"R. S. V. P."
It was the tenth of the month, and Abe Potash, of Potash & Perlmutter, was going through the firm mail with an exploratory thumb and finger, looking for checks.
"Well, Mawruss," he said to his partner, Morris Perlmutter, "all them hightone customers of yours they don't take it so particular that they should pay on the day, Mawruss. If they was only so prompt with checks as they was to claim deductions, Mawruss, you and me would have no worries. I think some of 'em finds a shortage in the shipment before they open the packing-case that the goods come in. Take your friend Hyman Maimin, of Sarahcuse—nothing suits him. He always kicks that the goods ain't made up right, or we ain't sent him enough fancies, or something like that. Five or six letters he writes us, Mawruss, when he gets the goods; but when he got to pay for 'em, Mawruss, that's something else again. You might think postage stamps was solitaire diamonds, and that he dassen't use 'em!"
"Quit your kicking," Perlmutter broke in. "This is only the tenth of the month."
"I know it," said Abe. "We should have had a check by the tenth of last month, but"—here Abe's eye lit upon an envelope directed in the handwriting of Hyman Maimin—"I guess there was some good reason for the delay," he went on evenly. "Anyhow, here's a letter from him now."
He tore open the envelope and hurriedly removed the enclosed letter. Then he took the envelope, blew it wide open, and shook it up and down, but no check fell out.
"Did y'ever see the like?" he exclaimed. "Sends us a letter and no check!"
"Why, it ain't a letter," Morris said. "It's an advertisement."
Abe's face grew white.
"A meeting of creditors!" he gasped.
Morris grabbed the missive from his partner and spread it out on the table.
"Hello!" he exclaimed, a great smile of relief spreading itself about his ears. "It's a wedding invitation!" He held it up to the light. "'Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Bramson,'" he read, "'request the pleasure of Potash & Perlmutter's company at the marriage of their daughter Tillie to Mr. Hyman Maimin, Sunday, March 19, at seven o'clock, p.m., Wiedermayer's Hall, 2099 South Oswego Street. R.S.V.P. to residence of bride, care of Advance Credit Clothing Company, 2097 South Oswego Street.'"
"What is that 'R.S.V.P. to residence of bride'?" Abe Potash asked.
Morris reflected for a moment.
"That means," he said at length, "that we should know where to send the present to."
"How do you make that out?" said Abe.
"'R.S.V.P.'," Morris replied, emphasizing each letter with a motion of his hand, "means 'Remember to send vedding present.'"
"But," Abe rejoined, "when I went to night school, we spelt 'wedding' with a W."
"A greenhorn like Maimin," said Morris, "don't know no better."
"He knows enough to ask for a wedding present, Mawruss," Abe commented, "even if he don't know how to spell it. We'll send him a wedding present, Mawruss! We'll send him a summons from the court, that's what we'll send him!"
Morris shook his head.
"That ain't no way to talk, Abe," he said. "If a customer gets married, we got to send him a wedding present. It don't cost much, and if Hyman Maimin gets a couple of thousand dollars with this Miss—Miss—"
"Advance Credit Clothing Company," Abe helped out.
"Then he buys more goods, ain't it?" he concluded.
"Let him pay for what he's got," Abe rejoined.
"It just slipped his mind. He'll pay up fast enough, after he gets married."
"All right! Wait till he pays up, and then we'll give him a present."
"Now lookyhere, Abe," Morris protested, "you can't be small in a matter of this kind. I'll draw a check for twenty-five dollars, and—"
"Twenty-five dollars!" Abe screamed. "You're crazy! When you was married last year, I'd like to know who gives you a present for twenty-five dollars?"
"Why you did, Abe," Morris replied.
"Me?" Abe cried. "Say, Mawruss, I want to tell you something. If you can buy a fine sterling silver bumbum dish, like what I give you, for twenty-five dollars, I'll take it off your hands for twenty-seven-fifty any day!"
"Another thing, Mawruss," Abe went on. "If you don't like that dish, there ain't no law compelling you to keep it, you understand. Send it back. My Rosie can use it. Maybe we ain't so stylish like your Minnie, Mawruss; but if we don't have bumbums every day, we could put dill pickles into it!"
"One moment," Morris protested. "I ain't saying anything about that bumbum dish, Abe. All I meant that if you give me such a high-price present when I get married, that's all the more reason why we should give a high-price present to a customer what we will make money on. I ain't no customer, Abe."
"I know you ain't," said Abe. "You're only a partner, and I don't make no money on you, neither."
Morris shrugged his shoulders.
"What's the use of wasting more time about it, Abe?" he said. "Go ahead and buy a present."
"Me buy it?" Abe cried. "You know yourself, Mawruss, I ain't a success with presents. You draw the check and get your Minnie to buy it. She's an up-to-date woman, Mawruss, while my Rosie is a back number. She don't know nothing but to keep a good house, Mawruss. Sterling silver bumbum dishes she don't know, Mawruss. If I took her advice, you wouldn't got no bumbum dish. Nut-picks, Mawruss, from the five-and-ten-cent store, that's what you'd got. You might appreciate them, Mawruss; but a sterling silver—"
At this juncture Morris took refuge in the outer office, where Miss Cohen, the bookkeeper, was taking off her wraps.
"Miss Cohen," he said, "draw a check for twenty-five dollars to bearer, and enter it up as a gratification to Hyman Maimin."
At dinner that evening Morris handed the check over to his wife.
"Here Minnie," he said, "Abe wants you should buy a wedding present for a customer."
"What kind of a wedding present?" Mrs. Perlmutter asked.
"Something in solid sterling silver, like that bumbum dish what Abe gave us."
"But, Mawruss," she protested, "you know we got that bonbon dish locked away in the sideboard, and we never take it out. Let's give 'em something useful."
"Suit yourself," Morris replied. "Only don't bother me about it."
"All right," Mrs. Perlmutter said. "Leave me the name and address, and I'll see that they send it direct from the store. I'll put one of your cards inside."
"And another thing," Morris concluded. "See that you don't hold nothing out on us by way of commission."
Mrs. Perlmutter smiled serenely.
"I won't," she said, in dulcet tones.
It was the fourth day after Potash & Perlmutter's receipt of the wedding invitation. When Morris Perlmutter entered the private office he found Abe Potash in the absorbed perusal of the Daily Cloak and Suit Record. Abe looked up and saluted his partner with a malignant grin.
"Well, Mawruss," he said, "I suppose you sent that present to Hyman Maimin?"
"I sent it off long since already," Morris replied.
"I hope it was a nice one, Mawruss," Abe went on "I hope it was a real nice one. I'm sorry now, Mawruss, we didn't spend fifty dollars. That would have made it an even seven hundred, instead of only six hundred and seventy-five, that Hyman Maimin owed us."
"What d'ye mean?" cried Morris.
"I don't mean nothing, Mawruss—nothing at all," Abe said, with ironical emphasis. He handed the paper to Morris. "Here, look for yourself!"
He pointed with a trembling forefinger at the "business-troubles" column, and Morris's eyes seemed to bulge out of his head as he scanned the printed page:
A petition in bankruptcy was filed late yesterday afternoon against Hyman Maimin, 83 West Tonawanda Street, Syracuse. It is claimed that he transferred assets to the amount of eight thousand dollars last week. Mr. Maimin says that he has been doing business at a heavy loss of late, but that he hopes to be able to resume. A settlement of thirty cents is proposed.
Morris sat down in a revolving-chair too crushed for comment, and drummed with a lead pencil on the desk.
"I wonder if he done up his intended father-in-law, too?" he said at length.
"No fear of that, Mawruss," Abe replied. "He ain't no sucker like us, Mawruss. I bet you his father-in-law—what's his name—"
"The Advance Credit Clothing Company," Morris suggested.
"Sure," Abe went on. "I bet you this clothing concern says to him: 'If you want to marry my daughter, you gotter go into bankruptcy first. Then, when you're all cleaned up, I'll give you a couple of thousand dollars to start as a new beginner in another line.' Ain't it?"
Morris nodded gloomily.
"No, Mawruss," Abe continued. "I bet you his father-in-law is a big crook like himself."
He rose to his feet and opened the large green-and-red covered book furnished by the commercial agency to which they subscribed.
"I'm going to do now, Mawruss, what you should have done before you sent that present," he said. "I'm going to look up this here Advance Credit Clothing Company. I bet you he ain't even in the book—what?"
Before Morris could reply, the letter-carrier entered with the morning mail. While Abe continued to run his thumb down the columns of the commercial agency book, Morris began to open the envelopes. Both their heads were bent over their tasks, when an exclamation arose simultaneously from each.
"Now, what d'ye think of that?" said Abe.
"Did y' ever see anything like it?" Morris cried.
"What is it?" Abe asked.
For answer, Morris thrust a letter into his partner's hand. It was headed, "The Advance Credit Clothing Company—Marcus Bramson, Proprietor," and read as follows:
Messrs. Potash & Perlmutter.
The Advance Credit Clothing Company,
Per T. B.
Your shipment of the 5th is to hand, and in reply would say that we are returning it via Blue Line on account Miss Tillie Bramson's engagement is broken. We understand that lowlife H. Maimin got into you for six hundred and fifty dollars. Believe me, he done us for more than that. Our Mr. Bramson will be in New York shortly, and will call to look at your line. Hoping we will be able to do business with you,
Abe Potash laid down the letter with a sigh, while his thumb still rested caressingly on the open page of the mercantile agency book.
"So he's going to send back the present!" he said. "That man Marcus Bramson, proprietor, has a big heart, Mawruss. He's a man with fine feelings and a fine disposition, Mawruss. He's got a fine rating too, Mawruss—seventy-five to a hundred thousand, first credit!" He closed the book almost lovingly. "D'ye think they would give the money back for that present, Mawruss?"
"I don't know," said Morris. "Minnie bought it, and she told me it was a big bargain. It was a sale, she said, but I guess they'll take it back."
"What did it look like?" Abe said.
"I didn't see it," Morris replied. "They sent it direct from the store, but I took Minnie's word for it. She said it was fine value."
"And Minnie," Abe concluded, "is a fine, up-to-date woman."
Two days later, Abe Potash spotted the name of Marcus Bramson in the "Arrival of Buyers" column of a morning newspaper.
"Mawruss," he cried, "he's come!"
"Who's come?" Morris asked.
"Marcus Bramson," Abe replied, reaching for his hat. "I'm going over to the Bingler House now to meet him. You wait here till I come back. I bet you we sell him a big bill of goods!"
As Abe went out of the store by the front door, an expressman, bearing a square wooden box, entered the rear alley. He brought the package straight to Miss Cohen, who signed a receipt, and summoned Mr. Perlmutter. Morris proceeded to pry off the cover.
"This is something what Mrs. Perlmutter bought for Hyman Maimin's wedding present," he explained. "I ain't never seen it yet."
He pulled out a number of wads of tissue paper. When he finally reached a piece of silverware, he turned the box upside down and shook out the remainder of its contents upon a sample table.
"Oh, Mr. Perlmutter," Mist Cohen exclaimed, clasping her hands, "what a beautiful bonbon dish! What a lovely wedding present!"
Morris looked at the bonbon dish, and beads of perspiration started on his forehead.
"Ain't Mrs. Perlmutter got good taste!" Miss Cohen went on enthusiastically.
Morris said nothing, but picked up the silver dish. Examining the polished centre carefully, he discerned the indistinct initials "M. P." almost but not quite effaced by buffing. Undoubtedly it was the same bonbon dish.
He gathered up the tissue paper and carefully arranged it in the box as a bed for the silver dish. Then he put the cover on, and nailed it down.
"Ain't you going to let Mr. Potash see it?" Miss Cohen asked. "He ain't never seen it before, neither, has he?"
"I think he has," he replied. "Anyhow, I'm going to send it right uptown by messenger boy."
"Do you think they'll exchange it?" Miss Cohen inquired.
"Oh, I guess it will be put back in stock all right," said Morris, turning away.
The next morning, when Morris entered the store, Abe was busy figuring on the back of a torn envelope.
"Hello, Mawruss!" he cried, looking up. "Ain't it beautiful weather?"
Morris agreed that it was.
"That Mr. Bramson," Abe went on, "that's one fine gentleman, Mawruss. He ain't what you'd call a close buyer, neither, Mawruss."
"No?" Morris commented.
"The way I figure it," Abe continued, "reckoning on what we lost by Hyman Maimin, if he settles for thirty cents, and what we make out of Mr. Bramson's first order, we come out even to the dollar!"
"So?" Morris murmured.
"All excepting that wedding present, Mawruss," Abe. "By the way, Mawruss, ain't that wedding present come back yet?"
"Why, sure," said Morris. "It come back yesterday, when you were out."
"Why ain't you showed it to me? Ain't I got no right to see it, Mawruss?"
"Of course you got a right to see it," Morris assented, "but I thought I'd get it right up town to Minnie and have it exchanged."
"And did she exchange it?" Abe asked.
"Well, it's like this," Morris explained. "Minnie liked it so well that she decided on keeping it, so I'll give the firm my personal check for twenty-five dollars."
Abe puffed hard on his cigar.
"You're a purty generous feller, Mawruss," he commented, "to give Minnie a present like that—for nothing at all, ain't it?"
"Oh, no, I ain't Abe," Morris replied. "I ain't giving it to her for nothing at all. I'm taking it out of her housekeeping money, Abe—five dollars a month!"
FIRING MISS COHEN
"There's no use talking, Abe," Morris Perlmutter declared to his partner, Abe Potash, as they sat in the sample-room of their spacious cloak-and-suit establishment. "We got a system of bookkeeping that would disgrace a peanut-stand. Here's a statement from the Hamsuckett Mills, and it shows a debit balance of eleven hundred and fifty dollars what we owe them. Miss Cohen's figures is eleven hundred and forty-two."
"That's in our favour already," Abe replied. "The Hamsuckett people must be wrong, Mawruss."
"No, they ain't, Abe," Morris said. "It's Miss Cohen's mistake."
"Mistake?" Abe exclaimed. "When it's in our favour, Mawruss, it ain't no mistake!"
"It's a mistake, anyhow, no matter in whose favour it is," said Morris. "Miss Cohen's footing was wrong. She gets carelesser every day."
"I'm surprised to hear you that you should talk that way, Mawruss," Abe rejoined. "Miss Cohen's been with us for five years, and we ain't lost nothing by her, neither. You know as well as I do, Mawruss, her uncle, Max Cohen, is a good customer of ours. Only last week he bought of us a big bill of goods, Mawruss."
"Just the same, Abe," Morris went on, "if we get a bright young man in there, instead of Miss Cohen, it would be a big improvement. We ought to get some one in there what can manage a double entry, and can run a card-index for our credits."
Abe puffed vigorously at his cigar.
"I suppose, Mawruss, if we got a card-index and we sell a crook a bill of goods," he commented, "and the crook busts up on us, Mawruss, that card-index is going to stop him from sticking us—what? Well, Mawruss, if you want to put in a young feller and fire Miss Cohen, go ahead—I'm satisfied."
As if to clinch the matter before his partner could retract this somewhat grudging consent, Morris Perlmutter stalked out of the sample-room and made resolutely for the glass-enclosed office, where Miss Cohen was busy writing in a ledger. She looked up as he entered, and surveyed him calmly with her large black eyes.
"Oh, Mr. Perlmutter!" she said when he came within ear-shot, "Uncle Max was round to the house last night, and he wants you should duplicate them forty-twenty-twos in his last order and ship at once."
Morris stopped short. This was something he had not foreseen, and all his well-formulated plans for the firing of Miss Cohen were shattered at once.
"Oh!" he said lamely. "Thank you, Miss Cohen; I'll make a memorandum of it." He went over to the commercial agency book and scanned three or four pages with an unseeing eye. Then he repaired to the sample room, where Abe sat finishing his cigar.
"Well, Mawruss," said Abe, his face wreathed in a malicious grin, "you made a quick job of it."
"I ain't spoken to her yet," he grunted. "I got a little gumption, Abe—a little consideration and common sense. I don't throw out my dirty water until I get clean."
Abe puffed slowly before replying.
"I seen some people, Mawruss," he said, "what sometimes throws out perfectly clean water, and gets some dirty water in exchange, Mawruss." He threw away the stump of his cigar.
"Sometimes, Mawruss," he concluded solemnly, "they gets a good, big souse, Mawruss, where they least expect it."
Ike Feinsilver, city salesman for the Hamsuckett Mills—Goldner & Plotkin, proprietors—was obviously his own ideal of a well-dressed man. His shirts and waistcoats represented a taste as original as it was not subdued; but it was in the selection of his neckties that he really excelled. Abe and Morris fairly blinked as they surveyed his latest acquisition in cravats when he entered the door of their store that afternoon, smiling a pleasant greeting at his prospective customers.
He presented so brilliant a picture that Miss Cohen was drawn from her desk in the glass-enclosed office toward the trio in the sample room as inevitably as the moth to the candle flame. She took up some cutting slips from a table, by way of excuse for her intrusion, but the blush and smile with which she acknowledged Ike's rather perfunctory nod betrayed her. Abe was fingering the Hamsuckett swatches, but Miss Cohen's embarrassment did not escape Morris Perlmutter. He marked it with an inward start, and immediately conceived a brilliant idea.
"Ike," he said, when Abe had completed the giving of a small order and had left them alone together, "a young feller like you ought to get married."
Ike was non-committal.
"Sure Mawruss," he replied. "Every young feller ought to get married."
"I'm glad you look at it so sensible, Ike," Morris went on. "Getting married right, Ike, has been the making of many a young feller. Where d'ye suppose Goldner & Plotkin would be to-day if they hadn't got married right? They'd be selling goods for somebody else, Ike. But Goldner, he married Bella Frazinsky, with a couple of thousand dollars maybe; and Plotkin, he goes to work and gets Garfunkel's sister—she was pretty old, Ike; but if she ain't got a fine complexion, Ike, she got a couple of thousand dollars, too, ain't it? Well, Plotkin with his two thousand and Goldner with his two thousand, they start in together as new beginners. They gets the selling agency for the Hamsuckett people, and then they makes big money and buys them out. To-day Goldner & Plotkin is rich men, and all because they got married right!"
Feinsilver listened with parted lips.
"And now, Ike," Morris continued, "the good seed sown, we talked enough, ain't it? Come on to the office. I want to show you some little mistakes in the Hamsuckett statement."
He conducted Ike to the glass-enclosed office, where Miss Cohen bent low over her ledger. The blush with which she had received Ike's greeting had not entirely disappeared; and, as she glanced up, her large black eyes looked like those of a frightened deer. Morris was forced to admit to himself that if her bookkeeping was doubtful, at least there could be no mistake about her charms. As for Ike, now that the business of securing orders was done with, he surrendered himself to gallantry, for which he had a natural aptitude.
"Ah, Miss Cohen," he said, "ain't it a fine weather?"
A pleased smile spread itself over Morris's face.
"I think I hear the telephone in the sample room," he broke in hurriedly. "Excuse me for a moment."
When he returned, Ike and Miss Cohen were chatting gaily.
"What do you think of that?" Morris cried. "My Minnie just rang me up and says she got tickets for the theayter to-morrow night—two tickets. We can't use 'em, because we're going to a—a wedding. Would you two young folks like to go, maybe?"
"Why, sure," Ike said. "Sure we would. Wouldn't we, Miss Cohen?"
Miss Cohen assented bashfully.
"Well, then," said Morris, "I'll get 'em for you—I mean I'll send 'em you by mail to-night, Ike."
Ike was profuse in his thanks; and then and there arranged to call for Miss Cohen at half-past seven, sharp, the following evening.
Morris beamed his approval and shook hands heartily with Ike as the latter turned to leave.
"How about that mistake in the statement?" Ike asked.
"Some other time," said Morris, walking with Ike toward the store-door. Then he sank his voice to a confidential whisper. "That's a fine girl, Miss Cohen," he went on. "Comes of fine family, too. She's Max Cohen's niece. You know Max Cohen. He's the Beacon Credit Outfitting Company. He's a millionaire, Ike. If he's worth a cent, he's worth a hundred thousand dollars!"
Ike turned on him an awed yet searching look as they clasped hands again in parting.
"I give you my word, Ike, she's his favourite niece," Morris concluded, "and he ain't got no children of his own."
The ensuing week was a busy one for all concerned. Abe was occupied in the store with an unusual rush of spring trade, Morris had his hands full in the office and cutting-room; but Miss Cohen and Ike Feinsilver had been busiest of all, for in less than six days after their visit to the theatre a solitaire diamond-ring sparkled on the third finger of the lady's left hand.
"Well, Mawruss," Abe said ten days later, "I suppose you fired Miss Cohen?"
"Me fire Miss Cohen?" Morris exclaimed. "I'm surprised to hear you that you should talk that way, Abe. What for should I fire Miss Cohen?"
"Why, last week you said you was going to fire her, ain't it?"
"Last week," Morris replied, "was another day. If I ain't got no more sense than that I should go to a fine young lady like Miss Cohen, and say, 'Miss Cohen, you're fired,' after she worked for us five years, and her uncle also a good customer, I should be sorry, Abe."
"Then, we're going to keep her, after all—what?" Abe said.
"No, we ain't going to keep her," said Morris. "We're going to lose her."
"Loseher! What d'ye mean?"
Morris smiled in a superior way.
"Abe," he said, "you ain't got no eyes in your head. Ain't you noticed that ring on Miss Cohen's left hand?"
Abe stared in astonishment.
"It's a beauty, Abe," Morris went on. "A bright young feller like Ike Feinsilver don't get stuck, no matter what he buys. He got it through Plotkin's cousin down on Maiden Lane."
Abe sat down to ponder over the news.
"You mean," he said at length, "that Ike Feinsilver, of the Hamsuckett Mills, is going to marry Miss Cohen?"
"You guessed it right, Abe," Morris replied.
"And who fixed it up?" said Abe.
Morris slapped his chest proudly.
"I did," he replied.
Abe smoked on in silence.
"I suppose I must congratulate her, Mawruss?" he said at length, starting to rise.
"There's no hurry," said Morris. "I let her go uptown this morning. She wanted to do some shopping."
Abe sat down again.
"You done a smart piece of work, Mawruss, I must say," he admitted. "Ike's a good feller, and Miss Cohen'll make him a good wife, even if she ain't a good bookkeeper. Also, we done a good turn to Max Cohen. I bet he's pleased. I wonder he ain't been around yet."
Hardly had the words issued from Mr. Potash's mouth, when the store-door opened to admit a short, thick-set person, and then closed again with a bang that threatened every pane of glass in the vicinity. There was no hesitation about the newcomer's actions. He made straight for the sample room, and had almost reached it before Abe could scramble to his feet. The latter rushed forward and grabbed the visitor's hand.
"Mr. Cohen," he cried, "what a pleasure this is! I congratulate you!"
Mr. Cohen withdrew his hand from Abe's cordial grasp.
"You congradulate me, hey?" he said, with slow and ironic emphasis. "Mawruss Perlmutter also congradulates me—what?" He fixed the unhappy Morris with a terrible glare. "Don't congradulate me," he went on. "Congradulate Ike Feinsilver and Beckie Cohen." He gathered force as he proceeded. "Fools!" he continued in a rapid crescendo. "Meddlers! You spill my blood! You ruin me! I'm a millionaire, you tell Feinsilver. I've got nothing to do with my money but that I should throw it away in the street!"
"Mister Cohen," Morris protested, "you'll make yourself sick."
"I'll make you sick!" Cohen rejoined. "I'll make for you a blue eye, too. Five thousand dollars I got to give her!"
Abe whistled involuntarily.
"I should think two thousand would be plenty," he suggested.
Max Cohen turned on him with another glare.
"What!" he shrieked. "Am I a beggar? Should I give my niece a miserable two thousand dollars? Ain't I got no pride? I got to make it five thousand!" He paused while his imagination dwelt on the magnitude of this colossal sum. "Five thousand dollars!" he shrieked again, "and business the way it is!"
Mr. Perlmutter laid a soothing palm on Cohen's shoulder.
"But, Mr. Cohen," he said, "what can we do? Why should you tell us all this?"
Mr. Cohen shook off Morris's caress.
"You're right," he said. "Why should I tell you all this? I didn't come here to tell you this. I come here to tell you something else. I come here to tell you to cancel all orders what I give you. Also, if you or your salesman come by my place ever again, look out; that's all. The way I feel it now, I'll murder you!" He turned to leave. "And another thing," he concluded. "One thing, you can depend on it. So far what I can help it, you don't sell one dollar's worth of goods to any of my friends, never no more!"
Again the door banged explosively, and Mr. Cohen was gone.
For ten minutes there was an awed silence in the sample room. At length Abe looked at his partner with a sickly smile.
"Well, Mawruss," he said, "you made a nice mess of it, ain't you?"
Morris was too stunned to reply.
"That's what comes of not minding your own business," said Abe. "We lose a good customer, and maybe several good customers. We lose a good bookkeeper, too, Mawruss—one what has been with us for five years; and also we are out a wedding present."
"I meant it good," Morris protested. "I done it for the best. It says in the Talmud, Abe, that we are commanded to promote marriages."
Abe waggled his head solemnly.
"This is the first time I hear it, that you are a Talmudist, Mawruss!" he said.
A month passed, and Miss Cohen continued to apply herself to her daily task at Potash & Perlmutter's books.
"I don't understand it, Mawruss," Abe said one morning. "Why don't that girl quit her job? She must have all sorts of things to do—clothes to buy and furniture to pick out, ain't it?"
Perlmutter shrugged his shoulders.
"I spoke to her about it," he replied, "and she says so long as we're so busy here, she guesses she will stay on the job as long as she can. She says her mommer and her sister can do all the shopping for her."
"You see, Mawruss, what a mistake you make," Abe commented with a sigh.
"That's a fine girl, that Miss Cohen!"
Morris nodded gloomily. He began to realize that he had made a mistake, after all. Only that morning Mrs. Perlmutter had demanded twenty dollars with which to make over her best frock for Miss Cohen's wedding.
"Sure, she's a fine girl," he agreed; "but you got to admit yourself, Abe, that a growing business like ours needs a hustling young man for a bookkeeper."
"That's all right, too, Mawruss," said Abe; "but you also got to admit that what a growing business like ours needs most of all, Mawruss, is customers; and so far what I see, we don't gain any customers by this. Also, my wife has got to make a new dress for the wedding. She told me so this morning."
Morris made no reply. He was growing heartily sick of this business of firing Miss Cohen, and consoled himself with the thought that the wedding was fast approaching, and that they would be rid of her for good.
At length the wedding-day arrived. Miss Cohen left Potash & Perlmutter's at four o'clock, for the ceremony was set for half-past seven in the evening. Her parting with her employers was an embarrassing one for all three. Abe handed her a check for twenty-five dollars, with the firm's blessing, and Morris shook her hand in comparative silence. He had done and suffered much for that moment of leave-taking; and further than wishing her a long and happy married life, he said nothing. As for Abe, the squandering of twenty-five dollars, without hope of return, temporarily exhausted his capacity for emotion.
"Good luck to you, Miss Cohen," he said. "Hope we see you again soon."
"Oh, sure!" Miss Cohen replied cheerfully. "You'll be at the wedding to-night?"
Abe nodded—they all nodded—and then, with a final handshake all around, Miss Cohen departed.
It must be confessed that the wedding reception that evening was a very enjoyable occasion for all the guests, with the possible exception of Max Cohen. The wine flowed like French champagne at four dollars a quart, while, as Morris Perlmutter at once deduced from the careful way in which the waiters disguised the label with a napkin, it was really domestic champagne of an inferior quality. Nevertheless, Abe Potash drank more than his share, in a rather futile attempt to get back, in kind, part of the twelve and a half dollars he had contributed toward Miss Cohen's wedding-present, to say nothing of the cost of his wife's gown.
Consequently, on the morning after the festivities he entered his place of business in no very pleasant frame of mind. He found that Morris had already arrived.
"Well, Mawruss," he said in greeting, "everything went off splendid—for Feinsilver. Max Cohen came down with a certified check for five thousand dollars, you and me got rid of about over a hundred, counting the wedding-present and our wives' dresses, and Miss Cohen got a husband and a lot of cut glass, while me—I got a headache!"
"I guess you don't feel too good yourself, ain't it?" Abe went on. "Anyhow, you got to get busy now, and find some smart young feller to keep the books. You got rid of your dirty water, Mawruss; now you got to get some clean. Did you put an 'ad' in the papers, Mawruss?"
"No, I ain't," Morris snapped.
"Ain't you going to?"
"What for?" Morris growled. "We don't need no bookkeeper."
"Why not?" Abe cried.
Morris nodded in the direction of the office.
"Because we got one," he replied.
Abe turned toward the little glass enclosure. He gasped in amazement, and nearly swallowed the stump of his cigar, for at the old stand, industriously applying herself to the books of Potash & Perlmutter, sat Mrs. Isaac Feinsilver, née Cohen.
A moment later the door opened, and Isaac Feinsilver entered, immaculately clothed in a suit of zebra-like design. He proceeded to the bookkeeper's office and kissed the blushing bride; then he repaired to the sample room.
"Good morning, Mawruss! Good morning, Abe!" he said briskly. "Ain't it a fine weather?" He threw a bundle of swatches upon the sample table. "My partners, Goldner & Plotkin, and me"—here he paused to note the effect—"is putting out a fine line of spring goods, and I want to show you some."
Abe and Morris looked over Ike's line in dazed astonishment; and before they were really cognizant of what was going on, Ike had booked a generous order. He gathered up the samples into a neat little heap and put them under his arm.
"That ain't so bad," he said, "for a honeymoon order."
Then he turned and strode toward the bookkeeper's office. Once more he saluted the lips of his assiduous spouse, and a moment later he was walking rapidly down the street. Abe looked after him and expelled a huge breath.
"You find it in the Talmud that we are commanded to promote marriages, ain't it, Mawruss?" he said. "But one thing's sure, Mawruss—you can't run a cloak-and-suit business according to the Talmud." There was a short silence. "Did you ask her why she comes back, Mawruss?" he said.
Morris took the end off a particularly black cigar with one vicious bite.
"I didn't have to ask her. She told me," he said bitterly. "She says a smart girl can get a husband any day, she says; but a good job is hard to find, and when you got one, you should stick to it!"
"What are you talking nonsense, Abe," Morris Perlmutter declared hotly, one morning in December; "an elegant class of people lives in the houses. On the same floor with me lives Harry Baskof, which he is just married a daughter of Maisener & Finkman. You remember Max Finkman, for years a salesman for B. Senft & Co. Downstairs is a lawyer, a young feller by the name Sholy, and on the ground floor is Doctor Eichendorfer."
"With lawyers, Mawruss," Abe said, "we got enough to do downtown, ain't it? Doctors also, Mawruss. I am once living next door to a doctor, and every time I meet that feller he says 'How do you do?' to me like he would mean, 'It's a fine day for an operation.' I get a pain in my right side whenever I think of him even."
"Never mind, Abe," Morris rejoined. "Oncet in a while a doctor in the house comes in pretty handy—a lawyer too. A feller could get a whole lot of pointers riding up and down in an elevator with a lawyer. Ain't it? The only trouble about the house is the family above us, which the lady is all the time hollering like somebody would be giving her a licking already. Minnie says that she hears from our girl that her girl says she was an opera singer in the old country."
"Yow, an opera singer in the old country!" Abe exclaimed skeptically. "In Russland they don't got so many opera singers as all that."
"What d'ye mean, in Russland?" Morris demanded. "The woman ain't from Russland at all. She's an Italiener. I am coming up in the elevator last night with her husband and a friend, and the way they are talking to each other it sounds like a couple of bushelers in a factory. I tell you the honest truth, Abe, for me it don't make no difference if a feller would be a Frencher oder an Irishman, so long as he treats me white I would be a good feller, Abe; but an Italiener, Abe, is something else again. An Italiener would as lief stick a knife into you as look at you, Abe, and they smell the whole house out with garlic yet."
"There's lots of things smells worse as garlic, Mawruss," Abe retorted, "and as for sticking a knife into you, that's all schmooes. There's lots of people worser as Italieners, I bet yer, and when it comes right down to it, Mawruss, I'd a whole lot sooner have a couple Italieners working for me as some of them fellers which they are coming over from Russland."
"Since when did you got such friendly feelings for Italieners, Abe?" Morris inquired satirically.
"Never mind!" Abe exclaimed. "You could knock an Italiener all you want, Mawruss, but you could take it from me, Mawruss, when an Italiener's got work to do he don't stand around talking a lot of nonsense instead of attending to business, like some people I know."
With this scathing rejoinder Abe trudged off toward the cutting room and Morris proceeded to the office. He had hardly seated himself comfortably at his desk, however, when Abe burst into the room.
"That's the way it goes, Mawruss," he cried. "Half the time we sit and schmooes in the showroom and we don't know what goes on in our cutting room at all."
"What's the matter now?" Morris asked.
"Harkavy has quit us again," Abe replied.
"Quit us!" Morris exclaimed. "What for?"
"Nothing. All I says to the feller was why them piece goods is on the floor, and he says he is sick and tired and I should get another designer."
Morris bit the end off a new cigar and glared ferociously at Abe.
"So," he said bitterly, "we lose another designer through you, Abe. What do you think, a designer would stand for abuse the same like a partner, Abe?"
"What d'ye mean—abuse, Mawruss?" Abe protested. "I ain't said no abuse to the feller at all; and even if I would, Mawruss, I guess I could talk like how I want to in my own cutting room, Mawruss."
Morris rose to his feet.
"Schon gut, Abe," he said. "Don't ask me I should step right into Harkavy's shoes and work like a dawg till you are finding a new designer, Abe. Them days is past, Abe."
"You shouldn't worry yourself, Mawruss," Abe retorted. "The way business is so rotten nowadays, y'understand, we would quick get another designer."
"Would you?" Morris cried. "Well, I guess I got something to say about that, Abe. If you think we are going to work to hire a designer which he is getting fired by every John, Dick and Harry, you got another think coming. This time, Abe, I would hire the designer, and don't you forget it."
"Did I say I wanted to do it, Mawruss?" Abe asked. "Go ahead and hire him, Mawruss, only one thing I got to ask you as a favour: don't say the feller was my choice, Mawruss; because I wipe my hands from the whole matter."
For the remainder of the day Morris and Abe maintained only such speaking relations as were necessary to the conduct of their business, and when Morris went home that evening he wore so gloomy an air that Harry Baskof, who rode up on the elevator with him, was moved to comment.
"What's the matter, Mawruss?" he said. "You look like your best customer would be asking an extension on you."
"We don't sell such people at all, Harry," Morris said bitterly. "Collections is all right, Harry, but when a feller's got a partner which he is got such a quick temper, understand me, that he fires out the help faster as I could hire 'em—I got a right to look worried. Our designer leaves us to-day."
"Ain't that terrible, Mawruss," Harry said in mock sympathy. "I suppose you couldn't walk for miles on Fifth Avenue between Eighteenth and Twenty-third Street and break your neck falling over a hundred designers which they are hanging around there looking for jobs."
They alighted at the third floor and Morris drew his latchkey from his waistcoat pocket.
"Sure, I know, Harry," he retorted. "Them people which they already got designers could always find a better one, y'understand, but when you ain't got a designer, Harry, that's something else again. You could advertise until you are blue in the face, and all the answers you get is from fellers which they couldn't design a sausage casing for a frankfurter already."
"Schmooes, Mawruss!" Harry cried. "I could get you thousands of designers. In fact, Mawruss, only this afternoon my father-in-law, Mr. Finkman, sends me over a man which he is working for years by Senft & Co. as a designer, I should give him a job. I already got a good designer, so what could I do?"
"Why didn't you think to send him over to me, Harry?" Morris said.
"How should I know you wanted a designer?" Harry rejoined. "But, anyhow, maybe it ain't too late yet. After supper I would ring up Mr. Finkman and I'll let you know."
"Much obliged," Morris said, as he turned the key and entered his own apartment. He was so far restored to good humour by his conversation with Harry Baskof that when he bestowed his evening kiss on Minnie he failed to notice that her eyes were somewhat swollen.
"Yes, Minnie," he said, "that's the way it is when you got good neighbours."
"Good neighbours!" Minnie said bitterly, and then for the first time Morris observed her swollen eyelids.
"Why, Minnie leben," he exclaimed as he folded her in a second embrace, "what's the trouble?"
"Don't, Morris," Minnie said almost snappishly, as she wriggled away from him; "my waist is mussed up enough from working in the kitchen, without your crushing it."
"Working in the kitchen!" Morris said. "What's the matter? Is Tillie sick?"
"No, she isn't," Minnie replied, as she rushed off toward the kitchen. "She's gone."
Morris hung up his coat and made his perfunctory toilet without another word. Despite Minnie's pathetic appearance, there was a dangerous gleam in her eyes that urged Morris to the exercise of the most delicate marital diplomacy.
"What a soup!" he exclaimed, as he subjected the first spoonful to a long, gurgling inhalation. "If they got such soup as this at the Waldorf, Minnie leben, I bet yer the least they would soak you for it is a dollar."
Following the soup came boiled brisket, a dish that Morris loathed. Ordinarily Morris would have eaten it with sulky diffidence, but when Minnie bore the steaming dish from the kitchen he not only jumped from his seat to take it from her hands, but after he had deposited it on the table he kissed her on the forehead with lover-like delicacy.
"How did you know I am thinking all the way up on the subway if Minnie would only got Brustdeckel for supper for a change what a treat it would be?" he said.
Minnie's glum face broke into a smile and Morris fairly beamed.
"What do you bother your head so about a girl leaves you, Minnie leben," he cried. "You could get plenty of girls. On Lenox Avenue a feller could break his neck already falling over girls which is hanging around looking for jobs."
"Oh, I know you can get lots of girls," Minnie agreed, "but you've got to train them, Morris; but then, too, I wouldn't care so much, but those awful Italians upstairs went and stole Tillie away from me."
"What!" Morris shouted. "Them Italieners done it? Well, what do you think of that for a dirty trick?"
"And they only pay her three dollars a month more," Minnie continued.
"Three dollars a month more, hey?" Morris replied. "Well, that's the way it is, Minnie. Honestly, Minnie, anybody which they would steal away from you somebody which is working for you, it ain't safe to live in the same house with them at all. A feller which steals away feller's help would pick a pocket. Such cut-throats you couldn't trust at all." He helped himself to some more brisket.
"Never mind, Minnie," he said, "if it would be necessary we will pay a girl a couple dollars more a week so long as we get a good one."
"Will we?" Minnie said. "Since when are you running this house, Morris?"
"I was only talking in a manner of speaking," he hastened to say. "Where do you buy such good Brustdeckel, Minnie? Honestly, it takes in a way a genius to pick out such meat."
"Does it?" Minnie rejoined. "I ordered it over the 'phone, and furthermore, Morris, if you make so much noise eating it you will wake the boy."
"I'm all through, Minnie," Morris said. "Wait—I'll show you how I could help you wash the dishes."
As he started for the kitchen with one butterplate in his hand the doorbell rang, whereupon he returned the butterplate to the dining-room table and hastened down the hall.
"Hallo, Mawruss," cried Harry Baskof as Morris opened the door. "I rung up the old man and he says he got the feller a job with Sammet Brothers."
"Come inside," Morris answered, and led the way to the parlour. He motioned his visitor to a seat and produced a box of cigars.
"Do you mean to say the feller got a job as quick as all that?" he continued.
"He sure did, Mawruss," Harry replied. "He's an elegant designer, Mawruss, and if B. Senft knew his business he never would got rid of him at all."
"Why, what did he done to B. Senft?" Morris asked.
"Nothing at all, Mawruss. Senft is crazy. He gets a prejudice against the feller all of a sudden on account he's an Italiener."
"Italiener!" Morris cried.
"Sure," Harry replied. "Did you ever hear the like, Mawruss, that a man like Senft, which his folks oser come over in the Mayflower neither, y'understand, should kick on account a feller is an Italiener? And mind you, Mawruss, the feller is otherwise perfectly decent, respectable feller by the name Enrico Simonetti."
"With a name like that he must got to be a good designer," he commented, "otherwise Sammet Brothers wouldn't hire him at all. It would take a whole lot more gumption than Leon Sammet got it to call such a feller from the cutting room even."
"That's all right, Mawruss. You don't have to call such a feller from the cutting room. He could run a cutting room as well as design garments; and in fact, Mawruss, when Sammet Brothers pay that feller two thousand a year, y'understand, they are practically getting him for nothing."
"Two thousand a year!" Morris exclaimed. "Why, we ourselves would pay him twenty-five hundred."
"The feller's worth four thousand if he's worth a cent, Mawruss, but the way business is so rotten nowadays he was willing to take two thousand. Aber my father-in-law, Mr. Finkman, told me on the 'phone, the roar this feller puts up when Leon Sammet offers him eighteen hundred, Leon was pretty near afraid for his life already."
"I don't blame him," Morris commented. "Such highwaymen like Sammet Brothers they would beat a feller's price down to nothing. We ain't that way with our help, Harry. If we would got a good man working by us we—"
"Morris!" cried a voice from the kitchen.
"Yes," Morris replied, jumping to his feet. In less than two minutes he reappeared and approached Harry with an apologetic smile. "Would you excuse me a couple minutes, Harry?" he asked. "I got to run over to the grocer for a box of soap powder. Our girl threw up her job on us."
"I'll go with you," Harry replied. "I need to get a little air."
A minute later they walked down the street to Lenox Avenue, and as they approached the corner Harry nodded to a short, dark personage who was proceeding slowly down the street.
"Al-lo!" he cried, seizing Harry by the arm, "adjer do?"
"Fine, thanks," Harry said. "Let me introduce you to a friend of mine by the name Mr. Perlmutter. This is Mr. Simonetti, Mawruss, which I am talking to you about."
Morris shook hands limply.
"You don't tell me," he said. "You know me, Mr. Simmons? My partner is Mr. Potash. I guess you hear B. Senft speak about us."
"Sure," Simonetti said. "Mister Senft ees always say: 'Mister Potash and Perlmutter ees nice-a people.' Sure."
"Better than Sammet Brothers?" Harry asked.
Simonetti raised his eyebrows and made a flapping gesture with his right hand.
"A-oh!" he said. "Sammet Brothers, that's all right too. Not too much-a all right, Mr. Baskof, but is preety good people. I am just-a now go to see ees-a lawyer for sign-a da contract."
"Ain't you signed the contract yet?" Morris cried.
"Not-a yet," Simonetti answered. "Just-a now I am going."
"Baskof," Morris urged, "supposing you and me goes together with Mr. Simonetti to the Harlem Winter Garden and talks the thing over."
Simonetti looked amazedly at Baskof.
"Sure," Baskof said. "It ain't too late if he ain't signed the contract."
"What do you mean?" Simonetti asked.
"Why, I mean this, Simonetti," Baskof replied. "Sammet Brothers will give you a contract for two thousand dollars, and Perlmutter here is willing to pay you twenty-five hundred. Ain't that right, Mawruss?"
"With privilege to renew it, Mawruss, ain't it?"
Again Morris nodded. "One year renewal," he said.
Simonetti looked earnestly at Morris, who fumbled in his waistcoat pocket and produced a cigar.
"Do you smoke, Mr. Simmons?" he began.
"Simonetti," the designer interrupted, as he took the cigar and bit off the end; "and eef ees too much-a you say Simonetti, call me 'Enery."
When Morris entered his place of business the following morning he appeared to be in no better humour than when he left for home the previous evening.
"Well, Abe," he announced, "I hired a soap powder."
Abe stared at him for a moment.
"What are you talking nonsense, you hired a soap powder?" he exclaimed. "Are you verrückt?"
Morris snapped his fingers.
"A soap powder!" he cried. "Hear me talk! I mean a designer. I hired a designer, Abe, a first-class feller."
"What d'ye mean, a first-class feller?" Abe demanded. "You are leaving here last night half-past six, and here it is only eight o'clock next morning and already you hired a designer which he is a first-class feller. How do you know he is a first-class feller, Mawruss? Did you dream it?"
"No, I didn't dream it, Abe," Morris said as he hung up his hat; "and what is more I want to tell you something. Yesterday you are saying I should go ahead and hire a designer and not bother you in your head, and to-day you are kicking yet. Well, you could kick all you want to, Abe, because if a feller's partner kicks oder his wife kicks, Abe, he must got to stand for it. But just the same, Abe, this here feller comes to work for us Monday morning, and we got with him a contract, all signed and g'fixed by a lawyer, which he gets from us twenty-five hundred a year for one year, with privilege to renew for another year."
"Twenty-five hundred dollars!" Abe exclaimed. "By a lawyer? What are you talking about, Mawruss?"
At this juncture Morris grew purple with rage.
"Say, lookyhere, Abe," he yelled, "ask me no questions. I am sick and tired of it. You would think if a feller forgets to buy a packet soap powder, y'understand, his wife wouldn't go crazy and ring up the police station yet, on account I am going with Baskof and this here cutter to see a lawyer by the name Sholy, which he lives in my flathouse yet. There we are sitting till twelve o'clock fixing up the contract, and if you don't like it you could lump it. When I come home I got to get Doctor Eichendorfer yet to tend to Minnie. Five dollars that robber soaks me, and he lives in the same house with me. Also this lawyer Sholy charges me also twenty-five dollars for drawing the contract, understand me, which Feldman himself would only charge us fifty. Neighbours them fellers is, Abe! Such neighbours I would expect to got it if I am living next door to Sing Sing prison."
For more than an hour Abe pressed the matter no further, but at length curiosity impelled him to speak. "Say, lookyhere, Mawruss," he began, "couldn't I look at that contract too?"
"Sure you could," Morris replied. "I'm surprised you ain't got no more interest in the matter you didn't ask me before."
Abe grunted and took the contract that Morris handed to him. "This agreement," it ran, "made and entered into between Abraham Potash and Morris Perlmutter, composing the firm of Potash & Perlmutter, of the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York, parties of the first part, and Enrico Simonetti, of the same place, party of the second part, witnesseth—"
At this point Abe dropped the contract.
"Mawruss," he said slowly, "do you mean to told me you are hiring for a designer an Italiener?"
"Sure," Morris replied; "why not?"
"Why not!" Abe bellowed. "Why not! Ain't you and me married men? Ain't we got wives? Ain't you got a child to support as well?"
"What's that got to do with it?" Morris asked.
"What's that got to do with it?" Abe repeated. "I'm surprised to hear you you should talk that way, Mawruss. Supposing it is necessary we should tell such a feller he is coming down late oderhe is doing something which he shouldn't do, y'understand, then the very first thing you know he sticks into us a knife und fertig. I suppose, Mawruss, you are figuring that even if you don't carry such good insurance, Mawruss, your wife is young and could easy get married again. But with me is differencely. My wife ain't so young no longer and—"
"Say, lookyhere, Abe," Morris interrupted, "don't talk no more such nonsense to me, because I seen the feller and I am sitting with him last night over three hours. That feller would no more stick into you a knife as I would."
"No?" Abe commented.
"And furthermore, Abe, when you are saying that Italieners stick knives, understand me, you are talking like a greenhorn. Italieners is decent, respectable people like anybody else, Abe, and just because when you are going on the opera a couple Italieners stabs themselves, like I am seeing it last week a show by the name Paliatzki, y'understand, that ain't no sign every Italiener is a stabber, understand me. For that matter, Abe, after this here show Paliatzki comes a whole lot of fellers from Russland on to the stage, which they are dancing so quick I never seen the like, understand me, and you know as well as I do, Abe, we got plenty fellers from Russland working by us here which they could no more dance as they could fly."
Abe shrugged again.
"Never mind, supposing they wouldn't be stabbers even, Mawruss," he continued, "if you got working for you an Italiener which you just broke in good, y'understand, so soon as he saves a couple hundred dollars he right away quits you and goes back to the old country. All them fellers is eating is garlic and Lockshen mitholes into it, and you know as well as I do, Mawruss, for two hundred dollars a feller could buy enough Lockshen und Knoblauchto last him for the rest of his natural life. Whereas Mawruss, you take a feller which he is coming over here from Russland, y'understand, and he wouldn't go back to the old country not if you was to make him a present of it free for nothing."
"Is it anything against them Italieners if they save their money, Abe?" Morris asked.
"All right, Mawruss," Abe said, "supposing Italieners is such big savers, understand me, one thing you must anyhow got to admit, Mawruss. You get a couple Italieners working for you, understand me, and from morning till night they never give you a minute's peace. Seemingly they must got to sing. They couldn't help themselves, Mawruss."
"What do we care if he hollers a little something oncet in a while, Abe?" Morris protested. "We could stand it if he turns out some good styles."
"If he turns out good styles is all right, Mawruss," Abe said as he turned away. "Lots of accidents could happen to a feller in the garment business, Mawruss. Burglars could bust into his loft and steal his silk piece goods on him; he could have maybe a fire; he could fall down the elevator shaft and break, Gott soll hüten, his neck. All these things could come to a garment manufacturer, Mawruss; but that his designer should turn out some good styles is an accident which don't happen to one garment manufacturer out of a hundred, Mawruss."
Nevertheless, long before Enrico Simonetti's term of employment had expired Abe was obliged to acknowledge his mistake.
Not only had Enrico proved his efficiency and originality as a designer but he had exercised the utmost discretion in the management of the cutting room. Moreover, he had little taste for music and never so much as whistled a melody during working hours.
"I couldn't make him out at all, Mawruss," Abe declared one morning. "Actually the feller complains to me this morning he couldn't stand that little greenhorn we hired last week on account he smells so from garlic."
"Sure, I know," Morris replied, "and he don't smoke and he don't shikker, and he tells me yesterday he boards with a family on Second Avenue which all it costs him is four dollars a week. And yet you, Abe, you are kicking because the feller is an Italiener."
"When was I kicking to you the feller is an Italiener?" Abe demanded. "Why, you yourself, Mawruss, always says to me Italieners is no good. If you are telling me oncet you are telling me a hundred times about an Italiener family which they are living on top of you, Mawruss, and, to hear you talk, such Roshoyim you wouldn't believe existed at all."
"Sure, I know," Morris admitted, "but there's Italieners and Italieners, Abe; and only last night them people sits up till two o'clock this morning shikkering and hollering. Not alone the woman hollers, Abe, but a feller sings that big song from Paliatzki till I thought my head would bust. Some one should write to the Board of Health about it, Abe."
"My tzuris!" Abe exclaimed. "If you got living in the same house with you a lawyer and a doctor, Mawruss, you shouldn't got much trouble getting the Board of Health after them Italieners. And anyhow, Mawruss, if the worser comes to the worst, y'understand, there's one thing you could always do.
"What's that?" Morris asked.
"Move out," Abe replied, as he started for the cutting room.
"Yes, Mawruss," he commented, when he returned five minutes later, "you could knock the Italieners all you want, but you got to admit they ain't throwing their money into the street. Henry is showing me just now a bankbook which in the last nine months he is putting away eighteen hundred dollars."
"That's all right, Abe," Morris said. "If he would be from unsere Leute, y'understand, instead he is putting the money in savings bank and getting 3 per cent. interest, he would invest it in something else and make it pretty near double itself soon."
"What d'ye mean, 3 per cent. interest?" Abe retorted. "Henry's got his money in a bank which they are paying him 5 per cent. compounded every three months. Henry ain't no fool, Mawruss."
"Five per cent.!" Morris exclaimed. "What for a bank would pay 5 per cent. interest, Abe?"
"I don't know what for a bank pays 5 per cent., Mawruss," Abe replied, "but you could take it from me, Mawruss, the way Sam Feder discounts perfectly good A number one accounts for them depositors of his when they are a little short, Mawruss, not only could the Kosciusko Bank afford to pay five per cent., Mawruss, but they could also give 6 or 7, and still Sam Feder's wife wouldn't got to pawn none of her diamonds."
"Does he deposit his money with Feder?" Morris asked.
"Yow, he deposit his money with Feder, Mawruss!" Abe replied. "He deposits his money with a banker by the name Guy-seppy Scratch-oly."
"Guy-seppy Scratch-oly," Morris repeated. "That's a fine name for a banker, Abe."
"Guy-seppy, that's Italian for Yosef, Mawruss," Abe explained. "And Scratch-oly is an Italian name the same like a feller in Russland would be called Lipschutzky. For that matter, Mawruss, Lipschutzky ain't much of a name for a banker neither."
"No," Morris admitted, "but I'd a whole lot sooner trust my money to a feller by the name Lipschutzky oder Feder, as to one of the Scratchy names, Abe."
"What is the difference what the banker's name is?" Abe rejoined. "Henry says the money is all sent by his bank to a branch they got in the old country. Gott weiss what that bank couldn't get for its money in the old country, because you know as well as I do, Mawruss, here in New York City some business men is short oncet in a while, understand me, but over in the old country everybody is short all the time. The way banks does business over there, Mawruss, they make Feder's bank look like a Free Loan Association."
"Sure, I know, Abe," Morris said gloomily, "and you mark my words, Abe, so soon as Henry's year is up he will follow his money to the old country."
"You shouldn't worry yourself about that, Mawruss," Abe said confidently. "When a feller's got a contract with a privilege for renewal at two hundred dollars raise, like Henry got it, understand me, he ain't so stuck on going back to the old country. Two hundred dollars is a whole lot of money over there, Mawruss. For two hundred dollars in the old country a—"
"Don't tell me again how much Lockshen mit holes in it a feller could buy in the old country, Abe," Morris interrupted. "There's elegant weather over there and good wine to drink, and places to go and look at which they got mountains twicet as high as the Catskills, with olives and grapes growing on to 'em."
"I was never crazy about olives, Mawruss."
"Me neither," Morris agreed, "but Henry is something else again, and the way that feller is talking to me in the cutting room yesterday, Abe, either he wouldn't be working for us three months from to-day or the steamers stops running to Italy."
"Mawruss," Abe shouted, at ten o'clock one morning in early March, "where was you?"
"Where was I?" Morris repeated. "I was to the court, that's where I was."
"To the court!" Abe exclaimed.
"That's what I said," Morris continued. "We fixed that sucker, me and Sholy and Doctor Eichendorfer and Baskof. We got him for a summons for this afternoon two o'clock he should go to the Jefferson Market Police Court. Till four o'clock this morning them people upstairs sits up hollering and skiddering. Minnie and me we couldn't sleep a wink, and Baskof neither. Steals our servant girl yet. I'll show that Rosher."
Abe glared indignantly at his partner.
"Do you mean to told me, Mawruss," he said, "that you are fooling away your time going on the court because somebody upstairs sings a little something last night?"
"Sings a little something!" Morris cried. "Why, that Italiener hollers Paliatzki till you would think he commits a murder up there."
"Suppose he did, Mawruss, ain't we got no business to go down here? Here we are rushed to death already, and you are fooling away your—"
"Don't say that again, Abe," Morris broke in. "I guess I could take off a couple hours if I want to."
"Sure," Abe replied ironically, "and Henry takes off a couple of hours this lunchtime. He just told me so, Mawruss. He takes off a couple hours on account he is going downtown to draw some money out of the bank and buy his ticket."
"Buy his ticket!" Morris gasped.
"That's right," Abe continued, with forced calmness, "because, Mawruss, they wouldn't let no one travel on a steamer without buying a ticket. People what runs steamers is very funny that way, Mawruss."
Morris grew pale as he removed his coat and hat.
"What's he buying a steamer ticket for?" he asked.
"He didn't tell me exactly, Mawruss," Abe went on, "but I got a sort of an idee he's going back to Italy, Mawruss, and next time, Mawruss, when we hire a designer, understand me, I would do it myself. Also, Mawruss, I would hire a designer which, if he goes back to the old country, y'understand, they would right away take him for a soldier, and then, Mawruss, we wouldn't got to be left without a designer just in the middle of the busy season."
"Did you talk to him, Abe?" Morris inquired timidly. "Maybe we could jolly him into staying."
Abe nodded again.
"Maybe you could jolly a duck not to swim in the water, Mawruss," he cried bitterly.
"That's all right, Abe," Morris retorted. "A duck ain't got no use for a couple of hundred dollars bonus."
"A couple of hundred dollars bonus!" Abe yelled. "Do you mean to say you would offer that Italiener a bonus?"
"Sure; why not?" Morris asked. "Ain't he a good designer, Abe?"
"I don't care if he was the best designer in the world, Mawruss," Abe replied firmly. "Before I would give him a couple hundred dollars bonus, understand me, he could go to Italy and a whole lot farther too."
"Suit yourself," Morris said, as he commenced to examine the morning's mail. He was midway in the assortment of the firm's sample line when Abe approached him half an hour later.
"Mawruss," he said, "do me the favour. You speak to the feller and see what you can do. After all, a couple hundred dollars wouldn't break us."
"I'm satisfied," Morris replied, and he walked immediately to the cutting room.
"What's the matter, Henry, I hear you are leaving us?" he began.
Henry straightened up from the layer of cloth that was spread before him on the cutting table and passed one hand through his bushy black hair.
"I gotta no keek, Mr. Perlmutter," he said. "Just for my contract is up, so I go. That's all. I like-a da job first-class. Mr. Potash ees ver' good man. Mr. Perlmutter ees too."
"Then why don't you stay with us?" Morris asked, and Enrico Simonetti heaved a great sigh.
"I like-a da job first-class, Mr. Perlmutter, I gotta no keek," he declared; "but I can no work. I am seek."
"Sick!" Morris exclaimed; "well, why didn't you tell us then? We'd only be too glad to let you go away for a couple of weeks, Henry."
Enrico sighed even more deeply.
"Ees not a seekness for two weeks, Mr. Perlmutter," he said. "I am seek just for see my mudder. Ees old woman—my mudder, Mr. Perlmutter."
Enrico's large brown eyes grew moist as he proceeded.
"Yes, I am a-seek," he went on. "I am a-seek just for see Ischia, Posilipo, Capri, Mr. Perlmutter. You know I am a-seek for see aranci—oranges grown on a tree. I am a-seek just for see my own ceet-a, Napoli. Yes, Mr. Perlmutter, I am a-ver' seek."
He sat down on a stool and bowed his face in his hands, while his shoulders heaved up and down in the emotion of nostalgia.
"Think it over, Henry," Morris said huskily, and departed on tiptoe. He returned at once to the assorting of the sample line, nor did he look up when Abe came toward him a few minutes afterward.
"Well, Mawruss," Abe said, "what did he say?"
"He didn't say nothing," Morris replied.
"Why not?" Abe continued. "Didn't he think two hundred was enough?"
"I didn't mention the two hundred to him at all," Morris answered, "because it wouldn't be no use. You couldn't keep that feller from going back to the old country, not if you would put him into jail even. He'd break out, Abe, believe me."
Abe nodded slowly.
"Well, that's the way it goes, Mawruss," he said bitterly, as Enrico walked toward them from the cutting room.
"Mr. Potash," he said, "ascuse me, you geev-a me now leetla time for going downtown just for same like I tell-a you dis morning?"
"Go ahead, Henry," Morris replied.
"You notta mad at me, Mr. Perlmutter?" Enrico asked anxiously.
"Why should I got to be mad at you, Henry?" Morris rejoined. "If I would feel the way you do, Henry, me, I wouldn't of waited for my contract to be up even."
"Ain't that a fine way for you to talk, Mawruss?" Abe said after Enrico had gone. "You would think you would be glad to get rid of the feller right in the middle of the busy season."
"I don't care if I would got to jump right in and work till twelve o'clock every night, Abe," he declared. "I would tell him to go home to the old country if I would got to pay for the ticket myself."
Abe thrust his hands into his trousers pockets and started to walk gloomily away.
"Furthermore, Abe, if you want to go out for your lunch, Abe," Morris concluded, "now is the time, because as I told you before, Abe, I got to go on the court at two o'clock."
"Sure you told me that before, Mawruss," Abe growled, as he put on his hat and coat; "and when a feller goes to work and deliberately fixes things so he has got to go on a court, Mawruss, d'ye know the next place he would go?"
He paused for a retort; but, as Morris made no sign, Abe supplied his own answer.
"A lunatic asylum," he said, and a minute later the elevator door clanged behind him.
For almost an hour longer Morris busied himself with the assortment of the sample line, and he had about concluded his task when a great wailing noise came from the cutting room. He jumped to his feet and ran hurriedly to the scene of the uproar. There he found Enrico Simonetti seated on a stool, clutching his hair with both hands, while around him stood a group of his assistants, voicing their anguish like a pack of foxhounds.
"Koosh!" Morris cried. "What is the trouble here?"
The wailing ceased, but Enrico remained seated, his hands still clutching his bushy hair, while his large brown eyes stared blankly from a face as white as a pierrot.
"What's the matter?" Morris repeated.
"His bank busted on him," said Nathan Schenkman, the shipping clerk.
"His bank!" Morris cried. "What bank?"
"It ain't a regular bank," Nathan explained. "He is giving his money to an Italiener which he calls himself a banker, Mr. Perlmutter; and to-day when he is going there to get him money the feller's store is locked. Nobody knows where he went to at all. The clerks also is gone."
"Is that right, Henry?" Morris asked.
Enrico nodded his head without removing his hands from his hair.
"There is a big crowd of loafers around the store," Nathan continued, "which they are saying they would kill the feller if they get him, so Henry comes back here on account he ain't that kind, Mr. Perlmutter. Henry is a decent feller, Mr. Perlmutter."
Morris looked pityingly at his cutter, who continued to stare at the floor in stony despair.
"Might you could do something to get him his money back maybe, Mr. Perlmutter?" Nathan said.
"I would see when my partner comes in from lunch," Morris replied, and as he turned to leave the cutting room Abe's bulky form blocked the doorway. Morris waved him back, and Abe tiptoed to the front of the showroom followed by Morris.
"What's the trouble?" Abe asked immediately.
"Trouble enough," Morris declared. "Henry's bank busted on him."
"What!" Abe cried, and Morris repeated the information.
"Then he wouldn't leave us at all," Abe said, and Morris nodded sadly.
"Ain't it terrible?" he commented.
"Terrible?" Abe asked. "What d'ye mean—terrible? Is it so terrible that we wouldn't got to lose our designer right in the middle of the busy season?"
"I don't mean us, Abe," Morris said. "I mean for Henry."
"Henry neither," Abe rejoined. "Henry would still got his job with two hundred dollars a year raise."
"And a bonus of two hundred dollars," Morris added.
"A bonus of nothing!" Abe almost shouted. "Do you mean to told me you would pay Henry a bonus of two hundred dollars now that he must got to stay on with us?"
"I sure do," Morris declared fiercely; "and furthermore, Abe, if you don't want to pay it I would from my own pocket, and I'm going right in to tell him about it now."
He walked away to the cutting room, and in less than five minutes Abe repented his parsimony. He went on tiptoe to the door of the cutting room, where Morris leaned over Enrico, uttering words of consolation and advice.
"Mawruss," Abe hissed, "make it three hundred, the bonus."
"And, Mawruss," Abe went on, "it's pretty near quarter of two. Ain't you going up there at all?"
"I should never walk another step if you didn't say two o'clock," Morris Perlmutter protested to Philip Sholy as they hastened up the stairway in Jefferson Market Police Court.
"Never mind what I said," Sholy cried. "It's now anyhow quarter past two, and that dago has got his wife and servant girl and two clerks waiting in court since twelve o'clock. Eichendorfer and Baskof have been here since one o'clock."
"Say, listen here, Sholy," Morris said, as they panted up the last flight, "I came just as soon as I could, and I couldn't come no sooner."
"Hats off!" the policeman at the door shouted, as Morris walked up the aisle with his attorney, and a moment later they passed into the enclosure for counsel.
"My client and his witnesses have been here since twelve o'clock," a lawyer was explaining while Morris sat down, "and in the meantime his place of business has been closed."
At this juncture the client in question caught sight of Morris and ripped out so strong an Italian expletive that the court interpreter nearly swooned.
"What business is he in?" the magistrate asked.
"He's in the banking business on Mulberry Street," the lawyer continued, "and it's impossible to say what harm all this may do him."
"Call the case again," the magistrate said.
"Witnesses in the case of Giuseppe Caraccioli please step forward," the interpreter announced, and the policeman in the rear of the courtroom repeated the injunction to the loungers in the stairway.
"Guy-seppy Scratch-oly," he bellowed, and Morris heard him from his seat in the enclosure for counsel. He jumped to his feet and made for the gate.
"Where are you going?" Sholy demanded, grabbing him by the coat.
"Leggo my coat!" Morris cried, and the next moment he was taking the stairs three at a jump. Nor had his excitement abated when he burst into his cutting room half an hour later.
"Henry," he gasped, "if I would get your money back for you would you stick out the busy season for us?"
Enrico was chalking designs on a piece of pattern paper when Morris entered. Beyond a slight pallor he appeared to be quite resigned to his loss, but at his employer's words he flushed vividly and clutched again at his hair.
"Leave your hair alone and listen to me," Morris commented.
"Sure, sure," Enrico said tremulously, "I leesten, Mr. Perlmutt."
"Did you hear what I said?" Morris went on. "If I can get your money back for you will you stay on here till the busy season is over?"
"Sure," Enrico cried; "sure. I notta geevadam how long I stay, you getta my mon', Mr. Perlmutt. I stay here one, two, t'ree years."
"All right," Morris said; "put on your coat and go back to Mulberry Street. Your banker will of opened up again by the time you get there."
Ten days afterward Abe and Morris sat in the showroom.
"Ain't it terrible a strong, healthy young feller should go off like that?" Abe Potash remarked, as he and his partner sat in their showroom one spring morning. "I give you my word I was sitting over in Hammersmith's so close to him as I am to you, Mawruss, when it happened."
"Was there much excitement?" Morris asked.
"I bet yer was there excitement!" Abe exclaimed. "Hammersmith sends across the street for a doctor, and you ought to seen Leon Sammet the way he acted. 'For Gawd's sake, doctor,' he says, 'couldn't you do nothing for him?' he says. 'He's got a wife and family,' he says, 'and we shipped him two thousand dollars goods only last Saturday.'"
"Did they?" Morris asked.
"How should I know?" Abe said. "Sammet is such a liar, Mawruss, he couldn't tell the truth no matter how surprised he would be. But one thing is sure, Mawruss—Gladstein did owe Sammet Brothers for a big bill of goods and the widder paid them out of the insurance."
"Could she do that when the feller leaves a family, Abe?" Morris inquired.
"The feller didn't leave no family, Mawruss," Abe answered. "Leon Sammet just takes a chance when he said that to the doctor. As a matter of fact, Mawruss, Gladstein was one of them fellers which he ain't got a relation in the world. Mrs. Gladstein neither, except im Russland. That's the way it goes, Mawruss. A feller which he has got so many cousins and uncles that he gets writer's cramp already indorsing accommodation paper for 'em, understand me, lives to be an old man yet, and all the time his relations and his wife's relations is piling up on him; while a man like Gladstein which you could really say has a chance to enjoy life, Mawruss, is got to die."
"Don't I know it?" he commented. "And I suppose the widder sells out the store."
"Oser a stück," Abe said. "She's still running the store, and making a fair success of it too."
"Is that so?" Morris replied. "Well, then, why couldn't we get some of her trade, Abe? Bridgetown ain't so far away from here. Why don't you take a run over there sometime and see what you could do with her? Might you could sell her some goods maybe."
"Yow!" Abe exclaimed derisively. "We couldn't sell that woman goods, not if we was to let her have 'em for the price of the findings, Mawruss. She's got an idee that she is getting stuck unless she would buy goods from the same concerns that sold Gladstein."
"Well, if that's the case, Abe," Morris said, "she could never make no big success there. A feller like Leon Sammet would just as lief stick a widder as not—liefer even."
"Sure, I know," Abe replied.
"Then why don't some one give her a couple pointers about that feller, Abe?" Morris inquired.
Abe nodded solemnly.
"You know a whole lot about women, Mawruss, I must say," he commented. "You could give a woman pointers by the dozen about a man, Mawruss, and swear to 'em with six affidavits yet, and what good would it do? It's like putting a 'Wet Paint' sign up. Everybody feels the paint to see if it really would be wet."
"What for a looking woman is she, Abe?" Morris asked, with an obvious effort at nonchalance.
"How should I know?" Abe said. "I only seen her a couple times; and anyhow, Mawruss, I don't take it so particular to look at women like Leon Sammet does, Mawruss. That feller's a regular Don Quicks-toe, Mawruss. He is all the time running around with women."
"A feller must got to entertain buyers once in a while, Abe," Morris said.
"Buyers is all right, Mawruss," Abe declared, "but I guess I been in this here business long enough that I could tell a buyer from a model."
"That's all right, Abe," Morris said. "Leon Sammet may run around the streets with women, Abe, but that ain't saying he is got intentions to marry Mrs. Gladstein. A feller like Leon Sammet which he is crowding fifty pretty close, Abe, ain't looking to marry no widders. Young girls is all them fellers is looking out for, Abe; and anyhow, Abe, what for a match is Mrs. Gladstein to a manufacturer? If she expects that she should get another husband, Abe, the only hope for her is some retailer would marry her as a going concern. She couldn't liquidate her business and come out even, let alone with money enough to get married, Abe."
"She don't got to got money to get married on, Mawruss," Abe rejoined. "Any one would be glad to marry such a woman supposing she didn't got a cent to her name. She's an elegant-looking woman, Mawruss—not too thin and not too fat, Mawruss, and what a face she got it, Mawruss! My Rosie was a good-looking woman, Mawruss, and is to-day yet; but Mrs. Gladstein, Mawruss, that's a woman which in a theayter already you don't see such a looking woman. She could dress herself, too, I bet yer. The last time I was by Bridgetown she is wearing one of our Style 4022 which Sammet ganveredfrom us and calls the Lily Langtry costume, Mawruss, in a navy shade, understand me; and I don't know nothing about this here Lily Langtry, Mawruss, but I could tell you right now, Mawruss, she ain't got nothing on Mrs. Gladstein when it comes to looks."
Morris nodded and turned to the contemplation of some cutting-slips, while Abe made ready for lunch.
"Say, lookyhere, Abe," Morris said, when Abe appeared with his hat on. "I've been thinking about this here Mrs. Gladstein, understand me, and I come to the conclusion: Why should we give up so easy? Gladstein always done a good business in that store, y'understand, and if the widder is such a good-looking woman like you say she is, Abe, there's an opening for her to attract a big trade in gents' furnishings and hats up there, and at the same time keep the cloak-and-suit end going."
"What d'ye mean—attract a big trade in gents' furnishings and hats, Mawruss?" Abe demanded indignantly. "If you think the woman is a flirt, Mawruss, you are making a big mistake."
"Must a woman got to be a flirt that she should sell gents' furnishings, Abe?" Morris asked with some heat.
"That's all right, Mawruss," Abe said with a scowl. "A lady ain't looking to sell the gents' furnishing trade, Mawruss."
"I know she ain't," Morris replied, "but if a woman is good-looking, Abe, naturally she attracts the clothing and furnishing customers, but she don't got to sell those customers, Abe. Her husband could do that."
"Her husband could do it?" Abe repeated. "What are you talking about—her husband?"
"Sure, her husband," Morris went on, "and especially if a good-looking woman like Mrs. Gladstein would got for a husband a good-looking man like B. Gurin, understand me, the idee works both ways. Mrs. Gladstein attracts the clothing trade and B. Gurin sells 'em, y'understand, while B. Gurin attracts the women's garment trade and Mrs. Gladstein sells 'em."
Abe sat down suddenly and took off his hat.
"What are you trying to drive into, Mawruss?" he asked.
"I am trying to drive into this, Abe," Morris replied: "B. Gurin is a good-looking, up-to-date feller, but he's in wrong with that store of his in Mount Vernon. In the first place, the neighbourhood ain't right, y'understand, and in the second place Gurin don't attend to business like he should; because he ain't married and he ain't got no responsibilities. To such a feller, Abe, when it comes to taking a young lady on theayter Saturday night, business is nix, even when Saturday is a big night in Mount Vernon."
"Furthermore, Abe," Morris continued, "if we go on selling B. Gurin, Abe, sooner or later he would bust up on us, understand me, and we are not only out a customer but the least he sticks us is a couple hundred dollars. He owes us two hundred and fifty right now, Abe, since the first of the month already. Ain't it?"
Abe nodded again.
"But you take a young feller like B. Gurin, Abe," Morris went on, "which all he needs is a wife to steady him and an up-to-date Medeena like Bridgetown to run a store in, understand me, and if we could put this thing through, Abe, not only we are doing a Mitzvah for all concerned, Abe, but we are making a customer for life."
"You mean, Mawruss," Abe said slowly, "you would try to make up a match between B. Gurin and Mrs. Gladstein?"
"Sure, why not?" Morris said. "It stands in the Gemara, Abe, we are commanded to promote marriages, visit the sick and bury the dead."
Once more Abe nodded, and this time he managed to impart the quality of irony to the gesture.
"Burying the dead is all right, Mawruss," he said. "From a dead man you don't get no comebacks, and his relations is anyhow grateful; aber if you would make up a match between a couple of people like Mrs. Gladstein and B. Gurin, what is it? Even if the marriage would be a success, Mawruss, then the couple claims they was just suited to each other, Mawruss, and we don't get no credit for it anyway. On the other hand, Mawruss, if they don't agree together, they wouldn't hate each other near so much as they'd hate us."
"Why should they hate us?" Morris asked. "Our intentions is anyhow good."
"Sure, I know, Mawruss," Abe retorted. "From having good intentions already, many a decent, respectable feller goes broke."
Morris flapped the air impatiently with his right hand.
"Anybody could sit down and talk proverbs, Abe," he said.
"I guess I could talk proverbs in my own store, Mawruss, if I want to," Abe rejoined with dignity.
"Sure you could," Morris replied, "but one thing you got to remember, Abe. While the back-number is saying look out before you jump, the up-to-date feller has jumped already, and lands on a five-thousand-dollar order mit both feet already."
"I'll tell you, Mr. Perlmutter, it's like this," B. Gurin explained, as he sat in his Mount Vernon store that evening; "money don't figure at all with me."
"Where is the harm supposing she does got a little money, Gurin?" Morris protested. "And, anyhow, never mind the money, Gurin. We will say for the sake of example she ain't got no money. Does it do any harm to look at the woman?"
B. Gurin passed his hand through his wavy brown hair, cut semi-pompadour in the latest fashion. There was no denying B. Gurin's claims to beauty.
"What is the use talking, Mr. Perlmutter?" he said, carefully examining his finger-nails. "I am sick and tired of looking at 'em. Believe me I ain't lying to you, if I looked at one I must of looked at hundreds. The fathers was rated at the very least D to F first credit, and what is it? The most of 'em I wouldn't marry, not if the rating was Aa 1 even, such faces they got it, understand me; and the others which is got the looks, y'understand, you could take it from me, Mr. Perlmutter, they couldn't even cook a pertater even."
"Girls which they got D to F fathers don't got to cook pertaters," Morris commented shortly.
B. Gurin shrugged.
"For that matter, Mr. Perlmutter," he said, "I don't take it so particular about my food neither."
"Say, lookyhere, Gurin," Morris exclaimed. "What is the trouble with you anyhow? First you are telling me you don't care about money, next you are kicking that the good-looking ones couldn't cook, y'understand, and then you say you ain't so particular about cooking anyway. What for a kind of girl do you want, Gurin?"
Gurin continued to examine his finger-nails and made no reply.
"Because, Gurin," Morris concluded, "if you are looking for a homely girl which she ain't got no money and couldn't cook, understand me, I wouldn't fool away my time with you at all. Such girls you don't need me to find for you."
B. Gurin sighed profoundly.
"You shouldn't get mad, Mr. Perlmutter," he said, "if I tell you something?"
"Why should I get mad, Gurin?" Morris asked. "I am coming all the way up here, which I am leaving wife and boy at home to do so—and maybe you don't think she put up a holler, Gurin! So if you wouldn't even consent to do me the favour and look at Mrs. Gladstein, Gurin, and I don't get mad, understand me, why should I get mad if you would tell me something?"
"Well," Gurin commenced, "it ain't much to tell, Mr. Perlmutter. I guess you hear already why I am coming to this country."
Morris elevated his eyebrows.
"I suppose you are coming here like anybody else comes here," he said. "Sooner as stay in the old country and be a Schnorrer all your life, you come over here, ain't it?"
"No, siree, sir," Gurin replied emphatically.
"If I would stay in the old country, Perlmutter, I don't got to be a Schnorrer. Do you know Louis Moses, the banker in Minsk?"
"That's from mir an uncle, verstehst du?" Gurin said; "and Zachs, the big corn merchant, that's also an uncle. My father ain't a Schnorrer neither, Mr. Perlmutter; in fact, instead I am sending home money to Russland like most fellers which they come to this country, Mr. Perlmutter, my people sends me money yet."
He jumped from his chair and went to the safe, from which he extracted two crisp Russian banknotes.
"A hundred rubles apiece," he said, and his face beamed with pride. "So, you see, I don't got to leave Russland because I would be a Schnorrer over there."
"No?" Morris replied. "Then why did you leave, Gurin? So far what I could see you ain't made it such a big success over here."
"You couldn't make me mad by saying that, Mr. Perlmutter," Gurin commented. "A big success oder a big failure, it makes no difference to me."
"It makes a whole lot of difference to me," Morris cried.
"Yes, Mr. Perlmutter," B. Gurin went on, disregarding the interruption. "I ain't coming over here to make a big success in business. I am coming over here to forget."
"To forget!" Morris exclaimed. "What d'ye mean, forget?"
B. Gurin ran his hands once more through his pompadour and nodded slowly.
"That's what I said," he repeated—"to forget."
"Well, I hope you ain't forgetting you owe us now two hundred and fifty dollars since the first of the month yet," Morris commented in dry, matter-of-fact tones.
B. Gurin waved his hand airily.
"I could forget that easy, Mr. Perlmutter," he said—and Morris winced—"but the rest I couldn't forget at all. Day and night I see her face, Mr. Perlmutter—and such a face!"
Here he paused impressively.
"N-nah!" he exclaimed, and kissed the tips of his fingers, while Morris glanced uneasily toward the door.
"Her name was Miss Polanya and her father keeps a big flour mill in Koroleshtchevitzi, Mr. Perlmutter," Gurin went on. "A fine family, understand me; and I am going out there from Minsk twice a week, when a young feller by the name Lutsky—a corn broker, y'understand—comes to sell her father goods."
Again B. Gurin paused, his left hand extended palm upward in a tremulous gesture. Suddenly it dropped on his knee with a despondent smack.
"In two weeks already they was married," he concluded, "and me, I am coming to America."
"You ain't coming to such a bad place neither," Morris rejoined; "even supposing your uncles was such big Machersin the old country."
"Places is all the same to me now," Gurin said—"women, too, Mr. Perlmutter. I assure you, Mr. Perlmutter, since the day I am leaving Minsk one woman is the same as another to me. I ain't got no use for none of 'em."
"Geh weg, Gurin," Morris cried impatiently. "You talk like a fool. Just because one lady goes back on you, understand me, is that a reason you wouldn't got no use for no ladies at all? You might just as well say, Gurin, because one customer busts up on you, y'understand, you would never try to sell another customer so long as you live. Now this here Mrs. Gladstein, Gurin, is a lady which while I never seen this here lady im Russland, y'understand, if you will just come out to Bridgetown with me, Gurin, I give you a guaranty Russland wouldn't figure at all."
Gurin shook his head sadly.
"You don't know me, Mr. Perlmutter," he said. "While I am going with plenty Schatchens to see young ladies already, Mr. Perlmutter, I assure you my heart ain't in it. People gets the impression because I am a swell dresser, Mr. Perlmutter, that I am looking to get married; but believe me, Mr. Perlmutter, it ain't so."
"Then what do you go for, Gurin?" Morris asked. "Schatchens don't like to fool away their time no more as I do, Gurin; and you could take it from me, no girl is going to the trouble to fix herself up and make a nice supper for you and the Schatchen simply for the pleasure of seeing a swell dresser, Gurin."
"That's just the point, Mr. Perlmutter," Gurin said. "A feller which runs a store like this one and eats his meals in restaurants, understand me, must got to get a little home cooking once in a while. Ain't it?"
"Why not get married and be done with it?" Morris retorted; "and then you could get home cooking all the time."
Once more Gurin shook his head.
"Without love, Mr. Perlmutter, marriage is nix," he said.
"Schmooes!" Morris exclaimed. "Do you think when I got married I loved my wife, Gurin? Oser a stück. And to-day yet I am crazy about her. With a business man, Gurin, love comes after marriage."
B. Gurin rose wearily to his feet and shot his cuffs by way of showing impatience.
"What is the use talking, Mr. Perlmutter?" he protested. "When I want to get married I would get married—otherwise not."
He flecked away an imaginary grain of dust from the lapel of his coat and walked slowly toward the door.
"Are you going home on the New Haven road oder the Harlem road?" he asked.
Morris scowled, and his indignation lent such force to the gesture with which he put on his hat that the impact sounded like a blow on a tambourine.
"Schon gut, Gurin," he said. "I am through with you."
He paused at the doorway and lit a cigar.
"And one thing I could tell you, Gurin," he concluded. "Either you would send us a check the first thing to-morrow morning, oder we would give your account to our lawyers, and that's all there is to it."
He puffed away at his cigar as he trudged down the street, and he had nearly reached the corner when he heard a familiar voice shouting: "Mr. Perlmutter!" He turned to view B. Gurin hastening after him.
"Well, Gurin," he grunted, "what you want now?"
Gurin stopped and gasped for breath, and Morris's heart gave a triumphant leap as he noted the anxiety displayed on B. Gurin's clean-shaven features.
"Speak up, Gurin," he said; "I got to get my train."
Gurin smiled in surrender.
"All right, Mr. Perlmutter," he murmured; "make for me a date and I will look the lady over."
When Morris entered his place of business the next morning he found his partner examining the advertising columns of a morning paper with an absorption hardly justified by the tabulated list of births, marriages and deaths at which he was gazing.
"What's biting you now, Abe?" Morris demanded.
"What d'ye mean, what's biting me?" Abe rejoined, and Morris blushed in the consciousness of his oversleeping that morning by more than half an hour.
"Say, lookyhere, Abe," he cried. "I don't know what you are driving into, understand me, but if you think you could get brogus at me just because I am ten minutes late once in a while, y'understand, let me tell you I am catching a twelve o'clock train from Mount Vernon last night, and not alone I am talking myself blue in the face to that feller Gurin, y'understand, but when I got home already I couldn't get to sleep till I told the whole thing to my Minnie yet."
Abe nodded slowly.
"Yes, Abe," Morris continued, "I got to go over the story twice over already, and even then, y'understand, my Minnie gets mad because I didn't contradict myself.
"Only one idee that woman got it in her head, Abe. If I am out of the house schon ten minutes already you couldn't tell her otherwise but I am playing auction pinocle."
"Well, you might just as well of been playing auction pinocle last night for all the good it would do us."
"What are you talking about—all the good it would do us?" Morris almost whimpered.
"I actually got the feller dead to rights, Abe, and all I must do now is to work from the other end."
Abe burst into a mirthless laugh and handed Morris the paper.
"You should of worked the other end first, Mawruss," he declared, as he indicated an advertising item with his thumb. "That's what Leon Sammet did, Mawruss."
Morris seized the paper and his face grew purple as he read the following notice:
ENGAGED: Asimof—Gladstein. Mrs. Sonia Gladstein, of Bridgetown, Pa., to Jacob Asimof, of Dotyville, Pa. At home, Sunday next 3 to 7 at the residence of Mrs. Leah Sammet, 86-3/4 West One Hundredth and Eighteenth Street. No cards.
"Leon's mother makes the engagement party for 'em, Mawruss," Abe said dryly. "Costs a whole lot of money, too, and I bet yer Mrs. Gladstein wouldn't notice it at all in the next six months' statements Leon sends to her."
Morris stifled a groan as he laid down the paper and forced himself to smile confidently.
"What difference does an engagement make, Abe?" he asked. "An engagement ain't a wedding, Abe, and it ain't too late even now."
Again Abe indulged in a bitter laugh.
"You're a regular optician, Mawruss," he said. "You never give up hope."
"That's all right, Abe," Morris retorted. "We could stand a couple opticians in this concern. Always you are ready to lay down on a proposition just as soon as things goes a little wrong, understand me, but me I think differencely."
Abe shrugged and rose to his feet.
"Well, Mawruss," he said, "take off your hat and coat and stay a while. Maybe we could do a little business here this morning for a change."
"Maybe we could and maybe we couldn't, Abe," Morris rejoined, as he buttoned up his coat; "but just the same I am going to do something which you will really be surprised."
"Not at all," Abe corrected; "we are partners together so long that I am only surprised supposing you should act sensible."
"Well, the way I look at it I am acting sensible, Abe," Morris announced. "I am acting sensible, because I am going right down to see Marcus Flachs and I would buy from him for ten dollars cut glass, and I would show that sucker Sammet he couldn't faze me none."
"What d'ye mean, couldn't faze you none?" Abe asked.
"I mean if Sammet is such a faker he goes to work and makes engagement parties for his customers and puts 'em on the paper yet, Abe," Morris declared, as he jammed his hat down more firmly on his head, "he must got to expect his competitors would take advantage of it, understand me. And you could bet your sweet life, Abe, Sunday afternoon, comes three o'clock, I am right there at his mother's house with the cut glass, and don't you forget it."
Abe nodded grimly.
"It's a free country, Mawruss," he said, "and nobody could stop you going to an engagement party which is in the paper, y'understand; but you shouldn't forget one thing, Mawruss. You got on our ledger a drawing account, verstehst du, and on your way out you should please tell Miss Cohen to enter the ten dollars cut glass in the right place."
"Don't worry, Abe," Morris cried, as he started for the elevator. "When the time comes we should post it in the ledger, if we ain't opened a new account in Bridgetown, Pa., I would pay for it myself."
Ten minutes later he entered the Twenty-third Street subway station en route to Canal Street, and no sooner had he bought his ticket than his enthusiasm began to wane. After all, he reflected as he boarded the train, ten dollars' worth of cut glass seemed rather extravagant when one considered the size of an order that in the most favourable circumstances might emanate from a store in Bridgetown. Indeed, as the train pulled into the Eighteenth Street station he had come to believe that seven dollars and fifty cents would be a generous price, and even this figure commenced to look huge as Fourteenth Street drew near. At Astor Place, Morris decided that five dollars' worth of cut glass would be more appropriate for a widow. When the guard announced the next stop as Bleecker Street, however, it occurred to Morris that the manufacturers of quadruple plate were producing some very artistic effects in knives, forks and spoons, which in appearance were undistinguishable from sterling silver; and the train was leaving Spring Street when Morris bethought himself of a certain bonbonnière that had cost Mrs. Perlmutter precisely four dollars at a dry-goods store. He distinctly recalled examining the trade-mark, to which were affixed the words "triple plate."
During the short walk from the Canal Street station to Marcus Flachs's place of business, he wondered vaguely if there were such a thing as double plate, and when at last he opened the door of the pawnbroker's sales store in question he approached the counter with his mind fully made up.
"Do you got maybe some sets from nutpicks?" he inquired of the proprietor.
Marcus Flachs took the question in ill part.
"What the devil do you think I am running here," he demanded by way of answer—"a five-and-ten-cent store?"
"Since when do they sell it nutpicks in a five-and-ten-cent-store?" Morris retorted.
Flachs snorted angrily.
"I don't think they sell 'em even in five-and-ten-cent stores," he said; "and anyhow, Mr. Perlmutter, what for a present is nutpicks? If a feller eats nuts twice a year, that's a big average. For my part it would oser break my heart if I would never eat another nut so long as I live. Now what you want to get is something cheap, ain't it?"
"Something about two dollars and fifty cents," he said.
"That's what I thought," Flachs replied, "and for two dollars and fifty cents there ain't much choice. Olive dishes is all I could show you."
"Let me give a look at 'em," Morris said, and as Flachs led the way to the well-stocked shelves in the rear of the store Morris discerned for the first time the presence of another customer.
"How much did you say that there coffee samovar was?" cried a familiar voice.
"I told you before, Mr. Klinger," Flachs said, "that ain't no samovar. That's a perculater and it cost me, so sure as I am standing here, fifteen dollars, so I would let you have it for twelve-fifty on account its being shopworn."
"Take ten dollars and make an end," rejoined Klinger, tendering a bill.
"For ten dollars I could give you a fine piece cut glass, Mr. Klinger," Flachs insisted.
By way of answer Klinger tucked away the ten-dollar bill he had taken from his waistcoat pocket, and Flachs seized the coffee percolator with both hands.
"I'll wrap it up for you right away," he said, and then it was that Klinger recognized Morris, who had been standing unnoticed in the background.
"Hello, Perlmutter!" he said; "what are you doing here?"
"I guess I am doing the same what you are doing, Klinger," Morris replied stiffly. "I am buying for a customer a present. Ain't it?"
"Honestly, Perlmutter," he said, "I never seen the like how things happen. No sooner you start to sell goods to a feller than somebody is engaged oder married in his family."
"He must be a pretty good customer the way you are blowing yourself," Morris commented.
"I bet yer!" Klinger said as he walked away; "and if you would be in our place you would do the same."
For five minutes Morris examined the cut glass, and when Flachs returned he had decided upon an olive dish of most intricate design. "That's a close buyer, that Mr. Klinger," Flachs observed.
"Not near so close as I am," Morris declared.
"Well, you wouldn't anyhow kick on paying twenty-five cents express, Mr. Perlmutter," Flachs said, "but that feller actually wants me to deliver the package for nothing."
"Why not?" Morris asked. "Don't everybody deliver packages free?"
"Not a pawnbroker's-sales store," Flachs replied; "and anyhow, Mr. Perlmutter, Leon Sammet this morning buys from me for thirty dollars silver to be sent to the same place on One Hundred and Eighteenth Street as that there perculater, and he didn't kick only a little that I am charging him fifty cents express."
"What!" Morris exclaimed. "Is Klinger sending that perculater up to One Hundred and Eighteenth Street too?"
"That's what I said," Flachs answered, and Morris replaced the cut-glass dish on the shelf.
"Was the name Gladstein?" he inquired, and Flachs nodded.
"Then in that case," Morris said savagely, "let me look at some sterling silver for about twenty-five dollars. If them suckers could stand it, so can I."
More than two days had elapsed before Abe had exhausted the topic of Mrs. Gladstein's ten-dollar engagement present. He discussed it satirically, profanely and earnestly, from the standpoint of business ethics, in such maddening reiterations that Morris could not help wondering how much longer Abe's criticism would have continued had he known that the cold-meat tray really cost twenty-five dollars.
"You are throwing away good money after bad, Mawruss," Abe said, renewing the subject after an interval of comparative calm, "because, so sure as you are standing there, we would never get our two hundred and fifty out of that feller Gurin."
"What has Mrs. Gladstein's present got to do with Gurin?" Morris asked. "If I told you once, Abe, in the last two days, I am telling you a dozen times, understand me, I am giving that there cold-meat tray to Mrs. Gladstein as a speculation, Abe. What difference does it make who she marries, Abe, Gurin oder Asimof, so long as we could land from her an order for five hundred dollars?"
"Yow! You would land from her an order for five hundred dollars!" Abe exclaimed.
"Well, if Sol Klinger could do it, why couldn't we?" Morris asked.
"What are you talking about Sol Klinger?" Abe demanded.
Thereupon Morris related to Abe the circumstances surrounding Sol Klinger's purchase of the coffee percolator, and when he concluded Abe nodded slowly.
"So that highwayman is butting in too," he commented. "How much did you say he is paying for that samovar, Mawruss?"
Morris closed his eyes as though he were making a conscientious effort to remember the exact amount.
"Thirty dollars," he announced at last.
"What!" Abe cried. "You stood there and let Sol Klinger buy for thirty dollars a present and we ourselves only spend ten? What for a piker are you anyway, Mawruss?"
"What do you mean, what for a piker am I?" Morris said indignantly. "You are talking me black in the face on account I am spending ten dollars and now you are kicking I didn't spend thirty."
"Did you tell me before that Sol Klinger buys a present?" Abe asked. "And furthermore, Mawruss, this wouldn't be the first time we are spending money to get business. Couldn't we afford to lay out thirty dollars if we want to?"
"But, Abe—" Morris began.
"But nothing!" Abe roared. "Why should you get all of a sudden so sparsam mit our money, Mawruss? You talk like we would be new beginners on East Broadway already."
"But, Abe—" Morris protested again.
"'S enough, Mawruss," Abe interrupted. "I heard enough from you already. Only one thing I got to tell you: if we lose a chance of getting some business from a lady which you could really say I know her well enough that it's a shame we ain't sold her nothing already even, don't blame me. That's all I got to say."
He walked away to the cutting room, while Morris sat down in the nearest chair, dazed to the point of temporary aphasia. For five minutes he sat still, endeavouring to trace the intricacies of a discussion that had put him so decisively in the wrong, and he was still pondering the matter when the elevator door opened and B. Gurin alighted.
"How do you do, Mr. Perlmutter?" Gurin cried.
Morris grunted inarticulately and made no attempt to take his visitor's proffered hand.
"Did you got any news for me?" Gurin asked.
Morris rose to his feet.
"Yes, I got some news for you," he said. "I got news for you that Mrs. Gladstein is engaged to be married to a feller by the name Asimof."
He looked absently at a sample rack upon which reposed the very newspaper that contained the advertisement.
"Here it is," he continued, as he seized the paper. "You could see for yourself."
He handed the advertisement to Gurin, who read it over unmoved.
"Well, I must tell you the honest truth, Mr. Perlmutter," he said. "I couldn't say I am sorry." And he smiled amiably.
As Morris gazed at the fashion-plate features and the fashion-plate apparel of his visitor, he entirely forgot his optimistic scheme of supplanting Asimof with Gurin and he grew suddenly livid with a fierce rage.
"You ain't, ain't you?" he bellowed. "Well, you ought to be, because so sure as you are standing there, comes Monday morning and we don't get a check from you, we would close you up sure, y'understand."
"Now, lookyhere, Mr. Perlmutter—" Gurin began, but the reaction set up by Morris's encounter with his partner had begun to have its effect and he seized Gurin by one padded shoulder.
"Out!" he roared. "Out of my place, you rotten, cheap dude, you!"
And two minutes later B. Gurin fled wildly down the stairs, the newspaper still clutched in his hand.
Although Leon Sammet had at first been actuated by motives of a somewhat sordid nature in his negotiation of Mrs. Gladstein's betrothal, his subsequent behaviour was tempered by the traditional hospitality of his race. As for his mother, Mrs. Leah Sammet, she entered upon the preparations for the reception with an ardour that could not have been exceeded had Mrs. Gladstein been her own daughter. Thus, when Sunday afternoon arrived, Mrs. Sammet's house on One Hundred and Eighteenth Street presented an appearance of unusual festivity. The long, narrow parlor had been liberally draped with smilax and sparingly decorated with ex-table-d'hôte roses, until it resembled the mortuary chapel of a Mulberry Street undertaker; and this effect was, if anything, heightened by four dozen camp-chairs that had been procured from the sexton of Mrs. Sammet's place of worship.
A fine odour of cooking ascended from the basement kitchen, and when Jacob Asimof had entered the front door at the behest of a coloured man with white gloves he sniffed the fragrant atmosphere of the lobby like a coon dog at the base of a hollow tree.
"Am I the first here?" he asked Barney Sammet, the junior partner of Sammet Brothers, who had been detailed by his elder brother to receive the arriving guests, with strict injunction to keep an eye on the cigars.
Barney nodded gloomily.
"And ain't Mrs. Gladstein—I mean Sonia—come yet?" Jacob inquired.
"We just now got a telephone from her, the train from Bridgetown is late and she would be here in half an hour," Barney replied.
"That's a fine lookout," Asimof commented. "I bet yer by that time we would got a big crowd here."
The words were prophetic, for the shuffling of many feet on the front stoop preluded the arrival of Sol Klinger, Mrs. Klinger, Moe Klein and Mrs. Klein, who were immediately succeeded by the firm of Kleiman & Elenbogen, H. Rashkin, the coat-pad manufacturer, and Marks Pasinsky.
It must be conceded that Leon Sammet comported himself in a highly creditable manner, and he greeted his guests with a cordiality that embraced competitor and customer in one impartial, comprehensive smile.
"Why, how do you do, Mr. Klinger?" he exclaimed, and then he turned to Mrs. Leah Sammet, who stood beside him. "Mommer," he said, "I want you to know Mr. Klinger. Him and me has been competitors for twenty years already."
Mrs. Sammet nodded and smiled.
"For my part twenty years longer," she murmured, as she grasped Sol's hand.
"At a time like this, Mrs. Sammet," Sol rejoined, "it don't make no difference to me if a man is ever so much a competitor; what I claim is, let a sleeping dawg alone."
Mrs. Sammet indorsed the sentiment with another smile, and Sol with his retinue passed on into the back parlour for the purpose of inspecting the presents. In the meantime other guests had preceded them, and among them was a man whose bearing and raiment proclaimed the creature of fashion. Not only were his trousers of the latest narrow design, but they were of sufficient modish brevity half to conceal and half to reveal a pair of gossamer silk socks, which in their turn were incased by patent-leather, low-cut shoes. The latter exhibited the square knobbiness that only fashion artists can impart to the footgear of their models, while the broad laces that held them by the insecure hold of two eyelets were knotted in a bow that might have been appended to the collar of Mr. Paderewski himself.
"Ain't this Mr. Gurin?" Sol Klinger asked, and the creature of fashion nodded.
"You're a friend of the Kahlo, ain't it?" Klinger commented, employing the vernacular equivalent for the English word "bride."
"In a way," Gurin said evasively; "aber the Khosan I don't know at all."
Thus did Gurin imply that he was not acquainted with the future bridegroom, and Klinger volunteered the information that Asimof ran a dry-goods store in Dotyville, Pennsylvania.
"I sold him goods for years," he added, "and I guess I would continue to do so, even if that Ganef Sammet would make twenty engagement parties for 'em. Did you see the samovar I gave 'em?"
He pointed proudly to a silver-plated object, and Gurin glanced at it scornfully.
"Potash & Perlmutter gives 'em solid silver," he commented—"a wide dish."
"Sure I know," Klinger said, "thin like paper."
"Aber sterling," Gurin insisted, and Klinger made a telling diversion.
"I suppose you sent 'em something sterling also," he said.
"Me?" Gurin exclaimed. "Why should I buy presents? I am a retailer myself, Mr. Klinger, so I sent 'em some flowers."
"I don't see 'em nowhere," Sol retorted.
"They're over there," B. Gurin said, making a sweeping gesture in the general direction of the mantelpiece, and as he did so a bass voice sounded at his elbow.
"Put out my eye why don't you?" cried Abe Potash, and then he recognized his assailant.
"Say, what are you doing here?" he demanded.
B. Gurin looked coldly at his creditor and shrugged his shoulders.
"I got just so much right to be here as you," he said, "and that partner of yours too."
He hurled this defiance at Morris, who had entered the room on Abe's heels; but the retort passed unnoticed so far as Morris was concerned, since he was absorbed in the contemplation of the presents.
"Well, Klinger," he said, "you are making Mrs. Gladstein a pretty fine present, ain't it?"
"Mrs. Gladstein I ain't bothering my head about at all," he replied. "But when a cut-throat like Sammet makes out a scheme to steal away from me an old customer like Asimof I got to protect myself."
Morris whistled expressively.
"So you are making the present to Asimof?" he commented.
"Sure, I am," Sol answered. "As for Mrs. Gladstein, she got presents enough from me. The first time she was married I am sending money to the old country to my father he should make her a present on account Mrs. Gladstein's father is my father's a third cousin, understand me. And when she marries Gladstein, y'understand, I give her both an engagement and a wedding present both. And do you think that sucker, olav hasholom, ever buys from me a dollar's worth goods? Oser a Stück."
"And you say Mrs. Gladstein was twicet married?" Morris asked.
"Ain't I just telling you so?" Sol replied.
"What was her first husband's name?" Morris asked; but the question remained unanswered, for at that very moment a confusion of noises in the front parlour signalled the arrival of the bride.
Morris and Sol followed the other guests from the rear parlour, and then it was that Morris discerned his partner's appreciative description of Mrs. Gladstein's claim to be in no way exaggerated. She was arrayed in a black silk dress of a design well calculated to display her graceful figure, while her oval face was shaded by a black picture hat, beneath which her large dark eyes glowed and flashed by turns. Moreover, her complexion was all cream and roses, and when she smiled two rows of even white teeth were exposed between a pair of tantalizing red lips.
Morris commenced to perspire with embarrassment as he remembered how he had planned to negotiate a match for this glorious creature—a task that only a very prince of marriage brokers might have essayed. He turned away; but as his eye rested on B. Gurin, who still lingered over the presents, he was obliged to admit that he had chosen a fitting candidate, and he even felt mollified toward his delinquent customer as he reflected on Gurin's lost opportunity.
"Gurin," he said, "ain't you going to congradulate the Kahlo?"
"I didn't know she was here at all," Gurin said sadly. The truth was that Gurin's presence at the reception that afternoon was not inspired by curiosity concerning either Mrs. Gladstein or Asimof. Business was undeniably bad with him, and he was making an earnest effort to keep his financial head above water. Thus he limited his personal expenses to the preservation of his wardrobe, and he had cut down his cost of living to a degree that permitted only a very low, lunch-wagon diet. He saw in Mrs. Sammet's hospitality the prospect of a meal, and although he was by no means courageous, his appetite spurred him on to brave his creditors' wrath.
"I'll take a look at her," he murmured apologetically, and he began to elbow his way through the group that surrounded the engaged couple. Morris patted him on the shoulder as he passed and was about to return to the back parlour when a shriek came from the centre of the congratulatory throng.
"Boris!" cried a female voice with a note of hysteria in its shrill tones.
"Sonia!" B. Gurin exclaimed, and the next moment he clasped Mrs. Gladstein in his arms.
"You was asking me the name of Mrs. Gladstein's first husband," said Sol Klinger to Morris Perlmutter, as they descended the stoop together half an hour later. "It was Aaron Lutsky. He died two years after they was married. I knew his family well in the old country—her's too, Perlmutter. Her father was a feller by the name Polanya, and to-day yet he runs a big flour mill in Koroleshtchevitzi."
"So I understand," Morris said; "but what's that you got there under your coat?"
He referred to a huge bulge on the right side of Sol Klinger's Prince Albert coat, which Sol was supporting with both hands.
"That's my present," Sol said, as if surprised at the question, "and if Marcus Flachs wouldn't give me my money back, understand me, I could anyhow exchange it for something useful."
"It don't make no difference, Mawruss," Abe said, as they sat in their showroom two months later. "The feller should got to pay us that two hundred and fifty dollars."
"But we would get lots of business out of them now that they are married, Abe," Morris protested.
"Sure, I know, Mawruss, and they got lots of presents out of us too, Mawruss," Abe said. "Counting the engagement and the wedding present, Mawruss, and my Rosie's new dress, and the pants which you bought it to go with your tuxedo, understand me—first and last we must be out a hundred and fifty dollars."
Morris nodded. He recognized that an opportunity was here presented to correct Abe's figures by the addition of fifteen dollars to the price of the engagement present, but he deemed it more prudent to await the arrival of Gurin's first order. In point of fact, Morris had begun to examine the mails with some anxiety for a letter postmarked Bridgetown. More than two weeks had elapsed since Gurin's wedding, and, making due allowances for honeymooning, it seemed to Morris that from an inspection of Mrs. Gladstein's stock, made by him on a congratulatory visit to Bridgetown, there was immediate need for replenishment.
"I don't understand why we don't hear from them people at all," he said.
"Give 'em a show, Mawruss. Give 'em a show," Abe replied. "A man only gets married, for the first time, once."
"For my part, Abe, I ain't in no hurry," he said. "If you could see the way Leon Sammet gives me a look this morning when I seen him on the subway y'understand, it would be worth to you a hundred and fifty dollars. Sol Klinger is feeling sore too, Abe. I seen him in Hammersmith's yesterday, and he says to me Flachs wouldn't exchange that samovar arrangement which he bought it, so he took it home with him, and he ain't drunk nothing but coffee in two months."
"I bet yer," Abe commented; "and he also ain't got an order from Asimof in two months. The feller is heartbroken, Mawruss. He even had made arrangements to sell his store in Dotyville and move over to Bridgetown, y'understand, and when he called the deal off the purchaser sues him for breach of contract yet."
"But why should he get mad at Klinger?" Morris asked. "Klinger didn't do him nothing."
"Maybe you don't think so, Mawruss, but Asimof figures differencely; because he told me this morning, that after the engagement is off, understand me, Mrs. Gladstein and him makes a division of the presents. Asimof takes what was sent by the concerns which is selling him goods, and Mrs. Gladstein takes the rest, all excepting a present they got from Marks Pasinsky.
"Pasinsky used to sell 'em both goods, y'understand; but fortunately, Mawruss, he sends 'em a dozen coffee spoons, so Asimof takes six and Mrs. Gladstein takes six."
"It's a good thing Pasinsky didn't send 'em a single piece of cut glass," Morris said thoughtfully.
"It wouldn't make no difference to Asimof," Abe said. "He would of allowed Mrs. Gladstein half cost price, give or take. He's a pretty square feller, Asimof is, Mawruss, and he said he would give a look in here this afternoon. We needn't be afraid from him, Mawruss. He's A number one up to two hundred and fifty dollars, thirty days net."
Morris nodded again and walked slowly toward the cutting room, while his partner sat down to read the trade news in the Daily Cloak and Suit Record. Morris had hardly reached the doorway, however, when a strident shout caused him to retrace his steps in a hurry.
"What's the matter now?" he exclaimed; but Abe was incapable of articulate speech. Instead he held out the paper and made noises appropriate to an apopletic seizure, which Morris construed as a request to look at something of more than ordinary interest.
"Where, where?" he demanded, and Abe stuck a trembling forefinger through the printed page. As nearly as the torn edges of the paper would permit, Morris read the following paragraph:
Bridgetown, Pa.—D. Gladstein's Store Closed. The stock and fixtures of the general store conducted here by D. Gladstein, deceased, were closed out last week, and his widow, who recently married B. Gurin, sailed from New York with her husband yesterday for Hamburg. It is understood that they intend to reside permanently in Europe.
While Morris perused the item Abe gradually recovered his composure, and when his partner at last put down the paper Abe was able to smile the slow, ghostly smile of a man who has called four deuces with an ace full.
"Well, Mawruss," he said resignedly, "a feller must expect the worst when he's got an optician for a partner."