The Smartness of Lewkovitz.
BY BRUNO LESSING, IN COSMOPOLITAN.
Business and matrimony are no strangers to one another, as this clever story abundantly proves. When the widow Stein came on the scene, she very seriously affected the businesses of three or four enterprising merchants, simply because they all wanted to marry her. The reader will laugh when he iinds out how she settled it.
MOSES MANDELKERN was fat and lonesome. When fat men are lonesome, they always appear to be more lonesome than lean men. This, however, is but an idle remark, entirely apart from this story.
Mandelkern sat smoking outside his butcher-shop, gazing enviously across the street at two men who, side by side upon the steps of a tall tenement, sat silent and contented. Mandelkern sighed. He was a simple soul who sold only good kosher meat, loved all the world, and uttered what came into his mind with charming frankness.
“Whenever I see Barish and Selig,” he thought, “I feel lonesome. They are such good friends. They are so devoted to each other. They are never lonesome because each always has the other. I have never had a friend like that. Every time I have a friend it costs me money.” He sighed again, and sat plunged in reminiscences that, judging from the pained expression of his face, must have been somewhat unpleasant. Then he murmured :
“Yes. It is cheaper not to have a friend.”
Had you been sitting at Mandelkern’s side, you would have had no difficulty in identifying Barish and Selig. For upon one side of the door
of this tall tenement was a shop bearing the legend: ABRAHAM BARISH Stylish Gents Tailor While upon the other side of the door, suspended from a gaudy pole, hung this sign : SOLOMON SELIG Tonsoria! Artist, Shaves, Haircuts & Shampoos.
And furthermore, you would have observed at a glance that Barish looked like a tailor, while Selig looked like a. barber. But the strength of the bond of friendship that existed between these two men was not so apparent to the eye. To have realized it you would have had to wander around the neighborhood and mention the names of Barish and Selig, and then you would have heard.
Ay, they were as Damon and Pythias, as David and Jonathan. Since they were boys together in their native Russian town, nothing had ever come between them. In school they had been chums. They had crossed the ocean on the same steamer, sleeping in the steerage in the same berth. They had selected adjoining shops in the same tenement in order that they might be together.. Lewkovitz, who was such a chochem (clever man) that the whole Ghetto wondered why he had not become a
rabbi, used to call them the Scissors.
“Selig,” he would say in his droll way, “is one blade and Barish is the other. Each uses scissors in his trade. And what good is one blade of the scissors without the other?”
When a customer entered Selig’s shop for a hair-cut or a shave, Selig invariably led the conversation to the subject of clothes.
“And if it is not asking too much,” he would say, “may I inquire what you paid for that suit Ten dollars? My! My! Such SAvindlers as they are in the world. Why, there is a man right next door who would make you a suit twice as good as that for half the money.”
And when a customer came to Barish for clothes, the tailor, in a burst of friendly humor, would remark :
“My friend, I think a hair-cut would do you no harm.” (Or a shave or a shampoo—whichever happened to fit the occasion). “And, speaking of barbers, that fellow Selig next door is making a great reputation in this neighborhood. People come from Harlem to be shaved by him.”
Whenever a patriarchal denizen of the Ghetto expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which his beard had just been trimmed, Selig would say :
“Wait. I will call in the first man I see and leave it to him.”
Then Barish would enter and would gaze upon the barber’s handiwork with ill-concealed admiration.
11 My !” he would exclaim. 1 1I never saw a beard so stylishly cut in my life.”
Or, should it happen that one of Barish ’s customers entertained doubts as to thq fit of his new clothes, Barish would say:
“Let me bring in a man who lives
next door—a stylish man who knows what clothes ought to be.”
And Selig would come in, throw up , his hands in an ecstasy of approbation and cry:
“Wonderful! Amazing! They fit as if they had been poured on your back.”
When the day’s work was done, Selig and Barish would sit in the twilight, outside their shops. Some nights, they sat in front of the barber shop on one side of the door. Other nights, they sat in front of the tailor shop on the other side of the door. Some nights, they sat upon the steps between the two shops. And Mandelkern, who bought all his clothes of Barish and was shaved every morning by Selig, would sit in front of his shop on the other side of the street, gazing upon them, with envy.
She moved into the tenement at twilight. Her household goods were carried through the doorway. A sallow-faced little girl carrying a caged canary followed the household goods. And then came She. Selig moved to one side of the steps to make way for her. Barish moved to the other side. Both turned and looked after her until her neat little figure was swallowed in the gloom of the long hallway. Then they looked at each other, and each opened his mouth as if he were about to speak. But neither spoke. A curious constraint seemed suddenly to have fallen upon them.
“What a fine figure of a woman!” thought Mandelkern, across the street.
The widow Stein was a quiet little woman, friendly toward everyone and keenly susceptible to sympathy. As a matter of fact, all women are sus-
ceptible to sympathy. But that, too, is an idle remark. The widow’s susceptibility to sympathy has nothing to do with this story.
Selig found her charming and Barish found her charming, and she found them both agreeable. She bought her meat of Mandelkern, who also found her charming, although he had little to say to her. He was a kind-hearted, simple, lonesome man, was Mandelkern, and he had a habit of expressing every idea that came into his head. Ideas, however, came slowly.
As a step toward a firmer friendship Barish, the tailor, said to the widow :
“If—sometimes—you have a—a— a skirt or a—a something that you want pressed—I have plenty of time and—and—it won’t cost anything.”
He blushed and stammered furiously as he said it, and felt raised to a high pinnacle of happiness when the widow thanked him and declared that she had a trunkful of clothes that needed pressing which she would send to him immediately. But it cost him the friendship of Selig. For the barber had overheard this brief conversation and his soul had revolted at the perfidy of his lifelong friend.
“Wretch!” he said to himself “To take so foul an advantage of me ! He only did it because he knew I could offer her nothing. What can a barber do for a lady? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! But wait! I am as goodlooking as he is. Never shall I let him see her alone. Always will I be in front of the house when she is there. And time will tell which of us is the better man.”
So it came about that whenever the widow Stein descended from her apartments to sit on the steps of the tenement, she found the barber and
the tailor sitting there, side by side, with a wall of coolness between them. And, of course, neither of them was in a position to make much headway.
The worst of it all was that the entente cordiale that had existed in their business relations for so long was irretrievably shattered, in consequence of which all Hester Street was troubled, for the friendship of Selig and Barish had for many years been a source of great pride to the neighborhood.
“It is good,” the neighborhood would say, “that men should make money in business and love each other. ’ ’
But since the advent of the widow Stein their attitude to each other had become little short of scandalous.
“Ha!” Selig would say to his customer. “It is easy to see that you get your clothes made next door.” “What is the matter?” the customer would reply. “Do they not fit?”
xVnd Selig would shrug his shoulders in that provoking way which is so infinitely worse than the harshest comment, and the poor customer would almost feel his clothes shrinking into some abominable fit. While, perhaps at the same moment, the tailor, next door, with his mouth full of pins, would be trying a new suit on one of his patrons and mumbling at the same time:
“Who cut your hair?”
“Selig, next door. Why?”
There would be a long pause, during which Barish would utter a choking sound. ,
“What is the matter with my haircut ? Speak ! ’ ’
“Do not ask me, now,” the tailor would mumble. “I have my mouth full of pins and if I laugh I might choke.”
At night they had little to say to each other. Perhaps each felt guilty of some disloyalty to the other. At any rate, the feeling that each entertained for the other was something like venomous hatred mixed with jealousy. But not for the world would either have let the other out of his sight when the day’s work was done.
One night they were sitting like this, with the widow Stein sitting a few steps above them—not a word had been spoken for nearly an hour —when Ignatz Lewkovitz appeared, Lewkovitz the chochem, the smart one.
“Ah! The Scissors!” he cried, pleasantly. “The two best friends in the Ghetto.”
As he spoke, however, he was not looking at them. He was gazing at the widow Stein. Both Selig and Barish greeted him with eagerness, and after formally introducing him to the widow, the tailor, with a hesitating, uneasy glance at his former friend, said:
“Your coat is ready. Will you let me try it on?”
“I came for that very purpose,” said the wise man.
When they had entered the shop, Barish said:
“No, your coat will not be ready until to-morrow. But I wanted to speak to you for a moment and I did not want anyone to suspect.”
“Hm!” said Lewkovitz. “Who is the lady you introduced me to?”
“Almohne [widow],” said the tailor. “It is about her I wanted to speak. My friend Selig—who is my friend no longer—is a sneaker. Whenever I want to speak to her alone, he comes out and sits down and never goes away. Every time I open the door in the hallway to go up and
visit her, his door is open. He spies on me. If I went up, he would go too. You are a smart man. What can I do?”
“Hm!” said the smart man. “Let me think.”
For five long minutes he thought. The tailor gazed nervously upon the expansive countenance of Lewkovitz, then ran to the door and made sure that the barber and the widow were still sitting on the steps, then came back and gazed more upon the smart man, and then ran to the door again, repeating the performance twice a minute until Lewkovitz spoke.
“I do something for you,” spoke the smart man, “and you do something for me. That is my motto. How much will the coat cost?”
“Five dollars is the price.”
“Two dollars and a half,” said the smart man.
“Impossible. The cloth alone--”
“Two dollars and a half and the widow !”
The tailor’s face lit up.
‘1 Stupid ! I did not understand ! How smart you are! But how? How will you do it?”
“Ah,” said Lewkovitz, mysteriously, “leave it to me. Only one thing is necessary. Do not say a word to Selig. And if you see me going into the house or coming out, do not speak to me. I will report when all is ready.”
“The coat will be at your house to-morrow. It will be a present. A wedding present. I give it with my compliments. ’ ’
Lewkovitz bowed gravely.
•“Now,” said he, “it is necessary for my plans that I go and have a talk with Selig. But fear not. He will not know that I stand by you. I am only going in to get my beard trimmed.”
A few moments later, the smart Lewkovitz was sitting in a chair in Selig’s shop, listening to the very same story that he had heard from the tailor.
"I am so glad you came,” the barber said. "I intended to go to your house some night and have a talk with you. Because I know yon are smart and because you have always been a good friend of mine.” Lewkovitz nooded sympathetically. “The widow,” Selig went on, “is such a lovely lady. But that man Barish is a regular spy. Every time I want to talk to her, who comes running up? Barish! When I open my door to go up and make her a visit, who is standing at his door, watching me? ^Barish! When I tell her it is a fine day, who says ‘ But it looks like rain ? ’ Barish ! Barish ! Barish ! Always Barish! Yon are a smart man, Mr. Lewkovitz. Be my friend ! What can I do?”
Lewkovitz leaned back in the comfortable chair and allowed his eyes to roam along the shelves filled with bottles.
“How much does a bottle of that and that and that and that cost?” he said, pointing successively to a number of vivid-hued tonics and perfumes. Selig had an inspiration.
“Mr. Lewkovitz,” he said, “if you will be a help to me, I will give you, a present of them. And also a bottle of my own stuif what makes the beard shine fine.”
Lewkovitz held out his hand.
“ It is a bargain, ’ ’ he said. í i Leave all to me. I will have some talks with the widow. But do you not say a single word to Barish.”
“Me!” cried Selig. “I would as soon speak to a snake.”
“And if you see me coming or going, do not notice me. Look in the
other direction. When everything is ready, I will come and tell you what to do.”
"W hen his beard was properly trimmed, Lewkovitz came out and made a profound bow to the widow. The barber had already taken his place beside his quondam friend.
"Good night, madam,” said LeWkovitz. “I hope you will sleep well to-night. I also hope to see you soon again. ’ ’
"Such friends!” sighed Mandelkern, across the street. "Always together. Always so happy. And I am so lonesome.”
And presently he added:
"That Mr. Lewkovitz is a very smart man !”
The visits of the smart Mr. Lewkovitz to the charming widow became veiy frequent. In some former existence he must have had considerable experience with women, particularly with widows, or else he possessed the most marvellous intuition. For, from the very first day that he called to see her, he sailed rapidly and uninterruptedly into her good graces. He never came without a gift of some kind for the widow’s little daughter. Both Selig and Barish marvelled at the wisdom of the man, wondering, each of them, why he hadn ’t thought of the little girl before. And his resourcefulness and originality in pouring* out compliments seemed unlimited. Regularly every evening he called and sat on the steps beside the widow, with the tailor and the barber sitting a few steps below, but never, by any chance, taking part in the conversation. They had full confidence in the smart man, and while they did not quite understand his method of procedure, each felt that, in some way, his own interests were being* ad-
vaneed. The widow had but little to say. Lewkovitz did all the talking, and, I must say, he was quite an interesting talker. One night he failed to come, and the evening seemed hollow and disappointing.
“I miss dear old Lewkovitz,” said Selig.
“So do I,” said Barish. “He is a dear friend to me.”
“He is a very smart man,” mused the widow.
The very next morning,, Selig closed his shop for a few minutes and' called on Lewkovitz.
“I missed you last night,” he said. “How are you getting on with er— you know?”
Lewkovitz looked very knowing.
“Sh-h-h!” he said. “Wait until next Shabbas [Sabbath]. At eight o'clock sharp you come here to call on my mother. Then wait. Presently I shall come here. With me you will see a very charming friend of yours. Understand?”
He accompanied this with a very wise wink. Selig flushed to the roots of his hair with pleasure.
“How does she feel toward me?” he asked.
“Fine!” responded Lewkovitz.
“How can I ever thank you?” murmured the grateful tonsorial artist.
That evening the widow sat upon the steps again, with her two admirers at her feet, and still no Lewkovitz appeared. Truly he was a smart man ! Absence, he knew, made the heart grow fonder! Woman! woman ! how mysterious you think you are ! And how easily a wise man like Lewkovitz can read your soul !
Then Barish became worried and called upon Lewkovitz.
“I have not seen you for two
days,” he said. “Have you done anything for me yet?”
Lewkovitz looked around him carefully to make sure that no one could overhear, and then whispered:
‘ ‘ Sh-h-h ! Do you know my sister?”
“Sure I do. I make her husband's clothes. He owes me three dollars.”
1 ‘ Sh-h-h ! On Shabbas. Eight o'clock. Visit my sister. Wait! I will come there! Not alone! I will have a friend with me ! A lady ! Charming ! Fine figure ! ’ '
Barish's eyes glowed.
“And you will not say a word to Selig?”
“I can assure you,” the wise man replied, “that he will not be there. I have made arrangements with him to be somewhere else.”
The first star was in the sky and the Sabbath had come to an end. Clad in his best clothes, Selig, the barber, issued stealthily from his shop, and, finding himself unobserved, walked hastily down the street. A few minutes later, Barish, the tailor, clad also in his yontivf holiday] clothes, came out of his shop, peered anxiously around him and, finding the coast clear, walked rapidly up the street.
Presently the widow Stein, rosy and bright-eyed, came out of the tenement and seated herself upon the steps. She was somewhat surprised not to find the tailor and the barber there before her. This had not happened since she moved into the house. She glanced quickly at their shoos and saw that both were closed.
“I hope nothing has happened,” she murmured.
Her daughter, who had been play-
ing in the street, came up and sat beside her.
“Can I get a new doll, mamma?” she said.
“No, my dear. Mamma cannot spare any more money for dolls. You have broken three this week. Be a good girl now. Here comes Mr. Lewkovitz. ’ ’
Sure enough, here came Mr. Lewkovitz, sailing proudly down the street, like an ancient galleon with flags and bunting flying. His silk hat reflected the rays of every streetlamp that he passed. The tails of his new frock-coat that Barish, the tailor, had so generously sent with his compliments, swung, gaily behind him. The ends of his necktie, a flaming; red scarf, streamed under each ear. His beard, gleaming refulgently from a liberal use of the tonics that Selig had sent him, fluttered merrily in the breeze.
i 1 My ! ’ ’ exclaimed the widow ; “how fine you look, Mr. Lewkovitz!”
Lewkovitz made a profound bow and seated himself beside the widow.
“I honor myself,” he said, “in putting on my best clothes when I come to visit so charming a lady ! ’ ’
“My!” murmured the widow.
“What is the matter, dear little child ?” he, said to the morose-looking daughter. “Why do you look so sad?”
“She has broken her doll,” the mother explained, “and I just told her she could not have another one.”
Lewkovitz drew from his pocket an old-fashioned purse, from which, after long counting and much hesitation, he selected fifty cents.
“Here, dear little one,” he said. “Run and buy yourself a doll.”
With a scream of delight, the girl clutched the money and ran rapidly down the street.
“And now, Mrs. Stein,” Lewkovitz proceeded, “I have something I want to say to you.”
The widow rose to her feet.
“Will you just excuse me one second?” she asked. “Mr. Mandelkern is taking down his shutters and I want to order some meat for tomorrow. I will be right back. ’ ’ ,
Lewkovitz watched her trip gracefully across the street.
“A fine figure of a woman!” he
He now saw Mandelkern pause in the task of taking down the shutters, and turn with smiling face to greet the widow. He saw Mandelkern absent-mindedly tuck a shutter undei his arm and mop his brow in great perturbation while the widow addressed him. Then he saw the butcher’s lips move, and beheld the widow clasp her hands in amazement. And then the butcher entered his shop and the widow followed him. Lewkovitz waited. He waited ten minutes. Then he waited ten minutes more.
“I hope nothing has happened,” he said.
Then he waited ten minutes more. He began to worry.
“I wonder--” he thought; for,
you see, he was a smart man. He waited ten minutes more, and then, unable to control his impatience, he crossed the street and strode into the butcher’s shop. His feet had hardly touched the threshold when he stood still, as if rooted to the spot, his brain in a whirl. For there stood the widow and the butcher with hands clasped, like children playing ringa-rosy, gazing into each other’s eyes. They looked up and saw him. The widow blushed and would have run away, but Mandelkern would not release her hands.
“It is only Mr. Lewkovitz,” he said. “He will understand. He is a smart man. She—she—you see, Mr. Lewkovitz, she is going to be Mrs. Mandelkern. Ain’t it fine?” Lewkovitz folded his arms and gazed tragically, reproachfully at the widow. But she could not see him. She had covered her face with her hands to prevent the butcher from kissing her. So Lewkovitz sighed and walked slowly homeward.
There is nothing in the world like a common misfortune to cement a friendship. There are few people in the Ghetto who have not heard of Selig, the barber, and Barish, the tailor, whose friendship is like the
friendship of Damon and Pythias, of David and Jonathan. Once, they will tell you, they had a misunderstanding. But it passed away, leaving them more devoted to each other than before.
In the long winter evenings, after the butcher-shop is closed, Mandelkern and his wife sit for hours talking about this wonderful friendship between two men.
“It used to make me feel so lonesome to see them,” Mandelkern would invariably say.
“And that Mr. Lewkovitz is a fine man, too,” Mrs. Mandelkern would unfailingly add.
“Yes,” Mandelkern would admit, nodding his head. “He is very smart Î ’ ’