subsequently become a cigar habit.
I had discovered the psychological significance of smoking "the
cigar of peace and good will." I had realized the importance of
offering a cigar to some of the people I met. I would watch
American smokers and study their ways, as though there were a
special American manner of smoking and such a thing as smoking
with a foreign accent. I came to the conclusion that the dignity of
smoking a cigar lasted only while the cigar was still long and
fresh. There seemed to be special elegance in a smoker taking a
newly lighted cigar out of his mouth and throwing a glance at its
glowing end to see if it was smoking well.
Accordingly, I never did so without being conscious of my
gestures and trying to make them as "American" as possible
The other cloak salesmen I met on the road in those days were
mostly representatives of much bigger houses than mine. They
treated me with ill-concealed contempt, and I would retaliate by
overstating my sales. One of the drummers who were fond of
taunting me was an American by birth, a fellow named Loeb
"Well, Levinsky," he would begin. "Had a big day, didn't you?"
"I certainly did," I would retort.
"How much? Twenty-five thousand?" "Well, it's no use trying to
be funny, but I've pulled in five thousand dollars to-day." "Is that
"Well, if you don't believe me, what's the use asking? What good
would it do me to brag? If I say five thousand. it is five thousand.
As a matter of fact, it 'll amount to more." Whereupon he would
slap his knee and roar
He was a good-looking, florid-faced man with sparkling black
eyes--a gay, boisterous fellow, one of those who are the first to
laugh at their own jests. He was connected with the largest house
in the cloak trade. Our relations were of a singular character. He
was incessantly poking fun at me; nothing seemed to afford him
more pleasure than to set a smokerful of passengers laughing at
my expense. At the same time he seemed to like me.
But then he hated me, too. As for me, I reciprocated both feelings
One day, on the road, he made me the victim of a practical joke
that proved an expensive lesson to me. The incident took place in
a hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. He "confidentially" let me see one of
his samples, hinting that it was his "leader," or best seller. He then
went to do some telephoning, leaving the garment with me the
while. Whereupon I lost no time in making a pencil-sketch of it,
with a few notes as to materials, tints, and other details. I
subsequently had the garment copied and spent time and money
offering it to merchants in New York and on the road. It proved an
"You are a nice one, you are," he said to me, with mock gravity, on
a subsequent trip. "You copied that garment I showed you in
Cincinnati, didn't you?"
"What garment? What on earth are you talking about?" I lied, my
face on fire.
"Come, come, Levinsky. You know very well what garment I
mean. While I was away telephoning you went to work and made
a sketch of it. It was downright robbery. That's what I call it. Well,
have you sold a lot of them?" And he gave me a merry wink that
cut me as with a knife
One of the things about which he often made fun of me was my
Talmud gesticulations, a habit that worried me like a physical
defect. It was so distressingly un-American. I struggled hard
against it. I had made efforts to speak with my hands in my
pockets; I had devised other means for keeping them from
participating in my speech. All of no avail. I still gesticulate a
great deal, though much less than I used to
One afternoon, on a west-bound train, Loeb entertained a group of
passengers of which I was one with worn-out stories of
gesticulating Russian Jews. He told of a man who never opened
his mouth when he was out of doors and it was too cold for him to
expose his hands; of another man who never spoke when it was so
dark that his hands could not be seen. I laughed with the others,
but I felt like a cripple who is forced to make fun of his own
deformity. It seemed to me as though Loeb, who was a Jew, was
holding up our whole race to the ridicule of Gentiles. I could have
executed him as a traitor to his people. Presently he turned on me
"By the way, Levinsky, you never use a telephone, do you?"
"Why? Who says I don't?" I protested, timidly
"Because it's of no use to you," he replied. "The fellow at the other
end of the wire couldn't see your hands, could he?" And he broke
into a peal of self-satisfied mirth in which some of his listeners
"You think you're awfully smart," I retorted, in abject misery
"And you think you're awfully grammatical." And once more he
"You are making fun of the Jewish people," I said, in a rage.
"Aren't you a Jew yourself?"
"Of course I am," he answered, wiping the tears from his laughing
black eyes. "And a good one, too. I am a member of a synagogue.
But what has that got to do with it? I can speak on the telephone,
all right." And again the car rang with his laughter
I was aching to hurl back some fitting repartee, but could think of
none, and to my horror the moments were slipping by, and
presently the conversation was changed
At the request of a gay little Chicagoan who wore a skull-cap a
very fat Chicagoan told a story that was rather risqué. Loeb went
him one better. The man in the skull-cap declared that while he
could not bring himself to tell a smutty story himself, he was "as
good as any man in appreciating one." He then offered a box of
cigars for the most daring anecdote, and there ensued an orgy of
obscenity that kept us shouting (I could not help thinking of
similar talks at the cloak-shops). Loeb suggested that the
smoking-room be dubbed "smutty room" and was applauded by
the little Chicagoan. The prize was awarded, by a vote, to a man
who had told his story in the gravest tone of voice and without a
hint of a smile
Frivolity gave way to a discussion of general business conditions.
A lanky man with a gray beard, neatly trimmed, and with the most
refined manners in our group, said something about competition
in the abstract. I made a remark which seemed to attract attention
and then I hastened to refer to the struggle for life and the survival
of the fittest. Loeb dared not burlesque me. I was in high feather
Dinner was announced. To keep my traveling expenses down I was
usually very frugal on the road. I had not yet seen the inside of a
dining-car (while stopping at a hotel I would not indulge in a
dining-room meal uuless I deemed it advisable to do so for
business considerations). On this occasion, however, when most
of our group went to the dining-car I could not help joining them.
The lanky man, the little Chicagoan, and the fleshy
Chicagoan--the three "stars" of the smoker--went to the same table,
and I hastened, with their ready permission, to occupy the
remaining seat at that table. I ordered an expensive dinner. At my
instance the chat turned on national politics, a subject in which I
felt at home, owing to my passion for newspaper editorials. I said
something which met with an encouraging reception, and then I
entered upon a somewhat elaborate discourse. My listeners
seemed to be interested. I was so absorbed in the topic and in the
success I was apparently scoring that I was utterly oblivious to the
taste of the food in my mouth. But I was aware that it was
"aristocratic American" food, that I was in the company of
well-dressed American Gentiles, eating and conversing with them,
a nobleman among noblemen. I throbbed with love for America
"Don't be excited," I was saying to myself. "Speak in a calm, low
voice, as these Americans do. And for goodness' sake don't
I went on to speak with exaggerated apathy, my hands so
strenuously still that they fairly tingled with the effort, and, of
course, I was so conscious of the whole performance that I did not
know what I was talking about. This state of my mind soon wore
Neither the meal nor the appointments of the car contained
anything that I had not enjoyed scores of times before--in the
hotels at which I stopped or at the restaurants at which I would
dine and wine some of my customers; but to eat such a meal amid
such surroundings while on the move was a novel experience. The
electric lights, the soft red glint of the mahogany walls, the
whiteness of the table linen, the silent efficiency of the colored
waiters, coupled with the fact that all this was speeding onward
through the night, made me feel as though I were partaking of a
repast in an enchanted palace. The easy urbanity of the three
well-dressed Americans gave me a sense of uncanny gentility and
"Can it be that I am I?" I seemed to be wondering
The gaunt, elderly man, who was a member of a wholesale butcher
concern, was seated diagonally across the table from me, but my
eye was for the most part fixed on him rather than on the fat man
who occupied the seat directly opposite mine. He was the most
refined-looking man of the three and his vocabulary matched his
appearance and manner. He fascinated me. His cultured English
and ways conflicted in my mind with the character of his business.
I could not help thinking of raw beef, bones, and congealed blood.
I said to myself, "It takes a country like America to produce
butchers who look and speak like noblemen." The United States
was still full of surprises for me.
I was still discovering America
After dinner, when we were in the smoking-room again, it seemed
to me that the three Gentiles were tired of me. Had I talked too
much? Had I made a nuisance of myself? I was wretched
CHAPTER V I LOST track of Loeb before the train reached
Chicago, but about a fortnight later, when I was in St. Louis, I
encountered him again. It was on a Monday morning. With
sample-case in hand, I was crossing one of the busiest spots in the
shopping district with preoccupied mien, when he hailed me:
"Hello, Levinsky! How long have you been here?"
"Just arrived," I answered
"Where are you stopping?"
I named my hotel. I could see that he was taking note of the fact
that I was crossing the street to the Great Bazar, one of the largest
department stores in St. Louis
"I am going to tackle Huntington this morning," I said, with mild
"Are you? Wish you luck," he remarked, quite gravely. "You'll find
him a pretty tough customer, though." He was apparently too busy
to indulge in raillery. "Wish you luck," he repeated, and was off
Huntington was the new head of the cloak-and-suit department in
the Great Bazar, and in this capacity he was said to be doing
wonders. It was not true that I had just arrived. I had been in the
city nearly three days, and the day before I had mailed a letter to
Huntington upon which I was building great hopes. I knew but too
well that he was a "tough customer," my previous efforts to obtain
an interview with him--in New York as well as here, in St.
Louis--having proven futile. I was too small a fish for him. Nor,
indeed, was the Great Bazar the only large department store in the
country whose door was closed to me. Barring six or seven such
stores, in as many cities, with which I was in touch largely
through the good offices of Eaton, my business was almost
confined to small concerns. Eaton had given me letters to many
other large firms, but these had brought no result. For one thing,
my Russian name was against me. As I have said before, the
American business world had not yet learned to take our people
And so I had written Huntington, making a special plea for a few
minutes of his "most valuable time." All I asked for was an
opportunity "to point out some specific conditions that enable our
house to reduce the cost of production to an unheard-of level." If
he had only read that letter! I had bestowed so much effort on it,
and I gave myself credit for having made a fine job of it
Arriving at the big store, I made my way to the sample-rooms. I
did so by a freight-elevator, the passenger-cars being denied to
men carrying sample-cases. In the waiting-room of the buyers'
offices I found four or five men, all of them accompanied by
colored porters who carried their sample-cases for them. A
neat-looking office-boy, behind a small desk, was rocking on the
hind legs of his chair with an air of supreme indifference.
"Will you take it in?" I said to him, handing him my card. "I want
to see Mr. Huntington."
"Mr. Huntington is busy," he answered, mechanically, without
ceasing to rock.
"Take it in, please," I whispered, imploringly. But he took no heed
Had I been the only salesman in the room, I should have offered
him a bribe.
As it was, there was nothing to do but to take a seat and wait
"These office-boys treat salesmen like so many dogs," I muttered,
addressing myself to the man by my side
He sized me up, without deigning an answer.
Other salesmen made their appearance, some modestly, others
with a studied air of confidence, loudly greeting those they knew.
The presence of so many rivals and the frigidity of the office-boy
made my heart heavy. I was still a novice at the game, and the
least mark of hostility was apt to have a depressing effect on my
spirits, though, as a rule, it only added fuel to my ambition
Some of the other salesmen were chatting and cracking jokes, for
all the world like a group of devoted friends gathered for some
common purpose. The ostensible meaning of it all was that the
competition in which they were engaged was a "mere matter of
business," of civilized rivalry; that it was not supposed to interfere
with their friendship and mutual sense of fair play. But I thought
that all this was mere pretense, and that at the bottom of their
hearts each of them felt like wiping the rest of us off the face of
Presently the office-boy gathered up our cards and disappeared
behind a door. He was gone quite a few minutes. They were hours
to me. I was in the toils of suspense, in a fever of eagerness and
anxiety. As I sat gazing at the door through which the office-boy
had vanished, Mr. Huntington loomed in my imagination large
and formidable, mighty and stern. To be admitted to his presence
was at this moment the highest aim of my life. Running through
my anxious mind were various phrases from the letter I had sent
him. Some of these seemed to be highly felicitous. The epistle
was bound to make an impression. "Provided he has read it," I
thought, anxiously. "But why should he have bothered with it? He
probably receives scores like it. No, he has not read it."
The next moment it became clear to me that the opening sentence
of my plea was sure to have arrested Huntington's attention, that
he had read it to the end, and would let me not only show him my
samples, but explain matters as well. Of a sudden, however, it
struck me, to my horror, that I had no recollection of having
signed that letter of mine
A middle-aged woman with a Jewish cast of features passed
through the waiting-room. I knew that she was Huntington's
assistant and she was apparently going to his compartment of the
sample-room. The fact that she had a Jewish face seemed
encouraging. Not that the Jews I had met in business had shown
me more leniency or cordiality than the average Gentile.
Nor was an assistant buyer, as a rule, in a position to do something
for a salesman unless his samples had been referred to her by her
Nevertheless, her Jewish features spoke of kinship to me. They
softened the grimness of the atmosphere around me
Finally the office-boy came back. My heart beat violently. Pausing
at his desk, with only two or three of all the cards he had taken to
the potentate, he looked at them, as he called out, with great
dignity: "Mr. Huntington will see Mr. Sallinger, Mr. Stewart, and
My heart sank. I suspected that my poor card had never reached its
destination, that the boy had simply thrown it away, together with
some of the other cards, perhaps, on his way to Mr. Huntington's
room. Indeed, I knew that this was the fate of many a salesman's
The boy called out Sallinger's name again, this time admitting him
to the inner precincts. All those whose cards had been ignored
except myself--there were about a dozen of them--picked up their
sample-cases or had their porters do so and passed out without
ado. As for me, I simply could not bring myself to leave
"He didn't mark my card, did he?" I said to the boy
"No, sir," he snapped, with a scowl.
When I reached the street I paused for some minutes, as though
glued to the sidewalk. Was it all over? Was there no hope of my
seeing Huntington? My mind would not be reconciled to such an
outcome. I stood racking my brains for some subterfuge by which
I might be able to break through the Chinese wall that separated
me from the great Mogul, and when I finally set out on my way to
other stores I was still brooding over the question. I visited several
smaller places that day and I made some sales, but all the while I
was displaying my samples, quoting prices, arguing, cajoling,
explaining, jesting, the background of my brain never ceased
bothering about Huntington and devising means of getting at him
The next morning I was in Huntington's waiting-room again. I
fared no better than on the previous occasion. I tried to speak to
Huntington on the telephone, but I only succeeded in speaking to
a telephone-girl and she told me that he was busy
"Please tell Mr. Huntington I have a job to close out, a
seventeen-dollar garment for seven fifty."
"Mr. Huntington is busy."
At this moment it seemed to me that all talk of American liberty
was mere cant
I asked the manager of the hotel at which I was stopping to give
me a letter of introduction to him, and received a polite no for an
answer. I discovered the restaurant where Huntington was in the
habit of taking lunch and I went there for my next noon-hour meal
for the purpose of asking him for an interview. I knew him by
sight, for I had seen him twice in New York, so when he walked
into the restaurant there was a catch at my heart. He was a spare
little man with a face, mustache, and hair that looked as though he
had just been dipped in a pail of saffron paint. He was
accompanied by another man. I was determined first to let him
have his lunch and then, on his way out, to accost him. Presently,
lo and behold! Loeb entered the restaurant and walked straight up
to Huntington's table, evidently by appointment. I nearly groaned.
I knew that Loeb had a spacious sample-room at his hotel, with
scores of garments hung out, and even with wire figures.
It was clear that Huntington had visited it or was going to, while I
could not even get him to hear my prices. Was that fair? I saw the
law of free competition, the great law of struggle and the survival
of the fittest, defied, violated, desecrated
I discovered the residence of Huntington's assistant, and called on
her. I had offered presents to other assistant buyers and some of
them had been accepted, so I tried the same method in this
case--with an unfortunate result. Huntington's assistant not only
rejected my bribe, but flew into a passion to boot, and it was all
my powers of pleading could do to have her promise me not to
report the matter to her principal
I learned that Huntington was a member of the Elks and a
frequenter of their local club-house, but, unfortunately, I was not a
member of that order
I went to the Yiddish-speaking quarter of St. Louis, made the
acquaintance of a man who was ready to sell me, on the
instalment plan, everything under the sun, from a house lot and a
lottery ticket to a divorce, and who undertook to find me (for ten
dollars) somebody who would give me a "first-class introduction"
to Huntington; but his eager eloquence failed to convince me. I
had my coat pressed by a Jewish tailor whose place was around
the corner from Huntington's residence and who pressed his suits
for him. I had a shave in the barber shop at which Huntington kept
his shaving-cup. I learned something of the great man's family
life, of his character, ways, habits. It proved that he lived quite
modestly, and that his income was somewhere between sixty and
seventy dollars a week. Mine was three times as large. That I
should have to rack my brains, do detective work, and be
subjected to all sorts of humiliation in an effort to obtain an
audience with him seemed to be a most absurd injustice
I was losing precious time, but I could not bring myself to get
away from St. Louis without having had the desired interview.
Huntington's name was buzzing in my mind like an insect. It was a
My talk with his barber led me to a bowling-alley. Being a
passionate bowler, the cloak-buyer visited the place for an hour or
so three or four times a week. As a consequence of this discovery
I spent two afternoons and an evening there, practising a game
which I had never even heard of before
My labors were not thrown away. The next evening I saw
Huntington and a son of his in the place and we bowled some
games together. Seen at close range, the cloak-buyer was a
commonplace-looking fellow. I thought that he did not look much
older than his son, and that both of them might have just stepped
out from behind a necktie counter. I searched the older man's
countenance for marks of astuteness, initiative, or energy, without
being able to find any. But he certainly was a forcible bowler
When he made a sensational hit and there broke out a roar of
admiration I surpassed all the other bystanders in exuberance. "I
must not overdo it, though," I cautioned myself. "He cannot be a
fool. He'll see through me." His son was apparently very proud of
him, so I said to the young man: "Anybody can see your father is
an energetic man."
"You bet he is," the young man returned, appreciatively. I led him
on and he told me about his father's baseball record. I dropped a
remark about his being "successful in business as well as in
athletics" and wound up by introducing myself and asking to be
introduced to his father. It was a rather dangerous venture, for the
older Huntington was apt to remember my name, in which case
my efforts might bring me nothing but a rebuff. Anyhow, I took
the plunge and, to my great delight, he did not seem ever to have
heard of me
Ten minutes later the three of us were seated over glasses of lager
in the beer-garden with which the bowling-alley was connected. I
told them that I was from New York and that I had come to St.
Louis partly on business and partly to visit a sister who lived in
their neighborhood. The elder Huntington said something of the
rapid growth of New York, of its new high buildings. His English
was curiously interspersed with a bookish phraseology that
seemed to be traceable to the high-flown advertisements of his
department in the newspapers. I veered the conversation from the
architectural changes that had come over New York to changes of
an ethnographic character.
"Our people, immigrants from Russia, I mean, are beginning to
play a part in the business life of the city," I said
"Are you a Russian?" he asked
"I used to be," I answered, with a smile. "I am an American now."
"You see, we are only new-comers. The German Jews began
coming a great many years ahead of us, but we can't kick, either."
"I suppose not," he said, genially.
"For one thing, we are the early bird that gets, or is bound to get,
the worm. I mean it in a literal sense. Our people go to business at
a much earlier hour and go home much later. There is quite a
number of them in your line of business, too."
"I know," he said. "Of course, the 'hands' are mostly Russian
Hebrews, but some of them have gone into manufacturing, and I
don't doubt but they'll make a success of it."
"Why, they are making a success of it, Mr. Huntington."
I felt that I was treading on risky gound, that he might smell a rat
at any moment; but I felt, also, that when he heard why
manufacturers of my type were able to undersell the big old firms
he would find my talk too tempting to cut it short. And so I rushed
on. I explained that the Russian cloak-manufacturer operated on a
basis of much lower profits and figured down expenses to a point
never dreamed of before; that the German-American
cloak-manufacturer was primarily a merchant, not a tailor; that he
was compelled to leave things to his designer and a foreman,
whereas his Russian competitor was a tailor or cloak-operator
himself, and was, therefore, able to economize in ways that never
occurred to the heads of the old houses.
"I see," Huntington said, with a queer stare at me
"Besides, our people content themselves with small profits," I
pursued. "We are modest."
Here I plagiarized an epigram I had heard from Meyer Nodelman:
"Our German co-religionists will spend their money before they
have made it, while we try to make it first."
I expected Huntington to smile, but he did not. He was listening
with sphinx-like gravity. When I paused, my face and my ears
burning, he said, with some embarrassment: "What is your
business, may I ask?" "I am in the same line. Cloaks." "Are you?"
With another stare
Tense with excitement, I said, with daredevil recklessness: "The
trouble is that successful men like yourself are so hard to get at,
"What do you mean?" he said, with a cryptic laugh
I made a clean breast of it
Perhaps he was flattered by my picture of him as an inaccessible
magnate; perhaps he simply appreciated the joke of the thing and
the energy and tenacity I had brought to it, but he let me narrate
the adventure in detail.
I told him the bare truth, and I did so with conscious
simple-heartedness, straining every nerve to make a favorable
As he listened he repeatedly broke into laughter, and when I had
finished he said to his son: "Sounds like a detective story, doesn't
But his demeanor was still enigmatic, and I anxiously wondered
whether I impressed him as an energetic business man or merely
as an adventurer, a crank, or even a crook
"All I ask for is an opportunity to show you my samples, Mr.
Huntington," I said.
"Well," he answered, deliberately, "there can be no harm in that."
And after a pause, "You've bagged your game so far as that's
And he merrily made me an appointment for the next morning
About a month later I came across Loeb on Broadway, New York
"By the way," he said, in the course of our brief talk, with a
twinkle in his eve, "did you sell anything to Huntington?"
"Huntington? St. Louis? Why, he really is a hard man to reach," I
At that very moment my cutters were at work on a big order from
Huntington, largely for copies from Loch's styles. I had filled a
test order of his so promptly and so completely to his satisfaction,
and my prices were so overwhelmingly below those in Loch's bill,
that the St. Louis buyer had wired me a "duplicate" for eight
There was a buyer in Cleveland, a bright, forceful little man who
would not let a salesman quote his price until he had made a guess
at it. His name was Lemmelmann. He was an excellent business
man and a charming fellow, but he had a weakness for parading
his ability to estimate the price of a garment "down to a cent." The
salesmen naturally humored this ambition of his and every time
he made a correct guess they would applaud him without stint, and
I would follow their example. On one occasion I came to
Cleveland with two especially prepared compliments in my mind
"Every human being has five senses," I said to the little buyer.
"You have six, Mr. Lemmelmann. You were born with a price
sense besides the ordinary five."
"My, but it's a good one," he returned, jovially
"Yes, you have more senses than anybody else, Mr.
Lemmelmann," I added.
"You're the most sensible man in the world."
"Why--why, you can send stuff like that to Puck or Judge and get a
five-dollar bill for it. How much will you charge me? Will that
do?" he asked, handing me a cigar
The two compliments cemented our friendship. At least, I thought
Another buyer, in Atlanta, Georgia, had a truly wonderful memory.
He seemed to remember every sample he had ever seen--goods,
lines, trimmings, price, and all. He was an eccentric man.
Sometimes he would receive a crowd of salesmen in rapid
succession, inspect their merchandise and hear their prices
without making any purchase. Later, sometimes on the same day,
he would send out orders for the "numbers" that had taken his
While showing him my samples one morning I essayed to express
amazement at his unusual memory. But in this case I mistook my
"If everybody had your marvelous memory there would be little
work for bookkeepers," I jested
Whereupon he darted an impatient glance at me and growled:
"Never mind my memory. You sell cloaks and suits, don't you? If
you deal in taffy, you'll have to see the buyer of the candy
CHAPTER VI HUNTINGTON was a rising man and the other
cloak-buyers were watchng him.
When it became known that there was a young manufacturer
named Levinsky with whom he was placing heavy orders I began
to attract general attention. My reputation for selling "first-rate
stuff" for the lowest prices quoted spread. Buyers would call at my
rookery of a shop before I had time to seek an interview with
them. The appearance of my place and the crudity of my office
facilities, so far from militating against my progress, helped to
accelerate it. Skeptical buyers who had doubted my ability to
undersell the old-established houses became convinced of it when
they inspected my primitive-looking establishment.
The place became far too small for me. I moved to much larger
quarters, consisting of the two uppermost floors and garret of a
double tenement-house of the old type. A hall bedroom was
converted into an office, the first separate room I ever had for the
purpose, and I enjoyed the possession of it as much as I had done
my first check-book. I had a lounge put in it, and often, at the
height of the manufacturing season, when I worked from daybreak
far into the night and lived on sandwiches, I would, instead of
going home for the night, snatch three or four hours' sleep on it.
The only thing that annoyed me was a faint odor of mold which
filled my bedroom-office and which kept me in mind of the
Margolises' old apartment.
There was the pain of my second love-affair in that odor, for,
although I had not seen Dora nor heard of her for more than two
years, I still thought of her often, and when I did her image still
gave me pangs of yearning.
There was an air of prosperity and growth about my new place, but
this did not interfere with the old air of skimpiness and cheapness
as to running expenses and other elements that go to make up the
cost of production
Bender's salary had been raised substantially, so much so that he
had resigned his place as evening-school teacher, devoting
himself exclusively to my shop and office. He was provokingly
childish as ever, but he had learned a vast deal about the cloak
business, its mechanical branch as well as the commercial end of
it, and his usefulness had grown enormously
One morning I was hustling about my garret floor, vibrating with
energy and self-importance, when he came up the stairs, saying:
"There is a woman on the main floor who wants to see you. She
says you know her." Was it Dora? I descended the stairs in a
I was mistaken. It was Mrs. Chaikin. She looked haggard and more
than usually frowsy. The cause of her pitiable appearance was no
riddle to me. I knew that her husband's partner had made a mess
of their business and that Chaikin had lost all his savings. "Does
she want a loan?" I speculated
My first impulse was to take her to my little office, but I instantly
realized that it would not be wise to flaunt such a mark of my
advancement before her. I offered her a chair in a corner of the
room in which I found her
"How is Chaikin? How is Maxie?"
"Thank God, Maxie is quite a boy," she answered, coyly. "Why
don't you come to see him? Have you forgotten him? He has not
forgotten you. Always asking about 'Uncle Levinsky.' Some little
children have a better memory than some grown people."
Having delivered this thrust, she swept my shop with a sepulchral
glance, followed by a succession of nods. Then she said, with a
grin at once wheedling and malicious: "There are two more floors,
aren't there? And I see you're very busy, thank God. Plenty of
orders, hey? Thank God. Well, when Chaikin gets something
started and there is nobody to spoil it, it's sure to go well. Isn't it?"
"Chaikin is certainly a fine designer," I replied, noncommittally,
wondering what she was driving at
"A fine designer! Is that all?" she protested, with exquisite
sarcasm. "And who fixed up this whole business? styles got the
business started and gave it the name it has? Only 'a fine designer,'
indeed! It's a good thing you admit that much at least. Well, but
what's the use quarreling? I am here as a friend, not to make
threats. That's not in my nature."
She gave me a propitiating look, and paused for my reply. "What
do you mean, Mrs. Chaikin?" I asked, with an air of complaisant
"'What do you mean?'" she mocked me, suavely. "Poor fellow, he
doesn't understand what a person means. He has no head on his
shoulders, the poor thing. But what's the good beating about the
bush, Levinsky? I am here to tell you that we have decided to
come back and be partners again."
I did not burst into laughter. I just looked her over, and said, in the
calmest and most business-like manner: "That's impossible, Mrs.
Chaikin. The business doesn't need any partner."
"Doesn't need any partner! But it's ours, this business, as much as
yours; even more. It is our sweat and our blood. Why, you hadn't a
cent to your name when we started it, and you know it. And what
did you have, pray? Did you know anything about cloaks? Could
you do anything without Chaikin?"
"We won't argue about it, Mrs. Chaikin."
"Not argue about it?"
She was working herself into a rage, but she nipped it in the bud.
"Now, look here, Levinsky," she said, with fresh suavity. "I have
told you I haven't come here to pick a quarrel. Maxie misses you
very much. He's always speaking about you." She tried a tone of
persuasion. "When Chaikin and you are together again the
business will go like grease. You know it will. He'll be the inside
man and you'll attend to the outside business. You won't have to
worry about anything around the shop, and, well, I needn't tell you
what his designs will do for the business. Why, the Manheimers
are just begging him to become their partner" (this was a lie, of
course), "but I say: 'No, Chaikin! Better let us stick to our own
business, even if it is much smaller, and let's be satisfied with
whatever God is pleased to give us.'" Her protestations and
pleadings proving ineffectual, she burst into another fury and
made an ugly scene, threatening to retain "the biggest lawyer in
the 'Nited States" and to commence action against me
"Look at him! He's smiling!" she said, addressing herself to some
of my men.
"He thinks he can swindle people and be left alone."
"Better go home, Mrs. Chaikin," I said, impatiently. "I have no
time." "All right. We shall see!" she snapped, flouncing out.
Before she closed the door on herself she returned and, stalking up
to the chair which she had occupied a minute before, she seated
herself again, defiantly. "Chase me out, if you dare," she said,
with a sneer, her chin in the air. "I should just like to see you do it.
Should like to see you chase me out of my own shop. It's all mine!
all mine!" she shouted, her voice mounting hysterically. "All
mine! Chaikin's sweat and blood. You're a swindler, a thief! I'll
put you in Sing Sing."
She went off into a swoon, more or less affected, and when I had
brought her to herself she shed a flood of quiet tears
"Take pity, oh, do take pity!" she besought, patting my hand. "You
have a Jewish heart; you'll take pity."
There was nothing for it but to edge out of the room and to hide
A week later she came again, this time with Maxie, whom I had
not seen for nearly three years and who seemed to have grown to
double his former size.
On this occasion she threatened to denounce me to the
Cloak-makers' Union for employing scab labor. Finally she made
a scene that caused me to whisper to Bender to telephone for a
policeman. Before complying, however, he tried persuasion.
"You had better go, madam," he said to her, meekly. "You are
Partly because he was a stranger to her, but mainly, I think,
because of his American appearance and English, she obeyed him
The next day her husband came. He looked so worn and wretched
and he was so ill at ease as he attempted to explain his errand that
I could scarcely make out his words, but I received him well and
my manner was encouraging, so he soon found his tongue
"Don't you care to have it in the old way again?" he said, piteously
"Why, I wish I could, Mr. Chaikin. I should be very glad to have
you here. I mean what I say. But it's really impossible."
"I should try my best, you know." "I know you would."
After a pause he said: "She'll drive me into the grave. She makes
my life so miserable."
"But it was she who made you get out of our partnership," I
"Yes, and now she blames it all on me. When she heard you had
moved to a larger place she fainted. Couldn't you take me back?"
He finally went to work as a designer for one of the old firms, at a
smaller salary than his former employers had paid him
For the present I continued to worry along with my free-lance
designer, but as a matter of fact Chaikin's wonderful feeling for
line and color was, unbeknown to himself, in my service. The
practice of pirating designs was rapidly becoming an open secret,
in fact. Styles put out by the big houses were copied by some of
their tailors, who would sell the drawing for a few dollars to some
of the smaller houses in plenty of time before the new cloak or
suit had been placed on the market. In this manner it was that I
obtained, almost regularly, copies of Chaikin's latest designs
The period of dire distress that smote the country about this
time--the memorable crisis of 1893--dealt me a staggering blow,
but I soon recovered from it. The crisis had been preceded by a
series of bitter conflicts between the old manufacturers and the
Cloak-makers' Union, in the form of lockouts, strikes, and
criminal proceedings against the leaders of the union, which had
proved fatal to both. The union was still in existence, but it was a
mere shadow of the formidable body that it had been three years
before. And, as work was scarce, labor could be had for a song, as
the phrase goes. This enabled me to make a number of
comparatively large sales.
To tell the truth, the decay of the union was a source of regret to
me, as the special talents I had developed for dodging it while it
was powerful had formerly given me an advantage over a majority
of my competitors which I now did not enjoy. Everybody was now
practically free from its control.
Everybody could have all the cheap labor he wanted
Still, I was one of a minority of cloak-manufacturers who
contrived to bring down the cost of production to an
extraordinarily low level, and so I gradually obtained considerable
business, rallying from the shock of the panic before it was well
CHAPTER VII THE panic was followed by a carnival of
prosperity of which I received a generous share. My business was
progressing with leaps and bounds
The factory and office were moved to Broadway. This time it was
a real office, with several bookkeepers, stenographers, model
girls, and golden legends on the doors. These legends were always
glittering in my mind
People were loading me with flattery. Everybody was telling me
that I had "got there," and some were hinting, or saying in so many
words, that I was a man of rare gifts, of exceptional character. I
accepted it all as my due.
Nay, I regarded myself as rather underestimated. "They don't really
understand me," I would think to myself. "They know that I
possess brains and grit and all that sort of thing, but they are too
commonplace to appreciate the subtlety of my thoughts and
Every successful man is a Napoleon in one thing at least--in
believing himself the ward of a lucky star. I was no exception to
this rule. I came to think myself infallible
In short, prosperity had turned my head
I looked upon poor people with more contempt than ever. I still
called them "misfits," in a Darwinian sense. The removal of my
business to Broadway was an official confirmation of my being
one of the fittest, and those golden inscriptions on my two office
doors seemed to proclaim it solemnly
At the same time I did not seem to be successful enough. I felt as
though my rewards were inadequate. I was now worth more than
one hundred thousand dollars, and the sum did not seem to be
anything to rejoice over. My fortune was not climbing rapidly
enough. I was almost tempted to stamp my foot and snarlingly
urge it on. Only one hundred thousand! Why, there were so many
illiterate dunces who had not even heard of Darwin and Spencer
and who were worth more
There were moments, however, when my success would seem
something incredible. That was usually when I chanced to think of
some scene of my past life with special vividness. Could it be
possible that I was worth a hundred thousand dollars, that I wore
six-dollar shoes, ate dollar lunches, and had an army of employees
at my beck and call? I never recalled my unrealized dreams of a
college education without experiencing a qualm of regret
One day--it was a drizzly afternoon in April--as I walked along
Broadway under my umbrella I came across Jake Mindels, the
handsome young man who had been my companion during the
period when I was preparing for City College. I had not seen him
for over two years, but I had kept track of his career and I knew
that he had recently graduated from the University Medical
College and had opened a doctor's office on Rivington Street. His
studiously dignified carriage, his Prince Albert coat, the way he
wore his soft hat, the way he held his open umbrella, and, above
all, the beard he was growing, betrayed a desire to look his new
part. And he did look it, too. The nascent beard, the frock-coat,
and the soft hat became him. He was handsomer than ever, and
there was a new air of quiet, though conscious, intellectual
importance about him.
The sight of him as I beheld him coming toward me gave me a
pang of envy
"Levinsky! How are you? How are you?" he shouted, flinging
himself at me effusively
"I hear you're practising medicine," I returned. And, looking him
over gaily, I added, "A doctor every inch of you."
"And you're a rich man, I hear."
"Vanderbilt is richer, I can assure you. I should change places with
you any time." In my heart I remarked, "Yes, I am worth a
hundred thousand dollars, while he is probably struggling to make
a living, but I can beat him at his own intellectual game, too, even
if he has studied anatomy and physiology."
"Well, you will be a Vanderbilt some day. You're only beginning
to make money. People say you are a great success. I was so glad
to hear of it."
"And I am glad to hear that you were glad," I jested, gratefully.
"And how are things with you?"
"All right," he answered, firmly. "I can't complain. For the time I've
been practising I am doing very well. Very well, indeed."
He told me of a case in which one of the oldest and most
successful physicians on the East Side had made a false diagnosis,
and where he, Mindels, had made the correct one and saved the
"The family wouldn't hear of another doctor now. They would give
their lives for me," he said, with a simper
I took him up to my factory and showed him about. He was lavish
in his expressions of surprise at the magnitude of my concern, and
when I asked him to have dinner with me that evening he seemed
to be more than pleased. Apart from other feelings, he was
probably glad to renew acquaintance with a man who could afford
to pay a decent doctor's bill, and through whom he might get in
touch with other desirable patrons
Presently he wrinkled his forehead, as though he had suddenly
"Oh! Let me see!" he said. "Couldn't we postpone it? I have a
confinement this evening. I expect to be called at any moment."
We changed the date, and he departed. I was left somewhat excited
by the reminiscences that the meeting had evoked in me. I fell to
pacing the floor of my office, ruminating upon the change which
the past few years had wrought in his life and in mine. His
boastful garrulity was something new in him. Was it the struggle
for existence which was forcing it upon him? I wondered whether
that confinement story was not a fib invented to flaunt his
professional success. Thereupon I gave myself credit for my
knowledge of human nature. "That's one of the secrets of my
success," I thought. I complimented myself upon the possession of
all sorts of talents, but my keenest ambition was to be recognized
as an unerring judge of men
The amusing part of it was that in 1894, for example, I found that
in 1893 my judgment of men and things had been immature and
puerile. I was convinced that now at last my insight was a
thoroughly reliable instrurnent, only a year later to look back upon
my opinions of 1894 with contempt. I was everlastingly revising
my views of people, including my own self
BOOK XI MATRIMONY CHAPTER I ONE afternoon in January
or February I was on a Lexington Avenue car going up-town. At
Sixty-seventh Street the car was invaded by a vivacious crowd of
young girls, each with a stack of books under one of her arms. It
was evident that they were returning home from Normal College,
which was on that corner. Some of them preferred to stand,
holding on to straps, so as to face and converse with their seated
I was watching them as they chattered, laughed, or whispered,
bubbling over with the joy of being young and with the
consciousness of their budding womanhood, when my attention
was attracted to one of their number--a tall, lanky, long-necked
lass of fifteen or sixteen. She was hanging on to a strap directly
across the car from me. I could not see her face, but the shape of
her head and a certain jerk of it, when she laughed, looked
strikingly familiar to me. Presently she chanced to turn half-way
around, and I recognized her. It was Lucy. I had not seen her for
six years. She was completely changed and yet the same. Not yet
fully formed, elongated, attenuated, angular, ridiculously too tall
for her looks, and not quite so pretty as she had been at nine or
ten, but overflowing with color, with light, with blossoming life,
she thrilled me almost to tears. I was aching to call out her name,
to hear myself say "Lucy" as I had once been wont to do, but I was
not sure that it would be advisable to let her father hear of my
lingering interest in his family. While I was thus debating with
myself whether I should accost her, her glance fell on me. She
transferred it to one of the windows, and the next moment she fell
to eying me furtively.
"She has recognized me, but she won't come over to me," I
thought. "She seems to be aware of her father's jealousy." It was a
Presently her fresh, youthful face brightened up. She bent over to
two of her girl friends and whispered something to them, and then
these threw glances at me. After some more whispering Lucy
faced about boldly and stepped over to me
"I beg your pardon. Aren't you Mr. Levinsky?" she asked, with
sweet, girlish shyness
"Of course I am, Lucy! Lucy dear, how are you? Quite a young
"I was wondering," she went on without answering. "At first I did
You did seem familiar to me, but I could not locate your face. But
then, all at once, don't you know, I said to myself, 'Why, it's Mr.
Levinsky.' Oh, I'm so glad to see you."
She was all flushed and beaming with the surprise of the meeting,
with consciousness of the eyes of her classmates who were
watching her, and with something else which seemed to say: "I am
Lucy, but not the little girl you used to play with. I am a young
"And I was wondering who that tall, charming young lady was," I
said. "Lord! how you have grown, Lucy!"
"Yes, I'm already taller than mother and father," she answered
"Than both together?"
"No, not as bad as all that," she giggled
For children of our immigrants to outgrow their parents, not only
intellectually, but physically as well, is a common phenomenon.
Perhaps it is due to their being fed far better than their parents
were in their childhood and youth
I asked Lucy to take a seat by my side and she did, cheerfully. ("
Maybe she does not know anything," I wondered.) "How is
Danny?" I asked. "Still fat?"
"No, not very," she laughed. "He goes to school. I have a little
sister, too," she added, blushing the least bit.
I winced. It was as though I had heard something revoltingly
unseemly. Then a thought crossed my mind, and, seized with an
odd feeling of curiosity, I asked: "How old is she?"
"Oh, a little less than a year," Lucy replied. "She's awful cute," she
"And how is papa?" I inquired, to turn the conversation
"He's all right, thank you," she answered, gravely. "Only he lost a
lot of money on account of the hard times. Many of his customers
were out of work.
Business is picking up, though."
"And how is Becky? Are you still great friends?"
"Why, she ought to be here!" she replied, gazing around the car.
"Must be in the next car."
"In another car!" I exclaimed, in mock amazement. "Not by your
side?" Lucy laughed. "We are in the same class," she said
"And, of course, the families still live in the same house?" She
nodded affirmatively, adding that they lived at One Hundred and
Second Street near Madison Avenue, about a block and a half
from the Park
"Come up some time, won't you?" she gurgled, with childish
amiability, yet with apparent awkwardness
I wondered whether she was aware of her father's jealousy. "If she
were she certainly would not invite me to the house," I reflected
I made no answer to her invitation
"Won't you come up?" she insisted.
I thought: "She doesn't seem to know anything about it. She has
only heard that I had a quarrel with her mother." I shook my head,
"Why, are you still angry at mother?" she pursued, shaking her
head, deprecatingly, as who should say, "You're a bad boy."
I thought, "Of course she doesn't know." I smiled again. Then I
said: "You're a sweet girl, all the same. And a big one, too."
"Thank you. Do come. Will you?" I shook my head
"Will you never come?" she asked, playfully. "Never? Never?"
"I have told you you're a charming girl, haven't I? What more do
The American children of the Ghetto are American not only in
their language, tastes, and ambitions, but in outward appearance
as well. Their bearing, gestures, the play of their features, and
something in the very expression of their Semitic faces proclaim
the land of their birth. All this was true of Lucy. She was
fascinatingly American, and I told her so
"You're not simply a charming girl. You're a charming American
girl," I said.
I wondered whether Dora had been keeping up her studies, and by
questioning Lucy about the books under her arm I contrived to
elicit the information that her mother had read not only such
works as the Vicar of Wakefield, Washington Irving's Sketch
Book, and Lamb's Shakespeare Stories, which had been part of
Lucy's course during her first year at college, but that she had also
read some of the works of Cooper, George Eliot, Dickens,
Thackeray, Hawthorne, and all sorts of cheaper novels
"Mother is a great reader," Lucy said. "She reads more than I do.
Why, she reads newspapers and magazines--everything she can
lay her hands on! Father calls her Professor."
She also told me that her mother had read a good deal of poetry,
that she knew the "Ancient Mariner" and "The Raven" by heart
"She's always at me because I don't care for poetry as much as she
does," she laughed.
"Well, you're not taller than your mother in this respect, are you?"
"N-no," she assented, with an appreciative giggle
She left the car on the corner of One Hundred and Second Street. I
was in a queer state of excitement
It flashed upon my mind that the section of Central Park in the
vicinity of One Hundred and Second Street teemed with women
and baby-carriages, and that it was but natural to suppose that
Dora would be out every day wheeling her baby in that locality,
and reading a book, perhaps. I visioned myself meeting her there
some afternoon and telling her of my undying love. I even worked
out the details of the plan, but I felt that I should never carry it out
I still loved Dora, but that was the Dora of six years before, an
image of an enshrined past. She was a dear, sad memory scarcely
anything more, and it seemed as though to disturb that sadness
"I shall probably run up against her some day," I said to myself,
And an echo seemed to add, "You are all alone in the world!"
CHAPTER II I WAS a lonely man. I was pulsating with activity
and with a sense of triumph. I was receiving multitudes of new
impressions and enjoying life in a multitude of ways, with no
dearth of woman and song in the program. But at the bottom of
my consciousness I was always lonely
There were moments when my desolation would assert itself rather
This happened nearly every time I returned to New York from the
road. As the train entered the great city my sense of home-coming
would emphasize a feeling that the furnished two-room apartment
on Lexington Avenue which was waiting to receive me was not a
Meyer Nodelman, whom I often met in a Broadway restaurant at
the lunch hour these days, would chaff or lecture me earnestly
upon my unmarried state
"You don't know who you're working for," he would say, his sad,
Oriental face taking on an affectionate expression. "Life is short at
best, but when a fellow has nobody to bear his name after he is
gone it is shorter still.
Get married, my boy. Get married." He took a lively interest in the
growth of my business. He rejoiced in it as though he ascribed my
successes to the loans he had given me when I struggled for a
foothold. He often alluded to those favors, but he was a devoted
friend, all the same. Moreover, he was a most attractive man to
talk to, especially when the conversation dealt with one's intimate
life. With all his illiteracy and crudity of language he had rare
insight into the human heart and was full of subtle sympathy. He
was the only person in America with whom I often indulged in a
heart-to-heart confab. He was keenly aware of my loneliness. It
seemed as though it disturbed him
"You are not a happy man, Levinsky," he once said to me. "You
feel more alone than any bachelor I ever knew. You're an orphan,
poor thing. You have a fine business and plenty of money and all
sorts of nice times, but you are an orphan, just the same. You're
still a child. You need a mother. Well, but what's the use? Your
own mother--peace upon her--cannot be brought to life until the
coming of the Messiah, so do the next best thing, Levinsky. Get
married and you will have a mother--for your children. It isn't the
same kind, but you won't feel lonesome any longer."
"Laugh away, Levinsky. But you can't help it. And the smart books
you read won't help you, either. You've got to get married whether
you want it or not. This is a bill that must be paid."
I had lunch with him a day or two after my meeting with Lucy. The
sight of his affectionate, melancholy face and the warmth of his
greeting somehow made me think of the sentimental mood in
which I had been left by that encounter
"I do feel lonesome," I said, with a smile, in the course of our chat.
"I met a girl the other day--"
"Did you?" he said, expectantly.
"Oh, she is a mere child, not the kind of girl you mean, Mr.
Nodelman. I once boarded in her mother's house. She was a mere
child then. She is still a child, but she goes to college now, and
she is taller than her mother.
When I saw her I felt old."
"Is that anything to be sad about? Pshaw! Get married, and you'll
have a daughter of your own, and when she grows up you won't be
sorry. Take it from me, Levinsky. There can be no greater
pleasure than to watch your kids grow." And he added, in a lower
tone, "I do advise you to get married."
"Perhaps I ought to," I said, listlessly. "But then it takes two to
make a bargain."
"Oh, there are lots of good girls, and you can have the best piece of
goods there is." "Oh, I don't know. It wouldn't be hard to find a
good girl, perhaps. The question is whether she'll be good after the
honeymoon is over."
"You don't want a bond and mortgage to guarantee that you'll be
happy, do you? A fellow must be ready to take a chance."
There is an old story of a rabbi who, upon being asked by a
bachelor whether he should marry, said: "If you do you will regret
it, my son; but then if you remain single you are sure to regret it
just as much; perhaps more. So get married like everybody else
and regret it like everybody else." Nodelman now quoted that
rabbi. I had heard the anecdote more than once before, but it
seemed as though its meaning had now revealed itself to me for
the first time.
"According to that rabbi, marriage is not a pleasure, but a
miserable necessity," I urged
"Well, it isn't all misery, either. People are fond of saying that the
best marriage is a curse. But it's the other way around. The worst
marriage has some blessing in it, Levinsky."
"Oh, I don't know."
"Get married and you will. There is plenty of pleasure in the worst
of homes. Take it from me,. Levinsky. When I come home and
feel that I have somebody to live for, that it is not the devil I am
working for, then--take it from me, Levinsky--I should not give
one moment like that for all the other pleasures in the world put
I thought of his wife whom his mother had repeatedly described to
me as a "meat-ball face" and a virago, and of his home which I
had always pictured as hell. His words touched me
"It isn't that I don't want to take chances, Mr. Nodelman. It's
something else. Were you ever in love, Mr. Nodelman?"
"What? Was I in love? Why?" he demanded, coloring. "What put it
in your head to ask me such a funny question?"
"Funny! There's more pain than fun in it. Well, I have loved, Mr.
Nodelman, and that's why it's so hard for me to think of marriage
as a cold proposition. I don't think I could marry a girl I did not
I expected an argument against love-marriages, but Nodelman had
none to offer. Instead, he had me dilate on the bliss and the agony
of loving. He asked me questions and eagerly listened to my
answers. I told him of my own two love-affairs, particularly of my
relations with Dora. I omitted names and other details that might
have pointed, ever so remotely, to Mrs.
Margolis's identity. Nodelman was interested intensely. His
interrogations were of the kind that a girl of sixteen who had not
yet loved might address to a bosom friend who had. How does it
feel to be in doubt whether one's passion had found an echo? How
did I feel when our lips were joined in our first kiss? How did she
carry herself the next time I saw her? Was she shy? Did she look
happy? Was she afraid of her husband? Was I afraid? The
restaurant had been nearly deserted for about an hour, and we still
sat smoking cigars and whispering
CHAPTER III ONE day, as Nodelman took his seat across the
table from me at the restaurant, he said: "Well, Levinsky, it's no
use, you'll have to get married now. There will be no wriggling
out of it. My wife has set her mind on it."
"Your wife?" I asked in surprise.
"Yes. I have an order to bring you up to the house, and that's all
there is to it. Don't blame her, though. The fault is mine. I have
told her so much about you she wants to know you."
"To know me and to marry me off, hey? And yet you claim to be a
friend of mine."
"Well, it's no use talking. You'll have to come."
I received a formal invitation, written in English by Mrs.
Nodelman, and on a Friday night in May I was in my friend's
house for supper, as Nodelman called it, or "dinner," as his wife
would have it
The family occupied one of a small group of lingering,
brownstone, private dwellings in a neighborhood swarming with
the inmates of new tenement "barracks."
"Glad to meechye," Mrs. Nodelman welcomed me. "Meyer should
have broughchye up long ago. Why did you keep Mr. Levinsky
away, Meyer? Was you afraid you might have reason to be
"That's just it. She hit it right. I told you she was a smart girl, didn't
"Don't be uneasy, Meyer. Mr. Levinsky won't even look at an old
woman like me. It's a pretty girl he's fishin' for. Ainchye, Mr.
She was middle-aged, with small features inconspicuously traced
in a bulging mass of full-blooded flesh. This was why her
mother-in-law called her "meat-ball face." She had a hoarse voice,
and altogether she might have given me the impression of being
drunk had there not been something pleasing in her hoarseness as
well as in that droll face of hers. That she was American-born was
clear from the way she spoke her unpolished English. Was
Nodelman the henpecked husband that his mother advertised him
to be? I wondered whether the frequency with which his wife used
his first name could be accepted as evidence to the contrary
They had six children: a youth of nineteen named Maurice who
was the image of his father and, having spent two years at college,
was with him in the clothing business; a high-school boy who had
his mother's face and whose name was Sidney--an appellation
very popular among our people as "swell American"; and four
smaller children, the youngest being a little girl of six.
"What do you think of my stock, Levinsky?" Nodelman asked.
"Quite a lot, isn't it? May no evil eye strike them. What do you
think of the baby? Come here, Beatrice! Recite something for
uncle!" The command had barely left his mouth when Beatrice
sprang to her feet and burst out mumbling something in a
kindergarten singsong. This lasted some minutes Then she
courtesied, shook her skirts, and slipped back into her seat
"She is only six and she is already more educated than her father,"
Nodelman said. "And Sidney he's studyin' French at high school.
Sidney, talk some French to Mr. Levinsky. He'll understand you.
Come on, show Mr. Levinsky you ain't going to be as ignorant as
The scene was largely a stereotyped copy of the one I had
witnessed upon my first call at the Margolises'
"Come on, Sidney, be a good boy," Nodelman urged, taking him
by the sleeve
"Let me alone," Sidney snarled, breaking away and striking the air
a fierce backward blow with his elbow
"What do you want of him?" Mrs. Nodelman said to her husband,
My friend desisted, sheepishly
"He does seem to be afraid of his American household," I said to
After the meal, when we were all in the parlor again, Nodelman
said to his wife, winking at me: "Poor fellow, his patience has all
given out. He wants to know about the girl you've got for him. He
has no strength any longer. Can't you see it, Bella? Look at him!
Look at him! Another minute and he'll faint."
"What girl? Oh, I see! Why, there is more than one!" Mrs.
Nodelman returned, confusedly. "I didn't mean anybody in
particular. There are plenty of young ladies."
"That's the trouble. There are plenty, and no one in particular," I
"Don't cry," Nodelman said. "Just be a good boy and Mrs.
Nodelman will get you a peach of a young lady. Won't you,
"I guess so," she answered, with a smile
"Don't you understand?" he proceeded to explain. "She first wants
to know the kind of customer you are. Then she'll know what kind
of merchandise to look for. Isn't that it, Bella?"
She made no answer
"I hope Mrs. Nodelman will find me a pretty decent sort of
customer," I put in.
"You're all right," she said, demurely. "I'm afraid it won't be an
easy job to get a young lady to suit a customer like you."
"Try your best, will you?" I said.
"I certainly will."
She was less talkative now, and certainly less at her ease than she
had been before the topic was broached, which impressed me
Altogether she was far from the virago or "witch" her
mother-in-law had described her to be. As to her attitude toward
her husband, I subsequently came to the conclusion that it was a
blend of affection and contempt.
Nodelman was henpecked, but not badly so
I called on them three or four times more during that spring.
Somehow the question of my marriage was never mentioned on
these occasions, and then Mrs. Nodelman and the children, all
except Maurice, went to the seashore for the summer
CHAPTER IV "YOU'LL examine the merchandise, and if you
don't like it nobody is going to make you buy it," said Nodelman
to me one day in January of the following winter. By
"merchandise" he meant a Miss Kalmanovitch, the daughter of a
wealthy furniture-dealer, to whom I was to be introduced at the
Nodelman residence four days later. "She is a peach of a girl,
beautiful as the sun, and no runt, either; a lovely girl." "Good
looks aren't everything. Beauty is skin deep, and handsome is as
handsome does," I paraded my English
"Oh, she is a good girl every way: a fine housekeeper,
good-natured, and educated. Gee! how educated she is! Why, she
has a pile of books in her room, Bella says, a pile that high." He
raised his hand above his head. "She is dead stuck on her, Bella
Owing to an illness in the Kalmanovitch family, the projected
meeting could not take place, but Nodelman's birthday was to be
celebrated in March, so the gathering was to serve as a
match-making agency as well as a social function
The great event came to pass on a Sunday evening. The prospect
of facing a girl who offered herself as a candidate for becoming
my wife put me all in a flutter. It took me a long time to dress and
I made my appearance at the Nodelmans' rather late in the
evening. Mrs. Nodelman, who met me in the hall, offered me a
"Here he is! Better late than never," she shrieked, hoarsely, as I
entered the hall at the head of the high stoop. "I was gettin'
uneasy. Honest I was." And dropping her voice: "Miss
Kalmanovitch came on time. She's a good girl. Always." And she
gave me a knowing look that brought the color to my face and a
coy smile into hers
Her husband appeared a minute later. After greeting me warmly he
whispered into my ear: "Nobody knows anything about it, not
even the young lady. Only her mother does."
But I soon discovered that he was mistaken. My appearance
produced a sensation, and the telltale glances of the women from
me to a large girl with black eyes who stood at the mantelpiece
not only showed plainly that they knew all about "it," but also
indicated who of the young women present was Miss
The spacious parlor was literally jammed. The hostess led the way
through the throng, introducing me to the guests as we proceeded.
There were Nodelman's father and mother among them, the
gigantic old tailor grinning childishly by the side of his wife, who
"That one, with the dark eves, by the mantelpiece," Meyer
Nodelman whispered to me, eagerly
The girl pointed out was large and plump, with full ivory-hued
cheeks, and a dimple in her fleshy chin. Her black eyes were large
and round. That the object of my coming, and of her own, was no
secret to her was quite evident.
She was blushing to the roots of her glossy black hair, and in her
apparent struggle with her constraint she put her stout, long arm
around the waist of a girl who stood by her side against the
Upon the whole, Miss Kalmanovitch impressed me more than
favorably; but a minute later, when I was introduced to her and
saw her double chin and shook her gently by a hand that was fat
and damp with perspiration, I all but shuddered. I felt as though
she exuded oil. I was introduced to her mother, a spare,
hatchet-face little woman with bad teeth, who looked me over in a
most business-like way, and to her father, a gray man with a goatee
Miss Kalmanovitch and I soon found ourselves seated side by side.
Conscious of being the target of many eyes, I was as disconcerted
as I had been twelve years before, when Matilda played her first
practical joke upon my sidelocks. My would-be fiancée was the
first to recover her ease. She asked me if I was related to a
white-goods man named Levinsky, and when I said no she passed
to other topics. She led the conversation, and I scarcely followed
her. At one moment, for example, as I looked her in the face,
endeavoring to listen to what she was saying about the Purim ball
she had attended, I remarked to myself that the name
Kalmanovitch somehow seemed to go well with her face and
figure, and that she was too self-possessed for a "bridal
Presently we heard Mrs. Nodelman's hoarse voice: "Now Miss
Kalmanovitch will oblige us with some music. Won't you, please,
A swarthy, middle-aged woman, with features that somewhat
resembled those of the host, whose cousin she was, and with huge
golden teeth that glistened good-naturedly, took Miss
Kalmanovitch by the arm, saying in a mannish voice: "Come on,
Ray! Show them what you can do!"
My companion rose and, throwing gay glances at some of the other
girls, she walked over to the piano and seated herself. Then, with
some more smiles at the girls, she cold-bloodedly attacked the
"A nauctourrn by Chopin," her mother explained to me in an
audible whisper across the room
Miss Kalmanovitch was banging away with an effect of showing
how quickly she could get through the nocturne. I am not musical
in the accepted meaning of the term, and in those days I was even
less so than I am now, perhaps, but I was always fond of music,
and had a discriminating feeling for it. At all events, I knew
enough to realize that my would-be fiancée was playing
execrably. But her mother, her father, the hostess, and the swarthy
woman with the golden teeth, were shooting glances at me that
seemed to say: "What do you think of that? Did you ever see such
fast playing?" and there was nothing for it but to simulate
The woman with the great golden teeth, Meyer Nodelman's cousin,
was even more strenuous in her efforts to arouse my exultation
than Ray's mother. She was the wife of a prosperous teamster
whose moving-vans were seen all over the East Side. Gaunt,
flat-chested, with a solemn masculine face, she was known for her
jolly disposition and good-natured sarcasm. There was something
suggestive of Meyer Nodelman in her manner of speaking as well
as in her looks. She was childless and took an insatiable interest in
the love-affairs and matrimonial politics of young people. Her
name was Mrs.
Kalch, but everybody called her Auntie Yetta
When Ray finished playing Auntie Yetta led the applause, for all
the world like a ward heeler. When the acclaim had died down
she rushed at Ray, pressed her ample bosom to her own flat one,
kissed her a sounding smack on the lips, and exclaimed, with a
wink to me: "Ever see such a tasty duck of a girl?"
Miss Kalmanovitch was followed by a bespectacled, anemic boy
of thirteen who played something by Wieniavsky on the violin,
and then Miss Kalmanovitch "obliged" us with a recitation from
"Macbeth." There were four other solos on the piano and on the
violin by boys and girls, children of the invited guests, the
violinists having brought their instruments with them. Not that the
concert was part of a preconceived program, although it might
have been taken for granted. The mothers of the performers had
simply seized the opportunity to display the talents of their
offspring before an audience.
Only one boy--a curly-headed, long-necked little pianist,
introduced as Bennie Saminsky--played with much feeling and
taste. All the rest grated on my nerves
I beguiled the time by observing the women. I noticed, for
instance, that Auntie Yetta, whose fingers were a veritable
jewelry-store, now and again made a pretense of smoothing her
grayish hair for the purpose of exhibiting her flaming rings.
Another elderly woman, whose fingers were as heavily laden, kept
them prominently interlaced across her breast. From time to time
she would flirt her interlocked hands, in feigned
absent-mindedness, thus flashing her diamonds upon the people
around her. At one moment it became something like a race
between her and Auntie Yetta. Nodelman's cousin caught me
watching it, whereupon she winked to me merrily and interlaced
her own begemmed fingers, as much as to say, "What do you
think of our contest?" and burst into a voiceless laugh
I tried to listen to the music again. To add to my ordeal, I had to
lend an ear to the boastful chatter of the mothers or fathers on the
virtuosity of Bennie, Sidney, Beckie, or Sadie. The mother of the
curly-headed pianist, the illiterate wife of a baker, first wore out
my patience and then enlisted my interest by a torrent of musical
terminology which she apparently had picked up from talks with
her boy's piano-teacher. She interspersed her unsophisticated
Yiddish with English phrases like "rare technique," "vonderful
touch," "bee-youtiful tone," or "poeytic temperament." She
assured me that her son was the youngest boy in the United States
to play Brahms and Beethoven successfully. At first I thought that
she was prattling these words parrot fashion, but I soon realized
that, to a considerable extent, at least, she used them intelligently
She had set her heart upon making the greatest pianist in the world
of Bennie, and by incessantly discussing him with people who
were supposed to know something about music she had gradually
accumulated a smattering acquaintance with the subject. That she
was full of it there could be no doubt. Perhaps she had a native
intuition for music. Perhaps, too, it was from her that her son had
inherited his feeling for the poetry of sound. She certainly had
"Some boys play like monkeys," she said in Yiddish. "They don't
know what they are at. May I know evil if they do. My Bennie is
not that sort of a pianist, thank God! He knows what he is talking
about--on his piano, I mean.
You saw for yourself that he played with head and heart, didn't
"Indeed, I did," I said, with ardor. "I liked his playing very much."
"Yes, it comes right from his heart," she pursued. "He has a golden
temperament. The piano just talks under his fingers. I mean what I
People think a piano is just a row of dead pieces of bone or wood.
It is not. No, sirrah. It has speech just like a human being,
provided you know how to get it out of the keyboard. Bennie
In a certain sense this unlettered woman was being educated by her
little boy in the same manner as Dora had been and still was,
perhaps, by Lucy
There were at least three girls in the gathering who were decidedly
One of these was a graduate of Normal College. She was
dark-eyed, like Miss Kalmanovitch, but slender and supple and
full of life. Everybody called her affectionately by her first name,
which was Stella. At the supper-table, in the dining-room, I was
placed beside Miss Kalmanovitch, but I gave most of my attention
to Stella, who was seated diagonally across the table from us.
I felt quite at home now
"What was your favorite subject at college?" I questioned Stella,
"That's my secret," she answered.
"I can guess it, though."
"That's right," she shouted, amidst an outburst of laughter
"Well, have you learned it well?" I went on
"Why don't you ask me for a waltz and find out for yourself?"
"I wish I could, but unfortunately they did not take up dancing at
"Did you go to college?" Stella asked, seriously
"I don't look like one who did, I suppose. Well, I should like to say
I did, but I haven't the heart to tell you a lie."
"Never mind," Nodelman broke in. "He's an educated fellar, all the
He's awful educated. That's what makes him such a smart business
man. By the way, Levinsky, how is the merchandise?"
"This is no place to talk shop," I replied, deprecatingly. "Especially
when there are so many pretty ladies around."
"That's right!" several of the women chimed in in chorus
Mrs. Nodelman, the hostess, who stood in the doorway, beckoned
to her husband, and he jumped up from the table. As he passed by
my seat I seized him by an arm and whispered into his ear: "The
merchandise is too heavy. I want lighter goods." With this I
released him and he disappeared with Mrs. Nodelman
A few minutes later he came back
"Be a good boy. Show Ray a little more attention," he whispered
into my ear.
"Do it for my sake. Will you?"
I became aware of Mrs. Kalmanovitch's fire-flashing eyes, and my
efforts to entertain her daughter were a poor performance
The Kalmanovitch family left immediately after supper, scarcely
making their farewells. Portentous sounds came from the hallway.
We could hear Mrs.
Kalmanovitch's angry voice. A nervous hush fell over the parlor.
Auntie Yetta gave us all an eloquent wink
"There's a woman with a tongue for you," she said in an undertone.
"Pitch and sulphur. When she opens her mouth people had better
sound the fire-alarm." After a pause she added: "Do you know
why her teeth are so bad? Her mouth is so full of poison, it has
eaten them up."
Presently the younger Mrs. Nodelman made her appearance. Her
ruddy "meat-ball" face was fairly ablaze with excitement. Her
husband followed with a guilty air
"What's the matter with you folks?" the hostess said. "Why ainchye
"What shall we do?" the baker's wife answered in Yiddish. "We
have eaten a nice supper and we have heard music and now we
are enjoying ourselves quietly, like the gentlemen and the ladies
we are. What more do you want?" "Come, folks, let's have a
dance. Bennie will play us a waltz. Quick, Bennie darling! Girls,
Back to Full Books