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The Human Touch

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I cull the following from Jacob Richman’s “Laughs from Jewish Lore,” with thanks but with no apologies. See how you like it.

The proprietor of the small hotel told the new arrival, a middle-aged Jewish merchant, that he could not accommodate him, as the house was filled to capacity. There was only one vacant bed, but it was in a room which a General occupied and, of course, he would not dare put another person with him.

“I think you could let me use that bed,” suggested the stranger. “It is very late now, and the General must be fast asleep. Tomorrow I must rise at six o’clock to catch a train, at which time the General will still be sleeping, and he will never know the difference. Only be sure to wake me up in time.”

The owner of the hostelry agreed. Quietly, the two tip-toed into the room occupied by the General and quietly, almost afraid to breathe, the intruder undressed and went to bed. His close proximity with the Russian General rather disturbed him; yet the thought of sharing one room with such a high personage tickled his vanity.

The hotel keeper awoke the General’s roommate at the appointed time. But in the dusk the merchant donned the General’s uniform and hurried off to the railroad station.

On the street, Jew and Gentile alike greeted him in the most respectful manner.

“How do they know that I slept with a General?” the merchant wondered.

While he was thus speculating on how the secret could have leaked out so quickly, an army officer of lower grade came into view and made a very courteous and snappy salute.

The humble Jew was more completely baffled. How did that officer know that he had slept in the same room with a General?

When the little merchant who seemed so suddenly to have become the object of special attention approached the ticket office to buy a ticket, the agent instantly saluted him and humbly handed him a ticket for first class passage.

“What has happened?” marveled the man who had gone to bed the night before an ignored, if not despised, little merchant. “How can they all have learned so quickly that I have spent the night in the same room with a General?”

The puzzled man walked into the train amidst an admiring, saluting and generally respectful crowd.

He seated himself comfortably, but the gaping of his fellow-travelers annoyed him tremendously. He was trying hard to fathom the reason for this strange and sudden manifestation of reverence for a mere Jew, who, ordinarily, was treated with contempt by his countrymen in the Russia of these times.

At last he decided to go out to the smoking room and have a look at himself. Perhaps he would be able to discern the halo which seemed to be surrounding him and which made him the cynosure of all who beheld him.

Glancing into the looking glass, he was startled to see the image of a General.

“What an idiot the hotel keeper is!” muttered the uniformed man. “I asked him to wake me up, and he woke up the General instead. Now I’ll miss the train yet.”

HOW WE DO THINGS

I was sitting quietly in my cubby-hole, meditating no offense, fraud or deceit to any man or woman, my mind being in that state described as suspended animation when there appeared before me a man and a woman. The woman, apparently an artist, had a drawing with her, which she proceeded to unfold from its wrappings; the man with her was, in all probability, friend and adviser, if the relation wasn’t more intimate; an escort for the occasion, in any event.

The drawing was a crude affair, but with some suggestion of power, with just enough expression of feeling to make me dubious about it. I hated to believe that it was as bad as it looked and thought perhaps that a second look might bring to light its hidden merits, if any.

And so I said: “If you’ll be good enough to let me keep it a couple of days I’ll let you know then whether I want to use it or not.”

Whereupon the man bristled and with more than a mere suggestion of accent—which I will not attempt to reproduce—barked: “What! You want to keep it so you can make a copy from it! No.” And the priceless masterpiece went back into its wrappings.

I wonder how he could have found out that we maintain, at great expense, a group of expert copyists to make surreptitious copies of the unsolicited masterpieces which are daily brought to our attention, and then that we dispose of these copies, as originals, at fabulous prices to the dealers on Fifty-seventh street? I thought this had been a well-kept secret among ourselves and the copyists and the dealers, but some people are so psychic there’s no keeping anything from them!

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