THE FORTUNE HUNTER
DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS
The Deluge, The Social Secretary, The Plum Tree, etc.
I ENTER MR. FEURSTEIN II BRASS OUTSHINES GOLD III FORTUNE FAVORS THE IMPUDENT IV A BOLD DASH AND A DISASTER V A SENSITIVE SOUL SEEKS SALVE VI TRAGEDY IN TOMKINS SQUARE VII LOVE IN SEVERAL ASPECTS VIII A SHEEP WIELDS THE SHEARS IX AN IDYL OF PLAIN PEOPLE X MR. FUERSTEIN IS CONSISTENT XI MR. FEURSTEIN'S CLIMAX XII EXIT MR. FUERSTEIN
THE FORTUNE HUNTER
ENTER MR. FEUERSTEIN
On an afternoon late in April Feuerstein left his boarding-house in East Sixteenth Street, in the block just beyond the eastern gates of Stuyvesant Square, and paraded down Second Avenue.
A romantic figure was Feuerstein, of the German Theater stock company. He was tall and slender, and had large, handsome features. His coat was cut long over the shoulders and in at the waist to show his lines of strength and grace. He wore a pearl-gray soft hat with rakish brim, and it was set with suspicious carelessness upon bright blue, and seemed to blazon a fiery, sentimental nature. He strode along, intensely self-conscious, not in the way that causes awkwardness, but in the way that causes a swagger. One had only to glance at him to know that he was offensive to many men and fascinating to many women.
Not an article of his visible clothing had been paid for, and the ten-cent piece in a pocket of his trousers was his total cash balance. But his heart was as light as the day. Had he not youth? Had he not health? Had he not looks to bewitch the women, brains to outwit the men? Feuerstein sniffed the delightful air and gazed round, like a king in the midst of cringing subjects. "I feel that this is one of my lucky days," said he to himself. An aristocrat, a patrician, a Hochwohlgeboren, if ever one was born.
At the Fourteenth-Street crossing he became conscious that a young man was looking at him with respectful admiration and with the anxiety of one who fears a distinguished acquaintance has forgotten him. Feuerstein paused and in his grandest, most gracious manner, said: "Ah! Mr. Hartmann—a glorious day!"
Young Hartmann flushed with pleasure and stammered, "Yes—a GLORIOUS day!"
"It is lucky I met you," continued Feuerstein. "I had an appointment at the Cafe Boulevard at four, and came hurrying away from my lodgings with empty pockets—I am so absent-minded. Could you convenience me for a few hours with five dollars? I'll repay you to-night—you will be at Goerwitz's probably? I usually look in there after the theater."
Hartmann colored with embarrassment.
"I'm sorry," he said humbly, "I've got only a two-dollar bill. If it would—"
Feuerstein looked annoyed. "Perhaps I can make that do. Thank you—sorry to trouble you. I MUST be more careful."
The two dollars were transferred, Feuerstein gave Hartmann a flourishing stage salute and strode grandly on. Before he had gone ten yards he had forgotten Hartmann and had dismissed all financial care—had he not enough to carry him through the day, even should he meet no one who would pay for his dinner and his drinks? "Yes, it is a day to back myself to win—fearlessly!"
The hedge at the Cafe Boulevard was green and the tables were in the yard and on the balconies; but Feuerstein entered, seated himself in one of the smoke-fogged reading-rooms, ordered a glass of beer, and divided his attention between the Fliegende Blatter and the faces of incoming men. After half an hour two men in an arriving group of three nodded coldly to him. He waited until they were seated, then joined them and proceeded to make himself agreeable to the one who had just been introduced to him—young Horwitz, an assistant bookkeeper at a department store in Twenty-third Street. But Horwitz had a "soul," and the yearning of that secret soul was for the stage. Feuerstein did Horwitz the honor of dining with him. At a quarter past seven, with his two dollars intact, with a loan of one dollar added to it, and with five of his original ten cents, he took himself away to the theater. Afterward, by appointment, he met his new friend, and did him the honor of accompanying him to the Young German Shooters' Society ball at Terrace Garden.
It was one of those simple, entirely and genuinely gay entertainments that assemble the society of the real New York—the three and a half millions who work and play hard and live plainly and without pretense, whose ideals center about the hearth, and whose aspirations are to retire with a competence early in the afternoon of life, thenceforth placidly to assist in the prosperity of their children and to have their youth over again in their grandchildren.
Feuerstein's gaze wandered from face to face among the young women, to pause at last upon a dark, handsome, strong-looking daughter of the people. She had coal-black hair that curled about a low forehead. Her eyes were dreamy and stormy. Her mouth was sweet, if a trifle petulant. "And who is she?" he asked.
"That's Hilda Brauner," replied Horwitz. "Her father has a delicatessen in Avenue A. He's very rich—owns three flat-houses. They must bring him in at least ten thousand net, not to speak of what he makes in the store. They're fine people, those Brauners; none nicer anywhere."
"A beautiful creature," said Feuerstein, who was feeling like a prince who, for reasons of sordid necessity, had condescended to a party in Fifth Avenue. "I'd like to meet her."
"Certainly," replied Horwitz. "I'll introduce her to you."
She blushed and was painfully ill at ease in presence of his grand and lofty courtesy—she who had been used to the offhand manners which prevail wherever there is equality of the sexes and the custom of frank sociability. And when he asked her to dance she would have refused had she been able to speak at all. But he bore her off and soon made her forget herself in the happiness of being drifted in his strong arm upon the rhythmic billows of the waltz. At the end he led her to a seat and fell to complimenting her—his eyes eloquent, his voice, it seemed to her, as entrancing as the waltz music. When he spoke in German it was without the harsh sputtering and growling, the slovenly slurring and clipping to which she had been accustomed. She could answer only with monosyllables or appreciative looks, though usually she was a great talker and, as she had much common sense and not a little wit, a good talker. But her awe of him, which increased when she learned that he was on the stage, did not prevent her from getting the two main impressions he wished to make upon her—that Mr. Feuerstein was a very grand person indeed, and that he was condescending to be profoundly smitten of her charms.
She was the "catch" of Avenue A, taking prospects and looks together, and the men she knew had let her rule them. In Mr. Feuerstein she had found what she had been unconsciously seeking with the Idealismus of genuine youth—a man who compelled her to look far up to him, a man who seemed to her to embody those vague dreams of a life grand and beautiful, away off somewhere, which are dreamed by all young people, and by not a few older ones, who have less excuse for not knowing where happiness is to be found. He spent the whole evening with her; Mrs. Liebers and Sophie, with whom she had come, did not dare interrupt her pleasure, but had to stay, yawning and cross, until the last strain of Home, Sweet Home.
At parting he pressed her hand. "I have been happy," he murmured in a tone which said, "Mine is a sorrow-shadowed soul that has rarely tasted happiness."
She glanced up at him with ingenuous feeling in her eyes and managed to stammer: "I hope we'll meet again."
"Couldn't I come down to see you Sunday evening?"
"There's a concert in the Square. If you're there I might see you."
"Until Sunday night," he said, and made her feel that the three intervening days would be for him three eternities.
She thought of him all the way home in the car, and until she fell asleep. His sonorous name was in her mind when she awoke in the morning; and, as she stood in the store that day, waiting on the customers, she looked often at the door, and, with the childhood-surviving faith of youth in the improbable and impossible, hoped that he would appear. For the first time she was definitely discontented with her lot, was definitely fascinated by the idea that there might be something higher and finer than the simple occupations and simple enjoyments which had filled her life thus far.
In the evening after supper her father and mother left her and her brother August in charge, and took their usual stroll for exercise and for the profound delight of a look at their flat-houses—those reminders of many years of toil and thrift. They had spent their youth, she as cook, he as helper, in one of New York's earliest delicatessen shops. When they had saved three thousand dollars they married and put into effect the plan which had been their chief subject of conversation every day and every evening for ten years—they opened the "delicatessen" in Avenue A, near Second Street. They lived in two back rooms; they toiled early and late for twenty-three contented, cheerful years—she in the shop when she was not doing the housework or caring for the babies, he in the great clean cellar, where the cooking and cabbage-cutting and pickling and spicing were done. And now, owners of three houses that brought in eleven thousand a year clear, they were about to retire. They had fixed on a place in the Bronx, in the East Side, of course, with a big garden, where every kind of gay flower and good vegetable could be grown, and an arbor where there could be pinochle, beer and coffee on Sunday afternoons. In a sentence, they were honorable and exemplary members of that great mass of humanity which has the custody of the present and the future of the race—those who live by the sweat of their own brows or their own brains, and train their children to do likewise, those who maintain the true ideals of happiness and progress, those from whom spring all the workers and all the leaders of thought and action.
They walked slowly up the Avenue, speaking to their neighbors, pausing now and then for a joke or to pat a baby on the head, until they were within two blocks of Tompkins Square. They stopped before a five-story tenement, evidently the dwelling-place of substantial, intelligent, self-respecting artisans and their families, leading the natural life of busy usefulness. In its first floor was a delicatessen—the sign read "Schwartz and Heilig." Paul Brauner pointed with his long-stemmed pipe at the one show-window.
"Fine, isn't it? Beautiful!" he exclaimed in Low-German—they and almost all their friends spoke Low-German, and used English only when they could not avoid it.
The window certainly was well arranged. Only a merchant who knew his business thoroughly—both his wares and his customers—could have thus displayed cooked chickens, hams and tongues, the imported sausages and fish, the jelly-inclosed paste of chicken livers, the bottles and jars of pickled or spiced meats and vegetables and fruits. The spectacle was adroitly arranged to move the hungry to yearning, the filled to regret, and the dyspeptic to rage and remorse. And behind the show-window lay a shop whose shelves, counters and floor were clean as toil could make and keep them, and whose air was saturated with the most delicious odors.
Mrs. Brauner nodded. "Heilig was up at half-past four this morning," she said. "He cleans out every morning and he moves everything twice a week." She had a round, honest face that was an inspiring study in simplicity, sense and sentiment.
"What a worker!" was her husband's comment. "So unlike most of the young men nowadays. If August were only like him!"
"You'd think Heilig was a drone if he were your son," replied Mrs. Brauner. She knew that if any one else had dared thus to attack their boy, his father would have been growling and snapping like an angry bear.
"That's right!" he retorted with mock scorn. "Defend your children! You'll be excusing Hilda for putting off Heilig next."
"She'll marry him—give her time," said Mrs. Brauner. "She's romantic, but she's sensible, too—why, she was born to make a good wife to a hard-working man. Where's there another woman that knows the business as she does? You admit on her birthdays that she's the only real helper you ever had."
"Except you," said her husband.
"Never mind me." Mrs. Brauner pretended to disdain the compliment.
Brauner understood, however. "We have had the best, you and I," said he.
"Arbeit und Liebe und Heim. Nicht wahr?" Otto Heilig appeared in his doorway and greeted them awkwardly. Nor did their cordiality lessen his embarrassment. His pink and white skin was rosy red and his frank blue-gray eyes shifted uneasily. But he was smiling with eager friendliness, showing even, sound, white teeth.
"You are coming to see us to-morrow?" asked Mrs. Brauner—he always called on Sunday afternoons and stayed until five, when he had to open shop for the Sunday supper rush.
"Why—that is—not exactly—no," he stammered. Hilda had told him not to come, but he knew that if he admitted it to her parents they would be severe with her. He didn't like anybody to be severe with Hilda, and he felt that their way of helping his courtship was not suited to the modern ideas. "They make her hate me," he often muttered. But if he resented it he would offend them and Hilda too; if he acquiesced he encouraged them and added to Hilda's exasperation.
Mrs. Brauner knew at once that Hilda was in some way the cause of the break in the custom. "Oh, you must come," she said. "We'd feel strange all week if we didn't see you on Sunday."
"Yes—I must have my cards," insisted Brauner. He and Otto always played pinochle; Otto's eyes most of the time and his thoughts all the time were on Hilda, in the corner, at the zither, playing the maddest, most romantic music; her father therefore usually won, poor at the game though he was. It made him cross to lose, and Otto sometimes defeated his own luck deliberately when love refused to do it for him.
"Very well, then—that is—if I can—I'll try to come."
Several customers pushed past him into his shop and he had to rejoin his partner, Schwartz, behind the counters. Brauner and his wife walked slowly home—it was late and there would be more business than Hilda and August could attend to. As they crossed Third Street Brauner said: "Hilda must go and tell him to come. This is her doing."
"But she can't do that," objected Mrs. Brauner. "She'd say it was throwing herself at his head."
"Not if I send her?" Brauner frowned with a seeming of severity. "Not if I, her father, send her—for two chickens, as we're out?" Then he laughed. His fierceness was the family joke when Hilda was small she used to say, "Now, get mad, father, and make little Hilda laugh!"
Hilda was behind the counter, a customer watching with fascinated eyes the graceful, swift movements of her arms and hands as she tied up a bundle. Her sleeves were rolled to her dimpled elbows, and her arms were round and strong and white, and her skin was fine and smooth. Her shoulders were wide, but not square; her hips were narrow, her wrists, her hands, her head, small. She looked healthy and vigorous and useful as well as beautiful.
When the customers had gone Brauner said: "Go up to Schwartz and Heilig, daughter, and ask them for two two-pound chickens. And tell Otto Heilig you'll be glad to see him to-morrow."
"But we don't need the chickens, now. We—" Hilda's brow contracted and her chin came out.
"Do as I tell you," said her father.
"MY children shall not sink to the disrespect of these days."
"But I shan't be here to-morrow! I've made another engagement."
"You SHALL be here to-morrow! If you don't wish young Heilig here for your own sake, you must show consideration for your parents. Are they to be deprived of their Sunday afternoon? You have never done this before, Hilda. You have never forgotten us before."
Hilda hung her head; after a moment she unrolled her sleeves, laid aside her apron and set out. She was repentant toward her father, but she felt that Otto was to blame. She determined to make him suffer for it—how easy it was to make him suffer, and how pleasant to feel that this big fellow was her slave! She went straight up to him. "So you complained of me, did you?" she said scornfully, though she knew well that he had not, that he could not have done anything that even seemed mean.
He flushed. "No—no," he stammered. "No, indeed, Hilda. Don't think—"
She looked contempt. "Well, you've won. Come down Sunday afternoon. I suppose I'll have to endure it."
"Hilda, you're wrong. I will NOT come!" He was angry, but his mind was confused. He loved her with all the strength of his simple, straightforward nature. Therefore he appeared at his worst before her—usually either incoherent or dumb. It was not surprising that whenever it was suggested that only a superior man could get on so well as he did, she always answered: "He works twice as hard as any one else, and you don't need much brains if you'll work hard."
She now cut him short. "If you don't come I'll have to suffer for it," she said. "You MUST come! I'll not be glad to see you. But if you don't come I'll never speak to you again!" And she left him and went to the other counter and ordered the chickens from Schwartz.
Heilig was wretched,—another of those hideous dilemmas over which he had been stumbling like a drunken man in a dark room full of furniture ever since he let his mother go to Mrs. Brauner and ask her for Hilda. He watched Hilda's splendid back, and fumbled about, upsetting bottles and rattling dishes, until she went out with a glance of jeering scorn. Schwartz burst out laughing.
"Anybody could tell you are in love," he said. "Be stiff with her, Otto, and you'll get her all right. It don't do to let a woman see that you care about her. The worse you treat the women the better they like it. When they used to tell my father about some woman being crazy over a man, he always used to say, 'What sort of a scoundrel is he?' That was good sense."
Otto made no reply. No doubt these maxims were sound and wise; but how was he to apply them? How could he pretend indifference when at sight of her he could open his jaws only enough to chatter them, could loosen his tongue only enough to roll it thickly about? "I can work," he said to himself, "and I can pay my debts and have something over; but when it comes to love I'm no good."
BRASS OUTSHINES GOLD
Hilda returned to her father's shop and was busy there until nine o'clock. Then Sophie Liebers came and they went into the Avenue for a walk. They pushed their way through and with the throngs up into Tompkins Square—the center of one of the several vast districts, little known because little written about, that contain the real New York and the real New Yorkers. In the Square several thousand young people were promenading, many of the girls walking in pairs, almost all the young men paired off, each with a young woman. It was warm, and the stars beamed down upon the hearts of young lovers, blotting out for them electric lights and surrounding crowds. It caused no comment there for a young couple to walk hand in hand, looking each at the other with the expression that makes commonplace eyes wonderful. And when the sound of a kiss came from a somewhat secluded bench, the only glances east in the direction whence it had come were glances of approval or envy.
"There's Otto Heilig dogging us," said Hilda to Sophie, as they walked up and down. "Do you wonder I hate him?" They talked in American, as did all the young people, except with those of their elders who could speak only German.
Sophie was silent. If Hilda had been noting her face she would have seen a look of satisfaction.
"I can't bear him," went on Hilda. "No girl could. He's so stupid and—and common!" Never before had she used that last word in such a sense. Mr. Feuerstein had begun to educate her.
Sophie's unobserved look changed to resentment. "Of course he's not equal to Mr. Feuerstein," she said. "But he's a very nice fellow—at least for an ordinary girl." Sophie's father was an upholsterer, and not a good one. He owned no tenements—was barely able to pay the rent for a small corner of one. Thus her sole dower was her pretty face and her cunning. She had an industrious, scheming, not overscrupulous brain and—her hopes and plans. Nor had she time to waste. For she was nearer twenty-three than twenty-two, at the outer edge of the marriageable age of Avenue A, which believes in an early start at what it regards as the main business of life—the family.
"You surely couldn't marry such a man as Otto!" said Hilda absently. Her eyes were searching the crowd, near and far.
Sophie laughed. "Beggars can't be choosers," she answered. "I think he's all right—as men go. It wouldn't do for me to expect too much."
Just then Hilda caught sight of Mr. Feuerstein—the godlike head, the glorious hair, the graceful hat. Her manner changed—her eyes brightened, her cheeks reddened, and she talked fast and laughed a great deal. As they passed near him she laughed loudly and called out to Sophie as if she were not at her elbow—she feared he would not see. Mr. Feuerstein turned his picturesque head, slowly lifted his hat and joined them. At once Hilda became silent, listening with rapt attention to the commonplaces he delivered in sonorous, oracular tones.
As he deigned to talk only to Hilda, who was walking between Sophie and him, Sophie was free to gaze round. She spied Otto Heilig drooping dejectedly along. She adroitly steered her party so that it crossed his path. He looked up to find himself staring at Hilda. She frowned at this disagreeable apparition into her happiness, and quickened her step. But Sophie, without letting go of Hilda's hand, paused and spoke to Otto. Thus Hilda was forced to stop and to say ungraciously: "Mr. Feuerstein, Mr. Heilig."
Then she and Mr. Feuerstein went on, and Sophie drew the reluctant Otto in behind them. She gradually slackened her pace, so that she and Heilig dropped back until several couples separated them from Hilda and Mr. Feuerstein. A few minutes and Hilda and Mr. Feuerstein were seated on a bench in the deep shadow of a tree, Sophie and Heilig walking slowly to and fro a short distance away.
Heilig was miserable with despondent jealousy. He longed to inquire about this remarkable-looking new friend of Hilda's. For Mr. Feuerstein seemed to be of that class of strangers whom Avenue A condemns on their very appearance. It associates respectability with work only, and it therefore suspects those who look as if they did not work and did not know how. Sophie was soon answering of her own accord the questions Heilig as a gentleman could not ask. "You must have heard of Mr. Feuerstein? He's an actor—at the German Theater. I don't think he's much of an actor—he's one of the kind that do all their acting off the stage."
Heilig laughed unnaturally. He did not feel like laughing, but wished to show his gratitude to Sophie for this shrewd blow at his enemy. "He's rigged out like a lunatic, isn't he?" Otto was thinking of the long hair, the low-rolling shirt collar and the velvet collar on his coat,—light gray, to match his hat and suit.
"I don't see what Hilda finds in him," continued Sophie. "It makes me laugh to look at him; and when he talks I can hardly keep from screaming in his face. But Hilda's crazy over him, as you see. He tells all sorts of romances about himself, and she believes every word. I think she'll marry him—you know, her father lets her do as she pleases. Isn't it funny that a sensible girl like Hilda can be so foolish?"
Heilig did not answer this, nor did he heed the talk on love and marriage which the over-eager Sophie proceeded to give. And it was talk worth listening to, as it presented love and marriage in the interesting, romantic-sensible Avenue A light. Otto was staring gloomily at the shadow of the tree. He would have been gloomier could he have witnessed the scene to which the unmoral old elm was lending its impartial shade.
Mr. Feuerstein was holding Hilda's hand while he looked soulfully down into her eyes. She was returning his gaze, her eyes expressing all the Schwarmerei of which their dark depths were capable at nineteen. He was telling her what a high profession the actor's was, how great he was as an actor, how commonplace her life there, how beautiful he could make it if only he had money. It was an experience to hear Mr. Feuerstein say the word "money." Elocution could go no further in surcharging five letters with contempt. His was one of those lofty natures that scorn all such matters of intimate concern to the humble, hard-pressed little human animal as food, clothing and shelter. He so loathed money that he would not deign to work for it, and as rapidly as possible got rid of any that came into his possession.
"Yes, my adorable little princess," he rolled out, in the tones which wove a spell over Hilda. "I adore you. How strange that I should have wandered into THIS region for my soul's bride—and should have found her!"
Hilda pressed his clasping hand and her heart fluttered. But she was as silent and shy as Heilig with her. What words had she fit to express response to these exalted emotions? "I—I feel it," she said timidly. "But I can't say it to you. You must think me very foolish."
"No—you need not speak. I know what you would say. Our hearts speak each to the other without words, my beautiful jewel. And what do you think your parents will say?"
"I—I don't know," stammered Hilda.
"They are so set on my marrying"—she glanced toward Otto—how ordinary he looked!—"marrying another—a merchant like my father. They think only of what is practical. I'm so afraid they won't understand—US."
Feuerstein sighed—the darkness prevented her from seeing that he was also frowning with impatience and irritation.
"But it must be settled at once, my heart's bride," he said gently. "Secrecy, deception are horrible to me. And I am mad to claim you as my own. I could not take you without their consent—that would be unworthy. No, I could not grieve their honest hearts!"
Hilda was much disturbed. She was eminently practical herself, aside from her fondness for romance, which Mr. Feuerstein was developing in a way so unnatural in her surroundings, so foreign to her education; and she could see just how her father would look upon her lover. She feared he would vent plain speech that would cut Mr. Feuerstein's sensitive soul and embattle his dignity and pride against his love. "I'll speak to them as soon as I can," she said.
"Then you will speak to them to-morrow or next day, my treasure, and I shall see you on Sunday afternoon."
"No—not Sunday afternoon. I must stay at home—father has ordered it."
"Disappointment—deception—postponement!" Feuerstein struck his hand upon his brow and sighed tragically. "Oh, my little Erebus-haired angel, how you do test my love!"
Hilda was almost in tears—it was all intensely real to her. She felt that he was superfine, that he suffered more than ordinary folk, like herself and her people. "I'll do the best I can," she pleaded.
"It would be best for you to introduce them to me at once and let ME speak."
"No—no," she protested earnestly, terror in her voice and her hand trembling in his. "That would spoil everything. You wouldn't understand them, or they you. I'll speak—and see you Monday night."
"Let it be so," he conceded. "But I must depart. I am studying a new role." He had an engagement to take supper with several of his intimates at the Irving Place cafe, where he could throw aside the heaviest parts of his pose and give way to his appetite for beer and Schweizerkase sandwiches. "How happy we shall be!" he murmured tenderly, kissing her cheek and thinking how hard it was to be practical and keep remote benefits in mind when she was so beautiful and so tempting and so trustful. He said aloud: "I am impatient, soul's delight! Is it strange?" And he bowed like a stage courtier to a stage queen and left her.
She joined Sophie and Heilig and walked along in silence, Sophie between Otto and her. He caught glimpses of her face, and it made his heart ache and his courage faint to see the love-light in her eyes—and she as far away from him as Heaven from hell, far away in a world from which he was excluded. He and Sophie left her at her father's and he took Sophie home.
Sophie felt that she had done a fair evening's work—not progress, but progress in sight. "At least," she reflected, "he's seeing that he isn't in it with Hilda and never can be. I must hurry her on and get her married to that fool. A pair of fools!"
Heilig found his mother waiting up for him. As she saw his expression, anxiety left her face, but cast a deeper shadow over her heart. She felt his sorrow as keenly as he—she who would have laid down her life for him gladly.
"Don't lose heart, my big boy," she said, patting him on the shoulder as he bent to kiss her.
At this he dropped down beside her and hid his face in her lap and cried like the boy-man that he was. "Ach, Gott, mother, I love her SO!" he sobbed.
Her tears fell on the back of his head. Her boy—who had gone so bravely to work when the father was killed at his machine, leaving them penniless; her boy—who had laughed and sung and whistled and diffused hope and courage and made her feel that the burden was not a burden but a joy for his strong, young shoulders.
"Courage, beloved!" she said. "Hilda is a good girl. All will yet be well." And she felt it—God would not be God if He could let this heart of gold be crushed to powder.
FORTUNE FAVORS THE IMPUDENT
Like all people who lead useful lives and neither have nor pretend to have acquired tastes for fine-drawn emotion, Otto and Hilda indulged in little mooning. They put aside their burdens—hers of dread, his of despair—and went about the work that had to be done and that healthfully filled almost all their waking moments; and when bed-time came their tired bodies refused either to sit up with their brains or to let their brains stay awake. But it was gray and rainy for Hilda and black night for Otto.
On Sunday morning he rose at half-past three, instead of at four, his week-day rising time. Many of his hard-working customers were astir betimes on Sunday to have the longer holiday. As they would spend the daylight hours in the country and would not reach home until after the shop had closed, they bought the supplies for a cold or warmed-up supper before starting. Otto looked so sad—usually he was in high spirits—that most of these early customers spoke to him or to Joe Schwartz about his health. There were few of them who did not know what was troubling him. Among those friendly and unpretending and well-acquainted people any one's affairs were every one's affairs—why make a secret of what was, after all, only the routine of human life the world over and the ages through? Thus Otto had the lively but tactful sympathy of the whole community.
He became less gloomy under the warmth of this succession of friendly faces and friendly inquiries. But as trade slackened, toward noon, he had more leisure to think, and the throbbing ache returned to his heavy heart. All the time pictures of her were passing before his eyes. He had known her so long and she had become such an intimate part of his daily life, so interwoven with it, that he could not look at present, past or future without seeing her.
Why, he had known her since she was a baby. Did he not remember the day when he, a small boy on his way to school, had seen her toddle across the sidewalk in front of him? Could he ever forget how she had reached with great effort into a snowbank, had dug out with her small, red-mittened hands a chunk of snow, and, lifting it high above her head, had thrown it weakly at him with such force that she had fallen headlong upon the sidewalk? He had seen her every day since then—every day!
He most clearly of all recalled her as a school-girl. Those were the days of the German bands of six and seven and even eight pieces, wandering as the hand-organs do now. And always with them came a swarm of little girls who danced when the band played, and of little boys who listened and watched. He had often followed her as she followed a band, all day on a Saturday. And he had never wearied of watching her long, slim legs twinkling tirelessly to the music. She invented new figures and variations on steps which the other girls adopted. She and her especial friends became famous among the children throughout the East Side; even grown people noted the grace and originality of a particular group of girls, led by a black-haired, slim-legged one who danced with all there was of her. And how their mothers did whip them when they returned from a day of this forbidden joy! But they were off again the next Saturday—who would not pass a bad five minutes for the sake of hours on hours of delight?
And Hilda was gone from his life, was sailing away on his ship—was it not his ship? was not its cargo his hopes and dreams and plans?—was sailing away with another man at the helm! And he could do nothing—must sit dumb upon the shore.
At half-past twelve he closed the shop and, after the midday dinner with his mother, went down to Brauner's. Hilda was in the room back of the shop, alone, and so agitated with her own affairs that she forgot to be cold and contemptuous to Otto. He bowed to her, then stood staring at the framed picture of Die Wacht am Rhein as if he had never before seen the wonderful lady in red and gold seated under a tree and gazing out over the river—all the verses were underneath. When he could stare at it no longer he turned to the other wall where hung the target bearing the marks of Paul Brauner's best shots in the prize contest he had won. But he saw neither the lady watching the Rhine nor the target with its bullet holes all in the bull's-eye ring, and its pendent festoon of medals. He was longing to pour out his love for her, to say to her the thousand things he could say to the image of her in his mind when she was not near. But he could only stand, an awkward figure, at which she would have smiled if she had seen it at all.
She went out into the shop. While he was still trying to lay hold of an end of the spinning tangle of his thoughts and draw it forth in the hope that all would follow, she returned, fright in her eyes. She clasped her hands nervously and her cheeks blanched. "Mr. Feuerstein!" she exclaimed. "And he's coming here! What SHALL I do?"
"What is the matter?" he asked.
She turned upon him angrily—he was the convenient vent for her nervousness. "It's all your fault!" she exclaimed. "They want to force me to marry you. And I dare not bring here the man I love."
"My fault?" he muttered, dazed. "I'm not to blame."
"Stupid! You're always in the way—no wonder I HATE you!" She was clasping and unclasping her hands, trying to think, not conscious of what she was saying.
"Hate me?" he repeated mechanically. "Oh, no—surely not that. No, you can't—"
"Be still! Let me think. Ach! Gott im Himmel! He's in the hall!" She sank wretchedly into a chair. "Can you do nothing but gape and mutter?" In her desperation her tone was appealing.
"He can say he came with me," said Otto. "I'll stand for him."
"Yes—yes!" she cried. "That will do! Thank you—thank you!" And as the knock came at the door she opened it. She had intended to be reproachful, but she could not. This splendid, romantic creature, with his graceful hat and his golden hair and his velvet collar, was too compelling, too overpowering. Her adoring love put her at a hopeless disadvantage. "Oh—Mr. Feuerstein," she murmured, her color coming and going with the rise and fall of her bosom.
Mr. Feuerstein majestically removed his hat and turned a look of haughty inquiry upon Otto. Otto's fists clenched—he longed to discuss the situation in the only way which seemed to him to meet its requirements.
"Hilda," said the actor, when he thought there had been a long enough pause for an imposing entrance, "I have come to end the deception—to make you, before the world, as you are before Almighty God, my affianced bride."
"You—you mustn't," implored Hilda, her fears getting the better of her awe.
"If my parents learn now—just now, they will—oh, it will be hopeless!"
"I can not delay, angel of my heart!" He gave her the look that is the theatrical convention for love beyond words. "It must be settled at once. I must know my fate. I must put destiny to the touch and know happiness or—hell!"
"Bah!" thought Otto. "He has to hurry matters—he must be in trouble. He's got to raise the wind at once."
"Mr. Feuerstein—Carl!" pleaded Hilda. "PLEASE try to be practical." She went up to him, and Otto turned away, unable to bear the sight of that look of love, tenderness and trust. "You must not—at least, not right away." She turned to Otto. "Help me, Otto. Explain to him."
Heilig tried to put courtesy in his voice as he said to Mr. Feuerstein: "Miss Brauner is right. You'll only wreck her—her happiness. We're plain people down here and don't understand these fine, grand ways. You must pass as my friend whom I brought here—but I make one condition." He drew a long breath and looked at Hilda. For the first time she heard him, the real Otto Heilig, speak. "Hilda," he went on, "I don't want to hurt you—I'd do anything for you, except hurt you. And I can't stand for this fel—for Mr. Feuerstein, unless you'll promise me you won't marry him, no matter what he may say, until your father has had a chance to find out who and what he is."
Mr. Feuerstein drew himself up grandly. "Who is this person, Miss Brauner?" he demanded with haughty coldness.
"He don't know any better," she replied hurriedly. "He's an old friend. Trust me, Mr. Feuer—Carl! Everything depends on it."
"I can not tolerate this coarse hand between me and the woman I love. No more deception! Carl Feuerstein"—how he did roll out that name!—"can guard his own honor and his own destiny."
The door into the private hall opened and in came Brauner and his wife, fine pictures of homely content triumphing over the discomforts of Sunday clothes. They looked at Mr. Feuerstein with candidly questioning surprise. Avenue A is not afraid to look, and speak, its mind. Otto came forward. "This is Mr. Feuerstein," he said.
At once Brauner showed that he was satisfied, and Mrs. Brauner beamed. "Oh, a friend of yours," Brauner said, extending his hand. "Glad to see any friend of Otto's."
Mr. Feuerstein advanced impressively and bowed first over Brauner's hand, then over Mrs. Brauner's. "I am not a friend of this—young man," he said with the dignity of a Hoheit. "I have come here to propose for the honor of your daughter's hand in marriage."
Mr. Feuerstein noted the stupefied expression of the delicatessen dealer and his wife, and glanced from Otto to Hilda with a triumphant smile. But Hilda was under no delusion. She shivered and moved nearer to Otto. She felt that he was her hope in this crisis which the mad love of her hero-lover had forced. Brauner was the more angry because he had been thus taken by surprise.
"What nonsense is this?" he growled, shaking his head violently. "My daughter is engaged to a plain man like ourselves."
At this Heilig came forward again, pale and sad, but calm. "No, Mr. Brauner—she is not engaged. I'm sure she loves this gentleman, and I want her to be happy. I can not be anything to her but her friend. And I want you to give him a chance to show himself worthy of her."
Brauner burst out furiously at Hilda. The very presence of this gaudy, useless-looking creature under his roof was an insult to his three gods of honor and happiness—his "Arbeit und Liebe und Heim."
"What does this mean?" he shouted.
"Where did you find this crazy fellow? Who brought him here?"
Hilda flared. "I love him, father! He's a noble, good man. I shall always love him. Listen to Otto—it'll break my heart if you frown on my marrying the man I love." There was a touch of Mr. Feuerstein in her words and tone.
"Let's have our game, Mr. Brauner," interrupted Otto. "All this can be settled afterward. Why spoil our afternoon?"
Brauner examined Mr. Feuerstein, who was posing as a statue of gloomy wrath.
"Who are you?" he demanded in the insulting tone which exactly expressed his state of mind.
Mr. Feuerstein cast up his eyes. "For Hilda's sake!" he murmured audibly. Then he made a great show of choking down his wrath. "I, sir, am of an ancient Prussian family—a gentleman. I saw your peerless daughter, sought an introduction, careless who or what she was in birth and fortune. Love, the leveler, had conquered me. I—"
"Do you work?" Brauner broke in. "What are your prospects? What have you got? What's your character? Have you any respectable friends who can vouch for you? You've wandered into the wrong part of town. Down here we don't give our daughters to strangers or do-nothings or rascals. We believe in love—yes. But we also have a little common sense and self-respect." Brauner flung this at Mr. Feuerstein in High-German. Hilda, mortified and alarmed, was also proud that her father was showing Mr. Feuerstein that she came of people who knew something, even if they were "trades-folk."
"I can answer all your questions to your satisfaction," replied Mr. Feuerstein loftily, with a magnanimous wave of his white hand. "My friends will speak for me. And I shall give you the addresses of my noble relatives in Germany, though I greatly fear they will oppose my marriage. You, sir, were born in the Fatherland. You know their prejudices."
"Don't trouble yourself," said Brauner ironically. "Just take yourself off and spare yourself the disgrace of mingling with us plain folk. Hilda, go to your room!" Brauner pointed the stem of his pipe toward the outside door and looked meaningly at Mr. Feuerstein.
Hilda, her eyes sparkling and her cheeks flushed, put herself between Mr. Feuerstein and the door. "I guess I've got something to say about that!" she exclaimed. "Father, you can't make me marry Otto Heilig. I HATE him. I guess this is a free country. I shall marry Mr. Feuer—Carl." She went up to him and put her arm through his and looked up at him lovingly. He drew her to him protectingly, and for an instant something of her passionate enthusiasm fired him, or rather, the actor in him.
Otto laid his hand on Brauner's arm.
"Don't you see, sir," he said in Low-German, very earnestly, "that you're driving her to him? I beg you"—in a lower tone—"for the sake of her future—don't drive him out, and her with him. If he really would make her a good husband, why not let her have him? If he's not what he claims, she won't have him."
Brauner hesitated. "But she's yours. Her mother and I have promised. We are people of our word."
"But I won't marry her—not unless she wishes it, she herself. And nothing can be done until this man has had a chance."
It was evident from Brauner's face that he was yielding to this common sense. Hilda looked at Otto gratefully. "Thank you, Otto," she said. He shook his head mournfully and turned away.
Brauner gave Mr. Feuerstein a contemptuous glance. "Perhaps Otto's right," he growled. "You can stay. Let us have our game, Otto."
Mrs. Brauner hurried to the kitchen to make ready for four-o'clock coffee and cake. Hilda arranged the table for pinochle, and when her father and Otto were seated, motioned her lover to a seat beside her on the sofa.
"Heart's bride," he said in a low tone, "I am prostrated by what I have borne for your sake."
"I love you," she said softly, her young eyes shining like Titania's when she was garlanding her ass-headed lover. "You were right, my beloved. We shall win—father is giving in. He's very good-natured, and now he's used to the idea of our love."
Otto lost the game, and, with his customary patience, submitted to the customary lecture on his stupidity as a player. Brauner was once more in a good humor. Having agreed to tolerate Mr. Feuerstein, he was already taking a less unfavorable view of him. And Mr. Feuerstein laid himself out to win the owner of three tenements. He talked German politics with him in High-German, and applauded his accent and his opinions. He told stories of the old German Emperor and Bismarck, and finally discovered that Brauner was an ardent admirer of Schiller. He saw a chance to make a double stroke—to please Brauner and to feed his own vanity.
"With your permission, sir," he said, "I will give a soliloquy from Wallenstein."
Brauner went to the door leading down the private hall. "Mother!" he called. "Come at once. Mr. Feuerstein's going to act."
Hilda was bubbling over with delight. Otto sat forgotten in the corner. Mrs. Brauner came bustling, her face rosy from the kitchen fire and her hands moist from a hasty washing. Mr. Feuerstein waited until all were seated in front of him. He then rose and advanced with stately tread toward the clear space. He rumpled his hair, drew down his brows, folded his arms, and began a melancholy, princely pacing of the floor. With a suddenness that made them start, he burst out thunderously. He strode, he roared, he rolled his eyes, he waved his arms, he tore at his hair. It was Wallenstein in a soul-sweat. The floor creaked, the walls echoed. His ingenuous auditors, except Otto, listened and looked with bated breath. They were as vastly impressed as is a drawing-room full of culture-hunters farther up town when a man discourses to them on a subject of which he knows just enough for a wordy befuddling of their ignorance. And the burst of applause which greeted the last bellowing groan was full as hearty as that which greets the bad singing or worse playing at the average musicale.
Swollen with vanity and streaming with sweat, Mr. Feuerstein sat down. "Good, Mr. Feuerstein—ah! it is grand!" said Brauner. Hilda looked at her lover proudly. Otto felt that the recitation was idiotic—"Nobody ever carried on like that," he said to himself. But he also felt the pitiful truth, "I haven't got a ghost of a chance."
He rose as soon as he could muster the courage. "I must get back and help Schwartz open up," he said, looking round forlornly. "It's five o'clock."
"You must stay to coffee," insisted Mrs. Brauner. It should have been served before, but Mr. Feuerstein's exhibition had delayed it.
"No—I must work," he replied. "It's five o'clock."
"That's right," said Brauner with an approving nod. "Business first! I must go in myself—and you, too, Hilda." The late Sunday afternoon opening was for a very important trade.
Hilda blushed—the descent from the romantic to the practical jarred upon her. But Mr. Feuerstein rose and took leave most graciously. "May I return this evening?" he said to Brauner.
"Always glad to see our friends," answered Brauner with a shamefaced, apologetic look at Otto.
At seven o'clock that evening Otto, just closing his shop, saw Mr. Feuerstein and Hilda pass on their way toward Tompkins Square. A few minutes later Sophie came along. She paused and tried to draw him into conversation. But he answered briefly and absently, gradually retreating into the darkness of his shop and pointedly drawing the door between him and her. Sophie went on her way downcast, but not in the least disheartened. "When Hilda is Mrs. Feuerstein," she said to herself.
A BOLD DASH AND A DISASTER
Mr. Feuerstein's evening was even more successful than his afternoon. Brauner was still grumbling. Mr. Feuerstein could not possibly be adjusted in his mind to his beloved ideals, his religion of life—"Arbeit und Liebe und Heim." Still he was yielding and Hilda saw the signs of it. She knew he was practically won over and was secretly inclined to be proud that his daughter had made this exalted conquest. All men regard that which they do not know either with extravagant awe or with extravagant contempt. While Brauner had the universal human failing for attaching too much importance to the department of human knowledge in which he was thoroughly at home, he had the American admiration for learning, for literature, and instead of spelling them with a very small "l," as "practical" men sometimes do with age and increasing vanity, he spelled them with huge capitals, erecting them into a position out of all proportion to their relative importance in the life of the human animal.
Mr. Feuerstein had just enough knowledge to enable him to play upon this weakness, this universal human susceptibility to the poison of pretense. All doubt of success fled his mind, and he was free to indulge his vanity and his contempt for these simple, unpretending people. "So vulgar!" he said to himself, as he left their house that night—he who knew how to do nothing of use or value. "It is a great condescension for me. Working people—ugh!"
As he strolled up town he was spending in fancy the income from at least two, perhaps all three, flat-houses—"The shop's enough for the old people and that dumb ass of a brother. I'll elevate the family. Yes, I think I'll run away with Hilda to-morrow—that's the safest plan."
Otto had guessed close to the truth about Feuerstein's affairs. They were in a desperate tangle. He had been discharged from the stock company on Saturday night. He was worthless as an actor, and had the hostility of the management and of his associates. His landlady had got the news promptly from a boarder who paid in part by acting as a sort of mercantile agency for her in watching her very uncertain boarders. She had given him a week's notice, and had so arranged matters that if he fled he could not take his meager baggage. He was down to eighty-five cents of a borrowed dollar. He owed money everywhere in sums ranging from five dollars to twenty-five cents. The most of these debts were in the form of half-dollar borrowings. He had begun his New York career with loans of "five dollars until Thursday—I'm a little pressed." Soon it became impossible for him to get more than a dollar at a time even from the women, except an occasional windfall through a weak or ignorant new acquaintance. He clung tenaciously to the fifty-cent basis—to go lower would cheapen him. But for the last two weeks his regular levies had been of twenty-five cents, with not a few descents to ten and even five cents.
He reached Goerwitz's at ten o'clock and promenaded slowly through both rooms twice. Just as he was leaving he espied an acquaintance who was looking fiercely away from him as if saying: "I don't see you, and, damn you, don't you dare see me!" But Feuerstein advanced boldly. Twelve years of active membership in that band of "beats" which patrols every highway and byway and private way of civilization had thickened and toughened his skin into a hide. "Good evening, Albers," he said cordially, with a wave of the soft, light hat. "I see you have a vacant place in your little circle. Thank you!" He assumed that Albers had invited him, took a chair from another table and seated himself. Social courage is one of the rarest forms of courage. Albers grew red but did not dare insult such a fine-looking fellow who seemed so hearty and friendly. He surlily introduced Feuerstein to his friends—two women and two men. Feuerstein ordered a round of beer with the air of a prince and without the slightest intention of paying for it.
The young woman of the party was seated next to him. Even before he sat he recognized her as the daughter of Ganser, a rich brewer of the upper East Side. He had placed himself deliberately beside her, and he at once began advances. She showed at a glance that she was a silly, vain girl. Her face was fat and dull; she had thin, stringy hair. She was flabby and, in the lazy life to which the Gansers' wealth and the silly customs of prosperous people condemned her, was already beginning to expand in the places where she could least afford it.
He made amorous eyes at her. He laughed enthusiastically at her foolish speeches. He addressed his pompous platitudes exclusively to her. Within an hour he pressed her hand under the table and sighed dramatically. When she looked at him he started and rolled his great eyes dreamily away. Never before had she received attentions that were not of the frankest and crudest practical nature. She was all in a flutter at having thus unexpectedly come upon appreciation of the beauties and merits her mirror told her she possessed. When Mrs. Schoenberg, her aunt, rose to go, she gave Feuerstein a chance to say in a low aside: "My queen! To-morrow at eleven—at Bloomingdale's." Her blush and smile told him she would be there.
All left except Feuerstein and a youth he had been watching out of the corner of his eyes—young Dippel, son of the rich drug-store man. Feuerstein saw that Dippel was on the verge of collapse from too much drink. As he still had his eighty-five cents, he pressed Dippel to drink and, by paying, induced him to add four glasses of beer to his already top-heavy burden.
"Mus' go home," said Dippel at last, rising abruptly.
Feuerstein walked with him, taking his arm to steady him. "Let's have one more," he said, drawing him into a saloon, gently pushing him to a seat at a table and ordering whisky. After the third large drink, Dippel became helpless and maudlin and began to overflow with generous sentiments. "I love you, Finkelstern, ol' man," he declared tearfully. "They say you're a dead beat, but wha' d'I care?"
"Finkelstern," affecting drunkenness, shed tears on Dippel's shoulder, denied that he was a "beat" and swore that he loved Dippel like a brother. "You're my frien'," he said. "I know you'd trust me to any amount."
Dippel took from his trousers pocket a roll of bills several inches thick. Feuerstein thrilled and his eyes grew eloquent as he noted tens and twenties and at least one fifty. Slowly, and with exaggerated care, Dippel drew off a ten. "There y'are, ol' dead beat," he said. "I'll stake you a ten. Lots more where that came from—soda-fountain counter's reg'lar gol' mine."
In taking off the ten, he dropped a twenty. It fluttered to the floor and the soldier of fortune, the scorner of toil and toilers, slid his foot over it as swiftly and naturally as a true aristocrat always covers an opportunity to get something somebody else has earned. He put the ten in his pocket, when Dippel's eyes closed he stooped and retrieved the twenty with stealth—and skill. When the twenty was hidden, and the small but typical operation in high finance was complete, he shook Dippel. "I say, old man," he said, "hadn't you better let me keep your money for you? I'm afraid you'll lose it."
Dippel slowly unclosed one eye and gave him a look of glassy cunning. He again drew the roll from his pocket, and, clasping it tightly in his fist, waved it under Feuerstein's nose. As he did it, he vented a drunken chuckle. "Soda fountain's gol' mine, Fishenspiel," he said thickly. "No, you don't! I can watch my own roll." He winked and chuckled.
"Sorry to disappoint you, Fishy," he went on, with a leer. Then he took off another ten and handed it to Feuerstein. "Good fel', Fishy," he mumbled, "'f y' are a dead beat."
Feuerstein added the ten to the thirty and ordered more whisky. Dippel tried to doze, but he would not permit it. "He mustn't sleep any of it off," he thought.
When the whisky came Dippel shook himself together and started up. "G'-night," he said, trying to stand, look and talk straight. "Don't f'rget, y'owe me ten dollarses—no, two ten dollarses."
"Oh, sit down," coaxed Feuerstein, taking him by the arm. "It's early yet."
Dippel shook him off with much dignity. "Don' touch me!" he growled. "I know what I'm 'bout. I'm goin' home." Then to himself, but aloud: "Dippy, you're too full f'r utterance—you mus' shake this beat." Again to Feuerstein:
"G'night, Mr. Funkelshine—g'night. Sit there till I'm gone."
Feuerstein rose to follow and Dippel struck at him. The waiter seized each by the shoulder and flung them through the swinging doors. Dippel fell in a heap on the sidewalk, but Feuerstein succeeded in keeping to his feet. He went to the assistance of Dippel.
"Don't touch me," shouted Dippel.
Feuerstein looked fearfully round, gave Dippel a kick and hurried away. When he glanced back from a safe distance Dippel was waving to and fro on his wobbling legs, talking to a cabman.
"Close-fisted devil," muttered Feuerstein. "He couldn't forget his money even when he was drunk. What good is money to a brute like him?" And he gave a sniff of contempt for the vulgarity and meanness of Dippel and his kind.
Early the next morning he established a modus vivendi with his landlady by giving her ten dollars on account. He had an elaborate breakfast at Terrace Garden and went to Bloomingdale's, arriving at eleven precisely. Lena Ganser was already there, pretending to shop at a counter in full view of the appointed place. They went to Terrace Garden and sat in the Stube. He at once opened up his sudden romantic passion. "All night I have walked the streets," he said, "dreaming of you." When he had fully informed her of the state of his love-maddened mind toward her, he went on to his most congenial topic—himself.
"You have heard of the Freiherr von Feuerstein, the great soldier?" he asked her.
Lena had never heard of him. But she did not know who was German Emperor or even who was President of the United States. She, therefore, had to be extremely cautious. She nodded assent.
"My uncle," said Feuerstein impressively. His eyes became reflective. "Strange!" he exclaimed in tender accents, soliloquizing—"strange where romance will lead us. Instead of remaining at home, in ease and luxury, here am I—an actor—a wanderer—roaming the earth in search of the heart that Heaven intended should be wedded to mine." He fixed his gaze upon Lena's fat face with the expression that had made Hilda's soul fall down and worship. "And—I have found it!" He drew in and expelled a vast breath. "At last! My soul is at rest."
Lena tried to look serious in imitation of him, but that was not her way of expressing emotion. She made a brief struggle, then collapsed into her own mode—a vain, delighted, giggling laugh.
"Why do you smile?" he asked sternly. He revolted from this discord to his symphony.
She sobered with a frightened, deprecating look. "Don't mind me," she pleaded. "Pa says I'm a fool. I was laughing because I'm happy. You're such a sweet, romantic dream of a man."
Feuerstein was not particular either as to the quality or as to the source of his vanity-food. He accepted Lena's offering with a condescending nod and smile. They talked, or, rather, he talked and she listened and giggled until lunch time. As the room began to fill, they left and he walked home with her.
"You can come in," she said. "Pa won't be home to lunch to-day and ma lets me do as I please."
The Gansers lived in East Eighty-first Street, in the regulation twenty-five-foot brownstone house. And within, also, it was of a familiar New York type. It was the home of the rich, vain ignoramus who has not taste enough to know that those to whom he has trusted for taste have shockingly betrayed him. Ganser had begun as a teamster for a brewery and had grown rapidly rich late in life. He happened to be elected president of a big Verein and so had got the notion that he was a person of importance and attainments beyond his fellows. Too coarse and narrow and ignorant to appreciate the elevated ideals of democracy, he reverted to the European vulgarities of rank and show. He decided that he owed it to himself and his family to live in the estate of "high folks." He bought a house in what was for him an ultra-fashionable quarter, and called for bids to furnish it in the latest style. The results were even more regardless of taste than of expense—carpets that fought with curtains, pictures that quarreled with their frames and with the walls, upholstery so bellicose that it seemed perilous to sit upon.
But Feuerstein was as impressed as the Gansers had been the first time they beheld the gorgeousness of their palace. He looked about with a proprietary sense—"I'll marry this little idiot," he said to himself. "Maybe my nest won't be downy, and maybe I won't lie at my ease in it!"
He met Mrs. Ganser and had the opportunity to see just what Lena would look and be twenty years thence. Mrs. Ganser moved with great reluctance and difficulty. She did not speak unless forced and then her voice seemed to have felt its way up feebly through a long and painfully narrow passage, emerging thin, low and fainting. When she sat—or, rather, AS she sat, for she was always sitting—her mountain of soft flesh seemed to be slowly collapsing upon and around the chair like a lump of dough on a mold. Her only interest in life was disclosed when she was settled and settling at the luncheon table. She used her knife more than her fork and her fingers more than either. Feuerstein left soon after luncheon, lingering only long enough to give Lena a theatrical embrace. "Well, I'll not spend much time with those women, once I'm married," he reflected as he went down the steps; and he thought of Hilda and sighed.
The next day but one he met Lena in the edge of the park and, after gloomy silence, shot with strange piercing looks that made her feel as if she were the heroine of a book, he burst forth with a demand for immediate marriage.
"Forty-eight hours of torment!" he cried. "I shall not leave you again until you are securely mine."
He proceeded to drop vague, adroit hints of the perils that beset a fascinating actor's life, of the women that had come and gone in his life. And Lena, all a-tremble with jealous anxiety, was in the parlor of a Lutheran parsonage, with the minister reading out of the black book, before she was quite aware that she and her cyclonic adorer were not still promenading near the green-house in the park. "Now," said Feuerstein briskly, as they were once more in the open air, "we'll go to your father."
"Goodness gracious, no," protested Lena. "You don't know him—he'll be crazy—just crazy! We must wait till he finds out about you—then he'll be very proud. He wanted a son-in-law of high social standing—a gentleman."
"We will go home, I tell you," replied Feuerstein firmly—his tone was now the tone of the master. All the sentiment was out of it and all the hardness in it.
Lena felt the change without understanding it. "I bet you, pa'll make you wish you'd taken my advice," she said sullenly.
But Feuerstein led her home. They went up stairs where Mrs. Ganser was seated, looking stupidly at a new bonnet as she turned it slowly round on one of her cushion-like hands. Feuerstein went to her and kissed her on the hang of her cheek. "Mother!" he said in a deep, moving voice.
Mrs. Ganser blinked and looked helplessly at Lena.
"I'm married, ma," explained Lena.
"It's Mr. Feuerstein." And she gave her silly laugh.
Mrs. Ganser grew slowly pale. "Your father," she at last succeeded in articulating. "Ach!" She lifted her arm, thick as a piano leg, and resumed the study of her new bonnet.
"Won't you welcome me, mother?" asked Feuerstein, his tone and attitude dignified appeal.
Mrs. Ganser shook her huge head vaguely. "See Peter," was all she said.
They went down stairs and waited, Lena silent, Feuerstein pacing the room and rehearsing, now aloud, now to himself, the scene he would enact with his father-in-law. Peter was in a frightful humor that evening. His only boy, who spent his mornings in sleep, his afternoons in speeding horses and his evenings in carousal, had come down upon him for ten thousand dollars to settle a gambling debt. Peter was willing that his son should be a gentleman and should conduct himself like one. But he had worked too hard for his money not to wince as a plain man at what he endured and even courted as a seeker after position for the house of Ganser. He had hoped to be free to vent his ill-humor at home. He was therefore irritated by the discovery that an outsider was there to check him. As he came in he gave Feuerstein a look which said plainly:
"And who are you, and how long are you going to intrude yourself?"
But Feuerstein, absorbed in the role he had so carefully thought out, did not note his unconscious father-in-law's face. He extended both his hands and advanced grandly upon fat, round Peter. "My father!" he exclaimed in his classic German. "Forgive my unseemly haste in plucking without your permission the beautiful flower I found within reach."
Peter stepped back and gave a hoarse grunt of astonishment. His red face became redder as he glared, first at Feuerstein, then at Lena. "What lunatic is this you've got here, daughter?" he demanded.
"My father!" repeated Feuerstein, drawing Lena to him.
Ganser's mouth opened and shut slowly several times and his whiskers bristled. "Is this fellow telling the truth?" he asked Lena in a tone that made her shiver and shrink away from her husband.
She began to cry. "He made me do it, pa," she whined. "I—I—"
"Go to your mother," shouted Ganser, pointing his pudgy finger tremulously toward the door. "Move!"
Lena, drying her eyes with her sleeve, fled. Feuerstein became a sickly white. When she had disappeared, Ganser looked at him with cruel little eyes that sparkled. Feuerstein quailed. It was full half a minute before Ganser spoke. Then he went up to Feuerstein, stood on tiptoe and, waving his arms frantically above his head, yelled into his face "Rindsvieh!"—as contemptuous an insult as one German can fling at another.
"She is my lawful wife," said Feuerstein with an attempt at his pose.
"Get the house aus—quick!—aus!—gleich!—Lump!—I call the police!"
"I demand my wife!" exclaimed Feuerstein.
Ganser ran to the front door and opened it. "Out!" he shrieked. "If you don't, I have you taken in when the police come the block down. This is my house! Rindsvieh!"
Feuerstein caught up his soft hat from the hall table and hurried out. As he passed, Ganser tried to kick him but failed ludicrously because his short, thick leg would not reach. At the bottom of the steps Feuerstein turned and waved his fists wildly. Ganser waved his fists at Feuerstein and, shaking his head so violently that his hanging cheeks flapped back and forth, bellowed:
Then he rushed in and slammed the door.
A SENSITIVE SOUL SEEKS SALVE
As Mr. Feuerstein left Hilda on the previous Sunday night he promised to meet her in Tompkins Square the next evening—at the band concert. She walked up and down with Sophie, her spirits gradually sinking after half-past eight and a feeling of impending misfortune settling in close. She was not conscious of the music, though the second part of the program contained the selections from Wagner which she loved best. She feverishly searched the crowd and the half-darkness beyond. She imagined that every approaching tall man was her lover. With the frankness to which she had been bred she made no concealment of her heart-sick anxiety.
"He may have to be at the theater," said Sophie, herself extremely uneasy. Partly through shrewdness, partly through her natural suspicion of strangers, she felt that Mr. Feuerstein, upon whom she was building, was not a rock.
"No," replied Hilda. "He told me he wouldn't be at the theater, but would surely come here." The fact that her lover had said so settled it to her mind.
They did not leave the Square until ten o'clock, when it was almost deserted and most of its throngs of an hour before were in bed sleeping soundly in the content that comes from a life of labor. And when she did get to bed she lay awake for nearly an hour, tired though she was. Without doubt some misfortune had befallen him—"He's been hurt or is ill," she decided. The next morning she stood in the door of the shop watching for the postman on his first round; as he turned the corner of Second Street, she could not restrain herself, but ran to meet him.
"Any letter for me?" she inquired in a voice that compelled him to feel personal guilt in having to say "No."
It was a day of mistakes in weights and in making up packages, a day of vain searching for some comforting explanation of Mr. Feuerstein's failure and silence. After supper Sophie came and they went to the Square, keeping to the center of it where the lights were brightest and the people fewest.
"I'm sure something's happened," said Sophie. "Maybe Otto has told him a story—or has—"
"No—not Otto." Hilda dismissed the suggestion as impossible. She had known Otto too long and too well to entertain for an instant the idea that he could be underhanded. "There's only one reason—he's sick, very sick—too sick to send word."
"Let's go and see," said Sophie, as if she had not planned it hours before.
Hilda hesitated. "It might look as if I—" She did not finish.
"But you needn't show yourself," replied Sophie. "You can wait down the street and I'll go up to the door and won't give my name."
Hilda clasped her arm more tightly about Sophie's waist and they set out. They walked more and more swiftly until toward the last they were almost running. At the corner of Fifteenth Street and First Avenue Hilda stopped. "I'll go through to Stuyvesant Square," she said, "and wait there on a bench near the Sixteenth Street entrance. You'll be quick, won't you?"
Sophie went to Mr. Feuerstein's number and rang. After a long wait a slovenly girl in a stained red wrapper, her hair in curl-papers and one stocking down about her high-heeled slipper, opened the door and said: "What do you want? I sent the maid for a pitcher of beer."
"I want to ask about Mr. Feuerstein," replied Sophie.
The girl's pert, prematurely-wrinkled face took on a quizzical smile. "Oh!" she said. "You can go up to his room. Third floor, back. Knock hard—he's a heavy sleeper."
Sophie climbed the stairs and knocked loudly. "Come!" was the answer in German, in Mr. Feuerstein's deep stage-voice.
She opened the door a few inches and said through the crack: "It's me, Mr. Feuerstein—Sophie Liebers—from down in Avenue A—Hilda's friend."
"Come in," was Mr. Feuerstein's reply, in a weary voice, after a pause. From Ganser's he had come straight home and had been sitting there ever since, depressed, angry, perplexed.
Sophie pushed the door wide and stood upon the threshold. "Hilda's over in Stuyvesant Square," she said. "She thought you might be sick, so we came. But if you go to her, you must pretend you came by accident and didn't see me."
Mr. Feuerstein reflected, but not so deeply that he neglected to pose before Sophie as a tragedy-king. And it called for little pretense, so desperate and forlorn was he feeling. Should he go or should he send Sophie about her business? There was no hope that the rich brewer would take him in; there was every reason to suspect that Peter would arrange to have the marriage quietly annulled. At most he could get a few thousands, perhaps only hundreds, by threatening a scandal. Yes, it would be wise, on the whole, to keep little Hilda on the string.
"I am very ill," he said gloomily, "but I will go."
Sophie felt hopeful and energetic again. "I won't come up to her till you leave her."
"You are a good girl—a noble creature." Mr. Feuerstein took her hand and pretended to be profoundly moved by her friendship.
Sophie gave him a look of simplicity and warm-heartedness. Her talent for acting had not been spoiled by a stage experience. "Hilda's my friend," she said earnestly. "And I want to see her happy."
"Noble creature!" exclaimed Mr. Feuerstein. "May God reward you!" And he dashed his hand across his eyes.
He went to the mirror on his bureau, carefully arranged the yellow aureole, carefully adjusted the soft light hat. Then with feeble step he descended the stairs. As he moved down the street his face was mournful and his shoulders were drooped—a stage invalid. When Hilda saw him coming she started up and gave a little cry of delight; but as she noted his woebegone appearance, a very real paleness came to her cheeks and very real tears to her great dark eyes.
Mr. Feuerstein sank slowly into the seat beside her. "Soul's wife," he murmured. "Ah—but I have been near to death. The strain of the interview with your father—the anguish—the hope—oh, what a curse it is to have a sensitive soul! And my old trouble"—he laid his hand upon his heart and slowly shook his head—"returned. It will end me some day."
Hilda was trembling with sympathy. She put her hand upon his. "If you had only sent word, dear," she said reproachfully, "I would have come. Oh—I do love you so, Carl! I could hardly eat or sleep—and—"
"The truth would have been worse than silence," he said in a hollow voice. He did not intend the double meaning of his remark; the Gansers were for the moment out of his mind, which was absorbed in his acting. "But it is over for the present—yes, over, my priceless pearl. I can come to see you soon. If I am worse I shall send you word."
"But can't I come to see you?"
"No, bride of my dreams. It would not be—suitable. We must respect the little conventions. You must wait until I come."
His tone was decided. She felt that he knew best. In a few minutes he rose. "I must return to my room," he said wearily. "Ah, heart's delight, it is terrible for a strong man to find himself thus weak. Pity me. Pray for me."
He noted with satisfaction her look of love and anxiety. It was some slight salve to his cruelly wounded vanity. He walked feebly away, but it was pure acting, as he no longer felt so downcast. He had soon put Hilda into the background and was busy with his plans for revenge upon Ganser—"a vulgar animal who insulted me when I honored him by marrying his ugly gosling." Before he fell asleep that night he had himself wrought up to a state of righteous indignation. Ganser had cheated, had outraged him—him, the great, the noble, the eminent.
Early the next morning he went down to a dingy frame building that cowered meanly in the shadow of the Criminal Court House. He mounted a creaking flight of stairs and went in at a low door on which "Loeb, Lynn, Levy and McCafferty" was painted in black letters. In the narrow entrance he brushed against a man on the way out, a man with a hangdog look and short bristling hair and the pastily-pallid skin that comes from living long away from the sunlight. Feuerstein shivered slightly—was it at the touch of such a creature or at the suggestions his appearance started? In front of him was a ground-glass partition with five doors in it. At a dirty greasy pine table sat a boy—one of those child veterans the big city develops. He had a long and extremely narrow head. His eyes were close together, sharp and shifty. His expression was sophisticated and cynical. "Well, sir!" he said with curt impudence, giving Feuerstein a gimlet-glance.
"I want to see Mr. Loeb." Feuerstein produced a card—it was one of his last remaining half-dozen and was pocket-worn.
The office boy took it with unveiled sarcasm in his eyes and in the corners of his mouth. He disappeared through one of the five doors, almost immediately reappeared at another, closed it mysteriously behind him and went to a third door. He threw it open and stood aside. "At the end of the hall," he said. "The door with Mr. Loeb's name on it. Knock and walk right in."
Feuerstein followed the directions and found himself in a dingy little room, smelling of mustiness and stale tobacco, and lined with law books, almost all on crime and divorce. Loeb, Lynn, Levy and McCafferty were lawyers to the lower grades of the criminal and shady only. They defended thieves and murderers; they prosecuted or defended scandalous divorce cases; they packed juries and suborned perjury and they tutored false witnesses in the way to withstand cross-examination. In private life they were four home-loving, law-abiding citizens.
Loeb looked up from his writing and said with contemptuous cordiality: "Oh—Mr. Feuerstein. Glad to see you—AGAIN. What's the trouble—NOW?"
At "again" and "now" Feuerstein winced slightly. He looked nervously at Loeb.
"It's been—let me see—at least seven years since I saw you," continued Loeb, who was proud of his amazing memory. He was a squat, fat man, with a coarse brown skin and heavy features. He was carefully groomed and villainously perfumed and his clothes were in the extreme of the loudest fashion. A diamond of great size was in his bright-blue scarf; another, its match, loaded down his fat little finger. Both could be unscrewed and set in a hair ornament which his wife wore at first nights or when they dined in state at Delmonico's. As he studied Feuerstein, his face had its famous smile, made by shutting his teeth together and drawing his puffy lips back tightly from them.
"That is all past and gone," said Feuerstein. "As a lad I was saved by you from the consequences of boyish folly. And now, a man grown, I come to you to enlist your aid in avenging an insult to my honor, an—"
"Be as brief as possible," cut in Loeb. "My time is much occupied. The bald facts, please—FACTS, and BALD."
Feuerstein settled himself and prepared to relate his story as if he were on the stage, with the orchestra playing low and sweet. "I met a woman and loved her," he began in a deep, intense voice with a passionate tremolo.
"A bad start," interrupted Loeb. "If you go on that way, we'll never get anywhere. You're a frightful fakir and liar, Feuerstein. You were, seven years ago; of course, the habit's grown on you. Speak out! What do you want? As your lawyer, I must know things exactly as they are."
"I ran away with a girl—the daughter of the brewer, Peter Ganser," said Feuerstein, sullen but terse. "And her father wouldn't receive me—shut her up—put me out."
"And you want your wife?"
"I want revenge."
"Of course—cash. Well, Ganser's a rich man. I should say he'd give up a good deal to get rid of YOU." Loeb gave that mirthless and mirth-strangling smile as he accented the "you."
"He's got to give up!" said Feuerstein fiercely.
"Slowly! Slowly!" Loeb leaned forward and looked into Feuerstein's face. "You mustn't forget."
Feuerstein's eyes shifted rapidly as he said in a false voice: "She got a divorce years ago."
"M-m-m," said Loeb.
"Anyhow, she's away off in Russia."
"I don't want you to confess a crime you haven't come to me about," said Loeb, adding with peculiar emphasis: "Of course, if we KNEW you were still married to the Mrs. Feuerstein of seven years ago we couldn't take the present case. As it is—the best way is to bluff the old brewer. He doesn't want publicity; neither do you. But you know he doesn't, and he doesn't know that you love quiet."
"Ganser treated me infamously. He must sweat for it. I'm nothing if not a good hater."
"No doubt," said Loeb dryly. "And you have rights which the law safeguards."
"What shall I do?"
"Leave that to us. How much do you want—how much damages?"
"He ought to pay at least twenty-five thousand."
Loeb shrugged his shoulders. "Ridiculous!" he said. "Possibly the five without the twenty. And how do you expect to pay us?"
"I'm somewhat pressed just at the moment. But I thought"—Feuerstein halted.
"That we'd take the case as a speculation? Well, to oblige an old client, we will. But you must agree to give us all we can get over and above five thousand—half what we get if it's below that."
"Those are hard terms," remonstrated Feuerstein. The more he had thought on his case, the larger his expectations had become.
"Very generous terms, in the circumstances. You can take it or leave it."
"I can't do anything without you. I accept."
"Very well." Loeb took up his pen, as if he were done with Feuerstein, but went on: "And you're SURE that the—the FORMER Mrs. Feuerstein is divorced—and won't turn up?"
"Absolutely. She swore she'd never enter any country where I was."
"Has she any friends who are likely to hear of this?"
"She knew no one here."
"All right. Go into the room to the left there. Mr. Travis or Mr. Gordon will take your statement of the facts—names, dates, all details. Good morning."
Feuerstein went to Travis, small and sleek, smooth and sly. When Travis had done with him, he showed him out. "Call day after to-morrow," he said, "and when you come, ask for me. Mr. Loeb never bothers with these small cases."
Travis reported to Loeb half an hour later, when Feuerstein's statement had been typewritten. Loeb read the statement through twice with great care.
"Most complete, Mr. Travis," was his comment. "You've done a good piece of work." He sat silent, drumming noiselessly on the table with his stumpy, hairy, fat fingers. At last he began: "It ought to be worth at least twenty thousand. Do you know Ganser?"
"Just a speaking acquaintance."
"Excellent. What kind of a man is he?"
"Stupid and ignorant, but not without a certain cunning. We can get at him all right, though. He's deadly afraid of social scandal. Wants to get into the German Club and become a howling swell. But he don't stand a chance, though he don't know it."
"You'd better go to see him yourself," said Loeb.
"I'll be glad to do it, Mr. Loeb. Isn't your man—this Feuerstein—a good bit to the queer?"
"A dead beat—one of the worst kind—the born gentleman. You've noticed, perhaps, that where a man or woman has been brought up to live without work, to live off other people's work, there's nothing they wouldn't stoop to, to keep on living that way. As for this chap, if he had got started right, he'd be operating up in the Fifth Avenue district. He used to have a wife. He SAYS he's divorced."
Loeb and Travis looked each at the other significantly. "I see," said Travis.
"Neither side wants scandal. Still, I think you're right, that Ganser's good for twenty thousand."
"You can judge better after you've felt him," replied Loeb. "You'd better go at once. Give him the tip that Feuerstein's about to force him to produce his daughter in court. But you understand. Try to induce him to go to Beck." Travis grinned and Loeb's eyes twinkled. "You might lay it on strong about Feuerstein's actor-craze for getting into the papers."
"That's a grand idea," exclaimed Travis. "I don't think I'll suggest any sum if he agrees to go to Beck. Beck can get at least five thousand more out of him than any other lawyer in town."
"Beck's the wonder," said Loeb.
"LOEB and Beck," corrected Travis in a flattering tone.
Loeb waved his hot, fat head gently to and fro as if a pleasant cooling stream were being played upon it. "I think I have got a 'pretty good nut on me,' as John L. used to say," he replied. "I think I do know a little about the law. And now hustle yourself, my boy. This case must be pushed. The less time Ganser has to look about, the better for—our client."
Travis found Ganser in his office at the brewery. The old man's face was red and troubled.
"I've come on very unpleasant business, Mr. Ganser," said Travis with deference. "As you know, I am with Loeb, Lynn, Levy and McCafferty. Our client, Mr. Feuerstein—"
Ganser leaped to his feet, apoplectic.
"Get out!" he shouted, "I don't speak with you!"
"As an officer of the court, Mr. Ganser," said Travis suavely, "it is my painful duty to insist upon a hearing. We lawyers can't select our clients. We must do our best for all comers. Our firm has sent me out of kindly feeling for you. We are all men of family, like yourself, and, when the case was forced on us, we at once tried to think how we could be of service to you—of course, while doing our full legal duty by our client. I've come in the hope of helping you to avoid the disgrace of publicity."
"Get out!" growled Peter. "I know lawyers—they're all thieves. Get out!" But Travis knew that Peter wished him to stay.
"I needn't enlarge on our client—Mr. Feuerstein. You know he's an actor. You know how they crave notoriety. You know how eager the newspapers are to take up and make a noise about matters of this kind."
Peter was sweating profusely, and had to seat himself. "It's outrageous!" he groaned in German.
"Feuerstein has ordered us to have your daughter brought into court at once—to-morrow. He's your daughter's lawful husband and she's well beyond the legal age. Of course, he can't compel her to live with him or you to support him. But he can force the courts to inquire publicly. And I'm sorry to say we'll not be able to restrain him or the press, once he gets the ball to rolling."
Peter felt it rolling over him, tons heavy. "What you talk about?" he said, on his guard but eager.
"It's an outrage that honest men should be thus laid open to attack," continued Travis in a sympathetic tone. "But if the law permits these outrages, it also provides remedies. Your daughter's mistake may cost you a little something, but there need be no scandal."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Ganser.
"Really, I've talked too much already, Mr. Ganser. I almost forgot, for the moment, that I'm representing Mr. Feuerstein. But, as between friends, I'd advise you to go to some good divorce lawyers—a firm that is reputable but understands the ins and outs of the business, some firm like Beck and Brown. They can tell you exactly what to do."
Ganser regarded his "friend" suspiciously but credulously. "I'll see," he said. "But I won't pay a cent."
"Right you are, sir! And there may be a way out of it without paying. But Beck can tell you." Travis made a motion toward the inside pocket of his coat, then pretended to change his mind. "I came here to serve the papers on you," he said apologetically. "But I'll take the responsibility of delaying—it can't make Feuerstein any less married, and your daughter's certainly safe in her father's care. I'll wait in the hope that YOU'LL take the first step."
Ganser lost no time in going to his own lawyers—Fisher, Windisch and Carteret, in the Postal Telegraph Building. He told Windisch the whole story. "And," he ended, "I've got a detective looking up the rascal. He's a wretch—a black wretch."
"We can't take your case, Mr. Ganser," said Windisch. "It's wholly out of our line. We don't do that kind of work. I should say Beck and Brown were your people. They stand well, and at the same time they know all the tricks."
"But they may play me the tricks."
"I think not. They stand well at the bar."
"Yes, yes," sneered Peter, who was never polite, was always insultingly frank to any one who served him for pay. "I know that bar."
"Well, Mr. Ganser," replied Windisch, angry but willing to take almost anything from a rich client, "I guess you can look out for yourself. Of course there's always danger, once you get outside the straight course of justice. As I understand it, your main point is no publicity?"
"That's right," replied Ganser. "No newspapers—no trial."
"Then Beck and Brown. Drive as close a bargain as you can. But you'll have to give up a few thousands, I'm afraid."
Ganser went over into Nassau Street and found Beck in his office. He gazed with melancholy misgivings at this lean man with hair and whiskers of a lifeless black. Beck suggested a starved black spider, especially when you were looking into his cold, amused, malignant black eyes. He made short work of the guileless brewer, who was dazed and frightened by the meshes in which he was enveloped. Staring at the horrid specter of publicity which these men of craft kept before him, he could not vigorously protest against extortion. Beck discovered that twenty thousand was his fighting limit.
"Leave the matter entirely in our hands," said Beck. "We'll make the best bargain we can. But Feuerstein has shrewd lawyers—none better. That man Loeb—" Beck threw up his arms. "Of course," he continued, "I had to know your limit. I'll try to make the business as cheap for you as possible."
"Put 'em off," said Ganser. "My Lena's sick."
His real reason was his hopes from the reports on Feuerstein's past, which his detective would make. But he thought it was not necessary to tell Beck about the detective.
TRAGEDY IN TOMPKINS SQUARE
After another talk with Travis, Feuerstein decided that he must give up Hilda entirely until this affair with the Gansers was settled. Afterward—well, there would be time to decide when he had his five thousand. He sent her a note, asking her to meet him in Tompkins Square on Friday evening. That afternoon he carefully prepared himself. He resolved that the scene between her and him should be, so far as his part was concerned, a masterpiece of that art of which he knew himself to be one of the greatest living exponents. Only his own elegant languor had prevented the universal recognition of this and his triumph over the envy of professionals and the venality of critics.
It was a concert night in Tompkins Square, and Hilda, off from her work for an hour, came alone through the crowds to meet him. She made no effort to control the delight in her eyes and in her voice. She loved him; he loved her. Why suppress and deny? Why not glory in the glorious truth? She loved him, not because he was her conquest, but because she was his.
Mr. Feuerstein was so absorbed in his impending "act" that he barely noted how pretty she was and how utterly in love—what was there remarkable in a woman being in love with him? "The women are all crazy about me," was his inward comment whenever a woman chanced to glance at him. As he took Hilda's hand he gave her a look of intense, yearning melancholy. He sighed deeply. "Let us go apart," he said. Then he glanced gloomily round and sighed again.
They seated themselves on a bench far away from the music and the crowds. He did not speak but repeated his deep sigh.
"Has it made you worse to come, dear?" Hilda asked anxiously. "Are you sick?"
"Sick?" he said in a hollow voice. "My soul is sick—dying. My God! My God!" An impressive pause. "Ah, child, you do not know what suffering is—you who have lived only in these simple, humble surroundings."
Hilda was trembling with apprehension. "What is it, Carl? You can tell me. Let me help you bear it."
"No! no! I must bear it alone. I must take my dark shadow from your young life. I ought not to have come. I should have fled. But love makes me a coward."
"But I love you, Carl," she said gently.
"And I have missed you—dreadfully, dreadfully!"
He rolled his eyes wildly. "You torture me!" he exclaimed, seizing her hand in a dead man's clutch. "How CAN I speak?"
Hilda's heart seemed to stand still. She was pale to the lips, and he could see, even in the darkness, her eyes grow and startle.
"What is it?" she murmured. "You know I—can bear anything for you."
"Not that tone," he groaned. "Reproach me! Revile me! Be harsh, scornful—but not those tender accents."
He felt her hand become cold and he saw terror in her eyes. "Forgive me," she said humbly. "I don't know what to say or do. I—you look so strange. It makes me feel all queer inside. Won't you tell me, please?"
He noted with artistic satisfaction that the band was playing passionate love-music with sobs and sad ecstasies of farewell embraces in it. He kissed her, then drew back. "No," he groaned. "Those lips are not for me, accursed that I am."
She was no longer looking at him, but sat gazing straight ahead, her shoulders bent as if she were crouching to receive a blow. He began in a low voice, and, as he spoke, it rose or fell as his words and the distant music prompted him. "Mine has been a luckless life," he said. "I have been a football of destiny, kicked and flung about, hither and yon. Again and again I have thought in my despair to lay me down and die. But something has urged me on, on, on. And at last I met you."
He paused and groaned—partly because it was the proper place, partly with vexation. Here was a speech to thrill, yet she sat there inert, her face a stupid blank. He was not even sure that she had heard.
"Are you listening?" he asked in a stern aside, a curious mingling of the actor and the stage manager.
"I—I don't know," she answered, startling. "I feel so—so—queer. I don't seem to be able to pay attention." She looked at him timidly and her chin quivered. "Don't you love me any more?"
"Love you? Would that I did not! But I must on—my time is short. How can you say I do not love you when my soul is like a raging fire?"
She shook her head slowly. "Your voice don't feel like it," she said. "What is it? What are you going to say?"
He sighed and looked away from her with an irritated expression. "Little stupid!" he muttered—she didn't appreciate him and he was a fool to expect it. But "art for art's sake"; and he went on in tones of gentle melancholy. "I love you, but fate has again caught me up. I am being whirled away. I stretch out my arms to you—in vain. Do you understand?" It exasperated him for her to be so still—why didn't she weep?
She shook her head and replied quietly:
"No—what is it? Don't you love me any more?"
"Love has nothing to do with it," he said, as gently as he could in the irritating circumstances. "My mysterious destiny has—"
"You said that before," she interrupted. "What is it? Can't you tell me so that I can understand?"
"You never loved me!" he cried bitterly.
"You know that isn't so," she answered. "Won't you tell me, Carl?"
"A specter has risen from my past—I must leave you—I may never return—"
She gave a low, wailing cry—it seemed like an echo of the music. Then she began to sob—not loudly, but in a subdued, despairing way. She was not conscious of her grief, but only of his words—of the dream vanished, the hopes shattered.
"Never?" she said brokenly.
"Never!" he replied in a hoarse whisper.
Mr. Feuerstein looked down at Hilda's quivering shoulders with satisfaction. "I thought I could make even her feel," he said to himself complacently. Then to her in the hoarse undertone: "And my heart is breaking."
She straightened and her tears seemed to dry with the flash of her eyes. "Don't say that—you mustn't!" She blazed out before his astonished eyes, a woman electric with disdain and anger. "It's false—false! I hate you—hate you—you never cared—you've made a fool of me—"
"Hilda!" He felt at home now and his voice became pleading and anguished. "You, too, desert me! Ah, God, whenever was there man so wretched as I?" He buried his face in his hands.
"Oh, you put it on well," she scoffed. "But I know what it all means."
Mr. Feuerstein rose wearily. "Farewell," he said in a broken voice. "At least I am glad you will be spared the suffering that is blasting my life. Thank God, she did not love me!"