The Machine of Moses


HE had spent the fullness of his years, to speak figuratively, in squaring the ever widening circle of the impossible; to speak literally, not a few of his days had been wasted on the impossibility of squaring the circle mathematically. He had tried sundry methods of producing gold alchemically, and the philosopher’s stone had been for three long decades the fond reality which was to crown his labor and his age ; but old age found him still, white-bearded, stooping, wrinkled, uncrowned, and poor to pauperism.

“ Moses,” some friend would ask, “and if thou squares! the circle, what then ? Canst thou buy aught with it ? ”

He would shake his head solemnly in reply. “ Nay, but thou knowest not the pleasure of the dream,” — a reply that was poetical and ideal enough, but which, like Moses himself, lacked all practicability ; so he passed in the Ghetto under the nickname of Moses the Schlemihl, the luckless ne’er-do-well, the unfortunate wight; and every child in the Chicago Ghetto knew that Moses the Schlemihl was Moses Berkovitz.

He had tried the practical on and off, — the peddling of shoestrings, matches, cigars, and collar buttons, the buying of old clothes, window-mending, — almost everything that he was not fitted to do; and the result was, of course, that he proved less successful in the realities than in the impracticabilities themselves. He discarded commerce altogether, and lived, Heaven knows how — he never knew himself, and rarely took time to consider the problem.

Fortunately he was childless, — an odd bird and a rare one in the Judaic flock, take him straight through, — and no offspring of his starved on the barren harvest of his copious sowing of visionary ideas; and more luckily still, — a fool for luck, inside of the Ghetto and outside of it, — his wife could sew, and did ; not so well, perhaps, as when the Shatchen had saddled her on an unsubstantial dream, when she was thirty and slender, and possibly not the worst-looking woman in the Ghetto of Cracow ; but still she managed to keep Moses and herself alive on the bitter bread of the sweatshop.

Nevertheless, she revered her husband ; he was pious in the extreme ; he never missed one of the long list of diurnal prayers, never slighted the most insignificant of the interminable roll of religious observances, and he let no day pass without the reading of a passage of the Talmud, and a long one. But I am inclined to think that her reverence arose more from the fact that she did not understand Moses, his dreams and his experiments and his “ beautiful language,” hence she considered him her superior, and thought, what is still more, that everybody else ought to regard him in the same light, — which they did n’t; and that was one reason the more why she should and did ; otherwise her respect might not have been perennial, and Moses might not have dreamed and dreamed and dreamed in such undisturbed quiescence.

“ Thou hast a good wife, Moses,” remarked Isaac Goldzier, in the Beth Hamedrisch, as the visionary was swaying back and forth like a mechanical toy over the outspread pages of the ponderous Talmud.

Absently Moses shook his head, and went on and on with the syllogistic unraveling of the Mishna, “What shall be used for lighting Sabbath lights, and what shall not be used,” and his thoughts thridded the intertwining mazes of the Gemara, “ Now Rabbi Hunaand Beruna say, and therefore” —

“Thou hast a good wife,” repeated Isaac.

“ Yea,” answered Moses, “ she sews well, and she performs the Mitzvahs ; ” and he pondered with absorbing interest what the ancient Rabbin had said on the hundred and one things that were allowed for Sabbath lights, and the hundred and one things that were interdicted, and the thousand reasons for each single approval and disapproval.

He had no fault to find with his wife : she was there, and he took her as she was; if she had been different it would undoubtedly have escaped his attention. Thus Moses went on with his dreams and his Talmudical studies, his wife “ sweated ” and moiled, and they managed to enjoy life very well, save that Moses, not troubling himself with the means of support, enjoyed it the better.

Years ago he had shambled into Rosenzweig’s sweatshop and told her, with a triumphant smile on his strongly but not strong Semitic face, that he was on the eve of discovering the philosopher’s stone, and she might quit work at once, for fortune was at last in their grasp. His wife left her machine, noising her good fortune throughout the place, and declaring that she would be a woman of importance now, but that she would not be proud ; they might come to visit her in her new mansion on Michigan Avenue. Before her hearers could realize what had happened, she and her husband had vanished, arm in arm. Two days thereafter she returned to her position at the machine, affecting nonchalance at the jeers and fleers of her fellow workers.

On another occasion Moses wended his way into the sweatshop to announce that she might cease her labor that minute, — she might have the pleasure of snapping her fingers in Rosenzweig’s face, if she liked ; he had discovered a method of manufacturing gold. She did not leave her machine this time ; she was not exactly skeptical nor exactly credulous ; she resolved to wait until the gold should materialize, meanwhile not losing the pittance to be gained by stitching six pairs of trousers. A smirk followed Moses out of the room, a mingled cry of “ dreamer ” and “ Schlemihl; ” but they might as well have shouted at a stone. Moses saw the walls of Jerusalem glitter auriferously, and he was millions of miles removed from that dark sweatshop, the hum of its roaring machines, the foulness of its stifling atmosphere, and its sneering occupants.

He came thither again and again to declare the unquestionable success of new projects ; but his wife merely nidnodded her head, without looking aside from her work. The others ceased to ridicule her, for the keen edge of the ludicrous bad worn off, leaving a dull pity for the witless Schlemihl and his woe-laden wife. But all this was years and years ago, before Moses’ black beard had turned to gray, and before stray wisps of white hair had poked their stealthy way through his wife’s scheitel.

Moses never grew discouraged. Discouragement is not one of the serious obstacles of the dreamer’s business ; it is so easy to try another dream if one fails; for to dreaming, like the making of books, there can be no end.

He gave up the squaring of the circle, the philosopher’s stone, the scheme for utilizing the earth’s electricity, and another for harnessing the sun’s heat; and at sixty-five he was ready to solve the insoluble problem of perpetual motion. It was the most barren, the most absurd, the most fantastic scheme of any ; but the very chances of unsuccess appealed mightily to Moses. He waxed enthusiastic as a boy, and he set his peculiar mental machinery to work in a manner and with a vehemence that were bound to produce bizarre results.


The kindly director of the Jewish Manual Training School had a strange caller one fine morning, and the strange caller had a still stranger proposition. He wished to use a room in the basement ; some tools ; materials of wood, wire, and steel, — a key of the room was a sine qua non of the bargain, —and if the director would but consent he should have an interest — one per cent, say — in the invention that the tools and the materials and the caller would turn out in the workshop. What was the invention ? Moses refused to answer the director’s question ; that was a secret between him and his inspiration. It would revolutionize the world, though : throw steam into the air, toss electricity to the skies, and bury all existing machinery fathoms deep under the earth. Now Moses had not the air of that dangerous species of insanity which makes infernal machines, — which might toss things where Moses wished to send them, — and the director, abnegating his right to the one per cent, charitably allowed Moses to go ahead with his machine, whilst he mentally labeled him “ harmless, but active.”

Early in the morning and late at night Moses was toiling in that workshop, so engrossed in his work that he almost laid eternal sin on his soul and a curse on his handiwork by laboring after sundown on Friday, the hour which heralds the advent of Princess Sabbath.

“ Well, and how does the invention progress ? ” the director would ask, as Moses emerged from the basement at nightfall, weary, covered with grime, his clothes spotted with rust, but the eternal light of hope sparkling unspent in his dreamy eyes.

“ Finely, finely,” he would answer, tugging at his white beard and looking abstractedly into space ; “ it will be done soon. We shall buy back the Holy Land, you and I.”

There were obstacles to be overcome, difficulties to be mastered, and Moses lay awake night after night, racking his poor brain and goading his tired thought, until the pallor of his cheeks matched the whiteness of his beard. The Harvest Festival, with its adornment of green boughs, was followed by the winter Feast of Lights and its burning candles ; and the spring sallied forth gayly to meet the Passover ; and the unleavened bread in turn made its exit before the merry peal of the New Year’s trumpet; and ere the sacred music had died away on the chilly air of non-sacerdotal days, the machine of Moses was done, — perpetual motion was solved. The notes of the Shofar in the synagogue had set the mechanism to whirling madly in his head, despite his frantic efforts to stop the wheels ; and now, in that dusty, cobwebbed basement, the very angels were blowing the priestly trumpet even more jocundly, to usher in Peace and Perpetual Motion on earth.

If Moses was enthusiastic about his other dreams and schemes, he was intoxicated by this ; and his intoxication climbed the dizzy height of delirium. His faith was somewhat contagious ; he cajoled his wife into visiting the machine at the Training School. She came, she saw, and Moses conquered ; nor was it to be wondered at, since this was the first visible embodiment of any of his innumerable vagaries, the first one localized and habited in stern substance. Besides, it went, — went like the dreams of Moses, perpetually.

The contrivance was an ingenious affair, — a deplorable waste of mechanical ability, untutored and untrained though it was, that might better have been applied in other directions* A wheel placed between two upright axles, its circumference looped with a series of pockets, spaced regularly, into which fitted square pieces of lead that popped out and fell back into their places as one half of the wheel went down and the other half went up, — this, in the rough, was Moses’ way of sneering at the little force which men call gravity.

A lead might get out of order once in a while, break from its string, destroy the balance, and stop the wheel; sometimes it refused to flop out and in at the required time, colleaguing with the enemy ; but such accidents were rare, and Moses had long ago cultivated the habit of telling himself that the fault lay with the mechanism, and not with the principle.

His wife was so carried away by what lay absolutely beyond the range of her ken that, with a little more persuasion from her husband, she would have let the sweatshop go, and have fed herself on dainty dishes cooked in the marble kitchen of her air castle; but Moses was too preoccupied to think of even arguing such an unmomentous question.

At dusk one night he covered the machine with a black cloth, and slipped it out of the Training School and into the bare and denuded room that made his home, turning around every now and then to make sure that the demons of jealousy, dishonesty, and inquisitiveness were not at his heels.

Two whole days of fasting and prayer followed for Moses ; he had been so lost in his machine that he had forgotten the minutiae of his religious duties, and had run close to that dangerous boundary within which he who steps throws himself open to the charge of being an Epikuros, — a sacrilegious wretch ; and Moses strove to atone for his worldliness by beseeching the God of Israel to make his machine prosper, trying to interest the Almighty, as it were, by binding himself to send the chosen people back to Jerusalem should the perpetual-motion machine succeed.


Samuel Witkowsky, capitalist, banker, steamship agent, insurance and real-estate man, as the host of Yiddish signs over his shop on Jefferson Street proclaimed to a populace never tired of estimating his wealth, was told by his clerk that Moses the Schlemihl was in the outer office, craving an audience.

Witkowsky shrugged his shoulders until they reached his protruding ears. Moses was evidently not a stranger ; in fact, the banker had heard him expatiate at length in that very office on the fortunes that were in the heat of the sun, in the centre of the earth, — at such distances that the capitalist was certain he could never reach them in his lifetime, much to the disgust of Moses, who felt sure he could.

“ Meschugener,” leered the banker.

“ He cannot see you,” is the way the kinder clerk translated the message to Moses. Yiddish is a language capable of infinite variation. Unable to interview the banker in his office, Moses sought him out in his home ; and failing there, he sought the office again, trotting that vicious circle until his legs ached; but his spirit never quailed. There were twenty-four hours to every day, and three hundred and sixty-five days to every year, and on one of the hours of one of the days, Sabbath excluded, the wily moneyed man must capitulate.

The hour of the day came, and it came sooner than Moses expected (he had calculated on at least another month of visits); Witkowsky clearly perceiving that if he did not see Moses he could not rid himself of him, and the sooner he saw Moses, the quicker would he be rid of the incubus, other things being equal.

But other things were not equal, — they never are. Moses came to stay. When the banker shrugged his thick shoulders and smiled skeptically, Moses kept shouting, with a wave of his long, thin arms : “ But it runs, I tell you, — I have the machine ! It is wasting a million every minute it runs for nothing! Don’t be a fool; listen ! We shall lend money to the Rothschilds, you and I.”

Then, for the twentieth time, he launched into an extravagant eulogium of his invention, proclaiming what it could do (and there was nothing that it could not do), demonstrating the uselessness of everything when that wonderful wheel ran. You could tie a rope to one end of it, the earth to the other ; the sun and the moon might disappear, and the earth would revolve just the same.

The banker shook his head less and less disbelievingly. He began to push his heavy spectacles on his high forehead and to rub his eyes. That was a good sign, and Moses bobbed up and down, as if he had been suspended to the ceiling by a rubber band. Rapturously did he expand on the demerits of electricity and steam as compared with the merits of perpetual motion, and Witkowsky, who understood none of them, found himself agreeing with Moses against his will ; for he had firmly made up his mind in the beginning to disbelieve any statement the Schlemihl should make, — even if what he said should chance to be true. They were such dangerous business propositions, these Schlemihls ; all the gold they ever touched turned to brass. Moreover, Moses and his grandiloquence had all but drawn Witkowsky into one crazy scheme, and for that escape he had offered up prayer ever afterwards.

The black-rimmed spectacles pushed farther and farther toward the bald crown of Witkowsky. Moses had left his chair, and began to thump the banker’s desk, knocking over the ink well, heedless of the black stream that was flowing in dangerous proximity to the trousers of his auditor.

“ The machine has lost twenty millions whilst I have been explaining its mechanism. I can prove it on paper. Give me a pencil.”

The spectacles were perched on the highest point of the bald crown ; the psychological moment had come. Moses seized Witkowsky by the arm, and the money-lender and the poverty-stricken Schlemihl moved together toward the latter’s room in silence; the banker half wanting to turn back, the exultant dreamer urging him forward with the shibboleth, “ A million a minute,” — increasing the number of millions as the minutes toward their goal decreased.

When they reached Moses’ dwelling, Witkowsky was appalled by the insignificance of the size of the wheel and the simplicity of its mechanism. He had expected something that reached from floor to ceiling, at least, and so complicated that he could not grasp the wondrous working; and he turned to leave the room, disillusioned.

But Moses held him tightly by the arm, shouting vociferously that the principle was there, — this was only the model; they could build one big as the earth; and straightway he poured forth such a mixture of facts, figures, and fancies, proving what he said by actual reckoning on actual paper, unrolling wonderful prints with fantastic designs to substantiate figures and fancies, that the banker’s head swirled and reeled. He became mystified, and he believed.


A week after this visit, a great Yiddish sign, made of canvas and painted in red letters, was swung over Witkowsky’s windows: —


Mechanics revolutionized by Moses Berkovitz, inventor.

Patents applied for.

Capital $5,000,000. Divided into 500,000 shares.

Par value $10 a share, non-assessable and full paid.

The first 100,000 shares now on sale at $1.00 a share.

THE CHANCE OF A LIFETIME TO GET RICH ! Second 100,000 shares to be sold at $2.00 a share.

The Third 100,000 shares to be sold at $3.00 a share.

Subject to change ! announcements later ! President, SAMUEL WITKOWSKY, Banker. Vice President, MOSES BERKOVITZ, INVENTOR.

Secretary, AARON ROSENZWEIG, Merchant. Full particulars inside !

In the window was the machine of Moses, clacking away as the strips of metal fell in and out of the pockets, and the little wheel turned on in endless revolution ; under it was a Yiddish placard, composed by Moses, which explained the possibilities and advantages of the device in the culled and luring phrases of the visionary.

It was a proud hour for Moses on the morning when that sign saw the light of day over the banker’s windows. He walked by it again and again, and read it over and over, until the arabesque Hebrew letters danced and ran into one another. He had not dreamed in vain, God be praised ; he had lived to see his dreams realized, to reap the substantial harvest of his airy visions at last. There were tears in the old fellow’s eyes, due half to superexcitability, due half to gratitude and deferred hope fulfilled and thankfulness, and he would dart around the corner to dry his eyes with his rag of a bandanna handkerchief, and then run back again and stand with eyes uplifted to the sign, as he raised them to the Scroll of the Pentateuch borne from the sacred ark of the synagogue each Saturday.

The flaring letters of the canvas attracted attention before the hanger had driven the last tack into the wood, and black-shawled women and ill-clad children and long-bearded Russian Jews were gathering in knots and clusters, struck almost breathless by the magnitude of the figures, the majestic sound of words like “ par value,” “ non-assessable,” " full paid,” which had for them all the fascination of the unknown, the unheard ; struck almost dumb by the transformation of Moses the Schlemihl into “ Moses Berkovitz, inventor and vice president.”

It was Friday morning, — market morning in the Ghetto, — but the display of eatables became of subsidiary importance. The long lines of vegetable wagons, the fish tanks, the chicken and geese coops, the little Lithuanian woman with her round table of sweetmeats, the peddlers of wax tapers,—all were deserted for the doors of the banker; and the surplus in the market led to a savage cut in prices.

The excitement waxed as the crowd grew ; the men cackled louder than the geese under the arms of the housewives, and the women cackled louder than either. Such wonderful chances, such fabulous opportunities of acquiring a fortune on next to nothing, were enough to bewilder the poor folk whose standard of value in the monetary system was a penny, who were paid in pennies, and who rarely handled dollars.

Even Witkowsky’s clerk, who had been presented with ten shares to advertise the scheme, was wildly sanguine over the utopian dream of Moses, and when the wheel slowed up, he would 'give it a surreptitious twirl and set it going again; he believed in it so thoroughly that he was quite willing to deceive himself, that his faith might not suffer.

Abraham Cohen who ran the Peddlers’ Supply House Company, and who was known far and wide for his business astuteness and his conservatism, was the first to issue from the bank with the brightly lithographed paper proclaiming his right to twenty shares, full paid and non-assessable. His example was contagious ; every possessor of a dollar made a rush for the door, fearful lest the first one hundred shares disappear before his entrance, and the El Dorado vanish like a mirage before his eager, hungry glances.

It was a stampede. Market baskets were broken to bits, their contents scattered to the mercy of trampling feet, and the yolks of crushed eggs dripped unheeded on shabby garments. Several geese, taking advantage of relaxed grasps, fluttered and flew away, while the perplexed owners, knowing not whether to lose the goose in the hand or the golden egg in the stock company, stood still and blocked the progress of the stragglers.

Witkowsky shut the doors, and another Yiddish sign was plastered on the window; lines must be formed; only ten were to be allowed inside of the bank at one time. The advantages were being held back, favoritism was being shown, and each resolved to gain the favor or lose his life in the attempt. Stampede turned into panic, and panic into hand-to-hand encounter, in the evolution of which coats were torn, bodies bruised, and scheitels lost. A policeman was summoned to the scene, and his blue coat was strongly in evidence in that drab sea of gray shawls and dun frock coats.

At noon the crowd broke, but all day long a steady stream of investors poured into Witkowsky’s, and drew their petty savings from the bank to turn them into the coffers of the stock company. Sweaters, peddlers, shoemakers, glaziers, impoverished clerks, came forth nervously fingering their certificates and dreaming of the day when they should live in ease and luxury on the invested capital of a dollar or two.

Moses, resplendent in shiny frock coat, stained white vest, frilled gray trousers, glossy silk hat, and metal-handled cane (supplied from the discarded wardrobe of Witkowsky ; for the vice president must dress in a style commensurate with his importance), stepped into Rosenzweig’s sweatshop briskly, with head erect, with features struggling in vain to suppress a smirk and maintain a dignified balance, jingling three silver dollars loudly, — the salary of vice president, partly drawn in advance. A few minutes later, amid the envious and admiring glances of the poor sweaters, he left with his wife. Her toil was over at last, her rest was to begin ; the days of starvation had ceased, and days of luxurious plenty were at hand; but, better than all, events justified her faith in this dreamer of beautiful dreams, for whom she had moiled and slaved and never doubted, even when repeated failure made temptation strong.

The pair stopped in front of the bank whilst Moses read the signs aloud, and his wife ejaculated every expression of astonishment in her vocabulary, and pinched her husband’s arm to make sure that this too was not a phantom that had arisen from the misty realm of his illusions. Then they stepped inside.

Witkowsky was nearly bereft of reason, so beside himself that he was unable to figure, so perturbed that he could neither concentrate his thoughts nor marshal his words into coherent sentences. He had done nothing all that long morning but pay bills incurred by the erection of a monstrous perpetualmotion wheel: bills for patent lawyers, bills for model-makers, bills for draughtsmen, bills for machinists, bills for experts, bills for factory rent, and bills for the machinery to make machinery. The world seemed sickbed o’er with one large bill, and he pictured his Satanic Majesty in waiting, with doffed hat, for a receipt. He feared that the money was flowing out of his coffers swifter than it was flowing back into them by way of the stock company, and that a disastrous end to the bank was inevitable. The clerk ran back and forth from his iron cage to assure him to the contrary, even going so far as to count the money in his presence, and to give him ocular proof that the funds available were eight hundred dollars to the good. Nevertheless, Witkowsky worried and fretted and stewed, in a cold sweat lest that point arrive where some poor depositor demand his paltry savings and a blank deficit necessitate a refusal. He shuffled his feet under his desk and murmured, " If the bank goes down, if the bank goes down ! ” His anxiety only diminished when another placard announced, “ No more shares sold to-day. First 100,000 gone.” He wished time to compose his thoughts, and find out just where he and the bank and the new company stood.

Moses and his wife sat there stiff and dignified, not understanding the reason for the banker’s uneasiness, and not in the least regretting their lack of comprehension in financial matters. Finally Moses, securing three dollars more in advance, left with his wife to invest the wages of dreaming in an alarm clock and a looking-glass, and to purchase on credit a stuffed sofa, and a host of other second-hand and totally unnecessary articles, which he bought because they were cheap, and because his wife thought it wise to seize bargains by the forelock and to buy furniture for their new home by degrees.

And whilst Moses was throwing his money to the four ends of the Ghetto stocks took another rise ; for as soon as the information spread that no more* stocks were to be sold that day, and hence not until Monday, the solidity of the new company was established in the minds of the people ; shares were so valuable that the directors would not even sell them. From Friday until Monday the first purchasers were offered a small but constantly growing premium on their holdings. Witkowsky’s error proved a stroke of wisdom.


It was no longer Moses the Schlemihl, but Moses the Zaddik, the wise man, the inventor, the vice president. His importance changed with his name ; he became a greater man in the Ghetto than Simeon Rheinstein, who was alderman in the ward, and who owned a buggy. Simeon himself had requested the honor of driving Moses about in becoming style, which Moses promptly refused as he had received a thousand other invitations, and to accept one were to offend the nine hundred and ninetynine refused. Yes, everybody had predicted well of Moses ; and those few who were honest enough to admit that they had not were quick to slip in a saving and compromising clause.

Men asked his advice on all things which Moses never knew, on matters secular, religious, and on all subjects which wavered between the two. The hearing alone of the questions was a liberal education. All sought secret “ tips ” on stock. Moses was as well versed in the arcana of finance as a newborn babe; it was all hopelessly intricate to him ; and he wisely remarked, “ Go to Witkowsky ; he ’s the business man of the company; I’m the inventor,” —which was the best possible thing he could have said under the circumstances.

Then they plotted to bribe his wife : a stream of callers, voluminous as the number of investors who had fought for entrance to the bank on the day previous, flowed into Moses’ squalid room, leaving behind it a variety of presents that ranged all the way from cooked goose to framed lithographs, and from lithographs to prayer books; and the bare room became as cluttered as a storehouse. Moses sat like a graven image, inscrutable, apparently impassive ; but happy as a lark lifting a dewy wing to the warmth of the rising sun.

On Saturday night, when the wax light was dipped in the wine and the saying of the Habdalah dismissed the Sabbath, he sought Witkowsky, and boldly demanded that the plutocrat rent him the attractive apartment over his bank, which the capitalist had left vacant since his widowhood.

“ Don’t you want a half interest in my bank too ? ” sneered the man of money.

“ No,” retorted Moses, serious as the other had been sarcastic, “ there is too much worry connected with banking, otherwise I might.”

“ But how in the world can you pay me eighteen dollars a month rent ? You are mad ; you are riding your high horse too quickly, before you have struck the right road.”

“ My credit is as good as ready cash now,” retorted Moses.

“Not with me ; I know all you have n’t got.”

“ Very well ; I will let the people know that you don’t trust your own vice president; that you refused to give me credit for a bagatelle of eighteen dollars. If my credit is damaged, so is that of the Hebrew-American Perpetual Motion Machinery Company, and that of Samuel Witkowsky likewise.”

“ In the name of God (blessed be He), Moses, rest satisfied with your old home ; it is plenty good enough.”

“ No more. A vice president should live in a flat. Then I have not room enough to arrange all the fine presents given me, and the new furniture; and, moreover, I am having a life-size portrait of myself made, — I always wanted one, — and where shall I put it ? On the floor, perhaps ? ”

The banker protested and cajoled, the dreamer insisted and threatened; and the former was forced to grant the demand of the latter, in dread lest his declension be trumpeted through the Ghetto, and his credit be dragged into the mire with that of Moses. Witkowsky regretted his share in the bargain more and more every minute; he had not expected such a series of complications.

That same night discovered the inventor and his wife in the Yiddish theatre, witnessing the performance of The Apostate. They were the cynosure, — an attraction greater than the play itself ; all strained their eyes to see what change fortune had wrought in the physiognomy of the Schlemihl. One super, in the midst of the most thrilling situation, cried out aloud to another, “ That’s Moses, — there ! ” and the prompter poked his red head out of his cramped box, lifted his candle aloft, and gazed around ; the audience cried, “ Speech ! ” and Moses arose and bowed with a benevolent grin; and amid the ravings of Mansheffesky, the manager, the curtain went down.

On Sunday evening Witkowsky, vaguely apprehensive that Moses might be engaged in some violently uncommercial transaction, visited the vice president. His fears were realized ; they were more than realized. Moses, careless of magnificent surroundings, was busily engaged over his drawing board, in a recrudescence of his old scheme for utilizing the heat of the sun.

“In the name of God (blessed be He), desist from your wild-cat ventures, Moses ! Do you wish to ruin us both ? Are you mad ? If people discover that you are going to work over that insane project, they will think both companies are will-o’-the-wisps, dancing about in a lunatic’s brain. They will sell their stocks for next to nothing, there will be a slump, and a panic, and ” — He mopped his brow and his head with his handkerchief, wiping away the cold sweat. He could feel his bank totter, and he heard the ominous crash of the fall.

“ Nothing of the kind,” answered Moses, undisturbed; “ they know that I am a wonderful man, who can accomplish anything. They will leave the old company, and rush for the new; one. You should see the beautiful prospectus I am writing, — such fine language ! ”

Witkowsky rubbed his chubby hands, shuffled his feet, stormed, raved, and even swore at the top of his voice ; and at last, by the promise of a new suit and a month’s rent free for Moses, and a marble-top table and a dress for his wife, won the dreamer over to a two weeks’ postponement of his ideas for promoting the Hebrew-American Sun Heat and Illuminating Power Company.

The financier wondered how he had let himself be inveigled into the chimera of a fool. He prayed the consequences might be light.


The fall and the day of judgment of the Perpetual Motion Company might have been delayed for a week or two, at least, had it not been for the conduct of Aaron Rosenzweig, the secretary. Moses had demonstrated to the boss sweater how easily the principle of his invention might be applied to the sewing machine, and how expenses would be cut in two by the application ; on the strength of this explanation, Rosenzweig announced that wages would be cut down, five cents the garment. The poor sweaters, already ground to the barest margin of a meagre subsistence, heard the news with horror. They held a meeting, and they struck. The other bosses followed the example of Rosenzweig, and their laborers emulated his sweaters. By the middle of that week there was not a single sweatshop running in the entire Ghetto.

It was a different crowd that assembled around Witkowsky’s now to watch the running of the machine, read the Yiddish signs, and see the fortunate purchasers display their certificates ostentatiously, — a poor, hungry, dissatisfied, angry mob ; shivering with cold, tortured by jealousy, starving for a morsel of food, cursing the invention that was snatching the crumbs from their yawning, aching stomachs.

The bosses remained stubborn, and the sweaters resolved to starve without work, rather than work and receive starvation for wages. The cold weather was at its height, the mercury dropped below the zero point on its downward course; and freezing was added to the misery of the wretched malcontents. The suffering was superhuman ; action was necessary, and the love of life commanded that it be quick.

At a public session, one of the women suggested that a committee be appointed to wait upon Moses’ wife, and request her to intercede in their behalf with her husband about the dreadful machine that threatened to destroy their means of livelihood. What was to be gained by this move no one knew ; but the disease was desperate ; any remedy was worth a trial. Five haggard Polish sweaters, who had worked side by side with Mrs. Berkovitz in Rosenzweig’s shop, were appointed to wait upon the vice president’s wife.

The prosperity built on the misfortune of her comrades had already become a thorn in the fleshy side of that tender and sensitive woman. She had enjoyed nothing since the inception of the trouble. This too sudden rise boded evil; it was the false dawn that must pulse away into night thrice gloomy. She wished herself back into that one bare cheerless room where she had been so discontentedly happy. Fain would she have hid from her five old friends the garish symbols of her newly acquired wealth. When the lean spokesman of the five retailed the pain and the wretchedness they had endured with tremulous voice and moistened eyes, she burst into sobs and cried like a beaten child. It needed no stretch of her dull imagination to put herself in their place, — half of her life had been squeezed into its narrow, racking confines. Their desperate plea fell not on ears of stone.

All that night she lay awake and prodded her slow, inactive intellect, to evolve some thought that would give her the power to wrest those poor slaves of the machine from dolorous want and famine. Her conscience pricked sharper and sharper as the hours dragged their weary length in unending procession, and sleep outtimed its sluggish advance. She prayed deeply and earnestly and longingly for an inspiration that would aid her to aid them ; and when the stars shone pale in that murky Ghetto sky, and the morning flushed on the horizon, the inspiration was sent, and her troubled conscience found rest.

“ Moses,” she said on arising, “ I had a dream last night.”

“ Nu,” he remarked, greatly startled, “ has the Bal-Cholem visited thee too ? ” He wished to have a monopoly of dreams; it augured failure when a woman embarked in the business.

“ Yes. Thou must take the machine home from the bank, or else evil will happen it. Last night I saw two angels pound it to pieces with heavy hammers in Witkowsky’s window ! ”

Moses grumbled and protested and argued; he had such faith in dreams in general that he durst disregard no dream in particular, — not even his wife’s ; and he stalked into Witkowsky’s office and demanded the model.

Witkowsky struck the sides of his head with his clenched fist, then he bent his neck and dug his finger tips into his ears ; ostrich-like not daring to look ahead or behind, trembling lest Moses have some other fatal desire to communicate.

“ The devil stirs inside of your head,” he cried, jumping to his feet, after the first minutes of quickened agony. “ You will ruin us. I will not consent. People will be suspicious, and stocks will tumble. What do you want with the machine, anyway ? ”

“I have an improvement in my mind, — my wife dreamed something.”

“ Must your wife put her finger in this broth too ? Is not one fool enough ? Make the improvement on paper, and we will put the paper in the window.”

Blandly Moses threatened to promote the Sun Illuminating Company, and the banker choosing between two evils, although the choice seemed small enough, let the “ madman ” depart with his model. He would gladly have disposed of his prospective millions for a song, if he had but the assurance that his bank would stay out of the raging waters into which the Schlemihl was exerting himself to push it.

Again a placard was pasted in the window, proclaiming to all whom it concerned that Moses Berkovitz, inventor, was adding another improvement to the machine. Stocks flurried awhile, and ended by going down a point or two, and Witkowsky’s heart fell toward his shoes. They advanced to par again, and he recovered his breath, — sufficient breath to heap that day which had introduced him to Moses with opprobrious names.


“ God of Israel, thou who lovest the poor and the humble and the downtrodden, give me courage to do that which I wish to do. May my action be good, and find favor in thy sight.” It was the fourth time that Moses’ wife had fervidly repeated the long prayer of which these few lines are the end. She arose from her bed, and moved through the darkness of the room to the corner where the machine stood.

The fierce light of her inspiration had beaten over a pathway of destruction, pointing to the demolition of the contrivance as the only salvation of the sweaters ; and for this task had she sought spiritual guidance and assistance. The work of annihilation once completed, ran the feeble logic of her intuition, her husband would be too discouraged to reassume his labors along the lines of perpetual motion, and the banker would abandon the enterprise in dismay, discouraged by unending obstacles. Moreover, Moses dropped one idea to pick up another with such juvenile elasticity that he might just as well, and just as profitably, employ himself over a discovery the results of which would be less noxious to the under half.

She was tranquil and serene enough ; for the nobility of her purpose had armed her with resolution and courage that were in striking disproportion to her usual amount of those qualities ; but the moment her hand touched the wheel, calmness retreated before an increasing and conquering wrath. The model took on tremendous proportions to her now excited imagination. She was struggling with a wild beast that had its jaws fastened on the throat, and its sharp claws dug into the shoulders of a defenseless and victimized people. To the rescue then ; let no moment he lost in the battle of deliverance ! On bended knee, and with strained tendons, she combated the beast with all the fury of a divine despair.

She seized the cutting wires with firm grasp, and tugged and twisted and pulled till her hands bled. She jerked the leads from their place, and threw them on the floor. She hammered with might and main at the rim of the wheel until what was left of it suggested a square rather than a circle. The avenging fury won swift victory : the beast was dead ; the people were wounded, but free. Jt was a bacchanalia of humanitarianism ; she stamped with bare feet on the scattered ruins, screaming aloud in the excitement of her frenzied worship of righteousness triumphant.

Moses awoke with a start, thrown to an upright position in his bed by the shock that vibrated on his high-strung nerves. The noise ceased. He missed his wife, and called to her with the vigor of fright. No answer. He stepped on the floor, and lighting a candle, caught sight of a white-robed figure crouching on the floor over a tangle of bits of iron, wire, wood, and steel.

“ What doest thou ? Have thy senses left thee ? ” he cried, springing forward.

The first all-including glance told him that the machine was broken beyond the hope of repair. His body turned to lead from his heart to the soles of his feet; his brain swirled with a multitude of intangible thoughts, formless as wind. He raised a violent hand to smite her. The candle fell from his clasp, emitting the faint blue of an expiring flame; the current of his blood ceased to flow, — he fell fainting to the floor.

The family who occupied the flat above responded to Mrs. Berkovitz’s piercing shrieks for aid.


The Ghetto is one large family, and before the hovering dawn broke over that bleak wintry day it was known that the machine of Moses had been destroyed. No one stopped to consider that it might be rebuilt any more than had its inventor; but everybody who held one share of stock, or who had a penny in the hank, rushed to Witkowsky’s, and stood there shivering in the biting air of the early morn, chilled to the marrow of their poorly nourished bones by the cold blood that sinking hearts sent through wasted systems.

The eagerness to purchase stock paled to indifference when compared to the frantic efforts to dispose of them ; and yet some few clutched those oblong papers as if they had been pure gold, refusing to disbelieve that the plutocratic banker would not refund their money on presentation of the gilt-lettered certificates. The fretting throng murmured and muttered as their endeavors to sell became more and more hopeless, and their holdings sunk to nothing on that open, turbulent market. Imprecations against Witkowsky and Moses grew louder and bolder ; and this people, ordinarily so peaceful and meek, threatened violence.

At eight Witkowsky appeared, smiling, suave, outwardly serene ; but within him burned the live fires of a consuming dread, kept glowing by the anger he felt for the dreamer and the vengeance he was promising himself to wreak upon him. He pushed his way to the doorstep, and started to deliver his prepared speech ; but he was hissed down ; a stone, thrown from the back line of the crowd, barely missed his head.

“ Open the bank! Open the bank ! Open the bank ! ” yelled the mob with full-throated vehemence ; and menacing looks and uplifted hands, holding sticks and stones aloft, showed in a manner not to be mistaken what the punishment of delay would mean.

Witkowsky unlocked the doors, and the mob crushed forward like infuriated cattle, all warring for first place at the clerk’s window. Let the devil take the hindmost was the uppermost doctrine of the moment. The run on the bank began in grim earnest; and Witkowsky cowered in the back room, wringing his hands, pressing his head, and shuffling his feet.

When the stockholders were met with a blank refusal for the reimbursement on their shares, the battle and the mutiny began : the brass railing was hurled to the ground, the rioters crushed toward the back room, and Witkowsky fled for his life through the alley door, leaving the clerk and the depleted cash boxes to the mercy of the unsatisfied.

Despair followed in the wake of the devastating storm ; and the deluded ones who had put their great faith and their small toil-won savings in the bank and the machine company were weeping and wailing piteously, — asking one another what they should do now that the winter was at its full, and the children would beg for bread and sicken from the cold.

A half hour after the banker’s sudden and unpremeditated flight, Moses, still weak from the mental and physical pangs of the night before, walked toward the wrecked bank with measured step to hold a consultation with the financier. He was as jubilant and sanguine as ever ; his blood flowed again; and the freighted ship of his dreams moved gracefully on the ebb.

“ May your neck grow as thin as my finger and your head large as a bushel basket, and may your head wag up and down until your neck breaks ! ” raved the old woman who caught sight of Moses first. A volley of horrible curses followed her malediction, — " Thief ! Rascal ! Swindler ! Villain ! ”

They forgot his age, his white hair, his frail limbs, his defenselessness ; and the signal for a general attack was opened by the throwing of a stick straight at his white head. A cloud of frozen mud, stones, refuse, followed — anything that had weight enough to carry and hurt went whistling through the air at the poor old man’s body. He dodged as quickly as his stiff limbs would let him; then he started to run, but he staggered to the sidewalk before his awkward movements had gained ten feet. There was an ugly wound in the back of his head, and scarlet blood poured out on the wooden walk profusely.

The very ones who had been most implacable in their thirst for vengeance, whose missiles had been thrown with the most savage aim, were the most sympathetic and sorrowful now ; the old woman who had cursed him so picturesquely wept convulsively, and stanched his blood with her brown shawl, baring her scantily protected shoulders to the nipping air.


Moses never entirely recovered from the effects of that deep gash, from the brutal attack of the mob, the sudden rupture of his dream, the cruel jerk from the sun-kissed hill of fortune to the depths of failure ; and his eccentric brain never resumed its normal function — what was normal for Moses, at least.

You may see him pass through the Ghetto, tossing tin washers from the capacious depths of his worn-out pocket on the sidewalks and the streets, right and left, in an argent shower. They are the silver dollars poured into his Fortunatus’ purse by each revolution of a single perpetual-motion machine.

His insane phantasy is made pathetically real by the kindly connivance of the poor Ghetto folk who believed in the falling of such an unremitting argentine shower in stern truth once ; and the more compassionate of them are never too weary to stoop to pick the round tins from the gutter, blessing the donor for his Crœsus-like generosity, that he in turn may have the blissful satisfaction and the joy of smiling benignantly upon them.

His wife has returned to her place in the sweatshop, where she is regarded as a kind of patron saint; for did she not save her famished fellow toilers from the rapacity of the boss and the ravages of her husband’s monster of a machine ?

Her inflexible fingers move slower and slower as the wisps of hair protrude from her scheitel whiter and whiter; but gentle hands are ever at her beck and call to aid and assist, and many work overtime, far into the night if need be, that the “ good soul ” may have bread to eat and time wherein to rest.

I. K. Friedman.