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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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:
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
“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
“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.”
“Sure ye did,” answered the man; “for yer milk store.”
“But I haven’t got a milk store,” answered Rosenstein. The man’s eyes
“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
“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
“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
“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.