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The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan

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though we were not related in the remotest degree

Whatever enthusiasm there was in me found vent in religion. I
spent many an evening at the Antomir Synagogue, reading
Talmud passionately. This would bring my heart in touch with my
old home, with dear old Reb Sender, with the grave of my poor
mother. It was the only pleasure I had in those days, and it seemed
to be the highest I had ever enjoyed. At times I would feel the
tears coming to my eyes for the sheer joy of hearing my own
singsong, my old Antomir singsong. It was like an echo from the
Preacher's Synagogue. My former self was addressing me across
the sea in this strange, uninviting, big town where I was
compelled to peddle shoe-black or oil-cloth and to compete with a
yelling idiot. I would picture my mother gazing at me as I stood at
my push-cart. I could almost see her slapping her hands in despair

As for my love, it had settled down to a chronic dull pain that
asserted itself on special occasions only

I was so homesick that my former lodging in New York, to which I
had become used, now seemed like home by comparison. I missed
the Dienstogs keenly, and I visited them quite often

I wrote long, passionate letters to Reb Sender, in a conglomeration
of the Talmudic jargon, bad Hebrew, and good Yiddish, referring
to the Talmud studies I pursued in America and pouring out my
forlorn heart to him. His affectionate answers brought me
inexpressible happiness

But many of the other peddlers made fun of my piety and it could
not last long. Moreover, I was in contact with life now, and the
daily surprises it had in store for me dealt my former ideas of the
world blow after blow. I saw the cunning and the meanness of
some of my customers, of the tradespeople of whom I bought my
wares, and of the peddlers who did business by my side. Nor was I
unaware of certain unlovable traits that were unavoidably
developing in my own self under these influences. And while
human nature was thus growing smaller, the human world as a
whole was growing larger, more complex, more heartless, and
more interesting. The striking thing was that it was not a world of
piety. I spoke to scores of people and I saw tens of thousands.
Very few of the women who passed my push-cart wore wigs, and
men who did not shave were an exception. Also, I knew that many
of the people with whom I came in daily contact openly
patronized Gentile restaurants and would not hesitate even to eat

The orthodox Jewish faith, as it is followed in the old Ghetto
towns of Russia or Austria, has still to learn the art of trimming its
sails to suit new winds. It is exactly the same as it was a thousand
years ago. It does not attempt to adopt itself to modern conditions
as the Christian Church is continually doing. It is absolutely
inflexible. If you are a Jew of the type to which I belonged when I
came to New York and you attempt to bend your religion to the
spirit of your new surroundings, it breaks. It falls to pieces. The
very clothes I wore and the very food I ate had a fatal effect on my
religious habits. A whole book could be written on the influence of
a starched collar and a necktie on a man who was brought up as I
was. It was inevitable that, sooner or later, I should let a barber
shave my sprouting beard

"What do you want those things for?" Mrs. Levinsky once said to
me, pointing at my nascent whiskers. "Oh, go take a shave and
don't be a fool. It will make you ever so much better-looking. May
my luck be as handsome as your face will then be."

"Never!" I retorted, testily, yet blushing

She gave a sarcastic snort. "They all speak like that at the
beginning," she said. "The girls will make you shave if nobody
else does."

"What girls?" I asked, with a scowl, but blushing once again

"What do I know what girls?" she laughed. "That's your own
lookout, not mine."

I did not like her. She was provokingly crafty and cold, and she
had a mean smile and a dishonest voice that often irritated me.
She was ruddy-faced and bursting with health, taller than Mrs.
Dienstog, yet too short for her great breadth of shoulder and the
enormous bulk of her bust. I thought she looked absurdly dumpy.
What I particularly hated in her was her laughter, which sounded
for all the world like the gobble of a turkey

She was constantly importuning me to get her another lodger who
would share her kitchen lounge with me

"Rent is so high, I am losing money on you. May I have a year of
darkness if I am not," she would din in my ears

She was intolerable to me, but I liked her cooking and I hated to be
moving again, so I remained several months in her house

It was not long before her prediction as to the fate of my beard
came true.

I took a shave. What actually decided me to commit so heinous a
sin was a remark dropped by one of the peddlers that my
down-covered face made me look like a "green one." It was the
most cruel thing he could have told me. I took a look at myself as
soon as I could get near a mirror, and the next day I received my
first shave. "What would Reb Sender say?" I thought. When I
came home that evening I was extremely ill at ease. Mrs. Levinsky
noticed the change at once, but she also noticed my
embarrassment, so she said nothing, but she was continually
darting furtive glances at me, and when our eyes met she seemed
to be on the verge of bursting into one of her turkey laughs. I
could have murdered her

BOUGHT my goods in several places and made the acquaintance
of many peddlers. One of these attracted my attention by his
popularity among the other men and by his peculiar talks of
women. His name was Max Margolis. We used to speak of him as
Big Max to distinguish him from a Little Max, till one day a
peddler who was a good chess-player and was then studying
algebra changed the two names to "Maximum Max" and
"Minimum Max," which the other peddlers pronounced "Maxie
Max" and "Minnie Max."

Some of the other fellows, too, were addicted to obscene
story-telling, but these mostly made (or pretended to make) a joke
of it. The man who had changed Max's sobriquet, for instance,
never tired of composing smutty puns, while another man, who
had a married daughter, was continually hinting, with merry
bravado, at his illicit successes with Gentile women. Maximum
Max, on the other hand, would treat his lascivious topics with
peculiar earnestness, and even with something like sadness, as
though he dwelt on them in spite of himself, under the stress of an

Otherwise he was a jovial fellow

He was a tall, large-boned man, loosely built. His lips were always
moist and when closed they were never in tight contact. He had
the reputation of a liar, and, as is often the case with those who
suffer from that weakness, people liked him. Nor, indeed, were
his fibs, as a rule, made out of whole cloth. They usually had a
basis of truth. When he told a story and he felt that it was
producing no effect he would "play it up," as newspapermen would
put it, often quite grotesquely. Altogether he was so inclined to
overemphasize and embellish his facts that it was not always easy
to say where truth ended and fiction began. Somehow it seemed to
me as though the moistness and looseness of his lips had
something to do with his mendacity

He was an ignorant man, barely able to write down an address

Max was an instalment peddler, his chief business being with
frequenters of dance-halls, to whom he sold clothing, dress-goods,
jewelry, and--when there was a marriage among them--furniture.
Many a young housewife who had met her "predestined one" in
one of these halls wore a marriage ring, and had her front room
furnished with a "parlor set," bought of Max Margolis. He was as
popular among the dancers as he was among the men he met at the
stores. He was married, Max, yet it was as much by his interest in
the dancers as by his business interest that he was drawn to the
dance-halls. He took a fancy to me and he often made me listen to
his discourses on women

The youngest married man usually appealed to me as being old
enough to be my father, and as Maximum Max was not only
married, but eleven years my senior, there seemed to be a great
chasm between us. That he should hold this kind of conversations
with an unmarried youngster like myself struck me as something
unnatural, doubly indecent. As I listened I would feel awkward,
but would listen, nevertheless

One day he looked me over, much as an expert in horseflesh would
a colt, and said, with the utmost seriousness: "Do you know,
Levinsky, you have an awfully fine figure. You are a good-looking
chap all around, for that matter. A fellow like you ought to make a
hit with women. Why don't you learn to dance?"

The compliment made me wince and blush. Perhaps, if he had put
it in the form of a jest I should even have liked it. As it was, I felt
like one stripped in public. Still, I recalled with pleasure that
Matilda had said similar things about my figure

"Why don't you learn to dance, Levinsky?" he repeated

I laughed, waving the suggestion aside as a joke

On another occasion he said, "Every woman can be won,
absolutely every one, provided a fellow knows how to go about

As he proceeded to develop his theory he described various types
of women and the various methods to be used with them

"Of course, the man must not be repulsive to her," he said

That evening, when Mrs. Levinsky's husband, their three children,
and myself sat around the table and she was serving us our supper
she appeared in a new light to me. She was nearly twice my age
and I hated her not only for her meanness and low cunning, but
also for her massive, broad-shouldered figure and for her turkey
laugh, but she was a full-blooded, healthy female, after all. So, as
I looked at her bustling between the table and the stove, Max's
rule came back to me. I could almost hear his voice, "Every
woman can be won, absolutely every one. Mrs. Levinsky's oldest
child was a young man of nearly my age, yet I looked her over
lustfully and when I found that her florid skin was almost spotless,
her lips fresh, and her black hair without a hint of gray, I was glad.
Presently, while removing my plate, she threw the trembling bulk
of her great, firm bust under my very eyes. I felt disturbed. "Some
morning when we are alone," I said to myself, "I shall kiss those
red lips of hers."

From that moment on she was my quarry

As her husband worked in a sweatshop, while I peddled, he usually
got up at least an hour before me. And it was considered perfectly
natural that Mrs.

Levinsky should be hovering about the kitchen while I was
sleeping or lying awake on the kitchen lounge. Also, that after her
husband left for the day I should go around half-naked, washing
and dressing myself, in the same crowded little room in which she
was then doing her work, as scantily clad as I was and with the
sleeves of her flimsy blouse rolled up to her armpits.

I had never noticed these things before, but on the morning
following the above supper I did. As I opened my eyes and saw
her bare, fleshy arms held out toward the little kerosene-stove I
thought of my resolve to kiss her

She was humming something in a very low voice. To let her know
that I was awake I stretched myself and yawned audibly. Her
voice rose. It was a song from a well-known Jewish play she was

"Good mornings Mrs. Levinsky," I greeted her, in a familiar tone
which she now heard for the first time from me. "You seem to be
in good spirits this morning."

She was evidently taken aback. I was the last man in the world she
would have expected to address a remark of this kind to her

"How can you see it?" she asked, with a side-glance at me

"Have I no ears? Don't I hear your beautiful singing?"

"Beautiful singing!" she said, without looking at me

After a considerable pause I said, awkwardly, "You know, Mrs.
Levinsky, I dreamed of you last night!"

"Did you?"

"Aren't you interested to know something more about it?" "I
dreamed of telling you that you are a good-looking lady," I
pursued, with fast-beating heart

"What has got into that fellow?" she asked of the kerosene-stove.
"He is a greenhorn no longer, as true as I am alive." "You won't
deny you are good-looking, will you?"

"What is that to you?" And again addressing herself to the
kerosene-stove: "What do you think of that fellow? A pious
Talmudist indeed! Strike me blind if I ever saw one like that."
And she uttered a gobble-like chuckle

I saw encouragement in her manner. I went on to talk of her songs
and the Jewish theater, a topic for which I knew her to have a
singular weakness.

The upshot was that I soon had her telling me of a play she had
recently seen. As she spoke, it was inevitable that she should
come up close to the lounge. As she did so, her fingers touched
my quilt, her bare, sturdy arms paralyzing my attention. The
temptation to grasp them was tightening its grip on me. I decided
to begin by taking hold of her hand. I warned myself that it must
be done gently, with romance in my touch. "I shall just caress her
hand," I decided, not hearing a word of what she was saving

I brought my hand close to hers. My heart beat violently. I was just
about to touch her fingers, but I let the opportunity pass. I turned
the conversation on her husband, on his devotion to her, on their
wedding. She mocked my questions, but answered them all the

"He must have been awfully in love with you," I said

"What business is that of yours? Where did you learn to ask such
questions? At the synagogue? Of course he loved me! What would
you have? That he should have hated me? Why did he marry me,
then? Of course he was in love with me! Else I would not have
married him, would I? Are you satisfied now?" She boasted of the
rich and well-connected suitors she had rejected

I felt that I had side-tracked my flirtation. Touching her hand
would have been out of place now

A few minutes later, when I was saying my morning prayers, I
carefully kept my eyes away from her lest I should meet her
sneering glance.

When I had finished my devotions and had put my phylacteries
into their little bag I sat down to breakfast. "I don't like this
woman at all," I said to myself, looking at her. "In fact, I abhor
her. Why, then, am I so crazy to carry on with her?" It was the
same question that I had once asked myself concerning my
contradictory feelings for Red Esther, but my knowledge of life
had grown considerably since then

In those days I had made the discovery that there were "kisses
prompted by affection and kisses prompted by Satan." I now
added that even love of the flesh might be of two distinct kinds:
"There is love of body and soul, and there is a kind of love that is
of the body only," I theorized. "There is love and there is lust."

I thought of my feeling for Matilda. That certainly was love

Various details of my relations with Matilda came back to me
during these days

One afternoon, as I was brooding over these recollections, while
passively awaiting customers at my cart, I conjured up that night
scene when she sat on the great green sofa and I went into
ecstasies speaking of my prospective studies for admission to a
Russian university. I recalled how she had been irritated with me
for talking too loud and how, calling me "Talmud student," or
ninny, she had abruptly left the room. I had thought of the scene a
hundred times before, but now a new interpretation of it flashed
through my mind. It all seemed so obvious. I certainly had been a
ninny, an idiot. I burst into a sarcastic titter at Matilda's expense
and my own

"Of course I was a ninny," I scoffed at myself again and again

I saw Matilda from a new angle. It was as if she had suddenly
slipped off her pedestal. Instead of lamenting my fallen idol,
however, I gloated over her fall. And, instead of growing cold to
her, I felt that she was nearer to me than ever, nearer and dearer

CHAPTER II ONE morning, after breakfast, when I was about to
leave the house and Mrs.

Levinsky was detaining me, trying to exact a promise that I should
get somebody to share the lounge with me, I said: "I'll see about it.
I must be going. Good-by!" At this I took her hand, ostensibly in

"Good-by," she said, coloring and trying to free herself

"Good-by," I repeated, shaking her hand gently and smiling upon

She wrenched out her hand. I took hold of her chin, but she shook
it free

"Don't," she said, shyly, turning away

"What's the matter?" I said, gaily.

She faced about again. "I'll tell you what the matter is," she said.
"If you do that again you will have to move. If you think I am one
of those landladies--you know the kind I mean--you are

She uttered it in calm, rather amicable accents. So I replied: "Why,
why, of course I don't! Indeed you are the most respectable and the
most sweet-looking woman in the world!"

I stepped up close to ner and reached out my hand to seize hold of
her bare arm

"None of that, mister!" she flared up, drawing back. "Keep your
hands where they belong. If you try that again I'll break every bone
in your body. May both my hands be paralyzed if I don't!"

"'S-sh," I implored. Which only added fuel to her rage

"'S-sh nothing! I'll call in all the neighbors of the house and tell
them the kind of pious man you are. Saying his prayers three
times a day, indeed!"

I sneaked out of the house like a thief. I was wretched all day,
wondering how I should come to supper in the evening. I
wondered whether she was going to deliver me over to the jealous
wrath of her husband. I should have willingly forfeited my trunk
and settled in another place, but Mrs. Levinsky had an
approximate knowledge of the places where I was likely to do
business and there was the danger of a scene from her. Maximum
Max's theory did not seem to count for much. But then he had said
that one must know "how to go about it." Perhaps I had been too

Late in the afternoon of that day Mrs. Levinsky came to see me.
Pretending to be passing along on some errand, she paused in
front of my cart, accosting me pleasantly

"I'll bet you are angry with me," she said, smiling broadly

"I am not angry at all," I answered, with feigned moroseness. "But
you certainly have a tongue. Whew! And, well, you can't take a

"I did not mean to hurt your feelings, Mr. Levinsky. May my luck
be as good as is my friendship for you. I certainly wish you no
evil. May God give me all the things I wish you. I just want you to
behave yourself. That's all. I am so much older than you, anyhow.
Look for somebody of your own age. You are not angry at me, are
you?" she added, suavely

She simply could not afford to lose the rent I paid her

Since then she held herself at a respectful distance from me

I called on smiling Mrs. Dienstog, my former landlady, in whose
house I was no stranger. I timed this visit at an hour when I knew
her to be alone

In this venture I met with scarcely any resistance at first. She let
me hold her hand and caress it and tell her how soft and tender it

"Do you think so?" she said, coyly, her eyes clouding with
embarrassment. "I don't think they are soft at all. They would be if
I did not have so much washing and scrubbing to do." Then she
added, sadly: "America has made a servant of me. A land of gold,
indeed! When I was in my father's house I did not have to scrub

I attempted to raise her wrist to my lips, but she checked me. She
did not break away from me, however. She held me off, but she
did not let go of the index finger of my right hand, which she
clutched with all her might, playfully. As we struggled, we both
laughed nervously. At last I wrenched my finger from her grip,
and before she had time to thwart my purpose she was in my
arms. I was aiming a kiss at her lips, but she continued to turn and
twist, trying to clap her hand over my mouth as she did so, and my
kiss landed on one side of her chin

"Just one more, dearest," I raved. "Only one on your sweet little
lips, my dove. Only one. Only one."

She yielded. Our lips joined in a feverish kiss. Then she thrust me
away from her and, after a pause, shook her finger at me with a
good-natured gesture, as much as to say, "You must not do that,
bad boy, you."

I went away in high feather

I called on Mrs. Dienstog again the very next morning. She
received me well, but the first thing she did after returning my
greeting was to throw the door wide open and to offer me a chair
in full view of the hallway

"Oh, shut the door," I whispered, in disgust. "Don't be foolish."

She shook her head

"Just one kiss," I begged her. "You are so sweet."

She held firm

I came away sorely disappointed, but convinced that her
inflexibility was a mere matter of practical common sense

I kept these experiences and reflections to myself. Nor did an
indecent word ever cross my lips. In the street, while attending to
my business, I heard uncouth language quite often. The other
push-cart men would utter the most revolting improprieties in the
hearing of the women peddlers, or even address such talk to them,
as a matter of course. Nor was it an uncommon incident for a
peddler to fire a volley of obscenities at a departing housewife
who had priced something on his cart without buying it. These
things scandalized me beyond words. I could never get accustomed
to them

"Look at Levinsky standing there quiet as a kitten," the other
peddlers would twit me. "One would think he is so innocent he
doesn't know how to count two. Shy young fellows are the worst
devils in the world."

They were partly mistaken, during the first few weeks of our
acquaintance, at least. For the last thread that bound me to
chastity was still unbroken.

It was rapidly wearing away, though.

CHAPTER III THE last thread snapped. It was the beginning of a
period of unrestrained misconduct. Intoxicated by the novelty of
yielding to Satan, I gave him a free hand and the result was
months of debauchery and self-disgust. The underworld women I
met, the humdrum filth of their life, and their matter-of-fact,
business-like attitude toward it never ceased to shock and repel
me. I never left a creature of this kind without abominating her and
myself, yet I would soon, sometimes during the very same evening,
call on her again or on some other woman of her class

Many of these women would simulate love, but they failed to
deceive me. I knew that they lied and shammed to me just as I did
to giy customers, and their insincerities were only another source
of repugnance to me. But I frequented them in spite of it all, in
spite of myself. I spent on them more than I could afford.
Sometimes I would borrow money or pawn something for the
purpose of calling on them

The fact that these wretched women were not segregated as they
were in my native town probably had something to do with it.
Instead of being confined to a fixed out-of-the-way locality, they
were allowed to live in the same tenement-houses with
respectable people, beckoning to men from the front steps, under
open protection from the police. Indeed, the police, as silent
partners in the profits of their shame, plainly encouraged this vice
traffic. All of which undoubtedly helped to make a profligate of
me, but, of course, it would be preposterous to charge it all, or
even chiefly, to the police

My wild oats were flavored with a sense of my failure as a
business man, by my homesickness and passion for Matilda. My
push-cart bored me. I was hungry for intellectual interest, for
novel sensations. I was restless. Sometimes I would stop from
business in the middle of the day to plunge into a page of Talmud
at some near-by synagogue, and sometimes I would lay down the
holy book in the middle of a sentence and betake myself to the
residence of some fallen woman In my loneliness I would look for
some human element in my acquaintance with these women. I
would ply them with questions about their antecedents, their
family connections, as my mother had done the girl from "That"

As a rule, my questions bored them and their answers were
obvious fabrications, but there were some exceptions

One of these, a plump, handsome, languid-eyed female named
Bertha, occupied two tiny rooms in which she lived with her
ten-year-old daughter. One of the two rooms was often full of
men, some of them with heavy beards, who would sit there, each
awaiting his turn, as patients do in the reception-room of a
physician, and whiling their time away by chaffing the little girl
upon her mother's occupation and her own future. Some of the
questions and jokes they would address to her were of the most
revolting nature, whereupon she would reply, "Oh, go to hell!" or
stick out her tongue resentfully

One day I asked Bertha why she was giving her child this sort of
bringing up

"I once tried to keep her in another place, with a respectable
family," she replied, ruefully. "But she would not stay there.
Besides, I missed her so much I could not stand it."

Another fallen woman who was frank with me proved to be a
native of Antomir.

When she heard that I was from the same place she flushed with

"Go away!" she shouted. "You're fooling me."

We talked of the streets, lanes, and yards of our birthplace, she
hailing every name I uttered with outbursts of wistful enthusiasm

I wondered whether she knew of my mother's sensational death,
but I never disclosed my identity to her, though she, on her part,
told me with impetuous frankness the whole story of her life

"You are a Talmudist, aren't you?" she asked

"How do you know?"

"How do I know! As if it could not be seen by your face." A little
later she said: "I am sorry you came here. Honest. You should
have stayed at home and stuck to your holy books. It would have
been a thousand times better than coming to America and calling
on girls like myself. Honest."

She was known as Argentine Rachael

It was from her that I first heard of the relations existing between
the underworld and the police of New York. But then my idea of
the Russian police had always been associated in my mind with
everything cruel and dishonest, so the cormption of the New York
police did not seem to be anything unusual

One day she said to me: "If you want a good street corner for your
cart I can fix it for you. I know Cuff-Button Leary."

"Who is he?"

"Why, have you never heard about him?' "Is he a big police

"Bigger. The police are afraid of him."


"Because he is the boss. He is the district leader. What he says

She went on to explain that he was the local chieftain of the
dominant "politician party," as she termed it

"What is a politician party?" I asked

She tried to define it and, failing in her attempt, she said, with a
giggle: "Oh, you are a boob. You certainly are a green one. Why,
it's an organization, a lot of people who stick together, don't you

She talked on, and the upshot was that I formed a conception of
political parties as of a kind of competing business companies
whose specialty it was to make millions by ruling some big city,
levying tribute on fallen women, thieves, and liquor-dealers, doing
favors to friends and meting out punishment to foes. I learned also
that District-Leader Leary owed his surname to a celebrated pair
of diamond cuff-buttons, said to have cost him fifteen thousand
dollars, from which he never was separated, and by the blaze of
which he could be recognized at a distance. "Well, shall I speak to
him about you?" she asked. I gave her an evasive answer

"Why, don't you want to have favors from a girl like me?" she

I colored, whereupon she remarked, reflectively: "I don't blame
you, either."

She never tired talking of our birthplace.

"Aren't you homesick?" she once demanded

"Not a bit," I answered, with bravado

"Then you have no heart. I have been away five times as long as
you, yet I am homesick."



She was as repellent to me as the rest of her class. I could never
bring myself to accept a cup of tea from her hands. And yet I
could not help liking her spirit. She was truthful and affectionate.
This and, above all, her yearning for our common birthplace
appealed to me strongly. I was very much inclined to think that in
spite of the horrible life she led she was a good girl. To hold this
sort of opinion about a woman of her kind seemed to be an
improper thing to do. I knew that according to the conventional
idea concerning women of the street they were all the most
hideous creatures in the world in every respect. So I would tell
myself that I must consider her, too, one of the most hideous
creatures in the world in every respect. But I did not. For I knew
that at heart she was better than some of the most respectable
people I had met. It was one of the astonishing discrepancies I had
discovered in the world. Also, it was one of the things I had found
to be totally different from what people usually thought they were.
I was gradually realizing that the average man or woman was full
of all sorts of false notions

CHAPTER IV I ENROLLED in a public evening school. I threw
myself into my new studies with unbounded enthusiasm. After all,
it was a matter of book-learning, something in which I felt at
home. Some of my classmates had a much better practical
acquaintance with English than I, but few of these could beast the
mental training that my Talmud education had given me. As a
consequence, I found things irksomely slow. Still, the teacher--a
young East Side dude, hazel-eyed, apple-faced, and girlish of
feature and voice--was a talkative fellow, with oratorical
proclivities, and his garrulousness was of great value to me. He
was of German descent and, as I subsequently learned from
private conversations with him, his mother was American-born,
like himself, so English was his mother-tongue in the full sense of
the term. He would either address us wholly in that tongue, or
intersperse it with interpretations in labored German, which,
thanks to my native Yiddish, I had no difficulty in understanding.
His name was Bender. At first I did not like him. Yet I would
hang on his lips, striving to memorize every English word I could
catch and watching intently, not only his enunciation, but also his
gestures, manners, and mannerisms, and accepting it all as part and
parcel of the American way of speaking Sign language, which was
the chief means of communication in the early days of mankind,
still holds its own. It retains sway over nations of the highest
culture with tongues of unlimited wealth and variety. And the
gestures of the various countries are as different as their spoken
languages. The gesticulations and facial expressions with which
an American will supplement his English are as distinctively
American as those of a Frenchman are distinctively French. One
can tell the nationality of a stranger by his gestures as readily as
by his language. In a vague, general way I had become aware of
this before, probably from contact with some American-born Jews
whose gesticulations, when they spoke Yiddish, impressed me as
utterly un-Yiddish. And so I studied Bender's gestures almost as
closely as I did his words

Even the slight lisp in his "s" I accepted as part of the "real
Yankee" utterance. Nor, indeed, was this unnatural, in view of the
"th" sound, that stumbling-block of every foreigner, whom it must
needs strike as a full-grown lisp. Bender spoke with a nasal twang
which I am now inclined to think he paraded as an accessory to
the over-dignified drawl he affected in the class-room. But then I
had noticed this kind of twang in the delivery of other Americans
as well, so, altogether, English impressed me as the language of a
people afflicted with defective organs of speech. Or else it would
seem to me that the Americans had normal organs of speech, but
that they made special efforts to distort the "t" into a "th" and the
"v" into a "w."

One of the things I discovered was the unsmiling smile. I often saw
it on Bender and on other native Americans-- on the principal of
the school, for instance, who was an Anglo-Saxon. In Russia,
among the people I knew, at least, one either smiled or not. here I
found a peculiar kind of smile that was not a smile. It would flash
up into a lifeless flame and forthwith go out again, leaving the
face cold and stiff. "They laugh with their teeth only," I would say
to myself. But, of course, I saw "real smiles," too, on Americans,
and I instinctively learned to discern the smile of mere politeness
from the sort that came from one's heart. Nevertheless, one
evening, when we were reading in our school-book that "Kate had
a smile for everybody," and I saw that this was stated in praise of
Kate, I had a disagreeable vision of a little girl going around the
streets and grinning upon everybody she met

I abhorred the teacher for his girlish looks and affectations, but his
twang and "th" made me literally pant with hatred. At the same
time I strained every nerve to imitate him in these very sounds. It
was a hard struggle, and when I had overcome all difficulties at
last, and my girlish-looking teacher complimented me
enthusiastically upon my 'thick" and "thin." my aversion for him
suddenly thawed out

Two of my classmates were a grizzly, heavy-set man and his
sixteen-year-old son, both trying to learn English after a long day's
work. On one occasion, when it was the boy's turn to read and he
said "bat" for "bath," the teacher bellowed, imperiously: "Stick out
the tip of your tongue! This way."

The boy tried, and failed

"Oh, you have the brain of a horse!" his father said, impatiently, in
Yiddish. "Let me try, Mr. Teacher." And screwing up his
bewhiskered old face, he yelled, "Bat-t-t!" and then he shot out
half an inch of thick red tongue

The teacher grinned, struggling with a more pronounced
manifestation of his mirth

"His tongue missed the train," I jested, in Yiddish

One of the other pupils translated it into English, whereupon
Bender's suppressed laughter broke loose, and I warmed to him
still more.

Election Day was drawing near. The streets were alive with the
banners, transparencies, window portraits of rival candidates,
processions, fireworks, speeches. I heard scores of words from the
political jargon of the country. I was continually asking questions,
inquiring into the meaning of the things I saw or heard around me.
Each day brought me new experiences, fresh impressions, keen
sensations. An American day seemed to be far richer in substance
than an Antomir year. I was in an everlasting flutter. I seemed to
be panting for breath for the sheer speed with which I was rushing
through life

What was the meaning of all this noise and excitement? Everybody
I spoke to said it was "all humbug." People were making jokes at
the expense of all politicians, irrespective of parties. "One is as
bad as the other," I heard all around me. "They are all thieves."
Argentine Rachael's conception of politics was clearly the
conception of respectable people as well

Rejoicing of the Law is one of our great autumn holidays. It is a
day of picturesque merrymaking and ceremony, when the
stringent rule barring women out of a synagogue is relaxed. On
that day, which was a short time before Election Day, I saw an
East Side judge, a Gentile, at the synagogue of the Sons of
Antomir. He was very short, and the high hat he wore gave him
droll dignity. He went around the house of worship kissing babies
in their mothers' arms and saying pleasant things to the
worshipers. Every little while he would instinctively raise his
hand to his high hat and then, reminding himself that one did not
bare one's head in a synagogue, he would feverishly drop his hand

This part of the scene was so utterly, so strikingly un-Russian that I
watched it open-mouthed

"A great friend of the Jewish people, isn't he?" the worshiper who
stood next to me remarked, archly

"He is simply in love with us," I chimed in, with a laugh, by way of
showing off my understanding of things American. "It's Jewish
votes he is after."

"Still, he's not a bad fellow," the man by my side remarked. "If you
have a trial in his court he'll decide it in your favor."

"How is that?" I asked, perplexed. "And how about the other
fellow? He can't decide in favor of both, can he?"

"There is no 'can't' in America," the man by my side returned, with
a sage smile

I pondered the riddle until I saw light. "I know what you mean," I
said. "He does favors only to those who vote for his party."

"You have hit it, upon my word! You're certainly no longer a green

"Voting alone may not be enough, though," another worshiper
interposed. "If you ever happen to have a case in his court, take a
lawyer who is close to the judge. Understand?"

All such talks notwithstanding, the campaign, or the spectacular
novelty of it, thrilled me.

Bender delivered a speech to our class, but all I could make of it
was that it dealt with elections in general, and that it was
something solemn and lofty, like a prayer or a psalm

Election Day came round. I did not rest. I was continually
snooping around, watching the politicians and their "customers,"
as we called the voters.

Traffic in votes was quite an open business in those days, and I
saw a good deal of it, on a side-street in the vicinity ot a certain
polling-place, or even in front of the polling-place itself, under the
very eyes of policemen.

I saw the bargaining, the haggling between buyer and seller; I saw
money passed from the one to the other; I saw a heeler put a ballot
into the hand of a man whose vote he had just purchased (the
present system of voting had not yet been introduced) and then
march him into a polling-place to make sure that he deposited the
ballot for which he had paid him. I saw a man beaten black and
blue because he had cheated the party that had paid him for his
vote. I saw Leary, blazing cuff-buttons and all. He was a
broad-shouldered man with rather pleasing features. I saw him
listening to a whispered report from one of the men whom I had
seen buying votes

There was no such thing as political life in the Russia of that
period. The only political parties in existence there were the secret
organizations of revolutionists, of people for whom government
detectives were incessantly searching so that they might be
hanged or sent to Siberia. As a consequence a great many of our
immigrants landed in America absolutely ignorant of the meaning
of citizenship, and the first practical instrnctors on the subject into
whose hands they fell were men like Cuff-Button Leary or his
political underlings. These taught them that a vote was something
to be sold for two or three dollars, with the prospect of future
favors into the bargain, and that a politician was a specialist in
doing people favors. Favors, favors, favors! I heard the word so
often, in connection with politics, that the two words became
inseparable in my mind. A politician was a "master of favors," as
my native tongue would have it

I attended school with religious devotion. This and the rapid
progress I was making endeared me to Bender, and he gave me
special attention. He taught me grammar, which I relished most
keenly. The prospect of going to school in the evening would
loom before me, during the hours of boredom or distress I spent at
my cart, as a promise of divine pleasure

Some English words inspired me with hatred, as though they were
obnoxious living things. The disagreeable impression they
produced on me was so strong that it made them easy to
memorize, so that I welcomed them in spite of my aversion or,
rather, because of it. The list of these words included
"satisfaction," "think," and "because."

At the end of the first month I knew infinitely more English than I
did Russian

One evening I asked Bender to tell me the "real difference"
between "I wrote" and "I have written." He had explained it to me
once or twice before, but I was none the wiser for it

"What do you mean by 'real difference'?" he demanded. "I have
told you, haven't I, that 'I wrote' is the perfect tense, while 'I have
written' is the imperfect tense." This was in accordance with the
grammatical terminology of those days

"I know," I replied in my wretched English, "but what is the
difference between these two tenses? That's just what bothers

"Well," he said, grandly, "the perfect refers to what was, while the
imperfect means something that has been."

"But when do you say 'was' and when do you say 'has been'? That's
just the question." "You're a nuisance, Levinsky," was his final

I was tempted to say, "And you are a blockhead." But I did not, of

At the bottom of my heart I had a conviction that one who had not
studied the Talmud could not be anything but a blockhead

The first thing he did the next evening was to take up the same
subject with me, the rest of the class watching the two of us
curiously. I could see that his performance of the previous night
had been troubling him and that he was bent upon making a better
showing. He spent the entire lesson of two hours with me
exclusively, trying all sorts of elucidations and illustrations, all
without avail. The trouble with him was that he pictured the
working of a foreigner's mind, with regard to English, as that of
his own. It did not occur to him that people born to speak another
language were guided by another language logic, so to say, and
that in order to reach my understanding he would have to impart
his ideas in terms of my own linguistic psychology. Still, one of
his numerous examples gave me a glimmer of light and finally it
all became clear to me. I expressed my joy so boisterously that it
brought a roar of laughter from the other men

He made a pet of me. I became the monitor of his class (that is, I
would bring in and distribute the books), and he often had me
escort him home, so as to talk to me as we walked. He was
extremely companionable and loquacious. He had a passion for
sharing with others whatever knowledge he had, or simply for
hearing himself speak. Upon reaching the house in which he lived
we would pause in front of the building for an hour or even more.

Or else we would start on a ramble, usually through Grand Street
to East River and back again through East Broadway. His favorite
topics during these walks were civics, American history, and his
own history

"Dil-i-gence, perr-severance, tenacity!" he would drawl out, with
nasal dignity. "Get these three words engraved on your mind,
Levinsky. Diligence, perseverance, tenacity."

And by way of illustration he would enlarge on how he had fought
his way through City College, how he had won some prizes and
beaten a rival in a race for the presidency of a literary society;
how he had obtained his present two occupations--as
custom-house clerk during the day and as school-teacher in the
winter evenings--and how he was going to work himself up to
something far more dignified and lucrative. He unbosomed
himself to me of all his plans; he confided some of his intimate
secrets in me, often dwelling on "my young lady," who was a first
cousin of his and to whom he had practically been engaged since

All this, his boasts not excepted, were of incalculable profit to me.
It introduced me to detail after detail of American life. It
accelerated the process of "getting me out of my greenhornhood"
in the better sense of the phrase

Bender was an ardent patriot. He was sincerely proud of his
country. He was firmly convinced that it was superior to any other
country, absolutely in every respect. One evening, in the course of
one of those rambles of ours, he took up the subject of political
parties with me. He explained the respective principles of the
Republicans and the Democrats. Being a Democrat himself, he
eulogized his own organization and assailed its rival, but he did it
strictly along the lines of principle and policy

"The principles of a party are its soul," he thundered, probably
borrowing the phrase from some newspaper. And he proceeded to
show that the Democratic soul was of superior quality

He went into the question of State rights, of personal liberty, of
"Jeffersonian ideals." It was all an abstract formula, and I was so
overwhelmed by the image of a great organization fighting for
lofty ideals that the concrete question of political baby-kissing, of
Cuff-Button Leary's power, and of the scenes I had witnessed on
Election Day escaped me at the moment. I merely felt that all I
had heard about politics and political parties from Argentine
Rachael and from other people was the product of untutored
brains that looked at things from the special viewpoint of the

Presently, however, the screaming discrepancy between
Cuff-Button Leary's rule and "Jeffersonian ideals" did occur to
me. I conveyed my thoughts to Bender as well as I could

He flared up. "Nonsense," he said, "Mr. Leary is the best man in
the city.

He is a friend of mine and I am proud of it. Ask him for any favor
and he will do it for you if he has to get out of bed in the middle
of the night.

He spends a fortune on the poor. He has the biggest heart of any
man in all New York, I don't care who he is. He helps a lot of
people out of trouble, but he can't help everybody, can he? That's
why you hear so many bad things about him. He has a lot of
enemies. But I love him just for the enemies he has made."

"People say he collects bribes from disreputable women," I
ventured to urge.

"It's a lie. It's all rumors," he shouted, testily

"On Election Day I saw a man who was buying votes whisper to

"Whisper to him! Whisper to him! Ha-ha, ha-ha! Well, is that all
the evidence you have got against Mr. Leary? I suppose that's the
kind of evidence you have about the buying of votes, too. I am
afraid you don't quite understand what you see, Levinsky."

His answers were far from convincing. I was wondering what
interest he had to defend Leary, to deny things that everybody
saw. But he disarmed me by the force of his irritation

Bender himself was a clean, honest fellow. In his peculiar
American way, he was very religious, and I knew that his piety
was not a mere affectation.

Which was another puzzle to me, for all the educated Jews of my
birthplace were known to be atheists. He belonged to a Reformed
synagogue, where he conducted a Bible class

One evening he expanded on the beauty of the English translation
of the Old Testament. He told me it was the best English to be
found in all literature

"Study the Bible, Levinsky! Read it and read it again."

The suggestion took my fancy, for I could read the English Bible
with the aid of the original Hebrew text. I began with Psalm 104,
the poem that had thrilled me when I was on shipboard. I read the
English version of it before Bender until I pronounced the words
correctly. I thought I realized their music. I got the chapter by
heart. When I recited it before Bender he was joyously surprised
and called me a "corker."

"What is a corker?" I asked, beamingly

"It's slang for 'a great fellow.'" With which he burst into a lecture
on slang

I often sat up till the small hours, studying the English Bible. I had
many a quarrel with Mrs. Levinsky over the kerosene I consumed.
Finally it was arranged that I should pay her five cents for every
night I sat up late. But this merely changed the bone of contention
between us. Instead of quarreling over kerosene, we would quarrel
over hours--over the question whether I really had sat up late or

To this day, whenever I happen to utter certain Biblical words or
names in their English version, they seem to smell of Mrs.
Levinsky's lamp

CHAPTER V EVENING school closed in April. The final session
was of a festive character. Bender, excited and sentimental,
distributed some presents

"Promise me that you will read this glorious book from beginning
to end, Levinsky," he said, solemnly, as he handed me a new
volume of Dombey and Son and a small dictionary. "We may
never meet again. So you will have something to remind you that
once upon a time you had a teacher whose name was Bender and
who tried to do his duty."

I wanted to thank him, to say something handsome, but partly
because I was overcome by his gift, partly because I was at a loss
for words, I merely kept saying, sheepishly, "Thank you, thank
you, thank you, thank you."

That volume of Dickens proved to be the ruin of my push-cart
business and caused m.e some weeks of the blackest misery I had
ever experienced

As I started to read the voluminous book I found it an extremely
difficult task. It seemed as though it was written in a language
other than the one I had been studying during the past few months.
I had to turn to the dictionary for the meaning of every third word,
if not more often, while in many cases several words in succession
were Greek to me. Some words could not be found in my little
dictionary at all, and in the case of many others the English
definitions were as much of an enigma to me as the words they
were supposed to interpret. Yet I was making headway. I had to
turn to the dictionary less and less often

It was the first novel I had ever read. The dramatic interest of the
narrative, coupled with the poetry and the humor with which it is
so richly spiced, was a revelation to me. I had had no idea that
Gentiles were capable of anything so wonderful in the line of
book-writing. To all of which should be added my
self-congratulations upon being able to read English of this sort, a
state of mind which I was too apt to mistake for my raptures over
Dickens. It seemed to me that people who were born to speak this
language were of a superior race

I was literally intoxicated, and, drunkard-like, I would delay going
to business from hour to hour. The upshot was that I became so
badly involved in debt that I dared not appear with my push-cart
for fear of scenes from my creditors. Moreover, I scarcely had
anything to sell. Finally I disposed of what little stock I still
possessed for one-fourth of its value, and, to my relief as well as
to my despair, my activities as a peddler came to an end

I went on reading, or, rather, studying, Dombey and Son with
voluptuous abandon till I found myself literally penniless.

I procured a job with a man who sold dill pickles to Jewish
grocers. From his description of my duties-- chiefly as his
bookkeeper--I expected that they would leave me plenty of
leisure, between whiles, to read my Dickens. I was mistaken. My
first attempt to open the book during business hours, which
extended from 8 in the morning to bedtime, was suppressed. My
employer, who had the complexion of a dill pickle, by the way,
proved to be a severe taskmaster, absurdly exacting, and so
niggardly that I dared not take a decent-looking pickle for my

I left him at the end of the second week, obtaining employment in
a prosperous fish-store next door. My new "boss" was a kinder
and pleasanter man, but then the malodorous and clamorous chaos
of his place literally sickened me

I left the fishmonger and jumped my board at Mrs. Levinsky's to go
to a New Jersey farm, where I was engaged to read Yiddish novels
to the illiterate wife of a New York merchant, but my client was
soon driven from the place by the New Jersey mosquitoes and I
returned to New York with two dollars in my pocket. I worked as
assistant in a Hebrew school where the American-born boys
mocked my English and challenged me to have an "American
fight" with them, till--on the third day--I administered a sound
un-American thrashing to one of them and lost my job

Maximum Max got the proprietor of one of the dance-halls in
which he did his instalment business to let me sleep in his
basement in return for some odd jobs. While there I earned from
two to three dollars a week in tips and a good supper every time
there was a wedding in the place, which happened two or three
times a week. I had plenty of time for Dickens (I was still
burrowing my way through Dombey and Son) while the "affairs"
of the hall--weddings, banquets, balls, mass meetings--were quite
exciting. I felt happy, but this happiness of mine did not last long.
I was soon sent packing.

This is the way it came about. It was in the large ballroom of the
establishment in question that I saw a "modern" dance for the first
time in my life. It produced a bewitching effect on me. Here were
highly respectable young women who would let men encircle their
waists, each resting her arm on her partner's shoulder, and then go
spinning and hopping with him, with a frank relish of the physical
excitement in which they were joined. As I watched one of these
girls I seemed to see her surrender much of her womanly reserve.
I knew that the dance--an ordinary waltz--was considered highly
proper, yet her pose and his struck me as a public confession of
unseemly mutual interest. I almost blushed for her. And for the
moment I was in love with her. As this young woman went round
and round her face bore a faint smile of embarrassed satisfaction.
I knew that it was a sex smile. Another woman danced with grave
mien, and I knew that it was the gravity of sex

To watch dancing couples became a passion with me. One
evening, as I stood watching the waltzing members of a wedding
party, a married sister of the bride's shouted to me in Yiddish:
"What are you doing here? Get out. You're a kill-joy."

This was her way of alluding to my unpresentable appearance.
When the proprietor heard of the incident he sent for me. He told
me that I was a nuisance and bade me find another "hang-out" for

The following month or two constitute the most wretched period
of my life in America. I slept in the cheapest lodging-houses on
the Bowery and not infrequently in some express-wagon. I was
constantly borrowing quarters, dimes, nickels.

Maximum Max was very kind to me. As I could not meet him at
the stores, where I dared not face my creditors, I would waylay
him in front of his residence

"I tell you what, Levinsky," he once said to me. "You ought to
learn some trade. It's plain you were not born to be a business
man. The black dots [meaning the words in books] take up too
much room in your head."

Finally I owed him so many quarters, and even half-dollars, that I
had not the courage to ask him for more

Hunger was a frequent experience. I had been no stranger to the
sensation at Antomir, at least after the death of my mother; but,
for some reason, I was now less capable of bearing it. The pangs I
underwent were at times so acute that I would pick up cigarette
stubs in the street and smoke them, without being a smoker, for
the purpose of having the pain supplanted by dizziness and
nausea. Sometimes, too, I would burn my hand with a match or
bite it as hard as I could. Any kind of suffering or excitement was
welcome, provided it made me forget my hunger

When famished I would sometimes saunter through the streets on
the lower East Side which disreputable creatures used as their
market-place. It was mildly exciting to watch women hunt for
men and men hunt for women: their furtive glances, winks, tacit
understandings, bargainings, the little subterfuges by which they
sought to veil their purpose from the other passers-by; the way a
man would take stock of a passing woman to ascertain whether
she was of the approachable class; the timidity of some of the men
and the matter-of-fact ease of others; the mutual spying of two or
three rivals aiming at the same quarry; the pretended abstraction
of the policemen, and a hundred and one other details of the
traffic. Many a time I joined in the chase without having a cent in
my pocket, stop to discuss terms with a woman in front of some
window display, or around a corner, only soon to turn away from
her on the pretense that I had expected to be taken to her
residence while she proposed going to some hotel. Thus, held by a
dull, dogged fascination, I would tramp around, sometimes for
hours, until, feeling on the verge of a fainting-spell with hunger
and exhaustion, I would sit down on the front steps of some house

I often thought of Mr. Even, but nothing was further from my mind
than to let him see me in my present plight. One morning I met
him, face to face, on the Bowery, but he evidently failed to
recognize me

One afternoon I called on Argentine Rachael. "Look here,
Rachace," I said, in a studiously matter-of-fact voice, "I'm dead
broke to-day. I'll pay you in a day or two." Her face fell. "I never
trust. Never," she said, shaking her head mournfully. "It brings
bad luck, anyhow."

I felt like sinking into the ground. "All right, I'll see you some
other time," I said, with an air of bravado

She ran after me. "Wait a moment. What's your hurry?"

By way of warding off "bad luck," she offered to lend me three
dollars in cash, out of which I could pay her. I declined her offer.
She pleaded and expostulated. But I stood finn, and I came away
in a state of the blackest wretchedness and self-disgust

I could never again bring myself to show my face at her house

A little music-store was now my chief resort. It was kept by a man
whom I had met at the synagogue of the Sons of Antomir, a
former cantor who now supplemented his income from the store
by doing occasional service as a wedding bard. The musicians,
singers, and music-teachers who made the place their
headquarters had begun by taking an interest in me, but the dimes
and nickels I was now unceasingly "borrowing" of them had
turned me into an outcast in their eyes. I felt it keenly. I would
sulk around the store, anxious to leave, and loitering in spite of
myself. There was a piano in the store, upon which they often
played. This, their talks of music, and their venomous gossip had
an irresistible fascination for me

I noticed that morbid vanity was a common disease among them.
Some of them would frankly and boldly sing their own
panegyrics, while others, more discreet and tactful, let their high
opinions of themselves be inferred. Nor could they conceal the
grudges they bore one another, the jealousies with which they
were eaten up. I thought them ludicrous, repugnant, and yet they
lured me. I felt that some of those among them who were most
grotesque and revolting in their selfishness had something in their
make-up--certain interests, passions, emotions, visions-- which
placed them above the common herd. This was especially true of
a spare, haggard-looking violinist, boyish of figure and cat-like of
manner, with deep dark rings under his insatiable blue eyes. He
called himself Octavius. He was literally consumed by the blaze
of his own conceit and envy. When he was not in raptures over the
poetry, subtlety, or depth of his own playing or compositions, he
would give way to paroxysms of malice and derision at the
expense of some other musician, from his East Side rivals all the
way up to Sarasate, who was then at the height of his career and
had recently played in New York. Wagner was his god, yet no
sooner would somebody else express admiration for Wagner
music than he would offer to show that all the good things in the
works of the famous German were merely so many paraphrased
plagiarisms from the compositions of other men. He possessed a
phenomenal memory. He seemed to remember every note in every
opera, symphony, oratorio, or concerto that anybody ever
mentioned, and there was not a piece of music by a celebrated
man but he was ready to "prove" that it had been stolen from some
other celebrated man

His invective was particularly violent when he spoke of those
Jewish immigrants in the musical profession whose success had
extended beyond the East Side. He could never mention without a
jeer or some coarse epithet the name of a Madison Street boy, a
violinist, who was then attracting attention in Europe and who
was booked for a series of concerts before the best audiences in
the United States

He was a passionate phrase-maker. Indeed, it would have been
difficult to determine which afforded him more pleasure--his
self-laudations or the colorful, pungent, often preposterous
language in which they were clothed

"I am writing something with hot tears in it," I once heard him

"They'll be so hot they'll scald the heart of every one who hears it,
provided he has a heart."

He had given me some nickels, yet his boasts would fill me with
disgust. On the occasion just mentioned I was so irritated with my
poverty and with the whole world that I was seized with an
irresistible desire to taunt him. As he continued to eulogize his
forthcoming masterpiece I threw out a Hebrew quotation: "Let
others praise thee, but not thine own mouth."

He took no heed of my thrust. But since then he never looked at
me and I never dared ask him for a nickel again

He had a ferocious temper. When it broke loose it would be a
veritable volcano of revolting acrimony, his thin, firm opening
and snapping shut in a peculiar fashion, as though he were
squirting venom all over the floor. He was as sensual as
Maximum Max, only his voluptuous talks of women were far
more offensive in form. But then his lewd drivel was apt to glitter
with flashes of imagination. I do not remember ever seeing him in
good humor

September I stood on Grand Street with my eyes raised to the big
open windows of a dance-hall on the second floor of a brick
building on the opposite side of the lively thoroughfare. Only the
busts of the dancers could be seen. This and the distance that
divided me from the hall enveloped the scene in mystery. As the
couples floated by, as though borne along on waves of the music,
the girls clinging to the men, their fantastic figures held me
spellbound. Several other people were watching the dancers from
the street, mostly women, who gazed at the appearing and
disappearing images with envying eyes

Presently I was accosted by a dandified-looking young man who
rushed at me with an exuberant, "How are you?" in English. He
was dressed in the height of the summer fashion. He looked
familiar to me, but I was at a loss to locate him

"Don't you know me? Try to remember!"

It was Gitelson, my fellow-passenger on board the ship that had
brought me to America, the tailor who clung to my side when I
made my entry into the New World, sixteen months before

The change took my breath away

"You didn't recognize me, did you?" he said, with a triumphant
snicker, pulling out his cuffs so as to flaunt their gold or gilded

He asked me what I was doing, but he was more interested in
telling me about himself. That cloak-contractor who picked him
up near Castle Garden had turned out to be a skinflint and a
slave-driver. He had started him on five dollars a week for work
the market price of which was twenty or thirty. So Gitelson left
him as soon as he realized his real worth, and he had been making
good wages ever since. Being an excellent tailor, he was much
sought after, and although the trade had two long slack seasons he
always had plenty to do. He told me that he was going to that
dance-hall across the street, which greatly enhanced his
importance in my eyes and seemed to give reality to the floating
phantoms that I had been watching in those windows.

He said he was in a hurry to go up there, as he had "an
appointment with a lady" (this in English), yet he went on
describing the picnics, balls, excursions he attended

Thereupon I involuntarily shot a look at his jaunty straw hat,
thinking of his gray forelock. I did so several times. I could not
help it. Finally my furtive glances attracted his attention

"What are you looking at? Anything wrong with my hat?" he
asked, baring his head. His hair was freshly trimmed and dudishly
dressed. As I looked at the patch of silver hair that shone in front
of a glossy expanse of brown, he exclaimed, with a laugh: "Oh,
you mean that! That's nothing. The ladies like me all the same

He went on boasting, but he did it in an inoffensive way. He
simply could not get over the magic transformation that had come
over him. While in his native place his income had amounted to
four rubles (about two dollars) a week, his wages here were now
from thirty to forty dollars. He felt like a peasant suddenly turned
to a prince. But he spoke of his successes in a pleasing, soft voice
and with a kindly, confiding smile that won my heart.

Altogether he made the impression of an exceedingly
unaggressive, good-natured fellow, without anything like ginger in
his make-up

After he had bragged his fill he invited me to have a glass of soda
with him. There was a soda-stand on the next corner, and when
we reached it I paused, but he pulled me away

"Come on," he said, disdainfully. "We'll go into a drug-store, or,
better still, let's go to an ice-cream parlor."

This I hesitated to do because of my shabby clothes. When he
divined the cause of my embarrassment he was touched

"Come on!' he said, with warm hospitality, uttering the two words
in English. "When I say 'Come on' I know what I am talking

"But your lady is waiting for you." "She can wait. Ladies are never
on time, anyhow."

"But maybe she is."

"If she is she can dance with some of the other fellows. I wouldn't
be jealous. There are plenty of other ladies. I should not take fifty
ladies for this chance of seeing you. Honest."

He took me into a little candy-store, dazzlingly lighted and
mirrored and filled with marble-topped tables

We seated ourselves and he gave the order. He did so ra.ther
swaggeringly, but his manner to me was one of affectionate and
compassionate respectfulness

"Oh, I am so glad to see you," he said. "You remember the ship?"

"As if one could ever forget things of that kind."

"I have often thought of you. 'I wonder what has become of him,' I
said to myself." He did not remember my name, or perhaps he
had never known it, so I had to introduce myself afresh. The
contrast between his flashy clothes and my frowsy,
wretched-looking appearance, as I saw ourselves in the mirrors on
either side of me, made me sorely ill at ease. The brilliancy of the
gaslight chafed my nerves. It was as though it had been turned on
for the express purpose of illuminating my disgrace. I was longing
to go away, but Gitelson fell to questioning me about my affairs
once more, and this time he did so with such unfeigned concern
that I told him the whole cheerless story of my sixteen months' life
in America

He was touched. In his mild, unemphatic way he expressed
heartfelt sympathy

"But why don't you learn some trade?" he inquired. "You don't
seem to be fit for business, anyhow" (the last two words in
mispronounced English)

"Everybody is telling me that."

"There you are. You just listen to me, Mr. Levinsky. You won't be
sorry for it." He proposed machine-operating in a cloak-shop,
which paid even better than tailoring and was far easier to learn.
Finally he offered to introduce me to an operator who would teach
me the trade, and to pay him my tuition fee

He went into details. He continued to address me as Mr. Levinsky
and tried to show me esteem as his intellectual superior, but, in
spite of himself, as it were, he gradually took a respectfully
contemptuous tone with me

"Don't be a lobster, Mr. Levinsky." (" Lobster" he said in English.)
"This is not Russia. Here a fellow must be no fool. There is no
sense in living the way you do. Do as Gitelson tells you, and you'll
live decently, dress decently, and lay by a dollar or two. There are
lots of educated fellows in the shops." He told me of some of
these, particularly of one young man who was a shopmate of his.
"He never comes to work without some book" he said.

"When there is not enough to do he reads. When he has to wait for
a new 'bundle,' as we call it, he reads. Other fellows carry on, but
he is always reading. He is so highly educated he could read any
kind of book, and I don't believe there is a book in the world that
he has not read. He is saving up money to go to college."

On parting he became fully respectful again. "Do as I tell you, Mr.

Levinsky," he said. "Take up cloak-making."

He made me write down his address. He expected that I would do
it in Yiddish. When he saw me write his name and the name of
the street in English he said, reverently: "Writing English already!
There is a mind for you! If I could write like that I could become a
designer. Well, don't lose the address. Call on me, and if you
make up your mind to take up cloak-making just say the word and
I'll fix you up. When Gitelson says he will, he will." The image of
that cloak-operator reading books and laying by money for a
college education haunted me. Why could I not do the same? I
pictured myself working and studying and saving money for the
kind of education which Matilda had dinned into my ears

I accepted Gitelson's offer. Cloak-making or the cloak business as
a career never entered my dreams at that time. I regarded the trade
merely as a stepping-stone to a life of intellectual interests

CHAPTER II THE operator to whom Gitelson apprenticed me was
a short, plump, dark-complexioned fellow named Joe. I have but a
dim recollection of his features, though I distinctly remember his
irresistible wide-eyed smile and his emotional nature

He taught me to bind seams, and later to put in pockets, to stitch
on "under collars," and so forth. After a while he began to pay me
a small weekly wage, he himself being paid, for our joint work, by
the piece. The shop was not the manufacturer's. It belonged to one
of his contractors, who received from him "bundles" of material
which his employees (tailors, machine - operators, pressers, and
finisher girls) made up into cloaks or jackets. The cheaper goods
were made entirely by operators; the better grades partly by
tailors, partly by operators, or wholly by tailors; but these were
mostly made "inside," in the manufacturer's own establishment.
The designing, cutting, and making of samples were "inside"
branches exclusively. Gitelson, as a skilled tailor, was an "inside"
man, being mostly employed on samples

My work proved to be much harder and the hours very much
longer than I had anticipated. I had to toil from six in the morning
to nine in the evening.

(Joe put in even more time. I always found him grinding away
rapturously when I came to the shop in the morning, and always
left him toiling as rapturously when I went home in the evening.)
Ours is a seasonal trade. All the work of the year is crowded into
two short seasons of three and two months, respectively, during
which one is to earn enough to last him twelve months (only
sample-makers, high-grade tailors like Gitelson, were kept busy
throughout the year). But then wages were comparatively high, so
that a good mechanic, particularly an operator, could make as
much as seventy-five dollars a week, working about fifteen hours
a day. However, during the first two or three weeks I was too
much borne down by the cruelty of my drudgery to be interested
in the luring rewards which it held out. Not being accustomed to
physical exertion of any kind, I felt like an innocent man suddenly
thrown into prison and put at hard labor. I was shocked. I was
crushed. I was continually looking at the clock, counting the
minutes, and when I came home I would feel so sore in body and
spirit that I could not sleep. Studying or reading was out of the

Moreover, as a peddler I seemed to have belonged to the world of
business, to the same class as the rich, the refined, while now,
behold! I was a workman, a laborer, one of the masses. I pitied
myself for a degraded wretch. And when some of my shopmates
indulged in coarse pleasantry in the hearing of the finisher girls it
would hurt me personally, as a confirmation of my disgrace. "And
this is the kind of people with whom I am doomed to associate!" I
would lament. In point of fact, there were only four or five fellows
of this kind in a shop of fifty. Nor were some of the peddlers or
music-teachers I had known more modest of speech than the worst
of these cloak-makers. What was more, I felt that some of my
fellow-employees were purer and better men than I. But that did
not matter. I abhorred the shop and everybody in it as a well-bred
convict abhors his jail and his fellow-inmates

When the men quarreled they would call one another, among other
things, "bundle-eaters." This meant that they accused one another
of being ever hungry for bundles of raw material, ever eager to
"gobble up all the work in the shop." I wondered how one could
be anxious for physical toil. They seemed to be a lot of savages

The idea of leaving the shop often crossed my mind, but I never
had the courage to take it seriously. I had tried my hand at
peddling and failed.

Was I a failure as a mechanic as well? Was I unfit for anything?
The other fellows at the shop had a definite foothold in life, while
I was a waif, a ne'er-do-well, nearly two years in America with
nothing to show for it.

Thoughts such as these had a cowing effect on me. They made me
feel somewhat like the fresh prisoner who has been put to work at
stone-breaking to have his wild spirit broken. I dared not give up
my new occupation. I would force myself to work hard, and as I
did so the very terrors of my toil would fascinate me, giving me a
sense of my own worth. As the jackets that bore my stitches kept
piling up, the concrete result of my useful performance would
become a source of moral satisfaction to me. And when I received
my first wages--the first money I had ever earned by the work of
my hands--it seemed as if it were the first money I had ever
earned honestly

By little and little I got used to my work and even to enjoy its

Moreover, the thinking and the dreaming I usually indulged in
while plying my machine became a great pleasure to me. It
seemed as though one's mind could not produce such interesting
thoughts or images unless it had the rhythmic whir of a
sewing-machine to stimulate it

I now ate well and slept well. I was in the best of health and in the
best of spirits. I was in an uplifted state of mind. No one seemed
to be honorable who did not earn his bread in the sweat of his
brow as I did. Had I then chanced to hear a Socialist speech I
might have become an ardent follower of Karl Marx and my life
might have been directed along lines other than those which
brought me to financial power

The girls in the shop, individually, scarcely interested me, but their
collective presence was something of which I never seemed to be
quite unconscious. It was as though the workaday atmosphere
were scented with the breath of a delicate perfume--a perfume
that was tainted with the tang of my yearning for Matilda

Two girls who were seated within a yard from my machine were
continually bandying secrets. Now one and then the other would
look around to make sure that the contractor was not watching,
and then she would bend over and whisper something into her
chum's ear. This would set my blood tingling with a peculiar kind
of inquisitiveness. It was reasonable to suppose that their
whispered conferences mostly bore upon such innocent matters as
their work, earnings, lodgings, or dresses. Nevertheless, it seemed
to me that their whispers, especially when accompanied by a
smile, a giggle, or a wink, conveyed some of their intimate
thoughts of men. They were homely girls, with pinched faces, yet
at such moments they represented to me all that there was
fascinating and disquieting in womanhood

The jests of the foul-mouthed rowdies would make me writhe with
disgust. As a rule they were ostensibly addressed to some of the
other fellows or to nobody in particular, their real target being the
nearest girls. These would receive them with gestures of protest or
with an exclamation of mild repugnance, or--in the majority of
cases--pass them unnoticed, as one does some unavoidable
discomfort of toil. There was only one girl in the shop who
received these jests with a shamefaced grin or even with frank
appreciation, and she was a perfectly respectable girl like the rest.
There were some finisher girls who could not boast an unsullied
reputation, but none of them worked in our shop, and, indeed,
their number in the entire trade was very small

One of the two girls who sat nearest to my machine was quite
popular in the shop, but that was because of her sweet disposition
and sound sense rather than for her looks. She was known to have
a snug little account in a savings-bank. It was for a marriage
portion she was saving; but she was doing it so strenuously that
she stinted herself the expense of a decent dress or hat, or the
price of a ticket to a ball, picnic, or dancing-class.

The result was that while she was pinching and scrimping herself
to pave the way to her marriage she barred herself, by this very
process, from contact with possible suitors. She was a good soul.
From time to time she would give some of her money to a needy
relative, and then she would try to make up for it by saving with
more ardor than ever. Her name was Gussie

Joe, the plump, dark fellow who was teaching me the trade, was
one of the several men in the shop who were addicted to salacious
banter. One of his favorite pranks was to burlesque some
synagogue chant from the solemn service of the Days of Awe,
with disgustingly coarse Yiddish in place of the Hebrew of the
prayer. But he was not a bad fellow, by any means. He was
good-natured, extremely impressionable, and susceptible of good

A sad tune would bring a woebegone look into his face, while a
good joke would make him laugh to tears. He was fond of
referring to himself as my "rabbi," which is Hebrew for teacher,
and that was the way I would address him, at first playfully, and
then as a matter of course

One day, after he had delivered himself of a quip that set my teeth
on edge, I said to him, appealingly: "Why should you be saying
these things, rabbi?"

"If you don't like them you can stop your God-fearing ears," he
fired back, good-naturedly

I retorted that it was not a matter of piety, but of common decency,
and my words were evidently striking home, but the girls
applauded me, which spoiled it all

"If you want to preach sermons you're in the wrong place," he
flared up.

"This is no synagogue."

"Nor is it a pigsty," Gussie urged, without raising her eyes from her

A month or two later he abandoned these sallies of his own accord.
The other fellows twitted him on his burst of "righteousness" and
made efforts to lure him into a race of ribald punning, but he
stood his ground

By and by it leaked out that he was engaged and madly in love
with his girl.

I warmed to him.

The young woman who had won his heart was not an employee of
our shop.

Indeed, love-affairs between working-men and working-girls who
are employed in the same place are not quite so common as one
might suppose. The factory is scarcely a proper setting for
romance. It is one of the battle-fields in our struggle for existence,
where we treat woman as an inferior being, whereas in civilized
love-making we prefer to keep up the chivalrous fiction that she is
our superior. The girls of our shop, hard-worked, disheveled, and
handled with anything but chivalry, aroused my sympathy, but it
was not the kind of feeling that stimulates romantic interest. Still,
collectively, as an abstract reminder of their sex, they flavored my
sordid environment with poetry

CHAPTER III THE majority of the students at the College of the
City of New York was already made up of Jewish boys, mostly
from the tenement-houses. One such student often called at the
cloak-shop in which I was employed, and in which his father--a
tough-looking fellow with a sandy beard, a former teamster--was
one of the pressers. A classmate of this boy was supported by an
aunt, a spinster who made good wages as a bunch-maker in a

To make an educated man of her nephew was the great ambition
of her life.

All this made me feel as though I were bound to that college with
the ties of kinship. Two of my other shopmates had sons at high
school. The East Side was full of poor Jews--wage-earners,
peddlers, grocers, salesmen, insurance agents--who would beggar
themselves to give their children a liberal education. Then, too,
thousands of our working-men attended public evening school,
while many others took lessons at home. The Ghetto rang with a
clamor for knowledge

To save up some money and prepare for college seemed to be the
most natural thing for me to do. I said to myself that I niust begin
to study for it without delay. But that was impossible, and it was
quite some time before I took up the course which the presser's
boy had laid out for me. During the first three months I literally
had no time to open a book. Nor was that all.

My work as a cloak-maker had become a passion with me, so
much so that even on Saturdays, when the shop was closed, I
would scarcely do any reading.

Instead, I would seek the society of other cloak-makers with whom
I might talk shop

I was developing speed rather than skill at my sewing-machine, but
this question of speed afforded exercise to my brain. It did not
take me long to realize that the number of cloaks or jackets which
one turned out in a given length of time was largely a matter of
method and system. I perceived that Joe, who was accounted a
fast hand, would take up the various parts of a garment in a
certain order calculated to reduce to a minimum the amount of
time lost in passing from section to section. So I watched him
intently, studying his system with every fiber of my being. Nor did
I content myself with imitating his processes. I was forever
pondering the problem and introducing little improvements of my
own. I was making a science of it. It was not merely physical
exertion. It was a source of intellectual interest as well. I was
wrapped up in it. If I happened to meet a cloak-operator who was
noted for extraordinary speed I would feel like an ambitious
musician meeting a famous virtuoso. Some cloak-operators were
artists. I certainly was not one of them. I admired their work and
envied them, but I lacked the artistic patience and the dexterity
essential to workmanship of a high order. Much to my chagrin, I
was a born bungler. But then I possessed physical strength,
nervous vitality, method, and inventiveness--all the elements that
go to make up speed

I was progressing with unusual rapidity. Joe criticized my work
severely, often calling me botcher, but I knew that this was chiefly
intended to veil his satisfaction at the growing profits that my
work was yielding him

I now earned about ten dollars a week, of which I spent about five,
saving the rest for the next season of idleness

At last that season set in. There was not a stroke of work in the
shop. I was so absorbed in my new vocation that I would pass my
evenings in a cloak-makers' haunt, a café on Delancey Street,
where I never tired talking sleeves, pockets, stitches, trimmings,
and the like. There was a good deal of card-playing in the place,
but somehow I never succumbed to that temptation.

But then, under the influence of some of the fellows I met there, I
developed a considerable passion for the Jewish theater. These
young men were what is known on the East Side as "patriots," that
is, devoted admirers of some actor or actress and members of his
or her voluntary claque. Several of the other frequenters were also
interested in the stage, or at least in the gossip of it; so that, on the
whole, there was as much talk of plays and players as there was of
cloaks and cloak-makers. Our shop discussions certainly never
reached the heat that usually characterized our debates on things

The most ardent of the "patriots" was a young contractor named
Mindels. He attended nearly every performance in which his
favorite actor had a part, selling dozens of tickets for his benefit
performances and usually losing considerable sums on these sales,
loading him with presents and often running his errands. I once
saw Mindels in a violent quarrel with a man who had scoffed at
his idol

Mindels's younger brother, Jake, fascinated me by his appearance,
and we became great chums. He was the handsomest fellow I ever
had seen, with a fine head of dark-brown hair, classic features,
and large, soft-blue eyes; too soft and too blue, perhaps. His was a
manly face and figure, and his voice was a manly, a beautiful
basso; but this masculine exterior contained an effeminate
psychology. In my heart I pronounced him "a calf," and when I
had discovered the English word "sissy," I thought that it just fitted

Yet I adored him, and even looked up to him, all because of his
good looks

He was a Talmudist like myself, and we had much in common,
also, regarding our dreams of the future

"Oh, I am so glad I have met you," I once said to him

"I am glad, too," he returned, flushing

I found that he blushed rather too frequently, which confirmed my
notion of him as a sissy. Like most handsome men, he bestowed a
great deal of time on his personal appearance. He never uttered a
foul word nor a harsh one. If he heard a cloak-maker tell an
indecent story he would look down, smiling and blushing like a

Formerly he had been employed in his brother's shop, while now
he earned his living by soliciting and collecting for a
life-insurance company

CHAPTER lV JAKE MINDELS was a devotee of Madame
Klesmer, the leading Jewish actress of that period, which, by the
way, was practically the opening chapter in the interesting history
of the Yiddish stage in America. Madame Klesmer was a
tragedienne and a prima donna at once-a usual combination in
those days

One Friday evening we were in the gallery of her theater. The play
was an "historical opera," and she was playing the part of a
Biblical princess. It was the closing scene of an act. The whole
company was on the stage, swaying sidewise and singing with the
princess, her head in a halo of electric light in the center. Jake was
feasting his large blue eyes on her. Presently he turned to me with
the air of one confiding a secret. "Wouldn't you like to kiss her?"
And, swinging around again, he resumed feasting his blue eyes on
the princess.

"I have seen prettier women than she," I replied

"'S-sh! Let a fellow listen. She is a dear, all the same. You don't
know a good thing when you see it, Levinsky."

"Are you in love with her?"

"'S-sh! Do let me listen."

When the curtain fell he made me applaud her. There were several
curtain-calls, during all of which he kept applauding her furiously,
shouting the prima donna's name at the top of his voice and
winking to me imploringly to do the same. When quiet had been
restored at last I returned to the subject: "Are you in love with

"Sure," he answered, without blushing. "As if a fellow could help
it. If she let me kiss her little finger I should be the happiest man
in the world."

"And if she let you kiss her cheek?" "I should go crazy."

"And if she let you kiss her lips?" "What's the use asking idle

"Would you like to kiss her neck?" "You ask me foolish

"You are in love with her," I declared, reflectively

"I should say I was."

It was a unique sort of love, for he wanted me also to be in love
with her

"If you are not in love with her you must have a heart of iron, or
else your soul is dry as a raisin." With which he took to analyzing
the prima donna's charms, going into raptures over her eyes,
smile, gestures, manner of opening her mouth, and her swing and
step as she walked over the stage

"No, I don't care for her," I replied

"You are a peculiar fellow."

"If I did fall in love," I said, by way of meeting him halfway, "I
should choose Mrs. Segalovitch. She is a thousand times prettier
than Mrs.


"Tut, tut!"

Mrs. Segalovitch was certainly prettier than the prima donna, but
she played unimportant parts, so the notion of one's falling in love
with her seemed queer to Jake

That night I had an endless chain of dreams, in every one of which
Madame Klesmer was the central figure. When I awoke in the
morning I fell in love with her, and was overjoyed

When I saw Jake Mindels at dinner I said to him, with the air of
one bringing glad news: "Do you know, I am in love with her?"

"With whom? With Mrs. Segalovitch?" "Oh, pshaw! I had
forgotten all about her. I mean Madame Kiesmer," I said,

Somehow, my love for the actress did not interfere with my
longing thoughts of Matilda. I asked myself no questions

And so we went on loving jointly, Jake and I, the companionship
of our passion apparently stimulating our romance as
companionship at a meal stimulates the appetite of the diners.
Each of us seemed to be infatuated with Madame Klesmer. Yet
the community of this feeling, far from arousing mutual jealousy
in us, seemed to strengthen the ties of our friendship

We would hum her songs in duet, recite her lines, compare notes
on our dreams of happiness with her. One day we composed a
love-letter to her, a long epistle full of Biblical and homespun
poetry, which we copied jointly, his lines alternating with mine,
and which we signed: "Your two lovelorn slaves whose hearts are
panting for a look of your star-like eyes. Jacob and David." We
mailed the letter without affixing any address

The next evening we were in the theater, and when she appeared
on the stage and shot a glance to the gallery Jake nudged me

"But she does not know we are in the gallery," I argued. "She must
think we are in the orchestra."

"Hearts are good guessers."

"Guessers nothing."

" 'S-sh! Let's listen."

Madame Klesmer was playing the part of a girl in a modern
Russian town. She declaimed her lines, speaking like a prophetess
in ancient Israel, and I liked it extremely. I was fully aware that it
was unnatural for a girl in a modern Russian town to speak like a
prophetess in ancient Israel, but that was just why I liked it. I
thought it perfectly proper that people on the stage should not talk
as they would off the stage. I thought that this unnatural speech of
theirs was one of the principal things an audience paid for. The
only actor who spoke like a human being was the comedian, and
this, too, seemed to be perfectly proper, for a comedian was a
fellow who did not take his art seriously, and so I thought that this
natural talk of his was part of his fun-making. I thought it was
something like a clown burlesquing the Old Testament by reading
it, not in the ancient intonations of the synagogue, but in the plain,
conversational accents of every-day life

During the intermission, in the course of our talk about Madame
Klesmer, Jake said: "Do you know, Levinsky, I don't think you
really love her."

"I love her as much as you, and more, too," I retorted

"How much do you love her? Would you walk from New York to
Philadelphia if she wanted you to do so?"

"Why should she? What good would it do her?"

"But suppose she does want it?"

"How can I suppose such nonsense?" "Well, she might just want
to see how much you love her."

"A nice test, that."

"Oh, well, she might just get that kind of notion. Women are liable
to get any kind of notion, don't you know."

"Well, if Madame Klesmer got that kind of notion I should tell her
to walk to Philadelphia herself."

"Then you don't love her."

"I love her as much as you do, but if she took it into her head to
make a fool of me I should send her to the eighty devils."

He winced. "And you call that love, don't you?" he said, with a
sneer in the corner of his pretty mouth. "As for me, I should walk
to Boston, if she wanted me to."

"Even if she did not promise to let you kiss her?"

"Even if she did not."

"And if she did?"

"I should walk to Chicago."

"And if she promised to be your mistress?"

"Oh, what's the use talking that way?" he protested, blushing.
"Aren't you shy! A regular bride-to-be, I declare." "Stop!" he said,
coloring once again.

It dawned upon me that he was probably chaste, and, searching his
face with a mocking look, I said: "I bet you you are still innocent."
"Leave me alone, please," he retorted, softly

"I have hit it, then," I importuned him, with a great sense of my
own superiority.

"Do let me alone, will you?"

"I just want you to tell me whether you are innocent or not."

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