A RETURN TO ARCADY
"Yes, Abe," Morris Perlmutter said with bitter emphasis; "Max Kirschner steals away trade from under our noses while you fool away your time selling goods to a feller like Sam Green."
"What d'ye mean, fool away my time?" Abe cried indignantly. "Sam Green is an old customer from ours; and if Henry Feigenbaum gives for a couple of hundred dollars an order to Max Kirschner he only does it because he's got pity on the old man. And, anyhow, Mawruss, even if Sam Green is a little slow, y'understand, sooner or later we get our money—ain't it?
"Sure, I know, Abe; and if them sooner-or-later fellers would pay you oncet in a while sooner, Abe, it would be all right, y'understand. But they don't, Abe; they always pay you later."
"Well, Sam has got some pretty stiff competition up there, Mawruss," Abe said. "In the first place, Cyprus is too near Sarahcuse, y'understand; and if one of them yokels wants to buy for thirty dollars a garment for his wife, if he is up-to-date, he goes to Sarahcuse; and if he is a back number he goes to Sam's competitors!—What's the name now?—Van Buskirk & Patterson. Yes, Mawruss, back numbers always buys from back numbers."
"Why don't we sell that Van Buster concern our line, Abe?"
"A fine chance I got it with them people, Mawruss!" Abe exclaimed. "They buy their whole stock from a jobber in Buffalo and they got an idee that Russian blouses is the latest up-to-the-minute effect in garments. And you couldn't blame 'em, Mawruss; most of the women up in Cyprus thinks that way too."
"That ain't here nor there, Abe," Morris interrupted. "Sam Green is one of them fellers which he is slow pay if he would be worth a million even. He's got the habit Abe. Look what he writes us now."
He handed Abe a letter which read as follows:
drygoods and notions
the k. & m. sylphshape corset
Cyprus, New York, April 1, 1910
Gents: Your favour of the thirtieth inst. rec'd and contents noted; and in reply would say you should be so kind and wait a couple days, and I will send you a check sure—on an account I got sickness in the family and oblige
Yours truly, S. Green.
"Well, Mawruss," Abe commented, mindful of a recent obstinate lumbago, "might the feller did got sickness in his family maybe."
"Schmooes, Abe!" Morris cried impatiently. "Every season that feller's got another excuse. Last fall his wife goes to work and has an operation. A year ago he is got his uncle in the hospital. The winter before that he is got funeral expenses on account his mother died on him; and so it goes, Abe. That feller would a damsite sooner kill off his whole family, y'understand, than pay a bill to the day it is due."
"All right," Abe said; "then we wouldn't sell him no more—that's all."
"That's all!" he repeated. "A concern don't pay strictly to the day; so we couldn't sell 'em no more, and that's all, sagt er! For a feller which he's losing customers right and left to a back number like Max Kirschner, Abe, you are talking pretty independent."
"Say, lookyhere, Mawruss," Abe exploded; "I just told it you Max Kirschner only gets that order from Henry Feigenbaum because he takes pity on him."
"What d'ye mean, pity?" Morris retorted. "I seen Max Kirschner in the subway this morning and he looks like he needs pity, Abe. He's got diamonds stuck on him like a pawnbroker's window."
"That's all right, Mawruss," Abe continued. "Some drummers is got diamonds and some is got bank accounts, but there's mighty few got both, Mawruss; and Max Kirschner ain't one of 'em. One thing you got to remember, Mawruss—Max is an old man."
"What are you talking nonsense! An old man!" Morris exclaimed. "Max is just turned sixty."
"Sure, I know," Abe commented, "and for a drummer, that's awful old, Mawruss. A feller which he spends six months out of the year in trains and hotels, Mawruss, is got to be mighty particular about what he eats. I stopped in one hotel together with Max schon many times already, and at dinner I am always eating steaks and oncet in a while eggs maybe; but Max goes for them French names every time. Many a night I watched Max in a hotel lobby and you could see by his face that his stomach is boiling."
"Never mind, Abe; I could stand a little indigestion, too, Abe, if I would be getting the orders Max is getting it."
"That's a thing of the past, Mawruss," Abe replied. "Business falls off something terrible with him, Mawruss; and the first thing you know, Mawruss, Klinger & Klein gets rid of him and them diamonds would got to come in handy before he finds another job."
"Yow! Klinger & Klein would get rid of him!" Morris cried skeptically. "Max Kirschner ain't no ordinary drummer, Abe. There's a feller which he was born and raised on this side. He's a gentleman, Abe, and them boys respects him. Besides, Abe, he practically started them two greenhorns in business. Twenty years ago, when them boys was new beginners, Kirschner brings 'em a good trade, y'understand; and not only that, Abe, if it wouldn't be for him them fellers wouldn't never lasted six months. The first season they turned out a lot of stickers, and when they got short Max goes himself to old man Baum and gets him to lend them boys a thousand dollars. People don't forget such things in a hurry, Abe."
"Don't they, Mawruss?" Abe rejoined. "Well, maybe they do and maybe they don't, Mawruss; but twenty years is a long time to remember things, Mawruss, and when a feller draws big wages like Max Kirschner he's got to turn in the orders, Mawruss—otherwise past favours is nix."
"That's no lie neither, Abe," he said, rising to his feet; "and we should right away send Sam Green a letter either he should mail us a check or we would put his account into a collection agency. The feller goes too far, Abe."
It was precisely a week later that Max Kirschner's relations with the firm of Klinger & Klein finally reached their climax.
"Yes, Mawruss," Abe said as he entered the showroom after a brief visit to the barber-shop that morning—"what did I told you?"
"You didn't told me nothing, Abe," Morris retorted; "and, besides, it was my idee that we wrote him a rotten letter, otherwise we would wait for another week or ten days for our check. As it is, Abe, he deducts four dollars on us for a damage on account of bum packing. He is not only a crook, Abe, but a liar also."
"Four dollars wouldn't break us, Mawruss," Abe rejoined, "and we could easy make it up on the next bill he buys from us. But I wasn't talking about Sam Green at all. I mean Max Kirschner."
"I much bother my head about Kirschner!" Morris said. "Let Klinger & Klein worry about him."
Abe grunted as he removed his hat and coat.
"You'd wait an awful long time for Klinger & Klein to worry about him, Mawruss," he said. "Because them fellers got such hearts which Gott soll hüten their wives would die together with their children in one day yet—I am only saying, y'understand—them two suckers wouldn't worry neither. Saturday night they fired Max Kirschner like a dawg, Mawruss. And why? Because a week ago Max eats some stuss in Bridgetown, y'understand, which he is sick in bed for three days. And while he is laid up yet Sammet Brothers cops out a thousand-dollar order on him."
"Ai gewoldt!" Morris cried, with ready sympathy. "You don't tell me?"
"And now that poor feller walks the streets looking for a job; and a fine show he's got it, an old man like him."
"Don't say that again, Abe," Morris said. "You Jonah the feller that way. Somebody hears you saying Max is an old man and the first thing you know, Abe, they believe he is old. I told you before Max is only sixty; and when my grossvater selig was sixty he gets married for the third time yet."
"Sure I know, Mawruss," Abe retorted. "Some fellers gets married for a wife and some for a nurse, Mawruss. Any cripple could get married, y'understand; but a feller must got to have his health to sell goods."
He seized the current issue of the Daily Cloak and Suit Record, and as he sat down to examine it he heaved a sigh which merged into an agonized groan.
"Oo-ee!" he exclaimed; "that lumbago still gets me in the back."
"You see, Abe," Morris commented maliciously, "you ain't so young yourself. From forty-eight to sixty ain't a thousand years neither, Abe."
Abe scowled and then his face lightened up in the conception of a happy idea.
"I give you right about that, Mawruss," he said: "but with me it's different, Mawruss. If I get so I couldn't go out on the road, y'understand, we could always hire some one to go for us."
"Could we?" Morris grumbled.
"Sure," Abe went on; "and even to-day yet, while I am making Denver and the coast towns, it wouldn't harm us we should get a feller which is acquainted with the trade up the state and in Pennsylvania and Ohio."
"Wouldn't it?" Morris croaked.
"We are losing every day business, Mawruss, because I got such a big territory to cover," Abe said. "A feller in a small town wants his fall goods early just so much as one of them big concerns in Denver oder Seattle; and if I don't show up in time they place their orders with some one else. Whereas, Mawruss, if we would wait a couple of weeks, we would say for instance, until he finds out that every one ain't paying fancy salaries like Klinger & Klein, y'understand, for a couple thousand dollars a year, Mawruss, we could get Max Kirschner and—"
"Max Kirschner?" Morris yelled. "What d'ye mean, Max Kirschner?"
"Yes, Mawruss," Abe said, "we could get Max Kirschner; and, even if he would be a little kranklich oncet in a while, sometimes maybe he would be worth to us two thousand a year anyhow."
"Two thousand a year!" Morris bellowed. "What the devil you are talking nonsense, Abe? We should give two thousand a year to a cripple like Kirschner! What do you think you are running here anyhow—a cloak-and-suit business or a home for the aged? If you want to give to charity do it with your money, not mine."
For the remainder of the forenoon Morris Perlmutter moved about the showroom with his face distorted in so gloomy a scowl that to Abe it seemed as though a fog enveloped his partner, through which there darted, like flashes of heat lightning, exclamations of "Schnorrer! Cripple! With my money yet!" and "Crust that feller got it!" At length he put on his hat and went out to lunch, while Abe gazed after him in mute disgust.
"When some people talks charity," he grumbled, "you got to reckon a hundred per cent. discount for cash."
"You see, Abe," Morris cried as he came in from lunch, "how easy it is to misjudge people. I just seen Sol Klinger over to Hammersmith's and he tells me that in six weeks yet Max Kirschner falls down on three orders. Four thousand dollars that sucker, Leon Sammet, cops out on 'em; and Sol couldn't help himself, Abe. Either they got to fire Max oder they got to go out of business."
Abe nodded slowly. His face possessed an unusual pallor and he clenched an unlighted cigar between his teeth.
"What is it?" Morris asked. "Don't you feel good?"
"I am feeling fine, Mawruss," he replied huskily. "I could blow myself to a bottle tchampanyer wine yet, I feel so good. I am enjoying myself, Mawruss, on account Moe Griesman from Sarahcuse was just in here, which he tells me his nephew, Mozart Rabiner, goes to work for Klinger & Klein as a drummer and we should be so good and cancel the order which he gives us yesterday, as blood is redder as water; and what the devil could we do about it anyway?"
Morris's jaw dropped and he sat down heavily in the nearest chair.
"One thing I'm glad, Mawruss," Abe said as he put on his hat: "I'm glad, if we got to lose Moe Griesman's trade, Mawruss, that he is going to give it to a feller like Sol Klinger, which he is such a good friend to you, Mawruss, and got such a big heart."
He jammed his hat on his ears and started out.
"Where are you going, Abe?" Morris asked.
"I'm going over to Hammersmith's, Mawruss," he replied, "to get a bite to eat; and I hope to see Sol Klinger there, Mawruss, as I would like to congratulate him, Mawruss, with a pressing-iron."
Morris's face settled once more into a deep frown as the elevator door closed behind his partner.
"Always with his mouth he is making somebody a blue eye," he muttered as he turned to sorting over the sample line against Abe's impending trip to the small towns up the state. He had picked out four cheap, showy garments when the elevator door clanged again and a visitor entered, bearing a brown-paper parcel.
"Well, Mawruss," he said, "what's the good word?"
The newcomer's cheery greeting was strangely at variance with his manner, which was as diffident as that of a village dog on the Fourth of July. As he advanced toward the showroom he exhaled the odour of mothballs, characteristic of an old stock of cloaks and suits, so that before he looked up Morris was able to identify his visitor.
"Hello, Sam!" he said. "When did you get in?"
"Twelve o'clock," Sam replied. "I would of got in sooner, but a crook of a scalper in Sarahcuse sells me a ticket which it is punched out as far as Canandaigua; and if it wouldn't be I paid four dollars extra I come pretty near getting kicked off the train."
"You ain't nothing out, Sam," Morris said, "because that's just the amount you are doing me for on our last bill."
"Doing you for!" Sam cried. "What d'ye mean, doing you for? One garment was damaged in the packing which I deducted the four dollars; and if you wouldn't believe me here it is now."
He unwrapped the brown-paper parcel and disclosed a crumpled article of women's apparel, which Morris shook out and examined critically.
"In the first place, Sam," he commented, "the garment has been worn."
"What are you talking nonsense—worn?" Sam protested. "Once only my Leah puts it on to see the damage. There it is."
Sam pointed with his forefinger and Morris looked at the spot indicated.
"Well, how could that be damaged in packing, Sam?" Morris asked indignantly. "That's a stain from lockshen soup."
"My wife must got to eat like any other woman!" Sam exclaimed indignantly; "and besides, Mawruss, the stain ain't all soup, y'understand—some of it gets wet in the packing-case."
"Well, I wouldn't bother my head about it no more," Morris retorted. "I deposited your check just now and we are lucky, if you would deduct four dollars, that we got our money at all."
"Maybe you are and maybe you ain't, Mawruss," Sam commented. "That's what I come down to see you about."
"What d'ye mean?" Morris cried.
"I mean," Sam said in husky tones, "I don't know whether the check is good at all. When I mailed it you I got a little balance at my bank, but yesterday afternoon the president sends for me and shuts down on my accommodation; and maybe—I don't know whether he did oder not, y'understand—he takes my balance on account."
Morris laid down the garment and fixed his visitor with an angry glare.
"So!" he exploded; "you are going to fail on us?"
Sam disclaimed it indignantly.
"What d'ye think I am?" he demanded—"a crook? And besides, I ain't got nothing to fail with."
Morris drew forward a chair. Sam sat down; and leaning back he nursed his cheek with his hand in an attitude of utter dejection.
"Well, what are you going to do?" Morris asked.
"That's what I come down here to find out," Sam replied.
Then ensued a silence of several minutes during which Morris gazed attentively at his customer.
"The fact is, Sam," he said at last, "you ain't got no head."
Sam nodded sadly.
"You're a fool, Sam," Morris went on in kindly accents; "and no matter how hard a fool would work he is a poor man all his life."
Sam deemed it hardly worth while to acquiesce in this statement, but he indorsed it unconsciously with a large tear, which stole put of the corner of his eye and worked a clean groove down one travel-stained cheek.
"Have a smoke, Sam," Morris added hastily as he thrust a cigar toward his late customer. "Did you got your lunch yet? No? Come on out with me now and we would have a little bite to eat."
He jumped to his feet and seized his hat.
"Nathan," he bawled to the shipping clerk, "tell Mr. Potash I am going out with a customer and I'll be back when I am here."
Max Kirschner had reached the age of sixty without making a single enemy save his stomach, which at length ungratefully rejected all the rich favours that Max had bestowed on it so long and so generously. Indeed, he was reduced to a diet of crackers and milk when Abe encountered him in Hammersmith's restaurant that September morning.
"Hello, Max!" Abe cried. "When did you get back? I thought you was in one of them—now—sanatoriums."
"A sanatorium is no place for a drummer to find a job, Abe," Max replied.
"A good salesman like you could find a job anywhere without much trouble, Max," Abe said cheerfully.
"That's what everybody says, Abe; meantime I'm loafing."
"It wouldn't be for long, Max," Abe rejoined as he cast a hungry eye over Hammersmith's bill of fare. "How's that fillet de who's this, with asparagrass tips and mushrooms?"
For a brief moment Max's eye gleamed and then grew dull again.
"It's fine to put the stomach out of business, Abe," Max said. "Take the tip from one who has lost sixty pounds, ten customers, and a good job all in six weeks—and order poached eggs on toast."
Abe compromised on boiled beef with horseradish sauce; and when he was well into the noisy consumption of that simple dish he broached the subject of Max's future plans.
"When d'ye think you'll go to work again, Max?" he asked.
Max shrugged expressively.
"I'm not a prophet, Abe; I'm a salesman," he said.
"Well, there ain't no particular hurry, Max. It ain't the same like you would got a family to look out for."
"I've been a drummer all my life, Abe," Max declared, "and a drummer has no right to be married. When I was a kid I had a chance to go into the store of a couple of yokels upstate in the town where I was born and raised; and I guess if I'd done so I'd been married and had a whole family of children by now."
"Maybe you're just as well off, Max," Abe said consolingly. "Children is a gamble anyhow, Max. The boys is assets and the girls is liabilities; and if you got a large family of girls you're practically bankrupt, no matter how good business would be."
"Don't you believe it, Abe," Max said. "Those two yokels both had big families and they didn't do such a big business either. But they managed to make a good living, and last week I hear they sold out to some city dry goods man for forty thousand dollars."
Abe paused with a loaded knife in midair.
"Forty thousand dollars between two ain't much, Max," he said.
"It's more than I've got, anyhow," Max rejoined as he rose to his feet.
"You got lots of time to make money, Max," Abe concluded. "Come round and see us when you get time, won't you?"
Max nodded; and as he walked down the street to make a further canvass of the garment trade he passed the broad windows of the dairy lunchroom, where Morris was regaling Sam Green with a popular-price meal.
"Yes, Sam," Morris said as he caught sight of Max Kirschner's dejected figure, "you're lucky when you consider some people. You are still a young man and it ain't too late for you to start in as a new beginner somewhere. A young man could always make a living anyhow."
"Sure," Sam agreed, "but why should I start in as a new beginner, Mawruss? I already got an established business, y'understand; and if I could get a feller with a headpiece, Mawruss—never mind he ain't got so much money—with a couple thousand dollars, we could run that feller from Sarahcuse out of town."
"What feller from Sarahcuse?" Morris asked.
"Ain't I told you?" Sam continued. "I thought I says that the reason the bank shuts down on me is a feller from Sarahcuse buys out them two suckers, Van Buskirk and Patterson, and he's going to operate the store as a branch house."
Morris nodded his head slowly.
"So, Sam," he said, "you are up against one of them sharks from Sarahcuse? I'm afraid you got a dead proposition in that store of yours."
Two cups of coffee had revived Sam Green's ambition, however, and he laughed aloud.
"You don't understand them people up in Cyprus, Mawruss," he said. "Strangers they don't like at all; and even me, though I lived in that town ten years, most of 'em wouldn't buy goods off of me because Van Buskirk and Patterson is born and raised in that town and they dealt with 'em ever since they was boys together. So you see I got ten years' start of that feller from Sarahcuse, Mawruss. If I could get some feller which he knows the garment business to go as partners together with me, and to put a little money into the store, we could yet do a good business there."
"How much money would you got to have?" Morris asked.
"Two thousand dollars, anyhow," Sam replied.
Morris tapped the table with his right index finger and frowned reflectively.
"The necktie pin alone must be worth a thousand dollars," he murmured almost to himself, "and two rings he got it which I know about must stand him in anyhow a thousand dollars more."
He thrust back his chair and rose to his feet.
"All right, Sam," he said aloud. "You got a little egg on your chin. Wipe it off and we'll go back to the store. I got an idee."
"On second thought, Sam," Morris said as they approached Potash & Perlmutter's place of business, "I wouldn't go up with me if I was you on account I don't want to say nothing to my partner just yet a while. Where are you staying, Sam?"
"I got a room at a hotel over on Third Avenue," Sam replied.
"Third Avenue!" Morris exclaimed. "That's a Nachbarschaft for a business man!"
He handed Sam a five-dollar bill.
"Go and get yourself a room over at the Prince Clarence," Morris said. "I'll be over there presently."
Nathan, the shipping clerk, was alone in the showroom when Morris entered.
"Ain't my partner come back yet, Nathan?" he demanded.
Nathan shook his head.
"Then tell him when he does come back that I've went up to the Prince Clarence to see a customer," Morris continued; "and if he asks what name tell him it's a new concern just starting."
Five minutes later he visited the business premises of Kleiman & Elenbogen, impelled thereto by a process of reasoning which involved the following points: Klinger & Klein manufactured a medium-price line and so did Kleiman & Elenbogen. Klinger & Klein's leader was The Girl in the Airship Gown, a title suggested by the syndicate's popular musical comedy of that name, while Kleiman & Elenbogen advertised their "strongest" garment as The Girl in the Motor-boat, out of compliment, of course, to the equally popular musical comedy recently produced by an antisyndicate manager. Both concerns catered to the same class of trade, and when either of the partners of Klinger & Klein referred in conversation to a member of the firm of Kleiman & Elenbogen, or vice versa, "sucker" was the mildest epithet employed.
Hence Morris Perlmutter argued that Max Kirchner would resort to Kleiman & Elenbogen's loft for comfort and advice; and as he stepped out of the elevator his surmise was confirmed by a nimbus emanating from the necktie of a person seated at the far end of the showroom.
"Hello, Max!" Morris cried; "who'd thought of seeing you here!"
Max rose to his feet and extended his right hand in greeting, whereat Morris noted that the four-carat diamond still sparkled on Max's finger.
"I just left your partner over at Hammersmith's, Morris," Max said.
"Sure, I know," Morris rejoined; "that feller makes a god out of his stomach, Max; but that ain't here nor there. Did you got something to do yet, Max?"
"I've got a whole lot to do trying to find a job, Morris, if that's what you mean," Max replied.
Morris glanced around the showroom, but both Kleiman and Elenbogen were absent.
"Where are they?" Morris asked.
"Out to lunch, I guess," Max replied.
"Good!" Morris exclaimed. "Them suckers would like to know everybody's business. You got a few minutes' time, Max?"
"Nothing but time," Max replied sadly.
"Then come uptown a few blocks with me," Morris said. "I got a proposition to make you."
Max shrugged his shoulders and put on his hat.
"Yes, Max," Morris continued as they walked toward the Prince Clarence Hotel, "I got a proposition to make to you, but first I would like to ask you something a question."
"Fire away," Max said.
"What did you done with that other diamond ring which you used to wear—the big one?"
"I have it home," Max replied. "What d'ye want to know for?"
"I want to lend you some money on it," Morris went on calmly; "also that pin which you got it and that there ring. I want to lend you three thousand dollars on 'em."
"Three thousand dollars!" Max exclaimed. "Why, the whole outfit isn't worth two!"
"What do I care?" Morris rejoined. "It's only a loan and I bet yer you would quick pay me back."
Max paused on the sidewalk and stared. "What's the matter, Morris?" he cried. "Are you sick?"
"Must a feller got to be sick to want to help you out, Max?" Morris said. "And anyhow, Max, it's as much a favour to us as it is to you."
By this time they had reached the Prince Clarence Hotel and Morris led the way to the café.
"Say, lookyhere, Max, the whole thing is this," he said after they were seated: "I'm going to lend you three thousand dollars to go into a business with a feller which he got a store in a small town upstate, and you're going to do it."
Max shook his head.
"No; I ain't," he answered. "I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks."
"If you sell goods wholesale you could sell 'em retail," Morris declared. "So, if you would listen to me I'll tell you what the proposition is."
Forthwith Morris unfolded to Max the history of Sam Green's mercantile establishment.
"And now, after all them years, Max," he concluded, "that feller gets practically run out of town because his bank shuts down on him."
"What's the name of the place?" Max asked.
"The name of the place?" Morris repeated.
"Yes," Max said, "the name of the town where the fellow comes from."
Morris scratched his head for a minute.
"I should remember the name of every little one-horse town where we got customers!" he said. "The name of the place don't matter, Max; it's got two thousand people living in it and practically only one store, because the way Sam Green is running his business now you couldn't call it a store at all."
Max rose from the table.
"I'll tell you the truth, Morris," he said; "what's the use wasting our time? The proposition ain't attractive. I was born and raised in a one-horse town upstate; and, even though I ain't been back for twenty years, I know what it's like. You'll have to excuse me."
"But, Max—" Morris commenced.
"I needn't tell you that I'm more than grateful to you, Morris," Max concluded; "and if ever I want to dispose of my diamonds you shall have first chance."
He shook Morris's limp and unresisting hand and returned at once to the showroom of Kleiman & Elenbogen.
"Any one come for me, Miss Cashman?" he asked the bookkeeper, who was busily engaged in the preparation of the firm's monthly statement.
"Say, lookyhere, Kirschner," Louis Kleiman called from his office; "leave the girl alone, can't you? She's got enough to do tending to our business."
"I'm only asking her if she has any word for me," Max replied.
"I don't care what you are asking her," Kleiman said as he came out of his office to confront Max. "You are acting altogether too fresh around here, Kirschner. Do you pay rent here oder what?"
Max made no reply.
"And furthermore," Kleiman continued, "we got business to attend to here, Kirschner, and we couldn't afford to have no dead ones hanging around."
For a brief interval he scowled at Max, who turned on his heel and made for the elevator without another word. His applications for employment during the past few days had met with polite refusals coupled with cheerful prophecies of his early employment. To be sure, Max had taken little stock in this consoling optimism, but it had all helped to keep alive his spirits, which had sunk again to their lowest ebb at Kleiman's epithet, "dead one."
After all, he was a dead one, he reflected as he stumbled along the sidewalk toward his boarding house on Irving Place. A man of sixty safely intrenched in his own business, with the confidence his wealth inspires, is in the very prime of life. But Max, with his health impaired and his employment taken away from him, felt and looked a decrepit old man as he tottered upstairs to his third-floor room and flung himself on the bed, where he lay for more than an hour staring at the ceiling.
During that interval he reviewed his career from the time he helped his father, a Prussian refugee of 1848, in the little country store upstate. Then came his father's death, followed by a clerkship in the large dry-goods business of his father's competitors. After this he had moved to New York; and from that time on he had followed the calling of a travelling salesman with varying success, until at sixty he found himself out of health and employment, with property of less than two thousand dollars as a reserve fund.
What a fool he had been not to accept Perlmutter's offer! Nevertheless it seemed futile for a man of sixty to make a new start in a strange town, especially since, in rural communities, business goes as much by favour and friendship as by commercial enterprise. Now, had he been offered a partnership in a store in his native town, where it would be an easy matter to renew old acquaintance, he might have viewed the proposition differently.
He rose from the bed and sat down in an armchair, while his mind reverted to more pleasant topics. He pictured to himself his father's store underneath what the townspeople called the opera house. He saw again that dingy little hall, with its small proscenium opening guarded by a frayed old curtain, and he smiled as he remembered the landscape it bore. With the sophistication of his race he had enjoyed many a good laugh at the performance that had evoked the tears of his fellow townsmen. What Rubes they were, to be sure! And yet, what good fellows the boys had been! He recalled various ones by name and found himself wondering how they looked and whether they were married or single. Another half hour of like musing and suddenly he slapped his thigh.
"By jinks!" he said, "I'll do it. I need a vacation and I'm going to have it too."
When Morris returned to his place of business that afternoon he had packed Sam Green off to his store upstate with instructions to return in a week, during which Morris hoped to take the matter up with Abe. As for his hour-long absence from his place of business, Morris had provided himself with a plausible explanation in rebuttal to the quiet, ironical greeting that he knew would await him. His program was a little upset, however, by Abe's inquiry, which was not in the least ironical.
"Loafer, where have you been?" Abe demanded.
"What d'ye mean, loafer?" Morris cried.
"I mean, while you are fooling away your time, Moe Griesman comes in here to see us and naturally he don't find none of us here; so he goes away again. From us he goes straight over to Sammet Brothers—and that's the way it goes."
"But, Abe," Morris protested, "I thought you told me he cancels his order this morning and buys only from Klinger & Klein."
"Sure, I know," Abe said; "but I suppose he finds out he couldn't find all the goods he wants with one concern and now he goes over to Sammet Brothers."
"How do you know he went over to Sammet Brothers?" Morris asked.
"A question! How do I know it?" Abe exclaimed. "Ain't he left a memorandum I should ring him up there?"
"Well, why don't you ring him up and find out what he wants?" Morris retorted.
"What do I care what he wants, Mawruss?" Abe rejoined. "Whatever he wants he don't want it now, because them two cut-throats would suck him dry of orders. Once a feller gets into the hands of Sammet Brothers they wouldn't let him go till he bought himself blue in the face."
"Ring him up, anyhow," Morris insisted; and the next moment Abe was engaged in a heated altercation with "Central." Finally he heard Leon Sammet at the other end of the wire.
"Hello!" he yelled. "I want to speak with Mr. Griesman. Never mind what I want to speak with him about. That's my business. I ain't the fresh one—you are the fresh one. You are asking me something which you ain't got no right to ask me at all. You know well enough who it is talking."
After five minutes' further conversation, Leon relinquished his end of the wire to Griesman and immediately thereafter Abe's voice diminished in harshness till it became fairly flutelike with friendship and amiability.
"Oh, hello, Mr. Griesman!" he said. "Did you want to talk to me? Why, no, Mr. Griesman, he don't owe us nothing. He paid us this morning. Sure! What did you want to know for? Why should we sell his account, Mr. Griesman? He's a little slow, y'understand, but he's quite good. That's all right. Good-by."
When he returned to the showroom his face wore a puzzled expression.
"Well, Abe, what did he want?" Morris asked.
Abe shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know what he is up to, Mawruss," Abe said; "but he tells me he wants to buy from us Sam Green's account. So I told him Sam pays us this morning, and he rings off."
"Why should Moe Griesman want to buy from us Sam Green's account?" Morris muttered to himself; and then a wave of recollection came over him. Obviously it was Moe Griesman who had bought out Sam's competitors and this caused Sam's bank to shut down on him. Now Moe Griesman was attempting to buy up Sam's liabilities and close him up, so that there might be no competitor to Moe's new business in Cyprus. At length the humour of the situation appealed to Morris and he grinned vacuously at his partner.
"Nu," Abe growled; "what are you laughing at?"
"Nothing much, Abe," Morris replied. "I was only thinking—that's all, Abe. I was thinking to myself, Abe, what a joke it would be, supposing, for instance, Sam's check should come back N. G."
When Sam Green entered the smoker of the seven-thirty train from Syracuse to Cyprus, the following morning, a well-dressed man of sixty followed him down the aisle and sat down in the same seat with him.
"Have a cigar?" the stranger said.
"Much obliged," Sam replied as he took it. "If it is just the same to you I would smoke it after dinner."
"Sure!" the stranger rejoined, handing him another; "smoke that one after dinner and smoke this one now."
Sam grinned and after they had lit up he ventured the observation that it was fine weather.
"Aber it should be colder," he concluded, "for heavyweights."
"Are you in the clothing business?" the stranger asked.
"I got a sort of a store," Sam replied; "clothing and cloaks, and suits also. A dry-goods store in Cyprus."
"In Cyprus?" Sam's seatmate cried. "You don't tell me? I'm going down to Cyprus too."
"My fall buying is through," Sam said.
"I'm not selling goods this trip," the stranger replied. "I'm on a vacation."
"A vacation!" Sam murmured. "In Cyprus! That's a medeena for a vacation."
"There are worse places than Cyprus, my friend," said Sam's new-found acquaintance; and thereat began a conversation that lasted until the train finally drew into Cyprus.
"Would you mind telling me what is your name, please?" Sam asked as they prepared to leave the car.
"Certainly," the stranger said, handing his card to Sam.
"Kirschner!" Sam exclaimed, looking at the card. "Kirschner, von unsere Leute?"
"Sure!" Max Kirschner replied.
"Did your father once run a store under the opera house here?"
"And after he died the widder sells out to a man by the name Marcus Senft?"
"The same one," Max replied. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I bought out that feller, Marcus Senft," Sam replied, "and I got on my books yet debts which your mother sold to Senft for twenty-five cents on the dollar—and he sold to me for ten cents."
"I'll bet I know who owes 'em, too," Max commented.
"You could look 'em over if you want to," Sam said as they started to walk down the hilly lane from the depot to the main street.
"I will after I've washed up at the hotel," Max answered.
"Hotel?" Sam exclaimed. "What d'ye mean, hotel? You ain't going to no hotel. You're coming home with me. A feller von unsere Leute should come to Cyprus for a vacation and stay at a hotel! An idee!"
He linked his arm in Max's and together they walked to Sam's store.
"We'll take a look in here first before we go up to the house," Sam said as he opened the door. The next moment Sam Green was clasped to the ample bosom of Leah Green, who glanced inquiringly at Max Kirschner.
"Mommer," Sam announced, "this is Mr. Max Kirschner, which he ought to be like an old friend on account he was born and raised in this here town and his father run this very store."
Max looked around him at the shelves and showcases.
"The same fixtures," he muttered absently.
"He is only in town for a couple of days, mommer," Sam said hesitatingly, "so I thought we could easy fix up the spare room—ain't it?"
"Why, sure!" Mrs. Green replied as she shook Max's hand warmly. "Is the folks all well, Mr. Kirschner?"
Max smiled sadly.
"You can judge for yourself, Mrs. Green," he said, "because I'm all the folks there are."
"Oh, sure," Mrs. Green hastened to say. "I remember now; you never got married."
"Why, how do you know that?" Sam asked.
Mrs. Green nodded her head sideways in Sam's direction.
"He don't never hear nothing, Mr. Kirschner," she said. "With me the women folks schmooses all the time; and you could take it from me, Mr. Kirschner, they talk a whole lot more about what happens forty years ago as what happens last week already."
Max nodded as the store door opened and a woman of uncertain age entered.
"Good morning, Mis' Green," the newcomer said, her eyes glued on Max Kirschner. "I was just passin' by on my way to the depot and I remembered that I needed a spool of thread."
Mrs. Green passed behind the counter to reach the thread case.
"Going to Sarahcuse to-day, Mis' Duree?" she asked casually.
Mrs. Duryea blushed.
"I'm on my way to see my sister's little granddaughter," she explained; "she's just recovering from whooping cough."
"Would that be your sister Libby?" Max inquired.
Mrs. Duryea started visibly.
"I don't know as I—" she began.
"That's so," Max continued. "Libby moved to Elmira. It must be Carrie. She married Lem Peters, didn't she?"
"Well, of all things!" Mrs. Duryea exclaimed. "Who in the world told you all that?"
"I just remembered it," Max said, holding out his hand. "How's Tom?"
Mrs. Duryea took the proffered hand gingerly.
"He's pretty spry," she said.
"Tell him Max Kirschner was asking for him," Max replied.
"You ain't Max Kirschner?" Mrs. Duryea cried.
"Just as sure as you're Hattie Watson," Max said. "How're all the children, Hattie?"
"All growed up and flew away," Mrs. Duryea replied. "What are you doing around here?"
Max's eyes twinkled mischievously.
"I'm selling goods for Mr. Green here," he declared. "Let's see, Hattie. Forty-two bust, I should say."
He snatched a garment from a rack near by.
"Here's a coat, Hattie, that would stand you in forty dollars in Syracuse," he said. "One of those big dry-goods stores there figures on a coat like this: garment, wholesale, twenty dollars; running a big store with elevators, electric lights and all modern improvements, ten dollars; advertising, five dollars; profit, five dollars—total, forty dollars. We figure here: cost of garment, twenty dollars; store expenses, fifty cents; profit, four dollars and fifty cents; total, twenty-five dollars. Put it on, Hattie, and let's see how you look in the garment."
"Well, I declare!" Mrs. Duryea exclaimed as she allowed herself to be assisted into the garment. "You take my breath away."
Max stepped back to survey the effect; and if the admiration expressed in his face was simulated, at least the friendliness of his smile was not.
"Now, Hattie, I want to tell you something," he declared: "If any one would say to me that I went to school with you I'd think they had a bad memory. I'd tell 'em it was your mother that sat next to me in Miss Johnson's room and not you."
Mrs. Duryea fairly beamed as she strutted up and down the store.
"Well, Max," she said at last, "let me bring my friend Mis' Williams in this afternoon and we'll decide on it then."
"But I thought you were going to Syracuse," Max rejoined.
"I was," Mrs. Duryea said as she started to leave; "but I ain't now."
The news of Max Kirschner's return spread through Cyprus like a brush fire, and twenty minutes after Mrs. Duryea had left Sam Green's store Max was holding a levee behind the old counter. By two o'clock he had greeted over fifty old friends and at least twenty of them had made purchases in amounts varying from five to thirty dollars.
"As sure as you're standing there, Mr. Kirschner," Sam declared, "I sold more goods this morning as in the last two months."
Max grinned delightedly. His face was flushed and he looked at least ten years younger as he patted Sam on the shoulder.
"Look out for the rush this afternoon," he said. "If we only had a better assortment, Green, I think we could keep this up for a week longer and after that we could do a good, steady business."
"We?" Sam exclaimed.
Max coloured and smiled in an embarrassed fashion.
"Of course I mean you," he said.
"Why 'of course'?" Sam asked; and Mrs. Green nodded vigorously. "Why not we, Mr. Kirschner?"
"Well, you see, I haven't sold goods at retail for so long," Max explained, "that I really don't know how."
Sam turned to Mrs. Green with a quick shrug.
"Was hast du gehört?" he cried. "He don't know how! If I wouldn't know how to sell goods the way you don't know how, Mr. Kirschner, I would quick build up a good business here. Tell me, Mr. Kirschner, how much longer do you got a vacation, because I'd like to make you a proposition. You could stay with me here for the rest of your vacation and I would give you half of the profits over the cost price of every garment you sell. How's that?"
"Very generous," Max said; "but you don't know what you're offering me, Green, because the vacation might last for several years."
"Several years!" Sam repeated. "You mean you are retired from business, Mr. Kirschner?"
"Exactly," Max answered; "with a fortune of two diamond rings, a diamond pin, and eight hundred and sixty-five dollars cash."
Sam and Mrs. Green stared at him incredulously.
"In other words, Green," Max concluded, "I have just been fired out of a job as travelling salesman, which I held for twenty years, and I don't see a chance of getting another one."
For a moment Sam and his wife exchanged glances.
"Mr. Kirschner," Sam said, "how much can you get for them diamonds?"
"Fifteen hundred dollars, I guess," Max replied.
"Then what is the use talking nonsense, Mr. Kirschner?" Sam cried excitedly. "Come along with me over to the Farmers' National Bank and we'll see Mr. Fuller; and if he would renew my accommodation for a thousand dollars you and me would go as partners together and fertig."
"Fuller!" Max cried. "That ain't Wilbur M. Fuller, is it?"
"That's the one," Sam declared.
"Then we'll not only get him to renew the accommodation, Sam, but we'll sell him some shirts and neckties as well. He and I clerked together in Van Buskirk & Patterson's."
As a sequel to Max's visit to the Farmers' National Bank, Abe and Morris waited in vain for the return of Sam's check.
"How did you know the check wasn't good, Mawruss?" Abe asked his partner a week later.
"I ain't said it ain't good, Abe," Morris protested; "only I seen Markson, which he works for Klinger & Klein as a bookkeeper, in Hammersmith's to-day and he says that Moe Griesman goes round trying to buy up all Sam Green's bills payable; and he's got about five hundred dollars' worth now already."
"Sure, I know he did," Abe replied. "He got from Kleiman & Elenbogen Sam's three-hundred-and-fifty-dollar debt for two hundred and seventy-five cash and Sam sends 'em the check for the full amount the day before yesterday. I seen Louis Kleiman yesterday and he was feeling pretty sore, I bet yer."
Morris nodded. He had been completely mystified about Sam's affairs since the arrival of a letter from Cyprus addressed to Morris personally, wherein Sam repaid the money advanced for his hotel accommodation and announced that he had abandoned for the present his intention of returning to New York. Morris's mystification was hardly abated by the following letter, which arrived on the heels of the conversation above set forth:
Samuel Green & Co.
dry-goods and notions
the k. & m. sylphshape corset
Cyprus, New York, May 1, 1910.
Yours truly, Samuel Green & Co.
P. S. You should telegraph Farmers' National Bank for references if you ain't satisfied to ship without it. Business is good. S. Green.
Gents: We inclose you herewith memorandum of order. Kindly ship same within ten days by fast freight, and oblige
Morris Perlmutter's relations with Sol Klinger retained their cordiality despite the rupture between Abe Potash and Klinger & Klein. To be sure, Moe Griesman's defection had rankled, but Morris consoled himself with the maxim, "Business is business"; and when he met Sol Klinger in Hammersmith's restaurant during the first week of the spring buying season he greeted Sol cordially. His friendly advance, however, met with a decided rebuff.
"What's the matter now, Sol?" Morris asked.
Sol nodded his head slowly.
"It's a great world, Mawruss," he said.
Morris agreed with him. "There's business enough in it for everybody anyhow, Sol, if that's what you mean," he replied.
"In lots of places, yes, but in others, no," Sol said. "But with some people, Mawruss, they're like a snake in the grass, which it bites the hand that feeds it."
"What's Moe Klein been doing now?" Morris asked.
"Moe Klein?" Sol cried. "What d'ye mean, Moe Klein? I ain't talking about Moe Klein at all. I am talking about Max Kirschner, Mawruss. There's a feller which we give him for twenty years good wages, Mawruss, and what do we get for it? After he leaves us, Mawruss—"
"Left you?" Morris interrupted. "Why, I always thought you fired him."
"Sure, we fired him," Sol continued. "A lowlife bum which he makes always a hog of himself, why shouldn't we fire him? And then, Mawruss, when we are taking on Moe Greisman's nephew, Rabiner, what does that sucker Max Kirschner do? He turns around and fixes up with a feller by the name Sam Green, in Cyprus, to go as partners together in Sam Green's store up there. And mind you, Mawruss, Moe Griesman had just bought out Sam Green's competitors, Van Buskirk & Patterson. And Max Kirschner knows all the time that the only reason that we took on Mozart Rabiner was on account of his uncle, Moe Griesman."
Sol Klinger was so interested in his own narrative that he completely failed to notice its effect on Morris Perlmutter, who sat with his jaw dropping lower and lower, while great beads of perspiration stood on his forehead.
"Yes, Mawruss," Sol continued; "Moe Griesman even comes down himself from Sarahcuse to Cyprus to superintend things. Five thousand dollars fixtures he puts in and forty thousand dollars he pays them two yokels, Van Buskirk & Patterson, for the good-will, stock, and store building; and what happens? For a whole month Moe sits in that store and not a hundred dollars' worth of goods goes out of the place, Mawruss; and why? It seems that Sam Green and Max Kirschner does all the business because Max Kirschner is born and raised in Cyprus and knows everybody in the place."
"Max was born and raised in Cyprus?" Morris gasped.
"That's what I said," Sol replied. "That's a Nachbarschaft for a feller to be born in! What?"
Morris nodded and rose wearily to his feet.
"I never could remember the name of the place even, at all," he said. "Well, I guess now I would be getting back to the store."
"You got my permission," Sol said as Morris started from the restaurant. These were destined to be the last words addressed to Morris by Sol Klinger in many a long day, for the moving incidents which awaited Morris's return to his showroom put an end to all friendship between him and Sol.
Imprimis, when Morris entered, Moe Griesman was seated in the firm's private office, the centre of an animated group of four. "Hello, there, Mawruss!" Moe shouted; "there's a couple of gentlemen here which would like to talk to you."
He indicated a ruddy, clean-shaven person of approximately fifty years, who on closer inspection proved to be Max Kirschner shorn of his white moustache and without the attendant nimbus of his diamond pin. The other individual was even harder to identify by reason of a neat-fitting business suit of brown and a general air of prosperity; but in him Morris descried the person of what had once been Sam Green.
"Morris, you old rascal," Max cried, "when you took me over to the Prince Clarence Hotel that day why didn't you tell me that the man you wanted me to go into business with ran a store in Cyprus?"
"I couldn't remember the name of the place at all," Morris admitted.
Abe gazed at him sorrowfully.
"The fact is, gentlemen," he said, "my partner ain't got no head at all."
Sam Green's face flushed in recollection of the phrase.
"Never mind," he said fervently; "he's got anyhow a heart."
"And I've got a stomach," Max Kirschner added irrelevantly. "At least, I've recovered one since I've been eating Leah Green's good cooking."
Sam and Moe Griesman smiled sympathetically.
"Well, what's the use wasting time here, boys?" Moe said at last. "Let's explain to Mawruss about the new combination. Me and Max and Sam Green here have agreed to go as partners together in Cyprus under the name 'The Cyprus Dry-goods Company.' In a small town like Cyprus competition is nix."
"Good!" Morris exclaimed. "I'm glad to hear it. Is the Sarahcuse store included too?"
"A ten per cent. interest they got, although I am going to run my Sarahcuse business and these here boys is going to run the Cyprus end," Moe continued. "And now, Abe, as Max has got to pick out a lot of goods for the Cyprus store and I want to do the same for my Sarahcuse store, let's get to work."
For three hours without cessation they laboured over Potash & Perlmutter's sample line until garments to an amount in excess of five thousand dollars had been ordered.
When Max Kirschner saw the total of Moe Griesman's selection for the Syracuse store he emitted a low whistle.
"Say, Moe," he said, "ain't you going to give your nephew, Rabiner, any show at all this season?"
"Oser a Stück," Griesman declared. "I done enough for that feller when I got him a three years' contract with Klinger & Klein."
A PRESENT FOR MR. GEIGERMANN
"Well, Abe," Morris Perlmutter declared, one morning in midwinter, "you look like you had a pretty lively session last night."
Abe nodded slowly. "I want to tell you something, Mawruss," he said solemnly; "I would do anything at all to hold a customer's trade, Mawruss. I would go on theayter with him. I would schmier him tenspots when he's got the bid already, and I would go bate on hands which even a rotten player like you couldn't lose, Mawruss. But before I would got to sit through such another evening like last night, Mawruss, Felix Geigermann should never buy from us again a dollar's worth more goods. That's all I got to say."
"Why, what was the matter?" Morris asked.
"Well, in the first place, Mawruss, to show you what a liar that feller Geigermann is, he brings out a fiddle which he tells us is three hundred years old."
"Yow! Three hundred years old!" Morris exclaimed skeptically. "A fiddle three hundred years old would be worth, the very least, a hundred or a hundred and fifty dollars."
"That's what I told him, Mawruss," Abe said. "I says to him if I would got a fiddle which it is worth that much money I would quick sell it and buy something which it is anyhow useful, like a diamond ring oder a scarfpin. But Geigermann only laughs at me, Mawruss; he says he don't own the fiddle, Mawruss, but that somebody loaned it him. Even if he would own it, he wouldn't take two hundred dollars for it."
"My worries, if he owns the fiddle oder not, Abe!" Morris commented.
"Sure, I know, Mawruss; but that ain't the point. Afterward Mozart Rabiner comes in; and if I would be Felix Geigermann, Mawruss, and a salesman comes into my house and gets fresh with a pianner which the least it stands Geigermann in is a hundred dollars, Mawruss, I would kick him into the street yet."
"What is Mozart Rabiner doing there, Abe?" Morris inquired anxiously.
Abe preserved a cheerful demeanour, although it was the circumstance of Mozart Rabiner's prominence at Geigermann's musicale that had rendered the evening so unbearable.
"Well, Mawruss," he explained, "you don't suppose that Geigermann buys all his goods from us?"
Morris elevated his eyebrows gloomily.
"I don't suppose nothing, Abe," he said; "but once you let a shark like Rabiner get in with Geigermann, Klinger & Klein would give him the privilege to cut our price till they run us right out of there."
"It's an open market, Mawruss," Abe said, "and anyhow I am doing all I can to keep that feller's business. You would think so if you would of been there last night, Mawruss. First a lady in one of them two-piece velvet suits—afterward I see the jacket; a ringer for our style forty-two-twenty, Mawruss—she gets up on the floor, Mawruss, and she hollers bloody murder, Mawruss. I never heard the like since that Italiener girl which we got working for us on White Street catches her finger in the buttonhole machine. Mozart Rabiner plays for her on the pianner, Mawruss; and when she gets through, the way Rabiner jollies her you would think she would be buying goods for Marshall Field yet. After that, Geigermann takes the fiddle and him and Moe Rabiner gets together by the pianner and for three quarters of an hour, Mawruss, they work away like they was being paid for it."
"Moe Rabiner gets paid for it, I bet yer," Morris agreed.
"What a noise them fellers make it, Mawruss!" Abe continued. "Honestly, I thought my head was busting; and when they get finished the lady which done the hollering asks 'em who the piece is by, Mawruss—and who do you think Rabiner says?"
"How should I know who he says?" Morris retorted angrily.
"Richard Strauss," Abe replied.
"Richard Strauss?" Morris asked. "You mean that feller Strauss of Klipmann, Strauss & Bleimer, I suppose?"
"It must be the same feller," Abe said. "Seemingly everybody there knows him; and besides, Mawruss, that feller Strauss is another one of them musical fellers too. Only the other day Klipmann tells me that feller spends a fortune going on the opera with customers."
"But I thought Klipmann's partner was called Milton Strauss," Morris said.
"Maybe it was Milton Strauss," Abe continued. "Milton oder Richard, I couldn't remember. It was one of them up-to-date names anyhow; and, mind you, Mawruss, that feller Rabiner has got the nerve to ask me if I didn't like Strauss. What could I say? If that cut-throat Rabiner thinks he is going to get me to knock a competitor in front of Geigermann he's mistaken. 'Sure I like him,' I says; 'why not?' 'In that case,' Moe says, 'we'll play some more of this.' 'Go as far as you like,' I says, and they kept it up till the elevator boy rings the bell and says a lady on the top floor is sick. I don't blame her, Mawruss; I was pretty sick myself."
Morris nodded sympathetically.
"So, then, Mawruss," Abe continued, "Geigermann takes the fiddle again and shows it to us, Mawruss; and he says on the back is a ruby varnish."
"Rubies is pretty high now, Abe," Morris said; "carat for carat, rubies is a whole lot more expensive as diamonds."
"Gewiss, Mawruss," Abe cried; "but I seen the back of the fiddle, Mawruss, and if the varnish on it was made from rubies, Mawruss, I would eat it. The fiddle was an ordinary fiddle like any other fiddle; only one thing I see, Mawruss—on the inside is a little piece from paper, y'understand, and printed on it is the name from some Italiener or another, with some figures on it. Geigermann says it was stuck in there three hundred years ago, when the fiddle was made. And you ought to see Moe Rabiner, Mawruss. He looks at that fiddle for pretty near half an hour. He turns it upside down and he blows into it and he takes his finger and wets it and rubs on it, and he smells it, and Gott weiss what he don't do with it."
"He's a dangerous feller, Abe," Morris commented. "He don't never stop at nothing to sell goods."
"Well, I wasn't much behind him, Mawruss," Abe said. "When he smells it, I smell it. He wets his finger, I wet my finger. Everything what that sucker does to that fiddle, I did. He couldn't get nothing on me. Mawruss. If he would offer to eat the fiddle, y'understand, I would got just so good appetite as he got it, Mawruss, and don't you forget it. I ain't going to let go so easy."
"Might you couldn't help yourself maybe," Morris commented.
"You shouldn't worry, Mawruss," Abe concluded. "I sold Felix Geigermann since way before the Spanish War already, and I would sooner expect my own brother—supposing I got one—to turn us down as him."
Despite Abe's optimism, however, the order for spring goods that Felix Geigermann bestowed on them a month later fell short of their expectations by over five hundred dollars.
"Business couldn't be so good with Felix this year, Mawruss," Abe commented.
"Don't you jolly yourself, Abe," Morris replied. "It ain't so much that business is bad with Felix as it is better with Klinger & Klein. Them two cut-throats ain't paying Rabiner good money for only playing the pianner. He's got to sell goods too."
"That's all right, Mawruss," Abe said. "Let him go ahead and spiel pianner till he's blue in the face. Sooner or later Geigermann would find out what stickers them Klinger & Klein garments is, and then Moe Rabiner couldn't sell him no more of them goods, not if he would be a whole orchestra already."
The personality of Aaron Shellak was simply thrown away on the garment trade. His lean, scholarly face, surmounted by a shock of wavy brown hair, would have assured his success as a virtuoso, and no one knew this better than his brother, Professor Ladislaw Wcelak, under whose tuition he had struggled through the intricacies of the first and second positions.
"If you would only forget you ain't got a pair of shears in your right hand, Aaron," the professor said, "and listen to what I am telling you, in two years' time you are making more money than all the garment cutters together. All you got to do is to play just halfway good."
"I suppose you're a millionaire, ain't it?" Aaron rejoined. "And you can play fiddle like a streak." The professor heaved a great sigh as he passed his hand over his bald head.
"With your hair, Aaron," he said, "I could make fifty thousand a year on concert towers alone, to say nothing of two recitals up on Fifty-seventh Street. But if a feller only got one arm, Aaron, he would better got a show to be a fiddle virtuoso as if he would be bald.".
Thus encouraged Aaron persevered with his practice for some months; but, despite the patient instruction of his brother Louis the garment cutter's wrist still handicapped him.
"That's a legato phrase," Louis Shellak cried impatiently, one night in mid-February. "With one bow you got to play it."
"Which phrase are you talking about," Aaron asked—"the one that goes 'Ta-ra-reera, ta-ra-reera'?"
He sang the two measures in a clear tenor voice, whereat Louis snatched the violin from his brother's grasp and, seating himself at the piano, he struck the major triad of C natural with force sufficient to wreck the instrument.
"Sing 'Ah'!" he commanded.
Aaron attacked the high C like a veteran and Professor Ladislaw Wcelak leaped from the piano stool with an inarticulate cry. Immediately thereafter he secured a strangle-hold on his brother and kissed him Budapest fashion on both cheeks.
"To-morrow night already you will commence lessons with the best teacher money could buy," he declared.
"Whose money?" Aaron Shellak inquired, as he wiped away the marks of his brother's affection—"yours or mine?"
"Me—I ain't got no money," Louis admitted.
"Me neither," Aaron said. He was the sole support of his mother and sisters, for Louis, as chef d'orchestre in a Second Avenue restaurant, constantly anticipated his salary over stuss or tarrok in the rear of his employer's café.
"How much would it take?" he asked Louis after a silence of several minutes.
"Who knows?" he replied. "Fifty dollars oder a hundred, perhaps."
Aaron nodded; and the next day, when he entered Potash & Perlmutter's place of business, he carried with him his violin and bow in a black leather case. Thus it happened that the strains of Godard's Berceuse saluted Abe as he stepped from the elevator that morning; and without removing his coat he made straight for the cutting room.
"Koosh!" he bellowed. "What are we running here, anyhow, Shellak—a cloak-and-suit house oder a theayter?"
Aaron hastily replaced the instrument in its case.
"I am only showing it to Nathan," he mumbled by way of explanation. "Might he would like to buy it maybe."
"If you want to sell fiddles, Shellak," Abe said, "do it outside business hours. That's all I got to say."
He proceeded at once to the showroom, where Morris was peeling off his overcoat. The latter greeted Abe with a sour nod. "I am sick and tired of it, Abe," he declared. "Everybody is stealing our business."
"What d'ye mean, everybody's stealing our business?" Abe asked.
"Last night I am sitting in the Harlem Winter Garden with Felix Geigermann, and Leon Sammet butts in on us and tells Geigermann he's got a cousin which he could play shello, and Geigermann says that he should come around to the house next Tuesday and play it with him and Rabiner."
Abe shrugged his shoulders.
"My tzuris if he does, Mawruss," he said; "because while I don't know nothing about this here game, y'understand, a good way to lose a customer is to play cards with him."
"What are you talking nonsense, Abe?" Morris cried. "Shello ain't cards. A shello is a fiddle which you play it with your knees."
"For my part he could play it with his nose, Mawruss," Abe declared hotly. "Do you mean to told me, Mawruss, that a business man like Geigermann is going to buy a line of goods like Sammet Brothers got it just because Leon Sammet's cousin plays a fiddle with his knees?"
"Yow! His cousin?" Morris exclaimed. "He's as much got a cousin which he plays the shello as I got one. He's going to give some greenhorn a couple of dollars to go with him to Geigermann's house and play the fiddle; and the first thing you know, Abe, Geigermann is buying from him a big bill of goods and all the time our orders gets smaller and smaller till we lose his trade altogether."
Abe laughed mirthlessly and bit the end off his after-breakfast cigar.
"If I would worry myself the way you do, Mawruss, every time a competitor says 'Hello' to a customer of ours," he said as he turned away, "I would gone crazy in the head schon long since ago already."
Nevertheless he pondered Leon Sammet's move all the morning, and after Morris had gone to lunch he paced the showroom floor for more than a quarter of an hour in an effort to formulate some plan for regaining Geigermann's business. His reflections were at length interrupted by a faint scraping from the rear of the store. Once more Aaron Shellak was entertaining the cutting-room staff with a pianissimo rendition of Godard's Berceuse; but even as Abe tiptoed across the showroom to crush the performance with an explosive "Koosh!" the melody ceased.
"That's a genu-ine Amati," Aaron said, "and you could see for yourself—inside here is the label."
Abe stopped short. The word "Amati" brought back to him the scene of Felix Geigermann's musicale, and his heart thumped unpleasantly as he listened to Aaron's exhibition of salesmanship.
"Moreover," Aaron continued, "here is the scroll which it is ever so much finer as them other fiddles you could buy for fifty oder sixty dollars. Look at the varnish on the back, Nathan—shines like rubies, ain't it?"
"What would I do with a fiddle, Aaron?" Nathan Schenkman, the shipping clerk, asked.
"You I ain't saying at all," Aaron said; "but you got a little boy Nathan."
"He ain't a year old yet," Nathan interrupted.
"Sure, I know," Shellak went on; "but now is the time, Nathan. You couldn't begin too early. Look at Kubelik and Kreisler and all them fellers. When they was eating from a bottle already the old man give 'em a fiddle to play with, and to-day where are they? In one concert tower alone, Nathan, them fellers makes from fifty to a hundred thousand dollars."
He paused so that Nathan might better apprehend the alluring prospect.
"And I'll let you have it for a hundred and fifty dollars, Nathan," he concluded. "Ten dollars down and two dollars a week till paid. No interest nor nothing."
At this juncture Abe burst into the cutting room.
"Nu, Shellak!" he roared. "What are you trying to do? Skin a poor feller like Nathan, which he got a wife and a child to support?"
"What d'ye mean, skin him?" Aaron retorted. "I ain't no crook, Mr. Potash."
"That's all right, Shellak," Abe went on. "I heard every word you are saying. Come inside; I want to talk to you."
Aaron's face blanched and he trembled visibly.
"But, Mr. Potash—" he began.
"Never mind!" Abe bellowed; "take that fiddle and all that machshovos you got there and come in here."
Abe led the way to the front of the showroom, followed by the crestfallen Shellak, who deposited fiddle, bow, and case on a sample table.
"Say, lookyhere, Shellak," Abe said in kindly tones, "what the devil are you trying to sell a Schnorrer like that a good fiddle? Why don't you give me a show?"
The blood surged suddenly to Aaron's face.
"You!" he stammered. "Why, Mr. Potash, I never knew you was interested in violins."
"Sure; why not?" Abe replied. "Let me have a look at it."
First he squinted into the right "eff" hole and he grunted in approval as he spied the label, which read as follows:
NICOLAUS AMATI CREMONENSIS
Faciebat Anno 1670
"Do you know anything about them old violins?" Aaron asked anxiously.
Abe smiled in a superior way.
"Not a whole lot, Aaron," he said, but by the time he had finished his examination Aaron became convinced that his employer was indeed one of the cognoscenti. First Abe turned the violin upside down and scrutinized the scroll, neck, belly, and back. Then he blew into the "eff" holes; and wetting his finger he rubbed the varnish. For five minutes he pursued the tactics of Mozart Rabiner and even added one or two fancy touches on his own account, until at length he laid down the instrument with a profound sigh.
"Always the same thing, Shellak," he said; "people says it is a genu-ine and it ain't."
Aaron took up his violin and looked at it through new eyes.
"Why ain't it genu-ine?" he asked.
"I should tell you why it ain't!" Abe exclaimed. "If you would know what I know about them things, Shellak, you wouldn't ask me such a question at all. Do you doubt my word?"
"Why should I doubt your word, Mr. Potash?" Aaron said. "In the inside is the paper and that's all I know about it. So, if you would give me a hundred and fifty dollars, Mr. Potash, you could keep the fiddle, bow, case und fertig."
For some minutes they haggled over the bargain, and at length they closed at a hundred and twenty-five dollars, for which Abe gave Shellak his personal check.
Do you know anything about them old violins?"
"And you shouldn't say nothing to Mr. Perlmutter about it," Abe concluded, "because I want to make a present of it as a surprise to my partner."
When Abe came downtown the following morning he wore so marked an air of pleased mystery that Morris became irritated.
"Let me in on this too, Abe," he said.
"Let you in on what, Mawruss?" Abe asked innocently. "I don't know what you mean at all."
"You know very well what I mean," Morris rejoined. "You ain't coming around here grinning like a barn door for nothing."
"I give you right about that, Mawruss," Abe said. "I got in a good Schlag at Leon Sammet and Moe Rabiner last night, Mawruss, I bet yer. I got from Geigermann a repeat order on them two-piece velvet suits—seven hundred and fifty dollars; and do you know how I done it?"
"Chloroformed him," Morris suggested ironically.
"That's all right, Mawruss," Abe retorted. "Go ahead and joke if you want to. Maybe I couldn't play the fiddle with my knees and maybe I don't know nothing about spieling pianners neither, y'understand; but I got a little gumption, too, Mawruss, and don't you forget it."
He retired to the cutting room with a set expression on his face, as though to imply that wild horses could not drag from him the secret of Felix Geigermann's renewed patronage.
For twenty minutes he remained firm in his resolve not to gratify his partner's curiosity; and then as Morris continued to whistle cheerfully over the sample-rack in the front of the loft, he returned to the showroom.
"Yes, Mawruss," he said; "some fellers if they would do what I done with Felix Geigermann they wouldn't give their partner a minute's peace. For months together, Mawruss, they would throw it up to him."
"What is the difference, Abe, if a salesman gets orders, how he gets 'em," Morris rejoined, "so long as he ain't padding his expense account?"
"What d'ye mean, padding my expense account?" Abe cried. "A hundred and twenty-five dollars the fiddle costed me and that's all I charge up."
"The fiddle!" Morris exclaimed. "What fiddle?"
"The fiddle which I give Geigermann last night," Abe continued; "and if you don't believe me you could ask Shellak."
"Shellak?" Morris repeated. "What the devil are you talking about, Abe?"
"Yes, Shellak," Abe went on, "the cutter. He comes round here yesterday with a fiddle, Mawruss, which he wants to sell it to Nathan Schenkman. So I give him a hundred and twenty-five dollars for it und fertig."
"You give Shellak a hundred and twenty-five dollars?" Morris exploded. "Are you crazy, oder what?"
"It was a genu-ine Amati," Abe explained; "and so soon as I seen it, Mawruss, I thought to myself if them cut-throats could sell Geigermann a big bill of goods just by playing on fiddles, y'understand, what sort of an order could I get out of him supposing I should give him a fiddle yet? So that's what I done, Mawruss; and he did, Mawruss, and I was right. Ain't it?"
"Say, lookyhere, Abe," Morris began slowly; "let me get this thing correct. You are paying Shellak a hundred and twenty-five dollars for a fiddle which you are giving Geigermann."
"You got it right, Mawruss," Abe said. "It was a genu-ine Amati."
"For a hundred and twenty-five dollars expenses you are getting an order for seven hundred and fifty dollars, Abe," Morris said relentlessly; "and some fellers would throw it up to their partners for months together yet."
"It was a genu-ine Amati, Mawruss," Abe repeated for the third time, "and for a genu-ine Amati, Mawruss, a hundred and twenty-five dollars is no price at all."
"Sure, I know, Abe," Morris said bitterly; "to you a hundred and twenty-five dollars is nothing at all. We are made of money, Abe, ain't it? What do you care you are spending a hundred and twenty-five dollars for a fiddle when for seventy-five dollars on Lenox Avenue and a Hundred and Sixteenth Street, with my own eyes I seen it, you could buy a square pianner with a stool and scarf yet, as good as new. If you want to schenk the feller something, why didn't you told me? What for a present is a fiddle, Abe, when for half the money we could give him a pianner yet?"
Abe hung his head in embarrassment.
"But Mawruss," he said, "it was a genu-ine Amati."
For one brief moment Morris choked with rage.
"Genu-ine hell!" he roared, and plunged away to the office.
For the remainder of the morning Abe went about his work in crestfallen silence, although Morris, after subjecting Geigermann's order to a little cost bookkeeping on the back of an envelope broke once more into a cheerful whistle.
"Well, Abe," he said at twelve o'clock, "what is vorbei is vorbei. It ain't no use crying over sour milk, so I am going out to lunch."
"What d'ye mean, sour milk, Mawruss?" Abe retorted. "The sour milk is all on your side, Mawruss, because I am telling you it was a genu-ine Amati."
"All right, Abe," Morris said, as he rang for the elevator; "you told me that schon twenty times already. I wouldn't give you two dollars for all them genu-ine fellers' fiddles in creation; and that's all there is to it."
With this ultimatum he stepped into the elevator and five minutes afterward he sat at a table in Hammersmith's restaurant and beguiled with a dill pickle the interval between the giving and filling of his order. At the table next to him sat an animated group, of which Louis Kleiman was the centre.
"Yes, sirree, sir!" Louis declared, in defiance of the law of scandal and libel; "six months I would give the feller at the outside. A feller couldn't attend to business if he would set up till all hours of the night playing fiddle with that lowlife, Rabiner. That ain't all yet, neither! Yesterday he pays for a fiddle three thousand dollars."
"For a fiddle three thousand dollars!" cried one of the group, and the good half of a dill pickle fell from Morris's limp grasp.
"That's what I said," Louis continued; "for three thousand dollars yet he is buying a fiddle. With my own eyes I seen it in the paper this morning; and when a feller puts three thousand dollars into a fiddle, y'understand, he could kiss himself good-by with his business."
At this juncture Morris beckoned to the waiter.
"Say," he said hoarsely, "never mind that roast spring lamb and stuffed tomatoes. Bring me instead a rye-bread tongue sandwich and a cup coffee."
After the waiter had gone Morris settled back in his chair and listened once more to the conversation at the next table.
"All right; then I'm a liar," he heard Louis say. "I tell you I got the paper in my overcoat pocket right now."
Louis rose from his seat and securing the morning paper from his overcoat he read aloud the following item:
PAYS HEAVILY FOR AMATI VIOLIN
Mrs. Helene Karanyi, widow of the celebrated violinist, Bela Karanyi, has sold her husband's favourite Amati at a price said to be over three thousand dollars. The purchaser is Felix Geigermann, who said yesterday that the violin had been in his possession for some time, and that there was no doubt of its authenticity. It was presented to Karanyi by the late Prince Ludovic Esterhazy, whose collection of Cremona violins, now preserved by his son, is said to be the finest in the world. Mr. Geigermann is the well-known Harlem dry-goods merchant.
Louis Kleiman folded the paper and laid it on the table.
"That's the way it goes, boys," he said in heightened tones, for by this time he had caught sight of Morris. "A new beginner comes to you and you give him a little line of credit, y'understand, and pretty soon he is buying more and more goods till he gets to be a big macher like Felix Geigermann. Then either one of two things happens to you: Either he begins to think you are too small for him and he turns around and buys goods from some other sucker, y'understand, oder he goes to work and throws away his money left and right on oitermobiles oder fiddles, and sooner or later he busts up on you; and that's the way it goes."
"You shouldn't worry yourself, Kleiman," Morris cried, turning around in his chair. "Felix Geigermann ain't going to fail just yet a while."
"Me worry?" Kleiman retorted. "For my part, Felix Geigermann could fail to-morrow yet; he don't owe me one cent, nor never would. I ain't looking to sell no goods to fiddlers, Perlmutter. I am dealing only with merchants."
"Furthermore," Morris went on, "if Felix Geigermann hears it you are making a break like this—that he's going to fail yet, and all sorts of crooks you are calling him, Kleiman—he would sue you in the courts for a hundred thousand dollars yet. From a big mouth a feller could get himself into a whole lot of trouble."
Kleiman scrambled hastily to his feet and seized his hat.
"What are you talking nonsense, Perlmutter?" he exclaimed. "I ain't said nothing out of the way about Geigermann. You are the one what's putting the words into my mouth already. Did you ever hear anything like it!—I am saying Geigermann is going to fail? An idee! I never said nothing of the kind. All I am saying is what is right here in the paper, black on white; and if you don't believe me you could read it for yourself."
He handed the paper to Morris; and, as the latter commenced to read over the Geigermann paragraph, Kleiman and his friends slunk hurriedly out of the restaurant. For nearly half an hour Morris pored over the newspaper; then he choked down the sandwich and swallowed the coffee, which by this time was cold.
"Admitting I am only your partner, Mawruss," Abe began as Morris entered the showroom a few minutes later, "don't I got to eat too? And in the second place, Mawruss, if you got to make a hog of yourself, do it at dinner-time at home, because when a feller takes up a whole hour having his lunch, Mawruss, he naturally stuffs himself so full that he ain't no good for the rest of the day."
A lump in Morris's throat, which may or may not have been the tongue sandwich, prevented him from replying; but at last he swallowed it and, after removing his hat and coat, he carefully unfolded the paper.
"Don't hurry out to lunch, Abe," he said. "I could save you money. I got something to tell you which it would take away your appetite so you wouldn't want even a cup coffee."
Abe paused with his hand on the hatrack.
"What d'ye mean?" he demanded.
"I mean I am eating only a tongue sandwich and a cup coffee in Hammersmith's just now," Morris went on, "and who should I see at the next table but Louis Kleiman of Kleiman & Elenbogen. That's a dirty lowlife, that feller, Abe! A cut-throat like him should be making money in business! Honestly, Abe, when I see decent, respectable fellers like ----"
"Say, lookyhere, Mawruss," Abe said, "let me go to my lunch, will you? I'm hungry."
"Hungry, sagt er!" Morris retorted. "A feller makes a god of his stomach, y'understand, and his business is nothing at all. For all you care, Abe, our whole trade could fail on us, so long as you could eat. Everybody says the same thing; the feller's —"
"Do me the favour, Mawruss," Abe begged; "tell me about it afterward. All I am eating for my breakfast is one egg, so sure as you're standing there."
"All right, Abe; I wouldn't keep you no longer," Morris said. "If you could got it in your heart to eat, when one of your best customers is busting up on you, go ahead."
"Our best customer?" Abe cried—"Mandelberger Brothers & Company?"
"Geh weg, you fool!" Morris exclaimed angrily. "Why should a millionaire concern like Mandelberger Brothers & Company got to fail? You talk like a lunatic."
Once more Abe seized his hat.
"I got enough of your nonsense, Mawruss," he said, starting for the elevator.
"Wait!" Morris cried, grabbing him by the arm. "Did you ship any goods to Felix Geigermann yet?"
"Felix Geigermann?" Abe repeated. "Is that the feller?"
Morris nodded, and this time Abe hung up his hat and sat down heavily in the nearest chair.
"Who says he's going to fail?" he asked.
"Everybody says so," Morris replied; "even in the papers they got it."
He handed Kleiman's paper to Abe and indicated the paragraph with a shaking forefinger.
"Where does it say he is going to fail?" Abe asked after he had read it over hastily.
"Where does it say it?" Morris cried. "Why, if a feller goes to work and pays three thousand dollars for a fiddle, Abe, while he only got a business rated twenty-five to thirty thousand, credit fair, ain't it as plain as the nose on your face he must got to fail?"
Once more Abe read over the paragraph and then the paper fell from his hands to the floor.
"Why, Mawruss," he gasped, "it says here he is paying three thousand dollars for an Amati which he had in his possession for some time. That must be the very fiddle which he is playing on with Moe Rabiner."
"My tzuris if it is oder it ain't," Morris commented. "What difference does that make to us, Abe?"
Abe's face was white and large beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead as he replied.
"The difference ain't much, Mawruss," he said slowly. "Only if Felix Geigermann pays three thousand for the fiddle which he already got it and we are giving him for nothing another fiddle, which is the selfsame, identical article, Mawruss, then we are out three thousand dollars—and that's all the difference it makes to us!"
For two minutes Morris regarded his partner with a glassy stare.
"Do you mean to told me, Abe, that that there fiddle which you bought it from Shellak is the same identical article like Geigermann pays three thousand dollars for?"
"You couldn't tell the difference between 'em, Mawruss," he declared. "Even inside the label is the same—the same name and everything."
Morris took off his hat and coat methodically and hung them up on the rack.
"So, Abe," he commenced, "you are giving to a Schnorrer like Geigermann a genu-ine who's-this violin, which it is worth three thousand dollars!"
"How should I know it is worth three thousand?" Abe said.
"Everybody knows that one of them genu-ine feller's violins is worth three thousand dollars," Morris thundered. "I'm surprised to hear you, you should talk that way."
"Shellak didn't know it for one," Abe interrupted, "otherwise why should he sell to us for a hundred and twenty-five dollars a fiddle worth three thousand dollars?"
"What should a greenhorn like Shellak know about such things?" Morris said.
"Don't you fool yourself, Mawruss. If Shellak finds out he is getting a hundred and twenty-five for a fiddle worth three thousand, he's got gumption enough to sue us in the courts yet, and don't you forget it."
"Why should he sue us, Abe?" Morris asked. "A bargain is a bargain, ain't it?"
"Sure I know, Mawruss; but I told the feller the fiddle wasn't genu-ine, y'understand, when all the time I knew it was genu-ine."
"Might you are mistaken maybe, Abe," Morris broke in. "Might the fiddle ain't genu-ine."
"What d'ye mean, ain't genu-ine? I am telling you the label was inside and even the lot number is the same."
"The lot number?"
"Sure, the lot number. Sixteen-seventy, I think it was; and the only thing for us to do, Mawruss, is we should fix up some scheme to get that fiddle back from Geigermann; and that's all there is to it."
"Well, go ahead, Abe," Morris said. "Go ahead and see him this afternoon."
For the third time Abe put on his hat.
"First and foremost I would go out and get a bite to eat, Mawruss," he said. "What good would it do me to get the fiddle back if I would die from starvation first?"
Although the manufacturers of mechanical piano-players had never solicited Felix Geigermann's photograph for half-tone reproductions in the advertising section of anybody's magazine, he dressed as though he expected the immediate arrival of the man with the camera—that is to say, he wore his hair after Mahler, while Hollman and Moritz Rosenthal contributed to the pattern of his moustache. Moreover, he assumed a Paderewski tuft, a rolling collar that exposed the points of his right and left clavicles, a Windsor tie, and, to preserve the unity of his characterization, a slight nondescript foreign accent, despite the circumstance that he was born in Newark, N. J. All this, however, was not an idle pose on Felix's part. He merely applied to a dry-goods store the business principles of the successful virtuoso, and he had found them so efficacious that personally he sold more garments than any six of his clerks. He was no less astute in the buying end of the business; for in pitting Sammet Brothers, Klinger & Klein, and Potash & Perlmutter against one another he not only secured better terms of credit, but he found that it materially added to the quality of their garments.
Thus, had Abe but known it, his seven-hundred-and-fifty-dollar order proceeded not from the gift of the violin, but from the circumstance that the velvet suits had sold like hot cakes; and when he entered the Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street store that afternoon Felix greeted him effusively. He wanted that second order badly, and if cordiality could accelerate its shipment he was willing to try it with Abe.
"Ah, mon ami," he cried. "Come inside my office. What good wind blows you here?"
Abe scowled. All this enthusiasm betokened but one thing—the violin was a genuine Amati, after all. He sat down slowly and bit the end off a large cigar.
"The fact is, Felix," he began, "for myself I don't care, y'understand, but you know Mawruss Perlmutter, what a crank that feller is, Felix; and so I am coming up here to ask you something for a question."
"Fire away, Abe; you couldn't feaze me none," Felix replied in the accents of Newark, N. J.
"Well, Felix, it's like this," Abe went on: "If we would be selling goods to J. B. Morgan, y'understand, and Mawruss here he is buying for eight dollars a fur overcoat—understand me—he right away would want another statement."
Felix nodded. "Nowadays you can't be too cautious," he agreed.
"So, this morning, in the paper," Abe continued, "Mawruss reads you are buying for three thousand dollars a fiddle and—"
"But, Abe," Felix interrupted, "it was a genuine Amati."
"Sure, I know," Abe said; "but yesterday I myself am bringing you a genu-ine Amati and I didn't pay no such figure for it."
Felix looked carefully at Abe's stolid face for some gleam of humour; and then he broke into a fit of laughter so violent that Abe suspected it to be a trifle forced.
"All right, Felix," he grumbled; "maybe you think it is a joke, but just the same I am telling you I paid for that fiddle only two hundred dollars."
Felix stopped laughing and wiped his eyes.
"Well, I'm sorry, Abe," he said seriously. "A feller should never look a gift horse in the teeth, Abe; but that fiddle ain't worth a cent more than a hundred at the outside."
"Do you mean to say it ain't a genu-ine Amati?" Abe asked angrily.
"Why, I don't mean to say anything, Abe," Felix began; "but there are Amatis and Amatis. Some of them are worth little fortunes and others are very ordinary-like."
"Say, lookyhere, Felix," Abe cried, "don't fool with me. Either that fiddle is or it ain't a genu-ine Amati. Ain't it?"
Felix paused. He wanted those velvet suits badly, and it began to look as though there would be a delay in the shipment.
"What is all this leading to, Abe?" he began pleasantly. "If there's anything troubling you speak right up and I'll try to straighten it out."
Abe shifted his cigar in his mouth and made the plunge.
"What is the use beating bushes around, Felix?" he said. "Yesterday I am giving you a fiddle, ain't it? Inside it says the fiddle is a genu-ine Amati. What? Schon gut if that fiddle is a genu-ine Amati it is worth three thousand dollars, ain't it? Because if it ain't, then you are stuck with the other fiddle which you bought it. And if it is worth three thousand, then we are stuck by giving you the fiddle, ain't it? So that's the way it goes."
Felix nodded. It was a delicate situation, in which his credit and the shipment of the suits seemed to be imperilled. To declare flatly that Abe's gift was a bogus Amati might offend him seriously, while to admit that it was genuine, but only worth one hundred dollars, was to foster Abe's notion that he, Felix, had wasted three thousand dollars on a similar violin.
"I want to tell you something, Abe," he began at last. "There's nothing to this business of selling goods by making presents, and I for one don't believe in it. So I'll tell you what I'll do. Come up here to the store to-morrow morning, and I'll get the fiddle from my house and give it back to you."
Abe's scowl merged immediately into a wide grin.
"I don't want the fiddle back, Felix," he said, "but my partner, y'understand, he is the one which is always—"
"Say no more, Abe," Felix cried. "All I want is you should ship that order; and tell your partner, if he is scared I am spending my money foolishly, he can have a new statement whenever he wants it; and I'll swear to it on a truckload of Bibles."
When Abe returned to his place of business that afternoon he expected to find Morris pacing up and down the showroom floor, the picture of distracted anxiety. Instead he was humming a cheerful melody as he piled up two-piece velvet suits.
"Well, Abe," he said, "you have went on a fool's errand, ain't it?"
"What d'ye mean, fool's errand?" Abe demanded.
"Why, I mean I knew all along that fiddle of yours was a fake; and anyhow, Abe, I seen Milton Strauss, of Klipmann, Strauss & Bleimer, and what d'ye suppose he told it me, Abe?"
Abe shrugged angrily.
"If you must got to get it off your chest before I tell you what Geigermann told to me, Mawruss," he said, "go ahead."
"Well, I seen Milton Strauss, Abe," Morris went on calmly, "and he says to me that he knows for a positive fact that Felix Geigermann could have sold that fiddle of his for three thousand five hundred dollars before he even pays for it yet. Strauss says that Felix is all the time buying up old fiddles for a side line, and if he makes a cent at it he makes a couple thousand dollars a year. Furthermore, Abe, he says that if anybody's got a genu-ine who's-this fiddle, he wouldn't let it go for no hundred and twenty-five dollars, and the chances is you are paying a fancy figure for a cheap popular-price line of fiddles."
Abe hung up his hat so violently that he nearly knocked a hole in the crown.
"In the first place, Mawruss," he began, "it was your idee I should go up there and get the fiddle back, and in the second place I am telling you with my own eyes I seen that fiddle and it is the selfsame, identical article—name, lot number and everything—which that feller Geigermann refuses thirty-five hundred dollars for."
He scowled at his partner in anticipation of a cutting rejoinder.
"But anyhow, that ain't neither here nor there," he continued as Morris remained silent. "We would quick find out for ourselves what the fiddle really is, because to-morrow morning I am going around to the store and Geigermann gives me the fiddle back."
Morris paused in the folding of a velvet skirt.
"I wouldn't do that, Abe, if I was you," he said. "What is the use giving presents and taking 'em back again? You could make from a feller an enemy for life that way."
"Sure, I know Mawruss. An enemy for life is one thing, Mawruss, but thirty-five hundred dollars ain't to be sniffed at neither, y'understand."
"Schmooes, Abe!" Morris cried. "The fiddle ain't worth even thirty-five hundred pins."
Following this observation there ensued a controversy of over an hour's duration, at the end of which Morris compromised.
"Say, listen here to me, Abe!" he declared. "You say the fiddle is worth it and I say it ain't. Now if I am right and we take the fiddle back, then we are acting like a couple of cheap yokels, ain't it? Aber if you are right, Abe, then we are out thirty-five hundred dollars. So what's the use talking, Abe? Only one thing we got to do. We got to find a feller which he could right away tell whether the fiddle is oder not is genu-ine—just by looking at it, y'understand. This feller we got to send up to Geigermann's house to look at the fiddle to-night yet, and if he says the fiddle is, Abe, then we would take it back. Aber if he says the fiddle ain't, Abe, then, Geigermann could keep the fiddle und fertig."
Abe nodded slowly.
"The idee is all right, Mawruss," he said; "but in the first place, Mawruss, where could we find such a feller, and in the second place, if we did found him, Mawruss, what excuse would we give Geigermann for sending him up there in the third place?"
Morris scratched his head.
"Well, for that matter, Abe, if we found such a feller, we could send him up there to say that he hears from you that you are giving away such a Who's-this fiddle to Geigermann, and that the feller would like to buy it off of him."
"And then, Mawruss?" Abe asked.
"And then," Morris went on, "Geigermann shows the feller the fiddle, y'understand, and if it is worth it oder it isn't worth it the feller says nothing to Geigermann, but he comes back and reports to us."
Abe nodded again.
"If I was to tell you all the weak points of that scheme, Mawruss," he said, "I could stand here talking till my tongue dropped out yet. But all I got to say is, Mawruss, the idee is yours, and you should go ahead and carry it out. Me, I got nothing to say about it either one way or the other."
At seven that evening, while Professor Ladislaw Wcelak was washing down a late breakfast with a bottle of beer, there came a violent knocking at the hall door. The professor answered it in person, for Aaron was busily engaged over Concone's vocalizations in the front parlour and the other members of the family were washing dishes in the rear.
"Nu, Landsmann!" Ladislaw cried. "Ain't you working to-night?"
The newcomer was none other than Emil Pilz, Konzertmeister of the Palace Theatre of Varieties, if that dignified term may be applied to the first violin of an orchestra of twenty.
"I am and I ain't," Emil replied. "I've got a job, Louis, which it would take me till nine o'clock, so be a good feller and substitute for me at the theayters till I am coming back."
"And who would substitute for me, Emil?" the professor asked.
"That's all right," Emil replied. "I stopped in on my way over and I seen old man Hubai. He ain't shikker yet, so I told him he should go over and fiddle a couple czardas till you come, and to tell the boss you got a Magenweh and would be a little late. Me, I am going uptown to look at a fiddle. I got the job through an old pupil, Milton Strauss, which he says a feller by the name Potash gives away a fiddle which he bought, and now he thinks it's a genuine Amati. So I should please go up and look at it; and if it is oder it isn't, I get ten dollars."
"Who's this feller Potash?" the professor asked, and Emil shrugged.
"What difference does that make?" he said. "He gives a hundred and twenty-five dollars for the fiddle only a couple days ago. What d'ye want to know for?"
"Oh, nothing," the professor replied; "only my brother Aaron sold to a feller by the name Potash the other day a fiddle which I myself bought from old Hubai a couple years ago for fifteen dollars yet; and if that's the one you are talking about, Emil, you should quick go up to the theayter and forget about it. Because, Emil, if that fiddle is an Amati, you are a Kubelik and I am a Kreisler."
"Sure, I know, Louis," Emil agreed; "but just the same I got to go up there to make the ten, so if you would do me the favour and spiel for me till half-past nine you could get anyhow three dollars of it."
"I am willing," the professor said; and ten minutes later he was on his way up to the Palace Theatre of Varieties.
It was precisely half-past nine, while a tabloid drama in progress on the stage rendered the presence of the orchestra unnecessary, that Emil Pilz returned.
"Nu Emil," Louis said as they stood in the corridor leading to the stage entrance, "did you seen the Amati?"
He grinned in humorous anticipation of Emil's answer.
"Yes, I did seen it," Emil replied, "and it's a very elegant, grand model."
"Sure," the professor said; "made in Bavaria with an ax."
"Don't you fool yourself, Louis," Emil retorted. "That's an elegant instrument from Nicolo Amati's best period. If it's worth a cent it's worth three thousand dollars."
"Schmooes, Emil!" Louis cried. "What are you trying to do?—kid me?"
"What d'ye mean, kid you?" Emil asked. "I should never stir from this spot, Louis, if that ain't an Amati. It's got a tone like gold, Louis."
For a brief interval Louis stared at his informant.
"Do you mean to told me, Emil, that that fiddle is a real, genu-ine Amati?"
"Listen here to me, Louis," Emil declared; "if I wouldn't be sure that it was genu-ine why should I got such a heart that I would act that way to that feller Potash? When—so sure as you are standing there, Louis—when I told him it was a genu-ine Amati he pretty near got a fit already; and as for his partner by the name Perlmutter, he hollered so I thought he was going to spit blood already."
Louis licked his dry lips before making any reply.
"So, then, I am paying fifteen dollars for a fiddle which it is a genu-ine Amati," he said, "and that brother of mine which he ain't got no more sense as a lunatic lets it go for a song already."
"Well, I couldn't stop to talk to you now, Louis," Emil said. "I must got to get on the job. I am going to be to-morrow morning, ten o'clock, at this here Potash & Perlmutter's, and if you want to you could meet me there with old man Hubai."
"Old man Hubai!" Louis cried. "What's he got to do with it?"
"He's got a whole lot to do with it, Louis," Emil said. "A feller like him sells you a three-thousand-dollar violin for fifteen dollars which he ain't got a penny in the world, y'understand, and I should stand by and see him get done!"
Professor Wcelak hung his head and blushed.
"Also, Louis," Emil concluded, "I just rung him up at the café, and he says whatever he gets out of it I get half."
When Morris Perlmutter arrived at Felix Geigermann's store the next morning he showed the effects of a restless night and no breakfast; for he had found it impossible either to eat or sleep until he had his hands on the violin.
"Mr. Geigermann went out for a minute, Mr. Potash," a floorwalker explained; "but he said I should show you right into his office, Mr. Potash."
"My name ain't Potash," Morris replied, "that's my partner, which he couldn't get up here on account he is sick."
"That's all right," the floorwalker said reassuringly. "Just step this way."
He conducted Morris to Geigermann's office.
"Have a seat, Mr. Perlmutter," he said; but the words fell on deaf ears, for as soon as he entered the room Morris descried the violin, which rested on top of Geigermann's desk. He pounced on it immediately, and turning it over in his hand he examined it with the minutest care. At length he discerned the label inside the "eff" hole. It was curling away from the wood and appeared to be ready to drop off, so that it was an easy matter for Morris to impale it on his scarfpin. By dint of a little scraping he managed to draw one edge of it through the "eff" hole and the next moment he was examining the faded printing. Then he turned the label over and in one corner he discovered an oval mark. Simultaneously the door opened and Geigermann entered.
Morris thrust the label into his pocket and turned to Geigermann with an amiable smile. Moreover, his pallor had given place to a pronounced flush and he looked nearly five years younger than when he walked into the store just ten minutes before.
"Hello, Felix!" he cried, holding out his hand. "How's the boy?"
"Fine," Felix said. "Where's Abe?"
"He couldn't get here on account he is sitting up late again last night, and, of course, Felix, he is sick. But anyhow, Felix, I am glad he ain't coming."
"Why so?" Felix asked.
"Because you never seen such a feller in your life, Felix," Morris went on. "Always worrying and always kicking. First he gives you a fiddle, then he wants to take it back again. With me it is different. What do I care if the fiddle is or it ain't one of them genu-ine Who's This's? Once you give a thing you give a thing, ain't it? And I don't care what experts says nor nothing."
Felix Geigermann blushed. When Emil Pilz had called on him the night before he had scented the object of the visit and had exhibited not Abe's gift but the Karanyi Amati. He had no doubt that Pilz communicated to Potash & Perlmutter the result of his call immediately after its conclusion, and he felt touched and humbled by Morris's generous behaviour.
"Morris," he said, "I did you a big injury. I didn't think you felt that way about it; so when that expert called on me last night I didn't show him Abe's fiddle at all—I showed him the other one, the three-thousand-dollar fiddle."
Morris's grin became a trifle broader.
"That don't worry me none, Felix," he declared. "I am glad you should keep the fiddle if it should be worth ten thousand dollars even. A gift is a gift, Felix."
"That's very generous of you, Morris, I must say," Felix replied, "and I would keep the violin. I would even do more, Morris. I was going to give Klinger & Klein an order for some of their three-piece broadcloths, but I changed my mind. I will give it to you instead; and if you would be in this afternoon, Morris, I will go downtown and pick 'em out."
Once more Morris wrung his customer's hand. Before proceeding downtown, he sought the nearest dairy restaurant and made tremendous inroads upon its stock of eggs and coffee. It was almost ten o'clock before he reached his place of business, and as he stepped out of the elevator he was greeted by a roar of voices approximating the effect of a well-managed mob scene in a capital-and-labour drama.
Old man Hubai stood in the middle of the showroom; and with clenched fists waving in the air he appealed to heaven to witness that he was a poor man and spoke nothing but the Hungarian tongue. Hence he was at the mercy of such ruffians as Pilz and Wcelak, whose right name he averred to be Kohn. Following this he swore by his mother that he had paid a thousand kronen for the violin, and da capo from the exposition of his poverty. Simultaneously Professor Ladislaw Wcelak dwelt on the economic aspect of the matter. In stentorian tones he declared Abe's purchase of the violin to be another example of capital sitting upon the neck of labour, and he prophesied the rapid approach of the Social Revolution, with sundry references to bloodsuckers, cut-throats and Philistines.
Emil Pilz, Aaron, and Abe Potash himself added to the general din in a three-cornered discussion of the legal points involved. Emil contended that Aaron could replevin the violin upon the ground of Abe's misrepresentation at the time of the purchase, and Abe denied it in Yiddish and English, with emphatic profanity in both languages.
Into this mêlée Morris hurled himself with a resounding "Koosh!"
"Are you all crazy, oder what?" he demanded.
"Well," Abe cried, "where is it?"
Instantly there was a dead silence and all eyes rested on Morris.
"Where's what?" Morris asked.
"The Amati!" Emil Pilz cried; and Morris laughed aloud.
"Geh weg!" he said. "You are an expert!"
Pilz shook his head in a bullying fashion.
"Never mind if I am an expert oder not," he said. "Where is that Amati which I seen it myself at Geigermann's house only last night?"
"It is at Geigermann's house to-day," Morris replied. "Right now it is there and it would stay there too, young feller, because that fiddle which you seen it is the one Geigermann paid three thousand dollars for. You seen the wrong fiddle, that's all."
This statement seemed to rouse Aaron Shellak to hysterical frenzy.
"Liar and thief!" he screamed. "Give me my fiddle."
"One moment, Shellak," Morris said, "before you put on your hat and coat and go home, which you shouldn't trouble yourself to come back at all. I want to show you something."
He explored his waistcoat pocket.
"Ain't this the label which was in your fiddle?" he asked, handing Aaron a slip of paper.
Aaron examined it carefully and nodded.
"That other crazy Indian over there," Morris continued, pointing to the professor, "look at this label. Ain't it the same which was in the fiddle?"
Ladislaw Wcelak examined the printed slip and he, too, nodded.
Next, Morris turned to old man Hubai, who stood apart muttering to himself.
"Some one ask that old greenhorn if it's the same label that was in the fiddle. I don't know what he's got to do with this business but he may know, anyhow."
Wcelak interpreted Morris's words and showed the label to the old man, who replied volubly in Hungarian.
"He says he thinks it is," the professor said, "but he doesn't know for sure."
"Well, I know it is the same," Morris retorted, "because I took it out there myself this morning."
Here Morris cleared his throat and assumed an air of such dignity, not to say majesty, that to Abe, it seemed as though he had never rightly known his partner until that moment.
"Now look on the other side of that label," Morris cried.
Once more the label went the rounds and after Emil Pilz had examined it he put on his hat and made for the elevator. Almost on tiptoe Professor Ladislaw Wcelak followed him, while Aaron repaired to the cutting room and packed up his belongings, preparatory to forsaking a career as cutter for one of music.
At length only old man Hubai remained.
"What are you waiting for?" Morris demanded.
"Me poor man," Hubai said. "Me no got carfare, me no got Trinkgeld, me no got nothing."
Morris handed him a quarter and he shuffled off toward the backstairs. Meantime Abe staggered to his feet and passed his hand over his forehead.
"Tell me, Mawruss," he said, "what is all this about?"
"It's just what I says just now, Abe," Morris exploded. "That expert seen the wrong fiddle. The fiddle you gave Geigermann is no more three hundred years old than I am."
"Why ain't it?" Abe asked.
For answer Morris handed him the label. On the obverse side Abe read the inscription:
Nicolaus Amati Cremonensis Faciebai Anno 1670.
"Now turn it over," Morris said; and Abe described on the reverse side a familiar oval mark bearing the following inscription:
Allied Printers Trades Council, Union Label, New York City.
"What is the use talking, Mawruss?" Abe Potash protested. "The feller couldn't even talk ten words English at all."
"Sure, I know," Morris Perlmutter admitted; "but he would quick learn."
"Quick learn!" Abe exclaimed. "What d'ye mean, quick learn? Nowadays I never seen the like! A greenhorn comes over here from Russland which he is such an iggeramus he don't know his own name, understand me; and he expects right away to get a job in a cloak-and-suit concern uptown, where they would learn him how he should talk English and at the same time pay him ten dollars a week. Actually, Mawruss, them fellers thinks they are doing you a favour if they ruin ten garments a day on you in exchange for learning 'em English. Me, when I come over from Russland, I was oser so grossartig. I was glad to got a job learning on shirts in a subcellar and the boss boards me for wages. I got an elegant bill of fare, too, I bet yer, Mawruss. Every day for dinner is salt herring and potatoes, except Sundays is onions extra. And did that feller learn me English, Mawruss? Oser a stück. I must got to go to night school to learn English, Mawruss, and I did, Mawruss—and they learned me good there, Mawruss; and so this here feller you are talking about should do the same."
"We wouldn't got to learn him English, Abe," Morris declared. "The feller is a bright, smart feller, and he could pick it up quick enough."
"Sure, I know," Abe rejoined; "and pick up a whole lot of other things, too, Mawruss. Silks and velvets and buttons them fellers picks up."
"Not this feller, Abe," Morris said. "He is from decent, respectable people in the old country. He is studying for a doctor already when he comes over here, but he gets into trouble on account he belongs to a politics society over there; so he must got to run away. The feller is a bright feller, Abe."
"I know them bright fellers, Mawruss—sit up till all hours of the night in Canal Street coffee houses killing off grand dukes. Grand dukes is got to make a living the same like anybody else, Mawruss; and anyhow, Mawruss, when a feller comes over here from Russland, Mawruss, he ain't got no business bothering his head about grand dukes. The way things is nowadays in the cloak-and-suit trade, Mawruss, a feller's got all he could attend to holding on to his job."
"Let's give the feller a show anyhow, Abe," he rejoined; "and if he don't soon make good we could quick fire him, y 'understand."
"That's what you said about that feller Harkavy, which we give him a job in our cutting room, Mawruss. All the time he works for us he acts so dumm like a ten-year-old child; and so soon as we fire him, Mawruss, he goes to work by Kleiman & Elenbogen and turns out a couple of styles, which the least them highwaymen makes out of 'em is five thousand dollars."
"How should I know what Harkavy could do with Kleiman & Elenbogen, Abe?" Morris cried. "You are the prophet of this here concern, Abe. Always you are predicting to me to-morrow what is going to happen yesterday."
"Well, what's vorbei is vorbei, Mawruss," Abe retorted; "and if I would got to stand here all day and schmooes with you, Mawruss, go ahead and hire the feller. Only one thing I am saying to you, Mawruss: Don't tell me afterward that I was in favour of the feller from the start; because I ain't."
With this ultimatum, Abe glanced toward the cutting room, where sat a tall, stooping figure, holding in his two hands a peaked cap.
"Only to look at the feller gives me a krank, Mawruss," Abe continued; "so, if you are going to hire him, Mawruss, do me the favour and give him a couple dollars out of the safe so he should get a shave and a haircut and a new hat."
Morris nodded and started for the cutting room, when Abe called him back.
"For my part, Mawruss, I don't care what people says, y'understand," he declared; "but if we got a couple of them Thirty-fourth Street buyers around here and they sees our workpeople is got such shoes which their toes is sticking out already, Mawruss, what do they think of us? Am I right or wrong?"
"Sure, I know," Morris said; "but—"
"But nothing, Mawruss," Abe concluded. "For three dollars we should make suckers out of ourselves! Don't stand there like a fool, Mawruss. Give the feller five dollars; he should buy himself a pair of shoes and fertig."
The transformation begun in Cesar Kovalenko by a haircut and a shave was made complete when Morris, accompanied by Kovalenko's cousin, went with him to a retail clothing establishment. There Cesar discarded forever his cap, top boots and frogged overcoat and emerged—but for his vocabulary—a naturalized citizen of the cloak-and-suit trade.
"Now all he's got to do," Morris said, "is to work hard and he would quick be making good wages."
"Sure, sure!" the cousin replied. "At first, maybe he would be a little dumm on account he is got a whole lot of experiences lately."
"Experiences?" Morris asked. "What for experiences?"
"Well, in the first place," the cousin proceeded, "two years ago he is studying for a doctor in the University of Harkav, and next door to him one house by the other lives a feller which I ain't got nothing to say against him, y'understand, only he goes to work and sends a package to the chief of police, Mr. Perlmutter, which when they open the package, y'understand, inside is something g'fixed. Mind you, Mr. Perlmutter, I wouldn't say nothing if it would be really the chief of police which would open the package, but always it is some poor Schnorrer which the chief of police calls in from the street. This time it was a feller by the name Levin, a decent, respectable, young feller—his father was a Rav. The old man is coming over here this week, I understand, Mr. Perlmutter—but when the chief of police sends out Levin in the backyard he should open the package, understand me, that's the last any one sees either from the package or either from Levin."
Morris clicked his tongue sympathetically.
"And what did they done to the feller which sends the package?" he asked.
"Him, they didn't done nothing, Mr. Perlmutter," the cousin replied; "but Cesar, here, they put it all on to him. First they are making him arrested, and the police pretty near kill him and the Cossacks take him from Harkav to Odessa he should get tried, and then they pretty near kill him there; and if it wouldn't be that we are sending over to give to a judge there a couple thousand rubles they would right away shoot him. Anyhow, Mr. Perlmutter, one year my cousin sits in prison there; and then we are sending over a couple thousand rubles more which we give the feller what runs the prison, and so my cousin sneaks out of there and he comes over here to this country."
Morris gazed at the neatly clad figure who walked quietly along beside him.
"You wouldn't think it to look at him," he said; "but, anyhow, I would do my best to see he gets a good show; and he would quick learn, I bet yer."
By this time they had reached Potash & Perlmutter's premises and the cousin shook hands warmly with Morris.
"You got a good heart, Mr. Perlmutter," he declared fervently; "and you wouldn't lose money supposing you did pay him eight dollars a week to start."
Morris paused before passing indoors.
"Listen here to me," he said. "Maybe I got a good heart and maybe I ain't, but your cousin starts on five dollars a week, understand me; and if he gets six dollars inside of a month he would got to earn it."
Despite this assertion, however, it was barely three weeks before Cesar Kovalenko was earning and receiving eight dollars a week, for never in their business experience had Abe and Morris employed a more intelligent workman. Not only did he exhibit great promise as an assistant cutter but he had acquired a knowledge of English sufficient for his needs.
"If the feller keeps on, Abe," Morris said, "we would soon got to give him another raise. He's a wonder!"
Abe nodded gloomily.
"You could get all the wonders you want, Mawruss, to learn cutting at eight dollars a week," he said; "and supposing he does pick up English quick, Mawruss—a feller could be a regular Henry Shakespeare, y'understand, and he wouldn't be any better as a garment cutter on that account. Am I right or wrong?"
"Well, certainly it don't do no harm that Kovalenko understands a little English," Morris commented.
"Sure not," Abe agreed satirically, "because the quicker he learns English, Mawruss, the quicker he would copy our styles and find a job with a competitor. Take this here Harkavy, for instance. Only this morning I seen Felix Geigermann in the subway and he says that Kleiman & Elenbogen is showing, at a dollar less on the garment, a ringer for our Style 4022 which we sold him, Mawruss. Now, who tells them suckers how they could cut down on the buttons and the lining, Mawruss, and put one pleat less in the skirt, Mawruss? I suppose you did or I did, Mawruss—ain't it?"
He paused for a reply, but none came.
"And yet, Mawruss," he concluded, "that feller Harkavy was a wonder too; and I suppose, Mawruss, the way he picked up English would be a big consolation to us, Mawruss, if a good customer like Geigermann leaves us and goes over to Kleiman & Elenbogen."
Morris grunted scornfully.
"You are all the time looking for trouble, Abe," he said. "If we would lose as many customers as you are talking about, Abe, we wouldn't got a decent concern left on our books at all. You got to give Geigermann credit for knowing a good garment when he sees it."
"Sure, I know, Mawruss," Abe replied. "Geigermann knows a good garment when he sees it, but his customers don't; and if Geigermann could get, for a dollar less than ours, garments which looks like ours and is like ours, all but the buttons and the pleats in the skirt, we could kiss ourselves good-by with the business, no matter how many bright greenhorns we got it in our cutting room."
"Geh weg!" Morris exclaimed. "You don't know what you are talking about, Abe."
Nevertheless, when Felix Geigermann, the well-known Harlem dry-goods merchant and violin dilettante, entered Potash & Perlmutter's showroom the next morning Morris greeted him with some misgiving.
"Hello, Felix!" he said. "Are you giving us a repeat order so soon already on them 4022's?"
Felix shook his head.
"I got a few words to say to Abe, Mawruss," he replied. "Is he in now?"
Morris smiled amiably, although he was convinced that Felix's visit boded a cancellation of the 4022's.
"He ain't in now," he answered, "but if you wait a few minutes he'll be right back."
He returned hastily to the office, for he knew that if Abe found them in conversation on his return he would impute the cancellation of the order to something Morris had said. Thus Felix was left alone in the showroom, save for Cesar Kovalenko, who plied a feather duster industriously among the sample-racks. As he worked, Cesar whistled a Russian melody, half sad, half cheerful, and Felix paused midway in the lighting of his cigar. It was the opening theme in the second movement of Tschaikovsky's Fourth Symphony; and Cesar's rendition of it was not only true to pitch but he managed to introduce certain nuances that to Felix proclaimed the born musician.
"What's that you are whistling?" he inquired; and Cesar smiled.
"Tschaikovsky's Fourt' Symphony," he replied, and then he reached around to his hip-pocket. "See; I am got music."
He handed a paper-covered miniature score to Geigermann, who opened it at random.
"Ha!" Felix exclaimed as his eye lit on a familiar phrase in the last movement. He hummed it over and Cesar joined him in a clear, musical barytone. They were thus engaged when a tall, broad-shouldered individual entered the showroom.
"Sorry to interrupt you, gentlemen," he said, "but is the boss in?"
"In the office back there," Felix replied.
"Will you tell him Mr. Gunther would like to see him?" the newcomer continued.
"I will if you want me to," Felix said; "but I am here only a customer."
"Excuse me," Mr. Gunther apologized. "I was talking about the other feller. However—"
He proceeded to the office and engaged Morris in earnest conversation for several minutes. They returned to the showroom just as Cesar was replacing the score in his hip-pocket. The motion was too much for Mr. Gunther, whose occupation made him nervous; and he plunged his hand into his overcoat and brought out a shining metallic object. There was a sharp struggle and Cesar Kovalenko leaned against the partition with his wrists encircled by a pair of handcuffs.
"Come along quiet," said Mr. Gunther calmly, "or I'll knock yer block awff."
At this juncture the elevator door banged open and Abe came into the showroom.
"What is the matter here?" he cried.
Mr. Gunther smiled.
"I'm a United States deputy marshal," he proclaimed, "and I'm arresting this guy under a warrant duly issued in the Southern District of New York. I've got a taxicab downstairs and if any of you gentlemen is a friend of the prisoner youse can come along to the marshal's office."
Morris darted into the office and reappeared with his hat and coat.
"Abe," he said, "you stay here in the store. I would go down with him."
"One moment, Mawruss," he cried. "It don't go so quick as all that. First, we would find out what he makes this young feller arrested for."
The deputy marshal nodded.
"That's all right," he said. "You're entitled to know it. He's arrested on the complaint of the Russian Consulate for something he did in Russia two years ago."
"In Russia!" Abe exclaimed. "Two years ago! Mawruss, do me a favour. You stay in the store and I would go with him."
Felix Geigermann placed his hand on Abe's arm.
"Say, lookyhere, Abe," he said. "I'll tell you the truth. I am pretty busy to-day here to cancel them 4022's; but now I don't care at all. You could ship them goods if you want to, Abe; but one thing I ask you as a favour—let me go with him. I don't care what the other feller says. I am just now talking to this here young feller and if he done anything in Russia, understand me, I would eat it. So you stay here and tend to business and I would go with him."
Morris drew on his overcoat with force sufficient to rip the sleeve-lining. "Nathan, the shipping clerk, could tend the store, Abe," he declared, "and we'll all go with him."
"In the first place, Mawruss," Abe said, after they had returned from the United States Commissioner's office, where Cesar Kovalenko had been arraigned and committed without bail to the Tombs—"in the first place what are we bothering our heads about this young feller? Of course, when I was down there, Mawruss, and see that feller from the Russian counsellor's office, which he is got a face, Mawruss, hard like iron, y'understand, I didn't say nothing; but the way you are going to work and telephoning to Henry D. Feldman and everything, Mawruss—before we would get through with him it would cost us anyhow a couple hundred dollars."
"Geigermann says he would go half," Morris said.
"Sure, I know, Mawruss; but just because Geigermann acts like a sucker, Mawruss, why should we get ourselves into it too? Furthermore, Mawruss, how do we know Geigermann would go half? He's that kind of feller, Mawruss, that when he says something he don't take it so particular he should stick to it, Mawruss. One day he gives us an order and the next day cancels it, Mawruss—and that's the kind of a man he is."
"He didn't cancel it, Abe," Morris cried. "He was going to cancel it, but he changed his mind."
"Sure, he changed his mind," Abe interrupted; "and what is going to hinder him changing his mind on this other proposition, Mawruss? You could take it from me, Mawruss, when the time comes he should pay up, understand me, it'll be a case of nix wissen—and don't you forget it."
Morris shrugged impatiently.
"Nu, Abe," he said; "what could we do? Once in a while we couldn't help ourselves, y'understand. Should we let this poor greenhorn be sent back to Russland, which he ain't got a relative in the world, understand me, except his cousin, which he is just as poor as Kovalenko?"
"That's all right, Mawruss," Abe declared. "I ain't kicking we shouldn't help the feller. All I am saying is there's lots of our people which they got more dollars as we got dimes. Take Moses M. Steuermann, for instance; there's a feller which he is such a big charity feller, understand me, why shouldn't he help Kovalenko?"
"Well, in the first place, no one tells him about it, Abe," Morris said, "and in the second place—"
"But why don't we tell him about it, Mawruss?" Abe interrupted. "Why don't you go down to see him, Mawruss, and tell him all about it?"
"Me go down to see him, Abe!" Morris cried. "Why, the feller is a multimillionaire. With such people like that I couldn't open my mouth at all. Why don't you go down to see him?"
"Why should I go down?" Abe asked. "You are the lodge brother here, Mawruss—ain't it? You are the one which you are always sitting up till all hours of the night making motions. I couldn't make a motion to save my life, Mawruss, and you know it."
"Sure, I know," Morris protested; "but lodge meetings is something else again. A feller could talk at a lodge meeting—and what is it? A couple young lawyers which they couldn't even pay their laundry bills, y'understand, and a dozen other fellers, insurance brokers oder cigar dealers, and most of 'em old-timers at that—why should I be afraid to say a little something to 'em? But with a feller like Moses M. Steuermann, which his folks was bankers in Frankfort-on-the-Main when Carnegie and Vanderbilt and all them other goyim was new beginners yet, Abe—that's a different proposition entirely."
Abe nodded and remained silent for a few minutes.
"Might Felix Geigermann would go down and see him, Mawruss," he suggested finally. "It wouldn't do no harm we should ring him up anyhow."
"Go as far as you like, Abe," Morris said, and Abe started immediately for the telephone.
"I spoke to Felix, Mawruss," he announced a few minutes later, "and Felix said he would go right down and see him. He ain't so stuck on paying Feldman a couple hundred dollars neither."
Morris snorted indignantly.
"If you was going to be charitable, Abe," he said, "why don't you be a sport? We could easy stand a couple hundred dollars."
"That's all right, Mawruss," Abe declared. "Business is business and charity is charity, y'understand; but even in charity, Mawruss, it don't do no harm to keep the expenses down."
Two hours afterward Felix Geigermann entered the showroom, his face glistening with perspiration.
"Well, boys," he almost shouted, "I seen him, and he says he would call in here on his way uptown."
"Who would call in?" Morris asked.
"Moses M. Steuermann," Felix replied. "It was the Tschaikovsky Fourth that fixed him, Mawruss. I told him that young feller carries round with him an orchestral score, and right away he says he would come up. For years I seen Mr. Steuermann at the Philharmonics and the Boston Symphonies, Mawruss, and I didn't know who he was at all. I always thought he was something to do with a music-publishing concern."
"Steuermann got something to do with a music-publishing concern!" Morris exclaimed. "I'm surprised to hear you, you should talk that way, Felix."
"Well, when you are seeing year in and year out a feller goes to every concert what is, Abe," Felix explained, "naturally you get an idee he is in the music business—ain't it?"
"That's what you think, Felix," Abe said, taking up the cudgels in defence of Steuermann; "but you could take it from me, Felix, if a feller like Steuermann seemingly fools away his time at concerts, understand me, he ain't doing it for nothing. He probably gets some business out of it the same like a lot of fellers you would think is making suckers of themselves going to lodge meetings, Felix. Most of 'em sells many a big bill of goods that way."
"That ain't here nor there, Abe," Felix rejoined. "The point is, Steuermann would be up here at five o'clock; so, what are you going to tell him when he calls?"
"Me tell him!" Abe cried. "Why, I wouldn't be here at all. I got to—now—see—a—now—customer at the Prince Clarence."
"You ain't got to do nothing of the kind, Abe," Morris retorted angrily. "You are going to stay right here and talk to that feller when he comes. What do you think—I am going to be the goat every time?"
"What's the matter, Abe?" Felix asked. "Are you afraid of the feller? He couldn't eat you up, Abe."
"What d'ye mean, afraid of him?" Abe exclaimed. "I am seeing big merchants every day, Felix, and I could talk right up to them too. But this here is my partner's affair. He hired Kovalenko in the first place; and—"
"What's the use talking, Abe?" Morris interrupted. "If you go home I go home; so you got to stay and we would both see the feller. What is the difference, supposing the feller does got a couple million dollars?"
"A couple million dollars!" Felix said. "Why, I bet yer, if the feller's got a cent he is worth twenty million dollars."
Abe drew pale.
"Say, lookyhere, why should I talk to Mr. Steuermann?" he besought. "You could do this without me, Mawruss."
"Don't be a baby, Abe," Morris retorted. "Felix would stay here with us and—"
"Not me, boys," Felix said. "I guess you got to excuse me. I done enough already and if I don't get right home and change my underclothes, which they are dripping wet with perspiration, I would sure catch a bad cold."
He shook Abe and Morris warmly by the hand; and hardly had the elevator door closed behind him when the showroom became a scene of nervous activity.
"Nathan," Abe yelled to the shipping clerk, "fetch the broom. The place looks like a pigsty here!"
He turned to Morris with excited gesture.
"Do me the favour, Mawruss," he said; "tell a couple of them young fellers from the cutting room to come in here. Them sample-racks ain't been straightened up for a week. I am going round to the barber shop, Mawruss, and I would be right back."
It lacked one minute of five and Abe and Morris sat at their respective desks in the firm's office, when Miss Cohen, the bookkeeper, knocked timidly at the door.
"A gentleman wants to see you, Mr. Potash," she said. "He wouldn't give his name."
Abe cleared his throat with an effort.
"Tell him he should come right in," he croaked; and a moment later a tall personage, clad in a fur overcoat and wearing a freshly ironed silk hat, appeared in the doorway.
"Is this Mr. Potash?" he asked in rounded, oratorical tones.
Abe nodded. For a moment he was bereft of speech and he jerked his head sideways in the direction of his partner.
"This is Mr. Perlmutter," he said at length—"my partner."
"How do you do, sir?" the visitor replied as he seized Morris's clammy palm in a warm embrace.
"Take a seat," Morris murmured, dragging forth a chair; and the stranger sat down deliberately.
"Well, sir," Abe asked, "what could we do for you?"
"Mr. Potash," the visitor began, "every merchant is at tames confronted with a situation which demands a few appropriate remarks."
Abe nodded and mopped tentatively at his dewy forehead.
"But how many are there," the visitor continued, "who can do justice to the occasion? For instance, Mr. Perlmutter, you are asked at a charitable meeting to discuss the question of restricting immigration. I ask you candidly, Mr. Perlmutter, would you feel competent to stand upon your feet and—"
Suddenly Abe jumped to his feet.
"Excuse me, my dear sir," he cried. "Wouldn't you smoke a cigar?"
Morris was nearest the safe and he, too, leaped from his chair.
"Never mind the safe, Mawruss," Abe said, flapping his right hand excitedly. "I bought some while I was out just now."
"Mr. Potash," the visitor began, "every merchant is at times confronted
with a situation which demands a few appropriate remarks"
with a situation which demands a few appropriate remarks"
He handed a gold-banded, Bismarck-size cigar to the visitor, who nodded a dignified acknowledgment and immediately struck a match.
"Yes, Mr. Perlmutter," he went on, "as I was saying, such a topic as the restriction of immigration would embarrass even an experienced speaker." He paused and cleared his throat impressively. "Now, I have here," he said, exploring the capacious pockets of his overcoat, "a work entitled 'A Quarter of a Century in Congress,' by the Honourable Lucius J. Howell, which, gentlemen, is issued upon subscription only, in half morocco or crushed levant at a hitherto unheard-of price."
Abe ceased mopping his brow and turned a terrible glare upon the book canvasser.
"What!" he roared. "A book agent?"
Once more he jumped to his feet. "Out!" he bellowed. "Out from my office, you dirty loafer!"
The book agent scowled and replaced the bound dummy in his pocket.
"With a high-grade selling proposition like this, Mr. Potash," he said, "you should be careful of your language."
"Mawruss," Abe cried, "what the devil do you mean letting in a feller like this?"
"What d'ye mean, letting him in?" Morris retorted. "Did I tell Miss Cohen she should show him in?"
"Don't quarrel on my account, gentlemen," the canvasser said as he puffed at his cigar. "I shall call again when you're not so busy."
He passed out of the office with a graceful gesture of farewell, and once more Abe and Morris sat down on the edge of their chairs. It was not for long, however; and this time, without any announcement, a thick-set gentleman with carefully trimmed beard and moustache stood in the doorway.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," he said—and Abe and Morris literally sprang into the middle of the office floor.
"Mr. Steuermann?" Abe gasped, extending his hand.
"My name is Mr. Goldstein," the visitor replied, "and I represent the Lilywhite Dress Shield Company."
He proceeded no further, however, for Morris led him by the shoulder to the elevator shaft and pointed to a notice reading:
HOURS FOR SALESMEN
8 to 9:30
Morris returned to the office and hardly was he seated in his chair when, for the third time, the doorway framed a visitor.
"Mr. Potash?" the newcomer asked timidly. He was a short, slender man, past middle age, clad in a shabby overcoat, half threadbare, and a soft felt hat of a dingy, weatherbeaten appearance.
"Nu!" Abe growled. "What is it now?"
"Mr. Potash," the stranger continued, "I called to see you at the request of Mr. Geigermann. My name is Steuermann." Abe essayed to rise, but his knees would not support him and he waved his hand feebly to a chair that Morris dragged forward.
"Mr. Steuermann," Morris said, "you are coming up here to see us when we could much better afford it if we would go down and see you."
"Why, gentlemen, it was no inconvenience for me," Steuermann replied. "I am on my way home."
"God would bless you for it, anyway!" Abe declared fervently; and Steuermann blushed.
"Now, Mr. Potash," he protested, "I am not here for compliments. I've come to see what we can all do for this poor fellow. I'm a little late, because I was waiting for a report from my lawyers."
"Your lawyers!" Abe exclaimed. "Why, we already hired Henry D. Feldman."
"So I believe," Steuermann replied; "and he has consented to act in conjunction with my lawyers—Chitty, Schwarzstein & Munjoy. I shall relieve you gentlemen of all responsibility in the matter."
"Do you mean by responsibility, Mr. Steuermann, that you would pay Feldman?" Abe asked.
Mr. Steuermann smiled.
"Well, we won't discuss that just now," he said.
"Because," Abe continued, "we wouldn't consent to nothing of the kind, Mr. Steuermann; the young feller works for us and we would got to do our share."
"That part will come later," Steuermann insisted; "and now let's see what is to be done."
For more than half an hour Steuermann disclosed to Abe and Morris the result of his lawyers' investigation.
"Mr. Munjoy has seen Kovalenko," Steuermann said, "and he asserts that, so far as proof is concerned, no murder was ever committed."
"But, Mr. Steuermann," Morris said, "the feller which he opened the package, y'understand, was blown up so his own father couldn't recognize him even."
"That's just the point, Mr. Perlmutter," Steuermann declared; "and Mr. Munjoy says that on this circumstance hinges the Russian Consulate's whole case. They are obliged to prove that a definite person was killed; and it seems that the consulate paid the passage of the victim's father to this country, so that he might testify before the United States Commissioner. I understand that the old man, who by the way is a Rabbi, arrived last week. Mr. Munjoy says that, if the father is unable to testify to the identity of the victim it may so complicate matters that more evidence will be necessary and the consulate may drop the affair on account of the expense involved."
Morris nodded sadly.
"Lawyers could always make expenses, Mr. Steuermann," he said, "for the Russian counsellor and for us also."
"Never mind about expense, Mawruss," Abe interrupted. "What does it matter a few hundred dollars, Mawruss, so long as we get this young feller free? In fact, Mr. Steuermann, I am willing we should go half if we could see this here Rabbi and schmier him a thousand dollars he should swear that no one was killed at all."
Mr. Steuermann shook his head. "That would be in effect suborning perjury, Mr. Potash," he said—and Morris glared at Abe.
"I'm surprised at you, you should suggest such a thing, Abe!" he exclaimed. "Seemingly you got no conscience at all. A thousand dollars we should pay the feller! I bet yer he would lie himself black in the face for a twenty-dollar bill."
"It isn't a matter of money, Mr. Perlmutter," Steuermann said; "but why not see the old man to-night? I have his address here, and if you approached him in the right way perhaps he might testify that he did not recognize the murdered man. That would only be the simple truth and it would be just what we want. As it is, I'm afraid the Russian Consulate will intimidate him into swearing that he knew the body to be that of his son."
He handed Morris a card bearing a Madison Street address.
"Well, gentlemen," he concluded, "I've taken up your time long enough. I hope to see you in my office to-morrow, Mr. Perlmutter."
Morris nodded and was about to shake hands with his visitor when Abe slapped his thigh in a sudden realization of his inhospitality.
"Mr. Steuermann," he exclaimed, "wouldn't you smoke something?"
He jumped to his feet and thrust a huge gold-banded cigar at Mr. Steuermann, who shook his head.
"Thank you very much," Mr. Steuermann said, "but I'm afraid it's rather near dinner-time."
"Put it in your pocket and smoke it after dinner," Abe insisted, and Mr. Steuermann smilingly obliged.
Together the two partners escorted him into the elevator; and when the door closed behind him Morris turned to Abe with an ironical smile.
"You got a whole lot of manners, Abe, I must say," he commented bitterly.
"Whatd'ye mean, manners?" Abe asked. "What did I done?"
"Tell a millionaire like Mr. Steuermann he should smoke the cigar after dinner!" Morris replied.
"Don't you suppose he's got plenty cigars of his own?"
"Maybe he did got 'em and maybe he didn't," Abe retorted; "but, in the first place, Mawruss, I noticed he took the cigar, y'understand; and, in the second place, Mawruss, them cigars cost thirty-five cents apiece, Mawruss, and there's few millionaires, Mawruss, which is too proud to smoke a thirty-five-cent cigar."
When Morris Perlmutter entered the subway that evening en route for the lower East Side, he was in none too cheerful mood; for, in the excitement attending Steuermann's visit, he had forgotten to telephone Mrs. Perlmutter that he would be late for dinner. Consequently there had been a painful scene upon his arrival home that evening, nor had Mrs. Perlmutter's wrath been appeased when he informed her that he was obliged to go right downtown again.
Indeed, his sympathy for Cesar Kovalenko had well-nigh evaporated as he entered the subway, and he reflected bitterly upon the circumstance that first led him to hire that unfortunate young man. Thus there was something doubly irritating in the coincidence which seated him next to Louis Kleiman in the crowded express train he had boarded, and he had made up his mind to ignore his competitor's presence when Louis caught sight of him.
"So, Perlmutter," Louis commented, without any introductory greeting, "you are trying to do us again!"
Morris turned and stared icily at Kleiman.
"I don't want to talk to you at all, Kleiman," he replied; "and, anyhow, Kleiman, I don't know what you mean—we are trying to do you! The shoe pinches on the other foot, Kleiman, when you just stop to consider you are stealing away from us that feller Harkavy, which all he knows we taught him."
Louis Kleiman emitted a short, raucous guffaw.
"Well, what are you kicking about?" he said. "You stole him back again—ain't it?"
"Stole him back again!" Morris repeated. "What are you talking nonsense, Kleiman? We wouldn't take that feller back in our store, not if we could get him to come to work for two dollars a week."
"Yow!" Kleiman exclaimed skeptically. "I don't suppose you know the feller left us at all?"
"I did not," Morris replied promptly; "and if he did, Kleiman, I couldn't blame him. A feller doesn't want to work all his life for ten dollars a week."
"What d'ye mean, ten dollars a week? We paid Harkavy fifteen and we offered him twenty-five; but the feller wouldn't stay with us at all. For two weeks now he acts uneasy and yesterday he leaves us."
"That's all right, Kleiman," Morris said as the train drew into Ninety-sixth Street. "You could easy steal somebody else from another concern." Kleiman glared at Morris and was about to utter a particularly incisive retort when the train stopped.
"I got to change here," he announced; "but when I see you again, Perlmutter, I would tell you what you are."
"I don't got to tell you what you are, Kleiman," Morris concluded as he opened his evening paper. "You know only too well."
"Rosher!" Kleiman hissed as he hurled himself into the mob of passengers that blocked the exit.
Morris nodded sardonically and commenced to read his paper. He desisted immediately, however, when his eye fell upon a cut accompanying Felix Geigermann's display advertisement. It was a beaded marquisette costume, made in obvious imitation of one of Potash & Perlmutter's leaders; and the retail price quoted by Geigermann was precisely one dollar less than Potash & Perlmutter's lowest wholesale figure.
"That's some of Harkavy's work," Morris muttered; and for the remainder of the journey he was once more plunged in the gloomiest cogitation. Almost automatically he alighted at the Brooklyn Bridge and boarded a Madison Street Car; and it was not until the jolting, old-fashioned vehicle had nearly reached its eastern terminus that he discerned the house number furnished to him by Steuermann. He hurried to the rear platform and jumped to the street, where he collided violently with a short, bearded person.
"Excuse me!" Morris cried; then he recognized his victim. "Harkavy!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I am coming to say good-by to a friend," Harkavy replied with some show of confusion. "I got to go to Chicago to-morrow."
"Chicago!" Morris repeated. "Why, what are you doing in Chicago, Harkavy?"
"I am—now—going to got a job out there," Harkavy replied—"a very good job."
Morris drew his former assistant cutter to the sidewalk. He had temporarily forgotten the object of his visit to the lower East Side in the sudden conception of an idea, which was no less than the rehiring of Harkavy.
"What for a good job?" Morris asked. "Twenty dollars a week?"
"A little more," he said—"twenty-five."
"Schon gut," Morris declared; "then you wouldn't got to go at all, because we ourselves would give you thirty."
"I moost go," Harkavy said, shaking his head; "my fare is paid."
"Pay 'em back the fare," Morris insisted—"we would see you wouldn't lose it."
Again Harkavy shook his head.
"I got a bonus too," he declared—"a thousand rubles."
"What are you talking about, rubles?" Morris said impatiently. "You ain't a greenhorn no longer. Do you mean a thousand dollars?"
"Six hundred dollars—about," Harkavy replied.
"Well," he said after a pause of some seconds, "put off going until to-morrow anyhow. Maybe we could fix up to give you the six hundred dollars anyhow."
Harkavy remained silent and Morris clapped him on the shoulder.
"If people is so anxious to get you that they pay you a big lot of money like that, Harkavy, you could keep 'em waiting anyhow one day. Come round and see us to-morrow morning at nine o'clock, wouldn't you?"
Harkavy pondered the question for some minutes.
"If you wish it, Mr. Perlmutter," he said, "I would do so; but I must got to go away by eleven o'clock sure."
"Good!" Morris exclaimed. "Then I'll see you to-morrow morning at nine o'clock."
They shook hands on the appointment and Morris turned away and ascended the high stoop of an old-fashioned tenement. In the vestibule he encountered a boy whose right cheek was apparently distorted by a severe toothache.
"Do a family by the name Levin live here?" Morris asked.
The boy nodded and disgorged a huge lump of toffee, whereat the toothache disappeared.
"Dat's me fader," he said. "Fourt' floor front east. He ain't in, dough."
"Your father!" Morris cried. "Why, the people I am coming to see they are greenhorns."
"Oh, yeh," the youngster replied; "dat's me fader's uncle. He lives wid us."
"All right," Morris said. "Take me up there."
The youngster resumed his swollen cheek and escorted Morris up three flights of slippery brassbound stairs. Without the formality of knocking, they entered an apartment on the fourth floor where a woman stood washing dishes.
"Mrs. Levin?" Morris said.
The woman nodded.
"I want to see your man's uncle," Morris continued. Without looking up the woman cried in stentorian tones: "Mees-taire!"
In response a bent figure, clad in an alpaca caftan, appeared from an interior bedroom. He wore a velvet skullcap, and a thin gray beard straggled from his chin; his nose was surmounted by a pair of steel spectacles.
"Sholom alaicham!" Morris cried, according the Rabbi that greeting, as ancient as the Hebrew tongue itself—"Peace be with you."
"Alaicham sholom!" the Rabbi answered, and then he resorted to the Yiddish jargon: "Do you look for me?"
"I look for the Rav Elkan Levin," Morris said in a tongue to which he had long been unaccustomed. "I am the servant of the philanthropist Steuermann."
"Steuermann?" the Rav Levin repeated. "I do not know him."
"In America," Morris said, "his name is honored over the governor's. He sends me to you to speak for the unfortunate Tzwee Kovalenko."
"Tzwee Kovalenko," the old man cried, and his beard stood out as his invisible lips tightened, while his nose became sharp and hawk-like. "A mishna meshuna to him, the same as he sent to my son."
"No," Morris declared; "he did not send it to your son. It was another that did it."
The old man sank trembling into a nearby chair and clutched the edge of the table.
"You tell this to me who saw with my own eyes his body!" he said in shaking tones. "Yes, Baron; I saw my own child like a slaughtered beast, all blood—not a face, but a piece of flesh. I saw him, and you tell me this!"
"None the less," Morris went on, "if your son did die it was a kapora not meant for him. It was intended for the chief of police."
The Rav shook his head.
"It stands in the Gemera" he said, in the singsong tone of the Talmudical reader: "If one flings a stone for pleasure and it strikes another so that he dies, the one also shall die."
He rose to his feet and waved one hand with a flapping motion. "An eye for an eye!" he cried in shrill tones. "A tooth for a tooth!"
Morris shrank back and turned to the woman, who had not raised her head from the dishwashing.
"You tell him," he said, "that the philanthropist Steuermann invites him to come to the address I shall give you—to-morrow at ten o'clock. Tell him you know that when Steuermann commands, governors obey."
"What is it my business?" Mrs. Levin replied. "Tell him yourself."
"Your man should go with him," Morris insisted. "He and you will not lose by it."
Morris wrote the address on the back of one of Potash & Perlmutter's business cards and handed it to her.
"Put on it the table," she said.
"Tell your man," Morris continued, "if he does take this old man to Steuermann I myself will pay him twenty-five dollars."
Once more he faced the Rav, who had sunk again into the chair.
"Will it bring back your son to you if Tzwee Kovalenko dies?" he asked.
The old man plucked at his beard.
"He was my son, my only son," he said; "my Kaddish. A good son he was."
Mrs. Levin, still at her dishwashing, raised her head and snorted impatiently.
"Yow—a good son!" she commented in English, "A dirty, lowlife bum he was. If it wouldn't be that he ganvered a couple bottles wine from a store he wouldn't of been in the police office at all. He brought it on himself, mister—believe me."
"What is vorbei is vorbei," he said. "Tell your man he should bring his uncle to Steuermann and I would pay him sure twenty-five dollars cash."
He bowed to the Rav and with a final "Sholom alaicham!" passed downstairs to the street.
As he waited at the corner for a west-bound car he thought he discerned a familiar figure in the shadow of the house he had just quitted. He walked slowly up the block and Harkavy stole out of the basement area and slunk hurriedly past him.
"Harkavy!" Morris called, but the assistant cutter only hastened his steps and it seemed to Morris that a sound like a sob was borne backward.
"What is the trouble, Harkavy?" Morris cried; but in response Harkavy broke into a run, and with a mystified shake of his head Morris commenced his tedious journey uptown.
When Morris, in company with his partner, entered the showroom at eight o'clock the following morning he had already enumerated to Abe the events of the preceding evening, not omitting his encounter with Harkavy.
"I bet yer he would be waiting for us, Mawruss," Abe said; "and if I ain't mistaken here he is now."
Their visitor, however, proved to be a stranger, who bore only a slight resemblance to their former cutter.
"Mr. Perlmutter," he said—"ain't it?"
"My name is Mr. Perlmutter," Morris said. "What do you want from us?"
For answer the visitor drew from his pocket a card and handed it to Morris.
"Me, I am Pincus Levin, and you are leaving this by my wife last night," he said; "so I am coming to tell you I am agreeable to take Mr. Levin to Steuermann's place."
"All right," Morris replied. "You can go ahead."
Pincus Levin shuffled his feet uneasily, but made no attempt to depart.
"Well?" Morris cried.
"Sure, I know," Pincus said; "but if I would take uncle, Mr. Levin, to Steuermann, y' understand and then, maybe—I am only saying, Mr. Perlmutter, you might forget the other part—ain't it?"
"You mean you want your twenty-five dollars in advance?" Morris asked.
"Why not?" Pincus replied. "If I wouldn't took Mr. Levin to-day yet to this here Steuermann's office, Mr. Perlmutter, you could stop the check—"
Abe shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"An idee!" he cried. "You ain't never seen this feller before, Mawruss—ain't it?"
Morris admitted it.
"Well, then, what's the use talking?" Abe continued. "How do we know he's this here Levin's nephew?"
"Why, Mr. Potash," Levin cried, "I ain't no crook! I got the old man in a coffee house round the corner right now."
"Bring him up here then," Abe said, "and we'll give you your money."
Pincus Levin nodded and shuffled off toward the back stairs, while Abe turned and gazed after him.
"I couldn't make it out at all, Mawruss," he said. "The more I look at that feller, Mawruss, the more he makes me think of this here—"
"Good morning, Mr. Potash!" a familiar voice interrupted. It was Harkavy.
"Hello there!" Morris cried cheerfully. "I thought you would be here."
Hakavy smiled sadly. His face was white and drawn and his shoes and trousers were covered with mud as though he had walked the streets all night.
"I am keeping my word anyhow," he said; "but I am only coming to tell you I got to go to Chicago."
"Why must you got to go?" Abe insisted.
"Well, there's certain reasons, Mr. Potash," Harkavy replied. "There's certain—rea—"
He struggled to control his speech as his eyes rested on the rear stairway, but his words became more and more inarticulate until, with a shudder and a gasp, he fell heavily to the floor.
"Oi gewoldt!" Abe exclaimed. He rushed to the office for a glass of water, but even before he had reached the cooler he stopped suddenly. A great wailing cry came from the showroom and when he ran back with the water a bearded old man lay prostrate across Harkavy's body.
Only Miss Cohen, the bookkeeper, kept a clear head during the confusion that followed. She despatched Nathan, the shipping clerk, for a doctor and directed her frightened employers to loosen the shirt-bands of the unconscious men.
"Some whiskey!" Morris shouted—and one of the cutters produced it bashfully from his hip-pocket.
"Never try to force whiskey on a fainting person," Miss Cohen cried. "It might get into their lungs and suffocate 'em."
"I wasn't going to," Morris said hastily, as he took a yeoman's pull at the bottle. "I am feeling faint myself."
"Mir auch," Abe said, taking the bottle from his partner's grasp. After a refreshing draught he passed it on to Pincus, who returned it empty to the crestfallen cutter just as a physician dashed out of the elevator.
"What caused this trouble?" he asked Abe as he knelt down by the side of Harkavy.
Abe looked helplessly at Morris and turned to Pincus Levin, who commenced to tremble violently.
"Hold on there!" Morris shouted. "He's going to faint too."
Abe seized the glass of ice-water and flung its contents into Pincus Levin's face. He gasped and sat down suddenly.
"The old man," he murmured, "he's Yosel's father."
"Yosel who?" Morris shouted. "The old man's only got one son—and he's dead."
"Yes, I know," Pincus answered; "he is and he ain't. I always thought so too, Mr. Perlmutter, but this feller here is Yosel Levin which he got blew up in Harkav two years ago."
"What d'ye mean got blew up?" Abe asked as the doctor worked steadily over the two prostrate men. "How could he be blew up if he is here now?"
Pincus shrugged his shoulders.
"How should I know?" he said weakly. "I ain't lying to you. This feller here is Yosel Levin and my uncle there is his father."
"Do you mean to told me that the old man's son ain't dead at all?" Morris demanded.
"Seemingly," Pincus said; "aber this is the first time I heard it and I guess it's the first time the old man heard it too."
Harkavy moaned and tried to sit up.
"Easy there!" the doctor commanded. "Two of you take him inside and put him on a lounge if you have one."
Abe and Morris followed Pincus and the head cutter as they supported the half-conscious Harkavy into the firm's office. Ten minutes later the old man was restored to consciousness.
"Wo ist er?" he murmured. "Mein kind!"
"It's all right," the doctor replied, and then he turned to the office. "Come out here, you, and talk to the old man."
Pincus came running from the office and reassured his uncle, who, under the ministrations of the doctor, grew rapidly stronger until he was sufficiently recovered to be placed on a chair.
"Keep him quiet while I attend to the other fellow," said the doctor; "and don't let him talk."
He went at once to the office, where Harkavy sat on the edge of the lounge.
"Here! What are you doing?" he cried. "You shouldn't let that fellow do any talking."
"That's all right, doctor," Abe said calmly. "He should go on talking now if it would kill him even. Go ahead, Harkavy."
"And so," Harkavy continued, "after I am stealing the wine they took me to the police office. There was a place! But, anyhow, Mr. Potash, I could tell you all about it afterward. Inside the backyard was a dead moujik which he is got run over by a train. His face is all damaged so you couldn't tell who he was at all."
He faltered and waved his hand.
"Give me, please, a glass water," he said, and the doctor seized his hand.
"Never mind!" Abe cried inexorably. "Leave him alone, doctor. He should finish what he's got to say."
Harkavy nodded and sipped some water.
"Then comes the package for the chief of police," he went on; "and they put it first in a pail of water. Then they open it, Mr. Potash, and it don't harm nobody; but them roshers want to put it on to somebody, so they make me a proposition they would give me a couple hundred rubles and a ticket to America—and I took 'em up. For stealing that wine I could get five years yet; so what should I do? They give me the money and I run away; and the dead moujik they are telling everybody is me, which I am blew up to pieces by the package."
"And you let the old man bury the moujik and think it was you?" Morris asked.
"Over and over again he is telling me I am no good and he wishes I was dead," he said. "I wish I was, Mr. Perlmutter—I wish I was!"
He commenced to cry weakly and Morris handed him the water.
"But when I hear last week the old man, my father, is here," he continued, "I couldn't help myself—I am hanging around Madison Street trying I should get one look at him only. I didn't see him till just now."
He struggled to raise himself from the lounge.
"Let me go to him," he wailed; "let me go!"
Abe looked inquiringly at the doctor, who nodded in reply.
"Let him go," he said. "Happiness never harmed anybody yet."
"Gentlemen," said the United States Commissioner as he sat behind his shabby desk in the Post-office Building, "the prisoner is in the marshal's office. Shall he be brought in?"
He addressed his question to Mr. Munjoy, who was seated between Henry D. Feldman and Steuermann at one side of a huge table. Opposite them were the clerk of the Russian Consulate and his counsel, who was obviously nervous at the formidable appearance presented by the lawyer, Henry D. Feldman.
The latter was about to pull off—as in his colloquial moments he himself would have expressed it—a rotten trick on his fellow counsel; for Abe and Morris had not informed either Mr. Munjoy or Mr. Steuermann of the stirring scene in their showroom that morning. Instead, they had called on Feldman, who, with the dramatic intuition of the effective jury lawyer, saw an opportunity for a coup that would at once gain the admiration and respect, if not the legal business, of Moses M. Steuermann and procure Feldman a column and a half of publicity in next day's paper. Hence he had sworn Abe and Morris to secrecy in consideration of making no charge for his services, since he deemed the accruing benefit to be worth at least two hundred dollars.
"Shall he be brought in, gentlemen?" the commissioner asked.
Counsel for the Russian Consulate bowed, as did Mr. Munjoy; but Henry D. Feldman cleared his throat with a great rasping noise that penetrated to the corridor without. This was the signal, and Abe and Morris entered the room supporting the old Rabbi, who was followed by Pincus Levin.
"One moment, sir," Feldman said. "I have a preliminary objection to make. Will you hear the offer, sir?"
The commissioner nodded and Steuermann and his counsel Mr. Munjoy, turned to Feldman in amazement.
"What's all this, Feldman?" Munjoy cried.
Feldman waved his hand impressively.
"My objection is, sir, that a gross fraud has been practised on this court. It has come to my attention that somebody connected with this proceeding has furnished a material witness for the defense with a ticket for Chicago and one thousand rubles as a bribe to stay away from the hearing."
Counsel for the complainant jumped to his feet.
"This is preposterous!" he declared.
"By no means," Feldman continued. "Will you direct counsel not to interrupt me, sir, if you please?"
"I so direct," the commissioner replied, whereat Feldman again cleared his throat and coughed twice, and, in answer to this cue, Yosel Levin, alias Joseph Harkavy, entered the room.
"The person so bribed, Mr. Commissioner, is named in the petition as the corpus delicti of the crime alleged to have been committed," Feldman said.
"What!" Munjoy and opposing counsel cried in unison, and the clerk to the consulate reached for his hat and started for the door. His counsel leaped after him, however, and succeeded in catching his coat-tails just as he was about to disappear into the hall.
With one hand still grasping the consular clerk, counsel for the complainant turned to the commissioner.
"I think my client wants to consult me outside for one minute," he said. "Have I your consent to withdraw?"
The commissioner nodded and Munjoy turned to Feldman.
"What the deuce are you trying to do, Feldman?" he asked as complainant's counsel returned.
"If the commissioner pleases," Feldman said, "we consent to a dismissal of the extradition proceedings and to a discharge of the prisoner."
The imperturbable commissioner bowed and rose to his feet.
"Submit the necessary papers for the prisoner's discharge, gentlemen," he said. "The hearing is closed."
"Five dollars for doing what that feller done is like picking it up in the street, Mawruss!" Abe declared to Mawruss when they received the doctor's bill a month later.
"How could we be small about it, Abe?" Morris rejoined. "Look at what Steuermann done! Not only he is paying his lawyers for getting this Kovalenko out of prison but he is taking that young feller and paying for him he should go on with his studying for a doctor."
"Well, the way doctors soak you, Mawruss," Abe said, looking at the bill which he held in his hand, "it wouldn't be long before Kovalenko pays him back with interest, I bet yer."
"But, anyhow, Abe," Morris continued, "now we got Yosel Levin working for us as cutter, it would be a better feeling all around supposing we pay the bill and say nothing about it."
"I am agreeable we should say nothing more about it, Mawruss," Abe retorted, "because we already wasted more time and trouble than the whole thing is worth; but one thing I would like to know, Mawruss, before I shut up my mouth: Why did this here feller, Yosel Levin, call himself Harkavy?"
"Say!" Morris said, using three inflections to the monosyllable: "he's got just so much right to call himself Harkavy as all them other guys has to call themselves Breslauer, Hamburger, Leipziger oder Berliner. He anyhow does come from Harkav, Abe—which you could take it from me, Abe, there's many a feller calls himself Hamburger which he don't come from no nearer Hamburg than Vilna oder Kovno."
Abe shrugged his shoulders expressively in reply.
"My worries where them fellers comes from, Mawruss!" he commented. "Because, when it comes right down to it, Mawruss, if a feller attends to his own business, Mawruss, and don't monkey with politics, y'understand, where could he make a better living than right here in New York, N. Y.?"