Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Hirelings
by [?]

I

Crowded as was the steamer with cultured Americans invading Europe, few knew that Rozenoffski was on board, or even that Rozenoffski was a pianist. The name, casually seen on the passengers’ list, conveyed nothing but a strong Russian and a vaguer Semitic flavour, and the mere outward man, despite a leonine head, was of insignificant port and somewhat shuffling gait, and drew scarcely a second glance.

He would not have had it otherwise, he told himself, as he paced the almost deserted deck after dinner–it was a blessing to escape from the perpetual adulation of music-sick matrons and schoolgirls–but every wounded fibre in him was yearning for consolation after his American failure.

Not that his fellow-passengers were aware of his failure; he had not put himself to the vulgar tests. His American expedition had followed the lines recommended to him by friendly connoisseurs–to come before the great public, if at all, only after being launched by great hostesses at small parties; to which end he had provided himself with unimpeachable introductions to unexceptionable ladies from irresistible personalities–a German Grand Duke, a Bulgarian Ambassador, Countesses, both French and Italian, and even a Belgian princess. But to his boundless amazement–for he had always heard that Americans were wax before titles–not one of the social leaders had been of the faintest assistance to him, not even the owner of the Chicago Palace, to whom he had been recommended by the Belgian princess. He had penetrated through one or two esoteric doors, only to find himself outside them again. Not once had he been asked to play. It was some weeks before it even dawned upon the minor prophet of European music-rooms that he was being shut out, still longer before it permeated to his brain that he had been shut out as a Jew!

Those barbarous Americans, so far behind Europe after all! Had they not even discovered that art levels all ranks and races? Poor bourgeois money-mongers with their mushroom civilization. It was not even as if he were really a Jew. Did they imagine he wore phylacteries or earlocks, or what? His few childish years in the Russian Pale–what were they to the long years of European art and European culture? And even if in Rome or Paris he had foregathered with Jews like Schneemann or Leopold Barstein, it was to the artist in them he had gravitated, not the Jew. Did these Yankee ignoramuses suppose he did not share their aversion from the gaberdine or the three brass balls? Oh the narrow-souled anti-Semites!

The deck-steward stacked the chairs, piled up the forgotten rugs and novels, tidying the deck for the night, but still the embittered musician tramped to and fro under the silent stars. Only from the smoking-room where the amateur auctioneer was still hilariously selling the numbers for a sweepstake, came sounds in discord with the solemnity of sky and sea, and the artist was newly jarred at this vulgar gaiety flung in the face of the spacious and starry mystery of the night. And these jocose, heavy-jowled, smoke-soused gamblers were the Americans whose drawing-rooms he would contaminate! He recalled the only party to which he had been asked–‘To meet the Bright Lights’–and which to his amazement turned out to be a quasi-public entertainment with the guests seated in rows in a hall, and himself–with the other Bright Lights–planted on a platform and made to perform without a fee. The mean vulgarians! But perhaps it was better they had left him untainted with their dollars–better, comparatively poor though he was, that America should have meant pure loss to him. He had at least kept the spiritual satisfaction of despising the despiser, the dignity of righteous resentment, the artist’s pride in the profitless. And this riot of ugliness and diamonds and third-rate celebrities was the fashionable society to which, forsooth, the Jew could not be permitted access!