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Chapter 17
ELIAS had enjoyed his dinner at the Kochs’ very much. He had been greatly amused by it; but he had derived from it, besides, a pleasure that was deeper than mere amusement—the pleasure, namely, which comes of contact with people whom we feel to be thoroughly good and wholesome.

“They, with their strident voices, and vulgar manners, and untutored ways of thinking, are the sort of Jews that Gentiles judge the race by,” he reflected. “It is a comfort to know that underneath all their superficial roughness and unrefinement, the core is sound and sweet.”

It was with a sense of agreeable anticipation that, on the following Thursday evening, he started out to pay his digestion visit.

The maid-servant showed him into the parlor, and went off to announce him. Returning a moment later, she asked him to step down-stairs to the basement. There he was very cordially welcomed; and Mr. Koch explained, “I thought you’d rather join us down here, than have us come up to the show-room. (That’s my nick-name for the parlor; pretty good, hey?) Down here it’s more comfortable and homey.”

Mr. and Mrs. Blum smiled and swayed their heads at him; and Mrs. Koch, clasping Lester to her bosom with one hand, offered him the other.

“We don’t want to make company of you, Mr. Bacharach,” Mr. Koch went on; “and so, after my wife has put Lester to bed, you must come around with us to Winkum’s. We’re going to meet my brother-in-law and my sisters around there.”

“I shall be very happy,” Elias responded. “But Winkum’s—what is it? and where?”

“Oh, Winkum’s is Terrace Garden. I always call it Winkum’s, because a man named Winkum kept it when I first began to go there, years ago; and I’ve never got used to calling it by its new name. Force of habit.”

Mrs. Koch passed Lester around, and everybody kissed him good-night. Then she carried him from the room.

“Have a cigar?” asked Mr. Koch. “They’re genuine—Hoyo de Montereys.”

Elias took a cigar.

Mr. and Mrs. Blum were whispering together, on the sofa, over in the corner. He appeared to be urging her to do something, which she, with blushes and modest smiles, was protesting against.

“Come,” cried Mr. Koch; “it ain’t polite to whisper in company. What you people conspiring about?”

“I want her,” Mr. Blum answered, “to offer Elias Bacharach some of her cheese-cake; and she’s too baishful. Elias Bacharach, my wife every now and then, she make us a cheese-cake. You never taste any thing like it. It’s simply elegant. Vail, she make us one to-day; and I want her to give you a bite of it, just to show what she can do. But she—she’s just exactly as baishful as she was the day we got married; and that’s forty years ago, already.”

“Oh, Mrs. Blum,” Elias pleaded, “I shall really feel very much offended, if you don’t let me taste it. There’s nothing in the world I like so well as cheese-cake. Please don’t disappoint me.”

Blushing and giggling, the old lady got up, and said, “Ach, Gott! All right,” and waddled from the room. Presently she waddled back, and placed an enormous slice of cheese-cake, together with knife, fork, and napkin, upon the table. Then she sat down, and crossed her hands upon her stomach, and watched Elias as he ate. Between his mouthfuls, he kept uttering ejaculations of delight and wonder: marvelous! delicious! never tasted any thing equal to it in all my life! etc. She kept swaying her head and smiling. At the end, he vowed that the cheese-cake was a triumph of art, and confessed that antecedently he would not have believed such excellence attainable. Her husband demanded, “Didn’t I tell you so?” The old lady herself was overcome, and could only gurgle, “Gott! Du lieber, lieber Gott!”

By and by Mrs. Koch reappeared; and her husband called out, “Well, let’s start.”

At Terrace Garden they found Mr. and Mrs. Sternberg and Mrs. Morgenthau seated at a round table under an ailanthus tree.

“Why, where’s Tillie?” cried Mr. Koch.

“Oh, she had to stay at home to work,” her mother answered. “Preparing for some lessons she has to give to-morrow.”

The electric-lamps flared and sizzled. The band played tunes from comic operas. There were many people present, seated at similar tables, under similar trees, eating, drinking, smoking, chatting, listening to the music. Their countenances were mostly of the Semitic type. Every now and then a new party entered, from the café adjoining: an old gentleman and lady, a middle-aged gentleman and lady, and a troop of young folks of both sexes: three generations. Your Jew loves to take his pleasure with his family to share it. His boon companions are, as a rule, his father and mother, his wife and children. The waiters dashed like meteors hither and thither. One of them stopped before the table of our friends; and Mr. Koch, having determined the sentiment of the meeting, ordered “beers all around.”

“Vail,” observed Mr. Blum, “to drink dot beer, and hear dot music, and breathe dot fresh air, dot’s what I call solid comfort—hey?”

“Yes; and to see the people,” added Mr. Koch. “I don’t know as there’s any thing that I enjoy better than I do to sit around here of a summer night, and watch the people—see them arrive in squads, and then notice their ways of enjoying themselves after they’ve got settled. It’s quite a study; and every now and then you catch a glimpse into a regular romance. Now, Mr. Bacharach, you just take in that table over there. Can’t you imagine how that young fellow’s heart is thumping, as he whispers to her in that energetic manner? And see how she blushes, and fidgets with her fan, and pretends not to like it. And the old folks, her father and mother, of course—they sit placidly, with their backs turned, and have no attention for any thing but the beer and the music. I got a great mind to go up and nudge them. I have, as I’m alive.”

“Don’t you do nothing of the kind!” cried Mrs. Koch, indignantly. “The idea! How you like it if some busy-body come up, and nudge my papa, when you was making loaf to me?”

“Well, now, what I admire about that couple,” pursued Mr. Koch, “is their clever acting. They’re trying hard not to give themselves away, and not to let people see how sweet they feel. Unless a fellow watched them mighty close, and had been there himself, he might really be deceived by them, and think they were talking about nothing more interesting than the weather. But you and me, Mr. Bacharach, we’re shrewd, and we know better. She’s a daisy, and no mistake, ain’t she? And the young man—he looks like a respectable sort of a chap, too. Well, I guess I won’t interfere. I guess I’ll do as you say, Sarah. It may be a desirable match. What’s your advice, mother-inlaw?”

Mrs. Blum, quivering like a mass of jelly with suppressed mirth, responded, “Ach, Gott! Go ‘vay! You make me die!”

Mr. Blum, his face wreathed in smiles, exclaimed, “Washington, you got more wit about you than any man I know. It’s simply wonderful.”

It seemed as though the Kochs knew every body that came. At all events, every body that passed their table stopped, and said how-d’ye-do, shaking hands, and addressing Mr. Koch as Wash. His usual rejoinder was: “First-class. How’s yourself?”

“I’m sorry your daughter wasn’t able to be here, Mrs. Morgenthau,” Elias said.

“Oh, my daughter,” Mrs. Morgenthau returned, “she works like a horse. You never saw such a worker. It’s simply fearful. And such a good girl, Mr. Bacharach. Only nineteen years old, and earns more than a hundred dollars a month, and supports me and herself. Her uncle, my brother over there, he’s as generous with his money as if it was water; and he gave Tillie a magnificent education. But she’s bound to be self-supporting, and hasn’t cost him a cent for nearly a year. Of course, he gives her elegant presents every once in awhile; but she pays our expenses by her own work. She’s grand. She’s an angel.”

“You’re right there,” putin Mr. Koch. “Tillie’s all wool, from head to foot.”

“And a yard vide,” added Mr. Blum.

“And such a brilliant musician,” said Elias.

“Musician?” echoed her mother. “Well, I should say so. You ought to hear her play, when she really knuckles down to it. Why, you—you’d jump, you’d get so excited. The other night she was only drumming—for fun. I tell you what you do. You come around and call on us some evening, over in Beekman Place. Then you’ll hear her, the right way.”

“I shall be very happy to. It’s very good of you to ask me.”

“Good? Oh, pshaw; don’t mention it. Tillie ‘ll be delighted.

“We shall esteem it an honor to welcome you in our home, Mr. Bacharach,” Mr. Sternberg said, with a stiffness which he mistook for courtliness. .

“Yes, come over, do,” added Mrs. Sternberg. “Come Sunday evening and take supper with us.” Elias agreed to do so, with thanks.

“You folks come over, too,” said Mrs. Sternberg, addressing the Koch contingent.

“You may count upon us,” replied Mr. Koch, “providing you’ll have enough to eat.”

At which sally there was a general laugh.

“What you all laughing at?” the wag proceeded. “I hope you don’t think I’m joking. I wouldn’t want to come to supper with a family, if they didn’t have enough to go around.”

At this, the laughter was redoubled; and Mrs. Morgenthau demanded in a whisper of Elias, “Ain’t my brother immense?”

“There’s either a ball or a wedding going on in there,” Mr. Koch announced, pointing to the brightly-lighted windows of the hall, that abuts upon the garden. “Hear that music? It’s a string-orchestra, playing dance tunes. Running a race with our band here. Wonder which will come in first.”

Pretty soon the doors of the hall were thrown wide open; and a stream of young people poured forth into the garden. The men wore dress-suits and patent-leather pumps; the ladies, evening costumes, of red, white, yellow, and other bright-hued silks. They took possession of the unoccupied tables round about, and proceeded to make merry in a very noisy and whole-souled manner.

“Yes, it’s a wedding, sure enough,” said Mr. Koch; “and here comes the bride.”

The bride, a buxom daughter of Israel, of twenty odd, attired in canary-colored satin, escorted by her bridesmaids, and followed at a respectful distance by the groom and his four best men, drew up to the table nearest that of our friends, and called for beer and cheese; which, when the waiter brought them, she attacked with a vigor and with a directness that were charming to witness. Indeed, so interesting did her immediate neighbors find the spectacle, that not a word was spoken among them for a long while. They sat still, and watched her with smitten eyes. At last, however, she called out to her husband: “Nun, gut, mein Turteltaubchen; ich bin ganz satt und glücklich. Komm ‘mal mit mir, und noch ein wenig lass uns tanzen.” And then Mrs. Koch said that she was sorry to break up a party, but she really thought she’d better go home, as Laistair might have woke up, and he would be frightened if his mamma wasn’t there to put him back to shleep. This expression of maternal solicitude produced its due effect; and, with many hearty good-nights, the company departed upon their several ways.

Sunday evening, Elias rang the Sternberg doorbell at six o’clock. The Kochs and the Blums had already arrived; and they, with the host and hostess and Mrs. Morgenthau and Tillie, were assembled in the back-parlor, enjoying the view from the bay-window—up, down, and across the river, and over the Long Island country on the other side. He got, of course, a very effusive reception. Mr. Koch inquired what the good word was. Miss Tillie said she was so glad to see him, and that it was perfectly elegant of him to come. Mr. Sternberg mixed him a vermouth cocktail, “to put an edge on his appetite.” And Mr. Blum declared, vail, he was looking splendid.

“Supper’s all ready,” proclaimed Mrs. Sternberg, and led the way to the back-yard, where, protected by an awning, the table fairly groaned beneath its burden of good things. “Say, Wash,” she called out to her brother, “think there’s enough?” Which proved that Mr. Koch’s witticisms were not speedily forgotten in his admiring circle.

Elias thought it exceedingly pleasant thus to feast in the open air, while the sky and river glowed with the reflected splendor of the sunset; and said so to Miss Tillie. She replied that it was simply ideal, that they always did it in good weather, and that it was quite the rage among the residents of Beekman Place. Beekman Place, she went on, was the grandest street in the city, and she was awfully attached to it. She’d lived there most all her life, and all the memories of her childhood were associated with it. She remembered when she used to go fishing, with a thread and a bent pin, off the docks below there, and how scared her mamma used to get, lest she should tumble into the water, and be drowned. She didn’t know what she’d do—she knew she’d feel just perfectly fearful, any how—when she had to leave, and dwell elsewhere, as she supposed she would some day. Oh, no, they weren’t thinking of moving. She meant when she got married.

“Why,” exclaimed her interlocutor, “I didn’t know you were engaged.”

“Well, I’m not engaged. But I suppose I’ll get engaged before I die. All girls do.”

But couldn’t she persuade her husband to come and live in Beekman Place?

Well, that would depend a good deal upon what sort of a man he was. Most men wouldn’t want to come so far out of the way. She knew, when she was at college, it used to take her pretty much all day going and coming, and cost a regular fortune in car-fares.

College? The Normal College?

Yes. Class of ‘82. Salutatory.

Indeed! That was a great honor.

“Well, may be it was; but I didn’t care a cent for it. I wanted to be Valedictory. I worked hard for it, for four years; and when I didn’t get it, you can’t imagine how horribly bad I felt.”

“Oh, yes; I can understand. It must have been very hard.”

“Florence Rosenbaum got it. She, and I, and an American girl named Redwood, had been rivals ever since we were freshmen. Some years one would lead, and some years another. But at the finish, Rosenbaum came in first, and Redwood third, and I second. I’d just as soon have come in last.”—Tillie paused; appeared puzzled; finally demanded, “Why, what you looking so queer about?”

“Why, nothing. I didn’t know I was looking queer.”

“I thought something was choking you, you got so red in the face.”

“Been down to the beach this season, Mr. Bach-arach?” broke in Mr. Koch, having reference, presumably, to Coney Island. Elias replied in the negative. “Well, then, I tell you what let’s do,” Mr. Koch proceeded, addressing the table at large; “let’s make up a party to go down to the beach some afternoon this week, hey?”

After a clamorous debate, it was decided that they should dine at the beach on the following Wednesday evening, provided the elements were favorable.

Supper over, they went up stairs, and sat in the dusk, smoking their cigars, and looking out of the bay window, while Tillie played. “I’m going to give you a Chopin evening,” she had said. Elias, stretched in a great easy-chair, watching the moon float up red and swollen from behind the castellated prison on Blackwell’s Island, and listening to the subtle, dreamy measures of the Berceuse, thought he had never before experienced such restful and satisfying pleasure. It got dark. The moon shrank and paled. A million diamonds sparkled upon the bosom of the river. Along the opposite embankment, the street lamps gleamed like fallen stars. A soft breeze, laden with the odors of lilac and wistaria, stole in at the window. The music, sweet and solemn, thrilled the darkness like the voice of a beautiful, sad, strange spirit. Suddenly it died away. Somebody lighted the gas. There was an outbreak of talk and laughter. The spell was broken. Elias started, got upon his feet, bade his friends good-night, went home.


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