Children of the Ghetto
Part 10 out of 12
His face changed. His frenzy gave way to a momentary shock of
consternation as he realized what he had done.
"No, no, Esther. I was mad, I didn't know what I was saying. I didn't
mean it. Forget it."
"I cannot. It was quite true," she said bitterly. "I am only a
_Schnorrer's_ daughter. Well, are you going or must I?"
He muttered something inarticulate, then seized his hat sulkily and went
to the door without looking at her.
"You have forgotten something," she said.
He turned; her forefinger pointed to the bouquet on the table. He had a
fresh access of rage at the sight of it, jerked it contemptuously to the
floor with a sweep of his hat and stamped upon it. Then he rushed from
the room and an instant after she heard the hall door slam.
She sank against the table sobbing nervously. It was her first
proposal! A _Schnorrer_ and the daughter of a _Schnorrer_. Yes,
that-was what she was. And she had even repaid her benefactors with
deception! What hopes could she yet cherish? In literature she was a
failure; the critics gave her few gleams of encouragement, while all her
acquaintances from Raphael downwards would turn and rend her, should she
dare declare herself. Nay, she was ashamed of herself for the mischief
she had wrought. No one in the world cared for her; she was quite alone.
The only man in whose breast she could excite love or the semblance of
it was a contemptible cad. And who was she, that she should venture to
hope for love? She figured herself as an item in a catalogue; "a little,
ugly, low-spirited, absolutely penniless young woman, subject to nervous
headaches." Her sobs were interrupted by a ghastly burst of
self-mockery. Yes, Levi was right. She ought to think herself lucky to
get him. Again, she asked herself what had existence to offer her.
Gradually her sobs ceased; she remembered to-night would be _Seder_
night, and her thoughts, so violently turned Ghetto-wards, went back to
that night, soon after poor Benjamin's death, when she sat before the
garret fire striving to picture the larger life of the future. Well,
this was the future.
THE ENDS OF A GENERATION.
The same evening Leonard James sat in the stalls of the Colosseum Music
Hall, sipping champagne and smoking a cheroot. He had not been to his
chambers (which were only round the corner) since the hapless interview
with Esther, wandering about in the streets and the clubs in a spirit
compounded of outraged dignity, remorse and recklessness. All men must
dine; and dinner at the _Flamingo Club_ soothed his wounded soul and
left only the recklessness, which is a sensation not lacking in
agreeableness. Through the rosy mists of the Burgundy there began to
surge up other faces than that cold pallid little face which had
hovered before him all the afternoon like a tantalizing phantom; at the
Chartreuse stage he began to wonder what hallucination, what aberration
of sense had overcome him, that he should have been stirred to his
depths and distressed so hugely. Warmer faces were these that swam
before him, faces fuller of the joy of life. The devil take all stuck-up
About eleven o'clock, when the great ballet of _Venetia_ was over,
Leonard hurried round to the stage-door, saluted the door-keeper with a
friendly smile and a sixpence, and sent in his card to Miss Gladys
Wynne, on the chance that she might have no supper engagement. Miss
Wynne was only a humble _coryphee_, but the admirers of her talent were
numerous, and Leonard counted himself fortunate in that she was able to
afford him the privilege of her society to-night. She came out to him in
a red fur-lined cloak, for the air was keen. She was a majestic being
with a florid complexion not entirely artificial, big blue eyes and
teeth of that whiteness which is the practical equivalent of a sense of
humor in evoking the possessor's smiles. They drove to a restaurant a
few hundred yards distant, for Miss Wynne detested using her feet except
to dance with. It was a fashionable restaurant, where the prices
obligingly rose after ten, to accommodate the purses of the
supper-_clientele_. Miss Wynne always drank champagne, except when
alone, and in politeness Leonard had to imbibe more of this frothy
compound. He knew he would have to pay for the day's extravagance by a
week of comparative abstemiousness, but recklessness generally meant
magnificence with him. They occupied a cosy little corner behind a
screen, and Miss Wynne bubbled over with laughter like an animated
champagne bottle. One or two of his acquaintances espied him and winked
genially, and Leonard had the satisfaction of feeling that he was not
dissipating his money without purchasing enhanced reputation. He had not
felt in gayer spirits for months than when, with Gladys Wynne on his arm
and a cigarette in his mouth, he sauntered out of the brilliantly-lit
restaurant into the feverish dusk of the midnight street, shot with
points of fire.
A great cry of anguish rent the air--Leonard's cheeks burned.
Involuntarily he looked round. Then his heart stood still. There, a few
yards from him, rooted to the pavement, with stony staring face, was Reb
Shemuel. The old man wore an unbrushed high hat and an uncouth
unbuttoned overcoat. His hair and beard were quite white now, and the
strong countenance lined with countless wrinkles was distorted with pain
and astonishment. He looked a cross between an ancient prophet and a
shabby street lunatic. The unprecedented absence of the son from the
_Seder_ ceremonial had filled the Reb's household with the gravest
alarm. Nothing short of death or mortal sickness could be keeping the
boy away. It was long before the Reb could bring himself to commence the
_Hagadah_ without his son to ask the time-honored opening question; and
when he did he paused every minute to listen to footsteps or the voice
of the wind without. The joyous holiness of the Festival was troubled, a
black cloud overshadowed the shining table-cloth, at supper the food
choked him. But _Seder_ was over and yet no sign of the missing guest;
no word of explanation. In poignant anxiety, the old man walked the
three miles that lay between him and tidings of the beloved son. At his
chambers he learned that their occupant had not been in all day. Another
thing he learned there, too; for the _Mezuzah_ which he had fixed up on
the door-post when his boy moved in had been taken down, and it filled
his mind with a dread suspicion that Levi had not been eating at the
_kosher_ restaurant in Hatton Garden, as he had faithfully vowed to do.
But even this terrible thought was swallowed up in the fear that some
accident had happened to him. He haunted the house for an hour, filling
up the intervals of fruitless inquiry with little random walks round the
neighborhood, determined not to return home to his wife without news of
their child. The restless life of the great twinkling streets was almost
a novelty to him; it was rarely his perambulations in London extended
outside the Ghetto, and the radius of his life was proportionately
narrow,--with the intensity that narrowness forces on a big soul. The
streets dazzled him, he looked blinkingly hither and thither in the
despairing hope of finding his boy. His lips moved in silent prayer; he
raised his eyes beseechingly to the cold glittering heavens. Then, all
at once--as the clocks pointed to midnight--he found him. Found him
coming out of an unclean place, where he had violated the Passover.
Found him--fit climax of horror--with the "strange woman" of _The
Proverbs_, for whom the faithful Jew has a hereditary hatred.
His son--his. Reb Shemuel's! He, the servant of the Most High, the
teacher of the Faith to reverential thousands, had brought a son into
the world to profane the Name! Verily his gray hairs would go down with
sorrow to a speedy grave! And the sin was half his own; he had weakly
abandoned his boy in the midst of a great city. For one awful instant,
that seemed an eternity, the old man and the young faced each other
across the chasm which divided their lives. To the son the shock was
scarcely less violent than to the father. The _Seder_, which the day's
unwonted excitement had clean swept out of his mind, recurred to him in
a flash, and by the light of it he understood the puzzle of his father's
appearance. The thought of explaining rushed up only to be dismissed.
The door of the restaurant had not yet ceased swinging behind him--there
was too much to explain. He felt that all was over between him and his
father. It was unpleasant, terrible even, for it meant the annihilation
of his resources. But though he still had an almost physical fear of the
old man, far more terrible even than the presence of his father was the
presence of Miss Gladys Wynne. To explain, to brazen it out, either
course was equally impossible. He was not a brave man, but at that
moment he felt death were preferable to allowing her to be the witness
of such a scene as must ensue. His resolution was taken within a few
brief seconds of the tragic rencontre. With wonderful self-possession,
he nodded to the cabman who had put the question, and whose vehicle was
drawn up opposite the restaurant. Hastily he helped the unconscious
Gladys into the hansom. He was putting his foot on the step himself when
Reb Shemuel's paralysis relaxed suddenly. Outraged by this final
pollution of the Festival, he ran forward and laid his hand on Levi's
shoulder. His face was ashen, his heart thumped painfully; the hand on
Levi's cloak shook as with palsy.
Levi winced; the old awe was upon him. Through a blinding whirl he saw
Gladys staring wonderingly at the queer-looking intruder. He gathered
all his mental strength together with a mighty effort, shook off the
great trembling hand and leaped into the hansom.
"Drive on!" came in strange guttural tones from his parched throat.
The driver lashed the horse; a rough jostled the old man aside and
slammed the door to; Leonard mechanically threw him a coin; the hansom
"Who was that, Leonard?" said Miss Wynne, curiously.
"Nobody; only an old Jew who supplies me with cash."
Gladys laughed merrily--a rippling, musical laugh.
She knew the sort of person.
THE FLAG FLUTTERS.
The _Flag of Judah_, price one penny, largest circulation of any Jewish
organ, continued to flutter, defying the battle, the breeze and its
communal contemporaries. At Passover there had been an illusive
augmentation of advertisements proclaiming the virtues of unleavened
everything. With the end of the Festival, most of these fell out,
staying as short a time as the daffodils. Raphael was in despair at the
meagre attenuated appearance of the erst prosperous-looking pages. The
weekly loss on the paper weighed upon his conscience.
"We shall never succeed," said the sub-editor, shaking his romantic
hair, "till we run it for the Upper Ten. These ten people can make the
paper, just as they are now killing it by refusing their countenance."
"But they must surely reckon with us sooner or later," said Raphael.
"It will he a long reckoning. I fear: you take my advice and put in more
butter. It'll be _kosher_ butter, coming from us." The little Bohemian
laughed as heartily as his eyeglass permitted.
"No; we must stick to our guns. After all, we have had some very good
things lately. Those articles of Pinchas's are not bad either."
"They're so beastly egotistical. Still his theories are ingenious and
far more interesting than those terribly dull long letters of Henry
Goldsmith, which you will put in."
Raphael flushed a little and began to walk up and down the new and
superior sanctum with his ungainly strides, puffing furiously at his
pipe The appearance of the room was less bare; the floor was carpeted
with old newspapers and scraps of letters. A huge picture of an Atlantic
Liner, the gift of a Steamship Company, leaned cumbrously against a
"Still, all our literary excellencies," pursued Sampson, "are outweighed
by our shortcomings in getting births, marriages and deaths. We are
gravelled for lack of that sort of matter What is the use of your
elaborate essay on the Septuagint, when the public is dying to hear
"Yes, I am afraid it is so." said Raphael, emitting a huge volume of
"I'm sure it is so. If you would only give me a freer hand, I feel sure
I could work up that column. We can at least make a better show: I would
avoid the danger of discovery by shifting the scene to foreign parts. I
could marry some people in Born-bay and kill some in Cape Town,
redressing the balance by bringing others into existence at Cairo and
Cincinnati. Our contemporaries would score off us in local interest, but
we should take the shine out of them in cosmopolitanism."
"No, no; remember that _Meshumad_" said Raphael, smiling.
"He was real; if you had allowed me to invent a corpse, we should have
been saved that _contretemps_. We have one 'death' this week
fortunately, and I am sure to fish out another in the daily papers. But
we haven't had a 'birth' for three weeks running; it's just ruining our
reputation. Everybody knows that the orthodox are a fertile lot, and it
looks as if we hadn't got the support even of our own party. Ta ra ra
ta! Now you must really let me have a 'birth.' I give you my word,
nobody'll suspect it isn't genuine. Come now. How's this?" He scribbled
on a piece of paper and handed it to Raphael, who read:
"BIRTH, on the 15th inst. at 17 East Stuart Lane, Kennington, the wife
of Joseph Samuels of a son."
"There!" said Sampson proudly, "Who would believe the little beggar had
no existence? Nobody lives in Kennington, and that East Stuart Lane is a
master-stroke. You might suspect Stuart Lane, but nobody would ever
dream there's no such place as _East_ Stuart Lane. Don't say the little
chap must die. I begin to take quite a paternal interest in him. May I
announce him? Don't be too scrupulous. Who'll be a penny the worse for
it?" He began to chirp, with bird-like trills of melody.
Raphael hesitated: his moral fibre had been weakened. It is impossible
to touch print and not be denied.
Suddenly Sampson ceased to whistle and smote his head with his chubby
fist. "Ass that I am!" he exclaimed.
"What new reasons have you discovered to think so?" said Raphael.
"Why, we dare not create boys. We shall be found out; boys must be
circumcised and some of the periphrastically styled 'Initiators into the
Abrahamic Covenant' may spot us. It was a girl that Mrs. Joseph Samuels
was guilty of." He amended the sex.
Raphael laughed heartily. "Put it by; there's another day yet; we shall
"Very well," said Sampson resignedly. "Perhaps by to-morrow we shall be
in luck and able to sing 'unto us a child is born, unto us a son is
given.' By the way, did you see the letter complaining of our using that
quotation, on the ground it was from the New Testament?"
"Yes," said Raphael smiling. "Of course the man doesn't know his Old
Testament, but I trace his misconception to his having heard Handel's
Messiah. I wonder he doesn't find fault with the Morning Service for
containing the Lord's Prayer, or with Moses for saying 'Thou shalt love
thy neighbor as thyself.'"
"Still, that's the sort of man newspapers have to cater for," said the
sub-editor. "And we don't. We have cut down our Provincial Notes to a
column. My idea would be to make two pages of them, not cutting out any
of the people's names and leaving in more of the adjectives. Every man's
name we mention means at least one copy sold. Why can't we drag in a
couple of thousand names every week?"
"That would make our circulation altogether nominal," laughed Raphael,
not taking the suggestion seriously.
Little Sampson was not only the Mephistopheles of the office, debauching
his editor's guileless mind with all the wily ways of the old
journalistic hand; he was of real use in protecting Raphael against the
thousand and one pitfalls that make the editorial chair as perilous to
the occupant as Sweeney Todd's; against the people who tried to get
libels inserted as news or as advertisements, against the self-puffers
and the axe-grinders. He also taught Raphael how to commence interesting
correspondence and how to close awkward. The _Flag_ played a part in
many violent discussions. Little Sampson was great in inventing communal
crises, and in getting the public to believe it was excited. He also won
a great victory over the other party every three weeks; Raphael did not
wish to have so many of these victories, but little Sampson pointed out
that if he did not have them, the rival newspaper would annex them. One
of the earliest sensations of the _Flag_ was a correspondence exposing
the misdeeds of some communal officials; but in the end the very persons
who made the allegations ate humble pie. Evidently official pressure had
been brought to bear, for red tape rampant might have been the heraldic
device of Jewish officialdom. In no department did Jews exhibit more
strikingly their marvellous powers of assimilation to their neighbors.
Among the discussions which rent the body politic was the question of
building a huge synagogue for the poor. The _Flag_ said it would only
concentrate them, and its word prevailed. There were also the grave
questions of English and harmoniums in the synagogue, of the
confirmation of girls and their utilization in the choir. The Rabbinate,
whose grave difficulties in reconciling all parties to its rule, were
augmented by the existence of the _Flag_, pronounced it heinous to
introduce English excerpts into the liturgy; if, however, they were not
read from the central platform, they were legitimate; harmoniums were
permissible, but only during special services; and an organization of
mixed voices was allowable, but not a mixed choir; children might be
confirmed, but the word "confirmation" should be avoided. Poor
Rabbinate! The politics of the little community were extremely complex.
What with rabid zealots yearning for the piety of the good old times,
spiritually-minded ministers working with uncomfortable earnestness for
a larger Judaism, radicals dropping out, moderates clamoring for quiet,
and schismatics organizing new and tiresome movements, the Rabbinate
could scarcely do aught else than emit sonorous platitudes and remain in
And beneath all these surface ruffles was the steady silent drift of the
new generation away from the old landmarks. The synagogue did not
attract; it spoke Hebrew to those whose mother-tongue was English; its
appeal was made through channels which conveyed nothing to them; it was
out of touch with their real lives; its liturgy prayed for the
restoration of sacrifices which they did not want and for the welfare of
Babylonian colleges that had ceased to exist. The old generation merely
believed its beliefs; if the new as much as professed them, it was only
by virtue of the old home associations and the inertia of indifference.
Practically, it was without religion. The Reform Synagogue, though a
centre of culture and prosperity, was cold, crude and devoid of
magnetism. Half a century of stagnant reform and restless dissolution
had left Orthodoxy still the Established Doxy. For, as Orthodoxy
evaporated in England, it was replaced by fresh streams from Russia, to
be evaporated and replaced in turn, England acting as an automatic
distillery. Thus the Rabbinate still reigned, though it scarcely
governed either the East End or the West. For the East End formed a
Federation of the smaller synagogues to oppose the dominance of the
United Synagogue, importing a minister of superior orthodoxy from the
Continent, and the _Flag_ had powerful leaders on the great struggle
between plutocracy and democracy, and the voice of Mr. Henry Goldsmith
was heard on behalf of Whitechapel. And the West, in so far as it had
spiritual aspirations, fed them on non-Jewish literature and the higher
thought of the age. The finer spirits, indeed, were groping for a
purpose and a destiny, doubtful even, if the racial isolation they
perpetuated were not an anachronism. While the community had been
battling for civil and religious liberty, there had been a unifying,
almost spiritualizing, influence in the sense of common injustice, and
the question _cui bono_ had been postponed. Drowning men do not ask if
life is worth living. Later, the Russian persecutions came to interfere
again with national introspection, sending a powerful wave of racial
sympathy round the earth. In England a backwash of the wave left the
Asmonean Society, wherein, for the first time in history, Jews gathered
with nothing in common save blood--artists, lawyers, writers,
doctors--men who in pre-emancipation times might have become Christians
like Heine, but who now formed an effective protest against the popular
conceptions of the Jew, and a valuable antidote to the disproportionate
notoriety achieved by less creditable types. At the Asmonean Society,
brilliant free-lances, each thinking himself a solitary exception to a
race of bigots, met one another in mutual astonishment. Raphael
alienated several readers by uncompromising approval of this
characteristically modern movement. Another symptom of the new intensity
of national brotherhood was the attempt towards amalgamating the Spanish
and German communities, but brotherhood broke down under the disparity
of revenue, the rich Spanish sect displaying once again the
exclusiveness which has marked its history.
Amid these internal problems, the unspeakable immigrant was an added
thorn. Very often the victim of Continental persecution was assisted on
to America, but the idea that he was hurtful to native labor rankled in
the minds of Englishmen, and the Jewish leaders were anxious to remove
it, all but proving him a boon. In despair, it was sought to 'anglicize
him by discourses in Yiddish. With the Poor Alien question was connected
the return to Palestine. The Holy Land League still pinned its faith to
Zion, and the _Flag_ was with it to the extent of preferring the ancient
father-land, as the scene of agricultural experiments, to the South
American soils selected by other schemes. It was generally felt that the
redemption of Judaism lay largely in a return to the land, after several
centuries of less primitive and more degrading occupations. When South
America was chosen, Strelitski was the first to counsel the League to
co-operate in the experiment, on the principle that half a loaf is
better than no bread. But, for the orthodox the difficulties of
regeneration by the spade were enhanced by the Sabbatical Year Institute
of the Pentateuch, ordaining that land must lie fallow in the seventh
year. It happened that this septennial holiday was just going on, and
the faithful Palestine farmers were starving in voluntary martyrdom. The
_Flag_ raised a subscription for their benefit. Raphael wished to head
the list with twenty pounds, but on the advice of little Sampson he
broke it up into a variety of small amounts, spread over several weeks,
and attached to imaginary names and initials. Seeing so many other
readers contributing, few readers felt called upon to tax themselves.
The _Flag_ received the ornate thanks of a pleiad of Palestine Rabbis
for its contribution of twenty-five guineas, two of which were from Mr.
Henry Goldsmith. Gideon, the member for Whitechapel, remained callous to
the sufferings of his brethren in the Holy Land. In daily contact with
so many diverse interests, Raphael's mind widened as imperceptibly
as the body grows. He learned the manners of many men and
committees--admired the genuine goodness of some of the Jewish
philanthropists and the fluent oratory of all; even while he realized
the pettiness of their outlook and their reluctance to face facts. They
were timorous, with a dread of decisive action and definitive speech,
suggesting the differential, deprecatory corporeal wrigglings of the
mediaeval few. They seemed to keep strict ward over the technical
privileges of the different bodies they belonged to, and in their
capacity of members of the Fiddle-de-dee to quarrel with themselves as
members of the Fiddle-de-dum, and to pass votes of condolence or
congratulation twice over as members of both. But the more he saw of his
race the more he marvelled at the omnipresent ability, being tempted at
times to allow truth to the view that Judaism was a successful
sociological experiment, the moral and physical training of a chosen
race whose very dietary had been religiously regulated.
And even the revelations of the seamy side of human character which
thrust themselves upon the most purblind of editors were blessings in
disguise. The office of the _Flag_ was a forcing-house for Raphael; many
latent thoughts developed into extraordinary maturity. A month of the
_Flag_ was equal to a year of experience in the outside world. And not
even little Sampson himself was keener to appreciate the humors of the
office when no principle was involved; though what made the sub-editor
roar with laughter often made the editor miserable for the day. For
compensation, Raphael had felicities from which little Sampson was cut
off; gladdened by revelations of earnestness and piety in letters that
were merely bad English to the sub-editor.
A thing that set them both laughing occurred on the top of their
conversation about the reader who objected to quotations from the Old
Testament. A package of four old _Flags_ arrived, accompanied by a
letter. This was the letter:
"Your man called upon me last night, asking for payment for four
advertisements of my Passover groceries. But I have changed my mind
about them and do not want them; and therefore beg to return the
four numbers sent me You will see I have not opened them or soiled
them in any way, so please cancel the claim in your books.
"He evidently thinks the vouchers sent him _are_ the advertisements,"
screamed little Sampson.
"But if he is as ignorant as all that, how could he have written the
letter?" asked Raphael.
"Oh, it was probably written for him for twopence by the Shalotten
_Shammos_, the begging-letter writer."
"This is almost as funny as Karlkammer!" said Raphael.
Karlkammer had sent in a long essay on the Sabbatical Year question,
which Raphael had revised and published with Karlkammer's title at the
head and Karlkammer's name at the foot. Yet, owing to the few
rearrangements and inversions of sentences, Karlkammer never identified
it as his own, and was perpetually calling to inquire when his article
would appear. He brought with him fresh manuscripts of the article as
originally written. He was not the only caller; Raphael was much
pestered by visitors on kindly counsel bent or stern exhortation. The
sternest were those who had never yet paid their subscriptions. De Haan
also kept up proprietorial rights of interference. In private life
Raphael suffered much from pillars of the Montagu Samuels type, who
accused him of flippancy, and no communal crisis invented by little
Sampson ever equalled the pother and commotion that arose when Raphael
incautiously allowed him to burlesque the notorious _Mordecai Josephs_
by comically exaggerating its exaggerations. The community took it
seriously, as an attack upon the race. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Goldsmith were
scandalized, and Raphael had to shield little Sampson by accepting the
whole responsibility for its appearance.
"Talking of Karlkammer's article, are you ever going to use up Herman's
scientific paper?" asked little Sampson.
"I'm afraid so," said Raphael; "I don't know how we can get out of it.
But his eternal _kosher_ meat sticks in my throat. We are Jews for the
love of God, not to be saved from consumption bacilli. But I won't use
it to-morrow; we have Miss Cissy Levine's tale. It's not half bad. What
a pity she has the expenses of her books paid! If she had to achieve
publication by merit, her style might be less slipshod."
"I wish some rich Jew would pay the expenses of my opera tour," said
little Sampson, ruefully. "My style of doing the thing would be
improved. The people who are backing me up are awfully stingy, actually
buying up battered old helmets for my chorus of Amazons."
Intermittently the question of the sub-editor's departure for the
provinces came up: it was only second in frequency to his "victories."
About once a month the preparations for the tour were complete, and he
would go about in a heyday of jubilant vocalization; then his comic
prima-donna would fall ill or elope, his conductor would get drunk, his
chorus would strike, and little Sampson would continue to sub-edit _The
Flag of Judah_.
Pinchas unceremoniously turned the handle of the door and came in. The
sub-editor immediately hurried out to get a cup of tea. Pinchas had
fastened upon him the responsibility for the omission of an article last
week, and had come to believe that he was in league with rival
Continental scholars to keep Melchitsedek Pinchas's effusions out of
print, and so little Sampson dared not face the angry savant. Raphael,
thus deserted, cowered in his chair. He did not fear death, but he
feared Pinchas, and had fallen into the cowardly habit of bribing him
lavishly not to fill the paper. Fortunately, the poet was in high
"Don't forget the announcement that I lecture at the Club on Sunday. You
see all the efforts of Reb Shemuel, of the Rev. Joseph Strelitski, of
the Chief Rabbi, of Ebenezer vid his blue spectacles, of Sampson, of all
the phalanx of English Men-of-the-Earth, they all fail. Ab, I am a great
"I won't forget," said Raphael wearily. "The announcement is already in
"Ah, I love you. You are the best man in the vorld. It is you who have
championed me against those who are thirsting for my blood. And now I
vill tell you joyful news. There is a maiden coming up to see you--she
is asking in the publisher's office--oh such a lovely maiden!"
Pinchas grinned all over his face, and was like to dig his editor in the
"I do not know; but vai-r-r-y beaudiful. Aha, I vill go. Have you not
been good to _me_? But vy come not beaudiful maidens to _me_?"
"No, no, you needn't go," said Raphael, getting red.
Pinchas grinned as one who knew better, and struck a match to rekindle a
stump of cigar. "No, no, I go write my lecture--oh it vill be a great
lecture. You vill announce it in the paper! You vill not leave it out
like Sampson left out my article last week." He was at the door now,
with his finger alongside his nose.
Raphael shook himself impatiently, and the poet threw the door wide open
For a full minute Raphael dared not look towards the door for fear of
seeing the poet's cajoling head framed in the opening. When he did, he
was transfixed to see Esther Ansell's there, regarding him pensively.
His heart beat painfully at the shock; the room seemed flooded with
"May I come in?" she said, smiling.
ESTHER DEFIES THE UNIVERSE.
Esther wore a neat black mantle, and looked taller and more womanly than
usual in a pretty bonnet and a spotted veil. There was a flush of color
in her cheeks, her eyes sparkled. She had walked in cold sunny weather
from the British Museum (where she was still supposed to be), and the
wind had blown loose a little wisp of hair over the small shell-like
ear. In her left hand she held a roll of manuscript. It contained her
criticisms of the May Exhibitions. Whereby hung a tale.
In the dark days that followed the scene with Levi, Esther's resolution
had gradually formed. The position had become untenable. She could no
longer remain a _Schnorrer_; abusing the bounty of her benefactors into
the bargain. She must leave the Goldsmiths, and at once. That was
imperative; the second step could be thought over when she had taken
the first. And yet she postponed taking the first. Once she drifted out
of her present sphere, she could not answer for the future, could not be
certain, for instance, that she would be able to redeem her promise to
Raphael to sit in judgment upon the Academy and other picture galleries
that bloomed in May. At any rate, once she had severed connection with
the Goldsmith circle, she would not care to renew it, even in the case
of Raphael. No, it was best to get this last duty off her shoulders,
then to say farewell to him and all the other human constituents of her
brief period of partial sunshine. Besides, the personal delivery of the
precious manuscript would afford her the opportunity of this farewell to
him. With his social remissness, it was unlikely he would call soon upon
the Goldsmiths, and she now restricted her friendship with Addie to
receiving Addie's visits, so as to prepare for its dissolution. Addie
amused her by reading extracts from Sidney's letters, for the brilliant
young artist had suddenly gone off to Norway the morning after the
_debut_ of the new Hamlet. Esther felt that it might be as well if she
stayed on to see how the drama of these two lives developed. These
things she told herself in the reaction from the first impulse of
Raphael put down his pipe at the sight of her and a frank smile of
welcome shone upon his flushed face.
"This is so kind of you!" he said; "who would have thought of seeing you
here? I am so glad. I hope you are well. You look better." He was
wringing her little gloved hand violently as he spoke.
"I feel better, too, thank you. The air is so exhilarating. I'm glad to
see you're still in the land of the living. Addie has told me of your
debauches of work."
"Addie is foolish. I never felt better. Come inside. Don't be afraid of
walking on the papers. They're all old."
"I always heard literary people were untidy," said Esther smiling.
"_You_ must be a regular genius."
"Well, you see we don't have many ladies coming here," said Raphael
deprecatingly, "though we have plenty of old women."
"It's evident you don't. Else some of them would go down on their hands
and knees and never get up till this litter was tidied up a bit."
"Never mind that now, Miss Ansell. Sit down, won't you? You must be
tired. Take the editorial chair. Allow me a minute." He removed some
books from it.
"Is that the way you sit on the books sent in for review?" She sat down.
"Dear me! It's quite comfortable. You men like comfort, even the most
self-sacrificing. But where is your fighting-editor? It would be awkward
if an aggrieved reader came in and mistook me for the editor, wouldn't
it? It isn't safe for me to remain in this chair."
"Oh, yes it is! We've tackled our aggrieved readers for to-day," he
She looked curiously round. "Please pick up your pipe. It's going out. I
don't mind smoke, indeed I don't. Even if I did, I should be prepared to
pay the penalty of bearding an editor in his den."
Raphael resumed his pipe gratefully.
"I wonder though you don't set the place on fire," Esther rattled on,
"with all this mass of inflammable matter about."
"It is very dry, most of it," he admitted, with a smile.
"Why don't you have a real fire? It must be quite cold sitting here all
day. What's that great ugly picture over there?"
"That steamer! It's an advertisement."
"Heavens! What a decoration. I should like to have the criticism of that
picture. I've brought you those picture-galleries, you know; that's what
I've come for."
"Thank you! That's very good of you. I'll send it to the printers at
once." He took the roll and placed it in a pigeon-hole, without taking
his eyes off her face.
"Why don't you throw that awful staring thing away?" she asked,
contemplating the steamer with a morbid fascination, "and sweep away the
old papers, and have a few little water-colors hung up and put a vase of
flowers on your desk. I wish I had the control of the office for a
"I wish you had," he said gallantly. "I can't find time to think of
those things. I am sure you are brightening it up already."
The little blush on her cheek deepened. Compliment was unwonted with
him; and indeed, he spoke as he felt. The sight of her seated so
strangely and unexpectedly in his own humdrum sanctum; the imaginary
picture of her beautifying it and evolving harmony out of the chaos with
artistic touches of her dainty hands, filled him with pleasant, tender
thoughts, such as he had scarce known before. The commonplace editorial
chair seemed to have undergone consecration and poetic transformation.
Surely the sunshine that streamed through the dusty window would for
ever rest on it henceforwards. And yet the whole thing appeared
fantastic and unreal.
"I hope you are speaking the truth," replied Esther with a little laugh.
"You need brightening, you old dry-as-dust philanthropist, sitting
poring over stupid manuscripts when you ought to be in the country
enjoying the sunshine." She spoke in airy accents, with an undercurrent
of astonishment at her attack of high spirits on an occasion she had
designed to be harrowing.
"Why, I haven't _looked_ at your manuscript yet," he retorted gaily, but
as he spoke there flashed upon him a delectable vision of blue sea and
waving pines with one fair wood-nymph flitting through the trees, luring
him on from this musty cell of never-ending work to unknown ecstasies of
youth and joyousness. The leafy avenues were bathed in sacred sunlight,
and a low magic music thrilled through the quiet air. It was but the
dream of a second--the dingy walls closed round him again, the great
ugly steamer, that never went anywhere, sailed on. But the wood-nymph
did not vanish; the sunbeam was still on the editorial chair, lighting
up the little face with a celestial halo. And when she spoke again, it
was as if the music that filled the visionary glades was a reality, too.
"It's all very well your treating reproof as a jest," she said, more
gravely. "Can't you see that it's false economy to risk a break-down
even if you use yourself purely for others? You're looking far from
well. You are overtaxing human strength. Come now, admit my sermon is
just. Remember I speak not as a Pharisee, but as one who made the
mistake herself--a fellow-sinner." She turned her dark eyes
reproachfully upon him.
"I--I--don't sleep very well," he admitted, "but otherwise I assure you
I feel all right."
It was the second time she had manifested concern for his health. The
blood coursed deliciously in his veins; a thrill ran through his whole
form. The gentle anxious face seemed to grow angelic. Could she really
care if his health gave way? Again he felt a rash of self-pity that
filled his eyes with tears. He was grateful to her for sharing his sense
of the empty cheerlessness of his existence. He wondered why it had
seemed so full and cheery just before.
"And you used to sleep so well," said Esther, slily, remembering Addie's
domestic revelations. "My stupid manuscript should come in useful."
"Oh, forgive my stupid joke!" he said remorsefully.
"Forgive mine!" she answered. "Sleeplessness is too terrible to joke
about. Again I speak as one who knows."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that!" he said, his egoistic tenderness instantly
transformed to compassionate solicitude.
"Never mind me; I am a woman and can take care of myself. Why don't you
go over to Norway and join Mr. Graham?"
"That's quite out of the question," he said, puffing furiously at his
pipe. "I can't leave the paper."
"Oh, men always say that. Haven't you let your pipe go out? I don't see
He started and laughed. "Yes, there's no more tobacco in it." He laid it
"No, I insist on your going on or else I shall feel uncomfortable.
Where's your pouch?"
He felt all over his pockets. "It must be on the table."
She rummaged among the mass of papers. "Ha! There are your scissors'"
she said scornfully, turning them up. She found the pouch in time and
handed it to him. "I ought to have the management of this office for a
day," she remarked again.
"Well, fill my pipe for me," he said, with an audacious inspiration. He
felt an unreasoning impulse to touch her hand, to smooth her soft cheek
with his fingers and press her eyelids down over her dancing eyes. She
filled the pipe, full measure and running over; he took it by the stem,
her warm gloved fingers grazing his chilly bare hand and suffusing him
with a delicious thrill.
"Now you must crown your work," he said. "The matches are somewhere
She hunted again, interpolating exclamations of reproof at the risk of
"They're safety matches, I think," he said. They proved to be wax
vestas. She gave him a liquid glance of mute reproach that filled him
with bliss as overbrimmingly as his pipe had been filled with bird's
eye; then she struck a match, protecting the flame scientifically in the
hollow of her little hand. Raphael had never imagined a wax vesta could
be struck so charmingly. She tip-toed to reach the bowl in his mouth,
but he bent his tall form and felt her breath upon his face. The volumes
of smoke curled up triumphantly, and Esther's serious countenance
relaxed in a smile of satisfaction. She resumed the conversation where
it had been broken off by the idyllic interlude of the pipe.
"But if you can't leave London, there's plenty of recreation to be had
in town. I'll wager you haven't yet been to see _Hamlet_ in lieu of the
night you disappointed us."
"Disappointed myself, you mean," he said with a retrospective
consciousness of folly. "No, to tell the truth, I haven't been out at
all lately. Life is so short."
"Then, why waste it?"
"Oh come, I can't admit I waste it," he said, with a gentle smile that
filled her with a penetrating emotion. "You mustn't take such material
views of life." Almost in a whisper he quoted: "To him that hath the
kingdom of God all things shall be added," and went on: "Socialism is at
least as important as Shakspeare."
"Socialism," she repeated. "Are you a Socialist, then?"
"Of a kind," he answered. "Haven't you detected the cloven hoof in my
leaders? I'm not violent, you know; don't be alarmed. But I have been
doing a little mild propagandism lately in the evenings; land
nationalization and a few other things which would bring the world more
into harmony with the Law of Moses."
"What! do you find Socialism, too, in orthodox Judaism?"
"It requires no seeking."
"Well, you're almost as bad as my father, who found every thing in the
Talmud. At this rate you will certainly convert me soon; or at least I
shall, like M. Jourdain, discover I've been orthodox all my life without
"I hope so," he said gravely. "But have you Socialistic sympathies?"
She hesitated. As a girl she had felt the crude Socialism which is the
unreasoned instinct of ambitious poverty, the individual revolt
mistaking itself for hatred of the general injustice. When the higher
sphere has welcomed the Socialist, he sees he was but the exception to a
contented class. Esther had gone through the second phase and was in the
throes of the third, to which only the few attain.
"I used to be a red-hot Socialist once," she said. "To-day I doubt
whether too much stress is not laid on material conditions. High
thinking is compatible with the plainest living. 'The soul is its own
place and can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.' Let the people
who wish to build themselves lordly treasure-houses do so, if they can
afford it, but let us not degrade our ideals by envying them."
The conversation had drifted into seriousness. Raphael's thoughts
reverted to their normal intellectual cast, but he still watched with
pleasure the play of her mobile features as she expounded her opinions.
"Ah, yes, that is a nice abstract theory," he said. "But what if the
mechanism of competitive society works so that thousands don't even get
the plainest living? You should just see the sights I have seen, then
you would understand why for some time the improvement of the material
condition of the masses must be the great problem. Of course, you won't
suspect me of underrating the moral and religious considerations."
Esther smiled almost Imperceptibly. The idea of Raphael, who could not
see two inches before his nose, telling _her_ to examine the spectacle
of human misery would have been distinctly amusing, even if her early
life had been passed among the same scenes as his. It seemed a part of
the irony of things and the paradox of fate that Raphael, who had never
known cold or hunger, should be so keenly sensitive to the sufferings of
others, while she who had known both had come to regard them with
philosophical tolerance. Perhaps she was destined ere long to renew her
acquaintance with them. Well, that would test her theories at any rate.
"Who is taking material views of life now?" she asked.
"It is by perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law that the kingdom of God is
to be brought about on earth," he answered. "And in spirit, orthodox
Judaism is undoubtedly akin to Socialism." His enthusiasm set him pacing
the room as usual, his arms working like the sails of a windmill.
Esther shook her head. "Well, give me Shakspeare," she said. "I had
rather see _Hamlet_ than a world of perfect prigs." She laughed at the
oddity of her own comparison and added, still smiling: "Once upon a time
I used to think Shakspeare a fraud. But that was merely because he was
an institution. It is a real treat to find one superstition that will
"Perhaps you will find the Bible turn out like that," he said hopefully.
"I _have_ found it. Within the last few months I have read it right
through again--Old and New. It is full of sublime truths, noble
apophthegms, endless touches of nature, and great poetry. Our tiny race
may well be proud of having given humanity its greatest as well as its
most widely circulated books. Why can't Judaism take a natural view of
things and an honest pride in its genuine history, instead of building
its synagogues on shifting sand?"
"In Germany, later in America, the reconstruction of Judaism has been
attempted in every possible way; inspiration has been sought not only in
literature, but in archaeology, and even in anthropology; it is these
which have proved the shifting sand. You see your scepticism is not
even original." He smiled a little, serene in the largeness of his
faith. His complacency grated upon her. She jumped up. "We always seem
to get into religion, you and I," she said. "I wonder why. It is certain
we shall never agree. Mosaism is magnificent, no doubt, but I cannot
help feeling Mr. Graham is right when he points out its limitations.
Where would the art of the world be if the second Commandment had been
obeyed? Is there any such thing as an absolute system of morality? How
is it the Chinese have got on all these years without religion? Why
should the Jews claim the patent in those moral ideas which you find
just as well in all the great writers of antiquity? Why--?" she stopped
suddenly, seeing his smile had broadened.
"Which of all these objections am I to answer?" he asked merrily. "Some
I'm sure you don't mean."
"I mean all those you can't answer. So please don't try. After all,
you're not a professional explainer of the universe, that I should
heckle you thus."
"Oh, but I set up to be," he protested.
"No, you don't. You haven't called me a blasphemer once. I'd better go
before you become really professional. I shall be late for dinner."
"What nonsense! It is only four o'clock," he pleaded, consulting an
old-fashioned silver watch.
"As late as that!" said Esther in horrified tones. "Good-bye! Take care
to go through my 'copy' in case any heresies have filtered into it."
"Your copy? Did you give it me?" he inquired.
"Of course I did. You took it from me. Where did you put it? Oh, I hope
you haven't mixed it up with those papers. It'll be a terrible task to
find it," cried Esther excitedly.
"I wonder if I could have put it in the pigeon-hole for 'copy,'" he
said. "Yes! what luck!"
Esther laughed heartily. "You seem tremendously surprised to find
anything in its right place."
The moment of solemn parting had come, yet she found herself laughing
on. Perhaps she was glad to find the farewell easier than she had
foreseen, it had certainly been made easier by the theological passage
of arms, which brought out all her latent antagonism to the prejudiced
young pietist. Her hostility gave rather a scornful ring to the laugh,
which ended with a suspicion of hysteria.
"What a lot of stuff you've written," he said. "I shall never be able to
get this into one number."
"I didn't intend you should. It's to be used in instalments, if it's
good enough. I did it all in advance, because I'm going away."
"Going away!" he cried, arresting himself in the midst of an inhalation
of smoke. "Where?"
"I don't know," she said wearily.
He looked alarm and interrogation.
"I am going to leave the Goldsmiths," she said. "I haven't decided
exactly what to do next."
"I hope you haven't quarrelled with them."
"No, no, not at all. In fact they don't even know I am going. I only
tell you in confidence. Please don't say anything to anybody. Good-bye.
I may not come across you again. So this may be a last good-bye." She
extended her hand; he took it mechanically.
"I have no right to pry into your confidence," he said anxiously, "but
you make me very uneasy." He did not let go her hand, the warm touch
quickened his sympathy. He felt he could not part with her and let her
drift into Heaven knew what. "Won't you tell me your trouble?" he went
on. "I am sure it is some trouble. Perhaps I can help you. I should be
so glad if you would give me the opportunity."
The tears struggled to her eyes, but she did not speak. They stood in
silence, with their hands still clasped, feeling very near to each
other, and yet still so far apart.
"Cannot you trust me?" he asked. "I know you are unhappy, but I had
hoped you had grown cheerfuller of late. You told me so much at our
first meeting, surely you might trust me yet a little farther."
"I have told you enough," she said at last "I cannot any longer eat the
bread of charity; I must go away and try to earn my own living."
"But what will you do?"
"What do other girls do? Teaching, needlework, anything. Remember, I'm
an experienced teacher and a graduate to boot." Her pathetic smile lit
up the face with tremulous tenderness.
"But you would be quite alone in the world," he said, solicitude
vibrating in every syllable.
"I am used to being quite alone in the world."
The phrase threw a flash of light along the backward vista of her life
with the Goldsmiths, and filled his soul with pity and yearning.
"But suppose you fail?"
"If I fail--" she repeated, and rounded off the sentence with a shrug.
It was the apathetic, indifferent shrug of Moses Ansell; only his was
the shrug of faith in Providence, hers of despair. It filled Raphael's
heart with deadly cold and his soul with sinister forebodings. The
pathos of her position seemed to him intolerable.
"No, no, this must not be!" he cried, and his hand gripped hers
fiercely, as if he were afraid of her being dragged away by main force.
He was terribly agitated; his whole being seemed to be undergoing
profound and novel emotions. Their eyes met; in one and the same instant
the knowledge broke upon her that she loved him, and that if she chose
to play the woman he was hers, and life a Paradisian dream. The
sweetness of the thought intoxicated her, thrilled her veins with fire.
But the next instant she was chilled as by a gray cold fog. The
realities of things came back, a whirl of self-contemptuous thoughts
blent with a hopeless sense of the harshness of life. Who was she to
aspire to such a match? Had her earlier day-dream left her no wiser than
that? The _Schnorrer's_ daughter setting her cap at the wealthy Oxford
man, forsooth! What would people say? And what would they say if they
knew how she had sought him out in his busy seclusion to pitch a tale of
woe and move him by his tenderness of heart to a pity he mistook
momentarily for love? The image of Levi came back suddenly; she
quivered, reading herself through his eyes. And yet would not his crude
view be right? Suppress the consciousness as she would in her maiden
breast, had she not been urged hither by an irresistible impulse?
Knowing what she felt now, she could not realize she had been ignorant
of it when she set out. She was a deceitful, scheming little thing.
Angry with herself, she averted her gaze from the eyes that hungered for
her, though they were yet unlit by self-consciousness; she loosed her
hand from his, and as if the cessation of the contact restored her
self-respect, some of her anger passed unreasonably towards him.
"What right, have you to say it must not be?" she inquired haughtily.
"Do you think I can't take care of myself, that I need any one to
protect me or to help me?"
"No--I--I--only mean--" he stammered in infinite distress, feeling
himself somehow a blundering brute.
"Remember I am not like the girls you are used to meet. I have known the
worst that life can offer. I can stand alone, yes, and face the whole
world. Perhaps you don't know that I wrote _Mordecai Josephs_, the book
you burlesqued so mercilessly!"
"_You_ wrote it!"
"Yes, I. I am Edward Armitage. Did those initials never strike you? I
wrote it and I glory in it. Though all Jewry cry out 'The picture is
false,' I say it is true. So now you know the truth. Proclaim it to all
Hyde Park and Maida Vale, tell it to all your narrow-minded friends and
acquaintances, and let them turn and rend me. I can live without them or
their praise. Too long they have cramped my soul. Now at last I am going
to cut myself free. From them and from you and all your petty prejudices
and interests. Good-bye, for ever."
She went out abruptly, leaving the room dark and Raphael shaken and
dumbfounded; she went down the stairs and into the keen bright air, with
a fierce exultation at her heart, an intoxicating sense of freedom and
defiance. It was over. She had vindicated herself to herself and to the
imaginary critics. The last link that bound her to Jewry was snapped; it
was impossible it could ever be reforged. Raphael knew her in her true
colors at last. She seemed to herself a Spinoza the race had cast out.
The editor of _The Flag of Judah_ stood for some minutes as if
petrified; then he turned suddenly to the litter on his table and
rummaged among it feverishly. At last, as with a happy recollection, he
opened a drawer. What he sought was there. He started reading _Mordecai
Josephs_, forgetting to close the drawer. Passage after passage suffused
his eyes with tears; a soft magic hovered about the nervous sentences;
he read her eager little soul in every line. Now he understood. How
blind he had been! How could he have missed seeing? Esther stared at him
from every page. She was the heroine of her own book; yes, and the hero,
too, for he was but another side of herself translated into the
masculine. The whole book was Esther, the whole Esther and nothing but
Esther, for even the satirical descriptions were but the revolt of
Esther's soul against mean and evil things. He turned to the great
love-scene of the book, and read on and on, fascinated, without getting
further than the chapter.
No need to delay longer; every need for instant flight. Esther had found
courage to confess her crime against the community to Raphael; there was
no seething of the blood to nerve her to face Mrs. Henry Goldsmith. She
retired to her room soon after dinner on the plea (which was not a
pretext) of a headache. Then she wrote:
"DEAR MRS. GOLDSMITH:
"When you read this, I shall have left your house, never to return.
It would be idle to attempt to explain my reasons. I could not hope
to make you see through my eyes. Suffice it to say that I cannot
any longer endure a life of dependence, and that I feel I have
abused your favor by writing that Jewish novel of which you
disapprove so vehemently. I never intended to keep the secret from
you, after publication. I thought the book would succeed and you
would be pleased; at the same time I dimly felt that you might
object to certain things and ask to have them altered, and I have
always wanted to write my own ideas, and not other people's. With
my temperament, I see now that it was a mistake to fetter myself by
obligations to anybody, but the mistake was made in my girlhood
when I knew little of the world and perhaps less of myself.
Nevertheless, I wish you to believe, dear Mrs. Goldsmith, that all
the blame for the unhappy situation which has arisen I put upon my
own shoulders, and that I have nothing for you but the greatest
affection and gratitude for all the kindnesses I have received at
your hands. I beg you not to think that I make the slightest
reproach against you; on the contrary, I shall always henceforth
reproach myself with the thought that I have made you so poor a
return for your generosity and incessant thoughtfulness. But the
sphere in which you move is too high for me; I cannot assimilate
with it and I return, not without gladness, to the humble sphere
whence you took me. With kindest regards and best wishes,
"Yours ever gratefully,
There were tears in Esther's eyes when she finished, and she was
penetrated with admiration of her own generosity in so freely admitting
Mrs. Goldsmith's and in allowing that her patron got nothing out of the
bargain. She was doubtful whether the sentence about the high sphere was
satirical or serious. People do not know what they mean almost as often
as they do not say it.
Esther put the letter into an envelope and placed it on the open
writing-desk she kept on her dressing-table. She then packed a few
toilette essentials in a little bag, together with some American
photographs of her brother and sisters in various stages of adolescence.
She was determined to go back empty-handed as she came, and was
reluctant to carry off the few sovereigns of pocket-money in her purse,
and hunted up a little gold locket she had received, while yet a
teacher, in celebration of the marriage of a communal magnate's
daughter. Thrown aside seven years ago, it now bade fair to be the
corner-stone of the temple; she had meditated pledging it and living on
the proceeds till she found work, but when she realized its puny
pretensions to cozen pawnbrokers, it flashed upon her that she could
always repay Mrs. Goldsmith the few pounds she was taking away. In a
drawer there was a heap of manuscript carefully locked away; she took it
and looked through it hurriedly, contemptuously. Some of it was music,
some poetry, the bulk prose. At last she threw it suddenly on the bright
fire which good Mary O'Reilly had providentially provided in her room;
then, as it flared up, stricken with remorse, she tried to pluck the
sheets from the flames; only by scorching her fingers and raising
blisters did she succeed, and then, with scornful resignation, she
instantly threw them back again, warming her feverish hands merrily at
the bonfire. Rapidly looking through all her drawers, lest perchance in
some stray manuscript she should leave her soul naked behind her, she
came upon a forgotten faded rose. The faint fragrance was charged with
strange memories of Sidney. The handsome young artist had given it her
in the earlier days of their acquaintanceship. To Esther to-night it
seemed to belong to a period infinitely more remote than her childhood.
When the shrivelled rose had been further crumpled into a little ball
and then picked to bits, it only remained to inquire where to go; what
to do she could settle when there. She tried to collect her thoughts.
Alas! it was not so easy as collecting her luggage. For a long time she
crouched on the fender and looked into the fire, seeing in it only
fragmentary pictures of the last seven years--bits of scenery, great
Cathedral interiors arousing mysterious yearnings, petty incidents of
travel, moments with Sidney, drawing-room episodes, strange passionate
scenes with herself as single performer, long silent watches of study
and aspiration, like the souls of the burned manuscripts made visible.
Even that very afternoon's scene with Raphael was part of the "old
unhappy far-off things" that could only live henceforwards in fantastic
arcades of glowing coal, out of all relation to future realities. Her
new-born love for Raphael appeared as ancient and as arid as the girlish
ambitions that had seemed on the point of blossoming when she was
transplanted from the Ghetto. That, too, was in the flames, and should
At last she started up with a confused sense of wasted time and began to
undress mechanically, trying to concentrate her thoughts the while on
the problem that faced her. But they wandered back to her first night in
the fine house, when a separate bedroom was a new experience and she was
afraid to sleep alone, though turned fifteen. But she was more afraid of
appearing a great baby, and so no one in the world ever knew what the
imaginative little creature had lived down.
In the middle of brushing her hair she ran to the door and locked it,
from a sudden dread that she might oversleep herself and some one would
come in and see the letter on the writing-desk. She had not solved the
problem even by the time she got into bed; the fire opposite the foot
was burning down, but there was a red glow penetrating the dimness. She
had forgotten to draw the blind, and she saw the clear stars shining
peacefully in the sky. She looked and looked at them and they led her
thoughts away from the problem once more. She seemed to be lying in
Victoria Park, looking up with innocent mystic rapture and restfulness
at the brooding blue sky. The blood-and-thunder boys' story she had
borrowed from Solomon had fallen from her hand and lay unheeded on the
grass. Solomon was tossing a ball to Rachel, which he had acquired by a
colossal accumulation of buttons, and Isaac and Sarah were rolling and
wrangling on the grass. Oh, why had she deserted them? What were they
doing now, without her mother-care, out and away beyond the great seas?
For weeks together, the thought of them had not once crossed her mind;
to-night she stretched her arms involuntarily towards her loved ones,
not towards the shadowy figures of reality, scarcely less phantasmal
than the dead Benjamin, but towards the childish figures of the past.
What happy times they had had together in the dear old garret!
In her strange half-waking hallucination, her outstretched arms were
clasped round little Sarah. She was putting her to bed and the tiny
thing was repeating after her, in broken Hebrew, the children's
night-prayer: "Suffer me to lie down in peace, and let me rise up in
peace. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one," with its
unauthorized appendix in baby English: "Dod teep me, and mate me a dood
She woke to full consciousness with a start; her arms chilled, her face
wet. But the problem was solved.
She would go back to them, back to her true home, where loving faces
waited to welcome her, where hearts were open and life was simple and
the weary brain could find rest from the stress and struggle of
obstinate questionings of destiny. Life was so simple at bottom; it was
she that was so perversely complex. She would go back to her father
whose naive devout face swam glorified upon a sea of tears; yea, and
back to her father's primitive faith like a tired lost child that spies
its home at last. The quaint, monotonous cadence of her father's prayers
rang pathetically in her ears; and a great light, the light that Raphael
had shown her, seemed to blend mystically with the once meaningless
sounds. Yea, all things were from Him who created light and darkness,
good and evil; she felt her cares falling from her, her soul absorbing
itself in the sense of a Divine Love, awful, profound, immeasurable,
underlying and transcending all things, incomprehensibly satisfying the
soul and justifying and explaining the universe. The infinite fret and
fume of life seemed like the petulance of an infant in the presence of
this restful tenderness diffused through the great spaces. How holy the
stars seemed up there in the quiet sky, like so many Sabbath lights
shedding visible consecration and blessing!
Yes, she would go back to her loved ones, back from this dainty room,
with its white laces and perfumed draperies, back if need be to a Ghetto
garret. And in the ecstasy of her abandonment of all worldly things, a
great peace fell upon her soul.
In the morning the nostalgia of the Ghetto was still upon her, blent
with a passion of martyrdom that made her yearn for a lower social depth
than was really necessary. But the more human aspects of the situation
were paramount in the gray chillness of a bleak May dawn. Her resolution
to cross the Atlantic forthwith seemed a little hasty, and though she
did not flinch from it, she was not sorry to remember that she had not
money enough for the journey. She must perforce stay in London till she
had earned it; meantime she would go back to the districts and the
people she knew so well, and accustom herself again to the old ways, the
old simplicities of existence.
She dressed herself in her plainest apparel, though she could not help
her spring bonnet being pretty. She hesitated between a hat and a
bonnet, but decided that her solitary position demanded as womanly an
appearance as possible. Do what she would, she could not prevent herself
looking exquisitely refined, and the excitement of adventure had lent
that touch of color to her face which made it fascinating. About seven
o'clock she left her room noiselessly and descended the stairs
cautiously, holding her little black bag in her hand.
"Och, be the holy mother, Miss Esther, phwat a turn you gave me," said
Mary O'Reilly, emerging unexpectedly from the dining-room and meeting
her at the foot of the stairs. "Phwat's the matther?"
"I'm going out, Mary," she said, her heart beating violently.
"Sure an' it's rale purty ye look, Miss Esther; but it's divil a bit the
marnin' for a walk, it looks a raw kind of a day, as if the weather was
sorry for bein' so bright yisterday."
"Oh, but I must go, Mary."
"Ah, the saints bliss your kind heart!" said Mary, catching sight of the
bag. "Sure, then, it's a charity irrand you're bent on. I mind me how my
blissed old masther, Mr. Goldsmith's father, _Olov Hasholom_, who's gone
to glory, used to walk to _Shool_ in all winds and weathers; sometimes
it was five o'clock of a winter's marnin' and I used to get up and make
him an iligant cup of coffee before he wint to _Selichoth_; he niver
would take milk and sugar in it, becaz that would be atin' belike, poor
dear old ginthleman. Ah the Holy Vargin be kind to him!"
"And may she be kind to you, Mary," said Esther. And she impulsively
pressed her lips to the old woman's seamed and wrinkled cheek, to the
astonishment of the guardian of Judaism. Virtue was its own reward, for
Esther profited by the moment of the loquacious creature's
breathlessness to escape. She opened the hall door and passed into the
silent streets, whose cold pavements seemed to reflect the bleak stony
tints of the sky.
For the first few minutes she walked hastily, almost at a run. Then her
pace slackened; she told herself there was no hurry, and she shook her
head when a cabman interrogated her. The omnibuses were not running yet.
When they commenced, she would take one to Whitechapel. The signs of
awakening labor stirred her with new emotions; the early milkman with
his cans, casual artisans with their tools, a grimy sweep, a work-girl
with a paper lunch-package, an apprentice whistling. Great sleeping
houses lined her path like gorged monsters drowsing voluptuously. The
world she was leaving behind her grew alien and repulsive, her heart
went out to the patient world of toil. What had she been doing all these
years, amid her books and her music and her rose-leaves, aloof from
The first 'bus overtook her half-way and bore her back to the Ghetto.
* * * * *
The Ghetto was all astir, for it was half-past eight of a work-a-day
morning. But Esther had not walked a hundred yards before her breast was
heavy with inauspicious emotions. The well-known street she had entered
was strangely broadened. Instead of the dirty picturesque houses rose an
appalling series of artisans' dwellings, monotonous brick barracks,
whose dead, dull prose weighed upon the spirits. But, as in revenge,
other streets, unaltered, seemed incredibly narrow. Was it possible it
could have taken even her childish feet six strides to cross them, as
she plainly remembered? And they seemed so unspeakably sordid and
squalid. Could she ever really have walked them with light heart,
unconscious of the ugliness? Did the gray atmosphere that overhung them
ever lift, or was it their natural and appropriate mantle? Surely the
sun could never shine upon these slimy pavements, kissing them to warmth
Great magic shops where all things were to be had; peppermints and
cotton, china-faced dolls and lemons, had dwindled into the front
windows of tiny private dwelling-houses; the black-wigged crones, the
greasy shambling men, were uglier and greasier than she had ever
conceived them. They seemed caricatures of humanity; scarecrows in
battered hats or draggled skirts. But gradually, as the scene grew upon
her, she perceived that in spite of the "model dwellings" builder, it
was essentially unchanged. No vestige of improvement had come over
Wentworth Street: the narrow noisy market street, where serried barrows
flanked the reeking roadway exactly as of old, and where Esther trod on
mud and refuse and babies. Babies! They were everywhere; at the breasts
of unwashed women, on the knees of grandfathers smoking pipes, playing
under the barrows, sprawling in the gutters and the alleys. All the
babies' faces were sickly and dirty with pathetic, childish prettinesses
asserting themselves against the neglect and the sallowness. One female
mite in a dingy tattered frock sat in an orange-box, surveying the
bustling scene with a preternaturally grave expression, and realizing
literally Esther's early conception of the theatre. There was a sense of
blankness in the wanderer's heart, of unfamiliarity in the midst of
familiarity. What had she in common with all this mean wretchedness,
with this semi-barbarous breed of beings? The more she looked, the more
her heart sank. There was no flaunting vice, no rowdiness, no
drunkenness, only the squalor of an oriental city without its quaintness
and color. She studied the posters and the shop-windows, and caught old
snatches of gossip from the groups in the butchers' shops--all seemed as
of yore. And yet here and there the hand of Time had traced new
inscriptions. For Baruch Emanuel the hand of Time had written a new
placard. It was a mixture of German, bad English and Cockneyese,
phonetically spelt in Hebrew letters:
Mens Solen Und Eelen, 2/6
Lydies Deeto, 1/6
Kindersche Deeto, 1/6
Hier wird gemacht
Aller Hant Sleepers
Zu De Billigsten Preissen.
Baruch Emanuel had prospered since the days when he wanted "lasters and
riveters" without being able to afford them. He no longer gratuitously
advertised _Mordecai Schwartz_ in envious emulation, for he had several
establishments and owned five two-story houses, and was treasurer of his
little synagogue, and spoke of Socialists as an inferior variety of
Atheists. Not that all this bourgeoning was to be counted to leather,
for Baruch had developed enterprises in all directions, having all the
versatility of Moses Ansell without his catholic capacity for failure.
The hand of Time had also constructed a "working-men's Metropole" almost
opposite Baruch Emanuel's shop, and papered its outside walls with moral
pictorial posters, headed, "Where have you been to, Thomas Brown?" "Mike
and his moke," and so on. Here, single-bedded cabins could be had as low
as fourpence a night. From the journals in a tobacconist's window Esther
gathered that the reading-public had increased, for there were
importations from New York, both in jargon and in pure Hebrew, and from
a large poster in Yiddish and English, announcing a public meeting, she
learned of the existence of an off-shoot of the Holy Land League--"The
Flowers of Zion Society--established by East-End youths for the study of
Hebrew and the propagation of the Jewish National Idea." Side by side
with this, as if in ironic illustration of the other side of the life of
the Ghetto, was a seeming royal proclamation headed V.R., informing the
public that by order of the Secretary of State for War a sale of
wrought-and cast-iron, zinc, canvas, tools and leather would take place
at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
As she wandered on, the great school-bell began to ring; involuntarily,
she quickened her step and joined the chattering children's procession.
She could have fancied the last ten years a dream. Were they, indeed,
other children, or were they not the same that jostled her when she
picked her way through this very slush in her clumsy masculine boots?
Surely those little girls in lilac print frocks were her classmates! It
was hard to realize that Time's wheel had been whirling on, fashioning
her to a woman; that, while she had been living and learning and seeing
the manners of men and cities, the Ghetto, unaffected by her
experiences, had gone on in the same narrow rut. A new generation of
children had arisen to suffer and sport in room of the old, and that was
all. The thought overwhelmed her, gave her a new and poignant sense of
brute, blind forces; she seemed to catch in this familiar scene of
childhood the secret of the gray atmosphere of her spirit, it was here
she had, all insensibly, absorbed those heavy vapors that formed the
background of her being, a permanent sombre canvas behind all the
iridescent colors of joyous emotion. _What_ had she in common with all
this mean wretchedness? Why, everything. This it was with which her soul
had intangible affinities, not the glory of sun and sea and forest, "the
palms and temples of the South."
The heavy vibrations of the bell ceased; the street cleared; Esther
turned back and walked instinctively homewards--to Royal Street. Her
soul was full of the sense of the futility of life; yet the sight of the
great shabby house could still give her a chill. Outside the door a
wizened old woman with a chronic sniff had established a stall for
wizened old apples, but Esther passed her by heedless of her stare, and
ascended the two miry steps that led to the mud-carpeted passage.
The apple-woman took her for a philanthropist paying a surprise visit to
one of the families of the house, and resented her as a spy. She was
discussing the meanness of the thing with the pickled-herring dealer
next door, while Esther was mounting the dark stairs with the confidence
of old habit. She was making automatically for the garret, like a
somnambulist, with no definite object--morbidly drawn towards the old
home. The unchanging musty smells that clung to the staircase flew to
greet her nostrils, and at once a host of sleeping memories started to
life, besieging her and pressing upon her on every side. After a
tumultuous intolerable moment a childish figure seemed to break from the
gloom ahead--the figure of a little girl with a grave face and candid
eyes, a dutiful, obedient shabby little girl, so anxious to please her
schoolmistress, so full of craving to learn and to be good, and to be
loved by God, so audaciously ambitious of becoming a teacher, and so
confident of being a good Jewess always. Satchel in hand, the little
girl sped up the stairs swiftly, despite her cumbrous, slatternly boots,
and Esther, holding her bag, followed her more slowly, as if she feared
to contaminate her by the touch of one so weary-worldly-wise, so full of
revolt and despair.
All at once Esther sidled timidly towards the balustrade, with an
instinctive movement, holding her bag out protectingly. The figure
vanished, and Esther awoke to the knowledge that "Bobby" was not at his
post. Then with a flash came the recollection of Bobby's mistress--the
pale, unfortunate young seamstress she had so unconscionably neglected.
She wondered if she were alive or dead. A waft of sickly odors surged
from below; Esther felt a deadly faintness coming over her; she had
walked far, and nothing had yet passed her lips since yesterday's
dinner, and at this moment, too, an overwhelming terrifying feeling of
loneliness pressed like an icy hand upon her heart. She felt that in
another instant she must swoon, there, upon the foul landing. She sank
against the door, beating passionately at the panels. It was opened from
within; she had just strength enough to clutch the door-post so as not
to fall. A thin, careworn woman swam uncertainly before her eyes. Esther
could not recognize her, but the plain iron bed, almost corresponding in
area with that of the room, was as of old, and so was the little round
table with a tea-pot and a cup and saucer, and half a loaf standing out
amid a litter of sewing, as if the owner had been interrupted in the
middle of breakfast. Stay--what was that journal resting against the
half-loaf as for perusal during the meal? Was it not the _London
Journal_? Again she looked, but with more confidence, at the woman's
face. A wave of curiosity, of astonishment at the stylishly dressed
visitor, passed over it, but in the curves of the mouth, in the movement
of the eyebrows, Esther renewed indescribably subtle memories.
"Debby!" she cried hysterically. A great flood of joy swamped her soul.
She was not alone in the world, after all! Dutch Debby uttered a little
startled scream. "I've come back, Debby, I've come back," and the next
moment the brilliant girl-graduate fell fainting into the seamstress's
A SHEAF OF SEQUELS.
Within half an hour Esther was smiling pallidly and drinking tea out of
Debby's own cup, to Debby's unlimited satisfaction. Debby had no spare
cup, but she had a spare chair without a back, and Esther was of course
seated on the other. Her bonnet and cloak were on the bed.
"And where is Bobby?" inquired the young lady visitor.
Debby's joyous face clouded.
"Bobby is dead," she said softly. "He died four years ago, come next
"I'm so sorry," said Esther, pausing in her tea-drinking with a pang of
genuine emotion. "At first I was afraid of him, but that was before I
"There never beat a kinder heart on God's earth," said Debby,
emphatically. "He wouldn't hurt a fly."
Esther had often seen him snapping at flies, but she could not smile.
"I buried him secretly in the back yard," Debby confessed. "See! there,
where the paving stone is loose."
Esther gratified her by looking through the little back window into the
sloppy enclosure where washing hung. She noticed a cat sauntering
quietly over the spot without any of the satisfaction it might have felt
had it known it was walking over the grave of an hereditary enemy.
"So I don't feel as if he was far away," said Debby. "I can always look
out and picture him squatting above the stone instead of beneath it."
"But didn't you get another?"
"Oh, how can you talk so heartlessly?"
"Forgive me, dear; of course you couldn't replace him. And haven't you
had any other friends?"
"Who would make friends with me, Miss Ansell?" Debby asked quietly.
"I shall 'make out friends' with you, Debby, if you call me that," said
Esther, half laughing, half crying. "What was it we used to say in
school? I forget, but I know we used to wet our little fingers in our
mouths and jerk them abruptly toward the other party. That's what I
shall have to do with you."
"Oh well, Esther, don't be cross. But you do look such a real lady. I
always said you would grow up clever, didn't I, though?"
"You did, dear, you did. I can never forgive myself for not having
looked you up."
"Oh, but you had so much to do, I have no doubt," said Debby
magnanimously, though she was not a little curious to hear all Esther's
wonderful adventures and to gather more about the reasons of the girl's
mysterious return than had yet been vouchsafed her. All she had dared to
ask was about the family in America.
"Still, it was wrong of me," said Esther, in a tone that brooked no
protest. "Suppose you had been in want and I could have helped you?"
"Oh, but you know I never take any help," said Debby stiffly.
"I didn't know that," said Esther, touched. "Have you never taken soup
at the Kitchen?"
"I wouldn't dream of such a thing. Do you ever remember me going to the
Board of Guardians? I wouldn't go there to be bullied, not if I was
starving. It's only the cadgers who don't want it who get relief. But,
thank God, in the worst seasons I have always been able to earn a crust
and a cup of tea. You see I am only a small family," concluded Debby
with a sad smile, "and the less one has to do with other people the
Esther started slightly, feeling a strange new kinship with this lonely
"But surely you would have taken help of me," she said. Debby shook her
"Well, I'm not so proud," said Esther with a tremulous smile, "for see,
I have come to take help of you."
Then the tears welled forth and Debby with an impulsive movement
pressed the little sobbing form against her faded bodice bristling with
pin-heads. Esther recovered herself in a moment and drank some more tea.
"Are the same people living here?" she said.
"Not altogether. The Belcovitches have gone up in the world. They live
on the first floor now."
"Not much of a rise that," said Esther smiling, for the Belcovitches had
always lived on the third floor.
"Oh, they could have gone to a better street altogether," explained
Debby, "only Mr. Belcovitch didn't like the expense of a van."
"Then, Sugarman the _Shadchan_ must have moved, too," said Esther. "He
used to have the first floor."
"Yes, he's got the third now. You see, people get tired of living in the
same place. Then Ebenezer, who became very famous through writing a book
(so he told me), went to live by himself, so they didn't want to be so
grand. The back apartment at the top of the house you used once to
inhabit,"--Debby put it as delicately as she could--"is vacant. The last
family had the brokers in."
"Are the Belcovitches all well? I remember Fanny married and went to
Manchester before I left here."
"Oh yes, they are all well."
"What? Even Mrs. Belcovitch?"
"She still takes medicine, but she seems just as strong as ever."
"Becky married yet?"
"Oh no, but she has won two breach of promise cases."
"She must be getting old."
"She is a fine young woman, but the young men are afraid of her now."
"Then they don't sit on the stairs in the morning any more?"
"No, young men seem so much less romantic now-a-days," said Debby,
sighing. "Besides there's one flight less now and half the stairs face
the street door. The next flight was so private."
"I suppose I shall look in and see them all," said Esther, smiling. "But
tell me. Is Mrs. Simons living here still?"
"Where, then? I should like to see her. She was so very kind to little
Sarah, you know. Nearly all our fried fish came from her."
"She is dead. She died of cancer. She suffered a great deal."
"Oh!" Esther put her cup down and sat back with face grown white.
"I am afraid to ask about any one else," she said at last. "I suppose
the Sons of the Covenant are getting on all right; _they_ can't be dead,
at least not all of them."
"They have split up," said Debby gravely, "into two communities. Mr.
Belcovitch and the Shalotten _Shammos_ quarrelled about the sale of the
_Mitzvahs_ at the Rejoicing of the Law two years ago. As far as I could
gather, the carrying of the smallest scroll of the Law was knocked down
to the Shalotten _Shammos_, for eighteenpence, but Mr. Belcovitch, who
had gone outside a moment, said he had bought up the privilege in
advance to present to Daniel Hyams, who was a visitor, and whose old
father had just died in Jerusalem. There was nearly a free fight in the
_Shool_. So the Shalotten _Shammos_ seceded with nineteen followers and
their wives and set up a rival _Chevrah_ round the corner. The other
twenty-five still come here. The deserters tried to take Greenberg the
_Chazan_ with them, but Greenberg wanted a stipulation that they
wouldn't engage an extra Reader to do his work during the High
Festivals; he even offered to do it cheaper if they would let him do all
the work, but they wouldn't consent. As a compromise, they proposed to
replace him only on the Day of Atonement, as his voice was not agreeable
enough for that. But Greenberg was obstinate. Now I believe there is a
movement for the Sons of the Covenant to connect their _Chevrah_ with
the Federation of minor synagogues, but Mr. Belcovitch says he won't
join the Federation unless the term 'minor' is omitted. He is a great
"Ah, I dare say he reads _The Flag of Judah_," said Esther, laughing,
though Debby recounted all this history quite seriously. "Do you ever
see that paper?"
"I never heard of it before," said Debby simply. "Why should I waste
money on new papers when I can always forget the _London journal_
sufficiently?" Perhaps Mr. Belcovitch buys it: I have seen him with a
Yiddish paper. The 'hands' say that instead of breaking off suddenly in
the middle of a speech, as of old, he sometimes stops pressing for five
minutes together to denounce Gideon, the member for Whitechapel, and to
say that Mr. Henry Goldsmith is the only possible saviour of Judaism in
the House of Commons."
"Ah, then he does read _The flag of Judah_! His English must have
"I was glad to hear him say that," added Debby, when she had finished
struggling with the fit of coughing brought on by too much monologue,
"because I thought it must be the husband of the lady who was so good to
you. I never forgot her name."
Esther took up the _London Journal_ to hide her reddening cheeks.
"Oh, read some of it aloud," cried Dutch Debby. "It'll be like old
Esther hesitated, a little ashamed of such childish behavior. But,
deciding to fall in for a moment with the poor woman's humor, and glad
to change the subject, she read: "Soft scents steeped the dainty
conservatory in delicious drowsiness. Reclining on a blue silk couch,
her wonderful beauty rather revealed than concealed by the soft clinging
draperies she wore, Rosaline smiled bewitchingly at the poor young peer,
who could not pluck up courage to utter the words of flame that were
scorching his lips. The moon silvered the tropical palms, and from the
brilliant ball-room were wafted the sweet penetrating strains of the
'Blue Danube' waltz--"
Dutch Debby heaved a great sigh of rapture.
"And you have seen such sights!" she said in awed admiration.
"I have been in brilliant ball-rooms and moonlit conservatories," said
Esther evasively. She did not care to rob Dutch Debby of her ideals by
explaining that high life was not all passion and palm-trees.
"I am so glad," said Debby affectionately. "I have often wished to
myself, only a make-believe wish, you know, not a real wish, if you
understand what I mean, for of course I know it's impossible. I
sometimes sit at that window before going to bed and look at the moon as
it silvers the swaying clothes-props, and I can easily imagine they are
great tropical palms, especially when an organ is playing round the
corner. Sometimes the moon shines straight down on Bobby's tombstone,
and then I am glad. Ah, now you're smiling. I know you think me a crazy
"Indeed, indeed, dear, I think you're the darlingest creature in the
world," and Esther jumped up and kissed her to hide her emotion. "But I
mustn't waste your time," she said briskly. "I know you have your sewing
to do. It's too long to tell you my story now; suffice it to say (as the
_London Journal_ says) that I am going to take a lodging in the
neighborhood. Oh, dear, don't make those great eyes! I want to live in
the East End."
"You want to live here like a Princess in disguise. I see."
"No you don't, you romantic old darling. I want to live here like
everybody else. I'm going to earn my own living."
"Oh, but you can never live by yourself."
"Why not? Now from romantic you become conventional. _You've_ lived by
"Oh, but I'm different," said Debby, flushing.
"Nonsense, I'm just as good as you. But if you think it improper," here
Esther had a sudden idea, "come and live with me."
"What, be your chaperon!" cried Debby in responsive excitement; then her
voice dropped again. "Oh, no, how could I?"
"Yes, yes, you must," said Esther eagerly.
Debby's obstinate shake of the head repelled the idea. "I couldn't leave
Bobby," she said. After a pause, she asked timidly: "Why not stay here?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Esther answered. Then she examined the bed. "Two
couldn't sleep here," she said.
"Oh yes, they could," said Debby, thoughtfully bisecting the blanket
with her hand. "And the bed's quite clean or I wouldn't venture to ask
you. Maybe it's not so soft as you've been used to."
Esther pondered; she was fatigued and she had undergone too many
poignant emotions already to relish the hunt for a lodging. It was
really lucky this haven offered itself. "I'll stay for to-night,
anyhow," she announced, while Debby's face lit up as with a bonfire of
joy. "To-morrow we'll discuss matters further. And now, dear, can I help
you with your sewing?"
"No, Esther, thank you kindly. You see there's only enough for one,"
said Debby apologetically. "To-morrow there may be more. Besides you
were never as clever with your needle as your pen. You always used to
lose marks for needlework, and don't you remember how you herring-boned
the tucks of those petticoats instead of feather-stitching them? Ha, ha,
ha! I have often laughed at the recollection."
"Oh, that was only absence of mind," said Esther, tossing her head in
affected indignation. "If my work isn't good enough for you, I think
I'll go down and help Becky with her machine." She put on her bonnet,
and, not without curiosity, descended a flight, of stairs and knocked at
a door which, from the steady whirr going on behind it, she judged to be
that of the work-room.
"Art thou a man or a woman?" came in Yiddish the well-remembered tones
of the valetudinarian lady.
"A woman!" answered Esther in German. She was glad she learned German;
it would be the best substitute for Yiddish in her new-old life.
"_Herein_!" said Mrs. Belcovitch, with sentry-like brevity.
Esther turned the handle, and her surprise was not diminished when she
found herself not in the work-room, but in the invalid's bedroom. She
almost stumbled over the pail of fresh water, the supply of which was
always kept there. A coarse bouncing full-figured young woman, with
frizzly black hair, paused, with her foot on the treadle of her machine,
to stare at the newcomer. Mrs. Belcovitch, attired in a skirt and a
night-cap, stopped aghast in the act of combing out her wig, which hung
over an edge of the back of a chair, that served as a barber's block.
Like the apple-woman, she fancied the apparition a lady
philanthropist--and though she had long ceased to take charity, the old
instincts leaped out under the sudden shock.
"Becky, quick rub my leg with liniment, the thick one," she whispered in
"It's only me, Esther Ansell!" cried the visitor.
"What! Esther!" cried Mrs. Belcovitch. "_Gott in Himmel!"_ and, throwing
down the comb, she fell in excess of emotion upon Esther's neck. "I have
so often wanted to see you," cried the sickly-looking little woman who
hadn't altered a wrinkle. "Often have I said to my Becky, where is
little Esther?--gold one sees and silver one sees, but Esther sees one
not. Is it not so, Becky? Oh, how fine you look! Why, I mistook you for
a lady! You are married--not? Ah well, you'll find wooers as thick as
the street dogs. And how goes it with the father and the family in
"Excellently," answered Esther. "How are you, Becky?"
Becky murmured something, and the two young women shook hands. Esther
had an olden awe of Becky, and Becky was now a little impressed by
"I suppose Mr. Weingott is getting a good living now in Manchester?"
Esther remarked cheerfully to Mrs. Belcovitch.
"No, he has a hard struggle," answered his mother-in-law, "but I have
seven grandchildren, God be thanked, and I expect an eighth. If my poor
lambkin had been alive now, she would have been a great-grandmother. My
eldest grandchild, Hertzel, has a talent for the fiddle. A gentleman is
paying for his lessons, God be thanked. I suppose you have heard I won
four pounds on the lotter_ee_. You see I have not tried thirty years for
nothing! If I only had my health, I should have little to grumble at.
Yes, four pounds, and what think you I have bought with it? You shall
see it inside. A cupboard with glass doors, such as we left behind in
Poland, and we have hung the shelves with pink paper and made loops for
silver forks to rest in--it makes me feel as if I had just cut off my
tresses. But then I look on my Becky and I remember that--go thou
inside, Becky, my life! Thou makest it too hard for him. Give him a
word while I speak with Esther."
Becky made a grimace and shrugged her shoulders, but disappeared through
the door that led to the real workshop.
"A fine maid!" said the mother, her eyes following the girl with pride.
"No wonder she is so hard to please. She vexes him so that he eats out
his heart. He comes every morning with a bag of cakes or an orange or a
fat Dutch herring, and now she has moved her machine to my bedroom,
where he can't follow her, the unhappy youth."
"Who is it now?" inquired Esther in amusement.
"Shosshi Shmendrik! Wasn't that the young man who married the Widow
"Yes--a very honorable and seemly youth. But she preferred her first
husband," said Mrs. Belcovitch laughing, "and followed him only four
years after Shosshi's marriage. Shosshi has now all her money--a very
seemly and honorable youth."
"But will it come to anything?"
"It is already settled. Becky gave in two days ago. After all, she will
not always be young. The _Tanaim_ will be held next Sunday. Perhaps you
would like to come and see the betrothal contract signed. The Kovna
_Maggid_ will be here, and there will be rum and cakes to the heart's
desire. Becky has Shosshi in great affection; they are just suited. Only
she likes to tease, poor little thing. And then she is so shy. Go in and
see them, and the cupboard with glass doors."
Esther pushed open the door, and Mrs. Belcovitch resumed her loving
manipulation of the wig.
The Belcovitch workshop was another of the landmarks of the past that
had undergone no change, despite the cupboard with glass doors and the
slight difference in the shape of the room. The paper roses still
bloomed in the corners of the mirror, the cotton-labels still adorned
the wall around it. The master's new umbrella still stood unopened in a
corner. The "hands" were other, but then Mr. Belcovitch's hands were
always changing. He never employed "union-men," and his hirelings never
stayed with him longer than they could help. One of the present batch,
a bent, middle-aged man, with a deeply-lined face, was Simon Wolf, long
since thrown over by the labor party he had created, and fallen lower
and lower till he returned to the Belcovitch workshop whence he sprang.
Wolf, who had a wife and six children, was grateful to Mr. Belcovitch in
a dumb, sullen way, remembering how that capitalist had figured in his
red rhetoric, though it was an extra pang of martyrdom to have to listen
deferentially to Belcovitch's numerous political and economical
fallacies. He would have preferred the curter dogmatism of earlier days.
Shosshi Shmendrik was chatting quite gaily with Becky, and held her
finger-tips cavalierly in his coarse fist, without obvious objection on
her part. His face was still pimply, but it had lost its painful shyness
and its readiness to blush without provocation. His bearing, too, was
less clumsy and uncouth. Evidently, to love the Widow Finkelstein had
been a liberal education to him. Becky had broken the news of Esther's
arrival to her father, as was evident from the odor of turpentine
emanating from the opened bottle of rum on the central table. Mr.
Belcovitch, whose hair was gray now, but who seemed to have as much
stamina as ever, held out his left hand (the right was wielding the
pressing-iron) without moving another muscle.
"_Nu_, it gladdens me to see you are better off than of old," he said
gravely in Yiddish.
"Thank you. I am glad to see you looking so fresh and healthy," replied
Esther in German.
"You were taken away to be educated, was it not?"
"And how many tongues do you know?"
"Four or five," said Esther, smiling.
"Four or five!" repeated Mr. Belcovitch, so impressed that he stopped
pressing. "Then you can aspire to be a clerk! I know several firms where
they have young women now."
"Don't be ridiculous, father," interposed Becky. "Clerks aren't so grand
now-a-days as they used to be. Very likely she would turn up her nose at
"I'm sure I wouldn't," said Esther.
"There! thou hearest!" said Mr. Belcovitch, with angry satisfaction.
"It is thou who hast too many flies in thy nostrils. Thou wouldst throw
over Shosshi if thou hadst thine own way. Thou art the only person in
the world who listens not to me. Abroad my word decides great matters.
Three times has my name been printed in _The Flag of Judah_. Little
Esther had not such a father as thou, but never did she make mock of
"Of course, everybody's better than me," said Becky petulantly, as she
snatched her fingers away from Shosshi.
"No, thou art better than the whole world," protested Shosshi Shmendrik,
feeling for the fingers.
"Who spoke to thee?" demanded Belcovitch, incensed.
"Who spoke to thee?" echoed Becky. And when Shosshi, with empurpled
pimples, cowered before both, father and daughter felt allies again, and
peace was re-established at Shosshi's expense. But Esther's curiosity
was satisfied. She seemed to see the whole future of this domestic
group: Belcovitch accumulating gold-pieces and Mrs. Belcovitch
medicine-bottles till they died, and the lucky but henpecked Shosshi
gathering up half the treasure on behalf of the buxom Becky. Refusing
the glass of rum, she escaped.
The dinner which Debby (under protest) did not pay for, consisted of
viands from the beloved old cook-shop, the potatoes and rice of
childhood being supplemented by a square piece of baked meat, likewise
knives and forks. Esther was anxious to experience again the magic taste
and savor of the once coveted delicacies. Alas! the preliminary sniff
failed to make her mouth water, the first bite betrayed the inferiority
of the potatoes used. Even so the unattainable tart of infancy mocks the
moneyed but dyspeptic adult. But she concealed her disillusionment
"Do you know," said Debby, pausing in her voluptuous scouring of the
gravy-lined plate with a bit of bread, "I can hardly believe my eyes. It
seems a dream that you are sitting at dinner with me. Pinch me, will
"You have been pinched enough," said Esther sadly. Which shows that one
can pun with a heavy heart. This is one of the things Shakspeare knew
and Dr. Johnson didn't.
In the afternoon, Esther went round to Zachariah Square. She did not
meet any of the old faces as she walked through the Ghetto, though a
little crowd that blocked her way at one point turned out to be merely
spectators of an epileptic performance by Meckisch. Esther turned away,
in amused disgust. She wondered whether Mrs. Meckisch still flaunted it
in satins and heavy necklaces, or whether Meckisch had divorced her, or
survived her, or something equally inconsiderate. Hard by the old Ruins
(which she found "ruined" by a railway) Esther was almost run over by an
iron hoop driven by a boy with a long swarthy face that irresistibly
"Is your grandmother in town?" she said at a venture.
"Y--e--s," said the driver wonderingly. "She is over in her own house."
Esther did not hasten towards it.
"Your name's Ezekiel, isn't it?"
"Yes," replied the boy; and then Esther was sure it was the Redeemed Son
of whom her father had told her.
"Are your mother and father well?"
"Father's away travelling." Ezekiel's tone was a little impatient, his
feet shuffled uneasily, itching to chase the flying hoop.
"How's your aunt--your aunt--I forget her name."
"Aunt Leah. She's gone to Liverpool."
"She lives there; she has opened a branch store of granma's business.
Who are you?" concluded Ezekiel candidly.
"You won't remember me," said Esther. "Tell me, your aunt is called Mrs.
Levine, isn't she?"
"Oh yes, but," with a shade of contempt, "she hasn't got any children."
"How many brothers and sisters have _you_ got?" said Esther with a
"Heaps. Oh, but you won't see them if you go in; they're in school, most
"And why aren't you at school?"
The Redeemed Son became scarlet. "I've got a bad leg," ran mechanically
off his tongue. Then, administering a savage thwack to his hoop, he set
out in pursuit of it. "It's no good calling on mother," he yelled back,
turning his head unexpectedly. "She ain't in."
Esther walked into the Square, where the same big-headed babies were
still rocking in swings suspended from the lintels, and where the same
ruddy-faced septuagenarians sat smoking short pipes and playing nap on
trays in the sun. From several doorways came the reek of fish frying.
The houses looked ineffably petty and shabby. Esther wondered how she
could ever have conceived this a region of opulence; still more how she
could ever have located Malka and her family on the very outskirt of the
semi-divine classes. But the semi-divine persons themselves had long
since shrunk and dwindled.
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