The fortune hunter, p.1
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       The Fortune Hunter, p.1

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The Fortune Hunter

  Produced by Charles Keller




  Author of

  The Deluge, The Social Secretary, The Plum Tree, etc.







  On an afternoon late in April Feuerstein left his boarding-house inEast Sixteenth Street, in the block just beyond the eastern gates ofStuyvesant 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 coatwas cut long over the shoulders and in at the waist to show his linesof strength and grace. He wore a pearl-gray soft hat with rakish brim,and it was set with suspicious carelessness upon bright blue, andseemed to blazon a fiery, sentimental nature. He strode along,intensely self-conscious, not in the way that causes awkwardness, butin the way that causes a swagger. One had only to glance at him toknow that he was offensive to many men and fascinating to many women.

  Not an article of his visible clothing had been paid for, and theten-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 nothealth? Had he not looks to bewitch the women, brains to outwit themen? Feuerstein sniffed the delightful air and gazed round, like aking in the midst of cringing subjects. "I feel that this is one of mylucky days," said he to himself. An aristocrat, a patrician, aHochwohlgeboren, if ever one was born.

  At the Fourteenth-Street crossing he became conscious that a young manwas looking at him with respectful admiration and with the anxiety ofone 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 GLORIOUSday!"

  "It is lucky I met you," continued Feuerstein. "I had an appointmentat the Cafe Boulevard at four, and came hurrying away from my lodgingswith empty pockets--I am so absent-minded. Could you convenience me fora few hours with five dollars? I'll repay you to-night--you will be atGoerwitz'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 itwould--"

  Feuerstein looked annoyed. "Perhaps I can make that do. Thankyou--sorry to trouble you. I MUST be more careful."

  The two dollars were transferred, Feuerstein gave Hartmann aflourishing stage salute and strode grandly on. Before he had gone tenyards he had forgotten Hartmann and had dismissed all financialcare--had he not enough to carry him through the day, even should hemeet no one who would pay for his dinner and his drinks? "Yes, it is aday to back myself to win--fearlessly!"

  The hedge at the Cafe Boulevard was green and the tables were in theyard and on the balconies; but Feuerstein entered, seated himself inone of the smoke-fogged reading-rooms, ordered a glass of beer, anddivided his attention between the Fliegende Blatter and the faces ofincoming men. After half an hour two men in an arriving group of threenodded coldly to him. He waited until they were seated, then joinedthem and proceeded to make himself agreeable to the one who had justbeen introduced to him--young Horwitz, an assistant bookkeeper at adepartment store in Twenty-third Street. But Horwitz had a "soul," andthe yearning of that secret soul was for the stage. Feuerstein didHorwitz the honor of dining with him. At a quarter past seven, withhis two dollars intact, with a loan of one dollar added to it, and withfive of his original ten cents, he took himself away to the theater.Afterward, by appointment, he met his new friend, and did him the honorof accompanying him to the Young German Shooters' Society ball atTerrace Garden.

  It was one of those simple, entirely and genuinely gay entertainmentsthat assemble the society of the real New York--the three and a halfmillions who work and play hard and live plainly and without pretense,whose ideals center about the hearth, and whose aspirations are toretire with a competence early in the afternoon of life, thenceforthplacidly to assist in the prosperity of their children and to havetheir youth over again in their grandchildren.

  Feuerstein's gaze wandered from face to face among the young women, topause at last upon a dark, handsome, strong-looking daughter of thepeople. She had coal-black hair that curled about a low forehead. Hereyes were dreamy and stormy. Her mouth was sweet, if a triflepetulant. "And who is she?" he asked.

  "That's Hilda Brauner," replied Horwitz. "Her father has adelicatessen 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 whathe makes in the store. They're fine people, those Brauners; none niceranywhere."

  "A beautiful creature," said Feuerstein, who was feeling like a princewho, for reasons of sordid necessity, had condescended to a party inFifth 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 andlofty courtesy--she who had been used to the offhand manners whichprevail wherever there is equality of the sexes and the custom of franksociability. And when he asked her to dance she would have refused hadshe been able to speak at all. But he bore her off and soon made herforget herself in the happiness of being drifted in his strong arm uponthe rhythmic billows of the waltz. At the end he led her to a seat andfell to complimenting her--his eyes eloquent, his voice, it seemed toher, as entrancing as the waltz music. When he spoke in German it waswithout the harsh sputtering and growling, the slovenly slurring andclipping to which she had been accustomed. She could answer only withmonosyllables or appreciative looks, though usually she was a greattalker and, as she had much common sense and not a little wit, a goodtalker. But her awe of him, which increased when she learned that hewas on the stage, did not prevent her from getting the two mainimpressions he wished to make upon her--that Mr. Feuerstein was a verygrand person indeed, and that he was condescending to be profoundlysmitten 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 hadfound what she had been unconsciously seeking with the Idealismus ofgenuine youth--a man who compelled her to look far up to him, a manwho seemed to her to embody those vague dreams of a life grand andbeautiful, away off somewhere, which are dreamed by all young people,and by not a few older ones, who have less excuse for not knowing wherehappiness is to be found. He spent the whole evening with her; Mrs.Liebers and Sophie, with whom she had come, did not dare interrupt herpleasure, but had to stay, yawning and cross, until the last strain ofHome, Sweet Home.

  At parting he pressed her hand. "I have been happy," he murmured in atone which said, "Mine is a sorrow-shadowed soul that has rarely tastedhappiness."

  She glanced up at him with ingenuous feeling in her eyes and managed tostammer: "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 threeintervening days would be for him three eternities.

  She thought of him all the way home in the car, and until she fellasleep. His sonorous name was in her mind when she awoke in t
hemorning; and, as she stood in the store that day, waiting on thecustomers, she looked often at the door, and, with thechildhood-surviving faith of youth in the improbable and impossible,hoped that he would appear. For the first time she was definitelydiscontented with her lot, was definitely fascinated by the idea thatthere might be something higher and finer than the simple occupationsand simple enjoyments which had filled her life thus far.

  In the evening after supper her father and mother left her and herbrother August in charge, and took their usual stroll for exercise andfor the profound delight of a look at their flat-houses--thosereminders 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 delicatessenshops. When they had saved three thousand dollars they married and putinto effect the plan which had been their chief subject of conversationevery day and every evening for ten years--they opened the"delicatessen" in Avenue A, near Second Street. They lived in two backrooms; they toiled early and late for twenty-three contented, cheerfulyears--she in the shop when she was not doing the housework or caringfor the babies, he in the great clean cellar, where the cooking andcabbage-cutting and pickling and spicing were done. And now, owners ofthree houses that brought in eleven thousand a year clear, they wereabout to retire. They had fixed on a place in the Bronx, in the EastSide, of course, with a big garden, where every kind of gay flower andgood vegetable could be grown, and an arbor where there could bepinochle, beer and coffee on Sunday afternoons. In a sentence, theywere honorable and exemplary members of that great mass of humanitywhich has the custody of the present and the future of the race--thosewho live by the sweat of their own brows or their own brains, and traintheir children to do likewise, those who maintain the true ideals ofhappiness and progress, those from whom spring all the workers and allthe leaders of thought and action.

  They walked slowly up the Avenue, speaking to their neighbors, pausingnow and then for a joke or to pat a baby on the head, until they werewithin two blocks of Tompkins Square. They stopped before a five-storytenement, evidently the dwelling-place of substantial, intelligent,self-respecting artisans and their families, leading the natural lifeof busy usefulness. In its first floor was a delicatessen--the signread "Schwartz and Heilig." Paul Brauner pointed with his long-stemmedpipe at the one show-window.

  "Fine, isn't it? Beautiful!" he exclaimed in Low-German--they andalmost all their friends spoke Low-German, and used English only whenthey could not avoid it.

  The window certainly was well arranged. Only a merchant who knew hisbusiness thoroughly--both his wares and his customers--could have thusdisplayed cooked chickens, hams and tongues, the imported sausages andfish, the jelly-inclosed paste of chicken livers, the bottles and jarsof pickled or spiced meats and vegetables and fruits. The spectaclewas adroitly arranged to move the hungry to yearning, the filled toregret, and the dyspeptic to rage and remorse. And behind theshow-window lay a shop whose shelves, counters and floor were clean astoil could make and keep them, and whose air was saturated with themost 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 aweek." She had a round, honest face that was an inspiring study insimplicity, sense and sentiment.

  "What a worker!" was her husband's comment. "So unlike most of theyoung 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 theirboy, his father would have been growling and snapping like an angrybear.

  "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 ahard-working man. Where's there another woman that knows the businessas she does? You admit on her birthdays that she's the only realhelper 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," saidhe.

  "Arbeit und Liebe und Heim. Nicht wahr?" Otto Heilig appeared in hisdoorway and greeted them awkwardly. Nor did their cordiality lessenhis embarrassment. His pink and white skin was rosy red and his frankblue-gray eyes shifted uneasily. But he was smiling with eagerfriendliness, showing even, sound, white teeth.

  "You are coming to see us to-morrow?" asked Mrs. Brauner--he alwayscalled on Sunday afternoons and stayed until five, when he had to openshop for the Sunday supper rush.

  "Why--that is--not exactly--no," he stammered. Hilda had told him notto come, but he knew that if he admitted it to her parents they wouldbe 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 tothe modern ideas. "They make her hate me," he often muttered. But ifhe resented it he would offend them and Hilda too; if he acquiesced heencouraged them and added to Hilda's exasperation.

  Mrs. Brauner knew at once that Hilda was in some way the cause of thebreak in the custom. "Oh, you must come," she said. "We'd feelstrange all week if we didn't see you on Sunday."

  "Yes--I must have my cards," insisted Brauner. He and Otto alwaysplayed pinochle; Otto's eyes most of the time and his thoughts all thetime were on Hilda, in the corner, at the zither, playing the maddest,most romantic music; her father therefore usually won, poor at the gamethough he was. It made him cross to lose, and Otto sometimes defeatedhis 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 rejoinhis partner, Schwartz, behind the counters. Brauner and his wifewalked slowly home--it was late and there would be more business thanHilda and August could attend to. As they crossed Third StreetBrauner 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 wasthrowing herself at his head."

  "Not if I send her?" Brauner frowned with a seeming of severity. "Notif I, her father, send her--for two chickens, as we're out?" Then helaughed. His fierceness was the family joke when Hilda was small sheused to say, "Now, get mad, father, and make little Hilda laugh!"

  Hilda was behind the counter, a customer watching with fascinated eyesthe graceful, swift movements of her arms and hands as she tied up abundle. Her sleeves were rolled to her dimpled elbows, and her armswere round and strong and white, and her skin was fine and smooth. Hershoulders were wide, but not square; her hips were narrow, her wrists,her hands, her head, small. She looked healthy and vigorous and usefulas well as beautiful.

  When the customers had gone Brauner said: "Go up to Schwartz andHeilig, daughter, and ask them for two two-pound chickens. And tellOtto Heilig you'll be glad to see him to-morrow."

  "But we don't need the chickens, now. We--" Hilda's brow contractedand 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 foryour own sake, you must show consideration for your parents. Are theyto be deprived of their Sunday afternoon? You have never done thisbefore, Hilda. You have never forgotten us before."

  Hilda hung her head; after a moment she unrolled her sleeves, laidaside her apron and set out. She was repentant toward her father, butshe felt that Otto was to blame. She determined to make him suffer forit--how easy it was to make him suffer, and how pleasant to feel thatthis big fellow was her slave! She went straight up to him. "So youcomplained of me, did you?" she said scornfully, though she knew wellthat he had not, that he could not have done anything that
even seemedmean.

  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 mindwas confused. He loved her with all the strength of his simple,straightforward nature. Therefore he appeared at his worst beforeher--usually either incoherent or dumb. It was not surprising thatwhenever it was suggested that only a superior man could get on so wellas he did, she always answered: "He works twice as hard as any oneelse, 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 youdon't come I'll never speak to you again!" And she left him and wentto the other counter and ordered the chickens from Schwartz.

  Heilig was wretched,--another of those hideous dilemmas over which hehad been stumbling like a drunken man in a dark room full of furnitureever since he let his mother go to Mrs. Brauner and ask her for Hilda.He watched Hilda's splendid back, and fumbled about, upsetting bottlesand 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 seethat you care about her. The worse you treat the women the better theylike it. When they used to tell my father about some woman being crazyover 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 howwas he to apply them? How could he pretend indifference when at sightof her he could open his jaws only enough to chatter them, could loosenhis tongue only enough to roll it thickly about? "I can work," he saidto himself, "and I can pay my debts and have something over; but whenit comes to love I'm no good."

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