OUT OF HIS ORBIT

In order to emphasise the moral of a tale, it is safer to state it at
the very beginning. The moral of the story of Rosenstein is this: Woe be
to the man who attempts to teach his wife a lesson! Woe be to him if he
fail! Woe be to him if he succeed! Whatever happens, woe be to him! In
witness whereof this tale is offered.

Mrs. Rosenstein wanted one room papered in red, and Mr. Rosenstein held
that the yellow paper that adorned the walls was good enough for another
year.

“But,” argued his wife, “we have laid by a little money in the past
years, and we can easily afford it. And I love red paper on the walls.”
Rosenstein, by the way, owned a dozen tenement houses, had no children,
and led a life of strict economy on perhaps one-fiftieth of his income.
Besides, Rosenstein owned a lucrative little dry-goods store that
brought in more money. And he had never smoked and had never drunk. But
the more his wife insisted upon the red paper the more stubborn he
became in his opposition, until, one morning after a heated discussion
in which he had failed disastrously to bring forth any reasonable
argument to support his side of the case, he suddenly and viciously
yielded.

“Very well,” he said, putting on his hat and starting for the door; “get
your red paper. Have your own way. But from this moment forth I become a
drinker.”

Mrs. Rosenstein turned pale. “Husband! Husband!” she cried entreatingly,
turning toward him with clasped hands. But Rosenstein, without another
word, strode out of the room and slammed the door behind him. Mrs.
Rosenstein sank into a chair, appalled. The pride of her life had been
that her husband had never touched liquor, and the one disquieting
thought that from time to time came to worry her was that some day he
might fall. And she felt that the first fall would mark the beginning of
ruin. She had known men whose habits of drink had undermined their
business capacity. Her husband, she knew, was close, and had a mania for
accumulating money. But once the demon of drink entered into his life
she felt that all this would change. He would become a spendthrift. He
would squander all that he had saved. They would be homeless—perhaps
they would starve. And he was about to take the first step. Her heart
was almost broken. To follow him she knew would be worse than useless.
He was stubborn—she had learned that—and there was nothing for her to do
but to accept the inevitable.

Rosenstein meanwhile walked to the nearest saloon. He had passed the
place a thousand times, but had never entered before. The bartender’s
eyes opened in mild surprise to see so patriarchal a figure standing in
front of the bar glaring at him so determinedly.

“Give me a drink!” demanded Rosenstein.

“What kind of a drink do you want?” asked the bartender.

Rosenstein looked bewildered. He did not know one drink from another. He
looked at the row of bottles behind the counter, and then his face lit
up.

“That bottle over there—the big black one.”

It was Benedictine. The bartender poured some of it into a tiny liqueur
glass, but Rosenstein frowned.

“I want a drink, I said, not a drop. Fill me a big glass.”

The wise bartender does not dispute with his patrons as long as they
have the means of paying for what they order. Without a word he filled a
small goblet with the thick cordial, and Rosenstein, without a word,
gulped it down. The bartender watched him in open-mouthed amazement,
charged him for four drinks, and then, as Rosenstein walked haughtily
out of the place, murmured to himself: “Well, I’ll be hanged!”

Rosenstein walked aimlessly but joyfully down the street, bowing to
right and to left at the many people who smiled upon him in so friendly
a fashion. When he came to the corner he was surprised to see that the
whole character of the street had changed over night. Then it seemed to
him that a regiment of soldiers came marching up, each man holding out a
flowing bowl to him, that he fell into line and joined the march, and
that they all found themselves in a brilliant, dazzling glare of several
hundred suns. Then they shot him from the mouth of a cannon, and when he
regained consciousness he recognised the features of Mrs. Rosenstein and
felt the grateful coolness of the wet towels she was tenderly laying
upon his fevered head. It was nearly midnight.

Rosenstein groaned in anguish.

“What has happened?” he asked.

“You have been a drinker,” his wife replied, “but it is all over now.
Take a nice long sleep and we will never speak of it again. And the
yellow paper will do for another year.”

Rosenstein watched the flaming pinwheels and skyrockets that were
shooting before his vision for a while; then a horrible idea came to
him.

“See how much money I have in my pockets,” he said. His wife counted it.

“One dollar and forty cents,” she said. A sigh of relief rose from
Rosenstein’s lips.

“It’s all right, then. I only had two dollars when I went out.” Then he
fell peacefully asleep. The next morning he faced his wife and pointed
out to her the awful lesson he had taught her.

“You now see what your stubbornness can drive me to,” he said. “I have
squandered sixty cents and lost a whole day’s work in the store merely
to convince you that it is all nonsense to put red paper on the walls.”
But his wife was clinging to him and crying and vowing that she would
never again insist upon anything that would add to their expenses. And
then they kissed and made up, and Rosenstein went to his store, somewhat
weak in the legs and somewhat dizzy, and with a queer feeling in his
head, but elated that he had won a complete mastery over his stubborn
spouse so cheaply.

The store was closed.

Rosenstein gazed blankly at the barred door and windows. It was the
bookkeeper’s duty to arrive at eight o’clock and open the store. It was
now nine o’clock. Where was the bookkeeper? And where were the three
saleswomen? And the office-boy? As quickly as he could, Rosenstein
walked to the bookkeeper’s house. He found that young man dressing
himself and whistling cheerfully. The bookkeeper looked amazed when he
beheld his employer.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Rosenstein. “Why are you not at
the store? Where are the keys?”

The young man’s face fell. He looked at Rosenstein curiously. Then,
“Were you only joking?” he asked.

“Joking?” repeated Rosenstein, more amazed than ever. “Me? How? When?
Are you crazy?”

“You told us all yesterday to close the store and go and have a good
time, and that we needn’t come back for a week.”

Rosenstein steadied himself against the door. He tried to speak, but
something was choking him. Finally, pointing to his breast, he managed
to gasp faintly:

“Me?”

The clerk nodded.

“And what else did I do?” asked Rosenstein, timidly.

“You gave us each five dollars and—and asked us to sing something
and—what is it, Mr. Rosenstein. Are you ill?”

“Go—go!” gasped Rosenstein. “Get everybody and open the store again.
Quickly. And tell them all not to speak of what happened yesterday.
They—they—can—they can (gulp) keep the money. But the store must be
opened and nobody must tell.”

He staggered out into the street. A policeman saw him clutching a
lamp-post to steady himself.

“Are you sick, Mr. Rosenstein?” he asked. “You look pale. Can’t I get
you a drink?”

Rosenstein recoiled in horror. “I am not a drinker!” he cried. Then he
walked off, his head in a whirl, his heart sick with a sudden dread. He
took a long walk, and when he felt that he had regained control of
himself he returned to the store. It was open, and everything was going
on as usual. And there was a man—a stranger—waiting for him. When he
beheld Rosenstein the stranger’s face lit up.

“Good-morning!” he cried, cheerfully. “Sorry to trouble you so early,
but this is rent day, and I need the money.”

Rosenstein turned pale. The saleswomen had turned their heads away with
a discretion that was painfully apparent. Rosenstein’s eyes blinked
rapidly several times. Then he said, huskily, “What money?”

The stranger looked at him in surprise.

“Don’t you remember this?” he asked, holding out a card. Rosenstein
looked at him.

“Yes, this is my card. But what of it?”

“Look on the other side.” Rosenstein looked. Staring him in the face
was: “I owe Mister Casey thirty-six dollars. I. Rosenstein.” The writing
was undeniably his. And suddenly there came to him a dim, distant,
dreamlike recollection of standing upon a mountain-top with a band of
music playing around him and a Mr. Casey handing him some money.

“I thought that was an old dream,” he muttered to himself. Then, turning
to the stranger, he asked, “Who are you?”

“Me?” said the stranger, in surprise; “why, I’m Casey—T. Casey, of
Casey’s café. You told me to come as soon as I needed the——”

“Hush!” cried Rosenstein. “Never mind any more.” He opened a safe, took
out the money, and paid Mr. Casey. When the latter had gone Rosenstein
called the bookkeeper aside, and, in a fearful tone, whispered in his
ear:

“Ach! I am so glad when I think that I didn’t, open the safe yesterday.”
The bookkeeper looked at him in surprise.

“You tried, sir,” he said. “Don’t you remember when you said, ‘The
numbers won’t stand still,’ and asked me if I couldn’t open it? And I
told you I didn’t know the combination?”

Rosenstein gazed upon him in horror. The room became close. He went out
and stood in the doorway, gasping for breath. In the street, directly in
front of the store, stood a white horse. A seedy-looking individual
stood on the curb holding the halter and gazing expectantly at
Rosenstein.

“Good-morning, boss!” he cried, cheerfully.

Rosenstein glared at him. “Go away!” he cried. “I don’t allow horses to
stand in front of my store. Take him somewhere else.”

“I’ll take him anywhere ye say, boss,” said the man, touching his cap.
“But ye haven’t paid for him yet.”

Rosenstein’s heart sank. Then suddenly a wave of bitter resentment
surged through him. He strode determinedly toward the man.




“Did I buy that horse?” he asked, fiercely.

“Sure ye did,” answered the man; “for yer milk store.”

“But I haven’t got a milk store,” answered Rosenstein. The man’s eyes
blinked.

“Don’t I know it?” he cried. “Didn’t ye tell me so yerself? But didn’t
ye say ye wuz going to start one? Didn’t ye say that this horse was as
white as milk, and that if I’d sell him to ye y’d open a milk store?
Didn’t ye make me take him out of me wagon and run him up and down the
street fer ye? Didn’t ye make me take all the kids on the block fer a
ride? Am I a liar? Huh?”

Rosenstein walked unsteadily into the store and threw his arm around the
bookkeeper’s neck.

“Get rid of him. For God’s sake get him away from here! Give him some
money—as little as you can. Only get him away. Some day I will increase
your salary. I am sick to-day. I cannot do any business. I am going
home.” He started for the rear door, but stopped at the threshold.

“Don’t take the horse, whatever you do,” he said. Then he went home.

Mrs. Rosenstein was sitting on the doorsteps knitting and beaming with
joy. When she saw her husband she ran toward him. The tears stood in her
eyes.

“Dearest husband! Dear, generous husband! To punish me for my
stubbornness and then to fill me with happiness by gratifying the
dearest wish of my heart! It is too much! I do not deserve it! One room
is all I wanted!”

Rosenstein’s heart nearly stopped beating. Upon his ears fell a strange
noise of scraping and tearing that came from the doorway of his house.

“Wh-wh-what is it?” he asked, feebly. His wife smiled.

“The paper-hangers are already at work,” she said, joyfully. “They said
you insisted that all the work should be finished in one day, and
they’ve sent twenty men here.”

Mr. Rosenstein sank wearily down upon the steps. The power of speech had
left him. Likewise the power of thought. His brain felt like a maelstrom
of chaotic, incoherent images. He felt that he was losing his mind. A
brisk-looking young man, with a roll of red wall-paper in his hand, came
down the steps and doffed his hat to Rosenstein.

“Good-morning!” he cried, cheerfully. (The salutation “Good-morning” was
beginning to go through Rosenstein like a knife each time he heard it.)
“I did it. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did. I tell you, sir,
there isn’t another paper-hanger in the city who could fill a job like
that at such short notice. Every single room in the house! And red
paper, too, which has to be handled so carefully, and makes the work
take so much longer. But the job will be finished to-night, sir.”

He walked off with the light tread and proud mien of a man who has
accomplished something. Rosenstein looked after him bewildered. Then he
turned to his wife, but when he saw the smile and the happy look that
lit up her face he turned away and sighed. How could he tell her?

“My love,” said Mrs. Rosenstein, after a long pause, “promise me one
thing and I will be happy as long as I live.”

Rosenstein was silent. In a vague way he was wondering if this promise
was based upon some deed of yesterday that had not yet been revealed to
him.

“Promise me,” his wife went on, “that, no matter what happens, you will
never become a drinker again.”

Rosenstein sat bolt upright. He tried to speak. A hundred different
words and phrases crowded to his lips, struggling for utterance. He
became purple with suppressed excitement. In a wild endeavour to utter
that promise so forcibly, so emphatically, and so fiercely as not only
to assure his wife, but to relieve his suffering feelings, Rosenstein
could only sputter incoherently. Then, suddenly realising the futility
of the endeavour, and feeling that his whole vocabulary was inadequate
to express the vehemence of his emotion, he gurgled helplessly:

“Yes. I promise.”

And he kept the promise.

Continue Reading

A RIFT IN THE CLOUD

Though the sky be grey and dreary, yet will the faintest rift reveal
a vision of the dazzling brightness that lies beyond.

So does a word, a look, a single act of a human being often reveal
the glorious beauty of a soul.

So is it written in the Talmud, and it needs no rabbi to expound it.
What I am about to tell you is not a rounded tale; it hardly rises to
the dignity of a sketch. There is a man who lives in the very heart of a
big city, and I once had a peep into his heart. His name is Polatschek.
He makes cigars during the day and gets drunk every night.

In that Hungarian colony which clusters around East Houston Street, the
lines that separate Gentile, Jew, and Gipsy are not more strictly drawn
than are the lines between the lines. And as the pedigree of every
member is the common property of the colony, the social status of each
group is pretty clearly defined.

Being an outcast, Polatschek has no social status whatever, and all that
the colony has ever known or has ever cared to know about him is this:

By a curious atavistic freak Polatschek was born honest. In the little
town in southern Hungary from which he came his great-grandfather had
been a highwayman, his grandfather had been executed for murder, his
father was serving a long sentence for burglary, and his two younger
brothers were on the black list of the police. And so, when it was
announced that one of the Polatscheks was coming to New York, Houston
Street society drew in its latch-string, and one of the storekeepers
even went so far as to tell the story to a police detective. This,
however, was frowned upon, for Goulash Avenue—as the Hungarians
laughingly call Houston Street—loves to keep its secrets to itself.

There is no need to describe the appearance of Polatschek; it is
extremely uninteresting. He has a weak chin, and when he is sober he is
very timid. A Hungarian does not easily make friends outside his own
people, and so it came to pass that Polatschek had no friends at all.

How Polatschek lived none but himself knew. Somewhere in Rivington
Street he had a room where, it was once said, he kept books, though no
one knew what kind of books they were. For a few hours every day he
worked at cigar-making, earning just enough money to keep body and soul
together. He was, in short, as uninteresting a man as you could find,
and all who knew him shunned him. Night after night he would sit in
Natzi’s café, where the gipsies play on Thursdays, drinking
slivovitz—which is the last stage. He would drink, drink, drink, and
never a word to a soul. On music nights he would drink more than usual
and his eyes would fill with tears. We all used to think they were
maudlin tears, but we had grown accustomed to Polatschek and his strange
habits, and nobody paid attention to him.

* * * * *

It was music night at Natzi’s, and Polatschek was sitting close to the
gipsies with his eyes fixed upon the leader. He had been drinking a
little more than usual, and I marvelled that a man in his maudlin
condition should take such a deep interest in music.

They were playing the “Rakoczy March,” which only the Hungarians know
how to play, and Polatschek was swaying his head in time to the melody.

It seemed so strange, this friendless, hopeless man’s love for music, so
thoroughly foreign to his dreary, barren nature as I had pictured it in
my mind, that when the gipsies had finished I spoke to him.

“That was beautiful, was it not?”

He looked at me in surprise, his eyes wide open, and after gazing at me
for a moment he shook his head.

“No, that was not beautiful. The ‘Rakoczy March’ is the greatest march
in the world, but these gipsies do not know how to play it. They cannot
play. They have no life, no soul. They play it as if they were
machines.”

Startled by his vehemence, I could only murmur, “Oh!”

“Look!” he exclaimed, rising in agitation. He took up the leader’s
violin and bow. “Listen! This is the ‘Rakoczy’!”

The gipsy leader had sprung to his feet, but at the first tone of the
violin he stood as if petrified. A silence had fallen upon the room.
With his eyes fixed upon mine, his lips pressed firmly together,
Polatschek played the “Rakoczy March.” The guests were staring at him in
blank amazement. The gipsies, with sparkling eyes, were listening to
those magic strains, but Polatschek was unmindful of it all, and—I felt
proud because he was playing that march for me. I have heard Sarasate
play the “Rakoczy March.” I have heard Mme. Urso try it, and I have
heard Remenyi, who, being a Hungarian, played it best of them all. But I
had never heard it played as Polatschek played it.

As I saw the lines in that face grow sharper, saw the body quiver with
patriotic ardour, those ringing, rhythmic tones sang of the tramp,
tramp, tramp of armies, of cavalcades of horses, of the clash and
clangour of battle. Then it all grew fainter and fainter as if the
armies were vanishing in the distance, and the sad strains of the
undersong rose to the surface of the melody and I heard that sobbing
appeal which lies hidden somewhere in every Hungarian song. It died
away, there was a moment’s silence—Polatschek remained standing, looking
at me—then a mighty shout went up.

“Ujra! Ujra!” they cried. It was an encore they wanted.

But Polatschek had resumed his seat and his slivovitz, and in a few
moments he was very drunk.

Continue Reading

THE SADER GUEST

Rosnofsky was explaining to me his theory of the lost blue with which
the ancient Hebrew priests dyed the talith, when the door opened and
lanky Lazarus entered, hat in hand. He entered cautiously, keeping one
hand on the doorknob, and one foot firmly planted for a backward spring.
He seemed rather embarrassed to find a third person present, but the
matter that he had on his mind was weighty—so weighty, in fact, that,
after a moment’s hesitation, he plunged right into the heart of it.

“Mr. Rosnofsky,” he said, “I love your daughter.”

Rosnofsky’s eyes opened wide, and his mouth shut tight.

“And she loves me,” Lazarus went on.

Rosnofsky’s eyes contracted, until they gleamed through the tiniest kind
of a slit between the lids. His hand fumbled behind his back among a
number of tailor’s tools that lay on the table.

“And I have come to ask your consent to our marriage.”

Crash! Rosnofsky’s aim was bad. The shears, instead of reaching Lazarus,
shattered the window pane. Lazarus was flying rapidly down the street.
Then Rosnofsky turned to me.

“And this mixture, as I was saying, will produce exactly the same blue
that the Talmud describes.”

It was worth while to become acquainted with Rosnofsky. When aroused, or
crossed, or seriously annoyed, he had a frightful temper, and the man
whose misfortune it had been to stir him up was the object of a
malediction as bitter as it was fierce, extending through all his family
for, usually, a dozen generations. Then, in startling contrast to this,
he was a devout son of Abraham, and, in moments of serious reflection,
would be almost overcome by a feeling of piety, and at such times all
that was good and noble in his nature asserted itself. It was a strange
blending of the prosaic with the patriarchal.

“How came the original colour to be lost?” I asked. Rosnofsky looked at
me for a moment. Then he shook his head.

“That scamp has upset me completely,” he said. “Some other time I will
tell you. Just now I can think of nothing but the effrontery of that
scoundrel.”

“What makes you so bitter toward him?” I ventured to ask.

“Bitter! Bitter! He wants to marry Miriam. The audacity of the wretch!
My only child. And here he practically tells me to my face that he has
been making love to her, and that he has ascertained that she is in love
with him. And I never knew it. Never even suspected it. A curse on the
scamp! Sneaking into my home to steal my daughter from me. The
dishonourable villain! I trusted him. The viper. May he suffer a million
torments! May the fiends possess him!”

I ventured to suggest that it was the way of the world. I departed.
Somewhat hastily. I did not like the way he glared at me.

The next time I saw Rosnofsky he was walking excitedly up and down his
shop, tearing his hair _en route_. When he saw me he sprang forward and
clutched me by the shoulder.

“Here!” he cried. “I will leave it to you. You were here when he had the
audacity to confess his guilt to my face. Read this.” He thrust a
crumpled piece of paper into my hand. “Read it, and tell me if there is
another such villain upon this earth. Oh, I shall go mad!”

I read it. It was from Lazarus.

“I told you that I loved your daughter,” he wrote. “I told you that she
loved me. And, like an honest man, I asked you to consent to our
marriage. You refused. I now appeal to you again. You will make us both
very happy by giving your consent, as we would like you to be present at
the wedding. If you do not give your consent, we will not invite you.
But we will get married, anyway. We will elope at the first opportunity.
The only way to stop it is to keep Miriam locked in the house. Then I
shall call in the police.”

It was signed, “Lovingly, your son-in-law-to-be.”

“How can I punish him?” asked Rosnofsky. I promised to think it over. I
had called merely to tell Rosnofsky that I would accept his invitation
to supper on Sader night, and to thank him.

“You know the law,” he said. “When you come bring with you a plan to
punish this scoundrel.”

* * * * *

It was the eve of the Passover, and I stood in the gloomy hallway
tapping at Rosnofsky’s door. Dimly through the darkness I saw a
quivering shadow, but in the labyrinths of tenement corridors it is
unwise to investigate shadows. The door opened, and Rosnofsky, with
“praying cap” upon his head, welcomed me to the feast of the Sader.

Miriam was as sweet as a rose. I have not told you how pretty she was,
nor shall I begin now, for it is a very tempting subject, such as would
be likely to beguile a man into forgetting the thread of his story, and
it was too dangerous for me to enter upon. Suffice it that her eyes were
as glorious as—but there!

The table was arranged for four, Rosnofsky, Miriam, and myself, and
opposite Miriam’s seat was the chair for the Stranger.

Now the custom of celebrating this feast, according to the ritual, is
like this:

Holding aloft the unleavened bread, the head of the house must say:

“This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of
Egypt. Let all those who are hungry enter and eat thereof; and all who
are in distress come and celebrate the Passover.”




And the youngest-born must arise and open the door so that the Stranger
may enter and take his place at the table, and, even though he slew one
of their kin, that night he is a sacred guest.

And—as you have no doubt already opined—hardly had Miriam opened the
door when, with pale face, but with lips that were pressed in grim
determination, in walked Lazarus. Now, to this day I do not know whether
Miriam expected him, or what her feelings were when he entered. She has
refused to tell me. It needed but one glance to assure me that if there
was any secret Rosnofsky had not been in it.

With a cry of rage he sprang to his feet, and I feared that he would
hurl a knife at the intruder. But an instant later he recovered himself,
and with a gurgling, choking sound sank into his chair.

“The grace of God be with you all,” saluted Lazarus, still very pale.
Then,

“Am I a welcome guest?”

Rosnofsky seemed to be on the point of exploding with rage, but at this
question he started as if he had been struck. After a moment’s silence
he arose with great dignity—and holding out his hand—the strength of his
piety never more forcibly illustrated—said:

“Forgive my anger, my son. You are welcome to the Feast of the
Passover.”

And resuming his seat he chanted:

“Blessed art Thou, O Eternal, our God, King of the Universe, Creator of
the fruit of wine!”

It was the beginning of the service. Lazarus, with his eyes upon the
table, chanted the responses, and I, who knew nothing of the ritual,
looked at Miriam, who, I assure you, was delightful to behold,
particularly when her eyes twinkled as they did now.

By the time he had finished the Sader, Rosnofsky’s troubled spirit had
become soothed, and the final grace was delivered in a voice so calm and
with a manner so soothing, that when he looked up Lazarus was emboldened
to speak.

“You are angry with me, Father Rosnofsky,” he ventured.

“Let us not speak of unpleasant things this night,” replied the tailor,
gently. “This is a holy night.”

Lazarus, in no way abashed, deftly led the old man to expound some of
the intricate sayings of the rabbis upon the Passover, which Rosnofsky,
who was something of a theologian, did with great eagerness. Now, how it
came about I cannot tell, but Lazarus was so greatly interested in this
discussion, and Rosnofsky was so determined to prove that the old rabbis
were all in the wrong on this one point, that when the meal was over he
declared that if Lazarus would call the next night he would have a book
that would convince him. Lazarus had the discretion to take his
departure. When he had gone Rosnofsky puffed his pipe in silence for
some moments. Then, with a quaint smile, he turned to me and said:

“The young rogue!”

And then he gazed at Miriam until she grew red.

Continue Reading

THE END OF THE TASK

I

The sewing-machines whirred like a thousand devils. You have no idea
what a noise thirty sewing-machines will make when they are running at
full speed. Each machine is made up of dozens of little wheels and cogs
and levers and ratchets, and each part tries to pound, scrape, squeak
and bang and roar louder than all the others. The old man who went crazy
last year in this very same shop used to sit in the cell where they
chained him, with his fingers in his ears, to keep out the noise of the
sewing-machines. He said the incessant din was eating into his brains,
and, time and again, he tried to dash out those poor brains against the
padded wall.

The sewing-machines whirred and roared and clicked, and the noise
drowned every other sound. Braun finished garment after garment and
arranged them in a pile beside his machine. When there were twenty in
the pile he paused in his work—if your eyes were shut you would never
have known that one machine had stopped—and he carried the garments to
the counter, where the marker gave him a ticket for them. Then he
returned to his machine. This was the routine of his daily labour from
seven o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock at night. The only
deviation from this routine occurred when Lizschen laid the twentieth
garment that she had finished upon her pile and Braun saw her fragile
figure stoop to raise the pile. Then his machine would stop, in two
strides he would be at her side, and with a smile he would carry the
garments to the counter for her and bring her the ticket for them.
Lizschen would cease working to watch him, and when he handed her the
ticket she would smile at him, and sometimes, when no one was looking,
she would seize his hand and press it tightly against her cheek—oh! so
tightly, as if she were drowning, and that hand were a rock of safety.
And, when she resumed her work, a tear would roll slowly over the very
spot where his hand had rested, tremble for an instant upon her pale
cheek, and then fall upon the garment where the needle would sew it
firmly into the seam. But you never would have known that two machines
had stopped for a moment; there were twenty-eight others to keep up the
roaring and the rattling and the hum.

On and on they roared. There was no other sound to conflict with or to
vary the monotony. At each machine sat a human being working with hand,
foot, and eye, watching the flashing needle, guarding the margin of the
seams, jerking the cloth hither and thither quickly, accurately,
watching the spool to see that the thread ran freely, oiling the gear
with one hand while the other continued to push the garment rapidly
under the needle, the whole body swaying, bending, twisting this way and
that to keep time and pace with the work. Every muscle of the body
toiled, but the mind was free—free as a bird to fly from that
suffocating room out to green fields and woods and flowers. And Braun
was thinking.

Linder had told him of a wonderful place where beautiful pictures could
be looked at for nothing. It was probably untrue. Linder was not above
lying. Braun had been in this country six long years, and in all that
time he had never found anything that could be had for nothing. Yet
Linder said he had seen them. Paintings in massive gold frames, real,
solid gold, and such paintings! Woodland scenes and oceans and ships and
cattle and mountains, and beautiful ladies—such pictures as the
theatrical posters and the lithograph advertisements on the streets
displayed, only these were real. And it cost nothing to look at them!

Nineteen—twenty! That completed the pile. It had taken about an hour,
and he had earned seven cents. He carried the pile to the counter,
received his ticket, and returned to his machine, stopping only to smile
at Lizschen, who had finished but half a pile in that time, and who
looked so white and tired, yet smiled so sweetly at him—then on with his
work and thoughts.

He would take Lizschen to see them. It was probably all a lie, but the
place was far, far uptown, near Madison Square—Braun had never been
north of Houston Street—and the walk might do Lizschen good. He would
say nothing to her about the pictures until he came to the place and
found out for himself if Linder had told the truth. Otherwise the
disappointment might do her harm.

Poor Lizschen! A feeling of wild, blind rage overwhelmed Braun for an
instant, then passed away, leaving his frame rigid and his teeth tightly
clenched. While it lasted he worked like an automaton, seeing nothing,
hearing nothing, feeling nothing save a chaotic tumult in his heart and
brain that could find no vent in words, no audible expression save in a
fierce outcry against fate—resistless, remorseless fate. A few months
ago these attacks had come upon him more frequently, and had lasted for
hours, leaving him exhausted and ill. But they had become rarer and less
violent; there is no misfortune to which the human mind cannot
ultimately become reconciled. Lizschen was soon to die. Braun had
rebelled; his heart and soul, racked almost beyond endurance, had cried
out against the horror, the injustice, the wanton cruelty, of his
brown-eyed, pale-cheeked Lizschen wasting away to death before his eyes.
But there was no hope, and he had gradually become reconciled. The
physician at the public dispensary had told him she might live a month
or she might live a year longer, he could not foretell more accurately,
but of ultimate recovery there was no hope on earth. And Braun’s
rebellious outbursts against cruel fate had become rarer and rarer. Do
not imagine that these emotions had ever shaped themselves in so many
words, or that he had attempted by any process of reasoning to argue the
matter with himself or to see vividly what it all meant, what horrible
ordeal he was passing through, or what the future held in store for him.
From his tenth year until his twentieth Braun had worked in factories in
Russia, often under the lash. He was twenty-six, and his six years in
this country had been spent in sweatshops. Such men do not formulate
thoughts in words: they feel dumbly, like dogs and horses.

II

The day’s work was done. Braun and Lizschen were walking slowly uptown,
hand in hand, attracting many an inquiring, half-pitying glance. She was
so white, he so haggard and wild-eyed. It was a delightful spring night,
the air was balmy and soothing, and Lizschen coughed less than she had
for several days. Braun had spoken of a picture he had once seen in a
shop-window in Russia. Lizschen’s eyes had become animated.

“They are so wonderful, those painters,” she said. “With nothing but
brushes they put colours together until you can see the trees moving in
the breeze, and almost imagine you hear the birds in them.”

“I don’t care much for trees,” said Braun, “or birds either. I like
ships and battle pictures where people are doing something great.”

“Maybe that is because you have always lived in cities,” said Lizschen.
“When I was a girl I lived in the country, near Odessa, and oh, how
beautiful the trees were and how sweet the flowers! And I used to sit
under a tree and look at the woods across the valley all day long. Ah,
if I could only——!”

She checked herself and hoped that Braun had not heard. But he had heard
and his face had clouded. He, too, had wished and wished and wished
through many a sleepless night, and now he could easily frame the
unfinished thought in Lizschen’s mind. If he could send her to the
country, to some place where the air was warm and dry, perhaps her days
might be prolonged. But he could not. He had to work and she had to
work, and he had to look on and watch her toiling, toiling, day after
day, without end, without hope. The alternative was to starve.

They came to the place that Linder had described, and, surely enough,
before them rose a huge placard announcing that admission to the
exhibition of paintings was free. The pictures were to be sold at public
auction at the end of the week, and for several nights they were on
inspection. The young couple stood outside the door a while, watching
the people who were going in and coming out; then Braun said:

“Come, Lizschen, let us go in. It is free.”

Lizschen drew back timidly. “They will not let people like us go in. It
is for nobility.” But Braun drew her forward.

“They can do no more than ask us to go out,” he said. “Besides, I would
like to have a glimpse of the paintings.”

With many misgivings Lizschen followed him into the building, and found
herself in a large hall, brilliantly illuminated, walled in with
paintings whose gilt frames shone like fiery gold in the bright light of
numerous electric lamps. For a moment the sight dazzled her, and she
gasped for breath. The large room, with its soft carpet, the glittering
lights and reflections, the confused mass of colours that the paintings
presented to her eyes, and the air of charm that permeates all art
galleries, be they ever so poor, were all things so far apart from her
life, so foreign not only to her experience, but even to her
imagination, that the scene seemed unreal at first, as if it had been
taken from a fairy tale. Braun was of a more phlegmatic temperament, and
not easily moved. The lights merely made his eyes blink a few times, and
after that he saw only Lizschen’s face. He saw the blood leave it and a
bright pallor overspread her cheeks, saw the frail hand move
convulsively to her breast, a gesture that he knew so well, and feared
that she was about to have a coughing spell. Then, suddenly, he saw the
colour come flooding back to her face, and he saw her eyes sparkling,
dancing with a joy that he had never seen in them before. Her whole
frame seemed suddenly to become animated with a new life and vigour.
Somewhat startled by this transformation he followed her gaze. Lizschen
was looking at a painting.

“What is it, dear?” he asked.

“The picture,” she said in a whisper. “The green fields and that tree!
And the road! It stretches over the hill! The sun will set, too, very
soon. Then the sheep will come over the top of the hill. Oh, I can
almost hear the leader’s bell! And there is a light breeze. See the
leaves of the tree; they are moving! Can’t you feel the breeze? Oh,
darling, isn’t it wonderful? I never saw anything like that before.”

Braun looked curiously at the canvas. To his eyes it presented a
woodland scene, very natural, to be sure, but not more natural than
nature, and equally uninteresting to him. He looked around him to select
a painting upon which he could expend more enthusiasm.

“Now, there’s the kind I like, Lizschen,” he said. “That storm on the
ocean, with the big ship going to pieces. And that big picture over
there with all the soldiers rushing to battle.”

He found several others and was pointing out what he found to admire in
them, when, happening to look at his companion’s face, he saw that her
eyes were still fastened upon the woodland picture, and he realised that
she had not heard a word of what he had said. He smiled at her tenderly.

“Ah, Lizschen,” he said, “if I were rich I would take that picture right
off the wall and give them a hundred dollars for it, and we would take
it home with us so that Lizschen could look at it all day long.”

But still Lizschen did not hear. All that big room, with its lights and
its brilliant colourings, and all those people who had come in, and even
her lover at her side had faded from Lizschen’s consciousness. The
picture that absorbed all her being had ceased to be a mere beautiful
painting. Lizschen was walking down that road herself; the soft breeze
was fanning her fevered cheeks, the rustling of the leaves had become a
reality; she was walking over the hill to meet the flock of sheep, for
she could hear the shepherd’s dog barking and the melodious tinkling of
the leader’s bell.

From the moment of their entrance many curious glances had been directed
at them. People wondered who this odd-looking, ill-clad couple could be.
When Lizschen became absorbed in the woodland scene and stood staring at
it as if it were the most wonderful thing on earth, those who observed
her exchanged glances, and several onlookers smiled. Their entrance,
Lizschen’s bewilderment, and then her ecstasy over the painting had all
happened in the duration of three or four minutes. The liveried
attendants had noticed them and had looked at one another with glances
that expressed doubt as to what their duty was under the circumstances.
Clearly these were not the kind of people for whom this exhibition had
been arranged. They were neither lovers of art nor prospective
purchasers. And they looked so shabby and so distressingly poor and
ill-nourished.

Finally one attendant, bolder than the rest, approached them, and
tapping Braun lightly upon the sleeve, said, quite good-naturedly:

“I think you’ve made a mistake.”

Braun looked at him and shook his head and turned to Lizschen to see if
she understood. But Lizschen neither saw nor heard. Then the man, seeing
that he was dealing with foreigners, became more abrupt in his
demeanour, and, with a grunt, pointed to the door. Braun understood. To
be summarily ordered from the place seemed more natural to him than to
be permitted to remain unmolested amid all that splendour. It was more
in keeping with the experiences of his life. “Come, Lizschen,” he said,
“let us go.” Lizschen turned to him with a smiling face, but the smile
died quickly when she beheld the attendant, and she clutched Braun’s
arm. “Yes, let us go,” she whispered to him, and they went out.

III

On the homeward journey not a word was spoken. Braun’s thoughts were
bitter, rebellious; the injustice of life’s arrangements rankled deeply
at that moment, his whole soul felt outraged, fate was cruel, life was
wrong, all wrong. Lizschen, on the other hand, walked lightly, in a
state of mild excitement, all her spirit elated over the picture she had
seen. It had been but a brief communion with nature, but it had thrilled
the hidden chords of her nature, chords of whose existence she had never
dreamed before. Alas! the laws of this same beautiful nature are
inexorable. For that brief moment of happiness Lizschen was to submit to
swift, terrible punishment. Within a few steps of the dark tenement
which Lizschen called home a sudden weakness came upon her, then a
violent fit of coughing which racked her frail body as though it would
render it asunder. When she took her hands from her mouth Braun saw that
they were red. A faintness seized him, but he must not yield to it.
Without a word he gathered Lizschen in his arms and carried her through
the hallway into the rear building and then up four flights of stairs to
the apartment where she lived.

Then the doctor came—he was a young man, with his own struggle for
existence weighing upon him, and yet ever ready for such cases as this
where the only reward lay in the approbation of his own conscience—and
Braun hung upon his face for the verdict.

“It is just another attack like the last,” he was saying to himself.
“She will have to lie in bed for a day, and then she will be just as
well as before. Perhaps it may even help her! But it is nothing more
serious. She has had many of them. I saw them myself. It is not so
terribly serious. Not yet. Oh, it cannot be yet! Maybe, after a long
time—but not yet—it is too soon.” Over and over again he argued thus,
and in his heart did not believe it. Then the doctor shook his head and
said: “It’s near the end, my friend. A few days—perhaps a week. But she
cannot leave her bed again.”

Braun stood alone in the room, upright, motionless, with his fists
clenched until the nails dug deep into the skin, seeing nothing, hearing
nothing, feeling nothing. His eyes were dry, his lips parched. The old
woman with whom Lizschen lived came out and motioned to him to enter the
bedroom. Lizschen was whiter than the sheets, but her eyes were bright,
and she was smiling and holding out her arms to him. “You must go now,
_Liebchen_,” she said faintly. “I will be all right to-morrow. Kiss me
good-night, and I will dream about the beautiful picture.” He kissed her
and went out without a word. All that night he walked the streets.

When the day dawned he went to her again. She was awake and happy. “I
dreamt about it all night, _Liebchen_,” she said, joyfully. “Do you
think they would let me see it again?”

He went to his work, and all that day the roar of the machines set his
brain a-whirring and a-roaring as if it, too, had become a machine. He
worked with feverish activity, and when the machines stopped he found
that he had earned a dollar and five cents. Then he went to Lizschen and
gave her fifty cents, which he told her he had found in the street.
Lizschen was much weaker, and could only speak in a whisper. She
beckoned to him to hold his ear to her lips, and she whispered:

“_Liebchen_, if I could only see the picture once more.”

“I will go and ask them, darling,” he said. “Perhaps they will let me
bring it to you.”

Braun went to his room and took from his trunk a dagger that he had
brought with him from Russia. It was a rusty, old-fashioned affair which
even the pawnbrokers had repeatedly refused to accept. Why he kept it or
for what purpose he now concealed it in his coat he could not tell. His
mind had ceased to work coherently: his brain was now a machine,
whirring and roaring like a thousand devils. Thought? Thought had
ceased. Braun was a machine, and machines do not think.




He walked to the picture gallery. He had forgotten its exact location,
but some mysterious instinct guided him straight to the spot. The doors
were already opened, but the nightly throng of spectators had hardly
begun to arrive. And now a strange thing happened. Braun entered and
walked straight to the painting of the woodland scene that hung near the
door. There was no attendant to bar his progress. A small group of
persons, gathered in front of a canvas that hung a few feet away, had
their backs turned to him, and stood like a screen between him and the
employees of the place. Without a moment’s hesitation, without looking
to right or to left, walking with a determined stride and making no
effort to conceal his purpose, and, at the same time, oblivious of the
fact that he was unobserved, Braun approached the painting, raised it
from the hook, and, with the wire dangling loosely from it, took the
painting under his arm and walked out of the place. If he had been
observed, would he have brought his dagger into use? It is impossible to
tell. He was a machine, and his brain was roaring. Save for one picture
that rose constantly before his vision, he was blind. All that he saw
was Lizschen, so white in her bed, waiting to see the woodland picture
once more.

He brought it straight to her room. She was too weak to move, too worn
out to express any emotion, but her eyes looked unutterable gratitude
when she saw the painting.

“Did they let you have it?” she whispered.

“They were very kind,” said Braun. “I told them you wanted to see it and
they said I could have it as long as I liked. When you are better I will
take it back.”

Lizschen looked at him wistfully. “I will never be better, _Liebchen_,”
she whispered.

Braun hung the picture at the foot of the bed where Lizschen could see
it without raising her head, and then went to the window and sat there
looking out into the night. Lizschen was happy beyond all bounds. Her
eyes drank in every detail of the wonderful scene until her whole being
became filled with the delightful spirit that pervaded and animated the
painting. A master’s hand had imbued that deepening blue sky with the
sadness of twilight, the soft, sweet pathos of departing day, and
Lizschen’s heart beat responsive to every shade and shadow. In the
waning light every outline was softened; here tranquillity reigned
supreme, and Lizschen felt soothed. Yet in the distance, across the
valley, the gloom of night had begun to gather. Once or twice Lizschen
tried to penetrate this gloom, but the effort to see what the darkness
was hiding tired her eyes.

IV

The newspapers the next day were full of the amazing story of the stolen
painting. They told how the attendants at the gallery had discovered the
break in the line of paintings and had immediately notified the manager
of the place, who at once asked the number of the picture.

“It’s number thirty-eight,” they told him. He seized a catalogue, turned
to No. 38, and turned pale. “It’s Corot’s ‘Spring Twilight!’” he cried.
“It cost the owner three thousand dollars, and we’re responsible for
it!”

The newspapers went on to tell how the police had been notified, and how
the best detectives had been set to work to trace the stolen painting,
how all the thieves’ dens in New York had been ransacked, and all the
thieves questioned and cross-questioned, all the pawnshops searched—and
it all had resulted in nothing. But such excitement rarely leaks into
the Ghetto, and Braun, at his machine, heard nothing of it, knew nothing
of it, knew nothing of anything in the world save that the machines were
roaring away in his brain and that Lizschen was dying. As soon as his
work was done he went to her. She smiled at him, but was too weak to
speak. He seated himself beside the bed and took her hand in his. All
day long she had been looking at the picture; all day long she had been
wandering along the road that ran over the hill, and now night had come
and she was weary. But her eyes were glad, and when she turned them upon
Braun he saw in them love unutterable and happiness beyond all
description. His eyes were dry; he held her hand and stroked it
mechanically; he knew not what to say. Then she fell asleep and he sat
there hour after hour, heedless of the flight of time. Suddenly Lizschen
sat upright, her eyes wide open and staring.

“I hear them,” she cried. “I hear them plainly. Don’t you, _Liebchen_?
The sheep are coming! They’re coming over the hill! Watch, _Liebchen_;
watch, precious!”

With all the force that remained in her she clutched his hand and
pointed to the painting at the foot of the bed. Then she swayed from
side to side, and he caught her in his arms.

“Lizschen!” he cried. “Lizschen!” But her head fell upon his arm and lay
motionless.

The doctor came and saw at a glance that the patient was beyond his
ministering. “It is over, my friend,” he said to Braun. At the sound of
a voice Braun started, looked around him quite bewildered, and then drew
a long breath which seemed to lift him out of the stupor into which he
had fallen. “Yes, it is over,” he said, and, according to the custom of
the orthodox, he tore a rent in his coat at the neck to the extent of a
hand’s breadth. Then he took the painting under his arm and left the
house.

It was now nearly two o’clock in the morning and the streets were
deserted. A light rain had begun to fall, and Braun took off his coat to
wrap it around his burden. He walked like one in a dream, seeing
nothing, hearing nothing save a dull monotonous roar which seemed to
come from all directions and to centre in his brain.

The doors of the gallery were closed and all was dark. Braun looked in
vain for a bell, and after several ineffectual taps on the door began to
pound lustily with his fist and heel. Several night stragglers stopped
in the rain, and presently a small group had gathered. Questions were
put to Braun, but he did not hear them. He kicked and pounded on the
door, and the noise resounded through the streets as if it would rouse
the dead. Presently the group heard the rattling of bolts and the
creaking of a rusty key in a rusty lock, and all became quiet. The door
swung open, and a frightened watchman appeared.

“What’s the matter? Is there a fire?” he asked.

A policeman made his way through the group, and looked inquiringly from
Braun to the watchman. Without uttering a word Braun held out the
painting, and at the sight of it the watchman uttered a cry of amazement
and delight.

“It’s the stolen Corot!” he exclaimed. Then turning to Braun, “Where did
you get it? Who had it? Do you claim the reward?”

Braun’s lips moved, but no sound came from them, and he turned on his
heel and began to walk off, when the policeman laid a hand on his
shoulder.

“Not so fast, young man. You’ll have to give some kind of an account of
how you got this,” he said.

Braun looked at him stupidly, and the policeman became suspicious. “I
guess you’d better come to the station-house,” he said, and without more
ado walked off with his prisoner. Braun made no resistance, felt no
surprise, offered no explanation. At the station-house they asked him
many questions, but Braun only looked vacantly at the questioner, and
had nothing to say. They locked him in a cell over night, a gloomy cell
that opened on a dimly lighted corridor, and there Braun sat until the
day dawned, never moving, never speaking. Once, during the night, the
watchman on duty in this corridor thought he heard a voice whispering
“Lizschen! Lizschen!” but it must have been the rain that now was
pouring in torrents.

V

“There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at
rest.

“There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the
oppressor.

“The small and the great are there; and the servant is free from
his master.”

It is written in Israel that the rabbi must give his services at the
death-bed of even the lowliest. The coffin rested on two stools in the
same room in which she died; beside it stood the rabbi, clad in sombre
garments, reading in a listless, mechanical fashion from the Hebrew text
of the Book of Job, interpolating here and there some time-worn,
commonplace phrase of praise, of exhortation, of consolation. He had not
known her; this was merely part of his daily work.

The sweatshop had been closed for an hour; for one hour the machines
stood silent and deserted; the toilers were gathered around the coffin,
listening to the rabbi. They were pale and gaunt, but not from grief.
The machines had done that. They had rent their garments at the neck, to
the extent of a hand’s breadth, but not from grief. It was the law. A
figure that they had become accustomed to see bending over one of the
machines had finished her last garment. Dry-eyed, in a sort of mild
wonder, they had come to the funeral services. And some were still
breathing heavily from the morning’s work. After all, it was pleasant to
sit quiet for one hour.

Someone whispered the name of Braun, and they looked around. Braun was
not there.

“He will not come,” whispered one of the men. “It is in the newspaper.
He was sent to prison for three years. He stole something. A picture, I
think. I am not sure.”

Those who heard slowly shook their heads. There was no feeling of
surprise, no shock. And what was there to say? He had been one of them.
He had drunk out of the same cup with them. They knew the taste. What
mattered the one particular dreg that he found? They had no curiosity.
In the case of Nitza, it was her baby who was dying because she could
not buy it the proper food. Nitza had told them. And so when Nitza cut
her throat they all knew what she had found in the cup. Braun hadn’t
told—but what mattered it? Probably something more bitter than gall. And
three years in prison? Yes. To be sure. He had stolen something.

“_Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery_,” droned the
rabbi, “_and life unto the bitter in soul_:

“_Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more
than for hid treasures_;

“_Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the
grave?_”

And the rabbi, faithful in the performance of his duty, went on to
expound and explain. But his hearers could not tarry much longer. The
hour was nearing its end, and the machines would soon have to start
again.

* * * * *

It is an old story in the Ghetto, one that lovers tell to their
sweethearts, who always cry when they hear it. The machines still roar
and whirr, as if a legion of wild spirits were shrieking within them,
and many a tear is stitched into the garments, but you never see them,
madame—no, gaze as intently upon your jacket as you will, the tear has
left no stain. There is an old man at the corner machine, grey-haired
and worn, but he works briskly. He is the first to arrive each morning,
and the last to leave each night, and all his soul is in his work. His
machine is an old one, and roars louder than the rest, but he does not
hear it. Day and night, sleeping and waking, there are a hundred
thousand machines roaring away in his brain. What cares he for one more
or one less?

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