The Fortune Hunter

Author: David Graham Phillips

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 longstemmed 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."


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Chicago: David Graham Phillips, "Enter Mr. Feuerstein," The Fortune Hunter, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in The Fortune Hunter (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894), Original Sources, accessed November 30, 2023,

MLA: Phillips, David Graham. "Enter Mr. Feuerstein." The Fortune Hunter, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in The Fortune Hunter, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894, Original Sources. 30 Nov. 2023.

Harvard: Phillips, DG, 'Enter Mr. Feuerstein' in The Fortune Hunter, ed. . cited in 1894, The Fortune Hunter, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 30 November 2023, from